‘personal’ Category Archives
by aragorn in personal
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”
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.
by aragorn in personal
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.
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.
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.
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.
by aragorn in personal
This has been a harder piece to write than I expected it to be, since the point I want to discuss is relatively simple. What isn’t simple is the supporting material: the bits around the central bit. There is this larger piece I’m in the middle of thinking about the next issue of Black Seed: What is Anarchist thinking? (Others may ask what is anarchist scholarship or epistomology or whatever.) This somehow merges in my mind into a question about how each of us embodies a story of ideas in motion. If we aren’t robots or ideologues we change our minds on central questions or, at the very least, approach them from different perspectives as we age. Our politics and the way we express them changes over time. Anarchist thinking should reflect that.
Since I was a tike of 15 I’ve been obsessed with the question of how to live the ideas I was immersing myself in. What seems simple when you are a weirdo punk rebel youth becomes complicated as you try to keep a job or have a conversation with anyone who isn’t punk, a rebel, youth, or weird. We, or at least I, get confused about the signs that people put out there and what exactly they signify and eventually I figured out that it is in that gap (sign-signified) that lay all the interesting bits; about new friends, about ourselves, and that the simple logical people who A + B = C their entire lives aren’t the people for me. Figuring everything out turns out to be a great way to generate boring people.
To put this in a more argumentative way I want to make an initial presupposition that anarchist thinking should be destructive thinking: it should embody attack. It should never assume its context within existing models but recognize its hostility to those systems, especially in this world, and move from there into one of a knowing absence. I’ll try to develop this elsewhere but the point it brings up here is the positive inclination it maps onto things like confusion, inexperience, and not knowing exactly what is going on and acting anyway. Anarchist thinking may improve when there is more connective tissue but flexibility and pliability are core values. I would set this kind of mental flexibility next to imagination, hatred of authority, and a desire for collaboration and mutuality and call the list the anarchist value system, but obviously that’s getting way ahead of ourselves…
The challenge I’m concerned with today is the idea that anarchist practice should be seen as indistinguishable from anarchist ideas or, to put it another way, that means and ends should be indistinguishable. That, in lieu of a revolution and perhaps instead of a revolution, we should exhibit and inhabit the way we want to be in the world, full stop. Insofar as we desire a world free from coercion and authority we should not be coercive or authoritarian. It doesn’t take a great deal of imagination to see that this position has wide implications, not the least of which is an obsession with calling out behavior as coercive or authoritarian and by extension declaring individuals, by their incongruous actions, not-anarchists.
As an initial effort to nibble around the edges of this ethical position I’d like to introduce a counterexample to this inseparability of ends and means. I’ll go even further and use this case as a testament to a broader set of counterexamples. I am referring to what it is that we do for money. How do we live in this world?
I want to be as precise as possible here because while I may have an aesthetic preference for sloth, or at the very least for work avoidance, I am compelled to work for others for money. This compulsion is real and rather distinct from the projectual focus of my life generally. While I respect the fact that many people avoid this compulsion by hiding from the world of rent and responsibility (-to-others) I have found that by and large this is only a temporary or privileged position. Most people experience their lives as broken into at least two pieces, one being the set of things you are forced to do to live in this world, the other being the set of things you do because of desire, joy, or preference.
What seems to be the common ethical anarchist practice of reconciliation between these two spheres of life is to find work (ie compulsory labor) in a field resembling the social services. This could be directly as a social worker, or commonly as a nurse or health practitioner or teacher, or perhaps work in an NGO where policy changes can be interpreted as effort towards a common good.
My theory is that this reconciliation is impossible. Moreover, the attempt exemplifies the idea that politics can (and should) be practiced by participating in institutions that either by form or function reflect (although usually only partially and by an amount that degrades over time) your personal values. If your institution is healthy then the particular political position it represents is seen as waxing. In anarchist jargon this is the critique of representation: (here is a nice overview).
The other piece of this (function) is the question of whether
good works can lead to the salvation of man we make the change we’d like to see in the world. This is most blatant in the context of, for example, health care, where you are in fact making life and quality of life decisions for and with other human beings. It’s hard to differentiate the human side of health care from the entirely disembodied aspects of doing care work for pay and in increasingly rational and rationalized ways. When you are in it your perspective changes… and that is exactly the (or a) problem!
