Saturday, October 3, 2020

Water, freedom & anarchic mythologies

 Water, Freedom & Anarchic mythologies

 I want my anarchy to be like the Hamper of Gwyddno Garanhir and the Horn of Bran Galed. The hamper multiplied a hundredfold whatever food was placed inside it while the Horn is said to have possessed the magical property of ensuring that "whatever drink might be wished for was found in it". 

We’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere. Where exactly I can’t say for certain, but I think that we need to either go back and try a different direction or stop and make a plan because right now we’re lost. 

 I guess that some of us are stubborn, we just insist on pushing through, hoping that we’ll eventually stumble onto the right path, insistent on never turning around because we think that would be a waste of time. Who’s right? Maybe we should split up? 

Personally, I’m ready to go back to the place where everything was fine. Maybe we can find another path from there. We’re not getting anywhere like this. We’re just stumbling through history, crashing through the forest, mindlessly trampling over everything, ruining everybody else’s habitats. 

     Digital domestication knocked at my door, scratched at my armour. I looked through the peephole, peeled back a layer of chainmail. It crept into the space between me and my insights, my intuitions, my research, my autonomy. Like the putrid smoke of burning plastic choking my lungs, or the creepy sensation of the chilly titanium digits of a lifeless techno-predator feeling me up, touching and prodding, not my genitals, but my other “privates”, up here, in my brain and behind my eyes.  

     My free flowing, mysterious, multifaceted source, the original well, is being poisoned. I can no longer understand the trees or the rivers or the boulders or the sun. My world is shrinking, my senses are atrophying, I am becoming a mere reflection, the audience, the trope, the member, the consumer, the victim, the cliche, the image, the user, the object. Although the fact that I can still step out of the dominant reality-culture to reflect on the predicament means that there is hope, that maybe one day we will be able to rediscover self-creating lives. For now we can shun the seductions, keep our feet and bodies firmly against the door so that the intruder might just give up and go away.

         One version of the legend of the Caleuche claims that it is crewed by the drowned, who are brought to the ship by three mythological beings: two mermaid-sisters and their brother. Once aboard, the dead can resume an existence as if they were alive again.

         Now that sounds like the good ship anarchy! A place where the dead are resurrected, where the debt ridden, anxious, privatized, stunted proletarian, decaying under authority and drudgery can come back to life! Can take the oars and the wheel once again! 

          Unfortunately we live in the dystopian alternate version of the legend, the one where the mythical ship sails in the sea of  Civilization, captivating free people with its enchanting music, its seductions- Progress! Reason! Transhumanism! - to enslave them as part of its crew. And these captives seem eternally destined to have a leg folded over their back- making them awkward, disadvantaged, humiliated. 

     And so we gather together and we disobey, we mutiny, and we open the sails on a new morning. We begin our network of floating autonomous zones, of bobbing buoys and Bolos, of ships where our spirits and imaginations are resurrected. Navigating the seas, following the stars, far from nation-states and prisons. For many the call has been for “Land and Freedom!”. But we seem to have neglected water, our original nest, our majority element, the blood of our arteries.  

     Human infants begin life as water beings-nearly 80% of their body weight is water! And our brains are almost all water too. Tom Robbins says that humans were invented by water as a device for transporting itself from one place to another. So here’s to anarchic communes on the high seas, to exploring waters without borders, to boats and ships and rafts and floating eco-villages. Here’s to nomads travelling from shore to shore, free of clocks and cops! Let boat building become one of our shared ancestral skills that we may circumvent authority as we navigate the waterways of our utopian dreamscapes. 

           I don’t want to identify with the masters categories, I want to identify with like minded neighbours and friends. I don’t want to be pathologized, I want to reject the constraints that make me sick. I don’t want the comforts of civilization, I want danger to awaken my instincts.

     Nature is all about gradations. Where does the one start and the other end? There is an abyss inside of me full of fear and the demons of self-doubt. But there is also a mountaintop, where I can see the oceans of possibility that beckon us to keep trying, to stop feeding the masters, to find ways to experiment, to flee, not strictly as refugees, but as bands of explorers and rebels, looking through our scopes for land defenders to stand with, for communards to share food with, for dreamers to dance with on the decks of our rebel ships.

My family is beginning to die. For most of us, all we have is the immediate family. Where is my clan, my larger community? I look at the ruins and wonder-what happened? Who or what has torn the limbs away from my extended family’s body? Where are my kin? Who has stolen my habitat that I might confront them, attack them and perhaps try to reclaim it? 

