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.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

It usually begins in Detroit

Yesterday I discovered that Marshall Rosenberg, the creator of Nonviolent Communication (aka "NVC"), passed away last Saturday February 7th.

I feel as if I am still processing this news. As I said in my Facebook post about the subject, "Both NVC and Marshall Rosenberg personally had an enormous impact on me and my life. I simply cannot imagine where I would be, or who I would be, if it was not for him and his work."

A number of different things are coming up for me regarding this. One of these are of various memories that I have of interacting with Marshall Rosenberg. I have a number of really vivid intense memories of being with him, and they are not all sentimental, sappy, or even necessarily positive memories of him. I have a lot of vivid memories of antagonism, frustration, and general conflict with him. I also have a lot of memories that I find to be generally reassuring, that I feel grateful for having. It is all a mixed bag, and I don't want to throw any of it out.

To be clear, I do not fault or blame Marshall Rosenberg for anything. If anything, I get the sense that a lot of my interactions with him brought up to me, right in front of my face, my own lack of clarity as to what I am really wanting and/or asking for. I had, and still have, a whole lot of different vague generalities with strong emotional attachments to it floating around inside my head. I acknowledge this.

And I usually have not sat down to take the time and effort necessary to find out what is behind it and how I can better move forward with it. The NVC process that Marshall Rosenberg taught is one way to help productively address this, but that does not necessarily mean or guarantee that the work is being down. His contribution has been to show spotlights on the matter, for better or worse. The rest is up to me.

Then there is my relationship with NVC itself, which also is coming up for me as a result of Marshall Rosenberg's death. When people think about NVC they usually think of "the four-part model" which is often given the four-letter acronym "OFNR" for "Observations Feelings Needs Request". Practically-speaking, this translates into a sort of robotic formula that I have no interest in hearing. This is not how I usually relate to NVC, at least not anymore.

Nowadays when I think of NVC I usually think in terms of a series of key assumptions and intentions as well as some personal commitments that those who have really dedicated themselves to integrating NVC into their lives often take on in some way. However, none of these things I hold as dogma. I see it all as being quite fluid and dynamic, open to change, and even being dropped altogether, depending on the particular situation and context. None of this even needs to be called "Nonviolent Communication", it can be called whatever, as long as the basic elements are kept in mind.

Marshall Rosenberg's death also brings up another thing for me - my ambiguous relationship with what can be called the "NVC community", or put another way, the "international subculture of enthusiasts who often can be found at venues that are adorned with the label 'Nonviolent Communication'". Basically put, for the past year or so I have stopped affiliating myself with the NVC community altogether, aside from my occasionally reading something on the internet.

The reason for this is that I have discovered that I am usually bored going to these kinds of events. The way that NVC events and activities are usually structured do not interest me. I imagine that if the events were "unstructured yet intentional", or, if I was considered to be the "leader" or "facilitator" of the event that I would feel quite differently.

And this brings up the last thing that comes up for me regarding Marshall Rosenberg's death, which is actually something that the NVC trainer Miki Kashtan expressed quite nicely in her recent e-mail about this as well:

"With his passing, I suddenly feel like an elder, along with others from my "generation" of trainers, ever more deeply committed to the calling. I sense that I am not alone in this; that many of us are drawn to taking even more responsibility for carrying forth the extraordinary potential that we see in this body of work."

Yes, I am interested in being an NVC trainer/teacher/facilitator, and, at the same time, I feel torn about this since I am not interested in pursuing this in the standard ways that people usually go about this. I am also not at all interested in marketing or self-promotion. I am also, for the record, not interested in advertising, arguing, debating, persuading and trying to convince & convert others towards how I see things or the NVC worldview in general. Both the kind of connection that I am looking for with others and the quality of personal change that I am wanting to work towards with others all exists on a level that I consider to be far more deeper than any of those things. I am open to receiving requests of my services, and I am also open to looking on as the NVC world continues to change and evolve.

This brings me to a few things that have caught my attention and interest in the NVC world as it stands now. One of these has been the growth and proliferation of what are often called "NVC Family Camps". I have volunteered at one of these, and I am interested in volunteering at more of these again in the future. The kind of social environments that are created at these are unlike anything else that I have experienced in the NVC world.

Another thing that I am excited about is the work that is being done in El Salvador teaching/practicing a hybrid model of NVC and Focusing. I do not have personal experience with this, but I am quite interested in learning more and seeing where it all goes.

And lastly, I am also interested in the ongoing process that the international Center for Nonviolent Communication has embarked upon to try to reform and reorganize itself in a way that is more open and participatory. This process is a lot slower than I would like, but I am hoping that that fact means that more deliberation and consideration is being put into the process than what was the case with previous attempts at organizational change within the CNVC before.

So this all leaves me in a kind of wait-and-see state at the moment. Wait and see which requests are made of my services, and wait and see what new developments arise and opportunities present themselves. In the meantime, I am grateful, I do honestly feel that way for all of the many rich experiences that I have had through NVC over the years. I feel grateful for all of the many people I have met over the years as a result of my involvement with NVC, and I feel grateful for all the ways that they have contributed to my life, and I dearly hope that I contributed to theirs as well.

I feel grateful for all the very practical ways I have learned to work with both myself as well as with other people, using the tools, models and principles that were first outlined by Marshall Rosenberg. And I feel grateful to Marshall Rosenberg, who as a result of all his efforts ended up making all of this possible.

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The title for this blog post comes from the fact that Marshall Rosenberg, like my parents, spent his formative childhood years in the Detroit, Michigan area. Marshall Rosenberg would frequently cite his experiences of living in Detroit as a child during the 1943 race riot as being a big motivating factor as to why he was inspired to create NVC.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My 2014 year-in-review: Marking Existence

At the end of every year I carry out a personal ritual where I reflect and talk about my own experience of the year that is ending. Here is what I have to say about 2014.

In general, I would say that this year is characterized by a few different things. One is that I continued to feel estranged and disconnected from various sub-cultures that I once felt a part of and used to derive much meaning, inspiration, and solace from. In particular I am referring to those surrounding anarchism, Nonviolent Communication and to some extent even Buddhism (this article series in Tricycle magazine helped with the later). My core beliefs and opinions are pretty much all the same as they were before, it's just that my feelings of alignment, affiliation and belonging with groups of other people who believe similarly to myself has very much evaporated.

At the same time as this, this year I have met my needs for belonging and social connection with other people through other, more "mainstream" means. This year I got married, and as a result I have been feeling more connected with both my wife and her family. For much of this I also worked at a regular full-time job, and I felt very much connected with and a part of those people whom I worked with. These are all connections not necessarily based on shared belief systems, goals, and values, but they have been real and meaningful for me nonetheless, and they have stepped in to fill real needs for me that were not being met through the ways that I was previously used to meeting them.

This year I also engaged in international travel for the first time in my life (not counting my previous small excursions into Canada and Mexico). In particular, this year I traveled to northern India and Macau (which is a part of China), with a small little jaunt into Hong Kong in-between these two places. During this time I have met and talked with a lot of people from these places, as well as people from different countries who are also travelers and/or expatriates. This has been very profound and fulfilling for me, and it continues on into this next year, 2015. So this is not over yet, by any means, and I very much look forward to seeing where it all leads to in the future.

Speaking of the global scale, one thing that I have wrestled with a lot this year is that of wrapping my head around and accepting the likely demise of modern civilization at the very least, and all complex life on this planet at most. The scope, scale and intensity of the global ecological destruction that life on this planet is facing, combined with the intractable institutional interests and forces that are producing this destruction, makes certain doom out to be the most likely future that we all face. Much of this year I have spent a great deal of inner effort towards coming to peace with this.

I have come across a number of fictional works that have "met me where I'm at" with all of this and that likewise express a lot of similar thoughts and feelings that I have towards the world these days. Movie-wise this year, the two that most stand out for me are Snowpiercer directed by Bong Joon-ho and Zero Theorem which was directed by Terry Gilliam. In the realm of books, the two that stand out the most for me this year are Eyeless in Gaza that was written by Aldous Huxley and Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. All four of these pieces I strongly recommend that you, my dear reader, take the time to watch/read yourself.

Perhaps one of the most interesting anomalies and conundrums for me this year has been my relationship with Vipassana Meditation (as taught by S.N. Goenka). On the one hand, I do not regularly practice Vipassana Meditation, I have no interest in setting out to be an evangelizer or proselytizer for Vipassana Mediation, and as a result, I would not really make a very good poster child for it. At the same time, I have now done so many of these ten-day courses, both as a student as well as a volunteer worker, that I am often now given roles and positions within the Vipassana social settings of being some kind of Vipassana example for others to emulate. Vipassana Meditation has continued to be a very meaningful, helpful and important part of my life, but not in the ways that most people usually expect and understand it to be so. It is all just a bizarre situation all around.

Speaking of Vipassana Meditation, one experience that I had with it this year that really stands out to me is that of volunteering during a ten-day course at the center in Dharamsala in northern India. That experience was definitely the most intense volunteering experience with Vipassana that I have ever had. There were new situations and circumstances that I was confronted with that I have never before come across. Through it all I met some quite wonderful people, and I feel more capable than ever of being able to positively confront various difficulties in life.

I realize that I am leaving out quite a lot of details and specifics in this piece. That is done intentionally - I am speaking in broad strokes on purpose. If you are interested in knowing more of the specifics, I welcome direct and personal one-on-one conversation. Beyond that, what I have here is the beginning of the the painting of a picture of my year 2014 for you here. I hope that you enjoyed it. :)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Pacifism

I just re-read a piece that I originally wrote back in 1999 about how I view and relate with pacifism. This piece was printed in the anarcho-pacifist publication "Ahimsa" and then later on was put up on their website as well. I find it interesting to read this piece, because I still basically believe the same things that I say in it, although I would frame it a bit differently, I could elaborate more on things now that I could then, and would not put words IN ALL CAPS as I often did in that piece.

I also find it interesting that I wrote it back before I knew about and got into Nonviolent Communication, Focusing, Vipassana Meditation and Buddhism. These four sets of practices, among others, provide practical real-life "how-to"s for applied pacifism, which is something that I openly admitted to not knowing about in my original piece from 1999.

I definitely see it as being a worthwhile project for me to update my thinking on pacifism, both in writing as well as for myself. And the field of anarcho-pacifism in general is also something that I see as being in great need of an up-date and revamping. Before I can move further with that, however, I do feel as if I personally have some more learning and exploring to do. So in the meantime, I present to you my original piece on "Pacifism" here.

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Pacifism

My version of pacifism is very inter-connected with many of my other views and philosophies, so if you want just my pure isolated "pacifism" explained here, you're probably not gonna get it.

Does my pacifism mean that I am against all war? Yes, of course it does. Does my pacifism mean that I am against all physical violence? Yes, of course it does. Does my pacifism mean that I am against all hurting of people? Yes, of course it does.

The very fact that I include these three already is enough to count me as being a pacifist extremist. But, as the rest of my site shows, I am certainly not one to shy away from "extremism".

My form of "pacifism" basically means universal love, respect and solidarity with all people everywhere, no matter what. If you truly do LOVE someone, if you really do RESPECT someone, if you really have SOLIDARITY with someone, it automatically places you in a mind-set that is the furthest thing from that which commits acts of violence and hurt against others. Being in such a mind-set, you make yourself INCAPABLE of hurting others, because you can never seek to hurt that which you really love. My form of pacifism means seeing the beauty, uniqueness and commonality within ALL people. It means the elimination of ALL concepts of "goods guys" and "bad guys". It means the elimination of the entire "Us vs. Them" mentality. It is the recognition that ALL humanity is already the "Us" and that to solve our problems we need to change OURSELVES rather than seeking to change OTHERS. The minute you view another person as an "outsider", as a Them, then you automatically write off their humanity and make them become expendable in your mind. By mentally distancing and alienating people in such a way, you instantly loose the ability to empathize with them, thus making yourself capable of hurting them in various ways without feeling a thing.

My form of pacifism is an extension of my anarchism, or, my anarchism is an extension of my pacifism, you can look at it from either angle. I believe that it is a basic human instinct, an innate psychological defense mechanism, to resist forms of authority being imposed on you. To fight back against being controlled is natural. I view Authority as being a kind of spiritual disease. The minute Authority invades our psyche, we are willing and able to do anything to fight back against it, no matter how insane or violent it may be. Therefore a kind of spiritual self-healing needs to take place, where all forms of Authority are eliminated from your mind and soul, and from your actions with others as a result. Once you eliminate your authoritarian actions towards others, you make their self-healing process easier as well, as well as eliminating some of the roots of violence and hurt in the world.

So, getting back to "the real world" and "practical matters", what does one do about "self-defence" and dealing with the violent and hurtful behavior of others? Well, in terms of the hurtful and antagonistic behavior of others, I think that an approach of love, acceptance, and trying to understand the other person's side and where they are coming from is necessary. It does not matter how others' response to this is. Regardless of if they change their hurtful behavior or not, what is important is that you maintain your positive peaceful and loving stance no matter what. One person's hurtful attitude never justifies yet another hurtful attitude to be taken. As long as you are doing all that you can within your own personal boundaries to add love, compassion, etc to the world, that is all that matters. To feel otherwise, and be let down by the behavior of others is ultimately an Authoritarian attitude. Because, by doing this, you are seeking to CONTROL other people's attitudes, actions and feelings, which is intrinsically wrong and leads to more violence and hurt, as I said earlier.

As far as "Self-defense" goes, I think that EVERY POSSIBLE EFFORT should be strenuously put into making a non-authority-based, peaceful, loving and respectful social relations, society, culture, environment, etc. But, when the "inevitable"(as the pessimists call it) act of actual real-life violence actually occurs and is right there in front of you, what do you do? Well, I do not know, to be honest. Life is to a large degree a SITUATIONAL and CIRCUMSTANTIAL thing, each particular individual instance is unique and different in it's own way. I say that one's own personal individual judgment is needed in such situations, but that a primary non-violent, non-authoritarian ethical code should ALWAYS be in place as the foundation for all actions and decisions. A variety of different options exist for actual violent cases.

- Number one should be talking and communication.

- Then there is always the "wimp" tactics of hiding and running away.

- There are also a number of non-violent martial arts self-defense tactics and disciplines that one can use.

- And there is ultimately the "human shield" and "martyr" options that one can take, which is always noble, but not necessarily always "practical".

The choice is always YOURS, but I say that a basic non-violent foundation to ALL your thoughts and actions is always necessary.

So, how do you "get things done" with pacifism? How do things really "work" if you operate in such a way? My answer is, I really don't care. I view the ETHICS of pacifism and non-authority as being of primary importance, and the nitty gritty of getting things to "work" as being secondary. If we all die in the process, so be it, as long as we have lived an ethical life. "Give me liberty or give me death!"

I think one of the greatest mistakes of many pacifists and radicals is the using of pacifism as a "tactic," as a way to get others to do what you want. I think Gandhi started a lot of it, and many radicals have taken his example and have even put themselves in harm's way to get others to do what they want. Many people call this kind of pacifism "leading by example". I think that this kind of pacifism is bullshit. Pacifism to me is primarily an ETHIC, a way to live your life. If you look at it in terms of "tactics," you miss the very ESSENCE of what it is all about. It does not matter IF you get there, what matters is HOW you get there. Also, using pacifism as a way to control people, as a way to "lead" people (albeit non-violently) is also inherently wrong, since it is wrong to control people in ANY form. To try to do so naturally leads to counter behavior from those who are trying to be controlled. Controlling people, whether initially using violence or no violence, inevitably leads to violence.

Also, I do not see pacifism as necessarily being detached from "reality" and "practical" life. I think that people naturally respond positively to behavior that is non-threatening and views and treats them respectfully as equals and does not seek to control or manipulate them in any way. I think that the only time when people do NOT respond naturally positive to such behavior, is when they are personally in the midst of dealing with the spiritual disease of Authority and are not left in the most "social" of moods as a result. Sort of like how when one is physically ill, you do not think and inter-act with others in the best of ways, the same goes with the spiritual disease of Authority and the symptoms of hurtfulness and violence that is causes.

Pacifism, love, empathy and anarchy are the natural state of people, it is this commonality that we all share that we need to go back to, broaden, understand - and most of all LIVE in our own personal lives and with others, in order for us all to have peaceful and loving lives.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Individualist @

For the past few months I have been grappling with questions of identity and belonging, "What am I?" and "Which group of people am I a part of?", that sort of thing. I have discerned no real clear answers to this, however the term "anarchist" seems to still stick with me, since the philosophy and beliefs which dates back to at least 1840 still speaks to my heart. However, it is really difficult for me to wholeheartedly consider myself to be an anarchist these days because of the words and actions of my peers and contemporaries who are also associated with this word. I have already written about some of this stuff on my blog here last year.

However, things continue to happen. Take for example, May Day of this year, which is traditionally considered to be a radical leftist holiday and is personally one of my favorite holidays. In Seattle the anarchists there made themselves publicly come across as being, at best, complete fools (a video of this can be found here). And in Minneapolis, at an event that I happened to be attending, a public fight broke out as a result of a longstanding conflict/controversy carried over from last year (a video of this can be found here and another one here). And of course the Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair has had another big ugly controversy this year as well.

Once again, I am left with feelings of disgust, exasperation, and complete repulsion towards the whole anarchist scene. "To hell with these people", I think. I'm done, it's over, I'm out. I feel such strong feelings of contempt towards the anarchist milieu, and over the past few months I have spoken with a number of other different long-time anarchists who have also been feeling similarly towards the self-proclaimed anarchist scene. And after that most recent incident in Minneapolis, another local long-time anarchist person wrote a public statement saying that he has disassociated himself from the anarchist scene.

At the same time, a person recently told me that he and another person both want me to continue being a part of the anarchist scene. He said that this scene needs "elders" to be present and that I would count as being such since I have been an anarchist since the mid-90's. I have also recently spoken with a friend of mine who says that she wants to continue being a part of the anarchist scene, and being a positive support to it in some way, even though she is well aware of the various faults and drawbacks associated with the whole thing.

This whole thing leaves me wondering: who or what exactly is the anarchist scene anyway?! The person who told me that he still wants me to be a part of it also told me that he personally does not consider himself to be an "anarchist". And when I think about it, I believe that most people who are a part of the "anarchist scene" would not actually consider themselves to be "anarchist". Likewise, a lot of people who I know that would consider themselves to be "anarchist", or at least who have an affinity for that general worldview, are actually pretty isolated from other people who think and believe things similar to what they do. So there is a social scene that exists, but it is not necessarily "anarchist", and there are anarchists who exist, but they are not exactly a part of an anarchist social scene.

One of the things that was written recently as a result of that incident in Minneapolis was that one side of the conflict said that the people who are on the opposing side have "no right to consider themselves a part of any progressive or radical community". I find this to be interesting, since it assumes that considering oneself to be a part of such a thing would actually be desirable. I suppose that it would be desirable if one wants to have that particular kind of identity, or if one wants to have one's social needs met through certain people, but it is hard to pin any of this stuff down really, since the whole area seems to be so very vague and amorphous.

For example, what does it mean to be "a part of the anarchist scene"? Does one have to consider oneself to be "an anarchist"? Perhaps the phrase "radical scene" would be better, but then that opens the door to those who consider themselves to be "radical libertarians", which most people view as belonging to a separate and distinct social scene. One could then say "radical leftist" instead, but then there are those who consider themselves to be "post-left" (and not "libertarian"!) and who are not "left", but they are still a part of the same general milieu. That phrase that I quoted earlier used the word "progressive", which I don't think fits at all, because that opens the door to Obama-voting liberal Democrats, who most people acknowledge are a part of a separate scene altogether.

And what does it mean to be a part of the scene, no matter what label you call it? Does one need to see certain people once a week in order to be a part of it? How about once a month? Is once a year too seldom? And how many people at a time does one need to see with such regularity in order to be a part of it? And which people does one need to see? Do online or long-distance interactions count, or does it need to be face-to-face? Does one need to be involved in particular projects, or does just going to parties and social events count? If you only speak with other radicals who feel similarly isolated and estranged from the scene, is one then still a part of the scene or is one instead a part of a separate parallel scene? At social events that are considered to be a part of the scene, if one is silent during the entire event is one still a part of it? What if one is talking the entire time and the others present are annoyed with your presence and are wishing that you would leave? In other words, how exactly does one retain or revoke one's membership with "the anarchist scene"?

I think that ultimately there really is no such thing as "the anarchist scene", "the anarchist community", and certainly not an "anarchist movement". I think that what really exists are various overlapping cliques and clubs, friendships and acquaintances. All notions of there being something greater than that are illusions and delusions that obscure the truth and cause unnecessary conflict and turmoil.

Thinking of this then reminds me of individualist anarchism, which is defined as being a kind of anarchism that "that emphasizes the individual and his or her will over external determinants such as groups, society, traditions, and ideological systems." Remembering this whole tendency is a relief for me, a breath of fresh air, since it reminds me that I (and everybody else) is free to choose what they want, what they believe, what they think, what they do and who they associate with, and are not beholden to anyone or anything else. So often, especially in the midst of these big conflicts and controversies, this is simply ignored or forgotten. If ideas of there being things like "an anarchist scene" are to exist, these ideas should serve the purpose of there being more clarity of thought. These ideas should not serve as yet another notion that dominates or intimidates people.

So that leaves me here in this situation, where I know a bunch of people, some of whom I feel closer to than others, some of whom I share more political beliefs in common with than others, and some of whom live in the same geographic area as me and others who do not. When I really think about it there are no people who I feel really close to who are involved with any of these big controversies that are taking place out there. My sense of cognitive dissonance comes about only when I conjure up notions of there being "an anarchist scene" and when I consider myself to be a part of such a thing. "The anarchist scene" does not exist, and I am not a part of it, although I know others who think otherwise. If people were to make specific requests to me personally, I would consider them, but I do not want to act out of a vague abstract sense of duty and obligation to some idea. All of the various dramas and foolishness that other people choose to engage in does not concern me, at the moment.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Traveling & Circling: Some Reflections on 2013

I often have this ritual at the end of each year where I write out my thoughts and reflections of the year that just ended. In this case the year is 2013.

I began 2013 in a very positive way. Shortly after the year started I gave an introduction to Nonviolent Communication workshop that went really well. Doing that workshop was also a nice way for me to commemorate my ten years of being an NVC aficionado. And soon after that, I left Minneapolis to go to the Illinois Vipassana Meditation Center where I was at for a very long time. First I served a 10-day course there, then I sat one, and finally I served at a service period there, during which I was fortunate enough to be joined by my friend Seth.

After the time at the Illinois Vipassana Meditation Center, and then a week visiting my friend Dan in Bloomington, Indiana after that, I finally returned back to Minneapolis. That was certainly a very long time for me to away from home, and in particular it was a very long time for me to be away from my partner Liz, whom I missed terribly.

At the same time, beginning around then was the start of one big conflict that was to be one very big thing for me throughout the year. I am referring to here the Sisters Camelot / IWW conflict. Sisters Camelot was a group that I regularly worked with, and I was proud to tell people about this organization when I explained to people what I do in Minneapolis. Sisters Camelot and the IWW both had very deep ties in with the activist/radical/anarchist scenes, both locally in the Twin Cities and beyond. So when this whole thing blew up both myself and a number of other people I know were hurt and devastated by it all.

It was then a very fortuitous timing of events for me that I was called up out of the blue one day and invited to serve at a ten-day course at the Illinois Vipassana Meditation Center in April. I went out there, taking them up on that offer, and that was really one of the most positive experiences I had during the year. It was all very much hard work, with little personal space, but the benefits that I received from that experience I am still processing.

I did go back to the Illinois Vipassana Meditation Center one more time this year, in May I went with Liz and my uncle Allyn to the annual Open House event that takes place there. That in itself was a wonderful experience for me, since I got to show two people whom I care about so deeply and whom have been an important part of my life this place that I care about very deeply and that has also been an important part of my life.

In June I was off traveling again, this time also with Liz. First we went to Michigan where we saw aunts, uncles and cousins on my mom's side in Ann Arbor, and then where we saw aunts, uncles, cousins, and most importantly my 90-year-old grandmother in the suburbs outside of Detroit. After Michigan we then went to Pittsburgh where we saw my friend Artnoose, met her new baby and saw the new house that she bought.

From there we went on to the small little town of Folsom, West Virginia where my two brothers, mother, step-father and his two parents were. We spent a good chunk of July out there, but we were busy with a project that we had to do. This project is in many ways a continuation of one that I had embarked on five years previously, in 2008.

What it essentially involved was sorting through many many different boxes of papers and belongings that my family had accumulated over the decades of their existence. The goal was to find some very old letters that my now-deceased grand parents on my mother's side had written to each other back when they were a newly married couple. Our secondary goal was to help my mother and step-father better organize their belongings out there in the various houses that they own out there in Folsom, West Virginia. We never did find those old letters out there, so our secondary objective ended up becoming our primary one.

In many ways our time spent out there in that small rural and isolated mountain town was the climax and pinnacle of my experience of the year. I found all kinds of different old things from my childhood and past as well as from the childhoods and pasts of all the rest of my family members as well. Add on top of that the fact that for essentially a month Liz and I were basically trapped in the middle of nowhere with my family. So whatever old family dynamics and issues there was were forced to come to the surface and be dealt with somehow.

Eventually that whole thing was over, and I ended up injuring myself shortly before leaving as well. This resulted in Liz and I then going on to Camphill Soltane with me in a sub-optimal state. We were out there for about a month as well, for most of August, volunteering at the "August Program" there as well as hanging out with people there before and after that program took place. This experience was not the same kind of magical and wonderful experience that it was for me the previous summer, in 2012. Mainly this was because I was injured this time around, so I was not in my prime condition. Also, this summer my time in Camphill Soltane was at the very end of my period of summer travels, not in the very beginning of it like it was in 2012. I was definitely missing Minneapolis and ready to go back home by the time all of that was over.

Coming back to Minneapolis at the end of August, Liz and I went to a wedding, and we went to the Minnesota State Fair as well. But aside from that, it really became a time for me to confront my situation of where I was living and what I was doing there. I had no more big travel plans to distract me from that.

Over the course of the year, starting with the Sisters Camelot controversy and continuing on with other things, it became increasingly apparent to me that the anarchist/activist/radical sub-culture is not a place that I want to continue to turn to in order to meet most of my social needs or to base my personal sense of identity around. I had taken a break from this sub-culture before when I lived/worked at Camphill Soltane from 2009 - 2011, and now I was ready for another break from it. The thing is, I did not know how to break from it without slipping into total social isolation and alienation from people.

Then, in late September, I was offered a job, and everything changed. I can not underscore what a major thing this job offer was for me, since it was literally over ten years, since 2003, when I last was employed. I believe that with such a great period of time since when I last had a job, I just assumed that I must be somehow permanently unemployable. But that turned out to not be the case.

The job is a full-time one where I work at a group home supporting adults with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses. From October to now, the end of 2013, this job has been the place where most of my time and energy has been channeled towards. I do not necessarily want that to be the case for me for the rest of my life, but for the time being it works.

That's all for this year - MAY ALL BEINGS BE HAPPY!!!