Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Space for Me

I recently posted something on my Facebook account that caused some question among folks. It is:

"I am now officially a member of the Planetary Society. I actually feel better about being a part of and supporting this, moreso than any other political project that I can think of, radical or mainstream."

Behind this statement is a bunch of stuff that lead me to want to write that. Let me elaborate...

For the past few months I have been feeling increasingly disappointed, disillusioned and ultimately disgusted with the subculture, or subcultures, that call themselves "anarchist". I have already written about this before, so you may be asking, what else is new? Well, what's new are a couple of different recent incidents, including my favorite anarchist book publisher and one of my favorite anarchist authors having a very public falling-out, a big public spectacle around the purging of a well-known anarchist author for being a white nationalist, and some anarchists where I live here in Minneapolis resorting to using the powers of the U.S. federal government to resolve a dispute between them and another group of local anarchists.

This is not to say that there are absolutely no projects out there that are anarchist, or anarchistic, that I do not find to be inspiring or at least interesting. The part of the world known as "Rojava" continues to hold much promise in this regard, although in many ways it is off-limits to Westerners since going there can get one jail-time (since many Western governments officially consider the PKK to be "terrorists") and they do not speak English there anyway, they speak the Kurdish language. Also, the Federation of Egalitarian Communities seems very exciting to me nowadays, with a number of new communities forming that want to be a part of it, including a number of new forming urban communities. Neither of these two projects, however, adorn themselves with the label "anarchist".

Regarding my own affiliation with anarchism, some friends and myself recently recorded a podcast conversation where I elaborated upon my own perspectives on things, and subsequently this conversation was roundly ignored by other anarchists, except for people expressing upset about the website where this recording resides. Also, for a while now I have considered myself to be a "Buddhist anarchist", and now I see that the Wikipedia entry on "Buddhist Anarchism" no longer exists, and instead searching for that term takes one to the entry on Gary Snyder. Taken altogether, this leads me to feel as if I have no space for me within the "anarchist" subculture, that whatever space I might have had within it has been dismissed.

Coincidentally, I now have a job where much of my time and energy goes to (is sucked into) this job. Yes, this is one, among many, signs of the soul-crushing nature of capitalism, wage-slavery, civilization, what-have-you, but like what has happened to me before, having this job enables me to redirect my energy away from feeling invested in the failing project of "anarchism" and into something else, something that is actually making me some money.

I do, however, still feel a need to be a part of something and to belong with a group of people who are doing things that I more or less believe in. Just having a job, residing in an apartment building and consuming things does not meet these needs for me. Enter: The Planetary Society. I was once a member of this organization way back, like when I was a young teenager. Then my interest drifted apart from them, and I pretty much forgot about them for a long time. In recent years they have once again entered my sphere of awareness, mainly because of the new leadership of the organization, under the helm of the big charismatic media personality Bill Nye. The world of space science has been quite exciting and interesting in recent years, what with the landing on the comet that happened last year, the New Horizons probe exploring of Pluto, the recent confirmation of water on Mars, and the continuing discovery of planets that are very similar to Earth. The Planetary Society itself has also had a big success with it's recent test flight of a solar-powered spacecraft.

You may be wondering now why I have this interest in all this space stuff. The reason is that I view all life on this planet as being inter-connected, and that with human beings especially we are all in it together, with all of our actions affecting each-other, for better and for worse. We all share the same planet, and if we try hard enough, we can even transcend this planet to go on to other places as well. I see space science and exploration as being something that has the potential to unite humanity in ways that are more productive and forward-thinking than the old ways based on nationalism, political ideology and religion. Surviving and going deeper into outer space requires systems thinking and serious thought about what is necessary for life to survive and thrive. This line of thinking is also desperately needed right now regarding our own ecological situation here on Earth. I am hoping that these kinds of thoughts about other planets and such could also carry over to our thinking about our own home planet right now.

I also have to say that it is a relief for me to not be thinking so intently about various political things all the time, nor to get caught up in a vortex of self-reflective navel-gazing, and to instead think about other things in this universe above and beyond all that we know. So, that is where I am at right now.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Reflections from traveling around the world

I recently got back from an epic trip around the world. It was by means of traveling east, first to Virginia and New York City, then to India (New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Dharmsala), then to Macau and Hong Kong, followed by Tonga and New Zealand, and finishing up in California and Oregon before heading back home to Minneapolis where the trip all began. The trip started in September of last year (2014) and ended a couple of weeks ago (July, 2015). Out of all of the international places, Tonga was the one that I spent the most time at (five months), followed by India and Macau where I spent a month and a half at each, followed by Hong Kong and Auckland, New Zealand where I spent a week at each.

People have occasionally asked me what I learned or gained from all of this. I am sorry to disappoint, but there are no big insights, no profound revelations, no shattering revelations, transformations, what-have-you, to pass on to you from all of this. I am still the same person today that I was when I started the trip. This is not to say that changes and insights did not occur during the trip, it's just that I have no grand story or package-of-insight to give you. Everything is all fits-and-starts, scattered and diffuse stuff.

Hands down, my favorite part of the trip was India. This is a place with a whole lot of everything: people, history, ideas, sights, sounds, smells, dangers, delicacies, kindnesses, cruelties, good and bad. We only saw a tiny smidgen of the country, with most of our time spent up in the Dharmsala area which is in the Himalaya mountain region. Of the whole India experience, my favorite part of that was my volunteering at a Vipassana Meditation course at the Himachal Vipassana Centre. This is because I felt actively engaged with something, a part of something, belonging to a group and a team with a clear mission and purpose. This provided an appropriate container for lots of weird and crazy shit to happen, and for me to be able to handle and weather it all with grace and fortitude. Such a situation could be replicated elsewhere, but since this experience occurred in India specifically, it provided me with a unique introduction to many of different aspects of Indian life, in addition to the usual profound benefits that Vipassana practice offers.

One tendency that I noticed in all of the overseas locations that we visited was for Westerners to mainly socialize with other Westerners, despite being in another foreign culture. This happened to me in India, Macau and Tonga, and I suppose that this is just the usual pattern of like associating with like. It did help me to learn more about other Western cultures outside of the U.S., but that was not my intention in going to these places in the first place. It was damned annoying, in a way, while at the same time also providing me comfort and solace as well. It did detract from me pursuing my purpose with this trip.

