How to Start

Hi, friends. Been a while.

Those of you in America: we’ve had a rough week. I’m scared for my friends. I’m scouting options. I’m trying, as Al Giordano has suggested, to clean my house.

Part of that includes starting up this blog again.

I’ve been heartened by the instinctive response I’ve seen from my communities: friends reach out to friends, not only to reaffirm connection and seek warmth, but to pool resources, and advice, and options. We’re all of us better than any of us. That’s a start.

We need to start.

I don’t have answers. The answers I do have, aren’t optimistic, but they aren’t final, either. If you’re curious, head over to Twitter: I’ve been spending far too much time there in the last nine days, passing around information that seems useful. I’m trying to resist answers, and lean into process.

A cloud of thoughts follows. Read these as my letters to myself—personal goals, issues, concerns:

  • There is a great deal to be done. A good tactic for the near future would be to regard any suggested course of action as if it were prefaced, in good faith, with: “in addition to the range of other things you are and should be doing, how about also trying…” Nothing is enough. I doubt the writer of that thinkpiece believes the course of action they recommend would, by itself, save the world. Beware of “one neat trick,” “one cool hack.” They cheapen the work. Consider, as you critique, that despair is an agent of stasis. It is the friend of the powerful.
  • Invest in information security. The Feminist DIY Guide to Cybersecurity is a good place to start. Also consider the Signal messaging app, for end-to-end encrypted texts and phone calls. Technology will not save you. It will not save your friends. It will not even protect your individual data against a dedicated state. But encryption, broadly adopted, makes the job of the surveillance state harder. Its job should be as hard as possible.
  • Invest in the integrity of your information. By which I mean, at least in part: journalism. Seek independent local outlets if you can find them, and international outlets too. Also: find friends who know what’s going on. Lean on them.
  • Talk to your representatives. Even if you didn’t vote for them. Their phone lines are whiskers with which they feel the world. If you do not brush them, they will not feel you.
  • If you don’t like the world you see outside your window, run for local office. Or, find someone who’s running for local office who cares about you, and cares about your friends, and support them. Even if you do sort of like the world you see outside your window, consider doing this anyway, because if you don’t, the people who don’t like that world, will step up. If you are a Democrat, or a progressive of any stripe, this is the area at which you and your party are weakest. Invest in the ground. You live on it. Join your local community. You live there. You are not afloat in Twitter. You are not meme magic. You have a body. Remember here that when I say you, I mean I. I am writing this story because I need to read it.
  • One error progressive folk in the US make, maybe an error US folk make generally, maybe a human error, is to assume some big hero will come along and fix our shit. We reinforce this tendency with heroic education, focusing on great leaders and hinge events; we reinforce it with storytelling. We assume the courts will save us. We assume the President will. Historically, the courts have been for property, against human beings. (Historically, courts have made human beings property.) The increasingly Imperial presidency has always been worrying, but especially so now.
  • Especially if you, like me, are a straight white dude working in a city, with family back home—there are ways to reach out to conservative family. it depends on the situation, but I’ve started by sharing my fear for my friends’ well-being. Emphasize ties. Easy for family to ignore this or that removed, mediated fact. Harder to ignore “my friends are in danger.”
  • People handle this moment in different ways. Respect the difference. Respect the grief, and its processing. But we will have to braid ourselves together to get through this. Be ready to braid with people whose priorities you don’t share. One fear I have of the months to come, arises from the difficulty of this braiding.
  • Identity statements work. They told us, in the campaign, to say things like “thank you for being a voter,” to reinforce the person’s conception of themselves as a voter. It occurs to me that statements like “Fuck you for being a racist” probably have a similar effect. I don’t know what to do with this, because racism and other forms of kyriarchy are real problems, and played an enormous and insidious role in this election. But language is a tool, and one of its uses is persuasion. I need to get better at persuasion.
  • We need a vision of a future society. I can articulate a vision of a future culture: one sheltering and celebrating and upholding people of all backgrounds, faiths, languages, races, genders. But a vision of future society—a sense of how those people live, what they feel, what they strive for, day by day, how the food gets to their mouths—something to reach toward—that’s lacking. Authoritarian regimes take power based on appeal to a vanished and largely imagined past—so they crash, spectacularly, over time, because the one truth about all human societies ever built, is that they failed. We have not yet built one that succeeds. We have to envision such a thing to strive toward it. That positive vision will be harder, and more important, than ever, now.
  • We also face a philosophical challenge. If meaning comes from context, then those who control context control meaning. Is there a way out of that trap? Is there a way out that doesn’t involve retreating to Enlightenment positivism, or games of ideal form?
  • Listen.
  • How can we protect our friends?

I have other thoughts, but they will take time.

The most heartening piece of text I’ve read in the last week, was this small bit from Nnedi Okorafor. Specifically the second sentence:

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