Saturday, September 19, 2020

I support 1492 Land Back Lane

The following is a letter I sent to my federal Member of Parliament (MP), forwarding a letter I sent to my Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP).

 



Honourable David McGuinty, my MP in Ottawa South.


I am forwarding a letter I sent to my MPP.  The Indian Act is federal, and that act is the source of many of the problems we see at the provincial level.

If after yet another speech from the colonial throne we end up in an election, Mr. Trudeau's reputation isn't going to help Liberal nominated candidates as it did in the 2015 federal election.  Due to the land protection events at the beginning of the year with the Wet'suwet'en people, the ant-Chinese racist conspiracies about the origins of COVID, and the Black Lives Matter events during COVID, many people like myself have started their antiracist education.  In early 2019 I had no concept of how offensive it was for Mr. Trudeu to attempt to move Jody Wilson-Raybould to the Indigenous Services portfolio, but I do now.



---------- Forwarded message ---------
To: John Fraser Ottawa South



I live at 305 Southcrest Private K1V2B7, on unceded Algonquin territory.  This is just behind your constituency office.


While I'm a settler Canadian (ancestors primarily indigenous to Ireland, wife's parents born in India), I support decolonisation. I feel embarrassed by how much the settler-state of Canada and its provinces has disrespected treaties made with indigenous peoples, suggesting these politicians believe Canada was formed through conquest.

I heard an answer given to the media by Premier Doug Ford about the 6 nations land defenders, where he said there is "one country, one law" suggesting he is oblivious to how Canada was formed and exists.

This whole claim of "innocent third parties" being unlawfully "sold" land being able to maintain exclusivity to it is immoral, but apparently typical of the European worldview expressed by the settler-state courts. Something that is stolen and then sold is still stolen, and it is the settler-state that owes the developers a return of anything paid in the alleged sale.  I also disagree with the claim of innocence of these third parties, as any settler Canadian should recognize that the settler-state is not the only entity that they should confirm with.

I find the Indian Act created band councils being treated as indigenous representatives to be offensive, given these are settler-state created bureaucrats to help administer the foundationally racist Indian Act. These individuals are not at all legitimately representatives of indigenous people.


I also believe the Ontario government's negotiation of the Algonquin land claim is far too tilted in favor of European worldviews.  I understand the horrible position the Algonquin have been put in, given they have to accept what habitual treaty violators will offer or the survivors of past settler-state violence will only be subjected to more settler-state violence.


I am passionate about this issue and antiracism in general.  In case this letter is just filed under support/rejection of an issue I will leave it there.


Sunday, September 13, 2020

Rethink: Inheritance, debt, and world views

At the end of June I joined a twitter thread started by George Soros where he referenced a short podcast essay he made about rethinking debt.

 

 

While the thread was short, it touched upon some interesting ideas I wanted to expand upon.


Read outside your echo chamber

One person suggested that my comment came from within an echo chamber. In fact, what I wrote is what it sounds like when someone of European descent (ancestors primarily indigenous to Ireland) finally exits the Eurocentric echo chamber.

Persons of European descent often imply that economic discussions are linear thinking between the theories of two Europeans: Scottish Adam Smith (Capitalism, 1700's) and German Karl Marx (Communism, 1800's).  If you question anything about current implementations of Capitalism, the dominant European economic thinking in the 1900's and thus far in the 2000's, you are then "accused" of being communist. The idea that we might be expressing concepts from world views that originated from outside of Europe doesn't occur to them.

Due to events in Canada earlier in the year (pre-COVID) involving indigenous land protection groups, and events during COVID-19, I have embarked on my own antiracism training. While I have been questioning some small aspects of dominant European thought throughout my life, I now have a better understanding of where these ideas came from and where some of the alternatives came from.


Government Debt

George Soros ideas are simple, and involve different instruments for global or domestic government debt.

Built into the Bretton Woods institutions (International Monetary Fund and World Bank) is economic policies mirroring a European world view, and debt from these institutions pretty much always come with an imposition of European economic policy within the borrowing countries.

The idea that capital accumulation should be individual, but debt shared (through government, or otherwise externalised) is European thinking that I don't subscribe to.

Inheritance

I believe we have all heard the phrase "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children". Some indigenous North Americans such as members of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy subscribe to the Seventh Generation Principle where decisions we make today should taken into consideration and result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future.

For as long as I can remember I have thought the same thing about capital itself: that we don't inherit it from our parents, but borrow it from the future. Understood this way, inheritance is yet another form of shared (via the future) debt that exists only to benefit historical individuals. The future is claimed to "owe" the beneficiaries of this inheritance even if they make no contribution to society themselves.

There are levels of capital accumulation that are near a subsistence level that don't qualify as debt, where there is no issue with passing on to the same people you would normally be a caregiver for in life. This is the type of wealth transfer to descendants that most individuals will be personally familiar with, and is not what I'm referring to.

Individuals manipulating public policy to generate public debt

When we have individuals accumulating capital that could allow families or whole communities or countries to subsist for many generations without further contribution then this is public debt for personal gain.

I have never believed that those currently in the top 1% of capital extraction actually "earned" that wealth based on the value of their contributions to society. I believe they extracted that capital and created that public debt through flawed public policy (said in another way, corruption).

Rather than applauding these individuals, such as George Soros, Bill Gates, or Warran Buffet, I consider their building and abusing public debt to be immoral. While some of these individuals wish to direct some of this wealth and influence towards policy goals of their choosing, this doesn't change the fact that these individuals are manipulating public policy based on the public debt they have created.

If you take a close look at those declared the "richest" people in the world, you might notice something in common.  They were all able to accumulate this personal monetary wealth based on government granted and/or protected monopolies.

Cory Doctorow wrote a book-sized essay he titled "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism" where he discussed one aspect of government protected monopolies.  Rather than understanding that the mere existence of a monopoly is economic and political harm, western governments have transformed into believing that the only possible type of harm is "consumer pricing".

From this Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Larry Page (Google), Elon Musk (Tesla), Sergey Brin (Google) were able to build upon the decades of monopolist public policies actively promoted by Bill Gates (Microsoft, pharmaceuticals), Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison (Oracle), and other is more traditional media and communications.  These are individuals who helped expand government granted monopolies (right-of-way wired communication monopolies, wireless spectrum monopolies, author monopolies, inventor monopolies, etc) into something that enables a small number of individuals to accumulate personal benefit at the expense of society as a whole.

Much of the current attempts by western governments to regulate "Big Tech" are doomed to fail as they narrowly focus on the harm made blatantly visible by specific individual monopolists, rather than recognizing that flawed government policies entirely created the problem if the first place. They insist on rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic rather than bothering to steer clear of the iceberg.


North American indigenous world views

Whether we call it Turtle Island or North America, there were people here for thousands of years before Europeans re-discovered this land in the 1400's. While early interactions were civil, this relatively quickly changed to colonization and in the southern part conquest (what the settlers declared to be the United States). While the European settlers in the North (what Europeans declared to be Canada) weren't as overt in their conquest, the ongoing violation of treaties suggests us northerners weren't that much better.  The official policy of the government of Canada has essentially been cultural genocide of indigenous treaty partners.

 

As I'm learning in the Indigenous Canada course I'm taking, North American Indigenous world views and governance are very different from European. While there are differences throughout North America as there are in Europe, commonalities exist:

  • Philosophy of interconnectedness and belonging
  • Unity through collaboration
  • Relationship with the land extending to environmental stewardship

 
Rather than the European focus on the individual, often to the exclusion of the group, indigenous North Americans believed each person should have accountability to the group for their own actions and words.

Rather than competition which is seen by Europeans as how to create growth opportunities, collaboration is the focus.  Each child, youth, adult and elder must have a role and each retain a responsibility to each other and to the community.
 

The European concept of "purchasing" and then "owning" land was inconceivable, and thus the perspectives of Europeans and North Americans on agreements and treaties were quite different.  Europeans believed in a concept of ownership (exclusivity without responsibility) of land, animals, people and ideas which was not shared by others. Indigenous North Americans believed in stewardship, a view I personally share.

The welfare of fellow citizens

With a pre-European North American world view, policies such as a Universal Basic Income would be obvious. As we all have responsibilities to each other, there would no longer be this push to have complex (expensive to administer) programs that seek to negatively stigmatize sharing as happens with most social welfare and other programs in North America today.

In a country where we recognized responsibility for each other, we would no longer be willing to sustain policies which enable so few individuals to extract so much wealth from the commons or the future.  Policies which create and sustain monopolies would no longer be supportable.

Land stewardship could replace land ownership, with the building up of public debt (as we see in the energy sector) being replaced with sustainable land and resource usage.

If we also replaced coercive justice with restorative justice, much of the problems with over-policing and the disconnect between policing and the communities would no longer exist.

 

I will never claim to have all the answers, but the most critical thing I have learned thus far this year is we all need to exit the Eurocentric echo chamber.

Decolonisation

I am a strong supporter of decolonisation. In this I'm not only referring to racist language used as part of colonizers treating the colonized as inferior, but to also visit whether precolonial world views, governance and laws should be readopted in countries such as Canada.

As I look at how Europeans and their colonies have addressed various crisis from the current pandemic to the global climate crisis, I have come to believe that European economic thought from the 1700's and 1800's has failed our species. We need to steer in a different direction if we are to have a sustainable future.


Friday, September 11, 2020

The COVID-19 Anniversary of September 11, 2001

On September 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked four airplanes.  A total of 2,977 people were killed in New York City, Washington, DC and outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Many suggested that the world changed due to these events, and considerable resources have been spent by many countries to seek to prevent future such events.

I have been watching as the death toll from COVID-19 has passed that number: first worldwide, then USA, then New York State, and then New York City.

According to the Ontario Government COVID-19 case data: All Ontario, as of today the number of deaths in Ontario alone from COVID-19 is 2,813.


Far less resources were ever put into preparedness for this far greater threat, which had been predicted well in advance. This intelligence and policy failure on the part of many governments must be acknowledged and prevented in the future.

When you hear people claiming the pandemic is a 'COVID fake emergency', please remember that there were also people who denied the attacks on September 11'th ever happened.

As we morn the ongoing COVID-19 deaths I hope we will do everything we can to prevent this level of harmful impacts in the future!  While pathogens can't be prevented, the level of harm we are seeing and will continue to see from this pandemic could have been avoided.


Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Why are social scientists and fellow social liberals allowing Jordan Peterson to win the policy discussion?

Youtube regularly recommends videos of someone attempting to debate Canadian clinical psychologist and UofT psychology professor Jordan Peterson. I've also read articles written by several critics. I cringe when I read/watch these discussions as I feel embarrassed by the arguments used by Mr. Peterson's critics.

While I don't agree with Jordan Peterson's conclusions, the logic behind his arguments in these discussions (debates, articles, etc) are sound while the arguments deployed against him are generally lacking. If all you had to go on were these critics of Jordan Peterson you would be forced to believe he was right, and his critics were wrong.


Measurements and accuracy matter

I have a background in natural sciences (STEM), which was part of my personal interests as well as training at university for computer science. When we need to measure something we work to be accurate, especially when we then put it into a model and/or formula to then predict some outcome. We can often test our models in the real world and know that our predictions were incorrect.


In the social sciences I often see something quite different.  When there are many factors that go into analyzing and/or measuring something, a researcher will try to simplify the number of factors and make claims based on that simplification. To anyone who believes that a different factor would have a larger impact they will dispute those claims. All too often there is no mechanism to make real-world measurements to determine whose predictions are more sound.

 

One of the areas I study is governance systems, including democratic reform around electoral systems. Many people in representative democracies instinctively can tell that the people who site in representative bodies (such as the House of Commons in Canada) don't represent the population well.  Some electoral systems researchers have taken one factor in a multi-factor analysis, declared it to be the only factor, and made policy proposals based on the myth that there was only one factor. This is the case with so-called Proportional Representation, which takes political party affiliation as the only demographic factor that matters for elected representatives. What they promote may optimize some factor-specific formula, but does not make the resulting democracy any more representative unless you blindly agree with the researchers that party affiliation is the only relevant demographic trait.

Hey, we have a number, so it must be accurate science.


Gender pay gap is something people try to critique Jordan Peterson about. The concept of equal pay for equal work may sound simple, but when you look at the concept of equal work you find yourself in a very complex multi-factor analysis.

What some political partisans do is pick one factor, sexism against women, and declare it the only factor.  With this factor you can then compare the salaries of some definition of "women" and the salaries of some definition of "men" and declare the difference as "sexism" which can be fixed by quotas to counteract "sexism".

While nobody would argue that sexism doesn't exist, many will appropriately argue that optimizing hiring and promotion based on the assumption that sexism is the only factor will be counterproductive.


Narrow binary gender roles

I have male genitalia. As a person with this anatomy I have had many things that people have assumed and/or attempted to project/impose on me.

I have never had a remote interest in competitive sports, and the closest thing to sports entertainment I enjoy is classical and modern dance. It is unfortunate that people think that I'm being antisocial because I don't want to talk about sports scores at a bar or water cooler, but I'm quite frustrated when people think that makes me less of a man.

Even in today's "modern" society the role of males is to be hunter-gatherers, which now means gathering money. Physical strength and aggression was key to the hunting, and thus considered key to being masculine and key to many people's definition of success. Your masculinity is questioned if you question the methods used to hunt-gather money, whether money is all too often extracted rather than earned, and whether that hunt-gather is a social good or harm. You are definitely questioned if you don't project physical strength and aggression.

While I work with computers (systems administration and software author), a field that is male dominated, I have primarily applied my technical skills in areas I consider to be a social good. This has meant that I am quite often part of a male minority where I work, and it also means I am not "gathering" as much money as I could if I accepted one of the job offers that is less socially valuable to me.

As a person granted arbitrary privileges based on my anatomy, I am more free to choose my own role in society than if I was born with different anatomy.  That choice is still in opposition to many others who attempt to impose binary gender roles and expression on everyone. It is still an act of political and social defiance.


Even before we move entirely away from the antiquated concept of there being a gender binary, the problem of treating people based on anatomy should be obvious.

As much as our not-so-modern society wants to claim that a persons anatomy determines how they think, how they want to express themselves, and their role in society, I believe it is inappropriate to create laws which impose that outdated binary gender thinking.

 

Equality of opportunity vs outcome

Equality of outcome is simple: as an example, assume that nothing other than sexism exists, you can measure and then compare pairs of assumed binary demographic statistics.   Except, that analysis gets gender grossly wrong and will lead to policies that will be as harmful to society as the harm from sexism and various other harmful isms we are trying to account for.

Equality of opportunity is hard:  it requires detecting a large number of factors, and creating multiple policies to correct a wider ranges of problems which disable equality of opportunity.

If we want a fair and just society that isn't imposing arbitrary policies on people based on incorrect assumptions about demographic traits, we must be willing to do the hard work.  I see no evidence that taking shortcuts will solve problems, but see considerable evidence it will make existing problems worse.

 

Reworking success

While I strongly agree with Jordan Peterson's opposition to those who want to create harm by adopting policies based on equality of outcome, it is also obvious to me that I disagree with him when it comes to what qualifies as equality of opportunity.

Mr. Peterson has indicated many times that when counseling women on how to achieve better pay that they should become more aggressive. To make a long analysis short, his advise to individuals (regardless of anatomy) is to adopt more traditional "hunter gather" traits. My immediate question is this: are traits that are appropriate for human warfare and/or killing animals for food or sport the best traits to promote in the workplace, in economic policy, and society in general?

Hiring and promoting more women doesn't change this problematic criteria for success if the only women that are being hired and promoted are those who have already adopted the same traits.

On my bookshelf, along with Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations" and Yochai Benkler's "The Wealth of Networks" is Robert Theobald's "reworking success".

Personally I think Adam Smith's ideas are more than a bit past their prime, and if we want to move forward with a modern society we need to put better thought into how we define wealth and success. I'm not suggesting we switch from the ideas of a Scottish economist (Adam Smith, 1723-1790) to the ideas of a German economist (Karl Marx, 1818-1883), as I don't think it is healthy to believe that all useful ideas are confined to a line between these two European males.

I'm convinced it isn't helpful to declare adherence to European ideas as a criteria for success, another thing I am not in agreement with Mr. Peterson on.


Systemic problems

I have spent much of my free (non-work) time in the last few months on my own antiracist training. Probably at the top of the list of thing I've learned is to move away from thinking about individuals (a racist, or a group of racists) to systems (racism).  An individual may prefer one race or the other, and may not even be aware of their biases.

This turns out to be ideal for me as a systems administrator. I've always been more comfortable thinking about systems, and less able (or sometimes interested) in narrowly focusing on individuals within the systems.  I've always been a "think global, act local" person.

I grew up in Canada, with Canadian culture all around me. While I didn't consider myself a racist, I still have views I adopted from the culture around me that have racial bias.

The current Canadian system of government was imposed in 1867 by colonialists who had already been occupying this land for a considerable time. When Europeans first traveled to the northern part of North America they established healthy trade relationships, but that relatively quickly moved to eurocentric colonialism. Whether the official colonial government policy to non-europeans (whether indigenous or european approved immigrants) was segregationist or assimilationist, both were and continue to be racism as part of the system of governance. The same is true of other demographic traits, where government and culture continues to try to make impositions on people that don't fit European, male, binary gender, or other narrow (and now many would agree outdated) concepts.

While it would be nice to think I would be alive long enough to request immigration status from a new government in a post-colonial northern North America (some call turtle island), I don't at all believe I live in a post-racism country.

Solving these systemic problems can't be accomplished by looking at individuals and assigning blame to individuals. Demographic trait based blame games seem obvious to me to be a distraction from moving forward with policies to reduce systemic injustice.


Affirmative Action

In the 1990's I was an opponent to affirmative action.  I have come to recognize this was because I am an opponent to policies trying to create equality of outcome, which I don't see as having merit.

I now recognize a lack of equality of opportunity, partly due to failures at defining success and dealing with systemic injustices.  I am a strong supporter of adjusting systems to not only correct existing systemic problems, but also for an appropriate level of time to grant an advantage to groups who were previously unfairly put at a disadvantage.

There may be some superficial similarities for some policies around equality of outcome and equality of opportunity, but how these policies are formed and what would be used as a metric of success would be quite different.

Unfortunately, I've rarely seen good arguments being brought forward for affirmative action and similar policies. As long as the discussion is around equality of outcomes, the justified opposition will always win the debate.  Policies to address social problems will either not be brought forward or won't last.

Only once convincing arguments that focus on systemic solutions to enable equality of opportunity are brought forward will we see sustainable progress.