So what was my purpose for this trip anyway? It was basically to just get away, far away, from my regular life and routines that I had in the U.S. I quit my job and moved out of my apartment before going and then I set off to go experience places and things different from what I was previously used to in the U.S. I had already done extensive traveling within the United States before all of this, so I figured that it was time for me to see what it is like in other countries as well. The purpose was simply that of personal exploration of other places and experiencing something different from my norm. That is it.

This trip generally accomplished this goal. For example, in Tonga, where I spent the most time at during all of this traveling, I worked as a volunteer at a school with children. I had previously not worked with children or in a school setting before. This was new to me. It brought up many memories for me of my own school experiences as a child, and I witnessed much of the same bullshit there as I did when I was child going through the whole thing the first time around. The difference was that this was in Tonga instead.

That was one revelation right there: I do not want to willingly contribute to something that I consider to be bullshit, and not be paid for it. I view employment as generally-speaking being a situation where one is paid money in order to spend one's limited time on earth and scarce personal energies towards contributing to something that is more or less anti-life. But, in the hostage situation that is capitalism, at least one is being paid for it and can therefore continue to live. So, I would be willing to work at a school again, the only difference is that next time I will go in with no blinders on, no illusions of grandeur (not that I had much of these to begin with), and would be paid for my efforts.

This brings me to another topic - that of international "voluntourism". I recently came across an article that summarizes my thoughts on this topic nicely, which can be found here. The succinct summary of it all, found within this article itself, is: "without knowledge of language, local culture, societal nuances, and the economical framework of the community, this type of “voluntourism” is sometimes wasteful at best, and possibly destructive to the community at worst."

My experience with "voluntourism" overseas is that it was mainly involved in setting up systems and patterns of doing things that the local people had no interest in and most likely were not going to continue after I left. In other words, it was a nice public gesture but ultimately a waste of time and effort. The one possible benefit was that the people I interacted with, especially the children, might possibly remember me in the future and hopefully it will be some kind of a positive, constructive memory, and not just a meaningless novelty.

As far as working with children goes, I am referring here mainly to my time in Tonga, although I did also volunteer briefly in a school in India as well. I found the most meaningful experiences out of all of that to be those that took place outside of the established curriculum, where I was interacting directly with the actual sincere interests of the students. For me, this took place mainly with the subjects of history, geography, science and library science. I was not officially assigned to work with the kids on any of these subjects - I was technically assigned to work with them on their literacy skills and math. Neither me nor the kids were generally interested in those subjects when we were together, so as a result I believe that very little learning actually took place with those subjects.

One thing that stood out for me with all of these travels was how I stood out as a white person. In India crowds of people would stare at me as I went by, since I was a white guy in a sea of non-white people. I was stared at, pointed at, and publicly remarked upon as a white person in Tonga as well and frequently would hear the word "Palangi" uttered in my presence, which means "white person". My assumption is that for many people, white skin = lots of money, so people were probably looking at me as a walking moneybag from a faraway land. This experience, combined with what I said earlier about "voluntourism" leads me to think that simply giving money to trustworthy local charities is probably more effective in actually helping people than going to distant countries to volunteer there.

In all of these countries I definitely felt like I was largely running on a designated tourism track, part of some vast international Tourism-Industrial Complex. I do not necessarily see this as being a bad thing in and of itself, it is a series of jobs like any other job that people perform, an industry within capitalism like any other. Tonga was definitely the least developed country in every respect that I visited, and it's tourism industry was the least developed of them all as well. Tonga does have a number of genuinely beautiful "tropical island paradise" locations, and I think that if one wanted to go to some far off location to get away from the maddening crowds and to just read, write and meditate in peace, then Tonga would be the place to go for that (assuming you brought everything that you need for that with you).

A commonality that struck me through all of the different countries that I went to was the global rise of China as an international super-power. First off, we spent a lot of time in Dharmsala, India, which is the center of the "Tibetan Government in Exile", with a massive population of Tibetans who moved there to escape the Chinese conquest of Tibet that took place in the 1950's. Then in Macau we were there to witness the massive celebrations for the 15th anniversary of the official handover of Macau to the People's Republic of China from Portugal. And in Tonga the society there is experiencing a large influx of Chinese moving there and setting up successful businesses while the Tongan government is going increasingly into debt to the Chinese government with little hope of ever being able to pay it off. We also went to Hong Kong, which was handed over to the Chinese government from the British in 1997, and New Zealand which has received a massive influx of Chinese immigrants, the largest Asian ethnic group in New Zealand. These are all different ways and means of growing Chinese influence and dominance over the world.

Despite the rising Chinese influence, though, my being an American citizen was like a gold standard everywhere I went. It was a sure thing for people to know about the U.S., to generally appreciate the U.S., and to express a desire to me to want to visit or re-visit the U.S. if they could. I often met people from other countries who knew more about some aspects of U.S. culture than I did. The desire for U.S. cultural products was prevalent everywhere I went, and I had no worry about being kept up-to-date on the newest movies coming out of Hollywood.

I had an eye out for anarchist groups everywhere I went, and was basically unsuccessful everywhere I went, with the one notable exception of Hong Kong. In Hong Kong I visited two different anarchist cultural spaces, a bookstore and a collectively owned cafe. This was nice except for the fact that everything was in Chinese so I had very little understanding of the particulars of what was going on there. In Auckland, New Zealand I had the address for an anarchist social center, and when I went there I found an abandoned empty space that was up for sale or lease. India, Macau and Tonga were complete blank slates as far as anarchist activities goes. I do believe that the potential exists in these different countries, if one were to go there with an anarchist missionary zeal and was able to speak the local languages. I, however, went to these places with neither of those.

As far as international traveling itself goes, this is something that I am interested in pursuing again in the future. I would want a more clearly defined intention and purpose before setting out, however, and the vague do-gooding "voluntourism" methodology is not something that I would want to pursue further. I would also want some different destinations as well, to see some places that are new to me. But the desire for more travel and to see more different things is still there.

