Category Archives: utopian

What could we do to build utopias? Liberatory practices, ambiguous utopias, possible worlds.

Anglicon 2017 Recap

I went to Anglicon this year, along with my son, to revel in Classic Doctor Who fandom. Much fun! It’s nice to meet people who liked Doctor Who before it was trendy. Highlights:

I lived the Classic Who tropes (not always on purpose):

  1. Losing track of companions: This began the moment I left home. I hopped in the car to pick up my spouse from the bus stop, but due to bad directions, I drove around aimlessly only to find he’d walked all the way home. It was a good omen.
  2. Wandering through corridors: The hotel room was a half mile from the convention area, along a twisty route. This would have been true to the show, except the walls didn’t wobble.
  3. Tea: I enjoyed a proper black tea in the Hospitality Suite.
  4. An unattended TARDIS: And as usual, someone had left the door open, and someone else had wandered in. (They fixed this by Saturday, though.)
  5. Losing track of companions (again): In the end, exhausted beyond belief, I kept trying to gather family members, and they kept wandering off.

Fanstruck by Sylvester McCoy:

I lined up early for a photo op with Sylvester McCoy so that I wouldn’t spend the entire con worrying about getting one. I needn’t have worried, since there was plenty of time for photo ops, but it was a delight to see him show up and perform crowd control.  Later, during his Q & A, he put on another stellar performance, getting down into the audience to answer questions with a quick wit and well-timed comedy. And finally, I hung out in the general vicinity as he wandered through the art show with his “handler,” admiring the art.

And Peter Davison:

He had so many stories to tell about his acting career. The audience questioned him about everything from his first time acting to his upcoming works. My second favorite: his account of directing The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, including the moment when all the actors were in their spots, the cameras adjusted, the lights on, and he was waiting around to hear people shout “Action!” only to realize that was his job.  And my favorite: his account of filming All Creatures Great and Small, with . . . actual animals about to give birth.

The game room:

I got a chance to play my first Doctor Who role-playing game, run by a game master who kindly took into account my inexperience (and that of my son as well). Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

The panel “Should the Doctor Be a Woman”?

Poorly named (because the next Doctor is a woman) but great in-depth conversations about the past and future of a female Doctor. I’d like to spend an entire post on that, so I’ll skip it here.

The film festival:

I only had the chance to see two short films but liked them both. The first was a sci/fi zombie crossover, “Father’s Day”, that was at the same time gross and heartbreaking. The other film, “Renegades,” by Grant Pierce Liester, was riveting, with small moments gorgeously done.

All the costumes:

So many people put so much detail and care into dressing up. It’s a delight to watch.

The Corgi parade:

One of the guests of honor is a Corgi who starred in Dirk Gently, along with his sister. I missed most of the Corgi antics. But on Sunday as I walked down the hallway, I found everyone lined up for something, and it turned out to be a parade of dogs (many in costume), led by a Dalek. Boy, were those dogs pleased with the attention!

And the conversations:

I mostly kept to myself (introvert!) but the conversations I did have were fun.

All in all:

I don’t attend many cons, finding them exhausting, but this one was worth it. Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to put it on.

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The Plum Harvest

It was enormous this year. With help, I’ve taken at least sixty pounds of it off the tree so far, and there are more left. These are just a few:

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our plum harvest

What does a person do with that many plums, anyway??? When I was growing up, our family made plum jam. Way too much work! Also, I like them raw, not cooked. Very best: sun-warmed and overripe. The only way to get that kind of plum is to have your own tree, or stay on good relations with a friend or neighbor who has a tree.

There’s a limit to how many fresh plums you can eat in a day and still crave them. I’ve gone over it. So . . . I’ve frozen some, made some into muffins, and given some away, to lots of different people. Some are going to a Food Security project, still in its infancy.  It’s an anti-capitalist effort.

Speaking of capitalism, and economics, what is the value of a fresh, ripe plum? The grocery store says it’s about $3.50 per pound, and since there are 12 of these plums in a pound, that would cost just about $0.30. In theory, if I wanted to sell all sixty pounds myself, I could get about $210. But that’s only if I could sell every last one, at that price. About half are bruised or have small bites, and we’re used to buying fruit that looks perfect. So it’s down to $105, barring clever marketing or packaging or whatnot.

Is that the only way to measure the value of a plum? What about its caloric value? About 30 calories. That would be 360 calories for a pound and 21,600 calories for the lot. Well, that’s interesting. Assuming that 2500 as an average daily caloric intake, those plums would feed a person for 8 days. (Do not try this at home, kids. Your colon can’t take it.) In a time of famine, this would be a windfall.

Or what about value in terms of time expended? Never mind the time it took to plant and water the tree, because it’s self-sufficient by now. But there’s pruning, keeping bindweed away, and hosing it down to prevent aphids. This year, an extra “climate change tax” of time because it rained ash, so I’m washing and drying the plums. Then of course, there’s the time it takes to pick the plums. Let’s estimate 30 hours annually. In that case, the plums are worth two pounds an hour.

In that case, one hour of labor gets me $7 worth of plums – not even minimum wage. Or, to see it another way, it gets me a third of my daily caloric intake. (Kids, again: Don’t eat all those plums in one sitting.)

These comparisons let me notice some things: first, we usually think of value in capitalism’s terms; and second, there are so many other ways to measure it.

What about the plums’ value to the tree? Clearly, since the tree just drops them on the ground, they’re worth nothing. On the other hand, if it wasn’t going to bear fruit, I wouldn’t have planted it in my back yard. So the tree owes everything to its plums.

How does the tree repay the favor? By sharing its plums. (Side note, it gives plums to the bees as well, which did the tree the favor of fertilizing the fruit in the first place, and which take bites of the fruit at harvest time.)

How do I repay the favor? Also by sharing the plums. And that brings me back to the food security project. It’s an anarchist thing. There is a hazy long-term goal of providing a sustainable source of food to a community, especially in case of economic collapse or whatnot. Will it succeed? Or will it go the way of many anarchist projects – abandoned in favor of something shinier? You can never tell.

All I know is that if people are truly interested in destroying capitalism, we have to build something else. And that “something else” depends on people not starving. It requires food to be produced, transported, distributed, and eaten. Somebody has to do that work. In any economic system.

In the meantime, twenty-some pounds of plums left my hands and went off to a meeting of anarchists, where they were shared and eaten and taken home. And valued.

Thanks, tree!

– Kristin

 

 

 

Teaching anti-fascism to kids

All my life I’ve heard “Never forget!” when it comes to the Holocaust. But clearly, something has gone awry. Maybe the meme was too weak. Maybe we needed “Pass it on to the children!” instead. Because there’s a big difference between remembering as an individual and keeping the memory alive in a culture that spans generations.

As a child I read The Diary of Anne Frank, and The Chocolate War, and I watched Fiddler on the Roof and The Sound of Music. These had a big impact on me. But what are my children reading and watching? My assumption was that since I knew the material, my children would know it too. Of course that’s false.

So I was searching for something unrelated (anti-fascism in Europe) and randomly came across a post too awesome not to share. It’s about a workshop done by a multi-ethnic youth arts and education organization in Bosnia. The facilitator reported back on what they did and for which age group, and it sounds like they had a blast!

“Anti-Fascism Day 2016”

And here’s an adorable graphic that had been up on Indymedia Scotland but was made as part of a poster for an anti-fascist meeting in Athens. Modern-day Athena?

girl-smashing-nazi-symbol

– Kristin

My path to getting woke

In Seattle, people of color – in particular, indigenous people – LED the march. That’s the way to do it. One of my eye-openers was the bell hooks book From Margin to Center which laid out very clearly and practically why folks on the margins understand the world in ways folks in the center don’t. It’s a matter not only of justice but of practicality that we center the voices of women and color right now.

I posted that comment on a friend’s facebook page and followed it up with another post to mine:

Only a fraction of the people who attended Seattle’s Womxn’s March yesterday would have heard this–the mike only carried so far–but in the opening remarks the speaker gave respect for Judkins Park being on Coast Salish land, and that indigenous people would be leading the march. A HUGE cheer went up at this news. Later, two bald eagles graced the march. I take all this as a sign that the new womxns movement is heading in the right direction.

Until recently, it wouldn’t have even occurred to me that putting women of color first in a march might be a good idea, or that anybody would even understand if I said it. That’s the ignorance of white privilege. But to my surprise and pleasure, a huge number of friends clicked “like.” So I think I am along the path to getting woke, and doing so in community.

I expect some of you readers are looking at me right now like I’m a weirdo.  But if you have some patience, feel free to follow along and see how I got to where I am.

What does “getting woke” mean? Roughly, becoming aware of racial justice issues. There’s an article about it on dailykos, just as a starting point. If you haven’t heard the concept, take a minute to read that before reading the rest of this post.

Okay, done?

So. My steps toward getting woke. Some of it’s reading books, talking to people, listening to speakers, and some of it’s from making mistakes. Altogether it’s a long and ongoing process but I have gratitude to everyone along the way.

The first people who helped me “get woke” were my liberal parents, the conversations we had, the book they got me. And then middle school: the substitute teacher who told us stories of times there were two water fountains, one for “white” and one for “colored” and since he was biracial, he never knew which to use. I remember his kindness to us and the frustration he felt as he spoke, because of the difficulty in communicating what those times were truly like.

There was a sharp division in middle school, which took me a long time to understand. I attended Washington Middle School in Seattle, an almost entirely black school that had implemented busing for desegregation, by which I mean they bused white kids from the north end from the advanced learning program, meaning that the district was less segregated, but the school was more.

By high school my family was living in Salt Lake City, and there was my high school teacher who said Martin Luther King was a “troublemaker.” This woke me to understand not everybody was like my liberal parents, and that history didn’t proceed from race hatred to everybody singing kumbaya.

One time for journalism I distributed a survey asking people two questions: did they think white and black people were equal, and is mixed marriage okay. If I recall correctly, everybody who responded believed in equality, but only half in mixed marriage.

Then there was the time my mom dated a black man, and we lived in a house where the front door was stuck so we only ever used the back door, and my mom’s date explaining to me that he was always afraid a cop would see him sneaking in our back door and arrest him.

That gets me through high school, in bits and pieces. I had no black friends in high school. In fact, my entire high school had no black kids. That’s how it was.  I’ll just go ahead and skip undergraduate school, although some learning took place there, and move forward to graduate school. Because there’s a professor I need to express gratitude to, and that’s Colleen McElroy, who exposed me to some amazing poets and writers of color. I’ll talk about her in my next post.

Neo-fascism trounced in sci fi, 2016

Last year I posted an essay about neo-fascist goings-on in the science fiction community. To make a long story short, a racist, misogynist troll who calls himself “Voice of God” and owns a publishing house in Finland used Gamergate tactics to hijack the ballot for science fiction’s prestigious Hugo Awards.

At the time, I was shocked and alarmed by the blatant neo-fascist rhetoric used by the troll and the normalization that had taken place in the science fiction community. (He had run for president of Science Fiction Writers of America even after using an outrageous racial slur against N.K. Jemisin, and a stunning ten percent of people had voted for him.)

In hindsight, I see that the racist far right has made inroads everywhere. Because about a fourth of the U.S. electorate voted in someone who is looking to be an actual fascist.

But here’s the good news: the science fiction community organized and the science fiction community won. Whatever else happened in 2016 that sucked, a bright spot is that he was roundly defeated. You can read more about that in the IO9 blog article “Hugo Awards Celebrate Women in Sci-Fi, Send Rabid Puppies to Doghouse” by Beth Elderkin.

Science fiction represents the dreams of our community. And dreams are powerful. If science fiction fans can come together to defeat neo-fascism with their own community, then everyday people in the U.S. can defeat white supremacy, actual fascism, and all the rest of that garbage.

We can win.

I’ll finish up by a quote from N.K. Jemisin:

. . . all this anger and discussion reflects a struggle for the soul of the organization, which is in turn reflective of a greater struggle for the soul of the genre, and that overall struggle taking place globally. . . .

Diverse voices are here to stay.

Spaceship_Kawaii

Shadow work and the gift economy

In earlier posts I’ve discussed shadow work — the unpaid labor that complements wage work in a market economy. This includes everything from childcare and housekeeping (which together make up ten hours of my unpaid day) to commuting to shopping — basically any efforts that make it possible for a worker to sell their labor. I’ve also discussed subsistence work — the unpaid labor that provides for basic human needs — and the ways in which subsistence work can also function as shadow work, by making a wage laborer cheaper to maintain. Finally, I looked at work from a market economy perspective and a household economy perspective.

So there’s another kind of economy that is worth looking at: the gift economy. In a gift economy, basic needs are met through gifts rather than barter or market exchange. As it turns out, some peoples have historically run on the basis of a gift economy, and all peoples have incorporated gift economy principles and practices to some extent.

There’s a helpful discussion of gift and market economies in the article “The Khoekhoe Free Economy: A Model for the Gift” by Yvette Abrahams, found in the anthology Women and the Gift Economy: A Radically Different World View is Possible, ed. Genevieve Vaughan.

The essay discusses the history of the indigenous people of South Africa, the Khoekhoe. Their gift-giving economy was lost after hundreds of years of colonialism, slavery, apartheid, and structural adjustment–but many aspects of it remain. For example, it is the tradition at mealtime for a family to keep a little in the pot, in case someone knocks on the door and needs it.

Women give huge amounts of free labor, and according to Abrahams (writing in 2003), women’s subsistence farming provides about 66% of the food that feeds the continent, but it is never included in economic figures because it is given away, not sold.

This would be a workable economic solution except that women’s ability to farm is limited. For one thing, whites own 85% of the land in South Africa. For another, women have access to it only if they have a husband or a son.

So today in South Africa, the gift economy is broken in some important ways. It’s not a free social exchange, for instance, if one person needs the gift in order not to starve. It’s also not possible to gift when you have nothing. Abrahams writes: “Today, I cannot give away my labour. I have to work in order to eat.”

Also, the free labor operates not only as subsistence but also as a free subsidy of the wealthy. Abrahams writes: “Women’s non-waged labour provides two-thirds of all the food that Africans eat each year. In a way, it leads to greater independence, but in another way, it is a huge subsidy of the globalized capitalist economy.”

In other words, the gift economy is being exploited by the market economy. And the free gift of subsistence labor that people provide each other, to meet human needs, is being transformed into shadow work.

Is there a way to turn that around? Could understanding the relationship between the market and gift economies help us build a radically different future?

If you start to think about the gift economy, it is everywhere. The land gives freely of itself, providing sustenance and water and asking nothing in return. And from the moment of a child’s birth, their parents are providing the free gifts of food, shelter, and love. Even in the Western world, people are constantly giving each other presents — for birthdays, holidays, housewarmings, baby showers, weddings — and holding potlucks, and giving to charities, and volunteering, and the list goes on. Gift-giving is a normal human activity. Perhaps it is the market economy (which we mistakenly imagine is the only one that exists) that is artificial.

But if we have a gift economy, right here and right now, it is a broken one. When the market economy takes the free gifts but provides nothing in return, the gift economy runs out of steam and fails. We need to fix it.

Next up, I’ll talk about some more gift economies, both familiar and new.

– Kristin

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My posts on shadow work

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been contemplating the unpaid labor of mothers. The caregiving we do, essential in its own right, is also an economic contribution that goes on mostly in secret. I do apologize in advance for being lazy in my terminology through some of my posts, using the terms “women” and “mothers” as if we are the only ones who take on primary caregiving roles. Here are links to all the posts I’ve made:

I started out thinking about women’s liberation, and how it did and did not happen. I wrote: “Our role as primary caregiver, combined with economic exploitation, means that a woman is left largely alone to take on the multi-year, 24-hour-a-day responsibility to bring up the child.” I pointed out that although women who have money, or a wage, or a spouse with money, can pay somebody to do childcare, but these are all essentially workarounds to the primary problem that in an economy that requires a wage for simple survival, we don’t get one for the work we do.

Next up, I talked about how the wider economy uses women as a free source of human capital. I noted that “The unpaid labor mothers do, when we are perceived to be “not working,” has economic value to somebody outside our family, and people in power have measured that value.”

Then I named the unpaid labor done by parents, for the economic benefit of someone else, using Ivan Illich’s term “shadow work.” First I introduce the problem, then I give a longer analysis of Illich’s work, and finally, I consider two kinds of unpaid labor, shadow and subsistence, and two kinds of economies: household and market.

Next, I discussed shadow labor and gift economies.

There’s work yet to be done, and I hope I will get to it. It’s likely I won’t, at least in the forseeable future.

I am really interested in talking about shadow work and the prison-industrial complex. Is prison labor shadow work? What happens to a household economy when a worker, whether it be a shadow worker or a wage worker, is taken away to do prison labor?

I’m interested in looking at fertile and infertile women as two gender categories. Infertile women operate in our economy much like men, while fertile women end up stuck with shadow work and all it entails. I’d also like to challenge feminism and ask whether it really liberated women, or whether it just created a new class of men (infertile women) who may or may not be destined to flip genders.

I’m also interested in doing an economic thought experiment. What if all caregivers got a wage for the work they did? If it happened by way of wage earners getting a bigger wage, to cover all the caregiving work done for their families, and you gave the wage earner and the caregiver equal wages, then wages would have to double infinitely, wouldn’t they?

Finally, what about unions and shadow work? If I’m doing work and not earning a wage, and there’s nobody to ask for a wage from, then what is a union to me?

Another time, I hope!

– Kristin

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By Nevit Dilmen (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons