The Nature of the War: Know Your Enemy

One of the big hot-button topics in political news coverage for the last few years has been “Class Warfare”, but something’s been nagging at the back of my mind for some time whenever I hear that term. I mean, obviously there’ s a divide between the rich, poor and middle classes in our society, but is there something deeper behind it all? The narrative all along has been about the rich getting richer on the backs of the poor and middle classes, using media and corporate powers to repress dissent and turn people into cattle, but I’m not convinced that this is the whole story. Looking at who the rich, poor and middle classes are, what they look like demographically, it seems that there is more to it than the standard story. When most people think about the rich, there’s a standard picture that pops right into their heads, and it pops right into yours when you think about it too, doesn’t it? That’s right, the grey-haired man in his mid-50’s, maybe 60’s. This is the standard picture most of us have, like a real-life version of the Monopoly guy, in a top hat and suit, living just to pass Go and collect another two million dollars, and with good reason. The standard picture is standard because that’s what most rich people actually look like, old and mostly white, but primarily old. They have spent a lifetime accumulating what they have (or at least what they’ve added to what they inherited from their parents), and they are not about to hand it over to some 30-something still paying off his student loans, and they sure as hell are not going to give it to some punk 20-year-old 2nd generation immigrant kid trying to scrape her way through school on two part-time jobs and whatever her parents managed to put aside.

This isn’t about class, not entirely at least; it is about a generation that grew up when the notion of a “generation gap” was still a new concept, and the Boomers have made the shift in their intergenerational war with their parents to open up a new front against their children and grandchildren’s generations. They were the first generation to really get into the idea of deficit spending for things other than world wars, and they took to it like ducks to water. The great thing about it all, at least for them? Their kids and grandkids get to pay for the whole thing! Now that they hold the reins of power firmly in their hands, they are doing everything they can to see to it that the bills for their decades-long spending spree never fall on them. Hell, they’ve even let lenders get into the business of reverse mortgages so they can spend the equity in their homes and leave their kids with nothing at all when they finally kick off. It’s as if they took the old saying, “You can’t take it with you,” to heart like no generation before and as a cohort decided they were going to use up everything they could in having a good time while they’re still around, and screw anyone who wants to hold them back, even if it’s their own offspring. There is a very good reason the Boomers are often called the “Me Generation”, because it was their demographic group that opened the floodgates on personal fulfillment like few in history. I mean, their grandparents took a crack at it back in the 1920’s, but 1929’s Black Tuesday ground that party to a halt in a big way that 2008 doesn’t quite measure up to.

Also, unlike what happened in 1929 and the following years, the dominant force among today’s politicians seem hell-bent on repeating the mistakes of the very recent past instead of correcting them with responsible regulation of the financial sector. There is no modern equivalent to the Trustbusters of the Gilded Age today, no politician of standing who could pull off what was done in the past when corporations grew out of control. Can you imagine any court in the west doing to the banking or oil industries what happened to Standard Oil in 1911? Today any politician who even floated the idea of splitting a huge, monopolistic corporation into a dozen smaller companies would all but guarantee that he’d never get elected dog catcher, and for some reason that’s not on our radar at all. I think most of us have come to the conclusion that it’s not an accident that every gas station in town sets their price within a penny of every other gas station in the same afternoon, but it’s something no mainstream politician will touch with a ten foot pole, because they all know what would happen if they dared to open that particular can of worms. (Side note: have any of you ever actually seen a can of worms? Who would put worms in a can, and why?)

The point here is that it isn’t just the old rich people voting for policies that will poison the environment, use up natural resources, block the development of renewable energy, and concentrate wealth into fewer and fewer hands, it’s old people in general. They spent their youth fighting against the Man, and now that they are the man, the real motives shine through. It was never about freedom, peace and love for everybody, it was about freedom to do what they wanted, peace in their homes, and love for them, not anybody else. What’s even worse, they’ve raised Generation X to have no real ambitions or goals of our own, and the Millenials are the result of my generation’s perpetual adolescence. Our two generations are the result of latchkey kids, two parents (for those of us who had two parents) working full-time out of the house to pay for all life’s “necessities”, and an underlying philosophy that teaches everybody to look out for #1 above all.

What it all boils down to in the end is the realization that a lot of the big problems we are currently facing in our society and our economy is not about class warfare, it’s about one generation hoarding everything they can get their hands on and leaving the rest of us out in the cold. What’s the answer to this problem? Under-50’s, start voting, for crying out loud. The only reason our elders are holding such power over our heads is because politicians know you don’t vote and the Boomers (and their parents) do, in droves. If we could get the younger half of our population to open their eyes, get out there and exercise their voices in government, we wouldn’t be seeing the absurd imbalance in our socio-economic stratification. Now, I’m not saying you need to hate your parents, I’m sure they’re lovely people, it’s just that they and their generation have our culture in a choke-hold and they need to relax their grip before they end up strangling their descendants.

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Why Individualism is Stupid and Wrong

Not going to bury the lead here, there’s nothing to build up to, the individualist credo that seems to be constantly gaining currency in our society is one of the most wrong-headed, misguided philosophies to ever claim that title. There have been few schools of thought to gain as much traction with the public while at the same time being so utterly worthless as an ethical system, both in moral and practical terms, and it is quite frankly astonishing to me how many people have bought into this bald-faced lie. It is a philosophy that only ever could have gained popularity in this time and place, for the simple reason that any other place or time would have seen it for the lunacy it is and rejected it immediately. The idea that we are all (or should all be) autonomous individuals with nothing but a mercantile connection to the people around is stupid at least, and sociopathic at worst, so why does anyone believe it at all? To put it simply, because it appeals to the selfish jerk in all of us by telling us that it’s OK to be a selfish jerk, in fact it’s encouraged. Of course, they don’t flat-out say you’re a selfish jerk; the trick is to point out what selfish jerks other people are in order to make it all seem justified. You’re not being a prick, you’re looking out for your own interests in a world full of people looking to take what’s yours, and you’re the good guy here. It’s all those spoiled, entitled jerks out there who are trying to live off your hard work and freeload their way through life, they’re the bad guys who need to be cut off so that society has the money to run the programs you want to keep running, right? You’ve worked hard your whole life, you earned everything you have, and nothing was handed to you. You’re a self-made man who has already given more than enough to the bums and wastrels out there leeching off the government, off your tax dollars, it’s time for you to start looking out for old #1 and let the hobos take care of themselves for a change.

Of course, in any sane society, such nonsense would be laughed out of the room as comically misguided, but unfortunately we’re not living in a sane society these days. Even though the self-made man is a creature of myth, for some people he is not only an ideal to strive towards, but at present, lived reality in themselves. They really can’t see that practically nothing of who they are is purely self-directed; they honestly believe that they are their own creators and creations at the same time. Tell them that their entire primary and secondary educations were paid for by someone else, they’ll dismiss that as irrelevant, because who we are is determined by how we thrive in the adult world, not in the little fishbowl of elementary and high school. Tell them that their post-secondary education was also paid for at least in some (likely large) part by others, and they’ll give you a similar answer. Ask them how many jobs they’ve gotten without relying on friends and family members to provide a network they could take advantage of, and that’s just using the resources available to you. Roads and other infrastructure to get to those jobs that other people referred them to and still other people educated them in preparation for, and still other people paid the teachers who educated them once their parents spent 4-5 years feeding, changing, clothing and potty training them? All paid for by those hard-earned tax dollars that the self-made rugged individualists are trying to protect from the grasping masses.

In the past, this kind of thinking could never have taken root, because you would have seen immediately that you absolutely depend on other people for your own survival and personal thriving. What’s that you say? You don’t need other people to help you, you can do it all on your own? OK then, good luck with shoeing your own horse, growing your own crops, raising your own barn and any of a million other tasks that require any number of other people to get done. I’m sure you’ll do just fine, because unlike everyone else, you are an island, aren’t you? The difference between then and now is that while all the people who helped you with your survival needs were right there in your face, today there’s a layer of technology separating you from everyone else. There really are people out there who make their living on a computer, order everything online, and never need to depend on another physically present person for years at a time. There really are people out there who depend on money for every human interaction they experience; it’s a viable way of living your life, if techno-hermit is the life you want for yourself. However, all this does is mask reality, not change its nature. On the other end of your computer, there is a real, flesh and blood human being interacting with you and delivering the things you require to get by. And let’s not forget all the people involved in keeping your computer turned on and connected to the internet 24/7, they’re actual people too. Oh, and the people who pay you for whatever goods or service it is you provide in your techno-hermitage, you sort of depend on them coming to you and giving you money for what is very likely a luxury item that could only have value in a society with sufficient advancement. Just because you don’t see the people giving you what you need doesn’t mean they aren’t there and you’re some kind of Randian superman who can live on an isolated island with all the other supermen who have no idea how to plant a garden or mend a torn pair of pants.

So here’s the reality of our situation: We all depend constantly upon the continued goodwill and cooperation of our fellow citizens, wherever we happen to live. Collectivism isn’t some horrible plot to rob from the rich and give to the poor (Remember when Robin Hood was considered a hero for doing that very thing?), it is our present, lived reality, whether we recognize it or not. “No man is an island,” isn’t just a nice bit of poetry, it is a basic fact of life; nobody gets anywhere on their own, and the sooner we all come back to that truth, the better off we all will be. Think about it, if NASA were to run its space program with the belief that the world is perched on the shoulders of four elephants that are standing on the back of a giant turtle, how successful do you think they would be in getting someone to Mars? People who run their lives on a false premise at the core of their belief system rarely do very well once reality comes around and asserts itself. Should it really come to a shock to us that the economy is in the toilet if government policy and corporate governance has been guided by such a deeply flawed idea? Want an explanation for why people are out in the streets protesting these days? It’s because they see the lie for what it is and they’re tired of hearing it preached at them day and night. It’s because they see the iceberg ahead and they want to steer us all away from it before there’s a disaster we can’t recover from. It’s because they know that we all depend on each other to get by in this world, and they’re speaking out against the lunatics trying to take control of their asylum.

What’s Hiding Behind the Conservatives’ New Anti-Mask Bill?

Recently, Conservative MP Blake Richards introduced Bill C-309 to the floor in Parliament, proposing a 5-year jail term for wearing a mask or disguise while taking part in a riot, amending Section 65 of the Criminal Code of Canada. The thing is, there’s already a law on the books that makes it illegal to wear a mask or disguise while committing an indictable crime in Canada, so it’s not at all clear what this proposed amendment would accomplish in real terms. Before going on to the meat of the matter, it should also be pointed out that as it stands (and as Bill C-309 leaves unamended), Section 65 indicates a penalty of not more than 2 years for those found guilty of taking part in a riot , so what this bill would do is crank up the penalty from as low as under 2 years to potentially as much as 17 years if prosecutors decide to charge someone with breaking Section 65, the proposed Section 65(2) and the already existing ten year penalty provided under Section 351(2) (“Every one who, with intent to commit an indictable offence, has his face masked or coloured or is otherwise disguised is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years.)

While I would certainly approve of a stiffer for those who would instigate or participate in a riot, I’m baffled to come up with a reason to explain why wearing a mask could be seen as an offence 7.5 times worse than creating a public menace that endangers citizens’ lives and property. By all means, throw the book at people who take losing a hockey game as an excuse to loot and destroy a metropolitan area, I’ll gladly pay taxes to punish people who think burning down a local barber shop will send a message to the corporate fat cats in their ivory towers, but I do need someone to explain to me what wearing a mask accomplishes that is several times more destructive than actual, physical destruction.

I’m just throwing out ideas here, so bear with me, but could it be that there’s something more to it than what Mr. Richards is telling us? His publicly stated reasoning is that his bill will make it easier for law enforcement officials to track down and prosecute rioters, but I don’t see how this can be the case. If rioters and criminals are not deterred from wearing masks or disguises by the already existing ten year penalty, why should we think another five would stop them? Or even worse, if the rioters have a lawyer who is even moderately competent and could have the ten years from Sec. 352(2) thrown out in place of the proposed five, he’s effectively slashed their punishment in half! The best case scenario for Richards’ bill is that it will have negligible effect on rioter behavior vis-à-vis disguise wearing, and could stand a chance of gutting the existing penalty, so the question must be asked: Does he not realize what a bad law this would be for achieving his stated purpose, or is his stated purpose different from his actual one?

On the one hand, it could simply be short-sightedness on Mr. Richard’s and the Harper government now backing his bill. It may be that they just don’t understand that they are potentially going to accomplish the exact opposite of what they intend to do with this bill. I’m certainly open to the idea that Conservative leaders have missed some of the details here under the dictum of “Never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.” Bigger mistakes have been made by far more clever governments, and it is entirely possible that our hapless Tories have simply overlooked what appears obvious to those of us who took the time to look at the actual bill and existing criminal code.

On the other hand, we have supporters of the bill like Toronto Star columnist, Peter Worthington saying, “Police should not have to wait until a person wearing a mask at a protest does something illegal before arresting him. The mask itself is, or should be, evidence of mischief.” In this point of view, simply concealing your identity, the act of putting on a mask while taking part in a public demonstration is proof enough of criminal intent, and grounds enough for an arrest. He goes on to compare masks to loaded firearms, and why would you carry a gun, if not intent on using it, right? I found this idea intriguing, and managed to ignore the links to sex tapes, fatal flatulence and a scantly-clad Sunshine Girl long enough to give it some thought. Is there really something to this notion? Is Worthington correct to claim that someone who puts a handkerchief over her face in an attempt to mitigate the effects of pepper spray, or a young professional prudently keeping his face off the front page of his local paper on a moral par with someone carrying around a loaded gun? Is that handkerchieffed hippie or that yuppie Guy Fawkes the ethical equivalent of a potentially violent gunman?

No, that’s horse shit. Don’t be stupid. And quit looking at those smutty pictures of Gretzky’s daughter, show her father some respect.

The current law’s fatal flaw to Conservative eyes is that it carries an established burden of proof, that law enforcement officials must demonstrate that someone wearing a mask actually intended to take part in a criminal act, and this is not easy or simple to do. You have to do real police work, you have to collect actual evidence and build a credible case that will stand up to scrutiny at trial, and that is simply too much to ask of our poor police. That kind of work takes man-hours and budget dollars our police forces are too tied up spending on riot gear free of identification and reflective or smoked face-shields to protect the anonymity of those same poor police officers tasked with imposing order on the disorderly mobs that want to speak their minds in public against government policy or corporate over-reaching into our lives. This onerous requirement of actually providing proof that someone was wearing a gas mask to disguise their identity rather than protect their asthmatic respiratory system from chemical irritants deployed against peacefully assembled civilians is simply too much to ask.

This is what Harper and the Tories have found to be worth supporting in this back-bencher’s bill, it offers them the ability to criminalize dissent in a new and exciting way. Want to protest against our participation in foreign wars that have nothing to do with our national interests? That’s fine, but we’re going to take pictures of you, and start a file on you, and maybe send that file or even just rumours of that file’s existence along to your current and potential employers. Want to make a public stand supporting minority rights? Good for you, but if you choose to do so by donning so much as a piece of duct tape over your mouth, it’s going to mean up to ten years in jail if we announce that we’ve decided you’re taking part in an unlawful assembly.

Think I’m exaggerating? Hey, I could be wrong, Harper could really think he’s protecting Canadians by backing a bill that punishes wearing masks but doesn’t address the issue of actually starting and/or participating in a riot. He really could be that stupid, and maybe I’d sleep a little better at night if that were true.

Dear North Carolina:

So, I hear you’ve gone ahead and passed Amendment 1, putting a ban on gay marriage right into your state constitution. Well done, your decision will be remembered by future historians centuries from now. Of course, it will be remembered in much the same way as today’s historians remember your 1875 constitutional amendment to ban interracial marriages, but hey, you’re getting in the history books, and that’s what matters, right? I mean really, what would history be without the bad guys doing their thing to stir the pot? You wouldn’t have – oh hell, let’s just get it out of the way and move past the low hanging fruit – you wouldn’t have WWII without Hitler, and without WWII, you wouldn’t have most of the 20th century’s history, or at least the history you remember from the movies you’ve seen. You wouldn’t have had the Cold War without the Commies, you wouldn’t have had the Fall of Rome without the Huns, and you wouldn’t have had Gandalf without Sauron. All the best stuff from history comes as a direct result of people banding together and struggling against the bad guys of their age, marching to the drumbeat of history toward the future, against the forces that would bring oppression and hatred to the world. I mean, it’s no invasion of Poland or sacking of Rome, but Amendment 1 is a pretty good crack at the whole oppression and hatred thing, I have to hand it to you.

Oh, and the way you wrapped it up in your holiest robes of protecting religious freedom? That was your master stroke; I have to hand it to you. Nothing stirs up fear of the unknown and foreign like a solid appeal to “tradition” under attack, and the pompous self-righteousness you managed to get behind this amendment was one for the books, I have no doubts. Decades from now, people will be talking about just how much scripture had to be twisted or ignored in order to come up with a “biblical” definition of marriage. Never mind that St. Paul advised against getting married at all unless you simply couldn’t resist the temptations of your flesh, and may have himself been a “friend of Dorcas”, if you get my meaning. Never mind that Jesus himself never married, that all of the Patriarchs of the Old Testament were polygamous, that a fair few of the brides in that Old Testament were slaves or taken as prizes from conquered territories, or that pretty much all of them were viewed merely as chattel, not as equal partners in a state-sanctioned union which invested property rights and tax benefits. No, all of that is beside the point, and we should be looking at the First Couple, Adam and Eve (not, as they say, “Adam and Steve”); they of Genesis, he of the earth and she of his rib, given to him as his helpmate in life. And after he had lain with her, and she had born him two sons, one of whom killed the other, the younger son took for himself a wife who was totally not his sister, or maybe she was, but that’s ok, because who else was he going to marry, right? (OK, now the marrying your cousin but not your gay cousin thing starts to make a little more sense.) But forget about Cain; Adam and Eve, that right there is our model for marriage, one man, one woman, and that’s it. Of course, had there been more than one woman or man on the planet when that marriage took place, who’s to say what might have happened, but that’s beside the point, and quit bringing up bothersome questions.

So, here we are in 2012, and marriage is under attack. Statistics say that roughly half of all marriages will end in divorce, children being raised by single mothers, deadbeat dads running out on their responsibilities, and we need to figure out how to stop it. But what to do? Obviously, ignore the fact that your state already has a law on the books prohibiting gay marriage, and you write a mega-ban right into your state constitution! That will show those uppity gays that you take your marriage vows seriously. I mean, maybe it takes you until your third or fourth set of vows to get to that point, but dammit, you’re not going to lose another marriage to the queers, not on your watch.

Want an example of how horrible things could get if the gay agenda were to seep into your culture and strike a blow for the Devil? Look no further than this God-forsaken country to your north, Canada. We have had legalized gay marriage up here for years now, and things couldn’t be worse. You can’t throw a burning cross without hitting three gay marriage ceremonies, and most of them involve some poor straight man who’s being forced into the unholy union against his will. That’s right; up here we force straight men to marry the gays, because our system is that perverted. Law says, if a gay man asks you to marry him, you can’t say no, you have to marry him, and if you don’t, you could be sent to jail for 10 years, where you’ll find yourself the “bride” of many more. I can’t tell you how glad I am to be somewhat portly and under-washed, my poor appearance has saved me from the advances of the demon gays during these trying times. In fact, many of us among the oppressed straight community have taken to avoiding bathing and any number of personal grooming habits in the hopes that it will make us unappealing to those who would prey on our delicate flesh through forced gay marriages. Oh, you noticed I said “marriages”, in the plural? That’s right, there’s no limit to how many gay men can force you to marry them, many of my more well-groomed friends have found themselves eternally bound to several deviants of the disco.

This is what those “activists” in your state are fighting to bring to your homes, make no mistake. Don’t be swayed by their claims that they are trying to protect people’s civil rights, or those people who tell you that they just want access to the same benefits you and your families enjoy. These are just sneaky lies designed to make you feel some faint shred of empathy for people facing unreasonable discrimination for the crime of loving someone from their own gender; don’t be fooled by their “reason” or “appeal to fairness”.  Of course, history is going to agree with them once things finally do go the way of interracial marriage, but it’s important that you remain adamant against these “brave” and “courageous” people battling against your right to unreasonably discriminate against people because you think they’re icky.

So again I say to you, well done North Carolina! God bless your work towards protecting marriage by limiting the number of people who can participate in it, rather than making it more difficult to get a divorce. Clearly, this was the way to go, and not something silly like discouraging people from getting married and breaking up within the same drunken weekend. Bravo.