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).
Final reports and self-criticism
At the end of week three I was still glowing from my first day in New Orleans. The glow has faded now that I am a couple thousand miles away. The trip is over but it’s not completely gone for me. I look forward to seeing New Orleans again and seeing if the Iron Rail can continue with the energy of the first annual event into the future.
This final trip update has taken longer than anticipated because I’ve been spending the past week sleeping. Traveling for so long, alone, left me exhausted. I can still stumble along but only just. I’ll discuss this more in the conclusion.
The Longest Drive
In the realm of ridiculous ideas driving nonstop from New Orleans to Tucson isn’t the worst one ever (an award that goes to a similar drive from Nashville to Tucson on my motorcycle in the 90s) but it isn’t a good idea. For starters, it took about 20 hours behind the wheel (not counting the necessary in seat naps). Next, and I totally have myself to blame for this, road food is total shit. Finally, and this does go without saying, Texas is really boring.
I was hoping to drive through Texas primarily at night to avoid the boredom of it but barely made it past San Antonio before I conked out. This meant the entirety of West Texas, which is really the worst part, I endured in a bleary haze.
This turned out to be the worst part of the trip not because the drive was so bad (although it was) but because of the ruined plan I had for it. I had this harebrained scheme that during the long drives of this trip I would use a digital recorder to put down my ideas for a couple of writing projects. It turns out that as important as the time and solitude is for this kind of work what is more important is the head space. While I did have a few moments of inspiration during my long drive it paled in comparison to a drive a third has long right after an evening of exhilarating conversation. During that day I mostly finished an essay and notes on a couple of other pieces as long as that.
Obviously the idea of writing something at length while driving was ridiculous but if it would’ve worked it would’ve encouraged me to drive more. Perhaps instead, it’s just encouraged me to have more exhilarating conversations.
Interesting thing about Tucson is that I have done a few different events there and each one has felt totally different. What I know now, but didn’t before this visit, is that Tucson is a town of transients. It makes sense of course, because 110° summer days aren’t livable for the humans but I didn’t realize there was such a circuit of @ who traveled around based on the seasons. There is and they winter in Tucson.
Like a lot of towns, the feedback from my presentation wasn’t that useful for me. While a few people seem to understand what I was getting at, what my motivation was, and that we were on the same wavelength the majority of the crowd seemed highly ambivalent. On the flipside, I was texted by the event organizer right after I left who seem to think that what I said made a real impact and was going to be useful in catalyzing future discussions. That is more than I could hope for.
The Phoenix event was very small and half the people who showed up seem too young to care about stupid shit like infrastructure or conflict. It was the event that the most eyeballs on cell phones of any other event than the one I did on campus. The other half are the people who have been around for a long time in the Phoenix/Tempe area and who I have a fairly long history with. We had a pleasant conversation that only seemed slightly annoying (as measured by eye rolls per minute) to our texting youth.
Then I got to drive home.
EBBCE (aka EB@B)
And the day after I got back our little community threw its own anarchist bookfair. We call it the East Bay Book and Conversation Event but everyone has abbreviated that to EB@B.
Was there to say about a bookfair? It is the best place to see an anarchist that will most definitely (probably) not involve somebody getting arrested. It’s a glance into how vibrant anarchist publishing space is (short answer: not). In the Bay Area it’s a window into just how crazy big city life can make you. Perhaps as a sign of poor outreach this year’s event didn’t kick anybody out (and only had one eviction from a conversation). Last year there were three(ish).
They were probably have as many attendees to this year’s event is last year’s which is strange because last year’s event was seemingly more precarious because there was a real threat of rain all day long. This year, on the other hand, the day was beautiful and a little crisp with no sign of rain at all. Our outreach and general excitement level was much better in 2012. Couple this with the relationship between anarchists and the fall harvest season and the smaller attendance was not a surprise.
Realistically, the space where we hold the event at seemed full all day (ridiculously so last year) and constrains the event far more than our lack of outreach. Perhaps another constraint is that the organizers of EB@B are starting to reflect a different (older) demographic than a lot of the audience. This seemed reflected in the lack of enthusiasm for parties or extra curricular events in general.
Finally it’s worth mentioning that karaoke was a limited success. Only 25 to 30 people stayed around for it but that was more than enough for a couple hours of amusement. I’m mostly inspired to do more karaoke at a better venue with better timing. I do feel like after bookfair events at the venue itself are doomed to failure. I’m going to propose the next year we extend the hours of the bookfair itself.
I’m not sure what to say about the concept of my presentation. Somewhere in the idea of “conflict infrastructure” is something I do think is important but I am not sure that a speech is the way to approach the problem. If I wanted to tell anarchist North America that it’s time to build to last, prepare for internal and external kinds of conflict, and have a sense of humor about it all I guess I could write an essay, maybe a book. But if I want to take people by the shoulders and force them to do the same it gets a bit more complicated, cuz you know… consent and shit.
This is where my head was at about a week into the trip (in Minneapolis). I knew that the difference between saying something and actually taking part in making it happen is the difference between me and people who are better public speakers than I am. I’m not trying to be humble about my technical capacity to memorize a presentation (which I suck at) or be compelling or charismatic (which I don’t) but brutal about something else. It’s not that I think that it’s not possible to be an anarchist and to speak to an audience in declarative statements (you should, you must, etc) but I’m not sure how I can do that. It just doesn’t feel natural and normal to me. I realize this is a strange counterpoint to the fact that it does feel natural for me to be insulting or shit-talking about people that are seen as leaders or inspirational but the difference is humor.
If I could find a way to be funny about declarative statements I’d do that. Maybe a series of ridiculous veiled threats or a commitment to a Bible thumping preacher affect but neither of these appeal to my desire for playful conflict. I don’t hit the metaphor too hard but there’s something about fencing and the idea that the actual act is in the feint within a feint within a feint that I adore. This is distinct from some kind of put-on, as honest as it may be, that I’m just average folk coming off the mountain telling y’all about what I’ve learned, about my country wisdom, my authentic knowledge, my truth that is soon to be your truth or come hell or high water you will pay.
Additionally, I’m not sure that it’s possible to talk about politics in the US. This might seem like a rather jarring transition but it’s how I feel based on the blank faces I encountered during many of my stops once it came time to have a conversation. I think that there is a certain apolitical side to American anarchists that’s more dominant than I would’ve expected or feared.
My (positive) definition of politics is that it’s a practice of seeing the connections between the things we do, the world we live in, and our influence/power regarding both. Mostly I use politics in a negative sense to refer to the act that other do when they use influence/power to affect my/our life and refer to anti-politics as the activity that opposes this effort. But a positive politics is one that engages in questions and experiments with possible solutions rather than hypothesizing what other people should do with their lives. In a real sense it is what differentiates anarchist perspectives from others because ours prioritizes direct experiences (ours first) over sociological theories or good intentions writ large. Anyway, politics is a series of big questions that we should be thinking about in relation but in distinction from topics like prisoner support, corporate malfeasance, and identity.
Probably it isn’t possible to talk about big things with strangers but if it is possible I didn’t accomplish it during my presentation. I also didn’t accomplish much success with being funny or even particularly entertaining. I think the only thing I succeeded at was making a pitch to people who already were thinking along the same lines as I am. I succeeded at talking to myself.
To this end I think that future trips like this will look a lot more like entertainment or story telling than like a political frontal assault. Either I’m not very good at the latter or my audience isn’t capable of transitioning from the world, to a talk, to a conversation with me without a whole lot more preparation.
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.
Suffice it to say I am very thankful to all my hosts. I hope I was entertaining and seemed as appreciative as I was…
Los Angeles – Public School
LA is a strange town. I wouldn’t be surprised if one could have a half dozen events here (with the right contacts) with entirely different people at each event. The town is so large and disconnected, that it’s hard to imagine it as one town at all.
My first event of the tour was organized by my oldest friends in LA. They fed me and are always filled with interesting stories to an extent that I didn’t even feel motivated to do my song and dance in addition to the completely pleasant afternoon I had…
But I did, to a small crowd, and it went fairly well. I’d say this crowd ended up being the most receptive to the presentation I prepared for the trip. The conversation was lively and much reminiscing resulted. I am not sure how much the people who weren’t part of the “old timers” crew got out of the discussion but it was a pretty lively discussion about anarchism in the 90s.
Flagstaff – Taala Hooghan
This was the smallest event so far (maybe tied with Milwaukee). Rather than talk about the event (which there isn’t much to say about) let me wax poetic about the Taala Hooghan space. There is a garden in the back, active free box in front, a working kitchen, recording studio, show venue, and living room with literature. This space, and more importantly the attitude of the providers of space, is amazing. If I lived in a non-urban place I would hope to make a place half as inviting and interesting as this was.
