Tag: Chris Hedges


Three blocks from the venue, down an industrial street in Denver like that in any North American city that boomed in the 1950s, was a small store inside of repurposed shipping containers that sold US-made backpacks, outerwear, and slacks. The store was clean and simple and catered to the young outdoorsy types who live inside but are able to sleep in tents in exotic locations outside.

“We were one of the first businesses in this part of town,” said the shopkeeper sitting bored behind a handmade counter, hair messily gathered in a bun on the top of her head like she had just crawled out of a tent in the Rockies that surrounded her city. “Since then all sorts of businesses have opened here, which is too bad, it used to be a cheap part of town. Now there’s a luxury hotel going up just up Larimer.” The woman expresses her displeasure just as I would. I agreed as I tried on a pair of outerwear pants behind the changing curtain. Their shop and brand are participating in making the neighbourhood more expensive by selling $150USD pants, but they are at least trying to create a manufacturing industry by making their products in the USA. I left without buying pants, wondering where the nearest goodwill was.

The next day, the venue was plopped in the same part of town, only in a city that was 500 miles away, a state and a half to the east. After load-in and soundcheck, the soundman asked “Where’d you go for food? The burrito place? How was it? I heard it wasn’t that good. Yeah, this was the part of town no one would come, until my boss opened this bar and the other one, we started booking shows here, and then other businesses started coming too. It was kinda the bad part of town, now it’s the up-and-coming part of town.” At the expensive coffee joint across from the bar arcade, next to the burrito place, they were giving out a free, one-page newspaper/zine/leaflet. In it read,

“Most American cities are run by real estate interests… In Omaha, the tactic for encouraging gentrification is Tax Increment Financing or TIF. TIF is a way for cities to return tax money to developers as an incentive to put up projects that the city wants (and the public makes up the difference). Unfortunately, no provision is made for the people who used to live in the cheap housing turned into gentrified apartments. The former residents are simply scattered to the four winds. Surprised by ‘shots fired’ near 108th and Maple? This is your City gentrification policy in action.”

A similar but more developed street newspaper in Seattle uses the G-word, gentrification, describing places like Africatown in Seattle being dismembered, breaking up the “home and haven for Seattle’s Black families and businesses”, and highlighting stories of people failing to maintain housing in a rapid-rehousing program because of the recent inflation in costs of rent. Large newspapers will only use the G-word when describing vandals in Montreal or Vancouver who are terrorizing business owners, as business is the uncriticizable holy grail of progress.

I am fortunate to be able to tour with world-class musicians, but each time I’m on the road I wonder how long such jobs will exist. How long will I be paid to burn fuel and watch music in ‘up-and-coming’ parts of American cities, while around the block, that neighbourhood’s previous inhabitants are clamouring to find shelter under a bridge or in a condemned building. I do it because there’s something in music and creation that is able to be unpolluted by corporate greed, though most times it has already been bought and sold.

When people ask what I got to see this trip, Linh Dinh answers for me in his book, Postcards from the End of America, in which he visits communities across the United States left with little or no economy:

You can’t really see a city or town from a motorized anything, so if you claim to have driven through Los Angeles, for example, you haven’t seen it. The speed and protection of a car prevents you from being anywhere except inside your car, with what’s outside rushing by so fast that each face, tree, and building is rudely dismissed by the next, next and next…Like television, the private automobile was invented to wean us off our own humanity. From each, we’ve learned how to amp up our impatience and indifference towards everything, and with life itself.



After tour ends I fly home to an ailing Saskatchewan. I’d heard of the government cuts while in San Francisco, when a friend texted saying WHAT. THE. FUCK. with a link to an article about the shutting down of the province-owned small town transportation and parcel shipping company. Now home, walking through the downtown, worried citizens are passing colourful clipboards around, asking passers-by to sign one of the multitudes of petitions that are circulating to Save Our Libraries, Save our Bus System, Save our Schools. I sign them all, knowing full well that no petition will be worth the millions of dollars that the government squandered on stadiums and tax cuts on resource extraction companies. The angry protests and province-wide campaigns might get them to preserve something, but the effectiveness of these actions will only go so far if we continue to work within the system that props up corporate interest over that of the public. Though it plays into the hands of the fearmongering government and high income class, one can see why smashing windows in Montreal seems more effective.

Government MLAs show their responsibility, boasting their 3.5% paycuts, which to them means 3.5% less income to spend on boats and cottages and home renos and filet mignon. The paycuts they make to those on social assistance, the paycuts they make to those once employed by the rural transportation system, the cuts they make to the libraries, all mean that thousands of low income individuals won’t have food, shelter, a way to travel for medical treatment, books, and significantly more.

Several years ago, after seeing Chris Hedges speak at the University, I worried that Saskatchewan was the next sacrifice zone—the places that are abandoned by industry, left in disrepair and a humiliating culture of dependency after being used and left behind because of their lack of monetary worth. This could be the beginning of that reality.

It starts with the desperate government selling its struggling assets to the highest bidder, then selling its most profitable assets. They begin begging oil companies to relocate to the province to help the crumbling economy, start giving public land to large corporate bidders. At this point, entire cities and provinces will be bloated with corporate-controlled land and buildings, and towns end up, in a way, like the middle-class urban centres of post-manufacturing North American cities, where no one can afford to pay rent. Eventually, when the government isn’t coddling big business enough, they’ll pack up and move to find a different government who will subsidize their existence. Thirty years later, when our industries have died and all that’s left is cheap bars and empty buildings, businesses that pander to middle class tastes will further move into parts of town with abandoned buildings and cheap rent and begin the process of displacement of those marginalized by the loss of industry, struggling to survive in the older neighbourhoods. We are no better than the economic destruction seen in the United States, we are just a generation behind.

All that will help in the midst of a breakdown of free, communal places of existence and of the breakdown of social programs, is the creation and maintaining of communities that support one another and support the other, the different communities who are similarly affected. I am the middle class that is being pandered to, and while being in these places, eating their burritos, buying their pants, is not inherently bad, it makes it all the more imperative to support and participate in the communities that are contrary to austerity. These communities—social groups, churches, activist collectives, sports teams, artist groups, musicians—must band together to build movements that support the racialized, marginalized, the poor, Indigenous, immigrant communities, who are most harshly affected by public cuts and an economy sucked dry.

Linh Dinh, states the obvious:

For any community to be healthy, local initiatives must be encouraged, nurtured and protected, so let’s reclaim our home turf, reestablish the common, and, in the process, regain our collective sanity and dignity.

Oppression is Reality


There’s this man that sits in the front left seat at the movie theatre and he’s always there. He has with him a copy of the free newspaper or a novel and is only ever there by himself. When something he deems comical happens in the film, he lets out a laugh like you’d hear in a country western movie, a croak of a chuckle. He sits through the credits and probably doesn’t drive home because he wears a scarf to keep him warm when he walks. I leave the theatre and I expect to see him there again when I return, waiting in the front left seat.

My stomach flipped and my feet went numb and I couldn’t stop myself from desperately screaming “Shut up!” at the MC on stage. He wore a pretend cowboy hat and hoodie with an anarchist circle-A on the front. I’m not usually the heckler.

“Did anyone watch the news the last two days?” he asked the audience earlier, just before I shouted him off-stage. “I hear they’ve got a new president down there. It may seem bad, but I guarantee you, because of it, we are going to have four years of the best punk music that you’ve ever heard in your lives!” he said excitedly. Punk music is an industry, apparently, like the weapons industry, agri-business, pharmaceuticals, private prisons–it profits off the misery of others. So I booed him. I fucking booed him and he got off stage to let the band play. Protest works. The opening band got on stage and sang ten songs exclusively about baseball, a man dancing around in a jockstrap, his exposed ass jiggling on-stage.

I gave up. Halfway through the baseball band’s set, I walked to the coat rack next to the arcade game to hang up my jacket. The man from the movies sat at the bar of the music venue reading a book, sipping on a non-alcoholic beverage. He lifted his head once or twice during a song to see what was going on onstage. I don’t see him leave and I don’t see him stay.

He isn’t real. I’m convinced. He appears and disappears like a phantom or a projection or a conscience or a prophecy. A wake-up call that I haven’t yet woke up. Maybe the man on stage wasn’t real either. His hat was far too ridiculous and his hoodie far too ironic and his speech far too annoying to be a real person. Maybe he was a construct of my disillusionment in the so-called progressive, socially-minded left, a culmination of that and the realization that aggressive music rooted in anti-establishment values is long dead. I feel as though I’m dreaming all of the time.

The farm had five kittens. They wrestled, kneaded the dog’s fur, climbed trees, licked hands, did somersaults. Any spare chance between chores or before coming in for lunch, I played with them. I picked one up and held it and pet it until it purred or until it jumped out of my hands onto the gravel driveway. The cats registered in me no joy. I expected to have this feeling where my chest flitted and my body felt light, but that never came, even when they gently chewed on my finger or mewed on my shoulder. Like they were an emotionless dream, a non-reality.

After the week on the farm when I end up in the same, unchanged, cell-like apartment after playing with kittens at sunset on a cattle-ranch in the hills, after travelling the world with a successful musical act, after camping alone in the woods for a week–when I end up lonely with a sore throat in my empty apartment, I can’t help but wonder how those things could possibly have actually happened.

I want to ask friends if we actually went camping in the woods, if we actually kissed, if those kittens were actually purring, but their responses would be unimportant. If you ask someone in a dream if you’re dreaming, they have no existential obligation to say yes.

I woke up in the basement of the farmhouse, maplebugs crawling on the sheets, American flags attached to a latch-hook rug of a First Nations man in a headdress on the wall. This can’t be real either, I figured. I didn’t know what happened the night before. I didn’t know because I went to sleep before Trump’s acceptance speech. That it happened when I was dreaming dystopian post-election dreams didn’t help me when I woke up wondering if it was reality that a man endorsed by the KKK was the ruler of the ‘free world’. It’s not that I couldn’t believe that there were enough people in one country that held his same values, I’ve met enough people in my life to know that it is more than possible. I went upstairs and Fox News confirmed what had happened. I’m still asleep, I figured.

