Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Is Populism the Way of the Future?

I watched the recent, heavily protested, Munk Debate between good buddies on the right, Steve Bannon and David Frum. The issue they were debating was, "Be it resolved, the future of western politics is populist, not liberal."

Spoiler alert, the results were a draw, in that the audience in general didn't change their opinion on the issue. At the end of the debate, the moderators revealed incorrect results indicating a sweeping win for Bannon, but here's their retraction:



72% of the audience still disagrees with populism regardless Bannon's arguments. Nobody defined populism throughout the evening, but I take it to mean politics that focuses or appeals to the ordinary person. It's an ideology that pits the common folk against the elites. It's being juxtaposed with liberalism, which generally means politics that focuses on individual liberty and equality, and an accusation of populism typical suggests that a politician will change their tune depending on popular opinion. I'm not sure they're as different as is being suggested, but I'll get to that at the end.

The Toronto Star reported on the protest on Friday. Twelve were arrested (mainly for trespassing and public mischief) and two officers were injured. Protesters interrupted the debate when Bannon first began speaking, but they were given a choice to either be quiet or leave, and things calmed down after that. Protesters took what's now labelled as a "no-platform" position that fights to deny a platform for profoundly bigoted views. There's an excellent thread by Bashir Mohamed on Twitter that explains the rationale, arguing that the belief that preventing the speech of hate groups will in any way harm the marginalized goes against all we've seen in history. The gist of it is here:
"Do you really think slaveowners, Nazis, and the Klan were defeated by a bunch of fucking 'free thinkers' in a debate hall? . . . Canadians allowed the Klan to operate in Canada until 2003 due to complacency. . . . Canadians allowed apartheid supporters a podium because of 'free speech.' Do you think this defeated apartheid? . . . Alberta allowed the Klan to be formally incorporated from the 1930s - 2003. . . . A more local example is from the 80s when U of T students protested the Klan's presence on their campus. They were lead by Gary Yee. How did the Government of Ontario respond? By saying the Klan had a right to 'free speech.' . . . It wasn't the 'free speech' advocates who defeated the Klan. But instead, it was activists like Gary Yee who reduced the power of the Klan through their advocacy. . . . After today, there will be even more columns from our predominately white pundit class. They will argue that the protesters were the ones who gave Bannon power. Instead, history shows us that those very pundits and those who stand in line are the ones who give him power."

We are clearly seeing a rise in supremacy groups, and Janet Reitman reports in today's New York Times Magazine that law enforcement officers don't know how to respond effectively to white nationalism.



She writes,
“The F.B.I. knows how many bank robberies there were last year,” says Michael German, an author of the Brennan Center report and a former F.B.I. agent, “but it doesn’t know how many white supremacists attacked people, how many they injured or killed.” More concerning to German, though, is that law enforcement seems uninterested in policing the violent far right. . . . In at least one instance, the police have in fact coordinated with far-right groups. In 2017, a law-enforcement official stationed at a rally in downtown Portland, Ore., turned to a member of a far-right militia group and asked for his assistance in cuffing a left-wing counterprotester, who had been tackled by a Proud Boy. “This is what public demonstration looks like in an era when white nationalism isn’t on the fringes, but on the inside of the political mainstream,” says Brian Levin, a former New York City police officer who now leads the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino.

So, why would the Munk Debates invite two similarly minded men to debate on such a non-issue right before an election? Here's one answer:
Why would any Canadian organize a local debate between two factions of the American corporatist right and try to pass it off as a serious policy dialogue between a conservative and a relative liberal, a notion that is preposterous on its face yet seems to be the predominating media narrative. Actually, this is easier to understand if we consider the apparent agenda of the organization behind last night’s event. Press Progress reminded us earlier yesterday that the Munk Debates are bankrolled by the Aurea Foundation, established in 2006 by the late Peter Munk, the Canadian gold-mining billionaire. The Aurea Foundation says on its website it “gives special attention to the investigation of issues related to the political and economic foundations of freedom, the strengthening of the free market system, the protection and enhancement of democratic values, human rights and human dignity, and the role of responsible citizenship.” Whatever that means in practice, former Munk Debate participants include Henry Kissinger and Tony Blair, so obviously the foundation isn’t allergic to war criminals.

So, there's that. I've written from the no-platform perspective before, and I agree that it's important to prevent the spreading of hate speech. It seems clear that allowing it to continue provokes acceptance of shooting unarmed migrants and killing protesters, and it's not unreasonable to fear even worse. But, once it's out there, it's important to listen to in order to call out the slippery debating tactics. This is loosely, but accurately, paraphrased or quoted from the debate, largely abridged because it was very repetitious.


BANNON'S POSITION
It's not a question of populism, but of whether we'll have populist nationalism or socialism. We have to go back to the inciting incident, [the bank bailout], on December 18th, 2008, in Washington, when Hank Paulson told Bush that we need $1 trillion by 5pm or the U.S. financial system will implode, and we'll have global anarchy. Nobody has brought the U.S. to its knees like that day, and it was the financial and corporate elites. . . . It wasn't a free bail out as pension funds were affected. The little guy bore the burden. 60% of jobs were gone.
Then he insisted that Trump had turned that around - to much audience laughter. This happened a few time. He'd say something that's an outright lie, and the audience would respond as if it's all a joke, and he'd comment, with a flirty grin, "It's a very tough crowd." He's a schmoozy kind of guy.
The party of Davos left a financial wasteland. It's why we have Brexit and Bolsonaro. Trump's economic nationalism doesn't care about your race. [laughter] Economic nationalism cares if you're a citizen. Populist nationalism is working and it's spreading. We're at the beginning of a new political revolution. The only question is if is national or the socialism of Corbyn and Sanders. The party of Davos and the elites have blown to many calls: the rise of China, $7 trillion spent on wars, deregulation that caused financial crises, and we're headed to another one. But the question here is what form of populism will win. . . . 
Why is the nation state so demonized and scorned? The alternative is socialism for the elites and brutal poverty for the poor. 
Bannon's rebuttals to Frum's points were all about soothing the fears of the little guy. We're going to take care of everyone and overthrow the elites. And then he added in lots of bald-faced lies about how much Trump has or is about to improve the economy, get back jobs, fix NAFTA, bring back manufacturing jobs, stop China gains through Mexico, make NATO work, support Muslims, work for the Black working class, etc. Bannon's playing the long game with Trump. "We're just in the top of the first inning. I believe we'll hold the Senate, and it's a dogfight over the House. It's a process. . . . Trump's getting his sea legs. . . . I haven't seen a bad decision from Trump yet." And he insists there's no correlation with Trump and the growing violence in the country: "The violence raised by the left is far worse. . . . Trump is an imperfect instrument, and the deplorables are the finest people."


FRUM'S POSITION
We hope to accomplish three things here: 1. to speak to those who are undecided. It's important. Bannon's politics offers you nothing. It doesn't care about you. It does not respect you. It is anger and fear that drives people to the polls. 2. to speak to those who see Trump for what it is and resist it. I know the fear many feel, and I stand to reignite your faith and speak to your courage. This is not the first time democrats faced thugs and dictators. They were wrong then, and they're wrong now. We're here to show that we are what our grandparents were, and we can face the challenges. And 3. for those who see Trump and support him anyway because they enjoy destruction. Bannon is burning everything down. We are nearing the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht. We understand burning non-metaphorically. You have been winning, but you will lose. And when you lose, your children will be ashamed of you. And the future will not belong to you.  And it starts tonight.   
I'm a conservative who seeks to conserve a liberal heritage. I want a state that doesn't steal, media that doesn't lie, courts that don't lie, and voting that counts every vote. Populism claims to speak for the people, but they begin by dividing people by religion, gender, race. Some of the people are not the people; they are those people. We see Trump doing this again and again. Populism will lose because it's a scam. . . . Liberal democracy is stronger than it looks.  
The failures of a good system are not the reason to turn to an evil one. We have to renew and repair. Bannon and I have one thing in common: we see the stress on middle class incomes. The populist response is to see this as opportunities to exploit and overthrow instead of flaws that need reform and constructive repair and renewal. Our choices are destruction or renewal, freedom or servitude with politics that excludes and oppresses part of the nation. . . . The idea of America first gets progressively less attractive when it leaves behind communities. We're stronger when we work cooperatively. This has been argued for 200 years: domination or potential fruitful cooperation. That's the key question. . . .  The cruel always think the kind are weak. . . . 
Populism is not interested in results. It's an attempt to exploit emotions to gain power. . . . The people can feel when they're respected and will demonstrate on Tuesday who they feel is not protecting them. The future belongs to those who care about it, not who will  immolate it for temporary gain. Populists don't know what to do; they only know who to hate. . . . These parties all have sinister connection to Russia power.
Frum's rebuttals to Bannon were largely a reiteration that we're going to fix the system from within, and a correction on all the Trump "facts," largely connecting corporate elites to the Trump administration, sometimes getting snarky: "If Trump thought blacks would vote for him, they would allow them to vote." When asked why Trump was able to win, he said it's all due to false promises around protecting health insurance. Trump offers no details, but presents a strong commitment to the people, and then nothing happens. "The best defense of Trump, is that the job's just too hard for him."


SO IT GOES... 

At this point, it just becomes clear they're both saying the same thing about how broken the system is. Can it be overthrown by elites that are so clearly part of it, or can it be fixed from within by elites that are so clearly part of it? Those were the options on offer. The people voted with Frum and against racism and laughable lies, which is good to see.

BUT, if you have 90 minutes to spare to watch a video, maybe watch this one instead:



Thomas Frank takes down both sides of this debate. He starts with Bannon's inciting incident: the bank bailout. "This was the turning point, but we missed the turn."

In a nutshell, he says,

The system needs to be fixed, but it won't happen on its own. The bailout happened under Bush, but Obama followed along, continuing Bush's policies unchanged. [The best illustration of this is the last ten minutes of Inside Job.] The Tea Party was a fake protest movement, and Paul Ryan was "down with big business," but then made it worse once in office. Trump's a "blue-collar billionaire." We're stuck in a vicious cycle of raging against elites by electing elites who make it all worse.

The Democrats used to stand for protecting the lower and middle class. But then they started saying there's nothing we can do about technology and globalization. They're more honest about their refusal to change the system. But it's not because they lacked the power to change things; they did it because they wanted to do it that way.

Back in the 70s, Democrats argued over who they were, but agreed on turning away from the New Deal fixation of the working class and embrace the post-industrial economy. They identified with the winners of the new order: the professional class. These were people who used to vote Republican. American liberalism started out as populist, but now it's all about winners, the "wired workers who will inherit the future." They're the creative class, the innovators, and we're encouraged to build zones in cities to lure them to come as if creativity and innovation are the property of a class. They protected the banks because these are their classmates.

This is only possible when the party on the left is not interested in its history of helping the working class. Meritocracy is faith that professionals deserve their rewards. They're all defined by how they did in school. Their solution for inequity is education. Instead of actually actively reducing inequity, they rationalize it. Frank's solutions are identical to Robert Reich's in Inequality for All: change the policies that allow the rich to get richer. It seems so easy, but it's not when the rich are your friends and peers.

According to Frank, who is very pessimistic about it all, this will end only when citizens take back the Democratic party. The most popular position is for them to hold big business accountable, but political consultants tell them not to, and they listen. And everyone in Washington hates Bernie Sanders.

He's concerned that, "The gravity of discontent pulls to the right." When people are upset or afraid, they vote conservatively, and the current Republican party is incompetent. Only two more sleeps.

ETA: Here's another good video of Frank where he explains how right-wing populism is a "freakish historical anomaly" that's only a few decades old. It's full of contradictions in that it "worships the working man while steadily worsening his conditions." The political divide was one the few against the many, but now it's the few against the few: the enlightened technocrats against the resentful billionaires. His solution this time: get the majority together and it will be unstoppable.

ETA: A Guardian series on populism.

Monday, November 12, 2018

On Kate Manne's Down Girl

With thorough argumentation and heavily footnoted facts brought to the table, Down Girl, by Kate Manne delineates misogyny from sexism and hopes "to offer a useful toolkit for asking, answering, and debating" (13) issues centred around misogyny.

Right off the bat, let's clarify that it's not remotely a man-hating thesis. It's about looking at how we all are affected by the beliefs floating around us.
"One need not be a man to be a misogynist either: women can fit the description too, as can non-binary people. . . . many if not most of us at the current historical juncture are likely to be capable of channeling misogynistic social forces on occasion . . . unwittingly policing and enforcing distinctively gendered norms and expectations but also, on my analysis, over-policing and over-enforcing gender-neutral and potentially valid norms, e.g., genuine moral obligations" (77).
A primary issue discussed is that women who compete for typically male-dominated roles, "will tend to be perceived as morally suspect in at least three main ways: insufficiently caring and attentive with respect to those in her orbit deemed vulnerable; illicitly trying to gain power that she is not entitled to; and morally untrustworthy, given the other two kinds of role violations" (xiv). Women have an extra layer of barriers to wade through to get to positions of powers because everyone (men and women) has been socialized to believe women are the caretakers of the world. It's similar to what Neil deGrasse Tyson describes in the world's reactions to his efforts to excel in science - the path of most resistance:


The Smell of Your Moral Judgement

"If you're going to tell people the truth, make it funny or people will kill you."   
                        - Billy Wilder

I just watched a series of videos (65 minutes if you watch them all in one go) by Innuendo Studios that were made specifically about the backlash against Anita Sarkeesian, the feminist who questioned some of the choices made by video game creators, but the ideas in these videos can be applied to explain the backlash to any social movement, like environmentalism.

First, they look at why people get so angry at other people who bike to work or are vegan or don't like to play rapey video games and put something else out there instead. Why do people treat feminists and environmentalists and anyone actively engaging their moral agency with contempt?  Because we're dealing with (paraphrased), "a condition, somewhat like drunkenness, in which some of us become a belligerent and dangerous asshole when we feel our conception of ourselves as moral human beings is being threatened."

One eco-hater said of Colin Beavan's attempt to live without an impact on the world, "People are traumatized if you suggest they should do something different."  And that's just it. When we live a certain way that's morally sound, other's feel judged by the bold decisions we've made to live our lives giving a thought to the rest of civilization. It prompts them to think, "If they're right, what does that say about me?" even if nobody's saying anything about them.

So when I say, "I've never owned a car." Other people hear, "You're a bad person for having a car." It probably doesn't help when I suggest we should all drive less and turn down/off the A/C!

And people don't think they should be made to think about these things. It's not nice.

They used an analogy to explain this feeling: Imagine we have a patch of weird skin that could be a mild allergy or it could be cancer. We're rather ignore it and not know for as long as possible than to find out the worst. Activists are like the doctor that barges in to tell you that you actually do have cancer and you've really got to do something about it immediately. And then they decide they'll go for a second opinion ... later.

The fourth and longest video explains the dynamics of the gamergate group that are specifically about bashing feminists, and the much larger group that just wants to enjoy their games guilt-free, and the dynamics between them that allow for denial of harmful behaviours to perpetuate.

We want to operate under the belief that it's acceptable to do wrong things and still be a good person provided we do them in innocence (i.e. ignorance). If we don't know that a behaviour is wrong, then it's okay to do it, so we actively avoid knowledge about sweatshops, slavery, racism.... We resent people who tell us about the negative consequences of our actions because we feel judged, but also because it robs us of our innocence.

And there's a belief that learning about the world is consciously choosing to be less happy. This isn't in the video series, but I think that's because we equate freedom with happiness to an extreme. We want free speech even if it means saying heinous things to one another. We want freedom to be armed to the teeth even if increases our chances of getting shot (or having our gun stolen at gunpoint). I believe we are actually happier with some boundaries and limits in place, fewer mundane choices, but more freedoms where it really matters (to criticize rulers, to make decisions about our bodies, and generally to do anything that doesn't have the potential to cause harm to anyone else).

The videos argue that that happiness thing has more to do with the idea that we think we're either good or bad, instead of labelling our specific actions good and bad, and I agree that's part of the problem too. We have to stop thinking of ourselves two-dimensionally as good guys and bad guys, and shift our focus on doing good acts.

Once we're given knowledge on a truth about the word, then it's hard to ignore it, and people become spiteful rather than ignorant. And spitefulness is hard to maintain. We want our innocence back, but we can never get there again. So some people prioritize the expression of their own feelings of anger over another person's well being.

Getting people on board is easier if we can be funny about it.  Comedians agree: In the video below comedian John Fugelsang says, "The burden you all have is you're the ones pushing morality on very comfortable people in the first world....And it's easier to do with good cheer!"



When Colbert made fun of gamergaters, it was a turning point for the fight.

It also helps if we all respond to some of the backlashy comments we come across in a calm, reasonable. and clear fashion, NOT to expect to persuade the original poster, but because we might persuade others reading the exchange - especially if we stay reasonable in the face of hysteria and focus on the arguments they present rather than exploring who they are. Even just 5% of us chiming on on comments can help, but don't not comment in hopes that someone else might. Silence merely allows the myths to be perpetuated.

(First posted July 19, 2015.)

So NOW What? On Power, Sexual Abuse, and Celebrity Culture

A little over year ago, when I first heard about Louis CK's abuse of power, I was going to write a post suggesting he might actually be the guy able to fess up, apologize sincerely, and lead the way for other men to admit to their abusive behaviours. I'm a big fan, and he sometimes has just the right tone that he might be able to manage something of that calibre. But I didn't finish anything because how I feel is just all too complicated. At the time I only got this far,
He's right out there about difficult issues, dark issues, presented in a light way. He seems to care enough about ethics to go deep into some harsh topics. He already has bits about pleasing women and sexual boundaries in his act. Just imagine if he came clean and actually talked about it, honestly, and with humour, as only he can. Imagine how quickly he could change everything if he apologized. Live. Imagine if he were brave enough to do the right thing and turned himself in and, after the typical slap on the wrist, or maybe even a brief stint in jail, he actually added that experience to his next special as a cautionary tale about his abuse of power. 
Imagine if he openly acknowledged the childishness of suggesting, because they just laughed when he asked if he could pull his dick out, that it was in any way a consensual act. Imagine if he explored his own power and revealed that he did it because he could, because he's in a place where he's become untouchable, so he is living without restraints on any behaviour. So he can do exactly what he like; and this is what he likes. And how dangerous that place is to be because lots of people like to do some weird stuff that couldn't happen without a power imbalance.
And then I watched in disbelief, for over a year, as he seemed completely unencumbered by the weight of his transgressions. He could have carved a path through it all, one that others could follow, but he maintained his course of denial. It didn't go away; instead it just festered around him. Now, even though Weinstein is so much worse by all accounts, his actions and his company's reactions and the many women who have come forward have been game-changers. The camel's back has finally broken.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

On Nagle's Kill All Normies

I just finally got around to Angela Nagle's Kill All Normies. It's a comprehensive book outlining the history and categorization of various groups online that have seeped into real life, but, although she mentions numerous scholars in her analysis, with zero endnotes and nary a reference section, it didn't surprise me to find that she's been accused of plagiarizing (see herehere, and here for some undeniable examples of lifted sentences and paragraphs). Some speculate that the book was rushed in order to be first out with this kind of content. The cribbing seems to be primarily explanations of terms or descriptions of events, but the analysis and compilation of these ideas into a whole appears to be her own work. I wouldn't let it slide in a classroom, and her editor/publisher should have caught it, but, as a reader, it's still compelling to see the various ideas assembled so succinctly.

There are so many terms being used to describe various views, so here's a brief and incomplete table of people, media affiliations, and basic characteristics I compiled as I read Nagle's book. It's all a little slippery and contentious, but it's a starting point. She's weeded out the racist alt-right from the more playful, yet shockingly offensive and sometimes harmful alt-light. I'm not convinced there's any clear consensus on any of this, though. We're all using the terms in slightly different ways, further muddying up the waters of the whole mess.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Water Wars and the Last Straw

The next world wars won't be about land or oil. They'll be about water. And Canada could be the next Iraq, invaded and decimated for the abundance of our natural resources. We have to stop corporate control over our most necessary resource now before it all slips out of our hands.

