Entry 3 – British Columbia

I haven’t been away from my home keyboard setup for this long in a few years. The reason I know is because I haven’t read hundreds of @news comments. I have stopped caring about all of the updates of my “friends.” And I’m ambivalent about catching all of you up with my trip.

That’s not totally true of course. With my phone I have been updating snarky little bits about the daily life of my trip but that isn’t real. It’s just for a laugh. The real take away from this trip is a running series of thoughts about the people I’ve met, the incredible things I’ve seen, and how fast life goes when you’re actually living it. All that computer time, all those projects, as valuable, blah blah, just feels like something else. Something dumb.

British Columbia is lovely. It’s the place we’ll all run to when the world collapses. Denman Island both is and isn’t an idyllic environment to stage a revolution or to spin a nice interpretation of the bowl form. Not much else to say about there.


The ostensible reason I was on Vancouver Island was to go to a conference on Nihilism. Academic conferences are a trip. I guess I should try to go to them more often but they demonstrate so many strange things at the same time it’s hard to pin down just one to discuss. Here is a start. Thousands of dollars are spent to host an event that no more than 50 people passed through the entire weekend. It was mostly no more than half this number. It was mostly no more than a dozen who were not also presenters. Moreover the number of presentations that actually dealt with nihilist concepts, that attempted to tackle what it means to live without meaning (meta-narrative) or power were few. Like one hand few.

Doesn’t mean there weren’t quite a few interesting presentations. The most were the ones that conflated pessimism for nihilism (the few on David Foster Wallace were OK). The political presentations were mostly not good but there were some sparks. Maybe in five years these could be fanned into flames but the context is probably a wet blanket. It is probably not possible to suss out much in the way of detail about how to act in an age of political, social powerlessness. The professors hold the conversations hostage and the grad students do not dare offend them. The number of social actors was nearly zero. The conversations were only held between sessions and then mostly about popular theoreticians and brands.

It’s nice to be fed and given gas money but I hope for little but access to the next generation of para-academics at events like this. These are the people who I hope to collaborate with in the future.

The event at Camas that Sunday evening was of a different caliber. I’m not saying the difference was me but I could see at least three different levels of engagement in my presentation (at least two somewhat hostile) and there was at least some hope that I incensed a few people to further, future activity. That’s always the hope of course. Further engagement and interrogation along the lines of a fresh and painful view on the same old assumptions. I also appreciate the Camas model. They have figured out how to maintain a long term anarchist project and stayed humble in the face of it. It no longer looks like a subcultural anarchist project and I think that’s great.

Anyway I’m like 10 days past this on the trip so I’m going to post this and get started on entry 4 (From BC to MI).


NAASN 2015


I haven’t been blogging much lately. I’ve been feeling pretty low and unexcited about the anarchist space but didn’t want to devote much energy to complaining about it. I feel a bit better now. I participated in the 2015 NAASN gathering. I was motivated by Tom Nomad and his idea to discuss three perspectives on the role of anarchists in social movements. Tom, Doug and I gave presentations. I’ve attached the schedule and descriptions here.


Here is my presentation (more or less as a transcript). Enjoy!

Am I a pessimist?

so the first thing I want to say is that this panel (there are a couple others but very few this weekend) are sort of outside of the tradition of anarchist studies. to me, this is a good way to start thinking about what pessimism means.

I actually disagree with the premise (this is my habit, of course), I disagree with the premise of the question. So I’m here to represent the pessimistic, in this question, but I disagree with the premise. But to extend that a little, for me the pessimistic orientation, which I mostly do see as a modern, youth perspective… a pessimistic perspective sits on the outside as an observer, is disempowered, and sort of whines about how things are going, how shitty everything is, and how shitty everyone is. That’s the pessimistic position.

I would like to believe that I don’t do that at all. That my projects by and large (specifically Little Black Cart, but also certain web projects I do) has me absolutely engaged with the things that are happening around me and with this thing that I love, which I call anarchism.

I mention that because within the anarchist studies context, there is a quiet consensus that anarchism is a class-struggle perspective, and that anarchism is collegiate (because many of the people who are involved in anarchist studies together know that they will be seeing each other in sociology conferences, and what not, in the future; to some extent this is a wading pool for their bigger academic life, which—if they’re successful—they’ll actually have). so when you see the list of all the names, there’s a surprisingly small fraction of speakers who are outside of that tradition. One of the terms used to dismissively refer to these [outside-of-the-academic-tradition] people is “organic intellectuals;” and I guess i’m one of them.

I’m going to give a presentation from some notes that I wrote down, but I want to be cautious, because I know I’m liable to flights of fancy where people might not get the things I reference and could get confused. So I know that i’m somewhat notoriously incomprehensible. I apologize for that ahead of time and I’ll try to fill in a lot here, to make it clear what I’m trying to get at.

I’m here to represent the position with the absolute worst marketing in all of anarchism or even radical politics. I wish I could just blame bob black for this (which of course I can), but the amount of vitriol piled onto what is perceived to be my position is in absolute contrast to common sense. Whether you call it post left, anti left, anti organizational, anti civilization, or nihilist anarchy, it’s reviled from Bookchin to Zerzan. But at the end of the day, it is the anarchist position. It is an approach of utter hostility to the existing order, and or revulsion to most successful approaches to changing the world.

(That’s pretty clear.)

Where my position differs from my comrades here today is that I am not only opposed to successful approaches to changing the world–ie state communists, capitalists, technocrat– i’m also against failed approaches to changing the world. Every time I hear the word revolution, especially as it’s used by the class-struggle and struggle-struggle-all-the-time-strugglismos, what I perceive are plaintive wails of a failed secular crusade against the infidels.


To put this in some context, I think I, like many of you, began being a radical in the shadow of what felt like a very structured arrangement. Like, “Spain is the high point of anarchist struggle,” “things have gotten better over time” (so, a progressive story about history), and over time when I stopped thinking of these accepted premises as true, and started to think about what they meant, what they assumed, I found that there were fewer and fewer answers the further I went down this rabbit hole. So not to simplify too much, but one of the history of ideas that I think is absolutely to think about in the context of anarchism (this is actually talked about a lot in a book called Anti-Nietzsche, by Bell—he’s a marxist scholar who attempts to revile Nietzsche from a Marxist perspective but makes an interesting point that may be valid), the first rebels were the rebels who contemplated the possibility that there might not be a God. Sorry, let me make the big clarification, the first rebels in the western tradition, the tradition that most of us in this room are locked into. So the first rebellion was even opening up the idea that God wasn’t this omnipotent, singular, reflection. So it was only later that sort of sub-Gods began to be of concern; so what we now say is that anarchism is against capitalism and the state. That’s a later formation. The original heresy in the western tradition is just to be against God. This is because the western tradition at its very core is a christian, religious, judeo-christian formation. The way we think about logic, history, the progress of history, the way we metaphysically place ourselves in the universe, has an entire christian pedagogical terrain. And I think it’s fair to say that anarchism does the same thing, in almost all its iterations.

Last night there was a very nice presentation about anarcho-pacifism that left out the Jesus… but there’s plenty of Jesus in anarcho-pacifism. To me the striking thing is that in all the beautiful flourishes that we all cheer along to, from the stories that we heard last night, almost all those stories begin and end with a narrative that looks like salvation by way of revolution.

So the reason that I question the premise that i’m a pessimist is because I question the premise that a revolution will save us, that the french revolution model of transforming society and social relationships—not only whether or not it’s valid but whether or not it’s… the toolset is incomplete. And that’s entirely putting aside the fact that the western model and the western gaze here doesn’t describe much more than 25% of the world. It just happens to be the winning 25%, at least as we understand it today.

So there’s the context.


As for the rest of us, the dirty savages of daily life… we labor in silence, fully aware that we are not the future managers of society. We are not necessary or considered in regards to how to feed and water the masses. We’re nto invited to the organizational meetings, or the fashionable equivalents in the 21st century, sex parties, how to set up a commune or whatever, we scrape and scrabble merely to survive. So let me restate my premise in reference to our current impasse (an impasse referred to in the original text, something of what tom was talking about). In days of yore, we believed in the spirits of rocks, trees, lakes around us. Our deities were human-sized, and we had personal relationships with them, as is normal when the frame of your reference is small and human-sized. Eventually our deities organized themselves and found heroes, stories, morality. This was a nightmare because it grew our frame of reference outside the band, into a gang, and bullies started to find themselves. The rest of us suffered. Finally these pantheons had it out with one another, and ended up in really large stories, universal stories that raged across continents, cutting people down like trees, and forcing many of us to fight for their flags and holy trinities.

Lucky for some, at some point someone came up with a better version of this story, that spun fire and brimstone into inside heating and iphones. This modern story is one that agrees on all levels with the universal monotheistic religion, but calls it something else, humanity let’s say. It convinces because it has better songs, FM radio, and shit, but perhaps has made some sort of back room deal with monotheism, because the two don’t seem to squabble at all in public at this point. But from the perspective of an anarchist, those who fight for one are identical in every way to those who fight for jesus and would hand infidels from the walls of the city (except for terminology and a decided lack of passion… growing less as times goes on).

So stop wasting your time, fellow anarchists, with a failed modernist strategy of a crusade against society in all its forms. There is no path from here to there. Anyone who tells you differently is selling you an ideology, full stop. The things we should be doing together and apart is to create anarchic moments of our own, not merely in the reflection of cops’ riot masks, but in the interstitial spaces of a totalizing world that aspires to fill more and more of the spaces between us. If one aspires to activism, it should in growing and developing those interstitial spaces rather than defending spaces that are long gone.

The point is no longer to fight against symbols of bad as a solution to a world gone bad, but to fight as a matter of affect, to create a loving hostility, that’s the only thing that anarchy can be today.

Letter of Insurgents: The Great Lesson III

I am writing about this book again after years of absence, because of how formative the book was in my thinking about criticism (and specifically criticism as a form of communication and engagement with written material). The relationships in this story are still the model I use when considering what I mean and what I desire, when I engage in criticism with someone or some project. Criticism is the infinite pool that feeds me and the engagement I would like to have with my peers. But what I understand criticism to be, informed by this book, is very different than the way the term is used by others or practiced in the world.

Before I discovered a critical anarchist perspective (more on this terminology later) I was probably (cough) called a smart ass. Regardless of the situation, I would often question premise and presenter, which usually was at my expense. since I was not the student creating an optimal teaching experience for the teacher and alert students alike. I sat squarely in the middle, in a haze of my distaste for the mix of social interactions, control, and knowledge-without-context. I was not smart enough to have found my own way out of this mix and did not have a guide (until much later) to demonstrate how the pieces of institutional life worked together in creating an environment that priveleged certain kinds of attention and ability.

I did have humor, sharpened at the kitchen table, with which I was able to pop the balloon of pomposity and skewer the situations of ennui. It wasn’t enough to be considered truly funny (what do I look like, a clown?) or to have a lasting impact, but I had enough abundance that aligned suppressive forces were not able to exhaust it. This instinctual critical outlook hasn’t exactly served me well from either a social or logistical perspective. It has cost me many friends and has made my work life… challenging.

The relationships in Letters of Insurgents still work for me as examples of the kinds of critical relationships I would have liked to have had with my peers, but that moment is gone. We are all moving too fast and our own ability to have relationships is curtailed by our desire to avoid… ourselves? drama? patience? inhumanity? ambivalence? We have these kinds of closenesses in quiet spare moments between the maelstrom of schedules and pressure.

I wanted to get into a couple of the themes I missed from the last chapter that still have me thinking. I begin my reading of chapter 3 by way of review.

Memory, Precision, & Accuracy

I’m not. after all, competing in a memory contest, nor writing a history, nor am I engaged in scholarly research into my past… By eliminating this standard you’re left with nothing but the world as it is. If you deprive yourself of the ability to see what people can be and what life can be you’ll only be able to see what they are and you’ll conclude that’s all they can be.

– Sophia (2)

On re-reading this I am not concerned with the disingenousness of the statement but with the way that it demonstrates that we, individually, value our recollections (as data) differently than we value our interpretation of them. This statement is particularly striking in a letter that is, for all intents and purposes, a correction to Yarostan’s fierce criticism of Sophia and the project that they had together. Yarostan is talking about interpretations of an incontrovertable piece of information (very simple facts as a matter of fact). “We lost and our project has been shown wanting.”

In my social circles I am apt to making flippant comments like “there are two kinds of people, copy editors and the rest of us.” This is in reference to a kind of one part personality and one part vocational approach that some of my closest friends make towards information. The precision of the comma placement, the font choice, the punniness of a turn of phrase becomes the all consuming topic of conversation, for which there is no recourse but to wait out the quibbling and sorting out of details before a conversation can move on. The sorting out of the exact date of Franco’s crossing of a certain latitudinal axis far more important than the entire military context that this crossing occured within. The tree is actually more important, or more of a topic of fascination and compulsion, than one thousand forests.

This relates to Sophia’s letter in that she is actually exactly engaging herself in a memory contest. She is trying to win a sense of victory over her own understanding of the events that took place many year ago. Her perception is blocking her memory.

No, I’m no longer angry. I’m frustrated. For twenty years I longed to tell you about myself, if not in letters then in a novel which was addressed to you even if it never reached you. I wanted to tell you about my life because I thought I’d lived up to what you might have wanted me to be. I looked at myself through what I took to be your eyes and I wasn’t ashamed. I was in fact somewhat proud of myself. Not altogether. I hadn’t taken part in the overthrow of the ruling system. But I hadn’t succumbed to it either.

-Sophia (3)

I believe that many, if not most, of my copy editor friends suffer this particular frustration. On the one hand they have a precise understanding of the number of gravel stones they have passed to get from there to here but on the other aren’t quite sure how the path ended up being such a treacherous journey in the first place. The gravel had no impact on the elevation changes of the journey. (you will be amused that my favorite local copy editor made a note here… kiss my ass)

Perhaps this is a story about the Western conception of time. That story goes somthing like: time is a linear progression of thens to nows, past through present to future. We, as residents of this flow, start at a point and end up a little further down the way. In the greater scheme of things our journey is but a blip but it can be mapped on the greater plain of social life.

A different story is that there is only one time. Now. We live in the now and the memories or hopes that connect us to the past or future are tenuous and are related to where we are now and not what we were at another time. Two people’s very different interpretations of similar events is easier to understand when the relationship they have to former events is understood to have been to different “nows” entirely.

Perhaps the physical properties of light can provide some insight into this metaphor (which is largely what time is). Light is comprised of charecteristics of both a wave (like an ocean wave) and a particle (like a bullet moving much much faster). This dual property is why light can have both a speed and be visible to the eye. Why light can literally push on an object (see solar sails) and be amplified with refraction. Lived experience has something of a dual property where facts stream by at a pace akin to infinity and are related to us to the extent to which we can pull units of them (quantum) out into a comprehendible form . The amount and type of evaluation we perform to choose our quanta with which to measure and calculate our “us-ness” has to be mostly random and only partially willful. But perhaps this speaks to my own lack of valorization of the individual.


I have written about nihilism other places. 1, 2 I can be described as someone who is friendly to hopelessness and unfriendly to much of modern idealistic thought (whether in politics or philosophy). I use nihilism as a blanket term to describe these inclinations but only as tempered through the, dare I say ethical, lens of an anarchist pedegogical approach.

Many of the themes I consider important along these lines are covered by Yarostan, especially in letter 2, and they begin with this.

When the strikes and demonstrations ended, when most workers realized the carnival was over and returned to work, our group continued to perform its show. We were still printing posters, glueing “Factories to Workers” on recently cleaned walls, shouting about the workers’ commonwealth. At that point we became dangerous, because at that point people like us elsewhere saw that at least some had meant what they said and that the performance of a play had not, been the only possibility. If others didn’t realize this, at least the authorities thought they did.” Only at that point did we begin to “act on our own,” but we weren’t aware of this. We were so carried away by our performance that we failed to see that the curtain had fallen and the carnival had ended.

-Yarostan (2)

Which so clearly echoes one of my favorite definitions of nihilism by Vasily Vasilievich Rozanov that they should be considered together.

The show is over. The audience get up to leave their seats. Time to collect their coats and go home. They turn round…No more coats and no more home.

The story of the kind of revolution considered in Letters of Insurgents (a shadow puppet play still being performed today, with its echoes of the French Revolution and the idea of a complete change of the political terrain by a willful social body) is over. It is a gorgeous story that we should remember–perhaps doing annual reenactments–but the seamlessness of the existing order is unassailable. This isn’t to say it is infinite or forever but it is outside of the capacities of any sociological category to overcome. The existing order, to the extent that it exists, sees danger coming a mile away.

Moreover, to the extent that resistance to the existing order has shown itself to be successful in the short term, it is usually at a great cost. For most of us the cost is greater than, or as great as, the cost of the status quo. This makes the desire for total transformation at odds with an honest self assessment of what will be brought about by particular actions in the here-and-now.

I am falling further behind but I want to get this up and clearly I am barely done with my thoughts on chapter 2. In a few days I’ll update again and plan on then being caught up by chapter 5.