Can't see the empty life through the screen

As state shortfalls have led to severe budget cuts for public universities in the United States, I was amazed recently when I walked into the building that housed my academic department here in Florida. In the atrium, students waited, legs crossed, to meet with their professors or study for their classes. What was peculiar was that a television was now mounted overhead in the atrium on a platform (there was none there before) for all of the atrium’s inhabitants to behold: an altar of a cubic god demanding unwavering gazes as tithes. At first I wondered why or how this university expense, a wide screen television, could be justified given the university’s economic situation (it has already considered cutting 21 academic departments and roughly 300 faculty and staff from the payroll) but I thought that this scene, a television in an academic building, indicated a yet greater manifestation of culture: our undivided, unyielding allegiance to the screen or electronic mechanism as the standard way for conveying information and exhausting free time.

Not only does the television blare in school lobbies or invade classrooms posing as “instructional tools”, they have also become permanent fixtures in banks and grocery stores. While standing in line recently to cash a check at the Bank of America, I noticed a television, mounted high above everyone, seize the glances of many people in the room. But if the television did not draw everyone’s attention, other more ‘personal’ screens did. Some impatient customers frantically thumbed their cell phone keypads as if twiddling to a tune from a 33 1/3 record running at a 45 rpm setting; if not, they repeatedly flipped open their phones to scan for text messages from a confidant, family member, or business partner. The screen, although handheld, still occupied their attention to the point where they were not aware of the movement of the line: because of their fixation with their personal screens, these individuals ignored the dynamic social space of which they were a part. Needless to say, when the teller announced his or her availability to assist a customer, the teller relied upon a screen, in this case, the screen of one of the bank’s workstations to relay account information to customer. But soon it was announced that the server was down and that it would take a few minutes to reboot. To “fill” this “empty” moment, everyone resumed their gaze of the television screen or cell phone display. Strangely enough, during this “empty” moment, actual human interaction was to be avoided at all costs unless, of course, the line was being held up by someone either staring at the television for too long or wearing out his or her fingers sending text messages.

Now as I reflect on the camera screen and observe its images, I am astonished how the screen affects the longevity of events. Two ladies have asked me to take their picture on the campus at Landis Green. In physical time, the moment of their embrace came and went, but the need to capture it for progeny persists, and the snapshot preserves that moment indefinitely in a two dimensional representation. There is perhaps nothing inherently bad about using the snapshot to capture an intimate moment: for the snapshot provides to future generations a vague intuition about the pictured person’s personality, a personality that is eventually chomped to shreds by the shark’s teeth of time.

Now let’s look at how the television screen captures the death of a famous politician or rock star. The death came in an instant: it happened and now the person’s life is over. Unfortunately, corporate media preserves the moment of death: the moment of death must not be let go of for an indefinite amount of time. You, the viewer, are supposed to get an idea of the dead person’s life through a collage of images, sound clips, and interviews with the deceased person’s family, friends, and colleagues. From this pre-packaged, media construction your idea of the dead person’s life ought to be similar to the idea you have of a person that you know personally. A myth technology wants you to hold is that its ideas of a person or thing can be just as “real” as yours: in fact maybe even more real. So aside from the questions about a technologically created/dictated morality that I posed in the previous section, how does the technological extension of events well beyond their actual occurrence distort our views? Because technology allows us to represent events indefinitely, we come to view time as something that we can manipulate or ultimately control. The cell phone seems to give us ubiquity: we can be contacted at any hour, any day, at almost any point on earth. The desire to be godlike is perhaps a universal endeavor and nothing serves this desire better than technology. The most important question to ask is whether we believe our humanity can be fully appreciated when it is embraced in the now. It is perhaps a sad state of affairs when an event cannot be grasped or enjoyed for what it is, but rather how it either can provide some future benefit (by extension) or fit into some preconceived representation of a past whose veracity we do not seek to challenge but only confirm.

So what we have in these cases are instances of not simply the ubiquity of the screen but the human willingness to offer, as a sacrament, an entranced stare or absolute attention without question or reservation to the screen: no matter if the social space is dynamic enough to require active engagement with it. But, taking an evolutionary perspective on this, I would contend that what is necessary for any organism to thrive (i.e., to enjoy its environment for whatever life affirming benefits it may provide) is to be able to consciously engage the whole of its environment. Failure to do so would, in aesthetic cases, amount to ignoring the orchid in the garden, or in a more disastrous scenario, ignoring the predator behind the bush. Now the screen is a part of the environment, as the orchid and predator are also parts, but is the screen or technological trinket which fixes our mental and physical attention so significant that it would require us to completely ignore the remainder of our social or environmental dynamic: a dynamic that enables us to thrive in the first place?

We vroom comfortably down the autobahn of indefinite technological modification (thanks in part to the inexhaustible need for indefinite profit by the corporations that produce, market, and standardize these items) and I’m not sure if our ideas of appropriate social behavior, in relation to technology, have caught up with technology or ever will. The guy who is talking loudly on his cell phone in a public space will probably become more belligerent if we ask him to lower his voice or move to another area. The fundamental error in our relationship with “personal”, handheld technological devices (or perhaps any mode of technology) is that we think they license us to claim the public space for ourselves instead of sharing it. Every piercing bleep that startles the relative quiet of a library, each “Top 40” ringtone that slices through a dinner table conversation, or every careless, earphone encouraged stroll into a busy intersection is an invasion of or an imposition upon of the dynamic public space.

I want to avoid quaint commendatory statements about old-fashioned modes of communication or social practices that seemingly new technologies improve, minimize, or make obsolete. But there is still plenty to criticize. We call our employer to apologize profusely for being late when the automobile breaks down. Any breakdown of the machine almost always seems to obscure human error or responsibility (perhaps the car broke down because the owner failed to schedule regular maintenance), while its success must always reflect human ingenuity, foresight, or intelligence. The point here is that technology can enable us to make good predictions (or offer excuses for inefficiency if a required task goes undone) but that it can also, through our absolute dependence upon
it, cut us off from information that would otherwise enable us to make better judgments or predictions about the world.

