Is This Progress? This Is Progress.

What Is Kaputall?

Oxford defines Kaput as "broken and useless; no longer working or effective" - similar to our unbalanced economic system. This is a page dedicated to the intersection of capitalism and social, political, and environmental problems.

Friday, 24 June 2016

When Populism Prevails

It is no secret that the European Union has faced serious existential challenges in the past decade. The rise of euroscepticism has been significant, particularly in the most industrialised member countries. Despite the sentiment that the EU isn't perfect, the UK referendum on leaving the union, otherwise known as Brexit, was seen largely as a pipe dream even weeks ago. The victory for Leave, by a narrow margin of course, was unexpected to say the least. I spent hours last night being astonished with the results as they came in. It is, most importantly, the manifestation of a populist neoliberal movement that is reshaping the values of ordinary Europeans - one that might very well have a similar impact in the United States in November.

The rise of euroscepticism, which is defined as a political movement that opposes the mechanisms of the European Union or the more general scope of the European Project, has been sharp of late. Economic and social crises (Syrian refugees, Greek markets, etc) have had a massive political impact. In the past election cycle the European Parliament as well as national assemblies have seen rapid growth in right-wing populist parties, generally groups with very nationalist rhetoric. This is the case in both advanced EU counrties like France and in smaller, newer member states like Hungary.

There are two thrusts behind the Brexit movement. The first is related to economic sovereignty. As austerity has come to damage the UK increasingly with higher unemployment, the European Union has been regarded as a foreign mechanism that ties the hands of London. The second is straightforward xenophobia in the face of increasing immigration both to and within the European Union. Naturally, the former argument was less of a concern during the campaign as the focus, largely, was the discourse that immigrants were taking away jobs and services from British nationals.

While I oppose the very nature of the European Union myself, it is not on the grounds by which Leave campaign based their case. I see the EU as a system designed to promote the free movement of goods and labour in the interest of advancing neoliberal capitalism at the expense of the social-democratic model. In fact, this system works so well that European companies are extremely competitive both domestically and in foreign markets. This is at the expense of European governments and citizens who are increasingly taking on the tax burdens of corporate entities, hence the massive austerity programmes.

Much like in America, there is a hollowing out of the once-stable progressive centrist movements. Extreme left-wing and right-wing organisations have become ever the more popular of late, not limited to the United Kingdom Independence Party, which essentially spearheaded last night's victory.

The future of the European Union and the United Kingdom hang in the balance at present. There is no precedent for leaving the EU and of course the UK is not the only nation dealing with massive euroscepticism. The next few months will be trying times as all parties involved try to forge new trajectories.

Monday, 13 June 2016

In Service of Hatred

In the early hours of Sunday the deadliest mass shooting in American history unfolded. Amred with an AR-15 rifle, Omar Mateen opened fire on hundreds in Orlando's gay nightclub, Pulse. With over fifty dead and another fifty wounded, this marks an unprecedented level of gun violence. However, I aim in this post to address the coverage of the event meant to reinforce Islamophobia in America.

A very thin expression of solidarity with LGBTQ Americans has been mentioned repeatedly in mainstream media - as though it is a given. It is clear that this expression of mourning is more about co-opting the story in service of hatred toward Muslims, even in the case where the shooter was an American-born secular Muslim. In particular, he should be characterised by his disaffectation and his anger problems more than by religious affiliation (based on the information provided by his coworkers and family).

I remember after the Bataclan Theatre attacks. We knew the name of every victim. We knew their life stories, dreams, and favourite colours. If I may make a prediction - we won't get this with Orlando. We have already forgotten the victims, less than 48 hours later. It's about the perpetrator, ISIS, and religious zeal. Never mind that treatment of LGBTQ people in America has been (and absolutely unequivocally continues to be) deeply rooted in homophobia and transphobia, whether around washroom politics, legal marriage, adoption, access to housing, employment equality, etc. Don't forget it was a white male who was stopped on the way to Pride in LA on Saturday with an arsenal of automatic weapons. The violence committed against queer people in America is pervasive, and it's beyond dishonest to insinuate that it is only outsiders that hold these values.

I remember after Sandy Hook it was considered by conservatives ''an insult to the victims' families'' to talk about a ban on AR-15 assault rifles. We are now seeing precisely this debate occurring on CNN, Fox, and MSNBC. If so, I can only conclude that this has something to do with the fact that it is easier to talk about our gun problems than it is to address pervasive homophobia, especially when doing so would take away our collective capacity to shame Islam for it.

Many have published articles saying it is an either/or proposition: that it can't be that Christians are intolerant of queer people and the Muslims just get a free pass. It should not be about attempting to say that some people's hate is justified; rather we need to acknowledge that western society is also entrenched in histories of oppression and that we do no good to slough off the hatred. Let's stop pretending that we don't have very real contemporary issues related to race, gender, class, or sexuality. It's only a matter of time before we go back to oppressing and marginalising, though it's less sensational if it isn't so violent.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016


Perhaps this is a decidedly unsurprising development, but I still believe it is worthwhile to point out the lack of serious media coverage related to the potential threats to the upcoming UEFA European Championship. Given that France has been on high alert, it is uncharacteristic that the media coverage has been virtually non-existent, save for the important fact that the alleged terrorist doesn't look the part.

On Sunday, a French citizen was arrested while attempting to re-enter the EU from Ukraine. In his vehicle he had an astounding arsenal - grenade launchers, automatic weapons, and C4. His targets: religious buildings, stadia, offices. The unnamed French citizen is associated with right-wing and ultranationalist groups, according to some sources. Again, this form of terrorism is very much the ideological nemesis of Islamic fundamentalism and is, in large part, the dominant grassroots political movement in Europe.

These groups oppose the acceptance and integration minorities (generally Muslims) and have been responsible for widespread hate crimes, massive violent demonstrations, and the closure of several national borders in the wake of the Syrian crisis. We can now add terrorism to the list of manifestations.

Media reaction has been nearly silent: the views for this YouTube video (which is the most popular) about the arrests has less than 1200 views. The National spoke about it for less than 90 seconds last night. Even French President Fran├žois Hollande's response was muted (and is difficult to find clips of online). And the event failed to register on Facebook or Twitters trends.

I'm not overwhelmingly intrigued by ''what if'' history, but it's a worthwhile social experiment to consider the headlines, social media presence, and political reaction if the alleged terrorist were to have represented the manifestation of our fears. If this isn't clear evidence of Islamophobia then I am frankly not sure what is.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Business and Politics

This weekend marked the convention for the Conservative Party of Canada. One of the speakers this year - Kevin O'Leary. He had drawn some attention months ago when it was speculated that he would run for party leadership. Earlier this week, he joined the party and over the weekend he spoke, using this opportunity to speak to people about ''the future of Canada'' with the aim of improving transparency and getting ''better results'' in government.

As O'Leary has articulated, he leads some early polls (despite the fact that we are about seven months away from the leadership convention). He is popular amongst several key demographics and already has name recognition (and not the kind that comes with much political baggage). O'Leary is a best-selling author, a television personality, and a business mogul. Most importantly, however, is that he is already being lauded as an outsider who is all too keen to speak his mind freely.

This shouldn't surprise anyone given the traction of Trump and Sanders in the United States. Both candidates, as I remarked in an earlier post, have built strong grassroots movements with large online presences. The true success has been in mobilising people against the status quo of ''politics as usual'' and O'Leary can absolutely benefit from this. Aside from his pro-business stance and his national celebrity, O'Leary is seen as someone who is honest and straight-talking, something to be viewed as contrary to other political leaders who speak in jargon, appear rehearsed, and come across as partisans.

All of this, of course, is borne of the false perception that those who are experienced business leaders will be excellent stewards of the national economy. Beyond the stereotype that Conservatives are strong fiscal managers, business savvy and guiding a national economy have little in common. The backlash of late against government (more generally) and politicians (more specifically) has been fed by the idea that a functional government only requires just a few more cuts. Ideological gaps are widening (as they did in the 1930s in Europe) and the results may very well be further polarisation when it comes to many social and economic questions.

O'Leary may very well have the charts to sweep him into public office, but he'd be wise to watch carefully what is occurring in teh United States. Given his attitude toward risk, I presume that he will not declare candidacy until Trump's success against the Democrats looks to be somewhat proven. We know already that Trump is a divisive figure (based on the Republican nomination) but we have yet to see how this will pan out in an election. O'Leary must be aware that his is in a similar situation.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Public History and Democracy

Yesterday the Liberal Government made a formal apology from the floor of the House of Commons. In his speech Trudeau apologised for the 1914 Komagata Maru incident where hundreds of immigrants from India were turned away, clear evidence of the selective nature of Canadian immigration at the time. Most Canadians were not aware of this particular piece of Canadian history (nor was I before yesterday) despite our pride in claiming that we are a diverse, multicultural, welcoming society with a long history of accepting refugees and immigrants from around the globe. Given that both Harper and Trudeau have made comments on the record about the lack of colonialism in our national history, it is imperative that all efforts be made in a democracy to engage with the past.

I'm often told, as an historian, that my field of work is (among other things): dead, irrelevant, boring, stuffy, intellectual, or bunk. While it is tiresome to hear these criticisms, I'm not surprised in the least. Our conceptualisation of history is that it is something akin to a record of the past, a book you can pull off the shelf that tells you definitively about a specific event or person.

