posts tagged with 'anarchy'
Last weekend—I mean, the one before last—was the Honk Festival in Somerville. As promised after last year, I didn't try and take the boys to the Saturday part of the affair, and that was a great decision. Operating alone, I was able to bike the whole way there after lunch and fully enjoy several hours of wonderful loud music and anarchist culture.
I managed to take in two whole hour-long sets: the Party Band, who were the best, and What Cheer Marching Band, who were the unremittingly loudest. Also 45 minutes of New Creations Brass Band, 15 of Emperor Norton's, and assorted fleeting moments of other groups. And when the music was good I was dancing the whole time—except when I needed to take breaks due to exhaustion or to give my bleeding ears a break.
Then I made the long ride home in the dark. All that anarchism and band music put me in a great mood to begin with, and it was only improved by a perfect ride: from just beyond Davis Square all the way to our front walk without so much as a toe touching the ground. I was so delighted I removed all restrictions on the boys' screen time at the neighbors' house; the kids can make their own good decisions, man!
Then on Sunday torrential rain beginning at 9:30 made the noon parade look a little doubtful, but things cleared up wonderfully at about twenty of, so all five of us made the short drive from church towards Harvard Square, where we set up camp at the Kemp Playground to wait for the music. And it was well worth the wait!
Besides the bands, the kids loved the stilts, the puppets, and the bicycles... and there was even one group handing out candy! (And really handing it out, not tossing it to the ravening crowds like at Bedford Day; it was a lovely experience of personal connection.) Even better than candy, one group of marchers was even distributing free hot dogs to the parade audience, complete with ketchup and mustard to order! Let's hear it for music and anarchy.
This morning as we dressed for church Zion took a stand and refused to wear a shirt. Not just refused until he sensed we were really serious about leaving and then acquiesced. Flat out refused. "I bring it with me," he said. As if wearing a shirt to church is totally optional. As if wearing a shirt on a chilly morning in October is totally optional.
He put on his shoes and his winter hat. But the shirt? I had to but touch him with it to see him scream and flail.
Well, why should he just accept my silly rules, anyway? I reasoned. I'll let his own experience of the temperature be his guide. After all, it's an important life skill, dressing yourself to keep warm. Many women I know still refuse the obligation. So I thought to myself (oh so smugly, I might add) I'll just let him walk outside and he'll quickly say he's cold. The shirt will be the natural solution. End of fighting.
He went through the door and down the front steps. He crossed his arms in front of his chest. I asked if he wanted a shirt now.
"I bring it with me," he said, and climbed into the car.
The cold seatbelt bothered him, but when I offered up the shirt again he reposted with my own common platitude: "I warm up when we get moving." We drove to church without a mention of the temperature. At church the walk from the car to the door was even longer than that at our house. Still, he refused the shirt I held in my hand. He proudly strode up the steps to church in his sneakers, his jeans, his bare chest and his winter woolen hat. Several people passed by and said "That's a look."
"In the battle of wills," I replied, "I seemed to have misjudged my opponent."
Inside the church I realized I had lost all my bargaining power. Zion has no social shame about attending a religious service half naked, but I have plenty of it. Seeing that I'd been beat, I offered him a choice between his two back-up t-shirts. He readily chose the green short-sleeve version and happily offered his arms through the holes. Perhaps, in the end, this was really a fight over collar and buttons.
I have often heard people use the word "terrorist" to describe a two-year-old, and I have to admit there is some fairness in that comparison. They do a poor job of articulating what they want. They will blow up a situation they like just to show you how MAD they are about something else. They don't respond to reason or logic, so forget your fair arguments or accurate descriptions of reality. These well measured words land about as poorly as a naked sauna joke in a room full of evangelical Christians.
Sigh. Still and all, I have to respect his fighting spirit. At HONK today (the activist marching band festival) there were plenty of scantily clad anarchists raging against the machine. When I put it in this context, his rebellion seems so much cuter. Maybe next week, instead of demanding a collared shirt, I'll offer him a tiny denim vest decorated with sharpie and a tiny home-made button that says "Free Tibet."
Okay, so I live in poverty and take money from the state and whatever, but I still pride myself on being a "responsible adult." I file paperwork on time, I show up to family events within the half-hour grace period, I send thank-you notes. I invite people over for dinner and lay out cloth napkins. I send a gift even when I don't go to a wedding shower. I have my shit together.
