Monday, December 26, 2016

On Cancer Doulas

When last we left our heroine, she had just had an invasive tumour removed, but found out there could be traces of cancer left behind. She was left to choose between surgery, radiation, tamoxifen, or nothing. Let's see what she does next...

I had never heard of Healthcare Navigators before, and it seems they don't exist as much in Canada as they do in the more expensive and privatized healthcare to the south (except for Indigenous needs), but they're becoming more of a thing here. In Ontario, some hospitals have them, and we're apparently leading the way to integrating a navigator even before an official diagnosis, but I didn't encounter any and don't know how to find one. Believe me, I've looked. If you're pregnant, you can get a doula to help you through all the issues that come up when you're at your most vulnerable and being bombarded with contradictory information. Cancer is very similar. It's just way too confusing to navigate alone. I'd like one that comes around to appointments with me, not one that stays in the hospital. Without a partner, I've had to rely on my barely-adult children to come to my appointments and try to make sense of everything. They have exams to study for and essays to write. This isn't a burden I wanted them to take on, and there's so much I would have liked to have known.

It would have been great if someone mentioned shaving my pits ahead of time. It's not something I ever do, and they put surgical tape right up in your pits, then send you home with arm exercises. I couldn't raise my arms without ripping out the hairs, and I had to get my poor children in there with tiny scissors freeing me from my own physical constraints. It also would have been great to have someone suggest I DON'T do both surgeries at once. Yes, it's fewer times under anesthetic, but it's a longer time, which can be worse. And the after care for one (plenty of walking after the oophorectomy) was contraindicated for the other (bed rest after the mastectomy). Now I know, but it's useless information to me at this point.

On Social Control in Universities

Chris Hedges has concerns with Trump's impact on intellectuals:
Trump and his Christian fascist minions, sooner than most of us expect, will seek to shut down the small spaces left for free expression. Dissent will become difficult and sometimes dangerous. ... The Trump administration will hand our Christian jihadists a platform to champion a repugnant religious chauvinism that fuses the symbols and language of the Christian religion with American capitalism, imperialism and white  supremacy.
He spoke with historian Ellen Schrecker, author of several books on McCarthyism, who says this has been in the making for the past four decades since America has been "cannibalized for profit." They spoke mainly about the Powell memorandum launched in the 1970s and the current rise of watch lists targeting leftist academics for discrimination against conservatives or for criticizing capitalism, an act allegedly committed by Richard Wolff, a Marxist economist on the list. Left-leaning alternative media is also being targeted.

Schrecker refers to Martha Nussbaum's discussion of the importance of the humanities to give us a taste for the other through literature, history, and sociology. They think it makes you a better person and citizen when you put yourself in another's place mentally, but the pressure on people to focus on the self is very strong, even from parents who dissuade students from degrees in the humanities in order to focus on more lucrative professions.

Hedges ends with a plea for us to hold fast to
values of compassion, simplicity, love and justice....Tyrants have silenced voices of conscience in the past. They will do so again. We will endure by holding fast to our integrity, by building community and by spawning new institutions in the midst of the wreckage. We will sustain each other. Perhaps enough of us will endure to begin again.
This article is timely for me because I recently watched Jordan Peterson talk about the demise of universities, but from the completely opposing side. [He gave a 3-hour interview about many topics - some I agree with entirely, so I'll get to more of them another day.] A prof at U of T, he's been given written warnings after refusing to use alternative gender pronouns upon request. His refusal is in part to make an important point about freedom of speech. His concern, and here he runs parallel to Hedges, is that our speech is being micromanaged in a way that could be dangerous if allowed to continue. He's also concerned with the lack of a cultural history in the populous. And, like Hedges, he praises Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago for its compelling story of the inner workings of the Soviet Union. They're both concerned with the erosion of civil liberties, and Hedges takes from Solzhenitsyn's book that,
"unless these informants on the streets, in the prisons and manning our massive, government data-collection centers are disarmed we will never achieve liberty."

But that's where the similarities end. Peterson seems to take from Solzhenitsyn's book that horrors of the time were entirely due to Marxist ideas, which he further conflates with anything left-leaning, and deduces that therefore the problem with the universities is the leftists who are all Marxists, who are all unwittingly (or dimwittingly) promoting the horrors of the Gulags. The fact that Trudeau said anything nice about Castro makes him suspect in Peterson's eyes.

The atrocities of the Soviet Union might be pinned on Lenin's revolutionary actions, but Marx and Lenin had marked differences, primarily in their view of control over the people. Peterson sets up a straw man when he suggests that the Marxists all think it didn't work with Stalin because he was a monster, but it could work if they were in charge. And then he argues that we would all end up as brutal dictators given that much power. But he misses the point. Marx didn't want an authoritative body to be in charge; he wanted workers to be in charge of the factories: "to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class." His writings promote anarcho-syndicalism more than what we currently call communism.

Peterson thinks people like Marxism because it's compassionate, which is nice and all but doesn't work with a large group because we can't treat one another as kin once society gets too large. So it's misguided to have equality of outcome. All positive motivation renders the world unequal. He's on the conservative side of this meme below in terms of handouts, expecting the little guy to be motivated enough to negotiate the solution shown on the right. But, as far as he's concerned, if we just set it up like in the right image, then nobody will be motivated to do anything.
Here's a little history of this meme.
So, if I understand him, if we ensure that everyone has what they need, compassionately, then all progress will end. Here's Marx's response to that claim,
It has been objected that upon the abolition of private property, all work will cease, and universal laziness will overtake us. According to this, bourgeois society ought long ago to have gone to the dogs through sheer idleness; for those of its members who work, acquire nothing, and those who acquire anything do not work. The whole of this objection is but another expression of the tautology: that there can no longer be any wage-labour when there is no longer any capital.
Peterson's analysis implies an underlying premise that the poor don't work hard, which basically suggests that the rich and poor are divided entirely through their efforts. But it's clear to me that there are elements of luck and mass obsession and exploitation of others that lead some to become outrageously wealthy with relatively little effort. And there are many working a variety of jobs but just barely surviving. He's concerned with the lack of progress that would entail with equality of outcome, but then later gets all Taoist. But progress is largely antithetical to the Tao. Curious. He's a little hard to pin down.

Furthermore, Marx insisted that "Communism deprives no man of the power to appropriate the products of society; all that it does is to deprive him of the power to subjugate the labour of others by means of such appropriations." He wanted to end the exploitation that enabled the few to become exceedingly wealthy off the backs of the many, not to end the profit that comes from innovation.

Peterson rails against the left, but left and right are a slippery dichotomy. In some regards, Marx is not that different, ironically, from John Locke who some call the father of capitalism. Marx wanted to stop the exploitation of the factory workers by the managers, and Locke wanted to stop the exploitation of the peasants by the aristocracy by allowing them to own the land they worked:
The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property.
The father of communism and the father of capitalism and Adam Smith and Aristotle and many others, all implore us to compassionately reject exploitation of the masses and most of them want to ensure the people all have the basics to thrive. Here's Aristotle:
It is manifest therefore that a state is not merely the sharing of a common locality for the purpose of preventing mutual injury and exchanging goods. These are necessary preconditions of a state's existence, yet nevertheless, even if all these conditions are present, that does not therefore make a state, but a state is a partnership of families and of clans in living well, and its object is a full and independent life.
Back to universities. Peterson thinks the leftist ideology boxes people in. It controls and suppresses the marketplace of free ideas. He includes in this Woman Studies Departments which all dangerously foster revolution with a false anthropology that claims there used to be an egalitarian paradise before patriarchal oppression. For evidence he implores us to look at any Women Studies website, but his specific concerns seems to be that they promote class-guilt in their belief that we're responsible for the sins of our past and that they believe the oppressed deserve special compensation. [I'll dismantle that bit another day.] Because of the Marxism of the universities which is leading to the "slow creep toward social control," he thinks universities do more harm than good. We can educate ourselves online better now. Wisdom has moved outside the universities.

And then he spent many minutes applauding the reach of his own monetized videos and possibly being convinced by the interviewer to shift to a podcast model for an even wider audience, and it all started sounding a bit like an infomercial.

But then he took a decidedly left-wing view and argued for limits on the profits to be made by managers in a university. He notes the proportion of funds going to administration has massively increased and that administrators are essentially stealing the future earnings of the students who aren't allowed to declare bankruptcy on their student loans. Or, one might say, the proletariats of the system are creating indentured servitude. Interesting. He adds a capitalist twist to it with a concern that this burdens citizens at a time when they're most likely to take entrepreneurial risks. For a minute there, it almost seemed like he was forming a compassionate kinship regardless the size of our society.

He loves YouTube because it documents issues without interrogation. He calls it a revolution as overwhelming as the Gutenberg press and a re-birth of genuine journalism where people can seek out contrary viewpoints. I agree, except I'm not convinced it's entirely a good thing to promote as potentially the dominant form of education. Information needs some form of curation. There's a lot of crap out there. And if Marxist courses are the problem in universities, then people like him should stay put to offer an alternative viewpoint.

But I do agree with his concerns about social control, just like I agree with Hedges' concerns. I'm fascinated with the idea that both are concerned with social control, but both think it comes from opposing places: external right-wing think tanks and internal left-wing humanities departments, and targets opposing groups. I worry to what extent Peterson's crusade is muddling the truly frightening concerns from the other side? But maybe that's just my brainwashed leftist ideology talking.

Peterson says "university is a place to be confronted by horrible ideas. History is a bloodbath....Stay home to be safe." I agree absolutely. We must be able to express minority, dissenting views freely and openly, especially in educational facilities. I support him on that even though I'm exactly the kind of person he's blaming for it all - a crazy Marxist feminist egalitarian schooled in a leftist humanities department.

I'll get to those pronouns next time.  (ETA - here's my discussion on that)

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Swiss Army Man

I first saw this at the theatre and, despite the fact that it starts with a whole lot of farting in a wide variety of tones and tempos, the ending had me in tears. I highly recommend it. The surface story is about Hank, trapped on a deserted island - sort of - who finds a dead body, Manny, who slowly comes back to life - sort of, and they try to get back home in a Wizard of Oz kind of way. Here are a few different things I think it could be about; I'll likely read much into it because it had me thinking and questioning at every turn. Authorial intention be damned! There are a ton of spoilers, but they won't really ruin anything. This is a film that can be watched over and over.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Shift in Values

Further to my last post about the current values and the boundaries of the social imaginary that prevent us from making any significant and necessary changes in the world, George Monbiot has data to show that actual shift in pervasive attitudes:
A study published in the journal Cyberpsychology reveals that an extraordinary shift appears to have taken place between 1997 and 2007 in the US. In 1997, the dominant values (as judged by an adult audience) expressed by the shows most popular among nine- to 11 year-olds were community feeling, followed by benevolence. Fame came 15th out of the 16 values tested. By 2007, when shows such as Hannah Montana prevailed, fame came first, followed by achievement, image, popularity and financial success. Community feeling had fallen to 11th, benevolence to 12th.
He relates the link between corporate capital and celebrity. Adam Curtis explained how that was orchestrated by Edward Bernays in the Century of the Self as I recapped in an earlier post:
There was a growing concern with industrial overproduction, so Bernays helped the US shift from a culture focused on satisfying needs to one obsessed with fulfilling desires. He promoted the idea of regular citizens buying shares in companies, and he got film stars to come to parties at the White House, forever after linking politics with celebrity right up to today when Americans are choosing between Meryl Streep and Scott Baio.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

What Happens in the Arctic, Doesn't Stay in the Arctic

There are more and more signs of climate change about to pull a number on us, but we still won't listen. We've got ammonia in our atmosphere and a spike in methane concentrations:
"CO2 is still the dominant target for mitigation, for good reason. But we run the risk if we lose sight of methane offsetting the gains we might make in bringing down levels of carbon dioxide.... Methane has many sources, but the culprit behind the steep rise is probably agriculture.... [Methane] is about 30 times better than CO2, over a century timescale, at trapping heat in the atmosphere.... If we want to stay below two degrees temperature increase, we should not follow this track and need to make a rapid turn-around."
And the Arctic is taking the brunt of these changes. It's a flashing warning light for the whole world:
The average air temperatures were “unprecedented”—the highest on observational record.... Rarely have we seen the Arctic show a clearer, stronger, or more pronounced signal of persistent warming and its cascading effects on the environment than this year.... Average annual air temperature over land areas was the highest in the observational record, representing a 6.3 degree Fahrenheit (3.5 degree Celsius) increase since 1900.... 
Scientists who produced the annual Arctic Report Card warned the situation was changing so quickly it was “outpacing our ability to understand and explain” what they were witnessing.... This is a frightening moment. We have seen how the reins of the federal government are being handed over to the fossil-fuel industry.

Unfortunately people are still generally in favour of doing what improves their current life rather than focusing collectively and long-term. Politicians are not kicking corporations out of their beds or their investment portfolios. Parents who would do anything for their kids won't change their own behaviour to help their children's habitat remain viable.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Requiem for the American Dream

This is Chomsky's last long-form documentary. It came out in January, but I hadn't heard about it until recently. I paraphrased/transcribed the 72 minute video liberally with links to further readings below.

It's about the American Dream: the idea that you can be born poor but work hard enough for a home and car and good schools - that's all collapsed. We profess to like the values of democracy, so public opinion should have an influence on policy and the government should carry out actions determined by the population, but the privileged sector doesn't like democracy. We have extreme inequality with a super wealthy group in the top 1/10th of the top one percent. It's unjust in itself, but it's got a corrosive effect on democracy.

The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power

Concentration of wealth yields concentration of power, especially as costs of elections skyrocket forcing politicians into the pockets of corporations. This translates into legislation that increases the concentration of wealth through fiscal policy (taxes, deregulation, rules of corporate governance) designed to increase the concentration of wealth and power in a vicious cycle of progress.

Monday, December 12, 2016

On Retaliation

Both Hedges and Reich are writing about Trump's frightening behaviour. It's not just the weird tweets, but the follow-up from him and from supporters.  Reich discusses Chuck Jones' experience: "I’m getting threats and everything else from some of his supporters.” And he talks about Trump's tweet proposing cancelling a fictitious Boeing order, which resulted in a nosedive for Boeing shares. And then he got to 18-year-old Lauren Batchelder who was brave enough to share some concerns about Trump:
"Almost immediately, Batchelder’s phone began receiving threatening messages. “I didn’t really know what anyone was going to do,” Batchelder told the Washington Post. “He was only going to tweet about it and that was it, but I didn’t really know what his supporters were going to do, and that to me was the scariest part.”
Hedges' recent column focuses on the media:
He will seek to domesticate the press and critics first through the awarding of special privileges, flattery, gifts and access. Those who cannot be bought off will be destroyed. His petulant, childish taunts, given authority by the machinery of the security and surveillance state, will be dangerous.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Next 1,000 Years

Stephen Hawking thinks we have a millennium on this planet. This is old news; Mound wrote about it a almost a year ago, but it's making the round again (here and here and here and here) largely because he spoke about it at Oxford recently.
I believe that life on Earth is at an ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as a sudden nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus, or other dangers. 
If we keep going at this rate, I'm not convinced we have nearly that long. But he wants to put all our eggs in one bucket: “I think the human race has no future if it doesn't go to space.”

I think he puts the deadline so far away in order to ensure we keep funding the work. It's a long process to get there:
However, we will not establish self-sustaining colonies in space for at least the next hundred years, so we have to be very careful in this period.
So, three things I don't understand about this. First, moving away won't stop our malicious nature that enables us to build weapons capable of destroying huge populations at once. It reminds me of my attempt to solve some friend issues as a teenage by changing cities, and then ending up with an identical group of friends in the new place. It's a ridiculously short-sighted solution for such a brilliant man.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

And the Saga Continues

Ok, so, after getting a preventative bi-lateral mastectomy, performed shortly after both a mammogram and MRI both showed zero cancer, of course they found cancer in the breast tissue sent to the lab. The good news is it's all out, but...

They found two non-invasive tumours about a centimetre each. The surgeon isn't worried about that at all, but I'm baffled that they went completely undetected by either the mammogram or the MRI. That's pretty disconcerting. Both procedures are horrible to go through, and apparently mammograms have a false negative rate of 20% and MRIs aren't much better! Back when I had them done, the geneticist told me the idea is to do both, and then they cancel out the false negatives, but it looks like there are still some exceptions!

But the lab also found one micro-invasive tumour that is more of a concern because it's invasive, but it's not too much of a concern because it's micro. They could only see it under a microscope. It's officially stage zero cancer.

Monday, December 5, 2016

There's Still Climate Denial?

This is from a local climate change group, Hamilton 350:

But even better is the list of sources the post included:
I swear, if I didn't block the trolls I'd be at this all day every day. It is simply the most tedious thing on the planet. Rational people can be reasoned with, but climate deniers are not rational people. At best, they are only ever rationalizing ones.  
So here are the findings of the largest collective scientific effort in all of human history. And a list of the many scientific organizations that agree. Of course, it's an incomplete list. In the scientific community, this information is considered to be commonly understood. Professional scientists no more feel the need to publicly state their agreement with the fundamentals of climate science - that the world is warming, that we are causing it, and that it is a clear and present danger - than they feel the need to make public statements that they agree that gravity exists, that evolution happened, or that smoking is linked to lung cancer. 
All evidence suggests that scientists are lowballing the problem, as real world impacts continue to happen faster and more severely than the science predicted. Can anyone provide a link to a single position paper from any professional academy of sciences anywhere that states it does not agree? Even one? We're not looking for a list of outlying individuals who claim to disagree, nor a political lobby group, but an actual association of professional publishing scientists. I didn't think so. 
Meanwhile, the US department of defence very definitely agrees, identifying climate change as a threat multiplier. Here the top officer in charge of US forces in the Pacific agrees. It's not just the US military that recognizes the facts. More than 70 per cent of countries in the world have officially agreed that climate change is a primary threat to their national security. The insurance industry agrees. A majority of economists agree. A majority of the people on the planet agree. Thermometers agree.  Tropical storms agree. Rainclouds agree. Wildfires agree. Droughts agree. Plants agree. Birds agree. And so on, and so on, and so on.  
If you don't agree, feel free to tell us in the comments why we should gamble everything we have on a bet that you personally know better than pretty much the entire global scientific community, the pentagon, economists, the insurance industry, birds, rainclouds, plants, fires, storms, and thermometers all do.

And they didn't even get to the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report that came out a couple years ago.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Defending Democracy: Next Steps

Here's one history professor's list of things to do to prevent an even worse situation.  It gets patriotic at the end, but I like these bits:
"Look out for the expansive use of 'terrorism' and 'extremism.' Be alive to the fatal notions of 'exception' and 'emergency.' Be angry about the treacherous use of patriotic vocabulary. . . . When the terrorist attack comes, remember that all authoritarians at all times either await or plan such events in order to consolidate power. Think of the Reichstag fire. The sudden disaster that requires the end of the balance of power, the end of opposition parties, and so on, is the oldest trick in the Hitlerian book. Don’t fall for it. . . . . Power wants your body softening in your chair and your emotions dissipating on the screen. Get outside. Put your body in unfamiliar places with unfamiliar people. Make new friends and march with them. . . . Make eye contact and small talk. . . . Be as courageous as you can. . . . Be ready to say no."
And turn off social media to READ books and longer articles:
"What to read? Perhaps The Power of the Powerless by Václav Havel, 1984 by George Orwell, The Captive Mind by Czesław Milosz, The Rebel by Albert Camus, The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt, or Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev."

Sunday, November 27, 2016

What Exponential Growth Looks Like

It's a mesmerizing 6 minute video:

It's interesting what they focus on and what they leave out.

Here's where we're headed:

Monbiot's Impossible Crises

George Monbiot lists 13 crises, but warns you should only read the list if you're feeling very strong. It's an appropriate warning.

He's barely even talking about climate change here, so this list could be so much longer including the degradation of the oceans, poisoned waterways, messed up ecosystems...  His list is more political in nature: Trump and his new team running a country with a powerful military and unbreakable corporate ties. On the other side of the pond, there's concerns with the effects of Brexit, the financial stability of Italy, and the French election.
If Le Pen wins, the permanent members of the UN security council will be represented by the following people: Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Theresa May and Marine Le Pen. It would be a stretch to call that reassuring.
Everywhere, there will be fewer jobs as automation takes over, and with the Paris agreement likely trashed, the new landscape will create "a mass movement of people that dwarfs current migration" and an accelerated increase in the extinction rate of mammals. The scariest one in my books is that soil loss alone relegates us to only sixty years of harvests left.

So even if we can keep the politics working, without intervention we have six decades of food.

But we're so totally blind to all of this. I don't think there will ever again be a good time to have kids, yet my daughter's doctor still won't let her get her tubes tied because she might change her mind later. There are so many little things we do that reveal a profound disconnect with the way the world is headed. We're keeping this information in a different place in our heads and not letting it seep in, protecting our emotional core from knowing about it gnostically.

Monbiot says his goal is not to depress us, but to "concentrate our minds on the scale of the task," but without power to effect change, I'm not sure what he hopes focusing his readers will do. At Standing Rock they have a task, stopping the machines, and that task carries the symbolic weight of stopping the power of big business, exploitation, environmental destruction, and the pursuit of profits over people. It's a vitally important fight on the ground. Those who aren't near there don't have a task. We can donate to them, and then write our letters, but it feels impotent. We could drop everything and join them. In a movie, hundreds of reinforcements marching up over the hill would be the climactic point where the music swells, but there have already been problem with white people joining only to use it for their own means. Man, we suck!

I think one thing we really need to be proactive about, that unfortunately might be more possible than being proactive about climate change, is to generate an influx of books and articles and teachings and preachings and an entire marketing scheme / mythology on getting along during a crisis. If we're lucky, we'll only need it to learn to be kind and respectful shopping for bargains on Black Friday. Well...we can keep telling ourselves it's about luck.

At this rate, we're likely to go out fighting, like in so many extinctions and collapses of the past. I'm not sure that can be changed, such is our nature. But while we're continuing to work on convincing the powers that be to implement solutions already, we can continue to work to foster more connected and inclusive lives, vigilant with our own character when we might waver and our drive for survival tries to override our compassion. Can we do this with grace, kids?

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Standing Rock Resistance

Chris Hedges is in Standing Rock, back to his original career as a war correspondent. The natives there are preparing for winter, and I'm struck by the contrast to the Occupy fight that dwindled away when things got cold. I'm curled up on the couch as I write that, so I mean no disrespect. But the world needs the kind of activists that can batten down the hatches for the long haul, so I'm so grateful we have such a strong contingent on sight for this battle.  You can donate easily here.

Try to take 15 minutes to watch. They get into an excellent bit on environmental racism and climate justice: how poorer areas are disproportionately targeted by fossil fuel industries, and the strong ties between fossil fuels and cancer, and the problem with accepting the methods of the colonizers - the master's tools.

The Onion also has a perfect bit that's only a 2-minute read!

ETA - Sorry, the embed video was taken down, but here's a link to a full version. It's longer, but the first half is an explanation of what's happening.

More on Critical Thinking

Owen at Northern Reflections wrote about Crawford Kilian's recent article in the Tyee about the need for critical thinking in schools, which referenced Jeet Heer's twitter essay on Sartre where I found this nugget from Sartre's Anti-Semite and Jew:  (And somehow I wonder why my house is such a mess.)

This one passage isn't reserved solely for anti-semites but for anyone who doesn't want to do the work of arguing their side with facts and data and strong supporting points. I commented recently on the number of people I know, educated people, who aren't into all that logic and argumentation stuff. They want to throw out an opinion without it being contested, and then they stumble, perturbed, if they're questioned. There seems to be a belief forming, a new myth we live by, that intelligent people don't have to back up their ideas. If I question someone who just tosses out a claim without supports, they're most often angered by my lack of faith in their every word. But we need to think critically of the opinions of our friends and enemies and ourselves alike. That's what critical thinking is all about.

Kilian added a few more quotes from Sartre and Adorno that are frightening in their accuracy, and then closes with these words:
"Donald Trump may delight the ignorant and bigoted with his clowning, but his rise is the signal for Canadian and American teachers to teach reason as if their kids’ lives depended on it. Because they do."
Kilian's quite confident that at least critical thinking is taught to every student in BC because it's in the curriculum. I was excited to see what wonderful things they do, but was disappointed by the typical rhetoric, wrapped in eduspeak, inside fancy graphic organizers.
"Students use criteria (explicit or implicit) to draw conclusions.... Some opportunities for analysis and critique are formal tasks; others are informal.... Students learn to engage in an inquiry and investigation where they identify and explore questions or challenges related to key issues or problematic situations..... Student apply critical thinking to create or transform products.... The Critical Thinking Competency Profiles emphasize the concept of expanding and growing."
To self evaluate, student check boxes labelled, "I can explore," and "I can ask questions and consider opinions." It's all well and good and relatively harmless in itself, but it says virtually nothing useful to anybody trying to enlighten people towards a better analysis of media sources.

I'm going to let my worlds collide here and link to my classroom website. We just need people to learn pretty simple steps to check the veracity of a source, summarized in brief like this:
Try to find the primary source of the information. If that's not possible, make sure the source is peer reviewed or fact checked, and check for any connections that might be a conflict of interest for the publication or author. 
It's not brain surgery, but it is more work than basing your judgment of a situation on a stranger's description of a headline of an article from god knows where.

And then once you know it's an accurate source, it just take the right attitude to think critically and form a reasoned opinion, massively condensed to this:
Don't focus on trivial errors, but on the main point of the claim. Don't let big words fool you into complacently deciding they must be right, either. Then scrutinize the evidence for accurate and inaccurate data and well-reasoned and fallacious arguments. Look for points of consensus and contention with the same effort. Make sure you accurately understand the argument before agreeing or disagreeing. Then make sure to use accurate facts and well-reasoned arguments to back up your own claims in supporting or opposing their ideas. Whether you compliment or criticize an idea, you have to be able to say why
It takes significantly more time and energy in the short term to sculpt a finely-tuned opinion rather than just vomiting one out off the cuff. But in the long run, it's the only thing that can save us.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Water as a Human Right

In a recent article in my local paper, Peter Shawn Taylor says that anyone who wants to stop Nestle from draining aquifers doesn't understand economics and is hostile to capitalism. He implies that we can't just label water a human right above the fray of the market without doing the same with food, clothes, and housing. And "this sort of knee jerk hostility toward capitalism inevitably raises prices and reduces availability."

I don't understand the implications he suggests of that last bit. If we stop Nestle from taking groundwater to sell, which it's paying municipalities for at less than the going rate, then water will be more expensive and less available??

Taylor makes a false analogy implying that if we expect water to be free then we must also expect housing to be free because they're both human rights. The water warriors he refers to want to ensure that no company can take something essential for survival, get it for less than citizens pay for it, and then sell it back for 1,000 times the cost. So I think a much better analogy is, if we're going to allow Nestle to take water needed by a community, at a discount, then sell it at an enormous increase, then we must allow companies to take housing that's currently needed by people, get it at less than market value, and be allowed to sell it for 1,000 times the cost. See the problem with that version of capitalism now?

That's not something we worry about legislating because it'll never happen: nobody's going to buy a house that's so overpriced. Unfortunately, we still have a ton of people brainwashed by the cleanliness myth of bottled water who will continue to buy the product regardless the harm it causes to watersheds and communities. Free market principles suggest that the consuming public is the problem. If it's such a bad thing, then people just won't buy it and everything will equalize beautifully. But people don't work like that. We're a lazy and thoughtless lot. So sometimes we have to stop problems at the source in order to ensure longterm benefits to the people.

We already treat water like food, like apples for instance, as we pay for the labour mixed with the food. Farmers take the time and energy to grow the apples, pick and package them, and stand at a table in the market. We pay for all the people working down that line. In our parts, water is just there, under the ground, and we pay the city to treat it, monitor the quality, and pump it into our homes. Nestle is a company that wants to rip off the farmers by taking all the apples off the trees at a fraction of the cost so there's virtually none left for the local market, advertising them falsely as significantly superior, then selling them at 1,000 times the cost. It's right up there with WalMart for lowering prices by exploiting people along the way. We don't want to stop capitalism, just crony capitalism.

Furthermore, working to stop the control Nestle has in the area is imperative to impede any potential industry-influenced-government moves towards preventing citizens from collecting their own water in barrels or cistern like has happened in some jurisdictions in the U.S.

He suggests that native reserves run out of water because of gross incompetence by governments, not businesses. But when native reserves suffer from a lack of drinkable water, the blame often absolutely lies directly on the shoulders of industries like the Dryden Chemical Company and Reed's Paper Mill for poisoning the water with mercury and other toxins.

Finally, suggesting that "water is the most renewable of all resources" because it just keeps raining over and over shows Taylor's ignorance of the crisis we currently face. It's NOT continuing to rain in the same ways as it used to. Some areas are flooded and some are in drought. Groundwater is a different quality of water than surface puddles, and we need rain falling at the right intensity to be soaked into the ground to recharge our water table. Clean drinkable water must be protected. It's not something we can cavalierly use up expecting more to come tomorrow. That's the real irrational mysticism here.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Is This the Sixth Estate?

The "Fourth Estate" is an antiquated term for unofficial social and political forces, primarily the media. Use of the term recognized, over two centuries ago, that the media affect social change. But once that became clear, it became a tool of the establishment. The church, politicians, and corporations started using the media to sway the public. Then the "Fifth Estate" was born. This is alternative media that often work against newly labeled "mainstream" news sources to show a level of truth or depth not seen. We came to assume that these sources, unaffected by the man, could actually be trusted.

But the new fake news (that's not billed as satire) is a different beast. It's not from the establishment or the counter-establishment. For the most part, it seems it's from individual mischief-makers who want their time in the sun. It's not a means to show truth; it's anti-truth. It's total crap. It's not propaganda for any side so much as it's childish fibbing that plays on whatever people hate. More anger equals more clicks. Whether for ad revenue or just a base desire for popularity, it feeds the individual who can create convincing stories. It's the ultimate in individualism for a single citizen or small group of citizens to be able to influence the masses through a little creative writing.

It's not new as a concept; there have always been snake oil salesmen. When the internet first got going, I discounted so many claims from students about things like KFC raising headless chickens and people selling human meat online. It took many lessons to convince them of the inaccuracy of the sites and to be wary of what they read. And way back then - it must have been about twenty years ago - we started talking about digital literacy. Somehow it didn't take in the way it should have. And before we were on solid ground, ready and able to recognize accurate new sources for ourselves, this new breed of misinformation came out: better disguised and less outrageous. It could be true, and we're way too busy to fact check it to find out.

This reality is important enough to be discussed by Obama, but he didn't say much more than "If we can't discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems....In an age where we have so much misinformation, and it's packaged very well....then we won't know what to fight for." Well, yup. So what do we do about it?

Some people blame Facebook for allowing fake news to be published. But Facebook isn't a peer-reviewed journal. It's supposed to be an open arena for views. (The algorithms that feed us news in a self-perpetuating bubble is a different problem that runs counter to the open forum idea.) They're not going to allow ads on sites with misleading information now, as a bit of a concession. But if we want it to stay relatively open and uncensored, then we have to be able to filter crap ourselves.

Snowden got in on the discussion suggesting Facebook shouldn't be our only news source, but Facebook isn't one source, it's a collection of news sources that varies dramatically depending on who you like and follow. Most of us already filter our own information by reading from select journalists or publications or only following people who we think will provide accurate news. A quick glance at my own Facebook feed has a Politico article followed by a New Yorker, then NYTimes, and Counter Current News, and CBC Newsand IFLScienceand Climate Reality forwarded a Guardian piece. I find Facebook, like Twitter, to be a great venue for news because I've set it up to be. I don't use it as much to connect with friends, and I'm pretty brutal about unfollowing people who post pictures of their meals. Lots of people are reading crap because they want shorter reads with more pictures and lots of drama. People want news to be entertaining.

Neil Postman
 (who was quoted at length by Chris Hedges - h/t Owen] recognized the prescience of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Huxley predicted that we've have so much information, it would render us passive, and we'd be "drowned in a sea of irrelevance." We have become the trivial culture he feared, ruined by our own desires. But Plato warned of that too, suggesting that our inability to properly measure short and long-term desires would be the end of us. We've been warned over and over for thousands of years. This is a frightening part of our own nature that seems virtually inescapable. We're largely idiots: self-centred and easily amused. I'm not sure we can be saved from ourselves.

But we can try, dammit!

Most importantly, I believe, who we think is reputable varies dramatically. What I see as the real source of the current problem it that any disagreement with outrageous claims is seen by some as a mere bias against that side rather than an argument against the claim. The most important and often the most difficult concepts to teach are "bias" and "opinion." It takes a lot of work to teach that at the grade 12 level, and it would help if it could be taught and reinforced earlier. It would help if it was a significant part of teacher's college lessons to ensure that all teachers are fluent in the terms.

I'd argue in favour of calling out bogus claims, and I do think that's important, but often it leads to bizarre accusations and hateful replies. I'm the first to jump on misattributed quotations, but moving beyond that requires a significant level of courage to be willing to stand up against an army of irrational detractors. I don't always have big enough balls for that. It would be so much easier if we all had basic skills in the dialectical method.

We have a push towards teaching critical thinking in schools, but most critical thinking discussions seem to focus on metacognition instead. It's to the point that I wonder if the board actually wants us to teach critical thought. Metacognition has us acknowledging what we're thinking as we're working through a problem. Critical thinking has us evaluating every claim and every thought we have as a response to each claim. It takes a depth of thought few want to explore. Difficult skills can be boring until we hit a baseline level of success. A few people dropped my philosophy course this term, as they always do, and I asked, "How much more time consuming is this course that people choose it to be the one to ditch?" Students answered that it's not any more time consuming at all, it's just a different level of thought that nobody's used to accessing. It's a whole new skill to question everything - in grade 12. That's more disappointing to me. I want them to question everything from kindergarten! Not just randomly arguing for the sake of being contrary, but clearly developing a line of reasoning that would have us accept or deny a claim.

I've had many arguments with educated people who get annoyed when I dismantle their arguments using the tools I learned in philosophy. That argument is a mere assertion; the other one an ad hominem; this last one an appeal to consensus....  People don't like their views questioned. They don't want to provide supports or reasoned arguments. They just want you to nod your head and admire their brilliance. I had one friend recently tell me he's "not into all that logic stuff." To me, that claim is similar to someone discounting his corrected grammar because he's not into all that grammar stuff. There are specific tools to be used when examining factual claims and arguments that we can all learn in grade school to ensure that what we're saying makes sense. But then it takes a bit more effort to develop arguments, and that's not as much fun (well, for most people).

The President of Ireland agrees:
The teaching of philosophy is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to empower children into acting as free and responsible subjects in an ever more complex, interconnected and uncertain world,” Mr Higgins said. “A new politics of fear, resentment and prejudice against those who are not ‘like us’ requires the capacity to critique, which an early exposure to the themes and methods of philosophy can bring.”
I'd like to live in a society full of people willing and able to thoughtfully examine ideas - their own and others'. But an educated society is difficult to placate and pacify. Beer and circuses for the masses it is!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Back to Work Boobless

I'm really glad I decided to go back to work part time for a week. I highly recommend that path for anyone getting this surgery. I thought I'd be completely fine the first day, but I underestimated my level of exhaustion. Being home by noon was a godsend. Some people online recommend SIX weeks off. Two full weeks off felt right, but three might have been better. This was a good compromise.

It didn't help that Sunday night my cats either found or brought a mouse into my bed at around 2 a.m. I woke to them pouncing in unison right next to me with my chest a barely closed wound inches from all those razor sharp claws. Yikes! I kicked them off the bed then heard the squeaky chirp of some kind of small animal. A mouse, a bat, or maybe a bird? I wasn't up to an investigation, so I took my clock to the living room couch for the rest of the night. 

When my alarm rang, I turned it off and promptly fell into a deep sleep until my daughter got me up about the time I should have been walking out the door. I have never fallen back to sleep after my alarm's gone off. I made it on time, but ill-prepared for the first day back, and with my classroom keys forsaken on the kitchen table.  

I'm not in too much pain, although it's there, pretty steadily. The cold really gets to me, and I'm sitting with a scarf doubled around my chest. The biggest issue is that I feel like I've run a marathon by ten in the morning. I just need to close my eyes a little. 

I dove right in to my regular clingy clothes without prosthetics, and nobody noticed. I guess my boobs weren't as spectacular as I imagined! I feel like someone with hair down to her waist pulling a Sinead O'Connor. It's horrible when people are upset with you, "How could you do that? You had such beautiful hair!" You never really know how much people love your hair until you cut it all off. But it's also a little weird when nobody says anything as if that's how you've always looked.

But clearly this is a little different. It's uncomfortable for people to notice a change like this. It means that they noticed that I actually had breasts at one time, and that's right up there with admitting we noticed someone's skin colour. Of course we notice, but our fear of appearing sexist or racist makes it's tricky to admit that we're able to see body shape and skin tone. 

I feel a little more bottom heavy, and my little belly is more front and centre. I might never exhale again. I feel slightly out of balance and square-shaped rather than hourglass. It's not quite like I'm ten-years-old again because I didn't have hips back then, but it's not too bad. 

ETA: It was a huge mouse (or maybe a baby rat). I finally found the carcass four days later!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Charles Taylor on the Crises of Democracy

Charles Taylor gave a lecture on the "Crises of Democracy" two years ago, as part of a "Civic Freedom in an Age of Diversity" program where he explores the very complex situation we're in. He says we're not in a period of democratic stagnation, but in a downward spiral that has to be actively stopped. He takes up the same thread as in his Sources of the Self, that we have to go back to retrieve our past, our trajectory here and all the assumptions we brought with us, in order to understand our current situation. There's is a summary of his ideas below condensed in a way that I can best understand it all.

He's critical of John Rawls's veil of ignorance theory for ignoring an important part of politics. It's correct at the core, but it misses the reality that, at any given time, the capacity people have to put together common actions is limited or augmented by their culture. Whether or not a revolution succeeds or fails has to do with the state of the democratic repertoire, or what Taylor calls the "social imaginaries" of the people. During the American Revolution, people ruling already had a purchase in the habit of electing assemblies, so the notion of what it was to set that up was already familiar. That wasn't the case for the French Revolution, so a lengthy battle ensued.

If people can do something active within institutions outside of democracy, like credit unions and trade unions, then people can learn to act together and accomplish something. But we need a critical mass of people who are able to work together in this way before we can do it as a society.

Taylor prefers Tocqueville's focus on the political culture of a time, and Arendt's notion of the collective power of the people. Social imaginaries allow for collective action. Then he heaped praise on the current work of Jim Tully in the field of global communities.


We have a naïve belief that the world is becoming democratic. Underlying that belief is the idea that democracy is the most stable, most legitimate form of government, but this belief undermines other forms of government. It might be a true belief, but it's a limited truth. There's an earlier understanding of democracy that's important to recall that goes back Aristotle's idea that the Demos is the rule of the non-elites over the elites, which is why the term wasn't used favourably for centuries. When the common people take over, the economy is destroyed because everyone's in debt. The Republicans came up with checks and balances but kept the common people out of this. Democracy has evolved into a rule by experts but with a turnover policy that the Demos can affect. That's very different than the original notion.

Demos is a term with a double meaning. We can't afford to lose the original sense of the word Demos referring to just the non-elites. Western democracies are in danger of a regression because we don't think of it in those terms. We glorify the notion of every voice and idea having equal value. This notion, the longstanding struggle whose ultimate achievement is when the elites and non-elites fade into one another, hopes to see the Demos becoming the equivalent to the people as a whole. When that becomes our view, then we see a sliding back. The moments when democracy is most vibrant are moments when the Demos (the non-elites) are moving ahead in economic prosperity, but not when they're the policy makers. In the 20th century, this was "Les Trente Glorieuses," the period from 1945 to 1975 in which we saw the development of the welfare state, a high marginal tax rate, and the development of trade unions. After 1975, the situation rolled back again.


In order for democracy to work, there has to be some sense that we as a whole people can act together. For example, in 1917 Russia, there was no understanding of how people could work together, so the revolution produced a dictator. If the people can't make it happen, then a small group or individual will rise up to lead, and it can be disastrous. A repertoire of ideas that lead to collective action is needed. And there must be a social imaginary that allows for democratic conflict, that allows for the legitimacy of really different interest and demands within the limits of non-violent discourse.

During Les Trente Glorieuses, there were certain operations that ensured progress, but they were undermined by good and bad forces that created a downward spiral that we're still trying to deal with. The nature of citizen efficacy offered us is through broad party programs with issues that mattered and the offer of a free vote. That understanding is being profoundly lost for good and bad reasons. A good reason it's being lost is that the system of large parties that puts all the demands into force doesn't cope well with minority demands. We end up with an epoch breaking out. Large parties can't back smaller idea like ecological movements or feminist movements or occupy movements. A bad reason it's being lost is a negative self-feeding reason. The large party system weakened other forms of political struggle. There's a lack of trust in the parties and a decline in the level of voting, a rise in the importance of cash, a media controlled by money, and a spiral downwards in the sense that the political efficacy of the whole is declining. We're still trying to reply to that.

The occupy movement (and similar smaller movements) and the left need each other, but there's a degree of alienation that makes it difficult for them to work together. Smaller movements like that get new things on the agenda that weren't there before, but needs some kind of party mechanism to put these things into effect. The Arab Spring shows the difficulty of going it alone with a movement without party backing.

But, one reason it's best for parties not to back the movements is it can be a great concern for the internal democracy of the party. It offers new techniques for broad discussion, but at the same time, it can then mean difficulties for leaders to disassociate themselves from acts of vandalism and violence. The most negative factions of the smaller movement can destroy any party that backs them. The problem becomes how to move beyond the stalemate in order to bring the two forces together to make democracy vibrant again.


We recognize that our situation has grave problems. There's tremendous inequity. There are lots of cases in which the existing repertoire allows some kinds of collective action, but not anything that can satisfy our basic demands. We're in a zone of arrested power that makes our situation highly unsatisfactory. It will take work to change it. There's a general despair of the Demos. The non-elites feel like nothing can be done.

One great strength of our current set of repertoires, though, is an understanding of ourselves as a people who can take collective action through procedures. We can understand and relate to that. We have a common cohesion around principles. There's a powerful sense of belonging together. Taylor argues against Nussbaum's cosmopolitan idea because we must have a sense of belonging to a group to have any solidarity. We must accept and trust each other enough to help each other with a redistribution of taxation. We have to imagine ourselves as citizens working with other citizens. If some are gated and other ghettoized, it's harder to imagine being equals. We used to have things like baseball games to bring us together, but even that has seen a 'skyboxification' of American democracy.

But there's a dark side to this; an ethnicization can develop around solidified groups. Mann refers to it as the dark side of democracy. It can lead to an exclusion or destruction of smaller groups, and we have to be mindful of that in order to watch for the first signs (like we're now seeing in the U.S.). There are two dominant imaginaries right now, that move us forward and back. There's a moving to bring in people who are different, which is a great achievement to create a viable repertoire for common action that includes everyone. But then there's a push back through a fear of what that common agency will look like. It's a battle about what the identity of the agency is.

We need to ensure egalitarian participation - a situation in which people, when they enter into common action, have a sense that we're creating something together as equals, that nobody's telling us what to do. There's a ritualistic element to enacting citizenship which helps deepen repertoire. People enact citizenship when they make a ceremony of voting. But there's a perpetual danger of exclusionary narrowness built into the sense of solidarity. It can turn into rejection, so people can be reluctant to join.

[I've seen this in my own city where community neighbourhoods have gotten significant support to develop their own name and brand (some with glossy mags about their homes), and now there's a competitive element that makes people in one neighbourhood disparage those in another. It was a means to develop city-wide community that devolved into nasty little factions. I've seen the same thing in my school when people solidify by departments in a process that erodes the school as a collective. It's classic Tajfel in-group / out-group mentality, and it takes a careful process to prevent it.]

