Archives for category: Social Criticism

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!

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

Those who are less than enthusiastic about sports are often confused by the vehemence with which a true fan can celebrate their team. A team can change the entire roster of its players, can change the coach, the owner, the logo, can change every single facet of itself, and the fan will continue to cheer without question in a complete validation of Theseus’ ship. This is because the fan is connected to the idea of the team rather than any tangible aspect of the team itself. The critic is baffled as to why the fan would bother with something that is so incredibly alien to them. The answer is simple enough, however: the fan sees the team as part of their tribe.

Sports television is very aware of this. Pre-game shows often deliver the stories and travails of the players and teams as a whole. Relationships will be analyzed and champions will be celebrated. It’s all gossip, and gossip is how we navigate tribes. How is Susan doing? Watch out for Bill. Did you hear what happened to Karen? Gossip is what keeps us safe and connected in our communities; it’s a natural human attribute. When we talk in-depth about the stars and heartbreaks of the previous night’s game, we are engaging in communal gossip.

The thing is, your sports team is not your tribe. The stress of a close game and the pride toward a favourite player kindles deep instinctual drives, but modern sports are “entertainment.” You can’t call any of your team for emotional support during a difficult time. The success of the quarterback does not bring food back to your table. A loss has no concrete consequences. Knowing who is a dangerous player will not keep you safe. Fandom is not so much the connection to an idea of a team, but to an idea of a community.

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I value baseball over having a life partner! I’m sure I’ll be able to count on the Red Sox in turn to help me cope with the emotional devastation of losing said life partner

There are merits in the celebration of athletic prowess and remarkable skill. An argument could be made that sports facilitate community by acting as a shared interest among friends, and that’s fair. However, sports as an interest is then interchangeable with any other interest, and the accompanying gossip becomes meaningless.  If a group subscribes to the full tribalism of intense fandom, then it is in the same danger as described above. The importance of interdependence and mutual support in a tribe could easily be lost in shallow relationships centred on extrinsic factors.

We are, all of us, literally all of us, living in a time when the necessity of our tribe is morbidly obvious. Communally-deviant behaviours such as hoarding, ignoring physical distancing measures, neglecting essential workers, and spreading disinformation are representative of large swathes of the population feeling disconnected from the real-life human beings that surround them. We’ve been so focused on our false tribes for so long that we’ve forgotten the value of our neighbours.

covid toilet paper

We seem to recognize the destructiveness of wealth hoarding when the wealth is toilet paper. Wouldn’t it be sad if there were far worse forms of wealth hoarding taking place that people go to great lengths to justify? But I digress…

Whose shoulder can we cry on? Who will drop off groceries for us if we’re sick and unable to go out? Who will help us financially if we’re out of work? Who will mourn us as we lay dying, even if from afar? These are the people who matter. These are the people who have always mattered. None of them are on the television hanging in a sports bar. Let us no longer be distracted by idolatrous practices meant to profit off our deepest human instincts.