Posts filed under ‘Philosophy’

Reflections On An Oil Spill

“Dear future generations:  Please accept our apologies.  We were rolling drunk on petroleum.”
— Kurt Vonnegut

Dear Kurt,

It is too late to apologize.

I am worried that the human race is not going extinct quickly enough to protect the Earth and its creatures from the devastation we are perpetrating on it.

As we mine the lands and oceans for the oil that we need to fuel our way of life, we are riven by conflicts that increase the likelihood that the weapons we have built, supposedly to protect ourselves, will be used against us.

As we mine the lands and oceans for the oil that we need to fuel our way of life, we experience climate change at an unprecedented rate because of our lust for more things: things that go faster, that shine brighter, that “enrich” the “quality” of our “life.”

As we mine the lands and oceans for the oil that we need to fuel our way of life, we experience earthquakes caused by tectonic plate shifts as Mother Earth readjusts her mantle in response to her polar ice caps becoming lighter.

As we mine the lands and oceans for the oil that we need to fuel our way of life, we strip people of the habitats that sustain their lives–lives already below or barely at the poverty line–and we drive those in the “undeveloped” world further into desolation and despair for the sole purpose of enhancing our already opulent lives in the “developed” one.

As we mine the lands and oceans for the oil that we need to fuel our way of life, we extinguish life at 100 to 1,000 times the naturally occurring rate of extinction ever, ever in the history of the planet.  Not the history of humankind.  The entire history of our 4.5 billion year old PLANET.  Current modelling suggests that up to 50 per cent of all animal life on Earth (arrogantly, we have not included human beings as part of the equation) will be extinct within 100 years.

We are in a sixth mass extinction, called the Holocene extinction.  We are entering a new Ice Age, and this one is caused not by asteroids hitting the Earth or a natural warm-up in the environment allowing bacteria to take over the oceans, but by us. By the one species with the most evolutionarily advanced brain–a brain capable of considering itself the top of the food chain.  By creatures who evolved to create technologies that are beyond our own comprehension to manage and that inevitably will, and clearly are, destroying everything on Earth including ourselves.

But not, in my opinion, fast enough.

We have developed nuclear power–so called “clean” energy–bringing power to people around the world and improving their productivity so they can make more stuff, and also make more people–requiring us to generate more power.  We have nowhere to store the radioactive waste, which we know will outlast our species by hundreds of thousands of years.

We have developed atomic weapons that we can’t and shouldn’t ever use, for they will more surely destroy us than save us from destruction regardless of who fires first.

We have manufactured space-age materials and technologies to communicate with each other over vast distances, but the gaps between cultures are as wide as ever and we don’t understand each other any better than we did in the Dark Ages–we’re only more aware of how many more of us there are and that they live on the opposite side of a round ball that circles the sun, rather than a flat disc at the centre of a finite Universe.

This latter knowledge–that we are but one species on one planet of an infinite number in an ever-expanding Universe–has really not given us the perspective it should have, because at the same time as we’ve developed the means of communication to bring us together as citizens of that planet, we’ve also developed religions and national borders and political systems still rooted in the philosophies of the Dark Ages that drive us apart.

The devices that we manufacture using the space-age materials we’ve invented now fill mile-high landfills in China and Latin America and an area the size of Texas swirling in the South Pacific because they cannot be re-absorbed by the Earth and we don’t know how to get rid of the core materials.  Although we sure do know how to get rid of the devices that we make of them–cell phones, computers, game consoles, radios, TVs–and have come to accept the term “planned obsolescence” without really thinking about the impact it has on our oceans, our land and our people.

We have developed genetically-modified foods that cause the very cancers that we’ve developed life-saving surgeries and treatments to eradicate.  Despite being able to farm healthy foods better and faster than ever before, and despite eating 2,700 calories a day–500 calories more than people ate just 40 years ago–the U.S. has the highest diabetes, cardiac and obesity rates of any nation on Earth because there’s more money to be made manufacturing and selling junk food than there is growing and distributing healthy food (genetically modified or not).

We spend kajillions of dollars a year sending probes into space and to distant planets looking for signs of life, while back on Earth millions of our own people die for lack of food, water, medicine and shelter that would cost a fraction of that.

Somewhere buried in the rock of the Earth’s pre-Cambrian shield in Norway is a cement-encased bunker that holds half a million seeds,  gathered over the past two years from every area of the world.  The best and most resilient grains that can restore plant life to Earth and provide sustenance for any survivors of environmental cataclysm, either natural or human-created.

My fervent hope is that, if it ever came to needing them, no one survives to plant them.  Because I think we’ve pretty much proven that human beings are a failed species, destined to obliterate not just themselves but pretty much every other living thing–animal,vegetable and mineral–that surrounds us on this beautiful and currently still blue-and-green rock hurtling through the Universe.

I am so very, very glad that I never had children. My line and legacy will die out with me. It’s the least I can offer you, Mother Earth.  I pray that as we wipe ourselves out through our own greed and ignorance–or rather, through being too smart for our own good–we leave you with enough of what you need to replenish yourself after we’re gone.

May 1, 2010 at 6:09 pm 1 comment

Sorry Seems To Be An Easy Word

"The Apology" by Mark Ryden

Eccentric Muse comes off the slopes and dives into some current events that have caught her attention.

This week, U.K. PM Gordon Brown issued an apology for the British government’s Child Migrants Programme, in which up to 150,000 children, aged three to about 14, were shipped off to populate the colonies, including Canada, in the early part of the 20th Century.  In reality, these children were no more than human chattel, embarrassing (many were the children of unwed mothers) and a drain on Mother England’s resources during a time of war.  They ended up as child labour on farms, in mines and in factories, certainly neglected, frequently sexually and physically abused.  My grandfather was, apparently, one of them:  a “Barnardo” orphan, named for the main child services agency that executed the policy.  He ended up in Northern Ontario somehow (the details are sketchy), meeting my grandmother and fathering three children by her, then leaving her in poverty to fend for herself.  That legacy of shame and pain runs through my family tree.  There’s a whole story here that deserves telling, but that’s not what I’m on about today:  of interest is the apology, because….

Also earlier this week,  Mayor Peter Kelly of Halifax, Nova Scotia apologized to the former residents of Africville, a black settlement in Halifax which was populated until 1970 by descendents of African slaves who made their way up the coast to freedom in Canada. (Incidentally, if you’re looking for an award-winning fictional novel based on one of these journeys, pick up Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negroes; in the US, “Someone Knows My Name”:  Hill creates the extraordinary character of Aminata Diallo, whose story is tragic, moving, inspiring and ultimately redemptive.)

The community of Africville was a robust and deeply-textured one, but also a disenfranchised one.  After years of thinly-veiled neglect and outright racist hostility, during which city services like garbage collection, water and policing were denied to residents, Africville was destroyed:  razed by city planners who claimed it was a slum (with, as is typical, a disingenuous lack of awareness of their having made it so).  The last of the families was moved out, the land confiscated, bulldozers were brought in and this “blight” in the north end of town was wiped clean.   In 2002, a memorial plaque was erected and the patch of land that used to be Africville was recognized as a national historic site.

This week (during Black History Month, natch), we have an apology from the City of Halifax for their poor decision-making of 40 years ago.  Not, I note, an apology for their behaviour leading up to the decision, which was equally or more abhorrent.  There are boundaries to the apology commensurate with the level of liability that the City of Halifax is willing to take on, I guess.  I note as well that the other terms of the settlement, $3 million and 2.5 acres of land, is being given to the Africville Geneology Society.  There is so far no individual compensation offered. (Nor is there any financial settlement accompanying the UK apology).

This week’s two public apologies, on different continents and for different reasons, resonate with the 2008 apology to Canada’s native peoples.  At the root, all are apologies for stripping people of their histories  and their cultures. Is a trend emerging?  And if so (or even if not), does the increasing frequency of public apologies by governments erode the quality or value of the individual apologies being issued?  Throw some cash at the problem, issue a public declaration of contrition, get some press and let’s move on.  The devil on my right shoulder views these apologies cynically, and also believes that they are the politically and legally expedient thing to do: simply a risk mitigation strategy.  The angel on my left says, let’s give the benefit of the doubt to the apologizers…let’s also acknowledge our own complicity in the bad acts, and now let’s hold them (and ourselves) accountable for doing the right thing, which includes ongoing engagement in a process of reconciliation as well as taking concrete steps to prevent the same or similar things from happening again.  Let’s yank progress and future good acts from the still-clenched jaw of culpability when it opens its mouth to say “I’m sorry.”

None of these apologies has been unanimously accepted by the groups to whom they were directed (of course).  Both the Africville and native residential school apologies were mandated terms of the settlement agreements that were reached.  As such, both must meet the higher level of scrutiny of the affected groups and indeed, the rest of us who–as citizens of the country, province or city whose government is trying to make amends–are not just interested observers but also in some sense, co-apologists.   We evaluate the apology’s motive as a key factor in determining its sincerity, and whether it should be accepted.  Whether, in fact, we should forgive–or be forgiven.

I mean, this is the way it goes with apologies:  you need to mean it when you say it.  You need to acknowledge your accountability for the pain and damage you have caused free from any hidden agenda to benefit from your admission of guilt other than, possibly, obtaining the relief of confession and anticipating with humble hope the balm of forgiveness.  Without those essential elements, the receivers and observers of the apology smell a rat.  Like we do at a 6-year-old coming off the naughty step, we squint our eyes at the offender and suspect–with good reason–that what is being apologized for might not be what the perpetrator actually feels sorry about.

The non-apology apology is now a brightly shining, burnished-with-use tool atop every defence lawyer’s and PR/media strategist’s workbench.  Its too-frequent public appearance is undermining those apologies that are sincere.  Two words:  Tiger Woods.

Some apologies don’t need to be public, and issuing them publicly is to betray a woeful lack of understanding of exactly what you’ve done to feel sorry for.  Regardless, all apologies must include a commitment to never, ever again do whatever it was that got you into the pickle you’re now in. If you don’t know what you’ve done, you can’t very well promise never to do it again, can you?

Beware the non-apology apology that sounds like this:  I’m sorry for what happened or I’m sorry that you feel that way. Neither means that I accept responsibility for the act that caused the happening or the pain.  Perhaps the apology is not mine to give, in which case the apology is sympathy.  But this leads to another nefarious non-apology apology:  those that are offered on others’ behalf.  The apologist in this case is truly sorry and often feels a genuine sense of remorse.  This remorse, however, is combined with a desire for reconciliation that is so great, they will bear others’ burdens for them.  Their shallow sympathy does no one any favours and, in fact, absolves the real perpetrator of any need to change their bad behaviour.  These are the meaningless and even harmful apologies of the co-dependent.

Finally, beware the serial apologizers:  people (or institutions, and yes — I’m looking at you Catholic Church) who’ve taken the maxim “confession is good for the soul” to its illogical extreme.  Absolution is a given, as long as the right pose is struck, the right words are said.  To forgive is divine, so if you can’t forgive me after my apology, it’s your fault.

Extending The Hands Of Friendship

"Extending The Hand Of Friendship" by Simone McLeod

In this vein, I was heartened by the furor that ensued when the City of Winnipeg first announced it was contemplating giving $2.5 million to a group called “Youth For Christ” to build a community centre in downtown Winnipeg.  And today, I am saddened to learn that after a heated six-hour debate, Winnipeg’s City Council has voted 10:4 in favour of the proposal.  The money will start flowing, and the aboriginal youth who populate the area will soon have a community centre with an indoor skateboarding park, a performance-art studio and a job-training centre.  How is this a bad thing, you ask?  Well, on the surface, of course it’s not.  Drawing a parallel to Africville, however, Youth For Christ is now providing access to services that this population should have had all along, and that the city, province and federal government should be funding as a matter of course in keeping with the spirit of apology and restitution made in 2008, not to mention that it’s just bloody well the right thing to do for those citizens whose disadvantage is a direct result of government-sponsored systemic discrimination. Oh, and by the way:  these services should be respectful of native language, culture and spirituality and not, by all that is holy, hinge on these kids accepting Jesus Christ as their Personal Saviour or even having to put up with someone’s conversion efforts.  I mean, for the love of….. [insert Deity of your choice here].

Oh sure, John Courtney, the Executive Director of Youth For Christ, has danced with Fred-Astairian verbal lightness of foot to counter the criticisms of those (apparently a minority? how can this be?) who find it just a bit hypocritical and a lot insulting to have Youth For Christ–a group whose sole, self-admitted raison d’être is to convert youth to Christianity–running this new community centre that will serve a majority Aboriginal population.  He’s not even trying to say that staff won’t proselytize–he’s admitted outright that they will, although he prefers to refer to these activities euphemistically–but he does say that, should any kid not wish to receive Christ as his or her Personal Saviour, well, they won’t be denied access to the services that the community centre offers.  Uhhh, oh yeah John?!? Just how will that work, exactly? And just exactly what don’t you understand about systemic discrimination and the appropriation of culture in general, and the impact it has had on this population specifically?

No, Youth For Christ is not the Catholic Church, and this community centre is not a residential school.  But the devil-and-deep-blue-sea choice Youth For Christ is (or will be) implicitly presenting to these native kids is fundamentally the same:  here’s comfort, shelter, food, a job, a life … and in return, you need only give up your own culture, your own traditions and history, to obtain it.  Shame on you, City of Winnipeg.  You ought to be sorry and it’s already too late to apologize.

February 26, 2010 at 5:37 pm 7 comments

Ramble Through The Looking Glass

Jessie Willcox Smith, Collage from Boys and Girls of Bookland, 1923

I’ve watched Homage To The Rabbits at least 10 times now, and it continues to delight me with its weirdness and the Alice-In-Wonderland feeling of being transported to an absurd dreamscape where things all of a sudden stop making sense. The piece was choreographed by Wade Robson, with music composed by Eric Serra, and danced by Cirque du Soleil for the Criss Angel® Believe show. Yes, the “lie” is boldfaced (!) in the middle of “believe”, which is quite clever but insufferably contrived coming from someone who has registered his name as a trademark. (Despite that, click on the link and you will be taken to a very nice homepage with some awesome flash animation on it.)

I am predisposed to dislike magicians and magic, both of which are simply deceptive as opposed to deliberately surreal. I distrust anyone who creates a fantasy they want to dupe me in to believing is real, while smugly refusing to reveal the artifice behind their craft. It’s the height of arrogance, and the opposite of artful. Whereas, offer me a fantasy that bends the laws of logic, physics and reality as we know it–create an intentional falsehood to amuse and delight me, and acknowledge it as such–and I am putty in your hands.

In other words, I look for honesty in the attempt to deceive, bringing to mind the Dylan quote from Absolutely Sweet Marie, “to live outside the law you must be honest.”

More about fantasy versus reality, and why Alice trumps Dorothy every time, after the jump.

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August 16, 2008 at 1:14 pm 5 comments

What’s Up On Hump Day!

Mid-Week Highlights!

It’s SYTYCD tonight–Top 6! Mark and Courtney are likely in trouble, but let’s see if there’s another upset this week. They will all need to be in top form tonight, and the choreography will make or break them. I hope we get Mandy Moore back. Can’t wait … I’ll try to get my review up quickly this week, but I’m in post-vacation mode at work, and so quite busy. So check in again here frequently (bookmark the site or subscribe to my feed–look up and to the right; it’s the orange box that says “posts”).

I’ve added a daily quotation to the page, and I’m keeping these on a static sub-page called “WoW” (Words of Wisdom) Archive. I’m pulling these from some of my own personal faves that I’ve been collecting for years. You will see lots of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, some snark, and many that are inspirational to me about art, culture and the flaws and foibles of human nature. Many of them have a double, or triple, meaning. I like things that can be interpreted multiple ways. Ambiguity. Random juxtaposition. These things, in and of themselves, inspire creativity and lateral thinking.

What I’m reading right now: Blindness, José Saramago. It’s a bit harrowing, but I trust the reviews I’ve read (and the fact that it won a Nobel Prize for Literature). It feels to me very much like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Possibly even bleaker. It has been made into a movie (another one that will be premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival) starring one of my favourite actresses, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Gael Garcia Bernal. I will be doing my darndest to get to see this one and The Secret Life of Bees, also premiering here in September. Ideally, I will have a review of the novel up sometime on the weekend.

And now, for something truly uplifting: After the jump.

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July 30, 2008 at 7:09 pm Leave a comment


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