Three years ago I had the pleasure to attend a talk between Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson at Cooper Union in New York City (my first time in New York City as an adult, which was a story in itself), moderated by New York Times columnist Mark Bittman. Wanting to quote a particular exchange between Berry and Jackson for a recent post here on From Filmers to Farmers I listened to the audio recording of the event to transcribe what I was after. While I was able to locate the sought after passage, I was aghast to find out that my favourite portion of the entire event was absent from the publicly available recording, something that was relevant to this post you're currently reading. So not only do I unfortunately not remember the lead-up to the particular exchange between Berry and Bittman, but I'm also forced to quote from memory. As I recall:
Bittman: You're a rock star.
Berry [quietly and sombrely]: No.
That got a bit of a giggle out of me. But as my sense of humour's fortune would have it, Bittman wasn't about to give up so easily.
Bittman: Yes, yes! You're a rock star, you're a rock star!
Eschewing an elaborate retort or explanation, and even more quietly and sombrely the second time around, Berry lowered his head, ever so slightly shook it, and once again simply said –
Well that was just too much for me, and as I kid you not that that was one of the funniest things I'd ever seen and heard in my life, I couldn't help but instantly burst out with an appropriately over-the-top boisterous laugh. Thing is, and as I just as quickly noticed, not a single other person in the entire audience was laughing as well – not even a peep. So just as fast as I started laughing I somehow managed to contain my convulsions, kind of clearing my throat and sheepishly hoping that my tiny outburst could somehow be disguised and confused for a weird sounding cough.
As readers of this blog may recall, nearly six months ago to the day I posted the fifth installment of the ongoing Dr. Pooper Papers series, Make America Poopable Again: The Great Toilet Debate That Wasn't. That piece worked off of the lacklustre transgender toilet debate that had been going on in the United States at the time, pointing out that the debate that wasn't going on was one over the usage of the modern, industrial flush toilet versus the ecological practice of using compost toilets. That post, unfortunately (albeit rather unsurprisingly), didn't quite catch on.
Nonetheless, American politics seems to have progressed from its ill coverage of doodoo to having its president-elect recently take the piss out of the entire nation, which in this topsy-turvy world of the fakery of faked "fake news" may or may not actually be true. That all being so, I realize that Mr. Shit Face's Dr. Pooper's depiction with Donald Trump and Barack Obama in the first "Great Debate" post six months ago didn't quite stir up the conversation about our human waste fiasco as I'd hoped, so here's to hoping that Mr. Please Don't Pee On My Face Dr. Peeper might have a different effect.
Yes, I've read the headlines, and once again – although perhaps a bit more so than previous iterations – the previous year (2016) was one for fawning over many-a-departed pop stars. David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, and many others. Pop stars aren't really my thing, but if that stuff floats your dinghy, well, all the best with that. In the meantime, 2016 was also the year that several luminaries with a more agrarian bent also bade their farewell, beginning with the co-founder of Permaculture, Bill Mollison. Just a couple of weeks ago one of Permaculture's most respected and more recent practitioners and teachers, Toby Hemenway, also made an all-too-early departure. But along with these, 2016 also saw us lose an agrarian outside the world of Permaculture, that somebody being the aptly named Contrary Farmer, Gene Logsdon.
Tis the season for presidential pardons, and all throughout the land the peasants are calling for their Caesar to release not Barabbas this time but the other guy. The "other guy" isn't exactly Jesus of course, but he is nonetheless rather well known for staunchly "speaking truth to power". I'll avoid a re-cap of the shenanigans at play, instead summing it all up by pointing out that yes, the "other guy" – Edward Snowden – did most certainly break the law. However, is breaking the law always such a bad thing? As Martin Luther King Jr. put it,
To accept passively an unjust system is to cooperate with that system; thereby the oppressed become as evil as the oppressor. Non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. The oppressed must never allow the conscience of the oppressor to slumber.
King's and Snowden's country, the United States, has a bit of a history when it comes to preferring freedom from obtrusive government authority as well as of noncompliance when it comes to unjust laws. This began of course with the Boston Tea Party, which was not only an illegal act of disobedience but eventually led to revolution and freedom (of sorts) from Great Britain. Proceeding this were abolitionists who refused to bow down to Fugitive Slave laws, followed by the Civil Rights Movement, and more. On the other hand, what Adolf Hitler did to Jews, political dissidents and other "miscreants" was perfectly legal. In other words, there's lawful and unlawful, but there's also right and wrong.
As you may have read a couple of weeks ago, the Washington Post published an article entitled "Russian Propaganda Effort Helped Spread 'Fake News' During Election, Experts Say", in which it cited a report by a group calling itself PropOrNot. According to the Post,
PropOrNot’s monitoring report... identifies more than 200 websites as routine peddlers of Russian propaganda during the election season.
In one way or another I'm familiar with about a quarter of the sites listed, perhaps one or two of which I occasionally visit. Two of them have actually published From Filmers to Farmers (FF2F) posts in the past (Truthout and OpEdNews) and a third called an FF2F post hyperbolic (!) while providing a link in its daily list of to-read articles (Naked Capitalism). That aside, what I was interested to see was whether or not there were any blogs or sites in PropOrNot's list that had a history of writing about peak oil and/or the collapse of industrial civilization. After a quick scan I didn't notice anything, but after doing a more thorough look while checking the Alexa rankings of some of PropOrNot's listed sites I did a double-take – "Oil Geopolitics? Say What!?" Scrolling back over to the Js, yup, (Journal of the) New Eastern Outlook was there as well. For those who don't know what I might be getting at, I'll try and explain.
According to a well known actress by the name of Amy Schumer (second cousin to Chuck Schumer, the Democratic apparatchik disliked by some for his alleged ties to Wall Street), "People who voted for [Trump] are weak" and a bunch of "kicking and screaming babies". Which is a bit rich coming from a liberal, a person who is supposedly against monolithically generalizing groups of people – Muslims, immigrants, gays, etc. – but has no problem monolithically labelling voters of the opposition as what might as well be deemed a bunch of degenerates (or "irredeemable" "deplorables", as Hillary Clinton described "half" of them). Putting things a bit more diplomatically, former British prime minister David Cameron stated while still in office that proposals of Trump's were "divisive, stupid and wrong", to which Trump, in pure Trumpian Aikido-styles, twisted around and replied with "I'm not stupid, OK?"
So let me ask you this: Who's the more stupiderist here? The stupid ones that pulled the levers and voted in I'm not stupid, or the stupid ones who should have known that the stupid were actually stupid enough to vote in I'm not stupid and so stupidly put in their stupidest candidate who was bound to lose against the only (I'm not) stupid candidate as stupidly stupid as their stupidest?
For some time now I've been toying with the idea of Donald Trump as future triager-in-chief – instead of "you're fired!", "you're triaged!" I nonetheless couldn't help but think that said interpretation was likely the result of seeing the world through triage-coloured glasses and that I was perhaps missing out on some other underlying story. So I decided to err on the side of caution and avoided writing a post for a post's sake.
While then listening to the third debate, and upon hearing Trump's reply to Hillary Clinton's accusation of his making light of a physically disabled reporter – "Wrong!" – for the umpteenth time I couldn't help but burst out laughing at the inanity of it all. (Not to say that I'm some insensitive clod – the audience itself laughed [and was rebuked] upon Trump's declaration that "Nobody has more respect for women than I do. Nobody.") In fact, I laughed so hard and in such a way that it reminded me of how I used to laugh at the behaviour of an old friend of mine of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) notoriety, which then reminded me of Donald Trump's involvement with the WWE over the years. As I then mulled over (and explained in part 1 via my conception of World Electioneering Entertainment [WEE]), could it be possible that Trump's antics are actually a big act? Or more specifically, and to really go down the rabbit hole with this one, could it be possible that Trump already knows he's going to lose the election, and not simply so that the presidency can be handed to Clinton but to create a grandiose distraction? Yes, that's pretty far-fetched, but what's more zany – thinking this has all been real, or to think that a fair amount of what's been going on has been contrived?
As probably anyone will attest, the greatest spectacle of the past year – if not of the past eon – has been none other than the United States presidential election, something that I now like to refer to as World Electioneering Entertainment (WEE). Because to properly understand this election (and its nascent title) requires, I believe, an understanding of the WWE – World Wrestling Entertainment. I've personally never had a liking for any of that wrestling stuff, but I am nonetheless intimately familiar with it all thanks to an old high school friend of mine – who goes by the nom de plume of Jason Sensation, but whom I knew as Jay – who has been a wrestler and impersonator in the WWE and other wrestling federations for nearly 20 years now. Follow along with this and the next two posts and – partially in thanks to my exposure to my old friend's antics and the mechanics of the WWE that he often explained to me – you'll see why I've come to the conclusion that this United States presidential election – WEE 2016 – might very well be the greatest con that any of us have ever beared witness to.
You don't need to tell me that some people out there take film rather seriously. Sometimes ridiculously seriously – "film for film's sake, art for art's sake!" Fortunately, and as far as I'm aware, Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis only fall into the former category. Nonetheless, in a conversation with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now! that followed the release of the Leap Manifesto and the documentary This Changes Everything, Klein, Lewis and Gonzalez pretty much trip over each other while extolling the amazing things that film can (supposedly) do:
Klein: I think the thing that a film can do so much better than a book, frankly, is really bring us into the heart of the social movements... And, you know, it's one thing to read about it – "Oh, these movements are rising up" – but it's something very different to be immersed in the energy of social movements.
Lewis: There's another... thing that film can do that books just can't: The look on Naomi's face in the cutaway in the climate deniers' conference is pretty unforgettable. That alone was worth the experience.
Gonzalez: Well, the other thing a film can do, obviously, is capture, in a way that a book really can't, the actual beauty of the planet that is being violated by this rampant industrialization.
Ask around and you'll eventually come across somebody that will tell you that (in certain respects) film schools are a waste of time and money. Frankly, you can count me as one of those people, although I don't say that as somebody who attended the Film Studies program at Ryerson University in Toronto for four years (which last I heard was the most competitive of all university programs in Canada to get into, although perhaps that was just an urban rumour). I say that as somebody who prior to attending university figured that although practice is generally a very useful thing to partake in, there are some things that to a large degree you've either got or you don't, and which practice can only help iron out a few kinks. As far as I've always seen it, and much like being a top-notch 100-meter dash sprinter (which most of us can never be), filmmaking – directing in particular – is one of those things. That being said, as far as I've noticed there is actually one "film school" out there that truly is above and beyond the rest, and which I inadvertently had the "fortunate privilege" of "attending."
That started at the age of 4-years-old or so when I was bought another one of those random toys that parents purchase for their children, this gift consisting of the Fisher Price Movie Viewer and Movie Viewer Theater, as well as several cartridges. To my "benefit" my parents never paid much attention to my utter fascination with them, probably because they were just glad that they'd found something that could reliably get their kid to sit down and avoid landing himself in the hospital for the umpteenth time. (When I was 6-years old and my family moved houses my mother chose the town that had the hospital in it.)
Avi Lewis, Stephen Lewis, Michele Landsberg & Naomi Klein at the This Changes Everything premiere at the Ryerson Theatre / Toronto International Film Festival (Ryerson, the university where I decided to not graduate from the film studies program)
Much as it came as a surprise to me, it's probably not very well known that Naomi Klein comes from a rather politically active family, and that she ended up marrying into a very politically active family. While Klein had a "very public feminist mother" who was notable for her anti-pornography work, her husband Avi Lewis' mother, Michele Landsberg, was not only a well-known feminist columnist for the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail for many years, but also managed to write three bestselling books. Moreover, Lewis' father, Stephen Lewis, was the leader of Ontario's (socialist) New Democratic Party (NDP) for several years in the 1970s (to go along with later stints with the United Nations), which coincided with the period when his father, David Lewis, was leader of Canada's federal NDP. (For those who aren't aware, the NDP is one of Canada's three major political parties, and whose leader that preceded David Lewis, Tommy Douglas, helped usher in Canada's health care system.) But although Avi Lewis shares many of his father's and grandfather's leanings, he chose not to follow in their footsteps. As he put it many years ago,
As far as making the arena of politics the main stage, I could do it, but I don't feel a compulsion to. As far as I'm concerned, winning has replaced change as the goal of the party and that's wrong.
So not to shirk Klein's own accomplishments in the slightest, but she most certainly has some rather accomplished families to draw upon. Having said that, I do kind of wonder if having such a strong political background and leaning can somewhat muddy one's perceptions a bit when it comes to interpreting the effects and implications of fossil fuel depletion. As Klein put it a few days ago,
It has been one year and one week since a coalition of dozens of organizations and artists launched The Leap Manifesto, a short vision statement about how to transition to a post-carbon economy while battling social and economic injustice. A lot has changed: a new federal government, a new international reputation, a new tone... But when it comes to concrete action on lowering emissions... much remains the same. Our new government has adopted the utterly inadequate targets of the last government.
In other words, one year on and the issue is that (the) government – a new government at that! – is still the problem. But to look at this a bit differently, and to quote George Mobus (author of the book Principles of Systems Science) from his blog Question Everything,
People have gotten used to thinking that solutions come from politics – having the right officials in place means that they will solve the problems.
Over the years I've had the pleasure of chatting with Naomi Klein on a few different occasions; there was that first Prairie Festival at the Land Institute in Kansas that we both happened to attend in 2010, that second Prairie Festival which she spoke at in 2011, and the opening night talk she gave at the Toronto Reference Library the day before her latest book (This Changes Everything) was released – not to mention all those other times I've seen her speaking in Toronto (where we both used to live for several years). And although I've only very briefly spoken once to Klein's filmmaker-husband Avi Lewis (at that second Prairie Festival), there was that time in Toronto that Lewis and I stood next to each other for about half an hour and managed to say not a single word to each other. But I'll get to that in part 2.
While Lewis is known for his work hosting various television programs on MuchMusic, CityTV, CBC, and Al Jazeera English, as well as for directing a few documentaries, it is Klein that is the more well known of the two, mostly due to her books No Logo, The Shock Doctrine, and This Changes Everything. That being said, one year ago this week – and at last year's Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) – the Lewis-directed documentary This Changes Everything had its world-premiere, an event that coincided with the release of the Leap Manifesto.
The Leap Manifesto, which received much media coverage upon its release, is a 15-point plan for tackling the climate change dilemma we're currently faced with, particularly in respect to Canada. However, with the Leap Manifesto's one-year anniversary being today, and with it now appearing that there isn't going to be some kind of Leap Manifesto Redux in association with this year's TIFF, I'd say it's time to declare that the Leap Manifesto was in fact a colossal letdown. To explain, I'll start by conveying a little chat I had with a fellow attendee at the 2014 Age of Limits (AoL) conference.