Tag: Failed States

Losing Faith


I recently received this in an email from a friend in India:

Do you still remember my youngest sister Nenem, you may take her to be your wife if you have any interest. But it would depend upon your choice only though I say anything. Actually young girls needs a trustworthy, abled man for husband and they should be loyal. A lot of marriages are broken causing a lot of problems consquencly.

Directly after receiving this email, I booked a flight, moved to India, and took Nenem as my first wife. She is currently cooking rice and tending to our Kama-Sutra-conceived children while I sit in a mango tree, my feet being massaged by jewelled monkeys, my scalp being pampered by one hundred barbershop gurus.

And just now, as the basement furnace powers up and blows cold air at my feet, I am transported back to my cobwebbed corner in my hole in the frozen ground—left only to the gurus of daddy-long-legs and head lice that pamper my once routinely- and professionally-kneaded head.

Sweet India. Land of many faiths, land where I lost my own.

The last time I returned from India a new man. It wasn’t I-lived-in-an-ashram changed, nor I-tried-forty-kinds-of-marijuana changed, or even I-was-almost-raped-three-times changed. I came back with a newly-filled gap in my mind. I came back with no interest in the functioning church in which I grew up, and which I partially went to support. I lost complete interest in proselytization or evangelism. I lost my faith and replaced it with a set of values. I became so fed up with the culture of organized belief, the culture of changing people’s beliefs, and the language of faith that inhibits people to speak in the realm of reality—reality, where suffering occurs but where nothing is done because of often blinding visions of a possibly non-existant afterlife utopia—that I handed it in and haven’t really looked back. My friend, Nenem’s brother, was unable to speak of anything but the Glory of Our Lord and the financial support he required to live and to preach. I didn’t write a list of for and against. It wasn’t an immediate disbelief in the resurrection that made me never return to church. It was part of a constant evolution of the mind that peaked while travelling alone, as it tends to do.

It is a mysterious thing, the loss of faith—as mysterious as faith itself. Like faith, it is ultimately not rooted in logic; it is a change in the climate of the mind.

-Orwell, A Clergyman’s Daughter, p249

Propagandhi’s Supporting Caste coincidentally came out during my last trip in India, and I somehow managed a minor miracle to download the album off of Indian iTunes. It was my only friend while travelling. One night, after calling home on my prepaid Indian cellphone, sitting on the beaches of Cochin at night, after four months of solo-travel, I finally realized that the greatest moments in life are better when shared. I have been able to enjoy things alone, but having the ability to acknowledge the greatest things with someone else, is the creation of joy. Joy isn’t a seasonal shopping opportunity at the Victoria Square Mall. Joy isn’t a faith-only feeling. I realized this again over the last few nights when watching my favourite band of all time. I enjoyed parts of the set alone, but the moments I was most elated were those when I sang aloud in the arms of good friends. Imagine the everlasting joy I would have if I actually just took part in arranged marriage to a conservative Christian girl in a village in India. Never-ending, tantric, yogic, conservative joy.

My faith was replaced with something else. Something no less powerful. It was replaced with some sort of logical desire for decency and equality in the real and tangible world, both rooted in my Christian upbringing and my love for socially-conscious punk rock. Not that values didn’t exist in my life beforehand, they just sat at the back on my brain, washed out by uncertainty and contentedness. And as much as it pains my father to hear it, my faith was partially replaced with many of the tenets of a Winnipeg punk band. Neither the band nor the church would quickly agree that (what I would identify as) their basic doctrines line up—absolute equality, that the “unifying principle of this universe is love” (Propagandhi, Duplicate Keys Icaro). I connected my early life in the church basements in which I had grown up, to the realities of poverty, inequality, and hypocrisy that I had seen while travelling, and filled that gap with a set of discernible values that I seemed to lack previously. A serious respect still exists in the utmost for people who adhere to systems of faith, as it is another means to the end I am constantly seeking, and it helped mould my values to what they are now.

The smell of glue was the answer to her prayer. She did not know this. She did not reflect, consciously, that the solution to her difficulty lay in accepting the fact that there was no solution; that if one gets on with the job that lies to hand, the ultimate purpose of the job fades into insignificance; that faith and no faith are very much the same provided that one is doing what is customary, useful, and acceptable.

-Orwell, A Clergyman’s Daughter, p295

A man of faith is the same as a man of no faith, as long as both are acting positively in regard to humanity. Both are inevitably flawed. One puts hope in the unknown, one puts hope in something else—science, humans, another form of the unknown. Perhaps I put my hope in myself, not in a self-righteous, superiority-complex kind of way, but in the way that I am the only thing that I know can make an absolute change in, and hope things can move on from there.

This is no where near the first time I’ve been proposed to, or propositioned, by someone in India, but it has been some time. Though I am flattered, though I wish I could get fifty-cent haircuts in India once a week, and though I think it could potentially work out better than a love-marriage, I will not take him up on the offer. This man, Nenem’s brother, is still a friend. And though many of his thought-processes irritate me as anti-productive or misdirected, I do not see my new vague set of values as greater than his faith. Mine will waver and transform as does anything philosophical. I merely lost my faith a while back, replaced it with something new. If he forgets his ultimate purpose, and I realize that I don’t have an ultimate purpose, and we work together to help those we know need it, then we can be mutually productive. The fact that he offered me his sister without her even knowing it, or likely even speaking English, is another issue that we’ll have to sort out after the marriage. Curry feast to follow.

Blog Action Day 2012 – The Power of We

In my career as an eligible voter I have celebrated no victories. Not a single representative I have voted for has been elected, not a single party I have supported has won. On the contrary, they have usually lost quite successfully. I am well aware that my beliefs and values do not reflect those of the majority, Balls of Rice and my voting record reflect that quite well. This has all led me to a familiar cynical place where I have found myself many times before, for many different life issues. The Underdog Syndrome, where whenever I cheer for the underdog, they are doomed to fail. Sports, nerdy gentlemen in a bar, elections. The principle is the same, and my support seems to kill it.

Because of my lack of success in democracy, I have been debating whether it is worth my time to vote at all, not out of apathy or resignation, but as a form of protest. Because the voting system is off, and democracy is nothing more than choosing between egotistic businessmen who are often charismatic beings, but not exceptional people who love people—the wealthy who are already in positions of power, but want greater power to create greater wealth, and yes, I have a hard time not seeing all political leaders in that way. I still do believe that one human being should not and cannot properly represent an entire population, and that it is possible for there to be order and progress with no single person in charge. I’m still stuck on this one, but until I decide, I will continue to vote.

Then I came to understand protest. Dissent. The Occupy Movement, which many see as a futile collection of hippies, bums, and anarchists who decided to join together in several groups around the world to be able to collect welfare and charity more easily. A group of undemocratic urchins who, if they really cared about the system, would pull themselves out of the mire and contribute to society in a pragmatic, businesslike way. And this is likely why it resonated. Groups of likeminded people gathered to express their dissatisfaction with the structure of the system, the inequality and corruption. My ability to relate to such a movement likely came from my upbringing and affinity with the punk scene. Coming together in hundreds of different communities with no clear goal apart from stoking the young flames of revolt. Disapproval shown in groups of people physically gathering together. It felt right.

Despite the overly utopian seeming title of this year’s Blog Action Day, I have grown to understand the power of groups of people that come together with dissent, goals, and hope in common. The more I see the importance of participating in politics, the more I see that this means something greater than simply voting when an election is called. Although I will likely never in my lifetime see someone I voted for in a position of power, I can rest comfortably knowing that other actions can be taken. That groups of people outside of the realm of electoral politics can change policy, and are often necessary to do so. Regardless of whether or not my vote will ever be on the winning side or not, it is evident that the solidarity between groups of people is equally as important as being politically active. A group of people with a common goal may not make an obvious difference, but it always has the power to make a significant one.

When the cops and the courts refuse to confess the sins of the few, what is there left to do? The answer’s there right before your eyes: rise.

Propagandhi, Note to Self, Failed States

Lyrics of the Month: September 2012 – Hadron Collision

Ride fucking free, forty below, it’s the car that kills the punk. Pedal for momentum, feel the fucking vibe, blaze through traffic, burn the red, push my luck. There’s not much I need, I ride a single speed, my toque and mitts protect me from the freeze. Hadron Collision. I’m ripping through a cloud of exhaust. A fucking conniption, in their cages on wheels they fucking rot. I might be trapped in a world going backwards but nothing’s in vain – right now I’m happy just to clog up your lane. There’s not much I need, I’ll leave you with your greed to wallow in your shit ’til you can’t breathe. A head-on collision, a species that’s lost all control. We’ll learn by extinction: we don’t need all that shit we’ve been sold. We might be headed for the brink of disaster but nothing’s in vain – right now I’m happy just to clog up your lane. If all that I can do is just stay on the move, keep a few cents from your grasp – that’s all I need to prove. I’ll see you on the bus. It’s the car that kills the punk.

Propagandhi, Failed States, Hadron Collision

Failed States

When history is crafted in the service of power, evidence and rationality are irrelevant.

-Noam Chomsky, Failed States, p100

I am in the business of joy. Lowercase j. I am directly employed by Santa himself to greet the masses of joyless souls and bring the rapture of new merchandise to their lives. Running a business as if it were a business makes sense, as long as a service is provided or goods are traded for money. People convinced they they have a right to demand things in the form of a Christmas list because they believe that forced giving is the thoughtful thing to do, are running their lives like a business, taking advantage of situations and people and money. This does not make sense.

In structure, the political counterpart to a corporation is a totalitarian state. There are rewards for loyalists, and quick punishment for those who “cross party leaders.” The antidemocratic thrust has precedents, of course, but is reaching new heights. It should surprise no one familiar with history that it is accompanied by the most august missions and visions of democracy.

-Noam Chomsky, Failed States, p238

Running a government as if it were a business frightens me. It makes humans commodities and necessities marketable. More regard for the dollars earned than the humans living in conditions where it is impossible to earn enough for basic human comforts. The past and the present have been crafted in the service of power. The connection between the system governed by the powerful and wealthy and the consumerism of this season is not coincidental. Someone, or a series of someones, have carefully crafted this holiday season that is loved by so many into a two-month shopping obligation. Our love for one another that is best expressed through fellowship and merriment has been changed so that we feel the only way to express it is through the giving of unnecessary items. And it has only strengthened their position of power. They have taken what we love more than anything and inverted it into another means of profit. Power is a business.

Among the most salient properties of failed states is that they do not protect their citizens from violence—and perhaps even destruction—or that decision makers regard such concerns as lower in priority than the short-term power and wealth of the state’s dominant sectors.

-Noam Chomsky, Failed States, p38

Violence can be demonstrated in many ways. A boot stamping on a human face forever. An army occupying another country to control the energy reserves and elections to stifle the power of a population. Several levels of government building a handsome yet useless multimillion dollar sidewalk ignoring a housing crisis that continually worsens. Poverty is violence.

Our state has used garlands and lights and parades to help us forget that it has indeed failed. And these lights and garlands have trained us to continue to support the failed state through red Santa hats and a marketable ‘Christmas Spirit.’ Either each year the situation becomes more grave than the last, or each year my cynicisms mount even higher than Santa’s pyramid of elf skulls that he compiles at year end, a physical exposition of the slave labour that his capitalist methods require.

We can demonstrate our power by running our lives as the human lives they are, not as the businesses that they are told to be. We can take back the power from the failed state by refusing to participate in the season that characterizes their abuses and violence more than any other time of the year. We can go a year without ‘celebrating’ to show that our Joy (capital J) is founded in something more than a self-serving system that they created for us to mindlessly follow. We can buy nothing and be better, more generous, less selfish people because of it.