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.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Jian Ghomeshi, Privilege, and Consent

Let me be the first to say that I loved Jian Ghomeshi from the first listen. His stature to me only grew over the next decade, including meeting him twice in 2007. I was surprised on Monday when my friend Jenn texted me that there was news about him. When I saw he was fired from the CBC it took mere moments to find a wide range of information about his 'departure'.

In this post I aim to write about the public reaction to Jian's firing. The details of the sexual assault allegations are appalling and, as much as they are deeply troubling and central to this case, these issues need to be sorted out in a legal environment.

I'd also like to point out that I think it'd be helpful if more people would at least try to separate his professional work from his personal life. Much of the reaction that has come to Jian's side has used his body of work to build him up as an upstanding man. This of course was aided by the fact that Jian decided quite quickly to make his own emotionally-charged public statement in which he definitely attempted to paint himself as both a victim and as someone who has worked hard to gain the respect of Canadians.

Jian's PR move (let's recognise it for what it is) has been pulled from the book of privileged men attempting to deflect allegations of sexual assault. Males already have a significant amount of privilege in modern western societies (despite what many of them will have you think). In particular, when it comes to sexual misconduct we are programmed to have sympathy for the male who is falsely accused by a "jilted" former partner. This is amplified significantly when you add other layers of privilege, like class, social status, or education. Jian is about as close as a media personality in Canada is ever going to come to being a rock star. He is known both nationally and around the world as a arts and culture superstar.

The other salient element is consent. Jian went out of his way to mention numerous times in his statement that he engaged in sexual practices that were consensual, as well as "exciting" for everyone involved. Consent is already an isuse that our society has enough trouble understanding. Consent cannot be given under duress, in an intoxicated state, or when someone is in a position of privilege. All the people that came forward most certainly did not give their consent. And those are just the ones who came forward.

In line with misunderstandings about consent and public apologia for men of privilege, it's no surprise that women don't line up to publicly or privately come forward with allegations of sexual assault. One of the most powerful hashtags I've seen this year is #whyistayed. Victims of sexual violence and intimidation have numerous reasons to not come forward and they should be respected for their courage in stepping up. They have so much to lose and often so little to gain.

This is a time for a national discussion about consent as much as it is a time for hopefulness. Many Canadians have shown that they will not be intimidated by Jian's immense stature. Many others have shown immense support. I've read so many fantastic articles that empower the victims in this case. Hopefully that will convince others to come forward, leave unhealthy relationships, or talk to others about issues like consent.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Municipal Elections

Today I ran a mock election thanks to CIVIX, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes civic engagement for youth. It was exciting to allow my students to cast real ballots the same day as municipal elections taking place around the country. Despite the fact that I would argue that the activity was a success, it also reminded me of larger social attitudes toward politics, in particular at the local level.

To start with, in Canadian federalism there are multiple levels of government. Traditionally there are three components: the federal government, the provincial governments, and local governments. At the local level, however, there are city and regional governments.

The setup leads to a significant amount of confusion. Local politics are probably the most difficult to understand, the least covered by media, and the least discussed in daily life. It's ultimately rather unfortunate since municipal government is what impacts us most, from public transit to social services to parks to water. Ballots in municipal elections require voters to make multiple selections, unlike in provincial or federal ones. Moreover, there are no party affiliations. This makes it much more difficult to feel connected if you are only keeping up sporadically.

The setup also leads to a sense of implicit hierarchy. It's easy to get the impression that the federal government is at the top of a pyramid with other levels subjected to it. The Canadian constitution stipulates what powers belong to which level of government. In the one hundred and fifty years since negotiation between the federal and provincial governments have led to the arrangements that are in place at present. Municipal governments have traditionally taken on responsibility for services that neither other level can effectively provide. In addition, in the past decade or so governments across the country have been downloading responsibilites to local government.

It certainly doesn't help that local politics aren't particularly exciting. The lack of parties, media attention, or controversial issues means that it's often more difficult to get engaged. There are, of course, notable exceptions. The eyes of the country are on Toronto today. Much in the same way that most Canadians in 2008 reported that they'd give away their vote in Canada to vote in the United States, I would not be surprised if most Canadians would trade their local vote for a vote in Toronto.

When it really comes down to it, it's definitely more difficult to get involved, but isn't your community worth having a say in? Get out and vote in today's municipal elections. They impacts you more than you think.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

A National Tragedy

Yesterday much of downtown Ottawa was shut down by a violent attack. It's the second violent incident this week. I know many people who work near parliament hill and my thoughts were with them yesterday. My deepest sympathies go out to the families of the deceased as well as everyone else injured during the incidents. For the purpose of this post, I will be writing about the attack in Ottawa yesterday, though I recognise that the events of Monday are more than merely peripheral.

The alleged killer was born Michael Joseph Hall, but later changed his name to Michael Zehaf-Bibeau. He grew up in a relatively affluent family in Laval, Québec. A white Canadian who happens to be a Muslim convert, much attention has been placed on is religion as a factor leading to the violence. He attended private school and afterward had a spotty criminal record. Beyond these glimpses into his personal life, there have been numerous unconfirmed reports that he was suffering lately from serious mental health problems.

Given that we don't have a clear picture of the alleged attacker, it's best not to put too much into it. Instead, I think it's a good idea to talk about whether or not what happened yesterday was in fact terrorism. Depsite the fact that it is logical to define the parameters of a loaded term like this before proceeding, I've noticed that terrorism often seems to merit no introduction. The notion of terrorism, or perhaps more specifically terrorists, conjures up myriad images, many of which are deeply entrenched in our mass conceptualisations of violent, radical Islam. If you're unsure, just perform a google image search. Terrorism, which by the way refers to acts that are motivated by ideology to produce mass fear, are committed overwhelmingly in the United States by non-Muslims, according to the FBI. I can't say with any certainly if he was a terrorist, but I do believe that the purpose of the attack was to create fear. Hopefully there will be a lot of discussion about this and that you will participate.

On a related note, I found the media coverage of the event to be quite fascinating. Whereas American television and online media were promoting fear and panic, Canadian outlets were more subdued. Terrorism was a word thrown around rather liberally on CNN and Fox while I noticed that the CBC made a conscientious effort to use words like tragedy and ongoing events in place. Moreover, I found Canadian media analysis to be more thoughtful. In listening to live radio coverage, and later watching The National, I noted that reporters and moderators were prone to avoid making assumptions or jumping to sensational conclusions. The same, sadly, was not true of American media.

Try as I might to be content with our rather careful reporting, our prime minister and the conservatives have continued to advance the hardline response to terrorism. The morning Harper was quoted saying:

But let there be no misunderstanding. We will not be intimidated. Canada will never be intimidated. In fact, this will lead us to strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts and those of our national security agencies to take all necessary steps to identify and counter threats and keep Canada safe here at home, just as it will lead us to strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts to work with our allies around the world and fight against the terrorist organizations who brutalize those in other countries with the hope of bringing their savagery to our shores. They will have no safe haven.

Much of the wording here is frightening, if not offensive and incendiary. I agree that Canada shouldn't be intimidated, by why should we turn our grief into revenge? Attaching the acts of an individual to other unmentioned terrorists is a leap. Not to mention that words like brutalise and savagery are mired in colonial and racist overtones.

I think it's definitely helpful to remember that Canada has been at war (and an unpopular one) for the better part of the last fifteen years. Intervention in the Middle East as well as strengthening of a zionist policy often breeds malcontent. So much like in the United States and other modern militarised democracies (or aspiring ones) Canada is left open to certain undesirable, though not unpredictable, effects. I don't mean to minimise what has happened or to take away from the grief of a nation, but remember that this absolutely did not occur in a vaccuum.

The most important question now is in regards to where we go from here. The threat of ISIS, radical Islam, and related violence is real. Seemingly we can prepare to further entrench ourselves in this costly conflict. I'd prefer that we think more carefully about how Canada can return to being a broker for peace in the world. Someone who garners respect from all sides for listening and lending a hand. Some may reduce this to a dream, but I say let's not forget Jack Layton's dying hope - that love is better than hate.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Pushing Limits: Exposure and Experience

This weekend my students and I went to London to participate in the filming of a documentary. A francophone historical group, l'Écho d'un peuple, is putting together a webseries that dramatises the four hundredth anniversary of French settlement in Ontario. Beyond getting to dress in period clothing and firing a musket, I felt a compelling connection to my French roots.

I've always identified with French culture and with the French language, even though I'm admittedly an anglophone whose spent most of his life in Ontario. As I've gotten older the interest has transformed into something more central to my identity. Moving to Québec to teach in English was an exciting part of my life and opened my eyes to my own history and identity, but if anything coming back to Ontario to teach in French has truly cemented my convictions about who I am. While I'll always be an anglophone, I'm really pleased to be so deeply immersed in the francophonie. Despite the fact that I've already written about my experience as a Franco-Ontarien, I feel compelled to remark again on the degree to which I feel completely welcomed within the community. I've never felt so at home among strangers. It's incredible.

Working toward a greater understanding of the francophone world is a passion of mine, and it grows with time. Part of what keeps me engaged in life is always wanting to keep learning, and that means exposing myself to new experiences. Being curious is a significant part of that.

This weekend I got to satisfy my curiosity alongside my students. We worked with Métis, Algonquins, Hurons, and Iroquois in addition to other Franco-Ontariens. I admittedly don't know much about aboriginal cultures, despite the fact that I have some native blood. Being exposed to cultural practices, as well as experiencing danse and music, was immersive and engaging. Learning about origin stories, conceptualisations of the relationship between humanity and the earth, and daily life was fascinating.

It was also pretty disappointing that in all my life up until now this information was somehow never passed along. I find this personally embarrassing since I studied history. Moreover, I've been in many social situations where I've had the chance to learn more but held back. Much in the same way that I've slowly come to fully embrace French culture, I'm excited to learn more about aboriginal culture so that I can come to appreciate it and hopefully help other people develop an interest as well.