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Home of the indescribable, or maybe I was just lazy or forgot.

The Importance of Being Uncomfortable

A big part of white supremacy is individualism. I see it operating everywhere. I see it among the type-A, corporate ‘go-getters’, but I also see it shot right through much of our radical communities. On the surface it’s about freedom, autonomy and responsibility. On the ground it’s about elitism and self-congratulation, or about isolation and blame. It’s a zero foot view that ignores our undeniable interdependency and puts everything on the individual, both good and bad.
 
I want to talk about how it causes those of us with white privilege to react to critique of ourselves and thus of white supremacist patriarchy.
 
In my own life growing up as a white son of colonizers, it was ingrained in me from a young age that mistakes were not a thing to be made. I learned that authority ruled. I learned both at home, at school and even among friends, that social conflicts were not negotiated collectively for mutual benefit. They were negotiated by authority for control and self-preservation. At home it was my parents, unless they were in conflict with each other, in which case it was whoever could drag out the longer list of grievances and good deeds. At school it was the teacher, then the principal. Among friends it was whoever quickly organized as a moral right collective to denounce and shame the outcasts.
 
In terms of actual principles it was often contradictory, and rarely fair.
 
Over time I found that this fostered quick reaction to defensiveness; a moral panic of a sort. If you are accused of anything, it triggers a fight or flight response because you are in eminent danger of losing a lot of social capital very quickly.
 
This is what I see happening among us, among white people, when confronted with just about anything, but especially when confronted with realities that we don’t immediately understand. Often it’s coming from someone we don’t see as belonging to our in-group and who are usually easily outnumbered by our peers, who we don’t know or have to think about as a real person because we are only interacting with them online.
 
Sometimes they are not even present because we are only discussion them in the third person. We can treat them as an abstraction. Moreover, we don’t have to be aware of any of that to still use it to our advantage, and we do. Over and over.
 
Even those who may consider ourselves high-minded, or radical, or generally kind people are not immune to this and in fact make ourselves a greater obstacle by having the appearance of goodness without fully engaging in the practice of empathizing and acknowledging.
 
What we do is data-mine the information thrown at us for loopholes and ‘gotchas’. We pick holes based on any ambiguous word choices, or for any conceivable flaws or inconsistencies in the speaker. We demand for ‘proofs’ that are impossible, or just slide the goal posts. We play the game mentioned earlier as performed in my family of origin… the imaginary scales of good deeds and grievances. We take comfort in greater numbers, but still think of ourselves as the underdogs. We become like the domineering nation-states that we belong to. *Our* jackboot is on *their* throat, but *they* are about to kill *us*. *They* are monstrous. *They* are the *real* oppressors.
 
Anything, but become vulnerable. Anything but face our inherent fallibility and step out of our self-preservation. Anything but be uncomfortable in realizing where we stand, what we have become a part of and how we are affecting others and the fact that we don’t immediately know how to do something different to immediately reclaim our ‘good’ status. The realization threatens to leave us feeling exposed and without a rudder.
 
And here lies the rub. This panicked self-preservation will not and can not ever lead to the kind of world we profess to desire, where people are *actually* equal, and things are *actually* fair. We give our intent more importance than our real world effect. We preserve the perception at the cost of reality, while others pay the heaviest costs.

We Are Not Failures

All of this.

When I was little, I wanted to be a firetruck, not a firefighter, but a fire truck.  Maybe it’s because I was built like a truck, perpetually a rosey red, and enjoyed playing with campfires… but when I was a toddler being a fire truck was my future goal.  As I grew older, my hopes and dreams left the world of the surreal and entered the world of practicality; I wanted to be a doctor, a nurse, a teacher, a lawyer, or a journalist. Instinctively, I had always known that I was going to university.

Being an Indigenous student within the academy, you are held to a different standard within your peers and your family.  When you’re an Indigenous student, there’s no such thing as failure, because you’re not just failing from school you’re failing everyone that has worked hard to support you where you are.  There’s this added…

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Pulling up Roses

I have concluded that most ideas equated with “positivity” by the mainstream are cheap abstractions, bankrupt of honesty and meaning.

think-positive-poster

Your life is your garden,
Your thoughts are the seeds.
If your life isn’t awesome,
You’ve been watering the weeds.

They are constantly parroted, like seemingly benign background noise. They have that small element of truth, yet if you dare to challenge them, their ugliness will be revealed and their intent manifest. You will see the ire of a religious zealot whose god has been defiled. If you find yourself down, claiming that you have problems that can’t simply be fixed by a positive attitude; that there are real material obstacles in society, the veil will be cast aside and the beast unleashed.

It is the violent defense of western individualism.

Everyone gets what they deserve.
If you’re down, it’s your own fault.
You just need to try harder!
STOP CURLING INTO A BALL CRYBABY!!

You see, you have just told them that they are not safe. Tomorrow, it could be them. You have shaken their sense of invincibility and they hate you for it. They assume you are attacking them to bring them down “to your level”, when in fact you are begging them to stop throwing you under the bus to maintain their delicate illusion.

Indeed, those fluffy truisms and these hell-fire judgements are but two sides of the same ideological coin.

Cognitive Dissident

I know full well that when the media actually bothers to make a fuss about video games and movies that it’s a farce. The causes of urban violence are much more complex than violent video games. I know that they don’t “make” anyone go out and commit violence in a simplistic cause and effect sense. I know that it’s a smoke screen that lets people direct their frustration and failing sense of security onto the often demonized youth, mentally ill, and minorities.

I will say one thing though. When I watch these civilians and journalists being gunned down by enthusiastic soldiers, chomping at the bit; it tweaks something within me. I’m tickled by a sense of power. I feel that flush in my chest when I hear the BAP-BAP-BAP. I’m flooded with the excitement of the heroic paragon laying waste to his faceless, evil-doing enemies.

“Come on, let us shoot!”

I feel a cognitive dissonance. I don’t want to admit to it; I want to cover it up. I want to explain away, to justify. “It’s just war”, I tell myself. “They’re just doing what they have to”, I say. “Things get all topsy-turvy in combat”, I shouldn’t be so simple-minded and sentimental. I feel sick.

“Well it’s their fault for bringing their kids into a battle,” says the soldier.

What kind of context makes an argument like this start to sound plausible? Is it even as simple as video games and movies? Is it sensationalized and the status quo media? Is it our empire state of mind? Are there even any individuals who have ultimate responsibility, or is this a collective problem that implicates all of us?

I don’t have any simple answers for you. I’ll just say that the fact that I don’t think I’m that unique in feeling this cognitive dissonance. I know that if I were not as curious and questioning as I have become, I would not be writing this as I am now.

I leave you to think about it.

Goblet Runneth Over

I’ve been watching my favourite Harry Potter movies tonight. Namely, Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix. What I love about these stories has nothing to do with magic. What’s really beautiful about these stories is that Rowling doesn’t use “kid gloves” with her audience, young as some of them are. It’s the deepest respect and dignity with which she entrusts her audience.

At the end of Goblet when Cedric is killed, Dumbledore defies the ministry and chooses not to spare the young wizards any of the heart-wrenching truth of its circumstances. In doing so he reminds them and us of what makes life precious: honouring and celebrating each other in both life and death. Through Dumbledore, Rowling shows us that by not avoiding death we can be our most vulnerable and genuine with each other and with ourselves.

As the story continues on into Order, a major theme is the contrast between Harry who dares to struggle with the reality of Cedric’s death; and by contrast the tragedy, destruction and misery perpetuated by Cornelius Fudge’s determined avoidance of it. Voldemort who is himself a death figure is, at the end, expelled from Harry’s mind not by magic spells, but again by Harry’s state of love and acceptance against Voldemort’s of denial and avoidance.

I think Rowling understands that the young, just as well as the old are not only capable, but have so much to gain in knowing these important truths.

Darwinian Dogpiles

There is so much going on in the whole skepticism versus religious debate, which is what I really take this article to be about, the lens focused mainly on the skeptic side of things. Personally, I am someone who resonates with skepticism. But one has to ask whether I mean skepticism the ideology, or skepticism the culture. If you listened to some skeptics, they would have you believe that they don’t have a culture, or at the very least that their reasoning isn’t affected by it. This strikes close to the heart of the most damning flaw of skeptic culture as I see it, and which I believe this author, and his subject matter, Nagel, are also trying to pick apart.

Weiseltier seems to dance around, poking holes at it from different angles, but not quite put a name to it. I think I can help him out.

Neo-liberalism

We will go out into the world and save them with science, enlightenment, democracy and “free” markets. In this case it’s mainly the science and rationality that are glommed onto.

In past iterations they were called positivists whose definition seems very close to that of “scientific naturalist”. They even tried to re-label themselves as “brights”, which is also very telling of what really drives the less seemly behaviour displayed by the culture.

I am not familiar with Nagel at all, so I don’t know his intentions, but I have to wonder if his phrase “Darwinist imperialism” was meant as more than just a instigating jab. On the one hand I see some very unenlightened, regurgitated, blind stabs made by the religious against skeptics: oversimplified associations of them with social Darwinism as though anyone but themselves couldn’t possibly have a scruple without god. Yet, I also notice that skeptics are far, far too quick dismiss this inconvenient and embarrassing history, as future generations will likely (hopefully) be embarrassed of us.

The sad fact is that there really was not merely a small, powerful cabal that praised the so-called science of racial superiority and eugenics, but it in fact was widely accepted by the society, including many now still considered to be great minds of the time, and it was the science that rationalized it. It is of course absurd to suppose that rejection of god puts one firmly in that camp, but what they do in fact share with the scientific minds of that time is the same hubris.

I don’t mean the hubris that they are often accused of for daring to be good enough without a deity, or for seeking knowledge once thought to be off limits. No, I mean the hubris that says “now is the enlightenment”. Oh, yes, we were ignorant before, but that all changed now. Yet more horrendous is the wistful ease with which skeptics often dismiss the idea that they could possibly be affected by politics, social contexts of our time, or especially (ack!) emotions. They believe in rationality after all.

Such is the blindness of every age, and rarely is it more exemplified for us than with this element of skeptical culture. It’s easy to miss the meaning of an interaction for the mere subject matter when that’s all you’ve allowed yourself to recognize. To be this kind of skeptic is to believe only in “facts”. The “how” doesn’t matter, only the “what”, and we are the “who” that owns it. To be right is so irrevocably tied to the angry dismissal to which they feel compelled, that it’s not even questioned. Maybe this is part of what he means when he says that they are not self-skeptical.

Thinking again about the history of racism and it’s connection to the science of its day, our present context seems more clear. The rhetoric of the day was that it was their duty to save the hapless, heathen wretches from themselves. After all, what are we bringing them but enlightenment? What horrors have been committed throughout the ages with such “good intentions” as these?

I will never say that all ideas are equal, for what would even be the point of thinking. There are things that can be known, and things that are clearly more likely. The point is, that I have seen many good people, and many unspeakable cads on both side of this divide and I can unequivocally say that it is not god-belief, atheism, or something else in between determines where they fall, but empathy.

Hellter Smellter

I’m seriously impressed that for once, anyone at all is willing to take responsibility for the latest atrocity of the day. That really is something you don’t see much of lately. Yet whether or not we agree to let him take the blame, or take responsibility ourselves as consumers, or point fingers at rich business owners, I still think that it’s not enough. Maybe some of these, or all of these above actions are appropriate.

I just don’t think that any of them are solutions.

He can take responsibility and push for changes in policy in his company, and they can just replace him. We can fill ourselves with guilt and pretend that everything can be solved by consumer choices, but have you ever tried to find new clothes that are NOT made in Bangladesh or in some other country where people are enslaved and worked to death making our things? If you do find them, they cost sometimes 10x as much. Should we hoist that responsibility on our own desperately poor? We can fuss and fume until the company axes a few heads, but what happens then? Even if we could close that companies doors, how many will be there buying up its assets and filling its shoes the next morning?

I’m not saying we shouldn’t do any of these things. Surely we should keep trying, and I’m certainly NOT saying that it’s hopeless or advocating for status quo. What I am saying is simply that while we do these things, we also need to think more broadly. We need to realize that these things are not just happening due to a few greedy bad apples. We need to realize that these things are systemic. It’s not that people exists who will do bad things. It’s that we passively allowed these systems to form around us where the people who do bad things are not only allowed to get away with it, but rewarded, honoured, and treated with fealty. Even they are not always the masterminds we may sometimes think they are. Often enough, I think they are just as duped by corrupt ideologies as we are (albeit no less responsible or heinous in nature).

We swallow the dogma that allows it all to flourish and grow. We decry the horrible things happening in the world, then turn around and kowtow to free market dogma about what’s good for the economy, good for business, and that we must have growth. The dog-whistle of progress is blown and we howl in chorus. We’re full of “oh dear“s, but when someone makes the radical suggestion that these dogmatic mantras of the elite are not in fact true or in our best interests long term, there’s a wall contorted faces and fears of conspiracy theory.

Our lies bring us comfort.

I don’t have a camp. I’m not an anarchist, or a communist. I don’t have the blind confidence that many of them have to suppose that if we just do X, everything will right itself. What I do know, is that things aren’t working and that I’m starting to become aware of which things are lies, and why, and fairly solid framework of everything ties together at present. To me this is the first crucial step toward change and where things are really getting stalled. We’re far too busy with distractions like whether we’re red or blue: two side of the same ignorant presumptions, firmly in the camp of missing the forest for the trees.

The individuals are sometimes the locus where these systems coalesce into material form and where we can affect it, sure. But like a hydra, we can cut off a head only to find two more in its place. You see it’s not just the indivuduals, or just the companies, or just the consumers. It’s not just the bad apples. It’s the entire self-feeding system and the IDEAS that keep it all running. Most of us, even those who are supposedly progressive and left that are also duped and support. I believe there needs to come a tipping point when enough of us snap out of these default frames of mind, these lies.

I point to another current events happening in Quebec to draw from a very poignant slogan on one of the banners:

“We are not demanding a liberated university, but a liberated society. A liberated university within a capitalist society is like a reading room in a prison.”

Likewise I think that a few isolated policy changes, or sacrificial lamb executives being axed, is not real change. When it comes down to it, real transformative change will be made up of small individual progressive changes, but they must be informed by a broader and more radical understanding, and with such a reach and scope to attack it on ALL fronts at once, leaving no quarter to run to. If one’s perspective is limited to the confines of the current system, they will continue to serve the current system.

Instead of real change, we will just be making a kinder, gentler hell.

Bull’s in your Eye

An article came through the feed today that gave a thought-spasm. 😉

It’s unbelievable to me how a person can actually think that cutting funding to under-performing schools makes even the most ignorant kind of sense. There seems to be a large contingent of people who react this way to just about every issue. Screw them over! Punish them! That’ll teach ’em!

To me it speaks to the colonial, religulous mindset we’ve inherited of punishing the undeserving and rewarding those who are supposedly good, in the name of control. It’s the breeding ground of abuse and the core mechanism of stratification. In fact, it ultimately caters to those who are willing to abuse, cheat or lie and cover their tracks. Such is the case with any and every system that tries to dole out rewards rather than making intrinsic rewards be understood and letting them do their work.

Competition can sometimes garner certain benefits, but usually at great expense. When you build a culture complete with social narratives that teach people to aim at B while trying to trick them into hitting A, you are setting yourself up for failure. What will happen is that they will get ever better at hitting B, and you will be endlessly expending your energy trying to figure out how to get them to hit A again. Eventually they learn not only how to get better at hitting B, but also how to undermine your attempts to reroute them until eventually they are completely out of your control.

With capitalism, B is the acquisition of wealth and A is actual public benefit.

With parenting, B is external rewards of material things or even praise itself, and A is the reward of being a well adjusted person.

With crime, B is the punishment of supposed wrong doers, and A is the society the corrects and heals its own ills.

And, with education, B is both the acquisition of grades by the student or the financial success of a school, and A is the creation of life-long learners with critical thinking skills who are prepared for the future and the existence of institutions that promote them.

In each case we assume that each B is a perfect and nearly identical proxy for A, and in each case it’s plain to see with the slightest critical examination we are dead wrong. Instead of seeing it, we opt for sliding the goal post, justifying and maintaining our current view against brain-shattering cognitive dissonance, usually exemplified by hostile defensiveness.

As Robert A. Heinlein wrote: “Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal”

I don’t know all of the hows and whats, and I don’t have a perfectly crafted solution, but it does seem apparent to me that we need to give up all of our “invisible hands” and the “fallen nature of man” notions that we still seem to be unwittingly clinging to.

Jagged Little Pill

If you think you never leaned on anyone, they are either invisible to you, or you are ignoring them.

Don’t get me wrong. There is an element of truth in here, and with the very worst lies there always is. This one has a name. It’s called meritocracy, or meritocratic individualism. This is a a dogmatic ideology that like religion, comes with self-supporting explanations. It simultaneously boasts its own instances of success, and externalizes and explains away its failures.

It certainly can motivate people to succeed when possible, but it also blinds one to larger systemic influences. Many will self-blame and self-destruct when they lose their socio-economic position (no apologies or excuses) and suppress issues of social injustice and oppression when it happens to others (no apologies or excuses). Why look into it? They’ve obviously just dropped the ball!

This article talks about the effect of this ideology on management employees in a downturn from a look at an employment counseling outfit.

 

I know this seems really nice and uplifting, but at the same time is it the covert expression of the idea that good things generally happen to  “good” people. The unspoken corollary is that if something bad happens, then you must be deficient in some way.

Think of this message like a cog in a machine. Make 7 billion copies of it and hook them all up together in a big machine, and what do you get? Chew on it for a while. I contend that this “cog” is precisely why we have the society we do. Remember that no two cogs can fit in the same spot in the framework.

If every last person got a degree in a random sector worthy of 60K per year (or all sectors for that matter), what would the market do? What would happen to the relative value of a degree in the job market? We would still have unemployment and we’d still be screaming at them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and to stop making excuses.

The truth is oh so sweet.
Then again, so is arsenic.

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