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Posts by Parenthesis Eye

Individualist @

For the past few months I have been grappling with questions of identity and belonging, "What am I?" and "Which group of people am I a part of?", that sort of thing. I have discerned no real clear answers to this, however the term "anarchist" seems to still stick with me, since the philosophy and beliefs which dates back to at least 1840 still speaks to my heart. However, it is really difficult for me to wholeheartedly consider myself to be an anarchist these days because of the words and actions of my peers and contemporaries who are also associated with this word. I have already written about some of this stuff on my blog here last year.

However, things continue to happen. Take for example, May Day of this year, which is traditionally considered to be a radical leftist holiday and is personally one of my favorite holidays. In Seattle the anarchists there made themselves publicly come across as being, at best, complete fools (a video of this can be found here). And in Minneapolis, at an event that I happened to be attending, a public fight broke out as a result of a longstanding conflict/controversy carried over from last year (a video of this can be found here and another one here). And of course the Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair has had another big ugly controversy this year as well.

Once again, I am left with feelings of disgust, exasperation, and complete repulsion towards the whole anarchist scene. "To hell with these people", I think. I'm done, it's over, I'm out. I feel such strong feelings of contempt towards the anarchist milieu, and over the past few months I have spoken with a number of other different long-time anarchists who have also been feeling similarly towards the self-proclaimed anarchist scene. And after that most recent incident in Minneapolis, another local long-time anarchist person wrote a public statement saying that he has disassociated himself from the anarchist scene.

At the same time, a person recently told me that he and another person both want me to continue being a part of the anarchist scene. He said that this scene needs "elders" to be present and that I would count as being such since I have been an anarchist since the mid-90's. I have also recently spoken with a friend of mine who says that she wants to continue being a part of the anarchist scene, and being a positive support to it in some way, even though she is well aware of the various faults and drawbacks associated with the whole thing.

This whole thing leaves me wondering: who or what exactly is the anarchist scene anyway?! The person who told me that he still wants me to be a part of it also told me that he personally does not consider himself to be an "anarchist". And when I think about it, I believe that most people who are a part of the "anarchist scene" would not actually consider themselves to be "anarchist". Likewise, a lot of people who I know that would consider themselves to be "anarchist", or at least who have an affinity for that general worldview, are actually pretty isolated from other people who think and believe things similar to what they do. So there is a social scene that exists, but it is not necessarily "anarchist", and there are anarchists who exist, but they are not exactly a part of an anarchist social scene.

One of the things that was written recently as a result of that incident in Minneapolis was that one side of the conflict said that the people who are on the opposing side have "no right to consider themselves a part of any progressive or radical community". I find this to be interesting, since it assumes that considering oneself to be a part of such a thing would actually be desirable. I suppose that it would be desirable if one wants to have that particular kind of identity, or if one wants to have one's social needs met through certain people, but it is hard to pin any of this stuff down really, since the whole area seems to be so very vague and amorphous.

For example, what does it mean to be "a part of the anarchist scene"? Does one have to consider oneself to be "an anarchist"? Perhaps the phrase "radical scene" would be better, but then that opens the door to those who consider themselves to be "radical libertarians", which most people view as belonging to a separate and distinct social scene. One could then say "radical leftist" instead, but then there are those who consider themselves to be "post-left" (and not "libertarian"!) and who are not "left", but they are still a part of the same general milieu. That phrase that I quoted earlier used the word "progressive", which I don't think fits at all, because that opens the door to Obama-voting liberal Democrats, who most people acknowledge are a part of a separate scene altogether.

And what does it mean to be a part of the scene, no matter what label you call it? Does one need to see certain people once a week in order to be a part of it? How about once a month? Is once a year too seldom? And how many people at a time does one need to see with such regularity in order to be a part of it? And which people does one need to see? Do online or long-distance interactions count, or does it need to be face-to-face? Does one need to be involved in particular projects, or does just going to parties and social events count? If you only speak with other radicals who feel similarly isolated and estranged from the scene, is one then still a part of the scene or is one instead a part of a separate parallel scene? At social events that are considered to be a part of the scene, if one is silent during the entire event is one still a part of it? What if one is talking the entire time and the others present are annoyed with your presence and are wishing that you would leave? In other words, how exactly does one retain or revoke one's membership with "the anarchist scene"?

I think that ultimately there really is no such thing as "the anarchist scene", "the anarchist community", and certainly not an "anarchist movement". I think that what really exists are various overlapping cliques and clubs, friendships and acquaintances. All notions of there being something greater than that are illusions and delusions that obscure the truth and cause unnecessary conflict and turmoil.

Thinking of this then reminds me of individualist anarchism, which is defined as being a kind of anarchism that "that emphasizes the individual and his or her will over external determinants such as groups, society, traditions, and ideological systems." Remembering this whole tendency is a relief for me, a breath of fresh air, since it reminds me that I (and everybody else) is free to choose what they want, what they believe, what they think, what they do and who they associate with, and are not beholden to anyone or anything else. So often, especially in the midst of these big conflicts and controversies, this is simply ignored or forgotten. If ideas of there being things like "an anarchist scene" are to exist, these ideas should serve the purpose of there being more clarity of thought. These ideas should not serve as yet another notion that dominates or intimidates people.

So that leaves me here in this situation, where I know a bunch of people, some of whom I feel closer to than others, some of whom I share more political beliefs in common with than others, and some of whom live in the same geographic area as me and others who do not. When I really think about it there are no people who I feel really close to who are involved with any of these big controversies that are taking place out there. My sense of cognitive dissonance comes about only when I conjure up notions of there being "an anarchist scene" and when I consider myself to be a part of such a thing. "The anarchist scene" does not exist, and I am not a part of it, although I know others who think otherwise. If people were to make specific requests to me personally, I would consider them, but I do not want to act out of a vague abstract sense of duty and obligation to some idea. All of the various dramas and foolishness that other people choose to engage in does not concern me, at the moment.

Traveling & Circling: Some Reflections on 2013

I often have this ritual at the end of each year where I write out my thoughts and reflections of the year that just ended. In this case the year is 2013.

I began 2013 in a very positive way. Shortly after the year started I gave an introduction to Nonviolent Communication workshop that went really well. Doing that workshop was also a nice way for me to commemorate my ten years of being an NVC aficionado. And soon after that, I left Minneapolis to go to the Illinois Vipassana Meditation Center where I was at for a very long time. First I served a 10-day course there, then I sat one, and finally I served at a service period there, during which I was fortunate enough to be joined by my friend Seth.

