Society, Sociopaths, and Devaluing Values

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Yesterday I took a different route home from work to pick up some groceries, and because of that different route I came across a few groups of people carrying bright signs. There was a rally at a park down the street from where I live, and these people were heading there with strong messages and photographs of young women. These were young women they knew and loved, and the messages on the signs were about human dignity.

I stopped to thank a couple of them for speaking out on such an important issue – fundamental to human rights and equality – that gets ignored out of shame or ignorance or denial of the source of a number of serious problems faced by a specific population. People speaking out against these violations demonstrate the confidence and assertiveness that provide examples for generations to come, and these voices are much needed by society as a whole.

An arrest was made recently, charging a man with the murder of three young women over the past year. All three were aboriginal – I knew that before seeing their photographs or without reading a news source that mentioned that fact, for two reasons: a) their last names were either anglicized terms of common nomenclature for First Nations culture, or names widely spread in First Nations families through attempts at cultural assimilation; and b) they were three young women murdered by the same man. That’s what’s especially sad. This isn’t an isolated incidence of a sick and twisted man with a strange fixation on a certain type of victim. This is a calculated selection of victims based on unspoken hierarchies that apply different worth to different people.

It’s sad – very sad, and maddening – but true. Many people of “mainstream” Canada prefer to ignore the aboriginal populations inherent to this land’s history aside from their unique traditional dress and cultural ceremonies that look pretty and impress the rest of the world. But the people themselves in the present day, the most visible form is that of the impoverished, the mentally and physically ill, the gang members, and those with accents that tell you they probably grew up on a reserve and came to the city to cause trouble. People who work downtown either ignore them or complain about them. The social problems facing them aren’t always turned to with a blind eye, but the by-your-own-bootstraps attitude breeds resentment from mainstream Canadians who have jobs and think that’s the solution and it’s easy and anyone who doesn’t get a job is the cause of their own woes. These attitudes towards the plight of native peoples projects the blame onto them for their own problems, and so if something bad happens there is little sympathy.

Sociopaths can pick up on this better than almost anyone outside of activism or academic discipline in mainstream society. They know that missing aboriginal people will only be worried about from their families who, from this systemic oppression that came in so many forms over the past few hundred years, are of more limited means on average compared to white families. They know that young women, through the institution of sexism, seek attention and validation through their sexuality (hence rape being blamed on what the victim was wearing), and marginalized young women may see that as their primary opportunity to be accepted into society at large. Their self esteem is not as high because of all of this, and they are easily lured into threatening situations. This is why sociopaths hunt down young aboriginal women. This is why three of them, at least, have been abducted and probably raped before being murdered by one man.

This is why there have been so many missing or raped and murdered young aboriginal women from the past several decades. This is why, walking down Portage Avenue approaching an underpass for cars and pedestrians to be uninterrupted by trains, there is a mural of several young aboriginal women who went missing – very beautiful young women, with beside their faces the age at which they went missing and/or were found dead. There isn’t enough room to add these three women and probably many more who have faced a similar tragic demise since the mural was painted. And the mural hasn’t done enough to make the populace care about this issue as much as they would for any other type of person. Well, I would give most people the benefit of the doubt that they care, and know how terrible it is for any human being. But the sense of responsibility for this problem, institutional responsibility that from many directions has brewed this sour and poisonous atrocity, is lost on most people.

And so we will undoubtedly find more dead bodies like those of Carolyn Sinclair and Lorna Blacksmith. We will come across the bodies of missing women like Tanya Nepinak, before or after their abductor and murderer are caught. There are many more existing cases of such missing women. And adding further to the extreme level of grief their families and communities are already facing, the closure may never come. Closure, and healing from it, is important to First Nations cultures. It’s an additional stab in the hearts of communities that are struggling enough as it is.

The Future from Thousands of Years in the Past

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Cyborgs. They a dream of the future – such a dream of the future, in fact, that the spell check didn’t have “cyborg” in its lexicon.

But they’re not a dream of the future. The word was coined in 1960 by Manfred Clynes as a combination of cybernetics and organism, but the concept of using technology to augment human capabilities has been going on faaaaaar longer than the past 50 years.

The definition that I learned from the ivory-tower experts who get paid six-figures to stand and talk for an hour here and there is that a cyborg is a person who has a piece of technology integrated into their physical self to enhance or substitute a function. “Integrated” is a term up for debate. Some say the first cyborgs were our ancestors who adopted clothing to enhance the bodily function of preserving heat. Others use later examples like shoes or eye glasses or watches or wheelchairs or pirates with hook hands and peg legs.

I consider myself a cyborg because I wear contact lenses. They are integrated into my body because they are placed between the eyeball and the eyelid. They enhance my vision by adjusting my sight to correct myopia. They can be removed, certainly, but so can mechanical objects attached to human beings as fantasized in dystopian sci-fi. They are removed to be cleaned, to be maintained, to be fixed, or even to be replaced. Some people take their contacts out at the end of the day and put them back on in the morning. Doing the same with a more technologically complex bodily addition doesn’t exclude it from the definition. I, personally, use the type of contact lens that I can leave in overnight for a period of time. The maintenance is a par for the course. It’s parallel to how we treat our natural bodies, with bathing and healing and shedding skin.

Engineers and scientists of a great number may dream of advancing cybernetics to a higher level. It’s a separate discipline from artificial intelligence, although that may be applied as a cybernetic augmentation to a damaged brain. But in the field of medicine, cyborgs are of great value to improving the health of millions of people around the world – prosthetics that go beyond the ornamental purpose of at first glance hiding a body part gone missing. Terry Fox was a cyborg as he set forth to run from one coast of Canada to the other with the piece of technology that replaced the natural leg he lost to cancer. Prosthetic legs have advanced to the point that paralympic sprinters are seen as having an unfair advantage over those with their original body parts. Hearing aids are a nearly permanent fixture to the ears of those who need them. Pacemakers augment the most basic function of staying alive. Catheters substitute for a bodily function that a person may not be able to perform on their own.

And it’s a continuing field of advancement, as research aims towards higher goals of reinstating nerve function on those with paralysis or artificial hands that lack, in the non-electronic sense, digital function. Electronic implants are showing progress towards the goal of giving back sight to the blind. Cyborgs are now. They don’t need to use electronics or programmed micro-computers to enhance human functions or make up for those lost. Since our ancestors found that the coats of the animals they hunted for food can serve them functions of warmth and camouflage, cyborgs have existed throughout the population. It’s not a future or even modern invention. Our species has been called Homo Sapien for a much longer time.

The Renaissance of Cognitive Dissonance

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That conservative-leaning thinkers, politician, and pundits of first-world countries think that hard work will make you rich and thus society and the economy is a meritocracy is bullshit. Nobody in developed countries, not to mention the rest of the world, gets to choose their circumstances of birth. That equality under the law (which still doesn’t exist, but that’s a separate rant) in “free” countries and “democracies” is seen as giving everyone an opportunity to be the upper class makes no logical sense, and it’s a myth that’s spread to perpetuate class inequalities. The ongoing global financial crisis is enlightening more people to this uneven distribution of wealth, but ineffective or just plain impossible solutions are being shouted out by various sources and many people are led the wrong way.

The Tea Party’s notion that it’s the size of government that’s making people poor is inaccurate to say the least. There are merits to libertarianism but they are not related to the distribution of wealth – that claim is perhaps parallel to
claiming that objectivism reduces crime. The Tea Party candidates who were elected in the United States’ 2010 midterm elections were voted for by the uneducated who may or may not have been loud, who were persuaded by the loud who may or may not have been uneducated. In either case, people were manipulated into believing there’s an ideology there, some principles fundamental to the basis of their country. There’s not. When town hall meetings are interrupted by furious citizens demanding the government take its hands off their Medicare, the basis of this movement is clearly cognitive dissonance. When filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi went to Mississippi for a segment of her Real Time with Bill Maher series of state-to-state talks with regular citizens, one white Mississippi stereotype talked about the government being too big, but when asked why he lives on welfare and food stamps he said he felt he was entitled to do so. Cognitive. Dissonance.

The wealthy love this movement because it has people who are underpaid if not poor supporting deregulation that removes checks and balances of a free country’s economy. As idealistic as the Founding Fathers of their country were in writing the constitution, that they owned slaves at the time proves that the creation of the United States of America was based on cognitive dissonance. In that sense I suppose these movements are following in those footsteps – but the shoe prints were first set in bullshit, and I think the successive generations have worked hard to steer around those to get to the same goal.

In Canada, with a Conservative government (see past two posts) doing all it can to fuck up our gorgeous natural environment, the difference between rich and poor is not only being widened in wealth but in the freedom to breathe air and drink water. Conservatives and conservationists are close together in the dictionary but couldn’t be further apart in ideology. And that in the last election the Canadian people thought they would do us enough good to vote them in as a majority demonstrates either a lack of care for what makes our country important in the world, or a lack of knowledge of what political activity this would brew.

In the last UK election they voted in a (minority, which for some reason was a shock to them even though that was Canada for three of the past four elections) Conservative government amidst the Euro Zone crisis. Since the UK hasn’t given up their pound in favour of the euro, the economic future of a continent holding more developed countries than any other doesn’t depend on them so strongly, but the crisis that is happening and the elections that need to go on from governments in such a crisis being deposed (some of them for additional reasons, like former Italian PM Berlusconi being a chauvinistic nymphomaniac). The first recent election in Greece was so divided that the parties furthest from each other on the abstract concept of “the political spectrum” were the most voted for, and couldn’t possibly form a government between them. In the next election, moderates won. And as glad as I am that Greek fascists didn’t get voted in (because foreigners are kind of necessary to keep the Greek economy going), I don’t trust moderates to make any decisions outside conventional options. Irresponsible spending has placed a burden on the average Greek citizen in present and future. Austerity would revoke any support for the average Greek citizen in present and future. Either one doesn’t affect the wealthy nearly as much as it affects the middle class and the poor. The cognitive dissonance of Greeks doesn’t seem to be so much supporting a political ideology against their best interests, but thinking that setting things on fire will improve their future.

This went in an entirely different direction than what I originally planned. But it provides useful background information to why even the free world is so unjust, and why it isn’t getting any better for the common person.

Lead In to a Revolution Part II

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Last Episode, on Khristopia: The Conservative government of Canada is fucking us and the world over though an abuse of power.

The issue that is held close to the heart of the people of my city and province is funding fresh water research. Manitoba is an abundance of lakes. It used to entirely be a lake, and the tens of thousands of today’s are the grandchildren of Lake Agassiz. Fresh water is absolutely essential to life, and it’s being ruined with no thought for the future. Researching fresh water is key to preserving it, and also coming across an abundance of new species of plants and animals that may not only enrich the minds of society through scientific knowledge, but also provide new sources of natural treatments for diseases not yet conquered.

Over the weekend at a family party, I was talking to relatives about outrage over this particular issue in the Conservative omnibus bill. A cousin, who was out in the field at both the time of this party and the time of the passing of the bill, is a graduate student in fresh water biology and there are of course major implications for his future in this drastic move. Another friend of mine just finished her bachelor’s degree in this field and now worries about her future job prospects. This is undoubtedly an incredibly important field: the entire world depends on fresh water to drink, and it is a minimal portion of the water on this earth overall. It faces severe threats of pollution and shrinking lakes and rivers amid accelerating climate change. Canada is one of if not the leading sources of fresh water in the world. Research of it is fundamental to the survival of the growing human population.

So at a party this past weekend, talking to relatives about this matter, they were all outraged at this issue and intensely dissatisfied with the government. These weren’t young radicals of my generation either – they were all 60 and over, defying the statement commonly (mis)attributed to Winston Churchill that anybody not liberal at 20 is a cynic and anyone at 60 is naïve. (That in itself is a paraphrasing, and in many versions the elder age is put at 40. These days 40 year olds still think they’re young, though, so it needs to be updated to accommodate extended life expectancy and Gen X’s refusal to give up their youth. But I digress.) Not only that, all three of the relatives went to law school, and two of them have been practising law for, at this point, the majority of their lifetimes. They are educated; they are experienced; they are enraged. And apparently, after a couple drinks and impassioned conversation, they expect me to run for office and start a revolution. That may come in time, but I can’t run for the NDP in my own constituency because the Biggest Badass on Parliament Hill is already representing us. If I move back to my community of upbringing, maybe I can depose the deadbeat MP that doesn’t give a fuck about her citizens or her country. Her face on all the bus benches she’s paid for advertising are all likely to be vandalized, if they haven’t been already.

This government is the first Conservative majority (i.e. the first time they had to get away with this bullshit) after two elections that kept them as a leading party, but with less than half of the seats. That was a big mistake by Canadian voters (or a scam by the Conservative party, whatever) that I don’t think will ever be made again as long as Stephen Harper is the leader. Unfortunately we have to wait until 2015. Canadians may need to be pushed into drastic action to make that change sooner.

Lead In to a Revolution Part I

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There was a federal election last year in Canada and it was, to say the least, bittersweet. Being, as I described it in my early 20s when I thought I was witty, a “right-handed leftie” I was incredibly impressed with the success of my favoured party, the New Democratic Party, which has socialist roots and at the time an incredibly charismatic and grass-roots leader. That leader, Jack Layton, led the NDP to its greatest level of success on the federal level by such a wide margin that they became for the first time in history the Official Opposition, being the second most represented party in parliament.

Unfortunately, during that election, Jack Layton was fighting (and in denial of, publicly) cancer relapse and he died three months later and made the entire nation cry. The eventual replacement, Thomas Mulcair, has been less than impressive, particularly with his anti-legalization stance towards marijuana. (Seriously? The members of the desperate-for-attention centrist Liberal Party of Canada voted in favour of holding that platform to win future elections because it’s TIME TO STOP IGNORING THE USELESSNESS OF THE WAR ON DRUGS.) But even if the NDP were still going strong (and I’m proud of my MP who’s the loudest and most controversial member of that party), the Conservatives have a majority government and are taking advantage of that by doing whatever the fuck they want.

An omnibus bill – meaning, in the budget bill the Conservatives tacked on every little thing they wanted to do to screw this country over in favour of their buddies – was voted on last week over a straight 24 hour period. Opposition parties including the NDP, the embarrassingly shrunken Liberals, the also embarrassingly shrunken Bloc Quebecois, and the leader of Green Party who is also its first elected member, staged whatever tactics they could to cause a scene with how terrible this omnibus bill is. And it’s terrible. I can’t even read through the elaborate lists of amendments that slash funding to incredibly important programs and spend money on incredibly un-Canadian things.

Most of the country is outraged. First of all, despite getting a majority government the Conservatives got less than 40% of the popular vote in the last election because of the distribution of votes within constituencies. (There is serious concern over corruption that I can’t even get into here, that suggests in select constituencies voters were purposefully misled to go to the wrong polling stations where they wouldn’t be able to vote.) The MP for the constituency in which I grew up (and in which the rest of my family still lives) is a Conservative, who had done fuck-all in her political career as a school trustee before, and has done even less than fuck-all since being elected federally, and she won by a very small margin defeating the Liberal incumbent. That constituency has been voting Liberal my entire life, and the incumbent was an active voice in parliament in the 11 years she served. The current MP sits down and shuts up according to the style of Conservative leadership that is strongly enforced on any party members that aren’t in the Cabinet of Cronies that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has appointed.

There have been protests in that constituency including the sidewalk chalk in this photograph. It was written outside of the MP’s office, which has never had its lights turned on to my knowledge or my brother’s, and he lives across the street. This MP clearly isn’t considering her constituents or the well-being of the country overall. To leave this post on a cliffhanger, her party has abused its majority to, among other things, all but destroy a field with global implications that Canada – and my province of Manitoba – should be leading internationally.

The Tragedy of Comic Sans

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I’m not a designer or typographer, or even much of an artist, but even I know that it’s unimpressively amateur to use Comic Sans in a professional setting. And even worse? Using it in bright colours at 16pt.

If I had the time and learned the skills to do graphic/web design or the like, I would delve into the beautiful world of typography and fonts and use it for good. I know that Comic Sans is a mortal enemy of these professions and an insult to their trade. Friendliness and warm rapport are established through words and not font. If you don’t think tone can be interpreted through text than you aren’t very good at reading between the lines, nor are you a very good writer. I don’t mean that in a belittling way. There are ways to improve, and everyone is capable. Change your font to something less ridiculous then practice, practice, practice. Improve the quality, not necessarily the quantity, of your vocabulary and always strive for mastering English grammar. Ask for another set of eyes to skim through your work. Even just an e-mail, if it’s intended to develop a relationship or provide instructions or explain something, get somebody to look over it. And change the font.

Free and Accessible Goes Both Ways

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As a continuing thought to yesterday’s post, several thoughts (some short-lived and some mutating in favour of survival) have been fermenting in my mind surrounding the gathering consumer information of value by offering something for free. It’s not new. It’s why reward plans with seemingly no catch have existed for a couple decades now. Nielsen ratings come from selecting a representative sample of households to derive statistical calculation of television viewership in total and by demographics, and that system has been around for most of the history of television. We are all studied as consumers, but never as closely and intricately as in the social media era of online activity.

Individual people don’t sift through what we post online; it’s extracted by computers using key words and other information. Photos need to be seen with eyes for a full grasp of the picture, but captions and album names and individuals tagged in photos are easily analyzed. There isn’t an employee at Amazon who looks at what you purchase and thinks “Hey, this person would probably love this book or product” because algorithms are constantly being refined by tracking purchasing habits of people of similar tastes. It’s how successful internet companies survive in business. The late 90s dot-com bust came from missing this.

I’m not paranoid that corporations are after me and trying to brainwash me into a zombie consumer that buys at their command. My habits antithetical to data mining’s goal are based on other things – the books I buy in store and printed photos I don’t put on Facebook. I’ve written previously that such physical consumption is contradicting the maxim of minimalism that wears the “halo du jour” of snobby attitudes, but exploring the value of marketing via free services has me rethinking that. If saving physical space and resources by doing everything minimally and electronically is thought of as an anti-consumer lifestyle, why is that the aim of Face- and e-books? It’s still consumption, and its inconspicuousness has made it the new conspicuous consumption.

When I buy a book at my local bookseller’s, they don’t keep the purchase in a file under my name to advertise specific books to me and me alone in the future. I have a discount card, but they just look at the expiry date on the back to ensure it’s valid. When I print photos, the photofinisher doesn’t mine the images for information on my consumer habits that they can sell to other companies – I’m paying for the photographs, and that’s how they make their business. The more of my transactions – and interactions – that occur in physical space, the more purpose they have. They make me a customer – not a commodity.