I watched Maude Barlow speak Thursday night in Guelph, and it was fitting it was in a church. I was in turns choking back tears and roused from my seat to applaud more than any preacher could compel me. She's a fascinating mix of intellectual brilliance and folksy warmth. She can rattle off an analysis of facts and figures at lightening speed, but as she signed my copy of her book and listened to me rave like a teenager about having her picture and words on my classroom wall, she put her hand on mine and looked into my eyes to thank me for being part of the fight. I saw Maude speak before, decades ago, and despite spreading the word far and wide since then, educated people in my midst still buy bottled water. "But I like the taste." Drinking water from the tap is a small price to pay (actually you'll save a fortune) for public control over waterways.

The evening was hosted by the Wellington Water Watchers, a small group of dedicated people with a huge fight on their hands. Our hands. Spokesperson Arlene Slocombe referred to Nestle as a multinational predator in our midst. They've been drawing water from Aberfoyle (near Guelph) and Hillsburgh (near Erin) for years, and now they've gotten hold of Middlebrook (near Elora). Studies have found that the quantity water in Middlebrook was needed for the citizens. The township offered to buy the land, but Nestle outbid them with full knowledge of the effect it will have on the people in the area. Profits over people all the way.

When Nestle's permit expired in July 2016, the provincial government passed a law that allowed Nestle an unlimited extension without any transparency. Wynne thinks the solution is to raise the fees for corporate water extraction, but that will have a negligible effect on the outcome. Nestle will profit from climate change, which is the foundation of Klein's concerns around disaster capitalism. We must put the public's right for water first, and overwhelming public support and political pressure is necessary to stop the renewal of permits. Aberfoyle is up for renewal now, and Hillsberg is coming up next summer. Nestle pays fees and taxes to the municipality it's situated in (for Aberfoyle, money goes to Puslinch, but the water draw also affects Guelph), so sometimes poorer municipalities prioritize immediate cash over the future livability of the area.


WHAT CAN WE POSSIBLY DO? 
(Barlow's words are further down, below the selfie. This is the important bit.)

Personally:
Check out all that Nestle owns (brands are all listed here and in this graphic or get the buycott app for your phone), and boycott Nestle products. Then take another step to tell them about it.
Socially:
Tell your friends and family about the issue. Tell everyone on social media. Start a petition. Tweet it to celebrities and TV producers en masse. Nothing changes a society's behaviour as quickly as regular-type sit-com characters changing their behaviour. Remember when Rachel changed her hair? Boom! If the cast of Brooklyn Nine-Nine carried re-usable water bottles and were shown filling them from the tap instead of carrying bottled water and hanging around the water dispenser, it could change people's mindless behaviours.
Locally:
Call, e-mail, and/or visit your Mayor to insist we ban single-use water bottles in our city like Montreal's trying to do or, at the very least, ban them in all municipal events and buildings. The Blue Community Project can help it happen in your area. So far 18 municipalities in Canada have succeeded in this ban. They're early adopters of this new mentality. At times the speakers seemed to suggest that a Nestle boycott would be enough to save the day: "Just close your wallet!", but Chomsky says personal boycotts have the same effect as committing suicide. I signed the pledge card, but I'd argue that they're useful mainly for our own sense of integrity. To really fix things, we need to legislate Nestle out of business by petitioning municipalities (and provinces and the whole flippin' world) to ban bottled water everywhere.
Provincially:
Call, e-mail, and/or make an appointment to see your MPP. Tell them Wynne has to get tougher with Nestle. It's not enough to just raise the fees. She has to stop them from selling the water that our municipalities need to flourish.
Federally:
Call, e-mail, and/or make an appointment to see your MP. Tell them that Trudeau has to reinstate the acts decimated by Harper: the Fisheries Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and the Navigable Water Protection Act. (See below for more info on this one.) Tell them that if he doesn't, then we may as well be living under Harper's rule. No shirtless photo op will make you forget that he allowed Harper's mess to continue unabated. (Maybe don't tell them that last bit.)
Still PUMPED about it?  Then get involved with...
The Council of Canadians, the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance, and/or the Wellington Water Watchers. If you're local, then show up to Guelph council this Monday, Sept. 26. There's a rally at 5:00 and you can try to follow Councillor James Gordon in at 6:30 (if they'll let everyone in). He plans to introduce a motion asking council to send a letter to the province opposing Nestle's application.



WHY DO WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING?

Here's what Maude told us (highly paraphrased - she spoke a mile a minute - and organized so I can make sense of it all, but linked. Note that some links go to corporate sites to illustrate the types of profit-driven arguments being made on the other side of the issue.):

We Don't Have as Much as We Think:

The world is in crisis, and Guelph is a microcosm of these world issues. We're in a place where we've been conned by a myth of abundance. Most of Canada's fresh water is in the north. The available water in the south is decreasing yearly. Canadian lakes are warming more than anywhere else, and there's no protection for groundwater. It hasn't even been mapped yet, so we don't really know how much we actually have.

We dump toxins and sewage in our water making it largely undrinkable. Europe has much higher standards around polluting water. CETA  (the new TTIP) will make this whole situation much worse. If CETA is passed (there are some constitutional challenges from Germany right now), and Nestle is denied rights to water, Nestle will be able to sue us.  Right now Coke and Pepsi can sue (with an ISDS) because they're American companies. But Nestle's European. CETA is not yet signed, so they can't sue yet. There's not enough public understanding of how CETA works and how damaging it will be.

Legislation has been Dismantled:

The National Water Act of 1970 handed power to the provinces, so most activist work needs to be done at the provincial level. Federally, Environment Canada's water budget is starved. There's a loophole in the Fisheries Act that allows the government to essentially designate lakes in order to allow dumping in them. About four years ago, under Harper, bill C-38 gutted the Fisheries Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and bill C-45 removed protection for 95% of our lakes and rivers originally protected under the Navigable Water Protection Act (which was originally drafted in 1881!). These moves were on a directive from the Energy Industry.

Our Jobs Shouldn't Destroy our Lives and our Future:

Our manufacturing used to be 26% of GDP, and now it's 11% because our jobs have moved overseas. We're turning to our natural resources for jobs, but it's having a disastrous effect. 11 million litres of toxic waste are leeching into water every day around the Alberta tar sands. Alberta will be first water-insecure province. The Energy East Pipeline would cross 3,000 waterways and put the drinking water of 5 million Canadians at risk. For the past 30 years, pipelines in Canada have averaged three breaks per day. It's not a matter of if they'll break, but when. BC and Alberta are fracking and mining due to a move to public-private partnerships (PPPs). Suez and Veolia, water 'servicing' corporations profiting off human need, argue that once we're in a PPP agreement, then they must be compensate if any municipality breaks their contract with them. There's also serious issues with allowing water trading (already started in Alberta), water pollution trading (euphemistically called 'water quality trading'), and water exporting. We already export bottled water, all in plastic, to the tune of close to 465 billion litres of bottles a year.

