Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 10, 2015

My Top Ten Recommended Areas of Change for the NVC Network

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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