Tag: Politics

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.

Indians and Indians

Carmichael WindowThe Red Indians. That is how I remember friends from India refer to Aboriginal peoples in North America. Please excuse the politically incorrect nature of the title of this essay.

As Cook and Food Recovery Program Coordinator (the more words you have in the title, the more important you are on a global scale) one of the duties is to run a nutrition program. If my roommates are a typical sample selection, I can guarantee that I eat healthier than most single men my age, but in no way does this qualify me to pretend I know more than mothers-of-five or middle-aged men. I stumble through repetitive weekly sessions about budgeting and Canada’s Food Guide for First Nations, Inuit and Metis populations trying not to brainwash them into vegetarianism that could realistically jeopardize their culture. Currently, the program consists of several Aboriginal mothers and fathers and one Punjabi woman with no children.

Daily I feed hundreds of people who lack a regular source of healthy food. I attempt to do this with absolutely no ability or knowledge in serving them food that respects their culture, let alone their dietary preference. I serve westernized semi-processed foods out a back window to people verging on physical malnutrition and cultural assimilation. Carmichael Casserole or Spaghetto and Meatsauce sustains their bodies for a while longer and at times it doesn’t even achieve that. I am overwhelmed with how little I know.

Then I read such articles. Things which are 100% relevant to my current position and I begin to reel. If the government or people are not willing to properly reconcile, then I become immaturely overwhelmed as to how to do so out of a 6′ x 6′ kitchen. Leanne Simpson, Indigenous author, writes:

“I wonder how we can reconcile when the majority of Canadians do not understand the historic or contemporary injustice of dispossession and occupation, particularly when the state has expressed its unwillingness to make any adjustments to the unjust relationship….

It reminds me of an abusive relationship where one person is being abused physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. She wants out of the relationship, but instead of supporting her, we are all gathered around the abuser, because he wants to ‘reconcile.’ But he doesn’t want to take responsibility. He doesn’t want to change. In fact, all through the process he continues to physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally abuse his partner. He just wants to say sorry so he can feel less guilty about his behaviour. He just wants to adjust the ways he is abusing; he doesn’t want to stop the abuse.”

-Leanne Simpson, Dancing On Our Turtle’s Back

I cannot host reconciliation out of a kitchen. And this is because, according to the synopsis of Simpson’s book (see the above link), “reconciliation must be grounded in political resurgence and must support the regeneration of Indigenous languages, oral cultures, and traditions of governance.” I cannot catalyze reconciliation because I do not really understand the historic or contemporary injustice of occupation. And that is what gets me. Reconciliation is not done solo out of a grimy kitchen. It is done through processes which may have nothing to do with me and steps which I cannot control, but processes and steps in which I can participate in some way. Processes which I can learn about to potentially approach a climate that is fair for future reconciliation.

The fact that I cannot adequately express my intentions with the word Indian demonstrates my obvious inability to help promote and preserve a culture that is not mine through an ill-prepared nutrition program and sloppy meals. The infinite nature of my naiveté and glaring inability is burning me out. They make me want to run away to the land of the Not-Red Indian in a fit of hedonistic, selfish admission of my lack of knowledge. My lack of commitment. My lack of connection to the issue, which is maybe the worst part—that I could get on a plane and forget about hundreds of years of colonialism and assimilation, because I can.

I am here to stick around for as long as I can before my brain explodes and I find myself crying in some colonially-cultivated blossoming organic flax field, because I do not want to “adjust the ways” we have been abusing, rather I want to stop the abuse. One of the only ways to do this is participation, knowledge, and handing out egg salad sandwiches to two-hundred people a day.

Or at least that’s what I’m going to tell myself so I don’t drown in egg salad.