Author Archives: Kenn Orphan

About Kenn Orphan

Kenn Orphan is a social worker, artist, and human and environmental rights advocate.

The Queen has Peacefully Passed Away, so to Should the Era of Monarchy

Although I am not a royalist in any way, shape or form, I had nothing personal against Queen Elizabeth II. In fact, apart from Diana, I thought she had many admirable traits and was the most likeable of them all.

Now, before any fellow leftie attempts to shame me, let me say that it should be obvious that I detest feudalism and the very notion of the “divine right of kings.” I am a republican (American friends, note the small “r”. I am NOT a supporter of the loathsome, ever-fascist US GOP/Republican Party, I simply believe that the republic is the best form of government).

But I have royalist friends and family and I understand and respect their feelings. I have no interest or desire to mock them, especially now. And I can relate to some of them because I have some fond memories, like waking up with my mom at 4am when I was a little boy just to watch the royal wedding of Diana and Charles on live broadcast. So, I get the sentimentality and glam of it all. What queer boy wouldn’t? And I also think it is an enormous waste of time attempting to shame or ridicule people for liking something like this.

That said, although it was extraordinary that the Queen lived and reigned over the UK for as long as she did, I sincerely hope it is time to put this era far behind us. King Charles, as he will be known, is a poor shadow of his mother. And he will be reigning over a kingdom that is fraught with enormous economic inequity, social strife and ecological catastrophe thanks to climate change. In fact, the UK is likely in the worst shape it has been since the days following the second world war and the dark Thatcherite era. Truss is a foreshadowing of this.

As a Canadian and, by default, subject of HM, I would like to suggest that this is the perfect time to mothball this tradition. It is one that spawned the murderous age of imperialism, which decimated Indigenous cultures and societies, thrived on the slave trade, and sparked too many wars to count. And it continues to this day. Its inherent racism has caused enormous pain, misery and horror through colonialism and ethnic cleansing. And most of it was at the behest or blessing of royalty, the so-called “bluebloods,” or the elite ruling classes.

I would say that they can keep some of the jewels and even a couple of the grand houses. I would even say a few of them can retain some of their titles so long as they have no real political power. But the feudal era is one of the darkest blots on human history. As the Queen has peacefully closed her eyes forever, that chapter of history should be peacefully closed too.

Kenn Orphan, September 2022

A Musing from a “Pathetic Empire Simp”

That is what I am, apparently. A “pathetic empire simp.” At least according to Australian writer Caitlin Johnstone.

This insult came on Twitter after I criticized her analysis of the Russian war against Ukraine by correctly pointing out that she has never been antiwar, only anti-American-war. Other wars carried out by despotic, authoritarian or imperialistic governments never get criticized in any way by Johnstone except, perhaps, occasionally in what amounts to mealy mouthed mental gymnastics, which generally end up impugning the victims of war crimes as “head-chopping jihadists” or neo-Nazis, while absolving the criminals. This isn’t a lie. A simple check into her exhaustive Twitter feed or “daily writings” demonstrates this.

Johnstone’s observations aren’t in a vacuum. Real flesh and blood human beings are in harms way thanks to Russia’s bombing campaign and invasion of Ukraine. Europe’s largest nuclear power plant is in the crosshairs. Thousands of Russian antiwar activists have been sent to prison for protesting the war, which is not be called a war but a “military intervention” under threat of prosecution of the Russian Federation.

Johnstone and her ilk represent a particular cynical strain within the erstwhile left, primarily in the US. It is the result of decades of betrayal by American institutions and the ruling, capitalist establishment. Decades of duplicity, corruption, wars of domination, toppling democratic governments, militaristic cruelty, racism, misogyny, classism, exploitation, ecocide and horrendous crimes against humanity.

But this terrible legacy of tyrannical and brutal state power didn’t appear to galvanize this set to do the hard work of international solidarity with ordinary people. What it did appear to do was cause them to think in strictly binary terms when it comes to geopolitics. Thus, solidarity was to be built with the leaders of states who had been declared enemies of the American Empire.

This solidarity does not extend, however, to the people of those states. On the contrary, these people are faceless and without agency. All of their aspirations for democracy, whether it is in Syria, Egypt or Ukraine, have been painted as pseudo “colour revolutions,” entirely constructed and implemented by the American intelligence sector. The ordinary people who gathered in squares and marched peacefully down streets were, apparently, “pathetic empire simps” for demanding an end to the tyranny of their own governments. Puppets of the American Empire who should have been grateful to their murderous leaders simply because they were the enemies of the most powerful imperial force on the planet.

This horrendous “logic” is how so many of them were able to run defense for Assad in Syria as he, with the help of Putin, bombed hospitals, schools, mosques and entire neighbourhoods to rubble using the same lie the US used to carry out war crimes: the bogus “war on terror.” When Saudi Arabia bombs Yemen or Israel commits crimes against the Palestinians, which it does on a daily basis, the erstwhile left rightly condemns it. Yet this same set jumped through hoops to deny any crime Assad committed against Palestinians in Syria. And the fact that Assad was instrumental in running CIA black sites during the Iraq War gets completely deleted from their data banks. This same defense has been extended to the CCP’s treatment of Uighurs.

This is a cynical and caustic strain of politic discourse which has infected nearly all levels of civic discourse in the US. From Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi to Donald Trump and liberal, millionaire know-nothings like Bill Maher. It thrives on invective, a generalized misanthropy, kneejerk reaction, and conspiratorial thinking, which explains the obsession with the so-called “deep state.” Of course, no serious political analyst would deny the existence or influence of clandestine, mendacious and malignant unelected agencies like the CIA, FBI or NSA. But the obsession with these nefarious agencies tends to occlude the power of mass movements to confront them and the larger problems looming for our species and countless others.

This little interaction proved something else that many colleagues and comrades have been saying about Ms. Johnstone for a long time. Dare to criticize her, even mildly, and she will respond with churlish insults and invective. Her entire modus operandi has been snark and vituperation and, as my friend and comrade Dan Hanrahan pointed out, “custom made for the sewer tunnels of social media.” I will admit that my criticism may have come across as harsh or sarcastic. But did I call her a name or use an ad hominem against her? And have we become that jaded that to even raise this question would invite a slurry of mocking laugh emojis? Perhaps, I fear, we have.

Unsurprisingly, many of her fans seem to enjoy this the most about her and follow that lead. Since this one small interaction I have received several hate emails from people using language that verges on threats. Now, this does not include all of her followers. I have several friends, in fact, who seem enamoured with her many of her observations. And it should be said that she is often correct.

She is right that the American Empire is the most powerful state force on the planet at the moment. And I have written about its evil at length for years. But this does not mean that other brutal, powerful imperial or colonial state entities do not exist. This is, whether consciously or not, a profound misunderstanding of this set, which tends to view the world narrowly from the lens of a 1980s geopolitical prism. The US may still be the most powerful, economically and militarily, but it is losing that power in real time on a planet whose biosphere is rapidly destabilizing and where the predations and loyalties of late capitalism are in a state of flux. No matter how many genuflections this segment of the online, erstwhile left perform, the enemy of my enemy is not my friend, it is the same enemy everywhere: the elite, capitalist, ruling class in EVERY country.

Building international solidarity requires real work. It requires more than internet searches or repeating the opposing narrative to the American imperial one as if it is absolute truth. It requires more than just settling for a “multipolar world” as if that were the only alternative to a unipolar one. It requires listening to real flesh and blood human beings who have lived under despotic regimes, even the ones that are the sworn enemies of the American Empire. It requires adhering to the principles of antiwar without equivocation. And daring to dream that a better world IS possible and that we must fight for it shoulder to shoulder with other human beings, rather than spend our time justifying the actions and machinations of the powerful. This, I fear, is a bridge too far for Ms. Johnstone and many of her followers. But it isn’t for this “pathetic simp.”

Kenn Orphan, September 2022

*A note to commenters, please refer to the Guidelines section of this website before posting a comment. If comments violate these terms they will be deleted without a response and the commenter permanently blocked.

*Title photo is of a Russian antiwar protestor. Thousands of Russian antiwar protestors have thrown in prison.

