Just Some of the experts available on Clarity

The New Way to Say No

(That’s Actually a Yes)

It’s a frustrating conundrum.

At any level of experience or accomplishment, we all have people reaching out to us for help.

We’re all more connected than ever but with increased connection comes increased accessibility.

Tweets and emails become requests to “pick your brain” or for “a quick coffee meeting” and increase until they’re frequent enough to be a full-time job.

A full-time, unpaid job.

Most of us have no problem charging big companies for our expertise. Companies have budgets. There is a known process that involves contracts, invoices and retainers.

I’m talking about the one-off requests for “quick” advice from someone who finds you online.

My conundrum

I love teaching and helping others. I also want to pay forward all the help and wisdom that so many have generously shared with me.

But these requests had been increasing, taking up time and disrupting my flow. Contracts and invoices for a 20 minute call or a one hour coffee meeting would be ludicrous.

This left two options:

Option 1: Politely decline all requests.
This doesn’t allow me to help anyone, ever. It also eliminates all serendipity.

Option 2: Accept and take the meeting.
This maximizes serendipity but scales my productivity down to zero.

Neither option was ideal.

Even deciding between Option 1 and 2 caused unnecessary stress.

Should I take this call? Is this particular meeting worth it?

The combination of deciding which meetings to take, the back-and-forth scheduling and the meetings themselves was taking over 15 hours per month of my time.

15+ hours per month was unsustainable.
Something had to change.

What I needed:

I still wanted to help but I needed a standard way to filter incoming requests.

I needed a way to:

  1. Keep all meetings as short and efficient as possible. An hour into many coffee meetings, no specific request has been made.
  2. Eliminate all unnecessary components. The travel time to and from the coffee shop doesn’t help anyone.
  3. Filter those who really want advice from those who just wanted to meet me. Lots of people are happy to buy a coffee for the chance to get to know you.
  4. Seamless scheduling. The back and forth scheduling often takes as long as the meeting itself.
  5. Seamless payment and collection. No invoices. No contracts. No hassle.

The Solution

Enter Clarity.fm.

Clarity is a community of experts who want to help but needed a better way to scale the delivery of that expertise.

Clarity is dead simple.

As an expert, you create a profile, add your areas of expertise and set a price per minute for your time. You keep the money, or if you want, you can donate the proceeds to your favorite charity.

As a user, you create a profile, search the directory and schedule a call with any expert.

Everyone in the header image above is on Clarity.

Clarity meets all of my goals:

  1. Keep all meetings as short and efficient as possible. When people are paying by the minute, they get to the point. Asks are made quickly and succinctly. Efficient transfer of value. Everybody wins.
  2. Eliminate all unnecessary components. No cafes. No travel time. Clarity works via phone. Not fancy, just effective. (Sorry, Starbucks.)
  3. Filter those who really want advice from those who just wanted to meet me. The per-minute rate has (so far) filtered incoming requests to people who want my advice, not those who want to be my friend.
  4. Seamless scheduling. This is one of my favorite parts of Clarity. Like most great products, the beauty is in the simplicity. Callers propose three time slots. Experts can accept one or counter-propose. It’s one-click to add to your calendar of choice. When it’s time for the call, a single click on the handy SMS reminder patches you into the conference bridge line. (This scheduling component works so well, Clarity could spin it out as a separate product.)
  5. Seamless payment and collection. I currently donate all proceeds to charity: water. It’s easy. When I hangup the call, I get emailed a summary that includes how much money charity: water made. I smile and go about my day. But you don’t have to donate. Many experts keep the money and some have substantially supplemented their income via Clarity calls. Clarity even allows you to create a temporary “free” link so you can take specific calls with no charge.

Steal This Script

Whenever I get a request for a one-off coffee meeting or phone call, I now respond with some version of the following:

Hey (name),

Thanks for reaching out. I’d love to help but I’m really focused on building my crowdfunding course right now.

If you want, feel free to book a phone call with me via my Clarity profile. There is a per-minute charge that I donate to charity: water to help them bring clean water to people who need it.


- Clay

My experience

Clarity has been the filter I’ve been looking for.

In the last 6 months, I’ve taken 14 Clarity calls, helping entrepreneurs with a variety of questions on everything from startups to marketing to succeeding on Kickstarter.


Before: 15+ hours per month + a lot of frustration

After: Less than 3 hours per month + $1,235 raised for charity: water

My Clarity.fm profile


Saying no to every random meeting eliminates all serendipity and doesn’t allow me to help other entrepreneurs like so many who have helped me.

Saying yes to every random meeting scales my ability to ship work that matters down to zero.

Clarity is a perfect filter for me.

It’s my new favorite way to say no, that’s actually a yes.

Disclosure: I’m not an investor in or advisor to Clarity but the founder, Dan Martell is a good friend and a great entrepreneur. But even if I didn’t know or like Dan, I’d still love Clarity. :)

Next Story — Less Doing, More Living: Make Everything in Life Easier
Currently Reading - Less Doing, More Living: Make Everything in Life Easier

Less Doing, More Living: Make Everything in Life Easier

Chapter 1

Welcome to the Art of Less Doing! I’m Ari Meisel. Before we begin, I’d like to give you a little background on me and on Less Doing.

I’ve been an entrepreneur for most of my life. I started my first company at the age of 12, doing website design. By the time I started college, I had also started a few other tech companies, and after college, I started working in construction.

When I visited a friend in upstate New York, I got the idea of creating a loft district in Binghamton. I spent the next three years working in construction. I built the lofts, a bar, and a few other spaces.Then I returned to New York City, where I started specializing in green building materials. I’ve invented two green building materials, I’ve written a book on green building materials, and I’ve spent most of the last eight years building and consulting.

In 2006, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a very painful and incurable inflammatory disease of the digestive tract. My case was severe. I was in and out of the hospital, and I was taking 16 pills a day. I nearly died.

After reaching a personal low point in the hospital, I decided to do everything in my power to strengthen my body, which by then was very weak. Through a combination of yoga, nutrition, natural supplements, and rigorous exercise (Ironman and Crossfit), I was able to fight back the symptoms of Crohn’s until I was finally able to suspend my medication. Eventually, I was declared free of all traces of the ‘incurable’ disease, and I competed in Ironman France in June of 2011.

I have since spoken at seminars and at a regional TED Talk about my struggle against a seemingly insurmountable opponent. What I discovered is that nutrition and fitness are not the whole story. Even with them under control, stress was still a big part of my illness. It’s a big part of other autoimmune illnesses and inflammatory conditions, too, not to mention life in general. Before I could completely solve my problem, I needed a way to address stress.

Through the process of data collection, self-tracking, and analysis, I became an Achievement Architect. Less Doing is my approach to dealing with the daily stresses of life by optimizing, automating, and outsourcing all of my tasks in life and business.

What Is Less Doing?

The idea of Less Doing is to reclaim your time and—more importantly—your mind, so you can do the things you want to do. Even little bits of time are important. It all adds up. By applying the practice of Less Doing to your life, you can free up the time and mental space to do the things you care about most.

The three keys to Less Doing are:

  • Optimize
  • Automate
  • Outsource

These keys apply to health, productivity, or any other type of problem or goal.

For any challenge, the first thing to do is optimize it. Break it down to its bare minimum, simplify it, and eliminate everything that’s not completely necessary. Once you’ve boiled the task down to its essentials, the goal is to break what’s left into bite-sized tasks that can be replicated and possibly delegated.

After you’ve optimized a task, the next step is to automate as much as possible. Use software or processes so you can get the task done without human involvement—just set it and forget it.

If you outsource an inefficient task, that doesn’t really help because it’s still inefficient.

Finally, for anything that’s left, outsource to a generalist or a specialist. It’s important to note that although outsourcing can do a lot for you, it comes after optimizing and automation. If you outsource an inefficient task, that doesn’t really help because it’s still inefficient. It’s much better to eliminate work by optimizing or automating whenever you can and only outsource what’s left.

I based the system of Less Doing on nine fundamental principles:

  1. The 80/20 Rule
  2. Creating an External Brain
  3. Customization
  4. Choose Your Own Workweek
  5. Stop Running Errands
  6. Finances
  7. Organization
  8. Batching
  9. Wellness

This book will lead you on a step-by-step journey towards making everything in your life easier. If you need more help, I invite you to take advantage of the resources below.

The Art of Less Doing Course

You can enhance your experience with interaction, collaboration, and guidance by enrolling in The Art of Less Doing course. You can go to http://www.lessdoing.com/learn/ to find out more.

Though it’s not required, I highly recommend taking my other courses on Udemy as well:

Achievement Architecture — Be More Effective at Everything

Achievement architecture is a coaching service that I’ve developed through a long process of experimentation, analytics, and personal tracking. Through Achievement Architecture, I’ve helped individuals achieve some amazing results. Anything you want to achieve is possible through building the right architecture—that is, the setting of goals. This includes everything from more productive corporate operations to treating chronic illnesses and even running a faster mile.

Anything is possible with the right analysis, tools, and methods provided in an Achievement Architecture coaching session. I am a problem solver. See my TED talk on overcoming a seemingly insurmountable problem. I have worked with clients to:

  • Take a startup from idea to reality with barebones re- sources
  • Overcome chronic illness, sleep less, and other bio-hacking
  • Go from running a 9.5-minute mile to a 7-minute mile in 60 days with no more than 20 minutes of daily exercise
  • Go completely paperless, reclaim your inbox, get back your time
  • Outsource everything from virtual assistants and web de- velopers to private investigators and composers

You can learn more at http://www.lessdoing.com/

LessDoing.com started in early 2011 as a blog of productivity hacks. It quickly developed into a framework for optimizing, automating, and outsourcing everything in people’s personal and professional lives. The blog covers everything from email management to fitness and helps make everything in life easier. I encourage you to check out the blog and subscribe to the RSS Feed, Newsletter, and Podcast.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. Let’s get started.

Ari’s book, “Less Doing, More Living: Make Everything in Life Easier” will be released on April 3rd, 2014.
You can pre-order it on Amazon.com here.

Personal note from Clay:
Ari has been a friend of mine for years and I was lucky enough to read some early drafts of his book. I’m a productivity hacker myself. I teach others about productivity and automation — and Ari is where I go when I need help or have questions. He’s a guru’s guru. I’ve learned a ton from him and his book is a perfect way to learn all his magic tricks to optimize, automate and outsource tasks so you can focus on enjoying your work and your life more.

Next Story — Why You Need a Body of Work
Currently Reading - Why You Need a Body of Work

Why You Need a Body of Work

An excerpt from the first chapter of Pam Slim’s new book, Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together.

Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.
- George Bernard Shaw

The white paint was peeling, and chunks of plaster were missing from the exterior walls. Most of the white windows were broken. Rusted swings hung from an iron frame, and the tattered playground sat on twisted pieces of asphalt. Graffiti and trash littered the outside of the building.

For two decades, members of the small California coastal town of Port Costa, population 200, had walked and driven past the old fading schoolhouse without giving it a second thought. The town was a mix of antique shops, aging homes, and old shipyard buildings, so a bit of decay did not seem out of the ordinary.

But my dad saw something else.

Under the cracked paint and broken windows, he saw vibrant, rich community center.

“The first time I saw the Port Costa School, I knew it was made to be an institution of learning. It was supposed to be filled with people learning Spanish, or painting, or tap dancing,” my dad said.

The building had not been used as a school since 1966. And so despite having no plan, no experience with historical building restoration, no construction skills, and no way to raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars required to fix the school, my dad and Diane, my bonus mom (my term for stepmom), decided they would purchase the building.

The fact that my dad would take on such an audacious challenge was not a surprise to me. All my life, I had watched him embrace the craft of his photography, obsessing over the perfect shot. When I was in preschool, I attended city council meetings in San Anselmo, California, where for three years, he patiently worked to establish the state’s first curbside recycling program, in 1971.

After decades of observing my dad’s work, I realized that he was not just building a career (although he was a very successful professional photographer), he was not just being a volunteer (although he spent hundreds of hours of unpaid time on community projects), but he was creating a deep and rich body of work that not only had great meaning and significance to him but also created considerable change and value in his community. It didn’t really matter if a project was overwhelming, or even impossible; if it fit within his vision of what he wanted to create for himself and for the world, he embraced it. It was an inspiring lesson for me.

As I watched the global economy fall to pieces in 2007 and sink into a deep recession for a solid six years after that, creating fear and stress and uncertainty in workers of all stripes, it dawned on me:

My dad just might hold the secret to thriving in the new world of work.

How do you make sense of your career in a work environment that no longer has any predictable career paths?

How do you create stability in a world that has no job security, uncertain markets, threats of terrorism, and a fiercely competitive global workforce?

How do you balance making a living with making time for family, health, and recreation?

How do you develop relationships with mentors when everyone is so busy?

How do you keep your skills relevant in a world that moves so quickly that companies are launched, or destroyed, in a day?

How do you plan for your financial future when you have no idea if your income stream will slow to a trickle, or even dry up completely if you get laid off or go through a difficult stage of business?

Standard career advice would say to get more education, work harder, and make yourself indispensible to your organization or customer base.

This advice made a lot of sense in the twentieth century. In the twenty-first century, this advice is incomplete.

I have spent the last twenty years coaching thousands of employees, executives, and entrepreneurs in a huge variety of industries. I have watched organizations start, grow, shrink, and implode. I have sat across the table from longtime employees and watched them get laid off. I have helped start hundreds of new companies.

From these experiences I know the following to be true:

No one is looking out for your career anymore. You must find meaning, locate opportunities, sell yourself, and plan for failure, calamity, and unexpected disasters. You must develop a set of skills that make you able to earn an income in as many ways as possible.

The new world of work requires a new lens and skill set to ensure career success. You must create your own body of work as you toil in different organizational systems and structures.

When you view your career through the lens of an over-arching body of work, you:

  • know the deeper roots that connect your entire work and life experience.
  • count all significant experiences and skills in your life as “ingredients” that can be put together into interesting new “work recipes.”
  • are not afraid of pursuing work inside and outside of companies.
  • base career decisions on your ability to foster skill development and meaningful creative output, as well as financial stability.
  • choose to work for organizations that share your values and interests.
  • contribute significant, useful and beautiful things to the world.
  • are aware of the risks and pitfalls in the creative process and have the tools and resources to deal with them.
  • have mental clarity, intellectual rigor, and self-awareness.
  • have an active, motivated, and engaged group of peers and mentors.
  • live by a very personal definition of success.
  • can tell a clear, compelling story about your work path at each stage of your career.

In my dad’s case, he was a professional photographer and journalist. He worked most of his career for Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), detouring for eight years to work for an oil company before returning to PG&E and staying until retirement.

He survived multiple layoffs through the decades—the most noteworthy when ten of the eleven staff members in his department were laid off, leaving him shell-shocked and alone in his office.

In such a volatile environment, he did some specific things:

  • He always focused on the mastery of his craft, inside and outside of work.
  • He never got lazy, or took his work for granted. Although I never heard of a situation where a client was unhappy with his photographs, he still worried every time he sent in a job.
  • When he got divorced, he took a manual labor job at an oil company. He hated it with a passion. But he kept plugging away so he could provide for himself and his kids, did freelance photography on the side, and waited for the opportunity to back to PG&E. It took eight years.
  • He showed deep respect for everyone he came in contact with, especially the frontline employees who were repairing power lines in the middle of a storm. He never forgot what it was like to do manual labor and related to them with humility and compassion.
  • He truly appreciated his role inside a large organization that provided financial stability as well as many opportunities to grow professionally.
  • He was passionate about community service. He was one of a handful of volunteers who recycled all the glass and aluminum in Port Costa every two weeks for thirteen years.
  • He showed his kids and grandkids how enriching work can be when one truly delights in its craft. We were all inspired to pursue meaningful and significant careers.

My dad turned sixty-five in November 1999, making him eligible for retirement benefits. In December 1999, he was laid off with a severance package. To this day, at the age of seventy-eight, he still does freelance projects for PG&E.

Was my dad lucky? Very. But I think the fact that he always viewed his career as more than a straight and narrow path, and always as a more cumulative and connected body of work, saved him from layoffs, opened up new opportunities, and allowed him to feel great success and satisfaction in his life.

What exactly is a body of work?

As Daniel Pink wrote in Drive, “The secret to high performance and satisfaction—at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.”

Your body of work is everything you create, contribute, affect, and impact. For individuals, it is the personal legacy you leave at the end of your life, including all the tangible and intangible things you have created. Individuals who structure their careers around autonomy, mastery and purpose will have a powerful body of work.

For organizations, it is the products, property, inventions, ideas, and value they share throughout the course of their existence. Organizations that structure their internal strategies around autonomy, mastery and purpose will be more competitive and resilient.

Smiling and waving at your neighbor every morning as you get the paper can contribute to your bigger desire to see more civility and joy in the world.

My passion for and commitment to individual determination and transformation has led me from community development projects on the outskirts of Bogotá, Columbia, to science and art education to teaching martial arts to corporate consulting to parenting to blogging to entrepreneur coaching and writing books. And it will take me in new directions in the future, without having to feel constrained by any one audience or business or job title.

A body of work is big and deep and complex. It allows you to experiment and play and change and test.

It supports creative freedom.

It includes obvious things, like books, software code, photographs, videos, process improvements, paintings and stories.

And not-so-obvious things, like community development, love, movements, memories and relationships.

Bodies of work often have big overarching themes, such as:

Solving complex problems—Like David Batstone’s commitment to end human trafficking with his nonprofit advocacy organization, Not For Sale.

Building bridges—like Kai Dupe and his work to bridge the digital divide in technology for people of color.

Changing the world through powerful communication—like Nancy Duarte, who has changed the way business leaders create and deliver presentations.

Making the world more accessible to more people—like Glenda Watson Hyatt, the Canadian writer and motivational speaker with cerebral palsy who writes with her left thumb.

Strengthening the bond between parents and children—like Marilyn Scott-Waters, a children’s book author who has created a world of free paper toys at thetoymaker.com.

Each of these examples shows a deep commitment to a cause or problem that is bigger than any one job title or profession or business. And they can include a whole range of output, including writing, physical products, legal legislation, systems, speeches, books, conversations and advocacy.

Focusing on building a body of work will give you more freedom and clarity to choose different work options throughout the course of your life, and you’ll be able to connect your diverse accomplishments, sell your story, and continually re-invent and relaunch your brand.

You won’t have to say things like “I am throwing away ten years of studying and practicing law if I start a yoga studio.”

(Don’t worry—your relatives will say it.)

Or “I am undermining my potential if I take a job as a barista” after you get laid off from your corporate job as a highly paid creative.

If your body of work is about creating beauty and art, why not make lovely images in latte foam while you retool for a new job?

It’s also possible to contribute to your body of work if you work in a cubicle inside a larger company.

While the organization may have amnesia about your contribution to its body of work, you know what you created and what you are capable of.

If you completed a huge, significant project, did a spectacular job, and it ended up getting shelved right before being launched, you still did all that work. It may not become part of the organization’s legacy, but it is part of yours.

You can order Body of Work, Pam Slim’s latest book,
Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
Next Story — An Open Letter from a Black Man to His White Family in a Moment of Violence
Currently Reading - An Open Letter from a Black Man to His White Family in a Moment of Violence

An Open Letter from a Black Man to His White Family in a Moment of Violence

Photo credit: Love and Struggle Photos

To the white people I share home with,

I’ve gotten degrees. I’ve been published. I’ve spoken at academic gatherings. I’ve taught classes and workshops. I’ve built up a resume. I’ve gained employment in the acceptable fields of social justice. For years, you told me these were the things I needed to do in order to be listened to.

I’ve participated in direct action. I’ve been arrested. I’ve survived nearly three decades in a country that hates me. I’ve predicted the formation of movements, the swell of riots, months and even years before their occurrences. I don’t know what else I need to do to be legitimized, be validated, to be worthy of being heard and taken seriously.

I am exhausted from trying to get you on board with a movement–one that mirrors those from previous eras you claim to revere, and that has reignited calls for social transformation once heralded by the writers, speakers, musicians and artists you claim to hold dearest. I wonder if you understand what any of the struggles which have occurred during your lifetime were ever actually about.

I am not naive nor arrogant enough to believe my imploring can achieve in this moment what centuries of Black imploring has not been able to. I am not foolish enough to believe this letter will be the letter that changes your minds. I write because I need to speak, because I am in pain. I write because I cannot bear any more condescension, more indifference. I write to tell you I am not going to.

The cry of this moment is Black Lives Matter. If you are not involved, I assume this is a statement you take issue with.

When we say Black Lives Matter, we mean Black people are the experts in their own lives, their own history, their own struggles. We mean your opinions are not necessary, and that debating you is a waste of our valuable energy, mental health and time. We mean you do not get to speak on issues with which you have no experience, which you have not studied nor researched, but on which you feel entitled enough to award yourself authority. We mean you must be quiet and listen to Black people.

You can no longer hide behind your idealism. The very existence of this moment proves your ideals to be misled and hollow.

If legislation alone could save us, the 13th Amendment, Special Field Order №15, and Brown vs. Board would have saved us. If electoral politics alone could save us, then the innumerable Black justices and representatives elected in the last half century would have saved us. If white saviors could save us, we would have been saved a million times over. But we are here and we are dying, and you are watching from the sidelines.

You call me an anarchist. You say you fear chaos. If you knew what it means to be Black, what is happening in your towns and cities daily, you’d know that chaos and bloodshed are already here. They are visited on women, on people of color, on poor people, workers, on immigrants, on trans people, on queer people, and they are done so constantly. Chaos is our bed, our sheets, our water, our front steps, our sidewalks. The systems you insist we trust to address it, the leaders you elected, are its source. Your fear of movement, and your denial of this reality, is what allows it to continue.

This is the last time I will say this to you:

Black people are dying. Every day, Black trans women are dying. Black children are dying. Black mothers and sisters are dying. Maybe I have to die for you to understand what this means.

If the demands of our movement are unclear to you, that is your fault. We have stated them concretely and concisely, over and over again–not just at this moment, but at every time in history Black people have fought for their lives. Don’t pretend that because the sources you read don’t report it, the information is unavailable. Don’t act as though your selective hearing is the result of our lack of organizing. Don’t tell the leaders who have penned the most passionate pleas for justice in US history they need to be more articulate.

And when the police come for me, don’t cry. When I am murdered by a supremacist in the street, don’t mourn me. If I am put in a cage for speaking out, don’t call it a travesty. Because it is happening, has been happening unceasingly for the last five centuries, and you have done nothing to stop it.

Do not feign shock at the inevitable. It disrespects me, and the memory of every Black person your system has purposefully killed.

When I tell you my needs, talk of my pain, my anger, all my stories, it is a privilege and blessing you haven’t earned. It is a profound form of vulnerability I engage not because you deserve it, but because I as a Black person choose to share it with you. I do so for the sole reason that I do not wish to lose you from my life, do not want the most core parts of my existence to be hidden from you. But when you refuse to look, they remain invisible. When you resist seeing, you deprive yourself of authentic entrance into who I truly am, and what I truly need from you.

And your denial cannot protect you, just as my silence cannot protect me.

This movement is happening without you, despite you. But real transformation is not possible unless you listen deeply, sincerely, even when it is painful, and take brave action at your own risk to fight for the things the Black community is demanding of you.

When Black people speak, and you do not listen, you are creating the conditions of a riot. And when you tell us we are exaggerating, playing the martyr, making it all up, then you cannot be surprised when we elect militancy to make you comprehend what you refused to understand when we were peaceful.

A son, brother, nephew and grandson of Black, queer liberation

Next Story — The Fascist Bogeyman
Currently Reading - The Fascist Bogeyman

The Fascist Bogeyman

There’s a noise under the bed and it won’t stop

The current debate about fascism in America has, thus far, centered on the definition. Many publications have been musing in the same direction: “Is Donald Trump a fascist?” (Slate, The New York Times), “Is Donald Trump an Actual Fascist?” (Vanity Fair), “Donald Trump and Fascism: Is He or Isn’t He?” (National Review), etc. People want to know what to call things and that’s understandable, but I’m not sure how useful this exercise is. Fascist is as fascist does, and by the time we can agree on the exact definition it may already be too late.

When I planned to write about ¡No Pasarán!, a new collection about the Spanish Civil War edited by Pete Ayrton, I thought there might be some good lessons in there about fascism. With the Trump campaign improbably continuing and the alt-right Nazi brand on the rise, many of us agree that a solid operational understanding of fascism is increasingly necessary. Whether or not the label applies to our present situation, I’m pretty sure it’s valid when talking about Generalissimo Francisco Franco of the Spanish Falange.

I figured I would outline the historical timeline, cite a couple historical curiosities, draw some ominous connections to the election, get a check, and move on. Instead, I got stuck on a couple anecdotes in one of the pieces, an excerpt of the Basque writer Bernardo Atxaga’s book De Gernika a Guernica. The first is from the village of Fuenteguinaldo, and it happened in 1936 but wasn’t revealed publicly for 70 years:

“Apparently, the Falangists asked the priest to draw up a list of all the reds and atheists in the village … They went from house to house looking for them. At nine o’clock at night, they were taken to the prison in Ciudad Rodrigo, and at four o’clock in the morning, were told they were being released, but, at the door of the prison, a truck was waiting and, instead of taking them home, it brought them here to be killed.”

The second comes from the failed coup attempt in 1981:

“I was living in a village in Castille with fewer than two hundred inhabitants. I became friendly with a young socialist who was a local councillor. When I met him one day, he was looking positively distraught. He had just found out that in February of that year, on the night Colonel Tejero burst into Parliament and the tanks came out onto the streets, the local priest had gone straight to the nearest military barracks intending to hand in a list of local men who should be arrested; my friend’s name was at the top of the list.”

Someone puts your name on a list and you disappear. And maybe all the people who care enough to look for you disappear too. And no one hears what happened until everyone you ever knew is dead. That is, if you’ll excuse my language, the fucking bogeyman. It scares the hell out of me.

There’s a danger to thinking about fascism as something other than human, not just because it is people, but because it presents a temptation to dehistoricize. Fascism becomes something existential, a tyrannical tendency somewhere deep in the character of all people or all societies that needs to be restrained but occasionally breaks free to wreak havoc. Once we start down that path it’s not too long before we get to “We’re all a little bit fascist,” and “Was Alexander the Great a fascist?” That is lazy, useless thinking, the kind of “human nature” nonsense that is the first resort of the uninformed and uninterested.

Monsters and ghouls have always been a part of human community as far as I know, but they each emerge under particular circumstances. Think FernGully: The evil spirit Hexxus is freed from a tree (where it’s been imprisoned) when a timber crew chops it down. Ancient Hexxus seeps out with the character — even the name — of modern pollution. The creature is the externalities of industrial production embodied. It moves like oil and smoke. That pollution makes monsters is not a special insight; everyone knows about Godzilla. But moral pollution, of course, yields demons as well. Monsters show up when some scale is stubbornly uneven, when karma is repressed. Toxic waste dumped in the swamp, but graves disturbed too. That we’ve always had evil isn’t a way to avoid understanding the specifics of its incarnations. Thinking about fascism as a bogeyman in this way could be more useful. What kind of monster is it?

Allow me some speculation. Fascism is a nation-shaped monster. It arises alongside the modern state, and though they share sympathies (and weapons) across borders, fascists are nationalists. One of the conflicts that feeds fascism is between 19th-century ideas about the racial character of states and 20th-century pluralist ones. Our global system is supposedly based on something like collective self-determination, but it’s grafted onto a map drawn by colonial violence and pseudo-scientific ideas about Gauls and Teutons. Fascism is a particular combination of Romantic/Victorian ambitions and modern tools that sparks to life as the two eras grind against each other. Frankenstein with the arms of capitalist industry and the heart of a monarchist. Patriotic young Hitler inhaling mustard gas in the trenches, like a panel from the first issue of a comic book.

One of those modern tools is the list. We’ve always indexed information, but our ability to do so grows in qualitative jumps. To round up all your enemies at a national level is an analytics problem, and it’s one we solved under particular circumstances. The quantitative management of populations doesn’t just happen to emerge around slavery, it emerges out of slavery. And the Civil War didn’t break the line: At the Eugenics Records Office (ERO) in Cold Springs Harbor, New York, so-called scientists of the early 20th century kept lists of the genetically (and racially) undesirable. They embarked on sterilization campaigns and lent their expertise to help halt the flow of immigrants. The Nazis infamously used IBM to manage the Holocaust; the Americans (less infamously) also used IBM to manage the Japanese internment camps. When NYU’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute recreated an ERO office in 2014, they called the exhibit “Haunted Files.” Perhaps our filing systems are haunted too.

Modern liberal states have never truly reconciled their racial character with their democratic pretensions. I’m not clear on how such a thing could be possible; where would a truly pluralist state draw its borders and why? Flipping through a history book it’s hard to argue that the nation-state system doesn’t exist for the arbitrarily divided glory of western Europeans. The official line is that we’re supposed to ignore that part, or be sad. But some people don’t want to ignore it and they aren’t sad. Instead they wonder why we have the nice borders that their conquering “ancestors” drew but all these people on the wrong sides. If taking Mexico’s land for white people was illegitimate, then why haven’t we given it back? And if it was legitimate, then what’s wrong with a wall to protect our side from a reversal? The liberal patriots, they say, are lying to themselves; there is no nationalism that is not ethno-nationalism.

The persistence of the fascist bogeyman suggests that they have a point. The beast can skulk in the basement for decades, feeding off the contradictions at the foundation of the pluralist state and its own waste. This is 2016 and we can’t claim that fascism is a birth pang of the global democratic order, an enemy defeated. (Ghosts, zombies, the terminator: monsters so rarely go away when they’re supposed to.) Fascism seems inextricably tied to what we have, like Dorian Gray’s portrait locked in a closet, consolidating ugliness.

Whether or not they could finish off fascism once and for all, liberals usually aren’t tempted to try. I don’t know if that’s because they sense something irradicable there, but liberals have historically found deals to make with their shadow. Spain is one of the more striking examples. When Franco’s insurgents escalated, the rest of the world agreed to stay neutral so as to stall the already foreseen World War II. But the war had already begun: Hitler and Mussolini flouted the agreement, intervening most dramatically with bombing raids. The Soviet Union breached as well, sending weapons to badly armed Madrid. The western democracies, however, stayed neutral. In return, Franco maintained Spain as a non-belligerent when world-wide hostilities broke out. It’s an agreement that lasted into the 80s.

Part of what makes the Spanish Civil War so important for leftists is the sense that it could have gone the other way. There’s an urban legend that infighting among leftists — communists, anarchists, and Trotskyists — caused the Republic’s defeat. ¡No Pasarán! has accounts of this friendly-ish fire, but no one thinks it decisive compared to German and Italian air power or the western arms embargo. Spanish republicans and their study abroad comrades fought bravely, but the bogeyman has an advantage at the insurgency stage. Violence is its thing.

The bogeyman makes a real offer: Delegate to me your capacity for limitless violence and together we will dominate. That they’re able to do it justifies the undertaking, and they are, under some circumstances, able to do it. A willingness to strike first, to drag your enemies from their beds in the middle of the night, to steal their babies, that’s a force multiplier, especially when combined with the right information technology. There is strength in white nationalist unity. Horrifying, despicable, anti-human strength, but strength still. The fascist image is a bundle of sticks or arrows — the fasces, harder to break. And they are.

I think of the 2015 movie Green Room, about a band of punks who get trapped inside a Nazi club and have to try and fight their way out. Joe Cole plays the drummer Reece, and he’s the only one who shows any sort of confidence, preparation, or leadership when it comes to fighting fascists. With his MMA skills he incapacitates a giant skinhead bouncer and directs the gang to make a break for it. He’s not out a club window one moment before two faceless, nameless Nazi henchmen have stabbed him to death. For me this moment illuminates a basic truth about fascist strategy: It does not matter how smart or brave or capable or strong you are. There are two of us, we have knives, and we’re waiting outside the window.

Liberal democracies are constitutionally vulnerable to the bogeyman. We civilians have already delegated our capacity for violence to the military abroad and the police at home. If there’s a threat to law and order, then the forces of law and order will take care of it. We don’t have to worry about protecting our democracy, there are professionals for that. All we have to do is vote for the right people to manage them. But that plan has risks.

America’s founders thought they could write the standing army out by fiat, and they have been proven very wrong. Liberal democracies maintain giant war machines. Within each of these war machines — as in the religious and business communities — there are cults that worship the bogeyman. Members wear tattoos, patches, insignias to identify each other. They recruit. Some of them go to meetings, most probably don’t. I imagine that many of them get fulfillment from their work. Why wouldn’t fascists feel at home in the police, the border patrol, the army? Asking these organizations to maintain anti-fascist vigilance on behalf of the whole population is a fox and henhouse situation.

If Donald Trump is a fascist — as even the liberal media is beginning to agree — and has a non-negligible chance to winning the presidency, what is the contingency plan? If a Trump administration were to flout what’s left of our democratic norms, how would our system protect itself? I don’t know how Trump polls among active-duty military, but the Fraternal Order of Police has already endorsed him. Part of me thinks “Troops loyal to Hillary Clinton,” is a phrase we could get used to fast, but I’m not sure how many of those there are. Are the Vox dot com technocrats expecting a Seal Team 6 bullet to solve the Trump problem if things get too hairy? It seems remarkable that the two 20th-century American politicians we talk about getting closest to fascist takeovers — Huey Long and George Wallace — were both stymied not by the democratic process but by lone gunmen. That’s a bad defense strategy. Thankfully, it’s not the only one available.

Via Richmond Struggle, anti-fascists in Richmond, VA

Wherever there have been fascists there have also been anti-fascists: Traditionally communists, anarchists, socialists, and some folks who just hate fascists. When left-wing parties have on occasion decided to stand by while fascists targeted liberal governments, anti-fascist elements have still distinguished themselves. Anti-fascism is based on the idea that fascists will use content-neutral liberal norms like freedom of speech and association as a Trojan Horse. By the time the threat seems serious, the knives are already out. Antifa seek to nip the threat in the bud, attacking fascists wherever they’re weak enough to attack. If that means busting up their meetings with baseball bats, then that’s what it means.

In America, we remember the Spanish Civil War mostly through anti-fascist anglophone writers — George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway being the most famous — who decamped for Spain. Unlike fascists and liberals, anti-fascists are internationalists, and no citizenship takes precedence over the struggle. When the call went out for sympathizers to come and defend the Spanish Republic, one young British volunteer, Laurie Lee, called it “the chance to make one grand, uncomplicated gesture of personal sacrifice and faith which may never occur again. Certainly, it was the last time this century that a generation had such an opportunity before the fog of nationalism and mass-slaughter closed in.” Comrades of all sorts of nationalities and particular left-wing political views signed up for the motley “International Brigades.” There was and is a purity to this gesture; to go and risk your life alongside your attacked comrades is among the highest imaginable acts of solidarity. “¡No pasarán!” (They will not pass) is an anti-fascist slogan of such power that it’s still in use today, many decades after it turned out to be a lie.

Because pass they did. The righteous rag-tag army was no match for the German and Italian bombers. Spain stands for anti-fascism across borders, but also the catastrophe of its failure. If there’s one lesson we can learn from the War it’s that fascists don’t always lose. The arc of history is not a missile defense system and sometimes righteous solidarity makes for full prison camps.

For years American anti-fascists have been very effective. Up until the Trump campaign, they had largely prevented white nationalists from meeting in public in cities. It usually works something like this: Antifa finds out where the Nazis are planning to meet and they call the hotel or conference center they’re going to use and explain who exactly “American Renaissance” is, and what will happen if the meeting happens (chaos). Most reputable establishments exercise their right to decline Nazi business. This kind of tactic offends the liberal sensibility, but it’s the only choice. The least violent way to oppose fascism is to disrupt them before they feel strong enough to act in an organized way. I fear that window is closing.

I don’t think Donald Trump is going to be elected president, but the fascists who have found a vessel in his campaign have been licking their lips for months straight. Things are going better than they could have hoped and they won this round a long time ago. I have no doubt they’re thinking about how to organize their engorged base in November’s wake. Fascists aren’t democrats and they don’t need a majority.

The bogeyman is in the closet and he’s making so much noise it’s hard to pretend we can’t hear it. We have a choice to make, if not as a country, then as members of this society. We can get out of bed, open the door, and confront the social infection that is fascism. Or we can pull the sheets up over our heads, pretend history ended 25 years ago, and try to get back to sleep. Maybe the noise will stop on its own — it is possible, even likely. But maybe we’ll wake up with our throats slit. There won’t be a different kind of warning.

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