Shattered Dreams

‘So much for your promises…’
Johnny Hates Jazz, ‘Shattered Dreams,’ Turn Back the Clock, 1988

Canada is having a federal election this year, and I’m taking some time to reflect on the past few years. Oh, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, how have you lied to us and let us down? Let me count the ways…

Prime Minister Trudeau promised–even before being elected as Prime Minster of Canada–to improve the government’s relationship with First Nations, and acknowledged the killing of Indigenous women is not a relic of the past, but an ongoing issue. But the government approved, then purchased, the Trans-Mountain pipeline expansion, which will lead to, among other things, violence against First Nations women and girls.

Speaking of the Trans-Mountain pipeline, Trudeau promised–on Twitter–to put a price on pollution–after his government purchased the pipeline. And I seriously doubt the government, or the company they bought the pipeline from, will pay for the pollution the pipeline causes. Oh, did I mention Joe and Jane Canadian Taxpayer are the ones paying for the pipeline?

Recently, the news reported the Prime Minister’s Office attempted to pressure former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould into intervening in criminal proceedings against SNC-Lavalin, and now–now a couple of weeks before the federal election in Canada–the Liberals don’t want to talk about it, because they were implicated in it and it thus makes them look bad, and they want Canadian voters to develop collective amnesia about it so it doesn’t affect their chances of winning the majority in the election. I don’t know how I feel about Wilson-Raybould, but the LIberals, under Justin Trudeau, have royally shot themselves in the foot with this scandal, and their involvement therein.

Then there’s the brownface kerfuffle, which, judging from the research I’ve done, will be its own post, or, at least, part of its own post.

So, there it is–a few ways Justin Trudeau, during his time as Prime Minister of Canada, has lied to the Canadian populace and let us down. But, knowing Canadian politics like I do, I don’t see anything Trudeau has done affecting his chances in the election.

 

 

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.

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.

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 decisions, 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.

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.

Jumping at Shadows: What to Do About Syrian Refugees?

As the French say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. That’s definitely true in 2016, except the only things that have changed are the names. In 2001, the name was Taliban, soon to be followed by the names al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah; now it’s the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or the Levant), or the Islamic State, or ISIS, or ISIL. And now the world has to deal with people fleeing Syria to get away from ISIS and the havoc it wreaks.

I’ll get this out of the way: I am not defending Islam, or Islamism. I’m making the case that we should make it easy for people fleeing dangerous situations to find a safe space, and to make those people feel safe and welcome where they go. I know that’s kind of difficult when we have blowhards like Donald Trump flinging verbal feces at everyone from the Middle East, Central Asia, and other nations ruled by sharia and other Islamic-inspired laws, playing on the fears of the general population, but let’s not assume that everyone from these areas has the same morals, values, and mores as ISIS, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Muslim Brotherhood, or other Islamist or fundamentalist Muslim groups or cults, but, rather, just ordinary people who want nothing more than to live their lives. Just because people identify themselves as Muslims doesn’t mean they’re a threat, but if we treat them like they are, they could very well become one. Let’s face it: ISIS, and other groups like it, take advantage of people’s frustration and feelings of isolation and powerlessness, so laws and measures that make it practically impossible for self-identifying Muslims to start fresh and go about their lives breed potential recruits for groups like ISIS. In short, shunning refugees just because they happen to self-identify as Muslim is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Every developed nation screens newcomers, immigrants and refugees, regardless of ethnicity, nation of origin, or belief–or non-belief. We have laws on our books, and police and courts to enforce them. If anyone breaks the law, let the cops and the courts deal with it–it’s kinda-sorta their job, anyhow. Granted, this is not a perfect system–hell, it’s not even foolproof (but, then again, nothing is)–but these measures were put in place to keep society safe. And, let’s face it, with terrorists and criminals–regardless of birthplace, creed, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or any other circumstances–where there’s a will, they’ll find a way. But let’s not use this fact as an excuse to exclude anyone, regardless of ethnicity, creed, or any other circumstances.

