A Profound Act Of Sincerity

One of the main reasons the self-immolation of Aaron Bushnell is having such an earth-shaking impact on our society is because it’s the single most profound act of sincerity that any of us have ever witnessed.

In this fraudulent civilization where everything is fake and stupid, we are not accustomed to such sincerity. We’re accustomed to vapid mainstream culture manufactured in New York and Los Angeles, airheaded celebrities who never talk about anything real, self-aggrandizing Instagram activism, synthetic political factions designed to herd populist discontent into support for status quo politics, phony shitlib “I hear you, I stand with you [but I won’t actually do anything]” posturing, endless propaganda and diversion from the mass media and its online equivalents which are algorithmically boosted by Silicon Valley tech plutocrats, and a mind-controlled dystopia where almost everyone is sleepwalking through life in a psyop-induced fog.

That is the sort of experience we have been conditioned to expect here in the shadow of the western empire. And then, out of nowhere, some Air Force guy comes along and does something real. Something as authentic and sincere as anything could possibly be, with the very noblest of intentions.

He live-streamed himself lighting himself on fire and burning to death in order to draw people’s attention to how horrific the US-backed atrocities in Gaza actually are. Knowing full well how painful it would be. Knowing full well he’d either die or survive with horrific burns and wish he’d died. Knowing full well that once he connected the flame with the accelerant he poured onto his body, there’d be no turning back.

He didn’t back down. He didn’t go home and stuff his face with snacks and gossip in the group chat and see what types of mindless escapism are available on Netflix or Pornhub. He lit the flame. He even struggled to light it at first, and he still did.

There’s nothing in our society that can prepare us for that kind of sincerity. That kind of selflessness. That kind of purity of intention. It stops us dead in our tracks, as if the fabric of our world has been ripped asunder. And, in a way, it has.

We’re not really living in the same world we were living in before Aaron Bushnell lit himself on fire at 1 PM on February 25th. It was far too sincere an act, committed in the least sincere city on this planet. It shook things around far too much for all the pieces to fit fully back into place.

I myself am permanently changed. I find myself reapproaching the Gaza genocide with fresh eyes, renewed vigor, and invincible determination. I now write with a different kind of fire in my guts.

And looking around I can see it’s much the same for others. Where previously we’d begun seeing the opposition to the incineration of Gaza beginning to lose a bit of energy due to despair and how hard it is to keep something energized for months on end, we are now seeing electrifying enthusiasm. 

More importantly, this is shaking things up in mainstream society and not just within the pro-Palestine crowd. We’re seeing Bushnell’s final words about the US empire’s complicity with genocide shared on mainstream networks like CNN and ABC, while Israel apologists run around falling all over themselves trying to tell people nobody cares about what Bushnell did like a guy sending a woman dozens of texts saying he’s totally unbothered that she rejected his advances. A member of the US military lighting himself on fire while screaming “Free Palestine” is absolutely devastating to the information interests of Israel and the United States, because it shakes people awake like nothing else ever could.

All around our fake plastic dystopia people are now opening their eyes, saying “Wait, huh? That man did what? Why? I thought nothing matters but my comfort and my feelings and my small circle of people I care about? My country is complicit in a what now? Is it possible I’ve been missing something important?”

With his profound act of sincerity, Aaron Bushnell extended the world an invitation to a very different way of looking at life. An invitation to pierce through the veil of superficiality and narcissism to a radical authenticity and a deep compassion for our fellow human beings. To a profound sincerity of our own, with which we can shake the world awake in our own unique ways.

At 1 PM on February 25th, Aaron Bushnell lit more than one kind of fire. A fire that drives us to act. A fire that lights the way. A fire that inspires us. A fire that shows us another way of being. A fire which shows us a better world is possible. 

We won’t forget his message. We couldn’t if we tried.

Originally published: Caitlin’s Newsletter

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