Flying By: My Experience of 2018

It’s that time of year again! The time when the planet Earth is at that one particular spot in its orbit around the sun where a lot of us like to pause, reflect on our lives and the world we live in, and get wasted. So here are my own reflections on the year-that-was, 2018, and my experience of it.

In a number of regards my experience of this year was a boring repetition of the same-old same-old. I lived in the same apartment, worked the same job at the same location, drove the same car, and had the same friends, the same family situation and the same coworkers as the year prior. I don’t view that as being a necessarily “bad” or “good” thing, it just is. It is/was the bedrock of stability from which I can look at everything else.

Traveling-wise, this year I traveled out to Las Vegas, New York City, West Virginia, Michigan, South Dakota and Chicago. So I was able to get some traveling in this year, albeit each one of these trips was a little short trip. I had the most fun in Las Vegas, which is kind of what the city is designed for. But going to New York City was my favorite of them all, simply because: I ❤ NYC.

My time in NYC this year was also probably the most eventful time for me, as far as different big events crammed into a small period of time goes. During my time there I saw a few long-time friends of mine, I ended the friendship with one of those friends, I narrowly missed meeting up with some new friends of mine, I met up with someone who was once a member of a cult that I was once tangentially involved with that nevertheless had a huge impact on my life, I became disillusioned with NVC (which some people also call a cult), and I realized there that going to public anarchist events is a waste of my time. Oh, and I also saw the remains of real-life dinosaurs!

This year I got involved with a bunch of different things/groups that go by Three Letter Acronyms: PCT, NVC, NFP, DSA, LSC. With each of these I went through cycles of thinking that they were quite interesting and that I had a bright future with them, to eventually thinking that they were quite boring and overblown. My thoughts on all of these things now is that they each have their place in life and the world at large, but also that putting too much faith or importance in them is best described with a Two Letter Acronym: BS.

Belief-system-wise, my heart is still with The Beautiful Idea of anarchy/anarchism. There is no particular hyphenated ideology of anarchism that I am tied to, I am more interested in the whole thing in general. Yes, the whole social scene/subculture that surrounds anarchism is total shit, but I am lucky to have some friends who are anarchists as well as a body of thought that speaks to how I see life and the world at large.

Speaking of the world at large, 2018 has been a big year for Politics! I spent a lot of time paying attention to mainstream politics this year, mainly in the U.S., but also in some other countries as well. I view mainstream politics, particularly in the U.S., as being a kind of team sport, and this year I treated it as such. My team that I root for is the Democrats, and so as the scandals, investigations, testimonies and elections wore on, I cheered as my team scored points, booed when the opposing team scored points, and strategized as to how the next few moves can and should play out. I have no illusions that the Democrats, nor any other political party or politician, will ever bring us freedom, meaning, a brave new future, or anything else worthwhile. The whole system is based on deception, death, destruction and despair, it is all propped up with outright violence and the threat thereof, and while it all plays out the Sixth Mass Extinction Event for this planet is continuing on unabated. But team sports, be it political or otherwise, can be a fun way to pass the time, and so that was a game that I partook in this year as well.

Speaking of entertainment, in the world of science fiction Star Trek and Star Wars surprisingly were not that big on my mind this year. 2017 was a big year for me for both of those franchises, but not 2018. This year I would say that my favorite sci-fi TV show was The Expanse, my favorite new sci- movie was Prospect and my favorite new publishing sci-fi author was the wonderful Kim Stanley Robinson. Yes, I acknowledge that there are other genres out there besides science fiction, I just don’t see them as being interesting enough for me to write about here. 😉

Real-life science had an interesting year this year as well, what with SpaceX doing some cool things, a robotic lander successfully touching down on the surface of Mars, the first genetically engineered humans being born, and the details of our impending doom being laid out for all to see and ignore.

Speaking personally, one notable thing for me this year was that 2018 was the year that I turned 40. 40! There is no more pretending that I am a youngling anymore! Ten years ago, when I turned 30, I went through a huge existential moment of trying to figure out who I am and what I am doing in the world. Turning 40 was far less dramatic, more subdued, more accepting of my place in life. I wonder if turning 50 will be similar?

Happy New Year to all! And good luck to New Horizons as it flies by Ultima Thule!

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Education and Its Discontents

(Editor’s note: This article was originally written in March 2015.)

The other day I was left in charge of the school library for the day, which I loved, since I have always been a library nerd. That same day I was also left in charge of the 6th grade class for one hour and 50 minutes. Since I am not into enforcing rules, the class quickly became a bunch of raucous chaos. I was cool with that, as long as nobody was getting hurt. However, a teacher outside the library heard the noise, came in and started yelling at the kids to be quiet, and glared at me for not enforcing the rules. To which I thought to myself “I don’t f***ing care.” This could be the kind of thing that leads to me leaving the volunteer gig.

Let me back up a bit here. I have beliefs about education in general, and epistemology in particular, that are different from that of most people. To begin with, I disagree with the very notion of “compulsory education”. To be “compulsory” means “you have to go whether you want to or not”. That, in my eyes, is wrong. That makes it a prison. Period. (And in case you are wondering, I am anti-prison as well.)

Carl Rogers once said: “Learning of all kinds goes on best, lasts best, and tends to lead itself on more when it grows out of a real focus of interest in the learner.” That is essentially how I view learning, and in the situations of compulsory education those who are compelled are most often interested in just learning to say and do that which is necessary to please those who are doing the compelling. The ostensible subject matter at hand is incidental.

Situations of compulsory education therefore consists of students who mainly do not want to be there who face teachers and other school authority figures who use some combination of yelling, threats and bribes presented to the students to get the students to act in ways that they desire. What is taught to the students is basically: “You have no choice in where you will be. If you do not do as I tell you, worse things will happen to you. If you follow orders, better things will happen to you.” The subject here is learning to accept the basic context of being in a prison and to follow orders to escape a worse fate.

I believe that people have an innate desire to be free, and that that is slowly whittled away by compulsory education and other experiences in our authoritarian society to result in the psychological state of most adults, who have suppressed that desire to be free and have internalized the policing inside themselves. Children have not yet reached that condition, hence the role of most teachers being that of policing the children. Most classrooms that I have been in, both as a child and as an adult, I have seen the scenario play out where the teacher or other school authority figure leaves the room and as soon as that happens total chaos breaks out. I have seen this happen SO MANY times now, that I basically have come to expect that to happen whenever the authority figure leaves. I see this as being expression on the part of the children of their yearning to be free.

Authority is a kind of social relationship that people act out with each-other. In it, certain people are designated the roles of giving the commands, and other people (the majority) are designated with the role of following the orders. Authority is prevalent all throughout our society, not just in educational settings of course, but when the objective is presumably one of learning the presence of the authority relationship is particularly egregious. I realized all of this when I was a student in high school. I noticed how and when the teachers would play out the authority relationship, and how the other students would respond to that with either submission or rebellion (and the authority’s response with punishment or threats of punishment). And I observed the times when teachers were not acting out the authority relationship, when they were simply peers and fellow human beings with the students. I realized that I really enjoyed the presence of the teachers when they were not acting in an authority relationship, and I hated them when they were.

The key thing for learning, as I said earlier, is to have authentic interest and curiosity. Sometimes this does by chance exist within the school environment. For example, I remember when I was in the second grade and I was sincerely interested in learning how to read, and that year the teacher taught the students how to read, and I loved it. A similar thing happened when I was in the fifth grade and I was really interested in colonial history, and it just so happened that the teacher was covering the history of the time period. I totally soaked up that information, and I recall even talking about history stuff with the teacher during recess periods while the other children were playing. Most often, though, what is being taught does not overlap with the students’ interests, which fits most of the rest of my educational experience, which I simply don’t remember as a result. The norm is for students to learn what is necessary to pass the tests and to please the teachers, and then to promptly forget it all and move on. In other words, most of what is taught is forgettable.

The kind of learning environment that I support can more or less fit under the category of unschooling. That is, the learner chooses what they want to learn about and how they want to go about learning it. This could include the traditional classroom environment, if the learner chooses to pursue that, but with the way that those are usually run, what with the teachers yelling, threatening and bribing the students, I doubt that learners would choose that kind of option that often. Teachers and parents do have a role in the learning process, and that is as a kind of facilitator, helping the learner get access to the resources and materials that they want and need, keeping track of what they are doing and studying, making suggestions when appropriate and giving advice when wanted.

Unschooling, in the case of children’s education, is usually contained within the larger category of “homeschooling”. I did traditional homeschooling for half of eighth grade, and I can very much tell the difference between that and unschooling. In my case, my mother and step-father determined the curriculum, regardless of my interests. I recall even coming up with and suggesting to them an ambitious idea for a new curriculum design for us to use that spanned across, and illustrated the relationships between, many different subjects and disciplines. My proposal was summarily shot down, and we continued on with pursuing the original curriculum design that they previously established for me.

By contrast, unschooling is based on the active choice of the learner. Those who are helping the learner are there to assist that person in pursuing the interests and objectives that they have set for themselves. I unofficially practiced unschooling myself during the second half of my high school experience, after I officially dropped out of high school. During that time period I spent most of my days in libraries, pursuing whatever subject matter and materials my interest and curiosity took me to. I did not have any guides or mentors during that time period, my parents essentially had no idea that this was going on, and I was pretty much on my own. Although that was not the kind of unschooling environment that I would recommend for others, I feel as if I learned more during that time period than I did in the years prior to that. This is because my own authentic interest was present, because I was learning what I wanted to learn, and because all that I did was based on my own free choice.

