Adventure, Fiction

Safe harbour – a short story

A lighthouse stood vigil as Josie and her vessel cut through the water at the harbour entrance. A crude insignia had been painted across its whitewashed belly. ‘Nelly’s a slut.’ it read in comic book typeface, even the apostrophe was in the right place. ‘This must be a village with a school.’ She thought. Josie could barely delineate a trio of fishermen across the water from her, they were perched around a portable lamp as they framed the break wall like Cormorants; purveyors of a withering gaze as they leaned against their fishing poles, smoking cigarettes. Lighthouses, she thought as they passed by the edifice; envoys of civilisation bringing comfort to washed up souls after lonely months at sea. Josie was often prone to whimsy, a vestige of early sailing trips with her dad. The halogen filament drew an arc across the channel as the 33.6 ft sloop came aglow under the spotlight. The yacht was a highly modified Sparkman & Stephens model S&S 34, the same design used by Jessica Watson and Jesse Martin in their global circumnavigations.

A lightning bolt had sounded the death knell for La Marlena’s maiden voyage, causing a litany of damage. The vessel’s lightning rod had bore most of the impact when the bolt had struck. But the salty-wet had caused some of the seven million volts to jump to the mast and electrocute the hull. Josie had been lucky, insulated by her booties and heavy weather smock, she had been huddled in the cabin surrounded by fibreglass and balsa wood. The noise felt like gunshots fired next to her head. She had noticed after an hour the dried blood in her ear; a burst left eardrum adding to the confusion. The transponder and radio were fried and the diesel engine had been running with the helm on autopilot. It had eventually seized after the oil lines were set loose by the impact of the waves. Even Parker was broken. Parker was the name she had given to her self-steering windvane system after the chauffeur of the pink Rolls-Royce in the Thunderbirds television series. As far as she could tell, all the practical technology and backup communications built into the craft had been rendered useless. She was on her own.

The last known point before the storm hit, she had marked it down, had been about one hundred and fifty nautical miles South-West of Kiribati. Josie reckoned the storm to have carried her due North, toward the Marshall Islands. Relying on her training, and without electronics, she had plotted a course for safe harbour, hoping to run into civilisation within the archipelago before running out of supplies. Josie had tried at length to triage the broken equipment on the journey onward to no avail. In a stroke of good fortune, she had struck land on the third day. She had stumbled upon the Micronesian archipelago of the Marshall Islands.

For a geographically trifling belt of tiny islands, the Marshalls had a blemished past. Unfortunately for the locals, the Age of Discovery with all its progress had brought with it a darker beast. Namely, colonialism and the struggle for power in the Pacific. Since a Spanish King first declared them his in 1528, the islands have played host to five major colonising powers. The Spaniards were the longest occupying Europeans, using the islands’ natural resources to feed their supply routes to the Americas before selling their claim of the archipelago to the German Empire. After losing the Spanish-American war, the Armada, or what was left of it, no longer needed supplies carried to Manila. The Japanese were next to invade, overpowering the German occupation with a small Naval force during the Great War. After the war, the Treaty of Versailles, sanctioned by the newly formed League of Nations, decreed Japan as the administrative power for the whole of Micronesia. Subsequently, Japan set about trying to assimilate the islands. Eventually, the Americans wrested control from the Japanese during a brief campaign in the Second World War. They then wreaked a great deal of havoc on the land, permanently poisoned and dislodged the inhabitants and handed back sovereignty to the Marshallese in 1979 to clean up the mess. The mess was caused by a nascent technology’s use which, a few years after testing finished in 1958, came uncomfortably close to signalling the end of mankind during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Josie wondered how the surviving cockroaches would have coped having been thrust into a brave-new-world, bereft of Pea-Beau fly spray to hinder their advance. It was odd that a violent dystopia could be juxtaposed against such a peaceful landscape. The first full-scale tests of ‘Atomic bombs’, as they only later became known, were conducted along this series of shorelines by the US military right after World War II. They began by bombing the hell out of the ocean nearby a little place called Bikini Atoll. The name Bikini was originally a markedly different, Marshallese word which was subsequently bastardised by the Germans. The Atoll, from which the two-piece swimsuit bears its namesake, apparently inspired a Madison Avenue executive. The ad-man figured that the new garment would have an explosive effect on men and thus named it accordingly. The nuclear tests left thousands of islanders in exile, many of whose descendants still cannot return due to ongoing contamination.

The original inhabitants knew the islands as jolet jen Anij, or Gifts from God. Fitting, considering the circumstances of her arrival, Josie thought. That’s what they felt like to her as she sailed up to them. The locals had used stick charts to navigate the currents and islands since the second millennia B.C. An astoundingly accurate technology developed by the Micronesians to pilot their canoes and dugout boats. She could have made use of one of these as she sailed through the Atoll. Narrowly avoiding the incessant reefs, she relied on dumb luck and the occasional yelp from Pirate to bring her vessel safely through the shallows.

Josie hadn’t listened much in class, intrinsically knowing that the sea could teach her just about everything she was interested in but she did have a fairly captivating modern history teacher and some of it had sunk in. She thought about the dichotomy of her situation. How could the home of a relatively recent geopolitical maelstrom could now be her safe harbour?

When she had departed some twenty-eight days earlier, there had been a small fanfare arranged to bid her farewell. Josie knew they would be searching for her now; she had missed the check-in point by thirty-seven hours. The thought of piloting a small craft with a broken radio across three hundred nautical miles of oceanic expanse, with nothing but the wind to carry her home did not phase her. It was what she had been trained to do. The thought of failure however, brought Josie to tears the first day of calm after the storm had passed.

A bottle of Verve Cliquot had been smashed against the bow at the launch, and Josie had sailed towards the setting sun with Pirate, the ship’s not-so-ironically-named dog at her side as the crowd sent cheers as she set sail. The memory stood in contrast as they passed the red and green channel markers, illuminated in the darkness. She looked around, exhausted. None were present to welcome her triumphant return, nothing but the transient tide with its flotsam, carried unrelenting on its back.

The waters were calm within the rocky confines of the harbour. Josie looked ashore as the illuminated stones clapped in staccato, awash with the lapping of the sailboat’s wake. The lighthouse beam raked the shoreline only to rouse a stilted approval for its visitor in the night. It was as if the shore rocks could not be roused to greet her with genuine applause. Appropriate, she thought, given her arrival was unannounced.

Pirate was a cross-bred hound to whom Josie was fervently attached. Stout and coarse-haired, the mutt had a decided lack of pedigree. This caused Josie, who prided herself on being a contrarian, to love him despite his unbecoming appearance. She got him from her neighbours who had known her father. It was his last gift to her, before he left. The neighbours, part-time dog breeders, were a reclusive couple from the Netherlands named Lindgred and Petyr, who by all appearances could sustain themselves solely on cigarettes and Diet Coke. The dog’s obscure provenance seemed to lend itself to Josie’s own feelings of disenchantment with the state of her life. The graffiti on the lighthouse suddenly caused Josie to muffle her laugh. Pirate’s mother had been called Nelly. ‘No wonder the poor mutt is growling.’ She thought.

The hybrid cloth of the jib rapped a brief report as Josie spun the helm of La Marlena to port, centering the rudder as she rounded into the wind. The noise slapped against the water as the other boats swayed at their moorings. Josie deftly released the foresall halyard and watched as the sail fell onto the deck. Her canine crewmate bounded toward the sail, he jumped atop the flapping canvas and barked twice in approval. Satisfied, she loosened the mainsheet as they beat lazily across the wind toward the other boats.

Swathes of bioluminescent plankton filled the harbour. Pirate growled at the occasional Bream that punctured the neon green surface like cannonballs fired from Conjuboy lining the rocks.  The fish were feeding on bugs at the surface; their tiny bodies contrasted by the plankton. It made them easy targets for the undersea archers as they zipped about, alert and unencumbered. The dog peered through the pulpit toward the shore, aligned with his master’s gaze. The dog’s home was at sea, he had been practically raised aboard La Marlena when Josie was preparing for her round the world voyage. She wished her dad had been there to help her prepare for it. John had always been a keen sailor. A born Kiwi before emigrating to Australia and the reason for Josie’s dual citizenship, he was raised in the Bay of Islands. John, like Josie had practically grown up on a boat as lead operator of his father’s business, a fishing charters, sole proprietorship. Josie had precious few memories of her grandfather. He had died when she was young, of alcoholism she suspected.

Pirate was equally glad to see the shore. Josie’s eyes rested momentarily on a yellow haze. A solitary street lamp refracted light beneath the fog that hugged the village. Her canine apostle stood staunch, tail wagging impatiently. La Marlena’s slackened sheet lines whipped at the breeze as they lazily tacked toward the shore. The dock was occupied with a row of painted wooden fishing dinghies on either side. There were no moorings and the jetty was too crowded to tie on. La Marlena’s anchor chain – a part aptly called ‘the bitter end’ – had come loose from its crush and the anchor had been lost overboard in the storm. Josie would have to effect a beach landing. The retractable centerboard Josie had insisted that the shipwright install – a rare feature on a yacht of this size – would need to be raised as soon as the sandbank rubbed against the draught. If she timed it wrong the keel would dig into the sand and almost certainly give way with catastrophic results. She did not wish to get this far and risk capsize in a faraway harbour. A short wade through the shallows could be made to reach the dry bank of the harbour. Then she and Pirate would be safe ashore.

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Arts & Culture

A novel idea: the eight rules of book club

Foreword: I wrote this in 2015 while our book club was in full swing. Since then, people moved away, we lost momentum and eventually ran out of steam. If I were to blame our actions; perhaps we put too much emphasis on meal-time extravagance, and the need to outdo each other with intellectual synopses. But mostly, life just got in the way.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting across from my friends at a table of a small bar in the port town of Wollongong near Sydney, Australia, looking down at a $7.50 craft beer which, in hindsight I probably couldn’t afford. Despite this I will merrily hand over my cash for beer because what else does a man do for a cheap thrill in Australia once the sun goes down? This was somewhat unimaginative of course, and I could be accused of abject complacency, but with more small bars per capita in Australia than ever before I certainly wasn’t the only one taking the well trodden, amber path of camaraderie alongside my mates on a Friday evening.

Sitting at the table, something in between sips caused me to lament any further contribution to the topic of conversation – something about the Kardashians, I think. I knew I was at risk of coming across as a sour discontent, yet aware I was among people who probably also valued the tangibility of printed words, I unceremoniously cut across the brief lull in discourse with the question. ‘What book is everyone reading right now?’ The response was mixed, some were slogging away at great novels while others were absorbed in textbooks. Almost everyone at the table said they wish they had more time to just sit and read for leisure, and were excited to share what was essentially a large part of their lives, the characters in the book resonated with them in a way that television could not.

With the advent and proliferation of companies like Netflix, high quality television is cropping up all over the place. Television is at the forefront of popular discussion, and is 3 times more frequently mentioned on Google today, compared to last decade. In the last few years, people find themselves tuning in to their Netflix at a time that suits their busy schedule, and the networks are being paid through a channel that doesn’t involve advertising, illegal file sharing or subscription to a service with it’s unwanted peripheral products. It’s become de rigueur for most of my friends to throw on an episode of Suits, True Detective or Game of Thrones after a day’s work or study – all of which by the way are excellent shows. Something occurred to me days later; the fact that we actually read books at all made us now part of the minority, engaging in a dying pastime that would one day, undoubtedly be replaced by neural translation and learn-by-osmosis, or some other push button, instant gratification, science fiction concept we haven’t yet thought of.

A few days later, a friend of mine came up with the idea to start a book club. I tentatively agreed that we should run a once off trial, as a kind of lean validation – suck it and see. Ever mindful of the connotations I’d previously held about clubs, books and the inherent nerdiness that ensues, we formulated a rough plan. The following article comes to you at a point in time early in our club’s inception, anecdotal observations of just two nights of mixed success over two months. We’re all busy with careers, businesses and relationships, but we still managed to make it happen – this is encouraging. I’m furtively aware the future is uncertain. A shiny idea today may well be lackluster tomorrow. It’s entirely possible that the interest in our literary adventure, propagated by a fledgling band of paperback enthusiasts could quickly wane like the incumbent tide. The Scottish poet Robert Burns taught us the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley. If our plans were to turn awry as in the seminal poem Tae a Moose, our club like the mice in the field would undoubtedly fall victim to the rigors of our daily lives. Yet such an ill fated horizon will be okay because we started something and it has already made a dent on us, it wasn’t waste, it was meaningful at the time. Burns’ poem was later immortalised by John Steinbeck in his classic novella Of Mice and Men – a poignant commentary on base human desires and the second book we collectively scrutinised.

At the mild risk of being labelled a long winded, hypocritical monger of the leftist agenda – I study finance, I can’t possibly be that guy – we may have in the process unwittingly undressed a nagging discontentment with modern Capitalism. We’ve stumbled into and effectively remedied a side effect of the great illusion that is mainstream amusement, with introspective, communal involvement. This same illusion follows our persistently malcontented pursuit of leisure; a lifestyle which undoubtedly gnaws at our wits and convinces us to spend our material currency on material things we cannot afford. This much is alarmingly clear to me.

In the two months since we began the adventure, notwithstanding the $10 and sundry we fork out monthly on a Penguin Classic and wine, our material wealth remains relatively unchanged. The sentiment however, is that our sense of community and knowledge and understanding of things within the world has already begun to shift, and as a result, more people have expressed interest in partaking – apparently there is a need for this. After our first comically small meeting we realised a little bit of magic had happened. We felt like mild mannered versions of Tyler Durden in Fight Club. We were looking for something different and instead of predictably lashing out within the box, stomping and shouting to the deaf ears of those contented with the status quo, we did something different. We changed the rules and began to play our own game. I’m not encouraging mass dissention – though our first book, Revolution by Russell Brand was an enlightening read – and I’m not suggesting our idea is new and different, but I do recognise the current model for the pursuit and actual enjoyment of leisure is broken. This seems to be a trending topic at the moment, one we’ve know about for some time. It relates to our tendency to focus on material wealth which, in itself ultimately perpetuates a desire for more of the same. The paradigm that arises arguably serves as the basis for Western economies and is explained in eloquent prose in Brand’s book. I hope you’re able to glean just a little insight and inspiration from our foray into club formation and management, and perhaps be inspired to play by your own rules, be it starting a book club or simply questioning the status quo in which you’re involved. My other wish is that you, the reader please accept that this is my first post in any forum, ever.

  1.  Just like the rules of Fight Club;

    nobody really wants to hear about your book club if they’re not involved, to them you’re just a pretentious toff. If it’s good enough though, word will spread without the need for incessant promotion. There’s an air of sordid abhorrence to scoffing about your non-sporting, extracurricular activities in a public space and some people simply don’t like to admit to strangers they’re a part of a group of grown adults who gather to talk about bedtime stories. This holds as a general rule, especially in a bar. Unless of course the bar is called Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, where patrons are likely privy to a paternal secret passed down through generations they’ve sworn a blood oath to protect. In which case you should probably just go with it and try to join whatever cushy cult they’ve managed to gain entry to – be it Satanic rituals, colonic irrigation or whatever the conservatives are into these days. This law of silence isn’t hard and fast, but do try to preserve the sanctity of what you’re trying to do here.

  2. Protect the sanctity of your institution;

    only allow eager participants to remain in the group. Meet monthly to discuss your chosen novel. Membership well chosen will engender autonomous involvement, and the nights will begin to run themselves. Disregard bigots and social invalids. If people make a habit of absence, cut them. Don’t cut them in a garish, Don Corleone kind of way, more like a Ron Burgandy, struck from the news team, civilised dislodgement sort of deal.

  3.  Venture outside your comfort zone;

    if by mere happenstance you identify with a regiment of beret-toting, Marxist guerilla fighters, why not choose a book on the histories of the Industrial Revolution and see how the countries who actually won the wars were built? Avoid epics at all costs. Homer’s The Odyssey or Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time are surely great reads – I wouldn’t know, I’ve better ways to spend my year – but you can digest those behemoths in your own time. Nobody wants to have to tell their child they couldn’t make their dance recital because they were preoccupied playing catchup on a 1500 page tome.

  4.  Facebook is your friend;

    set up a private group page to add members and delegate tasks. Discuss next month’s reading choice and encourage participation in decision making but be firm once a date is set. Set up a new and separate event page every month for members to rsvp and host dinners on rotation. Use the attendance list to hold any non-arrivals to account. Set a date and stick to it. Clearly outline the rules of your club and pin the post at the top of the feed to serve as an inauspicious manifesto of lore for the common folk. For example, “If you don’t turn up to one in three events, you’re cut, and you’re not allowed to take it personally.”

  5.  Host well;

    this is debatably the most critical aspect of member attraction and retention. Take turns hosting among members on a monthly basis. Put on generous meals in your own homes. Eat and drink your fill before having the discussion in a room free of unnecessary distraction, your expressions should be uninhibited while your wit remains in tact – don’t get obnoxiously drunk. Set the atmosphere, create a circular amphitheatre with ad hoc seating. Delegate the bringing of single item goods such as wine, and antipasti to delegates, and deem it a non-mandatory but welcome token of entry. Encourage sharing of goods alongside ideas.

  6.  Take notes;

    put effort into your reads. Take notes on ideas that grab you. Directly transcribe beautiful excerpts. Notice underlying themes, plot twists, character dimension and development, metaphor, allegory, personification, alliteration, pop-culture references, whether a text is written in prose, soliloquy, or iambic pentameter. What is the author’s style? Do they switch tempo? Which literary devices are instrumental in shaping the author’s style, and so forth. You can be plain or sophisticated in your hypotheses, there are no wrong opinions and no dumb questions. It doesn’t take a doctor of philosophy in English lit, nor does it take a high school diploma to enjoy a good read and want to talk about it.

  7.  Remain open minded and check your Id at the door;

    don’t enter the discussion with a fully formed opinion. Your friends will have picked up on things you missed, be open to their ideas and practice humility. Let people speak their part and pause before rubbishing alternate interpretations, no matter their faulty reasoning or apparent plain sightedness. Try to see where they’re coming from – it’s amazing how few people actually do this. Think of the author as effectively dead upon penning the script. Interpretation of literature, like art is subjective. If someone is brave enough to bring forth their synthesis of an idea, you must at least try to empathise with their perspective before raining weapons-grade spittle on what seems at the surface to be nothing but flippant and puerile opinion. After all, it was Chuck Klosterman, the enigmatic author of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs – A Low Culture Manifesto, who pertinently quipped “everybody is wrong about everything, just about all the time.” I think he hit the proverbial nail on the head with that one – though there’s a strong possibility I could be wrong about that too.

  8.  Leadership is required;

    run your book club like a business. A few members will tacitly assume the mantle of decision maker – this is okay, and quite necessary when trying to organise just about anything. To paraphrase formulaic corporate jargon; if from the perspective of leadership you put effort into producing a product or service people want to be a part of, organise a team of competent people, then formulate and refine a set of processes for execution of your ideas, success is inevitable. Consider subtle guideline awareness and subsequent punishment. For example, excessive tardiness is clearly inexcusable, so you should go ahead and begin dinner or the main event without them. Three strikes though, and you’ve my permission to ransack their family’s village, burn their taverns and hang bovine heads from the palisades.

Finally; combine the above ingredients in a fire retardant bowl and whisk that fiery brew until the bubbles disappear. Pour a snifter of your hard work into your grandmother’s tumbler and sip contentedly with your right hand, while patting yourself on the back with your left. While you’re at it, wear your favourite smoking jacket. There’s nothing like donning an ill-fitted, velvet or leather coat for the purpose of lending credence to a largely uninformed opinion – politicians do it all the time. If you follow this guide and you’re lucky, you’ll find it difficult to get a word in by virtue of the highly stimulated, wanton exchange of words at your perfectly curated book night.

 

Revel in the cultured badinage,

 

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Harticanards

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Arts & Culture

On cultural appropriation: and becoming the anointed vassal of God.

I attended a music festival on the weekend. Scores of millennials in their felt farmer’s hats, glitter, and braless fishnets sauntered about while droves of gender-fluid young men looked on, mouths agape and eyes agog, sporting their sisters’ cut-off chinos as they admired their counterparts in at least half of their glory. There were top knots aplenty and an assortment of thirty-somethings, most of whom had reached an age that allowed them to equally enjoy themselves at a folk festival, bless them.


Setup

It was my yuletide music festival. Approaching thirty-something and unlike my compatriots, I’d been living under a rock (since 2014, apparently) when it came to appropriate festival attire. My ignorance reared its head when I showed up wearing a native American headdress. The kind you buy in a kids’ store. A wall of police dogs greeted me and my feathery crown at the gate; the cops said nothing. They were looking for a different kind of contraband.

The previous week, I was unwittingly dragged through a costume store while shopping with a friend. Amid the boredom, a flash of inspiration saw me purchase three native American war bonnets for myself and two mates. I had the following weekend’s festival in mind. Little could I have anticipated the impact of this decision and the indignation it would cause.

Melodrama

For every person wanting to don the bonnets for a quick selfie, we received an equal number of eye-daggers and incendiary remarks. Our ignorance had become the butt of our amusement before a supervisory, quasi-security guard approached me in the beer line. He was the kind of guard who works their way up through the bartending ranks to be awarded an earpiece and a walkie-talkie. I recognised him as the music-guy cum bar manager at our local university. “Take that thing off.” He started, deadpan. “No” I said as eloquently as a single word answer could facilitate, unwilling to redact my hubris. Then he reached out, snatched the feathery accoutrement, called me a racist and stalked away to the safety of his confine. A non-sanctimonious de-coronation! I was incredulous.

“We were just trying to have some fun.” I called, meekly after him. Then suddenly, another white warrior for oppressed cultures on the other side of the world (WWFOCOTOSOTW) sprung from the woodwork, eager to throw her proverbial hat into the ring as I had unwittingly done. Apparently, the two disenfranchised hipsters were in cahoots. “By making fun of minority cultures, well done!” Quasi-guard’s alternative sidekick called at me in front of gawking onlookers in the bar line. “Go shave your armpits!” I volleyed back enthusiastically as the crowd eschewed hushed appreciation for this free and unexpected sideshow. Sidekick girl sought refuge among the throng as I returned to my own echo-chamber of like-minded friends, clutching my Bundy and coke with as much elegance as I could muster. The melodrama quickly resided once the offending artefact had been confiscated. We carried on, joyous as the acts bore on at full steam into the night.

There will always be a struggle between truth and semi-truth based on the necessary distillation of facts into media soundbites, and on the inherent biases of the agendas that support them. Which is precisely why compassionate self-inquiry and empathetic reasoning are so important.

Introspection

In the sobering days that followed, I thought it wise to consider my run-in with the self-appointed PC constabulary. I conducted a brief literature review in an attempt to gauge the amplitude of my misdeeds. Subsequently, I uncovered the name given to the gaudy act for which I was brought down by fire like the feather-clad Icarus. They call it cultural appropriation. This is nomenclature that I now proudly use, excessively and in all situations to assert my intellectual superiority over the less educated unfortunates who haven’t read the latest edition of Monocle magazine. The literature, however, did have some effect on my perspective. I can honestly say that I almost regret donning that native American headdress. Indigenous Americans, after all deserve not to have their cultural iconography cheapened by a sunburnt, Australian festival-goer who didn’t earn the right to wear it, I get that. But they also sure as hell don’t need to have their cultural sensitivities zealously whitesplained by a conformo-hipster at a festival in the great island-of-down-under. I mean sure, I wouldn’t wear a Victoria Cross on Anzac Day but I wasn’t at a military parade, I was at a fucking festival. Please excuse my alliteration. Amusingly, the only thing that made my sartorial transgression worthwhile, IMO, was the over-the-top reaction it received.

Scapegoats and social ostracism

Traditionally, we channel hostilities toward the unknown tribe. The unknowns, or those of whom we don’t identify with, tend to stimulate our primal brain and raise our hackles. This causes our inner animal to growl at others for bad things that happen to those we DO identify with. What’s more, if we fail to fully support our tribes, we are threatened with social ostracism (historically a life and death scenario). This acts as another contributing factor to sycophantic acquiescence. These elements are compounded by the more contemporary phenomenon of superfluous access to information, often from barely credible sources. ‘Insensibly, one begins to twist facts to suit theories.’ said Arthur Conan Doyle in Sherlock Holmes. Due to the reasons above, the proverbial waters for contentious issues can appear murky. Inexorably, this leads to gaps for more unscrupulous tribal leaders to draw new battle lines, often at odds with noble foundations of the movement from which they were birthed.

On a geopolitical scale, perhaps this is a pretense for social crisis? The age-old ‘with us or against us’ mentality in preparation for all-out factional warfare? A long bow to draw, perhaps, but not inconceivable. Blame, under these conditions, is assigned without much thought for a sensible, underlying cause. In this case, diatribe was directed at the miscarriage of a symbol, which bore with it the all-too-common fallacy of perceived contextual relevance and mal-intent.

But oh, the hypocrisy!

Was my feathery display seen as boastful self-expression; maligning with the mock-modesty and indoctrinated views of the ‘you-should-be-shocked-if…’ cultural Marxists? Or was their reaction to my ignorance justifiably handled? Perhaps, but how do they explain the dichotomy of their virtues when failing to question someone wearing a faux cowboy hat or a Papal mitre at a party, for example?

I agree that cultural solemnities have their place. Ceremonies, for instance. But is everything important and intrinsic to somebody’s culture now off limits? Should we be foster the Brave New World and snatch a stick from a little boy’s hand when he pretends to play Cowboys and Indians?

Empathic reasoning

It may be reasonable to assert, that compassionate self-inquiry is critical for empathetic reasoning. This goes beyond the echo-chamber of the loud minority. The others, of course, are mostly apathetic; the silent majority who prefer not to challenge the status quo, either for their genuine apathy or an unrelenting need to blend in. This is also fine. However, if fire is going to be dished out we need to determine the facts on both sides for ‘wisdom can indeed be found amongst the maidens at the grindstone.’

Safety in numbers

There is safety in numbers; until you follow sheep off a cliff. If my temporary assailants found themselves facing an affront to their opinions similar to mine, could they have better questioned the tenets of their own beliefs before lashing out with vitriolic, reactionary catchphrases? As it stands, I would do well to take my own advice. F. Scott Fitzgerald said it best when he appropriated Aristotle’s musings in Nicomachean Ethics. “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” My opposing neophytes would then do well to protect their realigned views with some fervor. It is, after all, a right they’ve now earned.

[Edit]

It’s been pointed out to me since posting this, that not identifying with an oppressed culture doesn’t mean you can’t speak out against injustice on its behalf. I agree with that wholeheartedly, and I agree that the powerful majority should speak out if injustice is apparent. However, if cultural relevancy is in question and the protagonist isn’t fully aware of their discrepancy, should they be hung out to dry at the expense of all rational argument? A cachéd thought expressed through popular media often doesn’t allow for nuanced debate and can give its proponents a false moral high ground. For me, in this instance, I wasn’t given much space to argue and it was obvious they wouldn’t have listened if I’d tried.

Effort and perception

Is it all worth the spike in cortisol levels, you might ask? It really depends on how you want to be perceived. My pretense is to learn as much as possible and then act well the character I assign myself. And should everyone have to put this amount of effort in to get their head around a contentious issue? Probably not. Ideally, people have better things to do but it does leave them vulnerable to clichéd messages. There will always be a struggle between truth and semi-truth based on the necessary distillation of facts into media soundbites, and on the inherent biases of the agendas that support them. Which is precisely why compassionate self-inquiry and empathetic reasoning are so important.

On native accoutrements

This article from a blogger who goes by the name of Waves was written way back in 2011. It would seem I’ve been out of the loop for a while. She raises the subject with a refined eloquence that I can’t begin to evoke in my own writing. Here are her words:

“But there is one more question I haven’t asked: why are we “Westerners” drawn to culturally specific and indigenous fabrics, jewellery and pieces of clothing? It is just because we are greedy thieves and imperialists? Or are we looking for beauty? Is it only human to be attracted to something that is different from what we know? Or perhaps our quest for indigenous cultures and their spiritual symbols and fabrics is telling of the lack of meaning and spirituality in the lives of many Westerners today. What many cultural appropriation critics see as “one destructive, white, void Western world” carries with itself a tragic, torn history of many complex, destroyed or disappeared cultural heritages that we, as citizens of the world, sorely miss.”

On the issue of cultural theft or usage without permission. Quasi Philosopher makes a good point about identification not implying ownership.

“Of course, cultural artifacts like clothing and music might be held very dear by people, even to the point of it constituting who they are. However, no amount of caring about something gives you ownership over it. This is true for people who think liking a band before they get famous somehow makes their love special, and its true for people who think being associated with a culture for a long time makes it theirs.”

The anointed vassal

Often it seems, a little bit of education goes a long way. There are few things that reduce credibility more than blatant ignorance tantamount to bigotry. Yet sometimes narrow-mindedness prima facie, just isn’t what it appears to be and reactionary political correctness is an answer that falls short on reasoning. As for next year’s festival, I may swap out the headdress for a Papal hat. The sniffer dogs wouldn’t dare fuck with the anointed vassal of God, now would they?

 

Disclaimer: The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this ‘work’ are fictitious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred. The author has no ties, financial or otherwise, with any of the links to other works herein. 
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