Henry Rollins: Why I'm A Very Angry Person (And What I Plan to Do About It)

Punk rock is not dead. In fact, Henry Rollins sees it everywhere around him. "The kid who throws his spaghetti from the high chair onto his father’s face, he is pushing back. He is sticking it to the man as he sees it. I like that."


Rollins is best known as the frontman for the hardcore punk band Black Flag, but he has dabbled in many mediums. He has been a talk radio host and has appeared in dozens of films and TV shows, most recently appearing in the second season of FX's Sons of Anarchy. Rollins has always been politically engaged, and during a recent interview with Big Think, Rollins spoke about putting the punk rock back into political activism:

"Questioning anything and everything to me is punk rock. I find it in these amazing demonstrations happening all over the world, these Twitter-fed, Facebook-fed flash-mobbing revolutions that are happening all over the world that are indeed changing the course of government, ousting people like Hosni Mubarak and changing people’s minds."

Occupy Wall Street is definitely punk rock, as Rollins told Big Think in the interview below.

Big Think: What makes you angry?

Henry Rollins: I am most of the time a very angry person because I see a lot of things going on in the world that make me angry, but the thing that gets most of my attention anger-wise is that the chickens of capitalism have come home to roost. That is why you’re seeing the push back in places like Cairo, Egypt, in Israel, Yemen, Tunisia, Syria and now Occupy Wall Street in America. So it is good that the real questions are finally being asked by Occupy Wall Street, addressing things like bank deregulation, the amelioration of Glass-Steagall, the rich not paying the proper tax, loopholes, deregulation, lobbying, et cetera, et cetera. That is where you get the housing crisis from and everything else that bedevils America now.

So this makes me angry that we have to go through all of this and this is a global thing. This is not just exclusive to America. Europe is feeling it. The whole world is feeling it because bankers got away with murder, at least in America. American taxpayers bailed out these awful institutions who turned around and kept the profits and now are telling people that they need to cheer up and work or people like Rick Perry--for now the governor of Texas. He boasts the Texas miracle, which would be a bunch of people with really awful minimum wage jobs that they work two or three of to bring home the proverbial bacon, so the struggle that people are going through in America, the hostility with which they are met by the police who trample all over the First Amendment happening right down the street from the building we’re sitting in right now.  

This is what makes me the angriest because it is the most egregious thing done to humanity in the time that I have been alive and at the same time I'm very optimistic that this is a global thing that the people of the world are the 99 percenters and so things are going to change. You could not have picked a more fascinating century to be alive in and awake in because this is the century where Homo sapiens either get it right or get it wrong. We’re at peak oil, peak water, peak resources and so either we figure it out and let science lead or we head down a very bad, dark trail to where a lot of people aren’t going to make it.

And so I'm angry about what has been done in the name of my country, what has been done in the name of democracy and what has been done in the name of fairness and that’s what makes me angrier than anything I can think of.

Big Think: How do you right the wrong?

Henry Rollins: How to right the wrong, anyone who is against the way it is right now is going up against the stripped naked crassest and most powerful forces of the universe, which isn’t God.  It’s the military industrial complex.  It’s the prison industrial complex.  It’s the banks.  It’s the corporatocracy and the corporate takeover of the American government and no doubt many European governmental systems, so you are going up against the biggest possible guns literally and figuratively.  What rights the wrong?  Time and enough people standing up and just saying:  “No, I'm not going to fight your war.  I'm not going to let you get away with sneaking around and doing that.  Mr. President, Mr. or Ms. Senator, whoever, you must account to me.  Here is the Constitution.  Read it.  Here is democracy.  Live by it and at least in America these are the United States, deal with the fact that we are united.”  I am not the biggest fan of members of the Ku Klux Clan, but they are my neighbors.  They are my countrymen.  It is my job to pull them up, at least get to their kids and make them literate and make them more aware of the world and so that’s how we right the wrongs, education, speaking out, demonstrating, voting and becoming examples to those who come after us.

Barack Obama can take credit for dropping the ball.  That is why there is Occupy Wall Street. It’s okay Mr. President.  The people picked the ball up and if anyone should be shook by this thing it should be him because this was on his watch.  He should have been making moves where this didn’t have to happen, but it’s okay.  We got this one.  Even if he doesn’t, we do and he’ll have to answer those questions at all the campaign stops.  I hope he gets asked about it about three times a day.  So what is punk rock?  Occupy Wall Street, flash mobs, what happened in Cairo.  So yeah, punk rock is alive and well.  

Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter @DanielHonan

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Want to forge stronger social bonds? Bring beer.

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Beer is history's happiest accident. Though the discovery probably happened much earlier, our earliest evidence for beer dates back roughly 13,000 years ago. Around this time, the people of the Fertile Crescent had begun to gather grains as a food source and learned that if they moistened them, they could release their sweetness to create a gruel much tastier than the grains themselves.

One day a curious — or perhaps tightfisted — hunter-gatherer hid his gruel away for a safekeeping. When he returned, he found the bowl giving off a tangy odor. Not one to waste a meal, he ate it anyway and enjoyed an unexpected, though not unpleasant, sensation of ease. By pure happenstance, this ancestor stumbled upon brewing.

That's one possible origin story, but we know that our ancestors learned to control the process, and beer took a central role in Fertile Crescent civilizations — so central that Professor Patrick McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that beer, not bread, incentivized hunter-gatherers to relinquish their nomadic ways.

