Overcoming war think

After nine years, it feels like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq may drag on forever. Obama’s announcements of a gradual drawdown and pullout are at odds with the 50,000 military “advisors” in Iraq and the seemingly-thriving armed resistance to occupation in Afghanistan. We’ve been living with war for so long that we’ve become numb and apparently unable to resist. Anti-war protests are either tiny or don’t happen at all. War now seems normal and even invisible to many people. But these wars are not inevitable nor are they permanent — we can still rise up and stop them.

A key lesson of these wars is that power has its limits. The US military — the most powerful, modern, well-funded fighting force in history with all its drones and computers and disciplined hierarchy — can’t really win these wars against a handful of ragtag, do-it-yourself, guerilla fighters. Understanding that power is limited is crucial to our resistance to these wars as well as our struggle against corporate domination of our lives and industrial destruction of the earth.

There is always the option to resist. The people who win aren’t the ones who are “realistic” and who look at long odds and conclude, “oh, it isn’t worth even trying.” Every resistance movement is going to feel lost and hopeless sometimes — its participants too weak and isolated and the opposition too strong. The key is having the courage to continue anyway. How can we take this lesson from these wars and apply it to stopping them?

Living in a permanent and pervasive war culture is deeply corrosive on a social and psychological level to everyone in the US and around the world. The war culture empowers greedy and selfish elements of society who dominate others with fear, concentrate power based on violence, and seek to crush local control in favor or massive corporate, military and political hierarchies. Right-leaning military contractors and their politician counterparts are the biggest winners of these wars.

Living with only minimal popular resistance to these wars over these last nine years, has put radicals on the defensive in struggles across the board, even those that are seemingly unrelated to the war. War-think has fed an atmosphere of fear, strengthening hierarchical solutions and weakening community self-determination and cooperation. It is perhaps no accident that the most vigorous “movement” in the US today is the Tea Party, whose approach is based almost entirely on fear of the “other” being channeled into a blinding rage. This constant sense of being “against” without any positive vision for a better world is a symptom of a war-based outlook with its cycles of destruction and scorched earth. Building a new, better society requires vision, sharing and creativity — never easy but even more difficult to nurture as the war drags on.

On a human level, the wars are grinding up thousands of people in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, while concentrating suffering in economically-struggling communities within the US that provide the bulk of troops through an informal poverty draft. There’s never enough money for workers or poor people during the current recession, yet there is always plenty to spend on war.

War culture can become a self-perpetuating psychological/political cycle in which popular movements to stop the war seem weak, frivolous and ineffective and those waging the war appear to be all-powerful, “serious, realistic” men and therefore unquestionable. The justification for the war no longer matters — the priority becomes winning so the people sacrificed so far will not have died in vain.

When the US invaded Iraq, millions of people colorfully and lovingly went into the streets to protest. Governments and the media bent over backwards to ignore the resistance or trivialize us as naive, and this strategy took its toll on our morale. The leaders had learned the lessons of Vietnam well — but they were the wrong lessons. After Vietnam, military and political leaders claimed they would never fight another unwinnable, ill-defined, colonial, foreign war. But what they really understood was that to fight, they had to keep control over the home front.

There is no easy strategy to stop the war or liberate ourselves from the industrial machine that is killing the earth, but it is clear that whatever we’re collectively trying isn’t working the way it is supposed, to, and we have to take some chances and try some new strategies. The way the war has become a background track to our lives is related in some subtle but real way to the sense of meaningless, resignation, and social isolation that so many people feel. It is tied in some complex way to growing corporate power and our inability to reach a social consensus on the phasing out of fossil fuels.

A bold, broad resistance would address all of it at once, painting a positive vision for the future based on values of cooperation, love, and community — an awe for the time in which we live and the earth we live on. Our goal must be to change the dialogue and transcend simplistic and limiting terms of debate that pre-determine the outcomes in line with what is “acceptable” for our rulers. We refuse to pick between paper and plastic, the Taliban or the US Army, free markets or a dehumanizing welfare bureaucracy. The error is deeper than picking the wrong options — the error is thinking that there are only two options.

