September, 2011 Archives
by aragorn in personal
I participated in the debate on the side of Political Demands, both as a personal test and so that I have my story straight if the syndicalist round ups ever begin. Once I got into it I realized that the “total negation” side of this informal formal debate had a very difficult task ahead of them (other than being the crowd favorite). Not only is proving a negative quite difficult but the negation argument is, at the end of the day, sophisticated. Subtle is hard to do in debate and even harder with a crowd yelling at you.
You can see the results of my debate below. Please laugh. It is supposed to be funny.
Since the format of this debate is messy and unknown even to the participants I am going to assume the best possibly faith from the organizers of the event and argue for an anarchist strategy for the transformation of the world that includes political demands. My questions for the negators will concern the specifically anarchist nature of their position. I will argue that the anarchist understands the state/capitalist composition of the world and that this understanding entails a conflict with it. This conflict requires political demands.
What is strategy
In its simplest formulation a strategy is the design one uses to achieve a goal. I use the term design because unlike a term like process or methodology a design expresses the artistic elements that are necessary for any good strategy. In the case of anarchism the goal is simple: a world without government or massified exchange relationships also called capitalism.
At the heart of any strategy against such a twin enemy, let us call it the spectacle and the fist, must be two components. These components have to blend in such a way to respond to the sophisticated nature of the spectacle while acknowledging that the fist exists and tends towards a linear response.
Analysis of existing conditions and the history of past struggles is a pre-condition to having a strategy today. Without experience, even other peoples, you don’t have enough information to even guess at how to achieve goals. With experience you can begin to establish small goals and through the experience of achieving them set your next goals higher.
As the anarchist goal is the highest of all, the complete emancipation of all those who live under the yoke of the state, the strategy to achieve it is not intuitive. It will be designed through the process of implementing smaller anarchist goals and growing those goals, and as a result strategies, over time.
What is politics
My sense is that much of this debate will hinge on a series of semantic arguments about what exactly negation, politics, complete, and demands are. These debates are a fantastic use of time for scholars and navel gazers but aren’t relevant if we understand that the very definition of being an anarchist is to be in conflict with the existing order and that this conflict is not theoretical.
It is also not simple. The multiplicities of conflict and the terrains conflict should be waged on cannot be simplified into us vs them, black spy vs white spy, good vs evil. The way that we name this sophisticated problem is politics but that doesn’t mean it is the best word for the problem, like many things in the real, existing world, it just happens to be the best term at this time.
A political analysis is the one we use to examine the behavior of the fist, in the form of police violence against black youth, as a foci of struggle. This doesn’t mean that the fist doesn’t serve the needs of much of the property owning citizenry. It does. Our analysis is that the behavior of the fist doesn’t serve the needs of life itself and that the sentiment of power over life is one that will resonate with the non-property owning population we identify with.
What are demands
The framing of the events debate begs the question of my position that is not accurate. It implies that demands are the temper tantrum wails of a petulant child towards their parent. This is ridiculous.
A demand is a request stated clearly and firmly. It isn’t designed to get concessions from those in power but to state the position of those who oppose the spectacle and the fist in terms that are clear.
All-too-often the desires of radicals as stated on posterboard and bumper stickers sound unrealistic. They are not demands but wishes. I wish BART would dismantle their police force. I wish I had a job. I wish the government was nice. Wishes spoken aloud are what liberals do.
A demand is the conscious expression of something unconscious. We want freedom but what does that really mean? A demand is where the unconscious hits the ground running.
What about nothing?
If there is no conflict there is no distinction between the anarchist position and the solipsist one. A solipsist is absorbed with the personal development, interpersonal relationships, and self actualization. These have all been the hallmark of late-stage capitalism. These have all been the benefits that capitalism, in the form of spectacle, have given those who don’t pay attention, or closer attention than giving to charity, to the brutal regime of resource extraction, surveillance culture, and the domination of lifeforms.
Nothing isn’t nothing at all, but an acceptance of the spectacle, the logic of of living live receding into representation. It is not even the silent protest of the conscientious objector or peace activists holding each others hands. Nothing is, at best, the full knowledge of the social relationships of control and pretending that being controlled is a choice.
The velocity of illusions that is hallmark of this society has now created several generations of media saturated ironic do-nothings. There is no harm in their willful irrelevance but they are not engaged in the anarchist project, even if they agree with it or even see themselves being served by its rewards. The anarchist project is conflict with the existing order. It is the strategy of transforming that conflict into the net that drags the spectacle and the fist under water where they will die. Anything else is an interest in philosophy, history, or humanities and is served best in its place.
by aragorn in personal
Consider this post my farewell to veganism. I am writing it so that there is a single place to put down my ideas about the change and, I hope, the last place I’ll have to talk about this again. At the end of the day my change from being vegan has as much to do with the fact that I think that diets (and many other identities) just aren’t that interesting of a conversation as they seem to be to many people. Not to be entirely dismissive but I don’t really give a fuck what you do with your body. It is yours and is a major joy but it is your joy. The confusion about the difference between what is a personal thing and what is a political thing has long been a feature (not a bug!) of American radical politics. There are some other things to say too but all of that in its moment.
Twenty Years Later
Nine years into the future and we’re still counting the dead and the dying
…I’ve got to wonder what the fuck it’s going to take can it be undone
I was a vegan for a long time. Nearly half my life. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t attracted to the extremism of veganism. I was, especially in 1991 when I started. While I didn’t really know anyone associated with the Hardline scene until a few years later (and then only in passing and when they were on their way out) the idea of drawing clear lines appealed to me then. More or less it still appeals to me but it looks so different now that it isn’t really fair to call it the same thing. I liked the idea of taking the extreme position and abiding by extreme living-values (beyond just talking-values), but at the end of the day content matters.
Animal rights advocates are basically right. The animal farming industry is a horrific murder machine that has turned humans into receptacles of garbage.
The problem is that they are only partially right. It is far more than the animal farming industry that has done this thing to us: animals & humans. I am going to nod my head in the direction of JZ because I don’t think that the real problem here is capitalism. I don’t believe capitalism gives a fuck whether we eat animals (more on that later). This is where I disagree with Murder of Crows and other post-vegan ideologues.
I believe the reason (or rather what includes the reason in such a way that I can accept) that humans have turned all life into a factory is civilization. Here I think of civilization as the ideology of humans that states that it is good & right for us to control the rest of the planet. Mostly we control the earth by putting cities on top of it but for the rest of the land we have created factories that serve cities. Civilization is the process by which we separate the technics (which provide us food, tablet computers, and plastic crap) from the nice cups of coffee next to bike paths. It is the particular way we have chosen to separate life as a statistical, mechanical, and political problem from life as what we do in the world. It is the massification of systems so that seven billion people can roam the land. Civilization is humanism on steroids.
Veganism talks about this problem in the same way that a blind man talks about an elephant
- It is horrible that animals die, even more terrible that the vast majority of animals are raised purely for the dinner table.
- Many more people could be fed if we were more efficient about our land utilization.
- Veganism would save the environment (and much, much more) by decreasing the bad things and increasing the good things…
It has been well over a decade since I moved away from this kind of a vegan-outlook. About as long as it’s been since I’ve really associated with vegans and their potlucks, cute little shops, and adorable outfits. But I continued to have a vegan practice long after my departure from vegan(ism) for the same reason that I do many things, I am very stubborn.
Naming and subjects
Naming a root cause, be it human cruelty or Civilization, does very little to rectify the situation, even if it feels like a radical pursuit. Similarly, subjectivizing the problem perhaps makes you a more interesting person (or, as likely, a very boring one) but it doesn’t externalize a solution. Here is where capitalism comes in. Capitalism loves subjective problems, as it always has a solution to them. Guess what it is?
Veganism was always a partial solution (to the problems of industrial animal production) but in the past 20 years I have seen it become something else entirely. It only even slowed down factory farming if you accept the premises of boycott politics. Even if you accept the most positive premise that Veganism was direct action against a system of domination, it merely demonstrated how meager and small individual acts are. Actions in isolation are always isolated and rarely understood as statement (“Against the death machine”) or implementation (“and we act against your system which we burn to the ground”). This is not a plea for a set of mass actions against the animal industry (which would be a partial target that will crumble with the fall of the petro-economy anyway) but a reason to pause in the story as we understand it now. Moreover even if Veganism was a radical act at some point in the past it is more (and less) than that now. It is also an identity, with all that that implies.
I have a close friend who has been vegan even longer than I was who is also very sick. I just saw a short video of her on her sickbed talking about life in the hospital. Every time she talked about food she also mentioned the food’s veracity vis a vis veganism: “Vegan chicken”, “Vegan Ravioli”, etc. This is boundary checking behavior. It is similar to how bats echo locate the world as they navigate. The world responds with an echo and the bat knows themselves through their flight through space. This form of identity-checking makes sense when you recognize yourself in the echoes. But what happens when you no longer hear a response?
It is self-evident that veganism has become a consumer choice on a field of exotic choices. In many ways it has paved the way to a variety of niche markets that have fueled the growth of companies like Whole Foods, Herbivore, et al. and phenomena like soy & gluten free diets, the predominance of “cruelty free” HABA products, etc. It goes on and on. We have, by making life choices as simple as what we buy, participated in a transformation of capitalism from mass to boutique. From “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black” to “An Army of One.” Hurray us!
What is radical about you?
One of the hardest questions a radical1 can ask themselves is what exactly differentiates them from the dominant culture they are differentiating themselves from? Perhaps the larger existential question is why exactly does having radical politics also entail a differentiation at all? But the problem of how we put our ideas into practice is a more serious one than the particular social problem of why we have to be seen doing it.
My political arc isn’t unusual, especially among my age group. I started in punk/hardcore, and gravitated over time towards the political(esque) DIY hardcore scene that talked all the time about the link between politics and practice. In hindsight I realize how preachy, pedantic, and unsophisticated it all was but, to be honest, I was too.
Then, I had to wear my flag all the time. I cared so much about what strangers and future frenemies thought of me that I always played dress up. Today, I don’t care. The fact that it took me so long to grow (the fuck) up is related to the same stubbornness that kept me a vegan for all of those years.
For years I argued for veganism as one of the few ways that a person could put the Beautiful Idea into practice. I was wrong. The Idea is just that. We can do anarchistic things, we can attempt to break the cycles of terror and violence that comprise nearly every aspect of this world, but nothing we do is pure. Every person has to draw their line and the sad part about that is how lonely and isolated that is. I sincerely wish that my process of thinking about veganism, from pre to post, wasn’t alone. But it was.
I do not relate to the idea that the world will be changed by the conscious acts of the oppressed. This is not because I ignore the history of the struggles that have come before, but because the compromised victories of these mass struggles were always immediately superseded by the monsters. Whereas the mass celebrates, the monsters prepare for the next fight. They change the terms of engagement. The only form of mass culture that maintains memory and unity is on the side of the dominating class. More education, purer activities, or better people aren’t going to change the fact that individuals can be (and are) bought off, that the kind of organization that won the 40 hour work week isn’t even going to achieve the (meager, pathetic) goal of full employment ever again.
The individual act of rebellion does not make a radical. Radical was just another rock-and-roll fantasy. Late 20th century counter-cultural (aka boutique) capitalist methods were effective at convincing naïve mid-western children that we could make a difference. We couldn’t. Not in the way we thought. What we are capable of is smaller and more interesting than the lyrics of Soulside or Dead Kennedy. The process of working through the apparatus of illusions has taken me to a place I haven’t heard much about from former peers. I don’t want bumper sticker politics any longer but I also don’t want to be an existential “used to be” either.
Where does that leave us
Perhaps I began this with the idea of presenting a cogent argument about why I am no longer a vegan. But it isn’t an argument at all. Arguing about stupid shit is exactly what I have wasted far too much of the last two decades on. Veganism is at this point the representative characteristic of those stupid fights, of that wasted time.
At the end of the day my actual diet will not change all that much. I live with a vegetarian and am not so starving for a meat diet that I’m going to chase down a different situation. Moreover I don’t want to eat the offal of factory farming.
Leaving veganism behind is more about leaving behind my relationships with the thousand moralists who I have met over the years, obsessing about food-as-product, basing my self-understanding on an identity that is synthetic, shallow, and unsustainable. In many ways my criticism of veganism is similar to the reasons why I rarely socialize with anarchists. I want to build something social but I don’t want to rely on tradition, identity, or laziness to do it.
Farewell veganism. You helped me be aware of how I inhabited the world and how the world inhabited me. You are still a big part of the life of some few people who I am fond of . You probably kept me honest in a way that I needed in my twenties and kept me sincere in my thirties. I will always remember the potlucks, the restaurants, and the health of certain vegans as being directly inspiring to me. I don’t blame you for my weight, unhealthiness, or bad teeth. I don’t blame you for my stubbornness either, but my future goals just don’t include you and it took a lot of thinking to give myself the space to walk away. I am not an ex-vegan or a post-vegan. I am a fellow traveler who goes a different direction with no acrimony or regret.
1 I’ve always hated the term radical but almost every other general term to describe a position-that-stands-against-the-existing-order-but-isn’t-as-specific-as-my-particularly-nihilistic-anarchist-position is even worse.
by aragorn in Hammer
The Hammer – brief monthly reviews of the anarchist press
Even though publishing in the anarchist space was down a little this month (it being the end of the summer and all) we (LBC) attended the Seattle bookfair, which means this Hammer will be heavy on PNW (Pacific North West) publications. This is exciting, of course, because these publications reflect the high level of anarchist activity in the area over the past year. This next month includes a trip to Victoria BC and Minneapolis. I hope this means that the next Hammer will reflect recent Canadian & Midwest publications and activities that haven’t made it to the interwebz.
If you have a publication you want the Hammer to review send it to us
c/o The Anvil
PO Box 3549
Berkeley CA 94703
If your publication is more of the pdf/web variety send notice of it to me directly. There are already a couple dozen subscribers to the Hammer newsletter but feel free to add your name to their ranks. You can do that here.
On to the reviews.
Affinities Vol 5 No 1, PDF, August 2011
This is a journal that combines activist ethics with academic aesthetics. It uses this alloy to “construct sustainable alternatives to the racist, hetero-sexist system of liberal-capitalist nation-states”. Clearly the forged weapon isn’t particularly lethal but could probably spread a mean schmear or something. This issue is particularly strange for me as I am cited in several of the essays to such an extent that I feel like the missing contributor. Perhaps the editors didn’t know that I have an email address. The topic of the issue is called Anarch@Indigenism which is fine (albeit a little silly) but the subtitle basically makes me gag: “Working Across Difference for Post-Imperial Futures: Intersections Between Anarchism, Indigenism and Feminism.” I really wish that an attempt at a deep understanding of a topic, of any number of topics, wasn’t by those who are chasing, or have caught, careers in knowledge production. As long as I’m wishing I’ll add that I couldn’t easily understand these essays, which made it hard to access whatever interesting information was conveyed by the authors.
Burning the Bridges They Are Building, half sized, winter 2011
This is an extensive report back on the context and events of the anarchist intervention in the anti-police struggles of early 2011 in Seattle, WA. If I were to criticize it, I would point out that its comprehensive and dry style is a nice counter-point to the flowery and semi-mythical style of other reports from the area, but isn’t half as compelling. It is, on the other hand, far more useful. This should be the template by which other towns strategize anarchist activity over the next few years. Plus, the fact-inistas will enjoy it greatly.
Diaspora, half sized
This is a list of the prison-industrial-complex profiteers who are located in the PNW. This is an interesting project because it asks, without asking, for action against a list of targets without being explicit. It also evokes a kind of journalistic reporting that used to be done by the leftist press but has been long since abandoned. It is activist without prescription, informative without preaching, dangerous without the restraint of responsibility. My concern is that it will sit in a pile of paper, or in a directory of a hard drive, without ever finding the audience who could properly consider the fact that those who constrain us have names, addresses, and commutes.
In Defense of Conan the Barbarian, PDF, 2011
This is a fantastic and spirited anarcho-primitivist reclaiming of Conan the Barbarian. Not the Schwarzenegger version, although that would have been more awesome, but the original Howard version. It takes the original seriously and spends a great deal of time examining the definition of nature, violence, & social roles in Howard’s universe. It does err toward primitivist parody (for instance this quote is representative “Conan clearly has no love of or fear for the violent brutes who enforce civilized laws and oppress the poor and downtrodden”) but as we were informed of the author’s bias in the introduction it is forgivable.
Koukoulofori, half sized
This is an older (2010) publication on the “hooded ones” of Greece, but this is the first time I have actually sat down and read this unassuming publication. Its stated intention is to move North Americans’ understanding of the Greek experience away from the mythological. For that purpose, this project is a total failure as the selection demonstrates fascinating and exciting aspects of the Greek experience which are in no way transmittable to the US. If the difference between Greece and the US is as simple as self-confidence, then hearing another set of stories about successful organizing, free spaces, and life long trusting radical relationships doesn’t exactly demonstrate this simple difference or point a way for us. On the other hand this zine is a best of the We are an image from the Future book and worth checking out in lieu of it..
Not Afraid of Ruins #3, PDF
Given the fact that I just returned from Europe, reading this personal zine/travel journal (visiting of many of the same places, including some of the same beds slept in) is very nice. The author lives a very different experience than I do, punkier, cut-and-pastier, and probably 15 years younger than I am. This journey spans Berlin, Milan, Spain, and much of the UK.
Rivista Anarchica #364, HTML
This is a web instance of an Italian anarchist publication with a 40 year history and an open approach to anarchism. In their terms we want to discuss everything from God to the worm. This sounds great and this issue is indeed broad, albeit classical, in scope. It includes Proudhon, several articles remembering Colin Ward, an interesting article on anarcho-humanism, and much, much more. The closest publication in the US we have to this is Social Anarchism and similar to SA this is a publication of words and history rather than of the present and of the actions of anarchists today. To be specific, I asked an Italian comrade about this periodical and they nearly choked on the idea that one would take it seriously as the publication has been silent on the decades of anarchist struggle in their own country.
