by aragorn in LBC
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.
by aragorn in LBC
I* had an amazing year in 2012. So much so that the kind of perfectly normal winter induced funk that I seem to be in seems a little bit embarrassing. Here is a little bit about the year and a bit more about the future.
In 2011 I took a three month trip to Europe. Even though it was lonely and uncomfortable it was also life altering and inspiring. Prior to the trip I had been thinking more seriously about publishing. About how to do it in a more meaningful and affordable way and how to grow the umbrella project that a few of us were a part of. By about half way through the trip I had a pretty good idea what the plan was all that was left was implementation.
2012 was going to be a year about publishing. Publishing books. It took about 4 months to figure out what equipment to buy, how to use it, and what titles we were going to start the project with. By December 1st 2011 I knew that the first book we were going to put together was going to be by me and figured I knew what the first 3-4 titles of the year were.
In this write up I’m going to talk about the process of putting these books together, some nitty-gritty book production stuff, and perhaps wrap it up with some thoughts about why I feel more like a wrung out rag than a proud paterfamilias and why I go into 2013 with as more doubts than answers.
Here are the books we (LBC: Ardent, LBC Books, Repartee, GA, etc) will have officially publishing in 2012.
- Occupy Everything: Anarchists in the Occupation Movement 2009-2011 – edited by Aragorn!
- Queer Ultraviolence: An Anthology of Bash Back!
- Freedom: My Dream – The autobiography of Enrico Arrigoni
- Theory of Bloom – by Tiqqun
- Uncivilized: The best of Green Anarchy Magazine
- Crime Thought – by Alden Wood
- Treatise on Etiquette for the younger generations – Raoul Vaneigem
- Anarchy 101 – edited by dot matrix
- After Post-Anarchism – by Duane Rousselle
- Novatore – translations by Wolfi Landstreicher
- Anarchist International
Fuck. I am not sure how much I want to go into these books (beyond what I’ve already done in this blog) but perhaps I’ll do more of a crit/self-crit for your all’s amusement.
What we did right
The model worked. The idea of publishing anarchist material frequently (a book a month) seemed a little ridiculous this time last year. We had no idea what we were doing three months into 2012 and half these titles weren’t even sparkles in our eyes. The idea that to be doing this meant increasing the pressure, of our own capacity, of our relationships, of our processes, etc, was the right one.
If our desire was to live anarchy, as a vibrant, challenging, set of ideas and people, then publishing anarchist material (propaganda, biographies, theory, and collections) is a real way to do it. I would be hard pressed to think of much anarchist material that I am interested in that didn’t pass through our lens this year. I often say that there are two different kinds of anarchists. There are the ones whose anarchism ended in 1937 and want to try again harder and anarchists who were born in 1968. If we are a publisher of the second kind of anarchy then this year demonstrated (to me at least) that there are legs on this. I can’t wait to see where they take us next.
We didn’t taken the ankle-biting criticisms too seriously. Obviously there are a variety of real/not-real things that can be said about some of our choices (paper, indexes, covers, etc) and some times at the moment they are uttered they can really get me down but by-and-large I feel pretty good about balancing the criticisms we have received in terms of their heat rather than their smoke.
We didn’t burn too many bridges. Given how nasty our little world is I can definitely say that we built 3-4 times as many bridges as we burned this year. This was perhaps due to some maturity on our part but it also due to the fact that our project is primarily about delivering other people’s messages to the world. The effort we are spending is making things that are not financially viable but are meaningful to us and an expression of our friends (or comrades, as the case may be) has finally paid off. Obviously we aren’t perfect and are kind of jerks… but I can finally say with no irony that the work speaks for itself.
What we did wrong
We rely far too much on the milieu. I love the milieu** but it is too closed of a circle. Even as that circle has expanded (thanks Occupy!) it demonstrates all the weaknesses of self-definition. There is a ton to criticize in “the scene” but for us, as a project, we have to start reaching outside of our comfort zone. As to how to do that in a meaningful and long-view way… Good question!
Too many men. I am increasingly concerned that our project, especially as a publisher of anarchist books, has become a sausage party. We only have two books (although there are two anon titles and one multi-author collection) that aren’t duderific. I think this issue is going to take years to truly resolve but that one of our first steps is to pull back and think about what our goal is. If the goal is to embrace and publish the world of anarchist ideas then books have a ton of embedded problems. I have a critic who often lambasts me for my (seeming) embrace of the long form essay (which the book is obviously an even longer form) as being out of touch with the attention span of the modern human. Even though the criticism is also a ridiculous one (since I’m also fairly married to the web short form) there is a big question that seems right to me. Money is not our motivation. If chaos, or anarchy-wearing-chaos-formalwear, is our motivation how can we better transmit this? Somewhere in the answer to this question is also the answer to dude question.
We did not take enough risks. Being that we are self-funded (aka broke) we are also kind of bullet-proof in a way that other publishers are not. While it would be possible for someone to sue me into financial oblivion, I owe so much more than I have that it would probably be harder on them than me. More importantly it wouldn’t stop us from publishing! As a result of this we can, and should, be taking more risks, doing more illegal and inappropriate publishing projects. This year we published Treatise (an affordable version of Revolution of Everyday Life) and Words (a send up of the IAS’s Lexicon series) but this barely scraped the surface of what we should be doing. There are priests to be strangled by beauracratic entrails…
What is next
Books of course! In addition there is going to be a push into video (long and short form), music (?!), deeper web content, e-books, etc. 2013 is going to be a bit more focused on reaching outside of our safe(ish) space and into the cold, hard world that doesn’t care one bit about what we are thinking about. Anti-politics for the masses and shit.
Financially we have to figure out a way for more people to participate in the project. It is strange to think that this makes any sense at all (in the quid pro quo sense of the word) but becoming an accomplice of LBC means getting everything that we do (something like 25-30 projects in 2012) and supporting the fact that we are doing it. If we could cover our burn (rate, the amount we have to spend a month) with our accomplices it would go a long way towards making the project more (personally) sustainable.
I guess related to income is how connected this project is to a rich and fulfilling emotional life. While intellectually I couldn’t be happier I find that emotionally devoting so many hours of my day (and life) to this thing is exhausting. I am exhausted. I am exhausted by the bad faith and criticism-that-isn’t. I am exhausted by the frenemies. I am exhausted by the fact that I have made these choices and have no one to blame but myself. I am exhausted by blaming myself. 2013 is the year where I figure out how to convert some of the intellectually fulfilling aspects of this crazy thing called anarchy into something healthy.
Maybe I’ll just go back to Europe or something.
* I want to apologize for the use of I throughout this article (and in general). Often times I personify the LBC project even though there are a half a dozen people who are also as committed to the project as I am. I do this for a variety of reasons but to list them… a desire to not be or seem representational, a desire to take responsibility rather than hide behind an institution, because I’m the only one who tends towards writing about the project at all, because marketing is about people, because I am alienated from my individual desires and only have project desire now, because I’m fucked up.
** Obviously it is love and hate but if love is a decision about who you want to live and die with… I’m still here.
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 General
A self-criticism. I find terrible, mocking humor to be enjoyable. I laugh at others expense and find the foibles and flaws of my rivals and political adversaries to be particular amusing. I will, in all engaged interest, sit for hours detailing flaws and imperfections in others, hopefully to comedic effect. I am not going to attempt to caveat this trait by saying that I will laugh just as hard when the flaw being exposed is mine, although this is true. I just find, and I don’t love this about myself, that cruel humor is my favorite.
But I don’t take it seriously. My actual feelings about rivals, myself, or flawed activity is complicated by all of the qualities that ones feelings usually are. I am as likely to despise an adversary as I am a so-called ally. The qualities that I like in others is not related to my own particular preference towards cruelty.
In this sense I understand a lot of the motivation of trolls and troll culture. When we are powerless to impact the world in such a way where we can see the impact of our blows it makes sense to attack things that get injured. We are curious creatures that deeply desire to see our experiments flourish. The cruelty we inflict on the world is unrelated to the humans we inflict it on. This disconnection has obviously been exacerbated by the Internet and the seeming lack of consequence for cruelty but we (as in humans) have long since been disconnected and done horrible things (to the world & each other) as a result of this social unpluggedness.
While I still find considerable pleasure in a similar type of cruelty I have to acknowledge that I have the incredible privilege of not ever having to do it online. I have people who find the same things funny as I do around me all the time. I have constructed a life where these pleasures feature centrally. But the corporealness of them is most important. Cruelty in isolation would have long since twisted me into the ineffective pathetic creatures I host on various websites and blogs. I understand the troll and despise them because they are what I could have been if not for a combination of luck, will, and being just a bit too old to have become trapped by the Internet for my social self-understanding.
Is all PR good?
I recently have been alerted (thanks everyone!) to an actual IRL troll of me. Correction. This is not a cruel attack done for the lulz (or whatever) but someone who believes they are doing what they are doing in the name of anarchist activists (TM) everywhere. Putting aside the very sad (and real) story of this particular individual the difference between them and a troll, between cruelty and activism, between attack and denouncement, is a central concern for me right now.
Perhaps this is a statement of our time but this is also a way to orient our conflictual capacity in real terms. We can not reasonably talk about movements of the liberation of humans against the oppressors, or perhaps we can but we don’t. Instead our fights are microscopically small and our victories are even smaller. We talk about abstractions that we oppose and our actions in regard to them is very small (aka break window, write manifest). We have an IRC argument with someone and in turn hack their email, delete their memories, and publicly advertise their home address (true story) and call our victory total. Our capacity to hurt individuals is inversely proportional to the importance of doing the same. Bad people, especially bad radicals, have little to do with the condition of the world, the problems of daily life, or our incapacity to do anything about it. Or perhaps the opposite is true, perhaps bad people are directly related to capacity.
In a related story I recently corresponded with someone who is being publicly trolled and they turned to me as someone to fix the problem. The inappropriate mention of their name was a source of concern and they feared that the deceit would be taken as truth. This is real. It is also false.
I’ll try to break this down a little bit more. Assuming the context of an open web forum (which are understandably becoming less common or perhaps more self-selecting) there are a number of concerns about bad information. One is the fact that a (self-selecting) reader might confuse the bad information with truth. They might think that X is a criminal (as a neutral way of discussing everything from the smashy to the genocide) because someone says as much, signs a post admitting to such, or is accused of being one by a convincing story. Two is association. If X is put into the same frame as criminality, in a web forum, then future discussions about criminality could very well include X as a related topic. Third is the idea that X and criminality may have a relationship but as presented is either a misrepresentation or a slander. Finally is the idea that outside of the discussion itself is the future. Search engines are forever. If X is associated in whatever way to criminality (or an open web forum) it means that X doesn’t have control over their own story. This has implication in everything from legal cases (or the States research interests) to jobs.
While this is often much ado about nothing it does put the power of representation into the hands of people who often don’t have any skin in the game. I, for instance, haven’t used my full legal name in any anarchist contexts but I have an old friend who used it to advertise for an event I participated in in the 90s. Several mentions of this event still linger on the front page of a search for my full legal name. I have attempted to contact, and resolve, this concern for several years to no avail. The people who get the emails associated with the top level domains just have no motivation, or interest, or process to protect my desire to not have my legal life associated with my anarchist life. In my case I have had to start the slow, ambivalent, process of changing my legal name as the only real way to sever my future (hostile) relations with employers or stalkers with my oh-so-naive past.
For younger people, for Facebook users, this problem will only get worse.
You may ask what my decision was regarding the trolled person? The other side of this discussion for me relates to the role of being a public person (a “personality”). I realize that talking to reporters, writing a book, or doing presentation shouldn’t necessitate the signing of some sort of unstated contract but for me, it kind of does. It means that you are choosing to associate yourself publicly with something. In my case it is anarchy, in another persons case it may be poetry, or Pokemon, or whatever. If you are public it means you have to accept the fickle, fickle love that the public has to offer. For some people this love means being accepted as a respected public intellectual or activist, for others it means being pilloried and reviled. As far as I’m concerned there is a choice, a willful act, that moves you from a private person to a public person. I am on the public side of this choice, as are many of my friends, but as a result I have had to suffer indignity and attack along side the (positive) attention and respect. I think it is disingenuous for other public personalities to think they should only get the pluses without getting the minuses so I refuse to coddle this kind of behavior. I think this is grist for the mill (see 1-3 on the list above).
But, and this is a big but, I don’t think it should last forever. I think a scandal, most every scandal, should last for the five minutes (or ten seconds) that it deserves and then that we should all move on. Search engines don’t allow for this so my decision regarding the trolled was to remove all mention of them after the scandal (such as it was) was aired.
This whole situation was a useful exercise for me because I much prefer my policy decisions to hinge on a different axis (or two if possible) than just “this is the policy” so putting the temporal axis into this decision was helpful. It also helped that the trolled came in good faith AND that I got good advice from an adviser… but this is how small decisions often times end up being big ones.
I’ll wrap this up. The earth is filling up. Many of the horrific things I despise about the existing order are, from the perspective of capital p Power, crowd control. There are too many of us, we are anonymous, and becoming invisible is most peoples alienated reality. Trolling, and the cruelty of the troll, is a kind of care too. The troll is paying attention, it may be a negative attention, but can you blame them? The troll is the most reviled of creatures in a world filled with the despised, the despicable, the tortured, and the lonely. It’s a funny way to end this but this is one of the few times where I believe in the healing power of the sun, by which I mean not only fresh air, exercise, and being outdoors but the brightness of people in a room, disagreeing and sharing a mammalian moment or two.
by aragorn in General
Earlier this week I gave a presentation at the Anarchist Studies Network conference which was an interesting use of my time. It was my first time talking to a crowd (it looked to be about 15-20 people) via Skype. That was unpleasant. It was also an excuse to put some of my thoughts down about Occupy, now that it is over. Now I share those thoughts with you.
I am going to call this a reportback as I will be sharing quite a bit of rough information with you all, including some thoughts about a presentation by Decolonize Seattle that I attended just last evening in Oakland that is worth referring to in regards to lessons on Occupy.
While I am not an activist I have had first row seats for the activities of Occupy Oakland and occupation activities in Greece, Barcelona, Greensboro North Carolina (just barely avoiding a SWAT team there), and Santa Cruz, CA. In January of this year I put together and published a book on anarchist involvement in Occupy called Occupy Everything: Anarchists in the Occupy Movement with LBC Books. In my not so humble opinion this book provides a comprehensive broad anarchist approach to an Occupy Movement that extends back in time far before 2011 and will continue to be a tactic (like blocing up, blockading, and sabotage) that anarchists will use into the future.
Given that I live on the West Coast of the US I may have different assumptions about what comprises anarchist activity and intervention in Occupy than other US or UK anarchists. Our center of gravity was never Wall Street, per se, or David Graeber (who only received lukewarm response when he spoke in Oakland) but the violence of the OPD, the memory of Oscar Grant (a young man killed by our local transit police on New Years Eve 2009), and the port of Oakland. Obviously there is explicit linkage between the west coast threads of occupy and those in the rest of the country, but the priorities are different here as are the political radicals. The Bay has decades of active radical political history with no real break from the Vietnam-era to today (with a surprising number of people from that era still active). This provokes a very different atmosphere than anytown USA where the most radical people in town are still demanding a recount of the 2000 election.
The specific anarchist energy that was so infectous in Occupy Oakland had a specific history of interventions from the past few years. Anarchists have been involved in the events immediately following the Oscar Grant killing (which included a few near riots in Oakland during the all-too-common clearing of the killer police officer from responsibility for the action). They were involved in the University of California student occupations of 2009-2010, which were recorded in the publication After the Fall Communiques from Occupied California. Finally, prior to the start of Occupy, they were involved in a series of Bay of Rage actions that were surprisingly prescient.
These were specifically organized in the Summer of 2011, prior to Occupy Wall Street but after the Arab Spring in North Africa and Indignado Summer around Europe. These events were organized around targets of austerity cuts, including the Oakland Library (which involved the first of several book blocs in the US context including a second one @ UC Berkeley), increasing police violence as a form of social control, and (humorously) a protest around our local regional train service BART for cutting off cell phone access in their system (this was a panicked response to an earlier protest).
Like many other radicals these people were energized and focused by the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon and called for an occupation of the town hall area of Oakland (formerly Frank Ogawa Plaza, now forever remembered as Oscar Grant Plaza). I am not going to belabor the story of Occupy Oakland any more than I have since its arc wasn’t that different of a story from other occupations in North America with a fairly brief occupation, heavy-handed police eviction, and another few months of something called occupy that really didn’t occupy much of anything at all.
I want to be constructive with my review of the lessons of Occupy but my focus is going to be specific to anarchists. I am an anarchist partisan and while there are broader Occupy lessons for a radical, or activist, crowd, I am not concerned with them. I am concerned with what the future of anarchist intervention holds and consider the sustainability of our public presence, relevance, and agility as more important factors in evaluating the lessons of Occupy than meetings with politicians or the attention of non-profits.
Let us begin.
One – The strategic importance of a anti-police presence
The 99% vs 1% rhetoric was a master stroke of populist propaganda. It said clearly in a few words what class-oriented radicals say have been attempting to say in volumes for years. 99% was fantastic branding but like other branding, it worked better as establishing the product than it did at solving the problems confronted by the situation. No one is to blame for the situation but with Occupy the experience was, again and again, that the successes also embedded the failures.
During the actual Occupation of OGP Occupy Oakland had an informally agreed upon but consistent practice of not allowing uniformed police inside of the occupation. This entailed several stand-offs with hand-held barricades, and general confusion among the OPD brass (as highlighted in a variety of leaked documents, some of which are recounted in the local anarchist publication, Lawless).
Externally this stance established #OO as the most militant of Occupy in the US. This is all fine and good, and histories of Occupy will retell histories of the BPP, Oscar Grant, and the upcoming federal take-over of the OPD but that is what history does… uses unrelated historical high points to make history’s points. In point of fact there was never an “Occupy Oakland’s Collective Decision-Making Process” agreement to the anti-police practice. It was something agreed upon by many of the militants and acted upon in the moments when the OPD came around but probably never would have passed the 90% threshold necessary to have been approved.
Internally the anti-police stance accomplished much of the goals of anarchist agitation without ever having to confront the lack of understanding people have of anarchism itself. It gave a practice to anarchist aspirations of generalized hostility toward authority and made sense in the context of police violence in Oakland as it would have in most densely populated cities in the US.
This ambivalence around what turned out to be such a central differentiator between #OO and much of the rest of Occupy also relates to another lesson that we will get into a bit later.
Two – The US’s very small appetite for politics
It is a trite truism that the US is filled with uneducated, religious, apolitical people who only grudgingly attend the ballot box every four years, mostly sitting jaw agape staring at screens being entertained and pacified by Murdoch, Viacom, Time Warner, CBS, and Disney. Obviously this falsehood conceals the moment of truth that keeps our hobbled liberal elites wringing their hands, making jokes, and pathetically air boxing against powers that are utterly indifferent to them.
Back on point. Whether it is the true existential character of the American (to be disinterested in the economic & political machinations that frame their existence) or due to the activities of Beelzebub, Amadeus, and Moloch acting behind the curtain of pop culture and news-as-misinformation… politics is not a dish appreciated on the American table. It took very little time, during Occupy in 2011, before the mainstream narrative of Occupy changed from a lovable gang of misfits of adorable union losers, college kids, and left-of-liberals into a scary gang of people of color and athletes dressed in black who didn’t like newspaper boxes or windows. This stuff really does play well in Peoria.
But by the end of the year there just weren’t many photo ops left for Occupy. It finally got cold outside and the crowds retreated back to warm screens. More importantly there were fantastic political photo opportunities for nearly six months in the form of the Republican primaries. Every dramatic turn prior to the eventual crowning of Mitt Romney as the loser of the 2012 general election had a narrative written by prime time screen writers for a prime time audience. There is no audience for a second political thriller when the first one has all the special effects, writing, and victory at the box office for over 200 years…
The anarchist lesson here is a difficult one of strategy. Clearly long-term thinking has never been a strong suit but the conversation should have started earlier about how to intervene in the non-discussion around the 2012 election season in more interesting and hostile ways. Perhaps the smartest thing to do is take the year off and wait out the hundreds of millions of dollars that is going to be spent on more-of-the-same.
Three – Decolonize
There was something uncomfortable about the language of Occupation from the first moment Wall Street was attempted to be Occupied. It just doesn’t sit right to take land and call it yours when the people who were robbed of it, usually at gunpoint, in the first place are still fighting genocide and occupation of native land. The brand name Occupy clearly had precedence over the nuanced concern over a little matter of genocide so the story continued.
Except it didn’t, of course. A couple of cities started up with Decolonize as their name for take-overs, and never had an Occupy in their town, but primarily these were smaller events in the South west and they never really had the national press that NY or Oakland had. They stated their case but mostly went unnoticed. Eventually however, decolonize vs occupy became a central conflict in several cities. This story played itself out during the waning period of Occupy but the venom and acrimony it involved was great in proportion to the number of people involved or energy spent on the topic.
The reason for this is because decolonize became the super-saturated way in which to talk about racial issues in the context of what had been a primarily an economic discussion. Obviously race, being a quintessential American concern, was always part of the Occupy discussion but as a secondary issue behind the economic travesty done upon the US by the banks and financial institutions. Decolonize gave the topic claws which nearly tore Occupy apart–or perhaps it did, as, at least in Oakland, there was a marked downturn in GA attendance after the decolonize proposal infamously failed to pass by the 90% required for consensus.
The situation gets additionally murky the more details emerge about the infighting, partisan struggles, and single issue groups that used decolonize as a mechanism to say what they wanted to about Occupy all along (to whit, that it was a primarily white, male, urban, middle-class phenomenon) but decolonize demonstrates a very 2012 example of a very old problem for US radicals. We don’t have an agile response to either bad faith accusations of racism or good faith demonstrations of insensitivity, structural inequalities in our groups, or accusations of cultural myopia. We usually act in a reactionary manner to either of these, and conflate the real with the polemical.
In the case of decolonize the lesson is that phenomenon do reflect their cultural point of origin and in the US, the time period that Occupy had before dissipating was far too short to allow for the kind of pivot necessary to include the very real criticism that its economic orientation was not framed in a way that made sense to non-land owning, non-white people.
Four – The end of consensus
Since the 80s US anarchism has been plagued by the spectre of consensus. In a culture that is deeply functionalist in orientation, having a quick-and-dirty answer to questions like “how will you act without leaders?” was important. It meant that consensus took on a role that it wasn’t particularly suited for but that could be duct taped into place, with additions like spokescouncils for larger groups and modified consensus for less philosophically rigid groups.
Consensus is still the language scattered throughout Occupy and the language and jargon of Occupy but it is clear that many, if not most, anarchists have largely abandoned formal consensus, consensus by large numbers, and consensus as a fundamental principle of anarchist decision-making. Perhaps this opens a can of worms but this division is also about the division between anarchists who see anarchism as a kind of direct democracy or who use democracy, even “real” democracy, interchangeably with anarchism and those who don’t.
This conflict will play itself out on several fronts now and into the future but the hegemonic model of consensus is over and the fractures in consensus as displayed during Occupy activities are instructive. I’ll give two examples, both from #OO . When the initial decolonize proposal was made to #OO it was met with general friendliness. It was generally assumed that changing the name of #OO to #OO/DO was a pure formality. There was little doubt that it would happen. Then the presentation began. The presenters brought several new-to-OO people and seemed to believe that the audience was going to be hostile so from the onset were aggressive to the point of haranguing on points where there was no real disagreement. As a result of defensiveness and moralistic hostility the inevitability of the transformation into decolonize was derailed but only barely. There was perhaps a 70 to 80% super-majority but not quite the 90% that represented (modified) consensus in #OO. This disillusioned strong supporters of decolonize, demonstrating that strong “yes” votes can’t negotiate with ambivalent “no” votes, and that consensus works better as a principle than as a practice.
Perhaps obviously you aren’t ever going to get a group composed of several hundred strangers to agree to a Black Bloc. You may get them to agree to a diversity of tactics, although this seems increasingly unlikely in the future, but never to actual property destruction or confrontation with the police. This is fine, it isn’t for everyone, etc, etc. But the logic of diversity of tactics ends up cutting both ways. For every person who just wants to street fight there is another person who wants nothing to do with fighting the police. Diversity of tactics means that these two sets of people, who represent but two of dozens of different motivated interests, have fewer and fewer reasons to meet at all. Their reasons for being part of Occupy are different to the point of being unrelated. Consensus isn’t relevant for their shared project any more because, over time, they don’t have one.
The language for this, that also has a rich anarchist history, is autonomous activity. We can use this language, and the practice of organizing in small groups that can determine their own logic, to permit dozens of different approaches to the same problems that Occupy raised. Autonomous groups have participated in Black Blocs, small occupations of local schools and libraries that are being shuttered by the city, farm occupations, and recently started a new fuck the police (FTP) assembly that is as large, if not larger, than the remnant of Occupy Oakland that’s still active.
I don’t want to fitter away your attention so I’ll stop at four lessons but obviously there are more that could be discussed including anarchist lessons about violence, how to use and abuse the media, identity politics, and thinking strategically while honoring our autonomous tradition. Thanks for your time.
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.
The world responds to action, and not much else
I often have occasion to describe myself as competitive. This isn’t strictly true. I have little to no interest in zero-sum games or in defeating rivals in some arbitrary contest (whether a football game or games like money or market share). What I do mean, and usually this is the point I am trying to make, is that I take a tension seriously and am devoted to it (both the tension and devotion).
I am hesitant to discuss my specific examples but this commitment, to tension, competition, and conflict is not arbitrary, it isn’t relative or post-modern. It makes me a generally not-pleasant person to be around but it makes me awesome. When I turn my attention to a problem or an interest I feel like I am relentless in attacking, building, or nurturing it. I have taken my failures (especially inter-personal) seriously and continue to search for other relentless people to surround myself with. I think you should do the same.
My passion for obscure, unrealistic, theoretical ideas guides me but I want to test these things in the hard, simple crucible of this world. I hate this world but it is known. It is something to resist and fail in contest with. My passions are usually shared by people who live in terror of this crucible. How do we wake up dreamers and make them ______? I don’t think I have a clear answer to this but suspect that everything isn’t enough. I suspect that the failure embedded in my project is that it contemplates waking those who have been put to sleep for powerful reasons. We have not built the capacity to face that power.
I just returned to the Bay after an involuntary period of travel mostly related to a death in the family.
It is strange how I have allowed myself to get wrapped up in family affairs. I never reconciled myself to family or more bluntly I resolved myself to not family and then equivocated. I did this because I got along so fabulously with my mothers sister (not my mother, not my aunt’s family, but my aunt). We laughed together, she respected my path, and she had advice to offer me from a direction I don’t get enough of it (elderly, native, & rural).
Now I have paid the price for this and the price was family. I am not going to be overly dramatic about how the true lesson should be that I fucked up by deviating from my hard, true, line and how I’ll never do it again, but it’s not. The lesson, if there is one, is that bending to the people and circumstances around you without breaking, or becoming something you hate, is a central theme to a radical life. It is the lesson that I am not better because I live a nearly robotic life of ideas, conflicts, & travel but I would be worse if I had to settle into a life of micro compromises and infinite small talk.