GM Committed to Canada?

GM, on its website claims in very large text that it is committed to Canada and its employees in Oshawa.

Well, although I don’t doubt the sincerity of the person who actually wrote this material and even of the GM company itself, it’s obvious that GM is not and cannot be committed to Canada ahead of its commitment to itself and to profit. It will sacrifice whatever it needs to in order to stay alive as a viable company.

Be warned, the Oshawa layoffs are just the beginning of a trend in GM towards hiring new kinds of engineers, many out of Silicon Valley, with a plan of producing electric and self-driving vehicles. According to the company’s website and to industry analysts, GM sees Cadillac as its first electric car offering to compete with Tesla. Now that’s interesting! It proudly states that unlike European carmakers GM has not opened a factory in Mexico for 10 years. That may be true, but that doesn’t mean that its current plans don’t include bringing parts from all over the world to its assembly plants in North America where their cars are ‘made’. It’s future does include layoffs of over 20,000 workers. In that, GM is not much different from any other large global secondary manufacturing organization.

Obviously, GM is in the business of selling cars and trucks. It doesn’t help the company’s image among nationalists that it’s willing to put 2600 Oshawa workers out of work leaving the plant ‘unallocated’. Unallocated means they have no plans to produce anything in that plant after the plant closes in December or ever. So, to mollify the opposition, GM says that over half of its employees at Oshawa Assembly were due to retire anyway. Its website reports that:

  • GM Canada has committed millions of dollars to help our Oshawa Assembly employees transition and retrain – so our employees and their families know that if they choose not to retire on their GM pension (more than half of our hourly workers at Oshawa Assembly will be eligible for their GM pension when production ends at the end of 2019), there will be an opportunity for them to transition to one of 5,000 good available new jobs in Durham Region and GTA and GM will help fund the transition training for them.

It’s true that GM is making some generous offers to their outgoing employees. These include help transitioning to other jobs, allowing the continuation of employee benefits and even a $20,000 voucher towards a new car. So, even as they go out the door of GM’s Assembly plant, workers can drive away in a new GM car! What have the employees to complain about?

Well, they may have a lot to complain about, but I’m not sure a lot of people are going to listen to their complaints. They’ve had very ‘cushy’ jobs with good pay for decades now. No one promised you a rose garden, right? I can’t imagine a lot of Alberta oil sands workers being very sympathetic. “Let the Eastern bastards freeze in the dark!” “We’re losing our jobs, it’s only fair that you would lose yours too!” No, sympathy is not a quality we should expect to see expressed much anymore. Liberalism and libertarianism have conditioned us to believe that whatever happens to us is our own responsibility, our own fault, good or bad. Piss on all the rest of you!

Getting back to a point I alluded to earlier, GM is not committed to Canada, at least not per se. It will be committed to Canada as long as it serves its economic interests. GM’s economic interests and survival as a global corporation easily trump any commitment it might have to Canada or any other country for that matter, including the US.

In fact, Canada as a political organization is dedicated to providing the environment necessary for GM and other companies like it to continue to make a profit. Canada and the Ontario government have just invested $150 million in Algoma Steel, a company which is based in Sault St-Marie, now owned by an Indian company and is now called Essar Algoma Steel. To “Canada” it matters not who owns a company and where its head office is located as long as the government can claim that ‘Canadian’ jobs will be protected and saved. Inevitably, Canada cannot protect all of ‘our’ jobs all of the time. Business corporations are the ones to decide on jobs although government itself also creates a lot of jobs, many of them in agreements to help out ailing parts of the country, in policing and regulating our activities, in ensuring that we have the education business needs and in any other way to make us job ready, more or less healthy and well-fed.

The bottom line is that ‘Canada’ is the partner of global corporate capitalism for the maintenance and management of the labour force using coercion or ideology, as well as for ensuring a good environment for global business. It also serves to provide the political/legal framework for our individual liberty to sell our labour power to whoever we want and for any capitalist with money to buy our labour-power. All countries are to a varying extent. Canada is not a stand along political entity with its own economy, society, legal system, etc. In fact the only thing that holds this country together is not economy or society but our shared citizenship and residency (for the most part). Attempts to rally Canadians around economic or social initiatives are bound to fail. It’s only in sports that Canadians can get together when ‘our’ team plays against the ‘Americans’ in the World Cup of Hockey.

I watched our dog die the other day.

Actually I’ve watched all of our dogs die except two. The only two we didn’t watch die were Little One and Chitka. Little One because she was no longer in our care. It was a long time ago and we had to give her up because where we were moving to wouldn’t have her. With Chitka, neither Carolyn nor I had could go in when he was euthanized. Too painful. All the others, Cedric, Oren, Max and recently, Wilco, all died at the hands of a vet with us present. They were all old and ready to go but that never makes it any easier. None of them did us the favour or dying in their sleep at home.

On August 3rd of this year, we took Wilco to the vet for one last time but not before we took him down to the beach in Royston and for a little drive around town. I still think about him every day, remembering his goofiness. He loved the Royston beach and used to chase his ball there for as long as we’d throw it for him. He  and his ball were inseparable for the first seven years we had him.

 

After that, he lost interest, we suspect because he was in a lot of pain and it just wasn’t fun anymore. He even stopped chasing cats and rabbits about 18 months ago.

He was probably sixteen years old and couldn’t walk anymore. I had to carry him into the car and lift him out. The vet staff took him into the clinic. Our vet, Carol Champion checked him out and agreed with our decision to have him put down. A few minutes later, as he lay in his usual position on the floor she gave him a sedative. When she was certain he was sedated she injected him with what I think was pentobarbital. It took less than a minute and I noticed he wasn’t breathing anymore. I stroked his back a few times and gave him a pat on the head but he was gone. Carolyn and I were very upset but the staff at the clinic was super and so supportive. I find it very hard not to cry on these occasions so I just let it happen. I miss him a lot.

Having Wilco with us for 10 years or so, watching him with his ball, stalking the fish in the aquarium and chasing bears on the logging roads and on camping trips makes it hard to let him go. He was family.

I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again. If I’m in a lot of pain and immobile and as old as Wilco (relatively speaking) I’d be quite happy to die like he did, surrounded by caring people not willing to watch him suffer anymore.

After he was euthanized, he was taken to a pet crematorium somewhere north of Courtenay located on a working farm where he joined a number of other pets to be cremated together and have their ashes spread out on the fields.

Not all animals have the idyllic life Wilco lived, nor the peaceful, loving death. Of course every living thing is on a death trajectory. That’s no surprise. Essentially, living and dying are the same process. That’s one of the main reason we are so conflicted as a species around life and death. We fear life because we know it will bring us death. Our culture, our politics, our everything are aimed at eliminating threats, imagined or real,  to our ‘lives’. We insist that our deaths must be meaningful or we deny death altogether.

I’ll get into a long diatribe into the essence of life and death later, in another series of blog posts although you’ll find the archives in this blog full of references to death denial. Suffice it to say for now that life must consume life. Up to this time, life on this planet has been the mutual devouring of species. Can that change? Should we be more ‘humane’ in how we raise and kill other species for our own consumption? Does it matter how long a calf lives before it’s slaughtered for us? Does it matter how much pain and suffering we inflict on other species in the name of scientific research or simply to grace our dinner plates? Is life really just suffering? For now, I’ll just leave you with these questions. I may offer up answers, at least tentative ones, to these questions in future posts. Stay tuned.

Growing grapes on the Beaufort Range.

I live on one of the main roads that lead out of Cumberland, BC. Cumberland is on the eastern slopes of the Beaufort Range at about a 500 foot altitude. Over the past few weeks we have witnessed at least a dozen logging trucks headed out of town every week day down the Trent River Main headed who knows where. That’s been going on for years but it seems logging activity is picking up around here. Certainly, the clearcuts are getting bigger and bigger just up the slopes from our little community and they’re getting more numerous.

I don’t know much about what sustains a forest. I’m a sociologist, not a biologist nor an ecologist. What the ecologists tell me, however, is frightening. Logging and development are wreaking havoc with ecosystems and changing the landscape in very visible ways. I’m of two minds about that. Should we care?

But let me step back for a moment and ask a few questions some of you may have answers to.

  1. Given climate change and the report yesterday that increasing temperatures are accelerating, has anyone given thought to how a changing global climate will impact our forest and marshland ecosystems on Vancouver Island?
  2. Is there a tipping point where the amount of logging in any specific area will permanently change the local climate so that certain species of trees cannot grow here any longer?
  3. In the foreseeable future are we looking at the conditions ideal for growing grapes on the hillsides above Cumberland? Are we looking at a potential wine growing situation here?

I know that logging in the Comox Valley and in most areas on the eastern slopes of Vancouver Island mountain ranges is proceeding apace. I’m not at all against logging per se. After all, I’m a woodworker and sculptor in wood. We also still burn wood on occasion in our wood stove. I do, however, question the logic of the kind of clearcut logging we’re witnessing here. There are many ways that forests can serve the economic interests of communities and I’m not at all sure that what’s happening here at the moment is in our best interests. There are alternatives, but I doubt that they are given serious consideration.

Given that the mountain sides above us are all privately owned by logging companies who are themselves largely owned by pension funds, the current model is unlikely to change. Making pots of money is the name of the game and quarterly profits must increase or shareholders may look to invest their money elsewhere. I’m not sure pension managers know anything about logging or forestry, but they do know how to push for increased revenues. So, forestry managers must deliver the goods or risk losing their stake in the venture.

In some ways I grieve the loss of the wonderful forests that surround us, but I also realize that the land hereabouts was pretty much clearcut a hundred years ago to resemble a barren landscape. We live in second and third growth tree plantations, not forests. I’m quite shocked at the size of much of the timber I see leaving on the trucks by my home. I can’t image many of the logs on those trucks would be of much use except to make pulp or chips for strandboard, nor can I image you’d get as much as a 2X4 out of some of them.

That said, maybe I need to chill out and accept what’s happening. After all, I enjoy a nice Chardonnay. Maybe, soon enough, we’ll be a world class wine growing area with a balmy climate while California becomes a desert once again. Maybe we’ll have vineyards as far as the eye can see. Cheers! Maybe we can grow hops too!

 

 

Escape 17: Money: The New Universal Immortality Ideology

Escape 17: Money: The New Universal Immortality Ideology

That’s the title of Chapter 6 of Escape from Evil.  We all take money for granted, it’s such a common feature of our lives.  It’s funny how we think about money.  Technically, money is a social relationship.  It doesn’t refer to the stuff we carry around in our wallets.  Coins are technically called specie and the folding plastic (used to be paper) things are banknotes.  They are actually the physical representation of money.  So they’re kind of like a metaphor.  Chapter 6 is Norman O. Brown’s chapter.  Otto Rank and Brown share a unifying principle in their work, the universal urge to immortality.  It underlies everything they write about.

In a pre-scientific world a person could get some kind of immortality by leaving behind children.  That’s not entirely satisfactory because for men it’s never certain that your children are really your own.  In this circumstance it’s not a bad idea to have a back-up plan.  How about leaving something else behind that reminds the living of how great a person you were?  How about things, physical things, things you know are yours.  Surround yourself with things and maybe you have a little insulation against insignificance.  Leave many wondrous things and maybe you gain a little immortality.  Yes, indeed, have your name placed on buildings…that will not thwart the grim reaper but it will be a lasting symbolic reminder of your life on this planet.  That’s about all we can expect.  It’s not much, but for an animal like ourselves we need to reach out and grab any bit of hope we can.

Money it seems is a great way to get yourself a little sense of immortality.  If you can, have a likeness of your face stamped into gold coins.  Yeah, that ought to work.  Money is a new magic object.  As Becker writes: “Money is the new ‘totemic’ possession.” (p. 75) Money soon became the new ritual focus.  The old rituals were just not doing it anymore.  Time to move on.  Money was the perfect replacement for the old rituals.  Becker quotes Mary Douglas from her book Purity and Danger:

Money provides a fixed, external, recognizable sigh for what would be confused, contradictable operations: ritual makes visible external signs of internal states. Money mediates transactions; ritual mediates experience, including social experience.  Money provides a standard for measuring worth; ritual standardizes situations, and so helps to evaluate them.  Money makes a link between the present and the future, so does ritual.  The more we reflect on the richness of the metaphor, the more it becomes clear that this is no metaphor.  Money is only an extreme and specialized type of ritual.

 Money, in fact, is religious.  It has become the new immortality ideology.  It provides life like no other ritual could.  The more of it you have, the more mobility you have, the more liberty you have, the more assurance you have of your value to others.  Life is mobility, death is immobility.  From this perspective the poor are the walking dead.  It’s not surprising that zombie movies are so popular these days and that zombie characters are often made up to look like ‘street’ people.  Money gives life, it is life.  There is no other way to put it.  I take exception to some extent to Becker’s analysis here.  If as Marx points out money is the average commodity then ‘commodity’ is the god here and not money.  Or to put it another way, the market is the thing.  Money is a representation of the relations of the market.  The market is the venue par excellence of exchange, gift giving and receiving.  It’s why we feel so good on a shopping spree and down when we are short of cash.  We are feeling a little connection to the gods. It sucks to be poor.  No connecting to the gods for you!

I’m not going to go into a lot of the content of chapter 6.  It’s a lot about how money came to have such power a long time ago, how it came to have supernatural power.

A little money goes a long way, but a lot of money goes a lot further:

And so we see how it was that money came to buy many things: if it was magic, people would give anything to have it.  As Géza Róheim put it in a very happy formulation, “originally people do not desire money because you can buy things for it, but you can buy things for money because people desire it.”

That’s a bit convoluted as a way to state it, but it’s clear that the evolution of money into want it is today was fairly slow.  Now, banks have replaced churches and cathedrals as the favoured display of immortality.  How many new cathedrals have you seen built lately?  How many bank towers?

Ah, money.  The best thing about it is that it can be accumulated and passed on.  In our time, we’ve made this into a sacred duty.  We sin if we don’t save.  We get chastised by the finance minister for not saving while out of the other side of his mouth he is urging us to spend otherwise we’ll find ourselves in a depression…which reminds us way too much of failure, immobility and death.  Spending means life and prosperity, even if we accumulate guilt as we borrow our way to communing with the gods.  When the bills come in after Christmas, then what?  But still, we believe in it.  We trust it.  It can be good to us, at least some of us.  Best of all,

…[money] radiates its power even after one’s death, giving one a semblance of immortality as he lives in the vicarious enjoyment of his heirs that his money continues to buy, or in the statues of himself and the majesty of his own mausoleum.  In short, money is the human mode, par excellence of cooly denying animal boundness, the determinism of nature.

 Enough for now.  I’ll finish up dealing with Chapter 6 of EFE tomorrow as Becker addresses what he calls The Demonics of History.