We are an Indigenous-established, community based and volunteer-run collective dedicated to creatively confronting and overcoming social and environmental injustices in the occupied territories of Flagstaff and surrounding areas. We are restoring and redefining knowledge and information in ways that will be meaningful to our communities. We offer access to independent media, the arts, skill building, and alternative education, with the goal of self-development as well as empowerment for youth and the greater community into action in favor of a more just and sustainable world.
Some of you may be interested in the fact that I did a long interview while I was here that should result in some TCN audio pieces and a long form interview.
Durango – Campus event
This was the largest group at any event but largely because a professor forced his class to attend the lecture.
This brings up an interesting point. As you will soon see I have more or less abandoned the lecture format for the rest of my trip but this event was the argument against doing as much. I’m not saying my lecture made sense to this, largely, not anarchist group, but if I were to get conversational or nonlinear (my usual approach) this audience would have gotten even less than they did by the presentation I did do.
It was interesting to see the fundamental lack of interest the audience had to the entirety of my conception of the world (with anarchy as the center of gravity). Obviously this held no appeal to people’s whose only relationship to the idea was the four weeks of college education they’d received on the topic which was largely historical. But I have very little relationship to 18-21 year olds who aren’t interested in anarchy and their lack of interest was a breath of cold air. They just don’t give a fuck.
After Durango I drove for a very long time. Don’t do what I did. I did get to visit the workspace of P&L Printing which was very impressive.
Minneapolis – http://minnehahafreespace.org/
This is where my presentation fell apart. I started my presentation while still a touch out of breath from moving all the book boxes around, loading the tables, and settling in that I didn’t really take a good temperature of the room. As a result I read them all wrong. I met the Minneapolis I’ve always kind of feared.
As far back as I’ve traveled the punk and anarchist land I’ve always avoided Minneapolis. Maybe it was some combination of how aesthetically unattractive I found Profane Existence and the leftist anarchist propaganda from there but it just seemed like a town I should avoid. My preconceptions were largely shown to be inaccurate 3 years ago when I finally made it to town for a bookfair but I didn’t really get exposed to the aspects of the town I would have found most unpleasant that time.
This time I attribute my discombobulated presentation, my flippant tone, and a total lack of getting “the vibe” of the members of the crowd to a harsh lesson in how not to communicate with a group of people. I think the people who stuck around after the event enjoyed our discussion more but I got some intense feedback during the event itself. Most unpleasant was the person who jumped on my thin, partial, statement of hostility towards “the personal is political” type politics into an accusation that I think abuse should be silenced… Here is more on that topic.
My takeaway is that my presentation isn’t nearly complete enough to share in a potentially hostile political climate without some work…
Milwaukee – http://centerstreetfreespace.noblogs.org/
Totally nice conversation with a small group of nice people. A certain person is gone from this town and the town is improved by their absence. Fish. Pond. Size.
Chicago – http://theribcage.net/
This was a surprising event. It really felt (15 minutes in) like it would just be a nice chat with some newish friends but instead turned into a long engaged set of interactions where no one seemed butthurt by my outrageousness and many people seemed transfixed and interested in the connections between our recent past and current condition of “second tween”. I was really happy with the tenor of this event and look forward to seeing if there are any positive results from it.
Challenges so far…
Presentation or not?
As I’ve already said… I’m not sure how much it makes sense to make a political type presentation when you know few of the people and less of the political context of the place you are presenting.
One of the first surprising things, especially in the context of infrastructure, is that one of my assumptions is challenged immediately. Should I be talking to people at all. My thinking is that there is a continental anarchist space but that is not the experience of the people in many/most of the towns. I assume that I, and my projects are in discussion with people in other towns. One lesson has been is that this isn’t necessarily the case. In most towns people consider themselves to be alone, alone to deal with the problems of their towns, and not in a network of conversations that I assume we are in.
For me this is important because I’d say I largely derive my inspiration from the scattered projects and interventions that happen around the continent rather than from the Bay Area in particular. Obviously there are interesting/good things happening here but they aren’t (usually) as brave or innovative as the actions people take when they have nothing left to lose.
On the one hand, I truly enjoy spending long periods of time alone but on the other these drives are turning out to be too long to do alone, and then unload the boxes, and then set up the table, and then be entertaining for 3-5 hours, and then break everything down.
Perhaps I’m getting too old for this?
LBC Presents – a conversation about Conflict Infrastructure
A speaking tour with a cart full of books!
