Friday, September 17, 2021

On Gun Control

I've been observing many gun control arguments online and in the classroom (also online) recently. I've written about this before, once after Sandy Hook and then after a Stoneman Douglas shooting surviver put the onus on school staff to keep kids safe. This one's closer to home, so I finally got around to sorting out my views on a whole assortment of gun-supporters' typical claims (presented largely in my own words and entirely without indications of where they're from in case people don't want their views known here). I'll follow my own classroom rules for arguing: take the most charitable read of a person's point, indicate points of agreement, and only then indicate points of disagreement. It got ridiculously long, so here's the general trajectory of my position with links to each section, and there are bolded bits throughout for faster skimming:

     A Very Brief History of Gun Control in Canada
     It's Undemocratic!
     The Regulations are Nonsense
     Semi-Automatics Aren't Necessary
     Semi-Automatic Weapons are Unnecessary and Upsetting
     Semi-Automatics Can Get in the Wrong Hands
     The Buyback is One More Way to Decrease Gun Deaths
     Violence is a Bad Thing
     Random Assertions and Refutations

But first, full disclosure: I admit that I don't know all the ins and out of the types of guns being discussed, but I hope dear readers can keep to the larger issues being debated here. My one dig at gun supporters is that some, definitely not all, but it often seems that it's a significant number of them, love to dive into the minutiae of models and parts and origins until my eyes glaze over. And when that happens (but of course it doesn't always happen), when that happens, it always reminds me of Roger Ebert's dismissal of certain (but not all) Star Wars fans:
"A lot of fans are basically fans of fandom itself. It's all about them. They have mastered the "Star Wars" or "Star Trek" universes or whatever, but their objects of veneration are useful mainly as a backdrop to their own devotion. . . . Extreme fandom may serve as a security blanket for the socially inept, who use its extreme structure as a substitute for social skills. . . . If you know absolutely all the trivia about your cubbyhole of pop culture, it saves you from having to know anything about anything else. That's why it's excruciatingly boring to talk to such people: They're always asking you questions they know the answer to."

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

MacKinnon's Call to Stop Shopping

J.B. MacKinnon co-wrote the 100-Mile Diet years ago, which was a good read. It didn't have much effect on my eating because it was a bit too extreme for even me, but it DID affect my awareness of where I get produce from. For his most recent book, he compiled stories from various people to get different perspectives of one question: What would happen if we reduced consuming by 25% immediately? It's very readable, but it circles around a bit, and he doesn't really provide a clear or persuasive argument for reducing our shopping, as I was expecting. He's mainly just pondering the notion. 

He starts with a series of famous quotations, and I like this one by Ivan Illich: "In a consumer society there are inevitably two kinds of slaves: the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy" (from Tools for Conviviality, p. 57). Of course I got stuck there a while and had to read some Illich, so here's the context: 

"The parallel increase in the cost of the defense of new levels of privilege through military, police, and insurance measures reflects the fact that in a consumer society there are inevitably two kinds of slaves: the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy. Political debate must now be focused on the various ways in which unlimited production threatens human life. This political debate will be misled by those who insist on prescribing palliatives which only disguise the deep reasons why the systems of health, transport, education, housing, and even politics and law are not working. The environmental crisis, for example, is rendered superficial if it is not pointed out that antipollution devices can only be effective if the total output of production decreases. Otherwise they tend to shift garbage out of sight, push it into the future, or dump it onto the poor. The total removal of the pollution created locally by a large-scale industry requires equipment, material, and energy that can create several times the damage elsewhere. Making antipollution devices compulsory only increases the unit cost of the product. This may conserve some fresh air for all, because fewer people can afford to drive cars or sleep in air-conditioned homes or fly to a fishing ground on the weekend, but it replaces damage to the physical environment with further social disintegration. To shift from coal to atomic power replaces smog now with higher radiation levels tomorrow. To relocate refineries overseas, where pollution controls are less stringent, preserves Americans-not Venezuelans-from unpleasant odors at the cost of higher levels of world-wide poisoning." 

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Odell's How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy


Or maybe we'd recognize Nietzsche's last man as ourselves:
"Once blasphemy against God was the greatest blasphemy; but God died, and therewith also those blasphemers. To blaspheme the earth is now the dreadfulest sin, and to rate the heart of the unknowable higher than the meaning of the earth! . . . The earth hath then become small, and on it there hoppeth the last man who maketh everything small. His species is ineradicable like that of the ground-flea; the last man liveth longest. 'We have discovered happiness'—say the last men, and blink thereby. . . . With the creators, the reapers, and the rejoicers will I associate: the rainbow will I show them, and all the stairs to the Superman. . . . What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal."
Nietzsche's last men are contemptible because they aren't really alive. They have their basic needs met, but there's no spark in them, no spirit. They're merely content to exist with conveniences they had no part in creating. They need to be awakened from this sleepwalking! 

That's a nutshell version of what I heard from Jenny Odell's lovely and compelling read, How to Do Nothing (but with a lot less Nietzsche in it).

Moore's Planet of the Humans

So I just noticed I'm getting a lot of traffic for a post I wrote 8 months ago that advertised the release. Back then I wrote about some concerns with the film based just on the trailer and the backstory.

I actually watched the film on Tuesday, Earth Day's eve. It's free for the next month. It's a weird production overall. The music is a mix of 70s rock and iMovie background choices. There's some Emerson Lake & Palmer, King Crimson, and Black Sabbath in there at odd random times. I mean, if you're going to make a movie, why not shove all your favourite songs into it? There are interviews with many random protesters and people in forests who aren't named, but not anybody that can answer the right questions that they should be asking. A lot of interviews with protesters. Curious.

The first 45 minutes were a frustrating exploration of the energy that goes into producing solar panels and wind turbines. Yup, it takes energy and resources to make them. That seemed to be a shock to the producers. The frustrating part is that they discuss all the materials that go into making renewables completely divorced from any lifecycle comparisons between, for instance, solar, winds, nuclear, gas, and oil. They spend half the film shocking us with the reality that materials used to make renewable energy sources take energy. Is it the case that the energy used to create solar is equal to the energy produced over the lifetime?? They don't say, but they lead us down that path and then fade away to behold the next tragedy. Also, solar panels don't last forever. They have a lifespan of only a couple decades and then they have to be built again. Just like nuclear power plants. I'm not sure if that was news to the producers, but nothing lasts forever. Everything wears out in time. Do they think that we think renewables are like mythical perpetual motion machines?

The question that would have changed everything is, does the lifecycle of solar take more energy than it makes? AND does the production of solar panels create more GHGs than drilling for oil?? But the choices are never laid out like that. There's a very disingenuous feel to the first half of the film.

They also suggested that it takes a field of solar to run a toaster, and that if it rains, then it all falls apart because nobody's heard of batteries. Yes, batteries also take energy and resources to be produced. No energy source is entirely devoid of resource extraction, and they all take a toll on the planet, so we have to make some very wise and careful decisions about how create and store energy in future. And biofuel was always a disaster.

But then, in the second half, they get to their real concern: population. In the past 200 years, there's been a 10-fold increase in population AND a 10-fold increase in consumption each. It's taking a toll.

It's funny that this was the number one concern for a long time in many environmentalists' minds, but then it because absolutely offensive to suggest we restrain ourselves from having so many kids. I wrote about that a couple months ago. And I understand that in the more developed areas, each kid produces way more GHGs than in less developed areas, absolutely, but no matter how you slice it, it becomes a numbers game. The more people on the planet, the more resources we're going to use.

And, no matter what, we have to change the way we live. I get where they're going with it all. It's a problem whenever environmentalists suggest that renewables will save us. They won't be able to do it alone. They've got that part right.

And then it ends by calling out any environmentalist who's in bed with a corporation, and there are a lot of them (ETA see McKibben's article proving he was slandered in the link at the bottom)! Yup, even hippies can get corrupted. That's a problem, for sure. BUT that doesn't mean solar and wind and tidal energy can't help dramatically reduce our need for fossil fuels. We definitely have to change our lifestyles, stop eating meat (not even mentioned), stop travelling everywhere by car or plane, stop using electricity for anything unnecessary, and super-insulate our buildings. AND we can use renewable energy to also reduce fossil fuel use. It's still very much a viable part of the solution. Don't let them convince you otherwise!

ETA: Also check out this scathing review and this thorough fact checking. And then this overview of reviews from Bill McKibben, with this great line: "Releasing this on the eve of Earth Day's 50th anniversary is like Bernie Sanders endorsing Donald Trump while chugging hydroxychloroquine." Neil Young calls it "a very damaging film to the human struggle for a better way of living." And here's some more specific fact checking on solar, wind and fossil fuels.)

And George Monbiot finally added his two cents, clarifying all the errors. Nobody has suggested why Moore is supporting this crap so vehemently, though. Could he be in bed with the Kochs??

Mann's Madhouse Effect

Michael Mann recently tweeted this:


It's dumb luck that I chanced to do just that!  (Thoughts on Wallace-Wells here.)

This book a comprehensive exploration of the issues mixed with clear examples and Tom Toles's cartoons. It could easily be used as a climate change primer in a high school or middle school, and it comes with an index and lots of useful endnotes too!

Mann clarifies the problem of which, by now, we're all painful aware:
"This is the madhouse of the climate debate. We have followed Alice through the looking glass. White roses here are painted red, and words suddenly mean something different from what they used to mean. The very language of science itself, of 'skepticism' and 'evidence,' is used in a way opposite of how science really employs it.  Not everyone wants the facts to be known. We have run squarely into what Upton Sinclair famously warned us about: 'It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it'" (xi).

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Kolbert's Under a White Sky

It's World Environment Day (who knew?!), and the Independent published a collection of hopeful messages despite the world not being on track to keep temperatures below two degrees this century. Some are pinning cautious optimism on youth climate movements. Others are hopeful that this time, at COP26, things might be different since tackling climate can transform society. If we fix this one big problem, then everything will be better. Others point to stats: 70% of GDP in the UK is covered by net-zero targets, up from 30%, and the G7 is taking steps towards decarbonizing the power system. And others focus on a court case won against Shell as a reason to look forward to the future. Generally, they acknowledged that "the geopolitical landscape around climate change has shifted seismically." I've seen that shift too, in my classroom, where climate change is finally (finally?) a concern for students, but I'm not quite as hopeful. 

And then I finished Elizabeth Kolbert's book, Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future

Kolbert wrote the provocative Sixth Extinction, and her writing here is just as clear and concise but far more poetic and often humorous. This new book has a few black and white photos but should really be re-released with colour pictures of all the incredible things she describes in her journey through beautiful landscapes to talk with fascinating people in order to find solutions to the problems plaguing our planet. Although they discuss many of the same things, this is the antithesis of Mann's most recent book both in style and in substance. Kolbert's book focuses on specific examples to explore each new technology, which makes it more accessible for the non-scientist, while also looking more profoundly at the conundrum we're in.

Kolbert's guiding question is the Jurassic Park nugget: now that we know we can change the world, should we? If we fix one mistake, it often creates another, but "What do you call natural selection after The End of Nature?" (97). Do we even have a natural environment to make unnatural with our technology? This is "a book about people trying to solve problems create by people trying to solve problems" (200).

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Ibram Kendi's How to be Antiracist


Just on Friday, Vancouver police were looking for a 40-year-old suspect, and arrested an 81-year-old Black man who happened to be a former judge with much to say about the state of the police department that would shackle a man on an early morning walk. We know how horrifically racist some police actions have been, and Ibram X. Kendi's bestseller takes us through to solutions for it all. It's a beautifully written  book that takes us step by step through his own journey from racism/not-racism towards antiracism mixed in with related history for context. It reads like a biography, and then you realize you've been significantly educated by the end of it! I added a few more points to this Canada/US history of colonization chart to avoid cluttering up the main ideas below.

WORDS MATTER

He starts each chapter with definitions to help us see the more useful perception of these problems. Here are two key sets of terms:

non-racist / neutral / colourblind 

"The claim of 'not racist' neutrality is a mask for racism" (7). "The construct of race neutrality actually feeds White nationalist victimhood by positing the notion that any policy protecting or advancing non-White Americans towards equity is 'reverse discrimination'" (20). "White people have their own dueling consciousness, between the segregationist [separate people who don't accept the dominant culture] and the assimilationist [adopt the dominant culture's way of life]: the slave trader and the missionary" (31).

Michael Mann's The New Climate War


It's not all that new. There are tons of books on this topic now, so it would be hard to find a completely new angle. But the public still needs to learn the basics, and Mann does a good enough job of explaining it all in a very conversational writing style that's approachable for casual readers of science. His big argument, however, is with most of those other books and anyone who errs on the side of worst case predictions of the future because the doomers might provoke us to give up the fight, and this war has just barely started. 

