The Rhetoric of Love

February 28, 2017

The rhetoric of love is as hurtful as the rhetoric of hate.  Trump populism, for example, uses the rhetoric of fear and hate, targeting women and people of color.  But the empty positive, loving rhetoric on the part of a pro-establishment “progressive” liberal left does at least as much harm.

Domestic violence abusers and stalkers regularly use the phrase, “I love you” to both justify and distract from actions and impact that embody considerable hatred of themselves and others.  It is designed to break consent.  If we agree to do something, and then I use that agreement to do something else entirely, it breaks consent.  Usually, the break in consent exists strategically to extract something from or otherwise exploit another party against their will.  Malicious lawyers use this “bait and switch” tactic all the time, by getting people to “agree” to things entirely different than what they believed they were agreeing to.

If you ask me to do the dishes before you get home, and I say, “Sure thing.”  That’s a positive, affirmative response.  Then I think about doing the dishes.  Then I talk about doing the dishes.  Maybe I even study the issue with diligent rigor.  When I use an affirmational, positive and loving response as a strategy to shut you up so you stop asking me to do things, then I am exploiting and breaking consent using the “bait and switch” rhetoric of love. That amounts to a lie that I told you.  Moreso than this, it amounts to an act of manipulation and abuse.  In exploiting language and trust, I cause harm to our ability to communicate and relate to one another and our relationship.  It is a form of social control — controlling violence, and results in alienation, trauma and suspicion.

Rhetoric of the Political Establishment Left

The establishment left — which includes many self-styled liberals and progressives — often uses the rhetoric of love to protect rather than improve the status quo.  For example, as Ellen Mavrich points out, many self-styled leftists and progressives hide their passive conservatism or even active animosity toward contemporary social justice movements using the rhetoric of love.  We use the rhetoric of social justice to support the status quo, deny contemporary issues, or even criticize and undermine liberatory struggles. Mavrich acknowledges that progressives “love to emphasize [their] radical past”, and challenges us if we “pretend to be a community leading the future while we actually slink around the sidelines hiding from the bully, [then] we need to stop aligning ourselves with the truly brave people who came before. That is also an injustice.”(1)

More locally, we have cities that adopt “progressive” stances that have no real-world impact, such as “sustainability commissions,” that have no authority nor scope of work beyond doing unnecessary “research” and creating non-binding “recommendations” for decision-makers to ignore even as they trumpet their “green credentials” in reference to such commissions.  We have politicians who express empty “concern” for an issue or feigned “outrage” over systematic police brutality, but who do little or no crusading to back up their words.

The report, “City Rights in an Era of Preemption,” says 24 states have preempted local minimum wage increases; 17 have stopped paid sick or family leave; three have voided anti-discrimination protections for LGBT individuals; three have stopped laws aimed at home sharing (like AirBnB that has tightened affordable housing options); 37 have blocked local regulation of ride sharing (that compete with the more heavily licensed taxis); 17 have blocked municipal broadband (challenging telecom monopolies); and 42 have limited local taxation and spending.

http://www.alternet.org/activism/other-right-wing-tidal-wave-sweeping-america-federal-and-state-preemption-local-progressive

The result?  Pre-emption crushes social innovation. “Progressive change” gets funneled into increasingly-narrow and tightly-choreographed, heavily-scripted and regulated pro-establishment lobby theater.  Such change strategies take it as a given that they must “collaborate” with and accept institutions and interests of dominant culture at the table and take into account or even give them precedent and priority, rendering results meaningless and empty — change in name only (CHINO, if that).

Meanwhile, the participating activists have spent countless (often-unpaid) hours of labor to help make this happen, becoming, in effect, willing corporate slaves or stool-pigeons who drain precious resources from, marginalize and hide more effectual organizing strategies designed to circumvent, short-circuit or call-out this process.  Such establishment leftism does immense harm toward actual liberatory struggle, and it will continue either until the establishment crumbles or someone disrupts it.   For this reason, the pro-establishment left may constitute a higher strategic priority for direct action work than the corporate or other authoritarian institutions of dominant culture they claim to oppose, precisely because they so-effectively “run interference” as a vanguard of pro-establishment defense processes.

A Way Out and Forward

It often takes considerable courage — especially in this brave new world — to enact love beyond disposable and disingenuous rhetoric.  In contrast, using the rhetoric of love as a strategy to avoid enacting love is an act of cowardice and manipulation.  Many of us are so deeply programmed this way by our enculturation that we can’t even tell the difference in our own or others’ actions.  Whenever and wherever we can, we must stand firm to enact and embody love in spite of considerable opposition from the fear and hatred of others.  Unfortunately, it often means taking a path of more resistance.  It means holding ourselves and others accountable whenever our rhetoric diverges from our embodied actions.  This must occur not only on individual and relational levels, but institutional levels.

On deeply personal level, we can feel overwhelmed as soon as we engage in an accountability process that exposes empty rhetoric we or others around us use.  It means slowing down, scaling back and getting a more solid personal and relational foundation beneath us.  It means not promising things we can’t deliver, no matter how “well-intentioned.”  It means having a clear and honest understanding of our capacities, and holding others to account for their promises.  It can mean shifting allegiances away from behaviors, attitudes and institutions that remain unwilling or unable to remain accountable, or even actively oppose or undermine accountability itself.  Only then do we know what we actually have to work with, and only then can we plan and execute effective, sustained social change strategies that move beyond personal and relational work to target society’s institutions.

A Community Bill of Rights is one important tool among many for us to use in such processes of accountability and integrity, by helping us recognize and hold both individuals and institutions to locally-enforceable, legally-binding account when their rhetoric and “intentions” diverge from their behavior and impact.  Moreso than this, Community Bills of Rights are useful tools to help the intention and rhetoric of love re-engage with our behavior and impact, in three important ways:
1.  They allow us (we, the people) to enforce already-recognized rights locally when non-local (e.g., state or federal) institutions that supposedly recognized those rights refuse to enforce them (passive violations), or even actively violate them.
2. They allow us to recognize and elevate previously-unrecognized rights fundamental to the health, safety and welfare of natural and human communities, such as the Rights of Nature, or the right of every person to a safe shelter, or a life free from relationship violence.(2)  It allows us to bring our actions and impact closer to our intentions and rhetoric without asking distant and unaccountable authority figures for permission.
3. Community Bills of Rights allow us to address several outstanding issues of fundamental rights violations.  In a single Bill of Rights we can address workers’ and immigrants’ rights, the Rights of Nature, women’s right to body sovereignty, and other important issues of fundamental integrity.  By addressing many different issues on a single structural platform, we can create greater solidarity by building broad coalitions of support for the Community Bill of Rights.  People of privilege can use their privilege to truly listen to and address the needs of the community and lead for progressive change, which in turn creates greater community.

Footnote
(1)http://oberlinreview.org/12315/opinions/oberlin-must-stand-by-community-bill-of-rights/
(2)This was a right that existed briefly on the federal level, but was struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional in the early 2000’s.  It depends on the Federal government’s authority to enforce such rights through the Commerce Clause, which treats everyone and everything in the world as a dollar value and ironically also allows the government considerable control over human behavior.  Regardless, if the powers that be can’t slap a dollar sign on it, they can’t enforce it.  This is how they enforce the EPA and civil rights laws:  by converting humans and nature into corporate profit and loss figures.  Is that right?  Read more: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1FsgPwZQtlIQDnOCDoMhZiBW1598ccSOYEELwlkHwp7M/pub#h.k8ugw2yjpmty


Trump, social institutions and the bystander effect

February 26, 2017

This is a strategic framework for surviving or even progressing in the midst of repressive political regimes, focusing on bystander organizing.

Overview

My partner is currently helping someone apply for US citizenship.  I can imagine that process feels pretty harrowing normally, let alone in today’s climate, with a xenophobic predator in chief at the figurative head of the government.  Trump has already threatened to pull federal funding from cities who act as sanctuaries for the people he intends to persecute.

Our society has a lot of active xenophobes and misogynists.  Such people worked hard to elect someone like Trump in the first place.  They have already started acting more boldly.  A lot of xenophobes and misogynists work in public and private institutions, which magnifies their potential destructive influence.  They may start to feel empowered with a mandate from above in what people perceive as the “highest political office of the nation” (more accurately it is a symbolic position that has as much power as we delegate to or allow it).  The xenophobes and misogynists are coming out of the woodwork.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It’s a form of social and cultural honesty manifesting itself.  We know who — and what — we are working with.  They don’t have to hide.  They don’t police themselves and hide behind political correctness, because the social norms have changed.  We know how bad things truly are, and how much work we have to do to create a democratic culture of love, courage and respect.

However, the shift in the balance of power also means that many otherwise-non-misogynist and non-xenophobic people will start to silence themselves and passively “go along” with whatever tendencies emerge.  As the xenophobes and misogynists emerge and many other, competing value systems go into hiding, a progressive institution can seem to shift rather abruptly to a regressive and repressive institution, seemingly-overnight.  This happens first through a collective change in social affect, where xenophobia and misogyny become dominant norms.  Shifts in norms then create a silence amongst a passive majority, or even draw them into compliance as they seek to maintain social harmony.   Then actual shifts in policies, rules and directives occur, further marginalizing and mitigating the remaining people who refuse to remain silent.

This shift can do lots of damage.  We can prevent that damage.

Bystander Organizing

The remaining people who refuse to remain silent have the simple, albeit very difficult, task to slow, stop and even reverse these institutional shifts through strategic action.  Whether and how such people act in this shifting climate will determine in large part the extent and quality of the damage that the xenophobes and misogynists are able to do with their growing institutional power.  Strategically, we can act to limit the damage, viewing this as a “temporary shift in climate” while ignoring its roots in our culture. We can call this the “Tough out the four years” strategy.  It is a strategy that both assumes and facilitates failure.  More fundamentally, we can work to awaken and activate bystanders from their state of passive silence and compliance.  The more proactive we are with this, the easier our task of limiting damage and holding a line against authoritarian regression will become.  The longer we wait, the harder the task will become, up to the point of becoming impossible.

Bystander activation itself becomes much more effective through a strategic process of triage.  We can call strategically-focused bystander activation “bystander organizing.”  We target and activate those most sensitive and courageous first (before we get bound, gagged and dragged off to the gallows), and then use our growing numbers to increasingly activate others in turn and normalize a culture, first of resistance, and then prevention.  When bystander activation and organizing occurs promptly, an institution can effectively hold a line against social regression, or even continue progress making — even leaps and bounds of progress (albeit in the midst of a lot more conflict) — during an authoritarian regime.

Isolated institutions, when transparent and public about their activation, can in turn inspire and agitate others, transforming pockets of resistance to a unified solidarity network.  So anyone in a position of public or private institutional influence can use their institutional power responsibly, act strategically.  We have work to do to make this land more just, more free, more inclusive.  We have people (such as xenophobes and misogynists) to identify and hold to account, including, but not anywhere-near limited to, the new predator-in-chief.  Including friends, family and coworkers.  Our bosses and employees.  Trump emerged from US mainstream culture.  Until we change the culture, the threat he symbolizes will remain:  his supporters, those who comply, and those who consider him an alien rather than emergent threat.

Indicators of Institutional Shifts

Indicators of shifts in institutional culture include both informal and formal factors, such as memos, new “policies,” personnel behavior, and enforcement of accountability for professional, ethical behavior, and institutional mission or focus.  Examples of shifts in sexism include increased harassment of women, male coworkers or employees behaving in oppositional or defiant ways to female coworkers or bosses (which can include more gender-based “jokes” about female authority), and bosses silencing or exploiting female employees.  Gender minorities may also receive similar treatment.  Similarly racist or classist behaviors may start to occur.

The adoption of discriminatory policies (let alone behaviors and attitudes), even when technically-illegal or unconstitutional, may appear (or actually) have the support of the President of the US.  Such policies can focus inward, on the management of the institution itself (e.g., stripping female employees of paid maternity leave, or claiming to “recognize white genocide” or “reverse racism” or “reverse sexism” as a real issue requiring affirmative action or equal opportunity or “increased accountability”).  Likewise, such policies can project outward, toward the people whom the institution should ostensibly serve (such as in the administration of health care or insurance, or work training and placement programs, or with immigrants applying for US citizenship).

Initial shifts can occur more subtly, with a “testing of the waters,” occurring through increased frequency of racially- or sexually-charged “joking,” a vanguard of indicator and agent of shifting cultural norms.  These initial shifts can easily and disable any extant accountability structures, policies or processes that were probably overwhelmed and under-responsive to begin with.  Those who have already faced such challenges in their work life may notice an increase in both frequency or intensity of behavior or other indicators of a cultural shift into line with the repressive regime.  Regardless of the level of formality, these shifts occur due to a perceived (and often real) sense of support or even mandate from those higher in the social hierarchy, and a perceived lack of consequences for abandoning what was previously the politically-correct behavior.  In fact, such people are simply adopting (sometimes passively, sometimes willingly and actively) the new politically-correct behavior, which happens to include misogyny and xenophobia.

The fact of the matter is, though, that enough caring people exist, generally-speaking, in every institution for that institution to hold a line against slipping toward repressive culture or policy.  What matters is whether we act strategically in a manner to amplify our impact and influence.


Why the Salem Food Co-op failed

February 24, 2017

Ten Lessons from a founding member (steering committee and founding board member 2010 – 2014)

INTRODUCTION
This piece results from reflection on several factors that ultimately contributed to the demise of the Salem Food Co-op (SFC) project. I wrote it first and foremost for myself, to help articulate and clarify my pathway forward. I share it in hopes that it will help others in their community development work, by aiding in the identification and avoidance of red flags to fight self-sabotaging project failure and individuals’ unwitting participation in such self-sabotaging processes, ultimately to better respect and render effective time and energy spent toward building a better community.

10 RED FLAGS

1) First, the food co-op started with limited outreach to white godless middle class liberals. Note that I don’t use the phrase “white godless middle class liberals” as a pejorative. Rather, it is only a very limited demographic group (one that includes me). We might more accurately substitute “secular” for “godless,” as, the initial outreach did not include churches, nor did it include minority or marginalized populations and related local organizations (SKCE, NAACP, SLF, etc).

Such a narrow initial frame for the project compounded later problems. Project leaders assumed that whoever showed up as a result was “the community” and thus (yet again) erased people of color, ESL speakers, and others from the possibility of engagement and participation unless it was completely on the terms of the narrow white, middle class godless liberal frame. I fit that same narrow demographic group (which is probably why I became a founding member), and even I found the space to be unnecessarily conservative and restrictive — to the point of being claustrophobic, with constant subtle and passive-aggressive social norming to separate outliers from the “in-group.”

See Julie Guthman’s “Unbearable Whiteness of the Alternative Food Movement” for more on this topic. De facto discrimination and segregation can look more like passivity than active prejudice. For example, by putting all outreach materials in English only, by reaching out to primarily-white institutions and groups, this projects a coded message to community members who don’t fit that demographic that, “this is another white people project.” It also projects a coded message to white supremacist community members and institutions that the status quo supports their prejudice, which intensifies racism, etc in the community as a result.

2) Second, the core founding group (which later became part of the steering committee and the founding board) started and stuck with a very narrow, naive and inflexible idea of what a food co-op was. They were stuck in the romanticization of the food cooperative movement of the 70s, and wanted to transplant that through time and space into the contemporary Salem economy. They did not do research into the full breadth of cooperative possibilities, and thus could not imagine — let alone communicate — anything beyond, “I want a member-owned version of LifeSource” [the local privately-owned friendly, well-staffed and well-managed “natural foods” store] to the community, which sounded redundant to most folks. LifeSource already effectively fills that economic niche, and does a solid job at it.

In contrast, the founding group did not care to learn what other problems, needs and thus opportunities existed in the community around food issues. They did group work to move the project forward, but their participation in part served to retain control of this narrow vision and prevent broadening of possibilities. Some even said they would leave if the group even considered other possibilities than what they wanted (a brick and mortar granola store). The presence of such manipulative and threatening behavior in the early group formation itself is a huge red flag that I ignored — especially because many of these people stayed on-board!

3) Third, the board did not listen to or follow the advice of experts — such as the Food Cooperative Development Initiative and the NW Cooperative Development Center and local seasoned business owners and the local SBDC. The few cooperative projects that withstand the test of time treat the strategic planning, research and outreach process seriously, whereas key members of the SFC board just dismissed the process as redundant or even threatening to their vision. They payed lip-service to these fantastic (and freely-available) expert resources, but did not actually want to follow through with the planning process, for example, treating the business planning process as a mere “formality.” As a steering committee and board, we did not take the time to understand what the actual community (and all its participants) really wanted or needed, and where, when and how a co-op project might meet those needs, let alone whether it could at all. Other participants did not seem able to see through their narrow blinders in interpreting the information offered (so everything became about building a “brick and mortar” store).

Starting a co-op is a lot like building an intentional community, and it takes a lot of time and energy building and solidifying the (often-invisible) foundations for success. Most successful co-ops (and intentional communities) don’t start operations until several (often 5-7) years of intensive development and planning work, which includes lots of research and evolution and even complete reboots and changes in direction.

4) Fourth, we prematurely started and expanded operations (vs intensive planning and development, which the above factors short-circuited). Unwilling to give the development process the time, energy and respect it deserved, the founding members jumped at the opportunity to just “start doing it,” nevermind that we did not yet have a clear vision of what “it” meant, and that most of Salem did not share the specific implementation of the larger vision that certain members of the board insisted on. This lead to SFC naively taking over a private bulk food buying club (a very different operation than — albeit potentially part of — a cooperative effort), whose founding leaders wanted to step back. Seeing this only as an opportunity (rather than a more complex situation that included significant threats to the project), we just “started doing it” without having a clear understanding of what it is we were doing, or how we were doing it, or what the risks were. The project soon found itself in a vicious operational cycle of paying off its increasing liabilities via operations that reaffirmed the existence of those liabilities. Planning and development work all but stalled.

5) Fifth, we imposed ourselves on the community. Unwilling and unable to research and understand the full scope and potential of this project, we tried to shoehorn a narrow and exclusive vision into the Salem economy, ignoring available economic niches while trying to establish ourselves in highly competitive, well-developed ones. When we took over the buying club, we destroyed it. The buying club emerged to fill a need. Rather than letting it continue or fade on its own terms, we tried to co-opt its membership for our purposes. The SFC board forced the change from a buying club to a co-op, raised the prices, made the process more complicated, and then said it was all “for the best” without even first developing a relationship with the club’s members. It resembled a hostile takeover. Lo and behold, member participation dropped off sharply in a few buying cycles, leaving SFC with a bad public reputation (from people who might otherwise have been our core supporters and membership, no less!) and an operational burden. Such tactics only work with virtual monopolies — and besides, is that really what SFC was going for?

6) Sixth, we exploited participants. By prematurely jumping into operations, we struggled to perform even basic operational tasks. Management each order cycle was a frantic, stressful mess. There weren’t enough volunteers to help, in part because of an over-reliance on volunteers. Board members vetoed any serious consideration of hiring paid staff (at any level), even when we finally had the budget for it. Similarly, board members mired in endless operational obligations every order cycle began questioning the motives and commitment of the few board members trying to stay focused on overall project management, planning, research and development in order to pressure them to “help out more,” as if the development even of operational policies and procedures and critical path planning wasn’t “helping out.” This created more internal board tension. We misused the resources available to us, then ironically wondered why we didn’t have “enough.” The project started to become a black hole for time and energy. Overwhelmed board members began co-opting the time of friends and family.  Cue the burnout!

7) Seventh, we got sucked into pettiness. Rather than fostering partnerships and mutual development with other local and artisan food projects, we saw other local markets and producers as competitors for the same small demographic group of people who buy their food from local producers and markets (or even a small subsection of that demographic group). The local and artisan food movements compete mostly against the industrial food system. Through our passive contribution to and participation in petty infighting instead of active leadership, we undermined our ability to compete and intensified the competition over a small sliver of the overall potential market. This is another reason why SFC struggled financially, and the stress and desperation of the volunteers began to show. In the end, the food co-op even placed blame on the community with a backhanded comment about them not “embracing this opportunity.”

8) Eighth, the board participated in chauvinistic magical thinking. We believed for the most part that if we just started offering a few local products from local farmers and mostly bulk options (creating a market penetration redundant to LifeSource and existing farmer’s markets) that people would just “flock” to the co-op and ask to become members. We thought that the co-op would boom without years of careful planning and outreach and niche research and strategy. Without a carefully-crafted vision that was well-communicated to — let alone shared by — the community. We just assumed that the vision was shared, the need for it “obvious,” and ultimately that the community wanted or needed whatever SFC felt they wanted or needed. We did not even listen to ourselves when “the brick and mortar board members” said they really just wanted “a community space” — something very different than a food co-op (although some overlap can exist). We had no concern for developing management and operating policies and practices and procedures, expecting those to “just arise” out of the process. We also thought that a new software system or website would solve many of these problems and more.

9) Ninth, the project evolved from being passively classist and racist into being actively-discriminatory. Several people who became central founding members of the board even openly expressed insecure animosity toward religion and churches at board meetings, as if open animosity toward and exclusion of religious participation was necessary to maintain the co-op project as a secular space. They even did this when new potential board members showed up, as if to “vet” such potential members. The fundamental fear and insecurity behind such practices also led toward a patronizing and negative attitude toward the Salem community they ostensibly sought to serve.  I believe that much of this happened because those of us who disagreed nonetheless chose to remain silent while others publicly spouted strong negative opinions.

10) Tenth, we did not accept accountability or feedback. We failed to recognize all the myriad red flags and question whether we were doing anything wrong, or whether we had gotten our priorities mixed up. Desperate and disorganized operational concerns for current order cycles pervaded and co-opted board planning and retreat spaces, increasing internal tension. When the project inevitably shattered and broke, the remaining members were so burnt out that we could not even consider a reboot or a change in strategy or direction. We lacked flexibility and adaptability in pursing the vision and mission we claimed to represent. Whatever we did was “right” and “correct” and if it didn’t work, then it wasn’t because we did things wrong or poorly, but because “Salem didn’t step up to this opportunity.” We blamed others for our mistakes — even, ironically, the very people we claimed to be “serving,” e.g., for not “buying enough.”

This isn’t to say that the board did everything wrong, or that there weren’t other external mitigating factors. There were. But those factors always exist — the difference between success and failure falls with whether and how people acknowledge and address those factors, or whether they ignore or dismiss them. Although we can never guarantee success, we can guarantee failure by sabotaging ourselves (regardless of the reason or motives for doing so). While the above list is not exhaustive, it does unfortunately comprise a solid recipe for failure.

CONCLUSION
I had a lot of hope for this project, which is why I began participation early in the steering committee and became a founding board member. Participation in this project ultimate became very stressful and time consuming, which I shrugged off as an inherent aspect of project work. But I refused to ignore many red flags, perhaps due to the sunk cost fallacy (I’ve already committed countless hours, I can’t back out now!). The other red flags I only addressed as isolated issues rather than seeing them as part of a larger pattern of attitudes and behaviors sabotaging the integrity of the project. It’s always difficult to evaluate such circumstances when you are immersed in them, especially when you really want things to go well and you’ve already invested hundreds and hundreds of hours.

Ultimately, I learned a lot from my participation. In addition to the lessons above, I conducted a lot of research, and developed considerable expertise on cooperative structures (even compiling a resource used by NWCDC). Still, I wish I had the clarity of mind to step back earlier than I did. My sin was not in failing to see red flags, but failing to connect them together. My own wishful thinking kept me captive to the belief that I could make a difference if I just tried harder, put in a few more hours, etc. Instead, my continued participation only further enabled the pathological process and delayed the inevitable demise of the project.

Cooperatives are interesting structures. They aim for the best, but can ironically bring out the worst. I still believe they have a lot of potential for community building and economic empowerment, but only in recognizing and addressing two large challenges of our society:

  1. The fact that our legal and economic and cultural systems often exhibit open hostility toward — let alone near-complete lack of support for — such projects, and
  2. We all bring baggage into cooperative project spaces — both individual and institutional (e.g., colonizing processes and participation in imperialist structures of the larger society).

If the participants can’t acknowledge and deal with that baggage, then it sabotages the project, which can even provide a platform for and amplify the impact of pathological process and behavior. This baggage looks like both structural and internalized oppression: classism, racism, sexism, dogma (including secular dogma!), etc. In the very least, such baggage, left unaddressed, impedes our ability to overcome or navigate the first challenge (lack of support from a hostile establishment). If this becomes people’s experience with cooperatives, then they might actually start seeing cooperatives as a “bad thing,” which is unfair both to the cooperative movement and to them inasmuch as cooperatives, when well-executed, can be fantastic forces of community building and economic empowerment.

I’m not the only one soured on cooperatives.  Austrian agroforestry expert Sepp Holzer wonders out loud of farmers emprisoned in cooperative contracts that hold the market hostage, force financial losses, and prevent both farm and market innovation and evolution in his book, Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture:

How long will it take for farmers to free themselves of the shackles of cooperatives and make their way to independence?

Cooperatives are not inherently good or revolutionary, but are socioeconomic tools.  Like any tool they can be used to exploit others.  Or, ideally, we can use them to create the beautiful human economy of the sort that luminaries such as EF Schumacher envisioned.

I still think there’s room (even need and demand) for an entire network of cooperatives in the Salem economy that truly help people meet currently-unmet or poorly-met needs: childcare, urban food production, affordable housing, food distribution (esp. to food deserts), time banking. But such projects need to start with a fundamentally-different ethic than the status quo: open-minded, inclusive, exploratory, responsive, accountable. Until then I have promised myself the integrity to abstain from participation in projects that exhibit any (especially several) of the above red flags, because doing so ultimately wastes time and energy, enables more oppressive pathology, and harms the participants and the larger community.


Community Liberation and Defense

November 15, 2016

aka, a strategic context for community rights in anti-militia planning
aka, the militia movement as a public health crisis of male-pattern violence

OUTLINE

  1. Militia overview
  2. Public Health Overview: Trauma and Crisis
  3. The role of the government
  4. Crisis Intervention
  5. Risk Reduction
  6. Primary Prevention

This essay looks at the militia movement as a public health rather than legal crisis, and similarly adopts the public health model of primary, secondary and tertiary prevention (also called prevention, risk reduction and crisis intervention, respectively) to help understand and prioritize intervention strategies for application in the appropriate context.  Community Rights work is an important component of long-term, primary prevention efforts, but must occur alongside secondary and tertiary efforts or else it will tend to falter needlessly.  The purpose of anti-militia planning is to identify both the core problems contributing to militia movements’ targeting of communities, as well as comprehensive short-, medium- and long-range remedies.  Lastly, the planning process will explore and pursue strategies for implementation of such remedies in solidarity with those most negatively impacted by the militia movement and federal interventionism.

Militia overview

Despite the well-meaning intentions of many of the rank and file among them, militia movements consist of armed groups of primarily-white men with roots in white supremacy and ties to corporate interests who use fear, intimidation and force (including the threat of force) to infiltrate and co-opt communities as part of an aggressive doomsday settler-homesteader mentality.  The aggressive approach leverages the “bystander effect” to create a sense of isolation among people who do not necessarily agree with their ideology to maintain silence and passive compliance.  Over time, the community begins to accept and identify with the militia, in a process mirroring Stockholm Syndrome.  Militias combine these negative tactics alongside aid tactics, such as emergency preparedness training, that address real material needs of the community.  In this sense, militias exploit longstanding community vulnerabilities stemming from intersecting class, race and gender oppression in order to impose themselves on said communities.  The combination of aid framed by brutality has a longstanding history of use by right-wing groups throughout world history in order to gain a foothold within a population (including, more recently, by Islamic extremists, but also Christians and other world religions, political movements and, perhaps most notably, nation-states including the US).

Public Health Overview:  Trauma and Crisis

Many communities remain mired in crisis.  In these frequent and common cases, people trying to offer long-term solutions targeting the corporate basis of exploitation meet considerable resistance.  Militia invasion of communities can resemble a large-scale domestic violence situation in its complexity, intractability and trauma.  Effective, longstanding and resilient results and evaluation and triage of liberation strategies requires a coordinated responses among all tertiary (crisis response), secondary (risk management) and primary (proactive) prevention strategies in order to acheive .

To ground the discussion further, prematurely proactive discussions of corporatocracy often create an unappealing abstract sort of disconnect for many communities mired in crisis of a current militia invasion (especially one involving a federal response) or do not yet feel (or acknowledge) the public health threats and trace the ultimate agents pulling strings to extract profit from them at their expense.  Such communities tend to exist and self-locate on a day-to-day, sometimes even hour-to-hour basis of survival, and cannot begin to fathom let alone pursue a fifteen or twenty year campaign to seize democratic control of their health, safety and welfare and that of the natural communities within their jurisdiction.  Nevertheless, it remains a goal for more fundamental work to move communities toward a level of readiness where they can consider, plan and sustain such a campaign, if they so choose.

The work begins with tertiary prevention, consisting of crisis intervention and abatement.  This is tricky work, as it requires supporting a community and its ability to survive through and respond to a crisis without enabling, escalating or prolonging the crisis itself.  Once a crisis can be abated to give a community some space, or in communities not currently experiencing crisis, it makes sense to move toward secondary prevention to build the community’s “immune system,” decreasing its vulnerability to corporatocratic or militia targeting and attack in the first place.  This work involves empowering communities to effectively identify and respond to such threats, and is equally tricky in that much internalized oppression creates a bait-and-switch where community members misidentify and blame symptoms of the problem for the problem itself.  In such cases, classism, racism (including anti-immigration) and sexism (including homophobia) rear their ugly heads.  Militias and corporations jump on these as opportunities to “divide and conquer,” even deliberately confusing the promotion of internal conflict with “community self-defense,” whereas actual effective community self-defense involves developing the capacity for and then building solidarity with and between the marginal populations that such invaders so often exploit for political and economic gain.  When solidarity proliferates, such populations “disappear into” the community and no longer become marginal, which eliminates some of the most significant community vulnerabilities and also helps identify the actual threats among the people and institutions who seek to break solidarity (or who do so as a matter of course as they seek to extract value).  Solidarity also helps identify and address outstanding economic and ecological vulnerabilities by eliminating the complication of socially-constructed internal weaknesses, allowing focus on external and imposed threatening forces, institutions and processes.

Only when crisis abates and solidarity proliferates within a community can a community begin to consider primary prevention, which includes proactive campaigns to claim democratic control over the health, safety and welfare of both human and non-human communities within a given jurisdiction, and place decision-making power in the hands of those ultimately affected the most (esp. in material as well as economic terms) by such decisions.  It involves giving everyone — including non-human entities — a political and legal voice, especially with equal say to “not in my back yard,” (NIMBY).  Once everyone has equal access to NIMBY, then only fair decisions can occur, focusing the remaining concern on effective implementation.  Such proactivity often occurs only when communities bump up against external, imposed political and legal institutions and processes that either directly threaten their health, safety and welfare or limit their ability to defend themselves or pursue their best interests.  Many communities mired in crisis have yet to get to this point where they “meet” and acknowledge and confront the powerful interests at the root of many of the crises they face.  Crisis abatement and risk reduction can help communities shift focus to longer-term risk management and prevention work, but so can crisis escalation.  As a result, some heavily-exploited communities may make some of the longer-term work a higher priority.  It is important to support that work with decolonization and other capacity building work in order to maximize its sustainability and chance for success.

The role of the government

Thus far, communities have depended heavily on the federal government for support in fighting militia infiltration.  This can be problematic on many levels.  First, it makes communities a continuous battleground between militia and federal law enforcement, which plays into the militia strategy to provoke and escalate conflict, intensify anti-federal sentiment and create martyrs of federal violence to recruit more people into the militia movements.  In addition to strategic folly, the siting of this conflict within communities has a disempowering and traumatic effect on the community that long outlasts the end of the conflict itself, as any inhabitant of a warzone can attest.  Third, dependence on federal intervention does nothing to resolve the underlying problems that militias target for exploitation, such as poverty, food insecurity, housing costs, infrastructure, and other material needs; class oppression (esp. few living wage jobs) and longstanding racism and sexism.

Resolving these long-term issues is far outside the scope of the intervening federal agencies, barring some sort of coordinated interagency homeland security plan that includes long-term community economic development and empowerment work, but more likely would manifest as temporary or permanent philanthropic dependency or corporate trojan horse.  At best, government intervention is like playing a game of whack-a-mole.  More often, it’s like spraying poisons over a land to control a pest problem:  as long as the niche the pest exploits remains open, and the pest has no predators or competitors, it will continue to proliferate, requiring more spraying and resulting in toxification of the landscape.  We can say the same for frequent and prolonged federal intervention.  The authoritarian remedy can negatively impact communities far beyond ground zero.

Fourth, authoritarian interventionism supports the continuing militarization of domestic police forces — the increasing technical capacity for excessive use of force against peaceful populations, nonviolent civil disobedience activists, and activists targeting property and infrastructure of the elite and their exploitative institutions.  Likewise, it lays the foundation for justifying the actual use of such excessive force by leveraging the “climate of instability” that militias create or intensify as a need for excessive authoritarian measures, and by equating nonviolent movements who challenge the federal regime with militias, even though the former do not use the latter’s tactics of intimidation and fear to terrorize populations into isolated passivity.  Militias and government repression feed off each-other.

Crisis Intervention

Many of the tactics of brutality fit well within familiar parameters of male-pattern violence:  domination, bullying, stalking, harassment, threats, sexual violence, coercion, appeals to authority.  Militias recruit from the ranks of white working men frustrated with the economic climate and the erosion of gender and racial privilege, who feel their place in the world is threatened, tend to overcompensate and as such are ready, willing and able to lash out in order to reassert white male privilege in the social hierarchy to make up for intensifying class oppression.  They often target and “make examples of” women and gender and other minorities as a “defense” tactic, especially those seen as leaders of an opposition.  This has a circular logic to it, as the opposition includes anyone who resists or stands up to their bullying and coercion, including countering sacred myths of white male supremacy, e.g., that “white men built the modern world.”

Effective counters to militia infiltration must disrupt their use of the bystander effect by connecting and activating bystanders in the short term to create a strong voice of accountability and moral contrast.  A small part of this short-term approach may include defensive countermeasures, which in turn include armed self-defense as a backup to nonviolent self-defense tactics, such as de-escalation or redirection, among others.  Physical self-defense remains an important last resort tactic when attempts to de-escalate aggression fail to stop an attack.

Outside support can be critical to jumpstart this process in a given community subject to militia pressure and control, so long as the “outsiders” don’t mimic militial co-optation of communities as an ideological battleground for their own agendas.  Many left-wing responses to right-wing presence often provide a “kinder, gentler” form of coercion rather than a fundamental contrast.  Survivors of domestic or intimate partner violence have encountered a similar situation when they meet an advocate who thinks they “know better” than (and thus try to make decisions for and impose upon) the survivor.  While the decisions may appear different and “more progressive” in substance, the power dynamic of domination and control remain eerily familiar.  Instead, it is important to embrace an empowerment model for community liberation from militia control, which may also mean supporting communities in making their own decisions that the outsiders don’t necessarily agree with in order to build a more fundamental relationship of trust and solidarity.  In this way, radicalized left-wing outsiders often provide solidarity and support for conservative members of communities under siege by militias, even through they may vote very differently.

Risk Reduction

In the medium term, communities need additional options for enhancing their material welfare and meeting basic needs that have no transactional conditions attached to them (e.g., “we’ll help feed you, but in return you need to attend religious service or read our pamphlet, or otherwise join or aid our cause”), as such conditions replicate the militia behavior in question.  Alternatives for material welfare may range from substantive similarity to radically-different in form from militial aid, especially where militia aid depends upon or is mediated by corporate profit or consumer activity (e.g., expensive and often ineffective consumerist “turnkey” solutions).  Appropriate technologies factor largely into counter-aid strategies, as do mutual-aid networks within and between communities.  Included in this medium-term approach is a strategic need to disrupt the corporate funding and support that militias receive, to disrupt their capacity to leverage aid as a compliance and coercion tactic, e.g., providing effective aid options without the attached burden of coercion.

In the long term, anti-militia efforts must address the intersecting race, class and gender oppressions that create the conditions that make communities vulnerable to militia/corporate infiltration and exploitation in the first place.  Ideally, the short-term strategies of bystander activation, empowerment toward trust and solidarity, and alternative aid provision will build a foundational capacity that better allows communities and their members to address difficult questions about their place and role in the existing economic order of society that leaves them both dependent on and vulnerable to division and exploitation.  Only through an intact social fabric — network of strong, mutually-supportive and empowering relationships — can a community begin to address such fundamental issues and increase its resilience.  This means decolonization work, identifying and eliminating internalized oppressions that leave a community divided, and also enhance social capacity to rebuild the social fabric of horizontal relationships.

Such relationships themselves remain possible only with immense human development work to increase the social capacity of community members.  In the context of patriarchy, men remain particularly vulnerable to stunted development of social “soft skills” whereas patriarchies tend to target women for stunted development of technical “hard skills,” creating an artificial bifurcation of capacities and gendered co-dependence on a centralized authority figure to connect and mediate.  In the history of urbanization, the rural survival need for horizontal interdependence has provided a buffer effect for rural communities (simply put, men learn how to “get along” with others out of necessity, and women learn to use hammers out of necessity, etc), whereas urban populations historically consist of ex-rural populations ironically moving out of survival necessity to the city after elements of urban economic and political institutions (e.g., bankers, corporations, etc) have laid waste to the rural land and community, rendering them increasingly susceptible to social atrophy, gendered bifurcation and dependence on centralized institutions.  As elements of urbanization and centralized institutions infiltrate rural communities and interject themselves amongst horizontal social ties, or as rural communities grow in scale and complexity, they begin exhibiting this gender bifurcation again.  Men remain particularly susceptible to antisocial behavior as a byproduct of how patriarchies define the narrow range of masculinity and “masculine behavior.”

Making balanced human development a goal will ultimately lay the foundation for solidarity between diverse autonomous liberatory struggles against centralized authorities and other arbitrary, persistent and imposed social hierarchies.  Men in particular who refuse to do “soft skills” social capacity work (however it manifests) quickly become liabilities rather than assets to liberatory struggle and form the core population that militias target to join their ranks.  Men may dismiss the importance of such work without seeing how it impacts race and (especially, for white men) class struggles.  Even if they do acknowledge it, most won’t engage in the difficult (and often painful and embarassing) personal work until strong peer networks and social norms are already in place. This requires organizers to identify and activate “organic leaders” within the community to break the status quo and build critical mass toward that end.  As the oldest and perhaps most deeply-internalized and ubiquitous oppression, people often dismiss, minimize, marginalize or abandon gender justice.  Rather than fight this tendency, it may be easier to “connect the dots” inevitably back to gender justice, for example, by using more accessible and acceptable economic and racial justice struggles as an entrypoint.  “So we agree we need to do the class work, but we can’t do that without the race work, and here’s why.  And we can’t do either of those without the gender work, and here’s why…”

Primary Prevention

This last strategy focuses on the external threats to community security, such as economic exploitation, political manipulation, legal impositions, environmental destruction, outsider intervention whose interests do not align in solidarity with the welfare of the community or land (e.g., absentee landlords and speculators).

Corporate profiteers use militias and the individual men therein as pawns in furthering the agenda of the merger of state and corporate interests to further accumulate and secure wealth and power into the hands of a ruling elite.  Militias are in one respect unofficial corporate armies who exploit oppressions and their attached identities to ensure people remain divided, in fear of and in conflict with one-another rather than united in their mutual interests.  Neutralizing militias also strengthens the community against corporate control and exploitation.  The final strategy of a counter-militia campaign will target the corporate roots of the US political and legal system — such as the US Commerce Clause, corporate personhood, Dylan’s rule, and pre-emption — that enable corporate rule through a top-down legal hierarchy and effectively neutralize or eliminate the legal capacities of people to protect themselves and their inherent rights from harms incurred in the unaccountable pursuit of corporate profit.  Such harms leave communities further susceptible to militia infiltration and subsequent corporate exploitation and control, producing a positive feedback loop.  This long-range work must occur alongside the short and moderate-term work, otherwise it will struggle unnecessarily not only against internalized oppressions but also the people’s own priorities and interests.

Additionally, if specific threats can be identified, work may target that threat (e.g., a corporate bottling facility or a pipeline).  The community rights framework provides an organizing context with room for both direct action against specific threats as well as a larger vision of freedom from harm and exploitation, and democratic control over community health, safety and welfare, and even combines these two sometimes-conflicting activities.  It can be a useful tool for organizing communities toward a constructive vision of collective liberation and solidarity that does not include scapegoating and other forms of horizontal violence that so often occur in oppressive “remedies” (e.g., “deport the Mexicans”), in part because the fundamental remedy includes recognizing the inherent worth and autonomy of everyone — including the non-human landscape.  But this can be very difficult for people to grasp unless they are in dire need of a remedy and have tried everything else to no avail (CELDF works with many of these communities), or they have gone through many of the crisis intervention and risk reduction activities mentioned above.

The militia movements are highly coordinated and organized and often well-funded, with some wealthy, powerful and influential sponsors. While effective resistance needn’t mimic or match the organizing tactics and strategies or structures of militia groups and movements, it does need to coordinate across various time and spatial scales.  In other words, resistance to militias needs to provide a means for ongoing coordination between communities and allow for both proactive and reactive measures across short, medium and long time frames.

To learn more about the militia movement in Oregon, visit http://www.rop.org/up-in-arms
To learn more about community rights, visit http://celdf.org

In our society, statistically-speaking, guns don’t kill people.  Men kill people.  #malepatternviolence

I am not in any way affiliated with CELDF or ROP.  I appreciate the work they do.


Civilization or “human nature?”

November 13, 2016

View story at Medium.com

This article contains interesting political analysis that I don’t disagree with. The way this article is framed, however, makes it complete bullshit, and it’s a shame that it’s getting shared widely like an expert opinion. Social darwinism and aside, it’s also a great example of the narcissistic chauvinism inherent in the historiography of civil society:

“So zooming out, we humans have a habit of going into phases of mass destruction, generally self imposed to some extent or another. This handy list shows all the wars over time.”

Nope, it only goes back to 1200 BC, well within the scope of colonizing, bloody, brutal exploitative civil society, which is the same failed model of human culture that modern civil societies use. This article says nothing about human nature, but chauvinistically projects one specific, bloody human culture that tends toward exploitation, belligerence and ecological collapse upon all humanity and human cultures. Civil society says very little about humanity as a “species” through time and space (and very little of that is anything good).

Let’s go back 6,000 or 10,000 or 15,000 years (still a blink of the eye), or look at contemporary cultures who do not base themselves on the insane model of annual agriculture and patriarchy, and compare notes. Anthropologists also describe this divide as “desert” and “forest” cultures. Toby Hemenway makes this point in his summary analysis “How Permaculture Can Save Humanity and the Earth but not Civilization” (lecture given at Duke University Nicholas School of Environment): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nLKHYHmPbo.  The Alice Walker poem “Democratic Womanism” makes the same point: we have been mired in patriarchy and civilization for thousands of years, and have been working as long to evolve past it, with increasing sophistication and effectiveness (even as civilization spreads its tendrils to threaten every corner of the planet).

In general, Toby Hemenway’s work on the problem of civilization provide a much better “birds’ eye” zoomed out perspective on the problem than the article that prompted this post, which talks about civilization as if it’s the only form of human social structure that has ever existed or will ever exist. In addition to the above lecture, you can listen to Toby’s talk on Liberation Permaculture (http://www.permaculturevoices.com/liberation-permaculture-with-toby-hemenway-pvp100) for a bit more of a constructive, actionable (vs critical and disempowering) analysis.

Maybe a Trump presidency isn’t that bad.  If it took a Trump presidency to slap all these comfortably numb white and/or male and/or middle class folks awake, activate them and leave them without much of an excuse to fall asleep again, then maybe some net good can come out of all of this compared to a Sanders or Clinton presidency.  It won’t be pretty.  Already kids are getting attacked at their school simply for having Spanish-sounding names and darker skin, and male supremacists are calling for death squads and concentration camps.  If you aren’t satisfied with Trump, then the best way to protest his presidency is to get active and involved with the working class, gender and race struggles within your community, in solidarity with those who have struggled long before Trump ever got elected.  And start building a different system.  Starting with you and your relationships.


Patriarchy and Permaculture: The Long and Short

September 16, 2016

As usual, I get on the internet, get distracted, click on click bait I hope is at least informative and uplifting, and I don’t get very far before some really stupid and mean (and bonus points for ironic) behavior smacks me in the face as a bystander with a big fat ball o’ bullshit.  This is why we can’t have nice things, and why I don’t get on the internet much.  Enjoy the rant.  For your convenience, it has both short and long versions.  The short version is complementary to rather than an abstract of the long.  So join me, will you, for a fun-filled fifteen minutes of puns, novel abbreviations, colorful language and  ample sarcasm?  And maybe an interesting point or two.

The short:  Toxic leaders

Here’s a brief summary of what I’m about to rant about.  Jack Spirko is some sort of minor celebrity in permaculture circles, I guess (ooh, I know, right?).  He did a blog post and a podcast, in which he basically describes unschooling without calling it that.  Then PRI distributed it.  Then this happened…[paraphrased for brevity]

Jack Spirko:  Ten tips on how to raise resilient kids in a world full of wussies [note: basically, ten principles of unschooling]
Woman 1:  Nice tips.  I’d like to share them if you please use a different word than “wussy,” since it refers to female genitalia.
Jack to woman 1:  Your parents raised you to be a wussy.  Learn to control your emotions.
Jack’s Deep Green Mini-Me’s to woman 1:  Here’s my overwrought rationalization on how you are what’s wrong with permaculture.  I’m basing all of it on the untested negative assumption that you’re just combing the internet for things to complain about to be a PC police troll.
Woman 2:  I felt triggered when he said it, too.
Jack to woman 2:  You’re a wussy.  Plus I got my wife to agree with me and she told me to tell you she thinks you’re an idiot and so is anyone who has a problem with the word wussy, so there.
Woman 3:  Whoa.  I appreciate the original post, and also find the word “wussy” problematic.  I’d like to engage you in good faith to discuss some of the dynamics occurring here.  First off, some background:  wussy is a portmanteau of “wimp” and “pussy” coined by a jerk in the popular movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” and many women from my era have a really negative relationship with that word, even if it has lost some of its offensive meaning with young whippersnappers.  Second, that word is also used to control and bully men.  Third, we need more respectful dialog.  There’s no need to respond with such hostility, and this is a learning opportunity for social permaculture.
Jack:  So basically, you’re a wussy.

HOLY SHIT.  I don’t care who you think you are, Mr. Spear and Co.  Either treat people with basic respect, or get the fuck out of the public sphere of discourse, because your behavior is stupid and counterproductive and toxic and immature.  It hurts people, and no matter what you think you have to offer, and what you actually have to offer, it ain’t worth it.  You, like all of us, are completely replaceable.  And somewhere, there is someone who knows more than you, and who does what you do, but does it better.  And in the process, they treat people with respect, and model emotional and social maturity.  Especially in disagreements.  Hell, they even understand the difference between observation and premature (let alone baseless knee-jerk negative) interpretations, and they use this capacity to observe to learn from this experience and build greater understanding rather than perpetuate the shitty status quo.  Such people respond to these situations by a. doing nothing (this is the easiest and least costly), oro b. learning more about the context they’ve suddenly helped create, which includes accepting feedback (sound familiar?  It’s a permaculture principle or something) and c. interacting appropriately based on this new knowledge and feedback about their context.

Maybe you’re capable of taking your own advice to “admit to and learning from your failure” so you can grow and become more resilient and do better next time around.  If all you can manage is ironic and hypocritical ad-hominems when someone dares to <gasp> provide a marginal or diverse perspective (another principle), you can take your fragile fevered ego elsewhere, because you’re just acting like any other establishment tool.  The permaculture (and any) movement is better off without this sort of shit.

ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE MIC DROP

<ranty ethan exits stage left, a more calm and collected ethan enters stage right, and picks up the mic>
Would you believe me if I said I actually wrote the short-version rant last?  I even edited out some f-bombs (mostly for clarity, though I do lament the loss of alliteration).  Anyway, here’s a more detailed analysis including exciting things like male privilege and rape culture, culminating in social permaculture principles at the end.  Because I just know you’ll read straight through to the end, won’t ya?

The Long Version:  Deep Green Bullshit

(does that still sound ranty?)

A masculine-type “survival-prepper” with a foot in the world of permaculture recently posted on how to raise resilient children in a world full of “wussies.”  He made ten great points, such as let them have adventures, teach them to interact safely with dangerous tools / equipment, let them fail or get hurt, reward them for trying, incentivize self-directed learning, make them take responsibility for their own emotions and behaviors, etc.    He basically co-opted unschooling without reference to that practice and boiled it down to ten key points (the apparent lack of reference to unschooling a separate issue that needs addressing).

Then a woman who liked the article voiced concern about the use of the word “wuss,” and asked if that word could change due to its reference to female anatomy.  Then SHTF, which is prepper-speak for SNAFU, which is military speak for fuuuck, why these dicks be trippin’?  A few women said, “meh, doesn’t bother me.”  The administrator had a somewhat-thoughtful dialog with the woman, and refused to edit the article and rejected the “obsolete” meaning of the word.  Several men — including the original poster — jumped down the woman’s throat, accusing her of being wrong (wussy doesn’t relate to pussy, apparently she’s just another hysterical woman!), and then they ironically called her a “wussy” representing “everything that’s wrong” with today’s society as already discussed in the original post.  Wowsa.

Another woman openly said she felt triggered where and how the original poster said “wussy” in his podcast.  More men jumped down her throat.  The original poster started handing out the word “wuss” like bite-sized candy at a Halloween party.  He said all woman were wrong because his wife agreed with him (wow, his wife can speak for all woman?).  A few mini-me men worked overtime to rationalize the womens’ “irrational” behavior.  One commenter accused women of “combing the internet looking for things that offend them.”  HA!  <sarcasm>Yeah, that’s a rrreeeall parsimonious interpretation of available data, dude…</sarcasm>

A third, brave woman tried to mediate and explain how the original woman was technically correct.  Ironically, on an etymological level, the original woman was right:  “wuss” comes from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, where the main character calls meek men “wussies — a combination of wimp and pussy.”  It’s an insult that objectifies and weaponizes the female anatomy to target and pathologize “abnormal” male behavior.  And it has been used since then to confine men into narrow and rigid patriarchal gender roles, and contributes to the social destruction of women’s personhood in the process.

But no one wanted to learn or accept that fact. Ironically, we ended up with a bunch of adults — including the original poster — acting exactly like the immature, whiny little children the original post was supposed to help prevent.  I had had enough of this Deep Green Bullshit, so ironically, I stepped my foot smack-dab in the middle of it.  SPLAT.  Time to get our social permaculture on.  That’s not shit hitting the fan, by the way.  It’s compost.  At least, for those of us who actually leverage permaculture, it is.

Permaculture deals in appropriate technologies:  it’s both a toolkit of patterns as well as a when, where, how, what sort of guide.  What makes something appropriate is “context.”  We can’t understand context without observation, and we can’t observe effectively unless we understand the difference between observation and interpretation.  You simply can’t use permaculture effectively as a design tool if you can’t understand and operationalize this distinction.  An observation is an acknowledgement of an event or circumstance — the “what.”  An interpretation is an assumption or assertion about meaning, or the “why.”  It’s an observation to say, “whoa, that person asked me to change the language I used.”  It’s an interpretation to say, “that person doesn’t have a good reason to be upset [how do you know???] and therefore is just going out of her way to harass me and is a wussy.”

Here are some things I observed in this situation:  I observed a lot of people taking offense at a few people’s expression of hurt over the use of language.  I observed people who posture as permaculture experts demonstrate that they have no fucking clue about the difference between observation and interpretation, and, perhaps more destructively, they don’t seem to much care about social or personal context.

I also generally observe that most women I have ever met necessarily spend a lot of their time and energy fighting for their fundamental safety and bodily integrity, let alone their status as people deserving of consideration and respect.  Which appears to make some of them a bit more sensitive to things that never end up on most men’s radars, because those things have been used as a weapon against them (often but not always by men).  If, for example, you were made to watch while someone bashed your dog’s head in with a hammer, you will probably have a very different, difficult, and complex relationship with hammers for the rest of your life, yeah?  You might jump a bit if another guy whips out a hammer in front of you or Fido v.2.0 for whatever reason.  It becomes a part of your personal context.  And what seems appropriate for one person often feels inappropriate for another.  Hence, the difficulty of repairing the tattered remnants of our social fabric — our ability to relate directly to one-another.  It means weaving together and synthesizing our contexts through observation-based acceptance, learning, bonding, not dominating, homogenizing or marginalizing unique contexts or the diversities emerging from them.

So when I see someone who claims to be a “deep green permaculture” expert ironically going out of his way to create a complicated victim-blaming rationalization from a baseless interpretation that a woman is “going out of her way” to be a pain in his ass, to accuse her of exemplifying “what’s wrong with permaculture,” it irks me on several levels.  It’s ironic, it’s misleading.  It’s patronizing and ignorant.  It is teaching people through structure and process that permaculture is something that it’s not.  Permaculture is not polycultures.  It’s not swales.  It’s not greywater systems.  It’s not forest gardens.  It’s not humanure composting.  It’s bigger than all that.  It’s about whether when and how those sorts of things (patterns) fit together into a diverse, self-supporting and (contextually) appropriate or homogenous dysfunctional whole.  Due to the need to understand context, permaculture is more about listening than lecturing.  <Note I am aware of the irony here, which is why this post is a rant instead of a lecture.  Yeah?>

We can say the same for people in the social fabric.  Social dysfunction is the bedrock of authoritarian control.  Divide and conquer.  People do not need to apologize for their unique contexts — that only leads to dysfunctional homogeneity.  Rather, we need to do a better job of understanding diverse, unique contexts through observation, listening and acceptance of feedback, valuing diversity and marginal experiences and perspectives, and other various permaculture principles that have already been spelled out very clearly for us.

Personal context is not all relative.  In a patriarchy, men’s personal context differs from women’s based on ignorance of women’s experience, whereas women in my experience often have a pretty good understanding of (and sympathy for) the challenges men face in the same society.  Women are often in listening and caregiving roles, already.  However, men have a lot of listening and learning to do to similarly understand the challenges women and other gender/sexual minorities face.  We can say the same for any position of race, class, etc privilege.  But those opportunities do not arise until we challenge the system of privilege that allows (wealthy white straight) men, etc to sneak through life requiring everyone to know about and meet their needs without requiring the same of them.  When we challenge the privilege, the need to listen and learn arises.

Unfortunately, I also regularly observe men throwing hissy-fits when someone dares to suggest that something they did inadvertantly caused someone harm, because it attacks social privilege, which results in very real pain and even fear and panic — fight or flight responses where men with underdeveloped social and emotional capacities are supposed to “use our words not actions.”  It begins to unravel a lie of social inequity.  It upsets and destabilizes the status quo.  I have seen the context of unchecked male privilege (ref. hidden cost of patriarchy) do far more damage to movements than any other form of baggage, precisely because it so effectively maintains the status quo:  a bunch of people trying to get a leg up over one-another through conflict and domination, rather than lifting each-other up through cooperation.  And it reproduces the very thing that so many of these men claim to oppose: social control.  Simply put, we can’t have social permaculture (or other nice things) unless we address social privilege and power differences.

Ironically, everyone in this situation has legitimate points, based on their personal contexts.  The word-in-question genuinely offends some people.  And some guys are genuinely (albeit ironically) concerned about authoritarianism and PC bullying in the movement (and I want to note that here we are talking about the equivalent of male temper tantrums in response to someone calling them on their rhetorical manspreading while real people are dying from situations that permaculture can help prevent).   At some point, if we want to escape this mess, then someone’s gotta abandon their ego, recognize the learning opportunity and bridge the gap to develop greater mutual understanding, grow and move on.

I see men and masculinities regularly block, stymy and undermine this process.  We most need men at the table precisely because we generally lack their participation the most.  Or if you aren’t going to be at the table because you have “more important things to do,” don’t throw a hissy fit when those of us who have been working on this equally important but often devalued problem concerning the fundamental integrity of our social fabric graciously try to catch you up to speed.  Unfortunately, when (straight wealthy white) men do finally come around, usually the last to the table, they often get praised as “leaders getting things done” while the people (e.g., blue collar, women, racial or gender minorities) who worked for years to make this situation happen get ignored or chastized for the “problems” they caused (i.e., they rocked the boat and provoked hissy fits amongst men that eventually set the table for this very discussion, thankyouverymuch).

Social Permaculture Principles

Without exception, the first swales, the first rocket stoves, the first graywater systems all look, feel, sound, even smell clunky, funky and awkward.  The first designs have high rates of failure and low marginal success.  But more important, we keep trying, keep observing, accept feedback, and find things that work in the diverse margins.  And when we keep working with them, the context-appropriate designs evolve increasing levels of sophistication.  We can say the same for appropriate social technologies — they are going to feel weird and have high initial rates of failure (anyone who has uttered an “I feel” statement knows this).  But more importantly, they will work.  And get easier and less awkward and even more fun with time.  Unfortunately, I have encountered many people — mostly men and masculine types — who would rather work with little no appropriate social capacity and depend heavily on male privilege and entitlement than brave the clunky, funky awkward process of exploring emergent appropriate social technologies that might challenge, upset or transform the status quo.  And this creates a socially-toxic situation, far more fundamental than anyone expressing or explaining feelings of hurt or asking someone to modify objectifying language.  That’s one of the ironies of this situation:  the original use of the word and the request weren’t big deals.  The immature and hurtful response to it turned it all into one big stinking vat o’ anaerobic humanure.  If we can’t get it together in good faith and hash things out ourselves, then the authorities will gladly keep intervening in and controlling our lives for us.

Without further ado, I offer an incomplete early list of awkward appropriate technologies (some are patterns with appropriate contexts, some more universal principles) for social permaculture:

  1. Observation vs interpretation:  strive to thoroughly understand context before you interpret what it means; allow interpretations to emerge from prolific observation vs imposing interpretations on scarce or anemic (sometimes even non-existent or imagined) observations.  Accept and use feedback.  Value diversity and the marginal…Crikees, I’m just parroting the standard permaculture repertoire here!  I’ll do better, I promise…
  2. Describe the behavior, not the person.  Smart people sometimes do stupid things.  Caring people sometimes say or do mean things.  Focus on the behaviors, not the person.  This helps with both giving and receiving feedback.  Jack acted like a jerk.  Jack is not (necessarily) a jerk.  That (often) involves too much interpretation to be helpful, and it boxes people into a static identity.
  3. Prioritize impact over intentions.  I often see people of privilege hide behind intentions to avoid accountability for the actual impact of their actions.  Their logic goes, “Well, I didn’t mean to hurt you, so I have nothing to apologize for and nothing to change, and therefore will probably hurt you again in the future as I keep doing what I do.  Get used to it.  Ignore my impact and focus on my intent.”  What a consummate mindfuck.  Imagine if we applied that twisted logic to landscape design!  At the end of the day, only impact matters.  If someone truly intends to do no harm, they will willingly and openly seek feedback and re-evaluate their actions.
  4. Trust early and trust often, until someone or something gives you good reason not to.  Strategic vulnerability breaks the ice, gives others opportunity to reciprocate, creates connection and also protects the vulnerable by giving early warning when people can’t be trusted further, before we accidentally trust them with something that really matters.
  5. Stay with and trust observations more, and question and table interpretations to bring them into balance.  Observations in a design process are like the primary producers and the soil life of an ecosystem:  they need to exist in far greater numbers and diversities in order to reliably support life higher on the trophic chain (consumers; interpretations).  Identify and verify the accuracy of any interpretations before using them as a basis for further interaction.  This allows us to explore a much greater diversity of accurate and relevant interpretations, which expands both toolkit and design possibilities.  It also makes it easier to identify inappropriate decisions, behaviors, etc.
  6. Recently, an argument between the virtues of “calling out” behavior (not people) vs “calling in” (people, not behavior) has emerged in “social justice” circles.  Following and rationalizing the advice of a very thoughtful friend:  It’s not either. It’s both.  Permaculture teaches us that each has its appropriate context.  We need the accountability of calling out people on their bullshit behavior and harmful impacts, and people need to learn to accept feedback (sound familiar?).  Likewise, we need to call each-other in to talk with and listen to each-other more and better understand what people mean.  A lot of room for miscommunication and misinterpretation exists, especially among people who (mistakenly) believe they speak the “same language.”  Even amongst long-term committed trusting relationships, let alone strangers interacting on the intertubes.  Clearly, “wussy” means different things to different people.  Had the original poster the courage to take his own advice, he could have simply called in the women to ask, “what do you mean?” and listened and observed and learned about their context, and in doing so expanded his appropriate social technology toolkit.  He may have found a better word to describe what he means in the process, gotten wider distribution for his piece (pun intended).  Instead, he chose an immediate, unnecessary combative response and interpretive frame, and so lost an opportunity.  The appropriate response to a call-out is often a call-in, which involves a lot of active listening — a synonym for careful observation.  Without thoughtful, protracted observation-based interactions, we quickly fill that empty space with negative, toxic baggage.
  7. Work with what you got (obtain a yield?):  Most of us have plenty of knowledge and social resources.  Rather than spending time interacting with strangers on the interhive, evaluate and prioritize your existing real-world relationships.  Which ones seem appropriate to your context?  Which ones can you work on to strengthen and improve?  What can we do to better optimize our existing tools and relationships and context?  If we are the average of our five deepest relationships, let’s make sure those relationships really count for something.  Rather than complain about what we don’t have,  how can we better engage and proceed with what we do have?  The problem is the solution:  Why didn’t the original poster ask the women, “What word do you suggest I use instead of wussy?”  He could have outsourced the problem to them to find a solution and built trust and goodwill in the process.  If he had deigned to apply permaculture to his social interactions.  Which he did not.  Instead, he tried to impose his “solution.”  That’s a big no-no in permaculture design process.  Someone who values the content could likewise still share it with a caveat and educational opportunity explaining the irony of the use of “wussy” and Jack’s immature reactivity.
  8. Hold clear, firm boundaries against harmful behaviors and impacts, regardless of intent.  Likewise, clearly, accurately and honestly state your needs.  Doing so, along with strategic vulnerability, allows social cohorts to emerge and self-select, without imposition.  Every social cohort will have a shit sandwich, and it becomes easier to determine whether and what you want to stomach.  I personally don’t like drum circles and dancing earthmuffins and holding hands and stuff.  Don’t assume you can change others’ contexts to meet your needs if they don’t already, or aren’t already heading in that general direction.
  9. Focus on process (how), not product (what).  Reward honest, effective, hard work, not some magical definition of perfection.  Let go of perfection.  It’s not whether someone sticks it out, but how.  Not whether they talk, but how.  Not whether they listen, but how.  Not whether we fight, but how.  Disagreements will happen.  People will get hurt.  When we observe vs interpret, listen actively, accept feedback, talk honestly, focus on impact and behavior vs intent, etc on the frontend, we will learn to fight well and acheive effective results in shorter time with less inputs and fewer ouchies on the backend (pun probably intended).  A lot like doing the design work up front.  Make your mistakes on paper.

Many other practices and principles around land care permaculture already apply:  accept feedback, value diversity and the marginal, the problem is the solution, work from patterns to details, etc.  We just need to start manifesting them in our social interactions.  Easier said than done, especially when we still, generally, suck so much at more rudimentary applications on land.  I still see many so-callled “permaculturalists” whose idea of “permaculture” involves a cookie-cutter inappropriate imposition of patterns and technologies onto a largely-unexamined context, as if the patterns themselves had some intrinsic magical power to solve problems and make our lives better.  A lot like calling people who disagree with you “wussies.”  I suppose if all you have is a hammer…

Our egos still often result in rejection of very clear feedback, and likewise prevent accurate, relevant and timely observation.  But our social and ecological capacities mirror one another.  As we get better with one, we will get better with the other.  Likewise, anything that stalls or undermines progress on one will do the same with the other.  Social and ecological relationships are so intrinsically-tied together.  Social permaculture and tedious (or fun??!! anyone…?) discussions of privilege aren’t a distraction from caring for land and people.  They’re an intrinsic part of it.  As time goes on, I see less and less difference between how we relate to the land and how we relate to other humans (or animals) in the landscape.  People who expect the earth to comply with their narrow ideas of how it should behave often leverage the same approach with others.  And then throw hissy fits when, gee, it doesn’t seem to work.

Unique contexts create diversities of perspective and proficiencies.  When we help these diversities emerge and co-exist instead of suppressing them, they can create truly-resilient cooperative social systems based on strong horizontal ties resistant to social control and authoritarianism.  Conversely, when we demonize and discourage unique contexts and reject feedback, it creates homogenous social dysfunction that forms the basis for authoritarian regimes and ecological slavery, which arises both from lack of diversity as well as an increase in the compulsory work needed to maintain the system.  As a result, everyone spends much more energy spinning their wheels in the muck, getting nowhere and feeling worse for the wear.  Sound familiar??  It sure does to me.  Relationships with land or with people (human and otherwise), it’s all hard damned work up front, and it’s totally worth it for the rewards we all reap.

In conclusion, here’s a two sentence summary that no one will ever read because no one ever read this far anyway (I don’t care, I wrote this mostly for myself anyway):  Observation and active listening mandatory.  Interpretive dance optional.

LONGWINDED ANALYSIS MIC DROP (is this thing on?)

End(stagecapitalism)note:  I really mostly want this post to become a cult classic and most-remembered for coining the two onomatopoetic abbreviations, ZAMD and LAMD.


Elimination Diets and Food Testing Tool

September 3, 2015

Background

I’ve had some chronic health issues for most of my life.  I won’t get into them.  Recently, in the past few years, they had gotten much worse, and, upon the complete failure of the medical establishment to provide any answers, I started looking into the massive impact that diet and (by association) lifestyle has on our health.  This line of inquiry led me, through grace and by grit, to Sarah Ballantyne’s exceptional (well-written, rigorously researched) labor of love on diet and lifestyle factors impacting optimal human health.

The major process of resolving chronic health issues (whether physical, physiological, neurological, emotional, digestive, etc) involves making health-supporting lifestyle and dietary changes.  Most of the dietary work comes in the form of an elimination diet, which means getting rid of (potentially or confirmed) problematic foods responsible for creating or exacerbating health issues, to cause a permanent remission in chronic health symptoms.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that you “cure” your condition, but it gives you the capacity to live without the negative symptoms (such as allergies, frequent illness, digestive upset, migraines, brain fog, anxiety, depression, fatigue, pain, etc) which is pretty darn cool.  Sarah Ballantyne’s book is by far (note the triple emphasis: bold, underline and italic) the best guide to this process I have found.  I’m not getting paid to write this by anyone (unfortunately).  I just can’t recommend it highly enough.  Ballantyne writes with a rare combination of ethical sensitivity, intellectual rigor, passion and competency.  In my opinion, a rare kind of genius.

By eliminating problematic foods, supporting our health with optimal nutrition and lifestyle factors, we heal the damage done to our bodies over the years, and allow it to recover.  The length of the healing process depends on how effectively we eliminate problematic foods (typically grains, legumes and other seed-based foods [aka, “pseudo-grains” like quinoa and buckwheat], allergens, dairy, alcohol and nightshades) and how much damage our bodies have already sustained.  A consistent remission of symptoms indicates that healing is occurring (for people who got it real bad, a consistent cessation of symptom worsening may be all they can hope for).

Toward the end of the elimination diet and healing process, people who feel better have the option of undergoing a food testing process to determine their food sensitivities.  It’s not nutritionally-necessary, but it can make life in society that dumps problematic foods all over the place a lot easier when we know what we absolutely need to avoid under any circumstance, and stuff we can cheat on every now and then for the sake of social flexibility without too serious of consequences.

When I first started on this journey, the very concept of an “elimination diet” confused me immensely.  What to eliminate?  How?  When?  For how long?  What’s this “testing process?”  Sarah’s book explained all this finally in such a fantastic way, I feel like it’s my turn to contribute some resources to this growing (and I think, very positive) trend of people treating chronic health issues via diet and lifestyle changes instead of through drugs.

Food Testing Tool

After searching and searching, I could not find a tool that

So I created this tool for two reasons:

  1. Because I feel, for the first time in my life, optimistic about my long-term health prospects.  I will get to the “testing stage” and when I do, I want to be ready for it, to set myself up for success.
  2. I have yet to find a decent, practical resource for oral food challenge tests.  Sarah Ballantyne’s book explains the process well enough (many other books try and fail).

My Creative Commons contribution is a distillation of the practical considerations for the testing process:

  1. challenge_chart_instructions:  A short set of instructions written as a 10-step process
  2. challenge_chart:  A printable chart to help people track and organize important information through the testing process
  3. The Paleo Approach_Reintroducing_Foods:  A short excerpt of the testing process from Ballantyne’s book as an additional reference material, under fair use consideration for educational purposes.  I strongly recommend you just get the whole book, because it provides a lot of very useful additional information.  It’s been worth more than its weight in gold for me, including the emotional support that it has provided through this difficult process.