The work of Hard Bones was not over with writing or editing or re-editing or formatting. Because a book requires readers to reach its fullest expression and because I do not have a publisher, it is up to me to make sure that this project doesn’t die in silence. If you don’t know me, you’d be forgiven for thinking I’m an egomaniac or narcissist obsessed with getting attention in the middle of a pandemic. In the words of more than one shithead I dated in Philly – “What do you think, you’re better than us??” You’d be forgiven, but I might judge you for being so indoctrinated with neoliberal culture that you can’t find value in expression that serves a purpose outside of capitalism – or even in direct opposition to it. You might want to evict the capitalist cop in your brain 😬
I’m a great writer, but not having a “great career” renders that fact irrelevant. I have an extensive background of activism, organizing, study, writing, volunteering, donating, door-knocking, etc., but these facts are irrelevant because I have never been accepted or employed by the institutional Left (apart from Union organizing, but those jobs were always dead-end/contract) – which means I lack “legitimacy”. According to the meritocratic ideology we are all swimming in, truly smart/driven/talented people naturally rise to the top and are rewarded for their effort. Of course, I reject that notion by rejecting it first in my own mind-body – and then i reject it wholesale for all of you too.
You ever think about how each and every one of us is born with the potential for greatness? I don’t mean money or a career or clout, but the potential for each of us to reach our fullest expression of humanity that brings more love into the world. I think about how quickly life circumstances come in and smash that potential – the structures and inherited trauma of slavery and colonialism playing out, child abuse, economic precarity, untreated mental illness, etc. Meritocracy would have us believe that the ocean of human endeavor is led by the best and brightest, that that liberal-ish homogenous best and brightest will fix the economy or racism or the pandemic. But again, I reject that. Some of the most important thought and strategy comes from the shadows, the underground – the realm of the lumpenproletariat. We just don’t have the platform or opportunity- yet. My work is part of a collective effort to throw off the weight meritocratic ideology so that we can see the reality of our power.
The country is on fire and I am nominating myself to do something about it. Not because I am special or want to be a leader, but because I think that everybody who can should find the courage to stand up – I’d be a hypocrite “shoulding” other people if I wasn’t prepared to make some sacrifices myself. And not the courage to use guns or throw hands, but the courage to let go of dreams of a high-status job or getting a new phone every year in order to give time and money to build a movement. We cannot wait for the perfect organization or politician to come to our rescue – they don’t exist and nobody actually thinks that liberation will come from the Ford Foundation anyway. The first purpose of Hard Bones is to make enough money for me to survive for the next few months (I make $5 for every e-book I sell). With my basic needs covered, I can devote myself fully to incubating Permanently Embarrassed Billionaires.
Permanently Embarrassed Billionaires is an anti-capitalist organizing startup whose mission is to bring disaffected millennials into what can broadly be described as the movement for a democratic society and economy. Zoomers are the clear leaders of this movement, however, there are still plenty of things that millennials can contribute. By focusing on mental illness, meritocratic ideology, and masculinity, PEB will attempt to reach depressed, downwardly mobile, and lonely millennials where they are at. Obviously #NotAllMillennials are depressed, downwardly mobile, and lonely, but there are an awful lot of us. The second purpose of Hard Bones is to meet people where they are at through my own vulnerability. I have literally nothing else to give. I would have set up an OnlyFans account or a GoFundMe page or a makeup pyramid scheme, but they are just not my style (but they may be possibilities for you to start raising money!).
The third purpose of Hard Bones and (Permanently Embarrassed Billionaires) is to build solidarity between the pro-democracy social movements in the US and Thailand, as well as other countries in the future. I’m primarily focusing on the pro-democracy movement in Thailand right now because of my personal connection to the country through Muay Thai and friendship. I am also very impressed and inspired by the movement technologies employed by the Thai protesters – ideas and actions that foster connection, joy, and safety. $2 from every Hard Bones e-book sold will go to support the Thai movement.
Hard Bones is imperfect, as we all are. All I have ever wanted from life – besides love/food/water/shelter – is to give myself over fully to the work of making another world possible (just ask Father Phil Florio SJ – I once considered becoming a nun*). If you don’t know that about me, it just means we haven’t had a deep conversation – yet. I have included a lot of citations to make the more journalistic/essay portions of Hard Bones as accurate as possible, but I recognize that there are likely to still be mistakes. I only ask that you look at Hard Bones in the context of my life and other writing, assume good faith, and let me know where I messed up so that I can make it better for the next edition. We have a long battle ahead that will be scary at times – our lifetimes will be marked by intensifying climate disasters that our government leaders won’t be able to face or mitigate until we vote the Boomer dinosaurs out of office. Biden is going to force austerity down our throats while corporations get bailed out. We can’t just sit around and do nothing.
*it really should be woman religious, but nun sounded better in the little clause
If you would like to read Hard Bones but cannot afford the $9.99 or you don’t have an e-reader, I can send you a PDF for free. Just email contact[at]heathersquire.com to request it. If I get a lot of requests, I will just post the file to social media. If you would like to make a donation to my work, here is my info: Venmo (@heather-squire), PayPal (PayPal.me/Hsquire), or Cahsapp ($squireheather).
One last thing. You will find the pacing and prose of Hard Bones choppy in some places. This is somewhat intentional. I tried to keep my editing as minimal as possible after my first draft because I wanted to capture a raw sense of how it feels inside my brain – the layers of meaning and consciousness that dance around any one particular thought. Not that I think my thought process is special. I think we all think in this way. But I do think I am skilled at describing that in a way that people can relate to and feel in their guts. That’s part of the entertainment value I am giving you with this book. Thank you again ❤️🖤✊🏼
Wait! Two more things. 1. I have a lot of strong opinions in the book. I recognize that some of them might make some people think I am an asshole. I just want to say that I accept that and I also don’t profess to be 100% correct. I’m not a guru or someone with political aspirations. 2. I write about my spiritual and mental health journey to share my story and offer that there may be some therapy or treatment out there that could help you get some relief. I am not saying my path is a path to follow – AT ALL. I just want to validate passionately that putting a lot of effort into calming your mind or seeking deeper truths is a 100% valid and human thing to do, even if it doesn’t make you rich.
My dreams for this book do not stop with people reading it. Of course I need the money too – I am unemployed. My first goal is to raise $25,000 through book sales. For every $10 e-book, $3 goes to Amazon, $2 goes to the Thai protestors, and $5 goes to me. This means I just need to sell 5000 copies, which will be doable with your support! With that $25,000 I will launch Permanently Embarrassed Billionaires, a strategic organizing firm that seeks to build the critical infrastructure necessary to link pro-democracy and ant-fascist social movements across the US and across the world. Permanently Embarrassed Billionaires will be managed as a worker cooperative, meaning that it will have a democratic structure and all profits will be shared. Once PEB is launched, we will be crowdsourcing $1 million dollars to build out an office and hire ten organizers to work for a year on campaigns and building out our innovative money-making model. Please see below for my tentative business plan (not including the profit part, which is still incubating in my imagination). In the mean time, follow Permanently Embarrassed Billionaires on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter – we will start posting content soon!
Hard Bones tells the story of my relationship to Muay Thai and eventual pilgrimage to Thailand in search of authentic training and to heal my body and brain. Through that narrative, I discuss Thailand’s Covid-19 response, the Thai pro-democracy movement, racism in US housing policy, and the converging movements for racial and economic justice in the US. There are also themes of loneliness, isolation, alienation, mental illness, masculinity, tourism, Buddhism, and radical self-love. I hope that this book can help people find some hope in these dark days.
As someone who thinks that humans are capable of an economic system far more stable, equitable, and sustainable than capitalism, I haven’t spent that much time thinking about what a socialist economy would look like in my every day life. When I say socialism, I mean a democratically-managed economy, where the industries and services we all need (like power, the mail, and healthcare) are owned by all of us. But what about businesses? Many internet critics that rail against the evils of socialism and communism conjure up these drab, grey pictures of people waiting in breadlines and a massive unaccountable bureaucracy. And I have to admit – the image is certainly not the kind of world that I want to live in. But are they correct that a democratically-managed economy must certainly turn into such a dystopia? I have been a critic of capitalism for more than twenty years, but I haven’t seen that many descriptions of a post-capitalist economy that really get me excited. Not that they don’t exist – Cooperation Jackson and the World Social Forum immediately come to mind – but they never really make it out of niche circles of activists and into the world of cable news. So I decided to lay about daydreaming what it might look like.
In another life, I ran a kitchen-based baked goods business. I made all kinds of delicious confections – chocolate-espresso brownies with hazelnut buttercream, custom birthday cakes, and chocolate peanut butter cookies to name a few. I really wanted to have a “real” business one day, a cute café where people would meet their friends or order a special cake; something where I’d have a few employees and all of us would share the profits after expenses/rent/loans/etc. I didn’t have much money to invest, but I had my skills and a good credit score – why shouldn’t I just be an entrepreneur?? A small business owner. The problem is risk and the very real threat of economic oblivion in the event that the failure. And for restaurants, the rate of failure is stunning: sixty percent of restaurants don’t make it past their first year and 80 percent go out of business within five years. I had $80,000 in student debt and no trust fund or rich spouse to fall back on. Some of you reading this might assume that I have low self-esteem or that my product just wasn’t that good. I can assure you that neither of those are the case. I made a rational decision based on the information available to me and concluded that there were too many uncertain variables weighing against the small chance of success. I think we can all agree that desserts and baked goods are not socially necessary in the sense that one can lead a pretty ok life without having access to them. But they are a social good – a means of treating oneself to something delicious or celebrating a loved one. What about a bake shop under socialism?
Under the current system, I – as a potential business owner – write up a business plan, secure a loan, contract with a landlord for space, and invest my own money into equipment and making the space attractive to potential customers. I must either know in advance about marketing, or else pay someone to do it for them. If the business takes a long time to start making money, I will have to take on more debt to be able to stay open and pay employees, driving down the wages and forcing employees to “do more with less”. If another bakery selling pastries were to open up across the street, there is nothing I could do about it. Even if they offered similar items at 1/3 the price because that other owner had a rich parent or patron keeping them afloat, there is nothing I could do to compete besides lowering my prices or investing even more money into advertising. If my business fails during the second year of my 5-year lease, I still have to pay all of the rent for those five years. If after five years of steady growth and building relationships with customers my landlord decides to double my rent, there is nothing I can do. I have to pay or I have to leave the space (not to mention all the capital they invested into it). The business owner is forced to absorb all the risk without any guarantees. So what? Just file for bankruptcy and start over again in a few years. [Insert eyeroll].
Opening a bakery under a socialist system would look a lot different because the goals of the economy would be different. How many times have you decried the existence of a Starbucks across the street from a Starbucks, around the corner from another Starbucks? This is how our space is organized under capitalism. Does there need to be three of the same shitty coffeehouses within a square mile? Probably not. But under the current system there isn’t much that people in the neighborhood can do. There are always “planning meetings” and other liberal urbanist practices that purport to give regular citizens more power, but they are by and large toothless entities that write reports and make suggestions. This is why there are entire neighborhoods where you can’t buy fresh produce. Under socialism, our space would be planned by accountable people who work for the taxpayers. Under capitalism, the free market decides and those with the most capital to invest will always win. Under socialism, the taxpayers would own commercial real estate, protecting the business from money-hungry landlords or, conversely, protecting building owners (not talking about hedge funds or investors here) from huge jumps in property taxes. If the citizens own the property and want to make sure the business is successful, perhaps the business wouldn’t have to start paying their cost-share (formerly rent; now a monthly fee used to start-up new businesses) until they start making money consistently and sustainably. A democratically organized economy by its very nature would want to help businesses survive and to keep neighborhoods stable because it supports human flourishing. These are just a couple of the infinite ways we could decide to organize our economy if we the people actually had power…we have the power.
The beauty of imagining the future is that we can imagine it however we want. We make the rules. If we say we want a socialist economy, that means we have the freedom to imagine all kinds of new economic relationships that favor democracy, justice, equity, and social cohesion. There’s no reason that a socialist economy would look like the USSR – we have access to far more knowledge, research, and stories from people on the ground than there was at the time of the Russian Revolution. Even as they advances in communications technology have created a lot more trash and toxic waste, the ubiquity of smartphones in the world today is a democratizing force that has been underestimated by the “communists want to steal your house” crowd. Just look at the pro-democracy protestors in Thailand – they have been able to organize and mobilize at a massive scale in just a few months, making use of social media to spread news about protests and memes that repeat the movement’s symbols and demands. They demand democracy and a new constitution, in spite of the fact that there has been a military coup there about once every seven years since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932. We are capable of creating new kinds of economic relationships that favor human development over shareholder growth. The future is ours to write. If you could organize the economy for the benefit of us all, what would it look like?
The smart money hit the canvas. The long shot got the nod. The yokel had simply stepped inside of his opponent’s sense of time.
[Ralph Ellison, The Invisible Man]
As I write this conclusion in the little bedroom of the Covid-safe friend pod, Trump and his followers are waging yet another war on reality, denying the legitimacy of Biden’s election victory. More than 100,000 cases of Covid-19 are reported every day in every part of the US. The 24 hour cable news cycle is reporting every absurd event, debating whether or theorizing how a Trump coup might unfold. The atmospheric dread is thick and orange, choking us with disbelief. The democratic experiment feels more like a failure than usual, especially as so many of us lacked faith in our institutions and that old promise of opportunity to begin with. Not many people believe that a Biden presidency is capable of bringing about the deep changes necessary to confront either the viral memetic infection of Trumpism or the contradictions of racial capitalism. Climate change looms heavy in our hearts too, even as we feel confident in Biden’s ability to bring actual science and scientists to the fore in our battle against Covid-19. Where do we go next? How do those of us that believe in truth, justice, and democracy orient ourselves in the proximate and distant unknowns? What are our weapons and tools of resistance? Who is our opponent?
It was a Friday morning and my roommate was watching TV in the living room. I wanted them to take a picture of me so I asked them and they said yes. They came to my room twenty minutes later, asked if I was ready, and then suggested we take it outside because the light was better.
My roommate has off on Fridays and especially likes sleeping in until 9am and then watching The Bachelorette on the couch while drinking hot tea. They were in the midst of their quiet ritual last Friday when I barged into the living room with great urgency, voluntelling them to take my picture for a social media post that was on my mind.
The last two weeks of my book-writing marathon – and the week after I completed the first draft – were activated by a fierce electrical current having no known generator, no rubber foot for grounding. The words were being pulled out of me by some terrible phantom, part muse and part jurist. Ideas and phrases that were filed away in the heavy metal catalogues of my mind were suddenly bound by new synapses that my brain matched together in geometric patterns. I wrote for eight to ten hours and read hundreds of pages on a given day. My sleep grew even more disquieted. I got an idea for a picture I could post to social media. I didn’t “know” that it would go viral, but I felt that it could based on what the picture would symbolize. I “knew” my roommate would understand just how important the picture would be, so I rushed to the living room on Friday morning to let them know that they could be a part of this important thing by taking my picture. And they took my picture, which I promptly posted on social media.
I feel compelled to write this book about the last year of my life because I am a decent enough writer and my friends would support me. We have to “hit the system with everything we’ve got,” and I’ve got a few words. I want to write something that makes my friends feel hopeful and seen – but I also just want to make myself feel hopeful because my mental health is rapidly deteriorating. But if I can keep writing, I am distracted from the pain. And if I write well enough that a few thousand people would pay for it, I could help build solidarity between the pro-democracy movement in Thailand and the movement for racial justice and democracy in the US. I don’t think I’ll make much money, but I want to donate half of whatever I make. I can martyr myself on a pyre constructed of trauma and failure, commodifying my inner life to create some dry compressed biomass, waiting for a match…whew, ok. I just finished a full first draft of this thing and I will ask some people I know from the internet to read it. No wait, this is weird. This isn’t about me. I should just put it up on my blog and if anyone is interested, they will choose to give me feedback. Then I can make the big structural edits before polishing it and pitching to agents (or self-publishing).
The way I see it, Thailand is headed into winter, which is dry and warm, but less humid then the rest of the year – high season. The international borders will remain mostly closed, keeping community transmission of Covid-19 in Thailand at or near zero. The pro-democracy movement s going to be very active until February, when the monsoons and smoke begin making mass public protests much more difficult. At the same time, we in the US will be sheltering in place and doing our best not to die or kill other people with our precious individuality. The weather will be wet and grey – sometimes snowy – adding seasonal depression to the mental trash heap of Covid fear, economic anxiety, and the experience of living through the rapid decline and failure of our nation-state. What if I asked different groups and people in the US to strategically support the Thai protestors during their high season (like the way K-pop stans have succeeded in doing with several movements aruond the world)? It could give people in the US hope and inspiration and escape as they take little actions from home to support the Thai movement from the other side of the world, like fans sending food and medicine to players in The Hunger Games. And then when Spring comes and things heat up again in the US (which we all know they absolutely will), the solidarity forged in the Winter could bolster the movement in the US. I know we don’t ever like to think of ourselves in the US as needing help, but I think we can all recognize that isolation is death and Covid-19 has been a deeply isolating and profoundly traumatizing event.
There was a major protest coming up in Bangkok and I got the idea that I could pose for a picture in my Thai boxing shorts holding up the 3-finger salute from The Hunger Games (one of the most visible symbols of the pro-democracy movement in Thailand) and a facemask with BLM (Black Lives Matter) printed on it. I would embody a conduit – not because I am special or have any kind of leadership skills, but because it was a random idea and everything is fucked, so why not try it? I HATE marketing with every particle of my being, but maybe if my friends see it they will support it. Maybe people in the US who train Muay Thai will be interested too. Oh shit, I better get my roommate to take this picture so I can post it while the protest is happening (Bangkok is 15 hours ahead of PST) and use their hashtags. My roommate made a weird face at me when I asked them to take the picture, so I think that meant no? No big deal, I just want to get this done. I’ll just find a ledge to prop my phone against and use the timer.
I needed to write this story to expel the poison trapped inside of me. The compulsion to write it was a little scary, maybe even like a manic episode. I have only ever wanted to support movements for justice and democracy with all my heart, but I just don’t think they can deal with the enormity of the crisis we are facing – environmentally, economically, and existentially. Organizing will be most useful for when things start to collapse – to survive. Grasping at social movements is like a religion for me, but when it comes to humans I don’t have much faith. If I can write about these movements I can avoid the very real, very heavy loneliness that drowns me when I am paralyzed in front of the newsfeeds, frozen in despair. Fuck, I guess I have to do some stupid social media promo for my writing. At least if I succeed in marketing my writing, there is the possibility that I could one day make my dream of a little house in Port Angeles come true. If not a house, then a studio apartment for sure. And solitude. I asked my roommate a bit abruptly if they would take my picture for the stupid social media post. I saw in their eyes immediately that something was wrong – probably because I was being a bit aggressive or too loud (holy shit why can I not just modulate my volume?!!!) in my manner of request. I am going to take that as a no and run back to my room so I don’t make things weird. Why am I like this? I am so self-absorbed; possibly narcissistic. I can’t believe I “felt” like someone in my head was telling me to take that picture. Is this a psychotic break? I definitely lack empathy, obviously.