I still know some people who erroneously believe that e-cars are evil because they use cobalt, and fast fashion or littering is the main cause of climate change and are against any carbon tax because it will harm poor people (despite my explanation of the rebate system). They're convinced that vegetarianism is more important than decreasing fossil fuels use, but also that persuading others towards vegetarianism is elitist and privileged because it's cheaper to eat beef, despite my attempts to show them, with grocery store prices, that it's cheaper to buy bulk beans and lentils and cook from scratch; it's only more expensive if you buy 'near-meat' products. Although it takes more time than going through a drive-through, it doesn't have to if you cook a pot full of rice and lentils once/week. I used to live well below the poverty line, and dried beans kept me and my kids afloat. But somehow beef is the road to equity?? 

When I ask for sources, it's all Tiktok videos, so that's where climate scientists and activists have to head next! It's clearly still necessary to explain all this over and over in short soundbites with intense visuals that people will take away with them and share endlessly. These types of books need to be promoted by influencers

Mann has written a different type of climate change book in that it feels sort of personal, and he names lots of names of individuals, corporations, and countries. He seems a little snarky at times, which can be fun, but it's definitely different that the usual dry facts and data. He comes down hard on some of the people and ideas I've supported in the past, which has given me pause, but I don't fully support his take-downs. He wants to mend the rift between various factions of environmental movements, but he's doing so by arguing that they're all wrong. That might not be the best way to build bridges.

The gist: denial isn't the biggest problem anymore; now it's "other breeds of deceivers and dissemblers, namely downpayers, deflectors, dividers, delayers, and doomers" (45). We have to do both individual actions and corporate /political actions, and ignore any fight about which is better or faster. We have to do ALL THE THINGS! (I argued the same last year.) "At the center of the acrimonious debate over individual action versus systemic change is a false dilemma. Both are important and necessary" (68). 

"The solution is already here. We just need to deploy it rapidly and at a massive scale. It all comes down to political will and economic incentives. . . . A renewable energy transition would create millions of new jobs, stabilize energy prices in the absence of fuel costs, reduce power disruption, and increase access to energy by decentralizing power generation" (143-4). 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Michael Sandel's Tyranny of Merit

This excellent read, The Tyranny of Merit, by Harvard philosophy professor Michael Sandel, actually shifted some of my thinking, and I love a good lightbulb moment provoked by a book! I found the book sometimes a little outside my reach in places enough to need to read a few chapters numerous times, but I think I've got the gist of it all.  

In a nutshell, some of us hope that judging people based on their merit makes for a more fair and just system, and the education system can be used as a sorting machine. The promotion of merit and of the sorting tools we use to determine who deserves to rise to the top are seen as part of an open system of global thinking. Rejecting that position, then, it is believed, is clearly aligned with closed-minded thinking, BUT this is all a ruse brought to you by neoliberal politics. It's born of the illusion that we can create a level playing field of equal opportunity, which is a commonly touted argument. Less common, however, is Sandel's captivating argument around what it means to deserve anything and his claim that, even if we could have perfect equality of opportunity, a meritocracy brings with it some nasty side effects: "It would generate hubris and anxiety among the winners and humiliation and resentment among the losers--attitudes at odds with human flourishing and corrosive to the common good" (120). He ends with some plausible but difficult alternatives to our current way of thinking--in education, work, and through contributive justice--which require an entire overhaul of thinking reminiscent of Charles Taylor's notion of social imaginaries: we have to change our beliefs before we'll ever be able to change our behaviours.


MERITOCRACY CAN'T BE REALIZED 

We can't get a fully realized meritocracy. The term was first coined just in 1958 in a dystopian novel; it wasn't originally meant to be seen as a solution or a term of praise. Then in the 80s, Reagan created the belief that "market mechanisms are the primary instruments for achieving the public good" (21) and deregulated banks and businesses under the belief that, "Provided they operate within a fair system of equal opportunity, markets give people what they deserve" (62). Since, in theory, everyone can compete equally (the rhetoric of rising), government helped out by lowering taxes to remove barriers to success, which then provoked a dramatic rise in tuition fees. We tolerate inequalities because of the American Dream that suggests we can't win without some losers beneath us: Everything we do is fair and just provided people worthy have equal opportunities to access higher education; however, governing elites have the "responsibility for creating the conditions that have eroded the dignity of work and left many feeing disrespected and disempowered. . . . upheavals we are witnessing are a political response to a political failure of historic proportions" (19). We're starting to see the light. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

What Should Teachers Do To Prevent Gun Violence?

Lots of us have students who don't quite fit in and spend all their time alone, friendless. They might have been bullied for being different, and we can't always solve the problems they have trying to better communicate with other people. But the vast majority are completely harmless.

Lot of us have students who are really angry. These are teenagers. I was a really angry teenager, outraged at the many injustices I felt I faced in the world. Nothing is fair when you're at the centre of your own world. (I'm still pretty angry, but my focus has shifted to injustices around the globe instead.) Adolescence is a necessary time of self-obsession as people figure out their place in this life, and that can heighten every possible sleight against them, provoking an attitude of quick-tempered defensiveness. But the vast majority are completely harmless.

Lots of us have students who let slip some racist or sexist or bigoted comments in class, and we shut that down but then linger over the comment a bit later, mentally reviewing it and filing it away, and maybe mentioning it to a few colleagues looking for a pattern. But the vast majority are completely harmless.

And lots of us have students with a mean streak: students who are trying out their power, looking out for the boundaries that might be able to reign them in. If they get away with too much, they sometimes keep pushing until a consequence helps them turn a corner. We know it's important to stop cruelty in its tracks, but we can't catch everything. But the vast majority would never consider harm at this level of violence.

But I'm left wondering about all the signs we're told to monitor. Is it remotely useful to psychologically profile students?

On Critical Race Theory

Conservative British MP, Kemi Badenoch, insisted that Critical Race Theory is somehow illegal, so I'm just going to save this rebuttal here: 

This is a Twitter thread from Kojo Koram - @KojoKoram - professor of law Birkbeck: 

"A thread on the new bogeyman of “critical race theory”: Kemi Badenoch. Watching dim-witted Tory junior ministers try to get their heads around the works of Derrick Bell, Patricia Williams and some of the most-decorated legal scholars of the last 50 years would be funny if this wasn’t so serious. Clearly, Google has told them that critical race theory is just people shouting about “white privilege” etc so here is an idiot’s guide to CRT to help: CRT emerged out of Harvard law in the 80’s in an attempt to explain the contradictions between the legal equality achieved through the civil rights struggle and the ongoing visible difference in the impact of the law across racial groups. This is the heart of CRT. Pretty simple isn’t it. There are certainly critiques that can be made of the tradition (I see it as having become too detached from political economy, for one) but to pretend it is a dangerous, illegitimate sphere of academic inquiry is just pathetic. 
CRT started with the material reality. Look at your cities. Look at your prisons. If law is blind, why does property law, criminal law etc seem to punish some groups more than others? You don’t care about this, fine, good for you. But you also want to stop others from caring? The same people who would defend the right of Charles Murray to talk about how Black people have lower IQ’s on the grounds of free speech are now cheering a government banning teachers trying to explain the difference between legal equality and material inequality. In the UK, Black people are stopped + searched nearly 10x white people. 40% of young people in custody are BME. If your explanation for this is anything other than ‘Blacks are just naturally/culturally more criminal’… then congratulations, you have just started doing CRT!"

Monday, March 1, 2021

On Rowling's Transphobia

I was going to just ignore all this, but it came up in a discussion on my social media feed, so here's the thing:

Free speech is absolutely vital in a democracy, especially the freedom to question and criticize elites: people who craft the laws or, maybe more importantly, who provoke the dominant belief system through their pronounced effect on the zeitgeist. You know, like J.K. Rowling.

There is some concern that Rowling has been unfairly dismissed by the dreaded cancel culture since her most recent explanation of her position on the transgender population is very articulate, as if being articulate makes for a solid argument. This illuminates a serious problem in our society: many people don't know how to recognize and counter a bad argument. We're running on the notion that, if it feels like it makes sense, then it must. Nope.

Last January, YouTuber Natalie Wynn was also denigrated online. In a feature length video, she explains cancel culture as, "online shaming, vilifying or ostracizing prominent members of a community". It's a vigilante strategy to topple people in power who can't be held to account in any other way, which can morph into an absolute reign of terror against the person instead of their argument. It's "character assassination disguised by the rhetoric of honest conflict." The collective has terrifying powers that they don't realize as individuals. And we all know what comes with great power.

It doesn't further society when the goal is no longer to reach a better understanding between people, but to destroy people. Instead, we need to take the most charitable understanding of Rowling's claims and scrutinize them for weak reasoning:

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Wallace-Well's The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming

David Wallace-Wells's book The Uninhabitable Earth starts out with a repetition of facts that won't be news to anyone paying attention, but he has a lovely way with words.

Four of the last five extinctions were from greenhouse gases, and now we're adding carbon to the atmosphere 100 times faster than at any other time, and "guilt saturates the planet's air as much as carbon, though we choose to believe we do not breathe it" (5). In the last 40 years, more than half the worlds' vertebrate animals have died and the flying insect population declined by three-quarters (26). His focus is largely on humanity, but we'll be taking most other life forms with us when we go. Our continued actions are at the level of a genocide, and the "Kyoto Protocol achieved, practically, nothing; the the twenty years since, despite all of our clime advocacy and legislation and progress on green energy, we have produced more emissions than in the twenty years before" (9). Even if we stop short of the two degree mark, we'll still have a sea-level rise "to draw a new American coastline as far west as I-95" (13). "Our current emissions trajectory takes us over 4 degrees by 2100" (27). At 5 degrees, "Parts of the globe would be literally unsurvivable for humans"(39). And "heat death is among the cruelest punishments to a human body, just as painful and disorienting as hypothermia" (48).

Nathaniel Rich's Losing Earth

This is a quick read outlining the history of the efforts to do something to slow down fossil fuel use. Everything we know now about climate change, pretty much, we knew with great certainty forty years ago, in 1979. "The climate scientist James Hansen has called a 2-degree warming 'a prescription for long-term disaster. Long-term disaster is now the best-case scenario. A 3-degree warming, on the other hand, is a prescription for short-term disaster" (4). 5 degrees will bring the fall of human civilization. "The Red Cross estimates that already more refugees flee environmental crises than violent conflict" (4). We had a great chance to fix it all between 1979 and 1989, but we didn't take it.

WHY NOT?

"The common explanation today concerns the depredations of the fossil fuel industry, which in recent decades has committed to playing the role of villain which comic-book bravado" (6). But the fossil fuel industry was actually on board for a time. There are a whole lot of names and dates to keep straight below (I bolded the important ones), and the book, curiously, has NO index or footnotes! Rich wrote it as a compelling story, but I digest it better chronologically:

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Gertz on Nihilism - What IS it??

A year after coming out with Nihilism and Technology, Dr. Nolen Gertz wrote just plain Nihilism, an "examination of the meaning of meaninglessness: why it matters that nothing matters." It's a really short book, but it took a while to wade through it all. Here it all is even more briefly assembled with my own understanding here and there.

We typically think of nihilism as very simply meaning, "we believe in nothing" (4), but he counters that from the start with the polar opposite definition of Russian nihilism via Wendell Phillips in 1881: "the righteous and honorable resistance of a people crushed under an iron rule . . . the last weapon of victims choked and manacled beyond all other resistance" (2),  and then takes us through Western philosophy to get to a view that, "Nihilism is about evading reality rather than confronting it, about believing in other worlds rather than accepting this one, and about trying to make ourselves feel powerful rather than admitting our own weaknesses" (73).


SOME HISTORY

I didn't love this epistemology section, but the book picks up speed afterwards. 

First, on Socrates, Descartes, and Hume and nihilism via our inability to know stuff: Anti-nihilists "inspire others to question and ultimately reject the foundations of their beliefs" (21). Socrates (a social reformer) provoked people to question everything. Then Descartes (a self-reformer) warned that can lead to "inextricable darkness" (21). "For Descartes we embrace illusions because our reach exceeds our grasp, because our desire to know (the will) exceeds our power to know (the intellect)" (22). Then he gets to Hume's fork: For Hume, we can only know things we experience directly and things that are true by definition, and, Hume famously said, all else must be committed to the flames, so  "supporting an idea may not be so different from supporting a sports team" (25). Gertz's conclusion so far: "From a Socratic perspective, nihilism can be overcome by enlightenment. From a Cartesian perspective, nihilism can be overcome by self-restraint. But from a Humean perspective, nihilism cannot be overcome. It is simply a product of human psychology" (28). 

On McQuaig's Sport and Prey of Capitalists

Linda McQuaig's newest book, The Sport and Prey of Capitalists: How the Rich are Stealing Canada's Public Wealth, is a fast read full of local history and written as history should be written, as colourful stories about fascinating people! But, in order to try to remember any of it, I've whittled it down to the bare bones here. She comes down hard on Trudeau, both of them, and for good reason, but takes a generally non-partisan role in exploring the good and bad players in our history.

Her concern throughout: "We've failed to appreciate our heritage as a nation that has embraced public enterprise to great effect" (6). Then she traces our gradual acceptance, at a huge cost to our country, of the neoliberal policies of deregulation, privatization, and union busting through the history of specific industries affecting Canada today: the banking system, tar sands, railways, 407, hydro, and medicines.


Saturday, November 28, 2020

Hannah Arendt's On Violence

Unfortunately, this is really timely.

Arendt wrote this short book in 1970, but there's nothing in it that needs to be updated today. Absolutely nothing significant has changed; it's just more. She was responding to the violence of WWII, Vietnam, the student riots in Paris, and, most specifically, the People's Park protests in Berkeley, where she was teaching at the time as students attempted "transforming an empty university-owned lot into a 'People's Park'." Sheldon Wolin and John Schaar wrote about how the event unleashed an unnecessarily strong police backlash:
"A rock was thrown from a roof-top and, without warning, police fired into a group on the roof of an adjacent building. Two persons were struck in the face by the police fire, another was blinded, probably permanently, and a fourth, twenty-five-year-old James Rector, later died. Before the day was over, at least thirty others were wounded by police gunfire, and many more by clubs. . . . Tear gas enfolded the main part of the campus and drifted into many of its buildings, as well as into the surrounding city. Nearby streets were littered with broken glass and rubble. At least six buckshot slugs entered the main library and three 38 calibre bullets lodged in the wall of a reference room in the same building. Before the day ended, more than ninety people had been injured by police guns and clubs."
That was on May 15, 1969, known as "Bloody Thursday." The Kent State shootings in Ohio were almost exactly one year later. Arendt tries to make sense of it all through a look at the changing view of violence in society.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Hedges on Revolution, Media, Prison, Corruption, and Hope

Chris Hedges, a former war correspondent for the New York Times - until they didn't like his anti-American coverage of the Iraq invasion - and an ordained minister, recently walked away (or was fired) from Truthdig in solidarity with Bob Scheer, and now he's in the middle of writing a book, but he spent an hour and a half talking about everything on The Jimmy Dore Show. I've transcribed some key points below under headings, with links and images. It's a little abridged and in a slightly altered order for clarity and brevity, and I also bolded pivotal statements for faster skimming!

On a Revolution Against the Corrupt System:

Hedges: We need to overthrow this system, not placate it. Revolution is almost always a doomed enterprise one that succeeds only when its leaders issue the practical and are endowed with what the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr calls sublime madness. Sanders lacks this quality and for this reason Sanders is morally and temperamentally unfit to lead this fight. (Also see Kate Manne on Sanders.)

Friday, February 21, 2020

Cancel Culture, Academic Freedom, and Disability Rights

I've written before about how I support free speech but don't support giving platforms to "White Nationalists" or neo-Nazis or any other racist group who could use the venue to garner more followers. My concern is with audience members who might be easily led or looking for a place to direct their saved up anger. I believe we must act together to ensure that racist or bigoted values don't get amplified. People aren't barred from speaking and sharing their views otherwise, but I'm fine if they are denied a stage, particularly in a public arena. It's not just that I don't like their views, but that I fear that their views, if accepted by a greater number of people, could normalize harmful actions and threaten the safety and security of my friends and neighbours.

But Peter Singer??

Here's a bit of background on this ethics philosopher. He is, if it's possible, the direct opposite of a neo-Nazi. He's all about decreasing suffering worldwide! He advocates for vegetarianism and goes so far as to suggest that, to live a truly ethical life, we should take any extra money just sitting in our bank accounts and donate it to charity to alleviate global poverty. He's ever concerned with us living the best life we can have in the most ethical way possible. But one of his many arguments around alleviating suffering, from a chapter in a book he wrote back in 1979, Practical Ethicsis about the right of parents to euthanize severely disabled infants. Disability activist groups want this view shut down.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

On Martin Luther King Jr.

Chomsky praises him, saying he was vilified, but he was crucial to making change. Two years ago, the New York Times published an excellent transcript of his final sermon, annotated by Nikita Stewart to clarify the events that provoked some of his words. It's his "I've been to the mountaintop" speech made four years after the Civil Rights Act passed, and one day before his death. Here's an abridged version (or listen to it in full here). The bold is all mine; his words have been repeated by Chomsky and Hedges and Timothy Snyder. Hopefully we'll listen one day.
It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today. And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done, and done in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. . . .