Without a habitat we are dispossessed, we can’t experiment, we can’t put down roots and thus we become like dead leaves, passively blowing here and there. So while we escape onto the high seas, let us also look for isolated habitats in which to create our anarchisms, and let us paddle to the shores to join with those who already have one and help them protect it. 

What is the basic unit of anarchy? For some it’s the rational citizen of the municipality, happily skipping between neighbourhood assembly meeting, community garden and democratic workplace. For others it is the free, ungovernable individual, ecstatically dancing between passions and friendships and carelessness. For the ancients it is roaming the natural landscape, running between campsites and water sources, following the elk and singing to the spirits. For the futurists its transhumanists on a trip to an enclosed bio-commune on Mars where robots build gadgets and grow protein in labs. 

None of this matters anyway because when anarchy comes, when real, unstoppable chaotic joy and passion in the streets overcomes Normalcy, it won’t be stopping and asking any of us for directions. In the meantime take control of your life. Sit in a tree. Climb to a mountain top and gaze out at Possibility. Build a boat with friends and go get high on the seas...

A version of this was originally published in The Oystercatcher 



Tuesday, August 18, 2020

 Tree tongues

A blog by my friend Suijin. Grappling with the reality of what developing a sense of place through relearning local subsistence practices, while de-colonizing, looks like. 

Friday, June 5, 2020

Riotous ecology

Riotous ecology 

Fires, either intentional or from lightning, have been a component of many ecosystems for millennia. We know that prior to colonization on Turtle Island, controlled fires were used by many indigenous peoples to alter their habitats in favourable ways. It helped facilitate travel by eliminating thick underbrush, increased the numbers of game animals and helped nut trees be more productive, among many benefits. It was a subsistence tactic that had been honed for generations. 

To the outsider arriving from dense, sedentary Europe, most of what we call North America appeared as pristine wilderness, large tracts of untouched or barely touched land. In reality the whole continent was, in a way, a vast permaculture complex consisting of an incredible number of variegated habitats maintained through a variety of practices, including controlled fire, which, on a very large scale, was also instrumental in helping set and maintain the boundaries between prairie grasslands and forests.

All life forms need habitats, but cities are not habitats. Beneath the pave is the forest floor, the potential garden, the smothered berry patch, the drained estuary, the buried salmon bearing creek. A city is not merely a different habitat form, a giant efficient nest. It is not the loci of everything advanced and complex and progressive of the human story, of freedom, creativity and self-consciousness. It is the elite’s lair, a place of dispossessed captives, where repressive apparatuses are ubiquitous, beginning with the town clock which helped ensure that the activities of potentially self-organized, self-directed and freely self-creating individuals are synchronized in the interest of the elite, of economic and political efficiency.

 Imagine living in a hell world where you can’t eat when you are hungry, nap when you are sleepy, drink when you are thirsty, relieve yourself when you need to, because an instrument is what dictates when you are allowed to fulfill these basic animal needs. That is urban-capitalist civilization- millions of people jarred out of their rest and dreams by an alarm and then all synchronized to follow the same daily patterns so that economics can prevail over individual bodies and their processes and desires. 

The insurrectionary arsonist who burns down not only the bank, the corporate headquarters or the police station, but random buildings, becomes, as that primal and deeply honest gesture unfolds and manifests, both an ecological and a spiritual person. It is a communitarian act in so far as it stands up against Power and injustice and in defence of their kin and neighbours. It is an unmasking act as it tears away the veil that camouflages the monstrous social order that is behind centuries of elitism, injustice and violence.

We need to reject, renaturalize or destroy the city, the central site of authoritarian control and the ideology that prioritizes property over life, hoarded wealth of the few over communities based on sharing, of obedient and weak captives over self-assured and strong individuals.

There is no future if we don’t stop adapting to capitalism and start adapting to nature. And every molotov thrown has a message inside the bottle that reads: “ I am sick of adapting to capitalism, of adapting to a world of bosses and landlords and elites, of supremacist thinking, of pavement and concrete and vistas denuded of life.” Sure it might not explicitly state that the preference is to adapt to nature, but if all coercion is removed, don’t we end up living closer to the way we’ve evolved, closer to nature?

And so I make this connection between ecology and riots, between making space for healing and regeneration and the arson of the present insurrection. 

Make no mistake about it, I know that this uprising was instigated by black people responding to a world that has been violently anti-black for 400 years. I don’t want to twist that truth to fit a personal outlook, thereby erasing collective black suffering and agency. It isn’t to claim that this insurrection is actually located within an ecological impetus. It is to note that we are always ecological beings and as such when we revolt we also do so against our conditions as potentially free beings living in healthy habitats who are presently captives in the giant work camps and prisons which are cities, many of us, especially POC, literally in cages.

When you want to build a dojo or a shelter,  or to plant squash or corn, when you want to build a communal storehouse for preserves or an arsenal for your clan, you need to clear an area. Be it a seasonal campsite for subsistence practices or for a more sedentary eco-village, we need to make space. Destroying urban property while rioting is the same urge. It is both an act against and one for. How else to set our imaginations free, to visualize not anything specific, but to envision Possibility?  If the terrain is completely occupied by the designs and interests of a select few and has been for a long time, then space must be cleared, and probably in a frenzy of resentment. Regeneration is impossible without death. Fires have been used to clear areas for food production, to make travelling easier and for other subsistence practices. I believe that riotous arson can be seen through this lens as well. What better way to confront our alienation as dispossessed captives, as living beings without freedom or habitats, than to burn down not only the guard towers and prisons, but everything in the way of sustainable food production, local potable water, a returning woodland for birds, etc?

Capitalism prioritizes commodities and private property over life. Ecology is prioritizing reciprocity and life over private property and commodities, therefore looting is taking action against a system that erases life and for a system that prioritizes it. Riotous looting is a way of transferring wealth.  A way of immediately using things which are on their way to the landfill anyway.  A healthy community would only produce for need or for pleasure and everything within it would be freely shared, so looting commodified objects is really just direct action against capitalism. 

Vandana Shiva said that as capital grows nature shrinks. So in that sense decommodifying is an ecological act…because the opposite is also true. As capital shrinks nature heals. So in fact the more arson and looting, the more refusal - to work, to accept normative ideas, to live in the desolate, concrete lairs of trade and political authority, the better chance nature, which includes us of course, has a chance to heal and regenerate.

Cities rest on a set of violent arrangements - landlord/tenant, rich/poor, police/citizen, included/excluded, etc. Within them nature has been violently destroyed. The automobile dominates all design imperatives. It’s inhabitants are alienated, atomized, ghettoized, with the vast majority seemingly sick with Stockholm Syndrome, giving and taking orders, obediently spending their lives producing and consuming. Complex and healthy eco-systems that can support large numbers of life forms are destroyed by cities, so destroying cities, and the bourgeois and racist myths of progress that support and justify them, is an act on the side of nature, of the primal, of the urge for self-preservation. 

Riots can pull back the veil and help put on display the violent glue that holds the city form together as well as the results of such (coerced) social arrangements: police, laws, hierarchy, political power, racism, surveillance systems, military-industrial logic, poverty, mental illness, destroyed eco-systems...not to mention that virtually every city was once the home of anarchic people because they had the ecological wisdom to make intelligent decisions about where their settlements should be located. Toronto, Manhattan, Ottawa, San Francisco...I saw a photograph of downtown Vancouver Canada that was taken in the early 1900s. It was still an old growth forest and Salish people were still trying to hold onto their territory. I believe that decolonization means not thinking differently, but living differently.

Cities - and the ideological foundations they rest on, are to anarchic impulses what heteronormativity is to queer liberation. Just as we are taught by the school system, popular culture, by Power and Official History, that heterosexual relationships are normal and necessary and that anything outside that belief system is suspect, perverted, hostile, threatening to societal stability, we are also taught that cities, from ancient Babylon, to Athens to New York, are the apex of human achievement, the centers of Progress and enlightenment, a step ahead of the ‘savagery’ of traditional indigenous life ways, of hunter gatherers, of nomads and experimenters and village dwellers. 

It makes sense to want to destroy what is ugly when the potential for the beauty of nature to manifest is a memory in all of our bodies and psyches. I don’t want cities, I want Wild-Life habitats for me and my kin.

We should hope that the tiger can escape its cage and celebrate when it does. 

We need an era of greater and greater fire frequency. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2019


    I lugged my collection of books from town to town, across a continent, from place to place, for 40 years. It has always felt like if I didn’t have them, I didn’t have the knowledge or insights they contained: “Medicinal plants of the PNW”, “Against His-story, against Leviathan”, “TAZ”, “Foods of the indigenous peoples of British Columbia”, “How to make wild mead and wine”, “Living My Life”, “The Castle”, “ Les chants de Maldoror”... But I recently moved to a new place. I brought my collection of books and when it came time to unload and store them, I began to refer to them as ‘boxes of words”. “Damn it, another 50 lbs of words! I can hardly lift this thing!” Quantifying their content in this way was a liberating moment. I had finally put them in their place. 

