Disenfranchised

August 8th, 2009
Instructions

Instructions

“Our dreams don’t fit on your ballots” is a common rallying cry amongst anarchists, anti-globalisation activists, and a whole slew of other lefty-type “radicals.”  Despite its provenance, I’m starting to think that it applies readily to just about anybody.

As a white male aged 18-36, I suppose I should feel almost as empowered as the people who actually hold the reigns: the old white boomers.  But I don’t, not in the least bit.  In what has been a steady slide since I came of age to vote, I have felt less and less involved in Canadian politics.  The last year has been especially harsh.  To say the least, the system is broken.

Though we have more than two functional federal parties with in this country, there are only two that stand a chance at holding power – and I despise both of them.  Despite myself, I voted for the Federal Liberals in the most recent election, because Stéphane Dion’s Green Shift represented the best chance Canada had at getting any sort of climate change policy to speak of.  (More on this in another post, perhaps, but suffice to say – I have basically become a single-issue voter.  Climate change is the single most important challenge facing the whole of humanity right now.  If we don’t act very strongly, and very soon, then we are all well-and-truly Fucked.  Period.)

As everyone in Canada knows, the “Green Shaft” (sometimes I hate puns) and its sadly uncharismatic but intelligent architect failed in the polls, sending a bleak wave through Canadian politics.  The defeat of Dion’s heavily environmental policy has left all major parties afraid of environmentalism, bolstering Canada’s willing participation in the Global Doom.

This shockwave also passed through provincial politics, an area in which some (very) small inroads have been made for environmentalism and climate policy.  The result is that BC’s Provincial NDP party (who correlate more closely to the Federal Liberals) based their major platform plank on an “Axe the Tax” policy.  This referred to a miniscule carbon tax put into place last year by the Provincial Liberals (who correlate more closely to the Federal Conservatives… the provincial Conservatives correlate most closely with whichever Federal party is the most batshit insane) and could only be described as political pandering at its worst.  This is especially noteworthy since the NDP did actually have a Carbon policy of their own — but they refused to even list it on the bulleted policy list on their website.  After writing a letter telling the NDP why I would not be voting for them, I wound up voting Green.  (I almost voted for the Liberals in a symbolic single-issue gesture, but I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself.)

The fact is, of course, that it doesn’t matter one lick who I voted for.  The NDP were safe in my riding, and won easily.  The main reason I bothered to vote at all in the provincial election was because of the referendum on a proposed voting system called Single-Transferrable Vote.  A form of proportional representation, this system would have returned a semblance of franchise to disaffected extremists such as myself.  I was hopeful that the system would win, given that it got 58% of the vote the last time a referendum was held (it needed 60% to pass).  Instead, STV faced a massive scare campaign organized by various vested interests (BC Liberals and BC NDPs included) since STV would have done away with “safe” seats, and would have ensured that representatives would actually have to listen to their constituents or risk getting turfed.  As I whined the next day, BC was offered democracy and turned it down.

The only thing that has left me with a glimmer of hope is that Vancouver’s Municipal election in 2008 saw almost entirely “progressive” representatives get elected.  The lion’s share went to Vision Vancouver, a liberal/centrist type party.  Most of the rest went to COPE and the Municipal Greens.  The ruling right-wing NPA was left with a single member on the city council.  Good riddance.

What have been the results of this progressive turn in Vancouver?  Well, the Burrard Street Bridge now has a dedicated bicycle lane, for one thing.  That’s nice.  Unfortunately I can’t find a reference at the moment, but sometime over the past couple months I read that Vancouver’s Mayor requested that the Provincial Housing Minister put new rent control laws into place, in order to prevent “renovictions” (kicking tenants out for renovations, and then raising the rent to unaffordable levels) and other kinds of rent increases in the lead up to the Olympics.  The result?  The Housing Minister refused, claiming that rent-control laws would be “unfair” to landlords.  Puke.  (If anyone has a reference or can correct any mistakes I might have just made, please comment.)

If the Mayor of Vancouver can’t affect change on something as simple and common sense as rent control, what hope has a lowly animator?  Even our political figures are disenfranched.  The system is broken, and since nobody in this country (except for a small group of persistent protestors to whom I occasionally add my voice) is willing to make any noise about it, all I can really do is wait for the next political cycle and hope people smarten up a little.

I love my country.

PS. Sorry for the many months of silence.  It’s been a hectic summer.  Hopefully this rambly mess represents a return to a semblance of consistent posting.

A Suitable Punishment

March 23rd, 2009
Moonscape

Moonscape

How do you punish a person who feels no remorse?  Along the same lines, what is a suitable punishment for those who have driven the world to financial ruin?  What retribution awaits the architects of our disaster?

Abject poverty.

The rest of their lives spent in squalor, stewing weevil-infested maize meal on a rudimentary charcoal cooker, sleeping under a tattered mosquito net on a mat covering a dirt floor, sparingly using toxic bug spray to keep the cockroaches out.  Ideally there would be some poetic justice in the choice of under-developed country in which they’d be deposited – a nation riven by resource wars fueled by first-world demand that they helped drive, or perhaps a state crippled by arbitrary debts and structural-adjustment loans (though perhaps that is a net cast too wide for any satisfying irony).

What distinguishes this punishment from simple revenge is that its “victims” would have as much freedom as most members of the society in which they find themselves.  In some cases their freedom would be greater: if they caught malaria, diarrhea, or some other disease, they would be given medicine without charge.  In other cases, it would be less.  Specifically, they would not be allowed any income greater than the what the majority of that country’s extreme poor take in: $1-2 a day – though this would be provided for them if they could not find work.

What’s more, their income would rise with that of the poorest billion.  Not that they would have any say in the matter (the poor never do – and criminals have even less), but if a decent standard of living became universal, it would be not be denied to the indicted.

Is this unfair?  Is it too lenient?

(A similar question is asked in the Propagandhi song “Iteration” – scroll to the bottom at the link for the lyrics.  I think they do a better job of answering it than I did here.)

Passive Income is Criminal

March 6th, 2009
What Might Have Been A Knife Fight

What Might Have Been A Knife Fight

[This can be seen as an extension of my post from last week.]

Some months ago, a friend of mine went to one of those seminars about becoming and remaining wealthy.  Not exactly a “get rich quick” seminar – his goal was mostly to learn how to manage his money better.

One of the key points of this seminar was that in order to become wealthy, your “passive” income should equal and eventually surpass your “active” income.  Your goal is to make more money in your sleep (from stocks, real estate, what-have-you) than you would by working your day job.

In short, the best way to become wealthy is to never do any work yourself.  When the money you make through the labour of others surpasses the money you make on your own, you’re in the clear.

Alarm bells!  This is monstrous.

That it is accepted by many (most?) is bad enough, that it can be held up as one of the shining achievements of capitalism is despicable.  The moment our lifestyle is provided solely by others’ work is the moment exploitation begins.*  I say this, though I have a small assortment of blue chip stocks, some money in mutual funds, and money in the bank (which plays the stock market with my money, whether I want it to or not).  I’m guilty, too.

This is the crux of the problem: in order to have any sense of security (assured food and shelter) in this wretched system, one must participate in it.  It’s possible to live off the grid, but it is also isolating,  extremely work intensive, and does little to alter the grander structures.

Of course, in the wake up the ongoing financial crisis, this post may become largely irrelevant.  People still make money from rent, which is essentially charging money for something they don’t use.  There’s still money in stocks (somehow), which is speculating on the speculation that a company will continue to do well, without actually putting any funds into the company itself – all the while making money from the efforts of the people working at said company.   However, the continuing crash of real estate and the stock markets may render the notion of “passive income” defunct for all but the richest elite.  Whether all the inevitable suffering will result in positive change remains to be seen.  All we can do is keep working at it ourselves, generating our own bright futures.

* I should qualify this statement a little.  Since I am at my heart a collectivist, I definitely believe that a kind of interdependence within a community is not only acceptable, but important.  The idea of a commons (any publicly held land, good, service – see also this Wikipedia link page) is key to any well-functioning society.  The problem with passive income is that it is purely extractive – it contributes nothing to any community, save what little is siphoned off by taxes.

Since when is Capitalism a Good Thing?

February 27th, 2009
Prostitutes

Prostitutes

Despite the fact that capitalism represents the dominant ideology, I’m always caught by surprise whenever I hear someone talking about capitalism as if it’s good.  I can’t explain it.  I look around myself and can’t help but scowl inwardly whenever I allow myself to see the results of this tragic establishment.  And yet, people everywhere see the same things and think “isn’t it wonderful?”

It’s a brilliant fallacy that says that we in the developed world have benefited because of capitalism.  In addition to taking as a given that the world’s structure as it exists now is inevitable and unstoppable, it assumes that our standard of living would invariably be worse without the blessing of a greed-driven society.  How does that follow?  In North America, our resources were effectively boundless (many still are), our seasons are agreeable to farming, and there’s nothing but space in which to spread.

Could not our standard of living (if not our destructive lifestyle) be maintained without exploiting the poverty of the developing world?  Must we ship our garbage (toxic and eternal) to China or Nigeria?  Do we need to send our dying ships (equally toxic) to India or Bangladesh to be broken down for scrap, killing and injuring many workers in the process?  Is any of this necessary?  And if it is, how can anyone possibly stand behind a lifestyle that is sustained by it?

How can someone wear a piece of clothing made by a woman who may as well have been chained to her sewing machine, possibly facing sexual harrassment or assault, forbidden from even chatting with her coworkers – and say that our system is a good thing?  Especially when said clothing represents the bulk of what we can buy?  How can anyone justify an establishment that would see that same worker labouring for weeks – just to be able to afford one of the hundreds of garments she made during that same time?

It’s absurd.

What’s more, this fantastic ideology has left us with a scorched planet – the true costs of its shiny products hidden (“mystified,” to speak theor-ese) by the endlessly replenishing supply on our supermarket shelves.  But for a few specialty brands, we have no idea where our products come from, how they got to us, or who made them.  We don’t know whether the cotton in our clothes came from a farm with soil rapidly depleted of nutrients for the sake of maintaining the cash crop.  We don’t know whether the coltan in our cellphones came from the Congo, fueling its civil war.  We don’t know how much greenhouse gas was generated as our products were built and shipped to us (though we are starting to know the catastrophic effects those greenhouse gases are having on our climate).

Can anyone explain to me how this is a good thing?  How a destroyed world and a suffering population is worth a new TV or a cool jacket?  After the Second Great Depression began last year, how is there anyone left who thinks this system is worth saving?