(Image Credit: KKSTRUCTURES via Wikimedia Commons; the image is at this link. Used without modification under Creative Commons Licence)
The tragic death of Richard Bilkszto compels us to ask how a movement that was ostensibly meant to address and reduce oppression ended up inflicting it, to the point of driving someone to suicide.
A GLOOMY WEATHER FORECAST
Normally, being vindicated is a source of satisfaction for anyone, especially when the forecast / opinion / conclusion was athwart the prevailing view in one’s society. However, there are times when the person offering a dissenting view hopes to be proved wrong – but isn’t. In these instances, being vindicated is a source of sorrow.
This thought came to my mind when, upon hearing of the tragic death of former school principal Richard Bilkzsto, I was reminded of an article that I wrote more than 2 years ago, in May 2021, titled ‘Canada’s Neo-Clergy’. It is a long, rambling article (my writing style was different then, and has changed materially since – hopefully for the better), but the main theme of the article is that we are now in an era where accepting uncritically a set of ideas (which makes it an ideology) is deemed to be mandatory, and anyone not falling in line must face harsh consequences for their failure. I prefaced the article with a summary as follows:
“For much of history, lay people dared not challenge religious authority for fear of reprisal. While this has declined recently in the West, a new set of ideological beliefs has become equally unchallengeable and punitive. Its proponents are our neo-clergy.”
The reprisal and punitive treatment that Richard Bilkzsto endured is, of course, the most visible instance out of the innumerable ones that have taken place – and are most likely still taking place as we speak. Adding to the tragedy of his death is the fact that his case is visible mainly because it resulted in the ultimate tragedy; the other cases are not as widely know because the victims haven’t died (yet).
For a society that proudly claims to be a compassionate one, this is shameful in the most unequivocal terms. However, I believe in redemption, and therefore I offer that if we can get to the bottom of the case of Richard Bilkzsto, and make the necessary corrections (which would admittedly be a daunting task, given how deeply entrenched the ideology has become), then we will have redeemed ourselves as a society and his tragic death will not have been completely to our shame. In fact, I think that is the least that we owe to him.
FLESHING OUT IDEAS
Sorrowful as it is for me to revisit this issue (given the circumstance that made it necessary), the exercise will necessarily entail quoting from my earlier article on the subject – hopefully in a less rambling fashion this time around. To start with, this passage seems particularly apt to start the discussion here:
“… while it may be tempting to believe that the societies involved became less ideologically-driven in recent times, often the case is merely that one ideology was replaced by another in these societies. As is to be expected, this change reshuffled the cast of characters that held sway in these societies. […] it then follows that at any given time, in any society, some people will exercise – or seek to exercise – control over others. The only change is in the identities of people in positions of control; the power to control others shifts from one group to another. Sometimes, members of the former group are successful in becoming members of its successor group. (Emphasis in the original)”
On reflection, I think the term ‘control’ in the passage above is too mild – perhaps ‘oppression’ may be a better term. As a quick overview shows, one constant feature of human history is that dominant groups have sought impose their ideas and beliefs on others. It is easy to think of the religious wars in Europe, and wars of conquest elsewhere such as the ones that took place in Asia and North Africa in the recent millennium or two, in this context – but that would only be scratching the surface. Modern Progressives take umbrage at the suggestion that their set of ideas constitute a religion – albeit one without a deity and also without a promise of Salvation – but that is only because they understand the word ‘religion’ in the Abrahamic context. Specifically, it is the absence of a deity and a promise of salvation that they think that their set of ideas do not amount to a religion. Although the history of what we call ‘religious’ oppression is shorter than the history of religious oppression in its true sense, perhaps it is the recency of ‘religious’ oppression that informs not only their views but also their impulses, actions and – in particular – their extreme vindictiveness.
PENANCE V/S SELF-FLAGELLATION
One of the crucial factors at play here is the fact that acts of penance for past wrongs sometimes tend to degenerate into an ever-expanding phenomenon of self-flagellation. While it is true that over the past 5 centuries, people of European origin visited many atrocities on the native peoples in the other parts of the world, what is usually lost sight of is that this is by no means unique to those people of European descent (for a more detailed exploration of this, please see my article ‘Shared Weaknesses’, where I have listed some instances of this over the past 2 millennia and involving oppression from non-European aggressors).
The corrections on the part of the descendants of the European societies, that began roughly 60 or 70 years ago, have now overshot its target by miles. While it was necessary – nay, imperative – to acknowledge that the rights (civil, political and human) of people of all races were equal, now we have entered the era where the same inequalities that were imposed on non-white people in white-dominated jurisdictions (including the colonies) are gradually sought to be imposed on white people in majority white societies. This is the reason why the teachings and sayings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fall afoul of the Social Justice Warriors of today; the very idea that a person’s worth should be judged by the content of their character, and not by the colour of their skin, amounts to heresy in modern Progressivism because it believes that the sins of the ancestors indelibly taint the character of the descendants, and can never be expiated.
It may appear to some, at first glance, that I am overstating the case. However, I am of the view that this is because we are in the initial stages of this ‘overshooting’ phase. As I wrote in ‘Canada’s Neo-Clergy’, there will inevitably be ‘competitive piety’ (there is a case to be made that it is there already, and thriving mightily), where each member of the neo-clergy seeks ‘outshine’ the other members by espousing more literalist views and resorting to more extreme actions.
As I quoted above from my earlier article, some of the members of the previous, white-dominated structures have transitioned rather smoothly as members of the group(s) that seek to dominate white people. My view is that this is borne out of convenience rather than conviction. However, the nucleus of moral authority (if ‘moral’ is the right word here – I am tempted to say that it is the opposite) automatically lies in the group that is, or claims to be, composed of descendants of the formerly oppressed. By definition, therefore, this group is composed of non-white people. Their moral authority is seen to be so great as to be beyond any criticism or even benign questioning. Their word is the gospel truth. In effect, these ‘Diversity, Inclusion & Equity’ (DEI for short) practitioners are deified because they are DEI-fied. Apart from the clout, this also results in much financial gain to them – which brings us to the money part of this debate, literally.
FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE
It may seem like I am engaging in triviality by bringing up the money aspect in a discussion of such a grave nature, but I think there is an angle here that is highly pertinent and therefore useful. At the root of this aspect is the fact that there is an unseemly haste and zeal on the part of the major institutions (in business and government alike) to establish their credentials as enthusiastic adopters of the DEI ‘values’. Given the position of non-white people at the nucleus of DEI that I mentioned above, it is natural that the highest credibility as the disseminators of wisdom on the subject would obtain for non-white preachers – but there are two important exceptions here: from what I have seen, among the ‘people of colour’, the field seems to be dominated – if not monopolized – by blacks; the other racial minorities haven’t quite had the same rate of success in passing along their divine wisdom to the white ‘oppressors’. Secondly, when the diversity in question relates to gender, many white people appear to have established themselves in prominent positions as founts of wisdom that needs to be imparted to all Canadians (whether white or otherwise). As I stated earlier, these white individuals have transitioned (pun unintended) from the ‘oppressor’ identity to the ‘oppressed’ identity.
In both cases, their primary (and likely the only) claim to expertise lies in their identity, viz., skin colour (black, for the most part) or gender. Whether this is by design or accident, this does limit the potential number of suppliers of this newly found wisdom that the above-mentioned organizations seek so eagerly. Nevertheless, there is bound to be competition within the available pool, therefore ‘competitive piety’ doesn’t take long to come into play. One of the tenets of DEI is that it is a positive sign when the intended recipient of the tirade – er, I mean training – feels ‘uncomfortable’. In any other context, this ‘discomfort’ would be a cause for concern, if not a case of outright bullying that would not be tolerated, but in DEI, it is interpreted as a sign of success – and indeed, achievement.
So, on one hand, you have organizations scrambling madly to get in line with / comply with the dictates of DEI (or at least, make a show of it), and on the other hand, you have the supply side ratcheting up its messaging to make more and more people more and more ‘uncomfortable’. The more high-pitched their message – and its delivery – and the more ‘uncomfortable’ the people receiving the ‘training’ feel, the more money they can milk out of the situation. Some of these DEI practitioners are reported to be making incomes in the range of $300K a year, while others have seen their established careers in government structures (including in the education bureaucracy) advance healthily up the ladder. For example, this image shows a DEI consultant charging $6,500 for 4 hours of Zoom meeting with Sarnia Police Services Board. The charge is per meeting. It is unclear as to how many of such meetings were held.
All this becomes relevant in light of the recent revelation by the Globe & Mail that Habitat for Hunanity is now “serving residents with higher-paying jobs, such as in the medical field and government” (Emphasis added). It is worth hitting the pause button and mull this over. Jobs in the medical field and government are some of the best-paying ones. But people holding these jobs are having to seek charity for their housing needs. So, here is the pertinent and useful angle that I referred to earlier: The fact that DEI consultants and bureaucrats are doing financially well, while medical professionals and government employees are reduced to seeking charity sources for their housing needs is a reflection on what we, as a society, value and reward more. For all the popular criticism of government workers, I am of the firm view that they serve a useful function (try living in a country without a functioning government apparatus), and of course the value to society of medical professionals need not be explained. I believe that our system of valuing people’s work has become completely skewed. Given this, it is no wonder that until the issue of Richard Bilzsto’s suicide blew up in the media, no person in authority thought it necessary to rein in the runaway train of DEI. The consensus view in circles of authority seemed to be that DEI consultants are not only high priests of the neo-clergy, but also that their work is SO valuable that it cannot be disturbed or impeded in any manner whatsoever. And this brings us to the passivity of the Ontario provincial government and the education bureaucracy.
THE ABSENTEE EDUCATION MINISTER
Over the last little while, we have seen one case after another where various components of the education bureaucracy have overstepped their authority (and, indeed, standards of decency), and none of these cases invited adequate reaction from the Education Minister Stephen Lecce. These instances include a school barring a parent of a child from coming to a meeting at the school because the parent happened to be a police officer, and a Windsor school teacher berating students in her class for not showing up for Pride celebrations (the audio of this surfaced online a while back).
For a while now, I have contended that the ‘Conservative’ politicians lack the moral fortitude to challenge – let alone push back on – some of the social trends that are crying out for attention. While I know that a lot tends to happen behind the scenes in politics, and therefore there could be a bouquet of reasons that cause this inexplicable behavior, I wonder if the fear of a fight is the motivating factor here (or perhaps the ‘demotivating factor’ is the more apt expression). In the case of Richard Bilkzsto’s suicide, Minister Lecce has ordered an ‘inquiry’ into the matter. In my opinion, this is a day late and a dollar short; the time for meaningful action – that could have saved Mr. Bilkzsto’s life – was when he launched a suit against TDSB for his harassment at a DEI session and later. And for it to be meaningful now, there needs to be a thorough investigation, not a ‘review’. Frankly, I believe that the Ontario government is shirking its responsibility to protect its citizens – and I think it is likely because they believe that the DEI juggernaut is too powerful for them to handle.
This affliction is not limited to the elected component of the government, sadly. The bureaucracy side has been equally remiss in carrying out its proper duties. For example, as Ian Harvey wrote in this article, “TDSB principals and vice-principals stressed out by harassment and violence”. You may also recall my earlier article “Schools Of Thought”, I showed how various school boards had failed to act in a responsible manner. In the case of Richard Bilkzsto, when the WSIB concluded that he had been harassed at a DEI ‘training’ session and later, that finding should have triggered action from both TDSB and the provincial government. The fact that neither of these entities did anything tells me that they knew – or accepted – that they were not only outmatched but also out-gunned against the DEI juggernaut. As ‘white’ institutions, they are vulnerable to the same harangue that Richard Bilkzsto was subjected to. There is a hierarchy of grievances in the Church of DEI, and the DEI practitioners are the high priests in that Church.
HIERARCHY OF GRIEVANCES
Given that ‘competitive piety’ is at play in DEI, it becomes necessary for DEI practitioners to construct a hierarchy of grievances. Depending on the issue at hand, different identity groups can lay claim to be on a higher rung of this hierarchy relative to others. For example, some 3 years ago, I was in a Twitter discussion where the contention was that racial minorities in Canada are not supposed to be supportive of the Conservative party. At one point, someone who is a black Canadian of Jamaican origin told me, “You don’t have enough skin on this continent to talk the sh*t you do” (Emphasis added).
The curious thing here is that this person’s parents immigrated from Jamaica in the 1960’s. Would he have made this comment to an Indigenous person who happens to support the Conservative party? The answer is, obviously, no. This yields an important conclusion: The claim to greater ‘oppressed’ status is situational – and therein lies a future danger (let us start worrying about it now instead of waiting until it is too late).
If I May mix metaphors here, ‘The only constant in this world is change’, ‘What goes up must come down’ and ‘Nothing is as inevitable as an idea whose time has come’. My fear is that unless we rein in the excesses of the DEI practitioners, eventually the pent-up resentment against these excesses will cause a backlash that will be (to use a popular term) of ‘Biblical proportions’. The excesses of this backlash will be as bad as – if not worse than – those of the DEI movement.
Regular readers of my articles will know that I am fond of quoting bits of poetry from the Indian subcontinent, with the great 19th century Urdu Poet Mirza Ghalib being one of my favourites. In one of his couplets, Ghalib writes:
“Ghalib, hamein na chhed, ki phir josh-e-ashq se
Baithay hein hum tahayya-e-toofaan kiye huwe”
Ghalib (says), don’t provoke me, because on the strength of my tears
I am sitting here, having determined to raise a storm.
Presently, the only people benefiting from the societal frictions caused by DEI are the practitioners of DEI and the politicians. But when the pendulum swings back and overshoots the target (as the DEI has overshot its target), a lot of people will suffer just as much as the victims of DEI are suffering now. Many of these people will be innocent and have nothing to do with DEI, but some (maybe most) DEI practitioners also will definitely face the public wrath. I think only the politicians will remain (relatively) safe, and they will use the swing-back of the pendulum to their advantage yet again.
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