The Second Presidential Debate caused quite a media uproar this past Sunday, covering topics such as health care, trickle-down economics and foreign policy. It is the latter topic that causes me the most apprehension, specifically Hillary Clinton’s plans for a no-fly zone over Syria. In one of her Primary debates with Bernie Sanders, Clinton describes the rationale behind her plan. According to Secretary Clinton, a no-fly zone will “create safe refuges within Syria to protect people on the ground both from Assad’s forces, who are continuing to drop barrel bombs, and from ISIS.” A laudable goal if ever I’ve heard one.
I firmly believe that Secretary Clinton is sincere in her intentions. In my opinion, she honestly believes that a no-fly zone is in the best interest of the Syrian people. This is why I reject all that nonsense about “Killery, the warmonger.” Foreign policy is a complicated business, and there are seldom any clear-cut answers. Hillary Clinton is not evil. But she is arrogant.
It’s not really Secretary Clinton’s fault; hers is an arrogance that is shared with 318 million of her fellow citizens, an arrogance that stems for a disease of the mind commonly known as American Exceptionalism. At its core, American Exceptionalism is the belief that the United States is a nation of unique moral calibre that acts in the service of higher ideals such as liberty and justice. Unfortunately, this is simply not the case. Holding prisoners for years without trial or even formal charges, employing torture as form of intelligence gathering – especially in light of the fact that torture is an ineffective method of acquiring useful intelligence – drone strikes that kill indiscriminately: these are not the actions of a country with an unshakable commitment to the ideals of freedom and liberty.
This misguided belief in American moral superiority has been the cause of one foreign policy disaster after another, as – in many cases – it has led Americans to believe that providence itself is on their side. In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in 2004, George W. Bush claimed that America had “a calling from beyond the stars” to stand for freedom. Now, perhaps you think that was simple campaign rhetoric. If so, I invite you to contemplate the fact that roughly one year earlier, President Bush told Jacques Chirac (then President of France) that the US invasion of Iraq was justified as the fulfillment of Biblical Prophecy.
This is not an indictment of Christianity; it is an indictment of American arrogance, of the misguided belief that America can do no wrong. In fact, the last fifteen years of American foreign policy are really a textbook example of the Dunning Kruger Effect. In 2002, Donald Rumsfeld assured us that the Iraq War would be a short war. “Five days or five weeks or five months,” he promised, “but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that.”
The last group of American soldiers left Iraq on December 18, 2011. The war lasted almost nine years and claimed the lives of 4497 Americans according to the Department of Defense. The Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs of Brown University estimates that at least 165 000 Iraqi civilians have been killed as a direct result of war related violence from the United States and its allies. They are also quick to point out that this estimate is almost certainly too low.
In November of 2005, President Bush claimed that the primary goal of the war was a peaceful Iraq with a democratically elected government and a thriving economy. Did America achieve those goals? Not even remotely. True, Iraq does have a democratically elected government, but peace? Prosperity? Even prior to the outbreak of civil war in 2014, the situation was dire. Research by the Global Policy Forum in 2013 indicates that prior to the civil war, as many as four million Iraqis had been displaced from their homes with 100 daily fatalities as a direct result of sectarian violence. Unemployment was as high as 60% with harsh austerity measures imposed by the IMF. No more food or health subsidies for the residents of a war-torn country.
What about Libya, a campaign of great personal significance to Secretary Clinton? The institution of an internationally-administrated no-fly zone over Libyan airspace was supposed to protect Libyan rebels from the forces of Col Moammar Gaddafi, a man who went on record stating that he intended to show no mercy and that he would hunt down rebels in every single dwelling. The Washington Post describes Secretary Clinton’s transformation from a reluctant skeptic of military intervention to one of its most vocal proponents. One of her conditions was a direct request for military intervention from the Arab League, a condition that was met on March 12 of 2011. To her credit, Secretary Clinton was instrumental in holding together the coalition enforcing the no-fly zone. Her success in this regard is a testament to her skill as a diplomat.
But once again, we must ask ourselves what happened afterward. Libya devolved into a failed state and a hotbed of terrorist activity. Most of the country became unsafe for ordinary citizens; assassinations are commonplace, and essential services such as water and electricity experience frequent interruptions. Many Libyans blame the West for abandoning them.
Let’s be clear on a few things: Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gaddafi were both brutal, vicious dictators. You will get no argument from me on that point. Removing a dictator with a penchant for violence against his own people is a moral good; there’s no question about that. The moral quandary comes when we ponder the question of whether removing the dictator was worth all the suffering that occurred in the aftermath, and whether there might have been other, less bloody ways to achieve the same ends.
Should America have done nothing while Gaddafi slaughtered his own people? I can’t answer that question. No one can answer that question. The question itself is a Ceteris Paribus fallacy because the only legitimate answer would require us to see into other timelines and discover what would have happened if we made different choices.
If I’m honest, I must admit that I can’t tell you with any real conviction whether a no-fly zone in Libya was the right call. But here’s the rub: neither can Hillary Clinton. Secretary Clinton is an experienced, competent, admirable diplomat, but she is not omniscient. No amount of political or diplomatic experience can grant one the necessary foresight to predict the outcome of a war. War, by its very nature, is too unpredictable, too chaotic and too bloody for any human being to say with any reasonable amount of certainty “This is how it will play out.” In my opinion, Secretary Clinton is playing with fire, and if history repeats itself, it will be the Syrian people who get burned.
Time and time again, we see that predictions made by Washington on the outcome of American military intervention are proven wrong. Time and time again, the United States begins a military campaign with lofty aspirations and excessive optimism. Time and time again, the scenarios put forward by the Pentagon are shattered the instant they come into contact with the innumerable variables of real-world warfare. Time and time again, Libyans, Iraqis, Afghans and any number of other people the world over pay a heavy price in blood and tears thanks to the decisions of their would-be American saviours.
That Hillary Clinton prefers action to inaction in matters of foreign policy doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is the fact that I have seen no evidence that Secretary Clinton is aware of just how limited her ability to predict the outcome of her actions really is.
The ugly downside of American Exceptionalism is the ethnocentric and often racist belief that American lives are somehow more valuable than any other lives. If you think that’s an exaggeration, here’s Time Magazine columnist Joe Klein saying in no uncertain terms that the death of four-year-old girls in the Middle East would be acceptable collateral damage if it prevents four-year-old American children from dying.
“The bottom line, in the end, is: Whose four-year-old gets killed? What we’re doing is limiting the possibility that four-year-olds here are going to get killed by indiscriminate acts of terror.” How dare he? How dare any of you? This is the disgusting philosophy that underpins much of America’s foreign policy.
And yet the President of the United States has the audacity to call himself (or herself) “the Leader of the Free World.” As if the rest of us voted for his or her leadership! As if the rest of us are interested in following America’s lead on anything!
If you’re an American who is currently entertaining the idea of leaping into the comment section to give me a piece of your mind, then I strongly suggest that you check your privilege and start listening to the voices of people who live outside your nation. I’m willing to bet you’ll find that most them are fed up with America’s constant interference in their country’s affairs.
I’m demisexual, and I don’t need you to save me.
I’m demisexual, which – if you don’t know – basically means that under most circumstances, I need to feel some kind of emotional closeness to experience sexual desire for another human being. In short, I generally only become attracted to someone if she is either a close friend of if she has earned my respect. And I say “she” because I’m also heterosexual. Demisexuality has absolutely nothing to do with orientation.
It’s been known to happen where a woman says something remarkably brilliant and insightful after I’ve only known her for a few brief moments, and I’ve thought “Wow! She’s hot! I wish I could make out with her.” But that’s the key. The lady in question has to do something. Simple physical attractiveness doesn’t do it for me. In fact, it’s almost irrelevant as I’ve found myself attracted to just about every body type. So to make it simple for you.
Looking at her…
…produces the same amount of sexual desire as looking at this.
Which is to say none at all. I don’t know this woman. I’ve never interacted with her. So I can’t feel anything. Now, if the nice young lady in the bikini were to sit down and talk to me, and if I discovered that she’s witty and charming with well thought-out opinions on a wide variety of topics, suddenly I would be interested in a one night stand.
In general, what this means is that I’m only attracted to people I consider friends, though that’s not necessarily a prerequisite. Now, people hear this, and the first thing they ask is “Does that mean you want to sleep with all your friends?” No, of course not. Like anyone else, I need chemistry. There are some women whom I consider to be friends, just friends and nothing else; there are other women whom I consider to be friends, but if they ever asked, I would be willing to have sex with them. Demisexuality is about the mind not the body.
But it also goes a little deeper than that. You see, demisexuals tend to have varying degrees of interest in love and relationships. Some of us have no real interest in finding a partner unless we meet someone truly special. Others have a general craving for love and intimacy but find ourselves uninterested in just about everyone we meet. The situation is analogous to being hungry and finding yourself in a room full of food you don’t like. Yeah, you could force yourself to wolf it down, but you won’t enjoy it. Many of us oscillate between the two, going through periods where we want a relationship but can’t seem to find a suitable partner, followed by periods where we’re just not interested.
Which brings me to the reason I wrote this blog: when someone tells you “I don’t want a relationship right now,” believe them. Don’t reply with some bullshit like “Oh, you’re just feeling depressed.” Don’t say “Oh, you’re just not over that last break up. Your sex-drive will come back, you’ll see.” That’s the same as telling a someone who is gay or bisexual that their attraction to members of their own gender is just a phase.
I’m debating whether I want to share any personal stories that have led to my general lack of interest in relationships right now. It’s not really that I mind the Internet knowing MY experiences, but my experiences involve other people and their privacy is absolutely vital to me. I’m trying to decide if there is a way to do so that will leave me adequately certain that if I share a personal experience I had with someone, no one will know who I’m talking about. (Except possibly the person who shared that experience with me).
Suffice it to say that for the moment, I want to be single. I don’t know when that will change or even if it will change. And you know what? That is just fine. I don’t need you to save me. I don’t need you to “restore my faith in romance” I’m not depressed. I’m not cynical. I’m not unhappy with my life. The choice to remain single is perfectly valid.
We feel sick
No one cares
We curse you all
We curse ourselves
In hopes we fall.
Last week, I responded to a men’s rights activist who went on quite a tear about how masculinity is in crisis in today’s world. Most of what he said is total nonsense, but even a broken clock is right twice a day. If an idiot talks long enough, he will eventually say something insightful, and something this guy said last week stuck with me. “This attack on men, it’s humiliating! Men feel like failures.” This man feels personally attacked by his own society, and he generalizes from that the idea that all men are under attack. Well, he’s half right. Because women and people of other genders are under attack too. Society in general has instilled in us a very caustic attitude in which we’re made to see each other as enemies.
It’s no secret that life is becoming more stressful for people across all axes of power. This recent study by Drs. Cohen and Janicki-Deverts of Carnegie Mellon yielded some very interesting results. First and foremost, let’s address the idea that society is conducting some kind of attack on men in particular. It’s not.
According to Drs. Cohen and Janicki-Deverts, “Women reported more stress than did men. This result parallels other studies showing that women report more stressful life events (Kessler, McLeod, & Wethington, 1985) and rate their stressful life events as having a more negative impact than do men (see review by Davis, Matthews, & Twamley, 1999).” Which is not to say that men aren’t experiencing stress. One of the more interesting findings in this study is that stress levels are much higher in those people of lower socioeconomic status, and this is true for people of all genders.
This result dovetails nicely with Richard Wilkinson’s findings that countries with the greatest degree of wealth inequality also experience the highest incidence of mental health disorders, crime and drug addiction. (Along with many other social problems.) In short, inequality is bad for us. Very very bad for us.
Conversely, those countries with the lowest levels of wealth inequality also experience the highest rates of literacy, the longest life expectancy and the greatest degree of trust. And contrary to accepted market logic, social safety nets also make people more willing to contribute to society.
Friday night, and I made the best of it.
I passed out before I could invest in it.
Understand, this won’t make sense.
But I don’t value innocence.
So how does this relate to our friend Seth, the MRA and his insistence that men have been made to feel like failures? Well, we can talk about toxic masculinity; the topic is a little done to death at this point, but yes, men have been socialized to suppress their feelings, to scorn and despise anything that might be interpreted as a sign of weakness. “Boys don’t cry” “Men are problem solvers, not empathizers.” “No woman wants to be with a man who can’t provide for her.” That bullshit. It tends to turn us into maladjusted assholes, due in no small part to the fact that a key component learning social cues is the ability to empathize with other people.
But that’s only half of what’s going on here.
Recently, a french economist named Thomas Piketty wrote a book called Capital in the Twenty-first Century in which he details the trends in wealth inequality over the past hundred years. If you’re not willing to read though all 700 pages, you can find a summary of his arguments here.
Piketty believes that escalating inequality is an inevitable consequence of market economics, that any unregulated market will eventually result in a situation where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Now, maybe you disagree. However, regardless of your views on Piketty’s theories, the fact remains that the wealth gap has widened considerably in the last forty to fifty years, and this has been corroborated by any number of sources. Here’s some data from a right-wing publication.
So you have a culture of toxic masculinity in the context of an economy where wealth has consistently trickled up to the highest rungs on the socioeconomic ladder. A culture of toxic masculinity in the context of a society where the middle and lower classes have less and less spending power due to stagnating wages. You have men, like Seth, who are repeatedly told that their only worth is in their ability to win a game of “accumulate the most stuff” with little to no acknowledgment of the fact that the pile of stuff they can potentially accumulate gets smaller and smaller with every passing year. Well, that’s a recipe for a powder keg if ever I’ve seen one. There’s a reason why the countries with the highest levels of inequality also have the highest levels of homicide.
Well, on a personal level, reject the values of toxic masculinity. As a philosophy, that has to go. But we should also consider the systemic issues related to market economics. I’ve written many times that it is within our power to create global abundance and eliminate poverty today. The technology to create enough food, clean water and energy for everyone on this planet already exists. Of course, Seth, our MRA, would oppose such a plan because granting all citizens unconditional access to the necessities of life would turn them all into lazy slobs. Never mind the fact that this has been studied, and it turns out the opposite is true.
In Seth’s mind, forcing people to fend for themselves (in a system of increasing resource scarcity) will force them to become harder, smarter, more ruthless or some such nonsense like that. And thus we’re back to toxic masculinity. It’s all connected. All the social problems we face intersect to form a truly horrifying tapestry. Thus I leave you with the final insight from Gob.
Enemy, fuck the pride.
Come on over to our side.
We’re the same, just afraid.
What’s the difference when we’re all dying?
Want some science-fiction that tackles complex social issues while keeping it lighthearted and fun? Check this out.
Yes, that’s right, folks, it’s yet another blog where I debunk a bunch of MRA garbage. Why? Well, I tend to believe that men should let women take the lead in the fight for gender equality, but that being said, the one area where we should definitely be proactive is in holding ourselves accountable. So when one of us does something stupid, the rest of us should say something. Let’s go through it line by line. (The fun just never stops.)
His words are in blue, mine are in black. (Here’s a link to his site)
There is an issue we need to address. Let’s call it “Blaming men.” Constantly we hear “oh it’s a man’s world”, “oh men are privileged”, “we need equal rights!” “Men oppress women!” “Men are sexist!”
Oh dear…You know, every time I start one of these, I feel like I’m giving a DVD commentary on a really bad movie. I’m so glad we’re off to a good start here.
But do we see any major female associated crises? No. Do we have a major masculinity crisis in men today? Yes. So maybe… Just maybe, we should stop attacking and belittling men.
Firstly, I want to clarify what I mean by female crises and male crises right here just briefly. I will explain in more detail towards the end of the article.
Are females today, less feminine than females 100, or 1000 years ago? The answer is a resounding no.
Are males, less masculine than men 100 or 1000 years ago? The answer is a resounding HELL YES!
Masculine and feminine are abstractions with no real objective meaning, and as a result they aren’t norms that either gender should strive for. This has been studied quite thoroughly, and the evidence all points to the same conclusion: men and women aren’t that different in the ways they think. Aptitude for a wide variety of skill sets is evenly distributed in both genders with differences being small enough to be considered statistically insignificant. (Likely a result of the particular sample studied). And this, of course, ignores the fact that there are people who don’t identify as male or female. Femininity and masculinity aren’t ideals to strive for.
Women have always had a lesser role in society since the beginning of time. Women who say, “Oh it’s 2015 let’s change that! No. This isn’t about empowering women. And there is no secret plot by men to treat you as slaves. It’s just the way it was meant to be. Men are supposed to be the sturdy oak, and women, the feminine energy, the vine.
Yeah, okay, see above. I repeat that there is very little evidence to suggest endemic differences between men and women. Personality is not defined by gender.
So let us be that.
Instead of attacking men, men need more praise. I’m not talking about accomplishments etc. for old men. I’m talking about young boys. They need to be told how great they are, how great a leader they are, how powerful they are. That they have a great role to play in society!
A great leader doesn’t need to be told that she’s a great leader; she simply does what is necessary when it is necessary. And yes, I am very deliberately using female pronouns here. Leadership skills aren’t inherently male or masculine. I could make a list of the best bosses I’ve ever had, and every single person on that list is a woman.
What’s more, anyone who needs to be praised for his leadership skills has no business being in charge of anything. If you seek a position of authority for the accolades, you will be a horrible person to work for. Finally, as to your point about men needing to feel powerful…Power is not something that anyone should want.
In today’s society, boys are not empowered like women are empowered these days. Boys are left to grow up like girls. Women aren’t heavily dependent on role models. It’s a social construct that we’ve put in place these days with female celebrities. And ITS ACTUALLY HAVING THE OPPOSITE EFFECT OF WHAT ROLE MODELS ARE SUPPOSED TO DO! We have women like Kim Kardashian, famous for a sex tape, Miley Cyrus, famous for being a crazy ridiculous confused individual and others like these.
You’re confusing fame with infamy. Kim Kardashian is not revered for her sex tape; she is belittled for it. You might want to take note of the fact that the men in those sex tapes are never thrust into the public spotlight in quite the same way. What’s the name of the guy who leaked Kim’s sex tape? I don’t even remember. Kim is judged and ridiculed for having sex; the man walks away without a single word of criticism. Furthermore, you speak as if female celebrities are the only ones who cause public shame. Does anyone remember Justin Bieber’s antics?
To your point about boys not being empowered, you might want to watch Feminist Frequency’s video on the difference between the Lego that is marketed to boys and the Lego that is marketed to girls.
We would have women with a higher self-esteem if we took away these role models. Mothers and daughters have an incredible bond. That’s the way it was meant to be. But boys need role models! They need fathers. Fathers that will teach them lessons about how they are to be men and act like men, and play their role in society.
Wait, what? Did I read that right? Boys need role models, but girls don’t? One thing I hate about responding to MRAs is that I never feel 100% certain I understand what they’re trying to say, mostly because the vast majority of it is so absurd I can’t believe anyone would say it with sincerity.
Okay, so given what we learned a few paragraphs ago – skills and personality traits are evenly divided among men and women – why wouldn’t girls need role models?
But that’s not what they’re getting. The attitude today is, “let them figure it out for themselves” and you know, “women are just so oppressed in today’s society, let us pay all our attention to building up women and building up their self-esteem, and let men’s learning fall by the wayside and let them find their own way.” It makes me extremely mad!
If you’re trying to make the point that men are tragically undereducated – or more accurately, miseducated – about how to behave in a civilized society, then I would have to agree. Frankly, I think most of us could stand to take a course called Human Decency 101. It will feature such lessons as “Death threats are not the appropriate response to opinions you don’t like” and “women’s bodies don’t belong to you.”
Advanced Placement courses in the field of human decency will include complex topics like “Don’t snap pictures of random women you see on the subway without their consent” and “don’t send e-mails to female newspaper reporters that include words like ‘whore.’”
As a society we are ignoring the fact that this is even an issue and we don’t know what is wrong. We don’t know why men have no masculinity these days.
Because masculinity isn’t a real thing that one can possess. It’s an abstraction.
Today stereotypes of men are that, they like sex, they are paedophiles, domestic abusers, drug dealers, hardened criminals.
I hate to tell you this, but many of us have earned our bad reputation. Those of us who haven’t need to understand that women and other people who do not identify as cisgender male have every right to be skeptical of us. Trust is something that we’re going to have to earn, and the process is going to be quite painful, and we have no one but ourselves to blame for that sad reality.
All reverence and admiration of the gentleman has been lost in this generation. All credit and respect… No young man growing up today will tell you they want to grow up to be a gentleman. Honestly I doubt a young boy could even tell you what a gentleman was! I ain’t never heard the word brought up in 10 years! In today’s society it is more taboo than sex, weed and alcohol.
Speaking as someone who actually behaves like a gentleman, I can tell you that most of the women I interact with give me kindness, respect and probably more praise than I deserve. But you have to actually act like a gentleman; that’s the key. How do you do that, you say? Well, there’s this great course called Human Decency 101…
For real. The roles have reversed, so young men are growing up, ashamed. Ashamed that they are men. And men represent all this bad stuff. Boys grow up and either fully accept it and embody these disgusting traits or they fear it and have no alternative model to follow. They’re lost. They have lost their identity. They don’t know where to find it. They are afraid to grow up into a man. A powerful creature that they are told doesn’t know how to control himself, who will abuse alcohol and women and drugs. When men are told sex is bad, but it’s a natural response, confusion is the result. That’s what happened to masculinity.
It’s difficult to respond to this because it’s a truth claim that I can’t even verify. I have seen no evidence to indicate that boys are afraid of becoming men. Quite the opposite, really. Most of what I’ve seen – which I’ll admit is anecdotal – says that men are a little too proud of themselves. I think you’re just factually wrong here.
Now I would like to talk about the difference between the female fight and the male fight.
Right now and for a very long time there has been a human rights movement called feminism. They fight for “women’s rights.” But there has never been a meninist group. Well when I said that women are as womanly has they have ever been. You can’t say the same for men can you? You might argue oh it’s 2015, men are just evolving, becoming more modern. No. Not true.
Okay, so first off, you’ve misunderstood the basic goal of feminism, which is not to make women more womanly. It’s to grant women and other people who don’t identify as cis-men the same rights and opportunities as cis-men. It’s to create a world in which people of all genders are judged by the same set of standards. To create a world where gender doesn’t affect your quality of life.
You know why there is a female movement? See it’s not because women are made to feel like less of a woman. No, femininity is still celebrated today. No the cause of feminism, is to make women feel like more of a man. Feel more equal, and have more in common with a man. Earn what a man earns, work where a man works, dress how men dress, behave like men behave. And even worse, shame men for being men. Don’t celebrate a woman’s body. No! Promote all body sizes are beautiful! No fat shaming. This is the feminist movement.
I sincerely doubt that most women who identify as feminists want to become more like men. I’ve met quite a few, and every single one of them would find the idea absurd.
Regarding your point about fat shaming, I have three things to say in response.
1) Women are not obligated to conform to our standards of beauty or to change their appearance to suit our preferences.
2) Has it ever occurred to you that there are plenty of people – many of them cisgender men – who find curvy women beautiful? I’ve dated a plus-sized woman, and I thought she was smoking hot from head to toe.
3) Some people don’t care all that much about physical appearance. It’s happened more than once where I’ve developed a crush on someone without even knowing what she looks like. I’ve dated women of all body types – short, tall, petite, curvy – and every single one of them was the most beautiful person I had ever seen while I was in love with her.
But the problem for men, is not that we are made to feel like less of a woman! NO! Men are made to feel less like men! Women don’t understand this. You think you are fighting the same battle, but it is in fact the complete opposite!
Exactly what battle do you think we men are fighting?
This attack on men, it’s humiliating! It’s emasculating! You are stripping us of our identity! Do you think it’s easy for men to come out and say, I feel like less of a man today than my grandfather and his father? I feel like my wife walks all over me. I feel like a failure. I feel like I can’t be a man today, because it’s been labelled as a bad thing. I can’t be the provider and protector of my household and be the traditional role of the sturdy oak for my family. THAT’S why the issue has stayed silent all these years! Male suicide rates are higher than ever. More men are in prison. More men are failing in school. There are more households with without a father. Men today feel like failures. They don’t want to carry the burden of failing a kid. So they avoid it.
Okay, I can’t respond to this.
Not because I don’t have a response but because that response would necessitate a post equal in length to everything I’ve written thus far. There are many, many reasons why the mental health of people of all genders is failing. For instance, you might want to look at the work of Richard Wilkinson. His research on the detrimental effects of wealth inequality is quite illuminating. And that’s just one factor.
Women are not the cause of our mental anguish; if anything, we’ve done that to ourselves.
Here’s some fun sci-fi with a diverse cast.
I don’t give a fuck about “the economy,” and you shouldn’t either. I put that term in air-quotes because the term as it’s used on the news has little to do with genuine economics. At its core, the term “economics” denotes the intelligent management of finite resources, but when pundits and politicians say it, they mean the opposite. The most efficient methods by which we can waste this world’s precious resources and turn the entire planet into a landfill.
Unfortunately, we still feel compelled to talk about environmental reform in terms of “economic” growth. Environmentalism is “good for the economy,” we insist in some petty attempt to placate who still think creating jobs should be our number one priority. Here’s a tweet from my friend Daryn Caister to illustrate the point.
Now, Daryn, if you happen to be reading this, I’ve got nothing but love for you and your message, but I think, as a culture, we’re all suffering from some truly warped priorities. Whenever election season rolls around, people tend to list “economic” health and job creation as their primary concern, and right-wing parties do a very good job of convincing the mases that their policies are most effective at keeping people employed. (Even though the opposite is true).
As a result, those of us who prioritize living on a planet that can support human life, find ourselves trying to placate the huge mass of people who vote Conservative because they keep folks working and prevent those bums from stealing your hard-earned tax dollars. Well, I’m here to tell you something: it’s time to stop. We’ve been trying to placate these people for fifty years; it’s not working, and we’re out of time. The fact of the matter is that the economy does not need to grow; in fact, it needs to shrink.
We’ve been over this before, but since the topic keeps coming up the closer we get to election day, let’s go back to Resource Management 101. There are many other environmental concerns besides Global Warming. At the moment, we’re using resources far faster than the Earth can replenish them. (Over 1.5 times as fast). That means forests are shrinking, fish populations are declining, arable land is fading fast and the precious metals that we use to make many of our gadgets are being gobbled up at an alarming rate. Our society needs resources to survive, and thus we need to learn to live within our means. At the moment, we’re creating a resource debt that future generations will have to pay, and the more the “economy” grows, the faster that debt will accumulate. Money is a fiction, a mathematical abstraction. A financial debt can be nullified with the stroke of a pen; a resource debt will cause starvation. Mass starvation.
“So what’s the solution?” you say. Well, let’s go back to first principles and ask ourselves some fairly simple questions. Why do we want the economy to grow? Because it will create a greater demand for labour, which will lead to more jobs. And why do we want more jobs? Because people need them to get money so that they can use that money to acquire the resources they need. (Food, shelter, medicine. Even entertainment).
So what if we just gave people access to resources?
The knee-jerk response to think such a thing is impossible is based on the assumption of scarcity. But scarcity is no longer a reality in the modern world. We’re already producing more food than we actually need, and we have the capacity to produce even more with far greater efficiency. We have access to renewable energy sources that more than meet our needs. We can create potable water from almost any source. So if we have more than enough “stuff” to go around, why not just give people unconditional access to the essentials?
The best thing about these technologies? Their environmental impact is minimal. We could create a sustainable society where nobody starves, where nobody endures poverty. How could we minimize the wasteful nature of mass production? By producing goods to be as durable and modular as possible and by implementing a system of Strategic Access.
Now, what do I mean by that? Strategic Access is a concept – a fairly intuitive concept – where you realize that most of us don’t need the junk that clutters up our houses. Strategic Access is already being implemented through organizations like the Hamilton Tool Library. Instead of everyone buying their own set of tools, they simply borrow the tools they need and return them. This makes all kinds of sense when you realize that your wrenches and screwdrivers spend most of their time sitting in your tool box unused. This way, we produce fewer goods, and those goods are always being used by someone. The same can be true with cars, computers, cameras, etc. The only set of products that doesn’t lend itself to strategic access is clothing. (For obvious reasons). Possibly furniture.
And if I still haven’t convinced you, let me make it abundantly clear that job creation is a losing game. Experts have come forward in droves to confirm that as technology becomes more and more sophisticated, the demand for human labour will diminish.
So to make a long story short, I don’t give a fuck about “the economy.” Creating jobs isn’t helpful; it only leads to resources being expended at an alarming rate while still depriving many people of the life sustaining resources they need. I want the economy to shrink, not grow. I want there to be fewer jobs (or better yet, the same amount of jobs with everyone working fewer hours.)
Work is a means to produce a high quality of life; it should never be thought of as an end unto itself. If we can produce a wonderful standard of living with less human labour, then by all means, let’s do so. Politicians are offering twentieth century solutions to twenty-first century problems. So when you pick from the many horrible options on your ballot, choose the person who is most likely to ensure that we’ll still have a planet to live on in thirty years.
You should check out Symbiosis. Why? ‘Cause it’s awesome, that’s why!
Who are you to resist it, huh?
This afternoon, I heard a brand new song I really like: the Contender by the Glorious Sons. It had that post-grunge, retro 90s sound that I’ve really been pining for lately. Don’t get me wrong; I like a lot of new music. Some of the stuff that’s out there today is brilliant and far more creative than anything produced by Kurt Cobain or Billy Corgan, but something weird happens after you turn thirty. You start asking questions like “Have I heard my last grunge song? Will there never again be a song in the style of music that I grew up with?” That’s not so bad – because the new stuff is great – but it does make you nostalgic. As I ran a few errands, I found myself pondering a question. “If I like so much new music, then why do I feel out of touch?” And then it hit me.
Rock music is all about identity politics.
To give you some context, let me explain what it was like growing up with music in the 90s. The grunge era lasted from 1991 to about 1996. The popularity of bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the Smashing Pumpkins was largely a reaction to the recession of the early 90s and the disillusionment of Generation X. But then something happened. The economy picked up again, and music shifted.
The bubble-gum pop era lasted from 1995 to 2002 and was largely defined by artists like the Back Street Boys, the Spice Girls, N’Sync and Britney Spears. If I had to describe late 90s bubble-gum pop with one word, it would be “vapid.” To me, artists like these represented shallow materialism, empty platitudes and – worst of all – an unquestioning acceptance of the status quo.
To give you an example of what I mean: the Offspring sang about gang violence, codependent relationships and the twisted values of American culture. (“Come Out and Play,” “Self Esteem” and “Americana” if you’re interested). N’Sync, however, sang about falling in love, falling out of love and then desperately trying to get back together with your ex. (“This I Promise You,” “Bye Bye Bye” and “I Want You Back”) And in each case, the lyrics are specifically designed to stroke a fourteen-year-old girl’s ego. Even when Justin Timberlake croons about how much he wants a girl out of his life, the subtext is really a testament to how much power said girl has over him.
A rejection of pop music was a rejection of the things that it stood for: empty materialism, hook-up culture and willful blindness to the inequities of western society. Rock music was passé in the late 90s; following it with any kind of enthusiasm meant that you were slightly out of step with the mainstream. Those of us who gravitated toward punk music, metal or even classic rock did so for precisely that reason. If you were the kind of person who really got into the Rage Against the Machine, NOFX, Pearl Jam or the Matthew Good Band, then chances are you believed that there was something wrong with society. So being out of step with the mainstream meant you were probably doing something right.
Rock music, when it was at its best, was about being subversive.
The slow down in rock music during the late 90s gave me plenty of motivation to go back in time and explore my father’s music. I have four albums by the Rolling Stones, three albums by the Who. I spent large chunks of my high school listening to Led Zepplein, the Police, U2 and Peter Gabriel. Why? Because that in and of itself was a subversive act. I was out of step with my generation. I looked to the past for inspiration.
Those of us who followed rock music called 1995 to 2005 the post-grunge era. Many of the new acts coming out in those years tried to emulate the success of Nirvana and the Pumpkins. As a result, music got louder, more distorted and even more aggressive. Anger became a formula that that the music industry learned to market with precision. Which is why listeners eventually turned against it.
The latter half of the last decade saw another major shift in music. Bands like the Arkells, the Arcade Fire, the Killers, Metric the Gaslight Anthem and the Airbourne Toxic Event rose to prominence with a fresh new sound. Rock music became much more emotionally rounded. This, to me, was a major step forward.
For a very long time, the only emotion a rock band could express was anger. Anger had become a staple of the genre, and – as always happens when business starts manipulating art – it became blasé. Empty and lacking in meaning. But rock music has a long history of what I can only call one-upmanship. The late 60s saw a departure from the simple feel-good tunes that had dominated rock music since the days of Elvis Presley. Gone were the days when the Beatles professed that money can’t buy them love. Instead they sang about priests who wrote the words to sermons no one would hear. (Eleanor Rigby). The Stones got more serious with songs like “Gimmie Shelter,” and the Who went from simple love songs like “the Substitute” to the two-disk existential crisis that is Quadrophenia.
The early 70s were packed full of super serious bands like Pink Floyd and Genesis. Bands with huge, lengthy concept albums. This went on for six or seven years until the music scene hit a breaking point. The Ramones came along in 1976, claiming that rock had become too serious and forgotten how to have fun. This began the punk genre. And how did that play out?
The 80s became a time of bands with outlandish outfits and insane hair singing about having fun and kissing girls. Then the recession hit. Kurt Cobain took the stage, and rock was serious again. Only this time, it was angry. Angry and in your face. Any time a new trend starts in music, artists will take that tend to its logical extreme until it snaps.
So when the trend of loud, angry rock music died, bands became much more rounded. But now that we’ve realized it’s okay for grown men to sing about other emotions (like sadness and joy), the one-upmanship has started again. Now it’s a race to see who can pour his heart out the fastest as songs become mellower and moodier. And we’re already seeing signs that this trend is starting to break.
Some people are up in arms about the fact that Mumford and Sons has decided to go electric. (Anyone else having Bob Dylan flashbacks?). But all that really means is that when a trend gets too set into the culture, bands try something different.
So how does this affect my relationship music?
Well, for starters, I have to work a lot harder to find stuff I like. You see I like my music to be emotionally rounded. I got really sick of the excessive anger in rock music, but that doesn’t mean I wanted it to go away completely. Anger is a valid emotion. Now, I’m getting a little sick of the excessive sadness. I want some sad songs, some happy songs, some angry songs and even some goofy songs. I want the whole range of human emotion.
However, the reason I feel out of touch is a little more complex. Remember what I said about rock music being subversive? All these mellow song stylings by indie bands have started to find their way onto the muzak stations they play in department stores in banks. My mother is now listening to Vance Joy, Lorde and Florence and the Machine. That’s a little unsettling.
For fifteen years, I could be sure of one thing: no matter where I was working, I would never hear my music on the radio. That was annoying, but it also served to set me apart from the rest. I was different. I wasn’t one of “them.” Scoff if you like, but identity politics play a HUGE role in our musical tastes. So now that the music I follow is popping up on the muzak stations…I have to admit a part of me is tempted to retreat back into the 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s. To be out of step with the mainstream.