March 9, 2005

Think of it as bullshit in action

From Partnership for a drug-free Maine, via Electrolite, an object lesson in the ubiquity of bullshit.

Honest to God, I suspect it's stuff like this that keeps drug addiction rates so high on native reserves. I mean really, get bored stupid doing traditional arts and crafts for the tourists, or get stupid directly thanks to a little puff of weed. I'd probably take option two.

On a related topic - namely, small, somewhat oppressive, minority rural cultures that can drive their citizens to drugs - I'm reading A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews. It's not exactly Secrets of the Mennonites Revealed. Like her, I grew up in pretty liberal home by Mennonite standards. Unlike her, I mostly grew up a long way from Steinbach, Manitoba. The writing is really quite good, but otherwise there's nothing in it I didn't know was going on in Steinbach. Actually, her fictional small town not far from Steinbach - "East Village" - sounds a lot more like Blumenort, especially that part about having only two sources of employment: the fake Mennonite village for the tourists and the chicken slaughterhouse. (It seems to me it's a potato chip factory in Blumenort.) But really, the treatment of modern southern Manitoba Mennonite life is a lot more subtle and multi-sided than most of the word of mouth led me to expect.

I grew up far removed from the most oppressive elements of Mennonite life, but it still seemed to me a lot of the time that the essence of faith was the elimination of any possible source of vibrancy or colour. That is very much the portrait that Toews is painting: Oppression not so much as the work of evil authorites but as a pervasive system of boundaries.

What maintains this system is, of course, bullshit. Toews focuses on how living for the afterlife keeps people in East Village from connecting to the reality in their lives or the world around them, even though - and in some cases, because - it is their major source of hope. Marx said religion was an opiate, and this book offers an explicit example of its dulling effect.

That disconnect from reality, enforced by quite kind and gentle people who nonetheless have a fairly comprehensive set of expectations for everyone in their small town, is the primary source of the oppressive character of the world she paints. Her main character's desire to move to New York is very much about trying to live in the now. I can relate to that, although not for exactly the same reasons. Like Ms Toews, I moved to Montreal. Unlike her, I didn't move there from Steinbach.

Of course, it isn't like that for most Mennonites - who mostly live in larger towns and cities these days - and I imagine it's probably just as much true of small town life outside the Mennonite world. The picture she paints is of a form of Mennonite life that seemed at best quaint and at worst ridiculous even to the students at the Mennonite college I attended as a teenager. As an exposé of Mennonite life, this book fails. But I don't think it was intended that way.

Anyway, there's more to say about this. I'm going to try to prepare a full review, and I think put it on AFOE, when I'm finished with the book. Then, it's back to Hobsbawm.

Posted 2005/03/09 14:26 (Wed) | TrackBack

Pretty pathetic example of Bullshit. Okay, ubiquity.

Meanwhile we're assdeep in Bush administration bullshit -- about Iraq, Social Secirity, prescription drugs, blah blah blah.

The poster comes from Partnership for a Drugfree Maine. The focus is of course on kids. Now if you really wanted a drugfree Maine, you would talk about adult alcohol and drug use, including prescription drugs-- all of which is off-limits to the drugfree folks. (The same boundaries can be seen in the mania to drugtest kids. I say drugtest us all, including teachers, administrators, and politicians -- especially politicians--they should be required to take UAs and breath tests before voting on legislation. The test athletes don't they? Well, some athletes, sometimes, baseball notwithstanding, but then that's only steroids, not the really bad drugs.)

I see beading as a viable --albeit from my point of view--nonengaging alternative to huffing and ...gambling. But who knows. The last time I was on a reservation in Maine was never.

Posted by: degustibus at March 13, 2005 18:43
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