Doré Bak

Official Web Site

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.

Advertisements

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.