Intellectuals such as Chomsky and Hedges and Nader predicted it five and ten years ago. They saw a population of working class whites abandoned by liberal governments selling their privacy, their healthcare, their jobs to corporations, leaving a political climate ripe for fascist rulers. Prophesy doesn’t help ground me in reality, it simply makes it more dream-like.

As I struggle in my own crisis of absolute reality, women, the LGBTQ community, First Nations, Muslims, Blacks, Hispanics shout to me to affirm that it is indeed reality. Dakota Access Pipeline water protectors shout at the world for support. It is their reality. Reality hits; just because it doesn’t affect a person of privilege doesn’t make it not real. The ‘it doesn’t really affect me’ mentality is rooted in privilege and denies humanity to those who it does affect. If this election doesn’t affect you, if this pipeline doesn’t affect you, meet someone that racism does affect in your own community, and then instantly, it does.

The ‘unaffected’ non-American struggling with the facts of our new-found political situation, struggling with the idea of a race war between our next-door-neighbours, need to show support in ways more than just internet solidarity. In ways more than writing blogs, stories, songs, tweets. We can learn if our bank supports and funds oil pipelines and change to a new bank. We can boo Trudeau, the neo-liberal asshole in the ridiculous hat, off the fucking stage. If we sit and let him talk, he’ll be up there for hours, masturbating to the sound of his own voice, until we all realize that we are subject to more than just an unfortunate exchange rate when we want to holiday south, but to the inconceivable reality of facist rule.

The man in the movie theatre isn’t real. He is a delusion caused by stress and anxiety and depression and terrifying elections and the feeling of being completely helpless. Or he is real and he is now sitting at home with purring cats watching the latest election news. I won’t know either way until I go up to him and ask him what he thought of the movie. The MC on the stage isn’t real until he beats the shit out of me for heckling him. The kittens aren’t real until one of them lives in my apartment and scratches my leg. The only way these things become reality is if we allow them into our lives. Oppression isn’t our reality until someone we love has been oppressed. When this happens we can begin to relate with people we have never met who are calling for help to be saved from the hands of those in power.

This becomes our reality when we share in the oppression of our neighbour, and when it becomes our reality, when someone we love is oppressed, we will have no option but to act.


Still don’t know.

Di Fara Pizza

A man walks down a dark Brooklyn side street with his pants at his ankles, genitals flailing. I am looking for pizza. Legitimate conerns are raised about that man getting shot by police but we push on to get some garlic knots at Ganni’s at midnight.

The Republican convention wraps up and everyone I know, including myself, fears the next four years, but knows full well they’ll survive it. The man walking down the Brooklyn side street, the newly arrived Syrian refugees, the Central American blamed with stealing American jobs, don’t have the privilege of knowing the same thing. In Hedges’ 2010 book Death of the Liberal Class, Chomsky prophesies of a population that seeks out fascism because of a series of politicians beforehand who have sold the rights of the population to corporate power. All they need, he says, is a charismatic leader who tells it like it is. And now he warns this.

“How much is this one?” I ask.

“Which one?” the shopkeep asks.

“The all black one with gold numbers.”

“$10.” He pulls it out, puts it on my wrist, it fits and feels as though I haven’t wore a watch in fifteen years, which I haven’t.

“Great.” I place $10 on the table.

“This one is $15,” he says. I place five more dollar bills on the table and leave, feeling as though I have paid the 50% tourist tax necessary to create a balance in the inequality of wealth that I have benefited from my entire life. The tourist tax necessary to quell my own personal guilt for existing in a marketplace and quitting my community job to travel the world for free. The watch looks great and hasn’t died yet. It fits oddly on my bulging ulna bone.

I finish my $9 juice and sit on a bench, calling my credit union and credit card company to tell them that I am in fact in the US and that no, my cards have not been compromised, and that yes, I’d like to withdraw money from my accounts so I can spend more money on American juice.

I loosen the watch strap one notch to relieve the sweat that accumulates under it in the New York humidity in what will likely be the 15th consecutive hottest month on record. I bought a watch so I could avoid pulling my phone out of my pocket so I could avoid wrecking my pants pockets so I could avoid buying new pants so I could avoid buying pants from a hellish factory in south east asia. And so I could avoid using my phone at all. My vain attempts at personal change are conscience clearing but not effective. I still don’t know how to live a life that affects change or isn’t dripping in privilege. You think by 27.667 years of life you’d know everything there is to know in the world.



Books of the Year: 2015

Wages of Rebellion – Chris Hedges

I do not know if we can build a better society. I do not even know if we will survive as a species. But I do know that these corporate forces have us by the throat. And they have my children by the throat. I do not fight fascists because I will win. I fight fascists because they are fascists (Sartre). And this is a fight that in the face of the overwhelming forces against us requires that we follow those possessed by sublime madness, that we become stone catchers and find in acts of rebellion the sparks of life, an intrinsic meaning that lies outside the possibility of success. We must grasp the harshness of reality at the same time as we refuse to allow this reality to paralyze us. People of all creeds and people of no creeds must make an absurd leap of faith to believe, despite all the empirical evidence around us, that the good draws it to the good. The fight for life goes somewhere—the Buddhists call it karma—and in these acts we make possible a better world, even if we cannot see one emerging around us.

