Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Toll of the Gig Economy

From an article in today's New York Times by Ruth Whippman:

"Buying, promoting or sharing your friend’s “thing” is now a tax payable for modern friendship. But this expectation becomes its own monster. I find myself auditing my friends’ loyalty based on their efforts. Who bought it? Who shared it on Facebook? Was it a share from the heart, or a “duty share” — with that telltale, torturous phrasing that squeaks past the minimum social requirement but deftly dissociates the sharer from the product: “My friend wrote a book — I haven’t read it, but maybe you should.” In this cutthroat human marketplace, we are worth only as much as the sum of our metrics, so checking those metrics can become obsessive. What’s my Amazon ranking? How many likes? How many retweets? How many followers? (The word “followers” is in itself a clear indicator of something psychologically unhealthy going on — the standard term for the people we now spend the bulk of our time with sounds less like a functioning human relationship than the P.R. materials of the Branch Davidians.) . . . 
After a couple of decades of constant advice to “follow our passions” and “live our dreams,” for a certain type of relatively privileged modern freelancer, nothing less than total self-actualization at work now seems enough. But this leaves us with an angsty mismatch between personal expectation and economic reality. So we shackle our self-worth to the success of these projects — the book or blog post or range of crocheted stuffed penguins becomes a proxy for our very soul. . . . this trend toward increasingly market-driven human interaction is making us paranoid, jittery, self-critical and judgmental."


Tuesday, November 20, 2018

On Extinction Rebellion

Here's climate scientist Dr. Kate Marvel on hope and courage as quoted in Truthout:
"Hope is a creature of privilege….[T]he opposite of hope is not despair. It is grief. Even while resolving to limit the damage we can mourn. And here, the sheer scale of the problem provides a perverse comfort: we are in this together. The swiftness of the change, its scale, and inevitability binds us into one, broken hearts trapped together under a warming atmosphere. We need courage, not hope…Courage is the resolve to do well without the assurance of a happy ending."
The full article is a call for rebellion with Dr. Gail Bradbrook, an architect of the movement in the UK, which advocates for ongoing, non-violent, civil disobedience:
Dr. Bradbrook said she is willing to risk “everything” because “the stakes are so high,” and went on to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” She notes how environmental activists in other parts of the world are being killed on a regular basis, and said this: “I come from a place of deep privilege, which is another reason to step out of its comforting deadly embrace and offer service.” . . . Dr. Bradbrook believes we are all locked into a damaging individualism, a constant and personal asking of “what about me” and “what do I need” and “how can I feel better.” She believes this is precisely what must change in order to raise our consciousness. “I feel the time has come to be fully initiated into our service, to give up hope as a drug for our hidden worries that we are suppressing. To fully face the grief of these times and to act accordingly is what we are called upon now, which means being willing to take risks,” she said.
It's not dissimilar to what Chris Hedges advocate: to continue to disrupt the system in many ways. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

On the Origins of Cultural Marxism

From an article by Samuel Moyn in the New York Times:
"'Classical Marxists, where they obtained power, expropriated the bourgeoisie and gave their property to the state,' [Cultural Marxism, he claims, is] 'Where you obtained power, you expropriated the rights of white men and gave special privileges to feminists, blacks, gays, and the like.' . . . And today, it’s true that on campus and off, many people are directing their ire at the advantages that white males have historically enjoyed. But neither the defense of the workers nor of other disempowered groups was a conspiracy on its own, and never was there a malignant plot to convert the first into the second — which is what “cultural Marxism” implies. Deployed to avoid claims of injustice, the charge functions to whip up agitated frenzy or inspire visions of revenge. . . . 
These zany stories of the Frankfurt School’s role in fomenting political correctness would be entertaining, except that they echo the baseless allegations of tiny cabals ruling the world that fed the right’s paranoid imagination in prior eras. The wider discourse around cultural Marxism today resembles nothing so much as a version of the Judeobolshevik myth updated for a new age. . . . 
As the historian Paul Hanebrink recounts in an unnerving new study, according to the Judeobolshevik myth, the instigators of communism were the Jews as a whole, not some tiny band of thinkers, conniving as a people to bring communist irreligion and revolution worldwide. The results of such beliefs weren’t pretty. . . . The defense of the West in the name of “order” and against “chaos,” which really seems to mean unjustifiable privilege against new claimants, is an old affair posing as new insight. It led to grievous harm in the last century. And though today’s critics of “cultural Marxism” purport to be very learned, they proceed seemingly unaware of the heavy baggage involved in alleging that conspiracies have ruined the land."

Monday, November 12, 2018

Stuck Between Fear and Hope

Graham Saul was on TVO's The Agenda:
"We need a better narrative to motivate us towards change. We need to be dragged from our ethical fog. The best leaders we have on this, with moral clarity, are in Indigenous groups. Great social movements use powerful words, like survival, sustainability, justice, human health, preservation. But "survival" isn't inspirational the way "freedom" is. Humanity is destroying the life support systems of the planet, but MLK didn't say, "I have a nightmare." We need a more inspiring vision. This is a collective action problem that needs collective action. We have to move beyond talking about science towards talking about values and immediate implications if we expect to get more people on board. Climate change is fueled by the wealthiest, but most affects the poorest, which is a justice issue that must be addressed. We don't have an energy problem; we have a fossil fuel problem. The time has come to put those resources to bed, like we did with CFCs and asbestos. Humanity doesn't have to be cancerous to the broader world. These are solvable problems. We have the opportunity to be part of the most hopeful thing happening in the history of the human race!"

Sunday, November 4, 2018

On J.S. Mill and Free Speech

More on "Just say 'no' to hate speech."

Maverick Philosopher wrote about free speech today, and I'd love to comment there, but there seems to be no means. So I'll bring it here. He's reading Mill and questions two things:

First, he's baffled by Mill's suggestion that we can never actually know any opinion. His example to the contrary is the opinion of Holocaust deniers despite much evidence of the actual existence of the Holocaust. But I'm afraid he's making the same mistake most people make (apparently, particularly us old schoolers) according to this recent study.



The Holocaust is a fact, so denying it is a falsehood. It's a factual mistake, not a false opinion. We can know false facts, clearly, since all we have to do is verify them, but determining a false opinion isn't as clear. For example, consider the opinion, abortion is immoral.  It really can't be known if that's a false opinion. It's just unknowable. We might all come to agreement that it should be legal and that it's the lesser of two evils, but we can't know that it's moral.

That being said, we're also getting pretty comfortable allowing people to spout false facts (aka lies) all over the place.

Secondly, he's amazed at Mill's insistence that we should allow free debate about opinions that are spectacularly disagreeable.

Mill takes that Evelyn Beatrice Hall position of, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." It's not unlike the idea that being kind to horrible people is the mark of the truly moral because anyone can be kind to wonderful people. It's really easy to defend free speech when we agree with it.

Whether or not we should stifle disagreeable opinions is an interesting question that I can go on about for ages. Consider this opinion: Muslims/Mexicans/Whathaveyou are going to destroy America. I write from a no-platform stance because of exactly this kind of claim. I fear it will lead to violence, and I strongly agree with Maverick that these kinds of opinions shouldn't be permitted on a public stage.

Why would Mill disagree? I think Mill grew up cloistered by intensely intelligent people who debated heartily but reasonably. If I were only surrounded by the brightest minds, I would be happy to debate any notion raised. However, I think if Mill were alive in these days of social media inanity, he would quickly change his view.

Munk Debates: Is Populism the Way of the Future?

I watched the recent, heavily protested, Munk Debate between good buddies on the right, Steve Bannon and David Frum. The issue they were debating was, "Be it resolved, the future of western politics is populist, not liberal."

Spoiler alert, the results were a draw, in that the audience in general didn't change their opinion on the issue. At the end of the debate, the moderators revealed incorrect results indicating a sweeping win for Bannon, but here's their retraction:



72% of the audience still disagrees with populism regardless Bannon's arguments. Nobody defined populism throughout the evening, but I take it to mean politics that focuses or appeals to the ordinary person as if society is all the same. It's an ideology that pits the common folk against the elites. It's being juxtaposed with liberalism, which generally means politics that focuses on individual liberty and equality. I'm not sure they're as different as is being suggested, but I'll get to that at the end.

from Cas Mudde 



The Toronto Star reported on the protest on Friday. Twelve were arrested (mainly for trespassing and public mischief) and two officers were injured. Protesters interrupted the debate when Bannon first began speaking, but they were given a choice to either be quiet or leave, and things calmed down after that. Protesters took what's now labelled as a "no-platform" position that fights to deny a platform for profoundly bigoted views. There's an excellent thread by Bashir Mohamed on Twitter that explains the rationale, arguing that the belief that preventing the speech of hate groups will in any way harm the marginalized goes against all we've seen in history. The gist of it is here:
"Do you really think slaveowners, Nazis, and the Klan were defeated by a bunch of fucking 'free thinkers' in a debate hall? . . . Canadians allowed the Klan to operate in Canada until 2003 due to complacency. . . . Canadians allowed apartheid supporters a podium because of 'free speech.' Do you think this defeated apartheid? . . . Alberta allowed the Klan to be formally incorporated from the 1930s - 2003. . . . A more local example is from the 80s when U of T students protested the Klan's presence on their campus. They were lead by Gary Yee. How did the Government of Ontario respond? By saying the Klan had a right to 'free speech.' . . . It wasn't the 'free speech' advocates who defeated the Klan. But instead, it was activists like Gary Yee who reduced the power of the Klan through their advocacy. . . . After today, there will be even more columns from our predominately white pundit class. They will argue that the protesters were the ones who gave Bannon power. Instead, history shows us that those very pundits and those who stand in line are the ones who give him power."

We are clearly seeing a rise in supremacy groups, and Janet Reitman reports in today's New York Times Magazine that law enforcement officers don't know how to respond effectively to white nationalism.



She writes,
“The F.B.I. knows how many bank robberies there were last year,” says Michael German, an author of the Brennan Center report and a former F.B.I. agent, “but it doesn’t know how many white supremacists attacked people, how many they injured or killed.” More concerning to German, though, is that law enforcement seems uninterested in policing the violent far right. . . . In at least one instance, the police have in fact coordinated with far-right groups. In 2017, a law-enforcement official stationed at a rally in downtown Portland, Ore., turned to a member of a far-right militia group and asked for his assistance in cuffing a left-wing counterprotester, who had been tackled by a Proud Boy. “This is what public demonstration looks like in an era when white nationalism isn’t on the fringes, but on the inside of the political mainstream,” says Brian Levin, a former New York City police officer who now leads the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University-San Bernardino.

So, why would the Munk Debates invite two similarly minded men to debate on such a non-issue right before an election? Here's one answer:
Why would any Canadian organize a local debate between two factions of the American corporatist right and try to pass it off as a serious policy dialogue between a conservative and a relative liberal, a notion that is preposterous on its face yet seems to be the predominating media narrative. Actually, this is easier to understand if we consider the apparent agenda of the organization behind last night’s event. Press Progress reminded us earlier yesterday that the Munk Debates are bankrolled by the Aurea Foundation, established in 2006 by the late Peter Munk, the Canadian gold-mining billionaire. The Aurea Foundation says on its website it “gives special attention to the investigation of issues related to the political and economic foundations of freedom, the strengthening of the free market system, the protection and enhancement of democratic values, human rights and human dignity, and the role of responsible citizenship.” Whatever that means in practice, former Munk Debate participants include Henry Kissinger and Tony Blair, so obviously the foundation isn’t allergic to war criminals.

So, there's that. I've written from the no-platform perspective before, and I agree that it's important to prevent the spreading of hate speech. It seems clear that allowing it to continue provokes acceptance of shooting unarmed migrants and killing protesters, and it's not unreasonable to fear even worse. But, once it's out there, it's important to listen to in order to call out the slippery debating tactics. This is loosely, but accurately, paraphrased or quoted from the debate, largely abridged because it was very repetitious.


BANNON'S POSITION
It's not a question of populism, but of whether we'll have populist nationalism or socialism. We have to go back to the inciting incident, [the bank bailout], on December 18th, 2008, in Washington, when Hank Paulson told Bush that we need $1 trillion by 5pm or the U.S. financial system will implode, and we'll have global anarchy. Nobody has brought the U.S. to its knees like that day, and it was the financial and corporate elites. . . . It wasn't a free bail out as pension funds were affected. The little guy bore the burden. 60% of jobs were gone.
Then he insisted that Trump had turned that around - to much audience laughter. This happened a few time. He'd say something that's an outright lie, and the audience would respond as if it's all a joke, and he'd comment, with a flirty grin, "It's a very tough crowd." He's a schmoozy kind of guy.
The party of Davos left a financial wasteland. It's why we have Brexit and Bolsonaro. Trump's economic nationalism doesn't care about your race. [laughter] Economic nationalism cares if you're a citizen. Populist nationalism is working and it's spreading. We're at the beginning of a new political revolution. The only question is if is national or the socialism of Corbyn and Sanders. The party of Davos and the elites have blown to many calls: the rise of China, $7 trillion spent on wars, deregulation that caused financial crises, and we're headed to another one. But the question here is what form of populism will win. . . . 
Why is the nation state so demonized and scorned? The alternative is socialism for the elites and brutal poverty for the poor. 
Bannon's rebuttals to Frum's points were all about soothing the fears of the little guy. We're going to take care of everyone and overthrow the elites. And then he added in lots of bald-faced lies about how much Trump has or is about to improve the economy, get back jobs, fix NAFTA, bring back manufacturing jobs, stop China gains through Mexico, make NATO work, support Muslims, work for the Black working class, etc. Bannon's playing the long game with Trump. "We're just in the top of the first inning. I believe we'll hold the Senate, and it's a dogfight over the House. It's a process. . . . Trump's getting his sea legs. . . . I haven't seen a bad decision from Trump yet." And he insists there's no correlation with Trump and the growing violence in the country: "The violence raised by the left is far worse. . . . Trump is an imperfect instrument, and the deplorables are the finest people."


FRUM'S POSITION
We hope to accomplish three things here: 1. to speak to those who are undecided. It's important. Bannon's politics offers you nothing. It doesn't care about you. It does not respect you. It is anger and fear that drives people to the polls. 2. to speak to those who see Trump for what it is and resist it. I know the fear many feel, and I stand to reignite your faith and speak to your courage. This is not the first time democrats faced thugs and dictators. They were wrong then, and they're wrong now. We're here to show that we are what our grandparents were, and we can face the challenges. And 3. for those who see Trump and support him anyway because they enjoy destruction. Bannon is burning everything down. We are nearing the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht. We understand burning non-metaphorically. You have been winning, but you will lose. And when you lose, your children will be ashamed of you. And the future will not belong to you.  And it starts tonight.   
I'm a conservative who seeks to conserve a liberal heritage. I want a state that doesn't steal, media that doesn't lie, courts that don't lie, and voting that counts every vote. Populism claims to speak for the people, but they begin by dividing people by religion, gender, race. Some of the people are not the people; they are those people. We see Trump doing this again and again. Populism will lose because it's a scam. . . . Liberal democracy is stronger than it looks.  
The failures of a good system are not the reason to turn to an evil one. We have to renew and repair. Bannon and I have one thing in common: we see the stress on middle class incomes. The populist response is to see this as opportunities to exploit and overthrow instead of flaws that need reform and constructive repair and renewal. Our choices are destruction or renewal, freedom or servitude with politics that excludes and oppresses part of the nation. . . . The idea of America first gets progressively less attractive when it leaves behind communities. We're stronger when we work cooperatively. This has been argued for 200 years: domination or potential fruitful cooperation. That's the key question. . . .  The cruel always think the kind are weak. . . . 
Populism is not interested in results. It's an attempt to exploit emotions to gain power. . . . The people can feel when they're respected and will demonstrate on Tuesday who they feel is not protecting them. The future belongs to those who care about it, not who will  immolate it for temporary gain. Populists don't know what to do; they only know who to hate. . . . These parties all have sinister connection to Russia power.
Frum's rebuttals to Bannon were largely a reiteration that we're going to fix the system from within, and a correction on all the Trump "facts," largely connecting corporate elites to the Trump administration, sometimes getting snarky: "If Trump thought blacks would vote for him, they would allow them to vote." When asked why Trump was able to win, he said it's all due to false promises around protecting health insurance. Trump offers no details, but presents a strong commitment to the people, and then nothing happens. "The best defense of Trump, is that the job's just too hard for him."


SO IT GOES... 

At this point, it just becomes clear they're both saying the same thing about how broken the system is. Can it be overthrown by elites that are so clearly part of it, or can it be fixed from within by elites that are so clearly part of it? Those were the options on offer. The people voted with Frum and against racism and laughable lies, which is good to see.

BUT, if you have 90 minutes to spare to watch a video, maybe watch this one instead:



Thomas Frank takes down both sides of this debate. He starts with Bannon's inciting incident: the bank bailout. "This was the turning point, but we missed the turn."

In a nutshell, he says,

The system needs to be fixed, but it won't happen on its own. The bailout happened under Bush, but Obama followed along, continuing Bush's policies unchanged. [The best illustration of this is the last ten minutes of Inside Job.] The Tea Party was a fake protest movement, and Paul Ryan was "down with big business," but then made it worse once in office. Trump's a "blue-collar billionaire." We're stuck in a vicious cycle of raging against elites by electing elites who make it all worse.

The Democrats used to stand for protecting the lower and middle class. But then they started saying there's nothing we can do about technology and globalization. They're more honest about their refusal to change the system. But it's not because they lacked the power to change things; they did it because they wanted to do it that way.

Back in the 70s, Democrats argued over who they were, but agreed on turning away from the New Deal fixation of the working class and embrace the post-industrial economy. They identified with the winners of the new order: the professional class. These were people who used to vote Republican. American liberalism started out as populist, but now it's all about winners, the "wired workers who will inherit the future." They're the creative class, the innovators, and we're encouraged to build zones in cities to lure them to come as if creativity and innovation are the property of a class. They protected the banks because these are their classmates.

This is only possible when the party on the left is not interested in its history of helping the working class. Meritocracy is faith that professionals deserve their rewards. They're all defined by how they did in school. Their solution for inequity is education. Instead of actually actively reducing inequity, they rationalize it. Frank's solutions are identical to Robert Reich's in Inequality for All: change the policies that allow the rich to get richer. It seems so easy, but it's not when the rich are your friends and peers.

According to Frank, who is very pessimistic about it all, this will end only when citizens take back the Democratic party. The most popular position is for them to hold big business accountable, but political consultants tell them not to, and they listen. And everyone in Washington hates Bernie Sanders.

He's concerned that, "The gravity of discontent pulls to the right." When people are upset or afraid, they vote conservatively, and the current Republican party is incompetent. Only two more sleeps.

ETA: Here's another good video of Frank where he explains how right-wing populism is a "freakish historical anomaly" that's only a few decades old. It's full of contradictions in that it "worships the working man while steadily worsening his conditions." The political divide was one the few against the many, but now it's the few against the few: the enlightened technocrats against the resentful billionaires. His solution this time: get the majority together and it will be unstoppable.

ETA: A Guardian series on populism.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Climate Change Education: Maybe Too Little, Too Late?

I've been teaching about climate change since I started teaching in 1991. Back then, most students just laughed, and I came across as a crazy person. I was fine with that mainly because my favourite teacher from high school was also seen as a bit looney. Thinking the bearers of bad news insane is a handy defence from a difficult reality.

In the early 80s, my old history teacher, immersed as he was in details of war, turned his basement into a bunker with 2' concrete walls and a two year supply of food and water, just in case. He'd show us, on a globe, that Canada was smack dab in the middle of the U.S. - U.S.S.R. conflict, and if we lived through a nuclear strike, we'd be scrounging for clean food and water for years. The fear of that potential sat at the back of my head until the mutual disarmament started. Whew! Dodged that missile! (Except, not so fast....) I wasn't openly troubled at the time, but I do continue to blame Reagan's election for my teenaged drug experimentation. How could we possibly make it with that cowboy in command? In hindsight, it could be argued that he wasn't nearly as bad as what we're dealing with now. That's not good news.

In the early 90s, most students thought climate change was a hoax despite my well researched and carefully compiled data to the contrary, and some tried to soothe my concerns, genuinely worried that I had been sucked into a conspiracy theory. It was 15 years of slogging through a sea of profound disbelief until Al Gore's movie finally opened some eyes. An Inconvenient Truth changed everything - for a little while. We had the smallest of windows to get things going, and we failed. When the time was finally ripe for action, we had Bush and Harper at the helm.

And then that moment of belief and concern and burgeoning action largely went away again for about a decade. Since the widespread sharing of the most recent IPCC report that suggests we've got about a dozen years to turn things around before we're completely out of options, lots of regular people are suddenly paying attention again.

Some students still think that climate change is a myth started by companies to sell green products using the same methods Nestle used to sell water bottles: they convinced the masses that we don't absorb any water from food or beverages, so we need to drink 8 glasses of water a day but never from the toxic tap in our homes. They created a multi-million dollar scam that most people fell for. Some people still won't drink tap water despite the reality that it's far more regulated than the bottled water industry. But people with any wherewithal or common sense could look up reputable studies on necessary water consumption and tap water regulations and easily see the lies. This is different. The top climate scientists in the world agree that we have a serious problem. People can easily look up the research.

Yes, absolutely, some companies are using this current reality to try to make a buck. But most reputable scientists will tell you we can't buy our way out of this problem, that consumerism has to stop and that includes greenwashed products. No company would propagate a myth that we should stop buying anything that's not absolutely necessary. It's definitely the case that companies are making products to profit if off climate change, but that's not evidence that climate change doesn't exist. That's evidence of corporations benefiting from a traumatic event, something we should be used to by now. And absolutely any shift in consumerism that actually takes place will affect the economy. We didn't always follow an economic growth model, and we can't continue on this way. There are alternatives.

Now that we're at a very critical point of no return, if not completely past it, teachers have finally been sent curriculum and lesson plans, from Ingenium, to help talk to students about climate change. The lesson plans start with brainstorming what we think we can do about it. If my classes are any indication, many people really think littering is a significant contributor. I hit the last straw (ha!) when someone used examples of littering as mitigating factors on a test, and I wrote and posted a poem to help them remember, but they still forget (or just can't possibly hear it). The Ingenium site links to a useful site that demonstrates flaws in the denialist arguments. As a proponent of direct instruction, I'm not big on all the brainstorming and word cloud creations, but at least this huge dilemma is becoming a bigger part of our lessons.



More importantly, for the first time ever I feel like I have overt permission to discuss this in class. I have had students question my discussions because it can be upsetting just to consider the idea that, as George Monbiot suggests in Heat, this will be the last generation to luxuriate in long, hot showers. Just considering the privations we'll have to attempt is too much for some teenagers. I don't even much touch on what the world will look like if we don't. Now I feel like I can.

I think, for students, it will be like it was with me in the cold war. I largely ignored it, but there was a tiny bit that got in and made me worried. If I avoided the news it would quiet down a bit. In the 80s, ignoring it all was fine. We no longer have that luxury. All the legal pot and free beer won't mitigate that reality.

Here's the thing: some scholars think we have to abandon any misplaced notion that we can still avert disaster. The best we can do at this point is to postpone the inevitable. However, prolonging our future for a few more decades isn't nothing. Jem Bendell's "paper’s key point — that the velocity of climate change appears to have shifted so dramatically upward since 2014 that its progression is no longer 'linear' — aligns with other mainstream research." We had a window that closed, and now we have to deal with the consequences. We've ignored it too long for the option to turn it around through GHG cuts or technological fixes, and our only option left is Deep Adaptation:
"He has a three-part strategy in mind. It starts with that “resilience” component that everybody is already behind — seawalls and reinforced roofing, etc. . . .  a second stage of “relinquishment” (giving up treasured things that make climate chaos worse, like present-day living standards and homes that overlook the ocean). And then a third: “restoration” of cultural values and practices “that our hydrocarbon-fuelled civilisation eroded”: Examples include re-wilding landscapes, so they provide more ecological benefits and require less management, changing diets back to match the seasons, rediscovering non-electronically powered forms of play, and increased community-level productivity and support."
A reporter from Australia describes the corporate and political system that got us here as a form of crimes against humanities:
"A small number of insanely wealthy individuals and immensely powerful corporations are making out like bandits from the business of pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. They don’t much feel like stopping. . . . if human civilisation somehow survives this existential threat, climate-change denial will come to be thought of the way postwar Germany conceived of holocaust denial; an intolerable danger. . . . But time is running out. Twelve years, according to this latest IPCC report. To put that in context, we have a lot less than half the time The Simpsons have been on air before we may as well just give up and start lobbing nukes at each other over the last few drops of clean drinking water and arable land. But they have to stop, or be stopped."
If this weren't bad enough, we're also running out of oxygen. We've got several centuries left, so it's not as urgent an issue, but the quality of the air we're breathing sure is. I once wrote a short story about four elderly residents of a retirement centre who were the last survivors in the area because they were all breathing from oxygen tanks. I'm horrible at story writing, and I failed to finish it because I got too swept away researching what the world would look like with too much sulphur dioxide and not enough oxygen in the air and whether or not solar panels would continue to work to continue to have electricity in the centre and how oxygen tanks even work, but it was really going to be a vehicle to explore various philosophies of death and dying. I'll make a comprehensive chart one day (that's more my speed), so we can each identify our attitude of choice for our remaining time here.

And then there's the fact that mammals can't evolve fast enough keep up with the extinction of the species.

Absolutely, we should be discussing this in schools, and, much more so than my old history teacher, we'd be very wise to take some real life precautions, but I'm in a different place on the climate change education curve. I'm not sure it matters that the next generations mind maps their thoughts on some pretty images, or play some games that explore their individual footprint. They should definitely aim to reduce their own impact: forgo that pivotal first car purchase as a measure of adulthood, learn to tolerate the heat instead of blasting the A/C, and understanding the importance of meat-free meals. It would be really useful to teach them all how to grow and preserve their own food and how to fix their own clothes (and the general attitude that fixes things instead of throwing them away). But most importantly, we need to teach them how to take to the streets to force a much more pivotal change in the direction we're headed. If we can't get Trump and Trudeau to really get involved, then I can't see how we'll possibly turn this corner.

ETA - And then I just read activist Bill McKibben's article about getting death threats. I'll give him the last word:
"It was, in this case, a public call for someone to murder me, and not long afterward another commenter, 'Carbon Bigfoot,' supplied my home address. All of which stopped me cold. I thought I was inured to social media abuse. But this was something new: a calm public discussion about how to find me and what to do to me. . . . 207 environmentalists or defenders were killed last year around the world. . . . What does it say about a society when people just routinely call for the killing of those they disagree with? . . . A society in which critics fear death is a society with fewer critics, and hence with fewer chances for change."

Monday, October 8, 2018

Can We Turn This Corner?

September is always a busy month for me, and typically I don't get the luxury of reading the news significantly, but this time was different. It's been a car crash that I just can't stop looking at. When the Charter was first developed in Canada, largely a spin off of the UN's Declaration of Human Rights, it seemed like we turned a corner with respect to human rights. It seemed like we were on a linear progression that would, bit by bit, get better and better. For sure there would be times it would slip back and have to be propped up again, keeping the quest for free speech at the expense of individual rights at bay, but I didn't expect it to be dismissed. And then, next door, we came to the harsh conclusion that they believed a woman's depiction of sexual assault, but they Just. Don't. Care.

Brutal.

Conservatives are winning elections everywhere, but not the normal types of fiscal conservatives that just want to lower taxes so we can benefit from a bit more cash in our pockets, but hateful, discriminatory radical right wingnuts who hang out with white nationalists or want to ban religious symbols for public servants or so much worse, like Brazil's Bolsonaro whose solution to poverty is to allow police to indiscriminately murder suspected criminals.

A B.C. teacher was called to the carpet to justify a civics survey (likely abridged from The Political Compass, which I also use) because the survey associated the right wing end of the spectrum with racism. The school board has assured the parent that the worksheet won't be used again because, of course, racism comes in all kind of boxes. But that's true of everything that we look at to deduce where we are on the political spectrum. Is it just a stereotype that the far right have a prejudicial agenda, or is that a legitimate claim? At least one set of studies suggests there's a correlation between conservative values and discriminating attitudes. Isn't it becoming clear from recent events that voting conservative is more likely to result in more overtly discriminatory policies on the books, or did I just imagine that? And, are we not allowed to make this connection in a classroom? Of course not all conservatives are prejudiced, but if MPs and MPPs continue to follow the party line, and their leader is racist, then that reflects on the entire party.

BUT none of that seems to matter nearly as much as climate change. Well, actually, it all really, really matters because, as I've said over and over here, we have to commit to a path of profound and intentional compassion if we're going to make it through the next few decades without slaughtering each other. It also matters because that same side of the political spectrum also generally wants to ignore climate change. Again, that's not to say everyone on the right thinks we should keep burning coal instead of investing in solar, wind, and tidal power, but, in general, that's the attitude of the parties in question. Ontario ministries are banned from using the term 'climate change,' Québec is looking at fewer environmental oversights, and Bolsonaro plans to withdraw from the Paris accord. And, according to one reporter, Trump has entered "stage 5 climate denial" - the "it's too late" stage.

Another IPCC report is out that suggests we really ought to do something about all this. We've got 12 years to cut our emissions by half if we want to have any hope of slowing this down. Here's the report, and here's an explanation on the scope and process of the report. The next one comes out in 2021. And here's a history of climate change science since 1824.

ETA: Naomi Klein expressed the gist of this long-winded post in a brief tweet:



A New York Times climate reporter says the IPCC report,
"paints a far more dire picture of the immediate consequences of climate change than previously thought and says that avoiding the damage requires transforming the world economy at a speed and scale that has 'no documented historic precedent.' . . . The report . . . describes a world of worsening food shortages and wildfires, and a mass die-off of coral reefs. Previous work had focused on estimating the damage if average temperatures were to rise by [2℃] . . . The new report, however, shows that many of those effects will come much sooner, at the [1.5℃] mark. . . . the report says that heavy taxes or prices on carbon dioxide emissions . . . would be required. But such a move would be almost politically impossible in the United States, the world's largest economy and second-largest greenhouse gas emitter behind China. . . . President Trump, who has mocked the science of human-caused climate change, has vowed to increase the burning of coal and said he intends to withdraw from the Paris agreement."
"The report makes it clear: There is no way to mitigate climate change without getting rid of coal." But the World Coal Association plan to "continue to see a role for coal in the foreseeable future."

This raises the question about the ethics and feasibility of corporations self-regulating themselves out of business - specifically including these 100 companies. We're not at a place in our embracing of ethics to actually stop harmful actions that come with huge personal rewards. Which airline or factory farm is going to willingly close their doors? Trump's statement say, specifically: "We reiterate that the United States intends to withdraw from the Paris agreement at the earliest opportunity absent the identification of terms that are better for the American people." But what's better for the American people is what's better for us all: the ability to continue to survive into the future. Preventing warming will also help reduce migration into the states. His focus is too short term. Obviously.

The BBC says,
"Scientists might want to write in capital letters, 'ACT NOW, IDIOTS,' but they need to say that with facts and numbers . . . And they have. . . . The report says there must be rapid and significant changes in four big global systems: energy, land use, cities, industry. But it adds that the world cannot meet its target without changes by individuals, urging people to: buy less meat, milk, cheese and butter and more locally sourced seasonal food - and throw less of it away .  . . use videoconferencing instead of business travel . . . insulate homes, demand low carbon in every consumer product. . . . You might say you don't have control over land use, but you do have control over what you eat and that determines land use. . . . the report's 'pathways' for keeping a lid on temperatures all mean that hard decisions cannot be delayed. . . . Ultimately, politicians will face a difficult choice: persuade their voters that the revolutionary change outlined in the report is urgently needed or ignore it and say the scientists have got it wrong. . . . If the nations of the world don't act soon, they will have to rely even more on unproven technologies to take carbon out of the air - an expensive and uncertain road."
According to Nature, here are those numbers:
"Limiting global warming to 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels would be a herculean task, involving rapid, dramatic changes in the way that government, industries and societies function. . . . The world would have to curb its carbon emissions by at least 49% of 2017 levels by 2030 and then achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. . . . Scientists have 'high confidence' that 1.5℃ of warming would result in more severe heat waves on land. . . . Temperatures on extreme hot days in mid-latitudes could increase by 3℃ [5.4℉]. . . . Two degrees of warming could destroy around 13% of the world's land ecosystems, increasing the risk of extinction for many insects, plants and animals. Holding warming to 1.5℃ would reduce that risk by half. . . . Without aggressive action, the world could become an almost impossible place to live for most people . . . As we go toward the end of the century, we have to get this right."
At the current rate, if we don't make any changes, we could expect to reach the 1.5℃ mark in about a dozen years at the earliest, which is actually a few years longer than originally estimated, so there's that silver lining.
"Many scientists have argued that meeting even the 2℃ goal is virtually impossible. But the IPCC report sidestepped questions of feasibility and focused instead of determining what government, businesses and individuals would need to do to meet the 1.5℃ goal. These include ramping up installation of low-carbon energy systems such as wind and solar . . . and expanding forests to increase their capacity to pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. . . . Other proposed options involve changing lifestyles: eating less meat, riding bicycles, and flying less."
Greenpeace executives commented,
"The world is on fire. In order to avoid more of these tragic fires, severe storms and loss of life, the world must halve global emissions in the next decade. This is a huge challenge, but is is doable and the costs of not following the right path are a matter of life and death to millions around the world, particularly the vulnerable. . . . What matters now is that we decide to try and that we make it our absolute priority. . . . Those who say it's unrealistic are actually telling us to give up on people, to give up on species . . . We do not give up on human ingenuity, courage or hope against political apathy and corporate greed. We will never give up on us."
In the New York Times, "Why Half a Degree of Global Warming is a Big Deal" graphs some of the differences between a 1.5 and 2℃ change, like ten times the chance of no sea ice in the Arctic, over a third of the world's population affected by extreme heat, and coral reefs mostly disappearing.

The Guardian tries to take a more positive spin, that we can limit warming to 1.5 C with political will. Figueres says, "Most striking to me, therefore, is the fact that the determinants of whether we head for 2C or for 1.5C are mainly political; they are not technical or economic." We've been saying this for a long time now, "We have the technology, we just have to put it in place," and it's still true, but it just feels so incredibly unlikely given the current sway in voting. I'm not sure it matters that "the price of large-scale solar and wind energy has fallen" when the elites have put all their money in oil. However, perhaps my pessimism is a result of location, since, "China, India and the EU appear to be ahead of their Paris targets."

Except, George Monbiot, on the other side of the pond, is also not entirely convinced of a rosy future.
"We can now leave fossil fuels in the ground and thwart climate breakdown. . . . So how come oil production, for the first time in history, is about to hit 100m barrels a day? . . . How is it that in Germany, whose energy transition was supposed to be a model for the world, protesters are being beaten up by police as they try to defend the 12,000-year-old Hambacher forest from an opencast min extracting lignite - the dirtiest form of coal? Why have investments in Canadian tar sands - the dirtiest source of oil - doubled in a year? The answer is, growth. . . . It doesn't matter how many good things we do: preventing climate breakdown means ceasing to do bad things. Given that economic growth, in nations that are already rich enough to meet the needs of all, requires an increase in pointless consumption, it is hard so see how it can ever be decoupled from the assault on the living planet. . . . Clean growth is as much of an oxymoron as clean coal. But making this obvious statement in public life is treated as political suicide."
He concedes that New Zealand is starting to make the change away from a growth model, and warns that we all play a part in this,
"No politician can act without support. If we want political parties to address these issues, we too must start addressing them. We cannot rely on the media to do it for us. . . . A crucial factor in the remarkable shift in attitudes towards LGBT people was the determination of activists to break the silence. They overcame social embarrassment to broach issues that other people found uncomfortable. We need . . . to do the same for climate breakdown. . . . Let's create the political space in which well-intentioned parties can act. Let us talk a better world into being."
Well, we can only try.



Sunday, September 23, 2018

On Anita Hill

My time at university was split down the middle by the news of the Montréal Massacre, and the subsequent years were plagued with fears of the Scarborough rapist. We proactively organized walking groups to move around on and off campus, started a "No Means No" campaign, and then, at one point, I rejected the sense of preemptive imprisonment created by my own fear, and I walked to a bar alone just to prove that I could. I came home to my boyfriend on my couch with the phone on his lap, white knuckled. These assaults weren't just terrifying to women.

Leslie Mahaffy went missing from a street near her home in broad daylight a couple weeks after I graduated.

It was just a few months later, in the fall of my first year of teaching at my current high school, when Anita Hill was being called to testify about her experiences working with Clarence Thomas, about the repeated sexual harassment she endured from him. A group of strong-willed students in my school, young women and men passionate about gender issues, wanted to start a gender equity club, and I was right on board to facilitate.

Perhaps naively so.

Having spent the previous five years openly debating the most controversial issues in the classroom and writing op eds in the school paper and the local paper regularly, it hadn't occurred to be cautious and to temper my enthusiasm for equity issues for a high school audience. I almost wrote controversial issues, but surely there's nothing controversial about sexual harassment and assault being a problem, right?

Our club paid rapt attention to the hearing that fall and then determined to bring awareness to these issues potentially faced by students in our own school. We decided on an awareness campaign and put up posters around the halls with definitions, legal rights legislation information, and Canadian sexual assault and harassment statistics.

And then I found out that teachers are not supposed to talk about things like that. I didn't respond to the accusations of "assaulting young minds" that came my way during the following staff meeting. I sat stunned silent, baffled that this form of education could possibly be inappropriate in a school setting of young adults, or that the information was "disgusting" as one colleague insisted.

I think a better word for it, one that nobody used, was "upsetting." It was upsetting to people to be confronted with the concerns that hide just beneath the surface of many students. Those students in the club and I believed that the best tactic to deal with it all was to make it overt, make it clear, and make it known that it's wrong. Isn't it more upsetting to know it's a reality yet do nothing?

I didn't recognize that I had crossed a line with my colleagues maybe because I was fresh from a humanities degree, or maybe it was because I was closer in age to my charges than the staff at the time. I was in grade 9 less than a decade previously, and I remember happening on information by pure chance. A friend's mother had given her a pamphlet on sexual assault. I was hungry for tips on dealing with creepy strangers and handsy distant relatives. The only real advice we got was to put your finger down your throat and throw up on perverts, but do we do that if they just brush by us too closely? We needed specifics! Harassment is complicated, and we needed more guidance

Anita Hill brought into focus the unwanted sexual innuendo that plagued our social lives, that made it feel reasonable to complain about the behaviours we encountered far too regularly. Articles and whole books were written about sexual harassment. The headlines in the news felt a little vindicating after being told the topic wasn't allowed in the halls.

Then that spring of my first year, Kristen French went missing.

The Kavanaugh case has opened up all these issues again, and made it painfully clear how little has changed in the past 27 years. Anita Hill recently wrote,
"It’s impossible to miss the parallels between the Kavanaugh confirmation hearing of 2018 and the 1991 confirmation hearing for Justice Clarence Thomas. . . . That the Senate Judiciary Committee still lacks a protocol for vetting sexual harassment and assault claims that surface during a confirmation hearing suggests that the committee has learned little from the Thomas hearing, much less the more recent #MeToo movement. . . . But, as Judge Kavanaugh stands to gain the lifetime privilege of serving on the country’s highest court, he has the burden of persuasion. And that is only fair. In 1991, the phrase “they just don’t get it” became a popular way of describing senators’ reaction to sexual violence. With years of hindsight, mounds of evidence of the prevalence and harm that sexual violence causes individuals and our institutions, as well as a Senate with more women than ever, 'not getting it' isn’t an option for our elected representatives. In 2018, our senators must get it right."
Recently it was suggest to me, by someone I actually admire, unfortunately, that women claim they were assaulted by rich men in order to get some money, and we can't just believe everybody. I can't quite understand how that's still an openly expressed opinion when Christine Blasey Ford is receiving death threats.

As Maureen Dowd wrote,
"It has been almost exactly 27 years since the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings, and we are still defensively explaining — including to our troglodyte president — why women do not always tell the authorities about verbal and physical sexual assaults, why they bury episodes or try to maneuver past them. We are still watching a bookish university professor from the West, who tried to anonymously report an alleged blight on the character of a man about to ascend to a lifetime of power, get smeared as a demanding, mixed-up, uptight, loony fantasist. . . . We haven’t forgotten our history. But we still seem doomed to repeat it."
By the end of my second year of teaching, our little club made the attention of the local news, and I found out the article was syndicated when my brother in B.C. called to say I was on the front page of the paper there. I've run similar clubs since, and I've been more seriously chastised for so much less. The fact that I'm afraid to even discuss the specifics speaks volumes. I still have problems with that line, and I've lost my warrior zeal for it all.
(I'm in the middle, with the 80s hair.)
In that first club, we had some conversations, that didn't make the article, about calling it the Gender Equity Club rather than the Equality, a more accurate representation of our concerns. But whatever. Trudeau is starting off the first ever Gender Equality week today. The theme this year (we have themes!), more or less, is that it's better for everyone if we're all treated with respect. Let's hope this week gives us something to celebrate.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Hedges' Talk on America: The Farewell Tour

I was able to get a seat to see Chris Hedges at CIGI in Waterloo. It was a packed house with a full overflow room as well. He started his talk about his new book with a lecture on America. Here's the gist of his speech, loosely quoted and/or lightly paraphrased:
"Trump is the result of a long process of decay of democratic institutions. He's the natural consequence of a degenerate society. He's a symptom, not the disease, which is the death of the liberal class."
Hedges discussed the failure of the church to call out the religious right and described the "sacrifice zones" of the tar sands, coal fields, and impoverished areas. 

He said that John Ralston Saul calls neoliberalism "a corporate coup d'etat in slow motion." Hedges told the same story of free market policies that have been discussed by Chomsky at length, that Robert Reich outlined in Inequality for All, that Naomi Klein explained in Shock Doctrine, and that's illustrated in Inside Job: in the 1970s, the global multi-nationals began to roll back the excesses of democracy by deregulating industry, privatizing public services, and busting unions. The elites focused on taking out opposing voices, and the Powell Memo actually named Ralph Nader specifically. Corporate powers seized control of academia and media platforms, and then captured the political parties. We have one ruling party now: the corporate party. They seem like two parties with just one demonizing undocumented workers, and the other acting as a release value for citizen upset, but the structure is the same, which explains the continuity between Bush and Obama. When first elected, Obama had more corporate funding of his campaign than his Republican rival. The last ten minutes of Inside Job make this connection crystal clear.

There were radical group opposing the corporate monopolies on the eve of WWI, but they were soon crushed. There's been a breakdown of capitalism in the 30s and the 60s, but in the early 90s, under Clinton, the Democrats turned into Republicans and then repealed the Glass-Steagall Act which separated commercial and investment bankings, and the Republicans were pushed further to the right. Because Chretien didn't allow the barriers around banks to be destroyed, the mortgage crisis didn't affect Canada like it did in the states. Hedges said,
"We are captive to entertainment that has seeped into every aspect of our lives. Politicians are surrounded by fictional personalities. Political rhetoric is rife with clichés and slogans devoid of content. Trump is a manufactured personality who plays reality TV games better. The population has largely lost faith in the ruling elites. Trumps win was a cathartic expression of working class rage.The severe decay of democracy is rendered invisible by the burlesque of CNN feeding the reality presidency because Trump is good for ratings."
He visited communities hit by the economic assault and concentration of wealth. Income inequality is greater now than in the guilded age. His book was modelled after Emile Durkheim's study of suicide, for which Durkheim travelled across France interviewing the people and coined the term "anomie" to describe the condition of people feeling alienated and disconnected enough to lead them to suicide. Hedges saw opioid epidemics, gambling, suicides, and white hate groups. The common denominator was economic despair.
"If we don't restructure society, these pathologies will grow. We're flirting with another economic collapse, but this time, there's no plan B. We can't lower interest rates any lower, and it's impossible to vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs. As far as dying empires go, we've checked off most of the boxes, including disastrous military adventurism. . . . Once the dollar drops, the empire contracts as imports become more expensive. It's different than the 30s when Roosevelt created jobs. Now there's no ideological vision to take the place of what was. As Paul Krugman wrote recently, the U.S. is on track to become another Hungary." 
The ruling elites are aware of their loss of credibility with the people, so they're pushing the broadcasters to the edges and attacking journalists. They've influenced social media algorithms to divert from leftist sites like Truthdig. "Alternet's traffic is down 63%. The ruling elites have run out of arguments and they're becoming more dangerous." Public Broadcasting is now funded by the Kochs. In the 1960s, Public Broadcasting showed Chomsky, Malcolm X, James Baldwin, etc. These types of thinkers have vanished from the American landscape. "In their place is a kleptocrat accelerated pillaging of the nation and the structures of government."

"Marx said of late capitalism that once capitalism is unable to extract profit from the exploited working class, it will start cannibalizing the very systems that make capitalistic democracy possible, by privatizing public education, war, and prisons."


We've outsourced factories within our own borders in the bonded labour of the prison system. 94% of inmates never went to trial.
"They can't strike, complain, or take vacations. If they make trouble, they end up in solitary confinement for a year or two. The cabal of oligarchs and corporation redirected mechanisms towards profits for themselves, seizing systems with propaganda fed to the working class. This began under Reagan who said, 'The government is not the solution; it's the problem,' but government is the only way citizens can defend themselves."
And the government is inciting violence between citizens:
"The proliferation of nihilistic violence is seen with hate groups given license by the White House. Trump incited violence in his speech to evangelicals when he told them their opponents intend to carry out violence. The moment the dollar drops, political forces will create a dystopia, which will make the U.S. unrecognizable. It's a nation founded on genocide and slavery. Violence is in our DNA and seen in the remaining idea of "purification" and the fetishized gun culture that sees the solution to gun violence in giving kindergarten teachers handguns. . . . "
We need to take to the streets:
"Unless the U.S. builds mass movements that can carry out civil disobedience, like Standing Rock, Canadian First Nations groups, or the Quebec students, Canada will feel the ripple effect of this. Canada's not an imperial power, so it's more self-contained, but you still elected Ford, and Trudeau refused to stand up to the fossil fuel industry. The subtext to climate change articles is that it's happening faster than predicted. . . . " 
"We have to resist in order to have hope, AND we have to understand how bleak the situation is. There's a moral element to resistance. You don't fight fascism because you're going to win; you fight fascism because it's fascist [Sartre, The Age of Reason]We have to fight the corporations or face extinction. To be complacent is to be complicit. We may fail, but at least we must try."
Asked about the utility of anger, Hedges said compassion comes through anger and quoted Augustine,


American exceptionalism is making a resurgence, and it's toxic. He paraphrases James Baldwin: "the longer white power refuses to confront who they are, instead hold on to faux innocence and virtue, the more monstrous they become."
"Trump is unable to be self-critical or truthful. The corporate assault on public education and the humanities is because they teach us how to think; they're subversive in their critique of the structures of power. Now, education is all vocational. At the bottom, you're stacking shelves, but at the top, you're a computer scientist working as a systems manager. You've got more money, but you're still just maintaining a system, not questioning it. We could have redesigned the banking system to offer new mortgages to people who lost their homes, but that requires thinking outside the system. Elites are unplugged from the real world. They don't live in American; they live in "Richistan." Joseph Tainter says when societies collapse, elites retreat, then maintain their lives by pushing the population harder until it collapses."
He immersed himself in the Christian Right, even taking a course in teaching creationism to see the inner working of the cult (according to Singer's definition). They make a fortune off promising magical solutions which are endemic to all forms of totalitarianism. They invite people into service, then suck them into systems of indoctrination. But their stories are heartbreaking: evictions, unemployment, addictions. There's a lust for end times because of their economic struggle. It's a political movement like the German Christian Church of the Nazis. The only way to break this movement is to re-integrate them in society to give them reason to hope.

Liberals are hypocrites who want to appear moral without the struggles and risks. Martin Luther King saw that at the end of the civil rights movement when it was okay to desegregate, but not okay to ask for economic justice. Hedges called himself a radical Keynesian, but thinks it's highly unlikely we'll get a socialist party in America. We must forgive student debt, which is over $1 trillion. Scandinavia in the 80s were able to eradicate poverty. 25% of our prisoners have mental health problems and are just drugged all day. Politicians never debate health care because we spend the most and have the worst care because it's all for profit. Only 6% of people are in labour unions. In 1928, the Nazis were in the single digits, but exploded after the market crash. They were as buffoonish as Trump, but people were angry at the system. Trump's incitement to violence is similar to that used by Milosevic in the lead up to war.

His solution is what Reich advocates, we need to tax the rich at 90% like it was under Eisenhower, and revolt peacefully.
"And we have to slash the bloated military. People can't learn to manage money without any money.We need to take to the streets, but moral forces are on our side. The elites know they're corrupt. Revolution is fundamentally non-violent. Once significant sectors of control fall, the Czar's finished, like when paratroopers refused to shoot citizens. We can't win violently. Antifa was effective only in allowing the state to demonize the resistance. They played into the hands of the state. During the Chicago teacher's strike, cops let teachers use their bathroom. That scared the elites. That's the only mechanism that will take them down. Every community has an area of corporate abuse. Resistance will begin locally. Maybe local food or power. Be aware; build relationships with others face to face, and organize."
The tipping point of a revolution is ineffable:
"Leaders of revolutions scramble to understand what's happening, but nobody knows. It can't be predicted. The tinder is there, we don't know what will light it or when, but it's there. The population is more cognizant that appears on the surface. Faith is the belief that the good draws int eh good. Resistance is an act of faith. Our job is to keep that narrative alive."
And he left us with a few lines of Auden,


Monday, August 27, 2018

On Culture Wars

I just finally got around to Angela Nagle's Kill All Normies. It's a comprehensive book outlining the history and categorization of various groups online that have seeped into real life, but, although she mentions numerous scholars in her analysis, with zero endnotes and nary a reference section, it didn't surprise me to find that she's been accused of plagiarizing (see herehere, and here for some undeniable examples of lifted sentences and paragraphs). Some speculate that the book was rushed in order to be first out with this kind of content. The cribbing seems to be primarily explanations of terms or descriptions of events, but the analysis and compilation of these ideas into a whole appears to be her own work. I wouldn't let it slide in a classroom, and her editor/publisher should have caught it, but, as a reader, it's still compelling to see the various ideas assembled so succinctly.

There are so many terms being used to describe various views, so here's a brief and incomplete table of people, media affiliations, and basic characteristics I compiled as I read Nagle's book. It's all a little slippery and contentious, but it's a starting point. She's weeded out the racist alt-right from the more playful, yet shockingly offensive and sometimes harmful alt-light. I'm not convinced there's any clear consensus on any of this, though. We're all using the terms in slightly different ways, further muddying up the waters of the whole mess.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

On the Climate Emergency

Lots of bleak news these days. The fires sweeping through Canada and the U.S. this year, at least, for the thinnest of silver linings in these devastating tragedies, have woken more people up to the reality of climate change. We need the U.S. on board on this, and that will only happen when they start to see the consequences out their living room windows. Richard Smith explains the solution to our current issues in New Politics,
"Scientists tell us we face a climate emergency . . . Suppressing emissions means closing down the producers of those emissions – the oil companies, auto manufacturers, power plants, chemical companies, construction companies, airlines, etc. . . . Corporations, typically limited to one line or field of production, like oil production for example, can’t be expected provide new jobs in an entirely different field for displaced workers and have no mandate to do so. Society has do this. . . . This is the public conversation the whole nation and the whole world needs to be having right now." 
Yup. Except he says scientists have been warning us since the 80s, but we actually had a much longer timeline to get our shit together. Here's the Washington Post, page 2, from November 2, 1922:


And this one is from a New Zealand paper, dated August 14, 1912:



Yesterday, Craig Welch published an extensive overview of the effects on the permafrost in National Geographic:
"Arctic experts are weighing a troubling question: Could a thaw of permafrost begin decades sooner than many people expect in some of the Arctic's coldest, most carbon-rich regions, releasing trapped greenhouse gases that could accelerate human-caused climate change? . . . By the time some changes are detected, a significant transition may be underway, he says. That means the public and policymakers may not grasp the real risks. "Most models don't project major carbon releases until beyond 2100," Walter Anthony says. That may be the case. But it's also possible, she says, that they "could actually happen in my children's lifetime—or my own."
The data isn't 100% at this point or extensively collected, but,
"Even scientists uncomfortable with the limited data say the possibility that something so fundamental could change so quickly gives them pause. . . . When we see things happening that haven't happened in the lifetime of the scientists studying them, that should be a concern."
Meanwhile, in today's New York Times, Lisa Friedman reports on how new US policies will cost lives:
"The proposal, the Affordable Clean Energy rule, is a replacement for the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which was an aggressive effort to speed up the closures of coal-burning plants, one of the main producers of greenhouse gases, by setting national targets for cutting carbon dioxide emissions and encouraging utilities to use cleaner energy sources like wind and solar. The new proposal, issued by the Environmental Protection Agency, instead seeks to make minor on-site efficiency improvements at individual plants and will also let states relax pollution rules for power plants that need upgrades, keeping them active longer."
Well, we had a good run.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Censorship Quiz

I've been reading Bob Altermeyer's book on authoritarianism written in 2006. Here's a censorship quiz (p 84) that perhaps can help people recognize that few of us actually want every to have total freedom to say whatever we want wherever we choose. There might be a few places that could use some limits. To some, any limit at all is tantamount to totalitarianism, but I belief what matters is what we choose to limit, when, where, and why.
1. Should a university professor be allowed to teach an anthropology course in which he argues that men are naturally superior to women, so women should resign themselves to inferior roles in our society?
2. Should a book be assigned in a Grade 12 English course that presents homosexual relationships in a positive light?
3. Should books be allowed to be sold that attack “being patriotic” and “being religious”?
4. Should a racist speaker be allowed to give a public talk preaching his views?
5. Should someone be allowed to teach a Grade 10 sex education course who strongly believes that all premarital sex is a sin?
6. Should commercials for “telephone sex” be allowed to be shown after 11 PM on television? [What about in the middle of the day?]
7. Should a professor who has argued in the past that black people are less intelligent than white people be given a research grant to continue studies of this issue?
8. Should a book be allowed to be published that argues the Holocaust never occurred, but was made up by Jews to create sympathy for their cause?
9. Should sexually explicit material that describes intercourse through words and medical diagrams be used in sex education classes in Grade 10?
10. Should a university professor be allowed to teach a philosophy course in which he tries to convince his students there is no God?
11. Should an openly white supremacist movie such as “The Birth of a Nation” (which glorifies the Ku Klux Klan) be shown in a Grade 12 social studies class?
12. Should “Pro-Choice” counselors and abortion clinics be allowed to advertise their services in public health clinics if “Pro-Life” counselors can?
His analysis of high right-wing authoritarians compared to low RWAs:
"I hope you’ll agree that half of the situations would particularly alarm liberals, and the other half would raise the hackles on right-wingers. Would low RWAs want to censor the things they thought dangerous as much as high RWAs would in their areas of concern? It turned out to be “no contest,” because in both studies authoritarian followers wanted to impose more censorship in all of these cases--save the one involving the sex education teacher who strongly believed all premarital sex was a sin. How can this be? It happened because the lows seldom wanted to censor anyone. They apparently believe in freedom of speech, even when they detest the speech. Some low RWAs may insist on political correctness, but the great majority seemingly do not. Authoritarians on the other hand, spring-loaded for hostility, seem all wound up to clamp right down on lots and lots of people. So when authoritarians reproach other people who call for censorship, the reproach may be justified. But a lot of windows probably got broken in the authoritarians’ own houses when they flung that stone."


On Internet Haters

Here's how I see it: If two people who are equally matched have a fight, the loser can still save face. It was a fair fight and someone had to lose. He might win next time. But if two people unequally matched have a fight, and the weaker of the two wins, it's a humiliating defeat. If a man sees women as inferior, then, when he fights with them, he has to win. The risk of losing is far too huge. It would be like getting beaten up by a four-year-old. So he scrambles for anything that will knock her off balance, take her away from her focus on the issue and out of that arena entirely the second he's surprised by a move and starts to question his ability to win fairly. So he dekes the hit and flashes a blade. It's not about the issue anymore. It's about winning at any cost. He looks for a new way to attack, a weak spot unrelated to the initial conflict: her fear of rape, her fear of not being able to protect her children, and her fear of being murdered.

So, obviously, the foundational problem is that women are perceived as four-year-olds in this analogy. It's only humiliating to lose an argument to a woman if someone sees them as inferior in status and ability. If you would be humiliated to lose an argument to someone, it's because you see them as beneath you. If they're your equal, then losing an argument means learning something - it's enlightening, and we feel admiration for the points being made. Pivotally, it's our capacity for admiration that's turned off when we encounter any sign of lower status. That might be something to watch for.

So this is what I thought about while I read Laurie Penny's excellent article "Who Does She Think She Is?" She explores online vitriol intermingled with observations from various stages in her personal experiences of this hot mess,
"The internet hates women. Everyone knows that by now, and nobody precisely approves, but we’ve reached a point of collective tolerance. . . . one in five young women has been sexually harassed online . . . over three-quarters of women and girls expected violence and abuse if they expressed an opinion online. . . . The internet doesn’t hate anyone, because the internet, being an inanimate network, lacks the capacity to hold any opinion whatsoever. People hate women, and the internet allows them to do it faster, harder, and with impunity. . . . The internet lets us be whoever we were before, more efficiently, with fewer consequences. . . . The primary reason there have been so few “great women ______” is not merely that greatness has been undeveloped or unrecognized, but that women exhibiting potential for achievement are punished by both women and men. The “fear of success” is quite rational when one knows that the consequence of achievement is hostility and not praise. . . . In fact, committed hatred of successful women and a destructive obsession with women who step outside their lane seem to be the sole point on which the entire political spectrum is in absolute agreement. . . . More than 40 percent [of female parliamentarians] had received threats of death, rape, beatings, or abduction while serving their terms, including threats to kidnap or kill their children. . . . This is why recreational racism and mob misogyny are given space online: Because they are still seen as acceptable offline. . . . any woman in the remotest corner of the public eye who wants to be treated with a sugar-pill of respect must find a way to dress which is neither too conservative nor too revealing, not too frumpy nor too frivolous, a way of speaking which is neither “aggressive” nor simpering, and a way of behaving which at no point discomforts any man in her vicinity. . . . It’s not that women in the public eye never make mistakes. It’s that the punishments are out of all proportion."

I've written about this before. I looked at Aristotle's take on it all where I concluded: "His behaviour is bullying, but that's not who he is, necessarily, it's how's he's reacting to the cognitive dissonance perpetuated from seeing the world's expectations of him compared to his own unfulfilled reality." And I scrutinized a comment I got that blamed everything on feminism, and concluded: "It's especially hard when your expectations of relationships don't come close to matching the real world. You know that real world, where women are more than just jizz buckets who make sandwiches; they're actually people worthy of the same respect given to men." That one got a trolling comment I left up and engaged with, attempting civility in the face of cruelty. Social expectations of our roles have to shift in order to accommodate this new reality of equal status, so the media has to change. Unfortunately healthy adults talking civility to one another isn't particularly entertaining to the masses.


There is a thrill of the take-down involved as well. They want to regain power and control and reestablish a position of respect, ironically. It's the pleasure of owning someone. Penny says,
"I’ve come to the conclusion that when you get down to it, people who enjoy hurting other people are not worth your time or mine. . . . Many of us were once that naive — naive enough to think that if people only knew how much they were hurting you, if they could only understand that you were a human being, they’d stop. . . . The point is to scare women and girls out of social and cultural spaces, because when women and girls occupy those places, well, some people get scared."
She suggests writing them off for the sake of our own mental health. I agree that letting them know they're hurting you doesn't help. They're in competition mode and out to win. You can't win if you're worried about harming your opponent. And we're not going to significantly shift that perception of status to lessen the humiliation any time soon - that's a glacial-paced movement (back when glaciers were more stable). But what makes this even hard to solve is, if we accept that behind anger is fear, and that addressing the fear can dissipate the anger, the fear is that men have twice as much competition now. We can't obliterate that fear because we're not going anywhere. We can only hope to acknowledge that it's real, that things are more difficult for people who don't think they should have to compete with a lesser class, and that they'll have to find ways to cope with this radical change that's been evolving over that last few centuries.

Penny's finish:
"Peek through your clammy hands at what women have done and at what they have created despite spending their entire careers fending off trash-mobs and negotiating outright abuse and still getting paid less than they deserve for doing twice the work. Take a look, if you dare, at how many of us are surviving and thriving despite being punished for being a little bit too ambitious, and then ask yourself what we might do if we didn’t have to waste our time on bullshit. Ask yourself how culture might change if the women in it weren’t living under constant, critical surveillance, if we were allowed to be vulnerable, to be difficult, to be strange, to take risks, and to make mistakes. . . . As you’ve got older, you can’t tolerate a lot of the toxins you used to swallow a decade ago — including entitled male bullshit. You are tired, but no longer afraid. Instead, you are angrier than you could possibly have imagined. And not just on your own behalf."