Friday, November 16, 2007

Action Profiles

This is the link to the fruit of my labour over the summer. They are articles outlining the work that different agencies are doing in downtown Calgary that support the Centre City goals.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

John Kenneth Galbraith - the new industrial society

I finally got around to reading his excerpt from "the new industrial state." There were two ideas that stuck out.

The industrial society that is characterized by high technology is dependent on demand for increased production. Organizing society in a way that allows a person to work until they have enough for the week would paralyze production. Hence, the need for advertisement and creating desire is integral to the health of our system of social organization.

I was watching the CBC show "Dragon's Den" where innovations are pitched to investors. The product was a gun scope. Two of the investors said that they would not invest because of ethical reasons. The next investor responded saying "the only ethics is profit"

This scares me. What kind of society do we live in that allows a debate about whether the only ethic that matters is greed. Since when has greed become a virtue?

I suppose it is a virtue given Galbraith's description of the industrial state that is predicated on endless accumulation and ever increasing production. To make this an ethical discussion, those terms are just fancy ways of saying greed - unsustainable greed that values turning living ecosystems into inanimate, dead consumer goods.

The second idea deals with freedom and society. The point he made was that the people that are bastions for individual freedom in society are those who often have the least. CEOs, politicians and military figures are chosen and ascend to the rank they achieve most often because of submission to discipline and conform their thinking. They are expected to live up to the highest standards.

This line of thought leads me to the link between business and social conservatives. They seem odd bedfellows to me. I think this distinction articulates the schizophrenic nature of current business-religious conservative parties. And perhaps one which is often reflective of conservatives individuals ability to compartmentalize their actions - hierarchical thinking instead of systems thinking.

A conservative has a vision of what the perfect system is and tries to remove the distortions and thus achieve utopia. For business conservatives this means free market, small government. For social conservatives, this means bringing laws in line with the moral code in the bible.

Morality in this case largely means working hard and social controls in private life. Both factions can agree on this. The blind spot is morality from 9 to 5 and indirect impacts of actions.

I think this is more reflective of American Republicanism, and I am not sure where our brand of Canadian progressive conservativism fits in. Though many of the policies enacted by the minority government have been in line with traditional conservative ideology (tax cuts, program funding constitutional challenges, getting tough on crime...marijuana). But there are a lot of disillusioned liberals that went conservative in the last election. So what does a right of centre liberal look like?

Anyway... liberal thinks about what are the impacts of my action - looking for implications/ cause and effect. - pragmatically progressing toward "the best we can do" as opposed to a utopia (which often gets people killed in the name of ideology). I think that is what it can be at its best anyway. It probably isn't that reflective of the party.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Defining Emergent

What is the emerging church?

I think it comes down to a single element. How is the concept of certainty defined?

About four years ago I went through a struggle with defining certainty. I grew up believing that certainty was knowing the right answer and providing that answer when in dialogue (Paul: always be prepared to give an answer). This conception was based on maintaining a systematic theology that explained everything. Learning was directed at filling in the gaps. The gaps are not examples taken from reality and experience but from the Bible. My world view had to account for and not be contradicted by any verse in the Bible. Experience and reality were seen through the lens of biblical verses. If there were gaps between experience and the Bible, then it was explained as something that we could not know. ie. ultimate authority was through scripture.

Well after a while the experiences that had unsatisfactory answers and were pushed to the back burner began to leave a nagging feeling. Things didn't add up. This was also the time that I changed my definition of certainty. It went from being able to provide an answer and having faith in the link from my certain world view (theology) to reality to exposing my faith and world view to question and the test of reality. The argument goes that if I am certain about my theology then it doesn't need me to shield it from the test of reality and exposure to legitimate questions that reality and experience expose it to.

As John Douglas Hall points out in The Cross in Our Context, this is the difference between theology and ideology. Ideology is not only found in religion, but also in politics and many other ways of seeing the world.

Does the paradigm or world view shelter thinking from reality or does it offer the opportunity to think through the implications of experience to world view.

This is the test to determine an emergent church from repackaged church.

Sunday, July 29, 2007


This is my attempt at trying to figure out how to put a picture on my blogger profile, something I should have done a year ago

This is from a week ago, we visited Vancouver for a friend's weddin and took a picture at Kits beach, looking accross Burard Inlet (which has been in the news this week for a big oil spill) at West Vancouver.
Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Conservatives caught in a lie

Yesterday City Council debated secondary suites. The two sides of the debate are: 1. affordable housing; 2. property rights (buyers buy in a neighbourhood on the basis that it will stay the same - ie. noise and traffic levels, but secondary suites increase density - read noise and traffic).

I sat in on a Council meeting a couple weeks ago and there was a discussion about converting rental stock to condominiums. Council was seeking the power from the province to be able to regulate this practice. Basically, someone buys a rental building, kicks all of the people out, then sells the apartments individually and makes a huge profit.

Ald. Ric McIver (very conservative) opposed the motion saying that he would not interfere with people's right to dispose of their property as they see fit.

This is the same argument against rent control.

So my argument is that if they aren't going to use rent control, or stop condo conversions on the argument that government should not interfere with my right to dispose of my property as I see fit (which is a bull shit in the first place - see what happens when I have a horse stabled in my apartment). Then they should apply the same argument to secondary suites.

What this hypocrisy tells me is that Conservatives hate lower middle class people. They use whatever argument is available and convenient to protect property value and my ability to make money off poor people.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Friere and the problem of power in helping people

Friere (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Action Reflection: The activist is useless without reflection – there is no conscious direction. Reflection without action is also useless, it gets nothing done. - This concept is very similar to the metaphor of a car. It can’t get to its destination if it is not moving, or if it is moving in the wrong direction. It needs direction and action to achieve a goal.

The power of definition: One of the exercises is to get people to express their situation and see it for what it is, from their own perspective, not the perspective they have been fed for so long. This argument has a lot of similarity to Said and the concept of the Oriental. It was a category that was defined from the outside, and covered diversity and fit into the worldview of colonialism/oppression. The same thing happened with the “Nobel Savage.” These categories are based on a rejection of empathy, equality, and efforts at understanding. It is the construction of an other. The other is defined by the core, uppers, insiders, and is what matters. The periphery, lowers, outsiders, the other, are defined as what is on the other side of the boundary that creates the category of insider. In the case of colonialism, it was European / non-European. I personally never learned of a country that named itself non-European. This is a given identity. Rejecting this given identity for a self-defined identity is a process that rejects the status that is given, and empowers people to be equal, because each has a unique history, both are people, and each story is of equal value. African history is not a chapter in the book of European history. They are all sections in Human history.

The oppressed have to shake off oppression for the sake of the oppressors as well as themselves. Oppressing kills the humanity in people. It is a bondage that the oppressor can rarely shake off themselves. What does it mean to us in Canada to be the oppressor? It isn’t a common identity characteristic I take for myself, being in the development studies program and devoting my life to the poor. But there is something there. I enjoy my university degree and the prestige, and the moral superiority of the concern for the poor, and the standard of living I am able to maintain (because of little hands) because of my education. I have two lives. I go to work and spend that life working for the betterment of those suffering in poverty, then I go home to my Ikea condo. And I’ll be damned if I don’t feel cheated when an engineer makes more money than me with less education and experience.

Well, I did choose to work for the cause of poverty. I am not willing not to work on the cause of poverty. Within that qualification, I would like to get ahead as much as the next person. I would also like to do this ethically, not fighting against myself and with my consumption habits. But the wonders of global capitalism make it possible for me to not know the conditions in which my consumer goods were made.

I am losing track of where I was going. Solidarity with the poor v. being the oppressor. Is it possible to do both at the same time?

I think so, I do it at work and at home. I am an oppressor vis a vis the genetic lottery that gave me good health care, almost free education, cheap consumer goods. But I am also in solidarity with the poor because that is my existential identity.

When I evaluate my life I ask: What have you done for the poor today? I don’t ask how much money I made. Or if I have the approval of my superiors.

Here is another interesting thought I have been mulling over. I am part of something larger than myself (fighting poverty, injustice and death). The poor have one responsibility, take care of themselves, so I (social agencies) don’t have to, and so they can contribute instead of cost they system money. Within the social safety net is a built in hatred for the poor, mind you, it is also a love, because without the poor, my life would be meaningless (Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling).

But, I don’t focus on caring for myself (the advice so often given out to homeless people). I focus on this larger thing that I am a part of and I find my identity in. If I just had to take care of myself, what’s the point? Why get out of bed in the morning?

I think a good way of summarizing this idea is the Nihilistic gospel of the Social Safety Net.

Once again, I think this gets back to Friere’s point on the power of definition (identity construction). If the poor are given the chance to define themselves (instead of being classified as homeless, or poor), and each individual finds their story, and the explanation of why they are homeless, what they are struggling and succeeding with, then perhaps appropriate solutions can be found. They will have a clear picture of what large social forces they are a part of. Instead of accepting the identity of loser, down and outer, addict, homeless, and all the power relations that are associated with those titles. Maybe these people can find their identity in their story, their history, and be equal human beings with the rest of “normal” society.

So what is a more appropriate gospel for the Social Safety Net? One that focuses on story telling, and recognizes the individuality of people (v. the faceless herding of the current shelter system). This may be the Housing First principle manifest in the Thames reach organization. The organization sends taxis out to go find “rough” sleepers – people sleeping outside, and offers them an apartment, then they are offered what ever resources they need, counselling, job training, etc.

But this project of identity creation is also grounded in an existentialist understanding of people’s responsibility; not blaming social forces, but recognizing their role in the same time.

Karl Polanyi argues that the problem with capitalism is that no one is ultimately responsible. Unemployment (homelessness) is the fault of the “invisible hand.” Perhaps the movement of existentialism is in reaction to the invisible hand. Which are the rules that everyone agrees to play by, but seemingly, no one established. My Marxist friend describes this situation as the problem of liberalism – you can see the problem, but are powerless to change anything.

This gets back to my dualistic life as a good liberal. I work against oppression and to improve the plight of the poor during the day. Then at night I consume and live the life of a “normal” (in the sense of the power of definition) middle class citizen (v. non-citizen, ie. homeless person). The steps in the value added chain separate me from assuming responsibility. What is the existential cost of this distance, of disempowerment? I can not change my situation, so I can not make decisions, so, I can not create who I am.

Kierkegaard talks about the anxiety of possibility – the possibilities of who I can be, then the anxiety of being that person, asking what if.

Am I able to create my identity and make decisions to the extent that I do not depend on the material comforts of western life? Does my soft bed and the indoors keep me from being who I am?

But, I suppose choosing the comforts of life over solidarity with the poor is an identity choice and I become that choice.

Can a choice be made without Sarte’s Anguish, Forlornness, and Despair? Maybe that was an existential choice. I have put those elements into the choice to serve the poor with my life. But is the situation of comfort getting in the way of the implementation of that choice? Or is the implementation the choice?

This is the split between who I am and how I live. It is hypocrisy.

On the other hand, I see my role one of empowerment. Gaining a position of authority and being an insider, upper who can disempower myself, and pass that power onto the communities I will work with; creating capacity and resiliency to deal with future problems.

I suppose mine is a slippery slope, ensuring that the identity of who I am is defined by what I do for the poor, not the comforts I have, and the selfish personal choices I am bound to face. Because the more I choose comfort the more I will find my identity in comfort instead of solidarity with the poor.

Right, the Anguish, Forlornness and Despair are qualifications for making an authentic choice. So the more I go through, the more authentic I will be.

There is a similar Christian idea, God has a plan for your life, and if you follow this plan you will be happy, if you don’t you won’t be happy.

Both of these correspond to my situation because solidarity with the poor is an authentic choice for me. But, comfort is something that I slide into unconsciously. I do not go through AFD, and therefore, it is not an authentic life.

Here is my fundamental question, what is the point of getting up in the morning if you aren’t working toward the betterment of other people? I guess a lot of people have their families.

Is responsibility for other people the only reason for living?

And, what are the power relations in this situation? I am dependent on those people needing me, and I am more powerful than those I am responsible for. They do not have responsibility for themselves because I have it. I am in control of the people I am responsible for. And this is my reason for getting up in the morning.

I sound like a sadistic prison guard.

Is social services a sadistic prison?

Oh, the complexity of altruistic existential exploitation.

The ironic part is that maybe I need to be part of something larger (fighting poverty) because I haven’t faced my own mortality, finitude. Am I comfortable with my finitude; can I find a point within myself for getting out of bed in the morning?

Without poor people I would be nothing, I would have no identity. This doesn’t scare me though, it is the goal of my life. Because then I can dissipate into infinitude. This is a nonsensical way of saying that I would be alright with not having an identity if there were no poor people. I could live for myself. – I say this because when I do enjoy material possessions, the guilt is that everyone can’t enjoy them. I am separated from the rest of humanity by my access. I don’t want to be separated by winning. I want to be completely ordinary, have my life not stand out in any way. What I mean is that I would love to live in a world where there was no haves and have nots. And if I do live in a world with haves and have nots, then I want to be in the latter group. My hypocrisy is that I am in the former group.

PAR and Pragmatism

My Recent Questions:

Q: How do I do development?

A: Ask people what they need/ figure it out with them, then do it/get it. Sophistication is added in the method/worldview of Participatory Action Research.

Q: How do I do Participatory Action Research?

A: Research is a subjective exercise (no matter what ideas of objectivity conventional social sciences delude themselves with). The outsider brings an outside perspective (free from local political correctness, etc.) and offers knowledge of research methods and facilitation to the insiders. The insiders have local knowledge and complex understandings of their own situation/context. The two, insiders and outsider, can define a research agenda and carry it out together.

Q: I need a stronger foundation in pragmatism/post modern (feminist) critique of objective, positivist science.

A: Gadamer (1975) Truth and Method – From Phenomenology to pragmatism

Diggins (1994) The promise of Pragmatism, and

Rorty (1979) Philosophy and the mirror of nature

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Transit Pricing

The following post is my analysis of the user fee for transit

I am arguing for a greater spread between the cost of using a monthly pass and single fares.

so like myth busters:

Warning Accounting content!

a month transit pass is in Calgary, Alberta is $75.00
one fare is $2.25

So if you take 33 trips (75/2.25) in a month you break even.

if you take transit to work or school 2 trips a day * 5 days = 10 trips a week * 4 weeks = 40 trips

it would cost $90 to pay for individual fares, and you could save $15 dollar per month by buying a month transit pass.

Accounting Principles:
Marginal cost: this is a cost that increases with the quantity (materials, one fare)
fixed cost: this is a cost that remains the same and does not depend on quantity (also called sunk cost) an example is capital investments (the factory, the transit pass)

People will use transit more often if they have a monthly pass because there is no cost increase associated with taking one more trip if a person has a monthly pass.
note: this is great for the transit system because most "extra trips" are made during low demand times, utilizing unused capacity that has to be around anyway (a sunk/fixed cost). The benefit of this is that one less car is on the road.

But, people won't take that extra trip if they are using buss passes because it will increase the cost (marginal cost) of transit, so they will drive or get a ride, maybe driving beside the buss looking at their extra seat.

Now multiply that by the number of people that use single fares instead of a monthly pass and then think about the extra road maintenance and traffic. It just is not an efficient way of transporting people.

That is why I am arguing for a greater spread between the cost of using a monthly pass and single fares.

Friday, April 27, 2007

trying to articulate what I want to do when I grow up

I am interested in communities and how communities define their needs and how to equally value the opinions and perspectives of those that are lowers in the community. Also, how to create valuable opportunities and policies that will increase access to those communities so they are able to sustainably reach their needs; avoiding situations of dependency and the uppers of a community stockpiling resources to the detriment of the lowers. I want to implement sustainable livelihoods program:

Financial – income, access to credit

Social – support networks, political participation

Human – skills, labour, health

Physical – shelter, basic consumer needs, tools

Natural – land, water, livestock

Personal – self-esteem, spirituality

Everyone has all of these needs to have a sustainable livelihood (maybe an area of personal research? – is this true?). A community is made up of interacting individuals and to make reach development the power relations (interpersonal, political, judicial, corruption etc.) must be addressed to ensure (ensure what?)

Are the resources out there, they just have to be used better? and using par I am able to listen to where those needs are and using the help of the community, direct the flow of resources accordingly? Is the problem corruption, lack of resources, mismanagement? Why are these people not getting their resources?

Fort McKay got them because they had oil that needed to be extracted for Western society. My role with the Lubicon is to increase the legitimacy, urgency and power of their claims. In that situation I can see how having a resource management background could increase legitimacy.

But maybe in a different context a development background would be better. Especially if the problem is social – ie. I am a development professional and I say that it is because of high level government corruption that these people are not getting X very well defined resources (using sustainable livelihoods or another Participatory Action Research model).

What is the focus? Needs assessment using Participatory Action Research methods, and this will create a research project for me, and meet the needs of the community. ie. if the resources aren’t available because of high level corruption, then I can study the impact of corruption on local communities. Maybe even find other communities that have the same problems and have a rather large study of the impacts of the Swiss bank account of one official.

Shining a bright light on a dark place.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Liberation Theology

This is the third post I have started. The first one turned into a rant about my job, Kafka, and being a cog in a complex system I serve. The second one just got too big. So this one I am just going to write one quote that sums it up.

“Where oppression and the liberation of man seem to make God irrelevant – a God filtered by our longtime indifference to these problems – there must blossom faith and hope in Him who comes to root out injustice and to offer, in an unforeseen way, total liberation.”

Solidarity with the poor means asking new questions and finding new answers (theology). This experience of solidarity results from an encounter with God and with the reality of poverty.

The result is an understanding of God's preference for the poor, and intrinsic opposition to injustice and death.

Poverty means death because of hunger and sickness and often state repression. To extend the kingdom of God is to be in solidarity with the poor.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Liberation Theology; PAR and empowerment

I recently read Gustavo Gutierrez's "We Drink from Our Own Wells". It is an introductory book to liberation theology.

The crux of this theology really rests on highly developed concepts of life and death.

Think of all the things that make you feel alive, and lead to life.
Then think of all the things that make you feel/lead to death.

Christ came to set us free and offer us life. Things that draw us into self-destruction and institutions that do not promote life are sinful and against the kingdom of God.

I feel alive in conversation with a friend, when I wake up and go outside on a misty morning and enjoy the quite before the day. Moments that slow me down and make me appreciate life and feel a sense of awe.

I feel dead after watching TV for multiple hours and wasting time; "escaping". After stressing about the work I have to do, and trying to figure out ways to get ahead in life. In spending hours of my time desiring a product. I look back on these experiences with a sense of weariness.

Right now my job is making me feel dead. My job is for a downtown shelter, but I am not given an opportunity to get to know people. I start work when they are relaxing and going to bed and end work when they wake up. My job is to enforce the rules. Make sure everyone is in on time, they do their chores, they get up on time, etc.

Yesterday I was reading a short description of The Trial by Kafka. The story is about a man who is informed that he is being arrested. He is never actually arrested, and people keep coming up to him and telling him that his case is going badly. No one actually knows anything about the case or about how he can influence it at all. They just know that this is what they had to tell him. (They got an email telling them that this was their job for the day). He eventually ends up at a church under the pretext of showing a client around and there the chapalain tells him that he lost his case and when he leaves he will be executed. During this conversation he tells him the story of a man from a village that came up to the castle of law but the gate keeper wouldn't let him through. So this man disempowers himself and waits for permission. He waits so long that he eventually dies. As he is dying he sees the door close and asks the guard why and the guard replies that this door was only for him to enter and now that he is dying it can be closed. The guard also says that it is probably good that he never tried to get past the guard because there are further guards that even this guard is scared of.

I feel like I am a guard whose job it is to make people obey the system that has been established, no matter how arcane it is for the individual circumstance. As a guard people are allowed to go above my head and challenge my boss, but it is also my job (so I can save face and seem productive) to prevent them, unless it is something very serious. When it comes down to it, my job is to disempower people and empower the complex system. The idea is that once the people get through the system they will be off the street. It works for a few, but I just feel like it is making it way harder than it has to be.

This is where Participatory Action Research (PAR) comes in. Liberation theology is a root of PAR. The idea is that people know their own reality and are able to come up with causes of why they are struggling with the problems they are much better than proffessionals. The idea is to put the first last and the last first. It values service instead of leadership, collaboration instead of top-down answers. Empowering people to use systems instead of empowering systems by subordinating people to rules (systems, institutions).

I want to learn how to bring people life, not the feeling of disempowerment and insignificance that massive complex systems are prone to bring.

Friday, March 16, 2007

A rant on Development Studies; community formation and the internet

One of the leaders of the development studies club ( sent out an email about indifference and how people should get involved in issues. The personal and ranting tone his email adopted inspired me to respond: (note: dest = development studies)

Hey Mike,

I appreciated your email.

It's about indifference and laziness. We (in dest) all get that the issues are important, and have indicated so with our professional lives. Which I guess is huge. But I think that Dest isn't a career it is a paradigm. EWB is a great example. These are people with a different education, but do development.

I guess the point is that from a dest student's perspective, getting involved in grassroots issues is - at the most superficial level - career development. And at the deepest level, finding an identity.

I am in my 5th year and what I am finding as I am faced with venturing out into the world and leaving the cacoon of university is exactly what you are talking about. I am finding it necessary to get involved in issues because I need to figure out my identity and what I want to fight for. I am doing this by volunteering with different campaigns, and doing the things you identified as being so important.

So...what came to mind for me when I read your letter is that it would be great to have a website that can allow discussion between dest students and the uofc crowd (ie.linked to the dest club) focused on issues. One thing that I think is tough to overcome in our program is the generational gap between years. Maybe a central forum for discussion would help overcome this. (or at least be part of the package of the dest community)

side note: I think a discussion forum/blog/website is a good idea because dest students have a lot of issues to work out.

I guess the internet could be a way of exposing the underside of the dest club and make it easier to be involved. Not everyone knows/feels comfortable coming out to events and maybe if there was a way to make it easier to take the first step more people would get involved. (it is a theory - but ??).

Dest community is what I expected and was looking for, but didn't find until my fourth year.

An office/lounge would be awsome where people could go and discuss issues and connect with people that are in the same program.

I guess I am talking about points of entry into the club now. Currently, entry points into the dest community are: classes, dest events/planning and attending. I guess it would be great if there were more.

What you gues have done is great. It is already a much different dest student community than in my 1st year.


Maybe if there was a link from the dest website to a blog on dest issues and as it grew from a general topic it could split off into specifics, and kind of have a natural life of its own, reflecting the thinking of the community.

I guess we all struggle with the same question: What the hell do I do? Where do I fit in it all? Those can be pretty paralyzing questions if they are held on to alone, but they can be empowering if they are asked in the context of a community and answers can be found - however temporary - leading to action instead of the dest depression.

I think I have said this before, but I think getting involved is better for ending up with an issue/job than a dest degree.

Thanks for listening to my rant.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Career Councillors and aptitude tests are evil

I had a friend share a thought that was profound. It was that before we go and change something, we have to wait.

At the time this didn't really make sense to me. I guess I think there are a lot of people that are just not doing anything to figure out who they are. Which I think is also a valid point, but not the idea that is contained in the concept of waiting.

Waiting doesn't mean stop trying to figure out what your doing, it means stop doing and start thinking.

The times in my life that I have really figured out what I want to do, and there have been two of them, have come during times in my life where I don't have a plan. There is no way forward. The first time was when I got back from overseas and needed to figure out what I wanted to do because I had nothing to do. The second was within the last month and I am finishing university and need to find something to do.

Both of these decisions have been deep, gut decisions. Actually, the word finding is more acurate than decision in describing the experience. Further, they have been when I am not on a track or as I like to call it, in an institution.

What I mean by institution is the Orwellien idea of taking an aptitude test in junior high and having that tell you what you will do with the rest of your life, then go to school for that thing and when school is done, have a job, paycheck, house, car, etc. waiting for you. Essentially, having all of your life planned out and not having to struggle with identity.

But that struggle is what makes us who we are. It is a journey of self creation. We have the freedom to creat something devine or evil. But that is another discussion (existentialism/creation theology).

The point is that waiting is an important part of the journey of creating/figuring out who we are. And it is off the institutional track.

So career councillors and aptitude tests are evil because they tell us who we are (external authority) and allow people to avoid the proccess of self creation.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Indigenous Knowledge and Liberation Theology

Think of an aboriginal man out in the bush, tracking a deer or taking part in a ceremonial dance. Or if those images are too romanticized then taking a walk with his family. That wasn't the aboriginal man I met this evening. He was exhausted, a little drunk and was confined to a wheel chair. I assume he lost his foot to either the cold or disease.

This made me sad and it made me think of a quote from a book I am reading about liberation theology "We Drink from Our Own Wells" by Gustavo Gutierrez talking about what poverty really means: "It means physical death to which is added cultural death, inasmuch as those in power seek to do away with everything that gives unity and strenght to the dispossesed of this world. In this way those in power hope to make the dispossessed an easier prey for the machinery of oppression."

In an interview with Phil Fontaine he told a story of Canadian Aboriginal Youth. You can't get a job, any experience with the economic and social systems of Canada have been frustrating and simply unproductive. What is left? What's the point? Some reserves have resisted the "cultural death" perpetrated against them, and have found social success, but there are 150 reserves without potable water, there are 600 outstanding land claims which will take an average of about 20-30 years to settle. If they get through the federal and provincial departments that settle an average of 4-7 land claims per year.

Land claims aren't about a cash grab, they are about municipal power. So the reserve can decide where they can put a speed bump to protect their children.

Unemployment and alcoholism aren't characteristics of the native population. They are characteristics of marginalization and oppression. It is the only response to a system that keeps you from attaining any goals and eventually kills any dreams and aspirations. These social problems are found throughout the world, in the land mine survivors of Georgia and Azerbijan (sp?). The unemployed rural men of Ghana.

Oppression kills the spirit. then the oppressors can have moral superiority and say if they only got their act together and got a job then they could do something with their lives instead of wasting away. But the oppressors won't give them a job. And both groups fathers were in the same position.

You are in an alien land when you face "unending criticism, false accusations, insults, arbitrary arrests, plundering, pressure, threats, lack of control and certainty about the future, problems in making oneself understood"

Christ welcomes us home from an alien land, he stand for life and justice and against death. Take that message to a Canadian church! (not just the part about justice either, but the whole thing, because the message of Christ is incomplete if you ignore the people it was spoken for). And its ok if the name Creator is substituted for the name of Christ. Its not syncratism, it is contextualizing.

The point is that people deserve to have hope, and the name of Christ should represent bringing justice to unjust structures and institutions. Not the opposite.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Jane Jacobs - Dark Age Ahead

A dark age happens when the institutions of a culture are not able to keep pace with social change and no longer serve the people they are meant to support. This usually happens because of two reasons, a more powerful culture overtakes the smaller culture (ie. North American Aboriginal populations). The other reason is that the institutions become inflexible and the mechanisms of feedback break. It is not long before the static institutions become irrelevant.

Jacobs then identifies five things that are signally the beginning of cultural decline in North America.

1. Families: The basic unit of social organization is the nuclear family, whether there is one parent or two, an uncle that lives with the family or some other variation the basic structure is generally the same. Families live out their lives in households. These household require knowledge to repair various structures and appliances, maintenance, dealing with various bureaucracies, a landlord or the bank, cleaning, cooking, clothing, and all of the other skills associated with survival in North American culture. All of these skills among others have to be transmitted to children. This daunting task is best fulfilled by a community with diverse individuals with a diverse knowledge and experience base. In a healthy community the children are offered opportunities for social exploration, the parents are able to have adult relationships which prevent their isolation and the associated emotional problems and insecurities that develop which the children must subsequently deal with.

Suburban North America has established an environment that hinders community. Instead of walking in the community and chatting with neighbours people are constantly in their vehicles, and when there is free time it is very easily spent in front of the television.

2. Credentialing v. Educating: A University degree is not an education but a credential that opens the doors to opportunity. Human resource departments are looking for people that are persistent, ambitious, and can cooperate in teams. A university degree is a good indicator of these qualities so having a degree is the requirement to be considered for a good job. In fact, a high-school graduate will earn $1.2 million working full-time from the age of 25 to 65, an undergraduate will earn $2.5 million, and a professional degree (Doctor, Lawyer, etc.) will earn $4.4 million. Education is no longer an investment made in the future generation, but an investment made by young adults in their future.

The change came in the 1960s when students started to protest the lack of exposure to their teachers. The impersonal lecture hall distanced busy professors who had to mark hundreds of exams from their students. The comments and dialogue ended. Answers were either right or wrong, there was no time for dialogue and opportunities to stretch students minds. I have personally experienced this and figured out the system resulting in a .5 gpa jump. The first two years I wrote what I thought. The reply was a grade and no explanation of why my thinking was worth a B instead of an A. I was supposed to figure out why I was wrong with no direction. I discovered that the answer was to keep my thoughts to myself and regurgitate my notes, even if I didn’t understand them. There was no room for trying to figure out the difference between what I thought and what the professor thought. I am not saying that I want to be conformed to the thinking of my professors. But I do appreciate the fact that they have a lot more experience thinking about the issues they are teaching. I would like to benefit from that experience and struggle through the knowledge they are presenting. The problem is that they present it and expect the students to know the knowledge instead of struggle through to an understanding of the knowledge.

General Studies 500 was a class that educated me. There was the opportunity for dialogue and discussion on the topics. We were able to start from where ever we were intellectually and get into the subjects we were studying and get something out of it. It could have been better with a smaller class and more time (it was 35 students and 3 hours a week for 8 months, plus about 6 hours a week of work and discussion). That class resulted in this blog; the purpose of which is to help me reflect and absorb what I am learning. In short it has helped me to learn how I learn, and it extends beyond the class.

3. Science Abandoned: Jacobs identifies traffic engineering as a fake science. There are dominant paradigms in the field that have been shown to directly contradict empirical evidence. These contradictions raise questions which would result in fruitful research, but the discipline instead ignores these questions and maintains the status quo.

The empirical evidence is drawn from Jacob’s own experience. While living in Toronto there was a busy road that commuters would avoid by going a block to the east, which was formerly a quite street and made the street quite busy. The proposal was to make it a one-way street going the direction in which commuters would have to make a left turn across a busy street to get to the lane. The traffic engineer argued that this would make other streets busy because traffic is like water, if it is blocked in one direction it will flow where the least resistance was. The one-way street change was made against professional advice, but the result was that the commuters stayed on the main street and did not inundate other quite streets with noisy traffic.

Another story about the loss of scientific inquiry was the Chicago heat wave. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) sent 80 researchers and found what everyone knew. All the people that died did so because they didn’t have enough water and air conditioning and did not seek help. This study did not reveal anything that people did not already know. One sociology graduate student didn’t accept this as an answer however. He compared districts to each other and found that there were significant differences between the death rates between districts. In one district the death rate was 40 per 100,000. This district was sparsely populated and the elderly did not trust strangers who came to check on them and did not feel safe leaving their homes. As a result these people turned away help and did not leave to spend time in air conditioned stores. Quite simply, these people acted as they always did. This community was contrasted with a community in the south of Chicago which had a death rate of 4 per 100,000. This community was more densely populated and people knew their neighbours and the storekeepers. When people would offer help it was accepted. Seniors felt comfortable leaving their homes and loitering in air-conditioned stores where they knew the owners and had access to water. Like the people in the other community, these people did what they normally do. The difference was that the community was able to provide support to each other and had a much easier time of adapting to the changing environment.

4. Dumbed down taxes: This section focuses on two ideas; accountability and proximity. Citizens need to be able to see where their taxes are going, and tax dollars have to be spent meeting local needs across the nation.

National or even provincial strategies are just too broad to meet specific needs. The example Jacobs provides is that Toronto tourism was declining so the hotels in Toronto proposed a small tax on hotel rooms for the city to spend on tourism promotion. The province wouldn’t let the city set up the taxation scheme because it wasn’t their constitutional jurisdiction. The province could set up the scheme but it would have to apply it province wide. This strategy did not enjoy support in Windsor which is right across the border from Chicago and enjoyed high amounts of tourism. The result was that the strategy that would have been appropriate if applied locally was scrapped. The problem is that the need to universalize answers to local problems kills innovation. If a society can’t innovate then it is on the slope to stagnation.

This problem has a constitutional basis. When the BNA act was established in 1867 the only cities were Quebec City and Montreal, French cities, the rest were just trading and military forts. The constitution does not consider the need of cities to have powers to come up with strategies to meet their needs.

Accountability would help in understanding the problem further, but it is just not available. The mayor of Winnipeg estimated that the residents of the city paid $7 billion to the federal government and the city received about 6% of that sum back. Toronto paid $20 billion and received a similar percentage. These huge amounts of money were paid while schools were being closed, roads couldn’t be repaired, affordable housing programs were cut, transit lines didn’t have the operating budget to run some lines that had been dictated by the federal government, etc. No one knows where the money is going.

Jacobs isn’t arguing that all of the money should be returned, some of it comes from corporations that are headquartered in Toronto but create their income from the extraction of natural resources in more rural parts of Canada. Also, there are municipalities that don’t have the economic activity to make it financially so the economic capital of Canada should contribute to their continuation out of a sense of fraternity and national unity.

5. Self-Policing Subverted: Professional associations inspire awe and respect for a particular profession. Doctors, lawyers, engineers, nurses, architects, and accountants are just some of those professions. They are institutions of western culture. They police themselves, the argument being that the moral authority to make judgements on the actions of a member requires knowledge to understand the context in which the action was undertaken. Only members can judge other members because the public just doesn’t understand, for example, if a building collapses was it just a mistake or was there negligence in the design? Only another engineer can answer this question. The problem with this system occurs when self-policing breaks down as members cover for each other out of loyalty.

The honest reporting of financial performance is so crucial to investment in the market economy that firms must have external verification of the truth of their reporting. The profession of public accountancy was established around this fact. In the 1980s corporations began merging like there was no tomorrow. The result was that the number of firms that needed to be audited drastically decreased and so auditors were put out of work. At the same time all of the mergers were costly and caused cash flow problems for corporations so they pressured and paid their auditors to write letters to banks saying they were in a strong enough financial position to guarantee loans. They paid their auditors up to half a million dollars for one of these letters. Several of these companies went insolvent. But the problem was far from over. Enron and Arthur Anderson were the culmination of this phenomenon. The auditors had to fight the mergers of corporations so they merged themselves into five large auditor firms (one of which is Arthur Anderson). Enron was over reporting their income and under reporting their expenses and losses. This artificially kept the stock price high so the CEOs could cash in on their stock options, making millions. Then the truth came out and they pulled the CIA trick of deniability. If the boss isn’t told about the scheme on paper or in conversations anyone heard then he can deny that anything ever happened and get away with it. Nixon tried it during Watergate.

While the CEO made millions middle management and many other people saving for retirement invested in a good stock. When the stock sunk through the floor a lot of people lost a lot of money. Money they had invested because they trusted the audited financial performance of the firm.

The troubles in the accounting profession don’t stop at the outright liars. The question of what constitutes capital is another technical question that can have ethical implications because it can influence the financial performance of a firm and thus the investing practices of people saving for their children’s educations (or credentials =) or retirement. Capital is a resource that can be used to produce a profit, so what about an idea? It can produce profit. Jacobs suggests an answer to this question, capital assets are those that can be resold. This idea stems from the idea that you can borrow money against an asset and if you default on the loan the bank will seize the asset and sell it to recover the amount outstanding on the loan. This is an innovative idea for the profession and systems and institutions need to be free to implement innovations and ideas that address the current problems that are making the current systems ineffectual.

This gets back to the point about remaining open to change and feedback to create relevant institutions and systems that support our culture and help North America solve the problems it faces.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Short inarticulate treatise on Post-Modern Christianity

the evangelical “say the prayer and your in” kind of faith just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Ie. You will know they are Christians by their love. I don’t really see it. Christians are more about being “holy” (read guilty and judgemental of others) than loving.

Cartesian certainty is dead. Post-modernism is the process of realizing that the “correct answer that is objective and applicable to all time” was a lie. Answers that are for all time are from the fifties.

Post-modern deconstruction isn’t the end, it is a means.

So far, what I have come up with is that the new answers will be drawn from diverse sources (not just western, usually rich white men). They are contextually based. Living, complex and dynamic. And they make sense (rational and empirical).