FallenLeaf zine#1 – RISING STAR

27 Sep

I have created a zine to go with the blog – you can learn more about it on We Make Zines. I love punk DIY aesthetics, the riot grrrl movement, and zine culture, which is why I chose to make a small cut-and-paste zine that reads like a personal anarchist manifesto. I think that playfulness is an important part of zine making and blogs do not cover the tactile, material aspect of the creation process. It’s great to be able to make things without having to outsource the tools we use or the product that emerges from our efforts. If you would like to get a copy of RISING STAR, send me an email at foxandsnakezine(at)gmail(dot)com. Don’t expect a polished work of art: it’s all about gritty black and white photocopies and simple folded paper!

Crazy Queers

20 Sep

According to the Bisexuality Report, bisexuals have poorer mental health than both hetero and gay/lesbian populations: “Of all the common sexual identity groups, bisexual people most frequently have mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, self harm and suicidality. This has been found both internationally and in the UK specifically, and has been linked to experiences of biphobia and bisexual invisibility.” When I think of the bis I know, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. It looks like we’ve all been through some sort of therapy, or are currently undertaking treatment, or are badly in need of help (this is especially true for people who come to the group for the first time). I don’t think we’re queer because we’re crazy, nor that we’re crazy because we’re queer. I believe that we are queer AND crazy. It is true that when you sense that you do not belong, you are more likely to suffer, and we are often made to feel like outsiders, not only in society at large but also within the LBTIQ “community”. What is important though is that this creates opportunities for healing. I have already observed that process at the bi group, and in fact have been through it myself. Craziness and queerness may often go together, but they can also be disentangled together, and queerness can, in my view, ensure that healing – by which I do not imply getting rid of craziness, but learning to integrate it  more skillfuly – does not occur at the cost of individuality. Too often, therapy leads us towards conformity and forgetfullness. I became depressed as a teenager because there was too much pressure for me to conform to gender roles, religious prescriptions, and adults’ expectations… It is not therapy so much as queerness that eventually saved me from that, by allowing me to accept myself as I am so that I could just be.

Depression

14 Sep

I have already mentioned chronic disease and would like to say a few words about mental illness. I have recently discovered the Icarus Project, which is a brilliant website for those who aren’t afraid of “navigating the space between brilliance and madness”. They have many inspirational booklets available for download, including a guide on how to become med-free if you so wish. I really appreciate this couterpoint to medical culture, which invariably pathologizes mental illnesses and attempts to suppress them, often with minimal success and major side effects. Even psychotherapy, which is sometimes available without the support of drugs, tends to normalize the patient by first determining how and why they fail to fit in their environment and then encouraging them to adapt to social life in order to be integrated. In my experience, depression has been a painful but powerful sweeping force pushing me towards deep change. It takes time to become functional again, and even happy, but once you do you see things more clearly. And even when in the throes of panic attacks, paranoid spells, sleepless nights, or depressed states, there is something to the shift in perception, the blurred vision, which I find valuable. Should it be deemed “wrong” and dismissed, or carefully investigated, like some weird but compelling, uncharted territory? Human experience is something to be lived, not suppressed. I don’t want to become a well-adapted robot, I want to take my feelings, emotions, sensations and perceptions seriously, even when they appear scary. Isn’t there more to life than being a socially adequate person? Integrity comes at the cost of taming one’s shadows as well as one’s brilliance.

Academic freedom?

6 Sep

When I was a student at university, I idealized academe in spite of all the inconsistencies I saw. I believed that it was possible to be a free spirit within that institution and pursue vital, personal interests in a stimulating context of exchange. The idea that such a freedom exists is part of academia’s founding myths. Although it may look like tenure professors have the liberty to think and act freely, they can only be critical as long as they do not apply their ideas to the workplace, as long as they do not directly threaten the dominance hierarchy that constitutes the university. Jeff Schmidt says that “Academic freedom is given to those who will be least likely to use it”. You have it “to the extent that you can express views that your employer would not otherwise allow you to express”. But According to this definition, the few who dare challenge the institution stand out: “That’s what activists do: things that they weren’t hired to do”. Which is why some of them get fired.

The idealism I used to nurture also made me believe that I could sublimate my need for action by investing it into theory or that “ideas can change the world”. Rancourt points out that “truth and research are not threatening to power in a culture of subservience and obedience. In such a culture, radical-in-thought academics only stabilize the system by neutralizing the more action-minded youth”. In short, it is not enough to be a radical intellectual, you also need to engage in radical praxis. All too often, universities (as well as other institutions in my experience – when you’re lucky) promote discourse as a safe substitute for action. I have learned that I can express ideas if I lay them out in the appropriate format, carefully back them up with established sources, and cut myself off from the practical implications of the theories I develop. It seems that my credibility as a scholar depends on it. Now I increasingly wonder: is there a space for free thinkers? The more I examine the institution, the less I believe that university provides such an environment. Is academic freedom only a façade?

Substitute teaching

3 Sep

I am currently switching jobs, leaving a private school to become a substitute teacher at state shools. As a substitute teacher, it has been made very clear that I am expected to follow instructions without challenging them in any way. I’ve also been told that if, years from now, I decide to become a full teacher and prove to be competent enough for a school to hire me and keep me, I will have the right to start voicing my opinion and express disagreement. The way I see this is that by the time you have worked long enough and hard enough, you will be unwilling to lose the respect and influence you’ve gained. You’ve fought too hard to risk losing your job and, though you may voice your critical opinion, you are unlikely to act on it if the results are too confrontational. According to Paulo Freire, “Any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence. The means used are not important; to alienate human beings from their own decision-making is to change them into objects”.

In my teaching job, not only am I alienated from my own inquiry and decision-making, but I must impose the same limitations on students. I have to spend our time following a method that many students consider boring, inefficient, and too easy (which is absolutely true). However, the fact that I must comply with the curriculum has been expressly stated to me by the school, and the rythm required to complete these mindless exercises leaves very little time for other endeavours. When a student told me that he would be willing to work if only the subject matter was more challenging and he knew he could learn something, I told him we had no choice but to work on this book, but I also said that we would do something different during the next lesson. This will be a small act of resistance: each week, I will prepare some extra-curricular activities and make them as participative and stimulating as possible. As things stand, although I secretly respect the ones who resist automatic obedience, the fact that the curriculum bores students forces me to be very authoritarian to maintain order in the classroom. This so-called professional attitude makes no sense to me since I want to be a radical teacher. Only, being a substitute teacher puts me at risk – I can be fired at any time and/or never hired again. I wish students resisted. I wish more established colleagues resisted. The real question is: how can I resist in the present circumstances, and how much do I risk for it?

Chronic disease

24 Aug

I would like to give a new meaning to chronic disease. The usual one is, roughly, an illness that cannot be treated and does not go away. But I would like to redefine it as a chronic unease, a refusal or incapacity to remain impermeable to reality. Today I listened to a radio interview with Susan Rosenthal who does not believe in mental illness. She says that the mind cannot be sick, but rather, social relationships are sick. The effect of a sick society on an individual is mental suffering, not mental illness. The fact that health problems are strongly related to oppression and social unequalities has been known for over a century and basically ignored. Systems of domination create anger and intense suffering, which cannot be treated at the level of the individual.

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire says that “When their efforts to act responsibly are frustrated, when they find themselves unable to use their faculties, people suffer”. How often do I find my efforts to think for myself and act according to my convictions censured? I will soon write about some of these situations and why I react so strongly to them, but the fact is that I see a desperate need for social change, for social justice, for equality, not only on a global scale but in the all-pervasive structures of dominance which institutionalize violence and oppression, thus preventing us from truly connecting with one another, from expressing our creativity and our humanity, and from having a real effect on the world we share.

And it makes me sick. I am physically sick and it’s not because I cannot deal with stress, it’s not because I haven’t meditated today, it’s not because I need therapy,  it’s not because I should pull myself together, it’s not because I’m bourgeois and lazy. It’s because the world is sick, because I confront that fact every day and am asked to stay calm and let things follow their course while I wait for them to change in small increments, over time, in ways that will appease public opinion without challenging the status quo until, one day soon, we can all be happy in a wonderful world. I cannot believe in this mythology. In a situation like this, believe me, it’s only healthy to be sick.

Anarchism Gathering 4 – Lecturing and participation

21 Aug

Following up on an older post, Xavier Renou did make some mistakes. Earlier in the day, he had led an interactive workshop in which he asked participants to signal their opinion about particular acts of civil disobedience by positioning themselves in a room divided into four intersecting poles: “violent”, or “non-violent”, and “would do” or “would not do”. He then used participants’ interventions in order to articulate the politics adopted by his collective. The approach was constructive in that it helped us understand how the approach of non-violent direct action works in relation to our own personal standpoints and to discern clearly which issues it is aimed to address. However, the workshop was not meant to enable the exploration of alternative strategies together but only to affirm Xavier’s experience with civil disobedience as valid. A woman interrupted his demonstration of the way one can wriggle around policemen to slow down arrest and expressed her concern with the technique presented. She said that while it might be useful in Western countries where police violence is seldom used, it does little to help activists who experience serious confrontation with armed forces. Xavier’s reply was that his approach entails that by the time direct action is taken, mainstream media will be present and popular opinion won, so that police will avoid using violence. While this is a valid response within Xavier’s own framework, it did not encourage discussion and effectively silenced the woman and her friends, who left as soon as he resumed his demonstration.

The discrepancy between Xavier’s intention – to introduce us to civil disobedience as defined by his collective – and participants’ expectations – to create a space in which tactics of violence and non-violence in direct action could be discussed – led to very tangible tensions the same evening when Xavier lectured about his politics of civil disobedience with the help of a powerpoint presentation. By postponing the possibility of discussion to the end of his talk, he tried to make sure not only that he would not be interrupted, but also that his position could be voiced in priority and then by reaffirmed during the question session. This unequality between a speaker placed in a position of power and listeners placed in a position of passivity is not caused by Xavier in particular but by lecturing in general. The lecturer necessarily endorses an authoritative role and knowledge is imposed on the audience rather than constructed by the people present. Perhaps it was a little naive to assume that a bunch of anarchists would be willing to sit and listen (also some of us certainly were). But more importantly, anarchists need to reflect on what knowledge means and in what conditions learning can take place, and then give speakers the means to attain these goals.