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.

Free-Market Fundamentalism: My View

Now that Donald Trump is the 45th President of the United States of America and Kevin O’Leary is for sure competing for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, I think it’s time–well, past time–I made my thoughts about free-market fundamentalism known.

To bring the uninitiated up to speed, free-market fundamentalism posits that the market should be free to run itself, and make decisions. This, per se, is ludicrous: the market is a concept, and concepts cannot run themselves or make decisions. The truth is, people run the market, and make decisions based on what’s most likely to make money, ergo if the market tanks, it’s on the watch of the people running it. So this idea that the market knows best, and should thus be free to run itself and make decision, is patently absurd–especially when we take into account all the times the market has gone south.

And the free market does tank every so often, especially if it’s unregulated, or laissez-faire (roughly translated from French, ‘leave it alone’ or ‘let it be.’)  The laissez-faire attitude towards business and economics protects no one, businesses or people. As George Bernard Shaw wrote in his treatise, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism, “‘Let things be’ actually means ‘let things slide.'” And when the market has no rules as to how people run it, things do slide.

But free-market fundamentalism is helpful to leaders who don’t want to take responsibility for helping out the less fortunate, as they can adopt a ‘blame the victim’ mentality. You see, free-market fundamentalism proponents claim being poor is the result of character flaws on the part of those who are poor, while ignoring the issue of people who are rich who get rich by dishonest means–if those people don’t inherit their wealth. (This is not to say that people who are rich never get there by honest means, but let’s get real.)

Another problem with free-market fundamentalism is it helps create, and foster, a culture of entitlement, which is so entrenched in the psyches of those who live under the rules of free-market fundamentalism we confuse, and conflate, entitlement with freedom. And those who promote free-market fundamentalism encourage this, as it sustains itself by convincing people it’s OK for them to think only in terms of ‘me, me, me,’ regardless of the consequences to anybody else.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is all aspects of society–and that includes the market–need to be run by people who care as much about the human and environmental costs of their decisions as they do about the economy. The people running things need to make sure everyone gets their fair share–no more, no less–there is little negative environmental impact, and the economy runs smoothly. But none of that will ever happen under free-market fundamentalism.

Rewilding: Doing More Harm Than Good?

I haven’t heard much on this topic within the last couple of months, but I want to express my thoughts about it and get that out of the way, before I hear about it again. (Sigh–I really should stop showing up to the party so tardy.)

For those of you not (yet) in the know, rewilding is defined as an attempt to return the landscape to its original state–the one that existed before human intervention. At first blush, this doesn’t sound very problematic–who wouldn’t want to see more green space, or wildlife outside of zoos? But, like so much else, rewilding in practice does have its dark side.

The first–and most obvious–criticism of rewilding to make is the vast majority of people alive today wouldn’t last very long in a wilderness environment, simply because the advancements we have taken for granted for so long have made wilderness survival skills unnecessary. Only people living in remote, next-to-impossible-to-access areas of the world need to hunt, fish, and forage for food, create ways of disposing of waste, etc., whereas the vast majority of us in the First World have grocery stores, refrigerators, indoor plumbing, etc. Expanding on this subject, civilization has also rendered preventable diseases people would have died from in the wild, by way of medicine, and ever-evolving advances therein.

Also, rewilding, if taken too far, could potentially be anti-vegan; how would vegans get everything we need in a wilderness environment? Civilization, and science, have made veganism possible, as we can now get all the nutrients we need without harming other species of animals.

In short, advocates for rewilding may also be advocating for genocide, whether they realize it or not.

And even if rewilding advocates aren’t calling for civilized areas to be rewilded, there is a question of how far the rewilding is supposed to go. Are we to do away with agriculture? If so, this too falls under the category of unwittingly calling for genocide, as the vast majority of us won’t be able to live if we have to hunt, fish, or forage for our food. And not all of us have the skills to distinguish between edible plants and those which would harm us. I personally am fine with wanting to keep natural areas wild, and changing laws to, at the very least, keep so-called ‘sport’ and ‘trophy’ hunting to the barest possible minimum. But if rewilding advocates are calling for the end of civilization and even agriculture, we’ve got problems.

I’m not calling for progress for the sake of progress; as I’ve said in a previous post, the progress I’m for is the kind of progress that benefits humanity as a whole. And as much as I balk at the idea of unbridled progress and development–especially for their own sake and/or just to make someone a buck or two–I’ll be damned if I’m going to let a segment of fanatics turn back the clock to the days when people did nothing but try to survive, with most failing, especially when most of us don’t have the skills necessary to survive in an uncivilized environment. As Yvette D’Entremont, a.k.a. ‘The Science Babe,’ pointed out in this blog post, nature doesn’t give a fuck about any of us. And for those of you who think I’m misrepresenting the idea of rewilding, why don’t you be clearer and more specific about what rewilding is about, and what it’s supposed to accomplish?

Kevin O’Leary

So, Kevin O’Leary has decided to compete for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, and thus come at least one step closer to being voted Prime Minister of Canada. And the prospect of this scares the bejesus of me.

In a previous post, I mentioned O’Leary was quoted as saying it’s “fantastic” that a handful of the super-rich have the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the planet, as “it gives them (the poor) motivation to look up to the one percent.” The reality is, we aren’t looking up to the one percent; we’re grousing about their lack of any feeling of social responsibility, and unwillingness to share. Apparently, O’Leary has never heard of the concept of giving back to the community. Also, has it occurred to O’Leary that a lot of people who didn’t inherit their wealth came by it by–oh, how should I put this?–less-than-legitimate means? Oh, and just because it isn’t illegal doesn’t mean it isn’t immoral. But I’m guessing–in the minds of O’Leary and his ilk–the ends justify the means.

I’ll take this moment to predict that if O’Leary ever becomes Prime Minister of Canada, he’ll make it easier for the rich to get richer, and much more difficult for the poor to get ahead financially and in terms of opportunities open to them, and he won’t care if the rich give to the community. He’ll also make it easier for the rich to stay out of prison if they commit any crimes, while making it harder for the poor, and other marginalized folk, to get justice of any kind. In short, if Kevin O’Leary ever becomes Prime Minister of Canada, the rich will be further rewarded for being rich, while the poor will be further punished for being poor.

I understand Kevin O’Leary is only part of the problem, and is yet another result of a system that perpetuates kyriarchy. He is also part of a larger trend towards keeping kyriarchy in place, for the benefit of a few. Also, I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s just being obtuse about the whole situation; unfortunately, that obtuseness has the potential to cost millions of people–and cost them dearly.

Natsukashii Revisited: Trump and Beyond

On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America. Within twenty-four hours, people marched on Washington, D.C., and in cities all over the world, to announce to President Trump, and the world, that we stand for human rights, diversity, inclusion, and progress.

We must, however, realize that these issues go beyond Donald Trump.

Within the race to fill the leadership role of the Conservative Party of Canada are individuals like Kellie Leitch, who wants newcomers to Canada tested for ‘Canadian values’–which she has been quoted as claiming are conservative values, though not everyone in Canada is conservative. And Shark Tank judge Kevin O’Leary is now running; he has been quoted as saying he wants to, among other things, make unions illegal, saying, “Unions themselves are borne of evil.” He has also been quoted as saying it’s “fantastic” that a small percentage of people are wealthier than the poorest people, saying, “It gives them (the poor) motivation to look up to the one percent.” Very promising potential future leaders of Canada, indeed.

Trump, Leitch, and O’Leary are part of a recent trend towards leaders and political candidates wanting to turn the clock back to a time that never really existed, a time where everybody supposedly ‘knew their place.’ The presence of these folks, and others like them, is a reflection of the desire of a portion of the general population to live in a world without political correctness or left-leaning social justice, and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States is a manifestation of the current attitude that ‘political correctness’ has gone too far and things need to go back to the way they supposedly were. In short, the people who willingly buy what the likes of President Trump, Leitch, and O’Leary are selling cling to, and benefit from, the status quo, even if it doesn’t work for everyone.

President Trump is also a manifestation, and a symbol, of a larger culture of entitlement, a culture which fosters, among other things, vitriol against left-leaning social-justice advocacy and activism and a desire to uphold the status quo simply because a small portion of the human population benefits from it. This culture of entitlement encourages kyriarchy–white supremacy, xenophobia, classism, patriarchy, jingoism, heteronormativity, cissexism, ableism, etc.–and bigotry.

I’m fully aware this problem goes beyond North America. All over the world, there are people who are afraid of change and will fight tooth and nail against it, because they think the status quo is better, or they think some period in the past was a better time, and the world needs to return to that time, even if it never existed in reality. President Trump, Leitch, and O’Leary cater to these people, and play on their fears to get votes and whatever else they want, and the election of Trump as the 45th President of the United States is very encouraging to them. However, if this trend of electing people with a serious case of natsukashii into positions of leadership continues, the world and all of its inhabitants will suffer.