Monthly Archives: November 2021

Dear Reader

As we draw closer to the new year, I’ve been reflecting more and more about the stories we humans tell ourselves and each other.  But there seems to be a greater urgency now. Perhaps it is due to me getting older and coming to understand time as fleeting. But I think there is more.

I believe we are living in an Age of Convergence. Catastrophic climate change, the pandemic, ecological devastation, the ruthless predations of late capitalism and increasing belligerence between world powers competing for the last resources on earth have pushed us to the brink of ecological devastation, societal collapse and war. Billionaires, not satisfied with their over-stuffed coffers, are now salivating for the conquest of space. And a war, whether it be cold or hot, seems to be brewing between the United States, China and the Russian Federation. No one really knows how all of this will play out or how fast, but there are signs we should all be paying attention to.

Given this, I believe it is imperative, now more than ever before, to retell the story of who we are. To wrest the narrative from the clutches of the misanthropes, the corporations, the war mongers, the avaricious, and the apathetic. Feeling powerless in this time of ruthless despotism, corruption and violence, where the very edifice of democracy appears to be crumbling, is understandable. But despite the tricks played on us by political parties, corporate entities and social media giants, we still have our voice.

This is what I strive to use this site for. I try to tell a different story. To use my voice to amplify the marginalized or disappeared. And I aim to connect even deeper with what it means to be human. To be just one species in a chorus of countless others. To be in possession of a spirit that transcends this world, yet is intimately wedded to it. I want to look even more to the Global South. To Indigenous ways of thinking and being. I am hoping to expand this even further in the coming year, with more essays, stories, poems, songs, art and conversations with others who believe another world is worth fighting for, and that we can do it together.

I made a commitment years ago to make most of my writing accessible to all. Everything here is free. But of course, this does not mean it is free for me.

If you are able, please consider a small donation to this site. I understand so many of us are struggling. As with previous fundraisers, this one does not place any requirements upon the reader. Whether one is able to help out financially or not, all articles will remain free, and no government or corporate entity will have sway over any of the content or what is written.

Thank you all so much for taking the time to read this. May you experience abundance and great joy this coming year. And I look forward to you coming back here.

Kenn Orphan, November 2021


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*Title photo is of Maasai storytelling and is by Joan de la Malla.

The Dehumanization of Ahmaud Arbery

Without a doubt, the outcome of the Ahmaud Arbery murder trial in Georgia was a relief for many reasons. But the closing remarks made by Laura Hogue, the defense attorney representing Gregory McMichael, understandably sparked outrage. Hogue said:

“Turning Ahmaud Arbery into a victim after the choices that he made does not reflect the reality of what brought Ahmaud Arbery to Satilla Shores in his khaki shorts with no socks to cover his long, dirty toenails.”  

There is a long legacy of dehumanizing Black people and people of colour in the United States. It isn’t just confined to the south, but it stems from centuries of slavery where Black people weren’t viewed as fully human, both in the legal and cultural sense. And vile, racist stereotypes have played an important role in reinforcing systemic racism.

Jim Crow, in particular, was a cruel parody of Black men, casting them as dirty and shiftless. It would later become the unofficial moniker for sweeping, brutal, discriminatory laws against Blacks in the American south. Hogue has drawn from that reprehensible well of degradation. And it is difficult to believe she did not know what she was doing. Her mention of Ahmaud’s toenails was unnecessary, but for tapping into a generalized, entrenched racial animus within American society.

Ahmaud was unarmed. He was running away from three armed white men. His supposed “crime” was being in the predominantly white neighbourhood of Satilla Shores. But all of this is rendered questionable in a country where gun rights, born of the slave patrols, and self defense are primarily reserved for white people. Kyle Rittenhouse is one example of how this works. Philando Castile is another.

Across the US white supremacy is on trial. The remarks made by Laura Hogue are emblematic of this and the deep-seated disdain that so many white Americans still harbour against Black people. The message is clear: Black people are still placed under suspicion for being in certain places while being Black. And if they resist any white reaction to this or to their own execution, their very humanity will be put on trial.

Kenn Orphan, November 2021

Toward the Undiscovered Country

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” –Hamlet by William Shakespeare.

This quote from one of Shakespeare’s most famous of plays has been debated many times over the years. And I think that this is so because it taps into something unconscious within so many of us. The character Horatio was a skeptic. He required evidence of a thing for that thing to exist. But when he saw the ghost that haunted Hamlet, apparently that of Hamlets dead father, he was frightened. It created a great feeling of unease within him.

Hamlet, himself, was uneasy. After all, his dead father’s ghost told him he was murdered by his brother, Hamlet’s uncle Claudius. What was Hamlet to make of this accusation? And what was he to make of this apparition? Was it a ghost, a demon of some kind, or some other manifestation? Of course, the story does not end well for Hamlet or his royal family, but the quote is powerful because, like all good quotes, it stands alone. It has a presence that transcends context and the literary work itself. Indeed, this one has endured centuries, if only now relegated mostly to the province of memes.

I have been thinking a lot about that quote lately. If one is being honest, to take even a minute to try and comprehend the scale and complexity of this universe is overwhelming. Certainly, it cannot be done in this unit of time we call a minute. It cannot be done in any measure of human time or with the mere five senses we are told we are limited to. But there is a space that is beyond this one that our corporeal selves inhabit. I can sense it. Many can.

But experiencing forces and realms beyond this one has never been welcomed within the lofty precincts of Western intelligentsia. And it has only been recently that some of the Western left has embraced the importance of recognizing and respecting Indigenous ways of thinking about our existence, spirituality, and our relation to each other and the earth as a living organism.

Still, to admit that one has been witness to what may be colloquially defined as the supernatural can mean a kind of social suicide in those circles. One loses credibility and intellectual capital in the world of the staunch materialists and rational thinkers. Jejune, superstitious and credulous outcasts to be placated, ignored or marginalized.

I have seen that kind of modern day shunning many times. A turning of ones’ gaze because the subject becomes too metaphysical, too spiritual or too supernatural in nature. And because these things can often border on irrationality or even madness, it is understandable why this is so. If one is too thick with the desire to experience existence beyond the confines of ones’ skin, they are delving into murky, strange and perilous waters. And that strikes terror in the hearts of those who want their universe to be complete, knowable and under control.

Delving into the transcendent cannot be tolerated in closed systems of thinking. And those who do open themselves to it are often derisively referred to as being “woo-woo.” Yet it is in this way that the strict materialist is much like the religious fundamentalist. They share a similar disdain for and fear of the unknown, as well as anyone who dares share their experiences regarding it. They abhor any questioning of the accepted dogma of the day, be it scientific or religious. Mysticism has been relegated to the outer margins of human experience. Not to be taken serious by the serious-minded. Because of this, it can be difficult to broach the topic in a serious manner these days.  

It doesn’t help that we are living in an era of mass confusion. Of anti-science crusades, far-right death cults and unhinged conspiracy theories. It doesn’t help that this is exacerbated by charlatans, political hacks, snake oil salesmen and a social media ecosystem whose algorithms continually obfuscate reality itself by design. Mountains of junk food, junk science, junk spirituality and junk culture have produced a sort of miasma of distraction. We have become malnourished in meaning and the truth. But these are distractions that desperate people cling to in a world that has been purposefully denuded of its sacredness. A world we are constantly informed we are separate from. Above and superior to. Even most contemporary stories or films about ghosts are made for easy consumption. Digestible, even momentarily satisfying, but devoid of nutrition. And nearly all of them are meant to provoke fear, not expand our understanding or consciousness.

But the ghost is one of the most enduring archetypical features of the human story. And I think this because it is the very emblem of grief. When we strip the ghost of this essential cloak of grief, we render it useless. It can no longer freight the grief that we will all experience on a visceral as well as spiritual level in this life. The ghost is our grief suspended in the weightlessness of all that is unknown. From the beginning of human history, its importance has been enshrined in all that is sacred, because the ghost reminds us that what we have is temporary. It exists outside of time. It is immortal, yet it remains unsatisfied. Forever longing and forever aggrieved. It cannot move on because it carried its grief from this world into the next.

I have thought a lot about my own experiences with ghosts. Of how I’ve felt them brush past me or hover over me in the darkness. How a sense of dread comes over me like a cold draft from under the floorboards. Begging me to look at them. To see them. And I have thought a lot about grief and how we face it. Like everyone else, I have lost loved ones. I have felt that punch in my chest, like all the oxygen has been suctioned out of your body, a pain that is almost indescribable. And I have thought a lot about where we are, standing on the precipice of extinction with only insane, rapacious and indifferent leaders to rule over our collective fate. I have contemplated the implications of the thin ribbon of air, water and life that embraces this rock in space we call earth, and how it is poised to dissipate before our eyes thanks to the accumulated abuses our species has heaped on it. And what does this look like in the grand scale of geologic time? A mote of dust in an eternal succession of epochs?

And I’ve also been thinking about Hermes. That quick, virile messenger of the gods. The trickster psychopomp whose aegis we need to ferry us from this realm to the next. We know that death is a certainty for all of us, we just don’t know when it will occur with any preciseness. In this way, I’ve come to appreciate the unknowing as a gift, especially welcome now in this era of deceit, certainty, avarice and sadism. Of crumbling world powers, floods, fires, drought, mass migrations, war, famine and ecological collapse. Of knowing things are unraveling, yet not knowing when or how long we have left. And arriving, through the passage of grief, to a peace about it all.

That peace does not mean apathy about the suffering in this world. It does not mean disconnection or giving up either. It is a place of clarity, a respect of ghosts and their message, an embrace of curiosity and wonder, of compassion and action, and an acceptance that not everything can be known. That the unknown need not be something to fear. That the ending of one world often means the beginning of another. And like the stars and planets and every other thing that exists, we are a part of it all in one form or another. 

Horatio is like so many of us when we are confronted by the unknown. He saw a ghost and was unsettled by that experience. I think most of us can commiserate with that kind of unease in our gut. When our worldview is turned on its head we are left with a choice. We can close our eyes and pretend that nothing has changed, as so many of us do all the time, or we can open them and adjust our vision to the new surroundings. The latter offers us a marvelous opportunity for adventure that can expand our consciousness into, as Hamlet averred, an “undiscovered country.”

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” There are, indeed.

Kenn Orphan, November 2021

*Title art piece is “The Ghost of the King Appearing to Hamlet, Horatio and Guards” (Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 4), 19th century, anonymous, French.

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

Critical Race Theory Playing Out in Real Time

“People tell me because I have this case against the city I’m all right. But I’m not all right. I’m messed up. I know that I might see some money from this case, but that’s not going to help me mentally. I’m mentally scarred right now. That’s how I feel. [There] are certain things that changed about me, and they might not [change] back. Before I went to jail, I didn’t know about a lot of stuff, and, now that I’m aware, I’m paranoid. I feel like I was robbed of my happiness.” – Kalief Browder

Over the past year, there has been massive backlash in the States and elsewhere, even among a few on the left, over the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in schools. Despite what many conservatives might claim, CRT has never been taught in elementary, middle or high school. It is an legal analytical framework which actually criticizes and challenges the way in which American liberalism has historically addressed racial issues. Unsurprisingly, few of its most vocal detractors understand this, or even want to. But here is a simple way to understand how it plays out in real time.

At the age of 16, Kalief Browder was sent to Rikers Island, a prison complex for adults notorious for its rampant violence, for allegedly stealing a backpack. He was held there without trial from 2010 to 2013 and put into solitary confinement for two of those years. While incarcerated, he was repeatedly beaten by gang members and correctional officers. At least once, he was handcuffed while assaulted by guards. He attempted suicide at least three times. And just two years after he was released, Kalief hanged himself at his parent’s home after suffering from major depression and PTSD.

In contrast, at age 17 Kyle Rittenhouse traveled across state borders to deliberately enter a Black Lives Matter protest fully armed with an AR-15 rifle. There he killed two people and attempted to kill a third. Claiming self defense later, he was able to walk right past the police with his rifle strung across his shoulder. They declined apprehending him despite witnesses shouting to them that he had just shot three people. In addition to this, some of these officers were seen fraternizing with him earlier in the evening.

Rittenhouse was able to drive home across state borders that night. He was not pursued. After he was arrested, he was placed in a juvenile detention facility. He was able to get out on $2 million bail in November, money mostly raised by conservatives through a legal defense fund. After being released, he went to a pub where he met with members of the Proud Boys, a far right, white supremacist militia, where he sang their anthem and proudly flashed white power signs, smiling before snapping cameras. The presiding judge of this trial forbid the use of the word “victim” to describe the two men gunned down by Rittenhouse. But he did allow them to be referred to as “rioters,” “looters” or “arsonists.” 

If this example isn’t enough to demonstrate how systemic racism plays out in real time in America, then perhaps this will. As I write, the murder trial of three white men accused of killing black jogger, Ahmaud Arbery, is taking place in the state of Georgia. These men hunted down Ahmaud and shot him at point blank range. Despite the judge admitting that he found “intentional discrimination” in jury selection (only one black juror was selected) the judge nonetheless allowed the trial to proceed. Throughout the trial, the defense attorneys have made numerous racist remarks.

Of course, there are countless more examples, from Eric Garner to Breonna Taylor to Elijah McClain to George Floyd. Only the ignorant or deliberately obtuse would not see how the system is set up to discriminate along racial boundaries, as well as class.

CRT isn’t meant to divide people. It isn’t meant to derail class consciousness either, and any argument in this regard is horrendously misguided. It is true that race is an invented category intended to maintain class hierarchy. But it is also true that its rancid legacy persists today. And poor working class white people are also adversely affected by this sadistic arrangement of power and disenfranchisement.

CRT is only a tool, however flawed, for understanding how this all works in a systemic way. It helps provide a framework to address disparities, some of which I listed above. To dismiss it as divisive might be risible, if it were not so catastrophic to so many lives.

Kenn Orphan, November 2021  

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!

Capitalism is Dying, but don’t expect the patient to accept the prognosis

“Capitalism, Marx said, never went beyond those economic models where a few dominate a majority. Capitalism just replaced the dichotomies of master/slave and lord/serf with a new one. A dominating and exploiting minority was still there, but it had a new name: employers.” ― Richard D. Wolff, Understanding Marxism

Perhaps you’ve noticed something. There have been massive staffing shortages throughout the US and elsewhere. Workers are walking out or just not showing up. Little analysis has been given to this phenomenon outside of left circles, but some have dubbed it “Striketober.” How ever it is termed, this is what late capitalism looks like as it dies.

How long did we think this would go on for? Millions of lives full of monotony, drudgery and economic lack and hardship, while billionaires jaunt off to the upper atmosphere in penis shaped rockets to the cheers of most mainstream media. But along with what we are witnessing there is a disconnect.

I have written a lot about how wealthy liberals in the US have affixed blinders to their political senses before and since the last election cycle. Biden won, that is all. But his political agency has been stymied at every turn, often by members of his own party. And few liberals seem to be aware that Trump is rising meteorically in popularity among the 74+ million Americans who voted for him last time. 74+ million votes, and there are only 168 million Americans eligible to vote. He has the Republican arm of the ruling duopoly in his tight grip. How many Republican lawmakers have seen their popularity and influence suffer gravely for simply condemning the January 6th coup attempt?

We can hope that the increasing frustration of workers will result in a revolution of sorts. A “times up” moment for capitalism. But this would be at the expense of understanding how labor movements have been crushed in the West. The States has one of the bloodiest records when it comes to suppression of workers. Yes, there have been many gains. But how many Americans are aware of the massacres carried out by government forces and militias? How many understand the lyrics of Woody Guthrie songs, or have ever even heard of the music legend? This imposed ignorance is by design. Civil rights can be celebrated. Labor rights? Not so much.

The American Empire is the seat of capitalist power in the world today, and its militaristic viciousness is unmatched when it comes to protecting the “interests” of that power. A 20-year long war against Afghanistan and the ruins of Iraq attest to this. But mass graves in South and Central America also demonstrate the empire’s unbridled brutality against anyone who dares oppose its economic and political hegemony. In short, we know what the American ruling class is capable of. And we would be foolish to think they would not use everything in their arsenal to protect their enormous coffers as things become more desperate.

And thus comes the specter of fascism. With a labor force increasingly atomized and pushed to the brink, and a Democratic Party unable and unwilling to address the very dire material conditions decimating vast swaths of the population, it is a threat that we ignore at our peril. Trump and those around him may not understand the term fascism, but they understand the alienation and angst among much of the population. They understand the power of nationalism, scapegoating and twisting facts. And when push comes to shove, so do corporations. Too many have been bamboozled into thinking they have evolved or are progressive-minded. Similar to agencies like the CIA or the military sector, their woke window dressing has been an effective one, focusing on the politics of identity rather than the vast inequities and injustices that their very existence perpetuate. Corporations are about profit, and they profit most when they are married to the institutions and power of the state. Without a doubt, the trajectory of capitalism, if not thwarted, is total fascism.

Attorney Steven Donziger is a current example of this. He won against Chevron-Texaco. Against Big Oil for creating a toxic sludge wasteland in the pristine Amazon rainforest killing countless Indigenous people and species, some of which we have never even seen before, and refusing to take any responsibility for it. Yet it was he who was punished. First jailed in his home, now in prison, on charges of contempt of a contemptable system. Next to the persecution of Julian Assange, the conviction of Steven Donziger counts as one of the most flagrant examples of the corruption of the US judicial system. It proves, without any pretense of illusion, that the judiciary is merely a handmaiden to corporations.

The stirring among American workers, and scores of others around the world, is encouraging. This is the result of decades of neoliberal policies that denuded the commons and replaced them with nothing but austerity, deregulation and privatization. And the stakes have never been higher. The current arrangement of economic and political power is a cult of death, for us and for the biosphere on which we all depend. It is a system of codified cruelty that benefits an ever-shrinking class of the super rich who become more and more detached from humanity and the needs of our besieged planet by the day.

There is no reformation that will alter the character of this arrangement. Our only hope lies in euthanizing the beast before it does even more damage. In uniting workers around the world and across all sectors of society in common cause. Because as capitalism dies it will not go down gracefully. It will lash out violently at anything in its path as it flails. And we should not expect any of its most ardent adherents to abandon the faith either. Indeed, most of them haven’t even realized that its prognosis is a terminal one.

Kenn Orphan   November 2021

As an independent writer and artist Kenn Orphan depends on donations and commissions. If you would like to support his work and this blog you can do so via PayPal. Simply click here:  DONATE

And thank you for your support and appreciation!