The Western Path

The Western Path

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The History of Happiness

On a cold spring afternoon when I was twelve years old, I climbed up onto a large rock on a New Hampshire beach and stared out at the gray Atlantic Ocean. At that moment I realized that happiness is, roughly speaking, a state of mind in which the pleasures are greater than the pains, and that pleasure consists in the satisfaction of what are vaguely called instincts, from avoiding physical injury and staying out of the cold, to satisfying hunger and sexual desire, and so on.

Happiness is the most important thing in human life, perhaps the only important thing, yet there are very few books on the topic that are not mindless trash. In fact, people rarely talk about happiness, even though it is not exactly a taboo subject. Tracing happiness to its roots is a difficult task.

I still believe that my childhood theory was generally correct. Yet other matters seem to be entangled with it, and these other matters can both complement and negate the "instinct theory."

To pick the strangest of all the alternate theories: it is not merely a witty remark to say that our moods depend on the weather. If I go for a walk on a warm and sunny day, with a steady breeze blowing and a few perfect clouds in the sky, I can see that the wild animals seem to be in the same playful mood as myself. It seems rather silly to say that happiness depends on the weather. After all, the topic of weather is one that is chosen only when there is nothing else to talk about. On the other hand, long ago, when people lived as hunters and gatherers, and in the later centuries of Neolithic agriculture, the topic of weather was one of great importance. So who knows? Maybe human brains and nerves are highly respondent to sun and rain, wind and clouds.

But there are greater candidates than weather as the locus of happiness. I began to suspect that, although my theory of instincts was correct, I needed to pay more attention to what might be called "secondary needs." Most of these have been summed up quite neatly by Maslow in the second chapter of his Motivation and Personality. Happiness, in his view, consists in satisfying various needs, arranged in a hierarchy. The lower needs must be satisfied before the higher needs can be met -- in fact, the higher needs sometimes do not even exist until the lower needs have been satisfied. At the bottom are the more-physical needs such as avoidance of pain, the need for food, the need for sleep, and so on. Perhaps slightly higher would be the need for sex, although Maslow is rather vague about this topic. But for most people the higher needs seem to dominate. For example, people have a need for safety, for security, a need to avoid uncertainty and danger, to be free from worrying about tomorrow. A second need, almost contradicting the first, is the need to be free, to be independent, to live one's own life, not to be under someone else's thumb.

There are other needs. Of great importance is the need to be loved, to be cared for, to be cherished; there are so many people who exhibit what I call the Marilyn Monroe syndrome; such people have everything, but they die because in childhood they did not have what was needed. Then there is curiosity, the need to know what is over the next hill, what is behind the next tree; that curiosity can also take more-inward forms, such as wanting to know the structure of the human mind, or the structure of a computer. (To judge especially from other mammals, however, I would be inclined to list curiosity as an "instinct," a primary need, at least in the sense that most mammals seem to gravitate toward novelty, complexity, and intensity.)

Above all these other needs is one that is hard to comprehend: the need for self-actualization, the need "to be all that one can be," as is often said. But that need is so hard to define, and even to understand its existence requires a leap of intuition, an epiphany. Perhaps it can be said that all people need to be creative, all people need to use their minds one-hundred percent, rather than the five percent to which mentality is so often (so sadly) restricted. That creativity can take any form -- to be an artist, to be a musician, to write a novel, to build a house -- it all sounds a little stupid, as if the ultimate goal were to indulge in some sort of occupational therapy. But it is more than that, and I have certainly known that self-actualization once or twice in my own life, particularly when achieving some intellectual goal, when I have felt overtaken by a kind of shamanic spirit, but a spirit that is really my true self.

All these secondary needs seem to be derived from the instincts, the primary needs, perhaps in the sense that they serve to ensure the fulfillment of the primary needs, but the secondary needs soon take on a life of their own, they become autonomous, they overwhelm the primary needs. Again, Maslow is not terribly clear on this matter, and I am partly inserting my own ideas about the connection between innate drives and conditioned ones.

And thirdly, in this analysis of happiness, I might mention the Buddhist doctrine of the Four Noble Truths. Life, according to the Buddha, is largely suffering. Suffering is caused by tanha -- desire, craving, attachment. There is a way to end suffering, and that way is the Eightfold Path, the Buddhist code of morality, of daily discipline, of meditation -- but in essence, the Buddhist way is to withdraw from desire, to retreat from the torment of longing. "I want, I want, I want" is the song not only of every child, but of every adult. It is the animal nature in all of us, giving us no peace if we succumb to it. To be happy, in the Buddhist view, is to step back from one's animality, to say no to the great Darwinian struggle.

I have a lot of sympathy for the Buddhist view, and yet I am often worried by its similarity to Christian asceticism. Is that similarity only superficial? The puritanical Christian view is that one must withdraw from the desires of the flesh, that one must renounce lust and gluttony, that one must remove oneself from the fires of the mind, from anger and envy, pride and avarice -- in short, that one must be free from desire. How is this different from the Buddhist doctrine? Well, certainly there are a few differences. The Buddhists, for one thing, are not saying that desire is a sin, they are simply saying that it is a nuisance. Yet I have mixed feelings about the Buddhist retreat from desire. In some ways it seems to be a giving-up on life, a "chickening out," a kind of cowardice. 

It is true that if I say no to that woman I will never suffer from the pains of jealousy, of lust, of frustration, I will never know the pangs of a broken heart -- and yet I have always in my heart the memory of a certain smile, of soft slender arms around my neck, of her dark eyes and of the forest of her hair -- do I really want to find happiness by casting out all that from my past and my future? Do I really want to say that I have never been burned because I have never been warm? So I want to be a Buddhist, but perhaps only once a year.

But all that is not the end of the theories. Perhaps human moods are a genetic trait, in the same way that temperament can be bred into dogs. Or perhaps the first few years of life are critical, putting an indelible stamp on the future. Each of the above two theories has a rather fatalistic overtone, but for one there is a pharmaceutical answer, to the other a psychological one. No doubt some people have advantages, genetic or developmental, while some have disadvantages. These two theories complement the "instinct theory," and yet they are only tangential to it. They explain how some people have a better or worse starting point, yet they do not explain why an advantaged person may one day be sad, or how a disadvantaged person may one day be happy.

The same kind of thing would be true of good health, proper exercise, good sleep, adequate rest from daily labors, a high-fiber diet -- yes, absolutely essential. Theories about the Apocalypse can often be shattered by a good brisk walk. But I can't find much cosmological significance in all that. Again, it's tangential -- or rather, I would say that care of the body is merely part of our instinctive requirements, our primary needs.

At the age of twelve, and at the very beginning of the eighteenth century, Alexander Pope wrote his "Ode on Solitude": 

Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air
In his own ground. . . . 

Pope's thoughts at age twelve, like my own thoughts upon that wave-encircled stone, were probably as good an answer as one is likely to find. But of course the human mind at age twelve is about as close to crystalline as it will ever be.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Growth of Cultural Marxism

The moral and intellectual fabric of Western society has been disintegrating for some time. To a large extent the destruction can be blamed on a form of Marxism, socialism, left-wing thinking, “underdog” mentality, which has encouraged the nanny state, with people living in perpetual imbecility and irresponsibility. In the middle of the last century, Marxism never had much luck in intellectual contests among Westerners, so it had to burrow underground, eroding the foundations of modern society and leaving people in a state of perpetual self-doubt and abnegation. This is what is called “cultural Marxism.” Not much of the reality of cultural Marxism is clearly evident: most of it is experienced as a mere premonition, like that of a coming change in the weather, and its existence can easily be denied.

Cultural Marxism began in the early twentieth century, when Marxism in the usual sense (i.e. economic Marxism) was a failure in western Europe -- in the First World War, for example, most people were far more interested in defending their country than in overthrowing their government. Cultural Marxism arose because, in order to win in the West, Marxists realized they would have to go underground, working on the “culture” rather than openly advocating revolution. The movement began roughly with Georg Lukács and Antonio Gramsci, who claimed that in order for Marxism to succeed in the West, it was vital to destroy the existing culture by sowing the seeds of doubt regarding all traditional Western moral values.

Hence the formation of the Institute for Social Research at the Goethe University Frankfurt, and its offspring, some of whom (at various times) were Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Leo Lowenthal, Jurgen Habermas, Max Horkheimer, Walter Benjamin, and Erich Fromm. Following Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, the Institute left Germany, finally moving to New York City, where it was affiliated with Columbia University.

In “The Origins of Political Correctness,” William S. Lind breaks cultural Marxism down into four parts:

“Where does all this stuff that you’ve heard about . . . the victim feminism, the gay rights movement, the invented statistics, the rewritten history, the lies, the demands, all the rest of it -- where does it come from? For the first time in our history, Americans have to be fearful of what they say. . . .

“We call it ‘Political Correctness. . . .’

“Political Correctness is cultural Marxism. It is Marxism translated from economic into cultural terms. . . . If we compare the basic tenets of Political Correctness with classical Marxism the parallels are very obvious. . . .

“First of all, both are totalitarian ideologies. The totalitarian nature of Political Correctness is revealed nowhere more clearly than on college campuses. . . .

“Indeed, all ideologies are totalitarian because the essence of an ideology . . . is to take some philosophy and say . . . certain things must be true. . . . That is why ideology invariably creates a totalitarian state.

“Second, the cultural Marxism of Political Correctness, like economic Marxism, has a single factor explanation of history. Cultural Marxism . . . says that all history is determined by . . . which groups . . . have power over which other groups. . . .

“Third, certain groups . . . are a priori good, and other groups . . . are evil. . . . regardless of what any of them do. . . .

“Fourth, both economic and cultural Marxism rely on expropriation. . . . [W]hen the cultural Marxists take over a university campus, they expropriate through things like quotas for admissions. . . .”

The attack -- by Westerners -- on Western beliefs and values never slows down. The “Hippie Revolution,” damaging the lives of so many Baby Boomers, was largely due to the machinations of Benjamin Spock, Noam Chomsky, and Timothy Leary. The Church has reduced itself to infantilism. Ph.D.’s are handed out to students who can only be described as illiterate. Electronic devices destroy our attention span, reduce direct contact among humans, and turn everything into “virtual reality.”

Sorry -- maybe some of this can’t be laid at the feet of poor Karl Marx. Perhaps some of this is just a matter of “lifestyle choice,” to use modern jargon. But is there really a difference?

A related problem that makes cultural Marxism so hard to analyze is that to some extent it’s a group of overlapping activities, not just one, and that’s especially true nowadays. Multiculturalism, sexual deviancy, mass immigration, “sanctuary cities,” aggressive religions, dumbing down, “liberalism” that is not at all liberal, and so on -- the modern world has become somewhat shapeless and formless. The trail of Marxism is so long, and goes cold so often.

At times the trail becomes quite ludicrous, with “multiculturalism” as an example of that absurdity. The early cultural Marxists hoped to destroy traditional Western culture by flooding it with other cultures. Yet nowadays the photographs in advertising largely portray largely non-white (non-European, non-Western) people, in spite of the fact that the US and Canada are demographically still mostly white -- Canada is still about 80 percent white, even if this is not true for Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, or some other large cities. Yet every posh bank in Canada advertises its services very largely with photographs of happy non-white or multi-racial couples.

But the inclusion of non-whites is good for business, since such people compose a new and possibly lucrative customer base -- “diversity is our strength” is the new chant. So what began in the 1930s as a Marxist tactic has become, many decades later, a marketing ploy by capitalist bankers who would rather die than be regarded as Marxists!

But what does the term “left wing” itself really mean? In France long ago, the terms “left” and “right” had precise meanings, based on where one was actually sitting in the Estates General, indicating one’s attitude toward the Revolution. Now perhaps “left wing” means big government, and big spending by that government, but above all it means supporting the “poor” rather than the “rich.” By the “poor” I mean the voters, of course, not the people leading such flocks.

As soon as “guilt” has become established as “fact,” every relevant piece of paper that appears in public must emphasize “multiculturalism” at all costs. Although the terms are used misleadingly, everything must also “fairness,” “democracy,” and “equal rights.” The punishment for breaches of “multiculturalism” is swift and merciless, unless one is attacking Christians; Easter seems always ready to disappear from the free calendars handed out by politicians.

There are corollaries to all the above. Leftists must believe in prohibiting the ownership of guns, for example. If people believe they are underdogs, they must also believe they have no right to defend themselves. Only grown-ups should have guns, and leftists know they are not grown-ups.

But the opposite to Marxism is not Nazism. The two are actually quite similar. They both say, “You are the oppressed. We shall raise you up.” Whereas Marxism emphasizes the “oppressed” in the first sentence, Nazism emphasizes the “raise you up” in the second. They both conclude with, “Stop thinking, and let us do the thinking for you.” Any country with a two-party system offers a highly diluted but essentially similar display of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. But it takes very little to turn most people into the sort that Eric Hoffer describes in The True Believer, and whether they follow Marxism or Nazism or any other “ism” is a rather arbitrary matter. Anything is better than the headache of having an original thought. The dichotomy between one party and another is not the same as a genuine struggle against industrial slavery, which most “isms” perpetuate, no matter how dissimilar they may appear on the surface. Jean-Paul Sartre, a self-proclaimed Marxist, had no trouble living in Occupied France; why should he, since he was almost single-handedly training French academics not to think?

As mentioned above, the trail is a long one: all of Existentialism and Postmodernism, for example. Jean-Paul Sartre and Claude Lévi-Strauss wrote the two greatest works of academic dementia, Being and Nothingness and The Savage Mind. What those two savants failed to accomplish was completed by Herbert Marcuse and Noam Chomsky. How many graduate students in the West have phoned home to say, “Mom, they’re making me read stuff that makes absolutely no sense”? Well, there wasn’t much Mom could do about it.

But most leftists believe all cultures are, in some inexplicable way, equal. In their naivety, they cannot believe that many cultures are cruel and intolerant, locked in the pre-literate mentality of a thousand years ago. In reality, even in most cultures of the present day the average person can barely read or write, contrary to the official figures on literacy. There are, at the same time, many petty tribes each of which regards itself as “God’s chosen people.” Westerners today cannot understand that there can be such vast differences between the mentality of one culture and another. The mainstream news-media foster this misunderstanding by failing to report the shocking statistics of rape, mutilation, murder, and other barbarisms that go on in this world.

Most people have little sense of history, yet cruelty has long been a part of that history. Beginning about 5,000 years ago in the Near East, various civilizations arose in Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Persia, and so on. After a war between city-states, it was customary for all the male inhabitants of the losing city to be put to death, and impalement was one of the most common forms of killing. That ancient mentality has not entirely passed away. Yet Westerners like to fool themselves into believing that the entire world consists of people who read glossy magazines and keep up with all the intellectual trends. The reality is that, even in modern times, the counterpart to an act of “tolerance” in one country would just as surely result in a death sentence in another.

Leftists fail to understand that the world is starting to run out of fossil fuels, and out of a hundred other non-renewable natural resources from aluminum to zirconium. Leftists believe we just need to share the existing resources more equitably. Besides, leftists think we have no reason to worry about fossil fuels because we will all be saved by some sort of “alternative energy,” in spite of the fact that many long years of searching for this mysterious “energy” have resulted in nothing impressive.

We must understand the fact of global overpopulation. We must understand the fact of the gradual depletion of everything that civilization is based on. We should not be satisfied with “standing room only.” To the extent that there is still any time left for making a difference, we must support family-planning programs, and we must support rational controls on immigration levels. And we must accept the fact that the cultures of this world do not easily mix. We're all very different from one another. That’s just how it goes.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Loneliness as a Political Weapon

People today are loners, yes, but it’s not entirely a matter of choice. It’s easier for a governments to control and manipulate people when they’ve been isolated from one another. Most people no longer live where they were born. Quite likely they’ve moved many times over the years. Their relatives live all over the planet. Most people work at jobs where they have to act as robots if they don’t want to get fired. Then they come home, and their “family” quite likely consists of a TV set or a computer, or both.

So they have no real communication, and certainly not on the heart-to-heart level. They have no one with whom they can communicate their questions, their doubts, their suspicions. Each person lives in a glass bowl, like a solitary goldfish. Most people are either stupid enough to believe the brainwashing that they receive through television, or they let the silly chatter and pictures drift through their heads as mind-numbing “entertainment.” And since silence is forbidden on TV, the viewers end up with severe attention-span deficiency. Everything is flash, flash, flash, until it’s time to go to bed and hope to sleep.

So I’m not even sure if it should be said that people are loners. They’re not loners in the Wild West, Clint Eastwood manner, or in the style of Daniel Boone and those other real men and women who were content to travel in the silence and emptiness of the wilderness. What we have, in fact, is widespread sheer loneliness, like bubonic plague, the Black Death.

Of course, most people would rather die than admit they’re lonely. That’s curious -- we become victims of a political system that initiates “divide and conquer,” but instead of fighting the enemy we fall back into self-recrimination. It’s even hard to say what crime we seem to be committing. Being lonely means you’re a “bad person,” yes, but in what sense? We’re guilty of some unnameable evil, a kind of original sin? Or we’re misdirections of evolution, mutations who know they have a moral duty to subscribe to the state’s euthanasia program, allowing more food, more land, more fun to those who follow the arrow of historical necessity? Hard to say.

All that’s certain is that in the Pepsi ads, everyone is mid-20s, well tanned, smiling, and off for a day of catching the big waves. Each of these surfers is a supra-normal stimulus, like a pornographic model -- too plastic to fool the intellect but dazzling enough to awaken some deeper part of the human brain.

Or perhaps we remember the lessons of Judaeo-Christianity, Buddhism, and Stoicism, and we refuse to respond blindly to these machinations. Perhaps we sometimes just stand on a street corner and look at the crowds going by, merely watching for the special face that might be there. Or might not. But either way, it doesn’t really matter, because there’s not the slightest evidence that loneliness is a moral failing.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Canada Is Not Vacant Land

It is a common misconception that Canada has vast amounts of land that could support large numbers of immigrants. Much of this belief is due to a failure to understand Canada's unique but rather daunting geography. About half of the country is bare (or, at best, spruce-covered), uninhabitable rock, namely the famous Canadian Shield. But bare rock is never "underpopulated." It is the border strip, 150 km wide, which is demographically the most significant part of the country: 80 percent of the population lives in this area. In contrast, Canada's largely uninhabited 5 million km2 of bare rock, the enormous area north of that border strip, has winters of unearthly cold stretching out over the better part of the year, with snow reaching to the rooftops, and the remainder of the year is characterized by dense clouds of mosquitoes and blackflies. The general impression is that Canada is an "empty" land, just waiting to get filled up. In reality, at 36 million the population is now nearly three times greater than in 1950.

Because only a certain amount of the country is livable, Canada is already well populated. There is simply no need to continue our mad rush to fill the country. Thanks to dishonest politicians over the years, Canada is tied only with Australia in having the highest immigration rate of all major industrialized countries. Canada also has many economic problems and is unable to provide adequate employment or other support for the people who already live here. A large increase in population is not a solution. In fact, in a world that now has a total population of over 7 billion, an increase in population is never a solution to anything. Yet, unlike many other countries, Canada has no political party that will take a firm stand against excessive immigration.

Canadian multiculturalism, designed by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1971, is harmful partly because it fails to include strategies for integration, such as a requirement of proficiency in an official language before citizenship is granted. Multiculturalism as we see it today -- measured in terms of the quantity of bodies -- simply results in enclaves, ghettos, gang warfare. Each culture fights every other one. About 85 percent of recent immigrants have neither English nor French as their first language.

Multiculturalism also leads to cultural relativism. Canadians of European extraction are now taught to believe that there is no such thing as barbarism, only "cultural differences." We forget that there was actually a point to the long centuries of struggle in the West that fostered democracy, civil liberties, and human rights. Yet we bow to medieval mentality on the assumption that we are otherwise "racists."

Immigrants displace Canadian citizens in the job market, even though unemployment these days is already very high. They also add greatly to the costs of "free" medicine, education, legal advice, and all the other perquisites of the welfare state. In part this is because the immigrants of modern times often lack both language and education.

Pierre Trudeau's invention is destroying the country, and to speak against it is regarded as sheer heresy. The Chinese are by far the biggest immigrant group, and Vancouver is now an Asian city. But it is not only numbers of people that matter, because there are other ways of changing the country. Money from Saudi Arabia has insidious effects, and Muslim obsessions with "sharia" (Muslim law) corrode basic Canadian values. According to the highly respected journalist Robert Fisk ("The Crimewave That Shames the World"), about 20,000 Muslim women every year are the victims of "honor killings" by their own families, but when Canadians hear such accounts they fail to believe them: if such a story did not appear on last night's television it cannot be true. Yet I spent three years living in the Middle East, and I know that much of the world is far uglier than is imagined by most Westerners.

As an English teacher, I would sometimes have to advise immigrant students against infractions of Canadian laws, including those regarding assault, but my students' rationale for any moral or legal infractions was always the phrase "in my culture" (or "in my country"). Who, specifically, is teaching newcomers such expressions? Politicians are quite aware that "culture" is not a valid catch-all term, but they don't seem to care. After all, a higher rate of immigration means more votes, and more customers, and more sweatshops.

Until the creation of multiculturalism, freedom of speech and the press was an age-old right. Now, however, it is a crime to say anything that offends any group of people, because one is said to be attacking "human rights." A charge of this sort is a a circular argument: what is offensive is defined in terms of the claim of the other party to feel offended. It's like a charge of witchcraft: whatever you say, your statement can be turned around to "prove" you are guilty. The similarity between the twisted logic of Trudeauism and that of Stalinism (not to mention the Patriot Act and subsequent American legislation) is curious, but Orwell described such "thought crimes" long ago in 1984.

It's easy to understand why the inhabitants of the less-pleasant parts of the world have their eyes on Canada. The most significant result of Communist policy in China was famine, and the worst famine in all of world history was that of Mao Zedong's "Great Leap Forward," 1958-61, when about 30 million people died. Now hunger is again looming in that country. China's arable land is in decline, and about 600 km2 of land in China turns to desert each year. China has once more outgrown its food supply: the ratio of people to arable land in China is more than twice that of the world average, which is already too high to prevent hunger.

China is the world's leader in the mining or processing of quite a number of natural resources: aluminum, coal, gold, iron, magnesium, phosphate, zinc, and rare-earth minerals, for example. Yet basic energy reserves are in short supply. Although China has about 20 percent of the world's population, it produces only about 5 percent of the world's oil, it uses up coal so quickly that its reserves will not last beyond 2030, and the country's pollution problems are terrible. And China's "booming economy" is based on devalued currency, counterfeiting, and what is virtually slave labor.

The "fossil" (deep) aquifer of the North China Plain is being depleted, although fossil aquifers cannot be renewed. Yet this aquifer maintains half of China's wheat production and a third of its corn. As a result of the depletion of water, annual grain production has been in decline since 1998.

China now imports most of its soybeans, and conversely most of the world's soybean exports go to China. But China may soon need to import most of its grain as well. How will that amount compare with their soybean imports? No one knows for sure, but if China were to import only 20 percent of its grain it would be about the same amount that the US now exports to all countries.

Immigrants from Muslim countries are another large group entering Canada. According to the "Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life," the global Muslim population is expected to rise from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.2 billion by 2030, twice the rate of the non-Muslim population. The Muslim population in Canada itself is expected to rise from about 940,000 in 2010 to nearly 2.7 million in 2030.

Saudi Arabia pours money into the West for the purpose of "education," and many Western academic institutions receive grants from Saudi Arabia, or programs are set up with Saudi funding. At the same time, the numerous mosques in the West serve as training grounds for young Muslims who live in those countries. Mosques are springing up everywhere in the West, yet in Saudi Arabia the building of a Christian church incurs an automatic death sentence. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no such thing as "moderate Islam" versus "radical Islam": Islam comes in only one form, the one that was invented in the seventh century.

The misunderstanding of the vast difference between Muslims and Christians might be due to the fact that the debate is assumed merely to involve the respective merits of two religions. Yet this assumption is wrong on two counts. In the first place, Muslims regard it as self-evident that Allah spoke first to Moses, then to Jesus, and finally and most clearly to Mohammed: for Muslims, therefore, there is no possibility of a "dialog" among various religions. The second and more important reason why it may not be entirely logical to compare Islam and Christianity is that the former is, in some ways, more like a political movement than a religion. Every major religion has at times done some proselytizing "at the point of a sword," but that has always been more true of Islam. The term "jihad" ("religious warfare") is not a metaphor.

The general public in Canada has become accustomed to submission and therefore remains mute. Unlike other people, most Canadians are never satisfied until they are feeling guilty about something. There is a constant undertone of "moral inferiority" being applied in Canada to people of a Western heritage. One must never mention Christmas, although one must portray a false joy toward the festivities of any other culture. One must constantly mumble and fumble in an attempt to find correct terms for various ethnic groups. Even the terms "B.C." and "A.D." must be rewritten as "BCE" and "CE." All of this is absolute nonsense. To be convinced of one's own inferiority is nothing more than to accept that some other person is superior -- which is exactly what manipulative politicians are planning. It is time to wake up. Those who do not respect themselves will not be respected by others.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Alt-Right Web Sites: An Overview

“Alt-Right” is a rather vague term, but I can’t think of a better one for what I’m discussing below. I’m somewhat favoring matters that are Canadian or of Canadian interest, partly for the sake of bringing the information down to manageable size, but also because Canada’s insufficiently analyzed 10 million square kilometers are enough to keep anyone busy. I’m generally leaving out sites that focus heavily (if indirectly) on Judaism vs Islam (Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, and Brigitte Gabriel are three well-known people here) since their concerns are sometimes tangential to those of other sites, even if there is a great deal of common interest. Other caveats would apply to fascism/Nazism, and similar topics. Speaking as a mild-mannered Canadian, I’d say that many of the hundred or so sites linked on are “extreme,” though I’m using a word that I don’t like other people using. It’s hard to draw lines anywhere, though, and I try to look at anything that seems informative and well presented. Some of these sites should be better known, whereas others perhaps drift into “paranoid conspiracy theory” or are just not very professional (by which I mean that they don’t stand up to critical analysis), but I have tried to favor sites that (in a sane world) would be regarded as academically respectable.

I don’t include anything that’s strictly a Facebook site, since FB tends to be a black hole (everything goes in, nothing comes out), as many of its critics have noted. I tend to feel the same about the videos of YouTube, another somewhat monopolistic presence on the Internet. Actually I’d be quite happy to get away occasionally from electronic transmission of data (which is not necessarily information) and go back to real books, but there’s no point in grieving for a lost paradise.

Most of the sites below are American, and I think only one ( is Australian. Ones with an asterisk are Canadian (all five of them!). Probably many sites could be added that are in other languages, especially European, or are based outside of North America. It would be nice if some of the rather free-form sites could be replaced by something that stresses statistical (especially demographic) accuracy. Expansion is possible in many directions. It would be possible to start creating some real databases, with accurate statistics, using all the searching and sorting powers of such programs, and with proper updating.

When you look at some of the en bloc moves made by others, though, it’s sad that we ourselves can’t even organize a piss-up in a brewery. Maybe it’s a genetic defect. But how is it that young Iqra Khalid could give a slap in the face to 35 millions Canadians, with her motion (M-103) in the Canadian Parliament against “Islamophobia,” and there was no defense? I won’t answer that one. (For a female to be slapping males was a nice added touch, I suppose, from some people’s point of view.) *
billstill,com * * * *

Monday, June 19, 2017

Globalism and Western Decline

Around 4000 B.C. there arose a people, probably living north of the Black Sea, whom we now refer to as the early Indo-Europeans. They were the first people to ride horses, rely heavily on two wheel vehicles,  promote the "secondary products revolution," and invent chariots. After about 1000 B.C. there arose a division between the eastern (Persian) and western Indo-Europeans (Greeks), or, in other words, between the Asians and the Europeans. The Indo-Europeans in Persia were a minority in a sea of "Asians" and as a result ended assimilating Asian customs. But the Indo-Europeans in Greece were a majority and thus managed to impose their aristocratic libertarian culture, the idea that the leader cannot be a despot but is first among aristocratic equals. Herodotus indicates this split in his frequent distinctions between the Persians and the Greeks. He claims that the Persian world was characterized by despotism, while the Westerners, the Greeks, were a people of relative freedom, aristocratic equality, and eventually democracy for all free men, including property owning farmers. 

The people who have that Western legacy, however, are now disappearing from much of Europe and North America. Instead, we have "multiculturalism," which really means the dismantling of "culture," the decline of the West. In our schools, young people are now taught to be ashamed of their legacy, and any courses in the social sciences are perverted to show the "guilt" of those who spent thousands of years developing Western civilization. How did these changes come about?

To answer this question, one must first note that in most Western countries there is no longer a real democracy, but rather a barely disguised one-party system. The elite of the supposed left and right spend their time together -- the same restaurants, the same marriages, same golf courses. For a change of pace they switch to journalism -- and so much for freedom of the press. During an election, it would be possible to make a list of all the slogans, mix up those items, and then ask someone to match the slogans with the parties. But it would turn out that the matching could not be done.

Actually there is only one slogan: "Bodies are good for business." So the population must be kept expanding forever. The price we pay for overpopulation and over-immigration, however, is high unemployment, overcrowding, high urban density, environmental degradation, psychological stress, inadequate housing, traffic congestion, overloaded social services, high crime-rates, losses of water and farmland, and declining natural resources of all kinds. Overcrowding also leads to mental illness: in our overloaded cities, our nerves are often like wires that have been tightened to a point where their molecules will no longer hold.

The stage was set by the lowering of intellectual capacity. Most people, unfortunately, don't react to much of anything anymore. One of the main reasons for this decline is that people don't really become adults. We have created a world of cultural neoteny -- prolonged childish behavior, a milieu of "dumbing down" that stretches from birth to death. "Neoteny" is a biological term referring to remaining juvenile for a long period after birth. Obviously humans do this anyway -- it takes years for an infant to turn into an adult. But a great deal of modern political sloganeering has the effect, consciously or otherwise, of keeping people silly and childish for life. Ibsen's play A Doll's House was an early look into that, at least in terms of women. Predictions of cultural neoteny can also be seen in Huxley's Brave New World and in a somewhat grimmer form in Orwell's 1984. This neoteny is pervasive, but it can be seen in such forms as the decline in literacy and the decline in education.

It's curious to note, however, that there is a definite substratum of the public that disagrees with official policies. On-line news articles that allow comments from viewers get deluged with people expressing heretical views. Then the comments are shut off, and it's back to Business as Usual -- literally. These dissident members of the general public have rarely been brought together, and each person is largely unaware that there are many others holding the same views. The politically orthodox may be enforcing the rules for most daily conversation, but the disquiet never entirely disappears.

If civilization is defined by the presence of writing, then the decline of Western civilization might be defined by the disappearance of interest in serious texts -- from the Iliad onward. People don't read books as much as they used to. No one seems to feel guilty for the fact that instead of reading a book called X they have merely watched a movie called X, based on the book. Yes, it's true that a movie sometimes has advantages over print, but in general to make a movie out of a book one has to reduce it to action and dialogue, and all the exposition and analysis has to be removed. The time frame of a movie also means that a great deal of detail will be cut out. Not much meaningful discussion can take place when the person to whom one is speaking is convinced that books and movies are simply different "media" providing the same educational service.

A similar decline can be found in formal education. There was a time when the purpose of a university education was to allow young people to explore the outer regions of space and time. Now it's just training in how to use a cash register. The lowest clerk in the huge building labeled "administration" has a more pleasant job, and much greater job security, than the average instructor. It's money that keeps the university churning, apparently, not some vague and pretentious search for wisdom. Teachers are day-laborers, easily replaced, and it takes no great skill to deal with the reading materials supplied by the corporations for their future slaves.

"Education" of the new sort is more form than substance: teachers are so afraid of being accused of heresy that the students are given little real information. The average young person in the modern world spends about twenty thousand hours doing school work, yet nearly all of that is a waste of time, because a job at the end of that road does not require the ability to think in any Platonic or Aristotelian sense. Modern education involves little real learning, and far more time is spent on mere indoctrination.

In fact the entire moral and intellectual fabric of Western society has been disintegrating. To a large extent the destruction can be blamed on Marxism. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Marxism never had much luck in intellectual contests among Westerners, so it had to burrow underground as "cultural Marxism," eroding the foundations of modern society and leaving most people in a state of perpetual self-doubt and abnegation.

As these subtle forms of Marxism spread, any form of "nationalism," any statement of pride in one’s country, was discredited. Furthermore, any specific form of ethnicity or religion was downplayed. Western culture in general was denigrated, and Westerners were largely associated with colonialism. Reversing colonialism meant celebrating non-Western cultures. The new attitude was that "all cultures are equal."

By propagating an "underdog" mentality among Westerners, Marxism encouraged the nanny state, with people living in perpetual imbecility and irresponsibility. Marxism creates a strong sense of "wrong," but especially when these victims look at themselves. They hate their own culture and their own heritage. They live with a sense of guilt and shame, they suffer from self-loathing. They feel a need for self-abasement. They have low self-confidence, low self-assurance, low self-esteem.

Confirmed underdogs have self-destructive attitudes about sexuality, marriage, and the family. To them, a stable marriage, heterosexual and monogamous, is anathema. What better way to prevent the growth of what used to be called a "real man" than to suggest to a young boy that, deep down, he might not be a boy but a girl? (The same in reverse would apply to girls.) And so we create (or imagine) multiple "genders," "bi-" this and "poly-" that, psychologically disturbed mutations who have no chance of standing up against the totalitarian state. (How odd that no other species of mammal has more than two genders!)

But above all, to be accepted in modern society one must now proclaim that Western culture is guilty of some nameless crime, making it necessary to give preferential treatment to any and all other cultures. Of course, that is a belief with which those "other cultures" are always happy to agree. And once that "guilt" has become established as "fact," every piece of writing that appears in public must emphasize "multiculturalism" at all costs.

All "respectable" political or religious groups shuffling for power now try to portray themselves as holier, more pious, than the others, but really they all have the same goal: to establish a world government, and to turn the masses into obedient slaves. All globalists, of course, have ideologies that are quite opposed to democracy. The biggest step, though, is to crush any sense of pride in traditional Western culture, to suppress nationalism, and to institute "multiculturalism." And what better way to make a country "multicultural" than to bring in millions of people from places where people don't even believe in birth control? And if some of those people get out of control once in a while and commit a few murders, that's a small price to pay.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Taxi Driver from Baghdad

[Because of its unique location, Oman is used for joint military ventures by Omanis and Westerners, and it has world's longest runway for military aircraft. Its coastline, on the Gulf of Oman, is not far from Iran, which keeps threatening to mine the Gulf, through which passes about 20 percent of the world's oil. I used to watch an Omani spy plane head to Iran at dawn every day. The mentality of Oman, and that of Gulf Muslims in general, is very different from that of Westerners. Omanis might form military partnerships with Westerners, but they see nothing odd about the fact that a young Western woman can be gang-raped by Omani men. Omanis have Toyotas and mobile phones, but they cling to the tribal mentality of fourteen centuries ago.]


When I first arrived in Nizka, what I saw was a town of perhaps thirty thousand people on a flat desert. On much of the land, away from the buildings, there were widely spaced shrubs of some kind. In most directions further away, there were hills and mountains consisting of great piles of loose and angular rock fragments. The native Omani men wore long white robes and mumbled into their mobile phones as they zipped along recklessly in their Toyotas. Most Omani women wore scarves and ankle-length robes of a thin material. The students at the college had that same medieval clothing. Any manual work at the college was done by men from Pakistan or India.

There were flocks of goats that wandered all over the neighborhood. A lizard as long as my arm nearly ran over me once. The houses were all white or cream with flat roofs, and looked like Arab versions of tiny medieval castles. The area where I lived was called Falaj a’ Sharah (the Water Channel of Sharah), a five-minute drive north of the college.

After my second week in Oman, I still had no passport (the recruiter had it), no work visa, no residency permit, no bank account, and not much chance to use email. I had very little access to money, food, drinking water, or medicine (I had a cold).

I didn’t really know what I was expected to teach, except that I was supposed to turn Arabic college students, English majors, into teachers of English to Omani children. Like other teachers, I spent hours every day trading small scraps of information, since there was no means for all the teachers to have access to all the basic information. The holy month of Ramadan meant that everything was closed at the most inopportune moments. At the end of every day, I was totally exhausted, although I had accomplished very little.

The classrooms were nearly impossible to find, partly because I had never before seen Eastern Arabic numerals, which are not closely related to those used in the modern Western world. But even after I had mastered those numerals I realized that the numbers of the classroom doors were utterly random anyway, out of sequence ? they had been scribbled (or tacked onto) the doors whenever someone in the past had found a liking to a particular room. Several decades of oil revenues have had quite a deadening effect on intellectual energy.

The job had been offered to me only a few weeks before I had to get on the airplane, but I was already starting to learn some Arabic. I had managed to acquire a basic knowledge of several languages over the years, not from a passion for linguistics, but merely from the exigencies of living on my wits. The memorization of a language is neither a sign of intelligence nor a creative use of the mind. I would swear that each expedition from familiar Indo-European to unsettling petroglyphs would be the last. I have always been a reluctant traveler.


There were serious problems with Hazim Al-Adawi, the head of the English department. He was lacking in competence in all areas of school administration, and his blatant unfairness with staff members only increased these problems.

Classes were about to begin, yet almost nothing was ready. All preparations for a new semester should have been in place long before the semester began, not randomly put in place while classes were already in progress. In any case, for many courses, the curricula and other descriptions were very vague.

For several weeks, teachers were pulled out of classes and re-assigned, or they were being told to move their students to other classrooms, often repeatedly.

In many cases there was little in terms of teaching materials. The materials sometimes consisted of textbooks, but these were often missing, severely damaged, or inadequate in number. For many courses the teaching material consisted partly or entirely of hand-outs, but hand-outs required photocopying, which presented another major problem.

Even when course materials did exist, they were of very low quality. Often the assigned textbooks were totally inappropriate for the course. In general, and especially for courses above first year, the materials were too abstract, they were too difficult for second-language learners (who always passed tests by simply memorizing blocks of text without comprehending what they were memorizing), and they were quite boring. Above all, the course materials ? and even the overall topics ? were generally irrelevant to the lives of students who were planning to become English teachers. Very little resembled what would go on in a good Western school for training future English teachers.

At the same time, basic learning issues such as grammar and spelling were simply brushed over. Most tests were designed and administered with no professionalism. It could be said in general that students were given passing grades whether or not they had actually learned anything.

Registration of students, and the recording of marks, were a perpetual problem because the registrar’s office was always shifting its work load onto the teachers. If there was any problem, the teachers were “summoned” to the registrar’s office; no one from the registrar’s office ever walked to the teachers’ offices. Hazim never supported the teachers in this struggle with registration.

Part of the trouble with lesson plans and with teaching materials was that there was a high turnover of teachers, largely because of frustration with the perpetual disorganization. The hiring of unsuitable teachers, often with completely false credentials, also played a large part in the turnover. When teachers left, the lesson plans and teaching materials tended to disappear, although master copies of everything should have been kept on file, and the new teachers had to reconstruct all these things.

Although department meetings were held from time to time, they consisted almost entirely of one-sided decisions made by Hazim. Whenever he asked for opinions or comments from the staff, it was only with regard to very minor issues. His general approach to the staff was hostile and uncommunicative. His attitude was very dictatorial, and his comments to teachers were often bluntly rude and demeaning.

Hazim was quite blatant in his favoritism towards certain members of the staff. Those whom he regarded as his friends were given the choice positions; those whom he regarded as his enemies were not. Even the allocation of courses, prior to the start of each semester, was handed over to his favorites, not to people who were qualified to make such decisions; these people then allotted the nicest schedules to themselves.

Photocopying was a perpetual problem. The entire English department was relying on one photocopying machine. This was an old and constantly breaking machine kept in a very tiny room on the second floor of the staff building. Even access to paper for the photocopier had been severely restricted ? but instead of contributing to a solution, that decision simply increased the problem.

There were other technical problems, particularly with computers and access to the Internet, but when these were mentioned to Hazim, he claimed that teachers should inform some other department, but he was quite aware that no other department would ever address these problems. Instead of participating in these campus-wide issues, Hazim simply tried to improve his own image, either by denying that any problems existed, or by blaming the teachers.

Hazim claimed to have a Ph.D. in English from Iraq, but the rumor was that he had been a taxi driver in Baghdad, and that he had worked his way up to becoming a spy for the Americans, finally awarding himself an imaginary education and running the English department in Nizka.


About a month after I came to Oman, after many hours of puzzling over that unique society, I temporarily summarized my findings by saying to myself, “This is a country where nothing works properly.” A few months later, I was talking with someone who’d been here a few years, and he said, “My first impression was that this is a country where nothing works properly.” The same words.

But it all remained somewhat elusive. The issue of “liberal education” comes in there: some countries have the objective of offering their citizens an education in which they learn about the history, anthropology, sociology, and philosophy of many cultures, exposing them to these matters in a way (at least, ideally) that is not twisted to suit a crude religious dogma. When I was a child, living for several years in the US, we were taught not only the facts of “the democratic ideal,” we were taught also the purpose behind it. The American Constitution and its Bill of Rights were put there for a reason, and similar issues apply to British and Canadian law.

The layers of the onion never seemed to stop receding, but gradually my theories about Oman could be reduced to a few simple principles. At one level, it could be said that the authorities conspire to keep people stupid. At another level, it could be said that the political system resembles Soviet communism specifically, a world in which responsibility and incentive were always crushed, and that more generally it resembles the present governments of many countries in Eastern Europe. Unlike Oman, however, many of the European countries have abundant arable land and other resources, but these European resources are not utilized because all ambition and planning are discouraged by the forms of government, which could be described by the well-known terms of laziness, greed, and corruption. On the third level one could say that Oman is a society in which there are almost no rewards and no punishments. There is neither positive nor negative reinforcement. There is no sorrow and no joy. As a result, people do nothing. They can stare at a wall for hours at a time for the simple reason that the result is the same as if they got off their chairs and actually did something.

Many of the problems in Oman could be solved if the appropriate people took a brief evening course in business management, instead of acting as if they were out in the desert living in their black tents as sheiks distributing largesse to their followers. But that is really just part of the general statement that the seventh century (the days of Mohammed) is badly pasted onto the twenty-first. Human beings always mistake the material (mobile phones and Toyotas) for the abstract. If a donkey could drive a Toyota, it would still be a donkey.

One result of my detective work was the discovery that the form of government has a profound effect on one’s life. I had lived most of my life in England, the United States, and Canada, and I had never really thought much about government, never really explored the depths of the concept. I had never thought about government for the same reason I had never thought much about the engine in a car. I had never had much reason to wonder about car engines, and I always assumed that any mechanic with a good reputation could deal with any of the minor problems that occur, leaving me free to think about other matters.

Oman is running out of oil. Oman is running out of water. The government’s main response is to issue royal decrees and forget the matter. The only technical suggestion is to increase desalination, based on fossil fuels, which is a case of using one declining resource to bolster another declining resource. Oman is a preview of the entire world as it will be at some point in the coming years. A look at Oman is a look at the future, more than a look at the past. Yes, it is true that Oman is basically the seventh century badly glued to the twenty-first, but it is more true to say that Oman is the world of the future, a world of depletion, chaos, and collapse. A society that has never bothered to think is approaching the stage at which it will suddenly do so, but by then the thinking will do no good, because there will be no solutions.


When I reached the college in the morning at what was supposed to be opening time, there was always a fair chance that I would not be able to get through the locked gateway, perhaps because the guard hadn’t arrived at work, or he had wandered off to get a cup of coffee. One morning he presented me with his sidearm, complete with holster and belt. I was pleased with the gift. Then I decided he wanted me to shoot him. Finally I realized that he merely wanted to point out that he had not completed his attire.

Not long after arriving in Oman, I went home one day feeling utterly burned out from the stress of teaching hopeless students. I walked into my apartment with a sigh that meant “home, sweet home.” I turned on the cold water in my kitchen, and the cheap metal fractured, so that the entire tap fell into the sink. Water began gushing out. I found a roll of tape and wrapped several yards of it around the tap, reducing the flow somewhat as I hunted for the main valve, unsuccessfully because it was on the roof.

The entire building was rarely “home, sweet home.” For weeks at a time, the walls were shaken by Pakistani laborers hammering away at the pipes and concrete. Yet the Chinese women, living on the ground floor in the “health club,” were less fortunate than I, because at least I could be awake and at the college before the noise began, only having to deal with it later as I tried to prepare my dinner.

Before I came to Oman, I had almost never thrown out an item of food, but as time went by I found it necessary to do so. A fair amount of what I bought at the local supermarket ended up in the garbage: fruit that went from unripe to rotten with no stage in between, lettuce that crawled with unidentifiable insects beneath its plastic wrapping, meat that was mostly gristle and fiber, unsuitable even for feeding to a dog. The supermarket aisles had large signs above them, bearing no relation to the actual products below, and stock was frequently moved, so it took a good deal of walking to fill a shopping cart.

In a very small way, the portraits above are those of the “failed state.” Not failed in any dramatic way, but failed in the sense of being grotty, seedy, squalid. A land where plumbing problems alternate with electrical ones. A land where “corporate structure” means one band of low-lifes conspiring against another. Oman was a good education. It taught me, at least to some extent, to become inured to the type of day that in Canada would be regarded as one of non-stop disasters. Things my fellow Canadians would have denounced as “totally acceptable” were regarded in Oman as nothing remarkable.

That was my preparation for saying goodbye to the world I had known most of my life. I was adjusting to an environment of perpetual noise, overcrowding, and hostility. I was learning to live with the paradox that in a society in which everyone is mentally ill, the term is meaningless.


My desert walks in those days were to the ruins of an ancient town that I had discovered earlier with a friend named Karen, a teacher colleague, only an hour’s walk from the northern edge of Nizka. It was a fairytale world, with a ruined fortress and other stone structures at the summit of a small hill, and with the remains of tiny field boundaries in the form of lines of stones below that hill. Potsherds were everywhere, in a great variety of glazed and unglazed forms, delicate and massive, and probably of all ages.

I went back there without her after the first visit and walked up an even higher hill, at the top of which there was a short cylindrical tower, as well as some igloo-like tombs that I supposed were much older than the fortress. Looking down at the field boundaries from there, I discovered that they stretched for what must have been an entire square mile or two.

The site reminded me of various depictions of King Arthur’s mythical Camelot. Among the fields down below, there were sometimes rectangular stones the size of coffee tables, acting as bridges over what were once irrigation channels. Now there was no water or greenery anywhere, nothing but dust upon dust. Even the memory of that ancient world had totally vanished. I felt like an invader from another planet, or a time traveler, although all we now had to offer in homage was the plastic garbage that blew everywhere in the wind.

But King Arthur was no longer there. One point at which I disagree with most Westerners is the idea that we “have to get the word out” about our Western obsessions. It is simply not possible to “get the word out.” The sad truth is that most human beings cannot even read, despite official statistics on literacy. The concepts of overpopulation, resource consumption, and so on are far beyond their comprehension. There in Oman, the reality was that most of the Arabs did not -- and basically could not -- even read Arabic. When I showed my students fossils that I had found there that were seventy million years old, a strange blindness and deafness took over them because such things could not be fitted into their cosmology. There was a common Omani belief that Arabic is the ancestor of all the other languages of the world, and my most articulate students intended to use their English only for proselytizing. Most of my students came from families of at least five or six children, often ten or twelve children, and they refused to believe that they would ever have to change their way of thinking. Slavery was officially abolished in Oman only in 1970, and only at the insistence of Western oil companies. but at least it had offered lifetime employment; the Indians and Chinese there now did not have even that dubious blessing. Except for Toyotas and mobile phones, nothing in the daily lives of the Omani had really changed for centuries.

A Westerner who goes to live in a “developing” country for a few years, avoiding five-star accommodation and other forms of social distancing, may be suddenly crushed by an inexplicable feeling of mourning and despair. In spite of the reasonably high pay, tax-free and rent-free, the average Western teacher at the college lasted only about six months, I estimated, before being defeated by the unnameable. In the arts of many cultures, humans and angels are depicted with similar faces, but most people do not live as if they had any kinship with such heavenly beings. Observing the prolonged degeneration of humanity can be truly crippling, but one must accept the fact that Conrad’s “conquering darkness” has already overtaken a great deal of the world. In a land where human life is not just cheap but valueless, salvation is largely a matter of delaying all grand ideas of education and reform, and learning first to pay attention to one’s own small and uncertain steps.


I grew up in New England, a world of sailboats, private schools, huge university libraries, and suburban houses with stereos playing diluted jazz, among adults who would have been horrified by any breach of the upper-middle-class code of honor, although actually there was no code, we were just honorable. In my grade-school days, the most shocking member of my community was a woman who had divorced and remarried. It was quite a glass bubble I had lived in. I not only didn’t talk to people from “the other side of the tracks” in those days, I was only barely aware of their existence.

Little by little, I left that somewhat privileged world behind. In grade school I was younger than most of my companions, but when I had left childhood far behind and started visiting liquor stores, I was a generation older than most of the people I spent my time with. I managed to lurch my way out of that long road to nowhere only when I realized I had been conned into thinking I was an inferior being. By the time I came to Oman, however, trying to replenish my life savings, I was still struggling to get myself on a better track.

I suppose childhood world-views are hard to give up. After nearly three years in Oman, I still felt as though I was living in the middle of a horror movie. Listening to the call to prayer blasting through my apartment windows from the local mosque five times a day was a perpetual reminder that I was no longer living with the saxophone sunsets of New England. Well, if one god had invented electronic loudspeakers, another had invented loud air-conditioning units, so it was a standoff: the noise of the latter machines helped to block out the noise of the former. If I tried to talk to any of the local residents, in either English or Arabic, all I got was the look that meant there was no meeting of minds. It was hard to regard it as communication.

I could only hope the time would go quickly. To a large extent I soon gave up caring about all the chaos, stupidity, cruelty, and ignorance. At the college, all rules came down to one: that the (Anglophone) teacher was always to blame; in that way, no one else could be dragged in for questioning. The entire college there was just a sham, but I was willing to accept that fact largely because the consequences after I was gone would not be my responsibility. Instead of feeling that I’d been captured by beings utterly unrelated to myself, I tried to look at my next-door-neighbor’s two wives and fourteen children with anthropological detachment. But it wasn’t easy, and I had always preferred my social science between the covers of a book.

I was only slightly worried about the permanent effects of that country on my mental health. Would I be like those soldiers who seem to come back from wars and spend the rest of their lives undergoing psychiatric treatment? I asked another teacher friend, Paul if, after leaving there, I would be able to forget Oman. He said, “Yes, but there will be a scar.” Or would the fresh air of Canada at last make me realize that there was life beyond the loudspeakers?


One day I was in a supermarket in the capital, Muscat, and a Chinese woman came up to me and started a conversation in English. She told me her name was Helen, and she gave me her phone number. On several occasions later I came very close to sending her a text message, but then I would change my mind. My intention for staying in Oman was to put some money in the bank, and although it was the hardest money I had ever earned I was certainly getting a nice monthly paycheck. On the one hand, I had enough common sense to know how certain kinds of women can drain a man’s bank account, but on the other hand I was learning quickly how much of a heartbreaker sheer loneliness could be.

One day in May, however, I sent Helen a text message. Actually we sent several back and forth on that morning. Her English was not very good, so it was a bit confusing, but then she phoned me a few hours later and we agreed to meet at a bookstore in Muscat three days later.

I got to the bookstore with only five minutes to spare, after I’d suddenly decided I needed to buy some more-presentable clothes. In the process of phoning Helen I saw a woman nearby, and I knew it was her. She said she’d called me a few minutes previously, but it seemed that in all the noise I hadn’t heard my phone ringing. We went to the café inside the bookstore and sat down.

We had a fairly brief conversation, maybe half an hour. Helen said she was divorced, and that she came from a part of northern China near Russia. She asked me quite bluntly about my job, my salary, my marital status, and so on, but she was also quite forthright when I asked her questions. She said she worked at a Chinese import-export company there in the capital, though her boss was cheating her by paying her only half what he’d promised before she arrived in Oman. She had a teenage daughter living in China, studying dance – not what I would have thought of as a good preparation for any hard times to come.

But Helen asked me if we could meet again the following week, and she agreed with me that a Friday would be better -- it was generally a quieter day of the Omani weekend. She also asked if I could take her back to Niska on that Friday to see my apartment. I was rather shocked by her suggestion, but quite pleasantly so.


There were warnings of a typhoon. I was hoping Helen would call to delay that second meeting, but she didn’t, and I certainly didn’t want Helen to think I was hesitant. In any case, judging from other storms I’d encountered in Oman, I thought that if I got caught by heavy rain, I could just pull over to the side of the road and wait.

I drove to Muscat with my friend Karen, who was happy to be left at a beauty parlor, where she was undergoing a lengthy and perhaps unnecessary weight-reduction program. She said she’d later take a taxi back to Nizka alone. The rain was so bad that Helen couldn’t get a taxi to the bookstore for about two hours, but finally she showed up. I said, “We’d better not stay here long, because there are increasing warnings about the storm.”

Helen insisted, “No, we should have lunch.”

After the meal, it took more than three hours for the two of us to get to Niska in the downpour. I realized that it wasn’t the rain that was the danger, however, it was flooding. In several places the water was over a foot deep. There were very long traffic jams as the cars negotiated the water. We saw several accidents that had just occurred or were occurring as we drove by.

We finally reached the outskirts of Niska and were about halfway across town when we came to a torrent that was utterly impassable, a raging flood that no vehicle could cross. The irony was that Karen had called not long before by mobiles phone and told us that she had got across that part of the road by taxi, long before Helen and I got to that point. But I couldn’t think of any good solutions.

I finally called my friend Paul, who lived near Mulaadah, at the intersection of the road from Nizka and the road to the capital. He arrived about an hour later with his wife and daughter, but he realized that even his SUV wouldn’t be able to cross. Finally he took Helen and me back to a cheap hotel in Mulaadah, where she and I could spend the night. Following Paul’s advice, I sneaked her in and out the back door, so that the management wouldn’t assume she was a prostitute.

Helen and I agreed that we would take it slowly, and she seemed quite welcoming. I suspect the romance and excitement of the typhoon and the hotel played a part as well. In any case, we slept afterwards for ten hours.

In the morning, I was sitting on the couch, and she climbed on top of me, kneeling, and lifted her blouse so I could begin again the exploration of the long cool miles of her body. She wrapped her arms slowly and deliberately around my neck, as if oblivious to what was happening far below and all around us.

Later that morning I decided to try getting into Niska. The road was actually dry, so we managed to get across town, and we spent a pleasant few hours in my apartment. I thought all our troubles were over. I took her back to Muscat late that afternoon, and Karen came with us. Although Niska had dried up, the flooding closer to Muscat had barely changed, and it took hours to get into that city.

I looked at books for an hour or so, as I waited in the hope that the floods would go down. As Karen and I drove away from Muscat, it seemed that the road was a little better. Then we came to a place where nearly all the cars had pulled over to the side of the road. The water there seemed impassable. But I was determined not to spend another night away from my apartment.

There was an eighteen-wheeler truck stopped just at the edge of the water. As we came up beside it, it started across the water. I pulled my car right up beside him, hoping he could take most of the force of the water, which was coming toward his far side, not to us. I was also using other tricks, such as avoiding any sharp changes in speed or direction. Both vehicles were about two-thirds of the way across, when suddenly a giant wave appeared just ahead of us. There was obviously no way of getting back, and we couldn’t just sit there, so I focused my attention as well as I could. For a few seconds the car was lifted by the water and started to go downstream. Then my tires caught again on the surface of the road.

Karen and I finally got back to Niska, not long before midnight, but I was quite exhausted. At one point on the road I had even yelled to Karen that the car was rolling backward, and I changed gears and pulled on the handbrake. The car hadn’t been rolling backward, it was just that my own dizziness had caused the illusion. I later felt that by driving back and forth through that typhoon I had done something rather foolish and irresponsible, not to mention dangerous. But I really hadn’t known what a typhoon could do.


During the summer, Oman was a sun that filled the sky, and under it silver creatures moved very slowly in a landscape without shadows. I didn’t leave the apartment very much during July and August. After several weeks of sprinkling ant poison, I was beginning to hear voices.

I seemed to be one of the few teachers at the college who didn’t have a Ph.D. Their degrees came from places among mountain ranges where army helicopters went wang-wang-wang-wang-wang as they swayed heavily over the rooftops, as they did there in Oman, so it was frustrating to deal with these “doctors” and their freeform interpretations of English in particular and linguistics in general. A casual remark about spelling and I’d started gangland warfare. How was it possible for all these “doctors” to make such a mess of the English language? After two years there I supposed I could consider myself a veteran, though, at least among the blue-eyed crowd. The rest got shipped out with bad hangovers, acquired mysteriously in view of the fact that this was a Muslim country.

I was told that a car battery would melt there if the car was left in the sun for a while. It was the word “while” that puzzled me. The previous summer I had unbolted the battery before going away for a month, but that following year I was facing the sun’s undiminished fury, and so was my car. Three major religions all invented hell in the same part of the world, although my theories of comparative religion may be over-simplified.

Staring at a wall during the weekend, with nobody to talk to, unable to go for a walk except in the earliest hours of the morning, could make a day seem like a hundred years. The brain shrank away from the skull, shrank and hardened, so that when I shook my head it sounded like a bell, but only bone against bone, not the attenuated reverberation of metal.

The biggest concern in the desert wasn’t heat or water, but getting too close to a house and encountering a pack of dogs. Such creatures were thin, all legs and teeth. They would spread out equidistant in the light, traveling at great speed, trailing a cloud of dust, as if the whole desert was their territory. Lacking the social skills of wolves, dogs are just killing machines that pretend to be man’s best friend until the food runs out. The previous year, I had left one panting at a cliff top while I walked away shaky-kneed.

The smallest particle of food on the floor, and the next day the ants were there like iron filings around a magnet. Back in Canada I had once slept on an enormous glacier-scarred rock, and I later told someone that ants were the dominant form of wildlife there. His laughter seemed excessive, as if he knew more than he was telling me, but perhaps my mumbling had merely taken him by surprise.

Nevertheless I later wondered if it was ants that control the universe. Perhaps humans are merely an accident, irrelevant to the grand design. White powder, boiling water, I turned them into motionless black dots, but the next day there were more of them. There were always lines of them coming and going. I played an old game of trying to watch one to see where it went, but the lines swayed and swerved, interweaving, and I lost track almost immediately.


After another of my long desert walks one day, I came across a second crumbling old fortress. Close to it, I found a series of well-like vertical shafts, about ten or twenty yards apart, with water in them about fifty yards down. But some of the land had been excavated, or perhaps recently re-excavated, between some of them, so I could see that the shafts all connected underground, forming a horizontal channel, a falaj, of which the plural is aflaj. Some of the aflaj, even in a small town such as Nizka, stretch for many miles, running from the mountains and across the desert to water the palm groves and vegetable gardens.

Starting from the fortress, I went back the way I came, but following an above-ground channel, covered for perhaps a hundred yards with crude stone blocks, each too heavy for one person to lift. That channel also became an underground one, marked by vertical shafts, and it led over several miles all the way back to Nizka.

During that entire walk, I encountered only one person, a woman driving a herd of about fifty goats, and that was near Nizka. I didn’t want to frighten her, so I kept my distance, although it was hard to avoid her since we were both obviously heading in the same general direction. I suspected she was a wife or daughter of someone named Saeed, a man I had once met, who lived on the north edge of Nizka. I had had to go to his house once when I found one of his goats badly tangled in a thorn bush; I’d freed the goat, but hadn’t been able to get all the branches out of its hair.

The desert was like a fairy land, a magical, enchanted place that you might see in a dream. It was all very beautiful sometimes, if you could ignore everything that had been built in Oman in the previous few decades and just looked at the amazing culture that once existed out there. And it was odd that there seemed to be so little written about that ancient culture. But those shafts and so on were such an enormous amount of work, all done by hand. I suppose they weren’t consciously thinking of “building for eternity," it was just one falaj at a time.

During the Middle Ages there was more contact between Arabic and European culture than in later times. The “-al” words -- algebra, alchemy, and so on -- entered our language. All this happened during the Crusades, when the two cultures were faintly starting to blend. I have no idea when my two fortresses were built, or over what length of time, although it was obviously when Oman was a different world, since no one now could live a medieval life in that land of unrelenting sand and stone. There was clearly once a population dense enough to provide workers. All I knew was that the remains looked like the popular depictions of King Arthur’s Camelot, and I suspected that a fortress in Europe and one in the Middle East looked very much the same in those days. Now in Oman all one could see in the centers of population were the Toyotas, the mobile phones, and the false industrial paradise that started there yesterday and would end in the near future.


In my apartment building there was a huge sign in Arabic (correctly spelled, as I knew from checking it myself) explaining how to get to the “health club,” which was on the ground floor. Nevertheless, since the local Muslims couldn’t even read Arabic they would come up to my apartment on the top floor to ask how they could get to the women. I should have been grateful for my chance to practice conversational Arabic.

The reason a Chinese prostitute has rapid sex with an endless line of men is that she wants to send money back to her family. This family inevitably consists of her fatherless teenage child, who refuses even to do schoolwork and who thinks of the mother as a perpetual money-machine, and two parents who think that it is their daughter’s duty to support them for the rest of their lives, even though she never asked to be born, let alone turned into a piece of meat and sold to strangers.

I once mentioned those women to Helen, just to see if I could get another perspective. She said, “Maybe they don’t have jobs. Maybe they have children to take care of.” She spoke rather casually, as if there was nothing odd about selling one’s body in times of need. In a country where there is no government support for the unemployed, the sick, the disabled, or the elderly, perhaps prostitution and other forms of low-level crime are the only thing available to those who cannot expect to be supported by their relatives. Perhaps also, in China and many other countries, a woman may have an arduous and low-paying job, yet keeping that job may include sleeping with the boss or his customers.

The common saying about Hollywood is that sex there is just a commodity, but it may be that in impoverished countries, even China with its supposedly booming economy, sexual submission is part of daily life for those women who have not done well in the scramble for wealth and power. At the same time, it seems that in China and elsewhere the intense hatred of the rich and the poor for each other is undisguised by a veneer of hypocritical charity. Mystery after mystery, and I was constantly surprised at my own ignorance.

I also wonder to what extent prostitution is something that a woman more or less drifts into, like alcoholism or drug addiction, not something planned carefully years ahead. I can’t envision how anyone would carefully prepare for a career of daily sex with dozens of men, including many who are physically repulsive or whose manners in general leave something to be desired. Surely as a twelve-year-old not one of those women imagined such a life.

Perhaps for such women it is like swimming: the farther out they go, the deeper the water below, but the strokes are always the same. The water gets colder, but the strokes are still the same.

I also had to remind myself that there are many types of prostitutes. Of course there is the economic spectrum from the drug-addicted streetwalker to the high-society mistress. But there is also the spectrum of styles. Not all prostitutes have red mini-skirts and spike heels. On the contrary, a part-time gold-digger may be far more dangerous than an obvious solicitor, simply because she may not be suspected. The most money I ever lost in Oman in one day was during an encounter with a woman who had an important government job, and whose income was probably greater than mine. When I met her I was both awed by her and totally off-guard, but after a brief shell game in a shopping center my life savings were suddenly depleted. It was a combination of “love is blind” plus a basic naivety about her varieties of fraud.


With the help of friends, I had started putting together a lengthy document on the problems at the college, especially with Hazim Al-Adawi, the head of the English department. The question was: What to do with the document? Thanks to the Internet, it seemed there were various ways in which it could be sent out to a wide audience. If I was discovered to be the author, however, I would either be fired or arrested, or both. This was not a land of “the rule of law,” nor a land of civil liberties. Such things cannot exist in combination with absolute monarchy. If I was arrested, it would not be a matter of a public trial and all the elements of “due process.” Perhaps I would just “disappear,” and any inquiries about me would be met by a yawn. Even just being fired would not be very nice, since I was being paid well for my job, and I did not want to return to the shrinking economy of Canada until I had put some money in the bank.

A few weeks later, small protests broke out here and there in Oman, and those protests set off others. Oman was among the least of those Muslim countries to experience rebellion, perhaps because it is in fact a rather easygoing place, and even among foreigners it has a reputation for tolerance. Still, it is by no means a democracy, and there must be a fair number of citizens there who are aware of the facts, even if people rarely discuss matters openly. But why should the people tolerate newspapers and TV programs that produce only “good news”? And how can young people believe that the oil revenue will go on forever, when it is no secret that oil production there has been in decline for years? For that matter, how long can people go on praising the generosity of Sultan Qaboos, when it is not his generosity but that of the foreign oil companies? Tales of his wisdom and benevolence are a circular argument, since every “truth” about him comes from his own lips.

Anyway, Qaboos isn’t as pious as he pretends to be, and it’s also incorrect to assume that Oman is a theocracy. Qaboos is in constant conflict with the religious leaders, partly because he’s homosexual, but mainly because he was an accessory to the British murder of his own father in 1970, after which he took over the government.


One day I received phone call asking me to come downstairs and talk to a young Dutch woman named Alison, who had arrived in the country a few days before. She had come to Oman to meet her “boyfriend,” an Omani soldier. She had some rather vague questions about “safety.” She also had some reservations about this man she was about to meet. I tried to explain the need for caution, but I didn’t want to be guilty of fear-mongering. I tried to answer her questions without either terrifying her, so that she would just shut out whatever I said, or toning down the facts so much that she learned nothing, remaining as naive as her parents raised her to be. 

The next day, she was taken out to a wadi (dry riverbed) by her “boyfriend,” his brother, and a third man. They spent several hours gang-raping her in every possible way. I spent most of the following day trying in my clumsy fashion to counsel her. Whenever I wanted to break off the conversation, which merely went around in circles, she whispered that she didn’t want to be left alone. I tried to explain to her, without drifting into academic nonsense, that this was a patriarchal culture, essentially a “warrior” culture, still a world of warfare among bands and villages. This was a culture that had stopped evolving many centuries ago, and its view of women as cattle or chattel was fixed.

I also tried to explain to Alison that Oman was a culture devoid of love in the Western sense. One of the strands of Christianity was the “invention” of the concept of love, as in “faith, hope, and charity,” with “charity” a translation of caritas, which in turn is a Latin translation of the Greek term agape (versus eros or philos), “spiritual” love versus either lust or camaraderie.

In Oman it’s not easy to deal with the police, but I managed to communicate with them through intermediaries. Over the next few days, I made some enquiries, but I discovered that the police weren’t interested. Their basic message was that she wasn’t a Muslim, she hadn’t had her head covered, and she hadn’t been with a male relative. End of story. 

I realized later that the police would certainly have done nothing, and there had been no point even in asking them. A “devil-worshiper” foreign woman can never expect much help. Western women in taxis were sometimes groped by the drivers, but whenever I had tried to warn them they generally thought I was exaggerating.


I started to do some Internet research to see about the possibility of getting Helen into Canada, and she seemed to like the idea. I mentioned that we would eventually have to consider the idea of marriage. I didn’t like to bring up the subject of marriage, since it seemed to me that it was not very romantic to “half propose,” but there seemed no way to avoid the subject entirely, even though I think neither of us was certain enough to make such a commitment.

The grand conclusion I came to was that even if I married her, she would be thoroughly grilled by Canada Immigration. They would ask her many questions to see how well she knew me, how long she’d known me, what sort of relationship we had, and so on, all to get rid of the gold-diggers, women who marry Canadian men and then dump them when they’ve got themselves into the country.

I even typed up fourteen possible questions and asked Helen to answer them. She could only answer about three. She couldn’t even answer the first one: “What is your spouse’s full name?” She knew my first name, but she didn’t know the rest. When I showed her how badly she’d done on the quiz, she laughed. I had no idea what that laugh meant. She said, “You can give me the answers later.”

I said, “That won’t do any good, because they’ll just ask more questions.” But she still never made an attempt to learn anything about me, even though I’d asked her many questions about herself. In any case, as I learned later, many Chinese women prefer bringing a Western husband back to China, where his ignorance of both the language and the laws leaves him a prisoner in a strange land, one with an astonishing population density.


Within a few months after it began, my relationship with Helen seemed at times to be going badly: an insoluble battle over the somewhat tacit questions of sex and money. 

I once sent Helen a text message in what I hoped was sufficiently simple English:

I pay you 100 (or 150) rials, but you do not come to Nizka. You say you are poor, but now you want me to give you an extra 300 rials for a computer. I try to teach you English, but you don’t pay attention. I don’t understand what you are saying. You don’t understand what I am saying. Are you crazy?

I was so angry that afterward I turned my mobile phone to “silent” and put it away. When I retrieved it the next day, there were several messages from her, all of them along the lines of:

how are you my darling good night kiss

Whether those issues with her could really be resolved was something I didn’t know right away, but I soon became doubtful. All I knew at first was that I couldn’t easily cast her off. She was rather shy and easily hurt, or at least that had been my impression. Also, I had been treated in such a bouncing-ball fashion by women in the past, and I therefore found it objectionable to be doing the same thing to someone else, especially to someone who had never been unkind to me.

One night, after what seemed like a day of a hundred hours, filled with watching Helen sleeping, cooking meals, eating meals, washing dishes, dealing with emergencies that seemed impossible in such a small town as Nizka, cleaning parts of the apartment that I’d already spent hours cleaning before her arrival, in fact a day filled with everything but a moment of conversation or the briefest hug or smile, I went to bed and waited for her to join me. I had, by that point, absolutely no interest in sexual contact.

Helen didn’t like to have the bedroom light on when we made love, and any suggestion of making love anywhere except on the bed made her raise her eyebrows in the libido-destroying manner she reserved for anything other than five minutes of strictly genital sex just before we fell asleep. I usually therefore just left the dining room light on while we made love, so that I could at least tell on what part of the bed I’d be most likely to find her. At that moment I suspected she also would be happy just to put a sudden end to an unsuccessful day, so I turned out all the lights, assuming she could get from the bathroom to the bedroom with only ambient light. But she turned on the living room light and left it on when she came into the bedroom.

I asked her: “You want that light on?”

“You want light off?”

“I'm asking you, do you want the light on?”

“Light on okay. Up to you.”

“But do you want it on or off?”

“I no care. You want light on?”

It was certain that my return to Canada would cause a problem with the two of us: Helen’s own contract still had another year to go, and in any case it was unlikely that Immigration Canada, which had become quite restrictive, would allow an impoverished Chinese woman to immigrate to Canada, even as my lawful spouse.

Helen was taking money from me, and I was in fact paying her for sex, although I suppose also for companionship, but somehow it never seemed to me like prostitution. A strange and incalculable difference. On the contrary, each morning was filled with both compassion and gratitude. I was slowly learning that English-like language that has a total lexicon of about two hundred words, and that regards the invention of reading and writing, not as the transition from savagery to civilization, but as a waste of time. Literacy is highly overrated.


But I spoke of small protests. There were demonstrations and riots in various parts of Oman. Not much was happening at first in my own small town, but at the next college, an hour’s drive away, there were army tanks lining the highway, as even the TV was showing. That town’s department store was burned and looted, and for a week or so it was possible to buy computer hardware and software at amazing prices if you knew the right people.

As far as I can recall, the news media reported that two demonstrators had been killed by government gunfire in that other town, but I heard through the grapevine that it was twenty killed, not two. Anyway, that sort of uncertainty was everywhere. If the news media never reported the true news, then in a sense one could say that facts did not exist. There was only rumor upon rumor.

The courses at my college were still never properly organized, and nothing started on time. The curricula were terrible, the materials were in short supply, the few available textbooks were abstract, difficult, boring, and irrelevant. There was no support from the registrar’s office, which piled its work on the teachers. The chaos was made worse by the rapid turnover of teachers, which was a result of the disorganization, which in turn was fostered by the presence of phony teachers, people who were supposed to be teaching English but in fact could not tell a preposition from a proposition. And always, everywhere, there was blatant favoritism: the most sycophantic, most weasel-like, got the best courses and the fewest teaching hours.

My colleagues and I thought we had an answer to our predicament. We passed our document on, anonymously, to an elderly and well respected person high up in the ministry. Unfortunately we had not considered the fact that to reach such longevity one must be extremely cautious. He did distribute the document widely, but he first excised a great deal, leaving little more than the basic passages relating to the false credentials of teachers and to the inadequacy of the courses. These were valid concerns, still, but they were somewhat bordering on apple-pie issues ? how could any respectable person contest such matters? What he left out of the transmission was the more combustible.

On the other hand, our “friend in high places” was in no better position than we were, in terms of getting to the heart of the matter. The fact is that if one is investigating corruption it is highly likely that the trail will lead upwards, not downwards. Corrupt officials maintain their corruption because they have the support of people above them. And how high does an investigator really want to climb with nobody protecting him?

Ever since I had begun began teaching at the college, three years previously, there had been armed guards at the front gate, as elsewhere in the country; actually the police and the army are almost identical in every respect, from uniforms to behavior. A guard at a college is not likely to be a person of great ambition, since the main requirement is to be able to sit for hours in a little gatehouse. These guards were shifted from one location to another, so I could never be sure who would be on duty on any particular day. But one day I noticed that the two guards on duty were more muscular than the usual, and they were not in the mood to listen to my silly attempts at colloquial Gulf Arabic.

Over the course of one or two more days, the main square of the college was filled with students who appeared even less inclined than usual to be on time for class. One day they entered the office of the dean, a man from Egypt who did basically nothing for a living, grabbed him by the elbows, lifted him out of his chair, and escorted him to the front gate. As the days continued to pass, there were speeches by the student leaders, and so on. But for the teachers, almost everything remained rumor piled on rumor.

A few days later, a group of students came through the building that contained the offices for the teachers. They were handing out copies of some sort of manifesto. I read my copy quickly and nearly tossed it into a waste basket, since it looked rather juvenile and basically self-centered. It seemed that their main demand was that their payments be increased. Unlike students in the West, those in the Middle East are actually paid to attend post-secondary institutions, and it is also the government that finds jobs for them when they graduate.

Before throwing out the document, however, I paused to admire a few out-of-place fragments of scintillating rhetoric. Then I realized where these gems of English prose were coming from. The students must have obtained a copy of the document I had passed to the wise patriarch in the upper levels of the ministry, and which he had distributed. The students had then revised it, inserting other topics, and reconsidering a few matters, but basically what they were angrily thrusting under my nose was my own words.