Peterson is at bottom a generic conservative—a believer in the moral and civilizational necessity of established authorities and traditions
✎ Wayne K. Spear | November 14, 2017 • Current Events
IT’S BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT that we are living in a time of cultural warfare, and as a rule at such times heroes or saviour figures are lifted up to lead in battle. For the self-designated enemies of feminism, political correctness, and leftism, Jordan B. Peterson is such a figure.
I first stumbled over this University of Toronto professor for the reason many others did—his vocal opposition to Canada’s Bill C-16, amending the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination. C-16 further amends the Criminal Code
to extend the protection against hate propaganda set out in that Act to any section of the public that is distinguished by gender identity or expression and to clearly set out that evidence that an offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on gender identity or expression constitutes an aggravating circumstance that a court must take into consideration when it imposes a sentence.
Peterson objects to many aspects of this bill. He’s deemed it compelled speech and has stated many times that he will not use non-gendered pronouns such as xe or xyr. His broader objection to non-binary (or perhaps it is extra-binary) gender identity and expression is that these are make-believe notions with no grounding either in biological or social reality. And so he has declared war against something he calls cultural neo-marxism, as well as against postmodernism, principally in the form of the propositions that all structures are oppressive and that Western civilization is white supremacist patriarchal rot, and little more, and thus must be overthrown and replaced by more progressive, inclusive, and egalitarian arrangements.
A simple Google search will yield many interviews, podcasts, news articles, and university lectures featuring Mr. Peterson. His notoriety is worldwide, and despite his fame originating in a claim that the university and the laws were out to silence and imprison and ultimately ruin him, Jordan Peterson’s views saturate the air and earn him many hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Between his income as a tenured professor and his $50,000USD/month (and growing) Patreon subscriptions, to say nothing of his other income streams, Mr. Peterson is a millionaire, or will be one soon. He has a large following, mostly made up of the alt-right, white nationalist, libertarian, and MRM, or men’s rights movement, types of person. He is also admired by a good many atheists, who see him (wrongly, in my view) as a defender of science against faith.
What is it that Jordan Peterson proposes, and why have his statements and positions raised him to his current prominence? These are the questions I am setting out to answer, and along the way I will consider secondary matters, for example the prospect of his efforts to starve certain university professors and disciplines of students and therefore of income.
At the highest level of analysis (and here I am relying on his published lectures) Jordan Peterson appears to be concerned with the relationship of truth and value. Or, to put it as a question, what truth or set of truths will provide the values that allow us to live in this world in a manner that fulfils our individual and collective human potential? It is worth noting that questions of this sort, having to do with ultimate truths and the ideal human society, will as a rule land us in the territory of religion and politics, and so it is in the present case. Jordan Peterson studied political science and was a member of the New Democratic Party until he decided that the political solutions on offer were so much nonsense and turned instead to clinical psychology. But even his interest in psychology is largely an interest in the truth-value of ancient myths and archetypes, as they are rendered in religion and in particular in Judaism and Christianity. So he has in fact migrated from politics to religion, and it is through the door of religion that his thinking is best approached.
Much can be learned about a man from the company that he keeps, and Peterson appears to have ingested a good deal of Nietzsche and Jung and Piaget and Dostoevsky. This is a logical diet of someone who is in search of values by which to live, especially someone of an unconventional, non-conformist outlook who desires a heroic inner life. In college I knew a few Philosophy majors enamoured of Nietzsche, and to a man (they were all men: I have yet to meet a female devotee of Nietzsche) they were oddballs and misfits but I suspected with an imagination that made up for their outward limitations. With Dostoevsky it is much the same, except that Dostoevsky is perhaps even more a moralist than Nietzsche and with somewhat less of the Nietzschean self-aggrandizing bombast—especially of the later, Ecce Homo years, when tertiary syphilis was just around the corner. Piaget is of course an authority of psychological development, having focused on the socialization of children, and from him Peterson would have got the evolutionary-biological basis of the psyche as well as the notion that identity is the product of social negotiation. From his other major influence, Jung, Peterson derived an interest in mythic archetypes and probably in religion also. This brief review covers about 80% of Peterson’s evident influences, and most of the rest has to do with ethology (especially dominance hierarchies and mate selection) and the five-factor model of personality, with which I happen to be very familiar.
Peterson often has recourse to Darwinian natural selection, as well as to evolutionary psychology, and for this reason many atheists mistakenly see Peterson as a fellow-traveller. On his surface he is a rationalist and empiricist, and even to a degree below the surface as well. But if you listen to Jordan Peterson carefully for even one lecture, it becomes clear that he is not a philosophical materialist at bottom but rather some kind of believing Christian. It becomes clear also that his ethology and Darwinism—which is to say his science—are in service of subjective concerns related to masculinity and competitive success and whatnot. (It’s not hard to see why Men’s Rights activists have gravitated to Peterson.) He’s not a doctrinal Christian of an identifiable denomination, but he is a Christian nonetheless. And, being a Christian, he believes—this is I think the proper word for it—in the moral and civilizational necessity of tradition, including the moral Christian traditions that inform marriage and gender roles and so on. In other words his interest in myth and archetype is a prescriptive interest and not a theoretical or abstract one, in the way that an evangelical Christian’s interest in Koiné or ancient Hebrew is not merely intellectual but rather serves a practical goal, that is, attaining a closer relationship with Jesus. He means to apply his observations of things like the hero archetype and the dominance hierarchy and the five-factor model of personality to his life, and it seems to me he wants his students to do the same. Nor is this remarkable, most professors being self-consciously evangelical where their pet ideas are concerned. In short, his life has been a quest for the Guidebook, and now that he has it, he is not going to give up its counsel, or witness its denigration, without a fight.
If my admittedly superficial analysis is correct, what Jordan Peterson proposes is what all tradition-minded conservatives propose—that the answers to our most pressing questions will be found in the past and not in the innovations of radicals and revolutionaries, or even of liberals. Peterson’s exchanges with the podcaster and neuroscientist Sam Harris exhibit a clash of left-versus-right thinking, Harris taking the “left” position that myths from tribal bronze age societies, no matter how laden with practical wisdom, can not guide us successfully through the terrain of urban, high-tech societies. Peterson evidently not only believes that Christianity can guide us, he believes that if we abandon it we will find ourselves between the Scylla and Charybdis of nihilism and totalitarianism. When the news of Louis C.K.’s sexual assaults broke last week, Peterson tweeted that “we are going to soon remember why sex was traditionally enshrined in marriage….” The many casual observers of Jordan Peterson who had assigned him to the Darwinist-materialist camp were confused by this leap, but those of us who have discerned the conservative Christian moralist lurking within his views were not. Without believing in the literal truth of the Christian story, Peterson nonetheless is able to believe in its practical and prescriptive truth. His allegiance to Judeo-Christian values puts him in the company of many radical right figures who are fighting for Western civilization (their preferred tactic is always war) which is to say the institutions, laws, habits, and arrangements of Judeo-Christianity.
The answer to the second question is obvious once the first has been answered. Jordan B. Peterson’s statements and positions have raised him to his current prominence because the need of a strong leader and even of a fierce hero-saviour type is hardwired into the conservative-traditionalist worldview, an essentially hierarchical world that defers to authority. As Jerry Falwell Jr. correctly said of Donald Trump, “We’re not electing a pastor. We’re electing a president.” In Donald Trump, white conservative evangelicals found their outspoken, combative, strong-man leader. They were not looking for meek and mild Jesus and did not want him for the mission. And of course candidate Trump, like Professor Peterson, says what many are thinking, in a way that makes clear his indifference to political correctness and hurt feelings. The main difference between Trump and Peterson (whose constituencies largely overlap) is that Trump dissembles in plain language whereas Peterson is candid but in terms that are complex, hence easily misconstrued. The result is that both have within their followings people who are in the dark where the actual convictions and objectives of their hero are concerned.
As for the prospect of Peterson’s efforts, a few observations seem in order. The first is that Peterson is fighting over, and for, real-world things that go far beyond pronouns—things like traditional gender roles and marriage and sexual norms and the cultural authority of Christian teachings and values. In the future we will either be saying faerself or we will not, most of the battles being of the zero-sum variety. In a society where a minority of people read the Bible and where the general drift has been away from traditional authorities like the church and toward secularism and plurality, only an aggressive and sustained reaction to the developments of the modern world seems likely to reverse course. Such a reaction is not impossible to imagine, and in fact it is now underway both here and in Europe, but by definition the conservative cause is a doomed one. No one knows this more than conservatives, whose conception of historical development has at its core the notion of decline, or, in other words, the abandonment of a golden age and its values and institutions and the drifting away from natural law. If the tendency of the world were stasis, there would be no need of conservatives or of conservatism. The whole point of being a conservative is to fight for the impossible, which is to say the preservation of a world that is forever changing.
On the other side of this argument are the agents of change, who believe in the future perfection (or at least improvement) of the human being, as well as in the upward arc of human societies, driven by repudiation of the revealed wisdom and the norms embedded in and perpetuated by ancient institutions and authorities. Their disagreement with Peterson is deep and will probably occupy our species for the next century and more. In the meanwhile should Jordan Peterson be fired or silenced, as some of his opponents foolishly hope he will be, his followers will add martyr to the CV and promote him further up the dominance hierarchy, where greater helpings of prestige and American dollars and media celebrity await.
There is no use ignoring the points on which Jordan Peterson is doubtless correct. A society can not undergo rapid and enormous changes and not suffer, often in ways that are wholly unanticipated. Whatever its advances and improvements, the culture that jettisons its traditions and re-invents its values wholesale will invariably introduce an element of uncertainty and even of chaos. But no one born in the past one hundred years can believe that the world will not continue to change, likely at an increased pace and in ways it is impossible to imagine. We are, all of us, wondering what is going to happen and hoping it will not be catastrophic. Peterson’s defiance is doubtless grounded in a pessimism informed by this very point. Nor is he foolish to posit a future in which we have leapt the rails. Such a thing may well occur, and the agents of progress and social justice could well be responsible, and probably will be, since the most dangerous thing is to leap into the unknown. Whenever and wherever the refashioning of societies has been undertaken along tribal identitarian lines, the result has been bloodshed and barbarism, so much so that our survival will likely come down to our ability to transcend the evolutionary inheritance of our tribal ape ancestors. Here we are in a world of particle accelerators and nanorobotics, with our reptilian brains primed for a flight or a fight. One day we will have to learn how to live with this unfortunate paradox, if we are to live at all.
His place in the firmament of Canadian music is well established
✎ Wayne K. Spear | October 19, 2017 ◈ Obituary
I’VE NEVER BEEN A Tragically Hip fanatic, and that’s a shame, because the two shows that I saw were the kind of show a fanatic would give an arm to have attended.
Gord Downie established himself as a symbol of Canada
The first performance was in a St Catharines bar called The Hideaway, before The Hip were well-known, in the mid-1980s. We were so close to the stage that the sweat from Rob Baker’s hair was raining down on me and my friends, so we retreated into the crowd. The next and last time I saw The Hip was in 1994, in a small Kingston pub, where the band suddenly turned up for an unannounced free show. At the time I was hanging around with the curator of a local art gallery whose painter boyfriend was a close friend of the fellow who painted the cover of Day for Night. I got a call telling me to get to the pub, now, which I did, only minutes before it filled to beyond capacity.
The Tragically Hip made the most sense to me in bars, the seedier the better. I remember stepping into a Sudbury dive as the chorus to Little Bones played on the radio. I sat in the corner with my watery beer, and the song felt like the soundtrack of the place. In Sault Ste Marie, New Orleans Is Sinking. In Prince Albert, Courage. In Moncton, Ahead by a Century. Then there was Bobcaygeon, a song in a category of its own because some of my earliest memories are of the cottage my family had there, in the 1960s and 70s. We love musicians because they make music, and we love music because it captures and preserves our fondest memories like an amber that you can dance and sing along to.
Every obituary is about its author as well as its subject. We write of others to affirm our values and to praise what we hope to have within ourselves. A life lived is an object lesson, a set of actions and commitments to be appraised, celebrated, or (in some cases) denounced. And one day my friend you will arrive at the place, if you haven’t already, where the obituaries make you think, “my goodness, I’ll be that old very soon” or “she was younger than I” or (as I thought of Gord Downie) “he was the same age as me.” A selfish thought, but also human.
I am tempted to reach for the cliché that Gord Downie died before his time, but of course the time when one leaves this world is by definition his time. He died young, doubtless before he had said everything he wanted to say and before he had made everything he wanted to make. But he was also old enough to have left an indelible and enviable mark upon Canadian music and culture. The depth of his influence was revealed last May when news of a tumour went out to a stunned public. The tour that followed ranks among the most widely viewed and widely discussed in Canadian music history, as the outpouring of sentiment, then and now, attests. Gord Downie managed to do what only a handful of Canadian musicians have done—establish himself as a symbol of Canada. In this, he has joined the company of Gordon Lightfoot and Stomping Tom and Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, all of whom, please note, are a full generation older.
Gord Downie committed himself late in life to causes including environmentalism and raising awareness of the Indian Residential School System. At the end, knowing his time was short, there came a final blast of creative fury. He took up the story of Chanie Wenjack, creating a book and album and film about the real-life boy who died trying to escape the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School. He set up the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund. He became a prominent vocal proponent of Indigenous people, in a time when there were already numerous books, by Indigenous people, on numerous topics including residential schools.
An October 21, 2016 Walrus article asks, “Why is Gord Downie getting more attention for retelling Indigenous history than Indigenous artists?” The short answer is that Downie, because he was a rock star, could reach an audience few if any Indigenous authors could. That’s an unpleasant truth for those of us who are the Indigenous authors of books about the Indian residential schools, but it’s a truth nonetheless. I remember the day Secret Path arrived to fill the windows of a local bookstore where my book, Residential Schools, wasn’t even stocked. Again, the selfish but also human thoughts. I was glad the Wenjack story would get out, but I wished it didn’t take a pop-culture celebrity to do it. Are we going to have to assign a rock icon to each of the thousands of Chanie Wenjacks?
It’s too soon to say what Downie’s influence and legacy will be as these pertain to his twilight interest in Chanie Wenjack and Indigenous people generally. But his place in the firmament of Canadian music is well established. Gord Downie’s music will live on, and so will the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund. May good come of it.
Despite the vagaries of fortune and fashion, Tom Petty entertained and inspired, year after year and decade upon decade
✎ Wayne K. Spear | October 3, 2017 | waynekspear.com
When Tom Petty arrived forty years ago I was ready. I first got into music during that delicious interval when British rock was still king but when its chief rivals—punk, post-punk, and new wave—were charging the palace gate. It was the 1970s and Rock-n-Roll having crossed the Atlantic over a decade before was now crossing back. Early Tom Petty was punk around the edges but you could discern the influence of rock, blues, and country. He had Joe Strummer’s breadth of musical vocabulary and the on-stage confidence of an overnight sensation ten years in the making.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in 1977. His “Flying V” guitar is featured in the band’s logo.
American Girl wasn’t a song, it was a drug, and no normal teenager could resist it. When you heard that opening D-major open chord you had to know Who is this? Simple and infectious, it showed Petty’s genius for pop hooks and story-telling. Breakdown and American Girl were followed by the 1978 hit I Need to Know, but it wasn’t until Damn the Torpedoes that Petty’s song-writing talents were fully materialized. The album is even more impressive when you consider its circumstances. Recorded while Petty was at war with his record label over publishing rights, the reel-to-reel tapes of Damn the Torpedoes were secretly shuttled by engineers into the recording sessions and then shuttled out at end-of-day to avoid seizure. The Tom Petty who recorded Refugee knew from personal experience that “everybody has to fight to be free.” He had bankrupted himself and risked everything to do so.
Tom Petty’s victory over MCA would be repeated with the next album, Hard Promises. MCA wanted it to retail for $9.98 but Petty was adamant that it should sell at the standard price, which at the time was $8.98. He refused to give the label Hard Promises just as he had refused to give it Damn the Torpedoes. When I rode my bicycle the 30 kilometres to Niagara Falls to buy the new record, I paid the Tom Petty price. Throughout the 1980s Petty released hit after hit, closing out the decade with another simple and infectious tune based on a jangly D-major open chord, Free Fallin. He played an early version of this song at Bob Dylan’s studio, where he had been spending time with Dylan, Roy Orbison, George Harrison, and Jeff Lynne. Eventually this association would lead to the short-lived project, Traveling Wilburys.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers traversed genres and generations. The Beatles convinced Petty that “I could do this, too” and Petty likewise inspired younger generations. My friends aged, their lives and circumstances evolved, and in many instances we drifted apart. Despite the vagaries of fortune and fashion, Tom Petty entertained and inspired, year after year and decade upon decade. For me the early years will always be the best, but Tom Petty was a reliable stage and studio artist from the late 1970s until the end. With so much else having drifted to the curb, my friends and I loved his music Back in the Day and we love it now. There isn’t a covers band that doesn’t play at least one Tom Petty song. (The band I saw this past weekend at Bloor and Jane played American Girl.) I don’t know a human being who professes dislike of Tom Petty’s music. If such a person exists, that person is taste challenged. As for the rest of us, we will always love the music of Tom Petty, and we will miss him.
The two August Leaders, one the President of America and the other the President of that country somewhere in the vicinity of America, clashed in a fierce battle of handshake. The Orange Menace grimaced, jerking the arm of his rival. Sonny Daze stood his ground, dreamily smiling, his core muscles taut with alacrity. The Orange Menace worked the resolute limb, twisting and yanking as if extirpating a root. Yet the mighty tree could not be felled. The Orange Menace has met his match: he who spends an hour each morning at his hair now contends with he who also spends an hour each morning at his hair. One lives for the camera, the other for the camera lives. Each adoration craves. The Orange Menace applies brutal force in service of dominance, while Sonny Daze has charmed his way to this mountaintop.
– I am King of this Mountain, says the Orange Menace.
Sonny Daze does not speak. He adopts a Yoga pose and gazes dreamily into the cameras.
– I have done more in 100 days of being President than any President in the history of the world of Presidents.
Sonny Daze says nothing. He puts on a fringed buckskin jacket and portages to the river, dropping his canoe into the water. He paddles his vessel toward the cameras.
– Look upon my tremendous works! says the Orange Menace.
Sonny removes his buckskin jacket and rends his shirt. Bare-chested, he dashes four miles westward to a couple busied at their nuptials. Henceforth and forevermore shall he be immortalized on the mantelpiece photo where this day will be eternally commemorated.
A jealous and enraged Orange Menace takes to Twitter in an effort to regain the world’s attention. Sonny Daze puts on a faux Indian headdress. It is the War of The Manchildren, a force of personality against the force of personality, a clash of surfaces, a contest of brands, a struggle of perception against perception. They are different and yet the same. They are what you want them to be. They are yours and you must love them, if for no reason other than they are created for you and in your image.
Who will emerge victorious in this battle of the vanities?
– Look upon my mighty works, says the Orange Menace.
– Strong Together We Middle Class Better We Good We, says Sonny Daze.
– I will smite America’s enemies! says the Orange Menace.
– Love We Middle Class Together Good Together Canada Strong, says Sonny Daze.
They take their places. The battle proper has begun. Now we will see and judge them by their works.
The sky darkens as the Orange Menace lifts his adamantium scimitar heavenward. The mighty instrument draws an electric stream from the firmament. Energy ripples from the Orange Menace like an angry stone thrown into water. He shouts a primal scream
The Orange Menace points his scimitar to the West. He issues a tremendous bolt of energy with a roar that splits the Earth. The bolt in an instant strikes the ground at 719 Church Street, in Nashville, Tennessee, 666 miles distant. When the smoke dissipates, the Orange Menace gestures with pride toward the awe-inspiring deed.
– Look upon this hole, which by my own hand I now designate the future Fred D. Thompson Federal Building and United States Courthouse!
With a nice and supple hand, Sonny Daze takes up the Unicorn-feathered holly wand, gifted to his father by a once-Potentate of the Levant. He raises the wand to a swell of birdsong. Of a sudden, the air is redolent of neroli and mandarin. Across the world the humble pause momentarily their toil to hold the hand of a neighbor. The cameras chatter. Sonny Daze points his wand north to the Langevin Building of Ottawa, Canada, 565 miles away. A stream of glowing pixie dust issues from his magical tool, crossing Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and the US-Canada border into Ontario at the eastern edge of the Great Lake. Up goes the pixie dust, along Highways 401 and 416, turning east at Highway 417 where it exits at Bronson Avenue to travel north toward Wellington via Queen.
When the pixie dust arrives to its destination of Parliament Hill, Sonny Daze tucks the Instrument of Dreamy Wonder in an inner pocket of his suit jacket, designed specially for this purpose. He pauses dramatically, before saying
– I hereby re-name the Langevin Building “The Building Where Governmenty People Do Governmenties Stuff.”
The people cheer. Look at his eyes, he is so dreamy, they say.
Not to be outdone, the Orange Menace next names the Department of Veterans Affairs community-based outpatient clinic, in Pago Pago, American Samoa, the Faleomavaega Eni Fa’aua’a Hunkin VA Clinic.
Not to be outdone outdone, Sonny Daze renames National Aboriginal Day “National Indigenous Day.”
Not to be outdone outdone outdone, the Orange Menace renames the Department of Veterans Affairs health care center, in Center Township, Butler County, Pennsylvania, the “Abie Abraham VA Clinic.”
Sonny Daze renames the ten dollar bill the “Indigenous People Are Wonderful Bill.”
The Orange Menace re-renames French Fries “Freedom Fries.”
This goes on for hours and then days, with no clear victor emerging. Incapable, or perhaps unwilling, of anything of substance, they lock themselves into a shambolic war of pandering gesture. Their tribes applaud them, as the cameras record every word and facial expression. Meanwhile, for the rest of us, life goes on.
Ken Detective takes the last of the bourbon. He of broad shoulders, square chin, chaws chaws the glass to tabletop, until a waitress arrives on a circuit that will soon return her bearing another.
Ken Detective eyes the courtyard. Birds fall from the clouds to walk the earth. The birds tell men secrets of sky-gods. The birds whisper to the sky-gods tales of human disappointment: the corn that does not grow, the infertile wife, the idiot President. The gods are bored but also indifferent. They do not listen. They have witnessed the efforts of men, Icarus on his waxy feathers, Neil Armstrong tumbling through space in a bucket. Long ago they decided that mankind is absurd. The birds return to earth, where the impotent men take note of their flight or eviscerate them, spilling the entrails for divination.
Today the birds reveal nothing to Ken Detective. The only thing certain is that the President, Mr Crusher, is a dangerous idiot. Detective takes the last of the bourbon, chaw chaws on the table, awaits his blessed comet of booze. The bar is dark, and if not for him it would be empty also, an ebony nothingness where no comet would bother to go. A good thing that he likes the darkness, likes to hunt it down, to invigilate it for intel. His best work, the real and true art of his occupation, happens in back alleys and taverns. Ken Detective has no use for the bright nonsense of men and their lucent delusions, or for people in general, unless they have information to spill. Then, by all means, find a dark place to slice em open. Shed some light on a shady subject.
The President is a shady character, a narcissistic con artist with a lot of low friends in high places. Russian mafia, Chinese crooks., pimps, hustlers, dirty operatives. The kind of people your mother told you to steer clear of when you were a child. You know the type: grubby and snotty-nosed lowlife bastards who pulled to the curb and offered you candy. Hucksters and shysters, perverts, liars, and creeps. All the President’s men. I haven’t nailed him yet, but jesus I will I swear, on whatever you got in those pockets of yours. I’ll get the bugger, if it’s the last act and the curtain is hitting me in the face. Shit on my corpse and never speak of me again if I don’t.
The thing about being a detective is you care about the facts like you care about oxygen and the kind attentions of a pretty woman. It’s in me like the piss and vinegar is in me, like the bourbon is in me, and although it burns and sometimes makes me go mad, I keep coming back for more. If I have to crack a head for my facts, by god I’ll crack a head. It’s only business. I get to the bottom, and sometimes, my friend, the bottom is a long way down. Not many men have the iron for it, I’ll tell you that. Look at the folks who went punch drunk mad building the Brooklyn bridge, diving and surfacing, diving and re-surfacing, until their brains turned to mush. But I ain’t like that, somehow. I keep on going, I push, I go to the bottom. And I come up and do it again, and then again some more, because the drive is in me. If there’s anything I hate it’s an up-to-no-good liar, covering his lying ass with a sack of lies. I want to kick that ass clear all the way to damn hell. So because I have it in me that’s the thing I’m going to do, so help me god.
Ken Detective takes the last of the bourbon and rises, dropping a bill on the table. He has an appointment in a dark place, with a fellow whose head just might need some cracking.
Despite the constant negative press covfefe, it is true that my name is Kalashnikov. There are some who call me Nik. I say some, and perhaps these some are my friends, but perhaps also not, the ones who call me Nik. I am saying neither that they are friends nor that they are not friends, but only that they call me Nik, as a friend might, or as a friendly person might. If the friendly are friends then it follows that those who call me Nik, which is to say those who speak in the friendly manner of a friend, are friends. None of this solves the original problem however, the problem of the manner of arrival at this curious term Nik, which is not my name but instead a nikname. Ah, the clever pun! —entirely accidental but intended but also not at all what I meant to say.
It happened thusly. First, by extirpation of Kalash, leaving the rump of Nikov. Second, by excision of Ov, leaving the stump of Nik, a knuckle of truncated finger. Excision and extirpation, negation and elimination, and so on. They might have gone further, for example by extermination of the N, leaving a mere Ik. Or by pulverizing the Ik, leaving the mere desolation of N. But to call one by the name of N is an absurdity, something this world of ours could never tolerate. Absurdity, I mean, and not the man, N. Of course the man N, the N-Man would be tolerated, of course! Obviously, in America! Or somewhat tolerated. Or barely, perhaps even not at all. Yes, he would be tolerated not a bit. Of course a suitable epithet, a slander, a term of race hatred, would be confected and hurled at him with abandon, this stinking N fellow. An N-word, doubtless, but not that N-word. Rather another N-word, for there is no end of possibility, altogether unrelated to the N-word universally known to man but also universally to woman.
Despite the constant negative press covfefe, I sleep. It is true that I am awake, but not in the sense that I am not also asleep. I neither sleep nor wake, which is to say I am both asleep and awake. The President may need me at any moment, and so I am awake. There is no question of the thing. But the necessity of sleep is incontrovertible, if that is a word. And so I have found the perfect solution, a most reasonable solution of all, which is to make of sleeping a wakefulness, and to make of being awake a kind of sleep. The sleep of reason. In this state I lay, awaiting the President’s call of “N-word!” He does not say n-word, but rather the word itself—the word designed specifically as an insult to my nature. You see, the President enjoys this sort of thing. At his call I rise and go to the President. Despite the constant negative press covfefe, I discover him in good spirits. His spirit, not mine. It happens that 48% of the American people approve of him, and knowing this he is happy.
I must however play the Devil’s Advocate, the Adversary, and the Accuser. I must. That is to say, play the role, because the truth of any matter is in the dialectic. To his yin I am a yang, to his x an anti-x, as a matter of necessity, even of duty. I play the role.
– Doth the people love you for nought, Mr. President? For you have made an covfefe about them. But if thou takest away their covfefe, surely thine servants shalt curse Thee to Thy face.
– Behold, I will put forth Mine hand.
It happens then that the President puts forth His hand, and a pestilence falls upon His people. The President causes health care to be taken from His faithful servants. He causes their premiums to increase.
The President cuts taxes for those who possess the fattened calves and the yoke of oxen and the assess and the sheep. He causes the taxes of the mighty to be brought low and upon the meek He places His mighty burden. Everywhere He cuts and abolishes and rescinds. He smites His faithful servants with pre-existing conditions.
“Lo,” he says, “Take heed, N-word, that neither do they curse nor forsake Me.”
Again, He does not say “n-word,” but rather the word itself.
And it is true. Although they tear their raiment, and although they sit in ash and go about in sackcloth, the faithful do not curse the name of the President.
The stricken are visited daily by Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite. Each has a program on Fox News—Eliphaz at 8, Bildad at 9, and Zophar at 11.
“Your suffering is due to Hillary,” says Eliphaz. “Curse her and die.”
“Surely the lying media have forsaken you,” says Bildad. “Verily I say unto you that you suffer not, but that the President blesses thee.”
“Libtards!” says Zophar.
No matter how much the President smites His faithful servants, they do not curse His name. Smite their covfefe though He may, the faithful believe in Him and call upon His name.
“We know that Thou canst do every thing,” the faithful declare, “but that Thou shalt make things great again.”
“Tremendous, so tremendous” says the President.
“Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge?” say the faithful ones.
“SAD!” says the President.
“These are things too wonderous for us, things which we know not,” say the faithful.
“Gird up thy loins now like a man!” says the President. “Despite the constant negative press covfefe!”
And so they gird their loins, like a man, despite the constant negative press covfefe.
So much has been written of the current President that it feels almost a work of uselessness to sprinkle one’s grains on the ash pile. And yet, to a degree unmatched by his recent predecessors, Mr. Trump makes one feel both compelled to speak and, at the same time, exhausted by the thought of doing so. I’ve wondered what it would have been like to live under the regimes of, say, Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong-il, and the Trump administration provides a measure of insight into an important psychological aspect of authoritarianism. That aspect is the inescapability of the Dear Leader, the tendency of the regime to smother and exhaust its critics and their faculties. This raises the question of whether or not the President will succeed in his evident work of discrediting and confounding his critics, including those within the state who function in a constitutional capacity as a check and balance. Assuming the Trumpists do prevail, what might the world look like? That is the topic of this essay.
Mr. and Mrs. Fashism ride the enormous circuit of the 89 towards the Patriot Bureau. En route they debark at the Olde Tyme Shop, leaving the box store some hours later with plastic bags of gold plated trinketry.
The color of my brand is gold, tremendous 24k gold. You know when you see the gold of my brand that my brand is rich, so it is powerful, so it is number one and nothing and no one is above or even equal to my brand. My brand is the ultimate, the best, the winner. Whenever it is written, it is written in large letters, the largest letters, the large 24k gold of the winner who is above all else. No name shall be bigger. If there is another name, the name of my brand shall be the largest name, in fact it shall be the largest of all the words, of all the other words that are near. No other name shall surpass the name of my brand, ever.
The orange menace knots his power tie. When finished he looks down to inspect the result. Its tip grazes a knee, sways and grazes the other knee, and so on back and forth between his knees, just as the tip of a perfectly deployed tie ought. He tapes the tie-tail, rendered too short to reach the keeper loop, firmly into place. Then he inspects himself in the full-length mirror. He likes what he sees. The orange menace grins, and a relief of orange putty, the shape of a walnut, forms on the pediment atop his scrofulous lappet.
This is a story about folks who just want a chance to clean the slate and get on with their lives
Meet my good friend, Miche. Here is his story.
Some years ago, Miche and I belonged to a company called Native Leasing Services, based on my reserve—the Six Nations of the Grand River, near Brantford in Ontario.
The idea of Native Leasing Services is simple: you work for the company, and the company leases you to aboriginal organizations across Canada. NLS provides all the services typical of its industry: payroll, group benefits, HR, and so on. Miche and I worked at the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, in Ottawa. That’s how we got to be good friends.
Because NLS is located on a reserve, our income was income-tax-free. We paid Employment Insurance and other common payroll deductions, including a leasing fee. It was legal and, in the opinion of NLS (which Miche and I share), consistent with long-standing Aboriginal rights in Canada.
Somewhere along the way, the federal government changed the rules concerning native income and taxation. They didn’t like the idea of NLS, so they came up with new rules that made it near-impossible for an Aboriginal person to claim income-tax-free status.
Today, you have to live and work on a reserve, and any product or service that you produce has to be delivered and consumed on a reserve as well. As soon as you or your product steps foot off a reserve, the federal government demands the taxes.
Tomorrow, who knows? The government is always changing its rules.
NLS went to court to fight the changes. The test cases dragged on for years (court cases usually do) and the Canadian courts ruled against us.
Typically in these test cases, the government will issue a Remission Order. The idea is that once you’ve lost in court, the ruling applies and you have to start paying taxes, as per the court’s decision. The Remission Order “forgives” the taxes up to that point, and you start from zero.
So far that hasn’t been the case. Revenue Canada, or CRA, is claiming all the back taxes from the roughly 4,000 former NLS employees. Some of us were with NLS as early the ‘80s and ’90s and face decades of back taxes. The government is pursuing hundreds of thousands of dollars from people who make, maybe, 30 or 40 thousand dollars a year. In some instances, tax bills that started out as $10,000 are now ten times that, due to compounding interest.
Miche takes home about $24,000 a year, after taxes, or just over $1,000 every two weeks. This month, CRA began to garnish his income. Even before this happened, he was borrowing money to pay the rent. He has a young daughter, and all the usual bills. He’s been struggling to make ends meet.
As a result of CRA’s actions, Miche’s wife has taken a new job a few hours away, on her home reserve in Akwesasne. Their daughter goes back and forth. The family gets to spend a day or two together each week, except when a shift comes up and Miche’s wife gets a last-minute call to come into work, as she did last weekend.
Miche is so stressed he’s been on medical leave. CRA is demanding over $195,000 in back taxes, a number that goes up every single hour of every single day due to compounding interest. Absent a Remission Order, he’ll be under financial stress for the rest of his life—even if he lives 50 more years and dies at 100. (He figures this is unlikely, and that stress is taking years off of his life.)
As crazy as this is, it’s not unusual. Former NLS employees are routinely hounded and threatened. Many, like Miche, work at health and social service agencies, for modest wages. CRA has clawed back the pensions of former NLS employees who are now sick and elderly. They’ve seized bank accounts. They’ve threatened further, unspecified legal actions. All for something that was legal not so long ago.
They have also made it impossible for people to plan and secure their financial future. What’s the point of getting a better job, saving for your child’s education, or putting retirement funds aside (asumming you’re even able to do this—which most NLS employees aren’t) if it’s just going to be suddenly taken away without your even knowing? Imagine looking 30 years down the road and still seeing an uncertain, even desperate, financial picture. Maybe you don’t have to imagine. Maybe that’s you. In any case, it’s the very definition of hopelessness.
Although we applied for the Remission Order 3 years ago, no progress has been made. The Minister of Revenue has to sign the order, and when we ask about progress we get a bureaucratic answer: “we’re looking at it.” And looking, and looking.
Meanwhile over at CRA they’re wreaking havoc with marriages, families, and lives. Here’s the best-worst part: the pocket change they are getting from Miche (about $300 a month) is not even going to pay for the psychological and physical help he needs already. He’s a wreck. He can’t sleep. He can’t focus. He breaks into tears. He worries, understandably, about his wife and daughter. Things were already tough. Now he’s being pushed to the end of his rope.
There are many, many of these stories that I could tell. As we’ve all seen in the recent KPMG affair, if you are a millionaire or billionaire, CRA has bottomless understanding and compassion. Your Remission Order is on the way, even before you ask. But if you live paycheck-to-paycheck, and you owe even $100 dollars, expect to be hunted to the ends of the earth and squeezed for every last dime. CRA has even sent people to banks to get a few bucks from NLS employees.
Let’s be clear: the government is never going to get this money. They will get cents on the dollar, because that’s all that there is to be had. No one has $200,000 sitting in a pile, in the corner of the room. CRA will spend a hundred dollars to get one dollar back, and the cost of getting this dollar won’t just be financial: it will be emotional and psychological.
A lot of good, generous people have written letters to the new federal government asking that the Remission Order be issued for the NLS employees. I’d like to think the Prime Minister and his cabinet will look at this issue and see it for what it is: an impossible situation. For the federal treasury, Miche’s debt is an irrelevance. It’s less money than the rounding error on a new military fighter jet or the federal cabinet’s annual meal budgets. Pocket change.
But for Miche, this debt is a burden that’s slowly grinding him down, and the same is true for many others.
This is a story about folks who just want a chance to get on with their lives. That’s why Miche and Ramona Dunn (above) have gone public: to resolve an impossible situation. They are not scam artists or criminals. They have jobs and families and hopes for an ordinary decent life, a hope that is slipping away.
Go here to read Ramona Dunn’s petition to have the Remission Order Application moved quickly through the assessment process to bring closure and to allow the individuals affected to get on with their lives.
RUNNING WAS INVENTED 4,600,000 years ago by our human ancestors, Australopithecus. In the 34th Century BCE, ancient Sumerians called this activity Naputu—a verb meaning “to not get yourself eaten by wild animals.”
Four thousand years ago, religious festivals led to the popularization of running as sport. Even before the first Olympic Games, human beings were running in honour of the gods—in particular, Muffinius (god of love handles), Wardrobius (god of things languishing in your closet) and Januarius (god of the three-month GoodLife membership).
Obviously the bells jingle: that’s what they are made to do. Try “bells, bells all the way.” (See Strunk and White, “Omit needless words.”) Also, does the protagonist have some sort of objection to a multi-horse and/or closed sleigh? If so, explain; if not, cut. C-
Let it Snow
Do you really mean to say that the weather outside is filled with fright? If so, this is a pathetic fallacy. And who exactly is going to “let it snow”? Who could stop it snowing? Use the indicative mood to invigorate your prose. C
Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire
What is the significance of the chestnuts? You open the scene with them but don’t do much else. Remember: if there is a gun on the mantle in act one, it must be fired by act four. Perhaps the roasted chestnuts could explode and disfigure Jack Frost, or the reindeer could eat them and lose their powers of flight. This would create an interesting narrative problem for Santa to resolve. “Yuletide carols being sung by a choir” should be “a choir sings Yuletide carols.” Avoid passive voice. D+
Little Drummer Boy
What on earth is a pa rum pum pum pum? Does the drummer boy suffer from some kind of compulsive tick? Is he trying to communicate an important message. Is the pa-rum-pum-pum-pum akin to the “ou-boum” of E. M. Forster’s A Passage to India? Explore. D-
Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
If the nose is said to glow, then it is implicitly very bright. Show, don’t tell. D
Silent? With the quaking shepherds and the streaming glories and the singing hosts. Do you know how many people are in a host? And they’re singing. Try editing this one with a view to making it about a rowdy night. C
O Christmas Tree
Twenty-four lines to establish that it’s a nice tree, because it has green and sparkly branches? Remember: brevity is the soul of wit. D-
Too much going on here. First there are bells, then glistening snow. Why has the bluebird gone? And what is the significance of this “new bird”? Why even bring birds into it? Clearly this story is about a couple who are so eager to marry that they’ll let a snowman “do the job,” as you so vulgarly put it. The rest is just confusing. Cut. C-
Away in a Manger
The baby is either away, or else in the manger. I don’t understand how the protagonist can be in the barn, and then looking down from the sky—all within a few lines. This is fine if you are writing in a genre, such as science fiction, that allows for teleportation. Perhaps you could re-write this as an extra-terrestrial carol about futuristic travel. C
THE OTHER DAY I was teaching my son Photoshop, and the result was my master work, above. Indeed, quite possibly one of the greatest works of our generation, when you realize that 92% of culture today is pictures of cats hasing cheezburgers and staring through ceiling holes and LOLing. There is even a website of cats that look like Hitler, although that is not so much culture as it is a reason to use the word kitler and to give Czechoslovakia a heads-up.