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.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Business and Politics

This weekend marked the convention for the Conservative Party of Canada. One of the speakers this year - Kevin O'Leary. He had drawn some attention months ago when it was speculated that he would run for party leadership. Earlier this week, he joined the party and over the weekend he spoke, using this opportunity to speak to people about ''the future of Canada'' with the aim of improving transparency and getting ''better results'' in government.

As O'Leary has articulated, he leads some early polls (despite the fact that we are about seven months away from the leadership convention). He is popular amongst several key demographics and already has name recognition (and not the kind that comes with much political baggage). O'Leary is a best-selling author, a television personality, and a business mogul. Most importantly, however, is that he is already being lauded as an outsider who is all too keen to speak his mind freely.

This shouldn't surprise anyone given the traction of Trump and Sanders in the United States. Both candidates, as I remarked in an earlier post, have built strong grassroots movements with large online presences. The true success has been in mobilising people against the status quo of ''politics as usual'' and O'Leary can absolutely benefit from this. Aside from his pro-business stance and his national celebrity, O'Leary is seen as someone who is honest and straight-talking, something to be viewed as contrary to other political leaders who speak in jargon, appear rehearsed, and come across as partisans.

All of this, of course, is borne of the false perception that those who are experienced business leaders will be excellent stewards of the national economy. Beyond the stereotype that Conservatives are strong fiscal managers, business savvy and guiding a national economy have little in common. The backlash of late against government (more generally) and politicians (more specifically) has been fed by the idea that a functional government only requires just a few more cuts. Ideological gaps are widening (as they did in the 1930s in Europe) and the results may very well be further polarisation when it comes to many social and economic questions.

O'Leary may very well have the charts to sweep him into public office, but he'd be wise to watch carefully what is occurring in teh United States. Given his attitude toward risk, I presume that he will not declare candidacy until Trump's success against the Democrats looks to be somewhat proven. We know already that Trump is a divisive figure (based on the Republican nomination) but we have yet to see how this will pan out in an election. O'Leary must be aware that his is in a similar situation.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Public History and Democracy

Yesterday the Liberal Government made a formal apology from the floor of the House of Commons. In his speech Trudeau apologised for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident where hundreds of immigrants from India were turned away, clear evidence of the selective nature of Canadian immigration at the time. Most Canadians were not aware of this particular piece of Canadian history (nor was I before yesterday) despite our pride in claiming that we are a diverse, multicultural, welcoming society with a long history of accepting refugees and immigrants from around the globe. Given that both Harper and Trudeau have made comments on the record about the lack of colonialism in our national history, it is imperative that all efforts be made in a democracy to engage with the past.

I'm often told, as an historian, that my field of work is (among other things): dead, irrelevant, boring, stuffy, intellectual, or bunk. While it is tiresome to hear these criticisms, I'm not surprised in the least. Our conceptualisation of history is that it is something akin to a record of the past, a book you can pull off the shelf that tells you definitively about a specific event or person.

In reality, history is discipline not about what happened but in fact what is written about what happened. In the same vein of the tree falling in the forest, an event is not a historical event unless someone bore witness and recorded it  (don't let the history channel confuse you). Public history, which is the the way in which we engage with its past through education, museums, holidays, film, is essentially the official memory of a society. Often looked down on by academics, public history is often seen as an attempt to curate the story of a society with one large narrative (which is antithetical to the practice of history).

In the case of Canadian immigration, the notion of not engaging with the narrative critically is a problem. We have seen this with, for example, the 2006 apology for the Indian Residential School System. In spite of the effort to address the egregious colonial institutions of the past, we have continued to fail First Nations in areas of education, health, infrastructure, employment, governance, representation, justice, and more.

Apologies are nothing more than a starting point. They allow us to focus on what has to be done after claiming responsibility so that the harm can be remembered and that we can move toward building bridges. Public history has a significant role to play in addressing the past, from the embarrassing to the criminal.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

We Started The Fire

The outpouring of support for the victims of the massive forest fire burning in Northern Alberta is truly heartwarming. The evacuation of nearly ninety thousand people, most of whom will have lost some or all of their material possessions, is a shocking development and perhaps the worst case of a forest fire encroaching on an urban area in recent memory. That so many Canadians have opened up their homes, wallets, and hearts is a testament to the ability of Canadians to put aside the controversial context of oil politics.

It's a feat, to be sure, especially given the temptation to call the destruction of Fort McMurray "ironic" or "karmic", largely with poor comprehension of these phenomena. While it is blatantly offensive to insinuate that Fort McMurray had it coming, I think it is the only rational conclusion to say that we, as Canadian society, did in fact create the environment in which the fire would start and in which it would cause such destruction.

While the science that correlates forest fires and anthropogenic climate change is clear, I'm in fact referring to the social, political, and economic forces that have led to our present catastrophe.

Every Canadian, regardless of where they live, has some connection to the intensification of the tar sands. A process which, over the past fifteen years, has been caused by a greater demand for petroleum products (whether plastics, fuels, asphalts, lubricants), an emphasis on developing domestic "ethical oil", and a desire to produce a robust Canadian economy.

What I think requires honest political reflection on the culture of attacking transfer payments. In the past year or so, I've seen more and more on social media bemoaning Eastern Canadian provinces' status as a have-not region and looking at Alberta as the engine that powers the country. It's important to note that the message connotes Alberta's economic independence.

I will, without hesitation, suggest that this is the true irony of the forest fire. Alberta, now destined to compound its ecnomic downturn, is relying on the support from Canadians across the country, most of whom are all too happy to contribute without making it political, as I previously noted. Perhaps the most impressive part is that Syrian refugees are coming to the aid of those affected. This is particularly impactful when you consider the proliferation of social media postings that insinuate that we should be helping Canadians, not outsiders.

Human tragedies and natural disasters are an opportunity to come together, but let's not shy away from talking frankly about our shared responsibility and our collective duty to work toward a solution.