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I have come to understand myself as having roughly two “specializations” or focuses when it comes to the radical thinking that I most enjoy: popular education/political development and structures for political organization. The reasons why I have these focuses are 1) I believe that the left heavily—almost pathologically—overemphasizes social analysis and so I prefer to keep my head tilted toward vision and strategy, 2) my visions and strategies continuously tell me that revolutionary work is fundamentally educational in nature, and 3) I believe that building dynamic, healthy, high-capacity organizations is perhaps the most critical factor in the success of that revolutionary work. I adore thinking about education so much that it has become my day job. I am so gaga for all things organization that organizational daydreaming is one of my favorite free time hobbies.

You can imagine, then, how baffling and tantalizing a puzzle it is for me that the U.S. left has such a spotty history with building revolutionary organizations. I’ve been writing about this a lot lately, and I just wanted to share some notes about different aspects that I’ve been thinking about.

When I was 12, in Oak Harbor, Washington, I was playing ball tag with my best friend when I witnessed his neighbor charge out of his house yelling, and then brutally kick his dog in the ribs with steel-toed boots. I cried almost instantly. I didn’t care that my friend might see me and think I was weird. This was wrong, and I cried. I then called my mom to tell her and get advice. She gave me the number for some animal control and welfare organizations on Whidbey Island, which I later called, and then she paused and praised me for how sensitive a person I was. This was a defining moment in my identity development. I was a sensitive person. I defended an animal and I wasn’t afraid to cry when things weren’t right.

In Guatemala, in the present day, our family has two dogs that no one pets or plays with, which serve simply as night guards. There are four or five other dogs who come to hang out and socialize, steal some food, kill a duckling, or go to the bathroom. Along with all the rest of my family, I yell for them to leave. I curse and complain with the chorus. When one of the men in the family came charging out with a leather belt to scatter them yelping, I said nothing. In fact, I think I was happy that he was taking care of a problem. When one of their dogs got in a fight and its tail got infected, I don’t remember feeling anything. I merely nodded in the affirmative as the family predicted how many days it would have left.

What happened to me? If I am still a sensitive person, and supposedly still a dog lover, how is it that I let myself become so desensitized?

A surface analysis might just attribute this to individual personality changes, growing up, getting jaded—that something changed in me on an individual level. But I believe this has far more to do with the overwhelming power that human culture has to both submerge and unearth our best selves. In this case, I didn’t just magically become less sensitive, I changed to conform with a culture that expected a far less sensitive—and more violent—relationship with animals. For the most part, I have prioritized my family’s smooth (read: with minimal conflicts or controversies) acceptance of me over my love of animals. It’s just one example of the situational moral and emotional shifts we make all the time to fit in with our surrounding cultures.

I think these dynamics are important, perhaps even key, to building a winning revolutionary politics. People rarely change, for better or worse, as isolated individuals. We change as cultural participants. Prison guards may or may not enter their jobs with previous violent or sadistic conditioning, but you can bet that almost all of them retire as worse human beings. Insurrectionist and individualist anarchists might wax poetic about the liberation of individual desires and the destruction of a barcode based existence, but they sure do tend to talk and dress and party all the same as each other. John Brown wasn’t just individually moved as a white person to violently resist slavery, he came from an intense American masculinity that melded with an intense church tradition that told him slavery was a sin. We are social beings, cultural beings. Our best and worst human potentials, our heroism and our villainy, unfold out of our common cultural pools. This doesn’t have to be seen as a problem. It’s just a feature of our common humanity. If we want a revolution, we must revolutionize our cultures. Revolution is cultural change.

But here is where many radical people get into a sort of chicken-and-egg debate cycle. How can you change a culture without transforming the material conditions within institutions? But how can you change institutions without changing the cultures of those within them? Round and round we go, and so many of our movements harden into positions that are either mechanically focused on institutional organizing at one end of the spectrum, or exclusively spiritual, counter-cultural, navel-gazing at the other end. Our way through these debates is the synthesis of the opposing positions. Yes, revolutionary work, at any level, is cultural—even spiritual—change. But institutions, through their accretion and solidification of social traditions and relationships, are the engines that generate culture. In fact, what makes any institution viable is its ability to create and sustain a specific pattern of social behavior—a culture. To try to change culture outside of institutional change is like continuously mopping the floor of a flooded house without ever thinking to turn the faucet off. Thus, revolutionary work is counter-cultural, even spiritual, work, but it should be grounded in the concrete realities of both existing and alternative institutions, not just diffuse culture building that lacks institutional ties.

This is why I’m so passionate about the organizational questions facing revolutionaries, and why I’m so baffled by how awkward the left is about handling them. I believe that explicitly revolutionary organizations are crucial vehicles for changing culture. They are the missing link between external organizing and internal process. However I see too many people who see them as either unnecessary, or as something for the far-off future, or as some kind of necessary evil.

I imagine the totalitarian and bureaucratic legacy of Marxism-Leninism is a major culprit in this, but I observe that leftists are hyper-wary of organizational projects—especially anything beyond single issue or campaign work. It’s like we go into the work holding our nose, or dipping our toes in, not wanting to get too close or too deep. I imagine, like my dog example, that we are worried about creating a culture which dehumanizes us, which, in the name of efficiency, strips us of what we love most about our radical selves. Certainly, building any organization carries this danger. We can become organizational robots, puppets to the mass line that so many party-builders of the past have become. But guess what: avoiding organizational questions doesn’t change that danger, it just makes the acculturation process more chaotic, informal, and implicit. Anti-organizational milieus can be just as conformist and dehumanizing. In fact, I would argue that our lack of organizations makes radicals far more vulnerable to the acculturating tendencies of the dominant culture. We just get good at hiding it when we go to parties, meetings, and fundraisers.

When we try to avoid organizational experimentation, we do avoid some dangers, but we also miss out on huge transformative opportunities. See, the institutional nature of organizations can be just as much of an asset as a liability. By institutionalizing practices that are liberatory, reflective, compassionate, inspiring, and rooted in ethics of solidarity, we have the potential to accelerate the process of cultural change way beyond what any informal scene or milieu can offer. People change faster, and more profoundly, when they are changing within a group that they are committed to, and that is committed to them.

I know this, because I’ve experienced it in quite an unlikely place: the small high school where I teach. Officially, I work for the State, in an institution that is unquestionably part of a large and problematic bureaucracy. But, damn, the intensity and quality of the collaboration that our school has been able to generate is thrilling. It’s some of the most satisfying work I’ve ever done, I relish it every day, working face to face, building a culture with people who don’t even share my politics or interests. The cohesiveness of the institution, our collective commitment to its mission, and the humanizing work structures that we’ve built allow us to build a culture that makes us better teachers, and better people. Why is it so hard for leftists to build organizations with that same dynamic?

I am optimistic about our ability to create organizations that hold radical values and visions at their core, and which institutionalize practices of both mutual aid and mutual inspiration. In fact, I don’t think it even has to be as hard as we make it. Like I said earlier, I think the left’s overemphasis on social analysis—a process of breaking society and people apart with our sharp radical scalpels—actually also makes it harder for us to come together. By relaxing a little, softening our edges a little, and just getting together to do some pretty good work around some pretty good ideas, I think we could get so far. I want to see us experimenting so much more with new organizational forms!

Writing Update and More Than We Imagined…

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been writing every day but, with the exception of a few spontaneous poems, little of it has been showing up on this blog. That’s because I’m finally earnestly putting my energy into a couple of bigger writing projects that have me really excited. I’ve been preferring to keep my head down, working quietly until these pieces are further along.

One of the pieces that’s really pushing me is an attempt to develop a more sophisticated and articulate synthesis of some of my favorite ideas about revolutionary strategy and organization. I’ve been thinking and writing about these topics for years, and I’ve never attempted to publish or even share any of that writing beyond this page—which has an average of just 16 readers! Now I’m ready to change that, as hard as it feels sometimes.

One thing that has been encouraging to me in the last couple of weeks is the recent report, “More Than We Imagined” by a grassroots research/listening project called the Ear to the Ground Project. The authors of this slick report interviewed more than 150 committed activists about the state of the movement, and what the authors have to share is quite encouraging. You should read it. It’s a pretty quick read.

There’s a lot to process in the report, but here are just two things that stood out to me:

1) This report provides a little window into just how much the U.S. radical left has matured in its ability to handle complexity, diversity, and disagreement. For far too long, I believe that the left the world over has been pinned to the ground by a certain antagonistic and polemical style of idea-building that has its roots in the cantankerous personalities of Marx and Lenin. That approach to disagreement has done significant damage to our ability to build a meaningful movement of movements, and it’s something that we don’t talk about enough. One of the many things that I really appreciated about David Gilbert’s memoir of the Weather Underground Organization, Love and Struggle, was that he explicitly named this phenomenon for the problem it is. However, this report shows a healthy, optimistic, and cooperative orientation that is becoming increasingly common on the left.

On page 20, the authors even state, “We originally planned to map out various ‘camps’ to show the central debates within participants’ responses; however, distinct camps did not emerge. Instead there was a high level of consensus. This was a surprise to us. This is not to say there are not differences, but the differences arose in degrees of emphasis rather than outright disagreement.”

This is extra good news because my read of the report is that it skews pretty clearly to the post New Communist Marxist side of the left—especially toward a particular tendency of activist-of-color-led Marxism-Leninism that has brought us a ton of the current campaign and base-building formations we see across the country. To see that the U.S’s most dynamic and powerful Marxist tendencies are demonstrating this kind of dialogical style is great for the entire U.S. left and it should really be acknowledged as a milemarker toward a more sustainable revolutionary current in this country.

2) When asked to identify movement weaknesses and challenges, respondents said:

    -60% said that our current organizational forms are insufficient.
    -50% said the movement is fragmented.
    -33% said that our movement and organizations are not “at scale.”
    -33% said we lack a clear, inspiring vision of the world we are fighting for.
    -32% said that our grassroots organizing and activism lacks a shared long-term strategy.
    -30% of participants said that the culture of the social justice movement is too negative,
    and reproduces destructive practices we’ve learned from the broader society.
    -25% of participants said that the disproportionate power of foundations and donors in the 501(c)(3) system is harmful to movement building efforts.
    -15% of participants said there is a lack of investment in grassroots organizing in key communities and sectors—namely in the South, in African American communities and in rural areas.

The authors also point to four problematic dynamics related to building a better movement culture:

    -Self-marginalization and “localism,” or thinking too small
    -Racist and patriarchal practices within the movement
    -The movement does not act like we plan to win lasting and fundamental change in our communities, workplaces or the world
    -We have an inability to have healthy dialogue, debate and disagreement

While it’s always tough to hear a list of problems and challenges, I find these observations highly validating. I think participants in this research project really are highlighting some key difficulties that we face, and I think so many of these problems are interrelated. As I am arguing in my upcoming piece about organization and strategy, I believe that issues of resources, political culture, self-marginalization, lack of “revolutionary confidence,” and fragmentation actually have a lot to do with the first problem mentioned—our lack of experience and experimentation with more dynamic and open organizational forms. I think the organization question, which really unfolds into a bigger question of our daily movement practices, has so many things to offer us on all these counts—if we are willing to go beyond the old ground of party-building, non-profits, cadre groups, and collectives.

I’m running out of internet time, so that’s all for now, but I’m so excited about writing, reading, and thinking these days!

Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s Glendi’s birthday present to me of time to reflect in Vancouver, BC. Maybe it’s that my first year of teaching is coming to a successful end. Maybe it’s the inspiration of my friends and colleagues. Maybe I’m even starting to heal from some of my past pain. Certainly, some of it is the strength and beauty of my baby.

Whatever it is, I’ve been on a roll in May, reading, writing, and building community with energy and good spirits. I’ve actually hung out with 3 different friends this week, and I’ve gone to the radical coffeeshop twice on my own as well!

I feel so good.

As usual, once my brain gets going, it’s so fun where it takes me. I’ve got a bunch of pieces of writing and thinking that I’m working on. If you are actually reading this, here are some things that you might hopefully look forward to:

  • A review of Chris Crass’ Towards Collective Liberation
  • Campaigns are the New Black…Bloc: The Strategic Dangers of ‘Non-Reformist’ Reformism
  • Trolls, Feeders, and Button-Mashers: What Competitive Gaming Can Tell Us About Unhelpful Anti-Authoritarian Tendencies
  • A response to Andrew Flood’s piece, “Revolutionary Organization in the Age of Networked Individualism”
  • Some Lessons I’ve Learned From My Past Revolutionary Organizations…part 3
  • Sucking Out the Poison: How My Daughter Is Saving Me From Destructive Masculinity

    I’ve also re-read pretty much all the major pieces on this site, and I’m making plans to select and polish at least one for publication over the summer in Guatemala…which tends to be my most intellectually productive time of the year.

    Flashback from my bookshelf…

    Thanks, Amanecer, for knocking this down and reminding me of it.

    Say, have you ever read this book? The Ecology of Everyday Life by Chaia Heller? If not, you should go get it. For me, it was one of the more brilliant and creative pieces of theory to come out of the global justice movement period, and I thought it marked a high point for both the eco-feminist and social ecology arms of anti-authoritarian politics. Sadly, I think it was greatly under-appreciated and missed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Heller’s book referenced anywhere, especially in the last 5-10 years. Have you?

    This would actually be a great book to do a reading group about, if anyone’s looking for something. I remember loving it and devouring it in a night.

    Actually, why isn’t there more discussion of eco-feminism generally? Books like Greta Gaard’s Ecological Politics and Ecofemism: Women, Animals, Nature had huge influences on me in the early 2000’s, and they don’t seem to get any love or references anymore. Big mistake, because a ton of that thinking still holds up and it’s so, so rich.

    This weekend, like so many times before, I was drawn into a couple of conversations with non-activist folks about what “the anarchists” have done in Seattle. May Day hiijinks, street fighting, smashed bank windows, all those bandanas and balaclavas. I trot out all my weathered and withered replies: that those tactics don’t represent my style of anarchism; that I think they are immature, but that they also aren’t “terrorism” or usually even “violence” exactly; that the criminality of street fighting or black blocs is trivial in comparison to the daily criminality of the system; that I will support legal defense for such folks, though I lament how it distracts us in the movement. Again, and again.

    And then we don’t even talk about anarchism again until some other smashy media spectacle months or years from now. Cue my responses one more time.

    So, why am I an anarchist, then, if I don’t see myself at all in the current public face of anarchism? Why do I settle for just being an apologist for what I believe are losing tactics? What am I getting out of this, anyway? When is it time to cut the cord, and grow up from a philosophy that tends to always skew to the younger set? Why do I keep sitting at the anarchist table, when so many other bigger kids have changed seats?

    It’s pretty remarkable how quickly my answer comes, and how simple it is. Because anarchism is my philosophy. That’s it. To say anything different would be an opportunistic lie.

    I believe in this thing, in this idea. The core beliefs of anarchism–of social anarchism, of anti-authoritarian anti-capitalism, of libertarian communism–still guide and inspire me. Anarchism’s basic analysis of power still holds strong for understanding both the travesties and opportunities of society. The anarchist legacy–flawed though it is–of the Spanish revolution, of the First International, of Emma Goldman, the IWW, of Dorothy Day, of Gustav Landauer and Peter Kropotkin, is a legacy that I am proud to be a part of. For me to try and change the name while keeping the ideas is just playing into baiting and historical forgetting. For me to dump the ideals all together would just be betrayal of who I am. Seriously, what else do I want to claim to be? A Democrat? Some vague progressive? A plain vanilla socialist? None of these come close to the richness that I find in anarchism’s potential…a potential that still remains dormant in the 21st century.

    Nope, I’m not going to give up on the word. I’m certainly not going to abandon it to the whims of whatever insurrectionists or smashy-types who want to throw it around. They can go ahead and keeping working with the word, too, because…yeah…all that hooligan stuff is part of the historical tradition as well (including that legacy that I mentioned above). I’m sticking around with anarchism in spite of the elitist crusties and all the the security-culture let’s-make-everyone-else-less-secures, not because of them; but at the same time, I’m not too scared of guilt by association.

    But if I’m gonna stick with the word anarchism, I can’t just keep being an occasional apologist for what I see as crappy manifestations of it. I…better say we…we’ve got to go public with an actually different position, a reason why we keep siding with anarchism despite such tactically bankrupt nonsensery. If anarchism is something more than the same old bricks and windows, simplistic chants, and shallow promises of immediate revolutionary gratification–then what is that something else, and how do we let it manifest itself now? What are the other options?

    Please don’t tell me that the only other option is the quiet, reluctant example of all those thousands of “mature” anarchists who are doing indispensable work on the reformist and non-profit sidelines. Yeah, yeah, I know about all them because I’m one of them–but that can’t be our great anarchist alternative to the street fighting. “We’re anarchists: we do liberals’ work even more energetically and effectively than them, but we sure have a mighty fine self-critique while we do it.” C’mon, can’t we do better?

    No. My kind of anarchists, the anarchists who–in my opinion–really take winning seriously, need to start getting more public. More groups. More literature. More interventions in pop culture…and more toe-to-toe interventions with the smashy-kids to share some of our experience–as condescending as that sounds, and is.

    Easier said than done, sure. And sure I’ve said this dozens of times before. Okay, what’s next, then, Jeremy the Grouch?

    Three inspiring things right now…


    2)Dispersing Power: Social Movements as Anti-State Forces by Raul Zibechi. This is the first non escapist sci-fi book I’ve read in awhile. It’s awesome. It explores how social movements in El Alto, Bolivia have been able to maintain such militant and prolonged mobilization that has transformed the politics of their country–while still refusing to be co-opted by the state. His central argument is that the movements are not separated from daily life, but rather completely enmeshed in people’s whole lives–it’s this community and relational aspect that gives the movements their potency. Yes. Lot’s of lessons for us in there, which I’d like to talk about when finished. I’d highly recommend this book for book groups to read and discuss.

    3) I’ve come back to pre-writing for a novel I’ve been working on for awhile. A long walk around Vancouver was perfect for my inspiration, as I worked through some long-standing story blocks. I don’t want to talk about it much, but the inspiration is that I love fantasy and sci-fi novels that build deep and convincing worlds–Middle Earth, Game of Thrones, China Mieville’s cities. I believe that a revolutionary and post-revolutionary world could offer similarly exotic and escapist settings, and I’m disappointed in radical fiction writers because they always hover around the moments of insurrection, but they don’t describe the world to be built afterwards. I don’t mean utopia, but what actually would be there afterwards. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed is a great exception, but I wish there were more. So, that’s what I’m playing with.

    I’m really excited about next Tuesday. Me and a handful of other local political souls are meeting together for a special discussion about what we’ve learned from our various fallen revolutionary organizational projects. Hooray for reflection and self-evaluation! What’s especially cool about it is that we’ve carefully decided that we don’t want to focus on stories of what happened or just critiques of errors and bad personalities, but instead we want to distill our experiences into concrete lessons for the future.

    Because I want to be prepared for the discussion, I’m trying to write down some of the lessons that I’ve learned over these years. Keep in mind that I’ll be editing this for awhile, so you might want to check back over the multiple parts from time to time.

    HANDLING CONFLICT (I’ve put this section first, because it’s so critical to avoiding organizational implosion)

    Explicitly discuss different personal communication and conflict styles. In the non-profit, corporate, and conflict mediation worlds, there is a wealth of curricula, charts, tables, and funny cartoons that help people identify their conflict and communication styles, and tips for relating across different styles. Groups should use these early and often, tailoring them as needed (with some class and cultural consciousness, for example) as a part of group formation and new member orientation. It’s amazing how much trouble we get into when we misinterpret each other’s style cues…especially across identity differences.

    Groups should strongly avoid seeking one homogeneous conflict/communication style. It won’t work and all it really means is that the people with that style will dominate and everyone else will blame themselves for not measuring up to the “right way.”

    Create structures for conflict mediation before problems occur. Groups should have preventative structures and channels already established to handle conflict before anything happens. Members should do internal training about how these structures work, and how to utilize them in a variety of scenarios. That way, when problems do occur, members have already internalized a sense of what it means to handle the conflict responsibly.

    Create regular spaces for self-evaluation and critique. I am skeptical of the cricisim/self-criticism of the Maoists, but I do think groups should create regular spaces for self-evaluation and the airing of constructive criticism. It’s important to have an expectation in the group culture that everyone will receive criticism, so that everyone can improve our work. But this is so dependent on these other lessons being heeded as well…because otherwise these spaces for criticism are just weapons for vindictive and manipulative personalities.

    Dedicate and honor time for appreciations.
    Organizing for social transformation is hard, especially when the opposition heats up. We need a steady stream of love and encouragement from each other, and this should be structured into the group at regular intervals…and not in a way in which the good is always accompanied by a “but.” We need spaces and times where all we hear are the good things…with a trust that our criticisms and unmet needs will also have structured spaces to be heard.

    Let it out or let it go. If you have a problem with someone in the organization, it’s a simple choice: either it’s not a big enough deal to communicate out to the group–and then you need to authentically work to let it go–or you can’t let it go and you need to find a responsible channel to communicate it…ideally directly to that person. If you’re scared, or you are unpracticed in conflict resolution, that’s a real challenge…but it’s not an excuse. Be creative and find resources you can trust. Keeping it to yourself and building resentment is not a legitimate option.

    Make an anti shit-talking commitment. Shit-talking is poison to movements, and it’s also a preferred channel for intentional destabilization by the powerful. If you are going to talk critically about someone without talking directly to them–or communicating through previously established group structures–then you only have one reason to do so: to constructively seek or give advice for how to eventually deal directly with said person or utilize established group structures. If weeks have passed and you’re still talking to uninvolved people about this without constructively engaging with the people directly involved in the conflict, then you are entering shit-talking territory. And if someone has been coming to you for more than a week to talk critically about someone who is not you, and they aren’t seeking or utilizing constructive advice, then you are also in shit-talking territory. We need to stop this! Period.

    Seek to name conflict honestly. It’s common in radical groups to couch our conflicts in political terms, when the real problem is personal. We don’t like someone, but we say it’s their ideas. We feel threatened, but we say that it’s actually about pressing political disagreements. This stuff should be aired out honestly. Even if I think the root of a conflict is about ideas, I need to also be up front if I’m feeling insecure, threatened, jealous, etc. This isn’t about being touchy-feely, it’s about honestly naming the root of what breaks apart organizations. If a person can only frame their conflicts politically, but they clearly manifest emotional responses to those conflicts, that’s a red-flag that they aren’t fully articulating what’s going on for them. Because so many groups actually fall apart around issues of sex, relationships, violence, jealousy, and power-mongering, this is really important to hold on to.

    Anger is not unprincipled behavior. Anger, defensiveness, yelling, crying, are not inherently disruptive or unprincipled behaviors. They are normal human responses and survival strategies for intense situations–even if we don’t perceive the same intensity in some situations. If members are angry or yelling, they should be given space, and they should be clearly acknowledged, and the actual conversation should be paused until they can return to a mutually respectful tone. This does not mean admonishing or shaming them, or using their yelling against them later. Sure, yelling and anger can be used to dominate and manipulate situations, and this is unprincipled behavior, but that’s not always the case. How much of a pattern is this, and how disruptive to the group? We all have a lot of internalized baggage about this based on our upbringings and cultural/class backgrounds, and we need to be careful about putting political spins on it when it’s actually pretty complicated.

    Crystallize and map political conflicts with imagination and patience. A group doesn’t know if a conflict is truly political and not personal until the politics of a conflict have been thoroughly articulated, polarized, and the points on the spectrum between different sides have been identified for potential compromises. If one side of a conflict can’t clearly, respectfully paraphrase the authentic position of the other sides of the conflict–even if they thoroughly disagree–then the conflict is still personal. It’s still in the realm of not having enough trust, patience, or respect for the other sides to even clearly listen to and articulate what they are saying. A common trap here–especially around conflicts of power, privilege, and identity–is when one side of a conflict says they are tired of having to explain this over and over, and so it’s not worth their time to have to explain it again. This might be true, and that might be perfectly legitimate, but that’s personal–it’s about trust in the group…it hasn’t yet been crystallized as a political conflict, because all sides haven’t had a chance to fully be heard and articulated. Further, once the sides of a conflict have been articulated, distilled, polarized to their key components, the group should imagine what possible compromise positions could exist. The group should consider these positions carefully before any votes or splits. If the group isn’t willing to make the time to consider these compromise positions, then the conflict is probably personal, and the members really just don’t want to work together anymore. Like I said, that’s fine, but don’t call it a political conflict when it’s not.

    Assume good, revolutionary intentions…and specifically name the behavior that makes you doubt those intentions. As marginalized individuals within a harsh, oppressive culture, we get into the groove of feeling like we’re alone in our revolutionary intentions and our intense hatred of injustice. It can be an almost default reaction to mistrust the commitment, ethics, and good intentions of those around us. That’s why it’s so important to consciously work to assume good intentions from our fellow group members, and only doubt those intentions when there is specific, nameable behavior that makes us doubt them. Then, we should clearly communicate those behaviors through established structures so that the individual and group can respond. If you can’t name behaviors that make you doubt someone, then seek support to more deeply explore what is making those doubts rise for you personally–beyond that the ethical thing to do is take them at their word.

    Take internalized oppression seriously, but don’t project it on others. I think a lot of the conflicts and other problems that we have as individual activists and as groups comes from the ways we’ve internalized oppression as well as privilege. Whether arrogance and domination, defensiveness and a sense of perpetual crisis, or constant passivity and self-doubt. This is something that our groups should take seriously, and should put time and resources into supporting their members with. But, there is an overlapping problem of individuals projecting internalized oppression and privilege onto other members, and using that as a shortcut to keep from actually understanding or respecting other people’s emotional realities. This is really dangerous, and it tries to make us experts in something that we actually understand very little.

    Same as the above, take mental health issues seriously, but don’t play psychologist. Groups should seek and develop robust politics around ableism, trauma, self-care, and mental health, and these should inform our structures, our support systems, and our approaches to conflict. However, we should not make the mistake of thinking we can diagnose and pathologize members who demonstrate behavior that we don’t like or understand.

    Acknowledge the possibility of infiltration. We know it’s a real threat, and we know that they will use conflict as a constant wedge to destabilize and neutralize our groups. It’s naive to pretend that it won’t happen to our groups, and it’s also dangerous to live in permanent fear of each other. Groups should do internal training about past patterns of agents and informants in groups, and should seek to distill best practices for maintaining an open and trusting culture while still keeping strategies of destabilization in check.

    Recognize the high likelihood that you’re wrong. The track record of the radical left is bad. In fact, it’s terrible. So, chances are that the make-or-break, super dire political disagreement that makes you feel like the whole revolution hinges on what your fellow members do right now…that’s probably a bullshit, self-important exaggeration. What happens too often is that we break relationships and split organizations over differences that end up being badly characterized in the first place, and 3 years later we end up all being wrong, and in the same terrible political state…just with fewer friends and more cynicism. We lose too often to act like we actually know what we’re doing. We don’t know, and we should be humble and flexible about that.

    If there is an active process going on:

    If you aren’t formally involved in the process, don’t insert yourself into it. It’s simple. If members of your group are in an official organizational conflict process, then it’s not your place to be informally talking with individuals about this. Period. It doesn’t matter if they are your friends, and it doesn’t matter who brings it up. Gossip and side-talking almost always feels innocent or even productive while it’s happening, but it’s toxic. Build good official group processes, and then trust and honor those processes…which means setting clear personal boundaries while those processes are going on.

    If you can’t trust and commit to the process, then be clear about that. If there is an official group process going on, but you actually think it’s ineffective, or manipulative, or a straight-up witch hunt, then it’s your responsibility to be honest about that and to state clearly to what extent you are willing to honor the boundaries of the process. It is a death sentence for the integrity of a process if participants in that process are simultaneously pursuing other avenues for dealing with the conflict without informing the group. This is especially true in community accountability processes.

    Set real boundaries for disruptive/hurtful behavior. Kicking members out of a group or demanding that they meet certain conditions to keep participating are real options that groups need to consider in conflicts. There really are people (not just infiltrators) who just aren’t in a position to respect group processes or commit to doing work in a respectful way, and it is a major drain on a group’s energy to focus months and months of energy just to keep members in check. Groups need to discuss this point and set boundaries around it. If a significant amount of members’ collective energy is constantly being used to respond to and intervene in one member’s behavior…then that member needs to go, and maybe be referred to some other resources. However, it is critical, so critical, that the group have developed some good politics and internal training about ableism, institutionalization, and mental health related oppression, so as not to continue oppressive cycles if working with people who have a history of such conflicts related to their mental health.

    Part 2:

    Part 3:

    For those who read my last post, I’m feeling much better now, and I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about some real progress for some of the people in my life.

    In general, I’m feeling optimistic about almost everything right now. Life is moving forward in interesting ways for me, and so I want to give a quick update about some things right here.

    -Just 5 more weeks at my job of 3 1/2 years, and I last weekend I completed the hardest part of it! We had our annual spring fundraiser and for the first time in more than a decade, we decided to not do an auction (for anti-capitalist value reasons, not money reasons). This was really scary for us, and we were prepared to make way less money. But, in fact, we made almost double what I expected, and actually surpassed the donations from past auctions. It feels like such a positive way to transition out of my job.

    -After long agonizing, I did decide to go to grad school to get my Master In Teaching. I begin in early July, and I’ll be in school for a year. That means that I’m going to be trying to chill during this last month or so of work. I am so eager to actually feel rested and calm for at least the next couple of weeks.

    -Glendi’s family is still struggling so much. We’re sending all the money we can, and that’s still not enough, but at least they seem to be holding on for now. For now, what else can we do?

    -Some old organizing friends and I are starting to talk about forming a new, open study group in the fall. We just had a meeting yesterday, which I came to thoroughly ambivalent, yet which I left feeling inspired. I think, after the hardship of the breakup of Common Action, I’m now ready for a new political project, and this one is feeling pretty good. Right now, we’re discussing it as a study group that will center around questions of revolutionary intersectional politics…that is, understanding how systems work in an intersectional way, and trying to ask what revolution actually looks like for those systems. Yes!

    -I’m starting to work on game design again. This is part of my own real-life game (which I’m still rocking through, though I’m scoring myself less frequently than before as I’ve internalized a lot of the habits)…to be more creative again.

    The board game I’m working on is a cooperative game, in which the players must work together to build a post-revolutionary economy. The game will have multiple phases in which players have different roles. For example, in one phase each player represents a different industry’s workers council, and in another phase each player represent a different region’s consumer council. The idea is that players need to discuss and negotiate where to invest the economy’s limited resources and labor to produce a better life for all. Of course there would mechanics representing reactionary opposition, which players would have to cooperatively deal with. This is so fun to design, but the trickiest thing is boiling the concept down to its most essential parts, so that it still fits the them but without being too complex or fiddly.

    -I think I’m going to get a haircut. Like a serious haircut. Like maybe even a buzzcut. I think I’m just about tired of having longer hair.

    Reflections to come…

    My lovely little blog, I haven’t forgotten you, nor am I avoiding you for some emotional reason. I’m just far too busy as I’ve said goodbye to some wonderful out-of-town guests, as we wrap up two grant applications and prepare for our spring fundraiser this Saturday at work, and as I get things organized for grad school (yes, I am going to study to be a teacher!).

    So probably not much writing here until at least Sunday. However, I have so much I want to talk about! Here’s just a preview of what I’m thinking about:

    -A new series of pieces I’m thinking of calling, “Transformation Is A Spiral,” or something like that. These are pieces that acknowledge the cyclical and spiral like nature of radical politics, and how, after experience, we often come back to previously rejected positions, but with new insights. For example, how my ideas about dropping out and abolishing the school system have changed…or my recent troubles with approaches to community accountability that are based solely on the wishes of the survivor. Tough changes in my thinking that I want to make time for.

    -Reflections on this last weekend visiting with my old friend Chris Dixon, and my new friends Andy Cornell and Harjit Singh Gill, who were on tour for the book, “Oppose and Propose.” There were plenty of moments that caught me off guard with exciting thoughts and I’d like to capture them.

    -A fifth part to my Revolutionary Congregations piece, focused on ideas for how such formations could be started from the ground up…since that’s the biggest criticism of the idea I’ve heard expressed to me so far.

    -Thinking through all of the exhilarating ways that I’m feeling challenged by Marxist and insurrectionist positions on political questions, and the positive effects that it’s having on my thinking.

    -Some fun and interesting pieces on fluid dynamics and revolutionary strategy, as well as the power of crowd-sourcing for building accessible mass movements.

    -Some writing about love, loneliness, and trust…because these are feelings that I’m feeling and thinking about a lot lately.

    As always, there’s the caveat that I might write more than this or none of it, but at least I’ve got something in writing to keep me honest.

    With all my heart to the few (but growing few, for sure!) who read this thing.

    Not Tragedy, Just Poverty…

    On January 19th, Glendi and I lost the baby we had just found out about days before. We nearly lost Glendi as well, from the internal bleeding. That exact same day and hour, Glendi’s dad was hospitalized for the fourth time because of end-stage kidney disease. Glendi’s mom, newly diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver (maybe from malaria or hepatitis, we still don’t know) had been running a fever for 3 days. Weeks later, she’s still running a fever. Our 2 years of savings ran out just about right then. We have no insurance for Glendi’s emergency, so we’ll just have to wait and see about that. And then, on January 20th, Glendi’s cousin was murdered in Guatemala city while attending a funeral for one of his other cousins. He died along with six others, gunned down right in front of the church by gangsters.

    This is just the pain of 2011, so far. 2010 was already one of the hardest years yet. More hospitalizations; paying over 2 thousand to secure Glendi’s brother a teaching job, only to have him not be paid a dime (in a public school!) for the ENTIRE school year, and then to be downsized at the end of it; her other brother finding a job driving trucks that pays only $250 a month, with an average of 20 hour days, 6 days a week–no exaggeration. And I won’t say much about 2009, because it was no joy either.

    Just so much struggle, while still only moving backward.

    With emotional cycles that already swirl between inspiration and depression, this reality has been hard for me to take. The first few problems, I could face it optimistically alongside the family, with an attitude of, “we’ll make it through this thing, things are gonna get better.” But then after a few years of nonstop crisis, the optimism has gotten really ragged. I think one reason for the even more constant numbing activities–video games, tv, online window-shopping, almost never being able to be alone with my thoughts–is that I don’t know how to think about myself, my family, or our future anymore. One becomes scared of making plans or hoping, because that is one more thing that you’ll probably lose.

    Sometimes, from my perspective and upbringing, this feels like some kind of grand, almost poetic or operatic tragedy. Something from a movie. It’s been easy for me, and the people from my world and community, to get stuck there. But that is not what this is. What this is, actually, is exposure to the global reality of poverty. What looks and feels like personal tragedy when seen from an individual and family lens is actually the institutionalized experience of millions of people around us. This pain is the status quo in Guatemala and in so many other places across the world.

    We are not alone with the malaria, cirrhosis, or kidney disease. They are rampant in Guatemala. We are not alone with the unemployment or terrible, exploitative jobs. We are not alone with the street violence. Just talk to Glendi’s neighbors, cousins, colleagues; all of them know these stories in some form or another. It’s sad to hear what is happening to the family, but it’s no surprise for folks.

    In the U.S., there is a simplistic notion that countries in the global south (or in the poor U.S.) are there to provide resources and cheap labor and wide open markets to the rich countries. This is true, on a systemic level. However, this is not actually what makes a whole country like Guatemala run. There is only so much profit to be made in Guatemala from resource extraction and labor exploitation, and there are far more people there than are needed to make that profit–that is, there is a huge surplus population. The coffee and banana workforce have been downsized and converted from a feudal system of peasants who live on the land where they are exploited to a day-laborer system with no job security and no economic stability. This means that there is a huge swell of people with few work prospects and desperate needs, and this creates a roiling economy of poverty that is brutal, predatory, and ever-present. Narco-trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, bribery, sex trafficking, scams and schemes, robbery, this is what fills in the spaces where there is no more room for the traditional exploitative jobs, or the small household stores, or remittances from the U.S.. And the hunger, pain, violence, and disease that accompany this reality are also sources of exploitation and predation.

    I write about this not to diminish or even distract myself from the pain of our personal reality, of this terrible 2011. I’m writing about this because I need to realize that I’m not alone in this pain. And being in the U.S., Glendi and I have access to resources that millions of others don’t have. So to lose too much hope, to give up the fight against this system, it’s just something that I can’t do. It’s a shock to see how so many people live, and to see the people who I know and love living it. But for them, it’s sad but not all that new, and they keep trying to move forward.

    I’m hurting, we’re hurting, but we’re not alone. Sticking together, trying to stay present with each other, with our feelings…maybe we can build the resilience to push back even harder at this system. This is why Tunisia, Egypt, Venezuela, Bolivia are so inspiring. Because sometimes these humble and hurting people can fight back and win. Hopefully that parallel reality can help me stay away from the constant video games for a few days, at least!

    The Wonder Beyond the Numbness…

    “If you knew that you would find a truth
    That brings up pain that can’t be soothed
    Would you change?
    Would you change?”
    -Tracy Chapman, “Change”

    It’s just plain neat how the way we spend our time–our daily practices, as somatics folks like to talk about it–can totally affect our consciousness and our mood.

    Like I said recently, I spent almost the entire weekend in bed, watching TV and playing video games. Essentially, I spent the weekend numbed out. When difficult ideas surfaced in my mind, or stresses began to appear, I would just dive further, surfing the web on my laptop while I watched TV. Playing cellphone games while listening to podcasts. Total sensory overload as a way to shut out feelings as well as the physical pain of my sprained foot and burned finger (small cooking accident).

    Very well, but something interesting happened when I chose to turn off Friday Night Lights and try my hand at blogging again. That decision woke me up. It woke my feelings and intellect up! Not only was I reflecting on the US Social Forum, but my mind just started working through all sorts of discourses, project ideas, potential blog posts…including this one. I can’t really emphasize how different I felt. I almost felt like a different person entirely…myself. Exhilarating.

    But you open up the flood, and it really comes flooding. I woke up this morning and the first thing I did was turn on some music. Tracy Chapman, singing my soul. The tears came quickly. That when I let myself think and feel, I’ve gotta think about the choices I’ve made, the pressures I feel, a grown man dying in Guatemala and growing Guatemalan young people depressed at the structural walls overshadowing them. The father I may become soon enough, and how I don’t want to be the fathers I’ve seen. How lost I feel when I think about life post-SYPP. Things I’ve mostly written about here before. What mistakes have I made? How badly have I strayed from the path I wanted? How wrong was I about what this life would hold for me?

    But also, the flood of the beautiful, the wonderful: how fascinating it is the level that babies’ brains have to work to learn language, and how dazzling it is all the new ideas and poetry that linguistic structures allow; how stunning it is to watch people in my life learn, grow, change…watching younger cousins and ex-students and my own family members…ooh what a privilege it is to participate in; and how utterly overwhelming, how dwarfed I feel by that long train of people before me who have chosen to keep believing in the struggle for the beautiful and fair. I was just so, so happy to feel bathed in this, to feel the wonder of this little world of ours.

    You know, maybe this is Bipolar Disorder (if that’s even real)…biochemical cycles going from the numbness and depression to the frantic and awed. But I don’t think so. I think I did make a choice last night to think and feel and reflect…and I think this happiness is really just me connecting to myself again, like coming back to an old friend. And that connection had me dancing alone in my bedroom with a sprained ankle this morning, holding my laptop like a guitar and belting out Christian pop tunes…with feeling.

    That was pretty great.

    Capitalism, A Love Story, and Anarchist Organizing

    Writing my last post has got me thinking about all sorts of possibilities, which was exactly my intention in writing it. When I post on this blog, I think I somehow give myself permission to think more intensely, to feel more honestly, and to engage more profoundly with the relationships in my life. So I’m glad that I took the step and wrote some stuff out.

    And tonight I finally saw Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story, and it’s got me thinking even more. If you are a radical in the U.S., I’m sorry, but I think you have to see it. Not because it’s so super good or anything, but because I think it’s important. A major media presence is repeatedly claiming that capitalism is a deep social evil. Not just once. But repeatedly. Talking with priests about it. Criticizing propaganda that teaches to the contrary. And pretty much outright encouraging folks to look more into socialism. That is a major cultural happening. As we can see, the red scare is finally, perhaps deeply breaking, particularly among young people. Thanks, Mike, for helping out.

    But what’s really interesting to me about the movie is thinking about anarchist responses to it, and to the crisis and community reactions to the crisis that the movie is talking about. I’m noticing a reluctance among some anarchist I know to really delve into these more straightforward economic issues like foreclosures, layoffs, etc. Maybe it’s a fear of staying in that class reductionist framework of organizing. Or perhaps they worry about just jumping in to the “issue of the day” like the Socialist parties do, thus exploiting people in their struggles. These are both good things to be wary of, but I think we do have to admit that this is an important historical moment to be talking and organizing around the economy. In new and intersectional ways, of course, but in ways that speak clearly and elegantly about the class struggle that really does exist.

    I’m thinking hard about what I’d like our Seattle branch to be organizing around, and I’m enjoying it. Right now I’m leaning towards something related more explicitly to the economy, but maybe I’ll shift elsewhere tomorrow. I’m not sure. Hopefully I’ll come back soon and write more about it here…it’ll keep my energy up!

    On the verge of a big new organizing project…

    So, I’m a member of a regional anarchist organization here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s called Common Action. When it was founded and when I joined, it was called Class Action Alliance, but the majority of us thought that name sounded too class reductionist, conjuring images of the old left shirtless white male worker swinging the big hammer and all that. The name change was just one of many instances of growth that we’ve gone through as an organization in our first year of existence that has given me a profound sense of hope in this particular grouping of radical people. I think we’re on to something here.

    And this week we just had our Seattle branch meeting, and we came to the agreement that it’s time for us to engage in a common project, or a common focus, or even in a common campaign. You know, common action. For a long time, we’ve been doing a lot of internal and structural work. We’ve been doing a lot of consciousness raising events in the community that have built quite a bit of goodwill with fellow radical and progressive groups in the region. And now it looks like we’re ready for a new level of organizing together. Yes!

    But the question is what? And how? What is the most valuable type of political struggle for organized anarchists to be doing? How does it differ from organizing that is done by groups from other political tendencies? And if it’s not different, then what is the point of even labeling it as anarchist? These are questions we have discussed frequently in our branch and in our whole organization, but now it’s time to try putting some of those concepts to the test.

    Within our particular tendency of anarchism, there is a lot of talk about “social insertion” within mass struggles. That is, engaging humbly and fully within non-anarchist spaces of struggle, so that anarchism’s very practical and principled ideas can be put to use directly at the grassroots. I agree with this tendency, except I have a lot of questions about this notion of “mass struggle.” What is mass struggle in contemporary U.S. society? The anti-war movement? The climate change reform movement? Anti-austerity movements within poor communities? Obama supporters and the netroots? It’s tricky. What if the greatest political potential, the potential for really creative and innovative action, doesn’t exist within current “mass struggles?” Do we hold off on those ideas because they didn’t emerge from a grassroots, non-anarchist base? Or is that kind of idea a fetishization and exotification of “ordinary” people, and their historical destiny to spontaneously spin mass movements out of their own initiative? What about the fact that most of the “mass struggles” we see in U.S. society are actually the products of highly professionalized and well-funded reform groups that are already geared heavily toward policy advocacy and engagement with people in power? What is the anarchist contribution there? There are lots of smart people debating these ideas, as always, and I think it’ll do me some good to start reading more in the radical section of my personal library again…no more liberal progressive mish-mush for awhile, Jeremy.

    We won’t have a decision for a little while, and then from there the actual planning and development of the project will take even longer, but even these initial brainstorming conversations are invigorating. Do I finally get to actually try out some of my long-held ideas about praxis, community education, and dual power? It’s a like a dream come true.

    And I can tell you now, I have my own ideas unfolding out of the cracks of my mind, and forming into some pretty cool visions. Hopefully I’ll take the time to work out some of those ideas here.

    In the writings section I’ve just uploaded a college reflection paper, in which I wrote about an INCITE! event I had attended back in 2005 (in New Orleans, before Katrina…), but more broadly about the perspective that I had about INCITE! as an organization at that time.

    I wanted to share this with folks because on this blog, but even more in emailing with some blog readers, I’ve been thinking a lot about questions of identity-based politics and identity-based spaces within revolutionary politics. I do not think that the INCITE! paper reflects all of my current thinking about either the organization or the larger questions, but I do think it is provocative.

    In our class the other day we were having a discussion about the N-word and who is allowed to say it, and who isn’t. In the class, some of our students showed a clip from a documentary called “The N-Word,” and in it Chris Rock makes an observation about how white people are often so intent on their right to say it, precisely BECAUSE it is the one thing that white people are not allowed to say. I think the point holds so much truth, and I think it’s just one example of entitlement around privilege (think also about men demanding, every year, to march in some Take Back The Night! marches…I know that it’s different from the N-word, especially thinking about trans folks and about male survivors of sexual violence, but among some males I think there is an entitlement thing going on around the demand to march). I recognized then in writing the piece and now still that entitlement plays a part in my own reflections on INCITE!, but I really do think my thinking and feelings go deeper than that in this case. I genuinely want to be a part of a large revolutionary organization with deep, complex anti-authoritarian politics. I believe my radical work would be so much stronger if it was linked in a structure with other like minded folks. It makes me sad that I don’t have that kind of group right now.

    I have a right to that sadness, while I also have the responsibility to join with folks to do something about it…


    …no, of course not. It means organizing with other anti-racist white folks, other feminist men, etc…to try to build supporting radical structures that are actually worth the time and energy of groups like INCITE! to work with us. The burden is on the privileged to build new organizing structures, and to transcend old, unworkable models of “allyship” and “solidarity.”

    …Which is something I’ll be blogging further about in coming days. In the meantime, check out the piece in the writing section.

    PS Had another staff meeting today. Things are still a big mess. All bets are off. The decision has been postponed until next Tuesday. I’m so sick of waiting…I’m just moving forward as if we don’t have a job there, and maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised. It’s more important to work with the students and help them build their initiative and structures until the end of the year. And so that’s what we’ll keep doing.

    Meanwhile, in Bolivia…

    I just read this article and it just showed me how little I know about what is happening in Bolivia.

    Before Evo was elected, I was following the Bolivian movements daily, but then I kind of shifted gears and just looked for what Evo and his government have been doing, with less attention to the movements. That is, I shifted my attention up the hierarchy. This was a mistake, and now I feel very disconnected from the changes being made in that country. This is especially sad because of the uniquely indigenous characteristics of Bolivia and its movements, which are important in themselves, but which are also important for one of the other Latin American countries with a majority indigenous population: Guatemala.

    The idea of de-constructing and re-constructing a country away from 500 year old colonial roots is a massive one. I imagine that the debates happening in Bolivia are really profound and rich. The problem is that unlike with Venezuela, I don’t know what the good websites are. Perhaps I need to do some research.

    I’ve posted four of my most substantial pieces of writing from the last 5 years. Check them out (they are Word documents).

    Two of them are works of revolutionary theory. The other two are attempts to express that theory in more creative, visionary ways (that is, they are fiction). I’m proud of all of them, with their flaws and gaps and all that.

    To be honest, I’m thinking about maybe trying to do something more with some of these pieces. Not like a book, but at least trying to publish these as articles or zines…with some modifications, of course. I’d be interested to know what people think about that.

    But seriously…the last two pieces are actually pretty fun reads, in my opinion, so I suggest checking them out.

    Love you…and please be kind with any constructive criticism…because I am SUPER-INSECURE about my writing. Not defensive, but insecure.

    P.S. If you do like any of the pieces, please tell other people about the blog!

    So, like many folks, I believe that our society’s gender binary system (that is, the simplistic division of our species into two fixed categories of men and women, without any flexibility between them) is really messed up, and I really want it to change.

    One of the ways that many people have tried to change this system is by tweaking the English language in ways that allow us to blur and even dissolve gender distinctions…especially regarding pronouns.

    Instead of “He and She” and “His and Her” people have tried things like “Zhe and Hir” and “Squee and Squir”. I’ve always liked this, in theory, but to be honest the pronouns have always been a bit clumsy coming out of my mouth. Surely, this owes a lot to years and years of living in the gender-binary system, and not being accustomed to other ways of expressing and talking about gender…but I also just think that the sounds are a little bit hard to make…

    And so, I want to show you another way to mess with gender and pronouns that’s really creative and really easy to use. It was thought up by friends Briana and Eva.

    Very simply, you just turn the first letter of someone or something’s name into the pronoun. To make it possessive, just add ‘s to it. So simple. So, for example, my pronoun is J. So, “Jeremy’s birthday was yesterday. J turned 26. J’s friends and family were very happy to celebrate with J.” or…”Jeremy was talking to Briana last night, and B thought that J had made some really good points…”

    See, it’s simple, and it’s cool. And what if you don’t know someone’s name? Then use P, for person. If it’s an object, use the name of the object, or sure, use T or O for Thing or Object. It’s cool!

    I had the day off today and I was in such a creative mood that my brain really can’t keep up with all of the different ideas that it’s coming up with. I started to think about all of the billions of us there are, and I know that some of us might be more “idea oriented” than others, but I still just kept thinking about all of the amazing ideas that people have inside them that they may never share with anybody. Little ideas, big ideas, all of it.

    Today I was riffing and doodling and journaling about 2 book ideas, about a serialized TV drama idea, about a board game idea, about a movement building idea, about the kind of house I want to build some day, about how I want to organize my new bedroom (I’ve just moved to another room in our collective house), and even more ideas than these. I was so excited that I wanted to write all about it in this blog, but I’m coming to learn that it’s important to pace myself, otherwise no one will read what I write due to being overwhelmed.

    But, I do think it would be nice to write more of my ideas down, so I’m going to be thinking about how to do that. For some of these ideas, I actually have a fear that they will get stolen and used by someone else (especially the board game ideas) so I’ve been more secretive (did you know that Seattle is like a board-game designers’ capitol city??)…so I kind of want to do some research about all that intellectual property stuff…of course if I actually make a game and try to sell it, it would be not-for-profit, but I still don’t want the for-profits to steal it first.

    Does anyone know if what I’m writing on this blog is protected intellectual property? If so, does that protect any ideas I might share or not? Any lawyers hidden among you 2-3 people reading this?

    For now let’s just say that the creative ideas that I share on this site are not to be copied or stolen by anyone without communicating with me about it! Got it? Hopefully that would hold up under the law.

    Here’s just one piece of my ideas to start: I would like to form a board game design collective to design a series of political board games that kind of work like a franchise: like one cohesive world (realistic or sci-fi or fantasy or maybe with animals like Redwall or Animal Farm), but with games playing out on different scales. All of them involve social movements struggling against a complex system, and sometimes competing and cooperating with each other, but each game would allow that theme to play out with different game mechanics. For example, at the macro scale, a risk/axis-of-allies style global revolution game with lots of pieces and rules and grand strategy; a more localized regional or national revolution game (like Settlers of Catan or El Grande); a discussion and relationship based “building a movement” game (like Diplomacy); a zoomed-in street-tactics or movement tactics game (more like chess or go or like the collectible miniatures games like HeroClix); a post-revolution building game (like Princes of Florence or Puerto Rico); a Magic the Gathering style card game (but without the capitalist collectible model); and eventually even a role playing game. I’ve worked on bits and pieces of the mechanics of almost all these different games, but it always comes down to the math. Most game designers are strong in math and probabilities and decision trees, and I’m not. I like thinking about people’s interactions and how rules can foster those interactions, but when the specific cards need to be made or whatever the math overwhelms me. That’s why I’d really like to have a collective, and we could run it radical style and use it to help spread alternative pop cultures and also fund the movement…so if anyone is interested in starting something like that, based broadly on the “franchise” idea of multiple games taking place in the same revolutionary universe, please let me know!

    So more on that idea as it develops, and more of my other creative ideas in the future. Ah, it feels good to actually get some of these ideas shared with someone!

    Another fact about me that some people know and others don’t: I’m straight-edge, which is a stupid punk-rock term that means that I don’t drink, or smoke, or do drugs. Never done any of those things and I doubt I ever will. I’m not judgemental or in your face about it, it’s just kind of something I came to in high school and never felt like giving up…it’s an eccentricity that I like about myself.

    When I was in high school I had this super dorky slogan I told myself: “Dreams Over Drugs.” Truth is, I’m a very, very vivid dreamer (I often have lucid dreams, in which I know I’m dreaming and I can shift and control them…so I very rarely have nightmares), and so I decided that I would focus on my dreaming as an alternative to the psychadelic drugs that my friends were doing.

    What I’ve found is that if I actively try to remember my dream from the night before, especially if I write it down, then I will dream vividly again the next day. I’ll let you know if this is confirmed by my dreams tonight…

    Edit: Yep, I had very vivid dreams last night, and since I remembered them I hope the cycle will continue and my dreams will just get better.

    I’ve been thinking about writing this post for awhile, because in my writing over the last couple of weeks (and, for me, especially brought home by the “ego-trip” post I wrote last night), I’ve noticed a seeming contradiction between my stated values and my choice of topics, and I want to address it here.

    So, I’m an anarchist. What that means is that I believe in nice things like grassroots participatory/direct democracy, cooperation, freedom, social justice, community-based sustainable living, and equality. Being for these things means that I’m also against the different forms of injustice and oppression that exist in this society of ours…things like sexism, racism, homophobia/heterosexism, transphobia, ableism, imperialism, ageism/adultism, religious oppression, and certainly also authoritarianism and capitalism…because–for my family members out there who might be reading this–in my view capitalism isn’t just a benign, freedom-loving economic system, it is system that doesn’t work for the majority of people, it corrupts all of us with anti-social consumerist and competitive values, and it is a leading force in the dismantling of our planet. Bueno, so far so good. So, yeah, I’m an anarchist (which to me could also be considered a mixture of feminist, socialist, libertarian, radical democrat, anti-racist, environmentalist…what-have you)…

    …yet, for all my supposed anarchism, and for how much I talk up grassroots social movements and communities organizing to change things from the bottom-up, I have noticed (as have many friends) that I spend an awful lot of time talking about, writing about, and paying attention to “revolutionary” governments, elections, politicians like Chavez, Morales, Correa, now Menchu, etc. and not a lot of time talking about more bottom-up movements and projects.

    So, this seems to be a contradiction. Could it be a rekindling of my old teenage obsession with old radical “heroes” like Mao and Ho Chi Minh and Lenin? Is it just more ego stuff playing out across my blog?

    That would be the simple answer. But I don’t think it’s the correct one, and I want to explain why.

    I spend A LOT of time thinking about the idea of revolution. Like, a lot of time. Like morning, noon, and night. And for me, what revolution means is a massive reordering of things…of ideas, of attitudes, of relationships, of social structures, sometimes even of physical space. This is what I want for our society, because I think our society is due for a massive restructuring. The old structures suck.

    That said, I spend a lot of time thinking about how revolutionary folks like us are actually going to make a revolution…and as I see it, we have three basic strategies:

    1) We can fight the power. We can protest, organize, sabotage, confront, rebel against the existing system and do what we can to destabilize it so that it comes crumbling down and then…and then…and then this is where this strategy gets us in trouble. Because once a system, a way of life, a certain ordering of things has collapsed, what do people do then? Who’s to say that things will be better after the system falls? Sweet, the power is off, the sewers are backed up, there are people looting in the streets, rape is rampant…no thanks. There is clearly a limit to this strategy. Certainly, if the powers that be are too strong we can’t win anything, and so trying to weaken them through resistance (of different forms, and I really, really hope that those forms can be peaceful…) is important…but this strategy only takes us so far, which brings us to…

    2) We can become the power. We can work to get elected or we could even work to gather strength and take over power forcefully. We would then have control of the existing infrastructure more-or-less intact, and then we could begin to dismantle or reconstruct it without the chaos and destruction and possible violence of strategy #1. That is, with this strategy, especially in electoral form, a slow, peaceful revolution is possible, and it could even be voted along, as is happening in Venezuela. The problem, of course, is that power corrupts. Even more, the system is designed to sustain itself, and that means the rules of the system are designed to make real, meaningful change almost impossible, and so trying to change things within the system almost never works…because the system changes you first. This has been shown to be true with coups just as much as elections. Good thing there is a third option:

    3) We can build the power. That is, from the bottom-up, we can try to build an alternative structure of communities and relationships right alongside the old structures, and we can feed those structures and help them grow, hopefully to a point where they are so well-organized, lively, beautiful, and influential that the old ways just don’t make sense anymore, and people jump ship to the new system we built. An analogy would be the development of the internet, and how it has influenced more and more people to watch less tv and read less traditional corporate media in favor of blogs, etc…

    As for me, I’m a gung-ho #3 guy. For me, #3 is the backbone of the revolution. Like I explained above, I believe that #1 is necessary to keep the system in check and to fight against injustices on a day to day basis, but #3 remains the prize that I want to keep my eye on.  My heart is in building new kinds of power and social relationships, it’s just so compelling to me as a process and a project.
    However–and this is where I am different from many other anarchists–I know that within any process where significant numbers of people are doing #1 or doing #3, there will always emerge people who want to take a shot at #2, people who think there is a shortcut to power, either through direct force or through the electoral path. (Chavez is a great example of this. He is an ex military man. He became radicalized in the military, in a context in which he was fighting guerrillas, and working in rural communities…and over time he decided to organize to take power. First, in 1992, he tried the forceful route, with a failed coup that made him into a popular hero. Then, in 1998 he tried again through the electoral route…and he won an astounding victory. Now we get to watch his journey through strategy #2 unfold, and we get to see whether change really comes from it or not…) These #2 people are inevitable, and whereas most #1 and #3 people write them off as sell-outs or would-be tyrants, I think that since they are inevitable, we ought to look at them as a necessary part of any strategic equation and, on a case by case basis, see whether they can help us or not. I don’t think it’s totally black/white.

    So, right now, what I see happening in Latin America these days is that #1 and #3 social movements have gotten to such positions of strength (and on the other side of equation, the existing power structures have lost so much credibility) that #2 people have managed to step up and actually win power…in Brazil, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile (kind of), Uruguay, Bolivia, Nicaragua…almost in Mexico, and possibly this year in Guatemala. Most of these #2’s are opportunists, some are more genuine than that. In all cases, their power is built on the legacies and sacrifices of decades of #1 and #3 people. I don’t deny this and I don’t lose sight of this, at least in my head, when I write about them…

    But having both seen the utter shit situation of Guatemala, as well as the immense oil-wealth and power of Venezuela, I believe that there is something very unique about the role that #2 people who manage to win power can play. With traditional state power come tremendous political compromises and contradictions, but at the same time, there come massive budgets (compared to just the average social movement), there is infrastructure, there is the logistical power of the military and the civil services…These are nothing to sneeze at.

    Let’s make up one example: access to reproductive health services for young women. #1 people would go a protest route, and maybe they’d win some more funding for some clinics or a change in consciousness about how intersecting oppressions are limiting access. #3 people might start a neighborhood group or a non-profit clinic and they can make a difference in scores of womens’ lives. But, and I saw evidence of this in Venezuela, if Chavez just reads a book about young womens’ lives and decides that something needs to be done, he can throw his oil money down…and in 6 months there could be 500 neighborhood clinics with creative programs all over Venezuela…the resources at the disposal of radical governments (especially those awash in oil money!) are exponentially greater than the resources of us #1 and #3 people…

    And that is essentially why these #2 folks like Chavez and Morales and Correa intrigue me so…Because they are getting shit done SO FAST…stuff that my friends and I could write or dream about, and maybe do in our own communities, but nothing at the scale of a radicalized state.

    Does this mean that I’m now a #2 person? Not a chance. I believe that, in the end, #3 is still the backbone, and that is why I’m intrigued that Chavez seems to recognize this with his communal council and socialist party strategies. He’s trying to build bottom-up power through a top-down process…and that woefully backwards, but it is riveting to me as an experiment.

    Frankly, though, Chavez is still alive and in power precisely because he has the support of the #1 and #3 people of his country, and there are masses of them. They united to bring him to power, they united to get him back after the 2002 coup, and he owes them everything. That is why he is such a unique phenomenon.

    As for me and us in the United States, I don’t think the lesson that Venezuela has for us is that we should go the #2 electoral route, too. No, I think our game is way too rigged for that. Rather, I think it is far more important to look at what Morales and Correa and Chavez are doing and see how we can convert those into #3 lessons and strategies here…slower, but still effective, and preserving their moral center.

    This is also where the lessons of Mexico’s Zapatista and Oaxacan rebels, Brazil’s landless workers movement and Argentina’s horizontalist movements are so, so important. They have doggedly pursued #3 strategies, and their movements are going a whole lot slower, but they still have their souls almost fully intact, and they have loads of lessons for us.

    So, this is where I’m at. I write so much about Venezuela and stuff, honestly, because they are doing so much…they have the resources to generate change so fast, and so that generates news really fast, too. The movements in South Africa, Oaxaca, Chiapas, San Francisco, Canada, Georgia, and Seattle don’t have those resources, so the news cycle is, frankly, much slower. And so I write less about them. But believe me, when something catches my eye, I’ll write about it.

    Also, just to think about, the Christian Right has definitely been pursuing a strong #3 strategy as well (once again, watch Jesus Camp), and they are hoping that pays off (and it is) in #2 victories for them. So let’s watch them closely, because they know what they are doing.

    Hope this post makes sense to you…just wanted to explain some things.

    I want to talk a little bit about growing as a political person, and the significance of that for me.

    When I was a little kid, like 6 years old, I used to watch the TV show “Family Ties” with my mom. I don’t have many concrete memories from the show, but I do remember that I looked up to Michael J. Fox’s character, Alex P. Keaton, and I remember that he loved Ronald Reagan, and so I loved Ronald Reagan, too. I also remember the youngest child on the show, a cute little blond-haired kid, and I remember that I was entranced by him. I was entranced by the idea that there was actually somebody my age on TV. More importantly, I remember that I was very concerned with whether he was younger than me or older than me, because if he was younger than me, then somehow that reflected on me and my self-worth…that I was actually older than someone on television. That maybe I could even be on television.

    The same thing happened years later with Macaulay Culkin, right after Home Alone came out. I remember reading a magazine and I found out that he was 3 months older than me and I was devastated.

    When I was 16, I heard something about how the old philosopher David Hume wrote one of his most famous works before the age of 21 or something, and I told myself that I was going to beat him, and publish my first book before the age of 20. It didn’t happen, and I remember having a tinge of sadness on that birthday, although I didn’t tell anyone.

    Also, when I was between the ages of 14 and 20, I was very interested in historical figures like Mao and Lenin and Stalin and Ho Chi Minh, and read biographies of all of them. I was particularly interested in their beginnings as leaders, in their school years, in their twenties, and I took mental notes of how I was stacking up. Was I going to make history like them? Was I going to be a famous leader?

    I sure wanted to be a leader like them. Clearly, I would be a leader who would NOT be a butcher or a sellout or a hypocrite, I would be the one who broke the historical legacy of faulty leaders. Who truly WAS a liberator. I would be different, and that would be my particular claim to fame. The anarchist version of the Mao, of the Lenin (complete contradiction in terms, though it is)…and the biographies would highlight my distinctions boldly.

    For a good number of years, I lived my life and grew as a political activist and organizer with a very real kind of double-consciousness going on. I genuinely wanted equality, social justice, liberation for all people, and I could imagine many details of that dream. But at the same time, I wanted that global liberation to come FROM ME, from my innovations, and leadership, and legacy. As if the revolution were Arthurian legend, I wanted to be the ONE to pull the sword from the stone (actually…thinking about it…that too was an old cartoon that really spoke to me growing up…interesting). I was a revolutionary optimist partly because I knew that it was my own destiny to usher in the revolution.

    The problem was that, of course, there was a fundamental contradiction between my supposed beliefs in direct democracy, massive grassroots social movements and non-hierarchical social structures and my own ego. And over a number of years, as I began to rise in the “activist ranks” and began to find myself being offered opportunities to assert myself as a leader, as a spokesperson or whatever, that contradiction became a lived reality that really started to affect my choices. Especially in the climate of post-WTO radical organizing in the Pacific Northwest, I found myself faced with questions of integrity that held many of my friendships in the balance.

    Thankfully, though, I met some feminists.

    And, as so many feminists do for wayward young activist dudes, they introduced me to a way of thinking that, for them–and I would imagine most marginalized people–was just second nature, but to me was earth-shattering: they introduced me to the reality that I am not the center of the world.

    From those first rocky interactions with feminism (I very nearly lost most of those friendships, too…in fact I pretty much did), I was eventually pushed and guided toward critiques of white racism, and then even more deeply into women of color’s thinking and organizing around ideas of multiple, intersecting oppressions…and each time, each day, each conference, each book just shook me further and further away from notions of myself, of who I am, and of why I’m here.

    The realization, so obscenely simple: that there are actually billions of people on this planet, all of whom hope to be good people, to do good, to be recognized in their work, to be loved and cared for and admired. And that for me to want to claim all of that, to hoard that all for myself and for my posterity…how brutally greedy and foul it is…and how typical.

    This shit simply just shook me to my core. Not like in one night of epiphany, but much more slowly, over time, in a process of realization that really just doesn’t stop.

    Egos. Of all the questions that surround us when we think of social change, I think this question of ego often gets missed or, more often, misunderstood. It is sooooo deep, and it goes so far beyond just me and my particular story, and it goes so far beyond just white dudes, or white people, or middle class people, or educated people. It is much, much deeper, and I think much more crucial than the particular experiences of one or a handful of identity groups.

    This is about who we are, about our places in the world, and about, like I said, a very real desire to be loved and to BE RECOGNIZED in this life. It is so simple but there is so much there, and if we look at social movements (or really any grouping of people) it is amazing to see how far egos and their misplaced desires and insecurities take us. The hierarchical, competitive nature of our society and of all oppressive societies fundamentally warps our senses of our selves — certainly some more than others, and probably proportionate to how close we are to the centers of power — and it warps our ability to hold our own value and desire for recognition alongside that of those around us. We sabotage even those we love because we see and feel threats to our egos all around us.

    For me, this question of ego has required me to examine and redefine pretty much every aspect of who I want to be, of how I define success for myself. I cannot deny that it is still fun to think about being able to give speeches that draw crowds, to write a book and maybe get on c-span bookTV, to maybe be somewhere in a history book…and I think a lot about the implications of those lingering fantasies. But more commonly these days, these years, I feel like what I want for myself has shifted towards things much more simple. I dream much more often now of participating in revolutionary processes so big and complex that my own head couldn’t possibly hold onto them, of revolutions that would make me feel like a constant tourist, watching in awe as the people all around me create new things and we really learn from each other. I think about my personal success as the building and sustaining of even just a small community…of shared food and reinvented holidays and kids running around and looking up to us maybe for a few years, but then discovering our foibles, rebelling, and then maybe then reconciling with us years later…I think about plants, and simple music, and simple writings that maybe only my friends read, like these blog entries. I think about designing and playing games. I think about doing good work at a local level, like in the high school where I work, and fighting so hard for the people around me…with the people around me. Knowing them. Crying with them…and just weeping and embracing in sharing our losses and our triumphs.

    What I think about is the significance of being just one among many, and rather than thinking that means something boring, conformist, robotic, I think about the magic of it: that we live in a world that is so richly filled with beautiful, brilliant, creative people, and that if unleashed we could share in so much joy and discovery every day, on every block, in every nook and cranny of our lives. In this life it is a privilege to be one among so many who are so fantastic.

    Over time, and through the struggle of many patient people who love me and believe in me, I have come to see that there is something far, far more beautiful than the sight of a billion posters with one great liberator’s face: billions of faces making billions of unique posters about their own mutual inspiration and liberation.

    So suck on that, Macaulay Culkin.

    Art, Poetry, and Changing the World…

    Well, I just got back from an amazing youth poetry slam and on my way home I was crafting a post about it. I was going to write about how, for me, poetry is the closest I feel to a revolutionary spirituality, a kind of deep, whole sharing of ourselves, our subjectivities, within a shared context. We are all there, and we get to watch as the center is shifted from person to person, with new stories and perspectives and ways of connecting us to something powerful through language, and intonation, and movement.

    So, that was what I was going to write about…but then I read my friend Andrew’s blog and he, amazingly, has said much of what I was going to say. That is a neat bit of serendipity. It kind of made my day. Please read that entry, and then keep reading his blog, because he’s a sharp and dedicated fellow.

    In other news, Seymour Hersh was on Democracy Now! today, that was interesting.

    Venezuela’s Vice President gave a great speech at the anniversary of the “Caracazo”, the anti-globalization uprising in 1989 that arguably kicked off the current revolutionary process. Once again, he talked about how the communal councils will become the new form of government of Venezuela, a communal socialist government. He also talked specifically about how if the government tries too hard to direct or manage the “explosion of popular power” it will only kill popular power; and about how the government needs to get out of the offices and into the streets. This is a good sign, but of course time will tell.

    I’m searching daily for more news about Rigoberta Menchu, but right now the Guatemalan media is more focused on the brutal killing of 3 Salvadoran congress people by Guatemalan police officers. Clearly it’s a really big deal, whether it is related to organized crime, or the state, or whatever.

    Maybe someday I will write a poem and post it here. I did write poetry in high school. Even did some slams and had a show downtown. But then I just stopped, and for some reason it feels hard to start again. But that’s how it felt to write in this blog, too.

    Random Things…

    It’s really interesting to me how the entire flavor and texture of life can change simply by changing the ways in which we engage ourselves in it.  Just by writing in this blog again I feel so many parts of myself are opening up in other parts of my life, and I feel like my mind and senses are getting sharpened.

    I’ve started working alot in the garden of my 6-person collective house.  We’ve been tearing up weeds and digging some paths and then laying down bricks and gravel to make them pretty.  Yesterday I helped install a low fence made out of old bicycle wheels dug halfway into the ground.  I’m also renovating our greywater system, which recycles shower water through  series of sand filters, into a small bathtub pond which then filters the water more, until it is ready to go through a hose and water the garden.  It’s neat.  Also I’m talking with my housemates more, eating better, being better with email correspondence (including writing to some old friends).  I’m applying to grad school to get my master’s in teaching (maybe).  I’m more focused at work (sometimes).  And I’m more present with my friends, family, housemates, and partner.  This blog is some kind of amazing medicine for me.  And it’s an addiction.  I come home from work and I just want to write in it, but then I stop myself because I realize that I would just be writing about work all the time.  So it’s better to pause, think, and wait before I just write whatever.

    So, now for some random things I learned today:

    -Just read Seymour Hersh’s new article (look, I can do links now, thanks Dave!) in the New Yorker about the administrations shifting foreign policy in the Middle East.  Damn.  So it looks like we’re covertly siding with Sunnis in order to contain the Shiites, to the point of financing radical Sunnis (like Al Quaeda allies???) to attack Hezbollah, etc…all of this running without congressional knowledge through the Vice Presidents office? Wow!  Now that’s sinister!

    -Today the socialist president of Ecuador,  Rafael Correa (remember, I like this guy), ordered the military to make itself useful by providing for the public good, in an emergency order to build and repair the highway system, using the money that was slated to be used to pay the foreign debt.  This is important for two reasons: 1) Because Correa is making good on his promise to prioritize the “social debt” of the country over the foreign debt, and 2) Because Correa is playing like Chavez in trying to integrate the military into a protagonistic, civil role in the transformational process.  Very, very smart.  Arbenz and Allende fell not solely for lack of military support, but it was part of it, so this is good stuff.  By the way, Correa also has insisted on having a woman as the defense minister.  Even after the first one was killed in a plane crash, he made sure that her replacement would be a woman.  ALSO, he refused to allow anyone call his wife the first lady (primera dama), because he says it is sexist.

    -There is an article here about Chavez and his environmental projects.  It’s a bit propagandistic, though I tend to like Eva Golinger’s writing.  This is a bit much, considering that there are still major critiques to be made of the Venezuelan governments oil projects, industrial projects, and ambitious pipeline projects.  Some more perspective, please, Eva.

    -Didn’t play any Star Chamber today.  I was too tired from work to concentrate.  Plus it’s more fun to read the news on the internet.

    -Watched the Oscar-winning Melissa Ethridge song on you tube…and I just started crying all over the place.  That would be a longer blog post to explain why (the last post can give you an idea, I think).  This world is just so, so beautiful and we deserve so, so much better.  Does global social transformation really need to be so hard?
    Darn you power elite for always being such sticks in the mud!

    Okay, first…for those few who may be reading this who didn’t know: I am an anarchist. Now, there is no reason to be alarmed, because being an anarchist does not mean I believe in chaos and destruction, or that I am a bomb-wielding terrorist or anything…anarchism is a political philosophy just like any other. To be really simple about it, it’s a philosophy that people deserve the maximum amount of freedom possible and thus that we deserve a society that is free from all forms of oppression: sexism, racism, homophobia and heterosexism, ecological destruction, poverty and economic exploitation, and government oppression and war, etc…it is a philosophy that believes in grassroots, participatory democracy…it IS radical, it COULD be called naive or utopian, but it IS NOT mean-spirited, cynical, or destructive…and if anyone has any more questions about it, I would love to talk with you about it…for hours and hours and hours.

    Now, with that said, I really want to write about something that I’ve been thinking about for awhile now: my spirituality.

    Somewhere in the last few years, especially as I’ve become more and more fascinated with the growth and organization of right-wing christian movements in the US, I’ve started to become really bothered by the fact that I, as an anarchist atheist, am so often considered non-spiritual…and so I’ve been thinking, writing, and talking with Briana about this, trying to get a grasp on just what my beliefs are…what my spirituality is…so here I’d like to chat a little bit about it.

    “If You Don’t Believe In God, Then What Do You Believe In?”

    I believe that we are here, right now, and this is it. This is our life…and it will only last for a short time, and then we will be gone. Because what we are, as human beings, are beautiful, complex, and fragile patterns of matter…nothing more, yet nothing less, which have risen like a wave out of deep and rich process of evolution…but which will ultimately crest and crash back into the ocean of particles and elements that we were born from…and with our deaths, our memories, our consciousnessess will scatter in all directions…circulating back into the stew.

    There is no higher consciousness guiding us, there is no grand plan…there is simply energy and matter and time…and the dancing, dancing relationships between them…

    “Boy, That Sounds Depressing”

    Now, I know so many people who hear this and think it’s so depressing…but I’ve never understood that…I think it’s just the opposite…I think it is an immense and almost unthinkable blessing that out of a gigantic mess of natural processes and chemical reactions…we have actually come to be, with our eyes and ears and our languages and cultures…that out of completely lifeless and soulless universe life actually DID happen, and that these impersonal processes have actually led to the evolution of PERSONALITIES…our personalities…and so we are lucky enough to be here…alive…and we are here together right now…sharing this thing, this experience of life…and really we are all we’ve got…

    And this is another thing that is so depressing to so many people…this idea that without God we are alone in the universe…but when I hear THAT perspective I get depressed…because it feels to me like it’s missing the whole point: WE ARE NOT ALONE IN THE UNIVERSE. We are surrounded by life…we are surrounded by personalities and emotions and consciousnesses…more than we will ever be able to comprehend. People, bird, fishes, three-toed slothes, amoebas, viruses, chimpanzees, mushrooms, forests…what I don’t understand about people who believe in God is…why isn’t this enough…Why isn’t it enough that we have eachother? Why do we need something above us, watching over us? What extra comfort does that give…because for me that idea is far more scary…(that there is a boss in the sky that has a plan for me and that He doesn’t have enough respect for me to actually treat me like an equal, to introduce himself…and to level with me about what the point of this world is…but that’s just me. I don’t think it shows any real kind of love to leave your children in the dark, suffering and dying so you can watch and judge…that seems pretty abusive actually…sorry, I went a little too far into the negative there…apologies).

    So this is the foundation for my spirituality…a spirituality of us…a spirituality without a hierarchy or a need for a leader or for a top-down plan…it is a spirituality that says: we are here, in this beautiful world, and we are here together…now we have a choice…we can work together to learn and grow and celebrate all of the beauties together…or we can fight and exploit each other and waste our lives…or we can tell ourselves that this world is actually just some kind of test or fake world, and that real life begins after we die…as for me, I choose the first. And by choosing that first, I have my moral code and I have my politics…and I don’t need any ten commandments or other scriptures to tell me not to kill or hate or steal…because I know that we’re sharing this life…so I don’t have any reason to do any of that bad stuff.

    “But What Happens When We Die?”

    Now there is one other part…and that is the whole death piece. I know that alot of religious people find it really important this question of what happens after we die…and there is all this fear of that after death piece…and for those people who feel like they need to know that they will live forever somewhere…there is no comfort I can give…because that sounds boring to me. I find it far more fascinating and powerful and neat that really I just have this tiny window…that I need to make this as powerful an excursion as possible…and…

    …and I need to make sure that I am doing what I can to help my fellow people and creatures get the most out of their lives as well…because that’s the point for me, that we get to live TOGETHER…so this is why justice is essential for me…and also I believe that it is only in each other that we find our meaning and where we can become bigger than ourselves…by carrying the stories of those who came before us, and having our children carry our stories…we become a part of a larger project, something that, while not immortal and absolutely eternal…will continue for more than just one or two generations. We find meaning in our lives in how we live with each other…and for ourselves.

    And so my spiritual practice is in sharing my life with my family, my friends, my neighbors…my spirituality is rooted in the struggle for justice…my mass is those times when we sit around to tell our stories, and where we bring forward the stories of the past…of those people who had their time and then passed…for us to learn from, for us to be nurtured by, for us to be inspired by (and for us to acknowledge those billions who have been wronged)…

    This works for me…this fulfills me and enriches me…this gives me meaning…and this makes sense to me…

    And I’d love to hear what you think about it…

    “But Atheists Don’t Have The Communities That Churches Offer”

    And this is absolutely true…I think one of the strongest and most positive things about religions are the social elements…the congregations, the discussion and study groups…the buildings that you can go to at least once a week to find people who connect with you about a deep part of your life…they connect with your most basic worldview…

    And this is why I keep saying…not even joking…that anarchists and other social justice activists need to start building churches…or something similar…I would love to have a place to go once a week where I knew I could find people who shared my beliefs…where we could celebrate together and tell stories and histories together…share donuts and tea…in fact, strategically, I think it’s going to be essential for building commmunities that can actually change this world.

    Ooh, this was a fun post to write!

    It is the future…and the world is now effectively mono-lingual…Standard Web English has become the primary language of nearly the entire planet. Most of our world’s 6,000 languages are now extinct. The only people who pay any attention to other languages are scholars, missionaries (who are trying to translate bibles and eventually convert people to English…which is partly true because missionaries are actually currently one of the dominant forces in the fields of linguistics and translation…can you believe that?)…and….

    And also there is this drug…called Linguacine. It’s an hallucinogen that affects the language processing centers of the brain, and so if someone is on it, and they read or hear a passage from a language, their high will be different depending on what language they are experiencing…so there is this subculture of addicts…called Polyglots, who live in these drug-den libraries, where they study and preserve scraps of languages in order to keep themselves high. A little bit of an agglutinating language here, a little bit of Semitic tri-consonantal languages there…and all of it creates a new experience for these people.

    Our main character is one of these people…coming from a wealthy family, he’s a bit of a drug tourist…he often hitches rides with missionaries to sneak into indigenous areas and snatch bits of languages from those people…because to hear an exotic language from a native speaker is a delicacy for a Polyglot.

    But at some point, in these drugged travels…he encounters a group of deaf people who speak a unique sign language, who are resisting all attempts to extinguish their culture and communication. At first, this character is just savoring his high…but with time he comes to see how this thing that he is stealing from these people, this thing that he is using for himself, is the core of these people’s lives and culture…and he realizes how much deeper language and meaning can go…and so he begins to work with these people, and also with a wider network of linguistic and social rebels…many of whom have been creating their own new languages to counter the dominance of Standard Web English…

    Anyway, I thought it would make an interesting story…

    Currently Reading:

    -Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi