Thursday, March 2, 2017

Letting Go of Social Change

So much of anarchism, and radical politics in general, seems to be about envisioning an ideal society, strategizing about how to get there, and charging forth on that mission. For me, I don't really believe in that. I mean, yes, envisioning an ideal society (or two, or three, or three hundred) can be fun, and strategizing about how to get there can be an enjoyable way to pass the time, but in the end I simply do not believe it.

The way that I see it is that while the concept of a utopia can be enchanting, it is essentially just a work of fiction. While I do believe that all kinds of different possibilities exist for how human beings can live together and organize their affairs, I do not believe that it is healthy or wise to think that such-and-such a society is on it's way towards becoming a reality, or that you are the harbinger for a new era.

This is to say, then, I no longer believe in social/political change. Perhaps it is inaccurate to say this, since change of all kinds is a constant in life. Things have changed in the past, things are changing now, and I fully believe that things will change in the future as well. What I don't believe is that things will change in the way that I (or you) want them to. I would love it if that did happen, and it could happen, I just don't put my faith in it.

The reason why I say this is that we live in a world of 7.4 billion human beings, give or take a few million. All of these different people are in their own ways influencing the world to change in some way or another. I can have my influence, and then immediately have it be counter-acted by another person, and then another, and on and on. Or I can even inadvertently counter-act my own influence myself by saying or doing something that goes against the kind of world that I would like to see.

And then there are various non-human influences as well, such as the various forces of nature, always in motion, which in their own way also affect the direction that human societies change over time. It is all simply too much, which leads me to throw my hands up in the air at the prospect of being a "change agent" in the world. This is yet another rat race that is pointless to pursue.

And yet, we are still alive, and for as long as that lasts we still do have the power to make choices and determine what actions to take. It is from this basis that I appreciate the perspective of individualism, which emphasizes this ability of individuals to choose and act on their own, if they so desire. This then leads to the kind of anarchism that I value being a kind of philosophical anarchism in that it does not necessarily imply any particular action being done, while at the same time serving as a set of conceptual tools and frameworks to use to look out at and interpret the world around us. Ideally, I would like for this philosophical anarchism to be a form of quietism, in that it would serve a personally therapeutic purpose, helping people to reconcile themselves with the world that they find themselves in, relieve personal distress, and increase personal clarity.

Through my saying all of this, I am not meaning to imply that I no longer have an interest in big picture projects, utopias and social/political movements of various stripes. I find all of that to be quite interesting indeed, I just do not believe in them, or that the intended results that people want will necessarily come about. I may even choose to participate in some of these myself, for reasons that are similar to how I choose to be employed and work at a job. That is, to meet various needs of mine, none of which being that of high-minded idealism.

That being said, I still do find some sense of solace and direction in the philosophy of Buddhism as well. This is namely through the understanding that everything has a merely apparent existence through various different interacting component parts, that suffering is something that we bring upon ourselves through our own choices of which kind of state of mind to maintain, and that change itself is constant and inevitable. With that in mind, the best way to find happiness in this fleeting existence is to do what you can to contribute to the well-being of others, and to work to have love in your heart.

As is often the case, all of this stuff is easier said than done. But I would rather tread this difficult path than to have my head stuck in the clouds, trapped in the various competing illusions & delusions of competing political utopias, political movements, and an exaggerated sense of our own importance. The kind of anarchism that I embrace is not so much that of "burning it all down", but rather one of seeing through the smoke in a world that is already in flames.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Nobody Owns Anything

Throughout my tenure as an anarchist one thing has always set me apart from everyone else: my beliefs around the concept of property and ownership. These are some real foundational beliefs for me, because it is based on them that I evaluate various things like "capitalism", "socialism", "communism", even "economics" writ large. My beliefs on ownership are ones that I have largely kept silent about, but recently I have been feeling the need to sit down and elucidate my thoughts on the subject. So here it goes...

As I see it, the concept of "ownership" is a fiction that does not really exist except to the extent that people believe in it and act accordingly. People can chose to believe in it and live their lives by it, or not. Ownership is of course a very popular and prevalent concept that people believe in, but it is by no means inevitable that people have to believe in it. It is up there with other concepts in that regard, such as "money", "government" and "religion", that have shaped history and dominated people's lives and that I think that we all can and should do away with in order to live more free and fulfilling lives.

I opt for a perspective that I consider to be more natural and real, one that I tentatively am calling "non-ownership". This applies to everyone and everything, in that nobody owns anything. This includes all people, places, things and ideas, all of it is unshackled to the concept of invisible lines binding such-and-such with so-and-so. I am not saying that "government" owns everything, or that "the community" owns everything, or that "society" owns everything, I am saying that nobody owns anything, since ownership does not exist.

The rationale behind this is that everyone comes into the world naked and carrying no possessions, and leaves the world taking no possessions with them. The interim period between birth and death is when people usually ascribe the concept of ownership to people and things, but this is a faulty concept given that people can and do accidentally break, misplace, or have their "property" taken from them against their will through various means. If somebody really "owned" something, then at the very least it could not be accidentally broken or misplaced, since it would always be under the complete control of the owner and it could not do anything that goes against the owner's will. The fact that things can go their own way regardless of the desires of the so-called owner shows that there is no invisible sanctified bond between object and owner. It's just make-believe.

As far as property being taken against people's will by other people, whether we call it "theft", "fraud", or whatever, I would say that this is a case of people with different ideas of who should have what things. Different systems that we call law, trade, fair and just business transactions, justifiable means of establishing ownership, all of these are different rules for playing different games with the same basic fiction that we call "ownership". It is similar to how different computer games exist focused on 'Star Wars'. Star Wars is still a work of fiction, even though different games exist that are focused on it, and none of the particular rules or codes that these different games abide by are more "true" or "legitimate" than any other, because it is all still premised on a work of fiction. It is just a game, and we can choose to play different games, or we can stop playing games altogether. The same goes with "ownership".

Often people bring up the idea of finding things and making things as being the basis for ownership. However, people find things (and lose things) and make things (and break things) all the time, usually with the help of predecessors and those around them. To find out the original discoverer or creator of something or somewhere, among a species that goes back hundreds of thousands of years and that is fundamentally social in nature seems like an absurd and arbitrary game of catch-up. People exist, places exist, things exist, let's go with that.

People often bring up the idea of one's own body, "don't people own their own physical bodies?" I would say, no, even that is not really owned by people. I would say that the fact that injuries, illness, aging and accidental deaths all occur are proof that people do not own their own bodies. If people really owned their own bodies, then none of these things would ever occur, because people would control it. This kind of control is an illusion, as is the concept of "ownership".

Usually at this point people are imagining a world of some kind of violent madhouse free-for-all, filled with people whimsically taking whatever they want and doing whatever they want to everybody else. My response to that would be to ask: wow, what kind of dark twisted psyche are you carrying around with you? All of this segues into my ideas around what concepts should be used in lieu of the concept of "ownership" in order to support there being more peace, harmony and happiness for everybody.

First off, I think that it is essential that people have a real sense of care, consideration and connection with both those around them as well as with themselves. If people really knew, understood and cared about the happiness and well-being of those around them, they would not blithely be acting in ways that cause hurt or distress for others. People would be openly talking about situations, thinking things through together, and coming up with creative ways to meet the needs of everyone.

Now that I have just used that word, "needs", I feel that mention should be made of another concept that I find supportive here, and that is of "needs" as articulated by Nonviolent Communication. In this case, "needs" are the underlying motivational drives that inspire all actions, thoughts, and feelings that human beings have. Needs are not quantifiable, they do not look like any particular thing or course of action, and they can exist in the intellectual, emotional, and social realms, as well as the physical. All human beings have the same underlying fundamental human needs, people just express these needs, and their desires to get these needs met, in a wide variety of different ways. Also, the strategies that people use to try to get their needs met can look very different and can be in conflict with other strategies used to get needs met.

An important process that can be used to navigate life in a non-ownership world is that of continually identifying the various different fundamental human needs that are at play. What needs are "on the table", so to speak, what needs are which people wanting to have met in any given situation, and how can we try to meet these needs with the various different resources that are accessible right now? These are the kinds of conversations that I would like to see people develop their skills and capacities for having.

This then begs the question: what needs am I anticipating being met through people pursuing the strategy of adopting the perspective of "non-ownership" instead of continuing on with using a variation of the already more prevalent concept of "ownership"?

My first answer is that more resources and possibilities are freed up and made available without the arbitrary constraints of who-owns-what. "Ownership" creates a whole vast minefield of different tripwires that can go off and areas that are foreclosed on right off the bat. Without that concept existing, the whole world exists filled with different things and places that can be used to meet people's needs. The sky's the limit.

The second part of my answer is that a perspective of non-ownership really forces people to confront the question of what it is that they are really needing. What is it that would truly make them more of a happy and healthy human being? In a world of "property management", of relentlessly pursuing and maintaining that which one supposedly "owns", people lose track of that which is really important to them and what really makes them happy. Non-ownership forces those questions right to the forefront of people's minds: existential self-examination is required.

A third part of my answer is that "non-ownership" provides an additional incentive for people to have strong intimate connections with the other people around them, to have more and better "community" with other people. With the concept of "ownership" being the main operative fiction used in a society, it is easy for people to wall themselves off into separate little enclaves of "me" and "mine". In a world of non-ownership, the question of "how are you doing?" becomes a real and vital question that people ask each other, as well as "how am I doing?" The quality of people's relationships with one another becomes a very important matter for people in a society of non-ownership.

If it is not apparent already, this concept of non-ownership has elements to it that go into both the personal individual realm as well as the interpersonal social realm. It ties in with how people view themselves, their own lives and the various different objects and places that surround them, and it also ties in with how people relate with one-another, how people get along with each-other, what concepts they hold together, as well as what social systems and structures people create together to support one-another.

Non-ownership is not implemented by a lone individual adopting this perspective and deciding to go off and live their lives by it. And non-ownership is not implemented by a group of people collectively deciding to live their lives this way and making sure that everybody abides by it. It is simultaneously both individual and collective, it is a way that people relate with both themselves and each-other. One-sided perspectives with this do not work.

People sometimes mention the possessive language that we use now, such as "mine" and "yours", or the strongly entrenched habits that people have as showing the "inevitability" of the concept of ownership. But these too are areas that people can change if they really wanted to. For example, more neutral language can be used, "the" and "that", for example. And habits can be spoken of and acknowledged directly as such, "that house that you like to sleep in", "that toothbrush that I usually use", etc. If people want to ensure the continuity of their habits, they can openly state it. Likewise, people can also take the opportunity to examine their own habits and see if it is really serving them, or to see if something else could perhaps serve them better.

I also want to acknowledge that people often do have strong emotional attachments to particular things, places and people. These strong emotional attachments do exist, I see that. In the kind of non-ownership society that I am talking about here, these emotional attachments would be openly recognized and spoken of, and they can be worked around or dealt with as needed, depending on the situation and the people involved. The point is not to trample over people or to force them into particular ways of being, but to more clearly see where we are at and where we would like to go. I believe that non-ownership helps with that.

A key here is that of pursuing freedom, the freedom of knowing that infinite possibilities exist to meet all of the different needs we have. The strategies that can be implemented to meet needs are by no means fixed or limited.

Likewise, this freedom is linked together with being in community with others, it openly acknowledges the interdependence that people have with one another, and as such the social relationship becomes an area of prime importance as well.

And tied in with all of that is the quest for increased self-knowledge and self-understanding. For if one does not really know oneself how can one ask for what would truly be supportive for oneself?

All of this is bundled together in this concept that I am calling "non-ownership". This is a concept that I have had for quite some time now, yet it is also one which is always evolving as time goes on. This concept is one important part of my anarchist views, for it is one way that the various systems of authority and domination can be exposed, and freedom and community can take their place. All of this is by no means my original idea, it is rather an idea that I have tweaked and adjusted in my own way. Make of it as you will.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Voluntary Only

Among the whole world of ideological labels that I could potentially attach to myself, there is one in particular that I feel called to talk about. Voluntaryism. This is a label that I have for a long time now felt affinity with, and in recent times have been cozying up to more and more. According to the Wikipedia entry on Voluntaryism it signifies:

"a libertarian philosophy which holds that all forms of human association should be voluntary."

And since that definition immediately points to the other label of "libertarian", I will for good measure give the Wikipedia entry definition for that word as well:

"a collection of political philosophies that uphold liberty. Libertarians seek to maximize autonomy and freedom of choice, emphasizing the value of political freedom, voluntary association, and the importance of individual judgment."

What these two definitions describe are attitudes and approaches that I personally believe in. Hence, I am a voluntaryist, I believe that all human relationships should be voluntary.

It feels odd to me, in a way, that I believe that I should be publicly saying this, since in my eyes the philosophy of anarchism contains voluntaryism within it as a fundamental principle. However, as the years have gone on, I have had more and more reason to believe that many, if not most, people who call themselves "anarchist" do not in fact think that all human relationships should be voluntary. So-called "anarchists" have said and done things that have lead me to believe that they do think that certain things should be compulsory and forced on people whether they want it or not.

I say, to hell with that. If you believe that people must or must not do certain things, or must or must not belong to certain associations, and these people are not aggressing on anyone to begin with, then you are not an anarchist. Anarchism, in all of it's different varieties and complexities, grows out of the fertile soil of voluntaryism.

The fundamental starting-point principle here is: voluntary only. Everything must be voluntary. If it is forced, then it is rotten to the core. Having an association or interaction being voluntary ensures that people are authentically being themselves, and it lays the foundation for the association/interaction to be more thoroughly joyful and creative. This is a principle that I cherish.

The way that I determine whether something is truly voluntary or not is to see whether there is an explicit or implied threat hanging over someone if they were to say "no". For example, will one be physically attacked, killed, or forced into a cage if one did not comply with what is being asked of them? With the case of governments everywhere, these things will happen to people if they did not comply with the various commands associated with government. So government is then by it's very nature a kind of non-voluntary association, making it incompatible with voluntaryism.

However, here is where I begin to diverge from most people who consider themselves to be voluntaryist: I view the set-up that is created materially with the social constructs of capitalism and private property as being one where people are forced into non-voluntary relationships as well. This is because everything that one needs to physically survive, such as food, water, shelter, medical care, etc., has a price-tag associated with it. People are then put into the position of being compelled to jump through whatever hoops necessary to ensure their own survival and the survival of those they care about. Instead of the threat being "do this or be shot" or "do this or be forced into a cage", the threat then becomes "do this or starve to death" or "do this or die of exposure". The result is the same: a non-voluntary foundation.

Another direction that I take my voluntaryist philosophy has to do with the realm of the social needs. Human beings all have a need for intimate personal connections with other people, a need to be understood and accepted for who they are as individuals, and a need to belong in community with other people. These needs can all be met in a wide variety of different ways, there is no uniform strategy for meeting these needs. What remains universal, though, is that all human beings have these needs inside them yearning to be met in order to have happy and healthy lives.

With that being the case, the threat of social ostracism and dehumanization plays an equally coercive role resulting in people being compelled to jump through whatever hoops necessary in order to ensure that their social needs are met. This dynamic plays a large role in how social conformity and groupthink comes about. Since this particular form of coercion so often falls into the realm of the personal and interpersonal, it is often not noticed or recognized by people who have a political-oriented mindset. But just because it is often not seen does not mean that it is not there, nor does it mean that it is not felt by all of us as we go about our lives.

This then means that I see the various threats to a voluntary society as coming from three main directions: the overt political nature of men with guns coming to tell you what to do, the material/economic realm of the various threats and stresses associated with being forced to "make a living", and the social realm where the continuing threat of being excluded, alone and unloved is always present.

How to have a truly voluntary society then comes as a huge conundrum, since it goes against every existing model that we have for looking at political/social change. This is a big question, and one that I hope to tackle and address in various bits and pieces as time goes on. But to give a brief summary of my approach I will say this:

What I am advocating for is a certain kind of way for people to approach relating to one another where they are not aggressively threatening one another, where they try to honestly recognize and talk about whatever needs they have, where people are actively working together to try to get their needs met together, and where they are continually trying to better understand one another more deeply and without judgement. My approach is based on the Rogerian principles of having authentic conversations with sensitive empathy and unconditional caring present, while also ensuring that the basic material needs of everyone are being met, as well as ensuring that everyone feels free to leave the interactions/associations whenever they see fit.

This is a whole different way to view human interactions, but also one that I believe goes way back in time, before the vagaries of civilization made force and compulsion the norm within human relationships. "Voluntary only" is a wonderfully simple, yet quite powerful, principle that does a lot to get the conversation started on how we can all have free and happy lives. And it is for that reason that I am happy to call myself a "voluntaryist".

Saturday, December 3, 2016

My Kind of Anarchism

For quite some time now I have had this strong discomfort with the anarchist milieu. I believe that this discomfort stems from my strong desire to belong to a community and to be together with others who see things and value things in the same ways that I do. And on the other hand, I have the sense that the others who inhabit the anarchist social milieu are in some very important ways different from me, that they believe things and value things that in some crucial ways are at odds with where I am coming from. I find it difficult to just write these people off and forget about them because they identify with the philosophy of anarchism, which for whatever reason is a label for a philosophy that I find myself very much attached to.

So it seems to me to be important to take the time and effort to spell out exactly what it is that I do believe regarding "anarchism". I am assuming that by spelling out what I do believe, I can clarify and set apart the difference between my "anarchism" and that which is espoused by others.

First off, I am assuming that every and all forms of "anarchism" out there is against all kinds of domination, that capitalism and the state are rejected by all forms of anarchism as being manifestations of domination, and that all anarchists yearn for a new world of sovereign people freely associating with others as equals, cooperating, helping each other out and sharing together as they see fit. Now, perhaps this brief definition of anarchism is simply too much, and too radical, for how many people would define the term, but I don't care. This is just a baseline bare minimum definition of the term that I am using to begin elaborating on what my own anarchist philosophy looks like.

Also, as is probably obvious by now, I really do not see anarchism as being a political thing. I see anarchism as being primarily a social philosophy. In other words, I see it as being a kind of philosophy that advocates for particular kinds of human social relationships and social organization. Anarchism is against politics-as-it-is, all politics of the existing social orders, because each and every one of these are based upon domination, not the respect of people's autonomy. Anarchism is a very radical philosophy because it goes straight to the roots of things, how people relate and organize their affairs together. Politics, all politics, is a relatively superficial matter, compared to the depth of an anarchist gaze.

My approach to anarchism has for a very long time now held this one quote by Gustav Landauer as being a touchstone descriptor for how I approach things:

"The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another... We are the State and we shall continue to be the State until we have created the institutions that form a real community."

With this in mind, my approach to anarchism is mainly focused on what these "other relationships" will look like that would form the ideal new "real community" that is an alternative to the state and domination in general.

The primary crux for my anarchism is that coercion is not good for people. I have a strong belief that when people do things because they have a sense that it is coming from their own free choice, and not out of a fear of some kind of dire consequences that would befall them if they did not pursue that action, that that leaves them in a state where they are open to learning more and connecting with other people. When people do things out of coercion their minds are more distracted by the stress and pain that the coercion inflicts, making it all the more difficult to conjure up any kind of authentic curiosity that would support learning and connection with others.

I have mentioned a few times this phrase of "connecting with others", and I feel the need to elaborate on it some here. This is actually an element that I consider to be core to my own approach to anarchism, since it is the glue that holds people together. By "connecting" I am referring to seeing the humanity in someone else, and valuing it. It involves knowing where someone is coming from, knowing who they are and what they are about, and being able to personally relate with it in some way. And, importantly, it is having a reciprocal relationship where that feeling is mutual. If this sense of connection is not present, I don't believe that a social situation of anarchy can be real or lasting.

Another important aspect of my anarchism is that of individuals taking responsibility for their own choices and actions, and based on this being committed to continuing to develop and improve themselves in various ways. Yes, I do recognize and acknowledge the existence of social forces that impact and effect us all quite profoundly, but we can still think and make our own choices, and with that being the case, let's choose to improve our own situations.

A commitment to having an open mind, critical thinking, and continual learning would then go hand-in-hand with that of having a commitment to ongoing personal development and self-improvement. This involves having a commitment to becoming aware of and recognizing the myriad different ways that one can become encumbered by prejudices of different kinds, get trapped in ideology-based thought-prisons, or judge people, thereby resulting in narrow one or two-dimensional perceptions of them.

And in conjunction with people taking personal responsibility for their own choices, I also see the creation and maintenance of real communities as being essential. By "community", I mean that the people who you know and care about in your day-to-day in-person life also know and care about each other as well. This also pre-supposes that you know and care about a substantial number of people in your day-to-day in-person life in the first place!

A crucial part of a community of people being real and lasting is that people help each other out. We all need support of some kind, and part of the kind of community environment that I would like to see is one where people are interested and able to help each other out, out of a personal authentic desire to do so, and not because of some kind of coercion or implied threat.

And in order to have mutual aid within a community be able to actually happen effectively, you need to have ongoing substantive communication, cooperation and coordination of efforts taking place. Communication break-downs need to be tended to, the quality of communication needs to be constantly elevated, and those who for whatever reason are silent or unable to speak need to be remembered and reached out to.

So, to summarize, the core underlying principles to my own approach to anarchism are these eight things:

- Non-coercion

- Authentic connection between people

- Taking responsibility for choices

- Valuing ongoing self-improvement

- Free thinking and continual learning

- Real communities of people

- Mutual aid and mutual support

- Ongoing communication, cooperation and coordination

As a consequence of people developing along the lines of these eight principles, I foresee the concept of ownership becoming de-prioritized. Expropriation and confiscation are things that I would like to see avoided, not because I am a fan of the concept of "property", but because it involves a form coercion. And with the entry of coercion into the picture, the relationship between people is damaged, and chances are that there is a breakdown of communication between people going on as well. I do think that people's needs can be better met the less the focus is on "who owns what?", and the more the focus is instead on "how can we solve this problem?". But I don't even see people getting to the point of addressing a problem together, and valuing the needs of everyone involved, if these eight principles are not adhered to.

I have used a variety of different terms to describe my approach to anarchism in the past, from "communitarian anarchism", to "compassionate anarchism", to "buddhist anarchism". Looking at where I am at now, I think the term "humanistic anarchism" could be an accurate description of it. But, ultimately, none of these labels really matters. All too often I have seen people squabble over terminology, or circle their wagons around particular labels, thereby perpetuating "us vs. them" and "my beliefs vs. their beliefs" dynamics. Also, labels often have the tendency to start out as being tools, and then to eventually become chains. All of that is totally counter to what I am wanting to achieve with all of this. And frankly, I am just tired of all of those bullshit dynamics.

So here I am, this is what I believe, this is my approach to anarchism, all laid out for you, call it what you will. What do you think?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Why I Voted Today

Today I went to my local polling location and voted. I voted for Hillary Clinton and all of the other Democrats who were listed on the ticket. I did this not because I am a Democrat, but because I want to stop the rampant spread of what I see as being a kind of 21st century fascism in the U.S. The act of voting was easy, it took me only a few minutes. What I foresee as being really difficult is what is coming next.

Also, at the same time, I am an anarchist, and I have been one for quite some time now. I know many anarchists who do not vote and who consider the act of voting to be a very un-anarchist thing to do. This has stirred up in me a desire to try to publicly explain myself on this.

There is a common notion among anarchists that the act of voting is one that legitimizes the existence of the state. An individual freely choosing to vote is often viewed as an individual consenting to the existence of the state. I do not see it that way.

I see voting as being a big huge collective game that many many people choose to participate in that is an adjunct to the larger social structure of the state. All of this has meaning because people choose to give it meaning, and then they act accordingly. In other words, like many things, it is a social construct that is ascribed meaning by people, and people play along with it. One can play the game and go through the motions, together with others, while also simultaneously not holding the same meanings that other people are holding. One can "be in the world, but not of it," or to use a less grandiose phrase, people can do actions without believing in what they do. (And, in fact, one could make an argument that this is indeed how most people get through life).

I see voting as being an act that is essentially value-neutral. In my eyes, there is no obligation for anybody to participate in this ritual (or anything else, for that matter). Subsequently, there is also no obligation for an anarchist to not participate in it. I choose to participate in voting because this particular ritual is one that many people believe in and use to operate the dominant social structure of the state. This is an area where for a brief amount of time one can exercise a small amount of leverage in the current social machinery that surrounds us. So, one might as well use it while one can, or, "smoke 'em if you got 'em".

And in this particular case, in this particular country right now, I think that this guy, Donald Trump, wants to become an outright dictator, no holds barred. Whereas Hillary Clinton is just your run of the mill corrupt career politician, you have seen them all before, they are a dime a dozen in a representative democracy. And I would rather have the kind of B.S. that we are used to over an outright dictator. In other words, I see there as being more happiness and freedom, to whatever marginal degree we can find it, in a bullshit society that is structured as a "representative democracy" than in a bullshit society that is structured as a "dictatorship". And the best way for us to stop a Donald Trump fascist regime from coming about, at this point, is for us to vote for Hillary Clinton.

This stance of "being in the world, but not of it" is one that I take with many different things in my life, every day of my life. It is by no means just confined to the single act of voting. I basically do not believe in much, if not most, of what I do. I do not believe in capitalism or the state, private property or ownership. I do not believe in people working jobs, using money, paying rent, going to school, driving automobiles, and the list goes on. I could go so far as to say that I do not believe in Civilization itself, and yet here I am, thoroughly domesticated as all get-out. The notions of "purity" and "integrity" are ones that I no longer believe in or strive towards. The way I see it, we are all in a cage, through-and-through, and the world that I want to live in is completely Other. A truly anarchist world is completely outside of all of this, and it is one that I can only imagine and dream of. Yet at the same time, it is worth everything to me.

That all being said, there is also the real possibility that the world as we know it now is on it's way out. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton could very well help to start World War Three (this one with the nuclear option available from the start). The bitterness and acrimony between the Democrats and Republicans, and the Left and the Right writ large, could wind up with the U.S. entering a second Civil War. And then there is always the looming possibilities of a global economic collapse, or an ecological collapse, or a technological collapse (or a Singularity). Who knows! The point is, if any of that happens, and if the human race survives the experience, perhaps then a window of opportunity will be available for people to truly leave this bullshit society behind, with all of it's egregious ascribed meanings and performative rituals that work the gears of the spectacular machine that so many people find oh-so-fascinating. Perhaps then a door to the cage will open.

Until that point, however, I will be watching the election results on TV.

**Disclaimer: I am not saying here that I think that you should vote, or that you should vote for a particular candidate. And if you read this piece and say that I am "not really an anarchist", then my response is "fuck you too"**

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Beacons of Light in These Dark Days

I notice when I look at my blog these days that I have not written any new posts at all for this year, 2016, so far. There are some reasons for this. For one, I quite frankly have been very consistently feeling very cynical and scornful regarding everything related to politics. I follow political things, both mainstream and radical, and in both spheres I feel such strong negative feelings regarding it all that I largely just keep my thoughts all to myself. Why subject my reading audience to witnessing me trashing everything? So much political commentary is already just that and I personally do not want to contribute to more of that kind of thing being put out there into the world.

Yet, I still have been following political stuff and perhaps it has been to my detriment that I have been doing so. Basically, it has been a form of entertainment for me. Similar to how people follow their favorite TV shows and professional sports, I follow politics. I find it all to be quite interesting, and at the same time, I am often left with a feeling that we are all doomed. So with that in mind, I would like to talk about some areas where I have been finding some hope and solace in the world today.

I continue to be a member of the Planetary Society and an advocate for space exploration. I do think that the kind of change-in-perspective involved in moving from Earth-focused to cosmic-focused can have profound implications in how we both view things in our everyday lives, as well as how we view political concerns on this planet. How big, bad and important we think everything to be all shrinks, shifts, or reconstitutes itself in light of this greater perspective. I like that, it does away with what I consider to be limited and arbitrary constraints, and it is a breath of fresh air (assuming that there is "air" in whatever environment we find ourselves in).

Piggybacking off of my love of space exploration is my love of Star Trek. I have really been getting into Star Trek lately. This is, for one, because it is a way to have my mind escape from the horrors of the world that we live in into one of complete fiction. But, beyond simple escapism, I am in love with the setting that the protagonists of Star Trek come from. I am referring to what is called the "United Federation of Planets", which is a diverse cosmopolitan inclusive society where everyone's needs are taken care of, where money does not exist and where individual expression, exploration and creativity are encouraged. That is awesome, and that is exactly the kind of society that I would like to have humanity be operating with in the future. (Based on this, I have also be interested in a new book that has come out this year called "Trekonomics", which explores the economics of the societies depicted in Star Trek)

When I consider my love of Star Trek, I think that perhaps I was also primed for it with my upbringing in the Baha'i Faith. The Baha'is advocate the creation of a new world that shares many of the same kind of values as expressed in the United Federation of Planets: one with international unity of all of humanity, the abolition of racism and sexism, a new economic system that sensibly attends to everybody's needs, and full support for the advancement of education and scientific inquiry. It was during my formative younger years that I was both studying the Baha'i teachings as well as watching Star Trek, so from different angles these same values seeped into my consciousness.

And in light of my feelings on politics these days, I very much have been appreciating the approach that Baha'is have on political concerns as well. For one, they hold a position that says that Baha'is should not be members of political parties, nor should they campaign or be partisans to any political causes. The reason for this is that they believe that doing these things creates too much unnecessary rancor and discord among people. When matters of common concern need to be addressed and decided upon, they instead advocate the use of a process that they call "consultation". This all seems to me to be quite respectful and considerate of the wellbeing of all, and I would love to see it grow and spread.

Regarding approaches to dialogue, I still have a great appreciation for Nonviolent Communication (aka "NVC"), as well as for NVC practice groups where people come together to intentionally develop their skills with Nonviolent Communication. Internationally, I also have a lot of excitement around the work that has been done to create a new global organization of NVC practitioners and enthusiasts. The proposal that has been made about this is now out, and those who are have helped to craft this proposal are now actively soliciting feedback on it. I like this proposal, personally, because in my eyes it allows for greater access for those who are into NVC to meet each other and work together on whatever projects that they find meaningful, as well as to help systems of mutual support become more available for people.

Anyway, these are my few beacons of light currently in these dark days for the world. What are yours?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Circling the Sinking Ship: Reflections on 2015

For a while now I have had an annual tradition of around New Years writing up a reflection on my experience of the year that is ending. Here is my reflection on 2015.

This year began in the thick of my big international travel excursion, in Macau, China. Shortly after that we (my wife Liz and I) went to Hong Kong for about a week, and then we went on to Tonga. We were in Tonga for about five months, staying at the national center for the Baha'i Faith in Tonga, and volunteering at a local international school there. At that school I served as a librarian assistant, an English language tutor, a history teacher, a science teacher, a meditation teacher, a substitute teacher, a recess playground manager and various other odds and ends. Working there really did feel like I was working at a job, except that I was not getting paid money (just given a place to stay). This turned out to be an undesirable situation for me, since I did not believe in what I was doing, I am not a Baha'i and I do not believe in the way that education is usually done. I can do work that I do not believe in, as long as I am getting paid. That is how the world we live in usually works. Doing work free of charge does not make sense to me unless I believe in it.

If I was a paid staff at that school I suspect that I could have enjoyed the work more, settled into doing the work on an ongoing and sustained basis, and set up something of a quasi-Tongan life for myself. Tonga is a poor country, some of the amenities that we know and love in the Western World simply are not there, or are hard to come by. And my white skin and American accent immediately single me out in a crowd as being a Unique One. But nevertheless, I believe that I could live there if I had to. I doubt that I will ever return to Tonga, not because I hate the place, but rather because it is so far away and out of the way (and it may be swallowed up by the rising ocean levels anyway).

During this year Liz and I had three different experiences that were quite similar to each other, where we spent about a week or a few days in a major world city, renting a motel room, and doing tourist stuff. The three places that I am referring to are Hong Kong, Auckland, New Zealand and Los Angeles. I had been to L.A. before, but I had never previously really gotten a sense of the city. The same goes for Hong Kong, since Liz and I were there briefly in 2014 right before going to Macau. These three trips were unabashedly tourist experiences, but nonetheless they were some highlights of the year for me. One of the things that I liked about these experiences were the unambiguous nature of them. They never pretended to be anything other than standard tourist experiences.

After our bouts with tourism then began a period of me visiting various places in the U.S. that I used to live at, and people with whom I used to live with. Altogether this list includes the San Francisco Bay Area, Eugene and Portland, Oregon, southeastern Pennsylvania and central Virginia. Visiting all of these places made me feel nostalgic each and every time, and part of me wanted to live at that place again, at each old home that I visited. It was both a literal and a figurative trip down memory lane for me, and in the end I was able to reach an appreciation for the fact that I used to live at all of these different places, but that none of them are appropriate for the person that I am now and where I am at with my life currently. It was overall a very helpful, and dare I say it, a "healing" experience for me.

Three experiences stand out for me during those visits through nostalgia-land. The first is being present at my brother's wedding in Portland, Oregon. That was a very unique and special experience for me, and one that I am glad that I was able to have.

Another is my involvement with the "August Program" at Camphill Soltane this summer. I had worked at a couple of those before, but this time really felt fun, loving, and like a true (albeit short-lived) experience of community. I also got to experience first-hand some of the new forays that Camphill Soltane is doing into the world of job coaching programs and group homes for people with developmental disabilities.

And the third experience was that of visiting Open Circle Community in September. With that experience I really felt like I was returning to visit family, in a good way. I was able to help out some, enjoy the company of the folks there, and it was a nice breath of fresh air for me before returning to my life in Minneapolis.

This now brings me to Minneapolis. I have been living here since September, first at Liz' parents' house, and then in an apartment of our own. Right around the same time that we got our new apartment, I also was hired for a new full-time job and we bought a new (used) car. After that transition occurred, I have been living this life of urban-dwelling employee-renter-car owner. It is kind a bizarre way to end the year, given what the rest of the year looked like.

My job now is that of working at a group home supporting adults with severe developmental disabilities. I have done this type of work before, but not supporting people with disabilities this extreme. All of the people whom I support are unable to walk, talk or eat, and they require total care, 24/7/365. I have met and worked with a wide variety of different kinds of people throughout my life, but never people like this. And now, here I am.

In the world of media, I read a number of different books throughout this year, but the one book that stands out as my highlight of the year is that of "Ends and Means (an Enquiry Into the Nature of Ideals and Into the Methods Employed for Their Realization)" by Aldous Huxley. This is a really obscure, out-of-print book, published in 1937. I able to find a copy of this book in a used bookstore in Auckland, New Zealand. This is a very thorough, comprehensive book about how to completely re-organize society along what could be called anarcho-pacifist lines. I basically agree with what is said in this book.

But, there is a catch to all of this. "Ends and Means" was written right before the Second World War, and it shows. Aldous Huxley seemed to know that something like WWII was about to happen, and he went to the effort of writing and publishing that book as an effort to prevent it from happening. That book came into the world, was largely ignored by the world, and the world then plunged head-first into World War II. That book has since largely been forgotten, and it leaves me feeling very cynical about the prospect of brilliant, articulate and carefully thought-out pieces of writing having any substantial effect on changing the world for the better.

In the world of movies, however, my favorite film of the year is actually an animated children's movie - "Inside Out" (which is ironically about some Minnesotans moving to the San Francisco Bay Area). This movie is a wonderful exposition on internal thought and emotional dynamics, a very playful and fun way to elaborate on how complex personal experiences work. Other notable new films came out this year, namely those reviving old movie franchises (Mad Max and Star Wars), but those films were very grim and bleak compared to the essentially uplifting and positive spirit that pervades Inside Out.

This year I was also introduced to a TV show that blew me away, "Mr. Robot". I loved this TV show for the same reason that I love the 1999 film "Fight Club". But unlike Fight Club, this show takes place in the modern (as in, 2015-ish) era, and season one for that show is about eight hours in total, instead of the around two hours of the movie. So this TV show leaves one with a lot to chew on, in a very contemporary context. I eagerly look forward to season two coming out next year.

But where does this all leave me, though, with all of the traveling, lifestyle-changing and media consuming that I did throughout this year? I now live in a city that does not really excite me, but is tolerable. The same can be said for the job that I have. I feel very alienated and disconnected from the various social scenes and subcultures that I am familiar with. I spend a lot of time on the internet, probably more than what is healthy. I am not exactly happy with my life now, it is just - tolerable.

I am happy to share my life with Liz, however. She has been my partner and companion through all of these things that I outlined here. It is hard for me to imagine what my year would have been like without her.

Looking forward, I feel like everything from here on out is just a waiting game of sorts. I am waiting for Liz and I to save up money from our jobs to do something different at some point in the future. I am waiting to be able to officially take vacation from my job while still technically remaining employed with the job. I am waiting for various things to change with various different far-flung family members. I am waiting for various new projects to emerge that I could find interesting and actually want to be a part of. I am waiting for The System to collapse, and for everything to look Totally Different.

But until then, there is as least a new Star Wars movie that will be coming out each year, starting this year.

I wishing you all the best!