Thursday, June 9, 2022

Envisioning a Utopian Anarchism

I've noticed a pattern that I have. Every few years I feel the need to publicly re-think and re-clarify what exactly it is that I personally believe regarding anarchism. This usually corresponds with me affixing a new anarchist label to my beliefs and presenting it as being a new and unioque anarchist school of thought. The very first time that I did this I was calling my kind of anarchism "communitarian anarchism" and some friends and I created a short-lived organization related to that, the the Anarchist Communitarian Network, to promote this perspective. Following that, there was compassionate anarchism, then Buddhist anarchism, and most recently humanistic anarchism. Now I am calling my approach "utopian anarchism", and while I have already spoken about this on YouTube as well as in a small informal workshop at the 2022 Online NVC Conference, this is my first time publicly writing about this.

The key thing that sets my current approach apart from my previous ones is that I now view it as being important to place the vision that one has for a radically different world front and center. I know that the world that we live in now is shit, many different anarchist writers have penned many different brilliant critiques of our current society, and the various systems and structures in it that brutalize us all have been analyzed by many anarchist thinkers much smarter than I am. However, I have come to believe that without keeping a vision in our heart of the kind of world that we want to see, that eventually the steady diet of only critique and denunciation eventually leads to things like burnout, cynicism, despair and even misanthropy. How can we create the kind of beautiful world that we would want to live in if the only thing that we can see is shit? How can we have hope and inspiration to move towards a better world if the horrors of our current world is all that we can bear? One needs to hold a vision for a better world and radical imagination is needed for this, as well as analysis and forethought. A breautiful ideal needs to be at the forefront of one's anarchism in order to lead one to a place that one actually wants to go to.

The Four Perspectives on the Ideal Society

The broad outline for my vision of a new society is the same as always: a world without domination or top-down hierarchy where people voluntarily associate as equals, where cooperation, mutual aid and sharing are done without coercion, and where everyone who is affected by a group decision has a voice in the process and collective agreements are based on consent. This vision remains the same, but I now have four different perspectives that I use to look at it. Each perspective is vitally important to keep in mind for the understanding, realization and maintainence of such a society. These four perspectives are the individual, the relational, the structural and the physical.

1) The Individual Perspective

I start with this perspective here because each person goes through life experiencing things as an individual. And since a goal of anarchism is for everyone to be liberated and free, a basic question would then be "does everyone perceive their life as being liberated and free?" The door is opened here for a whole plethora tools and tactics from the areas of psychology, self-help and self-improvement to be utilized for each individual to find their own sense of personal choice and empowerment. People's individual health, their own thinking processes, their relationship with their own emotions and the degree to which they are continually learning all fall within this realm. Ultimately, this area relies upon each individual to take responsibility for themselves and their own personal growth and development. Traditionally individualist anarchism and the Buddhist anarchism that I used to advocate for tends to concern itself almost exclusively with this area.

2) The Relational Perspective

The relational area is the point where individuals come into contact with each other and interact. It includes things such as communication styles, how people deal with conflict, how people make decisions together and nonverbal interactions. This area is often overlooked by the individualists who are looking mainly at their own lives and choices, or by the collectivists who are looking at groups in general or society as a whole, but this area in many ways is "where the rubber hits the road". It is in the relational area where people experience most of their joys or frustrations in a collective endeavor and the lack of sufficient attention to this area can lead to the difference between a project succeeeding or failing. Relationship anarchy and the compassionate anarchism that I used to advocate for tends to focus almost exclusively on this area.

3) The Structural Perspective

This area is focused on large groups of people, as well as groups of groups of people, and how they interact with each other. It is in this area that social insitutions and systems reside. Historically speaking, most of anarchism has focused on this perspective, concerning itself with corporations and capitalism, governments and statecraft, and white supremacy and patriarchy across societies. Within the anarchist milieu, this perspective comes into play when we examine alternative and counter-institutions, anarchist federations and networks, and the anarchist "movement". Anarcho-communism tends to focus primarily on this perspective, as was the "communitarian anarchism" that I used to advocate.

4) The Physical Perspective

And finally the physical perspective is about just what the name suggests - pure physical reality. This includes things such as people's physical health, food, agriculture, architecture, water supply, transportation, clothing, urban planning, ecological matters and nonhuman life. In some sense this perspective is the most straightforward of them all, but any close examination of any particular aspect of physical reality reveals a myriad of complexities therein. The devil is in the details indeed. And since we are still dealing with people here, social structures, interpersonal relationships and people's individual psyches does come into play here as well. Green anarchism tends to focus mainly on this perspective.

Each of the areas that I mentioned here, the individual, the relational, the structural and the physical, each one connects with and affects all of the others. None of them exist independent of the other, rather they work together as a kind of interdepedent system. If someone is having troubles with their individual life and psyche that then affects their interpersonal relationships, the social structures and the environment that they live within. Likewise, one's physical environment affects one's mental health, the way that people relate with other and the ways that social structures function. What I am trying to do here is to examine the whole gestalt of the human experience, and these four ways of looking at it can make clear certain aspects that could more easily be overlooked if one where to only be using just one or two perspectives.

The Four Influences on My Utopian Anarchism

Keeping in mind the radical anarchist ideal, the utopian vision for a new society that it points to, and the four different perspectives through which to look at it, I will move now to elaborating upon my own utopian anarchist vision. Everyone has their own vision for the kind of ideal society that they would like to see, but for me personally I realize that I have four distinct influences that originate from outside the anarchist scene that inform my approach to utopian anarchism. These four influences are: the work of Manfred Max-Neef and his concept of fundamental human needs and his related work with human scale development, Buckminster Fuller and his comprehensive anticipatory design science and design science revolution, utopian socialism and the various utopian communities that came about as a result of it, and Marshall Rosenberg and the framework for Nonviolent Communication that he created.

