Editorial for 10/19

The failure of criticism

For many years I’ve had issues with criticism. My particular issue was as narrow as feeling like post-left anarchism being being “just a criticism” has made itself too rarified for the long term. I personally have found a critical eye, and more importantly a kind of rigor around criticism, to be one of the most important things I’ve learned from anarchism BUT I think that part of that perspective is also thinking clearly about what assembling options are available after a concerted dissassembly process. Post-left anarchism, IMO, hasn’t done a great deal, if any, of that and I think we are less for that.

This week in the context of discussing the last podcast someone dropped a link to a podcast I’ve never heard of before but I am aware of the type (which is more evidenced by the site design than by me taking a deep dive into their material. It isn’t that interesting). The Corbett Report is very concerned with the representation of Climate Change by politicians, the media, and the UN. The video shared was a parsing of the messaging around Climate Change and many of the points were fairly put. We agree that something as big and epic as general human made climate change is not going to get an honest reading in the media. To the extent to which the issue is huge and requires buyin from rival factions of the Power Industrial Machine an honest reading is by its very nature impossible.

But instead of discussing propaganda Corbett seemed to live in the critical space of making fun of (with citations) the recent UN report. The bigger question was basically left untouched. If we care to save humanity what would it take, in the context of climate change? Authoritarian rule? Robot armies? Bigger arms to hug each other and the species dying around us? This is where Corbett’s critical take and anarchists have similar orientations. We aren’t capable of making the change we’d like to see in the world so we are left as commentators. What needs to be done, alongside deciding what needs to be done, is so big that we tend to rely on some larger “other” be it the state, google, or the goddess to do it for us.

If our, as in anarchisms, greatest and sharpest minds have been critizing the libertarian response to our sick society for the past two decades, perhaps now is time to turn that analysis towards data collection, model building, and thinking about the consequence of what a couple hundred, maybe thousand, people could do who desire attack, love, and an end of authoritarian rule. What does a black flag anarchism project look like that isn’t prefiguration, a platform, or fighting every fight on every street that no one else in the world cares about.

Editorial for 10/12/18

Sometimes I write little editorials for the @news podcast. Here is one from a few weeks ago.

Editorial – Anarchist Principles redux

For a number of years I’ve been thinking that the old school anarchist principles have needed updating. In the old days a lot of anarchist questions were answered by using the litmus of Solidarity, Mutual Aid, Direct Action, and Voluntary Association to do it. Anarchists may have squabbled but ultimately Solidarity informed their behavior to one another. When a task was larger then one person or group could accomplish Mutual Aid was the way in which coordination was framed. And Direct Action was how most anarchist activity was described where desire and coordination met. Finally association with each other was (and is) voluntary. We are not compelled to associate with each other.

But today most of these principles are mere shadows of what they were. The idea of anarchist solidarity outside of a demonstration or publication is nice but rare. Most anarchists are barely surviving in an economy on fire and have been mostly flung to the periphery of the periphery or to full time jobs that has little time for coordination against the Empire. Voluntary Association is more often than not about it’s dialectical twin Exclusion.

While exclusion is certainly an important part of defending oneself and ones community it has seemed to have become a perversion of self-defense. Perhaps this is a generational thing but exclusion seems to be the goto tool in many situations where one used to argue for ones positions, feel frustrated, not heard, and through a process of improving ones argumentation, thinking, and changing ones mind would come to a new plateau of positions, feelings, and relationships.

What has happened instead, and largely this is due to exclusion, is that anarchist circles no longer talk to each other and, at its worst, no longer each other. Ie this is an inter-circle issue and an intra-circle issue. The result is isolation, a shrinking of the circles (and the meta circles), and a terrible future for anarchist projectuality in the medium to long term. We have eaten our young, we have have largely eaten each other, and now we range the desolation on social media and the left looking for more protein.

I have imagined that a new set of anarchist principles would follow from the Free Software model, from contemporary anarchist thinking, and other sources but it’s hard to see that happening in the condition of isolation-exclusion we find ourselves in. While transparency is a modern principle that makes sense in a certain way for anarchist projects it is bedeviled by the urge for our projects, protests, and publications to be anonymous and untraceable. While we may desire meetings that are less bureaucratic and differently participatory, we have seen that those with the most experience and enthusiasm tend to take their energy elsewhere.

Of course the argument against principles takes us in yet another splintered direction. In the anarchist hyper-youth culture, which looks more-and-more embarrassing as we grey, our disdain for our parents prevents us from admitting we have them in the first place. We have all sprung from Zeus’s head. We have been taught nothing by nobody. We are the first people doing everything for the very first time. We refuse such a beast as anarchist principles because of course they are just trying to tie us down to stupid shit, to rules, to their order which we reject!

After this rant I guess the best I can conclude with is the potential of articulating what my anarchist principles are that drive my work, my projects, and my relationships with others. I desire freedom and think that timing, attack, and my voluntary associations are necessary to achieve it. Before I am free I think the preconditions of freedom are worth methodically going through, I do this by way of publications but I recognize there may be better ways that require a different social organization than the one I have access to. But in this space of creating preconditions I attempt to be transparent, poetic, and open with who I work with and how we do it. I strive for an environment that is both/and rather than either/or. Indifference, exclusion, and isolation are forms of hate. Attack is a form of love.

TAPTBSI – episode one

Talking a project through before starting it

I haven’t been blogging lately for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I’m getting pretty tired of responding to “hot takes” as if they are real engagement. They aren’t. I want anarchy to be a project we are all partaking of but I’m feeling not exactly butthurt (but maybe) but indignant at how different what I’m talking about is for other people. Which is to say that I think the anarchy unleashed at WDC, Berkeley, Portland over the past month isn’t. I think responding to right wing idiots is beneath us. I really do. And debating these points has been a straight up losing proposition so I wont do it.

This is bonus sad because of course I do have “experience on the ground” with this particular topic but that experience is what has led me to this point in the first place. Many topics aren’t worth talking about, except f2f, with friends. That’s a change for me. If you aren’t willing to truly destroy those who are your enemy (as in kill them in cold/warm blood) then you are either engaging them in a version of political discourse or you are walking away from that discourse. I advocate doing the latter.

Enough about that. I’m trying to get wound up to do a new project. It’ll probably be a weekly call in show, it’ll probably be very Internet focused, it’ll probably attempt to appeal to a wider audience that LBC + Anews + other projects. I’m kind of hoping that appeal will be because of humor but finding the right tone is a real problem. Here, and before this new project begins, I’m going to brainstorm about how to do a better @ projects based on the lessons I’ve learned from doing a lot of different projects and project types.

It’s worth mentioning that I have always used @ projects as an excuse to do things I’ve been inclined to do anyway. I was inspired by DIY Hardcore and explicitly projects like Dischord Records. But what I like about Dischord is a lot like what I like about anarchism, breadth.

This project is motivated by wanting to figure out how to speak about @ to a larger audience and wanting the experience of doing something like a call-in show (technically). But it’s hard to imagine me starting a project like this and not getting bogged down in idiocy. To keep it straight I’m going to have to do a dual thing that I’m not quite sure how to organize. One, how do I keep a show like this topical and fun. Two, how do I not get mired in the shit talking that I can easily slide into and that I have a crew of people who’d love.

One, let’s take this week and a for example, should an anarchist topical show talk about the death of a US senator. I’ve generally ignored the US government when it comes to @ projects but it’s clear there are a lot of funny things one could/should say about politicians and dying but it’s a hard call. Can one do it w/o sounding like a liberal? Without sounding heartless? Without sounding like a late night comedy show? I guess the latter wouldn’t be terrible but finding that line w/o a room of writers… not so easy.

Two, it is so tempting to talk online anarchist shit. To talk about JZ or the latest FB drama. I think it is incredibly not interesting to anyone outside the 100 or so ppl who engage in both but how can we get to the heart of what are complicated political disagreements without miring every episode in a ton of exposition that is boring, sectarian, and something-else. That something-else is the death of this project from a long-term perspective.

Anyway over the next couple months I’m going to think this project through with the goal of launching it with a full audio package of effects, organization, and back up plans by the end of the year. Any thoughts/insights on how to do this well would be appreciated. You can get at me at aragorn@littleblackcart.com or add a comment to this blog and if you want it to stay unpublished it will.

I do not want to go there

but recognize how they did
A reportback on a trip to Libertopia

This is an attempt at a friendly reportback. Of course it’ll be filled with my usual scorn and antipathy but I will attempt to point it in the direction of the larger things and not the other things, like people.

Here is the start. I am in an awkward situation for an anti-capitalist. My primary project is a publishing project that sells commodities. I usually describe myself as an anti-capitalist but my project is, by my measure, a capitalist one. It buys and sells commodities. My anti-capitalism also associates me with a couple hundred different ideologies that I hold a very slender ground with, like Maoism or social ecology. Factor in that I am looking for opportunities to grow beyond The Milieu and have just published the Billionaire’s Bible and finding an event where I could meet some other kinds of anarchists was intriguing.

Enter the Libertopia Festival. An event of “All Things Peaceful and Voluntary,” whatever in the hell that means. But let’s look closer at their ideas…

Libertopia

Join us on our mission to create a worldwide movement of individuals dedicated to the ideal of voluntary societies premised upon mutual respect for each person’s dignity and sovereignty.

and…

Libertopia 2018 will feature familiar exploration tracks, including:
Foundations of a Free Society
Entrepreneurship, Wealth Building, and Investing
How to Live Free in an Unfree World
Relationships
Culture of Liberty
Health and Happiness
Along with new exploration tracks:
Cryptopia
Let’s Build Libertopia
Raising Children
Voluntaryism
Start-up Societies and Seasteading
Bitcoin and Blockchains

and finally

We are also proud to announce that our headline event at Libertopia this year will be the Birth of a Free Nation. Witness an Apache tribe sign their new constitution marking the beginning of their journey to creating the first blockchain-based, Voluntaryist, sovereign nation.

