we are the swarm (why bandwagons are good)

swarm

“Groupthink.”  A rather unfriendly description of any time people are on the same page.

It is certainly true that there are many, many examples of people uncritically accepting and repeating the ideas of a group that they belong to.  Really this is not so much “groupthink,” which could be an intelligent form of collaborative brainstorming, so much as “uncritical following”, “blind allegiance,” etc — and really most of the time it is not so much a case of following the group’s party line as much as following the leadership’s.  Which can be fine, if they’re actually correct, though there is definitely an over-reliance in even the best left groups on taking signals from one key group of individuals, and giving everything else the cold shoulder.

However, I’d say the Left is overwhelmingly correct on most social issues, most of the time.  It’s impossible for a single individual to be an expert in everything.  So you find the bandwagons that are correct most of the time, strap yourself in, and oppose the bandwagons that are wrong most of the time.

Have you ever shared some item on social media which you later regretted?  Raising my hand, guilty!  However, the rapid speed and depth of awareness-spreading is so beneficial that it cannot even be compared to the minor damage caused by the occasional rumor, lie, mistake, or lack of citing.

Sometimes it can seem corny and forced to be on the same page all of the time.  Sometimes the celebrity causes of the Left seem random or artificial or forced (though they are typically an iconic example of a larger thing).  It’s important sometimes NOT to be on the same page; otherwise we have too much in common with Stalinist show trials.

However, the hard truth is that sometimes we need to mobilize around an issue or incident with a speed and bulk of numbers which disallows time for discussion or reflection.  This can take the form of following the directives of an elected leader in a group (and reviewing their decisions later), or simply the emergence of an activist-network, social-media, mass-attendance mobscene.

Is this a disciplined approach?  Is this an orderly approach?  No, it’s none of those.  But it’s how real life works; it’s also how Anonymous works, in all its strangeness and hyper-relevance.  People vote with their feet.

Let’s all just admit that the critical mass factor is key to any rebellion, uprising, or revolution.  It involves a lot of people who only instinctually understand what is going on and to some degree get swept up in the moment.  We should try to work with these people, during these moments of mass-outpouring, and run educational discussions so people are a bit more self-conscious about WHY they’re doing what they’re doing.

But mostly we should just be glad they’re on our side — and not the other side!

Really the fact that our ideas of class warfare have an instinctual, non-intellectual resonance with large numbers of people should be something we take as a compliment.  It means our ideas are organic and relevant, and actually represent the people, as opposed to being some little freakshow off in the corner, which is how we feel a lot of the time.  We should feel blessed to be respiring in unison with the living breath of the population.

Rather than seeing this as exceptional, it should be our permanent orientation — to bridge the gap between the self-conscious tiny few radicals, and the “apolitical” but aggrieved and solution-seeking masses.  The synthesis of these two is itself a form of organization.  It is an organization without formal boundaries, sometimes dormant and invisible, yet nonetheless very much existing; this organic swarm is the thing of which I consider myself a member.

Wrap it up with an extended Gramsci quote:

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Pages 338-340 of the below:

http://www.rankandfiler.net/nysg/gramsci-reader.pdf

driftwood alien

driftwood alien

My father and I found this on the beach, brought it home. It’s some sort of root structure driftwood covered in the middle by tiny barnacles. I suspect this thing had actually been growing on something at sea due to the insane directions of growth.

If you’re looking for alien beings of grotesque, twisted flesh, try your neighborhood. Trees are like inside-out lungs sticking into the air.

Better yet, get a scan of your own intestines.

The Dark Side

The Dark Side, which is more or less my faith, is pretty multi-faceted.  I can’t exactly pin down what about it is central so I’m going to ramble.  In my life it’s taken multiple forms, whether it was my initial rejection of religious dogma, a taste for dark art, a tendency toward melancholy, a willingness to think forbidden thoughts, or an active religious pursuit.

EMBRACE THE HATE

When you’re watching a movie or something, and there’s a character who has a moral falling, doesn’t it sometimes seem like it’s actually their finest hour?  Do you ever find yourself rooting for them right then?  And then, typically, there is always some moment of “conscience” that brings them back to the light, some mentor who hits them with warnings and begs them not to “go too far,” or “cross a terrible line.”  Usually the mentor’s argument would never stand up to logical analysis, which is kind of my point.

Maybe things ARE horrible, maybe we DO need to “go too far,” maybe we DO need to cross all sorts of lines.  Maybe it’s cool when the protagonist goes rogue and starts making decisions for themselves instead of being a little tool who is constantly hurt but never declares independence or reorients their priorities.

Most religions have some kind of advisement against, rule against, or punishment for negative emotions.  I say let those fuckers rip.  They’re part of who you are!  I got real sick of being told that I shouldn’t have any anger or selfishness, that I should be a blank forgiveness machine.  Not only were there things to be legitimately angry at, but I was angry that I had to feel bad for even having the anger.

It’s not just negative emotions.  There are other banned emotions that are not precisely “dark,” but get lumped in with the dark side because mainstream religions/polite civilization bans them or places too much restriction on them.  Obviously sex is a big issue here; certainly no rules against that in the dark.  (No rules against anything, really!)  There is also the animalistic energy of being alive which I think many religions are either uncomfortable with or just fail to celebrate.  Why must reverence always be restrained and serene?  Where is the religion of going apeshit?  That lively energy gets lumped in with the dark, and the more it is repressed, the more it becomes truly dark.

INDIVIDUALISM

This may throw the socialists for a loop.  A natural extension of embracing your dark emotions is accepting that you will not always get along with others.  You’ve got to form a strong personal core (existentialism) that knows what it wants and is possibly willing to step on other people to get it.

Why is all this religious crap important?  Why not just focus on life?  I think because it’s possible to waste life, to waste a lifetime — if you aren’t living for yourself, truly living for yourself, there is literally no point to existence.  Make it count.

The Dark Side has a great advantage that is absent in many beliefs – the total freedom to critical thought.  No rules in the void.  In all the groups you were born into or have entered, you have an inner emotional freedom to think for yourself that many don’t.  There’s a reason they call it the Devil’s Advocate.  Besides, you better think for yourself, because if you don’t, you could be taken advantage of.  It’s a jungle out there.

THE INHERENT MASSIVE DIFFICULTY OF LIFE

One of the fundamental aspects of matter is that it imposes massive limitations.  You can’t stick your hand through a wall; matter blocks other matter.  This is the astrological meaning of Saturn: gravity, constriction, discipline, severity, isolation, being tested.  This is what matter, and living in a material universe, does to the beings that live in it.

Did you know that there are animals that are constantly born into hopeless positions of being killed before ever reaching maturity?  Imagine being a bug accidentally born underground with no way to tunnel out and get to any food (or air or water).  Imagine being a cub or chick whose mother is killed and, undefended, is later hunted down by predators or scavengers.  Worst of all, this is not limited to non-human animals: infant mortality happens all the time, and not just from complications, but from outright third world child hunger.  Whoever is in charge on this planet, it’s not a benevolent God.

I think it’s quite possible that there are other “layers” to reality – more spiritual, ethereal dimensions where beings are pure thought or pure feeling.  These other dimensions may even have some limited sway in this material realm – consciousness may be an example of that.

But for the most part, the hippies are wrong.  We’re stuck here in this nightmare reality.  All is not one; all is divided, and if the material world is connected with itself, sometimes its connections are merely points of contact made of violence and conflict.  There is no transcendence.

Even if there was, would it be preferable?  I like my solid objects, I would be so confused as a disembodied soul.  So even if this material realm is not the only realm, I think I have a love for it.  I like the challenge.  I suppose that makes me not a transcendentalist, but a descendentalist.

GIVE SOME BACK/NO EXISTENCE WITHOUT AUTHENTICITY, NO AUTHENTICITY WITHOUT RESISTANCE

This is totally immature, but then maybe being immature is the key to life: in a world that causes so much suffering, it’s just wickedly blissful to hit back.

There’s also a more mature way of looking at it.  Politically, you should resist the things that make life suck for you.  Because life does seriously suck, and there are very rich people who benefit from that.  No turning the other cheek for me.

THE DARK BEYOND/THE SOUL/THE SUPERNATURAL/SORCERY

You may have heard that the blackness of space is not emptiness, but is actually a substance.  I suspect this substance may have a low level of consciousness, acting as a subconscious to the universe, and a source of power to those who would embrace it.  Cthulhu is out there.

I wouldn’t just turn to this stuff out of boredom or intellectual curiosity.  I’ve had multiple instances of dreams eventually coming true in ways I could verify were not déjà vu  — keeping a dream journal, writing down the date of the dream.  It seems to run in my family (oddly enough clairvoyant bloodlines are now a motif in Game of Thrones).  I can’t explain the violation of linear time — some people talk about alternate universes of possibly, particles travelling backwards, or some other model of possibility, when discussing quantum mechanics.  Maybe it’s an explanation but I don’t know.  I have also had experiences with rites performed seeking results which have been granted.  Not going into details – the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

There is actually some science and philosophy behind this too.  This is where my Marxism gets heavily adulterated with other philosophical views.

In Roger Penrose’s Shadows of the Mind, there is an exploration of quantum mechanics and brain structure.  You may have heard that two particles can behave in tandem if they ever touched, even if they are nowhere near each other, what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance.”  It’s now called quantum entanglement.

So if that exists, what are the chances that our brains our not somehow quantum-entangled to all sorts of things – other people?  Random particles?  In fact, while most quantum movements have no effect on Newtonian-scale matter (atoms/molecules), there are specific conditions in which they indeed can, and the microtubules in our brain cells create the perfect environment for quantum activity affecting the electrical charge of neurons.  Penrose theorized that the brain is actually just a mind-body interface machine, and what is really behind the mind is a bunch of quantum entanglements that drive our associations.

You have to forgive most marxists for being so skeptical.  Marxism rightly believes that most of the world’s phenomena are materially determined, that most of the time being determines consciousness, that most things have a logical explanation, and that in human society this mostly means the causal dominance of economics, which leads to cultural dominance by the rich.

I agree with all of that, but there is an assumption that, simply because so many things have been explained by material causes, that there is NO thing that cannot be explained by material causes.  That is an assumption, not a safe deduction.  Anything is possible.  Besides, maybe there are just things that have a material explanation which we are not yet advanced enough to grasp.  What if ghosts are some kind of electro-magnetic pattern?  Anything is possible.

The one big thing that matter cannot explain is human experience.  The mind exists.  Its nature and behavior is different from that of matter.  There are correlations between things a person experiences, brain chemicals, and external triggers such as light hitting the eyes.  But all of that just draws a chain of correlation – none of it can explain what the hell experience, itself, is.  The definition of matter is that it has mass and takes up space.  Do your thoughts do that?    (These lines of thought were learned from Black Magic, introductory text of the Temple of Set.)

To be scientific is to be open to new ideas and experiences, so there you have it.

Spreading the Creep: The Science of Leftist Organizational Growth

THE CREEP

“Spreading the Creep” – wtf?  Okay, in the strategy game Starcraft, the Zerg are a species you can play as, and they’re sort of like the “bug” type of aliens – a bunch of genetically engineered monsters psychically wired together, rampaging over and eating everything…spreading their infestation.

So Starcraft is a strategy game played on an imaginary map, and Zerg areas are covered in this purple stuff that grows over the ground called creep.  It’s Zerg biomass, linked to the rest of the Zerg Swarm, and it nourishes the buildings of the Zerg, which are really more like big sedentary animals that are umbilically hooked into the creep to survive.

So if you’re decently far into a game of Starcraft that has a Zerg player in it, the map should start to be covered in the purple stuff as the Zerg player expands, sets up more bases, and grows their reach and influence.  It can get kind of scary, it gives the game a cool ominous feeling that the alien bugs are everywhere because even the ground is covered in their living gunk.  If it was real life and you walked into a Zerg area you’d freak out and expect monsters to pop out of the ground.

EVERY INSURRECTION IS PRECEDED BY WHINING

Now what is point of that?  Well, I think the creep is a good metaphor for the way groups spread their influence.  You may have heard of the negative use of “#CreepingSharia” by British racists on Twitter to suggest that “foreigners are taking over.”  Well actually I like that, I embrace the sinister ambience of the Left’s growing…growth.  The marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci wrote a lot about “hegemony,” or the cultural influence of Leftists.  Basically the idea is that, in developed countries, the Left begins in a weak position.  Obviously it has no ability whatsoever to stand up to the physical strength of the state, though the ultimate goal is to get to such a position.  Since any such scenario would inevitably involve a majority coalition of people pissed off over various things, and NOT an organization of guerrilla warriors which would fail hard, the Leftist quest is therefore to build that majority movement.

This is the often-missing link between thought and action.  As Marx said in The German Ideology, “The weapon of criticism cannot, of course, replace the criticism of weapons, material force must be overthrown by material force; but theory also becomes a material force as soon as it grips the minds of the masses.”

Let us now take a detour into the world of nature.

CYTOSKELETAL GROWTH, THE REVOLUTION, AND YOU

I took a class in cell molecular biology.  Ends up I won’t use it.  But I learned some cool stuff!

I learned things like our cells have a bunch of micro-fibers which help shape and move the cell.  Some of these micro-fibers are made of tiny little pieces which are constantly deconstructing and reassembling.  They call it “dynamic instability” in the industry.  I like it.

Here is a powerpoint slide borrowed from my course.  Thank you Dr. Malkus!

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So you have “monomers” of actin, which we could pretend are sort of like individual people.  They form into small, weak “unstable monomers.”  These things appear and break up frequently – that’s why the first arrows is a two-way arrow.  I’m sure in our gorgeous cynicism we can think of a lot of social formations which are unstable oligomers.

The Steady State is the goal.  That means that, while there is a revolving door of n6ew particles in and old particles out, the overall balance is generally neutral or even positive growth.  In our dynamic environment, it is the Steady State that has the best odds of accumulating to the point of becoming our dreamed-of critical-mass majority-faction capable of swarming out of its Zerg-holes and eating the rich.

(A debate – are most US leftist groups steady state fibers, or unstable oligomers?  If you’re in a group, which do you think yours might be?  Did I just make you quit?)

The growth has different phases.  Another slide:

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This is really important: the first phase, nucleation, is also called a “lag phase.”  Nucleation is when several oligomers come together and form something big enough to be stable and serve as an anchor for steady growth.  It is my contention that this is where the US Left currently resides — in the lag phase, before nucleation is achieved.  There are some good organizations out there, but even the best of them do not number much more than a thousand (1,000) people.  Let’s face it, in a country of 330 million people, that is unforgivably pathetic.  (A million is a thousand thousand, for all you normal people out there who don’t study demographic statistics and have no reason to think in epic numbers.)

Notice the shape of the curve?  It’s one of those exponential curves, where the more you have already together, the easier it is to build it bigger and bigger.  Of course it also works the other way – the less you have together already, the harder it is, and the more likely it is that new recruits will just scoff at the whole project as a pointless Don Quixote type of thing.  That’s one of the greatest frustrations of organizing – when it is needed the most, it is the hardest to do.  (I often think about this at the beginning of Starcraft, they really should start us out with more than a few drones.  And is it me or did the Protoss totally get all cool new units in Heart of the Swarm?)

Here’s another chart:

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You can do something called “seeding” in biology.  You accelerate the growth of the filaments by having chemicals which act as a sort of substitute nucleation.  You give the monomers and oligomers a pre-existing base to build from.  In essence it skips the long, slow, random cycles of accumulation-and-dissolution-in-hopes-of-leaning-toward-overall-accumulation,  and just goes straight to the stable growth phase.

One important thing to keep in mind though, is that in human organizations, collapse can happen at any time if the group starts to suck, even after the lag phase has been beaten and growth or steady-state has been attained.  If it starts blatantly ignoring the original mission for which it was founded, not only has it lost its purpose, but it can also lose a lot of members.  Sometimes it can survive as a zombie with lots of members, but betraying its purpose.

This is why seeding is a tricky issue.  In politics, the equivalent of artificially creating a group (in this case different from the bottom-up grassroots construction of a movement through the lag phase) would be hiring a bunch of paid organizers, or getting people to show up to your meeting by giving out free pizza.  It’s a gamble.  It can easily turn your group into a zombie that loses its real purpose, but then it can also be a way to expose people who otherwise would never have given you a chance to your full ideas, to find out that they really love it and want to stick around.  In the International Socialist Organization they call this practice “instant recruiting” and have a whole love-hate relationship and history of experiences with it.  (To be honest they are more self-aware about instant recruiting than most groups, and they try to avoid it, but the temptation is always there.)

In the past I have often despised instant recruiting, for either creating a revolving-door membership, or filling a group with people who are either clueless or too obedient.  Oddly enough, now I think some kind of “seeding” is exactly what the Left needs.

OCCUPY: FLAREUP, CRASH, UNTAPPED POSSIBILITIES

A few years ago this thing called Occupy Wall Street happened.  There was a lot right with it and wrong with it.

The main problem was that the USA needs some form of enduring resistance to the very problems (capitalism) and groups (the 1%) that Occupy was pointing out.  Not just enduring, like the tiny left groups, and not just massive, like Occupy, but BOTH massive and enduring resistance.  It would have been fantastic if Occupy had become a formal group which served as the nucleation of that resistance.  This didn’t happen.  The reasons why it didn’t happen are fairly obvious to anyone who is a grown-up and not a roleplayer pretending to be an anarchist; they mostly boil down to consensus, and the insistence on making the encampment-communes into the center of the movement.

But what Occupy proved is that big things are possible.  If a fairly shallow plan to create a mob scene in the financial district actually WORKED, actually flared up into a national resistance with a chapter in every major and many minor cities, it’s not because of the genius of the planners.  It’s because we have reached a social boiling point that allows chemical reactions to happen.  It’s the sort of time that you can light a match and expect it to turn into a fire, or as they said in Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.”

SEEDING IS THE ANSWER

We need forward motion NOW, for these reasons.

We need both a formal, nationally coordinated resistance coalition (tax the rich, single payer, fight cuts) and we need an American Syriza or united socialist party, and I think people like Kshama Sawant are leading the way in that department.   We need these things badly, with caution thrown to the wind, and I believe in “seeding,” or using artificial methods to jump-start past the lag phase into growth.  I think we should recruit anyone and everyone to a socialist party, even people who are new and only know what’s going on at an instinctual level.  I think we should contribute funds and hire temporary organizers, because a party with a little bureaucracy in it is better than not having a party at all.  Besides, the pressure from below is so strong right now that any such party would immediately cave to the demands of its membership.  Occupiers have gotten pretty good at taking over spaces and disrupting bureaucrats; it would be even easier to do in our own house.

We seem to be having a hard time in the USA.  We have lots of anger but little organization.  39% of Americans are now favorable to socialism  http://tinyurl.com/bw6a7tu  but we have no socialist party.  We get floods of loose filaments that quickly destabilize and dissolve (Occupy, Trayvon Martin).  We have a bunch of little semi-stable oligomers that never get too big, different socialist groups, anarchist scenes, and groups of activist friends, all of varying political quality.  Overall the problem is that WE NEVER NUCLEATE.  And if Professor Malkus taught me anything, it was that NUCLEATION IS THE RATE-LIMITING STEP, or, if you don’t nucleate, you’re gonna crawl slowly in the lag phase.  Because life is a dynamic process with continual forward-and-backward motion, crawling usually doesn’t even mean inches of progress, it usually is just cancelled out entirely.

So let’s cut the shit and nucleate by any means necessary.

OLIGOMERS OF THE WORLD UNITE, WE HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT OUR LAG PHASE