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Dawg asked his co-bloggers to keep an eye on things out there in the world while he’s swanning about Italy, and I’ve tried. But you know, SO much of it is just the same old same old. Trump, police killings, Trudeau, Corbyn, Brangelina - nothing remarkable.

And then this; the tragic destruction of the Belleville Hawkins Cheezie Warehouse in an “unexplained” fire.

Now, there may still be Canadians who have never experienced the splendor of an authentic Hawkins Cheezie: never beheld their luminous golden glow; never fondled these rough, asymmetrical fingerlings of purest Ontario cornmeal; never savoured their unmistakable crunchy blend of Canadian cheddar, salt and deep-fried fat. If you are one of those, you will not understand that this is the Snack Food World’s equivalent of a blaze in the Sistine Chapel, or the burning of a Hendrix guitar. [Ed: Didn’t Hendrix burn his own guitars?] [Balb: Bad analogy. Never mind.] You have my sympathy for the wasted years behind you; but I envy you the experience that lies ahead like a glorious, Hawkins-hued sunrise.

But the quality of our Cheezies is not in question. There is a deeper and darker issue at stake here - the troubling failure of Canadian “media” and the “security” “establishment” to even acknowledge the possibility of links between this attack on one of our most cherished icons and the tide of Islamist terror that may someday eventually kind of threaten to start sort of engulfing our country.

How long can they maintain the pretense that there is no link between the flood of “Syrian” “refugees” to the Belleville area and a sudden, terrifying spike in the number of unexplained incidents of what might very well be arson directed against dairy-based iconic junk food? I don’t even know how calculate the percentage increase from zero to one, but it’s GOT to be a very big number.

Are we supposed to believe it was simply a coincidence that the warehouse was located on CHURCH Street? And that CHURCH St. intersects Moira Street - just a kilometer from the site of Belleville’s MOSQUE?

Do they believe we’ve forgotten that September 19th marked the anniversary of the capture of Damascus by Rashidun Arabs under Khalid ibn al-Walid from the Byzantine Empire? AND of the bombing of UTA Flight 772 in Niger? AND of the Guelb El-Kebir massacre in Algeria where 53 people were killed? AND of Paul Simon’s concert in Central Park, where he performed his song “Silent Eyes”, about Jerusalem?

Are we supposed to ignore the fact that the attack occurred only eight days after the anniversary of 9/11, and that there are almost eight letters in “Hawkins”?

Enough. The truth will out. Hawkins IS proudly Canadian (that’s a ZED in the middle, not a zee), and good old Canadian values include resilience, courage, and an indomitable belief in dairy based snacking, from St. Albert curds to poutine. We KNOW Hawkins will rebuild. We KNOW they will soar like a Fromage Phoenix to even greater heights. We remain unbowed. Let us proclaim as one:

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,

And dish us out our bill of fare,

Our country wants no lesser stuff,

No Mozza Sticks or Cheezie Puff;

But if you wish our grateful prayer,

Gie us our Hawkins!

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Off to still-sunny Italy for what I have the effrontery to believe is a well-deserved vacation. I shall post dispatches.

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Saints. Preserve us.

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If anything sums up everything that is wrong with the Roman Catholic Church, it is the canonization of a monstrously vicious, sadistic, racist/colonial control freak born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu and known to the world as Mother Teresa—now St. Teresa of Calcutta. Oh, Calcutta!

Bad enough that a particularly obnoxious Pope of recent memory wanted to have a Nazi war criminal canonized (I do keep wanting to add an extra “n” to that word). The present Pope, Francis, may have stopped that one in its foetid tracks. If so, good for him. But in the dreadful Ms. Bojaxhiu resided everything that is wrong with institutionalized belief, and indicates just how easily the abstract notion of “goodness” can flip to its opposite. Thanks to the good Pope Francis, she is now a saint, pickled in immortal aspic for generations of blind worshippers yet to come.

Bojaxhiu’s well-catalogued sins are far better documented than her alleged good deeds. In her, the cardinal sin of pride found its apogee. She was almost a walking definition of humble-bragging. This story, from someone who did come later to have some admiration for her, is instructive:

Later, when I had children, my mother insisted we took them to the her chapel to be blessed. She did. My mother told Mother Teresa, ‘My daughters volunteered at Shishu Bhavan when they were young.” “Oh,” she responded to me with unconcealed hauteur. “When you were a child. But now? You do nothing useful for the poor now, I suppose?”

The poor, noble saint-to-be reveled in the suffering of the relatively few people actually “rescued” by her Missionaries of Charity. “I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people.” In fact she had a ghoulish fascination with agony—so long as she herself wasn’t subjected to it.

The “rescued” suffered grievously under her malign, obsessive gaze. They were denied analgesics, adequate food and even basic medical care, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars that poured into the coffers of Bojaxhiu’s Missionaries of Charity. Unsterilized needles were re-used. Then, adding insult to grievous injury, the dying, mostly Hindus, were baptized in stealth. But Bojaxhiu herself received care in the best American hospitals when she needed it.

“One day I met a lady who was dying of cancer in a most terrible condition,” said Bojaxhiu. “And I told her, I say, ‘You know, this terrible pain is only the kiss of Jesus — a sign that you have come so close to Jesus on the cross that he can kiss you.’” This sort of thing can no doubt be explained by experts in the pathology of sadism.

Nor should we ignore the settler/colonialist ideology that caused this appalling woman to end up a saint. In the words of Vijay Prashad:

Mother Teresa is the quintessential image of the white woman in the colonies, working to save the dark bodies from their own temptations and failures. […] The Euro-American-dominated international media continue to harbor the colonial notion that white peoples are somehow especially endowed with the capacity to create social change. When nonwhite people labor in this direction, the media typically search for white benefactors or teachers, or else, for white people who stand in the wings to direct the nonwhite actors. Dark bodies cannot act of their own volition to stretch their own capacity, for they must wait, the media seem to imply, for some colonial administrator, some technocrat from IBM or the IMF to tell them how to do things. When it comes to saving the poor, the dark bodies are again invisible, for the media seem to celebrate only the worn out platitudes of such as Mother Teresa and ignore the struggles of those bodies for their own liberation. To open the life of someone like Mother Teresa to scrutiny, therefore, is always difficult. […] Mother Teresa’s work was part of a global enterprise for the alleviation of bourgeois guilt, rather than a genuine challenge to those forces that produce and maintain poverty.

But the basic question that arises from this travesty needs to be pondered—the one I already raised above. How is it that goodness flips so easily to its opposite, evil? How is it that the two are so apparently imbricated that few seem to notice when it happens? Dare I raise Stalinism and the true believers of Communist parties worldwide who saw and heard nothing amiss during his anthropophagous reign until Khrushchev, himself deeply collaborative in the deaths of millions, told them it was OK to see Stalin as he had been?

All of us progressives like to cling to the possibility that our dreams and visions might be realized—that, in more obscurantist words, the eschaton might be immanentized. But why does that grasping for the ideal inevitably seem to entail profoundly contrary moves? Let me put forth a suggestion for discussion: the institutionalizing of radically decent impulses is at the same time the institutionalizing of their opposite. I don’t mean this in the dialectical sense at all, contending opposites and so on. I mean that the two are one.

There is something about the formalizing, the structuring, the codifying of ideals that creates a space akin to the one occupied by Schrödinger’s famous cat, simultaneously both dead and alive until observed. In the moral quantum universe we inhabit, if I can put it that way, acts are neither bad nor good until “observed,” either. Of what does that analogical observation consist? Radical critique—initial awareness, stepping back, assessing, analyzing, proposing. But it is impossible to do any of that effectively—we merely confound the problem—by trying to do it solely from inside the institution, on the institution’s terms. How then can we be both engaged and disengaged at the same time? That’s the nub. Over to you, dear readers.

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Christo-Saudi Brazil

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If you’re going to be impeached for corruption, you should at least have gotten rich doing it or be granted some other pleasure in life. No such luck for now ex-President Dilma Rousseff, booted from office by a pack of leering oligarchs and sobbing hypocrites who couldn’t look her in the face as they took orders from some of the most odious people in South America. No leader in a representative governmental system leaves office in a state of purity, at least not ideological, but Ms. Rousseff’s tormentors (warning: graphic torture descriptions) have hardly made an effort to hide their delight that they might now escape any consequences for their own visible, plain corruption.

A reactionary Christo-Saudi oligarchy is restoring what of their power may have eroded in Brazil due to the PT. I will not go into great detail as to how Brazil got here, and where they’re going seems pretty clear: good old Shock Doctrine, ASAP. Instead, I will point out that Rousseff’s ill political fortune seems tied to Brazil’s oil dependence, which years of PT governance were not able to end (it does take a very long time and a lot of work for a developing country); so when the oil prices fell, Rousseff’s ability to stave off the enemies that surrounded her fell too.

The moral of the story is, if you want to keep your economy stable and out of the hands of sheiks and propertarian ideologues of whatever religion, you should limit your economic dependence on finite natural resource extraction as much as possible. I would go so far as to say that you should only extract the “starter budget” of natural resources insofar as you are using as much of it as you can to wean yourself from it. If you’re not prepared to do that, leave it where it is. Oil-igarchy is a condition that many countries find it hard to escape, so when you have the opportunity, do so.

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Harper has left the building

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I could do this the long way—reviewing Harper’s miserable ten-year caudillist reign over the majority of Canadians who didn’t want him. Item by item.

But why? We all know.

So, then, the short way. Buzz off, little man, from Parliament and from our memories. Missed by morons, mourned by nutbars, revered by know-nothings, “you have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately. Depart, I say; and let us have done with you.”

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Trump: an emotional voyage

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While France enjoys its burkini summer, you may have noticed the USA is having a little bit of an election thingy. Anyway, I just wanted to pass on this wonderful Mother Jones article giving a humanised look at the core Trump vote. I am no fan of Trump, but there’s a tendency by some left-liberal-inclined people to Other the Trump voter and view them as some sort of lumpen orc-people rather than people whose motivations are explainable in terms of the world they see and experience. Sure the article is mostly anecdote, but there’s a place for this sort of “cross-sectional” analysis. And while the observations made are not new, I rarely see them put forward both so concisely and in such a personal, empathetic way.

The author identifies the “core narrative” of the white working-class Trump supporter/Tea-Partier/whatever, thus:

You are patiently standing in the middle of a long line stretching toward the horizon, where the American Dream awaits. But as you wait, you see people cutting in line ahead of you. Many of these line-cutters are black—beneficiaries of affirmative action or welfare. Some are career-driven women pushing into jobs they never had before. Then you see immigrants, Mexicans, Somalis, the Syrian refugees yet to come. As you wait in this unmoving line, you’re being asked to feel sorry for them all. You have a good heart. But who is deciding who you should feel compassion for? Then you see President Barack Hussein Obama waving the line-cutters forward. He’s on their side. In fact, isn’t he a line-cutter too? How did this fatherless black guy pay for Harvard? As you wait your turn, Obama is using the money in your pocket to help the line-cutters. He and his liberal backers have removed the shame from taking. The government has become an instrument for redistributing your money to the undeserving. It’s not your government anymore; it’s theirs.

This sort of ressentiment won’t be new to any of the regulars here, and it’s been identified before, but the article places it not as an abstraction but rather in the context of a very real lived experience — but also a psychological and cultural experience, because, after all, why don’t these people take the “line-cutting” opportunities that are even sometimes offered to them?

If you could work, even for pennies, receiving government benefits was a source of shame. It was okay if you were one of the few who really needed it, but not otherwise. Indignation at the overuse of welfare spread, in the minds of tea party supporters I got to know, to the federal government itself, and to state and local agencies. A retired assistant fire chief in Lake Charles told me, “I got told we don’t need an assistant fire chief. A lot of people around here don’t like any public employees, apart from the police.” His wife said, “We were making such low pay that we could have been on food stamps every month and other welfare stuff. And [an official] told our departments that if we went and got food stamps or welfare it would look bad for Lake Charles so that he would fire us.” A public school teacher complained, “I’ve had people tell me, ‘It’s the teachers who need to pass the kids’ tests.’ They have no idea what I know.” A social worker who worked with drug addicts said, “I’ve been told the church should take care of addicts, not the government.” Both receivers and givers of public services were tainted—in the eyes of nearly all I came to know—by the very touch of government.

Sharon especially admired Albert, a middle-aged sheet metal worker who could have used help but was too proud to ask for it. “He’s had open-heart surgery. He’s had stomach surgery. He’s had like eight surgeries. He’s still working, though. He wants to work. He’s got a daughter in jail—her third DUI, so he’s raising her son—and this and that. But he doesn’t want anything from the government. He’s such a neat guy.” There was no mention of the need for a good alcoholism rehab program for his daughter or after-school programs for his grandson. Until a few days before his death Albert continued working, head high, shame-free.

Sharon was a giving person, but she wanted to roll back government help. It was hard supporting her kids and being a good mom too. Managing the trailer park had called on her grit, determination, even hardness—which she regretted. She mused, “Having to cope, run the trailer court, even threaten to shoot a dog”—her tenant’s pet had endangered children—“it’s hardened me, made me act like a man. I hate that. It’s not really me.” There was a price for doing the right and necessary thing, invisible, she felt, to many liberals.

But the author still eventually reveals her own distance from the subject she is writing about:
To try to understand the tea party supporters I came to know—I interviewed 60 people in all—over the next five years I did a lot of “visiting,” as they call it.

I found the scare quotes around the concept of visiting rather odd, myself, isn’t it a conventional use? But even among Trump voters, there’s a subtle class divide:
Trump, the King of Shame, has covertly come to the rescue. He has shamed virtually every line-cutting group in the Deep Story—women, people of color, the disabled, immigrants, refugees. But he’s hardly uttered a single bad word about unemployment insurance, food stamps, or Medicaid, or what the tea party calls “big government handouts,” for anyone—including blue-collar white men.

In this feint, Trump solves a white male problem of pride. Benefits? If you need them, okay. He masculinizes it. You can be “high energy” macho—and yet may need to apply for a government benefit. As one auto mechanic told me, “Why not? Trump’s for that. If you use food stamps because you’re working a low-wage job, you don’t want someone looking down their nose at you.” A lady at an after-church lunch said, “If you have a young dad who’s working full time but can’t make it, if you’re an American-born worker, can’t make it, and not having a slew of kids, okay. For any conservative, that is fine.”

But to me the most unique, if not important take-away from the article is that Trump is telling a story that much of the white American mainstream has felt they either couldn’t utter or wasn’t heard, and this is a deep portion of his emotional appeal. Oh, there’s lots of left-wing people with probably-correct technical analyses of class interest and so on and so forth, free trade and what have you. But to many people, it must sound like someone else imposing another narrative upon their lived experience. Their lived experience includes the personal connection that Sharon has, as a sort of economically precarious “manor lady”/slumlord, to her “peasants” in the trailer park she once owned, which may not necessarily entirely fit the caricature most people imagine. It includes their sense of having waited in line, of proudly dying in their jobs — who can talk to them about minority suffering and white privilege after that? Sure there are the occasional Republican society ladies angry about being given the side eye for having the luxury to be a stay-at-home mother, and that’s doubtless privilege incarnate.

I’m not making an argument here. I’m not arguing for people to agree with their self-image of having waited patiently in line while the undeserving took priority. But I am saying that their demand that you still try to see the world through their eyes is not one you can easily ignore, even if you feel that their demand is presumptuous, which, yes, if you’re a black kid terrified of the policemen who are drawn from these very classes of people, would be quite true —- it is presumptuous in that way. But nevertheless, it’s a weight on the political scale, and pretending that there’s nothing to empathize with is simply not realistic.

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Today's France

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There was, of course, a sub-text to the Paris murders of Charlie Hebdo staff and Jewish shoppers in a kosher supermarket all along. Vile crimes by any standard, these were the work of ISIS-supporting Islamists, and so the murders immediately became iconic. The Other had struck again.

The Twitter hashtag #JeSuisCharlie became a trend overnight. The streets filled up with proud defenders of freedom of expression. Marching with the locals were the representatives of many nations—including such freedom-lovers as the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to France Mohammed Ismail Al-Sheikh, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the Bahraini Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, the Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry, and the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.

Freedom of expression? You can’t even wear a T-shirt saying “Boycott Israel” in France without being heavily fined. It goes without saying that national outrage over the murders was entirely understandable, but the outpouring of anger had little to do with the right to draw insulting cartoons. (The attack on the supermarket by the same crowd, wherein four more people were murdered, doesn’t seem to have drawn nearly the same amount of attention. There were no #JeSuisYohan marches.)

More recently, a Tunisian deliveryman drove a truck into crowds in Nice who had gathered to celebrate Bastille Day. The carnage was considerable: 85 people killed, 308 injured. One-third of his victims were Muslim. The driver was reported to have liked to drink, showed no interest in religion, and hooked up regularly with men and women through dating sites. But it made no difference: the terrorist narrative took over.

Certain elements in France, including municipal officials and police, now had just the excuse they needed to lash out at the Other. They made women their targets, not a new thing in France, although the ritual humiliation of women is hardly unknown elsewhere. In any case, brutal misogyny and racism masked by hypocritical righteousness soon became become the order of the day.

The beach in summer is always a pleasant place to relax. But in France beaches are now locations of fear and loathing for Muslim women, as the photograph above amply demonstrates. A number of small-town mayors with Islamophobic axes to grind have criminalized the wearing of Islamic swimsuits, miscalled “burkinis” (they do not cover the face; in fact they look rather like wetsuits). Enforcement by armed police soon followed. In the above photo, a squad of burly cops forced a Muslim woman to strip off her outer garments in public. For good measure they threatened to pepper-spray another woman with a hijab who wasn’t even wearing a “burkini,” as onlookers jeered at her.

Some will wonder how the land of liberté, égalité, fraternité could come to this. But in fact that motto, arising out of the French Revolution, needs to be looked at a little more closely. Remember that the much-applauded Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, proclaimed in 1789, applied in full just to a small minority of so-called “citoyens actifs”—male property-owners 25 years of age or older. Nothing much has changed, it seems: in France, some citizens are still more equal than others; fraternité, of course, applies only to men.

Women’s bodies are always a site of struggle in the culture wars. Women are such tempting targets, after all. The new attacks on Muslim women have nothing to do with laïcité, a concept of secularity that applies to state institutions, not beaches. Recall the burqa ban of 2011: it singled out an estimated 2,000 women out of a total population of 66 million, including 5 million Muslims. They would no longer be allowed to roam in public spaces. It wasn’t that ordinary French citizens couldn’t see their faces; the law made sure that those citizens wouldn’t see them at all.

In solidarity, it seems, some French non-Muslims are now hurrying to buy “burkinis” for themselves. While the fellow-feeling is admirable, it piles on the difficulties: when nuns are murdered, there isn’t a run on habits and veils. This gesture, however well-intentioned, simply reaffirms the Otherness of the original targets.

The excessive (to Western eyes) emphasis on Islamic female modesty is, not to put too fine a point upon it, oppressive. We have all seen Muslim women cloaked head-to-toe in black cloth in the full heat of summer, accompanied by Muslim men in shorts and T-shirts. But before we hasten to jump to conclusions, consider string bikinis, which were once outlawed on beaches for not being modest enough. In both cases, women are peremptorily told what they can and can’t wear. Their personal spaces are invaded by differing patriarchal norms of “too much” and “too little.” If burqas and “burkinis” are the clothing of submission, the women in the photograph might be forgiven for not welcoming their liberation virtually at gunpoint. There are no free choices for women, only arbitrary diktats (and more subtle cultural pressures) that determine their mode of dress, in France as elsewhere.

The Republic has been scarred by violence in the past few years, but that continuing trauma is creating more victims. Demanding integration, the state is deepening alienation and division instead, giving official sanction to racism and misogyny. Again, it seems, the terrorists have won.

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It’s probably not a secret around here that I take a more libertarian approach to free speech issues than our master the Dawg, heh. One of the reasons for this has been slowly revealing itself in the alarming growth of right-wing populist parties in Europe. The reasons for this increase are very complicated and not due to a single factor or even a small set of factors, and I won’t discuss the full reasons here. I will say, as an aside, that I wish it were due to a single factor, because that would leave me with less of a sense that there are fell gears locking into place …

But what I would rather talk about is the evolution of communications that the European right has undergone. Even Germany, with its history, has a far-right party well within striking distance of entering the Federal Diet in the next elections. Germany, however, has very strict laws against hate speech and even a way to disqualify entire political parties for overstepping the grounds, particularly via its internal secret police, the Federal Agency for the Protection of the Constitution.

But what has happened over time is merely that right-wing political parties have evolved to be able to use a vocabulary that conforms technically with the restrictions placed upon them, but still tread on precisely the themes that the hate speech laws were supposed to render inaccessible — Blut und Boden nationalism, conspiracism over minority takeovers, natalist panic, and so on. The truth is that if someone wants to say something that touches on those themes, they’ll find a way using ordinary, banal language. Linguistic relativism only gets you so far: yes, ideas do have a life of their own outside of the specific capacities of a language to express them.

Instead, the European mainstream center and even the would-be populist left is unable to utter the counter-spells required to abjure the right-populist verbal compulsion. I am convinced in part that it is because they have not really faced the evolutionary pressure that comes from having to confront far-right ideas directly. Even the German Greens suffer from a strange inability to articulate the obvious reasons why, e.g., niqab bans cause in the long run more problems than they solve — unless one is actually planning to free oneself “physically” from the Fremdkörper wherefrom the uncomfortable strangeness seems to emanate.

Then consider countries which don’t have such a guilt complex — which has protected Germany from the full far-right onslaught — like France or the Netherlands, and yet have somewhat stricter attitudes than, say, the USA, about speech and social peace. There is then no impediment on the semiotic evolution of the right into bourgeois acceptability, and still little pressure on the other parts of the political spectrum to evolve in response. In France, the far right is able to appeal to French republican laicism in contexts that make it unambiguously clear that they don’t really mean the neutrality of the state.

And perhaps it is too early to say, but the very fact that a Trumpian figure such as, well, Trump can become the mouthpiece of white rage instead of a smoother talker, the very fact that anti-racism in the USA has a sharper language, seems to validate the promise that true, minimally fettered free speech leads to a similar evolution of the vocabulary against hate. That is, facing hate openly, up-front impedes this semiotic evolution. Regardless of whether Dawg and fellow travellers might think me naïve for continuing to believe in it.

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On neo-Maoism

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Mao red criticism.jpgThis year is the fiftieth anniversary of the so-called Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, launched by Mao Zedong to root out “bourgeois tendencies” among the Chinese population. This purity-fest went on for a decade, at enormous cost. China’s schools were shut down, and the nation’s youth, one vast vigilante group known as the Red Guards, were set loose upon the older generation. 1.5 million Chinese perished: millions more were imprisoned, tortured and publicly denounced as enemies of the people.

The man in the photo above, wearing a dunce cap that lists his alleged crimes against the masses, is Luo Zicheng, a Communist leader in Heilongjiang Province. He is taking part in a a ritual form of public humiliation called a “struggle session.” It was a grotesque caricature of the criticism and self criticism that had informed revolutionary practice previously. Anyone working within a movement for social change would agree that the latter is plain common sense. What we see in the photo is not.

This approach to differences on the Left is not dead, by any means. “Pas d’ennemis à gauche” has been replaced by “Pas d’amis à gauche.” Groups fighting for human rights, liberation and social transformation create silos instead of bridges: their behaviour is that of rival cults, not engines of social change. Instead of solidarity, they fetishize “allyship,” a repulsive locution that effectively comes down to endless critique of other progressives, based upon toxic identity politics, that effectively paralyzes collective action and makes long-term mass movements all but impossible.

I have written about this crisis of inaction before, and I won’t repeat myself here—at least very much. But I’m going to tell a little story—not in the way of a complaint, but as an instructive example of what I’m talking about. The personal is the political, or so I’m told, so I’m following in a grand tradition, even if I’m not a member of an oppressed group.

A few days ago I wrote a short article about the racist killing of a young First Nations man, Colten Boushie, by a farmer in Saskatchewan. It was published by, who will not be asked to publish this piece. In it, I referred sarcastically to the RCMP as “historically renowned for its even-handed treatment of First Nations people.” The problem was, as it turned out, that some folks didn’t get the sarcasm, and read this literally. Others got it, all right, but fretted that still other folks might not.

I can well understand the indignation that would follow such a misreading, though, so once I encountered the reaction (both at the site and on its Facebook page), I stopped shaking my head and inserted a footnote. You would think that might have ended the matter. Ha! Not on your nelly.

The neo-Maoist denunciations followed swiftly. To a claim by a First Nations woman that FN people don’t get sarcasm, I responded with a couple of FN links that indicate the opposite; I agreed, though, to place the footnote. But a stream of invective followed, both from her and from others whose aggressive, sneering self-righteousness was not a joy to behold. The adage “You are only offended if you want to be” sprang to mind. They wanted.

They didn’t argue: instead, they spewed gratuitous insults with an admixture of bizarre misreadings of nearly every word I said. In answer to the snarky question, “Are you only writing for Settlers (capitalized)?” I responded, truthfully, that I write for readers. It would never occur to me to segment my readership by “race” or ethnicity. But that, among other responses of mine, was held to be disrespectful, offensive, etc., etc., ad nauseam. One young imbecile asked (sarcastically!) whether I wanted a “hero cookie.” The hole I was digging just got deeper and deeper. You can probably find the whole thing over on Rabble’s Facebook page, but no link from me.

I stopped digging just before before I disappeared. Reasoning with the unreasonable, as I yet again discovered, simply fans the flames of unreason. But matters didn’t end there, either. The trolls took their quarrel over to itself. I asked my editor to remove my own comments from the thread, which he did. Apparently this thing has now dribbled into Twitter as well, although I don’t do Twitter. It’s alleged that I’m silencing them. Could have fooled me.

Anyway, this in a nutshell is how easy it is for anti-racists to sidebar an article about racism. But wait! Matters didn’t conclude with an inconclusive sic et non about sarcasm and settler-colonialism.

I am reliably informed that other complaints have been made as well: specifically, about my use of the word “lynching” and the phrase “Say his name,” referring to Colten Boushie. Apparently Black people are alleged to hold proprietary rights in both cases. How dare I apply either to the racist killing of a First Nations man? Wasn’t lynching a mechanism in the Deep South to keep the Black population docile and fearful? Of course it was. But it wasn’t used only against Blacks, as the ghost of Leo Frank would agree: and I raise this only because no one seems to object to the term when applied to him. Nor is mobbing to death as a tool of racial oppression unknown in other countries. And why the blazes should the name of Colten Boushie not be memorially invoked by a plain English phrase, simply because he was First Nations and not Black?

There I go. I’m arguing again. I shall cease.

But there are lessons aplenty to be learned from all this. When a member of an oppressed minority speaks, white folks better listen—but not uncritically. We should not accept every word uttered as gospel before which we must meekly abandon all discussion and submit. Oppressed people are not monoliths: in fact, it’s a common racist device to pretend the opposite. If we want to change the world, or even a small corner of it, we desperately need discussion, questioning, debate, active listening, and openness among all of us. That can mean disagreement, even rancorous disagreement sometimes, but with an end in view: deeper understanding, closer comradeship, eyes on the prize.

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was neither great, nor proletarian, nor cultural, nor even a revolution. It tore apart a nation and deeply traumatized its people. But its methods do seem eerily familiar these days. Let’s find some new ones.

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Papik.jpgOne might have thought that Canadian health administrations would have learned something from the horrific death by neglect of Brian Sinclair in 2008. He had a treatable bladder infection, but was left for 34 hours to die in a Winnipeg emergency room due to racist assumptions by the nursing staff.

But lessons, when it comes to First Nations and Inuit, just don’t seem to sink in. Racism has just claimed another victim, this time in the Northwest Territories, under remarkably similar circumstances. This time, it was an Inuk man with a stroke, Hugh Papik, but he was seen as just another drunken Native by nursing staff at the Aklavik Health Centre, and was ignored to the point of brain death.

The Winnipeg case shocked the nation—for a while. But in the NWT, authorities are trying to brazen it out:

A spokesperson for the nurses’ employer, the N.W.T. Department of Health and Social Services, says it has already reviewed the incident, and won’t be taking any further steps.

“The CEO of the N.W.T. Health and Social Services Authority has reviewed the matter and she is confident that appropriate clinical practices were followed,” spokesperson Damien Healy wrote in an email to CBC.

“There is no further follow-up review being considered.

Just another aboriginal death. Not even worth a review. Then this:

“We can assure you that we take these concerns seriously,” Healy said.

He may as well have spat in the family’s face.

Truth and Reconciliation? Dream on. Racism is still killing people, whether by direct action or neglect. Perhaps a good place to start the repair-job Canada so sorely needs would be to purge it from our public institutions. But judging from the official couldn’t-care-less reaction to one more needless death, this time in a part of Canada where indigenous people actually outnumber whites, there is little reason to feel optimistic.

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