Just about exactly 20 years after a “Skinhead brawl” put my roommate into a grave and me into “stable condition with stab wounds on his left side” I might be seeing the end of the second chapter of the complications the incident on my life. While on the one hand it is easy, and true, to blame the aleopathic approach of treating symptoms in my situation for it coming back to haunt me 20 years later I am also feeling pretty thankful for planning ahead on this situation.
I have always been committed to not living “life as usual” from fighting Nazis as a young man, to rejecting the nuclear family (and relationship), and the life of criminal boredom (read: career) I’ve made choices that made some sense to me even though there have been consequences. The primary consequence, one I usually share with 40 million other residents of this country, is a habitual lack of health insurance. I survived the initial stabbing because of a California program around “victims of violent crime” but as my old wound began to herniate I wouldn’t have such honor. I’d either have to suck up tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills (probably six figures due to the complications) or get a job with seriously good health insurance. This I did and continue to be trapped in until I am fully recovered from this second chapter.
As you can read in my old blog (which I am going to migrate to here one of these days) the first part of this chapter didn’t go so well. Perhaps I’ll do an equivalent of Bad Medicine in a pamphlet form with some of this material. BTW if you haven’t read the Spring 2010 The Match there is a fantastic (quality) and terrifying (in content) article on hernia surgery that coupled with my story should put the Fear into all men.
But I believe that this time the surgery went well. The massive distention I’ve had in my belly the past 6 months is gone. I can imagine a non-mutant future for myself. I think I will heal. Last time I wasn’t so sure.
That said today was the first time I really examined myself without bandages and materiel. I am going to be a very different creature emerging from this whole situation. My belly, still stapled, shaved, and pasty from my hospital visit also has a kind of un-living characteristic that I am really disturbed by. It is flatter but I can feel the sides of the surgical material under my skin still not integrated into my body. I will survive but I will be beyond scarred. I will be transformed. The new me will be physically weaker (no more Muay Thai for me!). I will have to slowly strengthen my core to achieve baseline. I am, on some level, middle aged before my time. I am not ready.
I am about to hit 40. I am going to have a funny birthday party where people I have made fun of get to respond in kind. I am ready for the next stage of life but not quite for the implications of being not just not-young but actually old. I figured I would be able to fake it, on some level, for another 5-10 years. It just isn’t true. I have some thinking to do about how few peers I have, about how that isn’t going to change anytime soon, and how about my body isn’t going to win me any medals at any future derby. I will have to make do with the steel trap inside my head. Obviously I am going to be just fine but the illusion, the imagination, is gone. Regards.
Spring is about over and to close it out I took one last trip before my next hospital visit. If all goes well I will emerge from this visit healthier, stronger, and without the absolute need for bi-weekly medical visits (and insurance). I am getting nervous about abandoning these golden handcuffs but can’t wait to have time again to think outside of the 40 hour a week monotony.
Last weekend I was in the Olympia-Tacoma area giving a presentation at the Northwest Anarchist Conference which was a small event funded by the Evergreen and attended by around 50 people over the course of the weekend. I wish I could say that it was a swimming success but I am pretty critical of my own presentation (which I’ll dig into) and am not sure how convinced I am that this kind of a conference is worth the time and energy put into it. That said I continue to really enjoy the people who live in the NW and look forward to the possibilities of further collaboration with them.
Check out http://tan.anarchyplanet.org to see many of their projects advertised.
I am starting to think about taking a bit of a different approach to presentations. I have, for years, started every presentation with something like a “postion paper” in mind. I prepare, more-or-less from scratch, every presentation with the goal being the writing of some sort of 2500-3000 word essay. I spend a few days mulling the implications of what I want to say and the framing of the presentation to a different/new audience. I try to be contextual. I always take on a far bigger speculative project than I am capable of presenting honesly in a limited period of time and never make enough time to write enough words to share a document of my ideas. This is bad and neither benefits an audiece as much as limited essay writing would OR take advantage of my own conversational skills as much as I’d like.
NYC is a lovable shithole that drives people crazy.
I just did a whirlwind tour of the town, from the best of it (the food!) to the worst (the wingnuts), all in the context of the NYC @ book fair. This year went by so fast that its hard to believe that I am already back with a day of work under my belt before another trip.
Here are some highlights…
NYC Bookfair: Probably the most intense bookfair with a very packed room and a very sophisticated audience. While our “west coast” vibe isn’t that popular over here it seems to finally be making some cracks in the autonomous-academic-leftoid axis.
Reverend Billy: I hear that one of the organizers of the NYC book fair invited this fool to the event but they were misguided. Anarchists don’t give a fuck about his “life after shopping” church and to the extent to which there is a postmodern tongue-in-cheek statement to be made about the book fair itself it is definitely lost in the one man megaphone show that is Reverend Billy. Chaos ensued and a drenched and battery-less RB left the event dejected and ejected.
APOC gone wild: I don’t know the context outside of seeing it happen a million times before but I saw this… philly APOC bullying the fuck out of some clueless white kid ending their articulate chest thumping (and jacket throwing) conversation with spittle in the poor kids face. Then they turned on anyone who would look at them cross-eyed… This shit is officially ridiculous
Non-violent children: The Greeks gave a presentation on much of the theoretical orientation of the Assemblies and the Greek Insurrection. They did it in front of a non-violent activist whose child more or less controlled the entire event. Quote from her “I can’t control him, but you are welcome to.” Pacifism for the WIN!
Autonomedia: I made my journey to the warehouse on Monday and like usual it was a pleasant and enjoyable time. I was there with people from all over the globe and was reminded of how much I want a space like this of my very own.
Yes, the Greeks were inspiring and what I hoped for. Yes, the comedy was funny (Crudo was particularly good) & bizarre (I’ll upload a picture of McQuinn as robot later). Even my workshop went pretty well (I was really surprised how many people got up that early (10 am Daylight Savings) to see me), but I was right next to the entrance. I have a bothersome habit that I’d like to cure myself of. I over-prepare with too little time, don’t finish, and as a result have about the first 1/3 of what I’d like to do totally nailed. The rest I end up having to wing.
BASTARD can be a little surreal. We hold it at UCB for lack of a better (large & free) space but often times it means sharing space with the ISP (insane student posse). This year they were marching, waving colored flags, and singing the national anthem in an area where the reception was chillier than they are probably used to. I am still cursing the lack of total occupation on March 4th.
the minor 8 Days events
The big events during 8 days are always the ones that stick out in our memory but it is the smaller events; showing a film, the reading of the BASTARD surveys (which were particularly dull this year… since everyone said the same thing) that really make me glad that I live in the Bay Area. I am not alone. I might convince myself that I am from time to time, but I am not.
Spending time with the Greeks
We got to discuss exactly how different the social mores and attitudes are in Greece. I imagine many @ from the (identity) left would be uncomfortable there. I am not sure I have the energy myself for what seems like an intense place but the difference is exhilarating and I look forward to visiting one day.
A house full of guests
The house I live in is not designed for guests. We rarely have them and aren’t willing to make many accommodations for them. Over the weekend we had about 20 different people sleeping on our floors and couches. It was awesome. Even better were the hang out sessions and off-time with all these people. I like shooting the shit. I will not lie.
The political line of the PCWC
At the top of the pile of these off sessions was a breakdown of the Phoenix Class War Council political positions. That shit blew my mind.
Over the past decade they have been in a (hot but not humid) revolutionary laboratory distilling the good bits out of every tendency of the modern anarchist milieu into a extract that can only be called good old American eclecticism. Not wingnuts (although perhaps a little) the PCWC is totally passionate about the connections they have made between the different strands and their project of revolutionary change. In their words…
PHOENIX CLASS WAR COUNCIL is a fanatical, revolutionary anarchist group pressing the attack against capitalism, the state and all systems of hierarchy and oppression. We fight for a self-determined, projectual life for ourselves and all humanity. We oppose those who hinder working class self-organization. We are libertarian and libertine. We support movements but we don’t wait for them. We are in the thick of it.
The crazy thing for me is that they actually took a social situation, with a room of near-stranger anarchists, to make their case for what boils down to a program for anarchist revolution. I haven’t had someone try to actually win me over in years and I barely knew what to say. It didn’t help that they had knocked back a few before they came over but I really feel like I got the full monty on the PCWC and it was a blast. I’m not exactly applying for a membership card but I applaud their passion, the disparate sources that they draw their position from, and mostly… their passion.
As many of you may have heard the vehicle that the Greeks were using for their tour was broken into. Fucking drag, mostly because they were told by their collective that bringing the projector to the States was a bad idea and they were feeling really bad about having it stolen. The response to this has been great though.
Every year I get far more literature than I have time to review. They are slowly piling up in my library to share (although no one every sticks around for long enough to really dig into it). This year I will share the list and take advice on which of these things you’d like to see me review first.
Taking on an enormous pile of long range projects has really helped me, psychologically, become a better person. I am happy to make excuses for the person I was before all of these things took over my life, but they would be excuses. Sitting here furiously working on projects of no great import outside my imagination has left me no time for distraction. No time for wandering eyes or hobbies beyond the greatest hobby of them all. Changing the world.
These little things: learning how to set up monitoring so that I can have a longer conversation with a person about their project that I am going to help them make real. Moving resources around so that I am constantly optimizing my mix of spend vs usable resources. Figuring out how to organize things so that I can allow people to grow into resources that they aren’t really helping upkeep. Infinite support. Planning for the future. Spending everything on the greatest project I’ve ever had, and taking myself out to dinner as often as I’d like.
I’ll make an announcement next week getting all of you up to date on what I have been doing the past six months. I have accomplished at least 2/3 of what I had planned on. This is pretty fucking incredible all things considered and would never have been possible without the incredible work of people-who-cannot-be-mentioned and a childhood of abuse and torment that has inspired me to be greater than where I come from.
For now I am finishing up a website. Going to write a couple things in the next 24 hours that should have some impact. Write a couple press releases. Learn about litescribe and root on the events of the next week. I doubt California will be turned to ash but the hopelessness of our time may become a beacon that changes more lives than just mine.
I’d like to start having conversations at Anti-Politics again. Join me if you aren’t an idiot.
I have a couple projects that I am launching this month that I am really excited to see people get involved in and check out. I’m not going to link to them here but I’d love to hear opinions about the ideas
A site of popular culture review
A portal/blogging aggregator where other web-like services can live
The initial scratchings of a place where a tech collective can work together
Three new books (the first one could be arriving this week)
I am starting to get a reputation (if only in my head) for being surprisingly tolerant. I have become aware of this at work because I have worked closely with two of the most difficult people to work with at the company. Being a person who can deal with these people comes from my many years of dealing with very difficult to work with people in anarchist circles, in my social life, and perhaps, because of dealing with me.
I continue to find difficult people to be far more interesting than ‘nice’ people. I’ve never found nice to be, on its own, a particularly endearing trait. Frankly, I think it obscures far more than it demonstrates. But that ability to deal with difficult people comes at a price.
My skin is callused and thick.
I still feel it when a controversy blows by me, or there is a repercussion, but its less and less over time. I’d go so far as to say that I wouldn’t recommend learning my lesson as the consequences aren’t really for you.
Big changes in the air, which is a great, as 2009 has been utter shit. A horrible year that I am happy to see behind me. I’ll review.
I am still working full time. The job is increasingly grueling as my tasks become more cyclical (month-to-month) and less problem solving (day-to-day or hour-to-hour). My job has become very social in that I work in a “team” where there is an expectation to socialize. This makes side project or learning new tech exceedingly difficult during the week. Very frustrating with no end in site…
As many of you know I had a wretched year health wise. The worst in my life.
First I went in for a simple laproscopic hernia operation. It seemed to go well but instead almost killed me twice. First time, by freezing my GI system forcing a return visit to the hospital for a couple of days of stomach pumping. That was a blast. The second time with an infection that required pumping out two liters of material, a couple of weeks in the hospital, and surgery after surgery.
After all this was wrapped up (which it still isn’t, of course, since I still have a large wound in my abdomen) I had a brain hemmorage. This necessitated two days of symptoms, three days of hospital stay, and three trips to the MRI terror show. We will see what the results are early next year.
The projects are going well. The print projects are changing but include a total of four books in the process for publication (at this time). We hope that all of them will be ready by March 2010.
Til the Clock Stops: Beginning Texts for the Constitution of A War Machine
Anarchy Works – by Peter Gelderloos
For 2010 we (Ardent) have quite a few books lined up (we hope for four releases in 2010) and are already planning for 2011.
The web projects continue to thrive. The news site is still very active and has been frustrating me less and less as time has gone on. The library site has been amazing and continues to inspire me with the dedication and diligence of the new librarians (and old) who have made the project a pleasure to be a part of.
The big new web project (which is evidenced in this URL) has been slow moving but hopefully will launch in full effect sometime in January or Febuary 2010. The idea is to provide a set of web services and portal like functions to the milieu. We will be providing blogging, email, instant messaging and a series of new sites for interested parties. I can’t wait to launch it and start working with an active technical group on a proactive project they can all be involved in.
This year I mostly traveled for bookfairs. I made it to San Francisco, New York (twice, once to go to CT), Portland, Santa Cruz, Seattle, and missed my flight to go to Tacoma. Hopefully next year I will slow down that pace and spend a bit more time in some places so I can spend quality time with friends and comrades.
I am hesitant to even offer my thoughts, in the way of analysis, of the IAS event. The feedback that I received to Part I (offline) was typical of what my worst expectations would be for the effort. I was corrected, copy editor style, and reprimanded for not truly being a neutral reporter of the event. I find this kind of “meta-framing” to be fucking obnoxious and exemplary of something I see a lot in anarchist circles. If I am talking about you (your project, your effort, your ideas) that means that I am paying attention to you. Imagine all of the things that I could be talking about that I am not. My time is precious and I am choosing to spend it on reviewing an IAS event. I will never be a member (or invited) to the IAS. I will never be funded by or published by the IAS. I don’t share a lot of affinity with the politics of the group, as I understand them, and yet here I am, caring enough about the project to think about it and sharing those thoughts publicly. To parse the IAS to an audience that would otherwise ignore them (perhaps rightfully).
Instead of feeling complimented, or even honored, the response is that I am somehow “out of box” because my perspective of the IAS, and their presentation, is not the one that they have of themselves or that they would prefer the public to have of them.
This kind of feedback, this suffocation, is exactly why people who have disparate world views tend to avoid one another. Why reinvent the wheel with every person you meet? Why argue about why criticism may be healthier and more useful than nodding your head in agreement? Why use public forums to talk about ideas where they will be “reality checked”? Why explain yourself when you are doing someone a service that may not be particularly helpful to them but may be helpful to others?
Frustration aside I will honor the IAS, and the other people who are interested in the IAS event, through my (!!!) editorial lens, with the rest of my thoughts about their event last weekend (now a couple weekends ago).
What was done well and not so well
The panel was well attended. Probably 60+ people who were engaged and didn’t interrupt the presentation in a way I usually would expect from a Bay Area event. I think the organizers of the event did a good job of “Internet outreach” which worked surprisingly well. There was representation of at least 1/2 of the Bay Area anarchist tendencies which is a pretty good showing of the popularity of the panelists and lack of general distain of the IAS by the Bay Area Anarchist fighting factions (BAAFF).
The presenters did not seem to ramble very much and completely filled 2 hours with words. This was one of the reasons that there were no interruptions is because the 3 people up front actually talked the entire time. They didn’t appear that they would have even stopped if it weren’t for the self-imposed time limit. This “east coast” style of the presentation was probably so shocking to the audience generally that they were stunned into silence. I doubt a second panel like this one would go as smoothly.
Instead of having a Q&A session they gave the audience 30 minutes to “share their thoughts” which was also a great technique of crowd control because instead of the rambling incoherent thoughts of people being directed at the three people up front (who may or may not have handled them well) they were diffused into the crowd, for long enough for the next person to start speaking.
There was surprisingly little hostility expressed from the crowd toward the presenters which I give credit to the IAS members for. By not engaging directly with potential and probable hostility (mostly by ignoring it), by talking the audience into submission (thought their own endurance and lack of breaks), and by leaving very little time for the drained audience to even respond they were successful in holding an event without acrimony. Perhaps also without the discussion they claimed to want, but definitely without rancor. These are all successes, of a sort.
What they didn’t do well was also what they did do well. This was not a discussion about anarchist strategy, this was a presentation of “the IAS approach” to strategy.
What does all of this mean?
At the end of the day the IAS approach is more like a category (or approaches) rather than a specific approach. It is humanist. It is dialectical. It is leftist. I say these terms not as pejoratives, although perhaps it is fair to say that they are that too, but as clarification to what would otherwise be a little confusing for me. I don’t exactly understand when I am listening to the arguments of the IAS members WHY I don’t feel comfortable with what they are saying but I really do. Not quite idiot shivers level of discomfort but something is wrong here and I search for the words. Right or wrong these three seem fair.
Bear with me while I work through something here, history of ideas style, relating IAS ideas and Murray Bookchin’s breaking down of of nature into first and second nature. The story goes that we (humans) are natural and part of biological evolution (aka first nature) but we (humans) are also unique (says Bookchin) in our social awareness and this is second nature. When I hear social ecologists, or really just people in the left who aren’t particularly deep green talk about the environment I usually wonder what in the hell they are talking about. This is why.
At the end of the day it just seems like they are interested in policy or the metaphysics of justice. I guess that is fine, not my thing, but just fine. I don’t understand the connection, it literally escapes me. Nature is just a word, sure, a metaphysical concept. That concept, that word, is a study, a concern totally unrelated to how we do, could, or should live in the world (natural or not). My sense is that the verbage. The terminology has fascinated a certain body of thinkers for too long and that they are confused about where the study begins and ends and where relationships are, and are not, mappable to that territory. More on this another time.
Next point. Humanism. I don’t consider humans to be at the center of my understanding about power relationships or at the center of my view of a better world. I understand that the conflict we are in is with humans but that just informs my understanding of humans as the enemy, not as the center. Anarchism as a humanist project feels like a poor fit. It makes sense if you want to leverage disciplines like social work, cooperatives, and social ecology into a form that is useful for anarchist analysis, or perhaps better said for analyzing anarchists and anarchism, but they continue to feel like projects with their own biases that are not commutable to the project of freeing us from hierarchy, power over, and the domination of exchange relationships.
Final point. Democracy. Democracy is not Anarchy. They are different political positions and the only reason one would try to conflate them is if ones goals are propagandistic, political (as in a politician) or (self)deceptive. I don’t understand why this is even a discussion. Actually it isn’t.
Before I dig into the event itself I’ll make a few introductory remarks. One, I like the presenters from the IAS. I personally find them to be engaged, interesting, and respectful people who I am going to try very hard not to slam in this report back because I don’t actually feel badly or angrily toward them. Their ideas are another matter.
In part one of this report back I am going to try to give a neutral report back of the events that transpired the evening of November 14th 2009 at Station 40. In part II I will try to analyze what I think the IAS did well, and not so well, on what I believe are their own terms. Finally, I will present my own analysis of the proposals, strategies, and opinions presented.
Starting around 7:15 (for a 7:00 event) the IAS members spoke for nearly two hours straight with almost no feedback from the crowd. The three presenters were Harjit Singh Gill, Joshua Stephens, and Cindy Milstein who spoke in this order. Harjit is a popular (in the social sense of the term) anarchist who has been active in the Bay Area for at least half a decade. Joshua is out of Washington DC and his most recent activities there have been around building a self-managed workplace (that walks dogs!). Cindy is a recent transplant to the Bay Area from Vermont where she is known as a protege (although she will probably find this unfair) of Murray Bookchin and organizer of the RAT Conference.
The questions that they asked and answered during their two hour presentation were (and these will be rough approximations because they only said them once (and quickly) and the questions weren’t entirely obvious to me from the answers):
1) What does it mean to take ourselves seriously? (as anarchists)
2) What is a theory of strategy that makes sense for anarchists?
3) What are specific examples of democratic strategies?
(here I will share notes rather than full writeup for sake of brevity and to prevent too many sidebars)
– Serious Harjit: Defined socialism broadly and anarchism as part of socialism. Spoke to the faith required to be an anarchist when there are so many examples of human failure. Also spoke of the ethical obligation to action rather than sitting on the couch and watching Lakers games. Described this kind of inaction as “nothing to it (anarchism)”. Concluded by saying that “With great power comes great responsibility”.
Joshua: Argues that the points of encounter should move from direct confrontation with authority and against the idea of “transformation on the barricades”. Instead argues that communication with clients (as a dog walker) is a more productive point of encounter in terms of sharing @ ideas. Is concerned with many of “our” ideas being co-opted, especially by the moderate left, like directly democratic decision making, perhaps being cherry picked by groups and people more mature than anarchists themselves. Told the story of a client who argues that the @ notion of transformation on the barricade goes against sense as our current condition reflects generations of socialization, ideological formation, trauma, etc. This client them makes the claim that economics is the study of human behavior as groups and provides better answers to questions about human potential and activity than anarchist triumphalism.
Cindy: Begins with the claim that our entire society are in a horizontalist period and we need to reclaim the term. Also argues that anarchists have a constellation of values that makes our “political offering” distinct (against capitalism, hierarchy, being holistic) and this begs the question…
Are we relevant? What is our message? What do we want to say?
Cindy’s answer seemed to be that we (@) need to problematize cracks as part of our strategy for winning.
– A Theory of Strategy
Harjit: Is a social worker who is paid by the county. Explains a theoretical underpinning to social work in the form of the 5 stages of change. They are
pre-contemplative – unaware problem exists with no intention of changing behavior
contemplative – becoming aware of problem but uncommitted to change
preparation – intend to change but without specific goal
action – when behavior changes and goals are attained
maintenance – consolidation of gains and prevention of relapse
His strategic observation is that if our goal is to win then we are best off being efficient about how we approach our goal. Most anarchists shoot themselves in the foot by trying to organize other anarchists who are often (usually?) in the pre-contemplative stage and not the action stage. The better strategy is to organize people who are already in the action stage, along anarchist lines, but who aren’t necessarily anarchist themselves. Put another way we should be organizing beginning with behaviors rather than opinions.
Joshua: Re-iterated Harjit’s point about behavior > claims of belief. Discussed an idea of “social capital” that was claimed to be the motivation of many (most?) anarchists who participate in “the scene” or the subcultural aspects of @ (dressing, food not bombs, WWW1). Reiterated Cindy’s message about the importance of our messaging especially when we do actions that aren’t comprehended easily (spectacular Whole foods expropriation or dumpstered food sharing as examples). Finally is concerned with the dominance of the “idols of the tribe” aka infoshops, FNB, Critical Mass, etc.
Cindy: Food is great but not a differentiator for @. We should work on projects that re-inscribe use value (exact quote). Examples have problems but…
1) Toronto’s use it or lose it bylaw campaign that would see abandoned buildings expropriated by the City redeveloped as affordable housing or community infrastructure along socially just lines. (editorial here
2) Time banks – exchange goods and services without using money. Instead, our members buy and sell services for Community Credits, a time-based currency.
3) Greece people’s park project (no link found) where an event was scheduled for land that transformed it into a multi-use park. “Taking things in common”
– Examples of action
Harjit: if the goal is to democratize strategy then
Lesson from RAC-LA: equality of action, go to people with the things they need (boxes of food), localism.
Joshua: Argued for starting a business (worker controlled) as a useful strategy. Business is the place to exploit the discursive vulnerabilities in capitalism (direct quote) regarding
This business can offer a reconstructive vision of
serving as an example
freelancer (immaterial labor) unity
Cindy: Says that the best strategy is strategies. Perhaps a wiki? Anarchists are very good at try, try, try & fail. We should hold an anarchist (strategy) summit where we call the shots. There may be oppression but it would be them coming to us and perhaps we could do something interesting about that. We should hash these ideas out with Discussion Bulletins (aka disco bull in L&R era). We need to work on our branding by being distinct, not apologizing, and looking good.