Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Shut off the censor and listen

Andre Breton - Manifesto of Surrealism

“I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality, if one may so speak” (p. 529).  

The only thing exciting and legitimate is freedom and the best way to employ our freedom is the imagination, the ability to imagine what can be.  
The insane enjoy their madness enough to not doubt its validity beyond them.

Breton was foundational in the stream of consciousness movement.  We tried this in class, it is very hard.  We began by asking our censors to step outside and then just sat and tried to write what we were thinking.  I came up with a couple of rhymes and then started asking why I rhymed, so I just stopped.  After a while I began to try and identify what I was feeling and I had a heavy emotional weight on my chest.  I asked what it was and at first thought compassion, but compassion for what?  Then I realized I had a test in two hours and it was stress.  This was quite amazing for me because whenever I am stressed I just entertain myself out of the stress, which usually results in nothing getting done because I am too busy distracting myself to deal with the stress.  I also do this semi-unconsciously.  Which means that I don’t think about what I am doing, but when I do sit down and think and ask what is going on with myself I do figure it out.  I usually figure it out after the exam though, after the stress is over.  This time I did it before the exam.  It was quite the experience.  I think I can be a lot more aware of my emotions and conscious about my actions if I sit down and ask how I am doing.  This exercise is also quite familiar because it is so similar to quite time and trying to connect to God.  Shut off the censor and just listen.  

Another good quote:
“Can’t the dream also be used in solving the fundamental questions of life?” (p. 527)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Power to Influence Outcomes

Kafka - The gatekeeper cont’d

One of my classes is intercultural communication.  Yesterday there was a speaker who had worked in several countries abroad.  She is now the vice president of Weber Shandwick (http://www.webershandwick.com/) and runs the Calgary office.  Weber Shandwick is a Public Relations (PR) firm.  Their logo is “The power to influence outcomes.”  In her presentation to our class someone asked what she did and her response was “reputation management” and “crisis management.”  Basically, if Exxon spills tons of oil in the Glenmore reservoir they spin it as giving back to the community (to be provide a ridiculous example that gets the point across) or something like that.  She had done a lot of work in South Asia so I asked her a couple questions, here is how I remember the conversation:
“Have you seen any sweatshops, and what is your ethical response to them?”
She chuckles and says “well, what is a sweatshop anyway?”
“A place where people are being exploited”
“What you and I see as exploitation might not be exploitation to them, I was talking to a couple people and they told me about when they were working and some North Americans saw them sitting on the floor and were appalled so they went out and bought them a table and chairs.  They told me they just wanted to sit on the floor.  Also, say there is a flood and a farmer’s crops are destroyed and so he sells his daughter into the sex trade so they can eat.  Is that exploitation?  I wouldn’t want to say.  I just think people should have choices.”  
Then some other people asked some questions for a bit, then I asked:
“What about the case where sweatshops tend toward the lowest price so when an area begins to develop and demand better wages the company leaves for a cheaper area causing a boom and bust cycle?”
She responded: “Well, that is an unfortunate cycle, but companies are getting better and what we can do is not work for and not buy the products that we know we don’t agree with.  For example, I don’t buy handmade rugs because of child labour… But companies are getting better.”  

I didn’t realize it until I got home, but she confused the distinction between what is morally wrong and what is exploitation.
Was it morally wrong for the farmer to sell his daughter to save his family? I wouldn’t want to say either.  But ask if that family was exploited in a situation where that is the choice, sell your daughter into the sex trade or die what is that really choice?  I have no problem saying they were exploited.  Webster’s dictionary defines exploited as “to make use of meanly or unjustly for one's own advantage.”  The person that benefited from that girl being forced into the slave trade certainly did something wrong.  He took advantage of a desperate situation to make a buck.  So, is it wrong for people to work in sweatshops so they can eat?  No.  But is it wrong for the employer to provide sweatshop conditions because a person will starve if they don’t work for them?  Yes.  Is it wrong for someone to steal to buy food?  Is it wrong for someone to make someone steal to buy food?  You get the point.

I don’t know if she has ever thought of it this way.  I think her response would be that because the employer is from a different culture it might be alright for him to do what he does.  I just find it funny that the big corporations make a lot of profit from this worldview.  
She provided the example of spousal and child abuse to support cultural/ moral relativism.  Where she was working it was a pretty common sight to see abuse.  
Spousal abuse is a tricky thing, and I think it has a lot more to do with socioeconomic position and shows how well a society is working as opposed to an example of cultural norms.  An illustration of whaling can serve as an example.  In one of my classes last semester there was a presentation on the Inuit whale hunters and the community.  Recently whale hunting has been severely restricted and as a result the men couldn’t go hunting and provide for their families.  I am kind of fuzzy on the details, but the gist was that the men abused their wives more because they didn’t feel respected.  The point is that analysis of cultural relativism has to be carried out with a little more sophistication than comparing surface values and not understanding why things are the way they are.  It also homogenizes a society into saying that no one thinks it is wrong and gives the impression that it is a common practise.  

This relates to Kafka because this lady has a respected place in society that influences public perception.  I think it is fair to say that she is a gatekeeper of the system.  So why am I (a lowly student) not convinced of her ethics?  If I wanted to know anything about ethics I should be able to learn from a person who creates the image of the major institutions of our society.  But I was disappointed and not convinced by her answers.  I was actually offended by the fact that she trivializes the problem of sweatshop workers.  When 14 year old girls work for 12-14 hours a day and can’t make enough money to send any home.  When union organizers “disappear.”  This is exploitation, and the position they have been placed in is wrong.  

What kind of world do North Americans want to create?  
I just want to do my own business and I will respect the right of other people to do their own business their way, unless it offends me too much and they are right there and I feel up to saying something about it.  I will effect change with my purchasing decisions.  

This view doesn’t understand that doing nothing is doing something.  What if I had a firm and chose to impose my ethics on another country?  She asked what would happen if a firm paid $8 an hour where the minimum wage was 50 cents.  Well, what if 50 cents wasn’t enough to provide food and shelter for a family?  Couldn’t my firm pay $3 an hour so the family could afford school fees and food and clothing and shelter and God forbid a short holiday to see relatives?  She asked what would happen to the economy.  Well, wouldn’t it be amazing if firms competed over the labour of the poor instead of those who are starving fighting over a job?  What if I were the IMF and I could remove SAPs?  We live in the world we do because people created it.  I am a person, and my life’s work can effect more change than the sum of my purchasing decisions.  What if I spent my life making unethical corporations look ethical, so they could self regulate and keep things the way they are?  I don’t know, has she ever done that, cover up a questionable move, or make it look a bit better than it actually was?  I think I will take their corporate logo and make it my own logo, the power to influence outcomes.  That is agency, everyone has it; few use it.  

I am going to email the woman that spoke to our class and ask for a response.  

Friday, February 03, 2006

There is so much more...

Derrick Jensen – The Culture of Make Believe

J.P. Morgan was an investment banker who would manage private and corporate fortunes.  Morgan would invest huge sums of money in corporations on the stipulation that he would be given control of the corporation for a short period of time to ensure the “safety” of the money he invested.  At this point the corporation would undergo a process called “Morganization” in which he would “reduce its debt to avoid bankruptcy in the near future, and place men loyal to him in control.” (Encarta on-line) Wherever he went his game was corporate mergers to reduce competition and increase profit.  (A fact I find hilarious considering I got it from an msn website).  

Jensen makes the case that JP Morgan was the banker who organized the American financing of the allies during WWI.  Jensen claims that America didn’t enter the war until it looked like the allies would lose and the result would be that the local economy would fail because of all the debt the allies had to American firms.  Jensen gives a list of strategic government positions that were awarded to Morgan’s partners.  The result was that profits soared for Morgan and all the companies he controlled directly or indirectly.  There were a billion dollars of munitions that were paid for but never delivered.  

This got me thinking, why don’t we just institute a poor tax, we could decrease income tax by 5% and just have transfer payments from all the non-millionaires to the millionaires.  Call it corporate welfare.  Maybe then America wouldn’t have had to go to war.  Maybe it will save us in the future.  Not that I’m suggesting that they started the war, but they sure made a lot of money off of it.  And maybe that is why those people who went into the war did it.  They do it for economic growth.  They do it for an ideology.  

When I started the last paragraph I was just trying to be funny, but corporate welfare is a term that came to mind and it is a term that I have heard before.  For an example close to home, the Canadian government pays for the infrastructure for companies to extract our resources.  It is something that doesn’t make sense to me, to be graphic it is like not only asking to be raped, but paying the cab fare for the rapist to get across town.  They do it for economic growth.  They do it for an ideology.  

In this chapter Jensen describes the hatred that went on in the United States, good moral christian lynchings of the non-white population.  Jensen develops the idea of non-white as those who don’t agree with the ideology, making the distinction that a white person has to do something bad to be excluded, like protest against capital and for worker’s rights, while non-whites have to do a lot just to not be persecuted, a place that is far from camaraderie.  

A bit of a side note, as a Christian I am seeing some pretty horrific relationships that just don’t make sense to me (KKK, business conservatives, the inquisitions, the crusades) and am wondering about the usefulness of the term.  I would like to think that it is incompatible to be a Christian racist only concerned with profit, no it goes beyond profit, it gets to the roots of hatred that Jensen talks about.  As a Christian I worry about the souls of conservative evangelicals and I don’t say that as a tongue in cheek comment.

Jensen is trying to get at the roots of hatred of our civilization that seem to flare up whenever something goes wrong.  Well, here is the question, why do decent people stand beside a hanging corpse smiling with pride at saving the neighbourhood?  The KKK did it, the Nazis did it, the Native population of the Americas witnessed white appreciation for their hospitality, what about Iraq and Afghanistan, is N. Korea and Iran next?  Perkins said it was empire, Wallerstein says it is just endless accumulation.  The USA is getting bigger and consuming other nations because it has to have economic growth.  That is the drug of western civilization.  

All of these things remind me of Berman.  Berman said that there was no way of interacting with terrorists because we are a liberal rationalists and we want to talk and find a medium, but there just isn’t any reason to their thought pattern, they can’t be talked to.  They are ready to die to save the neighbourhood.  Hmm, I just wrote that same thing a couple sentences ago in reference to moral Christian lynchings.  

Jensen says it is a hate that comes alive whenever there is something that goes wrong.  This hate takes the guise of religion, but it has nothing to do with Christianity or Islam.  It is about preserving an ideal way of life, or forwarding an ideal way of life.  They have given up on talking and feel alienated or threatened.  It is control through fear.  

The 1950s syndrome, things were so good back then and contemporary people have become sick, so we need to fight. - American Christian Fundamentalist
They will kill us in our beds and steal our women, we just have to protect ourselves
- KKK member,
Etc. etc.

It is never enough to be the majority (The American Christian Right, etc.), because they are founded on the idea that they are the threatened minority, and any subversive element can bring corruption and the end of the way of life as it is known.  

It is a worldview that views homogeneity as the ideal and creativity and diversity as dangerous or something to be repressed, unless it can be conformed into the homogeneity of the ideal.

Back to my rant, they do it for ideology.  But what is ideology really; it is just another way of saying the things that they believe in.  I don’t think the conclusion to be taken from this is that believing is a bad thing; it is just what we believe in, what informs those beliefs.  This is beginning to sound like the educator’s rant, it is about consciousness, to be conscious of why we do the things we do is to be able to get free of them.  Maybe that is the distinction between Chekhov’s Banker and Lawyer in the bet, one believed blindly (in wealth and capitalism), and the other believed in humanity with his eyes wide open.  

I guess the question is do we believe in systems to save humanity or in humanity’s own ability to save itself?  Will humanity be able to get past protecting an ideal and live it?

There is a slogan, if you aren’t willing to die for something than what are you living for?  I guess it sounds like what I am saying is that if everyone stopped believing in something then the world’s problems would be solved.  That isn’t what I am saying.  I am saying that if everyone had the chance to find respect internally and get past external dependence on other people (what they think of me) maybe the world would be a whole lot better.  At any rate there wouldn’t be the mob mentality, there would be a lot more creativity and individuality and diversity would be celebrated instead of homogenized which makes people feel like crap.  It is when people feel like crap that they do things that aren’t healthy (spend money they don’t have, eat food that they don’t need, etc.).  

That is just part of the life the lawyer found, there is so much more…  

Thursday, February 02, 2006

What Kind of World am I Creating?

Franz Kafka - The Trial

Kafka tells a story of two men, one is a doorkeeper to the law.  The other is a layman who wants access to the law and spends his life waiting to get in.  He makes an interesting point that the doorkeeper doesn’t know the law and his function is to keep the seeker out.  The doorkeeper’s sole purpose is to limit access.  He also makes the point that both men have been duped.  The doorkeeper is simpleminded and doesn’t see it.  He doesn’t see that he is just being used.  

Links can be drawn between this story the argument of CW. Mill.  There are gatekeepers of wealth and power to keep the layperson out.  Following the argument of Mill, maybe the layman could have adopted the values of the gatekeeper and become the gatekeeper and in that way find dominance in the system.  

The system has been setup with no wizard behind a curtain pulling the strings.  Law is just a part of the system, but the whole system is just like law in the analogy.  There are the guardians of the system who don’t know what they are doing, but enjoy the power of the position.  Then there are those people who sit at the door looking in, wanting access.  Those people looking in are those who are asking the question of what kind of world we are creating.  

What kind of world am I creating by what I am doing with my life?  It is a question that has to be asked honestly, and don’t let excuses about the way the system is make us sit at the door for our entire lives.  We have agency and if I live my life to change the world into what I want it to be, that is a good life.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about doing everything; it is about living with integrity, picking a hill and dying on it.  

Utilitarianism judges the rightness of an act by the degree it brings goodness into the world.  To live with a utilitarian ethic is to ask the question, what kind of world do I want to create because our actions create that world.  

Values of Success

C.W. Mill - The Higher Immorality

What I got out of Mill was the idea that to advance into the upper echelons of society one must adopt certain attitudes.  This is how the system protects itself; those who are given the power to change it must have the values to not change it.  A similar example is changing the voting system in Canada.  It would be very difficult for a party who won using the current voting system to change to proportional representation because that is the system that rewarded them.  Now what about life?  The rich and powerful are fabulously respected, and they aren’t going to change a thing.  It would be biting the hand that feeds you.  There is exceptions of to the rule, but a few out of a thousand, my suspicion is that the system can weather the heat =).  

Here is an example:
Michael Ignatieff - In a recent issue of the New Internationalist (click on back issues, then it is #385, then it is an article titled World Beaters) there was an article featuring Mr. Ignatieff  “In ‘Nation Building Lite’ (July 2002), Ignatieff calls for heavy handed nation-building in Afghanistan: ‘The [Afghans] understand the difficult truth that their best hope of freedom lies in a temporary experience of imperial rule.’  And to work, ‘imperial power requires controlling the subject people’s sense of time, convincing them that they will be ruled forever.’  Mr. Ignatieff used to be the director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University.  In May 2004, weeks after the photos of American soldiers torturing hooded Iraqis in Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad he wrote: “Defeating terror requires violence… indefinite detention of subjects, coercive interrogations, targeted assassinations, even pre-emptive war…Permissible forms of duress might include forms of sleep deprivation that do not result in lasting harm to mental or physical health, together with disinformation and disorientation (like keeping prisioners in hoods) that would produce stress’…could he really believe that repressive violence can be split into tidy categories?”  

Ignatieff just won a liberal seat in the recent election and is considered a candidate for the leadership race.  This seems supportive of Mill’s point, that to advance you must adopt the values of the system.  It seems that Mr. Ignatieff is doing quite well at adopting the values of success.