Decoding the Rhetoric

Similar to an anarchist gathering (which I assume most readers will have attended or at least read about) the gap between what’s being said/promised and what is being delivered is jarring. We say something like “we intend to liberate desire and smash the state and capitalism” and deliver stale bagels and a queer dance party that gets suppressed in minutes after a series of lectures by dudes who dude. Whereas they claim a movement, and put on an event in which the presenters and tablers outnumber the audience at least 2:1. Libertopia featured 80 speakers and about a 20 vendors (most of whom were also speakers) and I never saw more than 100 people there the entire weekend. The math here is bleak, if your goal is a movement, or even just an audience of people interested in new ideas. Or it’s simple: while there may not be an audience for the ideas of Libertopia there is a high degree of involvement from the perspective of effort per person.

The rhetoric in the first quote (“join us in our mission…”) has just begun though. The authors also desire an “ideal of voluntary societies premised upon mutual respect for each person’s dignity and sovereignty,” code for individualist non-violent social change by way of market forces. which is adorable. Sovereignty is a particularly interesting turn of phrase here. It is an obvious nod to the Sovereign Citizen Movement and the soft claim that sovereigns aren’t answerable to the state but instead to common law (private land ownership is protected by the local sheriff, the new highest law of the land).

This is one of the few places where the distinction between these “right” anarchists and the rest of us can be exposed. Most of the rest of us understand sovereignty in the context of revolutionary theory. A sovereign is one who has the power to create a condition (or state of exception in the Schmitt formation of the term, which was in reaction to Benjamin’s concept of revolutionary violence). For the Libertopians 1. there is a law of the land, 2. it’s probably the sheriff (and the Constitution), and 3. a total transformation of our social world is unnecessary and undesired.

Their “exploration tracks” are an interesting examination into the priorities and biases of the Libertopians. While I wasn’t able to see many of the workshops, our table was planted right in front of the main stage (one out of four venues for presentations) so it’s safe to say I saw the highlights.

The primary delusion suffered by the Libertopians is their funny definition of capitalism. I want to give this a bit more room to breathe but suffice it to say that over the weekend I heard the term wealth, entrepreneurship, and even corporatism more than the term capitalism. The aesthetic of the event was at least 50% identical to a Friday night at the Marina (a famously bridge-and-tunnel, bro-centric, VC funded neighborhood in San Francisco) so there clearly is a something-so-close-to-capitalism vibe going on here that anyone who wasn’t a Libertopian wouldn’t notice it.

Fundamentally what I saw was Money, Bitcoin, Old Timers, Health, and something-like-DIY. Most of the money workshops were in the small rooms and consisted of speakers pitching their small business solutions (to about a dozen people each). The bitcoin people are the dominant species at Libertopia. They provide modern answers to a tendency that can feel out of date (ie rhetoric that feels 18th century and Constitutional). They drip VC funding (one vendor had bitcon ATM machines on site), optimism, and disruption (ie crime and black markets). The old timers were from the libertarian scene prior to the Internet. Some of these people can be found on C4SS. They resemble the ranters of the anarchist world who show up consistently to rail about workers movements, and how it used to be, to an audience of 2-3 enthusiasts and a dozen bored people who are simultaneously staring at their phones. There was a health crowd, representing an interesting direction for this audience. It tended to be the main topic for female-bodied people to speak about (and even dominated), and was clearly nothing like the tweedy economic discussions. (Note: it only cost $25 a day to attend the daily yoga sessions!) Finally, there were the DIY folks: the most natural allies between us and the anarchist right, but more on that later.

It is worth mentioning the nod that Libertopia has given natives. This is hard because it is a real engagement but not mappable for most anarchist types. Race was generally not mentioned at all during the weekend and so this strange ceremony that launched a new nation (!!!) really did come off more like a spaceship landing than something to take seriously but you should check out the link to see what you think http://www.camnnation.org/about/camn-constitution/.

Obviously I could go on about this–at length–but I’ll just say two things. I met the speaker/leader/Chief of this project and came away nervous. The constitution linked proposes as its first law that “All people live to pursue gain” which is a real head scratcher. I’m not sure I agree it’s true but perhaps I do if you define gain in an existential sense rather than material. But then the author makes this point “The Chiricahua Apache Mimbreno Nde Nation accepts these First and Second Laws as incontrovertible and as scientifically identified fundamental constants of nature.” and I’m totally lost. If I were forced to have an opinion about this it would be that it is harmless wingnuttery but maybe I’m the one who is out of step and missing something important.

Suffice it to say the themes covered at Libertopia were interesting to me as not entirely different from what I see at an anarchist gathering but more utopian (culture of liberty), practical (DIY, bitcoin, etc), and bizarre (bitcoin, Apache nation thing).

Capitalism & Representation

I don’t want to full rant on these people and this event. I met a few truly open-minded people, which I will say isn’t that common at anarchist events. I had a few great conversations and quite a few good ones. Many of the people in attendance laughed at the same things you and I would (eg All things Peaceful and Voluntary). At least fifty percent of the people weren’t capable of seeing our table, but that’s identical to the anarchist world. The difference is that in anarchyland I can see the performative non-seeing (whether related to post-left, Aragorn!, or Atassa) but here it was unclear whether it was about books, capitalism, or our more-or-less punk aesthetic (less than 10% of this crowd had this).

I do want to touch on a couple things before I wrap this up. One, I believe this was a very initial foray into this milieu. I don’t exactly understand the distinctions between the Libertarians, the market anarchists, the voluntaryests, the agorists, and the Libertopians. Perhaps it doesn’t matter but I am a sorting, grouping, conflict-friendly person and that’s how I understand and organize. It wasn’t exactly a beneficial event for LBC but perhaps it can be a worthwhile experience over time. Two, of course the event was primarily male (75%) and white representing (90%). The best conversation I had over the weekend was with an outlier but it wasn’t about race or gender (although these topics were mentioned). These people are normal in a way we criticize in the anarchist space but we don’t exactly criticize from a position of direct experience or particular enlightenment.

Three, capitalism… While I’d like to be gentle to an approach that strives to be voluntary and peaceful I don’t think describing exchange in this world (ie Capitalism) as either are fair to the words. I am not up for writing a big essay about the difference between possession and ownership, violence by consent, and what the role of police are in society but if I did you’d hear a big fuck you to all of the people described at the bottom of this page https://libertopia.org/festival/.
They are not the reason to give this event or these people a chance. Those who are, are the small, failed entrepreneurs, freaks, fellow travelers, and people who confused Ron Paul with something real. I don’t blame people for confusing the market with power (because it largely is). I blame anarchists for not having better tools for articulating why the (imaginary) market isn’t the same thing as freedom.

More another time as the topic of why the Libertopians identify so closely with the forces (and personalities) that dominate them and create the very conditions they are against…

Final note, many of the main stage speakers are very aware of video format. Much of Libertopia was played for the livestream audience. As a result there was a serious percentage that had spray tans, name brand expensive clothing, and permanent fake smiles. It was eerie.

Here is an old essay

Reproduced from the 2014 BASTARD conference on Social war. Obviously short and sweet.

Why Social War is a bad way to practice anarchy

If I were to be generous I would say that social war is a nice term in search of meaning. At best I have experienced it as a way to dress up like a soldier and act like the lines of conflict are as simple as they are for class war (but you know, social) and at worst its a way to dress up and punch bystanders to a march. Which is another way to say this is that my experience of self identified social war and social warriors is that it is a two part lie.

War

What is war good for? Absolutely nothing!

We either can accept the premise that war is always the war of the state or that we would somehow wage war differently but what is our evidence for such a claim? I don’t believe we have any, as any so-called people’s war has been just as arbitrary and capricious about who it has killed as wars of commerce and state. As a matter of fact the primary problem that I have with any definition of war itself is that it is an abstract way to describe something that is not abstract at all, the death and dismemberment of any body that happens to get in its way.

Abstraction, pro or con whatever, tends to be the way in which rational people justify to themselves how to annihilate disagreeable others. How to use algebra to subtract people, ideas, or dialogue.

Which is not to confuse war with conflict. I think that my issue with social war isn’t that I have a conflict with conflict per se or de jure, quite the opposite. My issue is that I don’t think there is any way to frame something calling itself war as anything other than war. War means the destruction of opposition as a precursor to victory (which is the goal).

Of course, In typical anarchist fashion social war has all the moral authority of being impossible. So configured as to obscure the totalizing nature of its impersonal nature by the asymmetry of our current conflict configuration. Just because we have no chance of winning today doesn’t mean there aren’t future generals among us figuring out how to divvy up the spoils, name roads and bridges after themselves, or even to weep alligator tears in the style of Smedly Butler. Every conflict began as an impossibility in the minds of its conspirators.

But to put an entirely different spin on this I want to assert that war itself isn’t merely a problem related to the excesses of industrialism and WWII thinking. Instead I would say that the aspiration of victory in win/loss terms, of monopolizing violence over a terrain or a people, of politics by the barrel of a gun is participation in statist logic. The term war is indistinguishable with this logic. It cannot be reclaimed and I ask the question of all the presenters today, why would we even want it?

It seems to me that the strongest argument FOR war, social or not, is as a palliative to the other failed approach to war thinking; class war. By all measures convincing the vast population of humans that they are being fucked over by an economic system that determines their access to resources by a fixed competition seems like it should have been a sure fire way to align them against the organizers of the game but it didn’t work. The analysis of the failures of class-based analysis by stating that it isn’t universal enough seems like pretty weak sauce. The failure is that we can’t think our way out of a geological formation and that is what the current social order is. When abstractions become fixed over time and take on what we would call in other situations “reified aspects” it isn’t an improvement to switch out marxist flavored abstractions with the mealy mouthed abstractions of pop sociology, psychology, and metaphysics.

What is social about social war?

It is often said in radical circles that humans are a social animal and that is a fair statement. Something about communication seems to be central to self awareness and language in particular is how identity formation is constructed. Isolation seems like a distinctive form of torture, whether in explicit prisons or in the work-a-day life of isolation by proximity that is the hallmark of the modern IKEA lifestyle. If isolation is hell then its opposite must be heaven?

Not even close to true. The social aspects of social war seem to follow the same mediocre direction that the mass politics associated with class oriented politics which is in the fascination with mass. Social bodies are confused with socialibility and social life confused with participation in distinct organizations.

If we accept the premise that human nature is social, which I’ll do as long as we recognize a future asterisk to develop, we should be very concerned with the next step of the conversation because it will involve defining social in an abstract way. It isn’t an evening with close friends but a meeting with butcher paper, an agenda, and rhetoric about the 99%, defending the Bay, or our self-understanding as the precariot. In other words, we are back to class-based false unity using pop terminology in an attempt to modernize our position. Social war ends up reflecting social scenes rather than the socialibility of the dinner party or a plot to kill a motherfucker.

