Friday, November 28, 2014

Power is not black and white, but police cars are

A too narrow focus on the colors on the surface risks missing the fundamental issue.

Please don’t get me wrong here. It is an empirical fact that African Americans have been pushed toward the lower regions of the power machine—and it’s the folks at the base of the pyramid who truly feel the crushing weight of the many parasitic (and increasingly light-skinned) layers perched their backs. But it is power that put them there and keeps them there because skin color makes for a convenient sorting strategy. Yes it matters that Michael Brown and Tamir Rice were black. But it wasn’t their skin color that killed them.

Fundamentally, it’s not about race. It’s about power. It’s about safeguarding the fairytale narrative of authority. A badge is not merely symbolic. It is a magical talisman that converts the wearer from human being to servomechanism for power, an appliance of control, a conduit for the administration of overwhelming force to promote and preserve the myth that power is legitimate.

Anyone who chooses to wear a badge needs to be fully aware that they are choosing to abandon their humanity to become whores to power, mindless plastic gears at the business end of a massive exploitation machine. And those of us (of all skin colors) who are still human beings who value our humanity will have no reason to treat you as anything other than disposable.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Pro-civ ill-logic

Pro-civ arguments frequently have the same form as arguments for the existence of god made by theologians who are also true believers: start with the conclusion you want, and then work backward to find ways to support it.

The fact that humans are an adaptable species is sometimes used to dismiss the negative aspects of civilized life. The idea is that humans will eventually “evolve” in ways that make civilization a more suitable lifestyle. Unfortunately, evolution operates on a far broader timeframe than the lifecycle of a typical civilization.

But human adaptability is irrelevant anyway when it comes to questions of how people should live. Plantation slaves “adapted” to hard labor—and the ones who adapted the best were able (allowed) to reproduce and thus provide additional slaves who, because they inherited their parent’s genes, were likely to be able to adapt to a laborious life themselves. But that’s hardly an argument for slavery.

A related form of this argument is that although humans aren’t necessarily “meant” for civilized life, once it occurs we are adaptable enough to learn to live with it. It might not be the best way of life, but it works. What is invariably glossed over is that not all of us are living with it. Several people are being killed as a direct function of the normal operation of civilization even as I write this.

Too bad for them, I guess. And I need to stress that killing people is part of what civilization does—all civilizations everywhere.

Civilization most definitely doesn’t “work”—except in the short term for an increasingly small minority of elites.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Still looking for a hole in the fence

Polar bears are not really white. Their skin is actually closer to black. And their fur has no pigment at all; its white appearance is due to light refraction. Polar bear hide has evolved to function as a solar collector: the individual hair fibers are clear and hollow, and act like fiber optic tubes that trap sunlight and channel warmth to the bear’s heat-absorbing skin. When polar bears are forced to live in zoos south of their arctic habitats, algae begins to grow in their hollow hair, and their pelt takes on a decidedly non-aesthetic yellowish brown color. During peak visitor season, zookeepers have been known to spray the bears with bleach because nobody wants to see a less-than-white polar bear.

I have compared our civilized situation to that of confined animals on display in a strange sort of zoo where we act as both captive and keeper. Like the discolored captive polar bear, we are forced to accommodate an unnatural habitat and are disfigured by the mismatch. And like the bear, our keepers—that is, you and I—resort to superficial methods for concealing the resulting ugliness. But the ugliness is just a symptom, of course. The real problem, for us and for the bear, is captivity.

But the zoo metaphor makes for a too rough analogy. For one thing, our enclosures are not limited to concrete walls and iron bars. Our enclosures are not mere physical structures designed to confine us to a circumscribed physical place. Instead they penetrate the very tissue of our thoughts and provide the structures that frame our experience. Our enclosures appear absolute; there is no outside. Also, because we are ultimately our own keepers, our self-confinement needs continuous, moment by moment renewal. This is accomplished through a steady diet of anxiety and fear. Fear serves as an ever-present reminder to keep to our assigned place in the bureaucratic order, and anxiety becomes our mantra of impotence.

Both the fear and the anxiety are of our own design—we hold the keys to our cage. All we have to do is open the door and walk through. But first we have to find the door. And before we can do that we have to know that a door is possible, we have to recognize that there is a world outside after all.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The counterfactual thinking trap: what if civilization wasn't?

I had just finished cooking a stellar batch of sweet potato fries to use as a vehicle for testing my latest attempt at homemade ketchup. I walked the pot of still smoking-hot oil carefully down the back steps and out to the compost pile. I read somewhere that cooking oil shouldn’t be thrown into the compost because it can make the composting process less efficient by sealing off areas of the pile from air and water exposure.

Fuck efficiency.

I have two side-by-side four foot square “compost corrals” made by alternately stacking 4x4 pieces of heavy-duty oak pallet wood that my son-in-law brought home from a construction site. When the first one fills up, the contents are shoveled into the second, where they sit until the following spring when they are spread on the garden. It was late summer, the second corral had been sitting full for a couple months already and the first had a sizable start with yard debris from the last storm and the usual surfeit of kitchen scraps forming an amorphous damp mound in the center.

I emptied the pot directly above the kitchen scrap mound and witnessed a holocaust beyond all reckoning. The hot oil instantly deep-fried the debris at the top of the pile, releasing a violent waft of steam accompanied by a satisfying sizzling sound. I was expecting that. But what I hadn’t anticipated was the number of living creatures that came pouring out from the moist earthy depths—a desperate and screaming mass of life, each wriggling, crawling, buzzing part expending every drop of itself in an attempt to escape an oily incineration.

Compost is decayed organic matter. And a compost pile is a pile of organic matter in varying stages of decay. But, a compost pile is also a vibrant local ecosystem that includes all manner of invertebrate animal life, and in a moment of thoughtlessness I had committed an atrocity, the local effects of which will resonate for days.

My initial surprise quickly turned to shocked remorse, and then to anger directed at my own lack of forethought. I should have known.

“I should have known” is a form of counterfactual thinking. It assumes that the past could have happened differently than it did, that there are alternative courses for events that have already transpired—or at least that there were viable alternative courses open at the time. Counterfactual thinking is clearly an adaptive human capacity. To re-envision the past is in some sense to prepare for the future. By imagining alternative outcomes for past events, we enhance our ability to act should a similar situation arise later on. The problem comes when we treat the alternatives, clearly visible in hindsight, as if they were actual possibilities within the unique context of the passing moment. This particular problem with counterfactuals has several names, regret and recrimination being the most common.

Civilization didn’t have to happen. After 100,000 generations of human experience, civilization intruded unexpectedly, a toxic anomaly. That it happened when it did, that it took the historical forms that it did, that you and I find ourselves in the present moment, wrapped in its cancerous embrace—all of this might not have been. But it did. And it is. And the past can’t be undone. We must live with the past as it ingratiates itself on the present. There is no choice.

But the future always and forever remains an open sea of possibility.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Civilized futility

Sisyphus was a deceitful and murderous Corinthian king in Greek mythology forced to spend all eternity in grueling and futile labor pushing a boulder over and over again up a steep hill only to have it roll away from him just before he gets to the top. The number and nature of Sisyphus’ evil deeds makes it difficult to feel sympathy for him. But his punishment is not meant as restitution for the nasty treatment of his fellow mortals. There are many versions of the particular chain of events leading to Sisyphus’ torturous repetitive predicament, but in each case he is being punished for more-or-less successful attempts to outsmart the gods. In one version of the tale, Sisyphus’ sentence was devised by Zeus specifically to demonstrate his own godly cleverness and send the message that Sisyphus, the wisest of human tricksters, wasn’t so smart after all.

Mythological tales are not necessarily supposed to make logical sense, but there is something about Sisyphus’ afterlife activity that doesn’t make any sense at all. Why does he keep at it? What is it that compels him to continue to push the rock? Why doesn’t he simply refuse to go on, sit down with his back against the hill, prop his feet up on top of his boulder, and give the gods the extended middle finger? I mean, really, he’s already dead. What more can they do to him? Does he fear an even worse punishment if he refuses? Surely if there was a worse punishment, Zeus would have thought of it.

Of course, they’re gods. They can conceivably deprive him of all choice in the matter and make his limbs move of their own accord. But if so, then Sisyphus is no longer purposefully engaged, and his actions lose their futility. Once his free choice has been usurped he is just along for the ride and the most punishing feature of his punishment has been rendered inert. It would make no difference whether he rolls an uncooperative rock up a hill or hauls heavy sacks of dirt—or works in a Nike shoe factory. The thing that makes the boulder punishment different from simple tedious labor, the thing that makes it uniquely punishing, is that he is intentionally slaving toward a goal that he continually almost but not quite achieves.

The writer and philosopher, Albert Camus, suggested that there might be more to Sisyphus’ circumstances than meets the eye. The tale is always told with an emphasis on the upward leg of Sisyphus’ hillside round trip. But the climb up is only half the journey. The other half is spent traveling burden free, and one might imagine in a leisurely fashion, downhill. In this, Sisyphus’ fate is not so different from normal civilized life: struggle toward largely futile goals interspersed with periods of respite. Could it be that Sisyphus managed to outsmart the gods yet again?

But let’s return to the idea of futility, to the notion that there is something distinctly different about purposeful effort directed at an unachievable goal as opposed to forced labor, and to the question of what keeps Sisyphus—and you and me—from simply setting the rock aside and refusing to continue.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The hole: A children's story

Suppose one day a small group of people got together and decided that digging a hole in the ground would be an interesting way to pass the time. There was no reason that they should choose digging a hole over any other activity, say, building a treehouse or carving pornographic images on rocks. Digging a hole just happened to be what seemed fitting to this particular group of people on this particular day. Suppose that after they had been digging a while, other folks came around and joined in the fun, and pretty soon there was a substantial hole in the ground, large enough for several people to be digging at once.

And the hole got deeper and deeper.

It didn’t take long before the hole was so deep that it was impossible to toss any more dirt out without it falling back in. At this point it was also getting pretty difficult to pull people back to the surface, and most of the folks stopped digging and said “Well, that’s obviously as far as we can go.” But then someone came up with a clever idea. By tying a basket to a length of rope, people on the surface could drop the basket into the hole, people in the hole could fill the basket with dirt, and the people on the surface could pull the basket up, empty it, and then send it back down for another load. Then someone else came up with the creative idea of tying two lengths of rope together at regular intervals to make a ladder that would allow people to climb easily in and out of the hole, and the people started digging once more.

And the hole got deeper and deeper.

The hole got so deep that it became hard for the people digging at the bottom to see what they were doing, and so they stopped digging, and said, “Well, that’s obviously as far as we can go.” But then, someone came up with a clever idea. By rolling beeswax around a string, they made a device that could be burned to provide light sufficient to dig by, and the people started digging once more, by candlelight.

And the hole got deeper and deeper.

After a while, the people digging at the bottom of the hole and the people pulling baskets of dirt to the surface got too tired to continue, and so they stopped digging and pulling, and said, “Well that’s obviously as far as we can go.” But then someone came up with a clever idea. By this point the excavation project had attracted a lot of attention, and there were several people just standing around watching. Some of the spectators could take the place of the diggers and pullers. And when they got tired, other spectators could take over for them. A few of the spectators were persuaded to climb into the hole and dig, and a few others were convinced to pull and empty baskets of dirt.

And the hole got deeper and deeper.

Days passed, and the excavation project became the only subject of conversation. “How deep is it today?” they asked each other. “How deep do you think it can go?” Soon everyone was involved. Everyone was expected to spend part of their day digging and part of their day pulling. Those who were too feeble to dig or pull were expected to make candles or weave rope and baskets.

And the hole got deeper and deeper.

Then, one day tragedy struck. A torrent of water from a surprise rainstorm collapsed part of the hole and buried a group of diggers, killing them all. After the bodies were retrieved, family members of the dead diggers grieved and lamented, “Well, that’s obviously as far as we can go.” But then someone came up with a clever idea. Dying as a digger was a truly praiseworthy end. Such a sacrifice simply cannot go unrewarded. Surely there is an inestimable reward in the afterlife for diggers who meet such a fate. And the people agreed. And a shrine was built in their honor.

And the hole got deeper and deeper.

More days passed, and the hole become so deep that the air at the bottom was hot and hard to breathe, and even a few hours of digging became difficult to endure. And the pullers had to pull so long to raise a basket that their hands became blistered and sore. And they stopped digging and pulling and said, “Well, that’s obviously as far as we can go.” But then someone came up with a clever idea. A person who refuses to act of their own accord, can be convinced to act if they have to in order to survive. And so the community elders made it a law that an able bodied person could not have access to food or shelter or partake in any pleasurable community activities until they spent the expected amount of time digging and pulling. Those who were not so able bodied were still required to make candles and weave rope and baskets, but now according to law they could not eat until they met their candle or basket quota.

And the hole got deeper and deeper.

Then one day, a group of pullers decided that they had had enough, dropped their ropes, and left the town for the forest where they could hunt and collect their own food and live life in peace without having to work on the stupid hole. Soon several diggers, candle makers, and weavers joined them. And a few of the community elders said, “Well, that’s obviously as far as we can go.” But then someone came up with a clever idea. Since the people who fled to the forest broke the law, they have forfeited their rights to equal consideration in the community. A posse was formed and the defectors in the forest were rounded up, fitted with shackles, and forced to work on the hole at the end of a whip.

And the hole got deeper and deeper.

But the shackles and whippings made the workers clumsy and inefficient. Work on the hole began to slow to a crawl. Some in the community became uncomfortable with the cruel treatment of the workers and others started to question why there needed to be a hole in the first place. For a brief time, it looked like the entire hole-digging enterprise would collapse. But then someone got a clever idea. Children could be taught from an early age that hole-digging is the greatest of aspirations. What they learn as children will carry forward as adults, and shackles or whips will rarely be needed because the idea of doing something other than working on the hole will be unthinkable for most people, and anyone who would turn their back on the hole would become a pariah and considered an abomination. A program of compulsory education was developed and implemented. The children grew up with internalized whips and shackles, and eagerly joined the ranks of diggers, pullers, candle makers, and weavers.

And the hole got deeper and deeper.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Social ecology and the techno trap

Corin Bruce penned a nice essay providing a cogent definition of green anarchism and situating green anarchism in relation to other anarchist perspectives. All forms of anarchism share a fundamental antagonism toward hierarchy. For classical anarchism, oppressive subordination to the bureaucratic state was the target. For more recent forms of “social anarchism,” the target has broadened to include all potentially oppressive hierarchical relations among people, including those based on race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. Social anarchism holds that all relations should be fundamentally egalitarian. Green anarchism takes the logical next step and applies this principle to the nonhuman world as well. Green anarchism thus represents the most developed form of anarchist thinking, according to Bruce.

Bruce then describes a variant of green anarchism that has been called social ecology, which takes all of the ideals of social anarchism and extends them to all sentient beings. Domination is wrong whether the target is a human being, a domestic pig, or an old growth forest.

So far so good. But then Bruce dismisses primitivism with a simple wave of the hand, and rows the boat right off the edge of the map.

Social ecology is not anti-technology, Bruce cautions, and should not be confused with those muddle-headed primitivist anti-civilization critiques that—although they “certainly come infused with interesting anarchist currents”—apparently don’t fit within anarchism proper. Social ecology is a perspective that happily embraces “the most desirable aspects of modern society, such as its alleged focus on reason, science, and technology.”

Wait a minute now, Corin. The problem for all anarchists is the oppressive operation of hierarchy. Social ecology extends this anti-hierarchy focus to the nonhuman world, and presumably rejects all forms of domestication. What is primitivism other than a call to adopt non-domestic lifestyles? But let’s take reason, science, and technology in order.

Reason should not be a problem for any form of anarchism. Reason is not an invention of civilization. Nor is it limited to humans. Several other species clearly operate on their environment in rational ways.

Science, too, at least in terms of core notions about the importance of systematic observation, was practiced by the very first humans. However, science as a category of civilized activity that includes the partitioning and sanctioning of authority and expertise is a paradigmatic application of hierarchy in the social world, and is plainly inconsistent with the ideals of social ecology.

But it’s the tolerance of complex technology that makes social ecology—and all other non-primitivist anarchist perspectives—incoherent. Technology is the direct application of hierarchy. Hierarchy is the single dominant feature shared by all forms of technology, from the simple hand loom to the international corporation. If green anarchy—and more specifically, social ecology—rejects the subordination of the natural world though the application of hierarchy, then all forms of technology are potentially suspect, and anything much more complex than a hand loom is rendered off limits.

In addition, and most importantly, it is simply not possible to have complex technology without the hierarchical subordination of human beings. This basic fact is what renders classical anarchism and all other forms of anarchism that limit their focus to economic considerations incoherent. An egalitarian sharing of control over the means of production turns to millimeter thin ice when it comes to questions about who gets to work in the coal mines.

I think that Bruce is on the right track in terms of placing classical, social, and green versions of anarchism in order of progressive coherence. And I really like the idea that the increasing coherence of anarchist perspectives is tied to an increasingly generalized rejection of hierarchical relationships. But the dismissal of primitivism is clearly unjustifiable. By Bruce’s own logic, primitivism represents the most highly developed form of anarchist thought because it casts the broadest anti-hierarchy net and takes the rejection of hierarchy to its logical extreme.

Friday, August 29, 2014

No room for civilization

A planet containing wild humans leaves no room for industrial civilization.

That sentence might seem to have things the wrong direction. From the perspective of a thoroughly colonized mind, it is civilization that has the power to leave no room.

But the logic of the sentence stands as written. Wild humans have been a problem for civilization from the beginning. And the solution has almost always been genocide. Wild humans, being complete in themselves, lack the psychological substrate necessary for civilization to operate—there is nothing for civilization to latch onto. Civilization and wildness are incompatible. Human wildness engenders a fullness of experience that literally leaves no room for civilization.

From a civilized standpoint, the application of overwhelming deadly force becomes the only viable option. But, then, the application of overwhelming deadly force is not restricted to wild humans. Any human choosing to act in a genuinely human way risks triggering civilized methods of containment.

Witness the cops in full military dress rolling through Ferguson, MO—quick to use fear as a patch for any leaks that might form in the white-walls of authority.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Contact versus connectivity

Spectacle long ago replaced community, spectatorship instead of participation, vicariousness instead of presence. A shared and penetrating narrative, an intimate evening around a communal fire, to sing, to dance, to tell stories, to laugh, and sometimes to cry, has become an insulated and isolating narcissistic touchscreen fiction.

Social networking through social media is just that, social contact reduced to mere connectivity, human interaction digitized and packaged and commodified and stripped of all meaning—community becomes a collection of patterned connections among empty nodes, hollow echoes bouncing through a billion electronic tunnels to nowhere.

We are drawn into this ersatz experience out of misplaced fear—180 degrees misplaced. Our loneliness makes us afraid of being alone. The triviality of life makes us afraid we might miss something important, afraid to blink. Our lack of authentic meaning makes us vampires of the superficial, attempting to siphon a tiny soul-warming drop of relevance from a cold mass-produced two-dimensional flame.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Smartphones can do anything

A recent news headline boasted “Researchers Use Smartphone App to Track Gut Bacteria.” The important detail that gut bacteria can affect your health in subtle ways was sidelined in favor of the sensationalistic (and fallacious) implication that there is a cell phone app that can monitor your intestinal fauna. It is part of the news media’s mission to paint a sparkly veneer over all forms of technology, and to reinforce the delusional belief that humankind is rapidly approaching a techno-utopian future in which every problem will have a simple touchscreen solution.

The cell phone's role in the study was considerably more prosaic, of course. Basically, it was used as a sophisticated clipboard for the study's participants to record their diet and exercise. "Cell Phone App Replaces Pen and Notebook for Collecting Data" doesn't carry quite as much punch.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

OldDog on the train

The train crawls into the heart of North Dakota. Rickety rail and a constant procession of freight trains carrying oil and coal means frequent stops and slow speeds.

Outside the observation car window stretches an endless sea of virgin prairie grass and herds of buffalo so thick that they seem to form one giant amoebic mass that threatens to engulf the horizon as if to digest the few small clouds that linger there. The feeling is one of breath and life and endless space.

And then my eyes blink through into the modern era, the mechanical now, and the prairie becomes coal and oil in the form of GMO corn and soybeans arrayed in GPS guided rows upon the sterile ground, and the black amoebic mass of buffalo is foreshortened into an endless passing parade of tanker cars, their sides dripping with the dark toxic lifeblood of civilization.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What is lost

This and so much more: to be born into a world saturated to capacity with unmediated meaning, to see a brimming lake of stars at night and never to question the legitimacy of your place beneath it, to inhabit an actual physical place and to know that place as an extension of your own skin, to converse with the mountain in a language without words and to sense each subtle change in the wind’s perpetual caress, to hear the ground yield to your footsteps as an invitation, to feel community as an intimate and inseparable characteristic of each passing thought—the very source of thought itself, to know and embrace the full spectrum of human emotional possibility, to have no words to express self-worth or dignity or freedom because the ideas they represent have no defining opposites, to live each and every breath authentically human, with death a mere returning home, a giving back of what is only borrowed, your hair and muscles and organs and sinews and blood and bones as offerings of appreciation for the Earth’s infinite bounty.

What is lost? From within civilization’s mechanical cage and its violent detachment, from its objectifying non-perspective, its mandatory isolation, its callous commodification, from the standpoint of a system built on brutal and ever-expanding planetary consumption and all-penetrating control, what is lost is nothing at all, or, if something, then nothing worthwhile, the trivial sediment of better-forgotten forms of life.

From a genuine human standpoint, what is lost is nothing less than everything.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Human rewilding

The term rewilding emerged from within the applied science of conservation biology. Rewilding typically involves attempts to reinsert “keystone” species that have dwindled or vanished or were intentionally eliminated from local ecosystems, in an effort to reestablish some semblance of what those ecosystems were like in the past.

Large terrestrial predators are common candidates for rewilding because they frequently serve as keystone species and because they have historically been targets for elimination due to their presumed (but usually minor or nonexistent) threat to humans or livestock. So a wolf pack might be reintroduced into an area in which wolves have been hunted into extinction, for example, with the idea that the reintroduction of the indigenous predator will resonate through the rest of the food chain and restore a level of balance and ecological integrity that has been missing.

A few environmental activists, along with proponents of certain versions of anarchism, most notably green anarchy and anarcho-primitivism, have appropriated the term from conservation biology, and advocate a “rewilding” of the human species. However, to talk about rewilding humans requires a nuanced reworking of the original meaning of the term if it is to be used as something other than a trite bumper sticker.

For the biologists, rewilding typically involves reinserting keystone species into environments in which they are presently absent. Keystone species are those that play a foundational role in the complex web of interactions within a given ecological system such that without their presence the system is altered dramatically or collapses altogether. Despite our self-assigned position at the top of the global food chain, civilized humans are nothing close to being a keystone species. In fact, for the last few millennia the human impact on local environments has been the diametric opposite of a keystone; the introduction of post-Neolithic humans into an ecological system invariably leads to destabilization and, in many cases, complete local ecological collapse. Nor are we in any immediate danger of disappearing from the scene: humans presently inhabit virtually every inhabitable chunk of land on the planet, and in numbers approaching or greatly surpassing the land’s natural carrying capacity.

The one qualification that, to my mind at least, renders the idea of rewilding in its original sense applicable to the human case as something more than bumper sticker propaganda is that most humans—check that, almost all humans—are no longer inhabiting anything close to a natural human habitat—and the vanishingly few humans that are still living like actual humans appear to be on a very rapid and inescapable slide into oblivion.

Thus, taking the conservation biology definition of rewilding and applying it in a direct and literal fashion to the human situation suggests that humans need to be reintroduced to their natural habitat.

What does that mean?

What is a human’s natural habitat? Over the course of the last few million years, humans and their ancestor species have occupied such a wide variety of environments, such a large number of distinct and disparate habitats that the question may be impossible to answer.

Perhaps a better way of approaching the question of “What is a human’s natural habitat?” is to ask its inverse: “What isn’t natural human habitat?” It turns out that this reversing of the question makes it a fairly easy one to answer. Although I strongly suspect that for most folks the answer will not be at all an easy one to hear.

And the project of human rewilding will require more than just learning how to survive outside the cage of civilization (although that will surely be part of it). It will require a relearning—or, more precisely, an unlearning—of everything civilization teaches us about what it means to be human.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The liberating power of refusal

When I was in my very early teens, my family got together with the family of one of my mother’s old friends from her school days for a week long summer visit. They had a girl almost exactly my age, and we had been congenial playmates on numerous visits in the past. Early on the first day of this particular visit, I was rudely introduced to the game of “jinx,” a childish sort of game in which when two people accidently say the same thing at the same time, the person who noticed first would say “jinx” and start counting rapidly out loud until the other person said “stop.” The other person was then obliged to remain completely speechless for a number of minutes equal to the number the person who said “jinx” made it to before the other person said “stop.” I had never played the game before, and she made it to 45 before, out of frustration and confusion, I yelled at her to stop. She then explained the rules and informed me that I would have to remain silent for 45 minutes. I was also informed that speaking before the time was up would automatically add 10 minutes to my sentence. From that point on, she and the other kids were committed to doing what they could to get me to speak.

For perhaps 20 minutes, I sat on the couch, brooding in my forced silence. I became increasingly frustrated and angry that I was not allowed to participate in the ongoing conversation and wracked by a deep sense of injustice. I had not known the rules, after all. It was hardly fair that I had to remain quiet for three quarters of an hour. And then, to make things worse, in a moment of careless inattention I spoke, I started to say something, and was immediately rebuked and informed of the additional 10 minute penalty. I remember feeling trapped, helpless, and angry that I let myself get caught in this oppressive web.

But then I had a flash of insight, a potent revelation, even. It was, after all, just a game. And a silly one at that. No one had removed my vocal cords. There was no gun at my head threatening my life should I speak. It was just a game, and my participation was entirely voluntary. I immediately began speaking entire sentences. In fact, I grabbed a book from the shelf next to the couch and began reading aloud in a loud expressive voice. My prisoner added 10 minutes, and another 10, and then another until I had amassed several hours before she left the room in a huff.

How much of our present circumstances are of this form? We continually act in strict accordance to the rules of a game that we never agreed to play, a game that, should we choose, we could simply stop playing. We could at any moment simply walk away—if it were not for the fact that there are real guns at our heads. . .

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Gratitude is servile

It is easy to confuse gratitude with what might better be called appreciation.

Gratitude assumes someone or something to which we owe our thanks, a benevolent and powerful other that bestows gifts: a king, a divinity.

Appreciation is possible without a gift-giver. Atheists can appreciate. Christians have no choice but to be grateful.

Friday, April 25, 2014

If you can read this, you have been domesticated

Domestication is a technology of control in which organisms are prevented from living according to their evolved expectations and forced into a way of life that suits the needs of another species.

Humans aren’t the only domesticators. There are several species of colonizing insect that practice simple forms of agriculture, for example. Some ants practice animal husbandry by herding aphids and milking them for a sweet liquid excretion called honeydew. And a species of African ant has recently been found that apparently runs rudimentary factory farms in which other insects are raised for meat.

A domestication-based lifestyle has dramatically different repercussions for humans than it does for social insects, however. Ants don’t risk altering their authentic wild nature in the process of cultivating mushrooms or herding aphids. The ants are colonized to begin with. But whenever humans adopt domestication-based ways of life, they invariably end up domesticating each other. They also end up directing technologies of control inwardly, colonizing and taming their own wild and authentic human nature.

Human lifestyles based on domestic domination didn’t exist anywhere on the planet until 9000 years ago, and didn’t become the norm until sometime during the last couple millennia, perhaps. What that means is that each of us is born with the physical, psychological, and social expectations to live as wild and authentically-human beings.

We still carry wild nature within us—every one of us, in every cell and during every breath. The proof of this is all around us.

The proof is in the massive and ever-expanding prison industrial complex. The proof is in the militarized police. The proof is in ubiquitous surveillance and pervasive monitoring. The proof is in the thinly disguised state propaganda called public education. The proof is in the behavioral pharmacology force-fed to school children who have difficulty ignoring the pulse of life that beckons to them from the center of their being. The proof is in the locks on our doors and the security lights around our houses, arrayed like the searchlights of a concentration camp.

Why would any of these be necessary unless we were, at our very core, wild creatures forced to live like captive animals in zoos, wild creatures forced to live in concrete and asphalt enclosures that bear little similarity with our natural habitat, wild creatures who would surely escape the moment we discover a hole in the fence.

If you can read this you have been domesticated, but the tendrils of domestic control just barely penetrate the surface, and their grip is shallow and tenuous and in need of continual reinforcement.

The first moments in the journey toward rewilding, re-embracing your own authentic humanity, involve little more than a quick convulsive shake. Eradicating the global culture of domestication itself, however, may involve a bit more time—and convulsions on a tectonic-scale.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Why I hate progressives (part 2)

To be fair, the term progressive as it is applied in any given social or political situation, is somewhat ambiguous. Like its cousins, liberal, conservative, libertarian, etc., it can mean different things to different people in different contexts. Nevertheless, there is a core nexus of beliefs, assumptions, and opinions—an underlying thought-form—that might be applied collectively to folks who adopt the progressive label.

Progressives take civilization as a given, as a natural part of the universe on par with oxygen or gravity. The existence of the system itself is never in question. It is an essential necessity, the ground from which all else is built. The problem is not the existence of a system, it’s that we haven’t got the specific details quite right. With a few minor tweaks (and perhaps a couple major ones) humankind can realize its manifest destiny as supremely civilized beings—or at least we can continue to progress in that direction., a typical repository of progressive-oriented notions, provides a list of the four pillars of progressivism that can help us flesh out some of the delusional contours of the progressive thought-form.

The first pillar is freedom. Sounds pretty good so far. But because progressives are so virulently pro-civilization, and since the history of civilization is a protracted tale of the violent oppression and eradication of every imaginable form of freedom, it is reasonable to approach this progressive pillar with a bit of skepticism.

The pillar of freedom apparently consists of two parts (sub-pillars? legs?): a freedom from and a freedom to. Let’s take a look at the freedom to first. The freedom to is defined as the “freedom to lead a fulfilling and secure life supported by the basic foundations of economic security and opportunity. This includes physical protections against bodily harm as well as adequate income, economic protections, health care and education, and other social provisions…” which translates pretty directly as “we should all be free to be fully functional servomechanisms of the global consumer cluster-fuck machine.” Freedom from refers to the freedom to operate in our personal lives in accordance with our personal beliefs without “undue” interference. The terms undue and interference, however, are left eerily open to interpretation. Presumably progressives believe that the government and/or unnamed powerful others should be allowed to interfere at some level or for some reasons. What this level is and what reasons would qualify aren’t specified, but apparently there are features of our personal lives—things we might do or believe—that are in need of regulation.

The second pillar, opportunity, is focused on political and economic equality. No need for detail here. Basically, everyone should have equal participatory access to the political and economic machine. All people from all demographic categories should be allowed to vie for positions in the service of their corporate masters that are consonant with their abilities, and the spoils should be apportioned according to merit.

The third pillar is responsibility. Apparently we all have responsibility for each other. I’m not sure where it came from. Maybe it is something like the Christian idea of original sin, something that we inherited because of some shit our ancestors did. The description of this pillar reads like that scene in the The Wrath of Khan where a dying Spock says “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Unfortunately Spock’s logic doesn’t work—it implies that needs are commensurate with each other, that they are comparable and somehow quantifiable. It also assumes that we are capable of adopting a psychological orientation toward strangers that is entirely alien from the perspective of our evolutionary heritage as social primates designed for life in small highly-intimate groups.

And then there is this nugget (worth quoting at length if only for the typo):

“This requires pubic [sic!] investments in things like transportation and trade, innovation, a skilled workforce, courts to protect patent rights and contract agreements, public safety and other measures that support the creation of wealth and help to make individual prosperity possible. It also requires progressive taxation, meaning those who have and earn more should pay more to help support the investments in things like schools, transportation, and economic competitiveness necessary to advance the interests of all.

A key component of responsibility involves ecological and social sustainability. This requires on-going stewardship of our land, water, air and natural resources, smart use of energy, and the responsible consumption of goods…”

The deep oxymoronic juxtaposition of those two paragraphs should be glaringly obvious. And this is where the progressive thought-form shows its true delusional genesis. Consumption and wealth creation are simply not compatible with ecological and social sustainability, respectively. Consumption means that what used to be there is not there anymore, and wealth is only created through systematic impoverishment.

The final pillar is cooperation. But what is meant by this is that we all learn to adopt the same progressive goals and that these goals somehow involve improving the lives of everyone. Here we are told that “Progressives believe that if we blindly pursue our own needs and ignore those of others, our society will degenerate.” This, however, flies directly in the face of historical fact. “Our” society came into being as a result of those in power blindly pursuing their own needs by actively preventing others from pursuing theirs. Welcome to civilization 101.

Truly, the use of the pillar metaphor is entirely unwarranted. Even rotted bamboo stilts would provide more supportive structure that this.

If left unanalyzed, the core of the progressive thought-form is superficially appealing, and in some ways almost irresistible. Freedom, opportunity, responsibility, and cooperation all make for delicious sound bites. But there is an ugliness lurking just beneath the surface. It’s like a rich and sweet artistically crafted dessert—the frosting on an expensive wedding cake, for example—where the flavors are rat-tested concoctions of artificial chemicals, the sweetness comes from diabetes-inducing concentrations of high-fructose corn syrup, and the richness comes from an overabundance of trans fats and related carcinogens.

Bon appetite.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Why I hate progressives (part 1)

An article that appeared recently at Common Dreams about the rise of something called “the sharing economy” provides some minor insight into the deep delusions progressives suffer from.

Examples of the sharing economy include Minneapolis’ Car2go car sharing service, where for a membership fee you are given access to “smart cars” that you can drive and then leave at your destination for the next Car2go member who finds herself in the general vicinity and in need of transportation.

As the rich get richer and rarer and the masses gain in mass and poverty, I suspect that this sort of thing will become more popular as a way for corporations to continue to sell their products to people who are no longer able to afford them individually.

This sort of thing has superficial appeal to those of an anarchist persuasion as well. It smacks of the collectivist ideal and provides an illusory sense of cooperative community involvement that is compelling.

But the author takes a trip to the emerald city by invoking the idea of “the commons,” calling the cellphone signal airspace and city streets that are being used by the Car2go members part of the commons, and then claiming that by combining a sharing economy with the commons we are on the verge of “a whole new economic and political paradigm.”

By expanding the notion of the commons and reducing the reliance on private ownership, we are heading toward an economic techno-utopia, a “techonomy” that, “With a few tweaks, an Uber-like system, for instance, could help low-income people get to work” (which is of course where all zeks belong—forced labor being the reason they were created in the first place). Eventually the masses won’t need to own anything themselves, so they will be able to live on far less than the exorbitant wages their corporate masters have to pay them now.

The article ends with: “For when we operate as though we are all in this together—because we are—we will discover a tremendous abundance of goodwill, imagination, and the drive to create the kind of future we want to live in.”

Welcome to Oz.

I’m going to set aside the “who’s we?” for now. I’m also going to forgo discussion about how one would go about ensuring mass cooperation in a “techonomy” without resorting to massive coercive force. Instead I want to focus briefly on the chimeric incoherence of combining industrial mass technology with the idea of the commons. The idea of a technological commons makes no sense outside of utopian (or dystopian) science fiction fantasy.

Lets’ take the example she uses of cellphone airspace. The commons is supposed to represent a resource shared by all, something that everyone has access to or can participate in as they pursue their own goals and needs (the original commons was a pasture that anyone in the village could use for grazing livestock—food, unlike portable Facebook access, being a real need). The sliver of the electromagnetic spectrum allocated to cellphones hardly qualifies as something shared by all. For one thing, you and I would never be allowed to set up our own personal two-way intercity radio system and talk to each other over frequencies in the cellphone range. In addition, cellphone communication requires—duh!—a cellphone, and, typically, monthly payments to a cellular service provider. The industrial infrastructure supporting cellular communication is commercially owned and under the control of immense corporate bureaucracies and buoyed by intricate international trade agreements underwritten by an unimaginably massive and incomprehensibly deadly military. It does not qualify as a commons if there are restrictive entry conditions, if you and I are free to use it as long as the corporate gate-keepers get their ransom.

Maybe the internet would make for a more potent example. The internet has long been referred to as a kind of commons. But the same corporate entry conditions apply here as will. I need a device to access the net. Yes, I could go to the local library and get access on devices there—but someone (you and I) had to purchase those computers through offerings of corporate tribute called tax dollars.

The gatekeepers must have their blood sacrifice one way or another.

In order for cellphone airspace or the internet to be true commons, we would first have to eliminate corporate industry. We would have to eliminate the need for factory wage-slaves. We would have to dissolve the entire commercial consumer fabric of industrial society.

We can have a technological commons, perhaps, but not while the leviathan still breathes.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A response to Ernest Becker

Ernest Becker was a mid-20th century cultural anthropologist and prolific writer. It is a potent irony that The Denial of Death was the last book he published before dying of cancer in 1974 at the too-young age of 49.

From a 21st century standpoint, Becker’s perspective on human psychology seems hopelessly backward and out of date, part of the long death rattle of Freudian psychoanalytic mysticism whose echoes still reverberate in the clich├ęd advice offered by “experts” on daytime television talk shows. But Becker was no champion of Freud, and the “denial” he speaks of is something more than a simple defense mechanism.

His main thesis starts with the existential condition of human beings. In trying to make sense of our lives, we confront a fundamental dualism. On the one hand, we are vulnerable animals perpetually at risk from the larger and uncontrollable universe—creatures with bodies susceptible to accidents and disease, bodies that are destined to decay and disappear forever. On the other hand, we are meaning-making beings with an unlimited capacity to create symbolic worlds. We are at once restricted by our bodies and the physical reality of our inevitable death, and at the same time we inhabit an abstract world of cultural meanings in which we can imagine ourselves as part of something transcendent and immortal.

For us to see reality for what it is, including our own complete dependency on external things and our own complete and thoroughgoing powerlessness and ultimate meaninglessness, would be too terrifying. Fortunately, culture provides us with all kinds of ways to disguise the truth. According to Becker, culture is nothing other than a reservoir of meanings for hiding ourselves from the truth—culture is a gigantic ego defense mechanism.

Our lifestyles are “vital lies” that include “a necessary and basic dishonesty about oneself and one’s whole situation.” The vital lies we tell involve a heroic component: we see ourselves as heroes of one sort or another. Society has a hero structure throughout, with ready-made storylines so that people can fit themselves snuggly into the tale of immortality. “In other words, men use the fabrications of culture, in whatever form, as charms with which to transcend natural reality.”

The need to be a hero, to stand out as an individual, is a means to deny the truth of our status as contingent beings, the truth that nothing that we do is really in our control. We need the illusion of being self-caused beings. “As one’s whole life is a style or scenario with which one tries to deny oblivion and to extend oneself beyond death in symbolic ways, one is often untouched by the fact of death because he has been able to surround it by larger meanings.” As a consequence, we live lives of cultivated and ultimately destructive ignorance. “Even if the average man lives in a kind of obliviousness of anxiety, it is because he has erected a massive wall of repressions to hide the problem of life and death…but all through history it is the ‘normal average men’ who, like locusts, have laid waste to the world in order to forget themselves.”

But Becker is talking about life within the oppressive grip of civilization. The need for immortality—or the desire to extend life beyond its earthly allotment—seems a natural result of the emptiness of civilized existence and the sense we get that something is missing, the feeling we have that life should be something more than what it is. A hunter-gatherer is surely as aware of the transient nature of her own life as I am—and perhaps even more so, with the regular exposure to death in close proximity and unsheltered by slaughterhouse or mortuary. But the transience itself is absorbed as part of a complete and fulfilling existence. Immortality is built-in from the start, in a sense: as a part of the land, as a part of the ongoing life-and-death coming-and-going that is all around at all times. There is never a chance for the experience of separation—alienation—to find foothold. Mere transient authentic human existence is immortality. The possibility for anything else is incomprehensible.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Anarchism that is not also primitivism is incoherent

In a pamphlet published in 2003 entitled Anarchism vs. Primitivism, the author, Brian Oliver Sheppard, provides a scathing attack of primitivism and the primitivist strain in anarchism.

Sheppard tosses all of the usual anti-primitivism bombs, barely taking a breath between volleys. For example, primitivists are moronic Luddites who want to take us back to a make-believe golden age when humans lived idyllic lives as noble savages with no technology, no agriculture—and no language (!), and the ad hominem classic: primitivists are hypocrites because even as they promote their anti-civilization message, they are gleefully partaking in all of the accoutrements of civilization: electronic communication, vehicular travel, etc.

As near as I can see, his piece is of real value in a couple ways. First, it contains numerous examples of straw-man reasoning, and might be quite useful in an introductory logic class. Second, if we spend the time to take the straw out of his flaming primitivist effigies, the irrationality—and actual incoherence—of non-primitive variations of anarchism becomes sparklingly clear. He makes this simple for us by providing an appendix that includes a convenient list of “primitivist conflations” designed to help the reader with “decoding primitivist babble.” Let’s take a quick primitivist look at the first five.

1. Conflation of civilization and coercive social relations
Here we are told that primitivists consider civilization to be the source of all oppression. Patriarchy, division of labor, warfare, etc., all emerge from civilization. Sheppard dismisses this in a single sentence by pointing out that all of these evils existed before civilization, and so therefore, presumably, the primitivists are all wet.

That’s a bit like saying that radiation exists naturally in the earth, so spent nuclear fuel rods are nothing new. Really? The firebombing of Tokyo was just a tribal skirmish with bigger spears?

But what about those coercive social relations? How do the non-primitivist versions of anarchism deal with them? Social power is the capacity to make other people do what they would not do freely otherwise: aka coercion. By removing the state and placing power in the hands of some abstract collective, coercion somehow vanishes? Civilization cannot function without massive coercive capacity, whether that capacity falls to a state or to a worker’s collective. Someone has to be made to do the actual work, after all. Coal doesn’t mine itself.

2. Conflation of technology and coercive social relations
The true conflation here is to lump all technological processes and objects together into a single basket. Humans in their natural state are technology-dependent creatures. But without an organized division of labor—and some kind of coercive authority to enforce the divisions—you can’t get technologies any more complex than simple crafts.

Here Sheppard tosses a softball for us: “The onus is on primitivists to demonstrate that technology is invariably predicated on coercive or environmentally hostile relations.” Even a cursory glance at the history of technology (beyond simple craft) satisfies the onus with genocide-levels of oppression and several degrees of global warming to spare. To say that actual history does not provide evidence that technology is predicated on “coercive or environmentally hostile relations” is to beg the question.

3. Conflation of “industrialism” and capitalism
I’ve got to confess that this one makes the least amount of sense to me. Apparently, industry—factories and the labor and natural resources necessary to run them—works differently when it’s “owned” by the people who run the machines than it does when it is “owned” by the capitalist (or the corporation, or the state, or an alien super-being from a galaxy far, far away): the mercury coming out of the smokestack becomes less toxic, and black lung disease is less deadly.

4. Conflation of poverty with freedom
The idea of poverty only makes sense within the framework of oppression and inequality. More than just a lack of access to resources, poverty is specifically a lack of resources that other people have access to. Freedom does not necessarily mean that you have unlimited access to resources, but poverty cannot exist without imposing systematic limitations on the degree of access a person is allowed to have (aka, limitations on freedom).

5. Conflation of group decision making and statecraft
State bureaucracies are groups specifically designed for decision making (and the enforcement of compliance with the result!). There is a vertical hierarchical structuring within state bureaucracies that is not supposed to exist within (horizontal? networked? rhizomic?) anarchist collectives. But that in and of itself doesn’t mean that the decision making process would yield better—or even substantially different—results in any given situation. Nor does it change anything with respect to the need for compliance enforcement. It’s here where the incoherence emerges most clearly. From the perspective of the dissenting individual forced to comply, it makes little difference whether the decision came from a worker’s collective or state bureaucracy.

It’s all right if you call yourself an anarchist and still want to keep your toys, I suppose. But if you are going to accuse me of incoherent babbling, you really need to be a bit more articulate yourself.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Even NASA thinks civilization is doomed

Speaking of irony, NASA recently funded a study showing that global industrial civilization is on a path to irreversible collapse.

It turns out that there are two critical co-occurring precursors to the collapse of past civilizations, both of which are in full swing right now:
1. resources being stretched beyond carrying capacity
2. increasing inequality in resource distribution, with a powerful elite controlling an increasingly large chunk of the pie

And, no, technology won’t be able to fix things:

“The study challenges those who argue that technology will resolve these challenges by increasing efficiency:

Technological change can raise the efficiency of resource use, but it also tends to raise both per capita resource consumption and the scale of resource extraction, so that, absent policy effects, the increases in consumption often compensate for the increased efficiency of resource use.

Productivity increases in agriculture and industry over the last two centuries has come from ‘increased (rather than decreased) resource throughput,’ despite dramatic efficiency gains over the same period.”

The study has been heralded “a wakeup call,” which suggests that it’s not a done deal, that there might still be (or ever have been) some magic policy changes or some social-political restructuring that could reverse the inevitable.

Wakeup call? I think we’re dealing with more of a “you slept through your alarm and now you missed dinner and the party is over” situation.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Fighting dragons

Don Quixote’s delusion that windmill’s were dragons was not so much a delusion as a prescient vision of the future. Windmills were, after all, state of the art technology of the time.

To resist modern technology is something a bit more futile than tilting at windmills. Technology has acquired a collective inertia that makes it inevitable and quite literally irresistible. To even suggest resistance is clear evidence of insanity. To suggest that there might be another way to live our lives—or, even stronger, to question the very notion that we should live our lives according to some kind of “way” in the first place—is to speak in a language for which there is no translation.

Only a madman would think such thoughts. And only a complete monster would contemplate acting on them.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Hipster hypocrites

A few decades ago it was popular to sport a “save the whales” bumper sticker to let everyone know you were the kind of person who “really cares about things” as you made your daily commute—with its obligatory offering to oil corporations whose leaky tankers were busy rendering whale habitat around the world uninhabitable.

Bumper stickers have been replaced with more subtle and more intimate methods of sending similar “I’m cool because I care” signals. For instance, I had a discussion with a self-proclaimed “hipster” not too long ago who bragged smugly that she refuses to support sweatshops, and buys almost all her clothes at secondhand stores. It may say “Guess” on the front, but she gave her money to Goodwill.

Ah, the irony of hypocrisy. Or is that the hypocrisy of irony?

Let’s think about this for a moment. First, the “Guess” or “GAP” or Nike swoosh plastered across your chest is corporate advertising, so you are a de facto sweatshop sponsor regardless of where you bought the clothes—and the kicker is that you actually paid money to serve as a walking billboard. But even more to the point, if the clothes were originally made in a sweatshop, you are still partaking in the spoils of violence and oppression even if you bought them second hand.

How so, you ask? The clothes already exist. The damage has already been done. Wouldn’t it be wrong for them not to be used to their fullest—especially considering the violence of their origins? (Hmm, a similar kind of argument is often made for repurposing plastic)

So then, suppose that you found a lamp at a flea market that was made out of the skin of a Nazi death camp victim. It is a perfectly good lamp, and it would be a shame to let it go to waste. And besides, you didn’t kill and skin the person yourself. Nor did you purchase it from the person who did. And it really is a good lamp. Would you feel comfortable buying it, taking it home, and displaying it in your living room?

Note: that was a rhetorical question. If you answered “yes” or even if you considered “yes” as a potential option, I have nothing more to say to you.

If you are not a monster and answered no, then please tell me how the secondhand clothing example is any different. If you think that a death camp and a sweatshop are qualitatively distinct things, then perhaps a trip to Bangladesh is in order. Or maybe you could take a tour of a Nike factory in Thailand, or visit the GAP’s New Delhi clothing plant powered by child labor, or Levi Straus’ operations in Mexico or Turkey.

If you agree with me that the difference is merely a matter of degree, then you need to tell me where you would draw the line and say “this much” violence is too much but “this much” I can live with.

Thursday, March 13, 2014


A condition with my water heater: the pilot light won’t stay lit. Probable cause: a defective thermocouple.

The thermocouple is a device that responds to the heat of the pilot light by generating a small electrical current. The current trips a magnetic switch that maintains the gas flow to the pilot light. No heat, no current, no gas flow, no pilot light, no flame, no hot water.

Lighting the pilot light requires manual ignition (by rapidly depressing an ignition plunger like flicking the wheel of a cheap butane lighter) and depressing and holding a pilot switch until the temperature of the pilot flame is sufficient to activate the thermocouple mechanism.

My dysfunctional water heater provides an admittedly pedestrian metaphor for conceptualizing the present malaise among my comrades, the oppressed (although comparatively privileged) corporate slaves in the US who content themselves with bickering about politics—as if there were any differences among Obama, Bush, and Mussolini other than their graveside rhetoric.

Of course, the pilot light itself is too weak to alter the temperature of the water in the tank. Rather, it burns a solitary blue teardrop of flame as a source of ignition for a much larger and far hotter blaze. I know there is still a potential for fire within us—a fire as hot as it was with our ancestors when their lives (and land) were first stolen from them. The structure is intact and the potential for conflagration lurks ever close to the surface.

But there is no ignition. The pilot light is out and will not hold a flame.

So the metaphoric question: What is it that corresponds to the thermocouple? What is it that could provide the small but vital current necessary for an enduring flame? And once we have identified this, what must we do to bring it back on-line?

It may be important to note that the thermocouple requires a preexisting flame. So the pilot flame is maintained only when it already burns (a bit of a catch-22). And once extinguished, the pilot requires manual ignition. Will we have to force the flame upon ourselves and actively feed it—hold the pilot switch down—until it acquires sufficient heat to burn on its own?

Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. Maybe the first step is to find the metaphoric matchstick.

Friday, March 7, 2014

What are you doing and why?

Suppose that someone came to you one day out of the blue, handed you a shovel, and told you to start digging. And when you asked what you were digging, he told you that you were digging a ditch. And when you asked him why you needed to dig the ditch, he pointed a gun at your head and said that if you don’t dig, he will shoot you. And when you asked what right he had to command you to dig, he said that the fact that he held the gun gave him that right and that you could choose either to start digging immediately or take a bullet.

Suppose that you decided to start digging.

Suppose that someone else wandered along, saw you digging, and asked you what you were doing and why. What would you say? The situation is pretty clear cut. You are being forced to dig a ditch against your will by a man threatening your life with a gun.

Now consider the same scenario, but replace “man” with “government bureaucracy.” And replace “shovel” and “ditch” with “job” and “amassing corporate wealth,” respectively. And replace “gun” with an impossibly vast system of economic, legal, and physical coercion involving private property and debt and prisons and millions of trained professionals with weapons of every imaginable configuration.

Now suppose that someone wandered along and asked you what you were doing and why.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

A life of unfreedom

You are not free. You have been force-fed lies since you were born. Your first meal, your mother’s milk, was laced with lies, infused with hormones and chemical flavors and colors added to her own meal—lies of wholesomeness designed to mask the nutritional vacuity of the factory.

You are not free. Your very first steps were on the floor of a prison. You learned to walk in a house with windows that latched and doors that locked and baby-gates stretched across thresholds between rooms to protect you from acting on your inborn impulse to freedom. Your early playground was a yard encased in a cyclone fence, a stockade.

You are not free. Your days have always been parceled into tightly monitored segments of time. As a youth you were shuttled to school where you learned to conform and adopt a reflexive posture of obeisance to authority. Later you were taught to think that you were truly free only when every fiber of your being had been bound and directed toward goals that were not your own. Still later you were taught to believe that those goals were in fact your own. Eventually you forgot how to discover what your own goals should be, and you now depend on corporate marketing to tell you.

You are not free. You are trapped by the rules of the game. The game is one of labor and debt and merchandise and consumption, but no one seems to realize it is a game. You don’t realize it is a game. You don’t think you have options. You don’t have options. There are no options. There is only labor and debt and merchandise and consumption.

You are not free. And now you come to your own death. But you are not allowed freedom even here. While you yet breathe, there is money to be made by prolonging your suffering. There are drug companies and medical device manufacturers and hospitals—and all of the people who earn additional points in the game when you die slowly with tubes in your arms and machines in your chest.

You are not free. And then you are not.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The most dangerous idea

The most dangerous idea for the civilized order is that there is no legitimate justification for power beyond power itself.

It makes no difference whether we are talking about a simple business transaction or a brutal rape. It makes no difference whether we are talking about corporate exploitation or military conquest. It makes no difference whether we are talking about persuasion or coercion or direct force. Any act of domination can have no justification beyond the very capacity to so act.

Power justifies itself. Power is the only reason for power, the only excuse for power that carries any authenticity.

If the masses were to discover the truth about power, that it has no holy sanction or higher purpose or logical validation or justifiable target other than its own expansion, the civilized order would fall immediately into chaos—that is to say, we would all be suddenly set free to live actual human lives.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

18 U.S. Code § 2385 - Advocating overthrow of Government:

Whoever knowingly or willfully advocates, abets, advises, or teaches the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying the government of the United States or the government of any State, Territory, District or Possession thereof, or the government of any political subdivision therein, by force or violence, or by the assassination of any officer of any such government; or

Whoever, with intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of any such government, prints, publishes, edits, issues, circulates, sells, distributes, or publicly displays any written or printed matter advocating, advising, or teaching the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying any government in the United States by force or violence, or attempts to do so; or

Whoever organizes or helps or attempts to organize any society, group, or assembly of persons who teach, advocate, or encourage the overthrow or destruction of any such government by force or violence; or becomes or is a member of, or affiliates with, any such society, group, or assembly of persons, knowing the purposes thereof—

Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction.


So, if I understand this right, if I make some offhand comment in a blog-rant such as “it would be desirable to destroy the big-oil sucking US government before it fracks the planet into oblivion” or “it is your duty as a member of a community of caring human beings to overthrow your corporate-controlled city council by violent means if necessary” then I could get 20 years in federal prison?

Well alright then. From now on I will be careful not to advocate the necessity, desirability, or propriety of destroying or disabling the infrastructural support systems of the US government in order to slow its global pointillist drone-strike genocide. And I will be sure never to write about the duty we have as members of the human species to protect and preserve our own habitat even if that means the employment of force and violence targeted directly at governmental institutions and the bureaucratic parasites nestled within.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

“Worse than Hiroshima”

Iraqis will feel the hand of US imperial might into the seventh generation (warning, graphic images of infant bodies deformed by your tax dollars):

There is no statute of limitations for war crimes Mr. Bush. I will gladly donate the rope for your neck.

Monday, February 3, 2014

There's blood on your smart phone

It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard (a soon to be extinct simile). When I hear you talking about “progress” and touting the glorious benefits of the latest technology I want to scream in your face: “So, you approve of slavery and genocide and mass extinction and systemic oppression and economic coercion and . . . !”

But I stop myself. It’s hard not to be mesmerized by the glitter and sparkle. And you didn’t know the Kool Aid was poisoned.

That smart device you clutch so eagerly in your hand right now, for example, is merely the shimmering rainbow reflection on the surface of an oil-poisoned ocean of on-going pain and suffering. Nameless Asian factory workers (but they do have names!), many outright slaves, sacrificed their health and sanity—and in many cases their actual lives—so that you could marvel at the latest iteration of human progress. Deep in the African Congo, men—boys, mostly—are marched for days into the jungle to dig and pan coltan ore, extremely laborious work carried out under the watchful guns of corrupt warlords. As their crops die unattended in the field, they scratch at the earth for daily wages that average about twice what you paid for your last iPad app—the one that you downloaded with circuitry that uses coltan-laced capacitors.

These are just two examples among countless others. When you slide your finger across the smooth screen interface of the latest techno-beacon of civilized progress, you are pressing ever so gently on the heads of real people—people whose lives are being crushed under the collective pressure of a billion fingers just like yours.

And that’s just what’s happening right now, today. But the device in your hand didn’t just spontaneously appear. It represents just one technological moment in an ongoing process with a dark and deadly developmental history.
Not only does technology obscure the truth of the present, it buries its own past as well. For technology, the present is all there is. There is no past. The imperative of efficiency makes anything prior to the present irrelevant. What counts is what we can do with what is now. History is itself a technology that is continuously being refined, retooled, and updated to the newest version—always moving forward.

The past contains (literally, as a container that insulates) the unfathomable sacrifice that all technology demands, the blood tribute that has been paid again and again in order for “progress” to be realized. Recognized for what it is, the past would burn like a hot rock your throat. To embrace the truth of the past would make participation in the present a grueling ordeal for anyone still in possession of half a conscience. To participate willingly in the present technological moment is to luxuriate in the spoils of genocide and holocaust.

The ratchet of progress removes the past with each turn of the handle. And conscience is easily placated with the latest sparkly gadget, the latest shimmering surface distraction, the latest dose of mass-marketed entertainment.

So what about those Seahawks last night!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Justified self-defense

I was skimming a thread about technology on an infoshop forum. The topic of discussion was whether an anti-tech anarchist had the “right” to destroy someone else’s technology. It seemed to at least one of the discussants that to claim the right to destroy what another has freely chosen runs against the grain of basic anarchist ideals.

Ignoring the fact that “technology” was being tossed around in its limited sense as a synonym for physical mechanisms and contraptions, what was missing in the discussion—from both sides of the debate—was any sort of awareness of how any specific technological device comes about in the first place. The ideals of anarchism—if they were to be given potency in the real world—rule out the possibility of any product of industrial manufacture. In order to get the tech in the first place, other people need to be coerced, tortured, enslaved, brainwashed, threatened, or otherwise “convinced” to offer up their labor and compliance in ways that range from subtly exploitive to heinously cruel. Whether the person playing the role of “end user” freely chose to do so does not somehow erase the massive and myriad acts of oppression that are required for virtually every facet of the technology’s production, developmental history, deployment, and maintenance.

I quickly found myself agreeing with the person who claimed the “right” to destroy existing technology. Even if the technology in question is claimed to be freely chosen by the person using it, it was most certainly not freely created.

But even further, each one of us has the “right” to destroy as a simple matter of self-defense. Anything that affects the commons has the potential to affect both you and me. And, according to the basic ideals of anarchism (or at least according to my own basic anarchist ideals), nobody has a privileged claim to any feature of the world beyond their immediate person. If the technology in question has any negative impact on the natural world (all modern tech does), then it has a potential negative impact on all whose lives depend on the natural world, and to destroy it becomes matter of self-preservation.

Today’s test question is an analogy problem: A logging corporation is to spiking trees as global consumer mass society is to _______.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A too convenient distraction

I was reading this opinion piece about female nudity the other day. The author made a good case that the rules, norms, laws, and memes associated with the exposed female nipple, for instance, reflect a baseline misogyny derived from our male-dominated cultural hierarchy. The underlying (and, in places, explicit) assumption is that the hierarchy needs to be adjusted so that men and women have entirely equal access to resources.

While I agree that equal access is indeed a laudable goal, I disagree that it can be accomplished by “adjustments” to the dominant hierarchy. The existence of hierarchy itself presumes unequal access—no, stronger, hierarchy is unequal access. Hierarchy is the very means by which unequal access is legitimized. It might be theoretically possible to “adjust” the hierarchy such that unequal access is not an automatic feature of gender, or race, or any other demographic variable not under an individual’s control (and this would be a good thing!), but in the end we would still have hierarchy. No amount of adjustment can “fix” the basic reality that civilization depends for its very existence on the intentional asymmetric distribution of resources. In order for global industrial society to function, enormous numbers of individuals need to be kept desperate enough to sell themselves for labor. Treating women and men equally does nothing to change this basic fact.

Imagine a scene in the antebellum south in which slaves in the cane fields are unhappy because it seems obvious to them that the slaves sweating in the kitchen have things a whole lot better. Meanwhile the plantation owner’s wife sips her lemonade on the veranda.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The NSA and symbolic immortality

The US government is building a massive data storage complex in Utah to house all of the data gathered by the NSA and everyone else in the intelligence community, a gargantuan warehouse of personal email and text messages and phone calls and internet activity logs and travel records, along with credit and debit card purchases and utility bills and television viewing habits every other recordable facet of consumer behavior.

The reasons for collecting this information are transparent and have nothing to do with protecting us from terrorism or anything else. It is purely a matter of power. Knowledge is in fact power, and to have a virtually omniscient level of access to every available detail of every individual on the planet is to have the power of a god.

Why aren’t people up in arms? How can we explain the passive acceptance—even tacit support—of the government’s ongoing theft of our personal privacy? Could it be that on some level we want our personal details to be stolen? Does the knowledge that the NSA is watching satisfy some deep histrionic need to have someone—anyone—pay attention to us?

Or, perhaps the permanent storage of our life activities serves as a form of personal symbolic immortality. Sure, I will be dead someday, but the fact that I was here, that I existed, that I did things and was part of things and had ideas and friends and hopes and fears will live on in digital form for all eternity.

Have we traded Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame for 15 megabytes of eternity?