Archives for posts with tag: canada

People have a hard time with the concept of privilege. No one likes to feel like they didn’t earn the good things that they have in their life, that they just had them handed to them on a silver platter, and that their struggles are illegitimate. Not saying any of these are a reality, but this is a common thought process in response to conversations around privilege. These people tend to get a bit defensive because they interpret privilege as an accusation, as a judgment, but it’s not. Privilege is simply a fact about the world. Take being Canadian, for example. I am a Canadian, and as such, I have the benefits of Canadian systems and institutions. Even a homeless Canadian can walk into a hospital and get a wound stitched up without cost. Other countries don’t have that. I can’t logic my way out of that privilege: I am embedded into the structures of Canada, and I just have to own that.

How dare you accuse me of privilege! I built this universal healthcare and independent judiciary with my own bare hands!

Granted, national privilege is not often the example given when privilege is discussed. Usually it’s things like male privilege, white privilege, etc. For example, men make up 88.1% of all the billionaires of the world, and women make up ~60% of minimum wage workers in Canada. Again, this isn’t a judgment, it is a factual statement about the world. It’s simple math that if you are a man, you are statistically more likely to be making more money than the average woman. Same thing goes with race as white people will make more money than racialized minorities. When people say “white men are privileged,” it’s typically shorthand for pointing out these statistics. Not all statistics are created equal, sure, but denying these things usually requires peer-reviewed rebuttals of methodology. Unfortunately, it does get a bit more complicated: as another example, 72.9% of the folks in homeless shelters are men. So if you’re a man, you’re more likely to both be homeless and a billionaire.

Checkmate, libtards!

But how can this be!? Those are two sets of completely contradictory statistics! The thing is, having a home is a privilege. Having money is a privilege. Being a man might make you statistically more likely to fall under a certain category, but that doesn’t mean you necessarily will. No group is a monolith, and everyone is going to have an array of privileges and barriers. Unless the statistic is 100%, there is going to be wide diversity across the spectrum, in all categories. Even for us privileged Canadians, there exist barriers for some of us in accessing our allegedly “universal” healthcare. Having access to healthcare is a privilege. Again, these are not judgments. Some people may frame them as judgments, but you don’t have to listen to the opinions of everybody. Healthcare is a good thing to have. Money is a good thing to have. If you have them, you are privileged. This is best explained by an example from the followers of Jesus Christ.

The Christian tradition of saying Grace before a meal is a basic acknowledgement of privilege. It doesn’t matter how hard you worked for that food, you have food on your table, and others don’t. You say ‘thank you’ to God because you are acknowledging that there have been things outside of your control that brought you this privilege, and it is better to humbly acknowledge that fact rather than be a jerk about it. Privilege obviously scales here, because someone with an abundance of nutritious food is obviously more privileged than someone with scraps. The idea is that having a good thing is a privilege, and what matters is how you behave with it.

Humility with privilege may not be widely practiced, even within the Christian community, but it’s still a good idea

I recently received the Coronavirus vaccine. This is a privilege. Millions of people around the world are literally dying to have one. People are committing fraud in order to obtain this coveted prize. I received it because I am completing my Master’s degree in a hospital setting. One can wonder whether I earned this position, quantifying the family affluence needed to obtain a higher education mixed with my social background and the opportunities made available for me, or wonder at the risk I am enduring by being in an acute healthcare setting. However, what it boils down to is I have something that is a good thing. It is a privilege. Am I more at risk than warehouse workers and other workplaces that have the second highest transmission rates who aren’t being recognized as vulnerable likely due to a paucity of labour coverage in Canada? Is it less of a privilege because those in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver are being vaccinated? Of course not. I have a good thing. That is a privilege. Crackdown is a podcast that explores the lives of substance users in the DTES as told by their peers, and the host of the show worries that drug users need to take advantage of the privilege of vaccination while they can, because historically they are a forgotten demographic, and given enough time, this privilege will be taken away as the vaccine rollout moves on to more affluent populations. It is a privilege for homeless people to have the vaccine. It doesn’t matter that they are homeless, just as it doesn’t matter if you are a man or white; everyone will have some privileges and some struggles. There will be some people with an imbalance between these two poles, certainly, but ultimately everyone will always have at least some of each. Again, what matters is what you do with it.

Who has the privilege? Well, one has the privilege of a vaccination, the other has the privilege of healthcare. They both also have their pretty severe struggles. It’s not supposed to be a contest, you guys.

To reiterate, privilege is simply having a good thing. The important thing is what you do with it. To bring us back to Canada again, this country has the highest number of secured vaccine doses per capita in the world as a result of the diverse portfolio of contracts that were negotiated under our government. Our rollout is a little slow because we hedged our bets across multiple horses, but as additional vaccines are approved and become available, Canada is likely going to benefit greatly in the long run. We have access to a high number of vaccines. That is a privilege. What is Canada doing with that privilege? It’s taking vaccines out of COVAX, a vaccine charity organization, because it paid for them and is now staking its claim. It’s like if you participated in one of those ‘buy a pair of shoes and a second pair of shoes will go to a developing country’, but there is a worldwide shortage of shoes, and, despite already having a bunch of shoes, you decided to make sure you got the extra shoes before the people who are shoeless get theirs. It’s little wonder Canada is being criticized by human rights organizations for this.

You can be greedy with privilege. You can reinforce your status against those without your same privileges. Or, you can use your privilege to alleviate the suffering of others. Privilege itself is irrelevant to the path the individual who has it will take. Once privilege is acknowledged, you can also reflect on where this privilege came from. Community members in the DTES received the vaccine in the early rollout because activists (notably people with the privilege of enough time for activism) have been working on humanizing this marginalized demographic for decades. It is unlikely that many residents currently receiving the vaccine participated in that humanizing process, but they are receiving the benefits of it nonetheless.

Myself, I too have been vaccinated. When I get my second dose, I plan on visiting my parents, giving them a big hug, and I’m not going to have to worry about whether or not I am killing them in the process. Not everyone can do that right now. I hope I can do so with humility and gratitude.

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.