A field report from the paintball culture wars. Dateline: Bonn.

Global Shift | WOLSELEY VOYAGER.

I don’t even know where that whole “Dateline: whatever” thing comes from, but this is a link to an old friend of mine’s travel blog. He’s one of those “longtime Wolseley resident” types. You know the type. They dress straight, but more like one of them university types than like a normal person. Sometimes they just look like straight-up hippies, other times they look like they’re hiding their hippieness. They’re all freaks in that part of town, really.

And freaks from Wolseley do freaky things. In the case of my friend (who I haven’t seen use his real name in the blog, that I recall, so I will refer to him as The Voyager), he’s chosen, at an age where he certainly should know better, to attempt to pilot an old boat down some godforsaken river in Europe somewhere, like some kind of postmodern Heart of Darkness.

Now, if it were up to me, I would hire Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski to accompany him: Kinski would sit in a corner of the cabin, glaring at The Voyager and eating pistachios. Several times a day, he would get up, walk over to the helm where The Voyager struggles to keep the rickety boat above water on a second-by-second basis (large wakes from barges that hate him and his boat), and scream in his ear in Lithuanian about his various personal shortcomings.

Herzog, of course, would film a documentary about the whole affair – ostensibly, the documentary would be about the rust patterns at the waterlines of the barges, and all of Herzog’s voiceover would be strictly related to Redox. However, between the careful, macro-focused shots of “Oxidic blossoms of lush and delicate corruption” on the barges, we would catch glimpses of the real drama being played out between the lines: Kinski bouncing pistachio shells off The Voyager’s head. Kinski ripping The Voyager’s hands off the helm, causing the craft to veer almost lethally close to one of the aforementioned barges while Herzog calmly chuckles at his scampish antics behind the camera. Kinski jamming a broomstick up his ass while reciting The Lord’s Prayer in Arabic. All of this, of course, only glimpsed in moments when Herzog was between the ten minute handheld “static” shots of rust blooms.

Luckily for The Voyager, I have no money to hire people for my art projects. Anyways, give the blog a look – I’ve known him about twenty years now, and he’s a pretty interesting dude.

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So Fucking What.

nra

This graphic rolled through my feed this morning. This started as a repost with a couple of lines worth of comment, and snowballed.

I’ve never heard the word “taggant” before, but I assume it’s a way to imprint explosive residue with a unique, traceable signature, which would enable forensic investigators to know, depending on how carefully the system was planned, where it was formulated, perhaps what batch, perhaps what store or supplier, maybe even the customer (with a warrant). It seems to me that being able to track weapons of destruction, mass or otherwise, is a good idea on its face, but is that the case?

So, conservative and gun-loving friends, is this an uncomfortable fact about the NRA that you’d rather wasn’t widely known, or is it a constructed Star Trek fiction that seeks only to villify said venerable organization? I do, mind you, see the NRA as villains, but I don’t think that stacking the deck with falsehoods will make any such truth shine brighter – this doesn’t really change the debate at all, and it especially is not a “look what the NRA are doing now!” complaint.

That said, explosives have one purpose – to blow things up – and it is not in the least bit unreasonable to think that there ought to be some form of record being kept at every stage of the life cycle of a stick of dynamite. If science has given us a way to make any part of that record indelible, then to not make use of it is to stand by and allow murder to happen… and if this assertion is verifiably true (ie. if taggants work as this image suggests they do), then to actively block its implementation, in my opinion, makes those who do so accomplices to said murders.

But don’t believe every meme that you read. There is a much wider range of things than commercial explosives that are potentially a threat, such as the fertilizer used in Oklahoma; can fertilizers also be tagganted in a reliable way? It’s true that psychopaths are often quite cunning in finding new ways to be sneaky, but in terms of weaponizable, off-the-shelf substances, there has to a finite list of things which could be used in IEDs, and I doubt that edibility is a concern for any of them, so I suspect that taggants could just as easily be added to anything that explodes , whether under fire or pressure.

This leaves either economics or lack of reliability as the only real pins for opposition to implementing these taggants as an aid for murder investigations. The NRA, according to my google search, opposed it on the basis that the taggants would result in a modification of the data on how well the explosive or flammable substance (whatever – we’re talking about stuff that can be used to kill, if you’re gonna quibble with me about what phrases I use you can go take it up with the rest of the politicians and leave me out of it) performed. The thing I read used phrases like “pressure curves” and “reloading data” that I do not understand, but of which I can grasp the general meaning. The other assertion, apparently, is that they don’t work reliably in the first place.

On the question of economics, there was an assertion that there would be “millions” of dollars spent making new data tables so that people who design machines that kill and destroy can calculate their area of effect with absolute scientific accuracy, I say simply, So Fucking What. Even if it cost a billion dollars, So Fucking What? The government can afford to spend billions a day on bombing Iraq, they can afford to subsidize a few million to implement a system that will, at least in some cases, enable their investigators to find at least some small idea of the supply chain that led from a legitimate manufacturer to the basement of a mass murderer. If money is your opposition to taggants, then I submit that you have very skewed priorities, to say the least. To both the big chemical companies, AND to governments, millions of dollars are very, very easy. If they weren’t, Iraq wouldn’t hate America right now.

Which leaves the question of efficacy alone as the only opposition to this. And I say again, if it doesn’t always work, So Fucking What. The people who bombed Boston got their explosives somewhere. Chances are, that explosive could have been tagged. There is a chance that, if this program was already in place, ATF agents would be visiting the store or warehouse or factory that the explosive materials came from, looking at security video, maybe even knocking on the door of whoever bought it, finding out it got stolen, whatever.

Unless the actual unit cost of these chemicals makes it prohibitive, is a tagging program not worth it, if it results in the capture of a single bomber? Even if the taggants only work with, say, 25% accuracy, that’s 25% of cases like this (and there are enough bombings, and the death toll of a bombing is high enough that that number matters) where at least one solid lead will be available immediately to the people who most need it. With that in mind, and with what I’ve heard from Wayne LaPierre and from what I’ve read in American Rifleman, I think any rational person reading this will join me in taking the NRA’s assertions that taggants don’t actually work that well with a kilogram or so of salt.

And if none of that works for you, stipulate the worst excesses of expense and ask yourself this: if Timothy McVeigh had never been caught, and a government expenditure of a billion dollars was capable of revealing his identity, could you vote against spending that billion dollars and ever look a resident of Oklahoma City in the eye again?

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Roger Ebert was a writer.

Roger Ebert is dead.

Richard Dawkins thanked him today for leading a thoughtful and decent life. To the best of my knowledge, Ebert never said or wrote anything I disagree with, and he wrote a lot of things that I very happily did agree with. I’m not the fanatical movie fan that I used to be (I still am a big fan, but life gets in the way of fanatical pursuit of movies – after all, there’s all this facebooking to be done…), and Ebert was my earliest pusher of that drug, him and his accomplice, Siskel.

At some point around age 6, everyone in the family started to religiously watch Sneak Previews on PBS. I mostly didn’t get what they were talking about at the time, but my little spongey brain soaked up all of the names (names of movies, names of actors, names of directors, names of genres, all kinds of nouns that get referenced in movies, so *many* names) and filed them all away, made little shelves for each name that I later, slowly, thanks to the twin miracles of videotape and libraries, filled in, by renting the movies, reading books and articles about directors, reading adapted novels and movie novelizations for clues to the motivations of the characters or explanations of continuity errors… Siskel and Ebert were my first two chosen teachers, and while it took me decades, I did all the homework they gave me.

At the same time, my cool uncle was taking me to movies like Phantom of the Paradise and Rocky Horror and lots of gory horror flicks, all the stuff that most kids don’t get to discover (and have their minds bent by) until they’re at least old enough to pass for 18. Now, when an 8 year old who loves movies goes to a theatre full of college students in full Rocky regalia and experiences the full show, with all the bawdy jokes expertly delivered by a statuesque Frank in full drag sitting RIGHT across the aisle from him…

Well, first off, that kid doesn’t realize until he’s 41 and writing about the death of his favorite reviewer just HOW lucky he was to have experienced THAT cultural moment, more or less as it was happening, and have his mind bent in all the *right* ways. To experience a sweet transvestite calling out sarcastic jokes and basically being the king of a room where nobody is being put down or insulted (except for the hypocritical values that require this awesome party, this bacchanalia, this ritual incantation to joyful deviance, the hypocritical values that require this to be happening late at night, in a darkened room, and under the pretense of simply being a bunch of kids watching a movie), was a new and liberating social paradigm.

That Frank across the aisle, that sexy lady that spoke in a scratchy male shout, was truly the very antithesis of the social scenes I was enduring at elementary school, where “faggot” was an insult (and Louis C.K.’s comedy bit notwithstanding, I, at least, understood exactly what was meant by “faggot”) and putting others down seemed to be the primary object of every activity, both sponsored and spotaneous, in which they engaged.  To me, that hour and a half in that first Rocky was  90 minutes in a heaven of whose existence NOBODY, no priest, no parent, no teacher, nobody had informed me; I walked out literally converted. The Movies, then, became where I was free of pain, free of persecution, and emboldened, thanks to the example of those college students in drag, to live out whatever fantasy I could collaboratively create with the movie for as long as the reels held out. I was looking, in other words, for a safe place to keep my soul, and something very closely resembling a historical reenactment of Plato’s cave, as it turns out, is the place I found. Could’ve been worse, and it probably couldn’t have been any better anyways, for any of us.

I started talking about Ebert and ended up in Ancient Greece. Sorry. My point is, movies have never been just entertainment to me, and I think that’s why I don’t go to them very often anymore, and why I always seem to find myself deeply ambiguous about what I see when I do go. A childish, cultish part of me that’s still just as fanatical as ever about the movies wants to say that Roger died of heartbreak. That the guy who cowrote Beyond The Valley of the Dolls with Russ Meyer, who stands with Pauline Kael as her equal, who was half of a pair as iconic to film as Laurel and Hardy, that the guy who was there in the thick of it for one of the truly golden eras of film as a genuine popular art form, that that guy is dead because his heart is broken at what film has become.  Sure, you can blame it on the cancer if you want, but he beat that shit once, he could’ve beat it again if Hollywood hadn’t died of the blight years ago…

But I’m just projecting my own feelings onto him, and I came here to talk about Ebert, because now Ebert is dead. Celebrity deaths have never bothered me much, even as a fan, but Ebert was more than that to me. As a movie fan with some rather debilitating social anxieties that have always made it difficult to have more than a couple of close friends at any one time (who weren’t always movie fans), I very often found myself, quite happily, going to the movies by myself. Since I didn’t have to take anyone else’s desires into consideration, I made good movie choices almost all the time in terms of whether it was worth the money (after all, I know what I’m gonna like pretty well), but the big problem came after I walked out, and had nobody to discuss the movie with. Sometimes I could call someone up who I knew had seen it, but they hadn’t *just* seen it, and generally were making dinner, or watching tv, or wanting to do anything but listen to me babble on about the movie they saw last week.

So what could I do? I took to the internet, and looked up Ebert’s review, because Ebert was, most of the time, the only guy that I could have an intelligent conversation about the movie with, besides being an old friend of the family. And in the spirit of that collaborative art consumption that I referred to earlier, I created whole conversations with him in my head (someone is picking up the phone to call the men in white coats, I suspect, at this point), because his reviews, and I’m not sure how many people have latched onto this concept yet so I’m going to be momentarily pedantic in the service of tribute to the dead, but his reviews are themselves a form of art. It is very rare that one can say this about a critic, but Roger Ebert was not actually a critic – Roger Ebert was a writer. Ebert found himself working in a critical medium, but remember, Ebert’s earliest writing credit is for co-writing one of the most well-known B movies of all time. His blue collar father sent him to university with the intention of making him a professor. Ebert was, to paraphrase Dawkins, a thoughtful and decent man who spoke his views with articulation, and a fair bit of grace besides, and that’s as good a definition of a writer as I can think of. Even when he hated a movie, he was constructive about it on some level. Or at least funny.

I once abused his Answer Man email address and sent him a fan letter on it. I do that: I lose my cool around people I admire, sometimes with a very creative definition of the word “around”. It probably pissed him off, but I know I can’t be the only one – at a certain point, Ebert’s reviews felt like a perfumed note sent down the food chute to one of those trapped miners in South America a few years back – a tiny thing to cling to for endless monotonous days while waiting for something else to happen, and dreading what that something else might be. Melodramatic, yes – a word I learned from Ebert. And while I’m enumerating my flaws, I’ll also mention that I tend to talk about myself a lot. But then, I suppose since this is a personal tribute, it’s really all about me in the end anyways. Yeah, fuck Ebert, man, that guy was an egomaniac!

I kid, but I don’t. Ebert inspired me in ways that saved my life. At one point, I wanted to be a film reviewer, and it was entirely because of his reviews, and the way that when he wrote about a film, his subject was not just the film – even if he was sitting in the theatre with us, he was not one of the chained prisoners of the cave. The film, invariably, dealt with ideas, if Ebert was bothering to write about it in the first place. It might have directly set out to make a statement about something, or it might simply have been an example of something that he had on his mind at the time, or it might be both, but no matter what, the film was Ebert’s foil to give his own thoughts on those ideas, perhaps in response to the film, perhaps in advocacy of the film, perhaps in rebuke of what the film represented to him. Ebert was no gossip columnist, and no entertainment guide. He was a writer.

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How to Challenge Omnivores

(from a Facebook comment thread)

Back when I ate meat, I had a goal of participating in killing and butchering an animal – Beyond swatting mosquitoes, I really haven’t done any real killing, but I *have* enjoyed the product of other people’s killing for most of my life. For me, that was my fundamental hypocrisy, that I was aware of every time I ate meat. I didn’t dwell on it, but I kept it in my mind.

Factory farming is not a different matter – I think that anyone who saw what happens in factory farms would lose their appetite for meat very quickly. But that kind of total honesty from the meat industry, I think everyone will agree, is about as likely as Monsanto allowing a law requiring that GMOs be labelled as such to be passed without a protracted fight. 

As such, appealing to people on the basis of “meat is fine to eat, but it should be raised and killed humanely,” while completely rational in its approach, will never be a successful gambit; it’s way too easy for people to delude themselves that meat is a necessity (for 99% of us, it simply is not, but it’s a useful conceit for deluding oneself that one does not have to change one’s habits to match one’s ethics) and that their hands are tied – “I absolutely MUST have this tasty steak, and I MUST have it at this price, so I have no choice but to buy from factory farms. There’s no point getting my face about it – you’re just being unpleasant/rude/militant/{insert anti-vegan epithet here}.” 

The better approach, I think, is to settle on a model of what most well-meaning omnivorous people would agree is a “100% ethical” manner of raising and slaughtering a food animal, and then challenge anyone who believes that meat is a necessity for them to stand at close range (within a few feet) and watch as that ethically-raised animal is killed in that ethical manner. Challenge them to watch as the knife cuts the cow’s throat, or the bullet enters its head, or however they’re gonna do it, and watch the animal bleed out, watch it scream and writhe if they do it wrong maybe, and definitely twitch and gurgle as it bleeds out. And then watch them hoist the animal up and gut it, slice it open, pull out its entrails, smell that nasty smell that wafts over from the Maple Leaf plant, but smell it right up close, at its source. Remove all “a happy animal is a tasty animal” appeals, because frankly, every ethically-raised steak I bought during my meat eating was actually quite bad, and I know how to cook a steak (for myself) better than any restaurant.

I don’t think most omnivores would accept that challenge in the first place. I don’t think that every one that *did* take the challenge would stop eating meat, but do think that not a single one that did would ever be so flip about their “need” for meat again, because that moment in which a human hand kills the animal, and the moment in which the animal expires, is the one part of the life cycle of a food animal that they cannot ever deny, no matter if they never have to look at it once in their life. And really, to deny yourself the experience of being there, even just once, seems like the paragon of foolishness to me.

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A response to a friend on FB.

A friend of mine asked me why, when he asked why Idle No More protested at Portage and Main instead of at the Legislative building, he was called a racist. After establishing that I would not be able to read his exact words, this was my response: 

I couldn’t tell you why *you* were called a racist without reading your question – if the question was not inherently racist (“Stupid indians, I need to get home..”) or covertly racist (“Maybe if they were looking for a job instead of blocking traffic, they wouldn’t have so many problems”), then you probably just encountered a very angry and oversensitive soul who mistook your genuinely curious question for one of the above, because it came in the context of a tsunami of racist speech (if you mean a newspaper site’s comment thread).

As for Portage and Main, here is your answer: The terms of the treaties, as I understand it, are that we are two nations sharing one piece of this land mass. As such, Aboriginals are not, and have never been, Canadians, in the sense that WE are Canadians. They are Cree, Ojibway, Inuit, etc, living in a state that has colonized and signed a treaty with them. 

In the treaties, they gave up certain things, in exchange for certain things. This was less than ideal – their preference was to simply go on living the life they led on the land that they occupied before we came over with guns, whiskey and smallpox. But they signed the treaty in good faith, believing that even if their traditional stewardship of this continent was over, they would at least be able to go on living as they had lived, in their own little spaces, and this was guaranteed to them.

That, as you know, is not what happened. Between residential schools, the complete contempt for what land rights remained, and the failure to honour even the most basic terms of the treaties, it is now clear, to anyone who gives even the most cursory glance to history, that while our nation’s leaders signed the contract with all the pomp and ceremony that such men demand for themselves when they Important Things, they did so in bad faith. To call it bad faith is actually to profoundly insult the phrase “in good faith”. I mean, to give any of the leaders of this country credit for good intentions is really a HUGE stretch, and tha’t applies from the first guy to sign a treaty all the way up to Fuck You Harper.

So why Portage and Main? Because this is not a protest movement of Canadians addressing their government. This is an occupied nation addressing their occupiers. So the people dancing at Portage and Main were reminding you that they were here first, that they *gave* us this land on the promise that we would honour a contract, and that we have not only not honoured that contract, we have shit on that contract, and them, from day one until today. And they are sick of being shit on. It’s that simple.

That’s why Portage and Main, and not the Leg. Because protesting at the Leg does nothing more than provide all the commuters with the opportunity to make sarcastic remarks about booze and laziness and drugs and gangs as they crawl by on their way back to the suburbs. Dancing in the middle of Portage and Main is *exactly* how this protest needs to be happening. Dancing at Portage and Main says “We gave you this space, you did not live up to the terms of your contract, and therefore we are taking it back.”

The fact that most white Canadians are too ignorant to put this series of facts together properly in their head is the entirety of the problem.

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Black Sabbath on One Week One Band

I did a week on Black Sabbath at One Week One Band last summer.

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January 11, 2013 · 3:24 am

I’m a racist. No, really, I am.

As I watched this, I thought about this idea that gets bandied around a lot by people – the idea of kicking problems down the road for the next generation to deal with. You hear media bobbleheads talking about it all the time these days, and it’s been going on for decades. “We’re mortgaging our future,” “We’re passing the debt on to our children,” that sort of thing. On a side note, has anyone ever done an analysis of of how many economic and fiscal metaphors have entered our common parlance in America? I wonder if they outstrip biblical references yet…

Anyways, so yeah, that gets tossed around a lot. And I think it’s pretty good thinking, really. But not the way they use it these days – just like the metaphors they used above to describe it, it’s always focused on money. Money is the only thing we seem to value in the immediate moment, no matter how much we protest that we are SO into whatever it is we fetishize, be it Jesus, or Hockey, or Science, or Guns, or The Economy, or a pair of fucking sneakers. Problems DO get kicked down the road, and debts do get passed on to grandchildren, but the economic ones are not the debts we should really be worrying about.

Here’s the thing – we have immediate concerns in our lives that make us forget about history, assuming we know anything about it in the first place. This is the excuse we make for not going to that peace march, for not learning to bake our own bread, for not volunteering, for not spending time with our families. Sometimes those concerns are beyond our control – indeed, a capitalist society relies on a working class who have no option besides working for the company, and shopping at the company store. If you are struggling to feed your family, you’re not gonna have time to think about where your chicken came from, let alone run a community garden.

However, sometimes we just think it’s beyond our control, because our priorities are out of whack. If you’re a single mother working two jobs just to put food in front of your kids, that’s one thing. But if you make, say, $60k a year, have a house full of expensive toys (new car, furniture, $3000 tv set, go karts for the kids), and you’re loaded to the hilt with credit card debt, I think you’ll agree that whatever might be the circumstances that led you into that pit, you are not in the same boat as that working class single mother. You’re not even in the same ocean. And it’s interesting to me, how that very struggling single mother is often the person who DOES make the time to also work at some sort of community volunteering; those who’ve known privation and hardship are often the ones who have the most energy for helping others. I could introduce you to a few examples of this that I know personally.

But this is what people forget: history has a different set of concerns than us. History records a different set of facts when it tells the story of people who are now dead. Our history is full of conquerors and kings who hired their own historians and wrote down their own self-serving histories, and there are undoubtedly a lot of good people who deserve a place in our textbooks who have been completely erased from our memory by those who were powerful in their day. That those Ozymandiases are also forgotten is little solace, to me, anyways.

But the nature of history is changing all around us. History is no longer written exclusively by the victors. For the last couple of centuries, we’ve been watching the effects of what is academically referred to as The Enlightenment. There are those who blame the Enlightenment for the ongoing fall of civilization. I say The Enlightenment simply did what Socrates did: it shone a light on our ignorance and our illusions of knowledge, revealed civilization for the thin facade that it was, and demanded that we do better if we claim to be moral people.

And the last two hundred years, if you read the books carefully, reveal a story of humanity, shamed in the “light” that photographs and telegraphs and widespread literacy brought to the dark corners of the world, horrified at what the previously silent voices (of our wives, of our slaves, of our employees, of our children) were telling us about their lives, working our asses off to do better. Not all at once, and many lives have been wasted on nothing whatsoever. But when you look at history now, with eyes that have looked hard at what some call morality, you can get a pretty damn good sense of what side you want to be on.

History remembers Ghandis and Hitlers, Unsinkable Molly Browns and Marie Antoinettes (though she didn’t say what I thought she said). I’m having a conversation with Laurie right now about my female historical figures – even talking about women in history is difficult, because so many remarkable women are lost to history. It’s interesting, too, that in my mind, Molly Brown was “the best I could come up with” for a female analog of Ghandi – and yet, upon just a moment’s reflection, I would argue that women’s suffrage is actually more important, from a progressive’s view of history, than Ghandi’s tweaking of the Raj’s nose – I privileged the guy with a penis, I do believe, even as I worried about privileging the guy with the penis. Once you go meta…

But please, I didn’t come here to impose a hierarchy, I came to destroy it. I brought up Hitler for a reason. If you’re gonna call Godwin on me, go ahead and do so, because I am actually about to draw a comparison between white Canadians right now and white Germans in the 1930s. If that’s too close to me calling you a nazi for comfort, I apologize, but I’m including myself in the comparison as well. We are all in this together. That’s kinda the point here.

One of the most damning things about the nazi regime was its modernized nature. The nazis kept very good records, took lots of photographs, documented everything… they then tried to burn it all at the end of the war, but there was just so MUCH information that some of it survived, and we put together a pretty good record of what horrors took place behind the scenes.

But more damning still was the modern press that existed in the 20th century, and which documented the public life of Germany as the holocaust unfolded. Those who get into history, and really look at the era, get a very clear picture of the nature of fascism, where it comes from, how it arises, how it stays. The newspapers tell an all-too-clear story of a populace that, however we dress it up in fear and patriotism, allowed it to happen.

American 20th century media reveals some nasty stuff too. See this, for instance – images from the civil rights struggle. There is countless documentation of “good, white christians” engaging in all kinds of brutality, on blacks and whites, to defend their right to not have to coexist with anyone who didn’t agree with them. Americans today revile these men, one and all, though a number of them seem to do so only grudgingly. But reviling the Klan is too fucking easy, for my liking. People talk about Hitler as a “Monster”. Reading a story about the Holocaust should not be a reason to feel good about yourself because you weren’t there. Hitler was no monster. Hitler was Man of the Year. The same American media that documented civil rights was in love with him, and things were not comfortable for German Jews in 1938, but nobody was interested in THAT story at that point. Just like how in 2013, seemingly nobody is interested in the real story of Aboriginals in Canada. If we elide Hitler from the canon of humanity, we bury our head in the sand about the reality of the world in which we live, and our society will not improve if we refuse to even identify the problem.

It would be easy, now, to go down the path of blaming it all on the press. But we don’t get off that easy. We are better informed and better educated than ever. We’ve all seen those pictures, we’ve all been to the museums. We know better. And yet so many people I know, so many otherwise good people, will still sit in judgement of “indians”. They’ll make slurs about lysol and FAS, and joke about the drunk ones outside the St. Regis.

I used to do that too. I was a white male teenager in the 1980s, and every white male teenager in the 1980s that I met did it at one point or another. I’m certain there were many who did not, possibly ones I knew, and if you’re one of them, I apologize for lumping you in with me, but my social world was steeped in racism. One of my high school acquaintances had a band called “Boggan’s Blood” at one point. I was raised with very left wing, progressive values, too. I could blame it on peer pressure, I could blame it on being lonely and depressed, I could blame it on any number of things, but the fact of the matter is that racism was part of my culture, and I participated in my culture. Nothing excuses that; all I can do, and all every other living person who did participate in a racist culture can do, is learn, and make amends the best we can.

It’s not easy to face your own internalized prejudice when you think of yourself as a good person, and prejudice as bad. When I listen to Chief Spence’s voice, I hear the echo of thousands of mocking slurs, uttered by my friends, and yes, by me, as we drove by places like the Occidental as teenagers, probably out in search of weed, which we would then return to our River Heights and Wolseley dens to smoke and trip out on psychedelic music. I hear those comments, and I hear that laughter, as I listen to a woman talk about being taken away from her mother at a young age, and being forced to go to some other place, and blaming her mother for it. I hear all that pain, I see it, and it’s drowned out by the laughter of me and my friends. Most of us not ignorant – we knew better – just stupid and herd-like.

Right now, someone is reading this and has turned to their friend and started ranting about white guilt. Call it that if you like. I call it conscience. I call it knowing that I’ve done things that are absolutely, definitively wrong, and my conscience taking me to task for it. I say that if you, like me, have ever mocked an indian, no matter what age you were or what circumstances you thought made it ok or makes it ok now, then you really ought to have some white guilt, and it should bother you when you hear an authentic voice like that of Chief Theresa Spence. If you’ve been racist, and I personally know of no white Canadians who have not, you really ought to lose a night of sleep over it now and then – if you don’t, you’re really a bit of a sociopath, aren’t you?

I know people, old friends of mine, who mock aboriginals on a regular basis, but make the dissonant claim that they are Not Racist. I have tried to puzzle out their logic, done some serious contortions in attempts to salvage what I can of my old friends who refuse to learn, and thus far I cannot make logical sense of their position… but maybe they’re smarter than me, because they seem VERY secure in their idea that they can mock someone’s race as a source of personal amusement and still be Not Racist. I just think to myself, what if a really healthy, buff friend of mine yelled “FAT FUCK” every time they stubbed their toe, and then turned to me and said “hey, it’s just a word, it doesn’t mean I hate you, my little fat buddy.” I wouldn’t find it too funny. “haha yeah, that’s been used to make me feel worthless for my whole life, but I know that YOU don’t mean anything by it,” seems to be the response they expect. But here’s where people today need to be more careful than ever: the nature of history has changed again, and we haven’t started living our lives accordingly.

One of the things that people point out on a regular basis these days is that the internet remembers everything. And it does. You know those pictures in the family album that your mother brings out to humiliate you? The internet is your mother made into an omniscient god. The stories of lives “ruined” by the internet are legion – people losing their jobs after their employer saw them giving themselves a 40oz flu, for instance. Everything you put on the internet is there forever, or at least until someone sets off a bunch of EMPs from space and puts us back to year zero. So, consider this image:

race mixing

These people are clearly on the wrong side of history. I know of nobody outside of an Aryan Nations compound who thinks there is anything good about their view of the world. We all agree on this, without reservation. If you do not, and you and I know each other, we really need to sit down and talk about it. For one thing, you could be right; nobody I’ve ever met has seriously espoused this idea, so I think the exercise of someone actually playing devil’s advocate about race mixing could be very interesting. In the meantime, I’m considering the debate closed on miscegenation, with a giant A-Ok as the assessment thereof.

Now consider that the history of those living today, in 2013, is not being written by that professional photographer whose job was to document the world around him, as it appeared to him visually. No, our history is being told by us. Traditional, monolithic forms of media are being supplanted by blogs and social media – we know more about what’s on our friend’s minds than ever before, because our friends ARE our media, to a greater degree than ever before. We enjoy the distraction of The Daily Show, but the fact of the matter is that The Daily Show has more credibility to us than CNN, because The Daily Show simply points out the absurdity of CNN. Jon Stewart is the only straight man (in the comedic sense) in an arena full of clowns.

No, the history that will be written about us after we’re all dead will not be summed up in an image of a relative few proud racists, begging to be held up as the literal symbol of everything that is wrong with society, and that only in their specific historical moment, with no greater implications running backwards or forwards through the timeline. That photo, it just happened at some point, and a cameraman got it, but we’re not REALLY that bad, are we? The racists are just a nutty few, right?

Well, no. The ability of people to do unspeakable things, and brag about it, is also well-documented. See, for instance, this site. It is a well-known and steadfastly-ignored-by-most fact that lynching was the only form of “justice” that black people knew in the south, well into the 20th century. It is far less well-known that after people were beaten, hung and had their bodies burnt by mobs of angry whites for crimes of which their guilt is questionable at best, photographers would take pictures of the hanging corpse and make a postcard of it so that those who participated in the lynching could send it off to their friends as a souvenir of… of… it makes the brain stop and go cold. It literally makes you sick to think about it the fact that this level of violence was acceptable enough in postbellum American society: people felt safe sending documented evidence, with signed confessions, of their participation in the savage murder of a fellow human through the US mail, as long as that human had enough pigment in their skin. This is a fact that stares you in the face like Nietzsche’s abyss, no matter what you might believe the rest of the time. And in that world where you could brutally murder someone and brag about it… what went on behind closed doors, outside of the view of others, in a world with no social safety net, no crisis programs, no human rights bureau, no first wave feminism, no second wave feminism, no Malcolm X, no AIM? What sort of lives did the people history does not name, live?

To those with the imagination to read between history’s lines and visualize it, it can drive you mad with its abject brutality, and the hopelessness with which it was endured by those who lived it. It makes you want to do more to advance humanity’s state, from the brutality of our roots to the Enlightenment vision of a world governed by reason, not might. And that’s where I look to for hope – for those race mixing protestors, there were Freedom Riders. Against the slaveowners were the abolitionists, and the underground railroad. Born into a world still plagued by it, when they could not stop the slave system outright, they sought to undermine it – they helped escaped slaves get to Canada, educated people, and screamed from the rooftops that their society was fundamentally evil. And unlike the Westboro people, the abolitionists were right. The Freedom Riders were right.

Point being, even when the entire society was wrong, there were people who were right, and their voices crept through the official accounts. And look at the antebellum south today: we remember some of their key figures, but I didn’t even know who Jefferson Davis was until I was in my 20s, and I only knew the name because of Boss Hogg. But those who care about such things are aware that there were abolitionists agitating for the removal of slavery for a long time before anything was actually done, and even then the struggle just continued in a different vein. But we know who the good guys were here, though history doesn’t record many of their names. Lincoln was a pragmatic politician who did what needed to be done. The abolitionists were tough people who went against the grain of their times, and without whose constant pressure Lincoln would be no more remarkable than Chester Arthur.

And before you start talking about today being a politically correct nightmare where you’re not allowed to speak your mind, I actually agree – I think you should speak your mind more, like the people in this article, because it’s not the crazy Aryans in their compounds that are the problem at this point – YOU are the problem. Overt racism, as so many nutjobs like to resentfully point out, is no longer acceptable in this society. The Limbaughs of the world, who bemoan the fact that they can’t walk around talking about niggers and spics like their father used to do, have tried and are trying very hard to turn back the clock using some weird notion of free speech to justify it. When people complain about political correctness, I hear someone complaining about the fact that at some point, someone called them out in public for saying something incredibly fucking stupid, and they didn’t like feeling stupid in front of all those people. However, instead of examining their own attitudes, owning their prejudice (whatever it may be) and doing what they can to become a better person, they instead complain about the people who pointed out their own refusal to grow the fuck up, and resent the implication that they are immature, at best.

But now I’m devolving into opinion.  Yes, you can’t just walk around tossing stereotypes around willy nilly anymore. We have, as a society, expanded our notion of politeness, at the very least, to include non-white people. Especially in public and when there’s a camera in the room. But the attitudes remain, and that’s something I think we should focus on as we think about Idle No More and Canada under this government. The next government is not going to be any better than this one, unless we as a people start learning the lesson of the abolitionists, and start embracing the voices who call for progress, who call for honouring our treaties (which we have never done, as of yet), who call for a notion of ethics that includes a sustainable vision for us to move forward into.

Because not only is the world watching – history is watching, and it’s watching YOU. Your name is online, you probably have a facebook account if you’re reading this, and everything you say really IS going down on a record somewhere, and will be searchable by historians who will have computers that can do things we cannot even conceive of yet.  By the time we finish documenting our whole lives on facebook, they might even be able to take our page, with its years and years of thoughts, data, photos, etc, and conjure up an AI version of us that they could talk to, that could articulate our real moral code, with the clarity of a couple hundred years’ hindsight.

How do you think your life as it is will be judged by the people who have access to more information about you than we ever had about anyone from an equally distant time in the past? Because our attitudes show through in the things we say online, and there seems to be an inexhaustible amount of disk space to store it on. I’m pretty certain they will see us 21st century Americans as a gang of buffoons and visionaries, frothing like a giant boiling kettle and just as dangerous to get near and deal with. But I think that if our technological society survives, the notion of privacy that we have will be seen as a quaint idea that hadn’t quite died out yet, and that will be seen as a good thing. Because what’s been missing from our interactions – what’s been causing problems like slavery and apartheid (here or elsewhere) has been that we are blind to the humanity of people who don’t look, or act, like us. We have trouble looking at a woman in a burqa, or a man in a turban, and seeing anything but a mirror of our vague notions of what those cultural symbols mean: the woman is oppressed, the man is either comical or a terrorist threat (yes, I do know the difference between a Sihk and an Arab and an Afghan, and that all turbans are not the same, but a hell of a lot of white people don’t). We have trouble seeing that person’s family, their kids, their parents, and that their clothing or headwear actually are NOT being worn to throw their whatever in our face. We don’t see the experience of crossing the ocean, going through the immigration process, and walking into a society that is completely different from ours, and finding that their clothing is one of the few things from their old home and culture that they can still use to celebrate who they are.

And not only do most people have trouble seeing the humanity of someone who wears ethnic clothing or has different features, some people go one step further and decide that coming over here, where we sell the image of a place where everyone is free to do what they like, look how they like, talk to who they like… we sell America as freedom’s brand name, and when people choose to emigrate here, that freedom is one of the things they are seeking. How disappointing, then, when they find that “dress however you like” only applies to whitey-approved styles that you buy at the mall. Your turban, on the other hand, is not just a style, but rather a cultural signifier that interlopes in our nice, homogenous society. Hope you’re enjoying all this freedom. Speak English or die. Thanks for the ride, go the fuck back to wherever.

So what does all this have to do with Idle No More? It’s bringing out the racism. Aboriginals in North America have not risen up as a nation, in a significant way, since the 70s. The media was very different then, as were the problems they faced, and this new uprising has really seemed to lance a long-festering boil, and all that pus is coming out in the comment sections of newspaper sites, in online forums, everywhere that this is being discussed. White people in Canada are letting off their racist steam like never before, and unlike the 70s, we’ve got the internet recording every minute of it. Some people are noticing this, and hopefully rethinking their positions. Even if they’re not doing that now, we ARE getting a very clear picture of the extent to which Canadian society is still profoundly and unapologetically full of contempt for our First Nations. And before we can change that, we have to see it – or in this case, as anyone who’s ever participated in lancing a boil knows, they will notice the stench of the festering social illness that boils up from inflammatory Sun Media yellow facebook posts. So here’s to Idle No More for lancing that boil, and reminding us all that just because Obama is president, it doesn’t mean that we’ve beaten racism.

At the beginning of this rant, I talked a bit about kicking the debt down the road, about mortgaging the future. I think it’s about time we stopped doing that, I agree. And I think that there is a moral debt here, one laid down and enforced by international treaty law, that we ought to start paying. I think that the bruised egos of white people who are realizing that they are the beneficiaries of genocide are less important than how we deal with the people that our forefathers fucked over, over and over again, for hundreds of years, and that our current leaders continue to treat with disdain, because we allow them to do it with our apathy and our casual and familiar hate.

I think that we have a people in our midst who are dying, literally, and we are more concerned with being Not Racist, or with defending our right to be racist, than with dealing with this third world health and welfare problem that exists in our own back yard while we invade oil-rich Islamic countries just like we invaded this country once upon a time. Because we wanted it. Because we could. Because it was our Manifest Destiny. And because “giving” these people money, and seeing to their health and welfare, like our nation’s leaders promised them we would and then did not, goes against good capitalist principles.

My point, friends, is that history will judge us, and history will know enough about us to judge us personally. History remembers Germany in the 1930s, but only a few infamous German individuals from the 1930s. You, on the other hand, history will remember you by name. It will remember where you lived, where you worked, what kind of porn you were into, what you had for lunch.

Think about that, next time you decide to rant about aboriginal leaders and their supposed corruption as a justification for your continued apathy and puerile poopoo-caca use of racial epithets and stereotypes. Your words will live until the Internet dies.

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January 10, 2013 · 7:52 pm