Does Zero Dark Thirty endorse torture or not? This is being widely discussed. I think it’s a question well worth investigating. The film is highly popular and profitable; it has received ringing critical acclaim and many award nominations (including a best picture Oscar nomination); and its director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal claim that it presents a neutral and truthful account of historical events. Continue reading →
Genocide does not necessarily happen through mass murder. Rather, mass murder is only one possible means for committing genocide. If mass murder would be difficult or costly or embarrassing for a perpetrator, and if more subtle means are available, the perpetrator will use the more subtle means. We can understand the history of Canadian treatment of Indigenous groups as a slow, subtle, long-term genocide.
As I write this, Idle No More is making headlines around the world, and perhaps making history.
The movement challenges the Harper government’s aggressive expansion of neoliberal austerity. It also challenges the colonial authority over Indigenous peoples that the Canadian state simultaneously exercises and denies it has. The movement’s demand is simple: that the Canadian government meet and negotiate in good faith with Indigenous leaders. These leaders have a range of issues they want addressed, from treaty rights to self-governance to conditions on reserves.
Idle No More is different from other grassroots social movements that have emerged in Canada in recent years. Movements like Occupy and the Québec Student Strike have opposed government policies that strip public services and increase social inequality in Canada. Idle No More does this, but it goes by challenging the colonial authority of the Canadian state over Indigenous peoples. In doing this, Idle No More is the latest expression of the ongoing Indigenous resistance to genocide.
Suppose you discover a great truth. How do you go about spreading it?
One way would be to form a group of people who identify themselves by their acceptance of specific doctrines which express that truth, and then try to get more and more people to join that group.
Another way would be to construct a distinctive practice, something people can use in their everyday lives, that embodies or leads towards that truth, and get more and more people to employ that practice.
This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a long time; in fact it’s one of the reasons I started this blog. But I’ve had a hard time bringing myself to write it, for reasons that will probably become apparent.
The most cherished ideal of the modern Western school system is that it’s a meritocracy. Students are rewarded according to ability, or not according to their lack thereof. So the story goes.
Both Marxists and anarchists perceive the state as an instrument of domination that must be abolished for a truly free society to exist.
In practice, however, the two movements have pursued very different strategies with respect to the state. Marxists, in general, have tried to take control of the state and use it to implement one or another form of socialism, whereas anarchists attempt to operate outside of and in opposition to state authority at all times.
We can understand this difference in terms of all sorts of factors – values, opportunities, personal biography, and so on. As a historical materialist, I do not think people’s actions are so much driven by their ideas; our ideas usually are driven by our actions. But I find it interesting to understand this difference between Marxists and anarchists as a theoretical difference – indeed, as an epistemological difference. Continue reading →
Historical materialism asserts that human consciousness arises from the material social relations in which human beings engage.
If these relations were complementary and harmonious, then human beings could achieve a unified consciousness, including a common understanding of the universe, of what is true, and what is right or wrong for people to do.
However, social relations in actually existing society contain contradictions that generate irresolvable antagonisms. Therefore, the forms of consciousness they engender also contain contradictions and antagonisms.
The Quebec student strike achieved something extraordinary in the history of Canadian left organizing. CLASSE in particular demonstrated how direct democracy can mobilize a seemingly apathetic population. I don’t have statistics, but it appears that the movement succeeded in getting a majority of Quebec postsecondary students not only to be active in their student unions, but to endorse a strike and, perhaps more significantly, to understand the strike as an action aimed beyond the defense of student interests to opposing to the broader neo-liberal agenda of privatizing post-secondary eduction.
But, according to CLASSE activists who spoke at the University of Winnipeg a couple of weeks ago, the strike did not achieve legitimacy with a majority of Quebec adults outside of the student population (aside from the wave of sympathy that followed on the passage of Bill 78). I’m not especially knowledgeable about the particulars of Quebec political culture, so I can’t begin to explain fully why this was the case. However, I suspect that part of the reason for this could be rooted in the structure of university education itself, and the contradictory quality of that institution.