In a conflict, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that identity is fluid and constantly in motion. Some parts may be fixed, but others are negotiable. However, when your identity is threatened, you hunker down in self-defence and think of it as a single, immutable whole. You demand that the other party agree to your perspectives, your sense of right and wrong, your values. But if the other side holds the same egoistic assumption, you get stuck in an ever-escalating impasse, until your conflict feels intractable.

This description comes from “Negotiating the Non-Negotiable”, by Dan Shapiro. His examples of feeling “stuck” when your identity is attacked strongly remind me of the “stuck” feeling that plagued me during my time in Denmark – and at lots of other times in my life. Based on the idea that maybe I felt that my identity was under attack, I’m going to go through Shapiro’s Five Pillars of Identity and figure out who I am. Bearing in mind that identity is fluid and none of the things I write down here need to be absolute immutable truth.

  1. Beliefs: convictions, principles, morals.
  2. Rituals: meaningful customs and ceremonial acts, whether holidays, rites of passage, regular prayer, evening dinner with family.
  3. Allegiances: deep loyalties you feel toward a family member, friend, authority figure, nation, tribe, ancestor, any other person place or thing.
  4. Values: ideals, which can be explicit or embodied in a memorable narrative.
  5. Emotionally meaningful experiences: intense events, positive or negative, that define part of your identity.

Not sure what the difference is between beliefs and values, but otherwise I’ll give this a bash.

What do I believe in?
Taking personal responsibility for my success and wellbeing. To me that means educating myself and making sure I can make a good living, not wasting time or money but using it wisely and conservatively.

Keeping my word once I’ve given it (even if it’s only implied). Being a reliable person that others can count on.

Telling the truth. Using the guidelines “is it true, is it kind, is it necessary” – I don’t need to say everything that is true, but I do need to only say things that are true.

Not everyone is as capable of being as self-reliant as I am, and I don’t require it. Therefore I’m happy to pay taxes or donate to charity to help others who aren’t doing as well. However I believe in taking care of myself first, so as not to put other people in the position of having to cover for me.

I am capable of learning all the skills I need to be healthy and successful. “I can’t” isn’t a valid excuse. I can do things.

I have enough self-discipline to accomplish whatever I set out to do.


  • Christmas and Thanksgiving with family, New Year’s Eve with friends whenever possible. (strengthens my network and community ties)
  • Morning coffee and breakfast. Read with breakfast. (start the day off right and get in a healthy mindset)
  • Cooking at home, big, cheap and healthy meals, trying new stuff in the kitchen for entertainment. (self improvement and being healthy)
  • Riding my bike to work. (same as above)
  • Gym twice a week. (same as above)
  • Call my brother a couple times a month, talk to friends a few times a week. (good family relationships)
  • Turn up at friend’s houses to hang out with them. (strengthen community and network)


I’m not sure about this one. I don’t really feel like I’m part of any particular group. Well, my family for sure, but “Graham” isn’t really a strong identity. We all kinda do our own thing.

“Victorian” for sure. It’ll always be part of me, the good and the bad. Mountains, vegans, MEC, the West Coast Trail, beach fires, bitching about the price of rentals and arguing about bike lanes.

“Danish” – well I was only there for a short time, so maybe not as much, but it was long enough to change the way I look at things. So Danish, yeah.

“Campbell River”. I never loved the place, but I sure am proud to tell people I’m from there. Weird.

“Canadian”. The Boy Scouts of the global economy. Yeah, I’ll take it.

“Cyclist”. Is it still a part of your core identity if you haven’t ridden a bike in weeks? Yes, yes it is. Always.

Environmentalism – reducing waste and pollution through my daily habits. Less concerned about one-off events like flying in a plane or having a campfire, more with things I do every day. Ride bikes more, recycle and compost, use less packaging, drive a fuel-efficient used car, buy quality items that won’t end up in the garbage.

Kindness – make people feel good about being around me. Recognize their contributions verbally and publicly. Never make them feel stupid for not knowing as much as I do, instead take the opportunity to teach (if they’re interested).

Meaningful Experiences
That time when I was 10 and the neighbor asked me to water her garden while she was away, and mom did the whole job for me. I think that was the angriest I had ever been at age 10. Left me with a very strong reaction to people trying to do my work for me, implying that I’m not capable of doing it myself. I either react in anger or walk away altogether.

Shane and Dev when I was 18. They invited me over. I was odd as hell and didn’t know how to behave. They accepted me without question and never made me feel weird or out of place.  Reinforced that I want to be a person who is welcoming of new people.

Roger at Radar Hill. Trusted my opinion and judgment basically from day one. Never had the slightest interest in blaming anyone when things went wrong, only focused on solutions. A role model.

On Camino, Jette showed up at the hostel and asked if I wanted to walk with her. That was level of vulnerability that I would never have been capable of before I saw that she could do it.

I think its good to go through this whenever I feel stuck or in conflict, and think about what part of my identity feels under attack. Like when my mom is being overly helpful and solicitous, and it irritates the hell out of me even though she’s just being herself and doing absolutely nothing wrong. I get irritated because I can do everything myself, and I don’t need her help dammit! The “self-sufficient” part of my identity feels attacked.

Going through this list a couple weeks after I first wrote it, it strikes me that the first things I wrote about were being independent and self-sufficient. I probably would have been like that no matter what, but I think those values were reinforced in the years when I was deaf at school and had no friends to talk to or count on.

It’s a lonely way to live. I’m not sure I want to be like that. That attitude hasn’t helped my relationships and it leads to me being really hard on myself sometimes. Luckily this stuff isn’t set in stone, and I don’t have to give up old values to get new ones – I can build on the old stuff.

Rock and roll

A few years ago I went through a phase of putting on shows. I might still be in that phase, actually, we’ll see what happens this year. But anyway, I did some events. One was a bike polo tournament with a party after. Two were alleycat races, both with a show after. The last was a small polo tournament, on a weeknight and no party.

Understand that when I say “I” put these events on, all I mean is that I took part the financial risk and the blame, and did a little organizing. In every case, stuff like this happens with an army of volunteers, many of whom have very small jobs (bring the coffee urn, unlock the doors for us, something like that), but without whom the event could not occur. Every time I run an event and it works, it’s because a few people decided they wanted it to happen, and I got volunteered to coordinate. I love it, but I can take very little credit.

By far my favorite job is handling the bands. I get to choose an act, book them, negotiate a fee, transport their equipment and possibly their bodies, make a speech about how awesome they are, pass the hat, give them drinks. For a few moments there, I let my imagination run away with me.

I know everyone daydreams, it’s a part of being human. I think I’m the only one, though, who writes down my juvenile fantasies and publishes them where everyone I know can see and feel awkward about my oversharing, and tries to get more people to read it.

In this fantasy I’m a rock and roll promoter. I never got good enough at music to be the star of a band, but I get to have a little bit of reflected glory this way. I put on events every week, I have an entourage that I roll with. When I’m looking for a band, I get put on the list at clubs, get sent to the VIP room to watch the show, and listen to the band kiss my ass after they play. “Sure, you’ll do,” I say, and turn them over to my assistant to work out schedules and details, after offering them a fee that makes them stop talking for several moments.

This is a job I could do. It’s one that really appeals, because it doesn’t rely on asking some boss if I can make a living, please. One guy with the power to grant or revoke an entire salary with a single decision. My boss in real life is rad, but even so, I don’t like it. Instead I put on a dope party and everyone who shows up gets one seven-dollar vote as to whether the band and I get to eat this week. Democracy.

But reality is very different from my daydream. Not so much with the VIP room, more like texting a drummer 4 times to ask whether they can do Saturday night, and calling 5 different bands before I find one that can play. Never mind if they’re good or not. If they show up on time and sober, they’re hired. This operation can’t afford “good” yet.

Instead of hundreds of party animals lined up out the door, it’s more likely to be like alleycat #2 – the venue didn’t bother to promote it, we picked the wrong time of day, and only seven racers showed up. The band nearly outnumbered the audience, and although their professionalism was outstanding, they didn’t get paid well at all.

Sometimes you don’t win. Oh well. The lesson I got was that any time you have a little power, it’s not because you wrest it from the ground and compel legions with the force of your personality. Rather, it’s because the community has seen that you’re competent and willing, so they give you some resources which you’re expected to use in their service.

I’m still trying to figure out how I can live that life of service, and get the little bit of power I crave. Working at a job is not too bad, but 8 hours in the office slip away unnoticed, and then I have the whole evening and weekend to do real living. I am not interested in Game of Thrones. I don’t care for video games. I want to build stuff. Still looking. I’ll let you know how it goes, especially the flaming disasters.



I had a conversation that upset me a little today. I said “You can’t be an anarchist and have a cell phone.” The person I was talking to disagreed, and asked me why not.

Because the cell phone networks are publicly funded and built by the government, I said, it doesn’t make sense to take advantage of that if you’re an anarchist.

My friend still disagreed, and said that she knew people who were on welfare who were anarchists.

I thought that was hypocritical. She said, I guess it depends on your definition of anarchy. I steered away from the topic. I don’t actually want to alienate a friend over political differences.

But here’s the definition of anarchist, from the dictionary: “A person who believes in or tries to bring about anarchy.”

And the definition of anarchy, also from the dictionary: “A state of disorder due to absence or nonrecognition of authority.”

I respect the philosophy. I can understand why a person would adopt it, and can imagine circumstances when that person would be me. However, when you collect welfare or use a cell phone, or even walk on the public roads or use the public healthcare or live in a  house built according to government building codes, you are not being an anarchist.

You are recognizing authority by doing the things they require you to do to enjoy these benefits: You fill out the forms and obey the rules for welfare, you pay for your cell phone contract, you choose to pay the rent instead of living in a home that you built yourself in defiance of building codes, you obey the rules of the road enough to not get tickets.

That’s not anarchy.

I have some strong feelings of disrespect toward people who collect welfare while claiming to be in favour of dissolving the government or refusing to submit to authority, but those are just feelings. The principle that I act on is that there is enough wealth in the world for everyone to eat and be sheltered, so everyone should eat and be sheltered. I’ll work towards that even if I have to do more than what I perceive is my fair share.

I prefer to work for a living than be idle, and I prefer to contribute to the economy than drain it. But if I could spend my days building motorcycles and throwing parties without having to worry about earning a living, I would, and I think that’s the kind of life a lot of anarchists are after as well.

It’s just that anarchy doesn’t scale very well, with 7 billion people in the world. There’s room and food for everyone if we work together, but if everyone’s living in little hippy communes of a few hundred people or less, it’s hard to achieve a level of organization and efficiency to make that possible.

So I’m not going to talk shit about anarchy or anarchists in general. But collecting welfare isn’t anarchy, and neither is owning a cellphone.

What about love?

The following essay was part of an exchange I had recently with a friend. I thought it was worth sharing.


Click to show more.

My friend:
“I need to express some thoughts? I think so, let’s just keep typing and allow the flow to flow, we’ll see what happens. I did want to express, and I got a chance to express this a little bit today, the idea of marriage in relation to present era. The positive ideal of monogamy seems as if it’s created in hindsight stemming from old standards.

Long ago, the idea of marriage was more for survival than love or lifestyle. Humans paired as a team to work towards a common goal, making the goal much more achievable than doing it yourself. Surviving winters and other forces of nature relied on your partnership to succeed. Building a house takes two people to work most large saws, the duties split amoungst the two resulting in increased progress. The same is said with companies, the more people working together, the greater the chance of success. Modernizing the setting of this idea of monogamy changes it’s value relative to the definition of family. Our difficulty of survival has dramatically decreased with the advent of the industrial age and it’s associated following consumerism. Our ability to fend solely for ourselves has become much more of a common reality, far easier. The need for a partner in order for basic survival is nearly nil in westerized societies. This has a major affect on the perception of gender, and its application.

Before the industrial revolution, connecting a man and woman together would most likely result in offspring, serving multiple survival purposes; 1. the continuation of human race, a sub-conscious and aggressive motivator. 2. Children were essentially Co-workers, once of age, able take over leadership roles and responsibilities to move the family, as a unit, forward in their survival. Leadership duties would slowly transfer entirely to the offspring, taking the role of caretakers of their elders and of their own offspring. A cycle.

Large families were a way of increasing the odds of this cycle, and the success of the unit. Christianity and many others religions take these primal needs and translate them into common sense ground rules for all those participating, generally the mass. Today, has changed, not just in a subtle way of modern conveniences, but rather, the family unit is no more. Work units replace the family unit, work is the current form of survival. The time spent working now, is nearly as great as the amount of time spent before, maintaining survival. Money is now a possession, rather than a tradable representation of a possession. With our lives so enriched with modern medicines, severe commonality of conveniences, the question of our daily survival is a minor thought at best. Our worries mostly stem from personal gain and a resistance to regression of our collected luxuries. The need to rely on a partner for teamwork for survival has been almost entirely eradicated.

Sexuality is obvious affected by these changes. With the obsolescence of the family unit, offspring; children are optional entirely. People now have kids as a lifestyle choice, there’s little worry about needing care in old age. Nursing homes, and other care services have taken this role, nearly deleting the importance of a child and it’s associated education. Monetized are their roles, and increasing our dependence to acquire currency for exchange of services previously rendered by family members. I need money to eat food, acquire shelter, and create an attractive self for prospective employers. The greater my sexiness for an interested company, the greater my survival. The company, the workplace is the new family unit. Long ago a family would spend most of it’s day at home, working, and organizing, preparing for the next day. Growing food, improving and repairing shelter, and building and creating their own luxuries.

Gender seems to disappear with the modern company family lifestyle. Whether you’re able to produce offspring or not doesn’t matter in a politically correct environment, so the need to define gender separation is adjusted. Homosexuality and gender fluidity have the opportunity to flourish when the need to create offspring depletes completely. This is not bad, just a new current state.

In our neo-world, the idea of one company running the global economy, is likely. Much like the survival tactics of a larger family, the more collected persons, the greater the chance of survival. The us, versus them; whether them is a conscious entity like a human, or an unconscious hazard like nature, working together increases the survival of the group dramatically. Make the group bigger. Companies are a series of people, a family. By collecting these families together, the group’s survival rate increases. This huge family unit is the dream of many hippies, but doubles as a great opportunity for large corporations. Interestingly enough, a corporation in western society is legally a person.

A majority of the society agrees, that a business can be a head of a household/a family leader/a person. Legally, corporations are human. Some refer a corporation’s members as slaves, but really, you’re just a family member. However the luxury and benefit of this moment in time, is that you’re able to choose which family you want to participate in, even if you’re not the one to head the company. This is quite a freedom comparatively to bloodline family. A current luxury. You’re not born into, obligated to serve or alone to survive, rather you pick an existing entity that suits your comfort level, and dedicate your time, to help it, help you, survive. Good bye marriage, hello sex for enjoyment and exercise. Good bye gender, connect with those who turn you on no matter barriers. Gone are bloodline ties, build your family globally, pick the people who interact with you best and help each other achieve a goal surrounded by a similar interest.”

My reply:

Hey, I’m sorry for being rude about this one earlier. I stand by what I said though – I find your reasoning too simplistic. I went through it and double checked, and it seems like you forgot to factor in love. I don’t mean that in the squishy sense either, but in the sense that it is a very real and tangible factor, and if you include it in the equation, it throws off all your calculations. I also disagree with the value you place on money.

I don’t put much stock in love as a warm fuzzy feeling or the excitement in your gonads (though they are very nice!), at least not for the purpose of this discussion. Those things are mostly chemical reactions. They come and go of their own accord and you don’t have much control over them, so they don’t really affect the calculation. I mean love as an action, as things that you do and don’t do, or choices that you make.

Humans have the ability to put someone else’s welfare ahead of their own. This is our biggest strength, and what has allowed us to be the dominant species out of all the millions on our little planet. The reason why it’s an advantage is because of the low transactional cost that is possible when you simply give to another person, without a moment’s thought of how, when or whether you will be repaid.

Consider the cost of borrowing money from the bank (using the metaphor of money only because it’s a useful metaphor, not because it has any particular value). To do that, I have to establish a credit history over the course of years, by paying bills regularly (and I can only sign up for very small bill commitments at first, until I establish trust), I have to fill out an application form and maybe go to the bank in person. I have to sign a formal contract, which was drawn up by some very expensive lawyers to protect the bank from me, and details what the bank will grant me and what will happen if I don’t meet my obligations. Then I use my card to buy nerf guns on Amazon or whatever, and I have to jump through several security hoops to ensure that it really is me using the card. And finally I have to pay back the money, or if I fail to, I have to pay interest as well.

Whew! What a pain!

Compared to borrowing money from my dad: “How much do you need? A grand? Ok, I’ll have cash for you next week. No, don’t worry about paying it back. It’s coming out of your inheritance anyway.”

Much lower transaction cost! And this is what makes the family unit more valuable than the corporate unit. Granted some families are better than others (I won the lottery). But there is no corporation on earth that will spare one moment’s thought for your welfare once your relationship becomes too expensive for them – and dollars are the ONLY factor of expense that is counted, despite, in my opinion, being the least valuable of several available forms of currency. (Others being trust, time, affection, personal connections, favors, maybe you can think of others. I don’t count love itself as currency. It’s value is infinite and uncountable.)

The thing that makes family transactions valuable is trust. My family freely puts my welfare ahead of their own, because they trust that I will do the same when it’s my turn. And of course I do, when I have the option. However, being some 40 years younger than my parents and 26 years in debt to them, there is no way I will ever be able to fully repay what I owe them, nor am I expected to try. I simply do my best by paying it forward, to my brother, my cousins, my friends, my own children if I ever have any, and my parents to some smaller extent than what I actually owe. They in turn owe a similar debt to their parents, who are dead and will not collect. The wealth is passed forward and grown from generation to generation, and the previous generation is owed nothing because they already got theirs. Remember, by wealth I am not talking only about money, but the other forms of currency that I mentioned.

It’s hard to grow wealth when you base it around corporations – the trouble is that corps don’t add much value, they simply organize it and try to minimize waste, but they usually don’t succeed. You can see evidence of this with the most wealthy organizations in the world. They are family units – the Buffets, the Kennedies, the people who run Maersk, the surviving royal families. The corporation does get merged with the family, and it does have value, through organization and waste minimizing, like I mentioned. But a corporation on its own is a leech. It optimizes for money at the expense of everything else, even though money has no real value. It destroys the things that humans value much more highly – time, and freedom, joy in your work, good flow, easy interactions.

I don’t require blood ties or marriage to include someone in my definition of family. I have blood ties to people in Manitoba, obviously they’re nothing to me. I do count Shane, Corrie (my best friend, but I don’t think you ever met her), and, like it or not, you, as family members. I see no problem with including the members of your sports league, internet community, or military unit in that circle if it seems right to you, and gender/sexuality are not particularly factors either.

Again, the value comes from frictionless transactions – and I know that this is something you value, based on the way you’ve lived your life, avoiding the use of money whenever possible. Money, in fact, was only invented in the first place to reduce transaction friction between businesses and people, and only succeeded to a limited extent.

In conclusion, money is the least valuable form of currency, and without factoring love into your equation, you can’t draw any meaningful conclusions.