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Jul23

Questioning Technology

Have We Reached a Tipping Point?

I would like to begin by explaining what this article is not about. This is not a call to storm the hospitals and switch off people’s life support systems, burn down pharmacies, or dismantle all wheelchairs. While this article is part of a growing call to view technology’s ubiquitous presence with a much more critical eye, it does not mean we’re arguing for rounding up people at gun point and forcing them to hand over their smart phones; nor are we on a crusade to deny people access to hormone therapies, [modern] abortions or other tech advances used to sustain and improve quality of life.

Critiques of industrialization and dehumanizing technology have existed since the time of the Luddites and cover a wide spectrum of opinion. The primitivist critique, the favorite whipping boy of the radical left, represents just one of the last stops on a train of thought that has a fair number of stations, yet the most extreme end of the technology-critical spectrum receives the lion’s share of attention. Why? Well, because, let’s face it – the stereotype of suburban white guys running off into the woods while denouncing city dwellers often provokes an understandable visceral reaction. The way the conversation is often polarized of course means more internet traffic as both trolls and those with legitimate concerns converge on websites to denounce the privileged anti-civ heretics.

Criticism of technophilia should not de facto earn one a dirty identity politics label, however, in the “radical community,” it usual does. Technophiles would have us believe that we’re either “all in,” on the side of “progress,” or we’re with the primitivist terrorists who are against chemotherapy, HIV medications and water purification systems. Regardless of the hysteria and badmouthing that flows from both camps, pragmatic people can realistically consider the “facts on the ground” situation we are facing concerning our relationship to technology while still maintaining a healthy skepticism of technology’s increasing intrusions into our lives.

The fact of the matter, and one that technophiles will usually do their best to deny or obfuscate, is that technology-critical discourse is becoming more and more mainstream as the dangers of unchecked tech growth become increasingly apparent. One of the most interesting examples of this stems from an unlikely source: revelations made by Edward Snowden regarding the NSA’s adventures in Germany. German society, known for being on the cutting edge of technological “progress,” has been rocked by revelations of the U.S. government using sophisticated means to spy on high ranking officials including Chancellor Angela Merkel. The situation was further exacerbated by the deployment of double agents to gather intelligence on Germany’s investigation into the NSA spying. States are usually prone to increasing their technological abilities, yet the specter of the NSA and the U.S. quest for full spectrum dominance has spooked the spooks into seriously considering trading in their laptops for old-school typewriters.

Rory Corman, author of ‘Spying on the World’ had this to say to Newsweek: “The idea that Germany may revert to typewriters is an interesting one. They would not be alone in doing so…Russia reportedly reverted to using typewriters last year in the aftermath of the NSA revelations.”

The NSA scandal has disturbed many of us, yet how many people have reverted to less advanced technology or dramatically cut down on their use of technology as a counter-measure? Maybe more than we realize! Recognizing the contradictions inherent within technology used for the sake of convenience seems to have initiated a small but important course correction for Russia and possibly for Germany. Now if only they would get rid of their nuclear weapons maybe we would be getting somewhere. Still, if ruthless and bloodthirsty states are able to question their use of technology and how it relates to their own self-interest, the rest of us can too.

Also interesting has been the reaction of the internet to a recent revelation that realistic, child-like robots might soon become available for pedophiles to enjoy as sex toys. According to a recent article these disgusting inventions are “inevitable”.

Technophile Ben Way, the author of a book I won’t bother to plug here, says these fuck toys for pedophiles are actually a good thing if we can just get over our pesky gut reactions and social mores.

“Will child sex bots lead to some people acting out their dark and disgusting desires on real children?” he asks. “Yes, but I suspect having child sex bots will significantly reduce the number of people overall who abuse children. As repugnant as it may seem society should support this technology and do proper research into its effects before making a snap decision based on social norms.”

“I suspect” this will work out, he says. And if he and the others pushing for these pre-pubescent sex-bots are wrong and end up unleashing some new horror upon society? Well, it will be yet another in a long string of “oops” moments, but their hearts were in the right place so all will be forgiven.

Wired magazine, a place where you would be hard pressed to find any serious criticism of technophilia, recently published a fascinating article entitled ‘The Moral Hazards and Legal Conundrums of Our Robot-Filled Future’. In this article the terrifying prospect of these child sex-bots were, among other things, offered up as proof of an impending moral crisis. Well, I must say this article was definitely a pleasant surprise, as were the comments which displayed a significant amount of misgivings about the robot-filled future.

Some are in fact doing more than talking about these issues on the internet, though it remains to be seen if their form of impromptu direct action against invasive, privacy destroying technology will catch on. The “neo-Luddites” referred to by Forbes magazine in their article entitled, ‘The Violent Opt-out: The Neo-Luddites Attacking Drones And Google Glass,’ have resorted to physical attacks on the latest manifestations of invasive tech. These attacks on drones and Google Glass wearers might just be a flash in the pan occurrence, or they may signal the fact that people are reaching the threshold of what they will tolerate (this is especially relevant considering the fact that Google Glass can be hacked to function using a person’s brainwaves). Of course the Forbes article basically derides these people as lunatics, but the underlying message of budding resistance nevertheless shines through.

More people are waking up to the realization that something is not quite right with regards to the furious pace of technological “progress,” and that this tsunami of new capabilities is in fact the proverbial double edged sword. Others who have been following this issue more closely are realizing that instead of wielding technology to our benefit, we have become slaves to it, enthralled and trapped within a high tech industrial system that creates problems and then ironically turns around and sells us high-tech solutions. Technologies that are advertised to us as fun, problem-solving conveniences are easily turned into control and surveillance mechanisms – as was the intent all along. Nothing is for free, and these shiny baubles and quick fixes are not merely provided to us for our enjoyment and for our own personal growth and happiness. Power systems thrive on control, and today much of that control is consolidated through our consensual use of technology. This is the reality more and more people are awakening too and it serves as a glimmer of hope for our future.

Jul19

Palestine Solidarity Rally & March

On the third Friday of every month radicals and activists protest in front of the Israeli consulate in an attempt to bring visibility to the plight of occupied Palestine. Due to Israel’s recent genocidal rampage (which has left at least 342 people dead over the past 12 days), there was an increased sense of urgency and relevance to the planned protest.

Between 250 and 300 passionate people gathered on the corners in front of and adjacent to the Israeli consulate for a rally and subsequent march; the atmosphere was electric with many waving Palestinian flags, holding anti-zionist signs and chanting slogans in Arabic. Supporters of the Israeli state and military actions gathered across from the consulate with one being bold enough to wear a shirt proclaiming “Proud To Be IDF”; however, these supporters of Israeli terrorism were far outnumbered by those standing in solidarity with the besieged residents of Gaza and Palestine.

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Palestine Solidarity Rally & March mp3

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Jul15

In Solidarity With Gaza

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Commentary, informational links and video on the situation in Gaza.

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In Solidarity With Gaza mp3

IDF’s Gaza assault is to control Palestinian gas, avert Israeli energy crisis

Israeli lawmaker’s call for genocide of Palestinians gets thousands of Facebook likes

Obama, Israel and Liberal Capitulation

Gaza destruction ‘immense’, hundreds of thousands without water

Congresswoman who visited Israel on AIPAC’s dime has no time for relative of boy beaten by Israeli police

Rejecting victimhood: the case for Palestinian resistance


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Jul04

WRFF 2014 Report Back

In order for us to become productive members of society, i.e, well oiled and functioning cogs in the wheels of the capitalist empire, we must undergo a compulsory process of alienation and domestication to make us docile and compliant to the demands of our future supervisors and bosses. This process begins in early childhood and continues more or less throughout our entire civilized lives. It is in part a process of forgetting, of learning to disregard our dreams and intuition and genetic memories of a time before mankind ascended the throne to lord over the rest of creation.

The myth of human centrism, that all of the world is here for our pleasure and our benefit, can only be called into question outside of the sprawling metropolises and suburbs where such ideas are constantly reinforced, often by the very landscape itself. The sanitized and domesticated landscapes created by modern industry stand in stark contrast to the wilderness, to the glorious chaos of life. The wilderness is where we find the idea of the all powerful human master called into question; it is a place we must periodically embed ourselves in to reconnect with authentic, non-synthetic reality outside of the scope of human constructs. It is a place we must visit once in a while for the perspective denied to us by human-centric, industrial society.

As someone who lives in a big city, Wild Roots Feral Futures (WRFF) has become a necessary yearly tradition, a way to retain a connection to (relatively) unspoiled wilderness and the deep human bonds such an environment fosters. WRFF is a loosely organized and decentralized gathering that takes place in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado (Ute territory). Working on less than a shoe string budget and with much of the supplies and food donated, a wonderful intentional community springs up for an all too brief period of time. Most people bring their own camping supplies and gear, but there are always extra sleeping bags and such things in case anyone needs them. Camp responsibilities are handled on a volunteer basis; everyone who wants to contribute can, and if you’re not in the mood to wash dishes, gather firewood or cook meals, there’s no pressure to.

One of the main reasons I keep coming back to WRFF is the people, the amazingly good-hearted and beautiful people. Sure, in past years there’s been some drama but it’s never really distracted me from the overall experience. The warmth, wisdom and sincerity I experience there nourishes me on a spiritual level; this gives me the strength and clarity I need to avoid falling into despair and nihilism concerning the nature of the human race. WRFF attracts a variety of people: college students, older hippies, drifters, radical faeries, liberals, anarchists, socialists, families with small children, musicians, train hoppers, activists, conservationists, farmers, and those who refuse to be categorized. The ethnic diversity is not quite what it could be, but the reasons for this are complex. I find it unfortunate that many POC have been seemingly irrevocably yoked to the city, pigeonholed into the category of permanent urban dwellers. Again, the reasons for this are complex and largely beyond our control, though hopefully this will begin to change in the near future. In any case, no matter what our backgrounds, we gather together at WRFF with our differences eclipsed by one common theme: a love for the land and a love of life.

This year was by far my favorite WRFF for several reasons. The hike in and out was so much easier than previous years; the vibe was incredibly relaxed and friendly with absolutely zero drama (at least none that I was aware of) and the location itself was just beyond magical. Mountain tops covered in pine, aspen stands and fields of dandelions, wild iris and a myriad of other wild flowers made each day like a waking dream. As always, the group discussions were thought provoking to the max, especially one we had on mental health in the context of living within a society that systematically destroys mental health. There were also primitive skills workshops, plant walks, an interesting discussion on natural child birthing, a solstice celebration, and clear guidelines for community practices and sober spaces for those who desired them. Outside of the planned activities there were plenty of opportunities to go hiking, splash around in the stream, or just lay on the soft grass underneath the sun listening to the birdsong.

As I reflect on my third year of attending this gathering, I realize how valuable the experience has been to both my personal and political development. Fireside chats under the stars with hardcore primitivists and nuclear power supporters alike have helped me broaden, sharpen and mold my own critiques of industrial society. Though we may not all agree on every single thing, simply being around like minded people with similar viewpoints is a welcome reprieve from constantly having to defend my position or either keep silent about it. Over the past few years at WRFF I have learned of struggles that I may not have come into contact with otherwise. In fact, I credit my first real introduction to indigenous solidarity to my first WRFF in 2012. It would not be an understatement to say that WRFF has been an important part of my life.

Because this year felt extra special, I must give thanks to all the wonderful people who shared time, space and food with me; thanks for all the chats, all the laughs, for all the memories. And a special thanks to those who let me practice my tarot reading skills on you – I hope it was helpful. So much love to the folks in Durango who do the hard work of scouting out locations and cleaning up after the gathering is done; thanks for all you do and for creating a space where so much magic happens. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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May09

Gentrification and the Monopolization of Space

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A great discussion with Kat Yang-Stevens, Diane Wong and Negesti Kazuko Cantave on how space is often taken and controlled to the detriment of POC communities and individuals. Check out the original post including speaker bios on Groundwork For Praxis and listen to the audio here.

Kat-Yang Stevens (excerpt from the audio):

I want to start by mentioning Andrea Smith who [works on] indigenous liberation and [is a] prison abolitionist, and a co-founder of ‘INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence’. In her work she asserts that the idea of “safe space” is foundationally problematic because of the fact that we haven’t yet ended white supremacy, plantation culture, continued occupation of indigenous ancestral territories, and heteropatriarchy amongst other things. …this assertion that we have safe space, or that spaces can be made safe is just a fallacy. This whole idea of safe space is predicated on making space for white people and it relies on really racist and sexist myths about people of color who have always been referred to with criminality here in the U.S. And so, when we have these violations of safe space that are invoked in a group setting, that’s not actually responding to real violence but because white people are feeling threatened by having their own white supremacist practices or attitudes in the space challenged; a lot of people still register this sort of situation as white people being victimized. Invoking this safe space rhetoric has become a pretty common practice used to sanction the expulsion of people, especially women of color, from political organizing spaces. Really this term “unsafe” is being used as a stand-in for being uncomfortable.

Negesti Cantave’s documentary on gentrification:

Apr17

Civilization’s Mental Health Crisis

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Mental illness and the resulting harmful behavior that can stem from it have always been a part of civilized societies, but recently it seems as if there has been a noticeable increase in the number of suicides and seemingly random violent attacks. Are these incidents really happening more often, or are we simply more aware of them due to our media saturated and hyper-connected culture?

Within the past few weeks alone there have been a series of both bizarre and tragic mental health incidents that have received a fair amount of news attention both in the mainstream and in the alternative news media spheres. We will explore several of these incidents in this article while keeping in mind that there are many others that have gone unreported because they were not deemed “newsworthy.”

On April 8th, popular blogger Karyn Washington took her own life. She was only 22 years old. Her website, For Brown Girls, was both empowering and educational, revealing the stigmatism and prejudice that exist toward darker skin both within the black community and in the mainstream, white dominated society. Her suicide caught many people off guard and there has subsequently been an outpouring of calls for people to change the way they view mental illness and to question the stigma attached to seeking help for mental illness.

On April 9th in Pennsylvania’s Westmoreland county, 16-year-old Alex Hribal went on a stabbing rampage at Franklin Regional Senior high school, wounding over 20 people. Some of those people are still hospitalized with 4 remaining in critical condition. Violent attacks in schools have become commonplace, with the more sensational and devastating ones making it to the news cycle while the usual beatings and sexual assaults go unreported.

On April 13th, Michael C. Ruppert, an investigative journalist and conspiracy theorist who was fairly well known in the independent media realm, took his own life. His death was a shock to some but not to others who had been aware of his personal struggles and suicidal ideation over the past few years. Ruppert, through his website Collapsenet, was immersed in information that many might describe as depressing; runaway climate change and the likelihood of resulting near-term human extinction were common subjects covered on his site. A suicide note from Ruppert has been released in which the depths of his despair are clear, as is his belief that his death would somehow benefit future generations.

On April 16th, Andre Johnson, a rapper loosely affiliated with the Wu-Tang Clan, severed his penis and jumped off of a second floor balcony. He survived the fall with serious injuries; doctors were unable to reattach his penis. Celebrities and public figures are known for their sometimes bizarre behavior but this incident is one of the most shocking in recent memory.

All of the above incidents occurred within the past two weeks. Rather than focusing on the sanity or lack thereof of these specific individuals, we should be examining our society and the conditions that foster such behavior. What is it about our society that drives so many people into depressed and suicidal mental states? Why are young people finding it harder and harder to cope with reality, and why are some young people deciding to lash out with extreme violence against their school mates and peers or themselves?

What we are witnessing are stress responses. So what’s causing the stress? If we accept the reasoning of civilization-critical thinkers like John Zerzan and Layla AbdelRahim, we see that civilization itself and the types of conditions it creates are at the root of the sort of problems we have been examining. The issues we are confronting today have their roots in the ancient hierarchical and patriarchal societies that formed the foundation of our modern day society. We often hear about the benefits of civilization, but today thanks to the environmental crisis and social breakdown, we are seeing the full expression of what it actually means to be civilized without the gloss of propaganda.

Are children meant to be locked in a building together with veritable strangers and people they might be antagonistic towards for upwards of 6 or 7 hours a day? Are people meant to be living in isolated conditions cut off from family and close knit social networks with only their computers as mechanisms for social contact? These are just a few of the questions that the above examples of mental breakdown should raise.

Instead of viewing mental illness as an aberration, we must begin viewing it as the inevitable outgrowth of our unnatural, unequal and exploitative society. No one who lives in a modern industrial society is untouched by mental illness. Cognitive dissonance and other forms of mental gymnastics are required to ignore or push aside the huge amounts of destruction and exploitation required by our very way of life. Some of us may be shielded from the direct effects, yet we all know on some level that this way of life is harmful both to ourselves and to other beings and the ecosystem. Anxieties, mood disorders, psychosis, dissociative disorders, dysphoria, depression and many other types of mental illnesses are extremely common and often go undiagnosed. At best, some manage to exist comfortably immersed in a kind of pathological denial of what it means to be a civilized consumer/worker embedded within a cruel and unjust system, and at worst we see the sort of breakdowns mentioned above, usually from those who can no longer maintain the façade of sanity demanded of them.

As mentioned earlier, the problem is not so much with individual people, but with the society itself. Given optimal conditions, all people could be relatively well adjusted and content, but we are denied those conditions because of capitalism, classism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and all of the other types of oppression that cause stress and less than ideal mental states and living conditions.

Changing our society and changing the types of relationships and interactions we engage in are the first steps to dealing with civilization-induced mental illnesses. After we educate ourselves about mental illness and how it could be affecting us personally, we can then formulate strategies for mitigating the inevitable harms we must endure thanks to the sort of system we are living in.

Watching this video and heeding the advice given here is a good place to start:

Apr08

The Violence of Gentrification

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On March 21st a small group of black teenage girls embarked on a series of violent attacks against white Temple University students. Two fifteen year old’s and a sixteen year old have subsequently been charged as adults with Aggravated Assault, Conspiracy, Possession of an Instrument of a Crime and Terroristic Threats. Those are just a few of the charges they face as they are held on bail ranging from $75,000 to $100,000. The attacks were denounced by the media and city officials as “despicable,” and “shocking,” yet the only thing truly shocking about these attacks is the fact that they do not happen more often considering the class war being waged against poor and working class blacks in this city.

On March 3rd, just a few blocks from where these attacks would later take place, an emergency town hall was held at The Church of the Advocate to discuss the “crisis facing black Philadelphia: the demise of our neighborhoods.” The majority black crowd took turns decrying the effects of gentrification. They spoke about how their churches, recreational centers and schools are being demolished to make way for condominiums and student dorms, and they also traded horror stories regarding their interactions with their new “neighbors”. It was revealed that not only are long term residents suddenly finding themselves unable to afford rising rents and property taxes, they are also being forced out by way of eminent domain.

The same government forces working hand in hand with private businesses and universities to “revitalize” neighborhoods are the same ones continuing to slash funding for social welfare programs. Meanwhile, Philadelphia government officials are closing public schools, recreational centers and after-school program even as they hold lavish galas for the grand opening of fancy art galleries and other private businesses.

The poor and working class people who make up the majority of the residents in neighborhoods being gentrified now find themselves living in a sort of Twilight Zone. All around them they see signs of wealth and prosperity that are just beyond their reach; indeed, for many who must go to bed hungry within sight of the glittering lights and revelry of some sprawling mega-campus, it must be not unlike the Torment of Tantalus. Living so close to such blatant inequality must indeed feel like some sort of punishment, and who can honestly say what the long term psychological impacts are? Well, The Centers for Disease Control have actually looked into this and they have stated that gentrification and displacement can have “negative consequences” on the health of marginalized populations due to stress and the loss of social networks.

Not only are the recent attacks near Temple’s campus a sign of the growing frustration and rage of the black underclass, they are also a harbinger of things to come if we allow our communities to continue to be destroyed in the name of so-called progress. Let’s return to the emergency town hall to address gentrification for some more clarity on this issue:

Denise Ripley, who spoke Saturday, lives on Uber Street near Jefferson in North Philadelphia. She said she is the only person from her old block still in the area after new townhouses were built in 2005.

Ripley said one neighbor, “Miss Ethel,” a retired hospital technician, used to mentor teenage girls she took on trips to New York.

“She just wanted to show them another part of the world outside of North Philly, to let them know it was a big world out here, and that you can accomplish your dreams,” Ripley said in an interview yesterday.

Ripley told the group of 50 to 60 people at the Advocate, at 18th and Diamond, that Miss Ethel moved to West Philadelphia.

“About six months later, she passed away.”

Ripley, 56, said she believed Miss Ethel, then in her late 70s, died of a broken heart:

“I think it grieved her to have to move from the community she had known all her life. I was grieving myself. It tore the community apart. People I had known for 40 or 50 years were gone. I felt like we were being pushed out of our community.”

What if Miss Ethel had been able to stay in her home? Would she have ended up mentoring some of those young girls who are now facing decades in prison? We will never know for sure, but what we should acknowledge is that the people living on the front lines of gentrification are being subjected to economic violence and social violence on a daily basis. The city government bureaucrats and mega-university officials may not be marauding the streets bashing people in the face with bricks, yet they’ve done more than their fair share of a much more pernicious type of violence. The three teenage girls now facing adult charges and prison time clearly became disturbed over time and lashed out against the symbols of the economic violence and micro-aggressions they faced every single day of their lives. Instead of being sent to prison they should be sent to a rehabilitation center where they can get the help they need.