Category Archives: Race

… the final frontier

Idle No More

In light of the recent surge of Idle No More into public awareness, one might feel a kind of cognitive dissonance; a sense of conflicted realities. We have this popular notion that Canada is one of the “good guys” of the world. We have national health care, progressive policies and the expectation of being liked almost anywhere we can travel. So what is all this about? Why are these people complaining? Don’t they get lots of handouts from the government?

You might deal with it by telling yourself that it can’t be that bad. You might remind yourself that this is all about what happened in the past. You weren’t even alive then! Oh, you know there were residential schools and some abuses and stuff, but you just don’t understand why they are coming after you. Why should you have to pay for what you didn’t do? You life has been a struggle too, and you’ve had to fight for everything you’ve got. How can you be the culprit.

That’s just it. We who are colonizers of this land feel implicated, blamed and attacked. In fact we feel threatened most of the time whether or not we think too much about it. It’s constantly in our face on the news and the newspaper stands and the talk in the office and with friends. Murders, car-jacking and theft, gangs and drug violence, and it almost always “those natives”. Oh, you’re not racist or anything. It’s not racist if it’s true, right?

Yet, these factoids and headlines, or more importantly what they suggest and even assert as the truth behind the events,  fall apart upon inspection, but chances are that you haven’t thought about it too hard. You take the explanation that is readily available; your personal crisis is abated. Why would you look for other perspectives when you already have one that fits? There is no problem here, and the fault is theirs anyway.

This is what we learned in school and likely at home. There are rules, and when they are broken the job is to find the culprit and stick it to them. We had two worlds then; home life and school. Those other students only existed in our school world. The reality of their home and life before us had no real estate in our brains. If they were bad in school, they were just bad kids. There was no camaraderie with them, no empathetic investigation into what they were experiencing, and perhaps most importantly, no thought of whether they were in fact doing anything differently than any other student in the first place. Labels are assigned and the order established.  With the attention of teacher and judgement of the class diverted, we could get back to trying to survive our day without being yelled at or teased.

Come back to the present. These days we point fingers and yell “corruption!” at the mere accusation of foul play in the aboriginal community. You know it’s justified. You can no longer remember why you are so certain, but it’s true anyway and there’s little time to waste on being “PC” about it. Society is crumbling and we need to fix this NOW! Take away their autonomy since they obviously aren’t capable.

Two plus two equals C-45.

Where does corruption really lie? Is it possible that we are grossly biased toward our own legitimacy over others, and against all facts of the matter? Should another country move in on our corrupt, robo-calling government?

Some more questions for you:
Do you remember when you started believing what you believe or why you did? Are you getting both sides of the story? Where does your information come from? Who owns your media sources? What are their interests, motivation and ethics? If their mandate is profit (which corporate executives are legally mandated to do), is there more profit in challenging popular beliefs, or in catering to them? Yes, this goes for both left and right who are both often guilty of missing the facts. Do they stand to make more in direct sales of their media, or in popular acceptance of their ideology? More importantly, why have you never been prompted to ask these questions before?

As hard as life can be for all of us, we do have a kind of privilege as the children of colonizers. It’s the ability to deny, to pretend, and to ignore. The ability to not have to think too critically about what we believe. It’s a luxury that we seem able to afford when not everyone can. Yet, nothing is denied forever. Reality is greater than our wishful thinking. or our fearful avoidance. It always finds its way.

On many fronts we are now being made to face the denied reality of those who have long since passed. Our biosphere groans under our weight, bodies and minds crumbling under an exasperated economy and stress load. None of us can afford to put our head in the sand, least of all those of us who can speak without being smothered by stigma and prejudice.

Yet do not think that First Nations peoples are weak. They do not need our salvation. Pity is also not empowerment. It’s not about feeling guilty or making restitution for the past. It’s about stopping the present character assassination through sensational, selective journalism and in the public discourse. It’s about seeking out their voice and ceasing to silence. It’s about getting behind instead of piously reaching down.

If you want to change something, start with yourself. Learn your history. Be honest about what you have done and take responsibility for what you have inherited. It may not be your fault, but you are here. Who else is going to take up the challenge. Finally, if you are going to help a community, you need to put aside your ego and serve their goals and respect their autonomy,

Since I cannot explain it better than this man. I leave you with this:

Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!

Means and Ends

Q: What is the purpose of an economic system?
A: To provide the goods and services people need.

Period. End of story.

Profits were meant to be a motivator to drive the creation of those goods and services as a self-selecting response to the needs of people. Somewhere along the line, they started convincing us that the means were more important than the ends. The means have supplant their intended ends and taken up the throne as an ultimate end unto themselves.

Yet, some of us still have to live in this real world where everything has cause and effect. The real world, where people lose their homes, their livelihoods, and die without adequate care. We can’t afford to live in the bubble these people have created for themselves where profits are the self-referential moral reward for the mere act of having acquired them. That bubble has run out of room to grow. That bubble needs to burst.

I’m going to be a bit radical and suggest that we stop acting surprised.

Let’s stop acting surprised when Wall Street has a meltdown and we find out they’ve been squandering everyone’s livelihoods. Let’s stop acting surprised when we find corporations institutionalizing young people in prison for years for extremely minor incidents. Let’s stop acting surprised when global corporations bully farmers into either buying their GMO seeds or suing them into the ground. Let’s stop acting surprised when buy out state senators to be pawns for their agenda. Let’s stop acting surprised every time there’s a dirty deal, a cover-up, infiltration of legislative bodies, broken regulations and outright murder of every day people.

We may find it shocking, as well we should, but it should not be surprising. If you actually discern the nature of our economic and ideological systems, these are all “natural” progressions of those values and ideas.

Corporations and even government systems with the same values, are extremely efficient.

What are they efficient at? They are efficient at maximizing SHORT TERM PROFITS… and NOTHING ELSE! PERIOD! The next time you see some shocking example of “corruption”, just remember this, and everything will become crystal clear!

Can we please stop deluding ourselves that there is some kind of moral fix to be applied to a “few bad apples”?
Can we please break out of our own bubble? It’s time that we paid attention to what’s happening. It’s time we started thinking for ourselves.

There is a flip-side to this however. There is a means of resistance not often talked about.

Every time they go into the world and tilt the playing field more in their favour, through lobbying and infiltration of our legal systems, infiltration of regulatory agencies, and every other kind of backroom deal, they put pressure on the public. Pressure to meet basic needs. Pressure to live free of suffering. Pressure to live!

You might recognize some of the signs:
– Depression and other mental health issues.
– Racial and class segregation.
– Increased isolation and decline of local community.
– Violent crime
– Drug use

All of these are either created or aggravated by social and economic pressures, sometimes creating inter-generational feedback effects. We are socially trained to write other people off and dehumanize them, to tell them to pull up their own bootstraps, the we deserve everything we’ve “earned for ourselves” (sound familiar?) and convince ourselves that taking care of only me and mine is not just OK, but a duty.

I am coming to believe that when we do this, we are complicit. We take up our place as a brick in the wall, a support for the hierarchy that we ourselves are suffering under. It’s not just a fluffy notion about karma, but about being an actual node in a great system of cause and affect.

It’s time that found some new motivators. It’s time we took responsibility for our own awareness. It’s time we created our own world to benefit all. We need to do this globally and systemically.

Unnatural Selection

This is just going to be a quickie as it’s all I have time for today.

I’ve been lately about how some of these supposedly inspiring success stories that float around are really examples of selection (as in systems of evolution) rather than accurate explanations of said success. I think this holds especially true for actors and other public figures who’s success in one degree or another depends on or at least benefits from popularity. Will Smith comes to mind. His opinions about himself are of the most boot-strappy I’ve ever heard. You heard him 2+2 = “whatever I want it to be”. “The Secret” must really give him a hard-on.

The fact that we hear certain people’s stories and not others is not necessarily due to the inherent survivability of the traits they promote. It may simply be because we unwittingly select and promote them PRECISELY BECAUSE we prefer the explanations that they offer us for their successes, even if they are ultimately inaccurate.

It’s a little bit like breeding many generations of horse, selecting exclusively for spotted coats and then saying that horses with spotted coats are better survivors because “Look! More of them have survived because of spotted coats!!” Indeed it is true, but only because we made it true.

