Monday, 13 July 2020

The Matter at Hand 2020

This whole explosion of protest, which recurs every so often could be entirely avoided if the dominant culture simply tried to live up to its own ideals.
Philosophies of the Enlightenment produced some high-minded documents which go back to the 18th and 19th centuries, which go on at length about, basically, according all people respect and dignity and allow those people to live their lives, as they see fit, as long as they are not harming others.
Noble ideals, which nobody at the time, and nobody now, could entirely live up to, but which we could at least continue to strive for, even as we fail. And we will fail, because we are human. We try, we fail, we make corrections, we try again to reach for those ideals. It is the reaching for those ideals that is our achievable goal.
Our problems are the result of failing to even try to live up to those ideals. We have failed to accord everyone an equal opportunity to prove their worth to society. We have failed to accord random strangers a sense of dignity and have looked askance at anyone who does not conform to our own set of ideal behaviours.
That we seek to belong to a group is normal, usual, and healthy. It is, after all, how our progenitors survived. We enjoy being surrounded by people who share our taste for clothes, music, colour. Ideally, we do not intrude on others, and they do not intrude on us.
That we differentiate between groups, take pride in membership, is also healthy.
What becomes unhealthy is when one despises those not of one's group. It is one thing to perceive that a person is different, and then simply accept that they are different, and accord them polite courtesy. It is another thing to despise that difference, and to actively harm that person, to demand they go away. We fail to live up to our ideal when we decide that someone minding their own business is somehow intruding on us, offending our sensibilities. We fail to live up to our ideal especially when we despise someone for being different for things they cannot alter or change. Skin colour, hair colour, height, body type, sex, sexuality, you all know the list.
We have failed because we have allowed a single small group to define what is acceptable based on their own circle of comfort, which just happens to coincide with what the largest sub-group of people in society also find comfortable, and then actively prevented people who do not conform to those traits and tastes, whether by choice or by accident of birth, from fully participating in our society.
At the end of a day, a person who has spent every waking minute being looked at askance, being treated with suspicion, being subtly put down, treated as less than competent, being pushed away for being different, has accumulated a sense of hurt and anger. It is not one thing, it is an accumulation of little things: being excluded from conversations, being ignored, feeling denied that sense of dignity so apparently accorded to other people. All of which, day after day, add to the usual stresses of life. We see the most egregious examples, we do not see the myriad infuriating incidents that underpin and encourage the perpetrators of those events and discourage those who bear them.
People absorb and mirror back the messages from society. It is facile to try and ignore the effect of both the praise and encouragement, and the implicit sense of being, not just different from, but less than and therefore less capable, less worthy.
There is a world of difference between choosing not to belong and being told one may not. Perhaps it is a choice one would have made, but being denied that choice is the root of frustration and frustration eventually gets expressed as anger.
That is the matter we are talking about right now.
The matter of particular groups of people in our society have not been and are not being accorded the dignity to choose how they wish to participate and in most cases, whether they are permitted to participate at all.
This is the frustration finally exploding in protest because, despite fine sentiments, appropriately expressed, about upholding the Enlightenment values according equal rights and opportunities to everyone to prosper, or not, according to their own luck, wit, and effort, these words have not been accompanied by real deeds, by real opportunity, by real access to the resources needed to prosper.
Instead, we have created the mere illusion of inclusion, have excessively focused on promoting correct language, have focused on empty and futile exercises to promote self-esteem, have focused on multi-coloured stickers and flags in windows, but not the heart of the matter: that particular people have been singled out and unfairly denied the right to walk their path in peace without let or hindrance, in accordance with our own much-vaunted ideals, simply because they look different.
Worst of all, black and indigenous lives that should matter, that must matter, are the ones frequently being arbitrarily killed by the very police whose job is to protect them, the complete antithesis of the ideals which we claim to hold dear.
We, members of the dominant culture, need to stop making excuses, stop redirecting the focus, stop hiding behind chosen statistics. We, members of the dominant culture must take responsibility and accord to everyone we meet a measure of dignity and respect as we claim to do according to our values.
We must fix the skewed economics that deny access to resources to so many, particularly people not of our dominant culture.
We must demand only the highest standard of behaviour from the people whose jobs involve being the public face of our ideals, especially when dealing with crises.
We, members of the dominant culture, will not be giving anything up, we will not be losing something, we will not be lessened if we do. When we try to live up to our own ideals, we shall, instead, gain in every way.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

The Mythic Lone Iconoclast


 the Civil Religion of Progress which got us here and why it’s so hard for people to let go, quite apart from the normal human tendency to continue to hang on to whatever has worked in the past, I’ve identified a key figure: the “Lone Iconoclast”.
Now, most stories across history have a single hero as the point of focus, whether real or imaginary, e.g. Cuchulain or Myamoto Musashi, but what they all do is exemplify the ideal of the culture or civilization that is telling the story. In the tales of Cuchulain he exemplifies the ideal of a warrior of his tribe. In the case of Musashi, a recurring theme is his misery at being unable to shave his head and so be a proper Samurai even as he perfects his art and works for the benefit of his society. Note that neither one upsets any social order or ushers in great changes.
By contrast, in most of OUR stories in 20th and 21st Century Western, particularly North American culture, the hero is someone who, working alone, works out some knowledge that everyone else has overlooked or ignored or develops some new technology that will change the world (always for the better, of course). The Lone Iconoclast must then overcome resistance from the hidebound and close-minded Authority, particularly those who control the institutions of learning and knowledge, so that this Truth (which is always in conformity with the gospel of Western Science) can usher in some great leap forward.
We see this popular mythology recurs in our stories. In over-simplified history: “Copernicus and the Heliocentric Theory”, or “Galileo discovers the Moons of Jupiter”, or “Mendel proves Genetic Inheritance”. This figure occurs in literature: Mary Shelly’s lone hero “Dr. Frankenstein” and Reginald Rose’s holdout Juror No 8 in “12 Angry Men” and, of course, every comic-book superhero, now translated into big-screen mega-blockbusters. This figure occurs in movies: Gary Cooper stands alone against the town he saves in “High Noon”. This figure occurs in police dramas wherein the rogue detective is right and the Chief of Police is wrong: “Lethal Weapon” and “Demolition Man” come immediately to mind. It’s in political dramas. it’s in medical dramas. Everywhere, we see some individual as the lone iconoclast outsmarting the unimaginative, hidebound leadership.
I perceive two major effects of the iconography of the Heroic Lone Iconoclast:
Firstly, it supports the delusion that any individual is smarter than the collective and smarter than any conventional expert. This, in turn, amplifies the Dunning-Kruger effect across society as a whole, and one result is a general turning away from, and ignoring the advice of, experts. Notwithstanding the fact that so many arrogant, high-profile experts have been so spectacularly wrong about important issues, it does not follow that “anyone” else would have better results. People give themselves permission stop listening to inconvenient facts which challenge their own preconceptions, and magnify out of proportion facts and suppositions to support their claims, because they imagine themselves as being that mythic iconoclast who is right in the face of conventional wisdom. (Even if they hold the most conventional and unimaginative viewpoints, they still believe they are being highly individualistic and creative.) The result, aside from the metastasizing of conspiracy theories in public discourse, is that when experts give advice people don’t like, they tend to ignore it even more than they ordinarily would and thus fiercely resist changing their lifestyle even though it is untenable. It also leaves people peculiarly susceptible to demagogues who pander to these prejudices.
Secondly, it elevates the individual interest over the collective well-being. In Western culture, particularly in North America, the individual now takes primacy over the group. That is at the core of the current culture wars, it is also a big factor in people looking at every possible “solution” for the climate crisis, except to change their personal, entropic, suburban lifestyle, because their comfort is primary. What that portends for the future is that people are even more adverse to considering the idea of reducing their standard of living for the benefit of everyone else, that much less willing to make voluntary sacrifices.
Ironic. Because by working as an individual towards the collective good, in my example, I have continuously reduced the amount of energy I use to the point where I use 40% of the energy the previous owner of this house did, I give the lie to the fear that somehow reducing waste means a reduction in living standards. I find myself an individual, working for the benefit of the group as a whole. I am, however, not the iconoclast, because I am, in fact, joining a growing number of people across this continent who are doing exactly the same thing. 

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Populism

This morning, I came across this in my readings:
"Among the best measures of the rise of the new reality is the recent flurry of denunciations of “populism” in the mainstream media. And what, pray tell, is populism? It’s the political stance that says that the majority has the right to have a voice in the making of collective decisions. The opposite of populism, though you won’t hear that mentioned in the denunciations I have in mind, is elitism: the viewpoint that only the self-proclaimed Good People have the right to a voice in decisions. That’s a core feature of the ["left-wing"] ideology that’s going to bits just now." -- J.M.Greer
My soc-media feed has been full of fulminations against populism and our current Premier and gloating from the pseudo-conservatives, salivating like a hungry dog presented with a nice steak, about how they have been taking over province after province and how they are poised to take over the country in the fall and how then, everything'll jump back to some wonderful golden time of prosperity and social order when people didn't worry about grocery bills. This is called 'populism' and it's going to fail as miserably as it always does. But no one is asking why. Why are so many turning in this direction? The official excuse of the self-proclaimed Good People is that all those others are idiotic, racist misogynists. That, of course, is the easiest way to let themselves off the hook for their own mistakes.
I'd say populism is less a political stance, and more of an opportunistic exploitation of the sad fact that, for increasingly large numbers of people, despite the demurring, and the reports, and the statistics, and the proofs, &c., &c., continually trotted out by academics with lots of letters after their names and other assorted highly-paid Knowledgeable Experts with lots of titles in front of and letters after their names, that 'everything is just fine' and and that we, the common folk, should just settle down and let them keep on running everything, that in fact everything is very much not fine at all and none of their social and economic prescriptions are working at any meaningful level.
The problem is that we have been convinced for two generations now that our current collective lifestyle, i.e. a huge suburban house in the sprawl with two SUVs and a need to drive to the shopping plaza to buy made-overseas everything, is the ne-plus-ultra of living arrangements. Of course, that means that when prices for the energy needed to run said lifestyle started to rise -- reality check here: sources of cheap and plentiful energy were becoming scarce and thus expensive starting back in 2005, BTW -- most people experienced low-level, subconscious anxiety because everything was getting more expensive, except their paycheque. Any psych 101 student can explain what happened next: they looked around for the most proximate, plausible cause (that sort-of bugged them) for a reason why, and latched onto that. Taxes. Yeah, a 15c tax on gas must be why the price has gone up 75c therefore it's the Liberal government. Overpaid civil servants who are more focused on art events than cleaning snow of sidewalks. (Really? They have to deal with people like you all day. They aren't paid enough, IMO.) Overpaid unions who collect your vast piles of garbage (who negotiated good deals when times were good and the aforesaid experts believed we could afford it because times were just going to keep on getting better, in accordance with the dominant mythology). Whatever infuriates. Enter the populist, who is really a grab-bag of soothing, reassuring platitudes that we can return to an earlier time when people lived in a world of hopeful expectation that things would keep on getting better and better, until we could spend our days leisurely enjoying life while robot servants did all the nasty work.
e.g. People were furious about electricity prices in the last days of the Wynne government. 15 years of Liberals running the province, notwithstanding the 2008 depression, had managed to run up the largest sub-sovereign debt with little to show for it. And so a new government was elected by a dominant majority of 40% of the vote (yes, that's sarcasm) whose first act was to fire the admittedly-overpaid CEO of Hydro1. I've seen no actual effect on my hydro bills. Winter and Spring of 2018 my soc-media feed was bursting with cute memes about electricity prices driving good people into poverty &c. &c. &c. No one creates or passes those around any more.
I'd say I wonder why, but, obviously, I don't.
The unpleasant fact is that we cannot sustain our current lifestyle, no matter how many electric cars we buy or how many wind-turbines we foist onto the unwilling countryside. It's just not possible. For individuals, this is going to become an increasingly miserable life. There is a way to have a decent living, but it's going to look a lot more like the technology of the late 19th/early 20th centuries (minus the social mores, of course). The longer we try to maintain our current living arrangements, with cottages and suburban homes on floodplains and gigantic glass condo skyscrapers and driving everywhere, the longer we keep electing parties who reassure us that this is the only way to live, the harsher the next, inevitable drop will be.

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Idle Thoughs on the Beginning of May 2019

It amuses me to watch the outraged tribe of the Blue Party of industrial big-business-as-usual (that thinks rich people should be richer) rail hysterically against the 4c tax imposed by the Red Party of industrial business-as-usual (that thinks middle-class should keep on living unsustainable lifestyles) for the 20c increase in gas prices over the past 2 months.
No one ever takes a serious look at the entire economics of getting increasingly costly fossil fuels out of the ground, now that we are 15 years past peak conventional (i.e. cheap and plentiful) production.
The mental gyrations explaining why it's necessary to continue on, why we can still carry on the way we have for the past 100 years, why our lifestyle needs to be maintained, &c. &c., will be familiar to anyone who has lived with an alcoholic. Co-incidently, they are almost the same arguments for preserving slavery in the past.
On the flip side (not to be flip, mind you) the "Environmentalist" cause has long since floundered under the weight of irrelevant add-on causes that have basically stopped any meaningful action to prevent runaway climate change from happening. We were told 30 years ago that we had 10 years to prevent climate disaster... and every year since then, we've been given 10 years (this year, we really mean it!!) to change or else. Really, the window to prevent change closed decades ago, all we can do now is see how we can cope with the inevitable changes we've caused. So finally, various governments timidly instituted an utterly ineffective "price on carbon" while assuring voters that they can keep on truckin'. (or SUV'n as it were.) All it's done is piss people off, who are eagerly turning to snake-oil salesmen promising a return to the good old days.
The 'green economy" that is being bandied about as an alternative is presented as lifestyle-as-usual but made infinitely sustainable, which is a patent falsehood to anyone who looks into the hard science behind it.
Watching the spiralling costs of the collective poor choices we've made as a society over the past two generations makes me feel for the individuals caught helplessly in the maw of destruction, but also fearful of what happens when an entire mass of people start looking for someone else to blame for the consequences of their collective bad decisions.

Friday, 12 April 2019

Seeds of Destruction

   We are seeing a rise in violence by white nationalists and neo-nazis. The current popular narrative is that these bad people are appearing from nowhere, as if by magic, and no one can figure out where they are coming from, or why. If they are not simply described as individual nut-cases, this worrying trend is not being explained or addressed, but leaves a large number of people with lots of letters after their names scratching their heads and proposing any number of reasons why so very many seem to be appearing now in such numbers and laying the blame all over the place. I'd like to suggest it's actually those very erudite, knowledgeable people who are ultimately causing this problem.
   In the first place, for decades, the masses were lectured to about how people with lots of letters after their names had all the correct answers, and their policies were so carefully crafted that everyone was going to be just fine if they just went along, especially with the make-believe science of economics. So all the major Parties in all the democratic Euro-American sphere went along, certain economic policies became differentiated only by flavour, not any real difference, arguments over how wonderful or not social programs would be and how everyone would be helped into a utopian world where no one gets hurt and everyone gets to live a comfortable life. This failed. Miserably. Predictably, the scapegoat of Rich White Men who run the Capitalist System became the bugbear onto whom all the worlds woes were blamed. There is no lively discussion amongst economics schools as to whether their ideas actually work for the benefit of people, but that's not the point: decades ago the whole equation became flipped so that the economy no longer works to provide benefits to people, people now work to keep the economy healthy. People will put up with a lot, but when they start to get hungry and sink from relative wealth into poverty and they see everyone around them also sinking, they tend to turn to anybody who even pretends to address their concerns.
   Enter the populists, fronting for the real totalitarians.
   On the second hand, and this is where we get to the heart of the problem, despite decades of social work, social policies, social experimentation to elevate certain defined visible minorities from poverty and to integrate them into a utopian world where everyone has an equal chance to be well off and happy, this, too, has failed miserably.
   As the decades have worn on, the more these policies and hand-outs have failed to produce the promised results, the advocates have become ever-more strident in their insistence that, because they have gone to school, and made all sorts of studies, and have gathered all sorts of data that they must be right, and have doubled-down over and over again on their failed programs. In the process, this approach has become the holy shibboleth of social-activists promoting righteous moral causes. As their theories have needed to become ever-more abstract, their ideas have become ever-more hyper-sensitive to slights and injuries, real and imagined. The Noble Causes, having seen very little improvement, if any, then seek for any answer as to why, and, in typical human fashion, place blame outside long before they question their own behaviour, and The System is the easiest, most obvious target. But who runs The System is, of course, the largest minority group. And thus everything about them comes under scrutiny and this scrutiny must turn up all the ways in which The System works to prevent the suffering group in question from succeeding. And thus these intellectuals awaken to the realization of how much everything is stacked against them, and become woke to the awful situation.
   Then this hyper-awareness becomes the cause of their own failure.
   The Woke-Left has not only grouped together and conflated multiple assorted issues, some of which are turning out to be incompatible if not actually antithetical, but in each case, they have reduced the complexities of those issues to the simplest, most uni-dimensional Manichean definition of good vs. evil, and lumped everyone not wholly in agreement with the narrow, defined range of acceptable speech and behaviour as absolutely, unquestionably evil. There is no nuance. So if everyone else who questions a premise is derided as a “Fascist Nazi,” then this gives legitimacy over to actual Fascists and actual Nazis who can claim ownership of reasonable concerns and thus have a way to ooze out from the cracks and crevasses into which they were relegated decades ago. 
   This is the flip-side of the assumption of the mantle of Conservatism by Evangelical Christians who are absolutely socially restrictive and inflexible in their attitudes and utterly unwilling to compromise on any point, and who define everyone not entirely part of their group as Godless Marxist Socialists.

   e.g. immigration. I think this started to become an issue of social concern when the percentage of immigrants from very specific places North West Europe decreased and immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe increased, then particularly when immigration from even more alien cultures of Asia began to become the principal source of newcomers. Fear of cultural loss and valid questions around which aspects of foreign cultures are compatible with existing values and how much change a society can safely tolerate have become conflated with racism, and “racism=bad” is the reductionist simplification that has prompted so many social justice activists to twist themselves into knots trying to justify support for people who have essentially broken the law. The Woke-Left reduced a complex discussion to a spectacularly overly-simplified black-and-white (no pun intended) moral choice (these poor wretches deserve your pity and therefore must be uncritically welcomed) and defined everyone not wholeheartedly on their end as being equivalent to mass-murderers. It is one thing to have human sympathy for someone desperate enough to pick up all their belongings and make an arduous trek in the hope of succor and a better life, it’s entirely something else to dismiss out of hand any concerns about preserving the very way of life that attracted numbers of immigrants in the first place, as inherently evil. This has given the Alt-Right all the oxygen it needed to come crawling out of their dank holes, to become the standard-bearers against illegal immigration and cultural loss through mass-migration.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Political Dance

   I think I was about 10 when the basic idea first formed in my head, but it wasn't until I was in my 30s that I heard it neatly summed up:
                "You dance with those who brought you to the dance."
-- Pres. Lyndon Johnson
   On Feb 14th, The National on CBC ran a story about a convoy of truckers, angry at feeling 'abandoned' by Ottawa.

Pro-pipeline Protest Convoy Leaves Alberta for Ottawa

   The government is currently run by the Liberal Party (The Red Party of Big Business that pretends to care about the middle class). The Prairie provinces, where all these truckers come from, and who most apparently support, voted almost unanimously for the Conservative Party (The Blue Party of Big Business that supports very rich people).
   So, to sum up: people who aren't ever going to vote for the Party in power are protesting that the party in power isn't paying sufficient attention to them.
   They are going to continue to vote for the Party that tried to ram through their beloved pipeline with a kangaroo-court, show process that basically ignored the legitimate concerns of the people who would have to deal with any pollution or other issues, and failed utterly to allay all those concerns.
Which is why we have no pipeline.
   It's not that pipelines are inherently risky, just that the company that was supposed to build it has a bad track record of cutting corners and an appalling record of failing to deal with spills and therefore is not trustworthy or credible in its claims. It's not that pipelines are bad methods of moving liquids, but expanding fossil-fuel production in the face of all the evidence that it is causing unpleasant weather effects might not be the smartest policy action we could take. Bottom line: if you cannot actually get it past the smell test honestly, then we must conclude that they are wrong.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Premier Ford versus the Future

Sometime, I'd guess about 40 years ago, conservatives in general, and Progressive Conservative Party in particular, decided to stop conserving the health and well-being of the environment. (The same goes for 'conservatives' and Republicans in the U.S.)
They claim that their Party and philosophy is to support people's health and well-being. They have repeatedly claimed to want to give people jobs. They repeatedly claim that you want to put money into people's pockets, presumably so they can lead enjoyable lives.
And yet, in the face of reality, they have made a number of ill-conceived decisions that run directly against these goals and against Ontarians short and long-term best interests.
In my world, very educated people who have devoted their lives and careers to the study of climate and economics, people who know much more about these things than the typical voter, are telling us that our sprawl-based, car-dependent lifestyles, which involves paving over, and thus permanently destroying, the finest farmland in Canada, is both untenable and disastrous, both in the near and long-term future. These same experts give us effective means to change this behaviour and still provide for a decent standard of living for the long-term foreseeable future, and yet, for reasons I cannot fathom, they have rejected these entirely out-of-hand, even through they would seem to fit naturally with their often-touted goals and philosophy.
In the last few months they have:
  • Rejected renewable energy. This is a poor decision because cheap, non-renewable energy sources are all in decline and are ceasing to be cheap. Soon they will cease to be available. No energy, dirty or otherwise, will leave Ontario in poverty. Is that their real goal, then, to lord it over a mass of impoverished serfs? According to history, that will not be their fate.
  • Slashed environmental initiatives. We are witnessing increased numbers of intense storms around the planet, exactly according to the predictions made over 100 years ago, and exactly according to detailed studies made in the 1970s. The environment is changing in ways that will make it impossible to do more than just survive in abject poverty like the Easter Islanders. Is that to be their legacy? Perhaps they are comforted by the idea that eventually, no one in the subsistence culture surviving in our ruins will even remember their names or know anything about us, and so escape the censure in the future.
  • Made it free to pollute. Possibly they are imagining some 'good old days' circa 1950 when environmental regulations were not so onerous and conclude that the lack of controls was the cause of this sense of prosperity and expectation? There is a reason why all these environmental regulations came into force to prevent pollution within a decade: because the people who were alive in this purported golden age quickly found themselves dying miserably of pollution after a short time.
  • Fought a national carbon price that would put money in people’s pockets. Possibly they are thinking of the typical Liberal pattern of pretending to do one thing, then producing legislation that does not quite achieve that goal, and which, according to the rule of unintended consequences, produces no real benefit to anyone but their big supporters. Is that why they are opposed to the scheme, because they despise the people who suggest it? So, instead of producing a better one, instead of taking the advice of the world's best economists, they scrap the whole idea in what appears to be a childish fit of pique.

They don't even have the courage to even discuss their point of view. As a general rule, if someone wants to just shut down any opposition, it's because their point of view is, itself, indefensible.