Archives for category: Social Criticism

Now, I don’t know who is reading this: you could be different from me. Presumably you at least speak English, but that may be where our similarities end! For the sake of simplicity, however, I will refer to my reader and myself as an “us”, so strap in, because we’re in this together whether you like it or not.

The people who are different from us are often perceived as threatening. Different means unknown, and fear and the unknown go together like jam on toast. Some people don’t like jam on toast; those people are different and therefore threatening.

I’ve got my eye on you…

The thing is, harm can come from anyone. People who are different may be spookily unknown, but people who are the same as us can be just as, if not more, dangerous. Sexual assault is predominantly perpetrated by someone who is familiar to the victim, and intimate partner violence, which makes up a quarter of reported violent crimes, requires sameness as people who are in relationships often have similar backgrounds and perceptions of the world.

Difference is ultimately irrelevant to someone’s predilection toward causing harm. If I were to assume that the people who are like me are not dangerous, then I have to do some serious self-reflection about whether or not I am fundamentally harmless. If I am, huzzah! But if I am belligerent, mistrustful, aggressive or maybe I just condone violence against those who are different from me, then it is not difference that is the threat, but sameness.

Take a good, long look

It could be argued that fear of the unknown, and aggressiveness against it as a defense mechanism, is basic human nature, and maybe it is. Which means, in fact, that sameness is the problem, since all those scary people who do things differently from us are only a threat if they follow our all-to-human pattern of aggression toward difference. Luckily, we can socialize ourselves away from this mutually-assured destruction. Civilization itself is a means of overcoming human nature, so it is not unprecedented.

Exposure to and the embracing of the different is literally the only way to grow. New ideas, different skill levels, different approaches to a problem: these do not arise under familiar circumstances. If someone has a different way of connecting to their spirituality, or a different way of understanding gender, or any number of different ways of being different, then this is an opportunity to learn. Difference isn’t a threat, it is an opportunity every time.

The threat comes from those who want everybody to be the same.

So apparently China wants to steal the Coronavirus vaccine! Russia probably does too! How dare they! Don’t they know that some pharmaceutical corporation is supposed to make an infinite amount of dollars from that patent? With that infinite amount of money, the shareholders of whatever company succeeds first will gain a significant amount of millions of dollars to their already many millions of dollars! It would be an absolute crime to allow the people of China or Russia to survive the pandemic; heaven forbid, they could even release that information world-wide and then everyone would have the opportunity to cheaply manufacture whatever vaccine is produced! It is such a heinous crime, it is like a reverse-holocaust: millions of people would be relieved of arbitrary and pointless suffering and death, rather than being exposed to it. Obviously, we must put a stop to this.

All sarcasm aside, what in the actual fuck? How can media organizations criticize China’s delay in releasing the virus’s genome while allowing the privatization of vaccine data to go unchallenged? Would it have been better if China had held on to that genome indefinitely, giving them a market advantage to develop a vaccine before the West? Surely those in the West would have graciously accepted that capitalist doctrine. It was China’s decision to delay in order to save face that was the grave error. Rational people don’t care about face if millions of people might die; rational people care about money even if it means millions of people might die. Oh God, the sarcasm came back!

gettyimages-1205553157

Blame China for the delay or scapegoated them for the delayed response many Western countries delivered? Neighbouring Asian countries seemed to have enough time to respond appropriately

I have previously written about copyright laws, but this is ridiculous to the point of needing to repeat myself. An argument could be made that pharmaceutical companies need a patent in order to recoup the huge startup costs that it took to develop whatever they end up producing, and to count against the risk of producing a failed product. But what about the risk of all the essential grocery store workers who labored at minimum wage to ensure those heroic pharmacologists could eat? Or of the truck drivers and migrant farmers who made sure those shelves were stocked? Society kept functioning because of the sacrifices of so many who barely scrape by. Do they not deserve consideration? Should they have to pay a fee to protect themselves from a virus they’ve been supporting us through this entire time? It’s especially egregious since those most able to afford a profit-driven vaccine are those most loftily enduring this from the sidelines. Or how about how none of this research would have been possible had China not release that genome data in the first place. Is China not thus entitled to a little corporate espionage as recompense? Clearly humanity in its essence is not a good enough motivation; there must be market share.

It is incomprehensible that vaccine data is not being openly shared worldwide. On such a global scale of community impact, any resolution that is not global in its outreach is nothing short of treasonous. Treasonous not to any nation or state, but treasonous to the human population as a whole. All of us have risked. All of us have contributed. Yet only a few of us are entitled to survive?

Riots and looting get a bad rap. The additional violence on top of a protest is seen as opportunistic chaos for amoral folks who are taking advantage of tumultuous times, or, for the more cynical, as the underlying and unstated value system of the entire protest movement despite their presented goals of social change and justice. In either case, rioting and looting is seen as delegitimizing protest movements; peaceful demonstration and presumably drum circles are the only valid forms a protest can take. Despite the long history of violence (even random, directionless violence) being associated with well-celebrated social change, today such ghastly displays are tut-tutted by the pearl-clutching among us.

pearl clutching

Oh goodness! Another police killing / school shooting / poisoned water supply / pointless war? I sure hope nobody has any strong emotional reactions to this!

Protesters are told to follow the example of Martin Luther King Jr., who once said:

“And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? … It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”

Or Gandhi, who said:

“I have been repeating over and over again that he who cannot protect himself or his nearest and dearest or their honor by nonviolently facing death may and ought to do so by violently dealing with the oppressor.”

The use of violence is ghastly, and has problems of its own, but to deny its history is to deny the history of protest.

Why might that be? Well, effective protest serves as a disruption. ‘Normal’, as in the status quo, is deemed as harmful by the protesters, so a disruption of that normal is required to challenge it. Blockades, boycotts, and marches all serve to disrupt the economy, trade, and traffic respectively. Peaceful, non-invasive protests like holding signs on the side of the road while shouting slogans disrupts the normal routine of our day; we have to see and hear them when we otherwise would pass an uneventful commute.

pepsi protest

Let’s disrupt society’s ability to drink Pepsi! Oh, God dammit Kendall Jenner, you ruined it!

While certainly a reasonable link between the problem with normal and its subsequent disruption brings greater clarity to the protest in general, it is not out of the question for a little randomness to be thrown in for the same reason that blood feuds are a thing. A blood feud is a form of collectivist justice: if one member of a family commits an infraction, everyone in that family is guilty because they exist as a collective rather than as distinct individuals. Society has become more individualistic since the times when blood feuds were more prevalent, but the idea has not gone away. Consider this: George Floyd was not killed because he was George Floyd, and Derek Chauvin didn’t really kill him as Derek Chauvin. George Floyd was killed because he was a black man, and Derek Chauvin killed him because he was an arbiter of normal. This then is not an individualistic murder, but a collectivist crime. A crime against all of black people by the enforcers of normalcy. The response then, makes sense as the collective of black people and those who stand in solidarity with them lash out at all of normalcy in response. Normal kills black folks, so normal is to blame. Let’s smash up normal: hence, riots and looting. And obviously it doesn’t help that the police continue to brutalize protesters which then exacerbates the blood feud further.

It’s worth pointing out that the size of disruption seems to have a golden mean of effectiveness. A small disruption doesn’t really affect much change (for example, changing your social media profile), but blowing up an Ariana Grande concert is clearly too far. Blood feuds tend to demand blood for blood, but I believe we’ve moved far enough beyond that ideology that we’re no longer moved by this bloody level of disruption. Are riots and looting too far? Well, considering that this is a response to many on-going deaths at the hands of police, we then have to ask, how much property damage is equivalent to the life of a human being? Trump put the number at around $450 billion when refusing to provide any kind of consequences for the Saudi dismemberment of Jamal Khashoggi, and, while I haven’t seen any numbers, somehow I think the looters have a long way to go before they reach that ceiling. Trump, of course, is using harsher language to describe even the peaceful protesters than he used for MBS after the Khashoggi dismemberment, but I suppose that’s because he’s not personally profiting from the BLM movement. Or maybe he just needs vapid flattery, who knows?

orb

Could have been something to do with this orb. Remember the orb? I don’t think that mystery ever got solved…

The point is, the riots and looting are not separate from the peaceful protests, but are an extension of the same disruptive motivation that propels all protest. When these things happen, ideally we would reflect on normal. How does normal impact or harass others, or maybe how does normal benefit us, or even just leave us alone? Those who are impacted or harassed are quite familiar with the problems of normal; it’s those who are not who typically need to reflect. Once the justifications are assessed, then we can reflect on whether the level of disruption is appropriate to the level of impact.

Reshaping normal is thus the goal, and normal is not individual. Individual transgressions do not result in riots because riots are by definition collective, which requires collective response, and not the reprimand of “a few bad apples.” Ibram X. Kendi suggests focusing on policy changes, and the individuals will follow. What are some policy changes that might reshape normal into something less destructive towards people of colour? Well, they’ve already made some suggestions; we can start there.