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Hi, my name is Jim Macdonald, and I have an odd assortment of interests. In no particular order, I love Yellowstone, I am an anti-authoritarian activist and organizer, and I have a background in philosophy, having taught at the college level. My blog has a lot more links to my writing and my other Web sites. In Jim's Eclectic World, I try to give a holistic view of my many interests. Often, all three passions show themselves interweaving in the very same blog. Anyhow, I think it's a little different. But, that's me. I'm not so much out there, but taken together, I'm a little unusual.

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    Sunday, March 30, 2008

    Not quite an essay on the significance of the Bozeman activist event on Yellowstone buffalo

    I must apologize to those readers who thought, like I thought, that I was going to engage in verbose, perhaps semi-poetic prose about my most uplifting night of local organizing in Bozeman, following our event with Mike Mease of Buffalo Field Campaign, on the Yellowstone bison.

    Though I believe that I had one of my most exuberantly interesting evenings - especially before and after the event - last Wednesday, I simply don't have it in me to engage at the personal level in which I'm prone to engage. Our conversations were rich, but to give them texture here seems almost ludicrous. It would be as if one could understand what it feels like to be an eruption of Old Faithful. Sure, we could see it, smell it, but to have the point of view of that geyser is beyond us. Or, to imagine what it's like for me to give birth to someone else's child would be just as strange to understand. A conversation that rich and engaging, beyond the what, but to the body language, the place, the sense of moment, the sense of place where people come to these conversations, is beyond the scope of time I have or ability I have to render it.

    So, all I can say is that it was wonderful, and we may have a real opportunity for a community of action and resistance in Bozeman. It's there for us who wish to make it so long as we dedicate ourselves to the work. And, unlike some moments during all my activism in Washington, DC, I think that that dedication may be there.

    Once upon a time, I dreamed of the Young Romantics (a search of the archives or a google search might take you to some of the mysteries), and brought that to a not-quite-so-explicitly shared place in Yellowstone - not once but twice. Now, I dream of creating a space not unlike it, but tied directly not to our dreams, but to those real voices in our world who don't have a chance of being heard.

    I believe real steps are being taken to facilitate that space.

    That's all I have to write for now. We're on our way.

    Love,
    Jim

    Thursday, March 27, 2008

    Report back on action now on Bozeman Activist Web site - introspective piece to follow

    A report has been written of last night's promising first event for the budding new Bozeman activist group that happened last night. I wanted to point people there.

    I think I'll be the person facilitating the first meeting in two Wednesdays. That meeting is open to the public; however, it's not a meeting without some sense of purpose. It's not a debate club; it's a group for planning action. I think the five points at the bottom of that report back get at some of the spirit we're talking about.

    Anyhow, I am going to write about my personal sense of the evening and of the great hope I feel. I just need the time to get myself together to write it. I feel enthralled by my evening, not just the event, but the discussions that carried on well into the night after the event. Some will say that talk is cheap, but out of such talk action flourishes.

    Please keep an eye out for it. We're going to be doing our best here in Bozeman, to keep an attentive ear to the community, especially those parts of the community that aren't empowered to speak out, that aren't being heard.

    If you don't make your way over to the Bozeman Activist Web site, the first planning meeting is Wednesday, April 9, at Montana State University's student union building - I think in a lobby (will get some clarification on that). It will be at 7 PM. The group will ultimately decide, but the current thinking is to shoot for biweekly meetings.

    Sunday, March 23, 2008

    MEDIA ADVISORY - "Fighting for the Buffalo" film and discussion - March 26 in Bozeman

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Chris Klatt
    406-599-3629
    March 23, 2008

    “Fighting for the Buffalo” – Film and Discussion on the Bison Slaughter in Yellowstone
    Local Bozeman residents organizing for the buffalo and other local environmental, economic and social justice concerns

    (Bozeman, MT – March 23, 2008) A record number of buffalo – 1100 and growing - have been killed in and around Yellowstone National Park this winter. Mike Mease of Buffalo Field Campaign will join concerned Bozeman residents in presenting a film and discussion on the buffalo slaughter. The discussion will be focused on what local residents can do toward ending the slaughter and supporting a wild and free roaming buffalo population. The film, which looks at the on-the-ground realities of the buffalo hunt, hazing and slaughter, is Wednesday, March 26, 7 PM, at Montana State University’s Procrastinator Theater.

