Is This Progress? This Is Progress.

What Is Kaputall?

Oxford defines Kaput as "broken and useless; no longer working or effective" - similar to our unbalanced economic system. This is a page dedicated to the intersection of capitalism and social, political, and environmental problems.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Draw Muhammed Day

20 May was the second annual "International Draw Muhammed Day". On this day people across the world hide behind the cloak of free speech to attack Islam. I have included the link here, but I would caution against following this unless you are certain not to be offended by images of Muhammed.

Just to set the scene, I think a lot of people misunderstand what exactly the rub is for Muslims about drawing Muhammed. It's not so much about respecting the guy in some odd way as it is potentially undermining a central tenet, or mystery if you will, of their religion. As much as Christians might say "Jesus lives in all of us", the point of the faceless Muhammed is to lead Muslims to the understanding that all of us are Muhammed. You don't draw Muhammed because Muhammed is everyone - his identity as a historical figure transformed into a spiritual concept, in a similar fashion as Jesus (though with obviously different methodology and dogma). So while they may certainly be irked that people are disrespecting their beliefs and tradition, the main issue for them is the concern for their religion itself being undermined should the practice become widespread. At the same time coming out and saying that would be undermining one of the mysteries of their faith, so they're rather stuck seeming even more irrational than usual about the matter. You can find out more about Islam at the following link - just keep an open mind: http://learnaboutislam.org/


Broadly, the images attack a variety of conservative and radical elements of Islam, notably the oppression of women and the rise of fundamentalist terrorism. While it would be legitimate to point out the existence of these phenomena, to paint all of Islam in a negative light is really unfair and unjust. To take the two aforementioned examples (sexism and fundamentalism), it is clear that the Muslim world isn't the only place where these are happening. However, our Western ethnocentrism makes it incredibly easy to "other" Muslims as attribute these terrible things as part of Islam.

What needs to stop, in my opinion, is the polarisation between the West as tolerant and rational and the Islamic world as suspect, backward, and prone to fundamentalism. I think it is perfectly acceptable for Muslims to rebuke their own religion, but for non-Muslims to do it is another story - it is judgmental and dismissive. In the event that a non-Muslim is going to make critical commentary on the religion, I would expect it to be respectful and productive, not inciting hatred and provoking a violent or aggravated response.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

My Explore

In 2008 I participated in a nationwide exchange called My Explore. For six weeks I lived in Saguenay, Qu├ębec with a host family attending an immersion programme at the local university. Looking back on this adventure, I've always characterised it as out of the ordinary. However, lately I've come to rethink my ideas of exploration and adventure because its literally right in front of us on a daily basis.

Since relocating last summer, I've been incredibly lucky to call a city like Ottawa home - with hundreds of kilometres of dedicated bike paths, a phenomenal system of public transportation, and a plethora of waterways, forests, and parks. In the nine months I've lived here, I feel like I have a solid understanding of my surroundings, but I haven't stopped learning and exploring - nor will I because there is so much to see and experience.

It's unfortunate, in my opinion, that there is such alienation in our society. Notions of community have been on decline for the past century in North America, eroding our vital social networks. Although we, as a society, have been forced into these conditions, it is important to fight back where we can. Get to know where you live and the people that share your environment. You will be surprised at how little you probably know about the world around you. There is a spinoff benefit to this - strong connections to community make you happier and healthier and also give you a support network so that you can make where you live a better place.

And that brings me to a point I've been pondering the past few days. I know that many people my age feel compelled to go abroad in order to find themselves or in order to gain a wealth of new experience. I am sceptical. Never in history has so much technology allowed us such limitless opportunity to understand our world. Simultaneously, however, we have never been so disconnected physically from our natural and social surroundings. Although I totally approve of going abroad for the right reasons - to volunteer or to have a truly culturally unique experience, I have to say that there are many needy causes here and all the "new" that you want to see is around us. We have such rich diversity - whether of culture or religion, or of experience or perception. It's a real shame that we throw up walls instead of forming meaningful relationships with others.

In getting back to the point, I would like to issue a small challenge to those of you who may stumble across this. Take an adventure this week - alone and without a book or an iPod.

Step one: Use a bike or public transit (which are both less expensive and more fun as getting there is an activity in itself) and go somewhere nearby - it could be a place you know well or someplace undiscovered.

Step two: Try to engage someone in a conversation - perhaps someone you wouldn't ordinarily talk to, but only if you feel comfortable (safety is key).

If you find this rewarding and enriching, just keep doing it again and with your friends. There really are exciting, affordable, and sustainable means for leisure out there. You just have to try. Hope you enjoy Your Explore. For more information, check out Jane’s Walk - for walkable neighbourhoods, urban literacy, cities planned for and by people.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Young Capitalists

I remember that when I was young it was always a special day when I got to stay home from school. Whatever the reason, one thing was always for certain. I would get to watch the Price is Right.

Recently, I began to watch this show again. My interest in it now is quite different. Where I used to marvel at the prizes, now I am enthralled by the very idea of this game. The issue that I take with the Price is Right is that it builds young capitalists - and in a unique way that is not really matched elsewhere.

So let's start off with the basics. The Price is Right is about winning prizes. Right? Well, although that is true, it is centred (as the title suggests) on knowing the price for a wide variety of goods and services. Accordingly, this show helps to shape, even from a young age, notions of value. Rather than teaching people that value is a social construct, the Price is Right reinforces the "absolute" nature of value. This differentiation is quite important - it promotes the supremacy of the capitalist system by affixing concrete monetary value to all things.

Obviously, the Price is Right isn't the only place that reinforces notions of value, status symbols, or a wide array of other facets of our advanced individualist and capitalist system. Young people are indoctrinated into our system with allowances from parents, with various programmes in school, with television advertisements, and through conversations with peers. However, none of these other media have the same impact as the Price is Right. Although contestants and the audience are always trying to estimate the price (which is the goal is every single challenge), there are millions of people who are playing alone at home, yelling at their televisions. And again, youth make up a good component of this group.

The most unfortunate part of this socialisation is that it is so subtle. Since the Price is Right is a game show, the focus is on "entertainment", and serious questions surrounding indoctrination of young people will be invariably met with dismissal. The show and the network have been making a mint on the idea for decades, and the companies who showcase their products have a vested interest in disguising their marketing as "entertainment".

With all of this said, I still find the show interesting. And often I find myself enraptured by the game - all the while forgetting that I am being told how to fit into our economic system. And that is how powerful the Price is Right is when it comes to socialising us about value and the American dream.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Debriefing the Election

I've been struggling the past few days with the results of the election. I felt overwhelmed on election night, but this feeling has subsided to a certain degree.

In talking to friends, I've discovered that everyone seems to be dissatisfied with the result. But this is most likely because people in my demographic - young Canadians - denounce the Conservatives. Unfortunately, many youth are apathetic or mislead into thinking that their voices aren't important. Even though all of my friends voted (in two ridings that were extremely close last year), we failed to achieve positive change. After an involved discussion last night over beer, it became obvious why this is occurring. Although none of my friends in Kitchener-Waterloo voted Conservative, our votes were split quite evenly amongst the Liberals, the NDP, and the Green Party, and this is roughly what happened in the ridings of Kitchener Centre and Kitchener Waterloo.

Not surprisingly, with less than 40 per cent of the popular vote, Harper managed to gain his coveted majority, winning almost 60 per cent of the seats in Parliament. In my opinion, this isn't democracy. This is a system that distorts the will of the electorate in order to produce a "stable" majority.

Perhaps this is a good place to start if we want to talk about electoral reform. The whole notion of stability in our government is predicated on the "reality" of minority governments as volatile. Canadians have been socialised to believe that minority governments interfere with the nation's ability to grow and move forward. This is simply untrue - minority governments are the best environments for cooperation. While it is certainly true that our system is adversarial and partisan, consecutive minority governments could go a long way to showing the merits of cooperation in Ottawa.

And, as a matter of fact, this has happened elsewhere. Countries such as India, Peru, Sweden, Russia, and Germany have proportional representation. In systems such as these, parties that win 10 per cent of the vote are given 10 per cent of seats. If this system were adopted in Canada, the Green Party would have won not one, but twelve seats. Beyond being more fair, a system such as this would also encourage higher participation, which means more democracy. But perhaps the greatest benefit would be the acknowledgment that majority governments are a thing of the past - and that cooperation amongst parties in the legislature is the only way to make change happen.

Although proportional representation is a great idea, it's important to consider that they are many other great ideas. Tomorrow, 5 May, the United Kingdom is going to hold a referendum on their electoral system, hopefully transitioning from first-past-the-post to something called alternative voting. In this system, you will rank your choices, so that voting strategically and voting for who you want can still happen. For more information, click here.

Thankfully, there are many Canadian organisations that are working hard toward making these changes a reality. A great example is Fair Vote Canada, whom I'd recommend you check out. Ultimately, we need more people to be engaged if we want a great political system and a great country. So spread the word! Don't let the Conservatives tell you that you don't have alternatives, whether in terms of parties or in terms of systems. Let's get out there and make ourselves heard. Even though another federal election is four years away, there are still plenty of ways to get involved.