Monthly Archives: October 2016

Spying on Patrick Lagacé

“I lived in this fiction that this could not happen in this country.”—Patrick Lagacé, La Presse columnist

patrick-lagaceJust as healthy immune systems with less and less to do in a hypoallergenic environment often turn on completely harmless things like cat dander and dust with a ferocity that threatens the health of the body, overstaffed police forces with less and less to do in a low-crime environment often turn on the citizenry with a ferocity that threatens the health of the body politic. Am I disgusted by the fact that the Montreal police were spying on La Presse columnist Patrick Lagacé? Of course. Every cop involved, as well as the judge, should be fired, tried, and jailed. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is merely a symptom of a deeper disease.

The root cause of our police problem is that we’ve got way too many police. Crime has been dropping for decades now. And yet we spend more and more each year on law enforcement. This is a dangerously unsustainable situation! Bloated bureaucracies invariably find creative ways to justify their existence. When that bureaucracy is the Department of Education, we get buildings filled with PhDs writing stupid reports no one reads. When that bureaucracy is the Montreal Police Department, we get a dangerously militarized police force that poses a clear and present danger to the freedom and safety of the citizenry.

Singling out the bad apples isn’t going to fix this problem. If we’re going to address the root cause of this problem, we’re going to have to reduce the size of the SPVM by 25% in the next five years. There are a number of easy ways to do this: (1) institute an immediate hiring freeze and make no new hires for the next five years; (2) let no new students into police technology programs for the next five years; (3) offer ageing officers attractive early retirement packages; (4) lay off as much as 10% of the existence police force (starting with those officers who have the most complaints against them).

If the Patrick Lagacé fiasco makes anything clear, it’s that the SPVM increasingly exists, not to serve and protect the citizens of Montreal, but to serve and protect itself.

—John Faithful Hamer, Twilight of the Idlers (2016)

Shared Language

13923512_10157167362285532_6410432123883132113_oI planned to sit and think about us
To decide if what we’re doing is right or wrong
And words like patient and nice and kind came to mind
Words that tedious people use as map markers
to plot a life that’s good enough
And I hated them all
I hated them and I buried them in a dark place
where they would all quietly accept their fate
because they would never think
to scratch their way out,
never think to clench their fists and batter reality
screaming and screaming “what about me”

My mind reeled in modern dance
Spinning, kicking, grasping, landing hard on my knees
hoping the world would give up and let my need for you
stop time long enough for me to see you see me one more time
See me ice-skating with my red scarf flying,
my heart wild with possibility as I crashed
into the snow-walled edges
and got back up for another go
See me negotiating the passage from girl to woman
too fast, too soon, and all the years it took the girl
to finally catch up
See me crying on a hotel bed, curled up in a heaving ball
knowing my father would forget who I was one day
See the depths of me coming for you, for me, for us
again and again, showering us with everything that I am,
our bodies making the past and present sticky sweet

Except I can’t dance well enough to stop time

Oh, but I have words, lover
Words that can shimmy honey onto your tongue
Words that can tap into a bass line so you feel what I feel
Words that can dance all night long steaming up the place
because you are happier when you are warm
My words — I’m yours
Your words — Stay with me
Our shared language of not letting go,
of claiming time in our own way

So I don’t want to decide if we’re right or wrong
I don’t want to be fair
I want to be demanding, selfish, wild, free
I want to scream and scream “what about me” as I drip
my greedy lifeblood into your waiting wanting mouth
And then I can let the nice words live another day
Let them breathe in our poetry so they regret
— just a little —
how fucking patient they’ve been

—Shannon Wand

Why Drake Was the Music Industry’s Worst Nightmare

ahr0cdovl2ltywdllmlozwfydc5jb20vaw1hz2vzl3jvdmkvmta4mc8wmdazlzcymy9nstawmdm3mjm4ndguanbnBecause he’s a household name they didn’t make, a self-made man who slipped in through the backdoor, crashed their private party, and made fools of them all. Because he’s a self-owned man who can’t be bought or sold on the auction blocks of L.A. Because he scrawled “OH CANADA, BITCHES!” (in permanent marker) onto The World Map of Hip-Hop. Because he tattooed “DRAKE WAS HERE” onto the industry’s sleeping fat ass. Because he proved, once and for all, that Toronto’s reputation for being the capital city of The Republic of Boring is about as outdated as Pluto’s reputation for being a planet, and Bill Cosby’s reputation for being a nice guy.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2016)