Another way people get alienated is through a sense that policy is developed and applied by elites, and we don't understand it, but we get the idea that if we don't go along with it then we're not reasonable. There are people speaking on our behalf. And often it's a matter of media misinformation that allows for lunatic decisions to be furthered. This fear is played up by irresponsible governments. We try to get the truth out there, and we must go on doing that. There's a trough developing between how people understand each idea. They're often not necessarily differing in ideas, but in basic facts.

There's also the inability of people to get at international issues that can't be handled by one government, like planetary disaster. We need a collaborative citizenship that crosses boundaries and expresses non-violent forms of resistance. We need repertoires working within societies and across societies, but working at one and the same time.

There's a mythology that we're all middle class now, but we're not. The middle class is dying out. The old dream that kids will do better than their parents can't be envisaged anymore. This has altered our consciousness, which might create significant potential for action.

If populism is stymied, we get little movement. The success of parties and the success of the Demos are inversely correlated. We have to attend to exclusion, disempowerment, and nationalism together. In a sense, parties never did it alone, they were backed by trade unions, cooperatives, women's movements, and later corporate lobbyists. Can we have a functioning democracy without political parties? We can't really live with them or without them. They cause problems, but they're necessary. The issue is how to recreate the contemporary version of the kind of symbiosis that existed before, and recreate that in the world in which we have parties and movements. We have no viable model of that yet.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Genius Kvetching Ring

An article, three years old, was in my facebook feed today. But it was insanely timely. It's a little lifestyle piece about how to talk to people who are sick or experiencing trauma. It's just plain common sense, but it needs to be circulated regardless!  The idea was illustrated thusly:

Beautifully illustrated by Wes Bausmith
If someone in your life is sick or traumatized in some way, then their name goes in the middle. Then closest people next, and somewhat close, etc. further and further out. Wherever you are in the circle, you're welcome to bitch and complain and lecture and ask possibly offensive questions or talk about how it's affecting your life only to people who are towards the outside of the circle (from you, out). So, if you're in the middle, you get to basically say anything! If you're on the outer circle, then keep your trap shut.

The only things that should be shared to people closer to the centre (from you, in), are words of encouragement or offers of help. What do you need me to do? How can I help? Here's a list of things I'm more than happy to do...  That kinda thing. If you're thinking of sharing your troubles or the secrets of your success inwardly, then bite your tongue.

Most people have been exceptional to me during my recovery. Most people. And I've been guilty of kvetching in myself, mainly when my mother was dying of cancer, and I was on my own with an infant and a 2-year-old, and my mom was the only person in the world I could talk to about all my troubles. Luckily she was so drugged up on morphine, she didn't really notice my self-centred ranting. But, I'm sometimes an insensitive clod, so it's definitely something I'll be checking in with myself in future!

On Being Useful: a Necessary Shift in Radicalism

"Oh, what can we do in a case like that? Nothing to do but sit on your hat, or your toothbrush, or your grandmother, or anything else that's useless."

Those are the butchered words of a Burl Ives song I sang as a kid until my sister corrected me. The last word is actually helpless, not useless. But it made so much more sense to think of my elders as full of vim and vigour, but just spinning their wheels. They're not helpless, but they don't effect anything significantly either. You can't go to them to try to make a difference on anything significant. It probably got meshed in my head with my dad's gentle refrain beaten into my head, "Do try to be useful," whenever anything was happening around me, like groceries or housecleaning or dinner.

I have no memory of the song being about a whale. To my young mind, it was about the sad incompetence of the older generation, and it I was the first protest song I sang as I pictured the youth suffocating their elders in order to make shit happen. But then I became a useless elder and the cycle continues.

I've been thinking about my uselessness lately, and then I watched HyperNormalisation and listened to an interview with Adam Curtis, who said that radicals started giving up the fight in the 1970s. I felt a little vindicated as he lamented the movement towards self-absorbed obsessions with working out; I loathe exercise for its own sake. But that was quickly replaced with a bit of shame as he turned to the radicals that retreated into their art and writing as a quieter form of protest that's essentially useless. Okay, that hit a nerve. He argues that what we need is for people go to protest sites, whatever cause is near and dear, and don't tweet about it, but just participate. And participate until it's fixed. Don't just make an appearance, take a selfie, then congratulate yourself on the way back home, ummm, like I do with the marches I attend. (But doesn't making lengthy documentaries fit in with making art?)

And that reminded me of a great book I was fortunate to be forced to read in university: Sources of the Self, by Charles Taylor (listen to a shorter version here), a Canadian philosopher who happens to be in the news everywhere right now since winning the Berggruen Prize for advancing humanity. His sudden wave of publicity gives me great hope that we're on the verge of actually paying attention to his ideas. His extraordinary tome traces philosophy from the beginnings to now and suggests that we've gotten ourselves into a muddle because we've shifted from asking questions about human nature (philosophy) with an interest in furthering society, to thinking entirely about ourselves and the ordinary life (psychology, particularly of the self-help variety) with an interest in developing our personal potential. The way to end our malaise is to go back to the source to figure out what we're all about. It's a call to reject the notion that values are subjective. That's a tiny nutshell for several hundred pages, but I'll get to the rest of it another day.

We've shifted to soft relativist positions that don't really allow us to have ideals. Instead of getting into the nooks and crannies of right and wrong, thinking and figuring out which really is the best action for the greater good, we largely look for ways to justify doing what we want. And a general attitude that says "your way is just as valid as mine" encourages us all on our merry way, ignoring atrocities along the path. But many think the opposite slides down a slope towards totalitarianism. If I imply your reasoning is questionable and your choices immoral, then I'm telling you what to do. And what give me that right?? I'm labeled arrogant and the argument is dismissed. People need to be willing to discuss these things in a learned way until we get to some discovery of essential values.

And at the same time, I've been reading a book on Sartrean Ethics, which argues for the opposing idea, that values are completely subjective and we can all be useful if we choose values that we can live up to: "It is up to man himself to give meaning and use to his choosing to value and seek goals that are attainable" (53). Sartre is exciting to read because he's not at all judgmental about people's lapses into bad faith, and his version of the virtuous life is so possible. It feels good to read him. But, as much as I like much of what he says, I believe it's part of the reason for this mess we're in.

If I have to choose a path, then I'm with Taylor on this one. There are some values that exist outside ourselves and that can't be ignored even if it's uncomfortable for us to face the reality of our selfishness and the errors of our ways up to this point. I also agree with Curtis that we have to change the way we express ourselves radically. A personal expression isn't going to do jack shit to change anything. We need to focus less on ourselves, on our art and music and writing and on our bodies, and actually take some risks and suffer a bit to promote real change for the future. We can't change the world from the comfort of the couch. These views take us into far more difficult terrain that's not rewarding in the ways we're used to. It means working for something that will benefit the next generation knowing we might never be remembered for our efforts as we get lost in a sea of protesters, but we can't continue to do so little if we want the next couple of generations to survive. Especially now that Trump is at the helm.

Taylor writes, "We want our lives to have meaning, or weight, or substance, or to grow towards some fullness.... But this means our whole lives. If necessary, we want the future to "redeem" the past, to make it part of a life story which has sense or purpose, to take it up in a meaningful unit" (50). Nietzsche uses these words, "To redeem the past and to transform every 'It was' into an 'I wanted it thus' - that alone do I call redemption" (TSZ-161). We get caught up in linear progressions. The present has to be better than the past, and it all has to add up to something that makes sense to us. When we're in a lull in our life, or hit a crappy part, it's disconcerting that it was all for naught. But if we want our lives to have real substance, then it will only happen if we add our voices to a collective call to action beyond our individual pursuits. The internet makes us feel connected, but it's just an illusion. We have to leave the house and come face-to-face with other human beings willing to go the distance with us.

It's not necessary to succeed, but we have to begin.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Pie and Goldblum on Trump's Win

Two videos for a Saturday:

Jonathan Pie argues that the left is responsible for this result because they've given up putting up any argument at all: "Clinton...a candidate who's been dry-humping corporations for years....They didn't vote for her because she offered no palpable change whatsoever....She represented very little."

But more importantly, he argues for arguing:
"Our argument isn't won by hurling labels and insults...the key is discussion. If you're unwilling to discuss, then you're creating the conditions where Donald Trump and people like him can thrive.....The left is responsible for this result because the left have now decided that any other opinion, any other way of looking at the world is unacceptable.  We don't debate anymore because the left won the cultural war. So, if you're on the right, you're a freak....When has anyone ever been persuaded by being insulted? If you're against the pervading view, you're attacked for expressing your opinion. That's why people wait until they're in the voting booth. No-one's watching anymore, and you can finally say what you really think."
And then something I've always told people who disagree with me: "Being offended doesn't work anymore... Engage and debate me and tell me what I'm getting wrong!"  (ETA but check out this analysis of the clip as well.)

Then Jeff Goldblum reminds us the best way to react to it all:

He's got a Jungian or Taoist element to his talk:
"When you engage in this othering business - there's a lot of that going on - where you're separate from me and it's your fault instead of 'we're stronger together' business, you look to the person who's the focus of your disgust and outrage, and you know what? Sometimes you go, "The reason I'm so outraged at that person is because I need to look at those elements of personality in myself."
And his words for moving forward:
"Being inspired, encouraged, brave, and active into the progress of your own future depends on YOU; that's within your circle of influence. I'm not going to be uninspired by this. That's stupid."
His philosophy of life is comforting at least:

Friday, November 11, 2016

On Missing the Girls

"Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There's a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."
- Leonard Cohen  (Everyone's using that bit today, but they always skip the first part of the verse.)

As I started down the road towards mastectomy-ville, I wondered how weird it would feel suddenly not having breasts. I mean they been sitting there, right under my face, for decades. How would I cope with such a drastic change? It doesn't count as an amputation, but still... it's something. I mean, many MTF Trans don't feel complete without top surgery, yet here I go still being female. I've actually always wondered if it's insulting to women with minimal breasts when people insist they can't feel female without getting implants. And it's covered if it's sexual reassignment surgery, but not if you're born female but have a pretty flat chest. Curious. Anyway...

I do miss them at times. When I lie on my side at night, they're not cushioning the space between my arms. When I'm standing and I move to cross my arms, the down-scoop-up motion that nestles them atop my folded arms is now for nought. When I'm in the shower, I look straight down at my belly. When I run up a flight of stairs, I still reach up to hold them in place. When I'm waking around, if I catch myself in a reflective surface I notice the change: I seem longer in the torso without them. But the rest of the time, when I'm just milling about doing my thing, I mainly don't think about them at all. Once in a while, when I see a celeb in a beautiful outfit that accentuates their breasts, I have a tiny pang of grief, but I can still get that look as desired with external prosthetics. Except, once I'm released from this pressure camisole in another week, I expect to be excited to never again wear a bra!

At this point, two weeks post-surgery, there's just a tightness in my chest and a weird tingling sensation like a band of dull needles pressed against me whenever I get a chill (which I seem to get a lot there), or when I think about it all (because I'm still pretty grossed out by the thought of it), or maybe just randomly. From time to time I get a sudden little stabby purple-nurple feeling that usually subsides quickly. When I roll on my side at night, it's a bizarre sensation like it all shifts just under the surface. It's not really painful, but it's intense enough that I wake up every time.

I don't look that strange. I've already started to get used to it, however I've been lounging around the house in loose-fitting tops. That might be my go-to outfit for school for the first while as well. At work, I never dress to look attractive - that's subtly discouraged for teachers. I've had students ask me what to do if a teacher is wearing revealing clothes that the class finds uncomfortable: "When she bends over, we can see right down her top!" They say that in a revolted way. Teenagers typically don't want to see middle-aged booty. I'm in awe of older women who wear anything that acknowledges them as sexual beings; it's so far removed from my own experiences as a school marm. But I do try to avoid being a distraction in other ways. I don't want to gross anyone out.

I push the boundaries of taste already by having hairy legs and pits, and I wear sundresses that showcase both. I also have eczema-type areas of bumpy scaly skin that most people are good about largely ignoring. But some students are brutally honest - well, sometimes they're cruel really - and I feel like I might need to be at the ready with a comeback that's just subtle enough that I'm able to deny any intended sarcasm and insist I was giving straight-up advice. God forbid we ever take students down a notch and inadvertently hurt their self-esteem in our quest for developing a moral centre in them.

But there could also be some kind souls in the room who find it all a little unsavoury. I'm reminded of the beginning of Pay It Forward, when Kevin Spacey's character first turns around to greet his new class and his face is a mass of scars. The class is taken aback, but he soldiers on. Generally we expect that people just have to cope with our disfigurements, but I wonder if sometimes there's a call for a bit of a compassionate attitude to help people ease into radical changes.

When I was a kid, I was sometimes embarrassed by my mom because she'd do groceries in a pink pantsuit with a yellow raincoat. She didn't care what she looked like. Well, I'm not even acknowledging the idea that she might have thought she looked good!  And, as a world-weary teen, I once wished to be dead rather than care so little about how I present myself in public. Many teenagers are very concerned for people who aren't optimally attractive, sometimes to the point of anger that the broken won't better hide their imperfections.

But now I'm at the age of not giving a shit, and it's a significantly better place to be. It's not to say I've given up or grown apathetic, but that I've grown less self-absorbed. Or, at least, I'm less absorbed with how I look and more interested in what I can do.

But I still don't want to freak anyone out!

In more revealing clothes, I worry a bit about disturbing people on the beach or around town if I'm in a form-fitting tank top or bold enough to go topless. The surgery didn't leave me completely smooth. There's weird shit going on: bumps and ripples and blobs, not to mention the horizontal scar dividing the terrain in half. A buddy keeps saying it'll look better when the muscles fills in, which is baffling to me. What muscles will fill in?? If I don't suddenly start to work out (which I won't), then I don't expect to find more muscles there any time soon. I'll have to work with my tattoo artist around the new peaks and valleys of the canvas.

But then I think that maybe we're all freaks in one way or another, it's just that some people hide it better than others. That could be a rationalization on my part, but it seems to me that it's more than just for aesthetic reasons that it bothers us to see people who are a bit off. Perhaps it bothers us because it reminds us of our own broken or twisted parts that we've made such an effort to sequester and smooth over. Someone refusing to hide their flaws is like a wounded gazelle on the Serengeti. We avoid the walking wounded to keep the pack animals from noticing us too, noticing a little lump or limp or lisp that could give us away as ripe for chewing on. It takes a measure of bravery to be a bit off in this sometimes scared and mean little place. But it also takes some courage to stand with the marginalized, and that deserves acknowledgment. It might be expected of us all, but, unfortunately, it's rare enough to be praiseworthy.

Caitlin Rosberg