Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A

Archive for October, 2010

Food, Water, Air and Care

October 27, 2010 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Core, Politics, Stratification

Remember Maslow’s hiearchy of needs?  Sure you do. It is usually presented something like this.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
You start at the bottom with the most basic needs.  As basic needs are met, you go up the pyramid.  I’ve seen a few of these pyramids.  They usually list the same stuff for basic needs – air, water, food.  They always forget the same basic need – care.

Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains. – Jean Jacques Rousseau

I blame Rousseau, myself.  Man is not born free, he is born attached to his mother by a cord and is not capable of looking after himself for at least seven years (seventy in some cases). – Katherine Whitehorn

I often think of those two quotes, especially when people ask why there are so few women anarchists and libertarians.  The recent anarchist survey came back with 82% of the respondents being men.  Libertarian surveys also have lopsided results.


When I lived in California, I worked for a small nonprofit that assisted caregivers of people with brain impairments. I picked up the phone one day and spoke to a client who had just received her first bit of respite.  That’s where we provided money for the caregiver to hire someone for a couple hours.  The woman had been taking care of her husband since his motorcycle accident a decade before.  She was crying.  She said it was the first time away from her caregiving responsibilities in all that time.

Our program was paid for in large part by tax dollars, both state and federal.  Who do you imagine that woman was going to vote for when the time came?  Do you think arguments about taxation being theft are going to persuade her that she should forgo those precious few government-funded moments of freedom?  How does your vision of freedom actually help her?  Are you going to go take care of her husband for her?

The vast majority of our clients were women, more than 80%.  Nationwide, the vast majority of people providing care for aging or disabled family members are women.  And even where men do provide care, they usually spend a lot less time doing it.  All that care has a cost.  Caregivers are stressed out.  They are depressed.  They earn less money.  They don’t take care of themselves.  They are struggling.

Women are seen as caregivers.  Women see themselves as caregivers.   It is what society expects of us.  The expectation is that we are supposed to want to play that role, to relinquish our freedom willingly out of selfless motherly/daughterly/wifely love.  Why would talk of freedom be expected to resonate with people who aren’t even allowed to want it?

There is a small part of biology involved in the idea that women are caregivers.  Those women who are able and choose to get pregnant have a biological caregiving role.  But the caregiving role that women are expected to play goes way beyond what is biologically determined.  The ability to get pregnant does not make someone caring.  Once a child is out of the womb, there is no biological rule about who should or would do the best job of caring for them.  The fact that women are the caregivers in our society is socially constructed.

That doesn’t just suck for women, by the way.  It sucks for men too.  I worked for divorce attorneys for many years.  Some of those bitter, “men’s rights” activists do have a legitimate gripe.  I saw many men get screwed in their divorce because, historically, the default was for kids to be with their mother – the caring one.  I saw kids begging judges to live with their father, only to be denied.  It happens.  I hate to agree with those schmucks on anything, but the sun shines on even a dog’s ass some days.

And if the gendered nature of caregiving weren’t damaging enough, our “independent,” nuclear family focused, transient society has taken away the collective caregiving that women have historically depended on.  Now we are expected to take care of our kids and our aging parents, often at the same time, and with little or no help from other family members or the community.  Is it really a surprise that, as women’s caregiving responsibilities increase, they become more liberal?

I don’t claim to have definitive answers on why women aren’t responding to anarchist and libertarian philosophies in the same way men are.  But I do think that the gendered nature of caregiving, how little most men talk about caregiving, how central caregiving is to our lives, and how much caregiving restricts our freedom has to be a factor.

And I find it interesting, in the context of this discussion, that so many anarchist and libertarian women are childless or did not participate in the raising of their children – Emma Goldman and Voltairine de Cleyre, for instance.  I would be very curious to know how many anarchist and libertarian women are mothers.  Most women are mothers.  If we can’t reach mothers, we can’t reach women.

The fact is that every one of us had our baby diapers changed by a woman.  And there is a damn good chance that your adult diapers will be changed by one to.  Complete independence and freedom are an illusion.  It is an illusion that women are not in a position to hold.  We are interdependent.  And we are only free in so far as everyone is willing to share in taking responsibility for the caregiving that is a fundamental need for all humans.

Whoever is addressing the real life situations that women face is going to get their attention – whether that is liberals offering government social programs, conservatives offering church social programs, or anarchists offering something new.  Talk to me about how to have the freedom to pursue my dreams without leaving a mountain of young, old, sick, and dying to fend for themselves and I’ll listen.

Things You Might Have Missed

October 26, 2010 By: Mel Category: Misc

Let me kick things off with this excellent piece by Tony Karon.  You do not speak for me Netanyahu.  Israel is not my homeland.

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, you probably know that my university studies focused primarily on human rights violations related to the drug war.  Focusing on an issue that Republicans and Democrats had both fucked up so royally was certainly a factor in my deserting our stunted political circus.  So I found Al Giordano’s post to be interesting.  If the dems (hell, or even repubs) wanted to clean up at the polls, is reversing their shit drug policy the way to do it?

Unfortunately, on the too rare occasions when people start asking why anarchists and libertarians skew so white and so male, the ensuing discussion usually makes you want to stick sharp things in your eyeballs (or maybe that’s just me).  So I was pleased to see this post by Punk Johnny Cash.  Even the discussion wasn’t completely horrible.  At least I don’t recollect anyone claiming “women just aren’t interested in politics.”

You know how people always wonder who would build the roads if there was no government?  What about when the people don’t want a road built, but the government tries to plow it through anyway?  Not the first controversial road in Mexico.  The road that finally plowed through Playa Chacala changed that fishing community forever, much to the dismay of many in the town.  And I know at least one family in Northern Mexico whose hard to reach location is keeping it insulated from the violence.  They’re praying the government doesn’t try to build a road.

So I am a bit torn on charter schools.  On the one hand, all the criticisms laid out in this article are hard to argue with.  On the other hand, I had horrible school experiences and I know that public schools are just drone factories.  I think we desperately need some radical education and part of me wonders if we can use this new love affair liberals and conservatives have with charters to our advantage.  But most of me thinks that charters will end up increasing the gaps.  Thoughts?

This piece on U.S. violence is interesting, but even more interesting is how the violence has decreased so dramatically.  What’s up with that?

We have a local currency here in DC, The Potomac, but it hasn’t really caught on yet.  This article about the Berkshire, which has caught on in a big way, is interesting.  I hadn’t realized they had local banks in on it from the beginning.

I think we all know a few activists who should read this article.  HT @furrygirl

I’m sure you have heard about the twenty year old woman who is now a police chief right in the middle of all the violence in Mexico.  The cynic in me wonders who she is connected to, but I hope we keep hearing about her.  I’m especially interested in the community watch and other programs she says she wants to institute.  Or maybe she can start by stopping the marijuana bonfires.  What a waste.

If you aren’t already following Ansel’s Haiti coverage over at Mediahacker, you should.

It is Intersex Awareness Day, in case you didn’t know.  Some stuff to be aware of. HT @audaciaray

GLBT kids aren’t the only ones with high suicide rates.  Indigenous kids have alarmingly high rates.

And how about a little vintage James Baldwin to finish us off.


October 21, 2010 By: Mel Category: Core, Seeking

I am really beginning to despise the word solidarity.  I’m constantly hearing calls for solidarity – with women just because they’re women, with anarchists just because they’re anarchists, with workers just because they’re workers.

Do you know what I think of when someone asks for solidarity?  I think of cops.  Nobody shows more solidarity than cops.  You could have a cop on video beating the crap out of someone, with a dozen of his fellow cops standing there watching, and not a one will cross that blue line to do what is right.   That’s some fucking solidarity right there.

And I think about Hebrew school.  I think about how we were always being asked to donate to Jewish causes, to plant trees in Israel, to rescue Jewish Ethiopians.  I was supposed to care more about one human being than another on the basis of some happenstance group identity.  The idea of “looking out for your own” repulsed me at nine and repulses me now.

Solidarity is about group cohesion, which means you have to see value in group belonging.  And I don’t.  I’ve never wanted to belong to a group.  All too often, group belonging means conformity.  It’s why the Amish all dress the same.  It’s why every kid in middle school has to run out and buy the same pair of jeans as their friends.  It’s why every pundit in Washington thinks exactly the same and why  we have all those little boxes on the hillside.  Conformity breeds intolerance, ignorance, group think, and stagnation.

You can only belong if others don’t belong.  There have to be boundaries and soon enough there will be people policing those boundaries.  The next thing you know “mean girls” are telling us we can’t wear sweatpants to school.  Your greener than thou friends disown you because you throw cans into the trash.  You’re kicked out of the anarchist group because you think smashing windows is pointless.  Debate is not an option.

That doesn’t preclude people joining forces for their common interest.  But it has to be about more than just group identity.  Support between workers halfway across the world, who have never met one another, is bound to be weak.  But if those workers are in the same industry or work for the same company and know that their fate is inextricably tied to one another in a very tangible way, then you have something.  And it isn’t just some vague notion of solidarity.

If you want me to do something or support something, do not appeal to me on the basis of group identity.  Appeal to me on principle.  Appeal to a real human relationship that we have.  If I think your cause is just, I’ll be there.  And if I also know and care about you as a human being, I’ll go to the mat.

If you just want solidarity, join the mob or the white nationalists or the police force.

Things You Might Have Missed

October 19, 2010 By: Mel Category: Uncategorized

This is going to be a short one, as I just got back from New Orleans and haven’t been reading much the last few days.  Also, tonight is my fourteenth anniversary and I have to get back to the bfriend.

While I was in NoLa, I ran into some people who had just visited DC and thought that DC didn’t have a clue what was going on in the rest of the country.  I knew what they meant.  Clearly, congress doesn’t have a clue.  And the federal employees and international nonprofit peeps aren’t feeling the hard times like other people.  But DC isn’t just government.  Other people live here.  And unemployment in some neighborhoods is the worst it has been in 30 years.  Really bugs me when people talk about DC in a way that erases most of the people who live here.

This post on police brutality in Florida and how cops use the baker act is really disturbing.

Haiti is still waiting on promised aid.

And Selling pot to fund nonprofits is brilliant.

That’s it for now.  Much more next time.

Intellect as Evasion

October 14, 2010 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Core, Politics, Seeking

Normally, I like Jay Smooth.  But this video really irritated me.

I understand why people are critical of the anti-intellectualism displayed by right wing populists who seem so disdainful of reading books, processing facts, or critical thinking of any kind.  But it amazes me when otherwise observant people can’t see that anti-intellectualism is reactionary.  It is a reaction to the idea that there is a small cadre of elites who are uniquely able to make important decisions on behalf of all of us.

There is no essential difference between supporting a ruling class based on blue-blood birth or ivy league degrees – it’s usually one and the same anyway.

The Christine O’Donnell commercial Smooth refers to is focused on morality, not intelligence.  She is saying that she will “do what you would do” in the context of not being a corrupt politician.  Now I have no doubt in my mind that she will be just as corrupt as the rest, but why not confront the issue of morality and corruption directly?  How does being an intellectual make someone more moral?  Is intellect the only thing of value in life?

For people who supposedly do a lot of critical thinking and evidence-based decision making, those who think like Smooth offer no proof that these supposedly smarter, more moral people are good leaders.  In fact, they seem completely blind to all evidence to the contrary.   Bill Clinton was smart and totally fucked us over.  Karl Rove is smart.  So is Paul Wolfowitz.  I hear Stalin was smart.

The intellectual hierarchy implicit in this way of thinking bugs me, but I think what bugs me even more is the abdication of responsibility.  In one part of the video, Smooth talks about how he wants to vote for someone who actually knows about stuff he doesn’t.  I realize that none of us can know everything, but that also includes politicians.  That’s (presumably) why they hold hearings and listen to people with expertise.

It reminds me of a blog comment that really irked me some time back.  The commenter was responding to the idea of anarchism.

I have literally no interest in doing much of the day to day running of a city myself, nor do I want to be at the mercy of “might makes right” types. I am happy to cede some powers to government to have them do those things for me.

So basically, the commenter wanted to be able to sit on their ass watching Top Chef without having to trouble themselves with the boring details of life.  And if their ability to do that is only won by giving power to people who will use it to enrich their friends, bomb children in Afghanistan, or put millions of poor people in jail?  Fuck em.

How selfish is that?

One of the reasons we constantly get screwed is that people think they can remain ignorant of policy and process.  They think they can leave the tedious stuff to others.  If we actually want any justice in the world, we need to take the time to learn boring shit.  We can’t just sit around in our underwear eating family-sized boxes of cereal, at least not all the time.  Maybe if we all got off our asses and did something we would find out that we are more capable than we have been led to believe.

Things You Might Have Missed

October 12, 2010 By: Mel Category: Misc

The Renewing the Anarchist Tradition (RAT) conference is being held next month in Baltimore.  I’ll be there.  Hopefully, some of you will be too.

Unfortunately the RAT conference means that I won’t be able to go to the Positive Force punk rock flea market.  But if any of you are in the DC area and not going to RAT, details are here.

Really interesting piece in Foreign Policy about the aging of the world population.  I almost even agree with their conclusion, but only if we define “family” to mean something larger than two parents and the kids.

I loved Richard Kim’s response to Tyler Clementi’s suicide.  He not only challenges the knee jerk calls for retribution, but shows how people use those calls to absolve themselves (and the rest of society) of any blame.

I also kinda liked this South African commercial about domestic violence, in part for the same reason I liked Kim’s article.  If we want to dis-empower the police, we are going to have to start taking some responsibility for what goes on around us.  (Although, I am totally fine with loud drumming at all hours.)

And if you want to know why we need to dis-empower police, judges, and the whole damn injustice system, just read about this fifteen year who was raped at the courthouse.  If it doesn’t make you want to scream…

The Guardian did a nice piece on Emma Goldman.

Interesting study on how people view their god – Authoritarian, Benevolent, Critical or Distant – and how that effects their world and politics.

Long, but thoughtful stream of comments on this post about racism by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Kilkenny compares the Epaminondas Korkoneas and Oscar Grant cases.

And finally, great videos on the removal of traffic controls in the UK and Sweden.  Be sure to watch the second video, which provides this handy response to the people who ask “but what about crime in anarchy” –

“When given a choice, the vast majority are naturally cooperative.  Trouble is the current system removes choice.  You can’t even legislate for maniacs.  So why hobble the vast majority with one size fits all rule to catch the hypothetical deviant?”

Why indeed.

Things You Might Have Missed

October 05, 2010 By: Mel Category: Misc

Kids can be so incredibly mean.  What would your parents have done if they found out kids at your school were torturing you?  What if they found out you were torturing other kids?

Related to that, this post calling the church out for “saving families” by being anti-gay marriage while ignoring the suicides their teachings contribute to really got to me.  I had to sit through the hypocrisy of a Catholic funeral for my 14 year old friend who killed himself in part because of their bs.  Infuriating.

Lots of stuff on incarceration this week.  Yglesias had a post on how incarceration kills your chances for getting out of poverty.  There was a great piece on a local org here in DC that tries to help formerly incarcerated women.  A Brennan Center report came out on prison fees.  WOLA had a couple good posts about the horrible drug war prison system we exported to Boliva and Ecuador.  And I found a comprehensive post by Victoria Law on women’s resistance in prison.

One of the things I find most irritating about all the anti-immigrant bullshit is how none of those people have any problem with immigration the other way.  I can’t tell you how many gated communities filled with U.S. and Canadian expats I passed in Mexico.  They built McMansions, used all the water to fill their pools, and didn’t even bother to hire local labor.  In short, as this article says, Mexico’s Illegals are Americans.  Meanwhile, our federal government is forcing local law enforcement to check immigration status and then deporting men who report when their girlfriend is sexually assaulted by said law enforcement.

I’ve been a little amused by the reactions to this whole fire department scandal.  First I got links from anarchist/libertarian types who thought it was great anti-government ammo.  Then I got links from liberals who thought it was anti-Rand fodder.  My take is, anyone who is such a schmuck that they would stand and watch someones shit go up in smoke is a tool.  I mean forget all the private business v. tax crap.  Do you blindly obey your boss no matter what they tell you to do?  If your boss told you to throw away leftover food rather than give it to the homeless, would you listen?  If your boss told you to throw children out on the street in the middle of a Christmas snowstorm, would you?  I sure as hell wouldn’t.

The ACLU just put out a very measured but damming report (pdf) on the current administration’s civil liberties record.  Too bad only Greenwald readers will know about it.

These Indian sex workers are not going to take being treated like shit.  I hope that filmmaker is thoroughly shamed.

Ms. Clinton gave a big contract to Blackwater, you know those murderers that Candidate Clinton said shouldn’t get government contracts.

Israel executed an unarmed U.S. citizen.

The government is x-raying you in your car.

FSK tackles the social contract.

I’ll be very interested to see how this supposed land reform project works out in Colombia.  Call me skeptical, but I suspect it won’t work out as stated.

And finally, a few things to think about when dealing with systematic issues on an individual level.