Canadian Racism On Trial

fingers-pointed-at-the-different-one

Because I’m a black man who isn’t living under a rock I’ve been forced to think a lot about racism lately. Most days I feel relatively lucky to live in Canada where cops don’t regularly shoot unarmed folks who look like me, or anyone else, for that matter. A year ago, we turfed our former Prime Minister, whose dalliance with race-baiting chauvinism cost him the election.

That said, every time an unarmed black man gets shot in the US my social media newsfeeds are littered with articles posted by Canadian white guys, almost always Baby Boomers, flatly denying the possibility race had any part to play in the incident. They unwittingly re-post videos and “news” clips fashioned by media organizations they may not realize are fronts for white supremacist groups or organizations funded for the specific aim of racism-denial.

These folks should be deeply concerned they are in league with avowed racists. They would be appalled to learn they are instrumental in the propaganda campaign waged to taint the backgrounds of the deceased and sustain the narrative that black men deserve to die in the street because they are thugs. Even if Canadian whites are unaware the messages they champion are crafted by racist organizations, the very idea they watched a video or read an article compiled by a white supremacist and said “Yeah!” should give them reason to pause for self-reflection.

carla-williams-scooped-up-and-sent-to-denmark

Carla Williams, “scooped up” from her parents as a child and shipped off to “more suitable” parents in the Netherlands.

Crimes committed by individuals whose parents are from a Muslim country are immediately touted as “Islamic terrorist” events by the media. Such a rendering by what is supposed to be an authoritative source of information makes it easy for many white folks to adopt this narrative as truth. For the next several days moderate Muslims are forced to unleash a media and PR campaign to appease suspicions that all Muslims are terrorists in waiting. Whenever these attacks happen my newsfeeds are festooned with bogeyman caricatures far too many sub-urban white North Americans believe reveal something axiomatic about all Muslims.
These narratives randomly pilfer the last fifteen years of world history to not so subtly suggest all the responsibility for the violence in the world rests at the feet of Islamic terror organizations and Muslims alike. In so doing, they have conveniently forgotten the centuries of history right up to the present, or the proxy wars in the decades during the Cold War. They missed the memo about the warplanes and bombs we and our allies have dropped all over the world.

Here is the bad news: people die when the high-tech fighter jets and cruise missiles, which are the toys we Western folks fight with, deliver their mega-tonnes of explosive ordinance. Women. Children. Arabs. Muslims. Human beings. Dead. At the hands of “Christian bombs” if you will. Death can’t be stopped where bombs are concerned. I am not arguing here about the foreign policy merits of these actions. I am arguing the belief that only Muslims have killed people in the last fifteen years is absolutely ridiculous.

ms-st-louis

The MS St Louis arrived at a Canadian port of call in 1939 with 908 Jewish passengers fleeing the Holocaust. They were denied entry, sent back to Europe and, it was later learned, a quarter of them died in German death camps during World War II.

Every time a Canadian news agency publishes reports on crimes involving blacks or Aboriginals, after about two hours they have to close the comment threads. Some news organizations have simply stopped allowing comments on these stories. Why would that be, one wonders? Here’s a hint, it’s not because their servers are overwhelmed by shows of support from sympathetic trolls.

But our cops are not shooting blacks. We’ve been relatively nice to immigrants of colour since we began letting them in about twenty five years ago. This followed a period of racist immigration legislation that allowed only Western European immigration. Muslims who wear the hijab haven’t been harassed or subjected to random attacks like they have in the US. We let in 30,000 Syrian refugees, which is a drop in the hat given the four and a half million languishing throughout Europe and the Middle East. We don’t have cretins like Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen in our mainstream politics. All true. So, racism isn’t a problem in Canada.

Bullshit.

Let us not forget, our Prime Minister did try his hand at bigotry in the last election. He knew that would play with a large segment of Canadian society, just like he knew his snitch line for “barbaric cultural practices” (code for “living like a Muslim” ) would be a hit with the same segment. Thankfully, it was not a large enough segment – just. During that same election, the campaign signs of candidates with Muslim-sounding names were defaced in one of the WASPiest communities in Southern Ontario.

More recently, a leadership candidate in the same party of the ousted Prime Minister posited a solution to appease what she accepts at face value are rational fears of would-be immigrants. Smart folks aren’t supposed to be inclined to this sort of rhetoric, but she is a medical doctor. The intelligence required of her profession makes her race-baiting a little more difficult to dismiss. When uttered from a person of her stature the air of legitimacy is cast upon what is clearly a racist idea, and bigotry becomes normalized.

The good doctor has written a prescription to rid Canada of “undesirable” immigrants: she proposes they pass a “values test” – whatever that is. Surely she should have run some more tests of her own, in particular to identify the underlying causes of this widespread illness for which “fear of others who don’t look like us” is a symptom. I think she would find a case of mass hysteria and would do better to hand out buckets of Ativan to calm everyone  down.

komogata-maru-arrivals

In 1914, the SS Komagata Maru landed arrived on the west coast of Canada carrying 376 passengers, all British subjects from India of Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim backgrounds. Of these, 26 were allowed to enter Canada and the others were sent back. They were treated by the British as political agitators upon arrival back in India and arrested for the entirety of the First World War. Canada has officially apologized for this incident.

Canadians are a little too quick to blow their wads while mentally masturbating to the image of our post-racial Shangri-La. This delusional narrative is so easily maintained when we have countless vulgar, crass Archie Bunkers to the south to wield as our benchmark. Certainly, we have never had characters like Donald Trump gaining much political traction. Our political class hasn’t fashioned countless racist dog-whistles to divide disenfranchised whites from blacks and passed them off as legitimate political discourse. But why should the country where so many wish to simply forget slavery ever existed be heralded as the Canadian standard?

We dress our racism up a little nicer because our establishment, which is still one hundred per cent white, are the progeny of the tee-totallers across the pond. England was far more refined in institutionalizing racism. They had an aristocracy and class system that is only now loosening its ability to determine social outcomes. They shipped soldiers to loot the planet for Mother England in far-flung places like the near east and south Asia, wielded their guns at the brown, black, and Asian mobs for centuries, and plundered the lands of their tin, rubber, spices, gold, lumber, and free labour. They banned slavery because they didn’t need it; they had naval fleets who could subjugate the dark hordes and noble savages without having to cart them like chattel back to England. There wouldn’t have been the room to put them up, anyway.

We Canadian colonial upstarts tore a page right out of the English playbook. We didn’t proceed like the Americans: gunning down, marching, and starving the Indigenous people to kill them off and steal their land. Instead, we sent them off to reserves in the middle of nowhere – where it was easy to forget about them – and launched a campaign of cultural genocide upon their young’uns. Those are not my words, but that of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which studied the issue of Residential Schools. One assumes that this solution seemed like a perfectly legitimate, naturally laudable, resolutely Canadian passive-aggressive way of rooting out the “Indian problem.”

In Canada there are First Nations reserves that have not had running water for twenty years. Many others living on reserves have to boil their water most of the year. We are only now learning more of the sordid details of another systematized attempt to eradicate Indigenous people by way of the “Sixties scoop.” Beginning in the 1960s and continuing on through the nineteen eighties indigenous children were seized by government social workers from their “unfit” biological parents and placed in foster or adoptive homes of whites who, one presumes, were obviously fit because they were white. In recent revelations, we have learned some of the “scooped up” indigenous children were sent to adoptive parents in the United States and Europe, and that some of these parents paid fees to adoption agencies. It was effectively the Canadian government trafficking in indigenous children to offset the costs of social welfare.

chinese-head-tax-receipt

Through the 1880s thousands of Chinese labourers were brought from China to construct the Canadian Pacific Railway. They were paid a third of what their co-workers were paid, and when the job was done, the Canadian government ensured they would not stay by imposing a head tax to immigrate, which they couldn’t pay because they were paid exploitation wages. A formal Canadian apology and redress for survivors was made in 2006.

We did not teach several generations of Canadians – mine included – a goddamned thing about any of this treatment of indigenous people. I can see why. It’s a bloody national disgrace. When my child was seven, he had already learned more about this country’s indigenous peoples than I or the generations before did in our entire public school tenure. He shakes his head at the truculence of my generation and those before in resisting genuine measures to remedy decades upon decades of tacit wrong-doing.

These shameful tales are the putrefying cherry on top of a festering bowl of racist history, Canadian-style. Historical incidents like the Komagata Maru, the Chinese head tax imposed to bar the Chinese labourers who built this country’s most vital engine of economic growth – the Canadian Pacific Railroad – and the lowest acceptance of Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust of any nation in the world, are tragic examples in the sordid legacy of Canada’s racism.

As a black man I can attest to countless hurtful experiences of overt racism directed at me because of my skin colour, especially in my youth, when I was emotionally ill-equipped to deal with them. Every once in a while something happens to dredge up these experiences and it is leaving a bad taste in my mouth. Lately, it isn’t the incidents happening in the United States picking at the wounds. These are terrible events to witness, but they do not speak directly to racism in the Canadian context. Obviously, this has tempted countless white people here to dismiss the racial antecedents of these tragic events. It is that tendency, and the way it is enacted, which does speak to racism in this country.

This deplorable phenomenon has re-opened some of  my own racial wounds, especially in the past two years. I have been subjected to an unceasing campaign of denial of the role race played in countless media stories of the day where non-white “others” are victims of crime. Such strident denials without having any apprehension of facts points to the bigotry within anyone who touts them, whether they are aware of this or not. The sharing of racist media publications veers very close to propagating hate speech. Anyone engaged in it should consider that.

The articles suggesting the unarmed black men gunned down by police in the US deserved to die, which some of my white social media friends have been posting on their pages, incite hostility and violence toward me in their excusing of that conduct. In so doing, they perpetuate the idea that I and those who look like me are incessant thugs, a stance which is deeply offensive. It is irrelevant if that is not what was intended. It is the consequence. People should consider that possibility before they share fake media stories about racially-charged events, lest they be mistaken for a racist.

I understand many people who aren’t minorities do not see the racism in their views or remarks; many don’t intend to espouse racism. For many of these folks, I believe their desire to not intentionally spread bigotry is genuine. I grew up a white guy with a black man’s skin. I know exactly how it is. When I was a kid, I went out for Hallowe’en in black face, for crying out loud!

This Western culture of ours, for a long, long time has incessantly touted itself as superior to everyone and everything else in the world. This isn’t to suggest we’re the only ones hailing our exceptionalism. Tribalism, pride, and vainglory are the most irresistible of human frailties. But I didn’t live in those other places, and can’t comment on how they executed their brand of chauvinism. I am only experienced in the dodgy end of white, Western bigotry. What I saw was how we lampoon and demean other races and creeds for the sheer fact of their difference alone. Most often, the sub-text is that otherness in itself is something to be feared and derided; it is never to be taken simply as a sociological fact, it is always in need of our judgment as to the degree of its implied inferiority.

This is why, if you are a white person living in a Western country, and genuinely desire not to be a racist, when a minority tells you something is racist, don’t argue that point as if you could possibly know what you’re talking about. Just listen. If it’s your words or deeds, stop being so defensive, own up, and say you’re sorry. To point it out isn’t to posit myself as a paragon of morality; I am no less likely to possess my culture’s chauvinist, oppressive biases than anyone else. It isn’t to suggest white folks are the spawn of Satan. It is merely to suggest the obvious; that white people can, at times, say or do something that is racist without realizing it because they’ve never really had to endure it – not in this society. They grew up in the dominant group.

The way many other race-baiting ideas are casually shared by some makes it obvious that a certain segment of white folks simply don’t give a shit because, let’s face it, they’re among the dominant group, right? These are the unabashed bigots who are tired of the political correctness police; they don’t want to have to stop and think about what they say or do in respect of those who are different. They don’t want to be called out for blurting out bigoted comments that spring into their mind. It’s too tiring to have to care about that; the others should adapt to our ways because they’re better anyway. If minorities don’t like it they can go back to where they came from. Fair enough, but I was born here, as were many black, brown, and other folk. HERE is where we came from.

To the regular Joes who are unabashed bigots I suggest that, since the option of deporting minorities or harassing them until they leave isn’t going to bear fruit, your energy is best directed at finding the real source of the insecurity and fear beneath your racism, and deal with that. Here’s a hint: the filthy rich, corporate guys in suits. They are messing with your mind.

On the one hand, they tell the regular Joes they are all entitled to the American Dream embodied in the wealth and privilege they and their corporate buddies enjoy, while on the other, they are doing everything behind closed doors to stack the system against Joe’s efforts to do just that. Instead, they reap all the spoils and point the finger at the minorities, the socialists, or the Muslims when Joe is struggling in the system they created to screw everyone except themselves. Racism is just another oligarch’s ploy to have Joe steeped in fear so his eyes are off a ball he never gets to touch, which helps Joe to buy into the lie that the game isn’t rigged. He’s been duped by his so-called white brethren.

Because the charlatans who have you hoodwinked are white like you, the fables they tell about how the black, brown, and heathen hordes have their hands in your pockets – how it is their presence which threatens your way of life – are impossible to resist. There is no pagan idol better than xenophobia and racism to keep the corporate courtesans enriched and empowered to everyone else’s detriment. With the serfs divided, fighting among themselves, fighting foreign ghosts, fighting everything but the system created to completely disempower them, the aristocrats are free to plunder from the coffers of the white tribe indefinitely.

The whole thing is sad and infuriating. It is the elephant between the lines that few are willing to acknowledge exists as the sub-text to many political divides in my country. It does temper my optimism for the future; makes me a little less inclined to believe my efforts to succeed will bear fruit in a society where pointless, atavistic, disenfranchising racism abounds. Such is the psychological torment systemic racism inflicts. It is hard for some minorities attuned to this ugly facet of their existential reality, to “pull up their socks” when, confronted with a racial slur here or a racially-motivated roadblock there, it seems like so many are intent on pulling them down.

There is plenty of evidence to disabuse anyone of the idea there is cause to celebrate Canada’s post-racial social order; that we’ve ascended the heights of a racially harmonious Pollyanna. The xenophobic, bigoted articles written by and posted by white Canadians on my social media feeds, the continued indifference to the plight of indigenous Canadians – despite all we now know about their lot – and the earnest propagation of racist dog-whistles by educated, well-esteemed white Canadians gives the lie to any claim this country is without a racism problem.

The one positive light going forward is that the bulk of those who champion the chauvinist ideas endemic in Western culture, the ones that fuel full-fledged racism, are a dying breed. These ideas, even if still prevalent, are not the only ideas the youth in our culture have been exposed to. Because they are fortunate to live in a world where technology gives them access to a plurality of ideas, they are less likely to be so strongly conditioned to racism, at least in its Western form, which gives me hope.

My wish would be that this problem fizzles out with those who were responsible for further instilling, or doing nothing to deter, these racial toxins in our culture; that those among my generation who continue to wave that flag will soon be outnumbered and marginalized by the more open-minded among the generations below. One can dare to dream. That said, we mustn’t rest on our laurels because too much damage has already been done, and we need to start healing ourselves of our racism now, so there are no more victims.

secret-path-gord-downie-cover-art

This is the cover art for Secret Path, a project by Tragically Hip front man Gord Downie. It is a multi-media telling of the true story of Chanie Wenjack, a twelve-year old boy who died in 1966 while trying to walk home from the residential school to the home he had been snatched from 400 miles away.

Ho! Ho! Hold Your “Holiday Cups”!

Fuck It Santa Claus

This shit ain’t what it used to be Frosty!

It’s that time of year again. Christmas. I’ve never been keen on the consumerist, golden-calf worship that typifies much of the festivities. At an early age the shallowness and affected spirituality of the season rubbed me the wrong way, and compelled me to discount Christianity as a total sham. Since I was in my teens, the tidal wave of syrupy Christmas carols and the displacement of Jesus as a cultural icon by the likes of Santa Claus and his trademark slogan “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!” struck me as cruel, secular perversions of something supposedly Divine.

Despite how I feel about the spectacle, I’ve taken it all in stride, save for one of the more recent hallmarks in the modern Christmas tradition: angry white people ranting about being unable to see, hear, and say “Merry Christmas” wherever they go. They never explicitly identify the object of their derision, but “political correctness” is offered as the culprit. It’s the usual canard for reactionaries who resent forces of moderation encouraging WASPs to be less intolerant, less disparaging than is our knee-jerk custom.

In this instance, the ire is roused by throngs of non-Christian visible minorities whose presence has forced them to keep the volume on their all-night Christmas party at a tolerable level so their beleaguered neighbors of other creeds can get some shut-eye. For the next two spirit-crushing months, not only will I have six hundred different versions of the seven most popular Christmas carols stabbed into my ears wherever I go, but I will also experience a daily barrage of witless protests by nearly every WASP over fifty-five decrying the total ruin of Christmas whenever they see the words “Happy Holidays.”

To mourn the degradation of Christmas, my social media feeds will be littered with videos by irate, aging white guys ranting about how, in the good old days before non-European immigration, folks could rifle off “Merry Christmas” without worrying it would hit the ears of a Hindu and make them feel like a heel. Already, I’ve seen renowned Christian scholar Donald Trump blasting Starbucks for their “Holiday Cups.” It’s only November and my highly-reactive, bleeding-heart-liberal spleen has suffered countless beatings from this nonsense.

Me not caring about what Starbucks puts on cupsIn addition to sermons from Monsignor Trump, I will see loads of internet memes with pictures of Christmas icons like Bing Crosby juxtaposed with lame, racially-tinged quotes wistful at the sad fact Christmas will never be as white as it once was. In the stores and malls I will hear indignant, Baby Boomer whites huffing under their breath when they hear a store cashier say “Season’s Greetings” to the brown customer they’ve just served. There will be much indignant pondering as to why there is no Christmas tree in the lobby at work.

I understand how odd it must feel for those who, for much of their lives, didn’t have to concern themselves with these issues. I admit, it does require a mental shift to accept the new reality of all these non-Christians we knew were “out there” before, but who are now in our stores and workplaces today, forcing us to tone down our carnal urge to break out into spontaneous choruses of “Here Comes Santa Claus.” Change, especially when it concerns something cherished, like the birth of your religion’s namesake, can be difficult to fathom.

But that’s not really what we are talking about with this grievance is it? We are talking about guarding the sanctity, not of the words of Christ our Lord, but the slogan of Santa Claus, the pagan idol, second-stringer who’s been quarterbacking the Christmas season in place of Jesus for the last fifty years.

Using “Merry Christmas” sparingly in favour of more neutral language reflects an awareness and sensitivity to the existence of so many people among us raised in different traditions. It is enough that in every facet of their lives outside their home, non-Christians are forced to participate to a degree in a tradition they do not share. They experience Christmas at the store, at work, at the restaurant – virtually everywhere. Why not spare them the experience of shoving our “Merry Christmas” cream pie in their face? Christians should easily concede the slogan has no real connection with genuine Christianity – other than the word Christ. Its cultural significance was stamped in our minds not by its association with Jesus in the Gospels, but by its identification with Santa Claus.

Given this reality, the decline of this slogan in favour of more neutral language is a small, conciliatory gesture of respect to those non-Christians among us. It is a way to acknowledge the existence of other faiths by moderating our conduct, just a tad. Such a minor adjustment does nothing to degrade the Christian faith. That degradation was well underway as Santa Claus, his reindeer, and elves at the North Pole became the true cultural icons at Christmas time. The putrefaction intensified, ironically, as Santa’s “Merry Christmas” slogan became more synonymous with Christmas than anything authentically Christian.

Certainly, those disconsolate about the fact of millions from different cultures and creeds living among us have had plenty of time to adjust to the realities of global migration that stirs their fears. The Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, and others in our communities weren’t dropped off by the millions in an airlift yesterday afternoon. They’ve been coming in waves for decades and have set down roots. It is their home too. Dare I say, maybe it is also time to finally tip our hats to those of the Jewish faith who have gracefully endured our unbridled winter paganism for generations. I think they are due for a break. If anything, those fearful of losing Santa Claus could benefit from the Jewish example about how to sustain true faith and spirituality without having to resort to shallowness and bombast.

How the f*ck am I supposed to know what season it is if they don't plaster

How the heck am I supposed to know what season it is if they don’t plaster “Merry Christmas” all over my coffee cup? Starbucks. Bunch of Jesus-haters.
(PHOTO CREDIT – Starbucks)

I say this with the hope that those publicly airing their grievances about this issue will understand how foolish and, sadly, racist they appear. I do not really think legions of grown adults genuinely believe that, since we began letting in hordes of un-Christian immigrants, everything that held our national spirits together – Santa Claus, Christmas trees, Frosty the Snowman, and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer – has gone to pieces. It is something else about the issue that stirs them.

Whether they realize it or not, their anger betrays a variant of racially-motivated nostalgia that is unhealthy in a pluralistic, democratic society. Those who do not keep this emotion in check ignore the destruction the very same sentiments caused in the early 20th century. Every time there is a terrorist attack linked to Islamic extremists, the same people angered about the “Merry Christmas” issue are posting videos or commentaries on my social media feeds deriding Islam, open immigration policies, and everything else that is foreign in the eyes of a WASP. It is disappointing to behold people I otherwise deeply respect sharing media that are profoundly ignorant and intolerant. I know they are good people who are obviously unable to contain their fears about a world that seems in chaos. They need now, more than ever, to work harder to keep perspective; to maintain the goodness I know is in their hearts. I confess, I’d rather not have to engage in such moral reconciliations about friends at Christmas time.

It needs to be said that immigrants didn’t choose our countries to get in on the Christmas festivities. Many of those living among us with different faiths had no choice but to leave their homelands in search of safety and economic security. The newcomers came, not to crowd-out the Christian faith, or spread their own, but so they and their families could survive.

Given the underlying spirit of the season, this reality should encourage us to embrace those whose presence signifies something hopeful and new; something unique and different than existed before. We should each do our part in fostering harmony between the cultures in our community and helping each other to succeed. Our presence here shares a common narrative with those who’ve more recently arrived; that of leaving hardships behind to forge a better life for generations to come. For some of us, our ancestors got here earlier, and look at our good fortune.

It is this universal human story, when juxtaposed against the stridency and the triviality that belies this seasonal protest, which drives me mad. Good people should not be so pissed off at fellow humans whose presence is predicated by the realities of hardship we all share. Those who raise the demise of “Merry Christmas” as a cultural lightning rod are losing their minds to something absolutely inane, and it makes them unable to contain a latent chauvinism that taints their otherwise good-nature. To publicly air such sentiments is contemptuous of the generosity of spirit and boundless love for all creatures Jesus extols, so you should stop. It’s bloody Christmas, after all.

The decline of genuine Christian affinity that is the sub-text of this hysteria long pre-dates the influx of people living among us of other faiths. Christianity won’t be watered-down any more than it already has by a less profligate use of secular slogans on our coffee cups or in our workplaces. Christianity, at least in North America, has long been a gaunt spiritual force in our societies; the nutriments to sustain an authentic faith leeched into the same gutter at the locus of our much stronger affinity to unbounded greed and capitalism.

Those yelling at the top of their lungs imploring the brown masses of other faiths to embrace Santa Claus and exhort “Merry Christmas” with the rest of us pagans, might instead be advised to heed the teachings of Jesus. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how much more rewarding it is to persuade with exemplary actions rather than angry words?

I will let Jesus himself have the final word about the season. The wisdom below is taken from the Bible, which I doubt most have ever read; too exhausted as they are from shopping, drinking, binge-eating, and singing Christmas carols. I know, by din of the racially-motivated invective despoiling the season, many are not heeding its words. The excerpts are from the Gospel of Mark, taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which appears in Chapters five through seven.

Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays to all!

I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Words Fly Up, Thoughts Remain Below

Janus-FaceIn my first few years of university I was a business major and had plans to become a wealthy debutante, or something of that ilk. I was academically gifted and came of age in the eighties, when the foundations of the unabashed materialism we take for granted today were first laid out. In my first year of business school, the student council had t-shirts made with “GREED” strewn across the front, in large block letters. On the back of the t-shirt was the remainder of Gordon Gecko’s notorious speech from the movie Wall Street.

We proudly wore our obnoxious t-shirts each day for the first weeks of that semester. We were smug and self-assured for a bunch of twenty year-olds who had achieved nothing in our own right to warrant such bluster. We were cashing-in early on what we expected would be the glory achieved in the years ahead. With youthful zeal we goaded and pissed off social work majors, feminists, sociology professors, and everyone else who had come to university for an education. Eventually the Dean of business got squeamish when news of our antics spread beyond the faculty walls and sparked criticism the school was cultivating a bunch of insensitive money-grubbing jerks. He suggested the shirts be worn at the country club only, and not on campus.

In my second year of business school I decided to take a political science course for my Arts elective. I was exposed to the writings of Rousseau and others of the French Enlightenment. Most importantly, I was introduced to the act of political and philosophical thought. I read Rousseau’s Discourse on Inequality in one sitting, from evening until the next morning. I did not fully grasp what I had read, but the concepts I was exposed to resonated with me deeply, despite my intellectually un-curious upbringing. Rousseau’s Discourse still profoundly shapes my thinking on the subject of inequality, an issue more relevant today than it was in 1992 when I first read it.

I had been raised in a fairly secular materialist family of corporate executives and merchants. Politically, people in my family were die-hard conservatives. The political “discussion” – if it can be so-called – was a mix of sermons against the Liberal government of the seventies and included corporate fatwas issued by my CEO grandfather against every union in existence. These were phlegmatic spectacles where cauldrons of vitriol simmered, fuelled by gallons of the left-wing lunacy that seized my working-class town at the time. At no time did the political discourse attain the loftiness of Rousseau’s line “man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.” The oratory from my grandfather was more of the variety “those goddamned union thugs are gonna be the death of me, Jackie”

Without any thought to the consequences, I transferred out of business school and became a political theory student the following year. I dug into Plato, Aristotle, Burke, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and all the prognosticators of secular, magical thinking we call “ideology” these days. I fancied myself an urbane young gentleman, as all of us philosophical types did. The idea of wealth acquisition seemed a quaint, trivial pursuit and was quickly dismissed for loftier aims.

Deep down, I knew my destiny was that of low-paid, academic vagabond living a nomadic, hand to mouth existence, leaving in my wake flowery philosophical tracts nobody could really understand. But I and other humanities-loving romantics seized our generational rite-of-passage as young-uns with the right prescriptions to save the world from the blight left by the generations before. We strutted  with an air of superiority to the ingrate business and engineering students willing to squander their youth in boredom to acquire marketable skills. What a bunch of Philistine losers for choosing a life of wage-slavery to corporate masters, so it went.

As an earnest political philosophy undergrad oodles of the post-modern jargon cascaded from my mouth. Had I not denounced religion as the opiate of the masses, I’m certain my friends would have thought I’d become a Seventh Day Adventist and was speaking in tongues. But I was enamoured by the prospect of something as simple as a word to encompass such elegant, noble ideas so succinctly. I remembered my pre-Enlightenment years, when I was a “Philistine business student,” how the word “Greed” had been wielded as the blunt instrument to profess ill-will and launch polemic; how it simultaneously asserted a misanthrope’s worldview as it kicked others to the curb.

As a budding philosopher, I was exposed to words brimming with intellectual heft, but which also lent an air of gravitas to the ego uttering them. I grew to love big, conceptually-rich words that left others clueless in their wake. Foucault, Derrida, Lacan, and Merleau-Ponty were masters of pretentious word-porn that got me off again and again. My idelogical zeal was a reflection of my relief to have been liberated from the stultifying prison of early indoctrination at the family dinner table. Those wily Frenchmen had a flair for rhetorical embellishment, and the rest of us passed it off as a systematic philosophy.

Fast forward twenty years later. Life did its thing: it buried my insufferable ego under mounds of humble-pie. I messed up so many of the things that really mattered, despite how clever, loquacious, and learned I thought myself to be. All that learning and education was so bereft of practical wisdom when it came to the real-world problems in my own life, and was totally irrelevant to the lives of others I encountered in my career in law enforcement. It makes me realize I invested much too heavily in the hype – the corporate hype, the left-wing intellectual hype, the ideological hype.

I understand how exposure to ideas can expand a mind – so long as the mind is inclined to remain open through that process. However, what I’ve learned in spiritually unraveling my ego for the past near decade is the peculiar cultural tendency in our mode of discourse to use ideas to close a mind rather than to open it. I grant there are remnants of Nietzsche and the French post-modernists in this observation. However my ideas about this depart from Western critics by the insight that the foundational cultural bias, which posits mind and body as separate spheres of our humanity, is as much responsible for our susceptibility to dogma as our belief in “rationalism.” All our Western critical movements – Marxism, feminism, post-modernism – blossom from minds rooted in the same ego-obsessed gardens as the Canons they criticize.

These inclinations have combined to make us more certain of the truths generated in our rationalizing minds than, say, from our intuition or inherent wisdom about the realities before us; bellwethers which can only be found by looking into our bodies. When it comes time to solve vexing problems, the habit is to foreclose access to these other parts of ourselves to gauge the options we are considering. We look to that so-called rational mind alone, without seeing how ideologically tainted, and emotionally-charged our perception of things has become. Our belief-systems are a balm for deep-seated emotional ailments, which is fine if you’re debating at the dinner table. However, to the extent they render us susceptible to wholesale distortions of reality – which they inevitably must – they can spell disaster. Real-world problems call for a mind that perceives reality with the wide-open lens of wisdom rather than through the blinkers of dogma.

In no arena is this psychic danger more evident than that of politics. There’s an election in my country right now. A man with a graduate degree from one of this country’s leading universities is trying to keep his job as Prime Minister by race-baiting, fear-mongering, and attacking rivals as gutter-mates with disenfranchised segments of our society – drug-addicts and sex workers. He has implied his political rival is a “brothel-operator,” which may score with people whose lives happily avoid that seedy reality, but it does so by directing scorn toward the socially and economically marginalized citizens whose lack of choices  pushes them into sex work. Suggesting a rival isn’t fit to hold office because he’s a “druggie” seems to condemn the millions of people among us struggling with substance abuse and addiction.

No political candidate in a developed nation should affix himself to such tactics in his campaign; no man should vie as leader of a democratic, pluralistic nation who holds such open contempt for such large segments of the citizenry he deigns to govern. I suspect his “rational mind” is incapable of seeing the implications of his tactics in quite these terms, because his mind is locked in its ideological prison. In this, he would be no different than many who engage in politics; who believe stridency is the prime virtue, and dread accusations of “flip-flopping” in their views when realities change, or when their ignorance about an issue decreases. 

I want to flatly condemn the purveyors of such tactics, but I can’t. I lampooned the opposing philosophical extremes of my youth to show how fully I can relate to the lure of ideology and its propensity to stir adherents to polemics. I am aware of how our political affinities endow us with feelings of heightened intelligence and superiority in respect of those with opposing views. Such distortions heighten our sense of self-regard and justify provocative behaviours that de-humanize for political advantage those outside the narrow bounds of our rhetorical interests. Since we are righteous, we can do no wrong, so the thinking goes. One cannot make an omelette without breaking some eggs. And so on, and so on.

I understand how easily hooked a man is to the ideological bait cast in front of him at an age when he’s accomplished nothing in his life and is desperate for the golden egg to make his mark. That is when most of us first put on these ill-fitting ideological clothes to help us through the confusion, doubt, and anxieties about the unknowns that lie ahead. The delusion of certitude ideology provides not only allays our fears but rationalizes whatever ethical shortcuts we deem necessary to achieve our objectives.

The divisive tactics in today’s politics wouldn’t be used if they weren’t so appealing to those impulses. I am not willing to condemn so many fellow citizens for succumbing to those habits and fears, because I have been there myself. Certainly, it is troubling how few political actors seem willing to exercise more self-reflection about their conduct; to make efforts to curb their ideological excesses. I feel compassion and sadness for the genuine fear and insecurity that propels this behaviour, and wish we were less inclined to search out and extol political remedies for crises in the psychological health of the collective mind. 

It is clear to me the people who cross the line of decency in their discourse – oddly, it always seems to be those on the political right – are beset by emotions that compel them to cling to abject, ignorant ideas to alleviate feelings of insecurity. It is heartbreaking to witness successful, highly achieved, and otherwise intelligent adults so caught in the throes of such deep-seated emotional affliction. How else could they see no wrong in lying, in wilfully distorting facts, or in slandering and scapegoating swaths of their fellow citizens to win an election? It is so far beneath the privilege of being elected to serve one’s people.

My advice, having suffered the pitfalls of ardent ideological affliction myself, is to examine the fear that stirs belief in nonsensical, delusional hype. The process of de-programming the mind from its faith in the unqualified truth of such ideas – elegant and soothing as they may seem – is a greater source of wisdom than the straw man of ideology could ever be. Ideology taints the heart and renders the mind, possessed of infinite capacities when we are born, as small as the books and rhetoric that enclose it with fear. It makes us ignorant to the extent of cruelty in the politically-charged words we cavalierly fling in the air, and oblivious to the damage inflicted on others when they land.

So Sick of the Sausage Factory

One big, happy family

One big, happy family

Woe is humanity, suffering the legions of uber-douche bags crushing their spirits. I refer to this potent variety of toxic sludge as a Dick, because that is the source of their inspiration. It’s also one thing I can say about them that makes me laugh. What isn’t funny is the reckless abandon with which they swing their entitled skin-flute machetes, cutting down whomever stands in the way of their quest for Mommy’s love – I mean, power. They lie, cheat, and steal through life, leaving a trail of innocent victims buried under a heap of man-splaining, belittling, hectoring excrement.

It seems futile to waste a shred of energy imploring the Dicks out there to reflect on just how miserable they make the lives of those they touch. I doubt they care, but venting about the pandemic of Dicks plaguing our societies can be both empowering and enlightening. As part of my evolving spiritual journey toward what I hope will be the Dick-less corridors of Nirvana, there are bound to be moments where I am forced to cross the raging rivers of my own bile.

The act of reflecting back on these moments, of having to stay mentally afloat among the torrent of indignant rage to coherently share my thoughts, lends an air of detachment to the sordid splendour of their existence. It makes me feel more like an observer than a victim. Plus, the more I own up to how easily provoked I am by their bullshit, the more I learn about the easily unhinged parts of my mind. It encourages a redoubling of efforts to pro-actively cultivate emotional intelligence.

I see putative, self-styled “Christians” on American television man-splaining to the Pope why he’s a wrong-headed ‘liberal’ for castigating the greed that destroyed America’s soul and poisoned its religion. I see political hacks with educational degrees in History or Phys Ed laughing-off the world’s leading scientists about climate change, imploring us to laugh with them as the polar ice cap melts and more dry land is submerged every day. I see the country-clubber with the charmed life, champagne dribbling from the corner of his self-satisfied grin, earn his keep moonlighting as a thespian. He grabs his balls, dusts off his best redneck accent, and masterfully delivers his line to fellow citizens “Y’all ain’t a-gettin’ the guns God gave me!”

I can’t un-see or un-hear the reams of spirit-crushing nonsense so many grown adults seem to believe, and it really pisses me off. I want to grab my pitchfork and storm the palaces nearby to reclaim the public proceeds and tax loopholes that are rightfully ours. I want to liberate the exploited immigrant slaves from their domestic bondage in plutocrat’s homes, and the exploited white slaves from their below-subsistence jobs at the plutocrat-owned discount outlet stores. I want to punch in the face the next smug, strident Dick who denies any role for white, male privilege in securing his fortunes. I fantasize about a crowd of Dicks outside a Church blowing their dog-whistles loudly at Jesus and his guests for consecrating the nuptials between Adam and Steve, only to learn they’re surrounded by packs of hungry, rabid dogs summoned from miles around. One can dare to dream.

And then it’s the next morning. I do my thing – yoga and meditate – to rid my soul of the wayward heaps of manure that landed there as the zealots aimlessly tossed it about. Instead of indignant fury, my mind is like, ‘Namaste Dick, you misguided asshole, Namaste.’ I still care about the poor and oppressed, and I wish Dick would cut it out. Except it’s not worth being so angry about it that my day, and that of anyone who encounters me, is ruined. There are other ways, besides punching-out well-deserving, smug Dicks, to get relief.

That said, these days the stables are piling up with turd faster than my trusty spirit-shovel can keep up. Lately, Dick has been hard to shake. The pig-barn of election Politics is to blame. In my country, the Dick Head – the Prime Minister – decided to have a three-month election campaign – unheard of in Canadian politics. Add to that the US Presidential nominations, which are shoved down Canadian throats via US cable feeds, and it’s like a tornado picked up my house and dropped it into the middle of a continental sausage factory.

Dicks are flung in my face from all directions, pandering, sloganeering, fear-mongering, scapegoating. Senseless political munchkins are throat-singing their sexist, racist, greedy, jingoistic overtures to their intellectually-stunted political bases over, and over, and over again. “We represent the dick-head guild, the dick-head guild, the dick head guild … ” Where are my red shoes to take me home, Dorothy?

There aren’t just Dicks stumping on television, there’s the run-of-the-mill Dick at the office; the one I’ve lamented in a previous post. He crawls his way to the top shelf on the backs of others, and is the variety of Dick most of us experience in our daily lives. My dear friend, a female co-worker in another city, works in a Division with a legendary misogynist I once worked with. He inspired my rant about the office Dick. With exasperation, she shows me the e-mails he writes to her or others. I remember the tenor of this Dick’s e-mails very well. When I overheard him speak to a woman or read one of his smug Neanderthal messages to them I wanted to accidentally shove him down the stairwell. She asks me if she is over-reacting in shoving her feisty Irish fist up the Dick’s ass. I suspect it’s why he keeps on – he enjoys it. I recommend she aim her pointy boots at his undescended testicle instead.

The Dick at the office is no different than the political Dicks scape-goating the large swaths of society they want to sweep under the rug to serve their selfish aims. The common thread is the entitlement to forcefully steamroll you or I to get what he wants. His beliefs, wants, and needs, no matter how crass or insanely stupid, are yelled in your face. He is entitled to behave like a scumbag and the rest of us are supposed to just take it without kicking up a fuss or punching him in the face. He defends his ethically barren actions with fact-free rationalizations that satisfy his infinitesimal intellect.

Why is he like this? Because Dick was churned out of the sausage factory. He has been gnawing on a meal of nutrient-deprived, idiotic gristle his entire life to keep himself fed. He likes his sausage. Nay, he believes in his sausage.

Like many women out there, I am so sick of the sausage factory. It’s fucking exhausting. I am so done with the slander and lies men wantonly use to justify their degenerate ideas. I am sick of watching men telling women what to believe, where to work, what to wear, and who to fuck. I am livid with men who want to kick the poor and disenfranchised while they’re already down just so they can keep the pocket-change to buy another mansion. I am weary of the deluge of verbal diarrhea from the mouths of chest-beating men whose incessant primal screams are meant not to persuade, but to crush the will of others into ideological submission.

It’s time to get with the new millennium, my fellow sausages.

Yes, I too have a sausage. I was programmed to be a Dick like the others, and I was once pretty good at it. But I realized how damaging that was for my kids and every one else. It hasn’t been easy opting out of the club while keeping my meat intact. I was manufactured on the same assembly line stuffing formless young men with affinities for greed, power, corruption, and cruelty. At the end of the line, we are twisted and churned out as individual sausages, but remain linked together as men; a single chain by which to shackle and subjugate humanity.

I can’t deny it, the first thought that crossed my mind was to ass-kick the guy for making my female friend’s life miserable. It’s not what she wanted or asked for, but it’s what would make me feel good. It’s kind of typical of the way a Dick thinks. ‘There, there, my lady-friend, Dick knows best’, right? So much to be done, Edmund.

I can’t deny it, sometimes when my eyes meet with those of a really attractive woman and there’s a momentary spark, the sausage wants to – well, you know what it wants to do. I was trained to think it is perfectly acceptable to whet my sexual appetites with an objectified woman; to use them for my gratification. Sample any mainstream cultural product from the late seventies and eighties and you will see it isn’t nature that made men this way. We were taught to be this way.

As a young man, I grew up learning the Dicks get the pretty, vapid, one-dimensional girl, as they were all touted to be. Movies and television taught the young me that emotionally-detached, ruthless, shrewd, charming, power-hungry, zealous men get the prize. Pouty-lipped women swoon for the corrupt-hero, fighter-pilot, or conniving-huckster. They wait in the wings as the Dick they love desecrates the world, and eagerly give their bodies to satisfy his carnal desires without demanding genuine respect in return for their affections. For a teen-aged boy with his brain pickled in testosterone, deeply dysfunctional mental ruts are easily formed when such gendered caricatures bombard his grey matter from every direction.

If I continue to harbour the idea that my sausage is a weapon to conquer the world; that a woman is just a sexy bun, I would be a typical Dick, wouldn’t I? If I said to myself “boys will be boys” – conveniently, after I’ve been a total asshole – it would mean the sausage reigns, just as intended when I was churned out of the factory. I need to work harder, figuratively speaking, to sever my link to the shackles that confine our collective imagination of what it is to be a man. We all do, if we want a planet for our children to enjoy happy, peaceful lives.

Edmund K Saunders, Dick-free sausage. I like the sound of that. If only I could hear myself say it over the roar of irate men, feverishly man-splaining to keep their ill-gotten entitlements.

Oh, Sweet Kryptonite

Sometimes in my office people leave containers of home-baked dainties to share with their co-workers. In my particular work-area the goodie drop-zone is a little enclave just a few feet away from my cubicle, which is good and bad. It’s good because I can usually count on first dibs on heaps of free, sugary swag, but bad because I am a weak-willed glutton when it comes to free, sugary swag.

The profound lack of will is especially intense when mind-numbing boredom sets in after several hours of daily imprisonment. My cell is made up of grey, padded dividers, in a fluorescent-lit room with staid carpets, randomly placed filing cabinets, and grimy walls made of a synthetic material that I’ve only ever seen in government offices and never looks clean, even if washed with buckets of sulfuric acid. Some have the audacity to call this travesty a “workplace.”

There are several cures for white-collar office doldrums. Cocaine, nooners in the supply closet with a co-worker, water-cooler office gossip, terrorizing underlings, internet surfing, and eating other people’s lunches in the office fridge seem to be the most popular. For me, chocolate, preferably in a moist, cake-like state is my Shawshank Redemption; my escape from white-collar lock-down. But once I start into it at work, I’m done. It’s like Kryptonite to my self-control, which is why I absolutely never, and I mean ever, pack it in my lunch or have a supply at my desk. If I did, I would be a three-hundred pound zit.

“Now, here’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna bust me outta this here cubicle and eat me some chocolate muffins,” said Morgan Freeman playing me, to Tim Robbins playing my fellow white-collar prison buddy in The Shawshank Redemption.

Instead of chocolate I have stashes of un-consumed herbal tea I’ve been carting around from office-to-office since my first job, along with  granola, and raisins at my desk. I bring a weekly supply of almonds, yogurt and apples in the fridge. I pat myself on my back for being such a well-disciplined, health-conscious guy. That is, until some do-gooder brings a container with two rows of chocolate cupcakes and leaves them on that cabinet just outside my cubicle. Why do people gotta be so fucking nice?

As I walk to the kitchen to get my lunch the delectable scent of sweet cocoa cuts across my face like a sucker punch. Suddenly the nutritious helping of almonds and yogurt I am about to eat mentally mutates into a bunch of cockroaches swimming in a vat of bull jizz. It seems hardly worth the effort to walk all the way to the lunchroom for such a grotesque meal when chocolate muffins are an arm’s reach away.

“No, you shouldn’t have chocolate dainties for lunch. Have your lunch and then have ONE for dessert,” says the asshole adult who weaseled his way into my brain.

He’s been on my case since college, when he honed-in on my predilection for easy stimulation to quell boredom and dread. He knows it left clouds of darkness in my memory that he still fears may lead to a knock on the door from a grown son I didn’t know I had. He only knows how pathetically the story ended, or arrived in the middle to snap the neurotic version of me back to consciousness so he could ruin all the fun. He knows I woke up in a hotel bed fully dressed in my suit, with my shoes still on, with a half-naked woman beside me. Did he make me fall into a deep sleep as she freshened up? Probably. It wouldn’t have been the first time.

He remembers nothing before midnight on New Year’s Eve 1991 when he arrived to find me on the dance floor sharing a champagne bottle, doing the tongue-tango, and dry humping with the ugly-duckling younger sister of a friend who, after I hadn’t seen her for several years, had grown into a beautiful swan and wanted to spread her wings with me. He does not know what magic tricks I must have performed to lure two women into a bedroom at a party and have them start taking my clothes off.

The adult appeared right at the time when the adventures were really about to begin, and said “how the hell did I get here?” His discomfort at having to ask the question compelled me to flee the scene so I could figure it out. Why? Because my consciousness didn’t know how to wield the brush to finish the sublime work of art the uninhibited version of me had so masterfully begun. Once the adult appeared, he returned me to my usual neurotic, dip-shit self; the one who knew no better than to put the paint-brush between his toes and turn a would-be sexual masterpiece into something resembling a finger-painting done by a baby chimpanzee.

That was all when I was young and stupid, when the adult was over-zealous in issuing his warnings. We hadn’t come to a point of trust or agreement on what was in and what was out, ethically-speaking. I immediately amended my moral code to include the following clause: “If – when you are single – for whatever reason, you happen to find yourself in the midst of a threesome, don’t run away.” Of course, I’ve never had another opportunity to put those instructions into practice, but they are waiting on the shelf collecting dust with the library of reports I’ve written for my job, all of them goading me for their total irrelevance.

All that is to spell out why I consider my inner adult a real Cassandra, a spoil-sport who I don’t like, even if he is helpful at times. He makes sure my bills are only a half-month late and intervenes so I only forget about one or two important things in any given week, despite phone, work-email, Outlook, and dozens of sticky notes to remind me. He tells me it’s not okay to let my kids stay up with me until the wee hours watching movies. He locks my jaw shut tightly in those fiery moments when “fuck you!” Is dying to come out of my mouth with disastrous effect. He tells me not to quit my job and become a barista at Starbucks, insisting that reduced-price Cinnamon Dolce lattes aren’t worth losing a regular, upper-middle class paycheque. I wonder.

But he didn’t let me be as young and stupid as I could have been. Now that I am old, I am feeling a little wistful about the good times I could have had. He has kept a veil of fear in front of me, I suspect. He doesn’t seem to trust fun and wanton depravity in small doses. He believes regret is worse than reckless abandon and masterfully intensifies the volume of past regrets to frighten me away from the types of reckless abandon that are actually worth doing.

So when all I want to do is douse my mid-life malaise with a fistful of chocolate muffins, he is there, as usual, to rain on my parade. I am so tired of his logic, his high-minded principles. “Suck it, inner adult! I’m gonna get me some sugar,” I said to myself that day.

I tore the lid off that bin of muffins like a grabby-handed teenager getting the green light to go past second base for the first time. “Why are these bras so hard to unclip?” I thought, with a bizarre look on my face. I grabbed, squeezed, and tugged at the tray of muffins without rhyme or reason. Like Michael Douglas in 1990’s classic Basic Instinct – when it was still considered mainstream and acceptable to depict sexual animus with rapist violence – I lustfully ripped the fancy-pants off those cupcakes exposing their raw, sultry bottoms. Before I knew it, I had three undressed muffins in the palm of my hands, reeling with anticipation. I gritted my teeth and said “I am gonna eat the shit out of you!”

Remember when everyone thought Basic Instinct was so edgy? I always thought it was lame, especially this scene when Douglas tears the clothes off and basically rapes Jeanne Tripplehorn. If Gen-X men have doubts about what everyone means by

Remember when everyone thought Basic Instinct was so edgy? I always thought it was totally lame and douchey, especially this scene when Douglas tears the clothes off and basically rapes Jeanne Tripplehorn. If men have doubts about what everyone means by “rape culture” this movie, and countless like it of the era are a place to start looking. Cultural criticism aside, I do tear into my cupcakes much like Douglas tore off Tripplehorn’s clothes. At least with cupcakes nobody, other than my waistline, gets hurt.

But then a thought emerged. “Who made these?” I wondered if it was the angry lady from the first floor who hates her job so much the plants in the office wilt a little when she trudges past them, smothering them in her misery. She always smokes at the entrance to the building, forcing everyone to pass through her toxic cloud of negativity and death. I doubt she’d bring cupcakes for people, unless it was a revenge-plot and they were laced with hemlock.

I gave my head a shake and took a deep inhale. Neither the container nor the muffins smelled as though they had been sitting in a whiskey bar the night before. Angry lady didn’t make them. Instead, tidal waves of saliva crashed into the back of my teeth. The twinge between my legs blossomed as my palate readied itself for the rapacious muffilingus it would soon perform to satiate my sugary supplications. Every breath I took suspended all worries or cares about anything woeful in my life. I figuratively stroked my axons and dendrites to the scent of the palate-porn in my hands. I felt like Al Pacino staring at a mountain of cocaine in Scarface.

Tony Montana, thinking this pile of cocaine is as good as a tray of chocolate muffins. Well, Tony,

Tony Montana, slouched before the powdery stuff of his undoing. I know how it is mang. They gonna have to kill me too, if they wanna take my muffins away from me.

“Isn’t it customary when treats are left for everyone to take just one, Edmund?” said that cock-blocking adult in my mind.

“Um, who’s that talking? Sorry, wrong number,” I said, feeling clever.

And then I stuffed those babies in my mouth as if I’d been stranded for three weeks by a plane crash in the Alps and my last meal was my seatmate’s thigh. “Oh. Oh. Oh, yeah, that’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout. Uh-huh. Yep. Oh baby, don’t stop going down. Yeah, like that. Let me show you how …”

Okay, so the adult was partly right. The shame didn’t feel great. I began to wonder if there was a hidden camera. Maybe there was a pen-thief in the office and they’d been been installed to catch the culprit pilfering paper clips and purloining post-it notes. I mused about the things I often do when I’m alone in the office without thinking of the possibility I’m being filmed.

Most days I pretend to kung-fu shit-kick the Director who, usually between 9:53 and 11:22 at night blackberries a tasking for a report so “urgent” it’s due by the end of day – despite the other “urgent” thing due at noon; a decision obviously made on the shitter when his mind is at its best; when path-breaking new ideas that will conflict with previous ideas already set in motion flood out of him, unimpeded by the meddling reason and expertise of others more knowledgeable. Other times I’m plucking my unibrow and marveling at the Chia Pet-like growth of my nose hair, or changing into my cycling gear to ride home for the day.

Sometimes when I am naked while changing at my desk I like to jump around a little. As a man, I want to know what it is like to have my balls really free at the workplace, to have my scrotum momentarily liberated from the iron-fists of big-wigs who get off on squeezing it every day with their arbitrary deadlines. It’s a refreshingly transgressive, if slightly sad way to ennoble an anodyne, powerless white-collar existence. If you want to try it, I recommend you confirm that the mousy, introverted co-worker is not at their desk before stripping down.

“You’re a bad man, Edmund. You need to grow up. You probably would smother a litter of kittens after a bad day, wouldn’t you? You steer your car to run over those cute, fluffy bunnies running across the road. You are a gluttinous child,” says the adult, chastising me again.

To quote Joe Pesci from Goodfellas, “Hey adult, are you bustin’ my balls over here?” You know Joe, I think he is bustin’ my balls. Again. I think he thinks I’m a clown. I think I amuse him. Why don’t you, me, and De Niro grab some shovels and lime, line the trunk of the caddy with some plastic, and take the adult for a “little drive” upstate. I work hard to pig out on muffins, and I want to eat them without that fucking wise guy busting my chops about it.

Remember to Laugh, Otherwise it’s Ashes to Ashes

David Bowie - Ashes to AshesI am amazed by the insights my children often share with me. One afternoon, as we drove to a local nature reserve tucked in among a city suburb, my son Owen observed of the scattered mansions dotting the road we traveled “Why do people need such big houses? It’s such a waste of natural habitat.” I had never coached him in the environmentalist’s creed, largely because I am a carbon-sucking sloth like everyone else in North America. We were driving in my compact SUV to the nature reserve, after all. The observation was his alone, which made me proud.

Another time, he had a fascination with supernovas, piqued by the Ray LaMontagne song by that name. He seemed awed by the idea such energies exist in the universe, that there was nothing we could do to influence them in any way. For weeks he would ask me about the prospects of a supernova jeopardizing earth’s existence. I said “nah,” without having a clue. He consulted Wikipedia on the subject, and learned there is geological evidence of gamma rays from supernovas, a belief the effects on the ozone layer may have caused massive extinctions of oceanic life. No matter the risks to earth, a supernova definitely obliterated my son’s faith in his learned father as a source of edification, which was all that mattered to me. I hate supernovas now.

These are just a couple of examples that scream to me in the starkest terms possible that my child is no longer really a child; that he’s reflecting deeply about things in his experience. It’s a harrowing prospect if he’s anywhere near as skeptical, self-critical, and emotionally mistrusting as I was at his age. Innocently, out of the blue the other day, he said “I notice I don’t laugh uncontrollably at certain funny things like I used to when I was a kid. Why is that?”

My first thought was ‘I think that makes me want to curl up and die, son.’ It is disheartening to realize he’s lost some of his childhood bliss, but it’s to be expected, to a degree. My second thought was I should say something like “It’s sad you’re thinking this way, but don’t worry, the sun will come out tomorrow.” I refrained, but it was not easy. I just said “Maybe you’re applying a little more opinion than feeling to certain things as you grow older. I don’t know. What do you think?”

Owen just turned thirteen. Sometimes he wanders into the living room without me noticing, curious about the not kid-friendly movie he’s overhearing from his bedroom. I continue to forget – or am still in denial – about the fact my kids aren’t nine; that, at ten o’clock they probably aren’t fast asleep dreaming of dancing in lollipop fields. Inevitably, a scene with nudity or violence propels him to reveal his presence “I guess I shouldn’t be watching this, hey Dad?”

After a few instances of this, it strikes me that he is genuinely interested in these movies. It’s not just the sensation of flesh and gore that piques his imagination, it’s the existence of social dynamics so utterly foreign to him that fascinates. He’s curious; the situations are so much more emotionally nuanced, the characters not so one-dimensional in their psychological métier, unlike the cardboard cut-out characters he’s been exposed to in kids’ movies. There are no clear good guys and bad guys; there are good people doing bad things and vice versa. There is no easy fix, no clearly self-interested aims to see through. The world is not flat, and its problems are bigger than who will become king.

Supernova. Obliterated my son's faith in his father's as a learned figure in his life.

Supernova. Obliterated my son’s faith in his father as a learned figure in his life.

I can see his mind swirling with questions about what he sees in the movies I’m watching, or what he sees and hears on the news of the world. People are dying all over the place. Bombs are going off with intent to kill and maim. There is rampant, abject poverty and crass wealth. The polar ice-cap is shrinking every year. Things aren’t turning out peachy in the world, at least not for most of us. These create conflicts in a young mind cradled in simple, easy-to-digest fictions, who is possessed of a body reeling with hormones and exploding from clothes he fit just yesterday. It’s all a bit unsettling.

It’s unfortunate he’s no longer laughing with the same uninhibited abandon he once did, and I wonder if there’s a sadness or trepidation at what he is learning about the world that is partly responsible. I will never forget the sheer force of that laugh several years ago; a laugh which energized a theatre of movie-goers as we watched Kung Fu Panda. By the end of the movie I could feel the entire audience watching Owen watch the movie. His amusement at what was unfolding on screen was infectious and intensified others’ delight in the experience.

Since then, I assume it’s been an increasing sense of ‘been there, done that.’ Things may be funny, but they’re not that funny. As we watch movie after movie specifically made for kids his age, he displays a growing weariness about the lack of imagination, depth, and substance in the characters and situations that typify these stories. I wonder if he detects how little they challenge convention. He has been saying repeatedly for about a year now, ‘filled with clichés,’ which suggests he does. He prefers to watch the enormous selection of nature documentaries available on Netflix, which suits me fine. At least there are no questions about gratuitous drugs, sex, or violence I have to dance around, and I get to make fun of David Attenborough’s aristocratic British accent.

It’s clear my son is really beginning to filter his experience via his emerging sense of judgement. For most teenagers there are two crude dimensions of this faculty: “Suck” and “Does not suck.” In my son’s case, I worry he will inherit a yardstick with the taint of my own skeptical, idealist bent; one that is quick to detect, denounce, and despair of the cruelty, duplicity, and corruption that defile humanity. Thus far, he’s only gone so far as casting aspersions at the preponderance of clichés we seem to live by, but it’s a slippery slope.

I’ve tried to raise my son without over-indulging him with my opinions about everything under the sun to spare him the perils of my own cynicism. I was raised that way by well-meaning, ideologically zealous family members. The approach robs a child of trust in their own instincts and renders them emotionally rudderless. Despite my struggle to exercise ideological forbearance in his life, my son sees certain things critically in his own right. I swear, there have only been a few minor slips from his father’s stadium-sized, navel-gazing peanut gallery, hardly enough to have prod him unwillingly along that path. At least that is my hope.

I am glad my son is intellectually curious and takes the time to follow up on the big questions in a conscientious way. It’s encouraging to see him chasing after his own sophisticated view of things. I respect his brains and ideas about the world he sees, and am relieved he isn’t applying the “Sucks/Does not suck” dichotomy to that world. That will be his salvation from the neurosis that began to imprison me at his age.

Most of all, I am relieved he expends the energy to frame his world without relying on others to do it for him. The habit of looking outward turns a potentially infinite mind into an intellectually lazy, ignorant, dull mind; one that merely parrots whatever has been served for mass consumption. It also cultivates a strong affinity for axioms that appease fear and anxiety, no matter how false they may be, which as a consequence blunts the mind’s capacity to perceive wisdom.

John Cleese, aka Minister of Silly Walks

John Cleese, aka Minister of Silly Walks

The habit of looking beyond ourselves for truth is tragic, because it severs the connection with our inner source of freedom and intensifies feelings of powerlessness. It is ironic the vast freedom to pursue and transmit knowledge in our societies has failed to free our minds from the sway of cultural media extolling idealizations of reality that are compelling less by their moral force than by the intensity of their appeal to our crudest emotions. I am glad my son already shows signs of seeing through such demagoguery; that he is inclined to reflect inward and explore sources of wisdom outside the traditional cultural bellwethers.

The day after my son asked me that question I was sitting in my living room when David Bowie’s song “Ashes to Ashes” came on the radio. I remember vividly when I first heard it in the summer of 1981. My best friend’s older brother, who had exquisite taste in music, filled their home with the elegiac yearning of that song. I was instantly overwhelmed with wonder in the experience; that something so simple as a song could be so strange and wonderful at the same time; that it could penetrate my bones with its true meaning, if not in a way that I could understand intellectually.

I fought back tears as the song ended. It reaffirmed my adoration for Bowie, who so transcendently encapsulates the indescribable repercussions of loss; lost childhood, or lost youth, at least. To me, the song is wistful about how our spirit smoulders under the emotional weight of adult lives too often tilled from the ashes of forsaken youth. The drugs and excess of so many successful people are a failed attempt to prop up perpetually wilting egos heavy from the artifice. It seems to me the better solution would be to exhume the child buried beneath the ashes. The notion gave me pause; I think of children my son’s age crafting their identities, one judgement at a time, stoking the flames that engulf their true essence to fit the cultural mold of adulthood.

What dies in the process is the wonder that keeps the spirit yearning for more of the simple graces this life has to offer – that fuels the curiosity and energy to see it fulfilled in authentic ways. The richness of life can’t be experienced fully by those entangled in the spiritless life of most adults. It is essential to leave the confines of that existence to cultivate a connection to the feeling in our bodies telling us what the world reveals in our experience, and to trust the wisdom arising from that.

Uncontrollable laughter is as all-consuming within our bodies as crippling sadness. The truth in those experiences is undeniable, despite the qualification our minds impart to temper our psyches. I want to say to my son ‘If something’s really not funny don’t laugh; if it is, do so fully. Let go to how it feels in your heart, not your mind.’ Trust is maintained in that purity of feeling by holding up the mirror to ourselves daily, with spiritual intention, to ensure what is reflected remains the person we knew intimately as children; that the view isn’t dulled by the ashes and dust of abandonment to adulthood.

Hey Angry Couch-guy, Genghis, Meet Faith

“Hey moron, look at that guy’s snazzy car. He must be makin’ a mint, unlike you, the nine-year payment-plan to buy a Hyundai putz. Hey, move your under-achieving ass and get me the remote. While you’re up I need another beer,” says my inner critic, always.

I’ve been struggling in my Mysore yoga practice for a long while. At first, I was saddled with self-inflicted injuries that dogged me nearly a year. Lately, I’ve been battling frustration at how incompetent I am in so many of the poses in my practice, despite how long I’ve been doing them; or, how long I have been trying to do them without much success.

These realities point to many things, paramount among them, at least in my mind, being the undeniable fact I am not a young man anymore. If I am being honest, I try to be noble and graceful about aging, but in truth I hate that prospect. It sucks. There are other aspects of my life that suck besides aging. I wonder if the struggle am experiencing in my yoga is a reflection of my conflicted feelings about where I currently stand in life; whether it portends anxiety at the thought of more grim realities in store.

I am aware the toll aging will have on my body. It’s an inevitable facet of existence. Up until recently, the reality remained in the realm of abstraction. I am in better shape now than I was in my late twenties and thirties. People aren’t just being polite when they express shock at hearing my age. I sense at times they are thinking “this guy’s pretty immature for a forty-something,” which I’ll take as a compliment. No matter how youthful the image staring back at me in the mirror appears, the duration of time my injuries linger – from yoga, of all things – is certain proof that aging has caught up with me.

Even though I appear young, am not flabby, and don’t have grey hair, at least on my head, teenaged employees at the grocery store call me ‘sir.’ The young and cute marketing reps downtown giving away energy drinks or other stuff to get young folks hooked on don’t even bother giving me a freebie. I’m not in the cool target demographic anymore, which basically means I am in the segment of society whose existence no longer really matters. ‘Is there a smell that betrays my age?’ I wonder.

I don’t know why, but I thought I’d be dead by now. I’m not a gangster; never been a coal miner, high-rise window-washer, or test-pilot. I’ve never been addicted to anything harder than Zesty Cheese Doritos. I just had a feeling when I was fifteen that forty-something was as doomed as ninety-one. There was no forethought to mentally prepare me for the age I’ve managed to acquire, despite myself. It’s the second time arriving at a place in my existence – ostensibly because I wanted to – without a plan for enjoying it or an expectation that it could actually be enjoyed. The first time I was struck by the feeling was the day after I got married.

I tend to push myself in everything I do. I am desperately trying to be better than everyone else; the thinking being that, once I stand alone at the pinnacle, there will only be one person instead of legions to make me feel inferior. Since self-loathing is the quintessence of loneliness I may as well be at the top. So far, neurosis has undermined my ascendancy with perfectly placed banana peels I can’t ever seem to avoid.

When I started doing yoga seriously, the intention was to do the poses I had seen in posters of the Primary Series. I didn’t really take much heed of the possibility my meaty legs, barrel chest, and tight ass might not be able to compress or bend accordingly. It never occurred to me the waifs in the pictures I was trying to mimic didn’t look like they’d been eating bacon and binge-eating their neuroses away in their spare time. No matter, my mind was intent on making it happen, body be damned.

After about a year of that nonsense, my body had had enough. Even the simplest movements were punctuated with pain. My body would not allow me to bend as I had done countless times before.  I’ve been paying penance ever since, wondering when I will be forgiven. Every time it seems I’ve got a foot out of the dog house, my body throws a twinge here or a throb there to remind me: you pushed too hard, asshole.

I get frustrated quickly, with myself, with the shenanigans at work, with senseless violence in the streets, with the lack of world peace; with the fact an unapologetic douche-bag like Donald Trump is a genuine contender in the GOP race. I am a habitually impatient person. I’ve never suffered fools very well. It disturbs me profoundly that so much of our society’s wealth and power is in the hands of utter douche-bags; that the wealth we generate is not easing the suffering of so many millions, but increasingly lines the pockets of cretins intent on using their influence to immiserate the lives of the majority.

I have difficulties with focus, my mind wanders madly. I’m often grappling disappointment with many things in the world, especially myself. When I struggle with all these emotions I redouble my efforts to fix the shit out of that negativity. l’m grimacing, pushing, squeezing, wincing, forcing myself to be happy if it kills me. There is no letting go; there is no acceptance of the way things are. There is no trusting in the wisdom of time; no memory of how often it has whittled away the sharp edges of adversity, how it has carried me through in the past. There is no belief in the power of a graceful approach when the intense heat of the present seems unbearable.

It’s hard not to notice all of these mind-states when you’re doing a self-practice based yoga. There are no sultry instructors to listen to, no people to follow along with; nothing to steal your focus – other than your own raging mind. With practice after practice swirling in a mental cesspool of frustration and self-recrimination, there is residual anger at the cruel alchemy of cosmic forces that made me this way.

“I don’t like how this shit is going! I am gonna siege and plunder my external reality to quell my inner angst!” says my ego, always.

I imagine in another life I was either Genghis Khan or his caustic side-kick – plundering and ransacking the world with brutality to fill some gap in his soul. There is difficulty with relaxing into my yoga; or into my life. My preference is to force the issue; to push too hard. In the past, the victories arising from this approach were pyrrhic; I don’t know why I still cling to it, but I do. Hence the feelings of constant struggle. All this self-awareness can be difficult, because the revelations aren’t brimming with the positivity and bliss we tend to expect from yoga.

Several months ago, I was sitting with my legs out on my yoga mat, doing nothing. The sludge had bubbled over in my head and drowned out my yoga practice. I battled the urge to call it quits, fought back tears, and was tormented by feelings of being a total fuck-up; a cruel tenor of self-reproach that’s dogged me for years.

My teacher came to me and said, “Just keep moving. Don’t stop in the thoughts. Have faith in the breath and follow it with your focus.”

I said, “but I’m just so … ” gassed, I may have said, or something like it. He replied “take it easy, but keep the practice moving.”

But how? It’s not in my nature to take it easy when I’m in the throes of total, abject failure. I can’t fail, yet again. I need a success.

After doing this kind of yoga for almost three years, I am beginning to understand what makes yoga a “spiritual” practice. There’s no escaping the outer layers of self when you’re trying to bend, twist, or bind and you can’t stop clenching to allow it to happen. The fact I persist, despite the struggles, the self-inflicted injuries, and the doubts about the point of continuing, is my first foray into the kind of faith my teacher was pointing to. Larger truths transcend our limited prior notions about the content of those glimpses of wisdom. In my case the insights have been more often humbling than blissful.

For once in my life, I am not as threatened with being honest about some of my shortcomings. That honesty has allowed me to see the good things too, which were hidden beneath all the anger, indignation, and striving undertaken to please my inner critic. When I practice yoga, it’s me on my rug. The inner chatter, opinions, and negative judgements emerge from a mind conditioned to do just that. It’s not really me, as much as it is a pernicious habit I can’t seem to relinquish despite its drawbacks.

The moment I sense a struggle, my mind reacts quickly with frustration or anger to push through the problem. It’s so automatic I don’t even notice my eyes shifting around and my breath stultified. The angry voice fears failure; it doesn’t trust that something as simple and soft as a breath can solve the problem. My mind, body, and breath have no history of working together. The integration was lost from all the years I gave exclusive reign to my discursive mind.

This highly reactive mind of mine has countless times thrown me under the bus. It has ruined or severely strained countless relationships; I’ve said and done things to cause damage that I can’t take back. And yet there I am, doing it even when I practice yoga. It is irrefutable proof how deep are the ruts, how effectively they carry the rivers of distorted narratives to my consciousness, how routine it seems to drink the poison cup.

It is a profound lesson in humility for a grown man of my age to accept. It is easy to understand how I became injured, why I’m so hotly agitated with things, and why I periodically think of calling it quits with yoga. I cannot stop the affliction despite how pernicious and counter-productive it is to a positive outlook. Sometimes I wish I did not have to see it, but if I go back to denial and distraction it will return as a force in my life again, which I no longer want.

In times of trouble my inner voice is like an unwanted, angry old friend who arrives unannounced to crash on my couch. He fritters away my money, drinks my beer, and binges on junk food as he slouches in my couch, robbing my soul with his incessant put-downs and naysaying. Like a drill-sergeant, he believes the abusive hectoring is needed to light a fire under my waning spirit. In reality he’s fanning the flames of psychic self-immolation. Despite his penchant for destruction, he’s got a set of keys to my mental space, and creates a dour mood when he’s around, which is more often than I would wish.

Zen Buddhist master Suzuki-roshi speaks of the need for a “don’t know mind.” In meditation as in life, the adage is to practice being in the world as if we were beginners, dispensing with our expectations and understandings of the way things are supposed to be. These ideas narrow our perception and close our eyes to endless possibilities.

In our culture, we engage in relentless pursuit of competence to avoid a “beginner mind.” The idea is anathema to how we’re conditioned from an early age. We are told it’s in our best interest to acquire the education, skills and wealth to navigate life successfully. Nobody wants to be a beginner; nobody reveres a beginner; being a beginner doesn’t pay the bills. The greed, indifference, and ethical abyss our societies have descended so clearly attest to just how hollow our ideas of competence truly are.

Okay then, back to the beginning. In this case, this blog post, where I attributed my inability to do Mysore yoga to my increasing age. Clinging to the idea makes it easier for me to remain foreclosed to the possibility of good things ahead despite the inevitability of aging and the certainty of more experiences I will struggle with. The negativity stirs my mind to dispatch its mental army of resistance against reality on a quest to preserve my youth and conquer life’s obstacles with brute force, instead of accepting things as they are and charting a path with heart through them.

Maybe the angst has been a motivator in the past, but mounting such resistance is as exhausting as it is futile in the end. I need a new approach; more openness, less anguish, no expectations. Maybe I’ll learn to just see what happens without all the agitation, and patiently wait to see what comes with a more easy-going effort. It’s a hard shift to make; it’s been the acerbic couch-surfer, Genghis, and I manipulating the tragic, dysfunctional fable that has been my life for such a long time.

When I stand at the edge of my mat tomorrow morning, and the morning after, and the morning after that, I’ll thank my prognosticators for doing their best in trying to prevent me drowning in complacency and resignation. I’ll mean it too. But I’ll have to let them go so my practice, and my life, are imbued with greater freedom, even in the struggle. I will do my best to breathe, focus, and keep moving through it, as the teacher says, instead of fighting it with stridency or conceding defeat.

None of us really knows what lies ahead. Life’s constant flux, the fear of being overwhelmed by the next unseemly circumstance, is at the source of my struggle for control. The uncertainty compels me to reach for my sword. With a little faith I sense a better future; the softening of my mind invites a wider range of possibilities to make it so.