Tides of Flame #3/#4, PDF
Tides of Flame is the bi-weekly paper of anarchists-with-a-threatening-posture who have made themselves known in Seattle, WA. Reported on were the twenty-odd anarchists who were arrested in July, including several around the intrusion of police-with-shovel into a party at their group house and then a mass arrest at their solidarity demo the next day. Also an attack on a DOC office in West Seattle. Each issue has a well done piece on local anarchist history including an article on the George Jackson Brigade and the Seattle General Strike of 1919. Additionally there is new analysis/theory in the form of a rich article counterposing species being with the creative nothing and another on the Crisis. Other local articles, including one on a local cop and another on a local infrastructure project, round out these two issues. Awesome project that I have no idea how they accomplish every two weeks.
What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower, book, Margaret Killjoy
This is the first book of a new anarchist fiction imprint and the first book (that I know of) written by Magpie (not counting his collection of interviews). It is a choose-your-own-adventure story which is a cute idea but isn’t nearly as compelling as I had hoped it would be. This is no fault of MK but a fault of the form, one that makes it difficult to hang together anything thicker than a children’s story. MK’s idea here is to put the reader into the role of protagonist and then push them along an adventure with a standard set of D&D/steampunk characters. The problem is that the conclusions are more or less arbitrary. There is no projectuality in this story and this means that it is an adventure for tweens and nothing more. But, anarchists need more of these too so… fair enough.
by aragorn in personal
I want to wrap up my out loud thinking about my time in Europe (I’ve been back for three weeks but it doesn’t feel like it since I am now traveling so much) with some conclusions but first some thoughts about other problems that feel specifically American but perhaps are more general.
US radicals are right to criticize ourselves for American exceptionalism. The idea that the US is at the center of the world has, sadly, been how all of here in this forsaken place have been raised. Our Civil War was a fight over big principles. So too was our entry into WWII. The Cold War was noble, just as our struggle against (whom again?) racism which we won with civil rights legislation. It is useless to argue against these facts with most people in this country. We honestly believe it, on the right and on the left.
This is why most anarchists wish a pox on both of their houses and why we have such a hard time finding ourselves out of the mess of liberalism, false oppositions, and the belief that somehow we are truly and goodly on the side of… right. We are not, of course. Not just because no such thing exists but because this belief is so shallow, so deeply uninformed, that it exposes itself all the time for being a matter of faith not of reasoned thought1. But we are from this primordial ooze and it is in us, like it or not.
Americans are opinionated. They have strong opinions about politicians, Muslims, the flag, recycling, soy, parking, taxes, etc, etc. The radio waves are filled with people who have a lot of true emotion wrapped up in every detail of mundanity. If there is any possible way to turn an issue into a simple one, stripped of context and complexity, Americans will do it and fight any comer.
Sadly this particular American trait still appears in those residents of this country who are the enemies of the country itself. American anarchists are filled with stupid fucking opinions2 and that world wants to hear them. This is particularly true if they never plan on doing anything real (material, outside of their heads) with them.
Perhaps this is related to the strangeness around American wealth. Most everyone I met in Europe was quite open and honest about how much money they had, made, and came from. In the US this is almost never the case. Experientially anarchist milieus always riff poverty with the primary difference being (in my experience) that Americans are broke but have enough money to eat out at restaurants whereas Europeans only eat street food (like €2 souvlaki) if they eat out at all. But the silence around money & origins is one of the creepiest things I run into time and time again with people around this place.
I don’t think this is entirely because all of my comrades are secret princes and princesses waiting for their trusts to vest before they return to their castles in the sky. I think that the flip side to wealth isn’t just poverty but shame. We fear association with our associations.
But everything is not bad in this home of mine. This land of fear, hate, wealth, and moralism. The reason that I am glad I left here for three months was because I could see from a distance, for the first time, that there are things that I love about the people I know and places I am from. Our eclectic vitality isn’t sharp but hacks through most things just the same, only requiring several swings. I am not more hopeful about the future but I have a lot more ideas about how I want to practice anarchy with my mongrel pack. Now to find them.
1 Not that I am a particular fan of reason but I do react to the religious devotion to God, whether it is called J-dog or Amerika, with something… cold and calculating. But I already covered this.
2 Opinions in this context means not facts, not defensible positions, but habitual simplistic perspectives that actually interfere in critical thought.