Thursday, June 29, 2017

Canada 150. Where to start?

My people have been here, creating our bodies on the food and water of this land, for about 400 years. If you are descended from the Indigenous people of what we call Canada, your people have been here much longer, but it's still many generations. Unfortunately, my people came as conquerors, cruely ignorant of any relationship with the land and its people beyond exploitation. I have one early ancestor who set up a farm, a village, and offered medical care to anyone. I like to think that at least he was sympathetic to the Indigenous people; I like to imagine that he honoured and respected them. Perhaps there is some truth to that wish. But he was part of the conquering army of settlers, taking without comprehending what was there, assuming superiority and entitlement to what was yours first.

I am ashamed of the ignorance and cruelty of my ancestors. I feel they are ashamed through me. They recognize what they have done. They realize, through death, through the life in me, that we destroyed a beautiful gift when we discovered this land and its people. We had the chance to bond the lands of the Earth, we had the chance to learn what you knew and begin to remember our own relationship to our own lands, as well as yours. We could have learned to approach the inevitable industrial revolution and all that came from it with the land as our partner, our guide; with our resources generated from a healthy, giving world. We could have brought all the knowing together, and you offered this. You expected that my people were mature enough to engage it. You opened yourselves, and my people arrogantly decided that your wisdom was inferior, that your ways were primitive, that your land was for the taking and your people to be destroyed or assimilated. My people forgot how to value life, and were so blind they lost the chance to remember, to create this land as the place where all the lands of Earth are bonded.

Still, the Land demands this. Still, she calls new people to us, even while you try to recover from the damage my people inflicted and still, to this day, inflict. Daily, more people from all the corners of Earth come here, to what we call Canada, to try to live together in peaceful coexistence that honours our differences and our commonalities. But it is a distorted vision, skewed to the thinking of powerful people who live disconnected from the realities of life as primary value - all life. Our laws, our policies, our very vision, is crafted by powerful men in the spirit of the arrogant enslavement of the Land and its people to the profits of a few.

Despite our failings, the Land calls people here to create the United Nations of Nations. A place for people from all lands to live peacefully with each other and the land. Will the vision be stillborn, or malformed, or just hobble along sickly? If we continue to starve and exploit her, the land will not be able to sustain the bonds we’re forming. I want to work together to figure out what to do about this. I don’t know what’s next.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Police Stop; Stop Police

Another black man shot by a racist cop who got away with it. 

I'm afraid. Every time I'm pulled over by a cop, I'm afraid. I'm not doing anything wrong. I sit in my white-middle-class-mom-mobile, sweating and hoping I don't piss this guy off. That I appear polite and non-threatening enough to avoid any further action on his part than a traffic ticket. That there's no reason for him to use his power to make my life difficult.

The police have power over us. They carry guns. They can force us to comply with their requests with a certain degree of permitted violence. They can take us temporarily out of society without a word to anyone - effectively state-sanctioned kidnapping - if they find a reason to "bring you in." They can mess up our day, our week, our life, if they decide they don't like our attitude. They can manufacture a reason and they will be believed. And ultimately, if they choose to, they can shoot us.

When I'm stopped, police are generally polite and firm, not friendly, taking a stance meant to solidify their position of authority over me. That is what they are trained to do. They expect me to move slowly, be polite, do what I'm told immediately (but not too quickly), and defer to them in every way from body language to tone of voice. If I do these things correctly, I can generally assume that the stop will go smoothly, and I will be on my way. Yet, just that level of interaction shakes me to my core, leaves me afraid and feeling vulnerable. Because these people assume authority over me with a gun at their side, and the threat they will use that power against me remains a constant undercurrent through any interaction between an on-duty officer and me.

That black people are disproportionately stopped by police is clear. But if I'm shaking in my white-lady boots in Canada, with a cop who will probably give me a stern warning and a ticket, what would it feel like if that was not the likely outcome? If I were black, if I were somewhere less tolerant, more racist, and I knew the likely outcome was that I would be removed from my vehicle and subjected to harassment, or worse, that I would be hurt or shot, even when complying with the officer. It's terrifying. In fact, it's state-sanctioned terror.

Policing, done right, is about helping everyone feel safer, not about controlling the behaviour of individuals to make the cop feel safe. Policing, done right, should feel like a helpful and friendly service, not like a threat, not like control in the name of authority. Policing, done right, should not make a routine traffic stop terrifying for anyone, let alone fatal.

Police have a huge power over us, and the means to enforce it. With that comes a responsibility to be better than us at handling interactions, to be more compassionate and more supportive, to be more in control and calm, to recognize and actively work against their own biases. Anyone who's not up to that inner work is not up to the job. When I see cops, I feel fear, because I've seen how power gets abused, and I don't know the person standing in front of me with a badge and a gun. He could be a good one. He could be a bad one.

When I see another black man shot, I don't think that it's not my problem. I don't feel any relief that it's less likely to happen to me because I'm white. It could still happen to me, but more than that, if it can happen to anyone, that means there are cops on our forces who don't have the control, compassion or capability to handle a simple traffic encounter without becoming violent. How many incompetent police are there? How many assholes to be offset by the ones who are truly called to serve? These people have power over us, but as a group they can't be trusted, and they protect each other. So how can any of us trust any of them, while this is the state they train each other into?

I know that if I keep my head down, smile and stay polite, it's unlikely that I will be targeted for violence. A black man does not know that. He has every reason to think the opposite.  As a white person I can hope things go smoothly and expect that my behaviour can help that along. As a black person, no matter how nice and polite and well-behaved, they still can't expect the stop to go smoothly. Nothing they can do in their behaviour can protect them from someone who perceives them as threatening the moment they lay eyes on the colour of their skin. It's an impossible position. It's an intolerable state.

When any officer acts this way, it reflects on the state of policing, and how the ways they use power and authority breed behaviours of power-over and violence. When that's combined with a weak character and racist, sexist or other biased world views, it's a recipe for...well, exactly what we see. I am distressed and disturbed, and I'm afraid for what will happen next.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Sending and Receiving (A Tech Philosophy post)

My phone and my bluetooth speaker have trouble getting along. They just fail to connect. The speaker sends out a signal, but the phone isn't receiving. Then the phone sends out a signal, and the speaker doesn't receive it. Or, they both send signals at the same time; both wait for a signal at the same time. Each device reaches out, each device holds space, ready to receive, but the timing is off. It often takes me several minutes and more than a dozen tries before they finally connect.

They're both talking and listening, they're both programmed to allow the connection, they recognize each other, yet when it comes to performing the cooperative project I require using the capabilities each possesses, they fall short. Their goal, as assigned by me, is to play my music so I can hear it, right now. They struggle to achieve this goal, despite having the capacity and conditions for success.

This makes me think about people, at the one-on-one level, and at the organizational, national and global levels. Just the same. We're sending when we should be receiving. We're waiting for a signal when we should be reaching out. We're making multiple failed attempts at communicating and connecting. We are failing to perform the cooperative project we've been assigned, here - to find a way to respect all life and continue exploring with curious devotion. To play life as music, so we can all hear it. 

So I consider:

Where can I hold stillness to allow the message of the other? Where can I reach into an open space, meeting someone where they are with words they can hear? How might I do better at holding space to receive, and listening for the connection points? 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Cognitive Dissonance: Equality and Freedom

Over the past two years I have been seeing more women in my neighbourhood wearing clothing of arab fashions - that is, completely covered in heavy material, heads covered, and, more and more often, faces completely covered except for the eyes peeking out. It's been jarring for me, it's taken adjustment.

Having rejected my own religion initially and primarily on the grounds that it discriminated against me as a woman, I find it hard to find my okay-ness with women having any set of rules applied to them that are not equally applied to men. To me, that fundamental discrimination is simply unacceptable. 

I feel a little lucky that I don't believe in a religion that holds me to uncomfortable standards only because I reside in a woman's body. I think it would be hard to live with cultural expectations that make me hide my smile, never feel the breeze on my cheeks, see every man outside my family as someone from whom to hide my body. 

 I think it would be even harder to hold an honest belief that there is one true god and he wants me to completely cover myself in the heat of day, despite having sent me to the planet naked. Knowing me, I would especially agonize over thought that, in following the will of that god, my visible choice could also symbolize and institutionalize inequality between the sexes for myself and the next generation. If I really believed in that god, and I really believed this is what he wanted from me, I would have no choice but to comply. 

Maybe I wouldn't mind the head cover, the half-mask that creates distance from people who can't see me smile back at them. Maybe I would take pride, even joy, in keeping my modesty intact, saving my body for the appropriate place and time. Maybe I wouldn't feel as hot in there as I imagine; maybe I wouldn't constantly itch to just rip it off.  Maybe it could truly be the most comfortable thing I have to wear. Maybe it would keep me feeling safe. 

As hard as it is for me, I hold those possibilities true, and allow that they, or other positive spins that I didn't think of, could be the experience of the women I see. I will give the respect of assuming that, if people are dressed in a particular way, it's because they want to be, because they like it or choose it. In that way, I can tolerate the choice. That doesn't mean I like it. 

I don't like the message it sends to my children and the other girls and boys of their generation, when females are told through visual cues that their bodies are meant to be hidden, that men can't be trusted to interact with them as humans unless they are covered up, that there is something secret, shameful or unsightly about their natural form. To me, it's just the other side of the sexualization coin. 

I'm a feminist. I don't agree with being held to more stringent rules of anything, including dress, simply because I find myself in a woman's body. I don't have a belief system to honour, I don't believe in a god that cares how I dress more than he cares about how men dress. I don't have a culture to respect -  women in my culture dress in all kinds of ways. I have pressures from media and society, but I have choices, and if I wanted to cover myself totally I would be allowed, just as I'd be allowed to wear a bikini if I wanted. I know my choices have limits, but I have them because of my situation.

I want to give everyone the respect of believing that they also have the same choices I do and are making theirs, but I fear that the structures, social expectations and interpretations of particular leaders through history have affected those choices, infected them with patriarchy, limited them by gender. Even feeling that fear feels wrong to me, because I can't know another woman's experience, but given what I've read and studied, I gather that not every woman who dresses fully covered is choosing it freely, or would choose it without the social prohibitions in place around her. 

Still, it feels condescending to consider freedom of choice, since we're all steeped in our own culture's tea, so I come back to respect. I have a choice how I dress. The covered women I see have a choice how they dress. Their choice honours their beliefs, but symbolizes, for me, institutionalized inequality. As a feminist, I have to accept that. I have to believe in their personhood and their right to choose. 

But I have a hard time moving from tolerance to acceptance. Because I didn't accept institutionalized inequality in my laws. I didn't accept institutionalized inequality in my schools. I didn't accept institutionalized inequality in my workplaces. I didn't accept institutionalized inequality in my own inherited religion. I don't accept institutionalized inequality in the world. 

For more than a century, people in Canada and elsewhere have been fighting for equal rights, and equal choices for all. For women, a big part of that has been the right to dress and look how we choose and be treated with respect. We expect/respect that men will take care of themselves, we believe in them and trust that they are capable of interacting with us as equals. Together with our men, women have pressured systems to protect us properly; we have stepped up and asked men to take responsibility for their violence, their sexualization of women, their role in using the patriarchy to hold us as a second class. We have demanded the same rights and freedoms men enjoy, This is an ongoing struggle, far from won. 

When anyone wears symbols of institutionalized inequality in everyday view as something to be celebrated and proud of, it's very hard for those of use who fight those symbols in every other aspect of life to say, hey, I'm proud of your choice, sister. I want to, I really do, but I feel about headscarves and face-covers the way I feel about a guy walking around in a "no fatties" t-shirt. To me, they both symbolize aspects of culture that patriarchy has used to bind and control women, keep them from pursuing their own full personhood outside of gender-based social roles, and ensure that men maintain authority. 

I live with this cognitive and emotional dissonance every day. I don't talk about it - I don't trust people to understand the nuance of my concerns. I also realize that my view is painted with privilege, probably rife with prejudices I haven't learned enough to see or overcome yet. I work hard to see. 

I know that I need to defend the rights of free speech and choice even when I don't agree with what is being said. But I don't like feeling like my philosophical objections to the objectifications of patriarchy can't be addressed because they apply to people coming from other cultures or races, or simply because they are "religious." Religion has been a tool of the patriarchy for all time - both Christians and Muslims are far from exempt in this regard.  How will we ever get to real conversations if I can't assert my belief in equality without being told I'm religiously or culturally intolerant? It seems like just another way to isolate women from each other.

In the end, I support the rights of all people to choose what they wear. There are a lot of people wearing things I don't support - sexist jokes on t-shirts, overly sexualized bathing suits on young kids, people covered head to toe with just their eyes peeking out - to me, it's all the same problem. I don't like to see any of it, because to me these modes of dress all point to a large-scale epidemic of institutionalized gender inequality. But despite that, because of it, fundamentally, I support the right of every person to choose how they express through clothing. That's where I sit, today. That's the best I can do. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Why not sleep?

Why not sleep
if you're done,
let the day have run its course
let the night come on full force
let the doing go
let the thinking flow away
keep fear at bay
sink softly, gently, kindly between sheets
daily feats complete
head nestled sweet and loved and warm
leave all behind until the morn
when all begins again?

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Motivation and Clawbacks

I've been thinking about the "Basic Income" experiment in Ontario. The goal feels...off.

What if we aren't trying to lift people out of poverty? What if we are helping all citizens feel motivated to live a full life, and making sure they have what they need to do that? How will things change?

To feel motivated, people need to feel they have the capacity (emotional, time, health, support) and resources (money, credit, support) to handle the challenges they are likely to face in pursuing their lives.

I have observed, over and over, that the intrinsic nature of humans is to try to better their position from wherever they find themselves. Motivation in humans appears to require only two ingredients: a strong desire for something, and the belief that action can result in fulfillment of that desire. When either ingredient is lacking, we see Motivation's opposite: Apathy. Or, worse, we see his evil twin, Anger.

I can't care about whether someone is lazy while I work for the betterment of myself and society - who am I to judge their choices when I don't know their lives? I do care that they don't cause problems in my happy life or the pursuit of my motivation. So, I'd rather some people be lazy than criminal, than obnoxious, than resentful, than desperate, than afraid, than angry, than in despair, than under pressure. All of which, whether we believe it or not, become significantly alleviated when one stops worrying about having something nutritious to eat and somewhere safe and stable to live.

Here's the important crux: I don't think we actually have to worry about the lazy bums getting by on our dime. After much exploration and observation, I have come to the conclusion that they are edge-cases or ill; in the first instance, allowing them to coast costs little, and in the second, effective supports become important. But the vast majority of people would find their way to motivation if they didn't have to worry about rent. It's a real opportunity for community building. Nation building.

And so, to the Government of Ontario, I say:

The beauty of a basic income without clawbacks is that it distributes the dividends from our shared resources in such a way as to cover the very minimum requirements to stay alive and participate in life, at all. Work, after that, is tied directly to motivation, allowing motivation to become an individual choice based on life stage and needs. It does so while eliminating a great deal of bureaucratic tracking and enforcement. 
In Canada, we have an opportunity to try the Basic Income. We have a chance to show that when the basics are met, most people can find their motivation for what's next, will innovate and grow. But instead, we're squandering our chance with clawbacks that turn it into a welfare increase and fail to take advantage of process efficiencies. 
Worse, by calling this a Basic Income pilot, we are ruining the good name of Basic Income by not really doing the experiment we said we would. The point of a Basic Income is not to distribute money to poor people. The point of a Basic Income is to provide hope. It's to say, this is the floor that's holding you up, now you can stand and walk around; don't worry, we won't pull up sections of floor behind you. 
It's wrong to claw back. It distorts the spirit of the experiment. The lack of claw back is the whole point. If you're afraid people won't like it, try using your welfare and disability budgets to give the Basic Income universally. See how many people want it canceled after a year. See how much more money is flowing through the economy. See how many fewer road rage incidents occur. 

For the rest of us...

Rather than prescribing what motivation must look like, allowing each person to find motivation means covering off Maslow's bottom rung. There's a lot we need to adjust to as we realize just how far off course we've allowed things to go, if our goal is to have a relatively happy life that doesn't come at the expense of other people's misery and the destruction of our planet.

Many people say they want happiness for all, but they don't believe we can do it. So many people holding that belief is why we can't. I do believe we can do it, if we set a goal, honestly try, and give it enough time. At least, that's how I choose to try to live. I find it more encouraging than apathy and anger.

(thoughts on the 46th anniversary of the day I joined this planet)