If it is not our conscious awareness or intellectual capacities that we sacrifice to the flash of the screen, then it is our unwavering obedience to mechanical efficiency that goes unquestioned. We allow the answering machine to screen our calls: to put people into discrete 0/1, accept/reject, yes/no, pleasure/pain categories where they are to be viewed as objects to be sorted. You switch off the answering machine to talk to the desired caller but find out that they have bad news or are unpleasant and not worth the time to converse. Likewise, the voice that sounds like a telemarketer may actually have a check for you for a million dollars with no conditions attached but you would never know that because you either hung up on the call or erased the message before hearing it in its entirety.

The deity of the screen, our religious gaze, and praise of the technological aesthetic has finally drowned good advertising sense. While our cities and now countrysides are littered with static billboards and signs, the screen, with its compelling display of moving, “lifelike” images, has now invaded natural landscapes. Of course this may have been the real dream of machines in Blade Runner: recall the animated Coca Cola advertisement of the winking woman who enchanted us. We seek the “lifelike” in our mechanical confections, but often at the expense of other organisms or resources. Once the landscape is cleared to make room for our flickering displays, how many human or animal communities will be displaced or simply annoyed? Where will we obtain the electricity to power these signs?

While no contemporary barroom or tavern would be complete without a television or jukebox, some drinking houses now display monitors solely devoted to showing ads endlessly: often advertising other bars or restaurants where the same types of monitors reign from overhead thrones. These monitors are sometimes situated in odd spaces. At one particular establishment in my town, if you are sitting at the bar but angled away from the main television (in the center of the bar), you nevertheless are able to look squarely at the ad monitors which are mounted at angles away from the center of the bar. So if you are not inundated by the flurry of ads on regular television, your restaurant or bar can provide you with ad-only television. Clearly this is the height of materialist insanity: the idea that advertisements, in addition to work and leisure, should occupy time.

The Best Buys, Circuit Cities, Radio Shacks, Staples, Targets, Walmarts, Alltel and Sprint stores have now become our art galleries where the gallery attendant, the retail clerk, marks out an assembly line existence: to unpackage the product, mass market the product, and repackage the product when it is sold. In an assembly like fashion, the product is then unpackaged by the consumer, mass marketed to his/her friends, and the process is once again set in motion. I jokingly suggested to a lady friend who was having trouble getting her husband to do “cultural things” that if you want to get middle aged husbands out to traditional art galleries, the art galleries need to ditch paintings in favor computer monitors, LCDs, and flatscreens. Or new cell phone prototypes.

As a species that produces and contemplates art, we have nonetheless begun to reject the contemplative power or interpretive mystery of traditional art in favor of art that has “ready-made” or practical virtues. In other words, technological value. Yet technology in itself has no value. But as long as we favor technological efficiency above all other values (for example, the value of protecting and contributing to the social dynamic) and think of the machine’s way as the only way that matters, we only seem to be deifying the screen or the flickering electronic display, which is merely to place faith in the mechanical.

I am somewhat awestruck as my eyes trail the staccato of words I type across my monitor: I am reminded of a stock exchange ticker flowing across the tube. And herein lays the perceived irony of the situation: I have appeared, by using the screen, a computer, its word-processing programs, and internet servers (in a word, a system of machines and/or automated mechanisms) to undermine technology: the very system I rely upon to communicate ideas.

“Technology,” you say, “has provided greater life expectancies than before, cured disease, reduced travel, reduced work, and enabled us to communicate at great distances easier and faster than in the past. It has given us these things and more!?” This I do not deny but these benefits come at a cost to our humanity, resources, and integrity of our natural and social environments. I only ask us to consider our relationship to technology and discern whether or not the efficiency or personal convenience it offers must always supersede community interests and harmony. This is obviously a question about what types of social values we are going to accept as we relate to technology, and whether we would rather have technology to dictate or create such values. I believe that allowing technology to construct and dictate our values for us–is always a mistake. Increasingly, culture links technology to the so-called absolute or physical sciences, which are presumably governed by immutable laws. No student of science or the history of science would ever think of such a connection or describe the history of the physical sciences as an unproblematic, mistake free progression towards absolute truth.

The Lord Sayeth – "Take the Year Off" – an invitation to recognize Jubilee

Churches recently convinced enough Californians that gay people getting married will ruin marriage for straight people that they were able to amend the state constitution to prohibit gay marriage. The exact mechanisms were not exactly diagrammed, but the church people seem to feel that they invented the institution of marriage in order to make sex not sinful, but according to their doctrines, gay sex is always sinful, so gay marriage is wrong. A lot of reasonable people have challenged this line of reasoning, because there is a lot of hypocrisy and bigotry guiding it, but the battle lines have been drawn and it is hard to reach the hearts and minds of the faithful with reason. Instead I advocate revolution. Bring back the jubilee!

A little known fact outside of bible study circles is that God had quite a lot to say about how people should run their political economies, and our modern capitalist system is far from what God intended. Perhaps if we adopted some of God’s principles on political economy, without being dogmatic, sanctimonious, or absolutist about it, the faithful would be so confused that they would forget the great importance of God raining on gay parades.

There are only one or two lines in the entire Hebrew Bible, and only a few more in the Christian scriptures calling gay sex an abomination, but there are two entire chapters and a commandment calling for a complete cessation of all industrial and agricultural labor every seven years.

In Exodus 23:10-11, right after Moses comes down from Mt. Sinai, right after he gives the “10 Commandments”, he gives a few more, including, “For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.”

Chapter 25 of Leviticus, and Chapter 15 of Deuteronomy are entirely about how to observe the sabbath and jubilee years, which occur every seven and fifty years respectively.

In my humble opinion, you may credibly doubt that God really intended to make gay people miserable, but there is no room for doubt that the Supreme Being really did want people to give it a rest from time to time.

Rest is a big theme in the Bible’s recommendations for a healthy economy. People should take a rest day once a week, something like Muslims do on Friday, Jews do on Saturday, Christians do on Sunday, and anarchists, atheists and communists should do on Monday. But also, according to the Hebrew bible books Leviticus and Exodus, every seven years, all agriculture should cease. The owners of the fields can eat whatever grows, but they should share it with whoever else needs it, for instance wage laborers and slaves, the poor, our neighbors, and animals, both domestic and wild. The purpose of this rest year, the “sabbath year”, is to give the land a rest, the laborers a rest, and to give the poor a break. (Ex 23:10-11, Lev 25:5-7)

There is no land ownership in God’s political economy — you can only hold land for a fifty year lease, then you have to give it back to the original owner. These rules don’t apply to people’s homes, which the bible calls “houses in walled cities”, but only properties used for production or agriculture. “And when you make a sale to your neighbor or buy from your neighbor, you shall not cheat one another.” (Lev 25:14)

That fiftieth year is the Jubilee year, and everyone observes it together as the ultimate sabbath year. As part of the observance, indentured servants and slaves should be set free forever and all debts should be erased (Lev 25:8-54). Today that might be equivalent to erasing student loan debt, mortgage debt, and debt to the World Bank to set all the world’s debt slaves free.

Even though it seems like blasphemy to our modern capitalist world economy, it’s in the Bible, almost exactly as I am saying. Of course now we have an industrial economy, not an agricultural economy, so instead of fields we should be thinking of factories, mines, and customer service centers. What if corporations could only lease them for fifty years, and had to let whoever wanted to use them every seven years? Would that be enough to slow the flow of capital into corporate hands, so that people had the chance to use all the high-end sewing machines, type-setting equipment, fast computers and Internet connections, and other fancy stuff that corporations hoard? Would it give energy companies a chance to rethink the absurdity of mountain-top removal and oil extraction from tar sands? Would it give people all over the world a chance to see what the world is like without industrial pollution of our air and drinking water every seven years? What if industrial agriculturalists had to let the pigs and chickens out to roam free in the fallow fields once every seven years? What if they had to give back all of the land they siezed up to grow monocrops?

As far as we know, no country or sizable community has ever put God’s political economy into practice in a consistent and enduring way, so we actually have no idea how this would work out. What I like about it is that it resembles in some ways the Marxist notion of continuous revolution, so that no one group can sieze enough of society’s resources to have permanent, coercive control.

If you heard about sabbath and jubilee years in Sunday school, you may have been told that they are irrelevant, because when Jesus came he freed people from cumbersome Mosaic laws laid out in the last three books of the Hebrew Bible (except the stuff about gay sex being a sin, the disciples of Jesus say ‘keep it’), so we don’t need to do all that stuff any more. If you heard about it in Hebrew school, someone may have patiently explained to you that the counting of the sabbath and jubilee years would resume when the moshiach comes. But in the interest of religious plurality, since not all of us have accepted Jesus as our lord and personal savior, and since even the faithful do not seem immune to trampling the rights of the poor and downtrodden, maybe it’s time to take all of the Bible seriously, instead of just the parts that justify our silly crusades.

I understand there might be some resistance to my suggestion that we enact God’s schemes for political economy, since cultural norms and civic laws derived from biblical laws have historically been repressive to the max and their adoption has caused lots of suffering, and since crazy right wing organizations like Focus on the Family will stop at nothing to make simplistic notions of morality based on bible verses into laws that would persecute women and gay people. So please don’t lobby your legislatures. The thing to do instead is to refuse to work periodically, and encourage your friends and religious leaders to do the same. Let’s create social movements out of communalism and anti-capitalist exchange. Let’s boycott banks that profit enormously out of impoverishing people and keeping them in debt. Oh wait, you say, we already are doing those things. It’s called the anti-globalization movement. Right. Well then continue with the blessing of God. Go fourth with new notions of what religion endorses instead of letting bigotry and hypocrisy spoil the whole world.

Please pass on the pills – moving beyond industrial healthcare and towards wellbeing

Health care reform has received much lip service from high ranking politicians in recent months. It seems that public health care is a topic with more relevance to a greater number of citizens than most political topics have had in the past eight years. Health care reform, along with a handful of other topics which Obama campaigned for, seems to have brought millions to view those currently in political power as generally benevolent. And compared to the neo-con nightmare, Obama does sound and look pretty benign and caring. But proliferating goodwill is not a high priority for the Wall Street puppets currently in power. In the health care reform proposal, monetary profit will still remain the dominant force in decisions regarding health care.

Ultimately the best health care policy would be one that promotes wellness, but that is not possible in the context of the current debate. Since it is clear we cannot look to the government to promote our well-being, maybe it’s time to consider how we can insure our own health without government help for the long term. Making invasive medical practices more accessible will not spread health to the masses. Psychological and philosophical concerns continue to remain the barrier to the incorporation of health and well-being in our communities. Overcoming the capitalistic monster is the only way to bring about better health overall.

Having a real community, regularly expressing oneself creatively and using wisdom in the ways that we treat our bodies (and our planet) would more positively impact health than socialized health care and an increase in the application of allopathic medical practices. Government run health care proposals should be viewed with the utmost skepticism – if the current regime is in typical form it is likely that insurance companies will end up making even greater profits after a reform takes effect (as giant conglomerates have been the beneficiaries in most of the administration’s actions). If society continues to tumble along on its current stupefying path, well-being and health will continue to suffer. A society free of Paris Hilton, frat boys and trillion dollar military expenditures would do more for public health than a public option. Imagine how much less frequently psychiatric medication would be prescribed if toxic elements like celebrity worship and consumerism were not the staples in the society.

A problem with health care, aside from the lack of availability and cost of care (which certainly is a huge burden for many), is the guiding philosophy of allopathic medical practices. Allopathic medicine is defined as the practice of using remedies that produce effects either different from or incompatible with the syndrome that is being treated. (This is as opposed to homeopathic medicine which uses remedies similar to the ailment to be treated.) In allopathic traditions, a narrow perspective is taken when viewing illness and invasive methods dominate (such as surgery or the ingestion of artificial chemicals). Though these approaches can be therapeutic and life saving, these type of techniques are best used more sparingly than they are currently. Too frequently allopathic practitioners do not give enough regard to the body’s innate tendency to heal itself, nor to the body’s subtle expressions of internal discord that can later result in disease. Allopathic practitioners tend to think of body parts as existing in relative isolation from each other, looking too little at relationships between elements of the body. These practices and philosophies will remain even if the health care delivery system were to change. These traditions uphold the status quo both explicitly (via prescriptions and surgeries that allow individuals to continue to live lifestyles of consumption and distraction), and tacitly (via the attitudes and biases of practitioners who frequently live lives of consumption and distraction).

If you simply pop vicodin to kill pain, there is no need or motivation to heal. If each time you feel anxious you eat a xanax there is little pressure to overcome your internal conflicts causing anxiety (not to mention the problems that can arise with long term use of chemicals like this). In the allopathic model, treatments that would be best for overall long-term health (for example specific dietary changes) are often not employed, because symptom elimination overrides most other considerations (too often healing and reconditioning is left partially or completely out of the equation). These medical practices utilize a one size fits all approach, which has many drawbacks, including upholding the dominant traditions of the culture.

Due to toxins in the air, water and soil, residues build up inside of our bodies (i.e. in the liver, colon, etc.). Fasting or cleansing from time to time helps to flush these out. Many highly accessible herbs (i.e. ginger, nettles, garlic, valerian) treat common ailments or help to detoxify the body, and the tradition of using plants for health is rooted deeply in our species. Having some basic understanding of anatomy and nutrition goes a long way in knowing yourself more intimately, and in helping you heal when the time comes. Also simple stretches, yoga poses and considerations towards the energy flow of our bodies can help improve one’s quality of life. Many average Americans are treated for symptoms that are normal and healthy reactions to current circumstances, though many in the general public would expect that one can repeatedly fuck over the people sitting across the conference room and not suffer from headaches, addictions, high blood pressure, anxiety and other ailments. The majority have been so brainwashed that they believe it when they hear over simplified ideas like “your symptoms are a medical condition”. Without constant brainwashing people might actually realize that their actions, experiences and lifestyles cause many of their “medical conditions”.

Even more ludicrous than using synthetic chemicals to treat symptoms caused by societal and economic norms, is the writing of prescriptions in order to eliminate symptoms caused by symptoms caused by the social and work environments. For example the prescription of a medicine used to combat high cholesterol prescribed to the individual using Big Macs to help distract from or override feelings of dissatisfaction and frustration. Capitalistic competition causes unease (when getting fucked over), guilt (when fucking over), trouble focusing and much more. I wonder what it might take for us to challenge the dominant practice in America of selling shit during work time in order to buy shit during free time.

Toxic Terror – chemical sensitivity – badder living through chemistry

When you walk into my house, chemicals waft from your clothes. I know right away that the laundry detergent you use is toxic (most are) and that if I am around you for long I will get a headache. Should I tell you? Are social mores and privacy more important than the health of both of us? I am often confronted with this dilemma. Many everyday products now make me sick and may make you sick if you are around them long enough. I write this to try to warn politely.

Modern American living exposes us to toxic chemical storms daily. Lotions, antiperspirants and deodorants, perfumes and after-shaves, sunscreen, shampoos, laundry detergent and softeners, scented soaps, bug sprays, hand sanitizer, dish-soap, new carpets, incense, “air fresheners”, auto exhaust (including from bio-fuels and veggie oil!), herbicides and pesticides, glues, fresh printer ink, nail polish and remover, and paints can all contain chemicals that can cause adverse reactions. Some of us have become “chemically sensitive”, becoming aware of physical reactions to various chemicals. Maybe we should be considered canaries in the coal mines, and used to warn of exposure to something dangerous. We could be more reliable than information, or rather lack of information, you may be getting from the chemical industry.

Mammal bodies have only recently been exposed to these artificially rearranged molecules. There is little doubt that cancer and other disease is connected to exposure to these new substances, most only developed since the 1950s. Our bodies have not had time to adapt. And there are more and more new chemicals. There is also the very real likelihood that new genetically engineered organisms and new nano materials will wreak havoc with the living creatures of earth as well. And there’s not much regulation out there to protect you, especially in the United States.

According to the Congressional General Accounting Office, the Environmental Protection Agency “does not routinely assess the risks of the roughly 80,000 industrial chemicals in use. Moreover, TSCA [Toxic Substances Control Act] does not require chemical companies to test the approximately 700 new chemicals introduced into commerce annually for their toxicity, and companies generally do not voluntarily perform such testing. Further, the procedures EPA must follow in obtaining test data from companies can take years to complete.” The European Union requirements for regulating toxic chemicals are much more stringent than in the United States. In Europe the burden for proving non-toxicity lies with the chemical producers.

There is a theory that at some point of exposure to toxins, some people’s bodies just cannot resist anymore and become much more sensitive to chemicals. We start to have adverse reactions to chemicals that other people might not notice. It seems important, therefore, for all people to limit their exposures to as many chemicals as possible even if they do not yet have physical reactions to them. Hence we who notice toxins should tell others. And it behooves others to take note and consider protecting themselves.

Unfortunately our medical system has been hijacked by the pharmaceutical chemical makers to the extent that the paradigm of toxic exposure related dis-ease has been censored and discredited. Instead we are sold drugs to solve our problems. Witness how many of the corporate sponsored (Avon, Energizer) events to help breast cancer are to “find a cure” rather than the causes of breast cancer.

And the drugs we are prescribed may be making us worse. There are many and growing numbers of adverse effects and deaths from prescription drugs. Chemicals from pharmaceuticals are showing up in water supplies and wild animals because when humans pee after taking drugs, their urine contains chemical residues, or the actual pharmaceutical drugs themselves.

Healthcare needs a new or at least optional paradigm of trying to analyze what is causing illness rather than focusing on drugs. Who is studying whether genetically engineered foods may be causing obesity or health reactions? It is very difficult to track the results of mass exposure to genetically engineered food over the last few years because the government caved in to industry demands that genetically modified food products should not be labeled or tracked in the US. Unless you buy organic or are very astute about what products contain genetically modified ingredients, you may be exposing yourself to something genetically new in the food supply. Food, cosmetics and cleaning products can also include myriad artificial chemicals. We may be better served by deciphering and trying to avoid toxins rather than ingesting toxic drugs to mask our symptoms.

I have found my own health enhanced by avoiding food with additives, trying to eat organically produced food, removing myself from toxic environments, not using products with artificial fragrances or toxic chemicals, and getting fresh air. Try to avoid the extra stress on your body that chemicals may cause in order to keep up your resilience to exposure. It will enhance your health, my health and the health of the planet.

Book review: Calling out for mad liberation – "On our own: patient-controlled alternatives to mental health "

This article is the last article written by our friend Samantha (see obituary p. 4) On Our Own is a classic anti-psychiatry text that has had a significant impact on radical mental health.

On Our Own: Patient-Controlled Alternatives to the Mental Health

By Judi Chamberlin

Hawthorne Books, New York 1978.

Judi Chamberlin travels a tumbling path towards the title of her book, through her own experience of the mental health system towards her ideal goal of patients helping each other to keep themselves together. She outlines the problems faced by mental patients and she beats a tinny improvised drum calling out for mad liberation through consciousness-raising.

Chamberlin’s focus on patient- controlled alternatives will strike a resonating note with brave readers who hold high the banner of direct democracy or seek to level the power of authority figures. She even discards the radical theorist R.D. Laing, for continuing a distinction between “healers and healed” in his writings and anti-psychiatry experiments based on them. The intensity of her railing against this distinction may seem arbitrary and extreme without considering the viewpoint of mental patients being treated, usually involuntarily, for conditions in their own minds. The patient faces an isolation not imposed on sufferers of other illnesses, at a time when human companionship may be the only alleviating factor.

The isolation can continue long after the patient is declared “cured,” and a hospital stay or mental disability discharge carries a stigma in looking for jobs, lovers, or friends. Judi goes to great length to show how the discrepancy in power between the psychiatrist and patient remains immense, and unjustified. Danger of harming self or others is legal criteria for involuntary commitment and a patient can be held in custody with only the psychiatrist as a witness of her motives, but the psychiatrist has no more ability to see human intentions to commit acts of violence or self destruction than anyone else. Confronting this authority and dismantling this false expertise lies at the heart of reaching freedom. Judi Chamberlin stays true to this goal and remains extremely vigilant in dealing with any experts who place themselves higher than the patient.

The chapter dedicated to Judi’s own experience with psychiatrists and hospitalization provides her credentials as an ex-patient seeking to raise consciousness and help other patients get by, as well as giving readers a straightforward account of a psychiatric survivor. I empathized with her years of anguish in and out of hospitals, and I was impressed that she described in simple terms the humiliations she experienced as inherent in the hospital system, rather than depending on excesses and abuses. Whether in a ‘cottage’ or a locked ward, group therapy or isolation, Judi comes to fear and hate the physical control inherent in the system.

It is fascinating to me that she sought treatment out between stays, finding the experience of living outside the hospital system with family or a shitty husband unbearable. This is a fact seldom admitted in an exposé of the mental health system, and I find it courageous to be able to admit that you can’t deal with everyday life on your own.

A turning point in her view of the system occurs when she becomes extremely miserable after a mental hospital discontinues her tranquilizers upon admission, and she experiences a variety of physical and mental withdrawal symptoms, such as a churning stomach, dizziness, crawling flesh, anger, and frustration. Another patient tells her she is probably undergoing withdrawal from the medications she was prescribed by her doctor, which had previously not affected her. A light turns on in Judi’s head, as another patient has offered her an unexpected insight into her condition: “I got my first ‘therapy’ at Hillside under that tree, and it came from another patient.” Instead of a “relapse” into mental illness, the absence of the previously ineffective drugs produces new symptoms. Withdrawal from psychiatric drugs is a viewpoint I have never heard from a doctor, and I have recently only come across when a friend mailed me the Icarus Project and Freedom Center’s Harm Reduction Guide to Coming Off Psychiatric Drugs. But patients have been sharing this knowledge since psych drugs became prevalent in the 1950s, and it helps clarify some experiences in my own life.

Judi’s experiences with the Vancouver Emotional Emergency Center will probably seem familiar to anyone lucky enough to turn to a close circle of compassionate people who have had similar experiences. Strangers or old friends, they do their best to patch together what is needed and listen, and offer relief from the mind games and deceit. The “unmaking of a mental patient” happens as she realizes there are other ways to get the human help she needs and a new life opens up to her. We imagine her able to say the word crazy with a wild grin of abandon and laugh, and Judi is now able to pose a new question: how can others systematically receive the help they actually need?

Judi gets down to business and explores organizations operated by the mad for the mad, working for mental patient’s liberation. She explores the many difficulties ex-patients face because of bias, rather than any danger to themselves. She covers many of the details of various organizations’ daily work, highs and lows, including a whole chapter on funding. She describes groups working both in crises situations, like the Vancouver Emergency Center, and on the long term problems faced by ex-patients, such as Project Release in New York and the Mental Patients Association in Vancouver. She compares the shoestring collectives with a potent “conscious” analysis gained through long discussions, to organizations better funded with a more confused relationship to the system. I was fascinated that many of the groups emphasized ex-patient housing, and a little dazzled that a group of mental patients on welfare in 1978 could pick up cheap city apartments. A goal now that would be classified as dreamy seemed bluntly practical to Judi Chamberlin.

Thirty years have passed since the publication of this book. There are many experiences that date both Chamberlin’s direct experience of hospitalization and the alternatives she discusses: the thorazine “concentrate” and the Great Society War On Poverty funding for community projects are both things of the past. Yet there is a striking skeleton of her work that is easy to recognize, fleshed out in this society. Current drug regiments still focus more heavily on tranquilizing and sedating patients, with only mixed results for actually alleviating unpleasant symptoms. Likewise, confinement and physical force continue to hide behind the guise of treatment. Some of the innovations or alternatives shot down in the book now are mainstays of treatment: community mental health centers are at the core of most outpatient treatment, and a lot of us grew up sleeping through various psychotherapy snore sessions first introduced in the 1960s.

One weakness of the book is the way it lumps mental patients together in a broad mass, without addressing the distinctions between what mental patients experience because of their individual identities. Her vision of liberation is broadly based on a feminist model, but little attention is paid in this work to differences in organizations and institutions caused by race, class, gender, and sexuality. While this broad topic may be beyond the range of this book, the reader is left with the impression of mental patients seeking liberation as predominantly white and middle class. The horrors of the eugenics movement make it imperative to acknowledge the dirty work done by the psychiatrist on poor women and women of color, and any serious attempt at mad liberation must integrate this analysis.

As I reflect on my own experience, Judi’s does seem to minimize certain ambiguities. Can
patients always solve each other’s problems? Is there really no useful role for well-intentioned professionals? There are times when a little tranquilizer might give me the sleep I need to keep from being a pathetic nervous wreck and there are times when other patients provide advice that is not helpful.

On the other hand fear and hostility towards professional psychiatrists is a gut reaction based on real problems, and although psychiatry is constantly toting its reforms, restraints, isolation, andeven electroshock are features of most hospitals, and most patiaents have felt the breath of fresh air another patient’s honesty can bring. I am impressed that Judi presents these views so forcefully.

On Our Own could end up on the tables of many people asking the same questions as Judi Chamberlin. How to get out of a depressing anguish? How to work together to provide some relief when we our troubled? How do we keep vulnerable people safe from psychiatric abuse? Judi provides few solid answers, but her unshaken faith in our ability to provide those answers to each other is an inspiration.


DIY revolution – Indy publishing – an insider's interview

Between the rise of the internet and the slow decline of corporate print media, there’s never been a better time to begin self-publishing your work. A great example of this DIY revolution is San Francisco-based cartoonist and illustrator Brian Kolm. Kolm is an active member of the Bay Area small press community and the creator of Atomic Bear Press where he self-publishes his comic, “Beyond the Great Chimney.” His most recent local endeavor was participating in the San Francisco Zine Festival, amidst a sea of local artists, writers and cartoonists–a testament to the power of publishing your own work. Kolm was kind enough to answer my questions and provide advice for budding comic and zine creators.

Q: What can you tell me about Atomic Bear Press?

A: Atomic Bear Press is the name I use when I self-publish my art work as prints, comic books, etc.

Q: For those who are unfamiliar with your comics, can you describe your work?

A: My work has a very whimsical look to it and I am attracted to stories with fanciful elements.

Q:What first inspired you to make comics and zines?

A: I am an artist and love to tell stories and share them with others. I originally wanted to be an animator at Disney, but comics allow me to tell my own stories which I can create all by myself.

Q: You just recently made an appearance at the San Francisco Zine Festival. How was that?

A: Fun and a great way to get out and meet the general public as well as other artists. I always feel energized after a fun convention.

Q: How did you find out about the Zine Fest & what made you want to participate in it?

A: I went to my first Zinefest in 2005 when I shared a table with a friend of mine. Since then it has been a very popular event in local cartoonist circles. This was my second time exhibiting and lots of artists I know were there.

Q: What is the best way to prepare for a convention like the Zine Fest?

A: The same way it is for any con… don’t wait till the last minute to print up your comics and zines. Make sure you have a mailing list and business cards or postcards with your contact information on it to give out. Have a web presence. Arrive on time with a good night’s sleep so you can be there to talk to lots of people feeling your best. Talk to folks and share your excitement and enthusiasm.

Q: What are the pros and cons of having your own table versus sharing that of a larger entity (like the Cartoon Art Museum)?

A: It all depends on what you are selling, who you share your table with and other factors. Sometimes you have lots of stuff to sell and you need the whole table to show the work in its best light. A rack of art prints, for instance, would take a big chunk of your space if you only had half a table. Of course, if you only have a few items, half a table might be fine. One issue with sharing a table is that it can be awkward sometimes to compete for the attentions of customers with your tablemate(s). It’s always good to share with someone you get along with if possible.

Q: How much of your publishing and distribution do you do yourself and how much is aided by third parties?

A: I mostly sell my own publications at conventions and events, but you can find some of my comic books for sale at the Cartoon Art Museum bookstore in the Local Talent Section. I also sell my work through my website.

Q: Recently, web comics and blogs seem to have become more prevalent than published zines. How do you feel about digital vs. traditional media?

A: With the web, you can get your work out to a wider audience. Many creators lose money trying to get their work for sale in stores and see the web as a way to build an audience without a lot of risk/cost. The model for many is to post samples of their comic on the web and then publish a collected version later on with an audience that already knows the work. If you are an artist, you need some sort of web presence. On the other hand, there is nothing like holding a beautiful comic or zine in your hands and reading it!

Q: What do you think the artists of today can learn from the Bay Area’s extensive history of comic and zine culture?

A: The power of creating your own story and putting it out there for others read. That is a very brave act for many of us and the spirit of our peers and predecessors help encourage us to move forward.

Q: Finally, what advice would you give to would-be cartoonists and zine creators?

A: Keep drawing and being creative and go out and connect with other artists. For instance, I am part of the Cartoonist Conspiracy San Francisco organization (http://, which is a Comic Jam group that meets twice a month to draw together. Oh, and always be aware that being an artist is hard work – and having many different skills will only help you succeed.

For more information on Brian Kolm, check out For more information on the San Francisco Zine Festiveal, check out

Hanging on to resistance – I69

On August 25, forty people filled the small lobby of the Pike County Courthouse in Petersburg, Indiana expecting to sit in on Tiga and Hugh’s first court date. This group, made up of friends and family, as well as community organizers and landowners from along I-69’s route, grew more and more expectant as the original starting time of 9am slid further and further away. Eventually, an hour after court was to begin, word got out that the judge had called off work that day, and that the date was pushed back two months, to October 20. All was not lost, because most everyone went out to lunch afterwards, filling most of a small-town restaurant, a chance to eat, talk, and hang out.

This is only the most recent delay in a long process that’s designed to drag itself out and wear defendants and their communities down. But the turn-out reflects the ongoing strength of support for Tiga and Hugh, as well as new possibilities, as communication is strengthened between different communities touched by this repression.

To go back to the basics for a moment, Tiga and Hugh were arrested last April, after a multi-year investigation directed against the anti-I-69 movement. This movement has included hundreds of people from different backgrounds over the past two decades, but the past few years in particular saw an upsurge in anarchist and ecological opposition to the road. Much, but far from all, of the repression by Indiana State Police and the FBI has been directed against these younger opponents, but the effects have been felt more widely.

Tiga and Hugh are charged with felony racketeering (called “corrupt business influence” in Indiana) as well as several misdemeanors related to a specific office demonstration in 2007. The racketeering charge essentially alleges that all opposition to I-69 constitutes a “racket,” or mafia, that operated outside legitimate political channels and functioned to reduce profits through intimidation. The office demo in question happened in response to the eviction of the first rural families by the Department of Transportation (INDOT): In this demo, I-69 planning offices were calmly and non-destructively evicted in turn.

While there is a certain whiff of “eco-terrorism” allegations in the air, the actions the two are accused of were popular in Indiana, and the goal of the prosecution doesn’t seem to be one of isolating or marginalizing them. Instead, the repression is being used to intimidate a broad range of local opponents to the road, at a time when the I-69 project itself seems more fragile than ever. Local organizers believe that INDOT is trying to push through the last steps of the approval process for the road as they make a desperate bid for federal stimulus funds. At the same time, surveyors are moving to stake off the property of the next round of landowners/victims. Given the delicacy of their situation, it’s easy to see why, at this particular moment, INDOT would want to guarantee silence and the appearance of social peace through repression. And so far, in at least some way, it’s working: reports from section 1 of the proposed road (the first 10 miles near Evansville where opposition has been fierce) is that local landowners and farmers who’ve been vocal against the road for years are feeling scared and unwilling to speak up.

Going farther, after the aborted court date, Hugh’s lawyers stated their belief that the ongoing prosecution is directly tied to the health of the I-69 project. The more that the road looks like it has a chance, the more life the prosecution will have, as INDOT struggles to protect its project; while if the road falls apart completely, much of the local rationale for repression will disappear. The charges against Tiga and Hugh are linked socially and bureaucratically to the success or failure of the wider movement, locally and beyond. This is true not just for them either – over the past months, many I-69 opponents have been saddled with probation due to charges from the beginning of construction last summer, which obviously functions to discipline these activists and keep them quiet.

To act in solidarity with Hugh and Tiga, then, is to continue to organize (within social struggles, against I-69, other infrastructure projects, and elsewhere), to seek a deeper understanding of repression and extend that solidarity to yet others who’ve been targeted for their organizing or just for living, and to maintain and strengthen relationships with each other and with the communities in which we live. This is what we’ve tried to do locally- through events and fundraisers, going door-to-door, and in our daily lives. We’ve also been encouraged by the outpouring of support in other cities and communities, which has also been instrumental in allowing Tiga and Hugh to hire good lawyers. As of now, they are slated to go to trial on April 19. Should that happen, they will need all the support we can give them. Unfortunately, this will also probably include more financial support, so we’d love to hear about more fundraisers happening in other places. Please be in touch, and feel free to write us to ask questions or offer suggestions. Support Tiga and Hugh c/o the Future PO Box 3133 Bloomington IN 47404

Also, check out the new Solidarity With Hugh And Tiga zine available at the website (under resources).

Dineh & Hopi Relocation resistance

A caravan of work crews will once again be converging from across the country in support of residents of the Big Mountain regions of Black Mesa. The aim of this caravan is to honor the elders and to generate support in the form of direct, on-land support: chopping and hauling firewood, doing minor repair work, offering holistic health care, and sheep-herding before the approaching cold winter months arrive. These communities continue to carry out a staunch resistance to the efforts of the US Government and the Peabody Coal Company, which have devastated these communities and ecosystems.

Peabody Energy, previously Peabody Coal Company, is the world’s largest private-sector coal company, operating mines throughout North America, South America, and Australia and is the twelfth largest coal exporter. In 30 years of disastrous operation, Dine’ and Hopi communities in Arizona have been ravaged by Peabody’s coal mining, which has taken land from and forcibly relocated thousands of families, drained 2.5 million gallons of water daily from the only community water supply, and left a toxic legacy along an abandoned 273-mile coal slurry pipeline. Peabody is proposing new coal-fired power plants in several states. Peabody’s coal mining will exacerbate already devastating environmental and cultural impacts on local communities and significantly add fuel to the fire of the current global climate chaos! to the global warming crisis!

More than 14,000 Dine’ people have been forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands due to the U.S government & Peabody Coal, under the guise of the so-called “Navajo-Hopi Land Dispute.” Families are now in their third decade of resistance to this travesty. Many residents are very elderly and winters can be rough.

“The Big Mountain matriarchal leaders always believed that resisting forced relocation [would] eventually benefit all ecological systems, including the human race,” says Bahe Keediniihii, Dineh organizer and translator. “Continued residency by families throughout the Big Mountain region has a significant role in the intervention of Peabody’s future plan for Black Mesa coal to be [a] major source of unsustainable energy, the growing dependency on fossil fuel, and escalating green house gas emissions. We will continue to fight to defend our homelands.”

At this moment, decision makers in Washington D.C. are planning ways to continue their occupation of tribal lands under the guise of extracting “clean coal,” which does not exist. Ignoring protests from Dineh and Hopi communities and their allies, the U.S. Government (Office of Surface Mining) has permitted Peabody Energy to extend its massive strip-mining operations until 2026 or until the coal is gone. Peabody Coal Co. plans to seize another 19,000 acres of sacred land beyond the 67,000 acres already in Peabody’s grasp at Black Mesa.

We are at a critical juncture and must take a stand in support of communities on the front lines of resistance now! Indigenous and land-based peoples have maintained the understanding that our collective survival is deeply dependent on our relationship to Mother Earth. Victory in protecting and reclaiming the Earth will require a broad movement that can help bridge cultures, issues and nations.

This caravan is an important opportunity for people of all backgrounds to listen and work with the families of Black Mesa to generate more awareness that relocation laws & coal mining need to be stopped, that these communities deserve to be free on their ancestral homelands, and to come together to strengthen our solidarity and find ways to work together to protect Black Mesa & our Mother Earth for all life.

There is a lot that you can do to help out. You can join one of the volunteer work crews, host or attend a regional organizational meeting in your area, Organize fundraisers or donate directly

If you do want to come to Black Mesa, there is a lot to know in order to be adequately prepared and self-sufficient for your visit, which is a very remote area in a high desert terrain. Our Cultural Sensitivity & Preparedness Guide has you crucial information about what to expect, what to bring, how to be adequately prepared, background and current history and culturesafety and legal issues.

We also strongly urge participants to attend or organize regional meetings. Caravan coordinators are located in Prescott, Phoenix, Flagstaff (Taala Hooghan Infoshop), Colorado, Ithaca, NY, and the San Francisco’s Bay Area. For meeting locations and dates and to preregister and read the Cultural Sensitivity & Preparedness Guide you can also check out our Projects Needs List! Building materials, tools, & supplies are needed for projects.

*We can’t wait to see you in November!* * *

Next Stop – Infoshop

Every year while the Slingshot collective is making the organizer, we call all the infoshops listed in our radical contact list to make sure they are still there and to try to find out about new contacts we should list. These conversations are a particularly amazing and fun part of the whole process — there are so many people in every corner of the planet struggling for common goals: building a world based on freedom, community and ecological sustainability and rejecting the corporate rat race.

The 2010 organizer (available now) has a bunch of new listings and corrections. We always get some info right after we go to press, so that the organizer’s info is obsolete even before it gets published. Here’s what we have so far. For up to date info, check our on-line contact list: Happy trails.

Collective for Arts, Freedom and Ecology (CAFE) – Fresno, CA

An infoshop that hosts shows, Food Not Bombs on Sunday, radical mental health night, self-defense classes, art, and a womyn’s night. Check them out at: 935 F Street Fresno, Ca. 93706, (559) 485-3937,

Peace Nook – Columbia, MO

They are a non-profit bookstore that also features fair trade and organic items with a community meeting space in back. Proceeds support the logal Peaceworks group. 804-C E. Broadway, Columbia, MO 65201, 573-875-0539.

Peoples’ Action for Rights and Community – Eureka, CA

They have office and meeting space for groups like Redwood Curtain Copwatch . They are now in a new location: “Q Street alley, between 3rd and 2nd Streets. Take 3rd to Q St. heading toward 2nd, take right into the alley and look for the PARC signs on the carport.” Or mail: 1617 3rd Street Eureka, CA 95501 (707) 442-7465, website:,

Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front (ZACF) – South Africa

Slingshot would like to have some radical contacts / infoshop listings in Africa, but at the moment we aren’t aware of any infoshops there. The Zabalaza folks organize some events and although they don’t have a physical address, you can contact them if you’re going to be traveling in Africa. If anyone learns of any physical address we should list, please let us know. Postnet Suite 47, Private Bag X1, Fordsburg, South Africa, 2033, Email:, Phone: 00 27 84 946-4240 (from abroad) 084 946-4240 (locally)

Corrections to the 2010 Slingshot organizer

As soon as we took it to the printing press, we got these changes / corrections:

• The address we printed for the Evergreen Infoshoppe in Olympia, WA is wrong. They are actually at: Sem 1, Room 3151 Olympia, WA 98505, 360-867-6574. Their real / new name is: Sabot Infoshoppe.

• We by mistake listed ACRE (Action for Community in Raleigh) and their address. In fact, they had to shut down after a crackdown from the city. We hope it won’t be a problem that we listed them by mistake – please do not go there looking for a public space.

• Confluence Books in Grand Junction, CO has moved to a new address: 749 Rood Ave Suite (A), Grand Junction, CO 81501. The Confluence Collective House is now the Bad Water Flats Collective and is still at:629 Ouray Ave.Grand Junction, CO 81501

Infoshop Gossip — lips are wagging

Although the Rhizome collective in Austin, TX got evicted from the warehouse space they had occupied for 9 years by City of Austin Code Enforcement officials on March 17, they are still active as an organization. In June, they completed construction on Austin’s first code-approved composting toilet on the 9.8 acre former brownfield they have been working to clean up since 2004 with a $200,000 EPA grant. According to the Rhizome press release, “The toilet is built atop two separate waterproof concrete vaults. When one vault fills up, operation switches to the other side. The human waste is given one year to decompose which guarantees the resultant soil is safe for growing food for human consumption, though fertilizing fruit trees is more common. At the end of the year, the material is tested to verify the absence of fecal organisms. Rhizome Collective co-founder Scott Kellogg and Dr. Lauren Ross of Glenrose Engineering worked with the City for nearly four years to obtain the necessary permit for the construction of this composting toilet. Composting toilets are progressive, innovative resource recovery systems that use no water and safely compost human wastes into a benign and beneficial soil amendment. Cover material, in this case dry sawdust, over each deposit ensures a balanced carbon/nitrogen ratio (c/n ratio) to stimulate the composting process as well as abating smells associated with traditional outhouses and sewer and septic systems. This first step in developing infrastructure on the field opens the doors of possibility for the future use of the space. While the Collective is of course always taking monetary donations, there is now a second way to make a donation, affectionately referred to as #2.” Check out

Rabble Calendar


October 17-18

Seattle Anarchist Bookfair – Underground Events Center

October 17 • 11 am

Anti-war march and rally – UN Plaza SF

October 22 • 7 pm

Book release party for Slingshot’s new book, People’s Park Still Blooming. Modern Times Books 888 Valencia, SF

October 22

14th National Day of Protest to stop police brutality, repression and the criminalization of a generation

October 24

International day of Climate Action

October 25 • 9 am – 6 pm

Westfest – 40th anniversary of Woodstock music festival. Speedway Meadows, Golden Gate Park SF

October 30 • 6 pm

San Francisco Halloween Critical Mass bike ride. Dress up – Justin Herman Plaza


November 1

World Vegan Day

November 7 • 7 pm

Book Party “Father Bill: Reflections of a Beloved Rebel” Berkeley Unitarians 1924 Cedar at Bonita

November 14 • 7 pm

Art as Propaganda Workshop series: Fashion as Protest and Inspiration: Queer, Punk and Freak Fashion 625 Larkin St. #202 SF

November 21-28

Caravan in Support of Communities on the front lines of resistance at Black Mesa, AZ 928.773.8086

November 20-22

Mass Mobilization to Shut Down the School of the Americas Ft. Benning, GA

November 27

Buy Nothing Day – protest consumerism everywhere!

November 30

Mass global action to stop climate change. Lots of cities –


December 7 – 18

Global protest against false solutions at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, Denmark – pick a protest in your local area

December 13 • 4 pm

Slingshot new volunteer meeting 3124 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley 510 540-0751

January, 2010

January 16 • 3 pm

Slingshot article deadline for issue #102 – 3124 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley


February 10-15

Protest the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, BC Canada. Convergence of anti-colonial and anti-capitalist forces to confront corporate invasion, displacement, and state repression.