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.