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There has been a lot in the news lately about two major incidences of changing language of past texts.  The first is the Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn Nigger fiasco, and the second involves the music by Mark Knopfler’s Dire Straits song ‘Money for Nothing’ which has the word faggot.  Both works have been censored recently, and the offending term removed.  The argument is that we are in a post-racial world and such out dated pejoratives are discriminatory and offensive to contemporary sensibilities – they have no place in contemporary society.  A noble sentiment indeed, but what is the significance of removing these terms from historical works.  Aren’t we in danger of forgetting about our racist and homophobic past?  Don’t we have an obligation to keep these works, offensive terms and all, in our collective imaginations so that we do NOT forget that we have until very recently been hateful bigots who promoted ideologies of racial segregation, forced labour, beatings and rapes?  Our past was brutal and as shameful as it may be to us in our contemporary ‘post racial’ enlightenment, don’t we have an obligation to always remember that past, scars and all?  By removing the language of oppression from our historical texts, we are refashioning history into a new model wherein violent and brutal oppression did not exist.

The argument has been made that it is difficult to teach Huckleberry Finn, because it is hurtful for students to hear the word nigger.  That may be true, but language is potent, and sometimes hurtful but it can only be made less hurtful when appropriate measures are used to make amends for that hurtfulness.  And amends can only be made when one is aware of the potency of language.

However, the alternative – removing the offending word – also removes the requisite need for making amends.  Removing the hurtful term negates our society’s need to apologise for past transgressions.  But surely we have an obligation to continue to acknowledge and grieve the sins of our past.  Of course, this raises the question of ‘white man’s burden,’ and many argue that we’ve atoned for our sins and that we are in a post racial society.

Oh really?  Do we really no longer benefit from a past history of violence?  Is there no such thing as the inherited benefits of whiteness?  The truth is that families that benefited economically from slavery passed that wealth down through generations, and white society continues to out earn and out spend all other racial groups in America.  It is not coincidental that while only 15% of habitual drug users are black and 77% are white, African Americans are four times more likely to be arrested on drug charges.  It is not coincidental that it was predominantly the poorest of the black neighbourhoods in New Orleans that were most devastated by Hurricane Katrina and it is because of the simple fact that poor neighbourhoods are in more volatile areas, and tend to be over represented by racial minorities.

But to get back to Twain and Huck, what is the harm in changing a word in a novel?  Well – it changes the meaning of the text, for one thing.

To begin, it changes the unequal relationships between dominant white and subjugated black, to a capitalist inequality of rich ownership and poor subject.  It denies that race is even a contributing factor to the relationship, and instead changes it to one of haves and have-nots.  Of course Huck is a member of the poor whites, and even the poor whites expressed dominance over the blacks.  But changing ‘nigger’ to ‘slave’ changes the history of racial oppression in America to a history of economic inequality.

Secondly, in Huck Finn, Jim is Huck’s friend.  And yet, even their close, familial relationship is still tainted by the inherent prejudice in Huck’s language.  Even though he loves Jim, he can only refer to him in a pejorative way, always reminding the reader of the inherent racial barrier between them.  And while Huck is a child and Jim an adult, Huck’s language positions him above Jim – they cannot escape their racial identities and their racist society, even when alone on a raft.

But also, I’m a firm believer in the adage ‘those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.’  So we are obliged to remember what we have been capable of doing, lest we do it again.

But are we really in a post Racial world?  While our cartoonish images of Blackness have been diminished (although not removed entirely – reality television and rap music continue to predominantly present the spectacle of blacks as volatile, violent, sexually promiscuous and lazy), we have continued the use of the stereotype to construct other races.

 

The image of Kim Jhong-Il continues to use the archetypes of the Attack the Jap propaganda of the second world war.  ‘See the crazy tiny Asian man with the penchant for violence,’ the ads scream.

The image of the Islamic in contemporary media, is often reduced to a cartoonish scimitar wielding madman intent on violence.

 

Are these really the hallmarks of a post racial world?

We have a duty to remember the sins of our fathers and continue to address and keep striving to remedy our continued inequalities.  And yes, these terms are hurtful, they were hurtful when originally used.  But to remove the offending terms is to begin to erase our history of violence and is a means of promoting the lie that we are currently beyond prejudice.

