The hypocrisy of grief

Nelson_MandelaOne of the greatest visionaries and leaders of our time has passed away. Judging by all of the outpouring of sadness I’m hearing and seeing, pretty much everyone is sad. And they should be.

My personal feeling is that most people have shown genuine respect and admiration for everything that Nelson Mandela accomplished and represented, even if they wasted no time in hopping on to their social media accounts to log their grief. The reactions seem to suggest that we’re all staunch supporters of freedom and justice.

It’s easy to love Nelson Mandela. It’s easy to appreciate the ideals of love, integrity, peace and justice. Most people do on principle. But not everyone. And because they know that they would be vilified and shunned if they admitted who they really are, every politician – whether a true devotee of Mandela or not – is tripping over themselves to make sure that we know that they’re sad he’s gone.

Primer Minister Stephen Harper:

“He showed how people can shape better tomorrows and do so in their own time. Nelson Mandela’s long march to freedom, his grace and humility throughout that walk, and the bridge to the future he built for his people as he proceeded along it ensures that his remarkable example will inform others for generations.”

This, from a man who has categorically denied Canada’s colonial history and completely ignores sweeping protests for human rights by First Nations. What did he have to say about the group of brave young people who trekked over 1,600 km through the harsh North earlier this year in the name of freedom and solidarity? Not a word. I guess that wasn’t worth the brownie points.  (I wrote about this at length here).

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford:

“We join the people of South Africa in mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela, a true leader and advocate for freedom and democracy. Mandela dedicated his life to social justice in South Africa and around the world. As President of South Africa, he introduced a new constitution and launched numerous reforms and policies for the benefit of all South African people.”

This, just a few days after this wealthy self-described defender of the poor and marginalized said, “I don’t believe in all this public-funded health care, we can’t afford it. If you want health care, you pay for it.” When responding to a proposal that councillors hold public meetings to consider establishing new homeless shelters, he asked, “Why don’t we have a public lynching?” (video link)

Oh, the hypocrisy.

As for the rest of us who so readily grieve the passing of this great man, can we say that our own values and actions truly align with his message? Or do we come up short when our attention returns to our own interests? In so-called Western democracies, although we hail figures like Mandela as beacons of courage and hope, we do so only to the extent that our own comfort – both physical and ideological – will allow. Let’s face it: while Nelson Mandela was always respectful and kind, he was an unapologetic radical who never compromised when it came to condemning systems, practices and regimes that place profit or self-interest above justice, peace, and equality. Hoarding huge amounts of wealth while millions starve? Unacceptable. Denying people healthcare and critical support because they can’t afford it? Unacceptable. Austerity programs that gut public education while subsidising billion-dollar corporations? Unacceptable. Military occupations, indefinite detention and secretive surveillance programs? Unacceptable! If we connect with the essence of Mandela’s goals, we can’t possibly allow these types of policies to continue.

To hear some people lament the passing of Mandela, one would think that all is lost. “They don’t make people like him anymore,” they say. And why exactly do they think they are so not “like him”? He deserves all of the praise he gets, and all of the mourning too. But we’re wrong if we think we can distance ourselves from our responsibilities by placing him on a pedestal. No one appointed Mandela the saviour of South Africa. He was not a privileged man, or a prodigy with special talents beyond the capabilities of each and every one of us.

Now is not the time to pay lip service to ideals. Let’s think of Mandela the next time we read the newspaper, see a protest or cast our vote, and not remain silent and complacent. Instead, let’s remember how just one person can transform the world when they transcend their own self-interest and identity to channel the spirit of the people. Let’s carry on his work – our work – with dignity, clarity, openness, honesty, and love. If nothing else, what Mandela proved was that it can be done. In his own words:

“I had no epiphany, no singular revelation, no moment of truth, but a steady accumulation of a thousand slights, a thousand indignities and a thousand unremembered moments produced in me an anger, a rebelliousness, a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people. There was no particular day on which I said, Henceforth I will devote myself to the liberation of my people; instead, I simply found myself doing so, and could not do otherwise.”


Hippie 2.0

People often call me a hippie – but the fact is that most people who do have no idea how far I take it. I might cover that topic at a later date, but for now I’d like to delve into what a hippie truly is – or isn’t.

The popular conception of hippies is that they’re slackers, stoners, ill-groomed, unreliable and naive. Like, say, Cheech and Chong, or the last person you saw who looked like they time warped from Woodstock. Sort of like this:

But hippies have evolved. Hell, they’re even on Twitter. Here’s the thing: mainstream discourse has always failed to grasp the legitimate movements behind hippie culture. While there’s an obvious link between a subculture of people who question widely accepted viewpoints and those who are overt dissidents, there are a whole lot of people who exist in a grey area. I’m one of them. Sometimes I’m not even sure where the boundaries lie and I probably cross over and back many times. This leads me to my next observation about hippies: sometimes you can’t recognize them for what they are. For example, I’m sure former Fear Factor host and UFC commentator Joe Rogan wouldn’t tag himself as a hippie, or at least as just a hippie. But a lot of his ideas are decidedly anti-status quo and are always based on the principles of thinking for yourself and questioning society. You don’t have to be high to enjoy the following mind bomb, but I dare you to come away from it not feeling rocked on some level:

We’re a prolific bunch. And the counter-intuitive reality, believe it or not, is that people who are often referred to as hippies, liberals, progressives, etc. are actually all about being conservative. Oh yes. Not conservative as in, say, Republican notions about gay marriage or reproductive rights. What I’m talking about is how we approach the issues that affect everyone, particularly the most vulnerable. Hippies are conservative in the sense that they reject waste and the ensuing chaos and suffering caused by:

  • Environmental pollution and the over-exploitation of natural resources
  • Rampant materialism that encourages people to consume more and more stuff – justified by a ‘need’ to keep the economy rolling, and supported by the belief that our identities are commodities (as is everything else for that matter, apparently)
  • Unrealistic, moralistic and ineffective policy responses to poverty and crime (which of course are inextricably linked) – the disastrous war on drugs being a huge case in point
  • Agricultural policy (e.g. subsidies) driven by corporate lobbyists (e.g. Cargill and Monsanto) and the crusade for profit – not the need for healthy, nutritious food, or long-term yield, biodiversity and the humane treatment of animals
  • Laws (especially income tax laws) that reflect the interests of large corporations and the wealthy (one in the same, really), and which are designed to be obtuse and non-transparent so the general population is largely unaware of how these decisions affect them
  • A medical establishment focused on the management (vs. treatment) of symptoms, not the core causes, and which is bankrolled and educated by the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries – a system which arguably sickens more people than it heals and provides particularly worse care to women, First Nations and other ethnic minorities

A key point here is that we don’t even have to appeal to spiritual or ethical frameworks for manifesting justice on this planet – because what is practical is ethical.

So while I’m proud to be a hippie, I’m much more than just that. I’m a joker, a punk, a metalhead, a geek, a dreamer, a realist. Nobody fits into a neat little category. We can do away with labels – they only serve to limit us. Like people who think and act like environmentalists, for example, but refuse to call themselves environmentalists. Call it what you will, but ultimately we’re all capable of thinking critically, opening our minds to new paradigms and living more meaningful, conscious lives.

You can dismiss any given person as a hippie or anything else for that matter, but what you probably don’t want to admit deep down, if you’re not the sort of person who embraces it, is that somewhere inside you is a being who wants to just be who they are – free from the constraints of dogma, poverty and emotional bondage. It all starts with taking responsibility for our own thoughts and actions. This takes a great deal of courage when our views don’t reflect those of our employers, lawmakers, families, religions, etc. – but it’s the only way we’re going to find enough common ground to tip the balance of power and end the insanity of a global regime that refuses to accept reality. It starts with being honest with ourselves: