Blind Man with a Pistol

Margaret Wente, Serial Bigot
28 October 2008, 10:43 am
Filed under: Media | Tags: , , , ,

I have made it a habit in recent years to avoid reading Margaret Wente. But over the past few days, too many people have been doing it for me. In case you missed her latest gem: What Dick Pound said was  really dumb—and also true.

North American native peoples had a neolithic culture based on subsistence living and small kinship groups. They had not developed broader laws or institutions, a written language, evidence-based science, mathematics or advanced technologies. The kinship groups in which they lived were very small, simply organized and not very productive. Other kinship groups were regarded as enemies, and the homicide rate was probably rather high. Until about 30 years ago, the anthropological term for this developmental stage was “savagery.”

Wow. It’s impossible to dissect fully the Eurocentric assumptions and outright lies Wente packs into this tiny paragraph (there’s more at the link) without writing a monograph—not to mention that calmly explaining to a bigot that the First Nations were people too is an exercise in absurdity. The economical system of trade, tolls and tariffs employed by the Iroquois, Algonkian and Huron (there were, in fact, Ms. Wente, hundreds of native peoples across Canada, not some monolithic morass acting with singular purpose) was tailored to specific geographical and political needs. While surely their religious rituals might not have had the same verve as the witch-burning festival that was occurring across the ocean, these ‘savages’ enjoyed diverse and complex social and mystical systems. Unfortunately, we don’t really know much about the vast medical knowledge of the First Nations (the Aztecs, for example, kept large medicinal gardens) because Jesuit missionaries heaped scorn upon the heathens’ expertise (except when it saved them from scurvy). The Europeans were certainly superior in one medical area: their usage of biological warfare was unrivalled by the  First Nations.

I could go on. The requisite facebook group has popped up, calling for the columnist’s dismissal. I can’t agree with firing a journalist for writing a single article. Such censure amounts to censorship and creates an environment where journalists will self-censor in fear of offending the higher ups. Margaret Wente is, however, a habitually poor writer and plays fast and loose with things like ‘facts’ and ‘research’. She is wilfully reactionary, divisive and hateful and has no place in a newspaper that fancies itself ‘Canada’s’. Margaret should not be fired because of one editorial. She should be fired because she is an incompetent journalist.

But if the Globe hasn’t figured that out by now, they won’t. This is a newspaper that endorsed Stephen Harper in the last election. They endorsed an administration whose hostility to journalists and journalism is unsurpassed in Canadian history. They endorsed a government who made it their mission to dismantle and undermine every independent government body and check to executive power that exists in this country. So why should we be surprised that this editorial board supports, and indeed, encourages, a columnist like Margaret Wente?

Until we let the Globe know that in their current form they are emphatically not ‘Canada’s Newspaper’, until we show them in broad strokes that their vision, and Harper’s is not ours, they will continue to steer this country away from us, away from social justice, and away from democracy. Write to Canada’s newspaper and ask for it back.

The Sham of Electoral Politics

To use Alice Munro’s term, nothing gives me more dreariness of spirit than an election. A ‘free and fair’ election, the showpiece of democracy, the one trophy centuries of war and bloodlust have purchased, is the chief symbol and exercise of freedom, equality and liberty. Even the lowest amongst us has a voice to rival the powerful and the oppressor. It’s a wonderful idea, to be fair. Too bad we’re doing it all wrong.

First of all, the right to vote is a right many eligible Canadians don’t seem to want at all. The latest voter turnout 59% is the lowest ever recorded. And who can blame them? After three elections Canada still has a centre-right minority government that has again claimed it will rule as if backed by a mandate, without considering coalition, cooperation or conference. What really grates, of course, despite the bizarre rhetoric of media outlets that claim the Canadian electorate ‘wanted’ another minority government, or that we weren’t ready to trust Harper with a majority yet—as if one of the most diverse electorates in the world speaks with some kind of unified desire—is that the election results suggest Canadians ‘wanted’ a completely different government. As Ed Broadbent wrote in Thursday’s Globe,

As all Canadians know, the Liberals, New Democrats and Greens did agree on a number of economic measures, on social policy, the environment and protection for families in the current economic crisis. Since a majority of Canadians voted for these parties, they, not the Conservatives, should be determining our political agenda. Such democratic conditions work well elsewhere. Why not in Canada?

So for those keeping score, Canada got an election it didn’t need and got a government it didn’t want. And yet, while Broadbent is surely correct that Canada urgently needs to update its woefully inadequate electoral system, alone it will not fix electoral politics’ dire ailments.

While most of Canada voted for a centre-left government, Canada’s media endorsed Harper’s conservatives. The Globe & Mail, the Toronto Star and the National Post all supported Harper’s anti-journalist, anti-cultural agenda. While that may seem strange, when you consider that the kind of editorial environment corporate ownership by CanWest Global Media and CTVGlobemedia (partly owned by TorStar) must foster, why is it any surprise that the interests of Canada’s big media are at odds with the rest of Canada’s, or indeed, with journalism and humanities newspapers are supposed to value, examine and respect? These media conglomerates funnel the diversity of Canadian opinion into a centre-right mantra while pretending multiplicity and locality. As a result, politics in Canada (and elsewhere) become at once homogeneous and polarized. Choice without option.

So we are berated with boastful images of cheering Muslims sporting blue thumbs and subjected to the lustful urgings of Hip Hop artists and professional wrestlers inciting our youth to ‘get out the vote’ while we try to coax our mopeds into motorcycles. Admittedly, this post is littered with leftist talking points—up with proportional representation, down with corporate media, etc.—but my critical point is this: electoral politics do not equal democracy. Often these critiques are dismissed as ideological fantasy when in fact they are brutally realist. It is a far more dangerous fantasy to assume that the only kind of “action” in a democracy is exercising your voting rights. If that were the case, than Iraq under Saddam Hussein would be considered a democracy.

Here: concerted activism is as much a part of democracy as free elections. The only difference is that this kind of activism is not dead in Canada, like an outdated two-party electoral system to which progressives in Canada have acquiesced. In fact, it is this acquiescence that represents ideological fantasy—we have bought the capitalist dream that freedom starts and stops with signing an ‘X’ every four years or so and consequently, we may limit our participation in democracy to that single action. It is this gesture that is merely symbolic, without teeth, without significant consequence for leftist principles, not the just protest of those who expose such fantasy.

Until we fix our political consciousness, our broken media, our muted expectations of those in power, nothing will change. Mandatory election dates, for example, will only wallpaper voter malaise; it will do nothing to repair it. Our politicians are nothing if not capricious, subject to the whims of those that grease their pension. If we make our desires clear, untarnished by the heavy imprint of Canadian corporate media, we can effect these desires and overturn the sham that is contemporary electoral politics. As Tariq Ali said earlier this year, ‘Change is possible if the will is there’.

Suzerain of the Earth
16 October 2008, 2:33 pm
Filed under: Literature | Tags: , , ,

The judge wrote on and then he folded the ledger shut and laid it to one side and pressed his hands together and passed them down over his nose and mouth and placed them palm down on his knees.

Whatever exists, he said. Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.

He looked about at the dark forest in which they were bivouacked. He nodded toward the specimens he’d collected. These anonymous creatures, he said, may seem little or nothing in the world. Yet the smallest crumb can devour us. Any smallest thing beneath yon rock out of men’s knowing. Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth.

What’s a suzerain?

A keeper. A keeper or overlord.

Why not say keeper then?

Because he is a special kind of keeper. A suzerain rules even where there are other rulers. His authority countermands local judgements.

Toadvine spat.

The judge placed his hands on the ground. He looked at his inquisitor. This is my claim, he said. And yet everywhere upon it are pockets of autonomous life. Autonomous. In order for it to be mine nothing must be permitted to occur upon it save by my dispensation.

Toadvine sat with his boots crossed before the fire. No man can acquaint himself with everthing on earth, he said.

The judge tilted his great head. The man who believes that the secrets of the world are forever hidden lives in mystery and fear. Superstition will drag him down. The rain will erode the deeds of his life. But the man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by the decision alone have taken charge of the world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate.

I don’t see what that has to do with catchin birds.

The freedom of birds is an insult to me. I’d have them all in zoos.

That would be a hell of a zoo.

The judge smiled. Yes, he said. Even so.

—Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian. (1985)