Monday, March 30, 2015

Struggling with the Big Dilemmas. . . .

Just before Christmas I stopped painting and have not really been able to go back to it. Perhaps it is something like a midlife crisis, I don't know, but over the past few months I have struggled to do anything productive. In the face of what seems like a existential crisis, I began to write again. I haven't written much since I finished the draft for my book on Mary Mitford which is now in the hands of my daughter as she attempts to complete it to a finished version. I started writing about art and aesthetics but that slowly turned to directly personal issues concerning the various artistic, political, and philosophical dilemmas that have haunted me all my life. I have psychologically relived the strange events that led to my commitment to largely disengage from most of the traditional aspirations of life. I won't go into the specifics of this philosophical decision because, for one, I am writing about them, and for another, they are too troubling and off colour for this blog. But the struggle itself can be expressed this way - Imagine that you are in some past society/empire. Let's say for the sake of argument you find yourself in the Aztec empire in Mexico at the height of its power in the 1400s. But unlike most of those around you, you reject pretty much all the cornerstones of your society. You don't believe in Sun worship, you don't believe in the aristocratic structure, you reject their slavery and their militarism, and you don't believe in the gender relations. What does one do in this situation? This is what I more or less have experienced in my own society. I don't believe in the major religions of our society, I reject capitalism, I don't believe in competition or organized sports, I reject the hierarchy of the education system, I reject much of the institutional structures of modern science and the technical-rational ideology that motivates it, I totally reject the militarism of our society, and I reject the gender inequalities that I see around me and to which my daughters will be subjected. In the face of all of this, I have spent much of my life disengaged from the ambitions and desires of those around me. I did a master's degree but I couldn't bring myself to stay in academia because I didn't believe in the hierarchy of the university system. As a white male, I rejected a great deal of career notions because I don't want to be another white male seeking worldly success when the gender inequalities demand that men step back from many ambitions so that we don't just perpetuate these inequalities. This is the reason that when I was in university I eventually began to consciously stay quite in many situations. As a white male, I had been trained from youth to speak up in almost any situation, and I eventually began to realize that women and racialized people had been more or less trained to be more reticent. I didn't want to perpetuate those relations. (I admit that I wasn't always successful in this effort, but I tried and continue to try). The upshot of all of this is that, right or wrong, I have lived outside of much of the traditional efforts of society. I have stood up for things that I believe are right and have sometimes been an activists, but I admit that in the light of the forces gathered against different beliefs, I have often hidden myself away from a society from which I feel so alienated. I might be indicted for not doing enough to change a society that I so thoroughly rejected. Perhaps, as the English would say, 'It's a fair cop.' But this has been my survival mechanism. Now that I have turned 50, I feel disheartened and troubled by my life-choices but feel that I have made the only choices that I could. Other dilemmas have also been part of my explorations, such as my conflicting philosophical beliefs. When I was still young I studied buddhism and meditation at the Naropa Institute (Now Naropa University). And even here I have always been conflicted. I understand the goals of Buddhism's core beliefs of peacefulness of mind, but I have also felt that passion, and sometimes anger can play a central role in creativity. Buddhism looks for a transcendence from suffering, but I think pain and suffering can be a central part of life and an essential part of experience. I have studied philosophy (Buddhist and Western as well) but have found no way out of these dilemmas.

My conflicts continue. Perhaps by writing about them I will find some answers. I don't know. I guess everyone has to find their own way through such dilemmas in life.

Friday, March 20, 2015

"How did we get here?" . . I hate to have to ask. . .

"How did we get here?"

This is the timeless question of people who find themselves in a country (or world) being enveloped by the politics of hate, fear, militarism, jingoism, and fascism. This is the question that people find themselves at war inevitably ask when the bullets start flying and the bombs start dropping. "How did we get here?" or "How did we let our leaders take us off this precipice?"

Well, it may be a frustrating and a timeless question, one that is painful to ask and one that is even more painful to answer, but if you have been paying attention to Canadian politics over the last ten years, you know the answer.

Apparently we get here through a fairly simple formula. First, have a media that is compliant or supportive of the government's rightwing agenda. Easy peasy - we have had that for a while now. Then take a political party that is rooted in racism, militarism, sexism, and corporatism. Check. Then let that party in government so it can legislate more or less by stealth for ten years or so, gradually undermining the courts, the democratic mechanisms, the legislative branch of government, the legal mechanisms that are meant to protect people against the arbitrary use of power, etc. Got that. Now, over a period of a decade or so let that government gradually change the mood of the nation and create a space in which racism, militarism, and jingoism become once again socially acceptable. And suddenly you find yourself in the midst of a national decline toward fascism in which the federal leader can blatantly lie about major national and international issues with little fear that he will be called out on his lies, in which the leader can use inflammatory, racist language and the racist slime that once hid in the corners of our society are suddenly free once again to proclaim their racism from the rooftops.

Sadly, this is where we now find ourselves. And as progressives we are startled by the speed and ease with which the nation slid toward fascism and racism. But we are only surprised because we, as progressives so often do, underestimated the remarkable ignorance, hate, and malleability of the general population.

Well, the jig, as they say, is up. Genuine fascism is at the gates, so to speak. Oh, of course, at the moment our fascism is not the same as that which manifested itself in various countries of Europe in the 1930s. At the moment we have a friendlier, more 'legitimatized' form of fascism. But make no mistake about what is going on. At the moment we are just pushing that proverbial envelope of racism and militarism that once defined Euro-fascism. But it will surely take only one more election victory (gained by an ever more compromised electoral system) to push us into a more full-fledged form of fascist/corporatist government.  It is not a long way from a government proroguing parliament specifically to avoid falling, to a government cancelling or overturning elections. And if you think such things can't come to our seemingly quiet and 'peaceful' nation, I have only one word for you - VUKOVAR!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A short, concise rant on Israel. .

Ok, here's a short rant -

Now that Benjamin Netanyahu was inadvertently recorded admitting that Israel is only in peace negations as a way of stringing the Palestinians along while they steal all of their land, and now that Netanyahu has admitted that they will never allow a Palestinian state, isn't it time for all those apologists for Israel to admit that Israel has been the problem all along? For decades I heard people criticize Palestinians for failing to recognize Israel's right to exist, and people continued to perpetuate this misrepresentation years after the vast majority of Palestinians loudly proclaimed that they would recognize the 1947 partition boarders. It is clear now to all but the most blind partizans that it is Israel that will never recognize the Palestinians right to exist, it is the rightwing expansionism of Israel that wants all the land, not peace. The tide is turning. Millennials are beginning to recognize the pervasive lie and apartheid state that is modern Israel. Israel has long been an isolated state by the majority of countries in the world. They are isolated because they are a viscously racists, militarist, expansionist state hell-bent on taking all the land of Palestine and using some biblical fantasy to justify the more immoral of actions. But their isolation will now begin to increase as they have finally made their true colours clear to all but the most rabid apologists.

Reap the whirlwind Bibi - you have met the enemy and he is YOU.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Man I Am Tired of Harper Telling Women what to Wear. . . .

This is my question of the week - why are so many people incapable of separating their personal feelings about head-coverings from the legal question of equal rights??? I mean, I know why Harper and his minions are saying all this stuff - they are trying to use racism to win an election. But I can't fathom why so many Canadians don't understand this. Lots of people cover their heads for religious/cultural reasons. Lots of Jewish women don't show their hair, lost of Christian Nuns cover their heads, lost of muslim women also cover their heads. You are free not to like it. Shout your objections from the rooftops for all I care. But those personal objections are TOTALLY different from the idea of the government legally restricting what people can wear. And why do so many Canadians believe that equality means treating everyone the same? You just have to think about it for a moment if you have half a brain, to know that equality would only mean treating everyone the same if everyone WAS the same. Legal equality in the context of democracy must mean ensuring that everyone has the same types of opportunity to engage in the processes of the state regardless of their religion, their culture, their gender, their sexual identities, and their physical abilities. If people are so concerned about treating everyone the same in the citizenship ceremonies, then why don't they make sure that deaf people can't take the oath since they can't hear the judge, or make sure that we remove the accessibility to the ceremony because physically disabled people shouldn't receive "special" treatment. And why aren't Canadians rising in total disgust at Harper's claim that people are trying to "hide" their identities at citizenship ceremonies?? No one is trying to hide their identity! All the legal, identity stuff is dealt with before the swearing of the oath. There is usually a big room of people and the judge giving the oath really has no idea about the identities of the people in the room.

Let people wear whatever they want anywhere they want for all I care. I don't judge people on the colour of their skin, on the type of their clothing, but on the content of their character!

And I think that we should stop letting white men (or any men) tell women what they should and shouldn't wear.

So there!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

War and Racism - The Timeless Strategy of Tyrants like Harper. . . .

The past few months have been for me some of the most depressing, politically speaking, that I have ever experienced. I can't say that I was surprised by any means that Harper and his Cabal decided that, in the face of abject failure in almost every realm of their political and economic agenda, war was their adopted reelection strategy. Let's face it after ten years of outrageous political corruption and a fundamentally failed economic approach, the HarperCons had little else to go on. War has always been the go to strategy of tyrants and demagogues. Harper has come to personify all of the things that he once claimed to despise politically and economically, except for the favourite fall-back strategy of rightwingers everywhere - war and violence. Harper and his Conmen have always been big advocates of war and violence. While condemning any violent or military effort of any state or group with whom they don't sympathize, they praise the same types of violence if it is committed by an ally. They have always blindly supported the illegal violent expansionism and de facto 'state-terrorism' of Israel, while condemning even the mildest efforts of the Palestinians to defend themselves. With the US, they spend years trying to isolate Russia, never once treating Russia's geo-political concerns in Eastern Europe seriously, and then supported an illegal coup in Ukraine without missing a heartbeat. They bend over backward to please the tyrannical Chinese government, which is arguably (in raw numbers) the most violent and oppressive regime in the world toward its own people. They are glad to throw the constitution in the trash and eliminate almost all of our rights after the death of two white men, but systematic violence and the disappearance of over a thousand aboriginal women goes almost unnoticed. It is clear that the Harper regime embraces violence whenever it is committed in their perceived interest, but condemns it whenever it is it isn't.

All of this doesn't surprise me because I have been a careful observer of tyrants. I suppose that I haven't even been surprised by Harper's adoption of that other favourite strategy of fascists and demagogues - racial scapegoating. A central part of the continuous war strategy of tyrants has always been demonizing the 'other,' and that 'other' is often a racalized group. And the demonization of Islam has been a strategy of Western leaders for over a thousand years.  It is entirely predictable that Harper and the Conmen would use 'scary' images of so-called Jihadists to raise money and attempt to scare the Canadian people into supporting them. Like all tyrants Harper likes and has now come to rely on the violence of the 'other' to feed the fear of the people, so he can then try to place himself in the role of the strong, saviour of the nation.

But as cynical and jaded as I am, it has still come as a sad surprise to me how easy and quick it has been to con Canadians into buying the strategy of war and racism. It should be obvious to anyone who even vaguely pays attention that the Western strategy in the Middle East has never been to promote democracy and good governance, but rather to create chaos and give rise to group such as ISIS specifically so that they can promote an extension of the strategy of permanent war. It is a typical provocateur approach that tyrants have engaged in for centuries; promote chaos and war so that you can use that chaos and war to extend and maintain your own military and domestic power. But despite living with the memory of the war in Indochina, and the incredible mess that the war in Iraq wrought, people are once again eating up this strategy like kittens at a bowl of cream. This, I must say, has surprised me and sadden be beyond measure. The great Bertram Russell wrote in his autobiography that before the First World War he thought that money was the thing people loved the most, and after the war he realized that killing others was what they liked above all else. I am beginning to agree with him.