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Posts Tagged ‘anarchy’

The discussion of accountability and consent in anarchist and collective groups is very interesting to me. The groups are loosely organized groups that tend to impose few, if any, rigid structures and processes. Much of the point of these groups is to resist strict ways of being and supporting the safe exploration of ways to relate, live and engage. It is a set up that flat out resists explicit rule making. So when a group is confronted with an issue such as sexual assault it’s not entirely clear how the group and its members will and should respond. In a sense it provides a bit of a behavioral experimental playground much more so than more commonly organized groups of people.

In the specific case of sexual assault in these loosely connected groups the situation can be very complicated. The group doesn’t want to operate with well established rules that are marketed into its members. The group also doesn’t want to appeal to some moral or behavioral authority outside of the group. So there’s a real conflict in figuring out what exactly anyone is accountable for and what behavior to reinforce or extinguish. In some sense the lack of established processes and rules forces any conflict to always have reactive approaches rather than preventative. This doesn’t make it wrong or bad or ineffective. Consent and accountability isn’t necessarily dealt with well in a dogmatic rule enforcing set up. Often overly explicit ruled organizations create behavioral associations to following the rules rather than being attentive to others values, perspectives and personal comfort. So how should we think about consent? and respond to offenses?

The essay in IMPASSES “exploring critiques of the accountability process” mostly focuses on a synthesis and response to two pamphlets about accountability in anarchists groups. Presumably these pamphlets and others like them came about in response to specific challenges to accountability within the group. So I’m coming to my interpretation of the essay from both the context of the group’s possible issues and the general points the essay is trying to make.

The essay synthesis focuses a lot of energy on questioning the prevailing language used in accountability situations – that is situations where there needs to a response to some abuse. The author of the essay wants to resist any adherence to judicial or government like processes to organize people. I feel this is in general a useful intellectual approach. The fact is a resistance driven approach to living isn’t authentic if in the face of some adversity resistance is dropped and a person or group reverts to dogmatic or traditional approaches.

I believe the author is also justly critiquing these essays as giving in way too easily to common notions of victimhood and perpetrator and guilt and innocence. The world is vastly more complicated than most of our society’s media, processes and government admits.

The idea of consent is complex. And consent is a central component of identifying abuse and obviously possible healing behavior. Relating to each other in any open way requires a lot of listening and a lot patience. Often we don’t know our own rules and boundaries until they have been crossed. In some sense developing a sense of consent and vocabulary for communicating consent takes a willingness to approach and cross boundaries.

Values come about this way – one learns what behavior is reinforcing by behaving and experiencing consequences. The confusing part is that it can be extremely difficult to understand when a response to a behavior is a negative or positive reinforcer.

Even when rules are explicitly stated the ideas of consent and abuse are murky. The fact is whether we state rules or not we all are operating under a set of internal rules and values. These aren’t unchangeable laws but they are patterns of operating we’ve learned through consequences to our behavior. These rules can be hard to articulate but we all know when we’ve had one of our own rules broken.

The main challenge in any relationship is one of communication. The issue of consent or rather avoiding abuse is discovering rules before they are violated. The challenge the essay takes on is what should we do in reaction to an abuse. In particular, how should we handle things such to create more suffering by anyone in a process of healing and resolution. My interpretation of most common processes provided in schools, society, etc is that they are woefully simplistic and formulaic and focus far too much, as the author suggests, on defining things into victimhood and guilt. Typically in society once we can direct blame, accurately or not, our processes end. Unfortunately these approaches do not heal and increase perspective.

There’s is a ton of interesting research and literature on punishment and punitive approaches to society. The works of B.F. Skinner are worth a read. There’s also a great collection of essays under the book title “Beyond the Punitive Society” that are worth a browse. I point some of this material out because I think these materials get to the heart of consent and responsibility and accountability much more so than this essay in IMPASSES.

America is very much a punitive culture. From how we discipline our children to our judicial system to our religious views almost all processes we engage in for conflict resolution are punitive. It’s efficient, I suspect… Or it feels like it is. Oddly though it does not appear to be effective long term. Positive reinforcement (not the pop psyc positive mental attitude) is by far more effective. No person who violates a rule does so because they are evil or in isolation is a bad person. In this regard I side with the author of the essay in a search for better way to think and talk about accountability and consent and to not give into established approaches that don’t appear to be that effective in creating a safe, open culture.

I do hope the author(s) of the essay publish more about what they uncover. The world has far too few discussions about fundamental and powerful concepts like consent.

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I found the third essay in IMPASSES to be a ramble of mashed up of cited works that largely relies on hyperbolic semantics to make a point.  What the point really is I’m unable to decipher other than some vague notion of not being controlled by “society.”   Some passages that illustrate what I’m referring to above:

“One of the unifying factors between us all is that we have been socialized into capitalism, by capital. Our minds have been colonized in a way where all all of our social relations are imbued with the nature of capital.” page 51

“The world we inhabit prizes the future in such a way that one’s present self is always going to be subjected to its ability to create the future-child and the future-capital.” page 52

“The Shoah was only able to occur because people were classed as Jewish. We must reject these identities if we are to make the leap towards now-time, the revolutionary process of transformation.” page 64

Some of the more basic problems I’m having with this essay is that it fails to lay out operating definitions of the considerable amount of terminology is uses.   And from there the essay goes on to make grandiose claims like the first statement above.   There’s no falsifiable evidence offer that all of us have been “socialized” into capitalism.   I don’t know what it means to have my mind colonized or what “the nature of capital” actually is.

One central idea of the essay is that of “identity” and that often the “identities” labeled on any of us can be restrictive or oppressive.  While this point certainly can be said much more directly than the essay puts it I can agree with the basic premise.  We, on the whole, do categorize and label the world to create efficient ways to communicate.  We group people by their ethnicity or group like objects into a category so we can reference them without having to spell out in gross detail all that we might reference.   This likely springs from the very way in which our nervous system pattern recognizes.   It can be very efficient for managing our experience of the world i.e. makes it faster to decide what’s a threat and what isn’t.   In it’s efficiency it can also be fatally wrong i.e. all red berries are yummy! can often lead to eating a poisoned berry.

The violence referenced isn’t that of military resistance or physical force.  The violence discussed I would more simply just call awareness and learning.   I agree that the best sort of resistance against inaccurate and potentially threatening “identities” (aka labels) is through helping people be more aware of the considerable nuance to life, starting with oneself.   I completely disagree with one strategy cited in the essay that one way to deal with not wanting to be labeled is simply refusing to have a future (don’t have kids, etc).   No, I’m not making a case to have kids, what I’m saying is that there’s no need to resort to a fatalistic solution to eliminate labels and have a more nuanced identity.   Reading, paying attention, engaging others generally gets the job done.

By the end of the essay we get to a sentence of the concluding paragraph:

“But anarchist violence renders theory, navel-gazing and reasoned conversation obsolete.”

WAT?!   what does this even mean?   and no where is actually given any evidence of truth.  In the preceding paragraphs of that statement there’s discussion of “a transformative force of experience through action”  and all “that remains is the experience of resisting.”  To which I guess simply the act of resisting anything is the point?  the way towards not having an identity forced upon oneself?

Beyond the nonsense, literally nonsensical, statements one will never escape some amount of label making.  The author of the essay starts by labeling the world as Us and Capitalist, etc.   I cannot take the point of eliminating labels too seriously by an author that uses too many “ism” words.

Like previous essays there are questions presented at the end of which i can only respond to the question I understand, that is question 2:

One critique of the language you, like Camatte, use, is that it tends to substantialize capital.  Marx worked hard to define capital as a social relation, but we end up talking about it as though it were a thing, or some kind of subject.  Do you agree that some of your language substantializes capital? Do you think this might be a component of the absoluteness with which you describe it, and thus of the extremity of your response to a world so described?

I think the question asker is correct in that the author of the essay treats capitalism as a thing unto itself.  My point above is basically that! for an author that’s trying hard to reject inaccurate labels the use of “capital” conceptually the way the author does violates that idea.  We all know the word “capital” has strong connotations.  So it would be much preferred for clarity for the author to spell out exactly what behaviors we’re attempting to change instead of simply rejecting “capitalism.”

I myself do not think it’s a sound strategy for a society that wishes to sustain itself to deplete important resources simply in pursuit of financial gain.  Sustainable living is a very nuanced activity that indeed does require much deeper awareness and exploratory strategies than I think our society at large is engaged in.   We are far too focused on amassing money – the hoarding of future potential –  instead of not destroying natural resources, providing each other essential health care, participating in education and so on.   That is, we amass money at the expense of doing life giving things that do not require it!

I would LOVE for the author to get into the discussion of actual strategies instead of ranting with extreme language against vague notions of oppression.

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The first essay presented in IMPASSES “On Questions and Answers: Some Notes on How To Do Ideas” offers a compelling call to reject all ideologies and to engage in “continued experiments in ways-of-life.” (page 23).

“Ideology is theory that has escaped study” (page 18) is an excellent working definition of ideology.   It specifically captures the main issue with any and all ideologies – a truth reduction.   Ideologies are not representative of how anything completely works except in only the most trivial of cases.   Figuring out what is a trivial case is much harder than one might think.  Take an example from mathematics – is arithmetic consistent?  Meaning is the whole of arithmetic free of any internal contradictions.   It’s still unresolved.   Yes, there are a couple of proofs of the consistency of arithmetic but they are complicated and not 100% accepted as final proof.  If we can’t be 100% sure of something as “simple” as arithmetic what hope is there of assurance of truth about concepts as vague as God, country, knowledge, etc.

As beings with finite resources (lives and means) we must take shortcuts aka make assumptions and have representations.   We wouldn’t get through a day in our life if we tried to work out the complete truth of everything around us.   Truth reductions are useful to survival in that we have to behave with imperfect information.   But truth reductions can also be extremely dangerous, particularly around complicated issues involving how we relate to the planet and each other.   We must always question and re-question what we’ve decided advertently or inadvertently as an acceptable truth reduction.  Not doing so may make it such that we miss key information about the world around us and do things that increase suffering and/or reduce the possibility of survival.   Consider that for thousands of years slavery was mostly unquestioned and that it took a massive effort in 20th century to educate the population that inhaling tobacco was generally bad for your health.

Our methods of questioning must also be critically analyzed.  For a stale approach to questioning may be as misleading as truth reductions.  A biased approach to asking questions, such as at a biased university, whose primary objective is to keep operating as a university and needs to “[produce] results that maintain the university.” (page 19)   Confirmation biases seep into a huge chunk of scientific research and policy creation (great paper here.).   Even when our research is relatively free of flaws we certainly are all guilty of not knowing what we don’t know and are likely not even asking the best questions in which to go research.   It seems like a worthwhile approach to “increase our capacity for experimentation.” (page 24).

The essay itself poses a great critical question about methods of study but also confuses the matter with a muddled discussion about Politics and dualism.  While certainly useful topics to question and discuss the details covered add little to the main point of the essay other than to be examples of reductionist thinking in a pool of infinite examples.   It actually does something I believe the author specifically would like not to do – it politicized the essay a little into a bit of anti-government reduction.   There’s simply no need to single out politics as any more reductive and misleading than religion or a billion other ideology laced approaches to going through life.

Math and science as tools comes up a couple of times in the essay and with the questions at the end of the essays.  Math and science are also under constant review for their usefulness in not reducing truth.  There certainly have been many periods in history where math and science have gone through shocks calling into question their validity as truth seeking approaches.  Mathematics, in particular, was shaken very much when Godel unveiled his incompleteness theorems.   Far from destroying mathematics as a useful paradigm to form worthwhile questions and work towards useful and true solutions “incompleteness” actually enriched mathematical thinking’s capacity to ask important questions.

The questions at the end of the essay are worth a response. and offer an opportunity to “test out” the ideas of the essay and my own ideations.

1) If theory is merely a tool, how do we prevent it from becoming an apparatus (of control, of power, of ideology) like math and science?

This question seems to misunderstand the main points of the article.   The question is reducing the concept of theory established in the essay.  Labeling theory with a word phrase like “merely a tool” suggests that there’s something more useful than a tool or that a tool is mere.   Theories help us establish models and experiments in which we can go falsify or confirm and refine.   The prevention the question asker seems to seek is some prescription for not letting theories turn into ideologies (truth reductions).  And it seems the essays answers that quite clearly – always study, always question.  In other words there isn’t a single prescription.   The prevention of reduction is about re-questioning in every changing ways.

Secondly math and science CAN be apparatuses of control but that doesn’t mean they are a priori.   Math and science are various questioning and experimentation approaches also subject to refinement.

2) Academic study (and perhaps this could be said of study more generally) is oftentimes just a regurgitation of previously thought-up ideals.  Is novelty as a result of study necessary or is fluctuating between already-done ideas enough?

Again here the questioner assumes too much.   Where is the source of this novelty?   All thoughts and knowledge are the evolution of previous thoughts and/or responses to the environment.   The novelty suggested is emergent over time through the transmission and mutation of information.   It’s a non question when thought/ideas are viewed that way and it’s a confusing question period without a definition of thought and ideas.

3) Is study solitary or communal? What is the relation between “spreading anarchy” and others participating in critical studying?  Is there a set of values being set up around study whereby those who don’t participate in it (or participate in the “proper” ways) are seen as less credible, or is the questioning of this itself falling into the trap of movement-building?

This is a juicy set of questions.  Study is both a solitary and communal (and environmental activity).   We are all people within a world of other people.  I think it would be useless contradiction to define proper way of studying.   There are an infinite number of ways to explore this world.   The end goal being finding ever changing experiments on ways-to-live.   Particular methods of study might be viewed as inconsistent or improper within their method but it doesn’t invalidate them in the general idea of “studying”.   Fiction is a useful critical synthesis of the world.  So is non fiction and a painting or a music piece or a poem or science experiment.   The keys seem to be participation and being ever critical.  The more variation the more possible a real exploration of possibilities.

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Recently, the collective members of MonkeyWrench Books and Pallaksch Press in Austin, TX published a set of essays in book form called “Impasses.”  Here I intend to respond to the essays and the questions directly and indirectly posed.

There are a great deal of questions presented in the short volume so this will not be an easy nor quick effort.   The volume is an impassioned but far too brief exploration of several important threads.   I’m afraid my responses to the questions will end up with a bunch more questions due to the condensed source material.   Or rather, i have many questions for the authors so i can better understand the ideas and the backdrop for the essays.

Before I dive into the specific essays I have to start at the title of the book and the introduction.   I’m unclear about what is at an impasse and exactly what the functional definition of an impasse is.

In our studied patience we may be able to discuss what others pass over in silence: the generalized impasse which is our situation.  In a moment when the old ways of engaging seem not to be having the anticipated effects, we offer both some meditations on what it means to be where we are and a gesture toward new ways of understanding and resisting.  Each of the five conference pieces sets out from a stalemate where all options seem exhausted and all avenues explored.  For us, to confess to an impasse is not to admit defeat, but rather to acknowledge we have reached a critical point the continual process of thinking and refining our ideas.  If we are still discussing, still figuring out how to speak with and listen to each other, then the spark of resistance is not extinguished.

Here i’m unclear whether the impasses are such that the authors believe there is a real impasse or whether this is just a literary device to inspire discussion.  In one sense they are suggesting there is a general impasse for the overall situation in which they exist. Then later they suggest that instead they are still figuring things out, so not at an impasse.

The title and overall structure suggests that the authors believe there is an actual impasse and that they have a possible method, this book and its questions and the process that generated this book, to move past these impasses.

I’m digging into this because the clear statement of whether there is a real impasse has material impact to the the interpretation of the book.

I hope to engage the authors in a conversation to iron out this initial point.  From there i will proceed to answer, from my perspective, the questions posed at the end of each essay and then dig into the contents of each essay.   I will then make a general response to common themes and overall anarchist philosophy and tooling which is lightly touched on in the appendix and through out each essay.

I believe the spirit of the book and the collective, based on the authors’ website, is about engagement.  Nothing more and nothing less.   In that regard that spirit is alive and well with me.

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