guerrilla refusal


The only way for us to win is not to play.

At the core of the Machine is a whirlwind of human and planetary energy sucked into a global positive feedback loop that’s formed a funnel of destruction and death, mowing down everything in its path. An out-of-control vicious circle is very difficult to stop; there is no point underestimating the daunting nature of this task. Such a system has a huge investment in ignoring warning counter-signals. This, coupled with the addictive nature of power, makes for a very persistent system, which, indeed, has persisted very well for some 6,000 years. The heavy investment of the rulers in power-enhancing technologies also makes a big difference. And yet, and yet… a well-aimed negative feedback will stop a runaway loop cold.

History, so far, shows only two ways such Machines of domination were stopped. The first is a system-wide crash: the Machine ran out of — ruined — “nature services” that provided the resources human labor could gather and amplify, with resulting starvation, flight and desolation. This is the option accompanied by the infamous Horsemen: Famine, Pestilence, War and cannibalism (this shadowy horseman is rarely mentioned but rides along with the others as sure as Death). The second is a slower collapse with a silver lining: the workforce vanishes into the underbrush, merging with tribes and rebels off the radar, scavenging for real value, and leaving the Machine to grind to a halt. In other words, either warning signals are heeded and human energy redirects itself away from the Machine, or nature pulls the plug. I hardly need to emphasize that it would be much to our advantage not to wait for Mother Nature’s solution. Will it work? It’s the only thing that ever has. All it takes is a critical number of people quietly ducking out.

When the Czechs and Slovaks withdrew from public life into private and family affairs after the 1968 Soviet invasion, I was grievously disappointed. I envied the Poles their active and celebrated opposition. Now I see it as the sanest response they could have mounted. They withdrew from the system. They laughed at it in a million clever jokes. They worked as little as possible, they taught their own kids to look under the surface and see the lies, they believed nothing official but found their own sources of news, they created connected networks of craftspeople and others with useful skills to trade and get things done privately. And they put most of their energy into living. The system weakened; how could it not? The power structure, artificially propped up by Moscow, collapsed overnight when the Soviets could no longer ride in with the big stick. My old countrymen and women paddled with the current, while the power elites struggled against it, trying hard to control the situation. To no avail. It is a lot easier to harass a few dissidents than to go after millions of people who are most notable by… doing as little for the system as they can get away with, just minding their everyday lives, and not believing anything you say.

So it works in the modern world, just as it worked long ago for lowland Maya, or the Hohokam, or Norte Chico. It’s our last great hope: passing over the swamp that waters Babylon, we rain our energy onto the watershed that feeds the river of Life.

river

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 We can refuse to participate in a dead society gone shopping.
— Joe Bageant

Once we understand what feeds it, it becomes possible to think of stopping the Machine. I puzzled over this one for a long time, only to suddenly grok the obvious: the fodder for the Machine is our precious life energy!

Eeww… eewww

So then. Deny it its coveted fuel: your effort, your attention and interest, your money, your loyalty, your goodwill and your good ideas. Deny it your streams of energy, one by one. Direct them instead to the Lifeworld. And don’t shout it from the rooftops! Just blend discreetly into one of the various subcultures experimenting nowadays with a saner way of life; the minions and guardians of the Machine will never even notice you.

This is the crux. Any machine can withstand tinkering, but no machine can run without fuel. Like an old mill on a dry riverbed, it will become a relic of a past that’s done with, a useless hunk of debris. Our radical withdrawal will be the end of the Machine.

Here are some of the ways of seceding from Babylon:

  • Down-work, un-work

More work is the source of evils like resource depletion and stress and pointlessly complicated lives; the Earth needs us to stop working so hard! The less we work, the less we feed the Machine. Our work aids the plunder, our de-working slows and stops it, one person at a time. This is why Babylon has always reinforced the message that work is virtuous and important even as it was inventing pointless busywork, harmful work, useless work. Let’s celebrate “Freedom from Labor” Day! Working more is not the way to leisure. Leisure is the way to leisure. Find it before the Machine uses you up and spits you out.

Working less will give the earth a break and repatriate you from ratdom back to humanity. There is plenty of work out there for those who want to do real things, useful things that matter. Once we shed debts and provide ourselves with paid-for basics, money is a small part of the picture. Well-being is what matters, not cranking out a pittance while the planet is plundered more and more. What we need is a “less work ethic”! Less work, less planet being used, more life.

  • Unschool

Unschooling does not mean turning the parent into a traditional teacher, and stuffing the kids full of the same nonsense that the official curricula dictate. No! Let children learn as they did between that ages of birth and 5 or 6, when they acquired prodigious quantities of knowledge, all by their own efforts. Just help them along, and they will be far ahead of their institutionalized peers. Best learning happens in context, by learners who are busily exploring their environment. Spend time with your children sharing with them what you know and what you love. Create neighborhood co-op schools. Get tutors (elders in particular): kind, child-cherishing experts who can take the kids down paths you do not know. And make it possible for children to learn real things: basic medical care, care for animals, food growing and cooking, conversation, geography of travel, building. All those abstractions schools “teach” will either be learned in the course of their exploration, or will never be needed anyways. Honest: when was the last time you needed algebra?

  • Dis-identify with the hologram 

Exit the theater of the audience-nation! As Joe Bageant once ranted so well: “All Americans, regardless of caste, live in a culture woven of self-referential illusions. Like a holographic simulation, each part refers exclusively back to the whole, and the whole refers exclusively back to the parts. All else is excluded by this simulated reality, a simulated republic of eagles and big box stores, a good place to live so long as we never stray outside the hologram. The corporate simulacrum of life has penetrated us so deeply it now dominates the mind’s interior landscape with its celebrities and commercial images. Within the hologram sparkles the culture-generating industry, spinning out our unreality like cotton candy.”

The hologram and its spin meisters have been having themselves a veritable orgy of lies and propaganda dealing with the wreck that is Ukraine. This has been one part of the world I have followed with some alacrity over the last year. Nothing, nothing, nothing reported in the MSM was close to the reality on the ground. When the fated Malaysian plane was shot down, a relentless stream of deception sloshed out like long-stored toxic sludge that burst its containment. As Ilargi has recently pointed out on Automatic Earth, 2014 was the year when the bargeload of lies heading our way was no longer even disguised. It may be time for me to pull back even from the little “Babylon-watching” that I still do. Their self-referential faux-reality does not deserve the gift of anyone’s attention. My heart goes to all those trapped in Babylon’s perpetual wars, and my blessings.

  • Unplug from the Spectacle

Toss the damn stupid boob box. Why are you still watching all those hundreds of channels with nothing on? It sucks away your hours like a vampire. Give those hours to something that will give you joy. After all, your supply of lifetime hours is very limited. News? You will learn about the important events from other people. It is quite possible to stop reading the papers – skimming the headlines is more than enough. And you will spare yourself the crassness of commercials, ads, infomercials and disinformation. Computer news can be used far more selectively, and can supply news directly from other people like us, unfiltered by official channels. Find what works for you. Waking from the trance takes time and new habits.

But that’s not nearly enough. I have been amongst the TV-unplugged for 15 years now, and yet I too get sucked into the vortex of disastrous news. In the fall of 2008 I gaped with horror and disbelief as the evidence of stupendous plunder unfolded. I spent inordinate amount of my time trying to fathom it. But what good has it done me or my neighbors? All those fear-mongering stories – the true and the false – are just stories, repetitive and debilitating messages of scarcity and doom, bringing about a festering sense of anxiety, failure and helplessness so that people become ripe pickings for demagogues and con-men. We can choose not to play this game. We can tell stories that are of use, and disseminate them via our own channels. And while the thugs and thieves will keep on with their business, we can and will find a way to secede from their Kingdom of Spin, leaving them to their slime, moving on.

  • Un-shop

Buy only what you must. Economize. Go frugal. Share. Grow and make your own. Join a community that knows how. Support local merchants. Let the uglification of box stores mercifully fall into the understory of history. A healthy economy does not depend on buying up an avalanche of crap and working in pointless jobs to be able to afford it. It depends on people being genuinely productive and economical. It also depends on a healthy planet to feed us, and on social systems not based on theft so that we don’t have to run just to stay in one place, while others fatten themselves at our expense.

  • Un-debt

Get a debit card if you must, or do a cash economy. Pay off the debts. Do what it takes. Get out of the yoke too demeaning even for oxen.

  • Delegitimize

Judiciously unvote. The choices are really between really bad and “keep fingers crossed” less bad. Is that good enough? For how long? Let Babylon’s politics languish on the periphery of your attention. Ignore the inanities of the election races. Stop chasing after the liars. Refuse the system your loyalty and your goodwill.

  • Break the spell of Thingness

We’ve been taught for endless generations that it is stuff that really matters. Stuff is primary. Stuff gives security and happiness. After all, we are the descendants of the Neolithic cult of MORE. But material stuff is just a fraction of what really matters here on Earth, and we already have more than enough of it. Let us return to a larger vision: humans who break their addition to material wealth for the greater good. Humans as intelligent beings who cherish– not ruin — creation, humans as those who are wise enough to enlarge the chances of Life.

  • Down-specialize

Back off from single-minded pursuits and become a generalist. Every biochemist should know how to fix what breaks in the home. Every engineer should know how to start a fire. Every office worker should know how to do basic healing. Every one of us should know how to grow food. We all together hold the potential to be able to do most anything that really matters and our local communities require. Let’s look at the priorities, and put specialization in its valuable, but much smaller place.

  • Undomesticate

Domestication, like slavery, rebounds on the perpetrator. We must return to thinking of our fellow animals and plants as symbionts, and more, as devoted friends. Some of these friends feed us; they give the gift of their lives so that we may live on. Others maintain the atmosphere, the ecosphere, the soil. Why don’t we treat them accordingly? In return, we will reap a restoration of our own wild spirit now crushed under the weight of misery-spreading dependency, under the burden of everyday brutality that exists because of our own complicity. Babylon sweeps it under the rug, and then abuses the rebels who refuse to look the other way.

Dare I say it? Let’s rewild!

  • Repudiate usury

Babylon would like us to forget that usury, historically and biblically speaking, did not mean charging high interest. It meant not charging interest at all. Medieval economies flourished without interest. And it was interest that pushed the cancerous expansion of Western civilization. Interest is one of the most powerful ratcheting forces behind the vicious circle of “endless growth” and accompanying plunder. There are other ways to conceive of money and lending. Send some of your energy to the financial rebels who are disseminating them.

  • Disencumber

Remember those storage sheds full of crap you will never use again, the closets chock-full of stuff you haven’t seen in years? Time to “shed it” for good. Most places have second-hand stores happy to take some of it. Try craigslist or freecycle websites. Some communities have Free Stores or book kiosks too, or need to. I have had good luck with half.com and amazon for passing on books that I cared about but that I would never read again. Every time something, no matter how small, is passed on to the next user, life opens up new possibilities.

  • Divest

We cannot expect to shrink Babylon or leave it while giving it our money. These money systems are the dark heart of Babylon, and they are the ones that transform our living energy into the stuff that flows out. It is laughable to think that Babylon will allow significant reform so that community banking and money issuance could take hold. But thousands of hidden, small experiments growing like mushrooms everywhere? At a time of ongoing high-level crises Babylon must deal with first – that indeed would be a formidable challenge. Divesting deflated South Africa’s balloon. It will deflate Babylon’s zeppelin too. Let’s find ways to invest our money in the service of Life.

  • Phase out economic dependencies

Learning to supply one’s basic needs without the dependence on Babylon is the key to freedom. Follow the paths of food to learn how ridiculous, wasteful, unsafe, and downright revolting our system is. Find local sources for the basics from food and soap to pottery and clothes. Become one of the local sources for something. Be part of the local economy. Cook from scratch. Relearn frugality and old-time skills and teach others. Restore the free and the abundant. Earn local money into existence.

  • Lighten the overhead

Stop feeding the chiseling bridge-trolls. Go direct for all the goods that you cannot buy locally. Look where the skimming goes on in an economic transaction, and find ways to circumvent the middlemen. The maintenance of elites is a luxury the planet can ill afford. As soon as we refuse to produce the skim-surplus that finances them, they will vanish like mist over a morning swamp.

  • Decontaminate one’s self

There are plenty of noxious ideas and patterns of thinking out there, the sort that keep us tied to Babylon’s strings forever. We must become shrewd and discerning. As we disencumber materially, it makes sense to do spring cleaning inside our heads as well. Community is more important than “multiculturalism” or “cosmopolitanism.” Anomie is not something we must accept along with stainless steel and velcro. And good medical care need not be based on an overly high-tech, top-heavy, impersonal model. Dare to imagine — and come to visit — the lovely world outside Babylon’s box.

  • Un-victimize

We must learn to defend ourselves and our communities. A time may come when it becomes imperative. In any case, the police are expensive, and not really needed in communities run well by their citizens. The Amish have no need of the police.

And we must learn to ease off the grid, to rethink our vulnerabilities to centralized solutions from electricity to emergency services. There are many ways a small community can provide its own, and become far less vulnerable to sudden problems. Remember the hard winter 2008 out east and its long lapses in utility provision along with a run on generators and attendant theft?  None of that is necessary among people who have made reasonable provisions for unusual situations.

And finally, we must again play a key role in keeping our food supply safe. Becoming part of a network of trustworthy farmers, food processors and artisans is where it begins.

  • Down-compete

Competition, like fire, is a good servant but a terrible master. It works best when it’s contained within a larger collaborative world. Unfettered competition fails to promote common good, and often leads a race to the bottom. When the emphasis on competition makes people less cooperative, selfishness and free riding are promoted, contributions to public good are reduced, heavy stress takes a toll on health, and we all end up worse off. Take a good look around you at this world out of kilter. One Harvard professor did, and he began to penalize students for lack of teamwork, even at exams. What do American schools call such teamwork? Cheating! Cheat Babylon by playing fair: cooperate.

  • Un-waste

Waste too is part of the grid in Babylon. The system encourages it in a myriad ways, from free dumps to curbside unlimited pick up, from its hidden network of sewers to water treatment plants (which are free at a glance, and very expensive and poorly designed if you really look) and toxic dumping. Eeww indeed! Yet the solutions are already out there, from composting to grey water systems and water-purifying wetlands, from reusing to making do. Waste comes from feeding human and planetary energy to the maw of the Machine. Food into waste, life into death. Let us reverse the transformation and reestablish natural cycles.

  • Dis management

Letting go of the controlling, managerial paradigm and meddlesome interventionism will be key in regaining our sanity. Interventionism breeds more interventionism and has costs that Babylon hides by “cooking the books.” Remember… when it comes to the universe, we did not cause it, we cannot cure it, and we cannot control it. Let it run itself – it knows how. Ran Prieur once said, “I swear, if we had infinite technological power, at our present emotional level, we would destroy all the clouds, replace them with holograms of clouds, and have fleets of airships drop water, instead of just letting it rain.” Isn’t that modern mis-managerial hubris in a nutshell!? Enough already…

  • Down-tech

Individuals and communities can scrutinize technology and pick and choose carefully. Must you really have another kitchen gizmo? Do you want to spend your days staring at a smart-phone, with the Eye following you wherever you go? Do you really need electricity 24/7? Each new artifact has its price, and impacts the well-being of human communities and the natural world. Heed the wise Akela’s call: “Look well, look well, oh wolves. As befits a Free People.”

  • Detoxify

Detoxify relationships, that is. Have you noticed? Anti-bully programs in schools are all the rage now, but nobody ever points out that schools exist, in part, to inure kids to being bullied (by teachers, administrators, and curriculum planners), so that when they get absorbed into the workforce, they think it’s normal, just put up and shut up. Domination is the poison in the wellspring of Babylon. Don’t drink from it.

Easier said than done. Bossism in all its forms has contaminated almost everything. Domination is a dirty trick, and we are all tainted. We all play the domination/submission game. But another game is afoot. The partnership game. The more you learn to play it, the less beholden you will be to the con-games of Babylon.

See? You don’t have to leave the country to leave the culture.
 

unplug

Before the book Deep Green Resistance came out and the organization of the same name formed, I was a big fan of Derrick Jensen. But not so much since. There are a variety of reasons why DGR lost me. I will mention three.

I just watched a video where DGR ally Stephanie McMillan reads a speech urging global fight against capitalism, while Derrick Jensen acts the interviewer. She makes many good points illustrated with her well-crafted cartoon strips. Her analysis makes a lot of sense. But when she gets to the part about “what to do,” she falls on DGR’s favorite line about “militant resistance” and on vacuous exhortations: we “must overcome the state apparatus” (and its lies, wealth and arms), we “must dismantle the system altogether and create an alternative”! On her site, she stresses (as she has for years): “Our collective strategy must be capable of smashing the entire global matrix of social relations — the economic, political, and ideological practices…” And so on. John Holloway has already very ably pointed out why this approach does not work. I really only have one more thing to say about it:

miracle_cartoon

In the book, Derrick answers a query he has received from his audience many times; “Daniel Quinn says we should walk away, what do you think?” Derrick says he’s got two problems with it; one is that there is nowhere to walk to (Arctic? middle of the ocean?) and the other is that those familiar with Quinn answer that this is supposed to be a mental state, that we are supposed to emotionally withdraw.

I have a problem with what Derrick says. Neither is true of what Daniel Quinn advocates. Quinn makes it pointedly clear that he does not mean it geographically, and he has spoken at length of what he does mean: socio-economic tribalism he calls “new tribalism, where people band together to make a living and a life.” He praises those who have been able to create such “business tribes” and hopes that even better ideas will follow. Either Derrick is shooting in the dark, or he is willfully misrepresenting Quinn’s ideas.

He follows the passage with this argument: if you know a friend is being tortured in a nearby basement, would you walk away? To which I answer, the torture of the planet is far more complex than that. What would you do, Derrick, when people and creatures were tortured in millions, billions of basements (as they indeed are, in a manner of speaking)? That is the situation we face, and that is what we need to deal with. Blowing up all those basements seems, well, not the ideal solution, shall we say? Walking away from the torture system itself and letting it collapse under its own weight may be our best option. And why interpret “walking away” as not caring, no longer doing anything for those who suffer? Quinn is our ally; trying to strawman him out of relevance is a hit below the belt.

Is this civilization redeemable, asks another person. Derrick argues that it is not. I too feel that this civilization is a lost cause, but not civilization in general. Babylon’s days are numbered, but it will try to take everyone down with it. I think that the image of global psychopaths hanging from lamp posts — as Orlov and Kunstler keep on about — is yet another soothing placebo. Things have changed since the days of the French and Russian revolutions. Nowadays, the global perps just change coats, rename things a bit, repaint the stage of the spectacle, change the props. That’s about it.

The question that occupies me is what I (we) can do to speed up the metamorphosis of this voracious caterpillar that is devouring the world into a “civilized civ” butterfly. I will write more about this when I talk about a way out of Babylon I have discovered, soonish. Meanwhile, things are bad enough; I am not interested in joining those out to vandalize the system that exists, trying to bring it down, feeding their precious energies into what they loathe, fueling yet another bitter conflict, yet another “war to end all wars.” Besides, compared to the banksters that are actively and effectively bringing the human world to the precipice, the DGR folks, they are just pikers.

If you crush the caterpillar, you destroy its chance to turn into a butterfly.

The Americans of de Tocqueville’s time, when they wanted to make something happen, didn’t march around with placards or write their legislators demanding that the government do it. Instead, far more often than not, they simply put together a private association for the purpose, and did it themselves.
— John Michael Greer

When various transitioners and change makers seek to influence the politics, economy and future course of a small town, they first organize a civic association. There are many kinds, from churches and town beautification committees all the way to activist groups and guerrilla gardener clubs. Alexis de Tocqueville rightly saw such civic underpinnings as something essential, the very foundation of American democracy.

These civic groups in turn seek to influence the official power holders — the town hall and its minions. They serve as pressure groups while working on the particular projects they have undertaken, and so act to counterbalance the power gathered by local politicians and bureaucrats. Among Transition Towners in particular, there’s been much debate whether and how much one ought to work with the folks at town hall; in Europe, there seems to be more cooperation across that particular divide than here in the States.

There is, however, another power-wielding group in every town, and it rarely gets the consideration it deserves. Professor Domhoff has done a great deal of research on and written extensively about these people — the so-called “growth coalition.”

Local power structures are land-based growth coalitions. They seek to intensify land use. In economic terms, the “place entrepreneurs” at the center of the growth coalitions are trying to maximize “rents” from land and buildings, which is a little different than the goal of the corporate community — maximizing profits from the sale of goods and services.

Unlike the capitalist, the place entrepreneur’s goal is not profit from production, but rent from trapping human activity in place. Besides sale prices and regular payments made by tenants to landlords, we take rent to include, more broadly, outlays made to realtors, mortgage lenders, title companies, and so forth. The people who are involved in generating rent are the investors in land and buildings and the professionals who serve them. We think of them as a special class among the privileged, analogous to the classic “rentiers” of a former age in a modern urban form.

The most typical way of intensifying land use is growth, and this growth usually expresses itself in a constantly rising population. A successful local elite is one that is able to attract the corporate plants and offices, the defense contracts, the federal and state agencies, and/or the educational and research establishments that lead to an expanded work force. An expanded work force and its attendant purchasing power in turn lead to an expansion of retail and other commercial activity, extensive land and housing development, and increased financial activity. It is because this chain of events is at the core of any developed locality that the city is for all intents and purposes a “growth machine,” and those who dominate it are a “growth coalition.”

Although the growth coalition is based in land ownership, it includes all those interests that profit from the intensification of land use. Thus, executives from the local bank, the savings and loan, the telephone company, the gas and electric company, and the local department store are often quite prominent as well. As in the case of the corporate community, the underlying unity within the growth coalition is most visibly expressed in the intertwining boards of directors among local companies. And, as with the corporate community, the central meeting points are most often the banks, where executives from the utilities companies and the department stores meet with the largest landlords and developers. There is one other important component of the local growth coalition: the daily newspaper. The newspaper is deeply committed to local growth so that its circulation and, even more important, its pages of advertising, will continue to rise. [And] labor unions often join the developers as part of the pro-growth coalition.

Rather obviously, the primary role of government is to promote growth according to this view. It is not the only function, but it is the central one, and the one most often ignored by those who write about city government. City departments of planning and public works, among several, become allies of the growth coalition with the hope that their departments will grow and prosper. In addition, government often provides the funds for the boosterism that gives the city name recognition and an image of togetherness, which are considered important by the growth coalitions in attracting industry, and government officials are expected to be the growth coalition’s ambassadors to outside investors.

The growth coalitions also have a well-crafted set of rationales, created over the course of many decades, to justify their actions to the general public. Most of all, this ideology is based in the idea that growth is about jobs, not about profits.

It never fails to amaze me how little these people figure in the plans and schemes of those who wish to transform towns in the direction of greater livability, sustainability, prosperity and democracy. While the civic group contingent provides checks and balances for the powers-that-be at the town hall, who minds the ballast on the side opposite the growth coalition so the boat does not capsize?

opaque power2

Political powers assembled off the radar can wreak a great deal of damage unless they are checked by another powerful group, one not under their thumb. And we all know that, right? We are all suffering from a global system where governments function, more and more, as glorified gofers and talking heads for the new sultanate: the shadowy, transnational coalition of bankers and financiers whose doings escape scrutiny and accountability. Similarly, if a town’s citizens have over generations permitted the growth coalition to turn their town hall into a servant of profit rather than common good, isn’t it utterly naïve to think that the civic group contingent could possibly provide adequate checks and balances to this formidable unholy alliance?

John Michael Greer has been making hints for some time about the benefits of old-fashioned benevolent societies from Freemasons to Moose to the Odd Fellows. Not so long ago, they played an important role in America’s public life, a role that stretches all the way back to the early days of the republic. Providing a powerful social presence in each community, they were committed to improve local quality of life above all. Most of these groups fell on hard times in the 50s and 60s as the result of the government taking over the caregiving functions which once provided inexpensive health care and other welfare benefits to member families. But I suspect there is more to the loss of membership. The 50s and 60s were also times of relentless pro-science propaganda (Better life through chemistry!) and the promotion of sober secularism (God is dead! Religion will fade by the end of the century!). In this opinion climate, the once secret inner workings of the lodges acquired a whiff of embarrassment. What I think of as the “silly hats, mumbo jumbo and secret handshakes” routine has seen its better days, and the only folks I know who still hang onto that particular style of old timey mystique and pageantry without loss of membership are the Latter Day Saints.

There was a very good reason why Freemasonry was first feared and persecuted, then infiltrated by the rich and famous (both Mozart and emperor Joseph II belonged). It had become an important locus of power through the creation of a trustworthy and united brotherhood devoted to the betterment of the human world and shielded from the prying eyes of the other powers-that-be.

Humans love social games that shroud their companionate doings with a veil of secrecy and throw in a dab of useful magic. Long ago, there were the secret rituals among awe-inspiring paintings and eerie echoing music in deep caves. Much later, the early Christians celebrated their love feasts well away from public view, hid in the catacombs, and signaled to each other through graffiti of fishes and other symbols. Various “heretics” of the Middle Ages, like the Brethren of the Free Spirit and later Anabaptists, walked from town to town, hiding in the cracks of the system, opening minds. Then came Freemasons and took Europe and America by storm. And now we have millions-strong computer gamer brotherhoods like the World of Warcraft, where devoted virtual-warriors ally with and battle each other in the interest of some benevolent vision, through magic powers they acquire along the way. The might of discreet alliances with other trusted people is immeasurable. It can more than counterbalance the power of money and influence peddling, as long as it has the numbers, the vision, and the unity.

There was a time in late 19th century America when obscure rural lodges came quietly into being, first in west Texas pioneer country. Much later, they gained fame as the Populist movement. Their secret lodges had all the various customary trappings of magic and spectacle and grew like Topsy, creating wildly popular cooperative arrangements that favored the interests of small farmers and ranchers. This alliance eventually spread into many states, and provided the grassroots power that nearly came to tipping the balance not only in state politics, but nationwide.

visiblepower

Close, but no cigar. They made a huge mistake. Forgetting their place in the scheme of things, they “outed” themselves in the eager hope of grabbing political positions with their chosen candidates. In other words, they moved into the civic group square in the diagram, while also playing politics in the government square. Having abandoned the place that gave them power, they were coopted. The elites of the growth coalition — the large landed interests, along with the robber barons and their helpers — lacking effective counterbalance, won. Again.

Taking Greer’s advice makes sense. It’s time to learn from the lodges of old, build on their templates, and with the help of skilled young computer gamers create new ones so opaque to the powers-that-be, and so imbued with a deep kind of magic suited for the 21st century, that their power will discreetly begin to right the balance that has wronged our world for so long. Only trustworthy people grown united and fired up by the zeal to make lives good again for each other and those who come after, will be able to finally put public governance on a sound footing and stage the second American Revolution. Do you object to the secret agendas of the elites? Then let us create our own secret agendas, ones that befit a free people devoted to furthering our common weal!


christian symbols

We’re born in a prison, raised in a prison
Sent to a prison called school
We cry in a prison, we love in a prison
We dream in a prison like fools
— Yoko Ono

Daniel Quinn speaks of the kids of the 60s, failing in their rebellion because they could not find the bars of the cage. He was wrong. They found the bars and got out, but before they got far they were herded back. That burst of the energy that was the late 60s could not have come from prisoners. Those were, for a moment in time, free people reveling in their freedom. And sowing fear among the wardens.

The precursor of our modern Babylonish prison was the Egyptian workhouse. It was a structure daylight struggled to penetrate, where young people (most of whom never survived past their early 20s) labored from dawn to dusk at the querns or the looms. By the door was a guard with a stick who sometimes let you step out for a few minutes into the sunshine for a bribe of your food ration.

Much later prisons for miscreants and dissidents were a similar affair but for the costs to the community, did not come into use until recently. What is the traditional prison? Again, it is four walls, a door that is locked, and a guard with a stick outside. What does the prison accomplish? It severs contact between the prisoners and the outside world. It puts hard-to-cross distance between them and their fellows. But it’s expensive, obvious, produces resentment and wastes “human resources.” Not suitable in situations where great masses of people must be made to obey and in effect live permanently imprisoned, trapped within a twilight life on a treadmill going nowhere.

Babylon’s pervasive modern prison is a direct descendant of the Egyptian workhouses. Far more sophisticated, it employs many more tricks and lures to keep people in than just distancing separation and guards with sticks. Nevertheless, its basis is the same. Once trapped, you work for your food until you weaken. I feel a weird sort of admiration for those who have schemed to improve the prison system that is Babylon: they finally came up with something far far sneakier. Something very smart. Cheap, invisible, and self-maintaining, it is the dream of all jailers come true.

They began to shape culture and society in such a way as to systematically put distance between us. Think about it. A prison is a place that cuts you off from your fellows. A wall can do it. But so can …… just …………………… space. Greater and greater emptiness, stretching long and daunting. Hard-to-cross distance. Unreachable-ness. Greater and greater psychological atomization and imposed solitude around each human being makes is harder and harder to reach others, to enter into relationships with them, to trust them, and to gain the skills of working together.

Just think of the 20th century way of childhood. At birth, the baby is yanked away from the mother, cooped up in a nursery of little strangers equally distraught. The comforting breast is denied via “scientific formula” and the child spends its days in a crib, a pram, a pen, isolated from the daily activities and human warmth, human touch. Then the child enters school, another form of distancing and isolation, this time from his or her own family, the life of the community, and children older or younger. The child is even forced to sit alone, away from their fellows (at least in America; in Europe, we sat two by two, and it helped build friendships and cut the pain). Helping each other survive this institutionalized, dulled existence is called cheating. And the constant ranking and fear-mongering are among the tools that drive the real lessons home.

As adults, we go through the motions, isolated and infantilized, hoping to find a friend or a mate who will heal the pain. But many people are too wounded to truly reconnect. Watching the spectacle medicates their loneliness. Television increases the space between people as they stare, hypnotized, at a screen and forget how to relate to the people next to them. So does preoccupation with gadgets. I was recently subjected to the airport experience after many years. Have you noticed? The travelers no longer talk to each other; they are deeply engaged with machines.

Such practices have raised generations of people forced to live as narcissists, cut off from one another where ever they go, from birth on. Narcissists do not relate. They obey those above them, command those below them, and enter into formal associations with those they think equal. They are “not available” for real relationships. Babylon has condemned us all to a form of solitary confinement without walls.

I am of course not the first to note the increasing space between human beings in modern times. Psychologists have tried to heal the resulting pain, and sociologists have studied and rued this isolation. It’s been thought of as some sort of unavoidable side effect of modern living. I don’t think so. I think it’s contrived… not via a conspiracy, but by steady application of very old strategies that insert more and more narcissist “genes” into the body politic. The narcissists each do it because they know how, and because it serves their interests. But we can fight back with reconnection “genes.” It gladdens my heart that some of the rebels now practice “attachment (or continuum) parenting,” raising a generation of sane young people who expect connections with others, and have the skills and experience to make them work.

In the 60s, with the help of … who knows?… music, drugs, luck and spunk, the young prisoners discovered the invisible bars of the prison and broke them, simply by coming together, shrinking the distance, boldly crossing the yawning chasm. To talk real stuff. To play and be silly. To expand mind and behavioral frontiers. To be honest. To practice generosity and fairness. To learn to love in ways not sanctioned by Babylon’s overseers. No wonder they turned their new culture into one long celebration!

And then the kids infected the women, imagine! Women began to meet in intimate groups, talking real stuff and changing their lives. There was so much hope then. What is “sisterhood” but stepping out of the prison and trekking across that barren plain to hug another woman, tell her a story and truly listen to hers, be honest with your own hidden truths and feelings, find shared ground, and support one another as caring humans do?

Some were able to continue. A caravan of buses from San Francisco started the Farm in Tennessee, to continue the reconnection begun in Haight-Ashbury. Groups of young women started women-only spaces where, they hoped, they could continue to relate as sisters. Some folks hung on in small back-to-the-land communities. Family power relationships were never quite the same. And temporary autonomous zones were formed; the Rainbow Family Gatherings, and now Burning Man. But all in all, most of the kids, and most of the women, were soon herded back into the invisible prison. The prison, sure enough, got a little more comfortable; the hard edges of harassment were cleaned up. Concessions to prisoners were made, while new distancing tools were put into place to prevent a future breakout.

It is instructive to take a good look at what the escapees missed. After all, if you are a prisoner dreaming of a break, there are three key issues on your mind: how to find the bars of the cage, how to get out, and how to stay out. They succeeded with the first two. They failed at the third. They forgot about the guards with sticks.

In a prison built out of social and psychological isolation, who are the guards? They are the narcissists themselves who jealously guard the only reality they feel comfortable with: one where no real relationships are needed or asked for; an impersonal culture where everything possible is commodified, institutionalized, mediated, and ranked. For simplicity’s sake, I have been calling them narcissists. But they range from sociopaths, through various misers, trolls, egomaniacs, power hogs, self-aggrandizers, to bullies and dicks of various shades. You know… the disruptors of friendly human relations. The defectors from cooperation. The dementors who seek to suck the milk of human kindness from the world.

Ah heck… it’s really simple. They are the assholes always lurking nearby to ruin your office day, your volunteer meeting, your family gathering. One such asshole will ruin the pad you’ve generously opened up to other kids traveling through the area. One or two will handily dismantle a commune started by idealists. And they will certainly have no trouble sowing dissension among women still vulnerable to bully tactics, nor will they hesitate to trash capable leaders. A crew of skilled assholes will make sure that young visionaries give up en masse and disgustedly, dispiritedly run away from their former friends, telling anybody who wants to listen that human nature is just too warped. Getting away from each other, stretching the distance again, back into the prison. Go to work, nose to the grindstone, and stop dreaming silly dreams. Money is the sure thing…

The assholes stand ready to disrupt any occasion where human beings suddenly and despite great odds come together in peace, love, and understanding. A flag goes up, and they rush to put into place the many tools of disconnection they have at their disposal. One of the most important is the “divide and conquer” strategy. The sister-women were successfully divided from traditional women who were not ready to rock the boat. They were divided from women who wanted to stay at home and raise families, and thought this, and volunteer work for their community, was a very satisfying way to live. Traitors to the cause! Some of the theoreticians of the women’s movement who had been given comfortable posts within the academic establishment were encouraged to move way out to the batshit-furious fringe, so that women began to leave the movement in droves. Women who passionately believed that safe abortion must be available, and those who equally passionately believed in nurturing human fetuses, were divided by a cultural war and bitter hatred that still simmers in the body politic. And power-hogging leaders moved into key roles of women’s political organizations that came to play prisoners’ games.

But of course, most assholes are not bigtime players. They simply act to make our day-to-day lives more stressful, more miserable; they make sure that when we do dare to come together, bridging the fearsome gap, they stand ready to make the experience unpleasant. Just imagine one of those meetings you went to for a cause you believed in… Do we need to go over the disappointing, ego driven, alienating, silencing, crazy-making, painful experience? On second thought, let’s not. Let us imagine another world instead. You come to the meeting, are warmly welcomed, and someone is asked to be your buddy, sharing with you the basics of the group. She slips you a handout that will explain in more detail when you get home. The interesting speaker keeps to 30 minutes as promised, stays true to topic, answers several questions, and then the group moves into a friendly and leisurely exploration of the issues raised where all voices are heard. At the end, your new buddy stops by again and invites you to the next gathering, maybe mentioning a really cool event they are working on; would you like to help? They sure could use your talents!

You think you died and went to heaven. Turning to the person who organized the meeting, you pop the question. My goodness, an enjoyable meeting that works! How did you do this? The friendly bear of a man who goes under the name of Dwight Towers cracks a big laugh. Simple, he says. We put in place the “no asshole rule.” It changed everything.

I believe that mycelium is the neurological network of nature. Interlacing mosaics of mycelium infuse habitats with information-sharing membranes.
– Paul Stamets

Over on Dwight Towers, “abeyance structures” have been mentioned in a spirit of gloom. DT tells us: “Essentially, what I am advocating is “abeyance structure” work. It’s not sexy, it’s probably pointless. But I don’t see the extremes of continuing to make Big Plans for Big Demonstrations and “Giving Up” as options. This seems like the Third Way?”

What are abeyance structures? “The political organisations and networks of people who keep a political movement alive in times of relative inactivity. Abeyance structures are often hidden from the wider public, but they play a special role in ensuring the continuance of radical ideas, tactics, identities and traditions.” – from Activist Wisdom, by Scalmer & Maddison

These good folks have it upside down. The real, living, critical, nurturing, necessary, primary work is the one that happens in the dark, in the grassroots, in the fertile soil, underground. Let me offer, by way of analogy, the lowly, crafty, possibly immortal mycelium. Mycelium is the vegetative part of a fungus, consisting of a mass of branching, thread-like hyphae, living in soil and decaying wood.

One Armillaria mycelium in Oregon is estimated to be at least 2400 years old and spreads over 890 hectares. While we may admire a delicate morel growing out from the soil or a cluster of honey mushrooms emerging out of a stump, it is the out-of-sight (and often forgotten) mycelium that is the essential part of the organism.

Mycelium begins its revolutionary, life-enhancing work by spreading widely yet inconspicuously, branching and linking, waxing strong. Then, when the conditions are right, the show begins. Mushrooms and toadstools – the colorful and multifarious fruits of the mycelia – rise overnight from the nurturing substrate and bloom forth in amazing profusion, lasting but a few days, feeding critters, opening minds, gifting the world with beauty, seeding other mycelia, and subsiding. You pluck one here, ten others pop up over there. You kick one apart, and the spores spread even more lavishly. No wonder fungi are among the most successful organisms on the planet.

Mycelium is pure fairy magic. Paul Stamets (of Mycelium Running) speculates that mycelium functions as a natural internet. There is no doubt it can remediate poisoned land. Could it also help us remediate a society poisoned by unrelenting abuse of power?

In the world of resistance activism, creating political events full of high energy and drama is a lot of work, and when these “fruiting bodies” die down, nothing’s left. The masses, somehow, go on their same old same old way. The legislators keep on passing toxic laws, undeterred. And the living planet keeps on being killed, piece by piece. Disappointment, over and over.

On the other hand, guerrilla dissenters are the spores and hyphae, sinking through the grassroots into the soil, grouping, flowing, forking, communicating, forming under-the-radar alliances… growing a resilient power-sharing culture. And when the conditions are right, fruiting bodies – guerrilla theatres, carnivals, flashmobs, encampments, and many other unique happenings — emerge, often spontaneously; they blossom for a time and vanish. Forget about boring marches and angry, futile protests. These showy, one-of-a-kind, playful excrescences bring fun and creativity to the streets, and draw people from all walks of life to join in. They are a play of light and color and sound; ephemera. Cut loose, cut loose from the dreary quotidian! Just like we have taught one another when and how to use nonviolence, we can teach each other to spark joy. Show the passers-by you’ve got something special; contagious, ebullient, irresistible. The vaster the mycelium, the more extravagant the fruiting bodies arising from the fertile undergrowth. Freed from the need to make the show into something big and lasting, we can play. When the mycelium thrives, the mushrooms take care of themselves.

UKUncut? Ephemeral. Anti-nuclear action to stop the train bringing spent rods into Germany? Ephemeral. Climate camp? Ephemeral. Tunisian la Qasba, Tahrir Square? Ephemeral. No sense regretting their fading and disappearance. The ephemera, like other intense moments, are to be lived to the hilt. They are not meant to be extended into the everyday. If, inconspicuous, we seed an abundance of afterculture undergrowth now, every warm and moisty morning will see fruiting bodies emerge. The fruiting bodies offer up their spores to the breezes and fade. The mycelium endures.

Rob Hopkins writes in his recent rebuttal to those who would push resistance activism into the Transition movement:

What I am trying to say I guess comes back to that quote I keep using from Tove Jansson’s ‘Comet in Moominland’:

“It was a funny little path, winding here and there, dashing off in different directions, and sometimes even tying a knot in itself from sheer joy. (You don’t get tired of a path like that, and I’m not sure that it doesn’t get you home quicker in the end).”

What I take from the Moomin quote is that perhaps an approach which approaches change like inoculating a community with mycorrhizal fungus that runs and spreads and pops up in the most unexpected places but which operates below the radar will, in the long run, be more successful than traditional activism.

Listen to the mycelium. Mycelium knows.

Guerrillas can do it to you in ways you’ll never know.
— Rosemary O’Leary

“Most subordinate classes through most of history have rarely been afforded the luxury of open, organized, political activity. Or, better stated, such activity is dangerous, if not suicidal. Formal, organized political activity is typically the preserve of the middle class and the intelligentsia; to look for peasant politics in this realm is to look largely in vain.

Peasant rebellions are few and far between. The vast majority is crushed unceremoniously. When, more rarely, they succeed, it is a melancholy fact that the consequences are seldom what the peasantry had in mind. Whatever these revolutions may achieve, they also typically bring into being a vaster and more dominant state apparatus that is capable of battening on its peasant subjects even more effectively than its predecessors.” – James C. Scott

When it comes to radical political opposition, we are all peasants. The middling classes have been seduced by the propaganda of democracy into thinking we can work through the system to effect significant reform. It’s a mirage. Flinging ourselves at the rigid, malfunctioning bureaucratic institutions we have inherited, writing petitions, calling politicians, marching, speechifying, vote monitoring, we expend energies feeding the very system we oppose. It’s as though democracy has become a myth that binds us rather than an ideal that frees us.

The time has grown late to set hopes on grudging concessions from a rotten system that desperately wants to keep going a while longer. The ruling elites have so much power and such an intense web of debt in place that they may well be coming close to returning to the naked brutality of past ages, enabled by all the magic of fabulous technical and scientific know-how and wealth at their disposal. Power-mad people armed to the gills with fancy gadgets are a dangerous force to contend with indeed. We are facing a vast Thing that is corrupt and bloated almost beyond our imaginings. It’s a prison on wheels, an out of control, runaway monster-train heading for the cliff, intending to take us all with it. And we fiddle-faddle in our second class carriages with protests, a basketful of good ideas, wishful thinking and slogans?! Get real.

Take, for example, the Women in Black who had emerged in the US as a way of protesting the war in Iraq. Standing near a local landmark every Friday with their placards and black togs, they hoped to ignite something bigger. That something never took off. What they did well was signal to government agents charged with sabotaging anti-war activists: “We want to make your jobs easy! Here we are! Come get our names, start your dossiers, send in agents provocateurs, and make our lives difficult.” Isn’t this utter drop-a-brick-on-your-head idiocy?

When Napoleon Bonaparte marched his 50,000 pillaging soldiers into Spain in 1808, he thought he’d seize an easy victory. By 1811, there were some 300,000 soldiers, still getting nowhere, and by 1814, the demoralized remainder slunk back to France. Dreams of a quick conquest had turned into Napoleon’s “Spanish ulcer.” How did it happen? Perhaps the most important factor was one of the most successful and widespread uses of guerrilla warfare in the West. The Spaniards knew they could not best the French in open combat. Instead, they bedeviled the enemy troops in thousands of little raids, using the twists and turns of the land to their own advantage. The French could hold a piece of territory, but as soon as they moved, the guerrillas, spontaneously volunteering from all levels of society, took back that ground. They interrupted the invaders’ supply and communication lines, revenged brutality to local populations by sudden small yet damaging attacks and quick retreats, and tied down French troops with much lesser expenditure of men and energy. It was these doughty Spaniards who gave irregular, sneaky warfare its name. Guerrilla warfare is a form of conflict that has a solid history of significant victories in grossly unequal situations. Cuba (vs. US-supported Batista), Yugoslavia (vs. the Germans, and later as an effective threat to the Soviets), and Afghanistan (vs. the Soviet Union) are but three samples highlighting a long and impressive history.

How would we do it if we were serious about winning? Serious about taking the planet back from the plunderers? Serious about ending our complicity and cooptation? Serious about not settling for shiny crap in corporate servitude, and moving on to a life worthy of human beings? Serious about defending this livingness to which we belong… with all we got? If we were serious, wouldn’t we take lessons from all the successful guerrilla campaigns of the past? Not to wage war, but to engage (or rather disengage!) the Leviathan on a level favorable to our cause. Not face-on. Never face-on.

Let me repeat: I am not advocating a war against the Leviathan. As I have argued elsewhere, forcible overthrows of current orders usually install another version of dominator elite, and resistance tends to ricochet. I am trying to highlight the difference between “in-your-face” resistance versus something else that is already growing in the grassroots. Guerrilla dissent.

Noting with alacrity the historical success of guerrillas in David vs. Goliath type of struggles, I wonder: how is it that revolutionaries have flocked to give their lives at the barricades or, more ignominiously, in plodding resistance to bureaucracies without a heart? Institutions, no matter how big or powerful, are poorly equipped to deal with guerrilla action! To address gross public mismanagement and malfeasance by those who are vastly more powerful than the people on the receiving end, what else but guerrilla dissent can succeed?

American Revolution began as guerrilla dissent. People quietly talking with trusted kin and neighbors, and discreetly building the incipient political infrastructure (committees of safety, committees of correspondence) that gradually evolved into more and more responsibility, local power and regional intelligence. As British abuses intensified and pro-American sentiments grew, they were ready to respond to new opportunities. Bolder acts were undertaken. Tories were noted, watched, and often disarmed. Local loyalist officials were hounded to resign. The situation never degenerated into chaos. The people themselves gradually assumed new political roles.

Savvy guerrilla dissenters avoid direct confrontation because they are neither interested in losing nor in making symbolic gestures. Would Fred Hampton still be alive if Black Panthers had followed guerrilla dissent strategies? Hampton worked hard to build up the black communities in Chicago through nonviolence and mutual aid, but the organization’s brash, militant, in-your-face stance had so alarmed the establishment that it was closely followed by law enforcement, and eventually, many of its leaders were eliminated. Hampton was assassinated point blank in his apartment, lying down, unarmed, simply because he was a capable and rising leader with a good sense for bringing people together.

We must never forget that the powers aligned to guard status quo do not need the provocation of violence or vandalism to mount their powers to sabotage and disable us. They have a vast network of spies keeping track of little old Quaker ladies who are against the war; why would they put up with anti-Leviathan rebels who want to bring about a very different social order? They don’t care if we are nice nonviolent middle class folks. When their radars are touched by the whiff of mutiny, they spring to action. They have the personnel and the snoop tools. Let’s not underestimate them no matter how reasonable or innocuous our actions are.

The job of guerrilla dissenters is not to resist the Leviathan, but to stop feeding it. Our job is not to resist the PTB, but rather to grow another kind of power and another way of life. Because both will be vigorously undermined if done visibly and loudly, guerrilla tactics are called for. It’s as clear-cut as that.

— wayfinding aid for ongoing series —

  • Logic of Power: even when resistance of the underdogs wins, the underdogs step into the shoes of the old elite and become the new dominators
  • Vive la résistance? Au contraire: resistance gives energy to the opposition which the opposition uses against the resisters
  • And a corollary: resistance puts the focus on “them” and “what we don’t want” (another energy drain)

    This seems to be the gist of Deep Green Resistance, being promoted by Derrick Jensen and friends (with a book forthcoming). Focus on the hated civ. Focus on bringing down what we don’t want. Giving the gift of energy to that we do not wish to promote… 😕

  • Resistance is readily coopted and commodified (see Sandy Krolick’s essay on his KulturCritic blog or on Guy McPherson’s blog with many comments)
  • Resistance helps the opposition evolve, just like pushing against bugs and pathogens with nasty chemicals helps them evolve stronger, wilier, more powerful forms.

    As Bill Mollison puts it: “Eventually the work we did became the basis for regenerative work, and for legislation; but the principle remains the same. We were protesting right from the 1950s, but whenever we did anything, we always set up a stronger suppression and denial. Police became armed. Next time we faced the police, we found they were dressed up like something from outer space. We would drive a spike into a tree, so when it went into the wood-chipping machine, the machine would fly to pieces. Next thing, there are armed guards with metal detectors. We found we were building a huge oppressive force, run jointly by the state and industry against their own people. Our phones were tapped, nice thick files were drawn up, later fed into computers and sent to the CIA.”

  • Resistance deepens the “us vs. them, divide and conquer” paradigm, weakening us and making us more vulnerable
  • Hegel was wrong. When political resistance kicks in, it rarely leads to thesis/antithesis/synthesis. It too often traps us in oscillation between two extremes: thesis/antithesis/anti antithesis/anti anti antithesis, and so on, ad nauseam. Nobody ever quite gets what they want and need. I want to get off the resistance see-saw!
  • Organized resistance provides an anvil for the hammer of power.

The series on alternatives has begun. First, the intimations of what they may be:

Second, the how, the strategies: