Saturday, September 21, 2013

Ignácio Brandáo, Muzzling Scientists, And Environmental Disaster. . . .

Read this -

     "Scientists. A minimal, marginalized lot these days. It's almost prehistoric the way we've become immune to the warnings science offers us. As soon as the System realized that the prognosis was bad, and would make them perhaps look bad in turn, voila; they started an intensive propaganda campaign in the press, fostering as much sarcasm as possible with respect to anything scientific. That was when the scornful expression 'scientific paranoia' came into being.
     Anything could be labeled 'scientific paranoia,' Being an illustrious, scientist of conscience became tantamount to being a Jew in Nazi Germany. Scientists were debunked, persecuted, and not a few of them went into hiding. Some continued their studies, issuing public announcements, denouncements. Desperately trying to engage public interest. 
      So most of the scientists were hunted down and silenced. Others accepted invitations to foreign universities and institutes and left the country. Some merely retired and went on to other activities. Research institutions languished and closed, as the new order grew in numbers and power."

This quote is from the 1981 distopian novel And Still the Earth by the Brazilian author, Ignácio de Loyola Brandáo (translation by Ellen Watson). This is one of the first significant novels to deal with the impending disaster of global warming. Water is disappearing and life, particularly near the equator, is becoming unliveable. It is frightening and disturbing.

This passage is eerily reminiscent of our own government's actions as it attempts to marginalize and muzzle scientists and environmental activists in order to continue its disastrous drive toward giving free reign to multinational energy companies.

Pick up the book. It was just reissued in English translation after more than two decades of being out of print.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Idi Amin, Pauline Marois and the Race Card. . . .

In 1972 Idi Amin said that he had a dream in which God told him to expel the Indian and Pakistani population of Uganda. It was a terrible act by a terrible man. I used to have a politically radical close friend from Uganda and he used to say that of all the things that Amin did, this was probably the worst thing he did for Uganda as a nation because it had the long term effect of crippling the economy. You see, South Asians only accounted for about one percent of the population but were involved in about a fifth of the nation's wealth production. But Amin knew that Indophobia was a powerful force in Uganda and it seemed that he believed that targeting the South Asians would appeal to his populist base and make him something of a hero in the country.

This is a familiar pattern. A politician takes advantage of racists feelings (sometimes these feelings are overt and sometimes they are quietly seething under the surface) in order to muster feelings of nationalism and bolster their own population. It is a strategy that never ends well and Amin's efforts (though an extreme example) are demonstrative of what such efforts lead to.

This is precisely what makes the recent efforts of the PQ so sad. It seems clear that Pauline Marios is attempting to use relatively quiet, but percolating, racist sentiments to rally nationalist sentiments and create a convenient wedge between Quebec and the rest of Canada. She obviously has calculated that this strategy is one that has a good chance of resurrecting separatism and perhaps finally creating those elusive "winning conditions" for an independence referendum.

But like the efforts of Idi Amin this cannot end well. Even if Marios manages to whip-up the nationalist feelings that she hopes to generate, she is making Quebec a pariah on the world stage. And unlike the situation in France where many radicalized communities have little opportunity to leave, Marois' efforts have a very good chance of motivating a mass exodus from the province. Now, since many (if not most) of the people who could leave will be non-whites, this event will not be mourned by many of those in Quebec who (though they would not admit it) harbour deeply racist feelings. But in the long term it will spell a gross impoverishment of Quebec, both economically and culturally.

I have never liked Quebec nationalism, or any nationalism for that matter. Nationalism in the face of the gross atrocities associated with colonialism are one thing. But Quebec (at least in recent years) has faced none of that. In fact since I came to Canada many years ago the relationship between Quebec and the rest of Canada has been one of active accommodation. I have always insisted that while you can promote culture you cannot legislate it and Quebec nationalism has always fed on feelings of fear and racism. But when politicians (or anyone for that matter) start actively talking about "cultural purity" I get nervous. I don't know how many times in recent weeks I have heard Quebecers who support Marois' charter talk about racial purity and the so-called "watering down" of Quebec culture. And it is interesting that they would use this phrase, 'watering-down,' because this is a phrase so commonly used by white supremacists when they talk about protecting 'white' culture.

I don't know how this will play out but I know that the PQ and the BLOC have now placed themselves squarely in the camp of American Tea-Baggers and white supremacists who want to "protect" their so-called culture. The people of Uganda learned the hard way what you get when you play the race card for political gain, and I suspect that the people of Quebec will learn the same lesson.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Religious symbols part 2 . . .

I am genuinely at a loss to understand how people imagine that the proposed new legislation in Quebec which seeks to restrict the personal expression of government employees can be believable sold as 'secularization.' Here is the thing - if you believe that restricting the religious expressions of government employees contributes to the secularization of the state, you must necessarily believe the converse argument, to wit, that allowing these people to express their religious views through the wearing of symbolic religious items necessarily contributes to the opposite of secularization. In other words, you must believe that on the spectrum between a theocracy and an entirely secular state, the wearing of religious symbols in itself pushes a state further toward theocracy. But this is not even vaguely believable claim. If I send my daughter to school and her teacher wears a hijab, neither she nor I could possibly see this as the state promoting, advocating, or embracing a particular religious outlook. Even my daughter, at the tender age of nine, understand that the wearing of a hijab is a personal expression of religious belief. The state itself is not, in any meaningful way, made more secular if a government employee is restricted from donning religious garb and, conversely, a state is not made more of a theocracy if such people wear such symbols.

As far as I am concerned, the entire matter is as simply as that. The secular state is simply one that does not advocate a particular religious position. Though much of our traditional legal system has roots in certain Judeo-Christian customs and conventions, one might argue that we can more or less create and entirely secular state apparatus. But I see no argument that such a cause is helped or promoted by the restriction of purely symbolic clothing.

Conversely, within a predominately Christian population, I do see that a substantive argument that efforts to restrict religious symbols will inevitably target particular religions or beliefs. Overall, I continue to see no arguments that these proposed restrictions will contribute to secularization in any way. Instead, I have heard people throw around unsubstantiated assertions much like the religious believers that they are trying to restrict do in religious and philosophical arguments.