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.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

An End to Transplating

For some time I've had a draft up about the difficulties I've experienced in trying to get my life sorted out. I was frustrated, angry, and disappointed that the hard work I'd been putting into looking for work hadn't transformed magically into the career I'd wanted and dreamed about. I've been moving from city to city, contract to contract, since I first finished by bachelors of education back in 2010, and I was tired of running around.

It's difficult to find work as a teacher, but I don't want to dwell on my own plight. The market for work these days is terrible in general, and worse for young people. As much as we'd like to think that problems like unemployment and underemployment are serious difficulties for young people who went to university, that's a fabrication meant to fix our attention on a segment of the population lucky enough to attend post-secondary education. The reality is that virtually everyone is suffering.

Unemployment is dangerous because it affects the entire economy. Poor work figures lead to depressed wages and to more competition for lower quality work. Fewer people have access to union work, to benefits, or to job security in general. Unemployment takes a toll on physical and mental health and reinforces existing systems of inequality where those at the top stay at the top and those who are not are pushed further behind. This is clearly one of the largest social, economic, and political quandaries of our times.

I've had difficulty writing about this topic because it's so close to me. There's a fine line between making a case about something and complaining about. I know most people are worse off that I am; they have fewer prospects or greater debt. I'm privileged. I've delayed this post dozens of times for those very reasons. But here I am posting about it now.

I have good news: I've found work in Southwestern Ontario. In my field. Close to home.

I'm excited that I no longer have to feel the push and pull of starting my career and having a fulfilling personal life. It's exhausting. I was recently teaching in Montréal on a contract for math and science. It was interesting work and the experience of a lifetime. I'm richer for it in may ways. Before that I was working in Shawinigan and Québec. I've moved five times in less than two years. I'm ready to settle down at least somewhat.

I had been reflecting for some time on my life and the power I have over it. I'm ultimately not sure if I believe that I can exercise much control or if I'm ultimately at the mercy of the universe. I'd like to neatly claim that it's both, but really who knows. In a particular moment of clarity, the adolescent version of myself wrote:

Blue sky roll
Over my head
And clear me of my wandering state
I'm searching
For something
At my crossroads I will wait

These lines are taken from the first record I ever worked on  Supermarine's Horizons in 2005. I'm proud of that stanza. During the past few months those words have comforted me as I've tried to remember that there's only so much I can do. Thanks for reading.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Russia's Olympics

What is said by Westerners about Russia reveals much about the so-called divide between these regions. Ever since winning the bid for the 2014 Olympics seven years ago Sochi has become a magnet for xenophobia against Russia. Given the massive media attention on Russia at present, I thought I'd take a few moments to write some reflections on the perception of modern Russia.

For starters, Russia is incredibly misunderstood by virtually the whole world. Europeans and North Americans are especially naive of the country's rich history and culture. Rather than understand the complexities of Russia, most have instead turned to either fear or prejudice. Winston Churchill remarked of the nation as an "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma". During the Cold War the Soviet Union was conceptualised by the West as both a very real threat and a backward society. These two ideas were held in tension until the collapse of the Soviet Union two decades ago. In the modern global geopolitical arena Russia largely seen as inconsequential. Internet memes have highlighted the irrelevance of Russia, including famously "In Soviet Russia".

Russia seems not to have emerged from its communist past, according to most Westerners. Gone are the days of the Soviet Union and of the planned economy, welfare programmes, and relative equality. Few seem to see the deeply troubling neoliberal context in which Russia exists. It's a hypercapitalist, deeply unequal society with many of the markings of fascism. The list of serious social, political, and economic problems in Russia is significant and growing. While it is right to focus attention on Russia, there are broadly two problems. The first is that the focus is horrificly hypocritical. The second is that the focus seems to be on othering Russia as a backward place.

The case that I will select for the question of hypocrisy is the so-called "anti-gay propoganda" laws that have been enacted in recent years. International attention on Russia's homophobic policies has been constant and many who have been on the attack are forgetting about the terrible transgressions against queer citizens of other Western industrialised countries. Certainly oppression and marginalisation are more pronounced in Russia than in most other democracies, but national media have put the focus on Russia to deflect from many serious domestic problems.

This leads into the second case. I mentioned that Russia is constantly presented as backward and of course media attention recently has served to highlight that reality quite effectively. The #SochiProblems hashtag on Twitter has in fact surpassed the official Sochi page in terms of followers. People seem to be hooked on gawking at Russia, most famously with the unfinished hotel rooms. This article from the satire journal DailyCurrant has already spread across social media. While it is a work of satire, it plays on popularly-held beliefs about Russia that have been constructed by Westerners about Russia.

For all intents and purposes, Russia has had a difficult ride since taking on the Olympics. The same, however, was true when Chian hosted the games six years ago. It's striking how similar these experiences were - lots of selective focus on human rights, high levels of pollution, and on the use of improper English for tourists.