Life – simple life – is always right.
August 24, 2015 7:03 PM   Subscribe

"Life does not have a narrative arc. The world does not have a narrative arc. Or if it does, it’s bigger than anything we could ever fucking write about." An unusually great, philosophical interview with punk/DIY legend Ian MacKaye on self-preservation, digital obsession and finding your life tree trunk.
posted by naju (13 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
Ian MacKaye is such a wise person. It's so refreshing to read something about unplugging and being a human with true agency and not have it be some capitalist life hack thing.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:21 PM on August 24, 2015 [11 favorites]

It doesn’t make sense to me that you wouldn’t want to remember your life. This concept of partying, it’s like you’re sweeping up after yourself constantly. You’re just sweeping away your memories. I like to be present, and keep it with me. Some people think of straight edge as a tee-totaling sobriety movement, but in my mind it was just about self definition.

Great, thanks. I've seen him live in different incarnations three times, and I've always been so impressed by both him and his work.
posted by frumiousb at 8:03 PM on August 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wonderful, thanks for posting. I really love the way he expresses the whole "insignificance is liberating" thing.
posted by ZipRibbons at 11:21 PM on August 24, 2015

fucking choice quote

As a young child, I couldn’t grasp the idea of death. It was so unbearable for me, I freaked the fuck out. But then at some point I realised I would never get an answer from a single person on earth. So I figured – just live. I think the most constructive way to approach a lot of this stuff is to make peace with incomprehensibility.

posted by mannequito at 1:26 AM on August 25, 2015 [6 favorites]

I really enjoyed this, thanks.

I was struck by a few parts of this - the analogy to his not liking technology, to straight-edge not liking drugs. The idea that framing life as "Survival" removes the ability to navigate. The idea that punk is an open field, that gives people the choice and control over their own navigation. It all ties together.

Oh, also: I think he really didn't like the interview!
posted by rebent at 3:15 AM on August 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

When you're a teenager you have heroes and growing up you end up disapointed in them, because you realise they're not as great as you think they were.
Well Ian Mackaye is one of the few heroes I had when I was a teenager that never disapointed me.
posted by SageLeVoid at 4:02 AM on August 25, 2015 [11 favorites]

I love and respect MacKaye and always will. And there's a lot of good wisdom in here. But his idea of rejecting/abandoning personal narratives is not one that works for me or really adds up when you think it through. I don't think he even really manages it. In the very next sentence, he sets up a personal narrative about his life--it's a really abstract, open-ended narrative in the picaresque mode. But it's still a narrative. It has a beginning and an end and a character who has agency.

The brain builds narratives whether we like it or not. That's been confirmed by experimental result so many times and so universally, it can't really be questioned. So what's the point in lying to ourselves and pretending we can move past narrative? That's as much setting yourself against nature as any other aspect of capitalism or modern life. It's better to try to be as reflective and honest with ourselves about our narrative-building as possible I think, accept it as the messy natural process it is, and start from there as the basis of a life philosophy. To deny to yourself that you are narrative building at this very moment is to lie to yourself.

Still, this is a great interview and it makes me happy to see it here on the blue. MacKaye is an inspiration, and I really appreciate an artist like him putting himself and his ideas out there like this, even if I may not agree completely with every aspect of what he says or does.
posted by saulgoodman at 5:27 AM on August 25, 2015

Ten years later we were selling hundreds of thousands of records and that presented other challenges, but I didn’t feel like, ‘Oh, now we’re successful!’ I thought, ‘Now, it’s today.’ The label is smaller now, but it doesn’t feel any less significant.

The fact that he's kept it going well after it dipped beyond its quantitative peak says a lot about how fully he's able to ignore everyone else's crazy "success" concept. Which has been drilled so hard into my head and a lot of other people's heads that even when after largely rejecting it intellectually, I sometimes find myself reloading various web pages looking for numbers to go up.

This one situation came up when a local paper wrote an article about the fact that Urban Outfitters was selling Minor Threat T-shirts. They called to see if this was true and I said, ‘Yeah.’ Another company makes them, and I just don’t give a fuck. The headline was something akin to, ‘Ian MacKaye Doesn’t Care Anymore’. This set off a day-long siege of comments. It was just so absurd. Friends called to say, ‘I feel terrible, you’re getting your ass kicked online.’ But you know, the internet is an aquarium. There could be the fiercest battle – like the fish could be going at it, just tearing the crap out of each other. The castles could be knocked over. The gravel displaced. But for those of us outside the aquarium, not a drop gets on us. It’s just not real. If people want to engage in that communication, I’m not judgemental. But if it hurts you, or it’s dispiriting, then get out of the aquarium.

Oh, man, this analogy seems so helpful for ignoring agitating stuff that you don't have to pay attention to.
posted by ignignokt at 6:41 AM on August 25, 2015 [15 favorites]

The brain builds narratives whether we like it or not. That's been confirmed by experimental result so many times and so universally, it can't really be questioned. So what's the point in lying to ourselves and pretending we can move past narrative?

Really? Did the sample sizes extend past Westerners and specifically focus on the "protagonist of a story" narrativization he describes?
posted by deathmaven at 4:19 PM on August 25, 2015

I thought a lot about the psychological effects of an office. People working eight, ten, twelve hours a day. Look up from that computer, look around you, and nothing has moved. Never in the history of the world have people worked ten hours and nothing has moved. Imagine if you were sweeping for twelve hours how clean your fucking house would be? The dirty plate next to your computer? It’s still there!
posted by spacewaitress at 8:13 PM on August 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

I met Ian MacKaye and he was incredibly gracious and deeply friendly. Every once in a long while, I'll forward him something via email and sometimes he responds. Minor Threat was a huge influence growing up!
posted by toastchee at 6:25 AM on August 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

There's a great interview with him on Vice's old video site,, with Ian Svenonious (of The Nation of Ulysses, and other bands).

posted by gucci mane at 12:48 PM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much for posting - I found what he had to say very encouraging.
posted by paleyellowwithorange at 3:01 AM on September 2, 2015

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