Adam’s Fantasies

I run almost every day of the trip. Lately it’s been barefoot on the long beaches of the Atlantic. While I run, I think. Sometimes I fantasize. Sometimes it’s about revolution.

I am a panther.

I am a panther.

This particular fantasy is not meant to be realistic. It’s an anarchist creation myth. Like any creation myth, it’s more about helping us understand what something is than how it comes to be. So, to be clear, if we ever achieve a much more free and equal society, without private property, that could be described as anarchist, it certainly won’t come about in the way presented here. This is revolutionary bubblegum literature that also serves to highlight the differences and similarities between the world we have and the world we could have. So come, strap on your shoes, get this blog into an audio MP3, and fantasize with me. 🙂

It’s the culminating day of years of popular struggle for non-capitalist direct democracy. State authority has collapsed as a result of mass defections to the revolutionary cause and the people consider the egalitarian general assembly the most just and effective way for managing those affairs that require large-scale coordination.

On the first evening, the people take the first step. They agree to public policy (a recommendation, the compliance with which is based on trust, cooperation, and reason, rather than the threat of force) eliminating the use of money beginning the following day. The recommendation is to go about your day as you would, but leave the money out of it. The teachers don’t notice much of a difference, but the bank tellers have a pretty odd day.

On the second evening, the people take the second step. Those who don’t have enough of basic necessities are encouraged to take what they need. A child eats kale instead of Cheetos. He’s a bit unhappy with the revolution at the moment, but probably less likely to die of diabetes. A foreclosed family moves back into their home. The doctors are launched into weeks of chaos.

On the third evening, the people take the third step. Those whose jobs are useless are instructed to find something else to do, and those who are overworked reduce their labor to what they deem appropriate. A single-mother goes home to read to her daughter after her shift at the solar panel factory. An Ameriprise account manager takes over that mother’s night shift at their neighborhood Starbucks, where he used to begin each day with a purchase. The coal miners call it a day at 2:00 and plan a meeting to discuss whether or not they should continue mining coal. The Wall Street bankers end their two days of mindless wandering and get to work organizing the relocalization of the economy. A sugary cereal advertiser stays home to play video games.

On the fourth evening, the people take the fourth step. They release the non-violent prisoners and recommend all military personnel return home. The police are only to protect people from violence. Christopher puts on his own clothes and meets his family for dinner. A soldier dismantles her gun, but chooses to remain in Afghanistan for awhile to help build schools for girls in the mountains there. The borders open to human travel. A deported mother reunites with her kids at their soccer game in Galveston.

On the fifth evening, the people take the fifth step. They reprioritize the economy. Large numbers of workers who have stopped doing useless construction, advertising, and nothing begin the rapid transition to renewable energy and more localized infrastructure. Rust belt factories start modernizing and reopening to produce necessary goods without relying on exploitation of desperate workers elsewhere. Styrofoam production stops forever. Automation is pursued wherever possible, to reduce the amount of human labor necessary and expand time for leisure and education. A process is laid out to train hundreds of thousands of new teachers, plumbers, and doctors. All adults are encouraged to attend socially and personally useful university classes.

On the sixth evening, the people take the sixth step. The food and medicine immediately needed in less wealthy parts of the world are sent there. Raw materials in the developing world remain there where workers make shoes and salads and soccer balls for themselves, not just for us. The ships crossing the Pacific, now half as many, stop bringing disposable junk to California and instead deliver anti-malarial bed nets to Southeast Asia. For the first time, a family in Honduras eats three meals in one day.

On the seventh evening, a bunch of people throw a crazy party, some meditate in the woods, and a family plays scrabble, using the dictionary as arbiter of challenges. It’s anarchy.

– Adam (w/ Jesse)
from Fort Lauderdale

Anarchists

Anarchists.

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Aliens

It was February and we were excitedly honing our questioning skills during a party at the old Sunset House. Sam and his girlfriend Beth were finalizing plans to spend the summer working in Skagway, AK. A port city in the state’s panhandle nestled on the mouth of its eponymous river, Skagway enjoys a hefty seasonal spike in population and capital as various cruiseships dock up for tourists to marvel at the glaciers, learn about the gold rush, and of course, spend their money. They were planning their trip there for the summer, to work for the tourists as tourists. It’d be Sam’s third go at it, but Beth’s first time living away from home let alone ALASKA. She was excited and nervous about her soon-to-be new everything, her job there being an essential factor she still had to fully work out.

Mark and Adam and I grew quickly abuzz with this fresh opportunity to inquire about such an exciting endeavor. She was combining something we certainly were doing (a new and adventurous embarkation across many miles to lands unknown) with something we certainly were not doing (work for a company we don’t care about doing a job we have no personal excitement for just to make money).

We couldn’t help ourselves.

“What do you need a job for?” Beth was visibly uncomfortable as the conversation devolved into a one-sided (three-voiced) rant on the possibilities of a life path that doesn’t center on paychecks and the unreasonable bills and unjust debts they’ll be entirely diverted to. It doubled as an attack – no doubt very eloquently worded – on the basic nature of our capitalist society with a formidable assault on some pretty core aspects of living that she – like most people we ever meet – takes for granted as necessary.

“Is that what you want to do? I mean, ideally what would you want to do? Visit Alaska? Hell yeah! But working for some cruiseline while ya do it? There are other ways! You can see the world and you don’t have to work for the man to do it!”

This was our first time back in Athens since departing the previous calendar year. We’d left behind our jobs and money and the sedentary life in favor of an adventure whose unconventional parameters emerged and evolved as the miles – and kilometers – ticked by. By then we hadn’t yet given up on the use of money entirely, but we knew there were ample dumpsters full of good food, coffee was free pretty much everywhere that you wanted to ask for it, and somehow we’d survived without working real jobs since October. We wanted to share our excitement, our revelations of the possibility, our newfound hope and empowerment. But it was too much too soon all at once. As if packing up for Alaska wasn’t enough already. So instead, Beth felt attacked and overwhelmed – the very opposite of our goal. And Sam had been stewing in mild contempt ever since.

“I just kept thinking, ‘who are these alien people?’” He tells me this, a couple nights ago, a few days past Christmas, as he shuffles his shiny new Munchkin Legends cards. The quality of cardstock used for Munchkin, he says, telling me to give one a flick, is cheaper than that of Cards Against Humanity or Harbinger. “I support what you’re doing. I get it. I just don’t want to be preached to.”

With a little bourbon to help loosen our lips we were finally addressing the fundamental, frictional energy that’s been humming beneath all of our dialogues since the wave of Occupy drenched Athens in 2011 and solidarity entered my common vocabulary. With yet another year of dense experiences, this time coupled with the fleeting experience of travel, I am now readjusting temporarily to sedentaryism to boot. And for a few months as we reunite with our friends and this community, I’m inundated in the alienation that accompanies reintegration with a community of familiar faces that have no familiarity with one’s recent experiences.

Feeling alien isn’t something rare on our trip. In fact we deliberately put ourselves in places that appear alien to us, where we will likely seem alien to the folks we encounter. And when things start seeming too familiar, we invent and attempt scenarios that are deliberately unusual and often uncomfortable. It’s a big part of how we find value in what we’re doing beyond the fun-having that our new roles as minimalistic idea-pollinating vagabonds provides. Awkward as it may be – and practice does make pleasant – strangers reacting to us like we’re aliens just isn’t really unnerving the way it is when friends do.

Yet here we were forging through it. The old adage prevailed as we found our way to each other’s hearts via the stomach, uncanning the worms of our bromantic woe thanks to potatoes. Jess wanted potatoes. I wanted potatoes. Did Sam want potatoes?

“I don’t want to eat your food.”

“Nonsense, there’s no such thing as our food. There’s just food. All food is everyone’s!”

“You know what I mean. I have food at home; I don’t want to take some of yours if that’s all you have.”

[Yes, in conversations with friends, I imagine their pauses in speech as semicolons when appropriate.]

“We have plenty. We have the privilege of being in the part of society that enjoys abundance. In fact, our abundant waste is a main problem! Scarcity is a myth. Besides, most of what we got came from dumpsters. It’s just as much yours as any of ours.”

And there I went again, ranting excitedly, thinking I might be jovially empowering my friend with a bold new perspective. Instead I was making him grimace. The shuffling of his shiny new Munchkin cards grew more deliberate.

“Can’t we just have a normal conversation?”

(Normal? If there is such a thing as normal, I certainly don’t want to be it. Because normal is what’s dealing billions of people shit cards every day as they go to bed hungry. Normal means people in Mexico continue to lack access to potable water unless they buy it from Coca Cola. Normal means we continue to be bombarded by insane marketing for useless and awful products that destroy our self worth. Normal means we keep fighting wars while people profit off them! Normal means we keep medicating five-year-olds for ADD so they can pay attention in their normal classes! Normal is the continued retelling to our children of Disney’s story – you know that one about the impossibly-figured princess that lives happily ever after submissively shut up and bound by her hunk of a man. And those children’s normal parents trample each other over iToy deals on Black Friday while Santa’s elves in Japan’s toy factories commit suicide regularly. Being normal means giving a passive nod to the long history of bloodshed, exploitation, and oppression that gave us black lung, and slavery, and continues to strangle millions of Latinos with the fear of deportation every day while they break their backs picking fruit for a wage middle-class folk can’t imagine surviving on. Enjoying my normality, I could bask in the air not breathed by the millions of prisoners – extremely disproportionately people of color – locked away in privatized penal colonies. We blow up mountain tops in West Virginia to keep our climate controlled to a normal temperature at home. We suck dry the water under our feet to spray it all over our normal lawns in our desert cities. Normal? Fuck normal. Which means, I die a virgin because there’s no such thing as normal! Normal is a myth! Normal is the opinion you have of people you don’t know, because as soon as you begin to know anyone, you realize they aren’t normal.)

Those thoughts and more, in an even less-sensical hurricane of synaptic fervor, bang around the walls of my thick skull and I edit myself. “I’m not trying to be an asshole here. I’m serious.”

“Yeah, but you know what I mean.”

“Exactly. And that’s why I’m saying this. So you know what I mean. After a year of doing what we’ve been doing, how could I do anything but share my potatoes?”

And so we went on for some time about that and more, with me digressing far too much into romantic lamentations about Mexico. We revisited the topic of marriage – and polyamory – which preceded the potato exchange and was likely the main culprit of Sam’s disposition. We made some progress, and ate some potatoes, but as he left with a fond farewell I still felt a gnawing sense of loss as the gap between him and me was clear, and bridging it will be laborious. And it’s clear that such a gap is growing between me and everyone else in my life who isn’t actually in my daily life.

And I get it. Instead of referring to her as my girlfriend, we thanked my partner for her delicious preparation of dumpstered vegetables and mashed potatoes. Sam highlights Rhonda Rousey‘s UFC contract and Haywire during a discussion about feminism, and I see them – along with most corporate sports and movies – as falling short. All the while, I’m elaborating on the dark side of the upcoming World Cup in Brazil and the astonishing number of films that fail the Bechdel test.

But Sam, like most people in my life, is relating to a me of a year ago. How would the me of a year ago relate to the me of today? A year ago I had no idea what the Bechdel test was and the word ‘partner’ felt like forced, awkward, politically correct semantics for me too. While I still would have been reading up on the riots in Rio, I wouldn’t have been seeing things through such an anti-capitalist, anarchist lens.

Now, I am genuinely open to the potentially laughable incorrectness of any or all of my views. I do not think I have answers, though I do think I’m better at asking questions than I was. I try my best to present my views as simply different, coming from a different set of life experiences, and not better. But they’re still not being interpreted that way, which is… disappointing.

With a year of especially experimental, unconventional living behind me, I feel like I can relate to fewer and fewer people with any sort of ease. The more we step outside of society’s boxes and glimpse alternative possibilities, the more difficult it is to reintegrate into “normal” conversation with friends – or anyone – and the more difficult it is to feel anything but alien as my principles grow ever more marginal.

Plus, with friends – and family – there is this whole history to battle which is extra-exhausting. We are hardly ever looking at each other for who is there without attaching a whole back story of who was there. Our preconceptions about each other now are heavily slanted by a whole range of past personal experiences and interactions. Without sharing our latest experiences, without witnessing each other’s recent growth firsthand, we’re left to act as if no growth has occurred or to guess at how we have grown. I, like most everyone I know, relive this frustrating dilemma every holiday season with people I hardly know that recollect me sucking on a pacifier. With a 2013 so chaotic, dense, and outside the spectrum of typical relatable experiences, connecting with loved ones is simply an even greater struggle before we get started.

Alas, as we hop from home to home, I’m generally mindful that most people don’t (yet) regard all food as everyone’s and I try to respect what I assume are typical boundaries until knowing otherwise. But it’s nice to think that when I offer someone food, they might accept it, and not react to the situation they assume I’m in, projecting their pity or misguided support or general misunderstanding, thus neutralizing my gesture.

If the things we think might make the world better – giving freely, thinking openly, acting compassionately – are to ever gain any headway, we have to make space for those things in our daily lives. We have to allow for people to give and share and act in unconventional situations with unconventional means. Otherwise we’re shooting ourselves in the feet before they leave the ground.

So as December wanes and 2014 hovers on the horizon, I’m resolving to a better writing routine. Recently, I’ve made some real headway with jumping jacks and stretching and flossing routines; it’s time to step it up past the basics. Maybe I’ll seem a little less like an alien to anyone who reads this thing. Maybe I’ll get better at articulating my alien ideas. Maybe I’ll even get better at helping redirect our societal momentum toward perspectives and habits that reduce alienation.

I can go on about how awful it is that millions of people are referred to as aliens everyday – illegal ones – and how dehumanizing that is for both the labeled and the labelers. I can better elaborate my condemnation of normality and fumble through trying to be an ally for social justice in spite of my privilege. I can finally explain who the hell Calvin in Paris is and why he meant so much to me, or what it’s like to hide under a bridge during a tornado in the black hole of West Memphis, or how amazing hitchhiking through Mexico was, or how I think a gift economy is at least partially feasible, or why I think self-sufficiency is a farce, or why the hell we’re back in Georgia when we’re supposed to be somewhere in Oaxaca or the Yucatan by now. Those thoughts and stories are to come, in a new year, with a new understanding, something we get with each passing moment if we choose to listen. Right now I’m tired and ready for a drink.

Until next time, here’s to 28 years shared with y’all on this crazy rock, and to a hell of a year ahead… Cheers!

– Jesse
from the Wash House in Athens, GA

The Pull Is Stronger Than the Push

There are many reasons for each of us as independent humans to set out on this indefinite journey to indefinite places, living differently and learning about humanity. This entry fits in the densely filled space where our reasons overlap.

Taking off indefinitely is the kind of thing that prompts questions like, “What are you running away from?” But we’re not running away from ourselves or anything else; we’re running to other places and people, to things we’ve dreamed of and read about, to the things we would’ve rather been doing while toiling at Market Basket or FedEx.

There are some factors pushing us away from the lives we’ve led to this point. There’s a deeply held conviction that we should limit, as much as possible, our participation in actions and systems we feel are more destructive than constructive. There’s a commitment to not let our lives be dictated by momentum and convention when we’re more than capable of creating our own, hopefully more useful, paths. There’s a recognition of the difference between being comfortable and being happy. And there’s the pressure of time, the knowledge that we don’t live forever and that our life situations might not be as conducive to this in the future.

But what’s pulling us is so much stronger. We’ve both slept til 4 in the afternoon on probably too many days after reading Wikipedia articles about Comoros or debating the feasibility of an anarchist society until sunrise. We want, intensely, to experience things on a human level, first-hand. And we hope that we can be more productive facilitators of a better future by spreading our ideas, and our questions, beyond the relatively local and homogeneous gardens we’ve thus far been pollinating.

Unlike the oft-referenced Chris McCandless, we are not turning our backs on, or experimenting with dropping out of, society. We are investing ourselves in society by filling what seems to us a necessary yet largely underplayed role in it. It’s certainly true that many of our opinions diverge from the mainstream or from generally accepted ways of looking at things. But they are the products of years of earnest, fervent reflection on ourselves and the world we live in, and we think that sharing them with the people we encounter is a real contribution to our common endeavor of bettering the human condition. And while we have a responsibility to share the insights that our genes and our experiences have combined to create, we also have a responsibility to take what others have to offer, to incorporate it into our ways of seeing the world, and to share it widely.

In terms of our utility, we’d argue that we do more good via idea pollination than through a more conventional role as a cog in the material economy. Our society has more than enough stuff. What we can work to provide on this journey are the novel experiences and social connections that our isolated and routinized society so dearly lacks. These oft-belittled opportunities in everyday life are what the social sciences have consistently and convincingly shown to be the more important components of happy lives.

As idealists, we strive to live out not only our ideals, but also the questions hovering around them. Doing so requires repeatedly asking ourselves how necessary compromising those ideals may be. There is a constant struggle between idealism and reality, between the perfect and the good, between the good and the merely less bad, and between personal convictions and the status quo. We also can’t forget that the status quo represents, to various degrees, large parts of the human race with which we feel so intimately connected.

We are often told, if not by people we know then indeed by the droning rhythms of our societal machine, that we have our heads in the clouds, that dreams and ideals can only go so far, that we need to come down to Earth and acknowledge the need for jobs, for money, for routines. To this we ask, what makes those things so necessary? It seems those things are at least less necessary for us than for most, as we are, for whatever reasons, more comfortable than most with having less, with giving in to chaos, and with challenging so many of the arbitrary conventions our society disguises as obvious truths. The supposed guarantees of capitalism, routines, and isolation are not on par with gravity.

This exploration is both something we want to do and something we think is right. This may indeed be a rare convergence of those two things, desires and convictions, but for us these things have come together quite well, both as individuals and conjointly. Our friend Zach Peckham has a song that says something to the effect of, “I don’t believe that you can be anything you set your mind to, but I do think you are the only authority on your own life.” That sums it up pretty well for us too.

Ultimately, we know we have the capacity to have an impact on our world. Actually, it’s unavoidable. (All actions have consequences, inaction is action, and all that.) We all have a responsibility to one another. We feel that this responsibility exists to an even greater degree for people like us, given our relatively privileged roles and our personal tendencies toward intellectualism and activism. A world built on exploitation can only succeed at perpetuating an unjust, prejudicial, and damaging status quo for as long as we remain ignorant of others and the many ways in which we are so constantly and significantly tied to those people.

We may indeed find that our future selves will better serve the world in some different way. Until that moment arrives this will be a learning experience, and a shared experience, that hopefully leads us to an even better understanding of the world and how we can best live as part of it.

So yeah, we aim to contribute as wholly as possible to the happiness of humanity. This includes not forgetting that we are a part of humanity, and that our own happiness is as valuable as anyone else’s. This adventure, done in this way, seems to us at this time to be the best means of accomplishing that end. And it’s certainly refreshing to live lives in which, moment by moment, our means and our ends look an awful lot alike.

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