A Reportback from the Black Seed tour

This reportback will include some thoughts about the different locations I visited in my trip around the US, highlights from my presentation, and some thoughts about where current conversations are at regarding Green & anarchist ideas. The broad project of Black Seed is to grow the audience and definition of green anarchism beyond the constrains of windmills, wolves, and wildness into a broad category of non-instrumental approaches to living, struggling, and thinking. This means fighting the allure of jargon, counter-cultural shortcuts, and sectarianism. A green anarchism can (and should) be one that is pluralist with bruises rather than righteously exclusionary.

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Timing is Everything

The Black Seed tour was somewhat motivated by the desire to go to the Cleveland and NYC Anarchist bookfairs (for LBC) and wanting to make sure people who wouldn’t otherwise ask for a copy of Black Seed would still get one as easily as possible. With that in mind the tour was setup just a few weeks before it began and ended up including events in Milwaukee, Cleveland OH, Pittsburgh PA, Rochester NY, Buffalo NY, Philadelphia PA, Columbus OH, Bloomington IN, and Salt Lake City UT.

Given that (sadly) anarchism tends to be of interest to a primarily college-aged crowd if you want to speak to a larger-than-small crowd you should orient your trip around student participation. Traveling to a town a week or two after finals is therefore not recommended. Mostly, towns where there was not a standing anarchist population had nearly zero turnout.

Couple that with the perceived (or not-so-perceived) hostility between old-time red anarchists and anything not-red and I felt a little bummed in a couple towns. But turnouts that are really just become conversations rather than presentations and while I think I’m better at the latter (with strangers) than the former… context matters and acting like you are talking to an audience when three people are in the room is kind of silly.

The Presentation

Initially I was going to prepare a new presentation regarding some of my current thinking about the problem of indigeneity but the Black Seed editors reminded me of an important thing. I am not an editor of Black Seed, I am the publisher. This point, while subtle in an anarchist project where lines are often muddied and disrespected, is an important one as I am not nearly as equipped to represent the content of the paper as I am to present my own thoughts. If the stated goal was to bring Black Seed to towns… then doing that, describing the context that Black Seed came out of, reading the editorial, and calling for questions seemed to be the appropriate level of engagement. This is an especially important point given that the very small GA milieu seems particularly guilty of personalizing projects/ideas which is absolutely not the goal of Black Seed. Green Anarchism will whither on the vine again if it is about personalities (or singular projects).

Since I know this will be asked, I’ll answer it ahead of time. The difference between a publisher and editor of a project (or at least this one) is basically one of experience and money. A publisher pays for the printing and deals with the distribution. An editor collaborates with authors to make their writing as strong as possible, which can mean political, content, or copy editing work.

Here are a few bullets points from the presentation.

What is green anarchism

In one view of anarchism it is part of the divided revolutionary project in a dialectical relationship with Marxism and its branches. In that view Green Anarchism is a branch that only began to thrive as the ecological movement came into general consciousness after WWII (although it did have an earlier origin story). This isn’t my definition of GA.

For me there is one great story, one bible, of radical engagement to the world and that is Hegelianism. Those who reject this specific story, the idea that reality can be expressed by rational categories and that the goal is to reduce reality to a unity, may be green anarchists. This means that my orientation is more cautious & circumspect than declarative and valiant. It also means I don’t tend to buy “the end is nigh therefore…” arguments as I don’t think that human consciousness/will/capacity is all it’s cracked up to be. Put another way, not only am I not a humanist (by design), I don’t think humans are either. But that’s just me.

The context of Black Seed

We miss the magazine Green Anarchy. It died, to a greater or lesser extent, as a consequence of the Green Scare (aka the persecution of anarchist, earth, and animal liberations types on the West Coast). It wasn’t as simple as that, of course, but the feds set the fire and only lunatics and fools don’t run from fire.

Black Seed is the serotinous result of this fire.

The critique of anthropology

This is obviously the topic of a larger “meta” conversation but here are the stated concerns/issues/critiques of anthropology as stated in Black Seed. One, anthropology is an academic discipline that begs for a deeper analysis of why anti-authoritarians would engage in a field that uses knowledge to grow the power of the existent and not something that thrives outside of the academy. Two, anthropology traditionally “others” people in ways that can only be described as problematic (or genocidal depending on your perspective). Three, anthropology is a discipline of truth (with a capital T). If it were a form of story telling (where the aspects of truth are malleable and subjective) there would be little concern with it. Disciplines of truth are some of the arcane magicks that have summoned Leviathan.

The locations

Here are some brief notes on some of the stops on the tour.

NYC

NYC believes it is the center of the universe. It absolutely is not. Especially when it comes to anarchy. Even moreso when it comes to vibrant, exciting, searching for new ideas. NYC is where ideas and dreamers go to die.

I did get to see Jerry Koch and Daniel McGowan back from prison and back in the mix. That made my heart soar (no joke).

The Midwest

The First Annual Cleveland Anarchist Bookfair was a great first time effort by a very young crew. Bloomington always turns out an inquisitive crowd. Columbus was a really positive and engaged group of people at the new Sporeprint Infoshop. These three towns were the best attended events and most interested attendees on the tour.

The Between

The area between the West Coast and the Great Lakes is a huge wasteland of anarchist emptiness. The only exception (this trip) was Salt Lake City which was a strange mix (and included an event with me and scott crow…) that included a great group house, an utterly hostile town, and a group of people who seemed to have been passed by by time…

The conversation

Finally I’ll speak a bit to the condition of anarchy (especially green) based on my fractional view of NA@ on the Black Seed tour. First, I got the strong impression that there is an eager audience for a new/refreshed view of a green anarchist perspective that is not EF! style activism or ideological. People seem to feel that -something- green reflects their values but are really looking for an active conversation about it (rather than a fait accompli). Second, the history of even recent North American radical activity is woefully incomplete and under told. This is probably a direct result of the turn-26-and-youre-out nature of 21st century anarchism but I’ll also go ahead and blame wikipedia, the @ FAQ, and the vicious little scene that eats everyone alive who participates in it. Third, many anti-left positions no longer have to be defended. Everyone agrees on the basics and (in an all-too-american way) want to get down to brass tacks.

For future trips I would recommend an editor and an author or two to travel together with a wider variety of approaches (like skill + content, intro + experiential, etc) than my “one person show” was capable of. Plus, I’m getting to old to haul books, drive thousands of miles, and give a compelling presentation to a small crowd without getting demoralized. Which isn’t to say that I feel demoralized after the trip but that some days felt like I was only capable of reaching one or two people (rather than dozens, hundreds, or the millions necessary to shift our conversations beyond the arcane and irrelevant).

Final note. The last event I did on this tour was a public conversation with Scott Crow who, perhaps, would seem like someone from a different corner of the big tent of anarchy. The conversation was productive but only because we came into it already knowing each others jargon (ie the very different words we used to say the same things) and liking each other. I’ll say tentatively that our capacity to find common cause may indicate a possibility for many of the different clans to find ways to work together. Scott is a great contrast to the color coded sectarianism of the rest of the anarchist world and I think we can agree that a black flag is good enough.

4 thoughts on “A Reportback from the Black Seed tour”

  1. Thank you for the report. Though I feel I should mention there is more going on between the Great Lakes & the West Coast than it seems. 🙂

  2. I feel like you’re being intentionally blind to the way anthropology has been used within green anarchist/anarcho-primitivist conversations. Responding to each of your three points:

    1. Yes, it is undoubtedly an academic discipline. But, do you really feel that it is inherently “a field that uses knowledge to grow the power of the existent?” Certainly a major use of anthropology has been taken up by the state seeking information on how to colonize peoples, but does that mean that ALL anthropology falls within this trap? How does this academic discipline (anthropology) differ from, say, philosophy or history, of which anarchists also make use (or put another way: why do you choose to engage in the latter two with minimal public critique?)

    2. This is where I think you’re being intentionally naive. Yes, anthropology has a pretty shady history for the first half of the 20th century, but I’m sure you’re aware of the Man the Hunter conference in the 1960s and the outcome of that. It seems to me like that was the turning point where anthropologists started to make an attempt to treat hunter-gatherer tribes with respect, not as an “other,” but as people who have their way of life that are equally valid (if not more so) than those of us in the Western world. It’s this perspective that has been taken up and built upon in anarcho-primitivist writings, not the “traditional” one that treats hunter-gatherers like shit. (That said, YES, there are still problems, but I don’t think that makes it necessary to discount the whole discourse.)

    3. I have to disagree. Anthropologists, in the past 40 years especially, and in the realm of tribal studies, are incredibly relativist. Yes, there are theories here and there about how people organize their lives, but even within these there are exceptions. Outside of these, there are plenty of anthropological writings that leave room for the mythical, esoteric, and inexplicable. Not all of anthropology seeks to take tribal myths and create a structured theory around it–sometimes it is just recorded for the sake of preservation.

    I think a fair amount of green anarchist thought and writing has tried to steer clear of the pitfalls you’re highlighting. It sort of seems like a baby and the bathwater scenario, where you’re wanting to throw out the whole thing because of avoidable mishaps, rather than take advantage of what can be beneficial to us.

  3. not to speak for anyone else but…
    i would certainly agree with Aragorn! that anthropology is irretrievably a tool of the masters (if you’ll pardon the phrase). to state it overly simply, things are paid for within the academy because the information is of use to the payers, this is also true of sociology, and other fields, of course, but those other fields are not cited chapter and verse by anarchists the way that anthropologists are. and anthropology in particular is different from other branches of the humanities because it is explicitly about dealing with The Other.
    It is true that since Man the Hunter, anthropology has moved away from its origins, and towards sociology and philosophy, but to the extent that there is still an anthropology that is recognizable as such (and certainly how i have read KT and JZ and TK — among others — using it), it is about distancing how we (the modern, westernized, etc audience) are from how they (primitive, better/worse, objects of study) are, and interpreting those Thems to the Us’s (especially for the purposes of marketing of various sorts).
    i’m not talking about anthropologists treating people like shit (ie individual anthros are not the point). the point is the framework that the information and the information-gathering exist within. i’m sure (for example) that david graeber treated the people he was studying with every respect and was very nice to them. but that is missing the point.

    responding fully to this post would require a book (or at least an essay) but i will add that the idea that “tribal myths” are recorded for the sake of preservation as if they can be understood outside of the place and time and people who lived with them (ie that recording has any purpose other than to make blind people feel better) is part of the problem.

  4. I’m pretty embarrassed that only three people attended your event in our shit city, me being one. Here’s to hoping we can build a more engaged radical community here.

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