The Economic Façade

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The economy and jobs is an obsessive priority in society and its politics, at least in places where war or imminent famine don’t put day-to-day survival ahead of debt and prosperity. The saturation of public concern for the status of the wage-earning population is intense, and the perception of immediate need blocks out broader perspective on just what “the economy” and “jobs” are.

Wages didn’t really come into existence until capitalism spawned industrialization, which in turn spawned more capitalism. The adapted type of capitalism (industrial as opposed to merchant) spawned investment capitalism and stock exchanges – where “productivity” could not produce anything but more money in the pockets of people who limit their universe to abstract financial achievement (and then, when they leave work for the day, the concrete material reward that seems hardly fair when viewed this way). This is quite literally a man-made world.

Let’s deconstruct that phrase before we continue. “Man-made” can mean many things:

  • economy removed from the home to further entrench a patriarchy in which the standard is for men to become “bread-winners” that take home the goods and thus deserve worship from their indebted families;
  • production coming as a result of human labour moreso than physical materials, as is the case in a service-based economy; or
  • an artificial reality based on socially constructed abstract concepts, judgments, and calculations.

These are all outcomes that resulted from industrial capitalism. When the means of physical production are both automated (in full or in part) and owned, the time and energy freed up, for the owners especially, can be used to construct social and economic foundations that serve the needs of those who have already benefited. The removal of work from home separates the economy from day-to-day life, with the former needing to be in good shape to support the latter.

Before factories came to be, the workplace was rarely separated from the residence. Families were an economic unit that were collectively involved in making a living. This is still the case on small family farms, which operate much like they did in previous economic eras with husband, wife, and children old enough to provide physical labour sharing chores to produce first subsistence, and second surplus to trade for other needs.

Other trades established in small towns often had the equipment on or attached to the premises of the home. Working areas were separated from living areas, but there was no commute. Families kept a tradition of the younger generation adopting their father’s trade. If apprentices from other families were taken in, they often moved in with the family they worked under, being practically adopted as home and work were almost entirely overlapping. The housework and family care, that still in those times was mostly the responsibility of women, was an integrated function to maintaining the needs of the family and the operations of the business.

“The economy” was clearly still an issue then that concerned everybody, because trade has always been a part of human society whenever there is any surplus or any division of labour. But with the focus being on “jobs”, i.e. external to the home, additional political issues extend to people (primarily women) whose “jobs” are within the home. They are not paid. They are not considered a function of the economy. They have become a privilege of the upper class, and having the option to “not work” is seen as a conspicuous luxury. “Real Housewives” reality series? I don’t know where the “real” comes in, because their lifestyles certainly aren’t based in a common reality. And equating homemaking to luxury degrades the work that so many people (again, primarily women) do. It’s not quantified in dollars, so it’s not considered when measuring the health of an economy. And yet, it is fundamental to the well-being of a society. That quantitative things beyond the ground-level functioning of the families society is comprised of are used as measurements; the artificial world of finance which only deals with representative currency that in itself holds no physical form, the measurement of human labour in hours spent in an external location, and the concept of “bringing home” the money earned keep the public’s focus wrapped up in an economic structure that’s only been around for a couple hundred years. If we need an economic revolution to close the gap between rich and poor, examining how the distribution of wealth got to where it is would be a good place to start.

Our Quaint Country

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I find, although my perspective may skew, that Canada gets ignored in international media disproportionately to the size of our population and economic influence in the world. Our reputation, and the international stereotype of us, paints us as nice and orderly people, who accept others and live in relative harmony and co-existence.

But then, we have our flaws.

Yesterday two severed limbs were mailed to the Ottawa headquarters of two major national political parties – the only two national parties to hold governments in our 145  year history. One of these actually got to the Conservative party headquarters; the panic it caused when an employee there happened to notice blood soaking through put the local post office on alert, so they intercepted another package addressed to the Liberal party. X-rays determined the former contained a foot; the latter contained a hand. A dismembered torso was found in Montreal around the same time – and it is all but certain they are remnants of the same person.

The wanted suspect? A porn star self-named Luka Rocco Magnotta. And it’s believed that he filmed this murder as well. Rumours also claim that he dated an infamous serial killer, Karla Homolka, who along with her then-husband Paul Bernardo raped and killed three women (including Karla’s sister). Magnotta denies the relationship ever existed, or that he ever met Homolka after she was controversially released from prison.

Other names of twisted Canadian killers like Clifford Olson, Robert Pickton, and recently Michael Rafferty and Terri-Lynne McClintic you can look up if you really want to be disturbed by what humans are capable of. These absolute monsters of inhumanity are not distinctly Canadian, or of any nationality for that matter. This sickness can pervade humanity everywhere. But it seems to me – perhaps to Canada’s benefit – the world seems less inclined to delve into reported crimes that happen here. It may help preserve our friendly reputation, but part of me wants to get our due recognition for sometimes being completely fucked up.

 

I have a job. Can you tell that I have a job? You can probably tell that I have a job.

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To paraphrase John Lennon, life is what happens when you’re waiting for other people to make their own motherfucking plans.

Perhaps I’m the one going about this wrong, and I should be jumping in to do everything for everyone else – but I’m not concerned with impressing people with an almost nauseating work ethic. Maybe I’m just as guilty in inactivity by waiting on others rather than taking liberty in doing things as I say they should be. I’m disconnected from the centre of the matter – is it wrong for me to leave the ball in someone else’s court?

A valuable skill I’m trying to develop is removing any blame when anything that went wrong is genuinely not on my part. It’s the other side of the coin of shouting accusations at others when something goes wrong. Want to see a cool trick and have the coin land on its side? Focus strictly on the problem’s solution rather than its cause.

DIY, Surgery Edition

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I do more things to my body within my own home under no supervision than is probably healthy.

I wonder when it’s going to bite back.

A few years ago, I dropped a dish and it shattered on the kitchen floor. I swept it up and threw it out and that was that…until two weeks later when one small piece that hid itself somewhere under a cabinet door reappeared in a rare moment in which I was barefoot*. Having moved my toes just the wrong way, the shard lodged itself in the ball of my foot and disappeared under a thick layer of skin. And I had to get it out.

It isn’t really that disturbing or even unhygienic of a story. Since I walk so goddamn much it’s no surprise that my feet are thickly callused, and through half-assed teenaged rebellion I became quite comfortable sticking sharp things into thick skin. I dipped the tip of a needle and a pair of tweezers in some hydrogen peroxide and ripped through the bloodless chunk of flesh until the last remaining memory of a plate was removed.

And there are the inadvertant medical procedures. I have – or had, as the story is to tell – a small mole under my chin that had a short but thick dark hair coming out of it. Nobody would notice except for me, of course, but I still kept plucking that hair out despite rumours that it’s a terrible idea to pluck from a mole. Sometimes being sloppy with tweezers, a few nicks have come with the process over the years, but they have scabbed and healed like all of the other cuts and scrapes I’ve encountered through my own luck. And now the mole is gone. Since I didn’t do this intentionally, I can’t coach you through self-performed mole removal, so save yourself from asking.

Now I’m curious about another at-home dermatological task. I’ve had a skin tag on the back of my neck since probably my third trimester in the womb. It’s only noticeable to me and those who have a fixated hatred of skin tags. It doesn’t hurt, but thinking of how it could hurt if it encountered a sharp object brings out the occasional wince. There are, apparently, kits you can get at the drug store to do this. But unlike my ceramidectomy on this I’m reluctant.

I’ve seen worse examples of amateur surgery before. In my five years of working at a photo lab one of the brightest shining memories is, with some of the hilarious context removed for simplicity’s sake, a roll of film being developed featuring photos of an at-home toe amputation. I’ve cut off parts of my toes before (calluses of course, ingrown toenails and draining blisters) but this was a full big toe. It wasn’t for sport – in the before pictures this podiatric digit was not of a natural human colour – but this man and his friends sure jumped on the opportunity to make the best out of a gangrenous situation.

I will never go so far as to explicitly recommend cutting into your own body for whatever purpose. Whatever you do, try to stay safe. Perform the procedure slowly. Disinfect instruments first. (If you don’t have any hydrogen peroxide, clear liquors may do.) And if you’re doing this with friends, one of whom has a camera, make sure the photos are developed at a closed off lab, with staff who will be professionally discreet in handling them – at least, that is, to your face.

 

* This may be misleading given my habit of shoelessness, but I really do enjoy socks. They are much more comfortable on my feet than they are on the hands of men who think they’re funny.

Blaming a Lack of Solution, Bike Edition

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This morning as I walked to work, alongside a busy road with backed up traffic driving in the other direction, I witnessed an accident between a cyclist and a truck. The cyclist was coming towards me; I stepped to the right well in advance to give her room to pass as I always do. But immediately after that, when I took a sip of coffee and my eyes weren’t focused directly forward for a split second, with barely a noise the bike slammed into a truck. The truck was turning from this major street into a driveway of sorts, a street that only gets you to the door or parkade of a high rise apartment building. There are no lights or stop signs; it’s just a brief gap in the sidewalk that cars can drive through to get to a very specific destination.

The beige truck was turning into that right as the cyclist was to cross it. Somebody clearly bought the naming rights to that non-street because, while directly across is known as Wardlaw Avenue this entry is called Lagopoulous Way, so I gave both side street names and the main road when I called 911 for an ambulance. It wasn’t a hit-and-run. The driver stuck around, got his truck out of the way, made sure the struck cyclist made it into the ambulance okay. “Struck” cyclist is a bit of misnomer; she rode into the side of the truck, approaching that driveway without slowing down. Or so the driver’s story goes – supported by how terribly bent was the bike’s front wheel. I gauged the cyclist’s speed before the collision, so the story checks out for me. But the guilt and concern brought out some ramblings from the driver and also some passersby that didn’t seem appropriate for the occasion.

Is it safer to ride a bicycle on the road or the sidewalk? The answer: no. The driver thinks it was because the cyclist was on the sidewalk that the hit happened, but how would it have been different if the cyclist were on the road? The truck’s turn into the driveway must’ve been swift without enough checking if the cyclist didn’t notice it and the driver didn’t notice the bike. It’s a lose-lose situation for cyclists, and motorists don’t win either. Yesterday a cyclist was killed by getting struck by a car and then run over by semi with a driver completely unaware. The lack of support of cyclists and other commuters not in a car intimidates people from adopting this practice, which thins out the movement, withering away into obscurity with little public support.

So don’t give an opinion if it’s right or wrong to bike on the sidewalk. It’s not a black and white problem and there is certainly not a black and white solution, because North American cities were designed for a utopian future where every human being would get around in their own car, and we need to break apart that sentiment and start over again with a new concept of roads and day-to-day movement.

As far as I know, the cyclist’s right arm was pretty much shattered in the fall – the paramedics were bandaging it up on scene and she screamed in pain when they had to move her into a proper lying position on the stretcher. She was wearing a helmet that may have saved her life. The crash has already happened, so there’s little point in speculating what could’ve prevented this particular incident in such specific circumstances and trying to subtly lay blame. Let’s look deeper into the problem.

The Royal Obsolete

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Charles and Camilla, the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall respectively (and I’m kind of ashamed to know that), are travelling across Canada right now on a royal visit. This is because, for some reason, we’re still part of the British monarchy. We have Queen Elizabeth II on our coins and $20 bills. She is, technically speaking, our head of state. Prince Charles and his mistress-turned-missus are visiting for the typical reason of PR, so citizens will swoon over them and start loving them again. After all, Charles is next in line to the throne – at some point, depending on how long Liz lives, he will be our king.

Queen Elizabeth is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee this year, meaning she has been in the throne for 60 years, which rivals the longest monarchs as far as my half-assed, largely disinterested knowledge goes. Prince Charles is a few years older than the reign of his mother, meaning he is nearing retirement age. And yet his destined career is still to come. Given his mother’s longevity and that his father, Prince Phillip Duke of Edinburgh, is in his 90s, he may still get to serve a couple decades of his own. By that point the next in line, Prince William Duke of Cambridge or something like that, will be past the peak of his life expectancy. Simply put, without major disasters Queen Elizabeth may be the last monarch to start her reign before several uncomfortable annual screenings are recommended by the NHS.

In plays and movies about kings and queens, the Divine Right is passed on through dramatic events, upon premature deaths through war or sudden illness, and passed onto an heir unprepared to take on the responsibilities. Reality, or at least modern reality, doesn’t produce such intense theatrics, and so Charlie has been anxiously awaiting his turn and preparing for it his entire life. The death of the Queen will not likely shake the unprepared world. And since the monarchy’s continued existence is largely ornamental, what’s the point in maintaining such a bore?

And even further – who wants to see Charles’s face on our currency? I’d rather pay in currency bearing an ugly face from my own country…like Diefenbaker.

Shelter of Less Shelter

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It’s Sunday night, at a time when I would normally be crawling into bed. Yet I sit here awake – it’s a long weekend, you see, and apparently that applies to more than just me.

I live “downtown”, which to different people carries different connotations that range from glamourous to dangerous. I assure you I live neither type of lifestyle. It’s safe, but there’s no free parking. The people who live around me don’t all share a similar level of means, but I accept that and embrace what they add to the community, because they’re less likely to be welcomed as such elsewhere in the outward expansion of -urbs.

It would be correct to assume that my downtown community puts me in a multi-unit complex rather than a single detached home. My building is impressively quiet – far more so than other ones I’ve lived in – and on a day-to-day basis (or night-to-night in this case) there is little noise, as is common courtesy for anyone having to share some element of space with strangers.

The noise comes out on weekends, occasionally, but as I’ve firmly planted my working life in a Monday to Friday groove that doesn’t concern me anymore. I make my own noise, I’m sure (although I’m pretty boring and my friends don’t like coming over here [see “Urban Inconvenience” linked above] so it may rarely be noticed). And since it’s a long weekend, tonight too there are people having a good time audibly from my window facing the back alley. People are leaving from and arriving at neighbouring apartments with friends engaged in conversation, and I can hear them out in the halls for the brief period of transition. It’s fine, it’s reasonable, and it doesn’t affect me or my sleep. But that I live in a central, dare one say “inner city”, community, the conclusion some people may come to is that my area is becoming unsafe.

Months ago the person living across the hall from me moved out, and new people moved in. I haven’t met the new people (or maybe just person, I don’t know how many technically live there), but she (or he, or they) often has people over. The resident(s) and frequent guests also happen to be primarily native, and there are cultural differences carried along with that. The neighbour has people over more often than I do, perhaps because it was determined that she has the best place to convene and perhaps because the social pattern within her group is to meet up frequently. They listen to hip hop and the hallway gets whiffs of weed on weekends both short and long. Does this affect my perception of my neighbourhood? Not at all. Does it affect others’? Probably. Each factor of noise + smell + race + location adds to the level of discomfort some people may have, in spite of how irrational it is to jump to conclusions of harm.

And I think of that likely discrimination tonight because it’s a Sunday night, when I would expect the socializing noise to be more subdued. I don’t have to wake up early tomorrow, so I am not concerned about it. I live here, so I know when things are normal and harmless. But I was also shaped into the person I am today living somewhere other than here. So I know when things would not sell well to the suburban middle class mindset. I know what I would be thinking and feeling if I were not fueled as a youth by spite, and didn’t make conscious choices to move my life downtown in various phases. I’m a sociologist. I know what’s driven people away from the residential downtown core. And when that comes to light on long weekends when the change from routine creates that awareness, I’m reminded of where that uneasiness comes from and how glad to be that I’ve chosen to drop it.