In the 1990s the internecine conflict between (North American) anarchists was not red vs green or insurrectionary vs platformist, but those who believed that anarchists should develop infrastructure vs those who believed that anarchists should build a (national) organization. The debates raged but more than that people practiced this difference, something one could do day-to-day.
This conflict isn’t the main one today. By and large, anarchist practices that are day-to-day are dismissed by other anarchists for being charity (FNB for example), or sub-cultural (infoshops or show spaces). The valorized project is an occasional one, whether an insurrection or a bookfair: happening no more often than once a year in a specific location. The rest of the time is for waiting or writing or traveling to somewhere else.
In some ways this is entirely understandable. Paying rent on a space can easily become an onerous focus rather than a small byproduct of inspiration. Feeding people, giving away literature, and devoting energy to strangers is inspiring only to a specific kind of person and that kind of person isn’t exactly the revolutionary subject. (Quite the opposite in fact, since the kind of person who derives satisfaction from the work is usually not the subject of the work itself.) This criticism (of the anarchist project as a separation from anarchy itself) can be crippling and usually entails the most enthusiastic people leaving projects (and often leaving town) leaving the people who continue with the long term project work feeling like the host at a party when the cool kids depart.
Perhaps another approach is that of the role of the anarchist (in projects and in a broader social context). On the one hand the anarchist is an ephemeral character, anonymous and without a home in this world. On the other the anarchist is your neighbor and the human face of a possible world, one where personal responsibility and direct action aren’t opposites. Up till now these two faces of the anarchist have faced in different directions and one part of our question is how to reconcile them. Can the neighborhood anarchists embrace conflict? Can the exalted anarchist consider the germinations under foot?
We will talk about our experiments in conflict infrastructure and, if we are successful, re-transmit an old idea. For anarchism (by the name) to survive the new cold wind of this world, we have to build something to warm our bones. For the stories of anarchy (dramatic and small) to be told, there has to a circle of friends, comrades, lovers, and frenemies. Conflict is the left hand of anarchy but something like home is the right. Let us sit together and warm our hands on these topics.
September 30 Northern AZ
October 1 SW CO
2nd Denver CO
4th Somewhere between KC and Chicago
5th – 6th Chicago
7th – 11th Michigan
13th – 18th Texas
19th – 20th NOLA
23rd – 24th Phoenix AZ
by aragorn in General
Herein we will begin to argue against the revolutionary importance of friendship. Will not argue that friendship isn’t a fine and wonderful thing for daily life, for the eating of brunch, or the consumption of beverages. This is all well and good, do what one will, live your life.
What we will argue against is the way in which the affinity group model that has been abandoned generally (although not universally) in anarchist circles has instead migrated into an unconscious way of life. This migration has caused the conflation of social circles (aka groups of friends) with sharing political values (aka the party) with the result that anarchists (and the ASC who predate on our energy) have become countercultural against their better instincts.
To put this into different terms, the conflation of friendship with politics, if it is caused by conscious agency, is done so either by those who prefer to “just hang out” but also want to believe that they and their friends are conscious social agents OR by those who have a specific political project and want to keep it relevant by having it also be a place where social needs can be met.
If the conflation is not conscious, as in, it merely reflects the spectating nature that radicals have over their own lives, then it goes a long way towards explaining the increasing isolation of radical groupuscles. Our lifeways cannot be attractive outside our capacity to grow our social cliques beyond themselves. It is not that we are not desirable, it is that we are choosing the wrong way to communicate that desirability. Being sexy rebels isn’t nearly enough to affect the kind of attraction we would need to confound even the MSM view of us as dangerous outsiders.
Of course this is not some backhanded way to form or reform some type of anarchist political party. I am asking a question I don’t have the answer to.
Indeed I am suspicious about the way in which this friend-comrade indistinction has occurred. Sure, I can point to a reaction against the new left or organizationalism or the desirability of true affinity or the writing of Tiqqun, but the lack of experimentation after Occupy is suspicious. This is the time to change up, not fall back to pattern. Relying on the cool kids to decide what comes next has obviously had limited returns (unless you’re a cool kid and your goals are limited to, by definition, individual social rewards). Perhaps it is time to stop being coy and declare a goal or two.
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)
This year we did this 10 week death march where we published eight new titles in about 10 weeks. We’ve gotten rather good at all the wrangling, negotiating, and logistics necessary to do such an amount of work but that doesn’t mean it comes free. In a capitalist economy there are always costs and with our project is costs are usually human costs.
So for at least three months I have been teetering on the edge of total burn out. I’m not giving enough positive reinforcement for the things I’m doing to make up for the drudgery and the dealing with jerks all the time. I’m not saying this is a plea for positive feedback. Far back in my head I know that LBC is doing interesting work. I feel like our timing is off, and there would’ve been more of an audience for this project if we started it two, or five, years earlier than we did, but it took a long time to figure out how to publish aggressively and inexpensively.
Some teetering on the edge of total burnout and now comes eight days of anarchy. On the one hand this is a great time of year, many friends come into town, I do get to have inspiring conversations nearly every day, but this year I learned what the limits of human capacity is. I’ve suspected for a few years that aging was going to catch up to me at some point and this is that point.
This is very frustrating for me because I strongly believe that this is a worthwhile project and this is the time to do more with it and not less. It also should go without saying I have a fantastic group of people who help make the LBC project possible. But it’s not enough. At least today, at least by the measure of my current capacity, at least when I am feeling lowest. Today the trolls and ennui make me question the context in which this project exists. The project is worthwhile but the milieu might not be. I don’t know. Ask me in a week. Maybe I’ll have changed my mind by then.
The logic of the ad hominem
In a humorous recent thread I was accused of being the scion of riches. It’s hard to tell if the commenter is an actual enemy, a frenemy (that glorious combination of friend when they see you and whatever when they don’t), or just an educated troll the accusation is very interesting.
On one hand we (at LBC) are criticized fairly frequently for being a capitalist project, charging too much for our books, and basically just sucking because we are legal and Bloom-esque. This is the other side of that criticism. This says that our problem is some sort of “bad faith” due to our familial resources. Take this a step further and the accusation is that if you come from bad (aka money) then what you produce, what you make, is bad.
This right here, this impossible choice between being judged for failure and judged for success, is why anarchists never grow old. Why would they? Even a modicum of success (which I wouldn’t even say we’ve achieved) gets strangers to authoritatively declare you whenever, why succeed? Spend a couple years being a rebel, take some scalps, and walk the fuck away cleanly.
I used to think a lot about the origins of the people who are around. What the demographic story was of our scene. What the class composition of the people around me were and how it was a predictor of future behavior. But it was all bullshit. There are valid reasons for everyone to walk away. Those of us who stay behind aren’t particularly noble. We are just stubborn.
If I were accused of something I was not 20 years ago I would be in the trenches right now. I would not stand for the truth to not be told. I would not put up with something being wrong. I laugh at that person today. Things are wrong on the place, and nicer people are accused of worse things all the time.
Now I just think of the consequences, or the environment in which ad hominem attacks are honestly substituted for critical thinking, conversation, or dare I say it relationships.
Stomping out ashes
I think it’s safe to say that we are now in a moment of decline for the anarchist space. This is not due to failure of the Beautiful Idea but the failure of our imagination today. Naturally we have the extreme disadvantage of having zero resources and an impossible project but that didn’t stop the makers of nightmares from bringing this world into being and it shouldn’t stop us.
I am known, probably fairly, for being a naysayer of many projects. I am always mentioning the but of them rather than the heart of them. But that is not how I really feel. I more or less accept the nihilist should be someone whose heart has been broken one time too many and if it hasn’t been then it’s probably a shallow nihilism indeed. Which is to say that I am hopeful for new beginnings and projects over time. I continue to be doubtful about that thing that I call activism or right answers or solutions but I’m more inclined to shut my mouth about them than ever before.
Occupy was a fresh beginning. Clearly it doesn’t take much in the American context but the taking of space was a big deal. None of the rest of it matters all that much in my opinion. The rest of it easily falls within the spectrum of what a new radical can expect: meetings, romances, boredom, and maybe a little smashy smashy. But the taking of space, as bleak and mediocre as that space was, current something mundane into something fantastic, something worth repeating (over and over), something to crave.
But in the bizarre world of addiction you can’t really trust your instincts. Once it’s taken away and you have to live with absence is as if it never happened at all. There was never a moment where everything seemed possible. It was always emptiness and lack. It was always like today.
So it’s a moment of decline and that raises the question of what’s next. The Occupy Generation is now here and it’s different than the post-Seattle generation, the punks, or the New(ish) Left. It’s getting up to speed on identity politics, insurrectionary rhetoric, and all of the required reading of the 21st century but probably will not care all that much about what came before. This generation has its own orbits and logic.
So what’s next has to address the oldness and the newness in equal measure and without fixating on past correct answers (which weren’t either). Sure it involves the Internet but also has to involve some way to connect with people on a personal level, without irony or sarcasm or snarkiness. This personal connection is a lot of what people experienced that sticks with them after the occupations were done and it’s the thing that is impossible to maintain without that face-to-face interaction.
It’s also the thing that is damn near impossible for my generation to do. Generation X damn near invented survival sarcasm and I can’t imagine going back even now I know it’s killing the anarchist space and all social space. This isn’t just an (self) accusation of hipsterism but an assessment that Occupy demonstrated a flaw in my generations approach. If we want to take the Beautiful Idea seriously we have to leave space for the new earnest people to find their own way. Our jaundiced view, based in too much experience, is preventing the wide-eyed future from coming.
And frankly I think that this lesson comes to late. I think that the decline in the anarchist space is our own fault, it’s related to these attitude problems and others, and is probably not repairable. Instead we would do as we’ve done several times before (in my 20 odd years of experience) which is do as we do and wait for a complete cycle of new people to come around and stake their claim in the space. Perhaps our generation, or the attitude of our generation, will weaken enough to let them in.
At some point I became exhausted with the process of making new friends. This is perhaps telling sign of aging but I no longer feel like the honeymoon period of a relationship is the most important one anymore. It used to be that the first three hours, three weeks, three months of a new person, getting to know them, to love them, to obsess about them was the ultimate social experience. This corresponded nicely with the fact that I ended up making a new set of friends every three months, seemingly whether I wanted to or not.
The first sign of change was not, surprisingly, that it became more difficult for me to find new friends. Even after my decline from the cute plateau (age 16-24) I was still able to find new people. All of a sudden though I was no longer capable of being completely interested in all the things that people do. I blame radical politics for this, especially radical theory. I was so obsessed by my own self-education and the truth that I was finding the deeper I went down the rabbit hole theory that people who did not share my particular obsessions stopped being particularly interesting to me. You cannot balance a hunger for newness along with an obsession for depth.
I spend the next five years learning and relearning this lesson. Then I planted my feet and went deeper and deeper and deeper.
I recently had a recent post-cute plateau person, who I’ve known for at least five years, remind me that when I first met them I told them that they basically don’t exist for me until they’ve been around for years. Basically they asked me if they existed to me now, full well knowing that they had existed for some time. Although probably not the way that they wish that they had.
Lesson one: pick a piece of ground and stay there. It more or less goes without saying that if you come to the long haul in 10 years on a Tuesday evening I will be there also. Obviously I understand why people don’t like long haul, don’t like the ASG, or don’t like crowds but I’ve made a choice. Until something traumatic happens (which is obviously possible) I will be at this singular place having conversations about the things that I love with strangers and other people who at that point I will have known for two decades.
Lesson two: find some good people. Obviously I hate good people so here what I’m getting at is that I have spent way too much time having stupid conversations about bands, movies, and other people. Finding people who are interesting, compelling, interested is a serious fucking challenge. Don’t take it lightly. Don’t worry about the fact that it will not happen easily or quickly. Don’t take it too hard that you may not be as interesting as they are. That happens over time and will never happen if you surround yourself with the mundane.
Lesson three: find a mentor. Mentors are not elder wizards who are going to teach you alchemical wisd from a huge volume of recipes. One mentor might teach you to love better. Another by the martial art or an approach to martial arts. Another might just have a great attitude towards life. These people are your future comrades in arms. They are going to show you how to connect to others with the same interests as yourself. They are going to show you the extent of their abilities and vision which damn well better inform your own.
Lesson four: have patience.
This is a very busy time for us. In three weeks we will begin our annual eight days of anarchy celebration. This is our chance to spend a series of days and evenings together conspiring, gossiping, and decompressing. I have more to say but it is closer to the events but it goes without saying that I will be happy to see everyone come and happy to see everyone go.
The last few months have been filled with what I’m calling the 10 week death march. Eight projects in 10 weeks. We are just about done with all of the projects so I will list them.
- Stirner’s critics
- defacing the currency – new writings by Bob Black
- between predicates, war: theses on contemporary struggle by the Institute for Experimental Freedom
- anvil number four
- The 2013 LBC catalog
- Anarchism and violence – Severino Di Giovanni in Argentina
- Feral Revolution
- let’s destroy work. let’s destroy the economy
Fuck. The volume of content just in this list is enough for a year of reading and engagement. I’m going back to sleep.
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.