Politicians are Acting Cowardly:

This is a global fight. Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, CEO of Nestle, thinks the human right to water is ridiculous. He's also the advisor to the World Bank Water Resources Agenda 30/30 that delivers water to poorer people worldwide. This is a conflict of interest, and an abominable abuse of power. It's also a local fight (that's being watched across the pond). Nestle pays less than $15 per day for the water they take in Aberfoyle. 11,000 people of the Six Nations have no access to running water. Two-thirds of First Nations have been under drinking water advisories here in the past few years. It's a travesty that's largely being ignored.

Provincial politicians "clearly don't know what they're doing." They just want to raise the fees attached to taking the water, which will have a negligible effect on a huge corporation like Nestle. This is our water, and Nestle needs to leave this community.

Federally, Trudeau had some positives in his budget. He added a lot to water and waste water services in First Nations communities and into the fisheries an oceans, but he didn't increase allotments to Environment Canada. If they don't undo the damage by reinstated the gutted bills, it'll be as if Harper is still in office. Trudeau launched consultations on those acts instead of reinstating them because the oil and water industries are pushing back. We must tell MPs that they have to fight for this for us.

This is all Possible!!:

"Boiling Point is a cry from my heart to yours." We have to abandon the erroneous belief that Canada has lots of water. We need a federal plan to protect our groundwater. We need to ban pipelines, fracking, and bottled water. We need justice for First Nations. We need a new water ethic that overrides all policies involving water use or that has an impact on water (agriculture, trade deals, etc.). Water is a public trust. It must not be allowed to be taken piece by piece.

Oscar Olivera was leader of first fight in the water wars in Bolivia. Bechtel privatized water and tripled the price and fined anyone capturing rainwater. People fought back and got Bechtel to leave. He explained his dedication with this line: "I would rather die of a bullet than thirst." This is similar to Mike Mercredi's struggle right here. He lives with the tar sands, and when children swim in lakes nearby, they get covered in sores and cysts. He says, "It would be kinder to come in with guns and kill them quickly."

At Site 41, near Barrie, people fought a dump being scheduled on top of an aquifer of exceptionally clean water. In the spring of 2011, Mayors were ready to go ahead with it for the tax money. Equipment was moved in, but First Nations women set up a peace camp and held prayers on the road in front of traffic. They were able to stall the equipment all summer until the frost made the work impossible. Their arrest was ordered, and the community was split three ways on the issue. Pro-dump, pro-water, and undecided. Then one of the leaders of the pro-dump group was presented, by his grandchildren, with the opposition's sign. They pleaded with him, and he announced his job description had changed to being a steward of the water.


THE LAST STRAW (my two cents on activism):

This event was covered by Guelph Today news, and the Council of Canadians site, where both report a 'packed hall' or a 'big crowd'. The thing is, it wasn't all that packed. I was worried about getting a seat, but there were many to choose from. Papers like to suggest that this is important news because everyone who's anyone was there, but in reality this is really important news because so few were there. So few people, particularly younger people (I felt like I was younger than most there), are concerned or "woke" enough to come to a talk or rally or write their MPP or try to fix this vital and life-threatening problem in any concrete way. Writing about small numbers won't sell papers, but it's an important part of reporting the problem. Hopefully it was truly packed in Toronto last night.

When I talk to students about what effective activism looks like, they often focus on people who became famous. Martin Luther King Jr. is a name they hold up as the model of an activist that changed the world. But then activism becomes something far too difficult for an ordinary person to do. How do we possibly get thousands of people to follow us? How do we write and deliver all those speeches? It's not in the skill set of the best of us.

I tell them to keep in mind that MLK didn't start the civil rights movement. He was there at a high-point in the movement, when things dramatically turned a corner. But, and he's said as much, the movement started decades earlier with thousands of people whose names you've never heard and wouldn't recognize. He happened to be the last straw that broke the backs of a racist system. He didn't make it happen. The people who paved the way before him, each one of them were absolutely necessary for the country to galvanize around him. And we never know when we'll hit that corner, when we could be that last straw.

We have to add ourselves to the numbers. We can't do this for fame or fortune; we can't expect that we will be the ones to save the world. We have to work on these issues knowing we likely won't be known or remembered for our work, but it's simply the right thing to do. That people are suffering, literally dying of thirst, so a corporation can increase its profits by duping the public is a travesty. Barlow said the fight is on our doorstep, but I say it's right in our home. This world is where we live, and Nestle needs to get the fuck out.



Tuesday, May 22, 2018

On Reading and Writing

I teach grade 12 university-level philosophy, and I teach it as a university prep-course. So we read primary sources, and we write essays longer and more complex than the standard five paragraphs. And then I brace myself for the complaints.


Why do we have to read about other philosophers? Why can’t we just explore our own philosophy?

I heard this one in art courses too, back when I actually taught art: “Why can’t we just discover our own style?” And I don’t just get it from the students but from parents too. “School should be about self-discovery,” they argue. “These other people are mainly dead, anyway. They don’t matter any more.” And then the real problem surfaces: “This is too hard for them. I can barely read it!”

I answer this the same way every year. First of all, I acknowledge that reading primary sources is the hardest thing many of them have ever been asked to do in their lives of Wikipedia-driven research methods, skimming, and cutting corners. Most textbooks are even summaries of summaries with lots of sub-headings and pictures and cartoons to allow weaker readers to decipher meaning from a variety of cues. Sometimes they're so simplified, they're devoid of real meaning. And here I am with the nerve to cruelly hit them with black text on a white background full of big words, sometimes olden-day words, and long, complicated sentences. These aren’t books they’re given, but just pieces of essays: a bit of Mill, some Thoreau, a dash of Aristotle.... And they’re assigned after reading several bits of essays and discussing what they mean together as a class. We take baby steps but all within one semester - the one semester that's most vital for university admittance.

I give them a strategy: Slow down! Stop at the end of every sentence and write down the main idea in your own words AND what you think about it. Is he on to something, or is there a problem with this line of reasoning? Then after a couple days, I give them my cheat sheet on the reading with the main idea of each section in my own words, in point form, with page numbers. If they couldn’t wade through this first reading successfully, they had a back-up. Baby steps.

But I do insist then learn to read for real. Why? Because the more they tackle difficult texts, the better they'll get at it. It opens avenues for understanding ideas that would have previously been inaccessible. Once they get it, once they see that they CAN struggle through a text and understand it on their own (and learn that it IS a struggle), then they can attack any reading material.

And I insist they learn about other philosophies before discovering their own theories. This raises a good Plato vs Aristotle debate. Plato suggests knowledge is inside us to be brought forth through contemplation and a good teacher who can ask the right questions and turn our eye in the right direction, while Aristotle would have us go out into the world to explore and experiment and put ideas together in a new way that’s our own. The schools are leaning more and more towards Plato’s ideal, but I’m firmly in the Aristotle camp.

