What Is Communist Anarchism? (The Anarchist Library/Vanguard Press)

What Is Communist Anarchism? is an introduction to the principles of anarchism and anarchist communism written by Alexander Berkman. First published in 1929 by Vanguard Press, after parts of it had appeared in the Freie Arbeiter Stimme, it has been reprinted several times under several different titles, including Now and After: The ABC of Communist Anarchism and What is Anarchism? Because of its presentation of anarchist philosophy in plain language, What Is Communist Anarchism? has become one of the best-known introductions to anarchism in print. Anarchist Stuart Christie wrote that this text is "among the best introductions to the ideas of anarchism in the English language". Historian Paul Avrich described it as "a classic" and wrote that it was "the clearest exposition of communist anarchism in English or any other language".

An incredibly thorough and accessible primer that still holds up 91 years later. Berkman writes with clarity and charisma.

I’d recommend this to damn near anyone.

Spring 2020 reading list

Since I don’t yet have a cool “Reading” page like gRegor Morrill’s, I figured I’d instead share the books that are currently at the top of my to-read list.

  • What is Communist Anarchism?, by Alexander Berkman. I’m currently reading this one, and am about 80% through. It’s damn good and shockingly relevant, despite being over 90 years old. You can get it for free at The Anarchist Library, by the way.
  • Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America, by Sarah Kendzior. Sarah Kendzior is a modern-day Cassandra, who has been warning us since before the Trump presidency about the authoritarian threat he presents. This is her latest book, all about… that.
  • The Reactionary Mind, by Corey Robin. I learned about this one from Ian Danskin of Innuendo Studios, whose ongoing video series The Alt-Right Playbook I can’t praise enough. Ian shares his research for the series in a research masterpost and occasionally on Twitter, which is how I learned about this one. I’m very eager to learn more about the history and development of modern conservatism through this book.
  • The Authoritarians, by Bob Altemeyer. Also an Innuendo Studios recommendation, this free book consolidates decades of Bob Altemeyer’s research into the subject. Danskin recommends it as “One of the most useful resources I’ve consumed so far”.

I’m not expecting this to be fun reading, but I think it’s going to help me develop a more thorough understanding of our modern political moment.

gRegorLove.com: Reading by gRegor Morrill (gRegorLove)
A summary of what gRegor Morrill is reading and wants to read.

I really like what gRegor has done here, by aggregating his to-read and reading posts to form an overview of his reading.

I wish I were handy enough to make this happen for myself, but I’m so totally clueless when it comes to development. I also frequently feel like I’m fighting against WordPress to really IndieWebify my site.

I’m not used to thinking of my website as less than, like, 90% of what I want from it. But since discovering the IndieWeb, my dreams for my site here have far outpaced what I’m currently capable of, so I’m stuck looking at things like gRegor’s Reading page and admiring them but feeling incapable of properly making them happen myself.

It’s a bind!

The Answer to All of Your Social Distancing Loophole Questions Is No by Rachel Miller (Vice)

In late March, the director of the CDC warned that 25 percent of COVID-19 cases could be asymptomatic. Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is advising the White House on coronavirus, said last week the figure could be as high as 50 percent. FIFTY PERCENT!!! One out of every two people could be carriers and not know it. You could be a carrier and not know it.

But a lot of folks are still approaching coronavirus from a place of, What are my personal odds of illness, and, if I get sick, of surviving the illness? versus, How can I not harm other people? It’s not just people who have been inside for a couple weeks without symptoms, either; people who are sick are engaging in astonishing mental gymnastics to convince themselves that, yes, they might have COVID-19, but they aren’t actually that contagious, and anyway, they are bored and want to go for a jog, so can you please leave them alone about it!!!

...Viruses don’t operate by potential carriers’ best intentions. They operate exclusively by our actions. No one is leaving their house thinking, I am going to be the superspreader who kills a bunch of people by running some errands/taking a walk with my friend/meeting up with a Tinder date today. Yet thousands and thousands of people have died.

COVID-19

Garden beds at sunset

I woke up and started my morning on the couch, a hot mug of tea in front of me and my journal in my lap. I’ve always been a journaler, of course, but that’s taken on new importance in the last month, as I’ve felt some duty–as well as a desire–to chronicle what my life has looked like during this historic crisis. I will someday be a primary source, if for nobody more than myself and my people.

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This Is Not the Apocalypse You Were Looking For by Laurie PennyLaurie Penny (Wired)

This is because late capitalism has always been a death cult. The tiny-minded incompetents in charge cannot handle a problem that can’t be fixed simply by sacrificing poor, vulnerable, and otherwise expendable individuals. Faced with a crisis they can’t solve with violence, they dithered and whined and wasted time that can and will be counted in corpses. There has been no vision, because these men never imagined the future beyond the image of themselves on top of the human heap, cast in gold. For weeks, the speeches from podiums have suggested that a certain amount of brutal death is a reasonable price for other people to pay to protect the current financial system. The airwaves have been full of spineless right-wing zealots so focused on putting the win in social Darwinism that they keep accidentally saying the quiet bit out loud.

The quiet bit is this: To the rich and stupid, many of the economic measures necessary to stop this virus are so unthinkable that it would be preferable for millions to die. This is extravagantly wrong on more than just a moral level—forcing sick and contagious people back to work to save Wall Street puts all of us at risk. It is not only easier for these overpromoted imbeciles to imagine the end of the world than a single restriction on capitalism—they would actively prefer it.

COVID-19

This is a beautiful essay about imagining something better. It’s both an obituary and a rallying cry, and I strongly recommended you read it to the end.

COVID-19

Good evening, friends.

Today, as Rachel reported, our local hospital in Salem gave away sew-at-home kits for locals to make protective face masks. The plan was to distribute enough kits for 10,000 masks over the next two days.

The kits were completely given away within half an hour, and so many people showed up to claim some that a police officer had to direct traffic.

Many of us, especially in the US, grew up being taught a myth: that people are intrinsically selfish and lazy. Remove the monetary inventive to work, we’re told, and we’ll do nothing but sit on the couch or stare at the clouds. You have to be ready to be completely independent, we’re told, because when the chips are down, no one will want to help you.

Alexandra Erin, one of my favorite political commentators on Twitter, commented a couple years ago that our beliefs about “human nature” become manifest in a crisis. If you believe that there’s not enough for everyone and people are “naturally” going to pilfer and hoard, then your natural sense of self-preservation will encourage you to do the same. Like Vonnegut’s ice-nine, when that behavior is introduced into the community, it perpetuates itself: since you’re hoarding, your neighbors will see that there’s less to go around, and they too will be encouraged to do the same. But if you instead act as though there is enough, as if people are generally trustworthy and kind, as if the risk of being taken advantage of is existent but mitigable, then your generosity will create the conditions for its own replication.

It’s the difference between a mindset of scarcity and one of abundance.

Salemites, like many of us, have an abundance of time right now, and the natural human desire to work and help, so they cleared out those mask kits in under an hour. Last week, Divine Distillers, like many distillers across the country, recognized they had an abundance of equipment, know-how, and alcohol, so set to work creating alcohol-based sanitizer to give away for free. No one needed to be coerced. They simply saw their abundances and offered them to help their community.

Don’t believe it when someone tells you humans are naturally selfish. Look at how many people are staying home, sacrificing their free movement and their social lives so that this epidemic might be kept at bay. And don’t believe it when they say we’re naturally lazy–because look at how many of us are eager for something productive to do after only a week or two of isolation.

Take heart in the compassion of your fellow humans. Our world is nowhere near as nasty or barren as some might have you believe–if only we share our abundance.

Dream big and fight hard,
Your buddy Spencer

COVID-19

This post was originally shared on my Facebook page.

Good morning, friends.

It is likely to get a lot worse this week. That’s the nature of exponential growth. Hopefully, within another week, we’ll start seeing the effects of our mitigation strategies, but given how spottily they’ve been implemented so far… I’m not confident.

This could have been prevented. So much of this could be prevented. But the president, the federal government, business owners, corporate shareholders–so many people who have the power to do something do not. They placate, they shift blame, they try to consolidate power.

Many people have spent the last four years insisting that somehow, the system will correct itself. By now, I hope that’s obviously false. All we have is each other. There’s no automatic safeguard, only people’s intentional choices.

I don’t want to encourage panic here. Panic doesn’t solve anything. But if you’ve got anger baking in your stomach, now is the time to interrogate it. Anger shows you what you value: it says there’s a gulf between where you are and where you think things ought to be. Anger is an activating emotion: it fills us with a surge of energy to try to close that gap.

So if you’re angry–what is the better world you envision? And what do you want to do to get there?

How much longer can this go on? If they give trillions of your money to bail out companies but fail to protect workers? If the federal government continues to withhold aid and refuses to order production of critical supplies? If the president keeps lying about unproven cures, lying about the disease, lying about his response–just plain lying?

How much longer will it go on before it spurs you to act?

A couple days ago, in my video on the threat response cycle, I said we’ve been freezing because neither fight nor flight are viable. But we aren’t helpless. While we still can’t punch coronavirus in the face, there ARE active things we can do. Like organizing. Like getting to know our neighbors. Like joining networks of mutual aid.

You can channel your anger and fear into those activities. Let your hands, shaking with rage, lay bricks for a better tomorrow.

It all starts with recognizing what is so broken and imagining how it could be different.

Dream big and fight hard,
Your buddy Spencer

PS: As much as you can, STAY THE FUCK HOME. ❤️

COVID-19

This post was originally shared to my Facebook page.

As the federal government starts actually talking about some form of a temporary relief payment, let’s talk about means-testing.

Means-testing is the process by which the government decides who is eligible for a social service. Your income must be below X. Your family must look like Y.

How do you verify that someone’s income really is below X? Well, you have to inspect their accounts. You have to monitor them. You have to treat them with suspicion. You’re encouraged to err on the side of false positives–if you think someone might be ineligible, better to cut them off than risk letting someone “cheat the system”.

That requires extra resources.

For whatever reason, there’s a certain subset of liberals that have, this year, decided that the “universal” in “universal healthcare” and “universal basic income” should really mean “universal only for people who need it”. They welcome means-testing so that “the kids of rich billionaires don’t get free college”. And look, I understand the sentiment. It comes from a good place.

But the resources and system it would require to ensure that “only people who need it” get these benefits? They make the process so much more bloated, inefficient, and cruel.

Universal should mean universal. That’s the simplest way forward. If the government cuts you a $1000 emergency relief check and you don’t need it, then donate it to someone who does. Give it to the Americans United to Eat the Rich charity of your choice. You have many options for not keeping it. But let’s not preemptively burden a program for social good with the stipulations, bureaucracy, and inefficiency that means-testing requires.