The Moderate Sort of Racist Misogyny.

Q: How many Liberals does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Look guys, I know we promised change during the election, but the situation on the ground is such that…

So here’s the Liberal Party in a nutshell. Now, the article refers specifically to the Liberal Party of Quebec, rather than its federal equivalent, but there’s a pretty significant amount of cross-pollination between the two, and the criticism still applies.

For context:  A few months ago, the then-governing Parti Québecois entered an election campaign running on its proposed “Quebec Charter of Values.” The values embodied were nominally those of secularism, but in practice, the charter was rightly decried as xenophobic; it banned all public employees from wearing “conspicuous” religious symbols (that is: turbans, hijabs, or kippahs, but not, presumably, crucifix pendants) as well as mandating that everyone have their faces uncovered when receiving any sort of public service. Notably, for a secular charter, it was surprisingly silent on the issue of the giant crucifix in Quebec’s legislature, on the grounds an icon of Jesus Christ been sacrificed in penance for the sins of mankind is somehow not a religious symbol*. In other words, the charter was far more about sticking it to unpopular minorities (Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs) then it was about the (laudable) goal of ensuring the religious neutrality of the Provincial Government.

Anyways, the Parti Quebecois went on to lose the election (for a variety of reasons, mostly unrelated to the Charter), and was replaced in government by the Liberal Party.

But now, of course, the Charter is back. But don’t worry everyone! It’s a moderate version!

Vallee said her legislation would allow all religious symbols but place limits on the burka, and the niqab, which cover a woman’s face, and the chador, a long veil which covers the hair and arms and is seen as a symbol of religious oppression

So in other words, they’re not going to stick it to all unpopular religious minorities anymore; oh no. Now it’s been trimmed down so that it only sticks it to really unpopular religious minorities. And only the women, so it’s OK!**

This is precisely what I hate about the political moderation.

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*Considering that fundamentalist Christianity is currently by far the biggest threat to secularism in just about every jurisdiction in North America, this is a profound oversight.

**On a side note, I just love the logic here: these are “symbols of religious oppression” of women, so naturally women will automatically become less oppressed once we start policing what they’re allowed to wear in public. No doubt, denying them government services will help them assimilate into mainstream society too! There’s simply no way of interpreting this policy except as a scrap of red meat being thrown to xenophobes.

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Of Moral Ambiguity

There’s probably a lot of moral ambiguity in the world; at least, I keep hearing about how much there is. But there seems to be a hell of a lot more in the way of assholes claiming that there’s moral ambiguity where there isn’t, in order to mask their own guilt.

Take, for example, police officer Darren Wilson’s shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. last month. Eye witness testimony and forensic evidence all agree: Mike Brown was shot multiple times from a distance of thirty-five feet while in the process of surrendering. This being the case, it is clear that his killer, Darren Wilson, should at the very least be put on trial.

But of course, police solidarity and petty, racist tribalism among certain white Americans can’t allow that. And so the police took it upon themselves to release video of Brown allegedly committing petty theft before his murder*: even the New York Times took it upon themselves to declare that the victim “was no angel”–as if there is now or ever has been a single person on Earth who was, or as if the theft of $5 worth of merchandise was sufficient cause to shoot an unarmed teenager multiple times from a distance. What purpose does this video serve other than to kick up false clouds of moral ambiguity to obscure the sight of a clearly evil act? To allow those with an emotional interest in Darren Wilson getting away with it to twiddle their thumbs and equivocate, and to make solemn pronouncements about how “things aren’t black and white?”

Now please don’t misconstrue; I’m not saying that there isn’t moral ambiguity when it comes to people: as I have said, no one is an angel, and by the same token, no one is a devil either, and I have yet to meet anyone with no redeeming features**. But it is very, very rare that a seemingly evil act can genuinely be recontextualized into a good or morally neutral one, and most of the times when you hear it said, it’s a self-serving lie.

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*There, I said it.

**Even the biggest asshole I’ve ever met doted on his cats like royalty.

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Giving Stephen Harper Too Much Credit

Ever since Stephen Harper was first elected in 2006, there has been an endless conversation going on in Canada’s media and academic institutions about the ideological predispositions of his government. Is he a genuine fundamentalist, or is he just playing one to appease his base? How are his policies rooted in the traditions of Albertan conservatism? Does he oppose action on climate change because he rejects the science or because he is hostile to the idea of government intervention in the economy? And so on.

Presumably, the people who engage in such speculation are doing so in the hopes that, if they can pin down his intellectual history, it can help to create a narrative for how his government operates. But I have come to believe that all of this speculation is ultimately worthless, in that it assumes that there is a coherent, ideological rationale behind his policies.

What all such discussions overlook is one key fact: Stephen Harper (and by extension his government) is–first, last, and only–a creature of the oil and gas industry. A spiteful, petty, resentful creature–but a creature nonetheless. Once you just accept this fact, all discussion of his ideology becomes immaterial; everything he claims he believes in is nothing more than a smokescreen*.

Take, for example, two news items in the last week.

In the first, Harper’s Finance Minister, Joe Oliver, has criticized the government of Nova Scotia for banning fracking in its territory.  Now, of course, natural resources are a matter of provincial jurisdiction in Canada, and Joe Oliver isn’t a citizen of Nova Scotia, so this can’t even be said to affect him personally. So why would a high-ranking federal minister be making a public statement about something which is so blatantly none of his business? Especially considering that when the Harper regime was first elected in 2006, it ran on opposition to the Kyoto protocol on the grounds that it “touches on provincial jurisdiction, without consulting the provinces.”

Now, as you can see, in one case,  Harper’s Conservatives think provincial jurisdiction is sacrosanct (when it helps the oil industry); in the other case, Harper’s Conservatives feel like telling the provinces what to do (when their actions hurt the oil industry). Clearly, no hemming-and-hawing about Harper’s opinion on federalism is going to be helpful here: the government will spin on a dime when the oil industry’s profits are at stake.

In the second, more critical item, Harper has, without consultation, signed a “free trade” deal with the People’s Republic of China. Among other things, this deal serves to lock-in Harper’s environmental deregulations for the next 31 years, by allowing state-owned Chinese companies to sue for lost revenue. In other words, Harper, a right-wing Conservative Prime Minister, has abrogated Canadian sovereignty to China, a Communist state, to the benefit (surprise, surprise) of the oil patch. There is simply no way to justify such behaviour in terms of any sort of coherent ideology–especially not those generally ascribed to Harper: nationalism and economic libertarianism.

But it’s not just Harper’s hypocrisies which make sense when you adopt this model: it, and it alone, explains virtually everything that his government has done for the last eight years, from the constant drive for more free trade deals, to the harassment of environmentalists, to the gutting of scientific research, to the rollback of First Nations’ sovereignty, even to his obsessive quest to strengthen the Canadian claim to the arctic by means of ridiculous photo-ops of him searching for the wrecks of the Erebus and the Terror**.

So why isn’t this the dominant narrative behind Harper’s actions? Well, I believe that when you’re an intellectual, there’s always the temptation to perceive everything in terms of intellectual history unfolding itself before your eyes. But if you do this, you run the risk of taking bullshit at face value and ignoring baser, more materialistic considerations. So it has been in the case of Harper. Commentators trying to puzzle out some grand system of beliefs which drive the man and his government are giving him way too much credit; he’s a shill, and nothing more.

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*Although, you could say with a fair degree of accuracy that this puts him in with the finest intellectual traditions of Libertarianism.

**To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea, as it were.

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Of History and Petty Tribalism

As you know, I’m a bit of a recovering nationalist. There was a time (when I was approximately 14 years old or so) when I believed that Canada could do no wrong, neither in the present, nor in history. Oh, there were a few slip-ups, I might acknowledge: the Residential Schools chief among them, but be we were very sorry for that, and in any case, it was mostly the churches’ fault. This is actually a pretty productive (I’m not going to say “good”) attitude to have when you are a high school student, from an academic perspective. It is, of course, the attitude that whoever drafted the curriculum wants you to have*. But it has the effect of warping your understanding of the world. It is difficult to break-out of the trap, but it can be done, and I will explain how:

If you want to learn the lessons of history, there is one very critical fact that you must first accept: Your ancestors, countrymen, or predecessors were not on the morally correct side of every issue.

Once you accept this–once you acknowledge that your great grandfather might have been a racist asshole, or that some of your nation’s wars might have been criminal enterprises, or even that your ideological or religious fellow travellers may have committed some very dubious acts in the name of their stated ideals–your view of the world will become vastly simpler and far more accurate. You will able to examine context which you had previously ignored for being inconvenient, and you will able to dispose of all of those ridiculous ideological scaffolds that you have built-up in your imagination to justify or explain-away those things which do not fit neatly into your worldview.

It goes without saying that you will have a better picture of the past; but history is continuous, so it will also give you a more accurate view of the present, and very likely of the future as well, at least in a general sense. Somewhat less obviously: you will also become a better person.

Let me justify this last claim. If you do not have a well-defined concept of yourself as an individual, then you will most likely strongly associate yourself with one or more group identities, if only as a means of understanding who you are. Nation and religion are always popular for this purpose, but any old identity will do**. You will naturally tend to claim the virtues and accomplishments of this group as your own, whilst minimizing or denying their vices***. This, of course, is what motivates a distorted view of history. But breaking yourself of the idea that your forebears were tautologically on the side of the angels can be a first step in breaking yourself of the idea that present members of your group are tautologically on the side of the angels. And then you will have no choice but to seek out your own virtues.

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*If you believe that your country doesn’t teach even a little bit of propaganda in its history classrooms, then I am very sorry but you have probably inhaled a lethal dose of it.

**There are a large number of people, in fact, who associate themselves with that most paradoxical of group identities: “Individualist.”

***A good example of this phenomenon in action, at the time of writing, is the white Americans rallying around Darren Wilson, the cop who killed an unarmed black teenager in Missouri. They support him because acknowledging the racism of the act hurts their group identity.

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Medical Incompetence

I’m tempted to call this “medical abuse,” but honestly, I would prefer to think that it was simply a mistake made on my Doctor’s part, and so I shall refrain from going so far. The fact of the matter is that, for the last several months, I have not had an adequate supply of hormones for transition. When I left the city in which I did my Master’s Program, my GP gave me a year’s worth of refills for HRT prescriptions. These expired in June, and GPs are notoriously hard to come by in my home city. There is a clinic here which specializes in transgender-related healthcare, but the doctor there works only one day a week, and so it is booked solid for about six months in advance. Therefore, when my prescriptions were on the verge on expiring, I went to a normal walk-in clinic to have them refilled.

The doctor seemed sympathetic enough, at the time. He admitted that he had never, to his knowledge, treated a transgender patient before, but seemed perfectly willing to write me a new prescription. It was only when I took it to the pharmacy several weeks later that I realized that there was an issue. Apparently, the prescription had, in some way, not been filled out properly. The pharmacist was required to call the walk-in clinic to get verification. I can only assume that there was some miscommunication there, because when I was given my prescription, I discovered that, without any consultation whatsoever, my dosages had been changed–presumably by a man who, by his own admission, had no experience treating transgender patients. In particular, my dosage of anti-androgens had been cut by two thirds; my estrogen dosage had been cut in half; and my progesterone dosage (which had been kept low on account of how progesterone can induce depression) has been raised by a quarter.

I have not been able to get my prescriptions changed back to their original state without a note from either my GP or my endocrinologist, which somewhat inconvenient, as you might imagine, as they are both on the other side of the continent. Over the summer, I have watched in disgust as the dosages have taken their physiological toll.

But thankfully, I will not have to wait much longer; the first thing that I do when I return to University will be to schedule an appointment with my endocrinologist.

 

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The Surplus Value of (my) Labour

So apparently, the agency that I work for pays me less than a third of what they charge for my editing services, and that’s just for the economy package.

Time to ask for a raise, I think.

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Lessons Learned in Montréal

Yesterday, I returned from my month-long sojourn in Montreal; while it was certainly a wonderful thing to regain some measure of independence (no matter how temporarily), I am certainly happy to see the end of 24-hour work days*. I learned a great many things about myself and the world in Montreal, and,  in no particular order, I shall relate some of them to you now.

  1. It’s impossible to be a freak in Montreal. This was one thing that I learned rapidly. Montreal is by far the largest city in which I have ever spent an appreciable amount of time, and it is also the only city in which I have lived where nobody gave me any funny looks for being a two hundred pound trans woman. There are too many different kinds of people living in too close proximity to one another for any one type of person to stand out as appreciably weirder than the rest, and this is glorious.
  2. I know French. Really, I do. I have all of the vocabulary, grammar, and syntax locked up in my brain somewhere; what I don’t have is the experiential alchemy necessary to transform my knowledge of the technical details into actual fluency. But I am confident that, given another month or two, I could learn it. When I first arrived, none of the conversations I overheard made any sense. But after the first two weeks or so, I started to be able to get the gist of many of them.
  3. Social interaction is not like riding a bicycle. I have never been particularly skillful at social interaction, but after a few years on my Master’s degree, I learned to navigate my way through most encounters with other Human Beings. But then I returned from Strasbourg, with nothing to do, and my social life went into the deep freeze. I’m afraid that it is somewhat worse for the wear, and I have returned, unfortunately, to my usual frigid self.
  4. I don’t actually like heavy drinking, loud clubs, or staying up until 4 AM in association with either of these things. Part of the problem that I encountered in point 3 was that all of the modes of social interaction allowed by the program involved one or both of these things, and, at the risk of wasting my twenties, I would rather not spend my time in this manner. Couldn’t we order pizza and watch movies, or perhaps play board games?
  5. Neither religion, nor the lack of it, can do anything for your personality if you are, at heart, a douchebag. As you may have guessed, the greatest part of my work in Montreal centred around editing a report on the subject of extra-solar planets. One part of the report, given the interdisciplinary nature of the program, was an attempt to trace the idea of other worlds existing elsewhere in the Universe throughout history and culture. This was primarily done through the prism of religion. But 20-something STEM graduates don’t tend to be the most theistic of people, and there is a vocal sub-class of atheists who are incapable of getting through a discussion of religion in any context without launching into a tirade about “how it has been the major force holding Humanity back throughout history” and how, implicitly, they are intellectually superior to believers. This is how you get things like an utterly-irrelevant two page discussion of a study that shows how average national IQ is inversely proportional to average religiosity** in a section that is supposed to be about Democritus.  But before you start ragging on the atheists here, I should add that, not three hours after I had excised that particular discussion, I overheard two Catholics in a greasy spoon diner claiming that God had retroactively given Stephen Hawking Lou Gehrig’s  disease in preemptive punishment for his statements of disbelief. Sometimes I just hate people so much.
  6. Toxic Masculinity is almost always a mask for a lack of basic competence. One “charming” new experience that I got to endure for the first time was sexual harassment in the workplace. I didn’t even notice it at first (because I prefer to assume everyone’s good faith, and because I tend to be pretty oblivious to matters of passive aggression), but it soon became clear that every single time I went into the computer lab, this one gentleman would manage to bring a male/female gender-bender (the electronic device) up in conversation. This same fellow later started making “make me a sandwich” jokes to all of the women working on the project. Needless to say, his jokes were not a tenth as funny as his hilariously bad writing. 
  7. I’m secretly a very good manager. Those 24 hour work days to which I alluded earlier never happened to me last year, when I was actually on a project. This was because I planned everything out six weeks beforehand and got my team organized and working early so that none of us would ever have to pull an all-nighter. This year, however, I was working to the team editors’ schedule, and (if I do say so myself) it was not as well-planned as mine had been.
  8. Everyone who has ever attended the Osheaga Music Festival in Montreal is my mortal enemy. A number of attendees of this annual event in the cultural life of Montreal spent the final week of the program in the student residence where I stayed. To them, I can only ask: WHAT COULD EVER MAKE YOU THINK THAT PLAYING MUSIC AT FULL BLAST AT FOUR THIRTY IN THE FUCKING MORNING IN THE COURTYARD OF A STUDENT RESIDENCE IS AN OK THING TO DO? Right outside of my window, no less! You people should have your skeletons boiled down for glue!
  9. Taking courses in the Humanities and Social Sciences improves your report-writing skills. I remember that one introductory political science course that I took back in 2005; when assigning our first essay, the professor, in his wisdom, counselled us against writing a clichéd introductory paragraph, such as one which (to use his memorable parlance) “hearkened back to the mists of time***.” Ever since then, I have tried to avoid such paragraphs. But apparently the people writing this report had never had this professor or anyone like him, and so a report on gravitational wobbles began with several paragraphs on the subject of cave paintings.
  10. I need to get my life back. After a year on ice, I was allowed to feel–fleetingly–like a person again. I need to have that permanently. I’ve been waiting around too long already, and one way or the other, I need to take some risks.

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*On average I worked 8 hours a day, but the workload was poorly distributed. There were many days when I had nothing to do at all, and many others, mostly towards the end, where there was virtually no time to sleep at all, and I was therefore forced to fuel myself with cans of Monster energy beverage until I was tremulous with exhaustion.

**Needless to say, this study put northern Europe and Canada at the top and the various African nations down somewhere near the bottom, and didn’t bother to consider how things like average national income or the last three hundred years of colonialism might work as hidden variables. Stephen Jay Gould spins in his grave.

***Apparently this professor had read one too many essays which began with something like: “Ever since that lost age of remotest antiquity when the first proto-hominid crawled out of the primordial ooze, looked to the heavens, and declared ‘I am man!,’ people have pondered one fundamental question: Is a triple-E senate a good fit for Canada?”

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