Friday, October 29, 2010

Passive Aggressive

I have sent numerous business reply envelopes back to their source with a simple “no thanks” scrawled across the application inside.  I usually scrawl something a bit less polite across the ones from credit card companies.  Time is money according to corporate math, and so anything I can do to engage a corporate employee’s time has an impact on the corporate bottom line.

I try to avoid box stores like the plague (they are in fact symptoms of a deadly social disease).  But if I do find myself in Walmart or some other Chinese outlet store, there are things that I can do to insure that my purchase will not actually contribute directly to the corporate bottom line.

For example, I could spend some time wandering around the store collecting items in my shopping cart and re-shelving them randomly.  I could send each employee I come across on a wild goose chase in search of an item I know they don’t carry.  And when I get to the checkout lane, I could have the checker checkout a large cart full of items and then “change my mind” claiming that I can only afford the one item I originally came to purchase.  If I do all of these things and keep my purchase small, then the corporation will have spent at least as much in wage-slave labor costs and I will have offset my contribution to the corporate coffers.   

But this is passive aggressive.  Passive aggressive behavior is the last recourse of the powerless—a slave spitting into the master’s soup. 

We need to be setting the plantation on fire!

Monday, October 25, 2010

When your only tool is a hammer…

There is a certain level of symbiotic adaptation required with even the most simple of tools.  Anyone who has ever developed calluses from using a shovel or hayfork understands how a specific tool can leave its mark.  I have a permanent bump on the last joint of the middle finger of my writing hand that embodies decades of pushing pens and pencils.  Some tools necessitate less visible but more severe adaptations.  Think of the uncountable cognitive adaptations required to use modern communication technology.  And even the skilled operation of a primitive stone knife or axe involves permanent neuromuscular adaptation on the part of the operator. 

My point is that tool use changes the person using the tool.  In cases of simple tool use, the changes are usually benign and perhaps even beneficial (e.g., by increasing muscular strength or overall coordination).  But adaptation to some tools can have far-reaching negative ramifications.

Consider domestication.

In terms of its long-term impact on the human species—and the rest of the planet—domestication is easily the most dangerous and malignant tool ever devised.  And it’s not just the obvious material consequences that make domestication so dangerous.  Domestication changes how we think about who we are. 

Although this applies equally to plant domestication, it is perhaps more obvious with animals.  For foraging hunter-gatherers, there is often an underlying respect and reverence for other wild creatures.  That reverence is lost when the animals are caged and corralled and raised to be driven and milked and butchered.  Intelligent quarry becomes a dumb animal.  The difference is reflected in our metaphoric use of animals in everyday language.  Domestic animals are invariably linked with derisive adjectives: fat cow, dirty pig, mindless sheep, chicken (coward).  Contrast that with the clever fox, the wise owl, the majestic lion, and the graceful deer.

But the conceptual consequences of domestication go far deeper than mere metaphor.  The historic transition from wild-hunted to pastured to CAFO maps on directly to the transition from foraging band to agricultural village to modern megalopolis—from free being to land-bound laborer to mindless corporate wage-slave. 

Tools designed for one set of functions are quite frequently re-appropriated and applied to others.  In this way, domestication provides a conceptual template that is readily applied to the human social world, yielding a rich source for the dehumanization of any group of individuals who serve as potential obstacles to the goals of those in power. 

Perhaps most insidious of all is the ease with which we direct this tool to ourselves.  As individuals, we learn very young to apply the template of domestication to our own thoughts and actions.  Participation in modern society demands that we have the wilderness in our DNA firmly caged.   

Friday, October 22, 2010


The infrastructural linchpins, the system’s nodes of vulnerability, fall into two general classes: physical and psychological.

The physical targets are fairly obvious: the various structures supporting energy production and communication.  And many of these structures are entirely exposed.  In the US, for example, there has been a lot of effort directed at protecting high-visibility terrorist targets.  Fortunately, the goals of terrorism and the goal of dismantling civilization are not commensurate.  Terrorists are all about shock and awe.  Terrorists are not interested in change of a truly fundamental sort.  Terrorists want to change the system in ways that suit their interests.  They are not interested in eliminating the system itself (Sadly, this is as true for most eco-terrorists as it is for Islamic extremists).  Because of this, some of the most vulnerable gears in the machine are left unguarded. 

As just one example, consider that the majority of power plants are coal-fired and that the coal is supplied to these plants by rail lines that travel though land that is both easily accessible and unguarded.  Suppose that a group of loosely organized individuals took it upon themselves to disrupt the coal supply to several power plants simultaneously.  How many rail lines would have to be disabled and for how long?

The psychological targets are less obvious.  The global corporate system is ultimately a system for organizing human behavior, and in some ways the psychological infrastructure of civilization will be more difficult to dismantle.  Corporate marketing has pretty much cornered the market on propaganda, so, although it is essential to attack on multiple fronts, direct attempts to change people’s attitudes will likely meet with limited success. 

Here is where we need to be creative.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

On Ends and Means

A frequent reaction to calls for a dramatic change in the status quo is that the status quo is simply too massive to change, or that it has acquired too much momentum for us to be able to make any meaningful course correction at this point.  Yes, our civilization is killing the planet, but there is nothing that we can do to stop it now.  We have no choice but to let the corporate industrial snowball continue to smash its way downhill at an ever-accelerating rate, assimilating everything in its path, until it eventually explodes against the base of the mountain.

The omnipresence and complexity of the current global system, however, may actually prove to be an advantage.  Taking their cue from nonlinear dynamics, some have speculated that the emergence and proliferation of networks of small self-reliant communities, once they exceed a certain critical mass and level of interconnectivity, may lead to a rapid and dramatic global reorganization, ushering in a completely new kind of global economic configuration (e.g., see Carson here).  There may be some merit to this speculation.  However, it is important to note that nonlinear systems can reconfigure in unpredictable ways; the structure of the new global system may bear little or no resemblance to the pattern of changes that led to the dynamic reconfiguration.  A totalitarian global police state is as likely an outcome as any other.  We need to work to eliminate the system, not replace it.

The snowball metaphor is informative, because it is the snowball’s speed and mass that make it vulnerable to centripetal force; relatively minor structural instability can cause the snowball to fly apart.  Likewise, the sheer mass and velocity of our civilization makes it vulnerable to even very minor internal structural weakness.

Change can occur through both violent and non violent means, although the former are frequenlty the most effective—and too often the only ones available.  Non violent means do not ensure a peaceful result.  By the same token we should not shy away from using force where necessary to knock loose the linchpins.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Losing Our Place

Place is the ultimate source of culture.  The local environment—the local climate, geography, flora, fauna—sets the parameters regarding the specific behaviors required for survival.  Culture is merely(!) the historical organization and elaboration of these behaviors over time, and the assimilation and adaptation of these behaviors by people living in different places. 

Obviously this is a gross oversimplification. 

My point is simply to reference the foundational role the local environment has played in human culture.  Culture is grounded in the physical world, and the ways we negotiate the demands of life in specific places.  

But all that is long past.  Our connection to place is rapidly dissolving.  Modern “culture” forces us into lifestyles that are increasingly untethered from the local world.  My food comes from 1500 miles away.  My children are forced to move to other time zones to find employment.  Events in China have a direct impact on my economic well-being.  The quality of the air I breathe is controlled by lawyers and lobbyists for corporations headquartered in the Cayman Islands          

As citizens of a culturally-diluted global society, we are losing our sense of place.  We are rapidly becoming a race of beings who don’t know where we belong in the world.  What that really means for us, I’m not sure.

I do know that it is a serious problem, and that the problem lies somewhere in our willingness to buy into the meme, our willingness to see ourselves as members of an abstract global system rather than as individual human beings living in a concrete physical world.  

Friday, October 15, 2010

Are Humans Still Evolving?

A potential argument against the anarcho-primitivist agenda is that humans are no longer the same physical beings that we once were.   Researchers have found evidence of numerous genetic changes that have occurred in the last several thousand years, many of which have occurred within just the last five millennia.  Our DNA has apparently been altered by civilization.  Some scientists go so far as to suggest that civilization itself is a result of critical changes in our DNA.  Either way, we have evolved beyond our foraging ancestors and can no longer be expected to flourish as hunter-gatherers.

There are numerous things wrong with this argument—not the least of which is the implication that evolution is progressive.  Here’s just one other minor problem:

Anyone who claims that humans have evolved within the last 5-10 thousand years is limiting their definition of “human” to exclude the indigenous inhabitants of Australia and New Zealand and other groups of people who have until recently been living in isolation from the populations of Africa, Asia, and Europe—an isolation that predates the agricultural revolution.  If we include Australian aborigines, then the changes in human DNA being cited as evidence of recent human evolution are really just changes in the DNA of subpopulations of humans, and represent fluctuations in the genetic variability between subpopulations (which happens all the time in virtually all species), not changes in humans as a species.  And the changes we are talking about are really not all that substantial.  I suspect that there are far more profound genetic differences between poodles and cocker spaniels. 

And, further, I would argue that the (relatively) recent changes in human DNA are a result of artificial selection, not natural selection.  They are side-effects of the “domestication” of the human species. 

And as far as the question of whether our changing DNA prevents us from flourishing in the absence of civilization’s oppressive omnipresence, it is perhaps most informative to note the seamless ease with which highly trained domestic dogs revert to their pack-scavenging ways when given the opportunity.           

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

In Search of an Organic Herbicide for Corporate Weeds

In the late 1970s, a Japanese farmer by the name of Mansanobu Fukuoka wrote The One Straw Revolution.  Fukuoka’s book—really a manifesto—presents an approach to organic farming that can serve as a powerful model for a commonsense approach to living in general.  He calls his method “do-nothing” farming.  It is based on the premise that working with the land’s evolved natural propensities can ultimately yield far superior results compared to modern farming with its monoculture and its labor-intensive environmentally destructive techniques.  Modern industrial farming attempts to force nature, or impose an artificial structure on the natural world.  Fields are plowed and planted with crops that need to be fertilized because the soil’s ability to sustain growth has been destroyed by the cultivation itself.  Herbicides are then applied to keep the “weeds” at bay.  All of this requires an enormous amount of human and natural resources.  Fukuoka’s do-nothing approach is simply to scatter seed on an existing uncultivated field.  Along with the desired crop, “weeds” of a certain type are planted to keep other weeds in check.  The straw from one harvest is allowed to sit on the field and decompose naturally even as the next season’s crop is being sown.  After a few seasons, the field is producing almost as much as a commercially cultivated and chemically treated field—but without either the cultivation or the chemicals.  The plants are healthier, and there is a net improvement in the soil season by season.  Even poor land and depleted soil can be resurrected by his methods. 

Fukuoka’s do-nothing approach to farming has something important to offer us, something more than mere metaphor.  Industrial civilization forces us to live in an unnatural, highly “cultivated” manner, and by living in this way we destroy our environment in the same way that plants forced to live in industrial monoculture exhaust the soil.  And, as with the crops of industrial agriculture, it takes an enormous amount of energy and resources to maintain our lifestyle because we are being forced to live in conditions that run counter to our evolved propensities.  Fukuoka’s solution is to stop the machines, let the soil and the plants do what they have been designed to do through several hundred million years of evolutionary fine-tuning.  Likewise, the solution to restoring our environment is to stop the machine of civilization, stop forcing our lives into conformity with an artificial and inhuman mode of being.  Out of civilization’s remains will eventually emerge fertile social and ecological “soil” for nurturing all of our human needs.  The problem will be one of stopping the cultivators, putting an end to the mechanical disturbance, and then having the patience to allow the dust to settle. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Psychology of Wage Labor

A coworker overheard me bemoaning the small stature of my paycheck and took it upon himself to set my perspective right by reminding me that I am earning more than most people in our part of the state.  I really have no right to complain, he said.

My response was to smile and walk away.  I do not usually feel compelled to calibrate my coworkers’ distorted perspectives. 

If I did, I would have told him that that way of thinking is completely backward.  Instead of being happy that I don’t have it as bad as some others, I should be incensed that others have it worse than I do!  Who benefits from my complacency?  Whose interests are being served if I am content to “count my blessings”? 

Having a substantial portion of the population unemployed or underemployed serves a dual purpose: it keeps wages low and, by tapping into our sense of just-world fairness, it keeps us from demanding to be paid what we feel our labor is actually worth.

Of course, the real issue is the insanity of the capitalist frame that allows us to assign monetary value to labor in the first place.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dress Rehearsal

Iraq has served as a training ground for urban warfare.  The same tactics used for fighting insurgents in Baghdad will work just as well against those who dare challenge the corporate machine (the corporate media will call them terrorists) in Chicago and Denver and Seattle and Atlanta and Indianapolis and… 

Iraq has also introduced the general public to the idea of private security forces.  Corporate interests working through governments can enlist the services of corporate militias to impose the corporate will.  With the economy in the tank, it’s only a matter of time before the local police are privatized.  The government-to-private transition is already well underway in the penal system.

And Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan are field test sites for aerial hunter-killer robots.  How soon before the buzz of Predator drones fills the sky over Los Angeles?  Of course it will be for our own safety and protection.     

Friday, October 1, 2010

Beware of Ceremony

Ceremony is an attempt to infuse the trivial with meaning and importance.  If the circumstances being celebrated were intrinsically relevant, they would not require a public spectacle.  Ceremony is one of the earliest forms of thought control.  It is a tool used to homogenize the beliefs of individuals and align them with the goals of the power elite.