Loi 96: A Zero-Sum Game
June 28, 2022 § Leave a comment
The government of Québec has passed Loi 96, an insanely restrictive language law designed to incapacitate Montréal. Montréal has, in recent years, been Anglicized, or at least it seems that way. Anecdotally, I hear more English across the city in the past few years than I ever have, and not just in the traditional areas of downtown, the sud-ouest, or NDG, but also in Rosemont-Petite Patrie, Parc Ex, Villeray. But it’s not just French and English you hear on the streets of Montréal. In all reality, the city has become incredibly diverse in recent years, and now it is common to hear pretty much any language you can imagine on the streets of the metropole. And this is concerning to the rest of the province, clearly. As it is, the relationship between Montréal and Québec is uncertain; roughly half of the province/nation’s 8.5 million people live in the Montréal sprawl. It is a very large, multicultural, multiethnic, and multilingual city. The rest of Québec, not so much. It is more than predominately French-speaking and white. Immigrants tend to flock to the big city, or the suburbs of Ottawa, as this is where economic opportunity is greatest.
Montréal, though, has nearly died before. In the wake of the Parti Québécois winning power for the first time in 1976, Anglos and business left Montréal in a terrifying wave. For most of Canada’s history, Montréal had been the predominant city, and while it was already fading by 1970, with Toronto assuming the mantle, the wake of 1976 saw an exodus. Corporations left for Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver. So did the people. My own family was part of this exodus. We left for, first, Toronto, in winter 1978 before ultimately making our way west to British Columbia in 1980. The result for Montréal was devastating. A walk down rue Sainte-Catherine or the rue Saint-Denis in the 80s was depressing in that every other store front had an ‘À Louer’ sign on it, and it was no different on other arteries and side streets. Montréal had the highest unemployment rate for an urban centre in Canada for most of the 1980s and 1990s.
Meanwhile, there was a massive amount of instability in the province/nation, provoked by fears of the intentions of the openly separatist PQ government. The first referendum on Québec sovereignty in 1980 ended in a defeat for the aspirations of Premier René Levésque and the PQ. But this ushered in a decade-and-a-half of language laws (most notably Loi 101) and constitutional wrangling between the UK, Canada, its provinces, and its population. Canada’s constitution was patriated from the UK in 1982, but Québec never ratified it. An attempt at a conciliation in 1990, the Meech Lake Accord, was doomed to failure due to an inability of the framers to account for the indigenous. A second attempt in 1992, the Charlottetown Accord, went down to defeat in a national referendum. And then the second referendum on Québec sovereignty was held in 1995, which resulted in a much narrower defeat for Premier Jacques Parizeau and the PQ. In the aftermath of the defeat, Parizeau declared that the sovereigntists lost due to ‘money and the ethnic vote,’ making clear that he felt Anglos and Allophones (as those who are neither Anglo or French are called in Québec) did not belong.
In the aftermath of that second referendum, some certainty returned to Québec, as the PQ refused to consider another referendum under successive premiers Lucien Bouchard, Bernard Landry, and Pauline Marois. As a result, Montréal came back to life, and at one point in the early 21st century was the fastest growing city in Canada. The economy has come roaring back, the ‘À Louer’ signs disappeared and Montréal was once again a vibrant multicultural city.
But, at the same time, the sovereigntist movement, which had begun on the left in the 1960s, began drifting right, and try as Landry and Marois might, they could not, ultimately, stem the tide of the right, and the PQ faded into irrelevance at the same time it was attacked on the left by the ride of Québec Solidaire (which is still a tiny party). Indeed, the Coalition pour l’avenir du Québec, or CAQ, led by former PQ cabinet member, François Legault, stormed to power in 2018 in a landslide victory, signalling the completion of the right-ward turn of the sovereigntist movement.
In the wake of 1995, sovereigntists made an attempt to rebrand themselves to make their vision of Québec more inclusive, welcome to Anglos and Allophones. Those days are over. Legault and the CAQ are very clear who their constituents are and who they govern for. Loi 96 is an obvious example of this.
Interestingly, the CAQ does not have a lot of support on the Île de Montréal, nor in the larger Montréal sprawl in general. On the island, only the two most eastern ridings, Pointe-aux-Trembles and Bourget, swung CAQ, and only one riding in Laval, Sainte-Rose, and one on the south shore, Taillon followed suite. Indeed, Montréal and its sprawl are the power bases of both the federalist Parti Libérale and Québec Solidaire.
So it is interesting that Legault’s Loi 96 is designed to strangle the English language. I am an Anglo, yes. But I do not tend to side with Anglos in the language politics of Québec. Montréal is a French city. Québec is a French province/nation. I argued myself into a nationalist (though not separatist) position in reading for my comprehensive exams for my Phd, I have been unable to escape that spot). There are roughly 400,000 Anglos in the city of 4.25 million. You can do the math.
But. Loi 96 is different. Its attacks on English-language government services, education, and health care are a very real threat. Its insistence that immigrants will get all of six months to learn French before all services are in that language is also a very real threat. But even more than that, what Loi 96 will do is kill Montréal. Already employers are talking of pulling out. I was back home last week, and even Le Devoir, the nationalist Montréal newspaper, was attacking the government for this law, which it sees as going too far. The CBC reports today that Montréal’s vibrant video-game industry is at risk, this despite the fact that the largest of these employers, Ubisoft, is French. It is only going to get worse, as Legault seeks to destroy the city.
There will be a provincial election this fall. But I don’t see many reasons to be optimistic. The CAQ is running around 40% in the polls, which is up 3% from 2018. The Liberals are below 20%, and now the Conservatives are in the running as well, around 17%. And, of course, due to the genius of the men who created the Canadian Constitution in 1982, we have the notwithstanding clause, which allows governments to override the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Loi 96 violates both, but Legault has enacted the notwithstanding clause.
Of course, what he also seems to be risking is in killing Montréal, he will kill Québec’s economy, which will hurt everyone. Politics. A zero sum game.
Not All Political Parties are Created Equal
June 24, 2022 § Leave a comment
Roe v. Wade was overturned today by the Supreme Court (SCOTUS). A lot is being made of this decision, and rightly so. It is asinine that a group of conservative justices who constantly torture the Constitution for their decisions, in much the same way that Chief Justice Taney did in 1857 with Dred Scot, would do so again to overturn Roe. This is the damage that Donald Trump continues to do to the United States. Yes, clearly, I am pro-choice. I am pro-choice because I believe it is a woman’s right to choose. I have taken friends for abortions, and even in Canada, we had to run the gauntlet of people who had nothing but hatred in their hearts calling my friends ‘baby killers,’ ‘sluts,’ ‘whores,’ and much, much worse. But I am also an historian, and I know what the cost of a lack of access was in the United States prior to 1973 (Roe) and in Canada prior to 1987 (Morgentaler). And mark my words, women and girls are going to die in the United States due to the flat out moronity of this court.
But. I have something else on my mind today. I was thinking of a conversation I had with a guy at a bar prior to Covid, in 2018 or so, in left-of-centre Western Massachusetts. He was pontificating, he was of a certain age (I am also of a certain age, but I suppose I don’t look it). He was lecturing me on politics in this country. He told me, proudly, that he doesn’t vote because the Democrats and the Republicans are the same. I was gobsmacked. And I pushed back.
Today, I am thinking about that conversation and all the times I have been told that Democrats and Republicans (or in Canada, the Liberals and Conservatives) are the same. Yeah, sure, in many ways they are, all four political parties in both countries are deeply invested in a neo-liberal capitalist order (well, the GOP might not be anymore). But beyond that? Not so much. In the US, there is a wide gulf between the two political parties.
But then I got to thinking who it always is telling me the Democrats and Republicans are the same: white men. Always white men. In fact, it is usually white men who feel like they’ve got the most to lose with the culture wars in the United States. They seem to think that extending basic human rights to African Americans, Asian Americans, the indigenous, women, immigrants, the disabled, LGBTQIA+, and other groups who are discriminated against means that they will lose rights. In actual reality, gender equality does nothing to diminish my rights, though it might look like it will put a dent in my male white privilege. Maybe. But in actual reality, it won’t.
I often think of Isotta Nogarola, a Renaissance woman in 15th century Italy. She is credited as being the first major woman humanist, and she was brilliant. Her ideas and writings were received with nothing but misogyny and hatred. She ultimately retired to her villa, where she carried on her experiments and writing, but published nothing more during her lifetime. When I taught Western Civ or World History, I always made sure to include Nogarola, because I always found myself wondering just how many Nogarolas there have been in the world, the entire world: brilliant women who were never given a chance?
Then imagine a world where Nogarola was able to publish, attain fame, and immortality like all those male Renaissance thinkers. Imagine a world where anyone, regardless of gender, nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation was equal.
I am not a Democrat. I am not a Liberal. But I can see the difference between a conservative movement in the US or Canada that seeks to strip rights, protections, and privileges from anyone who is not a white man (or, increasingly, a white conservative man).
June 14, 2022 § Leave a comment
Sometimes I see the arguments of Second Amendment over-enthusiasts and I can do nothing but smack my head against the nearest wall. Yes, the Second Amendment sort of says we can have guns in the US, but the Second Amendment also underwent a profound re-reading in the 1980s and 90s, thanks mostly to the NRA. And so we are in the predicament we are right now, where there is a mass shooting pretty much daily in the United States. This is a screen shot from the Gun Violence Archive. It is the mass shootings in the US from 5-12 June 2022, and even at that, it shows only one of five mass shootings on the 5th.
If you’re not feeling the desire to count the lines on that page, it shows 20 mass shootings in the space of a week. Twenty. If you add the other four shootings on 5 June, that’s 24. This next image, from Wikipedia, shows the mass shootings in the 20th and 21st centuries in Canada, from 1969-2021. In case you’re wondering, the line previous to the 1969 one was the Frog Lake Massacre as part of Louis Riel’s second rebellion in 1885. In other words, from 1885-1969, Canada had no mass shootings. And since 1969, Canada has had nine mass shootings. Two of the events in this list, in Toronto in 2018 and in London, Ontario, were vehicle attacks.
Meanwhile, the UK has had 6 mass shootings, excluding the Troubles in Northern Ireland, since the 1990s. I don’t count the Troubles as it was, in essence, a civil war.
So what can we conclude? Mass shootings only happen in the United States. What is the recommendation of Second Amendment over-enthusiasts? More guns. Seriously. They believe in the myth that a good guy with a gun will stop a bad guy with a gun. Even the ultra-RWNJ Washington Times could find all of 11 times that has happened in the past 30 years. As a reminder, there were 24 mass shootings in the US from 5-12 June. Eleven armed citizens in 30 years stopped shooters. But none were that week in early June.
Then there’s my favourite of the wingnut explanations. I came across this one on LinkedIn last week:
“Just a Friendly Reminder: Adolf Hitler confiscated guns before killing between 11-20 Million of his people. Joseph Stalin confiscated guns before killing 20-70 Million of his people. Mao Zedong confiscated guns before killing 70-100 million of his people. The list goes on and on, Pol Pot confiscated guns before killing 2 Million of his people, etc, etc. It is as old as time and our founders knew that. For instance, look at the oppression of Scotland under England where weapons of war were banned for the Scottish people, leading to oppression by the English. Read your history. Government OF the people, BY the people, and FOR the people requires citizens NOT subjects. When you disarm a citizen, you make them into a subject. So, don’t allow the balance of power between the government and the people guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment to be removed. And, realize that it is also a matter of national security. No country in the world would risk invading the United States because the largest standing army in the world are the private gun owners of America. The answer to bad guys with guns, is good guys with guns. We should train, educate, qualify, register, and equip every teacher in America for concealed carry. #HardenOurSchools“
I am not going to out the guy who posted this, I am not going to publicly humiliate anyone. Instead, the logic here. First, he points (and this is a common argument amongst this ilk) to Adolph Hitler, Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot. What do those four men have in common? They were dictators. All committed genocide, on both their own people, and in Hitler and Stalin’s case, foreigners. What does the United States not have? That’s right, we don’t have a dictator in the White House. But, interestingly enough, the United States has come very close to a dictatorship, or at least a president willing to claim he won an election he lost and enact a coup to maintain power. Who is that, you wonder? Why, it was Donald J. Trump, the 45th president of these United States.
So, in other words, the darling of the conservative world is the only person who has ever attempted to overthrow the democracy of the United States.
Arguments such as these are ahistorical, they are cherry-picking, and they compare apples to hockey sticks. Not even oranges, as oranges are a fruit like apples. Comparing the government of the United States to Mao’s China is ridiculous. Patently stupid. Outrageously so.
This was not the first time I’ve seen this argument, I’ve seen it almost word-for-word on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and now LinkedIn. This is a common talking point of 2A over-enthusiasts. And yet, it is just so easy to break down the illogic and expose this as a word salad that, ultimately, means nothing.
The fact of the matter remains that the United States has a pandemic of mass shootings because it is the only nation in the western world that has unchecked gun ownership. And what are guns for? Killing things. Period.
That, of course, brings up another wonderful argument of the 2A over-enthusiasts. My neighbour had a car with this bumper sticker, actually. Unfortunately for my purposes here, he’s since sold it, so I don’t have a picture. But. The bumper sticker said: “Is it my spoon’s fault I’m fat?” No, obviously it’s not. But, yet, spoons are not designed to kill. They’re designed to get food from your bowl into your mouth. Similarly, a car is not designed to kill, but to get you from point A to point B. Even knives are not necessarily designed to kill, there’s a lot you can do with a knife. A gun? Not so much.
Until the politicians in this country have the guts to confront this issue in an aggressive and progressive manner, nothing is going to change. That archive of gun violence I took that first image from covers mass shootings in the United States in the calendar year of 2022. That archive is 11 pages long. But the archive goes back to 2014. So far this year, there have been 267 mass shootings. In 2014, there were 272 mass shootings. In 2021, there were 692. They have gone up in number each and every year since 2014, with the exception of 2017-18 when the number declined from 382 in 2016 to 348, and then to 336 in 2018. But 2019 saw 417. 2020 brought us 610. Last year there were 692.
This is insanity. Each year since 2014, anywhere between 40,000 and 55,000 people die due to gun violence. This is utter insanity.
Adieu Guy Lafleur
May 3, 2022 § Leave a comment
Guy Lafleur is being laid to rest today at Cathédrle Marie-Reine-du-Monde in downtown Montréal this afternoon. Le Démon Blonde has been granted a state funeral by Québec Premier François Legault (he had to get something right eventually), following in the footsteps of Jean Béliveau and Maurice ‘The Rocket’ Richard. Lafleur was a hockey player. He was the best player of his era. But he was so much more than that.
Québec is not like the rest of Canada or North America. Whether you like that or not, it’s a statement of fact. Québec’s culture has evolved through a separate history than the rest of this continent, in part due to the French colonial era, in part due to the Conquête in 1760, in part due to the continued historical fact of the French language and Catholic religion (despite Lord Durham opining in 1840 that French Canada was a place without a history or culture, or for that matter, future), in part due to the influx of English and Scots Protestants, in part due to the massive influx of Irish immigrants and refugees in the mid-19th century, and the continued influx of immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe, from Africa, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and East, South, and Southeast Asia, and everywhere else in the world, and also in part due to the continued presence of the indigenous and their insistence on their place in Québec culture and society be respected and accorded.
And for all of this, Guy Lafleur was not just a hockey player.
It is very hard to explain the significance of Guy Lafleur (or Bélieveau or Rocket Richard, for that matter) to non-Quebecers. Whatever language we speak, whatever our cultural heritage, for Quebecers, we know why Lafleur was more than just a hockey player. Lafleur was a manifestation of the nation (however we define it and who defines it, I continue to maintain that we are all of Québec, whatever our language, national origin, ethnicity, I am fully aware that many, including the current government of Québec disagrees with me).
Lafleur was the best player on the best team in hockey. And he was québécois. That means he mattered more than the other superstars he played with (Ken Dryden, Larry Robinson, including other québécois superstars (Jacques Lemaire, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe). Collectively, the Canadiens de Montréal carried the weight of Québec on their shoulders as they won the Stanley Cup seven times in the 1970s (1971, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1979). And Lafleur carried all of this on his shoulder as he flew down the right wing at the Forum, his blonde hair flying behind him, unleashing his vicious shot, making the goalie look like a fool.
Lafleur understood his role, he took it seriously. If it strained him, you wouldn’t know. He was a kind man, a humble man, and a gentleman. He always had time for his fans. But he knew he wasn’t just a hockey player.
He was the next in a long line of québécois superstars dating back to the 1910s: Georges Vézina, Rocket Richard, Béliveau. Lafleur eventually handed the baton to Patrick Roy. Each of these men were the best players in hockey during their era. And they were all gars de chez nous. It is also worth noting that the Habs have not won a Stanley Cup since 1993; Roy left in 1995, and we have not had a replacement in this lineage since.
Richard and Béliveau were men for a different era. They were superstars on the best team in hockey during the Révolution Tranquille, at the peak of their powers in the 1950s (Richard) and 60s (Béliveau). Lafleur was a new man for the 70s, post-révolution tranquille, when the promise of that movement began to bear fruit, as québécois took control of their province/nation, and as the next part of that revolutionary movement took hold: a separatist/sovereigntist movement. The Parti Québécois won the 1976 provincial election, the first time a sovereigntist party won, under the leadership of René Levésque. In 1980, the PQ held the first referendum on Québec sovereignty. And lost. Lafleur was the best player on the best team in the world throughout this period.
I have no idea what Lafleur’s politics were, if he was a nationalist, a sovereigntist, a federalist, a hybrid of the afore-mentioned, or if he was apolitical. In the end, it doesn’t matter. He was us.
Protesting Against What?
April 24, 2022 § 6 Comments
I am back home in Montréal this weekend. I’m staying in the Centre-Sud, near the corner of Ontario and Berri. Yesterday, I was walking back to my AirBnB along Ontario and has just got back to my flat when a most curious protest made its way down Ontario, with police protection, I may add. These were people protesting for ‘freedom,’ against Covid restrictions and vaccine mandates. Their words, screamed through loud speakers made no sense. Their iconography was even more confused.
I must say I deeply resent this crowd co-opting the Canadian flag. They are not patriots. They do not know the history or culture of this country. They do not understand what Canada stands for either at home or abroad. I am equally resentful of their co-optation of the flag of Québec, for the same reasons. These are not patriots, of either Québec or Canada. They’re Americanized.
Mixed in with the Canadian and Québec flags were American flags, the Gadsden flag, the stars and bars (the Confederate battle flag), a few Trump 2024 flags, and, oddly, the Mohawk Warrior flag. What, exactly do any of those American and Confederate flags have to do with a protest for freedom in Montréal, Québec, Canada? Why were the folks with the bullhorns calling for a chant of Trump’s name (it didn’t take)? Two of the protesters, both young men, were holding up a sign demanding their First and Second Amendment rights. WTF?
I was particularly perplexed by the Mohawk Warrior flag, one that has deep meaning in Québec and Canada, dating back at least to the Oka Crisis of 1990. I talked to my friend, Greg Horn, who is the owner and editor of Iori:wase, the newspaper of the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation. He was equally perplexed, but noted that right wing protesters have been co-opting the Warrior flag for awhile now. I should add that every single person in this convoy of about 80 was white. All of them. This is nothing more than cultural co-optation.
But so, too, is the transfer of American politics onto Québec and Canada. Clearly, these protesters don’t realize that Canada is a sovereign nation. They didn’t mention any Canadian politicians as they passed me, nor did they mention any Canadian political parties. Not even the People’s Party of Canada, the most extreme right wing party in the country. No. They focused on American politics.
Greg and I agreed this can only be wilful blindness to reality.
6 December 1989
December 6, 2020 § Leave a comment
It was a cold and wet day in the suburbs of Vancouver. Then again, most every day in the Pacific Northwest from November to March was cold and wet. How we did not develop webbed feet and moss is something I never understood. I was 16 years old, disaffected and bored beyond words in suburbia. It was an unremarkable day.
That evening, I was in the living room with my parental units watching the news. We weren’t really people for tradition, but the news was sacrosanct. The Old Man sat in his Command Centre, a reclining chair with his remote. My mom sat in the corner of the couch closest to him. They watched the early news at 5pm on BCTV, the Vancouver affiliate of CTV. Then they watched the national news at 5.30. And then at 6pm, the News Hour with Tony Parsons came on. Tony Parsons was the official voice of the news in our house. He was taciturn, with a deep voice, and these brown eyes that were soulful. His was a trustworthy face, his was a trustworthy voice. The rest of British Columbia agreed, as the News Hour was, by far, the most watched news programme in the province.
I didn’t spend a lot of time with the Rental Units, but for some reason, I was with them that night. I watched the early news with them and the News Hour. I don’t recall why, it’s possible that my mom called me in when the 5pm news began. There was news from Montréal, from whence my mom, me, and my sister came from. There’d been a shooting. Hours earlier, a lone gunman had walked into the Êcole Polytechnique de Montréal, part of the Université de Montréal. The school is on UdeM’s campus, which is nested under the northern side of Mont-Royal, between Outremont and Cote-des-Neiges, two Montréal neighbourhoods. Cote-des-Neiges is the neighbourhood just north of where both sets of my grandparents had lived when I was a kid in Snowdon.
We watched the news, shocked, dismayed, saddened. This gunman had opened fire at l’École Polytechnique because he ‘hated feminists,’ whom he believed had ruined his life. I knew what misogyny looked like, I knew what violence looked like. This wasn’t sexism, this was misogyny.
My mom raised me as a feminist, as she was. Her friends were feminists. My mom had worked in the 1980s helping divorced women get back on their feet, to find jobs and a means to support themselves after being essentially dumped by their husbands, quite often with the children. This was the 1980s, and the women my mom worked with were of a generation where they had quit work when they got married, or at the latest, when they got pregnant. By the time they were dumped, they’d been at home with the kids from anywhere from 5 to 15 years, they had no recent experience, they had no clue.
I spent a fair amount of time in my mom’s office, her colleagues, Christine, Audrey, and Gail, were all really nice to me, and even as an eight year old, I could see what was going on, even if I couldn’t name it. I saw they did good in the world, I was proud of my mom and I was proud of her colleagues.
By the time I was 16, I was a feminist, I believed in equality. I believed in the equality of men and women, but also of people of all ethnicities and races. I thought that Canada as a whole saw things in the same way I did, though I knew better.
We were collectively, as a nation, shocked by what happened in Montréal that day. We didn’t have mass shootings. Even today, 31 years on, the number of mass shootings in Canada can be counted on one hand. We don’t have paralyzing discussions about the rights of individuals versus collective rights. Guns are not part of our national myths and culture.
And whilst misogyny wasn’t hard to find, and men did beat their girlfriends, wives, daughters, mothers, and they sometimes they killed them. One of my dad’s soccer teammates, a few years later, spent a stretch in prison for attempting to murder his girlfriend. Everyone was shocked. I was not. But that didn’t mean that these crimes manifested into massacres. Except on 6 December 1989, they did.
The gunman that day made misogyny a national crisis, he took all that violence and hatred, and fear, of women, and he manifested it onto the national stage.
The great Canadian novelist, Margaret Atwood, sometime in the early 80s, in an interview, said something along the lines of:
“‘Why do men feel threatened by women?’ I asked a male friend of mine.
“‘They are afraid women will laugh at them’, he said, ‘undercut their world view.’
“Then I asked some women students, ‘Why do women feel threatened by men?’ “‘They are afraid of being killed,’ they said.”
Thirty-one years on, we have made all the right noises, every 6 December, we repeat the same lines, from the Prime Minister one down. But just as I argued recently that Canada is an inherently racist society, it is also true that we are an inherently misogynistic society.
The gunman that day pointed this out to us. He killed fourteen women for the sin of seeking an education. He wounded ten more women and four men. The dead:
- Geneviève Bergeron, 21, civil engineering student
- Hélène Colgan, 23, mechanical engineering student
- Nathalie Croteau, 23, mechanical engineering student
- Barbara Daigneault, 22, mechanical engineering student
- Anne-Marie Edward, 21, chemical engineering student
- Maud Haviernick, 29, materials engineering student
- Maryse Laganière, 25, budget clerk in the École Polytechnique’s finance department
- Maryse Leclair, 23, materials engineering student
- Anne-Marie Lemay, 22, mechanical engineering student
- Sonia Pelletier, 28, mechanical engineering student
- Michèle Richard, 21, materials engineering student
- Annie St-Arneault, 23, mechanical engineering student
- Annie Turcotte, 20, materials engineering student
- Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, 31, nursing student.
May they rest in power.
The Globalization of Nationalism and Conservatism
April 18, 2019 § 2 Comments
The current issue of Foreign Affairs is about nationalism, and its resurgence around the world. The base assumption of all the authors in this edition is that nationalism is a conservative movement, tied to white supremacy, racism, and strongmen like Rodrigo Duterte and Vladimir Putin. The basic argument is that the resurgence of nationalism, and all it entails, is a response to globalism and the rise of a class of cosmopolitans who, the argument alleges, feel at home anywhere. Thus, everyone else, the ‘somewheres’, who have a sense of connection to place are mad.
First, this is a ridiculous dichotomy. The actual real cosmopolitans, the ones who are at home in Istabul, Mumbai, and Tokyo, are the 1% of the world. The bulk of people who are alleged cosmopolitans actually tend to have deep connections to place as well. They are connected to where they live, their neighbourhoods, their towns and so on.
But this discussion of cosmopolitans vs. the non-cosmopolitans actually obscures more than it clarifies. Like all theories that attempt to put human behaviour into neat little boxes, it fails.
And this is because the basic assumption of this argument is that the non-cosmopolitan nationalist is not connected to a wider community, one beyond the borders of her nation. And it also assumes that the leaders of these movements are not in constant contact with each other. That Donald Trump and Nigel Farage don’t have a connection, that Steven Bannon isn’t globe-trotting, trying to convince Italian conservatives that the biggest evil in the world is Pope Francis.
Of course men like Trump, Farage and Bannon have international communities. One is the president of the most powerful nation in the world, one is the former leader of a major British political party, and the last is the man who stands behind their ilk, helping them get elected.
But the argument presumes that Trump’s supporters, Farage’s voters, and Viktor Orbán’s fans are not also connected in a globalist sense. The internet and social media have seen to this. There are linkages across international boundaries between nationalist and conservative movements in Europe and North America.
In other words, these reactionary movements are just as internationalist as the liberal world order they’re attempting to take down. They can’t not be, this is a co-ordinated attack on what these nationalists and conservatives (because they are often the same thing) distrust, dislike, and fear in the liberal internationalist order.
Whether we like it or not, we live in a globalized era, and even if we wrap ourselves up in the Union Jack and talk about bringing jobs back to Bristol, or we prefer our government to open our border for more refugees, we live in this world. The ideological struggle for the soul of the world reflects this as much as it did during the Cold War.
During that era, from 1945-91, two opposing, internationalist, camps fought for global supremacy. We all know that American-backed liberalism won. And despite Francis Fukuyama’s embarrassing claim that this saw the end of history, the conservative backlash was in motion by the mid-90s, though its articulation took longer to develop, into the 2010s, our current decade.
And so now, the two opposing, internationalist camps fight for a world that is either liberal, cosmopolitan, and internationalist in nature, or one that is illiberal, nationalist, and just as internationalist in nature.
The Real Problem the SNC Lavalin Affair Exposes
March 7, 2019 § Leave a comment
Canada’s media is beside itself right now over a case of politics within the cabinet of the Trudeau government. The problem begins with SNC Lavalin, ostensibly an engineering firm headquartered in Montréal. About a decade ago, it did some skeezy things in Libya. SNC Lavalin, however, is no stranger to skeeziness. The issue arises from something called a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), which, under Canadian law, allows the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PSSC) to essentially allow corporations to plea bargain their way out of a spot of bother. It would appear the the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) wished this current mess for SNC Lavalin to go away via a DPA, though the then-Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Jody Wilson-Raybould refused to do. She has complained that she felt pressured to alter her decision, which she refused to do. This has been denied by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s former Principal Secretary, Gerald Butts. And through it all, Trudeau has managed to keep his trademark calm, upsetting Canadians who want him to at least acknowledge some wrong-doing.
But, despite both the Canadian and the foreign media’s best attempts to make this look like something, the fact of the matter is, we have two versions of a process, and at worst, Trudeau looks like a jerk. Nothing illegal happened here. This is not corruption. What Wilson-Raybould described reads to me as little more than business-as-usual Canadian cabinet-level politicking.
But all of this obscures two, if not three, larger issues at hand here. The first is the dual portfolio of Minister of Justice and Attorney General in Canada. The two roles appear to be contradictory, as this person is both responsible for the Department of Justice as well as being the Chief Federal Legal Advisor. As well, this portfolio is ultimately responsible for legal enforcement at the federal level in Canada. In other Parliamentary democracies, such as the UK and Australia, these two roles are separate, and in the UK, the Attorney General is not technically part of the cabinet. While politicking of the sort Wilson-Raybould has, as far as I can tell from my own research, is part and parcel of Canadian government, the time has come to split the two roles.
Second, and perhaps the greatest problem is the influence of corporatism in our politics in Canada. The idea of a DPA, or an equivalent, has been part of American law enforcement since the 1980s. In the UK, DFAs have legally been in place since 2015; in France, since 2016, and Australia in 2017. In Canada, Bill C-74 became law in 2018. But, what this did was formalize an already extant option used by the PSSC. Legal scholars tend to prefer the idea of a DPA, especially in the case of multinational corporations and the difficulties of carrying out corruption inquiries on this level, to say nothing of the massive amount of money and resources such an investigation requires.
Taken on that level, of course, a DPA makes perfect sense. But, what this kerfuffle over SNC Lavalin currently shows us is how much influence our major corporations have in our politics and legal enforcement. It would appear that our Prime Minister, who is also the Member of Parliament for Papineau, a Montréal riding. And where is SNC Lavalin based? Montréal. So, the optics aren’t good. The PMO was lobbying for a DFA to protect SNC Lavalin from the cost of a conviction, which is a 10-year ban on federal contracts. And while it is not surprising that a powerful MP from Montréal would wish to intervene and save SNC Lavalin from prosecution. But, once again, the optics are not good when that MP is also the Prime Minister.
But there is this corporate influence. And it’s not like the main opposition party is any better. During the long nine-year reign of error of Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, there were countless instances of corporatism, from selling out Canadian Crown Corporations to foreign corporations, to striking down oversight of corporate behaviour. And whilst our third party, the New Democrats (NDP) have never come close to forming a federal government, the party has been the government in several provinces, multiple times (in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario). Despite the NDP’s leftist claims, its behaviour in power shows it’s no different than the Liberals or Conservatives.
In other words, corporate influence in Canadian politics is real, powerful, and dangerous for our democracy.
And this leads me to our third problem: our media. Canada’s media is highly centralized, consolidated, and corporate. The daily broadsheet newspapers in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon, Montréal (in English, anyway), and Ottawa are owned by Postmedia. Postmedia also owns the tabloid newspapers in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Ottawa. In other words, the newspaper market in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Ottawa is monopolized by Postmedia. Postmedia also owns nearly every small-town newspaper in the country. And finally, the company also owns The National Post, Canada’s second and largely ignored national newspaper.
Toronto’s major daily broadsheet, the Toronto Star is owned by Torstar, a major media company. Toronto is also home to the Globe & Mail, which bills itself as Canada’s national newspaper. The Globe is owned by the Woodbridge Company, which until 2015 owned the Canadian Television network, or CTV. Woodbridge is the primary investment firm of the Thomson family, one of Canada’s wealthiest families. The Globe is also the Canadian newspaper most closely aligned with Bay Street, Canada’s financial district in Toronto. The National Post,
The only major Canadian city that is served by a largely independent press is Montréal, where the two major French-language dailies, La Presse and Le Devoir fall outside of these larger Canadian firms. Presse is owned by a social trust. La Presse also no longer publishes a physical paper, it has been entirely online since 2017. Le Devoir is owned and published by Le Devoir Inc. But Montréal’s other French language paper, the tabloid Journal de Montréal, is owned by Québecor, one of the largest media corporations in Canada.
Québecor also owns most of Québec’s media, including the TV broadcast network, TVA. It owns Vidéotron, the primary cable, internet, and cellular service firm in Québec. TVA Publishing is the largest magazine publishing firm in Québec. It also publishes books under Québecor Media Book Group. And finally, it owns Canada.com/Canada.ca, a major on-line news site that covers the entire country of Canada.
Meanwhile, BCE Inc. owns CTV, as well as Bell, which is one of the largest cable/satellite TV providers in the country, to say nothing of cell services. It also, interestingly, owns parts of both the Canadiens de Montréal and the Toronto Maple Leafs, the two biggest hockey teams in the world. Rogers, the other major cable provider in Canada, also owns a cell service, one of the largest magazine publishing firms in Canada, a large chunk of Canadian radio stations.
In short, our media is corporate, deeply and widely, except for the newspapers in Montréal. We also have the state-owned broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, so it is technically independent, as it is arms’ length from the government. But the CBC’s problem is it tries to be too many things to too many different people. The Société Radio-Canada, the CBC’s French language service, suffers from many of the same problems.
And our independent news sites, outside of La Presse and Le Devoir, are essentially partisan outlets, preaching to the converted.
So, with our government beholden to corporate interests, many of which are the same interests which own our media, we have a very deep and serious problem. And, of course, this is not what our political parties are talking about. The Liberals, obviously this isn’t something they’ll touch right now. The Conservatives will, of course, score as many political points as they can off SNC Lavalin, but they’ve down the same thin in power and will do again. And, then there’s the NDP. This should be the chance for embattled leader, Jagmeet Singh, to take a stand and talk about the influence of corporations in our media and politics. But, nope. He and his party are too interested in scoring cheap political points from SNC Lavalin, which, of course, suggests the NDP would be no different in office.
Meanwhile, Canadian democracy suffers.
Hegemony vs. White Privilege
February 8, 2019 § 5 Comments
Earlier this week, I wrote a piece about Jordan Peterson, who I dismissed as a professional bore. A friend of mine shared it on his wall on Facebook and holy hell ensued. One commentator took great exception to my point that ‘frankly, you cannot claim there is no such thing as white privilege and not be racist’ and, oh-so-wittily demanded a citation.
I come at this question after spending most of my adult life working from a place of anti-racism, of insisting that we recognize our diversity and that we work to a world where none of this even matters anymore because it’s the de facto response to all things.
The very term ‘white privilege is heavily loaded. It does two things. First, it points a finger at white people. Second, it suggests to white people who have a difficult time due to class or gender or sexuality that they have something they generally consider themselves to lack: privilege.
White people get defensive when the finger is pointed at them. I know, I am a white person. The general defensive response from a white person is to claim that they have nothing to do with slavery, genocide of the indigenous, etc. And, moreover, this all happened in the past. But racism isn’t an historical exhibit in a museum, it’s still very real and prevalent.
And then there’s the question of class. Poor white people do not generally have privilege, that’s part of the problem of being poor. I grew up poor, and it marked me in certain ways, including a distrust of power and authority. And then there’s people like me who worked to escape that poverty. To say we have had privilege our whole lives sounds like a denial of our own hard work to get to where we are.
But calling out white privilege is none of this. For one, privilege (whether in terms of race, gender, or sexuality) is not a one-size-fits-all hat. It is relative. I always think of the Italian communist theorist Antonio Gramsci, and his concept of ‘hegemony.’ Cultural hegemony, as Gramsci conceived of it, explained how and why the ruling class maintained power and why the working classes did not revolt. This means that the ruling class imposed its own world view, its own cultural mores, and so on on culture and society and normalized them. Thus, ruling class ideals were the normal, anything else was deviant. And thus, the union movement of the late 19th/early 20th centuries in North America was about accessing some of that hegemonic power for the skilled working classes. The union movement of that era was not about the overthrow of capitalism, but the amelioration of it, allowing these skilled working class men and their families to access some of the benefits of hegemony. But it was still a relative slice of the hegemony pie.
Privilege, as the term is used today, is pretty much the same as Gramscian hegemony. As I argued in this piece, we live in a culture created and dominated by white people. White people, in other words, are hegemonic. And, as David Roediger argues in his excellent The Wages of Whiteness, the process of racial solidarity was forged in the United States in the 19th century, the colour line was created through a process of essentially convincing the white working classes that while their lives may be difficult, at least they weren’t black. That is obviously a simplification of Roediger’s argument, but it is also the basics.
And so now, in the early 21st century in the United States (and Canada) we live in an increasingly multicultural, diverse world. Two of Canada’s three largest cities (Toronto and Vancouver) have minority white populations. Around 35% of Canada’s population is comprised of people of colour. South of the border, 44% of the American population is comprised of visible minorities. More than that, 50% of the children in the US under the age of 5 are people of colour. So the times are changing, but not quick enough, really. The fact we still use terms like ‘people of colour’ or ‘visible minorities’ reflects that.
So we still live in a white world. To me, this is blatantly obvious looking at the world around me. In Canada, indigenous men and women are continually assaulted by the police and private citizens. In the United States, it is African Americans who find themselves looking down the barrel of a gun with police and private citizens on the other end. More subtle forms of racism exist, like crossing the road to avoid black men. Or calling the police because an African American person is walking down the street. But racism also exists in other forms, against other groups. And all non-white ethnic groups are forced to live in a white world in the US and Canada.
To use another loaded term, this is white supremacy. For me, white supremacy isn’t the Ku Klux Klan or Richard Spencer (that’s just outright racist idiocy), it is simply the fact we live in a white world.
To return to my original point that to deny white privilege is itself a racist conclusion. Ta-Nehisi Coates summarizes white privilege very well in a 2012 Atlantic article, where he writes
But I generally find it [white privilege] most powerful and most illuminating when linked to an actual specific privilege–not fearing sexual violence, not weighing one’s death against the labor of birthing, living in a neighborhood bracketed off by housing covenants, not having to compete for certain jobs etc.
In the other words, because I don’t fear being shot by the police due to my skin colour (amongst other things), I have privilege based on race. That neither I nor Coates fear being sexually assaulted on our walk home from work is privilege based on gender. And so on.
Thus, to wilfully deny that white people enjoy a certain hegemony in our culture is racist, because it denies an entire cultural framework. That cultural framework means I am far less likely to get harassed by the police if I wear my hood up walking down the street. It also means that white people are sentenced far more leniently for crimes than black people. It means that poor white people don’t get red-lined like poor black people by financial institutions when seeking a mortgage. And to deny that is not only wilfully ignorant, it is a product of that privilege, and therefore, racist.
But at the end of all of this, the very terms ‘white supremacy’ and ‘white privilege’ are, as noted, loaded. Spring-loaded, really. Thus, perhaps we should re-frame the discussion to centre around hegemony. That is far less likely to put people’s hackles up, to make people defensive from the start. And if we don’t start from a position of defensiveness, we’d be far more likely to get somewhere.
Jordan Peterson: Professional Bore
February 5, 2019 § Leave a comment
Jordan Peterson is a bore. He appeals to the basest instincts of masculinity, believing that men are under attack in this world. He also believes, fundamentally, that order is a masculine trait and chaos is a feminine one. This reflects the age-old misogyny of Christian thought in the West that said that reason was masculine and nature feminine. One is ordered and disciplined, one is chaotic.
Peterson stepped off the deep end a long time ago. Peterson rose to fame in Canada a few years back in opposition to Bill C-16, which gives legal protection to transgender people. As the CBC notes, it added the term ‘gender identity or expression’ to three parts of Canadian law: 1) The Charter of Rights and Freedoms; 2) The Criminal Code, in those parts that deal with hate crimes; 3) that part of the Criminal Code that deals with sentencing for hate crimes. Peterson was appalled, arguing wrongly that this would criminalize the failure to use an individual’s preferred pronouns. He himselfrejects the idea of non-binary gender identity (indeed, this became the rallying cry of the right in both Canada and the US, where Peterson warned Americans that this was coming for them in an article in The Hill). But he went further, as he is wont do, claiming that Bill C-16 was an attack on freedom of speech in Canada, the greatest such attack, as a matter of fact. And so he joined the conservative hysteria that we were all going to be jailed for not using the proper pronouns. He also received a letter of warning from the University of Toronto, where he teaches, informing him that he must accord to people’s wishes wth their preferred pronouns.
Coupled with this misogyny is a subtle form of racism. Peterson thinks that white privilege simply doesn’t exist. He has, to be fair, clearly and loudly rejected white supremacy and prefers his followers to do so as well. But, frankly, you cannot claim there is no such thing as white privilege and not be racist. The idea of white privilege is meant to point out that we live in a culture dominated by white people and those who are not white have a more difficult time in getting ahead (I wrote about this here).
But back to the misogyny. Beyond Peterson’s claim that order is masculine and chaos feminine, Peterson has concluded the problem is feminism, as it seeks to level inequalities, which he argues are simply the way things have always been.
Peterson favours what he calls ‘enforced monogamy.’ In the wake of the terrorist attack in Toronto last spring, in which an ‘incel’ drove his truck into a crowd, killing at least 10, Peterson told the New York Times that male violence toward women happens because they are involuntarily celibate (hence the term ‘incel’). He said of the killer, “He was angry at God because women were rejecting him. The cure for that is enforced monogamy. That’s actually why monogamy emerges.” He goes on:
“Half the men fail,” he says, meaning that they don’t procreate. “And no one cares about the men who fail.”
I laugh, because it is absurd.
“You’re laughing about them,” he says, giving me a disappointed look. “That’s because you’re female.”
That, my friends, is sexist. Plain and simple. Peterson’s idea of ‘enforced monogamy’ is meant to help men, and therefore it would be coercive to women.
He goes on. He read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique and concluded that:
it’s so whiny, it’s just enough to drive a modern person mad to listen to these suburban housewives from the late ’50s ensconced in their comfortable secure lives complaining about the fact that they’re bored because they don’t have enough opportunity. It’s like, Jesus get a hobby. For Christ’s sake.
In his book, 12 Rules for Life, he argues that ‘healthy women’ want men who are better than them, men who are smarter than they are, who will dominate them, and control them through status. ‘Healthy women’ want to be dominated.
Peterson’s ultimate problem is he believes that there is such a thing as a natural hierarchy in the social world and he believes that these hierarchies are essentially god-given and therefore right and natural. He thinks gender equality overthrows this natural order, as Kate Manne makes clear in a discussion of 12 Rules. Manne defines misogyny as a desire to control women (which she differentiates from a hatred or fear of women in the heart of men). And, to return to Peterson’s argument about ‘healthy women’ wanting to be dominated, well, that is misogyny.
At any rate, Peterson was in Canada’s lesser-known and read national newspaper, The National Post, last week ranting about the American Psychological Association’s new guidelines for treating men and boys. This is the first time the APA has issued guidelines for treating men and, of course, you’re noting right now that psychology cut its teeth normalizing the behaviour of (white) men. But these guidelines are focused on the pratfalls of masculinity in the early 21st century and, to a degree, toxic masculinity.
Toxic masculinity is the form of masculinity that is vicious, violent, and generally dangerous for all, including its practitioners. I grew up in a milieu of toxic masculinity. It means alcoholism, drug addiction and violence directed towards those weaker. This is not what masculinity is supposed to be, it is not how men are supposed to act in society.
So back to Peterson’s fit in The National Post. Peterson argues that the APA’s guidelines are ‘an all-out assault on masculinity — or, to put it even more bluntly, on men.’ Indeed, men, gather your guns, we’re under attack!!!
He then goes on a rant denying scientific consensus about masculinity and gender roles. And then complains about what he sees as a war on traditional masculine roles and behaviours. Except, the thing is? No one really questions that part of masculinity. We question the assoholic behaviour of men and Peterson denies that being an asshole is damaging to men. The evidence, which he ignores, suggests otherwise, of course.
Next, he postulates about violence and notes that boys are indeed more likely to be violent than girls. He then does what he accuses the authors of the APA guidelines of doing: citing himself to prove his point. His point appears to be that violence is not a learned behaviour, but an innate one. But then he also notes that the boys who grow up to be violent come from fatherless families. He also claims that the experts have all agreed on this. I’m not a psychologist, but even a cursory glance at the literature suggests otherwise. But why would Peterson let facts get in the way of a good argument?
But all of this is just a precursor to another of his favourite flogging horses: the idea that there is a war on Western society, that Western civilization is apparently seen ‘as an oppressive patriarchy: unfairly male-dominated, violent, racist, sexist, homo-, Islamo- and trans-phobic — and as uniquely reprehensible in all those regards.’ Oh brother. Here we go again. (This, of course, is why he denies white privilege exists, which, of course, is easy for a white, heterosexual, tenured male university professor at one of Canada’s élite universities).
This is lazy scholarship and rhetoric. In fact, his rhetoric crosses the line into hysteria and paranoia. Bill C-16 was the ‘greatest attack’ on freedom of speech in Canadian history. The APA has declared war on men.
This allows Peterson to claim that anything that he doesn’t like about the modern world is because we’re cannibalistic in the West, we like to eat our own. It means that it is easy for him to blame the feminists and their fellow travellers. He’s the intellectual equivalent of those pseudo-Christians in the US who complain about the ‘war on Christmas’ each each year and attack Starbucks for its holiday cups.
Peterson long ago stopped being an academic or even and intellectual or a thinker. Instead, he is just an ideologue. And a rather boring and predictable one at that. But he’s made all the more dangerous because he is well-dressed and is a university professor and uses the instant credibility that brings to go on ideological rants, rather than engage in discussions about ideas. And ultimately, that’s because Peterson has no more ideas. And they are built on slippery and false logic.
This makes him boring and a bore.