Clay Richards, anarchist blogger, writes about politics, art, sexuality and emerging digital realities. More poststructuralist than postmodern, politically incorrect to some, harshly critical to others, the Postmodern Anarchist believes in anarchy without anarchists, yet will freely discuss anarchism at the drop of a hat. Contact: postmodernanarchist(at)netweed(dot)com
The Postmodern Anarchist now resides at postmodernanarchist.com!
I will only use the email once for the purpose of letting you know I'm back. And it would be great if you could let me know why you care about my return because that will affect the future direction of the Postmodern Anarchist.
In mid June, I'll make an official statement about whether or not I'm going to continue with this weblog.
Although the entries I post come from a variety of sources, if you like the political news or the technology posts, you can get a lot of it at the following netweed pages:
Each of these pages has regularly updated headlines from excellent news sources plus links to other great resources. Also, the links in the right hand column will connect you to a variety of websites that focus on issues related to the Postmodern Anarchist.
Nonlinear concepts raised in the above article:
"positive feedback" (feedback is inherently nonlinear)
"potentially unstoppable spiral" (like cascade failure)
"entire continental slopes could collapse" (catastrophe theory)
"sudden, unanticipated events" (catastrophes but this articles says that meterologists call them "surprises")
One of the important points that Mark Lynas makes is that scientists involved with these issues are pretty much agreed that global warming is happening, it's the outcome that's in dispute and cannot be clearly predicted. Nonlinear events (i.e. most events in real life) lead to unexpected outcomes, so it will be difficult to say conclusively what will happen.
Those people who have been saying you can't predict what's going to happen so you shouldn't do anything are like kids putting themselves in dangerous situations. They're short sighted and irresponsible. But kids just don't know any better, even when they're told. It's the adults, employing some of the psychological strategies I've been trying to discuss the last couple of days or willingfully continuing on and taking the chance that bad things won't happen while they count their money that are the problem. Plus the dumbasses.
"Isn't there yet another inescapable dualism consisting of the tension between rational inquiry and "gut instinct", or articles of faith, or whatever derives from emotion, digested experience applied generally - in short, opinion. Isn't opinion holistic and informed by more than facts by its nature?"
Yeah, I do think we're always working with more than facts and that our perspectives integrate a wide range of influences, sometimes not so comfortably. Perhaps integrate isn't the correct word because we often form opinions based on conflicting elements. And part of the problem is the human tendency to make connections by eliminating or ignoring conflicting elements which can be a very dangerous thing. I think people often perceive integration as a process of resolving differences. My take on that is rather different. I think we can integrate ideas and perspectives and yet allow them to remain in conflict, but more on that another time.
What I'm not trying to do is set up a dualism between unfounded beliefs or intuitions and information or rational inquiry or scientific this or that. For one thing, I think looking at reality as dualistic is one of the real problems. I think that the creation of binaries is generally a violent act that undermines the complexity of human existence by forcing us to reduce life to yes or no, male or female, left or right, nature or nurture, good or bad.
For example, the binary between intuition and scientific facts is extremely problematic. If you read much about nonlinear sciences, chaos, complexity, etc., you'll often find scientists talking about their early recognitions as seeming counterintuitive. But when I was reading that stuff, I found myself drawn to the feeling that fractals and strange attractors resonated strongly with my own intuitions and understandings. Intuition is not something that bubbles up from within but something that is conditioned and created, yet full of surprises.
A lot of what I got from considering ideas related to the postmodern was the collapse of binaries, the crossing of boundaries, the interplay of opposites. Generally when someone starts trying to say that it's "either this or that," I recognize them as potentially dangerous people whose violence is posing as rationality. Rational thought is also a creation.
Both what we talk about as intuition and rational thought are states of consciousness with which we can work. They can affect each other, they can work together, they can be approached separately. But they can't really be separated or walled off from each other and they're certainly not opposites.
What I'm more concerned about is the ability to wall things off that comes from belief in binaries. The denial that allows my parents to live in a house with radon because one cheap test gave them a reading that 15 years ago was deemed acceptable by some agency within the U.S. government. They didn't bother to find out anything more, they didn't have any interest at all in the details I was studying and they resolutely raised the same objections to doing anything more, even when they seemed to understand that their objections were based on total fallacies.
For instance, my mother said she wasn't worried about the radon because she mostly stayed upstairs. But the first floor of their house is built with cinder blocks and the material they got had diagrams of radon flowing up the inside of the cinder blocks to upper floors. Plus, they've got central air, which sucks up air from the downstairs and circulates it through the house. She understood it cause she's smart but then she immediately denied that it had anything to do with her by removing herself from the conversation with the statement that she wasn't concerned.
Another example comes from John's wife, an example I hope I don't get trashed for when I see these people next month. Back during the 80s, when I spent large amounts of time attempting to affect the situation in Central America in which massive numbers of people were being massacred with U.S. assistance, I spent quite a bit of time attempting to involve those around me in such struggles. I can't remember the exact topic that we were discussing but the conversation hit a point where John's wife said she couldn't accept that there was something wrong with a particular issue because she felt she couldn't do anything about it. Although I don't think it had much of an effect, my response was that even when we don't feel we can affect something, that doesn't mean we should then deny that it's an issue.
