Photo Credit: Catherine Barnes

I had a strange experience this week, which seemed to bring together a number of questions which have been troubling me recently, and also suggest a curious new arrangement and focus for some answering ideas. For the first time in my life I found myself considering self-censorship. For a piece of work with no commercial target, at that. Pure heartfelt expression, and yet, pre-contaminated by fear of hostile misunderstanding. I don’t know anyone who makes art who cares less – so if this stuff is messing with me, I am officially worried.

You see, I am a weirdo, and I start with that so that no one can accuse me of hiding it – I was raised weird, educated weird, my job experience has been weirdly varied between areas of work which do not usually cross over, and for my entire life I have read weird books, made weird studies, and produced weird art. There are lots of arguments to be made for conventional approaches to almost all of those things, and I can make them myself – I do not mean to suggest my experience repudiates anyone else’s – just that I have always figured conventional forms, expressions and statements were adequately covered already, and I could contribute more productively to exploring the outer edges – vanished scholarship and currently unfashionable ideas of universal familyship, in particular.

The reason I think all of humanity is one family which understands itself rather badly is simple – when I was at my very lowest and most desperate – a traumatized cult refugee – hungry, angry, jobless and desperate, I was saved by the accumulated kindnesses of what seems in retrospect almost like a conspiracy of strangers, and these people came from every walk of life.

It was not left wing or right wing people who helped, it was not intellectuals or salt of the earth people, it was not people with influence, or people with simple generosity and compassion, it was not businesspeople or wise sages and crazy artists – it was absolutely all of the above. To be much clearer still, were the members of that conspiracy all left alone together in a room with weapons, there would be casualties. Not so certainly in those incalculably more reasonable days – but in today’s scream-first question-later climate, for sure.

It infuriates some people I love, that I also love and respect people who are part of tribes they enjoy hating, but you know what? – that whole ignorant mode of thought pisses me off too – and for far better reasons. I do have sympathy for the way some see clusters of moral association in the world. Toronto has long been home to one of the most sanctimonious, least rational strains of modern leftism going, and while I have opposed that tendency, which pushes any social movement toward bourgeois self-indulgence, shallow performity and utter hypocrisy, for my whole life, I also love many people to whom it all seems completely normal. They are definitely bigots on a technical level, but pleasant enough as people, just so long as long as you don’t violate their latest complex of orthodoxy.

I did use the word weird several times in the opening, right? That’s not some sort of boast or front, that’s just the kind of ingredients I’ve had to build with. This means I end up sourcing my operating wisdom and ways of treating people differently from most comfortable ‘normal’ people I meet. Even when I do agree with a point of leftist (or any other) orthodoxy, it is pretty much always for a reason other than the official sanctified one. This sort of ‘disobedient agreement’ can get you into trouble nowadays, but I insist honesty is a key part of honour, and I can’t pretend I haven’t seen what I have in the world, because that would mean failing to honour those to whom I owe everything. 

The thing is, for all of these oddnesses – my reasons aren’t at all frivolous, and my moral conclusions aren’t in any way weird.

One of the things about loving people who disagree, is that you hear a lot more ideas that way, than you do if you stay safe inside your camp. Some topics are off-limits in almost any tribe, and when you move between tribes, you learn more. As many thinkers have noted – Jared Diamond most wonderfully, Europe’s weird density of highly distinct tribes and cultures was especially helpful for many kinds of scholarship and technology to connect. Theories expounded in one place, found implementation elsewhere, where attitudes were better suited for it – and then transmitted results onward further still. But I don’t wander, tribe-less, because I want to be clever or win fights – I start that way because of my wide compassion foundation, and just enjoy the extra insights, art and culture as a bonus for my willful open-mindedness.

There are some real temptations to tribalism. If you do subscribe to a system of established orthodoxy, then you can achieve status and virtue within that tribe with simple conformity. But this lazy falsehood offends my spiritual seeker side greatly. I know just enough to know that I don’t know enough to hurt others on the basis of what I know. People who pretend their theories are utterly sacred, and real individual human beings are much less important, outright scare me.

I despise racism, but I also hate the way critical race theory is being used to hurt the sensitive minds of our latest crop of kids – who are already famously (and demonstrably) the least racist generation of children in history. This is not a program of education – but one of psychological vengeance. Punishment by groups really is in fact evil – even if you name it anti something which is also evil. Are there some things about the theory which are valid, or even commendable? Perhaps, but you know how that goes – Hitler was a vegetarian and loved animals – and still we recognize that vegetarians and animal lovers are not automatically Nazis – and further, that the good details we can find don’t count at all next to any record of damage done to innocents on a large scale.

I actually think Hitler would have dug popular critical race theory – the assertion that traits like hard work, rational thought, planning for the future, and dispassionate analysis are all “aspects of whiteness” fits his views perfectly.

I know I’m being uncouth, one isn’t supposed to invoke the H word – and the bugger does get far too much press. I would use Salazar instead, who damaged his entire society, destroying higher education in Portugal for two generations, to suppress his opposition by denying them the empowerment of an active intellectual class, but I don’t know even one single nice thing about Salazar. My point is that I oppose HARM being done to real living human beings – and by the time a theory has got there, no matter what sort of reasons or excuses it uses, it can go f@ itself. People who can’t even see harm being done, or refuse to allow evidence of harm, because they consider the conclusion or the messenger unclean and unacceptable, compared to the theory they adore so much, really do remind me of the many dangerous maniacal groups and fads of the twentieth century. Common reasoning now. Creepy cultish thinking, always.

Do we still remember what we knew a couple of years ago – that this is the least racist generation of young people in our entire history? Have we noted that women are now the majority in university post graduate studies in every single field except STEM? Is any progress on any front to be acknowledged, or do we want to sustain never ending anger, and seek never ending vengeance for legacy crimes – rather than focussing our efforts on making enduring material and cultural improvements to our current very precarious situation? 

I say – we need to fix what is wrong now – raise the standard of childhood nutrition, inspiration and education for kids who are falling behind from every race, give all people a fair shot to participate as best they can, and get everyone with talent, into the bigger societal game.

Reparations? If we do that, then we must start with those whose land we are on, and work our way forward. 1619 is a good name for some people’s tragedy, even though some very big and historically incorrect (but emotionally satisfying) assertions were built into the initial premise of that popular new framing. But 1492 signifies an outright holocaust. Orders of magnitude, folks.

More specifically, please bring us a more developed theory which includes compassion for others who have also experienced pain, and experience it still, and an approach which is about lifting-up and not EVER burdening children. Absent that broader compassion, it is hard to see the implementation of any such theory leading to positive change in the world – just more brutal psychological punishment along group lines. This is the sort of thing which does not ever end well (the backlash will be as grotesque, as it is inevitable). Can’t tell you how much I wish people would read a little more history, to help them scale down the histrionic bullshit on television and the web.

Now, for those who are wondering – no, I don’t just snipe, I do have an alternate suggestion to this tribalist nonsense – popular front. That’s when you get over yourself and realize that opposing the super rich and protecting community is more important than your differences in dogma and the cheap emotional fun of a feud, and grow mature enough to make big and solid alliances between groups, based on mutual respect.

But wait, how can you possibly have respect for someone who doesn’t share all of your views?

Just the fact that this actually looks like a valid question to millions in the modern world kind of makes me want to dive off the porch. I’ve talked many times about the difference between individual (and often infantile) self-expression, and the mature adoption of a program which benefits the greater society, and not just self. The funny thing is that some who aren’t there, fear that having a program bigger than yourself would make you more dogmatic, but it only seems that way because there are so many damn posers and fakers out there.

This is almost precisely like the fear of novices the world over, when they make serious spiritual progress. But wait now, if I actually do achieve enlightenment, will there be anything left of my personality? The answer is yes – more than ever – even though you will also perceive far more duty than you used to. What gets left behind is the clutter, obsessions with things, status, winning points…

Humans are never more creative than they are when they are rationalizing. We reach for everything we’ve learned, heard, thought – and contort ideas that otherwise seem fine straight and solid, all to give ourselves the cover of rightness, even retroactively.

Adopting a serious political (or philosophical) program is the exact opposite of rationalizing your own emotional excursions using political language. It means you aren’t talking about your personal emotions, when you’re talking politics – the emotions which interest you, are those of the person you are speaking to – because you are always trying to represent this helpful mode of thinking in such a way that it will spread further spontaneously, as people hear, test and then judge it for themselves.

I don’t get to compassion because a logical sequence of ideas leads me there – I start there, and my ideas flow from this foundation. Because I recognize there are a lot of different ways to think about and experience the world, I have to acknowledge that many people are so alienated that compassion is simply not a central part of their thinking. Some others find compassion only as a conclusion, the end of the chain, instead of the beginning – and they find more reasons to deny it to others, because it seems conditional.

Many more outright prefer to live in a state of constant indignance instead of experiencing steady small satisfactions, and fight hard against the idea that they can self-regulate this emotional balance effectively, with the regular (albeit often challenging) practise of gratitude. Hard work indeed in some objectively difficult circumstances, but always worthwhile – and it definitely gets easier with practise.

Anyhow, if my words or ideas do ever offend you – please try switching from the brain to the heart channel, to check out that ‘reading’.

It is just as common for people to mistake my strong heart-positions for unreason, as it is for all of us to mistake our latest favourite reasoning for eternal truth.
Price of being a Paddingtonian/Promethean weirdo, I guess.

Haters gonna hate, misinterpreters gonna misinterpret, and idiots will always think themselves brilliant – but none of these have ever been a sound basis for the recalibration of intention or expression. Anyhow, they ain’t my audience. I like smart and nice, even if it is a real tough crowd

No, the song will not be censored.

PS – for anyone who has been subjected to the insufferable idiocy of Robin D’Angelo, check out the incredible work of Doris Lessing (Orwell’s true inheritor) for a full-strength brilliance antidote. “Shikasta” is most precisely relevant (a mythic start, but it builds up to a realistic portrayal of the trial of the white race for crimes against humanity, during a period of runaway ecological collapse).
Her “The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire” is also unbelievably helpful for perspective in this chaotic time.
“The Good Terrorist” and “Briefing for a Descent Into Hell” are perhaps too relevant and strong for some – but genius is in every page.


  1. It’s weird. Your sentence about burdening children struck a particular chord with me – not just because of the proven rhetorical value of citing children’s suffering (a plethora of examples on all sides), but because I’m torn between two inferences:

    1) If the adult world hasn’t learned that much by now, is there any hope?

    2) When have we ever not burdened children? It’s what we do. They’ll get over it, and so should you.

    Indeed, popular culture has often been the site of compensatory displays, including (perhaps especially) among the learned classes. That it’s occurring IN classes, instead of learning is a major concern of mine – and I’m already a skeptic about formal education. But a lot of this comes back to parents, schools, and the relationship between the two.

    Maybe it’s just my daily diet of covid news, but I have begun thinking about the deeper meaning of many of our current public health controversies – specifically, questions about how to manage the pandemic and what members of a free society can expect of their governments and each other – and what they might mean for the human species. Some have tried to dissuade me from this habit, but I think I’m a lost cause. Also quite obstinate in my weirdness, and weirder still for trying to venture reasonable and palatable solutions to clearly intractable problems.

    If we’re in a “post-truth” society, does that mean a big hug is coming?

    In noting a resemblance between CRT / identity politics stuff and pandemic management, I hope I’m not over-analogizing. These issues have existential implications, and perhaps it is no surprise that they share similarities. I’ll try to sketch this in more detail, but I would like to forestall the objection that I am drawing specious parallels. I know these are distinct and deal with distinct subject-matter; but I also think that comparing and contrasting them can produce important insights.

    The pandemic called upon all of us to make important sacrifices – even if just to come to terms with the alienation and desolation with which it has haunted us. Despite the important discussions (and outrage) about privilege, we have all suffered. In fact, I’m not sure there is any formula for reliably measuring the spiritual damage of such an event. Some experienced precipitous declines in their livelihood, but found resilience in supportive communities; others found their indefinite layoff and app-ordered groceries an almost blissfully convenient adjustment – until they realized their lives and friendships had become even more pixelated and ephemeral than before.

    I don’t mean to be sentimental – the pandemic continues to ravage the economies of the world, and we should loudly call for massive redistribution of wealth. But it’s equally important that this be accompanied by an awakening, a wide recognition of how precarious and precious our lives are. How contingent is every job, every business, supply chain, and essential resource. How contingent is “the normal”.

    Weird times. Likely only getting weirder.

    On the one hand, it takes courage to face that. As you rightly point out, the existential angst of seeing things turned upside-down makes us want to turn them right side up, post-haste. But once things are upside-down, upside-down IS right side up. And insisting on acting like they were right side up would entail turning ourselves upside-down. Not the best adaptive strategy. Positively batty, in fact. This I assume is why Jean-Paul Sartre spoke so fondly of nausea.

    Some of what you talk about here has made me wonder: what is the difference between “theory” and “principle”? I think we get these confused sometimes. In theory (in a sense), theory is a ready-made set of rationalizations that we can abuse at our whim, while principle is as you say, a “helpful mode of thinking” that recognizes an other, striving as it does for practical universalizable utility. (Principle welcomes doubt, whereas theory welcomes bias.) Having said that, it is clear that many people subscribe to a theory that vastly oversimplifies the world, fails to provide lasting utility, and they call their adherence to that dogma “principle”.

    A word is a turd of the absurd.

    You use another word, “program”, and I wonder if this too is conflated with “theory” and “principle”. I imagine the relevant concept is almost out of reach for many today.

    I suggest that there is a tension between context and justice. Which of these is a construct, and which truth? To do justice, we must do justice to context. On the other hand, the more fine-grained our contextual understanding, the less we see that is wrong, or in need of correction. So it comes back to us – the mind in judgement: What is the problem? What are the relevant factors? What are possible solutions and the costs of implementing them? Theory is an attempt at modeling risk in this way, and paving the way for program. Principle is a guiding norm that authorizes the exercise of justice.

    We might say that

    Principle is universal (for understanding)

    Justice is interpersonal (for living together)

    Theory is context-specific (for modeling)

    Program is all of the above. By manifesting principled solidarity on a broad scale and across new networks, it seeks to extend justice (or, access / distribution of resources). The reason it requires theory is that high-level intellectual discussions may be undertaken in order to account for risk at each stage of extension. It isn’t enough to simply say “I have a ton of compassion; people should listen to my ideas because I have extinguished my ego”. Although in theory, it would be nice if it were true.

    Understanding context takes a fair bit of work, and there may be no legitimate shortcuts.

    Maybe that’s the danger perceived by the novice you mention: that their attempts to find shortcuts might make them lose context altogether, and find only justice.

    Another relevant distinction is between the two senses of the word “share”. You can share something that is yours, or share something that isn’t yours. The former sense involves a conditionality that is absent from the latter. Perhaps we could say that principle means partaking (unconditionally) of a shared ground of truth. Even if the truth of the matter at hand (the context) is not established, the principle for that establishment is. Justice then follows.

    Obviously, I’m using “justice” to mean something very close to “truth” itself; but justice is the highest human truth, it being the best exercise of power. Semi-serious question: Does this contradict the notion of compassion being the highest human truth? Or is it just a facet of justice (and vice-versa)? This could be getting too abstract, but I also think we sometimes confuse reason with reasons. Everyone has plenty of both. But only some are shared, and sharing any doesn’t preclude the work of effective communication.

    Something else that could be considered the highest human truth is health. As with the concept of justice, the concept of health is laden with unstated assumption, idealization and rationalization. Health means something like intrinsic capacity for self-actualization. It also has something to do with identification and treatment of illness – in other words, our understanding of health is often in negative terms, based on the presence of pathology (similar to how Aquinas spoke of evil as a privation of the good). And it seems that the more sensitive we are to context – to individual perspective and freedom – the more we seem to jeopardize consensus. And without consensus, it is difficult to craft any coherent policy. Hence the need for principle.

    In my view, public health officials have shown a lack of principle – have been derelict in their duty to be honest with the public. I shouldn’t be under any illusion that such officials are “in charge of” public health. In an important ethical sense, we are all responsible for our own health. In a different ethical sense, we’re responsible for one another’s health, but that again has little relation to public health agencies. It is, however, why I have chosen to make a fuss about the (mis-)management of the pandemic. I’m sure you’ll understand me when I say that such mismanagement poses a FAR greater threat to us than any virus.

    It appears such officials take their role to be primarily one of reassurance, and thus are avoiding making their deliberations overly “involved”, as this would send a less than reassuring message. To put it very simplistically, most citizens don’t think much about health, and public health authorities are pragmatically oriented toward maintaining that state of blissful ignorance. Who am I to argue? In terms of late stage capitalism, it keeps people productive and keeps the economy humming along, and this may even have overall better health outcomes than the unthinkable alternatives. It’s the old trope that in a sick society, you need to be sick to succeed.

    That’s the nice way of putting it. The not-so-nice way is: it keeps people compliant with the goals of their corporate masters, and keeps them dependent on their quick and easy solutions – one of which is the set of narratives supplied by public health, media and political authorities themselves. So when a crisis comes along – pandemic, climate change, alien invasion, god knows what else – it is important that we be oriented towards the truth. In other words, the healthiest way to regard such agencies is as uncredible and dishonest. Perhaps we should thank them for making at least this much abundantly clear.

    But now I fear I’ve come across as smug and sneering – like anyone who openly discusses overturning a corrupt orthodoxy, have I simply been too quick to identify the negatives without acknowledging that a society of such complexity positively needs this form of rescue on an ongoing basis? Am I dishonouring our heroes?

    This has everything to do with truth (and truthfulness, or integrity), and also outcomes. I’m starting to think of it this way. Policy planners account for outcomes based on modeling. They weigh benefits / costs, etc. Society so planned then accepts, over time, such outcomes as necessarily entailed by its normal functioning. But we aren’t consciously aware of the planning / modeling process, or how contingent those outcomes are. Questioning these would pose a threat to the prevailing perspective. Likewise, when a disaster or crisis occurs, negative outcomes are starkly apparent, and the “muscle memory” says get back to normal.

    What is perhaps more insidious than any illness is the way that an excess of caution can make us unable or unwilling to see it for what it is. This is not an exaggeration – although many in our enlightened age badly underestimate the power of stigma and superstition. In their minds, they’re simply exercising “an abundance of caution”.

    Most of us would agree that racism is a disease. This is hardly a metaphor, and seems a rather apt description. It is an evil contagion that attacks and undermines all that is good about us. And by dividing us along such arbitrary (unjust) lines, it infects both the winners and losers – the “justified” and the “condemned” – with cognitive dissonance. Makes their reasons and reasoning discordant, socially distant. But there is also robust natural immunity to it. (Generally acquired through contact with others – we are not only vectors of disease, we actually support one another’s health.) And asymptomatic spread is rare. Constantly testing and quarantining healthy individuals is over-vigilance. Sanitizing our language and masking our speech is counter-productive in the extreme.

    The experts, in their specialized wisdom, have forgone holism altogether. Now they issue decrees that even they cannot properly understand, with the overriding assumption being that the common folk are too dumb and helpless to go through life assessing risks and benefits for themselves. The experts are oriented toward assessing outcomes through the lens of their models – and the common folk have to live with the consequences.

    So maybe the popular front you refer to entails listening to more real people and incorporating their perspectives into new, more holistic models, and always paying close attention to actual outcomes along the way. Resisting the impulse to get “back to normal” – and getting back to the future.

    • Cheers once again, my friend.

      Your questions, working-through ideas on paper, stubborn (as you say weird) doubts about new orthodoxies, and constantly self-challenging thoughtfulness are all very much appreciated.

      I have actually sat down several times now, and for hours, to work on crafting detailed responses to previous excellent long posts of yours, and I keep finding myself writing ever expanding essays as I tease out the many fertile threads you gathered for each. Sort of like the way every time I try to learn a new system in my recording software, I end up writing a song!

      In this case, as in several others, you perfectly anticipate some of the main themes for my next podcast – making your thoughts here extra timely and helpful (the script is rising in the proofing oven now, bit still needs another punch-up before it goes into the oven for a proper bake).

      I trust you aren’t offended by my pouring such limited energy and back hours as I can muster into shared work, and suspect you already hear me answering you from time to time, and considering your ideas throughout. Even where I disagree with your framing or conclusion, I notice and appreciate the fact that you allow that your position is one on a range which includes doubt, because it seeks best practical outcome, rather than highest righteousness (the working class place where our unconventional thinking meets most easily, often and naturally).

      You are definitely right that compassion is no baseline at all for intellection – though the opposite argument, that intellection without compassion ought always to be regarded with particular caution, is stronger and more useful.

      I am actually not a huge fan of the confessional style, but I am the man from Mars (or more properly Darmok and Jilad at Tanagra). Some of the stuff I have seen with my own eyes sounds outright impossible to some people. There is no other way for me to claim knowledge of what some think magic, except by personal witness. But this also makes me hyper aware of how many different ways there are to see and interpret the world. The idea that any one interpretation of everything is perfect, is demonstrably crazy!

      The child abuse thing is indeed problematic – it gets overused so often. But on this specific file I am talking very specifically and from an experienced and also deeply read understanding of the long term psychological repercussions of highly ideological indoctrination.

      There will be a measurable and definite increase in youth suicide. The idea that race confers an inescapable taint of guilt will be something that some can cope with, and some sensitive beautiful souls cannot. Entertaining other arguments beyond this, makes me violently angry.

      Not because I’m a jerk – but because I know three dozen victims of such abuse, and the horrifying and everlasting impact on their lives makes me want to go back in time and slaughter every last person responsible.

      And I’m a really really really nice guy.

      That ancient arcane hard-knocks caution, keeps coming to mind, unbidden
      – “Do not ever call up, that which you cannot put down!”
      Sadly, rationalists don’t ever properly weight threats from the subconscious, despite mountains of historical evidence, and much fine international post-war scholarship also – and usually prefer to see the brand new mask as a fundamental cause, instead of a flimsy brand or costume on an ancient current, nourished most perfectly by sneering and denial.
      Talk about a cultural double-bind moment, eh? Sigh. ;o)

      Love and hugs, man. Sorry for so many points as yet unaddressed.
      More sune (and thanks yet again for your patience and ideas both)

I am always curious about what you are thinking

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