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.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Solidarity Over Competition

As always, I loosely summarize/transcribe the important bits below if you don't have 33 minutes to watch the video.


This is an astonishing moment in history. The human species has been around for about 200,000 years. Up until this point, people have made decisions about their lives, their immediate futures, but we’ve now reached the point that we have to make a decision about whether or not the species is going to survive in anything like its current form of organization of social systems.

We’re facing two fundamental questions: Nuclear war, which we know that if there were one, everything would be destroyed, and climate change. If we don’t make decisive steps right now, there will be irreversible catastrophic consequences. We’ve already inadvertently made the decision for a huge number of species. Anthropogenic climate warming is on the order of an extinction. We are playing the role of the asteroid this time.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Hypernormalization or Welcome to the Age of Absurdity

I added the subtitle above because this is one trippy film, but it's important to see (or read this summary in about 15 minutes) after last night. It actually helps explain Trump. After Adam Curtis’s The Century of the Self, a very straight-forward documentary (albeit 4 hours long), this one, at just shy of 3 hours, is absolutely bizarre by contrast. News footage is mixed with feature film content and inane YouTube videos all with a soundtrack mix of NIN, 80s techno, discordant carnival music, and creepy singing children. It has the intentional effect of a funhouse mirror. It was perfect to watch as the votes came in last night.

We’re living in strange times. Huge superpowers have no ability to deal with extraordinary events and no vision for the future. And the counterculture is also sucked into this make-believe world, so they have no real effect on anything either. Most of events in the film were outlined by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine a decade ago, but Curtis adds in some further connections (like Trump’s involvement) and takes us on a journey through it. It's not just that politics have changed, but the way we've been trained to think has shifted dramatically.

Charles Taylor on the Crises of Democracy

Charles Taylor gave a lecture on the "Crises of Democracy" two years ago, as part of a "Civic Freedom in an Age of Diversity" program where he explores the very complex situation we're in. He says we're not in a period of democratic stagnation, but in a downward spiral that has to be actively stopped. He takes up the same thread as in his Sources of the Self, that we have to go back to retrieve our past, our trajectory here and all the assumptions we brought with us, in order to understand our current situation. There's is a summary of his ideas below condensed in a way that I can best understand it all.

He's critical of John Rawls's veil of ignorance theory for ignoring an important part of politics. It's correct at the core, but it misses the reality that, at any given time, the capacity people have to put together common actions is limited or augmented by their culture. Whether or not a revolution succeeds or fails has to do with the state of the democratic repertoire, or what Taylor calls the "social imaginaries" of the people. During the American Revolution, people ruling already had a purchase in the habit of electing assemblies, so the notion of what it was to set that up was already familiar. That wasn't the case for the French Revolution, so a lengthy battle ensued.

If people can do something active within institutions outside of democracy, like credit unions and trade unions, then people can learn to act together and accomplish something. But we need a critical mass of people who are able to work together in this way before we can do it as a society.

Before the Flood

First of all, I love that this Leo DiCaprio film, directed by Fisher Stevens, was free to watch everywhere on the National Geographic Channel for a while. But if you missed it, here's the gist of it below.

Without ads, it's 90 minutes, jampacked with information. The pacing is good, and that's key. I can't help comparing it to Josh Fox's film, because there are marked similarities - both feature one man, a passionate novice in the field, talking a little too much about himself as he flies around the world narrating his learning experience through listening to a variety of experts - many of the same experts even - as he aims to get some kind of a hopeful conclusion. But Leo's film works so much better. It helps that he has funds and connections - where Fox had footage from drones, DiCaprio had footage from space - and that he's a much better orator and has an incredible cinematography crew (and it doesn't hurt that Trent Reznor did the music), but what Stevens and DiCaprio got from the interviews and what they did with the material, the basic trajectory of the film, is what nails it as the superior vehicle to inspire positive change. In 2000, DiCaprio interviewed President Clinton on Earth Day, and they talked about the need for citizens to use better lightbulbs. He recognizes we're getting nowhere with that kind of rhetoric, and he does a good job at getting at the big picture quickly.

DiCaprio frames the film with a discussion of Hieronymus Bosch's famous triptych: The Garden of Earthly Delights, which is timely as Bosch died 500 years ago this year and you can take a really interesting, brief online tour of the work. The painting hung over DiCaprio's crib as a child. My parents were wary about giving me a book of his work when I was about ten. It's pretty disturbing for a little one, depicting our deal with God, our fall from grace, and the hell that awaits us for all our sins.

He also starts and ends the film at the United Nations as he took on the role of the UN Messenger of Peace with a focus on climate change back in 2014 when Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon remarked, "If this boat is sinking, then we will all have to sink together." And then he gets moving. Here's a very brief summary of pertinent remarks made with each place or person interviewed:

Denial is a Money-Maker

In the U.S., about 70% of people believe climate change is real, 35% believe it's caused by humans, and 16% are worried about it. The 30-minute film, "The Doubt Machine: Inside the Koch Brothers' War on Climate Science" explains how many people have been tricked into a false belief. It features Michael Mann, who was also in recent films made by Josh Fox and Leo DiCaprio. What makes him so important? He published the "hockey stick graph" in 1999, which shows how industrialization connects directly to the increase in global temperature, and he was summarily attacked for it.

Later used in Gore's Inconvenient Truth

It was a matter of shooting the messenger. There were death threats made to him and his family, and money was offered to his colleagues to discredit him. He was eventually cleared of all wrong-doings. The smear campaign was funded by Charles and David Koch.

The Koch Brothers own a $100 billion oil, chemicals, and minerals empire. They control 1-2 million acres of the Tar Sands in our fair nation. And you thought this was just an American problem! Their number one goal is to stop any climate action. They do this by controlling Congress and the Senate by paying off politicians directly. The 52% of Senators and 39% of member of Congress that are in their pocket have pledged to stop any policy that will impede their business ventures. Because the US is so influential, this is the single biggest obstacle to climate change action.

The film doesn't say this, but if it weren't for the "intent to destroy" line in the definition, what the Koch brothers are doing is genocidal in nature: deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of a group in whole or in part. Okay, it's not a deliberate intent to destroy life; it's just an unfortunate side effect of their business model that will take down 100s of millions of lives. That's all.

Climate change is all real. The worst predictions keep coming true, and it's going to get so much worse really soon. We stand to pass 2° threshold by 2050. How much money does it take for politicians to allow policies to continue that will destroy the world for your children? About a million dollars on average.

The API - American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying arm of the oil industry, uses the same methods as the tobacco industry to provoke doubt. Remember this?

Charles and David's dad, Fred Koch, was a chemical engineer from Texas who couldn't get an in to promote his tactics in the U.S., so went abroad and set up refineries for Stalin and Hitler. Really. He trained his sons in neo-liberal, small government philosophies. In the 1990s, the Koch family needed clout in Washington to stop regulations that would impact their profits, so they got involved in bribing lobbying politicians for their support. Now their reach is unprecedented in its complexity. Any politician that runs counter to their policies is hung to dry, like republican Bob Inglis.

They have the cash to bombard the public with whatever message they need them to hear. And they have rounded up scientist-types who are making a fortune denying climate change. One of the most famous is Willie Soon, an aerospace engineer who carefully allows people to believe he's a climate scientist, even though the difference is huge. There were some climate scientists who were skeptical, but not now. There is too much evidence matching GHGs to climate change that it's clearly not just a matter of solar variability.  No scientist educated in climate studies is currently denying that this is a human effect that requires human action to slow it down.