But I'm not just talking about denial, or am I? I'll have to think about that. In the meantime, I'm very interested in more comments. And let me say that I'm trying to get at ideas that are important to me as someone interested in poststructural theories, perspectives on the postmodern and anarchist thought and practice. My understanding of the topics under discussion are strongly informed by such work, even when I don't footnote a Frenchman.
Some additional thoughts:
I do think there's a difference between denying that something is a problem and allowing yourself to bracket off an issue because you're simply overwhelmed by the situation. It's an important survival skill to be able to recognize problems and accept when you really are unable to address them at that time. But the very real danger is to then retreat from such issues, throw up one's hands and say "nothing can be done." It's something I struggle with now on a regular basis, but I ain't going out like that.
But it wasn't the strongest example of what I'm talking about. I'm trying to find a way to articulate my perception that people ultimately decide what they're going to do based on beliefs that seem religious in the sense that there's no evidence for what they finally decide is true (I'm leaving out various revelations and experiences that are evidence of something).
Here's another example:
I remember reading an article about a scientist at UCLA and his claim that there was no scientific evidence for acupuncture and little scholarly literature on the topic. At the time, I was teaching a tai chi class at Ohio State and was checking out a textbook on Traditional Chinese Medicine that was authored and used by a faculty member at UCLA. When you checked out the bibliography, there were literally hundreds of studies listed, but primarily by French or Chinese researchers. I always wanted to ask the guy about his literature review in French and Chinese.
For those of you not in academia, the traditional research route includes a review of the literature on the topic so that you know what's been done and how your work fits in with or contradicts the literature. For a scientist to be making claims about what research has found without doing such a review shows that at that moment he is not relying on evidence but on a belief system outside of academic research. And this particular scientist wasn't doing work on acupuncture or anything like that, he was an uneducated skeptic that should not have been interviewed and was willing to behave as if he had expertise in a field with which he was obviously unfamiliar.
I'm not getting to this as well as I'd like but, at a certain point, I started thinking of it as a theological issue. That's not really the best term but it's a way of indicating the fact that so much of what people do is about strongly held yet unexamined beliefs. People are willing to act on these beliefs even when presented with evidence to the contrary. Typically they then discount the evidence. Or they never find out about any contradictory evidence and assume it doesn't exist.
I think I started using the term theological partly because of reading Michel Serres, although he wouldn't be that sloppy with his terminology. But he does a nice job of discussing the ways in which science is often a continuation of religion, rather than a revolution or break.
I might be able to discuss this better if I'd read more about ideology, but when I got into grad school I wasn't that interested in reading people out of Marxist and related perspectives. By that point my understanding of anarchist critiques of the left had made it pretty difficult to wade through the bullshit and slowness that I perceived in the Frankfurt School and other such attempts to address the fact that, hey, the workers didn't rise up against fascism and nazism. The shift to ideology and culture that came after WW II just didn't shift hard enough. It was poststructuralists like Foucault, well educated in the works of Marx but not within that tradition, who seemed to be getting at reality a bit better.
So why am I rambling on about this topic? I'm just periodically reminded of the difficulties of social change because I see that people are so rarely affected by discussion and critical thought unless they're predisposed to be open to change and are ready to head in a different direction than the dominant norms. And, while such discussion is very important, in the face of the nastiness of human history, it's really hard to imagine a change for the better.
For me, that's led to an interest in doing educational work with people at points of change in their lives. College students are a good example of people who've gotten a little space on their family lives and are open to change, which is one of the things that attracted me to higher education. My union organizing friends have pointed out that people won't unionize until things get much worse than they can tolerate, usually extremely bad. A lot of people get into holistic health only after they've been seriously harmed and find that dominant approaches to medicine often just make things worse or are totally ineffectual at addressing underlying issues. So I'm very interested in situations where people are open to change, for whatever reason.
But not getting an academic job, burning out on infighting among anarchists and leftists and other experiences of fucked up group situations have pushed me towards an interest in simply providing information and writing about topics clearly without trying to necessarily convince people of anything. I don't think arguing really works and, believe me, I know a lot about arguing. But I do think making information available in various ways is very useful and, with the Internet, it's a lot easier to get at information than it was before.
I'm sitting here thinking that I haven't said what I wanted to say, that I should just trash this and post some interesting links but I think I'll post this statement anyway, not fully thought out, poorly expressed and unfocused at it is. Hopefully it will help me find a way to tease out some of the elements in the future, especially as I find linkable examples.
I just found out that Colin Powell admitted that the Weapons of Mass Destruction claim was false. As this writer points out, shouldn't there be some legal action or something? I guess getting a blowjob from an intern is just a lot more serious than I realized. I'll have to remember that the next time I'm in office. Lying and killing good, orgasms bad.
If you're a Kurt Vonnegut fan, you may be particularly appreciative of Vonnegut's recent piece published in In These Times. 81 and still kicking ass.
The fact that U.S. citizens are willing to give up privacy, even when informed that what's being proposed won't make them any safer, speaks volumes about the fact that, when it comes down to it, people's actions are ultimately about what feels right, regardless of any evidence to the contrary.
And, as usual, though I rarely mention it here, the attempts at destroying the Palestinian people by the Israeli government fill me with disgust.
dancer Homer Avila and writer Hubert Selby Jr.
Radical Theory/Critical Praxis, subtitled Making a Difference Beyond the Academy?, is a recent collection of essays, including "Why Poststructuralism is a Live Wire for the Left," available for free as downloadable pdf files.
Citizen surveillance and Web publishing are a growing combination.
California Anarchist Yellow Pages.
Public officials with fake degrees.
I enjoy the sheer length of this catalogue of oddball slogans available on products by UNAMERICAN.
Early evidence that Nader intended to punish the Democrats.
Starbucks drops the ball on workplace sexual harassment.
I think the idea of creating siblings as tissue donors is profoundly disturbing.
Interview with author of book on U.S. government radioactivity testing on uninformed citizens.
Media Matters corrects conservative disinformation in the media.
Beautiful Agony is a photo gallery of the faces of people getting off.
Who Governs in an Interconnected World?
Complexity Theory and Al-Qaeda
Examining Complex Leadership
in a mobile world
Network of Alternative Resistance
Kevin Kelly's Complexity Theory
The Politics and Ideology of Self-Organizing Systems
Red Cross Says That for Months It Complained of Iraq Prison Abuses to the U.S.
Photos of Dead May Indicate Graver Abuse
From a Picture of Pride to a Symbol of Abuse in Iraq
Simulated Prison in '71 Showed a Fine Line Between `Normal' and `Monster'
Interrogation Methods in Iraq Aren't All Found in Manual
Spanish Premier Says Troops Will Not Return to Iraq
Indian Contract Workers in Iraq Complain of Exploitation
Contractors in Sensitive Roles, Unchecked
Tape of Air Traffic Controllers Made on 9/11 Was Destroyed.
Torture by the Book - Not an aberration but a systematic approach.
Powell aides go public on rift with Bush - The rifts get visibly deeper.
Plus, here's one explanation of how George W. stays so calm in the midst of madness. However, they leave out the important issue of the medication he is currently prescribed, a missing link in many stories regarding our beloved President.
Since I don't have tv and haven't been tracking down photos of Iraqi abuse, my haphazard guess is that non-U.S. press sources are more likely to run the more gruesome pictures, one of which is included in this Canadian article.
More importantly it does a good job of quoting a lot of different political figures on the situation, many of whom sound pretty dumb. I mean, I'm glad the Democrats are on the attack but there's no way that this is "one of the worst things that ever happened in American history." And, of course, I can't agree with a Republican statement that "America is a force for good." However, I can say that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners is a bad thing and that America is a force.
Although I have mixed feelings about the NY Times, here are some recent headlines (no reg. required):
U.S. Examines Role of C.I.A. and Employees in Iraq Deaths
Abuse Charges Bring Anguish in Unit's Home
Rumsfeld Chastised by President for His Handling of Iraq Scandal
A Prison Tour With Apologetic Generals
Army Discloses Criminal Inquiry on Prison Abuse
Contractors Implicated in Prison Abuse Remain on the Job
Ex-Prisoners of G.I.'s Offer More Claims of Mistreatment.
I don't usually post about big events with lots of media coverage unless I run into a special resource or a unique angle or just have to vent. The Ted Koppel reading of the names of the dead is just such an incident in that I hesitated to say something but am going to because I found this entry at PressThink that's a good starting point for considering the fact that, yes, Koppel was making a political statement and that journalism is inherently political. It only goes so far but I also appreciated the discussion that the blog author, Jay Rosen, actually got involved with so it was less random than such discussions often end up being.
I haven't read PressThink enough to characterize it, but I like Rosen's discussion of his approach to blogging which is a bit different than the typical short and sweet entry.
The Ted Koppel event struck me as mostly about the attempt to hide as much evidence as possible which I recently discussed in a post poetically titled Bring Out Your Dead. Plus, it made me kind of appreciate Koppel who I generally consider to be a pretentious asshole.
Look, I've gotta run but let me just say that I like the sound of mutiny in Iraq and I'm not surprised to hear that U.S. officials were aware of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners.
Actually, I've got a big project to do and won't be posting as much this week. I'd tell you to go read Hip Hop Logic but Clyde's finishing the semester and is caught up with the annoying nonsense required to make it appear as if he's learned something.
Since my project is the open access publishing paper I've mentioned before, I should point out a couple of recent articles:
Catherine Candee of the California Digital Library discusses UC's eScholarship Repository.
Peter Suber has an article up about Promoting Open Access in the Humanities, which is also related to the topic of the paper I'm working on.