On Sunday Dan's car broke down, kind of spectacularly, while we were driving it. We were coming back from the city and the windshield wipers slowed to a crawl. Then all the dashboard indicators went on. Then out. The transmission started making awful sounds. The car got slower and slower as Dan struggled it up the hill in the breakdown lane. Dan deftly coasted us off the exit ramp and around several turns to safety. It wasn't until the last turn that he lost power steering and the engine cut out. But he still managed to park the car in a secluded spot not half a mile from his parents' house.
Because Dan remained calm while driving a car that was dying, I stayed calm as well. Because I was calm our kids were calm. When we stopped we just pulled out our cell phones and Dan called triple-A while I called Dan's mom. Zion started to yell because I wasn't taking him out of the car immediately and Harvey soothed him by saying, "It's okay Zion — Mama's calling Grandma."
Now look. When I pride myself on being "responsible" I am simultaneous judging my friends who do not have their shit together. Friends who drift from one crisis to the next and always need bailing out. I think this is an older sibling thing. Even though my younger brother is quite arguably "a baller" by how financially stable he is at the moment, I can still get all judgy when he does stuff like ask us to drive to Central square in the middle of a STREET FESTIVAL. Or show up late to Passover.
So here I was calling grandma all, "Our old beat-up car just broke down and we need a ride." And all I'm thinking is: "This is a younger brother thing."
And then I'm thinking: Poverty is turning us into fuck-ups.
Because we say, "Living cheap is awesome! It's fantastic! We don't have to worry about what to spend our money on because we can't! We just do everything simply! It's giving us so much freedom!"
And then it's like, "Um, just kidding, everything we own just broke at the same time. Can we have some money?"
Some would argue that having so little money is irresponsible, because other people have to stop what they're doing to help you when your old car breaks down. Better to drive a new car that looks like it should be fancy and in repair, and then if it breaks down by the side of the road then at least you were TRYING to do something right.
Better to roll your eyes at your children on the playground or yell "stop running up the slide" because it shows other parents that at least you're TRYING to keep them in line.
"Trying" is a word that defends your intention. It's an argument you make before a judge. The problem isn't anything about poverty or parenting choices or old Subarus which usually work more reliably than new Volkswagens. The problem is judgement.
Because I want to live in a society where people don't NEED to be responsible for every possible eventuality that could ever possibly happen to them. I want to live in a world where EVERYONE HAS THE FREEDOM TO BE A YOUNER SIBLING. Because if everyone is trying to hedge against every catastrophe for themselves, everyone is just stockpiling money and resources in their own little houses. Instead of sharing with people who need those things more RIGHT NOW. Instead of doing things they might like to do more than making money and storing resources.
I want to live in a world without responsibility judgement. I should probably start myself. Okay. Um, Dear Younger Brother...
So Leah tells me that folks are interested in our little farm stand. As you can see, it's not much yet—but we're already thinking about how to expand!
As I may have mentioned before, I like to grow "crops" in my garden. That is, I want to plant enough beans that we can, on any given day, pick enough to serve for dinner. We've got the space; might as well take full advantage of it! The only problem, as you have no doubt already perceived, is that enough beans on any given day means that many beans, at a minimum, three times a week. We can't quite handle that much. In this particular case we don't have to because the beans aren't doing as well as they might—but suffice it to say that we have vegetables to spare. Here's a way to get rid of them!
At the same time, I don't want to discount the—what is it?—radical anti-capitalism inherent in this effort. It's early days of course, and we're not going to bring down the Whole Foods produce department or anything like that, but there's something very nice about sharing. I've always felt like I should be giving away food, but I tend to not be forward enough to visit with people and bring them things. This way I can share with more than just the friends who come to visit us.
In theory, anyways. One of the problems we're having with the stand so far is that sitting out in the sun all day isn't really good for tomatoes and peppers, so I don't want to pick tremendous quantities to display. On the other hand, if there's not a lot out there then people won't feel comfortable taking anything. A conundrum, but one that can probably be solved by a few weeks of steady operation—to get folks used to the idea—and a roof over the stand to keep out the sun. That's in process; we had an umbrella for a while but it blew into the street and got run over.
So there it is. I hesitate even to mention it here, so limited and insignificant is the effort thus far. But it's something we're doing, and I suppose advertizing won't hurt either. So if you're in the neighborhood, come on down!
