Sunday, August 28, 2011

Anarchy, Community Building, and the Kingdom Of God

NPR did me a huge favor this morning and decided not to bring any politicans' voices to shock me from slumber, but rather David Sloane Wilson's pleasant conversation to the airwaves.  He is an evolutionary biologist and has done some work on evolutionary lit-crit, which is why I knew of him.  Well, his most recent project traces what makes communities work and what makes people pro-social in communities.  Here's an excerpt from the interview on his findings:

YDSTIE: Where did you find enhances prosociality?
WILSON: Number One: a strong sense of group identity, and a strong sense of what the group is about. If you don't think of yourself as a group and if you don't know what the purpose of the group is, then it's unlikely to function well as a group. Two: proportional costs and benefits. This cannot be the case of some people do all the work and other people get the benefits. That's not sustaining over the long term.
Three: consensus decision-making. People hate being told what to do but they'll work hard for a decision that they agree upon. Four: monitoring. Most people want to cooperate but there's always a temptation to slack a little bit. And then a few people are going to actively to game the system. So, unless you can monitor good behavior, forget about it. Next, graduated sanctions: if somebody does misbehave, you don't bring the hammer down, you mind them in a nice and friendly fashion and that keeps them in solid citizen mode. At the same time, you do need to be prepared to escalate in those rare cases when necessary. Next, a fast, fair conflict resolution. If there is a conflict, it needs to be resolved in a fast and fair fashion in a manner that's regarded as fair by all parties. Seven: autonomy - for a group to do these things, they have to have the authority to manage their own affairs. Finally, in a large society consisting of many groups, those groups have to be put together using those same principles. That's called polycentric governance, a very important concept which emerged from political science but now has a more genuine evolutionary formulation.  [emphases mine]
It may be called "Polycentric governing," and I know an even more fun name for this concept--anarchy!! It's exciting to see an evolutionary biologist talk about the ways that our "human nature" actually works well with many parts of "anarchist" thinking, or the kinds of reforms we can create alongside systems that already exist--revolution from within.  It might not be in our power to overthrow the capitalist order all at once, but surely we can move towards building organizations with strong group identity, with strong respect for the individual but also strong group identity, with justice, with consensus decision making. 

This reminds me of a legendary class period when a substitute did not show up for one class at a high school that may or may not be where I teach; the students all together agreed to be very quiet and work on an assignment they knew had to be completed, in order to avoid having an authority figure called in on them.  They were capable of self-governing, or of working with guidance rather than commands--they are capable of consensus decision making--but that is not what schools train them in.  Our entire society takes away opportunities to self-govern, to make consensus-driven decisions about the issues that affect our lives.  In DSW's list, our society is particularly awful at proportional costs and benefits, graduated sanctions, and autonomy--it's no wonder a lot of us are not very pro-social when we have so many hurdles to social behavior in our way.  And sometimes I think the major reason most of those hurdles are there is because belonging to community is bad for consumption; as I've mentioned before on this blog, if you already belong to a strong group that values you for existing, you don't have as much need to consume mindlessly.  If you are already satisfied with your life and relationships, you are not as vulnerable to marketing that tells you what products might make you happy.

Also, I thought today's New Testament reading was a very apt description of the saintly behavior that can help bring the Turning to the Kingdom of God:
9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Romans 12:  9-21

Someone recently asked me which texts linked me to Christianity, which I do see more as a lived experience that a purely textual tradition.  If I had to choose, though, I would put this passage pretty high on the list (despite its connections to Paul).  A lot of this advice is similar to the traits of pro-social individuals and communities.   What a beautiful celebration of solidarity, a text from the early church. 

In sum: Maybe anarchy is good human nature policy as well as good equality policy.  And, St. Paul is not as evil as I sometimes think he is.  Between the Bible and evolution, we have great insights into how to build effective liberatory institutions.  Revolution can come!  Otro mundo es posible!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Cramming it all in: A Revolutionary Weekend

Some of the great anarchist writers say the best way to bring the revolution is to live as far as possible as if it already has come; we also talk about the Kingdom of God in a similar way, for when we live in harmony with God and our neighbors, we begin to create an image of the world as it is meant to be.  This last weekend, I felt like we were living the revolution.

First of all, after a tutorial from my friend at 522 South 2nd, I ventured upon the excitement of canning!  It took me all weekend, and assistance from another dear friend who was in from New York (thanks L.), but at the end I had six jars of jam (raspberry and strawberry-rhubarb), six pints of pizza sauce, and three jars of pickles.  Not all the ingredients were from my garden, but some were, and I learned a lot about the process.  At this point it appears all my seals "took," and I'm excited to have preserved some local produce from summer's bounty for the long winter.  I'll be slightly--only slightly--less dependent on large conglomerated, capitalizing food chains, enjoying the fruits of local labor into the summer.  So far I've only tried the jam, but it is delicious.  The pickles need to brine for 4-6 weeks before they are ready.

When I wasn't canning, we attended several--several--social events.  Most of them involved planning the revolution.  I would say more if I could.  ;-)  We enjoyed a great dinner with new friends (and way too much ino) and other good times with friends of longer stature (with way too much beer and tequila).  There was plotting.  And a lot of anger at Brownback.  I drank mate with the aforementioned lovely lady from New York, met local activists of many years' standing in the community, and plotted.  Someday the turning will come, oh yes. After canning and mate and wine and libraries, I do feel that someday, some humans somewhere will be capable of participating in a more just world.

Naturally, that world is not this one; it's just come out that the $31 million grant from the feds that Brownback turned down was actually going to help revamp the state's Medicare system.  It's really important that people in disadvantaged economic situations don't get healthcare, don't you know, or they might continue living and being a drain on the economy.  There is nothing further I can say about this using polite language.

On calmer notes, we've been watching a couple of space operas recently:  Star Trek TNG and Firefly.  I watched Firefly first, and didn't really see how it interacted wtih the genre until we started watching Star Trek.  Overall, I'd characterize both as revolutionary shows, but the elder is primarily socialist, the younger anarchist.   

Star Trek shows a future world where all humans live together in harmony and acknowledge that every person has a right to basic needs.  People of all genders, races, creeds, ages, and socioeconomic origins (well, and bio-human origins--love you Data) have access to high-level careers in a meritocracy conceived in a design to bring mature happiness to all citizens.  Not only is the larger society utopian, but the community created on the Enterprise is so close and kind that visitors often want to join it.  

Firefly, on the other hand, shows a dystopic world where a central bureaucracy tries to control the universe; the starship Serenity exists in the interstitial spaces where that control can't quite find them (certainly an aspect of anarchist space).  The group is more of an affinity group than the crew of the Enterprise in that they are bound by a criminal code; they're not exactly careerists, but fighting for survival against an unsympathetic system. 

Captain Picard rules, not without kindness; but his orders are absolute, and while he will listen to suggestions and can be moved by reason, crew members can override his authority only in very specific situations.  The series confirms his suitability to lead by showing how developed his decision-making skills are.  The authority structure on Serenity, alternatively, is a farce--Mal gives orders, but his crew often overrides them or modify by the skin of their teeth.

Even though I like the philosophy of Firefly more, I enjoy watching Star Trek more--the sense of security is more what I expect from a TV show than the constant terror and edginess of Firefly.  I suppose it is sensible to prefer a utopic future to a feudalized universe with cruel cannibalistic barbarians on the edge, regardless of the specific revolutionary tendencies of each society.  I guess this is an issue of if there can be leadership and expertise in an anarchist society--or more specifically if all leadership and expertise must lead to oppression. 

Something to ponder while I return to my lovable students, who I think act  up worse when I am in the room than when I slip out for a second--their natural love of self-order emerging in those moments apart.

Monday, August 15, 2011

More on Motherhood

My friend Hannah, who is already a wonderful mother, posted a very thoughtful response to my earlier rantings about contraception and insurance and the general anti-woman tendencies in conversations about child bearing or lack thereof.  You should read it:  Hannah's comment

She has a much different set of experiences with women's health care than I do (having experienced labor and pregnancy and all of that joyousness), and brought up two really important points:  High quality breast pumps are a lot more important to the health of women and babies than most people think about, and when insurance and entire states refuse to acknowledge midwives and other pro-woman, natural childbearing assistance personnel, they also deny important choices to women.

Up with midwives!  Down with the pathologization of pregnancy and childbearing!  Pregnancy is a natural state, not a sickness!

Thanks, Hannah, for your voice of experience :-)

Riots, Brownback, and Bears--oh wait. Nope. Nothing scarier than Brownback.

Well, I have been MIA from blogging, with school starting up again. My kiddos are back, and they are terrific kids. At this point in the semester, I'm not even kidding. Every last young person I work with is intelligent, human, worthy of choices for a wonderful life. They are the hope in the future (even as I see them getting dragged into materialism, into those beginning compromises with Reality, whatever that is), and they help me remember to have some faith that things will get better.

I can't think about politics right now. Just cannot contemplate all the awfulness. Governor Brownback turned back a $31 million grant from the federal government to set up a health insurance exchange, because he wanted to alleviate the federal government's debt burden--or something like that? (You can read details on that here the New York Times' take on that here.) Basically, he wants to appear So Conservative and Right-Wing-Friendly and Anti-Health Care Reform that he doesn't want to take the money. When this hit NPR, I nearly drove the car off the road and ended it right there. Damn Brownback. This man (and Steve King) are the reasons that I started to believe in hell again.

Here's the thing that makes me so ill: So this pendejo politically disagrees with the law of the land, which he has a perfect right to do. But then he turns down the money to implement the law. That doesn't change anything--we will still have to implement the law. Now that money will have to come from somewhere else, though, and you can guess that money isn't coming from the Koch brothers' pockets. Nope, it'll be part of next year's list of reasons why We Have To Cut Public Education Even MORE! I don't want to list the things my district can't pay for this year, for legal purposes, but let's just say that even my very conservative relatives' jaws dropped when I mentioned what my kids are going without this year. And I don't understand why any politician who actually refuses money for his representatives is not tarred and feathered (figuratively) and thrown out of office! Like, I'm not even asking for the rapid appearance of anarchist/reign of God new heaven and a new earth here. Just basic looking out for your constituents. And even that is not attainable. Kansas deserves better than this.

And then there's the riots in England. Most of the people I have been talking to from all parts of the political "spectrum" agree with David Cameron that the young people are expressing "criminality, pure and simple." This is to me as ridiculous a viewpoint as the idea that Monsanto works to feed the world, pure and simple. But some other anarchists have stated an anarchist position on the situation much better than I could hope to:

Anyway. Some good alternative perspectives on that.

Hmmmm. There are many statistics in the above articles on inequality and unemployment and other economic problems in the United Kingdom. I find it astonishingly horrible that nearly all of those statistics are something like doubled in the United States. And no riots here. We shouldn't have riots; they are terrible, destructive events, and destruction is so much easier than creation...but how long? Will we be able to do something about these terrible inequalities here before rioting breaks out? I mean, yes, eventually it would be great to see power expropriated from centralized states, redistributed to the people, and useless luxury goods whose only purpose is to establish class status disdained. But our alternate liberatory institutions are not yet prepared to take over the state functions! Let the state wither away, but not yet!

(I guess I didn't quite manage to avoid politics this time. Odd.

(and the squash bugs' decimation of my beautiful plants has seriously kept me depressed for the last two weeks.  My garden was so lush, so beautiful, before they appeared and ate the whole thing up.  I am trying very hard to avoid political analogies to squash bugs.  I'm not saying you have to avoid them.)

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Fall

Fall is here, the season for schoolteachers and apparently stock markets as well. There is honestly nothing going on in the world of politics right now that does not make me want to commit suicide immediately and keep my child-bearing instinct from bringing another human into the world.

I guess there was one tiny little thing--finding out that health insurance companies will now be forced to pay for contraception and breast pumps and yearly exams for women, helping both women and babies be healthier.  Of course, Steve King would have to go and ruin my tiny glimmer of hope at that.  He is the representative from western Iowa whose visit to my high school, ten years ago, started me on the path to becoming non-conservative and non-Republican when he told a room of very, very white girls to have lots of American babies for our country.  Anyway, now he says that if we (women) have access to birth control, America will be a dying civilization, we'll lose a generation, because heaven knows no one ever wants to have children, and we all use he nasty birth control because we don't care about the future and want to kill America.

The thing that makes me so furious about this is that I desperately want a child or two or three, but because of the policies that King and his ilk support, my husband and I must either enter poverty or prevent having children for several years.  See, we are one of a very few countries in the world that offer absolutely no paid time off to women for child-bearing.  And if I were to have a child right now, I would have to choose between having a roof over that child's head or purchasing health insurance for that child.  Yes, health insurance for one child would cost nearly as much as our mortgage, that is how ridiculous this scenario is.   On one and a half professional salaries, there is no way we could raise a child with any level of financial security right now.  (I am not saying that it is always  impossible to raise a child on one and a half professional salaries--there are a lot of special circumstances for us. People raise children in all kinds of much more adverse circumstances, and often the kids thrive.  It's just impossible for us now.  But still.)  So King doesn't want me to have children (or at least for me to be able to provide them with health care, or be able to stay home with them, or be able to feed them breast milk if I'm not with them at every waking moment), and he doesn't want me to prevent having children. I guess women are just not supposed to exist? (Also,  I'm not really trying to build an airtight case here, so don't jump on me about the leaps in logic.  I am just too frustrated and angry to be completely silent.)  Oh yes, and it's great that contraception will be covered, but WHEN will the day come when all women's delivery costs will be covered?  Now that would be a truly pro-choice and pro-life action--acknowledging that a woman doesn't get pregnant all by herself, and bringing a new life into the world shouldn't be something women must go deeply into debt to do, and that a safe birthing process is good for our entire society.  Talk about unpaid labor--that's paying enormous sums to work very hard.

Recently when despair about the political situation covers me, though, I'm able to garden away the despair.  But thanks to the squash bugs, my garden now makes me more depressed.  The vines are dying, my sweet vivacious plants are fading away, their fruits rotting, and I can never massacre enough squash bugs to make up for their deaths. My carrots (which I planted late and suffered from the intense heat) have been wilting away as well.  But the cucumbers are still doing well; the tomatoes are producing despite a pretty bad case of blight; and I have hot peppers up the wazoo.  Some of the pepper plants I had given up on have risen late and started making fruit as well, so the garden news is not all bad.  Just bad enough to stop filling me with joy.

Bah.  Humbug.  I went back to work today, and at least that was pleasant.