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The Park and the Party


By Alex Utopium

When we reduce societal organization to something that can only be done in exclusive, rather than inclusive, teams we miss the mark of the revolution against the old world Ivory Tower inhabitants. When what sort of party affiliation you swear your allegiance to is the deciding factor, rather than who you are and what you can contribute with, who really won the revolution? 

I am no friend of Party Politics.

I view party politics and Parliamentarism as one of the lowest form of democracy – and both party politics and Parliamentarism have kidnapped and infected the idea of being sovereign, having self-determination and being in a mental state of freedom for so long that even the brightest and most well-meaning souls use Democracy as a Power-Word, when they really mean something else they can’t quite identify themselves.

But, still, I have a weakness for the younger parties. [1] They are a fascinating bunch. With a wonderfully untainted and almost naive spirit in regards to the political process. Without an inherited place at the table of power that drags your ideas down to compromised principles there is a glimpse of something that ‘could be’. Something we as a society lost along the way. The most hopeful among us, the ones with a natural urge to change, make up most of the younger parties.

I had the pleasure of witnessing a (Norwegian) Green Party meeting at the microbrewery I work at. The last election went fantastic for the Greens, especially here in Oslo where they took a lot of local seats, so they had reason to celebrate – and to present what the different representatives were looking forward to do for the city as a  party.

A projector was set up to help in the meeting and when the gathering started, the projector was showing photos of the people in the crowd and the activist work they did during the election: Smiling, handing out pamphlets, and having a good time.

Lots of numbers had to be gone through first before any issues and plans could be discussed. Real politicians need to present numbers and talk with their political voice: Not in camaraderie or on an even footing, even these freshly baked representatives knew they had a role to play in the political theater and what was expected of them.

The projector stopped showing happy pictures and numbers started to get paraded out and I tuned out. These numbers were not meant for me: The abstract math of victory is for the initiated only. Everybody else lost, technically. 

I tuned back in when I heard a select few keywords from the stage: One of the representatives was explaining how her parents had an urban farm on their land lot when she was growing up, how they were almost self-sustaining (she mention 90%, if I recall correctly) on vegetables and that she had an idea of how wonderful it would be to do this kind of thing on a slightly larger scale: Her idea was to turn an underused park into a productive food-farm. Or at the very least, parts of the park.

The idea was great and she presented it from the heart; The projector that minutes ago showed dull numbers was now presenting childhood photos of a happy girl sitting between grow beds full of greens. She wanted to replicate this wonderful time and share it with as many as possible – Through action.

This hits at the core of why I like these smaller, more intimate parties; You won’t hear these kinds of fantastic ideas in a meeting by the Conservatives or the Labor Party. You can only hear it in a meeting of this size, in a small microbrewery in the neglected part of the country’s capital. The only time was then, right there.

In a flash, this magical moment was gone. The other party officials started muttering about budgets and that it would be complicated to raise funds for such a project. That punctuated that topic and they moved on to the next.

And this is why party politics leaves such a bad taste in my mouth. If you accept the role as a bureaucrat, this so-called job, you have to step into the mindset of one. You have to adapt to it and place yourself into a very tiny box of allowed ways to do things. Rules and regulations have to be upheld, your very existence depends on it: You are a cog in the machine and what is a cog without its machine?  

People that only think in terms of tax money have very little fantasy when it comes to more important resources around them. You don’t need to collect taxes when you have around 25,000 people living near the park – How many hands do you need to transform parts of a park? How many of those people have a shovel? How hard are seeds to get hold of for free? With that many people close by, you think you couldn’t find at least a handful to give up a little free time for the opportunity to farm? 

I don’t want to be in a party. I want to be in a team. A team that can take a slice of a park neglected by its ‘Landlord’ and turn it into fruit and herbs.

– Alex Utopium

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The true question is thus not who directly holds power, a coalition of political agents or the ‘dictatorship’ of one sole agent, but how the very field in which the total political process takes place is structured: is it the process of parliamentary representation with parties ‘reflecting’ the voters’ opinions, or a more direct self-organization of the working classes, which relies on a much more active role of the participants in the political process?” – Slavoj Žižek

Alex has written extensively on these and similar topics, and I am grateful for his contribution to my blog. Check him out: https://utopium.blog/author/alexutopium/ https://twitter.com/utopiumtinkerer?lang=en

  1. Some clarification for any American readers: The United States are almost unique with only two major players in party politics, the rest of the West have several where they need to negotiate with each other. Here in Scandinavia, for example, what Block your party belongs to is a key factor, at times more so than your party.
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Seven US Wars, more Patriot Act. Hey, where is my pension?

Even my union comrades are drinking the Kool-Aid. When a lunchtime discussion turned to the French national strike, my economics teacher friend said that pensions are unsustainable. And yet, as of today (December 7, 2019), the New York Times reports that “about half of Americans have no access to retirement savings plans, and have little or nothing saved for retirement.” Perhaps the elderly can sell their body parts.

Blame the warfare State, the American Empire. The neoliberal race to the bottom, protected by the US security apparatus. Elected officials are mere puppets to it, including Nancy Pelosi, including the clueless Donald. Why else would the Democrats sneak a provision into a stopgap funding bill to extend the Patriot Act? We are surrounded by enemies, aren’t we? The Patriot Act, passed in October 2001 with bipartisan support, following 9/11, empowers the intelligence community to engage in mass surveillance, just like Google does every day. Wait a second, weren’t the Google founders funded by DARPA to keep tabs on the population? Google, Amazon, Microsoft, all have huge government contracts. Huawei has a huge Chinese government contract. State capitalism in both China and the US? A cyber Cold War? Hmmm.

“War is the health of the State”, as Randolph Bourne once famously said. The U.S. military is officially fighting wars in seven countries, according to the White House’s latest war report. Unknown to most Americans, we conduct ops in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Niger — all bypassing Congress in the name of the 2002 Authorization for the Use of Military Force to fight al-Qaeda-linked militants, at the discretion of the Emperor. Surely a trillion dollars tax on the middle class is well spent by the Defense Department and Homeland Security since they protect us from non-existent enemies. A lot of money to be made here, by someone.

It’s not a welfare state, it’s a warfare state. Soft totalitarianism herding us toward the right attitude and behavior. The State needs perpetual war to accomplish this, as Orwell noted. Michel Luc Bellemare writes in his Structural-Anarchism Manifesto, on page 27, a warfare state is at war internally against its citizens in addition to ostensibly being at war with external enemies. The American Empire has been practicing this at home and around the world, as I have written. Evo Morales of Bolivia is gone. He wanted to use the Bolivian lithium monopoly to reduce poverty, by setting the world price. Suddenly, after 13 years, he has been removed from office. Pompeo backs Duque in Colombia because the US prefers the trillion-dollar worldwide drug trade over the well-being of the population. Why should the Colombian people have a minimum wage or state-run healthcare?

State-capitalism is the name when the corporations run the government. Corporate fascism prefers profits over people. They never liked the New Deal. They have been chipping away at it for decades. Trickle-down economics is one of their big lies. Their state by state cookie-cutter legislation has been systematically undercutting unions, culminating in the Janus Supreme Court decision. This neoliberal agenda is worldwide and its enforcement is the reason the US has 800 military bases around the world. Enforcing the race to the bottom is the key.

If working people of the world could somehow organize into One Big Union, so much suffering could be averted. As a species, we produce more than enough for everyone on the planet. We don’t have to burn down the Amazon rainforest to accomplish it either. Unionized, democratized production, responsive to the needs of people, will never decide to slaughter millions in senseless wars and waste trillions of dollars.

The first step is to stop drinking the Kool-Aid.

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Purge in Colombia?

The people call it a general strike. The unions started it, teachers and students joined in, and then everybody, in the hundreds of thousands, took to the streets to peacefully protest against the fascist policies of the recently installed Ivan Duque. Some say it was millions. No leader, no institution, no group, is in charge of it. A moment of anarchy, a moment of justice demanded.

The people are furious because labor, pension, and tax “reforms” (read the killing of a minimum wage, pensions, and increasing taxes) are being discussed Duque and the national Congress. Also, there are plans to privatize state-run services. The paramilitary has stepped up killing community organizers and indigenous leaders. “In my community, in my department of Cauca, they’re killing our social leaders in our indigenous lands … they’re killing us selectively,” said Almayari Barano Yanakuna, a 48-year-old indigenous woman who stood among crowds of thousands.

In Orwellian newspeak, President Duque said, the night before the strike, that the military was there to guarantee freedom of speech and to protect citizens. His orders were different than his words. The military joined with the police to shoot tear gas into the crowds, impose curfews, and bomb camps to kill indigenous dissidents. Purge dissent.

Let’s step back and take a look at the big picture. Over the last two decades, the US has established military bases, provided billions of military assistance to the Colombian military, sent hundreds of millions of foreign aid to the “right-wing government. It was called Plan Colombian, to “fight” drug trafficking. Funny, the drug trade is larger now than before, and the street price of these drugs from Colombia are cheaper now than they were before.

In her briefing on the US military presence in Colombia, ICPJ reporter Leigh Wedenoja writes that the anti-drug efforts have destroyed half of the fertile land worked by the indigenous people, forcing the displacement of millions. The paramilitary has killed hundreds of trade unionists and teachers. Thousands of civilians have been murdered. Because of ongoing agreements with Colombia, there is very little oversight both of the US financial aid and, our military assistance to the Colombian paramilitary. Recently, John Bolton recommended sending an additional 5000 troops to Colombia, aimed at Venezuela. Purge all opposition.

Since there is no change in drug production and distribution, and since we are propping up the security apparatus in Colombia, is it possible, just possible that US taxpayer-funded US military reinforcing the American Empire, also known as the neoliberal agenda? And what’s the neoliberal agenda, supported by Republicans and Democrats: privatization, deregulation, free trade, austerity, reductions in government spending in order to increase the role of the private sector in the economy and society.

Wait! Doesn’t Duque want that too? Coincidence? Just sayin’

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Challenging Conventional Wisdom

Peter Kropotkin certainly challenged conventional wisdom

Conventional wisdom smells. Conventional wisdom is the rotting corpse of desiccated thought. Conventional wisdom gave us Vietnam. Iraq. Conventional wisdom is groupthink, It is crowdsourcing. Conventional wisdom is our system where 40% of workers are a $400 bill away from a financial crisis. Emerson wrote that “society everywhere is in a conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.” (Ralph sends his apologies for his 19th-century sexism) Mr. Emerson goes on to assert that for the sake of our daily bread, each bread eater sacrifices his liberty and culture. 

Culture? Do the shackles of conventional groupthink, whoops, I mean wisdom, lurk within the culture of compulsory schooling? For thirty years I didn’t teach history, I taught “school”, as my late friend John Taylor Gatto would say. And what is school? School teaches conformity, obedience, dependence. Gatto wrote that it is difficult to make self-confident spirits conform, especially if their parents have given them unconditional love. School teaches conditional love. Report cards, certificates, rewards, punishment. Walk into a classroom in an NYC public school and read all the rules posted on the walls. Points gained for answering a question. Rules for going to the bathroom. Emotional dependence on approval. Intellectual dependency on receiving the right answer. Conventional wisdom says we need more school. College as the ticket to the good life. Really? An admissions official at Harvard said that the admissions process has created a nation of hoop jumpers. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs didn’t buy into it. Just tell me how high to jump, sir, please let me in. Conventional wisdom, for $50,000 a year, just to learn obedient thinking.

Emerson goes on to write that it is easy to live in the world if you just go along with conventional wisdom. It takes some grit to keep with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude in the  “midst of the crowd.” The crowd is conventional wisdom, solitude is treading a path where everyone might not agree. The Taoists tried to tell us, there at the beginning. 

Bodhidharma

It is said that the Tao Te Ching may be the greatest classic to challenge conventional wisdom. Do we flourish best when we are left alone by authority, such as the Chinese Communist Party, the official repository conventional wisdom? Or do we need to be told by Party officials how to flourish? Wu-wei. Follow your inner guide, who resides in your secret place. Reject imposed authority, conventional wisdom.

At this point, I should confess that I, like everyone, rely on conventional wisdom a lot. My grandfather taught me the conventional way to dig up a potato when I was four. When I reached the age of reason I questioned his religion. I’ve been an outsider ever since. I walk into a room and reflexively think that whatever you are for, I’m against. That includes this course. It may just be a nasty habit

To reject conventional wisdom is to live on the tightrope of uncertainty. There are no definitive answers anyway. We try, we fail, we try again, but we need to open up to a universe that has wisdom embedded within it. The universe may just be a conspiracy to push everyone to fulfill their inner truth. And yet this wisdom is a tightrope we must tread carefully, not only because it changes with Time, but if we impose desiccated conventional wisdom, we fall into the abyss.

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Free Machine: a new framework for anarchic thinking?

Can organizations like freemachine.org help us counter the domination of Big Tech?

On their website, freemachine.org poses the following two question drawn straight from the river of anarchy:

How do we create space to envision a future that is based on democratic values: one that will be equitable, abundant, and sustainable? And how do we encourage individuals and communities to see themselves as having a crucial role in achieving this future?

freemachine.org
AlphaGo delivered a Sputnik moment
Can we organize a public alternative to Big Tech?

Hardly anyone is offline for very long these days. We are addicted to media and their connected devices. We are subjected to the blur and blend of entertainment and information. We have drowned in a tidal wave of distraction by corporations who have designed these weapons of mass distraction…to sell us stuff. The sheer ubiquity, and our reliance, on the feeds from our phones and tablets and netbooks, has made them, in effect, an Overton window. That is, these media and tech conglomerates plop their images and content into our minds in such a way that they have become authorities determining what is possible and what is acceptable. Since these companies are an integral part of what Chomsky called the state-capital complex, we can’t assume that the goal of amassing wealth will have benign outcomes for the average person.