-Hedges, Wages of Rebellion, Sublime Madness, p226

If I Fall, If I Die – Michael Christie

Player Piano – Vonnegut

I Wish There Was Something That I Could Quit – Aaron Cometbus

What happened to me? How am I supposed to know? Ask someone else. That woman, she used to be so serious, so purposeful, so outgoing. Now look at her, she’s in pieces. Sleeps all day, then at night she gets drunk and throws herself at trains. Quite a life.

Well, I’ll tell you what happened. Nothing, that’s what. Still the same. Just that now there’s no more reassuring feeling that everything will work out with time and get better. No more faith that if we yell loud enough, someone will listen. No more security even that if we just stay quiet and try to live our little lives, they’ll even let us. Not on our own terms, at least. As if these were even close to my own terms. Taking money from the government, that pretty much admits their claim that I’m crazy. And makes everything I have to say worthless, because who’s paying my rent? Right. But what am I gonna do, get a job at the donut shop instead? Well, maybe. Let’s not rule out anything at this point.

-Aaron Cometbus, I Wish There Was Something That I Could Quit, Ch 12, p31-1

All the Pretty Horses – Cormac McCarthy

Catch-22 – Joseph Heller

The Dispossessed – Ursula K. LeGuin

It is of the nature of idea to be communicated: written, spoken, done. The idea is like grass. It craves light, likes crowds, thrives on crossbreeding, grows better for being stepped on.

-Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed, Chapter3, p 172

Crash Landing On Iduna – Arthur Tofte

Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood

Jesus’ Son – Denis Johnson

Blogging will save the world..

White Butte

I was accidentally put on a ‘panel of experts’ discussing homelessness at a recent documentary release. Politicians mingled with professors and service providers in an eatery that neighbours the dry men’s shelter. Concerned citizens arrived early to bounce pleasantries off one another, nibbling on fine sausage and kalamata olives. I showed up late, downed a whiskey to calm the nerves, and shook with anxious rage throughout the entire documentary.

The panel discussion concluded past its allotted time, and the moderator hurriedly spilt the plan, funding model, and hopes for the upcoming year in the industry of homelessness, with no one really understanding what it all meant. The crowd left restless and confused as to how to help, and the panelists left more disgruntled than before, and a month later, mid-October, there are still people sleeping in the alley in Regina.

As a white male, when I speak, people generally listen. They listen for two or three sentences until they realize that I don’t know what I’m saying, then they rightfully daydream about food and sports and sex. On this year’s Blog Action Day, a day where organizers attempt to unite writers under one socially-driven topic (a day that I use the prompt to get off my ass and write something off-topic), people were asked to consider the title Raise Your Voice. Writers, artists, and journalists have the responsibility to tell the stories of those who are unable to do so. But an important part of this is to give people the platform to tell their own stories. Those whose voices need to be heard—the marginalized, the people of colour, the refugees, the LGBTQ2, the Indigenous, the working class—are denounced because a wealth-driven patriarchal society determines whose voices have worth. For completely unjust reasons, I have a voice. Instead of only ever using my voice to amplify the voices of others, I attempt to use my voice and my actions to create a place where others can be heard without need for amplification. When you create a place where people have inherent value, their voices will inevitably be heard.

To Raise Your Voice in the digital era by blogging, sharing, liking, or ranting is as effective as leaving scraps of paper with motivational slogans blowing in the gutters. Divisive and irritating, the internet only further entrenches beliefs and perpetuates ignorance. While speaking on the panel I kept repeating this idea that we can pressure and lobby government until our heads explode, but that this is only one, arguably ineffective, means to creating change. That the only way homelessness and class-divide will end is through a system-wide change, altering how we treat and relate to one another, and changing the wealth and social inequalities that oppress minorities. I left the event feeling empty and sick, for I sounded like a politician—pushing for an idea while offering no tangible examples of how it might work and while participating in no organizing that may lead realization of the idea.

Appealing to the judicial, legislative, or executive branches of government in the hope of reform is as realistic as accepting the offer made by the March Hare during the Mad Tea-Party in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:
“Have some wine,” the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.
Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea.
“I don’t see any wine,” she remarked.
“There isn’t any,” said the March Hare.

-Hedges, Wages of Rebellion, The Post-Constitutional Era, p 61

On Thanksgiving Monday I biked to the advanced polls to participate in the experiment of democracy. My hands numb in the wind, I waffled left and right each time I saw an election sign posted in a front lawn, truly not knowing who’d get my vote upon arrival. I’d rather waffle left. I voted in a way that reflects my values. I voted in a way that is considered a throwaway. This is because I do not believe in the ability for real reform under the current economic system in which the major parties function, but I simultaneously participate in this economic system and rarely make an effort in being a part of breaking it down. When I raise my voice but drink my sorrows, doing nothing to participate in making true change, I am complicit.

Later on Thanksgiving Monday I lost a game of cribbage to a person who I’ve only known for a few months. It definitely wasn’t the first game of crib I’ve ever lost, and sure, I gave away several pairs of sevens to the crib. After he pegged out and we congratulated ourselves on a game well-played, I laid on the floor and watched him paint while we listened to new Northcote and RahRah. My new friend has been housed for three months, homeless for years before that, and still requires regular and extensive assistance to live a healthy life. I am extremely privileged to be employed by one of the few places that actively works to repair the damages caused by the wealth inequality synonymous to the capitalism, however, continually cleaning up the messes left by a system that purposefully destroys the lives of a particular cultural group is ineffective. Working within the current system is necessary to a point, but a total dismantling of this system is required to ensure real, lasting equality.

There is no morality in words. Morals are behavioural, based in how a person acts. A person can raise their voice to the heavens while sitting in their recliner. If you raise your voice without breaking a few walls, no one outside your already-converted group will hear you. Breaking walls means breaking laws, breaking norms, supporting (verbally and physically) oppressed minorities, and thinking outside of the “cult of the self”* in which we find ourselves.

And I can say with certainty that I’ve never broke down a wall in my life…


Slow Code Colonialism

The following essay was published in the Summer 2014 edition of Transition Magazine, a Canadian Mental Health Association publication. Digital copy available here.

You are lying on the street in cardiac arrest. I am obliged to inform your unconscious, breathless body of my newly acquired First Aid training. This, for some reason, is supposed to reassure you, as if my knowledge to enter three digits on a phone grabbed out of a bystander’s pocket changes the fact that your heart has ceased. All I can do is Check, Call, Care, and call bystanders to action, but according to the brawny male firefighters who taught my First Aid course, this should be reassuring. The fewer bystanders, the better, they said. According to said firefighters, CPR and portable defibrillators are so effective that you—unconscious, vulnerable, responsibility of the provincial healthcare and social services systems—shouldn’t worry about what will happen if you don’t wake up, but rather, what will happen if you do.

The day after I became First Aid certified, I heard a piece on public radio that spoke to the misconception of the effectiveness of CPR. When it comes to the point where a human is in cardiac arrest, known as a Code Blue, healthcare professionals are obligated to administer life-saving procedures. When doctors are confident that CPR will not save a life, or will greatly reduce the quality of life that remains, they will often fake it, for it “looks and feels like a really gruesome way to usher someone out of this world.”(1) They go through the motions of CPR without actually trying to save the life. They do it so the patient can die. Slow Code—they even have a name for it. When family and friends are watching a loved-one slip away, they cannot understand a doctor who would stand by idly and let their family member die. CPR, in this case, is a system for the conscience of the bystander, not for the person in emergency. The professionals do this because the system of resuscitation is flawed.

A friend was recently in the hospital. He got into a fight with three men half his age, he told me. Others claim that while inebriated, he tripped, the side of his head the first part of his body that struck the ground. Skull fracture and brain swelling which led to brain damage and memory loss. I visited him regularly—I sat there as an idle bystander contributing to his deteriorating health by supplying him with cigarettes which he forgot he had, as he basked in the overwhelming nature of his life of abuse and addiction. We played cards as he mumbled through the imagined traumatic experience of being locked in a house with three family members who beat him until he bled from the ears.

When my friend is discharged, he will leave the hospital to no home and to a family who can no longer give him the support he requires. The hospital can’t keep him forever. The rehabilitation centre says he is too high-functioning—a man who cannot remember where he put his paintbrush or the names of his brothers. The province cares not for the marginalized. An ethically responsible governing body cares for the vulnerable, but my friend will end up homeless in a week, one inevitable head injury away from complete debilitation. He has never met his social worker. The social worker in his ward blankly stated that it isn’t her problem once he is discharged. The workers search on their computers and make phone calls in vain, aiming to satisfy the bystanders, knowing that whatever they do, it won’t save his life, because, whether or not they know it, the system of resuscitation is flawed. To those within the social welfare system, this is the most receptive the state will ever be—just another case file in the colonial shell game that is the Canadian welfare state.

Those who have not dealt with the system imagine that it works for all. They imagine that the cracks through which people slip are fairy tales told from faraway lands. They can’t imagine a circumstance where someone would be left out in the cold after a traumatic event, because, they think, this is Canada, land of universal healthcare and equal aid for all. This liberal notion of equality of opportunity fails to understand the systemic racism which is fundamental to the colonial state. The gaps exist on purpose. The system of resuscitation is intentionally flawed—it is designed to appease the conscience of the bystander. But unlike a medical Slow Code, it is flawed in its design to take resources and power out from the trained field workers through lack of programs that offer proper supports. Fifty-percent of the Saskatchewan provincial budget is devoted to healthcare and social services, totalling over $5.5 billion per year.(2) With such a significant portion of the provincial budget devoted to two departments of human services, the general populace can only assume that the dollars are sufficient and effective; however, gaps in the departments are purposeful and widespread.

Aboriginal communities have been stunted by the implementation of provincial and federal social assistance programs, contributing “to the persistence of individual and community economic dependency.”(3) These programs run on outdated living allowances, low earning allowances making a transition to employment impossible, and lack of adequate supports for Aboriginal people living in urban centres or dealing with HIV/AIDS. These programs run on cycles of poverty and death. A growing number of Aboriginal people have been forced from reserves to urban centres, where it is exceedingly difficult to live as a traditional Aboriginal person. It is a direct extension of settler colonialism, originally performed under the mandate of pre-confederation’s Indian Affairs, whose policies to ‘civilize’ Aboriginal populations introduced the residential school system. Residential schools were decentralized into the provincially-run Ministry of Social Services, a ministry which continues to perpetuate the same exterminatory mandate. Slow Code Colonialism—neocolonial institutions created to emphasize the desires of the bystander and ignore the needs of the sick. Neocolonialism is already the disguise for cultural eradication and is further masked as the unavailability of programs due to lack of financial support. Where supports exist, resources do not. My friend qualifies for a bed in a home for those with Acquired Brain Injury, but only after sifting through a waiting list of several months, and not if he continues to battle his addiction. Fairytale cracks become real. The ministry that originally took responsibility for my friend as a young boy sent to a residential school, now waives this responsibility and deliberately leaves him to flop around on shore, their program near completion.

I was taught to Check, Call, Care. As your consciousness flickers, as shock sets in, I brush your hair from your forehead and tell you it will be alright. I lean close to your face to check your respiration. You are not breathing. Since I do not have my recommended mouth-cover, I begin compression-only CPR. I tell a bystander to call for help. I break your ribs and bounce up and down on your sternum with my arms locked at the elbows. The paramedics arrive. They are trained in emergency and begin Slow Code CPR, feigning an attempt at revival because that is what bystanders expect of them. There’s nothing we could do, they say, but I am appeased because of their valiant attempts at resuscitation. What they don’t tell me is that they were thinking about football when they were supposed to be pumping blood through your chest. You somehow survive despite the Slow Code, but you wake up with broken ribs, brain damage and you are expected to survive when you have no place to live and no family to care for you. And the system of resuscitation wins in its purposeful defectiveness.

“Sir John A. MacDonald’s policy of starving First Nations to death in order to make way for the western expansion of European settlers,” along with the residential school system, “meets the criteria of genocide…by omission, if not by deliberate commission,” says a letter to United Nations Rapporteur for Indigenous People.(4) The policy of nineteenth-century Canada differs from today’s policy of intentionally defective programs of social service only in thin veils of supposed goodwill. There is no greater place to hide genocidal policy than behind a department of human services. The only other difference between Canada’s previous policies of starvation and the policy of today is the time elapsed in which the extent of the genocide could be fully understood. And time will again pass.

The only way to stop Slow Code Colonialism is through a remodel of the system of resuscitation. The Ministry of Social Services is just one of the administrative programs that force subjugation by stamping out hope and dignity through “a complex web of city agencies and institutions that [regard] the poor as vermin,” Chris Hedges explains.(5) These programs work together to perpetuate the accepted state ideology by operating under the guise of being a protective force. The police who mine for crime by making arrests in communities of lower economic status work as the frontline of the repressive arms of the state. The military who break up blockades of First Nations fighting for liberation form another wing of Slow Code Colonialism. These structures work to protect the status and wealth of white middle class Canada, while ensuring the poor Aboriginal populations live in abject poverty, utterly subordinate to those who control the state. These structures project an image, and behind this image is a bloated bureaucracy focused not on remedying social evils, but on keeping these injustices out of the field of vision of polite society.

The system must be remodelled to one that does not look to appease the taxpayer, but rather to adequately serve the marginalized. This starts when bystanders become involved and demand that governments stop these hegemonic structures of administrative programs such as Social Assistance, the judicial system, the police and RCMP, and unregulated resource development that make up the branches of colonization. This will dismantle the less visible forms of  “a very active system of settler colonialism.”(6) It starts with education and partnership that leads to real reconciliation “grounded in political resurgence” that “support[s] the regeneration of Indigenous languages, oral cultures, and traditions of governance.”(7) The system will be reformed when the programs intended to assist people do just that, instead of control, institutionalize, and cripple. As with any cooperative and proactive social system or community network, a welfare system administered by those to whom it caters is a democratizing step to reconciliation and empowerment. Aboriginal participation in the development of such strategies and programs is necessary to eventually eliminate the economic gap.(8) These state apparatuses will require more than just reform to make them democratic, but will require revolutionary change encouraged by grassroots movements like protests at Elsipogtog and Idle No More.

First Aid isn’t as futile as it may have seemed at first. Although I still tread in the overwhelming nature of ignorance of how to respond to an emergency more serious than hunger pangs, I at least know that the symptoms for stroke, diabetic shock, and extreme inebriation are identical. I now know that the systems they taught me are evolving and changing because their legitimacy is still highly in question. I am no longer a bystander, but a person of direct action. The fewer bystanders, the better, they told me. With fewer bystanders, Slow Code Colonialism can shift to a more balanced paradigm of moral care for all.


1. Goldman, Dr. B, (writer). Goodes, Jeff, (producer). 2013. “Slow Code.” White Coat, Black Art. CBC Radio 1. (http://www.cbc.ca/whitecoat/2013/10/18/slow-code/)

2.  Saskatchewan Provincial Budget Summary, Ken Krawetz Minister of Finance, Government of Saskatchewan, 2013-14 GRF Expense, p44. (http://www.finance.gov.sk.ca/budget2013-14/2013-14BudgetSummary.pdf)

3. Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal People. 1996. Ottawa, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. Volume 2, Part 1, Chapter 5, Section 2.9 (http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/webarchives/20071211061313/http://www.ainc-inac.gc.ca/ch/rcap/sg/sh88_e.html)

4. Fontaine, Phil. Farber, Bernie. 2013. “What Canada committed against First Nations was genocide. The UN should recognize it.” The Globe and Mail. October 14. (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/what-canada-committed-against-first-nations-was-genocide-the-un-should-recognize-it/article14853747/)

5. Hedges, Chris. 2005. Losing Moses on the Freeway. New York, NY: Free Press, Chapter 1, p17

6. Simpson, Leanne. 2013. “Elsipogtog Everywhere.” October 20. Retrieved October 21, 2005 (leannesimpson.ca/2013/10/20/elsipogtog-everywhere/)

7. Simpson, Leanne. 2011. Dancing On Our Turtles Back. Winnipeg, MB: Arbeiter Ring Publishing, Back cover

8. Painter, Marv. Lendsey, Kelly. Howe, Eric. 2000. “Managing Saskatchewan’s Expanding Aboriginal Economic Gap.” The Journal of Aboriginal Economic Development. Volume 1, Number 2, p42

Yes, Coal.


IMG_9278In a brief moment of respite, I stopped the the work van, a recently discontinued Dodge Caravan, and idled behind a small compact car. I sat there with a weight on my chest, my first break seemingly in a week, my work anthem playing in the background as I read a slogan on the back of the compact ahead of me in line to the next red light. The owner of this car was either very uncertain of his convictions, or was so sure of the resale value of his import, that instead of sticking the stickers on the bumper of the car, they were scotch-taped to the rear window. On the left side of the window was a sticker-length version of a memorable Albert Einstein quote, written specifically about politicians. The right ‘window sticker’ was probably a vote of support for solar power, or unions, or The Brotherhood of Solar Panel Installers Local 179. Sitting sweaty in the van, I applauded his uncertain efforts.

Grandma gave me a calendar for Christmas. It was a monthly wall calendar for 2014 which she thought held daily thoughts and inspirations for someone like myself; a person with flagrant internal rage and one of those websites that a person can say whatever they want to inflate their self-worth. She wanted to give me ammunition to write more often and write about things that mattered. The calendar, it turned out, only had one piece of knowledge per month often no greater than, ‘When I am sad, I dream about owning a million pairs of shoes’. I told Grandma that the calendar unfortunately didn’t have daily advice, only monthly, and shortly thereafter came a box came in the mail with a new calendar—a daily flip calendar with real thoughts that transcended the very real epidemic of retail therapy. On March 24, the uncertain bumper/window sticker reappeared.

Albert Einstein observed, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

In Saskatchewan, social change generally means the grand opening of a new tavern or the retirement of a washed up wide receiver in the CFL. Students greet tuition hikes with annoyed tweets, and any sort of popular movement gets propagandized to become the ire of the middle class. Fear-mongering using the threat of economics convinces the friendly neighbour to become selfish, survivalist, and hateful. Bumper stickers and social media are considered a form of real protest and social involvement.

A friend recently arranged a community art exhibit entitled ‘Hands’. The exhibit encouraged a discussion of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in Canada aimed at discouraging victim blaming in both conversation and in the media’s portrayals of the violence, and to focus on the perpetuators of the violence, not particularly on individual levels, but rather on a larger societal level. She greatly succeeded in allowing those with the luxury of purposeful indifference to participate in the greater discussion of which they may not have otherwise been a part. She succeeded in partially shifting the obligation of the solution from the perpetuator to the people.

Calling on the federal government and RCMP to conduct a public inquiry, which is a common and ongoing demand of this movement, is asking the perpetuators of the gender violence to either point fingers at individual abusers and victims, or to give reasons and excuses for their long-lasting colonial violence. In doing this, nothing will be solved because people with the same level of thinking will be at the helm. The responsibility of finding a solution needs to be transferred from the policy-makers to the people.

The gender violence that is a part of Canada’s history with colonialism cannot be solved by perpetuators of colonialism. Real social change will occur, as Hedges states, “among the poor, the homeless, the working class, and the destitute.

As the numbers of disenfranchised dramatically increase, our only hope is to connect ourselves with the daily injustices visited upon the weak and the outcast. Out of this contact we can resurrect, from the ground up, a social ethic, a new movement. We must hand out bowls of soup. Coax the homeless into a shower. Make sure those who are mentally ill, cruelly abandoned on city sidewalks, take their medication. We must go back into America’s segregated schools and prisons. We must protest, learn to live simply and begin, in an age of material and imperial decline, to speak with a new humility.”

By asking the perpetuators to solve the problems which they themselves created, we hand the wheel of a fast moving car to a driver unwilling to keep their eyes open. If we do that, not only will bumper sticker protests be too smashed up and damaged to be read, but calendars will no longer be a place for profound thought, but only a place to count the days between abominable genocidal events. Change can begin with personal investment in the gaining and sharing of new knowledge and an independence from oppressive arms of the state. In such ways, communities and movements are formed.

Bumper stickers and internet campaigns only temporarily quell the liberal guilt of such complex problems. As with most ignorant attempts at change, they are divisive; they take complex issues and turn them into two-word statements of certainty and damnation.  It is “in the tangible, mundane, and difficult work of forming groups and communities to care for others that we will kindle the outrage and the moral vision to fight back, that we will articulate an alternative.” (Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class, Chapter 5, p156)

November 6th, 2013

In response to November 5th, 2013:

I am the romanticizer, the unenviable fool. I am a manipulator of words. I turn several years of running away from my problems and write a book about it, glorifying it into an admirable form of ‘roaming’ and ‘wandering.’ I romanticize my gloomy, smug, withdrawn nature as intellectualism and progress. I idealize my lifestyle of work and creation; a prideful and pretentious idolatry. I am likely the only one that strains to see through it all.

What all who serve an idol fear is death, what Paul calls, “the last enemy.” It is fear of eventual obliteration. It is the fear that death, like life, means nothing. It is a fear we rarely name but which hovers over us. The compulsiveness that drives us to consume too much, drink too much, take drugs or work too hard are bred from this fear of death, the fear that we will no longer exist, the fear that no matter what we do or say or accomplish our life will be meaningless, an insignificant blip on the screen.

-Hedges, Losing Moses on the Freeway, Chapter 2, p51

Compliance or Complaints

The CarpetI used to think selfishness was the basic flaw in most of humankind. That all problems in the world could be cured with a cure for selfishness (see How to Cure a Man, in this award-winning piece of horseshit). This hypothesis is perhaps too flattering to the human species. Selfishness takes the presence of mind to know what a person wants, whether it destroys another human being or not in the process is irrelevant. Selfishness is bold. It is daring enough to step over an injured child on the side of the road to catch a fluttering $5 bill in the tempestuous prairie wind.

Obedience, a compliance or submission to some form of authority, real or imagined, takes nothing. It takes cowardice and brainlessness. It takes cowering in a corner and an inability to think for one’s self. It takes the physical ability to nod.

When I consider the ghastly orders obeyed by underlings of Columbus, or of Aztec priests supervising human sacrifices, or of senile Chinese bureaucrats wishing to silence unarmed, peaceful protesters in Tiananmen Square only three years ago as I write, I have to wonder if obedience isn’t the basic flaw in most of humankind.

-Kurt Vonnegut, Sucker’s Portfolio, Episode Seven – The Last Tasmanian, p132

As young mushroom-hair-cutted brats of 1998 (photographed above) we were taught to be compliant. Schools are dens of obedience. Being conditioned to work well with others, to finish projects without accessing the portion of your brain that requires questions that make the teacher do more work. Being conditioned to keep quiet and not to ask stupid questions. Conditioned to see the virtues of obedience as opposed to those of knowledge. To avoid sounding too conspiratorial, I will avoid using the term ‘the system’, but the molding of impressionable sock-footed suburban kids is done intentionally to make a smoother transition into the system of obedience. (Dammit, I said ‘system’.) When we come out as full-fledged adults, procreating in healthy uteri or test-tubes, spending money and buying dinnerware, we are well-prepared to nod our heads when told what to do by the prevailing order.

We are taught to obey politicians, those brave and intellectual souls who do what is best for their country without even a thought about themselves or their friends’ corporate interests. We are taught to obey societal and relational norms and end up reclusive, in debt, and lonely. We are taught to obey the market, the ultimate form of democracy, the system that leaves no one behind. We are taught to obey the status quo.

Without rebellion from the opinion of corporate powers (even as minor as voting yes), souls will continue to be crushed by the forces that originally indoctrinate children with obedience. Without disobedience, creative thought would cease to exist. Without disobedience, those in power will continue to rape the land without end. Without disobedience, the population, you, will be complicit in everything you hate.

In works such as On Power and Ideology and Manufacturing Consent, Chomsky has, more than any other American intellectual, charted the downward spiral of the American political and economic system. He reminds us that genuine intellectual inquiry is always subversive. It challenges cultural and political assumptions. It critiques structures. It is relentlessly self-critical. It implodes the self-indulgent myths and stereotypes we use to aggrandize ourselves and ignore our complicity in acts of violence and oppression.

-Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class, Chapter 2, p35

Obedience is death.

Deciding which is a worse human abomination, selfishness or obedience, is maybe an impossible task (like Oprah vs Dr. Phil, or politicians vs lawyers) and wouldn’t accomplish much. We are naturally selfish, and this is something that we will never grow out of. We are taught to be obedient, however. It is easier to unlearn something learned than to override a natural instinct.

Blind obedience is foolish. Selfishness is barbaric.
The fool is cowardly, while the barbarian doesn’t know better.

It doesn’t really matter which is worse, it matters that we can acknowledge both in our own person. Let us unlearn, then let us defy natural instinct. Our children’s haircuts will be all the better for it.

Books of the Year: 2012

The following five books were my best reads of the past year, only Days of Destruction Days of Revolt being released in 2012.
Read these or your brain will fall out.

Michael Christie – The Beggar’s Garden

Franz Kafka – Metamorphosis

George Orwell – A Clergyman’s Daughter

Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco – Days of Destruction Days of Revolt

Kurt Vonnegut – God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Honourable Mentions:
Franz Kafka – The Trial
John Steinbeck – Grapes of Wrath