Books are not literally knowledge or wisdom or insights - they are paper and ink and glue, the congealed labor and alienation of workers, commodities in the marketplace. And they are heavy! I have boxes and boxes and shelves and shelves of words. And once again I get the sense that I’m merely an object of history, a cliche, a passive being who has internalized enlightenment and civilized values and aspirations. Like the bourgeois who wants to live in their own castle, I’m the philosopher with his own library! 

 The emergence of literacy and its role in society is a large and complex topic,  one deserving of much debate and conversation. But it’s important to me that the reader of my essays is aware of my discomfort with, and ultimately rejection of, literate-centricity. It seems implied by the writing and publishing of my thinking that I must view literacy as a neutral, if not necessary or important, tool in the spreading of ideas. But this is not the case. In fact, I believe that a better world, an anarchic one, would have difficulty making a place for it. It would have to be an imposition, a misplaced, ill-fitting carry-over from the old world into the new.

Literacy presupposes many relationships between humans and between humans and their environment. 

Is orthography more important than say community songs and dances? In an ecologically sane, imaginative, horizontal world, are there going to be school buildings in which we are forced to sit quietly as children, being taught how to write and spell, or will we be at the river learning how to fish, or in the field learning how to gather medicinal herbs and edible plants? Will we be laboring at a printing press, with its machinery and oils and noise, or honing our oratorical skills at gatherings? Will we be in the machine shop making parts for the press or reciting poetry from memory to our lover in a meadow? 

To my mind, books are like cars or computers or electric guitars. We make use of them today, within the context of this particular social order, but I assume that we have no intention of  maintaining the cultural values and social relationships necessary for their survival in a post capitalist world without centralized political power enforcing a homogeneous culture on a population. If anarchy is renewal, is a liberatory explosion of the imagination, a rejection of coercion, of monolithic lifeways, then I fail to see how literacy would survive in such a de-commodified, horizontal, de-massified existence.

I admit that I have greatly benefitted from books, from poetry and radical theory to how-to and fiction books. I’ve been enriched by their possession. But I’ve also enjoyed my toaster, electric piano, disposable lighters and automobile and sincerely hope and doubt that any of these would survive the dismantling of the global grid of authoritarian institutions and a rediscovery of our kinship with nature.

   Historically elite classes kept a great deal of knowledge to themselves, keeping the peasantry ignorant of important facts, which made literacy and books sort of levelling tools, a way to even the playing field. Clearly, in that context, we seem better off with them. But are we really? Aren’t there other ways to impart important knowledge? If all the municipal buildings and the banks were burned to the ground, if there was no longer records of ownership or debt as everything was freely shared, what sort of information would still be necessary to record and store?

So I am encouraging us to look more closely at literacy, the social order and relationships that created it and the way it forms our thinking, reinforces unhealthy habits, and reproduces oppressive and uniform social orders.  I am also speculating that truly free people deep-rooted in habitats would probably not pursue literacy. Without elites that have an interest in keeping certain knowledge for themselves, facts and philosophy would be shared and debated equally through daily activities, not contained in books.

Books are not just one feature of a beautiful web of learning. They are more like the hub of a mechanical wheel, with a set of hard spokes emanating from it. Each spoke represents a static, simple fragment of what might have been a holistic and complex culture. One spoke points to the alienation and coercion inherent in schooling as an institution, another to the ossification of language as the organic is forced to bend to the inorganic, another to alienated labor making the machinery and paper and ink and glue, and yet another points to a society of experts and the division of labor, etc. It seems so obvious that, given the choice, only some people might choose to maintain literacy and books, but many others, likely most, would not and it would be difficult to argue that the literate culture would be superior to the illiterate. In fact the literate one would plainly need a social order very similar to the one we are trying to dismantle!

There is a big difference between language/oratorical skills and the ability to communicate using script. If we were to live in organically self-organized communities that are entrenched in habitats, would we have an interest or the time to teach script and copy texts? Wouldn't we be busy mending fishing nets, making medicines, repairing our structures, preserving food and other daily necessities of survival? Isn't it likely that as authentic communities form and separate from the massified cultures of capitalism, localized dialects would emerge? Does it make any sense for local dialects and languages spoken by small numbers of people to have their own script? To what purpose? 

Without authoritarian institutions, private property records, large homogeneous territories controlled from above,  there would be an explosion of new languages blossoming over the planet as centralized control, colonialism, compulsory education and mass media disappear. We know that there was once an enormous diversity of languages, and that they were erased by economics, political imperatives, outsider interests, subjugation, invasion... If this is the case, ridding ourselves of these forces would lead to a re-emergence of this diversity. And in that scenario, why would small villages, isolated regions, roaming clans of nomads, experimental unions of egoists, autonomous tribes, etc ever want to take the time to build a script that reflects their language, perhaps only spoken by a few hundred or thousand people?  

