Category Archives: Activism

Save The World – Community Units

Community Units

It is important to have solutions to human life that are of the appropriate size and scale. Additionally, some solutions are only appropriate for one scale and some for another. Most save the world solutions I hear are brilliant for their context, and I think the hardest part of all is envisioning mechanisms to enable systems on different scales to interact with each other.

In ‘From Dictatorship To Democracy’ Gene Sharp makes many references to social, cultural and intellectual institutions as a source of concentrated activity that can be usefully opposed to oppressive regimes. This is an example of medium-sized collections of people having an impact on macro-sized institutions and is therefore a model we could take forward into new worlds.

These institutions take form around an idea, sometimes as broad as ‘Education’ or ‘Art’ but also more specific such as ‘Humanism’ or ‘Chess’. Small groups of people forming communities around tasks or ideas is something I’m heavily into when it comes to world saving, so I’m pleased to keep in mind that such groups, if necessary, can form broad alliances or opinions on the institutions that exist on the next level up from them, the macro-level, and potentially affect change on that level.

As soon as I have typed this, I hear G. in my head tut-tutting over ‘pyramids’ the metaphor he uses to describe unhelpful hierarchical structures. Therefore let us say this: escaping the dictatorship of Protestant-Military-Industrial-Late-Stage-Capitalism is important for changing the world. People are most easily motivated around a task, event or idea. Smaller-scale institutions organised around an idea can, if they align somewhat with a few other institutions, make a powerful impact on regimes that seem much bigger than them. Therefore: more groups, more ideas and more community units is one of the ways forward.

On feminist movement, at “its peak”…

“it was also important to claim the body as a site of pleasure… We had all-girl parties, grown-up sleepovers. We slept together. We had sex. We did it with girls and boys. We did it across race, class, nationality. We did it in groups. We watched each other doing it. We did it with the men in our lives differently. We let them celebrate with us the discovery of female sexual agency. We let them know the joys and ecstasies of mutual sexual choice… We reclaimed the female body as a site of power and possibility…”

hooks goes on to talk about a reticence on the part of revolutionary feminists to engage with mainstream media on the topic of sexuality because of the inevitable distortions that occur. She challenges the stereotype of antimen feminists:

“… Heterosexual women turned on by feminist movement learn how to move away from sexually dead encounters with patriarchal men who eroticize exploitative power and domination scenarios that in no way embrace female sexual agency, but these women do so not to give up sex  but to make sex new, different, liberatory, and fun…

She speaks about the need to publicise this shift in sexual attitudes in a positive way.

 

“… Were many more of us documenting our sex lives in art, literature, film and other media, there would be an abundance of counter-hegemonic evidence to disprove the popular sexist stereotype that women in feminist movement are antisex and antimen.”

– bell hooks in ‘Talking Sex’ published in Outlaw Culture , 1994

Religious tendencies

I recently came across this post, an article criticising what the author calls “Pop-Bayesianism”, the first time I’ve really come across a critique of my one of my new interests, ideas around rationality derived mainly from the Less Wrong blog/London meetups of same.

I also saw a link to this video, a trailer for a film about certain kinds of electronic dance music. For me, the video bestrides the line between descriptions of a new version of an old thing that humans love to do relating to music and dance, which can produce ecstatic feeling and flaky claims of spiritual enlightenment.

In the first example above the Meaningness Metablog seems to be cautioning the groups who get excited about probability theory (and in particular Bayes’ theory) from teaching its message in such a simplistic fashion as to inspire religious-style adherence, rather than understanding. The Meaningness author describes it as a version of eternalism, albeit atheistic. 

In the second instance, the video about dance music, I find myself enjoying the concepts that I can explain — movement and dance as ecstatic experience = altered brain chemistry = a fun thing humans love to do — whilst cautioning myself that any reference to “oneness with nature” or improvement of the universe is an anthropocentric religious mistake.

The first/major author of the Less Wrong blog Eliezer Yudkowski also addresses the tendency for any group of people who are exploring an idea to end up acting irrationally/religiously/cultishly in numerous posts. In one post he talks of the need to intellectually resist the tendency towards cultishness:

Every group of people with an unusual goal—good, bad, or silly—will trend toward the cult attractor unless they make a constant effort to resist it. 

