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This is version 2, which follows the original publication: version 1. It has been edited to give details on the developments of the projects mentioned in the Organization section since version 1 was published.
How to Use this Primer
If you are interested primarily in learning about what Anarchist Black Shield does, you may find sections 6-8 the most helpful. If you are interested in the reasoning behind Anarchist Black Shield and a more thorough discussion of our politics, you will find that in sections 1-5. If you’re already sold and want to get involved, skip to the last section. All footnotes are found at the end of the document.
This document was written so that it should be accessible to just about any reader, assuming the reader takes advantage of the rich usage of footnotes in this document.
With accessibility in mind, we have separated out a sizable portion of the more explanatory text that appeared in the original drafts into footnotes. The main body of the text is concise, to accommodate readers who want a less verbose explanation, who want to skim, or who are more familiar with the subject matter. Those to whom, for instance, the ontological terminology may be unfamiliar, or who are prone to prefer more thorough explanation, are also accommodated, however, by the design of this document, via the use of footnotes.
- Abstraction & Delusion…………………………………………………………..2
- Right Knowledge and the Parasites of Anarchism………………………7
- Repairing the Self-Interest Rift………………………………………………11
- A New approach to Knowledge……………………………………………..14
- Project Deliverables……………………………………………………………..18
- Closing Statements & How to Get Involved…………………………….26
Imagine you are an isolated clockmaker. How do you invent a pendulum clock? Would you first learn the relevant physics equations and then attempt to calculate all of the optimum details for each part? Or would you try various arrangements of real parts, guided by educated guesses, until you found one that sort of worked, and then begin to generalize more closely about optimal arrangements? I think most people would choose the second option, which puts experimentation before theory. But imagine you chose the first, which puts theory before experimentation. Would you be surprised if your calculations were off? Take a simpler situation for example. If you calculated that it would take five minutes to go five miles on the highway at a speed of 60 miles per hour, and then you set the cruise control for 60 mph and reset the trip meter at the same time as a stopwatch, would you be astonished if it took you more or less than five minutes? Probably not. Why?
Reality does not always conform to our models, nor should it be expected to. This example illustrates one key problem for radicals. Many of us often experience conversations with other anarchists that broach a complex level of philosophical development far abstracted from the concerns of developing anarchist normative ethics and strategies for improving life right now. Ideological divides in anarchism run from the Wooden Shoe Collective to yesterday’s explosive post on Reddit. There is a time and place for everything, and over-engaging in ideology wars is not dissimilar from trying to calculate the details of every part of a hypothetical pendulum clock before one has ever been built. It engages in putting theory before experimentation, and values ‘theory’ over praxis.
- Abstraction and Delusion
Taking the analogy further in an effort to explain this behavior, note that we have both the physical pendulum clock which exists external to our minds, and the model of that clock which exists in our minds. Let’s consider both to be real elements of a perfectly knowable reality, in the spirit of physicalism. Some terminology will help us here: let us term external reality2 the clock (and everything else) as it exists independently of our experience. Yet, to make a distinct break with dualistic and pluralistic ontological approaches,3 let us term the model which exists in our minds a mapping of reality.4
For most of the modern era, a dualistic conception of the world (which is a form of pluralism) has been popular. In this conception, the external physical reality is believed to be made of a fundamentally different substance than the internal mind, or “abstractions” which exist in the mind.5 This may seem plausible, given the fact that people often experience the same event or memory quite differently, and each person has their own thoughts, feelings and imaginings that seem to happen only for them, and seem to be invisible to everyone else. However, this conception is not consistent with what we currently know about neurology, which is that for every thought, action or experience, there is a corresponding bundle of electrochemical dynamics that occurs in the nervous system along with it. It is more probable, then, that the internal mind is more like a particular point of view on external reality. But what is the nature of this vantage point? Well, we believe it is best described as a kind of mapping: a mapping is a mathematical concept, where you have one set of objects, and you assign each of them to another object by some function. You might make a map of 1,2,3,4 to get 10,20,30,40. You might make a regular geographic map by assigning each landmark in the territory to a colored dot on a piece of paper. This is also a mapping in the mathematical sense.
So how is consciousness a mapping? In mathematics a mapping simply explicitly states how to transform one set of ordered data to another set. You can envision this by thinking of a tree, and then thinking of a photograph of a tree. We can then posit that there would exist some such transformation between each photon emanating from the tree and each pixel recorded by the camera, which is exactly how a CMOS camera works. Such a camera uses a silicon lattice to record the energy of incoming photons, outputting a signal that is converted to the binary digits that describe each pixel on your digital screen. That transformation that describes the state of all pixels is the mapping of a phenomenon at a specific instant in time. Likewise, the color of a photon hitting your eye generates a specific transformation in your rods and cones, a process we call “seeing.” The photograph is a mapping of the visual aspects of the tree at a certain time and place onto a piece of paper, just as seeing a tree is a mapping of the tree in time and space onto your retina and into your brain, and when you speak of a tree it is a mapping of a mapping of the tree, and when someone listens to you it is a mapping of a mapping of a mapping of a tree, and so on and so forth. Thus, you can see why there is no assumption of accuracy. Yet, some, namely pluralists, claim that your internal mapping of reality is somehow made of fundamentally different stuff than external reality, possibly because of the sheer complexity of these mappings.
Favoring this idea of mappings over the dualistic and pluralistic ontological approaches can aid us in addressing fundamental problems in radical organizing today. Since dualism treats “mind,” or abstractions, and “body,” or matter, as fundamentally different substances which make up the Universe, for dualists the mapping I have described becomes disrupted from the external reality by the conscious agent itself. The accurate connection between conscious experience––the mapping of reality––and reality itself is held just precisely in the definition that the mapping must be dependent on the full external reality and not on itself. But, if mind and abstraction are seen as fundamentally different from the physical and external, then there is no reason to tie one’s conceptions to external reality rather than “internal reality.” Figure 1a shows a diagram of the functioning of a self-aware entity. For a dualist, the balance becomes disrupted, shown in Figure 1b.
The results of this disconnection become apparent when people debate the problem of universals,6 surprisingly even in the nominalist7 sense. The foundation of both postmodernism and nihilistic egoism is an unhealthy view of abstraction and universals which allows the postmodernist’s mapping of reality to become self-referential to the point of delusion. While nominalist views may not be dualistic, they do take perfectly valid generalizations about the physical world and chalk them up to dualistic myths, or spooks, as Stirner called them. Thus, it is clear that restoring an accurate conception of abstraction, and thus the connection between external reality and the mapping we call consciousness, is the most pivotal task for radicals. That means handling the problem of abstraction and delusion.
We propose a way of defining what is traditionally called “abstraction” that can repair these rifts, and we give two examples we hope will convince you of our position. Some abstraction is nothing more than delusion, like the presumed (inconsistent) self-interest versus collective-interest rift so commonly argued about among anarchists and others. Yet, at the same time, some abstractions are perfectly valid, nonmystical generalizations about statistical likelihoods of groups having some property. For instance, a computer program like Notepad or Gedit is nowhere exactly the same as another instance of the program, and nowhere does an ideal copy exist which is said to be the perfect Gedit above all others. Yet a controlled experiment could be designed in which extremely similar systems ran Gedit in extremely similar environments and took data to make statistical statements about what most Gedit’s have in common– based on real, observed physical events whose time and place of occurrence could be stored in a log. There is nothing mystical or spooky about these generalizations that say Gedit is a valid physical existence. They’re just sound generalizations about specific data we choose to make in order to understand life.
As our second example, Max Tegmark, whom I have stolen Figure 1a from, conceptualizes the most complex pattern that exists in the universe– you (and your ilk)– as a knot in four-dimensional space-time,8 pictured in Fig. 3. If human consciousness is the most complex example of localized information processing that we have, and if generalizations about human consciousness refer to perfectly non-mystical physical events that indeed happened at a specific time and place,9 then there seems to be no example of complexity we are thus far aware of which cannot be handled by a monistic view that restores abstraction to its proper place, in close connection with the physical. There is no need for non-physical explanations of consciousness, or to throw out “abstractions” such as a shared objective morality, as a spook. Adopting this change in thinking fights delusion in two ways: for the postmodernist, it battles the self-referential tendency which results from cynicism toward external reality. For the nominalist, it restores abstractions to validity which were thrown out in an overzealous attempt to excise delusions. Beyond uniting long-conflicted sects of anarchists, excising these incorrect conclusions can show us the best strategic way forward for radical change. Such is the nature of a good understanding.
- Right Knowledge and the Parasites of Anarchism
If we accept the mapping idea, then an ideology can be viewed as a system of inferences from one’s raw experience of the world and the people they interact with there; they assemble a model of “what the world is really like,” based on the mappings they are given. Since we have imperfect knowledge of the world, various people carry unique cognitive biases and fill in the unknowns in their knowledge with different assumptions. People who adopt similar assumptions tend to band together and exchange information, reinforcing or altering each others’ worldviews as they go along. Thus, ideological developments through history can be characterized in a similar way to other types of networks, and are not immune to formal analysis. Through this analysis, we believe that internal rifts in anarchism are indeed repairable with right knowledge–namely, the correct view and effective praxis.
That praxis is based on a healthy respect for the right kind of consensus reality. As one of my favorite philosophy professors likes to say, knowledge is no respecter of persons. Any consistent theory of anarchism must operate under this assumption. In Max Tegmark’s10 Mathematical Universe Hypothesis (MUH), there is a third component of reality to distinguish, beyond internal and external, and that is the consensus reality. The consensus reality is the mapping of reality that all observers would agree on, independent of cognitive biases or biases associated with biology. The consensus reality is integral to performing systematic investigations of the world around you in order to retrieve right knowledge, in the same way that you need two legs: one to stand on while you put the other forward. Imagine being part of a book club, and your version of the book is a different edition from everyone else’s, so you can’t understand what your peers are talking about when they reference a certain page number. What would you do? You would tap everyone else’s knowledge of their book to create a key, a consensus reality, which maps the same place in the text for you to the same place in the text for them by converting between page numbers. Developing a more and more accurate consensus reality with your immediate peers is, without any doubt, the most important step in creating an anarchist society.
It is important to note that having a fully shared consensus reality between all members of a group is in no way independently a good thing. This consensus reality must be accurate11– by which I mean all members developing the consensus reality need to be acting freely in the best interest of removing bias and developing a true representation of external reality. The dangers of having an inaccurate consensus reality and no consensus reality at all are very different. The former results in nationalism, fascism, and other ugly tendencies. The same pluralistic ontological tendencies which in so many senses reduce the importance of external reality give us both postmodernism and fascism. Nationalism, and indeed the fasces itself, predicates power on a strong sense of consensus reality which need not be connected to external reality in any meaningful way.12 The other side of the coin is believing that there are no constraints on consensus reality at all, negating the need even for consensus on reality between individuals, and this gives us postmodernism.
The dangers of abandoning the belief in the importance of consensus reality include incommensurable divisions in social groups and innovative impotence both technological and otherwise. People should freely cultivate a desire to be challenged, in order to sharpen their ideas on external reality; there is some degree to which being overly comfortable, overly safe, having delegitimized the basis for criticism, becomes deadening, ossifying. Postmodernism (roughly speaking, the idea that every internal reality is equally valid to every other, that is, the idea that truth is subjective) in cultural anthropology initially brought needed critiques about the massive collective denial regarding deep-seeded cultural biases which motivated racism, colonialism and many other horrors. Thinkers like Franz Boas, Foucault and Lacan are groundbreaking in many ways; and yet, even Foucault himself resisted the label of postmodern. To embrace this cynical position is to say, “I am, at present, an imperfect observation tool: therefore, nothing can be known.” On the contrary, the main motivation for Anarchist Black Shield is the belief that we can improve ourselves voluntarily to break beyond these paradigms and reach for the boundless and eternal shattering of the limitations of our knowledge. We can come to know one another, even from disparate starting points, and discover fundamental and universal similarities, in the right conditions, as long as we cultivate a healthy respect for consensus reality and an understanding that people need to be free to undertake uncoerced investigative action at all times to keep these realities accurate. The idea of consensus reality indicts incorrect notions of individualism by showing that individuals must cooperate in order to help themselves. It indicts incorrect notions of collectivism by showing that this ability to cooperate, dependent upon the accuracy of consensus reality, absolutely depends on the free input and privacy for freedom of thought of all involved, namely, utmost respect for the individual.