After the time at the Illinois Vipassana Meditation Center, and then a week visiting my friend Dan in Bloomington, Indiana after that, I finally returned back to Minneapolis. That was certainly a very long time for me to away from home, and in particular it was a very long time for me to be away from my partner Liz, whom I missed terribly.

At the same time, beginning around then was the start of one big conflict that was to be one very big thing for me throughout the year. I am referring to here the Sisters Camelot / IWW conflict. Sisters Camelot was a group that I regularly worked with, and I was proud to tell people about this organization when I explained to people what I do in Minneapolis. Sisters Camelot and the IWW both had very deep ties in with the activist/radical/anarchist scenes, both locally in the Twin Cities and beyond. So when this whole thing blew up both myself and a number of other people I know were hurt and devastated by it all.

It was then a very fortuitous timing of events for me that I was called up out of the blue one day and invited to serve at a ten-day course at the Illinois Vipassana Meditation Center in April. I went out there, taking them up on that offer, and that was really one of the most positive experiences I had during the year. It was all very much hard work, with little personal space, but the benefits that I received from that experience I am still processing.

I did go back to the Illinois Vipassana Meditation Center one more time this year, in May I went with Liz and my uncle Allyn to the annual Open House event that takes place there. That in itself was a wonderful experience for me, since I got to show two people whom I care about so deeply and whom have been an important part of my life this place that I care about very deeply and that has also been an important part of my life.

In June I was off traveling again, this time also with Liz. First we went to Michigan where we saw aunts, uncles and cousins on my mom's side in Ann Arbor, and then where we saw aunts, uncles, cousins, and most importantly my 90-year-old grandmother in the suburbs outside of Detroit. After Michigan we then went to Pittsburgh where we saw my friend Artnoose, met her new baby and saw the new house that she bought.

From there we went on to the small little town of Folsom, West Virginia where my two brothers, mother, step-father and his two parents were. We spent a good chunk of July out there, but we were busy with a project that we had to do. This project is in many ways a continuation of one that I had embarked on five years previously, in 2008.

What it essentially involved was sorting through many many different boxes of papers and belongings that my family had accumulated over the decades of their existence. The goal was to find some very old letters that my now-deceased grand parents on my mother's side had written to each other back when they were a newly married couple. Our secondary goal was to help my mother and step-father better organize their belongings out there in the various houses that they own out there in Folsom, West Virginia. We never did find those old letters out there, so our secondary objective ended up becoming our primary one.

In many ways our time spent out there in that small rural and isolated mountain town was the climax and pinnacle of my experience of the year. I found all kinds of different old things from my childhood and past as well as from the childhoods and pasts of all the rest of my family members as well. Add on top of that the fact that for essentially a month Liz and I were basically trapped in the middle of nowhere with my family. So whatever old family dynamics and issues there was were forced to come to the surface and be dealt with somehow.

Eventually that whole thing was over, and I ended up injuring myself shortly before leaving as well. This resulted in Liz and I then going on to Camphill Soltane with me in a sub-optimal state. We were out there for about a month as well, for most of August, volunteering at the "August Program" there as well as hanging out with people there before and after that program took place. This experience was not the same kind of magical and wonderful experience that it was for me the previous summer, in 2012. Mainly this was because I was injured this time around, so I was not in my prime condition. Also, this summer my time in Camphill Soltane was at the very end of my period of summer travels, not in the very beginning of it like it was in 2012. I was definitely missing Minneapolis and ready to go back home by the time all of that was over.

Coming back to Minneapolis at the end of August, Liz and I went to a wedding, and we went to the Minnesota State Fair as well. But aside from that, it really became a time for me to confront my situation of where I was living and what I was doing there. I had no more big travel plans to distract me from that.

Over the course of the year, starting with the Sisters Camelot controversy and continuing on with other things, it became increasingly apparent to me that the anarchist/activist/radical sub-culture is not a place that I want to continue to turn to in order to meet most of my social needs or to base my personal sense of identity around. I had taken a break from this sub-culture before when I lived/worked at Camphill Soltane from 2009 - 2011, and now I was ready for another break from it. The thing is, I did not know how to break from it without slipping into total social isolation and alienation from people.

Then, in late September, I was offered a job, and everything changed. I can not underscore what a major thing this job offer was for me, since it was literally over ten years, since 2003, when I last was employed. I believe that with such a great period of time since when I last had a job, I just assumed that I must be somehow permanently unemployable. But that turned out to not be the case.

The job is a full-time one where I work at a group home supporting adults with developmental disabilities and mental illnesses. From October to now, the end of 2013, this job has been the place where most of my time and energy has been channeled towards. I do not necessarily want that to be the case for me for the rest of my life, but for the time being it works.

That's all for this year - MAY ALL BEINGS BE HAPPY!!!

Losing the Elders

One thing has struck me about this year, 2013. This seems to be the year in which various people who've occupied the role of being an elder have passed on. I am referring mainly to the various sub-cultures that I am connected with, but also to some extent I am referring to the larger world outside of them as well.

Within the anarchist scene there was Audrey Goodfriend, a 93-year-old life-long anarchist who lived in the San Francisco Bay Area. Within the egalitarian communities movement there was Piper Martin a long-time member of Twin Oaks Community in Virginia. Within the world of Carl Rogers' 'Person-Centered Approach' this year Delbert Tibbs, a man who was better known outside of that scene for other reasons, has also died. In the world of Vipassana Meditation the charismatic teacher who did so much to spread this practice, S.N. Goenka, died this year. And Marshall Rosenberg, the creator of Nonviolent Communication, although he has not died, he has basically retired from the field.

In a more mainstream light, there is Doris Lessing, an author who defies categorization, yet who has done so much to influence different people in different ways. Also related to the literary world, Carolyn Cassady, who was one of the last remaining members of the Beat Generation, has also died. And then of course there is the international leftist icon Hugo Chavez who died, as well as the nonviolence icon Nelson Mandela.

Taken altogether, I have a sense that we are losing our elders. These different pioneering, ground-breaking people are all dying off. And who are we left with instead? Who can we turn to for guidance, inspiration and wisdom?

I say this all within a certain context here. For one, the generations of people immediately following the one that is going away does not seem to me to be of the same stature or character as the preceding generations. Corresponding with that is the fact that we are now seeing the rise of the Millenials, a generation that has come of age in such a vastly different world compared to all of the generations previous to it that it is hard to tell where it where go or what it will do.

This seems to leave us with a sense of the unknown, The Void, if you will. The elders have left us, the past is past, that part of history is now over with. Those of us who have survived thus far are here now. What will we do next?

Encircled By Paradox

There is a vast paradox that I find myself living in. On the one hand I identify with many things. On the other hand, I identify with nothing. I simultaneously see myself as a part of many things, while at the same time I also see myself as apart from everything. This applies to many things in my life, and it has been going on for a while.

To give some examples here, let’s start off by dropping the A-bomb: “anarchist”. On the one hand, I very much identify with that word, the philosophy and history that is behind it and the social scene of people and projects that surrounds it. On the other hand, much of the philosophy, history, people and projects that are generally considered to be “anarchist” I find to be boring at best, and appalling at worst.

On the one hand there is Alexander Berkman’s “Anarchism is the most beautiful idea that humanity has ever had.” And on the other hand there is Eugene Gendlin’s sentiment “When I think of an ‘anarchist’ I think of a ‘violent asshole.’” This label is one that I would both go to my grave defending as well as one that I would take great offense in if someone were to associate me with it.

The other A-bomb that is usually associated with the first, the “Nagasaki” to the anarchist “Hiroshima”, is the term and concept of “activist”. On the one hand, I love activists and activism. I like the fact that people give a damn about the world and what is going on in it. I like the fact that people are actually paying attention to what is actually taking place, that they want to change things, and that they are not willing to let injustices and atrocities continue happening. The “activist” mindset, to me, means not being content to just living in a small little bubble and pretending that everything outside of that bubble is either not happening or is not important.

On the flip side, I hate “activists”. There is a kind of self-righteousness, arrogance, and the habitual riding of high-horses that I find to be quite nauseating and is associated with the whole “activist” thing. Not everything that one thinks about, talks about, or works on is really all that god-damned important in the greater scheme of things. “Activists”, for all their great proclamations of taking a bigger perspective on the world, actually lack a lot of perspective on life. Activism is prone to falling into the same kind of narrow tunnel-vision focus that “normal” non-politicized people fall into, except instead of obsessing about one’s own life, family, job or how one’s favorite professional sports team is doing, one is instead obsessing about various activisty and organizery things. It all gets tiresome either way.

Going from ‘A’ to ‘B’ now, there is “Buddhism”, a label that I use and that I think of when I refer to “a bigger perspective on life”. I love this word, it is the latest addition to the pantheon of labels that I associate myself with, and I intend on learning and studying more about the various concepts associated with this term as time goes by.

And at the same time, I am not at all a ‘Buddhist”. For one, I have no “Sangha”, no group of Buddhists that I feel that I belong to, practice or study with. For another, that term has associated with it a kind of nitty-gritty sectarianism that I personally do not subscribe to. I am not a this-kind of Buddhist or a that-kind of Buddhist, there is no particular tradition that I am coming from or defending, and I have no teacher that I can point to as my one big Teacher. I am kind of a ‘Buddhist’, and I am kind of free-floating thinker, which makes me wonder, am I really a Buddhist?

Going from ‘B’ to ‘C’, while maintaining somewhat of a ‘spiritual’ vibe, there is the ‘Camphill’ movement. I spent about two and a half years living and working in a Camphill community, I have visited other Camphill communities a bunch of times, and I’ve studied some of the underlying philosophy behind Camphill as well. When all is said and done, I really dig it - I like the Camphill village model, I like the approach of “Social Therapy” towards supporting “those in need of special care”, and I excited about the potential of developing these things further towards addressing the various needs of people in the world today.

On the other hand, I have seen, heard and experienced enough things in the world of Camphill to have completely discredited the whole thing. I do not believe in the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner, I am not particularly excited by the fact that most people get involved with Camphill through Americorps, and the general trajectory of depersonalization towards greater professionalism leads me to think that “Social Therapy” is just a nice label to use for PR purposes and that has no real meaning beyond that any more.

Sticking with ‘C’, lets go to “communism” now. I love communism. There, I said it. I like the idea of completely doing away with capitalism, private property, markets and money. I like organized intentional sharing. I like the idea of people living and working in “communes” and I like the idea of all of humanity living and working in a larger world-system that is based on these principles.

On the other hand, “communism” is a term that is often associated with Marxism (that I find mildly interesting), class-struggle stuff (that I find boring), and Leninism (that I find appalling). Why would I associate myself with a word like that, something that has such strong connotations as it does?

How about “egoism” then? With “communism” being such a collective and social thing, “egoism” is a philosophy that emphasizes the individual, personal freedom and self-empowerment. Egoism, as articulated by Max Stirner, is one of the most exciting and liberatory philosophies that I have ever come across, and I am glad that it has never gone away after all these years.

However, there is also the fact that none of this is real. We all live in and are dependent upon a web of social relationships, our desires are socially constructed, our whole fabric of who we are and what we are about is so contingent upon and connected to outside influences that the whole foundation that egoism rests upon, “the authentic self”, evaporates into nothingness.

Then there is “Nonviolence”. I like Nonviolence, I think that it suits me very well. The idea of people doing things together peacefully just seems wonderful to me. However, anything beyond that which is associated with this word seems to be horribly tarred and tainted. “Nonviolence” usually implies a kind of religious dogmatism, passive-aggressive manipulation, and/or Liberal statism that is blind to the various kinds of systemic violence that surround us all. No thank you.

How about adding on “Communication” to the “Nonviolent” piece? Again, a whole world of messiness then enters the picture. There is the commodified buying and selling of “NVC” goods and services, there are professional “trainers” promoting their spectacular careers, there are people talking like robots in the desperate hopes of resolving their complicated life conflicts, and there are a whole lot of middle-aged middle-class white women with Liberal politics.

Nonviolent Communication itself is an outgrowth of the “Person-Centered Approach”, which itself was started by the famous humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers. Much of what is wonderful and helpful about NVC in fact came out of the “Person-Centered” movement that preceded it. Rogers himself was a cool guy, and an inspirational charismatic leader as well. Like most groups and movements that are centered around a charismatic leader this scene has lost much of its coherency and momentum after Rogers died. The “Person-Centered Approach”, as it stands now, is mainly a bunch of aging clinical psychologists and academics who talk a lot about how cool things used to be. This is not exactly my scene.

