Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wise Words

If we know that our world is necessarily the world we bring forth with others, every time we are in conflict with another human being with whom we want to remain in co-existence, we cannot affirm what for us is certain (an absolute truth) because that would negate the other person. If we want to coexist with the other person, we must see that his(sic) certainty - however undesirable it may seem to us - is as legitimate and valid as our own because, like our own, that certainty expresses his(sic) conservation of structural coupling in a domain of existence - however undesirable it may seem to us. Hence, the only possibility for coexistence is to opt for a broader perspective, a domain of existence in which both parties fit in the bringing forth of a common world.

Humberto Maturana and Fransisco Varela, The Tree of Knowledge

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Right to Rave - El derecho al delirio

Eduardo Galeano is a great hero of mine. I'll spare you my waxing on about his greatness and let you get to listening to him more quickly. Clara sent me this video of an interview done in the context of the current Spanish Revolution. While it is in Spanish, i do recommend that those of you who do not understand spanish nonetheless listen at least to the section of the interview in which Galeano recites, with piano accompaniment, a poem called The Right to Rave or El Derecho Al Delirio. You can follow along with the text below or read the english translation here. Galeano begins the poem at the 31:15 mark.

The following is my imperfect transcription - i apologize in advance for my errors:
¿Qué tal si deliramos, por un ratito? Vamos a clavar los ojos más allá de la infamia, para adivinar otro mundo posible:

el aire estará limpio de todo veneno que no provenga de los miedos humanos y de las humanas pasiones;

en las calles, los automóviles serán aplastados por los perros;

la gente no será manejada por el automóvil, ni será programada por el ordinador, ni sera comprada por el supermercado, ni será tampoco mirada por el televisor;

el televisor dejará de ser el miembro más importante de la familia, y será tratado como la plancha o el lavarropas;

se incorporará a los códigos penales el delito de estupidez, que cometen quienes viven por tener o por ganar, en vez de vivir por vivir no más, como canta el pájaro sin saber que canta y como juega el niño sin saber que juega;

en ningún país irán presos los muchachos que se nieguen a cumplir el servicio militar, sino los que quieran cumplirlo;

nadia de vivida para trabajar, pero todo trabajaremos para vivir;

los economistas no llamarán nivel de vida al nivel de consumo, ni llamarán calidad de vida a la cantidad de cosas;

los cocineros no creerán que a las langostas les encanta que las hiervan vivas;

los historiadores no creerán que a los países les encanta ser invadidos;

los políticos no creerán que a los pobres les encanta comer promesas;

la solemnidad se dejará de creer que es una virtud, y nadie tomará en serio a nadie que no sea capaz de tomarse el pelo;

la muerte y el dinero perderán sus mágicos poderes, y ni por defunción ni por fortuna se convertirá el canalla en virtuoso caballero;

la comida no será una mercancía, ni la comunicación un negocio, porque la comida y la comunicación son derechos humanos;

nadie morirá de hambre, porque nadie morirá de indigestión; los niños de la calle no serán tratados como si fueran basura, porque no habrá niños de la calle;

los niños ricos no serán tratados como si fueran dinero, porque no habrá niños ricos; la educación no será el privilegio de quienes puedan pagarla;

la policía no será la maldición de quienes no puedan comprarla;

la justicia y la libertad, hermanas siamesas condenadas a vivir separadas, volverán a juntarse, bien pegaditas, espalda contra espalda;

en Argentina, las locas de Plaza de Mayo serán un ejemplo de salud mental, porque ellas se negaron a olvidar en los tiempos de la amnesia obligatoria;

la Santa Madre Iglesia corregirá algunos erratas de las tablas de Moisés, y el sexto mandamiento ordenará festejar el cuerpo;

la Iglesia también dictará otro mandamiento, que se le había olvidado a Dios: «Amarás a la naturaleza, de la que formas parte»;

serán reforestados los desiertos del mundo y los desiertos del alma; los desesperados serán esperados y los perdidos serán encontrados, porque ellos son los que se desesperaron de tanto esperar y los que se perdieron por tanto buscar;

seremos compatriotas y contemporáneos de todos los que tengan voluntad de belleza y voluntad de justicia, hayan nacido donde hayan nacido y hayan vivido cuando hayan vivido, sin que importen ni un poquito las fronteras del mapa ni del tiempo;

seremos imperfect, porque la perfección seguirá siendo el aburrido privilegio de los dioses; pero en este mundo chambón y jodido, seremos capace de vivir cada dia como si fuera el primero y cada noche como si fuera la última

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Real Winner: FEAR

Should i be surprised that Harper's ghoulish implication that The Apocalypse would be hastened if he didn't get his majority so that he could "get on with the business" of managing the economy? Is it surprising that in our woeful political culture (and antiquated parliamentary system) that fear is more persuasive and powerful than hope? Our politics is the victim of religion. But i'm not talking about churches. Even though judeo-christian-islamic religions (and so many others) are robust, the most dominant religion in the world is economics. To be more specific: capitalist economics. For more than math and science (long-known to be a dubious claim), economics is first about values and ethics. And the idea that the invisible hand of the unfettered market (read: deregulated capitalist market) is the most effective way to organize an economy is a belief - a religious belief - for which the science is notoriously partisan and contradictory (not to mention arcane).

The religious belief that private, capitalist, profit-making is a natural way to conduct business is a big part of why we face the global environmental crisis that we do. And rather than turn away from this mad course (which included the greed-run-amok that precipitated the most recent global financial crisis) we accelerate: more exploitation of fossil fuels, getting "tougher" on crime, privatizing health care (or pursuing "alternative service delivery"), freeing private corporations of social responsibility and more. This is an economics of greed, fear and war. And, not surprisingly, it gives rise to crime, violence and an always growing machinery of policing and punishment.

But in the absence of a different kind of economics, one that inspires and gives hope to people, is it surprising that people take fearful shelter in what the dominant common sense assures them is completely natural: economic growth, business-as-usual, an elite of super-wealthy, a majority of I-wish-i-was-super-wealthy and always growing underclass of poor, homeless and starving? Oh, but they won't admit that it is fear that compels them. Many will assert bravado, will give voice to the ethics of individual initiative, entrepreneurship and free-market competition. And surely these attitudes, sincerely believed in, require more than fear as a motivation. Indeed, much of the common sense that makes up our lives steers people firmly into this ethical terrain. And it is one that is powerfully forgetful of history - for instance, that Canada remains the home of many indigenous nations with whom we have treaties and obligations.

But what is a different economic/ethical way of looking at the world? What different economics CAN we propose? Can we imagine an economics that is based on compassion, cooperation, collective action and well-being? And i would say, yes, it is already here. Look at the non-profit economy which is about 8% of the GDP. Cooperatives, barter (including the so-called grey market), gift exchange (which, notably, includes blood and organ donation), government supported social programs and even the black market are all economies that are different from the dominant for-profit economy. I would say there is a different economic ethics to be discussed. One that can inspire quite a different world. And this is a project to which i will devote much energy in the coming years.

But for now, the Conservatives have formed this unfortunate majority with barely 40% of the vote. 60% voted for something different. Add to this math that only 61.4% of eligible voters actually voted and this means that six million people (beating nine million) determine the fates of almost 34 million. And, to look even closer, given that Harper formed his minority in 2008 with 5.2 million votes this means that Harper's campaign pulled out only 800,000 new votes while all the other parties drew out only 400,000 new votes. So another way to look at all this is that 400,000 (about 1% of the population or 1.6% of electors) votes made the difference between the government we're now stuck with for at least four years and a government of the true majority. Our ridiculous system of first-past-the-post parliamentary ridings allows for a party who win a minority of votes to rule the majority. Our "majority" government was formed by less than 18% of the population. That's who the Conservatives represent. And it ain't me.

Some post election opinion worth reading:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Coalitions are Nothing to Fear

We're having an election here in Canada and, while many people (in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Gaza, et al) are currently risking their lives and dying for a more just system of political rule many Canadians treat blithely if not contemptuously their right to vote. The media reports of "annoyance" with "another election" were a discouraging start to our democratic ritual. Nor can i be surprised at this when most people believe democratic participation begins and ends with voting. The current common sense that rules our lives encourages passivity and trains too many of us to respond with irritation to anything that disrupts our shopping and TV-watching. There are signs of hope everywhere for those of us who look. But today i feel like ranting (just a bit) at the dangerous foolishness that abounds. And while i may sound like a pessimist (or even cynic, which i most definitely am not) my words are fueled by discouragement (which, as Eduardo Galeano writes, is evidence that one has courage) and, perhaps more passionately by my deeper desires for hope and love.

My frustration in this political moment is spurred by two things which upset me in equal measure: one is the repetition of lies by Stephen Harper (or call them falsehoods or half-truths if "lies" seems too aggressive). The second is that so many people seem unphased in their support for Stephen Harper's Conservatives. So, what is the link between the lies (of which there are so many) and the docility of supporters for Stephen Harper's Conservatives? And here is where can be found some hope for better public discourse. Watching CBC's Peter Mansbridge interview with Harper in which Harper once again asserted (and alleged) the "threat of a coalition" i was reminded of the work of University of Guelph philosopher John McMurtry who wrote many years ago about the mass media and what he called "unspeakable truths". (If you're interested in his philosophical argument/explanation of these you can find the original 1988 article here.)

While his philosophical reasoning is a tad beyond my capacities (or patience, perhaps) I was deeply moved when, many years ago, i first read McMurtry's list of "unspeakable truths." (i list them all at the end of this post.) They were thirty examples of assertions (of "truths") that are never or very rarely included in the mass media which, supposedly being objective and covering all sides of an issue (or at least the proverbial "both" sides) in a way that allows viewers/readers/listeners to make up their own mind, means that these different "truths" are virtually "unspeakable". For instance, McMurtry's first example is "Taking more out than you put in as a regular practice – as in money profits – is morally wrong." I trust that the "truth" expressed here is neither cryptic nor new. And it is a "truth" (or call it an opinion, a principle, a position, if you prefer) that i know many people believe. And yet, it is one excluded from public discourse except in rare instances where it is firmly framed as a fringe notion and thus ensuring that the common sense remains undisturbed. I am struck on re-reading McMurtry's thirty examples of how firmly i remain in the grip of common sense. While most of his "truths" do, in fact, represent the way i see things (when i stop to think about it), i realize that most of the time, by default, i behave as if their opposites are true.

And so, to Harper's continued fear-mongering around coalitions. I did watch Peter Mansbridge's interview last week with a bit of relief as, for once, someone in the media was pushing the point that our system of parliamentary democracy includes the option of coalitions. There is nothing, procedurally, wrong with them. And for once, Harper came off looking prissy and bratty about his position. (I only hope enough people were watching and listening critically.) That Harper is politically against the notion of coalition is fine. He's entitled to his opinion (even if hypocritical, given his earlier actions well-exposed by Gilles Duceppe). While i am convinced that Harper's denial of his earlier support for a coalition is a lie, this is a peccadillo compared to the lie that he is repeating over and over again in that repeat-a-lie-often-enough-and-it-becomes-true dynamic. Every time Harper makes this assertion and the mass media fails to "correct" him with the truth that coalitions are, in fact, a legitimate option in a parliamentary system, the lie gains more purchase and for more and more people it becomes true. And there is a more insidious "truth" that is piggybacking along for the ride: that somehow coalitions are not the "Canadian way" which, by implication, means that anyone promoting the notion of coalition is being anti-Canadian. This last piece of Harper's truth is contemptuous and hateful. I feel there is more than enough evidence of Harper's contempt for both democracy and the Canadian people: his framing of parliamentary process as "bickering", his assertion that Canadians aren't interested in parliamentary process, his actions on the long-form census and so much more. And yet it seems like people are more prone to being made fearful about economic uncertainty than they are to being angered over being treated like spoiled children who need a disciplinarian father (whose face, when extolling his ideology, is set on perma-smirk).

I am heartened by Jack Layton's rising popularity and i do hope that more Canadians do rise to act more critically and thoughtfully than Harper is counting on. Our choice is between fear-mongered-narrow-self-interest (i.e. cut my taxes, "don't bother me with all this democracy crap") and learning better how to care for each other.

Here are McMurtry's 30 examples of "unspeakable truths" (written in 1988) which you can test for yourself by asking "how many times do i see this "truth" in the mass media:

  1. Taking more out than you put in as a regular practice – as in money profits – is morally wrong.
  2. The capitalist workplace is anti-democratic.
  3. General Motors, Dupont. IT&T, Standard Oil and Ford Corporations all produced military supplies for the Nazi armed forces during World War II while the United States was at war with Germany.
  4. Unearned wealth should be abolished as a matter of just public policy.
  5. The government needs to regulate the investment of Canadian/U.S. capital abroad to societies with poor human rights and environmental standards, so as to protect these standards in both North America and the developing world.
  6. The free market means that those without money to buy what they need do not have the right to live.
  7. The major player in the international drug trade since the Second World War, using drug enforcement laws to maintain its monopoly, has been the United States government to finance internationally illegal foreign interventions.
  8. Over 70% of eligible U.S. and British voters did not vote for Reagan or Thatcher "landslides".
  9. The arms race and international wars are very profitable for most multinational corporations.
  10. The long-term pattern of U.S. and Canadian foreign policy in the non-white world has been alliances with fascist-type governments rather than their opponents.
  11. The "free world" is not truly free because its citizens do not have the effective right to criticize the capitalist system.
  12. The history of Western civilization is largely a history of genocide against nonwhite peoples and cultures.
  13. The greatest danger to Canada's freedom and security comes from the United States.
  14. There is no Correlation between people's wealth and their merit.
  15. In many cases, social ownership of major industries is sound social policy.
  16. The very rich ought not to be admired, but rather condemned for their acquisitive self-interest at others' expense.
  17. A small minority's monopoly ownership of society's means of production is an issue that needs to be carefully examined.
  18. Pollution/poverty are specially advantageous to the major shareholders of private enterprise.
  19. Our major social problems are caused by the profit imperative overriding all other values.
  20. The belief that God sanctions our social order or our state at war is a superstition.
  21. There may be better alternatives for long-term sexual union than the private property structure of state-regulated marriage.
  22. The Soviet Union pays significantly more than the world-price for imports from the countries of East Europe, and charges significantly less for its exports.
  23. Socialist revolution has been by and large beneficial for the living standards of most citizens in societies where it has occurred.
  24. Over 90% of Canadian citizens are not capitalists but members of the working class who depend for their living on wages or salaries.
  25. Unions have historically led the struggle for improvements in health care, working conditions and social security for the population as a whole.
  26. The business community has excessive political and economic power in our society.
  27. Our schools do not train the young to think critically, but to obey corporate or office authority without question.
  28. The President and his leading advisors arc provable war criminals.
  29. Christianity calls for the redistribution of wealth.
  30. The mass media are essentially a joint-stock company of profit and advertising, for major private corporations.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Paper Cranes in Space

Origami has been part of my life since before i can remember. Fortune-tellers, water bombs and, of course, paper airplanes. I'm not sure i knew about origami per se until my best friend Majid, a fellow CEGEP student (an immigrant from Iran) taught me how to make a paper crane - something he's learned in the UK from a fellow language student from Japan. I made hundreds of cranes, perhaps thousands before eventually developing curiosity about what else could be done. It was my good luck to find a book in the Vancouver Public Library (while living in Vancouver one summer in the early 80s) by Akira Yoshizawa. It opened up a world for me. One that has grown and one that dazzles me regularly.