Archives for category: Social Criticism

After a certain age, we tend to valourize our tribulations as badges of pride. Our struggle needs to matter, and so we glorify it. When we walked to school, it was through five feet of snow, and it was uphill both ways. Now these lazy fucking kids with their global warming barely have to deal with a frosted sidewalk, and they even shifted the laws of the universe so that our proud Escher-like unidirectional hills have become laughable fantasies.

Of course, it goes beyond the gentle facetiousness of a school commute. You may have heard it said that, “I got beaten as a child, and I turned out okay!” This type of language is used to dismiss corporal punishment in this example, but often is applied more broadly to dismiss criticisms against the status quo more generally.

What does it mean to “turn out okay”? This of course varies. Our protagonist could hold bitter resentment against their father and still claim that enduring corporal punishment was a net “okay”. Is the PTSD overwhelmingly debilitating? No? Then it’s fine. To be fair, the majority of children who receive corporal punishment do not suffer long-lasting psychological trauma because of it, but how many of them maintain the belief that it’s okay to use violence on children to socialize behaviour? How many take it one small step further to believe that violence is justified on anyone in the assertion of legitimate authority?

We are nothing if not topical here at Blog for Chumps!

I think we have a better understanding of the phenomenon of “turning out okay” if we replace the word “okay” with the word “normal”. It was “normal” back in the day to whoop misbehaving children, and this normalcy carries forward in its defenders today. This is where we can see the generalizability of this attitude. “Every older woman was a homemaker when I was a kid, and I don’t hate women today, therefore it’s normal for women to maintain domesticity.” We are basically defending our socialization when we say we turned out okay, in whatever form our “okay” looks like.

If corporal punishment is normal, its socialization is what you could call systemic corporal punishment-ism. I’m using such awkward language to draw a parallel to the systemic socialization of female domesticity which has its own fancy name: patriarchy. You may have heard of it. Our attitudes toward corporal punishment, toward women, toward racialized groups, toward the LGBT community, etc., are all socialized from a young age, and we don’t see the systematization of this process for one, because we’re children, and two, because it’s “normal”. Normalcy may have its problems, and that’s why we don’t say we turned out “amazing”, but it’s at least “okay.” And “okay” is tolerable, so all these whiny progressives are just complaining for the sake of complaining.

What they have in common? Neither of them wear shirts, apparently…

Normal works out okay for some people. It even works out wonderfully for others! Unfortunately, there are those who actually suffer greatly under it. The young girl who grows up believing that abuse is the “normal” way to receive love, or the young boy who grows up to mete it out. Our relationship toward violence is traditionally gendered because our roles within it are just as socialized as the violence itself: men typically commit abuse against women. It doesn’t always happen that way, but society as a whole functions in broad terms.

Our personal experiences aren’t universalizable. You may well have turned out okay! Congratulations! That doesn’t mean that everyone who endured similar experiences did too. Nostalgia is not a suitable justification for an ongoing social practice. Luckily, we have this thing called science now, and you can actually study the impacts of certain behaviours, and it turns out, physical punishment increases the risk of antisocial behaviour, depression, and substance use. A person can smoke cigarettes their whole lives and never get cancer, but it’s generally agreed upon now that promoting cigarette use in teenagers is kinda evil. Similarly, harmful attitudes, behaviours, and social policies toward marginalized groups have an abundance of literature explaining why they’re bad. Using “normal” to dictate how we organize our society really only benefits those who were benefitting from it already.

Inequity Shmim-Shmeck-Shmitty!

As easy as it is to say that our personal experiences are obviously not universalizable or that we should use peer-reviewed studies to guide our social decisions, it’s quite unlikely that my argument is going to be all that compelling to the defenders of normalcy. I’ve hinted at why already. Firstly, there’s the belief that socialization should be brutal and unforgiving. These shirtless, whiny liberals just need to toughen up! A diamond can only be formed under intense pressure after all; just look at Michael Jackson and the well-adjusted adult that he became! Everyone in the world is a pussy except for me!

This is the hazing mentality, and no matter how many freshman literally die from the experience, it is a proud tradition and it’s a fine way to purge the weak from our midst. Meritocratic survival, right? Except that if the winner of the race is the only one that’s allowed to survive, and the starting conditions differ for each participant, it’s a bit rigged, isn’t it? “Oh, but I started the race in this condition, and I turned out okay!” Again, it’s not universalizable, and we can see from science where the inequities lie. It’s not that hard to see where we can add a bit more fairness to society, and the logic used to justify why it always seems to be certain groups that lose at the race contorts itself pretty hard to avoid being overtly oppressive.

Ah yes, the production of the finest merit! And yet, it was Bluto who became president…

My personal belief is that what we consider normalcy is embedded so deeply within our psyche that it becomes a part of who we are. If we criticize the sausage-making process, we’re criticizing the sausage. The social value of “toughness” is vague to the point of irrelevancy, but being “tough” can be a huge part of who we are as individuals. I am what made me, and if I can’t point to anything concrete, that doesn’t matter because I need to feel as though my life has meaning.

If the left wants to abolish student debt, or stop corporal punishment, or give women the space to develop their own meaningful lives, and I had to pay back my student loans, got properly whooped, and Mother certainly never complained, then I might take it personally that others might not want to endure what I had to go through. Humans are very sensitive creatures, and we’re all pretty whiny when you get down to it. Again though, it’s the process and not the person. No one “has” to go through anything, and society can change to become more equitable, and maybe the suffering that has been endured in the past can be less so in the future.

Social media discourse is a lightning rod for political alignment. The right sees it as an opportunity for radicalization while simultaneously decrying it as “woke” cancel culture where conservative voices are marginalized and red-lined. So far as I can tell, the left doesn’t actually have a coherent opinion on it; some celebrate cancel culture as establishing consequences for anti-social behaviour, much in the same way a dinner guest would be asked to leave if they loudly called another guest a racial slur. Others prefer to see a democratization of social media processes so that we could collectively agree on what the rules are rather than allow corporate moderators or the mob to determine dinner party etiquette. What I’m interested in today is the centrist position: where those corporate moderators are wildly celebrated for their autocratic role in sifting out acceptable discourse.

If only the companies that profit from polarization would do a better job of stamping out polarizing content!

Let’s let the company that profits off of polarization manage the stamping out of polarizing content!

There is, of course, reason to be concerned with the content of social media discourse. The coup in Myanmar is widely held to be somewhat to blame on social media. The rise of right-wing populist movements like Trumpism in America, Brexit in the UK, and Modi‘s government in India are linked to social media disinformation campaigns. Reasonable people agree: the echo chambers of increasing extremism must be stopped. The methods of doing so are obviously up for debate: solutions ranging from a socialist revolution against social media corporations to the libertarian hellscape where we all cackle with glee as the social media inferno engulfs our world. As always, the reasonable centrist sees the solution somewhere in the middle: get those corporations to ban and lockdown the uncouth!

Despite me wanting to write this for a long time, contemporary examples have manifested themselves for me. Facebook has blocked Russian state media on its platform in light of their unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and reversed some of its previous decisions by unblocking praise for the neo-Nazi Azov military battalion – if you’re very specific in praising them for their resistance against said Russians. This is a brilliant move by Facebook because empowering far-right revolutionaries against a Russian invasion worked so well in Afghanistan! I’m not saying such censorship is right or wrong; my point is that there is legitimate criticism to be made of how the discourse is being managed, and this decision was made unilaterally by a corporation with a pretty shifty track record.

Ukraine officially incorporated this overtly Nazi militia into its military after the Russians annexed Crimea. I'm not saying invading Ukraine was an appropriate way to "de-Nazi" the country, but they clearly have some work to do with their own far right elements. Nuance!

Ukraine officially incorporated this overtly Nazi militia into its military after Russia annexed Crimea. I’m not saying invading Ukraine was an appropriate way to “de-Nazi” the country, but they clearly have some work to do with their own far right elements. Nuance!

There will always be political positions you disagree with, even find abhorrent. But allowing some emperor to dictate what is allowable discourse in a particular space is just as absurd as the coffeehouse bans enforced by the Ottomans and by Charles II hoping to rein in political dissent and “false news”. But that is the demand! WhatsApp needs to regulate the discourse on its App because right now it’s too secret! Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg need to personally review every single post to make sure that reading it won’t summon Sadako out of our phone screens in seven days. To dominate the bogeyman, we need a powerful ally, and there are none more powerful than the social media overlords.

This is bad. The right cries about social media censorship all the time, and… they’re not wrong! It’s tempting to say that it doesn’t count as censorship if the government isn’t doing it, and the irony is certainly amusing when otherwise pro-business ideologues are hurt and betrayed by business decisions against their personal interest, because, to be clear, these are businesses looking out for their bottom line. They’re not “woke“; they’re capitalists. They are making decisions based on what will make them the most money, and overt hate speech isn’t as lucrative as it used to be. But corporations are quickly becoming our new feudal lords, so their iron fist restricting the online commons is just as much a cause for alarm as any government cracking down on dissent. What makes money may shift over time if far right populism continue to grow in popularity!

The next Tickle Me Elmo to sweep the nation!

The next Tickle Me Elmo to sweep the nation!

Long time readers will know I’m not a free speech advocate. There is plenty of speech that is counter-intuitive to dialogue, but restricting spaces for speech is different than applying appropriate codes of conduct that lead to the most productive dialogical output. Cracking down on the the coffeehouses isn’t the solution. If we’re looking for solutions, it’s important to know what the actual problem is. The problem isn’t idiots who are too stupid to critically digest controversial opinions so they need to be protected from dangerous ideas, it’s zealotry. Social media has become a space for what amount to digital cults to flourish. I think cults are an important symbol for what’s happening because with cults, the people aren’t stupid, they just want to belong.

A combination of photos shows the crowds attending the inauguration ceremonies of U.S. President Donald Trump and President Barack Obama

If you think that the photo on the left has more people in it than the one on the right, you probably believe that more people voted for Trump than for Biden in the 2020 election. What’s one more alternative fact? It’s not that Trumpists can’t count, it’s that believing Trump’s lies has been imbued into their communal identity. Saying the photo on the right has more people is not a factual refutation, it becomes an ad hominem attack.

The difference between a community and a cult is an ability to question sources, whether the ideology is seen as a fundamental value and a part of who you are versus a passion or interest, and the amount of exposure a member has to the world outside of that group. It is perfectly within the realm of possibility to maintain a social media presence and adhere to the right side of that balance. Most people do it, and there is actually evidence that greater internet use is not completely driving modern political polarization. When social media cults do appear though, are they any different than cults in the analog world?

If we see the discourse problem of social media as potential breeding grounds for cults, then trying to overpower them through force is more likely to lead to Waco-style consequences rather than cross-partisan healing. If they’re cults, then they need de-programming solutions. Far-right social media enclaves are like toxic relationships, and a sense of belonging is obtained from hazing-style abuse. A lot of the reason the right is so angry despite not actually having any real political demands is because they’re constantly being told that the world hates them and thinks they’re stupid. That’s gas-lighting 101, but it sure works to keep recruits dependent. That’s why “basket of deplorables” caught on as a rallying cry for Trumpists because it vindicated the narrative of spiteful isolation that the radicalization process inured. Remember when Steve Bannon was telling a crowd to embrace being called a racist as a badge of honour? The worse the behaviour, the more isolated you are from the rest of society, the more embedded into the fold of the far right you become. Anything telling you otherwise is fake news.

Bear with me

Bear with me

As a quick aside, despite frequent “both sides” rhetoric from usually right-wing speakers, the issue of polarization is a right-wing issue. The left has been basically the same for like, over a hundred years, and even spine-chilling philosophies like defunding the police have been around since 1974. Traditional conservatives today are being defenestrated from their own parties because they’re not bootlicking fascism hard enough. Today’s right-wing is off the political spectrum. Please note my distinction between conservatives and the right-wing, as conservatives are basically today’s centrists that I’m castigating for wanting social media elites to regulate our social sphere. To be clear, cultist tendencies can and do arise on the left, but the specific issue of polarization is emphatically a right-wing issue and the increasing extremity of right-wing cults is the alarm bell I’m reacting to.

Anyway, back to it!

The solution to cults isn’t to barricade them out of their bunkers to scurry to another dark corner, it’s to open the world up to them. Give them a broader community to belong to. This is where my apologism for social media ends, because their algorithms sow divisiveness to ensure cults can never connect to ideologies outside of their own. Taiwan released a social media platform where the algorithm linked people through commonality rather than outrage, and it led to genuine solutions to otherwise intransigent problems. Immerse in hobbies or volunteer activities where there is exposure to other people different from oneself! Follow a variety of news outlets with different bents at their source, and don’t rely on social media to determine what you are presented with! When diverse groups of people connect, it pulls us out of our zealotry.

Newsies

If Christian Bale isn’t personally delivering you your news, you’re probably being radicalized.

Whether social media pulls us into a cult or not, it’s easy to agree that the current manifestation of how we engage on the internet is broken. It doesn’t have to be this way. Spaces to communicate dissent are necessary; society is far from perfect and there are powerful interests hoping to keep it that way. Spaces to disagree don’t have to be toxic or held hostage by disinformation.

Social media corporations profit by engagement, and it’s easy to get rich off passionate emotions. It’s not the platforms, it’s the platform owners. Capitalists have turned communities into cults because that’s the most efficient way to get a return on their capital. I don’t want capitalists fixated on profits to solve polarization because their solution will always be what profits them the most.

If we want a better social media, we need to determine and hold accountable the processes that produce our social media feeds. My guess is most people would agree to a methodology that fosters connection over divisiveness, that encourages people to disconnect from the digital rather than continuously pull “engagement”, so maybe people should be the ones who say how our public sphere is managed. I guess I’m one of those lefties who advocates for a socialist democratization of social media platforms. Who could have guessed!

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.