I’ve always been really annoyed that my mother didn’t teach me the other two languages she knows. Lots of my friends were in the same situation. In the sixties and early seventies, they were telling parents that teaching kids multiple languages would screw them up. Turns out bilingualism puts your brain on supercharge and even holds off Alzheimer’s.
In other brain news, argumentative theory is kind of interesting, especially the parts about how we need to put our brains together to get decent outcomes.
A little while back, Matt Taibbi came here on tour for his book Griftopia. During the Q&A some douche in the audience harassed him for like ten minutes about how the price of oil was all about supply and demand and couldn’t possibly be about anything else. So all Taibbi’s talk about Goldman Sachs’s speculation was wrong. Clearly, that man must have been an economist. Only an economist could hold on so stubbornly to concepts no matter the evidence. Well, thanks to Wikileaks, here is more evidence that he will ignore.
One thing that really seems to throw people for a loop, when I talk about a world without rulers, is how we would decide who does what. The really interesting thing about that question is what it says about life today. By asking that question, you are pretty much admitting that
1. People spend most of their time doing shit they don’t want to do
2. All the shittiest work is done by people who have no better options
If you defend the status quo, you are defending a system which forces people to waste much of their lives. And you defend a system that absolutely must constrain our options in order to make sure that there will always be someone desperate enough to do the really shitty work.
There are some cultural beliefs that we are fed in order to justify this system. One cultural belief is that self-sacrifice is to be applauded. Well, self-sacrifice is not all it is cracked up to be. I’m not saying that life is all fairies and unicorns. I don’t think that the whole world will be able to lay around on beaches all day smoking pot and trying to keep the sand out of our beers. (Although more time to do that would be lovely.) And I appreciate those people who have spent their lives sacrificing themselves for their family and community. I also think it is a fucking tragedy that they had to do it.
For instance, I worked with a woman who had three jobs cleaning hotel rooms. She was a Haitian immigrant without a whole lot of options. Her life was spent cleaning up after people, most of whom treated her like shit. I respected her and the sacrifices she made in order to give her kids a chance for better life. But I think it is a tragedy that she had to make those sacrifices.
Meanwhile, other people that I have worked with have never had to clean up after themselves, much less anyone else. There are people who get paid to sit around reading journals and opinionating. They are often surrounded by “support staff” who clean up after them, file their papers, answer their phones, and generally make sure that they can spend most of their time doing what interests them. (And that goes for at home as well, where the support staff are called “wife” or “housekeeper.”)
The difference between the hotel maid and the researcher is usually an accident of birth, one which has largely predetermined how many options they will have in life. Sometimes an individual overcomes the odds. Sometimes an individual screws up every advantage they have been given. But we do not all start off in the same place. We do not all have the same expectations or options.
I think that sucks. I think it is a waste of talent. I think it makes people miserable. And I don’t think it is necessary.
All people should be able to pursue whatever interests them. Luckily for us, people have all different interests. I don’t like playing in the dirt. My parents used to punish me by making me pull weeds. They ruined me for gardening forever. But lots of people love growing things. So they would. So far so good.
What if there are some things that nobody wants to do? In some cases, those things just wouldn’t get done. If nobody out there thinks that knowing how to make a slinky is the coolest thing in the world, then the world will have to live without the joy of a slinky. That makes me a little sad, but not sad enough to learn how to make a slinky.*
What if there are things that take huge sacrifices to learn? What if people need to go to school for years? Who would do that? Have you ever seen the sacrifices that people make to become ballerinas? What about people who go to med school and then go work in some rural village and get paid in chickens? There are some seriously dedicated people out there. A better question would be, how many obsessive geniuses have had to abandon their passion in order to do droll jobs to pay the rent?
But what about the icky tasks? Who would pick up the garbage? There will undoubtedly be tasks that everybody wants to be done but nobody wants to do. And those tasks will need to be split up somehow. In my office, everybody takes turns doing the dishes. It is sometimes a friggin disaster, to be sure. But we muddle through o.k. Perhaps this task could be accomplished more efficiently otherwise, but sometimes it is o.k. to compromise efficiency for fairness.
And the really great thing is that people would no longer spend time doing inane things just because one person with power got a bug up their ass. I cannot tell you how many reports and projects I have completed only to see them filed away in some bosses drawer, never to be looked at again. In a fairer system, that boss would be just another worker. And they would have to convince us that their project was worthwhile or do it themselves.
But what about tasks that come with power? Doesn’t specialized knowledge give someone a certain amount of power? Yes. Sometimes it does. I have told many a nonprofit boss that they should really, actually look at the books once in a while, because I could be robbing them blind. There is a certain power in having that knowledge. Some things should not be in the hand of just one person. In accounting, we have a segregation of duties that is designed to catch mistakes or fraud. Certain types of tasks may be important enough to design those kinds of controls. With other things, it may suffice to simply have backup people, or cross-training as the biz peeps call it. Those individuals don’t have to be at different levels. They can be equals.
Wont some people be doing tasks that are more useful? Maybe. But isn’t usefulness somewhat subjective? It is true that some tasks deal more directly with basic human needs, like growing food, but maybe the person tinkering in their garage will come up with an invention that unexpectedly makes growing food easier. Besides, some of those seemingly unnecessary things are what we live for. Food keeps me alive, but I don’t know how much I would like my life without music,literature, and sex toys.
What about status? Won’t doctors always have more status than people who make sex toys? Not for me! Seriously though, status is also subjective. What confers status in a community of artists is not the same as what confers status in a community of farmers. As human beings, each of us will undoubtedly value some human contributions more than others. We just have to recognize that not everyone will agree with our opinion. And so long as my low opinion of your work does not come with my having power to restrict your life, it isn’t really a problem.
What about rewards? Don’t some people work harder than others? Shouldn’t they be rewarded for that? Isn’t it demotivating when you work hard and other people don’t? Yes. Maybe. And sometimes. Some people do work harder than others. But those people who slack at the job they hate might work their asses off doing something they love. People may want to get appreciation for extra effort. But people are motivated by lots of things besides fear and money. Fear and money are actually really crappy motivators.
I could start talking about gift economies or maybe some of the interesting things that parecon has to say about division of labor. But I will leave those discussions for another day. The essential thing is not the details of how work will be split up or how people will receive what they need to survive, but the principles which we should be looking at when we are deciding how to do things. We should always be aiming for more freedom, options, opportunities, fairness, information, and creativity. We should always be aiming for less constraints, power imbalances, secrets, and mind numbing bureaucracy.
To some extent, what I am talking about is a huge change in thinking. We need to stop ourselves from automatically reverting to authority when we should be focused on process and organization. And there are certainly skills that we could all use more of – better communication and conflict resolution being two of the most important. But much of what I am saying here is widely known and talked about in business.
Read management books and they will tell you how customer service is related to employee empowerment. They will tell you how monetary rewards only motivate employees for a short time. You’ll read about the benefits of cross-training and autonomy. Some businesses even institute policies based on these principles – to an extent. But the people in charge of the policies are always constrained by their need to justify and preserve the privileges that they enjoy within the current hierarchies. So they can never take things to their logical conclusion.
When you talk about a more just system, people will pose all sorts of problems that they want you to solve. These are always problems that are not really solved now. In fact, they quite often aren’t problems to be solved at all. They are tensions to be managed. There are always tensions between pursuing your interests and taking care of your responsibilities. There are always tensions where people have different priorities. We will always have to be vigilant that specialized knowledge doesn’t lead to power over others. But those tensions can be managed much more fairly.
So Latin Americans seem to be digging up the past – literally, in the case of Chile. They exhumed Salvador Allende’s body and are hoping to determine once and for all if he committed suicide or was murdered during the U.S. sponsored coup. Meanwhile, in Guatemala, they are adding Arbenz (also, of course, removed in a U.S. backed coup) back into the history books.
There has been a disturbing rise in really violent murders of women in El Salvador. Guatemala is averaging more than 1,000 femicides a year. A friend of one of my former teachers researched the Juarez, Mexico murders and had a theory about the ritualistic killings being part of gang initiation. Whatever the story is, it is creepy as hell.
This piece in Crunk on race and the SlutWalks is spectacular.
You may have guessed that I was a library nerd when I was a kid. We had a really cool neighborhood library in an old house. My dad used to take me a couple times a week. And he let me check out whatever I wanted, no matter how lascivious. Jackie Collins is crap, but it is awesome crap when you are ten. Anyway, we seem to have reached the end of an era.
Have you all been following the Cornel West brouhaha? Chris Hedges interviewed West. West bashed Obama. A little war started. West said some personal shit, which Serwer responded to part of here. The other criticisms, like about Obama being in bed with the oligarchs, the liberal critics pretty much avoided. Well Chris Hedges came out with a scathing screed that is like a punch in the face to liberals. It is kind of awesome.
