Doré Bak

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Multiculturalism in a Murder Trial: First Court Appearance of Ibrahim Ali Charged with the Murder of Marrisa Shen

Curiosity drew me to the Vancouver Criminal Court on September 14, 2018, curious of who would show up at the courthouse that morning. A Syrian group, fearing the risk of becoming scapegoats for the murder of a thirteen-year-old Chinese Canadian girl, announced earlier of their intention to show solidarity with the Chinese community’s demand for justice. The Syrians had hoped to hold a candle vigil at 9:00 AM before the start of the court hearings.

Late for the 9:30 AM scheduled commencement of interim hearings in Room 101 at the Vancouver Criminal Court at 222 Main Street, I rushed pass rows of protesters, mostly Chinese, on the sidewalk next to the courthouse. They faced a phalanx of news crews who stood by their video cameras near the street edge of the sidewalk in front of the courthouse. I looked for the Syrian vigil but did not see any sign of it. There were a few pro-immigration counter-protesters. One young Asian woman held a sign that said we still welcome immigration.

When I checked in at the metal detector, a big South Asian sheriff [1] in dark blue uniform asked me to empty my pockets. “Everything,” he said in monotone and I pointed to the grey plastic tray. He grunted a yes. He presented himself as quite official and all business. I took out a wallet, keys, a digital camera, old Scratch & Win cards and 6/49 Lottery stubs (my mother’s), paper napkins, and pens. He asked, “Is that all?” I paused. “Everything,” he said. More paper napkins, I said something about regret not cleaning out my pockets earlier.

Once I was cleared to pass through the metal detector, another young sheriff greeted me. He asked me to spread arms apart, and he waved his wand up and down my back then both my sides and my front. The wand squeaked but the sheriff did not detain me. I was okay to stuff the paraphernalia from the tray back into my pockets and enter the hallway in search of Room 101. I had to take the elevator up one floor. Outside Room 101 on the wall next to the door, an electronic board posted a list of the cases queued for hearing. The case of Ibrahim Ali, file #252290-1, was at the very top of the list. I entered the courtroom when the old fashion, round clock with its two hands showed 9:50. I was late but nothing official was happening in the courtroom.

Fourteen visitors were already milling about in the visitors’ gallery. The courtroom looked like a university lecture hall, with the capacity to seat about 100 visitors. The colour brown dominated the courtroom. The sense of neutrality dispersed throughout, brown seats in the gallery, brown chairs and tables for the lawyers in front of the judge’s bench, which was also brown. A brown panel about three feet high surrounded the prisoner’s box, which had a brown frame that reached maybe 15 feet above the floor. Clear glass windows on two sides of the prisoner’s box faced the courtroom and the third side a solid wall and the fourth a dark door. I had never seen any prisoner’s box like it in a Canadian court before that day. It reminds me of something you might see in news footage of courtrooms from the Middle East or Europe.

The public entrance into the courtroom was located behind the top row of seats. Each row of seats descended lower like a terraced rice paddy as one walks down towards a three-tiered structure that looked like a rising terraced Mayan pyramid. At the top of this pyramid-like structure was the judge’s bench. At the very bottom behind a wooden panel were four empty seats. In the middle tier sat a court clerk and a court reporter in their black cloaks and white dickies. To my left as I faced the judge’s bench was a female court clerk and to my right was an impeccably groomed male court reporter who might easily be mistaken for a lawyer. He was busy rifling through piles of documents while talking to those around him. A couple of grey-haired white men in suits conversed with a female lawyer with long blond hair sitting at the Crown counsel’s chair at the long table in front of the judge’s bench. She reminds me of a mature hippie who exchanged her tie-dyed T-shirts for a dull dress suit.

In the visitor’s gallery sat an Asian woman in her sixties in a blue floral pattern skirt, reminiscent of a retired hippie, long black hair, wide brimmed hat and a huge bouquet of Purple Pixie bellflowers. She could hide her head and shoulders behind that bouquet if she wanted. Instead, she held the bouquet in the crook of her arms with great dignity. After a while, she moved over to the left side of the courtroom where family of the defendant were expected to be seated. I saw no sign though of any one that might give a hint that they were related to the defendant.

There are a few dark skin men in the crowd. On the left side of the courtroom, just a row or two behind the front row, one fellow in his late twenties or early thirties, with large notepad in hand, looked like he might be a reporter for one of the local Punjabi newspapers. Clean-shaven, he was a handsome man in a baby blue jacket and tieless dress shirt. He wore his brown hair as Bradley Cooper did in A Star is Born, collar length with a sweep left to right. He might very well qualify for a photo shoot for GQ Magazine.

I counted 77 visitors just before the first break, when even before any prisoner entered the courtroom. Most of the visitors were Chinese. They generally spoke mandarin, but there were the odd one or two Cantonese conversation in the crowd. Richard Lee, the former Liberal MLA, sat in the second row from the back. He was originally from Hong Kong. I suspect that he was one of the few Cantonese speakers in the visitors’ gallery. Many of the Chinese visitors, both men and women, carried a single stem white lily flower. Some of them wore the white flower pinned to their lapels.

After a short while, a man walked into the courtroom from a side entrance on the left next to the prisoner’s box. He wore a scruffy beard, dark complexion and black hair like a stereo type of an Arab in old film noir movies. Like a figure walking out of a black and white film, his grey suit, shirt and tie, all that he wore were co-ordinated in grey tones. A couple times, he turned slowly and looked at the visitors’ gallery, without any hint of emotion. He paused just long enough so that his dark eyes took in everything in the courtroom, and then slowly he turned to look at some papers or talked with the legal professionals nearby. He must be the Arabic interpreter, I thought at first. I was to discover later that I was mistaken. He was the defence lawyer.

At around 10:10 AM, the lone sheriff with boyish good looks and big forearms asked a Chinese woman in the audience to make an announcement regarding the first break. She translated in mandarin what he announced. Everyone must leave the courtroom and to return later at 10:30 AM. No Arabic interpreter was available. The court had to wait until it found a suitable Arabic interpreter. A few stragglers did not leave immediately. A couple of the Chinese visitors said, “Bi xu li kai–We must leave.” Someone else repeated, “Bi xu–It’s required.” All the visitors gathered in the hallway just outside the courtroom. Someone locked the door from inside the courtroom.

While we stood around, people spoke softly. I recognized the faces of two former mandarin news reporters/readers from the multicultural channel Omni TV. Now in the hallway, the majority of the crowd were speaking mandarin. I heard one person make a phone call in Cantonese. Two of the couples present included a white male partner or spouse. Maybe four men in the crowd were dark skin men. Their ethnicity were ambiguous. They could have been Middle Eastern, Italian, Portuguese, or may be Punjabi.

A Chinese man tried to open the door, but it would not budge. A Chinese woman, thirtyish maybe, told him in English that there was a break and visitors were not allowed in yet. The man then spoke Cantonese to another woman, presumably his wife. I took the opportunity to pose a question to the woman who first spoke English to the man. I asked her in English what is the meaning of the white flowers. She stared at me in feigned disbelief. I felt she was about ask me if I was Chinese. I interrupted her by asking her in mandarin: “Wo shi zhongguoren, hua ren, dan shi zhei bai hua shen me yi si–I am Chinese, culturally Chinese, but what do the white flowers mean?” She asked if I really did not know. She looked at me with a “you ought to know but what a shame you don’t” kind of look. On other occasions, mandarin speakers have told me that I have a decent standard mandarin accent, although longer conversations would reveal I have a limited spoken vocabulary.

This did not protect me though from her cultural chauvinism. I was not in the in-group and she deigned to instruct me on the finer points of Chinese culture. She meandered about in her little lecture, said something about remembering, something about showing support, something about expressing sadness. She said the presentation of white flowers is a custom akin to the wearing of black armbands in a western funeral. I explained to her that I understood the use of the colour white in Chinese funerals, but I had never seen before that day white flowers in a courtroom. I suspect that a scene of visitors holding single stemmed white flowers in a courtroom is also rare in China. I think the show of white flowers was a spontaneous act of unity of the new Chinese immigrant community, who spoke mostly mandarin. This woman like a few others I overheard, or later read about, said that she was not related to the victim’s family or friends. Like many of the other Chinese whom I eavesdropped on at the courthouse, she wanted to come to show support for the Shen family.

The CTV crew of three women and a young man talked among themselves in the hallway. The young man was David Molko, senior news reporter at CTV who covered the Marrisa Shen story from the very beginning when police discovered her body in Burnaby Central Park in July 2017.

Meanwhile, a young Chinese woman, notepad in hand, wandered from person to person in the crowd, asking questions. She made her way to folks near the entrance to the courtroom. A quiet angry man in his fifties or sixties stood back against the wall, next to the door, turning from time to time to peer through a narrow window into the courtroom. I do not think this man was angry at anything in particular, but simply had a look of anger but was not. I do not know his name but I refer to him as the Ironic Man. The Chinese reporter tried to get a quote from him but he showed his teeth and did not want to talk. She introduced herself as Jenny Peng of StarMetro News.

When a sheriff called us back into the courtroom at 10:30 AM, I looked around to see if former MLA Richard Lee was present. He was not. Neither was the woman with the big bouquet of purple bellflowers. All the seats in the visitors’ gallery were occupied now, about a hundred seats. Two or three visitors stood in the back. Others outside the courtroom were turned away. An extra three sheriffs joined the boyish-looking sheriff. One of the new sheriffs was Eurasian.

The Eurasian sheriff spoke in halting mandarin as he made an announcement. He asked visitors to remain quiet and to turn off cell phones. We were to wait for the arrival of the Arabic interpreter. Meanwhile, the Arabic looking man in the coordinated grey suit returned to the courtroom, carrying a folder. More Chinese filled up the seats in the left-hand side of the room, except for the first two rows. Two Indigenous women sat on the very first row in the visitors’ gallery. They casually talked with the sheriff next to them. Behind the two Indigenous women sat that fellow I thought was a reporter for a Punjabi newspaper. He appeared rather upbeat, notepad in hand, speaking somewhat animatedly with a good-looking blond woman.

The CTV crew appeared in full force in the courtroom. I suspect the older woman was the producer, the younger blond woman was a reporter and the young man, David Molko, in dark blue suit, very slim, form fitting, looked like another GQ candidate, the perfect image for the senior reporter. They talked among themselves. The younger woman at one point walked across the aisle to the female artist drawing the background scene of the courtroom.

Madam Judge Harbans Dhillon entered the courtroom and everyone stood up immediately. The lawyers bowed. The judge carried herself tall, like an Amazon myth. If the word “handsome” were to be used to describe a woman in the best sense, it would be appropriate to call Judge Dhillon handsome–beautiful and competent. She calmly dispensed the law, speaking clearly as though sharing her immediate, clear and cogent thoughts with her audience.

Provincial Court Judge Dhillon was born in Hong Kong of South Asian descent and immigrated to Canada as a child. She graduated from the University of British Columbia with a BA before beginning graduate studies in anthropology and sociology, which she later dropped in order to pursue a law degree. She had a social justice bent in her mind set. She said, “Throughout law school, I was aware of the importance of law in making a change in the lives of people—women, immigrants, minorities.”

The first prisoner to appear in the prisoner’s box was a dark skin young man, with a skinhead haircut. He nonchalantly walked over to be closer to the white haired man in John Lennon glasses, his lawyer. They talked. The young prisoner smirked, the epitome of cool. This was not Ibrahim Ali. The prisoner had breached conditions of bail by failing to report to his probation officer. Other than that, he had kept the rest of his bail conditions.

Judge Dhillon summarized the defence lawyer’s arguments. The young prisoner was doing fine, busy with work and had appeared on time for an earlier hearing. His busy, productive schedule hampered his fulfilling the condition of bail that requires monthly visits with a probation officer. His lawyer, the epitome of the sage lawyer, asked that his client be granted permission to report by telephone to his probation officer. The judge granted the request but not before explaining the original bail conditions. She emphasized how important it was that he continue to report to a probation officer. She further affirmed the original court order that required him to stay away from two of his former female friends. One was surnamed Garcia and the other Yang.

The second prisoner appeared on a video conference from prison. He wore an orange prison jumpsuit, and appeared as if a drunken George Carlin, beard and hair all dishevelled. The judge asked that he must show up physically in court at some point in his trial. The prisoner promised that he would.

At about 11:30 AM, the Arabic interpreter arrived, not in a suit, but in a light bluish grey bomber jacket and blue jeans–no tie. Soon, the door opened into the prisoner’s box and a young man in powder-pink, loose fitting T-shirt walked into the glass-enclosed prisoner’s box. He clutched his hands behind his back. His black hair and beard both much disheveled, and his face looked tired as though waking out of a drunken stupor. He reminds me of a college student with a big hangover who does not register the gravity of his surroundings. The interpreter leaned against the glass window and spoke to the young prisoner. He translated the comments made by the judge and the lawyers. The Crown counsel was another tall, Amazon-like woman in dark pants suit and crisp, white blouse. She stood at the right side of the judge’s bench and read aloud a prepared statement from a document.

The defence lawyer was Daniel Markovitz. He appeared the most tired of anyone in today’s proceedings except for Ibrahim Ali or perhaps the prisoner in that last video conference. Mr. Markovitz asked that the proceedings be delayed in order for him to get up to speed on the file. He had just received the file from the Crown and had not yet read it. The lawyers and the judge agreed that the next hearing be held on October 12, 2018 at 9:30 AM. Everything the case of the prisoner Ibrahim Ali was finished in maybe five minutes. The visitors were offered the opportunity to leave as the next case was being prepared to appear before the judge.

Later research revealed that the Law Society of British Columbia had fined the defence lawyer Daniel (Danny) Markovitz for conduct unbecoming of a lawyer in behaviour that breached the Criminal Code regarding refusal to provide a breath sample and professional misconduct. The Law Society of BC’s hearing panel recognized that his misbehaviour stemmed from alcohol abuse, but that it did not affect his performance as a lawyer.

On my way out, I spotted the StarMetro reporter interviewing intensely the Ironic Man. When I exited the building, a crowd still mingled about the sidewalk in front of the courthouse. Some still held signs protesting bad immigration policies and demands for more security. The CTV crew was back outside too, and the senior news reporter stared at his hand device, likely reviewing his notes.

When the defence lawyer appeared at the doorway in front of the court building, two reporters rushed down some stairs to ask him questions. I overheard a reporter saying Mr. Markovitz did not yet know anything of the case and therefore could not comment at this time. Someone said he was polite. I discovered that indeed he was not showy and not arrogant. When asked to repeat his name, he quickly spelled out M-A-R-K-O-W-I-T-Z.  When his name was mispronounced, he was not agitated at all. He repeated the name and walked briskly toward a vehicle on Main Street.

The crowd had shrunk to about half the size of the earlier crowd. The news crews were packing up and chewing the cud. As I walked along, I caught sight of a familiar face but at the time could not put a finger on who she was. This middle-aged woman, reminded me of a Sarah Palin but with straight, long blond hair. She was friendly to everyone and reiterated in different permutations something about supporting the Chinese community and about vetting refugees more vigorously. She made it clear that she was no fan of Justin Trudeau. She seemed very gregarious and spoke to several people at once. I recalled later that she was Laura-Lynne Tyler Thompson, a former host of the Christian TV program The 700 Club Canada.

The Ironic Man appeared out of the corner of my eye as he zoomed in on her. “I know who you are,” he announced at one point. They debated the pros and cons of immigration. He claimed that the government do vigorously vet Syrian immigrants and that most people do not know how rigorous the immigration process is. Ms. Thompson’s claim that Trudeau does not do enough vetting is not true, he said. He would know since he claimed to be an immigration consultant from the US. He was also Syrian. He happened to be visiting Vancouver when he heard about the court appearance of the Syrian refugee accused of murder. He felt the crowd both outside and inside the courtroom were a lynch mob out for revenge. He sounded quite passionate about the immigration issue. If there were DNA proof that this Syrian suspect murdered the thirteen-year-old girl, he himself would execute the murderer, he said. He made a throat slicing motion with his fingers. Until there is proof, we should not rush to judgment.

I agree with Ironic Man’s call for rationality. (I did not ask for his name.) We must catch and try the actual murderer. Anything less is not justice. A rush to judgment based on any excuse is simply not right.

What drew me to the courthouse that Friday morning was a curiosity not so much of the case itself, since its details would be revealed during the course of the trial, but I wondered who would show up for a murder trial. People showing up at the courthouse for the preliminary hearing of alleged murderer Ibrahim Ali included a defence lawyer who was once fined by the Law Society of BC for misbehaviour resulting from alcohol abuse, a Crown counsel of Amazon stature and a judge with social justice inclination. Then there were folks from two ethnic minorities in racial tension: mandarin speaking Chinese immigrants seeking justice for a murdered girl and Syrian refugees seeking fairness in a case in which the Crown charged one of their own for murder. Throw in a born-again Christian TV personality who held a hard line against immigration. The characters could have been the cast for a made-for-TV court drama. I suspect though the trial is going to be anything but predictable.

