Sunday, November 26, 2017

Some Implications of Boycotting Art

And another thing...  Here are two more issues I have with implication surrounding how we're treating the sexual harassment and assault cases further to my concerns previously discussed and further provoked by an article "Now What Do We Do with Their Work?".


ART AS A VITAL COMMODITY

If Alexander Fleming were found out to be horrific man, we wouldn't stop using penicillin. And if Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were nightmares, we'd still buy computers. That goes without saying. It's only in the arts that people valiantly claim to refuse to ever partake in any creation. When it comes to film and television production, that boycott or sudden shut down can punish far more people than just the accused. It harms the entire cast and crew. But more to the point, boycotting art suggests it's a convenience we can take or leave. People will make more and different art. It's a dime a dozen.

Except it's not.

Art provokes and enlightens and sparks further ideas. I have Picassos on my wall, Heidegger in my bookshelf, and Hitchcock online. These were not good men, but these were men capable of creating things that affect me, images and ideas that nobody else could possibly create quite the same way. Artists are one in a million, and destroying their work or denying their ability to create, just denies society access to one more chance to be woken up from our zoned out existence. Art is individual. We're each affected by particular and specific ideas, which are often rare, revealing themselves far too infrequently to toss aside in hopes that they will be taken up later by someone with better behaviour. 


BOYCOTTS AS PUNISHMENT

I wish people would express this same intense moral indignation when it comes to child workers, slavery, sweatshops, and environmental destruction. Imagine if this many people every day refused to ever again buy clothes, chocolate, coffee, or any product that wasn't produced with clear assurance of fair labour practices along the manufacturing and distribution line. Children are stolen from their parents and beaten as they work in cacao plantations, but that hasn't put a dent in the chocolate industry. A massive boycott could actually turn these types of business practices around. But we just don't care as much about those children.

The prospect of sudden job loss means the talented and celebrated cannot so easily get away with abusive behaviours, absolutely. When Weinstein got fired from his own company, that sent a clear message: People don't want to be subjected to sexual abuse and harassment on the job. Who would be so brazen or stupid to try something now, knowing companies will go so far as to pull you from your contract and actually re-film all your scenes with a less lecherous actor! 

But watching older films give the artists no financial benefit. I recently showed the film Inequality for All in my class and noticed it was produced by Weinstein. Whether I show it or not has zero impact on Weinstein's profits. It does, however, maintain his legacy.

It's curious that we didn't have the same reaction when Jian Ghomeshi was fired from the CBC. We didn't care about his job; we wanted him prosecuted in a court of law. Nobody mentioned destroying all their Moxy Fruvous CDs or cassette tapes; we wanted the creep in jail. I think it's partly because he was never big enough to become legendary. The band and the little Canadian show won't outlive him in history. We don't want future generations to ever like these guys again. We don't want them on their deathbeds happy that they will be fondly remembered. But I think we're putting our energy in the wrong direction.

The giant celebrity status of some of these perverts has distracted us from what happens next. The assault and indecent exposure accusation have to go to trial. And we have to make sure the court system will actually prosecute or else we have to be prepared to raise hell. But for other less physical cases, there has to be a mediation process like any other infraction in a workplace. The consequences have to be enough to remind the masses that this type of behaviour will not be tolerated. If mediation is ineffective, then termination is the next step - of the position, not the person.

The goal is to stop this kind of behaviour. The goal is not to deprive specific perpetrators of a livelihood or legacy in perpetuity, to obliterate them from existence. They need a means to be able to atone for wrongdoings. Once someone does their time, once they fulfill their sentence obligations, they have a right to come back into society and get a job. Let them create independently or, if accepted into a production, let them come along sheepishly and with great humility and a constant all-encompassing awareness of their every comment and gesture. Or else.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

So NOW What? On Power, Sexual Abuse and the Culture of Celebrity

A little over year ago, when I first heard about Louis CK's abuse of power, I was going to write a post suggesting he might actually be the guy able to fess up, apologize sincerely, and lead the way for other men to admit to their abusive behaviours. I'm a big fan, and he sometimes has just the right tone that he might be able to manage something of that calibre. But I didn't finish anything because how I feel is just all too complicated. At the time I only got this far,
He's right out there about difficult issues, dark issues, presented in a light way. He seems to care enough about ethics to go deep into some harsh topics. He already has bits about pleasing women and sexual boundaries in his act. Just imagine if he came clean and actually talked about it, honestly, and with humour, as only he can. Imagine how quickly he could change everything if he apologized. Live. Imagine if he were brave enough to do the right thing and turned himself in and, after the typical slap on the wrist, or maybe even a brief stint in jail, he actually added that experience to his next special as a cautionary tale about his abuse of power. 
Imagine if he openly acknowledged the childishness of suggesting, because they just laughed when he asked if he could pull his dick out, that it was in any way a consensual act. Imagine if he explored his own power and revealed that he did it because he could, because he's in a place where he's become untouchable, so he is living without restraints on any behaviour. So he can do exactly what he like; and this is what he likes. And how dangerous that place is to be because lots of people like to do some weird stuff that couldn't happen without a power imbalance.
And then I watched in disbelief, for over a year, as he seemed completely unencumbered by the weight of his transgressions. He could have carved a path through it all, one that others could follow, but he maintained his course of denial. It didn't go away; instead it just festered around him. Now, even though Weinstein is so much worse by all accounts, his actions and his company's reactions and the many women who have come forward have been game-changers. The camel's back has finally broken.

And now it's even more complicated. There's a huge variety of acts being lumped together. We need to have adequate punishments in place to deter any similar acts, but I'm not sure their lives should be completely destroyed. I raised the issue with some old colleagues who thought Louis's behaviour hilarious and fell back on, "He didn't even touch them - what's the big deal?!" My retort: "It's confinement and don't you think it could be absolutely horrifying to be trapped and forced to watch someone masturbate." But how do we manage the varied and multi-faceted reactions to this ever expanding news, and how can we possibly figure out how bad each action is and how much punishment is warranted??

It feels like we've turned a corner recently - a vitally important corner - but now we have to make sure we don't go right around the bend. We have to find a solid landing place where we can all live together. That has to be the goal.


ABOUT THOSE APOLOGIES

Asking for forgiveness can be a profoundly healing process. Unfortunately, some have made apologies that are shocking in their narcissism. Apologizing only after getting caught - after getting really caught where people are finally paying attention - can remove any possible sincerity from the words as it is. But for many, their words were just about their hardships and their traumas and the difficulties in their lives that led them to trap or attack or otherwise harm people over and over without visible remorse. And that's the thing. There's still no visible remorse. The apologies have the feel of "people shouldn't hurt me too much for being stupid and sad," instead of "I am so profoundly ashamed of the harm I caused." Confession is not the same as atonement.

I think I'd like to see an apology come out along these lines, following a loose restorative justice model:
I can't tell you how sorry I am, and I will do whatever each victim needs to feel more at peace with what happened. I should be held in a room where they can yell at me and spit on me and hit me and hurt me, one at a time, for as long as they need, until they feel some personal release of the pain they've carried with them and the lack of power they felt as I threatened to destroy their career or as I blocked the doorway to their escape or as I convinced them to do things they didn't want to do just because I could. My actions were unconscionable, and I deserve whatever I've got coming to me.
Just imagine! Apologies have to come with retribution of some sort. If I break a window, it's not appropriate to tell my neighbours what a crappy day I was having when I threw that rock. My goal should not be to elicit their sympathy. I should take responsibility for any damage caused and tell them I already called a window place to fix it and a cleaner to scrub the house and yard of any slivers of glass, and that of course I'll pay for it all. The goal of an apology should be to, as much as possible, make everything as it was before that moment of recklessness. It's harder when it was years ago and the harm has taken on a measure of fecundity - if my neighbour's feet were sliced and infected by the shards of glass, and they've been limping through their days ever since, missing job opportunities and unable to partake in celebrations along the way. That takes a much larger measure of restitution.

These men need to find a way to fix it. And throwing money at it just doesn't work. It's not about paying for the cost to their mental health. It's about righting that incessant power imbalance!


THE EFFECT ON THE VICTIM

BUT... If we decide the intensity of these crimes rests entirely on the effect on the victim, then we have to do something about how fragile we have become as a society. Here's the thing: There are many claims of bad behaviour coming forward that make me wonder about how quickly we sometimes latch on to victimhood. If someone says some suggestive words or brushes by a little too closely, just once, should that be a career-ender? This is the claim that tosses me clear over to the wrong side of it all. But I can't stop thinking of the words of Helen Prejean:
"People are more than the worst thing they have ever done."  
We are all greater than the sum of our worst actions. All of us.

We have limits to our patience when people feel hard-done-by in our regular lives. It is a reality that some people feel slighted or triggered over behaviours that wouldn't affect most others. Since people can't always know who'll be affected by what, we often have a bit of a grace period to allow a mistake or two, and sometimes we tell people to toughen up already. So how much should the distress of a triggering behaviour determine the outcome of a trial?

I admit I have pretty thick skin.  Maybe I was born a bit feisty, or maybe it's because I was raised on these kinds of movies (it's just forty seconds long):



They taught us how to deal with "hansy" kind of men quickly and immediately. But now it sometimes feels like we have a culture full of deer-in-the-headlights claims. People are stunned and shocked and easily destroyed. In one school in Kenya, they have respect training for girls and boys that have decreased the number of harassment and assault claims. Maybe how to react to minor transgressions needs to be taught. And clearly where the line is for men's behaviour has to be reinforced repeatedly. We sometimes need to be brave enough to call out every minor action. It's not for the men to rescue us from the men. We need men and women standing up to lecherous behaviours as they happen as much as is possible.

Our mating habits are subtle and flirty, and we love a good double entendre, and that unwanted hand on Stanwyck's knee could have been wanted if it just belonged to a different man. Think of that female cop in Hot Fuzz who loves to make sexual jokes about herself. Even if we teach men right from wrong, there will always be some grey areas where the only thing that can work is being told. In some ways it's all very complex. In other ways, not at all.

I've known guys who were sexually inappropriate, guys I've yelled at and called out and maybe were even recipients of the contents of my beer glass. That's likely not a surprise to anyone who's a woman or close to any woman anywhere. Which is the problem. But then I've been able to get to the other side of that and talk to the men, first from a distance, then nearer. These are horrible acts, but in my experience, the best weapon against them, particularly when a courtroom would find it all too uncertain, is a good calling out. Done publicly, it just raises their defences. Privately, but in a crowded place with a table length of protection, it can do wonders to get an admission of, at the very least, momentary stupidity. But those are just my experiences, and it's really different for everyone. It's only possible for people not in a vulnerable position, and I've never had someone with any power over me take liberties. That's a whole other ballgame. But either way it's really creepy.

I can't quite articulate how creepy it is, how subtle and insidious it can be. How a normal guy can make it seem like this is just a normal thing you should be tolerating, enough that you almost begin to question your own discomfort. Until you give your head a shake and manage a WTF! It's hard to explain to the uninitiated who just can't picture it. I can picture it with anyone. That slight change in tone that turns a friendly conversation suddenly menacing. Anyone. But then this same person could also acknowledge an accomplishment or provide some timely words of encouragement or comfort, show some intellect or humour or warmth or courage or artistry, or a sense of integrity in other interactions, and we see the full human being again. But now anything they do is suspect. Is any kindness all part and parcel of who he is as a person, or is it an attempt to make amends, or is he setting himself up for a long con after losing a short game? Tricky.

But I fear that we're so caught up in the trope of the abuse victim going back and never learning, we fail to understand what forgiveness looks like. Any contact with or praise for someone who acted with impropriety shines a spotlight full of pity and scorn on the walking victim. This possibly underscores the ignorance both of the prevalence of this kind of behaviour and the complexity of humanity. If we write-off everyone who makes immoral choices, how many will be left?

The thing is, I've also dished out some crap in my lifetime that I've forgiven myself for. Nothing of this nature, but even small, physically weak women have their own means of abusing their power. Whenever I find myself getting judgey, I try to remind myself of some of my less honourable moments. This isn't to say these actions shouldn't be judged and found corrupt, they definitely should, but that we needn't toss a person aside because of one behaviour. Because we're all fallible and we all sometimes forget to be careful with one other. We've likely all had a moment where we've abused our power with a unnecessarily cutting remark that could have had lingering effects on the intended audience. How many of us have victims felled along the way that will never forget that one cruel statement or dismissive gesture - occasions we would struggle to remember now. And at least some of those situations were misunderstood or were caustic mainly for what they triggered.


ON THIS PARADIGM SHIFT and the VOLUME OF NAMES COMING FORWARD

We're living through a paradigm shift right now. After generations of people worked stridently to get the masses to recognize the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault, and to get people to acknowledge the profound impact this crime has on its victims, something shifted. Weinstein's case isn't significantly different from so many before, but he was that final straw that alerted the herd to the predators surrounding us. Instead of the very common deluge of "She liked it," "She asked for it," or "But look at what she was wearing," we heard, "That's horrible," and "This has to stop." The man's own company launched an investigation. That's very different from what we're used to. Then he came out and ADMITTED IT. Wha....?? But what do we do with the deluge of names flooding our newsfeeds?

Will we go down the path of litigation or forgiveness? Continuing to hold open court might feel vindicating, but it might act like a Treaty of Versailles that only leads us into a greater level of conflict once the charged - some of the most powerful men in the world - gather steam to retaliate. It's fantastic that we've finally hit this point where accusations aren't just dismissed into the ether, but it's a pivotal place that requires a deft hand to point us in the right direction.

Do we prosecute these crimes that happened years ago, or even weeks ago, within a culture that allowed it in the same way as we should prosecute crimes committed since the recent great transformation? I mean, I jaywalk and I pirate films, and I know both are wrong and both are illegal, but I'm also surrounded by people who do the same and never get caught. That reality affects my law-breaking behaviour. If a crime is committed within a culture that accepts the crime as commonplace, a culture that openly looks the other way (males and females), then do we still throw the book at it in quite the same way?

There are just so many names. There's a long list out, but then more have been outed since then. Neil deGrasse Tyson's on the list. And George Takei's been named too. It seems the case that denial might be believed until more people come forward, so Takei might be safe it if didn't happen at all or if it was a on-off thing, and we'll never know which it is for sure. And these are just the celebrities. So many regular people are playing the same game. Or were.

We need to prosecute in order to change future behaviours, definitely, but I wonder to what extent we take on these older cases or less terrorizing cases - with what force should these celebrities be expunged from our world?

Do we build new jails to hold them all? Do we just name them and boycott their work, forever affecting their lives but also the lives of their family members. Or, is it remotely possible to forgive some cases regardless their witless tone-deaf apologies?


ON FORGIVENESS 

I fear we'll waste this opportunity, that we won't use the momentum of this moment to propel us towards a compassionate place of courage together. Is it the case that we're more moral for forgiving and avoiding judgement of others, or does it affect our own moral tenacity if we don't fully reject them and avoid them and all the work they've done over the decades. Should we burn all the Picasso paintings out there while we're at it?

Without forgiveness, there's no healing, no letting go. Evil acts happen when cruelty begins to be seen as normal. We have to maintain that these acts are heinous. But we don't have to destroy the perpetrators' lives and livelihood to do that.

More minor acts are not situations for public consumption and retribution. The act of running to authorities or the media at the less frightening claims, if glorified, keeps us child-like. We need to teach the correct response if we're slighted or insulted or otherwise spoken with inappropriately, that is, to speak directly to the accused, hope for an apology, and move on with life.

But for those with a track record of inappropriate seductions, or any one case with unwanted genital involvement, it's not just a matter of helping the victims to heal, but of protecting society from the menace. These are the cases that have to be brought to the attention of the courts, absolutely.

To be clear - everyone everywhere, from about age three, ought reasonably to know that contact with or showing off of genitals or demanding or even requesting either is not appropriate.  Other parts aren't always as clear, though. Raised in a touchy-feely home or culture or on a football field might think a pat on the bum isn't a big deal, and we don't want to get into a situation where we're legislating how to touch one another.  But no discussion or pictures of genitals or nudity? That's an easy barrier to erect.


UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

And now some men are afraid to be alone with a women in case they're falsely accused. Of course it's just another way to maintain power. Of course it is. It suggests, "If you won't let me play my game my way, then I won't play with you at all!" Thankfully Samantha Bee and many others have come up with great suggestions for helping men manage that tricky minefield of mixed gender business meetings:


Some of this is really complicated. But some of it really isn't.

ETA: Bill Burr's opinion: the punishment must fit the crime. (But then he goes on to slam middle aged women - for being sexually harassing after a show, which is a problem, but also just for being old, and other stories of times he's been sexually molested.)

ETA: Sarah Silverman weighs in trying to find a landing place between anger at what a monster did to several women, and sadness and love for the friend who did these horrible things:

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

On Aronofsky and Climate Change

An article that mixes philosophy, film, and climate change - three of my favourite topics of discussion! Nolan Gear writes about Aronofky's film mother!

"What could it mean for this story to be one of abundant refuge rather than home invasion? How must we reinvent hospitality now that rates of homelessness, landlessness, will only continue to rise exponentially in the wake of climate devastation? [...] Tsing insists that “staying alive — for every species — requires livable collaborations. Collaboration means working across difference, which leads to contamination.” This contamination is both transformation and loss: according to Tsing, we must risk our integrity and self-possession if we wish to live.[...]This mutual undoing is where hospitality begins: not despite or instead of but through disorientation and loss. What’s certain is that we need films that cook up collaborative contaminations — not xenophobic paranoia."
What do we need to see in our culture, in our films and music and art and media, that will actually help us eke out a few more decades of life? Mother! is a warning cry that comes way too late in the game and would have been completely ignored if it had come any earlier. What does it look like to develop a narrative, a social imaginary, that allows for collaborative contaminations?

Saturday, October 21, 2017

On Anxiety

I just finished John Green's Turtles All the Way Down, which I read because he claimed it was his way of trying to put words around what it's like to live with profound anxiety, and then I saw this article asking "Why are more American teens than ever suffering from severe anxiety?". I was raised with most my sibs affected by some kind of mental illness or disorder, and now my children are in the same boat. Somehow, I've made it this far relatively unscathed by the ravages of anxiety, so I'm ever eager to really get my head around what it feels like from the inside.

Green's book is just what I was hoping for. There's nothing to read below the surface here, which might deny it any book awards, but it does an excellent job of giving us a clear and straightforward  first-hand glimpse of the inner thoughts that drive anxious behaviours. Like David Sedaris's Naked, a collection of hilarious personal essays about OCD, it can help the reader really get why anyone would do or think those things and then begin to empathize with that curious drive that all but obliterates their free will.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

On Betsy DeVos in Ontario

Betsy DeVos is coming to talk to the Minister of Education, apparently to learn about our schools. Let's hope the meeting just goes in that direction.

When she was first appointed by Trump, OSSTF warned,
DeVos has been a strong advocate for the creation of more charter schools in her home state of Michigan, as well as expansion of school choice and the voucher system in education. She has also been a strong advocate for right-to-work legislation and has contributed millions of dollars to the Republican Party in Michigan. The expansion of charter schools in Michigan has led to about half of all students in the city of Detroit attending one of these schools. While most charter schools in the United States are “not-for-profit,” Michigan’s charter school law allows for-profit charters to be established. What has resulted in Detroit is intense competition for students between public and charter schools. Thanks to DeVos’s efforts to promote choice and charter schools, a multitude of new schools were established in Detroit, even though overall enrollment was in decline. As a result, schools have engaged in “bidding wars” to draw kids, and the money that they bring with them, into their buildings These campaigns have included the offer of incentives to students, such as iPads, gift cards and bicycles.
Yesterday, Harvey Bischof, President of OSSTF said,
Ms. DeVos is a vocal proponent of programs that divert government funding away from public education and into private hands, to pay for tuition at private and religious schools. [...It's] alarming, and frankly an affront to our members, that Ontario would allow someone who openly promotes a corporate assault on public education to visit schools in our province. The Ministry of Education should reconsider this visit and send a strong, clear message to Ms. DeVos and other proponents of privatization that public education in Ontario is not for sale.
I fear that we're already headed for privatization, and she's just here to show us all the way down the rabbit's hole. All the celebration over e-learning and the virtual high school is the first step in ditching real live teachers for automation and outsourcing. There's a huge downside to tech that we ignore at our peril when we get too excited about the next new thing.

We need educated professionals in classrooms, face-to-face with a limited number of kids, to most effectively impart an education. Only an in-person educator can connect with students and guide them through critical thinking problems with a real time back and forth of ideas. Only when we're there can we gauge the faces of students for confusion or enlightenment. Yup, there's some boredom mixed in there too sometimes, and it's important to see it and be able to switch gears enough to keep them on track.

And education must be fully public and accessible by everyone everywhere. We've seen the mess Charter schools can make. Ontario all too quickly follows on in the path of each new American plan just as the U.S. starts to realize their plan isn't working. Remember whole language?? I really hope we're strong enough and smart enough to listen politely to DeVos and then do our own research before making another inane decision. This one could devastate our education system, not just for one generation of kids, but for many who follow.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Action is the One Miracle-Working Faculty of Man

This piece by Wen Stephenson is a beautifully written comparison between Hannah Arendt's Nazi analysis and the pivotal issues of our time. I'm also afraid, not so much about what will happen to our species in a century from now, but about what will happen to us in the next few decades. Abridged with some of the best bits here:

What I fear most is what we’re capable of doing to each other, and of not doing for each other, when, as Hannah Arendt would say, the chips are down — when it’s dark outside, and we let the darkness in. Because, let there be no doubt, it’s getting very dark....What was once unthinkable destruction is now all but guaranteed, first and foremost among the world’s poorest people, the majority of the human population....With the victory of the carbon-industrial machine, it is now clear, we confront corporate and political forces not only racist in ideology but totalitarian in mindset and ambition, if not as yet in methods. Unless, as to methods, it can be argued that to ensure the suffering and death of countless innocent millions, by means of lies and the obstruction of urgent life-saving measures, marks some kind of epochal advance in the art of administrative mass murder....

The opening lines of Hannah Arendt’s short, bracing preface to the first edition of The Origins of Totalitarianism, published in 1951, capture a moment and the mood of a generation that had lived through two cataclysmic World Wars, experienced economic collapse, revolutions, and “homelessness on an unprecedented scale,” and now faced the prospect of an all-destroying third world war. The mood is one of exhaustion, uncertainty, a dull and ever-present fear. “This moment of anticipation,” she writes, is like the calm that settles after all hopes have died. […] Never has our future been more unpredictable, never have we depended so much on political forces that cannot be trusted to follow the rules of common sense and self-interest — forces that look like sheer insanity, if judged by the standards of other centuries....

Central to Arendt’s analysis is her acute observation that totalitarian movements, and later fully realized regimes, require the construction of a “fictitious world,” as seen in their “conspicuous disdain of the whole texture of reality.”...With nothing to fall back on, no recognizable standards by which to comprehend and judge, anything can happen, anything might be justified, in the future. All bets are off. What comprehensible motive could there be for poisoning the well from which one’s own children must drink, much less the atmosphere itself? What kind of mindset makes one’s own children and grandchildren, and everyone else’s, indeed all future generations, superfluous?

The world finds nothing sacred in the mere existence of a Syrian refugee washed up on a beach; in the prayerful faces and freezing bodies at Standing Rock; in the undocumented persons, “illegals,” mothers and fathers and children, jailed and deported....The question: What kind of resistance is possible against a world without mercy? And even as I form those words, the familiar voice in my head: Who am I to judge? Who the hell do I think I am? Am I not complicit — aren’t we all — even sitting in jail?

“There exists in our society a widespread fear of judging that has nothing whatever to do with the biblical ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged,’” Arendt writes in the manuscript of a 1964 address. Rather, she notes there, “behind the unwillingness to judge lurks the suspicion that no one is a free agent, and hence the doubt that anyone is responsible or could be expected to answer for what he has done.” As soon as anyone raises moral issues, she observes sharply, the one who raises them is met “with a kind of mock-modesty that in saying, Who am I to judge? actually means We’re all alike, equally bad, and those who try, or pretend that they try, to remain halfway decent are either saints or hypocrites, and in either case should leave us alone.”...

In the closing pages of Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), where she addresses him posthumously, she writes, “[You said] that almost anybody could have taken your place, so that potentially almost all Germans are equally guilty. What you meant to say was that where all, or almost all, are guilty, nobody is.” Or as she puts it in that 1968 lecture, in the case of postwar Germans who indulged in what she called the “phony sentimentality” of collective guilt, “the cry ‘We are all guilty’ is actually a declaration of solidarity with the wrongdoers.”... If Arendt is right — and if her words have any applicability beyond the specific historical context in which she wrote — then my own jail-cell guilt trip was another form of phony sentimentality, in which I sought cover and refuge, some sort of perverse comfort, in a collective guilt spread so thin that it evaporates into air and disappears; an escape, in which I sought to be unburdened of the responsibility to judge, and of the responsibility such judgment would place on me....And yet the question remains why this matters to us now — whether the satisfactions of judging, smug or otherwise, sitting in a jail cell or in an armchair, are all we have left at this late hour.

Or as she puts it in a 1971 lecture: “The sad truth of the matter is that most evil is done by people who never made up their mind to be either bad or good.” The kind of thinking, of making up one’s mind, that Arendt is talking about here, the internal dialogue with oneself that allows for questioning and judging, is a capacity shared by all, she goes on to suggest, not only an elite (who fail to exercise it as often as anyone, perhaps more). Nevertheless, such thinking “remains a marginal affair for society at large except in emergencies.” At moments of crisis, she writes, “those who think are drawn out of hiding because their refusal to join is conspicuous and thereby becomes a kind of action.”...Indeed action, Arendt writes, is “the one miracle-working faculty of man.”

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Out of the Wreckage Teaser

Monbiot's new book looks to be most similar to his Manifesto, which came out just over a decade ago. I love when he gets all revolutionary and inspirational. Here's an excerpt of his excerpt:
"Is it reasonable to hope for a better world? Study the cruelty and indifference of governments, the disarray of opposition parties, the apparently inexorable slide towards climate breakdown, the renewed threat of nuclear war, and the answer appears to be no....[But] political failure is, in essence, a failure of imagination....Those who tell the stories run the world....Although the stories told by social democracy and neoliberalism are starkly opposed to each other, they have the same narrative structure. We could call it the Restoration Story....the reason why, despite its multiple and manifest failures, we appear to be stuck with neoliberalism is that we have failed to produce a new narrative with which to replace it....[Humans] possess an unparalleled sensitivity to the needs of others....We have been induced by politicians, economists and journalists to accept a vicious ideology of extreme competition and individualism that pits us against each other, encourages us to fear and mistrust each other and weakens the social bonds that make our lives worth living....Where we find ourselves crushed between market and state, we will develop a new economics that treats both people and planet with respect. We will build it around a great, neglected economic sphere: the commons....We know that if we can mobilise such silent majorities, there is nothing this small minority can do to stop us. But because we have failed to understand what is possible, and above all failed to replace our tired political stories with a compelling narrative of transformation and restoration, we have failed to realise this potential. As we rekindle our imagination, we discover our power to act. And that is the point at which we become unstoppable."

Thursday, August 31, 2017

On Antifa Methods

It's not just Tina Fey who's getting lambasted for promoting this position,
"I really want to say, to encourage all good sane Americans, to treat these rallies this weekend like the opening of a thoughtful movie with two female leads: Don't show up. Let these morons scream into the empty air."
Now it's Chomsky and Hedges as well. We can pretty quickly write-off a comedian's suggestion, but it should give one pause when bigger thinkers repeat the idea. It should, I think. It's not for some, though, who insist Chomsky and Hedges are no longer on the left or are no longer liberal or are finally showing their true liberalism, and they toss them aside in favour of more agreeable opinions on the matter. I'm so confused about what 'left' and 'liberal' mean these days that I'm just going to leave that bit alone to look at their arguments.

Matt Sedillo argues,
"The threat is real, so must the resistance be. If we are to transform society more work than this need be done. If we are to prevent self deputizing death squads from roaming the street they must fear public gathering. There is no way around this and there is no reason to think of this work as mutually exclusive. Liberalism by definition is counterrevolutionary. In times of crisis it calls for the pacification of struggle and the return to normalcy. It posits that both right wing calls for ethnic cleansing and the resistance to that as equally menacing to the liberal order of society....Chris Hedges gave “many sides, many sides” presentation of much of the 20th century in order to attack the idea of revolution from below....False equivalencies spread confusion. Confusion strengthens the fascists. Liberalism is a death cult. Chris Hedges is a public menace."

On Memes and Theft

The Guardian has an article about memes, this one in particular, and I love their choice of cover photo:



Because it's not remotely important relative to everything else going on, yet it's still in the mix - one more thing to consider.

Belam writes,
"Guillem has a warning for people liberally spreading the picture across the net to put their copy of Photoshop down: “It’s not allowed to use any image without purchasing the proper licence in any possible way, so each one of the people that use the images without the licence are doing it illegally. What really worries us and we are not going to allow it, taking the appropriate legal measures, is the use of the images in a pejorative, offensive or any way that can harm the models or me." 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

On Freud and Einstein's Correspondence

Lately people have been talking more of the rise and fall of Freud's psychotherapy and his philosophies. Some write him off completely because many of his psychoanalytical claims have been discounted through a more rigorous scientific method than Freud employed, but it's not good philosophy to discount an entire person for some incorrect claims. If we did that, we'd lose many of the old guys to misogyny or worse. We have to consider the merits of each idea. It doesn't matter if Freud is a genius or a hack; it matters if there's a seed of an interesting concept in anything he wrote. Others claim that he shouldn't be considered because he wasn't the first to write about many of the ideas he discusses, but if that's our criterion for our reading list, shouldn't we toss all those "footnotes to Plato"?



Friday, August 18, 2017

On the Absurdist Victory: All is Well

A while back I wrote about a video comparing Stoicism and Existentialism. The video also touched on different psychology principles developed from each philosophy. Stoicism is easily seen in CBT and REBT, which all start with the premise that when we're upset it's because of our perception of things, not the things in themselves, and we often have an irrational view. Through reality testing and viewing the situation in a detached way we can be less emotionally affected by anxiety around events. It's been very effective in reducing anxiety levels in a good 70-80% of patients.

Existential psychoanalysis took a different path:
"The basic thrust of existential psychoanalysis, if it aspires to be at all existential, must in turn be rooted in the sensibilities of existential philosophy. That sensibility may be characterized by two principal themes: a) all human knowledge is rooted in personal experience; b) the weight of experience is so exasperating that we seek to escape it through self-deception....Every one of us employs deceptions for the same reason. Whenever we're thwarted in our endeavors we feel disappointment and frustration. We may fear that we won't get our way by being honest and resort to guile and manipulation - the principal source of neurotic guilt....On a deeper level it entails the patient's willingness to plumb the depths of experience while accepting responsibility for whatever comes to light, for better or worse."
Instead of our view of externals provoking upset, tumults are from the struggle for people to accept the truth about themselves and recognize their various attempts to escape it. Instead of looking at individual daily triggers, existentialists look at that big one: We search for meaning and purpose in life, but the reality has to be faced - that there simply isn't any. We've been thrown here randomly, and it's up to each of us to make the best of things. The "curative power lay in the patient's capacity for honesty." Upsetting experiences are useful for taking us outside ourselves and possibly provoking a transformation of consciousness that leads to maturation. No pain, no gain. Suppression of experiences is the problem: not an inaccurate assessment, but a refusal to actually see what's there. We need to give voice to our darkest truths, no matter how ugly. From an early age, we devise pleasant fantasies to override potential traumas as slight as disappointment, and then we become anxious that there's something deep within that we don't really want to know. Self-deception and deception by others (as they might help us remain in denial) are part of every issue. We're all inherently devious and deceive one another as a matter of course. The solution is acknowledging our radical freedom, digging past the deceptions to find our authentic selves, and recognizing the absurdity of it all.

On Fascist Movements and Free Speech

Some people are upset because Ryerson cancelled a panel discussion featuring Faith Goldy, of Rebel Media, who openly expresses the belief that Muslims are a problem in our country. A Ryerson spokesperson said,
"After a thorough security review, the University has concluded that Ryerson is not equipped to provide the necessary level of public safety for the event to go forward. In light of recent events, Ryerson University is prioritizing campus safety."
I don't blame them. I wouldn't give her the platform to speak in the first place. I think free speech is important, but it's particularly important because we need the right to criticize people in positions of power and to question legislation. It's not important that everyone can say everything they think to as many people as possible. Her right to free speech isn't eroded since she's still free to talk on the internet and in her own media venues. [ETA - Even Rebel Media doesn't want her anymore.] She just wasn't given the right to speak at that one location.

I'm a fan of our anti-hate speech here in Canada. I don't believe in free speech at any cost when we see how many people can be influenced by a charismatic speaker with a warped agenda. Intelligent debate is the ideal, of course, but the reality is that some of these speakers can make the worst atrocities sound necessary. Get enough people worried about the economy, and it's too easy to pick a group of people to blame and then run them out of town - or worse. (I say way more about free speech here.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Inconceivable! His Dinner with Chomsky

Wallace Shawn sat down for a chat with Noam Chomsky (video link here), and here's what they talked about - slightly abridged and loosely quoted (for clarification purposes) with links. It's a great recharge for activists!


Shawn - Many people are shocked to see the president is now a cruel, brutal, greedy type of a man, and this is now the face of America, but I'm not shocked because this has been the face of the United States for decades. What do you think is not new, and what do you think actually IS new?  [For more on this, check out Cenk Uygur's interview with John Cusack. It's pre-election, and the president he's criticizing at the beginning is Obama.]

Chomsky - My wife is from Brazil, and she predicted the Trump win before the primaries. From the outside, there's much that is not new. Recently the U.S. demanded that Cambodia pay back a debt incurred when the U.S. was destroying their country. There was secret bombing. It seems probably hundreds of thousands were killed. The Khmer Rouge was a small group, but ended up become a mass army of peasants starving and driven off the land by American bombing. The U.S. offered aid to get them to purchase American agricultural produce, and now they want payback. The American ambassador to Cambodia couldn't understand why Cambodians often make anti-American comments, but that's the America plenty of people see all over the world.

What is new, and dramatically new, is the U.S. withdrawal from the rest of the world on the issue of greatest significance for the prospect of human survival: climate change. The Washington Post had images of receding glaciers that will raise sea levels by many feet and pretty much drive tens of millions off land. A good part of organized life in coastal cities will be devastated. Every country in the world with the exception of the United States is committed to at least some actions on this issue. The US alone is not only refusing to participate, but is actually moving in a dedicated fashion in the opposite direction: trying to maximize the damage.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

On Slippery Arguments and Equity at Google

You can read most of the infamous Google memo here, and for the record, I don't think opening up this discussion should be a fireable offence, but I'm just concerned with this one piece of the puzzle right now:
"the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and these differences may explain why we don't see equal representation of women in tech and leadership."
David Brooks calls this "championing scientific research."

But consider this analogy. Walk into an art gallery full of art by Picasso, Monet, Dali, Van Gogh...  It is the case that men and women have some inherent differences on average; that claim has some validity. There are certainly more differences among the groups that between them, but there's still a difference however slight. BUT it doesn't follow that that's why we don't see equal representation in an art gallery. It's clearly not the case that women inherently, evolutionarily, don't prefer the arts and don't have any artistic talent. We can see that so clearly and easily because we are well aware that over the past centuries few women were allowed near a book much less a paintbrush.

We're far enough away from that museum scenario to really shake our head at the blatant injustices that produced such disparate results. However, as a society, we're apparently not quite able to step back and recognize the profound level of inequity that has created current gender distribution in the world of high tech.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

On Community, Again

I just read local author Paul Born’s Deepening Community. In places, it’s very close to what I’ve written about in terms of ensuring that we’re kind to one another at the very end. He doesn’t skirt around the issue that we’re in dire straights and that we can choose how to behave when push comes to shove. (But I think he should have called the book, The Born Community.)













I've written about community before, and I'm going to say much of the same thing here but in many, many more words!  There are pictures and video clips to break it up. (I included headings for clarity and page numbers throughout - where I remembered.)   I aim to critique Born's book while trying to get to the bottom of what can be done to foster a cohesive sense of belonging and caring spanning the globe.  I'm using Born's book as as starting point, but I don't have all the solutions.  I'm ever in the process of seeking.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Prevention as an Ounce of Cure

Here's an update on what I've learned about lymphedema after an ALND. It's way less scary now that I know how to manage it, but it's still a drag. It takes about an hour away from me every day. I'm just in the earliest stages, and it possible to stay here forever, but not without a bit of effort - something breast cancer surgeons should make sure patients understand. It's all about retraining the lymph flow to take a different path through the body. Lymph nodes collect and clean out toxins (infection, etc.) from segments of the body. The body's divided into 'watersheds' which all get sucked to the closest lymph nodes, but, with some missing, some areas have to be redirected. Here's what's working for me right now, and what I wished I had known straight out of the hospital - just ten things!:

Thursday, August 10, 2017

On Having the Lowest Graduation Rates

This recent article in my local paper tells us that our region is lowest in the province for graduation rates.



ON FIFTH YEAR RATES

They worry that "Students who did graduate also took longer to do so than almost anywhere else." The graphic shows 68% finish after 4 years, and 81% after a fifth year (so, 13% stay for a victory lap). I share their concern that almost 20% aren't graduating, but not their concern about taking a fifth year. I commented there that I don't support that particular focus:
"I encouraged all my kids to do a fifth year of school - it's the last chance for a free education, and it gives them more time to take electives. I've always seen the drive to have kids finish in four years as just a cost-savings method at the expense of a well-rounded education. What's the educational benefit of pushing kids to finish faster?"
They claim,
"The board is reluctant to more strongly dissuade Grade 9 students from choosing academic studies over applied studies, even as students who start high school with unrealistic expectations fail to keep up and must later switch streams." 
They say that like it's a bad thing. Sure, it can be a challenge to work with students on material far outside their capabilities, but a public education is there for everyone to find, not just their talents, but also their limitations. Every student should have a right to try to stretch themselves to do work that's difficult because some actually make it after a few attempts at the higher levels. Nothing should dissuade them from trying all their options at this point in life.

The Plight of the Millennials

Further explanation here. 
First, a bit about statistical norms and the normal distribution. In social sciences, for something to be considered a statistically significant characteristic of a group, it just needs to be present in about 68% of the population, or one standard deviation from the norm. There's tons of variation in the other 32%, so all the generalizations below might not apply to the people in your life. But, according to researchers, they apply to most people in each group, so we can still look at trends. I remember studies in my day showing a clear correlation between violent movie viewing and violent teens, yet I loved slasher flicks and still lean towards more gruesome films despite the stats. And, more to the point, nobody stopped making those movies. This recent article is unlikely to change a thing, but we're still wise to consider it.

The article in question is The Atlantic article, "Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?" which adds to a running list of problems with kids today caused by technology. It hits home from some of the trends I've noticed anecdotally in my classroom over the past 26 years: that phones are distracting, lead to unrealistic idealization and familial alienation, and affect sleep habits. But the writer misses any discussion that phones also drive constant change, consumerism, and cognizance of tragedies, and the significance of other factors affecting trends in this demographic. Here's a chart I sometimes use in class for an overview of demographics by year of birth. We've moved way beyond the boom, bust, and echo labels.

Friday, August 4, 2017

On Comparing Existentialism and Stoicism

This summer, I went on one camping trip with a book on Stoicism, then another camping trip with a book on Existentialism, and I was intrigued by the many similarities. Then I came across this video that has some overlap with what I had noticed. As they say in the video, Massimo Pigliucci (MP) on Stoicism and Skye Cleary (SC) on Existentialism, both are philosophies that offer a way to live instead of just a way to think about the world. I'm putting it all together here with quotes (names linked to sources) to sort it out for myself. I'm just thinking out loud here. This is too long for any normal person to want to read.

These are both philosophies that allow surveyors to pick and choose from variations on a theme as neither has one authoritative dude overriding all others, and, it would appear, few of the big guns cared to adopt either label anyway. For the Stoics, defining yourself as one is avoided because it's pretentious. In The Role Ethics of Epictetus, it's clarified that we are simultaneously different things, and how we play each role is more important than what our roles are. The roles are often not our choice, but how we do them are, i.e. whether or not we're a virtuous son, mother, teacher, or waiter (MP). For Existentialists, we can't be defined by the roles we take on because we're more than the mere facts about ourselves (SC), so labels become meaningless.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Arendt on Revolution and the Necessity of Eradicating Poverty

Hannah Arendt's essay, "Thoughts on Poverty, Misery, and the Great Revolutions of History," written in the 1960s, was apparently just recently published for the first time. It continues to be relevant in our increasingly weird times with a tyrant who would rather dominate than excel in case after case:
"For the will to power as such, regardless of any passion for distinction (in which power is not a means but an end), is characteristic of the tyrant and is no longer even a political vice. It is rather the quality that tends to destroy all political life, its vices no less than its virtues. It is precisely because the tyrant has no desire to excel and lacks all passion for distinction that he finds it so pleasant to dominate, thereby excluding himself from the company of others; conversely, it is the desire to excel which makes men love the company of their peers and spurs them on into the public realm." 
She explains that the goal of revolution from a tyrant isn't just that people are treated well, which any benevolent dictator would do, but that people have access to the decision-making process that determines how they will be treated: