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The Prose, Poetry, and Politics of Ursula K. Le Guin

by Alison Hallett
The Portland Mercury
May 12th, 2011

In 2002, Ursula K. Le Guin published the short story The Wild Girls, a brief, powerful parable about a city in which some people are born to be slaves, and others to be gods; in which certain social structures are so institutionalized that most slaves aren't capable of recognizing that there exists a "space in which there is room for justice." The Wild Girls won several awards—the Portland author and sci-fi legend has collected six Nebulas, five Hugos, a National Book Award, and plenty more honors during her lengthy, prolific career.

The Wild Girls is a slim volume published as part of PM Press' "Outspoken Authors" series, which offers a shorthand look at the breadth and depth of material Le Guin produced over the years. In addition to The Wild Girls, which opens the book, the volume collects "Staying Awake While We Read," a 2008 Harper's article about the state of the publishing industry; "The Conversation of the Modest," an original essay about the virtue of modesty in the age of advertising; a handful of poems; and a Q&A conducted by fellow sci-fi writer Terry Bisson.

Most relevant is the Harper's article, which challenges the idea that publishing can or should function as a growth-oriented industry. "I keep hoping that corporations will realize that publishing is not, in fact, a sane or normal business with a nice healthy relationship to capitalism," she writes. It's not idle musing: A basic skepticism of corporate motives was certainly a factor in Le Guin's recent, vocal opposition to the proposed Google Books settlement.

The only disappointment here is the Q&A that concludes the volume. Terry Bisson's questions are glib ("What have you got against Amazon?" "Have you ever been attacked by lions?") and most of Le Guin's answers are correspondingly terse. She does, however, deliver quite the stern rebuke to those "literary fiction" fans who laud her writing while snubbing genre fiction as a whole:

"The only means I have to stop ignorant snobs from behaving toward genre fiction with snobbish ignorance is to not reinforce their ignorance and snobbery by lying and saying that when I write sci-fi it isn't sci-fi, but to tell them more or less patiently for 40 or 50 years that they are wrong to exclude sci-fi and fantasy from literature, and proving my argument by writing well." And that's why she's a legend.

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Kicker Conspiracy: How Football Fell Foul of the State

Freedom: Anarchist News and Views
April 23, 2011

Interview with anarchist footballer and author about the beautiful game: The Austrian-born anarchist author and former semi-professional football player, Gabriel Kuhn, recently released his newest book with PM Press, Soccer vs. the State: Tackling Football and Radical Politics. We talked to Kuhn about football, anarchism, and sports in a better world.

    •    Is there anything intrinsically ‘anarchistic’ about football?

I’m tempted to say that there isn’t anything intrinsically anarchistic about anything. If anarchy was that easy, we’d have more of it. However, I think that almost everything has anarchistic potential, and it is this potential that anarchists have to tease out. This is also true in football. If you are able to tame the game’s competitive character, football can be a wonderful exercise in community building. If you focus on football’s role as the game of the masses, it can serve as a vehicle to challenge the powerful. If you embrace the beauty and the joy of the game, you reject it as an industry. I would say that it is in this sense that Soccer vs. the State is trying to strengthen the radical—or anarchistic—dimensions of the sport.

    •    How was football received by anarchism? How could we characterize the relationship between the two historically?

Early on, there was a lot of scepticism within the anarchist movement. The opium-for-the-masses argument was strong, both in Europe and in Latin America. It remained that way well into the 1930s. There is a text in Soccer vs. the State that was published in the 1920s by German anarcho-syndicalists. It basically blames football for distracting the workers from political organizing. Things were never that clear-cut, though. One of the pioneers of soccer in the United States was a Dutch-born IWW activist by the name of Nicolaas Steelink. And during the Spanish Revolution, soccer games were regularly arranged by anarchists in Barcelona.

Today, soccer might still be eyed sceptically in some anarchist circles, but overall I think the reception has changed. Particularly in North America, soccer has become really popular among anarchists. I guess it is mainly the internationalism that is appealing. We must not forget that conservative U.S. talk show hosts like Glenn Beck still blasted soccer as un-American during the 2010 Men’s World Cup. Also in Europe and Latin America, increasing numbers of closet anarchist football fans have come out into the open. The FC St. Pauli phenomenon certainly had a huge impact. Since a bunch of squatting punks and anarchists took over the St. Pauli stands in the mid-1990s it has become significantly easier for anarchists worldwide to relate positively to the game. I welcome this development, of course. Football plays a huge role in communities across the world, and it’s important that anarchist voices have a presence.

    •    Where did the perception of football as twenty-two cretins chasing a lump of leather come from? Was it always thus? How did it become the preserve of the working class?

Since football has always been popular with the masses, it has always had to endure the ridicule of the cultural elite. This is true for every pop cultural phenomenon. There also exists an intellectual arrogance, often expressed in the form of a general disdain for physical exercise and play. Needless to say, such attitudes are rather silly. We must not let them bother us. Who cares what self-appointed cultural and intellectual elites think? The reason why football is so popular with the working class is probably simple.

Football is a straightforward game that doesn’t require much equipment. It can practically be played anywhere and under all circumstances. This also gives it a distinctively democratic character. For more than a hundred years, football has been one of the few social fields in which class differences haven’t necessarily translated into a disadvantage for the poor and underprivileged. The development of a football player is far less dependent on economic resources than the development of, say, a tennis player or a golfer. Nor does a lack of formal education give you less authority in discussing the line-up and the tactics of, say, the English national team. It is largely these aspects that give football its unrivalled global role as the people’s game.

    •    How did capitalism take over football…was it inevitable?

Perhaps it was inevitable in the sense that capitalism is taking over everything that promises profit. However, capitalism has never been completely distinguished from football. If we look at the origins of many of the leading clubs in the late nineteenth century, they were already exploited by companies and factory owners, at least for prestige. So the ever increasing commercialization we have witnessed in the twentieth century was not the result of an outside force but of an intrinsic logic, if you will.

Over the last twenty years, the commercialization has taken on a particular momentum. Football has turned into a spectacle that people could have hardly foreseen when World Cup Willie was sold as the first official World Cup mascot in England in 1966. Champions Leagues, a 32-team Men’s World Cup roster, multi-billion dollar TV contracts, celebrity players, and a ruthless merchandise industry that doesn’t even stop short of selling corporate-sponsored jerseys to the average football supporter are all expressions of this. Hardly any of it can be encouraging for a radical football fan.

For me, the response has to be two-fold. Within the professional game, we have to campaign against the exploitation of both spectators and players—and I’m not talking about the obscenely rich top 0.5% of professional players, but about the tens of thousands of football professionals who live under precarious conditions, particularly migrant players from Africa. Within the world of football in general, it is important to support grassroots initiatives that do not only promise all the fun in a politically sound and non-commercial environment but also create opportunities for effective community organizing and everyday political activism.

    •    Can you give examples?

I think you find one of the best in the UK with the Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls Sports Club hailing from Bristol. The Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls have managed to form local alliances that many political organizations can only dream of and to establish worldwide connections that translate directly into international solidarity work. There is an excellent article about the Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls included in Soccer vs. the State, written by Roger Wilson—I really encourage everyone to read it!

    •    Why did football become so macho . . . was it always so?

Especially in the UK, women’s football became really popular during World War I. In 1920, the best women’s team at the time, the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies, played their main rivals, St. Helen’s Ladies, at a legendary game at Liverpool’s Goodison Park in front of a crowd of 53,000. Soon after, the English FA officially banned women’s football. Many other national FA’s followed suit. A great number of these bans weren’t lifted before the 1970s. This halted the development of the women’s game for fifty years and effectively turned football into a men’s only affair. These bans marked perhaps the single most scandalous chapter of football history and reflected the deeply rooted patriarchal structures that have haunted the game from its beginnings. Luckily, things have changed in the last twenty years—slowly but steadily. There remains a lot to be done, though, both in strengthening the women’s game and in erasing sexist attitudes from the men’s game. In terms of heteronormativity, the struggle has only just begun. It will be a long but terribly important fight to rid football of homophobia!

    •    Where have the changes come from?

Social movements have been a big factor, as always. Groups that had long been excluded from football started demanding their place: women, people of color, gays and lesbians, people with disabilities, and others. Another factor is that forms of oppression have become more flexible. Traditionally excluded social groups are increasingly wooed as consumers. The trend to turn football stadiums into shopping malls reflects this. It is a development that does have certain progressive dimensions as it allows a number of people to feel comfortable in a space that didn’t feel very welcoming before. However, these forms of increased inclusion are offset by new forms of exclusion, mainly economic ones. What we really need is social change apart from corporate interest.

    •    Are there any major ‘left-wing’ teams today?

The way professional football works today, I don’t think you can be major and left-wing at the same time. There are some big clubs—the FC Barcelona probably being the most prominent example—that stand for values such as independence, social awareness, and participatory democracy. However, the money and the power involved, the demands of success, the unsettling notions of loyalty and rivalry—none of this sits well with what I see as the core values of left-wing politics, namely justice and solidarity. But this doesn’t make the progressive elements less valuable, nor does it mean that anarchists can’t enjoy football on the highest level. The challenge is to bolster the left-wing dimensions that exist and to oppose those that reflect and perpetuate an unjust political and economic system.

    •    How can we as anarchists develop football?

On the professional level, we can campaign for more democracy within the football associations, for more supporter influence, for a more inclusive environment, for less corporate control, for players’ unions, and for a just division of resources, including equitable salaries. On the grassroots level, we can strengthen the communal aspect of the game, keep the competitiveness at bay, and meet all players with respect. At the risk of sounding moralistic, I also believe that notions of fair play are important: so-called tactical fouls, diving, trash talking, etc. have no place in radical football, no matter the level.

    •    Which team do you support? How do you justify it?

I guess I’m in the lucky position that the Nick Hornby model of never-ending devotion to your childhood team doesn’t apply to me. There really isn’t any particular team I support; it’s more of a game-to-game decision. This also means that I’m fairly flexible with my justifications. As for many people, rooting for the underdog is a common choice. Other choices are supporting a team that represents a community I sympathize with or that has players, managers, or fans I like. The only irrational obsessions I keep concern teams I have always disliked: Bayern Munich and the German national team. I seem to have a hard time getting over that.

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Sensation on Boing Boing

Sensation: Acerbic Novel about Pop Culture and Popular Madness as Functions of Parasitic Manipulation

By Cory Doctrow
Boing Boing
May 30th, 2011

Nick Mamatas's novel Sensation is the story of Julia Hernandez, a mild Brooklyn semi-hipster who is stung by a mutant wasp and colonized by its parasitic eggs, who warp her neurochemistry to turn her into a catalyst for chaotic destruction. Hernandez leaves her husband, Raymond, at gunpoint, and proceeds to assassinate a gentrifying real-estate baron. This turns her into a Brooklyn folk-hero, as blogging hipsters from the midwest found a kind of situationist political movement with no name (you discuss it by ironically waggling your hand back and forth).

The wasps who have taken over Julia have an ancient enemy: a race of spiders who are normally a prey animal for the wasps (the wasps lay their eggs in the spiders, who are then compelled to spin a kind of nursery for the larvae, who eat the spiders on the way out). These spiders are an ancient, collective intelligence, and they use their power to spin facsimile humans ("men of indeterminate ethnicity") who form a spy network that oversees the human race and invisibly fights off the wasps' influence, in an ancient battle that has been waged for the whole history of our three species.

Sensation is told from the spiders' collective point of view, as they attempt rescue Julia from the wasps' clutches and stash her in the Simulacrum, a network of places, retailers, and lifestyles that don't ever mesh with the real world. It recounts Raymond's fraught relationship with the movement and its non-founders who refuse to plan, or take on any sort of authority structure.

Mamatas is a powerfully acerbic writer, both in fiction and online. His acid wit is infamous, and it is on splendid display in Sensation, which is alive with scornful insight about pop culture, the net, and politics. Sensation is a kind of bastard love-child of GG Allin and Kurt Vonnegut, a science fiction story that is funny but always discomfiting. I recommend it highly.

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For Anarchist, Details of Life as F.B.I. Target

May 28th, 2011
New York Times
by Colin Moynihan and Scott Shane

AUSTIN, Tex. — A fat sheaf of F.B.I. reports meticulously details the surveillance that counterterrorism agents directed at the one-story house in East Austin. For at least three years, they traced the license plates of cars parked out front, recorded the comings and goings of residents and guests and, in one case, speculated about a suspicious flat object spread out across the driveway.

“The content could not be determined from the street,” an agent observing from his car reported one day in 2005. “It had a large number of multi-colored blocks, with figures and/or lettering,” the report said, and “may be a sign that is to be used in an upcoming protest.”

Actually, the item in question was more mundane.

“It was a quilt,” said Scott Crow, marveling over the papers at the dining table of his ramshackle home, where he lives with his wife, a housemate and a backyard menagerie that includes two goats, a dozen chickens and a turkey. “For a kids’ after-school program.”

Mr. Crow, 44, a self-described anarchist and veteran organizer of anticorporate demonstrations, is among dozens of political activists across the country known to have come under scrutiny from the F.B.I.’s increased counterterrorism operations since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Other targets of bureau surveillance, which has been criticized by civil liberties groups and mildly faulted by the Justice Department’s inspector general, have included antiwar activists in Pittsburgh, animal rights advocates in Virginia and liberal Roman Catholics in Nebraska. When such investigations produce no criminal charges, their methods rarely come to light publicly.

But Mr. Crow, a lanky Texas native who works at a recycling center, is one of several Austin activists who asked the F.B.I. for their files, citing the Freedom of Information Act. The 440 heavily-redacted pages he received, many bearing the rubric “Domestic Terrorism,” provide a revealing window on the efforts of the bureau, backed by other federal, state and local police agencies, to keep an eye on people it deems dangerous.

In the case of Mr. Crow, who has been arrested a dozen times during demonstrations but has never been convicted of anything more serious than trespassing, the bureau wielded an impressive array of tools, the documents show.

The agents watched from their cars for hours at a time—Mr. Crow recalls one regular as “a fat guy in an S.U.V. with the engine running and the air-conditioning on” —and watched gatherings at a bookstore and cafe. For round-the-clock coverage, they attached a video camera to the phone pole across from his house on New York Avenue.

They tracked Mr. Crow’s phone calls and e-mails and combed through his trash, identifying his bank and mortgage companies, which appear to have been served with subpoenas. They visited gun stores where he shopped for a rifle, noting dryly in one document that a vegan animal rights advocate like Mr. Crow made an unlikely hunter. (He says the weapon was for self-defense in a marginal neighborhood.)

They asked the Internal Revenue Service to examine his tax returns, but backed off after an I.R.S. employee suggested that Mr. Crow’s modest earnings would not impress a jury even if his returns were flawed. (He earns $32,000 a year at Ecology Action of Texas, he said.)

They infiltrated political meetings with undercover police officers and informers. Mr. Crow counts five supposed fellow activists who were reporting to the F.B.I.

Mr. Crow seems alternately astonished, angered and flattered by the government’s attention. “I’ve had times of intense paranoia,” he said, especially when he discovered that some trusted allies were actually spies.

“But first, it makes me laugh,” he said. “It’s just a big farce that the government’s created such paper tigers. Al Qaeda and real terrorists are hard to find. We’re easy to find. It’s outrageous that they would spend so much money surveilling civil activists, and anarchists in particular, and equating our actions with Al Qaeda.”

The investigation of political activists is an old story for the F.B.I., most infamously in the Cointel program, which scrutinized and sometimes harassed civil rights and antiwar advocates from the 1950s to the 1970s. Such activities were reined in after they were exposed by the Senate’s Church Committee, and F.B.I. surveillance has been governed by an evolving set of guidelines set by attorneys general since 1976.

But the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 demonstrated the lethal danger of domestic terrorism, and after the Sept. 11 attacks, the F.B.I. vowed never again to overlook terrorists hiding in plain sight. The Qaeda sleeper cells many Americans feared, though, turned out to be rare or nonexistent.

The result, said Michael German, a former F.B.I. agent now at the American Civil Liberties Union, has been a zeal to investigate political activists who pose no realistic threat of terrorism.

“You have a bunch of guys and women all over the country sent out to find terrorism. Fortunately, there isn’t a lot of terrorism in many communities,” Mr. German said. “So they end up pursuing people who are critical of the government.”

Complaints from the A.C.L.U. prompted the Justice Department’s inspector general to assess the F.B.I.’s forays into domestic surveillance. The resulting report last September absolved the bureau of investigating dissenters based purely on their expression of political views. But the inspector general also found skimpy justification for some investigations, uncertainty about whether any federal crime was even plausible in others and a mislabeling of nonviolent civil disobedience as “terrorism.”

Asked about the surveillance of Mr. Crow, an F.B.I. spokesman, Paul E. Bresson, said it would be “inappropriate” to discuss an individual case. But he said that investigations are conducted only after the bureau receives information about possible crimes.

“We do not open investigations based on individuals who exercise the rights afforded to them under the First Amendment,” Mr. Bresson said. “In fact, the Department of Justice and the bureau’s own guidelines for conducting domestic operations strictly forbid such actions.”

It is not hard to understand why Mr. Crow attracted the bureau’s attention. He has deliberately confronted skinheads and Ku Klux Klan members at their gatherings, relishing the resulting scuffles. He claims to have forced corporate executives to move with noisy nighttime protests.

He says he took particular pleasure in a 2003 demonstration for Greenpeace in which activists stormed the headquarters of ExxonMobil in Irving, Tex., to protest its environmental record. Dressed in tiger outfits, protesters carried banners to the roof of the company’s offices, while others wearing business suits arrived in chauffeured Jaguars, forcing frustrated police officers to sort real executives from faux ones.

“It was super fun,” said Mr. Crow, one of the suits, who escaped while thirty-six other protesters were arrested. “They had ignored us and ignored us. But that one got their attention.”

It got the attention of the F.B.I. as well, evidently, leading to the three-year investigation that focused specifically on Mr. Crow. The surveillance documents show that he also turned up in several other investigations of activism in Texas and beyond, from 2001 to at least 2008.

For an aficionado of civil disobedience, Mr. Crow comes across as more amiable than combative. He dropped out of college, toured with an electronic-rock band and ran a successful Dallas antiques business while dabbling in animal rights advocacy. In 2001, captivated by the philosophy of anarchism, he sold his share of the business and decided to become a full-time activist.

Since then, he has led a half-dozen groups and run an annual training camp for protesters. (The camps invariably attracted police infiltrators who were often not hard to spot. “We had a rule,” he said. “If you were burly, you didn’t belong.”) He also helped to found Common Ground Relief, a network of nonprofit organizations created in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Anarchism was the catchword for an international terrorist movement at the turn of the 20th century. But Mr. Crow, whose e-mail address contains the phrase “quixotic dreaming,” describes anarchism as a kind of locally oriented self-help movement, a variety of “social libertarianism.”

“I don’t like the state,” he said. “I don’t want to overthrow it, but I want to create alternatives to it.”

This kind of talk appears to have baffled some of the agents assigned to watch him, whose reports to F.B.I. bosses occasionally seem petulant. One agent calls “nonviolent direct action,” a phrase in activists’ materials, “an oxymoron.” Another agent comments, oddly, on Mr. Crow and his wife, Ann Harkness, who have been together for twenty-four years, writing that “outwardly they did not appear to look right for each other.” At a training session, “most attendees dressed like hippies.”

Such comments stand out amid detailed accounts of the banal: mail in the recycling bin included “a number of catalogs from retail outlets such as Neiman Marcus, Ann Taylor and Pottery Barn.”

Mr. Crow said he hoped the airing of such F.B.I. busywork might deter further efforts to keep watch over him. The last documents he has seen mentioning him date from 2008. But the Freedom of Information Act exempts from disclosure any investigations that are still open.

“I still occasionally see people sitting in cars across the street,” he said. “I don’t think they’ve given up.”

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Riding the Avalanche

By Ursula K. Le Guin
Northwest Booksellers Association
May 18th, 2011

Just a couple of years ago I wrote that I thought the next big step in publishing would be print-on-demand. My prophecy failure rate continues to be perfect. We’re going direct to e-publication. And we’re going there very fast, in great disorder, riding an electronic avalanche.

I thought p.o.d. would dominate, because e-reading devices didn’t seem to be making much headway. Some people do use p.o.d., some are willing to read on their computers, some even practice palm-reading with Blackberries and such, but the leap over p.o.d must be largely due to the fact that usable e-readers are at last being widely produced. Now they need to be improved in quality and to come way down in price.

I don’t think print on paper will vanish any more than the pencil vanished when we started typing. The physical document is irreplaceably useful and durable. To think electronic storage can replace it is mere techno-hubris. But it looks as if, within a few years, most popular and ephemeral works, maybe most books of all kinds, will be published electronically and not on paper.

My personal reactions to this prospect:

As a reader, anything longer than a letter or a poem is tiresome for me to read on the screen. I read fast, carelessly, superficially on the screen, and don’t enjoy it. I don’t know why. I’ve composed on the computer for years now; I can edit on it fine; I can write on it for pleasure. Why can’t I read on it for pleasure?

For one thing, I like to read lying down.

Maybe if I had a nice, light reader that didn’t have multiple functions for every button, didn’t do a damn thing but show me clear text on two facing full-sized pages, I’d soon be able to lie down with it and “sink into” it as I do into print on paper. We are an adaptable species, and habit changes everything.
But at this point, I’ll read what I can on paper, and make do with text on screen only if I have to.

As a professional writer making my living from my work, I’m a bit spooked. Once they saw faster profit in e-books than in print, big corporation-owned publishers started making grabs for e-rights, such as claiming that a book contract that didn’t explicitly mention rights for which the technology didn’t yet exist gave them, retrospectively, to the publisher. Now the contractual terms, advances, and royalties for e-books are all being worked out ad hoc and in a rush. At the moment, royalties, from the author point of view, look very good. But nobody seems entirely clear about how it will work. Publishers, agents, authors, we’re all riding the avalanche.

As for copyright, I am very worried. At this point the Web crawls with pirates offering copyrighted work for sale as e-publications, usually in badly degraded form; threatening them with copyright violation is just playing Whack-a-Mole, and nobody’s even trying to invoke the law on them.  The Copyright Office has a huge job just keeping up with paper publication, and no clout in Congress. We saw Google’s success in shortcircuiting copyright  (by getting some libraries to provide them copyrighted books to copy, by treating “orphaned” books as if they were books out of copyright, by claiming to release only “snippets,” a term even less definable than “fair use” is, and so on.)  Judge Chin’s ruling against the Google Settlement does not, I fear, keep Google from leading the pirate fleet. Does copyright law end where the Web begins? Who will enforce it? Or what will replace it, enabling writers to live by their work?

As an author sharing responsibility for the state of my art, I fear control of availability (and of course content) by the corporations. Amazon’s offering only Amazon-owned books for their Kindle reader was an example. Books are not commodities, and readers are not consumers, but the corporations, cultureless, with no ethical guidelines, nothing but their own profit growth in view, will treat them as such so long as they are allowed to. A public kept in ignorance isn’t likely to even notice.

I welcome e-publication, so long as it works like an immense new-and-used bookstore network including bookstores selling both paper and e-books—and so long as it is fully and freely hooked up with the public libraries. The almost total failure of our schools to teach literature is causing a disastrous break in cultural continuity; many young people have read nothing written before 1990 or even 2000. E-publication offers vast availability and accessibility to older texts via our libraries.

Finally, as a very old author, I’m glad to see some of my longtime commercial publishers riding out the avalanche—battered, yes, but so far so good. And I rejoice in linking up when I can with smaller publishing houses on the West Coast, paper or electronic or both—about as far away from the corporations as you can get, these days. It’s like buying local produce. A bit gritty around the roots, maybe, but it tastes like it used to.

Le Guin credits her son, Theo Downes-Le Guin, for his ideas and suggestions for this essay. “Anyone my age needs a native informant from the computer generation,” she says. Le Guin’s latest book, The Wild Girls, is available in paperback from the small independent publisher PM Press. The book packages Nebula winner The Wild Girls, newly revised and presented in book form for the first time, with Le Guin’s scorching Harper’s essay, “Staying Awake While We Read.”

Le Guin needs no introduction here. She has published twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, three collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award (in 1986 for Always Coming Home and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001) and many others. Her recent publications include a volume of poetry, Incredible Good Fortune, the novel Lavinia, and an essay collection, Cheek by Jowl. She lives in Portland.  

 

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Collecting Counter-Narratives

indypendent
By Scott Borchert
From the April 6, 2011
 
If the North American left is good at anything, it’s being discontented.

And if the collapse of the left as an effective political force over recent decades has amplified our discontent, it’s also forced some radical thinkers to dig in and do the hard work of analyzing society. This section of the left is mainly (though not exclusively) based in academia and grounded in a broad Marxist tradition. Beyond fostering mere discontent, though, their aim is to increase our understanding of how the regime of capital shapes our everyday existence, how this has come to be historically and how things might be different. And in this moment of political disorientation—from illusions in the Democratic Party to the rejection of universal, emancipatory politics—we could stand to hear what they have to say.

Indeed, some of us have heard them on programs like KPFA’s Against the Grain (ATG). But with the publication of this book, edited by ATG host Sasha Lilley and largely drawn from her interviews, many more will have the chance to absorb these crucial arguments. Capital and Its Discontents: Conversations with Radical Thinkers in a Time of Tumult is by no means comprehensive (nor does it claim to be), but it does offer a fine selection of the left’s most lucid thinking, principally around questions of political economy.

The value of this book lies in its accessibility. Because each short chapter is a conversation between Lilley and her guest, key points are presented quickly, clearly and in a language that is comprehensible. In this sense, Capital and Its Discontents is the perfect book for liberals and leftists who want to move beyond superficial criticism of bad policies and greedy corporate executives and toward a structural critique of capitalism and imperialism. It’s also the perfect book for those who don’t have the time or inclination to pore over everything published by these 17 contributors, but want to gain a general sense of what the left intelligentsia is up to.

The book is arranged into three sections: “Empire, Neoliberalism, Crisis;” “Commodification, Enclosure, and the Contradictions of Capitalism;” and “Alternatives?” I won’t describe every interview, but it’s fair to say that there isn’t a weak one in the bunch. The first section begins with a solid one-two punch of Ellen Meiksins Wood and David Harvey, with the former tackling basic questions like the nature of historical capitalism and forms of empire and the latter tracing the rise of neoliberalism. Subsequent contributors situate the 2008 financial crisis within a broader crisis of capitalism that has its roots in a decades-long repression of wages, the vast expansion of debt (household and commercial) and the spectacular growth of the financial sector. The lesson here is that the current problems of capitalism are not the result of mismanagement—they have a long history arising from the inherent contradictions of a system based upon ceaseless growth and the relentless pursuit of profits above all else.

Section two explores what Lilley, in her substantial introduction, suggests is a unifying theme of the book: capital’s drive to commodify all aspects of our lives. John Bellamy Foster and Jason W. Moore describe what this means from an ecological standpoint, and Ursula Huws explains how the commodification of unpaid, mostly female, domestic labor provides the underpinnings of the modern service sector.

Contributors to section three consider alternatives to the current order and touch on the complex history of state-led “national capitalism,” the legacy of the Soviet Union, the New Left’s relationship to postmodernism and anarchist visions of how to organize society.

The question of “Alternatives?” is a major one, and Lilley often concludes an interview by asking how we can rebuild the left into a force capable of challenging capital. Though responses vary, they all emphasize the need to educate people with a systemic critique of capitalism and the need to build left unity. Capital and Its Discontents is itself a major contribution toward that first goal and explicitly argues that we move toward the second through renewed cooperation between anarchists and socialists, a notion that I second. But how we get there, and how we shape our discontent into an effective anti-capitalist movement, is the biggest question of all.

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Straight Edge, in print: Sober Living on Louder than War


John Robb
Louder Than War
May 1, 2011

Sober Living For The Revolution, Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge and Radical Politics
by Gabriel Kuhn (PM Press)

It’s going to be nearly three decades since Minor Threat recorded a song that was just over thirty seconds long called "‘Straight Edge."

Those thirty seconds were a riposte to the local in crowd of DC trad rock bores who were so ensconced in the drink and drugs lifestyle that they were confounded by the young singer of Minor Threat’s no drink and drugs world. Unwittingly, he kicked off a whole scene as thousands of kids worldwide became straight edge. Mackaye remains puzzled by his position as the guru of a youth movement and his interview in this book is one if the best I’ve read with the ever-eloquent musician
and that’s saying somethingas he sets the record straight on his intentions with the song.

In the interview, Mackaye covers the nature of music and politics as well as straight edge itself in an open and inspiring way. It’s the first chapter in the book and sets the tone for a series of interviews with key players on the international punk scene from The Refused in Sweden to Man Lifting Banner in Holland and Point Of No Return in Brazil and key powers in several other countries. Each one underlines the international spread of straight edge and its combined bed fellows of hardcore and politics and how it added an intensity to the music that was uncluttered by the drink and drugs.

The interview with Dennis Lyxsen from the highly influential Refused and International Noise Conspiracy and the currently great AC4 is the best I have seen with as well as he discusses the shock value of coming out as a vegan in Sweden in the early nineties but how that has had a big effect in the growth of that scene since then. The Refused album Shape Of Punk To Come has become a key musical influence since then but it’s their politics that are of interest here and the book even reprints the manifesto from the album that is one of those fantastic word spiels that is part political statement and part Situationist skree and part call to arms.

The reoccurring theme in the book is straight edge and how it entwines with politics and how one fed of the other. It makes for a fascinating read and a valuable insight into the idealism that still exists at the heart of rock music.

The book is pretty thick as well and is a perfect size for throwing at anyone who tells you that there is no political or idealistic thought left in rock.

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Gabriel Kuhn Interviewed about Sober Living on Znet

By Gabriel Kuhn
July 20th, 2010
Znet

en français

You are the editor of Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics. What is it about?
 
Basically, it's about tracing the history of relations between straight edge and radical politics – by this I mean progressive, anti-authoritarian, egalitarian politics. Straight edge has often been associated with dogmatism, moralism, self-righteousness, and puritanism. Unfortunately, some self-identified straight edge folks have given reason to this, although the extent to which these attitudes have been characteristic for the straight edge scene has been grossly exaggerated. At the same time, it is true that there have been largely "apolitical" sections in the movement that have shown little resistance to these tendencies, which allowed them to flourish and to attract an unfortunate amount of attention. However, there have also always been individuals, bands, and entire scenes – like in Israel, Portugal, or Sweden – for which the union between straight edge and radical politics seemed very natural; and this is the history I've been trying to document in this volume by collecting interviews and essays from different radical straight edge artists and activists.



How did you come to this topic? Are you straight edge yourself?

 
Yes, I've been straight edge for over twenty years. Straight edge has meant a lot to me. I grew up in a small town in western Austria, in an environment where youths, especially boys, were expected to start drinking when they were like thirteen or fourteen. I was the only one in my town who rejected this, except for kids from really conservative Christian homes who I didn't hang out with either. So there was a sense of isolation and I constantly had to defend my choice of not drinking and, later, of not doing other drugs.
 
Finding out about straight edge was one of the most exciting discoveries of my life: not only did it mean that there were other kids like me out there – kids into underground music and culture yet with no interest in drugs – but it also meant that there was an entire movement that stood for my choices and ideas; in other words, there was a collective I could identify with!
 
The problem was that when I finally came in closer contact with straight edge scenes – in 1994, when I moved to the US – I was terribly disappointed, because some of the politics seemed so screwed. You must remember that this was a time when the hardline movement was really strong, and when you still had a very pronounced male dominance in the scene. Out of this came a highly ambiguous relationship with straight edge: it still meant a lot to me and I wanted to be part of it – yet I did not feel connected to many factions of the movement. I think it was this ambiguity that gave me the idea for the book: I wanted to document the parts of straight edge history that I could identify with; the parts that, to me personally, made straight edge the most inspiring and beautiful.

How do you see the evolution of the straight edge movement?
 
I think that straight edge has developed in many different ways, which is good – although I could do without the conservative elements.
 
In particular the last ten years have brought real diversity, also on a musical level. Straight edge is no longer tied to the youth crew style of the 1980s or the metalcore of the 1990s – today you have straight edge acoustic acts, straight edge power violence bands and everything in-between. There are also different definitions of straight edge – the most contentious issues are veganism, sexuality, and the exact understanding of drugs/intoxicants – and there are different political adaptations, reaching from anarchist to neo-fascist straight edge groups. As I said, the conservative elements I could do without, but in general diversity is good – it enriches and stimulates.


We think that straight edge is a form of désengagement, of refusal of the hegemonic values. So, it is connected to social commitment, against any oppression, and so to veganism also. How do you see it and how do you think straight edge people see it?
 
I like the notion of désengagement, I think it describes one of the political dimensions of straight edge very well. As you say, there is a rejection of hegemonic values and norms. So if you are opposed to the political and economic system that produces these values and norms, being straight edge marks an opposition to it. However, the political direction that this takes is not necessarily clear at first. Fascists reject the current system too, so a mere gesture of opposition is not enough to claim straight edge for left or radical politics. I don't think there is an automatic connection between désengagement and social commitment or the fight against oppression. Something has to be added to allow straight edge to head that way: social and political awareness, a commitment to a just and egalitarian world, empathy and affection. To some, veganism will be an obvious choice to make; others might make other choices with respect to their diets. I don't think that this in itself is decisive. What's decisive is that you fight for a better world for all and that you engage in respectful and comradely dialogue with others who want to do the same. No single individual has the answers as to which exact forms of behavior or conduct will get us there – but a common effort will guide us in the right way. And what applies to veganism applies to straight edge too: to some it will be an important part of this journey, to others it won't. Some people might prioritize other forms of désengagement. After all, complete désengagement is hardly possible in a world dominated by nation states and capital. In the end, it is the solidarity and the mutual support that counts. For us straight edge folks this means to prove our ability to contribute to this struggle in positive and constructive ways.
 
So this is how I see it. How do other straight edge people see it? I'm not sure. I suppose that some see it similarly, but there are many different understandings of straight edge, including those that reject any connection to politics. As I said before, there is a lot of diversity.
 
In the last years, some far right movements, especially in Russia and Germany, try to integrate the straight edge culture in their ideological models. In France these last months, some people try to follow this pattern. What can you tell us about this tendency making straight edge a social Darwinism?

 
Straight edge in its very basic definition has no clear political content – it merely indicates a refusal of drugs/intoxicants. The political connotations of straight edge come from the context it appears in and from the ideas and notions it is linked to. It is easy for the right wing to claim straight edge: all you have to do is turn it into an ideology (rather than understanding it as a personal choice). Then you can claim that you are a "better", "more advanced", or "superior" person than others. That's the first step to fascism. Possibly, the second one is to tie these sentiments to a notion of "health". While straight edge can certainly contribute to personal health, a political notion of "health" is very dangerous and has been used by all fascist movements – you just have to study their language, fascists always speak of "disease", "plague", or "decay" when they refer to the people and communities they see as inferior. The third step – and this is where we come to today's explicitly fascist and neo-Nazi straight edge adaptations – is when you tie the notion of health to a "race" or a "nation" that you need to "defend" or "preserve" or whatever. Maybe we can speak of a three-step right-wing danger here: 1. self-righteousness ("I am better than you"); 2. social Darwinism ("I am healthier than you and will outlive you"); 3. outright nationalism/racism ("we are better than you and we must maintain our 'purity'"). I think what we have seen in recent years in Russia and Germany – and now apparently also in France, although I don't know much about this – is the third step being more and more clearly articulated. The first two, to be honest, have been haunting straight edge for a long time.
 
How can we resist these developments?
 
I think there is little point in arguing about what straight edge "really" means or in denouncing the right-wing adaptations as "distortions" of straight edge. Right-wing straight edge folks obviously have their own definitions and there is no higher authority to decide who is right and wrong. In the end, we would just exhaust ourselves by throwing definitions back and forth. I think what's more important is to make our ideas as present in the scene as possible and to make them compelling to the people who move in the scene. We will win kids by being welcoming, compassionate, and caring. These are strong values – all the other side got is hate.
 
Yes, but hate is also something very important. We hate oppression and exploitation. And, concerning the three points you talked about, we disagree with the first point. Because, yes, we do consider the vegan straight edge lifestyle as superior to other lifestyles. Would you agree to say that, in your will not to make accurate definitions and in your promotion of spontaneity, you're in favor of an anarchist vision? And that for you, veganism and straight edge don't go necessarily together?
 
Of course it is important to have strong feelings about the terrible consequences of oppression and exploitation. If you want to call that "hate", that's fine. But what you hate in this case is a system, and you hate it because you want people – all people, I suppose – to be happy. People on the extreme right, on the other hand, hate people and that is at the center of their ideology. To me that's a crucial difference, and that's what I meant.
 
As far as the superiority of vegan straight edge is concerned, I guess it depends on what you mean by that. If you think that it is the best way to contribute to as little cruelty as possible in your personal lives, I see no particular reason to argue with that – although I'd like to point out that being vegan straight edge in itself doesn't mean that you can't be an asshole. As I said before, if you want to set a really convincing example for a "cruelty-free" or a "compassionate" lifestyle, your vegan straight edge ethics have to be tied to broad political consciousness.
 
Related to this, the claim that vegan straight edge constitutes a superior lifestyle can become troubling if you really want to make this a universal norm. I mean, if we go to a fishing village in Senegal and tell people that their lifestyle is inferior to ours, our vegan straight edge ethics can easily become cynical and offensive. That's why I don't like to speak of vegan straight edge as anything "superior". I think that vegan straight edge as a political practice makes a lot of sense in certain contexts and under certain circumstances – but we must never forget that billions of people don't share our contexts and circumstances, and hence other things will make more sense to them. Life is diverse, complex, and complicated, and not only is it important to be aware of that, it also makes life exciting. And it is certainly one of the reasons why I don't like to argue about definitions. Definitions help us to negotiate the complexity of life – they are tools, but they hold no truth. That's why I think it's usually pointless to argue about them. You don't win over people's hearts by defining things – you win them over by setting examples of a more joyful life. Does this belief make me an anarchist? Maybe – if it fits your definition of anarchism...
 
Regarding the relation of veganism and straight edge, maybe this helps to illustrate my point about definitions being tools: to me, the two are not necessarily connected, because I define straight edge as abstinence from drugs/intoxicants, and people can abstain from drugs/intoxicants without being vegans. Hence, according to the definition of straight edge I use, there is no necessary connection. If you have a different definition, your conclusion might be a different one too. It can be a lot of fun to discuss these things, but we'll never get to the point where one of us is proven right or wrong – and I don't think that matters either.



How do you see the future of the straight edge movement?

 
To begin with, I am convinced that it will live on. It has survived thirty years, which means that it has stood the test of time. Most straight edge kids today weren't even born when Ian MacKaye wrote the song "Straight Edge" in 1980. Movements that make it this long are usually here to stay.
 
What will the future bring? Even more diversity, I suppose – and hopefully more radical expressions. I am optimistic. I think that there exists both an increasing interest in sobriety in radical circles and an ongoing interest for radical ideas among many straight edge kids. This is promising.



What is the best way to buy the book? Can you tell us about the publisher?

 
The best way to buy the book is to get it either directly from the PM Press website or from an independent bookstore or distributor. That way, the money stays within our community and will go into important political projects.
 
PM Press was founded a couple of years ago and has brought out an impressive list of books, DVDs, and CDs during the short time it has been around. There are a few people involved who have very strong roots in the hardcore punk community, which certainly helped to gather support for this project. If you want to get a better idea of the titles they are putting out, it'd be best to just browse their website.

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Derrick Weston Brown's Wisdom Teeth

By Alan King
alanwking.wordpress.com
April 21, 2011

Derrick Weston Brown holds an MFA in creative writing from American University. He is a graduate of the Cave Canem summer workshop for Black poets and the VONA summer workshop.

Snagglepuss is bitter. He airs his frustrations with the Pink Panther on E! True Hollywood Story, after their short-lived love affair:

“When the big money came calling, 
Ol’ Pinky packed his bags and gave
 me some song and dance about how
I’d never have to work again […]” (from “Snagglepuss Spills his Guts on E! True Hollywood Story”).

Then there’s Bonita Applebum. She’s not just a classic hip hop song anymore. In fact, she’s a grown woman “with a mortgage/ and two degrees under her belt” (from “Remembering Bonita Applebum”).

These are just a few of the characters that populate Derrick Weston Brown’s debut poetry collection, Wisdom Teeth. It’s an apt title for a book in which the speaker cuts his teeth on issues ranging from slavery and gentrification to love and hip hop.

I fell in love with DC all over again after reading “Missed Train”, though that poem could be a testament on dating in DC:

I smelled you at the Metro stop

Tasted you on the Yellow

Glimpsed you on the Green

Caught you on the Orange

Loved you on the Red

Lost you on the Blue
Now I need a transfer
 or at least exit fare.


The elusive woman in “Missed Train” could be a metaphor for unmet expectations either on a date or in a relationship that takes us “for every dime” after investing our time in other people with no returns.
In Wisdom Teeth, the speaker’s searching for stability in every aspect of his life. It’s a journey that takes him through 110 pages and five sections—Hourglass Flow, The Sweet Home Men Series, The Unscene, Wisdom Teeth and Ajar.

And if you’re new to the city, the speaker lets you know what to expect in “What It’s Like to Date in D.C. for Those Who Haven’t”: “It’s like having a mouthful of prayers/ when all you looking for is that one/ Amen.”

Reading Wisdom Teeth, I felt like a passenger invited along for the ride, especially with the poem “Building”. The speaker’s details brought me with him into the coffee shop, where I noticed the “syrup of sunlight” like a second glaze on the wooden tabletops.

I heard the “trash talk and chuckles” of black men playing dominoes. I dug the music in “the snap crack/ of dotted flat backs” and the “dry bones/ glossy bones”.

It would have been easy to take that moment as a commentary on brotherhood and bonding, and not realize the game of bones is just a vehicle the speaker uses to drive his point home with the reader. The true commentary’s in the “steady trash talk” after “Fingers drum the table”: “I’m on my third house./ Where you at?! Jati?/ HUD is officially/ in the building!”

Watching “the bones…/ like unhinged teeth”, I thought of the deteriorating houses in DC’s rundown neighborhoods. Watching as “Jati resets the fracture/ smiling as houses change ownership”, I thought of so-called neighborhood revitalization projects that displaced former residents.

And Jati’s response to his friend’s trash talking? “Eminent domain Fred!/ You getting gentrified!”
I loved the speaker’s clever use of brothers bonding over a game as commentary on the changing demographics in America’s major cities. The speaker’s playful tone in “Building” reminded me how some of us use humor to help swallow those bitter truths.

What also helps those truths go down easy is the fellowship of black men  who “finish/ each other’s sentences” and chase red beans and rice “with/ rum that/ warms the gullet/ makes gut chuckles flow easy” in the poem “Kitchen Gods”.

The men in this poem could be my dad, uncles and grandfather. These are men who “dust off/ old stories like records that hadn’t seen a turntable/ in some time.” And, contrary to masculine myths and stereotypes, these ordinary men “resuscitate the/ ghost of old lovers/ angry indifferent or otherwise.”
That resuscitation is really these guys assessing their life choices—where they’ve been and where they are now. These are hardworking men who support their families, men who’ve grown as a result of their experiences.

The physical details in “Kitchen Gods” are striking. I could see these guys mapping “[…] out/ a woman’s dimensions”, molding “hips out of thin air/ recreating/ her walk and/ arching calves.” I also saw the men dapping up each other and bumping fist “so hard/ rings skip sparks”.

I could hear the conversations punctuated with “g’dams” and “g’lords”. I even smiled at the memory of being shooed “out of the kitchen/ with gentle hands” when I was too young for the adult talk. Now that I’m old enough, I can appreciate the times I’ve been a part of “a small kitchen crew”.

One reason I love Wisdom Teeth is the poem “Gust”:

The sky snarled.
We heard God swallow cumulus,
stratus, and anvil headed nimbus
before the hush.
We ventured outside
Peered up into the calm.
The sky a frosted snow globe
swirl of stars.
The moon
a glossy clear polished
fingernail sliver
winked.
Odd

The wind so strong
I could lean into it
arms out and not fall.
I was Pisa.
What did I know
of nature’s way
of teaching lessons?
That there is
an eye of the storm.
Watch me smile.
My back to the rifle
sight of lassoed menace
clueless to the coming stretch
and yawn of ruin.


In “Gust”, the speaker revisits Charlotte, North Carolina, ravaged by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. I love this poem for other reasons.

If storms are metaphors for troubling times in our lives, then “Gust” speaks to the current political climate: the US military in Libya, rising militias and hate groups, politicians cutting funds for social programs as a solution to the budget deficit.

The “cumulus,/ stratus, and anvil headed nimbus” were the delusions of politicians and some finance experts who convinced everyone else that the markets were economically sound when history has shown us otherwise. “What did I know/ of nature’s way/ of teaching lessons?” Just replace “history” with “nature” and I’m sure that line says what we all were thinking.

God swallowing those delusions was reality setting in. That an alarming amount of people lost their homes to foreclosures makes Hurricane Hugo a metaphor for the current economic crisis, its “rifle/ sight of lassoed menace”.

That corporate CEOs, whose businesses stayed afloat with bailout money from the federal government, went on with business as usual is the sign of lessons not learned.  “Gust”, in its own way, warns against that kind of ignorance that keeps us “clueless to the coming stretch/ and yawn of ruin.”

Wisdom Teeth is right on time. In this collection, as one writer puts it, “Truth cuts its way beneath the unspoken like new teeth on their way to light.” I couldn’t agree more, grateful for their arrival.

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Videoforedrag og intervju med Gabriel Kuhn

Videoforedrag og intervju med Gabriel Kuhn


"Sober Living for the Revolution" lecture by Gabriel Kuhn
from Ola Waagen on Vimeo.

Nettverk for dyrs frihet inviterte den politiske skribenten og oversetteren Gabriel Kuhn til Oslo for å snakke om boken sin «Sober Living for the Revolution». Se video av hele foredraget og les intervjuet vi gjorde etterpå.

"Sober Living for the Revolution" lecture by Gabriel Kuhn

Etter at Kuhn hadde presentert boken sin så hadde Nettzine for dyrs frihet forberedt noen spørsmål som omhandlet boken. Det hele ledet ut i en lengere samtale som du kan lese under.

Har du gjort deg noen tanker om radikal straight edge vil ha en mer naturlig hang til toleranse ovenfor mennesker som ikke er straight edge enn det den mer konservative utgaven av straight edge har?

Absolutt. Et aspekt av boken er den sammenhengen jeg forsøker å dokumentere. Jeg er kun redaktør av boken, det er ikke jeg som har skrevet tekstene i den. Jeg har kun skrevet en innledning, utenom det så er det en samling av artikler og intervjuer som omhandler sammenhengen mellom venstreorientert politikk, radikal politikk og progressiv politikk og straight edge. Jeg forsøker ikke å fremstille straight edge som noen bedre form for å være progressiv eller venstreradikal, men det er en mulig form. En grunnleggende faktor er nettopp toleranse og respekt for mennesker som ikke er straight edge. For meg er det ikke avgjørende om en er straight edge eller ikke. Spørsmålet er heller på hvilken måte en er straight edge. Hvordan en kombinerer sin livsstil med sine politiske ideal. Det kan fungere like godt selv om en ikke er straight edge og det kan fungere om en er straight edge. Det er en kritikk som en ofte hører, at om en er straight edge så har en kanskje et konservativt ståsted. Dette på grunn av at ståstedet om å ikke ville benytte seg av rusmidler som alkohol og narkotika ofte forbindes med en form for puritanisme. Andre ser på straight edge som en form for moralisme og elitisme. Det finnes jo desverre et grunnlag for dette, da det finnes straight edge folk som har tolket på en slik måte. 

Hvis en har en radikal agenda så har en ofte behov for å bygge allianser med andre som kanskje ikke er straight edge. Hvis en kun er konservativ og moralistisk så blir en veldig satt fast i en homogen straight edge "klikk".   

De fleste som er straight edge setter nok pris på å kunne henge med folk som kanskje ikke røyker og drikker overdrevet mye. Men at noen tar seg en øl en gang i blant bør jo ikke skape et problem. At det er en sammenheng mellom alkohol og undertrykkelse er et politisk problem, men at noen tar seg en sjelden øl blir en litt annen greie. Hvis en skal bygge allianser med andre på venstresiden så kan en ikke sette opp strenge regler for hva folk får gjøre og ikke gjøre. En massebevegelse kan aldri bygges opp rundt at alle må være straight edge. Det jeg prøver å vise i boken er at politiske ideal kan deles av både folk som er straight edge og folk som ikke er det. Spørsmålet om livsstil bør ikke komme mellom folk som i utgangspunktet har de samme mål. 


Vi er som du vet en dyrevernspodcast. I intervjuet du gjorde med «Maximum Rocknroll» så sier du at du ikke innlemmer dyrevern i din definisjon av straight edge. Men ser du på dyrevern som en del av din definisjon av radikal politikk?

Hva skulle inngå i min definisjon av radikal politikk? Da mener jeg radikal venstrepolitikk. Det er jo en kamp mot undertrykkelse og lidelse. Dette er jo selvsagt en kamp som går lengere enn å omfavne bare mennesker. Spørsmålet om dyrs rettigheter og dyrs frihet inngår dermed i definisjonen. Men det handler selvsagt om prioriteringer og om en kan forvente at mennesker i utsatte samfunnsgrupper skal ha mulighet til å legge ned masse energi i dyrerettighetsarbeid. Slike diskusjoner oppstår alltid, men det tar ikke bort for min del det faktum at en er mot undertrykkelse, mot lidelse og for rettferd. At dyrevern inngår virker selvsagt for meg. 

Hvis en som anarkist ser for seg et anarkistisk samfunn. Så er det vanskelig å se for seg et anarkistisk samfunn der alle mennesker er frie og egalitære, men så setter man alle andre dyr i bur.  

Ja, jeg synes at spesielt innenfor den anarkistiske bevegelsen i vest-europa så har dyrevern blitt en betydelig større del i disse kretser. Det har vært spørsmål som kanskje har tatt litt lengere tid før folk har tatt til seg eller tatt på alvor. Det finnes selvsagt fortsatt en del motstand innenfor den anarkistiske bevegelsen mot dyrevern. Noen argumenterer med at dyrevern kan være en form for distraksjon bort fra klassekampen, men jeg skulle nesten tørre å påstå at det er en minoritet. 

Vi har vel alle hørt det, eller møtt den typen reaksjoner. 

