If you want to draw for the 2022 Slingshot Organizer, contact us now. Slingshot includes art from dozens of people from all over the world — please be one of us. Email by April 20 — pages are due May 28.
Anyone can suggest, help edit, verify and proofread historical dates in March and April. (You can do so remotely.) We also need corrections and suggestions of new radical contact list spaces by May 29.
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Over the last several years, a number of members of the Slingshot Collective have explored the importance of consent across a range of human activities, including sexual consent, and consent within the context of labor. These explorations have led many of us to begin to ask, “What would a consent-based economy look like?”
Right now, the basic unit of the economy is this thing called capital, which is a way of gamifying human social relations so that people who win at largely inaccessible institutionalized gambling are given the power to direct human labor towards creating more capital. This system has only one goal: to replicate capital at any cost. The logic of capital is supported by local and international laws, laws that force corporations into structures of demonstrating growth to investors and that likewise allow individuals who work for corporations to not be held personally accountable for actions committed on behalf of a company (this is called “limited liability” and it is one of the legal loopholes that led to the birth of capitalism in the 16th Century). Empowered by laws that prioritize capital, CEOs of capitalist entities direct labor towards replicating capital, often committing egregious violations of consent.
One of the most deplorable consent violations currently underway is a regime of environmental racism in which communities of color disproportionately find themselves subjected to poisonous and toxic chemicals that are byproducts of capital replication tactics. Latinx communities in Los Angeles are experiencing disproportionate rates of cancer and disease because of oil drilling in their neighborhoods, the Standing Rock Sioux and the Wet’suwet’en and many other Indigenous groups are having to fight dangerous pipelines from being built over their ancestral land, while the Mohawk people are dealing with a regime of racist toxic waste dumping on tribally held land that has greatly increased mortality rates among their people. There are just so many cases of environmental racism that emerge in a system that prioritizes capital’s replication rather than consent.
Likewise, consent is violated for everyone through the destruction of ecological wealth and climate stability brought on by the concerted actions of the for-profit petroleum industry. If the people of Paradise, CA, or Malden, WA, or Phoenix, OR had known that their entire towns would burn to the ground because of escalating carbon emissions, they likely would have not consented to the escalation of carbon emissions. The same might be said for everyone under the age of 30 at this point, a group rapidly losing any hope of a future without horrific social and ecological disasters each day greenhouse gas emissions are not cut to zero.
Imagine a consent-based economy
Imagine what would happen if consent, rather than capital, was at the center of our economy? Imagine if the courts no longer prioritized capital, but prioritized consent?
Dr. Grace Delmolino at UC Davis is currently teaching an undergraduate class on consent, and here is a diagram of consent that has been used in her class:
One of the main focuses of her class is the question, “What makes consent valid?” As we move towards a consent-based economy, this is an important question to ask.
Consent cannot be valid if it is coerced or forced. Additionally, to be able to consent, a person needs to be adequately informed about what they are consenting to. This means they need access to all of the information, and it needs to be represented in a way that is truly accessible and easy to understand. Sometimes things are called “informed consent” that don’t meet this criteria, for example, the “Terms of Service” that we often sign online that allow companies to gather and sell our personal data — if the typical internet user were to personally read all of these, it would take a full month of their time each year, 8 hours a day. No one has time for that, so this clearly isn’t valid consent.
Likewise, consent becomes less valid when asymmetrical power relations are at play. For example, because women — in particular women of color — are asymmetrically disempowered through the wage gap (i.e., women make 79 cents to the white man’s dollar, Black women make 63 cents to the white man’s dollar, Indigenous women make 58 cents to the white man’s dollar, and if a woman is trans, these numbers are virtually cut in half). The wage gap is one of a number of factors that systemically disempower women, and because women are more likely to find themselves with less access to money, it disproportionately puts women in the precarious position of feeling pressured to sometimes consent to things they don’t want to do. In this way, the legitimacy of consent between romantic partners of different genders is thrown into question, and the need to remove these forms of systemic oppression is thrown into focus.
Consent economics allows us to think through a number of systemic issues within our society that are oppressive to whole groups and to center these groups’ consent, rather than treating it as an afterthought.
A consent economy would also prioritize staying within what scientists have called The Planetary Carbon Budget (NOAA 2018), so to ensure future generations are not trapped with awful conditions they did not consent to. If the courts prioritized consent before capital, so much could be solved quickly. But this must start with a narrative shift from the ground up.
The overly simplified idea is: Replace the logic of capital with the logic of consent, like this:
Sure, in the case of Indiana Jones, the temple collapses around him the moment the golden idol is removed, nearly crushing him. But also: the temple collapses!
Likewise, in a consent economy, each sector of the economy would need to be evaluated, sector by sector, to ensure that its operations did not impede upon the consent of others. The energy sector and the transportation sector for example have been found to fail to achieve consent while operating under the logic of capital. Other sectors whose operations impede upon consent when they are organized by the logic of capital include housing, prisons, military, education, and medicine. To transition to a consent economy, the logic of capital needs to be removed from these sectors and they need to be de-privatized. Some economic sectors, however, might be able to continue to operate under the logic of capital, with a few modifications. For example, the entertainment sectors (film, video games, magazines, etc) might be able to remain operating under a mostly capitalist logic, but factors that violate different kinds of consent would need to be removed.
In a consent economy, workplaces themselves would also need to be evaluated and organized around principles of consent. Many workplaces are presently dominated by a coercive logic in which workers are robbed of decision-making power, of ownership over what they produce, and ownership of the tools to produce it. In a consent economy, models of consensual and democratic decision-making would be used by worker-owners to self-manage their own workplaces, with workers having full control over how and when they work, what they produce, and how they co-create the models of production within a given workplace. Work in such an economy would radically shift towards being an occasion to create meaningful experiences for workers, with automation valued for its ability to alleviate meaningless toil, while environmental consent would need to be weighed in all aspects of the decision-making process.
For such workplaces to truly be consensual, the logic of compulsory labor would need to be removed from the economy. This will ensure that workers work because they want to, not because they are being forced by pervasive artificial conditions that compel unnecessary labor. This places importance upon the cultivation of commonly held and publicly accessible spaces for things like food production, sharing computer code, etc. Creative engagement will be necessary to develop, strategize, and maintain commonly held infrastructure that removes artificial scarcity that is presently used to compel labor by removing the conditions for consent.
Within a consent economy, consent would also be centered in workplaces, community spaces, and relationships, with community members being ready to actively intervene and mitigate harm when survivors come forward to report non-consensual abusive behaviors. This means communities must do the work (before abuse happens) of proactively implementing adjudication processes that center survivors. Such processes remove those accused of engaging in abusive behavior from the spaces that survivors interact with, a move that allows survivors to heal while also preventing abusive behaviors from becoming a means to achieve hegemony with a given space.
What happens when we better center consent within our institutions? What happens when we prioritize consent in our media and storytelling? What happens when we teach consent as a value to the next generation? There is definitely a time limit at play — there are less than 10 years left before we need to reduce humanity’s net carbon emissions to 50% — and the push for a consent economy is just one of many tactics that may help us rapidly put an end to environmental racism, mitigate climate chaos, and put an end to many other forms of social and ecological harm that currently wreak havoc on our communities and ecosystems.
The effort to center consent within our economy will surely be an adventure, one that will take care, cleverness, courage, humor, the ability to collaborate and also rest.
SH Steele is a member of the California Economists Collective, cec.ucdavis.edu.Many ideas in this article were influenced by Dr. Grace Delmolino.