It seems plainly ridiculous to assume that literacy will endure everywhere or even anywhere where anarchic social relations prevail. I doubt that the interest, ability and energy will exist to ensure its universal continuance. A few texts in some places might be copied and reproduced in some fashion, but we shouldn't project a literate world into a decentralized, non-industrial, de-massified and ecological existence. It seems much more likely that the average inhabitant of any given area will be expected and encouraged to nurture highly developed memory and oratorical skills rather than literate abilities. Of course there are social and pro-industrial anarchists committed to maintaining urban civilization, and, in the beginning at least, they would recognize literacy as an essential cog in that machine and therefore try to maintain it, but it would likely be a difficult proposition if coercion were truly absent, and overtime the effort would fail.

In the meantime I want to encourage face to face conversations and debates, public speaking, memorization of texts and other forms of direct, non-literate communication not only among eco-radicals, but among all who truly want  demassified societies, anarchic relationships and orientations, authentic upheaval, etc. Even reading to each other is probably better than reading alone. Instead of handing someone a zine or an essay, why not try to memorize it, make it your own in some way, then share it with your friends/comrades/neighbours? 

Memorization, public speaking talents and the ability to take the stories and ideas of others and make them our own can be powerful tools and skills in our struggle to dismantle the psychological and propagandistic institutions that dominate our lives, to help open our minds and hearts to what is truly important and re-discover new ways of learning about and sharing them.

Monday, May 25, 2015



“I consume, therefore I am” the radical poster humorously proclaimed, satirizing the more famous philosophical dictum “I think therefore I am”.

But there is no human essence, no defining kernel of fate and determination.  We contain multitudes. We can create ourselves.

Under the rule of coercive authority, we have become stunted and shrunken. But we are nevertheless not just consumers. What’s missing in order to form a more accurate picture of what primarily defines a domesticated person today is the other side of consumption: production. “I produce, therefore I am” seems as accurate as “I consume, therefore I am”. In fact the two descriptions, combined together, are nearly the whole personality picture, unfortunately, for the conscripts of capitalist civilization. Each of us is expected to produce and consume, this is what citizens do.

Human the tool-user we are taught. Homo Habilis. Somewhere along the way we lost our abundance of defining characteristics, our multitudes. Are we not dreamers and fornicators as much as we are producers and consumers? But urban civilizations spread their reductionism until all the dreamers and naked savages were taken hostage behind the walls, absorbed into a living hell. From now on, they were told, you must divide your organic lives into measurable units. Dream time will no longer melt into conscious time. From now on you will labor for the Pharaohs and the Kings. Accountants and landlords and priests will rule your world, not grandmothers and shamans and your own imaginations. Whatever skills you have will no longer be used for the family, the clan, the tribe, but will be used to produce commodities for the Market or products for the Empire. The Market became dominant and colonized imperial strengths. Thus today humanity has as its main adversary the Imperialism of the Market. From being wild women of the jungle and wild men of the forest, we eventually became wage slaves in the cities.

And the once free peoples stopped singing as they wove their fishing nets, stopped lying lazily, happily, in their comfortable hammocks, smoking their medicine, telling stories, fornicating. From now on they would chant sad songs as they broke and hauled stone for the hierarchs pyramids, tilled the soil and sent their children to war for the King and Queen or huddled on small reservations, dispossessed. At least until they too became forcibly integrated into urban civilization. And so the uncivilized became the civilized and went out and conquered other free people.

But there was a beginning when work didn’t exist, when play and community were basic ingredients in lives freely chosen, when reciprocity assured equality.  A time when ungoverned individuals knew that selling one’s labor for a wage is a form of slavery. And there was resistance to the spreading Empires of the urban hierarchs everywhere they came to impose themselves, to elbow the natives out of their habitats.

     I am an artisan. I make objects out of clay. I make vessels of every shape and size: boxes and cylinders and three sided bottles. I make tea-pots and bowls, cups and plates and candlestick holders. I also create individual pieces, intended for contemplation or for inspiring conversation.

     Does this make me a mere producer for the market? Is my pottery, the product of my labor and imagination, of my sweat and time, left with any meaning, beyond that of a commodity? Do the ones which I give away, to friends, family and neighbors, for free, escape their place in the capitalist scheme of things? Naturally I hope that somehow there is a separate value, a use-value that transcends its exchange value which gives my work, and therefore a big part of my life, meaning, regardless of whether it is given or sold or even stolen. And the joy in the process must count. Or is all the positive really just self-delusion?  Isn’t the whole things just a job?