Also in Chris Hedges news. This is a very interesting interview with Derrick Jensen and Hedges. The last fifteen minutes or so are especially good.
One morning, when I was in eighth grade, I got dressed for school and went outside to wait for my father to drive me. I was wearing a long knit skirt, sweater, and some boots. My outfit would have met the requirements for an orthodox family temple outing. But when my father walked out the door and saw me, he told me I looked like a slut. I was devastated. More than that, I was baffled.
You have to understand that, when I was a kid, my father and I were as close as two people could be. There was nobody on earth that I would rather have spent time with. My father wasn’t some uber-conservative, misogynist douchebag. He was the guy who always made me feel like my opinion was important. He was the one who made me believe that there was nothing I could not do.
There was nothing slutty about what I was wearing (if you believe in that sort of thing). It wasn’t about that. And at some level I knew that. But I still didn’t quite get what the hell was going on. All I knew was that my father’s attitude toward me changed. In fact, all men’s and women’s attitudes toward me changed. One day I was playing with barbies and the next day grown men on the street were trying to fuck me. The really mindboggling part was that somehow their desire was my fault. Somehow that made me dirty and wrong. There was some kind of code that I was missing.
One of my friends at the time had the misfortune of having huge boobs. She would spend hours in a store trying to find exactly the right t-shirt. If it was too big, she would look fat. If it was too tight or the neck was too low, then she would look like a slut. In the hours that she spent trying to find a shirt that fell just perfectly on the spectrum between fat slob and dirty whore, she could have written a novel.
It really didn’t matter if my friend found that perfectly chaste t-shirt. Because if something had happened to her, it would still have been her fault. If she was wearing a t-shirt, someone would say she should have been wearing a turtleneck. If she was wearing a turtleneck, someone would say that she should have been wearing a hijab. If she was wearing a hijab, someone would say the attack was due to some errant hair.
The idea that girls and women are in some way responsible for other people’s action, for the sometimes truly awful things that people want to do to them, is pervasive. It is so pervasive that, when an eleven year old girl was gang raped, the first reaction was to examine her actions. Really? Is there something that an eleven year old can do to bring something like that on herself? What kind of society even lets that thought pass through their heads?
My teen-aged reaction to this bullshit (and a whole lot of other bullshit) was a big, punk rock Fuck You. I was not reading Betty Friedan. I did not have deep thoughts about how all of my personal mini-tragedies fit into a larger context. I knew that it hurt. I knew that trying to conform to social expectations would make me lose my fucking mind. I knew that, if I wanted to survive my teen years, I was going to have to give everyone the finger.
So I did. It didn’t always work out. Sometimes I did some really self destructive shit. I spent way to much time acting in opposition to things and to people. I did not understand that, when you are acting in opposition to people, you are still letting them define you. But it was the road I needed to take.
I’m boring you with this tween years confessional because a couple of people have inquired about my participation in the upcoming DC Slutwalk. For those of you who have been on Mars for the last few weeks, there was an incident in Toronto that set off a firestorm.
“You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here,” the officer said, according to Hoffman. “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this, however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”
Women in Toronto got pissed. They decided to give that cop, and all the others like him, a big punk rock Fuck You. So the slutwalk was born. And women all over the world have been marching – sometimes scantily clad, sometimes not. Tiara will march marchedwith a sign that says said,
This is what I wore when I was raped. I still did not ask for it
Every day that I open my blog reader there are more articles on the slutwalks. And I was going to respond to the criticisms. I was going to write about how some people just don’t get the attitude. I was going to write about how things don’t always have to be so fucking intellectual. I was going to write about how I thought some of the criticisms were valid. But then I thought….Meh.
The truth is that I am going to participate in the slutwalk because my inner fifteen year old thinks it is …like….totally….fucking… awesome. That’s it. I’m not going to intellectualize it or make excuses for its shortcomings. I’m not going to pretend that it is inclusive or that it is going to solve anything. I don’t believe that suddenly everyone is going to understand how debilitating it can be to be on the receiving end of that hate.
One thing that is certain is that we are talking about this issue in a huge way. I think that is a good thing. I wish that there had been a big public discussion like this when I was a teen. Maybe it would have helped me. Maybe I would have put two and two together a little sooner. Maybe I would have seen how scared shitless and emotionally ill-equipped my father was. Maybe he and I would have found a way to heal our relationship before he died, because we would have understood that what was going on between us was much bigger than just us.
Or maybe not. All I know is that me and my inner fifteen year old are going to put on a completely inappropriate outfit and give a big, cathartic Fuck You to a lot of clueless people. And it is going to feel good.
I saw Hesher this weekend. I went to see the movie because so many of the reviewers referred to Hesher as an anarchist. The official movie blurb refers to “Hesher’s anarchy.” I really liked the movie, despite the fact that so many people seem to think that anarchists are dirty, violent, headbangers with no impulse control. At least he was funny. Maybe we need a lovable anarchist comedian running amok? Any takers?
I don’t believe I will be voting in the upcoming presidential elections, but I really wouldn’t mind seeing Ron Paul and someone from the more radical dems team up on an anti-war and anti-drug war platform. Perhaps Cynthia McKinney? It isn’t like I think they would win, or that it would be good if they did, but it would be lovely to see how many people would get behind it. I mean look at some of the positions that are considered “extreme.” How extreme are they really?
Even better, maybe Luther Campbell can go from mayor of Miami to president. They could play “Me so Horny” every time he walked on stage. (Clearly, they should play that for a lot of politicians.)
Wow. For real. Shooting a skateboarder? That is one cranky dude. His condo is toast come Halloween.
Db0 breaks down the responses to an anarchism reddit question about how people got interested in anarchism. I think the last trend should be examined more. Culture is a huge doorway to looking at the world in a different way. But there isn’t enough cultural product out there that is anarchist and not punk rock. I mean I like punk rock, but not everybody does.
I know I have mentioned it before, but the new movie on the Freedom Riders is really a must see. This alternet article highlights one of the main lessons. Change happens when people take direct action. And P.S. The Kennedys didn’t do shit.
Hey, I do a lot of accounting too. I might need some curtains for that gargantuan window from my office out to the hallway. Also, my office mate might not like the whole masturbating several times a day thing.
This piece was really interesting. Although the author is talking about the death of anarchy, he at least understands it somewhat. To his credit, although a firm supporter of the welfare state, he actually beseeches people to do better about showing its benefits. Which is to say, anarchy is the baseline and any institutions (particularly costly ones) better make their case. Why can’t we have more of these?
The Heritage Foundation has come out with their new plan for Saving the American Dream. If you are at all wonky, you should read it. They have a lot of influence and you can be sure that conservative republican candidates will be selling much of their plan. Scarily, although even Heritage is calling for an end to farm subsidies, it still won’t happen.
I don’t think hierarchy is bad, but involuntary hierarchy is certainly bad. But its simple to explain to anti-hierarchyists that a committee cant sail a ship. But working on a ship is completely voluntary.
The ship analogy is perfect, actually. There are lots of different types of ships and there have been lots of different ways of organizing them.
A military vessel has a distinct hierarchy. The people retain their status differences even when not on the ship. Historically, in many places, officers would be from aristocratic or otherwise very privileged families. The riffraff would not just sail into a position of authority. That is hierarchy of the worst kind.
But what about a pirate ship? Pirate ships were often examples of democracy. It was not unusual for the captain to be elected by the crew. It was not unusual for the crew to depose any captain who screwed up. And pirate captains were certainly not required to be of noble birth. That isn’t quite anarchy, but it is a might better than the kind of hierarchy on a military vessel.
I go on boats sometimes. I know almost nothing about sailing. I have no problem deferring to my friends who have that expertise. I have no problem with agreeing, for a few hours, to do what my friend says and to trust their judgement. But when we stop sailing, that is it. It is temporary. It is based on expertise and practicality. It is based on mutual agreement between people, none of whom are in a permanent position of power. And, although I am technically following their orders for a time, I am not under them. That is situational leadership. I have no problem with that.
As to working on a ship being voluntary, that is not always the case. Anyone who has been on the underground tour in Seattle has seen those trap doors through which they used to shanghai sailors. Clearly, many people who have worked on military vessels were conscripted. Even people who volunteer for military service, or sign up to work on a commercial ship, are not usually doing it because it is what they most desire in the world. They are doing it because of economic necessity and because they see it as the best of all the options they have. When I go on a boat with my friend, that is a real choice.
It is easy to confuse the need for situational leadership with the need for permanent hierarchies. We are told to conflate the two at every turn. But they are not the same thing. We need situational leadership sometimes – like on a boat, or during a natural disaster – but we never need hierarchy.
A bunch of women were beaten and raped by Mexican police, none of whom are being held accountable despite ample evidence. The best part? The women were flower sellers who thought they had an agreement from officials to let them sell their flowers. The authorities blocked them. The women protested. The cops beat and raped them – for trying to sell flowers. Are you having as hard a time wrapping your head around that as I am?
People often ask me how I became an anarchist, but I’ve come to realize that it was really more of a discovery than a conversion. I think most people hold anarchist beliefs. The click moment for me was when I actually began to believe that I could live in accordance with my beliefs.
When I talk to people about anarchism I often get the response that it sounds great in theory, but it would never work. People don’t think it is possible to organize without hierarchy. They point to all the scary people out there that they can’t trust. They look at how we can’t even speak to one another, much less actually work together to solve big problems.
The first two criticisms are easy to respond to. There are plenty of people out there who are organizing without hierarchy – from pickup games of basketball to cooperatives. And if you think your neighbor is scary, wait until your neighbor gets elected and sends your kid to war. The people who want to be “leaders” are always the absolute last people who should have power over anything.
That last one is tougher to respond to. There is no denying that we have a really hard time speaking to each other. And if you can’t even speak to each other, then you sure as hell aren’t going to be able to resolve conflicts. But it isn’t that we are incapable. It is that we have been trained from birth to do all of the wrong things.
We don’t discuss things, we debate to see who scores the most points. Everything is broken down into heroes and villains. Nobody wants to hear an ill word about their hero. Nobody wants to hear a good word about their villain. If we read something written by someone we like, we ignore the weak arguments or fuzzy assumptions. If we read something by someone we hate, we look only for what is wrong and refuse to acknowledge any good points they might have made.
That’s assuming we are even willing to read things by people we hate. How many people only preach to the choir? How many people make sure that all their news comes from those with their same ideological leanings? How often do we let all our knowledge about another group of people come from media or politicians or some other filter with their own agenda – rather than talking to those people directly?
Where the rubber hits the road is where anarchists can show that it is possible for people from different backgrounds and belief systems to actually work together. We have to show that it is possible to resolve conflicts without coercive authority. And that means that we have to be open-minded enough to at least talk to people. It means we can’t be dogmatic. It means we have to acknowledge that nobody is right 100% of the time and nobody is wrong 100% of the time. It means realizing that you will never find anyone who supports everything you support. It means no more guilt by association. It means we should stop making assumptions about a person based on one thing they said or on the fact that people you don’t like agree with them.
That is a lot easier said than done. It is hard to have a conversation with someone who seems to hate everything you most value. It is hard to confront people’s prejudices. It is even harder to confront your own. Sometimes it isn’t even content, but style that seems to be the most difficult. Some people take a super logical approach to discussing things and seem cold and heartless. Other people meander through their stories and anecdotes, driving the superlogicals off the deep end.
We are all going to fail miserably a lot of the time. But we need to at least try. Our ability to create a different kind of world depends upon our ability to develop skills in communication, conflict resolution, and horizontal organizing. We know how to make revolutionary change. We don’t know how to make change that lasts and that doesn’t reproduce the same oppressions we fought to get rid of. Once we can learn how to resolve our own problems – without calling daddy, or the cops, or Smith & Wesson – the jig is up.
If we can manage to bring seemingly incompatible people to the table and actually accomplish something, then the naysayers will see that it is possible.
Charles Davis has been writing some great posts on Ron Paul v. Obama. There is this one on CounterPunch. Then there is this one about Greenwald saying he might not vote dem. And finally there is this one in response to Taibbi saying he still couldn’t vote for Ron Paul. Don’t believe I will be voting for anyone, mind you, but his points are worth making.
Michelle Alexander has a new piece on Alternet about the human rights nightmare that is the drug war. (Human rights violations related to the war on drugs was what I focused on in college, FYI.)
Dare I say that some churches may be putting us to shame in the mutual aid department? My guess is that they will regulate this out of existence. They’ll probably regulate this nonprofit dental clinic out of existence too.
Land reform is not a simple thing. And the land vs. territory issue is an interesting one. I wonder what a Pacahuara would say about private property or security of tenure.
And while we are on the subject of land, here is an interesting article about marijuana growers doing their thing on private property and leaving environmental damage in their wake.
A good follow up to Thursday’s post is this one on how to be an ally to sex workers.
Here is a post on illiteracy around the world. Sad that DC is highlighted. The last quote is from a student in the program I volunteer with.