Hitler was a vegetarian too!
Or, why do New Age Yuppies fear free speech?
A Recent Encounter
by Kevin Annett
Inside every pacifist is a fascist trying to worm his way out. – Ernest Hemingway
Even when it was less yuppified, I never liked Vancouver’s Fourth Avenue. Despite its traditional moniker as the west coast’s “alternative” strip, the area has always reeked of middle-class snugness and smugness. And woe betide anyone who upsets its positive Kitsilano vibes! Like the time in 1982 when, on behalf of striking Canadian farm workers, I picketed the vegetarian Naam restaurant for their use of scab-picked lettuce and I was physically assaulted for it by the Naam’s erstwhile groovy owner and his snapping German Shepherd.
Yes indeed. How quickly do the seemingly placid petit bourgeoisie get nasty when you threaten their turf.
Well boys and girls, it happened again just this past month, at another New Age bastion on Fourth Avenue called Banyen Books.
For those of you not familiar with that particular Feel-Good facility, it’s been around for decades, spewing incense and easy answers to all those seeking souls who are bored with their jacuzzis. Like any church, Banyen engages in occasional “outreach” gestures to the wayward multitudes by sponsoring public readings by folks trying to look saintly, or “Listening Circles” like the one I attended on November 3.
I must admit that I didn’t enter the premises with a lot of expectations. Years ago, I tried speaking at Banyen Books about my work and got the cold shoulder, since talking genocide doesn’t sit well with Pleiadean Star Being groupies. But the other night in a fit of masochism, I donned my best seminary smile and left any talk of dead native children at the door as I settled onto a comfy cushion in a corner of the bookstore, awaiting the show.
Twenty of us blushing pilgrims crouched between volumes of Gurdjieff and Kahlil Gibran as a stern young woman with the glare of Ilse Koch introduced herself as the evening’s “Facilitator”. Practically waving a swagger stick, she quickly recited a long list of rules and “protocols” we were all expected to follow.
One that leapt out right away was the proscription against “advocating or expressing hatred towards any individual, group, or organization”.
“I guess that means we can’t denounce the government,” I whispered to my neighbor as Ilse droned on with her litany of Thou Shalt Nots.
Our somber instructrix concluded by declaring that she, as The Facilitator, had the right to immediately silence anyone who violated those “protocols”.
So that’s what passes for free speech these days in Kitsilano, I mused, as people were invited to “share” their poetry, songs, or other concoctions within the iron Gulag dear Ilse had just erected.
Still, knowing that such banal absurdity always breeds comic farce, I sat back and waited.
Sure enough, a bald, bespectacled fellow soon began reading three of his poems that became more sexually lurid. As he droned on about penises and vaginas and ejaculations, I was sure that Ilse would trigger the “Eject” button under his cushion at any moment. But Sex Talk isn’t what brought down the axe. When the author began reflecting on the meaning of his life in reference to his father, Ilse barked,
“That’s enough! You’re to stop right there! You’re trespassing Protocol.”
The author stared at her in confusion, as did the rest of us. But he obediently complied to her Slam Dunk and put away the rest of his poem.
My Bullshit Tolerance Odometer instantly shot off the scale. I stood up angrily, ready to march out of the meeting. But then I turned to Facilitator Lady and demanded,
“What did he say that offended your arbitrary rules, exactly? Rules that none of us consented to, by the way?”
Ilse had had her eye on me for a while. It must have been my insatiable smirk. She said coldly,
“You can leave our Circle right now if you like, sir. Perhaps it’s best that you do.”
Standing firm, I retorted,
“I repeat, what did he say that you found offensive? And why should he stop reading?”
“You’re being disruptive, sir!”
“No, actually, you’re the one disrupting this man’s unalienable right of free speech.”
As Ilse and I went eyeball to eyeball, the other folks in the room, being Canadians, shrank away from our confrontation like moles at High Noon. I gave Ilse a final smirk, and departed Banyen Books forever, its Feel-Good Shackles in at least temporary ruin.
In these final days, it’s often observed that totalitarianism is back in style again.
H.L. Mencken put it better. He said that evil is never a stranger; it eats with us and lives alongside us, and even inhabits the same bed as us. Especially in Kitsilano.