—Indigenous scholar Kyle White has written about consent from a variety of angles that pertain to law and scientific practice. His work may be read for free here: https://umich.academia.edu/KyleWhyte
—The book Sexual Consent by Milena Popova (The MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series, 2019) breaks down sexual consent from a social, legal, historical, and mutual aid standpoint. Everyone should read this book by the time they finish high school, and it offers a framework that might be used to think through other types of consent.
—South African scholar Lesley Green has just released a book that thinks through an alternative approach to removing the logic of capital from our relations. The book is called Rock | Water | Life: Ecology and Humanities for a Decolonial South Africa (Duke University Press, 2020). While focusing on South Africa, this work models a relationship-based approach to non-capitalist economics any region might work to foster.
Edited by David Remnick and Henry Finder. 525 pages. (c) 2020 by The New Yorker.
Reviewed by T. Frank
I was largely unaware of the climate change findings of the 1980s, as someone who grew up a decade later. The Fragile Earth: Writing from The New Yorker on Climate Change reveals that scientists and inventors have documented rising temperatures one hundred years prior, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. “Man was evaporating our coal mines into the air,” wrote Svante Arrhenius, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, in 1884.
The concept of time, of past, present and future, becomes murky halfway through the 1989 essay Reflections: The End of Nature,by Bill McKibben. This volume repeats data and information about our warming planet like the feedback loops of climate change. Reminders of continuous, growing sources of carbon emissions are sprinkled throughout. Our daily dependence on oil and gas, agriculture and water, affects multiple generations that experience rapid destruction from exploitative industries. McKibben suggests that our responsibility is not to end climate change — the events are unavoidable — but “to slow down the warming so that we can adapt to it. Our impulse will be to…figure out a new way to continue our accustomed life styles…and press ahead into a new world” (p. 45).
Slingshot readers should be familiar by now with our coverage of climate change. The Fragile Earth: Writing from The New Yorker on Climate Change might help us balance the totality of this crisis with frank, fluid text, a narrative that reviews and analyzes the causes and effects of global warming. You can pick it up at your local library — I borrowed this volume during the Covid-19 pandemic, and our library system allows for multiple renewals. What better way to be informed?
Last summer’s catastrophic forest fires were just a taste of what’s in store if we don’t drastically reduce and eliminate emissions from our infrastructure. But how do we make sense of climate science? How do we direct our energy towards the changes that need to happen most urgently?
EarthGamesUW is a game development laboratory at the University of Washington run by climate scientists and their students, and they have created a number of apps and games based on real climate data that can be downloaded or played online for free here at: earthgames.org.
The climate data used in these games comes from the C-MIP6, or the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Version 6, which is considered the best predictive climate data available. At EarthGamesUW, climate scientists sit down with computer programmers to translate the C-MIP data into the Python programming language, allowing game designers to use it as the backend for their games.
Some of these games may seem a bit hokey and DIY when compared to games produced by big teams for profit, but they offer a number of creative ways to visualize processes that contribute to and result from the greenhouse gas emissions that are fueling climate change.
My favorite game that EarthGamesUW has created so far is Infrared Escape, in which you play a tiny beam of infrared energy attempting to escape the atmosphere to cool the planet. Rather than setting the game to “easy” or “hard” at the start of the game, there is a scale that you can use to adjust the PPM (parts per million) of carbon in the atmosphere. The more PPM of carbon in the atmosphere, the harder it is to escape.
Other EarthGames projects include Climate Quest, which is made to look like a 90s-style RPG game, in which you direct a team of specialists in addressing escalating ecological and social disasters that come up due to climate change, and Life of Pika, in which players direct a pika (a real animal that is threatened by climate change) to collect food while dodging predators as the rising temperature threatens your survival in a number of ways. These and a number of other climate games are free to download for your phone, tablet, or computer.
These games are especially handy if you’re homeschooling and want to include a unit on climate change (every little kid alive right now is going to have to contend with this, so better to be honest and prepare them as much as possible while fighting like hell to mitigate the damage while we still have time).
My one criticism is the website doesn’t have any widgets to help you visualize climate data in a more straightforward way. For that, you have to go to a different website (climateinteractive.org/tools/climate-pathways/) to download an interactive graphing tool that shows you how temperature change will be affected by different levels of greenhouse gas emissions over the new few years.
The future trajectory of global warming over the 21st century will be determined by the speed with which humans eliminate emissions of greenhouse gases. According to the IPCC, in order to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-Industrial average, emissions must be reduced by 50% by 2030, and drop to net zero by 2050 (IPCC 2018). We now have less than 10 years to reduce emissions by 50% to prevent catastrophic climate change within our lifetimes. Rather than panicking, it is a good time to slow down and work to understand the factors that are contributing to climate change so we can make smart collective choices fast.
Finding the Ground – Reorienting Ourselves in the Age of COVID
It has been a dizzying whirlwind of a year. It’s hard to know what to think these days. I find myself questioning if the political analysis that I had pre-pandemic is still relevant. Clearly, when times change, it is necessary to adapt. But how?
We must re-affirm our core values. Anarchism is the philosophy of freedom. It is predicated upon voluntary association, mutual aid, and the belief that there is a symbiosis between the freedom of the individual and the health of the collective.
And here we must get into a question that has been gnawing away at me for months. Why have anarchists been so silent in the face of government lockdown orders and related arbitrary rules approaching martial law across the world? Even though lockdowns are ebbing now, they could come back. Aren’t radicals defenders of civil liberties such as the freedom of assembly and privacy? Yet until recently, there seemed to be a taboo against radicals criticizing measures justified in the name of Public Health — almost the only people protesting lockdowns were right wingers.
Thankfully, that is now changing. In Quebec, home to a fierce anarchist tradition, it took the imposition of a curfew before anarchists reached the point of mobilizing, but I am happy to report that radicals in Quebec are now taking to the streets. There have now been two anti-curfew demonstrations organized by anarchists. I hope that it will lead to further dialogue about the path forward for a resistance movement in the age of COVID, for the old world is behind us.
Social media platforms are scrubbing their platforms of information deemed to be contrary to the recommendations of Public Health. This type of censorship works to create a type of groupthink by making criticism of lockdown measures seem like an extremist ideology, by placing it outside the bounds of what it is acceptable to say.
We need to question authority. We need to ask ourselves: What is Public Health? What is justifiable in the name of Public Health and what isn’t? And who gets to decide?
What is really implied by the term “Public Health”? Often, it seems that the term is used to suggest that individual wishes, needs and desires must be subordinated in the interests of a greater good. Who determines this greater good? The state, of course.
I believe that human beings want to be free. However, there is one thing that most people value over freedom. That is safety. That is why, when a regime wishes to gain the compliance of a population for nefarious purposes, such as war, they focus on making people afraid. This is basic. The War on Terror was accompanied by a massive effort in fear-mongering propaganda. The U.S. government issued daily color-coded “Terror Level Alerts” as part of the mobilization of support for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. This fear was accompanied by propaganda promoting patriotism, justifying an invasion of another country in the name of freedom. Is it such a stretch that a modern-day propaganda machine could have people believing in and supporting equally untrue things? Whenever the media is clearly pumping fear into the public, the natural question to ask should be: “For what purpose are they spreading fear? What do they want the public to believe?” When we ask ourselves those two questions, we can operate with another assumption — that the thing that they want the public to go along with is not something that the public would normally support.
Every day, we are told over and over again how dire the situation is. We are essentially being told that we are under attack. The only difference is that the enemy is not a foreign power but a force of nature, a virus, an invisible enemy.
It is clear that some people are more at risk than others, and of course we should respect the boundaries of those who have a different level of risk assessment than we do, always basing our ethics in these matters on principles of consent, self-determination, and respect of the bodily autonomy of each person. We need to talk about these things and decide our own ethics around them, rather than reflexively reproducing the dominant narrative being promoted through mainstream media.
We need to reject the logic that we need to be protected from ourselves. To accept this logic is to accept defeat. If we accept the logic that the information that we have access to must be controlled, we are accepting the logic that we must be controlled. The state would have us believe that it has our best interests at heart, and that it is manipulating us for our own good, in the name of Public Health.
This pandemic points towards some very big questions for society in general. Society is being radically transformed. Who are the winners and losers? Which corporate interests and which political parties are gaining wealth and power, and which segments of society are most adversely affected? Some of the questions are not just political, but spiritual. For example, is Western society pathologically death-phobic? Throughout human history, societies have dealt with the natural human fear of death through spirituality practices, philosophy, and theatre such as funerary rituals. Do we need a grand narrative within which we can understand our mortality? Is our lack of such a narrative making us behave irrationally? Today, it seems likely that the constant stimulation of electronic media is distracting people from understanding the meaning of life, which is the natural antidote to the fear of death. Some from the tech world, drunk on the power of their privilege, dream of overcoming death through biohacking and nano-technology, but this search for immortality is an ancient folly.
So I would propose that the conversation around COVID needs to go beyond its current obsession with “saving lives” and focus on the larger question of how to live and to die well in a world where death is an inevitability. I hope that we will all agree that there is more to life than just being alive. This is not just an individual question, but a question for society, because if we don’t want our elders dying terrible deaths in nursing homes, we’ve got to do some soul-searching… because if our ideal society doesn’t involve the state, it means that people like you and I will have to provide for people who have gotten too old to live independently. And this is a topic about which anarchists over the past few decades have been mostly silent, an oversight that we now must address. Are we including elders in our imagination when we think about the autonomous communities and neighbourhoods that we desire to bring into being? Because if we aren’t, we are part of the problem.
In the end, though, I think that the crisis is a spiritual crisis. We will all die and until we make peace with that fact, we will desire a freedom that will remain out of our grasp.
There are many important questions raised by the current crisis, which we cannot afford to leave to the domain of governments and corporations.
Don’t believe the hype. Governments lie, politicians lie, the media lies, and corporate executives lie. If we want to know what constitutes appropriate action in the context of a pandemic, then we need to understand what the risks are and how to mitigate them. To do that, we should seek out the best available information. There are tons of medical studies regarding lockdowns and related subjects that you can check out online. A year ago, we didn’t have a lot of information about COVID. Now we do, and the picture that has emerged is clearer than the media would have you believe. Lockdowns are not justifiable in the name of public health, and we should oppose them as fundamental violations of our autonomy.
Insofar as we know, It’s Going Down is one of best platforms presenting news from an antifascist perspective. Has the federal classification of antifa as domestic terrorists caused any repression of your website?
There is no federal classification of antifa as domestic terrorists as the US lacks the legal infrastructure to designate domestic groups as such….
Before leaving office, Trump did issue an executive order that stated antifascists would be added to the list of groups banned under the so-called ‘Muslim Ban’ or Travel Ban, however no one was clear how this would be implemented or if this was legally possible, and Biden has already thrown out those executive orders regardless.
The push by the Trump administration to label antifascists as domestic terrorists has however been picked up as a rallying cry by sections of the GOP and the far-Right….
At the same time, repressive State organs such as the FBI, DHS, and Joint Terrorism Task Forces operating out of Fusion Centers routinely place heavy emphasis on anarchist, Black Lives Matter, and antifascist groups. For instance, thanks to Freedom of Information Act Requests, we know that police in Berkeley referred to “Black Lives Matter” and “ANTIFA” as “hate groups” in the lead up to counter-protests to far-Right rallies. Homeland Security even pushed the line that antifascists were a bigger threat than the far-Right in the lead up to Charlottesville.
The FBI has also ramped up surveillance of Black Lives Matter, creating a designation of “Black Identity Extremists” and also creating a so-called “Iron Fist” program to disrupt the current Black liberation movement; all of which echos back to COINTELPRO [from the 1960s.]
In the wake of the far-Right storming of the capitol on January 6th, it is incumbent upon autonomous social movements and the Left in general to remind the public that for years the State allowed the fascist Right to grow, while focusing on coming down against the Left. Giving the State more powers to repress even the far-Right, will ultimately be used even harder against movements from below.
What are your primary critiques of the mainstream liberal media’s approach to fascist and white supremacist activity?
The neoliberal press treated the ascension of the Alt-Right in 2016 as an oddity; an upper-middle class fascist movement that embraced white identity politics was something that they did not know how to cover. The fact that they believe racism and white supremacy to only be the station of poor and working-class whites speaks volumes to the ‘class gaze’ of many journalists. This reality was shattered however in Charlottesville, where the press was confronted, and in some cases attacked, by the very people they had been platforming for the past year….
The stance by the press overall towards antifascists and anarchists more broadly has been one largely of contempt. Before Charlottesville, there were literally more editorials written attacking antifascists in mainstream newspapers than there were attacking the Alt-Right. And while the red carpet was rolled out for the far-Right and volumes of explainer pieces were written about the movement, when it came to autonomous anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements and struggles, the press was afraid to dive deep and give a platform to those with radical anti-capitalist views — and for good reason. While news of Nazis sells, it does also not upset the owners of corporate media. This dynamic resulted in a reality where the media gave the far-Right a large platform to talk about their ideas, where antifascists, when they were interviewed at all, were forced to defend their tactics.
In short, if working people understood that they could self-organize and take on the far-Right without looking to the State or the police — and what other conclusion could one make under Trump — then what was stopping them from blocking ICE vans, stopping evictions, launching strikes and engaging in other forms of actions that put our own interests ahead of those in power?
As a guest on our show put it: the media exists to divorce social movement from their potential base of support within the wider population. While we are not opposed to talking to the media at times, we do so knowing that they are owned and controlled by forces that don’t have our best interests at heart.
What role do anarchist media projects, including It’s Going Down, play in challenging fascism?
IGD and other platforms have been able to massively shift the conversation around the far-Right while vindicating social movements pushing back against them. We’ve also been able to at times break stories — for instance exposing an Alt-Right member of Turning Point USA screaming racial slurs on video, thus causing a crisis within the organization and his removal. Just today, we learned that a member of the Proud Boys who has wormed his way into the local GOP was removed due to a video of them calling for the murder of migrants going around on the internet. Moreover, journalists for a lot of reasons also lack the fortitude to ‘break stories’ and challenge existing narratives. The fact that Unicorn Riot, IGD, and many others have pushed things so hard, allows journalists in the mainstream to report on what we’re already covering. The downside of this is that at times our work is stolen and not attributed back to us by larger outlets.
What antifascists are currently behind bars who were convicted for their political activities?
First we should mention, Gage Halupowski, currently serving a six year sentence for defending other protesters from a group of fascists armed with hammers. There is currently an outbreak at his prison, so please step up and support! Also anarchist prisoner Eric King faces constant attacks and harassment for being an outspoken antifascist and is currently fighting trumped up charges from the guards. Finally, hundreds of people are facing heavy charges following the rebellion that kicked off this summer following the police murder of George Floyd. We must all play a role in prisoner defense, so get in where you fit in and do what you can.
Anything else you want to say on these topics is welcome!
There’s a lot more we can say but the energy that exploded last summer needs to continue, albeit in new trajectories and projects. The neoliberal center is going to attempt to placate liberals and progressives and push for social peace; it’s our job to point out the contradictions and how similar both parties really are. We need to keep building up the mass networks and programs of mutual aid, tenant unions, and prison organizing which has been taking place across the US the past year and expand these projects. There’s a lot of new people around radical circles now that need to be caught up to speed on everything from security culture to community organizing — let’s not lose our momentum but keep growing. Already since Biden has been elected we’ve seen strikes in New York and riots against the police in Tacoma; things may have calmed down a bit, but nothing is going back to whatever ‘normal’ is in an age of catastrophic climate change and rising fascism. Get organized. Expand the capacity of your projects. Work on strengthening existing movement infrastructure and growing it. Solidify and build regional networks. Deepen relationships with the broader proletariat in every way possible.
Follow It’s Going Down online at itsgoingdown.org, on Twitter @IGD_News on IG: its.going.down. and check us out in the bay area on the radio, every Friday at 12PM NOON at 94.1 on KPFA.
It’s rare to have a good feeling about the earth these days — but that’s the feeling I had as I turned the wrench and shut off the valve to my house’s gas meter on New Years Eve. “This house,” I thought, “is finally done with combustion.” I had just replaced all the natural gas-burning machines with electric alternatives — and around here that’s a big improvement since over 80% of the local electric grid is an emissions-free mix of hydro, nuclear, solar, wind and geothermal.
The only way to get to zero emissions is to stop burning fossil fuels — which means either not doing stuff we currently do with fossil fuels or converting machines to run on electricity, since it’s possible to make electricity without combustion. Wind is already cheaper than fossil fueled electricity and solar power is about to be cheaper. So the one-two punch is to convert to electric power and make electrical generation emissions-free. While electric power plants currently account for 27 percent of US emissions, the number is falling rapidly and could hit zero with enough public pressure and investment.
Individual acts may feel irrelevant in the face of the global, rapidly escalating climate catastrophe. But doing what you can helps avoid terror, hopelessness and paralysis — so you can stay focused on collective action that might help. I’ve found that I can’t live in denial of climate change. At the playground with my daughter, while taking a shower, riding my bike or cooking dinner, I’m always aware that the world is dying around me, that human society may soon be swept away if CO2 emissions continue at their current rate, and that complex ecosystems (and my life which depends on these ecosystems) will decline every year for the rest of my life because human are still burning fossil fuels.
When I boiled water for hot cocoa with my old gas stove, I could imagine the CO2 spewing into the air – to drift and blow – some absorbed into the ocean changing its chemistry, some warming the climate. My small act emitted CO2 that would remain in the environment for the next 100 years — long after both me and my cocoa would be cold and dead and gone.
Fossil fuels are collective mass suicide — it has been clear for 30 years that no level of CO2 emissions is sustainable. Climate change can feel overwhelming since it’s global and seemingly out of our control — as individuals we didn’t invent and don’t run all the systems dependent on burning fossil fuels. Addressing climate change requires systemic change — institutional change, political change — which is only going to happen because millions of people organize, agitate, protest, and create overwhelming pressure for transition.
Everyone can get involved in agitation for dramatic, immediate measures to cease fossil fuel combustion locally and nationally — stopping new pipelines, urging divestment, pressuring corporations and working outside and from within cultural and political systems.
Focusing on personal action in addition to collective action is a distraction — but also a paradox, because getting to zero emissions requires unprecedented and widespread levels of personal and individual change along with systemic change. Neither works on its own.
At my house, the most complex aspect of getting rid of natural gas was running a bunch of new 220 volt circuits. The biggest adjustment was swapping the gas stove for an electric induction one that uses a magnetic field to heat just the pot and that allows instant temperature adjustment. I love cooking and it is a fine alternative to gas — my food is just as yummy and it is just as fun to cook.
Converting to electricity is something individuals can do right now to get closer to a zero emissions world and perhaps to reduce personal eco-anxiety.
But the largest single source of emissions in the US is transportation — 28 percent — and individual passenger cars represent about 60 percent of that. So even more than changing home appliances, the greatest impact an individual can have is reducing transportation combustion by either moving less or moving without combustion.
The simplest, easiest way to reduce transportation emissions is to move less in the first place and focus on friends, events and places right around you — which is how humans existed until about 100 years ago. I’ve mostly given up trying to convince anyone to do this — we’re all so used to a car-based lifestyle that disregards distance. But it’s still right even if it requires re-training ourselves.
Mostly, I bicycle for transportation and I admit that being able to do so is a privilege. I live in California where the weather is nice and I’ve been able to arrange my life so I live close to stores and work at home. There are also lots of choices that I and other bicyclists make so we can bicycle — it isn’t all privilege and luck. Part of being a bicyclist is seeing distance differently than car drivers do. Going even 10 miles takes a long time on a bike — so cyclists figure out how to meet their needs closer to home and avoid frivolous travel. I rarely go more than 3 miles from my house without putting my bike on BART — which I haven’t done since pandemic started. There’s a richness in staying nearer to home — you discover a lot of stuff you would have missed whizzing around in a car.
When my daughter was born 8 years ago, she couldn’t go on a bike for her first year, so I mostly walked within a mile of home that year. Now we go on all our adventures and daily travels by bike. From ages 1-6 she rode on an iBert seat on my handlebars, and now she rides a tagalong third wheel that clips to the back of my bike. I can haul almost anything I need in bike bags or a bike trailer — I’ve even moved plywood and bags of cement. And each year I take about 20,000 Slingshot organizers to the post office via bike trailer. Once you think like a bicyclist, you realize how much is possible on foot, via bike and on public transit — and a lot of car travel most people do thoughtlessly seems silly.
But cars still dominate. So a question becomes “If millions of people insist on driving, and if gasoline powered cars is certain climate suicide, what can be done to promote cars that don’t emit CO2?”
Cars can run on hydrogen which only emits water when its burned — and it is possible to make hydrogen out of regular water with solar or wind powered electricity, but so far hydrogen cars are rare. A lot of energy is lost using hydrogen vs. batteries, so it takes a lot more energy per mile driven. Another article should address the topic. Most non-emitting cars being built now are electric battery-powered vehicles.
So even though I don’t care much for cars, my wife and I decided to buy an electric car last year. My 73 year old housemate Nora’s car was in decline, and I felt like if she was going to drive most days, it would be better if she drove an electric car not a gasoline one.
Okay — let me admit the full absurd truth: I had an extremely vivid dream one night about a VW bus. When I woke up I checked Craigslist and the first thing I saw was a VW bus converted to electricity. It was beautiful — but the number of miles it could go on a charge was terrible. While obsessing over the VW, I researched electric cars and realized that they are now a very reasonable option if you want to drive a car. If everyone switched from gasoline cars to electric vehicles (EVs), it would dramatically reduce CO2 emissions. Even if they were all run entirely on fossil fueled electricity, EVs would cut emissions since power to run them emit less CO2 per mile than gasoline cars. It would help even more if people drove less. Used EVs are selling for not too much money these days.
The 2 key things to consider if you want to get an EV are the battery range — how far can you go between charges — and where you can charge it? We got a 2017 Chevy Bolt with a range of about 230 miles. It has a quick charging plug that can recharge the battery in under an hour, but so far there are hardly any of those fancy quick chargers out there. Fast chargers use DC power and cost thousands of dollars — no one has one at home.
What people have at home is either a level 1 charger running on 110 volts, or a level 2 charger that needs 220 volts. The level 1 charger will take more than a day to recharge a car which isn’t going to work for most people. So I installed a 32 amp level 2 charger — which brings up another funny story. Most EVs in my neighborhood are parked in a driveway for charging. My house is a big old Victorian with no driveway — there’s only street parking. Where could I put the charger? I put it in the corner of the yard under the bike shed and then I ran the cord into some trees that hang over the sidewalk. When not in use, the cord is hidden in the tree. When you want to charge, you get out a ladder, disconnect a bungie cord holding the cord to a branch, and pull down the cord. It looks like the tree is charging the car.
Like any technology, EVs take an ecological toll on the earth and in particular their batteries require huge lithium mines. Half of global production is from Australia; 20 percent from Chile. Mines can release toxic pollution and gobble up scarce water resources. A good article by climate activist Jonathan Neale explains how lithium production must be made more just and ecologically sound — he thinks it is possible. Those who want to keep driving cars need to compare the damage related to gasoline cars — emissions, oil wells, pipelines and refineries — vs. lithium mines. Neither is perfect and both harm poor people and poor regions disproportionately. But overall lithium mines aren’t as bad — carbon emissions damage the entire earth in dramatic and not-yet fully understood ways.
As with any new technology, it’s important to compare the new technology (with new harms) against the technology it is replacing (with harms that might feel invisible because we are used to them.) Windmills kills some birds and change landscapes — but to really understand the harm you need to compare them to oil wells, coal mines, pipelines, and CO2 emissions — which overall harm more birds and will change more landscapes.
Since I’m so bike oriented, I’ve barely driven the EV since we got it, but Nora uses it most days. On a few trips to the beach it was easy finding places to charge — even a fun challenge. It’s also a funny feeling when you pass a gas station, because your gasoline car-brain thinks “do I need to get gas?” but then you realize the gas station is irrelevant.
The Bolt is peppy — since there’s no engine and no transmission, it accelerates super fast and goes up hills easily. There is no oil to change and many fewer moving parts than a gasoline car, so at least in theory it should require less maintenance. We’ll see.
I can’t believe I’m writing a car review for Slingshot but I strongly believe the climate crisis calls on all of us to be deeply flexible — open to change and the unexpected. The way we grew up and all the stuff we’re used to isn’t sustainable, and we have to dump it right away. More than half of all human CO2 emissions since the beginning of time have happened since 1988 — the year it became clear that human emissions were causing climate change and also, oddly, the year Slingshot started publishing.
Socially on a global and institutional level — as well as individually — it helps to have a vision for what a sustainable, non-fossil fueled work would look like. Socially, this is necessary to figure out very complex and long-term plans and changes.
Individually, having such a vision helps avoid terror, hopelessness and paralysis looking at an existential crisis that seems too big for any single individual. When I think about how the world could be better if it were sustainable, it gives me a giddy sense of excitement — even while I also realize getting there might be difficult or even unlikely.
Almost every human activity we’re part of day-to-day is killing the earth, so for almost everything around us, there’s an alternative we can imagine.
• Transportation – 28% of US emissions: Walking, biking, transit, electric cars, electric buses, electric trucks, people living closer to jobs and necessities, high speed trains running on electricity instead of airplanes, ships with high-tech sails. Cities redesigned to make it easier to bike and walk. Free and better public transit. More local production – less moving stuff around. A slower and more local pace of life that emphasizes seeing stuff along the way instead of being all being about the destination. Reclaiming the rich social experience of traveling by train.
• Electrical generation – 27% of US emissions: Wind, solar, geothermal, small hydro, tidal power. Storage that pumps water uphill when there is surplus power and that runs turbines when power is needed.
• Industry – 22 % of US emissions: Using less stuff and smarter methods. I want to better understand what this category means.
• Commercial & residential – 12% of US emissions: Phase out natural gas and electrify everything.
• Agriculture – 10% of US emissions: Less animal agriculture. Organic and sustainable farming techniques that sink carbon. Gardens and fruit trees everywhere.
Humans figured out how to harness fire — and now if we want to save ourselves we need to learn how to stop burning stuff.
A super weird part of the whole process is that in general, I hate buying stuff and when I do, I always feel a sense of regret knowing that I’m degrading the earth and feeding the industrial beast. But strangely, with the car and the other electrical stuff, I had an unfamiliar feeling of calm and being part of the future.
Interview conducted by Sarafina (Witch Militia Northeast)
Who is PMS?
We are called Power Makes Us Sick, which kind of speaks for itself in a way. We’re an anti-national group that researches autonomous health practices and shares the good news about all the ways we can and do care for one another outside of and in opposition to the state and capitalism.
And how does PMS relate to those issues of health? Where do you fit in?
“We’re all a bit sick. In some ways we are healing. We’re all healers in some way. We’re all growing stronger or learning how to better act in the world through this collective and others. There’s a lot of little things that we’ve just accidentally found out along the way that we all have in common, they didn’t start off as rallying points.”
“Take what you need and compost the rest” is a slogan and an approach that inspires us.
Our work is centered around sharing skills, resources, and tools. A mutual aid with emphasis on the ‘mutual’. We offer our support to social movements and others fighting back against oppression. We make new friends along the way, we share strategies and lessons from their experiences and ours. They help us refine our tools, and then we bring all of that back to the group and are able to share new skills farther and wider.
What is autonomy? What is health? What are practices of autonomous health?
Autonomy, in our context really doesn’t mean ‘solo’ or on the level of the ‘individual’. It’s something that only begins to make sense in a collective context, and against repression, control, and institutional power. We see it wherever people are finding each other and coming together to directly bring about the kind of world they wish to see.
In terms of ‘health’ it’s the kind of health we want to see in the world, not necessarily in the ways it is conceived of by those in power. If ‘health’ is related in a certain context to work and productivity, we might refuse to be healthy. Alternatively, we might choose to say this or that aspect of the dominant society is profoundly ‘unhealthy’, sickening, sick…
Our working model of health encompasses the mental, physical, and social aspects and we want to incorporate an understanding of each part. We are inspired by an example given to us by our friends at the ‘group for an other medicine’ (rough translation) in Thessaloniki who say that if there is mold in a building and you’re only looking at the physical health of the individuals you might treat the affected lungs, but if you understand health in a social context, you might come together to pressure the owner of the building to remove the mold. This is just an example of how the shift to the social can help address the issue at its core.
We too often feel that the dominant practices of healthcare ignore the health of the social body. By shifting the discourse to encompass the social, we can get a better picture of the things that are ailing us as a society, whether that be the way that capitalism makes us all very anxious, the way that industrial civilization itself encourages us to work ourselves to death, the way that patriarchy can make us feel very small (or gets us killed), the way that racism means we ignore the pain of certain people (or gets us killed), among a myriad of other social ailments. This consciousness doesn’t mean we can write and analyze our way to better health, but it can give us an edge, an organizing basis, a direction.
This is where ‘practices of autonomous health’ comes in. Methods and means can be pirated and communalized, or found in already existing popular and folk contexts. In our zines, we share examples of what autonomous health care looks like in practice through articles, report backs, and interviews. The mental, physical, and social aspects are not necessarily distinct from one another, but we cover them all in each zine.
What are some of the shared beliefs that have brought the group together?
“Action dries your tears! Self care can’t cure social diseases! Most of us are not doctors!”
We don’t have these set in stone, but there are definitely some common threads that come from our experiences and that we’ve encountered. There’s a few points that stand out as some kind of ‘tenets towards an autonomous healthcare’. These areas are consent, accountability, self-defense, and illegalism. They might be more open questions than core beliefs, but we certainly see them as crucial, and sometimes underdeveloped, in movements and initiatives we’ve been involved with.
How does the matter of consent come up in your work, and how do you navigate that?
Our approach to consent in care goes something like this: take measures to ensure that you’re getting consent from folks before providing care whenever possible. Be conscious and respectful of the tools and practices that the individual (or community) in question might already be using. Honor and strengthen those practices and offer information about additional sources of support if it makes sense or it is requested of you. Always ask folks what help they need first or what they are already doing: they probably have a good idea of what support they need or want anyway. We look to harm reduction principles, which affirm that each of us is capable of determining what our own health, healing, and well-being could look like, and that these understandings are a valuable basis upon which care and support can be provided. Caring is a process; consent needs to be obtained and maintained throughout that process.
Beyond offering care, consent extends into the way we relate to one another in the group as well. We make decisions on the basis of consensus, which for us is about people in the group consenting to doing work that they feel called to work on, that coheres around their values, or simply that they feel good about. Consensus is not about unanimity, but unity, which is generated through shared commitment. It is about slowing down in order to take the time to consider and address everyone’s concerns, as well as their cool ideas. When we practice with consent and consensus in these little ways, like decision making, we learn what it feels like and can spread that farther and wider into the everyday.
Self-defense and health aren’t necessarily topics you would expect to see together. How do you see them as relating?
For any movement to substantively or even marginally challenge capital, self-defense must be considered. The line between self-defense and care is quite blurred. How can movements survive without defending themselves from the many systems of exploitation, dominance, coercion, and oppression that we experience in our daily lives? And further, how can we defend ourselves without cultivating our own infrastructures of care to patch the literal and emotional wounds, both current and ancestral? In our zine on autonomous trans healthcare, we wrote of the Stonewall riots in 1969: “If you are so accustomed to fighting to exist on a regular basis, and fighting to keep your friends and loved ones alive, you are already so enmeshed in, and so concerned with a community self-defense that letting the brick fall on someone who is attacking you is simply not so far of a stretch.” We think this is how it starts; survival and self-defense are just so intertwined for so many.
Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Johnson, who were involved with the riots, were founders of STAR: Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, a group focused on direct action as well as harm reduction and providing housing and food for other trans/gender-nonconforming people. It’s clear to us that these aspects of social movements are so much a part of one another, so separating them feels haphazard considering what’s at stake. When self defense becomes care, when care becomes a riot, when these become interchangeable – that’s when it becomes revolutionary, when you start to see substantive change.
How do you approach the question of illegalism, or what does that mean to you?
In short, we are against the law.
It is an essential aspect of state formation to criminalize solidarity. In most contexts, like wherever there is a state, it is illegal to meaningfully take care of one another’s health. Acts of care are criminalized; such as sharing food with houseless people, providing shelter to those without the documentation the state demands, and distributing medication without a license. We are guided by our theoretical approach and stay grounded in the history of past projects of autonomous and illegalist care, but often it is most effective to learn by doing, bringing us into direct conflict with the state.
Solidarity means taking care of one another. When we learn to take risks for one another’s wellbeing, we learn to render the walls of division obsolete. Sometimes people are baffled by the idea that these seemingly trivial acts would be illegal, but of course they are. Taking action through seizure, distribution, or provision of what is necessary for survival in the face of oppression interrupts and challenges the state’s ability to maintain power. State power depends on the ability to decide who is a citizen and who is not, who deserves ‘rights’ and who doesn’t, and ultimately who lives and who dies. That is whack, obviously, and so we aspire to shift the responsibility of care into the hands of the community.
This is why we don’t just passively skirt the law, but we support practicing in a way that essentially renders ‘the law’ totally irrelevant. Remember, “you didn’t see shit.” We’re doing the work in a manner that DIRECTLY creates the world that we want to see. That means us being able to take care of one another’s bodies entirely on our own terms, with consent, with abundance, with nurturance.
Is that why you’re an anonymous collective? It seems this is directly connected to how you relate to legality.
Yes, anonymity is practical: we may allegedly do things that are not considered entirely lawful, or that the state considers a threat. Sometimes this looks like direct action; often these are simply things we do to survive. When we don’t connect our names and faces to our work, we can speak more openly in hopes of sharing our tools and strategies with others living lives that are similarly outside of the law. Some of us have faced doxxing by fascists or harassment by abusive people in our own scenes. You may see some of us at events or workshops, or out doing things in our communities, because some degree of identification is sometimes what’s needed to build connections of trust with others, but maintaining good security practices is essential for us.
Anonymity can be a tool for accountability: it may feel counterintuitive when we’re used to an emphasis on visibility, but speaking and moving as a nebulous collective means that no one can use our work to build themself a platform or gather social capital, or actual capital/money, for that matter. We have agreed to refuse to do so ourselves.
We recognize that being denied visibility can be part of the harm and repression inflicted on us by power. It can be degrading and demoralizing when we don’t get recognition for our actions: either because care and healing are less visible and less valued than other forms of activity – or because we consciously chose (alleged) criminality and anonymity over taking credit.
Also, speaking from a position of anonymity doesn’t mean you speak for everyone. It might be necessary to be very clear about the standpoint you’re talking from. At least, it’s important not to speak for those whose experiences you don’t share.
These problems open up a strategic question about what kinds of visibility are useful as a means, but for us it’s never simply an end.
“Accountability” can be understood in a lot of different ways. Usually, in radical communities it is understood in a very specific context around harm. It sounds like you all might be intending for it to be understood differently. Can you elaborate on what this concept means to you?
Accountability is an elusive principle that we constantly aspire to develop and understand within ourselves, with each other, and in our communities. Why is it so hard? We could start by looking at two different ways accountability gets used. First is the view that seems common in activist, anarchist, queer, feminist communities. There, accountability is often seen as a response to harm, something that’s primarily invoked when one person harms another, often in the form of abuse and sexual violence. The second way accountability can be understood is as an ongoing practice of care, or as harm-reduction, a continual basis for healing and reparation(s), which may open up some new possibilities and directions.
What is the accountability model and what were some of the inspirations behind it?
Here we understand accountability as a kind of shared responsibility, specifically in relation to a person’s health. Being able to ‘account’ for each other. We have been developing a tool for groups to use to move towards collective engagement in the health of many individuals, in an overlapping web of smaller groups. We were inspired by some models that people were already using to reinvent how they thought about healthcare for themselves, including the clinic at Vio.me in Thessaloniki, the Icarus Project, and others. In Thessaloniki in the wake of ‘the crisis’, some newly-unemployed medical professionals were able to reinvent health care from the ground up by creating an experimental clinic in a factory squatted by workers. Later, some of those involved developed the ‘group for an other medicine’ whose project was a system starting with an expansive initial interview that would take about three hours or “as long as was needed” with (1) someone from their community, (2) a ‘doctor’, and (3) a ‘psychologist’. They would use an exhaustive questionnaire to inform a comprehensive discussion about the person’s wellbeing, some next steps, and how to achieve them together. It also served as a kind of health record for many of the migrants, who otherwise did not have papers of this type, that they were in control of and could take with them. Drawing heavily from how inspired we were by what we saw of their process, we wanted to adapt this for folks who might not have access to a physical clinic, whose networks might be more spread out, or for groups of friends and comrades in community with one another.
Our accountability model is a guide with suggestions for how people might form such a group themselves. It covers the types of commitments and boundaries participants might choose to make with one another, a series of questions for the long interview itself, and ideas about how to move forward and continue working on core issues once they’ve been identified. Right now, it also contains some practical suggestions around security and group process that would aid in keeping everyone safe and secure. The idea is to redistribute accountability for each other throughout the ties that exist between people who already share community with one another, and shift responsibility (and therefore power) into the hands of the community while mapping out and making visible the pre-existing relationships of care so that they can more heavily be relied upon. This means building ties based on accountability and support for the wellbeing of each individual in a pre-emptive way – building stronger relationships of care BEFORE people break under the burdens of capitalism and other oppressions, and the community is left to pick up the pieces.
What are you working on right now?
Our most recent zine came out last May and was a collection of preliminary ideas and resources in response to the Covid-19 pandemic – much of this is still relevant and reflects what we are doing right now.
As for our current public-facing work, we’re forming a new publication tentatively titled ‘An Abolitionist’s Guide to Autonomous Emotional Support’, which will focus on concrete models and tools to support the emotional wellbeing of our communities on our own terms. The general contexts we see are immediate and longer-term survival, combatting and deserting repression, isolation, ‘pathology’, and associated distress, harm, and capture.
The zine will include some ways to relate to our herbal allies, notes on how to navigate ‘big psych’, reflections on supports that have served us well (DBT, somatic exercises, on-the-ground emotional first aid, etc.), a toolkit for a “spa day” you can take anywhere, de-escalation and self-defense basics, an ‘ask me anything’ from an anarchist therapist, among other little treats. If you are working on a project that coheres around these themes, we’d love to hear from you. We invite you to share tools and strategies that you’ve found useful in supporting the emotional health of your friends or community, or that have allowed you to find support in times of crisis.
How can people hear more, or how can people work with you or become involved in the collective?
If you can, go to our website – www.p-m-s.life – there’s a ‘Want to get involved?’ section listing ways folks can connect with us and support our work. On the site you can also find a slightly longer version of this interview, including a list of prior and ongoing struggles, groups, and projects that we are inspired by.
All our zines and a bunch of shareable resources can be downloaded from there. Our zines are made to be shared! Feel free to print them out, give them to your friends, put them in your local infoshop, add them to your zine table, leave them strategically placed around your city, etc.. We have a small social media presence – you can follow us on instagram @powermakesussick – but we mostly rely on people spreading the word about what we do, sharing our zines, and reaching out to us personally. If you don’t have access to the internet, you can write to us and we are happy to correspond, and/or send physical copies of our zines to anyone who needs them.
PMS can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. All physical mail can be sent here: PO box 234 Plainfield, VT 05667
Fascism Isn’t Synonymous with Tyranny (What Fascism Isn’t)
To many Americans, fascism is just another word for tyranny. This is because American history is taught as the triumph of capitalist American democracy against all forms of tyranny or revolution. Americans against the Nazis, Americans against the communists, America against the terrorists. But fascism is something more specific, a particular powder keg of values. Let’s talk about the psychology that separates the fascist from your standard authoritarian. There are several factors that intermingle to produce this particular stew.
WTF Is Fascism?
Nationalism and Nostalgia
Fascism is symptomatic of an empire in decline. Fascism always comes with a potent mixture of entitlement and nostalgia. The Italians were nostalgic for the glory days of the Roman Empire. The Third Reich was a yearning for a return to the success of German imperialism in the Second Reich.
MAGA is in this same tradition. MAGA isn’t about moving forward into a great American future, it’s about going backwards, to the prosperity and domination they were promised when they said the Pledge of Allegiance. Understanding this is key to the emotional underpinnings that drive this movement. It’s not a coincidence that fascism comes to fading empires. People are more likely to turn to xenophobia and savagery when the future they inherit can’t compare with the mythology they were promised. At the heart of every fascist is someone who wonders why we can’t just go back to the “good old days.”
Frightened of a changing world, the American fascist wants to return to the mythical American Dream, and fantasies of working men with pension plans, two-car garages and enough money to raise a family. They’ve been fooled into thinking minorities and elites are the reason this dream is broken, and since those people aren’t “true Americans” they seek to free us of their influence…by imprisoning, deporting or executing them.
Return to Tribalism
When the nation-state is threatened, people don’t abandon their nationalistic identities. But when facing scarcity, they become tribal — they must protect their own, but they still identify their country as their “tribe.” If they can’t achieve the American Dream in a society where everyone has equal rights, then they will reject equal rights. It is a closing of ranks, ever reducing the number of people who have rights from the false belief that this will allow those who remain to return to plenty.
Appeals to “equal rights” are useless on the fascist, who believes that you have to fuck people over to survive. They were promised an American dream, feel entitled to it, and think that it means that someone else must suffer in the process. Some of them see violence as a temporary, unpleasant necessity to “purify the nation.” Others believe in the myth of social Darwinism, and view liberal ideas about fairness as naive. They come to see prosperity as a zero-sum game, believing that progress for the underprivileged will take away from their own chances for success.
Yearning for Daddy (the Cult of Personality)
It’s critical to understand that fascism is driven by fear. The fascist sees their empire crumbling, and the truth of this creates a valid fear that is easily exploited by psychopaths who want to raid the coffers and seize power. Fascists elevate strength above all other features because of their primal terror of being victimized.
The misogynist fears gay men will treat him the way he treats women. Likewise, the fascist believes if minorities are empowered they will resort to the brutal tactics of the fascist.
In Don’t Think of an Elephant, George Lakoff’s research suggests that people view the world through metaphorical frames. Our first exposure to political ideology is through the metaphorical frame of the family. Progressives want the country run with “nurturant parent” values: nurturing, listening, providing — while conservatives prefer a “strict father” archetype — punishing, testing, rewarding. Lefties want to take care of the poor, conservatives want to teach them discipline, force them to straighten up and fly right. Lakoff says,
“In the strict father family, father knows best. He knows right from wrong and has the ultimate authority to make sure his children and his spouse do what he says, which is taken to be what is right…When his children disobey, it is his moral duty to punish them painfully enough so that, to avoid punishment, they will obey him (do what is right) and not just do what feels good. Through physical discipline they are supposed to become disciplined, internally strong, and able to prosper in the external world. What if they don’t prosper? That means they are not disciplined, and therefore cannot be moral, and so deserve their poverty. This reasoning shows up in conservative politics in which the poor are seen as lazy and undeserving, and the rich as deserving their wealth.”
Combine this erroneous philosophy with the fear of a changing society and you get an audience that is primed for violence. Trumpsters lashed out from a primal, infantile longing for this father figure who will protect them. They are irrational because they are desperate. Like a helpless toddler, they want a big strong bully to save them from the societal changes they are powerless to stop.
Fascists are drawn to a showman who tells them he has a solution that will bring the nation to its former glory. Their leader is both disciplinarian and protector. Every president fills this role, but the fascist leader is an insurgent who comes from outside the political establishment. Fascism is in reaction to the failure of the state to provide for the people.
It’s not that the fascist leader is attractive or glamorous. The best training for a fascist leader isn’t to be a lawyer, it’s to be a used car salesman. The leader offers easy solutions. They use simple, superlative language. Bureaucracy? Regulation? The fascist is suspicious of any policy that takes a book’s worth of text. Fascists don’t unite around a policy or economic plan. Rather their infantile fear drives them to entrust their future to a leader who promises a new golden age, using whatever might is necessary. This leader must captivate the people or they won’t fall for the snake oil of scape-goating immigrants and minorities. “I am your voice, I alone can fix it. I will restore law and order,” Trump said, reassuring his followers that he is the big strong daddy they’re seeking. In return, his followers proclaim him the “God Emperor.”
The Violence Is the Point
Only now that we understand the infantile fear that drives the fascist do we arrive at authoritarianism. To the fascist, it’s OK that their leader is a bully. They believe he must be mean and strong in order to protect them. Masculinity and cruelty are praised because they must be strong before their adversaries.
When Trump supporters assaulted or murdered protesters, many were horrified. But to his nascent fascist supporters, violence is a feature, not a bug. They are angry, and they feel violence is necessary and called for. It doesn’t bother them when he hints second Amendment advocates should murder journalists because they don’t fear the weapon of tyranny will be turned back on them. They think he’s protecting them from a harsh world.
Fascists Always Have a Scapegoat
The infantile longing of the fascist is expressed through an equally infantile longing for purity. Like the child who has just been potty-trained, the fascist is obsessed with cleansing. Nazis used terminology for their scapegoats such as “vermin,” “parasites” or “poisonous weeds.” Trump threatened that asylum-seekers would bring “large-scale crime and disease” and that they would “pour into and infest our country.”
At last we come to the racism. It is not simply that Trumpsters are racist. Most Americans are racist, as our society teaches racism from birth. Even those who purport to fight racism still benefit from the privileges of a racist system. Trumpsters embrace racism as the “secret truth” that life is just an endless battle of tribal warfare.
Because fascists fear their culture is being threatened, they’re hostile to those they perceive as not fitting the nationalist fantasy (e.g. immigrants, queer people, drug users, African-Americans, etc.). Under the pressures of real economic hardship, the fascist believes the problem can be solved by getting rid of some undesirable group.
The rise of Trump was directly linked to his desire to deport millions of immigrants and his promise to ban Muslims from entering the country. Thus it seemed at first that Trumpism represented “fascism light,” because they only sought to get rid of minorities through non-murderous ways.
But after deporting all the asylum-seekers doesn’t cure America’s economic woes, will fascism cease? Or will they next target minorities and dissidents who were born here? Once a state has determined to spurn its own citizens, there is no “away” to send them to. The next step is for them to be imprisoned or murdered. Because fascism cures nothing, the quest for purity is a downward spiral that ends in genocide.
Action over Intellect
Once the actions of Trumpsters are viewed through the lens of fear of change and fantasies of the mythic past, the rest of the symptoms of fascism come into focus.
For example, their distrust of intellectuals. In a working society, intellectuals can be trusted. But when society is failing, people will look at all expertise with skepticism. “A new study” always seems to contradict last week’s study. So fascists don’t trust studies. They don’t respect the authority of scientists or professors.
Historically both Mussolini and Hitler were fans of action for action’s sake. In Mussolini’s “Doctrine of Fascism,” he says “Fascism desires an active man, one engaged in activity with all his energies: it desires a man conscious of the difficulties that exist in action and ready to face them.” The spirit of think-first-ask-questions-later doesn’t align with quiet study and contemplation.
As fascism scholar Robert Paxton said,“It’s…the aggressive style, the assertion of strength and the image presented of somebody who’s not going to be bothered by little things like the rule of law or political correctness or being polite, and will actually get things done.”
They stereotype the intellectual as a bogeyman sitting in his ivory tower, with his cushy taxpayer-paid job, making new rules the nationalist must follow. This is why MAGgots react to well-researched discourse with trolling. What is rooted in fear and rage doesn’t end with rationality.
Now the other attributes of fascism fit in like pieces in a puzzle. Of course Trump attempted to disdain or control the media, as total trust in the leader means no voices of opposition can be tolerated. Of course they glorify the police and military, as these are the real-life bullies who actualize the ethnic cleansing. Of course domestic terrorists are celebrated, because in a world of might makes right, strength is the only value that matters. Of course those who worship strength would embrace sexism, as toxic masculinity elevates the same violent rhetoric. Of course there is rampant cronyism and corruption because fascism only takes hold when the state is vulnerable to collapse. Of course they challenge the legitimacy of elections; they’ve abandoned their agency to the simplistic promises of their bully-protector.
In the face of their savagery, it’s easy to claim that fascists are all psychopaths. But psychopaths are a small percentage of the population; the prevalence of authoritarianism reveals a more dire truth. Rather, the psychopath is the ultimate ideal of the fascist: one who has crushed all feelings of sympathy, one who responds to weakness with brutality, one who strikes without hesitation. Displays of caring and concern will be treated as signs of weakness. The fascist views their own natural human decency with shame. Thus their own violent rhetoric is yet another form of projection. They can never entirely crush their humanity, so they will resort to increasing atrocity to deny those feelings. As Trump would say: sad.
There’s finally light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. Yet, for many radical spaces the past year has put them on the edge of extinction. Now’s the time to put life into the slogan “We don’t want to go back to normal.” When the lockdown finally lifts, your local radical space, DIY venue, bike kitchen, coop, community garden, arts warehouse etc. needs your help so it can get back on its feet and fill the schedule with events, shows, activity and energy. If you’ve been isolated and missing other people, join the struggle against soulless consumer capitalism and spend your time on stuff that really matters: freedom, art, music, love, justice and the earth.
Slingshot maintains a list of racial projects worldwide in its Organizer and on its website at slingshotcollective.org. Hugs for everyone all around. Here’s some corrections and additions to the list in the 2021 Organizer. Email Slingshot if you have any other updates we can include in the 2022 Organizer.
Prøve Gallery – Duluth, MN
An all-volunteer experimental and contemporary art gallery with a big stack of zines. They host music, spoken-word and other events. 21 N Lake Ave., Duluth, MN 55802, provegallery.com
Cactus Club – Milwaukee, WI
An artist-run music venue & community space. 2496 S. Wentworth Ave. Milwaukee, WI 53207 414-897-0663
Red Planet Books & Comics – Albuquerque, NM
Reportedly the only Native comic shop in the world. They highlight work by Native and Indigenous artists and writers. 1002 Park Ave SW Albuquerque, NM 87102 505-361-1182 redplanetbooksncomics.com
Pilson Community Books – Chicago, IL
Employee owned and operated new and used bookstore. 1102 W 18th St. Chicago, IL 60608 312.478.9434 pilsencommunitybooks.com
Rock Paper Scissors Collective – Oakland, CA
All-volunteer craft space, gallery and performance venue. They host low-cost classes and community events. 416 26th St. Oakland, CA 94612. They lost their space on Telegraph Ave and are now at this address rpscollective.org
Little Read Books – Denver, CO
A free bookstore – they also operate an outdoor free book stand that offers books, food, water and other necessities to those who need them. 2260 California St, Denver, CO 80205 littlereadbooks.org
Razed Bridges Distro – Chicago, IL
A zine and book distro located at Common Cup. 1501 W Morse Ave. Chicago, IL 60626
Kickstand – Vancouver, BC
Volunteer-run community bike shop with tools and parts so people can fix their own bikes. 1187 Parker Street, Vancouver, BC V6A 2H3 eastvankickstand.org
Dandelion Vivioteca – Guadalajara Mexico
An anarchist library. Calle Garibaldi 556, Colonia Centro, CP 44100, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico
InfoPavlač – Czech Republic
A new infoshop associated with Food Not Bombs. Roháčova 20, Prague, Czech Republic