Buddhist Anarchism and Nonviolent Communication

Here are some pieces that I wrote up for two episodes of the Anarchy Bang podcast. One episode was about buddhist anarchism and the other episode was about Nonviolent Communication & anarchism.


Buddhist Anarchism

It’s hard to really know where to begin with Buddhism, given that there are so many different ways that people relate to the thing. Buddhism can be seen as a religion, a philosophy, an approach to psychology, a personal practice or a culture. And then there are the infinite different sects, traditions, branches and sub-branches within Buddhism. It all can very quickly become very overwhelming and confusing.

That all being said, the way that I like to begin to make sense of Buddhism is by studying some of the renowned lists within Buddhism. What better way to organize one’s thoughts on something than to use lists? One list in particular stands out to me the most, it’s called “the three marks of existence”. Basically it lists the three qualities that mark life as we know it. The first quality is that change is constant and inevitable, that nothing lasts forever. The second is that everything is comprised of many different interacting components and forces acting on it, that nothing exists on it’s own, in and of itself. Basically, “anti-essentialism” is how I like to look at it. And the third is that suffering exists, it’s an experience that we all have.

This then goes into perhaps the most famous list within Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths. The first one is what I just mentioned, that whole “suffering” thing that we all have. The second is that there is a root cause to this suffering, and that is craving or clinging to our ideas of what we want. The third is that it is indeed possible to overcome this kind of attachment. And the fourth is the way to go about doing that, which is itself another list, the Noble Eightfold Path.

…And as much as I love the Noble Eightfold Path, I won’t go into that list here.

So what does this all have to do with anarchism? Well, as I see it, that whole “suffering” condition that we all experience makes us all crazy, it makes us all desperate and frantic, even if we are able to put up a good front and present ourselves as being mature capable thinkers. Our lack of dealing with our own suffering head-on deprives us of our own personal power.

Buddhist practice is all about developing one’s own personal power, self-mastery, cultivating one’s ability to choose and act on one’s choices, rather that letting one’s own old habits, old beliefs and emotional reactivity dictate one’s life. It’s also about getting more peace and contentment in one’s life. You are not always going to get what you want, anarchists will always disappoint you, your dreams for an anarchist world will never happen, and if you do decide to embark on a Buddhist practice, you will probably fuck that up too. But the paradoxical beauty of Buddhism is that even with that all being the case, one can come to acceptance of all of that, and still keep on going. At least for as long as this life you are living now exists.


Nonviolent Communication & Anarchism

Nonviolent Communication (also known as “NVC” or “compassionate communication”) is a set of conceptual tools and a general worldview that a number of anarchists have found useful and at times have adopted. Some have found it to be a how-to guide for living without hierarchy and domination, whereas others have found it to be a series of tips for approaching conflict in ways that are hopefully more productive.

NVC can be used as a way to do conflict resolution, which is what it is best known for, but it can also be used for meeting facilitation, counseling & therapy, and some would say for social change work itself. The crux of NVC is developing one’s ability to make distinctions between objective observations vs. subjective interpretations, bodily-felt feelings vs. cognitive evaluations, and fundamental human needs vs. the infinite ways that needs can be met. The ultimate goal of NVC is for it’s practitioners to come to embody a way of being that the psychologist Carl Rogers said is most helpful in relationships: heartfelt authenticity, empathic understanding and unconditional positive regard. The idea is that through such qualities being present in a relationship, that relationship will eventually and inevitably become stronger, autonomy-respecting, collaborative and conducive to those involved realizing their own personal power. Anarchy, baby!

Some related readings

The Basics of Nonviolent Communication

Key Assumptions and Intentions of Nonviolent Communication

Compassionate Anarchism

Can the Social Order Be Transformed through Personal Practice? The Case of Nonviolent Communication

Person-centered Therapy

 


I will begin with a quote which has always been the touchstone for me and my anarchism, that famous quote from Gustav Landauer:

“The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of behavior; 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, I immediately ask: what are the different kinds of relationships that would comprise anarchy? What would these relationships look like?

The answers that I come up with is that these relationships would, generally-speaking, acknowledge and respect the autonomy of everybody involved while also enabling people to cooperate, collaborate and make decisions together as equals, with no one person or group of people bossing everyone else around. All of this stuff is easier said than done, which is why I eventually started to look for some guides and pointers for how to actually do this, practically-speaking.

This lead to me eventually discovering something called “Nonviolent Communication”, or “NVC” for short. NVC generally lives in the self-help/self-improvement world, and the demographic that is mainly drawn to NVC is middle-aged middle-class 1st world white women with liberal/progressive politics. In short, NVC is not at all something that originates from the anarchist scene, yet as soon as I started to study I immediately saw the connections and correlations with anarchism, and I got quite excited about that.

For about five years I was a zealous missionary for a kind of NVC-anarchist hybrid that I tried to develop and promote to anybody who would listen to me. For the next ten years after that I had more of a low-key involvement with NVC lasting until just last year when I decided to end my involvement with the NVC milieu altogether. My overall takeaway message from the whole thing is that while some maps, guides and conceptual schemas may be helpful for actualizing anarchy in the real-world, ultimately human beings with all of their complexities, foibles and psychoses go above and beyond anything that we can come up with.

To quote our anarchist daddy, Mikhail Bakunin: “No theory, no ready-made system, no book that has ever been written will save the world. I cleave to no system. I am a true seeker.”

This leaves me with a belief that Nonviolent Communication is something that can be useful and helpful for anarchists, if one cares to spend the time & energy to seriously consider it. I do not think that NVC is something that anybody “should” do, and in fact I think that the moment that one looks at it that way the whole thing becomes completely worthless and a waste of time. But if the sincere interest and desire to learn NVC is there, then the time spent can be worthwhile. So let’s talk about Nonviolent Communication.

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You’re All A Bunch of Socialists

A fun figure from Tetlock et al.’s “The Psychology of the Thinkable”.

 

Background:

Participants were told that the goal of the study was to explore the attitudes that Americans have about what people should be allowed to buy and sell in competitive market transactions:

Imagine that you had the power to judge the permissibility and morality of each transaction listed below. Would you allow people to enter into certain types of deals? Do you morally approve or disapprove of those deals? And what emotional reactions, if any, do these proposals trigger in you?

Respondents then judged two types of trade-offs: routine (secular-secular) and taboo (secular-sacred). The five secular-secular trade-offs included “paying someone to clean my house,” “buying a house,” “buying food,” “paying a doctor to provide medical care to me or my family,” and “paying a lawyer to defend me against criminal charges in court.” The nine secular-sacred trade-offs included buying and selling of human body parts for medical transplant operations, surrogate motherhood contracts (paying someone to have a baby whom the buyer subsequently raises), adoption rights for orphans, votes in elections for political offices, the right to become a U.S. citizen, the right to a jury trial, sexual favors (prostitution), someone else to serve jail time to which the buyer had been sentenced by a court of law, and paying someone to perform military service that the buyer had a draft obligation to perform.

Libertarians are notorious for gratuitously alienating everyone who doesn’t agree with them.  Looking at diverse critics and sneering, “You’re all a bunch of socialists” is a classic example.  Figure 1 shows, however, that there is a more than a kernel of truth in this unfriendly observation.  Conservatives, liberals, and socialists are all highly and almost equally hostile to creative expansions of the domain of the free market.  Is this because the “unthinkable” proposals are too radical to appeal to anyone who isn’t a libertarian?  Not really; many economists with zero libertarian sympathies would be on the same page.

Could the socialists analogously gripe, “You’re all a bunch of capitalists”?  Not easily.  Even self-conscious socialists are only moderately outraged by routine trade-offs – and this outrage tapers off almost linearly as we move from liberals to conservatives to libertarians.  At least in this data set, libertarians are clear outliers – and the disagreements between conservatives, liberals, and socialists are marginal.  I wish it were otherwise, but it rings true.

Last point: Tetlock et al.’s data helps explain why so many people falsely imagine that most economists are libertarians.  How so?  Because they are the only two groups that routinely transgress anti-market taboos.  Even left-wing economists, for example, have been known to endorse a market in human kidneys.  Even if they disagree, most will politely discuss an issue that almost everyone else considers beyond the pale.  Upshot: When libertarians tell mainstream economists, “You’re all a bunch of socialists” they’re not merely being undiplomatic.  They’re being wrong.

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Boondoggle-35

The U.S. government is infamously in debt. Since about 2012, the official national debt has equaled or exceeded the GDP. Shockingly, the real fiscal gap is much higher: with our $21.5T GDP and $22.5T official debt, we also have about $200T in unfunded liabilities over the next few decades. Most of that last number is due to programs such as Medicare and Social Security, but our regular debt comes from accumulated deficits: the U.S. government spends more each year than it steals in taxes. Since theft is its primary source of income, this situation is not sustainable.

The single largest item in the 2019 federal budget (contributing heavily to the aforementioned deficits and unfunded liabilities) is Social Security. The second-largest item is defense. The U.S. government spends more on defense than any other country in the world – by far. In fact, it spends about as much as the next eight countries combined. That is to say, the U.S. defense budget is approximately equal to the combined defense budgets of China, Saudi Arabia, India, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan.

Is spending of that magnitude necessary, or even remotely justifiable? Probably not. We’ve all heard infamous examples of gross waste and financial incompetence in the DoD – from $21T over a couple of decades that wasn’t correctly accounted for, to $1,280 cups, $999 pliers, and $640 toilet seats.

One of the biggest boondoggles in the U.S. DoD budget – and the focus of this article – is the F-35, AKA the most expensive weapons system in history. And of course, the costs continue to go up, according to a recent DoD report. The Pentagon first put out the project for bids in 1996, and the first F-35s were manufactured and flown in 2006. However, it wasn’t until 2018 that they saw combat for the first time when Israel deployed them. Since then, the USMC, USAF, and RAF have used them in combat only rarely. For a plane that is supposed to be sufficiently versatile and modular to replace virtually all other combat aircraft, the F-35 has been used very little.

Perhaps you’re wondering if this is a typical timeframe for a high-tech military project. Well, in 2001, the DoD expected to have its first combat-capable F-35s in 2010. That did not happen, not by a long shot. At least as late as 2013, these 5th Generation fighter jets could not fly in bad weather or at night. Despite all this, the F-35 program will cost about $1.5T, or approximately what the U.S. government spent on the entire Iraq war.

Last year, Defense News identified thirteen significant deficiencies in one or more F-35 models: from the possibility of a blown tire destroying the entire aircraft, to inadequate vision and sensor systems, to not being to fly too high, too fast, or in certain maneuvers without either apparent or actual major problems. Other issues included logistical and security concerns. Many of these have solutions in progress, although several additional issues with the weapons systems have been identified since then.

How does a project like this happen, and continue, despite perpetual problems? There are 1,400 subcontractors for the F-35 program, spread out over 307 congressional districts in 45 States. For those of you unfamiliar with the U.S. political system, that means there are 307 Congressmen (out of 435) and 90 Senators (out of 100) who have constituents whose livelihoods depend in whole or in part on the F-35 program.

Even the extraordinarily liberal (and openly socialist) Senator Bernie Sanders claims to oppose the program but supports having it partly based in Vermont, so his constituents can benefit from the subcontracting jobs.

It’s not just U.S. politicians who are financially committed to this disaster: there are eight other countries involved in the development of the F-35.

I don’t have a solution to the issues presented here. Really, since I oppose U.S. involvement in all the wars I’m aware of, I don’t really want to see the F-35 used more than it has been. Probably the myriad problems will be solved eventually, and perhaps most of the money to be wasted in this program has already been spent.

So, what’s my point? I want to draw your attention to absurd levels of waste and inefficiencies inherent in the government system, and I want to suggest that such waste is inevitable in the system as it stands.

What do you think? Is the system fixable? How would you fix it, or what system would you replace it with?

 

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Afghanistan: In Search of Monsters to Not Destroy

America, John Quincy Adams said in 1821, “goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.” That’s as good a summary ever spoken of the non-interventionist position.

US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) disagrees. He opposes President Trump’s quest for a peace agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan as “reckless and dangerous,” entailing “severe risk to the homeland.”

Nearly 18 years  into the US occupation of Afghanistan, at a cost of  trillions of dollars, more than 4,000 Americans dead and more than 20,000 wounded, Graham and his fellow hawks clearly aren’t really looking for monsters to destroy.  They want those monsters alive and at large, to justify both their own general misrule and the perpetual flow of American blood and treasure into foreign soil (read: into the bank accounts of US “defense” contractors).

The US invasion of Afghanistan was never militarily necessary. The Taliban offered to hand over Osama bin Laden upon presentation of evidence that he was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, an offer President George W. Bush arrogantly declined in favor of war.

The extended US occupation of, and “nation-building” project in, Afghanistan, was even less justifiable. Instead of relentlessly pursuing the supposed mission of apprehending bin Laden and liquidating al Qaeda, US forces focused on toppling the Taliban, installing a puppet regime, and setting themselves to the impossible task of turning Kabul into Kokomo.

It hasn’t worked. It’s not working now. It’s not going to start working.  Ever. It should never have been attempted. Afghans don’t want Lindsey Graham running their affairs any more than you want him running yours. Can you blame them after as many as 360,000 Afghan civilian deaths?

Afghanistan is not and never has been a military threat to the United States, let alone the kind of existential threat that would justify 18 years of war. Yesterday isn’t soon enough to bring this fiasco to an end. But Graham and company would, given their way, drag it out forever.

They’re  the kind of grifters H.L. Mencken had in mind when he noted that “[t]he whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” But they’d rather keep old hobgoblins alive than have to manufacture new ones.

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If the University of Alabama Doesn’t Need Hugh Culverhouse, Jr.’s Money, it Doesn’t Need Yours

Last year, Florida attorney and philanthropist Hugh Culverhouse, Jr. donated $26.5 million to the University of Alabama. The university, grateful for its largest private contribution ever, reciprocated by naming its law school after him. Hugh and UA, sittin’ in a tree …

On June 7, the UA’s board of trustees voted to return his donation (and presumably rename the school). Love-hate relationship, I guess.

Why?  They claim it’s over an argument as to how they spend the money,  but he says they’re lying and the reason he offers is a lot more believable given the timing.

His discussions with the school over the uses his donation are put to are ongoing. But last week, he said something they didn’t like. Specifically, he publicly urged students to boycott the school in protest of Alabama’s new abortion law.

Agree with him or not — on abortion, on the specific law, or on how students should respond to that law — Hugh Culverhouse, Jr. is a private citizen with a right to say anything he pleases.

Agree with the board of trustees or not on what Hugh Culverhouse, Jr. should say, the University of Alabama is a “public” institution that expects taxpayers nationwide to pick up a substantial portion of its operating costs.

The university’s financial report for 2017-18 notes nearly $45 million in federal grants and contracts and another $213 million in student loans funded by the US Department of Education through the Federal Direct Student Loan Program.

Check your voicemail. Any calls from the board of trustees asking whether it’s OK for them to keep taking your money while refusing Hugh Culverhouse, Jr.’s? I didn’t think so.

If you call up the university and start trying to tell them how to spend your money, or put out a press release urging students to cheer for Tennessee at the next Crimson Tide – Volunteers game, do you think they’ll send you a refund check? Feel free to try it and see what happens, but don’t hold your breath.

If the University of Alabama is so flush that it doesn’t need Hugh Culverhouse, Jr.’s money, they’re getting way too much of yours.

A federally funded university which turns down a private donation over the donor’s constitutionally protected speech should have the full amount of that donation subtracted from its federal funding for the following year.

And by the way, remember to cheer for Tennessee at the next Crimson Tide – Volunteers game.

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America Proved Minarchism is a Myth

It is beyond any measure of denial to assert that the American experiment in “limited government” – “constitutional” or otherwise – has proven itself an abject failure. The US government is the largest, most expensive, and most powerful cabal on the planet. And it shows no signs of reversing course.

But for the true believers in minarchism, it gets even worse. Consider the original idea behind the “United States”: A loosely confederated group of smaller sovereign governmental entities – all more or less modelled after the overarching federal one, each with a constitution and bill of rights. There are currently 50 of them, in addition to the special federal District of Columbia. Plus two overseas commonwealths, and three semi-autonomous territories.

Notwithstanding a few uninhabited islands and sandbars dotting the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean that the US federal government lays claim to, that equals not just one, but 57 separate experiments in “limited government.” We could also include all various municipalities contained therein too – counties, cities, towns – and then we’d be talking “limited” governmental experiments almost beyond number.

In zero of these cases have governments remained constrained by the pieces of paper ostensibly designed to do so. This is not to say that residing within one of the more egregious cases – such as Commiefornia, New York, or Marxachusetts – is entirely equivalent to living in South Dakota, Alaska, or Wyoming. Only that none of them have refrained from or been immune to their endemic nature: Growth. They have each of them expanded in scope and power over time – and continue to do so. Never contracting or downsizing. And ever at the expense of the individual.

You might, as a dedicated government apologist, try to excuse one, or two, or even half a dozen such failures as unfortunate anomalies plagued by corrupt politicians and judges. Maybe. If you wanted to be charitable. If you were stretching to clutch at straws in a desperate defense of the idea known as political governance.

But 57? Or the countless thousands and thousands of lesser subdivisions within those examples?

If the greater federal historical example of America does not dispel the minarchist “limited government” myth for the fantasy that it is, then all of the smaller examples under its very own rubric surely do.

“Small government” has never worked out. And it never will.

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