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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Voluntary Only

Among the whole world of ideological labels that I could potentially attach to myself, there is one in particular that I feel called to talk about. Voluntaryism. This is a label that I have for a long time now felt affinity with, and in recent times have been cozying up to more and more. According to the Wikipedia entry on Voluntaryism it signifies:

“a libertarian philosophy which holds that all forms of human association should be voluntary.”

And since that definition immediately points to the other label of “libertarian”, I will for good measure give the Wikipedia entry definition for that word as well:

“a collection of political philosophies that uphold liberty. Libertarians seek to maximize autonomy and freedom of choice, emphasizing the value of political freedom, voluntary association, and the importance of individual judgment.”

What these two definitions describe are attitudes and approaches that I personally believe in. Hence, I am a voluntaryist, I believe that all human relationships should be voluntary.

It feels odd to me, in a way, that I believe that I should be publicly saying this, since in my eyes the philosophy of anarchism contains voluntaryism within it as a fundamental principle. However, as the years have gone on, I have had more and more reason to believe that many, if not most, people who call themselves “anarchist” do not in fact think that all human relationships should be voluntary. So-called “anarchists” have said and done things that have lead me to believe that they do think that certain things should be compulsory and forced on people whether they want it or not.

I say, to hell with that. If you believe that people must or must not do certain things, or must or must not belong to certain associations, and these people are not aggressing on anyone to begin with, then you are not an anarchist. Anarchism, in all of it’s different varieties and complexities, grows out of the fertile soil of voluntaryism.

The fundamental starting-point principle here is: voluntary only. Everything must be voluntary. If it is forced, then it is rotten to the core. Having an association or interaction being voluntary ensures that people are authentically being themselves, and it lays the foundation for the association/interaction to be more thoroughly joyful and creative. This is a principle that I cherish.

The way that I determine whether something is truly voluntary or not is to see whether there is an explicit or implied threat hanging over someone if they were to say “no”. For example, will one be physically attacked, killed, or forced into a cage if one did not comply with what is being asked of them? With the case of governments everywhere, these things will happen to people if they did not comply with the various commands associated with government. So government is then by it’s very nature a kind of non-voluntary association, making it incompatible with voluntaryism.

However, here is where I begin to diverge from most people who consider themselves to be voluntaryist: I view the set-up that is created materially with the social constructs of capitalism and private property as being one where people are forced into non-voluntary relationships as well. This is because everything that one needs to physically survive, such as food, water, shelter, medical care, etc., has a price-tag associated with it. People are then put into the position of being compelled to jump through whatever hoops necessary to ensure their own survival and the survival of those they care about. Instead of the threat being “do this or be shot” or “do this or be forced into a cage”, the threat then becomes “do this or starve to death” or “do this or die of exposure”. The result is the same: a non-voluntary foundation.

Another direction that I take my voluntaryist philosophy has to do with the realm of the social needs. Human beings all have a need for intimate personal connections with other people, a need to be understood and accepted for who they are as individuals, and a need to belong in community with other people. These needs can all be met in a wide variety of different ways, there is no uniform strategy for meeting these needs. What remains universal, though, is that all human beings have these needs inside them yearning to be met in order to have happy and healthy lives.

With that being the case, the threat of social ostracism and dehumanization plays an equally coercive role resulting in people being compelled to jump through whatever hoops necessary in order to ensure that their social needs are met. This dynamic plays a large role in how social conformity and groupthink comes about. Since this particular form of coercion so often falls into the realm of the personal and interpersonal, it is often not noticed or recognized by people who have a political-oriented mindset. But just because it is often not seen does not mean that it is not there, nor does it mean that it is not felt by all of us as we go about our lives.

This then means that I see the various threats to a voluntary society as coming from three main directions: the overt political nature of men with guns coming to tell you what to do, the material/economic realm of the various threats and stresses associated with being forced to “make a living”, and the social realm where the continuing threat of being excluded, alone and unloved is always present.

How to have a truly voluntary society then comes as a huge conundrum, since it goes against every existing model that we have for looking at political/social change. This is a big question, and one that I hope to tackle and address in various bits and pieces as time goes on. But to give a brief summary of my approach I will say this:

What I am advocating for is a certain kind of way for people to approach relating to one another where they are not aggressively threatening one another, where they try to honestly recognize and talk about whatever needs they have, where people are actively working together to try to get their needs met together, and where they are continually trying to better understand one another more deeply and without judgement. My approach is based on the Rogerian principles of having authentic conversations with sensitive empathy and unconditional caring present, while also ensuring that the basic material needs of everyone are being met, as well as ensuring that everyone feels free to leave the interactions/associations whenever they see fit.

This is a whole different way to view human interactions, but also one that I believe goes way back in time, before the vagaries of civilization made force and compulsion the norm within human relationships. “Voluntary only” is a wonderfully simple, yet quite powerful, principle that does a lot to get the conversation started on how we can all have free and happy lives. And it is for that reason that I am happy to call myself a “voluntaryist”.

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My Kind of Anarchism

For quite some time now I have had this strong discomfort with the anarchist milieu. I believe that this discomfort stems from my strong desire to belong to a community and to be together with others who see things and value things in the same ways that I do. And on the other hand, I have the sense that the others who inhabit the anarchist social milieu are in some very important ways different from me, that they believe things and value things that in some crucial ways are at odds with where I am coming from. I find it difficult to just write these people off and forget about them because they identify with the philosophy of anarchism, which for whatever reason is a label for a philosophy that I find myself very much attached to.

So it seems to me to be important to take the time and effort to spell out exactly what it is that I do believe regarding “anarchism”. I am assuming that by spelling out what I do believe, I can clarify and set apart the difference between my “anarchism” and that which is espoused by others.

First off, I am assuming that every and all forms of “anarchism” out there are against all kinds of domination, that capitalism and the state are rejected by all forms of anarchism as being manifestations of domination, and that all anarchists yearn for a new world of sovereign people freely associating with others as equals, cooperating, helping each other out and sharing together as they see fit. Now, perhaps this brief definition of anarchism is simply too much, and too radical, for how many people would define the term, but I don’t care. This is just a baseline bare minimum definition of the term that I am using to begin elaborating on what my own anarchist philosophy looks like.

Also, as is probably obvious by now, I really do not see anarchism as being a political thing. I see anarchism as being primarily a social philosophy. In other words, I see it as being a kind of philosophy that advocates for particular kinds of human social relationships and social organization. Anarchism is against politics-as-it-is, all politics of the existing social orders, because each and every one of these are based upon domination, not the respect of people’s autonomy. Anarchism is a very radical philosophy because it goes straight to the roots of things, how people relate and organize their affairs together. Politics, all politics, is a relatively superficial matter, compared to the depth of an anarchist gaze.

My approach to anarchism has for a very long time now held this one quote by Gustav Landauer as being a touchstone descriptor for how I approach things:

“The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behaviour; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently toward one another… We are the State and we shall continue to be the State until we have created the institutions that form a real community.”

With this in mind, my approach to anarchism is mainly focused on what these “other relationships” will look like that would form the ideal new “real community” that is an alternative to the state and domination in general.

The primary crux for my anarchism is that coercion is not good for people. I have a strong belief that when people do things because they have a sense that it is coming from their own free choice, and not out of a fear of some kind of dire consequences that would befall them if they did not pursue that action, that that leaves them in a state where they are open to learning more and connecting with other people. When people do things out of coercion their minds are more distracted by the stress and pain that the coercion inflicts, making it all the more difficult to conjure up any kind of authentic curiosity that would support learning and connection with others.

I have mentioned a few times this phrase of “connecting with others”, and I feel the need to elaborate on it some here. This is actually an element that I consider to be core to my own approach to anarchism, since it is the glue that holds people together. By “connecting” I am referring to seeing the humanity in someone else, and valuing it. It involves knowing where someone is coming from, knowing who they are and what they are about, and being able to personally relate with it in some way. And, importantly, it is having a reciprocal relationship where that feeling is mutual. If this sense of connection is not present, I don’t believe that a social situation of anarchy can be real or lasting.

Another important aspect of my anarchism is that of individuals taking responsibility for their own choices and actions, and based on this being committed to continuing to develop and improve themselves in various ways. Yes, I do recognize and acknowledge the existence of social forces that impact and effect us all quite profoundly, but we can still think and make our own choices, and with that being the case, let’s choose to improve our own situations.

A commitment to having an open mind, critical thinking, and continual learning would then go hand-in-hand with that of having a commitment to ongoing personal development and self-improvement. This involves having a commitment to becoming aware of and recognizing the myriad different ways that one can become encumbered by prejudices of different kinds, get trapped in ideology-based thought-prisons, or judge people, thereby resulting in narrow one or two-dimensional perceptions of them.

And in conjunction with people taking personal responsibility for their own choices, I also see the creation and maintenance of real communities as being essential. By “community”, I mean that the people who you know and care about in your day-to-day in-person life also know and care about each other as well. This also pre-supposes that you know and care about a substantial number of people in your day-to-day in-person life in the first place!

A crucial part of a community of people being real and lasting is that people help each other out. We all need support of some kind, and part of the kind of community environment that I would like to see is one where people are interested and able to help each other out, out of a personal authentic desire to do so, and not because of some kind of coercion or implied threat.

And in order to have mutual aid within a community be able to actually happen effectively, you need to have ongoing substantive communication, cooperation and coordination of efforts taking place. Communication break-downs need to be tended to, the quality of communication needs to be constantly elevated, and those who for whatever reason are silent or unable to speak need to be remembered and reached out to.

So, to summarize, the core underlying principles to my own approach to anarchism are these eight things:

– Non-coercion

– Authentic connection between people

– Taking responsibility for choices

– Valuing ongoing self-improvement

– Free thinking and continual learning

– Real communities of people

– Mutual aid and mutual support

– Ongoing communication, cooperation and coordination

As a consequence of people developing along the lines of these eight principles, I foresee the concept of ownership becoming de-prioritized. Expropriation and confiscation are things that I would like to see avoided, not because I am a fan of the concept of “property”, but because it involves a form coercion. And with the entry of coercion into the picture, the relationship between people is damaged, and chances are that there is a breakdown of communication between people going on as well. I do think that people’s needs can be better met the less the focus is on “who owns what?”, and the more the focus is instead on “how can we solve this problem?”. But I don’t even see people getting to the point of addressing a problem together, and valuing the needs of everyone involved, if these eight principles are not adhered to.

I have used a variety of different terms to describe my approach to anarchism in the past, from “communitarian anarchism”, to “compassionate anarchism”, to “buddhist anarchism”. Looking at where I am at now, I think the term “humanistic anarchism” could be an accurate description of it. But, ultimately, none of these labels really matters. All too often I have seen people squabble over terminology, or circle their wagons around particular labels, thereby perpetuating “us vs. them” and “my beliefs vs. their beliefs” dynamics. Also, labels often have the tendency to start out as being tools, and then to eventually become chains. All of that is totally counter to what I am wanting to achieve with all of this. And frankly, I am just tired of all of those bullshit dynamics.

So here I am, this is what I believe, this is my approach to anarchism, all laid out for you, call it what you will. What do you think?

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Reflections from Traveling Around the World

I recently got back from an epic trip around the world. It was by means of traveling east, first to Virginia and New York City, then to India (New Delhi, Agra, Jaipur and Dharmsala), then to Macau and Hong Kong, followed by Tonga and New Zealand, and finishing up in California and Oregon before heading back home to Minneapolis where the trip all began. The trip started in September of last year (2014) and ended a couple of weeks ago (July, 2015). Out of all of the international places, Tonga was the one that I spent the most time at (five months), followed by India and Macau where I spent a month and a half at each, followed by Hong Kong and Auckland, New Zealand where I spent a week at each.

People have occasionally asked me what I learned or gained from all of this. I am sorry to disappoint, but there are no big insights, no profound revelations, no shattering revelations, transformations, what-have-you, to pass on to you from all of this. I am still the same person today that I was when I started the trip. This is not to say that changes and insights did not occur during the trip, it’s just that I have no grand story or package-of-insight to give you. Everything is all fits-and-starts, scattered and diffuse stuff.

Hands down, my favorite part of the trip was India. This is a place with a whole lot of everything: people, history, ideas, sights, sounds, smells, dangers, delicacies, kindnesses, cruelties, good and bad. We only saw a tiny smidgen of the country, with most of our time spent up in the Dharmsala area which is in the Himalaya mountain region. Of the whole India experience, my favorite part of that was my volunteering at a Vipassana Meditation course at the Himachal Vipassana Centre. This is because I felt actively engaged with something, a part of something, belonging to a group and a team with a clear mission and purpose. This provided an appropriate container for lots of weird and crazy shit to happen, and for me to be able to handle and weather it all with grace and fortitude. Such a situation could be replicated elsewhere, but since this experience occurred in India specifically, it provided me with a unique introduction to many of different aspects of Indian life, in addition to the usual profound benefits that Vipassana practice offers.

One tendency that I noticed in all of the overseas locations that we visited was for Westerners to mainly socialize with other Westerners, despite being in another foreign culture. This happened to me in India, Macau and Tonga, and I suppose that this is just the usual pattern of like associating with like. It did help me to learn more about other Western cultures outside of the U.S., but that was not my intention in going to these places in the first place. It was damned annoying, in a way, while at the same time also providing me comfort and solace as well. It did detract from me pursuing my purpose with this trip.

So what was my purpose for this trip anyway? It was basically to just get away, far away, from my regular life and routines that I had in the U.S. I quit my job and moved out of my apartment before going and then I set off to go experience places and things different from what I was previously used to in the U.S. I had already done extensive traveling within the United States before all of this, so I figured that it was time for me to see what it is like in other countries as well. The purpose was simply that of personal exploration of other places and experiencing something different from my norm. That is it.

This trip generally accomplished this goal. For example, in Tonga, where I spent the most time at during all of this traveling, I worked as a volunteer at a school with children. I had previously not worked with children or in a school setting before. This was new to me. It brought up many memories for me of my own school experiences as a child, and I witnessed much of the same bullshit there as I did when I was child going through the whole thing the first time around. The difference was that this was in Tonga instead.

That was one revelation right there: I do not want to willingly contribute to something that I consider to be bullshit, and not be paid for it. I view employment as generally-speaking being a situation where one is paid money in order to spend one’s limited time on earth and scarce personal energies towards contributing to something that is more or less anti-life. But, in the hostage situation that is capitalism, at least one is being paid for it and can therefore continue to live. So, I would be willing to work at a school again, the only difference is that next time I will go in with no blinders on, no illusions of grandeur (not that I had much of these to begin with), and would be paid for my efforts.

This brings me to another topic – that of international “voluntourism”. I recently came across an article that summarizes my thoughts on this topic nicely, which can be found here. The succinct summary of it all, found within this article itself, is: “without knowledge of language, local culture, societal nuances, and the economical framework of the community, this type of “voluntourism” is sometimes wasteful at best, and possibly destructive to the community at worst.”

My experience with “voluntourism” overseas is that it was mainly involved in setting up systems and patterns of doing things that the local people had no interest in and most likely were not going to continue after I left. In other words, it was a nice public gesture but ultimately a waste of time and effort. The one possible benefit was that the people I interacted with, especially the children, might possibly remember me in the future and hopefully it will be some kind of a positive, constructive memory, and not just a meaningless novelty.

As far as working with children goes, I am referring here mainly to my time in Tonga, although I did also volunteer briefly in a school in India as well. I found the most meaningful experiences out of all of that to be those that took place outside of the established curriculum, where I was interacting directly with the actual sincere interests of the students. For me, this took place mainly with the subjects of history, geography, science and library science. I was not officially assigned to work with the kids on any of these subjects – I was technically assigned to work with them on their literacy skills and math. Neither me nor the kids were generally interested in those subjects when we were together, so as a result I believe that very little learning actually took place with those subjects.

One thing that stood out for me with all of these travels was how I stood out as a white person. In India crowds of people would stare at me as I went by, since I was a white guy in a sea of non-white people. I was stared at, pointed at, and publicly remarked upon as a white person in Tonga as well and frequently would hear the word “Palangi” uttered in my presence, which means “white person”. My assumption is that for many people, white skin = lots of money, so people were probably looking at me as a walking moneybag from a faraway land. This experience, combined with what I said earlier about “voluntourism” leads me to think that simply giving money to trustworthy local charities is probably more effective in actually helping people than going to distant countries to volunteer there.

In all of these countries I definitely felt like I was largely running on a designated tourism track, part of some vast international Tourism-Industrial Complex. I do not necessarily see this as being a bad thing in and of itself, it is a series of jobs like any other job that people perform, an industry within capitalism like any other. Tonga was definitely the least developed country in every respect that I visited, and it’s tourism industry was the least developed of them all as well. Tonga does have a number of genuinely beautiful “tropical island paradise” locations, and I think that if one wanted to go to some far off location to get away from the maddening crowds and to just read, write and meditate in peace, then Tonga would be the place to go for that (assuming you brought everything that you need for that with you).

A commonality that struck me through all of the different countries that I went to was the global rise of China as an international super-power. First off, we spent a lot of time in Dharmsala, India, which is the center of the “Tibetan Government in Exile”, with a massive population of Tibetans who moved there to escape the Chinese conquest of Tibet that took place in the 1950’s. Then in Macau we were there to witness the massive celebrations for the 15th anniversary of the official handover of Macau to the People’s Republic of China from Portugal. And in Tonga the society there is experiencing a large influx of Chinese moving there and setting up successful businesses while the Tongan government is going increasingly into debt to the Chinese government with little hope of ever being able to pay it off. We also went to Hong Kong, which was handed over to the Chinese government from the British in 1997, and New Zealand which has received a massive influx of Chinese immigrants, the largest Asian ethnic group in New Zealand. These are all different ways and means of growing Chinese influence and dominance over the world.

Despite the rising Chinese influence, though, my being an American citizen was like a gold standard everywhere I went. It was a sure thing for people to know about the U.S., to generally appreciate the U.S., and to express a desire to me to want to visit or re-visit the U.S. if they could. I often met people from other countries who knew more about some aspects of U.S. culture than I did. The desire for U.S. cultural products was prevalent everywhere I went, and I had no worry about being kept up-to-date on the newest movies coming out of Hollywood.

I had an eye out for anarchist groups everywhere I went, and was basically unsuccessful everywhere I went, with the one notable exception of Hong Kong. In Hong Kong I visited two different anarchist cultural spaces, a bookstore and a collectively owned cafe. This was nice except for the fact that everything was in Chinese so I had very little understanding of the particulars of what was going on there. In Auckland, New Zealand I had the address for an anarchist social center, and when I went there I found an abandoned empty space that was up for sale or lease. India, Macau and Tonga were complete blank slates as far as anarchist activities goes. I do believe that the potential exists in these different countries, if one were to go there with an anarchist missionary zeal and was able to speak the local languages. I, however, went to these places with neither of those.

As far as international traveling itself goes, this is something that I am interested in pursuing again in the future. I would want a more clearly defined intention and purpose before setting out, however, and the vague do-gooding “voluntourism” methodology is not something that I would want to pursue further. I would also want some different destinations as well, to see some places that are new to me. But the desire for more travel and to see more different things is still there.

Also, the fact that I did these travels together with my wife, Liz, is a significant factor in this whole trip. It adds a whole new dimension of richness to be able to experience things together in partnership with someone with whom you are close with, and for this I am very grateful to have been able to do this traveling together with her.

One thing that I do realize upon returning to the U.S. is how odd this experience makes me in comparison to so many others who have not had comparable experiences themselves. This general phenomena is nothing new for me, but it is something that I find to be somewhat sad. It is not at all unique to the U.S. either, since I met many people in India and Tonga for whom the idea of doing big international travel trip was completely out of the question for them. A lot of this has to do with financial concerns, I realize this, but nonetheless I do find it to be sad. It has been said that historically one of the biggest motivators for international travel for people has been war and displacement. My desire is for a world completely different, where this was not the case, and where people could view world travel as being a realistic and desirable option for them, among other things. Ultimately, though, I do think that we need a whole new world in order for most people to be able to go out and see the world. I’m down for that.

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