Friday, December 16, 2016

Voluntary Only

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 3, 2016

My Kind of Anarchism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Non-coercion

- Authentic connection between people

- Taking responsibility for choices

- Valuing ongoing self-improvement

- Free thinking and continual learning

- Real communities of people

- Mutual aid and mutual support

- Ongoing communication, cooperation and coordination

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Why I Voted Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Beacons of Light in These Dark Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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