Why I’m On Twitter Hiatus: Radicalism And Orthodoxy

It wasn’t an easy thing for me to decide to take a hiatus from the community that I’ve become a part of on Twitter. Twitter has become a part of the fabric of my daily life, filling a need that I don’t find in the morass of suburbia, office work, etc that has become much of my “IRL” existence. A need for conversation with people who feel as trapped by their awareness of “society” as I do. A need for comrades who understand the mental dissonance of on the one hand being an anti-authoritarian, and on the other to navigate the unfortunately necessary paths of daily compliance, work, bosses, etc, of modern life.

In short, in twitter I found that I wasn’t alone in feeling this dillema.

But increasingly, something else has intruded, maybe something unavoidable  but no less in need of being called out: much of radicalism has become as orthodox and strict in its adherence to ideological anchors as the very systems we fight against.

For me, already suffering from depression largely linked to how much of a societal weight we all feel to conform, the radicalism that gave me an escape became one more sea of people vying to be thought leaders, ideological authorities, etc.

Some of this is inevitable. Look at the person who has just awoken to an ideology that is outside the mainstream, and clings to it like a life raft. Look at newly minted atheists, reveling in the feeling of freedom they have, though terrifying, in throwing off the mental bonds that their parents placed on them. Look at libertarians finally letting go of any pretext of a State, and becoming AnCaps. Look at far left liberals (if there are any, anymore) who let go of the last vestiges of liberalism and become communists.

All of these scenarios involve a revelatory change in perception. Yes it was gradual:  it was the lecturer you saw that left you so troubled. It was your Party doing something that felt wrong to you. It’s watching as the majority of the people you formerly identified with take a position you find repugnant. But the actual moment when you look at yourself and declare yourself to no longer believe in God (wow I’m an atheist!) or no longer believe in the State (I’m an anarchist!), that moment of personal revelation is powerful, but it’s also terrifying.

And unfortunately that terror is of weightlessness, of not being bound, of not having an -ism to call your own.

This, I think, is what leads to the one thing that seems to doom the radical fringes of society to irrelevance a lot of times: the need to set a stake in SOMETHING that anchors you to an ideology. It’s this that takes someone who rejected the narrative that mainstream society had built and became an anarchist/communist/whatever by opening their mind, and made them simply close ranks (and their mind) on finding a new ideology.

We as humans are terrified of the unknown, but more importantly of being WRONG about the choices we make in the face of that unknown.

In Twitter, I see both sides of this. I see people’s minds expand, question everything, their own ideologies, their own comrades, everything, in an attempt to HONESTLY look at all aspects of life through a critical lense. It’s this side of twitter radicals that I cherish, which will at some point draw me back to it.

But the ugly side of it, the factionalism, the “only X is a real -ist”, is what I need a break from.

More than anything else, the radicals I most respect are the ones that do what they can to not get sucked into factionalism or wars of ideology. There are people who label themselves AnCap that I respect FAR more than people spouting orthodox anarchist ideas, even though I completely disagree with their ideology. I respect them because rather than using their ideology as a bludgeon or as thought police, it simply provides them a basis from which to evaluate new ideas… but they are always willing to abandon pieces of their own ideology as new information or revelations come to light. In short, they value ideology but abandon orthodoxy.

I will get back on twitter eventually, I really do see it as a valuable resource. But when I do, I’m going to begin culling out people in my TL who are so partisan that challenges to their ideologies are met with hostility. Real radicalism, the kind that overthrows empires, in my view can’t spend its time bogged down on ideological purity questions, and certainly not in pissing matches and name calling when those differences in ideology arise.

So to you my Twitter radical family, I love you all, I miss you all, and I hope you all can start to see the value in working together despite our differences. Remember, we may be anarchists, libertarians, communists, etc, but first and foremost we are ALL the termites gnawing at the support beams of empire, and it’s high time in my opinion that we all started focusing on that.


Beyond Surviving, Everyday Skills to Move to a Post-Society

Today I began reading “The Coming Insurrection”, that piece of revolutionary work that Glenn Beck was so terrified of, and I’m extremly glad I did. It’s a great read, and one I’d highly recommend to anyone and everyone, a take on modern life and society that should be obvious to anyone who calls themselves a dissident – but rarely expressed so eloquently.

While there’s a lot of things percolating while reading it, one thing in particular stuck out and gave me a lot of hope: this idea that the means to escape the traps of society that we all live in daily – workerism, institutionalism, ‘progress’ – are things that still exist within us, albeit in a fragmented manner.

The author(s) use the example of New Orleans after Katrina:

“In this apocalyptic atmosphere, here and there, life is reorganizing itself. In the face of the inaction of public authorities, who were too busy cleaning up the tourist areas of the Frech Quarter and protecting shops to help the poorer city dwellers, forgotten forms are reborn. In spite of occasionally strong-armed attemps to evacuate the area, in spite of white supremacist lynch mobs, a lot of people refused to leave the terrain. For the latter, who refused to deported like ‘environmental refugees’ all over the country, and for those who came from all around to join them in solidarity, responding to a call from a former Black Panther, self-organization came back to the fore.  In a few weeks time, the Common Ground Clinic was set up. From the very first days, this veritable ‘country hospital’ provided free and effective treatment to those who needed it, thanks to the constant influx of volunteers. For more than a year now, the clinic is still the base of daily resistance to the clean-sweep operation of government bulldozers, which are trying to turn that part of the city into a pasture for property developers.  Popular kitchens, supplies, street medicine, illegal takeovers, the contsruction of emergency housing, all this practical knowledge accumlated here and there in the course of a life, has now found a space where it can be deployed. Far from the uniforms and sirens.”

This. This is where we as anarchists, communists, revolutionaries, whatever we call ourselves – this is where the strength and ability to overcome the mountainous barriers of society, government, etc will come from. We all have these pieces of knowledge that, when put together and shared, are going to be the foundation of any actual revolution in the future.

I don’t know how to perform medical treatments. But I bet I know someone who does. They in turn don’t know how to find edible food in the woods, but they know a hunter or lifelong camping enthusiast who does. It’s this network of people with skills that we don’t even think about on a day to day basis that will allow us to break out of society and move on. We all have these skills, whether we think them applicable or not, that we will probably be surprised to find are VERY useful at some point.

I grew up going on camping trips with my parents, learning how to build and maintain a fire, how to fish, how to field-fix equipment with whatever was available. There’s a lifetime of random knowledge about simple cooking, staying warm, sewing old clothing, etc that exists within my brain that I barely ever tap into. This can be my contribution.

It doesn’t really matter HOW you grew up. The knowledge is there, whether it’s how to fix machinery because you rebuilt a car with your dad, how to hunt, how to build things, DIY culture, etc. The things that for most of us society has relegated to ‘hobbies’ may very well be what saves us in the future. After all, the fact that society has pushed so hard for these to BECOME hobbies for the vast majority of us should tell you soemthing about their utility: if modern society thinks it’s useless, there’s a good chance that’s becuase someone, somewhere, wants to sell you seomthing to replace the need for that knowledge.

The survivalism movement has definitely embraced a lot of these things, but I’d say they’ve done so with the wrong intention in mind. Survivalism, at it’s core, is exactly what it sounds like: surviving. Surviving a collapse, or a storm, or a war. But the flaw in survivalism is that a lot of it seeks to PRESERVE small pockets of what we currently have now; or even to simply survive between NOW and when we can get back to NOW.

Going beyond survivalism requries something different. It requires an understanding of the same basic concepts, but with an intention of using them not to preserve pieces of the old society, but how those pieces can be shared and used to build something post-society. That’s where our practical knowledge comes in.

As leftists, anarchists, whatever we choose to call ourselves, I think it’s important that we start spending more time sharpening the skills we already have (and acquiring new ones) with that goal in mind. Not simply surviving. Not maintaining. But building. Don’t sharpen your mechanics skills, for example,
just to keep the generator running in times of collapse – sharpen them because they will be valuable in ways you can’t even imagine as we move PAST society, not as we try to rebuild it.

That’s really the key. We don’t just want to survive, we want to grow.

Anarchy Already Exists: It Just Comes In Small Doses

As I was reading through my normal news feeds tonight, I came across this story from Boing Boing: “Fences as primitive phone networks” and all of a sudden I was 8 years old again, looking at the remnants of one of these myself. And then 8 year old me and 30-something me had a conversation about anarchy as a practical application, and here I am.

When I was a kid I grew up in a rural town of around 9000 people, the largest town in a 300 mile radius. While my parents and I lived in town, my parents best friends lived on a ranch 25 miles outside of town. I spent a good portion of my childhood on the ranch doing ranch type stuff. Not a lot of people can claim to have actually been on a cattle drive, built fences at a cattle camp, helped birth horses and calves, etc. And the more I think about who I am now, the suburban dissident dad stuck in a dead end office job, the more grateful I am for those early experiences. Because more than anyone else I’ve met in real life, these ranchers LIVED anarchy.

It’s easy to talk about theory, legal and economic systems in a post-revolution anarchic society, and all the other ideology that gets thrown around. A little harder is dealing with the interpersonal politics that we see pop up in things like Occupy, protests, general assemblies and all of that.

But the hardest part of anarchy, the part that we as radicals have to take a real hard look at is LIVING. It’s the communities that we want to live in, it’s the people we want to have in our lives. It’s putting food on the table and helping your neighbour put food on theirs. It’s dealing with disputes that arise simply because we are obstinate, opinionated, shitty human beings and no amount of ideology will change that.  And it’s doing this for the rest of our lives, long term. Not in the context of a protest or a temporary commune. Not in the context of an occupation, or talking to people on twitter.  Not even in the context of solidarity in the face of thugs with badges and batons. I’m talking about introducing anarchic ideas into our every day lives.

What that Boing Boing post reminded me of is that there are communities of people who are a hell of a lot further down the road to anarchy then the rest of us are, and they aren’t even aware of it.  Were these rancher communities idyllic? Hell no. There were deeply ingrained problems with sexism, racism, and traditionalism that were (and are) problematic to the extreme.  There were conflicts between ranchers and native peoples (though often much less than the conflicts between the townies and the natives). Like any society on earth, they were filled with things that needed addressing and were, often as not, swept under the rug. And above all don’t think I’ve forgotten the violence that settled these white ranchers on native lands in the first place.

But they were also resilient. These were men and women who valued community over themselves.  They loved the land they lived on, and while many of them didn’t give a shit about environmentalists talking about sustainability of ecosystems, they PRACTISED that sustainability every single day, through generation after generation of family ranches. They were independent and individualistic, and at the same time knew how that individualism best fit as a part of a larger community. Though they’d call you a pinko bastard and run you off their property if you called them a socialist, they practised a form of community that was closer to actual anarchic socialism than anyone I’ve ever met.

None of this dismisses the problems that they did have, problems that were like poison at times.  But in small doses: opening a field for your neighbour to graze their cattle on because theirs was destroyed by a brush fire; working out disputes over land use without ever bothering to call a city land planner (because what the hell did he know about their lives?); in the simple idea that as a community, you knew you could rely on your neighbours in the same way that they relied on you… they lived and breathed a level of anarchy that transcends ideology.

My experience with these people has really effected how I look at community. Living in the suburbs, where we go from front door to car to office to car to front door and at most throw a nod at our neighbours, it’s something I miss.

Like everything else in society, corporations have largely destroyed a lot of these communities. Free range, family owned ranches were replaced with factory cattle ‘production facilities’ (the kind that make my vegan and vegetarian friends violently angry, and rightly so). But the spirit that lead to these communities in the first place is what we as anarchists have to tap into. In every aspect of our lives, corporate-government entities do what they can to divorce us from them.

Because it scares the shit out of them.

Whether it’s urban communities policing themselves because the police are nothing but thugs who prey on them anyway, native communities taking back their traditions and culture, or the ranchers I grew up with figuring out how to make their communities work without worrying about whether they are ‘within regulations’, it’s these practical applications of individuals working within communities that are where anarchy truly lies.

And I guarantee you that if everything collapsed tomorrow, they’d probably be the only communities that could still function, because ‘mutual-aid’ and ‘self-reliance’, etc are so woven into their lives that they don’t even need those words to describe them: it’s just ‘the way’.