ETA: And now they own Time Magazine!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Brief History of Psychoanalysis and Corporate Control

I just watched this four-hour doc on propaganda and social change and how we're swimming in Freudian concepts like it or not. It's older (2002), but it's compelling viewing useful to weed out the ideas of Freud from those of his followers. My notes are paraphrased (and editorialized) below:

1917 - the Emotional Root of our Desires

Edward Bernays (1891-1994), the father of public relations, is the nephew of Sigmund Freud, the son of Freud's sister and Freud's wife's brother. At just 26, he was asked to join Woodrow Wilson in creating a "Public Relations Council" to promote the war effort. He used conversations with his uncle Freud, whose ideas were soon after published in General Introduction to Psychoanalysis, to understand how people make decisions. Freud's writing was just about understanding why we act. Bernays used that framework of the psyche to develop a means to influence the collective behaviour of the masses.

As much as we like to think our reasoning abilities make us markedly different from other animals, we can be easily persuaded to act if someone plays on our irrational emotions. Bernays' first experiment to test the idea involved marketing cigarettes to women, which involved breaking a strong social taboo at the time. He convinced some suffragettes to march in the Easter parade, smoking, and called the cigarettes "torches of freedom." He spun the taboo into an oppressive restriction to be overcome, which made smoking immediately a symbol of power and independence. This was a brand new way of marketing products.

There was a growing concern with industrial overproduction, so Bernays helped the US shift from a culture focused on satisfying needs to one obsessed with fulfilling desires. He promoted the idea of regular citizens buying shares in companies, and he got film stars to come to parties at the White House, forever after linking politics with celebrity right up to today when Americans are choosing between Meryl Streep and Scott Baio.

1920s - Consumerism Will Save Us from Ourselves

Bernays arranged for Freud's works to be published in the U.S. and gain a widespread audience. He was his unofficial agent in the U.S. Freud wrote about how easily unconscious aggressive drives can be activated in crowds, concluding that man is a sadistic species. Bernays decided that if people are driven by irrational forces, then they need to be guided. If he could stimulate the inner desires of people and satiate them with things, then they wouldn't act on their aggressive impulses. Consumerism was a means to pacify the people as well as to make profits. He developed a system some called "enlightened despotism," or, as Walter Lippmann called it, "the manufacturing of consent, " a term made popular by Chomsky. Bernays saw how ads could create desire which could be easily satisfied and thus transform people into happiness machines.

Herbert Hoover agreed, and democracy became palliative. Democracy was no longer about challenging the relations of power, but about sustaining them.

1930s - Roosevelt Appealed to our Reason

Freud wrote Civilization and its Discontents and clarified that civilization is a necessary means to restrain our animal forces. Individual freedom is impossible and far too dangerous, so we must be controlled externally (to suppress our violent and sexual urges), and therefore we will always be somewhat discontented. It's necessary to be limited individually in order to survive collectively but that's not to say, as Bernays suggested, that we should be controlled en masse to pacify the masses or otherwise (increase profits). But Bernays was right that we can be.

After the market crashed, the U.S. faced angry mobs out to fight corporations. Government used the power of the state to control the market (Roosevelt's "New Deal"). Roosevelt worked with George Gallop to poll people's ideas. They rejected Bernays' ideas, instead believing that people could be trusted to make wise decisions. They were going to avoid any manipulation and appeal to citizens' rational faculties.

Meanwhile, in Germany, Hitler abolished the huge numbers of parties running, and the National Socialists were elected. They took control of business with a motto of "service not self." He aimed to channel desires towards a better society rather than satisfy the selfishness of individuals. Joseph Goebbels was in charge of promoting ideas to the people, and he admired the way Roosevelt was controlling markets. Goebbels went further to encourage aggressive forces in citizens as he believed officials could control them to serve their final ends. He was right.

In 1936, Roosevelt pressured more control over big business and was re-elected. Businesses fought back with help from Bernays, starting an ideological warfare against the New Deal. They created the National Association of Manufacturers, which launched campaigns to create emotional connections between brands and businesses. He filled papers with the messages that business, not government, created America, and he created a vision of a potential utopia for the masses that couldn't happen with government restrictions on the market. The government was worried about the affiliation between the press and corporations and started creating national newsreels to teach people how to check for bias in the news, but it was just a matter of time before controlling the markets in any way, even price controls to benefit the poorest in society, would be linked to fascism.

Bernays' methods were instrumental in persuading the public towards a pro-corporate stance, and he was called to help the CIA to reestablish government control over citizens. He appears to have had few allegiances except money and maybe the thrill of figuring out what persuasive measure would work in a given situation.

1940s - We Can Be Masters of Our Domain

After Freud's death, his daughter, Anna Freud, began writing and speaking more. She started with her dad's premise that people must be controlled for society to work, but she believed people could be taught to control themselves. Freud thought we need to understand our desires and the unfortunate necessity of external controls, but Anna believed we could train our desires internally by changing how children are raised. She started by experimenting on two depressive children, and became close with their mother. When she saw the results of the Nazis unleashing the instincts of their citizenry, she started working intensively with large groups of children in need. Primarily she thought children need to be trained to conform to rules of society as a way to strengthen their ego, which will in turn help them control their own unconscious. (She also established specific defence mechanisms well beyond her father's work, yet they're almost always credited to Sigmund.)

Almost half of the returning soldiers suffered mental breakdowns. Psychoanalyst Martin Bergmann was recruited by the U.S. government to interview returning soldiers, and it was the first time people started exploring and discussing feelings. Bergmann decided that stress and mental breakdown are not caused from conflict, but from soldiers' personal childhood desire for aggression. According to him, they weren't traumatized by the aggression itself, but by their eager participation in it, by their own letting go of their instincts to fight. He further surmised that chaos at the base of human personality can infect society, so people need to internalize democratic values. This led Truman to create the National Mental Health Act to deal with the number of unstable men returning from war.

Psychiatrist brothers, Karl and Will Menninger, wanted to use Anna Freud's ideas on a wide scale to control the unconscious desires of citizens, so they invented Guidance Counselling Centres everywhere and encouraged everyone to go. Their focus was on controlling the "fire of emotions" within.

1950s - Identifying with Brands is Promoted as Therapeutic 

Things shifted a bit as Harold Blum came on the scene and thought we could be "appropriately emotional," that we should be allowed to let go within limits since we can master our own passions. And Ernest Dichter, Freud's old neighbour, set up Motivational Research centres. This was the dawn of the focus group and the Mad Men style of marketing. Focus groups would have people free associate about products, encouraged to express their feelings and associations. A famous case is when they asked women why they didn't buy instant cakes, and realized just letting women add an egg to the mixture would increase sales dramatically. The underlying idea driving Dichter was similar to Bernays: that we can use the environment to strengthen and stabilize human personality; it's therapeutic and confidence-boosting for people to identify with specific brands. It was also hugely profitable, which likely didn't hurt. It's hard to say which was more important for the psychiatrists.

Bernays worked with Howard Hunt of the CIA to launch a "terror campaign" and stage a coup in Guatemala by making the conditions in the public and in the press more amenable to such a thing after a more socialist leader insisted on better working conditions (and thus lowered profits) in the American-owned United Fruit Company. The psychological warfare worked enough to provoke the army to stand down. They linked the former leader to communism, made the previous government seen as a threat to democracy, and made business interests seen as democracy incarnate. Bernays openly believed that most people are terribly stupid and can be manipulated to act like automatons.

Government money was given to psych departments in universities to do experiment on brainwashing. Ewing Cameron, of UCLA but working in at McGill in Montreal, used drugs and electroconvulsive therapy in an attempt to wipe and replace people's memories. It didn't work the way he hoped (with some horrific results); and he surmised that people are more affected by external persuasion than internal manipulation.

Anna Freud kept working on children conforming to social norms. She was friends with Ralph Greenson, Marilyn Monroe's therapist, who got Marilyn to move into his home as he decided that his family was the social model to follow.

1960s - Anti-Conformity Rebellions Led to Corporate Losses

After Monroe's suicide, Arthur Miller argued against this psychiatric method that suggests any suffering is a problem. Miller insisted we must let suffering inform our lives, not try to cure any and all tumults we feel. The method advocated by Greenson attempted to control people rather than free them.

Herbert Marcuse also criticized the method. He called it a childish application of psychoanalysis and explained that the planned obsolescence of our time, with a huge variety of things to have and do, leads to a schizoid existence. The destructiveness of the individual is due to "empty prosperity." He called out psychiatry for being used for corrupt purposes, and Anna Freud for increasing repression in her patients through forced conformity. Evil isn't from maladjusted inward conflict, but from society, and it must be challenged, not adapted to. Martin Luther King Jr. agreed with the words, "I am proud to be maladjusted" to a corrupt society. And then the two children that Anna Freud started her method on, both committed suicide. This provoked a new student left to attack this system of social control, sometimes violently.

Wilhelm Reich challenged Freud's premise that people are driven by animal instincts and society is a controlling force that keeps our raging inferno of emotions in check. He countered that our drives are positive and repression by society distorts them. Reich thought violence is a result of denying our libido full expression; neurosis is a result of ineffective orgasm. And then things got really weird with the Human Potential Movement and confrontational experiences and encounter workshops that involved violent and sexual release. Werner Erhard got on board with the EST movement, believing that we can create ourselves individually, only the individual matters, and we can largely ignore society. Students and young adults became less political as they became more self-obsessed.

The downside of all this self-exploration was a corporate loss, particularly to life insurance companies, which are built on the protestant ethic prompting us to sacrifice for the future. Too many people were living for today. The new enlightenment needed products to help people express their individuality, but, at the time, variety wasn't cost-effective for factory production.

1970s - We Can be Reduced to a Lifestyle

The Stanford Research Institute (SRI) was used to measure and test desire satiation. Abraham Maslow, a humanistic psychologist famous for his self-actualization test, also created a tool to measure people's values on a hierarchy of needs that rises as people liberate their feelings. This was the beginning of categorizing society for marketing purposes. He believed we can be defined by the choices we make, and he surveyed people to see how people fit a set of identifiable types he called: lifestyles. The Values and Lifestyles survey (VALS) categorized people into more specific purchasing types than could be determined by age or income: Mainstreamers have a need for security and belonging; aspirers have a need for status; succeeders have a need for control; and reformers have a need for self-esteem. If a product reflects their attitudes, people will buy it. Instead of focus groups discussing products already invented, they used market research to invent new products. This would soon help elect politicians as well.

1980s - We Can Buy our Identity

Self-actualization seminars from the likes of Wayne Dyer and inner self work became more popular (polls showed an increase in interest from 5% in 1970 to 80% in 1980).  Reagan ran on the new individualism model with his speech "Let the People Rule" (his We the People speech 8 years later has a similar flavour) knowing that people now embrace whatever gives the illusion of independence. It polled well and many former republicans voted conservative because of the PR spin, which allowed neo-liberalism to thrive. People feel entitled to have the best and to have power over their leaders, and they want their every whim satisfied.

New technology allowed short runs of consumer goods, so people were now able to buy their identities. They felt liberated, yet were more dependent on business than ever. Products were now necessary to their happiness and their very sense of self. Without things, people no longer have any identity. Scary.

Matthew Freud, of Freud Communications (great grandson of Sigmund, and son of an MP accused of pedophilia), helped manufacturers get control over how their corporation appeared in print. And Rupert Murdock's right in there too, of course.

Robert Reich laments that we no longer have a society, just a bunch of individuals focused on themselves. Bernays found a way to get people to see goods as a means to respond to deep emotional yearnings. Politicians used these business methods to find out what voters want and give it to them, and they stopped caring about having a clear and specific mandate. They summoned the greediest aspects of human nature by focusing on individual personal satisfaction. It was a triumph of the perspective that individuals are purely emotional beings easily led off a cliff.

According to Reich, the left used to persuade people we have common interests. Roosevelt persuaded people to join together in labour unions, which drove the democratic party. The worst thing Reagan did was to make denial of compassion a respectable trait.

1990s - Fluctuating Desires Drive the New Democracy

To get re-elected, Clinton bowed to this pressure to satisfy individual voter concerns. (Tony Blair did the same thing in Britain.) It turned politics into a consumer business that can fulfill personal desires. They could learn what voters want and move themself there. Clinton conducted neuro-personality polls to find day-to-day concerns and ran on a platform of V-chips for TVs and mobile phones on busses rather than the typical foreign and domestic policies discussed in previous elections. This was spun as a means to end elitist politics in that the people are now being heard, but the practice suggests that democracy is nothing more than pandering to primitive desires. It's a politics of the self. It's a problem because people are contradictory: they want lower taxes and better public services. We're trapped in short-term, conflicting policies.

This isn't a better form of democracy, a "continuous democracy," it's just propaganda for corporations. Remember that Bernays didn't believe democracy could work and that the masses had to be led, that it's too dangerous to let people have control over their own lives. Consumerism is a way to give the illusion of control while allowing the responsible elite to continue managing society. This is the end result of that premise. We just feel like we have more say now. People's desires are in charge instead of their will. Democracy has been reduced from something that assumes an active citizenry to something which now is increasingly predicated on the idea of the public as passive consumers.

We have to appeal to the public to care for others more. We forgot that we can be more than our immediate desires. Reich summed up the two views of human nature: essentially emotional or rational. The Freudian view suggests we're just bundles of emotions, and businesses have honed their skills at responding to that. But politics must be more than that. Politics and leadership are about engaging the public in a rational discussion and deliberation about what is best for society. People need to be respected for their rational abilities to debate what is best.


2000s - Do We Know Enough to Change?

Now we know, or think we know, about neural pathways. The more we restrain ourselves, the easier it gets to avoid certain stimuli. If we have chocolate around, but stop ourselves from eating it, it will get easier to avoid it, and eventually we'll stop being so drawn to it. I practice this myself by actively avoiding social media at certain times of day, and it's something I don't have to actively work at quite so much anymore. The corollary is also true, that the more we do something, the easier it is to do and the more likely we are to do it. The more we allow ourselves to have public outbursts, the more likely we are to have them. We have to practice self-restraint.

This leans towards Anna Freud's work, but she went too far dictating what all needs to be controlled, and not far enough with other tactics to help alleviate profound depression. I think it's less a training that we need, but more of a constant reminder about our goals for ourselves as people so we're not led astray.

Today we also know about neuromarketing. They don't need market research or focus groups when they can look at our brains directly to find out which ads cause a dopamine spike. The masses can clearly be led towards consumerism or acts of genocide, so we need to be ever vigilantly thinking about why we feel like we need new clothes or why we feel a hatred for one group or another.

The fact that Bernays and others are able to manipulate society is testament to Freud's original theory hitting a nail on the head in determining how our drives affect us. But what some people do with that understanding is frightening. This clarifies a pivotal role for schools (complete with lessons on Freudian theory) to ensure we wake people up to their own decision-making as well as to their internal drives. We need to demand a democracy based on collective will for the benefit of society, not individual desires for the benefit of the self.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

On Double Standards and the Red Herring of Consent

My philosophy class discussed Erin Anderson's article from Friday's Globe and Mail, and it provoked a whole gamut of topics.  I'll try to encapsulate some of them here.  The article starts with an important question:
"The question left is whether we'll waste this moment, leaving the teenagers today to have the same conversation decades from now.  It's time to talk about solutions - in the courts, on the Internet and in our schools."


The article calls for better sex ed in the high schools.  I agree, but what Anderson fails to realize is that, while Ontario students must take one Health and Physical Education credit to graduate, they can take it in any grade.  They don't all have to take the grade 9 health curriculum that focuses on sex ed.  And there were many stories from my class of some of the fear-inducing or just plain silly lessons from middle school health classes.  Sex ed must be improved dramatically to include "consent training" and "bystander training," as the article points out, but I think that has to happen outside of health class as well.  It must be part of mandatory courses, and I think it's particularly suited to fit randomly throughout English and civics courses.

Luckily, new curriculum documents (I believe for all courses) have or will have "front pages" - a reference to the preamble before the actual essential course learnings - that demand a focus on environmental education, healthy relationships, equity and inclusive education, and financial literacy as it applies to the subject area.  History got a curricular make-over just this past year, and the new Social Science blurb (p 41) on healthy relationships sounds pretty good:
"Healthy relationships are based on respect, caring, empathy, trust, and dignity, and thrive in an environment in which diversity is honoured and accepted.  Healthy relationships do not tolerate abusive, controlling, violent, bullying/harassing, or other inappropriate behaviours."  
This is or will be an actual part of every course now which is much more effective than forcing it into a few weeks of one course.  In teachers' college, we had a week of equity and inclusion studies that many deemed "pink week," and ridiculed it as such.  When I taught Careers, I tossed in an article about sexual harassment in the workplace in the middle of discussing employee dynamics, with no discernible backlash from students.  If we can sneak this type of education in throughout all our courses, it could actually foster a cultural shift.  I'm ever optimistic!

But, of course, we have to make sure it's addressed well.


But one problem I have with Anderson's article, is the way it frames the issue of sexual assault as a matter of innocently misunderstood signals.  Yes, that happens here and there as we continue to see the rape myth perpetuated in films enough that some might still think resistance is part of the mating dance.  But I think it can often be an excuse for behaviour - "It was all just an honest mistake!" - and part of a larger issue of a lack of respect for women in general.  The fact that the article started with a discussion about Jian Ghomeshi makes it curious that it went down the "consent training" road.  From all reports, it's pretty clear that JG didn't misunderstand the signals he was getting.  He just wanted to hurt some women.

And, skirting an uncomfortable issue but no less relevant to my argument, my students got into a good analysis of the double standard.  "Men can have many partners and be cool, but women can't."  "Even if guys are okay with a girl who's slept around, girls like that have to deal with the consequences that no guy will actually date her."

Still.  In 2014.

Of course no discussion on this topic is complete without the requisite Breakfast Club double-edged sword speech - at 1:50: "It's a double-edged sword, isn't it. If you say you haven't, you're a prude. If you say you have, you're a slut. It's a trap. You want to but you can't, and if you do, you wish you didn't. . . . Or are you a tease?" 

My questions, as always, is "Why?"  Why does that happen?  What cultural forces maintain that dichotomy that hasn't budged since I was in high school in the early 80s.  I watched all sorts of gains made in racial issues and LGBTQ issues, but this one hasn't moved.  Do we want it to continue for some reason?  Who's benefitting from it?  Why won't it die??


Some said it's part of nature.  I guess since women have children, we have to protect them from being tainted with bad seed.  Many philosophers over the centuries have written about the importance of knowing for sure that a wife's children are actually her husband's, so a chaste woman is necessary to ensure proper lineage.

Almost 200 years ago, Schopenhauer said it's natural for men to be okay with multiple partners. Their will to live is satisfied by the possession of love - i.e. sex - regardless whether or not the desire is shared by the woman:
“But yet that in every case of falling in love, … the essential matter is not the reciprocation of love, but possession, i.e., the physical enjoyment. The certainty of the former can therefore by no means console us for the want of the latter; on the contrary, in such a situation many a man has shot himself. On the other hand, persons [i.e. men] who are deeply in love, and can obtain no return of it, are contented with possession, i.e., with the physical enjoyment. This is proved by all forced marriages, and also by the frequent purchase of the favor of a woman, in spite of her dislike, by large presents and other sacrifices, nay, even by cases of rape.” 
And, he continues, women are biologically determined to want love more than sex so they, and their children, can live securely.

Nowadays many of us call that essentialism and believe we are more than our biological or evolutionary mechanisms.  Our brains are more complex and efficiently designed than most of the other animals with segregated gender roles.  And, since we have birth control and DNA testing, how much does it matter if women have a variety of partners?  So why is this still maintained so vociferously?

There's another bit of biology that came up though - that the act of penetrating is different than being penetrated.  That women are a vessel that contains men's semen.  If she's been with 50 men, then she'll be "loose."  I countered that women give birth and bounce right back, but I should have argued that she could be with one man 50 times and not raise the same concerns.  It's the "kill count" that matters.  It's the image of the hot dogs down the hallway, the jizz bucket, sloppy seconds, damaged goods - as if sexually active women don't bathe and sex destroys their genitals - but only if it's with many men.  They can be tainted in a way that men can't because men leave something behind, deep inside, that seems to leave a lasting mark - forever.

But the vagina cleans itself out, kids.  Regularly.  Geez!

I can't scoff too much because I remember being in grade 12,  just when AIDS was first discussed, and, because it seemed relegated to gay men and prostitutes, my group of friends surmised that if one man's sperm touches another man's sperm it's actually fatal!   That's why sex education is so important.

But their imagery paints a picture that can be hard to shake.

ETA - And four classes later, someone raised the "vaginal looseness" argument AGAIN, so I was able to discuss the 50 times vs 50 people argument after all (and reiterate that they really need better sex ed classes).  But another argument was added to the fray:
"If a woman's vagina couldn't go back, then the tampon industry would go under because sexually active women's tampons would be falling out all over the place.  So if a woman's vagina can accommodate a tampon, it's likely small enough for your needs."
Whatever works to get the point across.


It's all because of religion.  Like the biology explanation, I think this is too simplistic. And there were myriad sexual restrictions long before the Christians ruined all the fun.

The Code of Hammurabi - written centuries before Genesis - states:
142. If a woman wishes to divorce her husband and refuses him sexual rights, an inquiry shall be held. If she has not committed adultery but her husband has, she may take her dowry and return to her father's house. 143. If she has committed adultery, then she shall be executed by being thrown into the water.....154. If a free man has sexual relations with his daughter, that man shall be exiled....159. If the first wife and a female slave of a free man both bear him sons, and the father acknowledges the sons of the female slave as his own, then the sons of the female slave shall share equally with the sons of the first wife in the paternal inheritance after the death of the father....171. If the father did not acknowledge the sons of the female slave as his own, then the sons have no right to share in the paternal inheritance; but both the female slave and her sons shall be given their freedom.
Sexual restrictions are part of society to maintain social order.  Sometimes they're officially legislated, but it's an easier time to keep order if they're part of the social fabric.  It can cause conflicts if we all sleep with anyone without respect for who's bothered by our shenanigans.  So my beginning position is that there is an order that is somewhat maintained by the sexual double standard.  Maybe if we can get to the perceived necessity for the structure, we can dismantle the attitudes.

Social Control

We ran out of time before I could postulate my own theories, but I think it's mainly about control.

If sexually confident women - or even just attractive women -  are sluts, then it reduces the competition for nice hetero girls.  So girls definitely benefit from reinforcing the dichotomy even if it's to their own detriment later.  It can be a means for girls to keep other girls from their guy by labelling them as diseased so that they become less attractive to their potential mate and even shameful to be seen with.  The solution to this dynamic is to recognize the abundance of potential mates available.  We don't need to complete with each other.  If she likes him, and he likes her back, let him go.  There are plenty to go around.

But I think for men the dynamic is perpetuated because many guys still like the upper hand in a relationship.  Not nearly all, of course.  There are confident men who can be with an experienced woman, but some really can't.  Like Silent Bob explains in Chasing Amy:

Personally, if a man has kept himself chaste and demands the same of a woman, I can respect that.  But if a man has seen some action, or tried to, and has a different standard for the women he dates, then I really can't tolerate that hypocrisy.

As I said in a previous post, saying no can precipitate retaliation of the weirdest sort.  I once turned down a guy just on a date to a movie, and he denigrated me to his friends mercilessly.  And it was just a movie, AND I was in a relationship at the time.  Some people don't take rejection well.  It's not the problem of the nay sayer, but that retaliation, unfortunately, is something women sometimes have to cope with.  So some girls say yes when they don't want to. And then they're ruined in the eyes of the Silent Bobs of the world.  But some girls want to say yes because they want to.  And that should be okay.

Here's the dynamic I think's at play:

Last summer I went on a date with a guy who I discovered, part way through the meal, loves Stephen Harper.  He challenged me to say one bad thing about him.  I listed a medley of dismantled environmental laws and regulations that are permanently destructive to Canada, not to mention the stranglehold he has on scientists.  But, I think separate from his politics, this guy's response was very interesting:
"Yes but, you can't talk about that because I don't know anything about the environment.  It's not fair because you're an environmentalist, and that's not my field."
So... let's get this straight.  I shouldn't discuss any piece of knowledge I have that a man doesn't have during a debate?   This man anyway.

But it's not just this one guy.  I've seen that same type of response here and there in other relationships over the years.  An early boyfriend whined that I'm so much more worldly than he because I lived in Ottawa for a year - Ottawa - so we just don't fit.  And a male friend insisted I didn't influence his musical tastes even though he hadn't heard of Ween or Primus before he met me and now is a rabid follower of both.  It feels to me like it couldn't be possible for him to have been influenced musically by a woman.  I could be wrong on this, of course, but it feels like a significant behaviour - a dynamic primarily between two sexes.

There's an insecurity there.  A fear.   And it hinges on what real men do and don't do.  Real men don't learn things from women, and part of that means that they should be the most experienced in the bedroom.  And the underlying current here, is that women don't have the status to teach, to know, to have seen more things - and they won't be respected if they have.  This likely ties in with the reality that smart, successful women are often single:
A study conducted with 121 British participants reported findings that females with high intelligence in male/female relationships were seen as problematic. Their intelligence were predicted to cause problems in the relationships. Whereas, high intelligence in the male partner was not seen as problematic, but desirable.
My sense is that until we can address this behaviour and belief system, we're going to be stuck with the double standard and with the sexual assaults.  It's all part and parcel of the same mentality:  This woman isn't really worth anything, so I can use her as a sex toy, as a punching bag, as a maid, as a nanny for my kids....

But then there's this guy, Terry Crews on Manhood, Feminism, and the Mindset that Leads to Rape:

"People are scared of being controlled....Feminism is not saying women are better than men....We're talking about... true gender equality.  But the problem is that men have always felt that they're more valuable....I have been that guy....Men have been manipulated to chase their win....You have to know you're already valuable."
People are getting their sense of value from their conquests, from their stuff, from their trophies, instead of from within.  Some men have a sense of entitlement over women and see women as a trophy that they deserve, whether she likes him or not.  And, I think, part of that includes wanting to be the only man the woman has ever known.  Crews says, "Never should that ever be accepted."

He suggests that men have to step up the join the battle against the patriarchal mindset that damages everyone:
"I relate it to...civil rights....Let's say the people who were silent....and the black school with two books, and the white school had everything, and you were quiet.  You were accepting it.  Same thing with men right now. You're not saying anything, you are, by your silence, accepting it.... 
The big thing for me is just that when you see another person as your equal there are things you just won't do....You would only go ahead when someone says no unless you feel you own them, you're above feel they're your property.... 
We're not battling people, we're battling a mindset....It's like cutting a tree down by the leaves, it just grows back....nobody's getting at the stump.  The stump is the mindset that people feel they're more valuable than one another.....You think you're better than everybody.  The issue is every man wants intimacy....all intimacy is [that] you want to be known...and loved....Sex comes later.  The problem is people are chasing sex to chase intimacy, and you'll never be satisfied."  
Men are weaker, more fragile, more vulnerable than they feel they could ever admit. De Beauvoir discussed this at length almost 70 years ago.  Hiding that fragility is a huge burden to maintain.  Crews says, "Admit you don't have it....Keep a moment where that pride is out of here."  And maybe we can stop the competitions, and begin to see one another with respect, on an even plane, as actual equals.


The only discussion I cut off during the class was this one.  Like the evolution vs creation debate, and the climate change vs natural fluctuations debate, saying some women lie to ruin men's lives doesn't rate an equal billing with some women get raped.  'Nough said.

Morality is a Habit, not an Act

I've been watching lots of movies and thinking about this bit from Aristotle:
"But we get the virtues by having first performed the energies, as is the case also in all the other arts; for those things which we must do after having learnt them we learn to do by doing them; as, for example, by building houses men become builders, and by playing on the harp, harp-players; thus, also, by doing just actions we become just, by performing temperate actions, temperate, and by performing brave actions we become brave.  Moreover, that which happens in all states bears testimony to this; for legislators, by giving their citizens good habits, make them good; and this is the intention of every lawgiver, and all that do not do it well fail; and this makes all the difference between states, whether they be good or bad.... 
Again, every virtue is produced and corrupted from and by means of the same causes; and in like manner every art; for from playing on the harp people become both good and bad harp-players...for if this were not the case, there would be no need of a person to teach, and all would have been by birth, some good and some bad. The same holds good in the case of the virtues also; for by performing those actions which occur in our intercourse with other men, some of us become just and some unjust....It does not therefore make a slight, but an important, nay, rather, the whole difference, whether we have been brought up in these habits or in others from childhood" (Nicomachean Ethics Book II, Chapter 1).
If it's the case that watching shows regularly can influence our actions towards others (as I suggested here), would it not follow that it's even more influential to act out the actions in the shows regularly?

It's not uncommon for actors in films and shows and plays who are playing the part of lovers to actually fall in love.  It could just be the case that two people working together fall for one another through proximity alone, but then why don't more actors fall for the camera operators or stage hands or secondary players.  I think there's something about saying the lines to one another over and over, or even just staring into one another's eyes, that creates the feeling.

But I'm curious about more villainous and harmful acts - more harmful than a new attraction ending an old relationship, and how Artistotle's ideas connect significantly with recent findings on neural pathways in the brain.
The brain gets accustomed to our typical activities and changes when they stop or when new activities start: “neurons seem to ‘want’ to receive input….When their usual input disappears, they start responding to the next best thing” (29)....Once we’ve wired new circuitry in our brain…’we long to keep it activated.’ That’s the way the brain fine-tunes its operations. Routine activities are carried out ever more quickly and efficiently, while unused circuits are pruned away” (34).
The key difference in current brain science and Aristotle's contemplations is that we now believe that childhood isn't the end all and be all of brain development.  We can alter the pathways through our behaviour as adults. There is ever time to change, albeit it can be a more difficult battle to change the pathways than to create them in the first place.

In Birdman, the play inside the film ends with a suicide.  As a theatre piece with a long run, the actor would be shooting himself in the head every night.  Does that repeated act on stage make it easier to carry out in real life?  In Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal altered the way he moved, his facial gestures, and his speech to become utterly creepy.  How well does he turn that off when he's not on the set?  How quickly does the creepiness re-enter in inopportune times when his ego's depleted, like during an argument.  After many childhood dance recitals, when asked to ad lib a dance for an audition (a lifetime ago), I reverted immediately to a collection of moves from past dances.  The body memory had created a pathway that was easiest to find in a pinch.

But the actors in our lives who, for instance, pretend to be nice for their own gain, they don't become nicer over time.  Their pretending is part of the action to the point that their nice-act becomes hard to stop.  It becomes difficult to be authentically kind or thoughtful.  Is it the case, then, that stage actors have a harder time turning off the pretending, than turning off the current characters they're embodying for part of each day?  

As a teacher, I have developed certain traits that have spilled over into my "real" life, but many of these are useful.  I stay calm and can often diffuse a situation when others are arguing angrily.  I listen patiently to the least-interesting conversations.  But then I also really want to impart information wherever I go, and tell others what to do and when to speak.  These are habits I actively repress outside of my job - and not always well.  However, during my classes, I'm not actively pretending to be a teacher.  I'm behaving appropriately as a good role model of behaviour, which, I think, is what Aristotle suggests we do.  We should act kindly and courageously as if we're role models for the world to follow.  And sometimes pretending to be kind and acting on it, not for self-gain, but as a means of practicing, can create an authentic kindness.

It's a similar problem found in self-help books that encourage us to think happy thoughts.  While smiling can actually make us feel a little happier, focusing on acting happy can have the reverse effect because somewhere inside we know it's an act.

The implications of all this isn't just a watchful eye over the behaviours of our children, but of ourselves, of our smallest actions that can get embedded as habits. And if it's the case that pretending is attached to the action being pretended, then it seems to follow that we can allow sword fights with sticks, or water gun fights, or teasing when it's very clear that it's a game (and not just a consequence-free passive-aggressive act of anger or retaliation).  And our actors won't be unduly corrupted by their actions.   But only if it all starts with the right attitude towards the good.    

Words Don't Kill?

Scott Long wrote an excellent article separating the act of supporting free speech from the act of supporting the words and images created by Charlie Hebdo.  But I disagree with this one bit:
"Words don't kill..."
As I said in a comment there, too many young people have lost lives as a direct results of malicious words and images.  We can't ignore that reality.  In my lifetime, I've seen a change in the way we talk that developed through punishments for transgressions of the new rules.  We use gender-inclusive language in scholarly writing, and professionals and politicians can no longer easily get away with cavalierly making racist, sexist, or homophobic slurs.  We recognize that words seep into our subconscious in a way we can't prevent when they're out there at large, repeated and bombarding us at every turn.

The subtle restrictions in our language, I believe, have played a part in changing in our attitudes and behaviours.  They're not the complete answer, of course, but they do have a significant impact.  The recent events have provoked some prejudicial words and views floating around social media.  We would be wise to remember this recent reaction:

Or check out how the Swedish "love-bombed" a mosque.

Long's article hits on something explained by Catarina Dutilh at New APPS, that,
" its core, the Enlightenment is not a tolerant movement: its ideals may be described as corresponding to “the ambition of shaping individual and social development on the basis of better and more reliable knowledge than the tangled, confused, half-articulate but deeply rooted conceptual systems inherited from our ancestors." 
Long's words:
"To defend satire because it’s indiscriminate is to admit that it discriminates against the defenseless....[This is] the truth about satire. It’s an exercise in power. It claims superiority, it aspires to win, and hence it always looms over the weak, in judgment. If it attacks the powerful, that’s because there is appetite underneath its asperity: it wants what they have....They know that while [Voltaire's] contempt amuses when directed at the potent and impervious Pope, it turns dark and sour when defaming a weak and despised community. Satire can sometimes liberate us, but it is not immune from our prejudices or untainted by our hatreds. It shouldn’t douse our critical capacities; calling something “satire” doesn’t exempt it from judgment. The superiority the satirist claims over the helpless can be both smug and sinister."
The movement we've celebrated that has us in this self-righteous state of knowledge is not founded on world peace or compassion or kindness, but on escaping religious ideologies.  It's a noble path if it takes us from powers that prevent us from open critical thought, but the path leads to a cliff when it continues unabated once religious ideas are no longer a threat as a forced belief system.

It's absolutely true that religious texts have portions that provoke hatred and intolerance of others:

But, the New Atheists also have their intolerant passages that can inspire their followers:  There's Richard Dawkins' famous tweet comparing Islam with Nazism: "Of course you can have an opinion about Islam without having read Qur'an. You don't have to read Mein Kampf to have an opinion about nazism."  And Bill Maher and Christopher Hitchens are no more accepting of differences.  We can find hatred within every faction of society.

At least religious texts also have portions insisting on the tolerance of all:

There's Hillel's famous description of the main message of Judaism:  "That which is hateful to yourself, do not do unto others. That is the heart of the Torah; all the rest is commentary. Now go and study!"  And there's the Christian rule:  "'Love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no commandment greater..." (Mark 12:31).

Similarly, the Qur'an instructs followers to,
" kindness to parents, and to kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and to the neighbor that is a kinsman and the neighbor that is a stranger, and the companion by your side, and the wayfarer, and those whom your right hands possess. Surely, Allah loves not the proud and the boastful" (4:37). 
Religion doesn't make us hate one another; that's a red herring.  We have the capacity to choose to follow some ideas over others in any doctrine.  I respect Chomsky's views, but I differ from him on the right to free speech.  We can be followers of Plato without condoning slavery.

Basic human nature may be the real villain here.  Zimbardo's famous experiment got to the heart of this reality, and Nietzsche recognized it almost a century earlier in this passage, 
“Somebody remarked: ‘I can tell by my own reaction to it that this book is harmful.’ But let him only wait and perhaps one day he will admit to himself that this same book has done him a great service by bringing out the hidden sickness of the heart and making it visible."
Knowing that it's possible to let this cruel part of ourselves flourish means we have to, individually and personally, work at keeping the sickness in ourselves in check.  And if we have any hope of surviving the next few decades intact, we also have to help one another make choices based on compassion and tolerance, loudly clarifying our intolerance of prejudices.  And, no, that's not a hypocrisy.  It's a necessity.   

ETA - Russell Brand made a similar point that we have to check our own selves to begin to affect change on a larger scale.

Hedges on the Prison System

I went to see Chris Hedges speak last night.  His words brought forth a mix of devastation and elation, with some in the congregation compelled to applaud after every few sentences.  He's a brilliant storyteller, and I could have listened to him all night.  It went far too quickly.

I had a chance to speak with him in the time it took him to sign my well-annotated copy of Empire of Illusion and my brand spankin' Wages of Rebellion, and I regret not buying all of his offering in order to extend our conversation.  My voice actually shook a little when I started talking, and I talk to people for a living!

I told him of the impact Sam Harris has had on my students who now say openly bigoted things in class, and he gave me some words of encouragement and signed my book "keep resisting."  Well, he signed everyone's book like that, but still.  I felt sincerely encouraged, and he looked me right in the eye when he spoke to me.

He was being interviewed by Susan G. Cole, whose books I gobbled up twenty years ago.  I actually called her up once and asked her if she'd present to my students at a conference I organized in the mid-90s, and she agreed but for a handsome fee.  Unfortunately I didn't have the wherewithal to ask the school board for money, and I was a dirt poor mom of two babies - all I really had were the balls big enough to call her up - so I had to decline her acceptance.  But she was a great moderator.

Here are the bits that stayed with me after he finished.  These are his words, only somewhat paraphrased and out of order (I'm a fan, not a journalist), but they lack the stories that give them colour, so you still have to buy the book!

On Intellectual and Emotional Knowledge and the Necessity of Faith

When confronting climate change, we know intellectually that change is necessary. But the emotional knowledge of our fragility is hard to acquire.  The existential issue of our time is how to digest issues intellectually and emotionally in order to rise up and resist.  Rebellion is an act of faith.  It's what we become, not what we achieve.  The religious (not necessary a belief in a god, but those with belief in  our inevitable historical progress) are less susceptible to emotional highs and lows.

We need to fight fascists, not to win, but because they're fascists. And we need to believe in the good in order to want to take action.  Most people don't want to change anything because their religion is a belief in the system (e.g. they believe we have a free press).  It keeps people doing nothing.  The American religion glorifies the hyper-masculine, patriotism, strength, and the right to use violence to impose virtues on the rest of the world.  It's a sacralization of empire.

Faith isn't irrational, but non-rational.  It can't be empirically measured much like beauty, truth, justice. Wisdom involves enveloping the non-rational forces into our life - what artists do.  The utilitarian tech culture severs us from these forces: arts, education, journalism - anything that has the power to transform.  But we can only achieve wisdom with the capacity to be in touch with the non-rational.

The christian right are heretics.  Jesus was not about making money.  Like Popper said (p 543), in the name of tolerance, we've accepted intolerance.  The christian right has infused the state with religion. They've misused the gospel to sacralize elements of the state.

On Prisons:  "The only act left is civil disobedience."

People are convicted before trial.  They stack charges, then plea bargain away most so they never go to trial.  It's criminalized poverty.  They prey on the poor knowing they have no resources.  They prey on families who are fleeced for hundred of dollars for phone calls.  Due to austerity measures, in cities like Baltimore and Ferguson, 30-40% of city funds are raised by fining residence for things like not mowing their lawn.  There's a 64% recidivism rate.  Dostoevsky [possibly*] said we understand civilization by looking at the prisons.  To corporations, these are the ideal workers.  They live there; they're never late, and they cost little.

Inmates know the horrible things that can happen to them if they step out of line.  They're a deeply religious community because they have so little else to hold on to.  Like in Gaza - the only thing to give structure or normalcy to their days is the call to prayer.  And, with respect to Charlie Hebdo, I'm angry at the idea that it's amusing to make fun of religion.

The privatization of the prison system means each prisoner makes the prison some money.  Prisoners are charged for everything: they have to buy their own shoes, blankets, phone calls....  There are fees charged to send money home to your family.  An emergency visit to a relative's deathbed will cost you $900.

Corporations write the legislation.  Slavery is integral to the U.S. economy. We're seeing sweatshops being recruited by prisons.  They can pay 22 cents/hour here instead of in some factory in Bangladesh.  It's neo-slavery.  The 13th Amendment allows us to use it as a form of punishment, and it's used by Hewlett-Packard, Johnson & Johnson, Starbucks, Victoria Secrets....

Appealing to the systems that are profiting off the exploitation of prisoners is useless.  The only act left is civil disobedience inside and outside the prisons.  Prisoners had a demonstration knowing the consequences they would face.

This nascent moment in the US is about organizing prison labour to get minimum wage.  It would collapse the system built on neo-slavery.  This is a perfect example of how we have to organize in that manner.

ETA - John Oliver on the inequity of bail:

On the Right and Left

Nader was destroyed by the Democrats when he ran as an independent.  They were frightened by him.  Sanders won't run as an independent because he doesn't want to be hit like Nader was.  It would mean not being at the debates and not having enough money.

The Liberals are more dangerous than the right.  Under Clinton and Obama, there were more executions and we filled more prisons.  Clinton brought in the 1993 Omnibus crime bill and drug laws, which are key to understanding the rise of the surveillance state.  This is "omnipotent policing" as Arendt calls it in Imperialism.  These are mechanisms that prey on the undocumented and the poor.

[In an different interview, he clarified that Sanders made a mistake not running as an independent. The democrats are saturated with corporate money so they're under the control of corporate power. Obama proved that in an 8-year assault on civil liberties worse than under Bush.  It's the role for the 3rd party candidate with the understanding that we have to recognize that the goal is to build movements; that you may run a candidate not to win, which is almost impossible, but to further empower the movement.  Sanders is giving legitimacy to the Democratic Party.  The democrats aren't reformable.  We must be able to agitate on the outside.]

On Activists:  "People are complex.  There's no perfect hero."

[They discussed Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, Wiebo Ludwig, Che Guevara, and Martin Luther who was an anti-semite alcoholic, and scribes recorded everything he said even when he was drunk, so at least we got a full picture of the man.]

These people are messianic.  The rose up against corporations.  They have the DNA of constant rebellion.  No uprising is possible without them.  They feel passion for social change.  Community is key; we can't effectively resist without it, so we need to create acts of solidarity.

On Canada:  "There are signs of life here, but you're not going in the right direction."

There's no hope in the U.S.  We're finished.  It's remarkable how often the U.S. blunders, and then Canada replicates it.  But Canada's not nearly as far gone.  The U.S. is very violent, founded on genocide and slavery, with corporate-owned politics.  Canada doesn't have nearly the same level of violence, and its political system isn't completely closed.

To stop Harper, read Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies.  The question is NOT about how to get good people to rule.  The question is how to make the power elite frightened of you.  Power is always the problem.  We need movements to keep power in check.  Elections are fine, but the last liberal president was Nixon because he was the last one still frightened of movements.

In Canada you have Idle No More and the Quebec student protests, which are great. You have to begin movements that might have a political wing, but every action must be about nourishing the movement.

On Rebellion and Madness:  "A protest of one is still a protest."

Nothing gets done if we're enraged or overwhelmed.  We need to embrace sublime madness to make real change.  There's nothing rational about rebellion.  When rebellion starts, people are not striving towards a vision, but driven by it.

Movements are monitored and infiltrated. There is a psychological warfare waged against you.  We can't compete on the state's level of violence or security.  What we do have is transparency and non-violence.  If we try to play their game (snitches...), we'll eat ourselves alive. We can create tiny committees to mess with the heads of state.  Consider: What can we do as an act of resistance that they won't expect?  It says to the state, 'You don't know everything.'

The most powerful weapon we have is speaking truth about discrediting the system of power that many can hear.  I talk to people about the difference between police in blue shirts and the white shirted assholes.  The blue shirts have to listen to the white shirts all day. But there are always people even at that level that can hear you.

We're standing up as forces of life.  Saving the ecosystem so the future can have life is as stark a battle as you can get.  Our capacity to speak truth is relentless, and non-violent, and there's a real possibility of bringing foot soldiers to our side.  Once we do that, then the state has no security.

I sued Obama over section 1021 of the National Defence Authorization Act which allowed military to take over in cases of domestic law.  We won federally, but Obama appealed and won.  The law was enacted because the state doesn't trust the police not to defect.

The state is corrupt and decadent.  In marches we find hope, light, creativity.  We are blessed by new generations of rebels.

* Sources suggest it's in The House of the Dead, but I couldn't find it, and I wonder if this is similar to the situation with Voltaire's quotation on free speech that he never said.  

On Privilege

I saw Chris Hedges speak again at the Tommy Douglas Institute / Community Worker Program followed by smaller discussion groups.  I was so pleased that he doesn't have a set speech for each book launch and that I was treated to an entirely different set of stories than the week previous.

Here's just a bit on the smaller discussion group that followed his speech.

I spent a 30-minute break deliberating which topic to choose out of eight possible offerings.  One was on Aboriginal Perspectives, and I'm teaching Native Studies next year, so I was leaning that way, but then I decided to go for a topic more generally encompassing:  Education, Engagement and Activism facilitated by Desmond Cole.  I expected something about how to engage students towards activism, which is my biggest struggle in the classroom.  Just yesterday a few grade 12s said of a project on social justice:  "What if we just don't care about anything happening in the world?"  I told them to act like they care, and the caring might come.  But it's THE pivotal question, and I ever fail to entice many of them towards a wider worldview beyond which dress they should wear to prom.  I suck at engagement, so I really needed this.

First a disclaimer:  Cole was a kind and equitable facilitator who made every effort to hear every voice in the room, and he was excellent at demanding a respectful environment.  I sat silently, patiently waiting for the topic to come up, but we didn't come close to hitting the topic I was expecting.  Hearing every voice sometimes means hearing a variety of ideas, which can be educational in its own right.

We got into a long discussion on teacher strikes and whose voices are left out on that, which I would have expected in the "Labour Perspectives" group, which I intentionally avoided because I'm so immersed in the issue at work, I'm weary of that conversation.  I get how it could be a way to engage students except that we have strict orders not to talk about it in the classroom.  

But the bulk of the conversation was about privilege, specifically Chris Hedges' privilege, and it was interesting to me how some people seemed to understand Hedges' position and how it differed from my own interpretation (as a white, middle class woman).

Here's what I heard Hedges say:
We can never allow the oppressed to become a distraction.  We must maintain vital human relationships with people who suffer.... We must build relationships with people experiencing oppression... to understand and learn so our actions are grounded in reality. Maintaining those relationships is vital.
He described the many journalists he knows who have been killed, the many friends he has in war torn places who are now dead, and how, at 40, as he helped carry a wounded boy from the street with gunfire continuing, and as he thought of his own son becoming traumatized by the psychological damage the job was having on his dad, he decided he had to stop taking these assignments.  And he told of quitting his job at the NYT when they asked him to stop writing against the establishment, and he shared the process of teaching in the prison system and encouraging his students to write a play together and then going the distance to get it on stage in NYC (Caged, coming here in January), and promising to take all their families to see it on opening night.

He spoke of growing up in a small town with a gay uncle and a minister dad who stood up against a homophobic congregation knowing it would cost him his job.  He spoke of the actions he took for the workers at Princeton, photographing their working conditions for an underground paper knowing he could be expelled for his actions.

Throughout his speech he gave credit to the many writers and activists who came before and during his time.

And in the break-out group, several people complained heatedly about his privilege and the fact that he doesn't know what it's like to walk down the streets in Toronto and be stopped and carded by police.

And I thought, quietly and a bit defensively - pretty defensively - that after all he lived through in other parts of the world, all he threw himself into in order to give marginalized people a voice, in countries where white journalists are routinely murdered, privileged is not the word that I would use to describe Chris Hedges.  I wanted to understand the anger some of the people in the room were feeling towards him, but it was a struggle.

Yes he's white and a man and necessarily privileged because of those facts, but how is it useful to rail against him for something he can't help?  And if we want to improve our situation collectively, who does it benefit to take down someone willing to risk so much for change?

Cole wisely turned it into a discussion of experiences and how difficult (or impossible) it is to share and know how another person's oppression works and how it feels, how it's hard to access that if it's not your own reality. Hedges can't speak to it if he's not experiencing it.  And one participant explained it in terms of macro and micro issues (paraphrased):
He's talking from a macro perspective, so it feels like he's not speaking to me.  But it's because he's not experiencing micro issues. 'Micro' makes it sound small and insignificant, but it's not.  So we have to find a place where the micro issues fit within the macro view.  
That helped diffuse the separateness I felt from the more vocal members of the group.  And I thought of the years I spent in training to be a sexual abuse counsellor, and one of the leaders reminding us over and over "pain is pain, and it can't be compared."  Similarly, we can't compare forms of oppression, and it doesn't do anyone any good to rank them.  Putting troubles on a hierarchy and complaining that others don't get it, or their issue isn't important enough, doesn't work to improve the situation.  It's a slimy way we've been trained to attack one another instead of looking to the real roots of the problems.

Similarly, during the labour discussion one participant suggested the solution is for teachers to give up some of their wages to people who have less money, as if a deduction in teacher wages would actually go towards helping reduce tuition costs.  That line reminded me of part of Diamond's Collapse in his chapter on Rwanda.
The people whose children had to walk barefoot to school killed the people who could buy shoes for theirs.
Instead of looking to the power source that is the heart of the problem -- and for us right now, that's the corporation/governmental policies that have removed the middle-class tax base (through outsourcing, technology implementation, stagnating wages) to the extent that there's not enough money for schools so class sizes have to get bigger and tuition has to increase -- we look to the group just a bit more comfortable than us, and revolt against them.  They're right in front of us, and it's simple and easy, but strikingly short-term and ineffective.

But some of the participants weren't done venting their anger about Hedges' privilege.

One was particularly upset that he had the forum to speak directly to the Dean, who was right in the room during his speech, about policies she implemented.  She seemed to be hoping for a bit of a telling-off to happen.

As an outsider to this school community, I had no idea what the policies were or that the Dean of a School of Social and Community Services would be anything but community minded and hyper-aware of social injustices.  So I question how fair it is to imply that Hedges should have known that, apparently, there's a problem at the school that he could be addressing.  Maybe I'm wrong and they're highly publicized and I was just unaware, but if they're not, then that's a lot to ask.

The idea that Hedges, as a white man, should step up to help the cause makes sense to me, though.  I sometimes show this video in my class because it explain that dynamic so clearly:

But this raises a different issue for me: the white man swooping in to save the day.  I used to show Power of One to my classes because it has some great bits for civics and history, but I stopped because it also has a narrative of a white man coming in to rescue the masses single-handedly. I despise any movie with women in need so grateful for the guy who can finally help, so I try to weed it out of my choice of films to show about apartheid or civil rights or first nation issues... But it is the case the a dominant voice can sometimes go further to help than a million marginalized voices, unless, of course, the dominant voice becomes seen as marginalized by association.

This idea was approached by a different participant who was concerned that Hedges didn't clarify that the oppressed and marginalized are the experts of their situation, and that when people want to help, they have to come in as allies, not as leaders.  He didn't say it overtly, so it's only because of my personal experiences that I heard it even though it wasn't verbalized.  But it IS something that needs to be made clear.

To really help, we have to get down on the ground to understand what the marginalized and vulnerable are experiencing and to find out what they need us to do, from our position in the world, to change the system.  But it's not always easy to figure out who needs help and who wants to help.  So we have to approach it all with the utmost care and respect for one another's lives.  And, a term we learned in philosophy courses when the readings were centuries old, we have to listen to people's stories and experiences charitably as best we can - especially when it's a struggle to understand a different position.  I'm not sure how well I'm doing on that one, but I'm still in the game.

Really simply, we have to stand up for each other and remember that the problem is where the power sits.  Hedges talked about rising up and using our bodies to stop the tar sands, and we can do the same for all the oppressing acts we might see, from hurtful words in the hallways to carding in the streets.

Something like that.