Also, the fact that I did these travels together with my wife, Liz, is a significant factor in this whole trip. It adds a whole new dimension of richness to be able to experience things together in partnership with someone with whom you are close with, and for this I am very grateful to have been able to do this traveling together with her.

One thing that I do realize upon returning to the U.S. is how odd this experience makes me in comparison to so many others who have not had comparable experiences themselves. This general phenomena is nothing new for me, but it is something that I find to be somewhat sad. It is not at all unique to the U.S. either, since I met many people in India and Tonga for whom the idea of doing big international travel trip was completely out of the question for them. A lot of this has to do with financial concerns, I realize this, but nonetheless I do find it to be sad. It has been said that historically one of the biggest motivators for international travel for people has been war and displacement. My desire is for a world completely different, where this was not the case, and where people could view world travel as being a realistic and desirable option for them, among other things. Ultimately, though, I do think that we need a whole new world in order for most people to be able to go out and see the world. I'm down for that.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

There has been an ongoing debate, or controversy (depending on one's frame of mind), that I have been aware of pretty much the entire time that I have been an anarchist, and at various points it has even had some big effects on my own life. I am referring here to the infamous debate between the “anarcho-capitalists” and the “regular” anti-capitalist anarchists.

This debate has been taking place in some form continuously since the 1990’s when the internet first started becoming a big thing. I have yet to find any evidence that this debate was taking place before the internet, which leads me to suspect that this is essentially an internet phenomena. Nevertheless, this is certainly taking place now and this has been having a big effect on online discussion spaces that are adorned with the label “anarchist”.

The issue is this: in the 1960’s, about one hundred years after “regular” anti-capitalist anarchist started up, a radical laissez-faire economics philosopher in the U.S. named “Murray Rothbard” decided to create a new ideology by fusing together the individualist anarchist philosophy of Benjamin Tucker and his “Liberty” magazine cohorts with the philosophy of classical Liberalism and the political-economic approach of the “Austrian school of economics”. As a result of this, various friends and disciples of Murray Rothbard generally started adopting the label of “anarchist”, and more specifically, the label of “anarcho-capitalist” came into existence. That trend has continued on to this day, and it appears to be growing, although there is no way to accurately assess numbers on this. This social milieu of “anarcho-capitalists” mainly appears to stay within the social venues adorned with the label “Libertarian”, but with the advent of the internet they have been found in online “anarchist” discussion forums as well. And that is where the conflict begins.

To summarize the problem, imagine the philosophy of “anarchism” as being a kind of big family, comprised of different distinct yet related ideologies all living together under the same roof. Then imagine “anarcho-capitalism” as being a distant cousin to that family, related, yes, but through a common relative who passed away long ago whom most family members forgot even existed. Now imagine that this cousin is somebody who talks a lot, and loudly, and who behaves in a way that most of the family members view as being both strange and irritating. This cousin now wants to come over to the house all the time, they invite themselves over to every family gathering and Sunday dinner, and also have invited some other cousins in who are similar to him. This is basically what is happening with the “anarchism” vs. “anarcho-capitalism” debacle.

Philosophically-speaking, anarchism and anarcho-capitalism are on the same page in that both are ostensibility anti-state and for purely voluntary, consensual relationships and free association. The world of industry and corporations as we know them have always existed because of the strong support of the state, and the world that the anarcho-capitalists argue for has technically never existed. And there lies a big source of the conflict - what the anti-capitalist anarchists and the anarcho-capitalist anarchists are advocating for has never really existed in either case. Some small, temporary, fleeting examples may have existed long ago in the past, but there are no good real-life examples of what they want to see in the world to point to in either case. In their arguments with each other they each try to hit the other over the head with examples that do not really represent what the other is actually advocating for. In the case against the anarcho-capitalists, the horrors of global corporate capitalism are given. In the case of the anti-capitalist anarchism, the atrocities of the various “communist” regimes are listed. Neither of these really apply, because what each side is arguing for is a castle in sky - a fantasy that has never existed in reality.

Then there is the recurrent topic of “What would an anarcho-X society look like?” I want to point out that all speculation about these ideal future anarchist societies is essentially just science fiction. It is the same kind of gee-whiz mentality about how humans can be in future worlds. Which is not a bad thing, but it is not in any way indicative of "the way that things will be" in any kind of anarchist society. I say that a "future anarchist society" will be a crazy unpredictable thing, because human beings are often crazy and unpredictable. What I believe a real anarchist society would look like, if one were to ever be created, is whatever the people involved with it would want it to look like. This could be anything. The future is completely indeterminate and unpredictable. To have it be enforced to look any one particular way is to have a state in place.

I would like to see less emphasis being placed on the imaginary future utopian society that our valiant armies of anarchist revolutionaries (or insurrectionaries, or organizers, or agorists, or whatever) are supposedly fighting for. Also, less emphasis on the dystopian hell-holes that our supposed enemies are scheming to imprison us in. Instead, I would like to see more focus on the world that we live in here and now, the current trajectories that it is set on, and our options within it.

When it comes down to it, the actual real-life practice, or praxis, of anarchists of all stripes is not all that different. The anti-capitalist anarchists like to paint the anarcho-capitalists as all being well-funded and on the payroll of the large corporations of the world, and likewise the anarcho-capitalists all like to paint the anti-capitalist anarchists as having the armies of Stalinist Russia all laying dormant waiting at their beck and call. The reality is that both sides are comprised of some rather unspectacular people. We are all pretty much working class people from Western countries, with the surveillance state and law enforcement looking on at our every move. We are also all marginalized, misunderstood weirdos, as far as how our political beliefs relate to those of mainstream society. What we do in response to all of that, in terms of real-life anarchist projects of subversion and survival, is where we have much to learn from each-other.

For example, the anarcho-capitalist concept of Agorism, or “counter-economics”, of living financially outside of the state’s economy, could be of much benefit to anti-capitalist anarchists. Likewise, the anti-capitalist practice of having cooperatives and collectives to live outside of the corporate system and to do away with having bosses could be of great benefit to those who want more freedom in their lives. Can we have counter-economic cooperatives, perhaps?

One of the basic arguments against working with the other side is that they are all a bunch of assholes. It’s hard to argue with that, since you should work with who you want to work with and not be forced with anyone you don’t want to be with. Having some degree of affinity and trust with those whom one is working with is essential towards projects of any kind being successful. That being said, I have met a number of complete jerks and assholes among BOTH the anarcho-capitalists and the anti-capitalist anarchists. I can honestly say that neither side holds a monopoly in this area. Likewise, I have also met a number of different really awesome people in both camps, and I think that both “sides” contains some really talented and intelligent folks.

The incessant debating and arguing can still happen, and probably will continue on until the end of time. The important thing is that the quality of these interactions change for the better. For example, are people learning anything new from these exchanges, or are preconceived views just becoming further entrenched? Is any kind of creativity or innovation taking place, or are old arguments just being rehashed and recycled? Is any kind of mutual understanding being developed, or is each person just focusing on their own particular opinions and perspectives on the world? Interactions between people can be toxic and lead to dead-ends, or they can help lead to the positive growth and development of those involved in them.

What I would like to see come out of the continued interactions of the anti-capitalist anarchists and the anarcho-capitalists is NOT seeing one side acquiesce to becoming a bunch of ruthless capitalists or control-freak communists, but to rather have those engaged become individuals who have more capacity and skill at living free lives, which hopefully can develop into an inter-connected culture of more effective resistance to the state and all of the different forces that would have us not be free. I can only hope that this particular culture clash between two peoples that are so seemingly strange and alien to each other can be a learning ground for better navigating all of the different social attitudes and cultures that exist among people throughout the world. Differences exist between people, both in this world now and in whatever future utopian society our imagination is preoccupied with, and the sooner we learn how to more productively and harmoniously deal with these differences, the better off we will be.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

My Top Ten Recommended Areas of Change for the NVC Network

The NVC (which is short for Nonviolent Communication) world seems to be in an interesting position right now. The founder/creator Marshall Rosenberg recently passed away and the international organization that owns the trademark and coordinates many things related to it, the CNVC (short for Center for Nonviolent Communication), is currently in the midst of a lot of different re-evaluation and restructuring. The time is ripe for changes in the NVC world.

I, for one, am really happy and excited to see this window of opportunity open. For quite a number of years I have strongly desired great changes to take place in the NVC world, in hopes of having NVC grow, reach out, and be more effective with different people around the world. In the last few years my despair about these changes happening has led to me pretty much pulling away from actively engaging with the NVC world and instead just observing it from a distance. Perhaps now is an opportunity for some of the changes that I would like to see to come about, and if so, I would like to do what I can to assist this in happening.

To clarify about what specifically I would like to see changed in the NVC world, here are ten areas that I would like to see worked on:

1) Abolish NVC Certification. It appears to me that for quite a while now a whole lot of time and effort has been put into the CNVC "certified trainers" program. This, in my eyes, is a lot of time, energy and resources that could be better spent in other places. The intention behind the official CNVC certification process is to protect and preserve the integrity of NVC. I do not believe that this succeeds in fulfilling this purpose. For one, I have met and seen a lot of people who are officially NVC certified trainers who have not expressed NVC in ways that I view as being in integrity with the NVC process. At the same time, I have also met quite a number of different NVC enthusiasts and trainers who I consider to have a great deal of skill and integrity with expressing NVC, and these people do not have and never have had any interest in becoming an NVC certified trainer. I have also seen people "get the wrong impression about NVC" by the words and/or actions of countless different people, some of whom are and others who are not official CNVC certified trainers. If the general integrity of NVC is lost then it will go not because of the actions of certified trainers, but because of the general behavior of NVC enthusiasts everywhere. Therefore the "certified trainer" label is arbitrary and unnecessary. With that being the case, the focus then needs to be shifted to that of more effectively supporting with integrity everyone within the NVC network. (also, if you're interested, I recommend that you read this piece by Carl Rogers which expresses a lot of my own views on certification and licensing.)

2) Focus more on ways and means for NVC people to more easily connect and collaborate with each-other directly. I would like to see the NVC network be oriented more towards peer-to-peer support and connection, and less on looking towards any one particular person or group of people for direction. Towards this end, I would like to see either the CNVC web-site be designed to support NVC enthusiasts in being better able to find each other based on any number of different criteria, be it geographical location, common interests or desired project to work on. Likewise, I would like to see the site designed to make it easier for people to meet and form ad hoc groups to work on whatever common projects they would like to initiate. I acknowledge that in recent years the CNVC website has been greatly improved towards this direction, however much more can still be done in these regards. Similarly, I also see the groups of NVC people on Facebook as having been developing a lot more towards these ends as well, as far NVC people finding and supporting each-other in different ways. So the specific means for NVC people to find each other, be it the CNVC website, different Facebook groups, or something else is not important as long as more effort goes towards developing this further towards being more effective and useful.

3) Focus more on publishing/producing new and different NVC voices. For many people the NVC message is synonymous with the name "Marshall Rosenberg", and vice versa. Very few other authors have been published in the NVC world, or if they have, not that many NVC enthusiasts know of their work. I would like to see more of a variety of work from different NVC authors made available. This applies to audio and video, as well as written works. I would also like to see the authors be more people from outside the standard demographics found in the NVC subculture. More people of color, people who are not middle-aged and people who are not from North America, Western Europe and Australia should be sought out to have their work published/produced.

4) Create and proliferate more NVC gatherings/events that are outside of the traditional workshop/training model. Personally, I am not interested in going to another NVC workshop, nor do I want to go to some structured NVC event where some leader/organizer has activities planned for me to do. At the same time, I am interested in learning more NVC and connecting more with people in NVC environments. I am guessing also that there are a whole lot of other people out there in the world who could be interested in learning NVC, but who would never want to go to a workshop or a retreat. This leads me to think that there has to be other different ways for people to intentionally be together in-person without replicating the workshop or retreat models. Experimentation and creativity is needed here! For example, how about we experiment with having free and open NVC gatherings and events in public places, such as parks and parking lots? The intentional space for practicing NVC can be created by the organizers of the event, and the borders of the space can be left wide open for new people from the outside to wander in and experience what we have to offer. This can be one new way that we can introduce and promote NVC to the wider world, by offering people a direct lived experience of it.

