Posts Tagged ‘insanity’

A funny thing happens when you hold fringe beliefs. Your worldview shifts ever so slightly to the point when you just assume, rightly or wrongly, that everyone shares them. I for one am vaguely shocked when I find out that a new aquaintance eats meat, even though only 1-2% of the North American population are vegetarians. Because I do not eat meat anymore, on some level I assume no one else does either, in spite of my 29 or so years of quite heavy meat consumption and the fact that it is literally everywhere.

Anyway. One – or at least I – tends to assume that everyone agrees with one’s opinions, even the unpopular ones. So here’s something that I think everyone should agree with, even though I know they don’t:

Stupid, lazy, uneducated people who make bad decisions still have the right to live decently.

By this I mean: even if you drop out of school, do drugs, have unwise numbers of children, or just slack off, if you have a job you have a right to earn a salary that will keep you fed, clothed, housed, medically cared for, and generally OK. I think that if your job requires the full-time attention of an adult human being, it should pay a living wage. 

But here in what is theoretically the 1st world, many people are working jobs that just do not pay enough to keep a cat alive. And they’re supposed to be grateful for that, because at least they’re not chained to sewing machines in Chinese sweatshops for 16 hours a day. (If you don’t believe that anyone would say that, go on Twitter and search #ows. About half of the tweets will be a variation on “Dirty hippies!/Get a job!/You should be grateful you’re being paid at all!”) So people work 2-3 jobs, cobbling together a subsistence income out of the scraps.

And if you, like me, have been reading both We Are the 99 Percent and We are the 53 Percent, you will know that you get really proud of yourself for surviving under these circumstances. And it’s good to be proud of that, just like it’s good to be proud of surviving a war or a famine, but you know what?

I think you shouldn’t have to struggle like that forever.

No one should have to work 70 hours/week just to get by. No one. I don’t care how stupid and unskilled you are, you should be able to get by on 40 hours a week tops. If you want to work more to save up some extra money or just because you really love your job, great! Go to town! But we cannot live in a world where that level of toil is the *minimum*, because all of us deserve better than that.

There’s a famous exchange in Brecht’s Life of Galileo:

ANDREA: Unhappy the land that has no heroes! . . .
GALILEO: No, unhappy the land that needs heroes.

A system that requires heroism just to function is not a system that is working.

We are not a poor society. We have tonnes of money to spend on stuff we really care about, like celebrations commemorating the War of 1812 (Canadians: you’ve been lied to! We didn’t win! It was a tie!) and extra prisons to house all the people who’ll have mandatory minimum sentences imposed on them. We have enough money to keep everyone out of dire poverty.

But, like I said, I know that a lot of people just do not agree. They think that if you do a shitty job you should have a shitty life, and it’s your own fault for being born poor/making bad life decisions/just not being very smart.

So I don’t know what to do other than found my own fiefdom on an abandoned oil rig. I have to say, as an option it looks better and better every day.


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I was going to insert a crazy G20 protest image here, but there are too many to choose from. Just search #G20 or #g20report on Twitter and insert your own.

Steve Paikin is not a radical.

The host of a political/current events show on TVO, Canada’s yuppiest public station, Paikin is an establishment centrist who attends protests in a seemingly anthropological way. I stood next to him and a woman who may have been Belinda Stronach at the Canadians Against Prorogueing Parliament rally – see my video, Going Prorogue, here:

He looks a bit freaked out. Possibly by me. Who knows? Anyway, the point is: Steve Paikin isn’t anti-establishment. He isn’t pro-establishment. He IS the establishment.

So when you find him saying something like this:

I have reported from war zones in Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Lebanon, and Israel.

But last night’s confrontation between peaceful demonstrators and riot squad police was the scariest situation I’ve ever been in, in almost 30 years of reporting.

then something really fucked up is going on.

We missed the protests because we were out of town, and I probably wouldn’t have gone anyway, because I am not eager to be tear gassed and randomly arrested.

Three of Ben’s friends – one lawyer and two bike couriers – were arrested for no reason and held overnight. Someone I know was arrested, too. She happens to work for the Globe and Mail.

I don’t know Lisan well – she’s a friend of a friend – but I’ve met her on numerous occasions and I very much doubt she was out there with a black kerchief on her face setting cop cars on fire. She was there as a journalist covering the freakin’ story, and she got arrested along with a bunch of peaceful protestors and innocent bystanders.

Do you remember how I said – just a few days ago – that this security buildup wasn’t about safety? That it was about dick-waving and theatre and making people feel scared so you can take away their rights and “protect” them?

Think I was right?

I, like Steve Paikin, am quite shaken up by this. I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty realistic person. Not a cynic, not a romantic, but one with a decent grasp on reality. I’m beginning to wonder if I was wrong, and the world I live in isn’t the one I think it is.

I thought that I lived in a democracy with a good record on human rights. I thought I lived in a country that guaranteed civil rights for all. I thought that I could protest or otherwise engage in political action without fear of spending the night handcuffed in a makeshift jail or getting driven out to the suburbs and left there. I thought that I lived in a country that respected journalism as vital to democracy and civil society. I thought I lived in a country of more or less reasonable and sane people.

Well, I guess I was wrong.

If you are against police state tactics, beating and arresting journalists, and arresting people who have done nothing but exercise their political and free speech rights, I suggest you join me in protesting at Toronto Police Headquarters (40 College) today at 5:30. I’ll be a bit late – I have to teach until 6.

In the meantime I think I’ll go home and cry a bit.

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So this weekend the G20 descends on the city. In preparation for the inevitable terrorist attacks and chaos*, parts of the city are more or less shutting down. Multiple TTC lines are diverting. There will be 175 motorcades**, at least 1/3 of which are decoys, which will shut down major roads and even highways for hours at a time. Downtown workers are being told to dress casually (i.e., not in suits) to avoid the ire of those nasty protesters.

I will not be among them – the nasty protesters, that is – because I’m going away to visit my family. But save a tear gas canister for me, OK?

Seriously, I understand that when you get a bunch of world leaders together security is necessary. What I don’t get is why the Toronto authorities are preparing for the apocalypse. The last riot we had in Toronto was in 2001, when the police went nuts and started beating protesters at an anti-poverty rally. The problem wasn’t the protesters, it was the entirely disproportionate response to the protest. Why do we think this is going to be different?

There’s a name for this – Security Theatre. This isn’t about making anyone safer, but about making people feel unsafe. If these extreme measures are necessary, then the threat MUST be huge. But you know what? You shut down multiple major streets and whip up law enforcement fervour in a big city, and people are going to die. If a bunch of roads are shut down and the others overloaded, an ambulance isn’t going to make it to someone in time to save them from their stroke. If the police are panicking and seeing everyone in a bandana as a terrorist war criminal, a policeman is going to taser someone with a heart murmur and kill them. Someone is going to get trampled by a horse or have a bad reaction to tear gas. It’s more or less guaranteed that this is going to cost a few lives.

Now, if you did a reasonable, calm kind of security – you know, protecting the world leaders, policing the demonstrations in non-confrontational way, not shutting down large swathes of the city for nothing – would anyone die?

They might. It’s possible that someone might suicide bomb Ban-ki Moon, but all the security theatre in the world isn’t going to make it impossible. Under any circumstance it’s extremely unlikely.

So if what we – collectively – really cared about was safety, we would not be doing this. I have some theories as to what this shows we really care about:

– being one of the big boys among nation states;
– sucking up to America;
– hating on hippies;
– showing the world that we do TOO have big penises
– making the populace feel embattled so the authorities can save them
– curtailing grassroots protest movements by making them dangerous, disreputable, and unpopular.

I might be wrong, of course. But it seems to me like a complex interaction of conservative insecurities and pathologies. Eventually I hope people will learn that dissent does not equal treason, and a gathering of people does not equal a mob. I hope the police etc. will get it through their helmets that making them uncomfortable does not equal threatening them. And I hope they clean up after their goddamn horses, too.

In the meantime, there’s always the Peace and Love Parade.

*Yes, that appears to be what they’re preparing for. Because nothing says “Canada” like civil unrest. Whatever.

**What is the point of the motorcade? The conference is in a hotel, no? So why not have everyone stay in the goddamn hotel and just take the bloody elevator instead of snarling up traffic?

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We all know that we treat people differently based on who they are. We have different standards of behaviour for different people. This is self-evident – if you, say, get into a fight with your partner and yell at each other, you make up a little while later without much difficulty. If a random stranger on the subway starts yelling at you, you ding the “EEEEEEKK! EMEEEEERRRGENCY!” bell and wait for the police.

Even if they yell exactly the same thing* your partner yelled at you the day before.

OK, that’s mostly about the relationship, about the context. All human relationships involve some kind of frame that determines to some extent the roles of the actors involved. Husband/wife, girlfriend/boyfriend, parent/child, boss/bossed, customer/waiter, bum/passerby etc. The same text can have wildly varying meanings depending on the context. But it’s not that simple or that benign.

Some of those frames are pretty toxic, prejudiced, nasty. That stranger on the subway who yells at you is obviously nuts and unpredictable. How about one who just talks to you? Are they a threat? How do you tell?

I can, of course, only speak for myself, but I believe neuroscience backs me up: you make that decision (“Threat? Harmless annoyance? Possible friend?”) based on a number of complex cues based on class markers, age, race, visible gender, tokens of social belonging. To put it bluntly, you judge people superficially based on stereotypes. At least I do. This is probably unavoidable, but still kind of bad. I don’t *want* my eyes to glaze over in a frosty leave-me-the-fuck-alone way when I make eye contact with a stranger, but they do, especially if I read that stranger’s general being-ness as being outside of the group of people I might like to know.

But it goes beyond the personal. You and I, if we make unwise financial decisions, we lose out big time. Giant financial corporations, however, are allowed to get away with or even rewarded for irresponsibilities beyond our wildest dreams. You and me, if we fail to make our rent or mortgage payments, are out on our respective asses. Wall Street, however, can crash the global economy and still get their bonuses.

This is my long winded way of saying: So they arrested the Hutaree guys who, while completely and certifiably nuts, haven’t actually done anything except run around in the woods in camo and make extremely weird Youtube videos with duck-headed people in diapers dildo-slapping naked men with GWB pictures taped over their junk.** Probably a good idea. But hey – why stop there?

Why not Sarah Palin? Or Michele Bachmann? Or Glenn Beck?

The Hutaree are accused of sedition – inciting violence/rebellion against the US government. Can you honestly say the Beck, Palin, and Bachmann are not advocating the same things? The difference is that they are public figures with large followings. They may be crazy, they may be dangerous, they may be irresponsible.

But they’re somebodies.

Crazy, dangerous, irresponsible somebodies. But still somebodies.

Those nuts with their punishing dildo mallet? Nobodies. They can suffer the full consequences of their (non)actions.

But Sarah Palin, though equally ridiculous (in her own entirely inimitable way) and probably more dangerous? Leave her alone.***

*Imagine your partner saying/yelling “You completely immature [son of a] bitch! What the hell makes you think you can do something like that? You think I’m going to put up with that? Fuck you!” Or words to that effect. You’d be mad, of course, but depending on the general tenor of the relationship and the context, you could work it out. Now imagine a complete stranger yelling the same thing.

**Note the ingenious use of the Green Hornet theme song. And do not – whatever you do – watch this at work.

***I know, I know, if you DID arrest her it would probably cause more violence than she herself could incite. I’m not trying to solve any problems here. Just bitching. I muse frequently about the problem of perverse incentives – you know, how it’s cheaper to buy in bulk most of the time, but poor people can’t afford to buy the giant bags of rice or flats of canned soup, so end up paying more for food in the long run, while the rich who can afford higher prices but can afford the up-front costs of bulk end up paying less. But the shopkeeper can’t charge *more* for the bulk package than an equal quantity of the small package, because it’s in his/her interest to sell as much as possible, so the bulk discount remains. I do it myself, charging less for an hour lesson than for 2 half hours. This may be one of the natural asymptotes of human behaviour that will always keep us from having a truly just society.

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