Canadians are a filthy people, diminutive in spirit, tumescent in body, squatting in the ruins of their habitat like shit-smearing homunculae. Small-minded, they have historically been unable to see the forest for the trees.
So they’ve knocked all their forests over. They’re feeling much better now, thank-you. Taller, somehow. The little simulacral people don’t seem so bad against the background of spindly third growth that passes for nature.
In fact they knocked over anything worth calling a forest in southern Canada by the middle of the last century. And then, inside the head of each homunculus, a tree fell in the forest of imagination and no one heard it. Perhaps this tree was called memory. Now the ‘people’ can look at spindly things and think ‘tree’. Look ma, they’re growing pulp.
One does try to be delicate about these matters. It’s best not to get into Canada’s history, for example, as the me-too pisspuppy of American imperial adventures. Canadians are Americans by another name, which is to say casually brutal and wonderfully ill-informed about the consequences of their actions, but they lack the openness of character and the genial good nature that has taken part of the sting out of many a Yankee foreign debacle, not to mention all those Southern multi-starred generals and colonels with their warm drawls and courtly manners and attentiveness to foreign affairs as if everything ought to be done in the interests of putting the civil back into worldwide Civil War re-enactment. A sort of Southern politesse. Winn-Dixie, take me home. Y’all come back.
No such luck here. True, they love the word “confederacy” in these parts. But the corollary subliminal phrase “of dunces” sticks to it, I regret to report, like poop on a scoop.
The bus shelters in Toronto have been displaying ads of a young man in a loveably goofy tuque and no coat just kind of standing there. “We were made for this,” says the ad. For what? Waiting for the Spadina streetcar? But at the bottom of the ad the name of Canada’s inaugural social arrangement (a corporation called The Bay) is connected by the long body of the boy to Vancouver 2010, the most visible Canadian node this month in the spectacle that we might call capital.
You couldn’t ask for a better image of the formation of political subjects. People tend to think of themselves as independent agents reviewing social arrangements and then selecting the best one from the smorgasbord of life. But in fact the individual only comes into being to the extent that he submits to a symbolic order that has always already chosen him. The choice is always past. We were made for this. Thus even our desires are another’s, as Lacan might say. We “want” democracy and the corporatist sensorium of the spectacle/audicle. It’s only natural.
We were made for this.
When the Hudson’s Bay Company arrived on the scene in—what was it? 1670?—the land had been castorformed for untold millennia by the beaver. The beaver: we were made by this, a mid-sized terraforming mammal, not as smart as the variously great or wily predators, but with an intuition for making worlds. Indigo, the bookstore in town at which I cannot afford to shop, has a hundred-dollar terran globe, highly detailed and with a mercurial sheen to its lakes, like that T-1000 guy in Terminator 2. If you angle the globe so that the lakes called great are in front and the northern and western territories of the place called Canada are in a line behind, there is a moment when suddenly the whole of Canadian history and its lost worlds shimmers into sense, and the meaningless mercator maps fall away from the back of your head, like so many psychological projections. It’s as if the thrill and sadness you get from watching Avatar has been compressed into a few seconds. The route of the voyageurs lies before you at this angle, all the way to Athabasca, and men and women might have gone in search of adventure instead of fur for distant markets, and a robust people might never have abandoned the canoes which are strong and light and adapted across the millennia for all these niches in the ecology of waterland, and we might venerate still the beaver not for his wit but for his inklings, his dam hunches, and we might yet be finding joy in the land. A space elevator might have risen from giant forests by now, and adventurers might have climbed literal ladders to go camping in space, but Canadians have preferred to put their money and technology into interminable and distant wars.
What a tawdry compensation are these foolish Olympics! Instead of the strength of a far-flung people, we have a statistically insignificant group of physical overachievers as compensatory spectacle for a complacent and car-softened populace. Worldwide, billions watch a few. The shame of it is overwhelming. And despite their overachievements, the athletes themselves can’t even get to the mountains on their own feet, but must be bussed in like so many delicate flowers. Some of these kids call themselves skiers and they’ve never even skied a cliff. What do these kids know about off-piste?
Hudson’s Bay Company, the official gimcrack and gewgaw purveyor of the Vancouver Olympics, killed the beaver. It sucked out the environmental life from the interior of a continent to produce frippery for Europe—the beaver hats that have made Europeans look ridiculous in paintings ever since. The beaver hat is the official hat of the emerging bourgeoisie. Small people putting phallic extensions on their heads to create a class with the dubious distinction of ‘middle’.
The Bay’s pillaging of the biosphere was terrible enough, but we are beginning to discover that there was worse. The destruction to the semiosphere, to the world of information that is life from ‘below’ cellular level ‘up’ to the level of organism, and beyond that to organizations of organisms, and past organisms in clusters to some entity that may be clusters of clusters, swarms of swarms, the earth itself. A destruction beyond knowing. Clusters’ last stand is upon us, and the destruction of the beaver is at the heart of this clusterfuck.
Beaver habitat is a kind of archive of all the best of centuries of accretion in the semiosphere. The Bay’s sacking of beaver habitat is to life what the burning of the library of Alexandria was to the life of scrolls. Representatives of the company should be paraded in shame at Olympic ceremonies as a reminder of our brutal past and our ongoing collective amnesia. Even David Thompson, explorer, canoeist and—my mother tells me—my namesake despite the ‘p’ in his name, a man who was no stranger to the prejudices of his time, could not stand the company but fled into the wilderness to escape his job with the Bay. Come get me, suckers. He was made for this: getting out.
At seewalk, the mostly invisible and hard-to-locate nowtopian nonviolent disorganization that lurks in the chinks of the empire (the technical name for a chink is ‘articulation’, the tight but open space between that makes sense of the whole), we refuse to recognize nation-states, which have been an unmitigated scourge on the planet. We are ‘against’ nations in the prepositional sense, as a pre-position, a position of abutment, the way a piece of sand is up against the tread of a tire. Because we don’t ‘exist’ in the system—we don’t show up, we aren’t registered—the loss of any of our members makes no difference to our collective life. We know nothing of each other. Indeed, what is there to know? What, except for everything? Everything that is vital: the againstness forms us. We are the molecular interpenetration of the machine. Here. And over here. This light-and-lateral strategy is one mode in the repertoire of oppositional practices that nonviolent groups will have to increasingly adopt in this century as Canada and other radical and violent entities increase their capacity to molest citizens. If you think there’s freedom of thought and speech in Canada, it’s because you haven’t thought anything worth thinking.
Here is all that matters in nowtopia. The hereness of space and time. An ontological impossibility, lived. We are the children of now. It’s 2010—do you know where your children are? By day, we lurk in the content, and at night, we sneak into the form. We were made for this. Sometimes we are maids for this.
How’s the machine working out for you these days? Notice any glitches?
Every morning in Toronto the suburbs vomit into the city. The chunks are single cars with single drivers, but on Bloor the separate bits blur filmically into the steady roar of a great river. Foolish but brave cyclists kayak the flow. Not all of them will return to their homes this year. Directly below Bloor the subway trains run. The drivers in their American cars express their contempt for the people who take the trains by accelerating at them when they cross the street to dive into the rabbit holes of the TTC. Burnt engine oil streaks the channel, laps up onto the buildings. The Canadian spirit is death and filth, the wasteland of human hope. Three and a half centuries of corporate hegemony in Canada—it all comes down to 8 a.m. on Bloor.
It’s a funny thing to think of all these athletes getting to Vancouver in the middle of the winter by road and by air instead of on skis and snowshoes. What a bunch of losers, getting together to celebrate the destruction of the environment at ski resorts, those permanent clearcuts slashed into third growth.
They say that only five percent of people have ever flown. Apparently that five percent of polluters does its best to make up for the rest. We know a man whose round-the-world sales job makes of him a kind of perpetual motion machine, in near permanent flight, a rate of burn for which he is compensated adequately enough to maintain a big house downtown and a little house out of town.
But who compensates the downwind children? What flights of fancy do we imagine for them? The salesman’s an exotic of high-flying elsewhereness, like those ‘Canadian’ sandpipers who have a taste for South America and have been known to visit western Europe for the escargot. Canadians subsidize the salesman’s petrol, but who subsidizes the ozone layer?
Canadians and other capitalists love talking about the free market, but what they mean is welfare for the rich rather than the poor. Remember acid rain, the thing we had before global warming was such a big hit and everyone started swapping carbon cred under their Christmas trees? In Canamerica, we all know plenty of people like the salesman who make their livings from publicly funded acid trips. They are models of free enterprise. Beam them up. Spare a happy thought for them while you’re doing your taxes, the forced tribute to keep the war machine running.
The call of the northern high-flyer is bold like a crow’s raucous caw but comes to nothing in the end, like this: “ca-nada, ca-nada, ca-nada.” It shits in flight, an impressive spew of particulate matter into the silver clouds, where the detritus becomes a fecal lining.
All is not lost. There are some in these northern watersheds who have seen through the lie that Barack Obama is president of Canada and know that Barrick Gold, the corporate polluter, is the real chief executive. Barrick Gold, whose own Peter Munk, the gold metalist, runs Toronto like a mining town and has the University of Toronto by its corporate balls, is the smiling face of Canada’s good cop, but there are plenty of nowtopians of every stripe who’ve seen behind the curtain of the barracks-and-siege mentality. Of course, many of these nowtopians will be getting their asses taser’d in the next seventeen days in Vancouver by a billion bucks worth of rentacop.
The real point of any Olympics is the same as the point of the ritual of taking your clothes off in public before you get on an airplane. Governments want to know if you’ll voluntarily surrender all of your rights or only most of them. But we can pretend that the point is to promote health and that other Olympian stuff you can hear on the televisions even if you’re just walking past them this week.
At seawalk we recommend canceling the Olympics and doing the following in the next seventeen days: getting all cars and trucks off the roads of every city in Canada, flooding them for skating and for ice-borne food transport and skichairs of all types, and getting it on with some real hibernal follies. Haven’t we had enough of watching other people skate and ski? We can do it right here in Toronto if we just get the fat fucks out of their cars and return the streets to the kids of all ages.
Well, that’s all for now in “ the dirty old man of the climate world,” as the English paper The Guardian calls Canada. Liam and I are off to go sledding in a part of the ravine the Canadians failed to ruin.
DAVID KER THOMSON lives in the Dufferin Grove watershed in downtown Toronto. He grew up in the land of America, where his father, a former lumberjack and dynamite expert, would routinely suggest that deviant behavior would result in his being hauled off in a paddywagon called a “black Maria” [pronounced ‘Mariah’ as in ‘Carey’] to the country of his birth. This is more or less what happened. firstname.lastname@example.org