The Far-Right Crusade Against Human Sexuality

It has become impossible not to notice the trend. Whether it is banning the word “gay,” or banning books that contain topics related to human sexuality, or the Supreme Court decision to overturn a woman’s federal right to an abortion, the war on human sexuality and those who are sexually divergent is ramping up on multiple fronts. Even I’ve been a target of this war. Because of my outspoken advocacy for LGBTQ+ youth, I have been labeled a “groomer” by a few figures on the far right.

To be called a “groomer” in our society carries a specific weight. When the far right brands someone with this moniker it is intended to associate them with pedophiles and child abusers. A “groomer” in this context refers to a person who conditions and accustoms children to accept or normalize abuse or exploitation. The term comes from actual instances of child abuse, but recently it has been used against virtually anyone who is LGBTQ+ or an ally. And there has been an uptick in its use since the antigay legislation passed by far-right Florida governor Ron DeSantis. The intent is to terrify and silence those who dissent from a very narrow understanding of human sexuality. And this smear tactic has been employed against a wide spectrum of people, from teachers, to librarians, to healthcare providers, to drag queens.

Real child abuse is a serious and corrosive societal malady that needs to be addressed with empathy and well-funded structures of support and protection. Most of it occurs in the home by someone well known to the child. Much of it has been perpetrated by religious figures, such as priests or pastors. But this recent war on human sexuality has nothing to do with protecting children. In fact, thanks to conservative governance, many of the social supports for victims of abuse have been systematically cut and consistently underfunded or under-staffed. This has one reason: rigid social control.

There are many fronts in this war on human sexuality. Some are in the classroom, others are in the doctor’s office. Whether it is in the censoring of certain words or terms or in the legislation of transgender or women’s healthcare, the far-right is tapping into an old American angst related to ludicrous and impossible notions of purity and deviance. And the anti-porn crusade has appeared to capture that angst in an relatively easy way.

Ever since the dissemination of pornography in the modern era, there have been efforts to censor or ban it completely. Along with religious fundamentalists and evangelicals, there have also be several radical feminists, the late Andrea Dworkin being one, who sought the legal end to the production and distribution of porn. To those particular feminists, the objection was primarily due to the dehumanization and denigration of women rife within the industry. Their argument, although flawed in many ways, was understandable. Misogyny is rife in the porn industry because it is rife in society in general. But the bulk of the anti-porn crusade has been dominated by ultra-conservative evangelicals whose animus toward pornography is based solely on an extremely narrow understanding of human sexuality and its expression. And they wish to impose that worldview on everyone else in society, by any means necessary.

In a society which was founded on rigid social and religious doctrines and mores, this subject was bound to continually cause friction. And not only within religious circles. There are some who consider themselves “material realists” who reject any new understanding of our sexual diversity. But this has all too often become an excuse for bigotry, discrimination and cruelty. It is also a poor application and understanding of how science actually works. The more we discover about a certain thing, the more our understanding of what is “materially real” changes as a result. These “materialists” have often become unwitting allies to racists, anti-Semites and fascists.

A popular conspiracy theory in many white supremacist circles is that the porn industry is a Jewish plot to weaken white men and exploit white women through the normalization of interracial intercourse. The infamous white supremacist David Duke said that Jews “see pornography as a weapon of revenge for real or imagined European wrongs against Jews from the time of Romans to the modern day.” In addition to this, the anti-masturbation campaign, which is apparently a thing, is of a piece with the broader anti-porn crusade. And it, too, has links to white supremacy. In fact, sex panic among racists is no small thing. The Proud Boys, for instance, demand its members eliminate viewing porn completely and limit masturbating to once a month.

The current sex panic must be understood as a legacy of American puritanism. And the supposed protection of white women and children’s “purity” is at its core. There are many examples of how that legacy has played out over the centuries, from the Jim Crow demonization of Black men as “sexual brutes” to the persecution of homosexuals during the Red Scare. In 1977, beauty contest winner and orange juice spokesperson Anita Bryant came right out saying what it was about when she launched the “Save Our Children” campaign, which aimed at discriminating against LGBTQ+ people in housing and employment.

Today, the panic is most often reflected in chatrooms, Bible studies, camp meetings and political rallies. Many have been ensnared by the unhinged QAnon cult which elevates this all to another level of conspiratorial insanity, one where Satanic pedophile rings in the top echelons of the Democratic Party are trafficking children for abuse and to extract a “life-prolonging” chemical known as “adrenochrome.” But it has also become mainstream, with ultra-conservative pundits like Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Candace Owens using their platforms to peddle odious and misleading tropes and stereotypes about queer people.

It cannot be understated that sexual minorities have bore the brunt of this puritanical cudgel. In connecting with other far-right fascists like Orban from Hungary, Bolsonaro from Brazil, or Putin in Russia, ultra-conservative evangelicals are hoping for wider global movement to purify and purge the world of everything and anyone they consider “sexually deviant or perverse.” It is the reason queer theory evokes such rage among them and galvanizes their animosity. And that brings me to the controversy over Maia Kobabe’s award winning book “Gender Queer.”

“Gender Queer” is an honest and intimate memoir by the author about the journey from adolescence to adulthood. It explores the complex feelings one has as they go through these often difficult periods, but from a queer perspective. Unsurprisingly, it has been cast as sexually explicit or even pornographic by ultra-conservatives because it contained some graphic imagery. It was never intended for young children, but for older teens and young adults who may be struggling with their identity and sexuality. None of this mattered. The rallying cry against the supposed “sexualization of children” has become a popular motto for censoring discussion of human sexual development. And instead of empowering young people with knowledge and agency over their own bodies, it is creating a culture of fear and repression that will undoubtedly lead to even more abuse, exploitation and self-harm.

As an adolescent and teenager, I know I would have appreciated Kobabe’s book as I was traversing those confusing times, especially since I grew up in a religiously conservative environment where human sexuality was seldom discussed. And queer sexuality never addressed at all. I knew I was different from the age of 7, and I wasn’t “groomed” or abused. I had loving parents. But my growth and development would have been so much easier if I had been given access to queer-affirming literature and adults who I could have been open and honest with.

And that is another reason why the smear of “groomer” is so loathsome and infuriating. Queer kids need adults with whom they can be comfortable with, now more than ever. But the current puritanical crusade is creating an atmosphere that will only alienate vulnerable youth from a society which is lurching backward to the dark ages every day. They deserve better. They deserve a safe, affirming and supportive culture provided by queer adults and their allies. The one which I never had.

Kenn Orphan, August 2022

August

Here on the coastal barrens of Nova Scotia the morning fog blankets the bramble and the sun struggles to pierce its cottony thickness. It does, though not without a struggle. Heated grass and pine unleash a rush of scent. The evening light, full of spindly arms of weightless colour. Then night falls and the galaxy lays out its spiral path in the sky over my meadow.

The air, the grasses, under rocks, atop trees, everywhere life is teeming. Blue Jays shatter my morning sleep with their deafening screech. Mice scurry and snakes lace their sinewy bodies through the tall grasses. My skin reflects all this life too. Red welts dot its landscape, the surreptitious kisses of tiny, unwelcome visitors I seldom see.

August, in its rushed laziness. One might miss the minutiae of it all.

And me, I am all too reminded of the coming end. Of season’s end. Of life’s end. My melancholic genes persuade me to contemplate those things whenever I get too high or dance too close to ecstasy. It puts a halt to my reverie, and in no uncertain terms.

And I think. I think of the earth, now endlessly battered and beleaguered, deforested and commodified. Of ocean, with its calcified coral cities now draped with suffocating algae. Of humankind, in endless enmity with “the other.” Locked in ignorant-borne hatred, until their hearts transmogrify into icy granite. Of the cloaks of privilege I don each day sewn from skin, and gender, and religion, and geography. A patchwork map of luck, banality and misfortune. I think of those beloved, now gone from the sphere I inhabit. Some lost recently. Some lost long ago. Their faces bless me, haunt me, elude me. Fortunate, perhaps, to no longer be locked in this orbit of birth and destruction and rebirth and annihilation.

Then, between stinging tears and slumber, the moon lifts its bloated face above the horizon. First slow, orange and blurred. Then open, and bold, and the colour of new snow. Lifted out of that prison cell of my forgetting. Like it vanished for half a day and then was re-created of salt, and stone, and God dreaming. Another dance of celestial distance repeated, as if scripted.

And I feel this ethereal flight of mine, sucking the wind out of my lungs. Frightened to catch that breath; as if doing so might shatter all of this to pieces.

Kenn Orphan, August, original prose written in 2017.

*Photo is of the evening skies over the coastal barrens and forest and out toward the Atlantic Ocean near our home in Prospect, Nova Scotia.

Our Identity is a Dream

“We are rag dolls made out of many ages and skins, changelings who have slept in wood nests, and hissed in the uncouth guise of waddling amphibians. We have played such roles for infinitely longer ages than we have been human. Our identity is a dream. We are process, not reality.”- Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977), anthropologist, educator, philosopher, and natural science writer.

I was just reminded of this marvelous quote by Eiseley and I will try to remember it the next time I see or hear some essentialist rhetoric regarding gender or sexuality or “race” or class or any other human made identifier that is usually designed to judge us and separate us into cut and dried categories for easier elevation or subjugation, inclusion or exclusion, praise or persecution. Identity is fleeting, but the use of it is has been an effective tool of division for the ruling class for centuries.

There is more to us than what we present as right now. We are more than our appearance, or our body parts, or our biological functions, or our feelings, or knowledge, or status, or pedigree, or faults. Yes, our identities are important, but not so much as our common ancestry or our shared trajectory.

We are a staggering amalgamation of billions of iterations over billions of years, iterations that emanate from the stars themselves. Countless expressions of one thing: life.

This isn’t “woo woo”, it is the science of nature and the history of this earth. And if that isn’t the best description of the Divine within us, I don’t know what is.

Kenn Orphan, August 2022

The Church and the Charade of Contrition

The only moment that matters regarding the Pope’s visit to Canada to apologize to Indigenous people for the Church’s enormous role in the ethnic cleansing and genocide of First Nations, was an unscripted one. It was when an Indigenous woman stood up and sang the Canadian anthem in Cree, with tears streaming down her face.

Much of the media has been reporting this moment as if she were singing as a sign of respect. This is nonsense. You can see the righteous defiance in her face and hear it in her voice. Women, after all, have been excluded in most of the official ceremonies. They have not been granted an audience with the Pope. But this woman got his attention anyway, not only defying a legacy of colonial oppression, but the patriarchy itself. “She was telling him that this (land) was a pure place – a clean place – prior to the settlements,” said Ermineskin Nation, Chief Randy Ermineskin. She basically told the Pope and his priests to go home until real, substantive reparation to Indigenous peoples is enacted.

Sometime after the Pope was finished with his apology, another unidentified woman yelled: “Repudiate the doctrine of discovery! Renounce the papal bulls!” The papal bulls were 15th-century edicts that the Catholic Church and colonial settlers used to justify the violent theft of Indigenous land and centuries of genocide. This, and the odious “Doctrine of Discovery,” have not yet been rescinded by the Church.

The Indigenous response to the Pope’s visit and apology has been mixed. Some have expressed that it has brought healing, while others have said that it merely ripped open old wounds. For more than a century, the residential school system in Canada, which was essentially run by the Church, forcibly separated more than 150,000 Indigenous children from their families. Thousands suffered unspeakable horror, from beatings to starvation to sexual abuse, at the hands of priests and nuns.

So, this one woman’s defiance is the only moment worth paying attention to in this charade of contrition. Until the Church addresses the emotional, mental and material consequences of its murderous legacy, these words will remain as hollow as the trunk of a dead tree.

Kenn Orphan, July 2022

*Photo is of this remarkably courageous woman standing up to the Pope. Source: Reuters.

A meditation on a nebula, deep time, and us.

What is it about this photograph that is so intriguing? This is the Carina Nebula taken by the James Webb Telescope (NASA). We are looking at a nursery of stars, many far bigger than our own sun. And we are also looking back in time. Deep time. Yet there’s something intimate about it, even though there aren’t any pareidolic references for us to easily latch on to.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this image. Perhaps it has such power to so many because we can imagine our souls being birthed alongside these behemoths of condensed energy in great flashes of light. And even with all that bombast in expression, the colourful gasses appear as a gossamer veil that comforts new skin. Any birth is both violent and caressing at the same time, after all. Maybe, therefore, so many of us can relate.

And I keep thinking of where I am viewing it. The living crust of a tiny world, in a tiny solar system, on the edge of a tremendously vast galaxy. A tiny world whose thin, life-giving and sustaining ribbon of air and water is imperiled by the supposed “apex species” that resides upon it. Where the sea and the atmosphere are boiling and seething ever greater with each passing year thanks to the excesses and greed of just a segment of our kind. And for what gain? Power? Status? Access to luxury? Nationalism and flags? Celebrity? Religious dominance?

I think about the video of an orangutan attempting to fend off a bulldozer from her home with only her arms. Being knocked to the forest floor, broken and bloodied. Her home to be razed to the ground likely to become a piece of disposable furniture to be sold in some big box store thousands of miles away, then to be set out on the curb a year later after the trend has run its course. Or maybe to extract palm oil to be used in some overpriced latte at a Star Bucks in LA, where rich people complain about the homeless.

And then I think about that photograph taken in 1946. The one with the military generals and the lady with the atomic bomb hat, slicing into an atomic bomb shaped cake. This was barely a year after hundreds of thousands of human beings were incinerated in two cities by similar bombs. It was celebrating the beginning of years of nuclear detonations on a once pristine atoll in the Pacific, forever polluting the waters and the people who called it home. Celebrating it all, with cake. And I remember how that chapter of madness in history did not end. That the world stands at the precipice of nuclear annihilation again.

I keep thinking of what I would tell a future generation about us on this tiny world. But I’m less and less certain there will be future generations to tell. At least, not of our kind. Perhaps, in deep time, there will be another sentient race of beings who evolve on this celestial stone to create a powerful mirror to see back in time, into the heavens, like we have. Perhaps crows or ants or hydra. Will they be in awe of it too, enough to pause the great wheel of self-destruction that is consuming us now, even just for a moment?

If a nebula can tell us of our beginning, can it tell us how we will end?

Kenn Orphan, July 2022

Image Credit: The Carina Nebula taken by the James Webb Telescope.

Setting the Record Straight: On the Death and Sad Legacy of Shinzo Abe

It is shocking to hear of the assassination of Shinzo Abe, former prime minister of Japan. But while we should condemn political violence, we should also not whitewash his legacy.

Abe was arguably the most far-right leader of Japan. Under his leadership, the country took a more reactionary turn toward aggressive, militaristic policies. Relations with South Korea and China suffered, since Abe made historical revisionism part of his policy. And corruption scandals plagued his government.

Abe denied the Japanese government’s role in forcing Korean women into sexual slavery, as “comfort women,” during WW2, only to mildly roll back that statement later by acknowledging a report made in 1993 by his party that admitted such involvement. He visited the controversial Yasakuni Shrine, a site where nationalistic, historical revisionists cast Japanese war criminals in WW2 as martyrs and liberators. Even the Emperor, himself, refused to visit this place.

It is telling that Abe gained praise from far-right, fascists like Steve Bannon, who called him “a great hero to the grassroots, the populist, and the nationalist movement throughout the world.” Some even said Abe was Japan’s Trump, an accolade that should make any sane person of conscience cringe.

So, as the Western press lavishes endless homages to Shinzo Abe, we should be careful not to gloss over his legacy. His assassination is tragic because political violence is loathsome and should be condemned, especially with the world in its current tenuous and fragile state. But not because he was a great man.

Kenn Orphan, July 2022

*Photo is of Shinzo Abe. Reuters.

Fascism is Intentional

Author’s note: this essay is an updated and expanded upon version of one published in May of this year.

There was a part of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, that is perhaps the most unsettling to me. The protagonist, Offred, is walking past the notorious Wall in the Republic of Gilead. This Wall, once part of a prestigious university in Cambridge Massachusetts, is now being used as a place of public execution, where corpses are left hanging for days to send a message of compliance and terror to the citizens of this authoritarian, theocratic state. Defy “God’s law” and you will suffer the punishment for doing so.

When Atwood penned her famous book in 1985, she could not have imagined just how prescient it would be seen decades later. Then the Hulu series was produced. It differed in many significant ways from the book. The character of Offred, for instance, did not have the same agency or defiance as the one in the television series. She was a witness to the brutality of the Republic of Gilead, but she didn’t actively participate in resisting it as Elizabeth Moss’ portrayal did. Although the series was powerful, well written and well acted, the book presents us with a more universal experience of a person living under authoritarian cruelty.

But it came in the time of Trump. A time of unmasked misogyny. Resistance, or even the facsimile of it, became a popular rallying call. Now, we watch stupefied at the continuing resurgence of fascism, dressed up in the guise of Christianity, in the same nation that would eventually become Atwood’s fictional Gilead. The decision by the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade may be one of those prophecies foretold.

With the admission of some of the most far-right, religiously conservative justices, the writing was on the wall for the SCOTUS to eventually overturn the historic Roe v Wade case. When it did this, the national right to abortion for women ended and several states automatically made abortion illegal. Many others will follow. It isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine an eventual national ban on all abortions coming down the pike relatively soon, and the reversal of other landmark cases, including marriage equality.

To reduce this all to only one or two issues would be missing the broader picture. To be sure, the war on women’s rights, primarily the right of a woman to control her own body, is a fundamental feature of fascism. Misogyny is a central tenet. But this Supreme Court has wasted no time in bolstering other elements of fascist terror. Now gun owners and the police state, thanks to the neutering of Miranda rights, have more rights than women.

These decisions aren’t mismatched. They are intentionally placed obstructions to democracy. When a public is terrorized by armed gunmen in ordinary settings like a grocery store, a school or a parade, they often become paralyzed by fear. And this plays into the hands of any authoritarian government.

American fascism isn’t following the same course as in pre-World War 2 Germany. It is more akin to Franco’s Spain or Pinochet’s Chile, where far-right mobs were emboldened with the task of terrorizing the general public, while the church and the state worked hand in hand to design a framework of oppression; culturally, legislatively and judicially. From both above and below, Americans are being subjected to an unprecedented attack on their basic freedoms, liberties and civil rights.

Without a doubt, fascism has always been a current running just under the surface in American culture, religion and politics. As anywhere it surfaces, fascism has characteristics unique to the society it rises in. And American fascism has always cloaked itself in white supremacy and Calvinistic theology. It is an ideology grounded in racism, exclusion, rigid gender roles and fear.

When Offred saw the bodies on the notorious execution Wall she remembered something her brutal overseer Aunt Lydia once said: “Ordinary, is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary.” This speaks to the things we come to accept as just part of ones day in the society in which we live. The normalization of things we might once have thought inconceivable, or even horrifying.

The US isn’t at this point yet. But it is worth taking into account Offred’s thoughts on how life was before this reign of terror began, and the feelings of complacency many of us share with her, even as the world around us rapidly morphs into something unimaginable:

“Is that how we lived, then? But we lived as usual. Everyone does, most of the time. Whatever is going on is as usual. Even this is as usual, now. We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it. Nothing changes instantly: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.”

Offred reflects on her complacency often. She thinks about not attending rallies or marches. And of her mother who did. But, like so many of us, she simply wanted to get her and her family through life hoping it would all work itself out. Our place in history, however, doesn’t function like that. We are participants in it whether we like it or not. And the biggest danger we face is our apathy in the face of authoritarian brutality and violent repression.

Fascism is intentional. It is intentional in its obsession with a fictional and romanticized past. A sentimental vision of a history that never happened. An addiction to the glorification of nationalistic militarism. It is intentional in its drive to silence voices that criticize its narrow understanding of history or the place and treatment of women or of minorities. It is intentional in its misogyny, its racism, its homophobia, its xenophobia, its violence. And given the right circumstances, like economic disparity, ecological crises or institutional rot, it can sweep through any society like a flood. And it can create a new normal in the blink of an eye, leaving us grieving for the life we once thought was simply ordinary.

Kenn Orphan, July 2022

The American Nightmare

A father hid his young son in a dumpster as he searched for the rest of his family amid rapid gun fire…

A war zone? No. Just another day in the US. Independence Day, in a nation whose Supreme Court is intent on demolishing independence for half the population, while granting even more rights to those who want to terrorize it.

Even from abroad, I know many of my American friends are feeling anxious. Many are grieving. With each civil liberty being chipped away, they feel helpless as they watch their country slipping steadily down a steep hill toward a Christo-fascist nightmare. Holidays like the 4th of July only make this grief more acute. The absurdity of flags and anthems extolling “freedom” and “liberty” all while those very terms are denuded of any value they may have once had. And now, yet another mass shooting to add to an ever growing list.

In truth, there have always been times in the States where Americans sought to escape their republic. But I’ve definitely noticed an uptick over the past five years. And I’ve had many reach out to me inquiring on how to flee successfully. Yet, I still see so many Americans doing everything they can to prop up the cadaver of American democracy while slapping makeup and perfume on it so as to mask its putrescence. A kind of kabuki theatre of democracy with all the appropriate props for the charade. Regardless of the effort, the writing seems to be on the wall. The US is a failed state where democracy is essentially dead in all but appearance.

If we are to be honest, it was inevitable that the misery the American Empire brought to millions in the Global South would eventually come home. How many democratically elected leaders have been overthrown by the US? How many coups and plots fomented by the CIA? Lumumba? Mosaddegh? Allende? How many Americans have even heard of these people? How many killing fields have been drenched in the blood of innocents thanks to American wars of conquest? Korea? Vietnam? Cambodia? Laos? Panama? Guatemala? Iraq? Libya?

And in reality, the Global South also includes millions of Americans who have been relegated to capitalism’s sacrifice zones. Those who reside on the margins of empire. Forgotten and ridiculed for being poor. Shot by militarized police in the streets or in their homes or incarcerated for being Black. Brutalized, erased and disenfranchised for being Indigenous. Caged and whipped by jackbooted thugs for being undocumented. Maligned and criminalized for being houseless.

None of this is new. After all, the US was built on the soil of a mass grave. Its powdered wig, ethnic cleansing, slave-owning, founders designed the farce that would become the “American Experiment.” White supremacy permeated its roots since its “revolution” was only intended to maintain an economy of slavery and genocide. In fact, its governing houses were constructed by forced labour. A bloody war had to be fought to end slavery, and even after the war was over, it codified racism in segregation while terrorizing Black people with the threat of lynching for decades. Starting with the decimation of the bison, its ecological diversity has been relentlessly raped for material gain. Capitalist exploitation is the sacrosanct religion of the land. In fact, the only thing that has made America “exceptional” has been its ability to convince so many of its subjects that its cruelty is virtuous and ordained by the benevolent hand of the Divine.

Yet even with this rancid past, ordinary people rose up against such tyrannical oppression. Workers protested their exploitation, often falling to the slaughter of federal and state troops. Slaves revolted, often suffering horrifically for doing so. Women, Black and Brown people, Indigenous, Queer and other marginalized segments of society united in solidarity to demand their human rights. People from all walks of life banded together to demand environmental protections. And many times, they succeeded in forcing the hand of power.

But over the last few years these hard won battles have come under brutal attack by a far right that has felt simultaneously threatened as it feels emboldened. As civil rights and liberties are rendered inert, guns proliferate. Mass shootings have become normalized. Membership in white militias is growing. Housing and healthcare are being increasingly allocated toward the rich as a luxury. The demographics of the state are shifting, all while the levers of power in that state are being sequestered by an ever shrinking minority in the ruling class. And this is the essence of fascism: the human, the living and the earth are nothing, the weapon, wealth and power are everything. With the only opposition seeming to lie in the inept, corporate-owned, and thoroughly ineffectual Democratic Party, it is no wonder there are so many feeling disempowered in the face of such blatant, unabashed authoritarianism.

Many liberal, white Americans are feeling anxious today because they are finally experiencing a taste of the brutality their ruling class, with the capitulation of the bourgeoisie, have delivered to millions of people for decades. They are grieving and that can be a positive catalyst. It has the power of uniting people in solidarity against injustice. But it can also be paralyzing. By all accounts, the rise of an even bolder fascism in the US is inevitable. One can only hope that the rise of its nemesis is equally so.

Kenn Orphan, July 2022

*Photo is of Patriot Front at Boston 4th of July celebration. AP.