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.

Monday, 31 December 2012

On Violence: 2012 In Review

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I'm incessantly paying attention to news stories and giving my opinions. If I had my way, blogging would be my vocation, but sadly it doesn't pay well, especially when you're a crackpot leftist talking mostly about economics. I'd have a better shot if I were reviewing music, talking about fine cuisine, or documenting myself through an important life change. But I digress: those who have the great pleasure of hearing me rant in person know that there are numerous items that I didn't even manage to post about, often issues that I'm deeply fascinated by. I'd like to pay to pay tribute to several stories that I, unfortunately, didn't have a chance to properly address from 2012.

The theme that I stumbled upon while trying to figure out what to ultimately write about is pretty significant, in my mind: violence. 2012 was full of it, from talk in the election of killing Osama bin Laden to riots during Black Friday sales to the nationalist rallying of the Euro Cup. Violence, as well as the horrifying discourses around it, was seen on a daily basis this year. Here are my thoughts.

This spring was a tumultuous one for Québec, where students were embroiled in a powerful strike movement unlike anything anyone's ever experienced in North America. Hundreds of thousands of students and sympathisers took to the streets daily in order to fight against the government's decision to raise tuition for students in Québec. The province has a strong welfare state, something that clashes rather significantly with the rest of Canada and the United States, and large media organisations such as Maclean's, CTV, and SunMedia were quick to label the protesters as lazy and entitled, and this was an attitude largely echoed by the anglophone general public. Perhaps most emblematic of this was the fatal shooting that occurred the night of the election in September. But protesters were acting out not only against specific changes, as miners were in South Africa this summer, but austerity in general. This is echoed by the turmoil that Greece has experienced of late. Regardless of whether or not the movement was justified, it was full of violence.

Much has been made of the violent acts of protesters, namely lighting a police car on fire and throwing a smoke bomb in the metro. These images are shocking and confirm what people want to see, that people who are standing up to the system are playing dirty tricks and deserve to be crushed. Naturally, the police brutality against the protesters has gone largely undetected - at least in the mainstream media. The internet, local community radio, and to a lesser degree CBC have been effective tools of circulating discourses and information from the perspective of the students. On all sides, violence is a tool, and each party involved has discourses about the appropriate use of violence, meaning that it's a complicated topic and that it is inherently very political.

Perhaps more shocking still is the violence in the Middle East, embodied in two very different yet eerily similar struggles: Syria and Gaza. Both of these conflicts are incredibly complicated and have generated massive controversy internationally. I've attempted to steer away from them, but I wanted to offer a brief summary and then talk about violence specifically.

In Syria there has been a longstanding conflict between the state and some of its people. Depending on whom you ask, you'll get a different name for the event: an uprising, a struggle, a crackdown, or a civil war. All the same, the world has had its eye on Syria since the start of the so-called Arab Spring in early 2011. While many parts of the Middle East had revolutions that overturned the status quo, Syria managed to entangle itself in a longstanding showdown between President Bashar al-Assad and many factions of the Syrian public. While both sides have sustained heavy casualties to this date, it is hapless civilians that tend to make up the largest contingent of the body count. Missiles, airstrikes, and firefights in urban locales have all contributed to a staggering loss of life. Again, the military and the rebels feel justified in their employment of violence, and they have both been backed politically and financially by players in the international community. The state, with its monopoly on the use of violence continues to fight against a large plurality of Syrians who believe that violence is necessary to produce social and political change. The conflict will continue for the foreseeable future as neither side is capable of defeating the other and both have widespread support from powerful partners.

The conflict this year between Isreal and Palestine was also dramatic. For several months the two states, which are perennially at war, engaged in sporadic clashes. Parts of Occupied Palestine have limited recourse for the abuses that they face at the hands of Israeli Security Forces. As has been the recent trend, groups within Gaza have fired rockets into Israel. Palestinian's are desperate, and placards like this one have attempted to sum up the injustices.: "You take my water, burn my olive trees, destroy my house, take my job, steal my land, imprison my father, kill my mother, bombard my country, starve us all, humiliate us all, but I am to blame: I shot a rocket back". The history is obviously very complicated, but the reality is that there is a massive power imbalance between Israel and Palestine. During peacetime Palestinians are forced to deal with violent acts being perpetrated against them, like having possessions stolen, or their rights taken away, also including economics as a form of violence.

Another terrible theme of 2012 that I feel needs to be addressed is the unbelievable amount of deaths from shootings in the United States. There are four that stand out: Chicago in August, Wisconsin in August, Aurora in July, and Connecticut in December. These events are remarkable for the fact that they were all examples of disgruntled and disturbed young white men who wrought violence on a group of surprised unarmed people. There has been a lot of talk about gun control, something which Americans have some interesting perspectives on, but strangely there has been limited discussion about other key elements. First of all, access to mental health services is lacking, and most Americans are keen to blame violent video games rather than systemic problems of dealing with depression, anxiety, or mental illness. Nonetheless, these psychological elements are certainly noted, but what's troubling from my perspective is that a wider sociological analysis is never really presented. It's much safer, from the public's perspective, to think of there being a small number of "defective" people out there rather than have to respond to the fact that violence occurs for very predictable social reasons, notably that we encourage men to express no negative emotions other than anger, we construct guns as the ultimate example of power (such as masculinity, whiteness, or whatever else), and our individualist society fails people who are not good at forming or maintaining interpersonal relationships. This is obviously amplified when we consider that the public mental health infrastructure in the United States is seriously lacking. All the talk of violence in public places is tragic enough, but many in America are seriously entertaining the idea of fighting fire with fire: the solution to the violence problem is to get more people carrying guns, presumably to stop other violent people. Simple solutions, like legislation or hiring security guards, are being favoured over smarter, more complicated, longterm solutions like reeducation.

Lastly, I'd like to talk about rape culture and the apparent divide between East and West. Recently, a woman was raped by several men in India, her lifeless body thrown off a bus. Media outlets in the West have taken this opportunity to point out that life is very dangerous for women in India. In addition, numerous statistics about the number of women raped in the country have been splashed across television screens. Approximately 22 000 women are reported to have been raped per year in India, though rape statistics are almost always problematic as they are usually vastly under-reported. Definitions of rape are not very clear, and there's a substantial threat to one's personal safety when a victim comes forward. The problem, however, is that India is four times the size of the United States, is the equivalent of 5 000 women per year being raped in the United States. People in the West have a general sense that discrimination based on sex is over, misogyny no longer exists, and that we are over rape. This is further warped by stereotyped notions that people in the developing world are uncivilised, especially with respect to how women are treated. The case is thus: rape is a problem in India but not in the United States. The hypocrisy is simply astounding to me for numerous reasons, especially given the gender gap in the 2012 Presidential Election. America has a serious problem with rape culture, and although it's worse than in the rest of West, it's a problem that exists dually in both developed and developing countries across all social and economic classes.

All in all, 2012 was a very violent year, though it may not be remembered that way, unfortunately. In Googling the top news stories of 2012, I came across numerous lists, though almost all of them included the following: Costa Concordia Incident, Stratosphere Jump, Presidential Election, Facebook's Initial Public Offering, Hurricane Sandy, the London Olympics and many other events. With that in mind, I will say that Global News had by far the best list of top news stories from 2012. They did not shy away from talking about numerous other cases, which you can look back on by following the above link.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Tis The Season

This post may be coming late given that Christmas is less than a week away, but I'd like to take a moment to make a brief post about gift-giving this year. I've seen a lot of campaigns going around on social media, encouraging people to buy certain products and to shop at certain stores. There are several principles that are important in consumption, and I'd like to articulate them here alongside some practical advice.

First, all of the responsible ways to shop have been effectively co-opted by the retail industry. Public relations departments and firms, though something called "corporate social responsibility", have taken the path of least resistance to make either minimal change or change in name only to create the appearance that the product or service is more ethical than it indeed is. This is all purposefully designed to make us feel much less empty for immersing ourselves into consumer culture overdrive. It's virtually impossible to stay on top of this one, but it pays to be vigilant and do your best. There is no way to eliminate all the exploitation from your purchases, but that doesn't mean you should try.

Perhaps the most common recommendation from consumer watchdogs is "buying local". While this is certainly important, it's necessary to understand what exactly this means. Buying local can mean rather different things to different people, but the premise is generally to support your local economy. This is generally viewed as positive because there is minimal effect on the environment through transportation and players in the local economy are more active in terms of production, something which is increasingly being out-sourced - an entirely unsustainable practice.

As such, people will often shop at their local stores, foregoing Wal-Mart and Target. While this is presumably a good move, it's important to remember that it's not just the store - it's the product. Buying products made in China and Bangladesh at a local store only goes part way, for numerous reasons. The ecological cost of transportation is huge and the benefit to your local economy is going to be much smaller than buying something locally produced.

Another important angle is combating accumulation. It's no secret that the holiday season is full of excess, but why not keep that in check by buying gifts that people can actually use rather than getting them impractical stuff just because you feel compelled to get them something? The vast majority of North Americans have far more material possessions than they need already, so ask yourself if something actually needs what you are considering purchasing.

Most importantly, remember that it's the thought that really counts. Taking time out of your busy life to thank someone and show them that they are worth it is often all someone really needs. Instead of buying a gift for everyone, why not give your time? Spend time doing something you enjoy together or make them something that they could not have made themselves. Also, consider making a donation to charity in their name, or going to volunteer together. These are all more meaningful experiences than using your money to buy something and it will be guaranteed to be better than spending hours in a mall.

This should be a time of the year to relax and get away from the grind, though unfortunately it is rarely the case. I hope that your holidays are safe and enjoyable regardless of how you intend to gift for your loved ones. All the best!