Archives for category: Social Criticism

“Not In My BackYard” is a sentiment among the middle class that refers to their liberal recognition that yeah, I guess we should probably do something for the poors, just so long as I never have to see them, interact with them, or have any cognition that they even exist. Poverty works best as an abstraction in the mind, a reminder of how blessed we are, rather than something concrete and immediate that maybe we ought to deal with. The homeless, to quote former British Finance Minister Sir George Young, are “the people you step over when you come out of the opera.” They shouldn’t be your neighbours because they don’t belong in your community. NIMBYism is the reactionary backlash when the middle class fantasy of pristine civilization is disrupted by evidence-based policy that says class integration promotes social mobility. It’s all well and good to have, say, detox facilities, but it is imperative that they are placed in the neighbourhood where drug dealers will be beckoning to their old clients through the windows. My sense of civilized entitlement demands it.


I will help you on the condition that you never leave the situation you find yourself in, AND I don’t have to see, hear, or smell you. Deal?

However, pristine middle class civilization is just a fantasy. To continue with our example, drug use is still prevalent in middle class neighbourhoods. In fact, because of the willful ignorance, the situation could even be considered worse. South Vancouver is a middle class neighbourhood that has 1 in 9 deaths due to drug overdose per 911 call. Compare this to the Downtown Eastside that has 1 overdose death in 29. There are certainly more deaths overall in the DTES, but when aid is required, that neighbourhood is flooded with resources and education that is forbidden in South Vancouver due to class anxiety and NIMBY hand-wringing. Pretending that substance abuse, domestic violence, child neglect, and all of the other problems that “Other People” have don’t exist in the bubble you’ve created for yourself is harmful to this “perfect” community because it prevents needed supports from being implemented that might help those who are already in your “backyard.” Never mind those who are seen to be invading it.


Nobody invited you, shadow people. Stop harshing my buzz!

Let’s assume for a moment that we’ve created a neighbourhood where no poor people could dare enter. A gated community that never has to worry about property devaluation due to social justice because no politician would ever slight this demographic: an upper class neighbourhoodWe’ll also assume that they don’t want social resources in their neighbourhood for the same reason as the middle class; they don’t want to be conscious of class inequality. Except Sir George Young is upper class, and he still had to deal with the homeless because people generally don’t spend their entire lives in their backyard. Sometimes they go to the opera, and if you don’t want people stabbing you in the junk as you step over them, you probably want to make sure “those people” have the best resources available to prevent that junk-stabbing moment. As it turns out, integration does pretty well for that sort of thing. Like the detox housed right next to the drug dealers, those stuck in substandard social situations with all the compounding effects of crime, reduced access to health services, underfunded education, etc. will be worse off than if they were in a different environment with better social determinants. For like, really obvious reasons!

What might reduce this NIMBY attitude? Wolfenschiessen, a small town in Switzerland, was asked in 1993 if they would accept a nuclear waste repository in their town, and a slim majority of them said yes. Later, some economists surveyed the town again, asking if pecuniary compensation would sway them further still. This lead to the approval rating dropping from 51% to 25%. Even increasing the compensation did nothing to change their new NIMBY attitude. Being part of a community requires universal responsibility for that community. Accepting social burden requires a connection to that community, and a culture that commodifies everything, even civic responsibility, will be doomed to collapse into itself as more and more neighbourhoods embrace NIMBYism at the cost of the whole. What is required is a reduction in libertarian individualism, and an increase in communal relationships.


There! Much better. Hold up, there are still shadow people! God dammit!

We need to start seeing our neighbours as our neighbours. Just because someone doesn’t live next door doesn’t mean they do not belong. A community is necessarily inclusive of everyone within it. Let’s not abandon ourselves to segregated ghettos. At no point in history has that ever been a good idea.

Post-Script: It’s a good idea to mention NIMBY attitudes against real threats to the community, such as poisonous industry near water supplies or hell, even nuclear waste sites. The difference is everyone agrees that things like detox facilities and homeless shelters are a good idea; the argument goes against where to place them. Pollutants are being condemned specifically because they destroy their surrounding environment, but they destroy the world at large as well. A global NIMBY attitude, where we collectively agree that certain developments are unwelcome anywhere, is a different story.

Another Post-Script: Class antagonism toward the poor is often racially driven. My use of “segregated ghettos” was not a coincidence. A lot of NIMBY attitude comes from wishing to avoid race integration just as much as class. You can watch Show Me A Hero on HBO for an intelligent and compelling dramatization of a real-life class integration attempt in New York to see what I mean.

Huge spoilers for The Good Place. Just a heads up. Really you shouldn’t read this if you haven’t seen the show.

As is made explicitly clear within the show, the Good Place/Bad Place distinction is inherently an immoral system. Frequent reference is made to the need for a Medium Place for those whose behaviour does not lie at either extreme. The show also raises the question about the potential for change within every human, and how their ethical existence might evolve if they evade death and are given enough time and opportunity to do so. Eternal punishment for sins committed in a finite world is thus grossly disproportionate.

There are further problems that the show does not illustrate. For example, Chidi has no intention to harm, but his actions nonetheless cause harm to those around him. He is qualified for eternal punishment. Tahani raises considerable amounts of money for charity, but does not do so out of pure altruism. She too “deserves” eternal punishment. This means that both the intent and the consequences must equally be measured, and there seems to be no margin for error.  Preventing every harmful accident is an extreme that few if any would be able to accomplish. This system also heavily disadvantages those not born into privilege, as the obstacles to walking the tightrope of sufficient morality would become nigh insurmountable. Stealing to eat has both negative intentions and consequences, reserving the hottest spot in the Bad Place for those unlucky enough to be born into poverty. Immanuel Kant, Chidi’s go-to moral philosopher, famously stated that ought implies can, which means that in order for an action to even be measured morally, one must possess the capability to perform it in the first place. If ability is neglected in moral measurement, that measurement ought to be rejected.

The Good Place - Season Pilot

Kant went to the Bad Place for telling the truth to a killer at the door.

Chidi ought to be smart enough to reject the Manichean dichotomy of the Good Place, but he does not. His aim, once he learns he is not in the Good Place, is to get in. He wishes to participate in this unjust system; not only participate, he believes he is entitled to benefit from it. Chidi wishes to benefit from a system that privileges an arbitrary elite at the expense of the vulgar majority. The question is why. The show, amazingly, answers this question as well.

Chidi was born in Nigeria, and was raised in Senegal. Chidi’s parents likely would have been alive and young enough to intimately experience the civil war that tore Nigeria apart shortly after it won its independence out from under British colonialism. They emigrated to Senegal and spoke French, which likely means that his parents would have been supporters of the Biafra and would have fled shortly after the war ended due to their position on the losing side. They chose Senegal, a former French colony used to bolster their slave trade. Chidi must have been raised by parents who spoke of an enlightened France that sought to protect the Biafra minority, all the while ignorant of France’s motives to maintain a competitive edge in their African imperialism against the waning British Empire.

Chidi is an intellectual, and a moral philosopher, raised in a former French colony, and it is almost certain that he would have read Frantz Fanon, an intellectual raised in the French colony in Algeria. Similarly he would have read Albert Memmi, from Tunisia under again, French colonialism. Fanon describes the reaction to the unjust system of colonialism as necessarily revolutionary, often violent, while Memmi offers one alternative: assimilation. Given his exposure and his race, Chidi would have had a reaction toward these calls to rebel given by his peers.

Chidi taught at universities in France and Australia: his colonizers, and another colony that effectively eliminated its colonized. Every single philosopher he mentions throughout the show is European. This shows that he rejects revolution against unjust systems, and indeed prefers to assimilate. What he must have missed, or purposefully ignored, in Memmi’s The Colonizer and the Colonized is that those who choose to assimilate neglect the fact that the racism of the colonial system will never allow complete assimilation. The colonized, the Other, will never be welcome in the colony because the system was designed around the notion of their inherent inferiority. His constant global migration could be a reaction to the racism he continued to face, even in the academic elite, as he battled the cognitive dissonance of European exceptionalism against his lived reality.



Chidi, on the road to the Good Place, believes he is entitled to finally benefit from an unjust system. He had been trying to assimilate for so long that when he finally reaches what he believes is the Good Place, he never once questions it. In the 800+ reboots that the “Good Place” endures, Chidi is never the one who ever raises the question of the Good Place’s legitimacy. Even Jason figures it out, but Chidi is so blind by his desire for assimilation that he embraces his position within it every time. Chidi has internalized colonial racism to the extent that he can no longer question obviously and explicitly illegitimate systems.

The ethical response to an unethical system is revolution. Fanon quotes the famed Good Place entrepreneur Jesus Christ, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Rather than attempting to obtain a position of privilege over the oppressed majority, Chidi should voluntarily walk among those in the Bad Place, for they have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and organize them against the Architects of their fate. Chidi would be quite happy in a library reading books for eternity, but to quote Fanon (referencing Marx) in Black Skin, White Masks, “What matters is not to know the world but to change it.”

I mean, that would never happen because the Good Place is written by liberals who think that charity is the epitome of moral excellence, but hey. Season 3, prove me wrong. Vive la révolution!

In a shock to absolutely no one, condemning Nazis is super easy. Industrialized murder and racial supremacy aren’t really all that controversial. I mean, I know that’s not universal and there is a certain president that seems to excel at fucking up even the simplest of value-judgments, but when there was that anti-immigration rally in Vancouver, and an overwhelming number of people showed up to say that overt racism is wrong, was anybody really all that surprised? Cuz like, Nazis are bad. Punching Nazis isn’t controversial; we’ve made video games about exterminating them with a variety of creative weaponry far more grisly than a fist since video games first started being a thing. Same thing with violence against women. Even the Alt-Right propagandist Breitbart released some articles about the recent #MeToo campaign that conveyed sympathy toward the victims. Their goals are the same as any radical feminist: sympathy and justice for the victims, and retribution against the offender. No one in the world has more respect for women than Donald Trump, because disrespecting women is bad.

We know these things because they are obvious. Nazism today is repellent. Rape is horrific. Disrespecting women is barbaric. If there’s one thing that fascists and misogynists agree on, it’s that fascism and misogyny are bad. If everyone agrees on these things, then surely bigotry must be eradicated from society. All those SJWs can sleep easy, knowing that white supremacists no longer identify as racists.

I mean, even though hate crimes are on the rise, lynchings are way down. No one is burning crosses anymore. Where did all that racism go? Why do people keep talking about it when everyone agrees that it’s bad? Well, all the -isms have gotten more subtle. Now racism, sexism, and heterosexism are most prevalent in systemic structures.

I know what you’re thinking: ffuuuuuuuuucccckkk! Systemic? Structures? What is this postmodern cultural-Marxist jargon bullshit?! If the president doesn’t explicitly say that black people are inherently worthless due to the colour of their skin, then the “system” must be equal for everyone because there can be no possible form of racism other than direct violence.


If this isn’t happening, it can’t be racist.

As it turns out, there can be. Hannah Arendt in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil gives a pretty fair description of what systemic injustice looks like. A Jew who fled Nazi Germany, her critique of Adolf Eichmann during his post-WW2 trial mostly centres on him being the most boring, inoffensive dude in the world; the Ed Sheeran of the Nazi party. How could this oppressively bland human being be responsible for the expulsion and extermination of the Jews during the Holocaust?

Systemic injustice thrives on those who participate within an unjust society believing that they are not doing wrong. They are simply following the rules, and any kind of blame for the results of those rules is so diluted in bureaucracy that personal responsibility evaporates. Everyone is so distanced from direct action that they can confidently state, “Well, I never did ________!” Eichmann, and anyone who participates in these types of systems, is seen as normal to the point of being dull because normalcy itself is the monstrosity that is causing the atrocities.


In this instance, George, Lizzie, and Ralph are metaphors for normalcy, and Dan’s Deli is the Holocaust. Or maybe it’s the Jews? I picked a bad metaphor here, I think.

The person has no specific value because their role in this system is interchangeable. There is no need to hate the Jews, and weeding out the sadists and psychopaths perpetuates the normalcy that is required for the system to function. Passionate people with convictions are also not particularly welcome, since convictions would negate the systemic process. Normal people are calm, educated, and endure uncomfortable realities because dirty jobs need to get done. Normalcy validates our deeds, allowing us to separate our identity from their intrinsic stigma, and quells any misgivings we might have about the way things are because the way things are is already established as “normal.” When everyone is guilty, nobody is.

To quote Arendt:

From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together, for it implied – as had been said at Nuremberg over and over again by the defendants and their counsels – that this new type of criminal . . . commits his crimes under circumstances that make it well-night impossible for him to know or to feel that he is doing wrong.

Creating an unjust normal does take some work. It usually finds its beginning in more overt and direct oppression, and then over time infuses itself into the institutions of society that become a part of the every day normal. To give an example, say I’ve shot you repeatedly, but all of a sudden I stop. Then I start saying something like, “hey now, the rules say no bleeding on the carpets! If I were to slice myself while cutting vegetables, I’d have to face the same consequences. Rules are rules!” Then you might say, “But you’re the one who shot me!” My reply of course would be to say, “That was in the past! You’ve got to own your own destiny now!” And then I’d throw you in prison or a concentration camp or something. The normal is the rule about blood on the carpets, equally held for everyone. What makes it unjust is how those very rules are framed to oppress the poor shot up jerk trying to hold his insides in.

Arendt quotes David Rousset, a concentration camp survivor:

They know that the system which succeeds in destroying its victim before he mounts the scaffold . . . is incomparably the best for keeping a whole people in slavery

In Canada, the most obvious example is that of our First Nations people. After the initial genocide and land theft died down, Canada abducted Aboriginal children and forced them into what are known as “Residential Schools” where they would be physically and sexually abused under the pretense of removing their indigenous culture and replacing it with white culture. When that started slowing down, Canadian social workers would go into Native communities, abduct children, and place them into white foster homes under the same basic pretense. This is what’s referred to as the 60s scoop. Today, First Nations children make up close to 50% of all children in care (foster care, group homes, etc.), despite only being 7% of the population. In Manitoba, they make up 88% of children in care. The rules today are that children are not allowed to be in homes where they may be abused or neglected, so they are removed. The reason that Native homes might produce that kind of environment is driven entirely by the history of abduction and abuse that they have suffered in the past. First Nations in Canada must somehow learn how to stop bleeding on the carpet, because our rules, the norms of society, will only continue to punish them for the gunshots they have endured for centuries.

In America, the glaring example is the war on drugs. Founded by Nixon literally as a reason to crack down on blacks and hippies, it continues to this day. Crack is criminalized to a greater extent than cocaine, despite the fact that the drug component of each is exactly the same, because crack is cheaper and thus more predominant in poorer, black communities. White people and black people do about the same amount of drugs, but black people are the ones getting arrested and doing jail time, due in part to the fact that more police patrol black neighbourhoods over white ones. The rules say that drugs are bad, so it doesn’t matter if those who are punished for them are predominantly from a certain group, because rules are neutral. Rules are normal. If they didn’t want to do the time, they shouldn’t have done the crime.

I mean, there are other rules that aren’t so explicitly stated as those written in the law. Regular social rules, like women are supposed to be caregivers, can create systemic opposition when women try to break free from that stereotype. It’s not sexist if it’s just acknowledging what’s “normal,” right? Gay men or those effeminate enough that the differences are negligible (outside of actual sexual preference, which is irrelevant) aren’t real men, so it’s normal to exclude them from homosocial environments. Trans women aren’t real women, and they have to abide by the same bathroom rules as everyone else. If an international corporation moves its manufacturing to a place where labour is cheap and regulations are zilch so they don’t have to pay to protect their poorly paid workers, and as a result I fall into poverty because my secure, good-paying union job has been compromised, that’s fine because companies are allowed to do that. Those are the rules. Doesn’t matter if international corporations are the ones writing them, rules are rules.


When rich people get richer, the GDP grows even if poor people get poorer! When the economy grows, it doesn’t matter *how* it grows! It’s a success when the numbers go up. Pay attention to that.

Systemic racism, systemic sexism, systemic injustice in general is what happens when normal people apply the way things are in broad strokes, not knowing that their very normalcy is the problem. How do you change that? Arendt resorts to biblical… I don’t want to say hyperbole because I’m not sure she intended it that way… but whatever. She refers to Sodom and Gommorah as societies where injustice had become so infused into their system that the only solution became complete destruction. It’s a bit dramatic, but as Michael Warner, author of The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life, says,

When battles have no enemies . . . victories are rare.

There’s a reason that radical leftists call for revolution. If you see statistics that say a minority group is doing worse off than everyone else, but you can’t see anyone giving them ten lashes simply for their minority status, odds are it’s because the ways the rules are set up, these groups are being left behind. They’re being told that they should stop bleeding on the carpet before they’re allowed to fully participate. The problem is normal, and changing normal is a revolutionary process. Yes, there are still people handing out lashes, there are still people firing those gunshots, but seeing beyond these obvious examples requires reevaluating the rules. And it’s something we all have to do.

Let’s finish with some more Arendt to really drive us home:

Many Germans and many Nazis, probably an overwhelming majority of them, must have been tempted not to murder, not to rob, not  to let their neighbors go off to their doom (for that the Jews were transported to their doom they knew, of course, even though many of them may not have known the gruesome details), and not to becomes accomplices in all these crimes by benefiting from them. But, God knows, they had learned how to resist temptation.