Monthly Archives: November 2016

Partying in the Park

Letter to the Editor of The Westmount Examiner*

I read with dismay your article entitled “Vagrants consuming alcohol dispersed: WPSU” published in your January 29, 2015 edition.

My dismay did not stem from the report itself, but from the identification of those concerned as being, according to Westmount Public Security, “homeless vagrants of Inuit origin” who were “surrounded by several empty bottles of liquor and beer” and had been observed “drinking alcohol in public on Ste. Catherine Street.”

Montreal is full of homeless people, most of whom are therefore also obliged to be vagrant, but I have not noticed the local media spending its time enumerating their ethnic origins.

Similarly, the houses of Westmount are full of residents who are surrounded by empty bottles of liquor and beer, but we do not inquire into those residents’ ethnic origins because they are not homeless and drinking in public.

It is obvious to those who live or work in southeast Westmount that a certain proportion of the homeless with substance abuse or other problems we see are Inuit from northern Québec (Nunavik). The Inuit have a historic tie to the Atwater and Ste-Catherine neighbourhood due to the presence of the Montreal Children’s Hospital.

We may, however, have a tendency to overlook the fact that many of the homeless in Westmount are not Inuit, since we tend to notice that which is different.

For the same reason, most residents probably do not know that on any given day, about 150 Inuit from Nunavik are living in Westmount at the YMCA residence on Tupper near Atwater without creating any disturbance. They are staying at Nunavik House, a facility of the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, while they receive medical treatment in Montreal.

Is it reasonable for the Westmount Examiner to report the ethnic origins of the few who may cause a disturbance while ignoring the ethnic origins of the hundreds from the same group who do not?

The Code of Ethics adopted by the Québec Press Council provides that “the media and journalists must avoid cultivating or supporting prejudices.” They may not “use language that would be liable to incite hatred, scorn or violence toward an individual or a group.” While “it may be appropriate to address differences between individuals or groups” in reporting, when the media identify ethnic origins, it “must be pertinent and in the public interest, or essential to the understanding of the story or topic being addressed.”

The fact that Westmount Public Security believes that some vagrants it observed drinking in public and dispersed were Inuit was information that tends to increase prejudice against this ethnic group, but it was neither relevant nor essential information for your news report.

—David Schulze

*This is a letter to the editor of a dead newspaper. The Westmount Examiner is gone, but the problems raised by David Schulze are not.

The Year of Living Homerically

emile_levy_-_circeGetting sucked into the insanity of the 2016 election was like getting sucked into an ancient myth. One minute you’re living your life, next minute you’re a character in Homer’s Odyssey. Seriously, I feel like I should write a sequel to A. J. Jacobs’s The Year of Living Biblically (2007) entitled The Year of Living Homerically (2017). Were we not, like Odysseus’s men, turned into swine? Were we not, like Odysseus, bewitched? Did we not lose track of time, trumping till two, night after night? Waking up this past weekend, after a thoroughly unhealthy, year-long obsession with American politics, I felt like disoriented Odysseus, coming to his senses on the Island of Ogygia.

Angry people are incredibly easy to manipulate. Same is true of the self-righteous. The more “political” you become, the more you become a mere pawn in someone else’s chess game. Your ideas are no longer your own. They’re not even your friends’ ideas. They are, instead, prefabricated ideas, manufactured by spin-doctors, mad scientists of the spirit, who understand human nature better than most, and are practiced in the art of deception. These master manipulators understand that the pleasures of politics may be ugly pleasures, but they’re pleasures nonetheless. Anger feels good. Self-righteousness feels good.

But these pleasures come at a cost. Politics erodes your creativity far more than it erodes your humanity. I can’t believe how boring I’ve become. I can’t believe how boring many of my friends have become. Thinking prefabricated ideas all the time is sort of like moving into a prefabricated suburban row house. You get to choose the drapes, what color to paint the walls, little else.

Oh Aristotle, stop snickering in the back row! Yes, yes, yes, I know! Man is indeed the political animal. But it’s equally true that the political too often brings out the animal in the man. And you, Edmund, for God’s sake, save your breath! I know what you’re gonna say: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Of course there’s truth to what you say, much truth. But can you not conceive of a species of evil that’s akin to quicksand? Can you not see why Epicurus admonished his followers to shun politics?

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

When Harry Met Sally

429360_10151298825535570_2044573742_nThere once was a guy named Harry Reid, spent half his life as a centipede, cursed for a sacrilegious deed, cursed by a witch because he peed. The tree was tall, the tree was grand, most sacred tree in all the land. But Harry didn’t know, and he really had to go.

There once was a gal named Sally Mead, who fell in love with a centipede. She was an odd duck, a real rare breed, who was only in the forest freed. She hated tweed and loved to read, shunned parties and smoked too much weed.

The Kush was great, the Kush was grand, dankest weed in all the land. So when the bug became a man, Sally was like, “Ha! I get it, I understan’; ain’t foolin’ me, Mr. Indica Man!” But when the bug began to cite Rousseau, ’twas like lunch with Bill Burrough. They were last seen, if you really must know, holding hands, in love, at a wedding expo.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

When Sadie Met Doris

She’s a lady, named Sadie, who used to be shady. Loves whiskey, me, and the CBC. Hates hockey, brie, and misogyny. She’s a bourgeoisie, from NDG, who got a silly degree—a PhD, in History, or Philosophy—at the Tinder age of 33.

She fell for a florist, named Doris, a Taurus, who sings in the chorus, talks like she ate a thesaurus, and knows her way around a clitoris.

“Hey, Hamer, if a Sadie falls for a florist, and no one’s there to tweet about it, does it make a sound? Am I whoring around? Will this lead to an ultrasound?”

Oh Sadie, Sadie, I’m glad to say: y’all were married last May, had twins today.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2017)

Don’t Trust Any Idea Over 30?

Humanities Heuristic: If every book on the syllabus is younger than your mom, drop the class.

Don Draper

When student activist Jack Weinberg declared “Don’t trust anyone over 30”—at the height of the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley in the mid-1960s—he was, to some extent, speaking for an entire generation, a generation that had lost faith in the wisdom of their elders, a generation that had concluded that the present had little or nothing to learn from the past. But he was also giving voice to an intuition that flows quite naturally out of cultural currents that predate the babyboomers, such as the theory of the avant-garde, the Whiggish faith in progress, the modernist obsession with all things new—which the philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb has aptly dubbed neomania—and the sense, so well articulated by Henry Adams in The Education of Henry Adams (1907), that the modern world constitutes a radical break with history: “in essentials like religion, ethics, philosophy; in history, literature, art; in the concepts of all science, except perhaps mathematics, the American boy of 1854 stood nearer the year 1 than to the year 1900. The education he had received bore little relation to the education he needed. Speaking as an American of 1900, he had as yet no education at all. He knew not even where or how to begin.”

Is this modernist mistrust of the past justified? I used to think so. But lately, not so much. Inventions like the microscope and the telescope have made it possible for scientists in fields like molecular cell biology and particle physics to see things—faraway stars, subatomic particles, and microscopic viruses—which simply couldn’t be seen in the ancient world. As such, the rapidly changing received wisdom in fields which benefit from these amazing technological innovations is easy enough to explain and justify. The rapidly changing received wisdom in the humanities and the social sciences is far less easy to explain and justify. Is there any technological advance which has made it possible for us to “see” things about human nature which would have been “invisible” to thoughtful people in the ancient world? I can’t, for the life of me, seem to think of one. Has modern life, and everything it entails, so fundamentally rewired our brains that human nature is, in the twenty-first century, dramatically different from the human nature which prevailed in, say, the Egypt of the Pharaohs? I doubt it. And this doubt leads me to two troubling questions: If our capacity to “see” human nature hasn’t changed much, and human nature hasn’t changed much, how can we justify and explain the rapidly changing received wisdom in the humanities and the social sciences? What’s more, if little has changed, how can we justify the claim that the present has little or nothing to learn from the past?

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

The Political Drama of Everyday Life

1docksYour politics—where do they come from? Well, at least initially, they come, like your mother tongue, from your parents. When you’re a kid, your politics are basically your parents’ politics. And some people stick with their parents’ politics. Indeed, the political family resemblance in some families is astounding. I’ve met people who seem to have inherited their parents’ politics the way I inherited my parents’ green eyes. Even if you rebel against your parents’ politics, you’re still, in a way, defined by them.

Where you grow up shapes your politics at least as much as your parents. Extremely liberal parents who move to places like Texas for work are often horrified to discover, a decade or two down the road, that their grown children do not share their values. They’re into guns. They’re pretty darn conservative. And they ain’t voting for Democrats. A similar fate has befallen many conservatives who’ve raised their kids in extremely liberal places like San Francisco.

In The Righteous Mind (2012), Jonathan Haidt maintains that your politics are also to some extent innate. Some people are, by nature, more likely to be conservative, whilst others are more likely to be liberal. The same is probably true of libertarianism. Indeed, perhaps more so. Because libertarianism seems to resonate primarily with people of a similar stamp—people whose brains are wired in a particular way—people who are exceptionally rational, and exceptionally good at systematization. Regardless, biology isn’t necessarily destiny.

11875192_10153113315606989_1284253517640055691_oPeople can change. It’s not as common as we’d like to believe it is, but it happens. Many of capitalism’s champions fell away from the faith during The Great Depression. The manifest failures of the Soviet Union had a similar effect on the left. Experience, especially hard experience, can change your politics, sometimes dramatically, overriding the influence of your parents and your environment, as well as whatever innate tendencies you were born with. This is what Irving Kristol had in mind when he defined a conservative as “a liberal who’s been mugged by reality.” It’s what Tom Wolfe had in mind when he defined a liberal as “a conservative who’s been arrested.” And it’s what Aaron Haspel had in mind when he defined a libertarian as “anyone who’s tried to start a business.” Much as I love to hear about thoughtful conversions such as these—based on reason, rationality, and reflection—I doubt they’re the human norm.

Most of us change our minds without even realizing that we’ve changed our minds. We can do so, with relative ease, because most of us aren’t really committed to our political ideas. We’ve never even bothered to think them through. What we’re really committed to is the particular role we happen to play in the political drama of everyday life. If you like being the most liberal person in your circle of friends—or the most radical person, or the most conservative person—you’re probably far more committed to that role than you are to your politics. Likewise, if you habitually play the part of the political peacemaker in the story of your life—the moderate, who brings people together, and helps them find common ground—you’re probably far more committed to that role than you are to your politics.

When the herd moves in one direction, most of us fall into line without even realizing that we’re falling into line. As Aaron Haspel puts it in Everything (2015): “Every contemporary freethinker would believe in Christianity if born in medieval England, and slavery if born in ancient Rome.” Alas, we’ve never been especially good at being free or thinking well.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

Saudi Barbaria

saudi_arabia-flag-with-swordSaudi Arabia is like that degenerate junkie you see everyday on your way to work, the one who’s always getting worse but never seems to die. Every time you think he’s hit rock bottom, he does something so depraved and disgusting, like mugging an old lady on her way home from church, that you shake your head in disbelief and mumble: “Wow! New low, dude, new low.” If you doubt me, consider the following: a government-run newspaper in Saudi Arabia recently attacked Iran for allowing Jews to live in Iran. Yes, you read that correctly: live. There are about 20,000 Jews living in Iran right now. I can’t imagine that life is especially easy for Iranian Jews, but at least they have full citizenship rights; the Saudis don’t even allow Jews to visit Saudi Arabia!* Makes me sick to think that my country just signed a $15-billion arms deal with this disgusting regime—which still beheads people, in public, for things like sorcery. Is Saudi Arabia even a country? Or is it really just a family business masquerading as a nation state.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

*If you’ve got an Israeli government stamp on your passport or you’re openly Jewish, you’re not allowed to enter Saudi Arabia. That being said, apparently, in recent years, they’ve had a sort of don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy for highly-skilled Jewish guest workers.

A Montreal Moment

First Alex said: “Trying to watch three straight hours of Mixed Martial Arts is like trying to watch three straight hours of porn. After ten minutes, you’re like, dude, I’m done, seriously, I’m done. Can we turn this shit off?” Then Sophia looked up and said: “Heaven help us.” To which Belinda responded: “Why. Even. Bother?” Stretch just laughed: “Lighten up, friendly assassins. Have another brew.” Soup shook his head and said: “I’ve really gotta stop fucking below my pay-grade.” And everyone laughed, everyone but Blue. He was light years away, on the other end of the room, staring out the window, and fingering his confirmation cross absentmindedly. The River had his full attention. The view from Soup’s overpriced bachelor pad really was second to none. He smiled and turned to his friends: “Animism’s what happens to monotheism when it moves to Montreal.”

3436e1419052478o9056

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)

14359149_10153997409147683_6468728265552459049_nOh Leonard, sweet poet, sweet priest, thanks for teaching me how to find reverence in an irreverent age; thanks for teaching me how to slow down and take the world seriously; and thanks for teaching me how to take off my shoes and remember, that this place, the place where you are, is always sacred ground.

Oh Leonard, sweet poet, sweet priest, nothing has ever summarized the heart of your message for me more than this passage from The Book of Exodus: “God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.”

Oh Leonard, sweet poet, sweet priest, you didn’t visit the golden cities of our Judaeo-Christian past like a tourist; you strolled their streets, at a leisurely pace, with the telltale swagger of a homeboy; and you touched so many perfect bodies with your mind.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

Noblesse Oblige

14670885_10154088530547683_644093784338662253_nBeing rich in a place that’s not uniformly rich is sort of like being rich in a large extended family: you’re made aware on a fairly regular basis of how fortunate you’ve been. Does this mean you have to give your wealth away? Divvy it up? Of course not. But it does mean that (a) you’re far more likely to have a realistic assessment of how different classes live; (b) you’re far more likely to be swayed by the notion that “to whom much is given, much is required”; and (c) you’re far less likely to get caught up in the delusions of the global upper class.

By contrast, when rich people start living in rich-people neighborhoods, vacationing in rich-people resorts, shopping in rich-people malls, and sending their kids to rich-people private schools, all of this much-needed perspective goes out the window. For instance, I had a student whose family owns a helicopter and four houses tell me, in all seriousness, that her family was middle class. None of the millionaires and billionaires who built Canada would have ever said anything this stupid.

Paul Martin, a billionaire who was for a time prime minister of Canada, walked around my neighborhood without bodyguards when I was a kid, and he was a local elected official. He knew what was going on at every level of society. Used to come to my hockey games and talk to the dads in the stands. He would find the repulsive arguments of our cloistered One Percent thoroughly unconvincing. His public service was based on the much maligned “noblesse oblige” model. We could do much worse. Indeed, we have. The ethics of the 21st-century rich were inadvertently summarized by Drake in Nothing Was the Same (2013): “I’mma worry ’bout me, give a fuck about you!”

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)