Monday, December 10, 2012

A possible new nationwide organization of anarchists

There has been some talk recently about forming a new nation-wide anarchist organization. This is a project that definitely has caught my attention and interest, and I do think that some of the points that are made in this appeal are valid ones. At the same time I am also a bit skeptical, for I have been around long enough to have seen countless national and regional anarchist organizations come and go. This has all got me thinking though about the topic of formal nation-wide anarchist organizations. The thought of repeating the same old kinds of attempts that have been tried in the past does not appeal to me - whereas trying out something new does.

The real value for having a formal anarchist organization, I think, is that of providing a means for different anarchists to meet up face-to-face and having a venue for people to find folks to work together with on common projects that they all believe in. The focus of an anarchist organization should not be to provide content that reflects the beliefs and views of everyone who is associated with the organization, but rather to be a networking hub for anarchists to find each-other. Having a publication is not necessary, nor is having a formal membership structure.

The idea that an anarchist organization should have ideological unity and should have common positions that everybody agrees on ultimately leads to frustrating endeavors which become a big discouraging waste of people's time and energy. Even the term "anarchist" itself can be left undefined, although if some people want to meet up to discuss that they are welcome to do so. The key thing is for anarchists to be connecting with other anarchists, and from these connections the individual anarchists can create whatever common projects they want.

I also want to emphasize the importance of this organization being based upon people having real-life face-to-face connections with each-other. In this age of online digital connections being so pervasive I think that one of the biggest barriers for anarchists now to confront is the profound social alienation of our modern society. Much of the mutual understanding and trust that is necessary for enacting real solidarity and mutual aid is lost now thanks to an over-reliance and over-emphasis on digital technology. So a new anarchist organization would still use all the modern online trappings – a web-site, Facebook and Twitter accounts, all of that – but all of these things would exist simply as tools to facilitate real-life face-to-face meetings happening.

I picture such a new anarchist organization as being based around having a large annual national gathering, as well as regional gatherings, local and city-wide gatherings of anarchists. The format for these gatherings would be Open Space Technology, a means by which those people who are present at the gatherings determine themselves what the content will be. The organizing collectives for the conference would be concerned only with the logistical matters of making the conference happen, not with the content of what will be discussed at the conferences – that would be up to the conference attendees themselves to determine.

Ever since the National Conference on Organized Resistance (“NCOR”) stopped happening, there has not been an annual national conference for the anarchist movement to converge at. This new organization would exist in part to help support this conference in happening and to be a sustainable endeavor – independent of larger institutions such as universities and independent of any particular anarchist strain, ideology, or campaign. Given that this would be a nation-wide anarchist gathering, perhaps the location should be central for everyone in the country, let’s say: Wichita, Kansas. Unlike NCOR there is no reason to have to have a nation-wide anarchist conference take place every year at the capital city of the nation-state. However, like NCOR there is an advantage to having the consistency of the conference be at the same location every year.

By not endorsing any particular anarchist ideology and by not supporting any particular anarchist project, and by instead providing the means for different anarchist thinkers and activists to come together to meet each-other, it is hoped that the depth of anarchist thoughts and the creativity of anarchist projects would be helped more than if any particular partisan approach was supported. This is because more people from more of a diversity of backgrounds would be involved, with more of a cross-fertilization of ideas and perspectives taking place.

Internet-wise, it would be best for the web presence for this organization to support people in meeting up with their local anarchist groups, projects and collectives face-to-face. Picture a kind of online version of the Slingshot Organizer’s radical spaces contact list. The web presence would also have features available to support people in sharing transportation and places to crash at while traveling. There would be no place for debate or discussion online, all of this would be channeled towards other online anarchist projects that do that, or towards individuals or groups who are interested in having such discussion in-person.

With this kind of approach to a nation-wide anarchist organization, my hope is that quite a lot of new things could come out of it, both practical and theoretical, even new formal organizations! This organization would serve as a launching pad for other, separate, new things. The irony is that with having such an organizational arrangement, none of the new things that arise would officially be associated with this organization – they would be things that arose as a result of people meeting up through this organization and then going off and doing something else together.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Musings on Marriages

I read this recent blog entry by my friend Rachel about the topic of marriage and I am left feeling uncomfortable with it. This is because what is said here about marriage simply does not seem true to me, it does not mesh with my experience of the whole thing. It seems to me that what is being talked about here is an old out-dated model for “marriage”, and hence as a result by default it seems to me that this argument presented has become somewhat of a straw-man argument. What bugs the most with this piece is that I see this attitude reflected here as being one that is common within a lot of radical circles.

Let me say a bit more about where I am coming from here... I grew up, like many people did, with this idea drilled into my head that getting married, having children, yadda yadda yadda, is what I and everyone else should do with their lives. But then also, at the same time that that message was being conveyed to me, I saw what real-life marriage looked like for people. For my mother’s parents it looked like my grand-mother being disabled and my grand-father being the care-giver as well as the money-maker. For my father’s parents it looked like the two of them living in two different parts of the country and never seeing each other. For my own parents it looked like the two of them hardly ever being in the same room at the same time and then ultimately getting divorced, and subsequently each of them having such very different memories of their marriage that it is hard to believe that they are both talking about the same thing. For my mother and step-father it looked like my mother working two jobs and my step-father doing whatever it was that he did. In other words, the images that mass media was giving me for how "marriage" was supposed to look like was not matching up with what real-life marriages looked like before my own eyes.

Also, as a child, I grew up seeing many many many of the people in my parents’ generation getting divorced. I mean, seriously, I saw *A LOT* of divorces! Aunts, uncles, people in the Baha’i religious communities that I grew up in, friends’ parents, coworkers of my parents, you name it, everybody was getting a divorce. This left me with the impression that, despite claims to the contrary, marriage is just something that people do for a period of time, and then one goes on and does other things. Sort of like being in middle school or high school, but with more intense heart-breaking emotional pain involved.

Now, fast forward to my adult years, and I’ve seen some other kinds of marriages on display. I have seen first-hand unmarried couples, singles and groups of people have and raise children, people getting married for legal reasons to get citizenship, for financial reasons to get medical insurance coverage, I have seen polyamorous marriages, intense NVC-oriented emotional processing-based marriages, married couples living in income-sharing communes, married couples running Camphill-style homes, marriages based in weird obscure religions, marriages based on mutual Vipassana Meditation practice, same-sex marriages, and probably some other kinds of marriages that I am forgetting about at the moments.

This all leads me to a certain conclusion about marriage – thanks to the contributions starting mainly from the Baby Boom generation in the West, the old notion of marriages necessarily looking similar to each-other and being an institution of patriarchal domination is over. This is not to say that that way of having marriages no longer exists. I think that in many places around the world that old patriarchal model is still is how marriages are usually carried out. I also think that a lot of my peers in my generation, probably even some people I know, are having marriages done in that old way. The thing is that I do not think that marriages have to be carried out in a uniform pattern in the old patriarchal way any longer, at least in the West.

When I think about it, I suspect that this is very much related to the crumbling, shrinking and changing that has been taking place within organized religion as well. Organized religion is no longer the big social force that it used to be, and within many of the religious institutions that do exist nowadays an intentional process has been taking place to eradicate the old modes of patriarchal top-down domination. I think that it was probably the Baby Boom generation again that contributed enormously to initiating the demise and changing of traditional religious institutions and this probably relates to the parallel shifting of how marriages have been carried out as well.

Marriage as an institution is something that I see as being potentially valuable as not only being a public expression of love between people, but also being a kind of commitment of ongoing support and active involvement in each-other’s lives. Yes, this can happen outside of “marriage” per se, but the advantage to marriage as an institution is the legal and financial commitment and protection that comes along with the institution as well. That is, as long as we still live in a world where the concepts of “legality” and “finances” are still the norm!

Ideally I would like to see the institution of marriage be expanded and experimented with more as well. There should be same-sex marriage, of course, but also marriage between more than two people as well. Marriage, in a way, has some of the same advantages that the 501d tax status has, which is the same legal category that monasteries are put in, and that the income-sharing intentional communities within the FEC use as well. The differences between marriage and the 501d status is with marriage the couple has the right to visitation and involvement with the other when one is hospitalized, and has a say in what happens when the other one dies.

I do recognize that relationships based on guilt, shame, duty, obligation, fear, etc., as well as domination itself, can very easily exist within marriage. However, I see this as equally being the case for non-married romantic relationships, as well for relationships between people residing within income-sharing communities as well. These kind of social dysfunctions and psychological neuroses do not necessarily recognize the distinctions between “married” and “unmarried” people. This is something to be consciously worked on regardless of one’s relationship status.