Genocide

Just to wrap up, there is a little matter of genocide. We don’t live in an action movie where once we figure out how to win the next battle the credits will roll and we’ll all live happily ever after. Instead, war thinking will necessitate our next victory to be the first in an unending series of battles to determine the fate of the future of humanity. The new thinking, after WWII, is that we can wrap up total victory by way of annihilating the forces of state and capital but this is deeply naïve. There is no version of this story that would not require the equivalent destruction of millions if not billions of deaths in service of our better-than-what-came-before holy war. Social warriors do not desire the genocide of any particular people, and would probably be offended at the implication BUT would probably accept that the total destruction of bad ideas is worth doing and would like us to all join in the dice roll where the implications of what comes after isn’t just unclear but clearly war thinking and social in all the shallow, vapid, ways this entails today.

Fascism

This text finds itself more relevant to my life this week than it has in years. From Foucault’s introduction to Anti-Oedipus.

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Whence the three adversaries confronted by Anti-Oedipus. Three adversaries who do not have the same strength, who represent varying degrees of danger, and whom the book combats in different ways:

  1. The political ascetics, the sad militant, the terrorists of theory, those who would preserve the pure order of politics and political discourse. Bureaucrats of the revolution and civil servants of Truth.
  2. The poor technicians of desire — psychoanalysts and semiologists of every sign and symptom — who would subjugate the multiplicity of desire to the twofold law of structure and lack.
  3. Last but not least, the major enemy, the strategic adversary is fascism (whereas Anti-Oedipus’ opposition to the others is more of a tactical engagement). And not only historical fascism, the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini — which was able to mobilize and use the desire of the masses so effectively — but also the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us.

I would say that Anti-Oedipus (may its authors forgive me) is a book of ethics, the first book of ethics to be written in France in quite a long time (perhaps that explains why its success was not limited to a particular “readership”: being anti-oedipal has become a life style, a way of thinking and living). How does one keep from being fascist, even (especially) when one believes oneself to be a revolutionary militant? How do we rid our speech and our acts, our hearts and our pleasures, of fascism? How do we ferret out the fascism that is ingrained in our behavior? The Christian moralists sought out the traces of the flesh lodged deep within the soul. Deleuze and Guattari, for their part, pursue the slightest traces of fascism in the body.

Paying a modest tribute to Saint Francis de Sales, one might say that Anti-Oedipus is an Introduction to the Non-Fascist Life.

This art of living counter to all forms of fascism, whether already present or impending, carries with it a certain number of essential principles which I would summarize as follows if I were to make this great book into a manual or guide for everyday life:

  • Free political action from all unitary and totalizing paranoia.
  • Develop action, thought, and desires by proliferation, juxtaposition, and disjunction, and not by subdivision and pyramidal hierarchization.
  • Withdraw allegiance from the old categories of the Negative (law, limit, castration, lack, lacuna), which Western thought has so long held sacred as a form of power and an access to reality. Prefer what is positive and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements over systems. Believe that what is productive is not sedentary but nomadic.
  • Do not think that one has to be sad in order to be militant, even though the thing one is fighting is abominable. It is the connection of desire to reality (and not its retreat into the forms of representation) that possesses revolutionary force.
  • Do not use thought to ground a political practice in Truth; nor political action to discredit, as mere speculation, a line of thought. Use political practice as an intensifier of thought, and analysis as a multiplier of the forms and domains for the intervention of political action.
  • Do not demand of politics that it restore the “rights” of the individual, as philosophy has defined them. The individual is the product of power. What is needed is to “de-individualize” by means of multiplication and displacement, diverse combinations. The group must not be the organic bond uniting hierarchized individuals, but a constant generator of de-individualization.
  • Do not become enamored of power.

It could even be said that Deleuze and Guattari care so little for power that they have tried to neutralize the effects of power linked to their own discourse. Hence the games and snares scattered throughout the book, rendering its translation a feat of real prowess. But thse are not the familiar traps of rhetoric; the latter work to sway the reader without his being aware of the manipulation, and ultimately win him over against his will. The traps of Anti-Oedipus are those of humor: so many invitations to let oneself be put out, to take one’s leave of the text and slam the door shut. The book often leads one to believe it is all fun and games, when something essential is taking place, something of extreme seriousness: the tracking down of all varieties of fascism, from the enormous ones that surround and crush us to the petty ones that constitute the tyrannical bitterness of our everday lives.

What I hate about the Internet and what it means for the future of Anarchism

In another life I work with technology for a living. This means I keep up to date on Internet technologies and the theories that inform them. I just scanned a solid article from new TOR board member and security researcher Bruce Schneier and the power struggle between the feudal internet and those of us who are working for distributed power (by many other names). While Bruce’s goal isn’t necessarily mine, I do think that considering the modern anarchist project one of deliberately distributing power (and working for this distribution) isn’t far off the mark.