You clearly need to be medicated – just listen to yourself! You are the worst human to ever exist, precisely because you do such careless things. You need to go apologize to your roommate and pray that they don’t want to kick you out of the house. You couldn’t blame them if they did evict you – you did something shitty and you must take responsibility for your shitty behavior…I apologized, ok?? I brought it up a couple days later and they quickly affirmed that I had been a bit bossy and demanding while they were just trying to chill and see if Chasen would kick his Botox addiction this week. I was horrified and apologized profusely because I did not know that I would be apologizing for something so MASSIVE. My roommate laughed and said they forgive me, but I’m sure they secretly hate me.
None of this exists. I am the universe experiencing itself, energy trapped in a fragile flesh suit, fighting gravity with calcium. My thoughts and feelings don’t matter. My actions matter. I live for the sake of remembering now, the many futures that I will not be a participating in later. If my brief human life has any purpose at all, please let it be that I leave more love in this world than I received. Please don’t let my efforts be in vain. Please just hint at the right direction for once. Please don’t leave me alone on this burning planet to repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat repeat…until I stop repeating. Oh.
Meritocracy is one of the great fictions of late capitalism in the US, a shiny chrome paint job obscuring the gutted interior and rusted out chassis of society. Our collective allegiance to the myth that wealth and power are doled out on the basis of individual merit, rather than inheritance, nepotism, and structural advantages, keeps us grinding away for longer hours and shrinking wages – even as the GDP rises and new billionaires are made. The carrot-and-stick nature of meritocratic ideology rewards winners with wealth, influence, and power, while punishing the losers with diminished opportunities, increased vulnerability to violence, and shorter life expectancies. As the wealth gap increases, our visceral reactions to this polarized binary become more extreme as well. We celebrate and elect people that we perceive to be most qualified because we hold it to be self-evident that the wealth, influence, and power they hold are the result of individual striving – hard work and gumption ftw. At the other end of the binary, we pathologize, criminalize, and actively hate poor people because we are enchanted by the delusion that such social failure could only be the result of an individual making shitty life choices. You cheer breathlessly in the school yard while the bully beats the crap out of the weakling, hoping that your sycophantic applause will protect you from being the bully’s next victim – after all you are a half inch shorter than the weakling and you have asthma…it’s not your fault, you think. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
Despite attempts by Thailand’s elites to cast ordinary Thais as docile, obedient, and uninterested in politics, evidence of resistance to exploitation and domination in the region pre-dates the formation of the Thai state. The popular uprising that spread across Thailand starting in July 2020 traces its lineage back to the Red Shirt political movement that emerged in 2006, resistance to the 1991 military coup, the coordinated student, labor, and peasant struggles of the 1970s, and the Siamese Revolution of 1932 before that. While Thailand was never formally colonized, it was still economically dominated by the British imperial system since being pried opened to British foreign trade with the signing of the Bowring Treaty of 1855. The organizers of the Siamese Revolution ended the absolute monarchy and put Thailand on a path towards economic nationalism and modernization; the political ideology of the organizers was not monolithic, however, and the party would eventually split into civilian and military factions. The military faction along with its royalist supporters would ultimately win the dispute, excising any mention of a welfare state or land reform from the new constitution and ushering in fifteen years of authoritarian rule that outlawed communism. Post-World War II prosperity brought with it a more liberal mood and Marxist ideas gained traction in urban Thai society. Progressive political parties, trade unions, literary movements, and the publication of original Thai socialist ideas – as well as translations of Marxist works in other languages – multiplied from 1946 to 1957. These once-banned ideas inspired a generation of student activists, many of whom would go on to organize protests right up until they were banned yet again by another military coup in 1958.
If the original inhabitants of the Americas were given the choice 500 years ago, do you think they would have chosen to keep on living their lives as they had been, or would they choose small pox, genocide, boarding schools, and being forced off the land? If the African humans that were enslaved in the Americas were given a voice back in the late 17th century , do you think they would have voted for freedom or to protect the rich white men that “owned” them? If the 21st century citizens of the USA had the opportunity to fund a robust public health infrastructure – including universal healthcare and a fully-funded, science-based, national-level plan for dealing with a pandemic – do you think the majority of people would choose public health or would they choose to cut the funding and cancel the research while cutting taxes on the rich?