The Ultimacy of Unity [And the Dynamics of Deprivation]

A hunger strike is a rough go on the physiological system.

The body loses its ability to maintain some pretty critical mechanisms — from its temperature regulation to its immune function. Kidney function becomes affected, as nutrient delivery stalls out and the metabolism slows to a crawl. 

The vital organs and muscle systems begin to shrink as they go into safe mode and the body begins its difficult process of shutting down to deal with sudden circumstances that grow increasingly dire day by day, let alone hour by hour. 

And that’s only half of the unnerving picture. 

The psyche suffers in its own ways — the brain’s lack of essential nutrients forces it to break down its own neurons to keep itself going. While only being composed of two percent of total body mass, the brain uses upwards of 50% of the body’s glucose in order to convert energy from external nutrients into chemical and electrical energy used to sustain life. 

In short, the brain starts metabolizing its own grey matter — neurons go haywire as electrical signals are miscued; the brain is unable to respond accurately to variable demands and misfires controls; concentration capacity drops, mood fluctuates, emotions spiral, obsessional thinking sinks in. 

Then, all things start to come together, like a melting hard drive. 

The body begins having to scavenge muscle while nutrient supply lines to vital organs shut down; the mind loses its bearings, allowing for hallucinations and incomprehension; the brain begins to stumble, leading to disruptions in the heart rhythm and the circulatory system. 

Finally, the heart gives.

It’s no small feat to make it a few days on an empty stomach; most of those reading these words will have never gone over a full 24 hours without having something to digest. 

Not that anyone really should. 

But for those who do—who are often inexplicably scoffed at by consensus opinion — it’s a sigil for something much greater than their psycho-physiological function and standing.

It’s a testament first, and a test second.

As for what it could stand for, to each their own:

Gandhi conducted numerous strikes up to 21 days for greater national unity in India. 

Cesar Chavez reportedly pushed himself a whole 25 days to gain recognition for a union of farm workers.

Bobby Sands, protesting the treatment of paramilitary prisoners in Ireland, died at 66 days. 

There’s a common theme to the point and purpose behind these remonstrations, and it’s a theme that I found to be interwoven throughout every insight provided to me by Mark McCormack, an Albertan activist with a pretty potent message. 

When I had interviewed Mark, he had been on day 24 of a hunger strike that was to take him 28 days in total. Apart from water, there was no food for Mark, as he sought to protest the mounting ‘meta-crises’ of the world, some of which are elucidated below. 

He has since completed his protest, successfully. 

Unity had been the underlying cause of his effort, and something that I hope to not lose sight of with the publication of this interview; as much as the method is in the spotlight, I also want to keep the message front and center too. 

So below is a Q&A with Mark, who sent me his answers to my questions via audio recordings. It’s not yet fully transcribed, and many portions are paraphrased, but of what’s published below, each point is an ode to the test and testament of a mind that is completely determined to mend a world fraught with existential crises, and a body pushed beyond the limits of human capability.

On the originating inspiration, Uber, AI, and Hegel's dialectics

Q: At what point did you decide to hang your life on the line as a variable in the equation of your protest and what did it take to push you to that point?

The precise moment was back in 2021, in August; we were trying to unionize all the Uber workers against the incredible manipulation and power of Uber’s artificial intelligence and the thousands of social scientists and psychologists they were hiring to make workers work longer for less by nudging them in a thousand ways. 

During this union event, we were noticing that we were being praised by this big union that we were partnered with for performing around 5–10 years of unionizing in 8 months, and that was mostly because I was living out of my car trying to beat the algorithm in a way that it couldn’t predict me in my zone. 

These unions started organizing with us, giving us their flags, and started having actual meetings, and all the phone numbers that I had gotten were now contacted and formally organized.

We started protesting with the flag outside of the busiest McDonalds and it attracted a lot more attention very quickly, to the point that the union started to approach us and told us that we had to slow down — that we were going too fast and that they didn’t want Uber to know what we were doing…They wanted to slow down and play the normal game. I said, “if you play the normal game, their AI’s going to beat you — they have the top anti-union lawyers in the world on top of that”…

The precise moment when I started to think about a hunger strike was when they took their flag away from me, and they left me their pole, and we made our own flag…. Once you work with Uber you get this feeling that you’re playing chess with this infinitely intelligent being who’s trying to kill you the whole time. And we know that was going to happen to them. So the hunger strike was not only a way to go on a strike against Uber, but as against the union itself — to force their hand, to promote us, to go to the media and keep pushing, and that’s where the first hunger strike came.

Uber was moving way too fast. When I really solidified in August that I was going to do it, it’s because Uber was in 10,000 cities world wide already, affecting 3 million people, expanding very aggressively into other areas. They didn’t just want to be a taxi company, it felt like they wanted to take over everything… What was this organization going to do when they got larger and were determining the global culture and labour mechanisms?

This allowed us to realize, experientially, this dystopic future that was not only theoretically possible, it was already happening to us. I could see the writing on the wall because wealth concentration was at all time highs, all these trends were starting, and we had tracked the numbers to show how they were basically making slavery through the algorithm.

We thought that this was one of our last chances… The immigrants that we were trying to unionize were afraid. They didn’t believe in unions. That’s why I went on the hunger strike — to gain their trust, to push the unions and to address this exponential growth trend of companies like Uber who were using artificial intelligence already. 

I risked my life because I thought, if I can’t do it now with all my friends and resources and the 700 Uber drivers and this big union, then it’s probably not going to happen — it’s probably going to get harder. 

As the crisis deepened, people started to believe me all the more. And now they’re starting to get ready to take action.

Hunger strikes came in as a way to send a very aggressive signal — a non-violent signal. I didn’t want to obtain criminal record, I didn’t want to be marginalized as a threat, even though I was inspected by the anti-terrorist organization of Canada. That’s why I made all my signs say ‘peaceful revolution’, because your protests rights are only protected in Canada under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms when they’re peaceful protests. I wanted to preserve my integrity of being peaceful and having no criminal record or mental health history after nearly 20 years of activism.

There was a second component that also played into it, a metaphysical perspective of [Georg Wilhelm Friedrich] Hegel where he states that dialectics have to complete their negative moments and there are two possible results that, in any universal logical notion there’s three moments of universal, particular and individual, where the second moment is the dialectical — the famous dialectical moment that everybody knows Hegel for — the moment of tension — the moment of war between opposites and that moment has two results of, what he calls, nullity: where it doesn’t have to progress — it can actual cancel it the contingent world- our world. 

But the second result is that the negation completes the first abstract and then it negates itself as a whole in a self-reflective move; a negation of a negation that becomes a positive, or a sublation, which is the third moment of universal logic. And so this finishing of the negative moment is what going on the hunger strike to the death meant to be metaphysically — I was pushing the stage of development to its absolute limit so that we could transcend it, and I risked it all.

Hegel talks about this in the master/slave dialectic, when the slave risks it all, or in the dialectic of life where you have two life forces that seem to be warring to the death and then when one decides life, it turns into the master/slave and then the slave is permeated entirely so that they’re disconnected from externality and it drives them inwards to a deeper more profound experience of the self in the universal world. 

Through labour, it externalizes that and becomes conscious, so I wanted to do that on a societal level, on a high level dialectic with these unions to spark a new qualitative transformation that was different from the one that was occurring in the ordinary linear logic of the mechanisms of the gig economy and its exploitations, what Hegel would call the ‘bad infinite’.

In terms of the metaphysical completion of the negative, if you don’t complete it, then there’s a positive being that keeps you conditioned on that level of dialectic so you can’t transcend, so that’s why it’s important in terms of transcendence and completely breaking free into this new world

On unity and overcoming the bystander effect

Q. You note that unity is needed, that we need to come together and that the bystander effect is starting to become a risky endeavor. Hoping you can detail the causes of our disunity as you see them, as well as why being a bystander, today, is riskier than ever before.

The cause of this lack of unity is really a lack of universal logic, according to Hegel, and one of the highest expressions or developments of universal logic is when love comes onto the scene —  and love comes onto the scene in the definition of recognition.

Recognition is re-cognition — it is a reflection of yourself as an ideal moment in the other person/thing/object and when you recognize the universal in the other, which is imminent within yourself, then it is a return to yourself, which is what love is.

So to overcome the bystander effect, we have to have this kind of recognition occur that if we were suffering, we would rise up and not expect others to do it for us and become empowered in the moment.

This reflection, this recognition, in the immediate form, is what unity is. 

Hegel calls it identity — it’s stronger than unity. You have this immediate reflection in the other, it creates an identity that sparks a deeper empathy — an immediate empathy or an intuition. 

These are the links of the metaphysics that generate these phenomenological experiences that we have in ordinary life.

The bystander effect, I think, is occurring because this lack of recognition is occurring; because the logic is breaking down into abstractions. We’re seeing more and more separation because we don’t know how the universals imminently structure the true nature  -  the living nature - of the material world. They’re in their contingent configurations — these kind of random ones, which are what Hegel calls ‘incomplete opposition’ or what we otherwise call ‘unconnected diversity’, where there is no inner unity, no inner connecting principal.

Some people call it cosmic consciousness, but when you’re missing this, it causes you to also be not only unempathetic but also causes you to feel disempowered. It makes you feel individual and small in a giant universe. You feel particular amongst many billions of particular people and so the bystander effect occurs through quantity, not only the lack of quality. The quantity of people in our massive, explosive population growth has a global consciousness effect of disempowering us particular with the technical discoveries of the universe and its infinite acceleration allows us to feel more and more insignificant and less and less powerful as we think that somebody else might do it.

And this is what is counteracted as we realize we are infinitely significant as the universal, and it has this power to it that is surging in infinite vitality, as Hegel calls it. It drives you to overcome any kind of pain; it gives you a wisdom that allows you to know that you can act in any situation and achieve the optimal outcome because you understand the natures of any particular in any situation.

Which is why often people turn to philosophers as wise people to know what to do in any circumstance even if they’ve never experienced it before. Because the nature of things in the universal form, in their true form, are timeless. Because they’re eternal, they’re in all slices of time. That’s why Hegel often repeats this Krug's pen argument that a famous professor was challenging Hegel to derive particular material objects and Hegel becomes upset and said that’s not the point, the point is that the completion of wisdom happens through the universals, not through predicting the lottery or things like this. That’s the thing that is, by definition, unknown so that we can experience ourselves as universal.

The risk of not having this universal kind of wisdom and this logic that the bystander effect at a time like ours, in our continued history, is preventing cooperation on a massive level that prevents a higher spirit from breaking free of that old dialectic in societal structure and emerging into this new quality of global society that frees us from the limits of these dangerous technologies or these dangerous ways, these diversities, which are ripping us apart.

When the bystander effect reaches its consummation, people are just becoming completely immobilized as AI, particularly, manipulates those cognitive biases to its own advantage. If it doesn’t recognize itself in us, the risk is that it will separate us in an abstraction, much like how we abstracted ourselves from the circle of life and the planet, and are destroying it as well as ourselves.

This is what loneliness is. That’s why the logic is the only true solution about generating unity on 200 points of division that we call explosive or nuclear dialectics that result in nullities rather than this transcendental qualitative transformation into higher states of identity and unity which is, in the form of consciousness, higher forms of spirit.

When we’re in this higher spirit, the recognition in the other generates a love that also carries an urgency, that any suffering is as if we are suffering. It is significant, every soul is significant, so we move with this incredible passion and strength to go and help people that might not even be in our immediate circles because the love and the recognition is so strong. This overcomes the bystander effect in a tremendous way that might match the crises that we’re in — a passion of this deeper universal love is also a drive to life and a drive to recognize the sacredness of being here, now.

On the physiological and psychological changes that occur during a hunger strike

Q. Can you run through the physiological changes you've experienced from your hunger strikes and can you describe the experience as you go deeper into it?

You wake up a part of yourself that our current society, in its comfort, is killed. And that’s these primal instincts, these incredible, strengths built into your body.

When you’re in survival mode, your body changes its hormone system — there’s like a different system that puts you into starvation mode but also gives your mind a deeper kind of clarity.

But when I experienced it, it made me realize why all the ancient wisdom traditions usually have a fasting component. It causes you to negate the negations. You have to constantly negate your carnal impulses or the bad infinite, and that desire to want to endlessly consume out of control. 

It allows you to have mastery over yourself. 

There’s a master-slave dialectic, as Hegel says, that happens even within you. He says “no man can be free, if not for freeing themselves”; so you have to be a master of your impulses by developing that universal over them. You’re not getting rid of them entirely; you’re not doing asceticism. Buddha was right — asceticism is only the starting point to get you to the middle way, or the sublative way. 

With hyper consumerism, your sense of satisfaction and worth are dependent on products. It’s why we have obesity epidemics and why we’re going to go work unmotivated. 

When you are in these states, your mind clears and you become very aware of what all your organs are needing and doing because it’s trying to survive. That’s where I can feel my heart beating, my lungs are very sensitive, my hearing is more pronounced, and my mind is clear.

But then there’s a point where it starts to become numbing, and you can endure a lot of pain. Then it comes in waves, so you start to understand these cycles your body goes through —  in the very long hunger strikes, the ones that are weeks long — your body starts to go through these kinds of cycles and they really test you — your integrity and resolve. 

You start building neurons in your mind that give you incredible amounts of self control where you can endure tremendous negations and still hold that compassionate space to sublate. Thats why I try to stay productive in the hunger strikes because its building physical structures in the brain to help me hold that valve on abandonment so that I don’t give into frustrations or negations but stay grounded in this state of being in touch with death — but at the same time choosing life and appreciating it and having gratitude. 

It makes these simplest things profound again; it revitalizes the simple wisdom in eating and appreciating and being present in every act as you can deepen the experience or the pleasure in it. Instead of having a quantitative satisfaction where you just have more and more, all you need is one, and you enjoy the quality of that one tremendously more, which will help also end the endless consumerism and the addiction to it and still have the same flow state experience and satisfaction. 

This is what ’ve experienced on these hunger strikes, as well as the sense that you become aware of your own strength, that you can really endure, and it does give you this confidence that you can endure anything.

 Part II coming soon; Mark's discourse re: universal logic, freedom and love