Entry 3 – British Columbia

I haven’t been away from my home keyboard setup for this long in a few years. The reason I know is because I haven’t read hundreds of @news comments. I have stopped caring about all of the updates of my “friends.” And I’m ambivalent about catching all of you up with my trip.

That’s not totally true of course. With my phone I have been updating snarky little bits about the daily life of my trip but that isn’t real. It’s just for a laugh. The real take away from this trip is a running series of thoughts about the people I’ve met, the incredible things I’ve seen, and how fast life goes when you’re actually living it. All that computer time, all those projects, as valuable, blah blah, just feels like something else. Something dumb.

British Columbia is lovely. It’s the place we’ll all run to when the world collapses. Denman Island both is and isn’t an idyllic environment to stage a revolution or to spin a nice interpretation of the bowl form. Not much else to say about there.

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The ostensible reason I was on Vancouver Island was to go to a conference on Nihilism. Academic conferences are a trip. I guess I should try to go to them more often but they demonstrate so many strange things at the same time it’s hard to pin down just one to discuss. Here is a start. Thousands of dollars are spent to host an event that no more than 50 people passed through the entire weekend. It was mostly no more than half this number. It was mostly no more than a dozen who were not also presenters. Moreover the number of presentations that actually dealt with nihilist concepts, that attempted to tackle what it means to live without meaning (meta-narrative) or power were few. Like one hand few.

Doesn’t mean there weren’t quite a few interesting presentations. The most were the ones that conflated pessimism for nihilism (the few on David Foster Wallace were OK). The political presentations were mostly not good but there were some sparks. Maybe in five years these could be fanned into flames but the context is probably a wet blanket. It is probably not possible to suss out much in the way of detail about how to act in an age of political, social powerlessness. The professors hold the conversations hostage and the grad students do not dare offend them. The number of social actors was nearly zero. The conversations were only held between sessions and then mostly about popular theoreticians and brands.

It’s nice to be fed and given gas money but I hope for little but access to the next generation of para-academics at events like this. These are the people who I hope to collaborate with in the future.

The event at Camas that Sunday evening was of a different caliber. I’m not saying the difference was me but I could see at least three different levels of engagement in my presentation (at least two somewhat hostile) and there was at least some hope that I incensed a few people to further, future activity. That’s always the hope of course. Further engagement and interrogation along the lines of a fresh and painful view on the same old assumptions. I also appreciate the Camas model. They have figured out how to maintain a long term anarchist project and stayed humble in the face of it. It no longer looks like a subcultural anarchist project and I think that’s great.

Anyway I’m like 10 days past this on the trip so I’m going to post this and get started on entry 4 (From BC to MI).

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Entry 2. To mile 1000.

Portland

One expects the worst from Portland. From “we will not be silenced,” to Portlandia, to the fact that Portland doesn’t even seem to be trying any more I had low expectations. The fact that the only person I knew from the Annares collective wasn’t there and my fear started to rise. I was totally wrong.

The crowd that Annares reached was mostly young, very interested, and my presentation went well (outside of my own repetition and over reliance on certain turns of phrase). I doubt this will rise to the level of being meaningful more broadly for the Portland scene generally but I was greeted by 30-40 people who seemed absolutely interested in ideas of fighting leftist framing, attacking conceptual regimes, and not being complacent about anti-civ ideas.

The question and answer section was particularly delightful with a nice combination of easy (or newbie) and hard (experienced) questions. A couple of friends (and others) stepped in to answer better than I could and I leave the experience feeling quite satisfied and even hopeful that future collaborations may exist in Portland. Time will tell.

Motorycle

And the plus side:… I can pick up my motorcycle on my own (it is over 700 lbs with gear).
On the minus side: I had to.

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A combination of being tired and on the down side of an incline means that I dropped the bike for the second time. This time it was crawling to the pay office for the Denman ferry but hopefully I now have the tools to not make this mistake again. The Vancouver Island ride was nice but a little more intense that I was ready for. As you likely know motorcycle culture is pretty clannish. I met a dude on a GS1200 on the ferry who adopted me. This meant keeping up with him on unfamiliar roads. Not my favorite. But once he turned off and I figured the right road I had a lovely ride that only slowed down as the bugs began a kamikaze cascade into my face.

I have two more ferry rides and then I’m on to solid ground. I am fearing and excited about the 49th parallel ride I’ll be doing north of the line and then the ride through Glacier Highway to the Sky and down to Yellowstone. After that the rides will be simple.

Seattle

The Seattle event was an introduction to this new project that hasn’t been entirely finalized yet… and so in this way I’m quite excited because some of the needs for the project came cascading out of me during the presentation. The need is for a real world (not internet) networking project that can serve as an introduction to anarchist ideas (rather than sectarian punch up) and an excuse to meet f2f. It’s called The Blast and you can learn more from the broken website (that I’ll probably not fix until June) http://theblast.info.

Left Bank is an interesting venue. Totally not made for the purpose of meetings but the crowd was really useful in getting to think about what to talk to the rest of the blast people about when I get back. I’ll be presenting about three more times on the new paper.

Entry 1 – #lbcasual tour

About 450 miles from Berkeley, CA to Southern Oregon

First stops

I’m going to journal my trip a little bit, not so personal but perhaps over personal along the lines of what a long motorcycle trip looks like for a middle aged person. What travails and pleasantries I encounter and how I somehow relate all of the things I do to an anarchist life, one full of adventure, quietude, and, at least for the next couple months, the road.

I have decided to start my trips pretty early in the morning. I prefer to wake up with the sun and if I lived in such a way I would wake with her every morning. I left home about six in the morning and didn’t feel a need to take a break until my first fill up about 100 miles in. A motorcycle is better than coffee (although does not eliminate the need for it) and even though I did evade the worst of the morning traffic I did see it in droves heading the opposite direction.

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The morning never warmed up. I have a pretty good layer system with a synth base, cotton big shirt, and finally a down vest beneath my big motorcycle jacket. It’s hard to underestimate how great the jacket it. Pockets are in exactly the right places (although a larger inside pocket for valuables would be nice). I did alright until the rain started. Off an on, bit by bit, my feet and gloves were soaked through. By the time my day ended the teeth were chattering and I was fried. That said I was very worried about all the miles on my body but with the assistance of my cheater (helps my right hand grip by not forcing me to pull the full throttle all the time) I didn’t feel injured by the end of the day. Just tired.

Presentations

I imagine I’ll post this after I give my first “away” presentation (I give the first at the Berkeley Anarchist Study Group) but I’ve been thinking a lot about the themes I’ll be covering and how to position them in such a way as to make sure that we have interesting conversations and not stupid ones. Hard stuff.

This thread has made it harder.

What is funny to me is that insurrectionary anarchism was always built on the basis of a critique of activism, and wanting to get away from simply being a subculture. Now, it seems that the American Nihilists want to now build a strawman that says that anything that isn’t “doing what they’re doing” (who knows what the fuck that is, because they spend more time talking about it than doing it) is strugglismo, aka, activism. Listen to any of the Brillant podcasts and you’ll get the general gist of it.

I agree with the above paragraph and this is why the term strugglismo came into being. I@ was a critique of boring, stale, ineffective, ritualized activity and, recently, has given birth to a bunch of stale, boring, sanctimonious projects. The term (Insurrectionary anarchists) has lost its meaning as an a priori hostility against activism. The point isn’t much beyond that but the term was an attempt to put in a way that I thought was funny, not a critique against the totality of some peoples activity.

I also have a hard time agreeing with any critique that begins and ends with “they are not doing anything.” What the hell does that even mean? They are not winning? Isn’t anything that is not entirely in ones head something? Does “doing something” really only means X (and X is defined as ABC work, IWW, and antifa) and not Y (media projects, writing, and discussion)?

Last night (at my event in Portland) I found myself referring to my projects in excruciating detail. And this is because I, and others I know are doing interesting work have a very hard time talking about it. We (and in this case I mean everyone involved in these disputes) aren’t doing a great job of making the compelling cases as to why our work/projects are compelling. As a result they are not.

I apologize for the term but I do think it describes a certain kind of sanctimonious behavior. I try to not mirror that behavior. I try to point out what I really like about the hard work that anti-prison and prison support people do. I don’t think pointing out that many of our friends are doing the same thing over again (harder) is sanctimonious, I just think it’s a waste of time.

But whatever, it’s not my time to waste and I’ll try to stop tearing other people down on their hobbies (especially if they do the same).

Beds and dogs

I pushed myself to make it to the next town after Portland and was greeted by hilarous dogs (who remembered me!) and a bed. I know that later in this tour I’ll be camping so I don’t feel guilty about taking offers of beds here at the early part. Dogs are great though. I recommend them highly.

On to Seattle.

The Casual LBC Tour

I am about to head out to the 49th parallel for a two month motorcycle tour. That could be fun.

  1. April 17th – Portland OR: Anarres Infoshop
  2. April 18th – Seattle WA: Left Bank Books
  3. April 24th – Victoria BC: Camas books
  4. April 25th – Vancouver BC: 38 Blood Alley
  5. May 3rd – Minneapolis MN
  6. May 6th-10th – Western Michigan
  7. May 12thish – SE Michigan
  8. May 15th – Hamilton @ The Tower
  9. May 16th – Toronto
  10. May 17th – Kingston
  11. May 18th – Rochester NY
  12. May 20th – Providence RI
  13. May 21st – Boston MA
  14. May 28th – Montreal QC
  15. May 31st – Pittsburgh?
  16. June 1st – Cleveland
  17. June 3rd – Columbus
  18. June 4th – Toledo
  19. June 5th – Bloomington
  20. June 6th-8th – Chicago
  21. June 11th – Tulsa (Oklahoma bookfair)
  22. June 9th-on – Somewhere West of Chicago near the I80

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Motorcycles >= Anarchy

I haven’t been writing much lately. I was working too much over the last year (with less to show for it than I planned) and that, along with drama, made it so I really haven’t felt like I have had much to say. My experiences have stored up and I hope over the next few months and years I’ll get to share what I’ve discovered.

This past weekend I traveled to Los Angeles for the “Nah” event in response to the LA Art bookfair. It was a fine event. A bookfair, which I think is a fine activity for anarch* friends to involve themselves in, plus my project did alright. But in this case it’s the how that I want to discuss more than the what. Trigger alert: the rest of this post is mostly going to be about motorcycles and aging.

The day before I got shitcanned from my last full time gig I purchased a very nice and very new motorcycle. I don’t talk about it a ton because I’ve never experienced motorcycling as a social activity but I’ve been a rider for most of the past 26 years. I started with a Vespa (‘68 super sport 180cc) and went for 10 years riding piece-of-shit motorcycles that were dirt cheap. Since then I’ve been riding standards (a category of motorcycle distinct from cruisers, twins, and sport bikes) from the Kawasaki corporation of Japan. My latest bike was a 2009 Versys that was an excellent commuter but a little small for me at 650cc.

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For some months I’ve been daydreaming about a big trip. I took one in my early 20s (from San Diego to MI with scattered stops between) and have wanted something similar for some time. But the differences are real. Last go-round I slept on dirty couches, porches, and whatever I could find. This go-round my body is 20+ years older and I wont be staying at or near crushes. In fact I plan on bringing a tent (and air mattress) which will shrink my world to a pinprick (and expand it to some of the grand National Parks that I’ve never seen).

Anyway, as a test run for my new motorcycle I loaded it down with books and headed to Los Angeles. Muscling an extra 150lbs or so has taught me some important lessons about what I am capable of, what I like (and hate) about motorcycling, and has made me long for the road to an extent I wouldn’t have imagined as I limped into LA tired and sore.

The Wind

The Grapevine was the worst of it but when you go faster than about 65 MPH (100KM/H) the wind becomes a great hand. It pushes you nearly randomly from side to side and front to back. The ‘Vine was, in fact, terrifying as it both forced me to slow down about 15 MPH and to change a lane or two. I visualize wind as a series of flows and vectors rolling off the gentle mountains but experience it as wanting nothing more than to fling me off the side of a cliff. Kind of like the milieu I guess.

What’s fascinating about this as a ride is how utterly ambivalent the drivers of cars (and especially the 90 MPH SUVs that screamed by) are to the physical exertion and real life danger I was experiencing as they sat in climate-controlled gas-guzzling bliss. Kind of like the milieu I guess.

My Arms

My new motorcycle (name forthcoming) is as hard as diamond. It is a machine designed to gobble up whatever road I throw at it. It would happily start every ride by throwing up its front wheel, it hits 90 MPH before I even notice the speedometer, it is 10,000 miles away from caring about anything other than an oil change. I, on the other hand, have the body of an office worker. I am soft and weak. My heart may soar but my wings have been brutalized by all the peck, peck, pecking and giving two fucks about what people say on the Internet. I am going to slow us down.

During my trip to LA I felt the need to stop every 40-60 minutes just because my wrists and forearms couldn’t handle it. My main criticism of the bike so far is that it forces me to sit differently than I prefer. Standard motorcycles force you to sit up straight. I like that. This bike kind of forces you to lean on the gas tank in “sports bike” pose. I put a tank bag on for the trip but didn’t like the way this kind of riding made my back feel. Perhaps because of the pose, or the inflexibility of my body, there were times when I’d come off the freeway where I couldn’t move my right leg (which only operates the back brake) as it had frozen in place. This did not happen to me at 24.

I used what is called a cheater (brand name Throttle Rocker) to ameliorate arm pain on the throttle side. This didn’t work that well for a couple reasons. The concept is to afix a piece of hard plastic to the accelerator so that instead of having to hang on and hold you can just rest your palm on the plastic to maintain acceleration. You can only safely maneuver the plastic when you aren’t moving and pretty much anywhere you put it isn’t exactly the right spot. Because it modifies how you accelerate, it is quite unsafe until you are at real speed. This much I knew from trying to use the Rocker in the past. This go-round I learned that my RSI is bad enough to be triggered by the plastic pressing against my palm. Tingle ahoy!

The only real solution I have come up with to all these issues is to slow the fuck down. This isn’t easy for me because my personality has always been hostile to slowing down and smelling the roses but if the only way I can travel in the world (whether by motorcycle or whatever) is to do it slow, then that’s what it’ll have to be. I’ve kind of suspected this “slow down” thing has to be the way for some time as I find that after I take big trips (like LBC bookfair trips where I blast through by going, tabling, returning) I always need 1-3 days to recover when I get home. This coming trip I’ll have to build in recovery time while traveling.

Los Angeles

I despise Los Angeles. Perhaps I’ve just fallen into the trap of norcal v socal and just picked my team but, much like NYC, I just find the city itself to be an intolerable mess. The past few times I’ve traveled to the area for the anarchies I haven’t even spent the night. It is fucking hot. The traffic is brutal and terrifying (doubly so on a motorcycle because the car drivers do not seem to give a fuck that a fenderbender with me equals death). The attitude of the political scene is extremely fragmented (which makes sense given how enormous the city is) from very young and naive to older and jaded-as-hell. It is a town that is sophisticated except where it is not, both diverse and lily-white. A huge mess that you can’t possibly understand in a weekend.

This event was unusual for a couple of reasons. It was politically sophisticated (and obscure as it wasn’t necessarily political at all. It was a type of response to the LA Art bookfair) by a crowd I’m ostensibly in a type of agreement with (the ASC/post-situ crowd) but if I were to just walk in I’d mostly have experienced a group of ethnically diverse friends drinking together alongside a serious hodge-podge of tablers. Spiked belts, ancient surrealist books, some remnant of “the Oakland scene,” and LBC.

The real charm of the event was the after-party. Next door to LA Skidrow (I did not realize how Blade Runneresque the LA Skidrow is) we spent the evening in total bliss. Chilly, a fantastic roof view, while a total mix of people shot the shit in as unpretentious of a scene as I’ve ever experienced in a big city. Take note of the new website project that has come out of the group that put on the bookfair. http://www.onda.la/

I scurried away as early as I could to avoid the LA marathon that morning. The ride home was fast. I had less weight on the bike and always find return trips to be faster than away trips. Next up, the Northwest and big National Parks.

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In Defense of Bob Black

For those of you that haven’t heard I threw an event with Bob Black at our local infoshop on August 7th 2015. At this event local activist “Morgan Le Fay” came to protest Bob for the 1995 Hogshire affair and ended up punching him a few times (3) in the face. A month later Bob announced on Facebook that I was both a traitor and enemy. He proceeded to blow my pseudonym (incorrectly) as an act of vengeance.

Rather than speaking about my own anger at Morgan or Bob at their behavior I am going to give the eulogy–one I’ve been contemplating for some time–of Bob.

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I have known Bob, not in his daring years when I could have been a co-conspirator to his minor offenses against local legends Processed World, not when he was at the peak of his power and railed against work at the Gorilla Grotto, but perhaps in his decline, as publisher of his last two books. But the relationship between a publisher and an author is a close one. We could safely discuss his entire oeuvre at length and depth. We could discuss our shared ideological enemies. I could share with him my goal of returning his name back to being on the cynosure of anarchist thinkers where he belonged, returning him from his exile (for his naughty behavior against Jim Hogshire, etc.). As the preening narcissist he has always been, Bob basked in my appreciation, of someone he delusionally believed to be a fawning acolyte.

I still believe that Bob deserves defending, and my defense of him follows in three parts: he survived, he did something (even if it was the wrong thing), and he did it alone (for better and worse).

Survival

I imagine become an anarchist in the twilight period between the end of the Vietnam War era (not exactly a banner time for anarchists anyway) and the rise of (albiet low-profile) anarchist punks must have been quite lonely. I can’t imagine having these ideas without the benefit of seeing what impact they had on relationships as they were tested out. One of my clearest experiments of this sort was when I moved out of a group house (the very next day as I recall) when they wrote my name to an objectionable task on the chore wheel because I was at work. I had Debordian fantasies and put my body on the line in their pursuit. But I did not do it in a vacuum. The day I left the house I drove across the state to a warm, waiting room with friends who were happy to see me. The situation would have been miserable if I didn’t have those friends, that shared understanding about Debord, or the money to have a car to make that drive.

While Bob isn’t the only survivor of his generation I have a giant soft spot for all of them. Their clarity about then is one of the reasons that we can be fighting different fights now. Specifically I am referring to the context of anarchism, workerism, the left, and ATR. I have so much respect for this generation because I caught the tail end of the Red anarchist menace and its mediocrity was asphyxiating. As an ex-post-left anarchist I’ve had enough talk of what the left should be (if only…) to last three lifetimes. Dodging the bullet of having to endure Great-Men-Talking-about-Revolution-as-if-it-were-about-to-happen (or already did) I still consider quite the achievement, which would not have been possible if it were not for the ones who survived and particularly for Bob Black.

But they paid a price. In Bob’s case an ass-kicking or two, for others it was different kinds of social exclusions, ones that reflected their personalities and survival skills. On another level they paid the price of loss of faith. Obviously we are talking about a secular kind of faith–a belief that when exposed to a correct analysis or critique people will change their minds–but a faith nonetheless. A faith that other people, strangers, are like you: reasonable, argumentative, and more interested in something-like-truth than in popularity contests or petty games. This loss of faith has created grumpy, lonely men but it has also created a neon colored sign post for us, the next generation, and for those who are arriving after us.

Doing something

I realize that most of the anarchists of the post-left generation have exposed their own influences as being egoist but that wasn’t my perception of them or their position(s) during my first decade of exposure to them (prior to meeting them). It seemed to me that Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed was the American wing of a post-situationist perspective, full stop. In hindsight, I realize how little I knew but it was the SI that excited me when I was just an anarcho-tot. It was their practice of critique-as-action that made sense to me, and it was how I saw action that I wanted to participate in. The SI critique of what we would now call activism felt complete to me and, as a result, held no interest, it was complete. The attacks against groups and people of the same fighting weight did, and still does, hold me captivated.

This is where my defense of Bob is strongest. Whether in the name of revenge or his own sense of rightousness Bob devoted his life to fighting people and institutions outside of his weight class. We once had a conversation where I was expressing how not-in-a-hurry I was with regard to dealing with a slight because I held that the long view, the strategic view, would win out against hurried action. Bob made it clear that while he might have agreed with me about the likelihood of winning, my attitude was bullshit. The only time to deal with opponents is now. He meant it. He would rather lose the fight, and do it now, than wait and win.

This charming personality trait explains nearly every scandal and misstep Bob ever took. As he aged, his rush to fight took on the long form essay rather than the flaming poop bag, but the will to fight never waned.

This point, by the way, is why the activist insult against theory/critique people has always aggravated me. I try to give the activist crowd the benefit of the doubt that they do truly believe in the political practice they are part of “in the streets” and are not just using regular people as cover for their desire to see the glittering rain of a window pane. (The least they can do is realize that a vigorous internal conversation is a verb and not “doing nothing” but whatever.)

Bob has taught anarchism a lesson that has yet to be meaningfully followed up. We need to establish something like a set of rules, or a kind of terrain, around how to fight with one another. When Bob accused Ramsey, in the letter section of AJODA, of being a state agent (on the flimsey grounds that they needed to evade the consequences of the Anarchist Exclusion Act of 1901), there were two results . One, Bob broke an unspoken rule against snitch-jacketing and two, Ramsey took him (and the accusation) extremeley seriously. Ramsey placed a fatwa against that issue of the magazine (#65, which had quite of few strong articles) and did whatever he could do persuade us (including by threat of force) and whomever was in his sphere of influence (which mostly meant infoshops that inclined Red) to not carry it. By putting his (and by extension ours–as AJODA did the material suffering, since AK Press stopped distributing the magazine after this issue) body on the line, Bob proved an unintended point. He provided Ramsey an opportunity to show what Ramsey was all about and Ramsey’s response to that paragraph of text couldn’t have been clearer.

For those of us who are similarly inclined, this lesson should be instructive. When you throw your body, identity, and personhood into the fray you rarely get accolades or huzzahs. At best you get a clarifying moment on a tangential point related to but not necessarily central to why you were acting in the first place. What most people do with this information is hide themselves behind nicknames, anonymity, or silence, and we, as a politic and practice, suffer for it.

The power of one

Bob has never had an ally (or accomplice in the modern vernacular) as he made it structurally impossible for anybody to be (or become) one. There are many private examples of how this looked in practice but it’s an obvious point that if you are fighting for your interpretation of the singular right and correct position anyone who would join you has to convince you that they think the same way that you do and for the same reasons.

Bob’s life is a series of breaks from limited collaborations that is not disconnected from the Stirnerite postulation about organization only lasting as long as the participants in it gain satisfaction in that arrangement. Bob’s innovation, if it could be called that, was to (mostly) set fire to any possibility of future collaboration by way of personal insults and public declarations of acrimony. Let’s call this practice “angry egoism,” which can only be ameliorated by its target bending knee, thereby placing future collaboration on the unstable base of an explicit power-over relationship.

And these dysfunctions ultimately rise from the fact that every battle, every idea, and every break happened for Bob alone. He has had lovers and temporary friends but largely his life was one lived alone, with no voice cautioning consequences or suggesting a different pacing, no daily consultations in bed. The only voice in his head was his, amplified by a Debordesque diet of spirits.

By this cautionary tale I put Bob Black to rest. He was a clarifying influence in my life, largely as a negative example but also as a good writer, but one incapable of reaching the heights he reached for. He will be remembered as much for who he wasn’t as for who he wanted to be but this is the most anarchist of problems. Most of us will not be remembered at all as our shared Beautiful Idea is larger than each of us and continues on after we are gone. The best we can hope for is some contribution to that idea and as a person who lived and wrote in especially challenging times and circumstances Bob Black has done his part.

Farewell.

As much as I hate you, work is worse

It has been a rough year so far. For the past few years I’ve been able to afford to work very part time and devote my energy to projects that I love and share with my closest friends. I’ve lost a few of those friends, some recently, and some in years past but if radical politics has taught me anything it is that friendship isn’t forever. Anyway, I’ve returned to full time(+) work and it’s reminded me about keeping things in perspective, especially in regards to friendship.

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There seems to be a general confusion about the difference between friendship and comrades(hip). Furthermore this confusion lives in short-time. Terribly short time. And as the confusion tends to to mean conflating the two things, it means increased the frequency that it takes them to cycle through our world without increasing the amplitude of the relationship(s).

In my few friendships is a feeling, a shared chemistry, and the lack of need to spend a bunch of time defining terms, calibrating jargon, and deciding what to do next. We already knew. Friendship is in the category of romance, fleeting, uplifting, and harder to achieve as the years go by. Thirty years ago I made friends nearly every day. At 45 I find friendship almost impossible to find and to nurture (nostalgia is a hell of a drug.)

Comrades, on the other hand, are a bit easier to find, even today. I don’t have to sit strangers down to calibrate them to my interests. By the time they find me they’ve usually calibrated themselves (or visa versa of course.) My interest in topics like alienation, social change, and the transformation of daily life has a predetermied audience (for and against). Politics, by this measure, is what my comrades and I are capable of doing. My project is to share the building of that capacity and collaborate with comrades about what to do with our capacity.

When I see people talk like strugglismo’s (which frequently means pretending that their crew of friends are on the cusp of something great, something permanent, something that can’t possibly be coopted–even at THE EXACT MOMENT that cooptation is is exactly what is happening), I don’t blame their friendships, which are enviable, I blame their politics. Their inability to see what is happening to and around them is the failure of their political imagination, on the one side believing that substantial libertarian change is possible (in the here and now), and on the other believing in their relevance (aka imminent necessity) to that change.

Camatte was onto something when he said “One awaits the revolution in vain, for it is already underway. It is unnoticed by those who await it, expecting a particular sign, a ‘crisis’ releasing the vast insurrectional movement which would produce another essential sign, the formation of the party etc…” but he uses the term revolution differently from me. When I use the term I attempt to always use it as a negative, as the project of the old left to create their bureaucratic utopia or of the christians (who almost always call themselves something else… like anarchist) who have clear intentions about their heaven on earth. Camatte is using the term in a far less grandiose manner. “The increasing loss of our real submission to capital will allow us to confront the true question of the revolution, not that of changing life, because all life has been enslaved, domesticated, misled by the existence of classes for millennia, but the creation of human life.” I wouldn’t put it this way (as I’m not exactly up on people) but for Camatte the revolution that is happening now is the creation of human life outside of politics, jargon, and “the struggle for the streets” (aka playing with cops in urban playgrounds).

Here the American followers of the Appelistas get it half right. The milieu is not, nor ever intended to be, the active agent for future revolutionary activity. If that’s what you are looking for good luck to you. It has always been the place to meet the fellow revolutionaries of the “create a human life worth living” school and this is why I will continue to serve it (even while largely not benefiting from it).

But of course all of this is a preface to a different point. As much as the Internet has allowed for a certain kind of hostility to exist between us, I forgive you your excesses. Forgive me for being a rude host, but my goal was always to get us to talk to each other. I didn’t realize how alienated those discussions would turn out but of course, in hindsight, it makes sense. I apologize for letting you believe we were ever going to be friends even though we agree about nearly everything. As much as I may hate you right now I really understand that in the landscapes of hatred it really isn’t a thing.

On the other hand I have been working a lot. I’m trying to take care of a pile of personal and family debt that I never took seriously before but that now looms large. Now I am hunkered in the digital coal mines tap, tap, tapping. My mind is never clear, rested, or happy with the task at hand. Even the things I love doing (like LBC) are annoyances and burdens. This reminds me that we are not enemies. We may not be friends any more, we may only be silent, or indifferent, comrades, but my hate for you is nothing. It is not a thing. My enemy is this imagination-killing nightmare called work. It is the duty to debt, the separation from my body, and the incredible organization of it all that has rationalized my life along with 7 billion of my closest… friends?

I hate using code words, or jargon, to substitute for my feelings, so of course it is the cops who implement, the middle managers who hammer out the terms, the teachers and parents who convince us there is no outside, and the shoppers, wage laborers, and protesters who consent to the terms of the agreement, so blame isn’t much beyond the rhetoric and shouting. My feeling is that the agreement is the problem and the process by which one figures out exactly what we agreed to is one I continue to be capable of being seduced by. I may hate you but in your stupid, ill-advised, immature, silly yearning I still love you. Both are true at once.

I would not say the same for the architects of this disaster.

Have you checked out? Are you considering it?

Anarchism cannot be reconciled to life in this world, to a world of day jobs and bills, of having children and mortgages, and of relationships that find politics to be exhausting and not a language of liberation. But, of course, this isn’t the anarchism-of-the-heart it’s the anarchism of “the scene” or anarchism “of the streets” or the anarchism of sisyphus. One can believe, can dream, and can aspire to the freedom of anarchy no matter who their friends are, and no matter what their day job is, and no matter what their lifestyle is. There is no correct form of anarchist life but there is a body of people who identify as anarchists, and for many of us, leaving these people is part of the process we need to go through to become happy people.

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Counter-cultures, whether youth, music, or political are usually self-marginalized . That is to say they make choices to separate themselves from /normal/ culture and as a result become irreconcilable to a normal life. We may all agree that normal sucks but we cannot doubt its gravity. We age and need health care, we fall out of love with young rebels, we want to make commitments and stay in one place, we make choices, which usually means boring, normal choices. Anarchism, like punk rock, veganism, and a thousand other counter-cultures seems to force dogmatisms and judgmentalism and it begins to wear on a person. At some point the cost-benifit analysis is made and anarchism-as-a-practice falls short.

I personally feel and have reconciled myself to both this force of gravity and my own life project of fighting this gravity but I do not think I have made the right choice. I realize why I have so few age peers in this life (and its not just because I am a jerk). The choice to stay within anarchism-as-a-practice is to live with constant failure (as in we haven’t won yet, have we?), constant bickering (not just because I am not conversant with the newest political line against the newest forms of oppression), constant knee-capping of projects, and constant floods of young know-it-alls. It is also not a place to talk about adult problems like the death of a parent, paying off student loans, or caring for elders who cared for you as a child. This is doubley true for men (at least in my experience). And the nature of this gravity is that eventually it will break my heart, even though I started out with one that was good and strong, because the constant pull is constant.

All of this is a preface. I want to put together an anthology of these stories, of departures and those who have departed, and I don’t know how to invite you other than by this kind of complicated chunk of text. I don’t know how to persuade you to tell your personal story, that probably includes resentment at people like me, without putting some blood into the game. I don’t want to pretend that our stories can make youth last any longer than it does, or put an end to a world gone wildy awry but I think that just as most of us found each other after feeling lonely and isolated as young people, many of us too find loneliness entering into a middle age, only this time also lacks the easy socialibility of counter-culture and the easy answers of a political identity.

If you have some interest on working on this with me drop me a line at aragorn@lbcbooks.com

Regarding “Decolonizing the Imagination”

Dear friend,

Thanks for asking about the oblique statement I made on Facebook to quote…

I am terrified by the politics behind the phrase “decolonize the imagination”

in regards to this link.

YoX3o3A

To begin with let me state unequivocally that I loved Octavia Butler as an author and respect that fact that a generation of new authors have found her writing to be inspiring and her personal story heartwrenching. There is probably no better way to honor her than to put together a collection of SF writings by POC authors. I also respect the fact that Walidah Imarisha is doing good PR work for her project and finding whatever media sources available to get out the word of the project. As someone who works in publishing, I recognize the work that she is doing as uncomfortable but necessary in this early stage of the digital publishing transformation. It’ll probably work at selling many copies of the book.

Again, as a publisher of books in the conceptual neighborhood of this one, and as a life-long lover of SF I can’t help but be envious of AK Press for being associated with this project EXCEPT for the content of the book (or at least the PR) itself. Now, I have not read it so I can’t speak to the actual content, but I can speak to the political suppositions made in the boingboing article which, I assume, reflects the tenor of the introduction (ie the framing) of the book. Here is a quote that seems to get to the heart of the politics of Octavia’s Brood:

“Visionary fiction encompasses all of the fantastic, with the arc always towards justice,” writes Imarisha. “We believe this space is vital for any process of decolonization, for the decolonization of the imagination is the most dangerous and subversive form there is, for it is where all other forms of decolonization are born. Once the imagination is unshackled, liberation is limitless.”

Here is where you see the difference between an Octavia Butler–who in her essay “A Few Rules for Predicting the Future” made it clear that the strong-throated assertions of politicians are to considered in the face of the unintended consequences of their solutions–and the topicality of Imarisha’s declarations around decolonization and justice. On the one hand you have an author who decries the simplicity of speaking in terms of solutions to frightful, terrifying problems and on the other hand we have a vague, programmatic. “Take this world, add decolonization to imagination, and the future is limitless.” As any lover of SF will tell you, if you assume imagination, full stop, the world is limitless. That’s the definition of the word!

The alternative, offered here, is an imagination that is colonized by some foreign, external force. If we accept Imarisha’s premise that our imagination is colonized then we are utterly without hope. Imagination, as far as I’m concerned, is the magic dust that makes every other thing possible whether it’s activism, the pursuit of knowledge, or the will to fight. To start the conversation, whether it’s about visionary fiction or changing the world, by shooting yourself in the leg vis a vis imagination is to end it pre-born, it’s a fight for voice rather than speaking with it, it’s a fight for the right to think rather than thinking.

This brings us to the topicality of the message of Octavia’s Brood. The primary coded term in use here is decolonization. It’s used three times in the quote up above and I’m left struggling to understand what it means. I understand its use in the sense of ejecting foreign occupation of one’s land. I also understand the Fanonian idea that foreign values have come to dominate here (eg North America). I do not, though, understand what the connection to those two uses of the term have to do something called decolonization and I think that this is an intentional mystification.

I think that the word decolonization, in this use and generally, is intended to evoke a militant attitude regarding existential and physical occupation without much thinking, or practicality, behind it. It seems to be used as a powerful way to say “good, but not in a white way” without, necessarily, specifically racializing the point. In the quote above the subtext is of a liberation movement that begins by an oppressed minority breaking the deep existential chains that bind without having to name that minority or the oppressor. It is, in other words, topical PR about a book, using for inspiration a woman who deserves something less crass and ham-handed than she is getting.

NAASN 2015

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I haven’t been blogging much lately. I’ve been feeling pretty low and unexcited about the anarchist space but didn’t want to devote much energy to complaining about it. I feel a bit better now. I participated in the 2015 NAASN gathering. I was motivated by Tom Nomad and his idea to discuss three perspectives on the role of anarchists in social movements. Tom, Doug and I gave presentations. I’ve attached the schedule and descriptions here.

NAASN2015-Preliminary-Program

Here is my presentation (more or less as a transcript). Enjoy!

Am I a pessimist?

so the first thing I want to say is that this panel (there are a couple others but very few this weekend) are sort of outside of the tradition of anarchist studies. to me, this is a good way to start thinking about what pessimism means.

I actually disagree with the premise (this is my habit, of course), I disagree with the premise of the question. So I’m here to represent the pessimistic, in this question, but I disagree with the premise. But to extend that a little, for me the pessimistic orientation, which I mostly do see as a modern, youth perspective… a pessimistic perspective sits on the outside as an observer, is disempowered, and sort of whines about how things are going, how shitty everything is, and how shitty everyone is. That’s the pessimistic position.

I would like to believe that I don’t do that at all. That my projects by and large (specifically Little Black Cart, but also certain web projects I do) has me absolutely engaged with the things that are happening around me and with this thing that I love, which I call anarchism.

I mention that because within the anarchist studies context, there is a quiet consensus that anarchism is a class-struggle perspective, and that anarchism is collegiate (because many of the people who are involved in anarchist studies together know that they will be seeing each other in sociology conferences, and what not, in the future; to some extent this is a wading pool for their bigger academic life, which—if they’re successful—they’ll actually have). so when you see the list of all the names, there’s a surprisingly small fraction of speakers who are outside of that tradition. One of the terms used to dismissively refer to these [outside-of-the-academic-tradition] people is “organic intellectuals;” and I guess i’m one of them.

I’m going to give a presentation from some notes that I wrote down, but I want to be cautious, because I know I’m liable to flights of fancy where people might not get the things I reference and could get confused. So I know that i’m somewhat notoriously incomprehensible. I apologize for that ahead of time and I’ll try to fill in a lot here, to make it clear what I’m trying to get at.

I’m here to represent the position with the absolute worst marketing in all of anarchism or even radical politics. I wish I could just blame bob black for this (which of course I can), but the amount of vitriol piled onto what is perceived to be my position is in absolute contrast to common sense. Whether you call it post left, anti left, anti organizational, anti civilization, or nihilist anarchy, it’s reviled from Bookchin to Zerzan. But at the end of the day, it is the anarchist position. It is an approach of utter hostility to the existing order, and or revulsion to most successful approaches to changing the world.

(That’s pretty clear.)

Where my position differs from my comrades here today is that I am not only opposed to successful approaches to changing the world–ie state communists, capitalists, technocrat– i’m also against failed approaches to changing the world. Every time I hear the word revolution, especially as it’s used by the class-struggle and struggle-struggle-all-the-time-strugglismos, what I perceive are plaintive wails of a failed secular crusade against the infidels.

Jesus

To put this in some context, I think I, like many of you, began being a radical in the shadow of what felt like a very structured arrangement. Like, “Spain is the high point of anarchist struggle,” “things have gotten better over time” (so, a progressive story about history), and over time when I stopped thinking of these accepted premises as true, and started to think about what they meant, what they assumed, I found that there were fewer and fewer answers the further I went down this rabbit hole. So not to simplify too much, but one of the history of ideas that I think is absolutely to think about in the context of anarchism (this is actually talked about a lot in a book called Anti-Nietzsche, by Bell—he’s a marxist scholar who attempts to revile Nietzsche from a Marxist perspective but makes an interesting point that may be valid), the first rebels were the rebels who contemplated the possibility that there might not be a God. Sorry, let me make the big clarification, the first rebels in the western tradition, the tradition that most of us in this room are locked into. So the first rebellion was even opening up the idea that God wasn’t this omnipotent, singular, reflection. So it was only later that sort of sub-Gods began to be of concern; so what we now say is that anarchism is against capitalism and the state. That’s a later formation. The original heresy in the western tradition is just to be against God. This is because the western tradition at its very core is a christian, religious, judeo-christian formation. The way we think about logic, history, the progress of history, the way we metaphysically place ourselves in the universe, has an entire christian pedagogical terrain. And I think it’s fair to say that anarchism does the same thing, in almost all its iterations.

Last night there was a very nice presentation about anarcho-pacifism that left out the Jesus… but there’s plenty of Jesus in anarcho-pacifism. To me the striking thing is that in all the beautiful flourishes that we all cheer along to, from the stories that we heard last night, almost all those stories begin and end with a narrative that looks like salvation by way of revolution.

So the reason that I question the premise that i’m a pessimist is because I question the premise that a revolution will save us, that the french revolution model of transforming society and social relationships—not only whether or not it’s valid but whether or not it’s… the toolset is incomplete. And that’s entirely putting aside the fact that the western model and the western gaze here doesn’t describe much more than 25% of the world. It just happens to be the winning 25%, at least as we understand it today.

So there’s the context.

Savages

As for the rest of us, the dirty savages of daily life… we labor in silence, fully aware that we are not the future managers of society. We are not necessary or considered in regards to how to feed and water the masses. We’re nto invited to the organizational meetings, or the fashionable equivalents in the 21st century, sex parties, how to set up a commune or whatever, we scrape and scrabble merely to survive. So let me restate my premise in reference to our current impasse (an impasse referred to in the original text, something of what tom was talking about). In days of yore, we believed in the spirits of rocks, trees, lakes around us. Our deities were human-sized, and we had personal relationships with them, as is normal when the frame of your reference is small and human-sized. Eventually our deities organized themselves and found heroes, stories, morality. This was a nightmare because it grew our frame of reference outside the band, into a gang, and bullies started to find themselves. The rest of us suffered. Finally these pantheons had it out with one another, and ended up in really large stories, universal stories that raged across continents, cutting people down like trees, and forcing many of us to fight for their flags and holy trinities.

Lucky for some, at some point someone came up with a better version of this story, that spun fire and brimstone into inside heating and iphones. This modern story is one that agrees on all levels with the universal monotheistic religion, but calls it something else, humanity let’s say. It convinces because it has better songs, FM radio, and shit, but perhaps has made some sort of back room deal with monotheism, because the two don’t seem to squabble at all in public at this point. But from the perspective of an anarchist, those who fight for one are identical in every way to those who fight for jesus and would hand infidels from the walls of the city (except for terminology and a decided lack of passion… growing less as times goes on).

So stop wasting your time, fellow anarchists, with a failed modernist strategy of a crusade against society in all its forms. There is no path from here to there. Anyone who tells you differently is selling you an ideology, full stop. The things we should be doing together and apart is to create anarchic moments of our own, not merely in the reflection of cops’ riot masks, but in the interstitial spaces of a totalizing world that aspires to fill more and more of the spaces between us. If one aspires to activism, it should in growing and developing those interstitial spaces rather than defending spaces that are long gone.

The point is no longer to fight against symbols of bad as a solution to a world gone bad, but to fight as a matter of affect, to create a loving hostility, that’s the only thing that anarchy can be today.