Archives for category: Social Criticism

I have a hard time caring about the Trucker (Freedom) Convoy occupying the capital city of my country right now. This could be because I’m on the West Coast, and the noise from all the car horns fades out somewhere over the middle of Alberta, so I’m not directly impacted by the enhanced interrogation being meted out on hapless Ottawans. Unfortunately for me, and for those who only follow this blog out of spite, I’m forced to write about it because despite my best efforts to evade the garbage fire of social media that defends far-right protests, the garbage fire found me. I won’t get into it. Anyway: freedom! That’s never been a toxic buzzword belying oppressive undertones! Let’s get into it!

The garbage fire demands that I ignore all the images and stories of atrocious behaviour because there are nice people in the protest too. Yes, there may have been cheers and people shouting, “Yes! Right here!” when a speaker asked what a white supremacist looked like, but some protesters also cleaned up the Terry Fox statue after it had been previously defaced by the crowd. So like, just because residents of a women’s shelter are being harassed for wearing masks, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some benevolent act of kindness happening elsewhere to cancel it out.

The thing is, the behaviour of protesters has nothing to do with the content of their protest. Does a Nazi in a nice suit having a polite conversation eliminate the violence intrinsic in the belief of callous disregard for the humanity of “lesser races”? No. It’s all public relations. If people looked at the burning of a Target during the Black Lives Matter protests and thought, “Well, I guess I think unarmed black people minding their own business should be killed more now!” then… there’s a protest in Ottawa that might interest you.

The Canadian South will rise again! I mean, unless that flag has some other connotation…

This is all very lucky because despite the Canadians demanding States’ Rights by protesting Provincial guidelines in front of the Federal Government, all they want is freedom! It’s the name of the damned convoy, after all! Just a wee bit of freedom! When you started asking freedom to do what, or freedom from what, that’s when it starts getting a little wonky.

In theory, this protest started as a bunch of truckers upset that they would be mandated to receive a vaccine despite being an essential service that didn’t even need to quarantine during the worst of the pre-vaccine pandemic. Honestly? Given the historical amnesty to truckers the government had been providing thus far, an about-face of that magnitude could reasonably be demonstrated against to some degree if only on principle. However, the big trucking alliance of Canada didn’t organize this. They’re against it. The people who organized this convoy have something else on their mind.

Canada Unity, which did organize the rally, proudly posted their Memorandum of Understanding to their website. It has since been taken down because people keep pointing out how problematic a polemic demanding the overthrow of a democratically elected government is, but fortunately links to it still exist. Now, it cannot be overstated how dumb this Memorandum is – I’d recommend giving it a read. Anyone listening to the news has probably heard that they’re calling for the Senate and the Governor General to ally themselves with Canada Unity to overthrow the Liberals and band together to eliminate pandemic restrictions; again, a provincial jurisdiction. That’s not why I’m dedicating a whole paragraph to this thing. They refer to every single piece of human rights legislation in the last hundred years, including the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, without actually pointing to where any of those human rights are being violated within the strictures of the legislation. It’s like they did a Google search for “human rights” and “medicine” and just copied out everything they could find without reading any of it. They also wrote out, “This Memorandum shall be construed in accordance with the Laws of Canada and the International
Human Rights Commissions” as if wishing could make it so. Ultimately, my reason for writing so much about this Memorandum is this:

Because real legal documents go all the way to the end of the page, so we have to let people know that we left this space intentionally. This is the 4D chess we are playing!

Because it’s funny.

Other organizers include Tamara Lich, former secretary for a Western separatist party that wants to abandon the federal state, and Benjamin Dichter who is a smidge racist, but so far hasn’t been overtly demanding the overthrow of the Canadian government. With these players behind the scenes, it kinda seems like the whole convoy is being driven by a far-right desire to abandon democracy and get rid of the government because they just hate the Liberals and Trudeau so much. The pandemic is more of a pretext. This would certainly explain why they went to Ottawa rather than, say, the provincial governments who are, and I can’t stress this enough, actually in control of the mandates and restrictions that impact every day Canadians.

Now, it’s entirely possible that the organizers of a protest are merely the catalyst for a movement that spiraled out of their control, and the vast majority of protesters don’t align with what the convoy organizers had in mind when they sent them all to the nation’s capital. Fine. Let’s say they really do just want to get rid of all vaccine mandates, all restrictions, everything to do with the pandemic and go back to normal. Unfortunately, at its core, what this belief entails is a tacit acceptance with the dying off of the elderly, the immuno-compromised, and the vulnerable. Even if the convoy is only about what its most ardent apologists say it’s about, it still espouses a eugenicist belief that makes sense for white supremacists and Nazis to hop on to. The weak must be purged to allow normalcy for the strong. Pointing to a few ethnic minorities at the protest doesn’t eliminate that fact.

Other Nazis are fine

Let’s look at some context. The Americans recently surpassed over 900,000 Covid deaths. Let’s compare that to the number of American deaths from every war they’ve ever been in since the Revolutionary War that started the dang country. Take a moment to think of what that number might be, and then read that it’s 1.35 million. In two years, America has had almost as many deaths as they’ve ever had from war. Add in a new variant after Omicron, and they just might beat it in another year. People have made jokes that the anti-maskers wouldn’t have survived the Blitz on England during WW2 with their whinging about having to wear a piece of fabric over their mouths for a much more destructive catastrophe, but if we’re making war analogies, they wouldn’t be whiny babies, they would be collaborators, traitors to the common good of society by facilitating the spread of the virus.

Masks work. Vaccines work and are safe. The vast majority of people are in favour vaccine mandates, vaccine passports, and restrictions because the vast majority of people understand that masks and vaccines and all of those things are effective in saving lives and keeping the world going. It’s arguable that the Liberals won over the Conservatives in the last election because Justin Trudeau was stronger on vaccine mandates than Erin O’Toole. We have plenty of government mandates that nobody argues about; you can’t smoke in restaurants anymore because people noticed that what smokers exhaled was toxic to those around them when it was contained in an indoor space – sound familiar? And how many in the convoy do you think wore their seatbelts, used their turn signals, and stayed on the right side of the road on their trek to Ottawa? Data doesn’t exist on this, but I can safely imagine it’s all of them. Could be because these mandates keep road users safe, and the truckers didn’t want to die on the way to their protest demanding their right to spread a deadly disease. Golly gee.

When the garbage fire expresses shock at the mainstream media disregarding the “good” happening in the convoy and wish they took the protest’s message more seriously, this is why nobody takes it seriously. What the protest is asking for doesn’t work in protecting people from the virus, isn’t popular, and wouldn’t even return life back to normal, economically-speaking. #BestSummerEver! Unless what is being asked for is actually to overthrow the Canadian government, what is being asked for doesn’t actually make empirical sense. At least a far-right coup is logically consistent.

If no one can work because they’re sick, and no one can obtain any services because those workplaces are now closed or impoverished in staffing, and the hospitals are overflowing because people keep dying, at least our Prime Minister won’t be wearing those dumb socks anymore

With all that said, the same article I linked to suggesting that very few people are against Covid restrictions still outlines that mental health levels are reaching critically low points, and government approval is tanking. Nobody is enjoying the pandemic; nobody is enjoying restrictions. Most people just recognize that extreme measures are needed to make sure we don’t kill off all our loved ones. That doesn’t mean that nothing can be done.

If I turned this into a blog about all the things that could be done to ameliorate people’s lives during the pandemic, it would be way too long and I’ve already spent more time than I wanted writing it. Just-In-Time supply lines have proven ineffective, and the general motive to consistently seek out the lowest bidder to develop every aspect of our economy has proven incredibly destructive. The number of hospital beds in 1980 was 6.75 per 1000 inhabitants, and that dropped to 2.5 in 2019 – we have been very much neglecting our health sector. “Flattening the curve” was argued to ensure our healthcare system wouldn’t be overwhelmed, but it was overwhelmed every day before the pandemic even started. There’s lots more that could have been done. Uniform and reliable paid sick leave would have been nice. Maybe a Universal Basic Income so that people wouldn’t be forced into unsafe working conditions? We’ve tried it successfully before…

Wouldn’t it be nice if the convoy expressed ideas that might actually make lives better? Become a communist today!

The idea of protesting pandemic measures, or seeing the nuance in guideline enforcement, is necessary because we haven’t done it perfectly. We can always be smarter in how we handle the pandemic, and democracy demands public accountability. Heck, most provinces have even already cut back a lot of restrictions, though a gradual return makes far more sense than quitting cold turkey. However, Covid-19 has highlighted a significant number of issues in our society that I never even got into: the deadly consequences of insufficient housing and evictions, what counts as essential to society and how well it’s respected, and so on. Unfortunately, the vast majority of us turned to Tiger King to comfort us in our ennui rather than do something about it. The far right decided to do something about it; they’re just myopically focused on their hatred of liberals and Liberals. People who might have more nuanced views about how pandemic measures could have been done better either keep their mouths shut, or join a thinly-veiled fascist and ableist mob. That’s not a binary that’s going to make the world more livable. I mean, doing nothing is clearly the better choice, but it’s choosing the conditions that are allowing the fascistic percolation to maintain itself. Who knows what kind of monster the status quo will birth if we give it enough time.

It should be fairly common knowledge that Batman is the greatest superhero of all time (Suck it, Achilles, you knock-off Beowulf). People have been trying to figure out why this truism exists since it’s fairly difficult to qualify superheroism outside of subjective preference. It has been argued that since he’s just a guy in a costume facing off against the same world-ending events as an invulnerable Kryptonian, it is his courage and willpower that makes him the greatest. He is the most at-risk, and continuing to fight in those circumstances is more noble than say, someone who is constantly protected by a lime-green hue.

I disagree. I don’t think people really believe that Batman is more at-risk – he’s fucking Batman. He figures it out. He’s fine. What makes Batman the greatest superhero of all time is his villains. What people love about Batman is he fights against Jungian versions of his shadow self. Batman represents humanity’s struggle to combat the darkness in ourselves, and that is what makes his character more relatable than being a braver-than-usual fleshy meat sack.

I_Am_the_Night-Title_Card

They are not at all subtle about it

Let me give you an example. Two-Face is a very clear symbol of the duality between darkness and light. Harvey Dent always begins as a friend to Bruce Wayne (in all the iterations of the character that I’ve seen, at least), and that’s why Bruce will pay for the plastic surgeries to repair the scarred side of Harvey’s face – to return the character to his lighter origins. However, thematically it’s always more than that. Bruce struggles to save Harvey from Two-Face because he needs to save the humanity in himself. Two-Face is the most obvious facsimile of Batman with one crucial difference that highlights the thesis of this post. Two-Face will always enact the dark side of his personal Manichean struggle, regardless of coin tosses, and Batman will always triumph in the light. That’s how the protagonist/antagonist relationship works.

BatmanTDKR1_055_The_Dark_Knight_Returns

It’s a comic about a guy in a bat-suit. It was never going to be subtle.

Our favourite Oswald that didn’t shoot a Kennedy, Penguin, fits into this thesis too. Penguin was born into the wealthy Cobblepot family. With that inherited privilege, he embodies the sin of greed and demands more. Penguin is the graphic representation of a Marxist wet dream excoriating the bourgeoisie. Bruce is again similar. He did nothing to earn the billions afforded to him from his familial inheritance, and he became the CEO of a mega-corporation rivaling LexCorp without any relevant education or business acumen. It is unclear what Wayne Enterprises actually does (Thomas Wayne was a practicing physician, not a businessman), but who cares. It’s been argued that a class critique of Bruce Wayne would prefer him systematically redistributing his wealth rather than acting out his well-funded revenge fantasy against “crime”, but within the liberal paradigm of Batman comics, Bruce Wayne is essentially a good, charitable dynasty billionaire to Penguin’s evil, selfish one.

Penguin

Batman is better. Batman is always better.

Scarecrow, Jonathan Crane, is another Jungian villain that begins to show the edge to Batman’s battle with himself. Scarecrow uses fear gas to terrify the populace into submitting to his criminal schemes. Batman dresses like a bat because he was scared of bats as a boy, and embodies that fear to intimidate his foes to make his vigilantism more effective. He uses fear just as intentionally as the Scarecrow, but on a different demographic. Fear is acknowledged as a devastating tactic, and must be precise in its implementation lest one slip into villainy. Batman walks that tightrope like a champ.

Superstitious and Cowardly

Children are a superstitious, cowardly lot

This leaves the Joker. The Joker’s whole deal is that he’s an insane clown, but not like the John Wayne Gacy type. He could have easily been a forgettable villain, overblown by too much camp and vanishing into the dustbin of history like the ICP, but against all odds, the Joker became the most iconic Batman villain. He did this by embodying Bruce Wayne’s madness. The Joker infamously believes that all it takes to drive a sane person mad is one bad day, and while he is proven wrong on many occasions, he is accurate in his analysis of Batman. Bruce had one bad day, and became a driven, megalomaniacal vigilante in response to it. He is held in check only by his single-minded focus on justice. The Joker broke under pressure, caving to unchecked violence, but Batman held on to his values just enough to stay in the light.

Two Guys in a Lunatic Asylum

What do you think I am? Crazy!? You’d turn it off when I was halfway across!

There are obviously a lot more Batman villains, and not all of them fit so neatly into this kind of categorization. Catwoman, sure, is as ethically grey as Batman, and her darkness slightly edges over the light much in the same way Batman’s light slightly edges over darkness, and as much as they want to, they can never quite meet in the middle. However, that’s just as much a Jungian conflict of coming to grips with one’s own ethical ambiguity as it is a Montague and Capulet love story. And I swear to God, if anyone brings up Calendar Man I’m going to lose it. The point isn’t that every villain perfectly represents Batman’s struggle with himself, but that the emblematic villains that define Batman as a character are lasting because they reflect his own inner demons.

This is what makes Batman the most interesting character that happens to be categorized as a superhero. The thing is, though, despite the socially agreed upon categorization, Batman is not a superhero. Not because he doesn’t have superpowers, but because a hero is someone you’re supposed to aspire to. Imagine genuinely believing that it is okay to terrify others in order to dominate and control their social behaviour – you’d be a monster. Who wants to aspire to madness? Or Manichean angst? Batman isn’t a hero, he’s a criminal. He knows he’s in the wrong, and strives for a world where he himself would not be welcome. If anything, Batman is a supervillain fighting against cartoon versions of himself in order to protect the world from his own potential for darkness.

BatmanTDKR3-135 Hunt The Dark Knight

Batman, the libertarian fantasy, pointing out the reality of the libertarian fantasy

The idea that Batman is a superhero has pretty dark implications. Kyle Rittenhouse was found innocent in his own vigilantism through claims of self-dense, which, legally speaking, would have similarly applied to the men he had killed if they had killed him instead – not exactly a glowing exoneration. The micro legality of it is less important than the macro perspective that sees a young boy leave his hometown with a semi-automatic rifle in order to protect property from those he sees as criminals. Kyle Rittenhouse and those who canonize him genuinely believe that it is right and good to basically pretend to be Batman. The reality is that Kyle Rittenhouse created a situation where people died because he wanted to live out his own revenge fantasy against “crime“. It doesn’t matter that he is legally innocent of murder, what he did is counterintuitive to the ongoing functionality of civilization.

On a more abstract level, Batman is truly a villain in that the impact of the superficial ideals of superheroism he represents is a net negative on the world. People tend to look at Batman and don’t see a man fighting against himself, they see a man fighting against incorrigible criminals. They see social systems as not being sufficient and true justice requiring individual citizens to rise up against otherwise unstoppable evil. They don’t learn to fix the social systems through collective action, they learn to use violence to bully degenerates into conforming to normative standards. They see a fairly traditional superhero.

Hockey Pads

I mean, he is pretty often portrayed that way. This is really only my own opinion as a Batman apologist

What makes Batman great is that he doesn’t have to be a superhero. If we see him as a villain, then we recognize that he is no one to aspire to. He can just be an interesting character dealing with the loss of his parents by combating anthropomorphized versions of his inner demons. He can be someone we can relate to when we have to face our own shadow. He can help us find the light by repudiating himself rather than uncritically celebrating his single-minded madness. To borrow a phrase: Batman is not the villain that we deserve, but the one we need.

A dark knight.

There is an episode on the podcast Crackdown that posits that, despite less effective results, doctors will still push Suboxone over Methadone when prescribing opiate replacement therapy. In theory, Suboxone is supposed to be safer because it has Naloxone chemically baked into the compound which prevents additional opiates from connecting to their neurological receptors. In short, it prevents you from getting high. Methadone, just being another opiate, allows additional opiates to be used on top of it if the prescription isn’t strong enough to prevent withdrawal. The podcast describes the social rewards of appeasing the medical professionals and being one of the “good” recovering addicts, despite the additional challenges that recovering on Suboxone has over Methadone, and the bitter disappointment of the failure that can come along with that. Ultimately, the podcast concludes that Suboxone is preferred by healthcare workers because it discourages the euphoria that is associated with opiate use on a molecular level.

This was literally the first image on my Google search for, “Doctor Knows Best.” I thought, why not, let’s sex-up this blog a bit.

To be upfront, I struggled with this on a personal level. I have worked with drug users for years, and I always went along with what the doctors and nurses suggested when it comes to opiate replacement therapy because they allegedly know “what’s best” when it comes to prescribing medication. I was told Suboxone is better because it prevents overdose, and who cares what the drug users themselves think, because if they want recovery and no longer want to get high, then why do they want to get high? I didn’t know better, and I didn’t have anyone offering any counterpoints, so it just became an assumed truth: Suboxone is better than Methadone.

Of course, when Mary Poppins says that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, we just blindly accept that firing the dopamine receptors in the brain is an easy way to make adhering to a pharmaceutical regimen more palatable. Heaven forbid you need a pharmaceutical regimen to overcome addiction, however. Then it’s no sugar for you!

The deepfake you didn’t know you needed

Why do we care if those seeking a less life-threatening way of living their lives happen to have a bit of pleasure within it? While I certainly can’t speak for everyone, I bet that it likely has something to do with the emotional reaction to drug use as a fundamentally hedonic lifestyle. We see the panhandler begging for change, decrepit and not having showered in months, and we think, that’s just the consequences of a lifetime of seeking pleasure right there, and so sad that they still haven’t learned that this is where euphoria leads you. Its cure must therefore involve the complete annihilation of any synthetic joy because only real, pure happiness is socially acceptable.

It doesn’t matter that addiction is the learned coping mechanism developed in response to trauma. No one cares about that. As much as people talk about the opioid crisis being a health crisis, no one seems to do anything about it which would be strange if, as a culture, we accepted addiction as what it actually is. Opiates have killed well over a thousand more people in British Columbia than have died from Covid-19 since Covid-19 became a thing, and the response to Covid-19 has been to shut down the world. We don’t care: drug deaths are the tragic but earned result of insatiably seeking an impure pleasure.

Even if we did offer solutions, drug users would still choose to slowly kill themselves, so what’s the point? I understand addiction.

Moral foundations theory is the belief that our morals are determined by the core emotional responses we have to certain situations. We respond with compassion to instances of harm, with indignation to cheating, with disgust to degradation, and so on, and thus are born the moral guidelines of care, fairness, sanctity, etc. Looking at the lives of a drug user, we might be moved to compassion, sure, but the judgier among us are likely to react with disgust. This creates the blueprint for moral blame toward those who indulge in profane pleasure, and thus it becomes that much easier to avoid caring about how many people who use drugs are dying.

If there is a profane pleasure, then surely there must be sacred pleasure, right? What would that be? It certainly isn’t sex, and the social categorization of sex workers would likely fall well within the scope of my thesis here. In Christianity, heaven is described as hanging out with God – being close to God is the sacred pleasure. Within Islam, heaven is a nice garden. Epicurus, the philosopher of socially appropriate hedonism, recommends just having some nice cheese as a sacred pleasure one might indulge in. The thing is though, these all seem kind of… incredibly lame and boring. Don’t get me wrong: cheese is fine, spiritual contemplation can be relaxing, and gardens are quite pretty, but is this really what we want for our sacred pleasure? It seems like the sacred euphoria is to not really have all that much pleasure in your life at all. And that’s the point: all pleasure is inherently profane. The sacred life is about restraining yourself from pleasure because pleasure is dirty.

I wonder what the perfect symbol for the maxim, “The less pleasure you have in your life, the more sacred you become,” would be? It’s on the tip of my tongue…

We’re all susceptible to this. The thing about moral foundation theory is that we all have emotions, and while some emotions may hit us individually harder than others, we can’t escape them. I myself am guilty of this, as I was describing my own thought process above. But remember, addiction is miserable. It’s an endless cycle of desperately trying to escape overwhelming pain. It is patently false to describe addiction as hedonic excess because the euphoria from any drug, let alone the banality of methadone, pales in comparison to the suffering of addiction itself. If the maxim about suffering being the road to sanctity were true, there would be none more sacred than the drug addict.

As bizarre as the moral condemnation of all pleasure is, it is completely irrelevant to the discussion at hand. It’s a trap constructed by the likes of Nancy Reagan, anti-drug campaigns, and ultimately, the racist origins of the drug laws themselves. They used to give opiates to children to calm them down, and even gave it the kind of kitschy name you’d expect for such a product, Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. Not that this was particularly healthy for the kids, but it gives you an idea as to the benign perception of narcotics prior to their criminality. Unfortunately, racism needed a way to control immigrant communities, drug use was thus linked to those communities, and drug laws were born to prevent Asian men from boning white women. The disgust associated with drugs was created and perpetuated outside their capacity to induce pleasure (excluding the ecstasy of interracial sexy-times), and so it makes sense that the lived experiences of drug users are irrelevant to our moral condemnation today.

Oh yeah, this is definitely a lifestyle that has far too many happy outcomes in it

I am writing this piece as a means of organizing my thoughts. I did not have a conclusion in mind when I started, and so it’s actually been a longer process than it normally would be for me to write one of these things. I have to come to grips with my own biases and take the time to reflect on what they are and where they come from. The debate about the comparable benefits between Methadone versus Suboxone is pretty niche, but I knew going into this that the exploration of this topic was going to touch on more than just that. The social attitude toward drugs and the moral condemnation toward their users is ubiquitous, and no one is exempt. Even drug users will hold themselves to a higher moral standard than other drug users citing the arbitrary standard of, “Well, I would never do such and such!” as a means of separating themselves from the impure. Sometimes they end up getting to the point where they do that thing, and this is often brought up in 12-step meetings as the time they knew they had lost control. Sometimes, a new bar will be set, “I may have done such and such, but I would never do such and such!”, and the desire to maintain moral purity remains.

In all honesty, Suboxone does work for some people. It’s good to have as an option for those who might genuinely want it. The point is that we shouldn’t use moral condemnation borne out of historical racism to coerce people into a recovery that doesn’t work for them. Addiction is hard enough as it is.