Marriage as I see it now is basically a legal and financial structure for people to be more closely involved in each-other’s lives, as well as a social signifier of ongoing love and commitment between these people. Aside from that, it is basically a blank slate that the people involved can fill with whatever they want. You can choose to fill it with the old school stuff of patriarchal domination, social inequality, guilt, shame and obligation. Or, you could fill it with any number of different new, creative and interesting arrangements, patterns and relationships. It is up for the people involved in it to decide, for now, thanks to my parents’ generation, the old gods are dead.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Long View

As most everybody knows, the whole Election thing recently happened, with the highly entertaining Professional Sports-like atmosphere pervading the whole spectacle. Immediately following that, more drone strikes occurred and a high-profile sex scandal went public, topping off the whole thing. Also in the news is a new study that was released which says that "Climate Change Is Probably Going To Be Worse Than Any Of Us Expected". This particular piece of news was generally ignored by the public, along with the news of mass violence everywhere, in favor of the usual Bread and Circuses of everyday life.

I find this kind of thing to be totally discouraging for any kind of profound positive widespread social change.

It is in times like this that I see it as being helpful to step back and take a look at the bigger picture, to get a better sense of perspective on the whole thing. Being too fixated on the current state of the world can be a bit stifling, I think. It's best to keep in mind a bit of the context that we all find ourselves in here.

With that being said, let's start at the beginning! Anatomically modern human beings came about around 200,000 years ago. From that time until around 10,000 years ago people have lived together and organized their affairs in basically the kinds of ways that I advocate: anarchistic, based in decentralized small-scale groups, sharing resources, sustainable, tribal, with a high degree of intimacy with each-other as well a strong connection with the natural world around them. So basically, the crazy, extremely radical, totally out-there world that I would like to see has been how humanity has lived throughout most of its history, it has been the norm for human relations. It is only relatively recently that human social life has been so very alienating, aggressive and authoritarian.

With this in mind, let us also remember - human beings have survived dramatic global climate change before. It was a difficult period, the total human population got to be very small, but humanity survived it. If humanity was able to survive that time of drastic global climate change and the resulting inhospitable conditions before, humanity can very well be able to survive it again.

However, even if humanity survives this next round of global climate change, eventually the Earth will be destroyed by the Sun. Who knows what the state of humanity will be like by that time, if there will even be a human race around, or if humanity would have moved on to other places by the time that event occurs. Any number of different random and inane things could have wiped out the human race by the time that occurs.

Recently in the news it was announced that another planet was discovered which could potentially be habitable for life. This means that now about a dozen planets have been confirmed to be possibly habitable, a further 54 candidates have been identified to be looked at further regarding this, and current estimates indicate at least 500 million such planets exist in our Milky Way Galaxy. And outside the Milky Way Galaxy, who knows! This all is to say that other Earth-like planets do exist out there that could potentially hold life that is similar to our own, possibly even similar to human beings.

This then ties in with the ideas of Buddhist cosmology which says that there are worlds upon worlds out there to be discovered and explored. Likewise, there are also Buddhist notions of different epochs throughout history, that everything (including "Buddhism" itself) is created and is likewise eventually destroyed. The idea of Buddhahood is to be both enlightened as well as to bring the means of liberation to a people in a time in which it does not exist. The idea behind being a bodhisattva is to be committed to sticking around until that has been achieved.

I bring up all of this Buddhist stuff because I see it all as informing an outlook on radical social change: the world that we live in right now is simply just one world among many, and it is just one epoch among many. All of it, whatever it is, no matter how entrenched and permanent-seeming it appears to be, it will all go away sometime.

The role of an anarchist revolutionary in all of this then is to spread the understandings and practices of a truly free life, for a truly free world - regardless of where the world is at at the time. There should be no attachments to the free world happening now, or ever. It will happen if, when, and where it will. That is not for us to determine, but the actions that we take to get there are. Like the dedicated bodhisattva, continuing on life after life for the liberation of all sentient beings, so should an anarchist go. There has been and will be global anarchy - if not in this world-epoch, then in another.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Thinking Like a State and Otherwise

The topic of anarchists voting, or not voting, has been coming up a lot lately. This is happening, of course, because the national Presidential Elections are coming up soon here in the U.S. More locally, pertaining to Minnesota in particular, there are two big amendment thingies that will be coming up for a popular vote as well. I have personally decided to vote for the Green Party candidates for president and vice president, and a group that I am connected with, the MARS Collective, has decided to publicly take a stand regarding the amendments that are to be voted on here in Minnesota. This all leaves some people, both anarchists and non-anarchists alike, reacting with a confused and surprised “What the hell?!”

I have decided to vote for the Green Party not because I am wanting there to be a “Green President” (or any “president” for that matter), but more as a way to publicly protest against both the Democrats and the Republicans while at the same time adding a little bit more weight to a general lefty public voice (assuming that that is a useful thing to do). The way that I view it, what I personally think about the topic of elections and politics in general are expressed by me when I talk about it and write about these subjects. Voting does not really express what people think and feel about things, it is simply just raw numbers being tallied up by a bureaucratic machine. Votes are in essence devoid of any real meaning in and of themselves – they are just that are put out there that other people can interpret and put whatever meaning they want to on them.

Given that the Green Party is usually thought of as being in favor of lefty things, adding one more number to their name could (and I am hoping would) be registered in the public eye as being a little bit more known support for lefty things. This is the same logic as going to protests or having political bumper stickers. It’s purely symbolic, and that may or may not possibly contribute to some positive social change. But in the end I do not think that it is all that important or interesting.

When looking at the topic of anarchism and voting, I think that it is important to examine – what is the state, per se? After all, voting and electoral politics over all are primarily functions of the state, they are one part of the general state apparatus (at least for the states that use a representative democracy system). The state is a social institution of organized force, control and coercion, and it is maintained and perpetuated by people acting in accordance with it, going along with it, and just generally playing the game by the rules that are drilled into us from birth. The state exists because you, me, and millions of others both believe in it and act accordingly.

To abolish the state, then, requires the opposite of all that. To abolish the state means that people stop believing in it and stop playing along. This means not voting, yes, but it also means so much more than that. It means not paying taxes, not following laws, not getting government-issued I.D.s, not using government-issued currencies, not filling out government-issued paperwork, and basically not operating based on the symbol structures that are set up and arranged by governments. It means counter-economics, basically.

The idea behind all of this is basically to “ignore” the state as much as possible, to “do your own thing” instead. It can be said that “laws” do not exist, but people with guns who are willing to forcefully put you into cages do. Relatedly, “money” also does not exist, but starvation does, as do those same aforementioned people with guns who are willing to put you into cages. All of these institutions are based on collectively agreed-upon social meanings that we choose to ascribe to things, and our willingness and ability to play along with them. Or not.

I view the act of voting as being a situation where people are being told that those folks who have their guns and their cages and who are making threats at you, as well as all those people who are playing the game of “money” and the whole series of chain-reactions of cause-and-affect that go along with that, could possibly maybe make certain choices and go in certain directions if you perform a particularly designated mass ritual and mark an “X” in one box or another. That’s super. But ultimately, so what?

There comes a time when it’s appropriate to put down the games, to turn off the entertainment, and to face the real world with the real people that are in it. And this brings me to Leah-Lynn Plante. This person, along with Matt Duran and Kteeo Olejnik decided to not play along with one of the games set up by the state, a game called “grand jury investigation”. As a result, people with guns forcefully put them into a cage. Now Leah-Lynn Plante is out of that cage, while the other two are still there, and it is currently unclear whether this was because she decided to start playing along with the state’s game or not.

This brings me to a point that I wanted to make – to be rigorously and consistently against the state, to absolutely refuse to go along with that whole thing, to live a life based on “counter-economics” essentially, is to completely be putting your life on the line. They can kidnap, torture and kill you – that’s what states do, it is a part of their basic function. To be against that, one needs to make a personal assessment and a personal decision of what one is willing and able to do. It must be understood that not everyone is at all times up for taking such enormous risks.

One of the things that was publicly known about Leah-Lynn Plante was that she struggled with various mental health issues. With that being the case, she may have decided to at some point start prioritizing her own mental health and well-being over consistently resisting the state and the various demands that are associated with it. If that is the case, I would urge there to be compassion and understanding for how she could make such a choice. Not everyone is cut out for being a public sacrificial martyr for a cause.

The case of Leah-Lynn Plante and the issue of anarchists voting is related in that we all, as individuals, have to determine for ourselves how much and in what ways we want to play along with the games of the state. We each determine what things we go along with, which mass functions we want to act in accordance with, and what meanings we want to ascribe to things. We each choose what lines we will draw, and what lines we will or will not cross.

In the case of the two Minnesota amendments, I plan on voting “no” on both of them, but for different reasons that other folks commonly give for this. “Voter I.D.”, just like any other kind of government-issued identification, is just one more form of state control and an arbitrary set of bureaucratic hoops to jump through that I would like for people to avoid. And the institution of “marriage” is not something that I want to have frozen in place, but instead see it be played with and experimented with. Of course let’s have same-sex marriages, but why stop there? How about having three or more people be married to each-other? How about having whole communities of people be married to each-other? To me, the focus should be on encouraging new forms of closeness and commitment between people, not on abiding by government laws.

So yes, I will vote, but in the end that is not all that important. The elections will come and go, and other rituals and demands associated with the state will come up as well. Time and time again I and other anarchists will be confronted with these realities, and will need to choose how we want to respond. We each need to determine for ourselves what choices are most in integrity with our values, what battles we want to fight, and when it will be best to save our energy to fight another day.

I do not want to establish universal moral codes or standards for all anarchists to follow regarding voting, or anything else for that matter. At its base this is a matter of individual responsibility and choice, and from that foundation we can then come together to determine what projects we can create that are more interesting than those that we have been presented with.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Voting for the Elections

Right now the national election season is in full force in the United States. Almost everywhere you go you come across something that is related to it in some form. Because of this omnipresent media saturation, a number of folks have asked me for my thoughts on this subject. Usually, this then segues into these people asking me who I will be voting for in these elections. Invariably, this then winds up as a request for me to vote for Barrack Obama.

I can talk the talk of electoral politics, probably better than a lot of people can. I follow the news avidly, I have since I was a child, and all of that can fool people into thinking that I really believe in this stuff. I don’t. I see electoral politics as being much like professional sports; I view it for entertainment purposes only. What I don’t want is for the athletes or coaches to be controlling the lives of me or anyone else in the real world. When the TV or computer is turned off, I don’t want that game to still be affecting people. There is a phrase, “it’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye”, and unfortunately because of electoral politics people all over the world are getting maimed and killed as a result of this game.

To answer the question that is on so many people’s minds, no, I refuse to vote for Barrack Obama. I think that nobody else should vote for him either. I will not be voting for Mitt Romney, nor do I think that anybody else should too. I believe that Obama has crossed a moral line with the large amount of killings and terrorizing of people around the world by making decisions that he is responsible for. Murders and other human rights violations have been committed because of Barrack Obama - both Americans and non-Americans, on U.S. soil and in foreign countries, both civilians and combatants, both in countries where the U.S. is officially “at war” in and in countries that are officially “U.S. allies”. I find this all to be absolutely deplorable and inexcusable. I do not think that this kind of behavior should be encouraged in any way. Voting for him would be a way to encourage this kind of behavior. At some point one needs to take a moral stand and say “No. This is wrong and this has to stop.” Some of the reasoning behind this is further elaborated by Conor Friedersdorf in an article here along with a follow-up piece here

I think that it is important for each person to be really clear on where they draw their moral lines at between what they find to be acceptable and what they find to be unacceptable behavior. Apparently the people who support Barrack Obama think that it is acceptable behavior to kill hundreds of people in different countries using drones. At what number does this become unacceptable? When 4000 people have been killed? 5000 people? When one million people have been killed? Or perhaps these murders are acceptable because the people being killed are from places that most Americans have not gone to and they speak languages that most Americans do not speak. If these killings took place in Western Europe or Mexico or Canada would they then be unacceptable? How close to home does it have to be until it is considered to be wrong? Do these murders need to be taking place on U.S. soil until they are considered to be wrong? In your home-town? In your neighborhood?

Or, regarding how similar these victims are to you - if the people being killed spoke English would it then be unacceptable? Do the people being killed need to be Caucasian in order for it to be unacceptable? If they shared your same political or religious views would it then be unacceptable? Does it need to be your own friends and family members being killed in order for it to be considered unacceptable? What I am trying to get here is a clear threshold to be stated: at what point does one consider these actions to be wrong and thereby becomes unwilling to support them continuing?

As I see it, murder is murder, and murder is wrong no matter who does it, be it U.S. forces or anyone else. And if we are serious about actually stopping murder from happening, then we need to take action to do so.

Here it seems applicable to bring up the famous quote that is attributed to Martin Niemöller:

“First they came for the socialists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.”

As I see it, without having clear moral lines in place, and speaking up about them and standing firm by them, tyranny, brutalities and infringements on people’s basic human rights just grow and grow, expand and expand. This has been the case in Barrack Obama’s presidency, and it has been the case during the regimes of other people in power in other times and places too. It is very important for these patterns to be stopped.

And to be absolutely clear here, I also fully believe that Mitt Romney would do the same kinds of horrible things, and possibly more of it, which is why I do not want people to vote for him either.

I have frequently heard people say that Obama is “the lesser of two evils”, and that therefore one should vote for him. Quite a number of different people have said that Obama has done and will do bad things, and that Mitt Romney will do even worse things, therefore one should vote for the person who will just do bad things. My response is – what if I do not want to support people who are doing bad things? What if I don’t want to support “evil” at all, regardless of whether it is “lesser” or “greater”?

The response that I get to that is always – “you can’t”. The thought is that if one does not vote for one of these two “evils”, then one is by default then supporting the “greater” of the two “evils”. In a lot of people’s minds, “none of the above” is automatically taken to mean “the greater of two evils”. In other words, the way that things are framed here in popular discourse - one can’t not support evil. One can’t support good. One only has to support bad things.

Well, to hell with all this “supporting evil” stuff - I reject this whole paradigm. If the system is set up in such a way that the only real choices available to us are “bad” and “worse”, then it is the system itself that is the problem, not the candidates. The replacement that needs to occur is at the level of structure that would allow for such a horrendous situation to come about in the first place. Just acknowledging this opens the door to a whole world that is hidden right in front of our eyes.

To me, this whole problem goes back to when people made the transition into democracy and away from autocracy, monarchy and those kinds of things. The idea was that one person should no longer be bossing everybody else around. The goal was for the population itself to control things instead of a ruler. The problem was that people stopped short of realizing this goal and wound up instead with a modified version of what was going on previously: representational democracy.

With this model one person still did boss everyone around, the difference is that they just do so for shorter periods of time and they are replaced by other people whom the population chooses. The grand narrative explaining who these people were changed from them “representing God’s will on earth” into them instead “representing the people’s will”. Somewhere along the way the thought “it’s horrible to have that one guy bossing us around all the time, let’s get rid of this whole structure and run things ourselves” got replaced with the thought “let’s have inter-changeable bosses”. The impulse that people had for real collective freedom and democracy was lost in favor of setting up shorter-term replaceable tyrannies.

This then leads to those who are trying to get elected doing all kinds of behaviors that people don’t like in order to get elected: pandering to special interests and powerful lobbies, openly lying or distorting the facts, publicly insulting and slandering people, criminal and other shady activity, trying to scare people by emphasizing various horrible things that could happen if they do not get elected, and so forth. Often things degenerate into a kind of “by any means necessary” mindset in order to gain political power. With representational democracy, the main goal of the politicians becomes gaining and maintaining their own power, not fulfilling any kind of “popular mandate”. History is filled with all kinds of horror stories about the different maneuvers and atrocities committed for the sake of getting the necessary votes and gaining political power.

When it comes down to it, whoever is elected into positions such as “the President” is the ruler of the country. Regardless of what they say or do to get elected, once they are put into office, they are then the top dog. So when presented with the question “do you want this person to be your ruler or do you want that person to be your ruler?” if one were to give the response “I don’t want anybody to be our ruler, I want people to work out their affairs cooperatively among themselves”, that response is not recognized within this frame-work. That response is either conceptually rammed into one of the available slots-fit-for-a-ruler, or the response itself is assumed to be faulty and therefore worthless. No meaningful conversation between people can be had within the narrow confines of: “Do you chose option A or option B?” So then the frame-work itself needs to be changed, for the sake of real diversity, real democracy, and to give everybody a voice in these conversations that affect us all.

As it stands now, we have available to us a variety of different social organizational, group process and interpersonal models and methods that can be used for people to manage their own communal affairs and to make collective decisions directly without representative democracy. Technologically-speaking, we also now have the ability to communicate with each-other and to organize large amounts of complex information with more ease than ever before, making electronic direct democracy now a very real possibility. There is simply no reason to continue on with representational democracy when other options for how to do democracy directly exist just waiting for us to implement them. At best, one can say that representative democracy is an outdated social technology.

Then there is another issue which is kind of an elephant in the room that nobody is talking about: the global climate is changing in ways that are quite dangerous, deadly and will fundamentally alter life as we know it world-wide. The questions for humanity, or at least the industrialized world, to address are: how deadly does it have to be, how can we most constructively prepare for it, how can we mitigate the damage, and how can we reverse the dangerous trends. Neither Obama nor Romney are talking about these questions, nor are the various intergovernmental institutions that are set up to address this issue taking the matter seriously.

Climate change has been affecting us now in major and dramatic ways – killing scores of people, destroying communities, and causing innumerable species to go extinct world-wide. Now and for generations and generations to come, if there are even to be future generations. This matter affects both human and non-human life alike, and it crosses all borders. What this is about is the future of the human race and life in general. Compared to this enormity of scale, this magnitude of importance, most everything else that is being discussed in popular culture shrinks down to minuscule size. To quote David Suzuki: “We're in a giant car heading toward a brick wall and everyone's arguing over where they're going to sit."

What I would like to see is a radical restructuring of society as soon as possible. The various industrial systems and structures which are thoroughly integrated in with our lives need to be rethought and reorganized for the sake of better adjusting to and minimizing the effects of climate change for the benefit of all. This is best done within the context of direct participatory democracy to include as many different people as possible within the conversation, since these matters do affect us all in life and death ways. Not only that, but the more people that are involved actively thinking together, and brainstorming together, the more of a possibility there is for finding and implementing creative new means to better support the continuing life on this planet.

So, no, I will not vote for Barrack Obama. I want there to be real change and real hope. Obama has not brought about either. But really, I don’t believe that any politician, or any ruler of any kind, can do that. It is humanity, especially in the industrialized world, that needs to do this in a genuinely democratic way. It is a “hope” and “change” that needs to take place on both the level of how we organize ourselves together as well as how we relate with the environmental and ecological world around us. Voting for elected representatives just doesn’t cut it. “Thinking outside the box” applies to the “ballot box” as well. The whole sphere of humanity and the earth itself need to be included for where we’re going.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Anarchy as a Relationship

This article was taken from the notes I had for a workshop that I did at the recent Twin Cities Anarchist Bookfair.


My personal history with anarchism has been a series of related evolving interests – from non-coercive parenting to communal living to polyamory to Nonviolent Communication to Client-Centered Therapy to Camphill communities. Underlying all of this has been a primary focus on changing the fundamental social relationship that is being used between people. In all spheres of life, this kind of basic social change is what I see anarchism as being about.

One quote sums it up nicely: “The state is a social relationship; a certain way of people relating to one another. It can be destroyed by creating new social relationships; ie, by people relating to one another differently.” This is perhaps the most famous quote that is attributed to the German anarchist Gustav Landauer. The importance of this quote is in its reminder of how basically what we are dealing with in anarchism are ways in which human beings choose to interact with each-other.

The things that anarchists are against – be it the state, capitalism, patriarchy, what-have-you – are often viewed sub-consciously as being like physical objects. It is said that these things should be “smashed”, “thrown out”, and “destroyed”. But how does one do such things?

There is a concept called “reifying”, which basically means “treating an abstraction as a real thing”. My concern is that this is what a lot of people are and have been doing with the abstract concepts of “anarchism” and “revolution”, and conversely with the abstract concepts of “the state”, “capitalism”, etc. as well. In a sense, none of those things really exist. What does exist are people, people who are relating with each-other in different ways, making choices and responding to each-other. At best, these abstract concepts are there to describe these different kinds of relationships that exist. And relationships, it must be kept in mind, are living, dynamic, constantly changing and are experienced subjectively by each person.

One can physically burn all of the cash that one has, one can cut up government-issued I.D. cards and documents, and one can even blow up buildings that are considered to be “government buildings.” But in the end all of these actions wouldn’t amount to much. Everything destroyed would just be replaced and rebuilt, and the person who did those actions would just be left financially broke and legally in trouble.

Even if one were to go down a more militantly radical path and choose to kill the people who are called “police”, “politicians” and “business executives”, other people would just come along after them and replace them. These vacancies would be seen by others as being opportune job openings, and other people would be happy to take these jobs. The specific individuals who have these jobs may change, but the roles themselves remain the same.

The point here is that destroying physical objects and getting rid of individual people are simply symbolic actions. No matter how big, spectacular, and publicized it all is it still exists in the symbolic realm. These are statements, they may be very strongly-expressed statements, but they are still statements nonetheless.

Another danger that I see in the world of “anarchism” is that people can get lost in their own radical rhetoric and intellectual theory. Big phrases, big concepts, and big ideas can come about and be quite amazing and beautiful even. But when it comes down to what these things actually mean or what they look like in the real-life world that we all inhabit, people can be at a loss for how to explain or apply it. I have fallen into this pit myself before, and if anything these kinds of frustrating experiences can be seen as a lesson for how anarchist theory should be useful for developing clarity and coherency in understanding the social relations in the world that we are a part of.

With this in mind, I would like to advocate that instead of thinking and acting in purely symbolic ways or getting lost in abstractions, we should make efforts to de-mystify our anarchism. Personally, when I first came across anarchist theory it was very helpful for me in that it made very clear and apparent how so many different kinds of social relationships around the world, throughout history, as well as in my own life, were functioning. However, I think that many (perhaps most) people do not have that kind of experience when they first come across anarchist theory. A lot of people find anarchist ideas to be very confusing, incomprehensible, and irrelevant to their own lives. To me this means that we are not doing anarchist theory right.

We must keep in mind that we are dealing with people here. And in dealing with people that means that we must take into account the whole variety of people’s actions, reactions, perceptions, interpretations, meanings ascribed to things and choices made in life, as well as people’s subjective emotional experiences throughout it all. People have all of this as they go about engaging in different social relationships, as they participate in various kinds of social structures, as well as when they are interacting with self-proclaimed anarchists and their theories and projects.

Underlying all of the things that anarchism is against is domination. Anarchism and anarchists are against a lot of different things, and to me that is indicative of how domination permeates so much of what we do and what we are surrounded by. The term “domination” is something that I would say has three different components to it: an attempt to meet a basic human need or needs, force or coercion, and structural inequality.

The concept of fundamental human needs comes from the Chilean economist Manfred Max Neef, and the basic premise is that underlying every human action, social relationship or institution is an attempt to meet some basic human needs. These needs include not just the commonly thought of material/physical needs, but also the human needs for social closeness, personal autonomy, mental understanding, self-expression, personal integrity, social belonging, as well as needs for joyful celebration, and even what might be called a “spiritual” component in life. The idea is that these are the things that people need present in their lives in some form in order to live happy, healthy, fulfilling lives, as opposed to just looking at bare physical survival. These basic needs are finite and nameable, but the ways in which these needs can be met are infinite and ongoing.

Looking at the concepts of force or coercion, I would say that this all comes down to the “…or else” threat that is either implied or explicitly stated which is set up within human relationships. Force is when physical violence, removing or restraining somebody or something takes place. Coercion is the threat of that hanging over the relationship.

There are three main kinds of coercion that are commonly used in our society. The first one is that of laws and the institutionalized punishment of criminals. With this people are threatened with the possibility of people with guns coming and locking them in cages, or killing them if they resist, unless they agree to follow certain mandates. This kind of coercion threatens to deny people’s needs for basic freedom, autonomy, and life itself.

Another common form of coercion is that of “property” and “money”, where if one does not have such things one will be denied food, shelter, clothing, transportation and medical treatment. In order to get “money” one must agree to follow the rules, requirements and orders of others. Not following that would result in the lack of money, which then results in one’s basic physical needs not being met.

The third most common form of organized coercion in our society is that of social shunning and shaming. With this, people are threatened to have their needs for community, social closeness, acceptance and belonging not be met unless they agree to follow the various cultural norms and mores. This kind of coercion often comes up around issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, romantic relationship and family structures.

Sometimes these different forms of coercion overlap in some instances. For example, being unemployed one faces the coercion of both the lack of money as well as the social shaming, whereas making money through illegal means leads one to face the coercion of punishment for breaking the law as well as social shaming. Being a homeless vagrant leads one to face the coercion of all three forms simultaneously.

The third component of domination is that of structural inequality. With this, one person, group or class of people calls the shots, makes the collective decisions, and frames the public discourse. The other people follow orders, don’t have their voices heard, and live in fear of further marginalization. This takes place in many different realms – owners over users, bosses over workers, government officials over citizens (or “non-citizens”, for that matter), parents over children, men over women, white people over people of color, heteronormative people over queer people, able-bodied over “dis-abled” people, and so forth.

Underlying all of this are people unconsciously agreeing to hold collective stories that answer the questions “who are we?” and “what are we doing together?” This is the meaning that we ascribe to the things that surround us and the actions that we do. We are born, raised, and live in a society in which almost everyone is repeating the same collective stories. This then leads to us often not even noticing that these stories are even there in the first place.

People all agreeing to these collective stories creates the consensus reality that transforms a piece of paper into “money”, a person with a gun and a badge into a “police officer”, and a person with a ring on a certain finger of theirs into a “husband” or a “wife”. Without these stories, objects would just be objects, people would just be people, nothing more. These stories exist to inform and guide the actions that people choose to take in relation to each-other.

Not agreeing to these collective stories, and holding different more anti-authoritarian ones instead, would make one an anarchist in thought only. This is a start, an important part of the whole process, but ultimately social relationships by definition require more than one person to work. The anarchist endeavor then, in practice, is to create new kinds of social relationships between people based upon these new collective stories. The goal is to meet as many of the different fundamental human needs as possible, in as many different spheres of life as possible, while using these different kinds of social relationships that are characterized by non-coercion and equality of power.

These new relationships to meet people’s different basic human needs already do exist to some extent within anarchist circles, so in a way I am not saying anything new here. Some examples of anarchist relationships/projects that exist to meet people’s basic needs are: collective houses, communes, social centers, Food Not Bombs, Cop Watch, alternative relationships such as polyamory and co-parenting, Icarus Project, transformative justice, unschooling and community gardens. This is naming just a few of the different things that exist out there - and the potential of what can be created afresh is unlimited.

So then how do we go about forming and sustaining these new kinds of relationships to meet our needs? In order to help address this, I have discerned five aspects to look at when examining anarchist relationships/projects. Making sure that each one of these aspects is looked after, healthy and strong is essential to maintaining these new relationships.

The first aspect is to identify which fundamental needs are intended to be met with it. These needs are why you are even doing the whole thing in the first place. Without knowing what needs your relationship or project is trying to meet one cannot evaluate if or how successful it is at meeting these needs.

The second aspect is to ensure that the freedom and equality are maintained within the relationship. In other words, to make sure that everyone feels at choice within the relationship and that everyone has an equal say within the collective decisions that affect them. If the freedom and equality are no longer there, the project would be “anarchist” or “liberatory” in name only.

The third aspect is the ensuring of a healthy emotional relationship between the people that are involved in it. This means making sure that everyone is speaking honestly and openly as well as really listening to, understanding, caring for and valuing each-other. Ultimately, a healthy emotional relationship creates trust, which is absolutely vital for the project to succeed. This healthy emotional relationship is also the basis for the “solidarity” or “fraternity” part of the old slogan “liberty, equality, fraternity”.

The fourth aspect is being mindful of how these relationships interface with the rest of the world that is outside of this relationship. Examples of the interface are group finances, property ownership, legal statuses, and relations with the next-door neighbors. In other words, your group is relating in one way, while the people surrounding and right next to your group are relating in a different way – so the intersections where these differences come into contact with each-other needs to be paid attention to.

The fifth aspect is to look at the question “who are we and what are we doing together?” and to create a new liberatory story to answer that. This relates back to the fourth aspect that I just mentioned as well, because the new story to answer this question will be different from the story that those outside of the relationship will be using. Part of the work to be done in this area is maintaining faith in this new story in the face of the world around you that is looking at you and what you are doing through the lens of a totally different story.

For example, one new story could be “we are a radical social center and safe space from oppressive behaviors for people to come together at to work on creating a new society”, while at the same time people outside of that relationship will be operating with the story “they are a bunch of kids with big ideas who have some sort of nonprofit and run a storefront whose rent is due in two weeks.” Another story for another project could be “we are a collective that distributes food to people with no strings attached because no one should live in fear of hunger or other forms of violence”, while other people outside of that relationship would be using the story “volunteer group without a permit that gives away free food in the park”.

Inside the relationship and outside of it are different stories about the same relationship. In essence you have two different groups of people looking at the same exact thing, one group sees one thing, and the other group sees something else. This difference in perception and interpretation needs to be kept in mind.

These five aspects of new anarchist relations can be used when looking at already-existing relationships/projects, and they can be used to frame the creation of new ones. Having the clarity of these five aspects in mind can help one to identify any weaknesses within a relationship/project that can be actively addressed and worked with. The key thing is that when approaching all of this more clearly and intentionally, we are a lot more likely to create and sustain the kind of fundamental change in social relationships that we are looking for.

Monday, July 16, 2012

An anniversary of sorts

Five years ago today I experienced what was perhaps the most traumatic event in my life. This event marked a big turning-point for me, and it initiated a whole chain-reaction of different other changes as well. I do not want to go into what happened then, I am not interested in that now. I am interested in reflecting on where all these changes have lead me since.

More than anything I notice that a certain kind of head-strong diving-into-things quality that I once possessed is gone. I now generally feel far more reflective, hesitant, thoughtful, uncertain even, before I decide to engage in a certain course of action.

Underlying that is the loss of the sense that I once had that I am inexorably moving towards some big beautiful vision of some kind. I no longer believe in the amazingly wonderful world of tomorrow (after the coming global revolution/collapse/transformation/etc., of course) nor do I any longer believe in some kind of happily-ever-after life for myself and/or those I care about either. Those days are gone.

Perhaps you could say that this means that I have lost a personal sense of "hope" in things. It has been argued that doing away with "hope" is perhaps a good thing after all. I can see the value in that perspective. At the same time, however, losing hope also means that the particular kind of consolation offered by it is gone as well. Without "hope", one is far more likely to be confronted with un-adulterated cold hard reality. This takes some getting used to. (ironically enough, during the course of these past five years, the "hope" for "change" movement associated with Obama has arisen, peaked, and then gone away)

This urge that I have felt, or at least this tendency that I have fallen into, for looking at suffering directly is one thing that has lead me towards a deep appreciation for Buddhism, Zen and Vipassana Meditation. Stephen Batchelor explains it nicely right here when he says that the whole point of Buddhism is to go beyond "consolatory beliefs", and to face more directly the dukkha (suffering) of the world.

The thing is, then, that when I investigate further into the various forms, systems and philosophies associated with "Buddhism", I find that none of them, anywhere, is 100% completely - me. They all ask me to buy into, subscribe to, adhere to something that I genuinely do not want to. So wearing that label, like any other really, simply does not fit. I am left out in the cold, again - at least as far as philosophy-as-social-club goes.

Immediately before the events that occurred exactly five years ago I read a book, "Siddhartha", by Hermann Hesse. In it, the main character of the book remarks that he has three abilities - he can wait, he can fast, and he can think. This is what I am left with as well, I believe. Coming across anarchist philosophies has assisted me in "thinking", experiencing deprivation has helped me learn to "fast", and now that I have learned Vipassana Mediation, I have learned to "wait" as well.

More recently than that, I have read the book "Desolation Angels" by Jack Kerouac. In this novel he describes a person who "really has achieved that cold void truth we're all yakking about, and in practice she displays warmth." This is what I now aspire to.

This leads me to now, five years on, and what of it? In many ways I am more lost than ever before. And in other ways it is the exact opposite. But it does not matter, really. I am here, for now, offering what I can to the world. Take it or leave it, life goes on.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Forbidden Dhamma Poems

Recently I did a special ten-day course in Vipassana Meditation. During this course are a number of different rules and restrictions, such as no talking with the other students (which results in most of atmosphere there being very silent most of the time) and no reading, writing, music or leaving the course boundaries during the time of the course. There is also strict gender segregation, a strict daily time-table, fasting for about half of the day and many many hours of daily scheduled meditation. I had already previously sat three such Vipassana Meditation courses before, as well as did a bunch of volunteer work there previously as well, so I knew the drill.

Through fortuitous circumstances, a small pocket note-book of mine happened to not be confiscated at the beginning of the course, and I was left with a cheap bic pen in my possession as well. This lead to me eventually deciding to secretively, locked-away in my little room, write. That process was very powerful and meaningful for me, “therapeutic” even, despite it being totally against the rules. Here are some of the poems that I wrote in that little note-book.


The crazy
whirlwind of the mind
spins alone
whereas usually
it spins with others
other whirlwinds
and other storms altogether
but now it is alone
who knows where the dust
will settle?
No expert can predict that
no use trying
a million different factors
come together
to create this perfect storm


I must leave
this sacred prison
which is also my sanctuary
my hidden home
so many rules
so many restrictions
yet also the purest freedom
I have ever found
I hate it here
I love it here
Here here here
it will all be over
soon enough


and re-counting
the days
til I find out
how the rest of my days
Or begin
Or continue
but to what end?
We all know how it ends
in the end
but what do you do
til you get there?
Is the path
how to walk the path
that’s why I’m here


I love love love her
I love community too
and I love loving.
Oh, how lovely


That jack-boot
on the neck
I will die for you
I will live for you
but so what?
Billions and billions of souls
do not live for one man
or vice versa
it’s about gettin’ real
to the heart
and all that


The silence
beautiful silence
oh, how I love thee
if only I can see you
more often
in fact, bring you with me
have you meet other people
have you live in the city
at least for a while
have you become other people
is that asking too much?
Or have you become me
we become one
I am silence
or at least I want to be
real true silence
through and through


I don’t know a damn thing
about the guy next to me
here or anywhere
how cool is that?
We’re all connection
and oh-so similar
yet worlds apart
who is this guy?
Do I really want to know?
Curious minds
lead to curious places
it’s the story of my life
it’s why I’m here
Do I really want to know?


oh, we meet again!
I remember you before
Where will you take me?
Where will I go?
I have to leave here
I have to go somewhere


I was bored, tired, hungry, horny, agitated and my legs hurt.
But instead of attending to any of that
I was sitting still
on the floor
with my eyes closed
listening to a recording
of some guy
going on
And on
And on
in some language that I don’t understand
watching my breath
Totally counter-intuitive
but it works


Delusion, illusion, confusion, what’s really real in this world of just mind and matter? What does matter matter if we all die in the end? What does mind matter if nobody has you on their mind? Who are “they” anyway? Craving, clinging, craving, clinging, desperately, frantically, hurridly, imploringly – I NEED THIS!!!

I need what? What is there if there is only nothingness? Who am “I” if “I” does not exist? There is only only only – dhamma. The Law of Nature. Cause and effect, cause and effect, ad infinitum. Long long ago, far far away, some guy did something to somebody who then did something to somebody who then did something, and so on and on and on, which resulted in me then being here today. Why? What am I trying to get at? I have thoughts thoughts thoughts thoughts thoughts thoughts – but who cares? It all goes around and around the merry-go-round, and I am back where I started from. Starts stops starts stops arising passing away arising passing away – what do I DO with all of this god-damned impermanence?! It will all just come and go and come and go like I did so many times now and you did too – it’s just that you had a different name and a different face at the time. And I did too. Oh, so so many times, so many different lives, so many different miseries, so many different sufferings – so much suffering. The times, places and people change, but the suffering is still there. And it is still with us. I have to get out! Out of this prison (of suffering)! I must not come back here! I must go! I MUST LEAVE!!!

But go where? Where would I go? Here is all there is. All that there is. And so many people are still here. So many people. So much suffering. So much fighting. So much lying. So much killing. So much stealing. So much hurting. So many people. Like it or not for better or worse – I am here with you. We are here together. In this world of worlds,worlds upon worlds, so different so diverse, we are still here together. We are here doing doing doing back and forth back and forth – and I am wondering – what is being passed around between us all? Is it wholesome or unwholesome? Good or bad? The bad is bad, the good is good, it is still there, no matter what you think. So what can you do? Do nothing. Just sit. Be with it for a while. Feel it from the inside. Sooner or later, just watching watching watching feeling feeling feeling, it begins to change. That is ok. Change is inevitable. Purity comes with time. Time time time. And attention. And acceptance. All will be revealed. As it is.


Artists’ colonies and artists’ camps. Writers’ colonies and writers’ camps. Buddhist colonies and Buddhist camps. Guerilla camps. Base camps. Terrorist camps. Summer camp.

Oh, that’s so camp.


Sometimes I am just
vomiting out nonsense
frantically flailing
clutching and clawing
trying to somehow
somewhere sometime
find the Truth
that’s a capital “T”
there, boy.
That’s important
you know.
What goes around
comes around
and here you have it
wrapped-up in perfectly
preserved doctrine
ready for you to discard
and discover
what’s inside


ought to be a good thing
it means that we are not
under the spell of illusions
but then why does it hurt
so much?
I think that it is because of
to ideas
of the way things are supposed
to be
the way things are supposed to
turn out
it all can be held
and dropped
at will
illusions only go so far


How many people
are in their own private
fantasy-land play-ground
right now?
How many people
are wading through their own
private hell?
I can never tell
the impression is
everyone is their own special
bodhisattva monk
except me
I am all mess
and subjectivity
I can never tell
self-contained units
within self-contained units
and yet we are all connected
and we will find out
when the walls come down

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Open your eyes, time to wake up, enough is enough is enough is enough

I read my friend Rachel’s recent blog entry about the ethics of care and healing trauma, and that reminded me of something, something that is very important to me. Caring is an essential component to my political world-view. I quite literally cannot envision a new anarchist world, that is, a world that is not structured by things like government, prisons, police, domination or hierarchy of any kind – I cannot see such a world existing or surviving without a deep sense of caring being the norm that people have for each-other.

And yet, I am struck by the profound absence of caring, again and again and again and again. This goes for radicals and “normal people”, anarchists and politicians alike. Caring, real caring, is seeming to be conspicuously absent in people’s lives, relationships, outlook on society and vision for the future. An example for this (aside from what Rachel has already mentioned in her blog entry) is the song by Chumbawamba that I link to at the top of this blog entry. It is a damn catchy song, I love it, and yet, the line that immediately follows the chorus that I am using as the title for this blog entry is: “give the fascist man a gun-shot”. To me, killing people, especially the act of labeling large swaths of people into certain categories, and then executing all of the people within that category – that all belies a profound lack of caring.

Within self-described anarchist circles there is a kind of fashionable chic going around now that has violence, or at least the rhetoric and images of violence, seem really awesome and desirable. I suppose that this kind of thing has existed within anarchist scenes for a long time now, which has partly fueled the image within popular society that “anarchists” are all violent maniacs. I recently read a quote by the radical socialist author William Morris who describes my sentiments exactly: “I cannot for the life of me see how the principles of anarchism, which propose the abolition of compulsion, can admit of promiscuous slaughter as a means of converting people”. For me, the glue that holds a society or a group of people together, without compulsion, coercion or a state structure present, is that the people involved really do care about each other to some degree.

In a more mainstream picture of the world, right now the U.S. government is regularly and increasingly killing scores of people in different countries across the world by using unmanned drone planes. A recent editorial I read describes these attacks as being “too clinical; they are like video games”. It is a totally impersonal way to kill people, and it is more and more becoming the norm, because it results in far less U.S. casualties. At least directly. A lot of the time when people try to hurt or kill other people out of revenge it is done so out of a motivation of “NOW you will understand the pain that I am feeling, because of the death of my loved ones. I will MAKE YOU UNDERSTAND this pain that I am feeling, by having you experience the death of YOUR loved ones.” I am guessing that when you don’t even see the people that are killing your loved ones, when you just see death machines flying around in the sky, the urge is then even stronger to have the people that are behind it understand the pain that is being caused.

Death by drone strikes seems to me to be a part of a much larger trend in society of a way of dealing with horrors and death – hide it away from direct viewing. Other forms of abuse and death do the same thing – the whole massive prison-industrial complex, old people dying in nursing homes, news stories of people being killed by suicide bombers all over the world getting little tiny blurbs being written about it in the newspapers. I recently went to a play performance by a touring radical theater group where the play that they gave enacted out some of the various different horrors of prison life in this country. The idea being that if you see real-life people right in front of your face suffering different pains and injustices then you would have it begin to sink in that this kind of thing actually is taking place in this world that you live in. It is no longer so damned abstract that you can’t really believe that it’s happening.

However, there is also another dynamic – that of people being exposed to all kinds of different scenes and images of pain, suffering and violence regularly, on an on-going basis, as a form of entertainment. This is very popular, very normal, very “cool” even. The idea is that seeing this kind of thing taking place, regularly, on a daily basis even, makes you numb to it. It takes the meaning and the real-ness out of the whole thing. It all then ceases to matter. There is no caring in this, even though you see that it is going on.

To counter all of this, I want caring – a regular on-going practice of real, conscious, intentional caring. There are different ways to go about this, to cultivate this, and my personal favorite is a Buddhist practice – “Mettā meditation”. The idea is that after meditating for a bit, you then shift your attention to your body sensations in the present moment (particularly around in your heart-area) and saying to yourself something along the lines of “May all beings be happy. May all beings be peaceful. May all beings be free from suffering”. There are other ways to do Mettā meditation too, and other non-Mettā ways to cultivate real caring exist as well. The important thing is to really encourage within yourself conscious sincere wanting the well-being of other people – even if you do not know these people or even if you actively dislike them.

What I see as being important, from both a spiritual perspective as well as a radical social change perspective, is that people really do see and acknowledge all of the different pains, hurtings, sufferings and injustices that are taking place all over the world. And, together with seeing & acknowledging that, then sincerely responding within one’s self, within one’s heart, with a real feeling of caring and well-wishing for those people (or non-people, as the case may be). Whatever actions may be taken then, to help to remedy the situation, comes forth out of both seeing & knowing what is going on, as well as really actually feeling & wanting the best for those involved.

I don’t consider myself to be a pacifist, so please do not write off (or write up) what I am saying as being some kind of hard-line pacifist ranting. What is important to me is really, actually, caring about people. Really wanting people to be well, happy and healthy. Coming from this, I see nonviolence as usually being the best way to go about things, simply because violence often hurts people, and the idea is to minimize hurt, not to make more of it. (Paul R. Fleischman wrote up a good little essay about this perspective that I recommend, entitled “The Buddha Taught Nonviolence, Not Pacifism”)

Perhaps I am just a big sentimental softie here, but I just see wide-spread caring as being so important, so essential, a big part of what we all, or at least myself, am going for here. You can call me “unrealistic”, “naïve”, or a “dogmatic ideological” so-and-so. But I don’t care. Because as I see it, there is so much more, and so many more people out there, to care about.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Social Therapy

I recently visited the intentional community “Camphill Village Minnesota” and I spent about a week out there living & working with them. It was a wonderful experience for me and it reminded me a lot of what I love about Camphill communities and the valuable things that I have gotten from these experiences.

Foremost what I would like to talk about now is the method through which Camphill communities (focused on serving adults) are organized, which is a little-known philosophy/practice that is called “Social Therapy”. Based upon Rudolph Steiner’s “Anthroposophy”, Social Therapy is a way for adults with developmental disabilities to live, work and be supported in a village-like community environment. Although coming from this particular background, no specific religious, spiritual or philosophical affiliation is necessary in order to live and work there. The community is comprised of both residential homes and general community-use buildings, forests and fields, domestic and farm animals, crops and ornamental plants, and people.

An emphasis is placed on life resembling pre-industrial patterns as much as possible, with the work areas being agricultural and crafts-based instead of mechanical and computer-based. Food consumption is also moderated, and an emphasis is placed on having healthy organic foods, particularly foods that are grown on-site. Given that most of what one needs is located on the property itself, walking and bicycles are common modes of transportation.

The people who are supporting those with developmental disabilities, and who are ensuring that the community as a whole is functioning smoothly, are called “coworkers”. The coworkers are given the task of being very attentive to and aware of everything that is taking place with those who have developmental disabilities (who are called “villagers”). There is usually a one-to-one ratio between coworkers and villagers, and oftentimes there are more coworkers than villagers. The coworkers are encouraged to have as much unconditional love, care and warmth as possible towards the villagers, to see their positive potential and unrealized abilities and to provide the space for the villagers to grow and contribute at their own pace.

The primary social unit within these communities is that of the household. Each house resembles that of a family home, with each person having their own bed-room, and common space for the kitchen, dining room, living rooms, etc. Both coworkers and villagers live in the houses, and often-times actual biological families of the coworkers, pets and gardens surrounding the house live there as well. Each house has its own financial budget and has relative autonomy for determining its own systems for life inside the house. Over time and through continued shared experiences a distinct sense of “family” evolves among those who are living in each house.

Structure and rhythm is provided for the life in the community on a daily, weekly and yearly basis. This is done with an eye towards supporting the healthy psychic/physical lives of individuals, as well as to coordinate the activities of the various people within the community as a whole. Much attention is given to the different seasons of the year, both for the sake of coordinating the agricultural work that needs to be done, as well as for organizing public community festivals to celebrate the various seasonal holidays throughout the year.

A particular focus is given to the spiritual life of people, with space given for reflection and gratitude before each meal, quiet contemplation weekly on Saturday nights, as well as occasional Sunday services. There are also events to mark weddings, deaths and the spiritual significance of seasonal change. The act of cleaning is itself considered to be somewhat of a psycho-spiritual act, in the sense that it is viewed as being an outward expression of and correlating force for one’s internal sense of orderliness and openness to spiritual experience.

While visiting Camphill Village Minnesota I at one point got to see some of the big farmlands that are nearby the intentional community, surrounding it. These are massive mono-crop tracts of land. The coworker showing this to me then told me some about biodynamic and organic methods of agriculture, including a bit about how the land could be more productive in bearing crops when it is smaller pieces of land that are given more care and attention. This strikes me as being a general principle for effective healing in general, for both people and land: have smaller units with more direct care and attention given to everyone and everything there. The trend in mainstream society is to have massive institutions with the crops being protected and kept fertile by pesticides and chemical fertilizers and the people kept preoccupied by electronic devices and pacified by medications. Social Therapy seems to offer an alternative out of this path.

This is my over-all abbreviated summary of Social Therapy and life in Camphill communities. It is only upon leaving Camphill for a while and experiencing life some more in “normal” mainstream society that I have come to see how unique this form of social organization is. I have also come to appreciate the healthfulness of such systems, particularly in regards to supporting those who have developmental disabilities.

Now that I am living in a big city, and I walk around and see all these people on the streets who are homeless or who have some kind of mental illness. I also think about all of the people out there who suffer from some kind of addiction, all of the “at-risk youth” and “juvenile delinquents”, people stuck in cycles of abuse, and people whose lives get out of control and who wind up in prison. I think to myself: “what about these people? Are they to be left on their own, continuing down whatever hellish path they are on?” There has to be something better than the various cold heartless institutions that governments and corporations have relegated for these people.

My dream is to have the Camphill idea and practice of Social Therapy become something that is broader in scope and more widely implemented in society. Sometimes I have heard Camphill described as focusing on supporting “people in need of special care”, and not just people who have developmental disabilities. I like this phrasing, because to me this opens the door to applying the Camphill model to all of these different kinds of people that I mentioned previously.

Throughout my life experiences I have experienced other non-Camphill social environments that I would also call “social therapy” as well. In particular I am thinking about multi-day Nonviolent Communication residential intensives and ten-day Vipassana Meditation courses. With both of these cases, special care is put into preparing and maintaining a very therapeutic, healing and overall healthy environment for people to be in. A lot of good stuff comes out of these places. The problem is that it is all very temporary. People come, get the benefits, and then leave. While there is often talk among some folks there about establishing on-going intentional communities that are like that, usually this talk does not turn into action. And often the model that is thought about is that of creating a retreat center for workshops and seminars that the community members live at and maintain.

The retreat center model does not appeal to me, because in my eyes this assumes a certain kind of class back-ground for everyone involved. For the “people in need of special care” that I mentioned above, they would not be able to afford or get to a retreat center to reside there indefinitely. That kind of situation would only work for those who come from an upper or middle class background.

This all then brings to mind another kind of intentional community model – the Catholic Workers. These people do actively reach out to and serve the homeless, the addicted, the abused, and those with problems with the law. The Catholic Workers, however, do not have a particular therapeutic model in mind, and the level of attention to detail in creating a healing environment is generally not present there like it is in Camphill places.

So my ideal is to have a mix of both – to expand the means and methods of getting Social Therapy out into the world. And, similar to the Catholic Workers, to see this work as being integral to radical social change work itself. Reconstructing society, in other words, would be going hand-in-hand with personal and inter-personal healing. And this would be for all people regardless of ability or class back-ground.

Yesterday while walking around Minneapolis I came upon a big beautiful old mansion house that is for sale. I looked at it and visualized what it would be like to have that be a big family-style Camphill house, in conjunction with a vacant lot that could be used for urban agriculture. A space could be created here for intentionally supporting people in need of special care and creating a healing social environment for them and everyone involved. And I imagined that same place as also having space available for radical activist projects, an open anarchist social center. The same space, integrated. Social therapy supporting social change supporting social revolution. This is a vision of what Social Therapy could be.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My goal as an “NVC trainer”

In 2004 I first really discovered the work of Carl Rogers. That had a profound and lasting effect on me. There is a lot that I can say about that guy and his philosophy, but I’ll restrain myself here for the sake of brevity and getting to the point. I’ll simply say this - all of Carl Rogers’ approach can be summarized with three key words: authenticity, empathy and caring.

What struck me right away was the pure bare-bones simplicity of this approach. No agenda, plan, grand theory or complicated system was necessary. All protocols, procedures and formulas were beside the point. All that was needed was for one to be personally honest, empathically listening to the other person and really caring about that person without any strings attached. With that all set, good stuff follows. Despite whatever twists, turns and unexpectedness that one comes across along the way, with this approach you can trust that the combination of being authentic, empathic and caring will make things better in the end.

I came to Carl Rogers through my involvement with Nonviolent Communication (aka “NVC”), since Rogers was the teacher of Marshall Rosenberg (the founder of NVC). Everything that NVC was trying to do and get at was already talked about earlier by Carl Rogers. I was struck by how prone to “formulas” and “robot-speak” (as well as "New Age-speak") NVC was in comparison to the straight-forward plain-speaking nature of Rogers’ writings. I was also struck by how Rogers emphasized the “person-centered encounter group” model for learning, whereas NVC was emphasizing the celebrity “trainer” model for teaching. I came to believe that much rich potential existed here, at NVC’s conceptual “source”.

Years of using, learning, trying to study and practice NVC has resulted in myself and countless others getting caught up in loops, knots, and complications. Too many times, I have seen people’s NVC “practice” lead simply to a dead-end. Authenticity, empathy and caring, to me, serve as a good clear reminder of what we are trying to do with all of this “NVC” stuff to begin with. In other words, getting real and speaking it, listening keenly from the other person’s perspective and loving no matter what.

Coming across the work of Carl Rogers also changed the way that I wanted to formulate, present and teach NVC. Rogers engaged with what he called “person-centered learning”, that is, “teaching” without a plan and interacting with the student where they are at, regardless of any pre-existing notions of who they are or where they should be. Being a “teacher”, a “trainer”, or a “professional” so-and-so was not as important as the individual learner connecting with their own authentic interest. At best, the person who wants to support learning helps to facilitate the learner connecting with their own actual interest. If they are not doing that, then they are just wasting their time.

My hope as an “NVC trainer”, if you want to call me that, is to practice embodying those qualities of personal authenticity, empathic understanding and unconditional caring during those times that I am together with those who are wanting to learn. I can share what I can, but nothing is possible without actual ongoing honest mutual dialogue. Perhaps one of the most moving lessons that people get through what is called “NVC training” is that real heart-felt connection between people is possible when one makes the concerted effort to have it happen. The specific “tools” come and go, they can be taken along or left behind, but the core message remains the same. My aim is to facilitate that happening.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


One of the aspects of Buddhist teachings that I have been learning about lately, particularly from various Mahayana perspectives, is that of “emptiness”. The idea behind this is that everything in existence is comprised of so many different factors and variables that are coming together to create it that when you peel apart each one of these, nothing is left. Essentially there is no essence, to anything. Everything is contingent upon so many other things also coming about that nothing is left on its own.

Recently I have come across a few different things that have illuminated this perspective further for me. I have realized that I have been operating with an on-going assumption that people who are associated with various labels are, will do, or believe certain things. For example, I have often assumed that to be an “anarchist” one wants to have there be a global anarchist social revolution (the “GASR”, I suppose you can call it). I have also assumed that to be an environmentalist one wants to stop global warming, stop global species extinction, etc. “before it’s too late”. Then I read a booklet entitled “Desert: can active disillusionment be liberatory?” which argues that an anarchist social revolution will not happen and that there will not be a global anarchist society. It also says that there has never been a monolithic authoritarian society either, that there have been, are now and will be in the future various shifting pockets and tendencies of both throughout the world. Whatever assumptions there are that to be an anarchist is to be a revolutionary, to essentially be working for a global revolution of sorts, is not necessarily the case.

Likewise, “Desert” argues that it is now “too late” to stop global warming, species extinction, etc., that the changes that are coming about because of this need to be taken into consideration for planning for the future, and that one can still do things to protect what is left of surviving wild nature. “Environmentalism” is not one thing, it is not something that we do or don’t do, the environment itself is not something that is either “saved” or is “destroyed”. It’s a dynamic inter-connected global system that is in flux, and we can work with that, wherever the changes may lead us.

With Buddhism I have until recently carried with me an assumption that to consider oneself to be a “Buddhist” one automatically is then a believer in and adherent to “nonviolence”. Then I met some self-identified Buddhists recently who vehemently rejected that notion. I’ve also come across some work that is being done within the U.S. military to integrate Buddhism and Buddhist meditation practice amongst the soldiers. So that idea of “Buddhism = nonviolence” has gone out the window.

Likewise, with those folks who do identify themselves as being into “nonviolence”, I have often assumed that them doing so automatically makes them people who are interested in Nonviolent Communication, and subsequently are interested in things like transforming “enemy images”, listening to people empathically, doing away with blame, moralistic judgments, etc. I have also assumed that those people who idolize and are very much into the work of Mohandas Gandhi would be into the various things that he was into and advocated himself, such as strict vegetarianism, living in an intentional community, simple living with minimal material possessions and a life of devotion to religion. Throughout my interactions with these folks I have discovered this to not be the case.

Then, with the adherents of “Nonviolent Communication” per se, especially folks who have made an explicit commitment to the principles and practices that NVC speaks of, I have assumed that there would be a real effort made to resolving conflicts peacefully, holding an empathic understanding of one-another and having a real sense of care for each-other. Until recently I have been a part of a group of committed NVC practitioners that I witnessed fall apart in the midst acrimonious conflict, judgments and counter-judgments. Talk and promises of peace, love and harmony does not necessarily have to mean anything in practice.

One part of my experience here in Minneapolis has been my meeting a bunch of different folks who identify as “gender-queer”, that is, considering themselves to be neither “male” nor “female”. I have found this interesting because doing this essentially “empties out” the whole concept and identity around “gender”, leaving no essential characteristics or assumptions that one can put upon a person because of that. The person then becomes, as far as gender is concerned, a blank slate. These people are not whatever you might assume because of them being a “man” or a “woman”. They are more obviously who they are because of whatever factors and forces are working on them and their lives, and whatever choices they are making to respond to that.

To me, all of this illustrates the Buddhist concept of “emptiness” – that is, people do not necessarily do something or become something simply because they align themselves with a particular label or belief system. Philosophy x does not mean that an “essence” of y will be included or come along as a result of x. There are simply too many factors at play, too many different variables running around, to reduce it to that. Subscribing to a particular philosophy is just one variable among many that create a particular outcome.

This perspective has been very captivating for me, I find it utterly fascinating. I find hope through looking at things in this way, which of course I can tease apart and realize that I am left with no hope at all, I am just content. One thing that has been helping me get this is my recently exploring and learning about Zen Buddhism and Zen meditation. This particular brand of Buddhism puts a particular focus on meditation, and this particular kind of meditation involves recognizing all of the different variables and factors that pop up in our attention, setting them aside, and ultimately focusing on no thing in particular - just holding your attention. I’ve been finding this very refreshing, and very basic.

I see the kind of “emptiness” that is being talked about here as not being the same thing as “it’s all meaningless” or “we are doomed”. I see it as more being about putting aside all of the noise and the chatter and the things that are being thrown at you, and realizing that when everything is set aside, nothing is left. Saying that this, that, or the other thing is all So Incredibly Important is then, actually, “much ado about nothing”. Without all of the different people, places, things and ideas that are coming together to create that Very Important Thing, it would not exist. The same goes for the things that create those things, and on and on and on.

I am thinking now that to call oneself something does not mean that one will think or will do anything in particular. The label is itself an empty signifier. The whole world of context and contingency will determine where one goes with a particular label. Probably more important than slapping labels on things and trying to predict the future, is being present and attentive. For when everything else falls away at least you can observe it happening.