Identity politics VS politics


, , , ,

The conservative idea of “identity politics” is sheltered and oblivious and needs consideration.

In one of the latest incidents in US police brutality Stephon Clark, a father of two, was in his grandmother’s backyard holding a cellphone when police shot him twenty times. Fatally. [Correction: eight bullets hit him, they fired 20 times.] Drawing attention to this, calling this outrageous and demanding it end is a no-brainer. It’s not a partisan cause or some niche side-interest to take up unless you think black people are only secondary members of society.

Maybe conservatives would care about it more if framed as an issue of government overreach, as in it’s wrong to spend tax dollars (often a huge salary) on government workers who don’t just fail to do their jobs, they literally kill sovereign citizens. 

In the age of video, white people need to be wilfully ignorant to still believe the innocent people killed posed a reasonable threat to police, that police were justified to feel their lives were at risk.

Stephon Clark was unarmed on his grandmother’s property and they shot him 20 times.

Philando Castile was calmly telling police he had a gun in his glove compartment before they shot him dead in front of his wife and child—it was licensed and they were in an open-carry  state and the entire interaction lasted about 40 seconds. The examples go on and on.

There are also multiple incidents of white people carrying machine guns brought in alive by police, even after they killed people or even after they pointed the guns at police.

The difference is instructive and extremely damning. The problem isn’t that these white people are brought in alive by cops—that’s a good thing. It’s that evidently police feel more threatened by an unarmed black man than a white man pointing a gun at them.

Police couldn’t be failing more to meet any standard of discretion, let alone the high one required before society should grant them the right to use lethal force on citizens.

Let’s do a thought experiment: if you didn’t know to what race you belonged and were told of two problems plaguing society, the first encouraging the use of trans-approved pronouns and the second state agents killing people with the court system’s permission, what would you say is a bigger problem?

Conservatives here are single-mindedly fixated on changing pronouns for two reasons: even the slightest accommodation they’re asked to make feels oppressive because people in power are used to demanding not accommodating, and conservatives are utterly sheltered from actual social problems.

Even if you thought that government control of language was only a prelude to gulags, the police are already killing people with the state’s permission. Why are those frothing mad about what they claim is potential fascism silent on what’s already happening?

Because conservatives only care about their identity politics.

Consider how natural it is for the conservative to see his identity mirrored in NFL pregame ceremonies, with Navy or Army veterans singing the anthem with a brass band, an American flag seen from space and fighter jets screaming over the field in formation.

They don’t even term this “identity politics” because it’s just the default way of doing things. But what else is it?

Conservatives feel under siege when their identity politics pre-game ritual is even slightly altered, so slightly nobody even saw Colin Kaepernick take a knee during the anthem for weeks until a reporter caught on and asked him about it. They were deaf to the fighter jets but the man silently kneeling pierces their ears. Think about that.

Conservatives often get offended when you tell them that actually the flag and fighter jets are blatantly identity politics, especially the kind of conservative who brags about how they cannot be offended.

In the way conservative’s invoke the supposedly sacrosanct right to own guns but defend police for killing a black person because they claim the black person was holding one, conservative fury at Kaepernick exposes their sham concern for free speech and the right to protest.

Identity politics is politics and the stakes are high. The FBI is surveilling Black Lives Matter activists, like they did Martin Luther King Jr, calling them “black identity extremists.” In other words, the feds are potentially criminalizing innocent black people joining a group that is peacefully responding to innocent black people being killed by police. Think about that circular logic.

Identity and politics are seldom separated. So for people to minimize what is literally a life and death issue marginalized communities face as mere “identity politics”? Anyone who does this must take a hard look at themselves and ask why.

Hopefully conservatives reading this won’t become defensive. I know political alignment is mostly determined by Clan Loyalty and it’s hard to break group ties and emotional bonds. Just, really consider what you actually believe and why.


On Trudeau in India


, , ,

Indian’s love for Trudeau was palpable to me when I was there. I’d ride on the Delhi metro, people asked where I was from, I’d say Canada, and they started praising him, eyes lit up. Colleagues went pretty gaga too. Not everyone, but many.  
That’s worn off, it seems. Indian media got a whiff of how thick he lays on overt shows of multiculturalism. Corny and embarrassing, he made an exhibit of himself. You can wear Indian garb without drawing too much attention to yourself. Trudeau wore juutis to meet SRK.  It’s hardly apocalypse, though. Just clothing. I’d rather have a leader who tries too hard to appear multicultural than one mostly silent in the face of Muslims being lynched, or another who is soft-on-Nazis.

The author at a wedding in Delhi, February 2016.

Oddly I’ve just been reading Khushwant Singh’s old essays on the roots of communal violence in Punjab. The Atwal episode is indeed strange and unjustifiable– a mistake was made. There are questions not just about how Atwal got invited, but about how he was suddenly allowed to enter India, when Jagmeet Singh was denied a visa. More will be learned about this. Right wing Indians suspect Trudeau’s government covertly supports Khalistan independence. I doubt Justin knows what that is. Likewise, it’s amusing how the attack dogs in conservative media here are suddenly experts on Khalistan.
While Trudeau’s India trip went stunningly bad, it’s not like the stakes were very high. What would real ties with Modi–the Hindu nationalist killer of gujarat–look like? What was to be gained here was relatively low in dollar value, high in cultural exchange between nations with a strong, historical fondness for each other…ie a great trip for Trudeau would have brought about results mostly symbolic anyway. India’s economy has lost its sheen post-demonetization/gst and Nirav Modi has the spotlight back on ol’ fashion crony corruption. Trudeau is in Delhi now with Hayley Wickenheiser and Ladakhi hockey players on an exchange–My loves, combined! Canadian Ice hockey and not just India but Ladakh coming together, it’s a warm thought.

Ladakh!! August 2017.

Modi has less to gain than Canadians may think by posing with Trudeau. They each represent countries that get along well, apart from that they have nothing in common. Some from India’s right celebrate trump’s birthday by eating cake in Jantar Mantar. Trudeau may be more useful as a person to be distanced from. Not even his worst detractor here will call Trudeau a strong-man leader. Modi’s coolness wasn’t an accident, but the Canada-India cultural connection is too strong for him to sideline Trudeau altogether. They hugged in the end.
But Modi ran to the airport to hug trump the instant he landed because he feels a kinship with a leader who also leads via personality-cult and fascist tendencies. And trump has new condos to sell in India, so he pretends to care about India. Indeed, trump Jr is in India right now talking with billionaires, to try to get their money.  Trump backs India enough to hug Modi and do the photo op because it suits his personal economic interests, but will deny H1B visas to Indians seeking to come to America because ultimately they’re not white.
That’s my view of things, from the vantage of TO. By the way, I love and miss you India!! Reminder: a country is much, much more than its leader. Indeed, national leaders almost never reflect their country’s actual inhabitants.

Canada at 150 in New Delhi at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.

“Me Too” backlash is ridiculous

Some people are mad (or scared!) culture seems finally determined to protect women from sexual assault and rape. They may insist protecting women is a good thing, yes, but the effort has gone too far!

“It’s a Witch Hunt!” they say. No, it’s not. There are no such things as witches. Creeps and rapists exist. They’re everywhere.

OK, but now any woman can say anything and just like that, an innocent man’s life is ruined. Actually, when a female victim comes forward, it’s she who gets piled on, threatened, her reputation attacked. There are very real barriers keeping victims from speaking out publicly. The notion that women are lining up en masse to make up lies just to destroy innocent men is ridiculous.

Why is there more concern about these theoretical men who could maybe have their futures ruined, instead of all the actual women whose past, present and futures contain suffering?

“OK,” they say, “but not every creepy thing is rape!” Who can’t tell between a grope and forced penetration? Women know the difference. Any normal person does. They’re all unacceptable, but they’re not interchangeable or identical. This is easy to understand.

The’re a fear that employers and political parties are just throwing anybody from Aziz to Weinstein under the bus together. Well, companies and political parties have always clamored to protect their reputation / brand. When have they ever cared more about ethics and legal justice for workers than their own self-interest? The only thing that’s changed is, now, enough people consider sexual assault to be bad that they want to disassociated themselves from it.

The notion that men can’t make jokes in the workplace anymore, because anything will get them fired…is it really so onerous, to ask professionals to be professional? I held some zingers back. It kind of was a crime! They were good ones. But, damn it, I was a committed professional in my last office.

People are very quick to defend an accused man, even before anyone knows what he’s accused of. An illustrative example is Patrick Brown, the Conservative candidate for Ontario until a few days ago. His entire staff stepped down when it became known that a report accusing him of sexual assault was imminent. Brown denied all guilt. Many supported him. I heard his backers suggest it was merely a butt grab…even before they had any idea what he was accused of.

Turns out the accusation is that as a federal MP he gave alcohol to an 18-year-old and asked her to suck his dick. Words to the effect of that or “put this in your mouth.” She did, then she was uncomfortable and stopped. Another woman accused him of giving her alcohol when she was 18, and throwing her on the bed trying to kiss her. He maintained his innocence, his party tossed him out.

I’m not sure hatred for Kathleen Wynne was the only reason people rushed to defend Brown, because women in general are doubted. Rather than try to glean reality accurately, there’s a tendency to minimize, to reduce all accusations to the mildest one any man has ever been accused of.

Brown is an interesting case, because journalists and insiders apparently knew about him long before. They interpreted this story as finally it’s coming out, whereas this came out of the blue for most people, myself included. Who else knew, and when? That can be asked of every case.

Recall, even Weinstein initially insisted on his innocence and people believed him. Even though now apparently everybody knew. It’s been since reported in New Yorker’s “Army of Spies” that he hired former Mossad agent to spy on women he abused, to make sure they didn’t come forward, and to make sure journalists didn’t report on him for it.

There’s a fundamental difference between the court of public opinion and actual courts. An accused has the presumption of innocence when the state can imprison them. This is as it should be!

But by granting accused men the presumption of innocence in the court of public opinion, they assume women coming forward are guilty: it’s impossible to assume they’re both equally innocent at the same time. The neutral thing is keep your opinion suspended until more is known. Though I admit, I am now inclined to believe women.  Remember, this court is just the collective society’s opinion. It can’t punish anyone. Public opinion never fires someone, only companies or political parties do, and it’s based on their perception of how public opinion will affect them.

The flood of men being called out is because there’s a decades-long backlog. It’ll slow down, hopefully, when men improve.

Also, ignore boomers when they inevitably say ridiculous things like “in my day, we didn’t consider that assault!” as if their obsolete standards should matter in this day they just acknowledged we’re not in. Do they think assault should be tolerated now, because they tolerated it?

More to the point, who cares about them? Black people had separate water fountains in the US until 1964, and the last Canadian Government-run residential school closed in 1994. It would be a needless shame if we calibrated today’s world according to what that generation found OK.

I should add, nothing above is really partisan or buzzkill-y. Have sex! Enjoy! Fuck! Have afternoon anal for all I care. Just have it be consensual, which isn’t a big ask. If your’e doing it all right she won’t merely give you permission, she’ll repeatedly beg you to fuck her harder.

[Note: Jan 30–I don’t want to be mistaken for sounding flippant last para: I should have made my larger point clearer, that if a man/woman sends “mixed signals” it should interpreted as a red light not a green.

Also, I used salty language here perhaps unadvisably but not mindlessly, to indirectly combat the misguided notion I fear is kinda prevalent among men, that concern for safety/comfort of your sexual partner is somehow for prigs or killjoys.]


On Aging: An increasingly growing problem


, , ,

On my forehead stand a couple relics, hairs that have bravely refused to recede. They demarcate the old boundaries of my hairline. A stinging reminder of what was. Proud but sad, like a luxury hotel in an abandoned country.

I noticed them years ago when a Cool Barber downtown cut them off. Why is he applying a razor to my forehead? It was my first time at a Cool Barber so I thought maybe that was a trend? What I’m saying is, it was inconceivable to me that my hairline could recede.

When a buddy told me in 2014 that I was in fact losing some hair, I feared he was losing his mind. Me? When time begins to deteriorate the body, it doesn’t usually announce itself. Timing and severity is the difference between the balding 20-year old and the Silver Fox whose thick grey hair signals, unfairly, both old age and youth. But my situation seemed doubly unfair: Not only am I subject to hair loss, but why do I have in several places where hair isn’t strictly necessary, but not my head? What kind of shit is this, fate, you bastard?

My dad used to point to the skin on his head and say to me: “Look, son: this is your future.” I laughed. It was funny then and even now, despite the statement’s latent horror. The unavoidable fact is I am older than I used to be.

People say when you return home after skipping town things stay the same. That isn’t quite true. The cost of Toronto housing has become three or four tiers more insane and my social circle includes literal babies. The sign you have completed one major revolution in life’s cycle is hanging out with people well under the legal drinking age.

How, when did it come to this? Timeless questions. Age and time was once automatically measured and felt when it was linked to a school year. Time was divided into neat sections, then every few months was a milestone. Summer. As reward for completing some little time unit, go drink and smoke in the woods for two months (camp, fun place). Then start it all again. Repeat. Such was time. One day there is nothing left to graduate.

But my god, I’m not dying! I’m 33. Growing up, especially for males, was to have an immortality complex. The first signs of aging doesn’t mean death is around the corner, but it’s a sign that I am in fact subject to death. This is new and tbh not altogether pleasant.

With age comes responsibilities, some great and inevitable, but I don’t want age to determine things.

One of the best nights I had in India was hanging out with a 55-year-old friend, drinking and singing songs on guitar until 5am. In North America and in consumer society in general people are slotted into demographics. The more they are targeted, the more its reinforced and they come to think of themselves in narrow age terms. This is reductionist and limiting. People feel they can’t learn new skills or art, adventure. Age groups do not mingle here. It’s not like that elsewhere.

In 2016 I went to a rager Holi party loaded with babies and grandparents. That obnoxious class of people—20-somethings—were in abundance too. There was a kiddy pool, fully-catered food and open bar. I was wet, full and drunk. Some military gentleman hosted it in his Defence Colony home. The dance floor was hot, karaoke was bumping. I wasn’t sure what affect bhang would have on me, so I took it twice. Everyone went home by 4:30pm.

This party would never happen in Canada, not just because Holi is Indian but age here creates rigid barriers. Silos. Surrounded by people of different ages, people perform. The young strive to appear mature. The older, mature enough. People try to be an age, instead of themselves.

This different schema/outlook has parenting implications. My good Delhi buddy is a 40-year-old father with an 11-year-old kid. The boy came to some parties and saw us smoking hash. It’s a funny time in Toronto as we await Canada legalizing weed—there are people (crusty obsolete weenies) who would call child services and report this maniac of a dad, even as conservative politicians who recently demanded mandatory minimums for possessing weed jostle to become drug dealers. (Great article on Julian Fantino’s hypocrisy) My buddy justified it on very principled, philosophical grounds. In thrust, “I live a moral life, so why should I have to hide anything from my child?”

Aging requires answering one fundamental question: Will I live how my parents/community did, or carve out something different? There is no right answer There are probably elements of both. It’s worth saying, some otherwise indefensible values are defended simply because it’s the traditional way of doing things. But the familiarity and sense of belonging to one’s own culture can be meaningful, too.

This will affect where people decide to live, whether to raise a family, what kind of values underlie all this in our adult lives.

Actually, I no longer believe there is any such thing as “adults”. When you’re six, the nine-year-old at the playground is intimidating because they’re enormous and, being nine, they know life. I wonder what senior citizens think, as they watch people in their 60s and 70s fuck up the planet so badly. As a kid you see a friend’s parents, or your own, and you assume they’re responsible and wise. No, some are just children ravaged by time, so they look like that. Really they have coke problems, mid-life crises or other complexes. Maybe they’re terminally immature.

Age guarantees nothing. There are many very wise children and elderly maniacs with no grip on reality. Don’t get me wrong all things being equal, age brings wisdom and I respect people who lived through stuff. But all things are not equal, and the notion that people are on a guaranteed track marching forward towards Responsibility and Wisdom simply because they haven’t died yet is not true.

Wordsworth and Blake were onto something when they praised children. I’ve never seen an infant commit genocide! Everyone loves childhood innocence. What about adult guilt?

My hope is AI replaces everybody so we can all chill for a living. I’d like for us to all age gracefully, without being so fixated on the look rather than the health of our bodies. I don’t want to be forced or nudged into abiding by social mores concerning age that aren’t mine.

I won’t be a different man when those lonesome, heroic forehead hairs finally admit defeat. Other hairs will surely go, too. I accept my age now. It’s OK! Again, I’m not 101. But when I am fatter and even more severely weathered I hope there’s still a party for me somewhere, playing guitar until late. If there isn’t, I’ll make my own. Even if I’m saddled with those ever-present things going around these days, children.

Happy New Year’s, everybody!


Male sexuality post-Weinstein


, , , , , ,

I usually keep my personal life out of my writing, but it’s impossible to write about the flood of men accused of sexual assault without some reference to my own experience as a male in the 90s and 2000s.

It’s weird—ask any guy and they’ll agree that of course (of course!) sexually assaulting women is wrong, but there’s a feeling in the air that this surge of men being accused of doing just that is dangerous or somehow bad.

I’d like to try explaining this.  Men have taken a hit lately, and for good reason, but I don’t want my explanation to read as an attack on men, or an apology / justification for assault or bad treatment. Just perceptions in a difficult time.


Some men are (understandably, but regrettably) confused now because we grew up in a hyper-sexual world predicated on male sexual desire, and we are being bombarded with incontrovertible evidence that this world was anything but innocent. We, men, are and feel implicated in it.

Let’s be clear, women have been describing what‘s currently in headlines for years, and we didn’t listen. We didn’t want to. That world was very fun for us, and we didn’t want the party to stop.

Imagine existing in a world that accepts and caters to the deepest impulse raging through your body. That’s what it was to be male growing up in North America in the 90s and 2000s.

Imagine, the jokes, movies, the socially acceptable professional / unprofessional dynamics in so many ways all reflected and encouraged precisely what you most badly wanted to do. Both nature and nurture said the same thing: go for it.

Would anybody turn this off voluntarily?

This is about power—the reason good men (not Nice Guys, actual good men) may be uncomfortable today or even worried about women publicly describing how men have assaulted them is, for the first time, the world is making a demand on men, and we’re actually being expected to obey it.

That the demand is an ultra small demand—don’t be greasy let alone actually rape women—doesn’t change the fact that it’s a demand. It’s not the substance of the demand causing discomfort really, it’s that there’s any demand at all. (This is an explanation, not a justification for the discomfort.)

Male impunity is gone in the present and the past, and there’s a backlog of behavior being held accountable that was never supposed to be held to account.

In short, for the first time, men are not in total control. Ceding power is perceived by some men, MRA types or alt-right fuckers, as weakness. The connection they make between social power and sexual prowess is explicit in their use of the term “cuck” (from cuckold, as in a male whose wife has sex with another man) as a general pejorative. Males who don’t dominate are weak, to this type. Trite, brain dead alpha macho shit flourishes here. Of course progressive types can be misogynists who assault women too, which only shows that this transcends politics: it’s a male problem.

But every normal person across the political spectrum agrees that sex crimes against women (or men) are wrong, so I want to look at the culture of my youth, which at the time I (like everyone) enjoyed but now seems incredibly unhealthy and toxic.

In one of countless examples I can name, my friends and I lamented what we perceived as a crackdown on fun, when the summer camp I went to ended a staff rec tradition of the “Sex Olympics”, where among other things, female staff (16+) competed to see who could best deep throat popsicles. That this ever existed seems as ridiculous now as cancelling it did then.

But of course the Sex Olympics seemed like a reasonable thing to do in 2001. That was for staff. As campers we were brought up in this culture, and if 13-year-olds could inhabit a milieu that was near in spirit to hardcore porn, why shouldn’t people 16 and up? I called this the pussification of society. Casual misogyny abounded here. At the time, it was life and life as a young man then was fun.

I wonder about people who read my facebook posts supporting the female accusers, who saw me drunk as hell on a dance floor grinding with a random or telling or laughing at obscene ribald jokes, and think me a hypocrite. Well, I doubt anybody has an unblemished record, and this isn’t really about me. Every guy should be frantically searching their memory for bad shit they might have done, otherwise they’re inexperienced or part of the problem.  I leave it to them.

Women have described what’s in the headlines for years, but it’s reached the point where it’s simply impossible to deny. Thankfully, women are finally being believed and the public is getting a feel for the scale of the problem.

So, how to move forward?

Civilization is, in essence, order imposed on the lizard brain. Civilization is the collective act of using human intelligence to lift us above the conditions of feral animals, and choosing how life should be then enforcing it. At its root, art is ordering chaos. Laws do the same. Art and laws are civilization.

But, that we have the capacity for rational thought obscures the fact that rationale is not what primarily motivates us. The lizard brain has a much larger say than we want to believe. That’s why progressives can prove to be just as sick fucks as anybody else. Not having principles and setting them aside amount to the same.

The facts are as follows: human beings survived because of evolution, and evolution implanted in us the innate desire to want to fuck. It’s why we think of sex every seven seconds. Among other things, this sex drive led to the survival of our species (good!) and terrible consequences for women (terrible!).

I’ll say something my leftist friends have given me shit for: males and women are hard-wired differently. To be crystal clear, I believe nothing is more important than an individual’s right to be / do whatever they want, and I hate narrow or even broad gender stereotypes. The idea of telling anyone how to live, or of being told, repulses me. But can it be coincidental that over the course of history, the physically dominant gender has dominated?

I took a course in evolutionary psychology (EP) where the class text was written by a female feminist named Anne Campbell. This was by design, as leftists are suspicious of EP because they fear (sometimes correctly) hard-wiring is invoked in an attempt to justify male superiority, or the naturalistic fallacy, that something is desirable and maybe even inevitable for being natural. No. 

EP just posits that something can be said to fit into “human nature” if it is found to exist across time and across the planet. In other words, to qualify, an underlying behavior must occur basically always and everywhere. Can anyone name an era and place where women held real power? Sure, Google may turn up an isolated indigenous matriarchal society, but what does it say that you need to Google it? In the enlightened West women couldn’t originally vote. Same with celebrated Ancient Greece. The leading military figures and robber barons, the people with real power, have all been men.

The notion that women are people does not come naturally to men, who categorize them in two groups, women to be and not to be fucked. Hot or not. People need to unlearn a lot of messed up ideas they inherited, and ones pre-programmed in their brain.

It’s not for me to condemn male behavior—every person only knows what they’ve done in their life and that’s their responsibility. Of course women are the victims of patriarchy, but there isn’t one social institution that fosters any real sense of philosophy for its own sake. How to be friends with people, how to feel and be, how to love. Men suffer from this too, even the ones who behave badly and impose suffering on others.

Chivalry is essentially rituals around men ceding power to women—holding the door open, pulling out their chair, taking off a coat to warm them when it’s cold. Subconsciously, the idea boils down to: I’m physically more powerful than you, but I will use my power for you, rather than against you. Men must continue doing this, but writ large rather than in small isolated and ceremonial acts, and in ways that don’t directly benefit men. If chivalry is just a way to fuck a girl, it’s not really chivalrous.