Sometimes I joke something along the lines of: "Of course I am an anarchist. It helps me understand my children better." Implying that children are natural born anarchists, obviously. And also that that's an excuse for my house being messy.
Unfortunately this gives rather short shrift to actual anarchists. After all, I'm not an anarchist because I like crap on the floor. I'm an anarchist because I believe that a group of people, when stripped of abusive authority figures, can figure out a way to allocate work and resources in a humane manner.
By this definition children are anything but anarchists. Sociopaths maybe.
We are trying to teach Harvey the "golden rule," which is some blah-dee-blah that Jesus said and that parents make their children parrot. (As opposed to the other blah-dee-blah Jesus said about selling your stuff for the good of the poor. That part isn't so widespread in daily child rearing.) So do to others what you would want them to do to you, Harvester. Jesus goes so far as to say "Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back." (Luke 6:30) But in Harvey's case we're starting with "Don't hit Zion or he will hit you with something harder like a block." Willingly sharing the toys? That's an advanced spiritual concept. We're working on "Jesus says, this will make Zion punch you in the nose."
Oh God. What if I'm the abusive authority figure who's keeping my children from effective allocation of blocks?
Yesterday Harvey was whining that he only had water in the stroller instead of juice and I shouted, "THE ISRAELITES GRUMBLED AT MOSES IN THE DESERT BUT THEY WERE REALLY GRUMBLING ABOUT GOD AND GOD GAVE YOU ME TO BE YOUR MOTHER SO YOU SIT DOWN RIGHT NOW AND ASK GOD WHAT HE WANTS YOU TO DO IN THIS SITUATION!" Which is not really fair because a) I haven't like drilled the story of the poison quails with him, b) Harvey can hear God's voice just as well as I can and probably better if I'm not yelling at him, and c) if someone orders you what to pray the appropriate response is to tell them to fuck off.
But maybe, in addition to calming down around the juice issue, I should let the children figure out how to live together with one set of blocks. It's hard when one can't speak the language and the other has a lack of impulse control, but then again the same thing could be said for adults.
An interesting thing about the very pre-revolutionary mutterings about inequality that led to the Occupy movement: there's a significant strand of the discussion that casts the recent expansion of public assistance as problematic. People working hard aren't able to get by without help, the argument goes, while financiers make millions without any particular effort. It's not fair.
I would suggest that, on the contrary, to accept this line of thought is to buy into the conservative American ideal that everyone should be able to succeed with the sweat of their brow. In other words, it's a trap.
A few weeks ago I was talking to a colleague about job prospects and I mentioned that we take advantage of food assistance. When she expressed admiration that we weren't too proud to take help, I replied that, on the contrary, I'm proud that I'm able to support my family on my small salary—plus whatever else we can get. And I am, because I feel that I'm doing something that's important, and doing it very well. Just because society isn't willing to pay teachers—much less the non-certified hourly workers who end up teaching the most difficult children—enough to live on comfortably doesn't mean the job shouldn't be done.
And I'm happy to do it. While I sure wouldn't turn down a raise, I'm not concerned with proving my value to society with my income. Money is a whole nother thing: bankers and lawyers and whatnot work with money and care about it a whole lot, so it's fair that they get to bring so much of it home. Teachers—and farmers and social workers and, I don't know, vet techs—do important work, work that they know is important as they do it, and they don't need to justify the time they spend with a big paycheck at the end of the week. But we all gotta eat, so sometimes the SNAP dollars come in handy.
As an anarchist, I've always faced the question of who would collect the garbage in a moneyless society. (I'm not sure if anyone's ever actually asked me, but you know it's out there.) Aside from the obvious—we anarchists reduce, reuse, and recycle: what garbage?!—there's the example of the millions of people who are already toiling at important work even though they might be able to make better money doing something else. (As an aside, a google search for garbage collector salary comes up with a lot of conservatives complaining about how much union garbagemen get paid.) I don't want to live in a society where money is the only motivator for doing anything; I want everyone to be doing work that they care about for its own sake.
We're not going to get a moneyless society any time soon, sadly: not at the national level anyways. But the better the welfare state, the less important remuneration becomes in people's career decision-making process. Don't pay teachers more, because then all the bankers will want to teach. Just let the bankers play with the money, and make sure the teachers have plenty to eat and places to live. That'll do for the moment.
Everyone would be an anarchist if they weren't trained to have a visceral reaction against the word as if it were something dirty like "social darwinism." Here's a lovely paragraph from one of my favorite blogs that I hardly read:
Gustav Landauer was one primary example of a constructive anarchist (and a mystical one at that!). Landauer reframed the classic anarchist question about the necessity of abolishing the state. Landauer wrote “The State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behavior; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently.” The State only seems to be necessary because we presume it. In fact, the State is artificial and can be overcome by forming real relationships with “People”. The question of state or no-state is a false choice. “If the State is a relationship which can only be destroyed by entering into another relationship, then we shall always be helping destroy it to the extent that we do in fact enter into another.” Landauer advised the formation of alternative communities of real relationships that would not destroy the prevailing system by a frontal assault, but by withdrawing energy from it and rendering its institutions redundant. Landauer’s position didn’t require that everyone become an anarchist, nor did it force anyone to do so. It only forced those who desired to live differently to begin doing so immediately – to practice radical democracy.
When I say I hardly read Jesus Radicals, it's only because of the length of the articles, and the PHD department writing style. Whenever I do understand something I'm pleasantly piqued. Go energy-sucking alternative communities!
One of the reasons that I'm an anarchist is that I'm uncomfortable with the way communication—and, by extension, control—works in large organizations. And by large, I mean any bigger than, say, fifteen people. Think of a committee meeting. It's set up to let people address their grievances and to come up with a plan for fixing them. All the participants work together, and while they may have their disagreements they can get along and with the best will in the world want to solve them in a way that will please everyone. And yet.
How does this work out? Each person thinks of what they want to say, and then needs to translate that into appropriate language to share with the group. Whoever is taking notes processes what he hears and translates it again, into language that can be written down and fits the tone of the organization's written communications. Next it's read by decision-makers, who bring their own understanding to the text and refashion it into a proposal for the whole organization to consider. Reading it, do the originators of the ideas recognize what they initially wanted to say? Yes, in that they can translate the organizational language as well as everyone else involved with the process; but at the same time there's an unsettling sense that "that's not quite what I meant." Only there's no way to fix it, to get at the real meaning: every thought has to go through the same process and be filtered in the same way.
It's not that I think there's a bad guy in this process. No one is ever trying to subvert individuals' meaning or desires, it just happens. And it's probably inevitable, because the alternative is working out every single difference of opinion on a one-to-one basis, which would both take forever and create additional problems when separate resolutions led in different operational directions.
This happens everywhere: I've experienced it in the workplace, local government, churches, and volunteer groups. As I say, I can't imagine a workable solution short of disbanding all those organizations (hey, what a definition of workable!), but I think being aware of the problem is helpful in itself. There must be all sorts of literature on the subject already, too; maybe someone can point me towards some good examples? And maybe we can try as much as we can to address problems we have with other individuals as soon as they come up rather than letting them become institutional issues. Doing that might involve breaking down some hierarchical boundaries to organizational communication, so hooray, it's a double win! Who wants to go first?
There's a farmer's march in New York on Sunday. The announcement came into my rss accompanied by this cute logo:
It's true. If you put your fist up like that a chicken will totally hop on it. They'll also hop on your head if it's low enough.
I asked Dan for his first impression of the logo and he said, "That chicken's gonna poop on that dude's hand."
Our political literacy is affected by our chicken ownership, i guess.
This deal came into my inbox this morning. It made me feel kind of ill:
Despite all of the goings-on in the media, the only Occupy Movement you're concerned with is the one being staged by your offspring in the living room. Let them get their kicks elsewhere with today's deal at the Acrobatic Rock 'n' Roll Academy of Boston on Main Street in Waltham....
Let me rephrase your marketing copy, Rock 'n' Roll Academy, to get at what you're really saying.
When you gave birth to your children, the OB accidentally threw our your brain with the afterbirth. Now you could give two shits about world politics or social injustice. Or any adult thoughts, really. All you concern your pretty little head over is the pint-size demons running around your house. And boy, you'd love to stop caring for them for a few hours, wouldn't you? Seeing as you kind of secretly hate parenting? Good thing you're rich and can easily spring $155 for two months of dance class (normally $310!)
Yeah, Living Social, I guess I'm not the target demographic for this.