I take it therefore, that this milieu within which I exist seems to agree that avoiding religious adherence, or perhaps we should say dogmatic adherence, or resisting cultish adherence to a thing is self-evidently important. 

Since such an endeavour requires great intellectual vigilance and fortitude I suppose I want to question why it is so important. The LessWrong blog is excellent for answering this question, explaining that biases, fallacies and psychological shortcuts that exist in human minds go a very long way to obscuring understanding of how things actually are, causing confusion where there need be none and hindering human progress.

I think I accept the proposition that slavish adherence to dogma should be avoided, but that leaves us with the problem that to do so the entire human population needs to be both educated and vigilant.

It seems a shame that the understandable, enjoyable, pleasurable benefits of “religious experience” such as: ecstatic pleasure, belief in something larger than ourselves, communing/community and the psychological relief this all entails can only be acceptable when employing sufficient intellectual vigilance against having false beliefs about how the universe works.

Well, a shame or not I think my point is that most humans will not be capable of this at all because having these skills basically requires a certain level of education, and that is a greater level of education globally than we can currently provide.

Given this fact, I think I’d like to know exactly for whom it is important to have accurate beliefs about the world? Can we get away with having just a few humans who think this way? If, ideally, all humans are to strive somewhat against dogmatic belief then exactly which parts of religious experience should we strive to reject and which parts should we pursue? 

Dismissing spiritual experience entirely does not seem to be appropriate, or even useful, so drilling down into these questions, perhaps so that we can aquire some kind of “least harm” strategy for humans and their religious tendencies would be a very productive way for someone to spend their time.

The Lazy One Is Well Prepared

“The lazy one is well prepared” – a proverb I’ve enjoyed contemplating. It means that taking small actions in the present allows for greater laziness in the future. Truly lazy people optimise their life for overall idleness, inactivity or in my case, flexibility. Laziness all the time does not foster opportunities for future laziness: money/food/shelter/goods will always have to be obtained and laziness in the present tense always leads to not being able to be lazy in the future. Not going to the large food shop on the bicycle once a week leads to daily visits to the small food shop at the end of the road.

I’ve recently been around people who optimise their lives to be more full and effective, making me realise the ways that my life has been optimised by well prepared laziness. Additionally, laziness has lead to what I consider to be the optimal strategy for important things, particularly activism.

In the realm of hair, my laziness has reigned supreme and brought about startling results. I am of the belief that my body hair is mine to do with as I see fit. I have often been praised or admired for 1)refusing to remove any body hair and 2)wearing clothes that have no regard to covering said body hair. While I could claim this to be a strong political conviction that I hold (and I could, I was featured in the Guardian for my campaign entitled Hairy Awarey) the truth is I can’t be bothered to shave and can’t be bothered to think about my clothes. It seemed much easier to perform the mental acts required to go against social norms, especially since in this case it was an emotional equivalent of being lazy: not caring what other people think. In short I can’t be bothered to shave and I can’t be bothered to give other people’s opinions any space in my mind, but in so doing appear to be a brave and energetic activist.

My head hairstyle is also informed by laziness. I used to maintain a grade 4 all over, as the easiest and cheapest home haircut I’ve ever known. This has lead others to admire my bravery and gender non-conforming look. Lately I am growing a mohawk to look cool at a festival (leading to future laziness of getting people to sleep with me at said festival) and it is only laziness that got me through the annoying length stage, assuming it to be only right that my hair should be completely ignored.

Recently I bleached my hair in order to dye it pink for my birthday (lazy attracting sexual partners again) and then had cause to re-dye from pink to purple. Because I’m lazy, the bleach was not as all-over perfect as it could have been. Neither was the all-over pink, nor the all-over purple. Lazily, I made no effort to maintain the colour, simply allowing it to wash out unevenly. I’m now getting numerous comments on how fabulous my hair colour is, being pink, purple and blue all at once. Everyone thinks it’s deliberate when in fact laziness has lead to the same effect as if I’d spent many painstaking hours carefully dyeing all three colours into my hair.

Back when I still went to hairdressers, I was complimented on the good condition of my hair. “Do you condition it?” I was asked. In fact no. I don’t brush my hair, straighten it, cover it in products and then wash and condition it. It turns out hair comes out of one’s head in fairly good condition. Laziness reigns. The same goes for make-up: too lazy to bother, interpreted as politically effective. Awesome.