The point is to give up power because it’s the right thing to do. I doubt this will happen. Even as more guilty men fall, I doubt things will fundamentally change. I hope I’m wrong.

The beast is in so many social institutions and reflected back at us because it’s in us in the first place. Men. The cycle moves in both directions. It’s in our lizard brain, so it’s in our movies and conversation, the office, the streets, the home. Everywhere. Men haven’t been asked to reckon with this, to amend our behavior.

Well of course we were asked, but we denied there was a problem. We denied we were the problem. Denying it was wrong then, but it’s impossible now. No guy can claim innocence ever again.

Every guy is hopefully having a private reckoning, assessing how they behaved in the old world by the new standards. Assuming your conduct was just gross or shameful and not illegal, there were excuses, even if bad ones.

But what you do now moving forward in the post-innocence era is up to you.

In India from Canada–jumping between economies, consumerism, money and other thoughts



The following is simply a reflection of my own experience after living in India for a year and a half.

Every county has a range of shops and stores, from cheap to expensive and in between, covering everything from food and fashion. But if any country has the full range, it’s India.

Really rich Indians make Forest Hill people look like paupers, and they shop and live accordingly. The cheapest shops in India are very cheap. A local merchant, a vegetable wallah or whatever, can charge a white man like me way more than he’d charge an Indian, unable to believe his luck he can rip someone off so bad. But I’m used to Toronto prices, so I feel guilty I’m ripping him off. Both things are true at the same time.

If you want to spend a lot of money by Toronto standards in India, you can. There is a class of Indians who have fuck-you money, who never look at price tags. This exists, probably in larger number than Torontonians suspect, even if it’s barely a fraction of the Indian population. A quick Google search tells me that the average annual Indian income is $616 US. This is the figure, though another quick Google search says there are 236,000 Indian millionaires. The total population is roughly 1,300,000,000 (poor people do not immediately jump into the census when born) but some of these millionaires are actually billionaires, too, and I wonder what India’s average annual income would look like if you removed a handful of people at the very top.  Millions of people make way, way less than $616 a year.

Before arriving, I was curious to see how evolved consumerism and ad culture was in India, or Delhi at least. The food scene is intriguing. Food delivery is very common: There is an enormous surplus of labour, and they jump on one of a million motorcycles in Delhi and deliver McDonald’s or whatever else.  Smaller commercial restaurants may outsource their food delivery. There is always someone to do anything for a tiny amount of money.

Smaller local non-chain restaurants are a different story. They often don’t deliver. If the menu says a masala dosa costs 60 rupees ($1.20 Cdn), that’s what it costs. No tax. Somehow, this is just fine. Modi’s new HST tax means 18% is added, and this applies in fancier sit-down restaurants or North American chains. In smaller local places, the price is the price.

But being a white Torontonian yuppie scum meant I could toggle between economies when convenient. Obviously people with more money can buy what they want, this isn’t a revelation, but life has a very different quality when even luxuries are fundamentally affordable, when strangers assume of me, rightly, that I can pay for what they charge for a  dentist, between $22-30 Cdn (one time they did some free orthodontistry work too) or medical, or whatever food. Maybe it’s wise to save, but there is no cost in life if I decide to buy some nice food or whatever.

Delhi is a dirty city. The air is poison. I should say, street sweepers and others do a great job of cleaning, everyday. Shockingly poor people scavenge for garbage. In Lajpat Nagar 1 where I lived, there was a dump near me and people just go around picking stuff up.

Without getting into deeper reasoning or socio-cultural explanations for the root of Indian garbage habits, in this dirtier city I decided to buy a fancy face wash. Exfoliating, with rose and honey and apricot. This luxury item, an Indian product, cost like $2 and some odd cents. French hygiene products, for wealthier Indians, cost more than they do in Toronto.

I could buy things from the economy where prices are calibrated for poorer Indians, or if I felt like it from the foreigner economy. If I want to buy a super cheap souvenir, I pay local prices. The Lajpat Nagar II main market sold bangles, I think it was $1 for a dozen. In Toronto, the other day I happened to be at a local so-called Found Objects store selling bangles, and laughed to see each individual bangle for $2. 100 rupees for a single bangle!

Haircuts in my neighbourhood cost $1-3, and a head massage, those blessed things, could be $1-7. (A head massage is actually the head, shoulders, back, arms, and they crack your knuckles, and also sometimes your neck.). One time I paid $2 for a haircut and a head massage.

But Delhi has Khan Market (read: Con Market), too.  It is apparently among the world’s most expensive commercial real estate. When I got homesick, and yearned for the quintessential Toronto experience of being ripped off, I would come here.

About $20 Cdn here got me my beloved bagel lox and cream cheese, with fries and two double espressos. Indulging in India costs less than everyday Toronto.

Khan Market has lots of great yuppie crap, from the Body Shop (foreign soap) to $100 sushi meals with like only four rolls because the damn fish is flown in from god knows where and isn’t exactly overly fresh. The price of exotic items are, fittingly, not calibrated for normal Indians. If it isn’t produced in India, regular Indians probably don’t need it, because historically they never had it. (By “regular” I mean the non-professional types I worked with at the station.)

And again, “affordable” is a relative term. In India, unless it was for the people with Fuck-You money, about everything was affordable to me. Yet I made the legal minimum wage, the lowest salary a foreigner is allowed to receive by law (less, given my cheap ass company worth billions). But I never had to look at my bank account to decide if I could afford a nice lunch.

The truth is I made an obscene amount by Indian standards, and a pathetic amount by Toronto’s. A colleague nearly ten years older and with more than 15 years experience in Indian journalism, with a higher title and level of responsibility in the office than me, made less than half of what I did.  Yet I worked there knowing I’d have to reckon with Canadian prices eventually, and that housing in Toronto increased by more than 20% in the time I was away, so that a detached house in Toronto costs well over one million dollars. (50 million Indian rupees). Rent soared, too.

So I knew I was simultaneously rich and not rich. The way in which I was not rich is actually decadent as hell. People making Canadian salaries can go to many countries in the world, and by simple virtue of having been paid Western wages, can live like kings. This does not work the same way in reverse.

I find the relative wealth of the West disturbing and impossible to justify. I’ve seen Indians who work at least 12 hour days 7 days a week, and they’ll make next to nothing. This is one telling symptom of both a national and international economy predicated on absolute bullshit.

I could have delivered to me a smoked salmon sandwich, on a fresh ciabatta bun with craime fraiche and grainy mustard, and two stupid little heart-shaped sugar cookies for about $8-9. Of course there are cheaper things to eat. Spending this much was beyond the possibility for many colleagues, but in Toronto this may get you an appetizer. North Americans who know nothing about India, understandably, may be surprised to learn continental fare is available.

In Lajpat Nagar 1, I occasionally ate chicken, rice and roti made by a woman on my street. It cost almost $2. Very spicy and good! My Indian colleagues were shocked I ate this, as it could be sketchy in fact. Meh.

Street food, oh man. Basic vada pavs, fried potato with nice spices and a fresh yummy bun, cost I think 30 rupees in places. 60 cents. This is not a small amount of money for many locals.

Again, that India is cheaper than Toronto is not a revelation. But the feeling of freely being able to switch between these economies brings some uncomfortable questions. Being able to parachute into a country and live like a king while millions there starve is weird. I’m not responsible for this, but nonetheless you can’t be there and not see and feel how wrong it is. It’s not exactly guilt, because I know I’m not the guilty one, but I’m certainly living a very fine life based on something that does not feel right.

I’d wonder, could an economist explain this in a way that makes sense? Is it just that North America has such valuable currency because the US military is present around the world ensuring that US business interests are looked after? I suspect it’s to do with the latter, but it’s a damn complicated world and this feels like an oversimplification too. But it does seem beyond coincidence that the US dollar is proportionately as high as their global military presence.

But to see people born there, living on the street…there are economic and geo-political lenses this can be seen through, but the situation urges you to see it through basic existential terms. They were just born there, I’m just born here, and whatever the other reasons are, as complicated and diverse as they are, they come second. Not first.

Hash is obscenely cheap, even if, as I understand it, the price has gone up markedly. It is currently $30 Cdn for a “tola”, or ten grams(!!!), of potent Himalayan charras.  In Canada this money gets you 2 grams if you’re lucky.

Like I said, the average Indian annual income in 2013 was $616 US. I made $3,000 Cdn, monthly. This sounds like a brag in light of that fact, but remember, I could not have legally made less money. There are white people in India working illegally for charities and NGOs and things like that, and they make less. But it’s true that if you see a white person in India, they had enough money to buy the plane ticket to get there. That the legal minimum was such an obscene amount of money there speaks to how white people have everything work in their favour. Legally, and even culturally in practice, there is always a tailwind for white people.

Before coming to India I was paying Toronto rent and working as a private guitar teacher. No salary, no guaranteed income. I managed to sell some writing here, less reliable than teaching. I had a flatmate in Toronto, where my share of rent was about $1100 monthly. I lived alone in a nice apartment in a good area in South Delhi, and rent was $400 a month. I knew people who paid in rent $120-250ish Cdn.

One time I noticed The Gap was coming to India. Big news! Every Western brand has automatic prestige in India, because it is simply Western. Indians automatically accord respect and importance and high-status to anything Western, even if the thing itself is made in Bangladesh and is merely advertised by North American 20-somethings.

I saw signs, breathlessly praising the upcoming opening of The Gap. Then it opened, and I was curious to see what things cost. A t-shirt, $30 Cdn, same as here. That is insane, I thought, and aside from wealthy Indians who want to signal that they can afford North American prices, Indians won’t go for that. Indians know the price of things and do not waste a single rupee. Paisa vasool. “Finally, The Gap Is Here!” a sign read, or something like that. I thought and hoped Indians were too smart to be taken in by these prices. Next time I came, it read, “Gap Open! Up to 90% off!” Good! Fuckin parasites.

Indian Terrain is a chain store in malls and locations around Delhi and other Indian cities. If I buy a nice button down shirt it can cost about 2,000 Indian rupees, or $40 Cdn. The shirt will be much higher quality than H&M, but actually $10 more expensive, perhaps. But it compares in quality to Club Monaco, where shirts not on sale can range from $40-$120.

Yet In Old Manali, I bought a beautiful button down shirt hand-stitched by the fellas in the store for $10 Cdn, 500 rupees. I know there are people in India selling hand-made shirts with the same fabric for even less.

One thing I noticed, actually, is that poor people in Delhi and elsewhere in North India have clothes that fit well. I speculate on the reasons: most Indians are smaller. Malnourishment is a real problem. Not many people wear XXL. Clothes need to be made in fewer sizes. People in Toronto buy ill-fitting clothes maybe because there are more wrong sizes to buy. This is probably a very dumb gora observation, but I wonder if there’s anything to it.

A few weeks after landing in India, I wondered if I, standing at just over 5”8, was the largest man in the country. I towered over many people who are clearly poor and seem to have suffered from stunted growth. Several of the “office boys” and janitors at work, and people like them in the city. I find that phrase “office boy” demeaning and classist, but it’s a common phrase most Indians would never think to put quotation marks around.

But also, better fit may have to do with Indian merchants being more capable than their Canadian counterparts. People who sell the clothes commonly make them too. There is less division of labour. Shops make and sell, some just sell what’s been pre-made. But even in a commercial store like Levis, you just buy jeans according to waist size, not length—they measure the leg length and cut it there in the store while you wait. I wonder if poor Indians get custom clothes them because tailoring is so common there, so it’s just a part of buying clothes. Here, there’s a premium on “made to measure” or “bespoke” clothing, and the cost goes up by 1000%. I think the idea of having loads of pre-made shirts from factories to sell is relatively new in India, dating back to the early 90s when the economy “liberalized”, ie began its slow, slow opening to Western countries. (Ask a Western businessman if it’s easy to do business in India, and he will say “no” or laugh, no matter what Modiji tells you).

Alas, this is one of those things I could not learn, because it’s so rare for poor Indians to speak or understand English, and my Hindi is pathetic. Hindi meri bakwas hai. I wonder if middle, or upper-middle class Indians will think my speculation is ridiculous. Or maybe it’s accurate. Maybe some journalists I know could answer it, but for the most part, from what I could gather, most middle or upper class Indians have no desire to speak to poor Indians. They stopped seeing them a long time ago.

I would occasionally see Indians wearing clothes that clearly came from the West, through charities I guess. Oldschool Nike t-shirts! In Ajmer, Rajasthan, I saw a dude who had no shoes and a ragged lungi but wore a t-shirt that said “Bury me in my ones. Nike Air.” Think about that. This dude was not into basketball/hip hop culture. I’ve seen a few poor Indians wearing Wu Tang gear, guys who I suspect have not entered the proverbial 36 chambers.

Let’s chart the life cycle of that t-shirt: Probably originally made in Asia by a worker paid pennies hourly, bought by a North American for $25+, given back to charity maybe just to be nice or perhaps it went out of style or some other reason, back to Asia to a guy who has no clue what Air Force Ones are. The shirt never changes in substance, just its value is inflated like hell in North America because its worth is abstract. In India, it first represented an impossibly low wage, then was a symbol on a man, then fabric on a man. Both are reality, but North American reality is often psychological, existing mostly in the mind. (Of course the shirt has a tangible existence in both places, but it is not valued at $25+ because North Americans value cloth on their body more–signaling “Nike” is the value.)

Being back in Canada, where the value of products is largely abstract, making it susceptible to endless manipulation and  inflation by obscenely wealthy and exploitative companies, life seems to be moored to something less real. Psychology understanding of a shirt’s brand is real, but this reality is decadent compared to the tangible desire to cover your body in cloth. My Indian friends and colleagues would kill me if they’re reading this, because I’m not talking about them and Indians hate to be thought of as poor. They have a chip on their shoulder, understandably. The British robbed them blind. At one time, India had 25% of the wealth on Earth.

So as a white guy walking into Delhi, working for an international news station, I immediately had top shelf connections. The world of Indian journalism is small. Like all over the world, only upper and middle class people become journalists. They are the ones who go to college for it, or can afford giving time to work in unpaid internships. Indian news stations don’t have dalits working there. Everyone has worked in every other office, they do the circuit. They all know each other, and the circle is small.

I had done nothing there but arrive, and the country felt insanely open to me. I could travel anywhere, buy anything I wanted in it (not a car or a house, maybe, the latter because there are rules regulating foreigners buying property, and anyway I didn’t have that much money).

On my second day in India I met the premier of Ontario. I has welcomed inside a bunch of embassies. I regularly went to the Press Club and the Foreign Correspondence Club. To be sure the latter two aren’t very exclusive, my then-editor in chief had a membership and we went there to eat cheap kebabs and drink cheap beer and whiskey. One of my hosts worked at the US embassy, and she met David Letterman while I was there. I went to a wedding at the home compound of the President of India. I had a press pass, and cars in Delhi have “press stickers” to say to police and everyone else, “don’t fuck with me or I’ll report you”. There was power. Especially as a white man. And I had done nothing there. I repeat, nothing.

More than access or stories, it’s the way people approached and perceived me that is shocking. I was a sensation. I was one of the only white people to work in my office building, and people treated me with more respect than I deserved. I’m just a guy! Poor and definitely wealthy Indians too enjoy being seen with a white man.

At work, I was able to push back in ways my Indian colleagues were not. It was understood that for all the talk of not having a traditional hierarchy in the office there was still a hierarchy, but I didn’t really give a fuck about that. I wasn’t an asshole, but I resisted being pushed around in ways my colleagues were not able to, I expected the company to live up to the contract it signed and I repeated my expectation to them until they sometimes kinda did, which is an utterly foreign concept in an Indian office. I never called my bosses “sir”.

My existence was enormously sheltered and privileged. Uber is there in Delhi and cheap as hell. Rides within the city are $1 to share, or $2 to ride alone. Plus in my first year, my company paid for every single Uber I took, work-related or not. I took the Metro occasionally, it was about 30 cents a trip. But saving a dollar or two to be crowded and sweaty and have to make up the last mile to and from the metro station with a rickshaw driver who understood no English made no sense.

I’d sometimes pay a rickshaw driver to take me to the metro (subway), or from the metro to where I needed to go. Since the company was paying for my Uber and the metro came from my pocket, it made no sense to take the longer, more expensive and more confusing way. Thus, again, living was easy and sheltered. I’d see people living, sleeping under a flyover from an air conditioned car. This is a trite, packaged image, but I literally did see it everyday.

Weeks after being back, I find I’m surrounded by wealth and abstract/brand cravings, so they people are unsatisfied despite possessing more wealth than most of the world could ever dream of. This sounds like a criticism of these individuals, but really it’s the influence of consumer society, ie mental poison. It drives the rich mad.  It’s also something I knew before and everybody knows, and there’s nothing more trite than coming back from India and pointing out the gap between wealth and happiness. Look, India has spiritual people and spiritual frauds all over the place and Toronto has beautiful caring soulful people, poor and wealthy alike. But the hollowness here is palpable and everywhere, and I want to shrug it off but it is so fundamental to the world, the external world and people’s inner life, that I simply despise it.

Returning to Puck after India

I feel elated to have hockey back in my life again. Puck was too fundamental to my childhood, adolescence and also adulthood to feel alien now, but a lot has changed.

The feeling of knowing Saturday night will begin again with puck is incredible. But the Leafs are different. They are good! Actually! Being a Leaf fan is to be emotionally fragile about them, and I’m trying not to invest feelings, but having dominant players to root for is a pleasant shock.

In India I didn’t mourn the loss of puck. I was busy and very stimulated and the absence of puck had no impact on my life for the first year. But after about twelve months it was playoffs, and the Leafs were in. I woke up at 3:30 am, lit some charras and watched the best pro hockey I’ve seen in probably 15 years. Matthews. The timing, and the place of it, was strange, but once the puck dropped it was like riding a bike.

I had contacted the Canadian embassy in Delhi to see if I could attend their NHL playoff screening, but they responded that not only couldn’t , no such screening existed. Why even have an embassy, then? They didn’t explain this either. They recommended I buy some Rogers service to stream the game. No, I felt safe from Rogers this far away and refused to let them gouge me, so I streamed it online, which was surprisingly reliable.

In the past, when any regular season let alone playoff game was on, I could be heard screaming abuse at players and refs in a room by myself. The players, too, in the 90s-early 2000s mirrored my insane intensity. They sometimes spat in the face of opposing players face, then jumped in their bench and punched this same face. One major strain of NHL hockey was real sheer burning hatred, and this was released not by outscoring opponents but by beating the shit out of them. This satisfied me, because even if we didn’t win the Cup, and we most certainly didn’t, at least we won a round or two and hurt some rats.

From the bit I’ve seen, NHL hockey has softened enormously and the results are spectacular. A Leaf collided with a Sen last night, and instead of a facewash or chirp or a hack or slash, they each seemed concerned for the other’s well being. Then they just…moved on. Look: the truth is these are obscenely overpaid and obscenely talented kids playing a game they love. What team they play for is arbitrary. It’s a game. I used to think a human being’s character and moral worth was solely determined by what team drafted them–it’s hard to believe I was ever so stupid. (Actually, is it?) Refs now are actually enforcing the rules of hockey, instead of allowing them to be skirted by enforcing The Code of the game, and now hockey games are won by playing hockey. Goonery seems gone, and I don’t miss it a bit.

In India the closest thing I could buy to a hockey stick was a field hockey stick, or what in India is called a “hockey stick.” It was a dinky stupid little thing, but I could stick handle a tennis ball around when aching to play, and this approximation of actual hockey, deeking out inanimate objects, was the closest thing I could find.


I just returned from playing my first ice hockey game with full equipment, goalies and refs and all, in probably 7 years. And that game was my first in years, too.

I bought real twigs the other day! I told the gentleman at Sport Check I needed help, because the equipment all seemed so new. There were no Easton Aluminums, Koho or Titans. There were no Sakic curves. They’ve been composite for years, but even when I was playing shinny I had a wooden twig. The knowledgeable employee told me things I find incredible. All sticks have very large curves now, no heel curves. “It’s all about the sauce these days.” He means saucer passes, raising the puck on a pass over an opponents’ fore-checking stick so it lands on the other side for a teammate. Skill.

Skates cost between $89-1000 (About 5,000 to 50,000 Rupees!). Skate sharpening now isn’t just sharpening a blade, there are different kind of cuts, with ratios that apparently do mean something to players who can tell the difference. The advances in gear are substantial—sticks/skates are impossibly light, they flex to your foot, skates are protective (if you have money, otherwise break a foot blocking a shot, you poor bastard you deserve a broken foot), the helmets even apparently are better.

At the rink today a sign proclaimed: “Relax, it’s just a game.” This was not the messaging I heard as a kid. Don Cherry taught that the failure to block a shot or forcefully clear the front of the net was a national disgrace. I’m not sure it ever occurred to me that hockey was only a game. There were duties, often semi-violent to violent. I took it oddly seriously as a 12-14 year old, my golden-era as a select player. I was a good house league player until 19, ie mediocre to decent in the actual world.

Today I played with some buddies and had an incredible time. I was gassed halfway through the first (maybe a quarter way), but took some late rushes as a D man, made a few passes, deeked a few people, got burned on some odd man rushes going back (it was not a cerebral lapse, I was pinching because I just didn’t have the juice in my legs to get back and accepted it then and now), and we won 5-2. Their goalie made a few surprisingly good saves on me when I went roof, but I got an apple. I didn’t have my head up with the puck to know where guys were, I felt behind in that respect. But made some good and unexpected passes. And botched some. It was kind of a blur. I couldn’t believe that once ice-time was something I desperately wanted more of. Oh my god. Winning the game was second to making it out alive. 17-15-15 minute periods, stop time and only two full lines. Killer.

But this time a teammate talked about his kids. The parents at my game were not watching from the stands they were on my team. Playing puck as an old bastard is extremely chilled. Our team and the opposing one was not very high-level, but there was definitely talent. There was healthy competition—ie there barely was any. No chirping, body checking, slashing, slew-footing. I was a sub only playing because most of the guys actually on the team had a bachelor party, but I tried not to botch it too bad and hold my own. My commitment wasn’t ferocious. It turns out hockey actually is just a game. This counts as a revelation.

Leafs are good and I just might skate again. Sports isn’t only a con perpetrated by obscenely rich owners who get citizens to buy them stadiums with public money then make tickets affordable only as a business write-off. The pathological profiteering of the Leafs ownership is bearable, and hardly even detectable from TV, when the team is actually run by bona fide hockey guys (Babcock, Shanahan, Lamoriello). I don’t notice the prices because I don’t pay for seats, merchandise, ACC beer or anything. Auston Matthews speaks for himself.

Maybe I’ll regain what wheels I barely had, so if I need to sub in I’ll have some juice for the third. And for shinny too.

I was onto something, surrounding myself as a kid with this game. Having puck in my life again feels wonderful!

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.


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.