Monday, December 31, 2018

Flying By: my experience of 2018

It's that time of year again! The time when the planet Earth is at that one particular spot in its orbit around the sun where a lot of us like to pause, reflect on our lives and the world we live in, and get wasted. So here are my own reflections on the year-that-was, 2018, and my experience of it.

In a number of regards my experience of this year was a boring repetition of the same-old same-old. I lived in the same apartment, worked the same job at the same location, drove the same car, and had the same friends, the same family situation and the same coworkers as the year prior. I don't view that as being a necessarily "bad" or "good" thing, it just is. It is/was the bedrock of stability from which I can look at everything else.

Traveling-wise, this year I traveled out to Las Vegas, New York City, West Virginia, Michigan, South Dakota and Chicago. So I was able to get some traveling in this year, albeit each one of these trips was a little short trip. I had the most fun in Las Vegas, which is kind of what the city is designed for. But going to New York City was my favorite of them all, simply because:
I ❤ NYC.

My time in NYC this year was also probably the most eventful time for me, as far as different big events crammed into a small period of time goes. During my time there I saw a few long-time friends of mine, I ended the friendship with one of those friends, I narrowly missed meeting up with some new friends of mine, I met up with someone who was once a member of a cult that I was once tangentially involved with that nevertheless had a huge impact on my life, I became disillusioned with NVC (which some people also call a cult), and I realized there that going to public anarchist events is a waste of my time. Oh, and I also saw the remains of real-life dinosaurs!

This year I got involved with a bunch of different things/groups that go by Three Letter Acronyms: PCT, NVC, NFP, DSA, LSC. With each of these I went through cycles of thinking that they were quite interesting and that I had a bright future with them, to eventually thinking that they were quite boring and overblown. My thoughts on all of these things now is that they each have their place in life and the world at large, but also that putting too much faith or importance in them is best described with a Two Letter Acronym: BS.

Belief-system-wise, my heart is still with The Beautiful Idea of anarchy/anarchism. There is no particular hyphenated ideology of anarchism that I am tied to, I am more interested in the whole thing in general. Yes, the whole social scene/subculture that surrounds anarchism is total shit, but I am lucky to have some friends who are anarchists as well as a body of thought that speaks to how I see life and the world at large.

Speaking of the world at large, 2018 has been a big year for Politics! I spent a lot of time paying attention to mainstream politics this year, mainly in the U.S., but also in some other countries as well. I view mainstream politics, particularly in the U.S., as being a kind of team sport, and this year I treated it as such. My team that I root for is the Democrats, and so as the scandals, investigations, testimonies and elections wore on, I cheered as my team scored points, booed when the opposing team scored points, and strategized as to how the next few moves can and should play out. I have no illusions that the Democrats, nor any other political party or politician, will ever bring us freedom, meaning, a brave new future, or anything else worthwhile. The whole system is based on deception, death, destruction and despair, it is all propped up with outright violence and the threat thereof, and while it all plays out the Sixth Mass Extinction Event for this planet is continuing on unabated. But team sports, be it political or otherwise, can be a fun way to pass the time, and so that was a game that I partook in this year as well.

Speaking of entertainment, in the world of science fiction Star Trek and Star Wars surprisingly were not that big on my mind this year. 2017 was a big year for me for both of those franchises, but not 2018. This year I would say that my favorite sci-fi TV show was The Expanse, my favorite new sci- movie was Prospect and my favorite new publishing sci-fi author was the wonderful Kim Stanley Robinson. Yes, I acknowledge that there are other genres out there besides science fiction, I just don't see them as being interesting enough for me to write about here. ;)

Real-life science had an interesting year this year as well, what with SpaceX doing some cool things, a robotic lander successfully touching down on the surface of Mars, the first genetically engineered humans being born, and the details of our impending doom being laid out for all to see and ignore.

Speaking personally, one notable thing for me this year was that 2018 was the year that I turned 40. 40! There is no more pretending that I am a youngling anymore! Ten years ago, when I turned 30, I went through a huge existential moment of trying to figure out who I am and what I am doing in the world. Turning 40 was far less dramatic, more subdued, more accepting of my place in life. I wonder if turning 50 will be similar?

Happy New Year to all! And good luck to New Horizons as it flies by Ultima Thule!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Why I am not into NVC anymore

From 2003 until pretty recently I was really into Nonviolent Communication (aka: "NVC"). This is not the case for me anymore. I have a few reasons as to why this is the case.

1) The central claim behind NVC is bogus

The central claim behind NVC, and the initial selling-point to get people interested in it, is that NVC is a uniquely effective way for peacefully resolving conflicts between people. This is not true. In the 15 years that I have been involved with NVC circles I have seen countless conflicts occur between people who are ostensibly committed to NVC and the overwhelming majority of these conflicts were not peacefully resolved to the satisfaction of everybody involved.

For a long time I have been ignoring this fact and persisted in having a faith in the conflict transforming power of NVC. Now I see that my faith has been misplaced and that my actual real-life experience shows that NVC does not achieve what people says it does. I do not wish to continue believing in something when the evidence right in front of me does not support it.

2) NVC is not special

Shortly upon entering the NVC milieu I was introduced to a whole slew of other different self-help, personal growth, interpersonal, spiritual and organizational methods, practices, processes and packages. Each of these claim to be uniquely beneficial and a good thing to have as a regular part of your life. I agree that a lot of these are useful helpful things to use and have a working knowledge of. But then I ask myself: why is it that I prioritize NVC as being the thing that I most practice and talk about to others?

And the answer that I come to for this is that NVC is the personal/interpersonal tool that I came across first. I established a habit of thinking and talking about it, and I maintained that habit over the years since my initial encounter. A habit is a habit, not necessarily a good thing or bad thing in and of itself. It just is what it is.

When I think about it, a lot, if not most, of the other different personal/interpersonal tools have some beneficial things to offer. Prioritizing NVC over the others is essentially an arbitrary thing to do that comes from whatever personal biases people have. My personal bias has been towards NVC and as a result I have been showcasing the benefits of NVC over the years, while disregarding the benefits of all of the other different personal/interpersonal tools that are out there.

3) There's nothing new here

For a long time I have been frustrated with NVC essentially manifesting itself as a perpetual series of workshops, retreats, practice groups and merchandise that one can purchase. Utilizing this model is pretty standard within the larger self-help subculture that NVC is a part of. A few attempts by NVC enthusiasts have been made to go beyond that model, but these attempts pretty much always sputter and die due to a combination of confusion, conflict and lack of interest. I think that by and large the NVC milieu has found a comfortable routine and niche for itself through the model of workshops, retreats, practice groups and merchandise. If you want something transgressive you need to go somewhere else.

4) Grand Poobahs everywhere you go

Most of the time when people think of "Nonviolent Communication" they think of one man: Marshall Rosenberg. I have long been frustrated with that tendency and I have hoped that that would go away with Marshall Rosenberg passing away. That was not the case.

NVC is filled with Grand Poobahs, people who are adored, put up on pedestals and who appear to have very high opinions of themselves. What these people say generally carries a lot of weight within NVC circles, whereas what the people who are not in these positions have to say is generally inconsequential. I am tired of this dynamic.

When I think about it, though, this is probably tied to the training and merchandising model that NVC is wedded to. If you have people whose economic livelihood is dependent upon other people paying money to them for their NVC goods and services, the best way for you to have security and stability in that position is to have people think that you are hot shit and be eager to hand over their money to you for whatever you say or do next. This is a tiered system of trainers, students and administrative support staff for the trainers who may or may not be paid for the work that they do. For someone who is opposed to hierarchy in all its forms I find this to be a profoundly uninteresting set-up to be stuck with.

5) People are people

I have long had the belief that NVC enthusiasts are more likely to display the qualities of empathic listening, abstaining from judging people, and expressing themselves honestly and vulnerably. I no longer believe that this is the case. I now think that NVC people, just like other people, are just as likely to perpetuate blame, shame, judgement and emotional disconnection. I give them kudos for trying to go beyond it, that is, when they actually do try to do so.

However I think that it is unwise to expect anything else when we are all programmed by the same overarching society that we all live in, a society that is based upon blame, shame, judgement and emotional disconnection. This is not to say that I have not met some remarkable people in NVC circles who clearly have displayed these qualities of empathy, non-judgement and personal authenticity, but I have also met such people in spaces outside of the NVC milieu as well. So, again, NVC is not particularly special in this regard.

6) A question of consciousness

I have heard a number of different NVC trainers over the years say that the purpose of NVC practice is to get one's mind into a kind of consciousness of peace and love. These same NVC trainers are also often quick to point out that this kind of consciousness is not only available via NVC and that many other means also exist to achieve this end goal. The NVC trainers say that NVC is their preferred method for reaching that kind of consciousness and that their preference for NVC does not make NVC "better" than the other methods out there.

What comes up for me upon reflecting upon this is: What about the other paths? What if I prefer to use one of those instead? Perhaps over time some other path, or combination of paths, has become more appropriate for me?

Regardless of all of that, my excitement and enthusiasm for "walking the path" these days is shot. It is simply not something that is important to me right now. The principles and intentions behind NVC are still things that are close to my heart, but an NVC practice or affiliation is not.

What now?

I do not feel any kind of anger or hostility towards the various different NVC people out there. I wish those people who continue to be enthusiastic about NVC well and good luck. And to those people who are new to NVC and who are interested in learning more about it: by all means, go for it!

But for me, personally, my time with NVC is up. My enthusiasm for it is gone, my faith in it has evaporated and my interests now lay elsewhere. NVC has had a profound impact and effect on me and my life, but now my life is at a different place from where it was in the past. It does not make sense to me to keep things around simply for the sake of nostalgia and habit. It was great while it lasted, and now it is time for me to move on to other things.

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"**