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 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.

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.

Tempest in a Teapot?

As much as the latest backlash against social progress disheartens me, the actions and attitudes of people who champion social progress which actually hinder that progress disappoint me as much, if not more. Yes, people who champion social progress can hinder social progress, chiefly by spreading misinformation and acting in ways which alienate people, many of whom may be potential allies. I call such people–I’m thinking, right now, about extreme and/or misandrist feminists, the vegan police, scientifically illiterate vegans and environmentalists, anti-war activists who blame Islamist terrorist acts entirely on Western governments–social-justice dogmatists.

Yes, it’s infuriating that it’s 2016 and sexism, racism, speciesism, classism, heteronormativity, and other forms of prejudice and bigotry still exist. Yes, it’s maddening that people who engage in any form of bigotry use any number of excuses–for instance, religion, culture, peer pressure–to, well, excuse it, or those among their number deny the prejudice and bigotry happen, or exist, altogether. But condemning the folks who engage in prejudice and bigotry, and don’t respond well to being called out on it, is not a constructive response, or reaction. Nor is turning social justice, or a positive attitude towards social progress, into dogma.

I understand the frustration of social-justice dogmatists–of all types and stripes–but lashing out at people, condemning them for what they’re doing and/or not doing, and adopting a holier-than-thou attitude don’t solve anything; nor does it help to harbour attitudes of ‘us vs. them’ or ‘with us or against us’–we have to at least meet each other halfway. This doesn’t mean compromising our principles or accommodating dangerous ideas, but we have to at least try to understand those we don’t agree with.

Social-justice dogmatists mean well, and I believe they have the best of intentions, but their actions, and even some of their ideas, ultimately hurt their respective causes, mostly by acting holier-than-thou, alienating those who don’t agree with all of their ideas, and trying to silence those who disagree with them. Negative, hurtful actions and ideas negate the best of intentions.

The urge to make a difference is strong–and noble. Idealism is fine, but we must live in the real world. In this day and age, skepticism is important–especially if we want to actually make the world a better place for all of its inhabitants.

Backlash, Version…?

Within the last two or three years, I’ve noticed people fighting back against advances in rights for women, people of colour, poor people, veganism, and other progressions in society. The way I see it, these people fall into at least two groups: those with privilege–eg. the manosphere and so-called ‘race realists’–who don’t want to give it up, and thus want to uphold the status quo and even turn back the clock; and those who side with them because they don’t want to suffer the same sorts of abuse as feminists, vegans, or anyone else who champions social progress, of any kind. Either way, this anti-progress attitude aims to stop social progress, simply because a number of people with one form or another of privilege have decided they don’t want to share, or to treat people who aren’t exactly like them like they matter.

In this backlash, the term ‘social justice warrior’ is thrown around as a blanket insult towards anyone who indicates they care about the world we live in, and our fellow creatures of all species, sexes, sexual orientations, ethnicities, gender identities, creeds, and so on, as are the terms ‘white knight’ and ‘mangina,’ which alerts me to the manosphere’s need to make up its collective mind about how its members view non-manosphere males. (Also, those terms are misandrist, as they state men don’t really care about the world or anyone who isn’t exactly like them, and those who actually do aren’t really men. In short, these terms are products of biological determinism.)

I acknowledge that those who give themselves the labels ‘vegan,’ ‘feminist,’ ‘anti-imperialist,’ and other labels associated with social progress of any kind say stupid things, and take things too far, but those participating in the backlash against social progress who deal with these folks use the same brush to paint everyone else, including more rational people, who give themselves labels associated with any kind of social progress, simply because a few people with privilege have an ‘I don’t wanna share’ attitude. I realize it’s human nature to generalize, but it’s important to know when doing so can do damage, particularly in the area of poisoning the well. This goes for everyone, whatever label(s) we give ourselves.

I’m a vegan, a feminist, I care about the environment, LGBTQ rights, and racial and ethnic equality, and I don’t care what anyone believes as long as it doesn’t negatively impact society. But I understand the importance of making sure one has one’s facts, and has them straight, before speaking, if one doesn’t want to make an ass of oneself. I understand misandry is a form of sexism and misanthropy is a form of speciesism (humans are animals–religious zealots and ‘spiritual’ types, get over it). No doubt there are others like me. Ergo, those who participate in the current backlash against social progress use the lunatic fringe of all social-progress movements to strawman, and poison the well against, the more rational among us–and we do exist.

Non- and anti-vegans, those who call themselves ‘men’s rights activists (MRAs),’ ‘race realists,’ etc., benefit from the status quo, and don’t want to see anything change as a result, apparently not realizing the status quo hurts them, too. I understand a lot of these folks operate out of ignorance, apparently having dealt only with the crackpots among those who disagree with them, and blind even to the ways they benefit from the status quo, never mind how it hurts them. The way I see it, only a tiny portion of the above entities want the status quo to stay as it is because of the ‘I don’t wanna share’ mindset. I’m guessing they can’t see how they themselves can benefit from social progress.

I know it shouldn’t shock me there are still people, in this day and age, who are afraid of change–of any kind. Afraid to let go of whatever privilege they have, perhaps because they don’t think they’re important without it. It doesn’t help there are those willing to deliberately misrepresent ideas, such as feminism, veganism, the struggle for racial and ethnic equality, and rights for LGBTQ folk and others who have never had a lot of power in society, and are willing to use the lunatic fringe of movements for social progress in their misrepresentations. I, for one, hope the numbers of the people afraid of change, and who actively fight against it, will peter out as time goes by, but all those of us who want change can do until then is educate people, and fight the status quo.

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.

All My Thoughts on Globalization

Talk on this subject has been dormant within the circles I move in here in Vancouver, but I’m sure the topic will come up again before long–this is Vancouver, after all, and people here who style themselves activists have a real bone to pick with globalization–or, rather, what they think it is. So, before that happens, I’ll tell you all my thoughts (right now) on globalization.

Wikipedia defines globalization as ‘the process of international integration arising from the interchange of world views (sic), products, ideas, and other aspects of culture.’ This integration and interchange has occurred for thousands of years, at least since the Middle Ages, if not earlier. Sure, much of globalization from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century manifested in the form of imperialism, but discoveries were made and exchanges took place. Now, in the age of air travel and the Internet, globalization is inevitable. Thanks to today’s technology and communications infrastructure, the world is growing increasingly interconnected and pluralistic. It even helps with activism, by enabling activists to coordinate their activities via the Internet–the 1999 protest against the World Trade Organization in Seattle, for instance.

Now I have to address a couple of major issues I have with those who bash globalization: first, the way they freak out when they see anyone in a different nation (especially if said nation is underdeveloped) wearing, say, a Roots or Abercrombie and Fitch T-shirt (with or without traditional garb) while themselves enjoying things such as sushi, yoga, or anime in their own backyards–apparently not realizing they can’t have their cake and eat it, too–and talk about the concept of globalization as if it’s not a system of give and take–in effect, confusing, and conflating, the definitions of globalization and imperialism, the latter of which is what they’re really against. The thing is, ‘globalization’ and ‘imperialism’ are not synonyms. Granted, globalization can be done better, by acknowledging power dynamics between nations and ensuring more developed nations don’t take advantage of less developed nations; however, the attitude of ‘what’s best for business’ being the highest priority, rather than globalization, has wreaked ecological, economic, social, and other forms of havoc. P.S.: Complaints about people in different nations wearing, eating, or using, etc. items made by North American, European, etc. companies just create a tempest in a teapot.

I’m all for calling out injustice and inequality. But let’s make sure we learn the definitions of the words we use, and stick to the real issues.

The Simple Life?

It’s 2016, and I still encounter people who yearn, and call, for what they consider a ‘simple life,’ like the lives our ancestors lived. Now, I have no problem with people making their own clothes, growing their own fruits and vegetables, etc. What I do have a problem with is people decrying those aspects of modern development and progress which, among other things, keep us alive, and make our lives easier.

These are the folks who protest things like genetically modified (GM) or genetically engineered (GE) crops, demanding instead an all-organic-all-the-time-regardless-of-the-circumstances lifestyle, call for everyone to ‘get off the grid,’ and protest development of any kind, even in underdeveloped, or Third World, nations, going so far as to romanticize the ‘traditional’ ways of those nations. (Tradition for tradition’s sake is, in my humble opinion, foolish.) And these folks say they protest these things because they’re concerned about, among other things, the environment; the claimed concern about the environment has gotten to the point where the desire for the ‘simple life’ has been confused, and conflated, with environmentalism. But are these people really concerned about the environment? I actually don’t doubt they are, but I also believe they’re trying to have it both ways, in that they fight any kind of development anywhere in the world, while themselves enjoying the fruits of that development at home. Never mind that people who don’t have access to these developments–for instance, farming technology and medicine–die because they don’t have these developments or access thereto. It seems, to me, that the anti-development, anti-GM, all-organic-all-the-time crowd is made up mainly of middle- to upper-class people who were bred, if not born, in more or less sheltered ivory towers, who apparently can’t be bothered checking their privilege at the door.

I don’t support science for the sake of supporting science; I support science because it has a proven track record of actually working. For instance, genetically engineered crops such as golden rice have the potential to feed people all over the world, including those who have no other options, whereas crop yields of organic farming, by itself, are 25% less than those of conventional farming. The folks who oppose GE crops of any kind and cry ‘organic is the only way,’ and oppose any other kind of development and progress, claim they have scientific evidence to back up their claims, but, if they ever present any, it’s bogus, as the anti-progress crowd actively misrepresents science,  and/or use scare tactics and appeals to emotion to get the public to listen to them, and to get what they want. If this crowd has science on its side, why do the people therein feel the need to use such tactics? And let’s not forget that, as often happens when this crowd gets what it wants, people die. I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t consider any ‘solution’ that results in genocide on a scale that would make Pol Pot and Augusto Pinochet look like humanitarians to be any kind of solution at all.

The truth is, the world is much different place now, in 2016, than it was even one hundred years ago. We’ve come too far, in terms of scientific, technological, social, and other forms of progress and development, to ‘get off the grid,’ turn the clock back and live the lives our ancestors lived. But, because of the scientific and technological advancements we have in this day and age, we in developed societies live longer and better lives than our ancestors did. I realize the planet we live on is the only one we know we’ve got, and I want to protect what we’ve got for the sake of future generations, but I’m not about to give up the advancements I’ve spent my life taking for granted and go back to the Dark Ages, or earlier. Also, what’s deemed the ‘simple life’ is actually anything but–our ancestors didn’t have the machines or other advancements that we have, so they actually had to perform hours of (literally as well as figuratively) backbreaking work to feed, house, and clothe themselves, and their life expectancies were shorter than ours are–hell, children have been known to die, sometimes before their fifth birthdays, mostly because of diseases which, in our era, are fully preventable, by way of hygiene and medicine. And yet those who live among us now who call for the world to give up the advances we have and our current quality of life and return to the ways of our ancestors don’t seem to realize that the vast majority of people who would do so wouldn’t last very long. Also, the vast majority of us, especially in developed, industrialized societies, after years of taking things like running water/indoor plumbing, refrigeration, central heating, medicine, and other scientific and technological advancements for granted, are too soft to stick this sort of thing out for very long.

That’s what angers me most about these people who decry the advancements we have now and call for a return to the ways of those who came before us: They ignore reality, cherry-pick the past (much like folks like David Barton), and use sensationalism, and even doomsday rhetoric, in an attempt to get the rest of us on board with their program(s). Alarmism sells ideas, but Chicken Little rhetoric is not what we need right now. Progress is not only a good thing, it’s necessary. But the world needs progress that benefits everyone, and doesn’t just make someone a buck.