      I ask because I like conversations, because I want all of us to think about our place in the social order.

     Clay play existed before horticulture, before the dawning of cities and ruling classes, before the market and private property.  Among the more sedentary peoples, those who used a delayed-return system, vessels were created for medicine, to keep water cool in the hot sun, to store food for another season and to collect salt.  And among both the nomadic and semi-sedentary peoples, figurines were fashioned as magical amulets and talismanic objects, jewelry beads materialized from the imagination for the living and the dead. Beautiful and mysterious creatures made for blowing air into so that music could lull and soothe the ears.

      No one signed their creations, no one left their imprint trying to make a name for themselves, seeking personal immortality or wealth. The creators contributed to the greater good or made offerings so that the gods might smile down on everybody.

     But what of the later humble village-based folk traditions, which survived for millennia and in fact still exist in some places today? Could they not offer inspiration, an opportunity to help us leave behind the fame seeking, shallow celebrityism and pretentious claims to intellectual and creative superiority widespread in art milieus? Why not encourage village potters, village weavers ? No need for galleries and curators and lifetimes spent deciphering arcane vocabularies and fetishizing producers of cultural artifacts. No need for anxiety and self-doubt if one isn’t accepted into a sub-cultural scene.

     And yet there is something unpleasantly proletarian and dull and self-sacrificing in the image of the humble artisan dedicated to producing only what is utilitarian, ignoring the opportunity to experiment, to play and explore, to manifest expressions of the marvelous and the impossible. Sensual and creative skills are all non-alienated languages. They offer the opportunity to use non-verbal methods for communication and inquiry.  Creative skills provide both a look through a different opening as well as a language to communicate what is perceived, thus sharing with others a different facet of our experience.

     Ultimately, mustn’t we refuse to legitimize market imperialism dictates of social roles, like “artist”? Shouldn’t we be creating for our friends or clans or communities and not for the market? But here we are. Trapped in an era, inmates of our atomized and privatized lives, conscripts of planetary institutions of domination. And it’s not just artist/artisan that are problematic, all roles and labels that we choose from are pre-cut clich├ęs formed by the interests of urban civilization. Drug addict, tourist, rock star, vegan activist, laborer, soldier, mayor, religious believer, they’re all scripted characters, costumes we choose (or are given) from the small wardrobe offered by the current social order.
      The masters have made it so that living costs money, and money is our congealed labor, our imaginations and life energy spun into commodities.  And so I answer my question: indeed even an artisan, like everyone else, is but a component in the reproduction of capitalist social relations, an example  of the dictum that: “I produce therefore I am”.  But I am ready for a world without commodities, to join with others to terminate this social order so that we can use our creative skills as methods of inquiry and exploration, and voluntarily and joyfully create what is needed and desired by our kin, not what is demanded of us by the Market and Authority.

Artisan X

Sunday, May 3, 2015

insurrectionary subsistence

Regeneration as an anarchist vision

Toward an OCCUPY LAND movement
There were many aspects of the Occupy Movement that were praiseworthy: its decentralization and internationalism, lack of a reformist list of demands, the explorations of collective decision making and of course its goal of helping human societies become less hierarchical. But what were the Occupy protesters occupying?  Wasn’t it essentially urban space as a means of temporarily reclaiming some property to use as a media-like base to complain about social and economic inequality?

How might someone looking through the lens of insurrectionary subsistence consider Occupy?  I think that it’s worth wondering if Occupy would have been more powerful and threatening if there had been a more personal and immediate goal of occupying land.  In a city this might mean occupying a park and a nearby building, for instance, not to use as a space to become either engaged citizens or drop outs, but to use as infrastructure in a real attempt at exploring new social relationships. The park might be used for planting an orchard and a garden, building a hen coop and setting up ponds to attract wildlife, as simple examples, and the building used for shelter and defense from hostile forces. Of course, urban inhabitation offers more opportunity for destroying the enemy’s infrastructure than it does the creation of liberated space that could support some sort of sustainable urban permaculture zone. But the points must be made that we are dispossessed and that access to land is essential for any group of self-directed people.

Or imagine if the protesters had marched out of their city and brought their considerable numbers and resources to support the nearest indigenous land re-occupation effort. What an incredible opportunity to be allies and co-conspirators with folks who have been on the front line against capitalism and colonialism for centuries. There are such efforts all over Canada and the U.S. Or if each encampment had gone out into the nearest public or corporate lands to set up their own land occupation camps, as attempts at creating places to self-organize and survive in a non-urban setting and as a way of opening new fronts against the nation-state in solidarity with indigenous fighters and communities.

Urban living has to be abandoned in order for any truly anarchic set of living practices to succeed. With that as a backdrop belief, then insurrectionary subsistence becomes clearer as a specific revolutionary perspective. It involves taking steps that help further access to land for communal groups; either indigenous people reclaiming their traditional territory or non-indigenous people accessing land to create ecological relationships, free of the forces of both the market and the state.

How does one describe the freedom that anarchists are yearning for? Is it freedom from-as in oppression, domination, mediation, domestication, colonization? Is it freedom to-as in to explore, imagine, experiment and dream? It is both and therefore I wonder how these two might intersect, and how our means to this intertwining might contain its ends.

Insurrectionary subsistence practice is identifying one’s potential habitat and making attempts at dismantling existing industrial activity and doing our best to stop industrial expansion there. Unlike direct action ecology which advocates attacking industrialism in order to protect wilderness, insurrectionary subsistence attacks industrialism generally, wherever one lives, in order to help the local ecosphere regenerate not for abstract spiritual or ecological reasons, but in order to protect one’s potential home.

Like primitivism, insurrectionary subsistence encourages attacking industrialism not only to protect wilderness areas but also as part of a greater goal of destroying mass authoritarian civilization so that humanity can ultimately return to lives centered more or less around hunter-gathering. But insurrectionary subsistence also aims to secure access to land in order to begin experimenting with different green ways of living here and now, without any predetermined destination in mind.  We trust that truly free, self-organized, self-directed people will end up where they need to be to fully realize themselves. Life is full of spectrums and grey areas, like the undefinable boundaries between the hard and the soft, so it’s important not to get stuck on specific expressions and mental constructions, like “bio-regionalism” or “nomadic hunter-gathering” or “paleo” or “permaculture” or “cultural materialism”. There are gradations everywhere, disagreements about definitions, new information and insights that continually ask us to reconsider our perspectives. This is important for anarchists, who must be guided by the desire to fight for dignified lives as well as by the ecological principles of regeneration and renewal. Chaos and paradox define our surroundings and our histories as much as any rational template.

I’ve been around long enough to know that eventually all sets of analyses, like cultural materialism as an example, will seem outdated and inadequate and will need revisions and rethinking. All over North America, for instance, the non-civilized experimented with and integrated many customs and activities that would be considered outside the limits of nomadic hunter-gatherer lifeways: some had dogs that lived among them, some planted the odd crop, others maintained specific conditions to encourage food or medicine sources through fires, many lived in permanent, if seasonal, villages, etc. Hierarchy did not always accompany the lives of those who engaged in these practices or experiments. And what some outsiders, like anthropologists, could describe as hierarchy in some instances, might from the subjects themselves not be considered coercive or alienating or having any basis in domination whatsoever.  There are simply so many varieties of gathering/hunting cultures and of the non-civilized generally, that the description seems to fall short as sufficient to adequately encapsulate our destination. Best from my point of view, is to start by getting access to land with the crystal clear desire to begin experimenting with free ways of living.

In terms of where I live, fairly close to large areas of land, I do know how to hunt and have hunted, but civilization has made widespread gathering-hunting an impossibility for the time being. This doesn’t mean that occupying land is pointless, it just necessitates conceptualizing and accepting a practice that has only a few stepping stones in some places to a green anarchist lifeway while in others the stepping stones required would be so numerous that one has to accept some transitional time period of helping re-naturalize a habitat. It does seem true that the more sedentary the people the more likelihood the existence of rank and privilege. But there isn’t a causal connection. Other factors also come into play. And based on my reading of anthropological evidence, permanently located villages, established within fairly small habitats, with seasonal subsistence campsites, are also sufficient for experiencing completely free, undomesticated and healthy existences.

              The participant in an organically self-organized subsistence movement wants to be embedded in a habitat. They don’t aim toward an exclusive means of providing food or set of living arrangements. They just want to be free people rooted in a dynamic and healthy environment. I think that a settled village of ungoverned individuals, (or even cluster of them), for instance, perhaps divided in smaller groups within it along some affinity or blood relation, one that also supports seasonal subsistence camps, is as ideal a setting for humans to experience complete freedom and direct experience with our surroundings as a nomadic group of gatherer-hunters. These people would sustain themselves by fishing, maintaining berry patches and wild starches, perhaps even planting a simple crop like squash or encouraging oyster production through subtle interactions. The destination is a place where we are free to experiment with our social configurations and we have the habitat to support us as we do so. If that leads to nomadic hunter-gathering, or nomadic gathering-hunting or village based gathering-hunting or village based hunting-gathering supported by squash crops and domesticated cannabis and valerian root medicines, then so be it.  Most concepts seem to break down into ever smaller units or even to completely liquefy into infinite constituent parts once we try to pin point and confine and set apart from all other concepts. What precisely is nomadic and what sedentary? What exactly is domestication? Where does the hierarchy anarchists are opposed to end to make room for notions of old timer wisdom?  
 While I am overjoyed when spontaneous and broad proletarian insurgencies and uprisings occur, like they have recently (2012 to 2015) in Montreal, Ferguson, Baltimore, Greece, the Bay etc., I believe that each of our lives counts, each of our undertakings potentially contributes. Some of our activities quietly chip away at the dominant reality while others are more dramatic. I don’t care if at times my actions accomplish nothing. I want to live and try and experiment, and of course there remains the possibility that in a coalescing of all our small attempts something greater might occur, that perhaps one day some might actually help liberate an area. In this sense I support and encourage everything from the formation of intentional communities to clandestine sabotage of industrial projects, from the setting up of wilderness camps for a few friends or helping out at an indigenous land re-occupation camp to disruptions of normalcy in riotous behavior at anti-police brutality marches. All of these activities create bonds between comrades, highlight what and who our enemy is and build experience and wisdom. Hunting and fishing and gathering wild food is as important as writing to prisoners.

Insurrectionary subsistence is the attempt, successful or not, to wrest a little territory from the nation-state and the market. This land base might be a stepping stone toward eventually reaching a habitat or it might be taken with the intent of becoming part of a habitat itself, say through re-naturalizing efforts.

This is not just a call to “green” our revolts, although this is one way to speak about it, but to make more of our activity aimed toward accessing land or protecting potential habitat for anarchist living experiments here and now.

It is a call to consider the implications of realizing that without access to land, no group can sustain itself.
Free people living in healthy habitats is the destination, insurrectionary subsistence is one of the means.

For more on organically self-organized subsistence movements or insurrectionary subsistence, check out the following web sites and literature:

Warrior Publications
Warrior Publications is published in occupied Coast Salish territory (Vancouver, Canada).  Its purpose is to promote warrior culture, fighting spirit, and resistance movements.
In addition, this website seeks to function as an historical archive of Indigenous anti-colonial struggles and resistance, and to provide analysis of these struggles.”

Land and Freedom an open invitation by Seaweed available from Little Black Cart or Black Powder Press

BC Blackout~ Social War Against Industrial Expansion, a very informative web site
About BC Blackout
“The purpose of BC Blackout is to foment anarchist agitation and action throughout the colonial province of BC and promote self-organization and social conflict against industrial development. We express our solidarity with indigenous rebels who are protecting their homelands, sustainable ways of living, and who are at the front lines of the war against the colonial capitalist Canadian state.
For us, there is no distinction between ecological resistance and class war. The same rich bastards profiting from our dispossession are profiting from destroying the natural world. They extort our consensus with the bribe of jobs, but what good is money on a dead planet? We want to get all the cops and bosses out of our lives, to destroy the capitalist economy and regenerate respectful relationships to the land, ourselves and each other.
We encourage you to develop your own analysis, find accomplices and decide for yourself what is the best way to attack the system and take a step towards control over your life…
As Vancouver is home to some of the largest international mining companies we wish to draw the links between our own battles here with those of comrades fighting BC based mining operations around the world. All around the world indigenous people, anarchists and other grassroots land defenders are rising up and saying, “No More!” Attacking industrial resource extraction while defending radical ways of living and liberating autonomous space.
Against this miserable global system, our struggles are one.”

There are also plenty of existing examples of insurrectionary anarchist action. Some of the activities and outlooks of the Zapatistas for instance. As mentioned in this article, there are also many indigenous re-occupation camps throughout the world. I’ve come across and have participated in more personal and small scale examples of radical withdrawal that would fit within insurrectionary anarchist practice, like building wilderness camps as places to hide from authority, gather food and medicine, renew one’s relationship with nature, etc. There are many other interesting groups, for instance an intentional paleo community that is buying a few small nodes of land that border vast public lands. Their idea is to combine the security of small legal land bases with access to a larger habitat. I think it’s important to support all attempts because they help create a wider radical culture that might ultimately support a broader insurgency.