Jeg blir fortsatt overrasket over hvor provosert noen anarkister og venstreradikale blir av dyrevern. Dette gjelder i grunn også mennesker som er opptatt av økologi. For meg blir det veldig merkelig. Men hvis en tar et ekstremt eksempel der en person overhodet ikke tenker over sammenhenger og sosial undertrykkelse fordi han eller hun kun bryr seg om dyrevern. Der vedkommende forventer at en person som bor ved kysten i Senegal skal være vegan fordi det er den eneste riktige måten å leve på. Det blir et enormt stort krav å stille fra noen som bor i Stockholm eller Oslo og har lett tilgang til veganmat, noe mennesker i en liten by ved Senegal sin kyst ikke har. Det blir en helt annen situasjon. Hvis en begynner å fordømme andre moralsk så kan jeg se at noen tenker at dyrevern kan ha feil fokus. Men det skal sies at jeg sjelden har truffet noen som virkelig har hatt et slik ekstremt dyrevern ståsted.      



Jeg tror ikke jeg har truffet noen for å være helt ærlig. 

Dette er i grunn også overførbart til straight edge. I de over 20 år jeg har vært involvert der så har jeg knapt møtt noen som har reagert negativt på at en person har tatt seg ei øl. Likevel så finnes det mange historier om straight edgere som er fordømmende over den minste lille ting. Det viser seg å være myter. 

Det er jo skrevet flere andre bøker om straight edge og spesielt den amerikanske delen av den kulturen. Da tenker jeg spesielt på «All Ages» og «Burning Fight» bøkene som Revelation gav ut. Da jeg diskuterte noen av disse bøkene med Brian (Catharsis/Crimethinc.) så mente han at de bøkene var lite representative og dårlige og at «Sober Living for the Revolution» var den eneste relevante og gode boken om straight edge. Anser du din bok som en reaksjon eller et motsvar mot disse andre bøkene?

Det er jo smigrende å høre. Jeg har mye respekt for Brian og Crimethinc. Jeg hadde ingen tanke om at min bok skulle være en motvekt mot disse andre bøkene. Jeg ville gjøre en bok som dokumenterte koblingen mellom straight edge og radikal venstrepolitikk, delvis fordi det ikke fantes en slik bok. Likevel, det gjør ikke de andre bøkene dårlige. Hvis en vil litt om hvordan straight edge var på 80-tallet så fungerer All Ages bra som bok. Alle disse bøkene har jo total fokus på USA. Det finnes en bok som heter «The Past, The Present - a history of European Straight Edge 1982 - 2007» som kom ut sammen med en Birds of a Feather-skive hos Refuse Records. Den er desverre ikke så godt distribuert. De andre bøkene handler alle om USA. I «Sober Living for the Revolution» så har en stemmer fra mange ulike land i latin-amerika, europa osv. Sånn sett så har det vært et viktig bidrag å kunne fortelle hele straight edge sin historie, siden den delen utenfor USA knapt har vært dokumentert før.


Jeg føler også at straight edge noen ganger blir urettferdig anklaget for å være konservativt. Band som kanskje ikke var utpreget anarkister eller kommunister, de er ikke Manliftingbanner, de er ikke Refused. Men de har likevel et "politisk" engasjement, Youth of Today sang mot nasjonalisme på We're Not In This Alone-skiva, Outspoken hadde en låt mot homofobi. Det ligger noe radikalt i bunnen også hos disse bandene. 

Om jeg til boken bare skulle tatt utgangspunkt i band som virkelig har gått inn for å definere seg som venstreradikale så hadde det nok ikke vært så mange å velge i. Da hadde jeg stått igjen med Manliftingbanner som alltid blir kjørt frem som et klassisk eksempel på kommunister som var straight edge. Utenom de så er det ikke så mange, det gjør hele prosjektet litt spennende men også veldig komplisert. Hele vegan straight edge greia på begynnelsen av 90-tallet var ikke så tydelig politisk. Selv om de dro frem positive ting som f.eks. økologi så hadde de også en god porsjon moralisme og elitistisk innstilling i bunnen på det hele. De var også preget av at de tok et militant ståsted som jeg personlig fant skremmende. Samtidig hadde du band som Chokehold som også ble definert som en del av vegan straight edge bevegelsen men som på samme tid had et tydelig sosialt engasjement, de var bl.a. pro-abort og mot homofobi. Jeg ville med boken gjerne få noen av disse bandene frem i lyset. Massemedia har jo desverre fokusert altfor mye på de konservative og militante aspektene av straight edge. Det er selvsagt en vinkling som fungerer mye bedre i media. I Salt Lake City så var det jo en straight edge-gjeng som havnet i et slagsmål og en gutt ble drept. Det er jo ekstremt tragisk. Likevel, poenget mitt er at majoriteten av de som er straight edge har ikke for vane å sloss og drepe.


Hadde det eksistert like mange hardlinere som det finnes intervjuer med hardlinere så hadde jo hardline vært stort. Hardline fikk jo en voldsom omtale til å være relativt få personer.     

Hardline er et godt eksempel. Hardline hadde ganske mye innflytelse på sett og vis, men selve kretsen, altså antall personer var jo utrolig få. Mye av hardline går faktisk tilbake til kun en person og det er Sean Muttaqi. Han var høylytt, skrev mye og var aktiv. På grunn av han ble disse tankene spredt. Det var ingen stor gruppe med mennesker. 

Den perfekte straight edge fanzinen på 90-tallet hadde gjerne et intervju med en eller annen representant for hardline, en representant for Krishna-core og kanskje et Ebullition-band. 

Presis! Da hadde man dekt hele spekteret i USA. 

Av de så man kunne si at hardline er en minoritet.    

Det kan man med stor sikkerhet si. Hardline som merkelapp har kommet noe tilbake i totalt nye sammenhenger, gjerne i forbindelse med høyreekstremisme. Uansett hvor kritisk man er til hardline så kan man aldri hevde at hardline var en rasistisk bevegelse. At en ser at høyreekstreme nå benytter den merkelappen har ingenting med den originale hardline-bevegelsen å gjøre. Det eneste fellestrekket kan være den ekstremt militante innstillingen. 

De deler kanskje også noen idealer om renhet og styrke?

Ja, at man kjenner seg bedre enn andre osv. Det var jo en del av hardline. Kanskje også aspektet med å leve naturlig, der de definerte homoseksualitet som noe unaturlig. Når en konfronterte hardlinere med dere utalte homofobi så svarte de som regel at de ikke hadde noe mot homoseksuelle, men at de ikke annså det som naturlig å leve på den måten. Noe jeg synes er veldig rart. 

All seksuell atferd som ikke førte til barn var unaturlig.  

Det er vel slike ting som kanskje høyreekstreme-kretser kanskje plukker opp, "at det finnes en riktig måte å leve på og vi representerer dette". "Vi har rett og alle andre tar feil".


Du er på USA sin "No fly" liste. 

Ja, men det er nok ikke fordi jeg er straight edge. 

Hva tenker du om det forfølgelsen som har pågått mot dyrevernere og likesinnede under dekket av krigen mot terror?

Det er interessant, jeg har fortsatt problemer med å bestemme meg. Mye av det er så absurd at man mest har lyst til å le. Personlig så synes jeg ikke at det spesielt morsomt at jeg ikke kan reise til USA, jeg har f.eks. mange venner der. På andre siden så tar jeg det ikke så tungt, jeg har et bra liv, jeg må ikke reise til USA, det finnes mange andre land jeg kan reise til. Sammenlignet med mange andre mennesker i verden så er jeg veldig priviligert som har såpass stor bevegelsesfrihet. Disse motforanstaltningene i kampen mot terrorisme har gått så langt at det bare blir komisk. På andre siden så finnes det jo eksempel på mennesker som har vært involvert i f.eks. SHAC-kampanjen som har havnet i fengsel i flere år og da blir det ikke lenger komisk. Det finnes eksempel på folk som absolutt ikke har gjort noen ting og er 100% uskyldige. Mennsker som kun har drevet med informasjonsarbeid som en del av en kampanje. 

Ting som kan sidestilles med det vi driver med her i kveld.

At den type arbeid skal forfølges er jo skandaløst, det er åpenbart. Motforanstaltningene er fortsatt fokusert mot en bestemt type aktivister. Mange i USA tror kanskje at den type forfølgelse skal beskytte majoriteten i samfunnet, at det på sett og vis henger sammen med deres sikkerhet. For at de skal føle seg sikre så må disse aktivistene sitte i fengsel. En har jo enkeltsaker som f.eks. Eric McDavid som fikk 20 år i fengsel for kun å ha planlagt Earth Liberation Front aktiviteter. Det er problematisk å bygge opp en massebevegelse mot disse motforanstaltningene siden det fortsatt er for få som berøres og for mange som kjøper argumentasjonen til myndighetene. Det er synd, for det er absolutt nødvendig å bygge opp en bevegelse som driver en hard kampanje mot alt fra relativt små greier som "No fly"-lister til folk som blir idømt lange fengselsstraffer. Jeg må få legge til at "No fly"-listen ikke er morsom i seg selv heller, den spiller kanskje ikke en så stor rolle for meg som er priviligert. Men for mennesker som kanskje er avhengig av å jobbe i USA eller som kanskje har familie der, da blir jo den listen en del av en sosial og økonomisk urettferdighet. Da utarter den listen seg som et veldig stort problem. 

Hvorfor tror du at du har blitt en av de personene som amerikanske myndigheter mener at majoriteten bør beskyttes mot?


De gjør jo en utrolig dårlig jobb når de setter opp slike lister. Det virker totalt tilfeldig. Derfor er jo et håp en kan ha at ens egen status på listen kanskje blir endret. Til og med konservative kretser i USA har jo begynt å kritisere disse listene. Det er flere tusentalls mennesker på dem, noe som i seg selv gjør listene og informasjonen vanskelig å håndtere. De som virkelig planlegger det amerikanerne kaller "et angrep mot deres nasjonalsikkerhet" finner jo alltid en måte å snike seg under "radaren" på. Derfor håper jeg at myndighetene i USA skal ta inn over seg at disse listene kanskje ikke betyr noe fra eller til og dermed kanskje fjerner flere tusentalls navn fra dem. Det var vel helt tilfeldig at jeg havnet på den listen. Sist jeg reiste til USA i 2005 så hadde jeg noen måneder i forveien vært i midtøsten og noen afrikanske land bl.a. Sudan. Da jeg ankom flyplassen i Philadelphia så ble jeg avhørt, først av vanlige "immigration officers", men etterhvert så kom også en terrorist spesial agent fra F.B.I. Det var en kombinasjon av at de fant disse stemplene i passet mitt og at de så gjennom min bagasje og fant et par bøker som de ikke likte. Det var virkelig ingenting spesielt, jeg hadde med en bok om Black Panther Party sin historie. De så også gjennom min adressebok og fant et par adresser de ikke likte. Det var det, derfor havnet jeg på listen. Jeg tror ikke de har ressurser i USA til å følge med på hvem i europa som er engasjert på venstresiden, selv om det absolutt er mulig. Hele greia med "No fly" list er at en ikke får noen forklaring på grunn av nasjonal sikkerhet. 

Det er Gabriel K. og Josef K.                

Hehe. Ja. Det er jo skremmende at om de skulle begynne å f.eks. sette alle dyrevernaktivister på "No fly"-listen så har de mulighet til å gjøre det og de som havner på listen har ingen mulighet for å gjøre noe med det. Det er jo skandaløst. 


Du nevnte SHAC, finnes det andre dyrerettighetsaktivister du har engasjert deg for?  

Jeg har nok mest hatt kontakt med folk fra Earth Liberation Front. Jeg hadde kontakt med en person fra Animal Liberation Front, men jeg tror kanskje ikke de ønsker at jeg skulle nevne de ved navn. Det er vel alltid mellom 5 og 10 ulike fanger som jeg korresponderer med og har kontakt med. Ganske mange har bakgrunn fra straight edge, som er mitt politiske miljø.

Kan du sende «Sober Living for the Revolution» til de som sitter i fengsel eller vil den bli stoppet? 

Det er et godt spørsmål. Mange av de fangene jeg har kontakt med i USA får en ikke lov til å sende bøker til, det må gå via en offisiell bokdistributør. Om det blir sendt formelt og via riktig fremgangsmåte så skulle nok boken komme frem. Min personlige historie om at jeg havnet på "No fly" listen ble publisert i et fange solidaritets-magasin i Canada og den ble jo distribuert til innsatte. 

I det første intevjuet i boken din så forteller Ian MacKaye om en Fugazi-fan som klager på at Fugazi ikke har noen låter som omhandler veganisme. Fugazi sitt svar er selvsagt at alle låtene deres er vegan fordi ingen av bandmedlemmene konsumerer kjøtt eller meieriprodukter. Ian MacKaye irriterer seg over denne personen som klager fordi vedkommende går i vegan Dr. Martens. Ian MacKaye mener at det å ta til seg og fronte denne mainstream-estetikken, der skinn blir fremstilt som noe moteriktig blir et dårlig "statement" for en veganer. Er det noe du har brukt tid til å tenke på?

Jeg synes det var et veldig interessant argument. Jeg hadde aldri tidligere tenkt på vegan "skinn" på den måten tidligere. Jeg har ikke en gang tenkt at Dr. Martens var så moteriktig. Personlig så har jeg aldri vært interessert i Dr. Martens hverken av ekte eller falsk skinn. Jeg synes absolutt Ian MacKaye har et poeng. Han sier jo at utgangspunktet for at mennesker kjøper Dr. Martens er fordi de er trendy. Det er jo vanskelig å se om Dr. Martens er laget av ekte eller falsk skinn og dermed bidrar en indirekte til at skinn selges selv om de en selv har er "fake". Det ligger noe i det. Jeg tror det virkelig blir relevant når det kommer til gjenstander som virkelig er trendy som f.eks. Dr. Martens. Hvis det derimot er snakk om en tilfeldig vegan joggesko så tror jeg ikke det er like godt grunnlag for å si det. En kan ikke slå ned på alt som er "fake"/veganprodukter. Men når det kommer til fake Dr. Martens og et par andre produkter... 


Han er nok ikke fan av den vegan "skinnjakken" som Dennis Lyxzén ofte er avbildet i…       

Nettopp, når det kommer til skinnjakker og den type ting… der er det et interessant poeng.

Det er ingen fra Norge med i boken din. Hva vet du om radikal straight edge i Norge?

Når det kommer til Norge og straight edge så hadde en vel Sportswear og Onward på slutten av 90-tallet og en snakket om en old-school revival. Dette var jo band som kanskje ikke var så uttalt radikale. En hadde jo også denne filmen «Slipp Jimmy fri» der noen vegan straight edge dyrevernaktivister er med. Det var faktisk sist gang jeg hørte noen kobling mellom Norge og radikal straight edge. Bortsett fra det så må jeg innrømme at jeg ikke vet så mye. Har det eksistert noen scene for det?

Det eksisterte i en periode et radikalt straight edge-miljø i Stavanger rundt bandet Purified In Blood. 

Ja, det stemmer. De var jo også internasjonalt kjente. 

Der jeg kom fra i Skien så hadde vi Washington Disease som var tungt influert av Manliftingbanner der vi var innmeldt i trotskisk-organisasjonen Internasjonale sosialister i en periode hele gjengen. Hele straight edge scenen der var knyttet til husokkupasjoner, miljøvern og antirasisme.

Den Umeå straight edge-scenen ble jo så stor i Sverige. Den fikk jo enorm oppmerksomhet på 90-tallet. Straight edge der var jo ofte koblet til progressiv politikk. I Sverige er vel tendensen nå som i mange andre land at straight edge og hardcore-scenen har blitt rimelig upolitisk. En kan si at politikk og aktivisme ikke har noen særlig stor prioritet lengere. 

En har jo fortsatt band som Anchor.  

Absolutt, det er et veldig godt eksempel på det motsatte. Selv om alle i hardcore-scenen ikke er så aktive som en kanskje skulle ønske så ser en jo likevel at deres holdninger er progressive og venstreradikale. Det i seg selv er jo veldig positivt. I andre land så har en jo sett at den høyreekstreme innflytelsen har blitt veldig sterk i hardcore og straight edge, noe som er kjipt. 

I den norske straight edge-scenen så hadde jo f.eks. Onward radikale tekster. Selv om det kanskje ikke var et band en forbandt med å gå i demonstrasjoner, eller spesielt knyttet til blitzmiljøet. Likevel tekstene er fylt med radikal politikk og filosofi. Føler du at den noe mer radikale utgaven av straight edge i Umeå har satt sine spor?


Absolutt. Selv om straight edge-scenen i Umeå ikke er den samme i dag som det var på 90-tallet så merker jo at straight edge har satt sine spor. Det finnes fortsatt møter og arenaer i Umeå der alkohol er "bannlyst". Personlig så synes jeg det er bra. I Stockholm der jeg bor så er det jo rake motsetningen. Normen i Stockholm er at en drikker alkohol når en omgåes i venstreradikale kretser. 

I blant så blir en lei?

I blant kan det litt for mye. Noen ganger kommer den stemningen der en ikke føler seg så komfortabel. I Umeå er det definitivt annerledes. Jeg synes alltid det er interessant når venner jeg har i Umeå kommer til Stockholm for et evenement og alle der er fulle. Det virker som de fra Norrland alltid blir like sjokkert over hvordan alkohol er normen i Stockholm. 

En ser jo også at dyrevern og veganisme har satt sine tydelige spor når en besøker Umeå i dag. 

Absolutt. Selv om kanskje noen har distansert seg fra merkelappen og ikke kaller seg straight edge lengere så er fortsatt normen om rusfrihet og veganisme alltid tilstedeværende. 

Jeg registrerte jo i boken din at Dennis Lyxzén som vi tidligere har intervjuet i podcasten vår ikke lenger kaller seg straight edge. Han ønsket ikke lengere å bruke ned merkelappen.

Hehe. Han har vel likevel fortsatt sin straight edge-tatovering. Det er jo også et interessant spørsmål, en vil leve rusfritt men har kanskje ikke behov for merkelappen. Noen føler straight edge-merkelappen er litt barnslig eller uproduktiv der den skaper et slags skille. Delvis så er det en kritikk jeg kan forstå, men merkelappen skal heller ikke undervurderes. Det hjelper hvis en ser seg selv som en del i en større sammenheng, der en føler et felleskap. Personlig så ble straight edge merkelappen veldig viktig for meg i 16-17 årsalderen fordi jeg var veldig isolert i en liten by i Østerrike. Jeg var ikke interessert i ruskulturen, derimot så var jeg veldig interessert i subkultur, hardcore/punk osv. Derfor føltes det utrolig bra å få vite at det fantes en slags bevegelse. Jeg hadde nok aldri hørt den type livsstil innenfor de rammene om ikke en slik merkelapp hadde eksistert. Derfor er jeg ikke kritisk til straight edge merkelappen. 

Jeg mener det er i Umeå straight edge-bandet Bloodpath sitt demokassett-cover det står noe interessant om dette med merkelapper. En er født med ulike merkelapper som en ikke på noe vis kan velge selv f.eks. mann eller kvinne, svart eller hvit o.l. Bloodpath skriver at de har som mål å ta til seg alle de positive merkelapper som eksisterer som f.eks. straight edge, vegan, antirasist o.l. 

Det synes jeg også er et godt eksempel. En vil kanskje vise omverdenen at en har bestemt seg å leve på en annerledes måte. Det er dermed ikke sagt at om en selv har tatt det valget at en forventer at alle andre også gjør det. Man er klar for å forsvare de valg en har tatt og en skjemmes ikke over de, da kan slike merkelapper hjelpe. Jeg synes det er helt ok at mennesker ikke bare kaller seg for avholds eller rusfri.

Du X'er opp? 


Ja, klart. Straight edge, det er ikke noe feil med det. Alle politiske begrep har en komplisert historie. Kanskje visse aspekter rent historisk en ikke identifiserer seg 100% med, noe som kan være spennende å diskutere. Det var jo også noe av bakgrunnen for å gjøre den boken, straight edge har en verdi, det er noe positivt. 

Med den boken så fikk du jo bevist hvorfor du identifiserer deg meg straight edge. Det ligger noe mer bak enn bare stereotypien med college-jakke og Nike-sko. 

Ja, det var nok delvis meningen. 

Hva er din favoritt dyrevern-låt?

Jeg synes ofte det er bra å gå tilbake til røttene og vil derfor velge «No More» av Youth of Today. En låt de fleste kjenner til, men ofte glemmer man å virkelig lytte. Den låten var oppstarten til masse. 

Tusen takk for intervjuet!

By Gabriel Kuhn
Tuesda, July 20th, 2010
Znet

 

You are the editor of Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics. What is it about?
 
Basically, it's about tracing the history of relations between straight edge and radical politics – by this I mean progressive, anti-authoritarian, egalitarian politics. Straight edge has often been associated with dogmatism, moralism, self-righteousness, and puritanism. Unfortunately, some self-identified straight edge folks have given reason to this, although the extent to which these attitudes have been characteristic for the straight edge scene has been grossly exaggerated. At the same time, it is true that there have been largely "apolitical" sections in the movement that have shown little resistance to these tendencies, which allowed them to flourish and to attract an unfortunate amount of attention. However, there have also always been individuals, bands, and entire scenes – like in Israel, Portugal, or Sweden – for which the union between straight edge and radical politics seemed very natural; and this is the history I've been trying to document in this volume by collecting interviews and essays from different radical straight edge artists and activists.

How did you come to this topic? Are you straight edge yourself?
 
Yes, I've been straight edge for over twenty years. Straight edge has meant a lot to me. I grew up in a small town in western Austria, in an environment where youths, especially boys, were expected to start drinking when they were like thirteen or fourteen. I was the only one in my town who rejected this, except for kids from really conservative Christian homes who I didn't hang out with either. So there was a sense of isolation and I constantly had to defend my choice of not drinking and, later, of not doing other drugs.
 
Finding out about straight edge was one of the most exciting discoveries of my life: not only did it mean that there were other kids like me out there – kids into underground music and culture yet with no interest in drugs – but it also meant that there was an entire movement that stood for my choices and ideas; in other words, there was a collective I could identify with!
 
The problem was that when I finally came in closer contact with straight edge scenes – in 1994, when I moved to the US – I was terribly disappointed, because some of the politics seemed so screwed. You must remember that this was a time when the hardline movement was really strong, and when you still had a very pronounced male dominance in the scene. Out of this came a highly ambiguous relationship with straight edge: it still meant a lot to me and I wanted to be part of it – yet I did not feel connected to many factions of the movement. I think it was this ambiguity that gave me the idea for the book: I wanted to document the parts of straight edge history that I could identify with; the parts that, to me personally, made straight edge the most inspiring and beautiful.

How do you see the evolution of the straight edge movement?
 
I think that straight edge has developed in many different ways, which is good – although I could do without the conservative elements.
 
In particular the last ten years have brought real diversity, also on a musical level. Straight edge is no longer tied to the youth crew style of the 1980s or the metalcore of the 1990s – today you have straight edge acoustic acts, straight edge power violence bands and everything in-between. There are also different definitions of straight edge – the most contentious issues are veganism, sexuality, and the exact understanding of drugs/intoxicants – and there are different political adaptations, reaching from anarchist to neo-fascist straight edge groups. As I said, the conservative elements I could do without, but in general diversity is good – it enriches and stimulates.

We think that straight edge is a form of désengagement, of refusal of the hegemonic values. So, it is connected to social commitment, against any oppression, and so to veganism also. How do you see it and how do you think straight edge people see it?
 
I like the notion of désengagement, I think it describes one of the political dimensions of straight edge very well. As you say, there is a rejection of hegemonic values and norms. So if you are opposed to the political and economic system that produces these values and norms, being straight edge marks an opposition to it. However, the political direction that this takes is not necessarily clear at first. Fascists reject the current system too, so a mere gesture of opposition is not enough to claim straight edge for left or radical politics. I don't think there is an automatic connection between désengagement and social commitment or the fight against oppression. Something has to be added to allow straight edge to head that way: social and political awareness, a commitment to a just and egalitarian world, empathy and affection. To some, veganism will be an obvious choice to make; others might make other choices with respect to their diets. I don't think that this in itself is decisive. What's decisive is that you fight for a better world for all and that you engage in respectful and comradely dialogue with others who want to do the same. No single individual has the answers as to which exact forms of behavior or conduct will get us there – but a common effort will guide us in the right way. And what applies to veganism applies to straight edge too: to some it will be an important part of this journey, to others it won't. Some people might prioritize other forms of désengagement. After all, complete désengagement is hardly possible in a world dominated by nation states and capital. In the end, it is the solidarity and the mutual support that counts. For us straight edge folks this means to prove our ability to contribute to this struggle in positive and constructive ways.
 
So this is how I see it. How do other straight edge people see it? I'm not sure. I suppose that some see it similarly, but there are many different understandings of straight edge, including those that reject any connection to politics. As I said before, there is a lot of diversity.
 
In the last years, some far right movements, especially in Russia and Germany, try to integrate the straight edge culture in their ideological models. In France these last months, some people try to follow this pattern. What can you tell us about this tendency making straight edge a social Darwinism?
 
Straight edge in its very basic definition has no clear political content – it merely indicates a refusal of drugs/intoxicants. The political connotations of straight edge come from the context it appears in and from the ideas and notions it is linked to. It is easy for the right wing to claim straight edge: all you have to do is turn it into an ideology (rather than understanding it as a personal choice). Then you can claim that you are a "better", "more advanced", or "superior" person than others. That's the first step to fascism. Possibly, the second one is to tie these sentiments to a notion of "health". While straight edge can certainly contribute to personal health, a political notion of "health" is very dangerous and has been used by all fascist movements – you just have to study their language, fascists always speak of "disease", "plague", or "decay" when they refer to the people and communities they see as inferior. The third step – and this is where we come to today's explicitly fascist and neo-Nazi straight edge adaptations – is when you tie the notion of health to a "race" or a "nation" that you need to "defend" or "preserve" or whatever. Maybe we can speak of a three-step right-wing danger here: 1. self-righteousness ("I am better than you"); 2. social Darwinism ("I am healthier than you and will outlive you"); 3. outright nationalism/racism ("we are better than you and we must maintain our 'purity'"). I think what we have seen in recent years in Russia and Germany – and now apparently also in France, although I don't know much about this – is the third step being more and more clearly articulated. The first two, to be honest, have been haunting straight edge for a long time.
 
How can we resist these developments?
 
I think there is little point in arguing about what straight edge "really" means or in denouncing the right-wing adaptations as "distortions" of straight edge. Right-wing straight edge folks obviously have their own definitions and there is no higher authority to decide who is right and wrong. In the end, we would just exhaust ourselves by throwing definitions back and forth. I think what's more important is to make our ideas as present in the scene as possible and to make them compelling to the people who move in the scene. We will win kids by being welcoming, compassionate, and caring. These are strong values – all the other side got is hate.
 
Yes, but hate is also something very important. We hate oppression and exploitation. And, concerning the three points you talked about, we disagree with the first point. Because, yes, we do consider the vegan straight edge lifestyle as superior to other lifestyles. Would you agree to say that, in your will not to make accurate definitions and in your promotion of spontaneity, you're in favor of an anarchist vision? And that for you, Veganism and Straight edge don't go necessarily together?
 
Of course it is important to have strong feelings about the terrible consequences of oppression and exploitation. If you want to call that "hate", that's fine. But what you hate in this case is a system, and you hate it because you want people – all people, I suppose – to be happy. People on the extreme right, on the other hand, hate people and that is at the center of their ideology. To me that's a crucial difference, and that's what I meant.
 
As far as the superiority of vegan straight edge is concerned, I guess it depends on what you mean by that. If you think that it is the best way to contribute to as little cruelty as possible in your personal lives, I see no particular reason to argue with that – although I'd like to point out that being vegan straight edge in itself doesn't mean that you can't be an asshole. As I said before, if you want to set a really convincing example for a "cruelty-free" or a "compassionate" lifestyle, your vegan straight edge ethics have to be tied to broad political consciousness.
 
Related to this, the claim that vegan straight edge constitutes a superior lifestyle can become troubling if you really want to make this a universal norm. I mean, if we go to a fishing village in Senegal and tell people that their lifestyle is inferior to ours, our vegan straight edge ethics can easily become cynical and offensive. That's why I don't like to speak of vegan straight edge as anything "superior". I think that vegan straight edge as a political practice makes a lot of sense in certain contexts and under certain circumstances – but we must never forget that billions of people don't share our contexts and circumstances, and hence other things will make more sense to them. Life is diverse, complex, and complicated, and not only is it important to be aware of that, it also makes life exciting. And it is certainly one of the reasons why I don't like to argue about definitions. Definitions help us to negotiate the complexity of life – they are tools, but they hold no truth. That's why I think it's usually pointless to argue about them. You don't win over people's hearts by defining things – you win them over by setting examples of a more joyful life. Does this belief make me an anarchist? Maybe – if it fits your definition of anarchism...
 
Regarding the relation of veganism and straight edge, maybe this helps to illustrate my point about definitions being tools: to me, the two are not necessarily connected, because I define straight edge as abstinence from drugs/intoxicants, and people can abstain from drugs/intoxicants without being vegans. Hence, according to the definition of straight edge I use, there is no necessary connection. If you have a different definition, your conclusion might be a different one too. It can be a lot of fun to discuss these things, but we'll never get to the point where one of us is proven right or wrong – and I don't think that matters either.

How do you see the future of the straight edge movement?
 
To begin with, I am convinced that it will live on. It has survived thirty years, which means that it has stood the test of time. Most straight edge kids today weren't even born when Ian MacKaye wrote the song "Straight Edge" in 1980. Movements that make it this long are usually here to stay.
 
What will the future bring? Even more diversity, I suppose – and hopefully more radical expressions. I am optimistic. I think that there exists both an increasing interest in sobriety in radical circles and an ongoing interest for radical ideas among many straight edge kids. This is promising.

What is the best way to buy the book? Can you tell us about the publisher?
 
The best way to buy the book is to get it either directly from the PM Press website or from an independent bookstore or distributor. That way, the money stays within our community and will go into important political projects.
 
PM Press was founded a couple of years ago and has brought out an impressive list of books, DVDs, and CDs during the short time it has been around. There are a few people involved who have very strong roots in the hardcore punk community, which certainly helped to gather support for this project. If you want to get a better idea of the titles they are putting out, it'd be best to just browse their website.

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