 

So here we are, in our post racial world, and yet surrounded by the stereotyped image of otherness and so totally blind to these images as racially driven and promoting ideologies of hatred, fear and intollerance.  The lesson learned?  We can’t publish the word ‘nigger’ as it appeared in racist texts because it’s offensive, but to depict Arabs as crazed ‘rag heads’ is perfectly acceptable.

Post-racist my lily white ass.

I was asked to clarify my position about western food.  Accused of being overly pessimistic about Canadian attitudes toward food and amidst claims of my being ‘ignorant’ of the slow food movement or the within 100 miles movement, I feel the need to explain myself better.

The slow food movement is a political response to the culture of consumption in the west.  The argument is that food production and consumption should be re-directed to a localized position.  Using a FABIS approach (Fresh and Best In Season) consumption should be limited to whatever is locally produced and using as much organic / free range produce as possible.  And while I applaud such ‘G-Local’ approaches, this is a movement that is perpetuated by a particular well educated middle class segment of the population.  My point is that this is a movement in opposition to the mainstream, which is to consume factory/mass produced product.

There is no slow food movement in Taiwan.  In Taiwan, food production and consumption is almost entirely a local thing.  This is not to say there aren’t supermarkets in Taiwan – of course there are, and most long term / non perishable items are purchased from supermarkets.  However, the vast majority of people in Taiwan buy their food for daily consumption exclusively from local markets.  The difference is, that there is no need for a localization movement, because food production and consumption has never been anything but local.  Meat is puchased from butchers who are supplied by local producers, vegetables is purchased from market stalls that have production supplied directly from growers and virtually all consumption is from locally sourced produce.

 

But here in the west, we have become so completely dependent on mass production and consumption on such a mass scale, that finding locally sourced food has become a challenge, even when we live within 30 miles from farming communitites.  That we even need a slow food movement is a distressing sign that consumption has gone too far on a mass scale.  We need more than a slow food movement, we need to completely rethink how our food is channeled to us through several large corporations (corporate farms, corporate distribution channels, corporate trading and then corporate supermarkets) before landing on our plates, and also re-think our natural inclination to assume that the massification of food production is cheaper than the alternative (sold directly from farmer to consumer).  We’re being sold a lie that massification and corporatization is fundamental to our economy and that this is a somehow more ‘natural’ order of things than when a farmer sells directly to a local distributor.  We don’t need a slow food movement, we need a complete re-evaluation of how we consume.

Food for Thought

Well, this last year has been a mighty strange one, but never did I imagine such culture shock at returning to Canada.

The most shocking thing to me about contemporary North American society is its peculiar attitude to food.  I’ve been out of Canada for the last 8 years, living four and a half years in England, and then three in South East Asia.  My first port of call back in Canada was a large supermarket chain.  At some point in the last few years, small supermarkets have become a thing of the past, and now all grocery shopping is done is buildings about the size of a football arena.   But the most appalling thing about this attitude toward food, is the packaging of it all.  Food in the West seems to me to be something so heavily processed that it no longer actually resembles food.

Having spent the last eight years buying my meat exclusively from butchers, and fruit andveg from farmers markets and green grocers where things do not come pre-washed, pre-picked, trimmed and packaged, I find the amount of food waste in the west grossly offensive.  When we have gotten to a point where only boneless-skinless chicken breasts are available, and kidneys, liver, tripe and heart cannot be purchased, I’m left wondering why and how North Americans have become so terrified of food in its raw state, and yet ironically at the same time so much of this commercially processed product is being marketed as ‘natural.’  ‘Natural’ but completely divorced from its natural state.

So, here is my first film in a series of video blogs about ideology in contemporary life.

In Good Company

Quick quiz, what does this list signify?

China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, USA, Yemen, Sudan, Vietnam, Syria.

Got it yet?

These are the countries with the highest number of executions in 2009.  Of these eight countries, only one is currently classed as a country of the first world. North Korea fails to appear on the list, as they don`t disclose their number of executions and therefore cannot be counted. But, if we presume that North Korea similarly participates in executions and similarly belongs on this list, than where does the US fit in its relation to the so-called Axis of Evil?

And while Syria, Yemen and Sudan continue to practice female genital mutilation and clitoridectomies, America still executed more of its citizens than those three countries combined.

Here is the list in full, courtesy of Amnesty International.

China > 1000

Iran > 388

Iraq > 120

Saudi Arabia > 69

USA – 52

Yemen > 30

Sudan > 30

Vietnam > 9

Syria > 8

The US is the only country with a stable enough infrastructure to provide an accurate and verifiable list. The rest of these countries are still working on providing clean water to their citizens.

So why does America continue such practice which even countries like Burundi and Togo – a country that in the not too distant past practiced cannibalism – consider to be inhumane?

I frankly don`t know, I`ve yet to encounter a credible argument for it. But what is most appealing (er. surely appalling) about America`s particular affinity to this form of barbarism is that it is, of the countries which practice capital punishment, both the most creative and experimental in its ways of killing people. From hangings, to injections, to electrocutions and now firing squads, America is frankly medieval in the prosecution of its criminal class.

The land of the free – coincidentally the country with the world`s highest active prison population both in total and per capita. 0.75 percent of its population or roughly 2.3 million of its citizens, is currently housed in prisons, eclipsing China`s meager 1.6 million – seems to be completely at a loss as to what to do with its offenders.

And so it has really devised only one of two solutions. Either lock them up for such crimes as writing bad checks or using drugs, or execute.

According to the New York Times, April 23, 2008, (America) `has 751 people in prison or jail for every 100,000 in population. (If you count only adults, one in 100 Americans is locked up.)`

So what could possibly account for such high incarceration and execution rates? One possible answer is democracy. In a country in which judges are often elected officials, rather than government appointed civil servants, tough sentencing tends to be driven by popular sentiment rather than an impartial system designed to perform a task regardless of public opinion. So, lets just hope the Great American public doesn`t get a taste for firing squads and stonings.

A very good friend of mine, in trying to unravel some of my rather tangled thoughts about love, life and moving, suggested we consult her Tarot cards.  Not being spiritual in the least, I of course first objected but then she stated to me that she doesn`t believe in it either.  This was puzzling to me, and so I asked her what`s the point?  And she said, it never hurts to have a second opinion.

This answer amused me, and I thought I`d give it a try.

To begin, she told me to keep my problem in mind.  Think about the problem, and ask the cards a question.  So I did.  She had me draw out five cards, and then place them in a particular configuration.  In turn, she turned each card over, and then consulted her guide book (she`s not an oracle afterall) about what the cards may mean, and then asked me to think about what that means to me, in relation to my problem.  So far not very supernatural.

So the cards had vaguley mystical – ish drawings of old trees being caressed by nymph like people, and wizened men holding sticks and such.  All terribly suggestive things.

They way it worked was quite simple.

Ask the cards a question.  Draw out a set number of cards.  One card represents `the problem,`  One card represents what you don`t know.  One card represents what you do know, one card is a solution, one card is a resolution.

The card`s all relate to different things, death, pride, courage, anxiety, etc, and depending on what position the cards may be in, the reading changes.

And I tell you what, they really helped me sort out my thoughts.  I`ve become a believer.

Rubbish, I hear you yelling at your screens.

Fuck off Rob, don`t tell me you`re a convert to mysticism, and what the hell has this got to do with Ideology?

Everything. . .

You see, I realized that what the tarot is NOT doing is tapping into a mystical spirit world.  What it is doing, is tapping into the sub-conscious, in a way that is highly controlled and directed.  What tarot is, despite its mask of spiritualism, is rudimentary psychoanalysis.

They are essentially Rorschach cards, that are highly suggestive, but when encountered, done so in such a way that the subject relates such things as `love` `selfhood` `anxiety` to the problem that is asked – generally something that has been `on your mind`.

So where is the ideology?  Well, it is an ideology of mysticism, its an ideology of distraction.

While psychoanalysis (except for Jung) is divorced of mysticism and relates entirely to human thought processes and an understanding of the culture of the mind- the psychoanalyst `reads` a person`s anxieties, thoughts and disorders as manifestations of unresolved issues that may be causing the subject to manifest dis-ease; mysticism, conversely, presents to solve the same problems through some form of spiritual or divine intervention.

And that`s precisely what Tarot presents itself as doing.  Rather than openly acknowledging it as a form of isolating certain aspects of the subconscious and questioning why those thoughts are present, Tarot professes to have spirit guides or ghosts or ghoulies or psychic waves influencing the messages the cards spell out.

But that is all bullshit.

For some reason, Tarot masks its human element (what does this picture mean to you – how does it make you feel in relation to the problem at hand.  If we were to see this image as symbollic of what you don`t understand about yourself, what do you think about that) and substitutes that for a supernatural element (`the cards know all`).

So here`s how it works:

Reader;  Ask the cards a question.

Will I find love?

Pick a card.  That card is the problem.  Oh, you picked a card about nature.  See, there is an old tree.  Hmm, what do you think about that?

Uhhhhh, It makes me feel that love is timeless.  um, but the tree is healthy, its still alive.

well, it says in the book that the tree represents wisdom.

Hmm, Maybe I worry that I`m not wise enough to find true love?

Hmm, why do you say that?

I don`t know, because it hasn`t happened yet, or love is difficult, and I fear I`m not wise enough.

Why do you say that?

I`ve made some bad decisions regarding love.

So that makes you scared?

Shouldn`t it?

Do you see where I`m going here?  That`s pure psychonalysis.  It`s asking the question what does this symbolically loaded thing, which could mean anything and everything, mean to you?  And why do you think that way?

But back to ideology.  I can` t help but ask why we as a society, in the 21st century, with sophisticated understanding of nature, technology, the world, the mind and culture, still feel the need to fall back on a supernatural world that is more knowledgable or more special than the one in which we live?

Personally, I find the mind a fascinating, wonderful, terrible thing.  Surely, our own world is special enough that we don`t need to make up things as magic, psychic powers and religion.

And yet we still do.

In this age of knowledge, where scientific study has shown us how our world is made, how things are interconnected, a good 80 Percent of us, still think that it was made by a floating giant magic man of some kind.

Instead of believing in the certainty of slow, progressive evolution, there are large vocal populations that insist we were scraped together out of clay and mud through magic.

It baffles me that we in the 21st century, fall back on the supernatural to answer the hard questions, and yet rely on the science and technology to provide our entertainment.

Surely we`ve got things backwards somewhere.

I`ve been watching with growing horror the seemingly unstoppable stream of oil gushing into the gulf of Mexico, and am very much unsurprised with BP`s inability to stop the flow.  But why can`t they stop the flow?  Surely this is their area of expertise, no?  Well, yes and no.  Their expertise is in the active exploration and drilling and collection of oil.  Not in the stoppage of oil.  Indeed, this would be entirely against their mandates, which is to secure oil for their rights of sale.  And so their solutions to the oil flow problem are inherently going to be counter to our best interests because a proper solution would be to so totally bury the burst pipe thereby making all that oil totally unaccessible.

There really is only one option, and that is to render the entire drill site unaccessible, which BP of course is not going to propose as a solution, as their bottom line, regardless of how big the current bill may be, is dependent on these vast oil reserves.  In the long term, regardless of how much oil escapes, that is still insignificant in relation to how much oil they can eventually extract from that well. And so rather than stopping the oil leak, they are trying to salvage their investment.

And so their so far failed solutions are to try to collect the oil rather than stop the flow.  The failed top hat and such were designed so that they could siphon off the oil from the leak and collect it in their tankers, thereby diverting the oil from the shores and into their pockets.   And here in lies the problem.  We, as people unconnected to the oil industry, are hoping for a solution that stops the leak, while they as the oil industry, are looking for a solution which minimizes their loss.  And so their solutions will always be least effective to OUR needs because they are trying to solve a different problem from that which we want solved – an end to unsafe deep water drilling.

But under what other circumstances do we permit the guilty party to come up with the resolution to their problems?  Do we allow murderers to come up with their own ways of compensating their victims?  Should we allow rapists to devise a way of comforting their victims?

