Tag Archives: Afghanistan

Shitting All Over Democracy

Friends,

The video counterpart of this post can be found here.

A few years back, while living in the Maywand District of Kandahar, Afghanistan, I noticed that there were two Western contrivances we tried to force upon the locals: Democracy and the toilet. You probably had at least a passing awareness that we installed a “democratic” government there, but you probably weren’t too familiar with the implementation of toilets because it really only happened on army bases.

So what’s the common thread here? Well, both inventions are things we take for granted in the west. They are ubiquitous and we see them as somehow empirical and eternal. So ingrained are these ideas for example, that many have a knee-jerk reaction to shitting via squatting the same way they have a knee-jerk reaction to ideas like dictatorship. Does this make sense?

I don’t think so. From an evolutionary perspective, shitting while squatting is much more the normal state of affairs and it is still practiced widely around the world, so any aversion to it is actually aberrant. Ditto for democracy. We are born into family units where the rules aren’t voted on. We are told what to do. So whence cometh democracy?
Also, with regards to democracy, we live in a natural world with very clear physical rules like gravity, scarcity and other constants which really don’t change based on popular opinion.  So again, whence cometh democracy?

Pretending that toilets or democracy are in any way the natural state of affairs, rather than Western contrivances and fancies, is myopic self-delusion.

In a beautiful action illustrating this point, my interpreters in Maywand unwittingly showed me  the folly of trying to shoe-horn Western practices into other parts of the world.

The interpreters, Afghan natives, were accustomed to squatting while shitting. There was no place to squat and shit on the base and they couldn’t leave the base due to safety concerns so they had to use the porta-potties located on-site.

Porta_potty_Seat.jpg1856A5EC-1851-49A8-A9A43FBD4779870A.jpgLargerIn case you don’t know what a porta-potty looks like.

And they did, but in a decidedly Afghan way: they would stand on the seat and try to shit through the hole. Admirable effort and best intentions notwithstanding, more often than not, they would shit all over the seat. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was actually a profound metaphor for the folly of trying to shoe-horn democracy and other Western ideals onto a people unaccustomed to them.
Now for the record I have no especial esteem for democracy, as I alluded to earlier; nature is a dictatorship and its laws are absolute as opposed to relative. But, assuming democracy did have some especial merit, that doesn’t mean that the world is just gonna accept it any more than they accept the toilet.

So we shouldn’t be surprised when things like toilets and democracy, things which we have, if you think about it, been conditioned to accept as normalcy for our entire lives, don’t catch on like wildfire when transplanted elsewhere. Or if they get shit on so to speak.

We don’t have a monopoly on the right way to do things and we would do well to remember that.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo

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“He Who Laughs Last Probably Died Laughing”

Friends,

An army friend of mine once related a story to me when we were in Afghanistan about a game he used to play in university lectures called, “Bait the Jew.” The premise of the game was simple: in class discussions he would say deliberately inflammatory things which would rile the Jewish students, particularly those with Zionist sympathies. He would then have a laugh at their expense. I cringed at this and felt kind of embarrassed for him but it was one of those situations you find yourself in all-too-often in the military where you gotta let some repugnant shit slide because for better or worse, this dude has my back when shit hits the fan.

But if you think about it, Bait the Jew is emblematic of how humor is generally done these days: inflammatory remarks are levied at various demographics (with various degrees of cleverness) and the “injured” party’s reaction only increases the mirth of those who see the humor in it. Sometimes, the injured party’s reaction is relatively benign (legal recourse, appeals to the government or similar jests in kind), but sometimes it’s pretty severe:

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I’m gonna go ahead and say exactly what’s on my mind here: Some people are VERY happy about the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Why?

Well, to me, I think it validated a lot of pent-up xenophobia and and Islamophobia and it certainly made a fair number of self-described atheists pretty euphoric. There is a definite under-current of these emotions in the wake of the attacks and a jubilation which some are hard-pressed to contain. It goes deeper than the validation of prejudice though. Some, like certain military friends of mine, have a vested financial interest in war because (at least in the Canadian military) there’s lots of delicious tax-free money to be made fighting commies/Nazis/insurgents. But there’s also the awards, honours, medals and respect that come from service overseas.

military-humor-soldier-russia-listen-here-noob-memeYou basically get some new bling to keep your uniform frosty.

Medals are a status symbol in the military and the worthiness of your career is (unofficially) related to the size of your rack of medals. In the context of being in the military, it’s considered a more or less objective indicator of whether or not someone is a good soldier. Sure, a guy may be an insubordinate, racist drunkard, but look at all his medals. Also, there is an unspoken resentment against superior officers who presume to command subordinates with more operational experience, and thus more medals, than them. So in my estimation, a lot of war-mongering has to do with guys who want to legitimize their careers and authority, while at the same time becoming one of the highly decorated veterans they vaunt.

I’ll defer to Bill Hicks here:

billPortraitWhat kind of people are these with such low self-esteem that they need a war to feel better about themselves? May I suggest, instead of a war to feel better about yourself, perhaps … sit-ups? Maybe a fruit cup? Eight glasses of water a day?

I was one of these guys when I got into the army. I saw dudes who had deployed to Afghanistan, Bosnia, Cyprus, the Golan Heights and when they’d rock their medals on parades I wanted my own taste of that. Well, I got it. And, surprise surprise, all of that admiration and veneration from the younger generation didn’t mean all that much when I finally had it.

How far do you have to go down that road before you see where it leads?

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But I digress here because I didn’t set out to write a scathing indictment of the military mindset wherein a solider validates himself, his existence and his career through violent campaigns and occupations which leave people dead, orphaned, bereaved and embittered.

Rather I was writing about humour and the way it is done. This hits a little close to home for me because as of late I have been trying my hand at stand up comedy so I find myself very much concerned with what is funny and what is not. Now at the outset, let me be clear: I am not above laughing at crude, insensitive, racist, sexist, etc. jokes. I’d like to qualify that by saying that I only laugh at them if they are clever, good-natured and well-wrought but that would be lying. I’ve laughed at the worst of the worst and will continue to do so provided I find the joke in question funny.

Now I think many of us would agree that if I, as a white male, went around making racist jokes about blacks, saying the word nigger all willy-nilly and advertising bigotry, the people who were the butt of my jokes would have a legitimate qualm and reason to not find them funny. If things were taken a step further and I got my ass kicked by the injured parties, a lot of people would probably be like, “Well he got what he deserved.”

Now notwithstanding the fact that there are orders of magnitude of difference between the shit-kicking I deserve and a shoot-out in the streets, can we at least acknowledge that a similar dynamic is at play here?

1)Someone makes a joke at another party’s expense
2)The second party is offended by the joke
3)To vindicate their bruised honor, the injured party does (decidedly less whimsical) violence against the jokester (and anyone else unfortunate enough to be nearby)

Some of you may say that I have abstracted the Charlie Hebdo massacre too much to make it congruent with my hypothetical black joke scenario, but I maintain that this is an important mental exercise which helps us to recognize common kernels of causality. So yes, while there are worlds of differences between the CH massacre and me getting my ass tuned up by a bunch of hypothetical aggrieved African-Americans (Canadians???), there is a similar dynamic of vindication here.

Or how about this: A lot of people here in the west think it’s stupid for Muslims to freak out over pictures of the Prophet Mohammed, BUT GOD HELP YOU IF YOU DON”T STAND FOR THE NATIONAL ANTHEM AT A HOCKEY GAME!!!

Yes, cause that makes infinitely more sense.

Or a lot of people might hate on (again) Muslims for those honor killings we hear so much about, but I would posit that “vindication of the national honour” (i.e. “honor killing” on a massive scale) is the main mobilizing premise used to dupe scared people into joining the war effort in the wake of some (usually trifling or made-up) initial provocation.

Don’t get me wrong I am no apologist for Islamic violence, but I recognize that it’s pretty presumptuous for us to poo-poo them for their violence when we cumulatively as “the West” are perhaps the greatest purveyors of direct violence (war), indirect violence (proxy wars) and war profiteering that have ever existed.

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But again I need to digress, because this is neither meant to be a scathing indictment of Western foreign policy.

So what is funny and what is worth killing someone over? I think the answer to both is, “It’s all relative.” Furthermore, there is a degree of overlap, so some hilarious shit might get someone killed.

batmano
He who laughs last, probably died laughing.”

I recognize doing stand-up that a joke which I find funny might get my ass kicked if it offends someone, and whether popular opinion is with me or against me depends on a number of factors: The disposition of the general public, whether I am part of the privileged class, whether the subject of my ridicule is a downtrodden minority and last but not least, the prejudices of the general public. Let’s face it, if Charlie Hebdo cartoonists saw some humour in making cartoons at the expense of rape victims and a bunch of feminist extremists IRL pwned (killed) them, there would be a lot of people of the mindset of, “Well, that’s what you get for talking shit.” But since the indignant transgressors were Muslims, the attitude seems to be “Fuck them and their feelings!

So, should Charlie Hebdo cartoonists have showed some restraint with regard to their jokes about Islam? Absolutely-the-fuck-NOT! We NEED people to push limits and say things that are on their minds even if the group-mind doesn’t deem it politically correct. The fact of the matter is that it takes a lot of guts to say some shit that you know isn’t popular, which incidentally, is why I mostly reserve judgement against the Westboro Baptist Church. Much as I might disagree with their message I have to laud their guts.

And while I think it sucks that people sometimes get killed for speaking their mind, I also think it sucks that we live in a system which necessitates the speaking of one’s mind in the first place.

What do I mean by that? Well, speaking one’s mind (whether that is asking for a raise, telling off a rival, or making an unpopular joke) is a form of asserting oneself and one’s views. But the necessity of self-assertion pre-supposes some marginalization happened as a pre-cursor. So the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists felt they had to assert themselves at the expense of devout Muslims, and the devout, more extremist elements of that group felt they had to re-assert themselves against those who had made light of their faith. Like so many struggles within a competitive socio-economic system, it’s just another case of one group trying to get ahead at the expense of another.

So again, for perhaps the hundredth time, I want to ask, “Shouldn’t we, instead of focusing on the individual acts of violence or insult (the latter being just another form of violence), instead look to transcend the structural mechanisms which pit people against one another in the first place?”

It doesn’t matter whether you identify more with Muslims or the cartoonists, cause while you bicker over who was in the right or wrong, someone is profiting from this whole debacle at the expense of both groups.

France

And what I find incredibly offensive about any new legislation pertaining to surveillance and privacy that will come to pass from this massacre is that it will likely disproportionately target Muslims (at least initially) and also that it flies in the face of the freedom of speech which Charlie Hebdo stood for.

So while we take sides, everyone loses.

Problem => Reaction => Solution

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But I digress, because I didn’t set out to talk about how we are being manipulated and played against each other.
Also, I ran out of clever shit to say.

Best,
-Andre Guantanamo
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Demo Reel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gdwhemiqzc

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