Posts by Parenthesis Eye

Pacifism

I just re-read a piece that I originally wrote back in 1999 about how I view and relate with pacifism. This piece was printed in the anarcho-pacifist publication "Ahimsa" and then later on was put up on their website as well. I find it interesting to read this piece, because I still basically believe the same things that I say in it, although I would frame it a bit differently, I could elaborate more on things now that I could then, and would not put words IN ALL CAPS as I often did in that piece.

I also find it interesting that I wrote it back before I knew about and got into Nonviolent Communication, Focusing, Vipassana Meditation and Buddhism. These four sets of practices, among others, provide practical real-life "how-to"s for applied pacifism, which is something that I openly admitted to not knowing about in my original piece from 1999.

I definitely see it as being a worthwhile project for me to update my thinking on pacifism, both in writing as well as for myself. And the field of anarcho-pacifism in general is also something that I see as being in great need of an up-date and revamping. Before I can move further with that, however, I do feel as if I personally have some more learning and exploring to do. So in the meantime, I present to you my original piece on "Pacifism" here.

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Pacifism

My version of pacifism is very inter-connected with many of my other views and philosophies, so if you want just my pure isolated "pacifism" explained here, you're probably not gonna get it.

Does my pacifism mean that I am against all war? Yes, of course it does. Does my pacifism mean that I am against all physical violence? Yes, of course it does. Does my pacifism mean that I am against all hurting of people? Yes, of course it does.

The very fact that I include these three already is enough to count me as being a pacifist extremist. But, as the rest of my site shows, I am certainly not one to shy away from "extremism".

My form of "pacifism" basically means universal love, respect and solidarity with all people everywhere, no matter what. If you truly do LOVE someone, if you really do RESPECT someone, if you really have SOLIDARITY with someone, it automatically places you in a mind-set that is the furthest thing from that which commits acts of violence and hurt against others. Being in such a mind-set, you make yourself INCAPABLE of hurting others, because you can never seek to hurt that which you really love. My form of pacifism means seeing the beauty, uniqueness and commonality within ALL people. It means the elimination of ALL concepts of "goods guys" and "bad guys". It means the elimination of the entire "Us vs. Them" mentality. It is the recognition that ALL humanity is already the "Us" and that to solve our problems we need to change OURSELVES rather than seeking to change OTHERS. The minute you view another person as an "outsider", as a Them, then you automatically write off their humanity and make them become expendable in your mind. By mentally distancing and alienating people in such a way, you instantly loose the ability to empathize with them, thus making yourself capable of hurting them in various ways without feeling a thing.

My form of pacifism is an extension of my anarchism, or, my anarchism is an extension of my pacifism, you can look at it from either angle. I believe that it is a basic human instinct, an innate psychological defense mechanism, to resist forms of authority being imposed on you. To fight back against being controlled is natural. I view Authority as being a kind of spiritual disease. The minute Authority invades our psyche, we are willing and able to do anything to fight back against it, no matter how insane or violent it may be. Therefore a kind of spiritual self-healing needs to take place, where all forms of Authority are eliminated from your mind and soul, and from your actions with others as a result. Once you eliminate your authoritarian actions towards others, you make their self-healing process easier as well, as well as eliminating some of the roots of violence and hurt in the world.

So, getting back to "the real world" and "practical matters", what does one do about "self-defence" and dealing with the violent and hurtful behavior of others? Well, in terms of the hurtful and antagonistic behavior of others, I think that an approach of love, acceptance, and trying to understand the other person's side and where they are coming from is necessary. It does not matter how others' response to this is. Regardless of if they change their hurtful behavior or not, what is important is that you maintain your positive peaceful and loving stance no matter what. One person's hurtful attitude never justifies yet another hurtful attitude to be taken. As long as you are doing all that you can within your own personal boundaries to add love, compassion, etc to the world, that is all that matters. To feel otherwise, and be let down by the behavior of others is ultimately an Authoritarian attitude. Because, by doing this, you are seeking to CONTROL other people's attitudes, actions and feelings, which is intrinsically wrong and leads to more violence and hurt, as I said earlier.

As far as "Self-defense" goes, I think that EVERY POSSIBLE EFFORT should be strenuously put into making a non-authority-based, peaceful, loving and respectful social relations, society, culture, environment, etc. But, when the "inevitable"(as the pessimists call it) act of actual real-life violence actually occurs and is right there in front of you, what do you do? Well, I do not know, to be honest. Life is to a large degree a SITUATIONAL and CIRCUMSTANTIAL thing, each particular individual instance is unique and different in it's own way. I say that one's own personal individual judgment is needed in such situations, but that a primary non-violent, non-authoritarian ethical code should ALWAYS be in place as the foundation for all actions and decisions. A variety of different options exist for actual violent cases.

- Number one should be talking and communication.

- Then there is always the "wimp" tactics of hiding and running away.

- There are also a number of non-violent martial arts self-defense tactics and disciplines that one can use.

- And there is ultimately the "human shield" and "martyr" options that one can take, which is always noble, but not necessarily always "practical".

The choice is always YOURS, but I say that a basic non-violent foundation to ALL your thoughts and actions is always necessary.

So, how do you "get things done" with pacifism? How do things really "work" if you operate in such a way? My answer is, I really don't care. I view the ETHICS of pacifism and non-authority as being of primary importance, and the nitty gritty of getting things to "work" as being secondary. If we all die in the process, so be it, as long as we have lived an ethical life. "Give me liberty or give me death!"

I think one of the greatest mistakes of many pacifists and radicals is the using of pacifism as a "tactic," as a way to get others to do what you want. I think Gandhi started a lot of it, and many radicals have taken his example and have even put themselves in harm's way to get others to do what they want. Many people call this kind of pacifism "leading by example". I think that this kind of pacifism is bullshit. Pacifism to me is primarily an ETHIC, a way to live your life. If you look at it in terms of "tactics," you miss the very ESSENCE of what it is all about. It does not matter IF you get there, what matters is HOW you get there. Also, using pacifism as a way to control people, as a way to "lead" people (albeit non-violently) is also inherently wrong, since it is wrong to control people in ANY form. To try to do so naturally leads to counter behavior from those who are trying to be controlled. Controlling people, whether initially using violence or no violence, inevitably leads to violence.

Also, I do not see pacifism as necessarily being detached from "reality" and "practical" life. I think that people naturally respond positively to behavior that is non-threatening and views and treats them respectfully as equals and does not seek to control or manipulate them in any way. I think that the only time when people do NOT respond naturally positive to such behavior, is when they are personally in the midst of dealing with the spiritual disease of Authority and are not left in the most "social" of moods as a result. Sort of like how when one is physically ill, you do not think and inter-act with others in the best of ways, the same goes with the spiritual disease of Authority and the symptoms of hurtfulness and violence that is causes.

Pacifism, love, empathy and anarchy are the natural state of people, it is this commonality that we all share that we need to go back to, broaden, understand - and most of all LIVE in our own personal lives and with others, in order for us all to have peaceful and loving lives.

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!

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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.