Mother Jones on the roots of the Oregon “standoff”

Tom Philpott over at Mother Jones has written up some good background on the roots of the Bundy brother’s grievances regarding grazing rights on public lands:

On January 2, a band of armed militants—led by Cliven Bundy’s son Ammon—stormed Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, seizing the visitor center both to protest the tangled legal plight of two local ranchers convicted of arson on public land, and to defy the federal government’s oversight of vast landholdings in the West. (You might remember that Cliven launched his own successful revolt against federal authorities in 2014 to avoid paying grazing fees on public land in Nevada.)

For all the slapstick comedy on display at the still-occupied government complex—rival militias arriving to “deescalate” the situation, public pleas for donated supplies including “French Vanilla Creamer”—the armed-and-angry men behind the fiasco are pointing their rifles at a real problem. In short, the ranchers who supply the United States with beef operate under razor-thin, often negative, profit margins.

The anarchist ethos

Some recent comments I’ve made on Dale Carrico’s blog has got me thinking about what exactly an “anarchist ethos” is. Anarchism, the historical and philosophical doctrine of grass roots revolutionary activity and change, has been defined well beyond ignorance. I point the reader to perhaps one of the clearest elucidations available by linguist and activists Noam Chomsky.

As Chomsky is famously known to have stated, anarchism has a “broad back” (I would add, incidentally, as does most other political schools of thought, Marxism of note), meaning one can attribute to it a good deal of differing ideas, some even of opposing philosophical tendencies. While I think this is true to a certain extent, I’ll also repeat Chomsky’s assertion that there are a few distinct and required criteria by which anarchism can be defined, and lacking such criteria would beg a serious consideration of such self-admitted anarchists who hold opposing views. In other words, anarchism can’t be everything, otherwise it’s nothing.

In a May 2013 interview with Michael Wilson on Alternet, Chomsky sums up, again, I think pretty convincingly, the anarchist ethos, in which he states that anarchism is

 …basically a kind of tendency in human thought which shows up in different forms in different circumstances, and has some leading characteristics.  Primarily it is a tendency that is suspicious and skeptical of domination, authority, and hierarchy.  It seeks structures of hierarchy and domination in human life over the whole range, extending from, say, patriarchal families to, say, imperial systems, and it asks whether those systems are justified.  It assumes that the burden of proof for anyone in a position of power and authority lies on them.  Their authority is not self-justifying.  They have to give a reason for it, a justification.  And if they can’t justify that authority and power and control, which is the usual case, then the authority ought to be dismantled and replaced by something more free and just.  And, as I understand it, anarchy is just that tendency.  It takes different forms at different times.

It’s worth a read, especially since he goes on to excoriate those US based Libertarians (anarcho-capitalists by implication) who happen to call themselves “anarchists” (and Carrico, noted above, who does the same) while ignoring this one basic criteria, that private tyrannies are just as tyrannical, and contrary to the anarchist ethos, as public ones, and necessarily disqualifies one from the tradition and philosophy of anarchism, notwithstanding one’s claims to the contrary.

I think the same can be said of the “third positionist” National Anarchists, an insignificant grouping of quasi-fascists who have adopted the slogans and some of the philosophical trappings of anarchism. As is clear by a reading of their texts, some tyrannies are outright ignored or even supported (such as the tyranny of racialist segregation) while others are trumpeted as insignificant (like small businesses).

In other words, just because you say you’re an anarchist, doesn’t make it so.

This isn’t a trivial concern of definition, or a dogmatic appeal to a theoretical purity, a tendency that tends to plague the left. It’s a live controversy and one with implications for a left-wing tradition and movement that, in the opinion of this author, offers the only viable means of averting the worse effects of a global crisis of climate change and resource depletion.

We’re not going to privatize ourselves out of this dilemma (as most on the left would agree) nor are we going to centralize ourselves under a bureaucratic mess of Social Democratic parliamentary committees all crunching the numbers and sending their orders down the line (offering little difference with the current regime of decision making). The problem was never just  the appropriation of surplus value by capitalists, although yea, that’s bad, and fundamental. The problem involves decision making being continually divorced from the ground, from the grassroots, from the neighborhoods and workplaces that are best situated and capable to make those decisions. The problem of the legitimacy of authority is central to a reorganization of society to address climate change and over population, pollution and racism, poverty, over production and patriarchal relations, violence and depression.

So no, you can’t be a market capitalist and an anarchist any more than you can be a Marxist and a supporter of the extraction of surplus value. You can’t support private tyrannies and party with Bakunin. You weren’t invited to the party.

Notes on writing a novel

We all have one in us, evidently. Its a cliche, and not really true, but the point is made, that  telling one’s story, or any story, is a universal human desire, and getting out the story, and all its useful “lessons”, a thoroughly human affair.

It’s not true, what is sometimes said, that it doesn’t matter what you write as long as you write it. Writing for the sake of writing has it’s dangers. You can write all day every day for a year and if the result is just a whole lot of endless drivel, stream of consciousness blather, what you have is a wasted year of endless drivel and stream of consciousness blather, not a monument to your inherent creative nature. And you’ll know it, you’ll feel that pressure of the millions of words staring you down and telling you to delete that file and move on with your life, become that farmer you’ve always wanted to be, or spend more time with your kids, or whatever. And who are you to say otherwise? Who are you to resist giving in to the voices of a reasonable life? Who do you think you are? It’s not the worse thing in the world to give up writing for a more honorable profession, like fighting for a just planet, getting all that plastic out of the ocean, saving the last of the elephants, or putting your body between a few hapless souls and the hands of violent cops.

And yet you’ll continue nonetheless.

In that case it’s in the editing. And the editing is that voice speaking to you from the countless readings you’ve done, the voice that says “this is shit” or “this isn’t half bad”. You’ll fight that voice every day until what you have is what you have, and others will have the opportunity to make those claims of you, if you’re lucky, in reviews, and journals, and god forbid, on Twitter.

But writing a novel is of a category reserved for those difficult souls that welcome the challenge of a type of narcissism unknown to most standard men and women. A good novel makes for a life long quest of the type that the dabbler in creative urge will never know. It takes the kind of attention to one’s own hours that the faint at heart wont possibly attempt. It’s routine that kills you. Every day, sitting (or standing as the trendy are doing) and churning out whatever comes. Day after day. Without pause. Because those pauses are what throw you off and set you back, again and again. Being in it without pause is the holy grail of the writers discipline.

When I began my first novel, now abandoned, I didn’t have nearly enough routine. I didn’t understand editing. I was ignorant of style, and voice. I took a class, which helped, a little. I read books on writing, on the novel (James Wood, EM Forester, Natalie Goldberg again). Now on the second novel, further than before, I’m just a little bit closer to an understanding, and yet something still seems as far to me as it did then, an ultimate truth, a deeper understanding, a reality. It was only through routine that I saw a glimpse of this reality, this ultimate truth. Day in and day out it comes to you in brief bursts of insight, then it’s gone. You see it come and go and you know it for what it is and yet you cant replicate those moments. All you have is routine.

Eventually you understand what you’re doing, even though you may not be able to articulate it in words (an irony boundless). You see the truth, but can’t describe it, yet. It’s coming, but slowly, piece by piece. And at every point there’s a voice saying, “not good enough. Not good at all. Start over. Do it again. Hell, give it up.”

On the sidewalk, below my window, there’s a woman shuffling quickly through the fresh snow, pulling a shopping cart, a blue plastic shopping bag on her head. She doesn’t give a fuck about my novel.

Christian soldiers abandon ship

At a certain point last summer everyone from Turkish anarchists to Dutch bike gang members were signing up with the YPG to fight in Rojava, as the news of the battle for Kobani reached a fevered pitch.  Jordan Matson was one of them. Matson, an American ex-army private (who never served a day overseas) hailed by the right wing media as a courageous volunteer fighter against the Islamic State in Syria (and who appears frequently on Fox News, including Sean Hannity’s show) is one of several westerners who have traveled to Syria and Iraq on their own accord to fight against the IS.

But according to Alex MacDonald at Mideast Eye, many of the western Christian soldiers have lost the love and are fleeing, either home or to more properly “Christian” units in Iraqi Kurdistan:

One Christian American volunteer, who called himself Brett, told Reuters that he had joined Dwekh Nawsha (which translates as “Self-sacrifice) in Iraq’s Ninevah province where Christian villages still held out against IS.

They’re leaving because they’re disgruntled with the fact that the YPG are pinko commie reds:

Another British volunteer named Alan Duncan also said he had left the YPG, who are based in the Syrian Kurdistan region also known as Rojava, because of their leftist views and said he knew a number of other people were planning to leave soon for the same reason.

Here we see a perfect example of the power of the western media environment. The YPG is hailed as a great vehicle for fighting against Islamic extremism, but the facts of what the YPG is, the background details, you know, the reality that the YPG comes of the PKK which is a revolutionary organization espousing communism, leftwing ideology, etc, is lost on these “internet cowboys” who see only a religious war and none of the context.

Fox news is at the forefront of this process as it’s a mouthpiece for intervention (read: more military expenditures and thus profits for the military industrial complex).

The clash of narratives: the real class of civilizations

We common plebes are very occasionally subjected to a recurring narrative that finds fresh use during moments of “terrorist” acts carried out by extremist fan boys, who do so frequently under the banner of Islam and purportedly in defense of the Muslim faith. This narrative poses, against the values of a mythic West (of free speech, religious pluralism, democracy, etc) values of an Islamic type (theocratic, religiously intolerant, patriarchal, etc), values carried out or supported by Islamic militants and their state sponsors.

CharliehebdoFrequently lost in this debate of a “clash of civilizations” (and in this the left as well finds itself trapped) is the exact source of the society that we tend to compare to these Islamic movements and countries (Saudi Arabia, Iran, the Islamic Caliphate, and the like). We see our own world that embodies a particular set of values as somehow internally consistent with Western forms of government, forms that derive at least in part from a Christian historical condition, a condition lost to history but still retaining its influence in our customs and ideas. In this formulation, the earlier Christian brutalism of the Crusades and the Inquisition (and more recent Christian fundamentalist terrorism of, say, the Klu Klux Klan) was slowly relegated to historical study and Christianity as a worldview became much more “liberal” and open to the incursion of Enlightenment values, indeed fostered “cross-fertilizations”, and the Western state form, which derives much inspiration from the Church, followed suit.

ows_142076556047049What this narrative story misses is the fact that all those so called “freedoms” associated with our mythically enlightened West —  freedom of speech, religious toleration, political pluralism, the very values that Western commentators trumpet and counter-pose to the values of those people over there —  were not and have never been features of Western systems of power but instead were always values fought for by movements —  of workers, of women, the exploited, religious minorities, the simple people, the multitude —  pushing back against encroachment of state or proto-state centers of power. The mythic narrative of Western Freedom™ absorbs this basic historical fact.

The state, the historic and real concentration of power, gives nothing and takes all. Movements are countervailing forces that demand, within the structure of a relationship of antagonism. Society is free, speech is free, religion is plural (and exists) only insofar as movements of people — the Industrial Workers of the World waging street corner free speech fights of the 1910s, the Women’s Liberation movement of the 1960s, the clamor against the Church of England during the American Independence fight, the Abolitionist forces demanding emancipation— rise up in motion and make these ideas a reality beyond the ideas of philosophers and intellectuals, and always against the pushback from state forces and elite planners.

SignNoDemocracyJustIslamWestern “plural” democracies only utilize the “work product” of these movements for very good purpose, the way advertisers utilize the latest zeitgeist to sell their products. Western leaders will march (or at least gather in a secured street) but the image is clear. The purpose is a photographic opportunity, for above all the maintenance of the narrative.


The left falls into the same trap by comparing the “terrorism” of the Western state — drone killings, assassinations, sponsored regime change and all out attack and occupation (all single acts certainly more barbarous and deadly than every single independent terrorist act in history combined) — to the independently franchised terrorism of religious cults and sects. “Yes these terrorists are bad but the terrorism of Cheney/Bush/Obama is far worse!” This comparison misses the crucial point that the West’s terrorism and the independent terrorism of franchise actors (like Al-Qaeda, or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) are one and the same, born of a mythic battle between two competing state forms vying for dominance over the fleshy bodies of men, women and children caught in the crossfire.

The narrative functions, then, shouldn’t be more clear.

download_(8)_fa_rszdHowever, we shouldn’t assume that the progress the multitude has made in scratching out  spaces for tolerance and free activity is only confined to the West, and that the East has yet to travel down that road, to “catch up” to the Enlightenment values that have conditioned the states response here, but not there. This fiction covers the essential truth that the very reactionary states that support such quasi-fascist tendencies as the Islamic State and other extremist Salafist organizations are clients of the West and owe their continued life if not very existence to the states of Europe and the United States that render any real, meaningful change in the Middle East extremely difficult. The desire for a true independence and freedom is no condition of history or the development of a particular national program, but inherent in the bones of every person, every refugee, every veiled woman, every child soldier, every villager condoned to an existence of tyranny and exploitation.

We must never forget that the battle that wages between “civilizations” is a rhetorical device utilized for the purpose of gaining adherents to state projects of one type or another (as if the civilizations of the west and the east were of two distinct kind to begin with, forgetting the interconnectedness of the global imperial project that lead to the current configuration of the Middle Eastern states). Centers of concentrated power vying for the obedience of actors who will maintain or build such centers to the benefit of elites (state managers, political bosses, corporate CEOs, imams, priests, ad infinitum). This clash is fought not by those in charge but by the rabble, the jihad fighter or the Marine, roused with the narrative, charged with belief in the supreme duty to become automatons and killing machines in the name of grand myths.

The War Nerd, Gary Brecher, on ISIS

Islamic State and American Narcissism by Gary Brecher, from Pando Daily

In fact, skin color, or “race,” as Americans call it, isn’t the point at all. As usual, this is culture, not genes. This is the persistent dream of “fighting o’er the waves,” as Oi boys used to sing, and it has the same old appeal, in the same old cities of coastal Europe. Fighting for Islam, fighting for Empire…who cares, when you’re seventeen and barely made it through high school? What matters is going somewhere and scaring people, shooting ’em, coming back with some cool stories. Let’s not romanticize this species of ours. Maybe you went to a posh private high school, but I didn’t, and believe me, I’m being too kind to our kind.

Anti-fascist Action Stockholm report on Rojava

The organizing of society has also been done differently. The Cantons are characterized by a system called ”Democratic Confederalism” with strong Anarchist influences and rejects state building. The idea comes from PKK’s leader Abdullah Öcalan. Instead of, as in Capitalist countries, have the market that dictates the conditions for society, the society in the Cantons is based on grass-roots participation and self-determination. The power in the Cantons derive from councils that are organized from street-, block-, town- and canton-level. The work in the Cantons are partially organized in cooperatives where the bosses are replaced with chosen representatives. The Rojava Cantons work daily to bring the power down to the people and give humans back the power over their own lives.