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What I hate about the Internet, of course, is that it has quickly moved from a decentralized cacophony of voices, perspectives, and mediums for transmitting different ideas, into a channeled, mediated, controlled, and censored medium replicating most of the media flaws that lead to the popularization of the Internet in the first place. In the context of the anarchist internet this means that the first wave of anarchist controlled internet1 have almost entirely disappeared. Anarchist Internet discussion has almost entirely moved to Facebook and/or the ephemeral snapchat, instragram, and twitter contexts2.

Real life has politically split with the Internet to limited affect. In the activist version of real life (that in my past life as a post-situationist I would call the double abstracted life of the spectacular present) this means issuing communiques on the Internet (with the most secure https and the most blurred of faces) but never discussing strategy or criticism (outside the clique). In the diy version of real life this means rooms with fewer and fewer people talking from the basis of less and less knowledge. Abandoning the internet, as smart as it is from one set of assumptions, has as its major downside a lack of interconnectedness. This fabric of relationships is the one thing I would point to as the most necessary thing to any vision of a future world that isn’t dictated by the feudal concerns of state, capital, and centralized power.

In a different context I am entirely on the side of real life. The meaningful relationships I want to build with individuals lives there. I live there. But that is only one part of what I do with my time. Another part, that of a publisher, propagandist, and curious monkey, lives on the internet. To the extent to which I continue to want to entertain and be entertained I think the feudal internet has to be fought but this seems like such a desperate and lonely fight. Returning to Schneier’s essay here is a nice way to think about the problem.

The truth is that technology magnifies power in general, but the rates of adoption are different. The unorganized, the distributed, the marginal, the dissidents, the powerless, the criminal: they can make use of new technologies faster. And when those groups discovered the Internet, suddenly they had power. But when the already powerful big institutions finally figured out how to harness the Internet for their needs, they had more power to magnify. That’s the difference: the distributed were more nimble and were quicker to make use of their new power, while the institutional were slower but were able to use their power more effectively. So while the Syrian dissidents used Facebook to organize, the Syrian government used Facebook to identify dissidents.

Now I’m not exactly sure I agree that we (the unorganized, marginal, and dissidents) should race to get ahead on tech like quantum computing or VR or whatever. But I am quite sure that whatever innovation happens here (by the unorganized, marginal, and dissident) has to do what it is going to do quickly (and probably in such an uncompromising and vicious of a way as to be entirely disagreeable to most of the unorganized, marginal, and dissident) so as to not lose to the logic of big institutions. The internet wasn’t destroyed the day amazon went live but it took years for us to realize how big of an impact that day was and some of us haven’t learned it yet.

1 spunk, radio4all, indymedia, infoshop, etc
2 Astute readers (and trolls) will notice that I am not mentioning my own sites/work here. Love or hate my projects but you have to admit they are self-organized and not financed or profitable.

Entry 6 – End of Trip. Lessons

Montreal should get its own entry but now that I’ve been home for two weeks the time to review the end of May seems to have passed. Suffice it to say that Montreal, Chicago (!!!), and Phoenix were all fantastic stops and had great turn outs for what I and LBC have to share. I’m excited to visit these places again. There were nice aspects to Columbus, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis too but for different reasons than pushing forward for projects. For now I’m trying to finish the Q2 titles, figure out GPG (which a serious annoyance) for the fifth or sixth time, and proceed gently into writing more. In that vein I’ll summarize my trip rather than dig into the details.

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Middle Age, no way!

This trip did confirm what I suspected, middle age is a state of mind and not a real thing at all. When what I mostly do with my time is sit in front of a computer trying to make the world move then it’s no surprise I feel middle age. When I’m riding a motorcycle, taking in the glories of the world, meeting new & interesting people it is again no surprise that I feel young. I guess the most middle aged thing about this trip is that I now see the place for both. That and the injuries (persistent and minor). But I now realize that if sitting here typing away is getting me down, then I just need to get back into the world, into living in real time and not this (primarily) sublimated existence as a keyboard warrior. I do feel sorry for young people who know no life outside of this though. Depressing

A few people commented that my trip had some hallmarks of the “mid life crisis,” which in fact it was not. At the end of the trip I pulled back up to the physical location I left from and picked up exactly where I left off. As a matter of fact we will be publishing a full quarters worth of books in the next week or so.

Cognitive breaks

I am a lover of critiques. I have foundthe critique of specialization to be one of the most useful and inspiring for me. On the other hand I have made some effort to make things, physical things, for other people. One of the lessons of this effort is that people demand quality, especially with regard to graphic design, which I’m not qualified to even have an opinion on. The tension between despising specialization and living in a world that demands it is one of about a dozen irreconcilable contradictions I’m faced with holding together on any given week. It’s exhausting.

One of the only ways I know how to continue to do this glue work and still keep a smile on my face is to walk away on occasion. Like fucking Caine. Walk. Get your mind empty. Have an adventure. Come home and do it again with a fresh outlook.

North American Anarchism

I absolutely understand the critique of the milieu. The self-righteous belief that a social scene is the same thing as a movement of the destruction of this world (or any of the other dozen other ways you could say it). I also am no longer a particular beneficiary, I’m too old, unhip, and established to take advantage of the “find each other” aspect of social scenes. But I think that the reasons that the milieu came into existence after the Vietnam era is still valid and is absolutely not replaceable by the nothingness (which really means splinter groups with no fixed identity) that has replaced it. I think the milieu, as crappy as it is, as incomplete as it is, as much of a work in progress as it is, is what we are capable of. It is the DIY shelter we (and by we I mean the freaks I am in the lineage of over the past 50 years) are capable of creating. It is absolutely still what every new radical needs in their transition from straight society and a new one.

I have learned to hate the Internet on this count. I realize it is no longer even possible to make this criticism but learning outside of a social context isn’t a deep type of learning, it’s something else. Not quite sure what to call it but I’ve seen a great deal of it over the past decade or so. Yes, it’s a type of knowledge but without a body. It is the opposite of the sacred conjuration.

North American anarchism has been decimated by the Internet in other ways as well. Where once we had to find each other in some sort of physical place (for me it was downtown at the Amphitheater, a short lived youth TAZ in the town I grew up in, but was replicated in many of my friends towns as well), now many people find themselves satisfied in a forum or two. It means that traveling around to meet people is a real challenge. Any city where I could get 20 people out of their bedrooms and into face-to-face seemed like a place that still remembered that meat space, that people in the flesh, is still incredibly important. It is still where the chemistry happens.

I asked the question in many of the towns I went to. Why has anarchism attracted so few people since Occupy? In some towns I was stared at as if a fool. In a few towns there has been a flock of new people who bring hope and future disappointment. Those towns were the exception though. In most places, especially bigger cities, there were no new people. The average age of the anarchist population was closer to, if not over, thirty. The lack of young people wasn’t seen as a crisis but as some sort of sign that punk rock, or counter-culture in general, wasn’t funneling people towards radical politics, as understood by the anarchist milieu, and that was something. Unclear what that something was but it wasn’t necessarily seen as bad.

I build this question on the ruins of Occupy because anarchists were such a part of the theory that created Occupy and because of the potential it had to because something that it didn’t. The most common response is that what has evolved out of the past five years is a less partisan political force, in short Struggle not Politics. This tension, between politics (in this sense just the use of descriptive and aspirational words like anarchism) and activity (or direct intervention in social struggle) is the problem of this particular moment. I saw this all over the country and most anarchists seemed to be coupling the lesson of “the critique of the milieu” to a new (and fresher?) definition of anarchism that defined it as struggle, period. I’d probably have less of a problem with this new formation if it wasn’t so self-satisfied without accompanying successes but I guess both terms are highly subjective so a wait and see approach is probably healthier.

Thanks

I want to wrap this up but of course this is only about a quarter of what has been on my mind since the trip. I have nearly a hundred different people across the continent that I need to personally thank (and I’ll get to that). It is because of the generosity of my hosts and the hundreds of people who came to see me and talk, who threw some gas money into my tanks (btw I went 11,700 miles at about 43.7 mpg paying on average about $2.75 per gallon because my bike required premium for a rough estimate of about $800 on gas which seems surprisingly low), who took me out for a meal, who let me crash on their couch or extra bed that made this epic trip possible. I look forward to paying back a lot of people by returning the favor.

Seen from this perspective this trip was an amazing success. The number of people who shared their life with me during the past three months has been incredible. I wish I could move all of these people to a place where my daily life could look a lot more like what these trips look like. A challenging activity (mostly physical) in the morning (like riding a motorcycle a couple hundred miles), an afternoon decompression (a nap or sitting around on a porch chit chatting), and an evening of entertainment and sometimes intense debate. Then gone early the next day.

If I have a future as a type of minstrel (which I probably don’t all things considered) I have a lot of work to do. Politics is not interesting or sexy in this world. I’d like to try to make it more so, within reason since I am not necessarily either. I have an idea and that is what I’ll be working on for the next year or two before I hit the road again.

Entry 5 – Ontario & the East Coast

Detroit

Did you know there are still active projects in MI? Indeed, Fifth Estate is a currently active project that still puts out three issues of an anarchistish content periodical every year. While I was in Detroit this project loomed large as I was staying with its managing editor. We went to visit its memorialization. I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with one of my projects being locked away in a museum but likely don’t have anything to worry about. We discussed devotion to singular projects. We went to Heidelburg and even got to spend some time with Tyree. We ate pizza delivered by the hands of our hosts and had a lovely breakfast where we followed up on all the threads and tied them in a bow.

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Ontario

I’m tempted to oversimplify when I write about Ontario but it wouldn’t be fair. I visited three different towns there and had three very different experiences. Hamilton is a successful anarchist scene there. They have a strong active infoshop. They also have something that looks and feels like the kind of community most towns aspire to (constituent ingredients include consistency, some old timers, and some wingnuts that add color). I was there to visit friends and to help launch the new LBC title Blessed is the Flame. The book launch was quite intense with family members, out of town radicals, and a multi-media presentation that was quite impressive.

Toronto was a challenge. Any big town trip is stressful because having a motorcycle out on the street with most of my luggage is stressful. I just had my camera stolen out of my tank bag (sorry J) which reminded me of what I already know, most of the time things are fine, and then they aren’t. The event was hosted at a campus restaurant by a consistent local anarchist reading group.

Kingston was really nice. The event wasn’t so interesting but the space it was held in (motorcycle shop) was adorable and appropriate given the nature of my trip. I came back a couple of thousand miles later to have my tires changed. The scene there is small and older but frankly, this was much appreciated as my point of contact seemed totally dialed in on most of the topics I like to talk about.

East Coast

Rochester was totally forgettable except for the sincerity and generosity of my host. I could use this opportunity to make fun of the Black Rose Federation members there but frankly the less ink any of us spill over them the faster they may disappear from the planet. Insert clever quote about anarchists needing a federation like a fish needs a bicycle.

Woodstock was lovely as it involved some conversations about topics I need to research later. Added to my reading list: Artaud, On the art of the nō drama: the major treatises of Zeami, The Empty Space, and The Theater & it’s Double.

Providence RI was a pleasant surprise. My host did not have much experience and the event wasn’t that well attended (no surprise given how well I/LBC plays in the East Coast generally) but the people who did attend were interesting, interested, and found each other! I can count on one hand how many times my mere existence was a catalyst to new interactions. I hope they go well.

Boston has one of the most stable anarchist bookstores in North America, the Lucy Parsons Center. The history doesn’t mention why so I guess I’ll leave it unsaid but my time there was notable for getting to watch Boston street culture close up, an engaged conversation about The Blast and the question of anarchist aging. I did attend a birthday party of a stranger while I was there that was strange. The people were very nice and friendly to me but the crowd was either of the “family don’t care about stranger” variety, the “I’m just here to drink beer” or the “I’m a member of Black Rose Federation and have no curiosity about you whatsoever”. I do find curiosity (and the lack thereof) to be one of the hallmarks of red anarchism.

Central Vermont is lovely and I can only imagine the leaf peeping there. 😉

Next up… Quebec & the trip home

Entry 4 – From BC to MI

On the essay denouncement

The author of one of the three recent denouncements of nihilism that I am at least partially culpable in lives in the city of Vancouver (or so they say in the essay). My presentation there was pregnant with the possibility of a public face-to-face with this critic. Sadly, though not surprisingly, they did not make themselves known to me and I had to make my remarks about the bad faithedness and religiousity of their essay in front of an audience that didn’t seem exactly dialed into the details.

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Using an essay to work through issues, rather than meat space or a letter or even an email, is an interesting proposition to me. On the one hand I totally get it. Interpersonal shit can get gnarly quickly. Trying to engage with ideas without necessarily making them personal is hard and worthwhile work. And it’s a lot easier to work over the perception you have of other people’s perspective than their actual perspective. Bad things are bad after all, it’s all we know about them!

But it seems like a pretty rotten thing about the anarchist space to normalize this behavior.

Big travel

Vancouver was nice but I do stress a bit about leaving my bike, laden with bags, out in the public in big cities. In two short days I was able to hang out with an old friend, do a presentation, hang out with a new friend, and meet up for an interview. Finally I left V and headed back south to have someone look at my motorcycle who was smarter than me.

The next leg of my tour (after the social BC leg) was a solo leg. I first traveled to Yellowstone (originally I was going to Glacier AND Yellowstone) without realizing that at the end of April it was still fucking cold there. As in, snow line at about the level of altitude where I was camping cold and say what you will about riding but even I will not ride in the snow! This meant my two days of adventure in Yellowstone got cut short to one day before I bailed but here is what I saw in that brief time.

– A running battle between a bison and an RV
– about 30 feet of empty space between me and a pissed off bison after the RV got away
– Yellowstone annual staff act like they were about to have a kick-ass summer
– Cold canned food
– Mud pots
– Scary motorcycle parking

The next day I woke up and decided to hit the road. I’m thankful I did because otherwise I would have had to do a lot more miles in a single day than I would have liked (I’ve been trying to keep it to about six hours max) and I ended that day staring at this.

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After a slow ride through SD I landed in Minneapolis and the kind of loving embrace of my people there. Then an excellent ride through the UP of MI and a short trip through my childhood.

Nostalgia is a hell of a drug

I’m at about the half way point of the trip from the perspective of miles. I’m about to enter Canada for the last time on this trip. I am struck by endings. Some, if not many, of the people I have visited are from my past. Our time together was when we were both looking towards a future. Today, as I sat with an old (20+ years) friend they said to me that I have not changed much in the past five years. I’m working on a project that excites me. I’m with the same people as I was five years ago. I’m fully adulting, even if that doesn’t look all that adult. I don’t dwell all that much on the past.

As I head into the next context I am reflecting on that. Is it possible to be fair to new people you meet, who enter your life, while also respecting the memory of the relationships that come before. Don’t most of us choose one or the other? When framed that way I’d like to think that I choose neither. That I don’t live in a headspace dominated by the past or the present but with a type of simulflow.

A few days ago I was sitting with someone and talking about a personality trait I have that involves unconscious cruelty. I emphasized how my meanness isn’t usually intentional and they emphasized how many people despise me for it. One of my lessons from this trip is that both ways I pay a price. When I am intentionally nice I feel a falseness and like the resultant isn’t true. When I am honest I feel unliked. It’s easy to be pat about either approach but the lesson is that neither satisfies. There isn’t a right way to do this and the fact that I don’t get to be friends with everyone shouldn’t bother me half as much as it does.

Next up: Ontario, New York, Boston