Friday, 29 August 2014

Kids and Guns

Growing up on a farm in Northern Alberta I learned to drive and to shoot at an early age. I'm sure that what I was allowed to do probably broke one law or another, but I'm going to make the case that I am better off for having parents that taught me how to use potentially dangerous tools.

My dad didn't throw me into a truck at the age of 12 and say, "Take her for a rip down the highway." He did however sit me on his lap while we drove on an open farm field and let me steer. After I got the hang of steering he showed me how to work the pedals and I started driving around the open field with him sitting beside me, "Woo-Hoo!" By the time I was 14 I was driving the farm truck within the confines of our family farm, contributing to the work and feeling pretty good about myself.

My education with guns wasn't appreciably different. My dad didn't give me a high powered rifle as a 10 year old but I did get a pump action BB gun to shoot pop cans with. Over time as I demonstrated safety and gained my parents trust I graduated to a pellet gun, then a .22 caliber rifle and as an older teen I was shooting a high powered hunting rifle. I had a lot of adventures in the woods, gun in my hand and loyal dog Bernie by my side.

I always felt like my parents did me a great service by teaching me to use these tools and building up my confidence. They aren't irresponsible people, on the contrary I'd say what they did was very responsible. I was privileged to have been able to learn and own these tools as part of my childhood and I wish that more people had the opportunity to live on a farm and learn to use these tools. I suspect that maybe people wouldn't feel so powerless in their lives as adults if they had been able to experience the kind of freedom, responsibility, accomplishment and personal power that comes from learning and mastering these tools.

I have teenage children and while they have missed out by not growing up on a farm I have endeavoured to do my best as their dad and teach them how to drive and how to shoot. In the same way my dad helped me along in safe baby steps I've helped them along. Driving will obviously make the lives of my kids a whole lot better but it may not be clear to a lot of people how spending time at the range or in the wild learning how to shoot can also make their lives better.

My party posted a picture of my daughter and I (with her permission) at the range to promote the idea that firearms ownership and education is an important part of living in a free society. Immediately I was hit with a series of ugly and disgusting tweets by someone who thought I deserved to be shot by my daughter and that it would be completely hilarious. This wasn't a one tweet knee jerk reaction, this was a tirade of increasingly ugly hate levelled at me and from my perspective more at my daughter. If my daughter accidentally killed me with her car or a gun its not me who would suffer horribly but her.
My 16 year old daughter and I at the range. Shoots one bullet per trigger pull and holds 5 bullets total. Notice her trigger discipline and sense of confidence.

It was shocking to experience that level of vitriol over what I considered to be an innocent and happy day at the range. I can understand that guns are shocking and scary to people that have never been around them or used them, and Hollywood certainly doesn't help paint a realistic picture of violence and responsible gun ownership, but this issue calls for level headed, objective consideration.

Critics of gun ownership and self-defence rights portray gun owners as nuts who imagine an invasion or doomsday scenario is coming, or that someday they may have to rise up and water the tree of liberty with blood! That is not the case with me. I benefited from learning how to shoot and so has my daughter.

Experiencing first hand how powerful a gun in you own hands actually is or how powerful your own body is when using martial arts techniques under the instruction of a mature and knowledgeable instructor is valuable education on many levels. In my experience kids who receive this type of instruction become less infatuated with violence, respect their own personal power, gain confidence in themselves, understand the need for discipline, walk taller, and project a sense of power and humility that makes them both far less likely to be a bully and far less likely to be the victim of a bully.

My kids are almost adults now. I've taught them how to drive and how to shoot. I don't expect my kids will own guns anytime soon and that is fine with me, its their choice and gun ownership isn't for everyone, it comes with certain responsibilities and obligations that cut into time and resources. I've done my part to create responsible and productive citizens of the world. I trust my kids aren't going to kill anybody if they choose to drive or shoot because they have received responsible education in these matters and society will be better off because of it.

I'd like to address the tragedy of the 9 year old girl who accidentally killed her instructor with an Uzi set to fully automatic. There were a number of lapses of judgement in this case that should not have occurred. I would certainly not be comfortable putting an automatic weapon in the hands of a 9 year old. Pellet guns and .22 caliber single action rifles are far more appropriate at that age when it comes to fire arms education in my opinion. It is akin to allowing a 9 year old to drive a pickup truck in an open field by themselves and then getting run over by them. Go-karts or small ATV's are a better place to start kids learning to handle motorized vehicles.

When kids run-over and kill siblings or parents with vehicles it is usually framed as a tragic accident. There aren't hateful diatribes against automobile enthusiasts, or calls to ban automobile ownership for everyone except government employees. There aren't people expressing joy when automobile owners are killed by their own vehicle. This tells me that most of the rhetoric around guns is purely driven by emotion and ignorance.

The fact that Switzerland has a military grade rifle in almost every home and Chicago is a legislated gun-free zone ought to tell you at the very least that guns aren't the root cause of violence. I'm not a gun enthusiast, I don't enjoy shooting the way some people do, I go to the range like I go the gym - begrudgingly and not enough. I do recognize that societies tend to be better off when good people are armed and trained. In fact I consider it a requisite for a just and free society for good guys to be able to wield protective force against aggressors and I think that the more people that receive the kind of education my kids and I received, the more civil a society becomes.

People who decry gun ownership and criticize me for educating my kids fail to understand the ways in which they hypocritically contribute to a more violent and uncivil society. They have no problem asking for a state to be an umbrella corporation whose sole monopoly purpose and only tool is using force against its citizen. They fail to understand that every law they cry for from this umbrella corp is a threat to shoot someone dead for non-compliance. Think this is a hyperbolic statement? You can test it by simply disobeying any inane law and refusing to obey law enforcement. Will they start to escalate force to get compliance or will they leave you alone? If you match their escalation of force with equal and opposite protective force how do you think it will end?

The irony of the anti-gun crowd is that they can't have the society they themselves want without some individuals threatening to use guns against other individuals. They are actually very pro-gun violence, as long as the violence comes from the state. I don't think it is an accident that proponents of big government also tend to be people who have never received training or exposure to firearms. This is why they are so cavalier about asking other people from the state to use firearms to aggress against their fellow citizens. If you want to have the state use force on your behalf you should at least have the integrity to be willing to pick up the gun yourself and point it at the people doing the thing you hate. People who have grown up shooting guns tend to understand the serious power they represent and respect that power by not demanding others use it on their behalf.

The anti-gun crowd quick to decry the militarization of police never having considered that perhaps its dangerous to be a cop because of the policies they ask police to enforce, that perhaps advocating for big government is exactly what is leading to police militarization. They never consider that perhaps continuing to ask law enforcement to use more and more force against people they signed up to protect is creating the very conditions they fear so much.

Libertarians believe that force ought to be used ONLY protectively and not to control and force people and so we are the only party that can claim to consistently be anti-gun violence. We only ask government to do what we ourselves have the right and the willingness to do - protect individuals from aggression.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

10 Lessons I Learned Running for Parliament

I recently ran for Member of Parliament in the by-election in my riding of Fort McMurray - Athabasca. One year ago I would have scoffed at anyone who predicted that I would be involved in politics let alone running in an election. In my mind politics was at worst the antithesis to every good thing in the world and at best a necessary evil required for peaceful individuals to produce good in the world. Fast-forward to present day where I now find myself the leader of a rapidly growing federal political party preparing to sweep Canada off its feet and change the face of federal politics.

How did I get here? It has been a surreal roller coaster ride. Within weeks of being convinced that perhaps I should consider running in the 2015 Federal election our MP resigned. I consulted with my supporters and my family and decided that it would be a good learning experience to run in the by-election. Within a couple weeks of announcing my candidacy our team created a meme that circulated the world, CNN called me for an interview, I appeared on Fox Business, I was lampooned on ThisHour Has 22 Minutes and Gawker, was highlighted on Reason Magazines blog and made appearances on numerous radio programs. Shortly after that I was nominated and subsequently elected Leader of the Libertarian Party of Canada. Unfortunately the popularity and acclaim I seemed to achieve in certain circles didn't translate to many people in my riding knowing much of anything about me or my party and I finished with a disappointing 3% of the vote.

While I'm still trying to figure out whether I'm becoming everything I hate in this world, let me share with you some of the lessons I learned during my short time in the political arena.

1) People Are Afraid

Fear is everywhere in the political process and informs almost every decision. People vote for a particular political party because they are afraid that their sacred issues won't be addressed otherwise. If you're afraid about what will happen to poor people or the environment you tend to vote left and if you're afraid of external threats and the ability to gather resources you tend to vote right.

I had many people from both sides of the political spectrum secretly support me and tell me they agree with me but they had to remain in the closet politically for fear of what would happen to them socially if they came out. If you achieve a certain amount of success and prestige in a group I suppose there may be a price to pay socially for challenging the narrative of that group. I had open and ardent supporters who flipped at the last minute because, as much as they wanted me to win, they wanted another party to lose more...if the bad party won it would be their worst fears realized.

2) Politicians are Incentivized to Foment Fear

Telling people everything is probably going to be alright, the world is getting better, and pointing out at all the beauty everywhere is not likely to get you any votes. When you run for office you are presenting yourself as a solution to a problem. The more horrendous the problem appears and the more afraid people are of that problem the more appealing you look when you present yourself as the solution. I continuously found myself tempted to point out all the ways my opponents policies would result in catastrophe, even though I knew it probably wouldn't really make any real difference who won the election.

3) Politicians are Incentivized to Deliver Meaningless Platitudes

Each party and political movement seems to have their own catch phrases and jargon that are essentially sentiments devoid of any real meaning. On the left if you say the word "sustainable" you evoke a positive emotional response even though everybody has a different standard, definition, and vision of what that word actually means. On the right if you say the words "National Security" it evokes a positive emotional response that is similarly devoid of any meaning. If you try and flesh out idea's and opinions in concrete rational terms you face immediate criticism, its best to just make meaningless appeals to emotion.

At one debate I attended I tried to flesh out some concrete ideas about how to improve healthcare. A prominent figure stepped up to the open mic and in dramatic Charlton Heston-esque fashion said, "You can pry MY universal healthcare from my COLD...DEAD...HANDS!!" Boom...drops the mic...requisite audience applause for the grand-standing. I thought about going through a reasoned response that tried to address his statement, that was itself devoid of any discernable content, and deliver a nuanced outline of a plan moving forward, but in the end I looked at the audience and said stupidly, "I'm a paramedic, I deliver healthcare I don't take it away." To which audience members nodded their agreement, I had won them back...without saying anything meaningful.

4) Politicians are Incentivized to be Fake

Politicians, almost by definition, are required to not have any personal opinions and to completely erase themselves and take on the aggregate personality of their constituents in order to win votes and get elected. This means that rationally in order to win an election you must value power and prestige more than integrity, you can't have any compunction about deception, you have to tell people what they want to hear, and sympathy for your political victims will be a handicap. Sociopaths have a decided advantage in the political arena. Popularity is everything if you want to get elected. and if you are trying to change the status quo then you have to say unpopular things.

One example I faced is that I'm a secular person and at times it would have been much more comfortable for me to outright lie, or dodge questions about this and talk about my theological training in Bible College to make people think I'm religious without actually lying and thus be more attractive to more people that would vote for me. I could go on and on about the many times I was tempted to erase myself in order to garner popularity and avoid discomfort. I promised myself and my family that I wouldn't do that. My end game is to create a better world for my kids not win a popularity contest.

Then again it would be a lot easier to change the world if I was the king of it...hmmm...

5) People Project Themselves onto Politicians

I was asked over variations of the same question over and over again; "This is my problem, how are your going to fix it?"  People that come to public forums and make pleas to politicians all seem to share a common feeling of powerlessness. People want us to be a saviour who is there for them and cares deeply for them and we are more than happy to accept their complete dependency on us to solve their problems, that's kinda how we get the job. We talk as if we know how to solve their problems. We suddenly become experts at road building, administering healthcare, and food production. 

It was actually very disturbing to me on a visceral level the degree to which people projected both their powerlessness and their hopes and dreams onto me as I would stand in front of them. Something about it felt wrong. It was as if they saw me as something other than human. If people liked me I became an infallible hero who carried all their hopes and dreams, if I worried them I became a treacherous super villain capable of destroying everything they hold dear. Politicians seem to be demi-gods in the mind of many people.

As a side note there is an incredible temptation to start to believe ones own hype that I suspect isn't all that healthy - for anybody.

6) People are Apathetic About Politics

Only about 15% of eligible voters in my riding took the time to vote in the by-election. That means 85% elected to do other things; spend time with family, watch TV, go on vacation, go to work, drink beer. Many critics deride this apathy and try and shame these individuals as everything that is wrong with this country, I disagree. I don't think people are resistant to making the world better through voting so much as they are just attracted to doing things that actually make their world better.

Almost everybody I talked to was frustrated and fed up with politics. It doesn't seem to be the case that apathetic voters don't care about what is going on in the country, they seem to care a great deal, its just that they've come to notice that voting doesn't seem to do much. People who at one point really cared about election results would campaign vehemently for their candidate and would get one of two possible results; a) their candidate loses after all that work and effort, or b) their candidate wins and through no fault of their own is unable to live up to the hype. I suspect that at a certain point people who care just decide they'd rather see what's on TV than rinse and repeat a cycle of disappointment.

Perhaps a cure for voter apathy would be to give everyone a default vote of libertarian, the only party whose goal is to use no initiatory force, that way if they want a government to initiate force on their behalf they will have to go vote...that may seem bias, and it is, but you have to admit it does make a lot of sense ;)

7) Political Debates Amount to a Family Argument 

Generally speaking I've noticed that those who lean left identify more with what might be classified traditionally as maternal interests; sharing resources, keeping a clean environment, looking after those who can't look after themselves, including and accepting everybody. Those people who identify themselves on the right politically tend to identify more with paternal issues; boundary enforcement, protecting people they care about, gathering and trading resources effectively, encouraging self-sufficiency.

It seems to me that an individual's political identity has more to do with their childhood environment than it has to do with critically thinking from first principles. Whenever I hear people argue about politics all I hear is, "I want mommy in charge" or "I want daddy in charge." It is now hard for me not to view political debates as anything more than grown-up children arguing about who the best parent is.

8) Real Change Has to Come From the Fringes

Because of all the dynamics I've described, I can't imagine how political parties can do anything other than engage in popularity contests. Trudeau can't promote gun rights anymore than Harper can promote ending marijuana prohibition even if that's how they personally feel, they'd lose their jobs. Nope, they are relegated to parroting party lines that their supporters expect and that are meaningless enough not to offend their base. There is no way for an up and comer in any of these parties to go off script with innovative and completely outside the box thinking. It is hard to imagine anybody who is actually able to solve problems and provide value being attracted to a mainstream political party.

While I didn't come close to getting elected, I do have reason to believe that I made a much bigger difference to the political landscape than the numbers would reflect. Anecdotal reports I was receiving suggested that other campaigns were having to consider how to respond to my ideas and challenges. The big parties are like big cumbersome monsters that strike with slow, predictably narrow rhetoric and aren't used to having a nimble opponent exploiting weaknesses they never realized they had. It is relatively easy for a little guy like me to break away little chunks of their party than it is for them to come close to doing any damage to mine.

9) There is Hope For Humanity

A recent survey suggests that millenials  identify as socially liberal and fiscally conservative which is another way of saying that they don't see the world as a power struggle between mommy and daddy. Millennials rightly reject partisan lines that would require them to sacrifice principles in the name of political expedience. You can be against gun control and against drug prohibition. You can be anti-corporatism and pro-free market. You can be a fundamentalist Christian and be against interfering with two men getting married. You can be an ardent environmentalist while rejecting the notion that big government is the best way forward. You can be pro-law & order and pro-maximum individual freedom.

More and more young people are rejecting politics as we know it. The amount of information freely available is increasing and the ability to propagandize is decreasing. Young people are skeptical of the idea that society is best organized by a group of individuals who, by virtue of winning a popularity contest, we grant a monopoly on force and ask them to use that force to solve our every problem. During my campaign I received messages from various young people who are upgrading democracy and taking personal power in their own lives in all sorts of innovative ways; using crypto-currency like Bitcoin to make central banks obsolete, developing new types of automatic contracts like Etherium with built in dispute resolution mechanisms to diminish their dependence on centralized justice systems, building and selling escape pods in Galts Gulch to people looking to find community away from a meddling state. The list of ways young people are finding solutions to make monolithic institutions irrelevant is virtually endless and it gives me hope for my kids.

10) Focusing on Collecting Votes Doesn't Change The World

The universe emerges from the bottom up. Government is an emergent property of the beliefs and actions of individuals in society. Humans pre-existed the idea of government not the other way around. The more I found myself focusing on winning votes and gaining popularity the more I hated how the words coming out of my mouth sounded and the more I found that people were being attracted to their own caricature of my message. The more I imagined change occurred from the top down the less integrity I acted with.


Change can only occur from challenging the status quo, and elections can only be won by appealing to the status quo. Research shows that societal paradigms shift when a tipping point of 10% of people adopt an unshakeable belief. I've got kids so I want a societal upgrade more than I want to be king. Other politicians can focus on getting elected. Once my party and I win 10% of hearts and minds it really doesn't matter to me which politicians get in front of the new parade. Then again maybe deep in the hearts of voters the status quo has changed and they're are just waiting for politicians to catch up.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Political Campaigning - Answering Critics

I've considered myself an activist for as long as I can remember. As a child I was connected to issues far bigger than myself and things like starvation, suffering, and violence around the world were always on my mind. I grew up believing that I could make a difference in this world and I can remember as a child and a teenager standing up for things I believed in and taking action even though I was scared.

Sometimes the action I took, although well intended, caused harm. I remember being a camp counsellor at a children's camp and I knew the truth that some of these kids were going to burn in hell for eternity if I didn't do something to try and save them. I believe if you know that somebody is going to burn in hell and you do not do everything in your power to try and save them then you are a terrible person. If you are wrong and there is no hell, or no good reason to believe there is, then you are a terrible person for trying to scare and foist upon children the idea that they will burn and suffer eternal torment if they don't hold the right thoughts in their brains and the right attitude in their hearts.

I now know that despite my good intentions, or rather because of my good intentions coupled with poor self-knowledge, I harmed those kids and that thought haunts me. I wish I knew who they were so I could find them and apologize to them. The question that changed my life and that still weighs heavily on my mind everyday is, "Where do my beliefs come from?" It is a very difficult question to answer honestly and can take a lot of work, but I think it is essential if you want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

I have wrestled with the paralyzing idea that having imperfect philosophy, not knowing the ultimate "Truth" can result in unintended harms when acted upon. This is obviously an impossible standard to meet, and so then how is one to proceed? Do I just do nothing, paralyzed with fear for having a false belief?

Doing nothing is obviously not an option. Sitting still is dying. Humans don't live or survive by doing nothing and waiting for perfect philosophy. I've come to believe that the best way to proceed is by paying attention to the process of proceeding and being open to course correction as better reason and evidence present themselves. Philosopher Peter Boghossian calls this doxastic openness and contrasts it with doxastic closure which is essentially another name for dogma. To use a cliche it is about the journey not the destination.

So I am proceeding on a course of trying to create positive change in the world by advancing the message of liberty. I want to be open to reason and evidence. I remember about 10 years ago being introduced to the concept of liberty and I was immediately inspired. I thought I should run for office and try and get elected and start repealing laws. I thought being in a position of power would be the best course of action to advance the cause of liberty. I put myself out there in the liberty community in the spirit of doxastic openness and was presented with reason and evidence about why that wasn't the best path to liberty, at least not for myself at that time.

At that time I had nothing to offer other people in the realm of liberty because I hadn't fully embraced it in my own life. I wasn't offering liberty to my family, to my kids, to my spouse. I realized that if I'm getting up to communicate a message and reach others that I couldn't do it while being a walking contradiction of those principles. I wasn't practicing what I preached. By the way I think this is why many libertarians are completely ineffective at communicating the message of liberty. To be brutally honest they are shit shows in their personal lives and it comes out in the way they communicate and present themselves. I was a bit of a shit show at that time and I realized that until I could practice the principles I was espousing I was in no position to attract people to this philosophy.

A recent article  touched on what I'm talking about. This prominent liberty activist referred to two types of libertarians; humanists and brutalists. The way I interpret the article is that brutalists are essentially people who want government to leave them alone so they can engage in all their destructive habits; vice, drugs, bigotry, and hate. I've noticed that brutalists tend to view themselves from the frame of a victim, which isn't incorrect, it's just that victims have nothing to offer anybody until after they heal. Humanists want government to leave them alone so they can advance human flourishing. They don't view themselves as victims so much as they view voluntary relationships as extremely powerful and are constantly looking at ways of exploring and embodying this power in their own lives. There is nothing morally wrong with being an asshole as long as people around you are free to leave your toxicity, but its silly to think that you are going to be an effective purveyor of liberty. Humanists on the other hand see liberty as a way to be the best version of themselves possible and in doing so elevate those around them; these people exude personal power and mastery and empirically attract more people to the liberty movement.

So my goal is to be the best version of myself possible and have the most effective positive impact I can in the world. I have had incredible flourishing in my relationships with; my children, my wife, strangers, community members, my customers, and my co-workers since coming to understand that liberty is impossible without self-knowledge. So I am walking into this new area of activism in the world, running a political campaign, acutely attentive and open to the reason and evidence as to whether this is the best course of action for ME in my life right now given the context and the existing conditions.

When I hear criticism being levelled my way by fellow liberty activists I take it seriously. You are unlikely to come to the liberty movement in todays day and age through parental or institutional propaganda, in fact those are all the forces you must overcome. So liberty lovers are typically people who have reasoned their way into that position and I take what they have to say seriously. I could be on the wrong course and I need to be open to course correction.

A friend and fellow liberty lover has been the most vocal critic of my campaign. Here is something he posted the other day that he admits is directed at me:

"The state is as good a tool for preaching liberty as is the church for preaching atheism."

At first blush this seems to make some sense. Being the state while arguing against the state or being the church while arguing against the church seems to be self-defeating. It is certainly true that a politician who believes that initiating force is necessary for the greater good, and then acts on the belief, is by definition counterproductive to liberty. It's important to remember that the state doesn't exist as a material entity, it doesn't act, only people act, so what you are talking about when you use the words "the state" is a set of beliefs that reside in ones brain and inform ones actions. If someone is devoid of these beliefs and therefore devoid of actions that lead to more initiation of force then can that be called "the state?" It seems to me that is just a dude preaching non-aggression and trying to disabuse people of delusional beliefs, even if that dude participated in a popularity contest and most people think that gives him extra rights. His entering into the popularity contest did not create the delusion in others, but by getting in front of the delusional maybe he can influence them.

A pastor getting up at the front of the church on Sunday and explaining all the reasons why we know God doesn't exist is not bolstering supernaturalism he is undermining it. It seems to me the congregation would dwindle over time if they were constantly being told that the foundations underpinning their church were illegitimate, and the pastor would be out of a job. As an atheist I would jump at the chance to speak in front of a church congregation. The congregants are looking at the pulpit for answers and if the guy on the pulpit is telling them this is all nonsense then it seems to me that he is not bolstering that church but striking at the root.

I would in fact argue that an atheist that evangelizes church goers is doing good in this world, he's helping people that likely have a faulty epistemology. It may not be helpful approaching them from a brutalist perspective of criticizing silly beliefs and trying to make believers feel small, but from a humanist perspective of showing them a better way and explaining all the good, evidence based reasons for subscribing to a working epistemology, of achieving doxastic openness. Humanists don't break people down they build them up. By the way if any pastors are reading this I would be happy to speak with you and your congregants, I certainly don't want to be wrong and I don't think you do either. 

I have blogged at length, produced videos, talked with people in my personal life, produced podcasts and engaged in online debates to advance the message of liberty. I have never received a whole lot of response or feedback from people outside the liberty community itself.  I have been happy to contribute to thought within this community and have felt it to be gratifying.

Preaching to the choir has been relatively safe. Stepping out on this limb of political campaigning has been intensely scary. Imagine standing alone in front of a church of devout christians that you are about to try and disabuse of their faith...that is what this feels like. As I've been delivering this message to the faithful I have had an overwhelming response from many of the members and it is giving me hope and evidence that I am doing something that is far more effective than anything I've done. People who have been sleeping in their pews are waking up and noticing that the guy on the pulpit is calling out the very foundation that their faith is built upon. I have been flooded with responses from people saying they have never heard this message before, from people that didn't have a name for their philosophy until now, from people who always sensed their was something wrong with the system, from people that suddenly don't feel alone for feeling the way they do.

So in the spirit of doxastic openness here is the evidence that could be presented to me that would convince me that what I'm doing is harmful to the liberty movement:

1) Show me that preaching to the converted is more effective than reaching out to the "lost" in my particular circumstances.

2) Show me that the state exists as a material entity and not an abstraction, or
 explain to me how a person who is widely believed to have a monopoly of force actually has those rights as opposed to being perceived to have those rights. Then once you prove that when I win a popularity contest I will be magically transformed connect the idea that I am now magic with the idea that by being magic I can't undermine the magic that was imbued to me by said popularity contest. This is important because if politicians aren't magic then they are just regular people and it is the delusion that they are magic that is the problem not the politicians themselves. Therefore if a human who is good at disabusing people of delusions becomes the focal point of the delusional it seems to me that might be an effective place for him to be. If it turns out I am magic then explain why I can't use my magic powers to dissolve magic powers?

3) Provide me with evidence that I could be doing something more effective....ME, not you or someone else and not some Platonic version of me thats in your head.

4) Show me some evidence that what I am doing is creating delusion that didn't previously exist. 

5) Explain to me how someone who is committed to peace and non-aggression taking a spot that would otherwise be occupied by a politician interested in using the guns of government is not making the world safer?

Now I would ask you to consider the evidence it would take you to reconsider whether what you are doing is the best course of action for your mission in life. Is criticizing me a good use of your time fellow activists? I suppose it is if you have good reason to believe I'm going to harm your mission and if you don't have something more productive to be doing then please continue fighting the good fight, present a coherent argument that I'm causing harm. Is it possible that it is simply easier and safer to criticize me than to try and enter into hostile territory yourself? If evidence suggests that the amount of delusion in the hearts and minds of men is falling at a more rapid rate from the form of activism I'm taken than the form you are taking will you consider a course correction in your own activism?

Monday, 3 March 2014

Liberal Critic Comes to Town



Liberal northern development critic Yvonne Jones recently came to town to boost the liberal party. Here are some of my comments about what she had to say.

“You have to have respect among all the players to find proper solutions. One thing I’m discovering is they feel they are more neglected by government,” she said. “We believe part of the solution is dialogue with partners and adequate infrastructure investment.”

I agree with Yvonne here that you have to have respect among all the players. The first and foremost way we respect other people is by recognizing their right to life and liberty, by acknowledging their human rights, their property rights. If the governments is to have a role in development of the oil sands region is to first and foremost help resolve and arbitrate disputes that arise between property owners. To ensure respect we need to understand who owns what, and who the players actually are, otherwise we are creating an environment for disrespect.

The terms "the crown", "the government", "corporations", "the province" are all fictional abstractions the way we use them in common language. What is needed here is clarity. Which person or group of people own what, and how is it to be respected?

Governments fundamentally own nothing. You can’t justly own something simply by taking it through force. You may possess something but that thing you possess is not yours; it belongs to someone else. As far as I can tell the only group of people that have a just ownership claim over territory in this region are the group of people that have been hunting, trapping, and gathering food on it their whole life. Can you think of anybody else who would have a just claim?

Oil companies and governments ought to respect the property owners here and understand that they have the right to completely veto or attach any terms and conditions they want to sale or use of their land. If a requirement of development is that there shall be formed and paid for an independent neutral oversight committee that performs rigorous tests, even unreasonably rigorous tests, that ensure environmental health then that is the prerogative of the property owners. No sale if no compliance with the property owners rules.

I have been in and out of Fort Chipewyan several times this winter and have heard from people that they like the opportunity that Oil Sands development gives them but they are worried about their environment and their health. They are worried about their way of life being changed. My sense is that most of all they are concerned about being powerless to control their own destiny.

What would happen if the real property owners in this region had their property rights fully respected. What if they were allowed to make rules like any other property owner about the conduct of guests, partners or potential buyers that had an interest in their property. I suspect we would see a great deal more invested in communication, the environment, infrastructure and studying the effects human health. There would be a great deal more investment in responsible sustainable development.

Property owners are the best stewards of their own lands, this is how the problem of the commons is solved, and it is the only ethical way forward. Neither liberals, nor conservatives will consider giving property to its rightful owners. Liberals lean towards wanting all things to be commonly owned and everybody to have a say (aka socialism) and conservatives tend to favor corporate rights as if corporations are private property and not fictional entities designed to socialize risk and privatize reward (aka cronyism or even fascism). Libertarians demand real respect, respect of the life of each and every person on this planet equally, thou shalt not initiate force to solve problems, this is liberty and this leads to sustainability.

“You’ve got to ensure there’s good infrastructure and good hospitals and that responsibility lies with government,” she said. “Both federal and provincial governments have to work to ensure that those that are giving so much are getting something back.”

I wonder what a good amount of infrastructure and healthcare is? How do producers of goods and services know when the right amount of goods and services are being produced? The answer of course is that consumers stop giving them money when they are no longer useful or they are terrible at producing the goods and services the consumers want. The government takes our money, we have an involuntary relationship, we can’t withdraw our patronage and go to a competing vendor, so how on Earth will Yvonne know when she’s provided enough infrastructure for us?

According to a Fraser Institute study* families that make $234,000 per year pay over $32,000 into the healthcare system by way of taxation.  That sounds like a typical Fort McMurray family to me. How much healthcare do families up here enjoy for that extraordinary price we pay? Even in the fascistic and ridiculously regulated American system you can buy a lot of premium healthcare for $32,000. (Click here for a previous article I wrote on healthcare)

Yvonne’s language is instructive.  She says, “…ensure that those that are giving so much are getting something back.” Does she seriously see the government as a charity where people are donating money? Is it more accurate to say people GIVE muggers money as opposed to muggers TAKE peoples money? Do people have a choice here?

People in our region ought to be getting something back, namely the money that has been taken from us... with interest please! We don’t want you to give us back a polished turd you call infrastructure and healthcare, we just want our money back. We can look after our own infrastructure and healthcare, thanks.

Imagine what we could do with the $5 Billion per year siphoned out of this province to Quebec in the way of provincial transfer payments. How much of that money is generated by people in my region? How many seniors homes would that build? How many hospitals? How many physicians could be recruited? What on earth could the federal or provincial government offer people in this region other than to leave us alone and give us our money back.


*http://www.fraserinstitute.org/uploadedFiles/fraser-ca/Content/research-news/research/articles/how-much-do-we-really-pay-ff010111.pdf



Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Abe Lincoln Reconsidered

This was the last topic I thought I'd ever write about, but this month marks the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address widely considered one of the greatest speeches ever delivered. I came across this article by a Canadian professor repudiating post-modernism and calling for Canadians to engage in principled rhetoric using Lincoln's famous speech as inspiration. He cites Canadian statesmen Thomas D'Arcy McGee who was Lincolns contemporary and admirer as saying, "A war for the unity of the Republic must be necessarily, ipso facto, a war for liberty.The dogmas of which the Republic is founded are the genuine articles of every freeman’s creed." This caught my attention as a self-detonating statement. We need to engage in war to compel unity so that we can all be free? If a dogma of the Republic is  individual liberty doesn't that necessarily mean freedom from compulsion, force and unwanted unions? I didn't think they had post-modernists back in 1864. I always associated post-modernists with horrible self-indulgent art and war sophistry. This got me wondering about whether Lincolns venerated speech was the principled rhetoric its made out to be or just poetic platitudes and deepities.

Abraham Lincoln is lauded in modern culture as a heroic figure, just watch the trailer of Lincoln played by Daniel Day Lewis to get a sense of the awe American culture has for this man. With little digging I found a few quotes that you aren't likely to see in any modern day portrayal of Lincoln:

"I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." - First Inaugural Address 

"I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And in as much as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. I say upon this occasion I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position the negro should be denied everything. I do not understand that because I do not want a negro woman for a slave I must necessarily want her for a wife. My understanding is that I can just let her alone." - Lincoln v Douglas Debate

"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union." - Letter to the Editor

Do we take honest Abe's at his own word? That wouldn't make a convenient account of history would it? How would D. Day Lewis recite those quotes with conviction? Would part of his method require he become a racist for 3 months?

History is written by the victors. Had the the United States successfully invaded Canada and absorbed our territories into their control during the War of 1812 then that conflict would likely have been named the 1st American Civil War, had the South successfully repelled its invaders it wouldn't have been a civil war at all but a war between nation states with the Confederacy no doubt having noticeably different history text books than the Union.

I'm no historian but it seems to me that Lincoln was more concerned about preserving the Union than ending slavery and the South seemed more concerned about repelling an invasion than advancing or defending against slavery abolition. Consider the two men leading the armies at the end of the war; General Lee who led the South had set his slaves free prior to the Emancipation Proclamation and considered slavery "a moral and political evil" and General Grants (the Northern General) family still owned slaves at the end of the war because Lincolns emancipation proclamation only outlawed slavery in the South. General Grant was not fighting to free slaves, unless the blood he shed was necessary to free his own slaves, and General Lee was not fighting for the right to keep them.

The American Civil War claimed over 1 million lives (3% of the population) and resulted in the emancipation of 3.5 million slaves. 1 life sacrificed for every 4 lives freed of slavery. Was the price worth it? Would you trade your life to free 4 people from shackles? Would you trade your child's life? What about a strangers?

There is no doubt that many in the South fought to preserve the repugnant and evil institution of slavery they inherited. I am not defending slave owners. I don't think it is fine to use defensive force to liberate captives and I think it is fine to use defensive force to defend ones property or life. I do think it is immoral to initiate force against people and both Lincoln and slave owners are guilty of that evil, although Lincoln has far more blood on his hands. The tragic irony of the war was the inconsistency of the moral reasoning; the South fought for secession while denying slaves the right to secede from their owners, and Lincoln was fighting "for a government of the people, for the people, by the people" by preventing people in the South from having that very thing. Humans are good at protecting their self-interests with moral reasoning that they unconsciously exempt themselves from.

William Lloyd Garrison, the most prominent abolitionist in America, argued that it was the duty of all those who wanted to abolish slavery to push for secession of the North. It was thought by abolitionists that if the North was a separate country that was not tainted with slave ownership or beholding to legislation like fugitive slave laws which required Northern states to return runaway slaves to their owners, it would become a haven for runaway slaves and the enforcement cost of slavery in the South would become prohibitive and cause the institution to collapse. This argument was demonstrated a few years later when the Brazilian state of Ceara, which had a strong abolitionist movement, became the first Brazilian state to outlaw slavery and refuse to enforce fugitive laws becoming a haven for runaway slaves. With the cost of slave ownership and social pressure rising, complete abolition occurred in Brazil in less than a decade.