1) Manfred Max-Neef's fundamental human needs

The basic premise behind this is that everything that human beings do is motivated by a desire to meet a basic human need that everybody has. Needs in this ceonception of them are finite and distinct from "satisfiers" which are the infinite ways that people act to meet needs. Needs can be physical, such as food, water and shelter, or they can be mental, emotional or social in nature as well. Manfred Max-Neef identified nine fundamental needs that people have: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, rest, creation, identity, and autonomy. I like looking at things from this point of view because it opens us up to the possibility of infinite different ways to meet people's needs while still focusing on the key things that people need to have fulfilling lives.

Manfred Max-Neef then took this concept of fundamental human needs and applied this to communities of people living together with his work in community development that he called "human scale development". With this he used a process of bottom-up direct participatory democracy for people to identify their needs and how they are getting met or not within the context of their communities. This approach took the focus away from concepts like "standard of living" and "gross national product" and instead focused on what can be done within the community to help there be more happiness and fulfillment among the people there.

2) Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science (CADS)

This is a body of work that primarily operates on the "physical perspective" that I mentioned earlier. It uses very much a systems theory approach of looking at the various systems that influence any given thing, and in turn looks at how that thing influences the larger systems that it resides within. This approach anticipates the various challenges and opportunities that may arise from the various systems that are being utilized and responds by designing other systems that can address these by using a rigorous process grounded in science. This approach is very much a type of engineering mindset that strives to meet the material needs of everyone while avoiding the systemic oversights that lead to the kinds of pollution and ecological devastation that we see in the world today.

3) Utopian Socialism

"Utopian socialism" is an umbrella term that refers to the kinds of socialism that existed before Marxism and anarchism came about that were characterized not by an emphasis on class struggle and revolution but instead on proposing new forms of society based on radically different designs. Some of the proponents and enthusiasts for these radical designs for different kinds of societies came together to create new utopian communities that were based on these designs. The emphasis here was on focusing on what one wants instead of what one doesn't want, articulating a design for that vision, finding like-minded people and then moving to the same place to live and work together to turn that vision into a reality. There is a quote from Buckminster Fuller that I think nicely encapsultes the underlying sentiment behind utopian socialism: "You never change things by fighting against the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the old model obsolete."

4) Nonviolent Communication (NVC)

NVC is something that I have written about recently as well as in the past, but to succinctly summarize what it I would say this: Nonviolent Communication is an approach to communication based on principles of nonviolence, evolved from person-centered therapy, that instrumentally uses Manfred Max-Neef's concept of fundamental human needs that I mentioned above. NVC has been used to assist people in acheiving greater personal psychological self-understanding and self-discovery, it has been used to assist with people's interpersonal relationships and it has been used as a guide for creating new kinds of social structures and institutions. The goal of NVC is to increase people's capacity to acknowledge and value everyone's needs and to meet those needs out of an authentic desire to contribute to everyone's wellbeing.

Ten Principles for My Utopian Anarchism

Diving into the heart of what my approach to utopian anarchism is about, I would frame it with ten distinct principles:

1) Have an idealized positive image for the kind of society that is the end goal. This positive image does not need to be set in stone, nor is it something that I am wanting people to be uptight about or something that is used to judge people over. Rather, it is someething that I would like to be used as a kind of guiding light for all the actions taken towards the end goal. This idealized positive image is intended to be aspirational and inspirational, and not to be used as a kind of "spook" such as what is talked about in the philosophy of Max Stirner.

2) Have a comprehensive general understanding of the systems and structures that are operating behind the scenes that make such a society possible. Usually when people envision an anarchist society the picture is painted in very broad strokes, with little to no elaboration on what is actually happening to have this society function. I would like to take a very different approach than that, and instead I find it useful to continuously be asking "What's going on here exactly?" "How does it work?" "How is it sustained?" "How does it survive the inevitable challenges and hardships that life brings?" Pursuing this line of rigorous inquiry can ultimately deepen one's understanding of the end goal that one is pursuing and can serve to support one in "reverse engineering", so to speak, that vision to better discern action steps to get there.

3) The whole point of such a society is to have happy healthy harmonious humans. Sometimes one might wonder why the hell are we doing all this work and investing all this time in what I am calling "utopian anarchism". My response to that is what I call "Quadruple H" - happy healthy harmonious humans. That's the whole point of it all. That's the reason why.

4) Aims to eliminate all forms of domination and instead meet needs through voluntary cooperation and sharing. This in my view is the whole goal of anarchism in general and I believe that it is important to keep this reason succinctly stated and in the back of one's mind at all times. Think of it as the "anarchist mission statement", if you will.

5) Focuses simultaneously on personal inner work, relationship work, larger group structures and the physical environment. This is a reference to the four perspectives that I talked about earlier. It is good to periodically re-examine how one's collective endeavors are faring through using each one of these four perspectives in order to ensure that nothing important is being overlooked or neglected.

6) Incorporates all of the various different anarchist critiques but focuses primarily on the positive end goal. The majority of anarchist writing out there focuses primarily on critiques of the various aspects of the world we live in that dominate and oppress people. I appreciate these critiques, I find them to be useful in terms of pointing out various things that we need to avoid and keep an eye out for, but in the end these critiques do not tell us where we want to go or how to get there.

7) Open, honest, thoughtful and considerate conversation that includes awareness and expression of one's own needs as well as those of others is the foundation for it all. This is the kind of thing that Nonviolent Communication talks about and advocates for and I believe that ultimately if the people involved in this utopian anarchist endeavor can succeed at practicing this then the project would stand a good chance at weathering the inevitable challenges that it will come across.

8) Recognizes, uses, creates and discards of social constructs and is not bound by them. Human societies everywhere create and abide by social constructs as a way to help the society function smoothly. I don't see social constructs as necessarily being "good" or "bad" per se, but what I do see as being deleterious is belieiving that any particular social constructs are "inevitable" or "necessary". Instead I would like to cultivate a habit of recognizing social constructs for what they are, to not be attached to them and to instead be willing to replace them if a consensus is reached that doing so would be advantageous. I have previously written about the social construct of "ownership" here.

9) Acknowledges that uniformity of vision is not necessary for sufficient cooperation to be possible. I have lots of ideas on, lots of beliefs about and lots of desires for the world at large. And while I have a lot that I can say about my approach to utopian anarchism and the ideal society I envision, I do not want to convey a notion that everyone would need to abide by everything I say about the subject in order for it to be realized. People can cooperate in a variety of different ways, in a variety of different capacities, each for their own reasons. The last thing that I would want to see happen is have some kind of cult created in the name of some anarchist vision. Uniformity is unnecessary.

10) Voluntary associations that people choose to be in. Any involvement with the kinds of utopian anarchist societies/communities/projects that I am envisioning would need to be done voluntarily. I hold this vision dear to my heart, but I would not want anyone to ever be coerced into participating in it. Individual willingness is a key principle necessary for the whole thing to work. I have previously written about this here.

Ten Practices for My Utopian Anarchism

Moving from the abstract to the practical, there already exists a number of different practices that people can engage in now as well as in a future utopian anarchist society. All of these practices are grounded in some way in the principles that I elaborated upon above. A lot of what I mention below are more like groups or clusters of different practices, but nevertheless what I want to emphasize is that there are some real life things that people can do to begin practicing utopian anarchism.

1) Egalitarian income-sharing intentional communities. This is where people live together intentionally, share income and resources, and make decisions together in some kind of democratic way. In the United States the Federation of Egalitarian Communities is a good resource for such communities.

2) Vipassana Meditation practice. With regards to the first perspective that I mentioned in this piece, the individual/personal perspective, Vipassana Meditation practice is a great way for one to better understand oneself and to develop more personal insight, self-discipline and self-control. This website is a good starting place to go learn more about this practice.

3) Empathic listening exchanges. Empathy is an essential part of maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships, and the approach to empathy that I draw from the most comes from Nonviolent Communication. NVC teaches some specific ways to practice empathic listening, and there is one instruction guide for that online here.

4) Restorative / Transformative Justice for addressing harm. People often hurt other people, whether it is done intentionally or unintentionally it is a regular part of life. The approaches to addressing harm that I consider to be the most beneficial for individuals, relationships and communities is Restorative Justice and Transformative Justice. These approaches focus on healing those whom have been hurt, repairing relationships and changing the systemic conditions that have helped to create the situation where harm occured to begin with.

5) Convergent Facilitation for group decision-making. Based on Nonviolent Communication and created by the NVC trainer Miki Kashtan, Convergent Facilitation is a method for facilitating meetings of groups of people to find consensus while also addressing all of the different needs and concerns that the participants have.

6) Decentralized organizational structures. The field of organizational development has produced a lot of work over the years designing ways that people can structure decentralized directly democratic organizations that are efficient and effective at what they are trying to do. Some examples of this are Sociocracy, Holacracy and Frederic Laloux's Reinventing Organizations. There are many practical and valuable insights contained within this work, but since it originates from the corporate world it has largely gone unnoticed by most anarchists.

7) Fundamental human needs assessments. This practice has first been developed by Manfred Max-Neef and the work he did with Human Scale Development in small-scale communities. I'm thinking that a similar practice could be developed for individuals where a person takes the time to sit down with a list of needs and carefully examines whether or to what extent each need is being met in their life and in what ways. This can be a guided process of self-reflection where one gains clarity about the relationship that they have with the various different needs that they have. I'm thinking that a kind of annual ritual could be created for this practice, possibly carried out each year on one's birthday.

8) The Co-Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth. Based on Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science and organized by the Buckminster Fuller Institute, this is an inventory of various practices that people can do to implement this way of thinking into real life situations. The website for this can be found here.

9) Group Size Based on Dunbar's Number. The anthropologist Robin Dunbar has suggested a number of people which is the maximum size that a group can be where everyone who is a part of the group still has meaningful relationships with one another. Anything above that number results in relationships within the group becoming impersonal and abstract. I would like for there to be an agreed upon mechanism within utopian anarchist communities for the group to split into two new communities once that number has been reached. Think of it being like a process of cell division, but for groups of people.

10) Student-centered learning. A number of different educational theorists have discussed student-centered learning, and the one that I resonate with the most is that which was articulated in a book by Carl Rogers. I have also written about this subject previously myself in a blog post here. Briefly stated, the idea behind it is that in situations where learning is being facilitated, the emphasis is to be placed on the learner and wherever their interests and enthusiasm may be and to de-emphasize the importance of curricula, educational standards and schools in general.

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So that about wraps it up for now. I realize that in some sense what I am talking about here is nothing new. Solarpunk is a relatively recent phenomenon that covers a lot of the same ground as utopian anarchism, albeit it is not a specifically anarchist project and is instead more of a generally radical ecologically-oriented one. Going back further in time, utopian socialism also has a number of similarties to utopian anarchism, but like solarpunk it is also not a specifically anarchist project. I would say that both solarpunk and utopian socialism are "siblings" of utopian anarchism, but not twins.

Regarding the "utopian anarchist" label specifically, there are only two people other than myself who have publicly associated themself with that term. There is the author Ruth Kinna who has written about the subject, co-edited a book about it, as well as given talks about it. And the other person is Elon Musk, who has publicly stated that he is a utopian anarchist, but has never elaborated on what that term means to him in any great detail.

For me, I prefer sticking to my own ideas for what an ideal anarchist society would look like and how it would work. And ultimately I think that this is how it will play out for everyone, each person will have their own ideas for what the ideal world would look like, and it is up to us all to find ways to work together to begin moving towards these ideals. My hope is that what I have written here has stirred up some thought to that end.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

My Continuing Relationship with Nonviolent Communication

I have a long-standing and complex relationship with Nonviolent Communication. This is something that I have publicly reflected upon and pontificated about in the past. A few years ago I wrote a blog post titled Why I Am Not Into NVC Anymore and more recently I have felt moved to write a follow-up piece here elaborating on where things stand now with regards to my relationship with NVC. Long story short, I am into NVC once again and that blog post was indicative of but a temporary period of time away from NVC. Let me explain...

I believe that what happened was that over time, in a ten-year period between the years of 2008 and 2018, my personal practice of NVC gradually decreased. My participation in things like empathy exchanges, practice groups and other NVC events as well as my personal individual NVC practice, things like self-empathy inquiry and journaling, all of these things became fewer and further between for me. This resulted in my relationship with NVC becoming more of an abstraction to me, more of a mental concept than a lived practice. During this time, the founder/creator of NVC Marshall Rosenberg passed away. This set in motion a chain of events that would substantially affect the global community of NVC enthusiasts. In other words, people needed to figure out where to go next with NVC without the top dog being around anymore. One thing lead to another and eventually the Center for Nonviolent Communication organization launched an initiative to restructure itself along the lines of more of a decentralized bottom-up network. This initiative was called the New Future Process. I had a lot of excitement about this initiative and my big hope was that this could lead to a lot of the different changes that I wanted to see in the global NVC network finally coming about. When work on the New Future Process was suspended that was the "final straw" for me. I was hurt, disappointed, disillusioned and disgusted with the CNVC organization. My faith and trust in both NVC in general and the CNVC organization in particular took a big blow with that. This all resulted in me deciding to take a break from NVC in general and writing that aforementioned blog post, Why I Am Not Into NVC Anymore.

After a couple of years went by, something happened. Inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns and social distancing that was happening all around the world, the international NVC community began to create it's own new decentralized network of NVC practitioners who organized primarily online through various platforms such as WhatsApp, Zoom, Signal, Facebook and the like. I discovered various international online NVC events that were taking place, organized by various different groups around the world such as NVC Rising, NVC Academy, Empathic Way Europe and NVCDayOne. I believe that the ease of access for these events, being able to attend them while staying in the comfort of my own home, lead to me being more open and receptive to exploring NVC again. My previous period of heavy involvement with NVC was predicated on me being both willing and able to travel all across the country to attend various NVC events. Given that my lifestyle no longer enables me to have that same kind of freedom to travel, I think that I unconsciously must have come to the conclusion that that kind of involvement with NVC was no longer possible for me anymore. Through my getting involved with NVC though this decentralized online network I have been able to meet a number of different NVC practitioners from all across the country and around the world, which is something that I am very much grateful for since it has significantly contributed to my life. And in some respects, this decentralized network is the kind of thing that I was wanting to see come about as a result of the New Future Process in the first place!

Because of this process of being re-introduced to NVC through this informal online global network of NVC practitioners, I have resumed having a personal practice of NVC once again. I have beem engaging in empathic listening exchanges with others in addition to self-empathy for myself, as well as having many conversations with other NVC practitioners about their own NVC practice. This resumed personal practice has been of great benefit to me, it has helped me to be both more self-aware and attuned with what's going on within me mentally/emotionally-speaking, and it has helped me to be more aware of the various choices that I have been making and the effects of these choices. This practice has also helped me to get better at empathizing with other people, to view others with more compassion, and it has gradually made me more aware of how various choices I have made has lead to there being more or less connection with others. And thanks to one NVC friend I met through this, I have also been able to come to appreciate how intentionally setting boundaries with others can be supportive to me and my practice of NVC. Throughout all of this I began to dust off my old NVC skills and knowledge and I began to appreciate NVC as a lived practice once again, and not just as a theoretical understanding (although that can be helpful too).

Ultimately I have come to appreciate NVC again as a great tool for increaseing my own self-understanding, for humanizing others and developing more compassion, for getting clear on what exactly my choices and actions are, and for better understanding the complex interplay of emotions and what drives them. I think that I lost a lot of this through neglecting my personal practice of NVC. I certainly do not view NVC as being the only practice or tool that can be useful for people in this realm, nor do I view it as being the "best" one out there per se. But NVC is the one that I have a high degree of comfort and familiarity with and appreciation for, so I believe that I will contunue to stick with it.

This all being said, I also realize that nowadays I have no interest in being an NVC trainer or teacher, nor do I have any interest in marketing or proselytizing NVC to others. If you have an interest in practicing NVC, that's great, come join me in practicing it sometime somewhere. If you have no interest in NVC, that's great too, go do something else then that suits you better. I have no desire to convince or convert others to NVC. I leave it entirely up to other people to determine for themselves what they think about and how they relate with NVC.

Frankly, I recognize that attempting to practice and live NVC is tough work. Our pre-existing social conditioning is extensive and our habitual patterns of thought and behavior are deeply engrained in us. Trying to undue all of that to live in a radically different way is an uphill battle. The standard marketing pitch for NVC is filled with promises of joyful connection and playful contribution, and while those things can occur at times, experiences of emotional pain and difficult conversations are just as likely. And what I said in that blog post, "Why I am Not Into NVC Anymore", about my never having witnessed NVC being used to successfully resolve conflicts, well that still rings true for me. I still haven't seen it happen. It might be happening without me knowing about it, and I hope that it is, but unfortunately I still haven't seen it myself.

So where does this all leave me in my relationship with NVC now? What is my role within the greater NVC community currently? Well, this is still a work-in-progress for me. This is something that I am still trying to figure out. What I would like to be, in addition to being an NVC practitioner, is an NVC supporter. I would like to be someone who helps other people who are trying to learn and practice NVC and who are looking for support with this. Maybe one can call this role a "coach", a "guide", a "faciltiator", I don't know, nor do I particularly care about these labels (although I am fond of the term "flying giraffe"). The key thing is that I would like to work with people who already know NVC to some extent, people who already have some degree of personal committement to NVC and it's principles and practices and who actively want somebody such as myself to help them with whatever it is that they are struggling with. I do not want to impose myself on others who do not want my assistance or involvement with their NVC journey, nor do I want to try to sell NVC to others who are not familiar with NVC. In a number of ways, what I wrote about this subject over ten years ago still applies to me. I do very much appreciate the sense of community and mutual aid that can develop between NVC enthusiasts, and that is something that I would like to partake in and support as well.

Taken altogether, I guess that I will say that I am back in NVC-land now! The landscape has certainly changed, since it is all much more online now and less reliant upon in-person gatherings, the Grand Poobah is dead, as are a few other notable NVC trainers. Some of my friends who were also into NVC in the past have drifted away from it, some of these friends have died, and I now have some new friends who are into NVC, all coming from a variety of different backgrounds and experience levels with NVC. Things arise and pass away, in constant motion and change, and I guess that that is an essential part of life. I am glad that I have something like Nonviolent Communication to accompany me through all of this.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Why I am excited about Mars

In recent years I have been becoming increasingly interested in and excited about the prospect of people exploring and colonizing the planet Mars. A friend asked me recently about what I find so compelling about this idea, and I thought that I'd elaborate some on it here.

First off, I view the possibility of humans going to and living on Mars on a permanent basis as being an enormously important milestone for humanity overall. This move will signify humanity as being a species that resides not just on one planet, but on multiple planets. Humanity would then be a multiplanetary species. This would be a huge development, comparable to when humanity left Africa 1.8 million years ago to become a multi-continental, multi-regional species. To think that we can witness such a thing, and potentially be a part of such a thing, is just mindblowing.

And as far as the survival of the human species goes, I do think that it is best to not have "all of our eggs in one basket", so to speak. There are any number of different things that could kill off humanity on Earth, be it human-based such as ecoological devastation and nuclear war, or naturally-occuring phenomena like asteroid impacts and supervolcano eruptions. I think that the more that humanity can spread around throughout our solar system, the greater the likelihood that humanity can continute to survive on into the future.

I also appreciate the great challenges involved with space travel, Mars exploration and ultimately settling on another planet. This is the kind of endeavor that would challenge people on every possible level: psychologically, physically, socially, technologically, architecturally, medically, you name it. I think that this kind of challenge is a good thing, because it is the kind of goal that can help get people out of lazy "comfort zones" where trivialities and petty conflicts preoccupy people's minds, and towards big collective goals where people have to work together and bring out their best selves. Beceause, frankly, their lives would depend on it. There's simply no room left for fucking around.

Relatedly, by taking on such a task I think that the conditions would be set for enormous scientific and technological breakthroughs and developments to occur. One of the areas in particular where I believe that lots of development will occur is the area of creating and maintaining life-support systems. This knowledge can be useful for assisting in efforts to colonize other places in our solar system, as well as for the people on Earth, since the Earth is currently on track towards dismantling it's life-support systems. The problems of too hot, too cold, the lack of immediately accessible drinking water, runaway carbon dioxide emissions, producing breathable air, the lack of good soil for growing plants in - these all are increasingly becoming major Earth problems, and of course these are also problems that are front and center with regards to colonizing Mars and other planets as well.

Now, with all of this being said, I also have my own unique goals and aspirations regarding Mars colonization. What I would like to have happen is for people with anarchist and libertarian socialist orientations to work together to establish new self-sustaining utopian colonies on Mars. I would like for these colonies to be separate and distinct from whatever colonies that businesses like SpaceX and Blue Origin and governments like the United States and China might create on Mars. I am excited about the work that SpaceX and NASA are doing, since I see their work as progressing towards human beings eventually actually being able to get from Earth to Mars, but ultimately I think that the kind of utopian anarchist colonies on Mars that I envision would need to become independent of these various agencies and go their own way.

This topic of establishing utopian colonies on Mars is actually something that I gave a workshop about at the international Mars Society convention that took place online last year. You can watch a recording of this talk on YouTube here. My excitement about the prospect of creating utopian colonies on Mars comes down to this one thought: this is our opportunity to finally create our own new society in alignment with our own visions and values.

I have been an anarchist for a long time now, and all this time I have been wanting to create a new world that more closely aligns with the kinds of ethics and values that are talked about in anarchist/libertarian socialist philosophy. And repeatedly over the years, the efforts of myself and my comrades have failed in accomplishing this. And now, looking at the state of the world as it is today, I don't see it as being likely that the world will go in the kind of direction that I'd want. What does seem increasingly likely to me is the possibility of human beings going to and colonizing the planet Mars. So as a result, I think that a shift has occured in me in recent years, a shift away from a "change the world" mindset and towards a "create a new world somewhere else" mindset. This is the same kind of mindset that inspired the utopian socialists to leave Europe and go create their own new utopian colonies in the Americas back in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Part of the appeal to me of the idea of colonizing Mars is the "new frontier" and "fresh start" aspect of the place. Nobody is living there currently, and all of the various required life support systems would need to be intentionally created by human beings. The way that I am approaching this then is thorough focusing on this question:

As long as we are designing life support systems for human beings, how can we intentionally design life support systems to meet all of the different fundamental human needs for all of the different people involved? In other words, how can we design social relationships and social structures that would more effectively meet human needs? How can group decision-making, interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, emotional and psychological well-being, the allocation of resources, the management of public and private spaces, how can all of this be intentionally designed in new ways to maximize the health and happiness of everyone involved? I view the creation of utopian colonies on Mars as being the opportunity to look at all of this from fresh new perspectives.

With that being said, I do not view this question of colonizing the planet Mars as being an "Earth versus Mars" question. Looking at this as an "Earth versus Mars" matter is indicative of the kind of narrow-minded zero sum thinking that I think is currently leading humanity to a dead end. I much prefer "both/and" thinking, with an emphasis on creativity and ingenuity (as well as Ingenuity). To that end, I would like for all of the developments in space flight, life support systems engineering, alternative architecture, social relationships and structures, and other areas, to be looked at with an eye towards applying them to life on Earth, Mars, as well as other places in our solar system. These are all human problems that we are trying to address here, and these are all things that we are trying to create to better support human life, therefore the benefits should be for all of humanity.

One thing that I have come to realize regarding a potential future utopian anarchist coloney on Mars, is that in order for such a thing to be successful, a massive functioning alternative infrastructure would need to be created by the utopian anarchist would-be Martian colonists right here on Earth beforehand. These people would need to be able to understand and operate alternative institutions that are capable of meeting people's various real life needs. These people would also need to be able to effectively make decisions together and resolve conflicts together. And while we are all still immersed in a capitalist society, these utopian anarchist would-be Martian colonists would need to be able to make and manage money together to not just buy necessary materials, but also to pay SpaceX, or whatever company is offering commercial space transportation, to get from Earth to Mars. This kind of high level of cohesion, cooperation and collaboration is not at all present within the contemporary anarchist and radical milieux, and perhaps it never has been. This means that there is a whole lot of work, innovation and development that needs to take place even before we can begin to tackle the various enormous challenges associated with living on another planet.

It is all still very much worth it to me. Living on Mars is an opportunity to create and live in a "New World", both physically and socially speaking. It is all of the exciting "frontier spirit" that animated a lot of the European colonization of the Americas, but without any of the conquest and genocide of indigenous peoples. This can be a place where the world of our dreams can be created, by our own human efforts, in our own human-created life-support bubbles. And all of this can very well happen during our own lifetimes. What a time to be alive!

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Anarchist Colonization of Mars

I was on a recent episode of the Anarchy Bang podcast with the topic being Anarchist Colonization of Mars. Here are the pieces that I wrote for the intro and the editorial for this episode.

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In 1974 Ursula K. Le Guin published the science fiction novel “The Dispossessed”, which told the story of a movement of anarchists who collectively left an Earth-like planet to go colonize a Mars-like planet, establishing there a new society organized around their anarchist beliefs. In 1992 Kim Stanley Robinson published the science fiction novel “Red Mars”, the first book of his “Mars Trilogy”, which told the story of people colonizing the planet Mars, including a number of explicitly anarchist groups, who then go on to become independent from the various authorities on Earth.

Then last Saturday, September 28th, Elon Musk held a press conference where he introduced the world to the “Starship” vehicle that he intends to use to send humans to Mars to begin the process of colonizing that planet. Musk’s company, SpaceX, has already shown the world that reusable rockets which are capable of going out into space can be made, and that a private company can make them. Prior to this only single-use rockets were made for space travel, and government agencies were seen as the only organizations capable of going out into space.

Taking inspiration from all of this, the question here becomes: How about we build some real-life anarchist colonies on Mars? Our current planet is fucked, in all kinds of different ways, so how about those of us who yearn for a completely different world go set up shop on a completely different world? How about we turn “the Red Planet” into “the Red & Black Planet”? Let’s become Martians!
Join in the conversation!

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Editorial for Episode 39 - Anarchist Colonization of Mars

For a long time I advocated for a Global Anarchist Social Revolution. I said that everybody in the world can and should change the way that they relate to get rid of all hierarchy and domination, and instead have voluntary cooperation and sharing be the basis for all of social life. This would involve the elimination of all governments, capitalism and patriarchy worldwide, and the dawn of a beautiful new age of freedom and equality for all of humanity. I saw my role in all of that as being to help inspire people to move to unlock this latent potential to make this happen.

Over time, after a series of different heartbreaks and disappointments, I came to hold a belief that a Global Anarchist Social Revolution (or "GASR" for short) was most likely not going to happen and that it would be best to not be putting my time and energy into things assuming that it would. At around the same time as this, other anarchists were coming to these same conclusions, most notably with the widely circulated text called "Desert". That piece took things a step further by saying that not only would an anarchist revolution not happen, but the sibling project of "saving the Earth" from ecological catastrophe was not going to happen either, and that we should adjust our plans and expectations to accommodate that. My anarchist goals became much more diminished and narrow in scope, shrinking from a global scale down to a more individualist scale, looking at just me and my own little life.

Then in more recent years a new and completely unrelated development has taken place. Elon Musk and his company SpaceX has publicly announced their intention and plans to send humans to the planet Mars, and they have developed some reusable rockets to help make this happen. SpaceX also has the advantage of also being a private company, not a government agency, thereby showing that these kinds of endeavors can take place outside of the purview of a government. If SpaceX can do this, what can other non-governmental agencies accomplish?

An idea then hit me, perhaps a new big grand world-changing mission can be adopted by anarchists to fill the void left by what was previously occupied by the "GASR" (Global Anarchist Social Revolution). Perhaps instead of focusing on changing this world, anarchists can focus on getting off of this world and settling on Mars instead? Both tasks are enormous, involving lots of work, resources, and would most likely take generations to accomplish. But if we are indeed writing off all hope for this planet, as far fetched as it may sound, there may be some hope in the planet Mars instead.

I would like to have a conversation that I have never had before, and that is to talk about the possibility of anarchists colonizing Mars. How can we conceptualize this project in a way that is in some sense realistic and tangible? How can we even begin to break down this massive undertaking in a way that we can make some progress with it? How would we need to re-organize our tiny little anarchist scene or subculture to be able to tackle such a big endeavor? Or perhaps this all is still a project that is ahead of it's time, and is best left for a future "wave" of anarchism to take up?

I don't have the answers to any of these questions. Plus, there are a million other questions and variables to consider when considering something like a project on this scale. But I would like to talk about this, and in particular I would like to talk about all of this while using an anarchist lens. So let's get going.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Buddhist anarchism and Nonviolent Communication writings for Anarchy Bang

Here are some pieces that I wrote up for two episodes of the Anarchy Bang podcast. One episode was about buddhist anarchism and the other episode was about Nonviolent Communication & anarchism.

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Buddhist Anarchism

It's hard to really know where to begin with Buddhism, given that there are so many different ways that people relate to the thing. Buddhism can be seen as a religion, a philosophy, an approach to psychology, a personal practice or a culture. And then there are the infinite different sects, traditions, branches and sub-branches within Buddhism. It all can very quickly become very overwhelming and confusing.

That all being said, the way that I like to begin to make sense of Buddhism is by studying some of the renowned lists within Buddhism. What better way to organize one's thoughts on something than to use lists? One list in particular stands out to me the most, it's called "the three marks of existence". Basically it lists the three qualities that mark life as we know it. The first quality is that change is constant and inevitable, that nothing lasts forever. The second is that everything is comprised of many different interacting components and forces acting on it, that nothing exists on it's own, in and of itself. Basically, "anti-essentialism" is how I like to look at it. And the third is that suffering exists, it's an experience that we all have.

This then goes into perhaps the most famous list within Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths. The first one is what I just mentioned, that whole "suffering" thing that we all have. The second is that there is a root cause to this suffering, and that is craving or clinging to our ideas of what we want. The third is that it is indeed possible to overcome this kind of attachment. And the fourth is the way to go about doing that, which is itself another list, the Noble Eightfold Path.

...And as much as I love the Noble Eightfold Path, I won't go into that list here.

So what does this all have to do with anarchism? Well, as I see it, that whole "suffering" condition that we all experience makes us all crazy, it makes us all desperate and frantic, even if we are able to put up a good front and present ourselves as being mature capable thinkers. Our lack of dealing with our own suffering head-on deprives us of our own personal power.

Buddhist practice is all about developing one's own personal power, self-mastery, cultivating one's ability to choose and act on one's choices, rather that letting one's own old habits, old beliefs and emotional reactivity dictate one's life. It's also about getting more peace and contentment in one's life. You are not always going to get what you want, anarchists will always disappoint you, your dreams for an anarchist world will never happen, and if you do decide to embark on a Buddhist practice, you will probably fuck that up too. But the paradoxical beauty of Buddhism is that even with that all being the case, one can come to acceptance of all of that, and still keep on going. At least for as long as this life you are living now exists.

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Nonviolent Communication & Anarchism

Nonviolent Communication (also known as “NVC” or “compassionate communication”) is a set of conceptual tools and a general worldview that a number of anarchists have found useful and at times have adopted. Some have found it to be a how-to guide for living without hierarchy and domination, whereas others have found it to be a series of tips for approaching conflict in ways that are hopefully more productive.

NVC can be used as a way to do conflict resolution, which is what it is best known for, but it can also be used for meeting facilitation, counseling & therapy, and some would say for social change work itself. The crux of NVC is developing one’s ability to make distinctions between objective observations vs. subjective interpretations, bodily-felt feelings vs. cognitive evaluations, and fundamental human needs vs. the infinite ways that needs can be met. The ultimate goal of NVC is for it’s practitioners to come to embody a way of being that the psychologist Carl Rogers said is most helpful in relationships: heartfelt authenticity, empathic understanding and unconditional positive regard. The idea is that through such qualities being present in a relationship, that relationship will eventually and inevitably become stronger, autonomy-respecting, collaborative and conducive to those involved realizing their own personal power. Anarchy, baby!

Join us September 15th as we talk about how NVC relates to anarchy, how it doesn’t, it’s potential for becoming an exciting new anarchist social of thought vs. just a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

Some related readings

The Basics of Nonviolent Communication

Key Assumptions and Intentions of Nonviolent Communication

Compassionate Anarchism

Can the Social Order Be Transformed through Personal Practice? The Case of Nonviolent Communication

Person-centered Therapy

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I will begin with a quote which has always been the touchstone for me and my anarchism, that famous quote from Gustav Landauer:

"The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behavior; 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, I immediately ask: what are the different kinds of relationships that would comprise anarchy? What would these relationships look like?

The answers that I come up with is that these relationships would, generally-speaking, acknowledge and respect the autonomy of everybody involved while also enabling people to cooperate, collaborate and make decisions together as equals, with no one person or group of people bossing everyone else around. All of this stuff is easier said than done, which is why I eventually started to look for some guides and pointers for how to actually do this, practically-speaking.

This lead to me eventually discovering something called "Nonviolent Communication", or "NVC" for short. NVC generally lives in the self-help/self-improvement world, and the demographic that is mainly drawn to NVC is middle-aged middle-class 1st world white women with liberal/progressive politics. In short, NVC is not at all something that originates from the anarchist scene, yet as soon as I started to study I immediately saw the connections and correlations with anarchism, and I got quite excited about that.

For about five years I was a zealous missionary for a kind of NVC-anarchist hybrid that I tried to develop and promote to anybody who would listen to me. For the next ten years after that I had more of a low-key involvement with NVC lasting until just last year when I decided to end my involvement with the NVC milieu altogether. My overall takeaway message from the whole thing is that while some maps, guides and conceptual schemas may be helpful for actualizing anarchy in the real-world, ultimately human beings with all of their complexities, foibles and psychoses go above and beyond anything that we can come up with.

To quote our anarchist daddy, Mikhail Bakunin: "No theory, no ready-made system, no book that has ever been written will save the world. I cleave to no system. I am a true seeker."

This leaves me with a belief that Nonviolent Communication is something that can be useful and helpful for anarchists, if one cares to spend the time & energy to seriously consider it. I do not think that NVC is something that anybody "should" do, and in fact I think that the moment that one looks at it that way the whole thing becomes completely worthless and a waste of time. But if the sincere interest and desire to learn NVC is there, then the time spent can be worthwhile. So let's talk about Nonviolent Communication.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

An Anarchist Postive Program

Here are some things that I wrote for an episode of the Anarchy Bang podcast. The episode itself can be found online here.

Introducing An Anarchist Positive Program

Alright, enough with all the negativity, and time to get positive. Now, I know very well that we don’t want this, and we don’t want that. This is fundamentally corrupt and needs to be destroyed, and that is entirely oppressive and needs to be abolished. This is completely fucked-up and needs to be attacked, and that thing over there… well, let’s not even talk about that!

Instead, let’s get clear: what exactly is it that we DO want in terms of “anarchism” and/or “anarchy”? In other words, let’s say that all of the Big Bad Things are made to go away, through some means or another, then what exactly would our brave new anarchist world look like? What specifically would the people in an anarchist society (or “community”, or whatever) be DOING? What is our big End Goal? What’s the beautiful dream?

Back in the day, various books were written about this topic, both non-fiction such as Fields, Factories and Workshops and Bolo’bolo, and fiction such as “The Dispossessed” and “The Fifth Sacred Thing”. And of course there is the whole solarpunk phenomena that is floating around the interwebs. We can talk about these writings, if they describe the kind of anarchist world that you would like to live in. And if not, then fuck it. What’s important is your anarchist dream, your ideal world and what it would look like. Let’s go into it.

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An Anarchist Positive Program - Editorial

For me anarchism has always been a two-sided coin. There is the destructive "anti" side, the side that says that all forms of capitalism, government, hierarchy, authority, etc. should be completely destroyed ASAP. And then there is the positive side, the part that says that "another world is possible", and that that world would look something like people coming together voluntarily as equals to cooperate, share and help each other out. My concern is that in recent years the positive side of anarchism has been overlooked, or even forgotten about, while the attack-and-destroy negative side of anarchism has become more of what people think about when they think of the big A-word.

I would like to see this change. I would like to see anarchism become more positive. Now, I know that I may sound stupid and hokey saying this, but I really do believe that positivity in some form really does serve a purpose. I believe that positivity can sustain & nourish people, that it can keep people going. And with a big social-political philosophy like anarchism, it also serves the purpose of providing a sense of direction, a way to orient yourself towards what it is that you do want, instead of just getting away from what you don't want.

There is an Israeli anarchist guy I've known for a long time named Ilan Shalif who recently said this online: "If I had no vision of libertarian communist alternative for human society I would not have survived the full 82 years of my life." Now, I am definitely not as old as he is, but I do feel the same way he does. Having a vision for what human beings are capable of, in the positive sense and on a large-scale global level, has certainly kept me going all these years that I have been alive. And with the anarchist scene being what it is these days, this positive sense of our human potential has kept me sticking with anarchism, even though there are a million and one reasons presented to me as to why I should leave it all behind.

Let me be clear here, just because human beings have the potential for great and beautiful things does not at all mean that these things will happen. Possibility does not mean inevitability. And likewise, having a wonderful vision for how human society can be does not mean that this vision will ever be realized. In some sense our visions for a future anarchist world are siblings to the fantastic worlds created in science fiction. The difference is that our anarchist visions are of worlds that we actually do believe can happen, and they are ones that we are ostensibly working to make into a reality.

So with this episode, I would like to hear what your anarchist utopia looks like. I would like to hear how your ideal society (or lack thereof) would function, what daily life would be like, how stuff would get done. Would your ideal society keep the old anarchist dream of workers' councils, neighborhood assemblies and mandated recallable delegates within massive federation structures? Or would you go with more of a 21st century approach and make collective decisions via directly voting for things on your smartphone that is connected with a mesh network and uses heavy encryption? Or would you keep things really old school and instead have humanity be organized the way it was for most of its history, as small bands and tribes of nomadic hunter-gatherers?

Speaking for myself, the centerpiece of my ideal anarchist society would be authentic heartfelt connection between people. So my ideal anarchist world would have people taking the time and effort to be honest with themselves and those around them, really taking the time to listen to and understand those around them, and working through the conflicts and difficulties that inevitably arise in human relationships. My ideal anarchist world would then have specific times and spaces set aside for people to do this kind of messy personal/interpersonal kind of work. And then with that foundation in place, the whole gamut of non-hierarchical meeting facilitation processes and organizational systems can be utilized to help the various "councils", "assemblies", "tribes" and "collectives" run more smoothly and harmoniously than a group of alienated antagonistic people using Robert's Rules of Order or Formal Consensus would ever be able to.

And then, ultimately, we would have bad-ass anarchist colonies on Mars, the asteroid belt, and the rest of the solar system. That is my dream, anyway....

Monday, December 31, 2018

Flying By: my experience of 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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