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.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

On Feminism and Sexism: 2013 In Review

From my perspective 2013 felt like an onslaught of issues related to gender inequality. Throughout the year I had been collecting stories to write about but in many cases I just didn't act quickly enough. With the year coming to a close it now seems appropriate to take a broad look at the variety of stories at the forefront. I've already taken some time this year to write about "Blurred Lines" and rape culture. I also posted about the eliteness of "leaning in". Beyond this, I haven't really had the opportunity to address the myriad other issues that have in many cases exploded in local and international media.

The first is all the buzz about Snapchat. Hailed as the greatest consumer product of 2013 by many in the tech sector, it has attracted tens of millions of users. Snapchat is essentially a photo messaging application developed to allow users to send photos that disappear after a brief window. Naturally, it was intended to allow people to draw pictures share images with friends with the novelty of the image not being permanent.

It has been used, however, by teenagers predominately and sexting has been a key purpose of the product as a result. This is problematic largely because adolescents generally have misconceptions about consent as well as about the technology. Teenagers are often forced into behaviours due to peer pressure, and this is exacerbated by having limited access to information. It is generally acknowledged that the images do not disappear and can in fact be recalled by someone with rather minimal technical ability.

Next, this summer saw the rise of the hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen. For decades feminism as a movement has been dominated by white women. As such women in Western democracies have benefited from policy changes advocated for by interest groups formed by white women. Feminists have not only failed to meet the needs of so-called women of colour, many have defended the exclusion for a variety of reasons. The hashtag resulted in a spillover of sentiment around race politics. The infighting served to damage femisism both from within and from without.

Sadly, the theme was powerful throughout this year. 2013 saw the introduction of Qu├ębec's secular charter which, by virtually all accounts, was the most controversial pieces of legislation created this year. In many respects it was white feminism manifest, espouses values of uniformity over cultural diversity. The cultural artefacts of Islam, particularly the niqab, are political hot buttons in the West. These issues are inexplicably complicated and rest on huge value judgments about identity politics and issues such as gender, religion, and culture. Society is largely divided around wedge issues like these and they frame the discourse around equality.

Lastly and most recently famed male feminist and filmmaker Joss Whedon made comments that mainstream feminism took issue with. Whedon's opinion that the word "feminist" is inaccurate and needs an update was very offensive, with good reason, to most feminists. Among his other statements were that equality should be a natural state. I can see where feminists take issue with his comments; each seems to gloss over a history of systemic oppression. It doesn't appear that Whedon's intent was to remark on oppression but on the intrinsic equality between the sexes.

Regardless of intent, the question of what place men can and should take within feminism is critical. As a male feminist, I feel that there should be a space for me to participate. However, I also recognise that it's a privilege for me to be included, not a right. I've been turned away from feminism before many times, though I've been lucky to have been included more than excluded. Feminists have pointed out that Whedon's male privilege has allowed him a soapbox from which to discuss his ideas on feminism. It's my opinion that he should be able to speak about it as much as he likes. There are far too few men talking about feminism, not the least of which being those who have the wherewithal to create change. Traditionally, this had led many feminists to bristle suggesting that it takes away from attention that would otherwise go to feminist women. I can see the temptation to think this way, but there is no finite amount of attention to devote to gender issues. Moreover, many prominent women don't use their positions of power or prestige to highlight issues or call themselves feminist.

All said, 2013 didn't seem like such a great year for gender equality. A lot will need to change, and quickly, for progress to be made in the coming years. In my opinion, the most important shift that will need to occur is a greater recognition that we are further away from equality than we as a society think we are. How this will happen is anyone's guess, but I hope that everyone continues to agitate for greater equality for everyone.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Ukraine's Future

One of the most significant stories that is not getting press is the massive demonstration in Kiev against the national government. For many reasons, including timing and location, few happen to know what's going on in Ukraine. During my masters I studied the post-Soviet space and I therefore have a keen interest in the geopolitics of the region.

The future of Ukraine is largely understood as a binary. It is generally understood that the nation can either lean toward Russia or toward the European Union. This constant push and pull places Ukraine in the middle of a scary geopolitical situation. Neither option will secure a successful future for Ukrainians.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has pursued a policy by which it feels as though it has a right to interfere in the affairs of its former constituents. Russia considers the historical political, cultural, and economic relationships as an entitlement, its so-called "Near Abroad". As such Ukraine's relationship with Russia has been complex and little has changed since 1991, including ethnic Russians still making up roughly 18 per cent of the population. Russia has sought to exert economic and political influence on Ukraine, namely in the form of gas prices. Moscow has both offered discount prices and cut off the supply. This approach has been clearly aimed at ensuring that Ukraine does not pull away from Russia.

In the past two decades Ukraine has experienced a significant connection to the European Union. The organisation has expanded into Eastern Europe in the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, most recently in 2004 and 2007. The European Union is seen as a beacon of economic prosperity and democracy and many in Ukraine are hopeful that European integration will transform the country. The EU has been clear about not expanding further for the time being, but it is intent to develop a special relationship with Ukraine. That said, there is a significant amount of hesitant amongst EU officials not to intrude into Russia's affairs.

In the west, Ukraine is often expected to simply divorce itself from Russia's sphere of influence in order to pursue full integration into the European Union. In Moscow, Ukraine is often expected to spurn all advances by the European Union. As mentioned before, there is minimal space for Ukraine to navigate partnerships on their terms. Instead, the intended course of action for Ukraine is to align or to remain uncomfortably situated between Europe and Russia. This is an example of cold war bipolarity and is quite destructive to Ukraine.

In the wake of an unsigned trade deal, youth in Ukraine have taken to the streets to demonstrate against a government that leans too far toward Moscow. It has been branded as an expression of democracy, one that is for an idea (European integration) rather than in favour of a particular political movement or party. Activists feel connected to Europe and view integration as a panacea. Unfortunately, expectations of the EU are high and it's an example of idealism. Minimal attention is given to the fact that the European Union is not a protector of democracy but rather a vehicle to create larger markets.

What's unfortunate is this appears to be the next chapter in a constant pendulum swing between Europe and Russia. This is particularly significant given that Russia is constantly in the news with the Sochi Games on the horizon. Much attention has been given to Russia's new homophobic laws, the crackdown on political opposition, and the policy of violence in the Caucasus. While Ukraine is likely to swing far to one side, it is likely both short term and of minimal benefit for the majority of Ukrainian society.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Whenever We Finish

Music has been a massive part of my life ever since I first picked up an instrument. In the fifteen years since it has come to define my experience. Music is so well connected to memory, and I am always transported by harmony, timbre, and melody. I write this because last night I went to see Two Hours Traffic, my favourite Canadian band, here in Ottawa. The band is having its farewell tour and I was lucky to go check them out for their last tour. I have seen them now eight times and this will be the finale.

Everyone who knew me up until I finished my undergrad knew me as the ultimate Oasis fan. It was all I listened to, all I talked about, and what I wanted to be. The transitions I went through up until that point had been defined by the songs and albums of Oasis - they synched up with life. That collapsed in 2009 when Oasis unexpectedly broke up. It felt, in many ways, like the end of being a teenager. I had to move on. Thankfully, in my fourth year of university I was listening to CBC when I heard "Sure Can Start" and I was hooked on a new band from PEI called Two Hours Traffic. I got their debut album for Christmas and it stayed in my car for over a month. Like Oasis had done for so many years, Two Hours Traffic played the backing tracks of my life over the next six years. The breakup of the band now feels like the end of my adolescence.

From 2007 to now my life has been turned around so many times it's hard to piece it all together. However, every new adventure seemed to be accompanied by the band. The debut album got me through breaking up with my first partner. When I went to teachers college their album Territory dropped the first week. Going to grad school, starting my teaching career, and now moving back to Southwestern Ontario have all taken place with this music as a backdrop. It seems fitting that a tumultuous period of intense change is hopefully ending.

Moreover, Two Hours Traffic taught me how to sing harmony more solidly and helped change the way I looked at writing melodies. Two Hours Traffic is connected to my growth as a musician. The music is also a part of many of my closest interpersonal relationships: my former bandmate David, my sister overseas, my partner, and Jenn, my very close friend from university. As mentioned before this marks the end of an era for me.

It's sad on the one hand to move on, but it's an acknowledgment that I'm onto somewhere new and exciting, which is very positive. This morning I found my old Two Hours Traffic albums hidden away, covered with signatures and brief messages from the band. I'm looking forward to finding out what my next favourite band will be, the one that defines the next stages of my life.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Politics of Memory

Memory is a topic I've written on frequently here as I'm an historian. Most recently I discussed Remembrance Day and the passing of Thatcher. These are both examples of how popular history and political discourse intersect. This is incredibly relevant this week with the death of Nelson Mandela.

It was a moment that people will take with them: where were you when you heard that Nelson Mandela died? Very few people make an impact so wide and so deep on popular history. The story of Mandela's opposition to apartheid in South Africa is full of easily identifiable good and bad, much like the story of Nazi Germany. Mandela stood up against an oppressive regime that rested on a deplorable notion of legal racism. For standing up for freedom, democracy, and equality, Mandela was jailed for 27 years. After his release in 1990 he went on to help dismantle apartheid all the while preventing racial conflict. When he was elected president he went on to nominate a cabinet that included former administrators of the apartheid mindful to not hold onto grudges. It also allowed the nation to heal from its incredible wounds. Forgiveness was a key part of his vision, leading to the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

His works and his beliefs have earned him numerous accolades, not the least of which being the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. Mandela will go down in history as an example of compassion, humbleness, and dedication. He is the rare figure that is extolled by all. While this is a wonderful recognition of the universality of struggling against injustice, it also falls into a basic paradigm: understanding history as a linear process and categorising actors as dualistic. Ultimately, South Africa has become a much more equal place but there is still an incredible amount of injustice. Likewise, Mandela is neither a sell-out nor a saint.

In framing Mandela's life virtually all outlets have focused on the notion of how oppressive the past was and how this fog has been lifted. There were clear enemies and heroes and a starting and ending point. Few sources have truly examined modern South African society by looking at how apartheid lives on by manifesting itself through neoliberal economic policies. Nor has attention been put on how unequal Canadian society is. Limited focus has been put on examining why apartheid was enacted and who supported this regime or why. Little has been said about other actors who helped change South Africa. The narrative of Mandela has largely left out details that don't fit into the clean box of pro-western freedom fighter. The narrative of South Africa has been painted without contemporary turbulence.

From my perspective, freedom, justice, or democracy are not destinations. They are ideals to try to remain close to. As a Marxist historian I try to keep in mind that social pressures hold these ideals in a place of perpetual tension. It is therefore important to continue to agitate and to motivate others to participate. In today's climate that encompasses diverse struggles such as fighting against surveillance and discrimination and fighting for environmental justice and more human rights.