Tag Archives: Direct Action

The psychological grounding of Direct Action

I just read this article about human psychology and the counter-intuitive way our brain functions in regards to the things we like or hate. The more I read into it, the more it seemed to validate on the most common practice of Anarchism: Direct Action. Or more specifically the core concept of anarchist theory that the only actual systematic change can come from each of us by actively doing things ourselves.

Very often I’ll speak with people of differing ideologies who support this or that political party and during the conversation I often say something like: “This all sounds nice and well in theory, but how do you plan to get your party into power, or otherwise put your theory into practice”? The disappointing answer inevitably is something along the lines of “proper education” or “more convincing others” (from the optimists at least). Subsequent questions on where this education should come from tend to be unsatisfying.

On the other hand, pessimists or people rejecting anarchist theory, tend to say that no signicant change can come because people are too stupid/ignorant/lazy to take care of their societies and as such, not only is Anarchism painted as a utopian ideal, but even their own theories are deemed as impossible to actualize (Or patently ridiculous plans are suggested)

But anarchism, tends to suggest something different; that change can only come by putting practice first. It is by having people actually put the future society we’d like to have, into practice, that we actually demolish the current one. Surprisingly, original Anarchist theorists seemed to have understood exactly how we need to act, given what we’ve recently discovered about human psychology: The way we act forms the person that we are.

This is the reason why anarchists support forms of self-organization such as unions, co-operatives, mutual banks, communes etc. A workplace union is not just a place for syndicalists to join, it’s an actual conversion tool! A worker who joins a union starts getting converted to a mutual aid personality. It does not wholly1 matter if they were lazy or ignorant before, because taking part in such an org will actually change how they act.

Same is true for neighborhood unions or any other form of direct action mutual aid. By actively having people practice mutual aid, you make them the kind of people who want to do so.

This is why always the most important question about a political theory is: “But how are you going to achiveve it?”, because if it’s just based on “convincing people first” it’s just doomed to fail. Nobody will be convinced if what they’re currently doing in their daily lives is the completely opposite of what you’re suggesting, regardless of how good what suggest is in theory.

  1. I suspect there are limits to how much personalities can change given a starting point []

Does not-voting help the fascists?

flag of the Spanish Falange Party
Image via Wikipedia

One very frequent argument I hear when I suggest that people, and especially anarchists should abstain from voting is that by doing this, we only play into the hands of fascists who use the lower turnout to get a bigger influence in electoral politics and therefore actual power. It is claimed that if the fascists manage to get in the government, things can only end up being worse than if a liberal or social democrat was there. It’s suggested then that it is a a better option to vote for the lesser evil just so that things don’t deteriorate even more.

However this argument, especially when coming from anarchists, seems to suggest the the slugginess and ineffectiveness of the state somehow is lifted when a extremist right-wing party is in power. That somehow fascists will be able to push through measures that other governments couldn’t without a hassle and that they would be even more in league with the ruling elite than every other politician.

I do not see any of this as very likely. The state will remain ineffective and the fascists will not be able to change either the constitutions or the legal system.  Much like the conservatives and the social democrats, they will be mired in parliamentarism and forced to sing the capitalist’s tune like every other politician. This means that they will be unable to boost their support in the working class by making things any better for them in any practical way and they will be unable to crony up to the capitalists without risking working class direct action.

Perhaps the fear is that they’re going to try to pass more xenophobic and authoritarian measures while they’re in force, but to tell you the truth, I don’t see this as any different than what the current governments are doing already. Perhaps you fear that they’re going to accelerate this? I doubt it, not only because it’s unlikely that they’ll have enough electoral majority to do this without the usual degree  of incompetence but even if there’s enough people abstaining from elections (in favour of direct action) to give them a powerful parliamentary majority, then it would also mean that there’s a lot of people to resist and consciously ignore any new fascist rules.

Perhaps the fear is that through Parliamentarism, they’ll be able to gather popular support by gaining visibility and/or funds from the laws that provide state funding to parties. History should have proven how useless the former is. Marxist-Leninist parties have been in the parliament for ages and it has done nothing to increase their support or their visibility. They only end up sounding antiquated and largely ignored except by those who are already convinced. Using parliamentarism for propaganda is a failure. As for the latter, this is not really going to empower them any more than any other party. At best they’ll simply abuse the money for their own personal expenses and destroy their own trust and at worst they’ll use it to fund extra-parliamentary activities with an amount that is less than what they would have if they put their efforts there in the first place.

Perhaps the fear is that they’ll increase and intensify the corporate cronyism, but this in turn would simply make them indistinguishable as a party from any other right-winger. History has shown how much the state is a tool for capital anyway, regardless of which position the ruling party espouses rhetorically. A Fascist party will at best sell the interests of the working class to the capitalist at an unsustainable rate, that is, a rate of exploitation that will quickly radicalize the working class to the point of rebellion, rather than the slow erosion of conservatives or the sweet palliatives of the social democrats.  This in turn will only marginalize the Fascists more and turn more people towards the only thing that can actually work for change: Direct Action.

Perhaps the fear is that the parties of the early 20th century will be revived in different forms and enact similar atrocities. However this misses a few very important differences with that time. First of all, those parties manage to do what they did, exactly because they had significant support from the populace at large, who at that time was clueless about the intentions of Fascists. This was in fact the reason why they managed to gain power even while not being democratically elected and why they didn’t have to. Their power did not stem from elections but by the large number of citizens who, even when not supportive, were willing to passively accept their rule, even when they voted against them during elections.

In fact, elections had very little to do with the power of those regimes. Mussolini practically grabbed power by the throat through fear and terror. Franco simply maneuvered himself into position within the Rebel forces during the Spanish revolution and then conquered all the outside opposition – and was not even a fascist to boot. Hirohito was a monarch and assumed power via birthright. Hitler was the only one who could be said to have been elected, but that is seriously stretching the meaning of democracy and ignores the significant maneuvering and terror he had to manufacture in order to place himself into power. It’s ignoring the real material circumstances that surrounded his rise to power (the economic situation in Germany particularly) and how those don’t exist in most areas which have fascists running for office. It was the material circumstances, combined with a reign of terror, ignorance of fascism, handy scapegoats and the still heavy religious and traditional populace which could be dragged along via their delusions and respect for authority.

In almost every area where people claim that we need to vote just to prevent the fascists, almost none of these circumstances exist and in fact, many can’t exist anymore. For most of the first world nations, respect for religious authority and especially organized religion is in decline. Traditionalism is fading and only Nationalism is poised to regain some credence given worsening economic conditions. But nationalism cannot carry the ball alone. Furthermore, there’s no handy USSR and evil commies to use an as external threat, although I’m certain China might come in handy for that purpose if push comes to shove. Fascism has also been severely discredited in the minds of most humans by now, making it even more unlikely that they’ll ever enjoy the mindless support of the 20s and 30s.

So at the end, you have a toothless threat. I’m not saying it’s not a threat at all of course, but the issue will not come through elections, but by them gathering popular support and/or pushing through an agenda via terror and lies. And those direct action tactics will not be defeated by counter-electioneering any more than voting prevented Mussolini, Hitler or Franco from coming into power. They will not be defeated by simple arguments either for that matter as Fascism is far more about emotion than it is about reason.

No, the only thing that can prevent fascism from ever coming back to power is the same thing they will use to practically do so: Direct Action. By countering their terror through mutual aid. By countering their shows of power via counter-rallies. By striking back on their acts of violence. In short, by not letting people believe that the Fascists are the only ones willing to take action in difficult situations when words are not enough.

Suggesting to take part in elections in order to oppose the fascists is not only useless, but is furthermore playing into the hands of the state which uses a handy boogieman to gain votes for the lesser evil parties at best or simply provide itself with legitimacy at worst. And anarchists especially, should know better than to play into the hand of the ruling elite just because fascists are considered to be the greatest evil.

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Are you looking for janson.erik@hotmail.com?

Erik Janson's Fake IDWas he supposed to send you some money for helping his stranded son from Greenland? If so, I’m sad to say that you’ve been the target of a con praying on people who are nice enough to try and help a stranger in distress. Disgusting I know. This is why I need you to help me track These scum.

At the moment of writing, I’ve been contacted by 2 different people that fell for the same scam. Both of them students who couldn’t afford it. Obviously this bastard doesn’t care who’s life he fucks-up as long as he gathers enough money to move to another country and do the same thing all over again to some other poor guy or gal trying to help.

He’s all over Europe at the moment. He scammed me in Frankfurt on February, then a Belgian 5 days later and now I heard from a Spaniard that was scammed 5  days ago. If this fucker manages to do this once per week, it means there must be at least 4-6 more people, and that is assuming he started this February which is not likely.

These guys are also prepared with fake IDs and everything. The picture on the top, is the ID they sent to the Spanish student who asked for far more evidence than I did, and still fell for it. It’s an obvious fake but while being distracted by a professional conman, it’s easy to take it for real.

Please help us discover the identity of the scammers

These guys prey on some of the most vulnerable members of society. They target explicitly young looking people, students more likely, and Dennis then pretends he is a fellow student down on his luck. By abusing the feelings of camaraderie, they make life difficult for those who are not in the best situation anyway.

What can you do? Post, retweet, email and discuss the info we have. The more widely we spread those photos, the more likely someone who knows him IRL recognises him.

I’ll be posting updates on any new information that comes up. If you want me to provide you with details so you can do some more in-depth investigation, fire me an email.

Beware of the Conman going by the name of Denis Janson

Warning: Scammer!

So one month ago, I was scammed in the streets of Frankfurt. I hadn’t been in the mood to write about this until now but I think that slowly I should get around to doing it. I am also less angry about it now so I can write about it in a less charged way. So this is how it happened.

The Setup

A youngish looking guy calls me and my girlfriend over while we were walking down the street. He asks us if we speak English. When we confirm, he starts talking about how he is from Greenland, how he is passing through Frankfurt on the way to his country and unfortunately had his backpack stolen from him, including most of his student’s equipment and some of his studies. He introduces himself as Denis Janson.

He claims he’s been to the police to report the theft but as a result he lost his flight and there’s no other one leaving for at least two month and this will lead him to losing his current university year. Knowing how far Greenland is and how it’s still winter, this makes some sense. He claims his ambassador has helped him find an alternative route through Canada which would allow him to reach his country in time and his father, Erik Janson, has booked everything for him but unfrtunately there’s a ferry he needs to take which cannot be booked online. The ferry costs 250 Eur.

The story is elaborate. He keeps talking for about 10 minutes before he even comes around to the point of asking for our help. This gives us a very detailed story that convinces both me and my girlfriend by its sheer complexity and detail, that it’s true. Furthermore he has had a lot of preparation for this. He shows us the sms from the “ambassador”, he arranges a phonecall with his dad to which he speaks in some Scandinavian accent which my girlfriend confirms is authentic (she is in a profession which has a lot to do with linguistics so I trust her judgement). We speak to the “dad” who “wants to confirm I’m trustworthy”.

The plan is that the “dad” sends the money Dennis needs to me via a direct bank-2-bank transfer. He needs to do it this way because Greenland does not have a Western Union branch and the son has had his Debit & Credit cards stolen. Once he does this, he will send me the receipt that the money is on its way and I will then give the money directly to Denis.

If this was proposed from the get-go, I would have refused, however the detailed story, the preparation and the very god acting of “Denis” as a traveller in distress convince me. Both me and my girlfriend think “How would we feel in that situation? Wouldn’t we want someone to help us?”. We feel sorry for all the sudden problems he’s had to face and the fact that he’s stranded in a foreign country. We agree to help.

The Handover

I provide my bank account number and my name for the money transfer and Denis sends them to his “Dad” who will go to the local bank, do the transfer, scan the receipt and send it via email to me to confirm it’s done. While he is doing this, we start looking for an internet cafe to use to see this. While we are doing this, Denis is telling us the story of how his stuff was stolen (it involves him being too trusting) and the flak he received from his Dad when he told him. He explains what kind of personality his dad has, how he had to move away from home and become self-dependent.

Shit is detailed yo.

At around the same time we find an internet station in the Hauptwache, his dad sends an sms confirming that the transfer is done and the email is sent. I check my emails and see an email from Erik Janson that has this transfer receipt (detailed removed to protect the innocent). On a quick look, it looks legit. Denis made sure that I didn’t pay as much attention to it as he continued talking during this time and quickly asked to show us some pictures of his house in Greenland by using google image search.

It was here that I should have caught the scam. Had I paid a bit more attention I would have noticed the hotmail address and this would have sent alarm bells ringing. I would have then noticed the obvious photoshop of the receipt. But hindsight is always 20-20.

15 minutes later I’m satisfied that this seems legit. I escort Denis to the nearest ATM and I take out 350 Eur and give 300 to him. His “dad” gave us more and suggested we have a lunch with a friend. We dedide to use it to take Dennis to lunch.

We take him to a tavern in the Romer which is fucking expensive without realizing it. As a result, we end up ordering one dish for all together (think Tapas). He continues telling us stories of his life. Guy was convicing and I believe some of the stories must have been actually true. Once we finish lunch, we take some pictures together and this is how I have the one above and the this one. We paid for the lunch with the last 50 Eur that his “dad” gave us.

We then walk to the station and each of us goes on his merry way. We had already exchanged emails and skype usernames and said we’d keep in touch. He even suggested that he invites us to either Italy or Switzerland when he moves to either of them for studies.

The Aftermath

The scam happened on Saturday on the 20th of Feb (it was the only way to claim that he could not take money out of the bank normally) We were convinced that he was telling the truth until Monday, by which time I had not received anything yet. I decided to double check the evidence he had sent me. Doing so depressed and angrered me. It was obvious I had been conned. I could find no online profile connected to either his name or his given email address janson.denis@live.com . I could find nothing for his “dad’s” email either janson.erik@hotmail.com. Looking closer at the receipt, I could not see that it was an obvious shop. The parts with the transfer numbers where obviously written over it as it was missing the normal background. They must have taken this froms somoene and reused it for this scam. Looking even closer, I could see that the email from Erik, originated from Spain and the email address was obviously set up by some Spaniard.

And of course, the money never arrived.

Once I was certain this was a scam, I was disheartened and upset. I posted online hoping people might help but instead of that, I mostly received hostility. I was obvious I wouldn’t receive much help there. I also contacted the police. Yes I know this is not the most optimal option but given that I am stuck in a foreign country with very few direct action oriented friends and online help was not forthcoming, I felt that this was better than nothing. I didn’t expect them to achieve anything but having this guy’s picture on file, well, you never know.

Finally, I did my own investigation on this issue. I still have not tracked “Denis” but I am closer to tracking “Erik” and I believe he’ll feel the heat soon enough.

I was also contacted lately by a Belgian student who was also scammed by Denis 5 days after I was. This means that Denis left Germany immediately and moved to another country to play his con. The Belgian found out my reddit post by googling for Denis’ email and then contacted me directly for more info. He could at least use the pictures I put up to give to his own police. It seems thus that our scammer is quite the traveller and he is doing this act all over Europe.

Conclusion

I am not angry about the money. I am angry about the betayal of trust and the erosion of my feelings of mutual aid this scam has led to. It made me less willing to trust and help people and this angers me. It angers me that while I will control myself to retain them but also be more cautious, others will discard them altogether. Other people scammed in this way will not forever shut down all cries for help, even if they are legit, because they’ve been burnt by this asshole.

I wouldn’t mind if Denis played on greed to con people. Greed is something that should be attacked and if he had tried this with me, I wouldn’t have complained. However abusing people’s goodwill and thus making the world a more hostile place is inexcusable in my mind. He needs to be stopped.

How can we stop him? There’s no easy way. Police are useless, especially for catching a two-bit crook like him. We need to do it ourselves. We will possibly not “catch” him in any meaningful sense but we can certainly discourage him from doing this in the future if we found out his true identity. But finding that out is the difficult part. I was hoping to use the six degrees of separation to find him but very few people even tried to do the small effort of re-tweeting or asking their friends to ask their friends and so on.

You never know, perhaps this blog might prove me wrong.

So once we know his real ID, what do we do? There’s a few ideas in my mind but I think the only one which can actually do anything is social pressure.Drop his dox. Find out his friends and relatives and inform them of what “Denis” is doing. Make him feel the heat so to speak. Perhaps this won’t work. Perhaps this is a crook for life and has likewise friends who won’t care. Who knows unless we try though.

In any case, someone who lives from con to con cannot be the most happy guy. His own psychology will be his own worst enemy as he  keeps getting to know people and then stabbing them in the back. I doubt anyone can sustain this kind of lifestyle for long. Perhaps this was a short-lived conjob that he tried for a bit of extra cash before going back to his normal and legit life. If so, all the more reason to uncover his IRL identity.

However sad a life this “Denis Janson” lives however, the sooner he is stopped from doing this scam, the better for all as less people’s feelings of mutual aid will be spoiled. And that to me is enough a reason to track him down. If you agree with me, then try to spread the word.

Anarchism is Hope

A red and black flag used as anarchy symbol. T...
Image via Wikipedia

We’re spiraling down a profound systematic crisis of a magnitude rivaling, if not exceeding, the Great Depression of 30’s. In the last century we’ve also seen the utter failure of the two most popular populist political ideologies – Revolutionary State Socialism and Reformist State Socialism – to achieve their goals and thus the utopianism of expecting either of them to bring us out of a capitalist crisis and into an egalitarian future becomes obvious. We’ve also seen (and see currently) how xenophobic, hateful ideologies of the likes of Fascism can feed on human desperation caused by such a crisis and rise to power with disastrous consequences for the world.

It’s thus not difficult for an a socialist, a radical leftist or any egalitarianist in general to despair about the future as their “representatives” fail to act or betray them outright while the “revolutionaries” sit and wait for the “coming revolution” which they can then attempt to “lead” as the vanguard.

Fortunately, there is a way to avoid such a despair, to manage to keep up the hope in a world which seems to be going in the opposite direction of what you’d like. It’s the way of walking your path as much as possible, of making part of the future society come true even within one’s lifetime by living and acting as close to the ideal as structurally possible. In short, it is the path of Direct Action.

Why is this the key to hope? Because through it we can both  make our lives easier and know that this also undermines the Capitalist system, and thus bring a social revolution closer. It is the good feeling of not only improving one’s life but also that any success in such an endeavor will inspire others to do the same, while any failure can serve as a learning experience.

And this is where the hope that Anarchists will always feel, comes from.

It is the hope we get by not relying on anyone to act for us. Unlike reformists waiting for the state to act for them, or begging the politicians to do their job for once, Anarchists take matters into their own hand and do what needs to be done. And if or when the capitalists and/or their personal gendarme (ie the state) trip us, block us, jail us or kill us, it only serves to show their true nature to those not yet convinced of it. It only serves to boost our ranks.

It is the hope we get by not being Utopian. Because we know that every libertarian action brings the world a bit closer to anarchy whatever form that might take. We do not then have to despair that we may never live in a “perfect society”, for we know that’s impossible. Nevertheless our actions, as long as they stay within the spirit of libertarian socialism, will always leave the world a bit better, a bit more tolerable for those who come after us to step on and push further.

It is the hope we get from knowing that our actions push the world towards the direction we wish, with a visible and practical result. Unlike academic “revolutionaries” or vanguardists we build the society of the future in the decaying corpse of the old. Co-operatives, Mutual Banks, Syndicates, Community unions, Councils and all other forms of Mutual Aid are what can turn people socialist en mass, not dry rhetoric. Anyone who acts like this, is a friend to Anarchists, regardless of their political affiliation. While anyone who denigrates, disrupts or attacks such initiatives is no ally, regardless of what radical name they choose for themselves.

I wrote before about “the hope that Anarchists will always feel” and you might wonder how true that might be. In fact, I’d argue that you can’t be an Anarchist without having any hope left, as then it’s much easier to simply submit to the system we’re in as something unbeatable, and embrace one of the many palliatives. From trying to polish the rough edges (reformism) to simply passively joining the system and praying for deliverance by God or Glorious Leader, to outright nihilism.

But for those of us who still retain it, Anarchism is its expression and it is self-fulfilling by every libertarian act one makes.

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Can self-moderation of a game community reduce abuse and dickwadery?

PA's Greater Internet Dickwad theoryI’ve recently entered the beta for an upcoming DotA (almost-)clone called Heroes of Newerth (HoN) when I discovered through reddit giving away 100 of ’em for the most absurd names (I submitted the Flying Spaghetti Monster of course). I always wanted to play the DotA experience but I didn’t have Warcraft3 available and Demigod is quite different from it (and a bit disappointing as well). Plus, having a native GNU/Linux client was an offer I couldn’t resist. 😉

But what does this have to do with the title above? Well one of the main issues that DotA has is the sheer number of elitist assholes who heave tons of abuse at people trying to learn the ropes or even just don’t play perfectly. I am talking total nerd-rage here. Unfortunately, this mentality seems to have migrated to the HoN community, most likely because it’s been marketed as the intellectual sequel to DotA (Items and Heroes are almost the same).

While this general level of fucktardery is not such a big issue in a free mod such as DotA, for a commercial game with developers to pay and with big plans for the future, it might make or break their life-expectancy. The less people that are interested in nurturing and increasing their “newbie scene”, the less people will stick around until they won’t be at a level where they suffer abuse simply for not having climbed the (very steep) learning curve.

As I was reading similar sentiments from other people in the fora, I got to thinking on how those who would like to help new players might overcome this obstacle and alleviate, if not reduce the rampart dickwadery. While technical solutions might be proposed and coded, such as improving the match-making system, I think the solution lies in direct action and cooperation from the community.

Of course the community cannot take very good action without the game presenting at least some tools to combat the problem, which is incidentally why the DotA community is what it is. Fortunately, even at this beta stage, the game has some controls that could be used for such purposes. Permaban and Ignore. If I understand the first one correctly, one can mark a specific account as always banned from games one hosts. Ignore just…well, ignores chat messages from a particular player.

So how can these two be used for self-moderation? My idea was through a blacklist. Lets say that a known newbie-friendly player (lets call him/her a ‘Mentor’) while playing in a newb-only game, discovers that one of his team members is constantly ranting and cursing at the others for being worthless, n00bs, sucky and whatnot. The Mentor then, grabs a few screencaps or a replay as evidence of this and adds the dickwad’s alias to a blacklist he maintains. This can be as simply as a blog with each new post being about a particular dickwad and a full list in a prominent location.

Now all the other people who have a likewise mentality, ie they like to promote a healthier community are subscribed to this blacklist. Each time a new person is added to it, people judge the evidence and if solid1, they add this account to their permaban and ignore lists. If just a 10% of the HoN people are subscribed to this blacklist, then the abusive players are going to quickly start running into problems joining games or talking to people.

The effects of this tactic would be akin to peer pressure in a normal social situation. Suddenly the dickwads are going to find out that being a jerk online has some drawbacks. Hopefully some might reconsider as generally, not being a dickwad is not so difficult. They should be then given a chance to take themselves out of the blacklist (probation time?) and who knows, maybe they’ll join the other side for a change.

So why is this better than simply using system based changes? Well first of all because no programmed system is perfect, especially at catching such vague concepts as dickwadery. Matchmaking may not work well enough and options to mark others as abusive (say via a game function like permaban) may in turn be abused themselves for griefing purposes. On the other hand, a self-moderated solution avoids these issues.

Let’s say for example that someone was added to the dickwads blacklist but some think this was wrong. Perhaps his frustration was warranted, or there is not enough evidence and whatnot. What would probably happen is that not all subscribers to the blacklist would add him as they wouldn’t feel he deserves it. As such his “pain” would be much less. Dialogue will be also had and perhaps more evidence requested.

Lets have another example where the Mentor goes on a power trip and starts adding people he doesn’t like to the blacklist without evidence just because he expects to be trusted. Seeing as this is not anything official, nothing would prevent people from calling him out on this, a new blacklist forked from the old under the supervision of another Mentor or even a collaboration of them and the old Mentor might quickly find himself in a prominent position in the new blacklist.

All of these then are ideas that might work to allow a game community to self-moderate itself to a healthy environment which is conductive to new people joining, without requiring any authoritarian measures on the part of the developers or the moderators. Rather it would be based on direct action by the members themselves and as such far less prone to corruption, who would then get the community they deserve.

Who knows, If I stick around with HoN once it comes out (curse my short attention span) I might actually start this for the heck of it. Just to see if a purely community driven initiative can make a difference. It would be an interest test to put some of my principles under. 😉

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  1. Although of course, if the Mentor or the maintainers of the blacklist are trusted, many will not even need to look at the evidence []