How advertising undermines freedom

The “West” actually has less freedom than it thinks it does, thanks to the proliferation of advertising and marketing. I know advertising and marketing are not synonymous, but for the purposes of this essay one will be shorthand for both.

I’d like to describe the problem by means of an allegory. I will borrow from Milton’s Paradise Lost, a story well-suited for the purpose.

Paradise Lost

In Milton’s re-telling of the Old Testament’s Adam and Eve story, God has advance knowledge that Eve will definitely eat the apple (thereby forcing humanity to fall into sin: history’s unhealthiest bite of fruit), yet it is stated that she had the freedom not to eat it. Consider this: can Eve really have the freedom to refrain from doing something if God knows she will do it? If she doesn’t eat it, a choice allegedly within her freedom, then God’s knowledge is wrong, which is impossible, because God is infallible. If in fact she is bound to eat it because God knows she will, then she cannot be said to be truly free.

The apparent paradox of the situation falls apart when reality instead of the theoretical conditions posited are applied; this is a fictional story about another fictional story and the God posited in it does not exist, so neither can any of the conditions.

But the allegory applies today to consumers/citizens (Eve) and advertisers (God). In this sense, advertisers have preordained knowledge citizens will buy into consumer culture, even orient their life around it, despite having the freedom not to.

 

Are people free, then?

Their advanced knowledge about consumer/market behaviour is not omniscient, but reliable and improving all the time. Becoming more god-like.

In this sense, how much freedom do people ruthlessly subjected to advertising truly have? An important amount! There is an enormous difference between governments actively depriving citizens of their actual freedom, and being given freedom with the foreknowledge that it will be exercised narrowly. Advertising does not equal freedom eliminated, certainly not on a legal level. But at least psychologically, ads’ increasing volume and sophistication (of the ads themselves and the accuracy in targeting) does undermine people’s agency in their own life. This is problematic.

 

Outside influences are inevitable, though

But it’s also impossible to imagine a scenario where nothing external influences a person’s life. Humans live in communities where, thankfully, we must encounter people and institutions. Outside influences change our minds and behavior. This is good and inevitable. In this sense, freedom cannot be thought of as a person’s life being guided merely by the intrinsic things inside them, or free from outside messaging, like ads. The question is, then, what is the nature of the outside forces seeking to influence people? Whose side are they on, theirs or ours?

 

Give people a break!

Some people, often self-satisfied, scoff looking at the latest stupid/expensive/useless shit to hit the markets, and say “what kind of idiots buy this shit?” Many products are indeed useless and expensive and the rest.

But it’s unfair to assemble teams of sophisticated psychologists, artists and others for the express purpose of seducing masses of people, bombard them with million dollar ad campaigns, then blame the targeted people for succumbing.

You can hate the vapidness, triteness and all the exploitation of consumer culture without thinking every participant is an idiot. It’s not just unfair but irrational to subject people to what amounts to mind-control, then blame them for being controlled to some degree. Marketers conduct tests until they know the targeted demographic will respond. How, then, can the demographic be blamed for responding?

To be sure, the larger social issue is bigger than the merits of a single ad or product, but about buying into a concept of life, buying into the end product of an accumulation of ads. This is consumerism.

Narrow economic outcomes are dictating the psychological well-being of millions of people by coercing them psychologically. Many people in Toronto, other Western cities too, are surrounded by money and misery. Why? People are spiritually bored, there is no outlet. Aside from the daily work grind, having babies and going to the gym, meaning is in short supply. The messaging they are bombarded by doesn’t fulfill them. Of course they don’t. They are meant to take, not give.

Is advertising evil?

No. Advertising is inherently amoral—advertising is done for causes good and evil. But every evil cause can use advertising to pass itself off as virtuous. From cigarette companies targeting children, to Narendra Modi’s BJP Party spreading bogus stories via WhatsApp. The point isn’t that all advertising is evil, it’s that any evil on Earth can use advertising to further its purposes.

Besides, nobody totally avoids the consumer shit around us, not even the smug pieces of shit who write articles about how stupid it all is. If you want to be an activist for exploited labourers, it’s an extremely worthy cause. But for most people the point isn’t to abstain from consumer culture entirely, it’s to prevent life from being reduced to its (often empty) values, to maintain some kind of unique inner-life in the face of ads.

This doesn’t excuse the worst sins of the ad industry or those who use it sinfully, just that public ire should be directed chiefly at the perpetrators.

On the surface the participants in ad culture, the middle- and upper-middle class around the world, look like its benefactors not its victims. There is some illusion here. Only professionals or people who come from money (often the same), or that ultra-rare species the self-made-man/woman , can afford to comfortably participate in top-shelf consumerism. They will buy “local” things, which are expensive because a white person made them. To appear like they belong, the less affluent social aspirants either buy things they can’t afford or buy Fast Fashion, things cheap because a white person merely markets them.

The middle and upper-middle class people are of course not the worst victims–that would be the factory worker in Bangladesh, etc. But they are pressured relentlessly in different ways to pay for social status, to calibrate their values according to lines people from dire regions find incomprehensibly decadent, and in this way they are parted from their money and often left wondering why they are so miserable in a rich society. I tried to explain the mental health crisis, the rise in suicide, to my Indian colleagues–I suspect it has something to do with this.

They/we enable consumerism, but are victims too. No doubt some people disagree. They find their place in this arrangement to be wonderful. OK. Many people born into a favourable place in it loved slavery, too.

The above is oversimplification perhaps, but I don’t think it’s inaccurate. It’s complicated, this ad shit. These are just some thoughts.

 

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Some thoughts

A buddy was telling me that Nietzsche often wrote in little bursts, or aphorisms. I am not Nietzsche, to put it lightly, but that mode is an efficient way to get a wide variety of things on my mind off it.