Beer may also be proof of a God who wants us to be happy (Dionysus?), because the beverage* would be independently rediscovered by peoples across the ancient world, including those in China and South America.

One such peoples, the pre-Inca Wari Civilization, made beer, specifically chicha de molle, a critical component in their religious and cultural ceremonies. In fact, a study published in Sustainability in April argues that the role was so important that beer helped keep Wari civilization intact for 500 years.

Brewing social capital

Twenty years ago, a team of archaeologists with the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, discovered a brewery in Cerro Baúl, a mesa in southern Peru that served as an ancient Wari outpost. The brewery contained original equipment, clay storage vessels, and compartments for milling, boiling, and fermentation.

The team recently analyzed these on-site vessels to uncover the secrets of the Wari brewing process. Removing tiny amounts of material found in the spaces between the clay, they were able to reconstruct the molecules of the thousand-year-old drink. They then worked alongside Peruvian brewers to recreate the original brewing process.**

Their molecular analysis revealed several key features of the beer: The clay used to make the vessels came from a nearby site; many of the beer's ingredients, such as molle berries, are drought resistant; and though alcoholic, the beer only kept for about a week.

These details suggest that Cerro Baúl maintained a steady supply of chicha, limited by neither trade nor fair weather, and became a central hub for anyone wishing to partake. The Wari would likely make such trips during times of festivals and religious ceremonies. Social elites would consume chicha in vessels shaped like Wari gods and leaders as part of rituals attesting to social norms and a shared cultural mythology and heritage.

"People would have come into this site, in these festive moments, in order to recreate and reaffirm their affiliation with these Wari lords and maybe bring tribute and pledge loyalty to the Wari state," Ryan Williams, lead author and head of anthropology at the Field Museum, said in a release. "We think these institutions of brewing and then serving the beer really formed a unity among these populations. It kept people together."

The Wari civilization was spread over a vast area of rain forests and highlands. In a time when news traveled at the speed of a llama, such distinct and distant geography could easily have fractured the Wari civilization into competing locales.

Instead, the researchers argue, these festive gatherings (aided by the promise of beer) strengthened social capital enough to maintain a healthy national unity. This helped the Wari civilization last from 600 to 1100 CE, an impressive run for a historic civilization.

Bringing people together (since 10,000 BCE)

A Mesopotamian cylinder seal shows people drinking beer through long reed straws. Image source: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Of course, the Wari weren't the first civilization to use beer to reaffirm bonds and maintain their social fabric. Returning to the Fertile Crescent, Sumerians regarded beer as a hallmark of their civilization.

The Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh tells of the adventures of the titular hero and his friend Enkidu. Enkidu beings as a savage living in the wilderness, but a young woman introduces him to the ways of civilization. That orientation begins with food and beer:

"They placed food in front of him,
They placed beer in front of him,
Enkidu knew nothing about eating bread for food,
And of drinking beer he had not been taught.
The young woman spoke Enkidu, saying:
"Eat the food, Enkidu, it is the way one lives.
Drink the beer, as is the custom of the land."
Enkidu ate the food until he was sated,
He drank the beer — seven jugs! — and became expansive
and sang with joy.
He was elated and his face glowed.
He splashed his shaggy body with water
and rubbed himself with oil, and turned into a human
."

Tom Standage, who recounts this scene in his History of the World in 6 Glasses, writes: "The Mesopotamians regarded the consumption of bread and beer as one of the things that distinguished them from savages and made them fully human." Such civilized staples not only demarcated their orderly life from that of hunter-gatherers, they also served a key role in their culture's unifying mythology.

Furthermore, Standage notes, Sumerian iconography often shows two people sipping from waist-high jars through reed straws. The earliest beers were consumed in a similar fashion because technological limitations prevented baking individual cups or filtering the beverage. But the Sumerians had the pottery skills to make such cups and filter the dregs. That they kept the tradition suggests that they valued the camaraderie brought by the experience, a sign of communal hospitality and kinship.

The ancient Greek's similarly used alcohol as a means of maintaining social and political relationships — though their drink of choice was wine.

During symposiums, upper-class Greek men would gather for a night of drinking, entertainment, and social bonding. In Alcohol: A history, Rod Phillips notes that symposiums were serious affairs where art, politics, and philosophy were discussed throughout the night and could serve as rites of passage for young men. (Though, music, drinking games, and sex with prostitutes may also be found on the itinerary.)

Of course, we can amass social capital without resorting to alcohol, which has been known to damage social relationships as much as improve them.

In the 17th century, London's coffeehouses stimulated the minds of thinkers with their caffeine-laden drinks, but also served as social hubs. Unlike the examples we've explored already, these coffeehouses brought together people of different backgrounds and expertise, unifying them in their pursuit of ideas and truths. Thus, coffeehouses can be seen as the nurseries of the Enlightenment.

Relearning ancient lessons

The Field Museum archaeologists hope their research can help remind us the importance social institutions and cultural practices have in creating our common bonds, whether such institutions are BYOB or not.

"This research is important because it helps us understand how institutions create the binds that tie together people from very diverse constituencies and very different backgrounds," Williams said. "Without them, large political entities begin to fragment and break up into much smaller things. Brexit is an example of this fragmentation in the European Union today. We need to understand the social constructs that underpin these unifying features if we want to be able to maintain political unity in society."

So, grab a beer or coffee or tea, spend some time together, and raise a glass. Just try not focus too much on whether your friend ordered Budweiser's swill or an overpriced, virtue-signaling microbrew IPA.

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