Prosecuting Professor Prick

4m39dravm9g5ehgrtv9i9hlwljt8rxjq65axuypiskh1py3fwmc1e7wvs6g5bgma_large_2A hard-core feminist friend of mine was once faced with a moral dilemma: her mom, a hard-core traditionalist, insisted that her wedding invitation be addressed to Mr. & Mrs. Dad’s Full Name. Needless to say, this offended her feminist sensibilities: “It’s like she wants to erase her own identity!” Of course she caved. Because she’s a decent person who realizes that you’ve gotta call people what they want to be called (even if you think it’s silly). This is a simple truth of social life that’s lost on Jordan Peterson, the University of Toronto professor who has, rather ridiculously, decided that he’s going to heroically stand up for the right to be a prick to trans students. That being said, prosecuting Peterson for being a prick is equally ridiculously. Indeed, probably more so. As my friend Matt Talley puts it: “just because it’s decent, doesn’t mean it should be legally mandated behavior.” Being a prick’s bad, but outlawing pricks is worse.

17553957_10154564066002683_6941119405797140254_nMany of the criticisms of The Open Society that I hear from the far left and the far right come down to the same thing: The Open Society is, like a big city, far too loud, rude, uncouth, hectic, smelly, stinky, disgusting, profane, disorderly, gross. They say that if The Open Society is going to survive and thrive, if it’s to have a future, it must become The Respectful Society. I know it sounds like a good idea, maybe even a noble idea, but The Respectful Society people on the far left and the far right long for is little more than a mirage, a misleading myth.

17499049_10154564125622683_1696717189446780712_nThere have always been but two choices available to us: We can live in The Open Society, which is a messy, chaotic place where nobody gets their way all the time, a place where everybody has to put up with shit they don’t like. Or we can live in The Closed Society, which is, in practice, usually just one big fat “safe space” for the ruling majority. Every time we allow a piece of public space to be seized and transformed into someone’s private little safe space, every time we allow touchiness to trump tolerance, we become a little less free. Our thin-skinned age needs to remember that The Open Society isn’t a safe space; it’s a tolerant space. And tolerance isn’t tolerance unless it hurts. The Respectful Society isn’t a new and improved version of The Open Society; it’s a new and improved version of The Closed Society.

Although I find some of his ideas maddening, I’m glad that we live, for now, in the kind of Open Society that makes it possible for Jordan Peterson to voice his opposition. He’s not my enemy. But if you’re one of those people who wants to silence him, or get him fired, you are.

—John Faithful Hamer, Being a Philosopher in Social Media Land (2017)

On Political Philosophies and “What Works”

This is mostly in response to John’s fine piece titled “Why Libertarians Are Like Judgy Know-It-Alls Who Don’t Have Kids”, which can be found here

The problem with arguments against normative theories that appeal to “what works” is that in them is already built a normative theory. As a result, they beg the question.

This took me a long time to realize, though Aaron Haspel clearly knew about this for awhile now. When I first met Aaron at John’s place and this topic came up, Aaron nonchalantly rattled off the above observation as though it were a matter of course. It was humbling and, to be honest, mildly embarrassing.

At any rate, in this fine piece, John writes that “Much in America works. And works very well.” But to libertarians (and Marxists, etc.), violating people’s rights doesn’t count as “working”, even if the overall arrangement is generally desirable or pleasant. This point is brought out especially well by Ursula Le Guin’s award-winning short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” In this story, Le Guin writes of a utopian city known as Omelas.

Omelas is shimmering, bright and beautiful. Everyone is happy, has food to eat and there is no social strife. Everything works wonderfully. However, Omelas has a dark secret. It turns out that the city’s splendor depends on the infliction of suffering and misery on a single child who is locked away in a basement.

When they come of age, each Omelian citizen is taken to see the child. The story is about the ones who, after seeing the child, decide in the dead of night when everyone’s asleep to walk away from Omelas.

The point is this: To those who walk away from Omelas, the city doesn’t “work.” For before we can do or judge what “works”, we need to know what counts as working. As normative theories, Marxism, libertarianism and (insert political philosophy here) try to provide the criteria for what counts as working.

Now, this does not take anything away from John’s insight that libertarians are very wrong—and indeed, childish—when they complain that the government does nothing well. The government undoubtedly provides many valuable services, and sometimes does so well and efficiently. To categorically say otherwise is false and, worse, dogmatic.

But on political philosophy more generally, I agree with Marxist philosopher G.A. Cohen that our principles of justice (which are delivered by our particular political philosophies) ought to be fact-insensitive. That is, I don’t think facts about a principle’s feasibility (in terms of people’s willingness to comply with it) should count as evidence for or against the principle. More concretely, “But, in the real world, people will always rape!” is not a valid objection to “Rape is wrong.”

As the saying goes, Marxism may not work “in practice” because we are too selfish and greedy to be good Marxists, but most people agree that it’s morally the right way. That is enough to concede that Marxism is true. (Libertarians, of course, disagree.) Indeed, Marxism is just a normative thesis, and normative claims do not entail anything about what descriptively is or will be the case. Their truth stands independently of it.

Appeals to “what works”, then, either don’t count as any evidence against Marxism or libertarianism, or beg the question against them.

—Chris Nguyen

This is why China’s kicking your ass in business

It is a common conceit that China is winning in business because of (insert one of):

  1. Cheap (subsidized, the claim often goes) labour is making everything else uncompetitive.
  2. The Chinese government is manipulating currency to make everything else uncompetitive.
  3. The Chinese are stealing technology and replicating it cheaply to make everything else uncompetitive.
  4. <…some other conspiracy theory…> to make everything else uncompetitive.

While there is some truth to these theories (and more!), these are not the whole story, nor are they the main story.  #1, for example, is behind the times.  Chinese labour is nowhere near as cheap as it used to be (and indeed this is making Chinese companies and the Chinese government try to set Africa up as China’s China).  #2 is just silly.  First, all countries (even the sainted home of purest greed capitalism: the USA) manipulate currency.  Second, there’d be far better manipulations the Chinese government could make if they were trying to win that way.  #3 is true to a point, but this is changing and, again, it’s hardly unique to China.

my6rxzyThere is a far more important reason why China is kicking your ass in business and you can get a taste of it in the picture to the right.  This picture is a perfect visual summary of the situation; why China went from a mostly-agrarian society to the #2 economy in the world in the time I’ve lived here (15 years).

What you see here is a screenshot from my phone. It shows nine packages in transit. Each package comes from a different seller (9 sources). 7 different logistics services are involved in delivery. (Two sources happened to choose the same courier company.)  It breaks down the deliveries into “not yet picked up” (1 entry), “in transit” (5 entries), and “final delivery” (3 entries). For the latter category it tells me the name and the phone number of the courier (the person, not the company!) delivering the shipment to its final destination.

This app amalgamates purchases, shipments, and deliveries from a wide variety of online shopping places and logistics services. It gives me a lot more information than I’m showing in this map too. If I click on an item, it shows me both the route taken thus far and the projected route of the item to its destination, for example. I can scale right down to street maps to see where the warehouse that last had the shipment is should it come down to needing to trace the delivery.

I’m only barely scratching the surface of this one, single app too.  There’s a lot of other tools, both seller-oriented and buyer-oriented, packed into this app.  As a seller, for example, I can use it to help choose the best logistics company for a given shipment, to track my own outbound shipments, and to do a whole bunch of other stuff I haven’t managed to decode yet.  (My Chinese skills aren’t up to the task, unfortunately.)

Keep this in mind next time you wonder why, say, Apple, an American company, gets all of its products manufactured in China.  Because this is why China is kicking your ass, and not cheap labour or currency manipulation or whatever other conspiracy theory you want to dream up.  What really gives China an edge in business these days is the highly-efficient, tightly-integrated logistics systems that are omnipresent: B2B, B2C, and even C2C. Keep that in mind when you want to know why production is being outsourced.

“Cheap Chinese junk” made by “low-paid, unskilled labourers” is a thing of the past. “High quality goods” (assuming you pay for that quality of course!) with phenomenal customer service is the new China.

Adapt or die.

CLUB NOUS

Being bilingual should be enough to get you past the OQLF bouncers at CLUB NOUS, the pure laine nightclub, frequented by the likes of Jean-François Lisée, Bernard Landry, and Mathieu Bock-Côté. But it’s not. Because SPEAKING FRENCH will never be enough for people like Lisée. You have to BE FRENCH if you wanna be a part of their NOUS. Membership has its privileges. But people like you and people like me—people who live in what Mathieu Bock-Côté derisively refers to as “Le Québec de Sugar Sammy”—need not apply. Because this really isn’t about language. Maybe it never was.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)

Moms Who Wish They’d Never Had Kids

sad-mom-bad-mom-mom-guiltJust read an article in Marie-Claire magazine about moms who wish they’d never had kids. I’m not surprised that many mothers feel this way, I’m surprised that we think it matters. The world is filled with people who regret big life decisions (where they live, what they do for a living, who they married), and it probably doesn’t amount to much. Your life is shaped primarily by what you do, not by what you intend to do or regret doing. And my guess is that when it comes to doing, the vast majority of these regretful moms are doing fine. I’ll bet they’re great moms. History will, I suspect, laugh at our culture’s obsession with the inner life. My God, we’re hard on ourselves! It’s like you’ve gotta have your heart in everything you do or it doesn’t count. We need to get comfortable, again, with the idea of people doing the right thing, and fulfilling their familial duties, even when they don’t feel like it. Maybe then we could give a regretful mom a hug, and buy her a drink, rather than judging the fuck out of her.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Goldfish (2016)

An Open Letter to Pit Bull Owners

Dogs have been in a deeply significant symbiotic relationship with our species for at least 50,000 years. They’ve selflessly defended our settlements from large predators like lions and bears, helped us on hunts, served as sentries, kept us warm on cold winter nights, and much else. They’re sort of like family at this point. And they’ve earned the right to special consideration. This is precisely why, incidentally, I’ve often argued that eating dog meat ought to be taboo the world over. Eating a dog isn’t as bad as eating your cousin, but it’s close. The emotional bonds people form with their dogs are deeply meaningful and surprisingly strong. People who don’t have dogs often fail to realize this: the family dog is in fact a member of the family. Hardcore dog lovers don’t care about animals more than people, they just care about family more than strangers (like the rest of us).

1bpx0oJust as gun control takes guns out of good people’s hands, pit bull control takes good dogs out of good people’s hands. Like eminent domain, it’s not pretty. But neither is the permanently disfigured face of a kid who’s been mauled by a pit bull. Look, I get it. I know how easily dogs can become beloved denizens of our hearts and homes. But we all have to make sacrifices if we’re gonna make this whole city living thing work. I have loved snakes my whole life and would love to get a pair of pet cobras. But I can’t because it’s against the law. Because pet cobras would be potentially dangerous to my neighbors.

I once met a woman in Verdun who’d undergone three operations and a whole lot of plastic surgery to repair the damage done to her face by a house cat. But nobody’s calling for a ban on house cats. Why? Because attacks of this kind are rare. Pit bull attacks aren’t nearly so rare. Can other kinds of dogs become violent? Sure. But, once again, nobody’s calling for a ban on all domestic dogs. Because all domestic dogs aren’t created equal. Some breeds are, statistically speaking, more likely to become dangerous. As my friend Sara Coodin put it: “It’s wishful ignorance to say that all breeds are equally susceptible to violence. No evidence bears this out. As an owner of two very large dogs, I can confidently say that nature/breed is highly determinative with dogs. Yes, there are sweet pit bulls, but they also have a proclivity towards aggression and a bite strength that makes them incredibly dangerous when they’re raised to fight.”

As Dmitry Belyaev demonstrated with his famous fox experiments, you can transform a wild animal into a docile pet in as little as ten generations by selecting for docility. Does it not stand to reason that you can create a dangerous breed of dog by selecting for aggressiveness? My students from way up North tell me that if a husky bites, it’s shot. They’ll even, at times, kill any of its offspring. In this way, apparently, they’ve been selecting for docility in huskies for a very long time. What was done to the various breeds known as pit bulls is precisely the opposite kind of selection.

Just as the NRA maintains that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”, there are those who maintain that “pit bulls don’t kill people, shitty dog owners kill people”. I must confess that I’m highly sympathetic to this argument. But it’s ultimately besides the point. Because we can’t regulate the human heart. We can, however, regulate guns and pit bulls. This is, at bottom, a public health issue, and it needs to be seen as such. But pit bull owners refuse to see it as such. Because, as Shakespeare rightly observed, “love is blind, and lovers cannot see.” Pit bull owners love their dogs. I get that. And I’m genuinely touched by it, truth be told. But love can cloud your judgment.

—John Faithful Hamer, Blue Notes (2016)

Notes for My Unwritten Book

652_sacred_textsWhile I was losing and finding myself in grad school, I stumbled into a little Buddhist sangha where I met the editor of a small press interested in doing books about the relationship between Eastern and Western philosophies. After listening to me babble informally for a while (about philosophy in general, my dissertation in ancient Greek philosophy, Buddhism, etc.), she asked if I would do a book for them. I said I would, and I have been diligently (but only too slowly) pounding away since.

As inspiration for my project, she gave me a very nice little book about the experience of a Western academic philosopher (from Virginia) who went over to India to teach Tibetan monks a course in ‘our philosophy’ while attempting to learn for his own part more about theirs. What struck me about the book was how classroom-bound we appear to be. The monks were still building a βίος (in the Greek sense) after the fashion of (say) Diogenes of Sinope, but the university professor was not (and found that aspect of their experience and training a bit strange, particularly when it led them to value an end of rational discussion, a disavowal of ‘the life of the mind’ that obsessed him). I wondered where we (‘the West’ in my editor’s formulation) lost the sense of building life as a philosophical endeavor: the professor offered a line about the independence of the individual in Western life which seemed to address this concern a bit, but my own historical research (and experience working in the university) made his idea—that Western philosophy equips us to live as autonomous individuals maximally independent of irrational notions—too naive to take very seriously. So I started (or rather continued) reading as much ancient material on philosophy as I could find—philosophical literature, history, and interpretation (including many exceedingly boring books by interpreters of Aristotle).

Beginning with the Ionians (pre-Socratics), I find the ancient notion of philosophy (in the West) perfectly congruent with Buddhist and earlier Eastern notions of living skillfully (knowing one’s environment and responding intelligently to it, managing internal and external phenomena with intention in the manner of an ancient sage, yogi, or shaman). Of course there are windbags who affect expertise they don’t possess to make money or fame (the pretenders Plato casts as sophists). And many regard the alchemy of the philosophical bios as a questionable use of time (to put it kindly: witness Aristophanes’ satire of Socrates in the Clouds). But the concept of philosophy as something lived remains (and philosophers share a kind of cult, a religion that includes gods, offerings, taboos, and rituals that prepare philosophers for actions trivial and serious on the stage of human drama set by the cities and countryside they frequent). It remains right down to late antiquity (when the schools close under Justinian?).

At this point, things become hazy (for me). As near as I can tell, many philosophers continue to practice recognizable ancient forms of their vocation—without formal organization, or with some adjustment (converting to Christianity or moving to Persian territory in search of more lenient political regimes). When philosophy re-emerges in the West (in the courts of Byzantine emperors, the notes of learned monks, the lectures of medieval cathedral schools), it is pedantic commentary on what has become an alien experience (the old religion that was ancient philosophy). People who live dedicated lives in the manner of the old philosophers are often unlearned friars or hermits (whose primary intellectual stimulus, where it exists, is more likely to come from Christian prayers and liturgy than from ancient relics of paganism). Meanwhile, people who study those relics, right up until the Renaissance, are motivated mostly by ‘idle’ (in the pejorative medieval sense) curiosity, which they attempt to redeem by inventing theology (the first modern science! and quite dismal, though it has some funny consequences, like Ramon Llull trying to convert Muslim philosophers to Christianity with logic: at least he recognized the futility of violence).

Hunting proof that God really exists in a particular and predictable way, Western theologians stumble into the Enlightenment (with absurd hopes of understanding all things, hopes that many ancient Greek philosophers would have joined generations of Indians and Chinese—Ajivikas, Carvakas, Buddhists, Daoists—in deploring). From the Enlightenment, the Western theologian emerges transformed into the professor, a pedant in love with this unique idol of Reason, an image (Greek εἴδωλον) that exists without any obvious grounding in historical experience or culture (since he inherits it reading from old texts whose practical historical circumstances have vanished: he is reading the liturgy for rites he has never seen, let alone participated in). And so today, we find a strange disjunction between philosophy in the West, such as it is (a rational mind cut off from irrational passions), and philosophy in the East (which has never lost the sense that humanities we cultivate must cohere to inform some kind of human life good in its entirety, its rational and irrational parts: the mind is an expression of the passions, a tool of the passions, something we develop not to overwhelm but to guide and enjoy them safely).

That is, more or less, the territory I see my project covering (with a great many detours to discuss ideas and practices that we have forgotten in the West). I freely confess that I am rather crazy, that some of my passion for this vision of Western philosophy comes from a personal perspective that involves me playing a role in my own society not altogether unlike that of the ancient Cynic. I seek a simpler life, closer to nature than history places me—and my best position in society appears to involve more ridicule or indifference than plaudits. I have no great track record in publications, little interest or money for academic conferences, and much of what I think about philosophy and humanities flies directly in the face of the modern American university. Like Diogenes, I deface the currency.

—Joseph Gresham Miller