The Importance of Being Uncomfortable

A big part of white supremacy is individualism. I see it operating everywhere. I see it among the type-A, corporate ‘go-getters’, but I also see it shot right through much of our radical communities. On the surface it’s about freedom, autonomy and responsibility. On the ground it’s about elitism and self-congratulation, or about isolation and blame. It’s a zero foot view that ignores our undeniable interdependency and puts everything on the individual, both good and bad.
I want to talk about how it causes those of us with white privilege to react to critique of ourselves and thus of white supremacist patriarchy.
In my own life growing up as a white son of colonizers, it was ingrained in me from a young age that mistakes were not a thing to be made. I learned that authority ruled. I learned both at home, at school and even among friends, that social conflicts were not negotiated collectively for mutual benefit. They were negotiated by authority for control and self-preservation. At home it was my parents, unless they were in conflict with each other, in which case it was whoever could drag out the longer list of grievances and good deeds. At school it was the teacher, then the principal. Among friends it was whoever quickly organized as a moral right collective to denounce and shame the outcasts.
In terms of actual principles it was often contradictory, and rarely fair.
Over time I found that this fostered quick reaction to defensiveness; a moral panic of a sort. If you are accused of anything, it triggers a fight or flight response because you are in eminent danger of losing a lot of social capital very quickly.
This is what I see happening among us, among white people, when confronted with just about anything, but especially when confronted with realities that we don’t immediately understand. Often it’s coming from someone we don’t see as belonging to our in-group and who are usually easily outnumbered by our peers, who we don’t know or have to think about as a real person because we are only interacting with them online.
Sometimes they are not even present because we are only discussion them in the third person. We can treat them as an abstraction. Moreover, we don’t have to be aware of any of that to still use it to our advantage, and we do. Over and over.
Even those who may consider ourselves high-minded, or radical, or generally kind people are not immune to this and in fact make ourselves a greater obstacle by having the appearance of goodness without fully engaging in the practice of empathizing and acknowledging.
What we do is data-mine the information thrown at us for loopholes and ‘gotchas’. We pick holes based on any ambiguous word choices, or for any conceivable flaws or inconsistencies in the speaker. We demand for ‘proofs’ that are impossible, or just slide the goal posts. We play the game mentioned earlier as performed in my family of origin… the imaginary scales of good deeds and grievances. We take comfort in greater numbers, but still think of ourselves as the underdogs. We become like the domineering nation-states that we belong to. *Our* jackboot is on *their* throat, but *they* are about to kill *us*. *They* are monstrous. *They* are the *real* oppressors.
Anything, but become vulnerable. Anything but face our inherent fallibility and step out of our self-preservation. Anything but be uncomfortable in realizing where we stand, what we have become a part of and how we are affecting others and the fact that we don’t immediately know how to do something different to immediately reclaim our ‘good’ status. The realization threatens to leave us feeling exposed and without a rudder.
And here lies the rub. This panicked self-preservation will not and can not ever lead to the kind of world we profess to desire, where people are *actually* equal, and things are *actually* fair. We give our intent more importance than our real world effect. We preserve the perception at the cost of reality, while others pay the heaviest costs.

We Are Not Failures

All of this.

When I was little, I wanted to be a firetruck, not a firefighter, but a fire truck.  Maybe it’s because I was built like a truck, perpetually a rosey red, and enjoyed playing with campfires… but when I was a toddler being a fire truck was my future goal.  As I grew older, my hopes and dreams left the world of the surreal and entered the world of practicality; I wanted to be a doctor, a nurse, a teacher, a lawyer, or a journalist. Instinctively, I had always known that I was going to university.

Being an Indigenous student within the academy, you are held to a different standard within your peers and your family.  When you’re an Indigenous student, there’s no such thing as failure, because you’re not just failing from school you’re failing everyone that has worked hard to support you where you are.  There’s this added…

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Pulling up Roses

I have concluded that most ideas equated with “positivity” by the mainstream are cheap abstractions, bankrupt of honesty and meaning.


Your life is your garden,
Your thoughts are the seeds.
If your life isn’t awesome,
You’ve been watering the weeds.

They are constantly parroted, like seemingly benign background noise. They have that small element of truth, yet if you dare to challenge them, their ugliness will be revealed and their intent manifest. You will see the ire of a religious zealot whose god has been defiled. If you find yourself down, claiming that you have problems that can’t simply be fixed by a positive attitude; that there are real material obstacles in society, the veil will be cast aside and the beast unleashed.

It is the violent defense of western individualism.

Everyone gets what they deserve.
If you’re down, it’s your own fault.
You just need to try harder!

You see, you have just told them that they are not safe. Tomorrow, it could be them. You have shaken their sense of invincibility and they hate you for it. They assume you are attacking them to bring them down “to your level”, when in fact you are begging them to stop throwing you under the bus to maintain their delicate illusion.

Indeed, those fluffy truisms and these hell-fire judgements are but two sides of the same ideological coin.

agape ing void

I was going through some of my 200+ tabs of articles and found one that I never quite got to finish reading. I find that it really articulates some things that have been weighing on me heavily lately. My partner has been going through hell trying to get much needed help from support systems, and instead of empathetic response has garnered not only brutal, heartless scrutiny, but in fact further threat to her stability and well being. Only this week did she gain some moderate reprieve, only to have her housing come into crisis.

As difficult as these things have been, I think the deepest part of the struggle has been the isolation and lack of understanding from those you ought to have been most understanding. Were it not for the competition and subsequent isolation this article addresses, I don’t think such broken systems could ever have developed. We would have addressed them much sooner.

To my mind, the article also relates well to the topic of “loving yourself so that others can love you.” I really believe that this discussion is not a completely honest one. There is a level of truth behind having enough awareness so that you are not an emotional vortex who suffocates people. Such people can’t be satisfied or healed simply by giving them attention.

Beyond that however, this discourse becomes a farce. We DO need each other, and needing each other does not deserve the shame we assign to it. In fact I think that shame only deepens the desperation. The assurance required to help someone out, is not absence of need, but merely a willingness of the individual to take ownership of it; to have a dialog of respect where each has room to express and negotiate.

Radically loving each other and engaging in deep struggle, even suffering, is not only beautiful but necessary. In fact, I think that for society to get back to a level of sustainable humanity, it will take a considerable number of people engaging in immense suffering for the greater good, as the momentum of this Great Machine bears down against their resistance.

Counter-intuitively, struggle and suffering done well can gives us deeper meaning if it is in the service of communion; just as intense competition for selfish gain or even simply for personal security, seems to leave us desperately unfulfilled.

What are your thoughts, your experiences?

Cognitive Dissident

I know full well that when the media actually bothers to make a fuss about video games and movies that it’s a farce. The causes of urban violence are much more complex than violent video games. I know that they don’t “make” anyone go out and commit violence in a simplistic cause and effect sense. I know that it’s a smoke screen that lets people direct their frustration and failing sense of security onto the often demonized youth, mentally ill, and minorities.

I will say one thing though. When I watch these civilians and journalists being gunned down by enthusiastic soldiers, chomping at the bit; it tweaks something within me. I’m tickled by a sense of power. I feel that flush in my chest when I hear the BAP-BAP-BAP. I’m flooded with the excitement of the heroic paragon laying waste to his faceless, evil-doing enemies.

“Come on, let us shoot!”

I feel a cognitive dissonance. I don’t want to admit to it; I want to cover it up. I want to explain away, to justify. “It’s just war”, I tell myself. “They’re just doing what they have to”, I say. “Things get all topsy-turvy in combat”, I shouldn’t be so simple-minded and sentimental. I feel sick.

“Well it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle,” says the soldier.

What kind of context makes an argument like this start to sound plausible? Is it even as simple as video games and movies? Is it sensationalized and the status quo media? Is it our empire state of mind? Are there even any individuals who have ultimate responsibility, or is this a collective problem that implicates all of us?

I don’t have any simple answers for you. I’ll just say that the fact that I don’t think I’m that unique in feeling this cognitive dissonance. I know that if I were not as curious and questioning as I have become, I would not be writing this as I am now.

I leave you to think about it.

Goblet Runneth Over

I’ve been watching my favourite Harry Potter movies tonight. Namely, Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix. What I love about these stories has nothing to do with magic. What’s really beautiful about these stories is that Rowling doesn’t use “kid gloves” with her audience, young as some of them are. It’s the deepest respect and dignity with which she entrusts her audience.

At the end of Goblet when Cedric is killed, Dumbledore defies the ministry and chooses not to spare the young wizards any of the heart-wrenching truth of its circumstances. In doing so he reminds them and us of what makes life precious: honouring and celebrating each other in both life and death. Through Dumbledore, Rowling shows us that by not avoiding death we can be our most vulnerable and genuine with each other and with ourselves.

As the story continues on into Order, a major theme is the contrast between Harry who dares to struggle with the reality of Cedric’s death; and by contrast the tragedy, destruction and misery perpetuated by Cornelius Fudge’s determined avoidance of it. Voldemort who is himself a death figure is, at the end, expelled from Harry’s mind not by magic spells, but again by Harry’s state of love and acceptance against Voldemort’s of denial and avoidance.

I think Rowling understands that the young, just as well as the old are not only capable, but have so much to gain in knowing these important truths.

Darwinian Dogpiles

There is so much going on in the whole skepticism versus religious debate, which is what I really take this article to be about, the lens focused mainly on the skeptic side of things. Personally, I am someone who resonates with skepticism. But one has to ask whether I mean skepticism the ideology, or skepticism the culture. If you listened to some skeptics, they would have you believe that they don’t have a culture, or at the very least that their reasoning isn’t affected by it. This strikes close to the heart of the most damning flaw of skeptic culture as I see it, and which I believe this author, and his subject matter, Nagel, are also trying to pick apart.

Weiseltier seems to dance around, poking holes at it from different angles, but not quite put a name to it. I think I can help him out.


We will go out into the world and save them with science, enlightenment, democracy and “free” markets. In this case it’s mainly the science and rationality that are glommed onto.

In past iterations they were called positivists whose definition seems very close to that of “scientific naturalist”. They even tried to re-label themselves as “brights”, which is also very telling of what really drives the less seemly behaviour displayed by the culture.

I am not familiar with Nagel at all, so I don’t know his intentions, but I have to wonder if his phrase “Darwinist imperialism” was meant as more than just a instigating jab. On the one hand I see some very unenlightened, regurgitated, blind stabs made by the religious against skeptics: oversimplified associations of them with social Darwinism as though anyone but themselves couldn’t possibly have a scruple without god. Yet, I also notice that skeptics are far, far too quick dismiss this inconvenient and embarrassing history, as future generations will likely (hopefully) be embarrassed of us.

The sad fact is that there really was not merely a small, powerful cabal that praised the so-called science of racial superiority and eugenics, but it in fact was widely accepted by the society, including many now still considered to be great minds of the time, and it was the science that rationalized it. It is of course absurd to suppose that rejection of god puts one firmly in that camp, but what they do in fact share with the scientific minds of that time is the same hubris.

I don’t mean the hubris that they are often accused of for daring to be good enough without a deity, or for seeking knowledge once thought to be off limits. No, I mean the hubris that says “now is the enlightenment”. Oh, yes, we were ignorant before, but that all changed now. Yet more horrendous is the wistful ease with which skeptics often dismiss the idea that they could possibly be affected by politics, social contexts of our time, or especially (ack!) emotions. They believe in rationality after all.

Such is the blindness of every age, and rarely is it more exemplified for us than with this element of skeptical culture. It’s easy to miss the meaning of an interaction for the mere subject matter when that’s all you’ve allowed yourself to recognize. To be this kind of skeptic is to believe only in “facts”. The “how” doesn’t matter, only the “what”, and we are the “who” that owns it. To be right is so irrevocably tied to the angry dismissal to which they feel compelled, that it’s not even questioned. Maybe this is part of what he means when he says that they are not self-skeptical.

Thinking again about the history of racism and it’s connection to the science of its day, our present context seems more clear. The rhetoric of the day was that it was their duty to save the hapless, heathen wretches from themselves. After all, what are we bringing them but enlightenment? What horrors have been committed throughout the ages with such “good intentions” as these?

I will never say that all ideas are equal, for what would even be the point of thinking. There are things that can be known, and things that are clearly more likely. The point is, that I have seen many good people, and many unspeakable cads on both side of this divide and I can unequivocally say that it is not god-belief, atheism, or something else in between determines where they fall, but empathy.

Hellter Smellter

I’m seriously impressed that for once, anyone at all is willing to take responsibility for the latest atrocity of the day. That really is something you don’t see much of lately. Yet whether or not we agree to let him take the blame, or take responsibility ourselves as consumers, or point fingers at rich business owners, I still think that it’s not enough. Maybe some of these, or all of these above actions are appropriate.

I just don’t think that any of them are solutions.

He can take responsibility and push for changes in policy in his company, and they can just replace him. We can fill ourselves with guilt and pretend that everything can be solved by consumer choices, but have you ever tried to find new clothes that are NOT made in Bangladesh or in some other country where people are enslaved and worked to death making our things? If you do find them, they cost sometimes 10x as much. Should we hoist that responsibility on our own desperately poor? We can fuss and fume until the company axes a few heads, but what happens then? Even if we could close that companies doors, how many will be there buying up its assets and filling its shoes the next morning?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t do any of these things. Surely we should keep trying, and I’m certainly NOT saying that it’s hopeless or advocating for status quo. What I am saying is simply that while we do these things, we also need to think more broadly. We need to realize that these things are not just happening due to a few greedy bad apples. We need to realize that these things are systemic. It’s not that people exists who will do bad things. It’s that we passively allowed these systems to form around us where the people who do bad things are not only allowed to get away with it, but rewarded, honoured, and treated with fealty. Even they are not always the masterminds we may sometimes think they are. Often enough, I think they are just as duped by corrupt ideologies as we are (albeit no less responsible or heinous in nature).

We swallow the dogma that allows it all to flourish and grow. We decry the horrible things happening in the world, then turn around and kowtow to free market dogma about what’s good for the economy, good for business, and that we must have growth. The dog-whistle of progress is blown and we howl in chorus. We’re full of “oh dear“s, but when someone makes the radical suggestion that these dogmatic mantras of the elite are not in fact true or in our best interests long term, there’s a wall contorted faces and fears of conspiracy theory.

Our lies bring us comfort.

I don’t have a camp. I’m not an anarchist, or a communist. I don’t have the blind confidence that many of them have to suppose that if we just do X, everything will right itself. What I do know, is that things aren’t working and that I’m starting to become aware of which things are lies, and why, and fairly solid framework of everything ties together at present. To me this is the first crucial step toward change and where things are really getting stalled. We’re far too busy with distractions like whether we’re red or blue: two side of the same ignorant presumptions, firmly in the camp of missing the forest for the trees.

The individuals are sometimes the locus where these systems coalesce into material form and where we can affect it, sure. But like a hydra, we can cut off a head only to find two more in its place. You see it’s not just the indivuduals, or just the companies, or just the consumers. It’s not just the bad apples. It’s the entire self-feeding system and the IDEAS that keep it all running. Most of us, even those who are supposedly progressive and left that are also duped and support. I believe there needs to come a tipping point when enough of us snap out of these default frames of mind, these lies.

I point to another current events happening in Quebec to draw from a very poignant slogan on one of the banners:

“We are not demanding a liberated university, but a liberated society. A liberated university within a capitalist society is like a reading room in a prison.”

Likewise I think that a few isolated policy changes, or sacrificial lamb executives being axed, is not real change. When it comes down to it, real transformative change will be made up of small individual progressive changes, but they must be informed by a broader and more radical understanding, and with such a reach and scope to attack it on ALL fronts at once, leaving no quarter to run to. If one’s perspective is limited to the confines of the current system, they will continue to serve the current system.

Instead of real change, we will just be making a kinder, gentler hell.

Sense and Sensitivity

Some of you may have heard about Seth MacFarlane’s “performance” at the Oscars recently.

It seems to me that our society is overly impressed with irreverence as some kind of gateway to comedic genius. It doesn’t take genius or even courage to poke fun at the already disenfranchised and downtrodden. If you take a look at humour through a historical lens, you will find that that the vast majority of it is directed at whoever is thought to be inferior within its cultural context, justifying and reinforcing already held attitudes. Look at every major war and all the “humour” that was enlisted to dehumanizing the enemy, some of it produced by the government itself, I believe.

Not all such humour is so consciously or intentionally employed, but it has the same effect in the end. Hearing a sexist joke doesn’t “make” anyone go out and rape anyone, but it sure renders it a little less shocking when we hear about it. What are the comments directed at Salma Hayek but another regurgitated notion of the helplessly virulent man in the wake of feminine wiles? Does it not also makes it just a little more palatable to see so many more men than women winning Oscars or filling CEO chairs. “They’re more for looking at anyways”, right?

Seth isn’t ridiculing the sexist mindset, he’s celebrating it. He is not the socio-political satirist, at least not when it comes to his sexism. When it comes to sexism, he’s the “HUR HUR, I saw your boobs and laugh at your dehumanization without challenging”. It’s not the LOLS, it’s the LULZ. We know their place, and if everyone’s laughing, so how bad can it be?

I want to resurrect some thoughtful point from a post made in response to the Tosh nonsense a few months back. They relate very well to the present discussion.

“If you’re going to make jokes about potentially offensive topics, there’s an easy way and a hard way. The easy way is to just shout out offensive things in the name of free speech and “pushing people out of their comfort zones.” The hard way is to provide an unflinching, in-depth analysis of the way that people deal with these painful topics, to really explore them, in order to make some kind of profound point about them (and be funny).

Most people who make rape jokes (or gay jokes, or racist jokes, or whatever) aren’t smart enough to have anything worthwhile to add to the conversation. They’re hacks. It’s like a little kid shouting “poop!” in the grocery store and then grinning. Truly edgy writing pushes people out of their comfort zones, sure. But it pushes them toward something, some deeper truth or observation about humanity.”

I tend to disagree with the idea that humour makes a message harmless. In fact it’s often quite the opposite, at least with certain kinds of humour that contain a social message and have a target. We’re not talking about rape jokes specifically here, but reducing women to LOL-sex-objects is something that makes it easier by normalizing it and making it just a little less unpalatable.

Sometimes humour is just humour. Sometimes humour is the viral sheath that sneaks that little kernel of social belief past your conscious defenses. Once there, it wraps itself in a protective layer of “it’s just a joke” until you decide to pass it along.

There is a popular fantasy held by the most privileged aspects of society that they are some kind of embattled minority, put upon by “PC” kryptonite wielding mobs. This kind of “humour” is just the extension of that misguided perception, and acts as a further defense against detection and analysis of  it’s meaning.

A few cases of shaky-kneed corporate HR departments with a heavy hand and bad aim who don’t really understand the issues, and they’ll ride that gripe until the wheels fall off, but if you’ve got centuries of marginalization, subjugation, rape and murder, you’re just trying to make everyone feel guilty and probably feeling sorry for yourself. Oh, and the worst thing of all… you have no sense of humour! This is somehow apparently worse than being an asshole.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Speaking your mind against disapproval is only a virtue if you have something thoughtful, intelligent, edifying or at the very least, truthful to say. Without fulfilling that condition you’re just making a lot hot air, and basically just wanking.

In Seth’s case it’s not even against the grain. The fact is that he is really just catering to the masses. People with this particular mindset act like they are the embattled minority they want to think they are. Many of them really know it too when you get down to it, revealed when they get frustrated and haul out their handy dandy ad populum arguments.

So, who’s actually being “over-sensitive”?

I’ll give you one guess.

Bull’s in your Eye

An article came through the feed today that gave a thought-spasm. 😉

It’s unbelievable to me how a person can actually think that cutting funding to under-performing schools makes even the most ignorant kind of sense. There seems to be a large contingent of people who react this way to just about every issue. Screw them over! Punish them! That’ll teach ’em!

To me it speaks to the colonial, religulous mindset we’ve inherited of punishing the undeserving and rewarding those who are supposedly good, in the name of control. It’s the breeding ground of abuse and the core mechanism of stratification. In fact, it ultimately caters to those who are willing to abuse, cheat or lie and cover their tracks. Such is the case with any and every system that tries to dole out rewards rather than making intrinsic rewards be understood and letting them do their work.

Competition can sometimes garner certain benefits, but usually at great expense. When you build a culture complete with social narratives that teach people to aim at B while trying to trick them into hitting A, you are setting yourself up for failure. What will happen is that they will get ever better at hitting B, and you will be endlessly expending your energy trying to figure out how to get them to hit A again. Eventually they learn not only how to get better at hitting B, but also how to undermine your attempts to reroute them until eventually they are completely out of your control.

With capitalism, B is the acquisition of wealth and A is actual public benefit.

With parenting, B is external rewards of material things or even praise itself, and A is the reward of being a well adjusted person.

With crime, B is the punishment of supposed wrong doers, and A is the society the corrects and heals its own ills.

And, with education, B is both the acquisition of grades by the student or the financial success of a school, and A is the creation of life-long learners with critical thinking skills who are prepared for the future and the existence of institutions that promote them.

In each case we assume that each B is a perfect and nearly identical proxy for A, and in each case it’s plain to see with the slightest critical examination we are dead wrong. Instead of seeing it, we opt for sliding the goal post, justifying and maintaining our current view against brain-shattering cognitive dissonance, usually exemplified by hostile defensiveness.

As Robert A. Heinlein wrote: “Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal”

I don’t know all of the hows and whats, and I don’t have a perfectly crafted solution, but it does seem apparent to me that we need to give up all of our “invisible hands” and the “fallen nature of man” notions that we still seem to be unwittingly clinging to.