It may be and often is true that for every person telling you that they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps with little or no help, there may be a million more with the same attitude, giving the same effort and having the same determination that end in desolation and obscurity rather than succeeding at something more attainable. This is not an affirmation that “success” (whatever that is), is the only thing that matters, or that an individual should not try their very best and be deeply determined.

The point is that we are sometimes inclined to promote very inaccurate and harmful ideas when there are more accurate and meaningful ones to be had.


Morality vs Ethics – Round 1 – Race

There are two concept which I believe are at war in our society. The concepts are of morality versus ethics. In a discussion today about race and privilege a saw an opportunity to show the nature of and contrast between these concepts.

Morality is a process of making lists of rules and managing what I would call a kind of moral portfolio in relation to it. It is a process of self-preservation that only looks are far as one’s own self interest in avoiding judgment and feeling bad or guilty. It also involves a kind of jousting for relative moral position in relation to others. “Oh yeah? Well at least I’m not as bad as that other person!” It is not about investigation or understanding, but about self preservation.

This is why you hear people saying “I’m not racist, I have an ___ friend” or “I love my ___ neighbour”. It’s a desperate attempt to avoid being morally implicated. Doing this misses the point in an epic way. Everything is awash in a battle of aggressively trying to enforce extreme sameness (how come they can criticize but we can’t???), but from a perspective that everyone is starting out on a level playing field when actually it’s not that way.

An ethical view is one based on empathy and understanding. It desires to be as informed as possible, and actively seeks to fully understand someone else’s reality.

“Empathy is about seeing things from another person’s perspective, not imagining yourself in somebody else’s situation. The former is the first step to understanding others; the latter is a kind of naive narcissism that does more harm than good.”

It does not come from a panicky position of self preservation and is engaged in actively listening and personal investigation. It realizes that the idea that I may have something called racial privilege or even lack of race-specific disadvantages isn’t about whether or not I’m a good moral person. It recognizes that being wrong about things is a normal part of human experience, that blame is usually not the point, and even if sometimes is unfair and/or about blame, that it’s still worthwhile to try to understand.

The morality model is far and away the majority model, even among those who have long escaped from other religious ideas. It is the by-product of a society built on competitive and abusive ideologies that convince us that those on the margins are ever ready to sanitize and debilitate we the “normal” (Political Correctness). We feel like we are about to be destroyed while our jackboot is on their throat, yet we can’t understand why they’re angry. I mean before they brought all their snark and anger and everything, things were just fine… right?

Morality says “I’m not guilty, why do I need to feel shame.”

Ethical empathy says “You don’t, but we’ve inherited some responsibility here.”

There’s a brilliant analogy that has been made by a man named Tim Wise:

“I want you to know that this has nothing to do with guilt. I realize that none of the people in this room and none of the people in any of the rooms to which I speak every single week in this country somewhere are the ones who themselves, individually or even collectively, are responsible for the creation of this system of inequality, of privilege, of oppression, of marginalization. And that is not the point. I know we didn’t create it, but we are here now, and we inherit the legacy of that which has come before. If you were to become the chief executor of a company one day, you would not be able to go in and call your chief financial officer on the phone and say, you know what, I want to look at the books I want to know how much we have, what our assets are what’s our revenue stream. I want to know all that because I want to take us to new and greater heights and so you ask the CFO to come in and give you the power point presentation, the spreadsheets, and she comes in with all of this technology and all of this data and gives you the presentation. Here’s our assets, here’s our revenue stream, here’s our outstanding debt. What do you think? You wouldn’t be able to look at that CFO and tell her, you know, I really liked your presentation. It was great to know we have all these assets and some really amazing income coming in, but the next time I ask you to come in and show me that, don’t bring me the debt material, all that stuff about what we owe, because, see, I wasn’t here when you all ran that up. That was that other guy. That was your last CEO. The debts of those older leaders, those are on them. Have them pay them. I am going to make use of the assets, oh yes. I am going to make use of the income, oh yes. But I am not going to pay the debts because they are not mine. You couldn’t do that. You’d be ushered to your car by security. But that is exactly what we do as a society, isn’t it? We say, the debts are not ours. Oh, the glory is ours.”