Pages

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Binaries of my Teen Years

Growing up as a teenager during the Bush II Era was quite an experience, to say the least. My peers and I spent the most confusing years of our lives during a very troubled time. All of us, regardless of whatever way we swung politically, held a strong sense of frustration. We were definitely aware of what was going on around us; some avoided it whereas others engaged with it.

I recall my high school being marked by division. On one hand, there were the typical "rich white kids" from Windham who were now learning alongside a much more diverse group of students from Salem. If you were a rich, white Windham kid, you were most likely expected to go above and beyond in everything that you do, be it academics, sports, attitude, or looks.

Our school had a very strict hierarchy of academics. Kids who took the honors classes (who were mostly Windhamites) were always suspected of receiving privileges from the school administration. They were the ones who were conditioned well enough to see the value in academia and were assigned projects that promoted creativity. Those of us who could never cut it out for honors tended to be content with the status as "second best", even if we envied the praise that the honors kids were getting. None of us had any clue as to how the educational apparatus truly functioned. Though, we did get the sense that our interests were different, or would be different as schooling progressed.

For us in southern New Hampshire, politics is never a spectator sport (as can be seen today now that all the presidential candidates seem to be popping up all over the place in that state). During this time, waves of conservative Christians were moving up from Massachusetts to settle in our area; they hated what they perceived to be their host state's fall to extreme left-liberalism. My high school, likewise, was full of students from such a background. This was during a time when the Religious Right was at its peak, and every other kid seemed to have become a born-again Evangelical Christian by 2004. My various crowds of friends, who consisted mostly of nerds, stoners, and "emos", always looked at those people with a hint of suspicion, even if we were friendly with them. There was one girl in our circle of friends whom I remember as being very much like this. She would always attempt to preach at us using tricks to cunningly disguise her homophobia or disgust of pre-marital sex, though we never put up with any of it. One time she got into a huge fight with one of the emo girls, who had recently come out to her parents and couldn't take any more crap about her sexuality. The two of them avoided each other for weeks until a guy from our group forced them to make up so that he wouldn't be torn between two of his closest friends.

Looking back, I recall these people soaking up the culture war - they completely indulged it in because they knew the current order of things (Religious Right and so-called "Straussians" in Washington) would give them the upper hand. They had no fear about being open about their prejudices towards feminists, sexual minorities, Muslims, atheists, or any other group that the GOP singled out. I was hardly a radical then but still received calls of "anti-American", "terrorist lover", and so on from those classmates of mine. So did others. So did teachers, who tended to be more leftist than the general student body. There were quite a few times where I remember the conservative students irking the more left-leaning teachers during class and making a scene.

When you're in an environment that emphasizes such strict divisions and hierarchies, you learned to be suspicious of others. If someone isn't completely in-line with you, your first response is to wonder what they want from you or if they're going to mentally fuck with you once you let them into your circle. It also works the opposite way: you become suspicious when someone puts you down for something you say - do they say this because I'm rude, or is it just because I'm not meeting their moral or political dogmas? There's also a sense of the effects of top-down politics seeping into your personal life, even as suburban teenagers, whereby everyone is so quick to form friendships on the basis of political alliances.

This was very much the case during the start of my senior year, back in 2006. There were many kids who had family members in Lebanon - being as multicultural as our region was - who were still completely shaken from what happened that summer. Before the bombings began, most of these students were staunch right-wingers (most Arabs in the Merrimack Valley are Maronite Catholics or Evangelicals), but afterwards they seriously began to question American foreign policy towards Israel and the Arab World. This caused a great amount of tension between them and their fellow conservative buddies who made it a thing to tell them what "bad Christians" or "bad Republicans" they were for showing any kind of dissent from the usual GOP platform, even when these kids had family affected by such a bloody and one-sided conflict.

Every so often today I will look up the Facebook profiles of those same people whom I knew from back then. It's very telling when you find the profile of that same girl who dreamed of being the next Ann Coulter only to find that she's been married for five years with two kids and a third on the way. During my senior year of high school, it was very much the case that these right-wing students held beliefs about being the heirs to the Republican/Religious Right dynasty that existed. Several of them applied to elite colleges known for giving alumni an easy way into Washington. Of course, after the 2008 election most of them went underground with the rest of the Bush Era stars. I haven't heard from most of them in over seven years and I have no desire to do so.

I know I'm not the only one who experienced these things. I wanted to say, this can be said to be the primary reason why those of us on the far-left who are between the ages of 24 and 30 have such an aversion to this way of binaristic thinking - "You either agree with me 100% or else you're an evil person!". We know that, ten years ago, the exact same way of thinking was being applied by the Right. Today, it's been carried over by the Left - "If you disagree with us on X, even slightly, you're a baaaad person!". Such emotional blackmail is the tool of the insecure more than anything.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Distance

Years ago, I remember, there was this guy who I really didn't like very much. He was active in Palestine solidarity movements and took much of it personally, since he had a Palestinian girlfriend (back then it was considered a "cool" thing for radikewl white dudes to date brown women). One day he remarked online something to the extent of: "I don't get these 'Anarchists Against the Wall' - how can you be Israeli and an anarchist when you're living in a culture so saturated with colonial mentality?"

I thought his remark was funny, because one could easily say: "How is it that you can be an American and be anarchist, since America is the biggest imperialist power in the world and has been for 100 years?" In fact, I could imagine French anarchists saying that to me - "How is it that an American woman can be an anarchist? She must not be sincere in her convictions given the nature of American society!"


But then, Algerian anarchists could say: "How is it that any of these 'French anarchists' are truly anti-authoritarian and anti-imperialist when they come from a culture that still looks at us from a colonial point-of-view?"
 

And to that, black African anarchists could say: "How can any Arab be an honest anarchist when the Arabs conquered us 1000 years ago? We're still treated like dirt by them in North Africa."

It's always easier to see how hegemony works when it's "over there" rather than here. Although, I don't see how it's particularly useful when method becomes so formalized that the only people capable of being perfect angels are the lowest on the social hierarchy.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Fear of Normal

Mixed in with the downright reluctance to master the superstructure is a confusion towards cultural shift. Radical subcultures are said to function as spaces of subversion against the mainstream, places where they're allowed to take up new identities from the ones bestowed upon them and rebel. Yet, at the same time, those who play within them demand that the defining aspects of their subcultures be normalized and accepted by the same society that they seek to undermine.

If society marks you and your behaviors as deviant, you will be rejected in some form or another. Whatever isn't useful to the reproduction process is labeled undesirable until the moment when it becomes useful; that's understood quite well. So, if the goal is to normalize and expand the realm of inclusiveness, would that not entail such subcultures, identities, and such become useful for capital?

I've been to spaces in the underground many times, usually anarchist ones, usually ones created in the moment of all spontaneity. People play by their own rules. They do not answer to anyone except those with whom they share their space. It's the feeling of autonomy that comes. We have no need to ask for permission from above but only need to understand ourselves from below.

The beauty may very well be in the obscurity. When I've encountered people who speak of assimilation, they spoke of their fears of being forced into the dominant culture on the basis that it robs them of some kind of unique specialness found within the identities they've crafted for themselves. Their reasons for preserving the obscurity are only for superficial reasons. It is not the chains of bourgeois culture they are resisting, but - like an angst-ridden high school teen - their fear of becoming like "everyone else". They want an image of themselves that they can exploit for greater social capital from others who see their identities as something worthy of praise, regardless as to whether or not those individuals in question have any real substance. This attitude, of course, eventually becomes tangled up in the society of objects; when those from the dominant culture are chastised for appropriating or imitating the relics or rituals of the outsiders it is because the specialness of the object carries over to its clique.

Even though we can agree that appropriation has negative consequences and obviously relates to ideological domination, the liberal perspective does not understand a much greater problem caused by assimilation and what it means in terms of loss. Hegemony by the ruling class extends far beyond the pilfering of little possessions and artifacts. What is truly lost in the possess is the knowledge gained from the experience of having been on the margins of society, the understanding of everyday life that can only be obtained by seeing it from the bottom.

Years ago, back when Occupy Wall Street was a thing, there was an older man with whom I spoke at Zuccotti Park. He told myself and the little group around me that he had been an anarchist for over 40 years, and within that time he never held a real job, nor did he complete school, nor did he own basic technology like a cell phone or television, much less a house. The justification he gave for promoting his absurd lifestyle politic was that he could only feel the need to rebel against capitalism and the state if he stood in contrast to it. This man was very well-read and spoke like it, but book knowledge wasn't nearly enough. He chose to remain at the bottom so he would keep the wisdom that he had gained from his insights, and which he willingly passed down to us.

Assimilation equates to forgetting. Those within the mainstream have the ability to be shielded from these realities. It's as if bourgeois society makes everyone wear a pair of cloudy glasses where everything that would be seen or remembered becomes very hazy. We all know that social hierarchies exist (who hasn't seen a plethora of internet posts talking about "privilege"?), but their implications are very distant from us. Perhaps its the case that the people making those kinds of statements are themselves very removed from those experiences; we're often told that those who fight for social justice only do so because they have "nothing else to worry about". It's a sign that they've lost their connection to the struggles of the past, because they have no knowledge of these things. That's a lot more important than a preoccupation with consumerist forms of "I want to be special".

Monday, July 6, 2015

Statement by Anarchist Grigoris Tsironis concerning the referendum on July 5th – Greece

Reblogged from AFFN:

The masks have fallen over the past five years and capital is now showing its true face. The people are dealing with a brutal attack by domestic and foreign capital and its spokesmen. Each collaborationist government willingly enforces austerity programs on the people, signing one memorandum after another in its desperate attempt to remain in power and hold on to its privileges unharmed.

The result of these policies is that we have been led to unemployment, poverty and wretchedness. Tomorrow the people are called to the ballots to give an answer to the blackmailing ultimatums of international financial capital once and for all. They have been called to decide if they will bow their heads and accept one more agreement which will make plutocracy rub its hands [in glee] or will raise their voices, stand tall and say NO to their further subjugation and wretchedness. In order to avoid such a prospect the slugs of the Media of Mass Deception carry out unprecedented propaganda and attempts at terrorizing daily, thus serving the interests of their capitalist bosses.

As an anti-authoritarian I of course do not have any illusions that social emancipation will come through governmental referendums, elections and giving authority to nation-fathers no matter what area they come from, but through mass struggles in the streets and the development of structures of solidarity, self-management and self-organization. Despite all this, I believe that in a country with a great fighting tradition it is our duty to resist and give the domestic and foreign capitalists a small example that the people are now willing to take their lives in their own hands, so that they themselves can decide about their future and not succumb to ultimatums and blackmail that mortgage their hopes and dreams.

The time has come for the people to believe in their strength and promote their dignity. To say:

NO to subjugation,
NO to blackmail,
NO to the proposition of international usurers and their domestic collaborators,
NO to any left memorandum
And a big YES to solidarity and the struggle of the people.

OUR DREAMS ARE THEIR NIGHTMARES

Grigoris Tsironis

Trikala prisons

Here is a social democratic take on the situation from The Real News:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_BW_7AYoApU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V71m_kflQRU

Thursday, June 25, 2015

What the Social Justice Crowd Doesn't Know


It's become almost a cliché nowadays for people on the political far-left to distance themselves from the online social justice movements. The one aspect about these people (such as those on tumblr) that I've come to notice is how little they truly understand about what needs to be done beyond the keyboard, and how much that relates to how little they understand about hegemony and ideology. It's actually quite easy to see how those pejoratively labeled as "social justice warriors" apprehend, to some extent, how institutions like the media manipulate individuals into thinking in certain ways, or how everyday language has consequences in regards to how we see and treat each other. However, when it comes to going beyond the now cliched calls for "privilege checking", there is no real motivation to orchestrate any kind of political praxis that would take to challenging the cultural logic of modern society.

There are a few ways to approach this issue. One tends to be the understanding held by the more "authoritarian" (if you will) people on the Left. That is, the typical theories relating to base-superstructure, that the function of specific institutions corresponds to the mode of production - albeit with some relative autonomy, and that ideology is shaped not only by a few individuals on the top but by the institutions that make up the superstructure. Within this, there is the notion that these institutions must be seized as part of a larger program; we see this, for example, in the "historical bloc" or "power bloc" and how Gramsci's Modern Prince (communist organization) must seek to grasp the minds of the people through intellectual reforms. These theorists understand that these ideological apparatuses mold individuals into subjects, and they have zero qualms about doing the molding.

Even as an anarchist who has no love for authoritarian socialisms, I can appreciate this view, since it enables a practice to arise from its theory. This may come off as a form of brainwashing, but we can look at the culture that's present today and understand how much of it furthers capitalist relations of production. In fact, we can look at plenty of revolutionary societies and see the efforts taken to remold the superstructure as well as the base. Even something like the creation of a Temporary Autonomous Zone fits with the emergence of a new paradigm, because even though you aren't seizing institutions, you are creating a challenge for them.

On the other hand, there is this specific attitude which assumes these institutions are just what they are and that there is no need to direct or upset them. The idea is, we're just going to stay on the sidelines and let the capitalist media, schools, religious institutions, and such do what they do. But as soon as someone does something that does not fit our preconceived notions of what we would see them as being in a just society, we're going to shame them until they become so humiliated that they have no other option but to submit to us. Of course, in this scenario there is nothing of an attempt to go beyond the relationships between single individuals. There is no program, there is no organization, nor is there any kind of challenge to the dominant ideology by any means.

This is the real problem with social justice liberals: they allow for themselves to be pacified up until something "problematic" occurs, and then they start rabidly shaming until the issue is forgotten along with their anger. They refuse to learn what Gramsci knew, what the Bolsheviks knew, and what the Spanish Anarchists (to an extent) knew: the superstructure forms and reproduces the base, and thus, like the base, needs to be dealt with on a systematic level. Without that, you're forced to resort to extreme individualism where everything is handled on an individual basis; even then, there is a reluctance to grab people's minds and benevolently direct them somewhere better ("it's not my job to educate you," etc.). And by that time, you're not engaging in any sort of activism. You are engaging in petty ramblings that do nothing but reassure your ego.

Now, the social justice crowd tends to look at this in a very black-and-white manner: "Oh, well if we organize or fuck with the system then we become elitist and authoritarian!" But then comes the great irony: when any part of the culture goes against their moral sensibilities they start viciously shaming in a manner that could very well be looked at as a precursor to an even greater authoritarian attitude.

Tumblr Social Justice would rather remain consumerist and pacified. They may find redemption in their consumer choices, be it Beyoncé's latest album or a "fair trade" T-shirt. They may rely entirely on simulated activism behind their computer screens (and let it be known that simulation entails that solidarity does not exist). They may also be unwilling to take matters into their own hands and get socially active in the real world so that the world is shaped in the way they want it to be. Then, when someone or something in the culture goes against their values, they become nasty and vicious in response, only to default right back to their forgetful, pacified selves. You ask them: "So, how do we organize around said issue?", and they tell you: "We can't do anything, we don't want to look bad, we don't want to be disturbed from our everyday lives. We're only going to shame our peers whenever they commit a 'microaggression'. We don't want to look like elitists, white saviors, or extremists like you."


And then you are the extremist, because you've remembered the struggles of the past and have the motivation to uproot a disgusting system, when they're content with updating their Tumblr blogs in the name of "awareness"!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

UK – Prisoner Emma Sheppard: Prisons do not work for anyone – except those who profit from them

Reblogged from: Act For Freedom Now
The prisons are nearly full. So they are building more. From Topshop to Tesco, DHL to Lend Lease, and Virgin to Geoamey, there is a lot of money in the prison regime. Now private ‘Community Rehabilitation Companies’ are running the probation service. Christopher Grayling has announced another ‘rehabilitative initiative’ for the Ministry of Justice. Prisoners will create sandbags, fence posts and kit for the Armed Forces, in order to ‘learn important new skills’ and the ‘value of a hard days work’.
The word rehabilitation is never far away inside these walls. But prison has a long shadow – it isolates, separates and destroys lives. Much has been written recently about women in prison. Even Vicky Pryce – ex-wife of a Tory MP has called for change. But whilst women in prison certainly have, to use the language of the screws, ‘complex needs’, calls for reform on gendered lines oversimplify the problem. Prisons do not work for anyone – except those who profit from them.
And what does ‘rehabilitation’ even mean? Repenting for your crime? Bowing down to supposedly benevolent systems which are offered to us as ‘choices’? Rehabilitation is used like a carrot we are meant to chase. But I will not participate in a race to make sandbags. There is no rehabilitation in an IPP, CSC or seg. When people are shipped out without warning. This is not rehabilitation.
Assata Shakur described one of the many show trials she was subjected to. Whilst I am not in any way comparing myself to her, the sentiment really resonated with me:
“Participating in the New Jersey Trial was unprincipled and incorrect.
By participating, I participated in my own oppression.
I should have known better and not lent credence to that sham. In the long run, the people are our only appeal.
The only ones who can free us are ourselves.”
Some people successfully detox in prison, many relapse. Some leave their abusive relationships, may return. Just like the myth of ‘protection’ the police perpetuate, ‘rehabilitation’ is a convenient facade which hides systemic violence. The decisions people make in prison may benefit or harm them. But any positive changes the individual makes happen in spite of, not due to, the ‘opportunities’ we receive. I will never forget the razor wire and the sound of the key in the door. but even though you lock me in, I am not alone.
Much love,Em x
Sheppard was sentenced to two years in prison for damaging police cars outside of Bristol.

You can write to her at:

Emma Sheppard
A7372DJ
HMP Eastwood Park
Church Avenue
Falfield
Wotton-under-Edge
Gloucestershire
GL12 8DB

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Video: Spiritual Anarchism


Pygmalion is an Evil Bastard (Especially if He's a Radical Leftist)

A word of advice I'd give to all radical women who date men is this: steer clear of dating someone who desires to convert you to his political or religious views. This has happened to me before on multiple occasions, and it will certainly cause you a lot of pain. It's not just that men who assume they're entitled to fuck with your mind don't appreciate you for who you are in the present, it's also that their acts most certainly amount to gaslighting.

If you find that the Lefty dude whom you're dating acts like this, it's a sign that he may very well desire some kind of mental control over you. I made the mistake of not realizing it sooner and it fucked me up a lot. So, if you encounter someone like this, tell him to fuck off and let him understand that he is in no way entitled to your mind.

Overall, this is very much symptomatic of basing one's romantic intents primarily on politics. There were times in my life where I entered relationships with people solely on the basis of political views, and in every case it turned out to be a disaster; little disagreements we had overshadowed everything else to the point where the smallest debate can destroy your relationship. When you're in a radical organization, having everyone line up ideologically can be so crucial that people will leave or be looked upon with suspicion for taking a different stance on any issue. But that's political organizing. Things become even worse when ideological differences become the reason you break up with that otherwise amazing person whom you've been dating.

I will not speak for others, but I have never experienced a healthy relation in which one person constantly tries to "fix" their partner in such a way. Radical men, in particular, tend to have a complex where they only desire the woman whom they can "carve" themselves, whose every aspect (particularly her mind) is a product of his domination over her. If his partner evolves ideologically, he will try to stop her and regain control of her mind, because for him, his connection to her is based on the two of them being so ideologically identical. It is submission, albeit in a form that comrades would find tolerable.

So, to the radical dudes who date women: don't try to create and preserve the radical girlfriend you imagine from the girl in your organization whom you think is sweet and cute. If you desire to be with her, carry out your feelings through actions rather than an aggressive, possessive control of what she thinks. If you love her for her political views only, you will almost certainly not love her for very long, as all of us inevitably grow and evolve. You do not love her for herself but for the person you wish she was. And if she tells you to fuck off, please fuck off.