Feburary blues

I’d like to start having conversations at Anti-Politics again. Join me if you aren’t an idiot.

I have a couple projects that I am launching this month that I am really excited to see people get involved in and check out. I’m not going to link to them here but I’d love to hear opinions about the ideas

  1. A site of popular culture review
  2. A portal/blogging aggregator where other web-like services can live
  3. The initial scratchings of a place where a tech collective can work together
  4. Three new books (the first one could be arriving this week)
  5. Preparation for March: 8 days

I think I need to take a break soon.

Suprisingly tolerant

I am starting to get a reputation (if only in my head) for being surprisingly tolerant. I have become aware of this at work because I have worked closely with two of the most difficult people to work with at the company. Being a person who can deal with these people comes from my many years of dealing with very difficult to work with people in anarchist circles, in my social life, and perhaps, because of dealing with me.

I don't drink enough

I continue to find difficult people to be far more interesting than ‘nice’ people. I’ve never found nice to be, on its own, a particularly endearing trait. Frankly, I think it obscures far more than it demonstrates. But that ability to deal with difficult people comes at a price.

My skin is callused and thick.

I still feel it when a controversy blows by me, or there is a repercussion, but its less and less over time. I’d go so far as to say that I wouldn’t recommend learning my lesson as the consequences aren’t really for you.

A letter to close 2009

screamingmugs
Friends,

Big changes in the air, which is a great, as 2009 has been utter shit. A horrible year that I am happy to see behind me. I’ll review.

Work

I am still working full time. The job is increasingly grueling as my tasks become more cyclical (month-to-month) and less problem solving (day-to-day or hour-to-hour). My job has become very social in that I work in a “team” where there is an expectation to socialize. This makes side project or learning new tech exceedingly difficult during the week. Very frustrating with no end in site…

Health

As many of you know I had a wretched year health wise. The worst in my life.

First I went in for a simple laproscopic hernia operation. It seemed to go well but instead almost killed me twice. First time, by freezing my GI system forcing a return visit to the hospital for a couple of days of stomach pumping. That was a blast. The second time with an infection that required pumping out two liters of material, a couple of weeks in the hospital, and surgery after surgery.

After all this was wrapped up (which it still isn’t, of course, since I still have a large wound in my abdomen) I had a brain hemmorage. This necessitated two days of symptoms, three days of hospital stay, and three trips to the MRI terror show. We will see what the results are early next year.

Projects

The projects are going well. The print projects are changing but include a total of four books in the process for publication (at this time). We hope that all of them will be ready by March 2010.

  1. Nihilist Communism
  2. Willful Disobedience: Anthology
  3. Til the Clock Stops: Beginning Texts for the Constitution of A War Machine
  4. Anarchy Works – by Peter Gelderloos

For 2010 we (Ardent) have quite a few books lined up (we hope for four releases in 2010) and are already planning for 2011.

The web projects continue to thrive. The news site is still very active and has been frustrating me less and less as time has gone on. The library site has been amazing and continues to inspire me with the dedication and diligence of the new librarians (and old) who have made the project a pleasure to be a part of.

The big new web project (which is evidenced in this URL) has been slow moving but hopefully will launch in full effect sometime in January or Febuary 2010. The idea is to provide a set of web services and portal like functions to the milieu. We will be providing blogging, email, instant messaging and a series of new sites for interested parties. I can’t wait to launch it and start working with an active technical group on a proactive project they can all be involved in.

Travel

This year I mostly traveled for bookfairs. I made it to San Francisco, New York (twice, once to go to CT), Portland, Santa Cruz, Seattle, and missed my flight to go to Tacoma. Hopefully next year I will slow down that pace and spend a bit more time in some places so I can spend quality time with friends and comrades.

Taking Ourselves Seriously (IAS) – Part II

Sometimes I just want to hug!
Sometimes I just want to hug!

Criticism and Framing

I am hesitant to even offer my thoughts, in the way of analysis, of the IAS event. The feedback that I received to Part I (offline) was typical of what my worst expectations would be for the effort. I was corrected, copy editor style, and reprimanded for not truly being a neutral reporter of the event. I find this kind of “meta-framing” to be fucking obnoxious and exemplary of something I see a lot in anarchist circles. If I am talking about you (your project, your effort, your ideas) that means that I am paying attention to you. Imagine all of the things that I could be talking about that I am not. My time is precious and I am choosing to spend it on reviewing an IAS event. I will never be a member (or invited) to the IAS. I will never be funded by or published by the IAS. I don’t share a lot of affinity with the politics of the group, as I understand them, and yet here I am, caring enough about the project to think about it and sharing those thoughts publicly. To parse the IAS to an audience that would otherwise ignore them (perhaps rightfully).

Instead of feeling complimented, or even honored, the response is that I am somehow “out of box” because my perspective of the IAS, and their presentation, is not the one that they have of themselves or that they would prefer the public to have of them.

This kind of feedback, this suffocation, is exactly why people who have disparate world views tend to avoid one another. Why reinvent the wheel with every person you meet? Why argue about why criticism may be healthier and more useful than nodding your head in agreement? Why use public forums to talk about ideas where they will be “reality checked”? Why explain yourself when you are doing someone a service that may not be particularly helpful to them but may be helpful to others?

Frustration aside I will honor the IAS, and the other people who are interested in the IAS event, through my (!!!) editorial lens, with the rest of my thoughts about their event last weekend (now a couple weekends ago).

What was done well and not so well

The panel was well attended. Probably 60+ people who were engaged and didn’t interrupt the presentation in a way I usually would expect from a Bay Area event. I think the organizers of the event did a good job of “Internet outreach” which worked surprisingly well. There was representation of at least 1/2 of the Bay Area anarchist tendencies which is a pretty good showing of the popularity of the panelists and lack of general distain of the IAS by the Bay Area Anarchist fighting factions (BAAFF).

The presenters did not seem to ramble very much and completely filled 2 hours with words. This was one of the reasons that there were no interruptions is because the 3 people up front actually talked the entire time. They didn’t appear that they would have even stopped if it weren’t for the self-imposed time limit. This “east coast” style of the presentation was probably so shocking to the audience generally that they were stunned into silence. I doubt a second panel like this one would go as smoothly.

Instead of having a Q&A session they gave the audience 30 minutes to “share their thoughts” which was also a great technique of crowd control because instead of the rambling incoherent thoughts of people being directed at the three people up front (who may or may not have handled them well) they were diffused into the crowd, for long enough for the next person to start speaking.

There was surprisingly little hostility expressed from the crowd toward the presenters which I give credit to the IAS members for. By not engaging directly with potential and probable hostility (mostly by ignoring it), by talking the audience into submission (thought their own endurance and lack of breaks), and by leaving very little time for the drained audience to even respond they were successful in holding an event without acrimony. Perhaps also without the discussion they claimed to want, but definitely without rancor. These are all successes, of a sort.

What they didn’t do well was also what they did do well. This was not a discussion about anarchist strategy, this was a presentation of “the IAS approach” to strategy.

What does all of this mean?

At the end of the day the IAS approach is more like a category (or approaches) rather than a specific approach. It is humanist. It is dialectical. It is leftist. I say these terms not as pejoratives, although perhaps it is fair to say that they are that too, but as clarification to what would otherwise be a little confusing for me. I don’t exactly understand when I am listening to the arguments of the IAS members WHY I don’t feel comfortable with what they are saying but I really do. Not quite idiot shivers level of discomfort but something is wrong here and I search for the words. Right or wrong these three seem fair.

Bear with me while I work through something here, history of ideas style, relating IAS ideas and Murray Bookchin’s breaking down of of nature into first and second nature. The story goes that we (humans) are natural and part of biological evolution (aka first nature) but we (humans) are also unique (says Bookchin) in our social awareness and this is second nature. When I hear social ecologists, or really just people in the left who aren’t particularly deep green talk about the environment I usually wonder what in the hell they are talking about. This is why.

At the end of the day it just seems like they are interested in policy or the metaphysics of justice. I guess that is fine, not my thing, but just fine. I don’t understand the connection, it literally escapes me. Nature is just a word, sure, a metaphysical concept. That concept, that word, is a study, a concern totally unrelated to how we do, could, or should live in the world (natural or not). My sense is that the verbage. The terminology has fascinated a certain body of thinkers for too long and that they are confused about where the study begins and ends and where relationships are, and are not, mappable to that territory. More on this another time.

Next point. Humanism. I don’t consider humans to be at the center of my understanding about power relationships or at the center of my view of a better world. I understand that the conflict we are in is with humans but that just informs my understanding of humans as the enemy, not as the center. Anarchism as a humanist project feels like a poor fit. It makes sense if you want to leverage disciplines like social work, cooperatives, and social ecology into a form that is useful for anarchist analysis, or perhaps better said for analyzing anarchists and anarchism, but they continue to feel like projects with their own biases that are not commutable to the project of freeing us from hierarchy, power over, and the domination of exchange relationships.

Final point. Democracy. Democracy is not Anarchy. They are different political positions and the only reason one would try to conflate them is if ones goals are propagandistic, political (as in a politician) or (self)deceptive. I don’t understand why this is even a discussion. Actually it isn’t.

Taking Ourselves Seriously (IAS) – Part I

Before I dig into the event itself I’ll make a few introductory remarks. One, I like the presenters from the IAS. I personally find them to be engaged, interesting, and respectful people who I am going to try very hard not to slam in this report back because I don’t actually feel badly or angrily toward them. Their ideas are another matter.

In part one of this report back I am going to try to give a neutral report back of the events that transpired the evening of November 14th 2009 at Station 40. In part II I will try to analyze what I think the IAS did well, and not so well, on what I believe are their own terms. Finally, I will present my own analysis of the proposals, strategies, and opinions presented.

Starting around 7:15 (for a 7:00 event) the IAS members spoke for nearly two hours straight with almost no feedback from the crowd. The three presenters were Harjit Singh Gill, Joshua Stephens, and Cindy Milstein who spoke in this order. Harjit is a popular (in the social sense of the term) anarchist who has been active in the Bay Area for at least half a decade. Joshua is out of Washington DC and his most recent activities there have been around building a self-managed workplace (that walks dogs!). Cindy is a recent transplant to the Bay Area from Vermont where she is known as a protege (although she will probably find this unfair) of Murray Bookchin and organizer of the RAT Conference.

The questions that they asked and answered during their two hour presentation were (and these will be rough approximations because they only said them once (and quickly) and the questions weren’t entirely obvious to me from the answers):

1) What does it mean to take ourselves seriously? (as anarchists)
2) What is a theory of strategy that makes sense for anarchists?
3) What are specific examples of democratic strategies?

(here I will share notes rather than full writeup for sake of brevity and to prevent too many sidebars)

Question One

– Serious
Harjit: Defined socialism broadly and anarchism as part of socialism. Spoke to the faith required to be an anarchist when there are so many examples of human failure. Also spoke of the ethical obligation to action rather than sitting on the couch and watching Lakers games. Described this kind of inaction as “nothing to it (anarchism)”. Concluded by saying that “With great power comes great responsibility”.

Joshua: Argues that the points of encounter should move from direct confrontation with authority and against the idea of “transformation on the barricades”. Instead argues that communication with clients (as a dog walker) is a more productive point of encounter in terms of sharing @ ideas. Is concerned with many of “our” ideas being co-opted, especially by the moderate left, like directly democratic decision making, perhaps being cherry picked by groups and people more mature than anarchists themselves. Told the story of a client who argues that the @ notion of transformation on the barricade goes against sense as our current condition reflects generations of socialization, ideological formation, trauma, etc. This client them makes the claim that economics is the study of human behavior as groups and provides better answers to questions about human potential and activity than anarchist triumphalism.

Cindy: Begins with the claim that our entire society are in a horizontalist period and we need to reclaim the term. Also argues that anarchists have a constellation of values that makes our “political offering” distinct (against capitalism, hierarchy, being holistic) and this begs the question…

Are we relevant? What is our message? What do we want to say?

Cindy’s answer seemed to be that we (@) need to problematize cracks as part of our strategy for winning.

Question Two

– A Theory of Strategy

Harjit: Is a social worker who is paid by the county. Explains a theoretical underpinning to social work in the form of the 5 stages of change. They are

  1. pre-contemplative – unaware problem exists with no intention of changing behavior
  2. contemplative – becoming aware of problem but uncommitted to change
  3. preparation – intend to change but without specific goal
  4. action – when behavior changes and goals are attained
  5. maintenance – consolidation of gains and prevention of relapse

His strategic observation is that if our goal is to win then we are best off being efficient about how we approach our goal. Most anarchists shoot themselves in the foot by trying to organize other anarchists who are often (usually?) in the pre-contemplative stage and not the action stage. The better strategy is to organize people who are already in the action stage, along anarchist lines, but who aren’t necessarily anarchist themselves. Put another way we should be organizing beginning with behaviors rather than opinions.

Joshua: Re-iterated Harjit’s point about behavior > claims of belief. Discussed an idea of “social capital” that was claimed to be the motivation of many (most?) anarchists who participate in “the scene” or the subcultural aspects of @ (dressing, food not bombs, WWW1). Reiterated Cindy’s message about the importance of our messaging especially when we do actions that aren’t comprehended easily (spectacular Whole foods expropriation or dumpstered food sharing as examples). Finally is concerned with the dominance of the “idols of the tribe” aka infoshops, FNB, Critical Mass, etc.

Cindy: Food is great but not a differentiator for @. We should work on projects that re-inscribe use value (exact quote). Examples have problems but…
1) Toronto’s use it or lose it bylaw campaign that would see abandoned buildings expropriated by the City redeveloped as affordable housing or community infrastructure along socially just lines. (editorial here

2) Time banks – exchange goods and services without using money. Instead, our members buy and sell services for Community Credits, a time-based currency.

3) Greece people’s park project (no link found) where an event was scheduled for land that transformed it into a multi-use park. “Taking things in common”

Question Three

– Examples of action

Harjit: if the goal is to democratize strategy then

  1. Lesson from anti-colonization struggle of Guinea-Bissau: There needs to be a disciplined strategy of specific infrastructural replacement (1:1). Medical personel were used as the primary example. Local lesson: gain skills
  2. Lesson from RAC-LA: equality of action, go to people with the things they need (boxes of food), localism.

Joshua: Argued for starting a business (worker controlled) as a useful strategy. Business is the place to exploit the discursive vulnerabilities in capitalism (direct quote) regarding

  • self-determination
  • Dignity
  • health care

This business can offer a reconstructive vision of

  • cooperation
  • sustainability
  • health care
  • serving as an example
  • becoming specialized
  • freelancer (immaterial labor) unity

Cindy: Says that the best strategy is strategies. Perhaps a wiki? Anarchists are very good at try, try, try & fail. We should hold an anarchist (strategy) summit where we call the shots. There may be oppression but it would be them coming to us and perhaps we could do something interesting about that. We should hash these ideas out with Discussion Bulletins (aka disco bull in L&R era). We need to work on our branding by being distinct, not apologizing, and looking good.

End notes.

Status update – module 1 is a green light

I am alive!
I am alive!

It is now a couple weeks since my “brain problem” and everything is looking great. Perhaps I need to sleep a little bit more, but that is it. My hand coordination is within a couple percent of normal. My speech is fine. I am OK. Thanks to everyone who expressed concern in this matter. As I am sure you can understand the situation is scary and inspires reflection on pacing, aging, and life.

Enough of that. I think I am going to work on a stream of stories about the day-to-day-life implication of having a critical or anti-ideological perspective (as an anarchist). All too often in the debased NIRL (not in real life aka Internet) discussions I see the tired either-or of action (usually something like organizing, activism, or WWW (world without windows) type actions) contrasted with complaining, criticizing, do-nothingism. Until we break out of this conceptual false binary AND demonstrate more clearly the interplay of how thinking about a problem and then going about solving it (as anarchists) we will continue to have the horrible retention rate beyond age 25 that we have.

Here is an article that feeds my thinking about this today.

This link comes from the world of “technology entrepreneurship” which might seem like a bad place to find useful information for anarchists and perhaps it is. They are empiricists in the laboratory of capitalism not of a world that may be possible. But… these are people who are intent on a type of experimentation between ideas and practice that is rigorous, reality tested, and less hierarchical than one might imagine. The end game for most of these people is not wealth and then retirement to a chalet while the underlings keep the doors open but, by and large, doing “the process” over and over again. The process (of evangelism, entrepreneurship, and building startups) is the goal.

In technology this process can happen very fast and there are fortunes being made and lost so there is plenty for these people to find interesting and exciting. This is part of the appeal and most of the high profile members of this cabal write about it incessantly. Full stop.

For this discussion, from the linked article is (the article uses medical problems as its example)…

Across the entire universe of patients, the single largest indicator of treatment wasn’t symptoms or patient background, it was the background of the doctor.

My summary: When you go to a specialist you should expect specialist answers. Conversely, specialists speak from their own understanding of reality and since it is so well developed and precise it can often be confused for truth by anyone who doesn’t understand the context of the specialist.

When we are talking about the project of another world, how to get there, what it would look like, the specialists of one approach often, but not always, show their bias. Part of our self education has to include a deep understanding of the motivations of our position, and other people who share it, and the positions of others who we are liable to work with. Not just the alleged political motivations of baby tyrants, scofflaws, or slackers but the history and interests of people that would prefer to read books, talk to strangers, break windows, sit in meetings, or drink to excess as their way to live their anarchy.

The greatest concern I have with anarchists (or perhaps people) is not their “wrongness” but their lack of curiosity. Specialism is another way to say I am right and you are wrong.

Entropy

I am not sure how else to put this but that I am falling apart. The center is no longer holding. My will just isn’t enough to prevent simple decay from eating away at me. I guess I am going to have to make choices. Cuts in exactly how much I am trying to do at once.

It is heartbreaking to imagine that just now, when I am at the height of my creative, technical, and organizational power that I am going to have to slow down but the facts are the facts.

yep. that about says it
yep. that about says it

Fact 1: What should have been a simple hernia surgery turned into a now 5 month ordeal.

Fact 2: I woke up Wednesday with slightly slurred speech & weakness in my right hand

Fact 3: After a CAT Scan it was determine that I had a small (although WTF is small in this situation) brain hemmorrhage.

Fact 4: 3 days later I am back home. Waiting for several months for an MRI and about to start occupational therapy to, hopefully, get back the function I lost 4 days ago.

All of this is rather dramatic, at least from my point of view, and puts a bit more of the fear into me than I had before but I have to admit that the repercussions have yet to really hit me. Perhaps they never will. I am still typing at least 80% as fast as I was before TDMBB (the day my brain broke), my slur is subtle (strangers would never know), and since I exhibit none (or should we say few) of the lifestyle risks for what just happened to me (as an OG XVX) the cause is most likely genetic. This doesn’t preclude more of this “genetic” problem from rearing its head but hopefully I’ll know what color to paint the BBTL (brain break threat level) chart in the next month or two.

On to more positive things. Here are a few I am looking forward to in the next few months…

NAASN – Less for the conference, which I am sure will be fine, in an East Coast @ kind of way, but more because of some time (and FOOD!!!) in NYC. If they would only move the radness of NYC to the west coast I’d only hop over the Miss. for MI.
Synology DS409 – I am thinking about this less for the 4.5T of space for ~$800 (!!!) but because of the fact that it runs quiet.
The Nook – Yes I am a gadget fiend. Since I am probably going to be taking the motorcycle less (if at all) in the future, the idea of a BART boredom buster (that actually reads PDF’s) is pretty exciting to me.
LA Anarchist Bookfair – Last year LA had its first bookfair and it was excellent. Very affirming to the fatalistic. It was almost good enough to pre-wash the bad taste of the SF bookfair a few months later. Hopefully this year will keep the great energy with a bit more room.

A short trip to Seattle

I’ll try not to bore you with the retail realities of my recent trip up to the Seattle bookfair. Maybe I will dedicate a post later in the month on the oh-so-exciting topic of what ppl are interested in, commodity wise, but I will tell you that I just returned from the first annual Seattle anarchist bookfair. There are only a few months left in the year so if you want your city to have its very own Anarchist Retail Experience (ART ™) you better act fast. Do you hear me Chicago? Detroit? St. Louis? Florida?

Here are some impressions I had this weekend about the people of Seattle and the kind of anarchism that appears to be happening up there.

  1. The most exciting things happening in Seattle aren’t happening in Seattle. It is probably similar to the SF experience in that it is so fucking expensive to live in the city that it is hard to get something exciting going on there but there wasn’t much that popped out to me
  2. Identity still rules the airwaves – The workshops that had the most excited attendance were the ones around queer and poc identity
  3. Fashion – lots of leg warmers and layers for the rain. Not so many messenger bags but lots of overloaded backpacks (of the student not traveler variety). Lots of wool and REI-style gear (I was treated to several descriptions of which outrageously expensive gear company was the best).
  4. There were quite a few very young ppl at the event who appeared to drag their parents. They had lots of youthful, colorful tchotckas that made me feel like they would get caught on any branch around. Lucky for them there was nothing but concrete around.
  5. The space was nice (and I’m sure affordable) but too small for workshops plus tablers. I still believe strongly in the one day bookfair only (Montreal does this right!)
  6. Many of the traditional tablers seemed very unhappy and unfriendly
  7. Certain discussions are really exciting to a lot of people right now and they aren’t in the anarchist mainstream (state/capital/religion). What to do!

Enough with the bullets. I really hope some closer ties are built between the Bay and Seattle as there appear to be a lot of similar thinking happening in the short conversations I had between people. I am really bummed that I missed the Tacoma event last month as I think I would have had a better (intellectual) time at that event. Naturally I wasn’t invited to participate in any of the panels or workshops over the weekend. But at least they didn’t have a “future of radical print” without us this time around…

Other highlights

  1. Blue Moon Cafe – excellent Vietnamese food recommended by the kate from riseup
  2. long car drives are made much better if ppl actually talk
  3. I have been cured of junk food by watching ppl eat it instead of food
  4. solo tabling continues to be a drag
  5. Mighty O’s
  6. No one looks at our bright orange banner before asking who we are
  7. The rushed wheeling-and-dealing is more fun that I should let on

Till next year

Missed Opportunity

The idea seemed great. Get off work at 4:30, get home and have a quick meal and be on BART by 6 pm for an 8 pm flight. Little did I know that even though BART has raised their rates another 15% they had also decreased their “off hours” train schedule so that by the time I actually arrived at the airport it was 7:50. I missed my flight and due to the pressurized BART trip and my still weakened body missed my chance to make it to the Tacoma Anarchist Bookfair. Fucking fuck!

I am bummed about it. LBC is bummed about it (since this is a time it needs more exposure than it has). Ardent is bummed about it (since we have a new book out this week). It is just a shitty situation that makes me question whether it is possible to do everything at the same time. The only good thing is that it meant that I set some time aside without any of the little pressures and got a couple actual things done. I am looking forward to launching @Planet. I am looking forward to changing my day-to-day situation and clearing my head of all the noise.

Next month brings up another challenge. I’m planning on heading back to the North West for the Seattle bookfair but am not quite sure how to do it. I am thinking that I have to take off a day of work, or two, on either side of the trip. Maybe drive. I’m going to think about it this week.

Nihilist Communism – the book

This is the quote on the back cover of the book from “Anarchists Must Say What Only Anarchists Can Say”

It is not for anarchists to celebrate when The People tak over; anarchists ought not to be so amazed at examples of natural ingenuity and resilience. That is after all what they base all their principles on. Unfortunately their proper political task is less appealing and more controversial; it is to poke their fingers into the wounds of revolution, to doubt and to look for ways in which the Zapatistas, FLN, ANC or any other bunch of leftwing heroes will sell out, because they always do.

This simple statement probably sums up as well as I can why I wanted to publish this book. Today I held it in my hands for the first time and I am happy with it. It has heft. It is dark and moody. It is not a book that people should believe in but one that should shed some darkness on the places that my friends think are full of brightness.

Nihilist Communism