On Isms and the End Justifying the Means

In the wake of the Paris bombing, we feel pain, we suffer with the bereaved. A deep malaise has gripped our hearts, a malaise that neither games, food, nor shopping trips can alleviate. I don’t know about you, but I am in a funk. I can almost understand how feeling like this can lead some to heed the siren call of paranoia, extremism and various isms. They can infect even those of us who write and think for a living. For most writers, an event like this is a call to action. So, here is my take on it. I wish I had the wit of the cartoonist known as Mr. Fish, who thinks that we should collectively tell any ism that justifies murder to go f—k itself. Being neither young nor male, I’m going to aim for a more nuanced take.

Let’s just step back a bit. Beset as we are by wide spread war mongering, propaganda, suicide bombers and fear, what can I offer apart from homilies of hope and keeping our collective heads? Or endless analyses of how we got into this mess? It gets tiring and the excuse that even if things went badly wrong in the Middle East; it was all done in the name of ‘progress’ doesn’t seem to work anymore. Remember the ‘Arab Spring’? Yeah, that was when we almost began to believe in Progress again, especially the democratic kind. We, the West, had a role to play in ‘liberating’ the people. This bizarre belief never completely disappears because some writers have been bribed by a self-satisfied yet worried elite to keep it going. We stand for Progress, and everybody else is either regressive, ill intentioned, or just plain evil.

To truly grasp how hollow this whole line of reasoning has become, you have to go back and read what writers were thinking during the sixties, seventies, the eighties even. Like George Ryga, for example. Who? Ryga, you know, the guy who wrote the ground breaking play, The Ecstasy of Rita Joe, one of the first plays to seriously examine the situation of our Indigenous peoples. The guy who had a contract with the CBC, a writer whose passion was justice and the plight of the common man. Who wrote plays about amoral mining companies and oppressed miners. That guy; not exactly forgotten but not exactly a household word, either.

Reading him today against the global backdrop of injustices, slavery and wars fomented by something called ‘globalization’, makes one realize that the issues of social justice and humanity’s suffering he was so passionate about are not just with us, they are larger, more omnipresent and oppressive than ever before. They reveal progress for the myth it has always been. Yet it has fuelled not only Colonialism but also the monster of Capitalism unfettered. As long as Chinese peasants are lifted out of extreme poverty, so the reasoning goes, we should just accept the enslavement of governments by the WTO and banksters, endless wars, and the raping of the planet. It’s all good because the end—Progress—justifies the means.

This is an old and very slippery slope that the Paris bombings have thrown into sharp relief. It will be used to sell us a new, improved version of ‘democracy’, one so deformed by the surveillance state that nobody will have true freedom to speak out, to disagree, to protest, ever again. The end—Security—will justify an ongoing State of Emergency enforced by the military. In fact, a year of that is already under serious consideration in Paris. Nobody has protested.

Have you noticed that every time there’s a terrorist event, no matter where it happens, everybody is told to stay home and obey? Every time, we meekly acquiesce. Not only that, in the aftermath we allow the passing of laws such as the infamous Bill C-51, Canada’s answer to terrorism and a bill so badly designed and worded that only experts can figure out what it means. It has been widely condemned because it allows ‘preventive detention’ for a week, which sounds like a great opportunity for citizens to be bullied and even tortured. The Walrus published an analysis of it, but their comment that we should not assume that our government would actually stoop to torture, struck me as naive at best and misleading at worst.

Will C-51 ever be repealed? It was Harper’s farewell gift to us, and it will take loud, persistent protest to get rid of it. In the current climate of paranoia, we may never get around to it. Too hot to handle. Don’t complain if one of your more radical friends, or even you, who thought you lived in a liberal democracy, find yourself ‘preventively detained’. It’s for our Safety, don’t you see, so therefore, it is justified.

If Ryga came back today and looked at the kinds of laws and restrictions we meekly accept, he would be dumbstruck. FDR famously said we have nothing to fear but fear itself, but today he might go further and say, we have nothing to fear except the fear of terrorists. If we give in to our fears, we will continue to act more like children who hide under the bed than rational adults.

Of course, one cannot give up or give in, and here in Canada, we do have some reason for tempered optimism. One is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It’s supposed to heal the ongoing wounds dealt to our indigenous peoples in the name of progress. One doesn’t hear much about this Commission, but perhaps our new government will change that. Perhaps they will succeed, and who is to say that Ryga’s half forgotten play did not in some way influence what is happening there. Perhaps that play will be staged with indigenous actors one day. It could happen. Two, there is Prime Minister Trudeau, who has promised to pull our fighter jets out of Syria. I hope he has the guts to actually do that; I hope he doesn’t cave to the paranoid fear memes circulating freely around the globe.

If we manage to give the Commission its due, if we insist on not contributing to foreign wars, if we repeal Bill C-51 now, in short, if we allow the better angels of our nature to whisper in our ears, perhaps Canada will become the great exception to The Age of Insanity we seem to be inhabiting. It’s possible we will confront the nightmare, crawl out from under the bed, and begin dealing with the ugly reality we have created for our children and ourselves. And get our writers onside. F—k the fear mongers, I say.

Now that, my friends, would be actual Progress.

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