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

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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

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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

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Remembering Sister Megan Rice

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Sister Megan Rice of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. She died last week at the age of 91. Rice was imprisoned for two years in federal prison when she was in her 80s after she broke into a government complex to protest nuclear weapons. This was not the first time Rice was arrested. In the 90s she protested torture at the infamous US Army School of the Americas.

Her activism was influenced by her parents who worked with Dorothy Day for economic justice during the Great Depression and by her uncle who had spent four months in Nagasaki, Japan, following the criminal nuclear bombing of civilians by US forces. After living and working in West Africa for 23 years as a teacher and pastoral guide she returned to the US and became a major activist in the peace movement.

Sister Megan Rice will not get the attention of a dead general in the mainstream press or by politicians of either ruling party. Those who expose war crimes or who advocate peace are generally marginalized, imprisoned or silenced in militaristic societies. But she deserves far more accolades than any one of the war mongers.

May she rest in peace.

Kenn Orphan October 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

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Even in Death There is No Flag Large Enough to Cover the Shame of Killing Innocent People

Colin Powell just died from Covid-19. So we should expect a tsunami of eulogies from politicians, the mainstream media and even a few liberals who seem to enjoy sanitizing the murderous lives of the ruling class. Those of us on the left who refuse to play the games of polite society when it comes to war crimes will likely be chastised. And he will take his place among the “great generals” of the American Empire. All warmongering societies do this, so it should come as no surprise. But no amount of gushing tributes can erase the truth.

The man who helped whitewash the massacre of civilians at My Lai during the war against Vietnam, pushed hard for the Gulf War in the 1990s, and gave the green light to Ariel Sharon in his murderous assault on civilians in Jenin and land grabs in the occupied West Bank, also sold the war against Iraq at the beginning of this century with a fistful of lies. Iraq never attacked the US. It did not have “weapons of mass destruction.” But the Bush administration was salivating for blood and oil after the attacks on the US on the 11th of September, 2001. And any morsel of fiction that would justify their lust for violence was welcomed.

Powell would later blame his role in peddling these lies on an “intelligence failure.” This is the go to excuse for the American military establishment, as we see with the latest atrocity they committed in Afghanistan, the recent drone bomb incineration of a family in Kabul after the disastrous pull out of American troops. Now that he is dead, he will not face justice at the Hague for these crimes. But really, no member of the American ruling class ever does.

Just last week we lost Sister Megan Rice who was 91 years old. Rice was imprisoned for two years in federal prison when she was in her 80s after she broke into a government complex to protest nuclear weapons. Her activism was influenced by her parents who worked with Dorothy Day for economic justice during the Great Depression and by her uncle who had spent four months in Nagasaki, Japan, following the criminal nuclear bombing of civilians by US forces. After living and working in West Africa for 23 years as a teacher and pastoral guide she returned to the US and became a major activist in the peace movement. Sister Rice will not get the attention of a dead general in the mainstream press or by politicians of the ruling parties. Those who expose war crimes or who advocate peace are generally marginalized, imprisoned or silenced in militaristic societies.

Americans have a remarkable ability of sanitizing the crimes of their ruling class. Their lives often seem to eclipse the mountains of corpses on which they stand atop. The regions left in disarray and ruin. The lives and families and hopes that were forever disfigured or shattered. All of that disappears, is explained away, or is designated as a mere footnote when one of the elite dies. The nationalistic panegyrics that are employed are designed to do just that. A kind of novocaine that glazes over eyes and numbs collective memory. But as the late Howard Zinn said: “‘There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.” And, despite the enormous effort made, that shame cannot be sponged away in death.

Kenn Orphan October 2021

*Title image of is Colin Powell testifies before the UN in 2003, holding what is supposed to be a vile of anthrax, as a demonstration of supposed “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq. A lie that would only be debunked after the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Source US government archives.

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

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A Time of Plague in an Era of Corruption, Distrust and Irrationality

Over the past couple years of this pandemic, it has been breathtaking to see the depth of the rabbit hole so many have fallen into. And that many of them purport to be on the left is both fascinating and terrifying. For far too many people, masks requirements, vaccine mandates or any kind of public health measure is looked at solely through the lens of conspiracy. To them, anything that might come from government or “Big Pharma” is to be distrusted or discounted. A virus that continues to bring healthcare systems to their knees and send millions to their premature deaths is still being referred to as a hoax or the flu. And despite decades of documentation on the effectiveness of eradicating or controlling deadly diseases through vaccines, there is a persistent paranoia when it comes to medical advances and science. It is worth examining what led us to this point in history.

That so many are willing to take the word of any contrarian rather than that of peer reviewed science is astonishing. But after decades of government and corporate malfeasance and abuses, it isn’t too difficult to understand the roots for this skepticism. Indeed, government agencies and business institutions have constructed this atmosphere of distrust. Just one look at the CIA, the military, or the tobacco and fossil fuel industries and we get a litany of lies, crimes, and the obfuscation of those crimes. Indeed, most drug companies have gotten away with the many crimes they have committed, with the recent opioid scandal and the Sackler family coming to mind. But there is also a kind of collective fear and a legacy of anti-scientific credulity that is common in far-right political circles that goes beyond justified criticism of and opposition to the crimes of the powerful.

None of this is especially original. Climate change deniers have long latched on to the proclamations of a small, but loud, group of scientists who confirm their narrative. A major part of this is thanks to a well funded campaign of disinformation by the fossil fuel industry who began lying to the public about the damaging effects of burning fossil fuels decades ago. And there are dozens of think tanks in Washington whose sole purpose it to peddle corporate propaganda to politicians on the dole and a public that is already inclined to be against any scientific warning that may alter the Western lifestyle. But there is also a conspiratorial way of thinking about these things. The very real and existential issue of climate catastrophe has been linked to crackpot theories about a tyrannical “one world government.” Those who have been alienated from society often become targets for this kind of delusion. And social media amplifies it all through echo chambers of confirmation bias, connecting the alienated with one another, albeit in a very superficial manner.

When it comes to the pandemic, the people who may be termed “vaccine hesitant” are not necessarily in the same camp as anti-vaxxers, the latter being a more militant subset of modern society who rely largely on the spurious claims of outliers in the scientific community or public figures like Robert F. Kennedy. The vaccine hesitant may be so due to a horrifying legacy of racist experimentation on people of colour or who have been persuaded by disinformation campaigns to distrust the efficacy and safety of the current Covid-19 vaccines. This population appears at least willing to consider the science and rational arguments in favour of taking the vaccines. Anti-vaxxers are not. And like the QAnon cult, few of them seem to possess the capacity to think about this critically.

There is an overarching theme amongst many anti-vaxxers that can be seen in many other conspiratorial trends. A common belief is that the world is dominated by a powerful, shadowy and evil group of people with an intent to enslave, harm or even eradicate large segments of the population. To many this may sound ridiculous. But it is often easier to look at the world in black and white, good vs. evil, than to face its complexity or the fact that no one is really in control. This is not to say that powerful people do not engage in crimes against humanity or the living biosphere on which we all depend. On the contrary, and I have written extensively about them. But there is a difference here that I will try to explain.

As the late Ursula Le Guin said, “we live in capitalism.”  So, while most of us are simply trying to navigate our way through this deeply corrupt, oppressive and unfair arrangement of economic and political power, some are taking advantage of it for personal gain, and are in a position to do so. These people can appear as though they are all powerful, when in reality they just have more access to power and privilege based on status or money. And when one considers the conditions of modern life, in many ways it is easy to understand how so many people can become ensnared in conspiratorial thinking. The times we live in can be demoralizing for so many. Long, tedious work hours with little financial reward or time off. Inadequate or no healthcare. No paid time off. Loss of political agency. Mounting debt. All of this is overwhelming.

Undoubtedly, social media only adds to the confusion by creating an artificial bubble where all manner of reality is possible. Watch some Youtube videos and you become immersed in this bizarre world of secrets, mysteries and “hidden agendas,” that can never be truly understood. Behind one door there are a thousand others. This is what conspiracy thinking is. A labyrinth that is ultimately a dead end. Often this takes on a supernatural tone, as is the case in the QAnon cult. There are no accidents, ineptitude or unintended consequences. It is a puzzle that can never really be solved because the villains in these storylines somehow always stay just one step ahead of justice. And that is the point. It is meant to be continuous.

There is an unmistakable racism to much of this, beginning with Trump’s “China virus” comments and culminating in conspiracy theories about Wuhan and attacks on Asians in the West. And there is no doubt that much of it has an antisemitic tone: the “bankers,” the “Rothschilds,” the “globalists.” These shadowy figures play an important role in far-right pedagogy because they serve as necessary mechanisms for otherizing and scapegoating certain groups.

Of course, none of this is about the real crime of conspiracy. People, powerful and not, often conspire to do harm for personal gain. But conspiratorial thinking is a way of simplifying most problems in the world into something deliberately done or planned by an evil entity, in almost total secrecy, with near absolute power. And despite their sinister plans being widely revealed and discussed among the conspiratorial thinkers on such public forums as Facebook and Youtube, they are somehow able to get away with it all due to a supposedly sheepish and gullible public.

In truth, the pandemic hasn’t created anything new in the way humans organize themselves. On the contrary, it has revealed the tremendous failings and fissures in the current arrangement we live and labour under. And the anti-vax movement was born of a betrayal of public trust that arrangement. How could anyone expect a capitalist system to respond in any humane way to a global pandemic when it cannot even mitigate the worst effects of climate change or ecological destruction? How can anyone expect it to garner trust from the public when it has betrayed that trust over and over again, and then lied about it?

The stark truth is that the dominant capitalist system of the world today has addressed this latest catastrophe in the only way it knows how. It has implemented public health measures, but not without throwing tons of money toward corporations while shafting the working class, including front line workers. It has created vaccines, but not without remaining true to its mandate of capital accumulation for the ruling classes, which means barbaric patent laws that pad the pockets of corrupt pharmaceutical executives while adversely impacting the global south, most of which has yet to see even the first dose of the vaccine. Lockdowns without universal basic income, rent control or social safety nets. Vaccine mandates without public transparency and access to universal healthcare. All of this has facilitated the rise of the anti-mask, anti-lockdown and anti-vax movements.

On the left, we need to do a better job at understanding the economic and political conditions, disenfranchisement and alienation that gave rise to the spread of far-right conspiracies. We need to look at the long legacy of betrayal by government, military and corporate entities that has encouraged anti-science attitudes and cynicism to grow so easily throughout society. We need to learn from public health systems that do not put profit first, like Cuba and Vietnam. We cannot let corporations or governments off the hook for their crimes. And we need to continue the hard work of building solidarity, the ironclad law of the left, spreading the message that a better world is indeed possible without the predation of capitalism. But we need to push back against those who spread misinformation, even if we are accused of being “gatekeepers,” and especially when it has such an adverse impact on the working poor, people of colour, and the marginalized of the world. That last part is the most difficult of all, but unless we do that, everything else we do will be useless.

Kenn Orphan   September 2021

*Painting is Sepulchral darkness- Humana Fragilitas (Human Frailty), c1657, by Salvator Rosa. Photograph: DEA/A. DAGLI ORTI/Getty Images/DeAgostini

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

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9/11: A Personal Reflection After Twenty Years

For 20 years I resisted making any personal remarks about the attacks September the 11th, particularly regarding the World Trade Center in NYC. I thought it was inappropriate and inconsequential because I did not suffer personal loss like so many that day. But I have been reflecting a lot on that historic event lately. And given that the US war against Afghanistan is now over, at least officially if not covertly, I think there is good reason for that.

I grew up in New York. Long Island to be specific. But I had family and friends scattered all around the tri-state area, from Queens to Manhattan to Union City to Astoria to Flushing. My father was born in a tenement in Manhattan to poor immigrants from Greece who barely spoke English. The twin towers loomed large in my childhood memory because we went into the city at least once a week, frequently more, to go to church and to visit family and friends. They, along with the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, were usually the first dominant features one would see as they approached the city.

When I was a kid I went there on a class trip. I was the only child not allowed to go on the roof because my mom, who was one of the parent chaperones, thought it was too high and too windy and that because I was so skinny I might blow off. I went back again several times over the years, not to the top, just to the plaza or to the bars around the area. New York was a different place back then. This was before Giuliani’s disneyfication crusade. It was more gritty. More dangerous. And, to be honest, more exciting.

One rainy day in the mid-90s, when I was in graduate school on Long Island, I got a call. “How would you like to work in the twin towers?” asked a woman with a thick Bronx accent. The position would have been at Cantor Fitzgerald. I had no idea how she got my number. I didn’t even know what Cantor Fitzgerald was. And I wasn’t even studying finance, but rather public health and social welfare. “That doesn’t matter,” she said. “We are looking for a diversified group.” I found out later that recruiting college or university students in this way was pretty commonplace at the time.

I remember considering her offer for a long moment. I loved Manhattan. I would get there every chance I could. But my math skills are abysmal. “That doesn’t matter either,” she said. We will train you in what you need to know. It will be exciting.” I hung up the phone imagining myself taking the LIRR (Long Island Railroad) into work every weekday. That is, of course, until I could find an apartment in the city, preferably near the Village or Soho. I never called her back. But sometimes I’ve wondered what my life would have looked like if I had.

Now maybe some of you are scratching your heads right now. Me? Taking a job in investments and trading stocks? Capitalism on steroids, I know. But it was Manhattan. The city. And that was very enticing to me at the time. After all, my mother eagerly came to NYC from rural Nova Scotia when she was just 18 years old. She wanted nothing else than to get there. She only knew a couple people there at the time and got a place to stay and a job right near Gramercy Park in a matter of days. My parents met and fell in love in Manhattan. That is where they married. I went in often, met with friends, had a few flings, had a few adventures and made some ill advised decisions. It has always held a kind of magic for me.

Fast forward to 2001. I had moved to San Diego, California, right after grad school, at the invitation of my sister who had already been living there. It was in that city that I had met the love of my life and I was working in hospice care. The night before the attacks I was out at a pub with a friend after choir practice. Ironically, we had been talking about NYC and how he had always wanted to visit. I said we should plan a trip. Early the next morning, my sister called me and told me that planes had hit both towers of the World Trade Center. I rushed to the television and just minutes after I turned it on, the North Tower collapsed. Like millions of others, I stayed pinned to my tv for several hours, calling friends and relatives, some in New York, hoping they were safe, trying to make sense of what was unfolding.

Over the day I tried to go about my job visiting patients, but all anyone could do is watch the television. I drove around town in a daze, having to stop several times to just close my eyes. Like so many others, I remember seeing the clips of people jumping. My sister urged me to stop watching the news coverage because she saw me break down sobbing at the sight of one woman who plunged to her death, flying through the blue skies of that September morning, as if she were one of the thousands of papers falling with her to the pavement below.

I remember the dust coated survivors, trudging through the streets that no longer resembled a modern city. The haunting sound of the firefighters PASS units going off incessantly under the rubble, signaling their probable death. I remember the bewilderment on so many faces, the worried eyes, the hunched shoulders. And I couldn’t help but see the name Cantor Fitzgerald flash by several times. Later I would learn that every employee who went to work for that firm on that morning was killed. 658 souls.

In the weeks and months that followed those horrific events, I watched a country rally together in collective grief. Spontaneous vigils were held. Kindness and hospitality spread. Friendships were deepened. It was a time of collective shock and grief that could only be assuaged in embrace and distraction.

It wasn’t long, however, before I saw nationalism spread like a cancer throughout the country. Egged on by a criminal administration in the White House and their useful tools in corporate media, xenophobia, racism and the drums of war began to beat louder and louder. It was almost everywhere I went. Stores, restaurants, the post office, on the freeway, at dinner parties. A lust for revenge. For blood. Especially among those who had lost no loved one in the attacks. And then there were the chants of “USA,USA,USA.” Anything loud to numb the mind of reason, stamp out empathy and solidarity, and drown out any rational discourse.

After that, came the justifications for invading another country. Feminism was used as a cloak for militaristic aggression. As if bombing impoverished villages to smithereens would somehow liberate women from patriarchal oppression. Then came the assault on civil liberties. The growth of the surveillance state. And after Afghanistan, Iraq. And the rampage went on and on and on throughout the global south. The lessons of Vietnam were buried. Forgotten. Scoffed at. It was now all about “shock and awe.” Anyone who opposed this madness, which included me, were cast as cowards, traitors or worse. How dare we dishonour the lives of those killed? How dare we defend terrorists? We were silenced. Marginalized. Our dissent was crushed.

And so it proceeded. Whole families would be incinerated by sophisticated “smart” bombs or gunned down at checkpoints by the mercenaries of Blackwater. Men and boys humiliated, tortured, raped and murdered at gulags like Abu Ghraib. Infants born with horrific deformities thanks to the depleted uranium the US military used liberally. Whole villages erased, countless lives shattered, mutilated. And all the twisted excuses to justify even more atrocities. Ironically, congresswoman Barbara Lee’s warning “let us not become the evil that we deplore” was merely a portent of what was to unfold.

Twenty years have passed. In my mind, I can still see the towers billowing smoke, the people falling to the earth, the dust of humans and concrete. But I can also see the many layers of deliberately caused misery that came after, in far off places. The attacks on 9/11 were unspeakable crimes against humanity. But if there is any lesson to be learned, it is that it was used by the most powerful empire in the world to crush the poorest people on earth. People who had nothing to do with the crimes committed on that day in the first place. Our shock and grief were used, not to end atrocities, but to expand on them.

I realize that my connection to Manhattan and to the iconic towers is far less than so many others. I realize that families and loved ones will always feel the weight of loss from that tragic day in September, 2001. But I also realize how our fears and prejudices can be cynically manipulated by the powerful to justify unimaginable brutality. And that is what I will be thinking about the most as we cross this twenty year threshold of unnecessary pain, destruction and despair.

Kenn Orphan September 2021

*Photo is a postcard of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, NYC

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!

A Letter to Americans about Afghanistan, from the Margins of Empire

Dear Americans,

I wanted to share some thoughts with you on Afghanistan, as it sits atop the rubble of another indifferent imperial folly with the dread of once again living under a fundamentalist authoritarian regime on the horizon. And especially on the American public’s disconnect from its own government’s culpability in spreading misery there and throughout the Global South. I wanted to talk about reflection too.

I wanted to talk about twenty years of drone bombing civilians, like a grandmother picking okra in her field, incinerating people, even in hospital, of Marine night raids on terrified civilians, including women and children. kicking in doors, torching villages. Twenty years supporting and propping up a corrupt Afghan proxy government despite US intelligence agencies being informed countless times of their corruption. Even though the Taliban will likely be worse, let’s not pretend that these last 20 years under American occupation has been a bucolic 4th of July picnic for the Afghan people.

I wanted to talk about what happened prior to these last 20 years. About the long covert war the US engaged in. You see, the Afghan people had suffered from endless wars between regional tribes and fiefdoms throughout its long, colossal history. They endured imperial incursions into their territory by Czarist Russia and then the British Empire. But through the tumultuous decades of the 20th century they began to modernize, and largely with the help of the USSR. And then, for a brief time, they experienced a surge in freedom and democratic reforms. It was under the socialists that illiteracy was virtually erased, infrastructure built, women’s equality enshrined, and healthcare and education guaranteed to all regardless of class or gender. But the US could not abide by any of that because of its obsession with the Soviets and communism. After suffering a humiliating defeat in Vietnam and inflicting untold horror there, American warhawks sought to ensnare the USSR in its own Vietnam as a way to bring it closer to collapse. Casualties, costs, democracy and civilians, be damned.

So, in 1979 President Jimmy Carter, under the guidance of that infamous ghoul of war Zbigniew Brzezinski, threw US support behind a loose band of criminals known as the Mujahideen. The CIA knew that this bunch of violent, religious fanatics, based mostly in Northern Pakistan, had no use for education or women’s liberation or anything secular, but they funded and armed them anyway. In fact, it was the Mujahideen’s bloodthirsty qualities that made them a more appealing choice to inflict terror on the Soviet forces and locals alike. The USSR, which was riddled with its own faults and problems, foolishly took the bait and suffered irrevocably because of it. They withdrew. Chaos ensued. And the Taliban we know today was born. A ragtag, theocratic junta with a penchant for cruelty, especially against women and minorities like the Hazara, and a vehement hatred of anything that might smack of human joy.

Today’s Afghanistan is the result of your own governments interference in another nation, going back at least 40 years, and all because of an endless lust for dominance on the world stage. Now it should go without saying that the US should have pulled out of Afghanistan. It should have done so years ago. But the hard truth to swallow for so many of you is that it should have never been there in the first place. Not twenty years ago. Not forty years ago. Not ever. And the same can be said for any unwanted imperial incursion.

So please stop acting like all of this just happened. Stop acting like all of a sudden you care about plight of Afghan women or LGBTQ people without recognizing the enormous role your government has played in assisting in their repression and persecution for the last few decades. Stop lionizing the military industrial complex that committed heinous war crimes with impunity and treats its veterans like refuse once their usefulness is over. Stop listening to the very people who got us all into this mess or obfuscated the facts causing untold misery for the Afghans (and Iraqis, and Libyans, and Yemenis, and Palestinians, and Vietnamese, and Hondurans, and Chileans, and Indonesians, and everywhere else in the world where the US stuck its noxious nose). Stop invoking the memory of 9/11 to justify the mountains of corpses the American Empire has under its boots. Stop giving a pass to the arms industry that rakes in trillions of dollars in profits from each military foray the American Empire takes.

Take this time to do some hard reflecting. Reflect on your own homeland. On how the world’s wealthiest nation has shantytowns growing expansively within and around almost every major city, or how stressed average workers are being forced to provide their time and labor for slave wages, struggling to pay student debt, rent, mortgages, car insurance, healthcare and childcare costs, while the richest of the rich pay less and less in taxes. Reflect on how the lack of universal healthcare causes so many, including veterans of America’s endless wars, to forgo vital treatment and medication. On why your country has the highest amount of incarcerated people in the world, or why the police can continue to kill the poor with impunity. Reflect on why the pandemic continues to wreak havoc in a nation awash in vaccines that the Global South can only dream of. Reflect on how even as the west dries up and burns and the south and mid-west are inundated in flood waters that your lawmakers would rather steer policy away from anything “radical” that might stem or ameliorate the effects of climate catastrophe. Reflect on how most of your elected officials are in the service of the wealthiest 1% and the war and surveillance industry and how so many of them are millionaires themselves. On how at least half of your population still supports the proto-fascist who last held office. Reflect on why your nation has over 800 military bases and facilities scattered around the whole planet, and how your military sector easily gets hundreds of billions of dollars every year from both ruling parties, dwarfing the budgets of other nations, including China and Russia.

Please, once and for all, break the collective amnesia that has you ensnared, or we will be doomed to go through this again and again until the entire house of cards, including our fragile ecosphere and any decent vestige of society, collapses from the seemingly endless punishment it has received from the richest and most powerful empire humanity has ever known.

Sincerely, just some nobody at the margins of empire.

Kenn Orphan August 2021

*Title image is Women attending a rally in Kabul in the late 1970s. Source: Imgur via Pinterest

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!

The Nightingale’s Dream by Sandy LeonVest

Today, I am deeply honoured to welcome back one of the most prolific, talented and graciously human thinkers of our time: poet, singer/songwriter, playwright and political journalist, editor, and activist, Sandy Leonvest.

In some distant hinterland,
where the dream 
still moves in circles,
and the snake never dies,
and courts of angels 
play reluctant witness 
to time’s merciless whims,
the Nightingale 
surrenders her song
to a darkening sky;

Her flightless wings
lay under the Willow,
where remnants
of Light
into the skin
of a withering sphere,
leaving behind 
a scattering of dust
and microcosmic particles,
which splinter on contact
into infinite versions 
of parallel worlds,
before returning
to ashes and bones.

Back in the city,
the streets go dark,
triggering colorful chains
of collapsing constellations,
strange and unseemly alliances,
and the collective unravelling
of obsolete institutions,
amid the collective eclipse
of empires.

This brings about
an excitement of stars,
all rushing to change shape 
amid mass evacuations,
cascading galaxies, 
and the emptying
of earthly planes,
their lengthening shadows,
leaving trails of dust
in their stead,

which causes
the dead,
who turn restive and grey,
to abandon their posts,
bewildered and distraught
at the random nature
of the unfolding order,
and, quite possibly,
by the abdication
of stars.

And time,
unmoved by the specter
of its own passing,
retains no memory
of itself,
so shrugs nonchalantly,
confusing heaven with hell,
giving rise to rumors
of unspeakable endings
and the lowering of flags,
amid the arrant unravelling
of everything …

and the sweltering heat,
passes in waves of indifference
thru dense city walls,
leaving traces of Truth
(if truth there be)
and fragments
of time forgotten
to linger like orphans
between the cracks.

And Love
alone waits
for light to return,
her dream of tomorrow
circling the sun,

a lonely satellite,
cold as a stranger
growing old
in a starless sky

~Sandy LeonVest has, over the course of her writing career, been a poet, playwright, singer-songwriter, political journalist – radio and print – and the editor/publisher of SolarTimes (, a groundbreaking energy publication and newspaper distributed throughout the San Francisco Bay Area from 2006 through 2013. Today she spends most of her time writing poetry and fiction, which she believes was “who she meant to be all along.” Sandy’s poems capture the spirit of the 21st century, with all of its circularities and contradictions – fathomless beauty and incomprehensible ugliness; infinite joy and endless grieving; and the inevitability of “the ever-spinning circle.” Sorrowful endings followed by new beginnings. Her poetic voice seems to channel the poets of long ago, at once emanating from another era, yet echoing universal and timeless themes.

*Title image is a wall painting from the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, 79AD.