  1. Restaurants in Toronto are increasingly wonderful, but there’s a kind of person who only enjoys the best ones because a publication endorses it. This person eats status, not food. The people who want a good chill with good good look identical to the status eater; the point isn’t to judge who is who, it’s that people ought to consider what kind of restaurant-goer they are.
  1. I considered bringing my Leafs jersey to India, but expect that team’s shame has travelled that far, and mutilated beggars with leprosy will feel sorry for me.
  1. Capitalism is a Ponzi scheme, but instead of new investors to keep the fraud known as the economy afloat, they raise inflation to insane levels and incrementally enforce austerity measures on poor people.
  1. The musician’s goal is to transcend the physical instrument, so that when they feel a sound or hear it in their head, the fingers simply move so that they produce that sound. This is a hard stage to reach, but is only a prerequisite to the next stage: the sounds you hear and feel must be good ones.
  1. Human rights and consumerism each have a Sisyphean aspect, an endless escalator, I find interesting, even if there’s no causal connection; addressing one oppressed group inevitably but accidentally excludes another, or a subdivision of it, but including them excludes another, and so on. While in consumerism things like car models are of a year time hasn’t reached yet. In 2016 they sell the 2017, etc. Burgers were promoted for their size, then grade, then for the extent they were organic/natural, then the aioli, then for its gourmet cheese, some other highly local or exotic ingredient…it never ends. On the one hand, it’s delicious, but often the real purpose isn’t to serve a delicious, it’s to advertise the ingredients to justify the higher cost.
  1. Money/currency being unshackled from the gold standard has a parallel in consumer goods; neither currency nor goods have any intrinsic worth anymore, so since things are only worth what people will pay for them, making people insane makes their value insanely high.
  1. Young males, and immature older males, are an absolute threat to females, and have no idea that they are. Their obliviousness is mirrored in themselves, as fuckboys are anything but self-actualized. Intellectual or self-proclaimed progressive males, of course, can be slimey towards women too. When considering this topic, seek input from females, which I don’t say because it’s a trendy progressive thing to say, but because I’d ask a musician about music or a scientist about science.
  1. Novels can be assessed for their social and artistic worth. Each written document is a separate entity that may have value in one category, both, or neither. “Don’t write for the day, write for the ages” is the battle cry of aesthetic artist, but those who wave this flag either get enough sustenance from this niche specialty to look at the world’s ills and shrug, they separate aesthetics from their socially engaged essays or, more likely, they aren’t marginalized. It’s noble to be dedicated to functionless art, but it’s wrong to sneer at the artist whose art uplifts or serves people who need that.
  1. Serious thinkers let go of certainty. Anyone who believes they’re infallible isn’t just wrong, they will suffer; embracing uncertainty permits spitballing halfbaked ideas until they develop into better ideas, while those who believe they’re always right shy from saying anything potentially wrong, and this ego deprives them of a great tool for learning, or developing ideas. Also the incorrigible think everyone around them is stupid, and this embitters them.
  1. The only person more despised than a liar is the person who tells the truth.
  1. People sometimes brag about the volume or quality of what they read. Some art presupposes a certain intelligence in the audience, but remember, idiots claim to love and understand great art. Anyway, anyone can read a novel if they look at all its words. Bragging should be reserved for the person who wrote it, not read it, and the point of reading isn’t to own a cultural claim but to experience pleasure or, better, ecstasy.
  1. I get why wealthy white people don’t read about the marginalized—it’s uncomfortable and they don’t see an immediate need to do so. The ignorance it breeds, tragic but understandable, continues bc most major papers have predominantly white writers. Editors should fix this, but they reasonably assume that publishing important but unpopular writers won’t save a dying industry. Their position is about hopeless.
  1. Compassionate, intelligent people can be extremely racist, because racism doesn’t derive from a deficit of these things, but from being unaware of how things are when you have a different body. We’re hard-wired to live in smaller communities because we evolved in tiny bands for 10,000 years, and multiculturalism in a globalized world is new and hard for not being suited to our brain in its default setting.
  1. The caveman who ruled the cave by various permutations of brawn and intelligence—who supplied food by hunting, pleasure by charisma, safety by cleverness, or some mix—is regarded roughly the same way by his community as the Porsche driver, the Hollywood celeb, and the good family provider. The underlying impulse has never changed, only the expression has. Responding to these qualities are ingrained in us, but look for more in a lover than excellent survival skills. Maybe humans alone have the capacity to process and appreciate abstract, complex things, so revel in this.
  1. The prude bore who dismisses art because it’s lewd or funny is the most sad but contemptible idiot. This describes every government sensor, but also self-important smug academic types. Lewdness alone doesn’t make art good, obviously, but consider that masterpieces like Madame Bovary, Ulysses and Lolita were not just frowned upon when released, but were made illegal.
  1. I imagine even the biggest meathead sports fan would be mildly affronted to learn how much of their tax dollars go to subsidize billionaire sports owners. Cities pay hundreds of millions of dollars so the owner has a free or hugely discounted stadium, usually in a prime downtown location, needed for him to generate tens millions of dollars annually. The cities never get paid back. Diehard sports fans should question if this is a waste of money, and those who hate sports but love education and clean water should be rioting.
  1. Everyone knows that the only force that commands respect is physical force, yet many who watch oppressed people riot from afar sympathize with the cause, but wish they expressed justifiable anger peacefully, forgetting violence is all that’s ever created change. I don’t like violence either, but I get it. (Not all violence is justified, of course.)

18. It’s a shame that the truest things are often expressed in such corny banal terms, but that doesn’t invalidate the underlying sentiment. Love is nearly impossible to write about. It often appears on walls in stand-alone form, “love,” as if that alone says it all. It’s a directive, a reminder. Don’t confuse the sophistication of a phrase for the truth of it. A lot of garbage is expressed very cleverly, too.

19. Ace Ventura has a 45% on Rotten Tomatoes, so on the Halperin meter I rate Rotten Tomatoes 0%. I hate it when brilliance dressed in silliness is thought to be stupid, and there isn’t a prison sentence long enough for the people who gave this movie a failed rating. Ace Ventura is a modern masterpiece, comparable to Gogol’s Dead Souls.

19. If you light a candle at night and listen carefully to Robert Johnson, you will feel the ghosts that eluded you as a kid when you looked in the mirror and said “Bloody Mary” three times.

20. As TVs grew in size and quality, the systems people commonly hear music on got worse. MP4s, Apple’s music, compress the sound waves so they fit onto little devices, so they sound terrible. The difference between a good phonograph and digital music is as palpable as that of a colour and a black and white TV. Seriously.

21. The most brutal, vicious, and psychologically demanding sport in the world is chess.

22. Creating a laugh where otherwise there’d silence is the closest thing to a godly act. It’s creation, and the pleasure borders on ecstasy and the sublime. It’s just from the gut. A genius without a sense of humour is an enormous waste.

Keep weddings chilled

Planning a wedding is a bitch. I assume people love the idea of marriage way more than the cost and aggravation of planning the wedding. If you’re wealthy and you love planning parties, have fun and please invite me. But for many, the money, time and anxiety spent on planning a wedding would only make sense if the success of the party determined the success of the actual marriage.

I suspect many would elope but for their disappointed mother. No matter how much the bride or mother (or some modern, heroic man) claim they want to plan a wedding, doing so is a huge burden. I imagine people feel pressure not to have the most basic party of their circle of friends, and to hover at average or higher. Elaborate flower arrangements are not the heart of the party—money is best spent on food, booze, music and plus ones.

The Wedding Business knows how much people value their wedding day, and they extort accordingly. In the way governments unshackled from the gold standard print their own money and determine the value of this currency, so the wedding industry says that actually a room, a band, a photographer no longer costs Y, but Y x 3. Love causes inflation and attracts vultures.

To be fair, the bride and groom can be the source of wedding mania as much as its victims. People getting married are liable to get swept up in their own self-importance and ask friends to spend hundreds, if not thousands, on things like a dress or the bachelor/ette party before the wedding even starts. If your people have Vegas money, cool, but often some in the group don’t, and feel pressured not to miss a friend’s celebration. This pressure breeds. People become inwardly resentful, if not outwardly, and suddenly there’s a beef where there should be love.

In my experience, bachelor parties are best inexpensive and core-focused: go up north, drink whiskey, smoke hash and play guitar. Indeed, this would make a flawless wedding. The lucky people attending such a party are grateful they weren’t asked to shell out, and can just chill meeting the good friends of whoever’s getting married. Then they know each other at the actual wedding, which is the point.

Also, spending several hundred so a circle of guys can watch their friend awkwardly deal with one or more strippers is just weird for every single person involved, and can be safely done away with. The formulaic bawdiness is trite and played out, and that everyone needs to be very drunk to endure the thing says it all.

I have no first-hand experience with bridesmaid politics but understand it can be a world of pain. After we help Syrian refugees, Canada needs a national strategy to save the victims of bridezillas.

Co-ordinating all the moving pieces surrounding a wedding and all the accompanying parties is hell, so remember this and be generous if an aspect of somebody’s irks you. Getting invited to a friend’s is an honour: I’ll do my part by cracking jokes with strangers at my table and getting drunk enough to actually dance. But if I get left off the invite list, it’s one less present to buy and I will continue to be your friend. We’re grownups. In return, don’t ask your people to do stuff for your wedding they really don’t want to do.

Some associated costs need to be graciously sucked up, even if you don’t love them. Maybe the people with expensive bachelor/ette parties are exacting revenge on friends who gouged them, or if their wedding comes first maybe they want to ensure they squeeze people before they get squeezed themselves. This perpetuates cycles.

I wish people in love nothing but continued love, however they celebrate it, and hope everyone, those who are single or who are in dubious relationships, finds the happiness that people appear to have at their wedding. But just because two people are in love doesn’t mean everyone needs to lose their mind.

Niqabs, Syrian Refugees and Western Culture

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The niqab is a manufactured issue in this upcoming Canadian election that Conservatives opportunistically, shamefully amplified because their base is less than enamoured with Muslims. Another related disgrace is the Canadian response to the plight of Syrian refugees, the worst since the Second World War. Better divisive issues than focus on their past election tampering, abysmal environmental record, blind eye to murdered indigenous women, abandonment of Canadian military veterans, etc. To list every Conservative travesty threatens my word count, but I write today to defend “Western Culture.”

The literary bedrock of Western culture is the Bible and Homer. That’s why Joyce combines both strains in Ulysses, as the Jewish ad man Leopold Bloom meets the artist Stephen Dedalus (Greek name). The Hebrew and Greek come together over the novel. The Bible doesn’t bear on my topic as directly, but Homer’s Odyssey and Joyce have much to say.

Eumaeus is the real Homeric hero, not Odysseus. He is the poor swineherd who offers Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, food and comfortable lodging. Zeus decides that after ten years in Troy, mortals need to learn how to live in peace. How to be civilized. Zeus sets up a code of hospitality humans must obey in the new order: when a visitor comes, give them food, wine, a bed, and ask about their family. Odysseus spends the entire poem learning what Eumaeus does instinctively. (Odysseus has the Gods permission to slaughter the suitors because they subvert Zeus’ new order, by consuming his food and wine, sleeping in his home and trying to court Odysseus’ wife Penelope.)  

While it’s obvious today that god/gods don’t exist, we don’t need divine orders to treat people decently. Eumaeus might have shown Odysseus hospitality because he thought perhaps it was a god, but the truth it was Odysseus, a person who needed help. That should be enough. Western hospitality dictates that harried wanderers be helped. That’s what Western culture says to do. If you believe Canada shouldn’t do its part to assist desperate refugees fleeing the Syrian war, you oppose Western values.

As for the anti-Muslim sentiments stirred up but this fake niqab concern, Joyce would have been disgusted. Staunchly secular, schooled by Jesuits, brought up on Dante and the Bible, he didn’t believe in God but hated xenophobia even more. He as a Catholic made Bloom a Jew. There’s a scene in a bar where this Irish nationalist asshole called “the Citizen” challenges Bloom’s citizenship. Essentially Bloom, being Jewish, isn’t “old-stock” Irish enough for the Citizen. In a Biblical parody of Elijah, Bloom exits the bar in triumph, ascending to heaven in a chariot. Sense of belonging, what it means to be in a community, is a huge theme in Joyce. 

I’m tired of Western culture being thought of as xenophobic because people unfamiliar with it allow their own paranoia to replace Homer and Joyce as its embodiment. The irony is Conservatives fear-monger specifically in the mistaken belief they are defending Western values, when really they trample them. Western culture is innately pluralistic, except for when it falls short of its own standards. Distressingly, this seems to be happening now.

Charleston Church Massacre and White Racism

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Nine totally innocent black people in a South Carolina church were murdered by a 21-year-old white man intent on starting a race war. For normal people there can only be one reaction–grief. Publishing this response when there can be no second might seem trite, as in why make a point of saying something when only that one thing can be said. But the only other option is not airing any response and I find that unacceptable.

When white people write about race they literally don’t have skin in the game. It often feels like philosophy play. No matter what conclusion they reach, the white writer’s safety is never in jeopardy. The implications of the article only affect them insofar as they care about the lives of the people who the article is about, ie non-white people. Black people are being killed in the street by citizens, and those ostensibly there to protect them, police.

I have a dual sense of race. In a cosmic or existential sense, there is no god and all people’s lives matter equally because we’re all bumbling about on this planet trying to have a good time living decently. Race is a social construct, skin pigment should be irrelevant. Except of course it isn’t.

I think racism stems from the unfortunate flipside of the drive that makes a mother instinctively love her baby. In evolutionary terms, 10,000 years ago in the Pleistocene, it’s easy to see the advantages of being close with one’s own tribe. Danger was everywhere, trust was necessary, and at a time when we spent life mere kilometres from where we were born we didn’t encounter even a fraction of the diversity we do today.

All humans have an ineluctable, diabolical genius for automatically sussing out people like them. We sort them into various categories based on blood, ethnicity, geographic ties, gender, religion, race, nationality, class. But ultimately these are subdivisions of two largest categories: alike and not alike. How similar is this person to me, and how are they different?

That’s why most people are disproportionately friends with people like themselves, and why the quaint liberal notion that people be judged solely according to the content of their character instead of these factors doesn’t really play out much in reality. It is a lovely notion, but it’s not usually how things go. We surround ourselves with people like us. (Cosmopolitanism has increased due to internet and cheaper flights–we see different people as less different or even as the same as us, but it didn’t start out this way, we had to climb out of our natural state.)

Loving your family because they’re family (or have some other of the above commonalities) can often be a lovely thing, or at least benign. But on a large-scale, a world of people preferring those like themselves inadvertently makes them opposed to those who are different as a byproduct. If you add this dynamic to crowd-think, racism is easier to understand.

It’s a fact that people are people irrespective of their skin colour, but saying this to a victim of racism is like telling someone with dead lost to a Holy War that there is no god. The underlying fact of it is irrelevant when in practice it can mean life and death.

I’ve heard Jews here scared to publicly criticize a provincial or federal policy lest they get audited say they’d feel safer hearing Muslims, perhaps living in arms-range of Hamas or ISIS, publicly denounce these two barbaric groups, even if the consequences for doing so has been death or worse (death of family members to send a message). Many Muslims do publicly denounce these groups, but there are understandable, practical reasons why they may remain silent. Many people who hate ISIS don’t bother to claim so publicly because they never say anything publicly. Silence doesn’t equal consent. On the flip side I imagine there are racist CEOs of companies only begrudgingly removing Confederate flags from stores now out of profit motive, sensing shoppers (thankfully) want this. It’s Pride now, and I imagine homophobic CEOs realise rainbow flags are good for business. Knowing a person’s private heart is complicated.

White people often think everyone is in a race but us, so when a white person does something they’re just a person doing it, not a person of a race. Many white people don’t feel compelled to publicly denounce white crimes because it doesn’t occur to us that we should. This white guy killed people in my name, and that’s unacceptable. Many other white people also hate this shit but don’t have a public platform to denounce it, but I do so I will.

I get that white people bemoaning the conditions non-white people live in can sound like giving themselves a sanctimonious pat on the back–look what a humanitarian I am! Gushy white liberal guilt makes for poor reading. But seeing it exclusively in these terms makes it about the author when what matters is the article’s subject, in this case those murdered for not being white. Anyway, it doesn’t take an especially enlightened humanitarian to denounce race wars or the death of innocent people. It’s the right position and it’s important, but it’s mundane and basic.  

It’s hard to talk about this stuff without it devolving into platitudes. Both social justice advocates and those who lament PC censorship both speak them. But consider, there isn’t a single worthwhile principle or philosophy that can’t be reduced to a corny platitude. When dealing with these issues it’s easy to scoff at this or that often repeated slogan or pre-packaged phrase, but align yourself with the substance behind it.

Dizzy Gillespie used to say that “everyone’s my brother until they prove otherwise.” If I had the power I’d “extend the chill” to non-white people, a phrase I like because it has a light touch on a heavy subject and carries the idea of allowing everyone to do what white people take for granted, innocently wander about enjoying life without fear, oblivious to even the thought, that for no reason it might suddenly end.

For now and from afar, it seems this ghastly crime is doing anything but starting a race war. I hope I’m right and I hope that continues.

Uninspired: thoughts about TO’s mayoral race

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October 27, election night, is under two weeks away. So, some thoughts:

After dealing with that barbaric pig of a mayor it was distressing that the bar for political discourse was so low, barely a shade above Fordian levels. This is as profoundly unsurprising as it is pathetic. If there was widespread apathy about municipal politics before Ford, there was a mild hope that not only would political engagement increase, but the level of conversation would become more sophisticated given the new prominence of local politics in newspapers and in general chatter. To put it lightly, John Tory has made sure this hasn’t happened.

His campaign assumed the population at large was ignorant and unwilling to look at anything beyond a headline, and it appears this estimation was correct. Tory’s paltry arguments wouldn’t stand up in a real debate against a single person who knew what they were talking about, but when he’s up against Olivia Chow in a mayoral “debate” he uses a cocky dismissive tone and repeats trite/winning slogans, burying data and, that thing he and other Conservatives feel they have a patent on, common sense.

It’s ironic what a hypocrite he and the business community are on the transit file and on taxes in general: they generally accuse the left of being platitudinous, but actually it’s Tory who is running on repeating fancy sentences and no data, and who plans on squandering billions of dollars in unaccounted for money on transit that doesn’t meet the stated objectives experts say are needed (doesn’t relieve existing transit lines, or provide areas that need transit the most–Malvern, Jane and Finch, Rexdale– with transit).

If Olivia Chow had Tory’s ideas, the right would correctly lambaste her for being the archetypal lefty, not just a tax-and-spend, but a tax-and-spend concealing intent. Who in the business community believes something can be purchased without money? Or that there’s no important distinction between capital and operating budgets because “money is money.” Tory unrepentantly says this! If a woman uttered these ridiculous things she’d be publicly humiliated, but Tory still has credibility in people’s eyes. They don’t hear or weigh what he’s saying, they just see a tall old white man with decent hair, and a mellifluous radio voice. But he’s a total and utter fraud, as pandering and pathetically empty as they come. Ford with bourgeois decorum. This makes him less uncouth but no better, and more dangerous. His ideas and agenda are the same, and anyone who can’t see this is naïve, not paying attention, or unwilling.

I do sympathize with the person who wants to believe Tory is acceptable. Many perceive Chow through a nightmare lens, as if when she becomes mayor everyone must instantly forfeit the password to their online banking, so she can conveniently pocket your money when she is running low, or feels like it. It is as if the substance of the candidate’s platforms have no existence, only the perception of these people influences people’s vote.

In case you think substance does matter, her transit plan corresponds more with what experts recommend, the funding plan is comparably reasonable and secure. Never mind that she actually has experience pertaining to the job, time in Toronto and Ottawa. Tory has never won an election. He’s a seasoned loser.

But the average voter in Toronto isn’t sophisticated politically whatsoever. This is reasonable, maybe even commendable. While a knowledgeable and engaged body of citizens is essential to a functional democracy, politics is a sordid depressing world that doesn’t really reward the time spent thinking and talking about it. But people hear “taxes” and their mind is made up. Tory seems to view forming a platform as a meaningless task. Can you say he’s wrong, when people do only vote based on whose ad is better? That’s why Tory avoids calling his phantom dollars a tax or debt. Chow says the city needs money if it wants to make purchases, an undeniable truth the other candidates devote their platforms to denying.

I have never been in the Chow camp, and if my new hatred for Tory is seen as an endorsement for her, take that for what it is, an endorsement by default. I was a Soknacki supporter, and I miss David dearly, and hope he is on a well-deserved tropical vacation away from this squalid city that stupidly didn’t embrace him. I wish Toronto well, I have a profound love this my home city, but I also hope it goes down the toilet, only so Soknacki can feel validated. He deserves the I-Told-You-So.

From the outset I was neutral, maybe even hopeful, about Tory, but am surprised what a pure charlatan and simpleton he has proved himself to be. It’s not just bad for the city, though it is that, but his brazen duplicity is highly offensive to me personally. I hate it and I hate him. The sight of him makes my stomach sick. Do I need to write here about why his transit “plan” is a scam? No, it’s been written about over and over and over again, and if you haven’t read it it’s because of your apathy.

(Fine, a brief word: by definition Tory isn’t proposing “rapid transit,” the trains come every fifteen minutes. He touts the 22 stations, as if their location is irrelevant, but it doesn’t go where planners say transit is needed. One is in fucking Ajax, outside his purview. It’s hugely expensive, his estimate is $8-billion, $2.7-billion for the city, but no politician cites the actual cost and it’ll surely grow by billions, and that depends on getting funding from other levels of government which they have explicitly stated we can’t depend on. He said tunneling was unnecessary, then it was pointed out that he’d have to, and he agreed, and it costs $300-million a kilometer. His faults are truly this stupid on the surface, that’s why people with any loyalty to Toronto and intelligence have been lining up to blast him.)

I have just enough respect for Tory to debunk him, a courtesy I won’t extend to Doug, who of course is a fraudulent boor and a disgusting man by every meausre.

PS: in case any reader thinks I’m overstating things, I dare you: look at the three paltry pages of text Tory devotes to describing SmartTrack [sic], the centrepiece of his “platform,” and tell me I’m wrong.

Misery: the city after canoe tripping

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I love Toronto, but since returning from a ten-day canoe trip all urban environments sicken me. The forests and rivers have placed the scourges of the city into sharp relief. I’m conflicted: I feel like I cannot readjust to city life without losing the serenity I built up in the woods. That nature recalibrates the soul is a cliché, which doesn’t make it untrue just simply vague, so let’s inspect this.

First, five buddies and I spent ten days in Northern Quebec, shooting the north part of the Coulonge and the Noir. Algonquin doesn’t have rapids as large as the ones we shot, and though there are sections of Algonquin where solitude is complete, we didn’t see a single solitary person from about day two to six. Now for what’s superficial about the city.

Author gets doused

Author gets doused, Noire River

The city offers many places for spiritual escape or release, some free, like parks, others not, like museums and other cultural institutions, gyms, or yoga centres where unilingual instructors speak ancient languages they don’t know, and more. That businesses in the city supply life-balance is not proof that the city cares about you, rather they exist to take your money while you recover from the city itself. This compacted parasitical dynamic, this secondary gouging as you seek solace from the primary gouging, presuppose that life in the city is so hostile it requires escaping. In a larger sense these releases from work serve a crucial systematic function, to prevent citizens and workers from going insane. It’s akin to the hip company with the office ping pong table—the company doesn’t want you to enjoy working, they just want you stress-free to increase your productivity for their sake, and really nobody wants to be seen playing ping pong because it reflects poorly. These institutions just seek profit, which is their prerogative and perfectly understandable. But self-interest disguised as selflessness is the commonplace, everyday lie of the city. City life is founded on guile.

In nature, there is no purpose or motive. Nature is neutral, and always will be. It demands and offers you nothing. The actual world is just…there. No ads offer happiness or spiritual respite for a price. It is the primordial world before systems of government or business made direct or indirect demands on people. In this physical and psychological space, free of bosses, solicitations and professional or social obligations, there isn’t total freedom, but the limits, restrictions and hardships imposed on you arise naturally. And not only are they reasonable but they are not subject to questioning; you can only bring the personal effects you are willing to carry, and you cannot blame your problems here on ignorant voters or The Man. Obstacles, whatever they are, simply arise and must be surmounted. There is no alternative. No excuse or complaint will change the fact that you must make it to your campsite or you’ll have nowhere to sleep, and must make a fire if you want heat to cook food, etc.

But let’s not romanticize things too much—camping is not merely you and the elements. If it was, a couple lovely days of reflection would be followed promptly by hunger and death. You bring equipment and food from the city and you do not enter the woods without an exit plan. The outside world is never hermetically sealed off. But life feels different because the nature of work is fundamentally different, and after all work is what occupies most of our time, both in the city and on canoe trip.

Strictly speaking, very few people do work in the city that needs to get done. Even teachers, doctors, social workers and other noble professions must be at least occasionally struck by the feeling that their work doesn’t have the impact that initially attracted them to the profession. Hats off to people who find purpose despite making money! These lucky bastards are the minority. Bureaucrats, pencil pushers, PR people and advertisers, financiers, the producers and hawkers of senseless tacky garbage sold cheaply or outrageous sums—all these should have the good sense to know their work is absolutely useless. The world simply has more people than useful functions; everybody needs a job, but there’s nothing to do. Having a job is useful, even if the job is useless.

I speak here in an existential sense. Of course workers receive money for food and crap to buy in exchange for their labour (unless they’re writers or are otherwise exploitable), but the cycle is roughly this: the economy, the largest determiner of “quality of life,” depends on employment, thus employment per se is a cause in and of itself. Thus, a low (or even high) paying job that actively harms humanity, destroys the worker’s soul, and consumes all their waking hours is thought to increase their quality of life. The economy is merely a measurement of the country’s collective financial affairs, and has nothing to do with the spiritual well-being of people. But politicians and polls see “quality of life” in these terms, and these forces and this mode of thinking hold serious sway in the city.

This faulty system would equally praise all wealthy people with access to healthy food and elite schools but can’t distinguish between someone happy and suicidal. It’s a blunt view that regards quality of life only in measurable economic terms. There is something to be said for having money, let’s not be dopey artists, but soul and spirit can’t be ignored when determining quality of life, even if they defy quantification. The Earth turned for millennia before jobs in finance or PR existed. Nobody would be the worse if these and several other industries collapsed. Indeed, their total demise would probably lead to mass-bliss.

Every single work task on a canoe trip has definite purpose. You don’t do anything on trip unless it’s necessary or fun. And rather than rely on the city’s abstract, arbitrary or vague work evaluation, on canoe trips your body is the arbiter of how hard you worked. You feel it. Employed people in the city might get a promotion if they’re related to the boss, or have worked for __ number of years, or they might get fired because it’s cheaper to outsource their job to China, or getting rid of their role entirely benefits the bottom line. It’s beyond naïve to expect a fair correlation between your fate and how hard you work. The vicissitudes of the city’s relationship between worth ethic and payoff can be opaque and corrupt, nor does it have the capability to factor in unquantifiable things like soul and spirit even if it wanted to, which it doesn’t.

Nature is different. Reward and work in the woods are always governed by a simple, incorruptible dynamic: hard work gets physically easier the more you do it, and do it you must. This is the natural law. Muscles respond to paddling and portaging, and gradually these become simpler and more enjoyable. More, these tasks are never pointless or arbitrarily assigned along a top down hierarchy—boss, manager, useless employee, more useless intern. Trip life has an unselfconscious equality because you’re all in the same position. You need to portage because you’ve reached the shore, and carrying your gear across land is the only way to get to water again. The necessity of the work gives it meaning, and the rewards and pains are always in perfect proportion to the work put in. But nature is refreshingly indifferent to your productivity or how your muscles hurt. There’s no ping pong table, but if you need to chill, then chill. Pontoon, stop paddling eat something, roll a hasher, jump in the river. Nobody offers you a break, secretly judging you for being unproductive. But the rivers gives.

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Delicious. When we gutted him a crayfish he ate popped out, so I put that on the line and caught another next cast. Oh, generous river.

Let me absolutely clear about one thing: nature can be milk and honey but also a motherfucker. The woods offers lots of ways to be killed, and while I’ve stated that the work on canoe trips is necessary for survival that’s only true once you’ve embarked on the trip itself, which strictly speaking isn’t necessary. But canoe trips are the best vacation there is.

A vacation has two functions for the urban worker: first, it alleviates pent up work-related misery, and second, the prospect of vacation during work is a carrot that makes time stuck at work bearable. In other words, city work basically cannot be endured unless there is promise of release from it. Pretty much everyone agrees work is shit, and somehow if the world flipped upside down, we’d rather not do it if given the option.

On paper, it makes sense that vacationers aggressively seek to do as little work as possible. Sloths gorge their faces off at all-inclusives. On beach vacations, bliss is attained by remaining dormant for extended periods of time. Vegas-type gambling excursions promise glamourous thrills via ill-advised bets, outsized stage shows, cocaine and hookers. I find these fundamentally unappealing and possibly immoral. What’s so attractive about spending vacation time on a canoe trip, working?

I can invoke Max Weber’s Protestant Work Ethic, that work per se is rewarding, but this emphasis on work might distract from a better reason: canoe trips are a vacation from so-called civilization, and work is just what you do on them. (Though there are flog trips…) Nature washes away the city’s spiritual pollution. The city’s disgusting advertising everywhere, the lies we’re numbed to through sheer bombardment, the disconnected people, the enormous stacks of windows that pass here for architecture, the crippling car traffic stuck on broken concrete, our caveman mayor, media reports of the latest international atrocities—these and more are escaped with wonderful effect. This might sound like a cop out, like naturalists flee their world because they’re weak, but in fact they’re returning to the actual world that the ghastly city supplanted. It was here first.

Computers, screens, and office buildings are so pervasive that it’s easy to forget how foreign they are to our species. The industrial revolution was very, very recent compared to our evolutionary history. Human bodies and minds are designed and wired to move about in nature. Doing so feels like an ancient memory stirred up. You sweat at first, because it’s hard and unfamiliar, but you adjust soon.

The handsome eagle with its shockingly expansive wings is a worthy representative of its majestic habitat. The city’s emblem is the pigeon, probably disease-ridden and definitely disgusting to behold, accurately described as a rat with wings. Even the city’s parks and green space we loudly applaud ourselves for maintaining are only a taunting simulacrum of what was. However well-intended to impart in us a restorative, Wordsworthian appreciation of nature, they are only a token, a paltry fraction, a castrated version of what used to be. For me right now parks are no help coping with the city’s heinous aspects (roads, buildings, smog, work). Imagine about what Toronto looked like 1000 years ago, then celebrate our abundant parks.

Nature might be so comforting because it is basically people-free. Go somewhere remote to increase your odds of being somewhere that hasn’t yet been ruined by the human race. The few people you do encounter camping are there to do the same thing as you. They know the guide book and the ways of the forest and water, in the same way it’s unnecessary to explain who Jerry Garcia is at a Phish show. But a Phish show has thousands of people, some primarily there for drugs. The woods only a handful, and it’s unforgiving to amateurs. It rewards experience and purer intentions, though of course nature lovers can die in the woods.

Many differences between city and nature are more obvious, and no less important. City lights kill the stars, which illustrates perfectly how nonchalantly, how easily, even if indirectly, the city ruins the wonders nature gives us freely. In the bush, water is fast on rivers, vast on lakes. We are separated from Toronto’s waterfront by a highway. The sun, the only source of light in the woods but not the city, wakes you up and announces bed. Electric lights cause irregular sleeping patterns. Animal chatter and gushing water is nature’s background noise, replacing car horns and pop up ads. You involuntarily digest these contrasts in thoughts and feeling and they accumulate somewhere deep inside you. It’s this interconnectivity between you and all these elements which causes that precious, impossible to articulate thing—spiritual bliss. Hopefully you’ve filled up a reserve of it large and intense enough to last a considerable time while you’re stuck in that godforsaken shithole, the city.

Dating in your 30s

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A friend suggested I write on this topic. While I’m usually averse to divulging views about more personal stuff, I’ll take her up. I’ve been 30 for five days now, so I’m qualified.

Dating used to be carefree. Two people were or attracted and interested in each other, and that was that. But aging brings complications, as we feel we must at least give a look down the road. Do I like this person enough to bother, or am I taking away from her/my prime years? It’s unfair, but women have serious complications in pregnancy after 35. Meanwhile, men can look hot with salt and pepper hair. Nature is a motherfucker.

Also, people all around us are acting decisively. As you’ve seen on Facebook, people are married. Nothing makes people freak out like a celebration of love. I suspect some people get married mostly for the Facebook status and the accompanying flood of pictures. These pics are the ultimate “humble brag,” proof the couple are socially well adjusted, evidence they will not die alone. I’m all for connubial bliss, and nobody roots for love like I do. Joyce: real love loves to love love. But single people can be comforted by considering how many marriages are filled with despair.

It’s well known that 50% of marriages end in divorce, meaning half of marriages are outright failures. But what of this other half? They fall somewhere between love at one happy end and I’ve-made-a-huge-tiny-mistake.

Starting everyday beside someone terrible can be avoided by prudence and patience while single. Many think looking for a “serious relationship” is the sensible, mature course of action, but finding a life mate is not just another thing to cross off the to-do list. It must be done right. Life is long. Judges consider “life” 25 years but it’s actually longer, meaning marrying the wrong person can lead to a lengthier imprisonment than murder.

The thing is not to look for a serious relationship, but to find a serious love. It’s hard to talk about love without sounding sentimental and corny, which is why in art it’s so often depicted horribly. It’s also wildly personal, so there’s no general way to talk about it, but maybe some things to keep in mind.

Compatibility is often thought of in positive terms—someone who accentuates your strengths. But don’t pick someone too high above you! It’s about balance. Don’t spend life paranoid and insecure about your better looking, richer, more charming partner. Compatibility might mean selecting someone as ugly, broke and dull as you. It’s not like you reach a verdict on a potential mate by consciously entering each variable into some kind of formal ledger, but you’ll probably be mutually attracted to someone who, if such a ledger were created, would come out about equal.

There are two related forces working against people finding real love: the unconscious evolutionary drive beckoning to just mate already, and social pressure. This latter world has different looks: your relatives asking if you’ve scheduled the start of a family, movies and TV about these problems, and of course advertising, which is itself a maelstrom of lies valuing love only because married people have predictable purchasing patterns (diamond ring, a home, stuff for the home, baby products, etc.)

Genuine concern for, or even acknowledgement of, an individual’s heart and soul is by definition banished from both these worlds, but these forces motivate many people all the same. So find someone who either does or doesn’t transcend this stuff to the same degree you do. Don’t be more or less self-actualized than the person you’re seeing.

There’s no formula for happiness. The famous dating blogger Sun Tzu says “know yourself and know your enemy and you need not fear the result of a thousand battles,” meaning you need to really know yourself and the other person.

Leo’s famous intro “All happy families are alike, but all unhappy families are unhappy after their own fashion” [Maude translation] sounds wonderful, until you think about it. Happiness has unlimited variations. 40-year-old Tolstoy was actually a proponent of the traditional nuclear family, and he thought passionate follow-your-heart Anna was just an alleyway skank, sympathizing instead with her steadfast, dull ex-husband. Later radical Tolstoy opposed pre and post-marital sex, joining him with other great thinkers like Dr. Tobias Funke.

In closing, in dating, chill. Not just because relaxing is less stressful than not relaxing. Chilling is crucial. When you focus hard inwardly, not only do you take care of your own life but you give off that I-don’t-give-a-shit vibe that’s powerful so long as you really don’t give a shit. Authenticity is key. It can’t be faked. Women call guys immature sometimes for not pro-actively seeking a serious relationship, but it might just be that they don’t give a shit in the way described above, and thus aren’t necessarily frivolous about matters of the heart.

And if you dodge trashy idiots, dating is basically just drinking, eating and talking with people who might be tolerable, even if you don’t instantly fall in love. Single people generally sleep alone and have to endure the stigma of being the single ones at parties filled with couples. This is nothing compared to how bad a bad marriage one can be.

At the base of Florence’s Duomo is a shockingly graphic depiction of hell inspired by Dante’s Inferno. Various ghastly devils cackle with laughter while engaging in heinous acts of violence: bashing human skulls in with clubs, impaling people with tridents, flaying naked people alive. Hellfire sizzles in back. This is the great Florentine poet’s allegory for daily life in a bad marriage. You don’t see this side of marriage a lot because, for some reason, people don’t post these pictures on Facebook.

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Our Heroes: Habs over bruins in 4

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Our Red White and Blue Heroes are hard to gauge: while it’s impossible to fault a team after sweeping their round, it’s also hard to know how much to make out of beating a young, inexperienced team missing its number one tender. More, we received a healthy dose of hometown reffing and fortunate bounces. But these variables seemed to emanate from our squad’s mojo, a by-product of our swag, itself a by-product of consistent, stable team play. We are a unified group who believes, and we seem to be making our own luck more than having it handed to us. We need to continue this momentum.

So ignore round one. We’re playing the Bruins, a cup contender that defeated Detroit in 5, with a core group that last year managed to beat the seemingly-indomitable Maple Leafs.

 

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We need Gallagher to beat up Lucic, Subban’s punishing slap shot and ass-first body check, Pacioretty and Gionta to score clutch goals against Tushy Rash. Hopefully Markov will eclipse his previous high by remaining healthy for five minutes.

Between us and glory is a team of highly skilled barbarians. Milan Lucic is the bully of the century, an insatiably bloodthirsty one-man military. Around him, nobody’s testicles are safe. Also, he is good at playing actual hockey. Threat 1B is Zdeno Chara. A lot of people don’t know this but his parents were carnival freaks, and in addition to passing on to Zdeno superhuman strength and size, he’s gifted with the ability to hammer nails into his nose.  So he is absolutely immune from succumbing to intimidation, responding to futile attempts the way I do to Leslie Nielsen movies. His reach covers blue line to blue line, making it as proportionally outsized as his nose.

Even Don Cherry would say that, despite being French, Bergeron is tough. Last year he competed in playoffs despite a broken upper and lower body. He is the best faceoff man in the league, by far a more essential component in victory than outscoring opponents to hear analysts talk about it. Krejci elevates his play when necessary, and is as enthusiastic about violence as his colleagues. You could compare Marchand to a real rat if only the sewer produced a creature so talented at diving.

If the entire Bruins team went to jail (which would happen if the law applied to them) they would immediately run the cell block, and would certainly be the ones on the giving end of jail’s notorious funny business, subduing comparably effete people like serial killers. For our heroes to win, we must score goals while skating very quickly away from them. Motivation to move will be abundant, arising from the desire to score, live, and not be treated like fresh fish.  

Hence my prediction, Habs in 4.

Why I’m cheering for the Habs this playoffs

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I, Jeff Halperin, will cheer for the Habs this playoffs. This may sound surprising from a guy who has recently expressed hatred for them and their fans. To be precise, I said the team was nothing but perverted midgets, their fans debased. Of course I was a diehard Leaf fan. But the latest edition of Leaf Collapse was really something else. It’s brought me to this, cheering for the Habs.

It’s impossible to look at the Leafs in the face, the sight of them makes my stomach sick. Even looking at blameless Kessel in ads I find disgusting.

Not everyone finds it natural to cheer for a different team in playoffs just because they’re Canadian; it’s a question of whether you see it as Leafs vs Habs or Toronto vs Montreal. I’ve always enjoyed myself in Montreal, and I currently have no allegiance to these Leafs.

Us Leaf fans don’t have a rejoinder to the smug gloating Habs fan or Subban triumphantly tugging the logo on his jersey. JVR taunted Subban, tugging the Leaf after scoring a game winner versus MTL—it was, shall we say, premature.

No, advanced stats corroborate common sense, the Leafs are a very bad team. When they are without the puck they never seem to get it back. Kessel and JVR manage to score in the remaining small window, somehow. But this isn’t even what’s worst about them. No lead is safe because psychologically they are beyond fragile. The Leafs have an incurable case of PTSD.

Rooting for the Habs is a middle finger to the Leafs, a form of protest. Not that they deserve this consideration, but part me of thinks it good that Habs fans witness sanity from a Leaf fan. One Leaf fan was so deranged he began a blog, “Our Heroes: A Balanced Perspective Of the Maple Leafs’ Journey to the 2014 Stanley Cup.” The blog is over because…enough already, I will end here before I get sick.