Thursday, December 14, 2006

Iraq: The Next Rwanda?

So I was reading an article about the war in Iraq. It had a quote from a Sunni man in Iraq saying “I am facing the most difficult times of my life here in Baghdad. Since I am a Sunni, I became a target to be killed. You know that our army and police are Shia, so every checkpoint represents a serious threat to Sunnis. During the last three weeks, two of my friends were killed at check points belonging to the police. They first asked to show IDs and when they saw the Sunni family name, they killed them.”

Bit of Context

This summer I worked for a prof that was doing some work on terrorism. Some of my research led me to Iraq. One good book, Prince of the Marshes, tells the story of the Marshland Arabs in the South of Iraq. Under Sadam’s rule the population went from 400,000 to 20,000 as common people were attacked in their villages by modern military. Houses were burned and people shot. This was the response to an unsuccessful uprising. The same sort of treatment was visited on the Kurdish population in the north of the country.

All my research pointed to Saudi Arabia as the source of the violence. The fundamentalist public school system teaches intolerance and violence to children. Bin Laden got his education from a fundamentalist teacher that had been exiled from Egypt because of his radical violent views. This same school system is being exported to poorer countries as aid, making them the only alternative to poorer families that want their children to have a better life than themselves. Saudi is largely bankrolling the terrorists (with oil money they get from US soccer moms that drive massive SUVs and drive their kids around all day, ok, maybe some of them live in Canada too).

The majority of the population are Shia. So what will happen when the US leaves? But what happens if they stay? I think the only way out is an international peacekeeping force. Maybe some lessons can be learned from Rwanda. There was a majority population that blamed their violent oppression on a minority and turned the violence outward toward that minority.

Friday, December 01, 2006

liberal leadership race

Thought I would do a plug for a good Canadian news source ( . There are three intereting articles reviewing the writing of Bob Rae, Ignatieff, and Dione.




Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Sustainable Development

Sustainable Development

The neo-classical view of economics is based on the idea that people are opportunistic and within the rule of law, will take advantage of anyone they can to get ahead in life.  This view of people has been forwarded by John Locke all the way up to Milton Friedman.  

This view extends beyond how people treat each other to how people treat the world they live in.  Natural resources are provided for human consumption and profit.  The more resources a person is able to harvest the richer that person will be.  

With the challenge of global warming and coming to the end of seemingly limitless resources the economy has been placed in a dichotomy with the planet.  In Al Gore’s movie The Inconvenient Truth there was a picture of a scale and on one side were gold bars and on the other side was the planet.  The message being that we can either have the planet or profits.  An even deeper seated meaning is that there is no profit without the planet.  In either case there are finite resources and the race is on to see who can claim most of the wealth that the world has to offer.  However, the race to convert limited resources into profit in the present without any concern for future generations is recast in management literature with different language as the fiduciary duty of managers to increase shareholder value by adding value to natural resources.    

Western style capitalism was critiqued by the Frankfurt School (1980s).  Led by Andre Gunder Frank (1980, 1996) and Immanuel Wallerstein, World Systems Theory (1982, 2004) uses the metaphor of the core and the periphery to describe how natural resources are drawn from the ‘hinterland’ to support the growth of the metropolis.  Harrold Adams Innis (1930) developed this theory in the Canadian context of the fur trade showing how furs were taken from Canada to support the growth of England.  

The colonial slave trader provides an interesting case study to explain world systems theory:
A British ship sails from England with guns and other finished products. Once they reached the African coast they used the guns to trade for slaves.  The newly acquired guns were then used to round up more slaves.  While more independent nations were enslaved the British ship was full of slaves and making its way to the Caribbean and North America.  Once there they sold those that had survived the voyage for cotton or other raw resources.  These resources were largely harvested by the slaves that fueled the trade.  The slave traders then returned home with raw materials to support the growing production capacity of Europe.  

This story has many variations all over the colonial world, in India, China and wherever else the quest for raw materials and markets led the ‘explorers.’

This story has also been given a modern interpretation.  

The marketing intern sits in his cubicle in the Las Angels head office thinking up what value or idea Nike or Coke will represent for this fiscal year.  He comes up with just do it, and it is good.  He writes a memo to his boss who books a meeting with the designers who try and capture motivation and decisive action in the lines of a shoe.  These designers and advertisers sell the idea that what people lack in their lives (motivation and decisive action) can be fulfilled by these products.  This emotional promise is exported across the world.  When it comes time to sell shoes the actual shoe is worth about ten dollars (most of which is shipping) and the other one hundred dollars goes to the emotional promise (branding).  

The marketing executive doesn’t care who buys the emotional lie, as long as sales go up.  Even if it is a guy living downtown who can barely make the rent but has to spend a thousand dollars on a jacket.  Not to mention the harm to society when people start chasing emotional fixes through their debit card.  

What these two stories show is that western capitalism is a feverish search for more profit and more consumer goods.  Growth is the supreme good.  Quality of life must always improve.  The problem is that humanity is reaching the limits of its growth.  Within ten to fifteen years the world supply of oil will peak essentially ending economic globalization.  That is not to mention green house gasses that are causing global warming.  

Enter Sustainable Development.  Sustainable development recognizes the limits of the earth and uses those resources in a way that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the needs of future generations to meet their own needs (WCED, 1987).  

The first problem is that the needs of the present generation are not being met.  There are 3 billion people that live on less than 2$ a day.  These people have to deficit spend their natural and economic capital just to survive.  Second, the needs of tomorrow will not be met.  This situation is caused by the need for endless growth and accumulation.  People that do ‘have’ will never ‘have’ enough.  

Sustainable development is a culture change.  My hope is that it will be a corrective measure to the endless accumulation that will kill not only western culture but humanity.  

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Amos the oil reserve Savant

I live in a basement suite with my wife. It is a pretty plain place, all the appliances are thirty years old. Half of them still work, that is, when the power is turned on. The other half we just use for storage. That way the mice don’t get into our things. And everything is brown, I don’t know why. The curtains are dark brown, the walls are light brown, the table and chairs are medium brown. There is a red candle in the middle of the table, so I guess not everything is brown. Above the table is the only window in the place. I like the light it lest in, but there isn’t anything to see.

Our bed reminds me of a submarine, not that I’ve ever seen a submarine, but what I imagine a submarine bed would look like. It’s an alcove with a curtain. The bed just fit in with enough room for stuff to fall down behind it. Across from the bed is the toilet. At first I thought having the toilet next to the bed was pretty gross. Excuse my crudeness, but it comes in handy when my legs fall asleep – I like to read when I’m doing my business, and let’s be honest, who doesn’t?

Around the corner from the bathroom is my prize possession. A bookshelf filled with the immortality of the now dead; ideas that have survived years, even hundreds of years of ridicule and misinterpretation. But like most great ideas, what matters isn’t when it was written, but what was written. They help me understand the bigger picture of what I am going through, what it means to be human in a post-capitalist, post-oil world. Actually, it doesn’t even matter, being human is still the same thing as it was in the pre-capitalist, pre-oil world.

These ideas and thinking about what they mean transport me from the drab brown suite. I can get lost thinking about what they all mean for hours. That’s why it is handy that the bed is so close to the toilet. Maybe our brains and our bladders are connected, because when my bladder starts flowing, so do the ideas.

Around the corner from the bookshelf is the door. There isn’t much to say about the door. It has three diamond shaped windows, and you guessed it, the door is brown. The interesting thing is what is on the other side of the door. Life is on the other side of that door, well that and a half-flight of stairs up to 32nd street. It used to be a really nice neighborhood with trees, and children laughing, all the fun stuff. Now it’s too urban for my taste – not my budget – it is concrete and chain-link fence.

“Hey, who the hell are you?” said a guy about 25, with his pants halfway to his knees sporting some pretty painful looking tattoos.

“I ain’t doin nothin, just going to get some food” I replied

“Did I ask where you were going? I asked WHO ARE YOU?”

“I just live downstairs, that’s all”

“Well have you seen Amos, that idiot that lives upstairs”

“No, and he isn’t an idiot. He has brain damage”

“I don’t care what he’s got, and he’s going to get a hell of a lot more if he doesn’t stop coming around my Dad’s store. He scares off the customers with all his drooling.”

That was it, he just walked off. Man, Amos sure is good at making people hate him. In the last six months there must have been about eight people that have been hanging around our place waiting to beat the shit out of him. I try to explain that there are some things that he just doesn’t know that he is doing.

One time when we were out together he just wigged out and slapped this woman right across the face. She returned the favor and he started crying on the floor like a little child. That made the woman feel so bad that she knelt down to say it was ok, but when she did he punched her right in the face and started laughing. I tried to explain to the lady but she ran out the door.

The next day the cops came for Amos. That time they only kept him in jail for three days. Something must have happened to him, because it took him a month to get back to normal after that.

For the most part he just sits at his desk in his place and pours over geological maps, for hours at a time. The doctors say he is a savant who is really good at finding oil reserves. It’s a gift that would have made him rich thirty years ago, but now there are only a few companies that still drill for the stuff. For a while people were frenzied about finding more and more oil. But then the reserves peaked. It just got more and more expensive to extract less and less oil. For a long time it was blamed on inflation, and international wars. There was even a period when it was blamed on executive excess. But through it all, the oil supply just got more and more expensive to extract. And they were using up fresh water to do it. So for every litre of oil that was extracted, four litres of water had to be pumped down the well. After awhile everyone, including the government, kind of gave up and accepted that it was time to downsize the lifestyle and accept their debt.

It’s kind of funny really, everyone kept saying that we had better let the companies have their way so they will stay and they can guarantee employment. Sure there were dissenters, but everyone was having the time of their life. Now we have a continual water shortage.

What is more fun than decorating a house to match the seasons? And keeping up with the latest fashions, or just trying not to be left behind? I like to call it mall fever, my wife calls it fashion fever, which has alliteration, so I know it is better, but I won’t tell her that.

Life was good, and it was increasingly good, and the rate of increase was increasing. But then things peaked, and so did government spending on social programs like hiring social workers. Which is what I went to school for. I had my job for two months before I got laid off. Unfortunately, my wife and I missed out on the good times, and we got what was left. It is like coming to a party at seven am. All that is left is the mess and you are stuck with clean-up duty.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I woke up in a Salvador Dali Painting

Kafka – The Castle

The basic idea with this book is that there is a land surveyor who was commissioned to measure the inside of the castle, but try as he might he can not get in to do his work.  His efforts to secure entrance to the castle are rebuffed at every turn by villagers and bureaucrats.  This is K.’s (the land surveyor) life quest.  He eventually dies of exhaustion and never completes the survey of the interior of the castle, and he never meets the count who rules the castle.  This can be an analogy for many things, religion (The elusiveness of God), psychology (never being able to understand our interior life), man’s quest to understand what makes up the universe.  

This summer I am working for one of my professors and he is overseas doing work in rural villages.  He came across a boy who was dying of dehydration because he has diarrhea.  He did what he could for him, but didn’t think he was going to make it.  It seems absurd that preventable diseases kill millions of people.  Ie. Malaria, it is the number one killer, and the medicine exists.  Forget aids, why not fight a disease that we have the cure for already?  Oh yeah, I forgot, aids kills North Americans, and one North American is worth a hundred Africans.  Silly me.  And besides, once we find the cure for aids will it be accessible to Africans?  (Scary stat: if you’re a child whose mother had aids while she was pregnant you have a 50% chance of not having aids, but if your mother is African it is more around the 4% mark, from the Steven Lewis book)

Which leads me back to Kafka, perhaps The Castle deserves a rewrite.  K. should show up in the village and begin his work as land surveyor in the village.  At every turn the measurements won’t add up though.  He will go back and measure everything a second time.  The measurements are all correct, but one street is one hundred kilometers and has three store fronts and looks the same as the next block up that is thirty meters.  Both streets look the same, have the same 3 shops and hold the same number of people.  

Back to malaria and diarrhea, at first I just thought that is the way it is, you know.  But then I took a step back and asked why.  It makes sense in the context, I can understand the mechanisms, but those mechanisms (colonialism, corruption, civil and regular war etc) don’t make moral sense.  

Ethiopia has problems with food security because of political conflict (read burning crops and killing livestock as a method of control).  This is a moral problem.  But where did they learn those tactics?  Didn’t Europeans come to North America and run a campaign of biological warfare against the native population?  Weren’t they in Africa too?  The only distinction between Hutus and Tutsis was tone of skin that was decided by their European warlords.  An even more direct link is the estimated ten trillion dollars worth of labour that was stolen from Africa and exported to North America and the Caribbean during the slave trade.  Maybe the current dictators of Africa learned it from somewhere.  

What I am saying is that the mechanisms that have created the context for Africa are the same mechanisms that have created North America.  What happens when we accept moral responsibility for our collective history?  All of a sudden it seems wrong to be thankful for our security and health because it is stolen.  

Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) isn’t charity and goodwill, it is debt repayment.  

Should people die of malaria in North America?  Then why is it alright in Africa?  Why does a rural African have to walk a hundred kilometers to get as to the same place a North American only has to walk thirty meters to get to?  This goes beyond the analogy… the boys family took him for a fourteen hour round trip to visit a clinic that couldn’t help him because they didn’t have any supplies.  That is a round trip it would take me thirty five minutes.  And I wouldn’t even have to go to the hospital because I have everything I need right in my medicine cabinet.  

A matter of discomfort for me becomes a matter of life and death in another country.  
This is what is absurd.  

I would illustrate K.’s world with Surrealist art, because all of a sudden Salvador Dali makes a lot more sense.  It is the way the world is.  If you look at his art rationally (with a standard unit of measure) it seems absurd.

I woke up in a Salvidor Dali Painting

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Doublethink, Boredom and Bean Counters

Doublethink, Boredom and Bean Counters

This blog is based on two sources:
  1. Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy, while I have never read it a friend was telling me about this part where there is a planet that had three classes.  There were people that made things and had practical skills, and there were the visionaries that dreamed of how to live, then there were the middle managers that dealt with papers, a very sustainable industry in the sense that they were self supporting, one application could last for years traveling through hundreds of hands and creating numerous jobs.  Well, this planet decided to round up all of these people and exile them, well these people found the planet earth and decided to settle.  

  2. Canadians consume to most coffee per capita.

I think coffee consumption is a good indicator of the quality of life in a country.  I say this because I was at work and was not exactly riveted by the subject matter – which I don’t really understand because it is quite interesting (but maybe what I find interesting isn’t really that interesting).  I think it isn’t that interesting because it doesn’t express anything about me, there is no personal investment, I am working for someone else, not for myself.  This isn’t selfish because there is the difference between working for someone else and doing my work that benefits someone else.  I guess my work benefits my boss, but is my work really matter to him, or is it just job creation?  How many other people ask this question?  How many jobs are created just to have jobs?

I remember a story about homeless people having to separate black and brown grain for 8 hours a day to get food to eat.  At the end of the day the person who provided the food would mix all the separated grains into one pile so that there would be work for the next day.  Is this situation really much different than my job?  How many people spend their working life categorizing different things?  How many people write reports re-organizing information in previous reports and soon become sources for later reports?  The endless re-organization of information, is it all that different?  No wonder people are addicted to coffee, we need it to survive the monotony.  

Welcome to the information age.  With the rise of the complex society there are people that make decisions that affect the lives of millions of people (and billions in India and China).  These people need information to make the decisions.  This information has to be organized to see things in one way, and re-organized to see things in another way, so I do understand the importance of “separating the black and brown grain” but at the end of the day, there is still the haunting feeling that all I am doing is re-organizing information, regardless of how important it might be.  

Maybe society doesn’t have to be supported by 1/3 of the population who has to be bureaucrats.  What would happen if we organized on a local level?  There would still be a need for information, but maybe the one organizer of the small town could get the whole picture himself, and be able to make decisions that make sense for the people of that community.  But…would it end up being a third of the population anyway?  

I am not advocating anarchy, but asking the question: Does society need bean counters?  

Think of all the people that work at stats Canada.  All they do is organize information that informs a lot of decisions.  It is important to the workings of a modern society, but man is it soul killing.  So the question is, is there people that are really interested in stats?  Or is it something that they tell themselves they are interested in to survive and drink a lot of coffee to stay interested in?  

It is this phenomena that I have experienced where I will get really (emotionally) excited when I hear about the topic and am discussing it, then once I start my heart beat slows right down and I fall asleep.   The experience reminds me of doublethink from 1984 by Orwell.  Coffee is our mood control, it keeps us excited and we can chemically support the process of doublethink (telling ourselves we are excited and passionate about something that we aren’t really passionate and excited about, but still believing we are).  

If we get excited and passionate about something, how do we know we aren’t really if all the signs are there?  Well, that is what this blog is all about, the phenomena of interesting things being really boring.  

This is an internal disconnection; it makes us anxious, irritable, and entertainment seeking.  It leads to the question, what am I really excited about, who am I and how can I express that person?  

Well, good luck with that

Saturday, July 29, 2006

On Journalism

On Journalism…

This summer Kara (my wife) and I went to hike the Grand Canyon.  On the way down we past a small town and it just hit me like a ton of bricks, it was one of those epiphany moments.  Democracy isn’t working.  It is stuck behind jargon and sectioned off for the elites that understand it and are involved in it.  There are so many barriers to being involved in a town council meeting.  Added to the jargon is the fact that they can just be so damned boring.  

Democracy can be exciting!  Imagine if a town council meeting was a debate about things that mattered to the community instead of, for example, the typo in section two paragraph four.  

Conspiracy theory: (take it or leave it) they hide the corporate agenda behind typos and boredom because if they debated the real issue then maybe their big polluting plant wouldn’t be given approval, so they discuss the technicalities of the law instead of the meaning of their action.  

Solution:  Put town council meetings into context and language that people can not only understand but get excited about and feel in control of their own community.  

Al Gore read a quote in his movie “The Inconvenient Truth:” “It is very hard for a man to understand something his salary depends on not understanding.”  With that in mind I am tired of old white men telling me just to be entertained and let them take care of all the boring things of running the town.  It is just really boring stuff that I am not interested in anyway.  

The old white man runs the corporations that are killing the planet – but I should be greatful for the job – ha.  They have screwed things up enough, their turn is over,  it is time for the people to decide what is good for themselves.  Not in the Marxist sense where another old white man takes over claiming the will of the people as legitimacy, but where people are aware of the issues that are affecting them at home.  

When Wal-mart is proposing to come into a community the town council shouldn’t put a public notice in the paper asking what people think of rezoning this piece of land for Wal-mart.  The question is a foregone conclusion.  Maybe there should be a town meeting asking if we want Wal-mart or a new development in the town at all.  There has to be a discussion to see if it is good for the town.  Maybe it is good for the town, I don’t know, but I sure would like to weigh the arguments and actually have some thought put into it instead of having every tide of boom and bust decide the economic and social well being of my community.  

A newspaper could do this, instead of being sensationalist.  A newspaper could broach the issues that matter to the community and provide context and a forum for left and right to meet, but not the abstract left and right, but the left and right that belong to a town.  Where both parties see things differently, but both care for the community and each other.  

A newspaper could provide a place for discourse.  

It is the revolution on a community scale.  Being aware of how we spend our lives, beyond the walls of our homes.  

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The End of Suburbia

The End of Suburbia

The world oil supply isn’t like a gas tank, it doesn’t just run out.  Production of an oil well is much like a bell curve.  The light crude is on top and isn’t worth much because it has to be refined so much, then once the light crude is sucked up there is the “black gold” which is causes the production level of an oil field to go up quite a lot.  But at a certain point the oil companies have to start pumping things down the hole to displace the gas so they can extract it.  Or, extract it under high pressure, which doesn’t work as well as displacement.  The point is that once a certain level of production is reached it plateaus for a while then it starts to decrease.  

So the good news is that we have only used about half of the world’s total oil supply.  The problem is that the next half will be exponentially difficult and expensive to extract.  What is the consequences to a global oil economy?  
Well, the US supply of oil hit this plateau in the 1970s and 80s and there was a recession that affected most of the world.  This sent the US hunting the world for oil.  The thesis of this movie is that in about the next five years or so we will be hitting the plateau for the global oil supply.  

One quote that struck me was “Without oil we will lose seven trillion dollars out of the economy.  There will be no more middle class.”  I thought that this is a bit of an exaggeration, there will still be a middle class but everyone will be a lot poorer, but it gets the point across.  A little more accurate prediction was the prediction that for a couple years after we start to decline we will have a recession then we will recover for a little while, but the recessions will keep coming and their intensity will increase and the time between them will decrease until we are left with a Great Depression.  It will happen this way because the government subsidizes the suburban lifestyle (gas prices compared with Europe where they are twice as much) and for a while they will continue the subsidy, but it will get harder and harder until they can’t do it anymore.  

The movie also looked at alternatives, the argument was that we could probably think about replacing 25% of our current use with wind or hydro electric or nuclear if we had another fifty years, but we don’t.  And everyone brings hydrogen up as a solution.  Their response was that hydrogen doesn’t generate energy, it just stores it.  It is created using water and electricity, but where does the electricity come from?  

The title is the End of Suburbia because after the industrial revolution cities were just big slums and the wealthy started moving into acreages a little ways outside of the cities.  Once the second world war was over the US decided to spend its post war wealth on moving its population into suburbs to “return to country living”  the idea was great but it didn’t deliver on its promise.  Now houses were still built close together and the benefits of living in nature weren’t really enjoyed, but now they added a commute to getting to work, so basically the suburbs were a place that enjoyed the worst of the country (the commute) and the worst of the city (crowding) without the best of the country (nature) or the city (community).  

North America is designed around the consumption of cheap oil - getting from the suburbs to the city and back again.  In Calgary this point is particularly poignant with the example of Deerfoot Meadows.  It is a shopping mall so huge that you have to drive from one store to another, there isn’t even walkways between the stores.  What will happen to our economy when it costs one hundred dollars to drive for an hour?  Especially when all our consumer goods are trucked.  Imagine a world where it costs fifty dollars to pay for gas to drive to the grocery store to buy your weeks worth of groceries for fifteen hundred dollars.  And you are only making six years worth of pay raises.  It just isn’t going to work.  We are going to have to get a whole lot more local in how we live.  

Maybe this is the end of economic globalization and the beginning of social globalization as we help each other through the tough times ahead.  

Friday, April 21, 2006

Whose Life Shall I Live?

As the school year is coming to a close I decided to review my blogs and figure out what I figured out this year.  Here is my biggest conclusion:

Whose Opinion Counts - Freedom or the System?

The system tells me that I am not good enough with just being myself and that I have to be someone else.  As I strive to be that other person I lose track of who I am and feel hollow which just reinforces the idea that I am not good enough and if I can only be like my idol (that person who is better than I am and who I want to be) then I will be happy.  Adding the arguments of Mumford, as I become more successful my life becomes more private and my relationships are increasingly commercially controlled.  The question of where I end and the system begin becomes pertinent.

From this foundation, the theme of taking responsibility can be integrated by its relationship to freedom.  Taking responsibility for my own actions and not blaming them on the system is anti-establishment.  It is much like growing up because once I am ready to accept the consequences of my actions I no longer need my parents to tell me what is right and wrong.  The metaphor can be extended to the system because I can then have morality and relationships independent of the system.  

Another anti-systemic tool is creativity.  I define creativity as expressing and developing the ideas expressed in the category Life (IX).  If I can figure out who I am I don’t need the system to tell me who I am, or who I should be and can be comfortable being myself.  The implication being that I don’t need to strive to be something I am not.  As Fanon said, if we want a European society we should let a European run our society for us because we won’t do as good a job.  Another line from Oscar Wilde is a young woman asking an older woman “what will they think of me” the response was “If we are only worried about what other people think of us what is the use of having our own thoughts?”  

The conclusion I have come up with is that the person whose opinion of me I worry about is the person who runs my life because to validate myself I have to be worthy in their eyes.  That person can be an authority figure, a loved one, God, our friends, and for a lucky few it is themselves.

Whose life shall I live
Mine or another’s
Is mine enough
It better be
It is all I have
And if I don’t choose mine
Then it won’t be enough
I will have wasted my life
In pursuit of another

If I search for another
I will not fight
For what I believe
Inaction will make me loose my beliefs
And I will soon die
I will have wasted my life
In pursuit of another

We are shown the good life
And on the way make sell a toe
Then a finger
It is never my fault
It is what I had to do
When we finally get there
I will have wasted my life
In pursuit of another

I see me as I think another sees me
I guess this by how they talk about other people to me
I become what others admire
I will have wasted my life
In pursuit of another

I can take responsibility
I can be free
I can create
I can express my individuality
I can worry about what I think of me
I will have spent my life
In pursuit of myself
Saying NO to the system.  

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Bad Comb Over

The Thought process of Clothing as Identity:

Here is what I am thinking, there are 15 or 20 identities available to adopt (like in highschool, the jock, geek, punk, goth, etc.), we pick the one that expresses who we are the most.  The confusion and frustration with identity arises when we can't accurately express who we are because the appropriate images are lacking. 
What are your thoughts, I am thinking that the images aren't as defined as I make them out to be, they lend themselves to mixing and matching, the only limit is how much money you have to express who you are.  Which is really the root of the problem. 
It is really all a myth isn't it.  That the more money you spend the better expressed you will be.  Or maybe it's just wrong, maybe there isn't the link that I am drawing.  What do you think?

So, I've been thinking, image is a way of communicating using stereotypes.  This just isn't a deep expression.

Response by the Manimal:
Not a bad idea Jeff, the identity selection, but I'm not sure about your correlation of money and expression.  Hippies for example have one of the most unique senses of expression and reject the ideals of money and accumulation altogether.  The only group that I can think of that directly requires capital as an expression of itself is those who consider themselves nothing more than market participants, the Trumps of the world. 
It is the struggle, as you had said, between identities and the mixing of these categories that creates expression, money to me is a different entity in itself.  I am not Riley because of the amount of money I have in the bank, it undoubtedly may affect who I am, but it is not expression.  If you are buying your identity I think there might be much larger problems at hand.
PS. Does anyone know where I could get a COOL identity?

My Response to Manimal:
I have come back to this post a couple times and I think I have my reply. Trump values moneyHippies value hanging outLast night at the circus I left thinking about what it means to do something just for myself, not for other people to see. I think writing poetry, a song, or just creating in general is something that I do for myself. What I wear is for other people, it portrays an image. That image puts me in a group (whether I want it to or not). Trump types don't dress up like hippies because no one would take them seriously. What I am getting at is that I have these values and I want other people to see them, so I dress a certain way. That is what marketing has done is attached values to styles. "If I buy this cologne I will be sexy." (RL ?) - it's not just about smelling good, but I will have the same sex appeal as the guy with a six pack and a tan if I buy this cologne. This guy is sexy and RL is saying the essence of this isn't his body, but their cologne and they have captured that essence and will sell it to me.My point is that values are authentic and they are cheapened by the image that is attached to them. For example, if I want to be rich and powerful (the trump type) I don't have to work hard I can just buy a suit and a bad comb over. It is a shortcut to identity.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Monistic Christianity?

Ken Wilber - No Boundary

Wilber begins by asking the question, Who am I?  He answers this question using Eastern Religion and Western Physics.  

He begins with uses boundaries to show that I am what I am not.  I have brown hair, so I don’t have white hair.  Our identities and so many other things are defined by the boundaries that define them.  Inside v. outside is an example that he used a lot, he circled the word inside and just wrote outside.  He used this as an example to show that in reality there is no boundary, it is just something that we used to describe it.  Much like a map, there is no actual border between countries; it is just a line or an idea to help us describe where we are.  

The whole goal is to understand that the boundary of what we don’t like in our mind and what we do like in our mind is a construct, and that the mind and body divide is false, and the divide between our skin and the rest of the world is false.  It is just an idea we have to help us communicate.  The truth is that pleasure doesn’t exist without pain even though we can talk about pleasure without pain.  They are interdependent.  Ever wonder why a meal tastes so much better when you are hungry?  

Here is what made it come together for me, “Look at it this way your hand is surely different from your head, and your head is different from your feet, and your feet are different from your ears.  But we have no difficulty at all recognizing that they are all members of one body, and likewise, your one body expresses itself in all its various parts.” (256)  So we can look at the universe as one body.  But can’t you divide from there for the sake of classification and communication?  You can, but using the uncertainty principle shows that the stuff that makes up the foot is the same as the stuff that makes up the brain which is the same stuff that makes up a walnut.  There isn’t a boundary to the particles that make up matter.  And those particles can move between energy and matter and they just don’t have boundaries.  

The social argument is that as soon as we realize that we can’t escape pain because it is not a dualism, but a monism then we can be content to be where we are and we won’t kill ourselves trying to progress and seek this ideal state of pleasure that doesn’t exist.  

Wilber’s arguments carry a lot of intuitive weight.  Also, I quite enjoy the social implications.  Further, the resemblance to Indigenous Knowledge is striking: finding the universal in the particular, monistic ontology that isn’t separated from the environment.  

Here are my thoughts: I can feel everything inside my skin.  I don’t have a nervous system connection to the rest of the world, or other people.  But when I fell in love with my wife I begin to feel her pain.  It is painful for me to see her sick, especially because there is nothing I can do to help.  So, maybe it is about falling in love with your environment.  

On the other hand, maybe it is just understanding that everything is made out of the same stuff and the difference between me and the bookshelf I am looking it is just on the surface.  If I could see the particles that make us both up I could see the same thing, a nebulous cloud.  So how am I different than a bookshelf, or am I different than a bookshelf?  If there isn’t a difference does that degrade my existence as supreme over nature?  I hope so.

Just a short digression about the supremacy of man over nature.  It makes sense if we are made out of the same stuff.  I think our God given right to rule nature has gone to our heads.  I envision it more like a democratic government, we have arisen out of the people for the people.  There is no manifest destiny over nature, our position has been confused with our properties.  Just because we are to care for nature has turned into humanity being made of something better than nature.  

I guess an important difference is that I can create.  But creating is just reorganizing the parts in different ways.  That is what God did to create me and trees.  He just organized the parts in different ways.  

Then there is the mind body split.  I have been struggling with this for the whole year.  Especially since I am committed to saying I have a soul.  What I have come up with is that my thoughts are chemically based, they can’t exist without the brain.  This doesn’t negate the idea of a soul because I think it makes sense that my soul is different from my thoughts/mind/consciousness.  

I think the above arguments show that a person can be a monist Christian.  But I am always open for a good debate if you think otherwise.  

The Suffering "Candle in the Sun"

N.D. Walsch - Conversations with God
And Robinson Cont’d

Walsch was in a state of depression and woke up one night and wrote God a letter asking him about life.  God answered.  But, after doing a little research (; it seems to have turned into a bit of a cult.  There are a lot of education sessions which have a hefty price tag; you even have to pay to receive a newsletter.  In the article (the link), Elliot tells his story of getting involved with the CWG organization and some criteria for judging if it is a cult or not.  First, is there a authoritarian charismatic leader (yes), is there a large financial commitment required (yes), is the belief dogmatic and does it alienate people who are not involved (yes), and is there a lot of pressure to proselytize (yes).  Also, to categorize CWG, it is considered new age.  In short, CWG isn’t looking at canonization any time soon =).

That being said, there are some churches that fit into the cult category.  But in the end, I am dismissing Walsch because his answers don’t satisfy me.  Honestly, I have heard them before, it seems to be a collection of thought rooted in pluralism, mysticism, and Christianity/Eastern Religion.  

It is summarized very well by a parable that Walsch tells in the beginning of the reading.  A candle doesn’t know what it is if it is shining in the light.  It has to go and find a dark place to find itself.  Given this fact, we should then live our lives trying to express our idea of who we are.  

The most interesting part of the reading was the dialogue concerning suffering.  The line of argument is that any suffering experienced is part of that expression of our selves.  I can see this as being legitimate.  I sometimes wonder who I would be, or what kind of life I would have if I were stranded on a deserted island, or if I were black in the south a hundred years ago, things like that.  I could even see how empathy would make a person wonder what it would be like to be raped.  How would I cope, what would life be like, who could I help once I have gone through that experience?  I don’t think I would want to live my life without suffering a little bit.  Other people have to suffer so why am I so special that I don’t have to?  But what if there was no suffering, would life be the same?  Would we be able to develop as people without suffering?  If we find ourselves in time of suffering would we not know anything about who we are if we didn’t suffer?  

On line of argument that might help in dissecting the problem of pain is that pain is intrinsically evil and pleasure is intrinsically good.  For example, if I touch a hot stove and pull my hand away I did so because I felt pain.  This seems to say that pain is good, but one must make the distinction between good properties and good results.  I pulled my hand away from the stove precisely because the stove was painful and the pain was bad.  If the pain was good I would have left my hand there.  

Suffering is intrinsically bad, but it can sometimes have good results.  For Walsch there is no property of being bad.  This means that the goodness or badness of a thing is just its result.  This means that suffering can be good or bad depending on our subjective response to it.  

In regards to natural disasters I think the best quote to summarize Walsch’s argument is “Deep personal disappointments are responses which are chosen, and worldwide calamities are the result of worldwide consciousness.” (222)  For God to interfere with worldwide calamities is for him to infringe on our will.  Something he just can’t do.  

I think he has a good insight into the nature of being a victim.  Walsch wrote that “For all of life exists as a tool of your own creation, and all of its events merely present themselves as opportunities for you to decide and be, who you matter which master you might name, none imagined themselves victimized” (222).  Jesus was crucified but it seems strange to think of him as a victim.  Jesus died for his convictions.  He chose to die.  What choice does a rape victim have?  I think that is what Walsch’s philosophy is arguing.  You can choose to be who you are (convictions) in every situation.  For the rape victim it is just that he chose to go through this experience when he was a “candle in the sun” so that he could find out who he really was.  In that sense, he chose to be raped for his convictions, he could have opted out.  But he didn’t really want to.  “The day you really want an end to hunger, there will be no more hunger.  I have given you all the resources to do that.” (230).  

So as I see it, Walsch has responded to suffering by saying that we choose suffering and the result of the suffering is what matters.  Basically suffering can be a good thing because it has good consequences (personal growth), and it is only bad when our response to it is negative.  

Why did the earthquake in Turkey kill 80,000 people?
1) Walsch - We choose it, so we can grow.  
2) God allowed it as punishment.  
3) We live in a fallen world (imperfect because of sin - separation from God) and earthquakes are the consequence of that fact. (a more popular Christian answer)

I guess the real question is what is the purpose of life?  I don’t think that the “candle in the sun” creates its own circumstances into which it will enter and experience life.  I think God gives us life.  This is where it is similar to Walsch because I think that life is about creating who we are with the life we are given.  The consequence of the difference is that the rape victim is a victim of the consequences of another person’s choices.  The rape becomes the rapists fault because he chose it (Walsch’s discussion on the cause of rape is a good one, p. 231 but I think it is still a choice on the part of the rapist).  I think Christ offers healing and to go without healing is denial and the experience is suppressed.  The result is that it will come out in some other area of a person’s life.  

That in short is what I think about suffering that has a cause.  I have still not come to a conclusion about suffering that is from natural disasters.  I guess it comes down to Robinson’s article.  I have let God die in the first two areas, but I still can’t blame God for natural disasters because Christ was so compassionate and kind.  How does it make sense that it is the same God that allows earthquakes and is so compassionate to the poor and oppressed?  It is that disconnect that just confuses me.  

Another point is that compared to Walsch I am on a witch hunt.  Everything bad that happens has to be someone’s responsibility.  I don’t see how human decisions can be responsible for earthquakes.  I guess that also shows how I am different than Walsch.  I think there are victims and that means that there has to be a bad guy.  So why do I think there are victims?  Because I think it is necessary for healing.  

But what about car accidents, There aren’t the same moral implications, it is just a bad thing that happened, and it doesn’t have to be anyone’s fault.  Can it be the same with natural disasters?  That is what Robinson was getting at.  It doesn’t make sense to blame the inventor of cars for an accident.  On the same token, it doesn’t make sense to blame God for natural disasters.  It wasn’t a design flaw, it is just a consequence of life.  Shit happens.  

So did God just “invent the car” and die?  I think that is what Robinson was saying, but despite this, God keeps showing up.   Maybe it is that God the worldview associated with God doesn’t make sense, so we can dispose of it but in the process, we have to keep God because he won’t let us throw him out.  

I think I am going to have to re-shelve this issue for another day, maybe until I can read Robinson; Robinson because he makes it alright to not have an answer, which is exactly where I am.  

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Death of God

Wow, this is blog #50…

John A. T. Robinson - Can a Truly Contemporary Person Not Be an Atheist?

Robinson takes the charges of atheism to heart and grows as a Christian because of them.  He identified three main points: God is intellectually and emotionally superfluous and morally intolerable.  He takes agrees with the points and uses them for indicators of how not to relate to God.  He even goes so far as to say that God is dead and that once we have killed him he shows up again in a new much more powerful and authentic way.  

God is Intellectually Superfluous:
In the past God has been used to explain the gaps in our thinking (It rains because God cries, etc.)  Now that we are beginning to understand some of the processes of the world we don’t need a God of the gaps.  The church is no longer in the domain of science but it still deals with guilt, but it is imaginable that one day people will be able to deal with their own guilt.  There are no longer any gaps, so the need for a God of the gaps is indeed superfluous.  

God is Emotionally Superfluous:
Freud and Marx attacked religion as a dangerous illusion because it allows people to escape the reality of their situation.  For Marx an oppressed proletariat prays for his oppression to end without actually doing anything.  Maybe we should get past a “good Lord provides” mentality and see Jesus suffering on the cross.  Christianity isn’t a call to comfort it is to transcend the need for comfort.  Jesus is about facing our fears and living, Jesus didn’t die to provide the american dream.   “Men need to be weaned, however painfully, from refusal to accept the burden of responsibility.  A God who relieves them of this requires killing.”(428)

God is Morally Intolerable:
“A God who ‘causes’ or ‘allows’ the suffering of a single child is morally intolerable.”
The answer Robinson seems to give is that it is time to stop blaming God and start looking at natural causes.  People get sick because of disease.  Earthquakes happen because of geological pressure, hurricanes happen because of warm oceans.  As much as we should stop using God to fill in the gaps, and stop asking him to make things turn out for us we should stop asking why he is responsible for natural occurrences.  It is something to grow out of.

After the Death of God:
“Even Jesus himself had to go through the process of the death of God - of the One who allowed it all to happen, ‘with a million angels watching, and they never move a wing.”’ (431)  The words of Christ are very telling “Why have you forsaken me?”  I can just hear it, why did you betray me?  I did everything you asked and you handed me over “to suffering and death.”  Does Christ ever reject God?  Robinson is suggesting he did, “God who failed even his own Son.” (436)  It comes down to God responding to evil not from the comfort of his throne but from the darkness of evil itself and saying I am still alive.  

This is very hard for me to understand.  But I think I am getting it.  God isn’t up on a throne observing life, he is experiencing it with us, even experiencing death.  He is walking in the alleys of Calgary…quietly.  

It is this God than can help us heal.  It is this God that is relevant.

It does become a stupid question to ask why he didn’t stop the earthquake in Turkey.  He was there, crushed in a building.

But there is another part of me that asks if he is all powerful, why not just stop it?  Even if he was there, why not stop the earthquake, why did the pressure have to build, couldn’t he bend the rules a bit and let it dissipate gradually?  It would have saved the lives of 80,000 people.  

The thing is, I just can’t let God die.  There is too much love and compassion.  It is just confusing and it doesn’t make sense.  How is this the same God?  I don’t have an answer.

There is a strange quote: “God, can ultimately be revealed and responded to only as love which takes responsibility for evil - transformingly and victoriously.” (437)

I don’t get it, any thoughts? Can someone explain it to me?  

Comfortable unto death

Robert L. Heilbroner - An Inquiry into the Human Prospect

Heilbroner - We have to stop growing and even slow things down.  We aren’t going to do it of our own free will, it will take catastrophes.  He envisions a world in which the public takes precedence over the private, much like Huxley’s Brave New World.  

A good quote:
“When men can generally acquiesce in, even relish, the destruction of their living contemporaries, when they can regard with indifference or irritation the fate of those who live in slums, rot in prison, or starve in lands that have meaning only insofar as they are vacation resorts, why should they be expected to take the painful actions needed to prevent the destruction of future generations whose faces they will never live to see?” (Heilbroner, 638)  

You know, I can’t get past that quote, it reminds me too much of development work.  It just doesn’t seem to matter to “comfortable” people that their neighbour is starving.  The quote reminds me of high school algebra.  When you graph a formula you need three points to verify the line and you can predict the values from anywhere along the line, it even shows where the line is heading.  Well Heilbroner has verified the line and the trajectory that humanity has chosen doesn’t look promising.

He goes on to say that the only way to change is to regain the will to live.  Comfort has become more important than life because we have to strive for comfort, living comes easy.  So maybe some catastrophes will make us start thinking about surviving again, because that is where we are at.  

Thursday, April 06, 2006

It costs too much

Barry Commoner - The Closing Circle

Key Points:
- everyone has someone to blame for environmental degradation and it is often based more on politics than reality.  The truth is that there isn’t one single cause, it is a multiplicity of events that have led to the situation humanity now faces and it will take everyone to get out of it.  
- A rabbit poops, bacteria digest the poop, plants eat what the bacteria digest and the rabbit eats the plant.  Modern Industry has broken the circle of life with plastics and non-biodegradable detergents instead of soap.
- If we are going to survive we will do it as Barbarians dictating who gets resources and starving other people or we are going to find a way to renew life in the commons.

Commoner makes a good point, how we got to doomsday isn’t because of one group, it is the society we live in.
This is our inheritance.  Our parents have given us a nice house and the possibility of ending all life.  All their generation did was realized what they have done, and left it to us to fix it.  How can I respond to the challenge?  Say no, I like driving an SUV; it makes me feel like a rugged outdoorsy man.  Actually the truth is that I wouldn’t mind living a lot simpler, the problem is that I don’t even know how to.  That isn’t the life I was born into and the kicker is that just living more simply isn’t enough.  I have to convince everyone else I know to join me; and this in the midst of advertising telling us that the good life is one of mass consumption. If I don’t have three rooms per person in my family then I am not successful.  

Maybe this is good.  I am disillusioned with that good life.  I don’t believe that buying something will make me a better, more likeable person.  Actually, the truth is that I don’t like standing out.  I had a presentation this week and we showed up some of the other groups.  I felt bad for the other groups, I didn’t revel in my success.  I guess I just don’t find any pleasure in rubbing my success in other people’s faces.  It just isn’t nice.  My point is what is the point of having something if you can’t share it with someone else?  What is the point of having something if it costs too much?  The existence of all living things is too high a price to pay for endless accumulation and growth.  


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Disorienting University Prestige

Jerry Farber - The student as nigger
Robert Brustein - The Case for Professionalism

How to be a successful student:
1. Write what they want, not what you think. - That was thanks to philosophy
2. The amount of time that I spend on a paper and how well it is researched doesn’t matter.  The professor who marks it matters.  - this was thanks to Canadian studies
3. There are some classes that you just don’t have to do the reading for.  So don’t.  I typically work hard on 2 classes.  The other three I study before the exams.  I guess the thing is make sure that the work you do counts, and if it doesn’t don’t do it.  

What I have learned about how I am taught the most successfully. Ie. how I have learned the most.  

Type 1:
The first type of teacher presents knowledge that I must know.

Type 2:
The second type of teacher finds out where I am at with my thinking and helps me progress to different stages.  

Obviously I think the second kind is better.  The system is even setup to allow for this to happen.  The teachers have been through what I am going through.  Teachers are essentially old students (or they should be).  The distinction between the two is much the same as between an extrovert and an introvert.  An extrovert explains all the steps to get to a conclusion.  The introvert thinks through the process and describes just the conclusion.  Just the conclusion won’t help me to figure out how things work, but the process will.  

Another little rant is that I think smart people shouldn’t be teachers; really stupid people should be teachers.  I think this because the really stupid people have to struggle with a concept and once they get it will be able to explain it in so many more ways because they had to go through a longer process to get it.  I am better than my sister at math and I tried to explain it to her and I couldn’t understand how come she couldn’t get it.  It was so clear to me.  If the person explaining it has gone through the fog and seen the light so to speak then he are in a much

Brustein has a worry that the “university is in danger of becoming the instrument of community hopes and aspirations rather than the repository of an already achieved culture.”  I think this is a real danger and I hope it comes to fruition.  I think a university, like a government, arises out of the people and should be for the benefit of the people.  It is only people who enjoy the distinction and respect that comes from being separate from the community that argue for “professionalism.”  This doesn’t mean that experts are non-existent, it just means that we should drop the positions of power and recognize knowledge for what it is.  Climate change is being documented in the North because of the Inuit hunter’s connection to the land and understanding of the ice.  This knowledge is more useful than satellite images.  So who is the expert?  Research and learning is about knowledge creation.  Knowledge has no value if it isn’t shared.  This supports the idea that knowledge is subjective.  My knowledge can grow and in that way it is created and new in me.  But that is a bit of a digression.  

As one of my professors rants, this is the problem with the social sciences. Social scientists have become irrelevant because their work is just for a small community of academics (it is shared within a small community so it has a small value).  If it were expanded to benefit all of society then the social sciences would have a better public perception.  

On the topic of inquiry Reason and Bradbury wrote, “Given the condition of our times, a primary purpose of human inquiry is not so much to search for truth but to heal, and above all to heal the alienation, the split that characterizes modern experience …To heal means to make whole: we can only understand our world as a whole if we are part of it; as soon as we attempt to stand outside, we divide and separate. In contrast, making whole necessarily implies participation: one characteristic of a participative worldview is that the individual person is restored to the circle of community and the human community to the context of the wider natural world. To make whole also means to make holy: another characteristic of a participatory worldview is that meaning and mystery are restored to human experience, so that the world is once again experienced as a sacred place.” (1994)

Research and learning are about healing and becoming part of the world.  We can’t stand outside of the world and categorize all the parts that we learn about.  These parts exist in relationship to each other and to learn about those relationships we have to be a part of the experience of living because it is a dynamic process.  

What if professors taught by becoming part of the class and the class became an environment of inquiry?  Would it heal the split that has formed and created the student and teacher as nigger?  Would we be able to be free of the alienation?  

My first experience with a class that was free was ironically African Studies 500.  The professor facilitated discussion, and helped us to grow.  He became a part of the class and it was the most exhilarating experience of my educational career.  GNST 500 has taken it to a new level, it is trying to even change to format to one that heals the alienation between Dr. Glasberg and the class.  Brustein would be horrified by the corruption of the university.  My challenge to Brustein would be to apply his standards to this class.  I think he would be surprised to find that we have learned more and can do better at any exam he threw at us than a more traditional class.  I know this format has made me learn a lot more about the material and do a lot more work than any other class I have.  

Beyond Europe

Franz Fanon - Black Skin, White Masks

Key Points:
We all have a history but that isn’t what forms us as people, it is time to get past that history and create our own lives.  Are there contemporary white men who have put black men on slave ships?  No, it isn’t the world we live in anymore.  

We have to work to create a new society, and why take the blueprints from Europe.  America did and they turned out to be tyrants.  If we want a European society then we should just let a European run it for us.  But we owe it to ourselves and to humanity to create a better society that isn’t founded on the alienation of people.  

I think Fanon has a point about recognizing the pastness of the past.  It isn’t forgetting it is getting on with life.  We can’t change the world if we are too broken by the past to do anything.  The slaving has stopped, the effects live on psychologically.  Just think what it would be like if people came out of the sea and started dragging off people, raping and killing on the way.  Then it all stopped because they decided it wasn’t a good thing to do.  I would have lost all sense of security and control over the world I live in.  The question of whether they would change their mind and come back to take me and my loved ones away would haunt me.  I would want the power they have so I could sleep at night.  That would color any decision I made for years afterwards; the need for power and security.  

All this propagates is violence because people will be driven to find security and power.  Just thinking about South Africa, it becomes very easy to confuse the grand picture with my subjective picture.  I would begin to suspect the people around me.  Especially where indirect rule was used, for example, places like Rwanda.  The violence is about searching for a sense of self-determination and security.  

Colonialism still lives on; it has just changed its name to economic globalization.  It is supported by the IMF and World Bank which help developing nations catch up to Europe using European blue prints.  I think these blue prints are so attractive because they are the ones that offered the Europeans the power they exercised when they raped Africa.  

What Fanon is saying is that Africa should find a different path than Europe because they know all to well where the European path ends.  He is asking them to transcend security for a life that is based on something better than a need for power.  

The second evil of European society is the middle-class.  “I call middle-class society in which life has no taste, I which the air is tainted, in which ideas and men are corrupt.  And I think that a man who takes a stand against this death is in a sense a revolutionary.” (509)  He raises the question of whether middle-class life is life at all.  The conclusion is that Europe has nothing to offer when it comes to ideas of how to live.  

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Hello Dr. X

This is the second time this semester that someone has stood at the front of a classroom and said there is nothing wrong with sweatshops.  Here was my response…

Hello Dr. X,
 Today in class you made the statement that Nike sweatshops actually increase the standard of living for those who work in them.  I am a development studies student and haven’t come across this information in my research on sweatshops.  What I have heard about the Nike factories in Indonesia is that even though the wage is triple the minimum it is still below subsistence levels.  The low minimum wage is an indicator of the International Monetary Fund’s Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) which are designed to manage foreign debt.  The SAPs cut public spending and decrease trade and labour protection.  The goal of the SAPs is to increase GDP and by attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).  The problem with FDI is that it chases the lowest wages.  A case study I did of Mauritius showed that when the country was starting to develop and the average wage in an Export Processing Zone (EPZ) reached one dollar the companies started to pull out and move to China because they could pay thirty cents an hour.  The result was that unemployment rose.  I have attached my paper if it interests you.
 I also share your scepticism of Ethical Mutual Funds.  Whose Ethics are applied?  I might have a different ethical standard than the fund manager, etc.  But I still think that ethical investing is the way to go.  In economics a standing principle is educate the populous and they can use their economic vote (I know it is a bad paraphrase).  If people were given the opportunity to convey their values through their investment I think the world would be a better place.(image placeholder) 
As a development studies student I have seen the underside of the corporate world.  The corporation is legally obliged to place shareholders above any ethical concerns (except where regulated).  I am convinced that the best way to fight poverty is from the inside of a corporation, but I am also under the impression that the higher position I attain in a corporation the less freedom and ability I will have to change things because of my obligation to the shareholders because everyone is out to make the quick buck.  If I pay wages higher than I have to I will be fired and someone will be next in line to replace me.  But what if shareholders got political and demanded that certain policies be put in place?  Things could change.  For example, about a week ago the second largest oil spill since Exxon Valdez happened off the Alaskan coast.  A Shell oil pipe burst.  The union said that the maintenance was a month behind and the maintenance inspection crew was being cut from 8 to 6. (here is a link to the article: It is these kinds of calculated risks that corporations take that just aren’t worth it if we start thinking outside of the economic models.  One of the things that prompted me to write this email was that you told the class that investing with anything other than good economics is a bad decision.  It might not be the best thing for my portfolio, but if everyone shuts off their conscience to conduct business what happens to the world?  We are facing the 6th major geological extinction.   
(image placeholder)Sorry if any of this came across as emotional, I just want to discuss as two decent people with different opinions.  
 Thank you for your time, I know the life of a professor is very busy.  

So what are your thoughts?  Anything to add, or that you disagree with? Post your comments and let the discourse begin.

Monday, March 27, 2006


Allen Ginsberg - Howl

This was a depressing read.  It was almost as bad as Heller.  

Ginsberg portrayed addiction, chasing the next hallucination is what life becomes.  One thought I had was I hope they straighten out and settle down because I feared for their safety.  But living safely becomes living to pay off the mortgage and getting the kids to school.  I think to get anywhere in life it has to be a balance of not holding on to what we have to an extent that it prohibits us from expanding our consciousness.  But the picture I have of expanding consciousness doesn’t include addiction and chasing hallucinations.  

I think this discussion provides a good framework to analyze Nietzsche.  His idea of the priestly and aristocratic ethic does have some currency with me, but reading the oval portrait also makes me think that we have to consider those around us.  In my life I find that I need the support of the people around me to succeed and they need me as well.  In my first reading of Nietzsche I didn’t find a consideration for others.  I could buy into a hermit like solitude, but not the abusively selfish attitude found in the oval portrait.  

Unfathomable Mystery

Aldous Huxley - The Doors of Perception

I work at a street ministry with addicts.  Drugs is not something to play around with and the friends that I have made, the people I help, are my heroes.  I think getting off drugs is one of the hardest things to do in life and I don’t think I have what it takes to go through what these people go through.  

With that said I appreciate what the introduction said about it being a travesty that people use Huxley as an excuse for reckless destructive drug-use.  Huxley identified a need for people to be transported from their lives into a different realm.  People do this through religious experience and more common in our time, through alcohol and drugs.  

Huxley talked about how having a single experience with mescalin can change the way a person sees the world.  “All I am suggesting is that the mescalin experience is what Catholic theologians call ‘a gratuitous grace,’ not necessary to salvation but potentially helpful and to be accepted thankfully” (594).  This quote encapsulates Huxley’s portrayal of the experience.  

I can appreciate Huxley’s position.  He is trying to approach the “unfathomable Mystery which it tries, forever vainly, to comprehend.”(598) In this last year I have been faced with characters in literature that have changed my life because they seem to have attained this “unfathomable Mystery.”  Any gain in understanding comes very slowly and with much pain.  

I just watched a documentary on steroid use.  It is a drug that athletes use to enhance performance.  I think that is a good analogy for what Huxley is talking about.  Drugs can be a temptation, like the athlete who wants to get better results for the amount of work that he has to put in.  Maybe LSD and Mescalin are short cuts for those of us probing the “unfathomable Mystery.”

It seems like a short cut though; Huxley said that the same state of mind can be attained through fasting and sensory deprivation.  I think maybe the journey is part of the discovery.  I guess when it comes down to it I am suspicious of drugs, maybe because of my work (and the fact that I could lose my job).  I think I am scared of drugs too because there are people that are a lot stronger than I am who have hit bottom because of drugs.  In the words of Huxley, it is a door that will stay closed for me.  

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Is the intelligent woman an image in existance?

Simone De Beauvoir - The Second Sex

The Concepts:
Both sexes need each other, but we need each other for different reasons, those different reasons extend out of biology and culture.  This is where the truth ends and the false value judgments begin. Men and women form a whole. Men are.  Women are the other; whatever is left over in a whole.  

It is easy for women to accept the position of a thing.  It comes with the benefit of physical security and all the major decisions taken care of.  

What would happen if women were offered the same freedoms as men?  

Women can use their sex appeal to gain power over men, but it isn’t a lasting power and it isn’t equality.  It is becoming a thing.

Have things gotten better for women?  They have, it isn’t all the way there, but it is getting there.  Women are able to live in Canada without getting married, they can have jobs and property and everything else that is essential to living.  The space has been created for adventurous women to live their lives.  

But then there is culture, even though there is a space for women to live their lives it is still a man’s world.  A couple month’s ago McLean’s Magazine had a women in a bar flashing, the title read something like “Since when did women become chauvinistic pigs?”  Then there was the red mile, why did women expose themselves to celebrate?  Men sure didn’t take their clothes off, and if they did there wasn’t a group of women crowding around him to hoot n’ holla.  

I think the intellectual image is still a male image.  If a girl is smart she is extremely introverted.  Smart and beautiful and opinionated and well read just don’t go together as an image.  I think there are women like that, but opinions are tucked out of sight.  A friend once told me that her mom told her not to be so opinionated because then she wouldn’t get a husband.  She shrugged it off, but it is a cliché that we shrug off and laugh about even though it contains too much truth.  I am not sure about this point though, I guess I should ask some girls to comment.  

I think that intelligent is definitely an image a guy can buy into (The tweed jacket and glasses and button up shirts with the shoulder bag).  Does the same image exist for girls, and is it a cool image?  Pls. comment.

I guess the whole direction I am going with this is that women aren’t encouraged to be the philosopher types.  They aren’t supposed to be into high culture (unless it is dance or opera or ballet).  But discussing morality, or how society should be run is “the man’s domain.”  Even if careers have been opened up to women the world of Plato and Aristotle hasn’t.   That is reserved for after dinner brandy and cigars in the drawing room.  (Read: rich white men are all that matter, everyone else is immanent as de Beauvoir would say).  

Friday, March 24, 2006

Stand up and say NO!

Elie Wiesel - Night

This is a story of a man and his father in a concentration camp.  The scene presented is when the day is over and selection is called.  Selection is when the sick, weak, and the old are marked to go to the furnaces.  

Two old men are marked to go, but the leader of their unit tells them they won’t be going to die.  They ask him to repeat himself and he gets angry for not trusting him.  They don’t want to hope because hope can be taken away.

The next day Elie’s father is told to stay behind.  Elie finds it hard to get through the day. They can take away his father.  

For Bettelheim and Solzhenitsyn convictions are something they can take away from you as well.  But once you have given up your convictions life slips away.

Combine this with C.W. Mills and the result is Heller.  Just to unpack that sentence a bit… to succeed in our system we have to adjust our values, make a compromise here and there.  The only problem is that giving up our values makes us hollow men and women (as TS Eliot would say).  

The Nazis did it by taking things away, Capitalism did it by giving us more stuff.
The Solution: Stand up and say NO.  No to burying people alive and no to going against our convictions because it is easier.  

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Security or Freedom?

Virginia Woolf - A Room of One’s Own

Women are present in fiction but not in history.  “Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is insignificant.” The truth of the situation is that women have been oppressed; they are not heroic in reality.  Any efforts at heroism and individuality are stifled.  Heroism is for men, the role of women is to support her hero (behind every great man stands a great woman).  

Women are not recorded as contributors to history because their role is to support the contributors or heroes of society.  Woolf blames this on the abuse of women and the fact that women have put up with it.  At the end of the day she thinks women could change this if they broke the dependence on men for the essentials of life.  Women should be given “500 a year and a room.”

Maybe this is why women have better hygiene and a cleaner life style than men.  For men, cleaning isn’t as important as having free time.  Our mothers have been there to clean up after us and they dragged our sisters along the path to cleanliness, leaving the sons to do what they please.  Right from the get go we have more decisions and freedom.  Girls are told what they are supposed to do and boys have to decide.  

This is my struggle with my wife.  I want to help with house work and have an equal relationship.  But when I do clean up it is a choice, for her it is just another part of the day.    

It really gets back to the Dostoyevsky’s grand inquisitor; do we want to be told what to do and what our place is, or do we want the freedom and responsibility to make our own decisions and find our own place in this world?  

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

White lies and fear

Joseph Heller - Something Happened

This reading was a cold slap in the face.  The main character (I don’t even know his name) leads a miserable life that has a lot in common with the prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp.  The cold slap comes from the fact that I recognize and can identify with too much of his life.  

Fear: Everyone is afraid of someone.  The people he is afraid of are afraid of the 12

No Rebellion

Realizes the rebellion he is allowed (cheating on his wife) isn’t even that exciting, and it isn’t original, it is learned from those around him.

His wife is afraid of him

His daughter is no longer unique

“I always have the disquieting sensation that I am copying somebody” (361)

“The problem is that I don’t know who or what I really am.” (362

He chews is finger nails “And I don’t think, at this stage, that I would want to live without it” (365)

Can’t deal with sick people because they aren’t normal and don’t demand respect

In a concentration camp the idea is to take the soul out of the person.  They do this by taking away any: freedom to act; individuality (no heroes or martyrs).  Bettelheim said that the threat of something happening was more prolific than the actual occurrence. In Heller the threat isn’t spoken.  It isn’t death, it is destitution.  

The difference between Heller and Bettelheim is the threat of destitution as opposed to death.  In both cases the threat is made more often than it is carried out, but the example is there to see.  The hope is pleasing the guard and easing the pain and finding some respect and for Heller it is Wealth, which is the merit for respect.  

The difference between death and destitution is that in destitution a person can still find self-respect and happiness.  In fact that person can probably find truth and beauty a lot easier in destitution than in wealth.  I would say Jesus and Buddha were destitute.  They probably would have qualified to be told to get a job and have change thrown at them by Ralph Klein.

By making the comparison I don’t want to degrade the horrific nature of the holocaust.  The holocaust was people subjugating their conscience to something that gave them value.  But that also sounds familiar.  
In Heller we are the victims and the Nazis all at the same time because we have put ourselves in the prison and hold the gates shut and kill ourselves and devalue ourselves.  There is no supreme leader.  This is INSANE!  Western society is completely absurd.  

Maybe the rebellion can’t be about changing the whole system but about changing the way I live my life.  

Fashion is a lie to make us buy more clothes.  What if I just wear the clothes I have?  Not go out and buy rebellious clothes but wear whatever is in my closet.  To do this I have to reject the idea that what I wear defines who I am.  There are all these little lies that are told to us in so many ways that aren’t verbal.  The great part about this is that it can be completely original.  To get to this though we have to deal with the feeling that we need to copy someone.  Because whatever we do will be copying someone if we don’t deal with the need to copy.  Maybe it is a fear of being original.  

I don’t want to go through life being afraid.  
Employment:  I am so afraid of being fired that I am afraid of disappointing my boss.  He is in a position to tell me if I am successful.  It is the same with teachers.  Authority in general is in the position to tell me that I am a failure.  Only immediate authority though, those that have observed my work.  My boss’s boss’s Boss, I could care less what he has to say about me.  

Maybe its destitution (if you don’t pass this high school math midterm you will die alone and miserable).  Success is linked to acceptance.  The more successful I am the more valuable I am, both at work and socially.  Without success life is over, it isn’t worth living.  

I think the little lie in this case is the one we felt in high school.  If I am not successful I will die miserable and alone.  

If we have a community money doesn’t have to be such a big part of our interactions.  People can do things for each other.  People can give and receive and depend on each other; the co-operative spirit.  So the truth is that if I fail at life I will probably die with all my close friends around me.  The person that dies alone and miserable is the one that spends his life working to succeed, there is just a point where our fear of being alone is twisted into our fear of not having money.  

I think there are probably a lot of those little white lies that are kind of cliché and we laugh at, but when we put some thought into what they actually do to us and how they control our lives.  Maybe we can stop believing them and find a life without fear?          

Monday, March 13, 2006

Truth and Beauty of Happiness?

Aldous Huxley - Brave New World

Truth and beauty or happiness?  

This is Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor all over again, just 600 years in the future instead of in the past and the dream of the Grand Inquisitor has been realized.  Humanity has been stabilized, and everyone is happy.  It cost people their freedom, but wasn’t it worth it?  To not have anymore racism, war, hate?  Contentment is given a place to proliferate and provide the ideal society.  My personal ultimate goal has been realized.  There is no more poverty.  I am unemployed thank God um, I mean Ford.  

So what if everyone lives half doped up, there is peace and everyone can get along.  Society exists in harmony with the world.

Sounds good doesn’t it.  Have a majority of every dream we have realized.  But it costs freedom and creativity.  The question is, is life worth living if it’s fake but happy?  
What’s our big attachment to reality and pain, growth?  

When it comes down to it though, I believe Solzhenitsyn when he said that it is a pretty weak ideology that is based on the lie that pleasure is what matters.  There is something more to life than pleasure.  There is something deep, embedded in existence that seems to only reveal itself in pain, and growth and reality.  I have a feeling that it isn’t a conscious thing, it is a synthesis of the diversity of this world and the next. It also produces a trust in humanity that they will one day get it, a mystical patience that goes beyond my own life time.

The hope of the existence of this mysticism is the only thing that keeps me from Huxley’s Brave New World.  The Lawyer, 3 Hermits and Dostoyevsky’s Jesus really screwed me up.  Who knew reading 40 pages could change a person’s life.

A second Thought…
There is always divinity.  
Zeus, God, Christ, Mohammed, Science, and for Huxley, Control and Ford… the list goes on… materialism, pleasure, a mortgage, compassion, and on…

I use divinity to describe the force in a person’s life that they obey, sometimes blindly, sometimes not, and worship a bit.  I guess my point is that everyone devotes their life to something.  Just make sure it is worth your life.  

I borrow this idea from a Christian Bumper sticker that I have become convinced has some truth… I am a fool for Christ, whose fool are you?  

Conviction & Choice

Bruno Bettelheim - Behaviour in Extreme Situations: Coercion

Bettelheim comes to the same conclusion as Solzhenitsyn.  People need convictions to survive.  It is the last realm of freedom in a situation where everything else is taken away.  

There is a certain point where life just isn’t worth living, and that is the point where life becomes more important than essential convictions.  After a person crosses the line of conviction the will to live is lost and death comes quickly.  

But how can a person determine their own line?  I don’t think it can be determined until every small choice becomes a choice between life and death.  The question is: am I willing to die for this conviction really and truly.  

Jesus said “Those who love their life will lose it.”  He also said “Man can not live on bread alone.”  We need choice.

The camps weren’t about extermination, simply killing the body.  The camps were about taking the life out of the body.  Proving the hypothesis that Jews were a race, but they weren’t human.  Choice and convictions makes us human and they tried to take that away.  

I would like to think that I wouldn’t make it past the gates because of my convictions, but that is a pretty easy thing to say sitting here with my self-respect intact.

I guess when it comes down to it our self-respect is tied to our convictions, not our position.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Responsibility and Procedure

Hannah Arendt - Eichmann in Jerusalem

“Evil in the Third Reich had lost the quality by which most people recognize it - the quality of temptation.” (45)

My wife is a nurse and I am work at a shelter.  Both of us have to write down our interactions with the people we work with.  In both of our jobs we spend about a third of our shifts covering our asses.  If anything goes wrong we can just look it up and show that we followed procedure.  This and Eichmann have a lot in common; personal responsibility, how we as a society deal with failure, and hierarchy/power.  It is contrasted to Solzhenitsyn’s conscience and spirit.

Eichmann and I are in positions close to what is actually happening on the ground.  The little guy is the one who sees the context and our bosses might make a better call in the context, but our boss’s procedure manual won’t.  A procedure manual doesn’t understand the context.  But everyone follows the procedure manual very willingly because I am not doing this job to do the best job I can do, I am doing this job trying not to get in trouble.  I started out ignoring procedure.  I got in trouble.  I follow procedure.  It happens this way because my boss wrote the procedure manual and when I disagree with him it is my position against his.  He wins.  

In many ways Eichmann is a better employee than I am.  He followed the procedure manual with his heart.  He believed it was his duty to subjugate his better judgement to that procedure manual.  I recognize his defence from my own line of work.  When something goes wrong I can bring up the logs and show that I followed procedure.  What went wrong isn’t my fault; it’s just an anomaly the procedure didn’t take into account.  The point is that I avoid responsibility for my actions.  The truth is that I have to avoid responsibility because if I screw up it isn’t a learning experience it is grounds for being fired.  

The Nuremberg trial threw out the policy manual and made people responsible for their actions.  It makes me wonder how I would stand up if a society that didn’t have the same idea of what is acceptable looked at my life.  

What Eichmann has to say to me is only half of the issue raised by Arendt.  The other half is understanding how a society could turn evil to the extent that Nazi Germany did.  

Hitler became a divinity.  Eichmann took Kant’s categorical imperative; do unto others as you would have them do unto you and changed it just a bit.  It became do unto others as Hitler does to them.  It went from a theory of social contract to obedience to the Fürhrer.  How did this happen?  Everyone that Eichmann was socially subordinated to was doing it.  It was the correct thing to do.  What if the politically correct thing to do was to hate the Jews instead of refrain from racism?  

Eichmann had part of it right.  It isn’t the law (or PC) that should be followed, but the spirit behind the thing, and interacted with in a way that will change us.  He forgot conscience though, and in the end he had to answer for his own actions, not for the pressures that informed those actions, but his actions, his role in the genocide.