5) Digitize and offer free of charge more NVC materials online, audio, video or text. Increasingly, more people are learning about NVC through the internet. For example, lots of people are becoming NVC enthusiasts by watching NVC videos on Youtube, or reading articles online about NVC. With this being the case, we can assist this process by adding more of the NVC materials that exist, be it audio, video or text material, onto the internet free of charge. I emphasize the "free of charge" aspect, because charging for things is indeed a barrier. Often if people see a charge associated with something, their attention just moves on to something else, something that is free of charge.

6) Develop more of a grounding in the world of empirical research and academia. The lineage that NVC comes from can be traced to the work of the psychologist Carl Rogers and his Person-Centered Therapy. However, ever since Marshall Rosenberg left the world of professional clinical psychology and went off on his own to create "Nonviolent Communication", NVC has pretty much been cut off from the worlds of research and scholarship and stranded in the world of self-help. This can be rectified. NVC enthusiasts who have ties to academic institutions can work towards bringing greater awareness of NVC, as well as promote research and studies of NVC. For example, the questions of "When does NVC help people?", "How does NVC help people?" and "What exactly do people do with NVC that is helpful?" can be studied with a lot more rigor and depth if NVC was applied to the standards of empirical research.

7) Develop an NVC approach to economics that is needs-based and willingness-based. Questions of economics comes up a lot in the NVC subculture, whether it be matters of how to fund NVC events and organizations, how to maintain the livelihoods of NVC trainers or how to enable the participation of interested people who are unable to afford to attend NVC trainings. Some effort has already been made towards elaborating on what an NVC-based gift economy could entail, but I think that this is an area where a great deal more potential exists. One area of investigation that more can be gained from for this endeavor is the work of Manfred Max-Neef. Max-Neef is a Chilean economist whose work Marshall Rosenberg got the concept for "fundamental human needs", that was later incorporated into NVC. Max-Neef originally used that concept for his work in economics, and given that NVC enthusiasts are already familiar with the concept of fundamental human needs, I believe that there are already good grounds here for expanding upon a new vision for NVC-based economics. The key here is an economics that focuses on meeting as many different needs for as many different people as possible, as much of the time as possible, with all actions being carried out willingly.

8) Reach out to and strengthen the NVC ties with the world of activism and political organizing. This is an area where a great deal of work has already been done, including by myself. However, the work that has been done here has mainly been for those who hold some particular kinds of political orientations, namely, liberals, progressives and leftists. Other kinds of political perspectives exist whose adherents have never been introduced to NVC. What about the conservatives? The Tea Party people? The Christian right? Additionally, the work that already has been done with activists and political minded-people has mainly been of the one-shot introduction variety or offering people empathy at protests. Much room exists for more in-depth and substantial work to be carried out with integrating NVC and activism.

9) Establishing guidelines or protocols for emotional processing sessions One of the ways that NVC can be used is for deep emotional healing. It can be really powerful and helpful in this regard, and undoubtedly a lot of different people have received benefit from this. At the same time, a lot of the big emotional processing sessions that take place at NVC events can also go in very negative and unhealthy directions as well. This can range from sessions that go on too long and are emotionally draining for those involved, to at worst, situations where important boundaries are crossed and that could be categorized as being a form of "abuse". With this being the case, I think that if some clarified standards and procedures regarding emotional processing sessions were written up and distributed throughout the NVC world that this could go a long way towards having these activities being more healing and less damaging for those involved.

10) Focus on translating NVC learning materials into the various languages most spoken by the human race. Some of the top ten most spoken languages in the world have very few NVC materials available in that language. For example, Mandarin, Hindi, Arabic, Bengali and Punjabi are all languages used by a substantial part of the world population, yet very few if any NVC materials are available in these languages. This in my eyes is a great barrier to NVC spreading around the world to places other than North America, Western Europe, or Australia. The translation of NVC materials could take place in an organized and systemic way, and one of the benefits of having a global organization is that efforts like this could more easily be coordinated through it.

I will wrap up what I have to say here with this. I invite dialogue and conversation about what I said here, either on this blog itself or in NVC forums and venues elsewhere. These are all areas where I would like to see more discussion on, as well as tangible action!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Authority and morality

"I have as much authority as the Pope, I just don't have as many people who believe it." - George Carlin

Two pillars combine to support this edifice of domination that we live under: authority, which is the belief that one person or group of people has the right to make decisions for others and to impose punishment upon them if they disobey, and morality, which is the belief in the concepts of "good", "bad", "right", "wrong", "obligatory" and "forbidden". None of this is really helpful for any kind of free and authentic life, hence, I would like to see the whole thing done away with.

The justifications for authority comes from a lack of trust in people making wise decisions for themselves, likewise, the justifications for morality comes from a lack of trust in people's judgement in determining what is supportive of themselves and others around them. The mechanism of authority is the relinquishing of one's independent decision-making capacity over to someone else, likewise, the mechanism of morality is the relinquishing of one's independent capacity for making assessments and evaluations over to some prescribed code that was written by somebody else.

"Good", "bad", "right", "wrong" is moralism. Amoralism is not caring about any of that, and using a different standard for evaluation. "Might makes right" is a moralistic statement because you are bringing the concepts of "right" and "rights" into the picture, but one can still find value in the statement even without believing in it by seeing that the one with the most "might", i.e., the ability to parlay the use of force, holds the most sway in any given social situation. One follows what that person says out of fear of getting one's ass kicked. This is the fearful situation that is often conjured up when people imagine scenarios where there is no authority or morality present, but this is also the case for the world that we live in now: what else are all the police, militaries, and prisons doing everywhere?

Compliance in order to save one's skin does not mean, however, that one has to believe any or all of the stories that surround the person or people who are deemed to be in "authority". One could just be marking time and not drawing attention to one's self until those people go away. We are fortunate that people are not mind readers, for often when those in authority see people portraying the affectations of obedience, they often make the assumption that the corresponding thought processes of obedience are in place as well.

Morality is a type of story that people tell each other, similar to myths and legends, it is a story that gives an explanation for who we are, what we are doing, and what we should be doing in this world. Beyond just explaining things, morality also contains proscriptions and injunctions, along with an added motivating emotional oomph that feelings of fear and righteousness provide.

When one talks about "morality" and "moral behavior", one is also referring to something else in addition to the conceptual club that is used to psychologically bludgeon people, and that is a roadmap and way of relating with other people that generally, conceivably, results in more social peace and harmony. That is speaking in broad strokes though, for the closer one gets to the fine details, the more room opens up for disagreement on interpretation. I am all for the use of social tools that are supportive of mutual coexistence and cooperation, the thing is, I think that what that is varies from person to person, place to place, and situation to situation. I don't think that any kind of standardized universal code could possibly encapsulate it all, and that instead social harmony requires a great deal of dialogue, deliberation and creativity among those involved.

My hatred and hostility to those in authority comes from the sheer arrogance that I see in the situation, them setting themselves up to be little gods and messiahs, where they not only feel entitled to tell others what to do, they also feel entitled to create a little cosmology story (i.e., morality) where apparently the very nature of the universe justifies why they are in authority. Come off it - you are human like all the rest of us!

The thing is, though, I believe that often those who exercise authority are not even aware that they are doing so. Authority, and the accompanying morality, is so prevalent in our society that it is like the air we breath - we often do not even notice it. It is often through accomplishing a kind of conceptual break, usually through the telling of a different kind of story, that people are able to raise their head above the water and see the world around them fresh for the first time.

The story that I tell about human beings is that people are capable of making their own decisions and having their own lives go in the directions that they want through the choices that they make. The story that I tell also has everybody with the abilities to discern what they want, why they want it, and with the ability to access whether they are successful at getting that or not. Nobody is required to either believe in or use each other's stories. The decisions people make and the directions that people go in may in the end not serve them or lead to the kind of results that they want, but that is for each person to discover on their own. Advice can be given, suggestions can be made, but ultimately each person must walk their own path themselves.

To try to play games of authority is to attempt to ignore all of this. It is to try to force others to take the approach that one considers to be correct, it is to ignore one's own capacity to choose and make decisions. Going the authority route is to follow the dictates of others and to ignore the feedback that is gained from the results of the decisions made and to instead keep one's mind preoccupied with the various stories that are presented by authority.

Those in authority are constantly ready with an array of threats to be used in response to anything that displeases them. The tools at their disposal include emotional manipulation, playing cards in a game that is stacked against their opponent (such as through the use of "grades" and other points-systems), appealing to other more higher authorities, social manipulation resulting in social exclusion, and the ultimate trump card, physical force itself. These are the responses of a person who is ready to pounce, a predator on the prowl.

Ultimately, the only way out of this is for a person to discover their own power. A person has the ability to believe their own stories, and to choose what stories that one uses in the first place. One has the ability to choose one's own actions, one's own words used, and one's own responses to other people and situations. One can know why one does what one does, and what one is trying to accomplish. Others can try to help you to forget all of that, but nobody can take it away from you. It's existential.

Socially, though, constructed through the cumulative beliefs and actions of those who surround us, what we find ourselves in is a prison. That is because, control over one's own beliefs and choice-responses aside, there is seemingly no way out. Those who are playing the authority game invite us to do the same at the barrel of a gun. There are various other prisoners who surround us, as well as various predators, and those who support that predator behavior. What is needed here are prison survival strategies. Prison escape is always an option, but that is always much glamorized and easier said than done. And there is always the question of where one will go once one is out, and how one will then survive in that new and different environment.

But that is getting ahead of ourselves here. The first step is cutting through the illusions that surround us. Learn to notice a story when it is being told, and learn to discern who exactly is benefitting from the stories that are being told. Learn to recognize one's own ability for choice and agency in a given situation, and learn to discern one's own intentions, reasons and goals, instead of relying on pre-formulated standardized responses. To live without authority or morality requires a lot more effort on one's part - it involves a lot more personal thought and self-reflection, and a lot more facing up to one's own self-responsibility. But in the end, it is an experience of being truly alive, even when it is not allowed.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Education and Its Discontents

The other day I was left in charge of the school library for the day, which I loved, since I have always been a library nerd. That same day I was also left in charge of the 6th grade class for one hour and 50 minutes. Since I am not into enforcing rules, the class quickly became a bunch of raucous chaos. I was cool with that, as long as nobody was getting hurt. However, a teacher outside the library heard the noise, came in and started yelling at the kids to be quiet, and glared at me for not enforcing the rules. To which I thought to myself "I don't f***ing care." This could be the kind of thing that leads to me leaving the volunteer gig.

Let me back up a bit here. I have beliefs about education in general, and epistemology in particular, that are different from that of most people. To begin with, I disagree with the very notion of "compulsory education". To be "compulsory" means "you have to go whether you want to or not". That, in my eyes, is wrong. That makes it a prison. Period. (and in case you are wondering, I am anti-prison as well)

Carl Rogers once said: “Learning of all kinds goes on best, lasts best, and tends to lead itself on more when it grows out of a real focus of interest in the learner.” That is essentially how I view learning, and in the situations of compulsory education those who are compelled are most often interested in just learning to say and do that which is necessary to please those who are doing the compelling. The ostensible subject matter at hand is incidental.

Situations of compulsory education therefore consists of students who mainly do not want to be there who face teachers and other school authority figures who use some combination of yelling, threats and bribes presented to the students to get the students to act in ways that they desire. What is taught to the students is basically: "You have no choice in where you will be. If you do not do as I tell you, worse things will happen to you. If you follow orders, better things will happen to you." The subject here is learning to accept the basic context of being in a prison and to follow orders to escape a worse fate.

I believe that people have an innate desire to be free, and that that is slowly whittled away by compulsory education and other experiences in our authoritarian society to result in the psychological state of most adults, who have suppressed that desire to be free and have internalized the policing inside themselves. Children have not yet reached that condition, hence the role of most teachers being that of policing the children. Most classrooms that I have been in, both as a child and as an adult, I have seen the scenario play out where the teacher or other school authority figure leaves the room and as soon as that happens total chaos breaks out. I have seen this happen SO MANY times now, that I basically have come to expect that to happen whenever the authority figure leaves. I see this as being expression on the part of the children of their yearning to be free.

Authority is a kind of social relationship that people act out with each-other. In it, certain people are designated the roles of giving the commands, and other people (the majority) are designated with the role of following the orders. Authority is prevalent all throughout our society, not just in educational settings of course, but when the objective is presumably one of learning the presence of the authority relationship is particularly egregious. I realized all of this when I was a student in high school. I noticed how and when the teachers would play out the authority relationship, and how the other students would respond to that with either submission or rebellion (and the authority's response with punishment or threats of punishment). And I observed the times when teachers were not acting out the authority relationship, when they were simply peers and fellow human beings with the students. I realized that I really enjoyed the presence of the teachers when they were not acting in an authority relationship, and I hated them when they were.

The key thing for learning, as I said earlier, is to have authentic interest and curiosity. Sometimes this does by chance exist within the school environment. For example, I remember when I was in the second grade and I was sincerely interested in learning how to read, and that year the teacher taught the students how to read, and I loved it. A similar thing happened when I was in the fifth grade and I was really interested in colonial history, and it just so happened that the teacher was covering the history of the time period. I totally soaked up that information, and I recall even talking about history stuff with the teacher during recess periods while the other children were playing. Most often, though, what is being taught does not overlap with the students' interests, which fits most of the rest of my educational experience, which I simply don't remember as a result. The norm is for students to learn what is necessary to pass the tests and to please the teachers, and then to promptly forget it all and move on. In other words, most of what is taught is forgettable.

The kind of learning environment that I support can more or less fit under the category of unschooling. That is, the learner chooses what they want to learn about and how they want to go about learning it. This could include the traditional classroom environment, if the learner chooses to pursue that, but with the way that those are usually run, what with the teachers yelling, threatening and bribing the students, I doubt that learners would choose that kind of option that often. Teachers and parents do have a role in the learning process, and that is as a kind of facilitator, helping the learner get access to the resources and materials that they want and need, keeping track of what they are doing and studying, making suggestions when appropriate and giving advice when wanted.

Unschooling, in the case of children's education, is usually contained within the larger category of "homeschooling". I did traditional homeschooling for half of eighth grade, and I can very much tell the difference between that and unschooling. In my case, my mother and step-father determined the curriculum, regardless of my interests. I recall even coming up with and suggesting to them an ambitious idea for a new curriculum design for us to use that spanned across, and illustrated the relationships between, many different subjects and disciplines. My proposal was summarily shot down, and we continued on with pursuing the original curriculum design that they previously established for me.

By contrast, unschooling is based on the active choice of the learner. Those who are helping the learner are there to assist that person in pursuing the interests and objectives that they have set for themselves. I unofficially practiced unschooling myself during the second half of my high school experience, after I officially dropped out of high school. During that time period I spent most of my days in libraries, pursuing whatever subject matter and materials my interest and curiosity took me to. I did not have any guides or mentors during that time period, my parents essentially had no idea that this was going on, and I was pretty much on my own. Although that was not the kind of unschooling environment that I would recommend for others, I feel as if I learned more during that time period than I did in the years prior to that. This is because my own authentic interest was present, because I was learning what I wanted to learn, and because all that I did was based on my own free choice.

Which brings me to the issue of "choice". I have seen many well-meaning teachers try to establish for their students some degree of "choice", in order to get closer to an approximation of the kind of free learning that I am talking about. Usually these kind of "choices" do not amount to much and the students see through the visage to what's really going on. In these cases the teacher is still in control, the teacher sets the parameters, determines the acceptable choices, and if they so desire, reneges on the choices that were initially offered. This is a particular kind of teacher-controlled classroom activity, not a learner-directed unschooling situation.

In an unschooling situation, two of the best resources that I could recommend are libraries and discussion groups comprised of people who are all interested in the subject matter at hand. I have always been interested in libraries, my entire life, because I have always seen it as being a place where one has free reign to learn about whatever one wants to learn about. Discussion groups with fellow interested participants is something that I have developed an enthusiasm for only in my adulthood, and thanks to the internet it has now become a lot easier to find and organize these than what was once the case. Also, a third resource, the internet, goes without saying as being an invaluable resource for unschooling learners.

So, back to the topic of me volunteering at the school in Tonga. I am working at this school not because I believe in what the school is doing or what it is ostensibly about, but because I wanted to have the experience of working in a remote foreign country doing something that I have never done before. Think of it as a kind of unschooling elaborate field trip excursion. In a way it is better that I am not being paid for the work that I am doing here, because then I would feel more contractually and financially beholden to the systems and methods that the teachers at the school are practicing. On the other hand, this leads me to be in a situation where my own direct labor is contributing to an institution that I do not believe in, and in my ideal world would not even exist, and I am not even being paid to support this! From what I am told, however, this school is one of the most lenient schools in the nation of Tonga because the teachers at this school do not physically hit their students. There is a whole spectrum of epistemological beliefs out there.

I like working at the library at the school because the library is a place where the students could at least potentially learn and discover things on their own that could take them off to new places. The issue of classroom chaos, children "getting out of control", does not concern me, as long as everybody is physically safe. The reason for this is that most people are not used to having the experience of freedom, and often when people first experience freedom there is for many an initial period of frantic confusion where they try to figure out what to do without the presence of an authority. Instead of responding to that with a desire of immediately reinstating authority, I prefer to just give people time and let people discern on their own what they would like to do next.

Already I have been identified as somebody who is comfortable with "chaos" - disapprovingly by a teacher, and approvingly by a student, who has expressed astonishment that I have not yet yelled at any of the students. This is a precarious place for me to be in, since generally those who reject authority on principle do not do well within institutions whose job it is to instill in others the love and obedience of authority on principle. So, we will see how it goes. At the very least, I can always move on to learning other things.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Anarchism and me

I have been feeling drawn lately to write about anarchism. There has been a pattern in my writings for the past few years that I've noticed of me feeling inspired to write when either a recent death occurs or an anniversary comes about. Well, I have both now in relation to anarchism.

The recent death that has occurred is that of Howard Ehrlich. Howard was an anarchist for many years, from at least the 1970's to the present. He was the editor for the journal Social Anarchism, as well as the author or editor for a number of books. I met him in person on a number of different occasions, and he was a delightful fellow to be around. His work served as a kind of bridge between the beginning of "Second-Wave Anarchism"(that is, the anarchism that emerged in the 1960's and 70's) and the anarchists of today. He will be missed.

The anniversary that has occurred for me recently is that of realizing that I now have spent that majority of my life considering myself to be an anarchist. Through different years and periods I have affiliated myself with different schools of thought within anarchism, and for one period of about two years I went through a kind of sabbatical where I refrained from associating with other anarchists or thinking about anarchist-related topics, although in my heart I still remained an anarchist.

This all leads me to now feel the desire to re-state my anti-statist beliefs, to say what anarchism means to me and how I see the world.

I would say that anarchism is a family of political philosophies that first emerged in the mid-nineteenth century that views all forms of authority, hierarchy and centralization as being both both unnecessary and undesirable. Various mass institutions, such as capitalism, the state, patriarchy and white supremacy, are all viewed as operating based on a fundamental principle of domination. As a result, anarchists wish for all these institutions to be completely abolished.

Instead of all of that, anarchists would like to see new forms of relationships and organization based upon voluntary cooperation, free association, people relating with each-other directly as equals and groups relating with each-other in a nonaggressive and decentralized manner.

The reason for all of this, for me at least, is a deeply felt desire to live as truly free as possible, to treat others and be treated by others as a genuine equal with all other people, and to have an experience of being an integral part of an authentic, caring and mutually-supportive community of people. I have the sense that these things once existed for humanity, long ago, and gradually over time they all have eroded away more and more, until the sense of personal disempowerment and social alienation gave way to lives lived in narrow prefigured institutional roles. This makes it possible for millions to routinely be slaughtered with no more response than perhaps a slight shaking of one's head before moving on to the next topic for one's attention. The people being killed are simply too abstract, and the machinery that is killing them (that they are also a part of) is just too vast to effect any substantial change in it. So helplessness and powerlessness become the prevailing subtext of our world.

That all being said, there are many different kinds of anarchism, different ways that people express their anarchist response to the horrors of the world. This is why I say that anarchism is a "family" of political philosophies, instead of simply "a" political philosophy. The differences within anarchism fall along many different lines, be it what kind of economic structures they would like to see in a new society, what kind of political structures they would like to see in a new society, which particular oppressed demographic groups they want to focus on, which other philosophies they want to combine with anarchism, how much they want to focus on individuals and how much they want to focus on society writ large, what strategies and tactics they want to use to get from the world that we have today to a new anarchist society, and whether one should even focus on "a new anarchist society" at all instead of on just life here-and-now.

There are some anarchists who respond to this multiplicity of different anarchist schools of thought by wanting to unite all the different tendencies under an umbrella organization or a broad inclusive identity, and others seek to downplay the differences and seek to emphasize what is in common to all anarchists. Others spend a lot of time and energy engaging in perpetual ideological rhetorical warfare in favor of their particular anarchist sect.

It has also been said that there are as many different kinds of anarchism as there are anarchists. This is because inherent in the whole thing is freedom of thought, each person doing their own independent thinking and coming to their own conclusions. This naturally can result in a whole wide variety of conclusions being reached on a whole wide variety of different issues. The trick then is to find, create, and implement different ways for different people with different perspectives to work together for common goals and interests, and for each to go their own separate ways when their goals and interests diverge.

Personally, where I find myself now in terms of the various anarchist schools of thought is a place where I can appreciate many of the different points-of-view that people are each coming from, while at the same time not really whole-heartedly identifying with any of them specifically. I am at once an anarcho-communist as well as a post-left anarchist. I am an individualist who sees the concepts of "property" and "ownership" as being meaningless and absurd. I appreciate Max Stirner's egoism as well as the Buddha's concept of anatta. I have a fondness for both anarchist hackers as well as for rewilding anarcho-primitivists, for both the Bookchinite fighters in Rojava as well as the touchy-feely anarchists who hang around self-improvement workshops. Unlike various times in my past, I currently have no quick-and-easy label to succinctly express what particular kind of anarchist I am. I'm OK with that.

What I do find to be the most important is to find ways to navigate through the world that we live in that maintains as much personal clarity, and mutual and self respect as possible. At the same time, it is just as important to keep an eye on the horrors and brutality that the world of domination continually threatens us with. This is no easy task. One's focus can easily be lost in ideological pissing matches and petty interpersonal squabbles that are blown up through the injection of moralistic undertones.

This then brings me to the matter of the anarchist subculture such as it currently exists. I have already written much on this subject, so I do not wish to repeat myself here. One thing that I will say, however, is that in spite of all my criticisms and apprehensions regarding the anarchist subculture, I do find a certain value in associating with it in some form. The reason why is that anarchists, regardless of the particular kind of anarchist one is, are at least a kind of person who sees through many of the extensive illusions that are projected at us about mainstream society. Such people are unfortunately rare and hard to find, given that so many buy into and abide by the narratives of authority that are fed to us all from birth onwards. A kind of basic need for kinship and companionship is met through anarchists associating with each other, regardless of whether any broader social/political change is effected as a result. And, if the people involved are able to live happier healthier lives because of the association, then that's even better!

Ideally, I would like to see and participate in a lot more anarchist projects that are designed to meet people's basic needs in the world we have now. I would like to see more different needs being met for more different people in ways that are in harmony with the principles underlying anarchist philosophy. The word "anarchist" is not important to me here, but meeting needs in harmony with the principles behind it is important to me.

I do not know what the future brings. While I do believe that human beings are capable of living in an anarchist society, there is no guarantee that people will not continue to live in authoritarian ways indefinitely. There is also no guarantee that human beings won't simply wipe out all life on this planet before any major change can take place one way or the other. For now, I am placing my bets on small pockets of people, scattered here and there, living more or less anarchically on different parts of the planet. Perhaps at some point the opportunities would present themselves for an endeavor that is larger than that, but for now we have to take what we can get.