Monday, March 24, 2008

Notes on 1st Meeting discussing Kropotkin

Here are Adam's detail notes from the beginning of the meeting:

Adam asked about minutes to 2/25 meeting. Jani says she sent them to Adam.


Adam asked that she resend to him and the others in the working group and also send to Freegannyc-discussion.


Adam made a flyer and brought it to WBAI and Bluestockings.

Adam emailed nycanarchists, NY Metro Alliance of Anarchists, Direct ActionNetwork, ActionGreens, Wetlands, NY Protest, and other email lists about the reading group. Wayne Price of the Northeast Federation of Anarcho-Communists responded with the suggestion that we read "Kropotkin Was No Crackpot" by Stephen Jay Gould, which assesses the scientific validity of Kropotkin's arguments in "Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution".


Adam suggested that we keep notes on the highlights of our discussion and email them out over Freegannyc-discussion. Jani strongly objected. Jani felt we should not clog the email list with more messages. Adam felt that the point of the reading group is to expand the collective intelligence of the group by contributing new perspectives, insights, and facts from the works we read and felt that to do this we needed a record of the salient points of our discussion. Jani said that if we email the list, other people will respond and add even more emails to the list. People expressed a variety of opinions on the issue. After a lengthy discussion including
several rejected compromise offers, we agreed to post a brief summary of the meeting to the forum section of the website.

The summary:

This is how I remember the remarks around the table. Obviously I am not doing justice to the deep and complex points made by others, since I didn't write most of it down and can only summarize in a general way:

(Someone objected to names being used in the written record, so I will give fake names, except for Adam, who prefers his real name used. If anyone else wants their real name used, let me know please.)

Kari pointed out what is termed, in our present society, blatant racism and euro-centric-ism:

The paragraph she cited, from the end of the second chapter:
"But no Siberian horse is capable of carrying half the weight which a European horse carries with ease; no Siberian cow gives half the amount of milk given by a Jersey cow, and no natives of uncivilized countries can bear a comparison with Europeans. They may better endure hunger and cold, but their physical force is very far below that of a well-fed European, and their intellectual progress is despairingly slow. "Evil cannot be productive of good," as Tchernyshevsky wrote in a remarkable essay upon Darwinism."

Kari made no direct comment on this. But pointed it out to the group.

Jani said, in reply, that the world, as known when this book was written, was thought of in entirely different terms than as we know now (by American society, presumably). She also said that she understood the passage to mean that through opportunities of various kinds people could and would develop skills and understandings which they could not develop otherwise. And that therefore life should not be reduced to merely a bitter struggle for survival only.

Rani said that working together has been very much under emphasized and she wanted to get inspiration from the animal world. (I may have dreamed this since I only have a vague recollection of what she actually said). She and Kari did, later in the discussion, say that I was being unfair to psychopaths by calling them "they."

At least that is what I think happened.

It turns out I was not making myself clear, since at least a few people took offense at what I said. And, however, objected to something that I didn't recall saying: i.e. That people who are "energetic" are psychopaths.

What I meant to say, and one person did say he understood me perfectly, although perhaps did not agree, was that there is much more energy behind people who are selfish. People who like to help others are usually, as a general rule, not as energetic about it as those who are looking out for themselves and for their own families. (Jani is the exception and she belongs to our group. So I don't mind her taking exception to my observation. And meant no offense against her personally by that remark).

My point about "psychopaths" was only that we, as presumably "good-hearted" people: "freegans" - those who live off trash in order that the waste stream of our society will not be increased; We, who are often vegans and will not eat animal products from issues around animal treatment, use and abuse; We, people who are anti-"consumption" for how it affects the planet and grossly damages the various beings who live here; We, I am justified in labeling our little group, at least relatively, "good-hearted."

The point I attempted to make is the the "good-hearted" extrapolate to the population at large and lack the imagination to understand what is out there. And the problem, what we have to solve, is directly related to human's selfishness and/or their lack thereof.

Just as those who are tending toward the end of the scale labeled "lack of compassion for others," will discount the existence of altruism and label it "ruse," (ultimately for the benefit of the individual who displays it or carries it, even to the point where it is believed to be feigned, in all cases, for direct personal benefit), those who are selfless will tend to suspect everyone is like themselves, "if only."

Under the influence of reading Darwin I was instructed on the relevance of "diversity" and "variation" which are said to be a source of strength for a species. I was attempting to point out that anti-social behavior and anti-social individuals are a naturally occurring human variation and that those people who exhibit that characteristic, by their very nature, rise in the scheme of social power.

I am "Pegi" and my comments were too long and obscure. I recommended books for further reading: "Guns Germs and Steel" by Jared Diamond, "The Mask of Sanity" by Cleckley. I should've mentioned "The Emotional Life of Animals" by Masson, but did not. And most definitely should've mentioned "Culture and Imperialism" by Edward Said.

My basic point, if I can recall it clearly, was that the "struggle for existence" concept was, maybe, "created" by Darwin as an elaboration out of his undeniably awesome achievements - putting the data together to show our, the humans, relation to the entire history of life on the planet through direct "descent." Darwin put the data together to the point where he could rightly conclude that the age of the Earth is on a very different scale, very old, compared to anyone's previous understanding. ( And of course he didn't do all this himself, but there were others of his time thinking along the same lines) [P.S. I spent two days minutely going through the Darwin exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History and so know a bit about his life]. Yet for political reasons, and for cultural reasons (Darwin living at the height of the British Imperial Enterprise, and himself being British), his new scientific understandings of nature were high-jacked by the makers of cultural myths, for the cultural ends that suited a justification of their actions. cf: Said.

My first point was: ~"Much of this emphasis and repetition of "struggle for existence" is and was Propaganda."

Darwin himself wrote that if you observe nature you will see little of any massive struggle day-to-day. And that the checks on population (of groups, mind you, not of individuals) goes on at certain moments. For instance, a famine. And not particularly as routine event(s) day-to-day - not enough anyway, for an observer to immediately notice.

I brought an illustrated book of the writings of Darwin, where I had learned what I wrote just above, and a book on Ants (my second most prized possession) co-written by E.O. Wilson.

My second point, built on the first, is one I learned from David Haenke of the Ozarks, who is a great thinker on the philosophy of nature. He explained to me that "survival" itself is no goal. "Survival" of itself is nothing to struggle for. No one wants mere survival.

To take this point to a political level, I tried to explain, not very well I must admit: Those who would dominate us, and who benefit from our domination, desire to reduce our existence to a "struggle for survival."


Because under those circumstances we are not in a position to recognize what is going on and to arrange for any other structure of society. Under those circumstances we are grateful: for not being put to death immediately, for any amount of food, for the most tiring and pointless job....because all of our energy, as dictated by a "Law" of nature, is focused upon our achievement of survival alone.

Next is Davi:
Davi was the only person, other than myself, extremely excited by the "Ant" book. He found in the index, I assume, a picture of an ant infected with a fungus, which he had seen pictures of on YouTube:

Davi said that it appears that ant colonies will enforce cooperation within the group. He said there are accounts of ant individuals who stray from the role given them by the colony and who are, as a result, put to death.

Adam said, in his comments later, that he was unsure if there is scientific evidence for ants behaving as individuals. And, as a corollary to that issue, he brought up the quasi-legal issue "Do ants voluntarily form colony associations?"


In a later private conversation with Adam the issue of slime mold arose.

Time lapse photography of slime molds:

(If these videos cause you to lose your appetite? Me too!

P.S. Darwin was also a person of "sensitive" nature, had a "weak stomach." For this reason he was not able to follow in his father's footsteps and become a doctor. He couldn't bear seeing too much blood and therefore was unable to perform any dissections. This killed his medical career. He also was sickened by certain events - a creature laying eggs inside another animal's body and then bursting out, killing the host animal. Darwin, upon my understanding, had a difficult time reconciling aspects of nature with the concept of a benign Deity.)

Slime molds behave as individuals until there is a scarcity of water, in which case they combine together to become a multi-cellular creature, which will release spores. (In the same way as do humans band together into a fascist group, once the body politic has been struck? Or a fruit tree will bear an inordinately enormous amount of fruit after an injury?)

Niki is next: He created the most deep and important questions, IMO.
1. Why should we emulate animals?
2. Aren't animals often violent? Don't we hold ourselves to a higher standard?

(I made the trite reply: "But we are already animals!" which I am not sure is to the point, because I knew what he meant and it it's a great question. ~ "many people gave Darwin a difficult time for noting that 'human is an animal'" and that "this idea 'human is an animal' is, even still, almost a secret or something that humans seem to overlook or ignore."

I find the idea that the human is a part of nature, and not something outside of it, to be an extremely exciting discovery. And I've noticed that most people do not share my excitement. )

Jani next: ~"People can develop a greater and more positive world through working together toward that end. If people have the opportunity, they can build something great."

Adam next: ~"Stephen Jay Gould" said that "Kropotkin was not nuts." ~"I would like to find scientific peer reviewed documentation of animal behavior in which animals are shown to exhibit emotion."

Adam wanted notes taken. I said I would write a paragraph, and this is it.

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