Archives for posts with tag: canada

When people think of Canada, they think of hockey, needless apologizing, and Tim Horton’s coffee because associating national identity with a corporation couldn’t possibly be the worst idea ever. None of these are things I would call “values,” however. Canadian values are a funny thing. Mostly because Canada is an abstract social construct that only has the meaning humanity gives it, and as a social construct, cannot actually have values. It’s like saying money has values. Usually this is why the concept of Canadian values doesn’t come up very often. The only people silly enough to consistently ascribe values to their nation are Americans, and that’s mostly due to the fact that America has been desperately trying to anthropomorphize itself throughout its entire history.

crying eagle

Things Americans value, as depicted by this image: weeping openly, nature, and destroying their own flag

But north of the border, we do try every now and again. Our current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tried to dictate “shared values” that supersede any nationalistic urges, claiming that, “openness, respect, compassion, willingness to work hard, to be there for each other, to search for equality and justice” are what unite us, rather than any hard-line Canadian identity. It sounds nice, right? I’m not Canadian because of any geographic truth about my birth and current living locale (the traditional construct of nation being the socially agreed upon borders drawn haphazardly across the globe which demarcate which laws you are compelled to follow), but now I’m Canadian because of my patriotic adherence to this list that Trudeau made up… or had written for him. Either way, it’s essentially nonsense.

However, when most people think about Canadian values, they think of Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch’s “Canadian Values Test” which would forbid any incoming immigrants and refugees from entry lest they agree to certain “values;” values presumably widely contrasted to any Liberal leader’s version of them. The lunacy of pan-Canadian values aside, people were mostly in favour of broad, incredibly vague, yet still hypocritical values being enforced at the border.

border crossing

We are open, compassionate, just, and respectful people. You need to be just like us in order to come in. (Yes, I know this is the American border under Trump. We have our own hypocrisies, they’re just more difficult to find in a Google Image Search relevant to immigrants or refugees)

Why is there pressure from political organizations to promote absolute values within the citizenry? It makes no sense from a practical viewpoint. Laws are the enforceable side of values, but nobody is going to go beyond that to enforce “openness” and “respect” as laws because more often than not those spouting these platitudes are those most likely to disregard them. They’re also impossible to define. Is it respectful to respect a woman’s right to choose, or to respect the life which began at conception? Values are individualistic and subjective to the point where they are entirely meaningless on any kind of macro scale.

Politicians and their pundits aren’t actually speaking about values when they discuss values because, as discussed, that is a meaningless prospect. What they are talking about is purity. Values aren’t the thing; everyone being the same is the thing. We want a country that is untainted by foreign aspects that will defile the sanctity of our nation. We only want those who are like us. We don’t want to be infested by those… types. If this sounds like dog-whistle racism, well, who can say?

purity

Can you imagine some foreign elements contaminating this water? Society is just like that. If anything foreign is introduced, it poisons us all. It’s not racism. This metaphor is incontrovertible.

Purity has its defenders. Jonathan Haidt suggests that the divide between conservatives and liberals is predicated on their different moral foundations. Liberals predominantly adhere to a creed of reducing harm and emphasizing fairness, while conservatives focus on harm and fairness as well, but introduce respect for authority, in-group coherence, and purity into their moral baseline. This is why the harrumphing about “values” usually comes from conservative talking points.

Except coming up with something that conservatives typically agree on and deciding that must make it “moral” (a surprisingly relativistic understanding of morality, considering the accusations of relativism usually come from the conservative aisle) isn’t ethically valid. Morality is the systemic regulation of our relationship to the Other. Philosopher Emmanuel Levinas states that our individual freedom must justify itself in the face of the Other. “Morality begins when freedom, instead of being justified by itself, feels itself to be arbitrary and violent.” All alone, morality cannot exist and our actions are infinitely free, but when we come across someone new, we realize that our actions mean something in a relationship, and the ignorance of that relationship can only be exploitative. Purity is the necessary exclusion of the Other. It literally cannot be a moral foundation because it precludes the very existence of a moral relationship.

people interacting

In order for me to interact morally with you, I need a “you” to interact with

Unfortunately, politicians bring up values to pander to immoral standards of social purity because they don’t want to talk about the stuff that actually matters: policy decisions. The more we’re all talking about abstract, unfounded notions of pan-national values, the less we’re talking about taxes, environmental policy, and the housing crisis. I don’t have to promise something that you can call me out on when I fail to deliver; I just need to stroke your underlying xenophobic fears, and I’ll get elected. All I need is the right kind of rhetoric. If my polling numbers go down, I can just ramp up the rhetoric because rhetoric doesn’t require any kind of meaningful follow through.

So. What have we learned. Purity is the opposite of morality. Macro-level values are meaningless. And if anyone ever brings up these things in a political debate, it’s because they really don’t want to be talking about the concrete things they’re actually planning on doing. Also they’re probably a smidge racist.

The death of Jamal Khashoggi has lead to a lot of public outcry against Saudi Arabia, and yet the responses from a lot of world leaders has been pretty non-committal. They spout a lot of rhetoric about the horrifying nature of such a crime, but when it comes to a response of substance, they openly cite money as the reason they’re just plumb not going to do anything about it. This leads me to a question: how much does it cost to kill a journalist? Actually, scratch that. Saudi Arabia has been going after dissidents for a while, and there was that whole “anti-corruption” campaign wherein all political opponents to the Crown Prince were arrested and jailed. The behaviour is nothing new, but the target is, so let me rephrase that. How much does it cost to kill a journalist for an American Newspaper who also happens to be a US resident?

The price tag for US President Donald Trump is currently $450 billion, but it could even be as low as $110 billion because Trump speaks whatever happens to be on his mind, be it a lie, an untruth, and, maybe through the law of averages, the occasional half-truth, so who knows what the actual cost of US arms sales to Saudi Arabia is? Given Trump’s personal enjoyment of harm being committed against journalists, one can certainly speculate that even if no money was on the table, Trump would be hesitating to condemn their brutal murder.

Trump not giving a shit about brutal dictators committing heinous acts is not news. However, Trump is not alone on the world stage as he is on so many other occasions. Our very own Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is unlikely to cancel a $15 billion arms contract, citing a $1 billion cancellation fee. We might put the arms deal on hold, pending the conclusion of the investigation being conducted jointly between Turkey and… Saudi Arabia? Oh good, at least we know it won’t be biased. Presumably it will be reinstated once this whole thing simmers down.

France‘s President Emmanuel Macron won’t even address halting arms sales, despite European pressure lead by Germany’s Angela Merkel. France sells about $12.6 billion worth of arms to the Sauds. The UK isn’t planning on giving up its £4.6 billion in arms sales either. Nor the Spanish government, who decided after all to sell Saudi Arabia a bunch of bombs, because if they didn’t, Saudi Arabia would not buy its warships, meaning Spain would lose €1.8 billion on top of the €9.2 million from the bomb deal.

Now I know what you’re thinking. We all need to sell Saudi Arabia military equipment, because if we didn’t, they wouldn’t be able involve themselves in Yemen’s civil war to create “undeniably the world’s worst humanitarian crisis by far!” Or murder children! Or actively promote cholera outbreaks by bombing so many hospitals that those bombings even have their own Wikipedia page! We have a moral obligation to sell armaments to Saudi Arabia, and that’s why it’s such a difficult decision to abandon those deals! I know, I know. I know.

I know.

However, if we ignore our righteous indignation at those hundreds of thousands of ultimately irrelevant Yemeni children for two seconds and get back to the importance of one American resident, we’ll see that it costs at least a billion of your local currency to dismember a journalist from the Washington Post.

I truly believe that this is enough information for a bitingly sarcastic blog about arms dealing and Saudi Arabia, but I do have one more thing on my mind. When I first heard Donald Trump deny flat out that he would implement financial repercussions on the Saudi government because $110 billion is too much money to throw away on some paltry journalist’s death, it reminded me of the bank bailouts of 2008. “Too big to fail” was the soundbite at the time, claiming that too much of the American economy was invested in these literal criminal organizations to implement any real consequences.

Am I saying that Saudi Arabia has too much of a monopoly on arms sales and that our countries should spread our military equipment around more diversely to not be in the pocket of any particular corrupt tyrant? No. I think that in our current guns versus butter economic divide, the radical lopsidedness of our focus is becoming suicidal. What I’m saying is that if you have a system that demands infinite growth by companies that seek the largest market share, those who grow faster, or who started out big, will naturally consume their competition in their unending greed. In more Marxist terms, capitalism tends toward monopoly. Hence, the banks, the media conglomerates, the tech firms, etc.

Saudi Arabia does not have a monopoly on military equipment. We can always just turn to Israel to support their war crimes if we feel that same burning desire to cause humanitarian crises. My problem is that we live in a system where wealth equates to power, and we applaud this. We revel in it. My problem is wealth. Arms deals, war crimes, and the destruction of the economy are all intrinsically immoral, sure, but having the power to get away with it is the true crime. That power is wealth, and any outrage directed at the Saudi government must include within it the complicity of all our governments in perpetuating the power of wealth, and the system itself that allows and encourages its accumulation.

Why would anyone ever want to volunteer? There are absolutely no tangible benefits; you’re lucky if you get a gift card to The Keg after years of service, if that. There’s no pay, no money, no financial incentives, no personal economic benefit whatsoever. A Joker once said, “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.” Our whole culture is built on the principle of selling our labour at admittedly below-cost wages, and who would stray from that? For something with even less pecuniary value! Makes absolutely no sense.

When you consider that money is actually garbage at motivating people beyond completing basic tasks, it makes perfect sense, and it turns out there are quite a few reasons why people give away their labour for free. Some reasons adhere to the ‘giving’ nature of volunteering: altruism, paying it forward, fighting for those with special needs (youth, the elderly, the disabled, etc.), and developing a helping culture. Others follow the ‘getting’ path: emotional rewards, meaningfulness and self-fulfillment, personal well-being, and a place in society. Some relate to both: gaining by giving (eg. I might need this kind of help later) and personal growth. And completely irrelevantly to the previous methods, people volunteer as an expression of their values, to follow their role models, to fill up spare time, to overcome personal matters, and most importantly, as a continuation of a lifetime of volunteerism. This is going to come back later, so remember that: a continuation of a lifetime of volunteerism.

The benefits of volunteering are most felt among seniors. Compared to the equivalent non-volunteer, elder volunteers have better physical and mental health, they have better life satisfaction, a longer life expectancy, fewer bouts of depression, and they have greater access to pertinent health information such as exercise techniques and preventative medical care. If you’re old and you volunteer, you are literally less likely to die. The more volunteering you do, the better your chances, as there is a 63% greater increase in perceived health between those who volunteer at multiple organizations compared to those who volunteer at just one. The benefits go on: volunteering can prolong an independent lifestyle, extend participation in the labour force and community, prevent memory loss, and it can even help manage chronic illness. Perhaps you might associate healthy people with volunteering, rather than volunteering with healthy people, but luckily science has already stepped in and said, nah, volunteering does all this. It’s pretty great. In fact, it’s pretty dumb not to.

And, as with everything, we seem to be getting dumber, and shockingly, it’s not the Millennials’ fault this time. Everyone knows about Canada’s aging population, right? Well, more than just single payer healthcare is at risk. Retirees have all this free time, no family commitments, and our seniors today are way healthier and more educated than any group of seniors have ever been before, ever. Ideal conditions for becoming volunteers. However, the enthusiasm isn’t there anymore. It was: even though young people volunteer the most out of any demographic, seniors have traditionally devoted the most hours. On average, seniors devote about 223 hours to volunteering, compared to the next highest group (ages 15 to 24) who clocked in at 130 hours. Seniors make up most of what is called the group of Super-Volunteers, the 10% of all volunteers who make up about 53% of all volunteer hours. These Super-Volunteers aren’t going to live forever, and unfortunately the next group in line to take their position are Boomers.

The Report of the National Seniors Council On Volunteering Among Seniors And Positive Active Aging predicts a “void” which these Boomers are unlikely to fill. Considering that volunteering is estimated to contribute more than $14 billion to the Canadian economy annually (estimated because nobody gets paid, remember), it’s probably pretty important to figure out why Boomers are dropping the ball. There are two lines of thinking on the matter.

The first is that Boomers are such delicate snowflakes that they put the worst libtard SJW to shame. Just listen to this directive from Volunteer Canada to organizations seeking to lure in prospective Boomer volunteers:

Effectively engaging baby boomers requires careful consideration of the life circumstances of each volunteer. Taking the time to listen to the interests and motivations of a potential volunteer can serve to benefit an organization in designing a meaningful assignment that also meets the needs of the organization.

That Seniors Council report from earlier explains that Boomers need “stimulating volunteer experiences that respond to personal needs and interests.” Boomers need a sense of ownership over their work, and need to see its impact on society. They fear that organizations are simply dumping busywork on volunteers, and want volunteering opportunities that matches their skill set. Organizations that rely on volunteers are usually smaller, which typically require a more generalist approach, but Boomers don’t want to deal with any of that boring shit. Boomers want to change the world, but they don’t want to actually do grunt work in order to get it done. Dirt under the fingernails is for peasants, I suppose. There is also less religious incentive, as this incoming generation of seniors is less religiously inclined. Volunteer Canada says that churches, which used to serve as a formal and informal recruitment centre for volunteers, will no longer be effective with Boomers. Shame too, given that almost all of those Super-Volunteers identify as people of faith, even if they don’t cite religious motivation as their driving force.

The other line of thinking for the volunteering decline is the reason the Boomers give themselves: they simply don’t have the time, both in their day to day lives and in their inability to make a year long commitment. Now, that’s a safe answer to give and perhaps the real answer is one that Boomers simply aren’t willing to divulge in a survey, but it’s worth looking into. Boomers do seek casual commitments, swiping left more often than right, testing out organizations before making real commitments. Our oft cited report defines their volunteering as “episodic,” with a greater emphasis on specific projects rather than committing to a single organization for any significant period of time.

Boomers are the first to endure being nicknamed a Sandwich Generation: a generation that must care for its aging parents as well as its stay-at-home children. Obviously this isn’t a new phenomenon, and it is quite common in certain cultures, but it is of growing concern due to the work commitments that households face today that they didn’t before, on top of these additional caring obligations. People are working more hours than ever, and wages are not keeping up with worker productivity, which means people are working harder for less money. With that less money, Canadians owe $1.67 for every dollar they make, with the total Canadian personal debt burden topping over 2 trillion dollars. For reference, from that same year (2016), the Canadian federal debt was 1.3 trillion. Remember that bank employees are pressured to deceive their customers in order to up-sell credit spending, even if you want to forget the practices of credit card companies that target those in poverty with high interest, high penalty rate offers sold under the guise of solving their financial woes. So it’s no wonder that folks are working more. Seniors especially need to put off retirement or continue to work part-time just to survive! Who can volunteer when you’ve got to work essentially forever and take care of kids who can’t move out because they’re even worse off than the Boomers?

In all honesty, the answer probably lies somewhere in between. Boomers don’t want to drudge through the muck in order to help others, they want to be the champion that saves the day with their unique talents. Those are the lucky ones, while the rest are stuck in an increasingly exploitative economy that doesn’t allow time for community work in the first place. Hmm. A community that is failing to take care of itself in any meaningful way due to a cult of individualism and structural economic inequities… hmmmmmmm….

There is a way out. When looking at seniors transitioning into retirement, the greatest factor in them becoming volunteers isn’t religion, altruism, or any ‘giving’ or ‘getting’ motivating factor. The increase of new volunteers upon retirement does not even come close to those who simply continue to volunteer. Those who have been volunteering throughout their entire lives. We shouldn’t be trying to convert Boomers as they stumble into retirement; they’re already a lost cause. Start people volunteering at an earlier age, and those will be the ones who become the next Super-Volunteers when they discover all that free time you’re supposed to get at retirement.

We need to create a culture of volunteering. Remind people that there are better ways to find fulfillment than just earning a paycheck. Try to avoid falling into the trap that an individual can save the world on their own. Superman is a fiction. The reality is that groups of people are the ones who make change. We need to reconnect people with their communities. Rebuild the idea of neighbours. This idea of community rebuilding is quite prominent in progressive circles, and perhaps a culture of volunteering is the path to its fruition.