Thursday, February 02, 2006

Soaked In the Blood of Jerry Garcia

Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, in Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t be Jammed (Harper Perennial, 2000) have some interesting things to say about the “counterculture” and its parastic relationship with capitalism. Their ideas recall Kurt Cobain's famously rebellious declaration: The only way I would wear a tye-died T-shirt would be if it were soaked in the blood of Jerry Garcia.

Heath and Potter: “This wouldn’t be so important if it were confined to the world of music. Unfortunately, the idea of counterculture has become so deeply embedded in our understanding of society that it influences every aspect of social and political life. Most importantly, it has become the conceptual template for all contemporary leftist politics. Counterculture has almost completely replaced socialism as the basis of radical political thought. So if counterculture is a myth, then it is one that has misled an enormous number of people, with untold political consequences.”

Canada's "Peoples' Poet," Milton Acorn, was of a similar view, almost 40 years ago. Milton was what is known as a Red Tory.

Ron Dart is a Red Tory philosopher, a devout Anglican, an NDP supporter (at least for now), an authority on the beat poets and the Catholic mystic Thomas Merton, and the author more than a dozen books, including The Red Tory Tradition: Ancient Roots, New Routes. In conversation with Ron the other day, I heard more than just a faint echo of the Heath/Potter thesis.

Beware the “antistate” left, Ron warns. The “antistate” left in Canada speaks the same American language as Stephen Harper’s neoconservatives. It cleaves to “liberal” ideas, but in the American meaning of the word. It is a “subtler imperialism” that threatens to render Canada incapable of articulating its own effective, homegrown progressive politics.

I think this is a very important and interesting idea. And it comes with a warning Canadians should heed: Beware, else we end up with our own versions of Fox News shouting matches, and our own Al Frankens pitted against their Bill O’Reillys in the same degenerate American arguments, carried on in the same American language, and the same hoarse and hate-filled stalemate that has so horribly paralyzed and disfigured American politics.

Canada's dilemma arises from precisely the condition George Orwell understood so competely, which Ron puts this way: “When they control your language, they control your memory.”

I write about all this in my column today, here.


Blogger Intellectual Pariah said...

Your analysis sounds right, but do you think we've got a snowball's chance in hell of stopping this?

7:36 PM  
Blogger Simon Pole said...

When Dart talks about "anti-state" he really means anarchism, which I have seen him hammer repeatedly in his columns on the Vive le Canada website.

I am surprised that you buy Dart's position that anarchism is somehow outside the Canadian tradition. Dart complains that outside influences obscure our history, but Dart in fact does the same thing in regards to Canadian anarcism.

As a BC'er you should be aware of the anarchist George Woodcock who taught at UBC. The man had a profound influence on the development of nationalist Canadian culture -- as an editor of Canadian Literature, but also through books on topics like the Metis.

Don't drink Dart's koolaid.

10:32 PM  

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