It’s impossible to convey the full significance of this revamped website without resorting to personal anecdotes.
Point in fact it’s been almost six years since the last time I ventured into the blogging realm determined to kick ass and take names. By nature I’m anti-corporatist and that leads me into conflict with nearly everyone I encounter both in the real and digital worlds. Ideological types irritate me as much as the ill-informed. That fact hasn’t changed but the current circumstances have. I too have changed. I am (at least I hope I am) less abrasive and less interested in engaging in shouting matches with those I disagree with. Better to use a sword than a cudgel though the latter might be far more satisfying.
Back in 2011 I was a paid stooge for a large financial services firm. My day-job called for me to sell vast quantities of fake money and feudal style contracts to people who simply wanted to live their lives with a sense of dignity and security. In the Dickensian world of selling money those most in need of capital were turned away as being “unqualified”. These included entrepreneurs, small business owners and households regaining their feet after the 2008 Recession. Rather than investing in the drivers of real economic growth – businesses, industry and creativity – my colleagues and I were directed to sell modern day feudal oaths: residential mortgages.
It is my considered opinion that of all the financial products available it is the mortgage which appeals most to the narrow minded, unimaginative types who control the banking sector. The reason is simple. Mortgages are easily created and not subject to the risks of meaningful investment. All a financial services adviser has to do is push buttons on a computer and presto!- they’ve created money where none existed before.
Second, and enhancing the god-like feeling that comes with creating fictitious money, a mortgage is a highly structured contract that legally enslaves a human being’s time and real earning power for decades in order that said fictional money be paid back with interest. If this seems melodramatic, consider how much time, energy and wealth would be freed up in the society were it not for the financial debt industry.
Needless to say I loathed that job.
You might be wondering why I was in a career that I hated. The answer is that I had to make a living somehow. After graduation I worked as a substitute teacher then as a senior barman in a night club. Financial services offered a better income and the promise of greater job satisfaction. And hell we all make mistakes. With hindsight, in 2011 I should have known better. I had a tendency of hanging on to professional and personal relationships that made me unhappy and my job wasn’t any different in that regard. However it did pay well and let’s face it: we’ve all worked shitty jobs in order to get by.
In order to wash away the unclean feeling caused by my average work-day I spent my evenings writing short stories, blogs and commentaries on all manner of topics that interested me. My output was impressive – usually around seven thousand words a day. Anthony Trollope had nothing on me for per diem word count!
You’d think that writing and blogging on my own time would be something meriting the same casual indifference you’d give to an associate’s hobby. Moreover that an individual’s right to free expression as enshrined by the constitution would be protected.
And you’d be wrong. I certainly was.
One cool November morning I arrived where I was interrogated for three hours by two surly corporate security officers. The company was deeply concerned about my writing they said. It created a negative perception. Evidently, the trillion dollar Canadian financial services sector is easily undermined by the short stories of an aspiring fiction writer. Who knew?
After the interrogation, I was summarily dismissed from the job and escorted from the premises. Strangely, my first reaction on stepping out onto the cold sidewalk was a profound sense of relief. I never had to go back into that godforsaken office! I’d never again have to cold-call unwilling customers in order to sell them crap they didn’t need! And though I’d been pushed out and humiliated, what better reason to start something new and meaningful! When life gives you lemons make lemonade, right?
That sense of euphoria lasted approximately forty minutes. It ended after a knock at my front door signalling the arrival of two senior detectives from the Ontario Provincial Police. It seemed that corporate security believed me to be an existential physical threat to safety and security of their firm.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I broke down under police interrogation. Despite my deep seated outrage at the many injustices in society, I am a law abiding citizen. Up until that interview, the only contact I’d had with police forces anywhere in the world was when I needed passport photos validated.
It’s bad enough suffering humiliation at the hands of a crappy employer without having to endure the state coming down on you in order to appease said crappy employer’s paranoid delusions. The detectives wanted to know if I bore any ill-will towards my former employer. My honest answer was then as it is now: no. In fact the predominant sentiment was embarrassment.
They asked if I owned a firearm. Then as now the answer is no. I abhor firearms for personal and philosophical reasons. Years ago I had a loaded gun pointed at me by a drunk because I refused to serve him alcohol. To this day I wonder why I steadfastly refused to serve him even faced with imminent death. My foolishness runs deep perhaps?
Philosophically, I see guns and the whole arms industry as a dead-weight on society. A firearm is a tool designed to inflict death, useful in wars, useless in any other aspect of life. Remove the ideological trappings surrounding firearms and all that is left is steel that could have been put to productive use elsewhere and a Freudian statement of personal impotency. There is no positive multiplier effect of armaments. Their purpose is to help win wars and as the late Smedley Butler famously proclaimed “war is a racket.” I want no part of such things.
The content of my website was then dissected in order to determine if I really was a danger to my former corporate masters. The detectives were curious as to where I got my ideas for my short horror fiction. The answer was and is everyday life. Most of my writing is situational. What if a nuclear apocalypse resulted in the rise of a fanatical religion convinced that the End of Days was dawning and whose adherents felt duty bound to eradicate all other faiths? What if the unlocked car parked at the curb is owned by someone who has recently been kidnapped by a serial killer and none of the victim’s neighbours are aware of it?
The human capacity for evil terrifies me, especially since evil manifests itself in the most ferocious forms when it is organised around an ideology. Think the Spanish Inquisition, the Nazi Death Camps, the Soviet Gulags, or the slaughter of Amerindians by Europeans. My writing is informed and inspired by this capacity for evil, especially when such horrors are perpetrated ostensibly for the greater good or some abstract ideal. That my writing goes to such dark places and is not centred around first world problems such as the local coffeehouse closing down (itself a veritable local tragedy in any event) is a response to the knowledge that heinous acts happen every day all around the world, often with the support of governments and corporations. My dilemma as a writer is the same for every citizen: how to navigate this insanity and survive.
In the end the police concluded as any sensible person would that my former employer was wasting their time. If I am indeed a threat to corporate power it is because I believe there are viable alternatives to ideology and superstition. I don’t have all the answers, nor do I believe that corporatist power can be opposed with physical violence. However I believe that the best form of resistance lies along the path of humanism and balance.
Having said all of that I can’t lie about the fact that the experience with my former employer frightened me into a period of inactivity concerning the literary craft. I continued writing but limited my public exposure to the detriment I suspect of a career in literature. And as I write these words I am frightened of being exposed now, that I might be saying too much.
But silence would be worse. I posit the argument that we live in an increasingly superstitious age. I perceive a counter-culture arising from the so called “alt-right” that is both an offshoot and a prop of the worst forms of corporatism seen since the early twentieth century. So pervasive is this thinking that it is prompting many in my age group – those born after 1980- to support the very corporate efforts that are undermining society.
This isn’t to say that I approve of the status quo. I don’t. There are many aspects of the western political economy that are outdated and in need of significant reforms. These include both the public and private sectors. There are social, technological and economic factors spurring the need for reform while simultaneously serving as obstructions for sensible change. The so-called solutions offered by the alt-right are in reality roadblocks to meaningful reform though couched in a vague rhetoric a la Steve Bannon of “smashing the system.” Other charlatans like Milo Yiannopoulos and Donald Trump are symptomatic of this confusion. Yet the underlying motives of their supporters are rooted in same financial skulduggery that has been unleashed since 1973 and the end of the Bretton Woods Agreement. The same kind of superstitious psychological violence that was inflicted on me by a financial services firm is a microcosm of what many in my age group deal with on a day to day basis: high debt, low paid employment, high unemployment and little visible hope of things getting better.
There isn’t time to elaborate on those points here and such will be the topic of my next blog. To get back on track while I’m frightened of public exposure I can no longer sit in silence while the forces of reaction are running rampant.
This is no heroic pledge, merely the obligation of a responsible writer to do what a responsible writer should do: hold a mirror up to the society question society’s methods. The most effective writers in history faced sanction and terror on a daily basis. Voltaire, Diderot, Swift and Dickens behaved with a courage lacking in most contemporary writers. Not that I would equate myself to those thinkers, but I’d be lying if I didn’t derive some inspiration from their actions.
Ironically I also draw a certain motivation from two people I met when I worked in financial services. The first was a brilliant scientist with a love of equestrian sports. He went to work in financial services due to cutbacks in his field of research. He told me that what you do isn’t necessarily who you are.
The second motivation comes from a less positive force. A former manager who regularly proclaimed whenever the firm sold a mortgage (i.e. roped another life into contractual debt) that we were changing people’s lives. He would say this with a zealous gleam in his eye as though he were a preacher saving a member of a flock. And while truthfully, I wouldn’t cross the street to piss on the man if he were on fire, whenever I feel down, I recall that insane gleam and feel better that I no longer have to put up with that kind of corporate bullshit. Better that my anger gets put to productive use by getting on with my life.
Finally, I’ll close with another abstract inspiration for re-entering the online fray. I’m not a fan of blood sports but I have a grudging admiration for the former heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis. Not because he always won – he sure as hell didn’t. I admire Lennox Lewis because whenever he was beaten he always came back and defeated whoever knocked him down. That takes both courage and determination.
So on a final note, I want to thank you Dear Reader for persevering and I hope you like the new website.
And who knows? Maybe we’ll both be better off in the long run.