Akin to laziness is fun. If something is fun then it doesn’t count as “work” and can be engaged in with gusto. Hence, I organise a club night for bi people because it doesn’t require that much work and is something everyone finds fun. This has become something that makes up enough of my income to allow me to have few other working hours. My other job of course is sitting perfectly still for money. Though this is not as easy as it sounds, it can be made to seem lazy enough for the purposes of this article.

In the realm of activism, the skills I use to be lazy are applicable to figuring out what is effective. Pride parades are a very happy event, but biphobia is so high, and additional reasons, make it ineffective for recruiting bi folks or gaining acceptance for them. So, march in the parade = happy! = bi people might get some press! (they won’t) any further activism at Pride: don’t bother. Prioritising happiness and laziness helps activists continue to be activists and not burn out.

I believe optimising laziness is an essential skill, even for those people who want to be effective. A human that has acres of time for home cooking, leisure, pleasure and rest is a much more optimal being when trying to be effective than a human that does not. In particular, the spectre of being sick as a self employed person is truly minimised by the effectively lazy person. My monthly schedule has about 15 hours per week of work in it, which can be performed flexibly across the calendar. Besides the fact that my illnesses are less frequent and shorter because I am well fed, watered and rested all of the time, it requires no real effort to perform two weeks of work in just one week, and sickness results in no loss of income overall.

Strategising for laziness can: achieve the same goals as via the hard route, help maintain a healthy, happy body & mind and maintain income levels, thus improving effectiveness overall. I urge everyone to give well prepared laziness a try.

2012 is coming to an end

I felt a slight shock when I realised that 2012 is almost over. Here is my traditional post musing on the things I’ve done this year.

I gave away (almost) all my worldly possessions. I went to my third BiCon. I had group sex! I had group sex more than once! I had group sex with people I’d only known for a day! I went to Doncaster, Middlesbrough, Manchester, Bradford, Cambridge, Portugal and Madrid for the first time. I walked outside of Birmingham New Street Station. I cried infront of a painting. I went to a psytrance festival. In a foreign country. I swam in a lake sparkling with fool’s gold. I saw a lizard. I volunteered for litter picking at a festival. I saw how the world works. I learned how to get food out of bins. I was travelling/homeless for two thirds of the year. I read/watched the entire run of Promethea, My So-Called Life and Firefly. I fell in love. I added some notches to my bedpost (including three girls and a royal marine!) I blagged three nights in a caravan after a festival. I went backstage. I was a runner for stilt walking performers. I met some famous drum ‘n’ bass DJs. I did bi activism. I stayed over in a squat. I stopped being scared of London. I saw Tube mice. I hitch-hiked. I ate melon and liked it. I kissed a guy with a forked tongue. I made many new friends. I stayed on a boat in the Lake District. I met many people who will change the world. I tried mushrooms. I stopped taking sugar in my tea. I got so ill my period came a week and a half early, and I mistook it for kidney disease! I broke up and got back together with the same person! I walked on a slackline! I learned to juggle! I protested outside the deputy PM’s house! I lead a protest charge with “She’ll be coming round the mountain”! I marched with the trade unions against austerity (twice)! I saw a world title boxing match! I went to a gig with someone I didn’t know. I saw my father. I met my step grandmother, and other estranged family. I entertained revolutionary thoughts. I  took my clothes off for cash. I joined libraries in four different cities. I got a tax rebate. I “looked poly” in public. I confused people. I loved it when my boyfriend kissed a guy. I stayed awake all night and worshiped the full moon. I wrote dirty stories for money. I went to OpenCon. I was captain of a starship. I lost my childhood. I quit my job. I had dinner at Harvey Nicholls. I was looked after. I busked on the street. I got pet rats and had to give them away. I felt human. I stayed alive.

This year I’ve had a So-Amazing Life.

And what have I learned? When it comes to food, you get what you’re given, be grateful for it, don’t waste any and always share. When it comes to sleep, just do it when you want to or when you can, there’s no need to worry. You can learn to change your sleep over time, including where you can tolerate doing it. A futon on slats is the best way to sleep ever. Food is only out of date when it smells bad. Food is all around you, the more humans in any given space, the more free food you will find. The humaniverse will take care of you, if you let it. Be patient. Walk everywhere. Be the change. Doing new things makes life feel full. Being somewhere comfortable with nothing to do slows time down. Follow your highest excitement. Whatever your heart sings for. Who dares, wins.

Still to come:

get dp’d, apply to a PhD, start my own business, get a tattoo, get my driving license, go to Burning Man, eat at high table.

Disaffection

Despite being subject to clear confirmation bias, I can’t help but notice a restless desire among both young and old to do something that is not this thing.

I simply no longer want to play the game. I want to retain the advances of society, like medical care and library books, but I don’t want to be compelled to carry out 40 hours a week of meaningless work. Or even 20 or 10 hours a week. People like myself and others like me strive to find work that does satisfy a sense of meaning, or that helps others. These jobs are typically exactly the professions nobody wants to see disappear;  in local government, healthcare or charity. But with state cuts being at the level they are, these sectors are shrinking and the work is punishing on the mental health of the employees. I could only take it for 8 years, and even that was part time. The cost of having meaningful work seemed to be my sanity. I loved my job so much I was willing to sacrifice it for a while, but I just couldn’t keep it up.

The tyranny of meaningless work is a necessity largely because of the cost of occupying a home with heat and running water. Rent and utilities (you notice I don’t include food) made up 60-70% of my salary while I was working, and even though I worked part time I earned more than double the minimum wage per hour.

One option for myself and people like me is squatting, within which circles I have experienced and witnessed a high level of mental health and self worth. Freed from the necessity of rent, people who squat have more time to devote to their own projects, for many this includes formal education, formal and informal paid work, volunteering, expansive artistic projects and political activism.  More than this they are mentally freed from the shackles of demoralising or demeaning work over which they have no control. Within this scene I have met restless, highly motivated and highly talented individuals who have forsaken capitalist life because it does not fulfil them, but who have little else but political activism upon which to turn their not inconsiderable talents. Is this really the best way to structure our society? Everyone who squats chooses this life as preferable to the ‘rat race’ despite major hardships such as unstable living conditions, lack of heat, water and electricity and sometimes even food. Considering the level of happiness I have observed, they are right to choose this life. But why should they have to?

Recently, residential squatting was made illegal. This is a significant ideological move on behalf of the people currently in power, because it closes down one of the major options for citizens who do not want to play the game. There is no malice in their actions, they wish no-one else harm or degradation of their daily lives. They do not take anything out of the system unfairly, since they have previously paid taxes, are unable to claim benefits and potentially require less medical attention than any other group for whom we provide free health care (which includes foreign nationals who do not pay tax in the UK). In my experience squatters are leaders in re-use and recycling of materials, from food wast to furniture to grey water. They also put in many hours per week to contributing to their community, from growing food to washing up.

Who is that said the level of ideological security of a social system can be seen in its treatment of people who do not want to be inside of it?

There is growing evidence that we all want to escape from the systems that do not work. Transformational festivals are a growing global phenomenon that sees many thousands of people assembling in spaces to listen to music, dance and commune with each other. The locations are typically deep in a natural environment such as lakes, forests or deserts. Artistic expression is a strong theme of these festivals with high levels of attendee participation – the festival is created by everyone for everyone because we are aching for a sense of community and connectedness with each other and the natural world.

When I was at such a festival, (Boom in Portugal) I had an uncontrollable urge to cry “I feel human!” I had not felt this way in my own living memory. When did my humanity (feeling of being human) leave me? I had not previously felt a distinct lack of human feeling and yet here was this surge of joy that could only be expressed in one way: I feel human.

Something is terribly wrong and my hopes of changing it wax and wane.

The idea of winter solstice, 2012 heralding the beginning of change for human life is an intoxicating one. But no serious, rational person could entertain such thoughts as an arbitrary date for some magical reason affecting the course of human life. Perhaps, though, that is exactly the point. We valourise rationality and seriousness but our society does not behave as if it believes in them. Perhaps light-hearted irrationality is exactly what we need at the moment, since all other paths lead to insanity or death, while the ones that are don’t are systematically closed to us.

I don’t mean anyone any harm, I just don’t want to play any more.