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, 28 January 2016

Nationalism and Public Memory

A private member's bill has been introduced in the Canadian Parliament regarding the lyrics to the national anthem. A longtime co-op supporter and hero of mine, Ottawa-Vanier MP Mauril Bélanger, wants to change the words ''in all thy sons command'' to ''in all of us command''. Bélanger's initiative to make our national anthem gender neutral is well-intentioned. However, it should have us consider all the lyrics in general, if not the role that the national anthem should play in celebrating our country.

We are seldom are in contact with the national anthem, hearing it at the start of a hockey game, special event, or Canada day. As a teacher, however, I hear O Canada every single day at work. The English lyrics, which were added to Calixa Lavallée's instrumental music in 1906, invoke plenty of other references, if we were truly interested in changing the song, that are worth an edit. Among them are ''god'', ''patriot'', and ''native'' which surely are as gauche as the lyric in question.

Canadians should not be debating changing one element of their anthem without seriously considering the others. Moreover, it's helpful to examine what changing the lyrics mean in the first place. As an historian, it's likely unsurprising that I am not a fan of historical revisionism. We should always be conscientious of the meaning of history and we should not be keen to skip to change words in order to erase realities.

I would argue that would be a better strategy to engage in critically examining the lyrics, rather than changing them. This could happen at school, but it's naturally going to play out in the media cycles in the short term (for better or for worse) Perhaps we could even consider having two sets of lyrics. It may seem complicated, but this is in fact how history works.

Consider the case of Duncan Camphell Scott. It is unlikely you've ever heard of him, but he worked in what was then called the Department of Indian Affairs for 52 years and was instrumental in establishing the Indian Residential School System. He famously noted that we should kill the Indian in the child. It was not until 2014 that a plaque was erected near his grave which describes his ''notorious'' career in destroying the culture of millions of First Nations. His original grave was not touched.

That may make some people uncomfortable - the notion that we should leave his original memory intact. However, it's important to create new history rather than erasing the old one. The latter reminds me of the revolutionary zeal of 1789 or 1917. History should be studied, not retouched.

This bill is likely to pass now that the Liberals have a majority government. It may take some time to get sorted out, but in the interim, I'm thankful to sing the national anthem every morning in French.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Africa: Western Narratives

Yesterday there seemed to be no shortage of stories about the six Québec humanitarians who were killed in an attack in Burkina Faso. They were victims of an attack on Sunday where they died along with nearly thirty others. Listening to the reactions of residents of Beauport and Québec was difficult. The loss clearly shook so many people. However, the grief is situated, as it always seems to be, in a political context that fails to recognise why these acts are absolutely not ''senseless''.

Western narratives about Africa are intrinsically harmful. Not the least of which being that so few  understand the rich cultural, economic, and political diversity that exists across the continent. This is compounded by the ravages of colonialism between the 1870s and the 1970s and various forms of economic and cultural imperialism that have since taken the place of formal colonial structures.

Africa, in general, is presented as a monolithic place of poverty, corruption, and helplessness. In the rare moments when Africa is even considered in the west, these narratives play out incessantly. In the past year alone we've seen the ebola crisis, electoral corruption in Zimbabwe, the use of child labour in the DRC, and the rise of Islamic terrorism. All these various issues reinforce the image of Africa  as a place of problems, and one that is incapable of escaping this reality on its own.

It is, sadly, with this western narrative that so many Canadians go to Africa to help. It's well-intentioned and often makes a great impact. But what is routinely forgotten is that, in many ways, it is non-Africans who are deciding both how and when to address problems for locals. It is almost a boutique experience to go to Africa to make a very short-term impact. These expériences are in vogue. However, they are not necessarily replying to the actual need of locals who, largely, are absent from decision-making. It's the infantilisation of Africa.

Make no mistake, I do not condone this genre of terrorist attack against humanitarians, but I feel like there is no real desire to understand why this violence occurs - violence that is specifically targeted at westerners. It's easy to be outraged that people's lives are lost, but it is utterly infuriating to see such incomprehension when the answers are not hidden far from view. We merely have to draw back the curtain.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

The Future of the NDP

It has now been a few unconfortable months since the federal election. In the time since, Trudeau has failed to remain outside the limelight for longer than few days. Whether it was the Paris Peace Conference, the arrival of Syrian refugees, or questions about his shoot with Vogue. As many outlets have addressed, Trudeau has stolen the show. But just what has this meant for the New Democrats?

On the morning after the election, I remember reading articles about the crushing defeat of the NDP. I can also recall reading heartfelt comments from and about longtime NDP members of parliament like Paul Dewar. The party was arguably even more surprised by its performance in 2015 than it was in 2011.

In the time since, Mulcair has retreated to shadows. We've become habituated to seeing Mulcair in parliament with his razor sharp questions for Harper. Now we are seeing a different show - with Rona Ambrose on the attack and Mulcair nowhere to be seen.

The question had been asked - if only for a short time - what happened to the NDP in the nearly three-month campaign. While the answer is unclear, this election was as much Trudeau's to win as it was Harper's or Mulcair's to lose.

At least some emphasis has to be placed on the fact that the Liberals escaped serious scrutiny by remaining in third place for some time. Moreover, when the tide did shift in their favour, it was just enough to gather that enthusiasm without a lot of the necessary questioning that comes afterward.

Mulcair, for his part, handled being in the lead poorly. This could have been for various reasons, but it is likely do to the fact that he has little charisma and was attempting too strongly to play to the centre.

In my view, it will continue to harm the NDP if these two items are not addressed. Jack Layton was someone who embodied the party's values and who didn't comprimise in order to win an election. It's a bit of an unfair comparison because Jack Layton was never in a position to win an election.

Mulcair is the product of a party with a conflicted purpose. Some New Democrats wanted to form governements; others were hoping to represent their social-democratic values.

This is, from my perspective, a case that will not continue to divide the NDP, but that will become more advanced as the party becomes more powerful. When our electoral system is reformed and the NDP invariably wins greater representation, there will be questions about what is more important - having principles or having a soap box.

For my part, Mulcair never appealed too much to me. When I ran for the party nomination in Kitchener-Centre, I redacted comments I had made about Mulcair for the sake of my campaign, but I know that many of my fellow New Democrats shared my concerns with leadership. Fortunately, talent runs deep in the NDP and the future of the party is certainly bright. I look forward to the next leadership convention.