In reality, history is discipline not about what happened but in fact what is written about what happened. In the same vein of the tree falling in the forest, an event is not a historical event unless someone bore witness and recorded it  (don't let the history channel confuse you). Public history, which is the the way in which we engage with its past through education, museums, holidays, film, is essentially the official memory of a society. Often looked down on by academics, public history is often seen as an attempt to curate the story of a society with one large narrative (which is antithetical to the practice of history).

In the case of Canadian immigration, the notion of not engaging with the narrative critically is a problem. We have seen this with, for example, the 2006 apology for the Indian Residential School System. In spite of the effort to address the egregious colonial institutions of the past, we have continued to fail First Nations in areas of education, health, infrastructure, employment, governance, representation, justice, and more.

Apologies are nothing more than a starting point. They allow us to focus on what has to be done after claiming responsibility so that the harm can be remembered and that we can move toward building bridges. Public history has a significant role to play in addressing the past, from the embarrassing to the criminal.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

We Started The Fire

The outpouring of support for the victims of the massive forest fire burning in Northern Alberta is truly heartwarming. The evacuation of nearly ninety thousand people, most of whom will have lost some or all of their material possessions, is a shocking development and perhaps the worst case of a forest fire encroaching on an urban area in recent memory. That so many Canadians have opened up their homes, wallets, and hearts is a testament to the ability of Canadians to put aside the controversial context of oil politics.

It's a feat, to be sure, especially given the temptation to call the destruction of Fort McMurray "ironic" or "karmic", largely with poor comprehension of these phenomena. While it is blatantly offensive to insinuate that Fort McMurray had it coming, I think it is the only rational conclusion to say that we, as Canadian society, did in fact create the environment in which the fire would start and in which it would cause such destruction.

While the science that correlates forest fires and anthropogenic climate change is clear, I'm in fact referring to the social, political, and economic forces that have led to our present catastrophe.

Every Canadian, regardless of where they live, has some connection to the intensification of the tar sands. A process which, over the past fifteen years, has been caused by a greater demand for petroleum products (whether plastics, fuels, asphalts, lubricants), an emphasis on developing domestic "ethical oil", and a desire to produce a robust Canadian economy.

What I think requires honest political reflection on the culture of attacking transfer payments. In the past year or so, I've seen more and more on social media bemoaning Eastern Canadian provinces' status as a have-not region and looking at Alberta as the engine that powers the country. It's important to note that the message connotes Alberta's economic independence.

I will, without hesitation, suggest that this is the true irony of the forest fire. Alberta, now destined to compound its ecnomic downturn, is relying on the support from Canadians across the country, most of whom are all too happy to contribute without making it political, as I previously noted. Perhaps the most impressive part is that Syrian refugees are coming to the aid of those affected. This is particularly impactful when you consider the proliferation of social media postings that insinuate that we should be helping Canadians, not outsiders.

Human tragedies and natural disasters are an opportunity to come together, but let's not shy away from talking frankly about our shared responsibility and our collective duty to work toward a solution.

Friday, 15 April 2016

An Interesting Comparison

The two most salient national stories this week have to be yesterday's introduction of new right to die legislation and the revelations earlier this week that there is an urgent crisis in northern communities regarding lack of access to adequate mental health services. So far as I can tell, nobody is talking about these two stories together, which I find remarkable given the connections.

In the case of the new legislation, there has been a rush to come up with suitable modifications to the criminal code in the wake of last year's supreme court ruling. While it is clear that more than 75 per cent of Canadians support some form or right to die legislation, there is a strong disconnect politically as crafting legal frameworks is (by definition) tricky business.

The Liberals have been busy since the election drafting their proposed fix, though the result has been (by many accounts) disappointing. Instead of sweeping change, the legislation gently broadens the circumstances under which doctor-assisted death may occur legally. There will be a lot of room for interpretation around suffering and duration which will lead to serious precedents being set in the near future. The result of these changes has been to continue to restrict the right to die for people who have are suffering.

We are all familiar with the moral arguments around end of life care. Our legal system, particularly in criminal law, is predicated on long traditions of western morality.

But we should be asking ourselves, if we are not accepting of doctor-assisted death, then why are we so complicit in a First Nations reservation system that, without a doubt, condemns those in it to poverty, suffering, and death?

Morality is, of course, highly subjective. Moreover, it is intrinsically self-contradictory in its application. But if we are truly going to live in a society that we can be proud of, then why aren't we focused on dignity?

In both cases, the failure to focus on dignity reduces the suffering of people who are trapped in system - health care or reservations. Desperation, whether due to the decay of the human body or due to systemic racism manifests itself similarly: in the will to end that struggle.

It is patently disingenuous to be so preoccupied with preventing someone from receiving doctor-assisted death but not concerned for the epidemic that is suicide in northern communities. We all deserve dignity, whether in the pursuit of life or at its end.