‘It should be satirized’: A Q&A on ideological extremism, identitarian infighting and CanLit conformism – with the Vancouver novelist Patrik Sampler (TARA HENLEY, APR 28, 2024, Lean Out)

TH: Your novel is about a pseudo-Marxist, anti-authoritarian performance art group that implodes … The group undertakes “actions” that are entirely symbolic, totally divorced from material conditions — and really from any political impact. Naked Defiance reflects currents in our contemporary culture, and satirizes them in nuanced and funny ways. Anyone coming from the progressive left, and dismayed with the turn it has taken, will find lots to recognize here. You were writing this novel at the height of the identitarian movement. In Vancouver, where I’m from and you live. As far as I can tell, Vancouver went all in on this. What did you see, during the years that you were writing this, as you were looking around at our culture?

PS: I saw identitarianism ramping up and ramping up. The question in my mind was always: When are we going to reach peak identity? I don’t know when it’s going to stop, but I think there’s starting to be some questioning of it now.

There’s always been a focus on identity in Canadian literature, but then it kept getting even more and more specific over time. Whereas it used to be, “I’m going to write a novel about my identity,” it became even more circumscribed — the parameters for identity kept shrinking and becoming more specific … There started to be some fear that if you questioned this trend, then you were going to be ostracized as a writer. In fact, there are writers who experienced that.

I have always just tried to do my own thing and have tried to ignore it. And maybe even have tried to promote my writing outside of Canada, for that reason. But I think a lot of writers felt that writing what they really wanted to say would be risky.

TH: There’s a moment when your narrator provides his exact lineage, and notes that it corresponds precisely with that of the character he is writing about: 50% Ukrainian, 37.5% Irish, et cetera. This is a send-up of that trend, but it also seems to be a comment on what you’ve referred to as “the anti-literary focus on the person of the author,” something you’ve written about in the past. How do you see that trend impacting the Canadian cultural scene?

PS: I questioned my assessment of how prevalent that mode of thinking is — is it really as bad as people say? — so, I wrote an item about this very extreme focus on identity. And when I was researching it, I went and looked at various publishers’ websites in Canada. Are the author bios really all that focused on this very minute idea of identity? If you look at it objectively, I don’t think most Canadian writers are all in on this. But that kind of a mode of being an author really gets highlighted in a lot of the mainstream places.

Where I think it’s impacting Canadian writing is that I don’t think we’re seeing a lot of progress in CanLit, as a form of literature — as opposed to writing being seen as a kind of a platform for a political notion. The writers who are my heroes, people like Robert Walser and Abe Kobo … Robert Walser said that the role of the author is self-effacement. Whereas now we see this strong idea that your writing has to be connected to who you are as a person. I think that’s really a step backward. And maybe it’s disrespectful of the readers.

TH: How so?

PS: Because I feel that it’s promoting the idea that the writing is so closely connected with the author, that it is the author — and there is really no room for interpretation, or having one’s own take. It’s just a platitude, but Andrei Tarkovsky wrote that “a book read by a thousand different readers is a thousand different books.” I feel strongly that we’re being told quite differently here in Canada, in many cases.


A Fake Conspiracy Theorist’s Second Act (ALEXANDRA MARVAR, APRIL 07, 2024, Slate)

Between 2018 and 2021, McIndoe, now 25, went from state to state, playacting the role of radicalized cult leader pushing an absurd conspiracy theory—that, as he put it, “birds aren’t real.” Avian creatures, McIndoe warned, were being systematically massacred and replaced by deep state–operated drones, designed for widespread surveillance of the populace.

The conceit was satire: a metacommentary on the countless eccentric and convoluted conspiracy theories that were ripping through the country in the aftermath of Trump’s election and the dawn of the QAnon age. But for years McIndoe played it straight, declining to publicly acknowledge the humor or performance art behind the “movement.” Soon, his campaign had attracted thousands of Gen Z “followers” who were delighted to be in on the joke. These fellow “bird truthers” founded their own autonomous local Birds Aren’t Real chapters, posting flyers and holding rallies in their own communities.


How dark can humour be?: Laughter — even laughter about morbid things — is part of what makes us human (Andy Owen, 1 April, 2024, The Critic)

Is there any tragedy, too tragic to joke about? Comedian David Baddiel tells the following Holocaust joke; After the war, a Holocaust survivor dies and goes to Heaven. God asks him to tell a Holocaust joke. The Holocaust survivor does so, and God says it’s not funny. “Well,” the Holocaust survivor says. “I guess you had to be there.” […]

For Bergson, ultimately, humour’s most important function is to remind us that to be human is to be alive and free. The least free societies are usually those most intolerant of those who questioned the certainty of the prevailing view. Totalitarian societies, from the Nazi to the Islamic State, have not been known for their humour. In such societies it’s often humour that most effectively highlights the absurd seriousness of the power structures. In Afghanistan, the often-humorous landays recited at the secret poetry societies by Afghan women gave them a form of freedom whilst living under the repressive Taliban regime. […]

Camus ends Myth of Sisyphus by noting that “one must imagine Sisyphus happy.” I imagine Sisyphus, not necessarily happy, but, like those I served with, laughing regardless. By doing so he takes back some control of his absurd Divinely dictated fate and retains some dignity in doing so. We are invited to laugh with him at the absurdity of our fate the metaphor exposes. When we laugh together, we connect. It’s the same commonality I felt on operations with those whose different backgrounds were quickly bridged by a shared joke about our shared circumstances. For me the best comedy targets, not other groups, whether punching up or down, but makes us laugh at what we all share: not just the temporary circumstances we find ourselves in, but the fragile, irrational, sometimes tragic, but often comedic human condition. No matter how painful or ugly the situation, we should never lose the ability to laugh at ourselves and our circumstances; it’s part of what makes us human.


Does Jesus Have a Sense of Humor?: Jesus is fully God and fully man. He is like us in every way except sin. This includes having a sense of humor. (Austin Ruse, 5/08/24, Crisis)

There are three questions to consider. Does Jesus have a sense of humor? Does Jesus express this sense of humor by actually laughing? Does Jesus deliberately make others laugh?

There are other scenes in The Chosen that have irked the grumpsters.

Jesus reads the soul of the Samaritan woman at the well. She invites Jesus and His guys to stay in her home at Sychar. Told that one of the rooms is haunted, Jesus smiles and playfully says, “I’ll take that one.”

Yet another scene shows Jesus coming up behind His dear friend Lazarus. Lazarus is one of Jesus’ closest friends. Recall that Jesus weeps when Lazarus dies, and He raises Him from the dead. In this scene, Jesus comes up behind His best friend and pushes Him, just like guy friends do. Utterly charming. Utterly human.

We must admit, none of these instances are biblical. G.K. Chesterton argues that Jesus shows His entire humanity in Sacred Scripture with the exception of mirth. It certainly seems that Red Letter Jesus did not express humor.

But how would this be possible? He is fully human, and He certainly could not be one of those drab, humorless people whose humorlessness is a stark deficiency. Are critics arguing that Jesus is one of those?

Does Jesus express this sense of humor by smiling and even laughing? The proposition is that on this earth Jesus did not smile or laugh in the company of children, who were plentiful around Him. Is this remotely possible?

Are we to believe that He did not smile or laugh at the sight of cats wrestling or a monkey leaping. Nature can be very funny. It is hard to believe that He did not take joy in His creation even unto laughter.

If He doesn’t find His Creation amusing it can only because He’s not paying attention.


Liberalism’s last laugh: The fate of democracy could well depend on what makes us smile. (Lee Siegel, 2/21/24, New Statesman)

Surely Sunstein is aware of liberalism’s dour reputation? Liberalism’s current comedic tribunes, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and the recently resurrected Jon Stewart, are far better at scolding and taunting than making actual jokes. In fact, Donald Trump’s most consequential contribution to popular culture is to offer a punchline, the mere utterance of which – “Trump” – requires no joke to precede it.

I wonder what the great liberal philosopher Judith Shklar would have made of comedy today. She wrote in 1982 that our “abiding cruelty is as evident in the horrors of civil war as it is in the pleasures of laughter” and observed that most people “enjoy a good laugh at the expense of victims”. In the current crop of late-night comedians’ jokeless taunting she might well have detected a strong echo of Trump’s own belittling laughter.

Shklar’s powerful notion of “putting cruelty first” is at the heart of cancel culture. Or as the American philosopher Richard Rorty parsed Shklar’s phrase: “Liberals are the people who think that cruelty is the worst thing we do.” Rorty himself attempted to appropriate irony for humane purposes by formulating the concept of “liberal irony”, in which people are aware of the moral tension between shifting personal and historical circumstances and a universal commitment to humanity. It’s a uselessly beautiful idea. But it’s definitely not funny.

It is unlikely that Sunstein is thinking about Shklar or Rorty in his gesture of defiance in the face of anti-laughter forces. But he is pushing back against the effect that an obsession with social justice has had on comedy, which is precisely to judge comedy by its capacity to be cruel. He is thinking about the outrage directed at the comedian Dave Chappelle’s offensive remarks about trans people, and at countless similar barbs made by other comedians in the spirit, or the performance, of mordant humour. Laughter is the sound of freedom and joy, Sunstein wants to say. And liberals, true liberals, who are not in thrall to woke excesses, do not repress freedom and joy.

The utopianism of the Left/Right deprives them of access to humor.


His Best Friend Was a 250-Pound Warthog. One Day, It Decided to Kill Him. (Peter Holley, February 7, 2024, Texas Monthly)

By the age of thirty, a time when most people are just beginning to think about their mortality, Austin Riley had already conquered his fear of death. He’d come exceedingly close to dying on multiple occasions, including a few months before his first birthday, when doctors discovered a golf ball–sized tumor growing inside his infant skull. He would go on to spend much of his childhood in and out of hospitals, enduring high-risk brain surgeries and grueling recoveries. Then in his mid-twenties, he was nearly killed by a brain hemorrhage that arrived one night without warning, unleashing the worst pain he’d ever felt. He emerged from that experience reborn, feeling lucky to be alive and convinced that his life had been spared by God.

So as he sat in a pool of his own blood on a beautiful October evening in 2022, he couldn’t help but acknowledge the morbid absurdity of his current predicament. He’d spent decades conquering brain injuries only to be killed while doing mundane chores on his family’s 130-acre Hill Country ranch in Boerne. “After all I’d been through,” he said, “I just couldn’t believe that this was how it was going to end.”

As he slumped against a fence and his mangled body began to shut down, Austin’s mind went into overdrive. He thought about his girlfriend, Kennedy, whom he’d never get a chance to marry, and the children he’d never be able to raise. He thought about how much he loved his parents and how badly he wished he could thank them for the life they’d provided. He thought about the land before him, a valley accentuated by crimson and amber foliage that seemed to glitter in the evening light, and realized it had never seemed more beautiful than it did in that moment.

But mostly, he thought about the animal that had just used its razor-sharp, seven-inch tusks to stab him at least fifteen times. The attack had shredded his lower body and filled his boots with blood, and then left gaping holes in his torso and neck. Had any other animal been responsible, Austin would’ve considered it a random attack. But this was a pet he’d trusted more than any other: his lovable, five-year-old warthog, Waylon.

It wasn’t just an attack, as far as Austin was concerned, but a murderous act of betrayal, one that shattered everything he thought he knew about the deep bond between man and pig. “For years, that animal trusted me everyday and I trusted him,” Austin said. “I put blood, sweat, and tears into his life and he decided to kill me.”


A Black preacher disappeared from Norwich in 1890. His alleged killer confessed, but was never charged (Lexi Krupp, January 22, 2024, VPR)

One of the attendees, Claudia Marieb, piped in: Her question hadn’t been answered. It was about a name that appeared on her deed — “Darkey Bridge,” from the section of Norwich where she lived called Beaver Meadow.

“Obviously I thought of that as a racist term, and I wondered, ‘Why?’ Like what was the story here with African Americans? Or was there racism here? Or what was the history? And I would bring it up with different people, but there wasn’t a whole lot of information.”

Rooker paused before answering.

“It is a story of racism,” she said. “And it is a story that I want to spend time thinking about how to share to the community in a way that promotes conversation.”

Then, she gave a brief explanation of where the name might have come from.

“There was a minister who lived in Beaver Meadow at the corner there, in the mid-1880s,” Rooker said. “He was harassed and abused by local young men in Beaver Meadow and he was eventually murdered.”

This minister was named John Harrison. He was one of the only Black men living in Norwich at the time, according to town records.

And all that was left to mark his memory was a racial slur in town documents.

“It’s also known as ‘Darkey Corner,’ it also is known as ‘N- corner’ and ‘N- bridge,’” Rooker said. “There’s some pretty racist pieces.”

That same night, Marieb emailed me. At the time, I was living next door to her on a dirt road, about a two-minute walk away.

She forwarded me an 1896 newspaper clipping about John Harrison’s alleged murder that Rooker sent her after the event.

It describes where Harrison lived as “a little one story shanty which sat in a fork of the road about a mile from Beaver Meadow on the road to Sharon.” A stream controlled by a trout club ran past the property “within a stone’s throw of the house.”

I started reading the article, then stopped. It was violent, and I wanted to wait until daytime. Because this account of where John Harrison had lived, it was where I was living — where two dirt roads come together, upriver from the same trout club.

I felt confident it was the same place, because the line in Marieb’s deed about “Darkey Bridge,” it described where her property line ended and mine began. I rented a house there until last year.

A newspaper article from 1896 described where Harrison lived as a “shanty which sat in a fork of the road about a mile from Beaver Meadow on the road to Sharon.” A house built in the 1980s now stands on the property.
Marieb had been wondering about the name on her deed ever since she bought her home in 2018.

“Obviously I thought of that as a racist term, and I wondered why,” she told me last year. “Like what was the story here with African Americans? Or was there racism here? Or what was the history? And I would bring it up with different people, but there wasn’t a whole lot of information.”

Marieb added: “So when the historical society asked residents for questions, I asked that question.”


In ‘American Fiction,’ An Excellent Depiction of a Politically Incorrect Professor (John Tamny, January 11, 2024, Real Clear Markets)

Some, conservatives in particular, will read this write-up and be interested in its portrayal of guilty white left wingers, the black professor who disdains their guilt, along with the film’s proper ridicule of white guilt as an excuse for the pursuit of diversity for the sake of diversity. It’s all there, including Monk being asked to serve on a prestigious book-prize panel that will decide the year’s best novel. You guessed it, the organization behind the prominent award wants a bit more “diversity.” Yes, conservatives will enjoy the film. Big time. It’s fun to see black people mock the same political correctness that members of the right have long similarly mocked.

At the same time, the view from this right-of-center writer is that while conservatives will surely laugh endlessly during this hilarious and extraordinarily well written film, that it’s brilliantly funny for everyone, including left-of-center types. There’s a family story that the great Kyle Smith viewed as filler, but that worked for me as a way of explaining Wright’s character, and the why behind Wright’s character, in entertaining fashion.

Additionally, it will be said here that conservatives shouldn’t walk out of the theater with too smug of a countenance. This is based on their own routine desire to feature black conservatives in their newspapers, magazines and television shows every time a racial situation reveals itself, the tendency of white conservatives to cheer a black person’s expressed conservatism regardless of whether it’s well-reasoned (I once witnessed a right-leaning black judge give a wholly unremarkable speech that ended with a standing ovation…), not to mention the growing desire of conservatives to deify the “canceled” members of their own flock (with book deals, awards, and well-paid jobs) in the way that dopey left wingers defity anything that’s “Black,” and no matter how ridiculous it is.


New Hampshire’s Lesson for America (William Ruger & Jason Sorens, December 11, 2023, AIER)

So what has New Hampshire been doing right?

First, the state has gradually and responsibly cut growth-impeding taxes, such as business taxes and the interest and dividends tax, which is being phased out. Since these tax cuts began in 2015, New Hampshire’s economic growth rate has powered ahead of its closely connected neighbor, Massachusetts.

Second, the state has mostly kept school funding local, which tends to make educational decisions more fiscally responsible. Property owners have more direct leverage and choice over their local property taxes than they do state taxes.

Third, the state is trying to solve its housing shortage, which it shares with most other Northeastern states. Local zoning has strangled housing construction, and the state has stepped in with a law requiring towns to allow “accessory dwelling units” (in-law apartments), expedited local permitting, and a housing appeals board to provide quick resolution of zoning disputes.

Fourth, the legislature has expanded personal freedom for its citizens, most notably with Education Freedom Accounts. The state’s per-student adequacy grant to local districts is now available for parents to cover educational expenses outside the public school system.

Finally, the state has been getting rid of cronyist regulations in order to increase competition and opportunities in the marketplace. Some small barriers to starting businesses have been repealed, and the governor signed universal licensing reciprocity this year.