The Azure window collapse and ‘social ills’: a view from a ‘right wing’ website.

I realized  that there is no link here to the original article. Here it is: http://theduran.com/collapse-maltas-azure-window-can-teach-us-social-ills/

This is an interesting article with many Beckerian twists and turns. The basic argument is: Don’t sweat it because you die, we all die, and that’s just the way it is. We don’t need to be sentimental about species extinction or environmental protection.

So, should we be concerned about death, animal suffering, species extinction, climate change, the disappearance of viable forests and any number of other issues as being catastrophic and unacceptable?

I wanted to post this, but I’m not ready yet to comment yet in any detail. Soon. This is such an important moral question.

Quality and Morality

 

Quality Foods. Quality furniture. Quality trucks. Quality, Quality, Quality. Shite. Robert Persig some time ago wrote a book about quality. It’s called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. As Persig writes, his book has little to do with Zen and not much to do with motorcycle maintenance either. This was a very important book for me as I grappled with certain philosophical concepts in my youth. In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the main protagonist goes catatonic after getting caught in his self-made vortex of contradiction around the idea of quality. As a fellow college instructor, I can relate to his descent into catatonia, although I was never able to quite make it all the way to its deepest reaches as Phaedrus (the eventual name of his protagonist) did.

 

The way we use the concept of quality these days drives me a little crazy but I’m not going to go grammar nazi and chastise all the unfortunates among us who constantly misuse the term or simply use it as a synonym for good. These days, quality stands for good. We seem to have lost the ability to qualify quality. Does Quality Foods refer to mediocre quality foods, poor quality foods or high quality foods? Well, that’s a silly question, isn’t it? Of course, the owners of Quality Foods mean it to refer to high quality foods. Any other conclusion would be nonsense. I presume that if we want to point out that a product or service is of poor quality we have to include the adjective ‘poor’ to qualify quality. Quality used by itself now means good. Any reference to any other kind of quality must be qualified with an adjective. Still pisses me off because it’s such a denial of the potential poverty of quality but I guess that’s just the way language evolves.

 

So, now I want to apply the concept of quality to morality. Can we talk about the quality of moral precepts? Can we come up with a hierarchy of moral precepts that go from good to evil or are all moral precepts supposed to be good. What does it mean to be a moral person? To what does ‘morality’ refer? I turn to this last question now, the others I deal with later and in subsequent posts.

 

The dictionary that comes with the Mac operating system defines morality as ‘principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.’ The Miriam-Webster Learner’s Dictionary gives a “Simple Definition of morality [as]

  • beliefs about what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior
  • the degree to which something is right and good: the moral goodness or badness of something.”

 

Fair enough. That seems straightforward, but is it? Are we born knowing the difference between right and wrong, good and bad? If you believe that you probably also believe you were born knowing how to speak English. Not likely. Good and bad are social constructs and can only exist socially.

 

Obviously any judgment of behaviour can only be made when more or less discrete behaviours are compared with one another. The concept of morality cannot apply to an individual’s behaviour divorced from its social context. ‘Good’ or ‘bad’ are inherently relative concepts. There are no behaviours that I know of that can be universally and consistently viewed as good or bad. You might argue that killing and rape are universally and always bad. If you did, you’d be wrong. Killing is only bad in certain contexts particularly when it is unsanctioned by the state[1]. In certain cases, such as in military combat, a soldier may be court-martialled for not obeying a direct order to kill an enemy combatant. In many contexts, killing is expected of one, so killing is not a universal bad. In fact, it would be considered morally reprehensible not to kill if it meant putting innocent people in danger. No matter how strongly we may be repulsed by it, rape is also morally ambivalent and in certain contexts is considered a duty. The Bosnian War was the scene of mass rapes perpetrated by combatants who were given direct orders to do so by their commanding officers.[2]

 

In Emile Durkheim’s work, morality is a word that describes how to measure the intensity of our connections to our societies. I add that it’s used to judge the quality of individual behaviour as it aligns with overall social (including sexual), political and economic values. It stands to reason then that in a class based society[3] moral judgments of behaviour will need to be made in a context where, as Marx noted, the ideas of the ruling class are the ruling ideas.[4]

 

To be continued…

 

Up next, morality and sexuality. I touched on this briefly in my last post, but I want to consider how important moral judgments are around sexuality.

Following that, I want to explore the politics of morality or why poor people are considered to be moral degenerates and made to feel shame and guilt for their situation.

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[1] The ‘state’ is one of those words that elicits controversy. I once did a graduate course decades ago now where the only task we had was to define the state. Not a simple task as it turns out.

[2] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/bosnia-war-crimes-the-rapes-went-on-day-and-night-robert-fisk-in-mostar-gathers-detailed-evidence-of-1471656.html

[3] I won’t question the popular unquestioning definition of society here. I’ll leave that for a future blog post. Harold Adams Innis is a masterful critic of the conventional definition of society. I wrote my Master’s dissertation on Harold Innis’ work and it’s available on my blog.

[4] Of course, the ruling class is not homogeneous, it evolves over time, gaining and losing power in times and places. Still, there are some basic precepts and expectations of behaviour that we find are fairly ubiquitous in societies where the capitalist mode of production predominates.

Why do we so often refer to sex as dirty?

My next post was supposed to be about morality and that will be the subject of a number of future posts, but I was listening to the CBC this morning and the guest host of the morning program was interviewing a comedian and talking about his upcoming show. That tweaked my interest as I sipped my coffee. The host asked the comedian if his show was going to be clean. The comedian responded that for the most part it would be but that it would also be dirty at times. Well, I just had to weigh in. Morality will just have to wait a bit.

By dirty I know, and you know, that the host and the comedian were referring to the use of  swear words like fuck and shit and piss in his routine. He was not, however, going to make specific reference to the sex act and have some fun with that. That would be too raunchy. After all, you’ve got to keep it safe for a regular audience or they won’t come back to see you again. Swearing, it seems, is fair game. It’s okay to make fun of your wife or yourself in a comedy routine, but it’s not okay to talk explicitly about what went wrong or right the last time you had sex. That will be okay in the not-too-distant future, I expect.

It’s quite telling that in English swearing is almost exclusively sex based or has to do with genitalia or bodily functions of one sort or the other. In French Canada, swearing is entirely different, or at least it was when I was a kid. In French swearing relates to religious things although it can stray into combining sex or bodily functions with objects or persons of religions significance. For instance, a great swearing line in French refers to the ‘holy cream of an old nun.’ It’s probably changing now to a more ‘cleanly’ sex-based expression. Tell me if you know. I’m not up on Québecois swearing behaviour these days. In English, of course, fuck is the word or choice in a number of expressions not at all related to sex, but the word clearly relates to coitus or the sex act. For instance we might exclaim upon seeing a cute cat video: “Wasn’t that just the cutest fucking thing you’ve ever seen?” Or, listen to George Carlin classify people into three categories. He says that there are stupid people, people who don’t give a shit and people who are just fucking nuts!

So, what about this sex is dirty thing? Well, Ernest Becker (in his many books, but especially The Denial of Death and Escape From Evil, concludes that it all goes back to our fear or terror of death,* which also has a lot to say about how women are so often poorly treated in our world and in times past.  So what does considering sex as dirty have to do with our fear of death and the way women are so often (mis)treated?

It’s a bit of a truism to say that we all live and die. Yes, we do, but we don’t necessarily like the dying part so we concoct all sorts of cultural mechanisms to help us deny  that fact. One way we do that is to separate ourselves linguistically from other animal species by referring to ourselves as ‘human’ and to those other things as ‘animals.’ Of course, we are animals and it’s hard to deny that because we’re obviously not plants or rocks, but that doesn’t matter. We deny anyway. That kind of attitude allows us to treat animals in all kinds of nasty ways, because, well, they aren’t human and God did say that he put them here on earth for us to have dominion over. We are spiritual beings, animals aren’t. Enough said.

More significantly however we also take great care to separate ourselves into male and female classes. Yes, I say classes because that’s what’s happening. Just as we consider ourselves spiritual beings and animals as spiritless, we have also contrived historically to consider men as spiritual beings and women as physical beings. In many parts of the world in every time in history women have been considered a lesser species than men.

There’s a simple, yet devastating reason for this. Women remind men at every turn that they are mortal. Women exude blood on a regular basis. Babies are born between shit and piss in an orgy of blood. You lose blood, you die. Men have gone to extraordinary lengths to deny their physicality, their animality, and emphasize their spirituality to the detriment of women. Men in some cultures wear anal plugs to show that they don’t need to shit. They are above that. Menstruating women are often shunned for fear that they might contaminate something or other. Men denigrate women at every turn. Not all men, of course, but our culture and many in the past have built massive institutions that denigrate women. The pornography ‘industry’ is a good example of that. It’s popularity attests to how important sex is to us, but how important it also is to objectify women and treat them as sexual objects and as not quite human. Generally speaking, women are way more important to men for their genitals than for their brains. Hillary Clinton is facing this fact right now in the U.S. Many men just can’t see the president of the United States being fucked. Tell me it ain’t so.

Sin, in Christian, Muslim and Judaic mythology often refers to succumbing to the temptations of the flesh, female flesh that is. The flesh is the territory of the devil. If you want to live forever  in the light of God then stay clear of unauthorized sexual pleasure. “Unauthorized’ here is a critical element in the preceding sentence. Although constantly being revised and rethought, when and how sex gets authorized and becomes okay is strictly defined in cultural precepts. That’s fodder for another blog post.

Oh, we take sex very seriously in our culture, in our time, but we have very contradictory ideas about it. Yes, the sex act is fun and all that, but it also brings us clearly into the physical world and that’s a dangerous place to be if you want to be immortal.

In my next post, I’ll consider how sex and our animality fit into our broader moral world.
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Private Forest Companies: The New Aristocracy

So, in this neck of the woods, criticizing logging and forestry companies is like badmouthing Jesus so I will refrain from doing that. What I will say, however, may seem like finding fault with the forestry based companies and their government supporters and ‘regulators’ but it isn’t. That doesn’t mean that I’m happy with what the likes of Hancock Forest Management, TimberWest, and Island Timberlands are doing. I think that most of their logging practices are unsustainable, damage the environment, compromise watersheds and unnecessarily restrict access to forested lands. But it’s all perfectly legal. They only do what the government allows them to do. It’s not their fault.

From their websites we learn that together they own in fee simple (the same way in which you own your house and the property it sits on) some 1,500,000 acres of forest lands on Vancouver Island, mostly in the lower half of the Island but with assets all over the place. TimberWest also has harvesting rights for 700,000 cubic metres of timber per year. The Private Forest Landowners Association says that private forest lands account for only 2 percent of BC’s land mass. That’s true, but I’d like to know what percentage of Vancouver Island is private forest land. That would be more relevant to me. Even more relevant would be an indication of what percentage of forest land, not bare mountain tops or urban areas, is held privatively and how that percentage has changed over the decades.

Also according to their websites these companies are fully in compliance with all the government regulations and comply with or exceed national and global harvesting standards, something I have no doubt is entirely true.  They claim that good relations with their neighbouring communities is also a high priority as is sustainability.

That’s all fine and dandy.

I have no doubt that there are many well-intentioned people who work for the companies I note above. I actually know some of them and they’re generally good people. And I don’t really have anything to say about the fact that these companies comply with government regulations and standards. I’m sure they do.

The problem is that government regulations are so lax as to be insignificant to these companies and violations of rules and regulations often go unpunished because the government has gutted enforcement staff and doesn’t really want to prosecute forestry companies anyhow. The company websites argue that they have over 30 Acts and regulations and rules to live by, but they are somehow making the best of it and at all times and in all places operate by commonly described ‘best practices’ to maintain sustainability, environmental, wildlife and community values. If a number of recent media reports have any credence, that’s hardly the case.

I just don’t see how the public good is served by having most of the southern half of Vancouver Island owned by private companies, why governments would allow this and how we are supposed to believe what the companies say about the wonderful and sustainable ways that they cut forests down.

Forest companies are really like a new aristocracy. During the Middle Ages and beyond, aristocrats and monarchs owned and controlled great swaths of land in Europe and elsewhere allowing only limited access to the peasantry and locals. That’s what is happening here with forest companies being the new aristocrats and us being the peasants. Of course, aristocrats and monarchs didn’t want to piss off the peasants too much or they could, and did, get rather revolting. There may be a lesson here for our new aristocratic forest companies and their government cheerleaders.

Governments have given land away to private companies for decades now starting with the big giveaway by the federal government to the CPR and on Vancouver Island to Dunsmuir in the late 19th century. Social Credit, Liberal and NDP governments have all participated in the giveaway over the decades and now we are in a situation where privatization of public lands seems to have gotten to the point where there is precious little Crown Land in the mountains and valleys of southern Vancouver Island.

Governments are increasingly committed to privatization.

They privatize as many services as they can by contracting out legal, technical, medical, health care and other services without drawing too much attention to it. They privatize land too. Most privatization now happens under the public radar, incrementally and often imperceptibly. It goes largely unnoticed. Privatization removes public assets from the public domain and places them in private hands. Even regulatory enforcement is sometimes privatized or put in the hands of the affected industries by making them self-regulating.

The reality is that the public sector is shrinking in BC as are public assets which are increasingly ending up in private hands. The common good is being sacrificed more and more to the gods of profitability. Less and less control stays in the hands of the public. With regards to forest lands, the result of this is watershed damage as recently reported on the Englishman River, environmental degradation and the alienation of wealth into the hands of the few, all sanctioned and abetted by government. The Private Forest Landowners Association supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and opposes any regulation on the exportation of raw logs. It claims that there is no money in domestic value-added production for the companies it represents and log exports are the only way they make money. The TPP is aimed at gutting national sovereignty and would serve to put corporations in greater and greater control over our lives. That’s the reality no matter how much they protest otherwise. I find it extremely difficult to accept the industry argument that they are acting in the public interest and for the common good.

It’s also clear that the provincial government does not govern in the public interest. In terms of forest lands it governs for the corporations and acts to protect and enhance their private interests at every turn.

The class system is alive and well and apparently hasn’t really changed much since the Middle Ages. Oh, the ruling class looks different, but it’s really the same. The only change is that we have been convinced that we live in a democracy and that together we make the rules. Such a sad delusion.

 

 

Want to be safe? Maybe we need to let Syrians in and keep Americans out.

I didn’t really want to do this, but I can’t help myself. When I see people advocating shutting down our borders to Syrian refugees I see red. 

As I’ve pointed out in previous posts, there are many historical precedents for receiving refugees and if you want to ‘google’ it, check out how many immigrants, many of them refugees, were brought to Canada from 1896 to 1914. Millions. Not 25,000. Millions! In 1913 and 14, 400,000 or so each year. These people came here from all over Europe, many escaping the tension just before the 1st World War. Many settled in the West. The immigration minister of the time, Clifford Sifton recognized the need for people to come to this country to build it. He gave them land and tools. I’m convinced the paltry number of Syrian refugees we plan on taking in will also enrich this country but we also need to help them. They have been completely impoverished and devastated. Of course not all of them are angels, but neither are all of us.

But closing our borders? Well I could argue that closing our borders to Americans would probably be much more logical than blocking 
Syrians. Why, all Americans have guns don’t you know, murders happen all the time in the US, mass murders are frequent. There’s no way of assuring ourselves that Americans we let in aren’t murderers or child rapers at the least. Our security and safety are in jeopardy! If we’re going to close our borders, we should start with Americans. 

But, you know, Canada has its own murderers and high order miscreants. Women are not safe in this country especially in their own homes. We have our own people ‘terrorizing’ us. We live a few doors down from a ‘legal’  marijuana grow op. Recently I was talking to a young man living on an adjacent property and he decided to move his young family away because the jerk running the grow-op had threatened him telling him to stay away from the grow-op because he has a gun, you know. Gee, Mexico could very well prevent Canadians from coming down because you never know if one of them might be another Paul Bernardo!

Boy, we have all kinds or reasons to be afraid for our safety. Just have to drive the Malahat to be clear on that or live in some of our neighbourhoods such as the Downtown East Side or be homeless. We don’t need hypothetical reasons for being fearful like the fear of Syrian refugees, most of them highly traumatized children and their mothers. 

Of course some people specialize in hatred and fear. Chicken Little is alive and well. ‘The sky is falling.” We don’t need to heed their baseless and ridiculous arguments. 

We live in one of the safest countries in the world and it will stay that way with or without Syrian refugees. We can make it so, but not by being bowed by fear.

Carry on, Justin!

Don’t get me started on Syrian refugee refuseniks!

For the moment I will allow  that this is a democratic country and people have a right to their opinions no matter how ‘out there’ they might be.

Yes, I understand  that the current federal government was elected with less than a 40% majority and yes, I know that the Conservatives would take a very different approach to the issue of refugees.

Yes, I’ve had a look at what it takes to become a refugee to Canada from Syria and I’m sure that all those women and children are potential ‘terrorists’ but let me tell you that if my neighbourhood was bombed to smithereens like many in Aleppo as shown in this SANA image, I would be looking to get my ass out of there pronto. And if I didn’t get a helping hand to get out of there and resettle instead of rotting in a camp somewhere in Jordan or Turkey, I might just consider a career with ISIS.

Put yourself in the shoes of the average Syrian and you may get a little sympathy for what they’re going through. If you believe that they’re all terrorists, there is nothing for me to say to you.

Yes, the odd miscreant may slip  through the immigration dragnet and come to Canada to later rob a grocery store, but that’s to be expected of any population. We have our own homegrown miscreants of course, quite a few of them, and they’re not all petty crooks and jail fodder. I’m confident the Syrian refugees will not add at all to the quota of miscreants we already have.

Most refugees don’t want to be refugees. They would much rather go back to their homes. But just look at the photo above and tell me what there is  to return to.

So, please stop with the fear-mongering. Stephen Harper is gone and we don’t have to be afraid anymore of Muslims under our beds waiting to slit our throats as soon as we fall asleep or some terrorist suicide bomber blowing herself up in downtown Cumberland. We never did have to be afraid of those things.

Make no mistake, there’s no 100% guarantee of your safety. There never has been and  there never will be. One thing for certain is that women in this country are in more danger in their own homes via domestic violence than they will ever be at the hands of a Syrian refugee.

One thing though, if Syrian president Assad should ever apply for refugee status, we need to deny it. We already have enough assholes here.