Monday, November 1, 2010

Vol #1, Col #14: Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?

I was raised Roman Catholic, so trust me, I, of all people understand the true meaning of hypocrisy. But let me clarify: it’s NOT that Catholicism (or any religious/spiritual doctrine) in itself is a flawed belief system. Rather, it’s what people do in the name of religion that has given it a bad rep; akin to that smart expression regarding guns and people and who’s truly responsible for killing. With that said however, I wonder what’s worse? Believing in something so strongly that it causes you to make lapses in judgment and be discriminatory towards others OR not believing in anything at all? To me, it’s the latter.

Coming from someone who was once engaged to a nihilist with sociopathic and anarchist tendencies, trust me when I say it’s scary what you can justify when you subscribe philosophically to nothing at all. After all, without religion, without spirituality, without some sort of moral foundation, what is there to keep you in check? Even Freud, the grandfather of the discipline of psychology, acknowledged that ‘the super-ego’ (our mind’s moral policing device) is derived from the internationalization of societal mores, and norms, of which religion plays a major role in establishing.

But since the Age of the Enlightenment, rationality has ruled supreme. While everyone is so quick to point the finger at God as the downfall of humanity, I’d like you to consider science as an equipotent force in causing self- and societal destruction. Allow me to elaborate:

Originally undertaken as a project intended to solve the energy crisis through the advent of nuclear, we all know what happened when the technology of the good old Atom Bomb got into the hands of the military. Then, of course, there are the countless atrocious experiments performed on twins and other “lucky” guinea pigs under the Nazi regime; the results of which contributed greatly to our modern knowledge of genetics and genetic manipulation (what a proud history we have there!). But, if we want to predate both of the aforementioned “brilliant” (and I use that term extremely facetiously) usages of science, society’s named “progressive” and “objective” force, we needn’t look far back to our history of colonialism which was largely informed by Social Darwinian and eugenics policies that justified the extermination, mistreatment, and forced sterilization of a ridiculous number of people - the so-called “inferiors” (ie: anyone who was not a member of the dominant white class and/or anyone who was insightful enough to challenge said class’ weak “survival of the fittest” validations).

The point is that while admittedly some pretty awful acts have been committed in the name of religion (The Crusades and Witch Hunts come to mind, among others), the VERY SAME THING can be said about science! But what makes science that much more dangerous in this capacity is that while religion is perceived as socially constructed, subjective, relying on faith and therefore NOT having all of the answers, as well as open to interpretation (mind you, unless we’re talking about the Fundamentalists, but they go into a category of their own), science, on the other hand, is given ULTIMATE UNQUESTIONED (moreover to use a religious pun, “infallible”) AUTHORITY in contemporary society. As explained in Bereska’s Deviance, Conformity & Social Control in Canada, “science is seen by many people as a purely objective discipline such that its claims to truth are frequently considered unaffected by political, religious, or commercial interests.”

Given that scientific pursuits are increasingly being funded by “big corporate”, I’d say this is particularly problematic. In fact a recent study, in Fast-tracking the Plague: Drugging America to Death, documented that, “96% of [scientific] authors with ties to pharmaceutical companies produced favourable results, while only 37% of independently funded studies of the SAME DRUGS showed favourable results.” I think I’ll let that quote speak for itself.

At the end of the day, it comes down to this – science AND religion are both merely belief systems. One is no more important, objective, free from partisanship, or truthful than the other (this, of course, opens the proverbial can of worms for an entire debate on exactly what is truth, but I guess you’ll all just have to wait ‘til next year for that dousy).

While science and its associated technologies undoubtedly has its merits, on its own, I question whether or not it is able to provide our citizens with the moral compasses we need and should be embracing when it comes to living our lives. You can call me old-fashioned but, I sincerely believe the world would be a much better place if we all learned to adopt the Ten Commandments as universal rules of how we should treat one another.

To that I add only one caveat: while I self-identify as a Christian, I would NEVER infringe my personal religious beliefs onto another person, and so while the first of the said Commandments suggest that there is only one God and that he/she/it is to be honoured solely, I suggest to all of you non-religious folk to read between the lines of this expression (ie: it’s about acknowledging the fact that there are forces over and above human nature, and that those forces, along with our fellow man and womankind deserve to be acknowledged and honoured even if we can’t always understand them. In sum, don’t lead a selfish solipsistic existence.) Amen to that.

Vol #1, Col #13: You Can’t Handle the Truth

I think things must have been easier in the Wild West. If you had a beef with someone, you called a duel, and whoever could pull their gun out of their holster with superior lightening speed well…problem resolved. But it wasn’t merely this method of “social control” that proved more effective (and straight to the point, I might add), but further the nature of the conflicts that emerged between people seemed to be largely based on more “tangible” concerns (ie: limited resources, whether in the form of food, water, territory and/or women).

In contrast, these days, and I propose it’s because we, as North Americans, have SO much (tell me when’s the last time you worried about whether or not you’d be able to find drinking water untouched by arsenic? Oh right, such a thing has never occurred in your lifetime!), we CREATE conflicts and social categories intended to enhance divisiveness (something I like to term “human-made drama”), that in reality don’t have very strong feet to stand on (sound familiar? 9/11 perhaps?).

A more down-to-earth example can be seen in the case of “internet flame wars.” I mean, honestly, can someone please explain to me the purpose of such juvenility, let alone the cause? As always, an instance from my very own life proves illustrative -- don’t you love it when real life serves as inspiration? I know I do! So here goes:

For absolutely no reason and without any provocation on my end, just the other day, some random chick posted up big and bold for the whole world to see, that she apparently hates me, in her Facebook headline (something I only learned about because it would seem we have some mutual acquaintances). Seeing as I’ve NEVER met NOR conversed with this individual in my entire life, I find it hard to believe that she could harbour such strong emotions toward me. I don’t know…maybe I’m crazy, but I am selective when I use said term, and you best believe that if/when I do employ “hate”, it’s for good (pardon my French) f-ing reason.

I guess I’m just of the belief that if someone has a grievance, they should have “the balls” to confront the other person to their face. (Talking trash behind peoples’ backs is underhanded and vicious. More importantly though, it also fails to solve anything! Oh yeah, and for those of you who think this is the more “polite” approach, I hate to break it to ya, quite the opposite is true.) Not only would this, I’m sure, prevent a whole hell of a lot of long drawn-out affairs that arise entirely from miscommunication (ie: it would give “the accused” an opportunity to explain him/herself), but further it is the respectful and mature way to broach said situations.

Perhaps my “flamer” was having an exceptionally bad day, but rather than host an introspective investigation into her own psyche in order to ascertain the underlying cause(s), she decided to project her negativity onto me to scapegoat any sense of personal responsibility. Or maybe…more simply, her actions were fuelled by jealously? In either scenario, I maintain that her animosity in my general direction was and remains unjustified.

There are a lot of individuals out there, in both the real world and cyberspace, with whom I don’t particularly mesh well (to put it lightly), but I don’t have the time nor do I wish to waste the emotion on creating hate postings. For what purpose? To put someone else down so that temporarily I can feel grandiose? I’d like to take this moment to send a personal message to my flamer: If the only vehicle through which you are able to develop a sense of confidence and self-worth is by putting others down, then my darling, you’ve got bigger problems than just me. But I digress…

To bring everything full circle, what this story so aptly demonstrates is contemporary humankind’s obsession with negativity (and yes it is an obsession, NOT a natural inclination - as they say, happiness is a CHOICE). Because we no longer have to direct the vast majority of our intellectual and physical faculties into acquiring the bare necessities of life, we have time for gossip, we have time for “flame wars”, we have time to bully – all instances of “human-made drama”.

We have forgotten that every word, every action, and even every thought that we put out there affects others. We have become so caught up in our own selfish individual existences that we tear each other down, without giving it a second thought, just to get ahead. We care about our lives now, instead of planning for the future. We externalize our desires, and blame everyone else for our failings. So, is money then the root of all evil? No, money is merely a medium of transaction. As for the aforementioned negative and obsessive line of thinking? Yeah, I’d say so. The truth hurts. Deal with it.

Modern society’s issues are indisputably human-made, but in the ever-so-slightly paraphrased words of Jason Mraz, “The remedy is [in] the experience.” We can AND should learn from our mistakes. And while I may be undertaking a “dangerous liaison” by pointing all of this out, “the truth” as another famous quote suggests, “will set you free.”

Monday, August 30, 2010

Vol #1, Col #12: One Pill Makes you Larger, One Pill makes you Small, And the Ones that the Doctors Give you?

Too fat? Too thin? Too stressed? Too lethargic? Too happy? Too sad? Too moody? Too mellow? Irrespective of your problem, society’s got a cure…at least that’s what the “medicalization model” tells us (ie: there’s a drug for everything).

While I’d be a fool to argue that all advances in health care technology are bad (ie: we’d still be suffering from outbreaks of scurvy and the bubonic plague without ‘em!), there’s something to be said about modern society’s obsession with the “quick fix” and the medical community’s response, “well, we’ll devise a diagnoses and just invent another drug for that.” I’d even go so far as to argue (as controversial as it may seem) that some of these so-called diseases that have reached recent scary degrees of prevalence have quite frankly been made up. Take ADHD, for example.

While I’m sure that there exists out there some people who truly have been/are afflicted with what was once known as “hyperkinesis” (perhaps due to brain circuitry differences), its rate of diagnosis in contemporary society has reached such epidemic proportions that it has made me seriously question exactly what it is we are trying to “drug” and therefore control (after all that is the purpose of medicalization, ie: social control).

Last time I checked, childhood was a time of innocence. Moreover, running about, getting into mischief, having seemingly endless energy, in my view, during one’s formative years is quite “normal”; after all, said time in one’s life is characterized by a lack of responsibility (we should savour that while we can!). And yet, somehow we’ve convinced ourselves that children who possess these traits are acting up, and are problematic to deal with. Well, if children do have excessive amounts of energy, problems maintaining focus, and/or are not responding to authority figures as well as they used to, I’d like to propose it’s not because of any kind of “new” psychological disorder. No, it’s because of the structure of modern society itself. Allow me to explain:

It’s virtually impossible, these days, for a couple to substantiate themselves with one only partner working (Moreover, society’s obsession with material accumulation forces many of us into positions we don’t truly find fulfilling just so we can earn a quick buck in order to retire sooner). Therefore, you end up with situations wherein if a couple has kids, parental supervision is limited. This is commonly dealt with via one or two means: 1) the children are left to be raised by the tv, their video games, and computer systems or 2) the parents outsource the task of raising their kids to daycare services and/or babysitters. In either case, the kid’s real folks well, because they can’t be around as much as they’d like, feel guilty and so they try to “befriend” their children. The result? A generation who has no respect for authority figures. You may think it’s harsh of me to say, but it is a good thing for children to live under a certain amount of fear. Trust me (and no that is NOT a statement in support of child abuse, don’t put words in my mouth).

Further adding to this dilemma, as discussed last week, is the over-processed and questionable foodstuff that the vast majority of us are consuming. Think about it – is it really so shocking that children have an excess in energy when everything you’re feeding them is full of sugar, hormones, additives, and god knows what else?

Finally, because parents are so busy trying to make ends meet, kids aren’t participating in active recreational activities to the same degree they used to. Instead of being out there in the sunshine kicking the can, playing ball, or even skipping double dutch – pastimes that at one point were rather common – instead they’d rather remain IV-ed to their video games, and television screens for their taste of entertainment. And seriously, we wonder why they have so much energy?

Hmm…makes perfect sense to me: lack of adequate supervision/discipline + unhealthy sugar-filled foods + the inability to expend one’s vigor? What do you get? Apparently ADHD!

That’s the thing with the “medicalization model” though. Instead of acknowledging that perhaps there’s a problem with the way in which society is structured, it takes all pathology right back down to the individual level. What few people realize is that the “discovery” of the above mentioned so-called “psychological” disorder now found so commonly among our youth, coincided with both a growing interest in child psychiatry and the pharmaceutical revolution. Still convinced it’s real? I don’t know, personally I’d like to see kids just be allowed to be kids for Christ sake, but that’s just me!

While modern medicine has allowed us to control and monitor the severity of physical ailments (something that I agree is uber-beneficial and in many cases, “life saving”), because we’ve now gotten a handle on said conditions, we’ve become increasingly focused on attempting to do the same thing with psychological maladies. The problem with this, of course, is that even neurologists, who specialize in the field, admit that there is still a great deal UNKNOWN about the brain and its functions. Further, in societies like North America, where we have EVERYTHING (ie: access to the basics like fresh water, food, education, work etc., not to mention a shitload of other unnecessary luxuries), the diagnosis of psychological disorders is disproportionately concentrated.

Maybe if we started making more informed decisions about our lives, and reworked our definitions of health to mean “optimal functioning” as opposed to “symptom-free, but on your third double double of the day” (well, and your second helpng of Advil to ward off the inevitable migraine that will coincide with your caffeine crash), maybe, just maybe we’d start to see where we’re going wrong. In sum, call me crazy, but it seems to me, that we CREATE as many diseases and disorders, these days, as we CURE.

I remember being a high energy obnoxious little brat of a kid. Guess what my parents did to counteract that? I was in every sport imaginable, my tv viewing was rationed depending upon the chores I completed each day, and I certainly wasn’t chugging down Pepsi or Coca Cola by the freakin’ case. I think I turned out quite fine if I do say so myself, and no believe it or not, I was never put on Ritalin.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Vol #1, Col #11: Domestic Bliss & the Glory of Food

I remember a few years back when I attended the orientation for my current post-secondary institute. The mother of someone who was to become one of my future classmates raised her hand in a frenzy to ask one of the coordinators who she could possibly pay to do her child’s laundry? I sat there astonished – uncertain as to whether I should be laughing or shaking my head in shame for the single reason that her kid was so ill-equipped for life, in his late teen years, that he didn’t even know when to use the spin or rinse cycle. My conclusion – that’s likely the least of his problems! This whole episode got me thinking…

While I could have simply written off this poor woman and her highly sheltered (moreover coddled) son as an anomaly, I started to look around. I realized what a rare thing in fact it was (and still is) to come across someone my age who is skilled in “the domestic arts” (and yes, they do constitute an art form of their own). But it’s NOT just people my age either – when it comes to good old fashioned home-cooking, making one’s house spick and span, or completing one’s own handiwork, it seems that most of us opt for the most “convenient” route, which when it comes to the latter of the two tasks involves the hiring of hands, instead of getting one’s own dirty. The consequence? Well, aside from spending unnecessary dollars, because these skills no longer occupy a place in our hearts (or minds) in which they are considered “essential” and therefore merit transmission among the generations, we, as a society, have become increasingly dependent upon one another for menial labour (read: increasingly de-skilled), and we all know who gets shafted with said ill-paying and undesirable jobs (no it ain’t us Ivy League grads, that’s for sure).

More than this however, when it comes to the “art of cooking”, in specific, I mean I’m not really surprised by the exorbitant amount of people knocking off from heart attacks, liver damage, or the like considering the crap (and yes, I said it bluntly) that most of us are consuming (and I’m not just talking the root of all evil here; that being the “fast-food” empire). God knows what the hell that neon orange powder labelled as “cheese mix” in a certain major corporation’s attempt at macaroni actually is, not to mention all of the additives that are, well “added” to our food, and/or all of the genetic tinkering that is going on. Frankly, just for pure “sanitary” reasons, I’d much rather make things from scratch (see the movie, Fast Food Nation, and I can almost guarantee unless you’ve got a real hardy stomach that you’ll seriously think twice about ordering in, eating out, and frankly just buying “ground-up” products in general from now on!).

Aside from how much our food processing and manufacturing has changed (oh the days before factory farming existed, I miss good ole’ Ma and Pa on their ranch, how ‘bout you?), along with our increased access to products that at one point were relegated to specific seasons and/or geographic terrains (thanks to globalization, we can now enjoy any fruit items we desire all year around, but one has to wonder how much pesticides, hormones, and whatever the hell else they’re putting in there for “freshness” you’re ingesting in the process), in my view it seems that our love of consumption (food that is, we’re all good when it comes to buying unnecessary materialistic items like Ipods and I say that as a musician!) has dwindled significantly. I mean whatever happened to the art of enjoying not just the meal itself, but the act of preparation? Why is it considered odd that I spend on average two hours a night making myself quite the lovely feast (well I am Italian, it comes with the territory!)? If you’re going to spend money on anything, shouldn’t your health top that list? Shouldn’t you care what you’re taking in as a source of nourishment and accordingly, take pride in making the necessary task of replenishment an enjoyable one? I don’t know, this all seems like common sense to me.

Undoubtedly, there’s a lot of misinformation (and blatant attempts at brainwashing for that matter) out there regarding making “healthier” eating choices. In fact, just the other day, I had a friend, who has never exactly been what I would call a striking example of someone who’s at the top of their game health-wise, actually try to convince me that there is NO difference between organic and factory-farmed produce, and that it’s all just media hype. Well I can tell you all in sincerity, that since I’ve gone organic and vegan, I have never felt or looked better – I’d say that’s pretty hard evidence to argue, but I’m not here to pick hairs (well I am, but not his!).

The point. The point. Yes I’m getting there. I guess I just find it rather illogical that so many people claim that the reason as to why they rely on those barely edible and highly questionable concoctions known as “microwave dinners” as their regular source of fuel (along with why they also don’t attempt to exercise, or leave their house really unless absolutely necessary) is that they just don’t have the time. It’s ALWAYS about time! Well, time in itself is a socially created concept (we don’t have “time”, as it were, to go there). Sure, the sun rises, the sun falls, people age, but this whole 24 hour clock business – it doesn’t exist in every culture.

**Moreover, the ironic part of this whole “time excuse” is that likely in the long run if people were to spend MORE time NOW investing into their health, they’d have MORE time OVERALL in their lives, thereby making this whole rushing about business to get everything accomplished within a limited timeframe rather pointless, and kinda humorous when you look at it purely as an observer.

Ah, but this “time excuse” as I’ve just described hinges on a much deeper and more profound issue in contemporary life, and that my friends is our focus on retroactive thinking, as opposed to planning for the future wisely.

Whether it’s in regards to one’s health, social policy, environmental legislation, or even manufacturing protocol, it’s always about what will benefit us NOW at the cheapest cost and via the most efficient route. And we wonder why we are now paying for problems that were predicted centuries ago? Damn retroactive thinking – gets ya like a bitch every time. Perhaps that’s enough food for thought this week.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Vol #1, Col #10: It's in the Clothes We Wear & The Cars We Drive

While I’m no Aimee Brothman (Fanshawe's very own resident fashionista; for those of you who don’t follow her weekly style guide, you should!), I would like to think that I keep a pretty good pulse on what’s in “vogue”. Though admittedly I love my leather and denim, there’s a reason as to why designers consistently look to the past for inspiration, and why “retro”, as it were, has never gone out of style. Whether we’re talking Victorian corsets, pin-up bangs, silverscreen makeup and glamour, or 70s flair, all of these trends have and will continue to be revived (albeit with innovations and/or extensions) because they’re distinctive, original, and timeless in their constitution; rarely can the same be said about purely modern “crazes”. This assertion, however, extends well beyond the red carpet. Design-wise, things of the past had a lot more “personality”. Not only that, they were also far more durable. Perhaps an example would prove illustrative:

I’ve got this horribly ugly
(well quite frankly, “fugly”, see the photo - I wasn't lying) bright neon orange hairdryer quite literally from the 1970s (it was my ma’s) manufactured by Gilette (at one time, there were known for more than just their razor blades). One of my girlfriends, on the other hand, insists on always acquiring the newest and latest in personal adornment devices, and so the other day picked herself up a brand spanking new supposedly “high quality” hairdryer. No joke, within a week, it stopped working and she had to get into this big song and dance with the manager at the store where she purchased it in order to try and get a refund, or at the least, exchange it for one of equal value (hopefully a more reliable model!). Funnily enough, this friend of mine, on several occasions, has outrightly refused to use my hairdryer on her locks, and in fact, makes fun of it quite regularly.

Ah, but you see, it may be ugly, but guess what? It works! It has worked for 30+ years, and with any luck, it’ll work for 30 more, and that my friends, is this week’s thought- provoking topic: how and why is it that we live in a world that supposedly is geared towards making things bigger, better, faster, more efficient, more convenient etc. etc.
(you know all of those “tag” words big business likes to tote when promoting its products), and yet our products constantly break down, malfunction, “go on the fritz”, are recalled, and for that matter, are NEVER easily repaired?! In fact, many a time (especially when it comes to electronics), I’ve been told straight-up by sales associates that it would be cheaper and faster for me simply to just buy a new one.

But I, unlike so many, DON'T want to contribute to this idea of “consumption as waste”. I want to wear my jeans until the threads quite literally tear away from their seams and cannot be sewn back into place. I want to be able to drop my cell phone repeatedly, by accident, perhaps even put it in the dryer, and have it still work. I want to easily be able to acquire necessary upgrades for my computer, without having to purchase an entirely new machine. I want to know that when a company says it’s recycling, it ACTUALLY IS. Why you ask? Because what few people are aware of is that our waste – North America’s and the rest of the Western world’s – ends up in third world countries where migrant workers NOT protected by health, human rights, or sanitation policies, tear apart our items bare-handed in order to salvage whatever they can to make a quick buck (poverty leads to desperation). The consequence? Rampant outbreaks in disease resulting from exposure to toxic metals and chemicals that we put into our devices and other wastes in order to improve so-called “efficiency”…among other things.

The point I’m trying to make is that I look back fondly on a world that once admired Art Deco, instead of mass-manufactured
(and cheaply made, well it’s all outsourced labour, come on) Ikea, where cars were made out of metal and built to last (get yourself a ’88 Chevy Conversion Van like I’ve got for touring, and you’ll get what I mean, she’s a beast!), where people held wardrobe swapping parties, and where when you bought something, because high quality items were rare and super-expensive, you valued those items, and so you made damn sure you were getting everything you could out of that sucker, before it was gonna bite the dust. I still very much live in that mentality.

I don’t care if I can get a Blackberry for $30 if I sign a three year contract nowadays, versus paying several hundred to acquire a cellphone the size of a brick in the 80s, the point is I want QUALITY, I want DURABILITY, and I want VALUE. Not only that, I want something to be more than just a commodity to me – I want aesthetic appeal. I want my possessions to speak to who I am, as a person. Come on you’re gonna tell me a 2010 Honda Civic is a hotter looking car than a 77’ Trans Am Firebird? No, I didn’t think so. Quite the same logic can be applied to something as basic as the difference in design between a modern day baby stroller and a 1950s perambulator.

Design was once about craftsmanship:
making something truly unique, and priceless, in my view. Moreover said tasks were labour-intensive, and accordingly, products were built to “stand the test of time.” Contemporaneously, while we make wild claims that things are better – that society has “progressed” – I wonder, can you give me any logical reason as to why my 1970s hairdryer still rocks it like it’s no one’s business, but my girlfriend’s was pooched after just a few uses? I assure you it has NOTHING to do with how we care for our possessions, as for that matter, I’m rough on everything I love. Further, I’ve got thicker hair than her (in case you were wondering)!

I don’t know, maybe it just comes down to the simple fact that people don’t take pride in their work anymore – the poor quality speaks for itself. But that would lead to a whole discussion on Marxist’s definition of “worker and workplace alienation”; something, unfortunately, we don’t have time for.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Vol #1, Col #9: Rec Daze

I don’t know if it’s just me, this city, the schizophrenic weather as of late, or maybe for once I’m on to something, but in the limited free time that I do have, it really seems like there’s a lack of genuinely interesting things to do! I mean if you don’t get wasted, and aren’t looking to pick up some tail, what sort of activities are left for a gal to choose from?

The mall as a hangout? Well, that went out of style once I surpassed my designation as a “teen” (or really a “tween” by today’s standards). A movie? Frankly, with the exorbitant amount of cash they charge to watch something on the big screen, I’d rather sit in the comfort of my own home, rocking my flannels with vegan-friendly and healthful foods at hand to munch on, while viewing a flick. A concert? Don’t even get me started on the limited musical revues one can attend these days. Dinner? See the above vegan comments (we don’t have many restaurants appealing to picky eaters such as myself, and the ones we do have, well been there, done that). Perhaps the theatre? If it ain’t off-broadway in NYC, or at the very least a Stratford Shakespearean production, you can count me out. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – they just don’t make em (and by that I mean really anything AND everything) like they used to.

Long ago are the days where communities hosted large-scale dances, meet and greets, and community-oriented affairs just so their youth could have something to do (and well, to keep em out of trouble... It’s easier to police for juvenile delinquency when everyone’s gathered in the same place!). Even when London does get a festival going down in Vic Park, let’s be honest, there’s a pretty limited demographic that said events typically appeal to (and are INTENDED to appeal to). YET, you’ll notice pretty much everyone in the city comes out of their hovels to gather downtown because it’s SOMETHING (who cares what?! We’re so desperate for entertainment) to temporarily fill us with amusement.

I guess I’d just really like the opportunity to be able to attend a Beat poetry reading, a meditation/drum circle, a magic show, a philosophical debate and/or consciousness-raising seminar, a really emotional jazz performance, or a jump, jive, and wailing dance-off, if I felt so inclined ANY day of the week, not just as part of a special limited time offer sort of deal. A little maypole twirling never hurt anyone either! I’m not saying these things don’t exist altogether, but they are few and far between, and typically they tend to remain on the down-lo (read as: they’re poorly attended beyond the host’s family members, if at all). I mean even just having a genuine old-school 50s diner with a dance-floor, jukeboxes, roller-skating waitresses and all, (Why they ever closed down The Five & Dime is beyond me, it was ALWAYS busy!?) to congregate at with some of my closest pals would be an improvement. There are only so many times I can go out and sing karaoke.

What I’m trying to get at here is that (at least for kids my age) it’s not just the lack of venues offering such forms of entertainment, it’s also the people. We’ve changed. As my anti-technology discussion alluded to last week, it seemsthat there are really only two extremes:

1) you’re a shut-in who’d rather establish online penpal relationships than step out into the real world (god forbid! I know it can be a scary place, but come on people)


2) you’re a sex-crazed party animal which is equally non-conducive to the aforementioned activities in which I’d like to partake.

Is it wrong that I fantasize sometimes about being swept away into a 1950s highschool romcom where all the girls get ready collectively in their Sunday’s Best to wow the boys at the Sadie Hawkins’ dance? Is it weird that I crave attending dress-up theme parties in the vein of full-on masquerades where everyone actually dresses up (and enjoys doing so, I might add)? What about storming off with a gang of 20 compadres to take over the local drive-in movie theatre, go on a crazy road-trip wherein you only make left-hand turns, or spend a day playing beach volleyball? Even hippie festivals like Woodstock far outdo the ones we try to host these days in terms of music, connectivity with others, the overall atmosphere, and quite plainly, as recreational pursuits.

Not to sound like a broken record, but again I really think the changes in what we value, then versus now, have played a considerable role. To think many people don’t actually celebrate their honeymoons or that foreign business dealings are often akin to vacations – I don’t know, it seems rather weird, moreover sad, to me. You work hard. You earn your money. Hopefully you achieve both doing what you love. But if you don’t, it’s even more essential that you value and get all that you can out of your much deserved R&R time. I mean money? You can’t take that to the grave with you. Memories? You and those involved most certainly will.

But no, instead the all-too-commonly embraced form of entertainment/social engagement is getting trashed to the point of temporary amnesia. Given what I’ve just said, don’t you see how this is rather counterproductive? But again, we gotta ask ourselves, what is it that is so wrong with our contemporary world that it causes people to want to engage in mind-numbing and mind-erasing activities as a form of leisure? Substance abuse, admittedly, is as old as humankind itself, but at one point it was primarily associated with religious rites and spirituality, as opposed to constituting the ideal form of escapism and social revelry.

While I would never opt for reviving the days of the Middle Ages where the ‘thing to do’ was watch criminals get tried, and tortured, I would like to see a bit more variety (not to mention more of a focus on “cultural and perceptual expansion”) in the typical recreational itinerary of us future leaders. Medieval Revival Fayre anyone? Come on, there’s gotta be someone out there too who believes that fun can be had without alcohol, stingy nightclubs, and clothing (if you can even call it that) that I affectionately term “slutwear” and “napkins”.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Vol #1, Col #8: From God to Goods: In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Almighty Dollar

Everything sounds good in theory. Take communism for example: a utopian vision wherein social hierarchies and disparities in wealth cease to exist, where education is free and accessible to everyone, where all occupations are valued and considered essential to the successful functioning of the community... In application? Well, the fall of the Soviet Union – yeah, enough said. The same logic however, in my view, can equally be applied to communism’s economic converse; that of corporate capitalism also known as the chief commandment (if you will) by which modern society is run.

Central to its implementation has been a move towards stressful city-living, the separation of church and state, as well as an increased emphasis on efficiency, and "rationalization". For all of the social well-being that the latter economic system has brought forth (ingenuous entrepreneurialism for starters!), a lot of not-so-good by-products have too come hand-in-hand (the privatization of essential resources, exploitation of third world workers, and striking global differences in production, consumption, and profiting patterns are just a few off the top of my head). Importantly, from my perspective however, it is capitalism’s infiltration of our value system which has proven to be the most detrimental.

Accumulation, accumulation, and oh did I mention? ACCUMULATION! This has become the purpose of life for many. Whether it’s cars, lovers, gadgets and gizmos, or that funny inked paper to which we accord arbitrary value, it is a rare occasion that you come across (at least it is for me) others who simply pursue careers for the love of them.It’s all a means to an end – a way to earn dollars so that you can eventually (when you’re well into your senior years) partake in the activities you actually want to (if you’re still physically capable), and then, well…you die. Doesn’t sound like much of a plan to me! I mean, wouldn’t you rather be doing what you love all along? For that matter, considering how much of our lives we devote to the toils of our daily labour, shouldn’t we at least derive some pleasure and personal satisfaction/fulfillment from the tasks in which we’re engaged? Shouldn’t we be able to see and enjoy the fruits of our own labour? Ah, but my friends, there in lines the problem: not all occupations are equally valued in society, and further we have created technologies to replace so-called inefficient “manpower”. Therefore, we are all eventually confronted with the fact that we must “settle”, at least in terms of the economic aspect of our lives.

Even more troubling however is the fact that this model of living (more like “existing”) is cyclical in nature: you can NEVER have enough, and there’s ALWAYS something bigger and better that’s just been created waiting for you, and you can have it all (so they tell us) if only you just work hard enough to save up those pennies and dimes. The reality, of course, is that many of us are living paycheck-to-paycheck, despite the free market claims that this sort of system ensures a more level playing field.

But, above and beyond all of this, my biggest beef with capitalism is that it has taught us to externalize our desires, so when we’re depressed, we buy something new and fancy or go out for a five star meal to try and throw our troubles away. It’s never about NEEDS, only WANTS – wants created by a market that is by legal obligation purposed to drive up profits. In effect, this system has made us forget that happiness is a conscious choice – a state of mind derived from internal self-actualization; something that can only be accomplished through introspection, a task that the capitalist system distracts many from ever pursuing.

A secondary quibble I’ve got with the “big C” is its alienating capacity: not only are workers lacking personal investment in their tasks, but further, our relationships with each other have largely become based around a model of ‘goods exchange’ (the what can you do for me mentality?). Perhaps because we don’t really value our own contributions (it’s not like we’re planting and harvesting our own crops on the family farm anymore), those of others seem negligible as well. Transactions (and therefore relationships), in the modern view, are designed to be as fast, painless, and efficient as possible (I myself find the barter and trade systems still practised in some nations quite charming – nobody takes more than they personally require and value is negotiable – but maybe that’s just me). We get irritated when we have to wait in line, or when a new employee is receiving training. We’ve gotten so caught up in this go-go-go lifestyle that if a wrench gets thrown into the works, our whole day gets ruined. In essence, we’ve come to value and emphasize the wrong things (tell me, how often do you actually stop and smell the roses?), and I don’t think I need to mention any of the horror stories that have resulted purely over “money wars”.

When it comes down to the nitty-gritty, humans really only require food, water, shelter, and a mate for survival. As much as I’m sure you’d all love to consider your flatscreen TVs and Ipods necessities of living – I hate to break it to ya, but that ain’t reality.

While I’m not so na├»ve as to believe (though a gal can dream can’t she?) that a complete overhaul of our economic system is in order anytime soon, I would like to propose that we find a way to re-harmonize our lives, in the meantime. While it’s only a small part of the equation, I do believe a good starting point is the adoption of some sort of alternative (alternative to the heralding of ‘cash as king’) belief system.

Whether it be religious, spiritual, or philosophical in orientation, I think humans, as a species, need to get back to a place where life directives are driven by a defined moral code, as opposed to the plan of action that will prove most lucrative. We need to take a moment each day away from our quests for cash to thank the universe for all that has been bestowed upon us. After all what good is money if you’re not in adequate health to spend it?

Most importantly however, we need to get back to a place where when times are rough, we have something deeper to turn to, someone (or some being) to pray to or ask for guidance and strength, something to give us a sense of hope when nothing seems to be going our way. Despite living in the Western world – the end of the globe that seemingly has everything – the prevalence of mental illness is higher here than anywhere else, leaving me to rightly conclude that something is seriously wrong with this picture. In sum, this week’s lesson: materialism is fleeting.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Vol #1, Col #7: Electronic HandShaking & the Technological Divide: More than Just Smoother Business Practise

The term “net” implies a device of capture and/or constriction that possesses enveloping properties. When used in reference to that little old invention known by html hypertext coders as the world wide web (www, for short), this is a rather apt analogy considering that few of us can live without it, and online addiction isn’t as rare as one may think. For that matter, I’m sure many of you can’t even begin to recall a time in your lives when the internet did NOT exist (though I still remember the days of typewriters, word processing and Ataris – shut up, I know I’m getting up there!) – when you weren’t able to conduct all of your research for school projects via the web, when you couldn’t maintain long distance friendships/relationships without racking up the phone bill, when you couldn’t check the status of your bank account(s) from the convenience of your living room sofa, when you couldn’t find out about the latest fashions and pop culture from around the globe, without having to ‘leave on a jet plane’ (as they say). The advent of the internet has literally changed lives – there are no two ways around it – but whether its life changing properties are for the better or worse is still largely up for debate.

Like any ground-breaking innovation, it too has some serious downfalls
: the commodification/de-valuation of music and consequent stealing of tracks (a phenomenon to which I personally relate and to which I’m strongly opposed) merely scratches the tip of the iceberg. Child porn rings, white supremacist message boards, organized crime solicitation, online instructions for bomb and drug manufacture, pro-anorexia websites, and services to aid in eliciting extramarital affairs are just some of the web’s more “fantastic” (note the sarcasm) offerings. But with that said, all of this stuff already existed in the REAL world. It wasn’t that the web corrupted humans. Rather, it merely has served as a MEDIUM through which our corruption has become concentrated.

While I would never discount that the “digital web revolution” has aided tremendously in terms of conducting business (for that matter, much of my own entrepreneurial efforts would not be feasible economically if it weren’t for email) and has led to a more international perspective in terms of world issues among the general populus, when it comes to the business of personal relations, I gotta tell you, I maintain a vastly different view.To me, in the age of globalization and technological advance where academics and suits alike postulate the “interconnectedness” of our globe, it would seem, in fact, that we’re more disconnected than ever before.As knowledge of each other, different cultures, and “the underground” has become increasingly more accessible (albeit still highly oriented around the perpetuation of stereotypes), our relationships have moved into progressively more superficial terrain.

Case and point: I was recently “dating” (if you can even call it that) a gentleman who refused to pick up the phone in order to have an actual conversation with me. He’d spend hours texting me and then several more hours apologizing for the miscommunication and arguments that resulted because of texting’s limited capacity to capture the emotion and intention behind one’s words (when you’re a sarcastic bastard like myself, this is particularly difficult to convey). Yet, he couldn’t seem to understand why perhaps actually speaking may be more suitable in this scenario. His excuse was that texting was more “convenient” for him, allowing him to engage in a multitude of other activities, while socializing. Like any woman with self-respect, I read this (both literally and figuratively) as essentially his desire to half-ass a so-called “relationship”. Suffice it to say, it was short-lived. I’m not here on anyone’s convenience and as “old-fashioned” (pardon the pun) as it may sound, I’m NOT actually capable of forming a deep emotional bond with someone merely by reading words on a screen. I don’t know – in-person engagement, hearing a person’s voice, and experiencing them in a three-dimensional capacity tends to work a little better (but only just a little, of course, again note the sarcasm) – but, maybe that’s just me?

It is of my humble opinion that our technological OVERstimulation has led to intellectual AND importantly, emotional UNDER-stimulation as we battle to attend to everything at once, but NOTHING in its entirety. Everything is now seen as “fleeting” or “transient”, and we can establish intense passionate love affairs as quickly as we can end them. In sum, we’ve somehow managed to convince ourselves that wishing one of our so-called “friends” ‘Happy Birthday’ via Facebook upon receiving notification that it is so and so’s special day makes up for the fact that the other 364 days a year this person’s existence remains unacknowledged in our lives.

Then there are some – more extreme tech supporters we’ll call em - who would rather be immersed to such a degree in a virtual made-up world that they’ve gone to the extent of creating fake profiles, fake bank accounts, and yes, you've got it, fake relationships via “interactive” (and I use that term loosely) programs such as SecondLife, to which membership does not come cheap. One needs to ask themselves what is wrong with society when people would rather formulate and maintain their identities and interactions through a computer screen, than actually endeavour to intermingle the good old-fashioned way?!

If you don’t want to take my word for it that the net has led to the above-described “social ill”, I hate to break it to ya, but the social scientific research is in my favour. As I recently learned in my Sociology of Deviance class, hardcore net fanatics and individuals who were raised in “wired” families tend to socialize less (and when they do, it is within smaller social circles), suffer from increased loneliness and depression and often lack a strong sense of personal identity (the net leads to a phenomenon known as “de-individuation”).

It is built within our genetic and evolutionary codes that humans are a social species – we are naturally compelled to flock together with like-others. In this way, the idea of the “technological divide” can not only be applied to differences in accessibility and use based on socioeconomic and demographic factors, but moreover said term can be used to designate how social relations have become significantly altered as a result of the net’s introduction.

Like any major change enacted upon society, characteristically there are those who are pro and those who maintain firm positions of staunch opposition. Call me a Luddite if you will, but I look back fondly on the days where conversing meant talking in-person not through MSN, cultural education involved the incorporation of ethnographic methods and phones had not yet transmutated into all-inclusive entertainment units equipped with their very own home recording and playback devices.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Vol #1, Col #6: You Say You Wanna Revolution? Well You Know, Then Start Doing What YOU Can!

If the 50s embraced traditionalism, the zeitgeist of the 60s was one of revolution, and those growing up during the 70s were characterized as belonging to the “me generation”, then the children, such as myself, who came into their own throughout the painted-faced hair metal and Nirvana decades comprise the most apathetic cohorts, to date. We bitch and bitch and bitch about how hard we’ve got it, and how much is wrong with the world, yet very few of us actually endeavour to engage in collective action in order to make a difference. As we all know from the not-so-far off “swinging 60s”, while all revolutions originate with a mere single voice, they require the support of many; otherwise they bubble and fizzle away.

This is precisely our problem: I believe there are progressive forward-thinking individuals out there the same as there have always been, but because of the structure of modern society, along with the values we promote, people our age are less apt to even bother voting, let alone take part in a countercultural movement as controversial as let’s say the anti-Vietnamers known as “The Weatherman”. In my view, this “blah” indifferent mentality stems from a combination of the following factors:

Ah, “The (North) American Dream” and the “Be All You Can Be” speech from the army are just a small sampling of the individualistic-oriented messages that are shoved down our throats on a daily basis. For that matter, if we do receive collective ‘calls to action’, they are rarely inclusive to all parties (ie: they usually have a narrow focus, be it gender, sexual, or ethnic specific-rights that are being fought for).

As a consequence, we get so completely caught up in the struggles of our own lives (after all, we’re told that’s where the emphasis SHOULD be) that we often neglect others, not realizing, of course, that EVERYTHING we do affects other persons, irrespective of whether said actions were intended to do so. Ironically, while we claim to be more “connected” than ever before, in actuality, we are further apart.

In a word, society has gotten “complicated”. As much as the discourse surrounding globalization makes claims that cultural mixing and integration lessen racism, and lead to more “universal” humanistic notions of culture, I think it’s fairly apparent that this is not the reality.

The US, especially in regards to popular culture (a major vehicle through which values are propagated), has maintained a position of hegemony over other countries for quite some time. While this is changing due to the aforementioned nation’s economic situation, it would be a downright lie to claim that certain countries (and accordingly, their views/cultures), not to mention certain ethnicities WITHIN those countries remain privileged at the expense of others.

We as people and the UN as an institutional body, cannot agree on what morals, ethics, values, laws, and the like should (and “if” is really the question) apply to all persons at all times. As a consequence, when it comes to binding together to fight against a so-called “common enemy” (which brings me to my next point), the decision as to whom that person(s) is/are, in it of itself, is a problem.

While I strongly maintain that the best judgements are informed by a multitude of perspectives (“nationalism kills”, people), it’s very difficult to make any solid decisions when such perspectives are conflicting, rather than complementary. In the end, it is impossible to please everyone, and because we live in a capitalist society (which ties in heavily to our promotion of individualism), well, those with the “big guns” (ie: the moula) typically win out.

Should we blame our parents? The media? The government? The CEOs of multi-national corporate conglomerates? Society as a whole? Men? Women? The ethnic minorities? OR the victims themselves for the world’s growing plethora of problems?

We quite simply can’t, as a society, agree on towards whom we should be pointing our fingers. Everyone’s got a different theory, but not one is free from partisanship or personal biases.

I personally don’t think we should be attempting to scapegoat anyone as the sole perpetrator. Rather, I’d like to see a world in which EVERYONE does their part (that’s my call to collective action, take it or leave it), but that’s just me…

The days of John Lennon, Mother Teresa and Princess Di are sadly long gone. Instead, we’d rather glamourize completely talentless celebs like Paris Hilton and/or make the indiscretions of pro athletes like Tiger Woods “breaking news.”

The problem with the mass media (especially when it comes to influencing the impressionable minds of our adolescents – ie: our future leaders) is that it has become nothing more than a vehicle of distraction and entertainment. At one point, those with a message used the media to promote their cause(s) and gain recruits, and if the major news outlets wouldn’t listen, they’d start their own. Now, even our news broadcasts are laughable at this point – they’ve become about nothing more than the 30 second sound-byte.

While there are a few amazing candidates out there like Bono or Angelina who are sincerely trying to make the world a better place, not only are their efforts frequently overshadowed by the latest Tinseltown scandal (shows you where our values are), but further, when they do receive airtime for their goodwill activities, the media often constructs their actions as calculated – nothing more than a means of reputation management.

While admittedly there is certainly no shortage of global-reaching societal crises at this current point in history, among my list of my top five biggest pet peeves is: complaining coupled with inaction. Too many people feel completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of maladies that our modern world has to contend with. As a consequence, they remain stagnant. IMAGINE IF EVERYONE HAD THIS VIEW.

While I don’t expect any of you (as I could hardly expect such of myself) to go out there and crusade against every single dilemma that is currently plaguing humanity whether it be in accordance with environmental concerns, human rights violations, organized crime or what have you, I don’t believe it is too much to ask everyone to try and contribute in their own way. There is ALWAYS someone who has it worse off than you, I assure you (especially considering the comfortable lives in which we live on this end of the globe).

It’s as easy as picking up after yourself, volunteering at a soup kitchen, sending money or other goods for relief, adopting a rescue animal, assisting an elder who is struggling with their groceries, or even encouraging a friend or acquaintance to seek counsel for his/her psychological distress. It doesn’t matter what it is, JUST DO SOMETHING (for someone other than yourself, that is).

Because we live in an industrialized wealthy Western nation, we tend to ignore the problems that are colouring our very own backyards. For example, did you know that the UN has flagged Canada’s homeless problem as one that we should seriously be ashamed of?

But let me clarify - it’s not as though the majority of us doesn’t give a shit about our own. Rather the emphasis (again thanks to the media) is almost invariably placed on the tortures and sufferings of those from undeveloped nations. Therefore, we remain ignorant regarding our home-grown predicaments. This, my friends, is by NO accident (but I don’t have time to dissect the political and ideological frameworks that inform and shape our mass media).

What it comes down to is this: how do you weigh one human’s life as being more valuable than another’s or one human’s problem(s) as being more severe than another’s? Isn’t everything relative? When faced with highly emotionally-charged questions like this, too many people would rather opt for the easy way out, than face their own biases. The result yet again? Inertia.

The point to this entire rant of mine is as follows: although we have wars, moral panics, and epidemics just the same as we did in the past, joint movements in protest of a better world, in demand of a more tolerance societyNO longer occur, and I’d like you to consider why. It’s not just oversaturation. It’s not just distraction. Something has sincerely altered our value system, and in my view, it ain’t for the better.

If I were born in the 60s, you can bet your bottom dollar, I would have been up there in the front lines fighting for what I believe in. Nowadays, it seems like a feat just to get people to come out to an awareness-raising charity event. ‘Tis a sad state indeed. Let’s change it. Break out those bellbottoms. I wanna revolution.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Vol #1, Col #5: Good Old Credentialism: Look Out Retail Management, I Just Got My B.A. in English!

As much as I hate those guilt trip-ridden conversations with the parental units that begin with, “when I was your age…” I’ve gotta say there is something to them, especially when it comes to the subject of “growing up” (and by that I mean, fulfilling the checklist of getting the car, career, spouse, 1.2 kids, and the white picket fence). But, as pointed out in Foot and Stoffman’s seminal work, "Boom, Bust and Echo”, which dissects market trends based on demographic theory, the concept of the ‘generation gap’ (ie: the inability of those from a given generation to be able to relate to their predecessors and/or ancestors) is nothing new.

We all grow up within a given cohort, and it is those shared experiences
(mediated and impacted by the
decisions made by the generations that came prior) that determine not only many of the social aspects of our lives, but as well the marketplace with which we are faced. As alluded to by the title of this article, a growing phenomenon that us twenty-somethings are now burdened with is UNDERemployment (ie: we are overcredentialized for the positions that are accessible to us upon graduation).
The narratives that our parents and grandparents like to rely upon in order to justify why we are still co-dependent, unmarried (and childless), and only earning $9.50 an hour ($12 at best!), in our twenties, state that we are lazy, unmotivated, and seriously lacking in the strong work ethic department (ie: our social circumstances are entirely a result of our OWN failings). Now, there are obviously bad apples in every group, but we can hardly consider them representative of larger social trends. In fact, contrary to what these “generational bitchings” (yes, a term I have now coined) suggest, we have MORE people not only attending post-secondary institutes, but further obtaining post-grad degrees, than EVER before!

Taking this simple fact into consideration, it is easy to see that ultimately all of these mythologies about our cohort being spread by seniors come down to fear: they’re scared we’re gonna screw up the very world they worked so hard to create – the world we’re inheriting – and frankly, they also don’t want us to take over the reins just yet (again, it’s nothing new that people get the willies when it comes to being labeled old and incompetent, read: they’re gonna be kicking and screaming all the way to the old-age homes). The ironic part of all of this, of course, is that they (ie: the babyboomers), purely because of their sheer numbers, are largely to blame for our predicament:

TOO many babyboomers are holding on for dear life to their jobs, which in turn disallows us from ever climbing up the social ranks. The result: while the cushy positions remain occupied, all that’s left for grabs for us are the medial labour jobs, admin positions, retail and service-oriented work, and, don’t forget, the paradise known as the fast-food industry. Even then, many of the jobs that we can “get our hands on” (or better yet, particularly in the case of the last industry mentioned on the aforementioned list, “sink our teeth into”) are still only part-time, temporary, or contractual (ie: we have NO sense of stability, and are often forced to live paycheck-to-paycheck. With student loans to pay off, this typically doesn’t go over very well).

But in all fairness, pensions have been cut dramatically in many fields, forcing seniors to take a hiatus from their golfing expeditions and air-conditioned Floridian lifestyles to re-enter the workforce. In addition, because we are in uncertain economic times (ie: thanks to the so-called war-on-terror, along with changing environmental practices, among other things), having a single job (or for that matter relying on a single family income) that is able to substantiate one’s lifestyle, in the first place, is becoming increasingly next to impossible (yes, I work three myself, and go to school part-time, I hardly think I’m lazy and unmotivated as the popular discourse would suggest).

Remember the good old days when you could purchase a full tank of gas for less than $15? NO, neither do I, but I do know that in some alternative universe, many moons ago, such was the reality. Though our technology has allowed us to produce products faster, and at a cheaper rate, the fact that only a handful of corporate conglomerates control some absurd amount (upwards of 70%) of the entire world’s economy allows them to over-charge us ignorant consumers in an effort to maximize profits which, according to the compelling documentary, The Corporation, is their legal designation, above all others. The point: everything these days, from foodstuff to rental properties, is MORE expensive.

But, don’t think for a second that our governments are innocent in this equation either. In fact, some governments go out of their way to ensure that corporations will maintain their headquarters within the territories under their charge to ensure that their economies remain solid. Consequently, white collar crimes, the disregard for environmental regulations, human rights violations (including the privatization of essential resources such as water), and the like get completely skated over as if they weren’t serious concerns. As ACDC put it: “money talks.”

Human labour in a lot of previously valued, and highly regarded positions (particularly, machine-oriented grunt work) is no longer required, thanks to technology. For all the good it has brought, it has also cost a lot of people their salaries.

Moreover, because we are increasingly moving in the globalized direction and the disparities in wealth between the poorest and richest nations continue to expand, it is in the best interests of corporations
(read: more cost-effective) to outsource their labour. If you’ve ever wondered how and why it is possible that you can phone up what appears to be a local helpline for your cable, phone, or internet service, yet get connected with someone who speaks broken English at best, there’d be your answer.

Because our parents and our parents’ parents fought long and hard not only for equitable access to higher education, but as well for better quality learning overall, there is a widespread belief ingrained within our society that if you don’t obtain a university degree (moreover, a university degree in a “PRACTICAL” field like medicine, engineering, teaching, or law), you will FAIL at life. While I’m not suggesting that all of us undergrads ought to go on our spring breaks and never come back, I do feel that it would do society a lot of good if it acknowledged that the “essentiality” of a university degree is tempered by one’s residential terrain in terms of its level of urbanization, and its population characteristics (ie: which demographic groups compose the primary target markets).

For example, in London, Ontario where the available jobs for people of my educational level and age are largely in the financial, service, real estate or customer service sectors, I’ve got a girlfriend who merely finished grade twelve, and consistently has been employed in better paying positions. Why you ask? For the simple reason that she’s bilingual. Similarly, my older brother has never gone to university, likely couldn’t write a properly structured thesis for the life of him, and doesn’t have a clue as to how to study effectively, but guess what? He earns as much as THREE times what I do for the simple reason that he works within the trades.

Finally, if you come from a well-regarded family within your city, connections will often bypass the entire application and interview process. So, as much as I value my education, I question just how transferable and valued the skills that I have been taught are in the real world.

Alright, get to the point you’re all thinking, so here it is: they say that too little choice is debilitating, but I’d like to argue that the opposite is true as well. While some of our parents and grandparents may have been miserable with the changeless and predictable existences they led, in my view, it would have been a hell of a lot easier to determine your future direction when it was clearly plotted out for you. You either inherited the family business, or studied under a subject area which you knew would lead to a specific employment outcome, you either married your neighbour, highschool sweetheart, or the match arranged for you in advance, you had at least one child (preferably a boy), and were well into your rearing years by your thirties, at the latest.

These days the dialogues on the milestones one must hit throughout their life course range from stating that “40 is the new 30”, AND you’re supposed to be a worth a few million by 20. With all of these mixed messages, not to mention the catch 22 education/employment opportunities we have to contend with, I’m certainly not surprised that most of us don’t have it together just yet. Maybe it’s our parents who need to get with the program!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Vol #1, Col #4: Edu-MY-nation: Taking a Page from Plato’s Philosophers Kings

I’ve met some of the most ignorant individuals in my life, at my so-called “prestigious” Ivy-league university. Not just ignorant, but close-minded, prejudice, and unrealistic as well. To sum it up, they quite simply have no concept of the “real world,” and accordingly, despite boasting B.A.s and M.A.s out their ying-yangs, they remain ill-equipped to deal with many of life’s “stresses, and messes” (if you will).

While said individuals are successfully exceeding the 4.0 GPA mark, when it comes to “street smarts”, and EQ (yes you read correctly, I’m referring to the much overlooked, but indispensable domain of “emotional intelligence”), it’s a whole nother story.
Undoubtedly, this phenomenon can partly be accounted for by the appeal of my school to “trust-fund” types, but in my view, our current academic canon (and its points of emphasis) should carry the brunt of this burden as well. While it’d be foolish (and blatantly inaccurate) of me to suggest that our Western-borne educational system has ever triumphed in the impartation of “life skills”, I do believe that aspects of our older curricula (which would aid in the development of not just well-rounded students, but better people, in general) are worth reviving. But before we embark on a little academic “time travelling”, perhaps an illustrative example of exactly what I mean when I say that my fellow post-secondary peers possess a whole host of unredeemable qualities, is necessary.

Last year, as part of my degree requirements, I had to (emphasis on HAD, and not in a positive way) acquire a full year credit in a hard science. Naturally, being a student of the social science, artistic, and humanities realm, I opted for what seemed to me to be the least of all evils (ie: geology!) Despite this area NOT appealing to my particular tastes, I was actually so successful in this endeavour that, at one point, I found myself sitting in my prof’s office overviewing an exam on which I obtained a high 90, with her trying to convince me that I should promptly change my major. (This little tidbit will prove relevant in a moment - just you wait – but in the meantime, back to this tale’s plot development…)

For one of my assignments in this course, I was required to grace the hallways of the Bio/Enviro Sci. building in order to view various mineral samples, which were on exhibit in glass cases lining the walls. It was there that I met a seemingly intelligent student (he’d apparently been studying at our academy for over seven years, and was working on his thesis) who proceeded to not only introduce himself by showering me with insults, but even after a severe bitch-out, continued to poke and prod me (I guess he really wasn’t lying when he said he’d been there for seven years, ie: his only form of interaction with anything in almost a decade was likely in the form of a dissection and so partaking in a normal conversation wasn’t really something he was all that practiced in!)

Despite my casual appearance and clear interest in the exhibits, the first words he uttered in my general direction came in the form of a sardonic query, “Rocks for jocks?” I immediately shot back, “Do I look like a jock?(For those of you unfamiliar with the connotations laden within my adversary’s expression, essentially he was calling me stupid, and making the assumption, right from the get-go, that I couldn’t possibly be a serious student of the hard sciences, though my final grade in the course would suggest otherwise.) This wit-LESS banter continued for quite some time, until I just got so fed up that frankly I decided I’d complete the assignment later (and let me tell ya, procrastinating and/or putting things off goes against every fiber in my being).

During the process of this entire ordeal, all I could think was, “Wow! For someone so smart, how could he be so stupid?” I even contemplated suggesting to him to look into (for his own good) completing a course in human relations psychology, but figured the attempt would fall on deaf ears. So how does this relate to former models of post-secondary excellence? Well, at one point, basic communication skills (ie: reading, writing, and rhetoric – the very subjects we delved into last week) were heralded! But moreover than that, the foundation of all of Western thought and the entire Western schooling system lay in the precepts of Ancient Greek philosophy.

Plato founded the first official university known as, “The Academy” in 387 B.C. with its driving force dedicated to the “Socratic” search for truth (in a nutshell, this method consisted of continually drilling others on their opinions, until they could no longer justify why it was they believed what they did – hence it’s a rather clever means at getting at underlying discriminatory viewpoints). In addition, it is believed that Plato regularly posed various social problems to his students, and made it a competitive exercise among them to see who could come up with the best (and most humanitarian of) solutions.

The greatest strength of philosophy as a course of study, in general, however ultimately (when taught properly, that is), is that there is no such thing as a right or wrong answer. Everything is entirely subjective and as a consequence, by being exposed to this discipline, it pretty much goes without saying that one’s worldview, conceptions, and ideologies will be greatly expanded. The result? A human being who proudly embraces a liberal, inclusive, and sympathetic attitude towards others and their particular life circumstances. In a world where racism still runs rampant (don’t kid yourself, it’s just better veiled than it used to be), embracing an overall philosophical approach in the educational system is definitely something worth striving for.

Long after the Sophists, Stoics, and Epicureans, education largely became the province of clergyman; as a result, religion and academia became entangled, with Latin (because it was the “holy” language) purported as the most important of the subjects. The Middle Ages’ view was that education was intended to, “instill obedience, discipline and habits of cleanliness,” into its students. Considering the fairly recent moral panics surrounding schoolyard violence, and a general air of insolence among pupils (directed at any and every authority figure), perhaps the former of these two areas could use a little extra “umph”. As for the latter, well as they say, “cleanliness is next to godliness.”

During this time, increased attention was also paid to the encouragement of artistic development; as an artist myself, you know I’m going to have no qualms about this venture. In fact, I’d go so far as to argue that artists have been assigned the societal role of modern day philosophers, and therefore, not only should artistic pursuits be accentuated in schools (arts programs sadly, whether performance or visual, are always the first to be hit by budget cuts), but further, art overall in society is what promotes change, and therefore it should be accorded higher value by the general public. But that’s an entirely separate discussion, in it of itself.

Our final destination on this educational journey is that of “The Age of Enlightenment” (or in chronological terms, the 18th century). During this time, there was a forceful push away from religion, and a move towards critical thinking and reason, along with the expansion of literacy to the broader public (ie: it wasn’t just cool for the rich folks anymore).

Education in the 18th century was conceived of as a, “necessary tool to overcome ignorance, fear and superstition” with the ultimate aim being to realize a more, “open-minded and egalitarian society”. As this “Age” was predated only a century prior by the height of the Renaissance which looked to revive many “classical” practices, the influence of Ancient Greek philosophy, in this view, is not coincidental.

While the flaws (namely, the lack of access to women and other minority groups, or at best, the segregation policies, not to mention the widely-accepted corporal punishment practices, and well, those pesky uniforms!) of our previous educational academies largely outweigh their merits, I do think there is something to be said about reviving or at least ushering forth a new respect and regard for certain subjects of the past.

So…what do I feel should be brought “back to the future”? HOME EC. for starters! (Oh, the days of the 1950s, when women attended college just as much to earn their M.R.S. as any degree!) But in all seriousness, Home Ec = a valuable commodity, and here’s why: far too many college-aged kids don’t have a clue as to how to darn socks, do their own laundry, or prepare a meal that doesn’t consist of a questionable powered substance labeled “cheese mix” and bleached flour noodles. After all, mommy dearest isn’t going to be around forever to fulfill these demands! Aside from establishing a skill-base on the domestic front, I also feel that more focus deserves to be paid to both the liberal arts and the social sciences because of their capacity to open up one's mind, and therefore, one's world (and I’m not just saying that ‘cause I’ve majored in both).

While it has been said that we’re currently training students for technological jobs that have yet to be created, it doesn’t matter how qualified, accomplished, and up-to-speed on the latest “gear” one is, if you’re lacking in basic interpersonal abilities, as well as a global perspective, you simply ain’t gonna cut it in today’s over-saturated and over-credentialized market.

Finally, though I don’t believe that any of the following have ever been offered as REQUIRED electives in any highschool and/or post-secondary program (at least not in North America), I think that teaching students how to budget (time, money, their social lives, and the like), how to deduce whether one’s relationships (both intimate and platonic – ah another Plato reference) are healthy, as well as how to child-rear are all skills that could go a long way. Though I’m sure plenty would argue that said domains really ought to be in the charge of one’s parents, let’s face it, many of them don’t have it figured out either!