The Death of the Old Way

(This was published in the Globe and Mail a few years ago. I’m writing about the same culture again, so wanted to archive it for myself. Plus, it’s a great book review, if I do say so myself)

I sometimes think I had the last Victorian childhood in existence, growing up among the Anglo-Protestant clans of Old Montreal. We’re pretty much a diaspora now, clinging to the wreckage, which is all right, things as they have to be. But there was much to love in the old ways, and the best was belonging to a familial grouping of 400 people and having a distinct place within that clan, however marginal. It is why I’ve never been able to fully embrace literary fiction; the isolation of the modernist is so brutal and strange. Far too many people were interested in my fate and reputation, and did not hesitate to criticize. Luckily, I was ridden out of Old Montreal on a rail, so effort at conformity could cease.

  • The Toss of a Lemon, by Padma Viswanathan, Random House Canada, 616 pages, $34.95

How much greater, then, is the loss of the 8,000-year-old culture of the Brahmin caste of the subcontinent? The question is rhetorical, for in The Toss of a Lemon, Padma Viswanathan’s first novel, we see exactly how magnetic, how sinkingly seductive that life was, and how difficult it must have been when the habits and customs of millennia were overturned by the shock of the new.

In 1931, India’s last census to count by caste, Tamil Nadu Brahmins, named after the Indian province where this book takes place, measured a little less than 3 per cent of the population. They were a priestly tribe, descended from the Vedic rishis, enjoined to live a life of learning and non-possessiveness.

The Toss of a Lemon is relentlessly domestic, therefore relentlessly feminine. Politics, independence and war rage on the far borders of the Brahmin quarter, barely noticed. As is business, since the novel’s central family, like most Brahmins, has farms and tenants which support them. It begins with Sivakami, a passive little 13-year-old who trots off obediently to live in her 18-year-old healer husband’s house. A sword hangs over their arranged marriage: If her son is born on the right date, her husband, Hanumarathnam, will die young. Which he does, promptly, on the appointed day. But Hanumarathnam was practical. He taught his young wife, and Muchami, a servant uninterested in women, to manage his farms, so she need not live on charity.

Sivakami dutifully shaves her head and puts aside her beautiful clothes for the two white cotton saris she will wear for the rest of her life. The rules by which she must live are beyond stringent. She can’t touch her children during the day; if she does, she has to bathe. She must cook all her own food and she cannot go outside the gates of the house, and there are dozens more rules. But the life of the quarter streams in though Muchami, her family, her tenant farmers, the inhabitants of the Brahmin quarter, her two children, their friends and spouses, and the many children her daughter, Thangam, bears.

Thangam, of “the burnished hair and molten eyes,” is so gorgeous that “most of the neighbourhood considers Thangam’s beauty itself to be a community service.” She is surrounded by admirers, and eventually begins to shed gold flakes, assiduously collected and used as healing ash. Thangam is married off to a feckless man who neglects her, but not enough to prevent a child being born to the couple almost every year.

The divine Thangam suffers mightily, and no puja or japa by her saintly mother can save her. Her brother, Vairum, can’t save her either, but as an adult, he forbids any more marriages based on horoscopes. Reason, not superstition, must determine the family’s future, and with that, some of the magic trickles away.

Vairum grows into a wealthy businessman, who protects his nieces and nephews. He chooses his musician wife himself despite their joint horoscope predicting childlessness. Vairum can’t overturn that fate until one of his nieces dies of cancer, and he adopts her children, but by then he loathes his mother and her willingness to sacrifice her beloved daughter, his sister, to a husband careless to the point of criminality, for the sake of family reputation.

This is the way class dies, Brahmin, WASP or aristocrat. The sacrifice of individual to clan becomes unbearable, tragic and, finally, impossible.

Leaving the book feels like getting out of a warm bath on a cold day. Viswanathan is a charming writer, and I do not mean to belittle; one’s senses are overwhelmed by a rich density. An almost invisible discipline marches her hundreds of characters from 1896 to 1958. The demons (in the form of an illegitimate child) gather at the garden gate; caste must die, or as a newspaper of the time says, “the upper-caste bigots [must]cast aside their false race pride.” Nothing is said, sniffs a granddaughter, “of mutual dependence and respect. … Brahmins are the servants of society. Why is everyone out to get us?”

Censoring the Right, using a Lot of Jargon

Censorship Wars Using Jargon

by Elizabeth Nickson in media8 Comments

This was published on Victory Girls Blog on April 4, 2019. https://victorygirlsblog.com/

Does anyone remember the appearance of poor little rich alien, Mark Zuckerberg in front of Congress in two marathon sessions almost a year ago? One did not envy him. It was a pile on from both the left and the right, and at one point Zuckerberg actually asked Congress to regulate him, especially when it came to politics.

The attitude he displayed when asking for regulation was almost crawling and strikingly similar to Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey’s appearance on the Joe Rogan show on March 5th of this year. For three hours, Dorsey was attacked by leftie journalist Tim Pool principally on the censoring of conservatives, compared to the almost-no-censoring of liberals.

Dorsey apologized over and over again, repeatedly throwing the accusations over to Vijaya Gadde, his global lead for Legal, Policy, Trust, and Safety (an Orwellian title if there ever was one). Gadde brought data with her, but not enough for Pool, and ended by promising over and over again to ‘reach out’ and discuss specific cases with Pool and Rogan. Perhaps, she floated, permanent suspensions could be made temporary. And so on. “Algorithmic deep learning is happening as we speak,” added Jack. Shiver.

They were, however, prepared to discuss the banning of Alex Jones, uncomfortably. Also Milo. Uncomfortably. Also the banning of the phrase ‘Learn to code’, which was leveled at the many fired journalists after the Covington Boys fiasco. But Pool asked, “Why were the Proud Boys banned and not Antifa?” They wobbled, but Pool did not give up. He roasted them. Again, a self-identified progressive took the side of banned conservatives.

Both Jack Dorsey and Vijaya Gadde apologized many times over the course of the three-hour discussion, made many statements about trying harder, claimed they worried ceaselessly about this and that. That banning people sent them to the dank underground of the human psyche and who knows what would come out of that? The jargon was killing: ‘Cost-benefit analysis’, ‘deep learning’, ‘evolution in prioritization’, ‘massive velocity’, and preventing ‘harm’. “We have to work with the technologies, tools, and conditions we have today and evolve over time where we can see examples,” said Jack. “We are working on opening up the aperture even more. We understand that binary on or off is not scalable. A permanent ban is not desirable”. “Nuances are coming”. “Sunlight is the best disinfection,” said Gadde. “We worry about driving people away from the platform and affecting their real lives.” And so endlessly on.

Wired Magazine points out that these guys have been apologizing for 14 years. Senator John Thune called Zuckerberg on it last Wednesday. “After more than a decade of promises to do better, how is today’s apology different…?”

It’s different because opinion is turning against the digital giants and, at the same time, against the left-wing which has turned social discourse into shrieking hysteria. On Friday NBC/WSJ published a poll declaring that 60% don’t trust Facebook. Big majorities say social media divides us, spreads falsehoods and unfair attacks. And 82% say social media sites waste people’s time. The negative opinions run across the political spectrum.

Lawsuits are mounting from both sides of the aisle. Devin Nunes filed a $250,000,000 suit against Twitter last month and Twitter isn’t broke but their insurance rates will skyrocket if he succeeds. The New Yorker published a take-down of the corrupt Southern Poverty Law Centre on March 21, which all the digital giants used to determine whether you were a good guy or a stinking racist. The lawsuits based on that censorship could be impressive.There were about half a dozen suits lodged against Facebook in the last week alone.

Next week, Facebook, Twitter, and Google are appearing in Congress to specifically answer alleged censorship of conservative voices. Google has been accused of skewing millions of votes for Democrats in the 2018 election

Facebook has promised a dog and pony show. “Facebook said public policy director Nil Potts will provide testimony at a Wednesday hearing titled “Stifling Free Speech: Technological Censorship and the Public Discourse held by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution.

No doubt they will weasel out using some of the newspeak listed above. But maybe not. Something shifted around the time of the Covington Boys. You could feel it on Facebook as evidence mounted that the story being sold was not only wrong but cruel to the point of criminality. On Dave Rubin’s podcast this week, the lawyer for the Covington Boys, Robert Barnes, discussed the case and free speech. Barnes has sued CNN and the Washington Post for $275,000,000 and $250,000,000 respectively and he doesn’t plan to lose. Barnes is considered one of the leading figures in the free speech wars.

These are scary numbers for media struggling with ratings. Even one win will embolden other conservatives to stop taking the endless slander and bullying lying down. The behavior of the mainstream media (of which I was a member for 15 years) has been egregious beyond belief for the past two years. 90% of Trump stories are negative and 95% of reporters are left-wing. The security of conservatives on staff is tenuous at best. This is not open and free discourse. This is very close to Fahrenheit 451.

In Canada, it’s even worse. We have one right-of-center tabloid chain which is under ceaseless attack as racist Nazis, all the rest of our broadsheets are staffed by socialists or scaredy-cats. Our national broadcaster is bought and paid for by the current Liberal government to the tune of $1.1 billion annually, and just last month, the same Liberal government invested $600,000,000 in print media, conveniently ahead of the fall election. This, fyi, is how bad it can get.

Equally, people are becoming increasingly aware of the left’s use of lawfare against people who can’t afford to defend themselves. They perfected this in rural regions all over the world, but especially in rural America. Environmentalists backed by massive foundation money lodged suit after suit against foresters, ranchers, miners, farmers and any manufacturing concern that used raw materials drawn from natural resources. They broke county after county, township after township. Despite Trump’s deregulation and his new people in Interior and the EPA. Rural America is still operating at less than 50% of capacity. Up in Canada, we have allowed left-wing American foundations to spend $300 Million with the goal of decommissioning our oil sands. Alberta’s oil sands infrastructure is one of the seven wonders of the modern world, the most advanced environmentally-sound infrastructure project in the oil business. It is operating at half speed if that and all new routes to export have been mothballed, leaving the resource virtually landlocked. Two researchers working on their own, without pay for 15 years uncovered this scam, and still, no one will stand up and take these people down in court. Nevertheless, people are angry. We have a couple of important elections coming up and they are looking to landslide right. Even Canadians can fight back.

Are we seeing a tipping point in the culture? I am sensing the screeching and crunching of a forced widening of discourse, somewhat like the tomb door opening in a Lara Croft Tomb Raider film. In five years, if we win this battle, we will be living in a far healthier world. If not, we all better get used to muzzling our speech.

Featured image: Mark Zuckerberg cariacture by DonkeyHoteyCreative Commons License 2.0 (CC BY 2.0)

censorship Dave Rubin Jack Dorsey Joe Rogan Mark Zuckerberg Tim Pool

My Identity: Tom Sawyer? Deb? Tortured artist?

I personally think that one’s sexual identity is the least interesting thing about a person, but I understand that is not a common thought or feeling. I do understand why people would be fascinated by the new and strange, and the current new and strange is transsexuality. Therefore people are in a lather one way or another

I didn’t meet my first out gay person till I was 20, and I promptly fell in love with him and stayed in love till he died horribly from Aids. From then on, there has been a cavalcade of gay men and women in my life. My best friend in New York was a gay man, my boarding school roommate turned out to be gay and recently married her current wife after a first marriage to the father of her children. Most I’ve met are fantastic people, with a fresh eye on the world and straight culture and I almost always appreciate them. So I don’t really get homophobia, other than understanding that a frank and outspoken gay sexual identity is new to some people and maybe a bit scary. I worked on a film investigating identity so met quite a few transsexuals, pre and post operation and some straight up transvestites. The transvestites were pretty confident, compared to the transsexuals who, the newer they were, the more fragile and frightened. They needed quite a lot of care and soothing. Which makes sense, why would you withhold simple compassion?

Simple compassion would defuse a lot of anger. Jordan Peterson who stands on a flaming bed of fame because he is unafraid of being tough on the vulnerable, was right when he said we should not be forced to use certain pronouns. However, it is right and kind that we should choose to honor the choices of our fellows. The thing about the free world is that one must have free will to choose to be a stupid bastard or a simple, good human. Without that, we are truly lost. Isn’t that obvious?

By the way, this is how I see myself. This identity has been slivered throughout my working life. I carry around a bunch of masks: the socialite, the sophisticate, the worthy Canadian, the graduate student, the dispassionate reporter, the bewildered mother, stepmother and grandmother, the country kid who identifies as Tom Sawyer and the tortured beast sitting in front of an easel wondering from whence the next string of words. Sorry for the tilt on the photo, I’m tired.

Joe Biden – Uncle Scuzzy

I started a couple of fights on Facebook over Joe Biden’s unrestrained pawing of women while their menfolk looked on in disgust and impotent fury. ‘Why the anger?’ said these guys, ‘Surely it’s disproportionate. He’s a decent human being.’

No, he’s not. He uses his power to exhibit behaviour that is demeaning, humiliating and frankly, cruel. He has displayed his character and now he’s been busted. And thanks to #metoo, he’s done. He won’t run for President and at every speech and confab, there will be women looking at him with their skin crawling. He deserves it.

Tatler tells – One Year of Meghanomania

An old bf (a brief brief time it was too) published a piece about Meghan Markle in Tatler this week. Tatler is the top society mag in the world and one of the oldest magazines still in existence. David’s piece (read it here: https://www.tatler.com/article/meghan-markle-mania) pretty much has to be seen as definitive for now. “One Year of Meghanomania” is a masterful thrash round the nodes of royal gossip, which manages to demonstrate in all its awful grandeur just how the toffs are handling the incursion of Hollywood into their extremely special, special safe place.

Answer? Not Well. Not well at all. I do not think that, in the English-speaking world, there is any bunch of people more sharp-tongued and cruel than the British aristocracy. Their sense of entitlement is so hard-wired, they aren’t even aware it exists. Basically if they are after you, you are the fox and they are thundering across the field on two thousand pound highly trained animals. And they have guns.

I do not think that, in the English-speaking world, there is any bunch of people more sharp-tongued and cruel than the British aristocracy. Their sense of entitlement is so hard-wired, they aren’t even aware it exists. Basically, if they are after you, you are the fox and they are thundering across the field on two thousand pound highly trained animals. And they have guns.

Here’s the critical set up: “Was the tiara at the centre of that tantrum already promised to Princess Eugenie for her wedding, as some believe? (Harry and Meghan, don’t forget, queue-barged their way into the first Windsor wedding of 2018.) And did the Queen veto Meghan’s plans for a sleeveless wedding dress? The rumours may be false, but not as false as the speculation Meghan was pregnant on her wedding day – ‘that’s why the dress was so baggy,’ one young woman assured me – and certainly not as false as the rumour that theirs is an IVF baby.

Here’s what is happening to her because of the jealousy: “But it’s rumours like that, and the drip, drip, drip of stories about aides leaving Meghan’s employ and servants being upset by her manner, that are making their lives such a misery. The Prince of Wales’ enthusiasm for his daughter-in-law is being ignored, as is Meghan’s role as the catalyst for a new warmth between Harry and his father. People who’ve lunched with her have loved her; she’s beautiful; she’s clever; she’s made Harry happy. What’s not to like?”

Have the toffs brought her down yet? Not yet, but they’re having an effect.

But are they happy as a couple? Harry’s circle has narrowed, and Meghan has shown how stung she’s been by letting her friends defend her in People magazine. George Clooney has stood up for her, invoking what happened to Diana, Princess of Wales as a warning. And it’s tough when her make-up chum, Daniel Martin, posts a picture of the tea she had laid out for him – avocado on toast, chocolates – and the line, ‘Thank you Meghan for being the consummate hostess this weekend and still being the #avocadotoastwhisperer’, and posh noses sniff; it’s just not on, they say – what sort of person is she having around? Meghan wants a doula; cue mockery. Even though Britain has ten times more interracial relationships than the rest of Europe, according to a study quoted by Afua Hirsch, author of Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging, some of the antipathy must be racist, as it was of the biracial President Obama. Which is hard to stomach. Some of it is anti-American, in the mocking Gwyneth Paltrow dynamic-5am-email sense. Some of it is captured in the Daily Express headline ‘Loving… but dominating’. Some of it reflects sadness at the passing of the Jack the Lad Harry, the roguish Harry, the roistering Harry, in favour of a more sober, duller version.”

My advice? Avoid toffs at all costs.

Where Conservatism fails Women

In another 50 years, men may regain the status they lost, but it’s going to be an uncomfortable few decades for them. I’m not sad.

I listened to as much self-congratulatory guff from Jordan Peterson and Roger Scruton in Peterson’s latest podcast as I could tolerate. Much of it seemed to mourn the loss of status they have collectively as men and the irrationality of women who won’t accept that the traditional ways served women best. “When, O when will it end?” was the tone of the (very long) podcast.

I have some sympathy for this idea, some, it’s not very large. In fact, it’s kindof tiny. I do believe that the marriages of the elites are stable and equitable, and frankly I think they always have been so. Intelligent men and women understand that deep mutual respect is the base from which to build a family, that each contributes very specific skills and talents the other does not hold and power plays are self-destructive. It’s obvious, I don’t need to belabor this.

What Peterson and Scruton miss in their paens to themselves as excellent male beings, that while they may always have been wonderful (I doubt it) their generation of men has not. The level of self-indulgence, the cheating, drug-taking, promiscuity and generally vile behavior of boomers and Gen Xers has been spectacular. And any women knows, any woman, that if it hasn’t happened to you, it’s happened to one of your friends. They have been abandoned, with the care of children entirely theirs, having given up work to build a family. Afterwards, they rebuild, with half the money if not less, a tiny proportion of the opportunity of the male, and 90% of the child-raising responsibilities. At least half of women, half, have experienced this in the last 50 years, and I am not even counting the women who sucked it up and carried on in marriages where he ran around and she kept the family going. Another 25%?

Of course some women have been badly behaved, but this pales before the immutable fact that child-rearing is their primary responsibility, and therefore their ability to make money is limited.

Let’s build in here the fact that attractive women in any workplace have been, and still are, prey.

Peterson has done sterling work in waking up young men to their responsibilities, proving decisively that in being responsible adults, you find yourself and a great deal more. But the endless harping on the insufficiencies of “feminists” is silly and beneath him.

Finally, I was at a think tank thrash a few years ago where Scruton tried to prove that gay marriage was wrong. I love (loved) his work, but this was disqualifying. It behooves men like Scruton to try to see things from another’s rather less privileged perspective. I don’t care if this makes me seem an identitarian nutcase, it’s true. In another 50 years, men may regain the status they lost, but it’s going to be an uncomfortable few decades for them. I’m not sad.

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What my Google/Facebook/Twitter/ Youtube ads reveal about me.

I’ve been watching the ads focused on me for the past year. They are pretty desperate because I’m not a big shopper. For a while, the algorithm thought I was a naturopath and pummeled me with offers to increase my clientele, boost my credentials and so on. I searched hair loss for a friend at least two years ago and they still think I’m losing my hair. Cheap nasty clothes are dragged in front of my jaundiced eye twenty times a day. The occasional offer for lessons in Dressage, coming from a search at least five years ago when I considered the sport for a nanosecond. I replaced some of my ancient makeup last summer, and now Sephora thinks I’m mad for the stuff. I am not. Nasty home design from Wayfair. One search on J. Crew subjects me to months of ads.

Lots of intermittent fasting and Paleo ads, Fantasy City Builder games which is weird because I never play games. Mejuri, because I bought Christmas gifts there, heavy equipment ads because I support the oil patch. Various grooming gadgets lead me to suspect I’m overboarding on the self-care.

If this is what’s scaring people about tracking, I think we can stand down. Unless of course you are planning revolution or have a porn addiction. In which case, Math knows and is trying to figure out how to monetize it.

BTW, Epagogix believes it has cracked film financial outcome using an algorithm which nails how much any movie will make. Netflix too uses an algorithm to program its offerings. Equally, there is an algorithm which tells potential publishers whether a novel will be a commercial success. Maybe that’s why popular culture, which has led since the Sixties is now the tawdry, sloppy, virtue-signaling beast under ceaseless attack.

Lionel Shriver – Free Speech Warrior

Lionel Shriverhttps://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/other/writers-blocked-how-the-new-call-out-culture-is-killing-fiction

Last year I wrote an entire novel set in Indian country, that vast part of Canada which is accessible mainly to aboriginals, whether Innu or straight-up “first nations”. I ground to a halt when I realized to my complete horror, that is would never pass muster in a publishing house today, especially given my regrettable (in retrospect) enthusiastic participation in the issues of the day. Which already place a decent publishing contract difficult if not out of reach, since most editors in New York and London would consider me and my (entirely regrettable) opinions, anathema.

I have, after all, already been called “jack-booted” by a mainstream publishing acquisitions editor

Writers, published ones, are no longer allowed to ‘speak their truth’ if they write about anyone not specific to their race and sex. This is a silencing on a grand scale, a medieval Church scale, a jihadi in today’s Muslim countries scale. Seriously have you ever tried to watch a tv series out of the Greater Middle East? Crapola on steroids.

Literature is undergoing The Great Silencing.

I understand the resentments of people-of-color when they read about themselves in a white novelist’s work. I spent a good fifteen years in the arts community and a couple novelists have filched trivial elements of my life to create characters and reading about those characters, was a deeply unpleasant feeling. How much greater more soul destroying it would be if you were someone struggling against felt or real prejudice and see some fat rich white guy or gal cashing in on your pain? The pain is yours, not theirs. Plus they have been doing so for hundreds of years. This is real.

This is a silencing on a grand scale, a medieval Church scale, a jihadi in today’s Muslim countries scale. Seriously have you ever tried to watch a tv series out of the Greater Middle East? Crapola on steroids. There is no truth there, just superficial image-making.

I add two paras from Lionel Shriver’s piece in Prospect Magazine, here:

As for adult literature, it’s impossible to gauge the degree of politically correct censorship going on behind the scenes at publishing companies and literary agencies. Editors and agents are unlikely to assert directly that a submission’s content is too hot to handle. Having tackled divisive subjects or deployed characters who don’t hew to the rules of identity politics—rules that are often opaque, or at least until you break them—authors are left with uneasy suspicions about why their manuscripts might be attracting no takers, but with no hard evidence.

Trust me on this, it’s hard enough to get published without this lying in wait. It’s hard enough to write, given this lying in wait. Shriver again:

Equally impossible to gauge is the extent of writers’ collective self-censorship. The tetchiness and public shaming of “call out” culture has to be influencing which subjects writers feel free to address and which they shy away from, as well as making many writers reluctant to include a diverse cast. Does the edict to eschew stereotypes mean a black character can never be a drug dealer? (So much for The Wire, then. Or Clockers, both created by white men.) Rather than tip-toe through this minefield, plenty of writers must be playing it safe with characters, topics and plots that won’t get them into trouble. But this caution is invisible. Literary roads not taken are mapped privately in a writer’s head, behind a screen, with the drapes drawn. We have no record of what a host of individual authors have decided to avoid.

That’s what I mean about the Great Silencing. I would ask this question to those who are tempted to censor. Who the hell are you to decide the direction of the culture?

And to those people of color, I ask: what if we whiteys had not spent the last three hundred years writing about the wrongs done those discriminated against? What if all those (usually male) novelists hadn’t made people feel how awful it was? How do you know that you are not creating the next great wrong? You don’t. Art must be free, speech must be free. Let the freaking market decide. The culture has already turned towards you. Let. It. Ride.

Because, make no doubt, without the entire (sometimes hideous) panoply of human life on display, we on a fast road to tyranny.

I add the usual disclaimer. There are four separate Indian bands represented in the bloodline of my blended family, starting in 1783 when one of my ancestors married into the Mohawk. I have Venezuelan cousins, and my grandchildren have Jamaican cousins. So politely, piss off with your accusations of racism.

The Future, A Good One. Srsly.

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I honestly live in the silliest place in the world. It is also one of the sweetest, if you avoid the politics which are absurd to the point of cruelty. And, it is very very beautiful. And silly. Oh, I did say that. I should say it again. Very sweet and humble and silly and human.

I also think it is a model for the future. This is a place where the great god commerce is not allowed to pace and growl and subsume everything in its path. In fact, commerce greets a committee of furious 70-year-olds who have an even more intricate grasp of regulatory structure than any big city lawyer. The lawyers who are certain they can overwhelm any hick hippie usually end slinking off, holding various injured parts of their bodies, their eyes filled with hurt and confusion, with $1,000,000 lost to said regulatory structure. We know how to make money here, no doubt. It’s just not in the time-honored way.

The lawyers who are certain they can overwhelm any hick hippie usually end slinking off, holding various injured parts of their bodies, their eyes filled with hurt and confusion, with $1,000,000 lost to said regulatory structure. 

This morning I received a message about some artisan firewood for sale. We had a crashingly lovely windstorm at Christmas which left many of us huddled around our propane stoves and fireplaces, barbequing turkeys, the racket of a generator deafening the quarrels, I mean carols, and trying not to die. The wood that fell is now for sale. It is special. Very special. And specially expensive. Hello? Labor?

This is windstorm firewood! It was manifested and air dried by the wind gods themselves! It should be more expensive! It will be more expensive! The price for ‘windstorm’ firewood is probably going to be somewhere around 1.75X regularly priced firewood that is itself already 2X’ish what it should probably cost. You do the math..

But really the reason this place is special is not because our leaders are lethal manipulators of the body politic not to mention, hold off capitalism, it is because of the kids who are coming here to start new lives. They want to bake and grow. They want to farm. They want to live in sweet little cottages, raise a family and work the land using permaculture and no toxic substances and well let’s hear from one of them:

“We see different things crumbling around us and we want to prop them back up and create something beautiful . . . Once that’s started, [we] realize how healing and grounding it is to be involved in those natural cycles and to be aware of when the rain is coming and be excited about it. Having dirt under the fingernails all the time is a pretty good feeling,” said Milo Stuart, another young farmer working on the island.

This place, Saltspring Island, used to provide the whole province with fruit back in the day before industrial farming. The region around the island is lush and pleasant and fertile. All the way up to Whistler, young people are spreading out like kudzu (only in a good way) changing the culture from within.

Why wait till some dreadful vulture capitalist outfit spits you out like so much rotten meat and you are left with a nervous breakdown and an addiction to painkillers?

“It’s super fun for me as a farmer to be able to see what’s happening on farms all over the world via Instagram,” Stuart said. “You’re getting ready to get going for the season and somewhere in Australia they are fully into it and doing something completely different. You almost get to go back and forth in time that way. There’s a camaraderie in it and it is super inspiring to see the movement happening actively.”

You can laugh at them now all you like. But admit the superculture out there is not getting tamer, it is getting more lethal and complex every day. Maybe it’s the better part of valor just to learn how to build a fence. Why bother to wait till some dreadful vulture capitalist outfit spits you out like so much rotten meat and you are left with a nervous breakdown and an addiction to painkillers?

“When I look at it, I’m most proud of the big things. I see the whole yard that’s fenced and I remember pounding all of the posts and that gives me a lot of pride. I never knew how to do that, and I never even thought of how a person would put up a fence. It kind of amazes me that we did that,” she said.”

Is Mysterious Illness Really Wisdom Training?

Last week the NYTimes published a piece about the actress Selma Blair and her diagnosis of MS. MS is another of the mysterious illnesses into which category fall CFS/ME and Fibromyalgia. For the first while, Blair was told by doctors that her tiredness was a function of being a new mother, and barely stopped short of saying “It’s all in your mind.” Eventually, after a struggle, she was formally diagnosed and felt relief that finally, she could do something about it.

This is a typical response to mysterious illness, both from GPs and from sufferers. People, women mostly, resonated to Selma’s story.

“There are some things about M.S. that certainly remain a mystery,” said Kathy Costello, the associate vice president for health care access at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. “But a significant amount more is known now, versus 20 or 30 years ago.”

What if mysterious illnesses are the catalyst for transformation?

Yeah? After how many billions spent? What did all that money and research find? Well the disease is intermittent. There is no cure. You can take steroids, which break down your organs while giving you relief. There are symptom management strategies, but no one truly knows nothing.

I have a friend who used bees to force his MS into remission. He would lie down on his stomach, his wife would place bees on his back in a cross pattern and the bees would sting him. He would howl in pain but then the MS would go into remission for a considerable period of time.

“Most people with the disease have the “relapsing-remitting” form of M.S., which means that they experience a cycle of worsening and recovery.” (Kathy Costello again). Basically, it is an immune system disorder, or a ‘who the hell knows’ disorder.

Because I grew up with a schizophrenic parent, I’ve had about six therapists in my life. There was no way I was following in her footsteps.

Let me ask a couple questions. What if all mysterious illnesses start in your mind? What if you could stop them in their tracks by bringing forward the emotions you are suppressing using said illness? What if people who did so were considered courageous, not weak? What if you became so attuned to your inner self that like an expert mechanic, you could pop the hood, tinker around, find the offending fear or rage or sorrow, let it out, fully experiencing that moment and then letting it go? Leaving yourself in recovery.

Every bout of therapy has given me access to new strengths and new solutions. But mental illness, even at the level of a cold is still considered such a liability, that people hide any manifestation of it, refusing to admit that they are the cause and that they hold the cure in their own hands.

Because I grew up with a schizophrenic parent, I’ve had about six therapists in my life. There was no way I was following in her footsteps. I moved cities five times when I was younger and always found someone new. As a result, this idea to me is not shaming or indicative of my weakness or inability to “measure up”. Every bout of therapy has given me access to new strengths and new solutions. But mental illness, even at the level of a cold is still considered such a liability, that people hide any manifestation of it, refusing to admit that they are the cause and that they hold the cure in their own hands.

Because I was acutely, daily, aware of schizophrenia I read widely and seriously, and the one theory I found that made sense, is that without schizophrenia human evolution would have been much much slower. The energy in a schizophrenic brain is so over-powering that ideas and theories and connections and then solutions, happen very very fast. This is certainly true of the schizophrenics in my family. The only problem is that their brains, driven by excitement, take the next step into madness.

What if mysterious illnesses are the catalyst for transformation?

What if mysterious illnesses hold the key to the next evolutionary step?

What if, buried in illness, is the wisdom that we, as a species, need?