Archives for posts with tag: Donald Trump

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.

When faced with horrific behaviour or deeds, how we respond as a society determines whether that horror is perpetuated or mitigated. Some don’t want to think about it, and just want to close their eyes and swing blindly until the evil goes away. Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper emphasized that response quite candidly, “We do not understand why child predators do the heinous things they do and, in all frankness, we don’t particularly care to.” Karl Rove, on the American side of the equation, said, “Conservatives saw what happened to us on 9/11 and said, We will defeat our enemies. Liberals saw what happened to us and said, We must understand our enemies.” Karl Rove was of course attacking the view that understanding one’s enemy is part of an important process to defeat them. The views expressed by Harper and Rove are akin to trying to cure cancer without ever actually learning anything about the disease. As with cancer, this approach will inevitably lead to the perpetuation of horror until it consumes us entirely. When approaching the events of Charlottesville, and the Alt-Right extremists in general, perhaps understanding their radicalization is better in the long term than the simple satisfaction of punching them in the face.

Regarding the American response to Islamic militants, Louise Richardson in her book What Terrorists Want, wrote, “We have believed that the superiority of our values and our systems of government is so self-evident that only the ignorant or the evil could reject it.” The Left has fallen into the same trap. The virtue of feminism is so abundantly clear that anyone who strays from its canon is automatically a misogynist. The righteousness of the Black Lives Matter movement shines so brightly that anyone who questions them is a racist. Clinton’s “Basket of Deplorables” is no different from Bush’s “Axis of Evil.” When we force a dichotomy of good versus evil, we fall into dogmatic religious absolutism: our moral high ground is all the evidence we need that our opponents are in league with Satan, metaphorically or literally, depending on your point of view. What this means is that we must abandon this illusory dichotomy and assume that the opposition has reasonable points to make. Of course, listening to opposing points of view may mean that compromises will need to be made, and zealots on both sides may deplore compromise as concession, but the alternative is purely violent. A quick look at how the War on Terror is going should show how effective that method can be.

Richardson claims that there are three criteria that need to be met in order for someone to become radicalized. There needs to be a disaffected individual, a legitimizing ideology, and an enabling community. Somewhat surprisingly, poverty in and of itself is not linked to increased radicalization, neither is it linked to stupidity. Where the link does exist is in the perils of social change. According to Richardson, “Rapid socioeconomic changes are conducive to instability and tend to erode traditional forms of social control. These situations are then open to exploitation by militants offering to make sense of these changes, to blame others for the dislocations and humiliations involved, and to offer a means of redress.” One of Donald Trump’s campaign videos highlights this social change perfectly, as it references the stable, good paying jobs that are in sharp decline, the establishment’s participation within that decline through iniquitous trade deals, and the centralizing of power into corporate and political hands. Trump’s community is, according to his legitimizing ideology, the only group capable of standing up and redressing these social imbalances. Of course he points to immigrants as responsible for this destabilization, but the socioeconomic change is there, and it is leaving enough people behind that radicalization is an obvious response.

Richardson is writing about terrorist movements, and there are few who describe the Alt-Right as a terrorist group, but there has been enough violence (such as Charlottesville, the Charleston church shooting, the Portland train stabbing, etc.) that I think looking at the direct motivation for terrorist acts is important here too. They are revenge, renown, and reaction. An IRA member may blow up a police station because the British Armed Forces violently abused a Catholic nun. An Islamic martyr seeks validation and celebrity from his community. The undiscriminating brutality of the War on Terror has created a massive influx in terrorist numbers, making 9/11 a success far surpassing what Osama Bin Laden could ever have hoped for, legitimizing his cause beyond his wildest dreams. If we consider the Alt-Right a terrorist organization, what do they seek when their members commit violence?

Something Richardson points out is that if we are ever to have a dialogue, we must admit to our own failings, our own infliction of suffering, rather than focusing solely on the suffering inflicted against us. Peace in the Middle East is impossible until the voices that matter acknowledge the illegality of Israeli settlements in Palestine, for example. What does the Alt-Right have to complain about though? If all our news is filtered through our political biases before we even look at it, it is unlikely we will ever come across the misdeeds of those from “our side.” For example, a disabled, white teenager was gang beaten, tied up, and tortured by a group of people yelling, “Fuck Donald Trump! Fuck white people!” Someone else took the time to replace cis, het, white, and male with Jew in select comments to show what SJW vitriol looks like: “My sister learned a valuable lesson when she was young – never trust a Jew.” “Listen to me you fucking twat. You are a fucking Jew. Jews don’t get to talk shit about anybody. It doesn’t matter what they’ve done. You lost that right when you were born a Jew.” And so on. There was the Dallas Police shooting that prompted obvious propaganda from Alt-Right networks. And then of course the random violence committed by Antifa that is legitimized by the argument that the receptors of violence deserve it simply because they hate our freedoms. Since organizations like Black Lives Matter and Antifa don’t really have a leadership caste to denounce the actions of extremists who operate under their banner, these acts appear to go unchallenged by left-wing progressives. Feminism, being an ideology, cannot comment on the behaviour of those who adhere to it either.

Richardson says that in a war of ideologies, the values and principles of the “good” ideology must remain consistent, since blatant hypocrisy will only serve the argument of your opponents. Even in the sake of emergency, our values are what we’re fighting for, so abandoning them is self-destructive both against ourselves and in the battles abroad. Reaction is a goal sought by terrorists, and if that reaction betrays spoken principles, then their goal is a success because they’ve shown the flimsiness of those principles. “The Intolerant Left” is a rallying cry specifically because it showcases the hypocrisy of those who preach tolerance yet will not accept dissenting views, unless that dissenting view is proselytized by someone less privileged. Equality is laughed at when feminists willfully ignore male issues that place them in a less privileged position.

Yes, it’s propaganda, but its data is accurate. What’s the best way to counteract this narrative? Should its concerns be addressed?

Part of understanding radicalization is learning the nature of its appeal. If being a white man is so great, why are these individuals becoming so disaffected? Why would they seek to embolden their white identity? If one looks at what creates identity in today’s culture (consumerism driven by advertising, impossible role models derived from movies and television, dead ideals of achievable success), and then you consider the allure of inherent acceptance based on an identity derived from ethnicity and gender as found in progressive movements, why wouldn’t these groups seek out a similar way of defining themselves? In the Feminist rejection of #NotAllMen and the language of Dear White People, the generalizations against that demographic alienates them into the warm embrace of those who are willing to give them that inherent acceptance.

We must know thy enemy, so to speak. What are their goals? What would need to occur to reduce disaffection? What is their plan? What is the internal dynamic of their group? Is there dissent or warring factions that could be utilized to destabilize the movement? By refusing to investigate and then, in turn, negotiate, even if it’s simply to gather information about that organization, all that is being done is prolonging the conflict. Negotiation may be seen as a means of legitimizing that ideology, but the alternative is ineffective warfare or genocide. Would the Left be willing to accept white identity if supremacy was not attached to it? Is an ethnostate a universally agreed upon notion within the Alt-Right? Richardson, “By knowing your enemies, you can find out what it is they want. Once you know what they want, you can then decide whether to deny it to them and thereby demonstrate the futility of their tactic, give it to them, or negotiate and give them a part of it in order to cause them to end their campaign.”  If the goals of a radicalized group are non-negotiable, then the next step is isolating them from their enabling community.

The best policies in regard to reducing radicalization will focus on the enabling community, as unstructured groups will always fail without necessary support, so the question that must be asked is what is the best way to undermine support for Alt-Right beliefs in the wider community? According to Richardson, “We must demonstrate in our reaction to them that we respect the right of others to oppose us. We simply do not accept their right to express their opposition through terrorism.” What Richardson is suggesting is that moderate groups must be empowered to speak out against us, since criticism is a necessary component of any dialogue. These moderate groups will act as a counterbalance to the violent extremists, and in turn will reduce their efficacy in gaining new members. Regarding the Alt-Right, one could perhaps encourage the ideology behind the Men’s Rights Movement. It has been argued that MRAs are often the disaffected individuals who become radicalized into Alt-Right movements, and so empowering those dissenting voices could bring back into the fold those with less extreme views. Male issues have some merit, and enabling that discussion will greatly delegitimize the extremist Alt-Right perspectives of supremacy and oppression.

Ingratiating your side toward the community at large is also another way to reduce animosity that may lead to radicalization. Richardson cites an example of the humanitarian aid that America provided to Indonesia after an earthquake in 2004, and how the Muslim opinion in the country improved radically toward the Americans, and greatly decreased against Osama bin Laden because of their charitable relief effort. If Black Lives Matter held a fundraising drive for residents of the Vancouver East Side, would it be as easy for their critics to denounce them? Ingratiating ourselves to our community, building bonds and securing trust, is what will win the hearts and minds needed for an ideological battle.

When combating extremism and radicalization, we need to create specific goals. When George W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan before him, declared a war on terrorism, they doomed themselves to fail right from the beginning. If Bush had declared that America would subdue the leadership of al-Qaeda, then that is something tangible that could be achieved. Even reducing extremist allure is a reasonable goal, but then one must recognize that it is a political goal, not a military one, and must be fought accordingly with appropriate tactics for its achievement. In regard to the denouncement of the Alt-Right, if all we say is we want to eliminate racism, that is just as feasible a goal as waging a war against a tactic.

Richardson says, “The language of warfare connotes action and immediate results. We need to replace this language with the language of development and construction and the patience that goes along with it.” If we are really going to try to eliminate far right radicalization without succumbing to oppressive authoritarianism, we must see our ideological opponents as salvageable, not deplorable. There is a non-profit organization in the United States, Life After Hate, that seeks to de-radicalize individuals by connecting them with the communities that they hold in disregard, to show them that there exists a world beyond their narrowly defined worldview. There are methods of reducing extremism. We have to look for them if we wish to eliminate it, and unfortunately, the answers lie behind the voices of those touting extremist views. It is almost certainly a difficult task, but the alternative is allowing it to flourish, and that makes it easier to see which option is more palatable.