Canadian prison overcrowding going to get worse in long-term, auditor general reports | National Post

Canadian prison overcrowding going to get worse in long-term, auditor general reports | National Post.

Harper is aspiring to be a mini-me to the US in terms of prisons and incarcerations.  The US puts more people in jail than anywhere else by far.  It’s good for business.  Stephen Harper is jealous and feeling that Canada’s not keeping up.  So the auditor general is right.  Prison overcrowding and the provocation that is will cause riots and higher recidivism rates.  Welcome to Harper’s Canada.  I don’t feel it’s mine anymore.

For more on this read Nils Christie’s book, Crime Control as Industry.  Very informative.


Escape 21: C’mon, ya gotta make sacrifices to get ahead!

Escape 21: C’mon, ya gotta make sacrifices to get ahead!

On page 100 of EFE, Becker takes on The Mystery of Sacrifice.  I must admit that I learned a lot from Thorstein Veblen about recognizing assumptions and separating them out from research findings.  There’s no question that Becker makes loads of assumptions about value in his work.  Even his concept of evil is based on a view that he must have about non-evil or good.  For him, evil is often measured by the wonton destruction of human life and environmental destruction.  His assumption is that human life has intrinsic value and should not be destroyed in the name of an ideology of immortality.  The ‘should’ there is the key to understanding Becker’s moral assumption here.  In the world of animals, there is a great deal of killing and sometimes for the equivalent of an immortality project.  When a wandering male lion challenges the dominant male in a lion pride and kills him, he also kills the cubs so that the females will immediately go into heat and bear his cubs.  He instinctively knows that his genes are superior to his defeated foe’s and must therefore be the ones to take the pride into the future.  In fact, lions are much more predictable than humans in their behaviour, but not entirely.  We often feel that the world is driven by irrationality.  I mean how else explain the 1994 Rwandan massacre or what’s happening in Syria today.  However, according to Alex Comfort, as Becker points out, “the Freudian revolution in thought…revealed to us that the irrational had structure and so we could begin to understand it.” (p. 101)

For Becker and many others before him, such as Brown and Mumford, to whom he acknowledges an intellectual debt, sacrifice is a barter with the gods.  It’s an acknowledgment of the “pitiful finitude and powerlessness of man in the face of the mysterium trememdum of the universe, the immensity of what transcends him and negates his significance.” (p. 101)

Sacrifice, then is not an ‘irrational aberration,’ but a basic human reflex of truth, a correct expiation of natural guilt. 

 If one feels blocked, immobilized, guilty in a word, the solution is to expiate that guilt and reassert the flow of life by sacrificing life to the gods.  The gods give life, but they want the sacrifice of life in return or their gift giving may just dry up.  Gift giving must be reciprocal between the gods and us.  Now, of course, the expiation of our guilt is a social-political affair. People are quite willing to put up with much tyranny “because of its rewards not only to their stomachs but also to their souls.” (p. 101)  Becker writes:

They support tyranny by willingly marching off to war, not only because that reduces the frustration they feel at home toward authority, not only because it enables them to project their hatreds on the enemy, but also because it expiates their guilt.  How else explain the parents that we read about during each war who, when told about the tragic death if their son, have expressed regret that they had not more to give?  This is  the age-old essence of primitive gift giving; it chills us only by the nature of the sacrifice that they make so willingly and by the secondhand god to whom it is offered – the nation-state.  But it is not cynical or callous: in guilt one gives with a melting heart and choking tears because one is guilty, one is transcended by the unspeakable majesty and superlativeness of the natural and cultural world, against which one feels realistically humbled; by giving one draws oneself into that power and emerges one’s existence with it. 

 Of course, there may be choking tears and genuine gratitude to the gods for providing us with life, but there is celebration in sacrifice too.  A scapegoat, in the original meaning of the word was really a goat over which a ritual was performed so that all the tribe’s uncleanliness and weakness was transferred to the goat which was then killed or run off leaving the village clean.

Men spill blood because it makes their hearts glad and fills out their organisms with a sense of vital power; ceremoniously killing captives is a way of affirming power over life, and therefore over death. 

 We want to feel as though we have casual control over powerful forces.  Becker notes that Detroit car makers sell power and speed –“with their businessman’s realism about the truth of life –“ (p. 102) They knew that to sell cars they would be wasting their time talking about how great their cars were on gas.  It’s no coincidence that car ads on TV always show the manufacturer’s car with no other car in sight barreling down a highway, the driver with not a care in the world.  Perfect control.   The sacrifice in this case may be personal indebtedness but what is more important, having a sense of power driving a special car or living a prosaic, meek, invisible life with nothing obvious to show how great a person you are?   We feel guilt for driving an inferior vehicle or getting stuck in traffic unlike those fortunate, strong people in the car ads who apparently never experience traffic jams.

To bring this to an end for today, I think this quote from Becker is appropriate:

if you kill your enemy, your life is affirmed because it proves that the gods favor you.

 Does this analysis make any sense to you in trying to figure out what Harper and the conservatives are doing in Canada?  Harper is desperate to know that the gods of capital favour him.  He seems to be willing to sacrifice everything for that to happen.  Whatever it takes.

Ernest Becker 8: The Logic of Sacrifice

Ernest Becker 8: The Logic of Sacrifice

 How many times have we heard our government tell us that we have to make sacrifices now so that we can have prosperity in the future.  Sacrifice usually means putting off gratification now for pleasure and prosperity later.  Becker, along with his special ‘informants’ like Hocart, understood the nature of sacrifice.  In EFE Becker dedicates part of Chapter 1 to sacrifice.  It’s critical to his whole argument.  He writes:

 At the centre of the primitive technics of nature stands the act of sacrifice, which reveals the essence of the whole science of ritual.  In a way, we might see it as the atomic physics of the primitive world view…If he does things [performs the ritual ceremony] exactly as prescribed, as the gods did them in the beginning of time, then he gets control over the earth and creation.  He can put vigor into animals, milk into females…

In the Hindu ritual and in coronation rituals, this is the point at which the contest came in.  In order to control nature, man must drive away demons and hostile forces.  If he makes a slip in the ritual, it gives power to the demons.  The ritual triumph is thus winning of a contest with evil…dice and chess probably had their origin as the way of deciding whether the king really could outwit and defeat the forces of darkness.

 Of course we sophisticates in the modern world don’t believe in this kind of thing or do we?  Oh, I think we do. 

 Hocart warns us that if we think this is so foreign to our own traditional ways of thinking we should look closely at the Christian communion.  By performing the prescribed rites the communicant unites himself with Christ – the sacrifice – who is God, and in this way the worshiper accrues to himself a mystical body or soul which has immortal life.   Everything depends on the prescribed ritual, which puts one in possession of the power of eternity by union with the sacrifice. 

 We don’t have to dig too deep into our personal lives to see how much ritual and especially rituals of sacrifice play a role.  Think of the hockey player who must lace his skates in exactly the same, precise order before every game or risk losing the game.  If his or her team loses, the loss can be blamed on the ‘fact’ that the ritual wasn’t performed properly.  Think of people putting small (or large) amounts of money into savings accounts so that they will ultimately be ‘saved.’  But I don’t want to rush Becker into the modern world just yet.  He has yet to finish his look at primitive society, how it was organized and why.  But in the Conclusion to this chapter, Becker tells us that:

 Man has always casually sacrificed life for more life.

 I find this particularly touching as we are spectators to our government’s treatment of veterans.  Of course they are expected to sacrifice everything, even their own lives, for our future prosperity and ‘freedom.’  Problem is the sacrificial fodder doesn’t want to just lie down and accept that its role is completed on the battlefield.  Sacrificial objects aren’t supposed to ask to be recognized for their sacrifice.  Witness Fantino’s casual dismissal of them. Harper wants to sacrifice lives for future prosperity alright, just not their future prosperity.  It’s for him and his buddies, not for the vets who have already played out their role and should now just slink off into obscurity and not cost the government one more cent.  What an asshole Harper is, but he’s no different than the Aztec priest who cut open the chests of thousands of captives in massive sacrificial ceremonies so that the kingdom would continue with the gods looking down in favour on him.  

Only 18.28% of Canadians voted for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in 2011

Just to be clear, as Stephen Harper always claims to be, I’m not arguing here that because just 18.28% of Canadians actually voted for Stephen Harper in the 2011 general election that he has no right to govern.  Given the ‘first past the post’ electoral system we have in Canada this is what we get, a prime minister who can rule the country with just a little over 18% of Canadians voting for him.  To put this in perspective, George W. Bush had only 14% of Americans vote for him when he first got elected president so Mr. Harper at least did better than George W.

Let’s look at the numbers.  On May 2nd, 2011, the day of the last federal election, Elections Canada reported that there were 31,612, 897 Canadians.  This does not jive with the Census numbers which came to 33,476,688, but that’s got nothing to do with the argument here.  Of those 31,612,897 Canadians, 24,257,592 (76%) were eligible to vote.  Some were only 1 week old and they were not eligible, neither were millions of others below the voting age.  A small number weren’t eligible to vote for a number of other reasons.

In any case, of those 24, 257,592 who could vote, only 14,823,408 actually did for a voter turnout rate of 61%.  We won’t ask the 9,434,184 registered voters why they didn’t bother to vote, that would be rude and intrusive.

It turns out that the Conservative Party with Stephen Harper as its leader got 39% of the vote.  That means that he actually got 5,781,129 voters who actually turned out vote for him and his party.  Who knows what would have happened if all eligible voters had turned out.

Now, how did I get to the 18% I announced in the first paragraph above.  Well, the 5,781,129 people who voted for Harper account for about 18.28% of the population.  Like I said, calculating the numbers this way isn’t entirely fair to Mr. Harper and the Conservatives, but it does reflect a certain reality that cannot be ignored.  A little over 18% of the population actually went to the polls and voted Conservative.  They elected our current federal government.  To me this is a great argument for a new system of electing our politicians.  Maybe we should try proportional representation.  See how that goes.  Have a look at this video by my friend, John Higginbotham:

Who to believe? Duffy and Wallin or Harper and Lebreton? Poll!

So, things are getting interesting in the otherwise staid capital of Canada.  It’s focal point, Parliament Hill is ablaze with accusations, gossip and all forms of ridiculousness.  Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin both protest that they are the aggrieved in this debacle.  Harper on the other hand claims exactly the same thing.  His argument is that these two former news reporters for CTV and current members of the esteemed Upper Chamber, have violated rules of conduct around their expenditures as members of the Senate.  Wallin and Duffy say they have done nothing wrong and are being hung out to dry because Harper doesn’t want to offend his ‘base.’

I must say that I wonder about Duffy and Wallin.  They got to sit in the Senate only because they served the Conservative Party.  If fact the Senate is full of political appointees who are all beholden to the Party that put them there.  No problem whipping them for a vote!  So, just for fun, I invite you to answer this simple question: