Movie Friday: Optimism

During the panel on social justice last weekend at Eschaton, someone asked us if we were optimistic or pessimistic about the future – whether we saw the world getting better, or if it was in fact getting worse. It’s a complicated question, because we are now more aware of what is going on in the world than ever before. Stephen Pinker’s book suggests that there is less violence today than at any point in our measurable history, so that’s something to be glad about I guess. My answer was pretty equivocal: we are still struggling with the same challenges we always have; we just find different words and technologies in which to contextualize them. Unless we radically change the foundational assumptions of our civilization, we’re going to keep having the same problems forever.

But seeing as how depressing that answer is, I decided to point to some things that made me happy, one of which was the subject of a post here on the blog – a story that reminds us that human beings are capable of finding solutions to completely novel problems if given the time and the opportunity. Here’s another such story:

This kid is undeniably a genius. Imagine what it would have been like if he had been born under the circumstances that, say, I was. Ready access to both the raw materials needed to learn, but an environment that encouraged him to learn and experiment and explore. As it is, there may be thousands of Kelvins all across the African continent who, for reasons having nothing to do with their intelligence, are languishing in poverty and desperation. We are doing ourselves a disservice as a species by not providing the opportunities for all human beings to realize their potential, regardless of their wealth.

Which is why this story makes me a little optimistic. As our borders become more permeable, and as globalization forces an increasing awareness of parts of the world that were formerly completely ignorable, it is possible that we will see stories like this become increasingly common. The way to get there is to begin listening to the stories that we previously did not have access to, and to be willing to expand our notion of “us” wide enough that we can provide opportunities for personal growth and development to people who may not share our geography or ethnicity, but who embody our aspirations for a better world. Not necessarily just for their sakes, but for ours as a species as well.

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You will be assimilated

One of the recurring memes that crop up in many discussions of ‘what is to be done’ with Canadian First Nations is the idea that multiculturalism in its current state is unsustainable, and assimilation is the only answer. My response to that is inevitably “you might be right. When do you plan to start assimilating?” You see, the argument is never that non-Aboriginal Canadians should begin to adopt the cultural, religious, and social traditions of Canada’s original people. The argument is always that those who have been colonized should, for their own good, simply acquiesce to the destruction of their way of life because, y’know… we’re bigger than them?

Of course I find this position both absurd and offensive. The problems we see endemic in many First Nations communities – lack of opportunity, abject poverty, substance abuse, take your pick – are not the result of a failed policy of multiculturalism. Nor is it the fault of those people who fail to adopt a “Western”* way of thinking and living. No, the reason we see these problems is because those people with power have failed, time after frustratingly-frequent time, to uphold their end of the bargain when it comes to providing adequate resources and support to these communities. When First Nations Canadians are perpetually considered the ‘other’, ignoring them and their needs become a matter of course.

Which is why I am particularly intrigued by this story: [Read more…]

Well THIS should be interesting

So yeah. Me = HUGE policy dork. I view public policy as an expression of democratic and social values, for good or for ill. The kinds of policy that a group enacts is, generally, reflective of their beliefs and their collective will to solve problems. Do they believe that problems resolve themselves, or do they need specific intervention? Do the needs of minority groups garner more interest than their numbers would suggest, or is it a ‘majority rules’ kind of deal? Do we empower individuals to find their own solutions, or do we envision government as a problem-solving apparatus? I find these questions fascinating.

Another part about public policy that I think is really important (but doesn’t get the level of attention I think it deserves) is this: does the policy work? It is all well and good to spend public funds or pass a law or build a program, but if you fail to measure whether or not you’re actually solving the problem you’ve set out to tackle, it quickly turns from government “expenditure” into government “waste”. It is partially (but primarily) for this reason that I went into the career path I’m in now.

With that in mind, I am really excited to see the outcome of this policy: [Read more…]

And now this bulletin from the Department of Irony

Many former theists (like myself) describe their deconversion as a process of ‘illumination’ – reality finally comes into stark focus and you begin to see things that your deity-soaked brain would simply delete from your awareness. Most of the former theists I’ve come across (a ridiculously biased sample, to be sure) describe this as a profoundly liberating experience. After all, the world is freakin’ BEAUTIFUL

A picture of Half Moon Bay on Granville Island

This picture taken in the world

And so it was with more than a little bit of whimsical pleasure that I read this story: [Read more…]

Religion of peace

I am openly (and perhaps notoriously) anti-theistic. It is not simply that I do not believe; I think that you shouldn’t believe either. By no means will I endorse any sort of measure to ban belief, even if I thought such a thing were possible. Nor will I sit idly while any group is selected out for unequal treatment based on their religious beliefs, even if I find those beliefs risible. I do, however, believe that religious belief, particularly the special form of ‘faith’ that is specifically instructed to be impervious to contradiction by evidence, is inherently harmful.

It has become a nearly zero-thought maxim in atheist circles to point out the sheer number and shocking depravity of acts committed in the name of religion. The theist counter-points about how evil atheistic people like Stalin were have been refuted so many times as to beggar belief that anyone would honestly use it (of course repeated refutation of bad arguments has never stopped people before, so whatever). And while we know that there are usually a multitude of reasons why people do shitty things, we are happy enough to take them at their word when they say they are doing evil things that are specifically motivated by their religious belief.

So it would be somewhat hypocritical of me not to give credit where credit is due, which is apparently in Kenya: [Read more…]

British Columbia flooded with drug money

The great challenge of being politically conscious is to remain critical (one might say ‘skeptical’, although I don’t think that word means the same thing in this context that we usually mean) of propaganda and showy announcements. Whether you think politicians are cravenly trying to pull a fast one on the populace, or if you’re like me and think that politicians simply begin to think in propagandist terms, the sign of a person who is cognitively engaged with politics is the ability to parse both the positives and negatives from political announcements.

To give you an idea of the way in which I wrestle through the political landscape, here’s an example of a recent development that I found particularly interesting: [Read more…]

Obamacare ruled constitutional

In case you somehow missed it, the United States Supreme Court has ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that the Affordable Care Act (derisively dubbed ‘Obamacare’ by its opponents) does not violate the Constitution and will still carry the force of law.

For a rundown of the decision, check out Ezra Klein’s blog:

“The bottom line: the entire ACA is upheld”

That’s what SCOTUSBlog wrote moments after the Supreme Court announced its ruling on the health-care law. But it wasn’t upheld in the way most thought it would be. The decision was 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the Court’s liberals, and Justice Anthony Kennedy casting his vote with the conservatives.

This will be covered, in many quarters, as a political story. It means President Obama — and Solicitor General Don Verrilli — are popping the champagne. It means that Mitt Romney and the Republicans who were fighting the health-care law have suffered a setback. It will be covered in other quarters as a legal story: It is likely to be central to Roberts’ legacy, and perhaps even to how we understand the divisions in the Court going forward.

To read the full decision for yourself (it’s only 193 pages – go nuts), click here.

For a simplified explanation of what the law does, and why people opposed it in the first place, check out this great thread on Reddit.

For my reaction, please consult the following .gif of Ron Swanson: [Read more…]

Physician, kill myself

Anyone who follows my Twitter feed will be familiar with my habit of occasionally spontaneously going on rants about how much I love my city. I really do – we have a mayor I can respect, we have a proud tradition of social activism, we live in greater harmony with our natural environment than most cities our size. Despite its faults, Vancouver is a great place to live. Similarly, despite the fact that I don’t hold our government in terribly high esteem, I do rather like the province of British Columbia. Lots of hydroelectric power, natural custodianship, and abundant natural beauty. We got it like that.

But I am pretty confident that I have never been more proud to live when and where I live that I do after hearing this news: [Read more…]

Skeptivism: Jamie’s story

My Blogathon efforts left me far more drained than I thought it would. By the time 6 hours of recording was up, I didn’t have much left in the tank for blogging. All is not lost, however, because a friend of mine from Vancouver has been engaged in some truly impressive local activism, so I asked Jamie to sum up the events for you all to take a look at:

I’ve been writing a lot about demonstrations, protests, nearly frothing at the mouth while yelling profanity, and taking my top off, all in the name of exercising bodily autonomy as a person who has two X-chromosomes. I mean a lot. This entry concerns a summary version of what is contained in all those posts, with links to the original writing.

The inciting incident concerned a woman in a sun dress, who felt particularly brave one afternoon while approaching a pro-life group that appears at the same intersection every weekend, to the Great Annoyance of the entire neighbourhood and virtually all passersby. She said “If a woman is raped and conceives from it, should she be forced to carry the child?” and was answered with “If she’s dressed like you, she should.” When I found out she wanted to organize the community to hold them accountable, I flipped all my shits. Read about it here.

Read Jamie’s epic saga; it’s really impressive.

I will be back to normal tomorrow, I bet. Plus I still owe a bunch of people cover tunes, so that’ll happen.

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Race and gay marriage: the story of a proposition

It’s been a weird week for Americans who support equal marriage rights for gay people. On the disappointing side, there was the more-or-less inevitable passage of an amendment to North Carolina’s state constitution that doubly extra-bans gay marriage (while smuggling in a bunch of other assholish nonsense for good measure). It also appears that Colorado would rather dither and adopt a faux-libertarian posture than see gay people achieve even second-class status. On the other hand, the President finally decided to alight from his perch on the fence* and state, finally, that he supports gay marriage. Of course, marriage is not the be-all-end-all of the gay rights struggle, but it has become a proxy for general acceptance of gay Americans as full-fledged citizens.

Whenever the gay marriage issue comes up, there is always someone in the conversation (and sometimes it’s me) who brings up the intersectionality between race and homophobia – pointing out that in California’s notorious “Proposition 8” battle in 2008, black Californians voted 70% in favour of denying marriage equality to gay people. It is often raised in discussions of the seeming hypocrisy in a group that was so long denied civil rights using those freshly-granted rights to deny others the same. I stumbled across an interesting analysis of actual voting data (rather than exit polls) that examines this exact question, and I thought it would be worth taking a closer look. [Read more…]