Not for me

29 June 2012, morning

I’m in Chicago—or perhaps I should say Rosemont, a suburb of Chicago adjacent to the O’Hare Airport—for the 2012 Socialism Conference. I probably won’t do it again.

Don’t get me wrong. The sessions look wonderful. My hotel room is entirely comfortable. I am, as I write this, discovering whether Wolfgang Puck, the purveyor of coffee packets here, knows what coffee is—it’s actually difficult to tell because the usual U.S. palate for coffee demands that it be prepared much too weak. And oh my, this is weak.

The Internet is problematic. It now appears I will not be able to finish writing this until after my return. The hotel wants a ridiculous amount of money for their connection so I’m resisting—as best I can—using it, but Verizon’s 3G network is apparently so stretched in these parts that my smartphone’s hotspot function mostly just doesn’t work and even Internet access on the phone itself is pretty uneven. I’m reduced to reading my email on my phone’s tiny screen and this blog entry will ultimately be a composite of several days’ impressions, which I will mark off in diary form, but I will nonetheless develop further and revise as I go on.

The real problem is that there are apparently no vegan options near O’Hare airport. I was counting on a restaurant—one of two that were supposedly in this hotel—to at least offer something. It no longer exists. I went to the remaining restaurant in desperation last night and they brought out my spaghetti with marinara sauce with parmesan cheese already sprinkled on. This morning, they want something like $17 for access to the breakfast buffet—where I could eat a bowl of oatmeal. And the Internet situation is hampering my search for alternatives. For the moment I have oatmeal bars my mother baked for me—because the vegan options appeared sketchy even as I planned this trip—and some trail mix and potato chips I found in the hotel gift shop. The latter two items cost me nearly $10.

As I flew out here, I began reading Christopher Hayes’ very recently released Twilight of the Elites[1] Hayes is no anarchist but he exposes “meritocracy” as self-defeating in ways I presently think I’ll be citing in the future. His model for governance rather requires both what he calls institutionalists—who seem roughly related to the structural conservatives I describe in an early version of what increasingly looks like my dissertation proposal[2]—and those he calls insurrectionists. As he puts it, “Progress is dependent upon a productive and dynamic tension between institutionalism and insurrectionism. Insurrectionists keep our institutions honest. Instituionalists are stewards of our collective public life.”[3]

Those two sentences are loaded in so many ways—which reflect Hayes’ prejudices—that I would need a few entries to unpack them. But one aspect I want to focus also appeared in a session I attended last night on the Quebec students’ uprising, presented jointly by a past and a present president of the student union there. One of the topics that cropped up is one that has threatened to divide Canada in two, that is, a conflict between francophone Quebecois and the anglophone rest of Canada. I’m not going to get into the grievances these two groups have against each other; I simply don’t know enough about them. But the presenters noted that they were now in dialog with anglophone students and that there was a valuable exchange between them, with the francophones offering organizational advice and the anglophones offering advice about inclusion and diversity.

Part of the problem with the latter is in the way we view the distinction between anglophones and francophones—a duality—and between Hayes’ categories of institutionalists and insurrectionists. There is a certain holism when each of these pairs come together that is supposed to make us think all is right. Something similar can be seen in the Tao Te Ching:

Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty only because there is ugliness.
All can know good as good only because there is evil.

Therefore having and not having arise together.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short contrast each other;
High and low rest upon each other;
Voice and sound harmonize each other;
Front and back follow one another.

Therefore the sage goes about doing nothing, teaching no-talking.
The ten thousand things rise and fall without cease,
Creating, yet not possessing,
Working, yet not taking credit.
Work is done, then forgotten.
Therefore it lasts forever.[4]

But to accept these dualities and to leave them there is in fact a misreading both of Lao Tsu’s intent and similar understandings to be found in Buddhism. First, such categories are essentialist. It doesn’t matter whether you’re female, male, white, brown, or fall into any of a number of other categorizations we so often rely upon. What matters is whether you’re institutionalist or insurrectionist, or anglophone or francophone. These categories obscure tremendous diversity. They also end up reifying the colonizer/colonized distinction that colonizers employ to rationalize their rule.[5]

It is true, as I have previously observed, that in many ways the power elite are relatively homogeneous.[6] But to treat the colonized that way is to end up pitting the colonized against each other, with some feeling excluded, with a consequence that resistance to elite rule is weakened.[7]

The student movement in Quebec, among other things, is seeking to reach out to traditional organized labor—not so much the union organizations themselves that pay lip service to student demands, but rather the workers themselves. All are being victimized by the rulers’ neoliberal austerian agenda. And there is some evidence that historically, successful uprisings need both students and workers.[8] They will need to overcome the divisions that divide.

Second, it is a mistake to assign categorizations too much reality. Yes, there are differences between light and dark, good and evil. But the concepts of light, dark, good, and evil only have meaning because humans assign those meanings in contrast to each other. What I’m trying to get to here is a sense similar to the ones I have of truth and falsity: There is no theory of truth that bears scrutiny.[9] We are always somehow relying on somewhat dodgy assumptions when we proclaim truth. And if we cannot reliably tell what truth is, then we cannot reliably know the difference between fact and fiction.

Indeed, both Edward Said[10] and Toni Morrison[11] rely on novels to inform us about the societies in which authors write. The distinction between fact and fiction thus threatens to blind us to a lot of what’s going on. So it is with categories such as good and evil, light and dark, insurrectionist and institutionalist, and francophone and anglophone.

29 June 2012, midday

The weather here is amazing. Yesterday, when I got off the plane, it was like walking into an oven. It never really cooled off last night; this morning when I was desperately seeking something to eat, it still felt like an oven. But by the time I was trying to find my second session, there was a thunderstorm and it was pouring down rain. It’s still overcast and the streets are wet.

In California, the weather, particularly during summer, is mostly spectacularly monotonous.

I am being struck by the caliber of people in attendance at this conference. Many are committed Marxists, and some could use some work on their public speaking skills—a woman from Australia stood up next to me and actually did pretty well, but I wanted to tell her to breathe because she was plainly (to me) nervous, and there are others who have done astonishingly poorly, particularly in organizing their comments (which were generally allowed up to three minutes in length) and in filled pauses—but the vast majority have made valuable contributions in the early sessions. But I will have more to say about the intellectual scope that these Marxists avail themselves of and it is possible that they seem so bright because they have focused their intellectual endeavors narrowly and in the later sessions I started to sense 1) that there is a certain amount of egoism in people demonstrating knowledge in this way, and 2) that there is such an ideological sameness that they may be attempting to prove they have absorbed their canon.

But something these Marxists—some anyway—are coming to grips with is that the class war is not just about class, that race is explicitly a means used to divide especially poor whites from poor people of color.[12] But particularly with indigenous people, many have tended to treat them as a monolithic entity. While a pan-Indian movement has arisen, there are countless groups who have distinct cultures and traditions, whose stories are different, and whose struggles in various ways continue today,[13] but who will generally have a different view of Marx’s notion of stages of development, whose desired end-point may be communal but may not entail a capitalist industrial stage or a particularly industrial-exploitive culmination.

While race and ethnicity have appeared, I’m so far hearing little to nothing about gender, sexual preference, or ability. Ironically, it was the speakers from Quebec last night who acknowledged that they perhaps were not the best representatives of their movement because they were both male—and these were the ones explaining that it was the anglophones explaining to them about inclusiveness. Both speakers I’ve heard this morning have been white males, one talking about the history of Jim Crow laws, and one talking about indigenous peoples and environmental justice. The irony was intense as the moderator at the Jim Crow session was black and the moderator at the indigenous people and environmental justice session looked light she might be of indigenous heritage, yet these people were authoritative only in that they controlled the flow of the sessions while white males presented as intellectual authorities. A good portion of my research program at Saybrook has been about enabling people to speak for themselves and even the Marxists in the audience are coming to understand that while Marx may have something to offer indigenous people, indigenous people also have something to offer us.

29 June 2012, evening

The International Socialist Organization that’s putting this on is clearly not an organization I should join. Differences and contradictions came into sharp view for me this afternoon. First was a session on the conflict between Michel Bakunin and Karl Marx, which never mentioned Peter Kropotkin, yet monolithically criticized anarchism for lacking any theoretical grounding, for being elitist in despair at the prospects for working class support for a free society, and for using terms such as ‘freedom’ and ‘the state’ and ‘authority’ uncritically, but perhaps more troublingly illustrated the problems these people see Black Bloc tactics creating. I almost spoke up, but it would have been me against the entire room in what was certainly not one of the smaller conference rooms in the hotel.

Certainly it is true that some anarchists do not focus on theoretical considerations. But it is a sign of intellectual sloppiness to generalize from them, as this speaker did, to all anarchists. If anything, I would accuse the Marxists of obscuring the fundamentally coercive nature of the state by attaching importance to the question of whether the state is slaveholding, feudal, or capitalist in nature when what these forms of the state share in common far outweighs the differences among them. They seem to be attempting to create the possibility of a ‘good’ state, perhaps because they seek to seize the organs of the state, and so I am unconvinced that they would ever allow the state to “wither away.” Further, while they express sympathy for and solidarity with undocumented workers, they express no awareness that the state as a territorially bounded entity manifests an in-group/out-group relationship, in which (some) human rights are only recognized for insiders, and outsiders are deprived of (even more) rights.[14] I would suggest that my understanding of authority is in fact quite nuanced, that I now recognize (and am open to the possibility that there may be more) self-actualized authority, coercive (legal) authority, and social (as in work and family relations) authority; I have yet to hear any Marxists recognize these types of authority or to discuss the sorts of power-over, power-to, and power-with relationships that others have identified.[15] Admittedly, many of my understandings can be derived form non-anarchist sources, but what matters more is the quality of my—and other anarchists’—development of the ideas we draw upon, whether in fact they lead to a coherent argument in support of anarchism.

By contrast, it is almost as if Marxists have adopted a “not invented here” attitude toward any anarchist intellectual development, and that while they are particularly dismissive of anarchists, they will favor their own great names over any outside intellectual development. This is less severe than what I observed of conservatives, who seemingly only cite and discuss the work of a relatively small number of their own “great” names,[16] but still indicative of a narrow intellectual scope.

The irony of this attitude toward the Black Bloc, whom speaker after speaker in the comments condemned for hijacking protests, turning them violent, and placing children and undocumented migrants in jeopardy, became apparent in the second session I attended, where it was very clear that the police are seen as a problem. What I have said in the past about police, which I thought to be quite harsh an analysis, pales before the presented history of how police forces were formed relatively early in the 19th Century, and what people in the room had to say about police. There is no illusion expressed here that police are “part of the 99 percent” or that they are anything other than enforcers for the power elite who act contrary to working class interests. And this would clearly have been the wrong place to offer a defense of “stop and frisk” tactics employed by the New York Police—and which San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee advocates.[17]

Which is what makes the comments about the Black Bloc in the first session interesting. First, the theory behind the Black Bloc is like that expressed by Earth First! and the Animal Liberation Threat in that they are supposed to be acting in defense of beings who are under immediate threat.[18] That’s certainly not the perception of anarchists—and some speakers made little or no effort to distinguish anarchists generally from the Black Bloc—I heard expressed this afternoon. Rather, they were described as kids ineffectively throwing bricks through windows and taking advantage of demonstrations to be destructive. Fortunately, some audience members sought offer considerably more nuanced views of anarchists.

Nonetheless, there can be little question that the people in attendance here are overwhelmingly adoring of Marx. And that’s not a particularly comfortable place for me to be.

29 June 2012, later evening

I’ve skipped the sessions this evening to get dinner. The one-way cab fare was more expensive than the dinner, so I walked a couple miles to a Whole Foods and bought some hummus, mini pita breads, and some cinnamon raisin bagels. As I was walking, I thought of an old friend I’ve long since lost contact with. I mostly knew him when he and I were both in San Francisco. The last time I saw him, he was living in Mariposa, near Yosemite. But he was from Chicago.

As I made that walk, I remembered how when he met someone else from Chicago, they would literally spend hours comparing landmarks. I don’t think the part of Chicago I walked across would have inspired that kind of devotion. It’s spread out like the part of Sacramento where I lived when I attended American River College, but much flatter—not that anyone but maybe someone from Chicago would accuse that part of Sacramento of being particularly hilly—and the houses would not have seemed particularly out of place in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where I hung out for a couple years when I lived there as a kid.

But the trees that line the streets here caught my attention. They’re nice tall trees that have been allowed—in contrast to so much architecturally planned landscape I see—to grow nice and tall so they can provide shade. The route from the restaurant to Whole Foods took me through and past a long green belt that didn’t really seem to be a park; I was walking on a cigarette butt-strewn shoulder. It didn’t remind me of the Presidio of San Francisco which I also lived near when I was a kid, but I suppose that’s the closest analog.

30 June 2012, morning

Trying to read email on my phone is really, really, really getting old. The phone itself is too slow to run the applications I have on it—even though it is brand new. But in combination with the 3G Internet connection here, it’s nearly impossible. It’s infuriating. I’ve pulled the battery out to reset the phone at least five times this morning because it just starts doing things completely unrelated to what I want it to do and of course what ever those things are, the phone treats them as vastly more important than what I want it to do. The phone is variously claiming that it either detects or fails to detect its SIM card, that it can or cannot detect any GMS/UMTS networks.

30 June 2012, midday

So yet another presentation on anarchism, this time on a “critical” history of anarchism, that omits Peter Kropotkin. The talking points that seem to emerge here again paint anarchists as people to be won over, as often unreasonable people who undermine socialist organizing efforts, as individualist, and as violent. The Occupy movement, to the extent it is an anarchist uprising—and these Marxists seem to acknowledge it to be so, at least in part—also comes in for criticism and is seen in the past tense rather than as ongoing, and as having achieved limited results. But one audience member noted that the reason we are talking about anarchism is that Marxists do not obviously have an answer to the dilemma posed by Bakunin, that once the mechanisms of power are seized by the working class, the leaders—and the emergence of leaders is deemed inevitable—will constitute a new elite.[19] And one would have to observe that Kropotkin, who authored Mutual Aid[20] does not fit into these Marxists’ narrative—a caricature really—of anarchism.

But advocates for decisionmaking by consensus may also need to answer a charge that this style amounts to an endurance contest, with those who remain at the end of an excrutiatingly long session, becoming the de facto leaders who decide by the least democratic means possible. Further, those who advocate the notion of creating anonymous spaces should perhaps address how they address a society-wide struggle for social justice.

For a change, the second session was presented by a woman. This is the first sign I’ve seen that these Marxists are willing to have someone who is not a white male present. She spoke first on who are the ruling class and how perceptions of wealth distribution in the U.S. differ dramatically from the reality of wealth distribution in the U.S. She also acknowledged that a lot of working class voters will choose Romney this November, which counters the “Marxist” (as possible contrast to what even Marx himself might have said) assumption of working class support. The fact that working class voters—especially white working class voters often vote against their own interest has been recognized by social scientists for some time now.[21] It undermines Marxists’ claim to represent the working class, but Marxists in turn accuse anarchists of inserting their own ideals for those of the working class. I can’t help but detect a scent of scapegoating.

I’m skipping the 2:00 pm session. My sleep schedule is all screwed up, both from jet lag and the fact that despite a relatively comfortable room, I really have not slept well.

30 June 2012, evening

I’m glad I rested. In a later session, Rick Wolff offered a substantive answer to the problems of authority in Marxism. First, he defines socialism as social control of the means of production in contrast to private control and as valorizing planning rather than markets for the distribution of goods and services. Second, he explains Das Kapital as explaining how surplus is created in volume 1, and how it is distributed through society in volumes 2 and 3. He argues that surplus arises because the only way capitalists will pay anyone to work is if workers produce more than they consume. Wolff elides here that surplus in fact arose in the Neolithic, with settled agriculture; surplus food production meant that not everyone had to be involved in food production and was what enabled the specialization of labor.[22] Wolff then argues that in our present society this surplus then goes to the very few capitalists who control what happens to it. To point to capitalists here is to obscure that even in the Neolithic, surplus food went to rulers—the elite—who were to store it for hard times such as famines.[23] It seems reasonable to assume that other specialized workers also produced surpluses—this is the rationalization for specialized labor—and that this formed the basis of even rudimentary trading relationships.

Notably, Wolff insists that there is never, in practice, a binary between planning and markets, that all societies have both in varying degrees. Wolff points to the planned allocation of resources in capitalist enterprises as an example of how this happens even in an ideologically market-driven society. He did not offer a similar justification for markets, saying only that putatively communist regimes never entirely did away with them, and one would certainly expect them in any competitive society. Wolff thus seems to place competition, rather than cooperation, beyond challenge. And it is competition that can be most obviously linked to hierarchy, since competition is about being the “best” or the most “efficient” or the most something and there seems to be some proximal relationship between these sorts of self-actualized hierarchy and coercive hierarchy.[24]

Wolff takes up the question that other sessions raised with their failure to answer, how workers seizing control of the state but still adopting a hierarchical system of organization still inevitably leads to tyranny by suggesting that workers must have some power to apply from the bottom up to balance the top-down power that the revolution produces. This power arises by democratizing the workplace—the workers themselves, organized democratically, must control the surplus and how it is distributed.

This is different from socialism as state control, in which as I characterized to my own students, there was really very little difference between putatively “communist” systems and putatively “capitalist” systems, where both systems were characterized by coercive hierarchy and the only difference lay in whether the economic elite were imagined to be distinct from the political elite. Wolff points to the example of Mondragon, which apparently is not “yet” a “workers’ paradise,” but is rather a work in progress.

Mondragon, as described, is a city in the Basque region of Spain, in the Pyrenees mountains, which following World War II, had been abandoned by capitalists. People there formed a collective in which workers are members, members have a vote, and they meet once a year to choose managers and to take decisions. Workers thus need to learn all the facets of the collective which in capitalist enterprise are reserved to managers. They, living in the region, also are concerned about social and environmental responsibility. Workers are assured jobs and they are assured of an income.

In many ways, the example of Mondragon appears to me more anarcho-syndicalist than Marxist and of course while it exists within the framework of a retained power of a state (Spain), it seems clear that they have little need or use for the state. A number of Marxists in the audience rose—with some indignation—to insist that this had been part of Marx’s intention all along. Perhaps, but it should be noted that Wolff is a professor emiritus whose specialty is economic history. He teaches Das Kapital. I’m guessing he knows his Marx. Beyond that, I’m leaving this point of contention alone.

What strikes me is that this image, both of the relationship between planning and markets and the relationship between top-down and bottom-up sources of power resembles the tension Hayes sees as necessary between insurrectionists and institutionalists. Hayes, too, sees coercive hierarchy as inevitable though we all aim toward a more egalitarian society—Hayes in fact argues that to get equality of opportunity (which favors advancement on the basis of talent and hard work), one must aim for equality of outcome. Where Hayes counts on insurrectionists to keep institutionalists honest,[25] Wolff counts on workers empowered through control of the surplus that they produce as keeping the state honest. Wolff says of his visit to Mondragon that the people there told him that if the Spanish government ever tried to mess with Mondragon, they would meet 85,000 very angry people—the membership of the cooperative—who are linguistically different (Basque is a very old language whose roots are not Latin), who are culturally different, and who are armed.

I had more trouble with the phone as sole Internet device this evening. While I had the back off, pulling the battery, I located and tried reseating the SIM card. Hopefully, that particular problem is now at least temporarily solved.

30 June 2012, later evening

“Police are the new Ku Klux Klan.” I didn’t get the name of the woman who said this, this evening. She is somehow related to Emmett Till, a 14-year old boy, dragged from his relatives’ home and murdered in Mississippi in 1955 by a white man infuriated that the boy had wolf-whistled at his wife. This incident, apparently, sparked the Civil Rights Movement; Till’s family, especially his now-deceased mother, have been active in civil rights and racist murder ever since.

I knew going in—I had to know—that this would be a tear-jerker. But if I had been impressed yesterday by comments made about the police, there could be no comparison then to the stories I heard tonight, from families—all of color—of young men murdered by racists, largely with impunity or at least drastically downgraded criminal charges, often under color of authority.

It was a dramatic shift from the white man as authority speaking about and for “others” that seemed a such a dominant theme at this conference, indeed what at Saybrook I have learned might be called performance ethnography. I worry about appropriating the stories of these families as I once again am amazed by these Marxists’ continuing attachment to the state, a state they clarify historically as being a slave state, a feudal state, or a capitalist state, but of which Max Weber explained a defining characteristic is that it monopolizes “legitimate” violence.[26] Further, we can be in no doubt that this violence is a product of a form of social organization that relies upon coercive hierarchy that arose with the specialization of labor that created surplus production.[27]

These families leave no doubt that the graffitti I found in Oakland, which declared, “Kill Cops, Not Neighbors,”[28] reflects a sentiment to be found in communities around the country, that too many cops see their uniform as a license to harass, to intimidate, and to kill, and that, as one participant explicitly stated, all cops are complicit in these crimes. These Marxists believe in the possibility of—I’m guessing they would call it—a “workers’ state.” What these Marxists mean, inescapably, is that “subaltern” people would then be coercively dominating other subaltern people. These Marxists do not recognize this blatant contradiction and yet in expressing the solidarity they do with these families, I cannot help but suspect they harness these families’ grief and rage in service to their own agenda even as they castigate those who pulled together the Occupy movement that, whatever its failings, has changed the conversation about social inequality in this country.

1 July 2012, midday

The attitude which these Marxists express toward anarchism—a sort of would-be wannabe voluntary colonization—dissuaded me from attending the session of the Spanish Civil War this morning. Instead, I attended a session on the origin of sexuality, in which these Marxists reduce monogamy to ownership of other human beings, a reduction that overlooks the potential mutuality of this “ownership.” But I’m also thinking perhaps that they have fingered the wrong suspect, that the accusation laid against monogamy might better be laid against marriage and the way our society structures marriage—as a contract, suggesting that each party has rights upon the other, that somehow reduces what should be a spiritual-emotional relationship to a legal and all-too-often monetary relationship.

The second session was about abolishing the prison system, a topic which Peter Kropotkin offers an early perspective on.[29] These Marxists, of course, do not acknowledge that contribution—I’m just sore because as an anarchist, I’m feeling rather abused—but in truth, they don’t need to; the case against the entire criminal injustice system as exists today is damning enough, even without a historical perspective. There is very little evidence that it is effective in reducing “crime” and it is indeed not hard to see how recidivism rates not only indicate failure but support a prison-industrial complex that not only warehouse “excess labor” but then effectively turns that labor into slave labor.[30] Kropotkin pointed out that a systematic dehumanization of human beings cannot hope to make better human beings[31] and it is difficult to construe solitary confinement and lockdown regimes as attempts even at rehabilitation. This is a morally bankrupt system, it is an ineffective system, and it is not hard for these Marxists to complain about it. But where these Marxists fall short is in envisioning an alternative: They suggest home confinement and fines but hope that a more just society will also eliminate the need for much punishment. The trouble is, that as outlined above, their approach cannot produce this more just society; it can at best hand over the levers of oppression to new hands. This is not a path to change. That path involves restorative justice, a phrase I did not hear uttered, that would end this coercive dominator system of social organization.[32]

1 July 2012, afternoon

Going through security at O’Hare airport, I flashed on an image of Japanese-Americans waiting in line on the way to the internment camps during World War II. People with the belongings they could carry, waiting in long lines controlled by uniformed personnel. I was thinking of the uncertainty—the fear—in their faces as they comply with a power over which they have no influence. Of course, my circumstances are completely different. Japanese-Americans had been forced to essentially abandon their belongings to go to concentration camps.[33] I am headed home following a conference I have distinctly mixed feelings about.

On the one hand, I have a much better picture of the socialist movement in the United States. And it is certainly not like I didn’t learn anything. On the other hand, their attitude toward anarchists, even as they claim—and they claimed it again at the final plenary this afternoon—that they “build struggle and solidarity” with left movements in the U.S. can only be alienating. In saying they are “build[ing] struggle and solidarity,” they as much as admit that they are seeking to latch on to other groups. They reinforce that impression when they claim that Marx informs them to expect an uprising but then admit they do not know where those uprisings will appear. And yet, they claim these uprisings as victories—even when they end ignonimously as with the defeated attempt to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

I suppose they bring energy. The final plenary began as groups in various parts of the room led boisterous and loud—very loud—chants that absolutely baffled me. It was not like the ruling class was present to hear these chants; they were chanting to themselves—like preaching to the choir. They claim to bring organizational skill; the International Socialist Organization is now 35 years old. But mostly they bring heart. Their intentions are good; it is their ideology that is deeply flawed.

But finally, this trip reinforces my dislike of commercial air travel. I had recurring problems keeping my cell phone—my only Internet connection for most of this trip—charged. I couldn’t easily or affordably get to vegan restaurants—yes, Chicago has a few, but I only visited one. And frankly, as far apart as the two experiences are, dealing with the Transportation Security Administration is much closer to the experience of Japanese-Americans on the west coast of the United States in World War II than I ever want to be.

UPDATE 7 July 2012: It turns out that my service plan with Verizon did not include hotspot functionality, which probably explains why it didn’t work in Chicago. It does not explain, however, why hotspot functionality initially seemed to work when I first got the phone.

  1. [1]Christopher Hayes, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy (New York: Crown, 2012).
  2. [2]David Benfell, “Research Proposal: Deconstructing Conservatism,”, April 20, 2012,
  3. [3]Hayes, Twilight of the Elites, 136.
  4. [4]Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching 25th Anniversary Edition, Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, trans. (New York: Vintage, 1997). chap. 2.
  5. [5]Edward W. Said, Culture and imperialism (New York: Vintage, 1994).
  6. [6]C. Wright Mills, “The Structure of Power in American Society,” in Great Divides: Readings in Social Inequality in the United States, 3rd ed., Thomas M. Shapiro, ed. (Boston: McGraw Hill, 2005), 139-145.
  7. [7]Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity (Durham, NC: Duke University, 2003).
  8. [8]Elizabeth J. Perry, “From Paris to the Paris of the East and Back: Workers as Citizens in Modern Shanghai,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 41, no. 2 (April, 1999): 348-373.
  9. [9]Bradley Dowden and Norman Swartz, “Truth,” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
  10. [10]Said, Culture and imperialism.
  11. [11]Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (New York: Vintage, 1992).
  12. [12]W. E. B. Dubois, “Black Reconstruction and the Racial Wage,” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, 4th ed., Charles Lemert, ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 242-245.
  13. [13]Said, Culture and Imperialism; Christopher Darius Stonebanks, “An Islamic Perspective on Knowledge, Knowing, and Methodology,” in Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies, Norman K. Denzin, Yvonna S. Lincoln, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith, eds. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008), 293-321.
  14. [14]Gloria Anzaldúa, “The New Metiza,” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, 4th ed., Charles Lemert, ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 552-558.
  15. [15]see, for example, Uri Gordon, Anarchy Alive! Anti-Authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory (London: Pluto, 2008).
  16. [16]Benfell, “Research Proposal.”
  17. [17]John Coté and Heather Knight, “Stop-and-frisk policy might cut violence, Ed Lee says,” San Francisco Chronicle, June 27, 2012,
  18. [18]Mark Bernstein, “Legitimizing Liberation,” in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals, Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella II, eds. (New York: Lantern, 2005), 93-105; Noel Molland, “Thirty Years of Direct Action,” in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals, Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella II, eds. (New York: Lantern, 2005), 75-80; Max Schnurer, “At the Gates of Hell: The ALF and the Legacy of Holocaust Resistance,” in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals, Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella II, eds. (New York: Lantern, 2005), 106-127; Robin Webb, “Animal Liberation—By ‘Whatever Means Necessary’,” in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals, Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella II, eds. (New York: Lantern, 2005), 81-90; Gary Yourofsky, “Abolition, Liberation, Freedom: Coming to a Fur Farm Near You,” in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals, Steven Best and Anthony J. Nocella II, eds. (New York: Lantern, 2005), 128-136.
  19. [19]Brian Morris, Bakunin: The Philosophy of Freedom (Montréal: Black Rose, 1993).
  20. [20]Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (Mineola, NY: Dover, 2006).
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4 thoughts on “Not for me

  • July 2, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    Lots of rich interesting material here. While I would not make a habit of it everyone at least once in their life pick up this gauntlet, “I almost spoke up, but it would have been me against the entire room in what was certainly not one of the smaller conference rooms in the hotel.” I did it during the cultural revolution during a meeting of the Lawyer’s Guild in New Mexico. Most of them didn’t believe in that crap anyway; at least they didn’t seem to have any trouble changing their views after the gang of four was rounded up.

    • July 3, 2012 at 11:16 pm

      Fred, you’re right. But I’ve been there, done that. Most recently the last time I was called in for jury duty. Actually, I do this every time I go in for jury duty. But it always arises early in the morning when I’m not at my best. So I’m rarely as effective as I’d like to be in pointing out that so-called justice has been reduced to law passed by wealthy white males against everyone else.
      There’s a particular mode of not-really-listening that’s called ambush. It means you aren’t listening to get as much of what the speaker has to say as possible, but are rather waiting for her or him to fall into your trap. And then you pounce. People don’t like it. It’s not a way to make friends and influence enemies. That’s what I would have had to do here and the structure of the sessions was such—and they were all structured the same way—that as soon as the main speaker finished, the session chairperson would start accumulating a “stack”—a list of audience members who wish to comment or ask questions. The effective power of the pounce here is muted, because you get your allotted time (usually three minutes initially, decreasing as time runs out) and that’s it. There’s no real exchange except that speakers following you can take a crack at you (and you’ll have no opportunity to respond); and the main speaker has time to prepare a response.
      But if I were to go back next year, being prepared for what they’re going to say, because you know it will be the same ideology, I might be able to pull it off.
      This was an expensive trip for me. I really don’t like being without my truck, which I’ve set up to keep all my electronics charged, and would have made this trip easier and a lot less stressful in a number of ways. (I could, for instance, have much more easily gotten to vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants.) So I’m really not likely to go back again.

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