We need to reject simplistic thinking and morality — good or evil — and humbly embrace the complexity of human individuals and social projects. Simplistic thinking is like mental junk food: empty calories. People are yearning for honest new types of discourse that treat them as intelligent, capable individuals who can actively participate in community to reach common goals. The current moment is full of dangers and disappointments, but also opportunities because the rulers are not all-powerful, they have no clothes, and people won’t be satisfied being ruled through fear forever.

a bankrupt system

As Slingshot goes to press, we are unsure if we’ll ever publish another issue of the paper at this physical location. A few months ago, our landlord declared bankruptcy and the Long Haul building where we have our office might be sold in the next few months to pay off a $1.1 million bank debt that they ran up against the building.

The idea of losing the Long Haul building is a sad thought — there is a modest beauty to the messy, chaotic hand-built loft the Slingshot collective has inhabited here for the last 15 years. During the day, it is bathed in sun through leaky skylights, and at night it has an otherworldly quality like a poorly-lit treehouse hideout.

Sharing space with the freaky openness of the Long Haul infoshop with its constant chatter of traveling punks, mumbling homeless people and self-obsessed “regulars” can be distracting and a pain, but mostly it has helped us stay fresh, flexible and able to laugh at ourselves. Long Haul is a thriving community institution despite all of its dysfunction.

It is disorienting not knowing whether we’ll get to stay here or not. We’re doing the best we can — opening a post office box so people can reach us if we have to move and then . . . just waiting as calmly as possible to learn our fate. Should we fix the leak in the roof before the winter rains come? Nah, I guess that would be pointless if we get kicked out. No point looking for another space or spending too much time agonizing until we really know for sure . . . . Time stands strangely still — the future uncertain.

The bankruptcy is one of those typically capitalist events in our lives when we realize how easily ordinary human aspirations and lives can be crushed by the heartless numbers that faceless men make up and write down. Losing the building is outside our control and not our fault — we always paid our rent on time.

I always imagined that we’d close up the Long Haul when it got knocked down by an earthquake — it is a brick building prone to collapse. That would feel like a good way to close this chapter. But having it sold by a bank and then gutted to make way for yuppies — what a boring shame.

Like so many around us and before us, the fact that we’ve lived and breathed and loved in this building — that it has become a part of us and that we’ve become a part of it — is meaningless. What matters to the system is ownership, not use. Arbitrary experiences like this remind us why we’re struggling to change this insane system. People, communities, and ultimately the earth should matter more than land titles and banks.

To repeat, we don’t know what might happen as I write this, so I’m intentionally leaving a lot unsaid. I would like to explain the circumstances, the characters, the potential causes — it is clear that particular people made decisions that invited the bankruptcy; it was not an act of nature — but for the moment we have to wait for more information so we don’t burn bridges we might need to cross. We know there is a foreclosure and a bankruptcy, but it is too early to ask for help or react until we have a better picture of the implications for our space.

Maybe the bankruptcy court will let the landlord keep the building or maybe whoever buys the building will let us stay in all our funkyness, and with our current cheap lease. Maybe someone sympathetic to us could purchase the building. Maybe we can somehow continue with higher rent. Maybe we’ll turn it into a liberated space: a squatted radical center with flags flying from the roof, a last holdout against the gentrification of Berkeley. Another world is possible at any moment — we have this world only because we all consent to its rules and spend our lives working to keep it going.

Depending on what happens, Long Haul may seek community support, so please watch this space for updates. Until we hear some news, please send snail mail to: PO Box 3051, Berkeley, CA 94703. If you want to visit our physical office, call or email first to make sure we’re still here.

Crappers not consumerism!

Okay, it’s a minor problem, but someone has to tackle it. You’re walking in a major urban area and you’re looking for a bathroom, but you can’t find one. Every business has a sign in the window saying something like “restroom is for customers only.” Never mind the complete lack of legal late-night deposit possibilities.

Berkeley’s brand new Liberate the Lavatory collective (LLC) was organized to confront this problem with direct action. They have designed and are constructing a bike-based mobile composting outhouse (“Out-and-About House” for short, see figure 1) which they propose to use in a campaign to get Berkeley’s merchants to liberate their lavatories. Once the Out-and-About House is finished, LLC will go door-to-door to businesses with customer-only bathrooms and ask them to open it up. LLC will park in front of businesses that refuse until they relent, providing a free and fragrant alternative.

This could be the next Food Not Bombs — every town with its own bike powered potty collective — and in fact, if you already have a FNB, what are you doing to take care of the, er, by-products of your meals?

Leaving this world with a human touch

Death is a hard topic to face or write about with any honesty, modesty or accuracy. Five years ago, I held my best friend Jenn as she died from cancer. Her death was sad, overwhelmingly difficult and yet it was also somehow beautiful, natural, humanizing and reassuring. Her final moments were nothing like what you see on TV. Rather, they were raw and animalistic, unmediated by culture or language, almost like a reversal of birth. Since seeing her death, I haven’t felt afraid of my own death.

While her life was cut short to only 35 years, it seemed like she had a good death. She didn’t want to lose autonomy or be connected to a bunch of tubes or wires, isolated in a scary hospital. And so she actively directed her own death process. With help from her doctors, housemates and hospice, she was able to end her life totally naturally with no extraordinary medical intervention, in her own bed, in her own room, cared for by her friends and loved ones.

We’re all going to die but most people feel inhibited talking openly about death because of cultural taboos. Discussing death openly and in detail can seem negative or scary — like if we don’t talk about it, maybe it won’t happen. But with a high tech, profit-driven medical care system, our culture needs to figure out how to honestly discuss death, both so the dying can have as good a death as possible, and to stop runaway end of life costs from bankrupting the healthcare system for the living.

We need to build a culture that discusses the death process so each individual can decide for themselves when more advanced healthcare makes sense, when it is time to give up the fight, and even when it might make sense to request lethal drugs to hasten our own death to avoid prolonged suffering.

Death Panels

A tragic detail of the past year’s struggle over healthcare reform was the moment when a proposal to pay doctors to consult with patients about end of life care was demonized as calling for “death panels” intent on “murdering grandma”. The proposal was immediately dropped from the bill, squashing a chance to have an honest discussion about how corporate, Western medicine mis-handles death. Under Medicare, the government healthcare benefit for people over 65 and disabled people, doctors are not paid for these complex and time-consuming consultations, which can be crucial for dying patients. But doctors are paid for procedures, regardless of whether these procedures are helpful or just prolong a dying person’s suffering while providing no real benefit.

Whereas death is inevitable for all of us and a normal and natural part of life, modern health systems can sometimes treat death in a dehumanizing, mechanical way — a problem that modern technology should somehow seek to “solve.” Rather than being able to end life at one’s own pace, people are put through increasingly desperate, painful and invasive medical procedures to buy a few more days or hours.

The hopeless struggle to defeat death costs not just quality of life for patients, but accounts for a huge portion of healthcare expenditures. The five percent of Medicare patients who die each year consume about one-third of Medicare expenses, with aggressive treatments during the final month of life eating up almost a third of that sum, according to government statistics. The mainstream healthcare system is in crisis not just because millions of people lack coverage, but because the cost of coverage is increasing so rapidly. End of life care is a big part of this increase. As medical technology gets better and more complex, there are more and more ways to spend a lot of money at the end of life.

There is not an endless pool of money to pay for healthcare, especially as the population ages. Money spent on expensive end of life care that doesn’t improve a dying patient’s quality of life is not available for other care.

Cultural attitudes about whether it is always appropriate to use every available medical technology to prolong life has to somehow evolve along with technology. This requires opening space to honestly and earnestly discuss end of life issues, which is precisely what was closed down with the “death panel” rhetoric.

Learning to talk

Learning to talk about death is not about government programs or changing the medical system — although it certainly would help to make sure doctors could be paid for participating in these discussions. Learning to have these discussions is much more about changing general cultural norms. Dying people may not feel comfortable talking honestly with their families because they don’t want to scare the people they love, or themselves. Caregivers don’t want to honestly discuss death issues with the dying because they don’t want to seem like they are giving up hope. The mutual fears and inhibitions are making difficult transitions harder for everyone involved.

I can remember, as Jenn’s cancer spread throughout her body, how we both avoided talking about her impending death, even when it would have helped to be able to discuss it openly. We were lucky to finally have frank discussions towards the very end, but it was never easy. Her doctor greatly helped in the process by telling Jenn at a particular point that there were no more realistic treatment options and that her focus should switch to palliative care — care designed to manage pain rather than fight her cancer. Jenn was so used to fighting that I think she would have tried more long-shot treatments right up until the end had her doctor not given her permission to pull back and change her focus from fighting to dying.

While it would be easy to confuse this transition with giving up, I think of those last few weeks of Jenn’s life as particularly meaningful for her. We began visiting outdoor places she loved and scheduling visits with her friends so they could say goodbye. She wrote a will to provide for her cat. We talked about what she wanted done with her body. She gave away her camping gear and materials she used as a high school teacher — symbolically wrapping up loose ends. Jenn could have missed some of these opportunities to wind up her life had she kept on fighting and trying more treatments until the very end.

At a housemeeting a week before she died, Jenn discussed her wishes regarding her care and the role hospice would play in permitting her to die at home. She asked housemates not to panic and call an ambulance when she got sicker because she didn’t want to be taken to a hospital or connected to tubes or wires. She signed a do-not-resuscitate order so that if paramedics were called, they would not take extraordinary measures to revive her. Her doctor prescribed pain medication, anti-anxiety pills and other drugs to limit her suffering as much as possible. An acupuncturist made home visits to reduce annoying hiccups and itching. Most of all, we scheduled her friends to sit with her 24 hours a day during her last 5 days.

While there was no way to avoid all of the suffering that one’s body goes through as it shuts down, all of this planning, communication and support helped Jenn depart in a fairly humane fashion.

What can we do to make these difficult conversations easier and more common, so more people can have humane deaths surrounded by their friends? The process around Jenn’s death was easier because the medical establishment in Berkeley was experienced and supportive of alternatives, because of the type of person Jenn was, and because her community was ready to participate.

I can imagine things being a lot more difficult when children are trying to relate to elderly parents across cultural divides, when the healthcare system is less supportive, and when the person dying doesn’t get information about alternative options or doesn’t feel comfortable asking if there is another way.

I don’t have any brilliant ideas about how to change this dynamic other than trying to stimulate d
iscussion about death and dying.

I think it can help to talk about end of life issues with your friends and loved ones before there is a crisis even though this is far from easy. One tiny part of opening discussion may be getting people to sign living wills. A living will is a document you can sign instructing your loved ones what you want done if you become seriously ill or injured and can no longer communicate your wishes about medical care. They usually appoint one or more persons to make decisions on your behalf. A person who signs a living will may, for instance, request that their body not be kept alive artificially when there is no hope of recovery. They permit people to limit the excesses of the high tech healthcare system.

When you sign a living will, you have an opportunity to talk with the people you are appointing to make medical decisions on your behalf about your wishes and your values around end of life issues and how you want to use the healthcare system. This can stimulate discussion and cultural development all around. I’ve put a sample living will at the end of this article and on-line in case you want to try this.

Death With Dignity

Even more taboo than openly discussing end of life issues is the movement to permit terminally ill patients to obtain lethal drugs to hasten their deaths. This allows terminally ill people to have some measure of control over their deaths. I see this as lying along a continuum of contemporary responses to the end of life — from using high tech medical care to aggressively extend life, to declining care, to using palliative care and hospice to control suffering at the end of life, and extending to a patient ending their life before they would otherwise die naturally to avoid prolonged suffering. The common goal is self-determination and empowering each person to decide what is right for them. No one path is right for everyone so the key is opening a variety of options.

In 1997, Oregon passed the Death with Dignity Act, the first law in the US to permit doctors to legally prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients who request them. The law prevailed over court challenges and Washington State has since passed a similar law. These types of laws are more common in Europe than in the US.

Under the Oregon law, a patient has to be well enough to self-administer the lethal drugs. Patients have to make repeated requests to their doctors over a period of time, orally and in writing. The doctor and another physician have to fill out forms diagnosing a terminal illness with six months or less to live and finding that the patient is mentally competent to make and communicate health care decisions. The doctor has to advise the patient about alternatives, including palliative care, hospice and pain management options. And the doctor has to ask the patient to notify next of kin about the prescription. There are forms that all parties have to fill out and file on the Oregon Department of Human Services website and it is impressive to see all the safeguards built into the law.

Since its passage, Oregon has kept detailed records about how people have used the law, which are reported annually. From 1997 to 2009, 460 Oregonians have taken their lives using medicine prescribed under the Act. Not everyone who requests and gets lethal drugs actually takes them. Just having options can be helpful and comforting to many people.

In 2009, there were 95 prescriptions — 53 patients took the pills and died, 30 died of their illness, and 12 were still alive at the end of 2009. 98 percent of the patients who took the drugs died at home. On forms asking doctors to assess the reasons patients requested the drugs, the most frequently mentioned end-of-life concerns were: loss of autonomy (96.6%), loss of dignity (91.5%), and decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable (86.4%).

I find this law important and interesting — despite the hyper-state orientation of forms and permissions — because of the way it opens up end of life options and dialog. The reasons patients request lethal drugs is especially interesting. These people haven’t given up on life — rather, they are empowered and engaged in defining for themselves how they want to live, including when and how they want to die. This seems to me the polar opposite of people caught up in a medical system intent on delivering procedures disconnected from the potential costs of benefits to patients or society. While not everyone will want or use such options, pushing to extend them widens the space to grapple with these issues.


While death is a natural part of life, the healthcare industry and cultural norms that try to hide death have limited self-determination at the end of life. Just as many people are battling the inhumane corporate machine that is killing the earth and dominating most aspects of human life, we need to struggle so that the healthcare industry serves human needs, not corporate greed, at the end of life. That means fighting for freedom from suffering and empowering each person to decide how much to use, or decline to use, high tech medical procedures at the end of life.

For many people, having a good death may mean one connected to community, not machines. With help from friends as well as caring medical professionals, we can organize our own do-it-yourself deaths.

Promoting self-determination at the end of life doesn’t mean cutting off money to people who want to use healthcare to the max — it means giving everyone more options. There is a lot of evidence that the more open the dialog, and the more options available, the cheaper overall end of life healthcare will ultimately be, because many empowered people will not request every last procedure. But the main reason to struggle for a more humanistic culture around end of life issues is to avoid suffering, not just to save money. A lot of the fancy high tech healthcare procedures are causing, rather than preventing, human misery. By engaging in hard discussions about death and learning to think about death as a part of life, rather than as a terrifying unspeakable topic, we can help build a culture that supports individuals where it is okay to ask for help, as well as decline corporate care.

I wish to thank the excellent doctors and other medical staff at Herrick Cancer Center who cared for Jenn and exemplified the best of what the medical system can offer people.

For information on Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, check out www.deathwithdignity.org.

Living Will and Appointment of Attorney for Health Care Decisions

To my family, my friends, my physicians, my lawyer and all others whom it may concern:

I ________ being of sound mind, emotionally and mentally competent, and understanding the full import of this directive, make this statement of my wishes and instructions concerning medical treatment.

I intend this document to be legally binding. I am a resident of ____. I direct my physicians, other health care providers, my family and any surrogate designated by me or appointed by a Court, to carry out the wishes stated in this document. If I become unable, by reason of physical or mental incapacity, to make decisions about my medical care, this document provides the guidance and authority needed to make any and all such decisions.

If at any time I have an incurable injury, disease or illness certified to be a terminal condition by two physicians, one of which is the attending physician, and where the application of life-sustaining procedures would serve only to artificially prolong the moment of my death and where my physician determines that my death is imminent whether or not life-sustaining procedures are utilized, I direct that my life shall not be artificially prolonged and that life prolonging procedures should be withheld or withdrawn, and that I be permitted to die naturally.

In addition to the above, I do not want my life to be prolonged if I have become unconscious and, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, I will not regain consciousness.

Finally, I do not want my life to be prolonged if I have an incurable and irreversible condition and life-prolonging treatment imposes risks and burdens of treatment that outweighs the expected benefits, even if my death is not immediately imminent.

In the absence of my ability to give directions regarding the use of life-sustaining procedures, it is my intention that this directive shall be honored by my family and physicians as the final expression of my legal right to refuse medical or surgical treatment and accept the consequences from such refusal. If artificial life-sustaining means have been commenced, they should be stopped. All care necessary to keep me comfortable and free from pain should be given, even if pain-relieving medications may hasten my death.

To effect my wishes, I designate ____residing at ___ or if he or she shall for any reason fail to act, I ____residing at ___ (in that order) as my health care agent/surrogate, that is, my attorney-in-fact regarding any and all health care decisions to be made for me, including the decision to refuse life-sustaining treatment, if I am unable to make such decisions myself. My agent/surrogate’s authority shall become effective when my primary physician determines that I am unable to make my own health care decisions. This power shall remain effective during and not be affected by my subsequent illness, disability or incapacity. My surrogate shall have authority to interpret this document, and shall make decisions about my health care as specified in my instructions, or, if or when my wishes are not clear, as the surrogate believes to be in my best interests. I release and hold harmless my health care surrogate from any and all claims whatsoever arising from decisions made in good faith in the exercise of this power.

[Sign and date, and have witnessed by two un-related persons who are over 18, not named in the living will, and who won’t receive any property upon your death. They should confirm in writing near their signatures that you are of sound mind at the time you sign.]

PB Floyd Comes Out – the visionary and the pragmatic

There is no one named PB Floyd who writes for Slingshot — it’s a penname I made up and that I’ve been using for 24 years. This issue, I’m giving up PB and from here on out, I want to write under my own real name. There’s no reason for you, dear reader, to care — so long as someone writes those Slingshot articles it’s probably all the same. But for me, this is a big deal, a sort of coming out even though my friends and family have always known that I am PB. Permit me to briefly explain because I think it relates to some critical contradictions that radicals ought to address.

I started using the name PB when I was 18 years old because some other activists made fun of an article I wrote using my real name. They said the article was naive, and looking back on it, they were probably right. Who has their whole ideological/political analysis together when they’re 18 years old? Or when they’re 42 for that matter. But I found that I liked using a pseudonym — it felt cool and it added to a sense that us radicals were somehow outlaws, operating an “underground” paper, rebelling against authority and corporations and the police.

It felt freeing — I felt like I could write whatever I wanted about protests or immoral or illegal actions and not risk getting in trouble. Of course I also simultaneously knew how silly that was — if anyone really wanted to figure out who PB Floyd was, I knew it wouldn’t be very hard since anyone who wandered into a Slingshot meeting would immediately learn the truth.

But it was still fun and freeing, and that felt like enough reason to keep it. Over the years, I even began to feel like PB had built up a body of work of sorts — sometimes people would tell me they had read my articles. It was exciting. When I got a professional job to earn money, it felt better to have some separation between my Slingshot reality and my work reality. At one point, I was going to loan closings on high floors of banks wearing a suit. It felt better to have a bit of distance between that role and PB’s articles that were about tearing down capitalism and banks and suits.

When I wrote as PB, I didn’t have to ground my articles in the real, boring, flawed, compromising me, so it somehow felt easier to express the parts of me that aren’t boring or scared — that can take risks, dream great dreams, and put my whole heart and soul into the struggle for liberation. I think all of us have both kinds of people inside — the brave visionary, and the stuck pragmatist. In a sense, struggling for social transformation is about figuring out how millions of people can simultaneously find their inner revolutionary, and not listen to the doubting, fearful side.

The real me can be a pain in the ass — often saying the wrong thing, acting like a stubborn bully, being selfish, loud, rude and stupid. The real me has to make compromises with the hard real world to keep a job, have a place to live and have enough money and stability so I don’t go crazy. The real me is insecure and I don’t always like myself very much. I’ve been in therapy for 11 years and I still feel like a total psychological mess — often unable to enjoy my life or get beyond the coping mechanisms I developed when I was 15. I’m middle aged now and as I get older and older, I pile up more regrets and I feel less and less sure about what I ought to be doing or whether my core beliefs even make sense. I’ve broken the hearts of those who loved me, let down my friends and squandered my potential. PB was never weighed down with any of that messy reality.

And yet the mistakes I’ve made aren’t the whole story, because the real me is also the person who created PB and amidst all the compromises, I’ve mostly been able to figure out ways to resist the machine, struggle for change, contribute to the radical community, and be free. I’ve managed to arrange my life around publishing Slingshot — setting up my job, my housing, and my social relationships to support involvement in the grassroots radical community.

By keeping PB as a separate part of myself, I’ve avoided taking that part of myself entirely seriously. I’ve always kept one foot in the mainstream society while the other foot was in the radical community. The main reason I want to unmask PB and write under my own name is because I want to get rid of the split. I want to fully commit to the PB part of my personality and devote myself to the struggle for a different world with my whole heart.

I went to school and got a career and I’ve been working it for 15 years, and it isn’t what I want to do. I can do it okay but the real excitement in my life — my real life mission — is working on Slingshot and pursuing alternatives to the corporate/industrial society that is destroying the earth. I’m tired of rationing and suppressing and denying all of the stuff that makes my life feel meaningful and good — raw experience and adventures, biking in the sun, working with my hands rather than in front of a computer, building and gardening to create something real and tangible, struggling hard to push back eco-destroying machines and systems.

Doing Slingshot and being involved in other aspects of the radical community is the ultimate mind-altering, gratifying, life-giving experience. There are a lot of frustrations and ways alternative communities fall short, but at the end of the day they are about something meaningful — creating social relations that are just and sustainable — whereas being practical to get by in a society that is killing itself and the earth is crazy. It is crucial that we participate in these counter-cultural projects not only to build something for the future, but to actively participate in passionate lives now.

Writing as PB all these years has permitted me to be a lazy writer. By shifting into a PB character when I wrote Slingshot articles, it was easy to write from an idealized, pure place that the real me — and none of my readers — could ever live up to. We ought to distrust purity, absolutes, and idealized realities. Instead, I think what is most interesting is not the idealized utopias we can think up in our heads, but the messy compromises we make with the real world in which we nevertheless still try to live up to our values and visions.

I want to focus on these contradictions and compromises more and I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the radical community to try this as well — less purity tests and more acceptance and compassion for each other as we all build paths outside the dying society together.

By the way, PB Floyd stands for Pretty Boy Floyd, a depression-era Oklahoma outlaw immortalized in a fantastic Woodie Guthrie song that concludes “Well as through this world I’ve rambled, I’ve seen many a-funny men. Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen. But as through this world you wander and as through this world you roam, you will never see an outlaw drive a family from their home.”

High time to legalize

It is great that California may finally legalize recreational use of marijuana this year by passing a ballot measure in November — The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 — even though the world needs more than just getting rid of silly drug laws so that legal drug companies can replace illegal drug dealers. Beyond legalization, we need to change the passive way we interact with drugs, the world, our consciousness, and each other.

It is too easy to relate to drugs as just another thing you can buy, sell or ingest — a social interaction that can easily be integrated into the dominant society with a legalization law without undermining the dehumanizing power relationships that are killing the earth. How can we remove drugs from the market economy, figure out cooperative, do-it-yourself production and distribution models, and harness the altered states of consciousness that can be associated with drugs to undermine and corrode mainstream institutions and cultural values? And why does it often feel like excessive pot use is actually holding back alternative communities a lot more than liberating us?

While the ballot measure permits personal cultivation for personal use meaning that people could theoretically create pot on a do-it-yourself, local basis outside the market, the last 15 years of experience with legal medical marijuana in California indicates that rather than promoting more activity outside the market, most people are going to want to buy their pot rather than grow their own. California medical cannabis patients have overwhelming sought to purchase, rather than grow, their medicine. In fact, the November initiative was put on the ballot by Richard Lee, founder of Oaksterdam University in Oakland which is the flagship of the highly profitable medical marijuana-industrial complex that has developed to sell pot since medical marijuana was legalized.

Much of the text of the ballot measure is about figuring out the rules for the new market, including taxation of pot sales to help fund local governments. This is one of the marketing points on which proponents of the initiative hope to base their electoral campaign — that legalizing pot can raise money to pay for local governments starved for funds by government preoccupied with prisons and tax cuts for the rich.

That the ballot measure is really about creating new legal markets and products is sad but inevitable — the capitalist market system swallows everything within its reach. Word on the street is that some pot growers and dealers are against the measure because they know it will put them out of business. Residents of pot crop-dependent Humboldt County may organize a “no” campaign.

It’s up to radicals to set up alternatives in every social realm — housing, food, education, transportation, drugs and recreation — based on cooperation, sharing, production for use not profit, and meeting human needs not corporate greed. Turning fancy strains of pot into a new Napa Valley wine industry — complete with pesticides, low-paid un-documented workers, and fat-cat yuppie owners — is a likely but unpleasant picture of the future.

Clearly, drug prohibition is a bad joke that should be abandoned immediately. Laws against pot haven’t made it difficult to get. Rather, they have been a price support system and a tax on users, keeping prices high and promising super-profits to people involved in the trade. Billions of dollars have been wasted on police and prisons, pointlessly ruining lives. A few groovy hippies have been able to live rural lives growing weed, and a few corporate-style drug gangs have run a profitable business.

Average users pay an inflated price. Perhaps it can be a bit more fun to use an illegal drug than a legal drug like alcohol. Ultimately, people are going to decide what to do with their bodies no matter what the laws say and an awful lot of people seem to like smoking dope. So it is silly for laws to try to hold back popularly accepted cultural behaviors.

The ballot measure, if passed, would be the first state law to outright legalize pot for recreational use, rather than hiding behind medical uses for marijuana or past legal reforms aimed at “decriminalizing” pot by making possession and use a minor infraction, while keeping strict laws against selling and growing.

Under the proposed law, individuals over 21 years old could “possess, process, share, or transport” up to one ounce of pot “solely for that individual’s personal consumption, and not for sale.” Those of age could also “cultivate, on private property by the owner, lawful occupant, or other lawful resident or guest of the private property owner or lawful occupant, cannabis plants for personal consumption only, in an area of not more than twenty-five square feet per private residence”. That is enough space to grow an ample personal supply — perhaps 25 ounces every three months. The law bans smoking pot in public, while using a motor vehicle or “in any space while minors are present” as well as providing marijuana to anyone under 21.

The law would permit each “local government” including a “city, county, or city and county” to either ban the sale of pot within its jurisdiction, or regulate and tax up to one ounce sales by “persons . . . lawfully authorized”. Local governments would be permitted to regulate not just the sale of pot, but also who would be licensed to produce, process and distribute it. They could pass zoning rules to regulate the location, size, hours, advertising, public health and environmental impacts of marijuana production, sale and consumption within their jurisdiction.

The lack of a statewide standard could create a confusing patchwork of “dry” areas and legal areas, determined by local voters. Perhaps a few cities would emerge as drug supply hubs for the state, with potheads driving to the local dope supermarket, dominated by a few companies that were “authorized” because of their close connections to local government officials. Some cities could pass lax laws with low taxes and easy rules to become an “authorized” dealer, while others might opt for very high taxes and strict rules. There is no way to know what might happen but companies wanting to cash in on the marijuana market would be likely to heavily lobby local governments to earn potentially huge profits. The emphasis on local regulation appears to invite corruption.

Of course any petty corruption under the law is likely to be better than the status quo, which criminalizes huge numbers of people for their private decisions and spawns various levels of criminal activity, from benign to violent, throughout society. A friend who works trimming pot during harvest in Northern California described the creepy, power-tripping, paranoid dynamic that the constant fear of getting busted breeds amongst workers in the illegal pot industry. Everyone is wondering if there is a government spy in their midst.

The drug war — like the war on terrorism — gives the state endless excuses to intrude on individual liberty and privacy. This dynamic creates a corrosive, authoritarian atmosphere of expanded police budgets and authority. Ending the war on drugs is what I think of as a non-reformist reform because it opens up more liberated social conditions — space for people to build autonomy and community.

Opponents of legalization have always claimed that more people would use pot if it was legal but it’s hard to see how this could be true since weed is already so easily available to anyone who wants it. To the extent more people use it, this could be a good thing. Pot is a quick and easy way to alter one’s consciousness in an interesting way that can potentially help people question mainstream values of consumerism, human control, hierarchy, etc. When you’re stoned, social dynamics that normally seem natural or mandatory can sometimes be called into question. We need to conduct more hands-on research on this poin
t . . .

On the other hand, there are a lot of ways to alter and expand your consciousness — meditation, playing music, extreme exercise, rioting, therapy, working on Slingshot, starting a guerilla garden or plugging into other participatory, social, interactive activities. Pot can be a lazy, passive high — a cheap trip to higher consciousness that can dull the mind, inhibit spiritual development and hold people back. When pot is just another product, users are just consumers. We need a world where we’re more engaged with each other, ourselves and able to address social contradictions — another way to check-out from reality heads the wrong direction.

Some of the harder, more do-it-yourself, non-chemical mind-altering experiences can be pretty deep. While I’ve had amazing moments feeling like I was floating on air while riding my bicycle stoned into the sunset, I’ve also noticed how I get depressed for about a week after each time I try pot. Each drug works differently for different people, at different times, and has different costs and benefits. Hopefully folks will try a lot of ways to expand their consciousness because too much of any particular pathway becomes boring.

Just legalizing pot isn’t the end of the story — the social and cultural struggle about how we use marijuana and other drugs (legal or illegal) will continue indefinitely. Hopefully, once pot is legal and “out of the closet” it will be easier to have a more complex and interesting dialog, and there will be one less absurd excuse for police to bust people.