The directors at Free Machine have devised a game called Tomorrowland that helps us to start thinking about all this as a people, helps us to answer the two questions above. As a group, we imagine ourselves as a city council and thrash out how we move toward an objective, four of which are neatly summarized in the chart below:

One of the reasons I decided to study the history and philosophy of anarchy was to discover ideas and techniques to help us move toward that Eden. The current of anarchy is present whenever illegitimate authority is challenged. The courage of determined people in the face of plutocrats and dictators may help us in our quest to democratize the amazing revolution offered by artificial intelligence.

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Watcha Gonna Do When They Come for You?

Posted on November 10, 2019 by Kim Broadie

Chinese state security agencies are likely using the technology to target human rights activists, pro-democracy advocates, and critics of President Xi Jinping’s regime, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisals.

Ryan Gallagher, How US Tech Giants Are helping to Build Chinas Surveillance State, The Intercept, July 11, 2019.

Today’s New York Times website carries an article by Cade Metz describing improved facial recognition technology. Databases of faces compiled without the people’s knowledge. I fear age-old methods of resistance have become obsolete. It’s all adding up to total control.

After 30 years, the methods have become invisible

During the heyday of Empire, in the 18th and 19th centuries, the British Empire also appeared all-powerful. Unassailable. The notion of resisting the most powerful government on Earth seemed ludicrous. And yet there were courageous leaders in both the American Revolution, and the Indian independence movement that dared the impossible and succeeded.

Before I get to Mr. Gallagher’s article in The Intercept, I would like to call your attention to one who dared. In Peter Heeh’s excellent biography, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, he describes in detail the more obscure aspects of the early Indian independence movement. While Aurobindo Ghose is not as well known as Gandhi, he is revered in India as one of the liberators. Before he began his more famous spiritual journey, he was quite the radical mastermind plotting independence, swaraj, or self-rule for India. He designed a multifront campaign starting with journalism but also included terrorism, complete with bombs. The final stage would be total noncooperation. Thrown into prison, Aurobindo was almost executed. Gandhi carried on, but for him, it finished him tragically. In the late 19th century, overthrowing British rule seemed unthinkable to both the Indian political elites as well as the average person in the street. It was Aurobindo’s belief that once it was demonstrated that independence and self-rule was possible, it would become a fixed idea in enough people so that success became inevitable. Surveillance technology may make that belief obsolete.

Now, the Chinese Communist Party is cranking up state-controlled surveillance in a way that seems to be a throwback to the overt oppression of the 19th century European empires. No more Tiananmen Squares. Thanks to American innovation, they are using techniques almost unimaginably more insidious than the secret police of yesteryear. And who’s to say that the US government won’t emulate it, especially now that China is asserting itself as a global power? The point is that, with the surveillance technology that is being employed by the Chinese government, the methods Aurobindo used and encouraged in India would never get off the ground in today’s China. It does not bode well for dissent and adequate information in the US.

Blame the OpenPower Foundation. The Intercept article has described it as a nonprofit led by executives from Google and IBM. This sweet and innocent “driver of innovation” has arranged a collaboration with Chinese and American companies resulting in “Aegis”, a new, more powerful surveillance system. Let’s let Mr. Gallagher speak:

Aegis can provide “a full view to the virtual world,” the company claims in the documents, allowing government spies to see “the connections of everyone,” including “location information for everyone in the country.”
The system can also “block certain information [on the] internet from being visited,” censoring content that the government does not want citizens to see, the documents show.
Chinese state security agencies are likely using the technology to target human rights activists.
Aegis equipment has been placed within China’s phone and internet networks, enabling the country’s government to secretly collect people’s email records, phone calls, text messages, cellphone locations, and web browsing histories,

Ryan Gallagher, “How US Tech Giants Are Helping To Build China’s Surveillance State”

So far, it appears that the Chinese government is able to monitor 200,000,000 people. If you think it’s a little creepy for Google to ask you to review a place you just visited, imagine a government focusing on signs of dissent based on what you’ve, said, read, visited, or who you’ve befriended. Its companies are selling this technology to other governments, especially in the Middle East.

How could an Aurobindo, a Gandhi, a Martin Luther King, or even a Thomas Paine mount massive resistance in the face of such a technology capable of nipping it in the bud?

What Do I Write About? Kim A. Broadie

Freedom, mostly.  Trite, abstract, meaningless? An empty box that needs to be filled in? A seed crystal moment about freedom occurred just prior to my retirement. Chantise, a fellow history teacher, stopped me in the hallway and said, “Soon you’ll be able to drink daiquiris for breakfast on the beach in Trinidad.” Is that freedom? Living like the aging Hemingway to round out a life as a teaching apparatchik?  No, an old Greek definition could be interpreted that freedom must have something to do with human flourishing, the fulfillment of one’s capacities in a life affording them scope. At last, my time was approaching.

My first day of this new life occurred in the dead of winter. Everyone had gone to work, leaving me with time and space in an empty house in one of the outer boroughs. The small, still voice that had been silenced through all these years of external demands now made an entrance onto the stage of my mind, causing vertigo. 

Sometimes we just have to stand up for ourselves

After 20 years of teaching history in New York City high schools, I can’t help but be obsessed with who we are and where we are headed as a people. Old John Dewey wrote way back in the ’20s that industrialization, as it existed in the United States, was not compatible with democracy as a way of life. Professor Dewey envisioned democracy as an anarchic moral ideal balancing freedom and equality. What would he think today about a data-driven society being utterly transformed by AI? How is it all turning out for the average person? These are themes I want to write about, to get involved in some way.

As a recent Frontline documentary makes plain, the general ledger seems tilted toward the downside of AI in a way reminiscent of the early Industrial Revolution in Britain. There, they said, it took 9 decades for wages to start rising. In the United States, where automation has occurred, it has been a silent job killer, diminishing the overall standard of living by 10-15% over the past 20 years. Routine work for human beings is disappearing forever. One sociologist said that the #1 job in the DC area was a cashier. Mostly women who are disproportionately represented in marginal jobs anyway. She then pointed to an image of a McDonald’s self-ordering panel to say that the displacement of cashiers has begun. 

It is easy to see why analysts say that AI tips the scale on the side of capital at the expense of labor. Yes, we are thrown back onto the old dualism. Wages have been decoupled from productivity. Hence increasing inequality. Gaping inequality is incompatible with individual freedom. That much, at least, is confirmed by history. Added to that is the exploitation of our personal data as the new natural resource, the new oil, also called surveillance capitalism. Cotton was the oil of the Old South, built on slave labor, financed through Wall Street. Stockholders require expanding profits, and given the symbiosis of total bureaucracies of governments and corporations worldwide, how long will it be before the social credit system employed in China becomes THE universal instrument of suppression? Who is standing up for the little guy? This is what I want to write about.

My first writing project was an attempt to discover the real reason why Vice-President Wallace was kicked under the bus by FDR and the Democratic Party in 1944. Not only did this good man resurrect US agriculture during the depth of the Great Depression, but he also used his position at the War Board during World War II to spread the New Deal to workers in Latin America who supplied the US with material for the war effort. He was once the most popular politician in America, after Roosevelt. He expressed a vision of the world after the war as the Century of the Common Man. What we got was the American Empire. During a time of racial tension, he promoted civil rights for African Americans. He was crushed because he wouldn’t buy into the Cold War build-up of the military-industrial complex. The alliances between government and industry back then continue today, with huge military contracts going to Google, and Microsoft, who recently won a new cloud contract with the Pentagon. Taft-Hartley was passed to suppress unions. The clock has turned back to the 19th century.

And then along came Matk Janus. Mr. Janus filed a lawsuit against his public union because his union advocated policies he didn’t agree with. He didn’t want his dues to fund those policies. The Bradley Foundation has funded templates to state legislatures and also litigation efforts like Janus to gut organized labor. When the Supreme Court decided in favor of Janus, unions took another beating. Government and technology are beating workers back into serfdom. 

Eudaimonia: to flourish. The daimon in ancient Greek meant one’s inner spirit force, that which needs to express itself. How could it, when the average income of a household in Saginaw is $16,000, a town which used to build cars?  Truckers in the ‘80’s used to earn the equivalent of $100,000. Now it is $40,000, and their jobs are being replaced by self-driving trucks. Gig workers are not considered employees by the companies they work for. What is to be done?
I cannot write merely personal reflections. The task, as evidenced by this course, is to use this global platform to crowdsource ideas and ways average people and groups could band together, inject into the bloodstream of the world culture our determination to bend this new world, these new technologies, toward a more egalitarian flourishing of individuals. Or, we could wait for Bill Gates to fund a new idea, laudable as his projects are. History is replete with such examples. I am reminded of George Orwell’s descriptions in Homage to Catalonia about the atmosphere among the anarchists in Northern Spain during their Civil War. He wrote that everyday relations were transformed; communal decision making. Workplace democracy anyone? Another world is possible. Let’s try.

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