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Messaging in society differs depending on which sex class you happen to inhabit.  I for one, have never experience this much fucking elation eating crunchy green water.

Andrew Bacevich writes in Tom’s Dispatch about how the Boomer Generation mythos has affected US policy making for much of recent history.

 

“In Washington, policymakers have shown little inclination to consider the possibility that the United States itself might be guilty of doing evil. In effect, the virtuous intentions implicit in “Never Again” inoculated the United States against the virus to which ordinary nations were susceptible. V-E Day seemingly affirmed that America was anything but ordinary.

Here, then, we arrive at one explanation for the predicament in which the United States now finds itself. In a recent article in the New York Times, journalist Katrin Bennhold wondered how it could be that, when it came to dealing with Covid-19, “the country that defeated fascism in Europe 75 years ago” now finds itself “doing a worse job protecting its citizens than many autocracies and democracies” globally.

Yet it might just be that events that occurred 75 years ago in Europe no longer have much bearing on the present. The country that defeated Hitler’s version of fascism (albeit with considerable help from others) has since allowed its preoccupation with fascists, quasi-fascists, and other ne’er-do-wells to serve as an excuse for letting other things slip, particularly here in the homeland.

The United States is fully capable of protecting its citizens. Yet what the present pandemic drives home is this: doing so, while also creating an environment in which all citizens can flourish, is going to require a radical revision of what we still, however inaccurately, call “national security” priorities. This does not mean turning a blind eye to mass murder. Yet the militarization of U.S. policy that occurred in the wake of V-E Day has for too long distracted attention from more pressing matters, not least among them creating a way of life that is equitable and sustainable. This perversion of priorities must now cease.

So, yes, let’s mark this V-E Day anniversary with all due solemnity. Yet 75 years after the collapse of the Third Reich, the challenge facing the United States is not “Never Again.” It’s “What Now?”

For the moment at least, Tom and I are still around. Yet “our times” — the period that began when World War II ended — have run their course. The “new times” upon which the nation has now embarked will pose their own distinctive challenges, as the Covid-19 pandemic makes unmistakably clear. Addressing those challenges will require leaders able to free themselves from a past that has become increasingly irrelevant.”

 

Will this latest pandemic foster a new set of priorities across the globe?  Many people would like to think so, but I think they underestimate the potency of the current establishment and how entrenched they are in the societal disequilibrium they have created.  I most certainly do hope for a new normal, but I’m not optimistic about it actually coming to fruition.

One of the many calculations going on in the background within varied historical contexts is the relationship between efficiency and resilience.  Consider arch construction from Roman times and now.

The Roman arch has a distinct set of design principles that focus on the utilitarian principles of usefulness and longevity in public infrastructure.

 

The modern arch.

 

Same concept, but now a different formula has been employed, as different ends are in mind. Aversion to overbuilding, a focus on form rather than utilitarian concerns.  Public architecture most certainly, but will these arches last centuries?  Doubtful.

 

So, from here we can extrapolate the notion of the interplay between efficiency and resiliency, the Roman arch being the model of resiliency and the modern arch being the exemplar of efficiency.  Neither is wrong per say but rather, each work displays what qualities are needed at a particular point in societal history.

Fast forward to the present.  And yes, the present we speak of is the Covid-19 Pandemic of 2020.  Like the Spanish Flu before it, the Coronavirus is rapidly burning through the various world populations.

The societal systems we have built are mostly modelled on the basis of maximizing efficiency, as efficient systems with capitalist societies are usually quite profitable.  Jill Richardson writing in Counterpunch describes the model we are using for much of our economy.

“I went to business school 20 years ago. We learned about the efficiency of “just-in-time” supply management.

The goal was to cut costs by ordering inventory “just in time.” That way you don’t pay for all the extra, costly warehouses to store weeks or months of supplies. The example we were given was that if a certain large corporation’s supply chain shut down, they’d only have enough materials on hand to keep up production for four days.

Efficient? Yes. Resilient? No.”

Economic design decisions, like societal design decisions reflect the social priorities and needs of a people at a particular time.  When paradigm shifting events happen, like a pandemic, the shortfalls of the system are revealed.

“My business school taught social Darwinism: survival of the fittest. The beauty of capitalism, we were taught, is that everyone competes for business and the competition drives innovation, while the least efficient companies go out of business.

It was an outlook that Ayn Rand would endorse: the most generous way to behave is to be selfish, because by doing your part to compete, you are doing your part to drive innovation and efficiency for everyone.

This crisis is pulling back the curtain on unfettered laissez-faire capitalism, showing that we are actually interconnected. And it’s far more serious than toilet paper.

A stark shortage of personal protective equipment has left health care workers without enough to go around. In my town, hospitals are organizing to receive donations from anyone who has a box of face masks, hand sanitizer, and gloves at home.

In short, they’re relying on community resilience where for-profit efficiency failed.”

Our capitalism system is a marvelous at maximizing efficiency, but when the base rules and global situation changes, the once successful model (should) quickly lose its lustre.

“In normal times, we justify a form of capitalism in which competition means accepting inequality and suffering in the name of improving efficiency for all. We accept that some face poverty, hunger, and homelessness, and we’re okay with it because of a myth that it’s natural, or better for everyone (or else caused by the moral failings of those who suffer).

Continuing to believe that myth now will cause millions of deaths worldwide. Instead, our only hope is pulling together to help others through shared sacrifice and collective action.

Resilience isn’t always profitable. But we need it now more than ever.”

We will need to adapt our models and societies for this new base set of conditions.  A foundational requirement in the new normal will be building a higher level of cooperation in society and the fostering the willingness to critically evaluate the old paradigm and correct the models that do not jive with the new social reality.  Building resilience into our societies must become a priority otherwise the pandemic lessons of 1918, and 2020 will need to be relearned at a great cost to human life and progress.

 

 

” Whenever we try to rearrange natural systems along the lines of a machine or a factory, whether by raising too many pigs in one place or too many almond trees, whatever we may gain in industrial efficiency, we sacrifice in biological resilience. The question is not whether systems this brittle will break down, but when and how, and whether when they do, we’ll be prepared to treat the whole idea of sustainability as something more than a nice word.”

A new model is necessary to mitigate future crisis, it must revolve around the idea that a formula weighted more toward resilience is necessary for a sustainable future.

 

 

 

 

 

Why does society work the way it does?  Why is there such a disconnect between the common people and politics.  Jonathan Cook examines the power structures in our society and how they work.

 

“Rather than thinking in terms of individuals, power is better visualised as the deep waters of a lake, while the powerful are simply the ripples on the surface. The ripples come and go, but the vast body of water below remains untouched.

Superficially, the means by which power conceals itself is through stories. Its needs narratives – mainly about those who appear powerful – to create political and social dramas that distract us from thinking about deep power. But more fundamentally still, power depends on ideology. Ideology cloaks power – in a real sense, it is power – because it is the source of power’s invisibility.

Ideology provides the assumptions that drive our perceptions of the world, that prevent us from questioning why some people were apparently born to rule, or have been allowed to enclose vast estates of what was once everyone’s land, or hoard masses of inherited wealth, or are celebrated for exploiting large numbers of workers, or get away with choking the planet to the point at which life itself asphyxiates.

Phrased like that, none of these practices seems natural. In fact, to a visiting Martian they would look pathologically insane, an irrefutable proof of our self-destructiveness as a species. But these conditions are the unexamined background to our lives , just the way things are and maybe always were. The system.

True, the individuals who benefit from the social and economic policies that uphold this system may occasionally be held to account. Even the policies themselves may occasionably be held up to scrutiny. But the assumptions behind the policies are rarely questioned – certainly not in what we are taught to call the “mainstream”.

That is an amazing outcome given that almost none of us benefit from the system we effectively sanction every time we turn out to vote in an election. Very few of us are rulers, or enjoy enormous wealth, or live on large estates, or own companies that deprive thousands of the fruit of their labours, or profit from destroying life on Earth. And yet the ideology that rationalises all that injustice, inequality and immorality not only stays in place but actually engenders more injustice, more inequality, more immorality year by year.

We watch this all unfold passively, largely indifferently because we believe – we are made to believe – we are powerless.

Regenerating like Dr Who

By now, you may be frustrated that power still lacks a name. Is it not late-stage capitalism? Or maybe neoliberalism? Globalisation? Or neoconservatism? Yes, we can identify it right now as ideologically embedded in all of those necessarily vague terms. But we should remember that it is something deeper still.

Power always has an ideological shape and physical structures. It has both faces. It existed before capitalism, and will exist after it (if capitalism doesn’t kill us first). Human history has consisted of power consolidating and regenerating itself in new form over and over again – like the eponymous hero of the long-running British TV sci-fi series Doctor Who – as different groups have learnt how to harness it, usurp it and put it to self-interested use. Power has been integral to human societies. Now our survival as individuals and as a species depends on our finding a way to reinvent power, to tame it and share it equally between us all – and thereby dissolve it. It is the ultimate challenge.”

To change a system, one needs to understand how it works.

 

 

 

The term gender-neutral is a misleading term.  It is because gender neutral spaces almost always become male spaces due to the previously existing imbalance in society.  Because many women still rightly fear men in restricted spaces, many women avoid gender-neutral spaces because those spaces give males access to them.  These are cultural, as well as structural differences that need to be addressed first before simply slapping a ‘gender neutral’ sign over the ladies sign in public spaces.

“In April 2017, the BBC journalist Samira Ahmed wanted to use a toilet. She was at a screening of the James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro at London’s Barbican arts centre, and it was the interval. Any woman who has ever been to the theatre knows what that means. This evening, the queue was worse than usual. Far worse. Because in an almost comically blatant display of not having thought about women at all, the Barbican had turned both the male and female toilets gender neutral simply by replacing the “men” and “women” signage with “gender neutral with urinals” and “gender neutral with cubicles”. The obvious happened. Only men were using the supposedly “gender neutral with urinals” and everyone was using the “gender neutral with cubicles”.

Rather than rendering the toilets genuinely gender neutral, they had simply increased the provision for men. “Ah the irony of having to explain discrimination having just been to see I Am Not Your Negro IN YOUR CINEMA”, Ahmed tweeted, suggesting that turning the gents gender neutral would be sufficient: “There’s NEVER such a queue there & you know it.”

On the face of it, it may seem fair and equitable to accord male and female public toilets the same amount of space – and historically, this is the way it has been done: 50/50 division of floor space has even been formalised in plumbing codes. However, if a male toilet has both cubicles and urinals, the number of people who can relieve themselves at once is far higher per square foot of floor space in the male bathroom than in the female bathroom. Suddenly equal floor space isn’t so equal.

But even if male and female toilets had an equal number of stalls, the issue wouldn’t be resolved, because women take up to 2.3 times as long as men to use the toilet. Women make up the majority of the elderly and disabled, two groups that will tend to need more time in the toilet.

Women are also more likely to be accompanied by children, as well as disabled and older people. Then there’s the 20–25% of women of childbearing age who may be on their period at any one time, and therefore need to change a tampon or a sanitary pad.

Women may also require more trips to the bathroom: pregnancy significantly reduces bladder capacity, and women are eight times more likely to suffer from urinary-tract infections. In the face of all these anatomical differences, it would surely take a formal equality dogmatist to continue to argue that equal floor space between men and women is fair.”

“Yes, it makes for a more violent society. It makes gun crime, including the mass shootings, vastly more prevalent that it is in the UK and other European countries. But that is a choice that Americans have made. They may tweak their laws a little at the edges in response to the latest atrocity. They may require a medical certificate here, or a licence there, or curbs on the open sale of the most murderous automatic weapons. But they will not legislate, still less amend their Constitution, to deny people the right to bear arms.

To blame the US gun lobby for this, in the shape of the National Rifle Association, is to see things the wrong way around. The NRA is a force and has money because gun-ownership enjoys public support, and no amount of mass shootings or appeals from shocked Europeans is going to change this. Americans have accepted a trade-off, between permissive gun laws and the high incidence of death by shooting. It is a trade-off that regards El Paso and Dayton, and Columbine, Stoneham Douglas and the rest, as a high, but largely tolerable, price for what is seen as the ultimate in personal freedom. This view will persist well after Donald Trump has left the White House, and probably for a long time after that.”

The price is bit to high for me.  I’m quite okay with not have the degree of freedom that American’s possess in exchange for the reasonable expectation that I will not be gunned down as I teach class, or while I’m watching or movie, or really doing anything in public.

 

Free speech, or the ability to speak one’s mind in public without physical/material consequences, is one of the hallmarks of democratic society.  Now if everyone was nice, and peace ruled the world, I think the concept of free speech would be less problematic.

I’d like to talk about three ideas regarding free speech, the first being our responsibility in maintaining it, the second being the seeming incongruity when it comes to individuals who use protected speech to promote hate, and thirdly the tie in with Radical Feminism versus the gender identity set.

Free speech, like voting, or freedom of movement for most is a quality we often overlook in our daily lives.  We’ve always had it, it has always been there and there has been no reason to critically examine our responsibilities in context of the maintenance of our freedom to speak our mind in public.

Our collective casual acceptance (perhaps even apathy) in terms of the general public is problematic because it would seem that, until one starts feeling the push back when one speaks, the general collective sentiment is that there are no problems with the status quo and people can pretty much say what they want.  People in general though, are dumb and we should not be content with this lax stewardship.  Please see any social media platform that is open to the general public as evidence of such.

We hive off and create our own tribal communities and proceed to chuck rhetorical rocks over the wall at the other camps that oppose our viewpoints.  From what I’ve been able to observe, the process starts and does not end with regards to rocks being thrown.  Authentic engagement comes a distant second to outrage, manufactured or otherwise, and debate shares a similar fate versus trading insults and fellifluous comments.

Thank you, Social Media…

Social media has given us the means to exercise our right to free speech, but not the concurrent responsibilities that go along with placing one’s opinion in the public sphere, not to mention the intellectual responsibilities of offering fact based arguments and being charitable to the inevitable counter-arguments that occur.  So in a way, we are maintaining free-speech, just that the calibre of the discourse is absolute tosh.  Another unsavoury aspect of the current public chatter is that amplification of thoughts and ideas to such an extent that the nuance is lost, and the remaining message garbled as it is, is blasted out to the vox populi to take sides over and being the rock throwing process.

It is therefore unsurprising that many intellectuals and educated individuals want no part of the social media driven discourse.  It is a wrestling with pigs sort of situation.  However, the problem is that despite the raucous nature of discourse, it bleeds over into the real world and can and often does affect society, necessarily so.  It is distressing though, because although the speech is free and generally unencumbered, the signal to noise ratio makes dross the most likely outcome on many of the issues that make it into and out of the public social media sphere.

I’m not sure what we can do about that when we have a media and journalistic corps that are profoundly unable to tell the truth about what is happening in the world.  The state of the news media is a post for another though, lets leave it with the very basic idea that GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) is a maxim that applies to our news media, and we as a society are suffering the consequences of a ill-informed public.

So free speech being exercised and maintained, but in a bluntly oblivious form that may not be beneficial for the advancement of society.  We can classify ‘hate speech’ squarely into this category.  This is a distinctly Canadian phenomena, so let’s define what hate speech is, via Wikipedia’s entry on Hate Speech Laws in Canada.

“The various laws which refer to “hatred” do not define it. The Supreme Court has explained the meaning of the term in various cases which have come before the Court. For example, in R v Keegstra, decided in 1990, Chief Justice Dickson for the majority explained the meaning of “hatred” in the context of the Criminal Code:

Hatred is predicated on destruction, and hatred against identifiable groups therefore thrives on insensitivity, bigotry and destruction of both the target group and of the values of our society. Hatred in this sense is a most extreme emotion that belies reason; an emotion that, if exercised against members of an identifiable group, implies that those individuals are to be despised, scorned, denied respect and made subject to ill-treatment on the basis of group affiliation.[4]

More recently, in 2013, Justice Rothstein, speaking for the unanimous court, explained the meaning of “hatred” in similar terms, in relation to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code:

In my view, “detestation” and “vilification” aptly describe the harmful effect that the Code seeks to eliminate. Representations that expose a target group to detestation tend to inspire enmity and extreme ill-will against them, which goes beyond mere disdain or dislike. Representations vilifying a person or group will seek to abuse, denigrate or delegitimize them, to render them lawless, dangerous, unworthy or unacceptable in the eyes of the audience. Expression exposing vulnerable groups to detestation and vilification goes far beyond merely discrediting, humiliating or offending the victims.[5]

Sounds good, right?  The recent rise of the false populist-nationalist right in North America (and the world) has put considerable stress on free speech and what we consider to be hate speech because so much of what these ideologies espouse can be considered hateful, corrosive, and essentially banal in nature.

Should the speech of the false-populist right be banned?  Absolutely not, it must be challenged though, at every turn and shown to people for what it is.  And that folks, is a tall order because of the problems I mentioned earlier about our new preferred methods of debate and discourse.  Social media.  The false-populist messaging is simple and stirring and benefits greatly from the amplification in social media, but suffers little distortion because of the simplicity of the message.  The message being roughly this:

    “Right-wing populism in the Western world is generally—though not exclusively—associated with ideologies such as anti-environmentalism,neo-nationalism,anti-globalization,nativism,protectionism,and opposition to immigration.”

The messaging plays directly on the general populations fears, and allows the problems of the nation to be unfairly pinned on a subcategory of people who are vulnerable and easy to scapegoat.  False populist messaging can be countered, but the medium of debate works against those who seek to argue and debate false populist points because nuance and detailed refutations are not the currency social media deals in.  So instead we get catchy slogans like “punch a nazi” and the “alt-right” which are both statements that originated on the left side of the political spectrum, but are profoundly unhelpful in combating the false-populist ideology and messaging that presently, has a strong foothold in our social media platforms.

The medium really is the message – social media is polarizing – let’s look at this latest tweet making the rounds in the left-twittersphere:

Wenn ein Nazi am Tisch sitzt, und daneben 10 andere, die dasitzen und mit ihm diskutieren, dann hast du einen Tisch mit 11 Nazis.”  – (English Translation)-  “As we say in Germany, if there’s a Nazi at the table and 10 other people sitting there talking to him, you got a table with 11 Nazis.”

   What do we do with this?  The sentiment is good, one shouldn’t tolerate Nazi ideology and by sitting idle, one tacitly condones it.  But, what about free speech?  So many contextual aspects in this situation are rubbing up against each other.  Corrosive ideology has no place in a free society, but should there be a space for it to flourish in the public sphere?  Is the German quote appropriate for North America where there has been proto-fascist movements, but never in power?  Where does the argument for tolerance come into play, because this is at face-value, is most definitely an intolerant statement.

    Taken in the German social-political context, I have no problems with it.  However, throw it into the social media public sphere where it adds fuel to the fire that generally reverberates as “anyone who I disagree with politically, is a Nazi” and the statement becomes much more problematic.  Make no mistake, there is a large nuance vacuum on both the left and right side of the political divide (to both sides detriment).

   It’s too easy to simply brand someone a Nazi and demand their speech be taken down.  Yet, how does one actively guard against the rise of actual fascism and not curtail free speech in the process is a key issue in these debates.  False-populist ideology can easily careen into straight up fascism and the genocidal bent that goes along with it, so how do we deal with it?  I do not think there is a good answer, at least not until we get more public engagement and understanding in the social sphere.

   I’m a teacher so my biases lean toward more education and knowledge being a strong tonic against the mistakes humanity has made in the past.  Yet, all the cruelty and barbarism that has occurred (20th and 21st century) and is still occurring has happened under the not so watchful guise of an ‘educated’ public.  The answer might not lay in more education, but a social system that holds each individual to a higher standard of accountability and understanding of their role and responsibility within the world.  Something better than the “fuck you, I’ve got mine” mentality that has such a sure grip on the current social zeitgeist.

   Let’s make part three a separate post, as this piece is overlong already.

 

 

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