Recent Pieces at Ordinary Times

Radical Reading: Detroit – I Do Mind Dying

Bread, Circuses and Debates

The Limits of Enthusiasm: Iowa 2016

The Establishment’s “Anti-Establishment” Candidates

David Bowie as the Right Wing Artist

Radical Reading: A Small Key Can Open a Large Door

The Year of the Alt-Right

(Image: Roman Mosaic from the Great Palace of Constantinople) 

Does the Left Need Christianity?

My new piece is up at Ordinary Times. Here is a bit:

“I hold a controversial position on the subject of common narratives that libertarians and liberals may find problematic. I believe that the tragedy of our contemporary society is the death of any meaningful meta-narratives that bind a community or people. Not only has Christianity faded in its communal importance, but in terms of political power, ideologies like socialism are ghosts of their former selves. What makes us a community or nation other than our proximity? What responsibility do I have to my neighbor if larger social ideals do not bind us together?”

Read it all here.

Sweden’s Education Privatization Failure

My new piece at Ordinary Times is about the lessons we should learn from the failure of Sweden in privatizing their education system. There is just a bit:

The lesson I took from the Sweden’s privatization failure is its contrast with its neighbor Finland. Finland has long been celebrated for its successful schools, with countries around the world attempting to borrow what works from their system. The Finnish system is centralized yet community centered; only the best university students are recruited into the profession, and are paid well for their services. But more importantly, trust and autonomy is placed in the hands of each school’s administrators and educators. Outside corporate and political figures are not given reign to muck with the workings of the school as they see fit (Joanne Barkan has an excellent piece about how philanthropists in America, while celebrated, are doing harm to our schools). Their schools do not shift direction aimlessly as educational fads come or political figures look to make a point.

Good national school systems serve a purpose that exceeds efficiency concerns. They help unite a people and a nation around a community framework, both implicitly and explicitly. While distinct, the Korean and Finnish education systems demonstrate a united vision for a society that the individuated corporate schools attempted in Sweden cannot achieve.

Read it all here.

(Image: Nikolaos Gyzis, “To krifó scholió”, Oil painting, 1885/86.)

A Small Key Can Open a Large Door – by. Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness

The war in Syria and the surrounding region is multifaceted and complicated; it feels daunting to even approach the conflict as an outsider with any hope that my mind can be wrapped around it. You have democratic and counter-revolution, religious extremism, fascist and communist parties from last century, geo and power politics, terrorism, and internationalism. In addition to the use of technology to connect forces on each side of the conflict with allies around the globe, media from the Syria and Iraq is made available almost immediately after its creation. You can literally watch the war unfold in real-time via forces on your ideological side. One of the most interesting developments from the Syrian conflict has been the radical social project taking place in Rojava. Strangers in a Tangled Wilderness, an anarchist-publishing house, has recently compiled essays and interviews on the anarchist revolution that is taking place among millions of people in this northern Syrian region called A Small Key Can Open a Large Door. The book is an admirable introduction to the massive social changes happening in the middle of a war zone between Islamist ISIS and the authoritarian Assad regime. In addition to a brief overview of Democratic Confederalism (the term used to describe the social-economic system in Rojava), the book includes discussions on the role of women in the movement, how the West has muddled into Kurdish self-determination historically, and what this revolution means for socialists and anarchists trying to build a new society within the existing one.

(Vice News – Rojava: Syria’s Unknown War)

The most stimulating aspect of this text for outsiders is the focus on the aforementioned concept of Democratic Confederalism, an ideology pioneered the PKK’s leader and founder, Abdullah Ocalan. The PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) is an odd group for anarchists to support. Built on a cult of personality around Ocalan, the organization came into existence to fight Turkey over autonomy for Kurdish people in Southeast Turkey. As noted in the text,

“There was little to differentiate the PKK from the dozens of Mao-inspired militant liberation groups of the late 1970s and 1980s” (p.20).

When its founder was captured and imprisoned by Turkey in 1999, and communism as a radical ideology faded from the world stage, many assumed the PKK would dwindle in size and influence, much as similar Maoist insurgencies around the globe. Something rather different occurred. The editor’s write:

“In his first months of imprisonment, Apo had a “crisis of faith” regarding doctrinaire Marxist ideology and its ability to free the Kurds. Ocalan, who spent most of his life espousing a hard-line Stalinist doctrine, started to reject Marxism-Leninism in favor of direct democracy” (p.22).

Ocalan came under the influence of American anarchist Murray Bookchin. Bookchin was well known in libertarian-socialist circles for his support for a concept called communalism. This libertarian municipalism advocates for voluntary cooperation between people at small, localized levels, producing a face-to-face democracy between its citizens. Building on Bookchin’s ideas, the YPG (Kurdish Defense forces, often connected or related to the PKK) have instituted a tiered council system to govern the regions affairs. It works as follows:

“In Rojava, neighborhood assemblies make up the largest number of councils. Every person can participate in an assembly where they live. In addition to those neighborhood assemblies, there are councils based on workplaces, civic organizations, religious organizations, political parties, and other affinity-based councils (e.g. Youth)” (p.26)

What is striking is how decision-making is conducted. Unlike the federalist tradition, the lower local councils are not required to adopt the rulings of higher regional assemblies. Thus, when a regional council decided that security forces would be permitted to carry weapons while on patrol, three of the local assemblies rejected this ruling, and so security personnel enter those areas, they must refrain from having arms (p.27). Higher councils simply act as coordinators for the myriad of smaller, local councils. While some of the text’s claims are had to substantiate due to the chaos surrounding the region, its glowing account of the revolution and its enthusiastic call for anarchists and socialists to support the Kurdish cause is understandable. Many radicals on the Left and Right bemoan the state of their revolutionary movements, arguing that real social change is something for a distant, hypothetical future. The rebels of Rojava have carved out a pluralistic, multicultural, socialist experiment amidst existential threats from barbarous theocrats. While the US-backed Iraqi Army is unable to hold territory against the IS onslaught, the people of Rojava have held their own, all while implementing radical change. The following excerpt is a report by an anonymous Turkish anarchist who traveled to the region.

“Against all odds, the region has maintained this form for over a year now, and proves much stronger than anyone expected. When ISIS marched on Kobane, everyone assumed that the city would succumb in a few days. But the population is resisting. Everyone has armed themselves, everyone does guard duty. And now ISIS is retreating; more and more parts of Kobane are being retaken” (p.130-131).

Although there is good reason to be skeptical of groups claiming to build utopia on earth, the successful revolutionary modesty of Rojava’s goals should give pause to even the most jaded activist. One does not need to be an internationalist to support their cause. Liberals, identitarians, libertarians, traditionalists, and ideologies of all stripes will likely find something in the revolution in Kurdish Syria to respect and admire. This text should provide a fine introduction to their cause.

Social Democracy and Multiculturalism

My new post at Ordinary Times about the difficulties in creating trust and socialism in a multicultural society. Here is just a bit:

This topic becomes more apparent when discussing recent events in Baltimore. Just a week following rebellion in the birthplace of The Star Spangled Banner, any meaningful discussion on race has already dissipated from the mainstream press. Rightfully, many commentators on the left connected the problems in Baltimore to the economic state many of its poor, minority citizens find themselves. Building solidarity between white and black Americans, especially if redistributive economic policies are to be enacted, is a necessary requirement to fundamentally changing poor inner-city communities. Yet, this has always been at the heart of race relations in this country. Americans can accept that all people may be American, but we rarely see each other as kin.

This social reality may be unsatisfying (and perhaps debilitating). A multiethnic society with a strong welfare state is unlikely to come to fruition if one examines how social-rights are often at odds with vast capitalist societies. The impediments of multiculturalism on a mass socialist project may be insurmountable.

Read it all here.

(Image: Alexander Gerasimov – Collective Farm – 1937)