This is not a declaration to stop doing things, or even to stop working jobs that improve yourselves (singular and plural) but a small declaration that thinking anarchisticaly should not reconcile this contradiction. For some this means that they want to live in the grief of doing care work while under the discipline of wage, rational systems, and assholes (both those being cared for and the bureaucracy above) but for others, for me, it means I keep the life I live in this world unreconciled with the life I live in our world.
I maintain a firewall between work (a jargon term that means obligatory labor in the marketplace) and the things I do (for pleasure). This has made me a shitty employee from the perspective of promotions and career advancement since I don’t appear to be willing to give myself up for my employer but a better anarchist, albeit by a new definition. An anarchist is not one whose means and ends are inseperable. An anarchist is one who devotes a great deal of energy understanding the difference between the world–of power, authority, and domination–and a world of our creation. An anarchist in this world has to understand boundaries and all the ways that power, care, and the violence of exchange conspire to turn us into our opposite.
by aragorn in personal
On the eve of what I’m sure will be the passing fart of a cultural torch being passed from the Gen Y: kids of failed academic careers and sensible sweaters, to the tragically tragic I want to salute the anarchist hipster-cum-hipster anarchist for demonstrating… well not much of anything at all except that time is passing us all (by which I mean me) by.
links for reference:
by aragorn in personal
This is not a complete writeup of the A Fire at the Mountain (AFM) event. I’m probably going to write one at length for a to-be-announced project I’m working on. Additionally, I recorded a lot of the event (mostly the presentations during day two) and plan on discussing the event in detail (with audio) during the next TCN Radio in the next few weeks. The tagline of this not-a-reportback is that this event was the first ever “anti-colonial and anarchist bookfair” and was a very important personal and political event for me.
In the heart of so-called Security Culture
Flagstaff has a very small radical circle and the Táala Hooghan Infoshop feels as much like an extended family project as any space I’ve ever experienced. When I compare this feeling to the the Long Haul Infoshop in my town (one of the longest running infoshops in the country), the only conclusion I can draw is that something is very broken in the land of radical (anti)politics–something that relates to the connection between radicals as secret agents, on the run from authority, and the utter loneliness of urban life.
I’ll explain by way of example. There is a local family that is intertwined closely with the infoshop. The opening ceremony to the AFM included a ceremony in honor of this family. Three generations of this family came to the front of the room while people sang for them and met them (i.e. everyone there—roughly 100 people at that moment–walked by them and shook their hand). Over the weekend anybody who was paying any attention at all could understand exactly why this family was being honored in such a way; their work and presence was clearly a central part of the life of the infoshop and event. This was a clear declaration that seems incomprehensible in anarchyland (aka the milieu or the activist ghetto).
This family has a name and relationship to our project.
I often refer to the fact that the first dozen or so times that I meet a new person in anarchyland I don’t bother to remember their name. The functional reason for this is because for a long time it was perceived as good security practice to change your name frequently. To be a ghost. To fly under the radar of the system of domination and control by never touching the ground and retreating from any desire to fly to the sun. As a result every relationship tends towards a type of limited temporality or perhaps, as it’s usually said, an unlimited flexibility. A flexibility that just happens to look like an endless sequence of singles’ nights at the bar, electrons shooting pass each other, and an extremely limited capacity to help and care for each other. Of course this flexibility is totally different from the experience of the Metropolitan rumspringa who come to the city for enough time to find themselves before returning to some version of where they came from in the first place…
Part of the appeal of anarchyland, of course, is that it allows one to create distance between ourselves and the world we despise. I’m not alone in needing to draw a clear line between myself, my choices, and the inarticulate and mediocre choices of my parents. Perhaps the loneliness of cities (and aging in anarchyland) is that the fuzzy mediocrity of where many of us came from also tends to be social and warm.
A little thing called privacy
Another part of this story is the idea that we (by some definition) are waged in a type of death struggle with a system that is encroaching on every aspect of our life. They know our name, they have numbered us, put us on lists, and are coming closer to knowing what is on our mind at any given moment. While this is a slight exaggeration, it doesn’t seem so far from what our society appears to desire and is in the process of working towards.
In this Mordoresque view where there is an eye constantly scanning the fields we exist upon, it would make sense to perceive hiding from view as a prerequisite to the fight for liberation. Perhaps it is, but not really in the way one would think. Hiding from view because we talk about dangerous things or are preparing to gear up for impending conflicts is a zero-sum game. It pretends that those who write the rules, operate the police, and persecute us follow the rules of the game and all we have to do to win, is play better.
I would say that being constrained by the rules of the game, by cops and robbers, cat and mouse, us and them, means we’ve already lost. How to break systems of logic, of rationalizing and organizing human activity, in such a way that we do not also improve them for future enclosures.
Of course I’m being abbreviated and vague. All I’m really trying to do is draw distinction between privacy as a legal category, privacy as a sort of ethical imperative, and the fact that privacy has been an incredibly successful tool to keep us separated and lost.
By no means am I pining the loss of the family which, by and large, I can’t help but see as very much part of the whole. Perhaps what I’m mourning is the limited experimentation done along these lines. In what ways can our groups experiment with meaningful, long-term relationships without emulating the conservatism or expansionist attitudes of the (American) family.
A side note about the anarchist bro
I realize this report back is nothing of the sort (hence my initial caveat). Mostly I wanted to connect this very small moment to something that I think is very important. For me, right now, it’s a central problem. But I’ll end this report with an instructive closing story.
I gave a brief report on the weekend event to a small group of anarchist friends. One of the discussions was on “Spirituality, Green Anarchy and Cultural Appropriation”. Part of that discussion explicitly named activities around the Feral Futures event in Colorado and its lack of respectfulness. I was remarking that at AFM, criticism of white people was mostly done in such a gentle and polite way that it was somewhat unbelievable to me. (This didn’t stop an white ally who was in the room from getting defensive but that’s another story) That was part of the point of the story (the politeness in the face of disrespect).
The response to the story from my friend the anarchist bro was “Are you saying that they (natives) own singing, dancing, and running around naked?” And herein lies an unbridgeable chasm.
Somewhere in the minds of (many? most?) anarchists, personal and cultural boundaries are seen as totally at odds with my freedom to do whatever in the fuck I want to do at any given moment. The idea of respect(ing others) is seen as stupid. The idea that something that is sacred to someone else is irrelevant because the only thing that sacred is I.
And this is not a dig particularly on individualists BTW. In my experience the anarchist bro can have any number of labels to describe the way in which they are right and that any questioning of that fact is authoritarian. This is characteristic of the bro who just happens to wear black.
The A Fire at the Mountain event will be hard to describe to many people. It was big-town enough to have speakers like me, Simon Ortiz, and John Zerzan, but cozy and small in every other way. I came away from the event with a great sense of responsibility for what I have to do next. This includes more intentional involvement in making the Long Haul the space I’d like it to be, getting to know the local Ohlone and Intertribal folk, and talking about the provocations of the weekend that, if treated right, will become the pivot where future anarchism in North America will perhaps be non-European (or at least non-Eurocentric).
Whenever I return to the Midwest I feel like I have a sign over my head telling all passerby’s that I have returned, the prodigal son or some such shit. But the people who actually live here tend not to give a fuck. Everyone they know lives here so what’s it matter that another yahoo comes from the same stock. Of course the related issue is that an enthusiasm for other people, other lives, or their own miserable daily life doesn’t tend to shine through either…
Grand Rapids @ The bloom collective
This was a small gathering at the Bloom collective space. First of all it’s worth repeating how strange it is that I can even have an event at the infoshop of the town I grew up in but the conversation seemed to follow a thread that’s worth detailing a bit…
On the one hand there are the “holding down the fort” people who may (or may not) be anarchists but are willing to deal with the nuts-and-bolts aspect of keeping a space open. On the other there are people who want to see radical space be… radical. One of the central themes throughout this trip (and with the meta-proposal of Conflict Infrastructure) is that conflict has to be a core component of our infrastructure both as a consequence of principal of engagement (rather than passive aggressive silence) and as part of the orientation towards activity (as in if conflict infra isn’t doing stuff it is either plateaued as project or in decline) hopefully of a hostile nature (broadly conceived of).
In GR the tension between the two factions was palpable and my thrashing around the issue (on the pro-conflict side naturally) was not convincing to the fort radicals at all.
Bloomington @ Boxcar books
This town, as it turns out, is damn near a satellite of the Crimethinc enterprise. Obviously CT is anonymous and no one person is specifically involved in the project but I heard Contradiction type pith during every conversation I had while I was in town. And the design eye of the town is superb! Additionally, every time I turned my head too quickly, I saw a CT gremlin racing out of sight, only leaving a trailing dreadlock or buttflap.
The humorous CT style prank played on me while I was there was a “social game” where I directed a story to a room full of the humans by way of what letter of the alphabet I ended my sentences with. Much Dune dorkery ensued and a good time was had by all… (no, really)
The Boxcar event was great. A full house (which was a bit of a surprise given that the event started at 9pm) and more pessimism than I usually hear from the fort anarchists. My time in Bloomington ended with a very funny drunken tirade on the beauty of Marx’s words (cough) and against anarchist hostility for the same.
I spent almost a week in Austin Texas. A swell town that needs no accolades from me to convince someone to check it out. My terror there only begun when I heard exactly how expensive the rent is there. Sacrebleu!
I’m writing this before the second day of the New Orleans Anarchist Bookfaire so my thoughts aren’t complete but suffice it to say that I have been pleasantly surprised at the sophistication and engagement of the New Orleans folk to the anarchies as I know it. A large number of people have been totally educated on our material and why we do what we do. Kind of (by which I mean totally) satisfying.
I was in NOLA in 2006 and the cloud of death and terror still hung in the air. I felt it and while I enjoyed my time here I was also, more or less, afraid of its touch. This time the town has romanced me more effectively. I do not exaggerate when I say that I would consider coming here for time (months or years) if I didn’t have a life in the Bay. Perhaps this will be my backup plan for when everything else goes to hell. There is something in the attitude here that I really would love to learn more about.
by aragorn in personal
I’m going to try to use a web posting to have a developed conversation about why I keep doing what I’m doing. Why anarchy? Sure, but also why projects, (anti)politics, or anything that doesn’t look like a quiet, satisfied life. One that doesn’t look like some satisfied combination of eating good food, consuming interesting media, and having friends.
Here is the posting, it’s by someone I’d like to consider a friend, and I think it’s a fairly well represented point of view. Check it out, I’ll wait.
What Jenn has posted is a grab bag of topics that include “the scene”, friendships, isolation, and values. This list isn’t dissimilar from my own when I think about the same topic but perhaps in different order in combination. But let’s start slow.
Q: Why do you keep doing the things that you do? Why anarchy?
A: I still have it deep excitement about the possibility I see around me for anarchy (and by extension what I despise about this world) to explode. When I see the light turn on in the strangers eye I feel inspired. I believe in collisions (by which I mean the collision of intelligences, perspectives, and tension) and continue to want to go faster and from different angles. This guttural passion moves me even though it looks nothing like it did 20 odd years ago when I began to practice it.
But you’ll notice this passion has little to do with other people, with victory conditions, or something other people experience as a social scene. This is for good reason. For starters, I’m not particularly well-liked in most social scenes. I might be liked by a few people who participate in scenes or are accepted as a background character but by-and-large those who connect their politics to a series of friendships, especially in so far as those friendships are static (aka the party), usually have a different project then me.
When I was in Europe a couple years ago this distinction was made clear to me. What I perceived was that the people who you did political work with were not necessarily the same people that you were friends with. Obviously this is inflicted by what politics means for anarchists, by the fact that I mostly was visiting with older people, and that I wasn’t aware of all the personal histories in the political groups I saw but it did seem like a principal. The principle was that one should not conflate friendships and (my word) project work unnecessarily. The politics come first and the friendship results over time. Fair enough. In the US the opposite model is in effect. Friendship is seen as the highest calling and friendship-like activity (eating, sex, living together) has a much higher value than any other project work. Friendship is the project, it’s usually considered a political one, it is also usually a failure.
Sidebar: My sobriety (especially when it was of the VSxE variety) has always informed my friendships. To put it differently, many of the people around me did not seem to have a lot of agency when it came to the people they hung out with. The priority always seemed to not be the people-in-and-of-themselves but the activity those people did. If one’s desired state was of intoxication then the personalities with whom you intoxicated were secondary at best.
A sure sign that I am aging is that instead of my personal crises being embodied by a burning bridge or some line in the sand between me and some one else, my current crisis was about deflation. More than any other time in my life, I have married my interests and most of my waking hours to this ridiculous, all encompassing anarchic project. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, the world hasn’t shifted on its axis. Just because I have changed doesn’t mean that the world has.
This year I crisis was triggered by what resulted from all the work we did making 8 days of anarchy a success. The result of course was not much of anything. My perception is that a couple hundred people had a pretty great party. Lots of text was shifted on the Internet. That’s it. Nothing else of consequence came out of the months of preparation.
This year marks something like 13 years of my participation in the BASTARD conference. We’ve been doing the 8 days of anarchy for eight years or so. The carnival aspect of March in the Bay Area is firmly in place. We know how to do this. But do we know how to do anything else? Are we just enabling a kind of sophisticated party that we don’t even feel comfortable participating in? And if this is the case and what really differentiates our work from the activists (with big hearts and little capacity to see how small the results are of their work) we criticize?
I remember when I was a little boy getting a chance to hold on to an expensive camera, specifically an old-style zoom lens. I recall looking into the lens of turning it and being fascinated by the aperture closing and opening in the seemingly smooth way but but also clearly mechanical. Often times when I’m thinking through past, current, future projects I recall the amazing physical construction of this lens. It seems so clear after all is said and done how things were said and done but most of the time it’s impossible to get that clarity. Most of the time we spend turning the lens in an attempt to get focus but it’s not quite right.
Which is to say that my self-criticism is that I all too often flying over the content itself. We (LBC and friends) are in a fucking renaissance of new and interesting anarchist material. There are more new, interesting, and provoking things happening in the anarchist space than in any time over the past two decades. The difference is that they aren’t necessarily sensational or hero driven. It isn’t about some particular “bad boy” of anarchy land, some marketing inspired content-light sensation, or another moralist screed about how everyone else is doing it wrong. We still have this drama if that’s what excites you but we also have hard thinking about the relevance of militant action, the beginnings of anarchic critique of identity, and beautiful stories about human sized lives.
Obviously I am biased. I published much of this material and would like to think of myself as part of the storytelling that I am also inspired by. But it’s this work that has helped me escape the crisis of deflation. It’s not the social scene or my so-called friends would inspired me to continue doing the things I do. It is not meta. It is the thing itself, the words, the potential, and the explosive possibility of what putting these words into practice looks like that has brought me back.
What I’m working on
- Attentat – http://pistolsdrawn.org/announcing-attentat/
- I want to be a Suicide Bomber – https://www.facebook.com/pages/SIFIR-I-Want-to-be-a-Suicide-Bomber/278935228807324
- LBC Salon
- LBC Q3 Outreach party (TBA)
- Free from Civilization
- The masters tools (working title)
by aragorn in personal
and not end up living a life of lonliness and desolation
I am a known bridge burner. This means that on several opportunities throughout my life I made choices that meant I lost friends. Not lost friends in that I got to pick them up again later, but lost friends in the sense that people who used to like me and want to be around me no longer wanted to be around me. When I say I have burned bridges I mean I have been entirely responsible for ending friendships that didn’t have to end.
This used to be a point of pride. I took commitments to too many things like a type of oath. A type of modern demonstration of an old value system. An extension of this system was the idea, to put it tritely, that I was willing to draw clear lines: between good and bad behavior, between healthy and not healthy, and between me and others.
Obviously at some point I had developed a reputation. It was and is a deserved reputation. Terms like arrogant and asshole have plagued me for well over 20 years. These terms have made it easy for people to watch the bridges between us burn to cinders. But we’ll get into that in a bit.
The worst of this whole phenomenon has to do with loss and the fact that I am currently experiencing a great loss. One that I cannot share because everyone who I should be able to share it with his on the other side of the bridge. A burned out, irreconcilable, devastating bridge.
I briefly met Sara (nee Mike) Kirsch in the late 80s and became close friends, or at least friends, in the early 90s. I lived with Sarah for several years in the mid-90s. We stayed close or “urban close” for the next few years and more or less lost close contact with each other about 10 years ago. We would still see each other a few times a year but due to a major conflict having nothing to do with he and I haven’t seen each other in five or so years.
Like many other people, my relationship with Sarah was a relationship with hardcore music. Sarah always represented the peak or the greatest intersection between politics and hardcore music. Around Sarah, and to a looser extent the HeartattaCk scene, was the West Coast equivalent of what I imagined was the rich and mature political hardcore music scene of Washington DC.
I traveled for a few weeks along a similar set of cities with John Henry West during their 1993 tour. During that time I fell in love with the conversations, music, and the people of this imaginary place that, as it turned out, I was only a visitor in. Sarah was central to this place. He represented somebody who totally disavowed their bourgeois background and meaningfully demonstrated what living for and in political music could be. Living with him for the two years that I did was an important rite of passage in my own life.
Sarah was also deeply important in terms of how I understood veganism. How it related to straight edge, is related to a political practice, and is an intentional act of eating delicious food. My own transformation away from veganism was largely possible because I no longer had access to interesting, engaged vegans who didn’t repulse me.
An equally important rite of passage for me personally was leaving the 20th Street apartment that I shared with Sarah (and others). I didn’t enjoy the Mission enough to turn down the opportunities that became available to me in the East Bay. More than that though, I was ready to challenge what I was beginning to understand as a form of orthodox thinking by members of the hardcore scene, including Sarah. Although I didn’t understand it that way at the time.
The great success of the political hardcore scene was the linkage of subculture to something bigger/greater. The sense that our potlucks were also an expression of a political practice, that shows weren’t just about music, was a deep challenge for me personally. Seemingly the next level of this challenge was a sort of dropping out from the capitalist system. Of course it wasn’t, albums were still purchased, rent was still paid, shitty jobs were still worked, but the idea that we were part of an underground and that meant being broke, all the time, was pervasive. But this wasn’t as important for me as it was for people who grew up in the suburbs. People like Sarah and the vast majority of the hardcore scene.
I was challenging the idea that the best/only way to fight capitalism was to do it as a destitute victim of capitalism. Obviously this is an overblown statement but the nature of radical politics is that subtle complicated personal issues tend to become bumper stickers by way of communicating them to others. As I was getting skills with the intention to use them also get a paycheck I was bumper stickered, not at first, not brazenly, is a sellout. This shallow understanding of how to live in this world and how to fight against this world confirmed that I had finally, painfully, outgrown the hardcore scene.
I wasn’t able to attend Sarah’s memorial. To do so would’ve hurt one person who really didn’t deserve it and probably would’ve ended badly generally. That bridge is gone. There are still people who don’t realize how much I miss them, how much I miss hardcore praxis, and how this burnt bridge is not about them. They probably expected to see me at the memorial but it was impossible.
I used to burn bridges and was proud for doing so. While it’s too late for my childhood, for a few hundred friends I’ve had over the years, I have more-or-less stopped burning bridges. They almost never represented the clear line, or the transversal of a line, to anyone else other than me. At great personal cost I have finally got it through my thick skull that I don’t have to sacrifice personal relationships every time I want to make a principled stand.
Today my life is filled with people. On a weekly basis I talked to more people than I used to talk to in a month. My life is no longer constrained by job, house, Facebook, or family. I have the kind of relationships I hoped to have when I was young. My friends and collaborators are interested, engaged, and critical, by which I mean lovingly hostile, towards me and my projects. I used to burn bridges because I believed that principled behavior required it. Now I realize that things are not that simple anymore and neither am I.
by admin in personal
You are principled independent, with a dark side
Your responses indicate a desire to escape from your troubles, and a fear that this action will destroy what you’ve already achieved.
These conflicting emotions sometimes cause you to be abnormally irritable and impatient when your needs are not met. Your concentration is also impacted, often leaving you feeling groggy or agitated.
The ensuing anxiety usually leaves you feeling vulnerable. As a result, you become less affectionate with people you care about. You occasionally become caustic and even needlessly cruel.
This stems from your own insecurity and fear of failure. Leveraging your ability to remain strong in the face of adversity — an ability you’ve proved to possess in the past — is the key to your emotional satisfaction.
You have a strong opinion of your own abilities, which is deserved. You are sharp and intellectually discerning when the need arises. In times of great stress, you have the will power to make difficult decisions.
by aragorn in personal
I am a member (in good standing, with a membership card and all) of the longest running (defined by volume of meetings over time) anarchist group in North America. The Berkeley Anarchist Study Group has met every week for at least the past 14 years. I have been involved since the first conference that the group put on 11 years ago. The structure of the group is simple. At 8 pm (on the dot) every Tuesday evening somebody starts the group by clearing the verbal clutter in the room with the simple exclamation “Announcements!” 10-15 minutes of brief announcements and report backs ensue with nods towards activism, consistent local events, and group activities. The next hour and 40 minutes involves every permutation of approaches towards textual (and visual) anarchist material. At 9:50 the discussion turns towards what next weeks reading will be. Recently we have been focusing a bit more on having thematic months of discussion (technology, Camatte, and introductions are all upcoming months) rather than just planning for the next week.
The reason the ASG can happen is because
- We have a free, publicly known, location to meet. We are an active part of the Long Haul community with all that entails.
- We are old(er). As a group our median age probably hovers around 40. This has all kinds of implications including a lack of ego (this author not withstanding), consistency, and responsibility-without-making-it-a-thing.
- We have different skill sets. We have people who are involved in day-to-day anarchist projects, who know languages, who know history or philosophy, and who have experience from which they speak. The regulars are surprisingly not half-assed (even if I disagree with them).
- The Study Group is one of the few places someone can achieve a kind of rigor towards study outside of “their” control.
- Reading requires practice. To be a reader means doing it, if not every day, then so consistently that it requires no internal dialogue.
- Rigor requires patience and an understanding that few things are interesting that just result from linear study. An understanding of the gestation and geology of ideas doesn’t particularly benefit from sitting down in front of the last few decades of Foucaultian research.
- A study group is a wonderful way to share a life with others who are interested in studying similar things as yourself.
- The act of studying isn’t the same act as application of what is studied. It is action but it is the action of studying. This can be confusing.
- Social dynamics apply. As with every other group the success of the study group is the same as the success of your D&D party. You have to have a tank, a paladin, a couple thieves, and a troll to bash every once in a while.
- Lack of preparation haunts every conversation. Usually less than half of the room has given a particular reading a serious read and less than half of that has done any thinking about how to talk and think about a text.
It used to be that the political orientation of the ASG was a central concern. The founder of the ASG is one of the editors of *Anarchy: a Journal of Desire Armed* which obviously informed the politics of the group (he has since left the group). More than politics though, I would say, the original group had an orientation towards readings of history (anarchist history first among them) and the current group has a serious orientation towards philosophy (Continental), that frames the conversation. I imagine this philosophical orientation would be hard to break up.
But perhaps the harder instinct to break up, and one that is frustrating me lately, is a studied lack of interest in conversations around application. This is purposeful and appropriate on so many levels that it is hard to want to shake the foundations of the ASG in particular, so I have a proposal that I’ll get to at the end of this post. But the context is important and the reason the ASG is so fundamentally anti-practical is because of the toxic activist environment here in the Bay Area. Every ASG member (there have been a few exceptions but none of the regulars) has passed through (traditional) activism on their way to the ASG. We are damaged people, damaged by the horrorshow that is the existing order and those who would replace it with an equivalent nightmare.
The reality of realpolitik is one of compromise and manipulation. It would be hard to define it, especially as an anarchist, without using words like negotiation or subterfuge. The study group is repulsed by all of these things. It is pure that way. But the end of this world will involve impurity and the study group is not enough.
Impurity isn’t the same thing as compromise, but the line has to be discussed; among peers, among allies, and even among critiques. More pointedly there is discussion-as-action which is real, has changed my life, and I see many of my friends suffer for not having access to it but there is also something-else-as-action that I still crave. I’ll call it by a different name that will shade it in an older distinction. I have a desperate desire to do more experimentation and lack the type and tenor of mad scientists I would like to do it with. I am going to call this new formation a think tank, where ideas are formalized along with an urgency to reality check those ideas through rigorous intentional implementation and attack.
When I say attack I don’t desire a temper tantrum but galvanization. I want to take things I know, I understand, and find interesting and impregnate them with more capacity. I want a group of people who not only have good ideas and some patience with failure but enough bravery to be scalded by hot things and not run away.