So if you're an abolitionist how is positive social change best achieved? This is what interests me. I consider myself a modern day abolitionist seeking to find a way to eliminate the free range plantations or tax farms we euphemistically call nation states. Is popular culture to be believed? Is declaring war and creating rivers of blood the best way to achieve abolition? I certainly hope not. Thomas Jefferson famously said that the tree of liberty needs to be watered from time to time with the blood of tyrants. Presumably he was talking about the red coats that America fought to obtain its freedom and we Canadians are currently under the thumb of. Empirically there doesn't seem to be that much difference between the freedoms we have secured through polite and relatively peaceful discourse and the freedoms that Americans have secured through violence.

Slavery (excluding the pockets of human trafficking that still exist) was ended peacefully in every other western society after a tipping point of people found it to be immoral. This is encouraging because it tells me that change can occur as people discarding inherited irrational ideas in favor or clearer thinking and that the only arms we need bear are a reliable epistemology, truth bombs, persuasion and persistence to convince a tipping point of people that we need not organize our relationships around violence. Revolution can be peaceful, eh...




Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Impeaching Redford From the Inside Out

I was recently invited to speak at a rally to impeach Allison Redford in Edmonton. The rally was organized by Richard Heathen a political activist and organizer from Grande Prairie. Here is an excerpt from the Facebook page that explains what spawned this rally:

The Alberta Government under the leadership of Alison Redford has, through it's numerous scandals and it's prolonged attack on the property rights of Albertans shown itself unfit to govern. The Redford government with it's fetish for top down central planning, has shown itself incompatible with the Alberta culture of free enterprise and adherence to property rights.

Under The Land Stewardship Act The Alberta Government has given itself the power to strip any existing rights to the land from property owners. Bill 36 is an authoritarian law giving the Alberta Government complete control over what you can and cannot do on all public and private land, every last acre of it.

With Bill 24 The Carbon Storage Act the Alberta government has stolen the property rights to the pourous spaces underneath the land, underground, which up until the passing of the Bill 24 was the property of land owners.

Bill 19 Land Assembly Project Area Act was drafted so as to allow the government to freeze any existing use of land and restrict development and prohibit landowner's from using their property in any manner that the Cabinet arbitrarily decides.

Bill 2 The Responsible Energy Development Act strips landowners rights to negotiate with oil companies and gives big oil unchallenged access to entry, without the need for any consent from landowners.


I had some considerable trepidation about attending a political rally, but when you appeal to my ego for long enough and give me a soapbox to stand on you've found my kryptonite. 

Here is the speech I delivered:

My name is Tim Moen. I live in Fort McMurray, you know… the black heart of Mordor. I write a blog called “The Fort Mac Philosopher” and recently got 15 minutes of fame when an article I wrote about my experience filming with Neil Young and Daryl Hannah was picked up by the national press. I write about issues from a philosophical perspective, trying to separate truth from falsehood and I also write articles that I hope inspire and empower people to take action and improve and enrich their personal lives.

Richard asked me to speak about the philosophy of liberty today, and I’m sure most of you know and understand this philosophy so my goal here is to present the philosophy of liberty in a way that I hope leaves you feeling empowered!

I came across the philosophy of liberty a little over a decade ago. I had been going through a painful experience in my life where I began to ask myself the question, “Why do I believe what I believe? Where did my beliefs come from?” I realized that most of what I believed about the world was not the product of reason and evidence but rather the environment I grew up in. I realized I was a Christian because I was born in Canada and that had I been born in Saudi Arabia or India it’s likely my belief about the nature of reality would be completely different. I soon realized that people used these cultural narratives of gods and governments as a weapon. That weapon is called morality and the way it works is that you create rules that you immediately exempt yourself from. Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t counterfeit money, don’t kidnap, don’t commit fraud….unless…unless you’re doing it for god or government cause then it is for the greater good you see.

This destruction of my beliefs was extremely unsettling. I felt lost, without a compass. I knew that if there was such a thing as morality it wasn’t going to be found by listening to the priestly class of public intellectuals, politicians and other pedlars of mysticism. The job of these people is to produce sophisticated words, euphemisms, doublespeak, charismatic non sequiturs that allows them and their pals to break the very rules they create. Imagine you or some other libertarian is in the crowd when Moses comes down from the mountain with the 10 Commandments and says, “God told me that there’s to be no killing, no other God except me, you have to obey me…and God also commands us to go kill all the people on the other side of that hill, except the hot virgins of course.” Do you think you might have challenged old Mo on his story if you were around back then? I don’t think libertarians lived very long back in those days, and I bet being buddies with Moses probably paid off handily in the not getting smote, and the collecting of bounty and booty department. Its really no different today is it? It probably doesn’t hurt to be buddies with Allison Redford.

I lost about a year of my life to a haze of disillusionment and pain. I knew if I was to find my moral compass, to live a life of principle and meaning I couldn’t rely on the priestly classes anymore. I knew that if a moral code was to be taken seriously it would have to universally apply to ALL people. Eventually I came across the philosophy of liberty and it seemed to fit the bill. If you’ve never heard it before I’ll try and briefly summarize it for you.

It starts with the idea that you own yourself and are responsible for your actions and therefore own the product of your labour. If you apply this universally you then have a moral rule called the non-aggression principle which says you should not initiate force against another person or their property. You shouldn’t murder, you shouldn’t steal, you shouldn’t commit fraud, you shouldn’t kidnap. Now you could say, “Uh Tim, we already have those rules, they’re obvious. This is stuff we learned in kindergarten.” This is where I would refer you back to the priestly classes who specialize in sophistry, spin and propaganda to fool you. Or more accurately to fool themselves into thinking they are doing good of the highest order.

There’s an ancient Chinese proverb that says “The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their real name.” We are surrounded daily by a matrix of delusion that is reinforced by language. So if I tell someone to give me money or I’ll kidnap them and if they resist I’ll shoot them, then the words we use to describe it are “theft” or “armed robbery.” If someone from government does this then its called “taxation”. If I’m at a peaceful rally and we decide to have a popularity contest and I win the contest and start ordering you to give me some of your money, and make you get permission to speak or to point your signs in a certain direction, and I notice that some people are wearing nicer clothes than others and I call them bourgeois scum and make them give their clothes to less fashionably privileged, or if I draw a chalk line around you and tell you that you can’t go across it without the proper paperwork what words would you use to describe that system? Well we call it DEMOCRACY and we worship it’s virtues! I think it’s very important to be able to break through the matrix of language and call things by their real name. Does anybody else have any examples they want to share: Borders = imaginary lines, immigration = travelling from point A to B across and imaginary line etc.

Usually we libertarians focus on problems, its almost impossible not too, problems surround us. I think the reason the philosophy of liberty appealed to me so much when I first heard it was that I finally had a seemingly bulletproof philosophy that would protect me from other people trying to control my life. I don’t think my story is unique in any way. I think a lot of us find ourselves intuitively “getting it” the first time we hear it. I always felt a sense of injustice growing up, that people who claimed authority in my life had no idea what they were talking about.

I remember pissing my pants in grade 1 because I saw my teacher treating other kids who asked to go to the washroom harshly, I remember having to use a special training device because the authorities in my life didn’t like the way I held a pencil even though by all accounts I was “gifted”, I remember violent older kids physically hurting me and humiliating me on the playground and on the bus and I remember knowing that appealing to authority figures would make it worse, I remember being teased and ridiculed for not being like other kids, I remember a grade 4 social studies class where an MLA visited us and I asked him if he could build us a zoo because the teacher told us that the government makes our lives better and I couldn’t imagine a better way for my life to be made better than by having a zoo! And I remember feeling humiliated when the MLA and the teacher laughed at me and quickly dismissed my idea and then all my classmates chimed in. I remember being told by parents and pastors about a very real place called hell where I would suffer the worst torment imaginable if I didn’t think the right thoughts or have the right beliefs and that this cosmic dictator knows exactly what I’m thinking and doing every moment and not only is there NO escape but I am required to genuinely love him and have zero doubts about this story….I remember crying myself to sleep at night for a good portion of my childhood worried about my eternal fate.

Do any of my experiences resonate with you guys? Have you ever felt this way in your own lives? That you were the helpless victim of injustice?

I think that one of the reasons we are so ineffective as a movement has to do with the injustice we experienced in our lives that led us to embrace the liberty movement. We see the problem of self-ownership as a problem of other people…It is they who take away our ownership, it is those criminals who make us less free. We frame everything from the mentality of a victim and legitimately so because we are victims.

A couple years ago I did a Masters thesis and studied self-organizing systems. One of the key insights I learned was that ones underlying frame of reference largely determines outcomes. You can look at a system and ask the question “What is going wrong and how do I fix it?” or you can look at a system and ask the question “What is going right, what is alive and virtuous and flourishing and how can I leverage it?” Two legitimate questions that will look at the same system, the same reality, and create drastically different results. I realized the questions that I choose to ask and the way I look at reality determine my destiny!

I noticed that my experiences lined up with the mountains of research in this area; if I focus on problems and trying to fix them it inevitably leads to more problems, the more I fought “the man” and clobbered him over the head with reason and evidence the more I suffered, the less free I became, the more I retreated into a fortress of solitude angry and frustrated at other people and the world. On the other hand when I stayed grounded in the present and focused on all the things that are going right in my life, the things that are baring the most fruit, the things that are creating the most value; I gain more power over my own life, I become happier, I become more connected with those around me, I become more FREE…suddenly I find I’m not a victim anymore.

Ownership isn’t a legal construct so much as a biological process. It is the way life comes into existence and grows and flourishes. It is often called homesteading, you take your creativity and labour, mix it with raw resources and create something valuable that never existed before. This is how I now view my role in the world. I’m not here to engage in protective force, to fortify my defences….this does not create ownership, this does not create property, this does not create value…I am here my friends to create not to defend. We’ve been defending our ideas for to long and I say its time to stop being victims and start being bad-ass beacons of truth, justice and self-ownership.

One of the things I learned in the past couple years is the degree to which I don’t own myself, the degree to which I don’t exercise self-ownership, the degree to which I make myself a slave. What’s your narrative when some asshole cuts you off in traffic? Do you immediately play the victim card, get angry and chase him down so you can give him the finger or pull him over, jersey him and feed him a flurry of uppercuts? Does your mind go to a place of anger, frustration and violent fantasy? Does it ruin your morning or your day when that happens? When you let your mind go to these places you know it doesn’t serve you, that nothing good can come of it and yet you allow it to happen. You might even say “That guy ruined my day.” This is not self-ownership, you might as well put a dog collar around your neck and hand that asshole a leash and tell him you’re his bitch for the rest of the day, the price you pay is the same.

We are our own worst slave masters, holding power over our own self that prevents us from taking action that will SET US FREE! Impeachment is the process of removing a criminal from office. Impeaching Redford is cool, all politicians are engaging in criminal activity and ought to be impeached. I’ve found that the most fruitful activity is impeaching the criminal in my own life, the voice in my head that prevents me from exercising self-ownership, the ghost of my childhood beliefs that removes power from my life and distracts me by reminding me I’m a victim, that I’m powerless, impeaching that criminal has paved the way for every good thing, every freedom I’ve obtained. Politicians aren’t the only people who are excellent at using language to fool themselves and others into thinking that their immoral activity is for the greatest good. I used to hit my kids when they done wrong and I called it “spanking”, I now call it “assault”…if you understand the incredible pain that realization causes a father who loves his children deeply then you understand why we hate facing reality in our own lives and why others including politicians might be motivated to shield themselves from the reality of their own lives. At the end of the day, as painful as it has been, impeaching the slave master in my life has born the most fruit, it has set me FREE!

Fear holds us back. Fear is how we are ruled and how we rule ourselves. Fear of facing reality and what that might mean for our life, fear that we might be bright shining lights and not shrivelled helpless victims whose lives are determined by the whims of the powerful. Without our fear priests and politicians have no power, without fear our inner slave master has no power. I’m going to close with one of my favourite poems:

Our Deepest Fear
By Marianne Williamson

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. 
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. 
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.
We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? 
You are a child of God.
Your playing small 
Does not serve the world. 
There's nothing enlightened about shrinking 
So that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, 
As children do. 
We were born to make manifest 
The glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; 
It's in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, 
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. 
As we're liberated from our own fear, 
Our presence automatically liberates others.


Look at what is alive here today my friends. We have each other, we have a meaningful conversation, we have a fellowship that gives us power over our own lives through support and encouragement, we have the sun, we have beauty, we have love. Allison Redford has no power here, she has been impeached in our lives because she is as irrelevant as the slave master in our head.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

When Neil Young & Daryl Hannah Came to Town

A couple weeks ago I wanted to let my family and friends know what was going on in my life and I tweeted that I was going to be filming with Neil Young and Daryl Hannah in Fort McMurray. I was not prepared for the reaction. My phone was immediately blowing up with media requests to find out what was going on. Reaction from people commenting on social media in the community ranged from concern to rage over how Fort McMcMurray would be portrayed by these people who have a clear environmental agenda.

I refrained from commenting in the media ahead of time because I wasn't sure how much publicity they wanted and I didn't want to ruin my chances of working with these people. I agreed to an interview with Wallis Snowden at Mix 103.7 after filming was over and she presented a fair and brief synopsis of our interview to the listeners. I'd like to offer my readers a more detailed account of what transpired.

Background


I was contacted a few weeks ago by Neil's production company Shakey Pictures and asked if I would be available to shoot some arial footage from a helicopter for Neil's documentary. I've done this kind of work in the past and was recommended by the helicopter company. The details of the project were not all that clear, the only thing I knew for sure was that the documentary was about Neil's 1959 Lincoln Continental convertible that he had a team of specialists convert into a cellulosic ethanol burning hybrid dubbed The Lincvolt.

The production company explained that this was a documentary a few years in the making and production had stalled after the films producer, a long-time friend of Neil's named Larry Johnson, passed away suddenly in 2010. The documentary centers around The Lincvolt from its inception and development to Neil's travels with it across North America promoting the idea that we can be more conscious consumers of energy while still being bad-ass (my words). Filming was originally supposed to take place on Thursday August 28th but Neil stopped and visited his friend Daryl Hannah on the way here and she wanted to join him so they pushed the shoot back a couple days.

I was obviously concerned that this production was going to present an unfair portrait of my community so I wanted to make sure that I was able to provide them with options that presented a more balanced view of the community and the industry. To that end I had well know community cheerleader Theresa Wells and environmentally conscious oil sands development advocate Ken Chapman on standby to be available for interviews if I was able to convince the production team to hear their stories. I also arranged with Joey Hundert the CEO of Sustainival, the worlds first green carnival,  to accommodate Neil and the production crew should I be able to convince them to film at this carnival powered by used cooking oil. In the end there, while they were polite and curious about this picture of Fort McMurray, it wasn't on the production agenda.

Impressions


Meeting the production crew at the Chateau Nova I found them all to be friendly and professional people. Ken Chapman happened by and Neil chatted with us around his and Daryl's cars for quite some time. Neil seemed genuinely surprised and impressed with some of the green initiatives happening in the community. He seemed to know little about the oil sands industry, he'd never heard of SAGD for example. His understanding seemed to be that bitumen is mined by digging giant open pits, using tonnes of water, and creating giant tailings ponds. He was unaware of the advances that have been made.

The first song I ever practiced, perfected and played live at Paddy McSwiggins with my garage band was Rockin' In The Free World so I may be a tad bias here but I really liked Neil. Neil introduced me to his 34 year old son who his wheel chair bound with severe Cerebral Palsy and told me about how he had been given a life expectancy of 16 years. Neil explained how lucky he felt to have been blessed with the resources needed to keep him alive this long and I admired his resolve to keep his son by his side determined to give him the opportunity to experience life to the fullest.

Daryl was a very nice lady, ever since the movie Splash I've thought so. I got the sense that she wasn't all that interested in the hearing a counter narrative or anything that might create cognitive dissonance in her judgement on the oil sands. She asked me about how scary it was shooting film out of a helicopter and asked if I was an adrenaline junkie. While the rest of us were chatting about the community and the oil sands industry she was more interested in picking sweet grass and posting her stickers around. She gave me an encouraging hug after filming and told me I did a great job, which was nice but nobody had actually seen my footage yet. That moment pretty much encapsulated my sense of her, a lady with a huge heart who makes judgement's with little information.

The thing I admire most about Neil and Daryl is the fact that they are trying really hard to make a difference in this world. Daryl has been arrested for standing up for what she believes in. She is diligent about practicing what she preaches and lives off the grid generating her own energy from wind and solar and growing her own food. Not many environmentally active starlets have her integrity in this regard.

What Was Filmed



The production company chartered the chopper for a couple hours and asked me to get a list of shots. Mostly I shot the two cars driving around the highway by Syncrude and Suncor. They were essentially interested in shots of Mordor (my words) juxtaposed behind these beautiful cars. They also wanted shots of tailings ponds and industrial plants. We lucked out with a dramatic sky that had a dark rain cloud roll in over top of Syncrude while the nearby boreal forest was bathed in sunlight and blue sky, David Suzuki himself couldn't have asked Gaia for a better shot. The pilot and I also took the liberty of shooting some beautiful river valley, wetland and boreal forest shots while we had free time.

I was told that the previous day was spent with a First Nations Chief getting his story and they were planning on spending the next day with a First Nations Chief as well. The only other thing on their agenda was an interview with Dr. O'Connor in Edmonton to presumably talk about the ill health of First Nations people because of the industry upstream.

What we didn't shoot was as informative about the narrative as what we did shoot. We did not film any reclaimed land. We didn't film any new extraction operations using greener technology. We didn't film any industry experts. We didn't film Neil's diesel burning bus that his crew rode in. We didn't film the environmentally conscious community active in Fort McMurray. That stuff wasn't on the agenda.

Final Thoughts


All living things consume energy and pollute. Nature is as cruel as it is beautiful. Bacteria and viruses pollute this Earth and for the majority of our history have mercilessly put us in an early grave. Burning wood has improved our lives dramatically by allowing us to ingest more energy at less cost by cooking food and it keeps us warm. Our ability to find and harness energy has caused human life to flourish. Each energy source we innovate is not without it's detriments. Nearly 2 million people die prematurely each year in developing countries from inhaling cooking smoke, what they wouldn't give for the comparatively clean energy of coal generated electricity.

People in developing countries generally care very little about the environmental standards we care about, they are too busy trying to survive to worry about their carbon footprint or how many blooms their community gets. The good news is that the richer a country gets the more environmentally conscious it tends to get and the cleaner and more efficient its energy tends to become. This investment in clean technology requires wealth, and wealth requires energy abundance.

Neil Young himself proves this point in a number of ways. He is able to fight off the polluting secretions invading his sons lungs that would otherwise kill him if not for a fortuitous chain of events starting with the industrial revolution and all the wealth that it brought to the world that allowed a man enough free time to pursue a thing called rock stardom and afford round the clock care for his boy extending his life. His wealth also allowed him to pay a team of engineers and specialists to retrofit a classic car into a technological green marvel. His wealth allows him to pay for the energy expenditure to get cellulosic ethanol shipped from the one plant in the US that makes it to wherever his Lincvolt is. His wealth allows him to traverse the world with his entourage spreading the gospel of green. His wealth affords a helicopter to fly around and film him and that is okay. I promise you I do not mean this facetiously; getting to the cutting edge of cleaner technology creates a lot of pollution...always has. That's why I don't consider it hypocritical of Neil to preach clean energy while creating a bunch of pollution and why I'd like him to grant the rest of us the same consideration. We are conscientious adults with the same goals he has.

Hiroshima Seems Nice
One has to wonder about claims of genocide and holocaust that are thrown about so cavalierly by those with a mission to bring down the oil sands, I wonder what survivors of actual genocide must think. Neil recently stated that Fort McMurray looks like Hiroshima (I wonder if he meant Nuked Hiroshima or beautiful reclaimed Hiroshima today) and that Natives are sick and dying because of the oil sands activities. These are serious claims that paint a pretty bleak picture and seem to lack any evidence. One would simply have to look at life expectancy rates before and after the oil sands started developing in this region. Are we to believe that the First Nations people in this region have increased mortality and morbidity rates because of the oil sands development, that over a billion dollars worth of First Nation business per year has caused declining health? Seems to me that is backwards. We could also compare life expectancy in First Nation communities around the oil sands region to those of First Nations people in other less Hiroshima looking parts of Canada.

The other bit of Neil's message I take some umbrage with is his anti-Keystone XL stance. It seems a tad hypocritical to use the guns of government to cut people off from energy they want and force them to use OPEC conflict oil. Nobody is cutting Neil off from all the energy he's using and forcing him to burn bitumen, why would he do that to people who can't afford other sources of energy or who don't want to use bloody OPEC oil? In the same vein I don't want government pointing guns at land owners to force Keystone through their land. I just wish people would learn how to peacefully negotiate without constantly appealing to government to pull out guns on their behalf.

So Neil if you're reading this Keep on Rockin In The Free World! I dig your message of clean energy and I can't wait for affordable cleaner energy, one day if we extract enough oil and generate enough wealth like you we will be able to create a cleaner world and even be able to extend the lives of our sons and daughters and move on to a better energy source. If you would've looked a bit closer at the people in this community developing this resource you'd have found people of kindred spirit, we are concerned about the environment and about the health of those that live around the oil sands...this is where our children live. We want to leave this world a better place like you do and we have the energy to do just that. I challenge you to find a community of oil producers anywhere else in this world that more closely aligns with your values of stewardship and respect for this Earth and it's people. Not only do we not stone people to death, we don't even use plastic grocery bags.