While BP had no intentions of causing this leak, it was through their cost cutting, mismanagement and negligence that this leak occured, and so for precisely those reasons, they should be the LEAST suitable company tasked with the responsibility of repairing their damange.  But we often get mislead by the ideology of expertise.

It is precisely the same problem with the auto industry.  America has a problem with ENERGY dependency.  We all have a problem with global climate change and pollution.  One of the major contributors to this problem over the last hundred years, is the auto industry, an industry which is highly polluting in the manufacture of its product, a product which in turn creates a great deal of pollution.  So who do we look to for a solution to these problems of energy dependency and reduction of pollution?  The auto industry itself.  The very same industry which created the problem.

So as their solution they convince us to consume hybrid cars, or electric cars, and airheads like Gwyneth Paltrow tell us she bought a Prius cause she loves the earth, blithely assuming that the production of these cars is less polluting than the production of conventional autos.  In fact the reduction in pollutants is negligble.  We`ve replaced oil in the combustible engines, with Nickel Cadmium batteries, nickel that is extracted in Canada (a highly polluting process), then shipped to Japan (using conventional, high polluting shipping), manufactured into batteries in Japan, then shipped back to America, to be installed into the frame of a car.

Hardly a green option.

But surely the sollution to our energy dependency problems is not a question of what kind of car to drive, but rather, to use PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION.  But Ford, Toyota, Honda et all., are hardly going to propose that you get off your ass and take a bus. And so we are provided with spurious solutions which turn out to be no solution at all.

And meanwhile the seas are getting darker, the storms are getting stronger, and we`re wringing our hands waiting and wondering when these corporate entitites which have put us into the shit, are going to get us out of it.

The final apprenti smugly beaming to camera

The Celebrity Apprentice is a very odd show, one I find strangely compelling while simultaneously detesting every single smug second of Donald Trump`s increasingly strange shaped head and vulcanized hairdo (which his two smarmy spawn sons seem to have inherited).  The premise of the show is simple (er, actually its bizarrely convoluted).  A dozen or so `celebrities` – a very generous extension of the term there – with contestutants (yes, my freshly coined neo-logism) ranging in fame from disgraced senator Rod Blagojovich to someone who may or may not have competed in the Beijing Olympics but her personality is so non-existent that I frankly don`t care if she quickly swam through a pool in China or Australia.  Or through a swamp in Belize for that matter.

But I ramble.  These pseudo-celebs whose major achievement in most cases seems to be aggressive self-promotion, are weekly tasked to perform a pointless campaign which strikes me as little more than a heavily sponsored product placement for some lucrative but absolutely useless service, from some expensive personal data security service called `life-lock`, a service so completely befuddling that even the president of the company had great difficulty explaining or even being aware of what it is, to a rapid plumbing service that guarantees they will be on time with a cash back promise.  Finally, a service that treats fixing my oft broke commode like it’s a pizza.

But what is so deeply astonishing and disturbing about this show, is the petty nastiness with which the celebrities treat one another.  They have become so thoroughly narcissistic that every tiny interruption of their single minded attention to themselves brings down their full wrath upon each others` pin-heads.  In this last week`s episode, one character (I shall call her a character, as I don`t think there is any genuine person cast in this show) dared to steal a slice of pizza from another team.  This pizza was most likely provided gratis by the show`s producers, but quite possibly a tiny amount of one of these over paid star`s personal budget, and yet the sour faced misery that such a petty act conjured up was almost beyond belief.

And herein lies the ideology.  The Celebrity (sic) Apprentice is a show that ostensibly tries to be about the `real` world of business and finance.  And it fully lives the attitude that the world is a `dog eat dog` environment.  Contestants are selected and groomed based on their fulfillment of the show`s ideological worldview that business and that society functions best through competition and consequently through nastiness and pre-emptive attack.  The show presents and normalizes the attitude that petty self interest, that vindictiveness and spite, are all simply a part of the day to day business of accruing massive personal wealth despite that wealth being to the detriment of competition, neighbors and even teammates.  No wonder America is in deep financial crisis.  If American society and values have been headed unchecked in the direction of such aggressive personal self interest that every action is approached as a personal affront even when it comes down to sharing a slice of free pizza, then we`re all well and truly fucked.