In recent years, one scene that I have spent a lot of time in is the “Vipassana Meditation” scene, which is based on the teachings of S.N. Goenka, who is himself following a particular tradition of Theravada Buddhism. This all has been very helpful for me, the practice has definitely benefitted me, and working at these Vipassana Meditation places can, I believe, approach the kind of “Social Therapy” environment that the Camphill movement talks about. At the same time, there are a lot of rules, regulations, and constraints surrounding this tradition, so much so that I see it as only addressing one component of “freedom”, namely the deeply internal realm. Although important, much more exists besides this.

And that is just it - so much more exists! I am left trying to find a label, a term, a word, a concept, a tradition or a social scene that encapsulates all of what I am wanting, longing for and trying to express, and nothing is working. Or, they all work, to an extent, and then they cease working. I am wanting to find something to identify with and belong to, whole-heartedly, and none of these things apply. And that is the problem, for me, that I am facing: what do I identify with and belong to?

For a long time I have had the internal mentality of being a zealot, a propagandizer and a recruiter for a cause. This has served me for a very long time, it has kept me afloat during hard times and has propelled me forward to do amazing things. Now I do not have this way of being to move me forward any longer, for the thing that I am associated with, identified with and a part of is no longer as solidly in place as it once was. Or, I am no longer relating to it in the same way.

What I am looking for now is what kind of relationship I am wanting with these things that I mentioned here, as well as with people and life in general (after all, everything that I mentioned here ultimately is about relating with people and life in some way). I know that I do want to promote, support and encourage something, or a set of somethings, in the world. I want to be a positive and constructive influence on the world. And I want to do so in a way that is in integrity with my values and my heart, as much as I can. So, perhaps this means something else. A different word, a different set of words, or a series of words. Or perhaps it requires an integration of all of these different things, such that they are no longer “different” as much as they all flow together - one leads to another leads to another leads to another.

Perhaps these words, labels and terms that I have used and spelled out here so far in fact are some things that have been getting in my way, and in the ways of others as well. What I have identified are some very particular practices, bodies of thought, histories, traditions and social scenes that surround them. These are all useful, to an extent, but some very distinct walls encircle them all as well. My problem is perhaps these walls. Perhaps a series of underground tunnels is needed. And perhaps building this network of tunnels is my calling.

Views from ‘The Match!’

I have been reading some old issues of The Match! lately, which is a long-running "Ethical Anarchist" publication that is produced and written mainly by one guy, Fred Woodworth. I have been enjoying this writing a great deal, and I would like for more people to be exposed to it. Of course we do not 100% agree on everything, but that is not the point. I view his writing and work as being important, and I would like to support it.

Given that Fred Woodworth is notorious for not using a computer, and is openly critical of all digital technology in general, there is not that much of his writing available for people online. With that in mind, I am including a piece that he wrote below, which is an introduction to Anarchism as he sees it. Enjoy!

-------------------------

Our View of Political Reality

It’s not a form of statism. Anarchists don’t want to impose their value-system on anyone else. It’s not terrorism - the cop who wears the gun to scare you into obeying him - is the terrorist. Governments threaten to punish any man or woman who defies state power, and therefore the state really amounts to an institution of terror. Anarchism never relies on fear to accomplish anything because a person who is afraid is not free.

Here’s what Anarchists believe:

I.

Government is an unnecessary evil. Human beings, when accustomed to taking responsibility for their own behavior, can cooperate on a basis of mutual trust and helpfulness.

No true reform is possible that leaves government intact. Appeals to a government for a redress of grievances, even when acted upon, only increase the supposed legitimacy of the government’s acts, and add therefore to its amassed power.

Government will be abolished when its subjects cease to grant it legitimacy. Government cannot exist without the tacit consent of the populace. This consent is maintained by keeping people in ignorance of their real power. Voting is not an expression of power, but an admission of powerlessness, since it cannot do otherwise than reaffirm the government’s supposed legitimacy.

Every person must have the right to make all decisions about his or her own life. All moralistic meddling in the private affairs of freely-acting persons is unjustified. Behavior which does not affect uninvolved persons is nobody’s business but the participants’.

We are not bound by constitutions or agreements made by our ancestors. Any constitution, contract or agreement that purports to bind unborn generations - or in fact anyone other than the actual parties to it - is a despicable falsehood and a presumptuous fraud. We are free agents liable only for such as we ourselves undertake.

II.

All governments survive on theft and extortion, called taxation.

All governments force their decrees on the people and command obedience under threat of punishment.

If human beings are fundamentally good, no government is necessary; if they are fundamentally bad, any government, being composed of human beings, would be bad also.

The principal outrages of history have been committed by governments, while every advancement of thought, every betterment in the human condition, has come about through the practices of voluntary cooperation and individual initiative.

The principle of government, which is force, is opposed to the free exercise of our ability to think, act and cooperate.

Whenever government is established, it causes more harm than it forestalls. Under the guise of protecting populaces from crime and violence, governments not only do not eradicate random, individual crime, but they institutionalize such varieties as censorship and war.

All governments enlarge upon and extend their powers; under government, the rights of the individual constantly diminish.

Anarchism is in favor of a free society organized along lines of cooperation and mutual aid.

Public Affairs

A few months back I wrote up a proposal on this blog about how a new nation-wide anarchist organization could be created that is based on organizing various big public gatherings of anarchist-identified people using an event-structuring format called “open space technology”. Looking at what has occurred at various big public events for the U.S. anarchist milieu since I last wrote that piece, I have changed my mind about that proposal. I now think that the U.S. anarchist milieu in general currently does not have the maturity and self-responsibility necessary to be able to successfully pull off something like that.

To be more specific, this year, so far, there was the San Francisco Anarchist Bookfair which took place with a lot of controversy surrounding it before-hand, and then at the event itself there was an altercation between one of the event organizers and some other people which resulted in the organizers calling the police.

With the New York City Anarchist Bookfair there was a lot of controversy surrounding it before, during and after the event itself, and after the event was over there was a statement publicly released where someone threatened to shut down the bookfair next year.

With the Anarchist Convergence in Olympia, Washington somebody attending the event had their camera equipment destroyed, that person then called the police, and that event was then subsequently shut down.

And most recently, there was the Law and Disorder Conference in Portland, Oregon, where one group tabling there had some of their literature destroyed and one of the tablers was physically assaulted.