    WHO: Mike Mease, co-founder Buffalo Field Campaign

    WHAT: Organized in partnership with local Bozeman residents (see http://bozemanactivist.wordpress.com), short films documenting the hazing and killing of buffalo in and around Yellowstone National Park, with a discussion on what local residents can do to help stop the slaughter of bison and promote a free-ranging population. Admission is open to the public and is free of charge.

    WHERE: Procrastinator Theater
    Linfield Hall, Room 125
    Montana State University
    S. 11th Avenue, Bozeman, MT

    WHEN: 7PM, Wednesday, March 26, 2008

    WHY: Because the slaughter of buffalo has gone on for so long and because we in the Gallatin Valley live so close to what is happening, the need to organize at the local level on this and other inter-related issues is important. The film and discussion to follow is meant to be an education for those unfamiliar with the situation, an update on the current slaughter from the point of view of those working to stop it, and a tool toward organizing a local grassroots group. The new consensus-based group will focus on issues related to the buffalo, as well as other local environmental, economic and social justice concerns.

    For more information about the event, please see http://bozemanactivist.wordpress.com, or contact Chris Klatt by phone at 406-599-3629 or by email at cklatt@riseup.net.

    Wednesday, March 19, 2008

    Revolution of the small: The uselessness of global action and the need to take local action (here in Bozeman, Montana)

    We live in a big world – one with more than six billion people – and a big nation of more than 300 million people. It is difficult in a nation so large to find one’s voice, to believe that you can matter. Think about the physics of this reality for a second. People are in a frenzy over a presidential election where somehow one woman or man will somehow represent the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of 300 million and more people. What slice of that representation are you? If you sliced your evening meal into 300 million pieces, would that morsel amount to anything at all?

    And, yet, in that government, the people of Montana actually have a greater say than the people of California. Here in Montana, where we have about one million people, our two United States senators only have to divide that meal into a million pieces whereas in California, it’s over 36 million. True, in the House of Representative, Denny Rehberg has a pretty big district to cover. Yet, no matter how you slice it – millions or zillions of pieces – your voice is almost necessarily irrelevant.

    Now, it may be that 300 million people actually only have a handful of concerns so that they can divide themselves neatly into parties and smaller interest groups, but that seems unlikely. How much does the government actually reflect what you believe and what you care about?

    Even here in Bozeman, a town growing rapidly, beginning to approach 40 thousand people, to what extent do you matter? No doubt more than you do at the federal level, but frankly, it’s not likely that government reflects the collective desires of 40 thousand people so much as it represents the will of those few who have the political skill to raise their voices in a town this large.

    And, it’s worse than that. Perhaps, you belong to several interest organizations, an environmental organization, a political party, a civil rights organization, or any number of other groups. What say do you have in those groups? When you align yourself to those groups and give them money, do you do so because you matter to the group or rather because those groups simply reflect what you would like to see? You sign the online petitions, you give donations, you send letters to your congressmen – who are already representing so many people – and little changes.

    And, yet each of these institutions has a great deal of power over your life. They tax you, they send you to war, they dam up your rivers, they destroy your favorite places, they build new roads for you to drive on, they arrest and throw you in prison, they demand your time and your energy and your money and your votes.

    And, let’s not pretend that we are only talking about government and advocacy groups; the same goes for private industry. While the market at some cosmic level might matter to any large business, individually your dollar means virtually nothing to them as a slice of the pie. You cannot stop sweatshop labor, you cannot demand locally grown goods, and you cannot demand service. Your dollar cannot compete with the big dollars that keep these places afloat. Someone is no doubt richer and has more influence. Whereas your vote is one out of so many thousands and millions of people, your dollar is worth even less in most cases. You don’t even have a fraction of influence over industry, though you can be certain to fill out comment forms and complain to customer service representatives, who themselves have no power or influence. Your dollar is a worthless advocate for your voice.

    Typically, when people call for action, they call for people to exert their influence over elected leaders, to give to supposedly influential interest groups, or to spend or refrain from spending their dollars in various private industries. And yet, if you look at the sheer scope of the situation, your individual action means little, and your influence over the outcome amounts to such a small fraction of the whole that in real terms it truly is nothing. No one can digest such tiny fractions of food, though they can use the collective whole of such food to maintain their power over you and everyone else.

    This is not a recipe for hope – even if the Barack Obamas of this world would have the audacity to direct your hope along these lines – it is the same old recipe for futility and self delusion. Liberals, conservatives, socialists, and libertarians alike are guilty of the same delusion.

    And yet, in this illustration, there is plenty to be hopeful about. We have some lessons that we should be able to take so that you and I can find our voices, so that our individual and collective interests might have hope in being relevant to our world.

    In life, our voice, our say in things, is tied directly to our immediate experience. We have voice – most of us – in our family situations. If not there, we have it certainly with our friends. Some of us are lucky to have some voice in our job situations – others not so much. We have voice in our activities of daily living, and we have voice only in those things that we actually experience. Influence in this world must begin with that realization – the realization of the immediate.

    One thing that is immediately different from the areas in life where we have voice from those where we do not is the scope of the situations. Where the institutions of American society, of Montana society, of even Bozeman society are very large and beyond the grasp of everyone, those where we have influence are very small and tied directly to that in which we can directly participate.

    Secondly, we have no influence in a vacuum. By that, I mean, our voice always exists in some kind of social context. While libertarians are fond of talking about individual liberties to do as one sees fit, in fact, no action occurs without some influence on things we do not directly experience. So, whereas we have no voice in government or large private industry, what they do certainly has voice over our lives. Likewise, when we act, we should not pretend that our actions do not have influence beyond our immediate circle.

    Both of these ideas suggest that empowering actions are those that begin in a very small context within a small community of beings, though the influence of those actions will no doubt have consequences to communities outside our immediate one. A disempowering action is one where we act in a context too large and exert no direct influence on that world.

    Okay, but how will small group action in a smaller context make any difference on the larger dynamics of the world in which we inhabit? We are forced to be consumers in a very large world, whether it’s consumers of electoral politics, of special interest groups, or of private industry. We are not only forced into this world, but as people point out, we are forced into a world of rampant globalization, where our consumer choices are used to affect the standard of living of people and beings all over the globe.

    The first thing to notice here is that regardless of the global implications of action, the only physically meaningful way to take action is locally. Even if you could take global action – for instance, if you were President of the United States – doing so generally prevents others from making any meaningful change because it’s done at the pretense of representing so many other people. So, even if we could never do anything to make global changes, it would be nothing more than wishful thinking that we could do so outside the context tied directly to our immediate experience.

    However, looking at this from a global perspective, just as votes ultimately do produce that abstract something known as the collective will, which has real global consequences – even if your voice is lost in the process – local action, multiplied, that tends to take and see meaningful action as being tied to our immediate experience must have global consequences that can only reciprocate back to the local level. For instance, if a group of people work together to grow their own food, or work with a homeless population, or combat environmental destruction in their community, and see success and empowerment in those terms, and this is multiplied, the culture of action changes. The power of the large is destroyed, and so the effects of that power are destroyed. Of course, there will be consequences, both positive and negative, of that collective action, but now the remedy is no longer a function of a small set of people representing the global interest, but of local people working within the confines of their direct experience.

    This, of course, is to say that global change, if there is to be global change, is a very long process that requires a great deal of work. There are no short cuts. It requires the individual to reach outside into the context of one’s immediate situation to find a way to engage it and take action. That is, it’s not calling for global solutions, but it is also not calling the individual to find what’s wrong within herself or himself before acting without, which is a false dichotomy and also a dangerous abstraction away from our immediate experience. It is to say that we find empowerment and voice from within a small community where we have voice.

    Now, no doubt there are going to be a lot of global intrusions on our ability to act, intrusions that cut across communities. Where we can connect our communities of action with others, we no doubt should demonstrate solidarity. However, at the point we lose touch with our particular community of action, we have gone too far.

    While this is all fine and good, some will wonder what such a lofty – perhaps global argument – has to do with those of us in Bozeman, or perhaps those in the subset of Bozeman or my community who happen upon this essay. I think this is an entirely fair criticism, if one were to offer it. Let me then address my experience here in Bozeman directly.

    For me, my experience is tied directly to what I see, hear, taste, smell, and touch around me. On the one hand, I see homeless people on the streets of this city. I see poverty (and wealth) all around. There are too many women who are being sexually abused. There are hierarchies rooted in class and even race (even in a city as predominately white as Bozeman). I see homes that are too expensive for people to afford. I see mentally ill not being taken care of. However, on the other hand, I also see a lot of happiness, people glad to be here, who love Bozeman. I see people with a heart for action, who are finding ingenious ways of adapting to society. I see beautiful mountains all around me. I certainly see and feel a wonderful spirit about this place. I see my wonderful baby boy and partner every day as well as new friends. I still see far too many signs for Ron Paul in this town, but even then, I see people out there seeking their voice.

    In the newspapers and in journeys to the place I have experienced the deepest – Yellowstone National Park – I see wonders but also a lot of things I wish I weren’t experiencing. I see buffalo, many of whom I will never see again as they are slaughtered. I see abuse of those animals. I see a playground for rich people, exacerbated in the winter. And yet, I still, no matter what, experience the magic of a place I love like none other.

    Even more to the point, however, I see the possibility in Bozeman for a voice. Recently, I’ve been making friends who feel the same way, drawn by a similar set of immediate experiences. We have gotten together to take action, to make action smaller and more localized, away from the paradigm of action discussed earlier in the essay. That’s why we’ve been putting together a film and discussion on the slaughter of Yellowstone’s buffalo on March 26, at 7 PM, at Montana State University’s Procrastinator Theater, Room 125 (free admission). The point of this film and discussion isn’t simply to let people know about the things we care about but to create a small grassroots group or a local network of such groups interested in empowering themselves to take action on a similar model. There are plenty of community issues that can be addressed from a model that respects the voices of others and empowers people from within that context. It could be buffalo, it could be child care, it could be free learning, it could be trade. It could be as simple and fun as biking or hiking, or it could be as serious as sexism and racism. It could be anything at all so long as it is tied to a particular community and so long as people really can find voice within that community.

    Bozeman already has plenty of communities of local action, most of which I will never know about. They occur in the homes, schools, churches, workplaces, and parks in the town. The point here isn’t to deny that or to suggest that what will come from my own work will be better; instead, it is to draw attention to our individual need for voice and the importance of our local community work. When you are in a belly dancing group, or deciding on a family activity, or in a small group meeting, this is the stuff that matters to some of us here and now. What I’m calling for is embracing it and doing more of it, making that the focus of our life action, not the sink hole of a world far too large to take note of us. That world dearly matters to us, too, but if we want to change it, fully embracing local action is the first and only way to begin to make those changes. Using the outer example of the global world can help us make local connections, help us build networks of solidarity, but we must stay within the confines of a world where you and I matter.

    That’s the revolution of the small; that’s the long road that can topple everything that keeps us from maximizing our efforts within our community of experience.

    And, so, with that, I hope you within earshot of this can join us on March 26, and hopefully a small group of you will embrace something of what I am saying here so we can take action for buffalo in Yellowstone but just as importantly, take action on things that concern your context of experience.

    Sunday, March 16, 2008

    An excercise in the sophist's art? Answering a random and weird meme about my favorite historical figure

    I have been tagged by Michael Barton, who writes the fine blog, The Dispersal of Darwin. In this particular meme, I’m supposed to share seven random/weird things about my favorite historical figure.

    For those who know me, my favorite historical person is not likely to be anyone who has been written about in the history of my favorite place, Yellowstone National Park. I don’t have too many kind things to say about the historical actors that have been written about in Yellowstone – at least those I have come across (indeed, some of the most beautiful people I have ever met have been alive in Yellowstone, but people generally do not write books about these people.)

    However, in the world of philosophy, which is my way of life, there are two figures who come to mind, namely Plato and G.W. Leibniz. Now, Leibniz, the late 16th and early 17th century eclectic rationalist philosopher would make an interesting historical subject, full of many curiosities. However, in terms of this meme, the only appropriate choice for me is Plato. The reason for that is that I have believed that Plato has been often mishandled greatly by historians of Western Civilization – turned into something I don’t believe he was, namely a Platonist, believing in some absurd netherworld of abstract Forms with no necessary connection to the world we inhabit. That nonsensical interpretation is as old as Aristotle, but it gets repeated uncritically by historians, as have any number of other things about Plato.

    I double majored , now too many years ago as an undergraduate in history and philosophy before pursuing graduate studies in the latter, and I admit the vice of being keenly interested in setting the record straight about Plato. While here we consider the random and the weird, it’s perhaps most fitting that if we must consider Plato historically (a rather silly way to consider Plato), then we should consider him in the most silly way possible. Perhaps, that shall suffice as a fair warning shot at historians who construct the philosophy of individuals from their historical context rather than also taking time to understand the philosophy as a means of grasping the historical man. It is not that the Form is out there; it is that it already grounds the very earthy and vulgar discussions we are having now (if not about Plato, then about war and peace and all that falls between).

    Plato (the random and the weird, historically speaking)

    1. Plato was not his given name. Rather, it was Aristocles, at least according to Diogenes Laertius (D.L. 3.4). Apparently, Plato (Platon) was given to him by his wrestling coach because of his broad figure. My long departed cat, Aristocles (Aris, for short), was named after Plato, and just by coincidence, he happened to be the smartest animal I have ever gotten to know.
    1. Although most scholars disagree with me, Plato may not have written the Seventh Letter, which talks about his apparent misadventure into Syracuse (on the island of Sicily) trying to train the tyrant of Syracuse, Dionysius, to be a philosopher king. I (like the 19th century scholars before me) have serious doubts about the authenticity of the letter. Stylometrics aside, the metaphysics is all wrong and inconsistent with what one finds in the rest of Plato’s works (Look at Seventh Letter 342 and tell me that’s consistent at all with it’s knock off in Republic VI 509-511). In any event, it’s interesting to see the gross mistakes that historians have made in citing Plato’s Seventh Letter as consistent with Plato’s supposed call for philosopher kings. There has been a lot of circular reasoning there, and I remember writing a paper on this issue for a history class while I was an undergraduate.
    1. Plato’s Academy was originally on a site that contained a sacred grove of olive trees (see the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy at http://www.iep.utm.edu/a/academy.htm).
    1. Plato is actually mentioned in a couple of the dialogues, namely Apology and Phaedo (dialogues that are set during the trial and death of Socrates). In Phaedo, he’s notably not present for the death of Socrates because he is ill (Phaedo 59b). The literal distancing of Plato from the main character in most of his dialogues suggests that truth is not something that hits you over the head but is opened and revealed by lovers of wisdom through the dialectical process. That is, we don’t get at Plato merely by reading seven facts about him.
    1. While Plato is virtually absent from the dialogues, his brothers make important appearances, most notably Glaucon and Adeimantus, who are featured in Republic. However, his brother Charmides has a dialogue named after him, and Critias has an important role in a couple dialogues.
    1. Plato’s sister Potone was the father of his nephew Speusippus, who became Plato’s successor at the Academy (D.L. 3.1). As generations succeeded, the Academy became something that surely Plato would have disapproved of, a school of skepticism. Though the school believed itself to be in the tradition of Plato and Socrates, claiming to know nothing is never anything Socrates actually said (or anything that Plato wrote). What Socrates says is that he never claims to know what he does not know (Apology 21d).
    1. A scholar of Plato, Joseph Uemura, has claimed that Plato’s Republic is one of the two most misunderstood works of all time – the other being the Bible. From the nonsensical interpretations of the Line, of the supposed call for philosopher kings, and the ridiculous notion that Plato actually believed in the holding of women and children in common (certainly a play on Aristophanes), I have to agree with Uemura. Students of mine dismissed their eyes and the arguments of my lectures to regurgitate the nonsense spewed by cliff notes and historians of Plato.

    Now, obviously, don’t take my word for it or quote me. Read the texts for yourself; then discuss. I suspect we will find that we are currently engaged in a kind of sophistry, and so it is imperative that we move past that to something brighter and actually quite erotic.

    Saturday, March 08, 2008

    Downloadable flyers for - “Fighting for the Buffalo” - film and discussion

    032008_buffalo_teach-in.jpgSince we announced our teach-in on March 26, a lot more buffalo in Yellowstone have been sent to slaughter and/or captured. When the newest batch of buffalo is shipped to slaughter, the Associated Press says that the total of dead will soon be 1,090 dead buffalo.

    For us, this makes the event all the more poignant and necessary. While we fully plan on taking on issues of environmental, economic, and social justice over and above the plight of America's buffalo in Yellowstone, it's important for those of us working on this project that stopping the slaughter and providing the means for a wild and free roaming population of wild bison be part of that effort.

    Please help us get the word out. We have created a flyer for you to download and distribute. Below, you can download a full page and a quarter page flyer to get out the word. Send the announcement to listserves and mailing lists that you are on. Bring some friends. And, if you want to help organize this and be part of a group that works on these and other issues, please contact us. The first step is to join the information listserve we have organized. If you cannot come to the event, this will be an important way to stay in touch. If you can come to the event, our hope is to know you so that we can plan initial organizing meetings.

    This group can be what you want it to be. Let's make it happen. Too many buffalo are dying, and those who have labored so long to stop the slaughter need our support.

    Below are the flyers. Click on the image of the full page and quarter page flyers, print them and help us distribute. If you create your own flyers, we'd be happy to post them here as well.

    Thanks again for all of your help and hope to see you all on March 26.

    full page flyer quarter-page flyer

    Tuesday, March 04, 2008

    Fighting for the Buffalo - discussion and film - March 26, 7 PM, in Bozeman

    Note: I am helping with the organizing of this effort and encourage everyone to attend or find out how you can get involved with organizing. This effort starts with the buffalo but is not at all restricted to it - the focus of the group is environmental, economic, and social justice organizing local to the Gallatin Valley.

    Fighting for the Buffalo - discussion and film - March 26, 7 PM, in Bozeman

    By early March, more than 800 of the buffalo living in and around Yellowstone National Park will have been killed. Concerned residents of Bozeman are beginning to organize to stop the slaughter and hazing of these magnificent creatures.

    As we organize in Bozeman for the buffalo and other local issues, you are invited to attend a discussion, with Mike Mease of Buffalo Field Campaign, featuring a film documenting recent years in the bison’s struggle. This event will happen Wednesday, March 26, 7 PM, at Montana State University’s Procrastinator Theater (in Linfield 125 - on S. 11th Ave).

    Mike Mease is the co-founder of Buffalo Field Campaign, a year round grassroots organization actively in the field trying to document and stop the slaughter of buffalo in and around Yellowstone.

    All are welcome to attend, and admission is free.

    For those interested, we will be organizing a meeting following the presentation to consider next steps.

    For any other information, please sign up for the Bozeman Activist listserve by sending a blank email to:
    bozeman-activist-subscribe@lists.riseup.net.

    For any particular questions, contact Chris Klatt at:
    cklatt@riseup.net.

    This presentation is being organized by local Bozeman residents with the intention of building a grassroots consensus-based activist organization concerned with environmental, economic and social justice issues in Bozeman and the Gallatin Valley. The possibilities are endless, and all with a heart for justice are encouraged to get involved.