My argument is a bit of a Pascal’s wager focusing on the possibility of error because we really don't know what's best. If it’s actually correct that we learn more from exploring past ideas, and we don’t do that with students, then students have lost the chance to learn that content since they’re unlikely to pick it up on their own. But if it’s actually correct that we learn more through questioning our own thoughts, and we keep trying to explore dead people's theories anyway, then we haven’t harmed anything in the process. Students can still sit and think after we’ve shown them other people’s ideas.

What's curious to me is how often they think that getting my help with a reading is cheating. I ask, "How do you think you best learn without help from someone who's learned this before?" Somewhere they've gotten the idea that they should be able to just know the answers, or find them themselves online, but they shouldn't have to ask any questions. I tell them I'm looking for a course on Heidegger right now because I'm stuck in the readings, and no online summary can help. I need a real live person to answer specific questions about specific lines. That's how we develop an understanding of a new topic. I believe that if you can do everything you attempt with ease, then you're not challenging yourself enough.

Furthermore, without the basics, many students run into issues that have been discussed for centuries. Learning about previous arguments gives them a head start towards developing better ideas. Most of us entering a new field don't know what we don't know; we don't recognize our weaknesses until we start to explore the strong ideas passed down and debated and discussed and tweaked for millennia. And the reality is, some people don’t have many ideas to share. They're a blank slate. They need a starting point, typically something they can argue against to get them really thinking.

And there's always the ability to impress others with a well-timed quote from a famous philosopher thrown into a conversation that makes people look at you a little bit differently.

And then we get to their own ideas.


Can you sign my drop form?

A chunk of the class drops out before the summary of that first reading is due. They didn't expect to have to read and think. It's too hard. And I worry about their ability to manage in university. But that raises the question of whether it’s better to give them easy work so they have high marks to get in to university, or to give them challenging work so they can be more successful once they're already in university where failing a course means throwing money down the drain. If they can't get into university in the first place, then having the skills that would have been useful there are wasted, right? And this is an elective course; shouldn’t it be just for fun?

Can't it be fun and intellectually demanding? Aren't they the same thing?!

Ideally, we’d be challenging students significantly in grade 10 - the last year that isn't scrutinized by university entrance committees. That should be the year of rigour when we really push reading and writing skills, ensure a strong knowledge of grammar and syntax, and demand clearly cited primary sources. But it’s pretty inconsistent because, as a profession, we don’t share the same learning goals. Many teachers believe grammar comes to us as we read and doesn’t need to be formally taught, and then I have to explain principal clauses to my grade 12s.

And it's hard to watch students struggle. It's hard to be the one who keeps pushing them to keep trying something that's difficult. Despite my course getting a little easier year after year, and despite using similar assignments, students are stressed out as never before. They need to skim and toss off a bit of writing quickly because they have so many other obligations in their lives. They have to work in order to afford university, and they need to be involved with many activities because it looks good on their applications. On top of that, they take 8 courses in a year that we encourage only 6. They feel like they'll be behind if they take a 5th year, so they cram too many courses into their last year rather than spread them out. I tell my 10s to take 8 courses in grades 9 and 10, then 6 each in 11, 12, and 5th year. Take the most courses possible; it's the last chance to take advantage of free education! But they're in too much of a hurry for that nonsense. It's all a huge competition, and there's a scarcity of rewards at the end.

I’ve known students who had 80s and 90s in high school, then actually failed classes in university. These are bright, hard-working students who were ill prepared. And that discovery costs them real cash dollars. This is the wall they hit due to grade inflation: 80s are the new 60s. My exams are a little easier every year because I do bow slightly to parental pressure. I’m teaching less depth, marking easier, and the grades show it. If my average were in the high 60s, like everyone's were fifteen years ago, then I wouldn't have a course to teach. Nobody would take it because they need high marks for university. But kids who might have had 60s and taken a different road a decade ago, are going to university with 80s and ending up on academic probation. That can be an expensive lesson for them, and it's not really their lesson to learn.

Some universities are reporting rising failure rates and professors offer solutions not dissimilar to my own:
"25% of high school students with A-averages in high school face being kicked out of universities in first year . . . We need to engage students by making everything more difficult . . . force students to think about things, to learn instead of memorizing."
One Trent University prof, Alan Slavin, noted a dramatic failure rate increase in his own classes, and, after some research, found it's mainly "an Ontario thing":
"Professor James Côté and co-author, Anton Allahar, in their recent book Ivory Tower Blues: A University System in Crisis, blame a general student disengagement with learning as source of the problem. However, most of the students I see are not so much disengaged as poorly trained for university expectations. Students’ ability to do analysis and synthesis seems to have been replaced by rote memorization and regurgitation in both the sciences and the humanities. . . . There is always a certain amount of material that must be memorized, but knowledge of facts makes up only a small component of one’s learning. More important is the ability to relate these facts in new ways, to see them in a new light, and to bring quite disparate ideas together to solve new problems or create new forms of art. This ability to analyze and synthesize is what makes good scientists, writers, philosophers and artists. It is the ability needed to drive a knowledge-based economy."
Can't it be both student disengagement and poor training? But, from what I see, it's not so much disengagement from the subject matter as from the requirement to do the work of thinking and analyzing the material. That's hard and time consuming, largely because it so new. Slavin goes on to lament that a third of students don't hand in assignments or don't read feedback on assignments to learn where they've gone wrong. They're just jumping through the hoops instead of trying to learn something useful. He blames this on changes to Ontario curriculum over the past twenty years that have made it much more content-heavy such that, from grade 1, time isn't spend in learning to understand concepts; there's only time to memorize.


Why essays? We should just learn the ideas and make posters about them. Why do we have to follow a format? What are in-text citations anyway? Other teachers are okay if we just put a list of urls at the end. Teachers shouldn't have set expectations, but should change their rubrics based on what each student can do.

Learning how to write within a consistent format is like learning the rules of a game in phys ed. We could let people determine their own rules and make up their own games, but we’ve established some useful techniques already that have been working for us. We offer some variations from time to time, but the basics are useful to follow. If we all understand the rules, then we can all play together, and people from all over the world can join in.

Over centuries, we've figured out a way to convey information in a clear manner such that, if everyone follows the general structure, we'll all be able to understand one another. If writing is clear, coherent, and precise, then we can discuss each other's ideas unhampered by questionable metaphors and illustrations. A poster or story or stream of consciousness piece or interpretive dance just can't clarify ideas in a focused way like an essay can. There is still room for creativity in an essay, but it's in the ideas themselves, not in a collage on the title page sewn to the essay with yarn. I fear that leaning on other media is a fool's game of hiding weak ideas.

When papers are written clearly, with flawless grammar and spelling, and a subtly demarcated format, then the style of communication can fall into the background, paving a road for the ideas to travel. Like learning formal theory in art, some people have all the elements of design IN them. They can just sit down and create things that are appealing aesthetically and interesting. The rest of us need to learn some guidelines, sit with them, and get them under our skin by using them over and over before we can take off from there.  Unfortunately it's been my experience that the extent to which people believe they can just write free-form in a way that’s coherent to others has no correlation to how good they are at it.

Back in the old school days, we learned how to cite sources using index cards and an assignment that sent us all to the public library when we were in grade four. I still have that project on Cats in Ancient Egypt. It was exciting to be dropped off on a Saturday and meet up with others there to look up books without a teacher or parent watching over us. And citing sources was an expectation of every grade after until, by high school, it was second nature. Now, because there's not the space for this in earlier grades, it's a hardship in high school. But having one consistent way of clarifying where information was found is necessary for readers. And MLA (or Chicago or APA) is the way we've decided on as a group. We all just have to get with the program on this one.

Citing sources properly, with all the necessary information, has never been more important as it is with internet research. If it's not clear who wrote an article, or if their name is "squeekee478," then it could be a questionable source. Scouting around a website, following the "About" link and the "Contact Us" link, is an imperative part of good research skills in this century.

Without set standards and expectations to work towards, we're not really teaching. I can encourage a student to throw a ball over and over that never hits the side of the barn. Without the goal of establishing the best technique, and getting students to work to master closer and closer approximations to the target behaviour, I'd just be watching random unfocused attempts. The attempts might get them closer to the target eventually by sheer chance, but the established techniques could get them there faster and with greater precision. Unpacked, what I hear some students saying is, "I should never be evaluated on something I’m not naturally good at without effort." But then we're not evaluating what was learned. (Keep in mind an evaluation of an essay is JUST an evaluation of how well you write not on who you are or your value in this world.)

These are standards that can get worn down with every complaint. What keeps me firmly rooted is the occasional student who has come back from university to visit and to tell me that this course really helped them have a step up. They watched others struggle with a 4-page essay, and thought, "Four pages? That's nothing!" I tell parents and students that, but they're dubious.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

On Peterson, Political Correctness, and Postmodernism

Peterson was on Bill Maher last month. They're both people that have some clever ideas, but also promote a few questionable notions in a way that's slick enough to just get a pass from some intelligent people instead of necessarily getting the scrutiny deserved. Here's an innocuous and pleasant exchange between mutual fans:




ON POLITICAL CORRECTNESS:

In the video Maher defined political correctness as, "the elevation of sensitivity over truth," and lamented the "emotional hemophiliacs" who will bleed at the littlest thing, but instead of avoiding sharp objects, they make the world cover everything in bubble wrap. Peterson went one step further: "It's more like the elevation of moral posturing of sensitivity over truth." He explained a bit about resilience: "Security doesn't come from making the world safe, because that's not possible. You make people resilient by exposing people to things that make them uncomfortable . . . over-coddling leads to stupid and narcissistic people."

Monday, April 16, 2018

On Wasting Time


I had a brief Facebook conversation with Massimo Pigliucci about my decision to fritter away a morning watching the rain and petting my cat. He said, "It's up to you to determine whether your morning was wasted or not. But from a Stoic perspective the good use of time comes when one is doing something virtuous." And I started wondering further about what specifically counts as wasted time. So I turned to a thorough re-reading of Seneca's On the Shortness of Life. Here are the bits that stood out to me with chapters noted after each quotation:

Seneca points out that people complain about the cruelty of nature because life is short, even Aristotle did, but it's not short, it's just that we waste much of it (1). Then he lists many examples of what a waste of time looks like:
"soft and careless living...no worthwhile pursuit....held in the grip of voracious avarice....diligence that busies itself with pointless enterprises....sodden with wine....slack with idleness....tired out by political ambition, which always hangs on the judgment of others....desire for trading...in hope of profit....passion for soldiering....striving after other people's wealth....thrown...by a fickleness that is shifting" (2).

Friday, March 9, 2018

Johann Hari's Lost Connections

"There's violence to knowing the world isn't what you thought. . . . Sometimes the world doesn't make a lot of sense, but how we get through it is, we stick together, okay?" - Gloria Burgle, Fargo


I watched Joe Rogan's interview with (interrogation of) Johann Hari about his new book, Lost Connections. Rogan wasn't quite buying what Hari is selling, which is unfortunate because his premise is intriguing. He told a few stories through the podcast, but his book, while still a casual read, is heavily footnoted, and his view thoroughly supported with the most up-to-date peer-reviewed research. He even encourages us to "Kick the evidence. See if it breaks. The stakes are too high for us to get this wrong" (14). It's just this: Anxiety and depression are not primarily caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, and drugs only work a little bit for very few people.

He needs all the footnotes because his claims are extraordinary, and the worst thing would be if this were seen as a mere conspiracy theory against Big Pharma. This is just a brief summary without all the data and examples. He interviewed many contemporary researchers and compiled the evidence necessary to convince the masses of our wrong turn on this one. And it's not about the cellphones!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Monbiot's Out of the Wreckage

The book cover says the book "provides the hope and clarity required to change the world." Well, he certainly tries. He's got a plan of action that's possible, but I didn't get the requisite hope necessary to be spurred to action. It's a bit of an overview of many ideas from different places, many of which are already in action somewhere in the world, and it left me with a solid  book list to peruse, but it also left me with a sinking feeling that this will never work. We're never going to get our shit together enough to do any of this. But I've been wrong before.

The first part is a mix of Charles Taylor's notion of social imaginaries, Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine, Robert Reich's Inequality for All, and Noam Chomsky's talks on solidarity. Then he gets into specifics about our ideas around our communities, environment, economics, and democracy.

He starts with the idea that we need a new story to guide us. Our cultural mythologies (or social imaginaries) give us the range of behaviours that seem reasonable. Monbiot describes it as "narrative fidelity":

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny

I finally got to this pocket-sized book, which is full of the kind of lessons that were passed down from my folks and that I've been saying for decades and of some others that I'm hearing over and over in the past year. The behaviours are nothing new, and it is good to be reminded, but it's the background that's missing from my summary: Snyder's (no relation) clear link between pre-holocaust behaviour and now, what helped and what hindered. From a thorough understanding of history, Snyder gleaned twenty tips to help us avoid global catastrophe or at least preserve some semblance of freedom for ourselves in the coming years:
"The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why" (11).
I merged them all down to five to better remember them all:


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

On Sartre and Syria

I'm struggling with the concept of "bad faith" right now as it relates to our reaction to tragedies.  Sartre thinks some people use tragedies to feel better about themselves – they may sign petitions, side with the working class, etc.– while still not seriously questioning themselves.  And this is my concern.  I'm a letter-writer and FB "like" clicker, but am I just pretending to act, or are these authentic acts in their own right?  Is it an act in bad faith if I make a feeble attempt to help because I'm merely following my role?  Essentially, what does it look like to question ourselves and our responsibility in the wake of tragedy?

There's something very Groucho about him!

Sartre explains
 that bad faith is illustrated when we divorce ourselves from our actions or when we make any claim to more limited choices than we actually have.  It's what we do when we don't really want to take responsibility for what we're doing - pretending not to notice a hand on our knee, or pretending we had to do x because of the potential for some mild social disapproval.  We're inauthentic when we don't admit our part in the game.  It's a dishonesty with ourselves.  This is what existentialism is chiefly about: challenging the individual to examine their life for intimations of bad faith and to heighten their sensitivity to oppression and exploitation in their world.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Stoicism Compared to Existentialism

This summer, I went on one camping trip with a book on Stoicism, then another camping trip with a book on Existentialism, and I was intrigued by the many similarities. Then I came across this video that has some overlap with what I had noticed. As they say in the video, Massimo Pigliucci (MP) on Stoicism and Skye Cleary (SC) on Existentialism, both are philosophies that offer a way to live instead of just a way to think about the world. I'm putting it all together here with quotes (names linked to sources) to sort it out for myself. I'm just thinking out loud here. This is too long for any normal person to want to read.

These are both philosophies that allow surveyors to pick and choose from variations on a theme as neither has one authoritative dude overriding all others, and, it would appear, few of the big guns cared to adopt either label anyway. For the Stoics, defining yourself as one is avoided because it's pretentious. In The Role Ethics of Epictetus, it's clarified that we are simultaneously different things, and how we play each role is more important than what our roles are. The roles are often not our choice, but how we do them are, i.e. whether or not we're a virtuous son, mother, teacher, or waiter (MP). For Existentialists, we can't be defined by the roles we take on because we're more than the mere facts about ourselves (SC), so labels become meaningless.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Russell on Happiness

Some Bertrand Russell quotations have been floating around lately, so I read The Conquest of Happiness, first published in 1930, and, boy, did I need this right now! The main ideas and some bits I liked are below by chapter. The book is really just a mix of Stoicism and Epicureanism, so you could just read that instead, but they're not nearly as palatable. This summary is really long, but not nearly as long as the book!


Part I: Causes of Unhappiness

1: What Makes People Unhappy? 

This chapter has some racist bit, but I imagine he was still more progressive than most at the time. We won't throw the baby out with the bathwater at any rate. He raises his thesis here: we can only be happy by being prudent with desires and by focusing outward. 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Nader's Interview with Chomsky

Ralph Nader interviewed Noam Chomsky last Saturday about Chomsky's new book Requiem for the American Dream and film of the same title currently on Netflix. He's trying every type of media to spread this understanding of history, to "throw fact against myth."

I saw the film back in December and outlined his ten-point plan then. The interview followed that format as well, so I'll just summarize the key points here as succinctly as possible. The following is all made of direct or close to direct quotations from Chomsky with bits of Nader included. Check out the transcript if you want the whole thing verbatim to mine for quotes. This is just the idea.


Monday, May 22, 2017

Chomsky's Requiem for the American Dream

This is Chomsky's last long-form documentary. It came out in January, but I hadn't heard about it until recently. I paraphrased/transcribed the 72 minute video liberally with links to further readings below.

It's about the American Dream: the idea that you can be born poor but work hard enough for a home and car and good schools - that's all collapsed. We profess to like the values of democracy, so public opinion should have an influence on policy and the government should carry out actions determined by the population, but the privileged sector doesn't like democracy. We have extreme inequality with a super wealthy group in the top 1/10th of the top one percent. It's unjust in itself, but it's got a corrosive effect on democracy.

The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power

Concentration of wealth yields concentration of power, especially as costs of elections skyrocket forcing politicians into the pockets of corporations. This translates into legislation that increases the concentration of wealth through fiscal policy (taxes, deregulation, rules of corporate governance) designed to increase the concentration of wealth and power in a vicious cycle of progress.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

On Our Rape Culture: Rehtaeh Parsons' Unfortunate Legacy

On the wake of the series 13 Reason's Why gaining a following on Netflix, with some teens actually planning to wear blue nailpolish on April 24th to commemorate the life and untimely death of a fictional character, maybe it's necessary to be reminded of this real life Canadian case. In that case April 7, 2013 is the day to remember.

Rehtaeh Parsons was a victim of assault and revenge porn enacted and filmed by a bunch of teenaged boys who had more power than they might have ever imagined: they could kill from a distance. As Elizabeth Renzetti says of these double-barrel assaults, they are, "not just an act of violence but a spectator sport." And here we thought we had come so far from the bloodlust days of the Colosseum.

The act isn't dissimilar from torturing an animal and showing pictures to people.  It's a behaviour that is absolutely depraved.  Who looks at those types of visuals without looking differently at the goon who took them?  Unfortunately, there's enough of an audience that we need to be afraid.  For some people, their body responds to the visuals even if their brain might hope it didn't.  So clips are saved and circulated endlessly.

Circulating the film is also a mean of re-shaming the act.  After years of the rally cry, "Rape is a crime, not a shame!" some perpetrators are working hard to make people ashamed to be raped for obvious reason:  if they're embarrassed by it, they won't tell.  But Rehtaeh did tell.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

On Student Stress

I've been teaching long enough to have watched a generation of students file passed me. It's fascinating from a social science standpoint because I can watch trends evolving before my eyes. And, being a bit of a hoarder, I've kept everything I've used and all my marks along the way, so I feel like I have a good handle on changes in this population. And they are stressed out like never before.

To get my Challenges of Change kids in the head space of demographic changes in general, I talked to them about why stress has increased for teenagers, and this is what we came up with.

The first suggestion was that there's just too much work to do. But my many binders of old curriculum show the opposite. In my classes over the past 25 years, I've given progressively less work. The exams from my early career are significantly more focused on nit-picky details and few would be able to pass them today. They were also significantly longer, one requiring two opinion essays in half an hour! Now, I might give one opinion essay in an hour - four times the earlier duration. And I couldn't imagine implementing the standards of yore. So, from my anecdotal evidence (and that of colleagues), the stress level is higher with a diminished workload. How does that happen?

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Swiss Army Man


I first saw this at the theatre and, despite the fact that it starts with a whole lot of farting in a wide variety of tones and tempos, the ending is deeply moving. The surface story is about Hank, trapped on a deserted island - sort of - who finds a dead body, Manny, who slowly comes back to life - sort of, and they try to get back home in a Wizard of Oz kind of way. Here are a few different things I think it could be about; I'll likely read much into it because it had me thinking and questioning at every turn. Authorial intention be damned! There are a ton of spoilers, but they won't really ruin anything. This is a film that can be watched over and over.