I’ll be one of the last people to deny that religious fundamentalism–of any type or stripe–causes a lot of damage, and is a genuine threat. But, just as we don’t paint all Christians, Jews, or other religious folk with the same brush we use to paint their hard-line counterparts, let’s acknowledge that not all Muslims wish death to infidels or want to impose sharia worldwide. The current fear-mongering aimed at the Syrian refugees, and others like them, will just create a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is definitely one of those situations where cooler heads must prevail.

Political Grandstanding At Its Finest

I’m a little tardy to the party in commenting on this, but I needed to take some time to put my thoughts together about what a trio of politicians said recently about different subjects before putting fingers to keys to comment.

Let’s start with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s comments about studies on violence against aboriginal women, particularly his comment about violence against aboriginal women being a crime issue and not a sociological phenomenon. I know that, as a wealthy white male in a position of power, Prime Minister Harper has little, if no, experience with racism, sexism, classism, or any other form of prejudice, so of course he would believe anything affecting anyone who is not a wealthy white heterosexual adult male is not a sociological phenomenon; he apparently has never heard of John Martin Crawford, a serial killer, and the fact that nobody cared about Crawford’s victims because they were aboriginal women, that people adopted the attitude of ‘just another Indian,’ which is the title of the book Warren Goulding wrote on this particular subject. It has also apparently never occurred to Prime Minister Harper that people started caring about the Highway of Tears here in British Columbia only after the first white female disappeared along that stretch of highway; the women who had theretofore disappeared along that stretch of highway were aboriginal. And since First Nations have been demonized by white settlers since first contact…If I didn’t know Prime Minister Harper’s words and actions were ideologically motivated–and they are–I would say the Prime Minister needs to do his homework before proceeding to open his mouth again. But I know better.

Next up: Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird and his ‘surprise’ visit to Iraq as part of dealing with the threat of the newly-formed Islamic State, declaring Canada would help protect, among others, religious minorities in the area. This is the same Minister John Baird who, when the Office of Religious Freedom was created in Ottawa, cited the fundamentalist-Christian line about ‘freedom of religion, not freedom from religion’ when defending the Office’s not including atheists and other nonreligious folk in its mandate. So I can’t help but wonder about Minister Baird’s true intentions in Iraq, Syria, and other parts of the Middle East, nor can I doubt who he really intends to protect from the Islamic State, and those in charge of it, as well as the other Islamists who dominate the region.

Last, but certainly not least: British Columbia Premier Christy Clark, and the way, under her, the provincial government is dealing with the teachers’ strike. In a recent Vancouver free daily newspaper, Premier Clark called for teachers in B.C. to suspend their current strike, while apparently not wanting to give so much as a quarter of an inch vis-a-vis their demands, which include changes to class sizes and composition to better accommodate the needs of students. Whether or not all of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation’s demands are reasonable or not is a matter of debate, but Premier Clark and B.C. Education Minister Peter Fassbender need to stop flexing their muscles and meet the BCTF halfway. I would strongly suggest Premier Clark learn from the mistakes of her predecessor, Gordon Campbell, especially if she wants to remain premier of British Columbia.  On a personal note, I attended high school in Ontario during Mike Harris’ time as premier of that particular province; his policies on everything from education to healthcare made him immensely unpopular, and he didn’t last long as premier of Ontario.  Premier Clark would do well to learn her history, especially if she does not want to repeat it.

Canada’s political system is supposed to be a democracy, yet it seems, within the last decade, the politicians at every level of Canadian government–federal, provincial, and municipal–aren’t acting like it, but rather are ignoring the wishes of the people to act according to their own agendas, and expect us all not to say anything, even if we do notice.  If this situation is to end, then society at large needs to speak up, and thus make sure the people we elect into positions of power are willing to listen to us, and understand that, if they abuse the power we as an electorate give them, we can, and will, take it away.