All of these different incidents at big public anarchist events that I mentioned lead me to a conclusion – the anarchist milieu as it exists today is just too immature to be able to have big public events that are meaningful and productive. The basic mutual respect and tolerance that is necessary to be able to successfully pull something like that off is just not there. With things being the way they are now, continuing to organize these kinds of big public events is just providing people a public forum to “act out” their own unexamined personal neuroses and dysfunctional relationships, and essentially it is “enabling” unhealthy patterns to repeat themselves. Maybe this will all change sometime in the future, when the current crop of young anarchists “grows up”, or when most of them eventually burns out and gives up on the anarchy thing, and are then replaced with the next generation of anarchists.

As it stands now, though, the unfortunate general trend within anarchist circles is for one to mock, yell at, threaten, and ultimately use physical force against those whom one disagrees with. All meaningful dialogue between people is gone as soon as people start breaking things, using physical violence or calling the police on each-other. One of the basic claims of anarchism is that human beings can live together in healthy harmonious communities without the presence of a state or other authorities. The kind of behavior that is popular now in anarchist circles works directly against this claim. One does not build solidarity by intimidating those whom one wants solidarity with. And likewise, one does not build trust and cultivate the desire for mutual aid by habitually insulting and threatening people in various ways.

All of these big controversies that surround these big public events involve people who believe that they are in the right and that they have been wronged. They are each fighting valiantly for the side of good against that which is bad. Each person involved would gladly give reasons and justifications for the things that they do and the positions that they take. And all of this eventually finds its way to the internet where everything is then publicly shat upon. I believe that everybody starts out with good intentions but that the ways that these situations have generally been dealt with are ultimately unhealthy, unproductive and not sustainable for the people involved in the long run.

What I think needs to happen instead of big public anarchist events are smaller more focused anarchist events whose participants are there by invitation only. Looking at the various big public anarchist events that I mentioned earlier, one commonality that they all share is that each of them had an incident where some person, or group of people, was present at the event where others thought they should not be there. If the event was by invitation-only, where the only people present are those whom were specifically chosen to be there to begin with, these incidents would not have happened. One could say that the anarchist milieu already has the fault of being an insular and cliquish scene, but perhaps it would be best to say that for right now that is the best that we are capable of achieving.

One rationale that is given for having these big public anarchist events is that they serve as a means to introduce the general public to anarchism and other related ideas. If this is the point, then I don’t think that they serve that function very well either, for these events are often an eclectic mix of all kinds of different people, groups, and messages all spewing out their opinions to whomever cares to listen. For the person who is totally new to anarchism, going to an anarchist public event would be giving them a grab-bag of various different fringe radical whatever. No clear and coherent general overview of anarchist ideas is being presented. If one really wants to effectively introduce the general public to anarchism, a totally different approach needs to be thought out and implemented.

If some people want to continue on organizing different big public anarchist events, that is their choice. I won’t try to stop them - although others might, on the pretext of one big controversy and set of principles or another. However, as I think about all of this, another thought occurs to me...

Perhaps my reaction to all of these things is more based on old pre-existing personality types and how they interact with other personality types. For example, when I was a child going to school, I used to totally hate the whole set-up. For one, there was the very existence of school, which is itself an authoritarian institution. But then, in the rare moments when there was no teacher or other adult authority figures in the class-room, the other kids went nuts, screaming, running around, throwing things, jumping up on tables. At those times, I was relieved that there was no teacher or adult authority figure present, but I also hated how the other kids were behaving. I wanted to be off quietly doing my own thing, ideally with other kids who were similarly quiet and respectful. At around the age of 16, I learned something – I can drop out, and avoid the whole thing altogether. Let the kids do their own foolishness if they want to, I’m going somewhere else.

Can happen, Will happen, Stuff happens

I have been in an awkward position lately regarding the whole “anarchist” thing. Here in Minneapolis there has been a big controversy involving a group that I have volunteered with and people that I know (on all sides of the issue) that has gotten so incredibly nasty that I have started feeling embarrassed to be associated with any of this. And more than anything I feel just plain heart-broken that all of this is happening. Also, in places much farther away from here other self-proclaimed “anarchists” are doing other things that I have similar thoughts/feelings about, though since they are so much more distant from me these are not quite as intense as the local Twin Cities stuff. No matter how you cut it, though, it is all just pain, exhaustion, embarrassment and overwhelming defeat all around.

And yet, despite all of this stuff, I am still whole-heartedly into the whole anarchism thing. My reasoning is this – people who consider themselves to be “anarchists” are not necessarily the same people who actually make real-life "anarchy" happen. The people who publicly adorn themselves with that particular fringe-label are the folks who (hopefully) subscribe to particular political & social analyses, values, principles and other theoretical interpretations. The actual making-anarchy-happen part is another thing altogether, requiring an entirely different set of skills. Some of the people whom I’ve met in my life who I would say are very successful at living anarchically in their own lives and relationships are also often folks who have never even heard of “anarchism” and who would run away as fast they can if somebody wanted to try to instruct them on the theory about it.

The same goes with social and political change. In my life-time perhaps two of the people to who were most effective at enacting change in the world at large (although not necessarily the kind of change that I am wanting) have been folks like Mark Zuckerberg and Mohamed Bouazizi - not the scores of people out there who proudly proclaim themselves to be “revolutionaries”, “activists”, “organizers”, and “social change agents”. In this current era that we live in, mass social and political change seems to come about more from somebody happening to do something at the right place and the right time that sparks something within people that already exists within them but has been laying dormant waiting to come out. This is the same rationale behind anarchists and other self-proclaimed “revolutionaries” who endorse things like riots and armed struggle, but the difference is that I don’t think that those kinds of things are actually successful at achieving the kind of society that “anarchism” is supposedly all about.

I once asked a guy who was an anarchist for many years why he still stuck with it all. Throughout his “anarchist career” he had seen so many different failures, dysfunctional dynamics and sheer nonsense over the years being carried out by people within the “anarchist” scene, and yet he's still there. His response to me was “well, what is the alternative to being an anarchist? To become a jerk who starts bossing people around and making threats?”

It is exactly this – anarchism is a way to look at the world that takes away the masks and the lies of the things that we call “government”, “capitalism”, and “authority” in general. Seeing the truth of these things does not suddenly make one into an angel in one’s own behavior. An evil is still an evil even if one has failed at achieving the good. I am not about to start believing in something that I know is wrong, harmful, and is in fact destroying so much of life on this planet just because the alternative has not come about.

What it comes down to is that I believe that an anarchist society, and an anarchist social revolution that achieves such a society, is possible, not probable. That is the difference. “Can happen” and “will happen” are two separate things. I believe that in all likelihood various authoritarian regimes, alienated social relationships leading to social fragmentation and ecological devastation are the future for humanity. And, at the same time, I do believe that “another world is possible”.

I am reminded of a quote by Carl Rogers – “When I look at the world I'm pessimistic, but when I look at people I am optimistic.” I believe that within each human being are great vast capacities for love, creativity, sharing, courage, cooperation and expression. The thing is that this is all safely locked away in people, made out of reach by fear, by anger, by old habits and sheer laziness. Continuing on with the same-old, same-old does nothing to unlock oneself nor does it contribute anything towards getting rid of the chains that the world at large has around us all.

The value that I find in anarchism is that of being an ethical framework that guides both how one sees the world and how one chooses to act within that world. The world is as it is, here and now, regardless of what labels are ostensibly placed upon that world or society. The people within any given society are behaving in certain ways and engaging in particular social dynamics, and the benefit of having an anarchist lens to view it with is that it enables one to more clearly determine how one wants to respond and act in relation to what is going on. In other words, one can see more clearly what one is contributing to, what one is not contributing to, how much, and in what ways. Certain dynamics, certain relationships, can be more liberatory, dare I say more “anarchist.” And these particular kinds of dynamics and relationships can build on each other to ultimately have an anarchist society, a new anarchist world.

Not that this will happen. But it can.

Some things never change

In 1999 I was a student at a two-year Community College, mainly because I did not know what else to do with my life. I was an angry, alienated, young anarchist guy, and I had to do a required Public Speaking class in order to get my degree. I ended up …

Continue reading at The Implicit & Experiential Rantings of a Person …

Anarchist Controversies

Controversies have been a part of the anarchist scene for a long time now. I recall being a brand-new, freshly-minted, teenage anarchist in the ‘90’s, looking around to see what anarchist projects existed out there. I came across the Love & Rage Anarchist Federation, I was intrigued by what I saw in a newspaper that they produced so I looked into what they were up to currently. What I came across was a huge passionate controversy going on full-force, people publicly flipping out, angry accusations being traded around, the whole works. “Well, I didn’t really want to join them anyway”, I thought to myself, and I didn’t look into them again.

Anarchists have a history with this kind of thing, going right back to the beginning. One could say that the very thing that first differentiated anarchism from Marxism, ideologies aside, was a big dramatic public controversy. Two charismatic alpha-males, named Mikhail Bakunin and Karl Marx, had it in for each-other, people took sides, and eventually Bakunin and his people got kicked out of the group. “Fine, we’ll create our own damn organization!”, Bakunin and his people said, and the rest is history.

As the years have gone by I have seen many countless different controversies come and go within the anarchist scene. I have actively participated in some, I have silently observed others, and I have seen friends of mine get burned-out by them and then leave the scene altogether as a result. I myself once took a couple years break from the anarchist scene after one such controversy - the whole experience was just so very disheartening and emotionally draining for me that I wanted nothing to do with anarchists anymore. Time and again I have heard people say things along the lines of “with comrades like this, who needs government agents?”

What has kept me with the anarchist scene all these years was not the people, but the idea and ideals behind it all. If I was to be into anarchism because of anarchists, I would have left the whole thing long ago. Say what you will about anarchists in general, it’s the whole big controversy thing that comes up again and again from time to time that is something that I believe really self-sabotages the whole “movement”. It is almost as if there exists within anarchists some kind of inherent genetic programming that periodically gets activated, to help to thin the ranks, to keep the whole scene from getting too big or too vibrant.

Right now a big controversy is taking place in Minneapolis, among the anarchist scene, and it looks like the San Francisco Bay Area recently had one as well. I am not really all that concerned by any of these controversies – they come and they go, and people come and go, and projects come and go as well, I understand all of that. What concerns me is that the whole thing is so damn repetitive, all the recurring patterns and predictable behaviors, it’s redundant. And worst of all the social atmosphere within the anarchist scene in general does not seem to demonstrate that people have learned anything from all of these countless controversies. All this blood, sweat and tears, to no avail.

One of the things that I believe is underlying this whole phenomena is that anarchists in general are a very ideal-based, principle-minded people. Such-and-such a position is defended, on principle, and that very same stance is also attacked by others who see it as violating some other principle. Compromise can be seen as violating principles and so can talking to “other side” or having them be a part of one’s group. The underlying assumption seems to be that by taking a firm, consistent, unyielding and principled stance, step by step, step by step, every step of the way, eventually the beautiful new world that one is yearning for will come to be. Given that the very nature of an anarchist vision is so very radical, fundamentally different from and at odds with the world that we all inhabit today, I can see why one would take this kind of strong principled approach.

At the same time, the people behind and surrounding the principles are not seen. In other words, real-life human beings both cause and are affected by these principles, and this results in real feelings and real lives being impacted. Principles are important, I would say vital, in that they can serve as guiding forces in an often-times savage and confusing world. And I want to ask – how are these principle-based actions affecting the real-life people in front of you?

What I am proposing here is not the abandonment of one’s principles, but the addition of new principles to one’s repertoire. In particular, there is empathy. By seeing the world through the other person’s eyes, by walking in their shoes, a whole world opens up. In the heat of the moment, flared tempers, passionate calls to action, the world narrows down, and people are not seen. Empathy, then, is intentionally taking the time to see things from the other perspective.

Another principle is that of assuming good intentions. I am struck by how people, again and again, go from seeing someone as being a comrade, someone with shared values who’ve they’ve known for x amount of time to then seeing that same person as… being a total scoundrel, with nothing but a desire to cause harm, and that they have never been up to any good. Remembering someone’s basic humanity means keeping in mind that we are not surrounded by demonic beings, but real-life human beings with values and needs similar to our own.

A final principle here is that of talking with each-other. This ought to be a no-brainer, but I see it pop up again and again that in a controversy people actually talking with each-other, face to face talking that is, quickly goes out the window. In place of face to face conversations are face to face shouting matches and face to face hand gestures. But more likely than that, even, is not being in the same room at all, but instead talking only with people whom one already agrees with, or communicating over the internet, which in itself usually has a very distancing kind of effect. Just getting together, in person, and talking – no special kind of talking, no fancy mediation set-up of some sort – just talking. This in itself often has a very positive effect, and it is also one of the first things to go when things get rough. This does not have to be the case.

But as far as talking goes, there is a kind of talking that I generally find to be very unhelpful, and that is arguing and debating. I remember once being at the (in)famous anarchist study group of Berkeley, California, and somebody posed a question to the group: “Has anybody here ever been convinced of something through an argument or a debate?” Everybody responded “no”. That incident really struck me, because with all of the time and energy that goes into arguing and debating, it all really does not change people – except to make them either want to start throwing punches or to walk out the door. This is not the kind of “talking” that I would like to see more of.

The kind of talking that I find to be really helpful is where people are being really real with each-other, where they are being open and they do not have their defenses up, and where people are really listening to what everybody has to say. When one speaks one does so to really express where one is at personally and where one is coming from, not speaking to try to prove to others how “right” one is. And when one listens one does so with the intent of really trying to understand the other person, what it all means to them, not “listening” so that one can find fault with something they said so that one can then trash them for it later. This is a whole different quality of dialogue that I am talking about here.

There is a lot that I can say about this kind of conversation, I can go into a whole rant about Nonviolent Communication and shit, but now is not the time for that. The point that I am wanting to make is that different kinds of approaches to big controversies can be taken. There are alternatives out there and they can be implemented. It is simply a matter of making a conscious decision to want to respond to these things in a different way and then making the effort to follow through with that. It is not necessarily easy, but it can be done. And it is worth the effort too, for the sake of more solidarity, more community, and all that good stuff.

I would like to conclude this by offering my services to anarchists anywhere who would like some more support in implementing the kind of things that I am talking about here. I am not saying that I am a bad-ass mediator that can solve everyone’s problems, or that I can say a few magic words and everyone will start loving each other again. But I can offer empathic listening and some coaching that can be supportive in difficult situations. And when times are tough, everyone can use some more empathy and support.

Reflections from a Ten-year Giraffe Freak

Around this time ten years ago I first fell in love with Nonviolent Communication (“NVC”). This love-affair has gone through all kinds of different twists and turns, ups and downs, but in some form it still continues on to this day. Myself, my life, who I am, has been so thoroughly affected by my involvement with NVC, that I can scarcely imagine who I would be now if I hadn’t gotten into the whole thing.

There is no one to blame

One of the most profound changes in my life that I attribute to NVC is the perspective that there are no bad people, there is no one to blame, and that moralistic judgments of any kind are ultimately not a helpful thing to do. When I first started studying NVC I was just emerging from a prolonged bitter judgment-fest that had gone on for over a year straight, and by the time that I came to NVC I was in a place where I felt like I had been dumped onto the side of the highway, through my own actions, as a result of my having burnt so many bridges with different people. Studying NVC then was in actuality a process of rigorously applying the lens of human needs to everything and everyone. If all actions, all feelings and all words are used as attempts to meet some fundamental human needs that we all share, then what could these needs be? So applying that lens of “fundamental human needs” to situation after situation, needs guess after needs guess, was a big part of my “learning NVC”.

In many regards, I look at who I was before I got into NVC and who I was the years following it, and it all just simply *feels* different from each-other. The difference is this: blaming people. Yes, I have and still do blame and judge people after having discovered NVC. Knowing NVC does not change that stuff. What has changed is that there is an underlying understanding that judging is not really a way that I want to go about doing things, and that another way is possible. With the whole lens of “needs” available to me, I can intentionally change around my inner state from one of judgment to one that approaches something resembling more compassion. Focusing on story-lines like “So-and-so did X, Y, and Z, therefore that person must be an A, B, and C” in my experience usually does not lead to more compassion. However, story-lines like “So-and-so could have done X, because they were feeling Y, and were possibly needing Z” in my experience often does help the whole compassion thing come out.

Being Present

In a way, the whole no-judging thing is just a starting-point, because what is really helpful, what people are really calling for, interpersonally-wise, is presence. People generally want other people to be there, for them, listening, paying attention to them. People usually aren’t after just having somebody’s physical body there while the other person’s mind is spacing-out thinking about someone something somewhere else. People want other people, right there, making space for them, alert to them. What one says while paying attention usually does not matter, but the paying attention part does.

So part of the whole deal, as I see it - going through the whole self-inquiry process, looking at the fundamental needs at play, transforming judgments and the like - is all a matter of “clearing a space”, internally-speaking, to make it possible to then be able to be really present for other people. You can’t really be present to another person if you are judging them – you are in your thoughts then (judgmental thoughts) and not really with the other person at the moment.

Authenticity and Congruence

One of the things that I really attribute to NVC in my life, ironically enough, is a way to access personal authenticity. That is, being real, and showing up that way with others. As a result of NVC, I later discovered the work of Carl Rogers, which introduced another concept that relates to this whole thing, called “congruence”. Congruence is where one is consciously aware of what one is thinking/feeling/experiencing in the present moment and articulating it. This is what NVC does, or rather, can help people to do. For me, it has helped when I first do “self-empathy”, that is, checking in with myself, seeing what I am personally feeling and needing in the moment. Once I am clear what that is, then expressing it. That’s “congruence”, NVC-style.

It does not always work out this way, of course, even after ten years of NVC I still all too often clam-up, disconnect, mentally flee or chicken out. But because I know NVC, the tools are there, and if I remember that and choose to do so, I can be really authentic if I wanted to. This has been very helpful for me. I have had a number of different situations over the years that I believe have been greatly aided in by my “cutting through the bullshit” and talking directly and personally about what is going on. I have found, in a number of different occasions, that people often feel a great relief and a sense of freedom by seeing that it is possible and “permissible” to be honest, authentic and real in a social environment.

Empathic Understanding

One of the great things about NVC, something that I have been totally gung-ho about over the years, is empathy. That is, people actively listening to other people with the explicit intent of trying to understand the other person’s experience from that person’s point-of-view. No analysis, no diagnosis, no advice-giving or telling other people what’s up. Just listening to them and trying to understand what things are like *for them*.

The ways and means that this is done through NVC is again through using the lens of fundamental human needs. That is, assuming that everything that people do, say, think or feel is motivated by some fundamental human needs that are at play, and guessing at and eventually finding what the motivating needs *are* in a given situation. This can help to facilitate more depth and clarity of understanding. Also, needs are relatable, you have them, I have them, we all have them, so looking at another person’s experience through the lens of fundamental human needs can help aid in one putting oneself in another person’s shoes.

At the best of times, empathically listening and empathically understanding another person can be a very similar experience to that of the heart-felt authenticity, or congruence, that I mentioned earlier. In other words, when one is speaking as deeply, personally, and honestly as one can, it is all very much like that of inviting and sensitively exploring together with another person their inner experience. Both personal authenticity, as well as empathic listening, are forms of intimacy and vulnerability between people. A big part of doing NVC, then, is that of consciously choosing to do that. This then leads me to…

Taking Emotional Risks

We all live in a mean, cold, cruel, fucked-up world. People everywhere are disregarding others, exploiting others, and hurting each-other in all kinds of different ways. Practicing NVC, then, is a pretty counter-intuitive thing to do, given how things are. Doing the whole NVC thing then involves basically opening up, being honest, authentic, personal, as well as being caring, empathic, and trying to understand people no matter who they are, what their beliefs are, and no matter what they have said or done. When one puts oneself out there in this way the risk is that other people may not notice, care or in any way receive what one is offering.

But it is all worth it. The reason why I think this is that when it all “works”, that is when other people do notice, acknowledge and respond to one’s authenticity, empathy and caring, wonderful things can happen. In relationships, people can melt, people can open up, heart-felt interpersonal connection can happen. And it is this, this connection between people, that is basically the whole point behind “doing NVC”. When this connection is established, the foundation then exists for resolving conflicts, creating action-plans and for giving and receiving in ways that everyone feels good about. Practicing NVC involves taking risks, and one can and probably will fall on one’s face at times when doing it. But the potential for real person-to-person contact and care is all the reason I need to continue to do it.

Taking Personal Responsibility

If there is one thing that I have learned through all of my years of practicing NVC, it is that it is all about the practitioner taking personal responsibility. Very often, I have seen people view NVC as being like a series of magic words or incantations that the practitioner is supposed to give, that if only certain things are recited in conversations then the conflicts would be resolved, other people would do what you want them to do, and everybody will then suddenly love each-other.

Or, another way that I have seen other people relate to NVC (and that I have sometimes fallen prey to viewing it myself), is that if one has made the choice to study and practice NVC, and then one approaches other people and tries to “use NVC” with them, that the other person whom one is talking with has then also, unconsciously and inexplicitly, made the agreement to also be using and practicing NVC as well. So then if one goes through the whole process of being vulnerable, authentic, empathic, what-have-you, and the other person responds with judgment, argument and general closed-heartedness, then that other person is simply not holding up their end of the bargain!

The way that I have come to view NVC now is this – NVC is a personal practice, and it involves you, the practitioner, taking responsibility. Other people will say and do whatever the hell it is that they say and do, but you, the practitioner, have a series of choices in front of you as to how you would like to respond, and the options exist before you to go for more of a heart-connection, or not. If you feel that you have made a commitment to living in alignment with these values, the “NVC values” of compassion and partnership, then it is up to you to follow up with practicing these things.

Partnership Not Demands

Even though I view NVC as being a kind of personal practice that one chooses to do, the whole world-view that NVC points to is actually quite different. This world-view, rather than being based on individuals and their own choices, is instead based on community, mutuality and interdependence. This view is such that although each person is responsible for their own feelings, needs and choices made because of that, everybody’s actions still do affect everybody else, and that everyone’s needs are still in some form met in cooperation with other people. With this being the case, if one then goes around pissing people off, screwing people over, jerking people around and beating people into the ground, one is not making for a good social environment for your needs, or anyone else’s needs, being met in the future. Resentments come up, rebellion can happen, fights can break out. Or, sometime in the future when you most need help, you can quite simply be ignored and left out in the cold.

This is why, from an NVC perspective, “looking out for #1” is replaced with “caring for everyone’s needs equally”. In other words, if you look out for the well-being of those around you, as well as yourself, then other people are likely to be pleased and step up to do the same. Caring invites more caring. This all involves having open acknowledgement, consideration, and dialogue when necessary about how all of our actions effect one-another. The goal with all of this is to create a kind of social environment where these values are more the norm, and where everybody operates under an assumption that we are all in this together.

Learning and Practicing

This then brings me to the topic of “learning NVC”, which supports the actual practice of NVC, which is the means through which all of these different wonderful things that I have been talking about here can happen. This is an interesting subject here, because “Learning NVC”, as it is usually presented and talked about in the world – I hate it. What I mean is, I have a strong dislike for scripted dialogues, workshop exercises, sub-cultural jargon and one-size-fits-all formulas. I also have a strong distaste for professionalizing and commodifying things like learning, personal development and heart-felt connection. I simply loose a sense of connection with people when those things come up, and I have a desire to go elsewhere. All of the different things that I cherish and love about NVC are not things that I usually find in formal NVC learning environments.

With this all being the case, even though I love NVC and have found it to be enormously beneficial in my life, I am reluctant to want to recommend to other people that they pursue official NVC training or literature. Often-times, the only NVC stuff that I feel comfortable offering to people who are new and interested in learning more are things that come either from myself or a small number of trusted “NVC” friends that I have. I quite simply do not trust the standard, “normal” way that NVC is offered out there. I fully expect social distancing, disconnection and inauthenticity to come about through the usual means that NVC is presented to new-comers. I feel quite sad and disappointed to say these things, because I would like to say that I feel like real buddies and comrades with all of the different NVC trainers/facilitators out there, but that is simply not the case

And, at the same time, I do believe that it is possible for me to eventually get to that place. Through using the different NVC principles and practices, the same stuff that I have been talking about earlier in this piece, I totally believe that real heart-felt connection and understanding can happen between me and all of the different “normal” NVC trainers out there. The one additional requirement for that to happen, though, is something that I have not mentioned here so far. It is that of explicitly setting aside particular time and space to have such dialogues take place. This may seem like stating the obvious, but it is actually quite a big thing. In a world of “busyness”, overwhelm and great stress are the norm, setting aside time and space in one’s life to have intentional dialogues with people can be a big thing to take on. But it is a necessity, I believe, for all important dialogues and for all of the relationships that one values. Perhaps this task is a part of the repertoire of things for the next ten years of NVC to focus on.