Which brings me to the issue of “choice”. I have seen many well-meaning teachers try to establish for their students some degree of “choice”, in order to get closer to an approximation of the kind of free learning that I am talking about. Usually these kind of “choices” do not amount to much and the students see through the visage to what’s really going on. In these cases the teacher is still in control, the teacher sets the parameters, determines the acceptable choices, and if they so desire, reneges on the choices that were initially offered. This is a particular kind of teacher-controlled classroom activity, not a learner-directed unschooling situation.

In an unschooling situation, two of the best resources that I could recommend are libraries and discussion groups comprised of people who are all interested in the subject matter at hand. I have always been interested in libraries, my entire life, because I have always seen it as being a place where one has free reign to learn about whatever one wants to learn about. Discussion groups with fellow interested participants is something that I have developed an enthusiasm for only in my adulthood, and thanks to the internet it has now become a lot easier to find and organize these than what was once the case. Also, a third resource, the internet, goes without saying as being an invaluable resource for unschooling learners.

So, back to the topic of me volunteering at the school in Tonga. I am working at this school not because I believe in what the school is doing or what it is ostensibly about, but because I wanted to have the experience of working in a remote foreign country doing something that I have never done before. Think of it as a kind of unschooling elaborate field trip excursion. In a way it is better that I am not being paid for the work that I am doing here, because then I would feel more contractually and financially beholden to the systems and methods that the teachers at the school are practicing. On the other hand, this leads me to be in a situation where my own direct labor is contributing to an institution that I do not believe in, and in my ideal world would not even exist, and I am not even being paid to support this! From what I am told, however, this school is one of the most lenient schools in the nation of Tonga because the teachers at this school do not physically hit their students. There is a whole spectrum of epistemological beliefs out there.

I like working at the library at the school because the library is a place where the students could at least potentially learn and discover things on their own that could take them off to new places. The issue of classroom chaos, children “getting out of control”, does not concern me, as long as everybody is physically safe. The reason for this is that most people are not used to having the experience of freedom, and often when people first experience freedom there is for many an initial period of frantic confusion where they try to figure out what to do without the presence of an authority. Instead of responding to that with a desire of immediately reinstating authority, I prefer to just give people time and let people discern on their own what they would like to do next.

Already I have been identified as somebody who is comfortable with “chaos” – disapprovingly by a teacher, and approvingly by a student, who has expressed astonishment that I have not yet yelled at any of the students. This is a precarious place for me to be in, since generally those who reject authority on principle do not do well within institutions whose job it is to instill in others the love and obedience of authority on principle. So, we will see how it goes. At the very least, I can always move on to learning other things.

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My Top Ten Recommended Areas of Change for the NVC Network

The NVC (which is short for Nonviolent Communication) world seems to be in an interesting position right now. The founder/creator Marshall Rosenberg recently passed away and the international organization that owns the trademark and coordinates many things related to it, the CNVC (short for Center for Nonviolent Communication), is currently in the midst of a lot of different re-evaluation and restructuring. The time is ripe for changes in the NVC world.

I, for one, am really happy and excited to see this window of opportunity open. For quite a number of years I have strongly desired great changes to take place in the NVC world, in hopes of having NVC grow, reach out, and be more effective with different people around the world. In the last few years my despair about these changes happening has led to me pretty much pulling away from actively engaging with the NVC world and instead just observing it from a distance. Perhaps now is an opportunity for some of the changes that I would like to see to come about, and if so, I would like to do what I can to assist this in happening.

To clarify about what specifically I would like to see changed in the NVC world, here are ten areas that I would like to see worked on:

1) Abolish NVC Certification. It appears to me that for quite a while now a whole lot of time and effort has been put into the CNVC “certified trainers” program. This, in my eyes, is a lot of time, energy and resources that could be better spent in other places. The intention behind the official CNVC certification process is to protect and preserve the integrity of NVC. I do not believe that this succeeds in fulfilling this purpose. For one, I have met and seen a lot of people who are officially NVC certified trainers who have not expressed NVC in ways that I view as being in integrity with the NVC process. At the same time, I have also met quite a number of different NVC enthusiasts and trainers who I consider to have a great deal of skill and integrity with expressing NVC, and these people do not have and never have had any interest in becoming an NVC certified trainer. I have also seen people “get the wrong impression about NVC” by the words and/or actions of countless different people, some of whom are and others who are not official CNVC certified trainers. If the general integrity of NVC is lost then it will go not because of the actions of certified trainers, but because of the general behavior of NVC enthusiasts everywhere. Therefore the “certified trainer” label is arbitrary and unnecessary. With that being the case, the focus then needs to be shifted to that of more effectively supporting with integrity everyone within the NVC network. (Also, if you’re interested, I recommend that you read this piece by Carl Rogers which expresses a lot of my own views on certification and licensing.)

2) Focus more on ways and means for NVC people to more easily connect and collaborate with each-other directly. I would like to see the NVC network be oriented more towards peer-to-peer support and connection, and less on looking towards any one particular person or group of people for direction. Towards this end, I would like to see either the CNVC web-site be designed to support NVC enthusiasts in being better able to find each other based on any number of different criteria, be it geographical location, common interests or desired project to work on. Likewise, I would like to see the site designed to make it easier for people to meet and form ad hoc groups to work on whatever common projects they would like to initiate. I acknowledge that in recent years the CNVC website has been greatly improved towards this direction, however much more can still be done in these regards. Similarly, I also see the groups of NVC people on Facebook as having been developing a lot more towards these ends as well, as far NVC people finding and supporting each-other in different ways. So the specific means for NVC people to find each other, be it the CNVC website, different Facebook groups, or something else is not important as long as more effort goes towards developing this further towards being more effective and useful.

3) Focus more on publishing/producing new and different NVC voices. For many people the NVC message is synonymous with the name “Marshall Rosenberg”, and vice versa. Very few other authors have been published in the NVC world, or if they have, not that many NVC enthusiasts know of their work. I would like to see more of a variety of work from different NVC authors made available. This applies to audio and video, as well as written works. I would also like to see the authors be more people from outside the standard demographics found in the NVC subculture. More people of color, people who are not middle-aged and people who are not from North America, Western Europe and Australia should be sought out to have their work published/produced.

4) Create and proliferate more NVC gatherings/events that are outside of the traditional workshop/training model. Personally, I am not interested in going to another NVC workshop, nor do I want to go to some structured NVC event where some leader/organizer has activities planned for me to do. At the same time, I am interested in learning more NVC and connecting more with people in NVC environments. I am guessing also that there are a whole lot of other people out there in the world who could be interested in learning NVC, but who would never want to go to a workshop or a retreat. This leads me to think that there has to be other different ways for people to intentionally be together in-person without replicating the workshop or retreat models. Experimentation and creativity is needed here! For example, how about we experiment with having free and open NVC gatherings and events in public places, such as parks and parking lots? The intentional space for practicing NVC can be created by the organizers of the event, and the borders of the space can be left wide open for new people from the outside to wander in and experience what we have to offer. This can be one new way that we can introduce and promote NVC to the wider world, by offering people a direct lived experience of it.

5) Digitize and offer free of charge more NVC materials online, audio, video or text. Increasingly, more people are learning about NVC through the internet. For example, lots of people are becoming NVC enthusiasts by watching NVC videos on Youtube, or reading articles online about NVC. With this being the case, we can assist this process by adding more of the NVC materials that exist, be it audio, video or text material, onto the internet free of charge. I emphasize the “free of charge” aspect, because charging for things is indeed a barrier. Often if people see a charge associated with something, their attention just moves on to something else, something that is free of charge.

6) Develop more of a grounding in the world of empirical research and academia. The lineage that NVC comes from can be traced to the work of the psychologist Carl Rogers and his Person-Centered Therapy. However, ever since Marshall Rosenberg left the world of professional clinical psychology and went off on his own to create “Nonviolent Communication”, NVC has pretty much been cut off from the worlds of research and scholarship and stranded in the world of self-help. This can be rectified. NVC enthusiasts who have ties to academic institutions can work towards bringing greater awareness of NVC, as well as promote research and studies of NVC. For example, the questions of “When does NVC help people?”, “How does NVC help people?” and “What exactly do people do with NVC that is helpful?” can be studied with a lot more rigor and depth if NVC was applied to the standards of empirical research.

7) Develop an NVC approach to economics that is needs-based and willingness-based. Questions of economics comes up a lot in the NVC subculture, whether it be matters of how to fund NVC events and organizations, how to maintain the livelihoods of NVC trainers or how to enable the participation of interested people who are unable to afford to attend NVC trainings. Some effort has already been made towards elaborating on what an NVC-based gift economy could entail, but I think that this is an area where a great deal more potential exists. One area of investigation that more can be gained from for this endeavor is the work of Manfred Max-Neef. Max-Neef is a Chilean economist whose work Marshall Rosenberg got the concept for “fundamental human needs”, that was later incorporated into NVC. Max-Neef originally used that concept for his work in economics, and given that NVC enthusiasts are already familiar with the concept of fundamental human needs, I believe that there are already good grounds here for expanding upon a new vision for NVC-based economics. The key here is an economics that focuses on meeting as many different needs for as many different people as possible, as much of the time as possible, with all actions being carried out willingly.

8) Reach out to and strengthen the NVC ties with the world of activism and political organizing. This is an area where a great deal of work has already been done, including by myself. However, the work that has been done here has mainly been for those who hold some particular kinds of political orientations, namely, liberals, progressives and leftists. Other kinds of political perspectives exist whose adherents have never been introduced to NVC. What about the conservatives? The Tea Party people? The Christian right? Additionally, the work that already has been done with activists and political minded-people has mainly been of the one-shot introduction variety or offering people empathy at protests. Much room exists for more in-depth and substantial work to be carried out with integrating NVC and activism.

9) Establishing guidelines or protocols for emotional processing sessions One of the ways that NVC can be used is for deep emotional healing. It can be really powerful and helpful in this regard, and undoubtedly a lot of different people have received benefit from this. At the same time, a lot of the big emotional processing sessions that take place at NVC events can also go in very negative and unhealthy directions as well. This can range from sessions that go on too long and are emotionally draining for those involved, to at worst, situations where important boundaries are crossed and that could be categorized as being a form of “abuse”. With this being the case, I think that if some clarified standards and procedures regarding emotional processing sessions were written up and distributed throughout the NVC world that this could go a long way towards having these activities being more healing and less damaging for those involved.

10) Focus on translating NVC learning materials into the various languages most spoken by the human race. Some of the top ten most spoken languages in the world have very few NVC materials available in that language. For example, Mandarin, Hindi, Arabic, Bengali and Punjabi are all languages used by a substantial part of the world population, yet very few if any NVC materials are available in these languages. This in my eyes is a great barrier to NVC spreading around the world to places other than North America, Western Europe, or Australia. The translation of NVC materials could take place in an organized and systemic way, and one of the benefits of having a global organization is that efforts like this could more easily be coordinated through it.

I will wrap up what I have to say here with this. I invite dialogue and conversation about what I said here, either on this blog itself or in NVC forums and venues elsewhere. These are all areas where I would like to see more discussion on, as well as tangible action!

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Letting Go of Social Change

So much of anarchism, and radical politics in general, seems to be about envisioning an ideal society, strategizing about how to get there, and charging forth on that mission. For me, I don’t really believe in that. I mean, yes, envisioning an ideal society (or two, or three, or three hundred) can be fun, and strategizing about how to get there can be an enjoyable way to pass the time, but in the end I simply do not believe it.

The way that I see it is that while the concept of a utopia can be enchanting, it is essentially just a work of fiction. While I do believe that all kinds of different possibilities exist for how human beings can live together and organize their affairs, I do not believe that it is healthy or wise to think that such-and-such a society is on it’s way towards becoming a reality, or that you are the harbinger for a new era.

This is to say, then, I no longer believe in social/political change. Perhaps it is inaccurate to say this, since change of all kinds is a constant in life. Things have changed in the past, things are changing now, and I fully believe that things will change in the future as well. What I don’t believe is that things will change in the way that I (or you) want them to. I would love it if that did happen, and it could happen, I just don’t put my faith in it.

The reason why I say this is that we live in a world of 7.4 billion human beings, give or take a few million. All of these different people are in their own ways influencing the world to change in some way or another. I can have my influence, and then immediately have it be counter-acted by another person, and then another, and on and on. Or I can even inadvertently counter-act my own influence myself by saying or doing something that goes against the kind of world that I would like to see.

And then there are various non-human influences as well, such as the various forces of nature, always in motion, which in their own way also affect the direction that human societies change over time. It is all simply too much, which leads me to throw my hands up in the air at the prospect of being a “change agent” in the world. This is yet another rat race that is pointless to pursue.

And yet, we are still alive, and for as long as that lasts we still do have the power to make choices and determine what actions to take. It is from this basis that I appreciate the perspective of individualism, which emphasizes this ability of individuals to choose and act on their own, if they so desire. This then leads to the kind of anarchism that I value being a kind of philosophical anarchism in that it does not necessarily imply any particular action being done, while at the same time serving as a set of conceptual tools and frameworks to use to look out at and interpret the world around us. Ideally, I would like for this philosophical anarchism to be a form of quietism, in that it would serve a personally therapeutic purpose, helping people to reconcile themselves with the world that they find themselves in, relieve personal distress, and increase personal clarity.

Through my saying all of this, I am not meaning to imply that I no longer have an interest in big picture projects, utopias and social/political movements of various stripes. I find all of that to be quite interesting indeed, I just do not believe in them, or that the intended results that people want will necessarily come about. I may even choose to participate in some of these myself, for reasons that are similar to how I choose to be employed and work at a job. That is, to meet various needs of mine, none of which being that of high-minded idealism.

That being said, I still do find some sense of solace and direction in the philosophy of Buddhism as well. This is namely through the understanding that everything has a merely apparent existence through various different interacting component parts, that suffering is something that we bring upon ourselves through our own choices of which kind of state of mind to maintain, and that change itself is constant and inevitable. With that in mind, the best way to find happiness in this fleeting existence is to do what you can to contribute to the well-being of others, and to work to have love in your heart.

As is often the case, all of this stuff is easier said than done. But I would rather tread this difficult path than to have my head stuck in the clouds, trapped in the various competing illusions & delusions of competing political utopias, political movements, and an exaggerated sense of our own importance. The kind of anarchism that I embrace is not so much that of “burning it all down”, but rather one of seeing through the smoke in a world that is already in flames.

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Authority and Morality

“I have as much authority as the Pope, I just don’t have as many people who believe it.” – George Carlin

Two pillars combine to support this edifice of domination that we live under: authority, which is the belief that one person or group of people has the right to make decisions for others and to impose punishment upon them if they disobey, and morality, which is the belief in the concepts of “good”, “bad”, “right”, “wrong”, “obligatory” and “forbidden”. None of this is really helpful for any kind of free and authentic life, hence, I would like to see the whole thing done away with.

The justifications for authority comes from a lack of trust in people making wise decisions for themselves, likewise, the justifications for morality comes from a lack of trust in people’s judgement in determining what is supportive of themselves and others around them. The mechanism of authority is the relinquishing of one’s independent decision-making capacity over to someone else, likewise, the mechanism of morality is the relinquishing of one’s independent capacity for making assessments and evaluations over to some prescribed code that was written by somebody else.

“Good”, “bad”, “right”, “wrong” is moralism. Amoralism is not caring about any of that, and using a different standard for evaluation. “Might makes right” is a moralistic statement because you are bringing the concepts of “right” and “rights” into the picture, but one can still find value in the statement even without believing in it by seeing that the one with the most “might”, i.e., the ability to parlay the use of force, holds the most sway in any given social situation. One follows what that person says out of fear of getting one’s ass kicked. This is the fearful situation that is often conjured up when people imagine scenarios where there is no authority or morality present, but this is also the case for the world that we live in now: what else are all the police, military and prisons doing everywhere?

Compliance in order to save one’s skin does not mean, however, that one has to believe any or all of the stories that surround the person or people who are deemed to be in “authority”. One could just be marking time and not drawing attention to one’s self until those people go away. We are fortunate that people are not mind readers, for often when those in authority see people portraying the affectations of obedience, they often make the assumption that the corresponding thought processes of obedience are in place as well.

Morality is a type of story that people tell each other, similar to myths and legends, it is a story that gives an explanation for who we are, what we are doing, and what we should be doing in this world. Beyond just explaining things, morality also contains proscriptions and injunctions, along with an added motivating emotional oomph that feelings of fear and righteousness provide.

When one talks about “morality” and “moral behavior”, one is also referring to something else in addition to the conceptual club that is used to psychologically bludgeon people, and that is a road map and way of relating with other people that generally, conceivably, results in more social peace and harmony. That is speaking in broad strokes though, for the closer one gets to the fine details, the more room opens up for disagreement on interpretation. I am all for the use of social tools that are supportive of mutual coexistence and cooperation, the thing is, I think that what that is varies from person to person, place to place, and situation to situation. I don’t think that any kind of standardized universal code could possibly encapsulate it all, and that instead social harmony requires a great deal of dialogue, deliberation and creativity among those involved.

My hatred and hostility to those in authority comes from the sheer arrogance that I see in the situation, them setting themselves up to be little gods and messiahs, where they not only feel entitled to tell others what to do, they also feel entitled to create a little cosmology story (i.e., morality) where apparently the very nature of the universe justifies why they are in authority. Come off it – you are human like all the rest of us!

The thing is, though, I believe that often those who exercise authority are not even aware that they are doing so. Authority, and the accompanying morality, is so prevalent in our society that it is like the air we breath – we often do not even notice it. It is often through accomplishing a kind of conceptual break, usually through the telling of a different kind of story, that people are able to raise their head above the water and see the world around them fresh for the first time.

The story that I tell about human beings is that people are capable of making their own decisions and having their own lives go in the directions that they want through the choices that they make. The story that I tell also has everybody with the abilities to discern what they want, why they want it, and with the ability to access whether they are successful at getting that or not. Nobody is required to either believe in or use each other’s stories. The decisions people make and the directions that people go in may in the end not serve them or lead to the kind of results that they want, but that is for each person to discover on their own. Advice can be given, suggestions can be made, but ultimately each person must walk their own path themselves.

To try to play games of authority is to attempt to ignore all of this. It is to try to force others to take the approach that one considers to be correct, it is to ignore one’s own capacity to choose and make decisions. Going the authority route is to follow the dictates of others and to ignore the feedback that is gained from the results of the decisions made and to instead keep one’s mind preoccupied with the various stories that are presented by authority.

Those in authority are constantly ready with an array of threats to be used in response to anything that displeases them. The tools at their disposal include emotional manipulation, playing cards in a game that is stacked against their opponent (such as through the use of “grades” and other points-systems), appealing to other more higher authorities, social manipulation resulting in social exclusion, and the ultimate trump card, physical force itself. These are the responses of a person who is ready to pounce, a predator on the prowl.

Ultimately, the only way out of this is for a person to discover their own power. A person has the ability to believe their own stories, and to choose what stories that one uses in the first place. One has the ability to choose one’s own actions, one’s own words used, and one’s own responses to other people and situations. One can know why one does what one does, and what one is trying to accomplish. Others can try to help you to forget all of that, but nobody can take it away from you. It’s existential.

Socially, though, constructed through the cumulative beliefs and actions of those who surround us, what we find ourselves in is a prison. That is because, control over one’s own beliefs and choice-responses aside, there is seemingly no way out. Those who are playing the authority game invite us to do the same at the barrel of a gun. There are various other prisoners who surround us, as well as various predators, and those who support that predator behavior. What is needed here are prison survival strategies. Prison escape is always an option, but that is always much glamorized and easier said than done. And there is always the question of where one will go once one is out, and how one will then survive in that new and different environment.

But that is getting ahead of ourselves here. The first step is cutting through the illusions that surround us. Learn to notice a story when it is being told, and learn to discern who exactly is benefiting from the stories that are being told. Learn to recognize one’s own ability for choice and agency in a given situation, and learn to discern one’s own intentions, reasons and goals, instead of relying on pre-formulated standardized responses. To live without authority or morality requires a lot more effort on one’s part – it involves a lot more personal thought and self-reflection, and a lot more facing up to one’s own self-responsibility. But in the end, it is an experience of being truly alive, even when it is not allowed.

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Nobody Owns Anything

Throughout my tenure as an anarchist one thing has always set me apart from everyone else: my beliefs around the concept of property and ownership. These are some real foundational beliefs for me, because it is based on them that I evaluate various things like “capitalism”, “socialism”, “communism”, even “economics” writ large. My beliefs on ownership are ones that I have largely kept silent about, but recently I have been feeling the need to sit down and elucidate my thoughts on the subject. So here it goes.

As I see it, the concept of “ownership” is a fiction that does not really exist except to the extent that people believe in it and act accordingly. People can chose to believe in it and live their lives by it, or not. Ownership is of course a very popular and prevalent concept that people believe in, but it is by no means inevitable that people have to believe in it. It is up there with other concepts in that regard, such as “money”, “government” and “religion”, that have shaped history and dominated people’s lives and that I think that we all can and should do away with in order to live more free and fulfilling lives.

I opt for a perspective that I consider to be more natural and real, one that I tentatively am calling “non-ownership”. This applies to everyone and everything, in that nobody owns anything. This includes all people, places, things and ideas, all of it is unshackled to the concept of invisible lines binding such-and-such with so-and-so. I am not saying that “government” owns everything, or that “the community” owns everything, or that “society” owns everything, I am saying that nobody owns anything, since ownership does not exist.

The rationale behind this is that everyone comes into the world naked and carrying no possessions, and leaves the world taking no possessions with them. The interim period between birth and death is when people usually ascribe the concept of ownership to people and things, but this is a faulty concept given that people can and do accidentally break, misplace, or have their “property” taken from them against their will through various means. If somebody really “owned” something, then at the very least it could not be accidentally broken or misplaced, since it would always be under the complete control of the owner and it could not do anything that goes against the owner’s will. The fact that things can go their own way regardless of the desires of the so-called owner shows that there is no invisible sanctified bond between object and owner. It’s just make-believe.

As far as property being taken against people’s will by other people, whether we call it “theft”, “fraud”, or whatever, I would say that this is a case of people with different ideas of who should have what things. Different systems that we call law, trade, fair and just business transactions, justifiable means of establishing ownership, all of these are different rules for playing different games with the same basic fiction that we call “ownership”. It is similar to how different computer games exist focused on ‘Star Wars’. Star Wars is still a work of fiction, even though different games exist that are focused on it, and none of the particular rules or codes that these different games abide by are more “true” or “legitimate” than any other, because it is all still premised on a work of fiction. It is just a game, and we can choose to play different games, or we can stop playing games altogether. The same goes with “ownership”.

Often people bring up the idea of finding things and making things as being the basis for ownership. However, people find things (and lose things) and make things (and break things) all the time, usually with the help of predecessors and those around them. To find out the original discoverer or creator of something or somewhere, among a species that goes back hundreds of thousands of years and that is fundamentally social in nature seems like an absurd and arbitrary game of catch-up. People exist, places exist, things exist, let’s go with that.

People often bring up the idea of one’s own body, “don’t people own their own physical bodies?” I would say, no, even that is not really owned by people. I would say that the fact that injuries, illness, aging and accidental deaths all occur are proof that people do not own their own bodies. If people really owned their own bodies, then none of these things would ever occur, because people would control it. This kind of control is an illusion, as is the concept of “ownership”.

Usually at this point people are imagining a world of some kind of violent madhouse free-for-all, filled with people whimsically taking whatever they want and doing whatever they want to everybody else. My response to that would be to ask: wow, what kind of dark twisted psyche are you carrying around with you? All of this segues into my ideas around what concepts should be used in lieu of the concept of “ownership” in order to support there being more peace, harmony and happiness for everybody.

First off, I think that it is essential that people have a real sense of care, consideration and connection with both those around them as well as with themselves. If people really knew, understood and cared about the happiness and well-being of those around them, they would not blithely be acting in ways that cause hurt or distress for others. People would be openly talking about situations, thinking things through together, and coming up with creative ways to meet the needs of everyone.

Now that I have just used that word, “needs”, I feel that mention should be made of another concept that I find supportive here, and that is of “needs” as articulated by Nonviolent Communication. In this case, “needs” are the underlying motivational drives that inspire all actions, thoughts, and feelings that human beings have. Needs are not quantifiable, they do not look like any particular thing or course of action, and they can exist in the intellectual, emotional, and social realms, as well as the physical. All human beings have the same underlying fundamental human needs, people just express these needs, and their desires to get these needs met, in a wide variety of different ways. Also, the strategies that people use to try to get their needs met can look very different and can be in conflict with other strategies used to get needs met.

An important process that can be used to navigate life in a non-ownership world is that of continually identifying the various different fundamental human needs that are at play. What needs are “on the table”, so to speak, what needs are which people wanting to have met in any given situation, and how can we try to meet these needs with the various different resources that are accessible right now? These are the kinds of conversations that I would like to see people develop their skills and capacities for having.

This then begs the question: what needs am I anticipating being met through people pursuing the strategy of adopting the perspective of “non-ownership” instead of continuing on with using a variation of the already more prevalent concept of “ownership”?

My first answer is that more resources and possibilities are freed up and made available without the arbitrary constraints of who-owns-what. “Ownership” creates a whole vast minefield of different tripwires that can go off and areas that are foreclosed on right off the bat. Without that concept existing, the whole world exists filled with different things and places that can be used to meet people’s needs. The sky’s the limit.

The second part of my answer is that a perspective of non-ownership really forces people to confront the question of what it is that they are really needing. What is it that would truly make them more of a happy and healthy human being? In a world of “property management”, of relentlessly pursuing and maintaining that which one supposedly “owns”, people lose track of that which is really important to them and what really makes them happy. Non-ownership forces those questions right to the forefront of people’s minds: existential self-examination is required.

A third part of my answer is that “non-ownership” provides an additional incentive for people to have strong intimate connections with the other people around them, to have more and better “community” with other people. With the concept of “ownership” being the main operative fiction used in a society, it is easy for people to wall themselves off into separate little enclaves of “me” and “mine”. In a world of non-ownership, the question of “how are you doing?” becomes a real and vital question that people ask each other, as well as “how am I doing?” The quality of people’s relationships with one another becomes a very important matter for people in a society of non-ownership.

If it is not apparent already, this concept of non-ownership has elements to it that go into both the personal individual realm as well as the interpersonal social realm. It ties in with how people view themselves, their own lives and the various different objects and places that surround them, and it also ties in with how people relate with one-another, how people get along with each-other, what concepts they hold together, as well as what social systems and structures people create together to support one-another.

Non-ownership is not implemented by a lone individual adopting this perspective and deciding to go off and live their lives by it. And non-ownership is not implemented by a group of people collectively deciding to live their lives this way and making sure that everybody abides by it. It is simultaneously both individual and collective, it is a way that people relate with both themselves and each-other. One-sided perspectives with this do not work.

People sometimes mention the possessive language that we use now, such as “mine” and “yours”, or the strongly entrenched habits that people have as showing the “inevitability” of the concept of ownership. But these too are areas that people can change if they really wanted to. For example, more neutral language can be used, “the” and “that”, for example. And habits can be spoken of and acknowledged directly as such, “that house that you like to sleep in”, “that toothbrush that I usually use”, etc. If people want to ensure the continuity of their habits, they can openly state it. Likewise, people can also take the opportunity to examine their own habits and see if it is really serving them, or to see if something else could perhaps serve them better.

I also want to acknowledge that people often do have strong emotional attachments to particular things, places and people. These strong emotional attachments do exist, I see that. In the kind of non-ownership society that I am talking about here, these emotional attachments would be openly recognized and spoken of, and they can be worked around or dealt with as needed, depending on the situation and the people involved. The point is not to trample over people or to force them into particular ways of being, but to more clearly see where we are at and where we would like to go. I believe that non-ownership helps with that.

A key here is that of pursuing freedom, the freedom of knowing that infinite possibilities exist to meet all of the different needs we have. The strategies that can be implemented to meet needs are by no means fixed or limited.

Likewise, this freedom is linked together with being in community with others, it openly acknowledges the interdependence that people have with one another, and as such the social relationship becomes an area of prime importance as well.

And tied in with all of that is the quest for increased self-knowledge and self-understanding. For if one does not really know oneself how can one ask for what would truly be supportive for oneself?

All of this is bundled together in this concept that I am calling “non-ownership”. This is a concept that I have had for quite some time now, yet it is also one which is always evolving as time goes on. This concept is one important part of my anarchist views, for it is one way that the various systems of authority and domination can be exposed, and freedom and community can take their place. All of this is by no means my original idea, it is rather an idea that I have tweaked and adjusted in my own way. Make of it as you will.

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