The tragedy of postmodernism and its thinkers is that many of their critiques are some shade of correct and need to be salvaged and adopted into the less cynical monistic ontological view. Because ontological bias is a type of systematic error that selectively affects the processing of some incoming sensory data more than others, it’s unclear which conclusions of the postmodern era will prove true, and which will prove false. One tenet to which we stand in firm opposition is moral relativism. We believe there exists an optimal ethics that creates anarchism, an objective morality,13 and in the right conditions people will more often than not freely choose a healthy balance of pro-social actions and arrive independently at this ethic. We believe in engineering those conditions through altering our every day actions and the fundamental ways in which we relate to one another. We feel it is already clear that ontological pluralism, mistrust of reason and opposition to notions of objective truth are artifacts of the severe reaction to deep-seeded biases of modernity, reactions understandable yet suboptimal in their overreach.
A commitment to an accurate consensus reality is the anchor which allows you some foothold in attacking cognitive biases which shape every aspect of our lives: from systemic oppression to the philosophy of science to individual interpersonal behavior, all are fundamentally affected by cognitive biases. Some will dismay at this viewpoint because uncovering biases in oneself can sometimes produce negative feelings– but sometimes a liberating feeling too, to be fair. We believe that in looking at things in this way you will find that you are liberated on the whole, because our oppression is an objective fact; because it is not a product of our failure to properly imagine it away, pray it away, hope it away, or love it away, only strategies which adjust themselves based on objective evidence as they strive to destroy our oppression will work. Returning to the analogy of the pendulum clock, we should find our small successes by experimentation and then try to extend those through reasoning, in a way that remains connected to the task at hand.
This means taking the disagreements of others who are different from you seriously, if not because they might be correct, then because their disagreements are signs of important information that you can use to gain right knowledge. There’s some reason behind the adage, keep your friends close and your enemies closer. In the milieu this means people are going to have to get serious about understanding internal conflicts and their true origins, because it’s a well-worn cliché that “infighting” so often completely distracts us from acting to weaken the real hierarchies which oppress us. When is the last time someone pulled out the Toulmin method14 in one of those arguments we have heard a million times and deemed irresolvable? Never? More importantly, why not? Often times disagreements can easily be resolved if the parties are actually interested in a solution and not engaging with ulterior motives: thus, we should cultivate an interest in understanding others, not just on an accountability process scale, but in every interaction in our day to day lives.
This, however, is in no way to imply that we believe all conflicts can be solved by the likes of the Toulmin method. It is important to remember that only rational people can contribute to aid of developing a helpful consensus reality. A small group of very informed, ethical individuals should always feel justified in acting quickly and decisively, without the need for “consensus” within a larger group. We believe in establishing formally and precisely the limits of rational dialogue so that it can become ever clearer when it is time to intervene directly, and so that solid cases can be made to support any act of violence or destruction a hypothetical person may take in the name of liberation. Most important, it can make clear exactly which areas force should be applied to. There is a calculus that uncovers hidden threat of force and tells us when force in response to that threat is actually more liberatory than it is oppressive; that calculus is just waiting to be uncovered. We can only become more effective by doing it. Even when violence is necessary, someone needs to give arguments so other people can get on board with it. If you believe violence is necessary to solve a problem, all the more reason to commit to understanding disagreements and critiques around you. You’ll be more effective and safe, more likely to convince others, and more of a help to anarchism than a hindrance.
- Repairing the Self-Interest Rift
There is one area where using the likes of the Toulmin method still may be of gargantuan use. Modern US anarchists are all too aware of the abundance of dogmatic clashings between various stripes of social and individualist anarchism, the most well-known instantiation of which is the anarchocapitalist ‘debate.’ Sarah Schulman, Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at College of Staten Island, most known for her longtime role in ACT UP, writes about commitment to an accurate consensus reality in her book ‘Conflict is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility and the Duty of Repair:’
“Yet over and over again, self-righteousness and the refusal to be self-critical is expressed as dominance reliant on the ability to shun or exclude the other party. Those seeking justice often have to organize allies in order to force contact and conversation, negotiation. Trying to create communication is almost always the uphill struggle of the falsely blamed. And entire movements are structured around the goal of forcing one party to face the reality of the other, and thereby face themselves. And of course this power struggle over whether or not opposing parties will speak is an enormous smokescreen covering up the real issue, the substance of what they need to speak about: namely, the nature of and resolution to the conflict.”
Many of us grow up with the unfounded assumption that acting for ourselves is the complete opposite of acting for others, and that morality is the art of striking a balance between following your selfish urges and putting yourself aside for others out of a sense of duty. The individualism versus collectivism debate, as well as the anarchocapitalism versus anarchocommunism debate, often amount to arguing over whether it wouldn’t be better to tip this balance to one side or the other. The fact that these debates follow from the starting point that self-interest and collective interest are two completely different things is rarely adequately questioned or addressed, and so these debates often quickly deteriorate into straw-manning, insults, dismissive jokes, and name-calling. There are methods for establishing much more constructive dialogues around these very same issues, that become second-nature when practiced, which usually start by establishing a common terminology with agreed-upon definitions. The Toulmin method is one such method, and Anarchist Black Shield intends to discover others.
Assuming that social exclusion and escalating aggression is the only way to end a particular conflict, rather than bringing parties together and confronting the issue via consensus reality, stems from a narrow view of self and collective interest. The dichotomous view of self-interest manifests when two people in an organization have an interpersonal issue involving some type of abuse or trauma. The group often tries to settle it naively by deciding who to blame and then exiling them, often playing fast and loose with the details about what happened. People tend to believe that, if someone is hurt by an interaction, then the perpetrator has ruined the moral balance by acting too selfishly and ignoring their duty to the group, and thus the victim and the group must counterattack by acting in the collective interest by exiling the person. But, in an accurate consensus reality, the story does not end with exile, and there is no justice here.
If the abuser leaves, without ever confronting the root of what caused them to be abusive, then they will just find other victims in other groups in other places, and really, a group that deals with their problems in this manner operates under the unconscious assumption that, if the perpetrator ever does something really terrible, someone else will take care of it, and that “someone else” often ends up being the cops. So we end up outsourcing our intergroup problems to the very state we are trying to fight. The victim, on the other hand, will be left without any real closure. If we hope to liberate all people, not just the people in our close circles, then clearly this approach is suboptimal. Looking at these problems, together with the conception that consciousness is a mapping, we can see that immoral behaviors are often consequences of the past environments that people have lived in throughout their lives, where they have been handed a shitty map that enables or normalizes such behavior, a mapping disconnected from the external reality where self and collective interest are one and the same.
In the 21st century, we know from fMRI that people’s brains are highly elastic, and that just about any part of a person’s personality can be altered through effort or experience, for good or bad. So clearly if we’re organizing in groups specifically for the purposes of fighting oppression, we must create a model of restorative justice that focuses on actual reconciliation and reintegration if that is even a remote possibility for the situation, or else complete neutralization of the threat for the sake of others. This is difficult for many people to stomach, because it involves putting aside biases and emotional responses about what happened, but the result, if successful, is maximized liberation for all involved. In many, many cases it is like this: the self-interest versus group-interest division ends up being a mental phantasm, that dissolves as soon as one tries to get to the real core of the issue. It’s possible punching Richard Spencer is just as much a favor to Spencer as it is to the rest of us. The most humane action may not always look the way we expect it to look based on loose associations.
Drawing boundaries between people, labeling them as fundamentally different types incapable of reconciliation, and resorting to exile and xenophobia is a common technique used not only in today’s social justice movements, but also in the Trump regime. While there is certainly a time and place for lines in the sand to be drawn, and we firmly engage in drawing them, we also are disinterested in limiting our tactical toolbox to exaggeration, posturing, exile, shame and denial. Moral relativism and alternative facts walk hand in hand. We believe there are causes for unwanted behavior, and more fundamental solutions than strong social conditioning. We escape that ugly prescription by laying cynicism toward abstraction to rest and ridding ourselves of anarchism’s two parasites, postmodernism and nihilistic egoism, to move toward liberation.15
- A New Approach to Knowledge
Abstraction is a handy tool, but the lesson here is that abstractions and generalizations need to stay closely connected to the realities they are predicated on, or else run the risk of becoming purely self-referential, inconsistent, and quite literally delusional, as in the case of self interest. In that spirit, we notice that in the anarchist milieu abstraction is used as if in a long game of telephone,16 and sometimes the agenda ends far from where it started. Sometimes ideologies can grow to hurt the people they aim to protect, like ally politics; or sometimes, definitions change under our feet, like through the commodification of anarchism over the last decade which infamously has Occupy Wall Street posters being sold at Wal-Mart. Illusions of the actual fight pervade our experience through constant inculcation with feedback loops of bias and misinformation, which is why anarchism should never be looked at as a mass movement in the traditional sense, with all the inherent homogeneities.
Anarchist Black Shield wants to pioneer a new approach to anarchist praxis which focuses on self-organization and innovation; that demystifies the routes toward radical change using methodical investigation; that puts the tools in each person’s hand to reinvent themselves and their own methods of resistance until, from this creative interaction emerges the method that carries us into a more free life; and that aims to shape social norms not by advocating for mainstream acceptance but by shattering all understandings of what a ‘norm’ is, in a rejection of all cultural indoctrination, in the belief that right knowledge is available to us all equally in the form of the physical world; and holding these high standards so that those who are oppressed in our wake do not find themselves having to take up arms and fight to get us to reconcile their ‘reality’ as has been the case for each new generation. We prefer a praxis in which, by the sheer virtue of our ethics, no one shall be oppressed because the tools of oppression have themselves been reforged and are no longer suitable for the task. Our approach is bottom up. We stand firm in our resolution to dismantle power dynamics wherever they may lie, both hidden and overt, systemic and interpersonal. We believe in independent, autonomous investigation of reality, free of coercion. We are anarchists because motivated investigation has led us to believe so certainly in anarchism that we are willing to bet that left to your own devices and given the proper tools, you will come to see the reality we see, the external reality that unites us all equally and is the foundation of our work toward positive freedom for all.
We feel much of the praxis and theory in the movement presently is aimed at categorizing people and possibilities from the top down––labeling and counting identities for advocacy, labeling types and models for community organizing, labeling organizations and assemblies and instilling them with mystical power; labeling and tracking ‘theoretical’ divides which would be more accurately termed ‘hypothetical’ divides; giving new names to these divides and forming different alliances like a higher-stakes version of high school, or fantasy football. Instead we want to cultivate a culture of focus on the physical forces being used oppress us in complex ways. We want to affect a change in anarchist culture which gives credit not for upholding the right identity, but for achieving the right results. We believe that this approach to knowledge is absolutely fundamental to any theory and praxis of anarchism which develops beyond a niche counterculture. In the sense of the clockmaker, we want to get our hands on some parts before we start calling our ideas theories. And there’s no reason to think anarchists can’t undermine and co-opt scientific institutions, and create scientific bodies of knowledge ourselves which direct society into anarchism through noncoercive engineering.
Anarchist Black Shield is devoted to achieving the liberation of all people who have suffered injustice by the outdated power structures that plague our culture, whether these modes of oppression are new to us or well-understood. We, as you, are bearing witness to the direct harm being swiftly carried out by the Trump administration on the basis of race, gender, and class. We fear the magnitude of the consequences which could befall the entire globe and feel a weight of responsibility on our shoulders that feels like it’s for the future of the human race. We are willing to bet that many others feel this weight too. So we’ve begun to distill everything we know into a plan: one more adjustment to carry on the calculation of how to build the ideal pendulum clock that is anarchism.
We believe that the true causes of our current situation do not stem from the personality defects of one demagogue– Trump– but rather from the entire hierarchical system that creates and enables him, which can be traced in its various forms back through thousands of years. We believe that symbolic protests, petitioning the state for policy reform, and advocating for mainstream acceptance are insufficient tactics and meet neither the immediate nor long term needs of the actual human beings affected by oppression. We believe in an inherent connection between ends and means. In response, we seek to engineer a horizontal, scalable model for direct, real-time self-organization,17 both to aid those facing danger in the current political climate and to begin creating the society we want to live in right here, right now. This means focusing on four fundamental needs: engineering new systems that incentivize nonhierarchical living, deprogramming ourselves to prepare us to live in them, telling others about it, and protecting what we are building. These four needs– Engineering, Deprogramming, Communication, and Protection, or EnDCoP– are expressed directly in the four projects described in the next section. The goal of this section is to describe the type of organization or interpersonal dynamics we believe necessary to accomplish those goals.
As anarchists, Anarchist Black Shield has no leaders. We believe that, freed from coercive cultural indoctrination, each person intrinsically possesses the capability to figure out creative solutions to the unique problems besetting them, and should not be impeded from acting on their volition by a top-down or mass organizational structure. Many of us are veterans of failed movements that succumbed to bloated and lengthy process with few people willing to take decisive autonomous action, whether it be toward achieving the goals of the organization, or removing people who are acting outside of the confines of decency while refusing to respond to mitigation– especially in interpersonal abuse situations, as so often tears apart radical movements.
We believe good radicals closest to these situations should be the most qualified to respond, and in fact we vest in them the responsibility to be the most qualified to respond, as this is the definition of good community and friendship– and thus we also voluntarily vest in them the confidence to respond without being expected to ask for our vote. We further would not want to introduce any opportunity for the derailment of justice via a vote. There are times when only one outside person may be aware of interpersonal abuse. This person should feel ethically entitled to remove or arrange the removal of the person causing harm, without any further outside input if necessary, to prevent further injustice.
When it comes to our policy on internal dynamics, Anarchist Black Shield firmly prioritizes quashing all remnants, subtle or obvious, of patriarchal, racist, ableist or classist behavior within our spheres of influence, as large as we can make them. All members of Anarchist Black Shield are expected to be firmly committed to dismantling all hierarchical power dynamics, both systemic and interpersonal, wherever they may be found at play. Within reason, a consequentialist analysis should be applied, and outcomes valued over intentions. Verbal affirmation of one’s anarchist values often means absolutely nothing if one’s actions do not produce consequences which uphold these values. The values and ethics laid out in this document are considered to define Anarchist Black Shield, and should be used in the same way as a Points of Unity.
As an organization we are skeptical of all democratic process and feel that anarchist organizations are often too closely modeled after traditional institutions, so we look to technology for radical new ways of organizing from the bottom up. Democratic process gives way to tyranny of the majority, and the needs of the most disadvantaged but singular individuals are often pushed aside. Efforts to reinstitute the value of minorities from the top down result in harmful and dehumanizing tokenization. We believe democracy aims to solve an engineering problem.18 We believe we can engineer something better, but it will take research and work.
We understand that not everyone wants to be involved in process due to lack of time or discomfort being closely associated with a militant anarchist organization. We want to mention we have a commitment toward protecting the safety and anonymity of our members at all levels. We are, however, a new organization and you should do your best to protect yourselves in the case that we err. Instead of a strict system for process carried out in person, we want to pioneer anonymous, online methods of surveying our members and the community as to their needs. We believe this method will draw in participation from groups who are typically unable to participate in radical endeavors, who are limited on time and travel capacity, or who are otherwise afraid to engage with anarchists in person.
Our goal in developing these new norms of organization is to radically increase the number of good anarchists and people supporting anarchists with resources. Because of the state of the environmental crisis in particular, we feel the time is long overdue to begin engineering the quick and global spread of anarchist sensibilities. We believe using Tor and Bitcoin and designing applications for mass anonymous communication and exchange can revolutionize local movements. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could give money to your neighbors who are illegally fixing your roads to cover the cost of their supplies– without either party ever knowing one another’s identity? Or for that matter, wouldn’t it be nice if you could download an app and send up a flag to get some anarchists educated in trauma-informed care to respond and help you deal with your homophobic parents? Or if anarchists themselves could have the pride of creating spaces that are actually free of oppressive dynamics, and don’t just claim to be? To actually open up one, or better yet simultaneously billions, of tiny spaces for the burgeoning growth of truly free human connection…
- Project Deliverables
Engineering: Community Self-Organization Platforms
Our main focus as an organization is a long-term project which we expect to take several years, but the work is well-underway and we describe some progress here as well as the general Engineering deliverable. This main focus we will call the Rapid Response app. It will entail building an app like Cell411 (the app that CopBlock uses to respond in real time to requests from community members to film police), however, our version will be designed to have far more functionality when it comes to community services. We hope to have several security tiers. Operating on the lowest security tier would be similar to using a map Cell411-style to request different community services available in your area in real time, provided in a neat location-specific list. Toolshares, warming centers, a queer gun club, a home opening a room for the week as a hostel, an Anarchist Black Shield trauma informed care contingents, etcetera– all are good examples of things we envision you might find to choose from for services in your area. Each listed service would decide what flags you could request them for, to produce a catalog of community services available in your area. The app would then enable you to send up a flag on a map requesting any of these services. Then, that service or person in your area would be alerted via their smartphone or other device in real time as to your need. Flags could also be sent up for all users of the map to respond to and be viewed publicly.
Then, there would be higher security tiers that could be password-protected for entry if desired and could be fully anonymized if desired. This would enable the password-holders to access a special map that is available to them alone, so that all users of the map could be verified as trusted to varying degrees programmed into the app. This level of security would allow custom flags to be sent up for community actions to be proposed or called for in real time. For instance, if a racist attack occurs or seems likely to occur, a bystander could throw a flag onto the map that would immediately send an alert to all nearby anarchists or leftists trained in physical self-defense. We leave the reader to imagine what other sorts of actions could be organized this way, with the power of real-time secure communication and network building. We can hardly imagine the magnitude of community responses that could be enabled. For this reason, the app will be programmed to allow users and responders to remain anonymous to one another and it will keep all digital identifying information as limited as possible. The programmers we are currently consulting with on this project believe its feasible to make the app fully anonymous, encrypted and hosted on fully encrypted decentralized servers.
Anarchist Black Shield designed this app to work with our Deprogramming and Protection goals: while this app is being developed, Anarchist Black shield will be training people in various forms of self-defense and nonhierarchical interpersonal dynamics as described in the next sections. These programs will help to build a force of people that will be prepared to populate the listed services in the app with conflict resolution and mutual aid that is both capable and fully consistent with anarchist ethics. We want people to be able to alert anarchist organizations locally to request help dealing with ICE; homeless sweeps; racist, sexist, and queerphobic violence and vandalism; and to help de-escalate and resolve internal conflicts, whether the conflict be among groups or whether a single person is feeling conflicted. Toward that end, we envision a horizontally-organized, trauma-informed system of negotiators that can be requested in real time as an alternative to calling the cops. Responders would be trained to physically protect people from the multitude types of racist and sexist violence which will emerge over the next four years, when reasonable; and otherwise to document or passively resist incidents of State violence. Responders will also be trained in verbal conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques which can be employed in situations where physical confrontation is illogical and undesirable. Enabling this sort of diverse and efficient real-time nonhierarchical intervention is the most vital function of Anarchist Black Shield.
This sort of conflict resolution is an opportunity not only to do a service for the community but also to radicalize people, since our methods in and of themselves will be propaganda. The app will feature a system that provides a closely guided method of scoring the abilities of responders after a request, to act as a natural, nonhierarchical set of checks and balances. We are brainstorming methods to do this without problems such as clique-bias affecting scores. One idea is to tie responders’ scores to other responders in the area. Such a method would incentivize responders to care for each other and improve the quality of their responder community rather than resort to shunning and watch group scores fall. The whole idea is that responders remain anonymous to one another– so while they are bound to meet responders in their area, they will not know their names unless given, and they will have no access to information on responders outside of their immediate area. This is to prevent mass raids. The security-tier function is to prevent activists from being entrapped by someone sending up fake requests on the map. The large-scale goal of this app would be to enable people in the community to handle issues as they arise internally and give people an alternative to calling the police. If our praxis makes police obsolete, we might find that people simply stop using them.
The Rapid Response app is a very hefty project. In the meantime, we plan to further our relationship with the team of developers and create a stand-in online secure collective organizing tool that can be put together much more simply, in less time and for far less cost. The team of developers we are working with are also activists and have already done some research in how to anonymize, fully encrypt and host a version of Loomio. This web-based solution would offer similar capabilities to activists as the Rapid Response app in that it would allow anonymous and secure collective decision making, which would allow activists to organize with decreased fear of infiltration, grand juries, and so many other things that limit the extent to which we can organize ourselves. The Loomio project is currently underway, and we plan to begin funding it with a series of benefit shows. The developers can offer varying levels of security for anywhere from $750 to $5,000. Contact us if you would like to help financially support this project.
Deprogramming: Anarchist Health Database
Making this sort of change is going to happen on a long time scale, at least as long as our lives, most likely. It’s a real fact that coming to awareness is psychologically painful and is why so many radicals are depressed or have drug problems, and why the ‘life span’ of an activist is so short. We cannot wait for the medical institution to help us with this, because that institution is designed to convince us the problem is us, and not society. There is no excuse for us not to learn how to fix our own problems. There are anarchist doctors and psychologists who write about anarchism online and could easily be consulted on developing anarchist care methods. For example, people associated with us suffering from activist burnout and drug addiction could be aided; not enabled, pushed out or ignored, in a way that provides evidence and guides the scientific development of anarchist health care. What we conceive of as a problem could easily be seen as an opportunity. This is the obvious way to enhance the security and health of everyone, as both drug addiction and mental health are issues we’ve seen destroy groups over and over again.19
One of the most difficult issues people have with anarchism is giving up a culturally-indoctrinated typification of humans as inevitably drawn toward evil deeds. Yet we believe most, if not all such “evil deeds” can be explained in a way that makes human action look more like the flow of water through a maze. Certain conditions in fact create the right environment for negative behavior in many cases.20 We believe that anarchist psychologists, social workers, auto-didacts, scientists, drug addicts, survivors of intimate abuse, sociologists and anyone with relevant experience should come together to develop a guide for therapeutically deprogramming negative social indoctrination. Through studies of group dynamics, neurology and cognitive bias, and new therapeutic approaches such as trauma-informed care,21 we plan to begin formally developing methods for deprogramming coercive ideology.
It’s popular today to believe that bad behaviors like rape have no important psychological or environmental causes, that rapists are just born that way and need to be forced into acting in accord with our norms. It’s also popular to believe that depression is a disease that can only be helped with medication. And that the only way for addicts to quit is to relinquish their agency to that of a “higher power.” Or that some people are just racists, and some just aren’t. This results from a disrupted connection between external reality and one’s internal mapping of reality– in short, delusion. For instance, we believe all people experience some degree of racist thinking because society indoctrinates us that way, and the only way to move beyond these false conceptions is to drag them out into the light and strip away the fear of really investigating the causes by consensus reality. Instead, today issues like these are shrouded in shame and awkwardness, empowering the Big Other. All of these reactions take the remedial power out of our hands and into the realm of impossibility. We believe rape culture is rooted in patriarchal ideology and its reactions, and we believe it can be rooted out and repaired. We believe racism is rooted in tradition, wrong self-concept, and the false ways we think about each other, namely the invention of race.22 We believe the brand of Trump grows from conceptions of the role of man as the master of his house. We believe these conceptions can be rooted out and destroyed. We believe they can be rigorously catalogued and effective tactics of dismantling them analytically investigated, and we intend to develop just such a database to be made available freely online.
Anarchist Black Shield views friendship as the best model for anarchist organization. We started primarily as a group of friends helping one another to recover and to become full and healthy in a world of cruelty and confusion. After years of picking apart one another’s behavior and its roots, we’ve come to believe that the prime revolutionary energy of humans comes to life when they help each other to excise every last semblance of social indoctrination and start anew. Our culture is predicated on thousands of years of cruel dominating behavior and it would be naive to think anything other than intensive deprogramming is needed. Over the next few years, as we experiment in community-sourced conflict resolution, we want to record our results and develop a manual that collects our most successful methods and can guide anyone through a process of deprogramming and training to respond to conflict. We hope to start a database for freely sharing results and we envision one day having an anarchist body of scientific knowledge with its own standards and goals.
Communication: Printing, Distribution and Awareness
Anarchist Black Shield is committed to publishing and distribution of anarchist literature, original, classic and modern, for the dissemination of information on anarchist theory and praxis, by local distribution teams that pick locations to push previous bounds of places to propagandize. We want to see our discourse more accurately represented outside of niche social circles. We believe that the instability of the Trump regime will be a perfect time to strategize about spreading anarchist ideology, and while some of our endeavors are risky, they are designed to alter public perception and prove the power of our ideas by example, by creative engineering of social situations which make our point undeniable.
We also believe we live in a city that is a hotbed of radical activity and this gives us a unique opportunity to normalize resistance in a profound way. The right kind of result could be heard around the world. It’s not impossible, and given our dire global ecological and political situation, it’s a chance we should all be leaping at. Once we feel we have achieved a level of success with the project, we will release all the deliverables, plans and practices of the structure in a neat digital database for other people to contribute to as they see fit and implement in their own cities. We believe that it will be technology like this that will enable a true revolution by simply making hierarchical systems obsolete.
Protection: PASCAL, Self-Defense, and De-escalation
Anarchist Black Shield are not pacifists. We believe in using the best tool for the job and we want to create diverse types of tools. One such tool will be a marksmanship and gun safety program,23 and our fund that fully finances the cost of concealed carry permits for activists and minorities, called PASCAL (Protection Assistance for Safter Communities At Large). Below you will find the Letter to Sponsors and the flier template for the PASCAL program.
Hello [title of organization/organizer], My name is _____, and I am contacting you on behalf of Protection Assistance for Safer Communities at Large (PASCAL), a program put together by local activists. It is designed to fund the costs of keeping activists safe in today's troubling political climate. Though many have heard of the terrorist attack that resulted in the death of Heather Heyer, an activist standing against white supremacy in Charlottesville, this is far from an isolated incident. Numerous activists across the nation, from Ferguson, Missouri, to Seattle, Washington and Flint, Michigan have been murdered, shot or found dead under mysterious circumstances. The need for pro-active self defense for activists has never been greater, as our work grows more and more risky. We want to offset the risk of our work for activists and marginalized members of the community. In response to the increased violence directed at activists, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community, we are creating an initiative to fully fund all costs of concealed carry permits and gun safety courses for these threatened individuals in Portland. All money raised under the PASCAL program will go directly to a fund that will be available to members and clients of your organization through a nomination process, for the sole purpose of funding the personal self-defense of those who need it most. If you know activists or community members who have mentioned that a concealed carry permit or gun safety courses would enhance their security in their work and lives during these troubling times, supporting PASCAL would enable you to nominate them to get these necessary tools, regardless of whether they can afford them. PASCAL is continually working to expand our methods of fundraising. We are currently focusing on organizing a series of benefit shows. Working with local artists, in the past year organizers within PASCAL have already raised thousands of dollars for other charities and political campaigns. We have now come together to form a group which focuses directly on self defense and protection for our most threatened community members. To effectively match these funds to the community members who most need them, we need your help. In order for your organization to gain entry into the PASCAL program and to become able to nominate recipients of the PASCAL funds, all we ask is for you to pledge your support for the PASCAL program. Your simple support is all that is needed to gain the privilege of nominating PASCAL beneficiaries. To pledge your support, your organization will grant permission for its logo appear on flyers advertising the PASCAL program, along with the logos of our other sponsors. Each event flier will be generated from a standard flyer template. That template is attached to this email for your review, and each new flier will be sent for sponsor approval before printing. Beyond becoming a sponsor, you can also help by directly donating to the PASCAL fund. Each permit will cost $65, as well as an average of $75 for a basic safety course, for a total of $140 for each permit. Any amount is appreciated. Respond to this email for options on how to donate. Thank you for your time, and we hope that together we can keep the soil for resistance fertile even in the face of increasing threat, PASCAL Organizer
Please contact us if you would like to be a sponsor. We plan to use a long term system of benefit shows, crowd sourcing, and merch sales for funding. Further, local associates are interested in teaching classes on weapons proficiency and unarmed self defense. We will also raise money with the intention of keeping a bail fund for relevant actions. We feel it is a particularly useful time to learn gun safety and live weapon disarms in a climate where white supremacists have been openly shooting radicals and hate crimes are spiking throughout the country.
Anarchist Black Shield wants to remain as transparent as possible while protecting our members. Thus, we will provide limited documentation with all information that we can possibly include, assuming that a cop is reading it. There will be many projects we are undertaking which are not mentioned here, which is of course not to imply that we would engage in anything illegal. We have many interests to protect that include identities of at-risk members and security of programming and other technology projects. Our published total costs will probably be the most truly representative of what we have been doing, and not itemized lists of expenses. At this point we can report we have printed 7,111 pages of anarchist literature and other propaganda that has been distributed free, and our expenses so far total $4,231. About 8% of our costs are printing costs, 3% are community awareness and promotion, 37% to supplies for direct community aid, 45% towards purchasing tools to provide security for local radical events, and 9% went to merchandise infrastructure that we expect to make a good return on.
- Closing Statements & How to Get Involved
Anarchist Black shield needs technically skilled people who can train other people who are not. The main types of skills and assets that we would benefit most from would be:
+ programming and app development, digital/information security, databasing
+ marksmanship, self defense and security (long-time DPSST holders)
+ Bands, venues and artists to collaborate on benefit events; fundraising experience
+ social work/psychology/psychiatry
+ legal consultation: business and defense attorneys for consultation
+ conflict resolution/de-escalation, negotiation/diplomacy-centered fields
+ publishing: zines, print, html, graphic design, experience with Scribus
+ art and design for merch; screenprinting experience, etc
+ time to volunteer and an interest in responding to community needs; willingness to respond promptly to calls for direct action and a genuine belief or interest in our methods
+ ties with other community groups, especially the natural organizations of groups targeted by the Trump regime
Anyone who acts in accordance with our goals is a member of Anarchist Black Shield if they wish to be. Now is the time for elevated anarchist organizing. We believe society is hitting a bifurcation point and that a relatively small input could result in a radical state change. We have the ability to render the old governmental systems obsolete, and, by applying our analyses and our efforts together, we will do so. If you are interested please feel free to contact us. Our PGP key is available on our facebook page under the ‘impressum’ section.
–Anarchist Black Shield
1 Physicalism is the ontological thesis that “everything is physical,” that there is “nothing over and above” the physical, or that everything supervenes on the physical.
2 My terminology comes from Max Tegmark’s Mathematical Universe Hypothesis (MUH) schema, but I have chosen different language in order to keep a distinct separation from naive postmodern interpretations of Tegmark’s complementary term, internal reality. We separate ourselves abruptly from any interpretation which implies that consciousness creates reality or that different “realities” exist. Throughout this piece despite any convenient use of the term ‘reality,’ this is taken to be understood.
3 Ontology is the study of reality or being. Dualism maintains a rigid distinction between the realms of mind and matter. Monism maintains that there is only one unifying source of reality, one substance or essence in terms of which everything can be explained. Therefore ontological dualisms must propose two fundamental and distinct constituents of reality, while ontological pluralists propose more than two.
4 The mapping is a general term, but my use of ‘mapping of reality’ is = internal reality in Tegmark’s MUH.
5 Think “Mathematical Platonism”
6 The problem of universals refers to the question of whether properties exist. Properties are qualities or relations that two or more entities have in common.
7 I actually like the definition of nominalism from Existential Comics better than Wikipedia’s. Here it is. “Max Stirner was a radical nominalist, believing that nothing exists but the concrete. What he meant by this is that abstract categories and ideas don’t properly exist, and shouldn’t be considered when deciding on how we live our lives. So, for example, the idea of “religion” is an abstract idea, and can’t have any impact on our real immediate lives.”
8 While this sounds intimidating, it really isn’t. Have you ever taken a long exposure photo, maybe of your friend waving around some luminous object in the dark, tracing out a clear shape in the resulting photograph that did not exist in time? The resulting pattern has condensed the time dimension and instead of having a movie, you have everything that happened while you were holding the camera represented on the photo all at once. If you imagine expanding the image in the photo back out into the time dimension, you now have many slices arranged in an order, or a movie. In a similar way, your life expands out in the time dimension.
9 I’m saying this recognizing that pretty much all things in our lives experience decoherence before quantum effects matter.
10 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor of Physics.
11 The consensus reality should not be taken as terminology promoting consensus. It is not. It is objective, an object that can be shown to be presented to all equally, a tool to be used in creating better and better models of external reality. Small groups of people operating on a proper consensus reality should always feel enabled to act independently and without the consensus of a group. Further, people can have a shared consensus reality, but desire different things. This is no problem for consensus reality, but it is a problem for consensus.
12 “The authoritarianism of a liberal or socialist, being instrumental and arising from profound ignorance, lacks a self-awareness and can be effectively challenged in debate… Nothing could be less the case with a nazi. An actual fascist is well aware that some proposed policy may not have much of a leg to stand on. They are prepared for objective reality to line up against them. They know at heart that their race statistics are often false, misrepresented, or actually evidence for the reverse of their claims and insinuations. Not only does this not matter to them, they strategize from the beginning with it in mind. A fascist cares only about the landscape of power and how they can shift it to make them “win”. I want to be clear here: the problem isn’t merely that they’re arguing in conscious bad faith, fascists have no monopoly on that — nor even do authoritarians — the problem is what this arises from: a hunger for social power, and how fundamental it is to their position. Fascist recruitment doesn’t function in terms of persuasion, it functions in terms of promises of power.” William Gillis, Center for a Stateless Society
13 We do not claim however to know it fully. We view the development of this ethics as an ongoing and possibly infinitely long process of improvement.
14 A simple practice of the Toulmin method is used in dialogue: person A speaks to person B, and person B must rephrase person A’s argument to person A’s satisfaction before person B can speak, and so on and so forth. It’s a simple method which yields astonishing results.
15 If you think this all sounds rather fantastical, consider that Toulmin himself undertook the exact same endeavor in a fully academically sanctioned way: “Throughout many of his works, Toulmin pointed out that absolutism (represented by theoretical or analytic arguments) has limited practical value. Absolutism is derived from Plato’s idealized formal logic, which advocates universal truth; accordingly, absolutists believe that moral issues can be resolved by adhering to a standard set of moral principles, regardless of context. By contrast, Toulmin contends that many of these so-called standard principles are irrelevant to real situations encountered by human beings in daily life. To develop his contention, Toulmin introduced the concept of argument fields. In The Uses of Argument (1958), Toulmin claims that some aspects of arguments vary from field to field, and are hence called ‘field-dependent,’ while other aspects of argument are the same throughout all fields, and are hence called ‘field-invariant.’ The flaw of absolutism, Toulmin believes, lies in its unawareness of the field-dependent aspect of argument; absolutism assumes that all aspects of argument are field invariant. In Human Understanding (1972), Toulmin suggests that anthropologists have been tempted to side with relativists because they have noticed the influence of cultural variations on rational arguments. In other words, the anthropologist or relativist overemphasizes the importance of the ‘field-dependent’ aspect of arguments, and neglects or is unaware of the ‘field-invariant’ elements. In order to provide solutions to the problems of absolutism and relativism, Toulmin attempts throughout his work to develop standards that are neither absolutist nor relativist for assessing the worth of ideas.”
16 This is probably due to publishing practices, or the lack thereof, interacting with the quick pace of internal developments, and the fact that much of this is only communicated directly to people inside heavily gated social networks.
17 “Self-organisation means: we are all free and able to decide and act for ourselves, and to form and leave associations freely.” (From “Against Assemblies: Organisation, Democracy & the Left.”)
18 Representative democracy was invented to solve the problem of not being able to have everyone in the same place at the same time. We no longer suffer from this issue, so it’s irrational to engage in representative democracy, and we are left wondering why our institutions fail to be updated as our constraints change.
19 This has motivated our collaboration with Portland People’s Outreach Project, which aims to destigmatize drug users so we can set aside shame and blame and move toward mutually respectful solutions. What if we engineered an anonymous system for counselors to provide advice to addicts free of the censorship of the medical institution? It’s a little known fact that recovery programs hide what they call “black book facts,” one example being that a person is more likely to stay in recovery from heroin if they smoke marijuana.
20 The Rat Park experiments are the famous example.
21 This is part of what makes OutsideIn such a successful local organization. They take trauma informed care very seriously, and this inordinately benefits at-risk and underprivileged populations.
22 Scientifically, modern consensus is that race is an unsound concept. Systemic racism punishes people for being something that is scientifically exactly the same as any other human. This is an example of internal mappings becoming very disconnected from reality and in their inconsistency arriving at concepts which do not actually exist external to thinker– until we begin creating them as we err. This is an interesting way delusion reinforces itself.
23 We are not the first to do this. Redneck Revolt has a similar type of aim.