Talking About Free Speech–Again

Yep, it’s that time again–another diatribe about free speech.

This episode was brought about by a group of people informing me and some others of an article by Stephanie Zvan, titled ‘Nazis, No-Platforming, and the Failure of Free Speech,’ in which she expresses support for Richard Spencer getting punched in the face by a man in black and states, ‘Punching Richard Spencer is perhaps the best PR black bloc has ever had.’ A handful of people I know who have read the article seem to think Zvan is advocating violence, in the way she lauds Spencer getting punched.

I disagree with Zvan about punching Richard Spencer being even a good PR move, never mind the best one the black bloc has ever had, for the following reasons: a) police have historically gone undercover in activist circles, advocated committing crimes, and actually committed crimes while masked (among other tactics) to justify cracking down on dissent (see COINTELPRO); b) the person getting punched or otherwise assaulted can milk boatloads of sympathy from their supporters and those who don’t know any better, and thus get more support for their cause while making anyone who sides, even politically and philosophically, with their attacker look like at least a million miles of bad road; and c) Richard Bertrand Spencer and Company simply aren’t worth it. Don’t punch or otherwise assault fascists or fascist sympathizers, people. We’re better than that.

I’m not for punching people who spout ideas I find repulsive, but I understand we as a species don’t always think of the best course of action in the heat of the moment. I also understand it’s impossible to talk to people whose minds are already made up, so it’s best to avoid them whenever possible.

And that’s why I’m for no-platforming.

Let’s be clear: No-platforming is not a form of censorship. Those being no-platformed can still spread their ideas from other platforms and forums. The government isn’t getting involved, so no one is being censored. Also, no one is owed a platform or an audience, so if people find your ideas repulsive or otherwise disagree with you/them and don’t want to hear what you have to say, you’ll just have to suck it up and move on. And it really bugs me how fascists and proto-fascists have a beyond-annoying tendency to use their freedom of speech to stamp on their critics’ and opponents’ freedom of speech, and make bad-faith arguments about free speech in order to recruit and push their ideas into the mainstream discourse (see Sir Oswald Mosley).

There is a line between ‘radical’ and ‘tankie,’ and oftentimes that line can seem fine, but we can’t continue having important discussions on terms dictated by those with privilege. How many times does the left have to tell the right and the centre, as well as other leftists, that freedom of speech does not equal freedom from consequences? I have become quite familiar with the concept of ‘freeze peach’–essentially, a bastardization of the term ‘free speech,’ in which its advocates actually want consequence-free speech–but only for themselves. Actual free speech doesn’t work that way, though–freedom of speech is for everyone who lives in societies which have it. You can say what you want, but–again–no one is owed a platform or an audience, and there are consequences, especially if you go too far.

All told, I think Zvan is saying that we as a society have allowed individuals to abuse the value of freedom of speech to devalue other, marginalized human beings, and even try to deny them their right to exist and to make the world worse for all but a few privileged individuals for long enough, but I think she communicates this idea in such a way as to allow for misreading and misinterpretation of her article–and this serves poorly the cause(s) she is advocating for. And she doesn’t help herself or her cause(s) by failing to elaborate on what she means by ‘good speech’ and ‘bad speech’–‘good’ and ‘bad’ are not objective values, after all.

This is not the end of the debate about freedom of speech, nor the last time I stick my oar in to give my two cents’ worth about speech–far from it. I feel the need to stand up for freedom of speech and fight against the abuse thereof, no matter how tiresome the debate gets. But these are my thoughts about freedom of speech, and how it’s used.

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New Year, (Hopefully) New Me

A new year has begun, and I enter it with the best of intentions. I have made my plans for this year, and have even found at least one way to make myself accountable for achieving my goals. At this juncture, I would do anything to make sure I have something to show for all of my efforts at the end of this year, especially since I’ll be turning forty this spring.

The one way I have found to make myself accountable for achieving my goals this year is what’s known as a bullet journal, which I’ve created to keep myself on track vis-a-vis my tasks for this year and which I plan to use often. I’m sure I’ve made some mistakes in creating this journal–it’s my first bullet journal, after all–but it’ll definitely serve its purpose.

My goals for this year are: complete a novel I’ve spent a good decade trying to write; finish planning another one; start saving money again, and get my finances in order; get on a regular exercise schedule; eat healthier food than I have been; get most of my belongings packed up (I’m moving house in 2021, or before), and improve my housekeeping habits; increase my visual art and photography skills; find other income streams besides my current job; increase my output on my blog and vlog and start a podcast; and return to political activism, if only part-time. I know that sounds like a lot, and I’m going to try not to spread myself too thin, but these are things I feel I need to do.

I don’t know if I’m set for 2019, but it seems I’m on my way.

Lynn Beyak

I’m once again tardy to the party, but I believe this instance is a case of better late than never.

For those of you not in the know–and/or haven’t, for some reason, been keeping abreast with news in Canada–Lynn Beyak is a Canadian senator, who really shouldn’t be at this moment, for reasons I’ll go into now.

Beyak’s claim to fame, as far as I can tell, is whining about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report focusing on the atrocities which occurred in the residential schools and not students’ good experiences or the ‘good intentions’ of the people who worked in, and ran, the schools, then doubling down and even whinging about ‘fake news’ when she was initially called out for her remarks, instead of offering a mea culpa, if not an apology.

Here are my thoughts on the whole ‘good intentions’ spiel: a) colonization and cultural genocide are never good; b) ‘good intentions gone wrong,’ or any variation thereof, is simultaneously a cop-out and a form of gaslighting; c) intent doesn’t matter–what matters is what happens when the rubber hits the road. Oh, and that there are former residential-school students who had good experiences in the schools shouldn’t discount the stories of those who’ve been hurt by the residential-school system, and colonization in general.

Beyak then further classed up the joint by stating First Nations should trade their status cards for Canadian citizenships (pssst…First Nations are already Canadian citizens), and all ethnic groups should practice their cultures “on their own time and their own dime.” I see a hint of white supremacy in this statement, but draw your own conclusions.

Beyak has faced consequences for her repugnant remarks, but should no longer be in government, as her remarks, given her position, give her views a smidgen of legitimacy–and in an age where making such remarks is now considered a social faux pas, considering the damage they do. As she’s a senator, she’s made her remarks while being paid to sit in the Canadian government. She’s a blemish on the face of the Government of Canada, a public-relations disaster, and a national embarrassment for those of us with the decency to be embarrassed and appalled by her remarks and behaviour. (Note to Member of Parliament Tony Clement: Calling for Beyak’s ouster from Senate is not a form of censorship; she can still make her remarks, just not from a position of power, and she won’t be paid–and with Canadian tax dollars, at that–for making them. Just to clear that up.)

The sad thing is, Beyak had choices. She could have acknowledged that colonization is a bad idea, and promoted adopting the recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report. She could have reached out to First Nations–and not just those people who would tell her what she wants to hear–and actually listened to them. Instead, she chose to throw a temper tantrum and go the route of political grandstanding and white fragility–no doubt with the wholesale support of those who agree with her.

Ecofeminism: My Perspective

It’s been a long time coming, but here’s my take on ecofeminism.

It is possible to be an ecofeminist and to be scientifically literate, have thoughts grounded in reality, and not buy into old ideas of gender. But that’s not all that’s needed to improve ecofeminism, and the way it’s perceived: We need to ditch essentialist, and black-and-white, thinking, while recognizing the difference between recognizing nuance and making arguments to moderation; we need to do away with logical fallacies, such as the appeal to ‘ancient wisdom’, and to start making actual arguments; and we need to stop romanticizing ‘traditional’ ways of doing things–in any area of the world–while demonizing modern conveniences such as machines, and recognize the benefits science and technology provide, while understanding science and technology are merely tools.

As far as I’m concerned, the world needs an ecofeminism whose proponents understand how science and technology work and don’t subscribe to, or promote, mysticism, but also understand science and technology have to go hand-in-hand with political will and action, businesses modifying their model (profit-making) and people, especially those with privilege, changing our attitudes and behaviours. We also need to change the image the public has of ecofeminists and others who want to change the status quo, chiefly to make these movements more inclusive to everyone.

Political Correctness and Freedom of Speech: Looking for a Balance

Reading recently about a so-called ‘appropriation prize’–and two different takes on it, by Vicky Mochama and Dr. Jordan Peterson–prompted me to finally gather and clarify my thoughts on the issue of political correctness and freedom of speech, and write about it. Though I agree with one or two points Dr. Peterson made (mostly about criticism and censorship), I agree mostly with Mochama. (I will say right now that the ‘appropriation prize’ was a dick move.)

I’ve noticed the majority of people who are quick to cry ‘free speech’ do so when people dare to call them out on their ignorance and/or inappropriate behaviour–in short, for such people, ‘free speech’ means ‘don’t call me out for being a dick.’ I’ve also noticed a portion of this group attempt to stomp on their critics’ freedom of speech, by way of dogpiling, doxing, swatting, and other forms of online harassment, and by using terms like ‘social justice warrior/SJW,’ ‘cuck,’ ‘mangina,’ ‘white knight,’ and/or ‘special snowflake,’ which attempt to discredit and silence the targets of these terms and stop important conversations, while actually revealing the immaturity of the people using these terms. The fact is, freedom of speech works all ways, and applies to everyone.

That said, there’s being considerate of other people, and there’s tiptoeing around other people.

One major down side of political correctness is those who subscribe to it can–and a lot do–let their emotions get the better of them. And that has consequences, a lot of them negative; chief among those consequences is all reason goes out the window. For instance, it shouldn’t be considered politically incorrect to make statements of fact, and we should be able to disagree amicably on everything from finer details to the bigger picture. It’s important to be able to distinguish between statements of fact, differences of opinion, and jerkassery, and respond accordingly.

In order to have fruitful discussions, we have to ditch the black-and-white thinking and learn to recognize nuance. And this is also where listening skills come in handy; our discussions will be more fruitful if we know where everyone is coming from. The most important thing is to keep in mind that everything is up for discussion.

I’ll conclude by acknowledging that it is, by no means, easy to find a balance between political correctness and freedom of speech, but it is a necessary exercise.

Why I Am A Pro-Intersectional Vegan: An Essay

I don’t know how long this will take, but I’m going to explain why I am a vegan who subscribes to intersectionality, or intersectional theory.

I’ll start with slaughterhouse workers, as they are closest to the action, as it were, and they are among the most abused workers in the industrialized world. Eric Schlosser describes the conditions in slaughterhouses, and the abuses the workers endure, in his book, Fast Food Nation; among those conditions are injuries–for which the workers can be dismissed–and sexual harassment of female workers. So why do people work in slaughterhouses? I’ll go out on a limb and guess these folks have little to no other options: many are undocumented workers, chiefly from Mexico, and thus will no doubt take whatever jobs they’re offered, while doing whatever they can to avoid being deported, often failing miserably; they’re not qualified, for whatever reason, for any other jobs; they live in areas where, in terms of gainful employment, the slaughterhouse is the only game in town, and, short of, say, being lucky enough to be athletically gifted enough to gain a scholarship from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (which, I know, comes with its own problems), or to be in a similar situation, they have no way of getting out of town. I’d like to add that not everyone likes their jobs, but take them because they need the money and they don’t have a lot of, if any, other options, and I’m willing to bet slaughterhouse employees are in the same boat. Yes, animals’ lives matter, but so do the lives and circumstances of people employed in slaughterhouses.

In a similar situation are people who work on farms. Think you’re on the right side of the gods simply because you eat a plant-based diet? Think again. Who picked those fruits, vegetables, nuts, etc.? The truth is, a lot of farm workers are exploited–forced to work long hours (often under a hot sun and other inclement weather conditions) for little pay, quite a few farm workers are children and youth, and so many of them (in the United States, anyway) are undocumented workers. I know farming is important to feed a civilized society, but all agricultural workers need to be treated fairly. Much like slaughterhouse workers, harbouring the attitude that what happens to these people, including the undocumented workers, is of no consequence serves everyone poorly.

Continuing on the subject of people living in poverty, the vast majority of people can’t afford to buy foods deemed ‘vegan,’ including a lot of fruits and vegetables, mostly because they have neither the money nor the time to make frequent trips to the grocery store, the farmers’ market, or wherever else food is sold. That’s why, in the industrialized world, products like Kraft Dinner are so popular among poor families: you can buy packages of the stuff on the cheap, they’re easy to prepare, and they have relatively long shelf lives, meaning you can keep it in your cupboard, pantry, fridge, or freezer for weeks or even months at a time and it won’t go bad, unlike fresh fruits and vegetables. Also, poor families are headed by parents–one or two–who work, and at two or more jobs, so they don’t have time to buy healthy food or cook healthy meals, nor to teach their kids to do so. Ergo, it’s not really fair to have a go at poor people for not eating healthy, never mind not going vegan. In this scenario, I feel we need to have realistic expectations, while trying not to subject people to the bigotry of low expectations.

As for why so many poor people settle for the jobs they do: It all comes down to the ruling class adopting the attitude of “doing what’s best for business.” And apparently “what’s best for business” includes keeping as many people as possible poor and ignorant–so they will, among other things, take shit jobs and do as they’re told–and viewing Planet Earth and all of its creatures and resources as mere commodities.

I recognize how white cis heterosexual adult males–preferably of means–and their views and desires have been privileged and legitimized over millennia, while everyone else and their views and desires have been minimized and even dismissed. The world we live in now–continued resource extraction, pipelines, bank bailouts, members of ‘C’ suites earning six figures a year while fighting tooth and nail to keep the minimum wage from going up (generalization–yes, I know), wars, continuing oppression of class, racial, and sexual minorities–is a continuation of the privileging and legitimizing of upper-class white cis heterosexual male views and desires.

I also realize religious ideology has influence on society’s attitudes towards women, people of colour, LGBTQ folk, disabled people, intersex people, nonhuman animals, and the environment, confusing ‘dominion’ with ‘domination.’ Christianity, for instance, was for millennia used as a tool of imperialism, colonialism, and social control. And in areas of the world where Islam is large and in charge, this religious ideology dictates politics and society as well as personal spaces.

Subscribing to intersectional theory prevents me from thinking simplistically about issues such as veganism, and why we all, to one degree or another, participate in a system ruled by free-market fundamentalism. I feel looking at issues through a single lens means you see them simplistically, and, in most cases, ultimately end up passing judgment on people whose lives you know nothing about. For me, subscribing to intersectional theory helps me to apply Spinoza’s dictum to everyone, and the situations they’re in.

I realize the thoughts in this essay are by no means complete, but I am merely trying to explain why I subscribe to intersectional theory.

Positive vs. Wishful Thinking

I’d like to address another bee in my bonnet, which, this time, is people confusing wishful thinking with positive thinking. These people postulate that thoughts have magical powers, and can do everything from helping people get rich to preventing illness of any kind, and it’s your fault if bad things happen to you because you allegedly weren’t “thinking the right thoughts.” And that’s where positive thinking turns into delusion.

I have nothing against positive thinking: it can be a great motivator–it can boost and maintain morale–but anything beyond that is wishful thinking. Thoughts do not have magical powers; action is still required if we want anything, and even then there are no guarantees. We have to understand there are things that are beyond our control–though I’ll grant how we respond to them is important. But none of us is Vilos Cohaagen from the 1990 film Total Recall–none of us has the power to alter reality to suit our whims.

And it’s thinking we can alter reality to suit our whims that positive thinking becomes wishful thinking–and that’s where the danger lies. Thought is not a panacea–thinking the so-called “right” thoughts cannot cure all that ails us. And telling people who are in bad–or undesirable–situations that they’re in those situations because of their thought processes is a reprehensible form of victim-blaming; not everyone can rise above their circumstances. And that’s the big thing that bugs me about wishful thinking posing as positive thinking: it ignores biological, political, and other realities. But big business, political leaders, and others love it because it absolves them of any responsibility to change the way they operate.

Within reason, a positive outlook can do a lot of good, and visualizing a positive outcome for our endeavours can help us persevere, especially when the going gets tough. But it’s important to realize things don’t always work out the way we want them to, and things beyond our control can get in our way. A positive outlook is good, but it’s actually not helpful to ignore the bad and the ugly, instead of acknowledging them.