STIGMERGY: The C4SS Blog
Russia Targets Journalists in New Wave of Repression

In a concerning development for radicals everywhere, Russian officials have been cracking down on journalists with renewed vigor. In particular, journalist Ivan Golunov was recently arrested on fabricated drug charges and help for six days. While Golunov was released on June 11th, following a massive outpouring of support from journalists and citizens alike, there remains a great danger to the free flow of information.

Police arrested hundreds of protestors during a Moscow march in support of Golunov, and have been generally responding with violence to the spread of the #FreeGolunov movement and related anti-repression demonstrations. Thankfully, though, there does seem to be some response to the public pressure in support of journalists. Two police officers have been fired for Golunov’s arrest, in what appears to be a direct response to mass protests and public pressure over the incident. It goes to show how important public pressure can be for fighting back against repression, but the important thing to remember is that this is not over.

Like many governments, Putin’s Russia goes through cycles of repression, backing off when the pressure at home and internationally becomes too much, but maintaining a position of opposition to journalists and other political types. It’s important to stay aware of the obstacles facing radicals around the world, and Russia’s recent attempt to target journalists should worry us greatly. We can help keep the pressure on internationally by keeping abreast of the issue, and supporting journalists like Golunov when they are targeted with arrest and other repressive tactics. An injury to one is an injury to us all.

Mutual Exchange Radio: Fabio Rojas on Common Objections to Open Borders

You can now subscribe to Mutual Exchange Radio on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify. SoundCloud distribution is coming soon! 

Sorry for the delay! May’s episode is out now and features Fabio Rojas, a professor of sociology at Indiana University. Dr. Rojas is an expert who works on the sociology of political movements and social theory. We are exploring what a world with little to no immigration restrictions might look like and Dr. Rojas’ case for why it would be preferable, both on economic and on ethical grounds. Dr. Rojas addresses some of the most common objections to open borders from the left and the right. He is a very knowledgeable expert on the sociology of immigration as well as a passionate advocate for immigrant rights and that really comes through in our conversation.

Next month, we welcome Kelly Wright, a writer at C4SS and due process advocate, to discuss the targeting of whistleblowers, activists, and journalists through the application of legislation like the Espionage Act and the CFAA, as well as the problem of prosecutorial abuse and other methods of quashing dissent. Grand juries and other legal tools have been used with increasing aggression in recent years to target and silence American dissenters. Tune in next month to learn more about these methods of state repression, and how people are resisting.

One reason for the delayed release this month was the addition of our first bonus episode to the production schedule. To hear this first bonus episode, you’ll need to be a patron of C4SS and Mutual Exhcnage Radio. In it, host Zachary Woodman, producer Tony Dreher, and C4SS editing coordinator Alex McHugh discuss the US ban of Huawei telecommunications equipment and increasing tensions with Iran. We end with a discussion of Impossible Burgers and other green meat alternatives.

May Day Poetry Feature

First off, I want to thank everyone who answered the call and submitted poems for our first ever May poetry feature! I’ll admit I was a little scared about going off the beaten path here, but you all delivered, and it’s been a real pleasure to review the poems we’ve received. I also want to give a special thanks to those of you who chose to donate your writer’s fee to Chelsea Manning’s personal support fund. It’s going to do a lot of good! You can read more about her continued resistance to state intimidation here.

This is just a quick update to say that we’ll be publishing the accepted poems (ten in total) throughout the month. The first will be published next Monday, May 6th, and we’ll go from there with the last poem wrapping things up on Thursday, May 30th. I’m happy to report there’s a lot of variety in the style and subjects, so it should be an exciting few weeks.

Finally, with May Day yesterday, I want to note that this project was partially inspired by the anarchist tradition of May Day remembrance. That tradition both celebrates and mourns the lives of those who came before us, and who have sacrificed much for the cause of anarchism. Such occasions can stir intense and complicated emotions, so I wanted to give people a space in which to express these feelings and a reminder that intensity of emotion is not a weakness, it is a reflection of our strength. I hope those who submitted poems felt some release in writing them, and that we all continue to embrace our own emotional depth. Look out for that first poem on Monday!

Mutual Exchange Radio: Lyn Ulbricht on Due Process

You can now subscribe to Mutual Exchange Radio on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify.

 

 

Today’s guest is Lyn Ulbricht. For those unfamiliar with the Silk Road case, Lyn is Ross Ulbricht’s mother and she became a crusader for due process after his 2013 arrest for developing the dark net trading site. In this episode, we consider issues of due process, the precedents set by the Silk Road case, and the right to privacy. An important conversation for anyone living in the Internet age!

Next month, we’ll cover the issue of immigration rights and reform. With so much talk of immigration issues in the current political cycle, it’s important to think about how we can help and support our neighbors who have moved from somewhere else. From ICE blockades to providing safe houses and advocating for sanctuary cities, there is a lot to be done. But we also have to win the ideological battle here, and next week, we’ll get deep into the weeds on the right to free movement and anarchist positions on immigration. 

In the meantime, head over to the C4SS Patreon and consider supporting this project. From there, you can support this podcast and other C4SS projects by making a monthly pledge of $5 or more. We’ll be updating our Patreon tiers next month as well, and offering more cool prizes and opportunities for our supporters. We appreciate all you do and look forward to continuing the growth the podcast has seen so far. 

Cory Massimino on SiriusXM

Following his recent publication in The Independent, C4SS coordinator Cory Massimino was again in the news on the issue of immigration. Speaking with Tim Farley on SiriusXM’s morning show yesterday, Cory once again outlined the case for open borders, using El Paso, Texas as a model of success.

You can listen to the full segment here or below:

Cory Massimino in The Independent

C4SS coordinator Cory Massimino has been published in The Indpendent on the realities of immigration to the United States. Despite the repeated claims of President Trump, the fact remains that immigrants commit less crime than native-born Americans. Trump has recently threatened to close down the border with Mexico, maintaining his line that immigration across that border constitutes a “state of emergency” and a threat to the United States. Cory explains just how ridiculous this is:

The idea that closed borders and more fencing will increase border security isn’t supported by the facts. In his State of the Union address, Trump made this argument when he credited the decline in El Paso’s violent crime rate to the local border wall. But El Paso’s violent crime rate had already fallen 34 per cent from 1993 to 2006 — the year George W Bush authorised the wall.

Meanwhile, welcoming immigration works.

In 2009, only a year after the local border wall began construction, journalist Radley Balko explained how El Paso — then the third safest city in the country and currently the seventh safest city— proves common stereotypes wrong. To immigration restrictionists, El Paso could look like a recipe for violence and anarchy: it has the seventh largest immigrant population of any American city. Its population is over 75 per cent Hispanic and over 25 per cent foreign-born and its poverty rate is twice the national average. Many residents are likely undocumented. Yet Balko found that “El Paso’s embrace of its immigrants might be a big reason why the low-income border town has remained one of the safest places in the country.”

Read the full piece here.

Mutual Exchange Radio: Maggie McNeill on Sex Work

You can now subscribe to Mutual Exchange Radio on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify.

Today’s guest is Maggie McNeil, an author, journalist, blogger, sex worker, and expert on sex work. Maggie has written a series of short stories on sex work, Ladies of the Night,  runs her own blog, The Honest Courtesan, and has had her writings featured in outlets such as The Washington Post, Reason Magazine and Cato Unbound.

Most recently, she was featured prominently in the documentary The War on Whores, which you can rent on Vimeo. Today we discussed the legal and moral issues surrounding sex work in which Maggie gave her strongest case for decriminalization and responded to some common objections, as well as the social and moral implications of its decriminalization and normalization. You can tell that Maggie really knows the empirical literature on this topic and that made this an especially informative conversation. I hope you learned as much as I did.

Next month, tune in to hear our interview with Lyn Ulbricht. For those unfamiliar with the Silk Road case, Lyn is Ross Ulbricht’s mother and she became a crusader for due process after his 2013 arrest for developing the dark net trading site. In this episode, we consider issues of due process, the precedents set by the Silk Road case, and the right to privacy. An important conversation for anyone living in the Internet age! 

In the meantime, head over to the C4SS Patreon  and consider supporting this project. From there, you can support this podcast and other C4SS projects by making a monthly pledge of $5 or more. And we’ve extended the opportunity to be listed as an Associate Producer on the show! Anyone who pledges $10 per month or more will get a shout out in the credits of Episode 4 — and those who pledge $20 or more will gain access to additional content from our guests and scholars.

Thank you for your support, and look out for more fun prizes for our patrons coming soon!

C4SS Thinkers in Upcoming Anthology on Dialectical Libertarianism

Several C4SS people (Jason Lee Byas, Kevin Carson, Gary Chartier, Billy Christmas, Nathan Goodman, and Roderick T. Long) are among the contributors to a forthcoming anthology, Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom, edited by Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Roger Bissell, and Edward Younkins.

Other contributors, from a variety of libertarian traditions, include Robert Campbell, Troy Camplin, Douglas Den Uyl, Robert Higgs, Steven Horwitz, Stephan Kinsella, Deirdre McCloskey, David Prychitko, Douglas Rasmussen, John Welsh, and the editors themselves (Sciabarra, Bissell, and Younkins).

In Sciabarra’s words: “These essays explore ways that liberty can be better defended using a dialectical approach, a mode of analysis that grasps the full context of philosophical, cultural, and social factors requisite to the sustenance of human freedom.” Sciabarra notes that while “some of the authors associated with the volume may very well not associate themselves with the views of other authors herein represented,” a “context-sensitive dialectical approach” is a “living research program” that “will necessarily generate a variety of perspectives, united only in their ideological commitment to freedom and their methodological commitment to a dialectical sensibility.”

Sciabarra has devoted his career to exploring such an approach, as for example in his book Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism.

Check out Sciabarra’s announcement of the Dialectics of Liberty anthology here, and the abstracts of chapters here.

Mutual Exchange Radio: Kevin Carson on Libertarian Municipalism

You can now subscribe to Mutual Exchange Radio on Stitcher, and Spotify.

Today’s guest is Kevin Carson, a senior fellow at the Center for a Stateless Society who holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. He has written books such as Studies in Mutualist Political EconomyOrganization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available on C4SS’ website — or, in print at the C4SS store.

Today, we discussed a study he published last year for the Center on New Libertarian Municipalism. Libertarian Municipalism is an idea that has its roots in one of the most famous social anarchist thinkers of the twentieth century, Murray Bookchin. However, Kevin is more interested in modern movements focusing on a more decentralized model of a market economy based on common ownership of certain resources, drawing from thinkers such as Elinor Ostrom.

Next month, tune in for a conversation with Maggie McNeil, an expert on sex workers’ rights and the decriminalization of sex work. Maggie writes for publications such as Reason magazine, her own blog The Honest Courtesan, and was recently featured in the documentary The War on Whores. Our conversation will focus on the legal and ethical issues surrounding the criminalization of sex work and the impact of prohibition on society at large. I’m sure it will be a fun and enlightening conversation.

In the meantime, if you liked this episode, head over to the C4SS Patreon  and consider supporting this project. From there, you can support this podcast and other C4SS projects by making a monthly pledge of $5 or more. And we’ve extended the opportunity to be listed as an Associate Producer on the show! Anyone who pledges $10 per month or more before March 15th will get a shout out in the credits of Episode 3 — and those who pledge $20 or more will gain access to additional content from our guests and scholars.

Thank you for your support, and look out for more fun prizes for our patrons coming soon!

 

Roderick Long on Bullshit Jobs

This month, C4SS Senior Fellow Roderick Long was featured in Reason magazine with a review of David Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs: A Theory.

“Bullshit jobs” are defined by Graeber as “so completely pointless, unnecessary, or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify [their] existence.” The book discusses the rise of such jobs in the modern economy, pointing fingers squarely at private industry, rather than public largesse. Long’s response considers how Graeber handles two sets of libertarian objections, and identifies a few blind spots in his arguments.

Here are his closing thoughts:

On Graeber’s analysis, unneeded jobs are protected by the perception that eliminating them would throw people out of work. That Jetsons vision of reduced working hours was supposed to benefit the workers, not impoverish them. Graeber notes that while, as an anarchist, he generally prefers bottom-up grassroots solutions to social problems rather than top-down public policy solutions, he nevertheless favors a tax-funded universal basic income as a way to relieve the working class’s reliance on bullshit jobs. But calling upon the state for assistance is always a risky strategy for anarchists; those who subsidize the piper call the tune.

Whatever the blind spots in his analysis, Graeber’s liberatory vision of a de-bullshitized future of work should serve as a useful corrective for those who are too quick to take the case for free enterprise as a validation of the perversities of the existing employment market.

Read all of “Why Do So Many Modern Jobs Seem Pointless?: An investigation into why people are working more without accomplishing more” here.

C4SS Featured in Two Podcasts

C4SS scholars were recently featured in two different podcasts. As a philosophy, left-wing market anarchism sometimes has a hard time finding a home — but the flip side is that our ideas are relevant to discussions in a few different political contexts. Recently, C4SS scholars were featured in two seperate podcasts — William Nava’s “Who Shaves the Barber” and the relatively new “Non Serviam Podcast” on anarchism.

First, C4SS director William Gillis was featured in William Nava’s “Who Shaves the Barber.” Episode 52 explores anarchism as a concept and covers many applications and experiences of anarchism. Central to the discussion is the difference between horizontal organization and hierarchy, and a few different conceptions of freedom are discussed as well. You can listen to this episode below:

On “Non Serviam,” C4SS fellow Jason Lee Byas discusses radical liberalism, ethics, and more with host Joel Williamson. Jason discusses these ideas as they relate to anarchist politics, radical liberalism, and the anti-war philosophy. Listen below for more:

 

Mutual Exchange Radio: Gary Chartier on Liberal Anarchism

We’re excited to announce the launch of a new project from the Center for a Stateless Society: Mutual Exchange Radio. This new podcast on anarchist thought, hosted by Zachary Woodman, brings together a wide variety of guests, from academics, to on-the-ground activists, to Center scholars, to entrepreneurs to discuss the latest developments in the philosophy and practice of market anarchism.

Our inaugural guest for this show is Gary Chartier, a distinguished professor of law and business ethics at La Sierra University, a leading anarchist philosopher, and a Center Senior Fellow. He’s the author of such books as Anarchy and Legal Order: Law and Politics in a Stateless Society, The Consciousness of an Anarchist, and Radicalizing Rawls: Global Justice and the Foundations of International Law.

In this conversation we cover a broad range of issues from the evolution of the liberal tradition, to the relationship between liberalism and anarchism, to the limits of ethical theory for politics. We discuss how to handle deep religious and moral disagreements in a stateless society, and the relationship between state and corporate power. This is a conversation about what liberalism, the philosophical tradition rather than the existing centrist political movement, could be as a potentially liberating force in politics that it perhaps might not yet be in practice. But this is not just a conversation about liberalism—it’s a conversation about how moral and cultural discourse and practice proceeds in the absence of the state.

You can listen to the first episode of Mutual Exchange Radio here or below:

Stay tuned for next month’s episode with C4SS scholar and the author of Studies in Mutualist Political Economy and The Desktop Regulatory State, Kevin Carson. We’ll be releasing that episode on the last Tuesday of this month — Tuesday, February 26th — In the meantime, if you liked this episode, head over to the C4SS Patreon account and consider supporting this project. From there, you can support this podcast and other C4SS projects by making a monthly pledge of $5 or more.

Any new donors who pledge more than $10 per month before Feb. 15th, 2019 will get a shout out in the credits of Episode 3 — and those who pledge $20 or more will gain access to additional content from our guests and scholars. Thank you in advance for your support, and look out for a new episode every month with guests from across the anarchist community.

Update: Queer Defense in Brazil

Click here to donate now.

cw: skip first paragraph for mentions of graphic anti-LGBTQIA violence

It has been a brutal week for LGBTQIA communities in Brazil. A queer Brazilian friend is heartbroken over the murders and suicides of 3 people close to him in just the last 4 days. The stories of these deaths are grisly: one was a gay male professor who was followed home from a bar and killed, another transmasculine friend and his partner committed suicide following prolonged financial struggles. Especially appalling is the murder of a travesti (a Latin-American identity in the transfeminine spectrum) who was accused of being a demon and had her heart removed by an evangelical man. This sequence of events demonstrates the increased hostility towards LGBTQIA people in Brazil following the election of right-wing president Jair Bolsanaro in January, 2019.

This increase in hostility was easily predicted by those most likely to be affected by it. As an activist stated in the Guardian’s documentary Marielle and Monica, “By the time Bolsanaro rises to power, even if we still don’t know how his government will be, there’s already a legacy of violence and hate [by him]. Dissemination of hate between people.” Bolsanaro legitimizes violence against LGBTQIA people by being “explicity homophobic, biphobic and transphobic,” according to Salomão Cunha Lima, from GAMES, an LGBTQ employment organization in São Paulo. Bolsanaro’s words, Lima stresses, “have empowered fascist, homophobic and racist people, who started feeling free to commit hate crimes against this population.” Such increase in hate crimes has been seen in the United States, where, in the year following the election of right-wing president Donald Trump– and the visibility of white supremacist groups his election endorsed– reported hate crimes increased by 17%.

Bolsanaro has then followed up on his promises. In the first 48 hours of his presidency, he enacted executive orders to the Minister of Human Rights to ignore all complaints and violations involving lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender, and queer Brazilians. The Minister of Human Rights herself is an evangelical pastor quoted saying, “Girls will be princesses and boys will be princes. There will be no more ideological indoctrination of children and teenagers in Brazil.” In addition, a guide to STIs for transmasculine people was taken off a government website. This initial flurry of homophobic and transphobic policies were accompanied by threats to indigenous lands and undercutting funding for public art, youth fitness programs, and programs that address hunger.

Recall that this increase in violence against LGBTQIA people is happening in what is already the country with the highest rate of travesti/trans* murders in the world, even before Bolsanaro was elected. Also, those numbers have already been increasing: in 2017, a record 387 murders of people who identified as LGBTQ+ were recorded; there were 346 as of October 2018, with 167 of them trans, according to Grupo Gay de Bahia.

The Center for a Stateless Society, acting in response to this alarming uptick in violence against LGBTQIA people in the wake of right-wing fascism, has decided to double its commitment to match donations made to our fundraiser for “Extravasa: Defesa Pessoal,” a self-defense project serving LGBTT people in Florianópolis, Brazil.

C4SS will donate an additional $250 match to donations in this round of fundraising for a total of $500 made to the GoFundMe.

Acknowledging that Self Defense is Self Care, C4SS moves to empower those struggling to survive under fascism all over the world, and encourages you to do the same. Please donate if you can, and share among your networks.

Max Blumenthal, You Can Hate Two Things At Once

What the Hell?

We have found ourselves in the fortunate position of making enemies with fascists, the Kremlin, western feds, and tankies all at the same time. What kind of genius sorcery have we channeled to deserve such a gift? Well, we simply researched disinformation wars and red-brown fascist networks surrounding the alt-right. We slept in a bad motel and presented our findings at an IEEE (a leading engineering/tech organization and scholarly journal) on Big Data. About a month later Alexander gets a blackmail-ish email from none other than leftist commentator of some renown, Max Blumenthal more or less accusing us of being spies embedded in a vast conspiratorial network. Then, as if to hand us credibility on a silver platter he co-publishes a weird and grasping article claiming the same with, of all people, notorious misogynist Mark Ames who literally gave a column in his expatriate tabloid based in Moscow, The eXile, to notorious National-Bolshevik Liminov. (Ames’s own former co-editor at The eXile called Limonov a “fascist revolutionary”). Our research struck a nerve it seems.

Some Notes on Perspective

The hardest part about disinformation is the extent to which positionality informs what various actors consider to be disinformation. One presenter in the disinformation workshop we attended suggested that people filming cops are “possibly paid protestors” as an extension of the bizarre and lowkey anti-semitic Soros conspiracy theories. When Emmi confronted him publicly from the audience about spreading disinformation in a workshop about combating it, he made a classic “oopsie” face, and shimmied around the question. Because for him, all narratives from the periphery might be disinformation. For him, information is that which has a federal stamp of approval. Surely no one would film the cops for free without the influence of some nebulous and possibly Jewish or foreign cabal. Power does not change ground truth but it does impact what is accepted and propagated. So where you stand doesn’t change reality, but it does change where you buy your maps of reality from.

So then as a result of this, various actors, competing to hold the monopoly on truth, develop and propagate “evidence” in favor of their view. Biases become implicit rather than explicit and two or more sides barrage each other with information and both sides see nothing but propaganda from their opposition. A fun fact about reality though is that it doesn’t change. Complexity and nuance can lose you points in a status contest. It can give your enemy easy dunks on you. It’s an order of magnitude easier to create bullshit than to get to the bottom of something. Power defines what is considered to be propaganda without changing the actual truth.

Blumenthal and others get this on some level. They understand the feds from both the US and the UK to be involved in an imperialist project and fighting illegal wars, overthrowing governments, and engaging in right-wing coups for decades. Alexander edited an anthology on these issues—and granted it came out four years ago and lacks a bit of a polish—but it lays out important intersections of environmentalist and workers movements given an anti-imperialist framework of political ecology writ large. While we won’t claim to know the extent of CIA information operations, we will say this. Much of what came out of the Gerasimov doctrine was a best guess at what the west was doing, and trying to couple that with the philosophical project of people like Dugin and the Izborsky club. But of course this is where it starts to gets sticky.

Anarchists have the somewhat unique position of being able to hate multiple sides that hate each other at the same time while simultaneously recognizing historical crimes and power imbalances. We can look at harm done from many directions without defending any states. We aren’t encumbered by protecting the good name of Russia or the US. Max is smart but he has allegiances and a narrative to push that conveniently aligns with the Kremlin’s talking points. And while we’ve never been invited to or attended fancy CIA galas, he has done that with the Kremlin and then abruptly begins to shift his tone on critical topics such as Syria. We won’t speculate on the degree to which he is friendly with the Kremlin, but just point out that his sources are often specious in this regard.

That being said, because we aren’t here to protect the feds, we are just as interested as he is in potential US/UK disinformation networks. If Integrity Initiative is the tip of some vast spy network we’d love to know about it. Unfortunately the sources for the majority of reports of them are RT (Kremlin controlled initial report source), Zerohedge (pro-Kremlin conspiracy peddlers), a report done by a 9/11 truther and an Assadist (discussion of the White Helmets has tell-tale Kremlin disinformation signs), a Grayzone article (Blumenthal’s baby) that casually uses the phrase ‘Knights of Templar’, this new “exposé” on Grayzone that frankly kind of sucks, and a weird sketchy blog that claims to be Anonymous (check out their theme music). It doesn’t exactly instill a great deal of confidence. But sure, Integrity Initiative (via the Institute for Statecraft) seems to at the very least get military money. A lot of think tanks and institutes do, not to mention universities. All of which are indeed worthy of critique and being exposed.

It seems to us that Russia and the U.S. are locked into what in the old days leftists used to call an “inter-imperialist rivalry,” a fight over influence, resources, and hegemony that takes place on the world stage. Journalists are at the frontline of this struggle, since much of it takes place behind closed doors. That doesn’t mean that you’re on one side or the other—quite the opposite—and that’s the whole point. Blumenthal is currently being sued by a wonderful journalist, Sulome Anderson. She says that articles like his most recent one put people in real danger by leveling false accusations (we’re not in any way connected to MI6, obviously) in the midst of international contestation. RT wants to make the CIA look bad; western disinformation firms lobbying for federal funds want to make Russia look bad. It’s not that hard of a job either way. The people who get caught in the middle are the ones attempting to undermine a kind of global hegemony of state-sponsored Truth and use reason to contravene myriad political distortions and lies.

The conclusion of our paper and presentation had an extremely light touch. We never said anything resembling “Russia is controlling the White House and the alt-right and responsible for everything bad happening everywhere,” like the conspiracy theorists that Blumenthal thinks he’s engaging with. We said something simple and objectively true: that there are elements within the Kremlin that support hybrid warfare tactics against the United States (that in many cases they learned from the CIA) and that the alt-right, far-right, hard-left, and syncretic red-brown networks are a potential pawn in this battlefield. This is such a weak claim that it shouldn’t be very contentious to anyone familiar with the terrain.

Further Fact-checking

As to the quality of our paper, we used widely accepted statistical and data-mining techniques such as Latent Semantic Indexing, Topic Modeling, and External Link Analysis and our paper was deemed of high enough quality to be accepted into a high impact scholarly technical journal. That’s more than can be said for your essay. But even so, it’s a conference paper. An initial investigation not a full-scale research project which is why we were cautious in our takeaways. Additionally we suspect some of your fear of the network graphing done about topics like the White Helmets conspiracy networks is in part because your crew is implicated and in part because maybe you don’t understand how edges, nodes, and measures of centrality/clustering work? Math can be used to lie, but you can’t really critique that if you don’t understand how the actual math is determined to be accurate.

Integrity Initiative was not the host of the event. They had one employee [edit: two] who gave a talk and have worked with Adventium Labs before (according to your semi-sketchy sources). His talk was pretty problematic as you can see. When someone asked him how we would know when we could end this “war mentality” he dodged it as if he’d never considered it. The conference, however, was by IEEE who are a cutting edge, high-impact scholarly journal in the topic of big data which the conference was on. There was a huge range of people at the conference from terrible to amazing. There was even an excellent presentation on civilian journalism against despotic regimes and police violence. Most of the attendees were *gasp* academics from *gasps deeper* information and data schools. This is the nature of most academic conferences.

Attending a prestigious conference is not the same as supporting, being funded by, or otherwise collaborating with skeezy feds. Oxford University was recently asked by the U.S. Senate to produce a report on social media meddling by the Internet Research Agency. Does that make Oxford and everyone who attends an MI6 agent? Of course not. And here’s the most dissatisfying part. Ready? No we did not get paid to present at the event and neither of us are under the employ of any of the sponsoring or participating organizations. In fact we paid for registration at the conference like anyone else, because we hoped to learn more about how people are automating and forwarding systems of disinformation detection. We’re grad students who presented at a conference, not part of some elaborate spy network but you’re welcome to make yourself look like a crackpot if you wish.

A favorite block-quote of the article typifies this willingness to grasp for straws to make a point:

That ability to shamelessly smear and denounce leftists over the most crudely manufactured links to the far-right —  while cozying up to groups as sleazy as C4SS and authoritarian as the Integrity Initiative — is the sort of adaptive trait that MI6 spies and the Rendon Group would find useful in a covert domestic influence operation.

So, because we presented at an academic conference where some people in attendance support the feds (like literally every academic conference we’ve gone to, such as the American Political Science Association and American Association of Geographers) that automatically makes us MI6 field operatives? Sweet. Maybe Emmi’s gonna get to see the UK someday.

Speaking of “ability to shamelessly smear and denounce leftists over the most crudely manufactured links to the far-right,” Kevin Carson publicly cut ties with Keith Preston a decade ago as his racist and queerphobic views became apparent which you even cited and yet couldn’t let go of the catchline of “White nationalist associates.” Wow, congratulations. Someone was revealed as a fascist entryist and Kevin denounced him. Much sleuth. Many investigative journalism.

But incidentally, C4SS is a model of how to block fascist entryism at all points. The Right Stuff has hated C4SS since the beginning and targeted us on multiple occasions because of our steadfast opposition to the alt-right since before they were well known. Closed border right-libertarians with racist views have hated us since our inception because we resist them at every turn. You can see this in the longstanding hatred we garner from the Ludwig Von Mises Institute and Lew Rockwell  over the years. If you can find a secret fascist under the employ of C4SS let us know and we’ll be happy to burn that bridge too. As far as courting the right or promoting right-libertarianism goes, the group has facilitated a lot of dialogues between a wide range of anti-authoritarians including even at times people who identify as libertarians or lefties. C4SS even tables at SFL to pull people left and downward on the political spectrum. Who cares? We table at lots of different things. This just shows that although we prioritize countering fascist entryism we’re not actually stomping out all discourse or political dialogue more generally. We walk the walk of encouraging dialogue while no platforming actual fascists.

We are invested in nerdily following questions to their roots which means we don’t choose a team over a truth. This is a novel concept to people like Blumenthal who would think being a leftist means propping up every shitty dude-bro like Ames whose convenient, or unflinching allegiance to people like Corbyn and John “contributed white nationalist talking points solicited by Richard Spencer to Taki’s Mag” Dolan. Gross allegiance to an ingroup is a neurological malfunctioning functioning similar to racism, but we still fight against actual fascists. If you want the left to be better you don’t cozy up to rapists, you give them no quarter as C4SS does. The fact that you deflectingly imply that Kevin’s distrust of Ames is anti-Semitic rather than, anti-pieceofshit, is a laughable example of the heroic leaps you’re willing to make.

We don’t get any Koch or Soros money. We probably never will. We wouldn’t take MI6 money even if it did come. Ames worked for Pando, a startup partly funded by neo-reactionary Peter Thiel. The world goes round. C4SS gets its funding entirely from small personal donations, built up over a decade of providing anarchist and anti-authoritarian analysis and commentary in the long tradition of individualist anarchists like Voltairine de Cleyre and Benjamin Tucker.

With regard to Brad Spangler, C4SS practices what they preach. They expose and kick out shitty people, unlike countless socialist or libertarian organizations. In the early days Spangler contributed notably to the formation of C4SS and occupied the informal position of “director” for a few years. He later began to post sketchy anti-feminist shit on his personal social media at which point C4SS stopped working with him (although he’d already began creating distance at that point). Much later, after many had lost contact with and blocked him, he announced his having sexually assaulted a child at which point C4SS immediately publicly denounced him without hiding the fact that he had written articles for them and helped run things (you see how we’re accepting responsibility not dodging it?). One scumbag helped with early C4SS which they later denounced. That is not exactly a smoking gun and is much better than could be said for Alternet, for years led by notorious Don Hazen, or it seems, Grayzone. But of course, you don’t actually care about the fact that we push out shitty dudes. You even mention that later. You just want a catchy and misleading headline.

But of course, kicking out shitty people from the left is actually the opposite of what you want, so of course you’d minimize that because how many of your buddies would be implicated? You can’t even cut ties with Ames who bragged about raping a 15 year old in a sharply misogynistic book self-described as “non-fiction” but who has recently attempted to claim it was ironic.

You’re right that we connected Zerohedge to right-wing militia groups in the borderlands…. Because there was a relevant connection. Tim “Nailer” Foley, founder of Arizona Border Recon, a group currently doing anti-refugee civilian military operations in the borderlands constantly shares things from Zerohedge, many of which are conspiracy theories fueling the ideology behind his operations. Any wingnut can share an article from anyone, the issue here is that their articles are specifically about anti-immigrant conspiracies that feed his violence. So congratulations on almost getting a fact straight. We’re not sure why such a pure and untainted leftist as yourself would feel the need to defend a crackpot website…unless …. They’re in your broader pro-Kremlin “alternative news” circles.

But please continue to take weird potshots at us because it makes us look moderate and reasonable by comparison. It seems that when you shine a light on conspiracy theorists they make up conspiracy theories about you. Go figure.

Why Does He Care?

So we struck a nerve. What was it exactly that earned us this ire? Was it that we presented at a conference with some sort of connection to this weird disinformation research firm? It seems this isn’t a strong enough reason to target us specifically. Why not just target the person who actually works for that organization with that same degree of malice you show us? What seems more likely is that it was how, in our research of the alt-right, we began seeing potential connections to larger red-brown projects using conspiracy theories to forward their state-aligned agendas. Why does this strike such a nerve for you? If you are so confident that your work is well sourced and not rooted in state-line conspiracy theories and information war why are you panicking so hard and targeting a couple of young academics at a tiny workshop producing a nerdy little conference working paper?

We’re happy to help expose western spy networks supporting fascists abroad. We support Blumenthal and others to do honest work on this topic and generally agree with him on a range of issues such as being pro-BDS or anti-Christian fundamentalism. But in the process of exposing fascist networks, we’re not going to protect vulgar “anti-imperialists” who use that as a shield against any claims of authoritarian brutality. We’re against all fascism which means we don’t stop looking for it at the highest level. We follow it down to the roots and in all its strange incantations.

Max, we’d invite you to join on this nerdy quest but it seems your interest in uncovering brutality, fascism, and imperialism has limits when it begins to touch your networks and pet projects. Because you care more about protecting your crew than finding truth, your claims of combating misinformation will always have these tell-tale stamps of propaganda that you’ve shown here. So I guess thanks for letting your true unhinged colors fly. It makes it easier to spot a crank.

Queer Defense in Brazil

BACKSTORY

Brazil is the country with the highest rate of travesti/trans* murders. In 2017, Brazil accounted for 52% of the deaths registered by International Transgender Europe (TGEU): 179 travesti/trans* people were murdered in 2017.  Alarmingly, the new political scenario is contributing to a further rise in violence against vulnerable populations.

(Note: Travesti is a Latin-American identity in the transfeminine spectrum.)

In Florianópolis (Santa Catarina) an estimated 70 cases of gender violence are registered monthly. Most of them aren’t officially registered in police reports, not only because survivors fear facing more institutional violence, but also because gender violence is not considered a hate crime in Brazil. According to Lirous (trans woman, coordinator of ADEH – Associação em Defesa dos Direitos Humanos – and president of Fórum da Diversidade Grande Florianópolis) police departments send victims of gender violence to ADEH instead of filing police reports:

We suffer violence every day. The proof of this is the cases that we take in here. Here we welcome not only to low income people, we welcome the general population, especially in the summer, when the number of cases triple. And still we have a lot of tourists coming here [to ADEH] to be cared for because the police department sends them straight to us. Before making a police report, they send them here [saying]: “The place for gay people is ADEH”.(25:57)

After and during this year’s election there was an exponential rise in the number of aggressions against LGBTT people due to the general population’s alignment with transphobic and homophobic discourse disseminated by the newly elected extreme right-wing, Evangelical, and ex-military president Bolsonaro, who openly remarks: “Yes, I am homophobic, and very proud of it,” “I would rather have a son killed in an accident than a homosexual son” and “I won’t combat or discriminate, but if I see two men kissing in the streets, I will beat them up.” As a result of the institutional endorsement of such practices, during the elections an alarming number of LGBTT people got harassed, beat up and even murdered by attackers chanting Bolsonaro’s name.

Taking into account the fact that Santa Catarina was the State that most voted for Bolsonaro in the first round of the elections and witnessing the rise of gender violence in Florianópolis, Lirous established a partnership with Sérgio Raulino, who is the coordinator of “Functional Self Defense” workshops. Together they are leading “Extravasa: defesa pessoal,” which is an initiative to teach self defense techniques free of charge to LGBTT people and to promote the formation of autonomous self defense affinity groups. The project will provide a total of 6 classes starting December, but needs funding in order to establish itself as a regular activity.

To support this activity C4SS will be matching $250 in this fundraiser for Extravasa.

Please share in your networks!

 

The Megamachines Are False Specters — A Response To Gelderloos

I think it’s a shame that anarchists don’t write more on either geopolitics or analyses of the future; over the last two centuries our greatest successes have come from our imagination and foresight. For this reason I applaud Peter Gelderloos’ recent attempted forecast, published in a variety of forms by Crimethinc.

There’s much to agree with in Gelderloos’ analysis and I applaud his effort, but there’s nevertheless much in his analysis I find askew.

We could do with more predictive evaluation of geopolitical or institutional forces, and I hope this opens the door to more writing in these arenas by anarchists, but there’s an ever-present danger to such lenses: you start seeing the world primarily in terms of big social structures and miss other critical dynamics — often assuming too much solidity, integrability, or centrality to said social structures. In my opinion Gelderloos’ analysis falls into this trap when considering capitalism, fascism, and technology. To be more specific on each account: he follows a rather marxist notion of capitalism as a unified whole system with a tendency to self-preservation, he frames fascism in terms of dictatorial institutions rather than an ideology of hypernationalism, and he struggles to maintain the dated narrative of a unified technological global social system.

What’s common across these is the projection of solidity to abstractions where the institutional macro structures are privileged as the most relevant causal forces. This glosses over the root dynamics of individuals, ideologies, and tools, treating them in short as mere cogs making up the broader “systems.”

Gelderloos’ analysis of fascism should be the most glaring issue for anarchists since he attempts to break with the longstanding near-consensus in antifascist analysis by instead casting “fascism” purely in terms of dictatorship — a structure of institutions — rather than as an ideology. Gelderloos is correct that fascists are ideological opportunists on a variety of things, for example they really don’t give a shit about economic systems. But it’s profoundly mistaken to assume fascism hasn’t had a stable and coherent ideological core. Fascism is always a hypernationalism, a “might makes right” fetishization of raw power and denial of empathy with beyond one’s tribe, community, or imagined “people.” This doesn’t require a centralized state apparatus, much less one structured in dictatorial terms. The last few decades of fascist permutations have shown clearly that you can have democratic or decentralized variants of fascism (eg “national anarchism”). Indeed these are arguably the most common varieties of fascism today, from the populists of the new European right to the goat sacrificing tribes of the Wolves of Vinland.

Gelderloos demands to know what conceptual clarity is provided by analyzing fascism in ideological and philosophical terms rather than as a specific lost historical moment. Well first of all, it can give us insight into the actual fucking organizing of fascists, or at the very least their descendants. But second of all it’s useful because — despite their opportunism on some fronts — fascists are often refreshingly clearheaded about things in a way liberals cannot afford to be. Liberalism is the tortured grab-bag of contradictions, with capitalism and democracy desperately trying to distract us (and themselves) from the functioning of the existing system. If liberalism is a pack of lies and distractions, fascism infamously doesn’t bother disguising its lies, flak, and prevarication. Fascism is the most confident and explicit expression of the ideology of power itself: Might makes right. Care only about your own. That there is a philosophical position diametrically opposed to anarchism is important and provides a lot of illumination. Fascism clears the air. Just as anarchism is not a fixed blueprint or system, fascism is not a system but a set of values, a motivation and take on power utterly at odds with our own. This means it has just as diverse expressions as anarchist ethics do. But at the end of the day you are either for or opposed to power, you either care about all or just a few. Inevitably the scales tend to fall and everyone is forced — as in the Spanish revolution — to side with anarchism or fascism.

Ideology and philosophy matter. They’re not always post-facto rationalizations of an existing context or system, but often the sincere source of new developments. The problem with lenses as sweeping as geopolitics is you get into the habit of evaluating the behavior and function of institutions and ignore the roots — the actual people and psychologies and patterns of relation that give rise to these structures.

One of the worst legacies the left has infected anarchists with is a totalizing molochian view of capitalism. This often leads to some really skewed predictions when we start freaking about “commodification” (often really just meaning a more fine tuned accounting of certain considerations). A certain type of pop-marxists have convinced many that “commodification” is magically in-differentiable from capitalism per se. Got some commodification? Someone’s keeping finer-grained track of something? Fuck son, you’ve got a bad case of capitalism — with all the attendant things we associate with it, nevermind tracing any specific causality. If you’re filling out an itemized form on a dating site (“commodification of romance!”) somehow that’s class society and workplace hierarchies growing stronger. Never you mind what the causal mechanisms are, think holistically!

This leftist view of capitalism as an unified monolithic megamachine with its own clear plan and needs — rather than conflicting loci of power, orthogonalized mechanisms, and acidic currents of bottom-up market pressures — blinds people to possibilities today and ultimately encourages us to cast our dreams off beyond the veil of a magical revolution. If the abstraction is treated like a cohesive whole, if we treat institutions as the only relevant agents, and ignore everything below as constituent cogs, well then there’s no hope for anything substantively different save via some kind of total break.

For those well and truly spooked with this kind of leftist thinking, there’s ultimately little option besides despair, or a reification of the same old rituals of subcultural community. When the world is filled up with gods like “capitalism” or “civilization” and drained of actual living breathing human beings there’s no hope of salvation, save through some kind of divine intervention.

So something new gets mystified and worshipped, The Revolution, or The Collapse. The Party or The Natural Order.

What gets lost as our attention focuses entirely on these big abstractions is the concrete issues of freedom. What possibilities are available to us in our social relations, in our projects, in our environmental conditions, in the configuration of our bodies?

Gelderloos unfortunately writes,

We are increasingly being sold a transhumanist narrative in which nature and the body are presented as limitations to be overcome. This is the same old Enlightenment ideology that anarchists have fallen for time and again[.]

We’ve “fallen for” transhumanism because it’s fucking correct. Anarchism’s aspirations are not to become fucking stewards of some kind of reactionary “natural order” but to champion positive freedom, to collaboratively expand what is possible rather than retreat to a single blueprint or ecological niche. Those who would tell you to make do with and embrace the current configuration not just of the world but of your body are reactionaries of the highest order.

This endlessly repeated mantra that technology is not methods or blueprints, not even the specific infrastructure being built (which is surely skewed to the interests of power), but is some kind of closely knit together global political system, where every component props up the whole, contains the DNA to inexorably rebuild the whole, is becoming an ever more desperate rhetorical maneuver. While there are certainly countervailing authoritarian pressures in certain normalizations — like bosses in certain sectors of the first world demanding you be on call via a cellphone — what we also see is across the planet is greater diversification among technological forms and uses from the bottom up.

And what conceptual value would there really be in seeing “technology” as a unified system rather than an ecosystem or a vast arena of complex conflict? Sure there’s a kind of mental reassurance in clustering a bunch of mechanisms together and declaring them a unified whole, a sum of their varying parts, a single megamachine. The simplicity of totalitarian thinking has always held an appeal, but that doesn’t make it a correct or an adequate lens for anarchists.

This sort of thinking can cause us to cluster too much together and fail to see the joints, the root causes, or ways things can be reconfigured (for better or far worse).

The danger and constraints of geopolitical analysis — of thinking in terms of the macroscale institutions — is that you risk growing as stupid as they are with as confined a scope of attention. You see things purely in terms of the persistent macrostructure and miss the degrees of freedom among the base, shifting or pushing in ways sometimes deeply antithetical to those macrostructures. Institutions seem invulnerable, infinitely capable of appropriation and cooption… until suddenly they fail.

I suppose it’s better that Gelderloos, in his categorization system, frames transhumanism as a liberal project rather than fascistic or dictatorial one. But of course he views it in terms of technocratic flows among the ruling classes rather than as a sincere grassroots ideology. Thus he misses the intensely anarchistic bent of morphological freedom.

This smacks of nothing so much as a myopic preoccupation with the neoliberal ruling order, with the existing systems and institutions, like Glenn Greenwald’s infamous tendency to dismiss the threat of fascism/nationalism while hectoring us to go back to focusing on the usual capitalists and imperialists.

There is of course a serious danger that neoliberalism will eventually triumph again and use fascism as a specter to better ingrain its own technocratic democratic order, but there is also a threat of nationalism winning, and a nationalist victory is in fact worse. A forthright fascism that isn’t twisted in on itself in obfuscation and delusion can be clumsily brash, but it can also grasp the longer game in a way liberalism almost never lets itself.

The greatest weapon of anarchists is that we see the roots. We are in a long war between power and freedom. Liberalism — being an ideology of the existing order, of existing institutions — can never allow itself to recognize this. And so it is only in the roots, the unruly masses beneath the institutional structures, that we will find the opportunities liberals can’t see or plan for. The little twists and turns, the reconfigurations, the unexpected degrees of freedom, to what liberals (and marxists) see as mere cogs inexorably a part of a whole.

Gelderloos writes,

Capitalism has invaded every corner of our lives, turning us against ourselves. The power of the State has grown exponentially and they have defeated us so many times before.

But we are still here. We are not merely here as marginal spectators whose one good trick — rioting — is increasingly toothless. We have been coursing through the veins of this system, reconfiguring things and pressuring back in countless ways. Central to our success has been our appreciation for the possibilities beneath the feet of the giants and the actual terms of the millennia old conflict we’re all in.

Unfortunately the very leftist legacy of preoccupation with the macrostructures, of reifying them into giant omnipotent monsters can only grasp two equally absurd paths: reform or revolution. Maintaining the monsters or making some kind of magical sudden break with them. This traps radical leftists in the mental cycles of depression.

Anarchism needs to break with this leftist frame and instead view things in more diffuse, myriad, and dynamic terms of erosion and insurrection.

There are no magically holistic megamachines, just complex ecologies and chaotic weather systems. And history is not a drama of giant storms, but of the butterflies beating our wings.

The Man Who Changed Superheroes Forever

Even if you’ve never read a comic book or seen a superhero movie, Stan Lee has affected your life. His storytelling. His approach to heroism. His moral lessons. His ethos, embodied in the catchphrase “Excelsior!” The Mount Rushmore of modern pop culture surely has a spot for him. His imagination permeates humanity’s modern collective imagination. Through the countless worlds and characters he brought to life, Stan Lee will live on longer than most of us.

Younger people mostly know Stan Lee from his unforgettable, 18-year string of cameos in Marvel films, especially the MCU. Sadly and poetically, his likely final cameo is already filmed for the upcoming untitled Avengers film, which is the finale to the MCU’s Three Phase, 22-movie, 11-year saga. My own early memories of Stan Lee come from the 90s Marvel cartoons: “Fantastic Four,” where “Mr. Marvel” himself would enthusiastically introduce each episode to the viewer, and “Spider-Man,” where our hero meets the real Stan Lee in a cross-dimension finale, equal parts heartfelt and meta.

First-Generation Marvel fans surely remember Stan Lee from the 60s comics bookended by his exuberant introductions and editorial columns, as well as the broader “superhero spokesman” public persona he developed at conventions and college campuses (no doubt helping to salvage a comics industry plagued by PR troubles and government censorship in the 50s).

If you’re here to learn about Stan Lee’s life as a comics writer, especially his complex legacy with his creative collaborators (after all, comics are primarily a visual art form), I strongly recommend you read the informative and respectful obituaries written by Spencer Ackerman and Jeet Heer. It would be unjust and ahistorical to fail to note how Lee’s artists (particularly Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko) were just as much, if not more, central to Marvel’s legacy and that Lee ultimately added the dialogue and written ideas onto their drawings and visual ideas.

While I don’t think the contributions of the artist and the writer can be totally disentangled in a meaningful way, I do think it’s mostly Stan Lee as the editor who seemed to guide the broad philosophy and ethos of 60s Marvel storytelling. This influence shows across all the artists (and is then articulated it in the characters’ thoughts and words), and it was Stan Lee’s contributions that made the most lasting changes to superheroes.

It’s hard to overstate how revolutionary Marvel’s 60s lineup — Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, etc. — was for the superhero genre. Before, superheroes were more like parental figures, buff cardboard cut-outs without much real human personality or individuality. Side-kicks like Robin were created so the young readers could identify with someone, while Batman could tell them what to do, how to act, who to respect, and when to buy war bonds.

But in 1962, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created Spider-Man in direct subversion of the side-kick trope. Now, the side-kick was the superhero. Young readers no longer imagined themselves fighting alongside, and taking orders from, the superhero. Instead, the reader was the superhero. The superhero’s struggles were their struggles. The superhero’s world was their world. The superhero’s moral quandaries were their moral quandaries. Lee pushed for Spider-Man to be an ordinary teenager first, and superhero second. Likewise, the Fantastic Four was an ordinary family first, and superhero team second (*cough* Guardians of the Galaxy *cough*). And the Hulk was a guy with anger issues first, and superhero…barely ever.

By subverting the genre expectations set up by their Golden Age predecessors, Lee, Ditko, Kirby, and company brought superheroes down to Earth in the Silver Age. They made them relatable, vulnerable, flesh-and-blood people with whom we could identify and learn from, not through obediently taking orders, but through sharing their experiences, using our empathy, and achieving an emotional catharsis. Superheroes were transformed from two-dimensional mouthpieces for authority into three-dimensional weirdos, teenagers, and outcasts. Their stories were transformed from unabashed wish-fulfillment escapism into something that more closely resembled the real world, including its strife and failure. 

Aristotle was basically right that art can help us expand our understanding and reflect on our own life. By stepping outside our ordinary perspective and experiencing things through the eyes of fictional characters, we can discover things about both the world and ourselves. Aristotle placed moral learning at the center of his ethical theory, which is why he heavily emphasized the importance of tragedy in his writings on aesthetics. As creatures of both imagination and habit, art can dispose us to act more virtuously or more viciously. And through tragic art, we learn moral lessons central to the human condition; lessons about perseverance, loss, triumph, fear, acceptance, power, and responsibility. Using the comic book medium and the superhero genre to teach these lessons is one of the most aesthetically important and influential pop culture innovations of the last 100 years.

Where the comics creators of the 30s and 40s seemed to agree more with the views expounded in Plato’s Republic, that art was intellectually impotent and morally shallow, Stan Lee sided with Aristotle. What now seems like an obviously perfect fit — especially since the superhero genre was sparked by the Hercules-inspired Superman and infused with the epic heroism of Ancient Greek and Roman mythology ever since — was groundbreaking. By applying Aristotle’s ancient insights to the superhero genre, Stan Lee changed the world. Now, young readers were able to relate to, and learn deep insights from, their heroes. After their Aristotelian turn, superheroes reached a new echelon in American pop culture. Slowly but surely, they went from cheap pulp rags to modern folklore.

Shared art can shed light on a culture and how its people think about the events that shape them, process collective trauma, and (hopefully) achieve collective catharsis. During “Hollywood’s Golden Age,” not coincidentally coinciding with the Great Depression and World War 2, people found comfort in escapist films: mostly adventure, romance, comedy, cartoons, and propagandistic war movies, populated by larger than life heroes like Robin Hood and Rick Blaine. But by the time of the counterculture and Civil Rights movements of the 60s and 70s, the “New Hollywood” style took over in response to the need for a different kind of collective catharsis. Audiences wanted realistic violence, risque sex, up-close criminality, and the brutality of war presented in movies populated by grounded and relatable heroes like Bonnie and Clyde or Easy Rider’s freewheeling stoner motorcyclists, Wyatt and Billy.

Like Hollywood’s Golden Age, the Golden Age of Comics — which spawned Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Captain America — let depression and wartime audiences escape into stories of wish fulfillment. If Rick Blaine joining the war effort was the great wartime hero, surely the great wartime superhero was Captain America, fulfilling the wish of toppling Hitler with a single punch. Historically a medium for young people, comics avoided the dark grittiness of 60s movies. But like filmgoers, comics-readers during the era of counterculture and civil rights demanded more grounded heroes and stories with more substance. Stan Lee recognized that and infused the Marvel Universe with the perfect balance of moralizing and escapism, message and story, philosophy and legend.

Lee, Kirby, Ditko and company envisioned the fantasy and sci-fi elements of the superhero genre as vehicles to explore more substantive issues through symbolism, subtext, and melodrama. Mutants were victims of bigotry and the X-Men sparred with the Brotherhood of Mutants over an ideological disagreement about when violence was justified in fighting oppression. The Fantastic Four’s abilities were metaphors for their psychological struggles and personas (Reed stretched himself too thin with work, Sue felt invisible, Johnny was a hothead, Ben felt like a monster). The Hulk was a part of Bruce Banner’s personality that he couldn’t control and which fed on his rage. Captain America, who was more of a Rick Blaine-style propagandistic hero when he was created in the 40s, was revived as a “man out of time” who eventually lost his patriotism. Marvel readers got to see real people talking about real issues.

I think the broad tonal and stylistic differences between the Greatest Generation’s superheroes and Gen X’s superheroes explains part of why the Marvel Cinematic Universe has consistently outdone the DC Extended Universe. While the influence of Silver Age Marvel was felt by the whole genre in due time, DC’s major characters — Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, Aquaman, Wonder Woman — still carry heavy stylistic and tonal baggage from their Golden Age origins in the form of more distant, unassailable personas and God-like qualities and worlds. Yes, the movie-makers matter. But certain characters and source material naturally gravitate towards certain kinds of stories and tones.

The MCU has brought to life a familiar world inhabited by unceasingly human characters — with all the heavy emotion and passion that sprung from Kirby’s and Ditko’s pencils and all the relatable and inspiring dialogue that sprung from Stan Lee’s pen. It’s no coincidence that the most highly praised aspect of the MCU is the casting (which makes up for the films’ defects, at least according to the box office). It is experiencing those very characters on the big screen that is the most joyful and wondrous part of it all.

It’s not surprising that when Hollywood was ready to combine good CGI with heavily-branded intellectual property, it’s the 60s Marvel Universe that would generate the biggest movies of all time and ascend to a sort of post-9/11 American secular mythology. Indeed, Stan’s characters have much to teach us about hope in the wake of tragedy and strength in the face of crisis. But they also have much to teach us about power and responsibility while the longest war in our history rages on. They can teach us about innocence and privacy while our civil liberties are trashed, and about love and acceptance while immigrants and minorities are scapegoated.

I don’t wish to imagine how dreary modern pop-culture would be absent the influence of Stan Lee and his unwavering trust in young readers, his confidence in the cathartic and educational potential of comic books, his passionate belief in the moral power of superheroes, his life-long lessons about the twin nature of power and responsibility, and his countless tales of love triumphing over hate. Our world is just as much a product of art as art is a product of our world. I owe much of my world to Stan Lee. The man that changed superheroes forever also changed people forever.

Bring C4SS to LibertyCon 2019!

The Center for a Stateless Society wants to bring about a world where individuals are liberated from oppressive states, structural poverty, and social injustice. We use academic studies, book reviews, opinion editorials, and social media to spread left-wing market anarchist ideas far and wide.

Students For Liberty’s LibertyCon (January 17-20) is the year’s premier gathering of libertarian minds from all over the world – and C4SS is a mere $750 away from getting an exhibitor table at this event. This is a wonderful opportunity to promote radical left market anarchist ideas among libertarians from around the globe.

Every penny counts and the Center appreciates any and all help you are willing to give. Let’s get C4SS to LibertyCon and start building the new world in the shell of the old!

Donate Here

Kevin Carson on Liberty Chronicles

Yesterday C4SS’s own Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory, Kevin Carson, appeared on the popular libertarian podcast Liberty Chronicles, produced by Libertarianism.org.

Together with podcast host Dr. Anthony Comegna, Kevin discusses the possibility of a post-capitalist world, the nature of capitalism as an economic system, and market alternatives to capitalist economics. Listen below, or at Libertarianism.com.

Reign of Fire

Are the wildfires that have been devastating California a gift from government?  So argues William Finnegan in a recent article, “California Burning.”

According to Finnegan, the seeds of disaster were planted when the mission of the U.S. Forest Service was expanded in the early decades of the 20th century:

The Forest Service, no longer just a land steward, became the federal fire department for the nation’s wildlands. Its policy was total suppression of fires …. Some experienced foresters saw problems with this policy. It spoke soothingly to public fears, but periodic lightning-strike fires are an important feature of many ecosystems, particularly in the American West. Some ‘light burning,’ they suggested, would at least be needed to prevent major fires. William Greeley, the chief of the Forest Service in the 1920s, dismissed this idea as ‘Paiute forestry.’

Finnegan explains the “Paiute” reference:

Native Americans had used seasonal burning for many purposes, including hunting, clearing trails, managing crops, stimulating new plant growth, and fireproofing areas around their settlements. The North American ‘wilderness’ encountered by white explorers and early settlers was in many cases already a heavily managed, deliberately diversified landscape.

These facts incidentally give the lie to the common notion that American indigenous peoples were not entitled to property claims to their lands because they had not engaged in sufficiently transformative labor upon them.

Greeley’s sneering dismissal of ‘Paiute forestry’ was ill-placed. As Finnegan reports:

The total suppression policy of the Forest Service and its allies (the National Park Service, for instance) was exceptionally successful, reducing burned acreage by 90 percent, and thus remaking the landscape again — creating what Paul Hessburg, a research ecologist at the Forest Service, calls an ‘epidemic of trees.’

Preserving trees was not, however, the goal of the Forest Service, which worked closely with timber companies to clear-cut enormous swaths of old-growth forest. (Greeley, when he left public service, joined the timber barons.) The idea was to harvest the old trees and replace them with more efficiently managed and profitable forests. This created a dramatically more flammable landscape.

In other words, an alliance between big business and big government is responsible for rendering America’s wilderness areas exceptionally vulnerable to massive wildfires.

The Anatomy of Escape
Free Markets & Capitalism?
Markets Not Capitalism
Organization Theory
Conscience of an Anarchist