 

Updated on October 11, 2018: Spelling of surname “Markowitz” revised to “Markovitz” as recorded on his profile page at the Law Society of BC web site.
The sentence “When asked to repeat his name, he quickly spelled out M-A-R-K-O-W-I-T-Z.” is replaced by “When asked to repeat his name, he quickly spelled it out.”

 

[1] I believe most of the security personnel in dark blue uniforms that I saw at the courthouse were deputy sheriffs. For sake of brevity, I simply use the word “sheriff” to describe them.

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Alex Jones is Jack Dorsey’s red herring: I know because my Twitter account was frozen

Recent controversy over Jack Dorsey’s early reluctance to censor right-wing talk show host Alex Jones and his Infowars news program was mere show, a red herring, if you will, to distract the public and the American Senate and Congress in particular from investigating further into Twitter’s censorship of conservative voices. It was essential that, as CEO of Twitter Inc., Jack Dorsey appeared politically impartial when he gave testimony on September 5, 2018, first before the Senate Intelligence Committee and then the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Prior to these hearings on Capital Hill, conservative Twitter users had made numerous allegations of Twitter hindering or banning outright the propagation of their messages in the Twitter sphere. Many conservative users had been feeling unfairly targeted for permanent banning or temporary suspensions. Sometimes users alleged that Twitter downgraded or removed certain functional features on Twitter for conservatives who show behaviour unacceptable to Twitter’s left leaning mindset. Liberal or progressive users did not share the same level of concern about censorship on Twitter compared to their conservative counterparts. Liberal users more often than not had a different narrative about Twitter and other social media platforms. Their narrative was that social media firms put too little effort into removing accounts of the promoters of “hate speech”.

One of the most asinine examples of outright banning of a conservative by Twitter was the suspension of the Twitter account of the Christian blogger Elizabeth Johnston (the Activist Mommy) for criticizing an editor who published an article in Teen Vogue magazine on anal sex for children. The Teen Vogue article was entitled “Everything You Need to Know About Anal Sex; How to do it the Right Way” by Gigi Engle, a sex educator. After the publication of this article, the Teen Vogue editor Phillip Picardi was named one of the 50 Most Influential LGBT’s in media by the magazine Advocate. On August 16, 2017, Elizabeth Johnston tweeted a sarcastic congratulation to him: “Congrats, Phillip. A sodomite mag just awarded you for teaching kids sodomy. Way to recruit there @TheAdvocateMag!” For this behaviour, Twitter froze the account of Johnston for 12 hours until she deleted the alleged offending tweet. Feeling she needed to move on, she eventually did delete the tweet.

My recent search of the Internet turned up no article entitled “Everything You Need to Know About Anal Sex; How to do it the Right Way”. Instead, there is an article on the Teen Vogue web site entitled “Anal Sex: What You Need to Know; How to do it the RIGHT way” with the publication date of May 16, 2017. It is clear that the magazine editors decided to change the title from the original as indicated on Gigi Engle’s author page which shows the original title with a link to the new title.

Impairing the search function on Twitter for specific search words during the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election may have had some impact on the course of the voting. On October 31, 2017, during the hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, Acting General Counsel for Twitter, Inc., Mr. Sean J. Edgett testified that Twitter applied algorithms to diminish the likelihood of certain hashtags appearing in searches performed by users on Twitter during the 2016 American Presidential Election. These hashtags included #DNCLeak and #PodestaEmails. The first hashtag referred to the discovery of leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee. The second had to do with emails found on the Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s Gmail account. Both hashtags, if allowed free reign, could have decreased even more Hilary Clinton’s chances of winning the presidency. Twitter had used the algorithms to weed out suspected bots or potential perpetrators of political interference during the lead up to the 2016 election. Edgett admitted that these algorithms had the effect of hiding from user searches about 25% of those Tweets containing the #PodestaEmails hashtag and about 48% of the #DNCLeak hashtag. Bottom line: Twitter’s algorithms hid certain hashtags that showed Trump in a better light than Clinton from user searches. Mr. Edgett justified Twitter’s filtering of searches: “These steps were part of our general efforts at the time to fight automation and spam on our platform across all areas.”

Evidence of Twitter employees’ use of shadow banning to censor conservative Twitter users were uncovered recently, most notably by James O’Keefe as part of his investigative reporting program Project Veritas. He published his video findings in January 2018. Shadow banning is the blocking of tweets from viewing by other users on Twitter but at the same time the creator of these tweets are unaware of them being blocked. The targeted users would continue to think they are active on Twitter but no one else can view their tweets. The viewers may also be limited to only those people who are the followers of the targeted users instead of an outright shadow ban to hide all tweets from view.

Project Veritas journalists recorded undercover videos of conversations with former and current software engineers and staff at Twitter. Some of these employees confessed that an anti-Trump mindset permeated the workplace at Twitter. Software engineers admitted that, through a combination of computer algorithms and human value judgements, Twitter shadow banned tweets that violated Twitter’s standards and rules. One software engineer clarified that they did not ban a political mindset but “a way of talking” (at 1:00 – 1:11 mins of Project Veritas video). They applied key words that defined their idea of the behaviour of a “red neck”. The political views of these Twitter employees would likely influence what they consider as bad behaviour and therefore as violations of the Twitter Rules. These revelations reinforced the earlier testimony before Congress in April 2018 of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that Silicon Valley is extremely left leaning. After a July 25, 2018 Vice article on shadow banning, President Trump jumped into the fray over shadow banning. He wanted an investigation into this allegation of shadow banning bias against conservatives. The outrage of conservatives nudged Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey into agreeing to testify before the Senate and Congress committees on September 5, 2018.

Of current interest is Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s hesitancy to suspend conservative journalist Alex Jones and his Infowars media outlet in August this year when several large social media companies Facebook, Apple, YouTube and Spotify limited or banned Alex Jones from their media platforms almost simultaneously. No doubt, Alex Jones tends to be on the far right of the conservative spectrum and controversial for promoting questionable conspiracy theories. Initially, Twitter did not penalize Alex Jones for breaking the Twitter Rules, and the media loudly chastised him for not following suit. Mark Rivitz of the Guardian wrote:

…Jack Dorsey effectively gave Alex Jones, a conspiracy-peddling hate monger a slap on the wrist and a license to continue to use his platform as he has for the last several years: to harass the parents of kindergartners killed at Sandy Hook, to paint Las Vegas shooting victims as actors and to threaten the special counsel. It will probably serve not as a deterrent, but an accelerant.

Eventually, Jack Dorsey did suspend Alex Jones’s account but initially for only one week. This was not enough to placate the left leaning crowd’s call for stronger censorship against Alex Jones. This controversy followed Dorsey right through his testimony before the Senate and Congress committees, like a giant but silent elephant in the room. It served him well.

This recent display of reluctance to shut down Alex Jones and not follow in the footsteps of the other large social media firms would convey to the Senate and Congress committees the impression of Jack Dorsey’s commitment to free speech principles and to impartiality that is free of any political bias. I say this recent controversy over Jack Dorsey’s reluctance to censor Alex Jones and his Infowars show was a red herring.

The weeks leading up to Jack Dorsey’s testimony before Congress, articles criticizing him for dilly dallying around his lack of censoring conservative voices popped up on the Internet like fireflies. The subtitle of a Vox article proclaimed as much: “Twitter’s reluctance to ban Spencer had long been a source of controversy”. Richard Spencer, a widely known white nationalist, also had been controversial on Twitter ever since 2016. Twitter staff initially banned Alex Jones in 2016 but Jack Dorsey overrode the ban. Other publishing outlets such as the Verge and the Huffington Post ran similar articles chastising Jack Dorsey for not censoring right wing folks like Richard Spencer and Alex Jones. Dorsey denied these allegations but the image of him as a CEO reluctant to censor a controversial right-wing talk host resonated in the popular imagination.

Just before Jack Dorsey’s September 5, 2018 testimony before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Senate Intelligence Committee, more news came out about Jack Dorsey reiterating a policy that appeared to be in favour of free speech. According to a prepared statement, Dorsey testified that Twitter “does not use political ideology to make any decisions”. He emphatically contradicted the current conservative suspicions and uproar over Twitter’s alleged censorship of conservative voices: “We must ensure that all voices can be heard”. Next day Dorsey continued this narrative during the committee hearings on Capital Hill.

One of the reasons why I feel Jack Dorsey’s public display of reluctance to censor Alex Jones is disingenuous and a red herring is my own experience with Twitter freezing my account for what is clearly an innocuous tweet.

On June 15, 2018, Twitter Support accused me of a violation of the Twitter Rules. The text of the tweet in question is, “@KimKardashian I used to have in the back of my mind that Kim Kardashian is some kind of dumb bimbo. I was wrong. I now sincerely apologize to you, Ms. Kardashian West, for my mistaken thoughts.”

This tweet is not a promotion of violence. It does not threaten or harass any person at all. At worst, it is an apology for having a sexist thought against Ms. Kardashian. There was no threatening behaviour on my part, just an apology for a mistaken thought. It was from the start an ironically worded praise for Ms. Kardashian obtaining early release for a Black grandmother serving an inordinately long prison sentence. Her crime was a non-violent drug trafficking offence. The worst sounding phrase in the entire text is “dumb bimbo”. Yet there are other worst tweets allowed on Twitter such as this one from Anthony E. Haire Sr (@RabbitSr1):

“Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop settles lawsuit over false vaginal egg claims”Another Prime Example of Idiotic Dumb Assed Bimbo’s buying a BS Scam from another BS SCAMMER: IDIOTS ALL “VAGINAL EGGS” GIVE ME A F’N BREAK!! SUCKERS BORN EVERY SECOND IN AMERICA!

A glance over his tweets indicates Mr. Haire is left leaning and does not like Trump very much.

A far more sexist and vulgar tweet comes from Brandon (@Bflakes1919): “@KimKardashian funny how you only got famous for Sucking Dick! Shut the fuck up you dumb bimbo”. Brandon is a self-described “#Liberal”. Another more violently threatening Tweet is this one from Taylor Downing‏ (@Sports_r_beast): “@KimKardashian kill thyself you dumb bimbo. You have enough money already”. All of these tweets violate the Twitter Rules.

The tweets of the New York Times editor/journalist Sarah Jeong is by far more sexist, bigoted and violent in tone than my tweet. In 2014, Jeong tweeted: “Dumbass fucking white people marking up the internet with their opinions like dogs pissing on fire hydrants“. Her tweet is directed not to a particular person or Twitter troll but to an entire race. Another tweet in 2014 of hers but of an even more violent tone is “.@RepDanMode White people have stopped breeding. You’ll all go extinct soon. This was my plan all along.” Today, four years later, these bigoted and racist tweets remain on Twitter for everyone to view if one is so inclined to search for them. Even when revelations resurfaced about these racist tweets when the New York Times recently hired Jeong to their editorial staff did not changed Dorsey’s resolve to keep them posted on Twitter. It is also obvious that Jeong hates Trump when she compares him to Hitler.

When Candace Owens, a Black conservative, recently tweets out a text identical to some of Sarah Jeong’s racist tweets, except replacing the word “white” with “Jewish” or “Black”, Twitter suspends Owens’s account. Only after a big public backlash does Twitter apologize. The Twitter staff then reactivate her account.

Why did Twitter freeze my account for my tweet that was in praise of Kim Kardashian but allowed other more bigoted, threatening tweets to remain active? Even though Twitter allowed me to direct message, I could not find my way to do even this. Twitter simply did not even allow me to log into my account. Whenever I tried logging into my Twitter account, I would get the same warning message from Twitter. The only way I could browse Twitter to see my tweets was to log out and google my handle or name along with the word “Twitter” and click on a result link with the URL, twitter.com. The effect of Twitter’s penalty on me was to render me useless on Twitter except to just browse around while logged out of it. As with Elizabeth Johnston the Mommy Activist, I eventually deleted the tweet as instructed by Twitter.

Here is the image of the warning message that I got from Twitter whenever I tried to log into my Twitter account:

TwitterWarning20180615-GIMP

Figure 1: Image of message warning of violation of Twitter Rules

I appealed twice to the Twitter Support Team through the link at the bottom of this warning message (Figure 1), and pointed out that at worst, my tweet was an apology. It was a back handed praise of Ms. Kardashian for getting Alice Marie Johnson, a Black grandmother, out of prison. Many believed that Ms. Johnson got an inordinately long prison sentence during the war on drugs. Kim Kardashian managed to convince President Trump to grant clemency for an early release of Ms. Johnson. I thought that was impressive so I took to Twitter to express my amazement at Ms. Kardashian’s tenacity and persuasiveness in this case. I thought she was smarter than that public image of her as a “dumb bimbo”. What better praise than to admit we were wrong about this celebrity? So, I donned the persona of a former naysayer and used an “apology” as a rhetorical device to praise her intelligence.

Both of Twitter Support’s two emails in reply to my appeals sounded like a canned text that may have been a computer-generated response. Both were identical in wording. Both accused me of hateful conduct. So what was the criteria for singling out my tweet for punishment while other more hateful tweets were allowed to remain on Twitter?

The key criteria for my suspension from Twitter seems to be in the context of the tweet. The Twitter Rules state that this is the case explicitly: “Context matters when evaluating for abusive behavior and determining appropriate enforcement actions”. What then was the context of my particular tweet? I was replying to a Twitter thread headed by a tweet showing a photo of President Trump at his desk along with Kim Kardashian. It was headlining the clemency and release of Alice Marie Johnson. In addition to the hashtag #bimbogirl, the other hashtags in my tweet were pro-Trump in some way or another: #AliceMarieJohnson #compassion and #RepublicanParty. I also directed my tweet to @realDonaldTrump so that other followers of Trump may see my tweet. I understood that followers would include people who may not be politically aligned with Trump but follow him just to know what is in the political news.

In order to get my Twitter account fully functional again, the Twitter Support Team required that I delete the allegedly offensive tweet and then I must wait 12 hours for it to become fully functional. This brings me to the big harm Twitter is doing to free speech. Jack Dorsey is indeed a bright guy and aware that any suspension or shadow banning of a big name conservative would bring down to bear on Twitter huge public outcry in the real world. He has allowed the accounts of such big name conservatives with a big following to be classified as “newsworthy” and permitted to be active on Twitter despite violations of the Rules. Dorsey makes sure that the controversy slants in favour of himself as a defender of free speech. His persistence of allowing right-wing celebrities like Richard Spencer and Alex Jones to have a presence on Twitter presents a facade to the world that Jack Dorsey does not silence conservatives. But the big harm is to little folks like me, who have a small following. Jack Dorsey is hesitant to do anything about the big names like Alex Jones or Candace Owens but he can stifle easily the voice of the little conservative guy or gal.

Jack Dorsey demonstrates a slick sleight of hand when he introduces the concept of “healthy conversations” on Twitter on March 1, 2018. It is as vague as the concept of “hate speech” as promulgated by the social justice crowd. It is an excuse to control conversation on Twitter. His excuse that Twitter is culling bad behaviour, not censoring political views, is as they say, just semantics. Appearing before the Senate and House committees, he makes himself as the hero fighting foreign interference in American elections by way of social media. All the fuss of Jack Dorsey protecting the rights of Alex Jones to be on Twitter is a red herring to distract the public from his agenda to cull or limit the voices of conservatives on Twitter. Or at best, he ignores his software engineers suspending or limiting the activity of conservatives. He claims that his policy is to encourage healthy conversation on Twitter, not to discourage any particular political view. He claims his strategy to achieve the goal of healthy conversations is to curtail bad behaviour, not silencing political views. This is simply Orwellian newspeak. One of his software engineer is caught on the Project Veritas video (at 40-50 secs) confessing that “red necks” are filtered using data on how they behave on Twitter. Bad behaviour is likely defined by their tweets, likes and replies. The freezing of my Twitter account makes this clear in the context of my reply tweet on a Trump positive thread and my hashtags favorable to President Trump.

The September 5, 2018 hearings before the Senate and House committees turned out to be somewhat lacklustre. It was only towards the end of the 4 ½ hour Congressional hearing, did Jack Dorsey face any heat on bias against conservative voices from two Republican Congressmen Markwayne Mullin and Jeff Duncan. Mullin pointed out the inconsistent responses from Twitter towards Sarah Jeong’s racist tweets towards white folks and Candace Owens’s identical tweets with the word “white” replaced by “Jewish” (or “Black”). The four minutes allotted to each Committee member was evidently not enough to dent Dorsey’s cool demeanour. Mullin was just gearing up on his interrogation of Dorsey when his four minutes was up.

Nothing new of anything significance is learned on Capitol Hill on September 5, 2018. The status quo is maintained. All is well with Jack Dorsey now. He can relax. The full weight of the anger of Republicans does not descend on him. No drawn-out inquisition about shadow banning. All in all, a successful day on Capital Hill for Jack Dorsey. The next day Thursday, Jack Dorsey bans Alex Jones permanently from Twitter. The red herring obviously has served its purpose.

Jordan Peterson Was Wrong: No Jail Time for Refusal to Pay Fine, but for Refusal to Attend Sensitivity Training

The controversial federal Bill C-16 became law in Canada on June 19, 2017, and we are still waiting for someone to go to jail for refusal to address a transgender person by their chosen transgender pronoun. Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, claims he has a knack for predicting the course of future events. He has often made the point that a person may be jailed for failing to speak the appropriate pronoun in addressing a transgender person. If he is ordered to pay a fine for this misgendering of pronouns, then he will simply not pay it and off to jail he goes, he says. Is he wrong about the legal consequences of improper transgender pronoun usage?

At first glance, it appears that Dr. Peterson may be wrong and have over inflated the issue. Bill C-16 merely adds two more grounds for discrimination to the Canadian Human Rights Act and makes similar changes to the Criminal Code by adding two more identifiable groups to the list already in the Criminal Code. Nothing in Bill C-16 explicitly mentions jail time for anyone refusing to comply with transgender usage. Moreover, there is nothing in Bill C-16 about pronoun usage whatsoever.

An Ontario lawyer in private practice Mr. D. Jared Brown has opened my eyes on this issue of transgender pronoun usage and jail time under Bill C-16. Prior to reviewing his talks and blogs, I began with at least four sources of confusion for me:

  1. The interpretation and administration of the Canadian Human Rights Act, as amended by C-16, is modelled after the Ontario Human Rights regime.
  2. The Ontario Human Rights Commission creates law by creating policy outside of the text of the Ontario Human Rights Code.
  3. An order of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal can be elevated to the status of a Superior Court order.
  4. Contempt of court in civil cases may be punishable by jail time for non-compliance with an order for a non-monetary remedy, such as enrollment in a sensitivity training class.

Mr. Brown’s analysis and opinion of Bill C-16 clarifies immensely the issue of pronoun usage transgression under the provincial human rights legislation and how the policies of the Ontario Human Rights Commission serve as a model for how federal human rights legislation is to be interpreted and administered. His explanation of the path to jail is succinct and clear. Readers of my blog may get a good understanding the transgender pronoun issue by visiting his blog and listen to his testimony before the Senate Committee. My ego will not be hurt if anyone stops here and visits Mr. Brown’s explanations. I write this blog for my own edification and find that unpacking Mr. Brown’s references helps me better appreciate his road map to prison for a transgender pronoun transgression under the Ontario Code. For anyone else who wants to follow my layman’s outline where I explicitly set out some of Mr. Brown`s analysis, please read on.

DISCLAIMER:

For the record, I am not a lawyer and am not giving out legal advice. I am merely sharing my own journey to better understand what is happening with the potential consequences of Bill C-16 coming into effect last year. The usage of pronouns is such a common activity in the English and French languages that every Canadian citizen should take note of the legislated speech intruding into one of our most common daily activities, talking. For any who has concerns about the legal issues regarding human rights, they should consult with a lawyer.

WHAT BILL C-16 AMENDS

Bill C-16 adds two more grounds for discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act, a federal statute. It adds “gender identity or expression” as two new grounds for discrimination. The amended subsection 3(1) of this Act reads as follows:

3 (1) For all purposes of this Act, the prohibited grounds of discrimination are race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.

C-16 also adds two more identifiable groups into the Criminal Code, but for my purposes, I have skipped that part. It turns out that one may still end up in jail without breaching the Criminal Code.

FEDERAL GOVERNMENT’S INTERPRETATION AND ADMINISTRATION OF BILL C-16 IS BASED CLOSELY ON PROVINCIAL HUMAN RIGHTS REGIME

In his testimony before the Senate Committee, Dr. Peterson pointed out that the Department of Justice had posted a web page on how to interpret Bill C-16. According to Dr. Peterson, this web page indicated that the amended federal Canadian Human Rights Act would follow the policies of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (Ontario Commission or Commission) in the interpretation of the provincial Code. After reviewing the guide lines posted by the Ontario Commission, Dr. Peterson discovered that their policies called for compelled speech which includes proper pronoun usage. Shortly after he made public his findings, this Department of Justice web page was deactivated.

Perhaps the best explanation given thus far of how jail time can be the end result of a transgression under the Ontario Human Rights Code is from the practicing lawyer D. Jared Brown who appeared along side Jordan Peterson to give testimony during the May 17, 2017 hearing of the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. His testimony is recorded in the transcript of that hearing. Anyone wishing to hear the testimonies of both Brown and Peterson can be found on Dr. Peterson’s YouTube video.

Mr. Brown concurs with Dr. Peterson that “The Department of Justice website used to say that we must look to the Ontario Human Rights Commission policies for definitions on these terms.” What are these policies of the Ontario Commission? He sets them out in a summary submitted to the Senate Committee. He also has written a blog describing the provincial policies and law behind the chain of events leading to possible imprisonment for anyone breaching the Ontario Human Rights Code. He discusses the Ontario Commission policy making as a model for dealing with any transgression of C-16 elements of the federal Canadian Human Rights Act.

I have found an archived web page of the Department of Justice that follows fairly close to the testimonies of Dr. Peterson and Mr. Brown, stating the Canadian Human Rights Commission will provide practical guidance similar to that given by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

COMMISSION CAN CREATE LAW OUTSIDE THE TEXT OF THE CODE

The amendment to the Ontario Human Rights Code in 2012 is almost identical to that in Bill C-16. It has added to the Code as grounds for discrimination: “gender identity and gender expression”. The Ontario Human Rights Code creates the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which administers the Code, and the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (Tribunal). This tribunal determines whether or not there has been a transgression of the Code and has authority to order a remedy for any infraction.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission creates in Mr. Brown’s words “legally binding policies” (Section 30 of Code). This section reads as follows: “30 The Commission may approve policies prepared and published by the Commission to provide guidance in the application of Parts I and II.” Part I refers to sections of the Code pertaining to freedom from discrimination, and Part II refers to sections pertaining to interpretation and application. Section 30 of the Code gives power to the Commission to create policy.

These policies in essence represent the Commission’s interpretation of the Code. They also guide the Commission and the Tribunal in how to administer the Code. Many news articles on Dr. Peterson and the jail time issue skip or gloss over this very important point about the legal effect of the Ontario Commission’s policies on the interpretation and application of the Code. Even more crucial, many journalists and commentators fail to recognize the intention of the federal government to follow closely the Ontario model of human rights legal regime. The Ontario Human Rights Commission web site promulgates these policies in the form of educational guides for policy development of organizations. Compelled speech is found in the Ontario Commission’s policies which prescribe the interpretations of the Code in such a way that citizens of Ontario are compelled by force of law to say certain words, even if they do not believe in them for a given context. The Tribunal may consider these policies of the Commission in any tribunal hearing (Section 45.5 of Code). A party at the hearing may ask the Tribunal to consider such policies just as though they are legal precedents before a court of law. If a party believes the tribunal decision is inconsistent with Ontario Commission policies, then the party may have the Divisional Court rule on the inconsistency (Section 45.6 of Code). The policies may even be brought before the Superior Court for interpretation of the Code. The courts will rule in a manner consistent with the Commission policies.

Although the word “pronoun” appears nowhere in the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has published policy on pronoun usage with respect to gender identity. What does the Ontario Commission policy say then with regard to the use of transgender pronouns? Let us begin with the web page headed, “Questions and answers about gender identity and pronouns”.

The first question is: “What does it mean to be transgender and why do pronouns matter?” The Commission gives this answer:

Gender identity is each person’s internal and individual sense of being a woman, a man, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum. Personal names and pronouns are two fundamental ways we express gender and how others perceive our gender. Traditional gender pronouns (she/her, he/him) do not fit everyone’s gender identity.

In other words, according to Commission policy, pronoun usage is not trivial but fundamental to the being of a person. This policy elevates pronoun usage from the mundane to something very serious. The guidelines do define non-compliance in usage of preferred transgender pronouns as a violation under the Code. It clearly states that “The law recognizes that everyone has the right to self-identify their gender and that ‘misgendering’ is a form of discrimination.” The Commission’s Q&A page cites a case in which the police violated the Code when they used male pronouns despite the complainant identifying as a trans woman. The Commission’s Q&A page further clarifies:

Refusing to refer to a trans person by their chosen name and a personal pronoun that matches their gender identity, or purposely misgendering, will likely be discrimination when it takes place in a social area covered by the Code, including employment, housing and services like education. The law is otherwise unsettled as to whether someone can insist on any one gender-neutral pronoun in particular.

Finally, Section 7.4 in the Commission’s guidebook entitled Policy on Preventing Discrimination Because of Gender Identity and Gender Expression states that the Code prohibits harassment based on the grounds of gender identity and gender expression. It further lists a number of scenarios of harassment, including: “Refusing to refer to a person by their self-identified name and proper personal pronoun”.

Most chilling for me are these words from the Commission: “The words that are chosen matter: the more harmful the words, the further they are from the core values of freedom of expression.” The crux of the matter lies in what is considered harmful words, because the word “harmful” seems to be quite open ended. Misgendered pronouns may be just the beginning of a longer list of harmful words that are open for the Commission to interpret as harmful.

DO NOT PAY FINE, DO NOT GO TO JAIL

It has been referred to many times on the Internet and in the mainstream media that Jordan Peterson claims that he will not pay any fine the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal might order him to pay for his refusal to use proper transgender pronouns. He will simply do the jail time. In her blog, University of Toronto law professor Brenda Cossan disagrees and argues that Peterson will not do jail time for any infraction of the Ontario Human Rights Code. She explains that a non-compliance in the use of the preferred pronoun when requested by a transgender person may likely result in an actionable case in the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. She emphasizes that infraction of the Code is a civil matter, not criminal. The remedies ordered may be monetary or non-monetary. The Tribunal by itself has no authority to order jail time. In a University of Toronto debate with Dr. Peterson, Prof. Cossan also vehemently argues that a refusal to pay a tribunal ordered fine simply means that another order to garnish wages or sell assets for monies to pay the fine can be requested, but no jail time (starting at 1:04:20 of video). She explains that an infraction of the Code is a civil matter and that civil penalties do not include jail time. She hammers this point hard to decry Dr. Peterson’s claim that jail can be an outcome to a pronoun transgression.

REFUSE SENSITIVITY TRAINING (OR ANY NON-MONETARY REMEDY) THEN MAY GO TO JAIL

Mr. Brown agrees with Prof. Cossman’s opinion except when the Tribunal in Ontario orders a non-monetary remedy. Then provincial legislation has teeth to impose jail time for contempt of that order. Example of a non-monetary remedy might be an order for the respondent in a tribunal hearing to enroll in a sensitivity training class or to make a public apology. It is in the refusal to comply with an order for a non-monetary remedy imposed by the Tribunal that will lead to a contempt of court order that can send the respondent to jail. How can that be if the Tribunal has no authority to jail anybody? The key is in a provincial statute that can elevate a tribunal order to the status of a court order. Mr. Brown makes clear that in Ontario there is such legislation in place to raise a tribunal order up to that of a Superior Court order. The statute is called the Statutory Powers Procedure Act (Ontario).

HUMAN RIGHTS TRIBUNAL ORDER MAY BE ELEVATED TO SUPERIOR COURT ORDER

Section 19 of the Statutory Powers Procedure Act (Ontario), or the SPPA, gives the Superior Court authority to elevate an order of the Tribunal to that of an order of the Superior Court. This section of the SPPA allows a tribunal order to become that of an order of the Superior Court by the simple procedure of filing the proper documentation:

19. (1) A certified copy of a tribunal’s decision or order in a proceeding may be filed in the Superior Court of Justice by the tribunal or by a party and on filing shall be deemed to be an order of that court and is enforceable as such.

A SUPERIOR COURT ORDER FOR CONTEMPT OF COURT

What happens to a respondent if he or she does not comply with a Superior Court order? The respondent would then be in contempt of court. The SPPA makes it explicit in Section 13 of this act where three scenarios for contempt are stated. I quote the one most likely to apply if the person standing before the Tribunal is Dr. Peterson (Subsection 13(1)(c)):

13. (1) Where any person without lawful excuse,

… (c) does any other thing that would, if the tribunal had been a court of law having power to commit for contempt, have been contempt of that court,

the tribunal may, of its own motion or on the motion of a party to the proceeding, state a case to the Divisional Court setting out the facts and that court may inquire into the matter and, after hearing any witnesses who may be produced against or on behalf of that person and after hearing any statement that may be offered in defence, punish or take steps for the punishment of that person in like manner as if he or she had been guilty of contempt of the court.

So if the Ontario Tribunal orders Dr. Peterson to attend sensitivity training classes on transgender pronoun usage and he refuses, then a complaint may be filed against him for contempt of the Tribunal for non-compliance with the order.

First, the tribunal order is filed with the Superior Court to elevate the status of it to an order of the Superior Court. Next, the complainant or the Tribunal itself may trigger the motion for an order for contempt by filing another motion in the Divisional Court. As Mr. Brown explains, this court is part of the Superior Court system. “The Divisional Court is a branch of the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario. It is an appeal court, not a trial court. It hears appeals and applications for judicial review.” If Dr. Peterson were to disobey a Tribunal ordered remedy that is non-monetary, then the Tribunal or the complainant may request an order for contempt in the Divisional Court. Another piece of provincial legislation gives this court a range of options to punish the respondent for contempt of court. The range of options include both monetary penalties and jail time.

ONTARIO RULES OF PROCEDURE AUTHORIZES JAIL TIME FOR CONTEMPT OF COURT

The final piece of legislation to authorize jail time for refusing to comply with a Tribunal order elevated to that of a Superior Court order is found in the Ontario Rules of Procedure. Rules 60.11(5)(a)-(b) state:

(5) In disposing of a motion under subrule (1), the judge may make such order as is just, and where a finding of contempt is made, the judge may order that the person in contempt,

(a) be imprisoned for such period and on such terms as are just;

(b) be imprisoned if the person fails to comply with a term of the order;….

If Dr. Peterson continues to refuse to abide with the elevated tribunal order to attend sensitivity classes, the Divisional Court is authorized by the Ontario Rules of Procedure to have the above noted two options to order jail time for the good professor. The courts have also other options that impose financial penalties instead of jail time. Jail time for not using appropriate transgender pronouns is a not a certainty, but the inclusion of gender identity and expression into the provincial Code has opened the door for that possibility through the policies of the Commission prescribing proper pronoun usage consistent with transgender identity. The main point is that the concerns of being jailed for improper pronoun usage which Mr. Brown has argued specifically and Dr. Peterson generally are valid concerns.

CONCLUSION

What puzzles me is that law professor Brenda Cossman fails to mention this road map to jail. I do not think she is so lost in the ivory tower of academia to have missed the road map to jail outlined by the practicing lawyer D. Jared Brown. She appears in video recorded testimonies to be an extremely bright and meticulous academic. In any event, Mr. D. Jared Brown is a much underrated professional in the fight to preserve freedom of expression in Canada. We ought to give him more of our attention in the matters of Bill C-16, currently in force across Canada.

Now we just wait and see what happens at the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. It has been only six years since gender identity and expression were first introduced into the provincial Code. During these intervening years, the Ontario Human Rights Commission has been busy developing policy on how to interpret the Code with the amendments for gender identity and gender expression in force. This may explain the lack of tribunal judgments for a case involving a pronoun transgression. As the development of policy on proper pronoun usage matures, then we can expect more tribunal cases on the subject to come forward.

Meanwhile, we must also be vigilant on how the Canadian Human Rights Commission follow its counterpart in the Ontario Human Rights Commission creating policy to interpret and administer the human rights legislation.

Yes, it is now finally clear to me, as a lay person, not a lawyer, that it is possible for anyone to go to jail under Bill C-16 for consistently using a pronoun not of a transgender person’s preferred choice of pronoun. Mr. Brown has clarified four key points of how a person might end up in jail for such a pronoun transgression. First, the Canadian Human Rights Commission has intended to follow closely the Ontario counterpart in the interpretation and administration of human rights legislation. Second, the Ontario Commission has inserted the definition of pronoun transgression into their policies which are created outside the text of Ontario Human Rights Code. Third, a tribunal order may be elevated to that of a Superior Court order. Fourth, a person goes to jail for contempt of civil court only when a non-monetary remedy is ordered. Nothing to do with criminality. Non-payment of tribunal fines has nothing to do with jail time. It is actually worst. When the remedy is some form of coercion to mouth words of a certain ideology or worldview, but the remedy disguised as sensitivity training, the Ontario Code and Bill C-16 are shown to be truly repugnant. It is clear to me that Dr. Peterson is 99% accurate in saying he might get jail time for non-compliance with preferred pronoun usage. Jail time though is not for refusal to pay a tribunal fine, but for refusal to participate in court ordered sensitivity training or other non-monetary remedy.

 

NOTE: A reminder that the author of this blog is not a lawyer and has no legal training. Any one wishing to obtain accurate legal information should consult with a lawyer. This blog is written for my own edification and shared as one layperson’s perspective on Bill C-16, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Book Review as Character Assassination: The Unpacking of Pankaj Mishra’s Critique of Jordan Peterson

The essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra publishes in The New York Review of Books a book review of 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Dr. Jordan Peterson, a clinical and teaching psychologist at the University of Toronto in Canada. Mishra titles his book review, “Jordan Peterson & Fascist Mysticism”. The title hints at how divisive the public figure of Jordan Peterson has become. During the course of the last two years, the far Left has vilified Peterson as a bigot and racist, while the far Right has raised him to an almost messianic figure. In any event, Peterson is an intellectual celebrity of both social media and mainstream media. The book review certainly rallies the social justice intellectuals and wannabes into a frenzied delight that finally someone has given Peterson a taste of his own medicine. Mishra name-drops the often-heard names of intellectual giants from the past whose works just as often remain unread by the public. Peterson’s fans rise to his defense in equal if not more frenzied passion of righteousness when their messiah becomes so enraged that he offers to slap Pankaj Mishra on the face if they were to meet.

I think it worth the time and effort to review the book review of Pankaj Mishra and examine how it is in fact a character assassination of the beloved and just as equally hated Jordan Peterson.

A kindly karate instructor once told me that the best sparring contestant he once saw was a low-level karate white-belt who mastered two basic moves: a downward front block and counter-punch. The young man, I was told, won every match in a tournament with just these two basic moves. This was not that this kid got lucky but that he has thoroughly mastered the basics and the acquired skill paid huge dividends in him winning his tournament. Mastery of the fundamentals before proceeding with the showy stuff is key to anything, I believe, was the moral of the story.

In his critique of Jordan Peterson’s recent bestseller, Mishra likewise uses a very simple three-prong move repeatedly with devastating effect in painting Peterson as a Fascist Mystic. Although Mishra does not explicitly call Peterson a Fascist Mystic, his skillful gathering and presentation of historical personalities as the inspiration of Peterson’s alleged ideology of fascist mysticism leaves little doubt in the reader’s mind that Peterson must be a Fascist Mystic but only if the premises of Mishra’s allegations are not challenged.

Mishra uses a simple rhetorical device, the false syllogism, repeatedly throughout his essay on Peterson. Nothing boring about it as Mishra is indeed more than competent in his handling of the English language, especially with a wink and a nod to his fan base, left leaning progressives, while at the same time poke fun at Peterson’s fans, many alleged to be white supremacists or misogynists, even neo-Nazis.

The false syllogism goes something like this in three steps.

Fascists eat food.

Johnny eats food.

Johnny is a fascist.

You may replace “Johnny” with any name of someone in the world and eventually you will find someone who is not a fascist but who eats. Obviously, the ability to eat is not a necessary and sufficient condition for being a fascist. Such sleight of hand proliferates Pankaj Mishra’s personal attack on Jordan Peterson under the guise of a book review of Peterson’s new book 12 Rules for Life.

Let us look at how Mishra make Peterson appear as a fascist. Mishra’s first move is to recall from the past a historical figure who at best seem partial to fascist ideology. Next move is to show Peterson behaves in a manner like that of the historical figure. Mishra then plants these two images in the reader’s head by mere juxtaposition. The reader, by virtue of just reading Mishra’s juxtaposed texts in some prestigious newspaper, comes to his own conclusion that this proximity–dead historical fascist and Peterson–suggests Peterson is also a fascist. Mishra uses this same rhetorical sleight of hand to accuse Peterson of being a quack or intellectual charlatan too.

For example, Mishra presents Carl G. Jung as both a quack and a fascist. Mishra merely insinuates this as fact. To the gullible reader, Mishra is taken at face value on his insinuations about Jung’s use of myth as a substitute for empirical science. Next, the image of Jung as a fascist, or at best a lover of fascism obsessed with the study of myths, is then juxtaposed with the well known teachings of Peterson that reveals his admiration of Jung and the use of myth as a teaching motif. Readers are then left to conclude one of three things. Some will conclude that Peterson must be also a fascist. (That is, the conclusion of a false syllogism.) Others will conclude that Peterson is definitely not a fascist but may be bewildered with all the “evidence” Mishra has flashed in front of the reader. Of course, there is a third group of readers who simply do not know whether Peterson is a fascist or not, because they do not have sufficient evidence to come to any conclusion.

The proper response to the Mishra book review is to call out Mishra on his choice of who is rightfully considered a fascist or quack from the past. Look into the story behind each of those historical figures he presumes to have something similar with Peterson’s alleged ideology of hate and bigotry. The historical figure that Mishra wishes to insinuate as a fascist or a quack in order to highlight a connection to Peterson as also being a fascist or a quack may turn out to be neither. Sometimes his chosen historical figure is simply a complex man lending himself to controversy. Limiting his selection of historical persons who had delved deeply into myth or mysticism to the late 19th or 20th century, there is a good probability these persons may have crossed paths with a fascist movement such as Nazism. It is easy for us today to play armchair quarterbacks and recognize a movement such as Nazism for the evil that it is. As a European living in the early 20th century, a young man may see the Nationalist Socialist party as just another political party offering a way out of the social and economic decay after the first Great War. Most of those historical figures that Mishra discusses eventually became disillusioned with fascist movements and renounced them. Others may simply had no factual basis in the first place to support Mishra’s accusation of them being either a fascist or a quack. Take the example of Jung again. Was he indeed a fascist and a quack?

Carl Jung as with other geniuses in the vein of Leonardo da Vinci or Sir Isaac Newton was a renaissance man. Their genius was not limited to their own field of expertise. Often their interest of study ranged far and wide. Da Vinci was a scientist, artist and inventor. Newton gave us the modern world of physics and mathematics but also wrote something like 20 volumes on theology. “His [Jung’s] work has been influential not only in psychiatry but also in anthropology, archaeology, literature, philosophy, and religious studies.”

The reader must be extra careful in reading the works of such geniuses or their biographies. An eye must be kept open for fine nuances in their words and ideas. Some of their ideas are indeed speculative. Most speculations end in dead ends. As the atomic scientist, Linus Pauling once said that he might come up with a thousand bad ideas before encountering an idea that works. Mishra is disingenuous when he suggests that just because Jung’s speculations have been mostly rejected in our time means that all his work can be dismissed.

Confusion surrounds much of Jung’s public persona as much as that about his work. Sonu Shamdasani, professor of the history of psychology, writes in Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology:

Occultist, Scientist, Prophet, Charlatan, Philosopher, Racist, Guru, Anti-Semite, Liberator of Women, Misogynist, Freudian Apostate, Gnostic, Post-Modernist, Polygamist, Healer, Poet, Con-Artist, Psychiatrist and Anti-Psychiatrist — what has C.G. Jung not been called? Mention him to someone, and you are likely to receive one of these images. For Jung is someone that people — informed or not – have opinions about. The swift reaction time indicates that people respond to Jung’s life and work as if they are sufficiently known. Yet the very proliferation of ‘Jungs’ leads one to question whether everyone could possibly be talking about the same figure.

Disingenuously, Mishra declares triumphantly, “Jung’s speculations have been largely discredited.” Mishra then skewers Peterson as a follower of Jung’s speculations on “eternal truths”. Speculations are just that, speculations, until they are empirically shown to be true or false. Although he studied and speculated on the fantastical element of myths and religion, Jung was at heart an empirical scientist. He did delve into Eastern thought and religion, but with a scientific eye. Howard Coward writes in Jung and Eastern Thought, “Jung admits that he has been influenced by Eastern thought…. But as one who follows modern Western scientific method, Jung finds it necessary to draw the line before accepting many of the yoga claims.”

Jung’s own words contradict Mishra’s accusation that Jung merely obsessed with speculations on eternal truths:

My point of view is naturally a psychological one, and moreover that of a practising psychologist whose task it is to find the quickest road through the chaotic muddle of complicated states. This view must needs be very different from that of the psychologist who can study an isolated psychic process at his leisure, in the quiet of his laboratory. The difference is roughly that between a surgeon and an histologist. I also differ from the metaphysician, who feels he has to say how things are ‘in themselves,’ and whether they are absolute or not. My subject lies wholly within the bounds of experience. (The Portable Jung, 1971)

Jung clearly had set up a firewall between his speculations on “eternal truths” and his empirical findings. Mishra is clearly the one who muddles speculative “eternal truths” and empirical facts, and ascribes the muddle-headedness to Jung, one of the greatest psychiatrists in the twentieth century, second perhaps only to Sigmund Freud.

Even though new research may have superseded Jungian ideas or theories. That alone does not qualify him as a quack or charlatan. The scientific method demands change or revision of an idea, whenever new evidence contradicts it. When Galileo Galilei showed by experiment that all objects fall at the same speed regardless of their weights, it does not make Aristotle a quack or charlatan just because Aristotle erroneously thought that the heavier object falls faster the lighter one. Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity has supplanted Newtonian physics, but that does not diminish the usefulness of Newton’s theory. On a practical level, Newtonian physics is still applicable in most matters, including the launch of satellites. The same may be true of Jung whose concepts such as extraversion and introversion, psychological complexes, or individuation are still useful concepts.

Jordan Peterson use Jungian ideas in explaining the workings of psychology to today’s students or audience. Does this make Peterson an intellectual quack? Mishra appears to think so. The breadth of Jung’s studies and research is so vast that one cannot accurately make all encompassing statements such as Mishra’s: “Jung’s speculations have been largely discredited.” I suspect many of the speculations of Jung indeed are discredited, but a number of his ideas also continue to make an impact on modern psychology. As with Newton, Jung is continued to be taught in universities to this very day despite newer and more accurate theories having replaced his original theories. They still have value in presenting a foundation for subsequent theories. Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity have replaced Newton’s physics but budding physicists are still taught Newtonian physics as a starting point to Einstein’s theories. Jung’s ideas of extroversion/introversion and individuation are also still taught despite the advancement of modern psychology. Jung maybe labelled a quack by some, but his contributions to modern psychology are enormous and rightly acknowledged.

Mishra pushes hard to make a connection between Peterson and earlier quacks. He names three alleged to be such intellectual quacks, the German philosopher Ludwig Klages, the Russian painter Nicholas Roerich and Indian activist Aurobindo Ghosh. He makes this connection by claiming they assembled similar collages that matches Peterson’s aesthetics.

Quacks assemble collages.

Peterson assembles collages.

Therefore, according to Mishra’s false syllogism, Peterson is an intellectual quack. Taken to its logical conclusion, every artist who employs collages are also quacks. That is pure nonsense. How many readers, mesmerized with the elite status of the New York Review of Books and with Mishra’s literary credentials, ignore this sleight of hand?

A closer examination of the background of these men would show they were not quacks at all. Ludwig Klages was nominated twice for the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1936, the year of his first nomination for the Nobel Prize, Nazi authorities attacked him for his lack of support for the Nazis. During World War II, German newspapers denounced him in 1942. I would say it is a good thing that Peterson share the same aesthetics of an anti-Nazi intellectual. The other two men whom Mishra calls quacks were also nominees for the Nobel Prize. Roerich was nominated four times for the Nobel Peace Prize. Aurobindo Ghosh was not only an activist but also a literary figure who was nominated for the Nobel Prize in two different fields. The Nobel Prize Committee nominated him for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1943 and for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950. Sure, these three men might be neo-Romantics as Mishra suggests, but they were not quacks any more than Aristotle was a quack when Galileo Galilei’s experiments supplanted Aristotle’s theories of motion.

Just because Peterson shares the same aesthetics in collages as these three Nobel Prize nominees, whom Mishra accuses as being neo-Romantics, that does not make Peterson a neo-Romantic. We see Peterson’s disdain for the neo-Romantic in his lectures. There is nothing in nature that shows the Noble Savage can be better than civilized man as far as Peterson is concerned. He refutes the ideal of the Nobel Savage in his Tweets where he references an essay written by William Buckner entitled “Romanticizing the Hunter-Gatherer” which makes the case that the life of the “Noble Savage” is not so noble as the Romantics claim. In his lectures, Peterson refutes the founder of the Romantic Movement Jean Jacque Rousseau’s notion of the Noble Savage. Yet in his book review, Mishra accuses “Peterson may seem the latest in a long line of eggheads pretentiously but harmlessly romancing the noble savage.” Mishra clearly misrepresents Peterson as being enamoured with the ideal of the Noble Savage. On his web site, Peterson presented a meticulous critique of J.J. Rousseau and the ideal of the Noble Savage in which he trashes both the foundation of the Romantics and the ideal of the Noble Savage.

Peterson makes clear in 12 Rules for Life that he disagrees with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his ideal of the Noble Savage. Peterson criticizes Rousseau when he writes on pages 119-120:

The belief that children have an intrinsically unsullied spirit, damaged only by culture and society, is derived in no small part from the eighteenth-century Genevan French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau was a fervent believer in the corrupting influence of human society and private ownership alike. He claimed that nothing was so gentle and wonderful as man in his pre-civilized state. At precisely the same time, noting his inability as a father, he abandoned five of his children to the tender and fatal mercies of the orphanages of the time.

Peterson explains that he sees reality in much harsher tones than the fantasy that is portrayed in the ideal of the Noble Savage:

The noble savage Rousseau described, however, was an ideal–an abstraction, archetypal and religious–and not the flesh-and-blood reality he supposed…. But human beings are evil, as well as good, and the darkness that dwells forever in our souls is also there in no small part in our younger selves. (12 Rules for Life, 120)

Has Mishra even read 12 Rules for Life and read what it says about the Noble Savage? Is his essay in the New Yorker Book Review, even a book review? Or is it a thinly veiled character assassination? Mishra denigrating Peterson’s personal friendship with a Canadian First Nations person as romancing the Noble Savage is nothing short of vile.

Except for biblical references, there is little discussion in Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life on myth even though, elsewhere, Peterson does discuss at length myth and archetypes in his many lectures, interviews and his previously published book Maps of Meaning. In the book being reviewed by Mishra, Peterson uses myth/archetypes only as a teaching aid in explaining other concepts. Then, the mythological sources are from classical Greek or even Chinese literature and the Vedic texts of Hinduism, and nothing from fascist mythologies of the late 19th or 20th centuries Europe. Again, I question whether or not Mishra gave a careful reading of Peterson’s book itself, but instead, he appears to have gathered the usual biased memes and tidbits found all over the Internet posted by the far Left and self-described progressives who have mostly mislabelled Peterson with labels such as “Alt Right” or “neo-Nazi”. For whatever reason, Mishra needs to make a big splash in alleging the study of myth as an obsession of fascists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Here, Mishra goes off in a tangent and passionately tries to connect Peterson with fascism and Nazism by way of mutual interests in myth. Mishra applies the false syllogism here:

Fascists (Nazis) love to study myth.

Jordan Peterson loves to study myth.

Peterson is a Fascist.

Mishra points out correctly that Peterson has a deep interest with the idea of myth, which proliferates throughout his many lectures. Mishra strays into innuendo when he implies that a preoccupation with myth is unhealthy and not good. Two reasons he gives that this is so. First, the study of myth is unsuitable for the modern man. Myths have well passed their shelf life in the modern age. They are fine for our tribal ancestors but modern man has outgrown the use of myths. The second reason why a preoccupation with myths is bad is its dire consequences for a modern person to be consumed with the study of myths. He suggests an unhealthy preoccupation with myth is a symptom of a person becoming a fascist.

It seems Mishra does not have a problem with a study of ancient myths per se, I suppose, as in a study of religion or ancient histories. It is the modern preoccupation with myth, which disturbs Mishra. He suggests it ought to disturb his readers. A deep interest in myth during modern times is a symptom of far right sensibilities in Mishra’s opinion. Mishra makes this clear early on in the sixth paragraph: “Closer examination, however, reveals Peterson’s ageless insights as a typical, if not archetypal, product of our own times: right-wing pieties seductively mythologized for our current lost generations.” Modern interpreters of myth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are folks who have white supremacist or fascist tendencies, Mishra insinuates. It is clear that Mishra has only skimmed Peterson’s enormous output of material, including many videos of Peterson’s lectures. Had he only looked deeper, he would find Peterson’s preoccupation with the study of myth goes much further back than the 19th century. Peterson has an entire lecture series on the Bible alone. In his 12 Rules for Life, there is no evidence of an obsession with fascist myth making. There, he references occasionally classical Greek mythology as well as the Vedic texts of Hinduism and ancient Chinese texts in addition to frequent biblical references.

Nevertheless, Mishra continues to hoodwink the reader by linking Peterson with anti-Semitic or fascist academics of more recent times. Most notable is Joseph Campbell, a professor who died in the 1980s shortly after completing a TV series for PBS with Bill Moyers. The series was an instant success. Campbell’s object of study was myth as with Peterson’s. Mishra in all likelihood chose Campbell because of a posthumous controversy that involved a friend and colleague who hinted that private and personal conversations with Campbell revealed an anti-Semitic streak in Campbell. Other than that, it is not conclusive how deep Campbell’s anti-Semitism ran, if there was any at all. Even if a person is a racist or bigot, does that automatically nullify everything he has written or said in academia? If a mathematician is anti-Semitic, does that nullify everything he has written or spoke of in mathematics? One plus one still equals two, regardless of who speaks the equation.

Should we trash the usefulness of an idea or a teaching if its proponent turns out to be a racist or anti-Semitic bigot? Certainly, the creator of the popular movie series Star Wars, George Lucas admits that he has been inspired by Campbell’s teachings on archetypes of the hero. So, are we to dismiss George Lucas for adopting the teachings of an alleged anti-Semitic professor? Should we denounce George Lucas for being a fascist mystic too?

Perhaps, the best testimony that Peterson is not an anti-Semite is that of Dr. Norman Doidge, a Jewish psychiatrist and a direct descendent of Holocaust survivors. He is best known for his writings on neuroplasticity of the human brain. Here is an excerpt in Dr. Doidge’s own words from the foreword in 12 Rules for Life:

To understand ideology, Jordan read extensively about not only the Soviet gulag, but also the Holocaust and the rise of Nazism. I had never before met a person, born Christian and of my generation, who was so utterly tormented by what happened in Europe to the Jews, and who had worked so hard to understand how it could have occurred. I too had studied this in depth. My own father survived Auschwitz. My grandmother was middle-aged when she stood face to face with Dr. Josef Mengele, the Nazi physician who conducted unspeakably cruel experiments on his victims, and she survived Auschwitz by disobeying his order to join the line with the elderly, the grey and the weak, and instead slipping into a line with younger people. She avoided the gas chambers a second time by trading food for hair dye so she wouldn’t be murdered for looking too old. My grandfather, her husband, survived the Mauthausen concentration camp, but choked to death on the first piece of solid food he was given just before liberation day. I relate this, because years after we became friends, when Jordan would take a classical liberal stand for free speech, he would be accused by left-wing extremists as being a right-wing bigot.
Let me say, with all the moderation I can summon: at best, those accusers have simply not done their due diligence. I have; with a family history such as mine, one develops not only radar, but underwater sonar for right-wing bigotry; but even more important, one learns to recognize the kind of person with the comprehension, tools, good will and courage to combat it, and Jordan Peterson is that person. (12 Rules for Life, xv)

Perhaps Mishra can be forgiven for not reading the foreword in 12 Rules for Life for his book review. Most folks, I suspect, do not read the foreword in a book.

A tactic of Christians used in their petty arguments among themselves is to discredit the preacher when attempting to discredit his teachings on matters of theology or Church government. Very early in Church history, a group later came to be known as Donatists rejected following priests who lapsed in their faith during the Diocletian persecution. Mishra in his book review does something similar with Peterson and his allies. Like a good Marxist, Mishra accuses them of being intellectual entrepreneurs, a slight twist on “capitalism bad, socialism good” mantra. It is here where Mishra makes the strongest link with between Jordan Peterson and the late Joseph Campbell’s ability to cash in mass media merchandizing. Mishra alleges that both Peterson and Campbell were in it—their interest in myth and psychology—for the money. Their lectures and broadcasts are purely attempts at making a big buck, Mishra alleges. To the social justice crowd, this is the closest thing to evil—making big money.

First, Peterson did not set out to become a media sensation and turn his academic training into a profit generator to satisfy ego and greed. In the preface (Overture) to 12 Rules for Life, he describes his first postings on the Quora web site beginning in 2012 and later YouTube uploads of videos of his lectures beginning in 2013. The YouTube video lectures reached a million views by April 2016. It reached exponential proportions over the next two years, hitting up to eighteen million views, in part because of the controversy thrust upon him by the far Left. A literary agent later tracked him down after listening to a 2012 CBC interview of him, and saw the need for a guidebook on how to live life well. The result is the book 12 Rules for Life. Peterson’s rise to intellectual celebrity status is serendipitous, not the execution of a well thought out plan of an egotistical and greedy university professor as Mishra insinuates.

Mishra begs to differ where it concerns Peterson’s motives, and chants a litany of similar scholars or artists whom he deems to have been sellout intellectuals for comparison: Vivekananda, D.T. Suzuki, Arthur Waley, W.B. Yeats and C.G. Jung. He even threw in Julius Evola for good measure, proclaiming that Evola is a favorite philosopher of ultra conservative Steve Bannon, former advisor to U.S. President Donald Trump. Peterson does share some overlaps in philosophy with Evola. Both believe that there is chaos in Western societies and belief in the healing powers of knowing and rekindling a love of things traditional. However, Peterson would not claim rape as a privilege of men in contrast to Evola who advocated men’s right to rape women. It is simply vile to insinuate that Peterson advocates rape merely because he shares a value for traditionalism with Evola. The other names in Mishra’s litany of the intellectual entrepreneurs were scholars and poet foremost. That they stumbled onto a huge following because their work spoke to the masses did not make them greedy capitalists. Why W.B. Yeats ended up on Mishra’s hit list is a bit of a puzzle, I must admit. The Irish Nobel Prize winner for Literature, Yeats gained a huge following in the English-speaking world and had an interest in Indian philosophy, but that did not make him a profit hungry entrepreneur. If so, we can dismiss the Beatles as frauds too.

When we follow up and look closely into Mishra’s references to fascists or quacks, we discover most of them are not fascists or quacks. Mishra’s book review relies on the reader being ignorant of the historical facts or being too lazy to look into the sources of his allegations of Peterson being a fascist or quack. Such readers are then mesmerized by names that they have likely heard of but whose works they have never read. Mishra’s literary tool kit appeals to ignorant / lazy readers to become enthralled in falsehoods:

Carl G. Jung is a mystic and fascist.

Jordan B. Peterson loves to study Jung.

Jordan Peterson is a mystic and fascist.

The above false syllogism is at the heart of Mishra’s insinuations of Jordan Peterson being a fascist mystic. Although Mishra has never even dealt with the topic of mysticism in his book review, he leaves it to the reader to make the leap that all the talk about myth is enough to make the label “mysticism” stick to Peterson. Mysticism has to do with apprehending, accessing or absorption into the Deity or the divine through non-rational means. Myth has to do with the collective narratives of a people rooted mostly in their early history when miracles and the supernatural seem possible. These are two different topics, although there are overlaps. Here it seems Mishra merely wants a catchy title after he finished juxtaposing Peterson with the biographies of alleged quacks and fascists.

Mishra’s allegations are “straw men”. Jung had an interest in myth as far as it is a study in psychology, and even if he is proven a mystic at heart, that alone does not make him bad or evil. An in depth study of the biographies of Jung reveals nothing to condemn him as a fascist or a sympathizer to Nazism, although he did find the Nationalist Socialist movement attractive at first but later became disenchanted with it. Richard Noll did such a study in The Aryan Christ: The Secret Life of Carl Jung.

An interest in the study of Jung or even of Nazism itself does not make one a Nazi. The main reason why Peterson takes an enormous interest in studying Nazism is to understand how totalitarian societies arise. Remember that age-old admonishment? We must understand the past in order not to repeat its evils.

Despite Pankaj Mishra’s literary prowess, he deserves an F for his book review of Jordan Peterson’s book 12 Rules for Life, because the book review is less a review of the book but more of a character assassination of the author.

Larry David, a Prophet or Schlemiel?

What I admire most about the Jewish people is their capacity for self-examination. I believe this is one of the reasons why Jews generally are a vibrant, intelligent and progressive people. Christendom has benefited from this Jewish trait for self-examination. Christianity whether of the Protestant ilk or the Catholic persuasion has adopted stringent self-examination in practice and in some sects have formalized it in sacrament. The figure who embodies this trait for self-examination is the Jewish prophet. The modern popular notion of the prophet’s function is his capacity to foretell certain future events. This is only partly accurate. The office of the prophet is to act as the conscience of the Jewish people. Last November, in his comedy monologue on dating in concentration camps during the Holocaust, the comedian and TV producer Larry David is functioning in the role of a Jewish prophet.

The history of self-examination may be traced back to the prophetic history as depicted in the Hebrew Scriptures, especially the books of the prophets. These Hebrew writings eventually became part of the Christian Bible. One of the greatest heroes celebrated in the Bible is King David, an ancestor of Jesus who is the head of the Christian Church. What is remarkable about the story of King David is that his human flaws are recorded in detail in the Bible. David was King of Israel and a mighty warrior celebrated by his people, yet he was also an adulterer who arranged to have the husband of his lover Bathsheba killed on the battle front lines, an act which also made David a murderer. The God of David then sent a prophet Nathan to tell David a story of a rich man stealing from a poor man that aroused in David righteous indignation against the rich man in Nathan’s story. Then Nathan turned to David and said, “Thou art the man.” When David realized that the tyrannical rich man was himself, he underwent a spiritual conversion for the better.

In recent times, a Jewish linguistic professor Noam Chomsky ruffles feathers when he defends the right to free speech of Robert Faurisson, a French professor who has denied the Holocaust ever happened in history. It is not a viewpoint approved by the political orthodoxy nor by Chomsky, but he supported Faurisson’s right to free expression, especially in academic circles. For this, the mainstream media vilifies Chomsky as psychologically unstable, even accusing him, a gentle soft-spoken man, of being a brutal alpha-male. He is also often critical of the Israeli government, even accusing it of committing crimes of the state, and for this, both Jews and non-Jews in America alike condemn him for not towing the pro-Israel line. Because he speaks out against political orthodoxy that is pro-Israel, he has been accused of being a self-hating Jew or even an anti-Semitic. Chomsky is merely speaking consistently for fundamental rights in a democracy and speaking out against the powerful over the weak, even if the immoral behaviour happened to be committed by other Jews. Speaking out against the wickedness of kings (governments) and defending the poor is a recurring theme of the Jewish prophet. The flow over time of numerous other similar stories remind a Jew of the need for self-examination.

I have personally encountered Jewish people who demonstrated acute awareness of their own personal shortcomings. Waiting in line outside the famous delicatessen Schwartz’s in Montreal, two Jewish middle-aged couples stood next to me. One of the ladies asked me what I did for a living. Embarrassed I was not employed, I grew awkward at the question, but after some hemming and hawing, I gave in and confessed that I was not employed. Her husband quickly interjected and shared the story of how his cousin screwed him in a business enterprise. Sounded like he lost everything. Not sure how his story and my story are related but it was as though we were sharing our economic failures. I was brave enough to share my real story and he responded in kind. The sharing of personal failures seemed natural for this Jew and he welcomed me into his world albeit briefly.

This propensity for self-examination seemed to have stalled lately as evidenced in the Jewish response to the comedian and Seinfeld producer Larry David who is Jewish. He pushed the envelope a tad too far when he did a stand-up routine on Saturday Night Live (November 4, 2017) about dating in a concentration camp during the times of the Holocaust. Reactions on the Internet ran the gamut from moral outrage with vows never to watch anything of Larry David ever again to a few brave souls who welcomed his stand-up routine as a stroke of comedic genius. The vast number of the responses on the Internet though leaned heavily in the negative against Larry David. The erudite blog Schlemiel Theory by Menachem Feuer took a middle ground in which he writes of the schlemiel persona that Larry David put on in comedy routines or roles and how this schlemiel has entered a region where no man or woman has ever travelled before David’s Saturday Night Live routine. (To read Menachem Feuer’s blog or see video links to the above-mentioned episode of SNL, go to Schlemiel Theory blog.)

Perhaps, comedy and the Holocaust will never go together, much as water and oil can never mix. Feuer’s blog on Larry David has hinted at that impossibility. He notes that Larry David has a history of attempts at squeezing in Holocaust humour throughout his comedic works. Feuer first examines the sexual schlemiel figure in an attempt find some redeeming feature in the Larry David schlemiel. He quotes from David Biale’s Eros and the Jews: “Yes, David’s entire act is predicated on projecting discomfort in his audience, forcing them to watch characters disgraced beyond redemption.” This is in reference to David’s alter ego George Costanza in his hugely successful TV show Seinfeld. Whether it is with regard to the George Costanza schlemiel, the Wood Allen schlemiel or the Philip Roth’s narrator in Portnoy’s Complaint, Feuer finds the redemptive nature of such sexual schlemiels as very tentative and elusive.

The majority of the commentaries, following the airing of the controversial Larry David routine of dating in concentration camps, were highly critical and negative toward his comedy monologue. Jeremy Dauber, author of Jewish Comedy: A Serious History poses a common question about the Larry David episode: Is the Shoah (Holocaust) ever appropriate to joke about it? In his article in The Atlantic, he offers a wide perspective, examining which jokes of Larry David are appropriate in their use of the Holocaust. Larry David’s use of the Holocaust is groundbreaking, starting in 1999 in an HBO special, continuing through his production of the Seinfeld TV series. Dauber claims David is responsible for the word “Nazi” entering into mainstream casual usage. The brand of Larry David’s comedy is his ability to make you laugh at uncomfortable situations. The Holocaust is merely the extreme backdrop used to make an audience uncomfortable.

Dauber examines how well an audience receives a Holocaust joke. He does so by looking at the ethical stance of the joke. He cites the episode from Curb Your Enthusiasm in which David continues to hire a foul-mouthed chef because David mistook the chef’s tattoo of lottery numbers for a concentration camp survivor’s identification number. Dauber also refers to “a dinner scene where a Holocaust survivor faces off against a contestant from the reality competition show Survivor”. He notes that Larry David is relatively prolific in his use of the Holocaust throughout his comedy career. When not inventing afresh his own brand of Holocaust humour, Larry David takes on projects involving a Holocaust theme, such as a stage role in Mel Brooks’s The Producers. In comparing Larry David with Mel Brooks’s use of the Holocaust in humour, Dauber asserts the moral objective of Brooks’s method, which in the case of The Producers, is to show that an audience can laugh at and even enjoy a stage musical about Hitler if the object is mockery of the Third Reich. He makes this clear: “Nonetheless, the original Producers movie is at its core all about the issue of whether or not an audience would accept a work like The Producers and the kind of comedy it offered.”

In contrast to Mel Brooks’s usage of the Holocaust in comedy, Larry David’s trademark humor is at heart amoral. Dauber notes: “But a part of the reaction to David’s concentration camp joke, perhaps, comes from one of the wellsprings of his uncomfortable comedy: its amorality.” In the following, Dauber is onto something:

In this sense, David’s SNL joke is not precisely about the Holocaust; rather, it is the ne plus ultra of the sort of humor his alter egos embody: What is the most inappropriate and extreme situation in which this sort of thing could occur? But because the joke is using concentration camps as a throwaway—rather than thinking or feeling deeply about it, or using it for other arguably principled purposes—it’s easy for viewers to think, You’re invoking this? Just to get a laugh for that? [Italics Dauber’s]

The key takeaway from Jeremy Dauber’s Atlantic article is that usage of the Holocaust in comedy is amoral and a mere prop to evoke the most uncomfortableness in the audience. But I say that to evoke the most uncomfortableness in an audience is precisely one of Larry David’s goals. If his past record is any indication, David wants to make you squirm in your seat. That his dating in concentration camps monologue is also funny is the conundrum. There is even a moral thrust to it as well.

Here I will pause for an aside. A quick perusal in the Twitter sphere or a few inquiries among sophisticated middle class folks will reveal that many people will likely say Larry David’s take on romance in concentration camps is not worthy for even a snicker or words to that effect. They may even be quick to question how anyone can make fun of the worst event in human history. I must confess I laughed when I first saw the SNL episode in question. Even now, I cannot shake the image of Larry David casually delivering his lines:

“I’ve always been obsessed with women, and I’ve always wondered, if I’d grown up in Poland when Hitler came to power and was sent to a concentration camp, would I still be checking out women in the camp? I think I would,” joked David in his monologue.

“Of course, the problem is there are no good opening lines in a concentration camp. ‘How’s it going? They treating you OK? You know, if we ever get out of here, I’d love to take you out for some latkes. You like latkes? What, what is it? Me, or the whole thing?’” (Jack Shepherd, Independent, November 6, 2017)

I must also confess I am no anti-Semite, but why did I laugh at Larry David’s joke about dating in the Holocaust concentration camp? As I already mentioned, he was so casual, relaxed in his delivery. He reminds me of an uncle of mine. They belong to a time when men could strike a cool pose in late fifties or early sixties America (or Canada), one hand in a pocket and the other raised to make a point. He raises his chin slightly, “How’s it going? They treating you OK?” I just burst my guts at that point. Sure, it is the juxtaposition of the evil backdrop of the Holocaust behind the lonely male figure sweating out of nervousness, trying to be cool while asking a girl to go out with him. The scene of a nervous young man standing alone before a pretty, young woman is universal. It is the same I am sure with my uncle in China or Hong Kong courting a young woman, until my grandparents arranged a marriage for him. It is the same for every Jewish boy in the presence of some pretty girl. This scene of a man in the presence of a woman that Larry David set up in his “sick” joke is a picture of our humanity. I think that is why his monologue is so powerful and at the same time funny, because 85% of our humanity will feel the pain when the young woman rejects her suitor. Worst, she does not give him the time of day. David simply paints us a picture of life, and life is wonderful between a man and a woman despite the pitfalls of courting. The humour is magnified because this normal picture of boy meets girl is transported to a scene in a concentration camp. I believe that to find humour in a schlemiel failing to get the girl’s phone number in an evil setting is a snub to evil itself. The Nazi’s attempt to dehumanize the Jews has failed here. A Jewish boy still falls in love no matter where he finds the pretty girl. That like the 85% of us men that Jewish boy will likely fail for whatever the reason, but it is a story we men can tell our children after we finally find that right one meant for us.

I have found Menachem Feuer’s analysis of the schlemiel’s role in Jewish literature and film often enlightening and in this case of the Larry David monologue on courting in concentration camps especially helpful in appreciating Larry David’s unique schlemiel, although I think Feuer’s commentary falls short of the true nature of Larry David’s monologue on Saturday Night Live.

Strictly speaking, the schlemiel is “an inept clumsy person; a bungler; a dolt”. Menachem Feuer, a professor of Jewish Studies at York University, Toronto, researches and writes about the schlemiel character in Jewish culture, both real life schlemiels and fictional ones from film and literature. The schlemiel figure, as I learn from reading Feuer’s blogs on the subject, appears to have a sort of moral underpinning despite the schlemiel routinely causing unfortunate things to happen. It is a redemptive figure. In his November 6, 2017 blog entitled “Larry David, the Schlemiel, and Holocaust Humor“, Feuer describes Larry David’s schlemiel figure at times as the classic schlemiel as in his portrayal of Bernie Sanders. The York University professor notes that at other times, “Larry David’s schlemiel is different form [sic] anything we have ever seen in the Jewish tradition”. Citing Ruth Wisse and Varda Spiegel, Feuer points out that David’s schlemiel character is no longer winsome or charming, and that perhaps his attempt at self-deprecation is a failure that invites the anti-Semites’ derisive laughter and causes distress in Holocaust survivors.

Although not explicit, Feuer appears exasperated at Larry David’s schlemiel, because it doesn’t fit into the traditional mold of the schlemiel as the morally upright person who inadvertently causes bad things to happen to him, that the traditional end result of “laughter through tears” does not happen in the case of Larry David’s routine on courting in concentration camps.

I believe Feuer misses the mark by insisting on the use of the schlemiel figure as a metric on Larry David’s comedy performance on Saturday Night Live. While citing Thane Rosenbaum, Feuer claims that Larry David’s schlemiel persona is disgraced beyond redemption. Here I disagree with Feuer. The value of the image of the Holocaust is shock. Yet Larry David manages to make the Holocaust work for comedy when he juxtaposed it with another evil deed, namely rape. The literary figure or character that can evoke such a miracle as making use of the Holocaust in comedy is not the schlemiel but the prophet. And for the prophet, shock is his main tool and sometimes comedy is added for good measure.

We all can agree that the character in Larry David’s stand-up routine on the SNL episode last year is not the traditional schlemiel. Feuer ends his blog by making the claim, “Since we are witnessing so much judgment these days, I’m going to with-hold my judgment with this word perhaps. I’ll let you decide. All I can say is that Larry David is more like a schlemiel, a schlimazel, and a nudnik – altogether, at the same time. And that’s simultaneously funny, sad, and offensive.”

Dante may offer in his The Divine Comedy a possible resolution to how comedy may use the Holocaust. How does Dante reconcile comedy with Hell? As I have not read The Divine Comedy in its entirety and no expert in Dante, I defer to those better equipped to comment, but many of those who studied the topic have concluded Dante’s work is indeed comedy. If the Italians managed to make a comedy out of Hell, then why cannot the Jews do the same with the Holocaust? Of course, some may say we are comparing apples to oranges. The Holocaust is real life and Hell a fiction. (Some folks though in some circles do believe Hell is real.) I only bring up the comparison to Dante as a meager piece of evidence that it might just be possible that comedy may arise out of the ashes of the Holocaust. I give below a few more reasons why this is possible.

I believe Prof. Feuer and others try too hard to discover if there is any value in the Larry David schlemiel’s use of the Holocaust in comedy, much like serious cultural critics might analyze a sex scene to determine if there is any merit for it in a work of art such as a film or novel. I agree with the professor that the schlemiel and the Holocaust do not harmonize well together. There is another literary figure from the Jewish canon that works better with the Holocaust as background. I believe the literary figure that can make good use of the Holocaust imagery is the Hebrew prophet. The prophet of the Hebrew Bible uses strong language to warn his people of the consequences of their ways. He calls Israel a whore when its leaders revel in the women from peoples who worship the lesser gods than their Lord God. The Jewish prophet uses pornographic and derisive language to describe his own people in order to lead them away from immoral behaviour and back to God. Here is a sample from the prophet Ezekiel (16:36) directed at the people in Jerusalem: “Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because thy filthiness was poured out, and thy nakedness discovered through thy whoredoms with thy lovers, and with all the idols of thy abominations, and by the blood of thy children, which thou didst give unto them.”

At the start of his monologue, Larry David aimed his Saturday Night Live routine at his Jewish cohorts in the entertainment industry. They very likely include Harvey Weinstein, Brett Ratner, Dustin Hoffman and others. In the three, we have examples of extremely talented and gifted men: a producer, a director and an actor whose successes encompass both critical acclaim and box office hits. These men were born in the Baby Boomer generation–although Ratner maybe more like early GenX–which gave birth to the sexual revolution, euphemistically referred to as free love. They were one time the rebels that shook the establishment free of any remnants its 1950s prudish inhibitions. The consequences though of the sexual revolution may not be entirely good. The sexual revolution gave the illusion of unfettered freedom. The reality is quite the opposite of freedom. Ironically, a plethora of sexual predators arose in the movie and TV industries that created the illusion of freedom via free love. I would argue that the preciousness of the sex act itself has been devalued in the eyes of mainstream America over the decades since the days of hippies and free love. Sex has lost its sanctity, its spiritual nature in the mind of the public. Rape in the popular mindset is reduced to a cold, clinical phrase, “sexual assault”. Guilt is reduced to “did she say no” criterion, a binary flip of the switch. The words “traumatic” or “abused” are modern words the contemporary public use to express the damage done in rape, but honestly, such words just do not convey enough horror of what women really feel during and after a rape. What Larry David did in his comic routine was to dig up the most horrible event in human history and apply it as an analogy to the rape of a woman. Rape is Holocaust. Whether Larry David was conscious of this or not, I do not know, but that was what happened on SNL on that fateful Saturday night in early November last year. Can we equate the rape of a woman to the Holocaust of an entire race? As it stands now, without filter or alteration, according to Larry David’s comedic monologue on SNL, the answer is a resounding “Yes”.

The late author Iris Chang would agree that the atrocities committed in a genocide is the equivalent to a rape of a woman. The title of her book The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II, the 1997 best seller, suggest as much. The book recounts the Japanese Imperial Army`s massacre and atrocities committed against the Chinese from 1937–1938. Like a hydrogen fusion bomb, Larry David brings together two images, one of rape colliding with another of the naked atrocities of the Holocaust. He juxtaposes the image of the fumbling schlemiel courting a pretty girl in a concentration camp with that of the men of power, the “Harvey Weinsteins,” committing rape in clean, plush hotel rooms during times of peace. This comparison shocks our sensibilities, underscoring the evil and repugnancy of the act of rape. As with Larry David, Iris Chang saw the equivalency. Rape is Holocaust. Holocaust is Rape.

With his Saturday Night Live monologue on courting in concentration camps, Larry David restores us to an earlier sensibility before we all became jaded with the hippie notion of “free love” and its evil rationalization on the casting couches or in the hotel rooms of movie and network TV producers and mega-celebrities. The traditional sensibility that is passed down to us through the generations, I believe, is the right one. That is, men should protect their women folk, their sisters and daughters, from those men who cannot be trusted to be alone with the fairer sex. As the trending “MeToo” meme proclaims the ugliness and the evil that is the act of rape, we need a guiding light to make sense of all this. The Jewish people have a long tradition of prophets rising up at the right moment to direct us and give us hope from the Hebrew prophets Nathan to Isaiah to Jesus, from Philip Roth to Noam Chomsky. On that note, Larry David is a Jewish prophet.

 

UPDATED March 17, 2018; 4:33 PM: In the last paragraph, the sentence, “That is, men cannot be trusted to be alone with the fairer sex,” is replaced by:
“That is, men should protect their women folk, their sisters and daughters, from those men who cannot be trusted to be alone with the fairer sex.”

Love Stalks: A Novella

Like continental shifts, the changes in Canadian society may feel imperceptible to the mainstream population. Yet the consequences in the lives of individuals are seismic and may even be violent in some not so distant future. Like the bird in the coal mine shaft, a neurotic individual acts like the harbinger of an imminent catastrophe.

When I was living in Toronto I felt uneasy as Canadian society became more multicultural and more multi-ethnic. One might surmise that being Chinese, I would welcome Canada’s embracing of diversity. On the contrary, as the ideology of diversity gains prominence in Toronto during the 1980s-1990s, I felt more like an outsider in the very land of my birth–Canada. The value of diversity in society is hotly debated as it has never been before in Canada. Perhaps more effective than argument or even rational discourse is to put the other person into my shoes. I believe the novel is one of those art forms that can allow strangers to walk in my shoes in order for them to feel what I feel.

The growing sense alienation during my time in Toronto gave birth to a work of fiction that I entitled Love Stalks. It was a full novel at one point, over 260 pages, but under advisement of a wise Hebrew teacher, I cut it down in half. He remarked that something as dark as my story, lacking humour, interest in the story could best be sustained in its reduced length. I hope the current re-write recovers what I had always thought is my unique sense of humour. But yes, my teacher is right. Alienation can only be sipped in small doses. Albert Camus’ The Stranger is a good example of that.

Love Stalks begins as in many stories with a man and a girl. Except that in Love Stalks, the girl is more imagined than real. Lester Chang is the man. The girl is a blonde, usually evoked by the bank teller named Brenda. Lester wants to get laid. It has to be with a blonde, hopefully Brenda. He needs to have sex with a white woman in order to feel validated as a Canadian. His only interaction with Brenda is at the bank. This does not stop him from fantasizing a love interest in her. Less psychotic than the David Kelsey character in Patricia Highsmith’s This Sweet Sickness, but nonetheless very much echoes Kelsey in his neurosis and detachment from reality. A chance meeting with Brenda in Lester`s favorite place of sanctuary, the movie theatre, not only proves he is an inadequate romantic but his strained efforts at appearing more European in her eyes have failed miserably despite his superior knowledge of European history.

Reality is relentless coming in the form of Lester’s mother who hounds him to bring a date to his father’s seventieth birthday party. Nonchalantly, he calls up a female friend named Wilma Fung to invite to the party. He realizes that he is crazier than he first thought. His last hope for a date is some Chinese version of a Rita Hayworth lookalike named Lily he met at a church young people’s function that he attends with his cousin. His hope in Lily as a date is dashed when she reveals she is renewing a romance with an urban planner.

Lester’s usual outlet in prostitutes turns out to be a dud as the night’s prostitute does not get around to role playing BDSM. Then he wanders about Toronto in search of someone who reminds him of Brenda, the blonde bank teller. He buys bondage paraphernalia. When he encounters the brunette Maureen, a secretary from work, standing on the middle of a bridge, he offers her a ride and soon drives her home. There he faces his true identity and his lust for Maureen wells up.

Love Stalks: A Novella is now available at Amazon: Paperback or Kindle.

The Danger of Human Rights Code as Cure for Microaggressions

When a white person makes casual but hurtful expressions in front of a person of a minority group, these expressions, whether verbal or non-verbal, define the term “microaggressions”. The assumption is that the white person belongs to the majority or the group with the authority or power. It does not matter if the white person expressing a microaggression is aware of it or not. It only matters if the person receiving such expression feels hurt. In this essay, I first share some of my own personal experience with microaggressions, in order to demonstrate the accumulation of put downs, however slight, do lead to emotional pain and possible psychological damage. Of greater concern is the application of human rights legislation to curb the use of microaggression opens up a greater danger–the loss of a crucial principle of our modern civilization in the West, the loss of the freedom of speech.

First, I share my own experience with microaggression, and then discuss the current scene after the passing into law Bill C-16 and the havoc wrecked by way of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. I present two recent examples of the muzzling of free speech, one in Olympia, Washington on the US Westcoast and the second in Toronto, Ontario in the Eastern Canada.

Children wield name-calling as a vicious weapon in the schoolyard. As a Chinese born in Canada, I have experienced its sharp edge while growing up in a little town on the Canadian prairies, where I was usually the only Chinese kid in my class. Quite often, kids spewed at me invective like “Ching Chong Chinaman” or “Chink”. Grownups were somewhat politer but still thrust “foreignness” on me. “What race are you, Japanese, Chinese?” The more cosmopolitan ones might correct themselves, “Oh, I’m sorry. I meant what nationality are you?” Grownups could still be hurtful when they actually name-called, “Rice Burner!”

Blatant racist name-calling has receded over the years. Instead, a subtler and nuanced discrimination replaces blatant racism. Just this past summer, a young man, all smiles, wearing a man-bun and a vest with the words “Greenpeace”, clipboard in hand, approached me and asked, “Did anyone tell you that you look like David Suzuki?” I said, “No, I don’t like the guy”. My remarks confused the Greenpeace canvasser who then quietly turned away. Fact is, Prof. Suzuki, the environmentalist, is ethnic Japanese, and I am ethnic Chinese. Unlike the good professor, I am one of the skeptics when it comes to climate change as the harbinger of the apocalypse.

When liberals invoke inclusiveness with the line, “We’re all immigrants after all”, I silently shout for someone, preferably with long fingernails, to scratch a blackboard. Now let me say slowly, I am not an immigrant. I was born on Canadian soil, and proud of it.

Over the long run, harsh racial slurs did not bother me as much as the well-intended speech of progressives and liberals. In graduate school, the dean of students spotted me for the first time during a barbecue and readily introduced himself to me. He presented himself as very friendly, and indeed he was sincere, no doubt about it. He was soft-spoken and pleasant. Then came the question I dread. He asked me, “Are you Japanese?” You may substitute “Chinese” or “Korean” for “Japanese”, and I would still feel the same, disappointed and angry. Here we go again, another confirmation that I may never truly be Canadian despite being born on Canadian soil. I do get it that this particular graduate school marketed itself to and attracted international students, but the majority of students still were either Americans or Canadians from other parts of Anglophone North America. What bothered me was that while the good dean was a Swede born in Europe and I was born in Canada, most people would see him as the Canadian or American and I as the foreigner.

What irritates me even more is when other liberally minded folks come along and attribute such mistaken identity phenomenon to the recent flux of new immigrants from Asia. I remind them our country’s history had a significant Chinese presence before Confederation. Why the default: You are Canadian, and I am Chinese? I do not understand why. Even with the onset of the ideology of diversity, white people usually assume that I am a foreigner who they treat with greater respect than they give the average Canadian.

On the other hand, in the case of overt racism, I can tolerate a garden-variety racist. I write off this sort of blatant racism as simple ignorance. If the cause stems from pure hatred against somebody who looks different, I can endure such a racist. It is with the self-proclaimed liberal that in the course of normal every day discourse, e.g., “By the way I use chop sticks”. These casual comments remind me that I look like an immigrant receiving the graciousness of the liberal heart attuned to diversity. Puke. I just want to puke.

It gets even messier when I take a more rational perspective. You might think it is obvious that people can tell I am a Canadian by my accent. If only people listen before they jump to the wrong conclusions about my nationality, would all be well on the identity front? The fact is I do have an accent that is not mainstream Canadian. The best parallel example I can think of is the Jewish community in New York. American Jews from that area do speak with an accent descended from European Jews who very likely spoke Yiddish. Anyone listening to someone like Woody Allen, probably would conclude he speaks in the English dialect of a Jew from Brooklyn. No one listening to him speak English would assume he is a European immigrant or someone foreign to America. The automatic assumption is that Woody Allen is an American Jew. In contrast, when I slip in speech or pause longer than I should, the automatic assumption is that I speak good English for a Chinese, and Canadians would ask where I learned English. The liberal minded at this point is surely impressed with himself or herself: what magnanimity to compliment a newly arrived immigrant’s English skills. Unlike in the case of the American Jew, there is a continuation of the theme of the immigrant: “How long have you been in Canada?” “Where are you from?” “Are you Chinese?” The monotony of gentle reminders of me as foreign is ad nauseam. Some of us Canadian born Chinese do speak with an accent when we speak English but it is a Canadian accent, although it is not Peter Mansbridge or Peter Jennings’s dialect, it nonetheless is an accent peculiar to a specific group born and raised in Canada, not some foreign immigrant group.

I want my fellow Canadians to speak to me as though I am a fellow Canadian. Simply, I want recognition as Canadian, without hyphen, without qualification. In my mother’s opinion, Canadians do not see me as Canadian, plain and simple. People will always see me as Chinese first despite how strongly I want to be simply Canadian. She says I can never change people’s perception. I have yellow skin. Therefore, I am Chinese, no matter how hard I try to change that perception. In in recent years, I conclude she is right. This crisis in identity was probably one of the reasons I ended up seeing a psychiatrist and then entered group therapy for seven weeks during my sophomore year in university.

What I have described so far are my emotional reactions to casual slights alluding to me as Chinese immigrant despite my strong feelings as Canadian. To my surprise, psychiatrists and psychologists have a term for the cause of my emotional responses: “microaggressions”. Dr. Charles Pierce first coined this term in 1973 while he was professor of psychiatry at Harvard University where he noticed the effects of non-blacks making casual but disparaging remarks on blacks. Later Columbia psychology professor Dr. Derald Wing Sue picked up the term and expanded its usage: “brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership“. Group membership obviously refer to minority groups. Who are the minorities? They would include but not limited to minorities by race, sexual orientation, disability and religion. More recently, the definition of a minority includes transgender people who identify themselves by how they experience gender in their personal lives and how they sense of being a female, a male, somewhere in between or something not defined in society. They do not fit neatly into the usual binary, female and male.

The transgender person is someone who identifies oneself not by biological sexual gender assigned at birth but by one’s interior experience of how the gender identity presents itself in society. For example, society may perceive a person as male biologically at birth, but this person later chooses to present as a female in society. The person may express gender in dress, activities and outward appearance such as hairstyles. This person may or may be sexually attracted to the opposite sex. Sex orientation is not always identical to gender according to theories defining gender as a social construct. The Ontario Human Rights Commission hold the above mentioned definitions of gender and transgender, despite there being no scientific consensus on biological research that may affect gender studies.

Although I am a heterosexual male, I think I do know how the transgender (trans) folks feel, because I lived the experience of a marginalized racial minority during my younger years. I do feel the alienation and the slow but continual caustic effect of words have on the psyche. I believe my experience is very similar to that experienced in the LGBTQIE community [1] when it comes to language usage. Some LGBTQIE community members advocate the use of certain specific pronouns. These pronouns are in addition to the traditional binary, male and female pronouns, when describing specific members of the LGBTQIE community. That, I believe, is perfectly acceptable and I appreciate their attempt to identify themselves the way they want. I do differ though with those within the LGBTQIE community who advocate the use of certain specific pronouns by force of law. That I could be punished or labelled a criminal in the eyes of a court who interprets the Criminal Code in light of federal and provincial human rights codes for not using the approved pronoun when I address transgender people.

I would like everyone to recognize me as Canadian, but that will never consistently happen. I feel hurt, but should there be a law passed in Parliament forcing my fellow Canadians to call me Canadian? If they mistake me for Asian, should they pay a fine? Should their names go on a registry of language offenders? Maybe even do jail time? Of course, this is not an acceptable course of action. Force, whether by bare knuckles or by Parliament, cannot change a person’s heart. (Corrosive puritan aspects of the Protestant Reformation prove that morality ought not to be legislated.) The most destructive kind of censorship though is self-censorship. It gradually eats away at the soul whenever one is forced to say something but do not believe it is true. This was what happened in Stalinist Russia. Imagine parents fearing their children might report their spoken words back to some bureaucrat who ruled with an iron fist. That was Russia ruled by Stalin. The same atmosphere of fear is rising too on Canadian soil.

What evidence is there that the ghost of Stalin is making itself felt in the second largest country in the world, which is my home Canada?

Something happened in the 1990s in how white folks respond to minority groups. An example will suffice. It was in a writing class while we were commenting on each other’s manuscripts; I fell into a half daze. Do not recall why the stupor, but I was out of it. The class was commenting on the draft script of a pretty, young Spanish-English woman. Someone commented about the name of one of the female characters in her play script. There was a buzz about how the character’s name rhymed with the word “tofu”. Being half-awake, I missed most of the discussion but suddenly woke up at the word “tofu”. Someone asked the class if everybody got it. I raised my hand, thinking that asking a question is as good as participating in a class discussion. I said sincerely, “I don’t get it.” A hush descended in the classroom. There was something not quite like fear, but only a notch or two below terror, appeared in her face as she looked at me. I remarked once again that I simply did not get it. The whole class was quiet and hesitant, staring at me. This is the other side of words, the fearful pansy. Only many years later did I realize that everyone was afraid of being labelled a racist. In so avoiding the label “racist”, everybody got uptight and remained silent. This was an early warning that free speech was dying in Canada.

Within the recent past year or two, events rush ahead and catch many people by surprise, especially the older folks who still remember news coverage of Martin Luther King and the beginning of Free Speech Movement in Berkeley, California. During those heady days of the 1960s and 1970s, a Canadian newspaper in Vancouver called The Georgia Straight made headlines showing photos of naked male bodies, underscoring that free speech is fundamental to a democratic society. In contrast, today students call professors “Nazis” or “white supremacists” for open discussion on ideas and research that simply differ from the opinion of certain members of minority groups.

A professor of evolutionary biology, Bret Weinstein commented that the students went too far in their demand for all white students to be absent from an annual event called Day of Absence at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. He sent comments in a polite letter to Rashida Love, the school’s Director of First Peoples Multicultural Advising Services. She had introduced a new wrinkle to the college’s Day of Absence. It is a tradition in which, until this year, minority students of colour would be absent from the college as a re-enactment based on a stage play in which black college students were absent from campus for a day in order to discuss race issues–a gesture of protest in the original event. The new wrinkle to this year’s Day of Absence is the requirement that white students, instead of the colour students, be absent from campus, and that all white professors cancel their classes. Weinstein remarked that unlike the traditional event when the black students voluntarily left campus as a gesture of protest, the request this year that white students be absent by administrative fiat are not comparable. He refused to comply with the demands of the students for him to cancel his classes. The professor argued that the students’ demand for whites to be absent, when such request is forced and coerced, is against free speech. For the exercise of his freedom of speech, students vilified and labelled him as a “white supremacist”. The irony is that he is Jewish and an advocate of leftist movements such as Occupy Wall Street.

A mob of students confronted Weinstein first in his classroom and then spread throughout the college. The college administration ordered the police to stand down and allow 200 students to harass Weinstein and staff into hiding in a section of the library and administration block. He had to continue his class off campus. The police warned Weinstein that they could not guarantee his safety. Of course, they could not because the college president had asked the police to stand down. The fear of reprisal by the student mob was so palpable that the college president George Bridges pandered to their wishes. When a student asked him to drop his hands to his side because he showed acts of microaggression in his hand movements, he meekly complied. Then the students all jeered and laughed.

Weinstein and his wife Heather Heying both eventually resigned from their faculty positions at Evergreen College. They sued the college as they feared for their physical and psychological well-being since the college administration did not ensure a safe teaching environment for them. The two parties settled for $450,000 in Weinstein and Heying’s favour plus the professors’ legal cost of $50,000.

Closer to home in Toronto, Canada, Dr. Jordan Peterson, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto, became the focal point of harassment by students claiming him to be a white supremacist for a series of three videos entitled “Professor against political correctness” released on Youtube in September 2016 about his concerns of political correctness suppressing free speech. His concerns find their basis in the federal Bill C-16 (now law) introducing the new categories of gender identity and expression, along with the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s interpretation of pronoun usage, the evolution of human resources departments as enforcer of political correctness, and the new Marxism creeping into the classroom and workplace by way of post-modernist ideology.

Students reacted vehemently to Peterson’s politically incorrect videos. Trans students accused him of being a bigot or racist, and alleged him of creating an atmosphere of fear on campus. Some alleged Peterson inspired followers to threaten them. The door of his office was glued shut. A group of non-binary gender students held a protest rally. A counter rally of his supporters ensued in which a trans person was charged for assault. Some of his faculty colleagues condemned him on TV and social media. Heads from the arts and science faculty, and the department of psychology sent him letters, asking him to stop repeating his politically incorrect views and comply with human rights legislation. Unfortunately, his publicity also attracted red-blooded white supremacists and neo-Nazis, whom Peterson deplored.

His biggest controversy might very well be his refusal to use trans pronouns compelled under legislation in Ontario, as he interprets it. In a debate at a University of Toronto forum, law professor Brenda Crossman said that the standard for hate speech as a criminal act is set at so high a bar that merely refusing the use of trans pronouns would not put him against the law unless he called for genocide. He would have no grounds for fear, she said. Peterson did not buy into that interpretation and felt current laws are the thin edge of the wedge that, if not checked, would someday outlaw free speech completely. The current legislation under the Ontario Human Rights Code and their interpretation by the Human Rights Commission were on unstable grounds.[2] For example, who gets to define “hate speech”?

He did not back off from any debate, even taking on crowds outdoors on the campus grounds. Members of the LGBTQIE accused him of a being a Nazi despite decades of study on the subject and his complete repudiation of Nazi ideology. The number of his followers grew just as fast as his detractors grew. He obviously touched a raw nerve in many who viewed his videos, especially young men, who have been feeling that political correctness has gone too far. Joe Rogan, formerly host of the TV show The Fear Factor, arranged to meet him along with Dr. Bret Weinstein for a September 1, 2017 podcast to discuss the tyranny of political correctness.

A panel discussion “The Stifling of Free Speech on University Campuses” was scheduled at Ryerson University in Toronto for August 22, 2017. Speakers included Peterson. A young woman and another man created a Facebook page and rallied protesters to shut down the announced forum. Originally, the header showed an image of a crossed-out Nazi swastika, until presumably threats of legal action may have compelled her to replace the image. What intrigues me about this woman is that she does not seem well known in leftist activist circles until this event. At the time, she has a paltry number of followers on her Twitter account, less than 80. Her goal was to stop the panel discussion from happening. She managed to rally support from “her community” along with support from the student body. She drummed up clichés such “No Fascists in Our City”, or “We are here to celebrate our diversity.” She managed to have her people harass the university administration into submission via emails and phone calls. The Ryerson University administration capitulated and cancelled the panel discussion for fear of violence erupting, and free speech died at Ryerson University.

I see our society as a very fragile one, in which the hurt feelings of some imperil the freedom of speech of all. My feelings are hurt too over the years by racism, but the bigger threat is the loss of my right to speak freely.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] LGBTQIE stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual.

[2] On May 17, 2016, Liberal MP Jody Wilson-Raybould sponsored Bill C-16 to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. The bill is a short one. It inserts the single phrase “gender identity or expression” into Section 2, The Purpose and Section 3(b) the prohibited grounds of discrimination of the Human Rights Act. Similarly, this phrase is inserted in the Criminal Code in Subsection 318(4), Definition of identifiable group and Section 4, Subparagraph 718.2(a)(i) regarding what is considered evidence of a hate crime in the matter of sentencing.

On June 19, 2017, Bill C-16 received Royal Assent and became law in Canada.

The Ontario Human Rights Code was modified even earlier to include “gender identity” and “gender expression”. It can be and has been interpreted the act of refusing to use a trans pronoun when a trans person insist on the speaker to use a trans pronoun as an act of discrimination.

How we came to the current state of affairs where white people, especially white men, are afraid of speaking their minds in case they might offend the sensibility of a minority, I am at a loss for words. Dr. Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto offers a probable cause in the majority of the liberal arts professors casting postmodernist ideas into a Marxist ideological framework and pursuing an agenda of identity politics. See his postings on Youtube.

Free Speech Died in Vancouver–August 19, 2017

I am well acquainted with racism. I was born in Canada when no political correctness ruled people’s thought or behaviour. I grew up in a small prairie town where the kids called me names like “Chinky Chinaman”. Some of my classmates once ganged up on me in the schoolyard, and one of the boys pounced on me as I lay prone and stuffed dry grass into my mouth. On another occasion, a blonde, freckled face boy threatened me with a rusty jackknife near my neck. The racism of the adults was more subtle. At my first job in Toronto, after riding the elevator several times, I familiarized myself with a few new faces. One day, in the elevator I greeted the woman who worked in the arts in the office next door. She turned and stared at me. She said nothing. She just stared. Afterwards, the only times she would speak to me is when she needed me to do a favour for her, like signing for a courier package when their staff was absent from their office.

These days, something far more sinister than racism infuses the public spaces. It begins with people who think they are standing up for the rights of minorities in Canada–my human rights.

A group of such social-minded people congregated at the City Hall of Vancouver on August 19, 2017, a Saturday. They gathered as counter-protesters to demonstrate against a pro-white protest rally scheduled for 2:00 PM. Anti-immigration and anti-Islam groups had organized this pro-white protest rally. One of the more level headed organizers interviewed later on Global News TV was Brad Salzberg of the Cultural Action Party. In a calm demeanor, he denied any belief in white supremacy but feared the potential imposition of Islamic ideology and Sharia law on Canadian society by Islamic immigrants. He felt European and Anglo Saxon peoples were maligned in the last 40 years or so. I think he had a good point. If in Canada every non-white ethnic group can feel free to celebrate their heritage and culture, why cannot the white people also have pride in their own histories?

I decided to show up at the protest rally to eat my corned beef sandwich on rye and to witness the scheduled anti-Islam and anti-immigration speeches, and anticipate a debate between the pro-white protesters and the counter-protesters. An ad hoc group of counter-protesters calling themselves “Stand Up to Racism” arose. By the time I arrived shortly before 2:00 PM, there was a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd gathered around City Hall. Some estimated the size of the crowd to be about 4,000 attendees. Virtually everyone there were counter-protesters all united in their hatred of the white supremacist ideology. Most of the placards showed their disfavor of anyone who took a pro-white stand: “Deport the racist,” “You were once an immigrant too,” and “Diversity = Strength”. Some placards showed much creativity. One especially stuck in my mind: “Jesus was an undocumented immigrant.”

I ate my sandwich and banana, and waited for the pro-white speakers to show up. Meanwhile, a tall, lanky black man, who appeared he might be from the Show Me State of Missouri but spoke with a Caribbean accent, stood next to me. (I shall call him Sam, not his real name.) He shared with me his fears; he sensed the crowd was out for blood. We spoke in whispers while the rest of the 4,000 or so crowd around us cheered with undulated raising of fists and shout downs of the vices and evils of the far right and white supremacy. We carried on a vulnerable conversation, an exchange of ideas. Sam said in a quiet and raspy voice, “I know what Trump ought to do to turn this thing around.” Because he asked me not to expose his advice to the President, I will not repeat what he said about his Trump solution, except to say that Sam was an unequivocal Trump supporter. I said that if I were an American and had to choose between Hillary Clinton and Trump, I would choose Trump any day. It was fortunate that I too whispered, as the Southeast Asian man, one of the two men kissing in front of us, slowly turned around and looked for who just misspoke. When he saw my face, he turned away but kept his profile with an ear toward us. I kept telling myself that Canada is a land where free speech was sacrosanct, I shall not fear. Nevertheless, Sam and I were fearful. A scuffle broke out to my right as a half a dozen or so police officers surrounded a shaven-head man in black leather pants and soon escorted him to the outer perimeter. Skinhead, white supremacist, I thought, but later discovered he was a counter-protester tearing a poster away from one of the pro-white protesters.

When it was well past 2:00 PM, there was still no sign of the pro-white speakers. Local politicians took up the mantle. Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson spoke platitudes of love not violence. When it was clear that the scheduled pro-white speakers would not show up, shouts of genuine joy made its circuit around the 1936 heritage building that was the City Hall. The counter-protesters patted each other for successfully stopping the “white supremacists”. Mayor Robertson was especially beside himself with glee. He congratulated everyone for promoting love and non-violence, claiming that resulted in the no-show of the hated white supremacists. He later posted on Twitter: “Acts of hate/violence must always be met with non-violent resistance. We need to call out white supremacy/hate speech wherever it happens.” Did the Mayor realize there was no speech whatsoever from the scheduled speakers who wanted to discuss their opposition to Islam and immigration? Did he not ensure the safety of the pro-white speakers and organizers?

For the most part, the counter-protest crowd did not use violence that Saturday, but they nonetheless did scare off many of the pro-white protesters. The intimidation of a 4,000 strong mob of counter-protesters frightened away the pro-white speakers. Pro-white rally organizer Brad Salzberg admitted that he had to cancel because of the frightful size of the counter-protester crowd. The main reason for his fear stemmed from the police telling him that they could not guarantee his safety. This was the same response that the police in Charlottesville gave the White Nationalists there. Another organizer of the pro-white protest Joey DeLuca, President of the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam, echoed the fears of Salzberg. Although very upset, having travelled all the way from Alberta to speak in Vancouver, De Luca reluctantly cancelled his speech.

The intimidation tactics of the counter-protesters was evident in the case of a young man who simply held up a hand drawn picture of a green Pepe the Frog. That was enough to anger one of the counter-protesters, also a young man but dressed in black, who then ripped Pepe the Frog to shreds. Apparently, the green frog was an innocuous symbol that became a meme on the Internet, but recently counter-protesters have ascribed to the once innocuous symbol an association with white supremacists and Nazis.

An even scarier segment of the counter-protesters is Antifa (abbr. for Anti Fascists). At the City Hall rally, I saw a few clusters of the Antifa protesters dressed in black and their faces covered except for around their eyes. The Antifa gangs in Charlottesville had used violence in their counter-protest on August 12, 2017. There is now video evidence of young men clad in black and masks beating up pro white protesters who were unfortunate enough to find themselves in small groups or alone in a sea of counter-protesters. I am sure the pro-white speakers scheduled in Vancouver were aware of the violence Antifa had inflected on people they had simply labeled as Nazis or white supremacists in Charlottesville.

As I left the rally to go back downtown, I could count about five or six men, who might pass for white supremacists, milling about at the periphery of the counter-protest rally. One or two of them argued with the counter-protesters. That small number was the total number of pro-white protesters at the City Hall rally that I could see. The South China Morning Post sent a reporter Ian Young to the City Hall rally and he counted 15 persons that belonged to the “white supremacists” camp. According to Young, this group included non-whites, an Aboriginal and a Chinese Canadian. In fact, pro-white organizer Brad Salzberg is Jewish and he was too afraid to show up.

Until August 19, 2017, there was always the hope that dialogue is sufficient to win over a racist, and he could then see for himself that racism is wrong. That hope vaporized on August 19, 2017 when the majority silenced the minority. The mob ruled the day. It was not a day to celebrate, as the so-called progressive liberals would have you believe, but a day of mourning. The racist retreats into hiding to the applause of the self-righteous in Vancouver. When the city government favours the safety of one group over another in a public forum, it is abnegating its responsibility to serve and protect all equally.

Free speech died in Vancouver, Canada on August 19, 2017.

Chinese Tattoo on a White Supremacist?

Either by design or by chance, Christopher Cantwell has become the de facto spokesman and face of the white nationalists’ (i.e., supremacists’) protest against the removal of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, Virginia. As one of the organizers of the Unite the Right rally, he landed smack in the middle of the Charlottesville protest rally turned riot last weekend during which a Nazi sympathizer killed a young woman.

During an interview with Vice News correspondent Elle Reeve, the outspoken Christopher Cantwell removes his white T-shirt and reveals a Chinese character for a tattoo on his right arm. The character is 実 (pronounced shi in mandarin). Almost immediately, comments arose online, one blog suggesting it is a Japanese character. I cannot comment on the Japanese as I have never studied Japanese, but can comment on it as a Chinese character. The character 実 on Mr. Cantwell’s right arm is an ancient variant of the modern character 實 in Chinese. The character on Mr. Cantwell is a form rarely seen in modern Chinese. The modern form as a simplified character is 实 (used in mainland China) or as a traditional character 實 (used in Hong Kong or Taiwan). The most common meaning of 實 is “real,” “true” or “solid.” It is the second component of the compound word 事實 (pronounced shi shi in mandarin) meaning “fact.” Although the character 實 also has the dictionary meaning of “fruit,” I have never seen it used as such in anything I have read.

How can Mr. Cantwell be both a white supremacist and someone who has a Chinese character tattooed on his flesh? Some folks suggest white supremacists has a pecking order, ranking Asians below whites but above blacks. For example, the Dutch descendants known as Afrikaans in the previous white regimes of South Africa would deem the Japanese as honorary whites. Perhaps these white South Africans still needed to deal in commerce with the outside world. I would suggest we look past all ideologies and group sins and look at the personal life of a man (or woman) in order to understand his racism. Although I do not know Mr. Cantwell personally, his interview with folks at the Southern Poverty Law Center gives us a hint. There he confesses that his first love is a Korean girl. He almost married a black woman. He even confesses that most of the women he has dated are not white. Since Koreans today normally do not use Chinese characters but use their own version of an alphabet, I surmise that he probably has dated also Japanese or Chinese women. He took on a Chinese tattoo probably to impress a Japanese or Chinese woman. (The Japanese imported the Chinese writing system from China during the Tang Dynasty, I believe.)

In my mind, his choice of Chinese character for the tattoo points us to the core of his racism and bigotry. It has something to do with what is real in the world or what is truth. My hunch is that he shares a notion familiar to me, and I think, familiar to all men. Isn’t it love? Ultimately, despite of our machismo, every man wants love, just as every woman does. And when a man fails in finding love of a woman, only then does he look for truth, solidity in some abstract ideology, sometimes even some stupid ideology. (Here I limit my discussion to romantic love between a man and a woman, granted. I am not qualified to speak on other permutations of love.)

Sitting in the park with the blonde reporter Eve Reese, surrounded by a squad of fellow white supremacists, his true anger reveals itself. He boasts that he and his people are capable of violence, because he makes a loud point that he carries a pistol and goes to the gym all the time. The talk of violence and guns is generic not only of the white supremacists, but of many young men. I am a bit like that myself in my teen years and early twenties, and I am not even white. Mr. Cantwell’s need to point out that he goes to the gym is an attempt to impress a woman who appears to be also a smart and savvy news reporter. His frustration with not getting the pretty blonde is evident in his own words: “… in the hopes that someone more capable will come along and do that, someone like Donald Trump, who does not give his daughter to a Jew…. I don’t think that you could feel about race the way I do and watch that Kushner bastard walk around with that beautiful girl” (3:35 minutes into the clip). The key phrase is “that beautiful girl.” The essence of his frustration is not with race politics or immigration, but with the difficulties in simply getting a girlfriend, regardless of race. I suppose that in the beginning, Mr. Cantwell was not a racist nor a white supremacist at all. He simply has a problem getting a girlfriend. I believe that he was not an arrogant man in his younger years. This is borne out by the fact he was willing to date outside his race in search of love. What is a white man to do if he discovers that even non-white women rejects him?

During his one-on-one interview in the North Carolina hotel room with Eve Reeve, he displays himself as the machismo tough guy: three pistols and two rifles. Except for one rifle, he chants out the names of his weapons like a choirboy praying the litany of the saints: Kel-Tec P-3AT 380 ACPGlock 19 9mm, Ruger LC9 9mm, AK. As though to put an exclamation mark at the penultimate end of the litany, he tosses a knife onto the hotel bed. Smiling casually with knowing smirks, he tells the female reporter that he advocates violence. (19:05 minutes into the clip) I see this man as simply showing off in front of a good looking and smart woman. Tough talk about hatred and war on the races is mere bluster.

Here is a man who simply has not fared well with women. That in essence is Mr. Christopher Cantwell’s starting point on race, but I wish to assure him that that is nothing to be ashamed of when he fails in love. We live in the modern world. The chances of finding your soul mate are much less than in Jane Austen’s time and even then the chances of finding true love was already in decline. The modern woman can think for herself, make up her own mind about relationships. She is independent. Today a woman can do her job as well as any man. She can earn her own keep. She does not need a man. Unrequited love is always a risk when there is freewill. That is the bottom line. Mr. Cantwell, you and I are similar, except that you are American and I am Canadian, you are white and I am ethnically Chinese. We simply are men looking for the love of a woman.

At the End of the World, Everyone Wants to Write a Book

“Our earth is degenerate in these latter days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book; indeed the end of the world is approaching.”

–Allegedly an Assyrian inscription, 1500 BC.

 

I first encountered the above quote in the book Guerrilla Marketing for Writers by Jay Conrad Levinson et al. At first reading, this epigraph mesmerized me by its prophetic tone and the sense of déjà vu, as though the text is a long lost friend, familiar, and yet a mystery stretched over time. When I tried to verify the actual source of the quote, there is not enough evidence to confirm that such an inscription ever existed in ancient times. Variations of the inscription’s text appeared over the last century in various publications, but according to the Quote Investigator, Garson O’Toole, the earliest appearance in an English publication of a similar epigraph was in 1908. The authorship of these variant texts has been attributed to authors in ancient Egyptian, Babylonian as well as the above mentioned, anonymous Assyrian inscriber.

Whether or not such a text actually existed in ancient times no longer concerns me. The thing that intrigues me is whether or not a certain portion of the epigraph makes a true statement about the world we live in. My focus in this article is in the truncated paraphrase: “At the end of the world, every man wants to write a book.”

A more precise hypothesis might be something like: Is there an increased inclination of the literate population to write a book during an apparent decay of the world?

To this end, I find the American novelist Walker Percy helpful. In his view, the world is not necessarily the actual physical world, the planet earth or other such grand structure. What is of utmost importance is the world as the individual sees it. The planet could be perfectly intact, orbiting the sun, human society still alive and functioning at some level, yet a mad man might see his world melting away. Or just the opposite might be true. Our planet might be on the collision course of a gigantic asteroid. Or our civilization might be crumbling right before our eyes. Yet a sane man in these circumstances might be considered mad by his peers, because they do not see what he sees. The subtitle of Walker Percy’s novel Love in the Ruins even suggests as much: “The adventures of a bad Catholic at a time near the end of the world.” In this novel, society is breaking down, and the deeply flawed hero Dr. Thomas More invents a device called the Ontological Lapsometer which he intends to use to heal the psyche of human kind. In the wrong hands it causes more evil than good. Ironically Dr. More is a psychiatrist who himself has problems with his own psyche, and at the same time, he sees the decay of the world around him.

To use more prosaic language than poetic, we might substitute the phrase “at the decay of society” or “at the collapse of civilization” in place of “at the end of the world.” If we use the word “world” to mean the society or civilization we live in or know, whether it be locally or globally, then we can ask the question, are people really more inclined to want to write a book during the collapse of their civilization?

I have come to believe that more people do want to write a book when their civilization is in decline than when it is not. I am not aware of any quantitative study, but I believe there is anecdotal evidence (or signs) that when an empire or great civilization decays then there is an increased desire among its people to write a book. I’m not sure if there is cause and effect here, but for me, there appears to be a correlation between the end times and the desire to write a book.

An example of a society in decline while attended by an increase in the desire for authorship was when the printing press came to Europe. When typography dislodged the Catholic Church from its monopoly of the published, written word, more people then could become authors writing about topics that the Church might be found lacking. Subjects like medicine, mathematics and astronomy, as well as novels eventually found a demanding audience. The economics of the printing press made it favorable to write on topics the Church may not have been interested in, and also made anti-Church pamphlets and treaties more accessible to the general population. The promulgation of anti-cleric literature certainly hastened the decline of the Church’s influence on the people of Europe.

Protestantism that supplanted Catholicism in England and Northern Europe seems to flourish with the invention of the printing press. That branch of English Protestantism, the Non-conformists, especially the Puritans, saw a flourishing of book publication. The publication of spiritual memoirs like John Bunyan The Pilgrim’s Progress might have set a mould for the English novel form. At first glance, England does not appear to be in decline with this new found love of writing and reading of printed books. On the contrary, it remained a world power until after World War II. Still, I believe, the writing was on the wall, when a major piece of the British Empire was lost to the Americans. The irony was that the founders of the new republic were English Protestants of the Non-conformist ilk, very learned men who loved to write and read thick books. The world that was collapsed was Catholic England, and the new world was Protestant England. America became the great religious experiment of the Dissenters from Protestant England.

Another example may be seen in the corruption and decline of the Chinese civilization under the Qing Dynasty. Much has been written about the reasons for the collapse of Chinese civilization in this period (1644-1911), but mostly in social, economic or political terms. One of the prescient characteristics found in the collapsing Qing Empire, as I see it though, was that the Qing bureaucracy consisted of candidates who had passed exams in classical literature, including books of poems. Their civil service examination system focused on the literary and historical. Topics such as modern science were virtually non-existent in these civil service exams. You might say that Qing bureaucrats were a bunch of poets running the country. Although this does not prove outright that there was an increase in the writing and publishing of books during the Qing Dynasty, there was cultivated an increased impulse to write among a bloated public service. One of the ideals of the Chinese civil service examination system was that it was based on merit; so that the lower class had a chance to move up in society. A trickle-down effect, I suspect, would encourage people in the lower rungs of society to aspire, to prepare, and to compete for a cherished position in the government bureaucracy.

It is also significant that shortly before extensive contact with foreign trade, one of China’s greatest, pre-modern novel The Dream of the Read Chamber was written in this period, first published in manuscript form and then in print. The novel is about the decay of a prominent family which perhaps mirrors the decline of Qing Dynastic China itself. It became the model for modern romance novels and family sagas in China. Another influential, modern novelist, Eileen Chang (Zhang Ailing), began writing her novels during the decay of Republican China in the twentieth century. Anecdotally it appears there might have been an uptick in a desire to write poems and novels during the decline of, respectively, Qing Dynastic and Republican China.

In our own time, and Marshall McLuhan is prescient on this, the inventions of the computer and electric networks (the Internet) enable the rise of companies like Amazon that offer the chance for every literate person to publish their own books. There is no financial barrier to entry. Authors can choose to publish their book in an electronic format (ebook) or a traditional print format. The latter format may be traditional, but it is the new technology of digital printing that does not require a writer-publisher to hold a costly inventory of books for sale, but rather a single book can be printed on demand within a reasonable cost.

At the same time, corruption and ruin in the financial world as well as in the political sphere–the collapse of Lehman Brothers, GM bailouts, wars in far-off lands, Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the Senate scandal in Canada, need I say more–are signs that something is not right.

So, at a time when everyone thinks he has a book in him, when everyone encourages everyone else that he can be an author, are we in the twenty-first century then also at the end of the world?

Marshall McLuhan in a nutshell

The title of this posting suggests impossibility so the next best thing is for me to give an overall impression of my reading of Canada’s most recognized English professor, the late Marshall McLuhan (e.g., The Gutenberg Galaxy, The Mechanical Bride, and Understanding Media). Despite his famous phrase “the medium is the message” being first coined in the last title, I find this particular book dry and uninspiring, and my reading of it is spotty, skipping large chunks of it, at the time of this posting.

I see McLuhan as a twentieth century “reincarnation” of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. They both wrote to a readership that was hostile to traditional Christianity. Kierkegaard’s audience was the Lutheran Protestants in Denmark, who in the main, had become embarrassed at the supernatural claims of the Christian faith, and become spiritually dead. McLuhan’s audience was a mostly Protestant one too, as much of the English speaking world was. By the middle of the twentieth century, religion was losing its grip on mainstream society in North America, but certain evangelical Protestant groups managed to hang on. At the time of the writing of The Gutenberg Galaxy, the Roman Catholic Church remained strong in Quebec, but the demise of Catholicism would soon be ushered in by the Quiet Revolution. Although not explicit, McLuhan was taking jabs at a religion that was given birth by the printing press. His books examined the fruits of that religion’s posture of Sola Scriptura–by Scripture alone. That religion is of course Protestant Christianity.

I’ve always been puzzled by Protestants despite my own beliefs having much in common with Protestantism and being baptized in a Protestant church. The birth place of Martin Luther and Protestantism–Germany–also is the birth place of National Socialism–Nazism. The great experiment in building a republic based on principles of liberty, democracy, and freedom of religion, that is America, was conducive to the practice slavery even as its citizens claimed belief in Christ. In the nineteenth century, a Christian Britain initiated wars with China in order to uphold their privilege to sell opium to Chinese citizens. The image of missionaries unloading Bibles at one end of an ocean faring ship and gentlemen overseeing the unloading of wooden crates containing balls of opium at the other end is truly perplexing to me.

Like Kierkegaard, McLuhan took pot shots at the contradictions of an alphabetic based society that professed Christianity. One of his conclusions is that the effects of the medium has as profound an effect, perhaps even more so, on the reader as the content of the medium do. The Christian reader may profess faith in the content of the Bible, but the impact of the medium of the printed book may result in evils that seem to negate the profession of faith.

Although I do not believe there is a direct cause and effect of typographic media on the beliefs and behavior of the reader, rather I believe that the inventions of the alphabet and the printing press introduce tendencies that are magnified through time and technological innovation. McLuhan sums it up in The Gutenberg Galaxy: “Schizophrenia may be a necessary consequence of literacy.”

In the blogging…

Words have lost their meaning.