"It Didn't Go So"

"It didn't go so," she said under her breath. —Erna Brodber, Myal, p.84.

Book notes -- What is the political? - 26 Jan 2015 02:49

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I'm pursuing a qualitative research project about concrete practices of street medics, and discovered I needed to learn more about what it means to be political, to build a politics, or to help people "move forward politically." So I read some books and talked to some people. Here are notes on some books I read.

Hannah Arendt (2005) "Introduction Into Politics" in Hannah Arendt (2005). The Promise of Politics. Jerome Kohn, ed. New York: Schocken Books, pp. 93-200.

I read part of Kohn's introduction and learned that the book was put together of two parts: the first five chapters were an unfinished project examining the intellectual roots of Stalinist totalitarianism, and the last chapter a consideration of the category of the political, which is what specifically interests me. Arendt's essay goes back and forth between meditations on the end of everything due to the threat of totalitarianism or mutually assured destruction via the atomic bomb — which I found achingly dull — and a geneology of European politics and war.

The geneology traces European political space, goals, means, and ends from Homer's ancient epics to modern statecraft. The ancient Greek polis enacted the freedom equal men found in war and adventure within the walls of the city, and opened it to all citizens: men who by virtue of their domination of the women and slaves of their household (zoe) were free. Plato's Academy demanded freedom from obligation to the polis, and got it. Later the Roman res publica was a relationship between Rome and the formerly independent nations it conquored but did not annihilate, and the Church demanded freedom from obligation to the polis (as reconstituted in the res publica), which became freedom to govern. After that I got confused.

Major insights:

  • Politics is freedom — the freedom to act a new act, to speak a new word, to see from another's point of view without coercion. In order to protect political space, force (which is apolitical) is used to dominate the household, freeing citizens from domination by work; and to dominate enemies, freeing citizens from domination by enemies. The end of politics is the miraculous irruption of free action, speech, and insight; freedom is its base substance.
  • Academic freedom and religious freedom asked for a guarantee from the polis, degrading politics into the vouchsafing of the freedom of another, and eventually the institution of government.
  • The free action/word/insight is a genuinely new thing that does not flow deterministically from extant conditions. Wherever political space is created, free action can "miraculously" change the course of history.

Pierre Clastres (2010). Archeology of Violence. Los Angeles, CA : Semiotext(e); Cambridge, Mass.: Distributed by the MIT Press.

I read the introduction and the titular essay ("Archeology of Violence: War in Primitive Societies"). Clastres is better known for his more ethnographic book Society against the State. In this essay he critiques his teacher Levi-Strauss, Hobbes' justification of the state, and naturalist and economic/Marxist tendencies in anthropology, offering a conception of the political not far removed from Carl Schmitt's.

War in so-called "primitive" societies served to maintain difference. Alliances were necessary in war; thus exchange happened. But exchange of all with all would undermine the dispersal of societies, generating a state, and war of all with all (without temporary alliances) would create dominated people, undermining nonhierarchy. War was how stateless societies safeguarded egalitarian political space. Clastres died in the 1960s, but his political anthropology was a major influence on Gilles Deleuze and anthropologist James C. Scott.

Leo Strauss's (1933) Notes on Carl Schmitt's Concept of the Political and Three Letters from Strauss to Schmitt in Heinrich Meier (1995). Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: The Hidden Dialogue. J. Harvey Lomax, trans. Univ of Chicago Press.

I read the introduction and Strauss's material. It complicated my understanding of Schmitt's concept. Strauss was very closely acquainted with the work of Hobbes, and argued that as Schmitt tried to make a way out of liberalism from within liberalism, Hobbes made a way into liberalism from outside it.

Strauss suggested that Schmitt's emphasis on establishing enemies (of the state) and friends (of the state) — which derived from an affirmation of man's dangerousness, or man's animal nature, and thus of man's need to be dominated — was only a negative Hobbesianism and thus also liberal unless employed to a specific end. The end to which he suggested Schmitt's conservative polemic was employed was against technology and a century of technicians, and for theology. What Schmitt feared was the loss of humanity along with politics.

Invisible Committee (2014 Oct). "Fuck Off, Google."

Suggests that economics was never a reality or a science, but a post-17th century art of governing that has been partially displaced by cybernetics. Homo economicus is being displaced by a subject without interiority who does not need to be trusted because control and transparency reign. Transparency was established with sensors, statistical models, technicians, and people who are encouraged to communicate as much as possible, so that they can be better policed.

Because computers are not equal to life, life must be impoverished. Hackers understand the physicality on which the virtual world is built. Techniques and tools form the world and constitute forms-of-life, but we only notice them during discovery or breakdown. Technology is the systematizing of the most effective techniques, and a leveling of worlds at the hand of the sad and servile engineer. The hacker asks how things work, experiments, and asks what techniques mean ethically.

Individual freedom and surveillance belong to the same paradigm of government. Free and friend come from the same root: freedom is something that happens between people.

What I got from these readings as a whole:

  • One group's politics can be guaranteed by the thorough depoliticization of another by force.
  • The force relationship depoliticizes all parties involved in it.
  • Forceful refusal of depoliticization can be pre-political.
  • Techniques for establishing political space must develop a space for noncoercive relationships betwen "friends" and continually exercise those relationships.
  • "Friends" are those who share enemies.
  • Politics consists of noncoerced thought, action, and seeing from another's perspective.
  • Coersion includes directly by another or by life iteself for wont of basic necessities of life.
  • Archos means both the ruler and the originator of a political space or an influential free action from within political space. Anarchist politics refuse coercion by life, coercion by enemy, coercion by friends, and (except as necessary to establish political space) coercion of others by self. - Comments: 0

Review of research about the buddy system - 08 Jan 2015 20:59

Tags: recovery training wellness

Do you have any written resources about the buddy system? Perhaps any studies done on effectiveness or other background material? I am putting together a proposal for assisted living/nursing home facilities to work with the direct care staff on mindfulness and self-care and I think the buddy system could be a useful tool to consider. —a reader

These notes are based on the seven most useful papers I found in a quick literature search. One paper attends to preventative stress management in a corporate environment, one help-seeking during suicidality by college-age youth, one stress in the military, two veteran mental health, one disaster mental health, and one child welfare worker safety.

People use buddies

The literature suggests that a person is more likely to seek help for a buddy than for himself, and more likely to seek help from a peer than from a professional.

Curtis [Bibliography item cur10 not found.] found that while youth suicide is common, youths seeking help for themselves is uncommon. Students were more willing to seek help for others than for themselves. Furthermore, "Participants expressed greater willingness to seek help for another if they were not a close friend" [p. 699]. Rings et al. [Bibliography item rin12 not found.] discussed the everpresence of the buddy system in the military ("the main benefit often is safety or survival; buddies work together to provide monitoring, assistance, or even rescue during a crisis" [p. 103]).

"In a study surveying U.K. peacekeepers, 98% of personnel felt able to talk to military friends or peers in the same deployment and only 8% had used formal support networks (such as the use of medical or welfare services). Furthermore, only 15% had spoken to the chain of command about their experiences" [Bibliography item lan07 not found., p. 932]. I wouldn't be surprised to see similar numbers for civilians.

Some roles of buddies

The basic role of the buddy system is to promote safety and prevent physical and psychic injury. As such, it is a primary prevention method [Bibliography item har11 not found.]. Hargrove et al. [Bibliography item har11 not found.], in their literature review of preventative stress management in professional environments, list roles buddies play and outcomes they promote: "[buddies] may provide direct aid in dealing with a stressor, or may help individuals reframe their stressful experience. Social support may reduce the intensity and duration of stressors by buffering or protecting individuals from sources of stress… developing interdependent workers with healthy attachments to each other leads to more sound psychological contracts and a pipeline of individuals who can sustain themselves in stressful environments without becoming distressed" [p. 188].

Training to establish buddy systems

Buddies can be trained, their training should teach them to provide practical support, and workers who enter dangerous scenes or who have faced an on-job assault should be entitled to a buddy.

Pfeiffer et al. [Bibliography item pfe12 not found.] focus on treatment resistance among veterans, and the role of peer networks in promoting help-seeking. They find that "formal peer-based programs may assist soldiers not sufficiently benefitting from natural peer networks" [p. 1471]. Hargrove et al. [Bibliography item har11 not found.] summarize literature which finds training that improves peoples' coping resources "enhances satisfaction and well-being," but caution that support should be practical, not just emotional: "Informational and emotional support should be coupled with instrumental support that helps individuals meet job demands, and appraisal support that facilitates role clarity and provides concrete performance feedback" [p. 188].

Scalera [Bibliography item sca95 not found.] documented the 9-point plan he instituted for child welfare worker health and safety as director of New Jersey's DYFS. Point one was mandated "teamed response" (buddy system) for a variety of potentially dangerous circumstances. Among these circumstances, "workers who were previously assaulted are entitled to a buddy until such time as the worker and his or her supervisor jointly decide that one is no longer routinely needed" [p. 342].

Who makes a good buddy

Military, police, and emergency medical buddies are field partners within a squad. In human service professions, it might be harder to figure out who makes a good buddy. Scalera writes, "Buddies might be other DYFS staff members or supervisors, or other helpers, such as a mental health/crisis team worker, a family preservation services worker, a pediatric nurse consultant, or other professionals involved in the case" [Bibliography item sca95 not found., pp. 342-3].

More applications

Other papers I looked at (not cited; find them yourself if you're interested) discussed:

  • how suicide occurs in clusters in Australian indigenous communities, and an intervention in which a pre-planned buddy system becomes active with at-risk people after a suicide to decrease their likelihood of following suit;
  • a randomized controlled trial of a buddy system involving people with psychiatric or cognitive disabilities buddied with nondisabled adults in which the disabled adults showed improved social functioning and self-esteem;
  • emergency responders promoting the standard practice of a buddy system among the "walking wounded" in mass-casualty incidents in Iraq;
  • a buddy system used as part of a secondary trauma healing intervention for professionals who assisted Hasidic settlers injured by rockets in the Al-Aqsa Intifada;

MSF (Doctors Without Borders) used buddy systems and family groups as a first-stage intervention after cyclone Nargis in Burma, followed by more formal training of community health workers: "…they designed a 'buddy system', through which MSF teams could provide support and counselling to staff and help them cope with working in arduous conditions. Staff members were divided into 'work families'—teams working together in the delta region, each with a 'father' and 'mother' who help the team solve its problems on its own…" [Bibliography item ste08 not found., p. 16].

Other papers discussed buddy systems for HIV and TB medication compliance / lifestyle modification, obesity interventions, suicide prevention in a deployed military unit, preparation and support of transplant patients, emotion-focused therapy for incarcerated offenders of intimate partner violence, and rural home care nurses' cold-weather self-monitoring for frostbite and hypothermia.

A note

"The objective of primary intervention is not to eliminate all stress, because the elimination of stress in organizations would lower individual and organizational performance. Managers should attempt to eliminate only those extreme stressors, which have no possibility of producing positive responses, e.g. violence, hazardous conditions, etc. Because eradication of stress is not the principal goal, primary intervention should seek to reduce stressors to levels that promote positive stress responses and create conditions of eustress. Primary interventions, in addition to reducing stressors, may also be effective at developing psychological capital among employees and improving employee well-being" [Bibliography item har11 not found., p. 188].


This was just the result of a brief literature review on EBSCOhost, looking at the first 80 hits for one search string. These papers are by no means the most influential or important on the topic: they're just a taste of the literature available.


Curtis, C. (2010). Youth perceptions of suicide and help-seeking: 'They'd think I was weak or 'mental''. Journal Of Youth Studies 13(6), 699-715.
Hargrove, M., Quick, J., Nelson, D. L., & Quick, J. D. (2011). The theory of preventive stress management: a 33-year review and evaluation. Stress & Health: Journal Of The International Society For The Investigation Of Stress 27(3), 182-193.
Langston, V. et al. (2007). Culture: What Is Its Effect on Stress in the Military? Military Medicine 172(9), 931-935.
Steffens, M. (2008). After the deadly storm. Mental Health Practice 12(2), 14-17.
Pfeiffer, P. N., Blow, A. J., Miller, E., Forman, J., Dalack, G. W., & Valenstein, M. (2012). Peers and Peer-Based Interventions in Supporting Reintegration and Mental Health Among National Guard Soldiers: A Qualitative Study. Military Medicine 177(12), 1471-1476.
Rings, J. A., Alexander, P. A., Silvers, V. N., & Gutierrez, P. M. (2012). Adapting the Safety Planning Intervention for Use in a Veterans Psychiatric' Inpatient Group Setting. Journal Of Mental Health Counseling 34(2), 95-109.
Scalera, N. R. (1995). The Critical Need for Specialized Health and Safety Measures for Child Welfare Workers. Child Welfare 74(2), 337-350.

[[/bibliography]] - Comments: 0

A useful wellness inventory -- HALTS - 01 Jan 2015 16:21

Tags: how-to recovery training wellness

This post is a response to inquiries for more info about HALTS (mentioned in the Health and Safety outline posted here last week).


HALTS is an acronym for a wellness inventory: are you too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, or taking yourself too Seriously?

I learned about HALT early in Narcotics Anonymous recovery. It originated a long time ago (guessing 1940s-1950s) through Alcoholics Anonymous members crowdsourcing ways their relapses could have been prevented. 12-steppers love acronyms, slogans, and self-inventories they can use for journaling, and HALT is all three. Not to mention, it is a serious lifesaver that I've used for communicating when I'm not well when or I'm supporting someone who is not well. It beats the hell out of "are you ok," "how are you," and other BS platitudes!

In NA New Orleans, Houston, Birmingham, Mobile, Charlotte, Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, St Louis, etc. I always heard HALT, but in Chicago there was this one female old-timer who insisted that NA World Services had endorsed HALTS at some literature convention in the foggy past. No reference, but I fell in love: the S fills such an important gap!!!


Prolonged lack of sleep as the primary cause of psychosis I learned from the Freedom Center in Western Mass. Will Hall maintains that it's true, as does my friend Lee Hurter and and other key current and former members.

Dr Mike Smith, who developed the 5-needle NADA ear acupuncture protocol, actually unofficially endorsed the way in which the Freedom Center broke protocol. NADA is supposed to only be done in a group setting, but FC NADA techs would do housecalls when a member couldn't sleep for an extended span, especially during psych med withdrawal against medical advice. A sleepless crazy person fell asleep every time and woke up sane. Promoting sleep helped a lot of people stay out of the hospital.

Nursing orients many procedures towards promoting sleep. The primacy of "tired" makes sense from professional perspectives and recovery perspectives.

HALTS and suicidality

The Western Mass RLC where I used to work has a suicidality policy that prohibits non-consensual calling of police. From their alternatives to suicide support groups and other sources, they're convinced that it is very rare for someone to actually want to die. Instead, people kill themselves because they are unable to meet needs that often include sleep and human connection.

When someone discloses suicidal ideation, RLC workers don't ask about a plan and means, but instead inventory why the person wants to die, what needs they are despairing can't be met in any other way, and then strategize how to meet those needs. The plan sometimes includes inpatient or outpatient psych treatment, or addiction recovery support.

Using HALTS in prevention and aftercare

In high-stress situations, I'll work with trainees to think through what excess or deficiency of each of the inventory items feels like. For instance, "lonely for others" is what we normally think of — an unmet need for empathy and human connection — but what about "lonely for self" — an inability to get any personal space for way too long? It is often productive to extend HALTS in this way. At street protests, I suggest that "too cold" sometimes belongs on the list — and hypothermia masquerades as tiredness.

HALT (hadn't learned the S yet) was at the forefront of my mind when I was catching people coming out of Zuccotti Park during the raid of Occupy Wall Street. Because people's food, sleeping area/home, social network, etc had just gone in a way that tends to make one chokingly angry. I focused on when they last ate and how they would get their next meal, where they were going to sleep that night, who they could get in touch with, how to find their jailed friends, and healthy venting of anger.

You can imagine how HALTS might be a good part of domestic violence/sexual assault aftercare options counseling and safety planning. Someone could even organize a personalized wellness plan around hunger-satiation, anger-feeling, lonely-response, tired-abatement, and too serious-intervention strategies.

I think HALTS is wonderfully robust and I love it very much. Let me know if you find it useful. - Comments: 0

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