Cohosts Natalie Smith and Will Beaman discuss mutual aid, highlighting the potentials of its often neglected monetary and linguistic dimensions.
Reading against Dean Spade’s interpretation of mutual aid as fully internal or external to money and the state, Natalie and Will recast mutual aid practices as active and vital forms of contestation over the “monetary naming” of other fiscal authorities that naturalize austerity and unemployment. Viewing mutual aid this way, they argue, opens up possibilities for its expansion through monetary creation.
Music: “Yum” from “This Would Be Funny If It Were Happening To Anyone But Me” EP by flirting.
Transcript: Mike Lewis
Superstructure – Mutual Aid By Any Other Name
Naty Smith 00:15
Welcome to Superstructure! What show are we on?
Will Beaman 00:17
Hey everybody this is Superstructure with Natalie Smith and Will Beaman this week. I got super jealous that Maxx and Naty did their episode last week and so I wanted to follow it up.
Naty Smith 00:31
I just want to say really quick that we were like “Naty, you want to do the introduction this time?” and I was like sure I’m gonna do it just as long as until I immediately get tired of it. And it took about like three seconds.
Will Beaman 00:43
I maybe accelerated that a little bit, I don’t know.
Naty Smith 00:49
No, I liked it. I was like no it’s better, it’s better. So this is a Will and Naty episode. We’re doing some more dialectical series. We also have the Monologue series. We have Maxx doing Processions. We have Scott doing his monologues and lectures. We have Dasha monologuing. We don’t know when the Will monologuing series will come.
Will Beaman 01:12
Rumors have it that there may be something in the works that’s a solo Will thing, but I don’t know. We’ll see. Yeah.
Naty Smith 01:19
I love our one-on-one dynamic so far. It’s like an ADD extravaganza. So what are we talking about today, Will? I just got to do a Naty-Maxx episode solo for the first time. And today we’re getting to do a Naty-Will-Maxx in which we mutually aid each other, is that right?
Will Beaman 01:38
Yeah, that’s right. So mutual aid is the topic of the day. Yeah, I mean, I think I’ve been wanting to do, or I’ve just been thinking about mutual aid for a while, and I really wasn’t sure how we would approach it on an episode as a topic because what we definitely don’t want to do is be like, we have the comprehensive like single, Superstructure take on mutual aid, like, is it good or bad or something? Because I think that that’s…
Naty Smith 02:10
Such a big topic.
Will Beaman 02:11
It’s a huge topic. And so, you know, I want to proceed with some humility. We have some things that we want to say that I think are readings of mutual aid that yeah, there’s some things that I think I want to affirm about mutual aid that maybe don’t actually always get affirmed by people who are it’s biggest proponents. And, on the other hand, though, like, I also want to preface this by saying: we on this podcast have spent a lot of time talking about class reductionism and talking about you know, I mean, the podcast is called Superstructure, because, you know, we’re kind of tongue in cheek…
Naty Smith 02:57
We are anti-reduction in class sizes at schools.
Will Beaman 03:02
Naty Smith 03:02
We provide just inflationary classes where suddenly you have only language classes of 80 people and above just to save the state money. Because you have to starve the state from the left.
Will Beaman 03:15
You have to starve the state from the left, which is…
Naty Smith 03:19
Which is incoherent.
Will Beaman 03:21
A preview of a reading a little bit later…
Naty Smith 03:25
I think we want to affirm a variety of ways of naming mutual aid and sort of embrace this heterogeneity. But also, I think there’s a heterogeneity of namings of what mutual aid is as well as like different tones to affirm it in, and we’re not going to come in and some just like cynical Catherine Liu tone, like just to be a bitch like, “actually, Jeff Bezos is doing mutual aid.”
Will Beaman 03:49
Yeah, right, right. Like, there’s a certain way in which mutual aid is dismissed by class reductionists as being…
Naty Smith 03:57
Will Beaman 03:57
You know, because it is not workers at the point of production that it’s like, at best, a distraction or at worst, like, you know, like I literally years ago, there was some story with like, you know, mutual aid anarchists in either Seattle or Portland or something who were like fixing potholes. And they were being like, basically chastised by class reductionists, saying that the act of them fixing potholes is actually basically working to undermine public sector unions, whose power is based on their ability to withhold pothole-fixing labor.
Naty Smith 04:37
It’s such a particular class reductionism, too, right? It’s like a very specific narrative. How would you define that? Because there’s some mutual aid discourse which does talk about class in this like, reified location manner. That instead of like approximate locations, you can definitely get some like “in the real place” or “authentic source”. I do feel like there’s like a craving for an authentic absolute source in a class way that has, you know, things I would affirm and respect but others that I think kind of have weird slippages is in the mutual aid discourse. But the point is that you’re kind of referencing a very specific milieu, but it’s a big milieu.
Will Beaman 05:20
Yeah, absolutely. This class reduction thing, you know, like, that’s, it’s one… I mean, the common impulse, and why we focus so much on base-superstructure is that there are class reductionists who criticize mutual aid for undermining public sector unions, or whatever. They’re doing so by saying that, you know, the real base, or the real locus of political activity, has to be at this institutional point of unions. And anything outside of that is going to be kind of siphoning energy.
Naty Smith 05:56
It’s coming from this scarcity.
Will Beaman 05:57
Yeah, absolutely. But I think that we want to also save that there’s a lot of different readings of mutual aid. And one of the things that I think we want to push back on with this episode is a very particular way of reading mutual aid that, I think, neglects its engagement with abstract contestations over what kinds of work is being authorized socially, you know, to do certain things, right? Like, one of the things that stands out to me the most about mutual aid is something that I really, really want to affirm is it always happens wherever there is austerity and people need things to be done. You know, and I don’t want to just dismiss it as like a patchwork solution until we get the state in there or something, you know?
Naty Smith 06:58
Or, like, final, yeah, or the final stage of whatever it is we’re getting to.
Will Beaman 07:05
Right. Right. Yeah, it’s, you know, it’s not necessarily that it’s like, transitional, but what it does, that I find so inspiring, and that I really want to affirm is, you know, mutual aid looks at what is currently being authorized as important and worth paying people money to do. Like, what kinds of care work is available that you can get a job doing. And mutual aid goes ahead and does the things that are not being provisioned for, right? But in doing so, there’s an element of naming and identifying and authorizing as a collective against the authorization of the state to like, you do these things, you spend money to do these things. And against that…
Naty Smith 07:58
Will Beaman 07:58
Mutual aid holds open the possibility to do other things that are not necessarily being done by the state. And, you know, I mean, to put our cards on the table, like, I want to argue that that aspect of mutual aid is actually like a proto-monetary aspect. Because what money does, what MMT says, right, is like, when the government spends money into the economy, you know, hires people to be teachers. Part of what that’s doing is it’s identifying, you know, these skills, and this chalk, and this paper, this classroom, right? It’s like, there’s an element of naming all of these things as resources relative to production that needs to be done.
Naty Smith 08:46
And then you have the Beaman-Lee input-outputs…
Will Beaman 08:53
Naty Smith 08:55
I’m interrupting your flow. But what’s interesting to me in kind of where I — putting our cards on the table, I’m not good at cards, but — kind of taking another point of view that I kind of see on both sides will frame their reading of this naming, within monetary production, they both will repress abstraction. So you’ll kind of have this DSA read that’s like saying, well, we you know, we’re busy. We don’t have enough people at our meetings already. And like we have 27,000 phone calls to make and doors to knock and, you know, people power. And so they’re doing all these abstract things they don’t think of as abstract. And they don’t have enough dues. And there’s this sense of work and obligation and organization and monetary thing, right? And so they’re saying, well, mutual aid is like taking away from this other structure that’s the one we need to build. And then also you’ll see on the other side, like some mutual aid discourse that will say no, because we want to show the autonomy of our naming, there’s this sense of like we have to repress like you said this monetary abstraction that is kind of built into this collective work and that the only way possible ever would be to like, always repress the monetary abstraction. Does that make sense?
Will Beaman 10:10
Yeah, absolutely. Leading up to this episode we’ve been talking about all the things that we like and want to affirm about mutual aid, and I think you had a couple of examples that you wanted to talk about…
Naty Smith 10:26
That will lead into the affirmation instead of just me like reading two sides of the lack. Well a lot of you here mentioned disaster relief, right? Like when you have Occupy Sandy when they came in and were distributing clothes and blankets, food, you know, and FEMA says they did it better than them or after Katrina obviously you have people come in and do all types of disaster relief. You get obviously community fringes you know in Latin America all throughout the region they have olla común, the common pot. You know, food pantries, you got autonomous tenant unions, right? Where people are fighting to end evictions in their area. Childcare collectives, bookcases, rapid response networks to stop deportations. I mean, COVID there’s been like a huge explosion of different kinds of mutual aid obviously, just, you know, again, we’re like, scarcity is like imposed, right? Where the state does not necessarily like spending like it should and so you have like, food relief, mass relief. I know in DSA, there’s always discourse about pullover prevention or brake lights…
Will Beaman 11:43
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Naty Smith 11:44
Like parts of them who like, are we doing mere mutual aid? But also I think probably most DSA-ers, who we don’t want to like misrepresent them, but there’s a lot of like more lib commie or whatever-type friendly people to that, I think, who obviously don’t give a fuck. Bail funds, writing letters to people in jail, you know, self defense classes. You have anti-fash networks, medics at protests…
Will Beaman 12:10
Yeah. I mean, and all of this is to say, right, like, it’s a huge category. And one thing also that I wanted to bring up is, another thing that comes to mind when you talk about mutual aid is like GoFundMes, right?
Naty Smith 12:25
Will Beaman 12:26
And fundraising and transferring money…
Naty Smith 12:28
Which some would dispute. This is another thing that we’re like, coming into this, we’re like, oh, man, this is a huge discourse. And there’s whole realms of it I feel like within like anarchism Kool Aid specialty world that like, have very nuanced opinions on like, is a GoFundMe donation between people?
Will Beaman 12:44
Right. Is that mutual aid or is that charity? Yeah, all of those things.
Naty Smith 12:48
Yeah. There’s a lot of naming debates in this discourse.
Will Beaman 12:53
Yeah, and, you know, like, I think that even our anxiety about naming mutual aid is one thing speaks to…
Naty Smith 13:00
Will Beaman 13:01
All of the different registers in which mutual aid is operating beyond the immediate, right? There’s a real concern as to what the discourse about mutual aid is.
Naty Smith 13:13
Because it’s a huge anchoring category, right? Like helping each other. And within where monetary scarcity has been imposed and then still work that hasn’t been named, or given space that needs to happen, that’s like huge realms, right? Like…
Will Beaman 13:34
Naty Smith 13:35
You got migrant stuff. You got the squats in Greece, like in Exarchia where you have like, buildings full of refugees who have like their little, you know, I mean, all these things, you’ve got history of free breakfast…I mean, two, if you just look on Wikipedia, then they’re also like, medieval guilds, and I’m like, I don’t know…
Will Beaman 13:57
Yeah. The point ultimately is I don’t think we even want to litigate like what is and is not mutual aid.
Naty Smith 14:06
Will Beaman 14:06
I feel like there’s an element of all of the things that you named, where the mutual aid is taking place, both with one foot inside the system, that it’s trying to kind of, you know, not buttress the system, but buttress the people who are neglected by that system, right? But also one foot outside of it, you know, sort of in this autonomous or at the very least, not being fully subjugated mindset, you know, by this sort of univocal categorization of what’s necessary and what’s worth producing. Right? Like there’s a rebellious spirit to mutual aid, but there’s also I think… So I wanted to relate this to the episode that you and Maxx just did about naming, right? And about…
Naty Smith 14:58
What’s your name? Mine is Natalie.
Will Beaman 15:01
Mine is ENFP.
Naty Smith 15:02
Oh, What are your other names?
Will Beaman 15:05
Six wing Seven. Aquarius. Flake is one from our reading.
Naty Smith 15:12
Are you flaky?
Will Beaman 15:12
Well, more so than the other one which is an over-worker?
Naty Smith 15:17
Oh, I don’t know this. I don’t know this scheme.
Will Beaman 15:18
Yeah, well, this is another personality test. But this one is grounded in the science of mutual aid.
Naty Smith 15:25
Did you do the dishes or not?
Will Beaman 15:30
Yeah, like, I guess one comparison that I wanted to kind of draw out is that what mutual aid does in the absence of provisioning in one monetary regime is it introduces an element of play with naming that goes beyond what has already been named as essential, right? Like, you know, whatever is thought of as the system…
Naty Smith 15:55
Will Beaman 15:56
Whatever that has named as being essential and categorized as care work, and everything else is free time. You know, I read in mutual aid as a kind of a defiant naming of those things as work and as valid and as very important, and this is that kind of proto monetary dimension that I want to get at. But I think that there’s an element of play and of making naming our own.
Naty Smith 16:27
But we want to get in where it’s not absolutely our own, right? It’s like this… Like, I mean, the example we’ve used a lot is with the Unis right, where Jesús Reséndiz is writing like a three part series and Milenio now, too, and has been on Money On The Left. This idea of like, kind of fiscal federalism where like a university is within a fiscal structure, why couldn’t they also be an emitter of credit and not just a user? Yeah, usually these models often do have this other end where you’re like dialoguing with so called sovereignty, right? Or some power, right? And then there’s all these debates about are you going to be subsumed by the state? Will they destroy your program? And we can go through those lists of naming, too. Like, will the state name you and corrupt you? Or can the naming of the state, like work from both directions?
Will Beaman 17:25
Right? Absolutely. Yeah. And with naming I mean, there’s that whole thing is like, we use language that we’re “given”, but like, we don’t use it the exact way that we’re given it, right? That’s not possible. There’s always an element of human creativity with how that language is being used that makes the language and that meaning non-identical to, you know, whatever we heard in the first place when we learned it.
Naty Smith 17:55
Nor absolutely non-identical.
Will Beaman 17:56
Yeah, and that’s, I mean, when we talk about the Uni as one way of looking at money, linguistically. We’re talking about this monetary authorization to do something social, that spending affords. Literally affords. And in a sense, you know, queering that and queering that binary between the user of authorized goods, right? And the person who authorizes them.
Naty Smith 18:22
Daddy…not Daddy. hahaha The things that make me laugh.
Will Beaman 18:31
Well I feel like there’s an interpretation of the kind of move that we’re trying to make that I think I want to distance ourselves from which is, we’re not just talking about like a petite daddy.
Naty Smith 18:41
Yeah, we’re not just saying the state isn’t oppressive and enforcing scarcity and violent. Like, that’s why we’re abolitionists like the state, right? But we’re not denying that there is a set of institutions, or whatever you want to call it, that have historic scarcities that have been legislated into them and maintained for a variety of reasons, right?
Will Beaman 19:04
Naty Smith 19:05
I lost my train of thought, please…
Will Beaman 19:07
It could be good to spell out maybe for new listeners or people who need a refresher on what we’re drawing on the MMT side of this, right? Because we’ve been talking a lot about naming and a lot about language, but my entry point into all of these things which was, you know, my head exploded when I heard this last episode that Maxx and Naty did that was all about naming things…Where I come at these questions from in like a political economy senses is you know, there’s this phrase in heterodox political economy that is, “resources are not, resources become.” And what that phrase basically means is whether something is a resource is predicated on what it’s being used to do, right? So there’s an element of naming. I think that maybe we would push back against the word nature, right? Implying a kind of like…
Naty Smith 20:07
Will Beaman 20:07
Naty Smith 20:09
Will Beaman 20:10
Yeah, and a naming-nature binary, right? That things are nature.
Naty Smith 20:14
Well, that’s part of labor.
Will Beaman 20:16
Exactly, yeah. Right, that labor is inscribing something that has never been part of something bigger before. It’s like inscribing it with a new essence or something. And that’s, you know, that’s definitely not what we’re…
Naty Smith 20:33
The first machete.
Will Beaman 20:35
Yeah, and that’s not what we’re trying to say. But taking this back to language, right, that language is not also a story about power so often.
Naty Smith 20:45
Of course. Of course.
Will Beaman 20:46
You know, language, obviously, is and like, you know, it’s been something that is a huge theme in post-colonial studies about language being a way to control people’s means of articulation and expression and just being and, you know, create a universalizing common denominator, you know, a square that none of the circles can quite fit into, and then that creates an institutional reason to subjugate people, right? But on the other hand, we can’t opt out of language, right? We can’t opt out of speaking and of positing things, but you know, the most that we can do is be…
Naty Smith 21:30
We also don’t want to, like get too, like, obsessed with like, an idiolect. You know?
Will Beaman 21:37
Naty Smith 21:37
Like, idiolect as in like, I am speaking the way only I speak because, like, that’s also always true. Like, that’s right. But there’s, that’s like, where analogy comes in that yeah, like within language, there’s always like, each speech act is like, a creation and, or writing or reading or whatever. I mean, these are all creations that also come from what comes before I mean, there’s always that kind of tension, but…
Will Beaman 22:07
Whatever we say, is not identical to whatever language we’re using. Right? So like, there is an element of us and whatever we’re saying, but on the other hand, we’re not speaking solely from some unmediated essence, that’s us, right?
Naty Smith 22:24
No. Yeah, right, right exactly.
Will Beaman 22:26
That’s totally different for being inscribed with language. It’s like, no, this is a problem that we’re thrown into. And I use problem here not even necessarily in a negative sense, right? But just in like, you know, it’s a problem of creation and of naming that we all that we all participate in.
Naty Smith 22:51
And we want to affirm that in mutual aid, right? Because we’re saying, like, we affirm this impulse that says, okay, I’m just gonna do this for the people in my neighborhood, and like, we’re getting fucked over by our landlords here and we need to…like, some new real estate coming in, right, and we want to protect where we’re living or not get evicted, you know, and we’re gonna do work as a collective on that. And you know, maybe one day you form an entity or you don’t, or maybe you start getting donations, or maybe you’re never an entity, right? But there’s all these tensions always about what work you’re choosing, yeah, I honor the ways in which there’s always decisions about work to be done that’s so called inside-outside the job market, right? And some people try and put that in this absolute binary, right, where it’s like your work, and then you have like reproductive labor, and then, you know, like what’s… And there’s always overlapping things that are monetized or not monetized or unfairly monetized, right? And so we’re speaking to naming new kinds of works, and even sometimes, right, going above and beyond the labor most would put into that. That’s beautiful, if that’s something you want to do for people and create ongoing resistances and countings and obligations within communities that deserve something better than what they have and have been, you know, thrown into, or whatever to use that term. But that’s not outside. I think there’s an impulse to that. We’ve talked a lot on the show about this, like, craving for immanence, for this reality of political action. And I think sometimes there can be this sense that we’re almost saying no, like, nobody needs to do anything like who gives a shit just chill. We just want to say no, we’re like, actually affirming of the beauty of the fact that people want to do work, and they want to make new things and create ongoing possibilities that will endure in time, but that’s also occurring in a situation of like this sort of imposed monetary scarcity or the injustice of the naming of those structures in ways in which it’s very tempting to say, well, the solution is just to be immediate to tasks. And like, as we’ve said, to repress the abstraction of that naming. And there’s different names too. It’s like, if you’re anxious that there’s so much that could be done, there’s so much that’s wrong, right? And there’s so little that we’ve been afforded. And so it’s the sense of, so we’re not saying just because you can’t heroically alone will yourself and all of us to Nirvana that you should do nothing: it’s neither of those, right? It’s about that we are in this problematic, and we are all naming and trying and we have limits, and some people will do more and less and it’s beautiful to want to do more and create things, but do this also with compassions. And comfort with ambiguity within these…for heaven’s sake, please.
Will Beaman 26:26
Yeah. Another way of saying this, right, is that there will always be a need for mutual aid as naming that is participatory beyond any one center of naming. Right? Which you could say a monetary sovereign, for instance, right?
Naty Smith 26:48
That’s not Daddy, that’s Mommy. Just to switch things up.
Will Beaman 26:57
Yeah. So just just to bring it back to the Lee thing and finish sketching that out, right. So like, resource resources are not resources become, right. That’s not just an MMT thing. That’s something that Post-Keynesians and just, you know, people who are in ecological economics, they’re they’re already hip to that, right. But I think what MMT adds to that realization is that resources are not, resources become — that becoming being predicated on naming means that spending as a first act is an act of naming. Right? And that’s what I want to almost universalize at, you know, not universalize in like a flat, concrete way, but say that spending is an analog of naming as participation, right? The spending that causes something to be a resource and not not a resource, right? That act of naming is, as one analog, realizing this problematic that we’re all in naming and authorizing ourselves socially to do things. And what I think mutual aid does that’s so powerful is it shows that however much a monetary sovereign, to use the MMT 1.0 kind of language, would claim that no, all jobs have to come from the currency issuer, or if not the currency issuer from a capitalist, right? At one legal register that may certainly be true. But as the Money on the Left Collective has shown with, like, you know, our Uni proposal, it’s a proposal for universities to you know…
Naty Smith 29:03
Will Beaman 29:05
Oh my God, Jesus Christ. Not to gentrify. It’s a proposal for universities to continue to provision themselves beyond what they’ve been authorized to by monetary sovereigns, vis a vis state budgets or you know, tuition revenues or whatever that are all denominated in dollars, right. But to use that slippage of being in this kind of middle position of you know, universities pass along a lot of dollars and they provision a lot of people and they’re very much caught up not just as currency users in this like very, very narrow way but actually, you know, they have such expected revenues, you know, pouring in all the time, that they can issue IOUs, and those IOUs can have the ability to be accepted by other people, you know, not by virtue of like the university is declaring its independence from society, or something like that, right? Like, that’s not the point.
Naty Smith 30:15
Will Beaman 30:15
The point is that the university is actually drawing on its interdependence with society in order to issue its own currency in order to issue its own naming of things that should be named as being socially useful. Right? So like, what does austerity do? Austerity says that all these people who are unemployed, we’re naming them as not skilled, as not employable, right? And that’s an act of monetary naming. And what the Uni proposal does is it names them differently, and it names them differently while drawing upon accounting, which is, you know, common to language in general, right? Like, I can’t talk about even something that we’re totally imagining as, you know, univocally different and absolute alterity, you know, my autonomous mutual aid network. Even just in articulating that, I’ve already implicated accounting because I’ve said that there’s one of it, right?
Naty Smith 31:26
Right. And that there’s only one other and it’s like, there’s just like this pure dialectic, right? Like, we’re in our squat, and then we go to work and we have the outside money.
Will Beaman 31:35
Naty Smith 31:36
And then we have the inside house money, right? And then there’s an absolute binary. And so then there’s also this fear of contaminations, right? And that is an interesting question to address, right? Because somebody will say well, if you’re gonna do this Uni, like, why interact with sovereignty or the state system at all? Why don’t you just keep it. We’re not repressing monetary accounting, we’re just repressing, working with the dominant monetary accounting, like, we want to, like build up an alternate version. What would be our pushback on that?
Will Beaman 32:15
Yeah. So like, I mean, I think that that sort of vision of like, you know, we’re starting from within the system, but eventually we’re gonna, like cut the umbilical cord and become totally autonomous or something like that. For one thing, it’s the interdependence in the first place that austerity can’t erase that gives universities the power to do this to begin with, right? And so there’s an entanglement that cannot just be willed away, or wished away. But also, right, like the whole point of this is not to make universities sovereign governments that can do whatever they want because the whole point is that that vision of a sovereign government whose money goes on forever because their sovereign will goes on forever.
Naty Smith 33:09
Yeah, so a lot of people get anxious when we talk about infinity because they just think you’re saying whatever the fuck like spend on whatever! spend! this is liberalism! Everybody can be a billionaire like that’s not what infinity is. That’s a liberal imagination of infinity.
Will Beaman 33:27
Yeah, absolutely. It’s infinity starting from a will, right?
Naty Smith 33:33
Will Beaman 33:34
And anytime that infinity is constrained by a legal will, or like, by one entity’s naming system, right then I mean, naming and that sense does work by excluding, right? It draws a boundary and says we can have an infinite amount of these things, right? But it doesn’t say infinite everything, right?
Naty Smith 33:58
Yeah, and we’re aware that there’s limits of power right? We’re aware that like different currencies give you a different quality of infinity and limits on the quality of your infinities, right? Due to hierarchies…Due to the way things have happened so far, right?
Will Beaman 34:20
Naty Smith 34:22
I don’t know if that’s how you would put it, but like…does that make sense?
Will Beaman 34:25
The point I guess is that the possibility of creation is an infinite horizon but, you know, but it’s infinite precisely because no one person’s participation in creation is more than an analog of it, right? And so it’s not just a flat thing of like a bunch of infinite wills you know, that are all staring up into the sky projecting as far as they can, right?
Naty Smith 34:54
Right, right. Mansions everywhere.
Will Beaman 34:57
But yeah, I mean, you know, I guess one way to answer your question, right? Like we could turn it back to personality systems…
Naty Smith 35:08
McKenzie Wark tweeted that she wished that the queer youth treated enneagram as real, even though she didn’t like classificatory systems and not as a star sign, and I was like, does McKenzie Wark listen to our podcast?
Will Beaman 35:26
So interesting. She might, honestly…
Naty Smith 35:28
She very well may not also, but then I was just like, I mean, I like star signs, but enneagram is, you know, anyway, just like already that’s like…I have a lot to say.
Will Beaman 35:37
Go ahead, say it. It’s more scientific. Is that what you want to say?
Naty Smith 35:42
No, I don’t know if that’s the…
Will Beaman 35:44
Definitely not. But I mean, there is…
Naty Smith 35:46
I don’t even know.
Will Beaman 35:48
I’m more interested in enneagram than I am in astrology. I’ll say that.
Naty Smith 35:52
Yeah, yeah, yeah. That we just use the power of naming. No, but please go on your interconnection.
Will Beaman 36:00
Naty Smith 36:00
I rudely interrupted.
Will Beaman 36:03
No, it was great.
Naty Smith 36:05
Will Beaman 36:06
What we could call a Ritornello.
Naty Smith 36:09
Will Beaman 36:10
A little, what do you call it, the little whirlpools on the side of a stream where you just get lost in a little…
Naty Smith 36:16
It’s like an eddy of death.
Will Beaman 36:18
An eddy! That was it. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Of life, thank you very much.
Naty Smith 36:23
Oh right. Yes.
Will Beaman 36:25
Some Bataille there.
Naty Smith 36:26
There’s a spiral in the water really, really reassures me. The never ending spiral.
Will Beaman 36:32
I don’t know. It’s not a perfect spiral if that makes you feel better.
Naty Smith 36:36
Sure, get me on a raft, it’ll be great fun.
Will Beaman 36:41
I think one of the things that I wanted to really get across is that the act of naming in like a really mundane way that’s like, not very interesting on its own implicates counting
Naty Smith 36:52
One, Natalie, two Natasha, three Natita, four…
Will Beaman 36:58
One collective, right.
Naty Smith 37:00
Will Beaman 37:00
My collective, my autonomous, right? Like the idea of autonomy, right? What precedes that is drawing a boundary around yourself as one entity, right?
Naty Smith 37:11
There is some fetish of the idiolect there for sure.
Will Beaman 37:14
Yeah. Um, but I guess so like, in this kind of mundane way, naming always implicates accounting. What makes it monetary, for me, is that I mean, this is…another way to say this, right, it’s like, this is what money does, when we spend money, we name something as a resource, and we choose to do that. And I think that that’s what happens at the level of a mutual aid group deciding to do something. What do we have around that’s a resource that we can use, right? Because mutual aid is all about, you know, you use what you have at hand as a collective, or you cultivated over time, right? But the point is that you use whatever’s within grasp, in a democratic way.
Naty Smith 38:01
And as far as people power, too, right? Like you’re trying to build power, and so you’re trying to build class power and build capacity for the future disasters and like to have collectives already built up, right? Like, there’s this sense of becoming people too, and like a lot of the mutual aid discourse, right?
Will Beaman 38:20
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, and I guess, I also want to spell out like, what the stakes are for us in reading mutual aid as naming, right? Because I want to say that…
Naty Smith 38:37
As the enneagram, we’re gonna put our cards on the table that this is going to transition to — we may never talk about MMT again.
Will Beaman 38:43
This is the enneagram podcast now, which we knew as soon as Natalie joined as a co-host, that it was only a matter of time.
Naty Smith 38:54
That’s very rude. Stop naming me Dasha. She’s furrowing through. It’s not the same. It’s not the same.
Will Beaman 39:04
One thing that we’ve been hinting at with mutual aid so far, you know, we see it as naming, and we think that naming is not all bad, right? That’s a key takeaway, I think, from the last episode that you did with Maxx. Because naming things is incomplete, inherently, when we name things, and we don’t acknowledge that that’s incomplete, and that that’s just participating in the game, right? In rulemaking and in playing at the same time.
Naty Smith 39:42
Will Beaman 39:42
When we don’t acknowledge that that can be oppressive, right? Because then you’re saying: you’re this thing…
Naty Smith 39:50
Will Beaman 39:51
And you have to be this thing, and if you don’t fit the thing that I just named you then you’re defective.
Naty Smith 39:58
It’s super dangerous to repress the fact that you’re abstracting with language. To repress that you’re making rules that you’re… And to be fair, a lot of mutual aid, or whatever, or whether we’re including the NGO sector or not, or whatever, a lot of people are, and anarchists are, very aware of the need for collective obligation and rulemaking and process. A lot of them are, in fact, obsessed with that, right?
Will Beaman 40:27
Yeah. Yes, it’s the stereotype about anarchists is that it’s an endless cycle of committee meetings and stuff.
Naty Smith 40:34
Will Beaman 40:34
Because the anxiety about the potential evils of naming things, of positing things, of inscribing the world in all of these ways that will then limit other people’s autonomy to inscribe the world in ways…you know? And do these things. And so there’s a fantasy of like, how can I have the smallest footprint possible, so that I’m not taking up space in this group? And you know…
Naty Smith 41:00
Yeah…while also being the biggest in terms of like, getting good work done, which again, we want to affirm the beauty of people’s desire to get good work done, right?
Will Beaman 41:09
Naty Smith 41:10
But that doesn’t mean there’s a…You can’t just say this is the line and that we know it’ll go this way.
Will Beaman 41:16
Naty Smith 41:17
Like the beauty of your desire doesn’t mean your one plan is right.
Will Beaman 41:22
Absolutely. And I think that mutual aid itself…
Naty Smith 41:27
Or the only one…
Will Beaman 41:28
Yeah, and mutual aid itself, I think, you know, like when I say I think that mutual aid is always going to be necessary as a practice, right, like naming things outside of other people’s systems of naming things, you know, participating in naming in an ongoing way, In other words, rather than being like oh, that’s the namer forever now
Naty Smith 41:51
Yeah…No, you are affirming the rebellion of participating that you can’t get outside of but affirming that yeah, you can rebel within the participation, which isn’t a fetish of leaving participation.
Will Beaman 42:03
Absolutely. Yeah. It’s instead saying that contesting the inside is inalienably part of the inside, right? Which I want to not say…
Naty Smith 42:19
The six mind dialectic.
Will Beaman 42:21
That’s, well, now you’ve sent it so I think you need to explain the gram. This is an enneagram reference. And I’m putting Naty on the spot now because I don’t want to edit it out.
Naty Smith 42:32
Oh, well, six is kind of coming out of this like the center of this so-called thinking kind of doubting movement, right? And then you can have where you’re going in different directions like when you have a security point you’re experimenting with, right? Like so for six that would be like three in the system. And like a stress point, or no, wait, no, the reverse sorry, the stress point is the three for the six anyway. And the security point is the nine which is kind of like this kind of summing up of the others, and it’s the sort of more reconciling movement right, this sort of narcoticizing, and they both have… Yeah, like the sort of six is kind of dealing with this sort of underdog rebellion also with this other side of like, loyalty to the collective, right? And then nine is kind of dealing in these themes of participation you know, very, very Amy Goodman…
Will Beaman 43:25
Keeping the peace, right?
Naty Smith 43:26
Like six is like it’s like if you had Dick if you want to see Six Nine, you should look up Amy Goodman interviewing Dick Gregory or something. Is this gonna mean anything to people?
Will Beaman 43:39
I’m gonna put the link to that on YouTube in the description of this episode. And I’m a six, so that was Naty diagnosing my six to nine movement just now…
Naty Smith 43:55
It happens when you have OCD. I like our shape. But we were talking about naming and how it’s like, you can rebel within systems.
Will Beaman 44:04
Yeah, we’re on a roll now. Oh right, right, right.
Naty Smith 44:07
Because part of participating in language, right, for me coming from the four place, the two is language, education right? from this, but there is like this sort of not immanence of language creation, but there is this sense of like, you’re in that and there’s this like, outwardness, too that is with that. But our point is that there’s a desire sometimes in what might look like no, they’re embracing abstraction, they’re embracing governments and rules. They’re just saying you can’t do it inside, right? That outside, over here, is where we can really do good abstraction. We’re saying no, sometimes there is an extent to which they’re overcompensating. They’ve repressed the abstraction and so they’re like, over-leaning into abstraction, but they still haven’t reckoned with that problematic that is always at issue, right? The riddle of care or whatever you want to fucking call it.
Will Beaman 45:07
Yeah, which can only work at multiple different registers of participation and creating new systems and playing within them and changing them and all of these things. It can only work through naming, through positing things, but the point though is to posit them in a way that does not cut off other people’s participation and that naming process in wherever they are.
Naty Smith 45:39
And that is not particularly useful. Because you know what you actually see when you look at mutual aid is like a beautiful diversity of practices, and it does make me think of good lord like there are so many things wrong and it also is beautiful the quantity of projects that do exist and that do have institutional histories, formal or informal, in all different ways and that you can name so many things as part of mutual aid. But in a way it makes me sad that at the same time there’s so much energy put into — not because there’s some zero sum amount of energy — but it’s just a shoring up like well what is mutual aid? Is it just donations or like, is that just charity? Or well no, we’re not just charity because oh, well, you know, we’re not just like maintaining class… And these are interesting analyses, right? I think it’s important to state the difference from philanthropists who do want to just put on band aids and make things look like they’re putting change so that power doesn’t change. We also don’t want to say that their taxes pay for society, right? But it’s not like we should just tax them for it. We can just tax them because it’s not democratic for them to have that much money. But I guess it makes me sad when people are like, if you have a campus you have an autonomous organizer and then maybe this can transition and then they get siphoned into the NGO industrial complex and believe me I don’t know that much about that world, but I’m sure there’s like a ton of problems. There is the scarcity built in, right, of donors that there can be professional channels where like, this is something we’d want to rebel against within participation, right? The austerity and punishment and discipline that doesn’t contribute to good things happening that’s just disciplinary, right? That isn’t about actual good work getting done. Or say oh, and now they’re lost to the professional jobs where they’re getting paid. And I understand that there’s this critique of like, this sort of Libby in some readings — a sense of like people who say “pay me for doing the mutual aid of listening to you talk about your feelings for 30 minutes.” Like very over the top case, which I don’t know if that’s like a thing that’s never happened to me but I’m sure there’s people who do that. And I understand both sides of that. Like I understand the kind of like affirming that people want to get paid.
Will Beaman 48:07
Naty Smith 48:08
And also the same like oh, well I can see where there’s cynicism in this.
Will Beaman 48:12
Right, well because on the one hand paying people to do things is how society, whatever regime we’re talking about, is that denomination of currency, right? Like that’s how people are being validated… And they’re socially authorized to be the way that they are because we’ve paid them and they can handle their expenses, right? And so it’s a desire to be recognized as valid, but then it of course is going to become cynical if you take money at the liberal definition word for what it is as zero sum and as only fundraising from people in a zero sum way.
Naty Smith 49:04
Everyone ever was a user of currency. Yeah…That the state, too, is using its own currency.
Will Beaman 49:10
Naty Smith 49:10
Not to just say it in that way, but the currency was used always only.
Will Beaman 49:16
Naty Smith 49:18
And we were only ever at the end point of monetary naming. Does that make sense?
Will Beaman 49:24
Yeah. No absolutely, yeah, I mean, there’s a sense in which we’re irreversibly currency users or something.
Naty Smith 49:32
Will Beaman 49:32
Maybe now would be a good time to turn to one of our readings, which is: we wanted to read from a work by Dean Spade, which I don’t know if you want to introduce who Dean Spade is…
Naty Smith 49:49
So I’ve learned about Dean Spade recently from Will because Will was the one who got us into mutual aid discourse. That was a horrible introduction. You see, I have to just delete that.
Will Beaman 50:04
He’s an Associate Professor of Seattle University of Law. He has a new, best selling book out, Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next). Ladies and gentlemen, Dean spade.
Naty Smith 50:16
Do mutual aid books best sell? That’s cool.
Will Beaman 50:19
Yeah, and trust me, he’s anxious about it. But yeah, no. I mean, he’s an associate professor at Seattle University School of Law. He has a book that I wanted to read from called Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next).
Naty Smith 50:38
I love how your tone just got sadder.
Will Beaman 50:40
Well, you know, and the next, like, I mean that’s just…
Naty Smith 50:44
This crisis. That crisis. This crisis. That crisis…
Will Beaman 50:49
Yeah well, but this is what’s so kind of interesting and telling is like, even in the book title, right, like there’s a sense that we’re always going to be in a crisis.
Naty Smith 51:00
Or it’s always one, it’s not that there’s interlocking crises.
Will Beaman 51:03
Naty Smith 51:04
It’s each time you’re in the “one” crisis.
Will Beaman 51:06
Uhuh, yeah which is, you know, whatever crisis of capitalism we’re in right now, basically, is I think what that means.
Naty Smith 51:15
Katrina, which was, anyways, the after effects, right, where, you know, racial capitalism was, all those effects were very clear, right?
Will Beaman 51:28
I feel like there’s a sense also, like, in this title, and in this framing, that our biggest opportunity for mutual aid is whenever capitalism goes into a crisis, right? Which I think belies a kind of a reliance or an internality to capital, even though folks like Dean Spade wanna see themselves as “No, we’re just taking advantage of when capital is weak in order to like to get outside of it somehow,” but it’s like, no, you’re still predicating your ability to participate in provisioning work and being an authority of shaping caretaking on whether or not capitalism has gone into a crisis or not. But I think to spell out some of these stakes for the different ways to read mutual aid. I think it’s worth spelling out, you know, I mean, we’ve started to already but…
Naty Smith 52:29
We’re afraid of austerity.
Will Beaman 52:31
Yeah. Spelling out…
Naty Smith 52:33
MMT won’t become understood. You can’t have abolitionary MMT if your understanding of mutual aid is just starve the state.
Will Beaman 52:41
Yeah and that’s something that, i mean, I didn’t listen to this interview, but I think you did where we’re Spade uses the phrase, right, like “we need to starve the state”
Naty Smith 52:53
On a show we like.
Will Beaman 52:54
On a show me like, yeah, shout out to Death Panel.
Naty Smith 52:56
Will Beaman 52:57
Dean Spade, I think, we chose as kind of a paradigmatic example of somebody who sees mutual aid as fundamentally outside of the system. And money is a telltale sign that you’re in the system for Spade because as soon as money is involved, then that means that somebody has ownership over the work, rather than the people having ownership over the work. Right? So there’s a whole section that’s actually called “handling money”.
Naty Smith 53:30
And we can nod to some historical examples, right? We can nod to some that are negative histories, right? Where domestic abuse entities become interiorized to the carceral complex, right? Or when…Well, that’s my main example.
Will Beaman 53:46
Well, I mean, but another historical example. And maybe this is a little bit snarky, but like, another historical example is the Franciscans.
Naty Smith 53:54
Well, I was saying of a bad example…
Will Beaman 53:56
No totally, this is snarky.
Naty Smith 53:58
Will Beaman 53:58
But um, but yeah, like, for the Franciscans, there was also a big…there was an anxiety about handling money. The Franciscan Order, which happens in like 14th century – 13th century like, you know, beginning of Western modernity. They see themselves as basically connecting contiguously one to one you know, I don’t want to go into all the Franciscan stuff but like you know, basically we’re going to go out and live in nature and we’re going to just help each other through just pure mutual aid.
Naty Smith 54:39
Touching, touching grass.
Will Beaman 54:40
Yeah, we’re going to touch grass. We’re going to go visit the poor and help them and then maybe sometime later they’ll visit us, but we don’t know for sure that they’ll visit us, but that’s okay because…
Naty Smith 54:51
They’ll visit us. We visit each other, okay? Two lepers meet on the road.
Will Beaman 54:57
It’s a selfless act every time that we do it. But like the Franciscans famously had people who carried their purses for them and handled money on their behalf. Right? And there’s a section in Spade’s text on mutual aid where he talks about handling money and the challenges of handling money and you know, you can have paid staff, but as soon as you have paid staff, then it’s going to create inherent power imbalances where, you know, their work is going to be valued more than the work of volunteers, and whoever’s paying them also, because of course, money can’t come from inside right? Money always comes from outside.
Naty Smith 55:40
Yeah, because as if everyone were volunteers, there wouldn’t be people who just like were getting… I mean, of course, collective democracy, that would be something you would want to work against. But yeah, there’s these injustices would occur, right? Like these are things you’re always dealing with: the people who are getting valued more or less, and things that are unfair, and then that would be something you’re immediately dealing with just the way that that occurs society-wide, right? Yeah. But that’s an interesting way of putting it that was like by saying, I mean, people will critique this a lot, right? Like with horizontal models that are absolutely horizontal, that there’s like a repression of dynamics that are occurring.
Will Beaman 56:17
Naty Smith 56:18
Like, there are leaders. There are valuations being made, right? And then just denying money doesn’t get rid of…
Will Beaman 56:27
Yeah, and even horizontalism is an act of naming, right?
Naty Smith 56:31
Will Beaman 56:31
And so this is, in some sense, right? We come full circle to the like, you know, Hobbesian social contract, right? That’s, you know, we’re all choosing to be for the collective instead of for ourselves because it’s the right thing to do, right? And that’s the difference. Whereas for Hobbes, it’s like, this is a Cost Benefit Analysis. But mutual aid here is: no, we’ve been conditioned into thinking in terms of costs and benefits, but actually, it’s ethical to sacrifice whenever necessary for mutual aid and that, you know… But we want to get out of this register of self-sacrifice in the first place.
Naty Smith 57:12
Because I think people who get effective work done even… I think, even if you are outside, like so called, like monetary naming, I think when people get work done, it’s not usually as effective if they’re talking about self sacrifice all the time. Not because they shouldn’t talk about their pain, but because that doesn’t engender the ability to function well, if you just keep talking about self-sacrifice all the time. I don’t know.
Will Beaman 57:45
Naty Smith 57:46
I think you should talk about what is hurting you and what…
Will Beaman 57:51
Naty Smith 57:51
And try to figure out ways to work with that as opposed to just like, I don’t know does that make sense?
Will Beaman 57:57
Yeah, and you know, but then there’s a way also that I really want to focus in on in which all of this is conditioned by a very austere idea of what mutual aid is in the first place, right?
Naty Smith 58:10
Will Beaman 58:10
Where there’s this idea that we’re going to get outside of money. We’re going to get outside of naming things with money, right? We’re still gonna name things in the center.
Naty Smith 58:19
Or create a perfect flat currency that’s just like this chips that yeah…all subjugation has been permanently banished.
Will Beaman 58:29
Naty Smith 58:30
Not that that doesn’t sound noble, it’s just I think there’s like an absolute horizontality that doesn’t sound like anything that ever exists? I don’t know. An absolute
Will Beaman 58:41
Yeah. And the absolute horizontality or horizontalism, I guess. The absolute horizontalism, it implies boundaries, right? You have to decide well, we’re all horizontal, and these other people aren’t in the collective because they’re not horizontal. Right? So from the outset, you’ve already created a logic of inside and outside which, yeah, it’s gonna be…
Naty Smith 59:10
Which is part of naming.
Will Beaman 59:11
Naty Smith 59:12
But it’s the shape of that naming that we’re talking about where it’s like, I think it’s okay to ascribe value and to say, like, types of horizontality have value. But I think you’re talking about an exclusionary naming where you are, your boundary drawing is like too early, right? And it’s not well drawn, and sometimes drawn in ways that don’t help elucidate what we think is really the goal?
Will Beaman 59:42
But what I do want to say is that I think that this title represents a tendency that we’ve commented on a lot on this podcast in the past, which is to subordinate care to power and say basically that care and caring for each other is kind of what we do in the shadow of violent power. Right? So you have these acts of violence by people who have the ability to commit violence. And then care is kind of what we do if we’re sort of trying to regain ourselves and you know, like, stay alive while this awful fallen regime is in power.
Naty Smith 1:00:27
Well, it’s the ongoing problem, right? And so that’s beautiful, because there’s so many infinite shortfalls that we really it’s honorable, this work to try to fill in this care for each other in our ongoing production and reproduction, outside of like, as we’ve talked about what’s been officially named, because precisely that’s been done in such an unjust way when it doesn’t have to be that way. Right? And so there’s such trauma, you know, even though we have a welfare state, it’s all means testing and lots of administrative bullshit, you know, so many places in our society where there should be aid, there isn’t aid, right? And so, we all see in different ways these shortfalls and can recognize it. And so I think we are all in different ways, that’s what we would want to aim towards, right, is like, how do we repair or do types of repairs, right? And so that’s kind of a question everybody’s invested in, you know, not everybody, but…
Will Beaman 1:01:40
No and in their own ways, people can’t help but care good and bad, right? A lot of “care”, broadly defined, is maintaining a carceral system, right?
Naty Smith 1:01:55
Will Beaman 1:01:55
You know, but these things are care the capacious sense of there being no outside of this shared horizon, of maintaining this world for good and for bad.
Naty Smith 1:02:07
All that care that’s carceral, right, the whole point is to make other kinds of decisions about how we employ ourselves.
Will Beaman 1:02:18
Yeah. And I think, you know, we’ve already sort of hinted at this already, but I think what we want to say, is so significant about mutual aid that we don’t want to get lost in what some would maybe consider the minutiae or the you know, the real kind of day to day significance of delivering food to people or, caring for caring for children, and, community members, and all of that kind of thing, is the fact that mutual aid, both being of this world that is simultaneously provisioning a carceral state and is affording, you know, indirectly but is indirectly affording mutual aid. Right?
Naty Smith 1:03:08
Will Beaman 1:03:09
What it’s contesting is a misuse of fiscal power, right? Towards a kind of abandonment, right? Because if you were to take the current kind of fiscal authorities’ word for it as to who deserves work, who deserves to be cared for, I mean, unemployment is your answer, right? Like there are people who “the system” is neglecting and I think that mutual aid holds open that contestation, which is a fundamentally monetary contestation. I want to honor the fact that people are rightly traumatized by institutions, right? And by institutions that on the one hand, tell them they exist to protect them and then do the exact opposite, right? But I think that there is…
Naty Smith 1:04:03
Will Beaman 1:04:05
But I want to honor that trauma while nevertheless insisting that mutual aid is actively contesting it, right?
Naty Smith 1:04:17
Will Beaman 1:04:18
That mutual aid is not fully on the outside of these systems, nor is it fully on the inside. And I think that this dichotomy of whether you’re on the inside or outside of systems…
Naty Smith 1:04:30
It’s actually a rhizome, I think. It’s just like a big ginger root that we all live inside.
Will Beaman 1:04:39
We’re going to have Deleuzians just nodding along being like “I knew it, they’re Deleuzians.”
Naty Smith 1:04:48
What did you say the other day? “Deleuzians of grandeur,” I wrote it down.
Will Beaman 1:04:54
Deleuzians of grandeur, yeah, keep your ears open for that upcoming episode when we figure out what on earth we want to say about Deleuze that would warrant that kind of a title. But could be anything really?
Naty Smith 1:05:08
Yeah, that as well.
Will Beaman 1:05:10
Yeah. You know, this desire to be outside of institutions ends up bleeding over into a desire to be outside of money and outside of fiscal policy, and outside of abstraction, in general. Which is, for us what money, whether it’s the dollar or local currencies, some are good in some ways. Some are bad in some ways…
Naty Smith 1:05:36
But it’s always an issue.
Will Beaman 1:05:38
Yeah, they’re analogs of this problem of naming and socially authorizing what is to be done that’s unavoidable.
Naty Smith 1:05:45
Okay, that wasn’t the most Lenin you’ve ever gotten on this…
Will Beaman 1:05:50
Wait till we get to part three, which I’m tentatively calling “What is to be done.” And when I say it’s a contestation that’s unavoidable, I don’t mean it’s a conflict that’s unavoidable in the sense of there being some kind of a zero-sum thing. But rather, the world will never not be ordered in all kinds of complicated ways.
Naty Smith 1:06:17
Well and repressing it is repressing the politics and aesthetics or proto-aesthetic, as Scott would say, of fiscal policy is precisely can be the problem, right? There is a historical thing where fiscal policy became de-politicized, and part of that is like a purposeful obfuscation within the model itself, right? But I think part of our gambit is like participating in the politicization of the fiscal without this sort of gloss of professional moneyness perfection, right? Do you know what I mean? But like, kind of this re-politicization of the vulgarness of contesting money. And so we affirm that mutual aid is kind of like playing with the vulgar assertion of what do we want to name? What do we really want to be doing? What is actual aid to each other? But we would maybe want to push back on repressing the fiscal and wanting to somehow starve the state, which is anyway a tax base model, but also is like repressing this engagement that, you know, a lot of people who have been in the Money on the Left universe have talked about, you know, Jakob Feinig or different people, David Freund… The politicization of money is this sort of whole lost horizon, right? At the turn of the 20th century, all these things, that’s always … but that always is still going on all the time. But there’s a repression of the ability for that politicization to be more popular, right, to be more popular, in a way. And we want to do that all-at-once-ness, and not repress that.
Will Beaman 1:07:57
If you repress the idea of there being an outside — we’ve talked about this a lot with all of the different metaphors about, you know, Western civilization loves ship metaphors, right? It’s like you don’t rock the boat, you know, or any port in the storm, right? All of these terms that suggests basically a precarious position where we’re all we have in this enclosed space and because of that, we go into social situations without leverage to stand up for ourselves and to say no to abuse and that kind of thing. And, you know, we’ve talked about this in the context of the Bruenig’s obsession with nuclear families, too, right?
Naty Smith 1:08:44
We need to have more talking shit about the Bruenigs…I don’t know just more of that. Just more I mean, I know it’s like repetitive, but it’s like it’s a good…
Will Beaman 1:08:53
It’s a good bad infinity.
Naty Smith 1:08:55
Yeah. Because they also seem to insist on repetition and people don’t seem to catch on to their game. So Liz, homophobic and transphobic on the timeline. What? We forgot. Amnesia! They just want social democracy! They just want a welfare state! Okay?
Will Beaman 1:09:13
Yeah, they just want to secure a future for the children of social democracy. Anyway. So right. So this section “Signs of Overwork and Burnout”, this takes place over the backdrop, this idea that you have to make this organization work, or else all of the work that you’re doing goes away, right? So you have to make the dynamics in the organization work, and that basically here is I think, you know, what could be called maybe an emotional economy you know. An economy of boundaries and limits and people trying to calibrate how much capacity do I have versus this person so that everybody is kind of suffering the same.
Naty Smith 1:10:02
Because there’s a reckoning with like, where there’s an always incompleteness, right? And there’s a mourning that goes with that. But sometimes the way that people try and share up that mourning is just to like, double down more on being strict and making sure the thing works. And, you know, like, everything kind of like has its newness, and its deteriorations. And these are not in pareto balance and preordained, but there’s always things that are breaking and then starting. And I think sometimes that creates anxiety about projects where they want to make sure they’re not wasting their time and make sure we’re doing something good. And I think that’s honorable, to want things to actually be better and workout for people. But you also have to, if you don’t honor the slippages that are there always, that you can discipline away the slippage. Do you know what I mean? In a way that isn’t going to work except to burn everybody out even more with your seminar on burnout.
Will Beaman 1:11:04
Yeah, right. Extremely well put. And I think that the words will fly off the page from there. “Signs of Overwork and Burnout” So “High stress when thinking about tasks being performed by someone else who might do it differently, or the group coming to a different decision than we would make.”
Naty Smith 1:11:26
If you feel like going off the handle about minutes. You might be burning out.
Will Beaman 1:11:33
Although I do think that it’s interesting that this is framed as a sacrifice, right? The group comes to a different decision than we would make, and we have to be mature enough to know to just let it happen, right? So there’s like a selfishness thing. They’re not being self-sacrificing enough. Or “desire to endlessly be given credit for our work” Again, right? That’s literally there’s a scarcity of credit.
Naty Smith 1:12:04
You’re burnt out if nobody is like giving you any recognition. It’s like, well yeah! But that comes from a deeper scarcity that’s been designed. And it’s true that one person can’t change that, but to not honor some of the impulses emotionally… Maybe just people affirming them isn’t gonna fix everything, but you can be on your way towards a practice. You know?
Will Beaman 1:12:31
Yeah, absolutely. And “over promising and under delivering”, I’m jumping around a lot, just kind of picking out highlights.
Naty Smith 1:12:37
Will Beaman 1:12:39
“Over promising and under delivering, which can lead to feeling fraudulent and afraid of being caught so far behind.”
Naty Smith 1:12:46
Regular neoliberal panic, but for the left.
Will Beaman 1:12:49
For the left, yeah. You feel anxious that the left might catch you over promising. Right? You don’t want that, you know, unless you can deliver.
Naty Smith 1:12:59
Will Beaman 1:13:00
Yeah, right. I mean, there’s a way in which this is like made the fault of the person for over promising and under delivering, and so maybe it sounds nitpicky, but what I’m trying to kind of get at here is that there’s a sort of a “damned if you do damned if you don’t” thing that I think is an artifact of “well, we’re working under conditions of scarcity,” right? And so we’re all going to have to make sacrifices.
Naty Smith 1:13:25
Yeah, you have to be mad at yourself that you haven’t taken care of yourself enough so that you can take care of the collective who hasn’t taken care of you. It’s like … And you just keep moving where you are on the chessboard, but it doesn’t, I don’t know, it’s just circular in a way. We understand the emotional impulse to be like, hey, like, look, if you are feeling like nobody notices you, or gives a fuck about you, you might need to, like, bathe more, you know, but also, maybe the problem is that you wanted it at all in the first place. Have you thought about that? Do you know what I mean? I mean, I don’t know if I’m making sense.
Will Beaman 1:14:00
Naty Smith 1:14:00
Intuitively, to me, it makes sense. But I don’t quite know how to articulate it.
Will Beaman 1:14:03
Yeah, I mean, you know, for me, it’s triggering of how I felt in certain jobs before. Ironically, in non-profit jobs, which similarly operate in a kind of an austere emotional economy, right?
Naty Smith 1:14:21
Will Beaman 1:14:23
Everybody’s sort of burnt out.
Naty Smith 1:14:26
Will Beaman 1:14:27
And so everybody needs to discipline themselves to self care enough so that they don’t make their burnout the problem of the group.
Naty Smith 1:14:36
And we understand, too, where people want to repress this like pure so-called neoliberal self help where it’s like if I’m just extra nice and loving, I can cure the group into not being burnt out. I don’t know, but it’s just like the infinite turtles at some point, you know. It’s always partial.
Will Beaman 1:14:55
Naty Smith 1:14:55
You can do some, and there’s other things you can’t do but it’s an honorable problem to have. It’s not as if you’re a fraud by having the problem, nor is there necessarily a simple fix, but the question itself is important.
Will Beaman 1:15:12
Yeah, and I feel like actually zeroing in on the kind of neoliberal self help thing. That’s another thing that returns repressed here as a symptom of this underlying kind of scarcity framework, right? Is that scarcity is kicked down into, well, it’s a mindset thing. I mean, we would say it’s adjacent to a mindset thing, in the sense, it’s a framing thing. And it’s an understanding thing of how the institutions that you’re operating in, like, what their potentials are, and what you can literally do in them. But here, you know, one of these bullets is “having feelings of scarcity drive decision making”. “There’s never enough money/time/attention.”
Naty Smith 1:15:57
Will Beaman 1:15:58
Yeah, right. Like, I mean, this entire section is testament to the fact that feelings of scarcity are there as a premise. Right?
Naty Smith 1:16:10
Will Beaman 1:16:11
I think that leaning into this naming this proto-fiscal, proto-monetary overlapping with the nation state in the sense that, you know, nobody in a mutual aid network doesn’t use money in some other part of their life, right? You know, so, money and supply chains, and all these things are they’re in the background conditioning. Even if we’re imagining our mutual aid work as like we’re closing the door on the economy, and we’re getting down to non-quantitative social relations. Which, you know, I mean, I love rich qualitative, like diversity. And I think that we want to say that naming things and counting things does not necessarily imply flattening those experiences, or replacing those experiences with numbers, right? Or homogenizing them into some kind of a common unit of account, or maybe a common language, you know, or something like that. Those dimensions of power and control and all of these things, they’re always implicated, but, you know, it would be a mistake, I think, to reduce the history of language to powerful people writing dictionaries.
Naty Smith 1:17:30
And we have to name the bastard dictionary writers. We’re gonna be like Webster, you’re a bitch. And then that’s part of the rebellion.
Will Beaman 1:17:40
Right? Or, but, you know, by contrast, right, like this approach, and this is the last bullet that I’ll read.
Naty Smith 1:17:44
Will Beaman 1:17:46
Another sign of burnout is “dismissal of the significance of group process.” Right, which, you know, again, is you’re dismissing the significance of sacrificing yourself for the group, right? Or the process.
Naty Smith 1:17:59
Yeah, I’m confused on what Spade’s read on this. Yeah, it’s hard for me to tell what is his perspective? Like, is he saying you’re burned? Because when I’m burnt out, I just don’t want to do shit.
Will Beaman 1:18:11
Naty Smith 1:18:12
But is he saying that this is bad you feel this way? Because you’re doing something wrong to feel that way? Or it’s like, I’m confused on that, or it’s symptomatic, or it’s kind of that ambiguity? Like, is this a judgmental?
Will Beaman 1:18:28
There’s tension and anxiety about this because Dean does not want it to be judgmental.
Naty Smith 1:18:34
Will Beaman 1:18:35
And goes at pains at every step of the way to double back and say, there’s this kind of unwinnable situation here emotionally, but it’s important to not take that personally.
Naty Smith 1:18:48
Will Beaman 1:18:49
Or not internalize that as something that you did wrong.
Naty Smith 1:18:52
Will Beaman 1:18:53
So there’s a way of like, you know, “well, the world is fucked, so it’s not my fault that I need to…” You know. But nevertheless, right, you’re still being disciplined into sacrificing yourself. And then the rest of that quote, is “dismissal of the significance of group process and overvaluation of how the group is perceived by outsiders, such as funders, elites, and others.” Right?
Naty Smith 1:19:23
I don’t know if that’s a sign of burnout as much as just a sign of you have…
Will Beaman 1:19:28
Of being in a cult.
Naty Smith 1:19:30
Or being really really short on money and not knowing what your next step is. You’re misbehaving by wanting the money you so desperately… I mean, I understand that there are a lot of ways in which groups are, again, as we’ve mentioned, get scared…the discipline becomes internalized, right, to the group. This “we want to make sure we get the grant” or “make sure yada yada.” We don’t want to step out of line or be too informal and then how that internalizes. But this is misdiagnosing where the root cause is. It’s diagnosing it as like, as opposed to yeah, like you’re stressed about funds, but it’s not because you’re like, proud and just like, come on, give me funds. And that that is like this need for recognition is your problem. It’s like no, stop wanting the funds. No, I just feel like it’s putting its diagnosis in the wrong place.
Will Beaman 1:20:25
Yeah. And that’s something that he’ll hedge sort of against, against both sides of that.
Naty Smith 1:20:31
Will Beaman 1:20:32
And I mean, basically, his position is: well, there are pros and cons to either using money or not using money. Right? Whereas obviously, for us, we want to say that there’s no outside of using money. You’re either just admitting it and being reflexive about it, and then maybe you can use it democratically, or you’re repressing it and it shows up in all these weird symptoms that you then call burnout. Right?
Naty Smith 1:20:56
Right, right, right.
Will Beaman 1:20:57
Another thing that I want to point out, I mean, “how the group is perceived by outsiders, such as funders, elites and others,” right? “Outsiders” are being aligned with money, right?
Naty Smith 1:21:05
Will Beaman 1:21:10
Money is coming from the outside. It’s coming from power. That’s external.
Naty Smith 1:21:15
As opposed to at times democratically not… yeah… democratically.
Will Beaman 1:21:20
Naty Smith 1:21:21
Misaligned as opposed to, yeah… From any elite outside. Yeah, we’re concerned about the picture.
Will Beaman 1:21:29
And this should remind us of the barter story, right?
Naty Smith 1:21:33
Will Beaman 1:21:33
The story of money coming from outside of self-subsisting communities. But then, like, to your point, this totally belies that money is inside in the first place. Because listen again, “an overvaluation of how the group is perceived by outsiders, funders and elites,” right? Like valuation is not something that comes from the outside.
Naty Smith 1:21:56
Or neither inside nor outside. Right? It’s this intra-territorial, I don’t know, it’s hard. All these location questions are really abstract, but also, but also fraught, you know?
Will Beaman 1:22:07
Yeah, absolutely. And we can only speak in terms of analogs and what you’re doing as monetary participation. Where you are, and you know, in which ways, because there’s not just one thing that you can be doing, which is why it’s so confusing. But yeah, I mean, the use of the word overvaluation here, right, like a symptom that you might be burnt out is if you are mis-valuing what the opinions of outsiders are worth, you know, I mean, it’s just the word valuation, right? Like overvaluation, like this is monetary naming.
Naty Smith 1:22:41
Yeah, and again, I don’t know if that’s always the problem. I don’t know if that’s always the problem. I don’t know if the reason people, again, care about donors is because they’re mis-valuing who’s important. Like, that’s not what happens to me, again, when I’m burnt out. Just it makes me annoyed that I have to deal with it. And then I’m like, Oh, I got to deal with this. This is what we got to do. You know, it’s not I don’t know, doesn’t make me go like, I hope these people like me. I don’t know.
Will Beaman 1:23:08
Yeah, no. And in fairness to Spade, I picked out this section from an entire book where he talks about burnout here, he talks about, there’s so many ways up this sort of kind of paradoxical structure of like, you’re gonna get toxic social relations if you set them up as you’re not allowed to leave, or else the whole house comes down.
Naty Smith 1:23:32
Well, because it’s about that you can still be loyal to certain groups or different changing formations, but it’s not about one or the other. Like, you can still be loyal to certain principles and certain relationships and certain belongings. And that’s always changing form. And you’re trying to have different organizations or institutions, and sometimes you’re preserving them and sometimes you’re not. And these births and deaths and maintenances are always at issue. And yeah, it’s hard. Sometimes you’re moving into a new group. Sometimes something dies and is born and yeah, it’s just trying to embrace the changing-ness that’s always at stake in these attempts.
Will Beaman 1:24:13
Wooo. So that was a lot.
Naty Smith 1:24:16
Thanks. That was fun. I feel like we mutually aided each other.
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[…] talked about quite a bit on Money on the Left–including Natalie Smith and Will Beaman’s wonderful episode about monetary naming–who gets to decide what the prices […]
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