Tourists and Travellers

I served a Frenchman the other day who boasted of having had ceviche in five different countries while he insisted on being served French-style and ate his Latin American cuisine with chop sticks. He wasn’t just peculiar, he was arrogant about it; as if he was the only one at the table, or in the restaurant, who knew how to do things properly.

Sometimes traveling the world introduces you to different cultures and perspectives, I guess; “broadens your horizons”. And I guess sometimes it makes you a confused twat who absorbs nothing from the places you’ve been, all while imposing your own shitty opinions on other cultures.

I’m not knocking travel; as a sensory experience it can be fun to see new sights, taste new food, witness how other people live. But I dislike the cosmopolitan assumption that a geographically diverse life is superior by default, that being able to afford a plane ticket means one can purchase wisdom. Buried in that assumption is another, that when the privileged children of the First World visit the Third, they must be meeting people over there that are somehow lesser; for they cannot visit orphans in Guatemala, dig wells in Africa, go skiing in the Alps, or swim in far away oceans; they cannot buy experience.

The Frenchmen was wealthy. He was wealthy enough that his glasses probably cost more than most things that I own. He was wealthy enough that he could pour his beer back and forth between his water glass and his beer glass until he had two glasses of foam, because “Japanese beer should be enjoyed in a glass with a little bit of water in it,” and the bewildered diners at his table nodded as if he was spouting profound wisdom instead of something he made up; because he was more important than them in their eyes. He’s probably wealthy enough to have visited more cities in one year than I will ever see in my life. But after all the pages of his passport have been filled with the stamps of the world, he will have only seen those places through expensive spectacles and asshole-eyes, and he’ll be none the wiser for it.

I’ve lived in Toronto my whole life, and here I’ll most likely remain. I travel rarely because I’m anxious and dislike disruptions to my routine. Sometimes the colourful vacation photos of others makes my own life feel monotonous and grey. But then something magical happens, like meeting the Frenchmen, that makes me realize I have so much more to learn about life, especially about human nature, and it’s all right in front of me.

The Rule of Law

There’s a weird inversion between the two groups of protestors around Toronto these days. There’s Black Lives Matter activists challenging law enforcement’s practices of carding, raiding the homes of, arresting, and even killing people of colour without sufficient cause or evidence. And then, not even a fifteen minute walk across town, there are protestors saying “We Believe Survivors” because our legal system couldn’t put away a serial sexual assaulter due to a lack of evidence.

When the legal system only adheres to its noble principles of demanding a high evidentiary standard when it exonerates injustice, that’s not noble, it’s telling. And it’s telling people: “You have no cause to feel safe here, neither from the Law nor its opposite.” Not all people, but it’s saying that to women, and it’s saying that to people of colour; and when you add those two up, that’s most people. Maybe it’s not saying that on purpose, but it certainly is not by accident.

“All Lives Matter”

“All lives matter” is a curious phrase; hardly ever uttered in the English language until relatively recently, and possibly unique in that it represents a benevolent and egalitarian truth, agreeable to all the best of us, but only ever spoken aloud by irredeemable assholes.

I'm With Stupid

<—I’m With Stupid—>



Notes on Stupidity

From The Atlantic, I stumbled upon a great definition of science:

“Arguably, science is the gradual process by which the cognitive parts of our brains discover the profound inaccuracies in our deeper, evolutionarily built-in models of the world.”

Of course, this hardly capture the totality of what science is, the methods of accumulating, testing, verifying, and reproducing results; but it does address our fundamental inability to perceive the world with any reliable degree of accuracy.

Science does not deal in certainties, and contrary to popular usage of the term, a scientific theory is more than just a guess, it is a comprehensive explanation which accounts for the information known at the time.  As more information accumulates, as advances in technology allow us to see more deeply into the inner workings of the natural world, as more scientific minds rethink what is known; old theories have to give way to new ones.  Scientific worldviews are built to be replaced.

But human beings aren’t built for uncertainty.  Not only do we like to know things, we like to think that we already know things pretty well.  It’s one thing to try to convince someone that what they’re certain of is incorrect; it’s quite another to try to persuade them that, not only is their worldview wrong, but the very idea that they could legitimately possess a fixed worldview is invalid.

As any social critic or contrarian is aware, sometimes the validity of one’s argument will be judged on answers to non sequiturs like: “If that’s the problem, what’s your solution?” or, “How would you do it better?”  To the extent that people are willing to surrender their certainties, it is far more comfortable to trade them in for new ones. Skepticism and doubt can look like nihilism from afar, and most of us can concede that amongst the many hallways of the human mind, there are certain doors we may wish to keep shut, even if we disagree on which ones.

Which brings me to the next quote:

In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

This from an article entitled “How Facts Backfire” which uses the study cited above to argue that the foundational myths of democracy have been laid upon the swamp water of confirmation bias.  How can we have an informed citizenry, when the very act of getting informed runs so contrary to our evolutionary journey from single celled life forms to hairless weakling apes that occasionally vote for the red team or the blue team?

Is this not why evil always wins?  Marketers, populists, the ugly talking heads on cable whose punditry is molded out of appeals to emotion.  Maybe.  But the idea that evil does always win is an untested hypothesis founded on primitive binary thinking.  It’s reassuring to watch others succumb to their own fallacious logic; delusional to presume that our own selves have somehow risen above it.




Conservative Criticism of Foreign Policy Uninformed by News of Last Year’s Election

The Conservative Party of Canada, accustomed to being hated by many, if not most Canadians, is still reeling from the discovery that this widespread hatred can occasionally translate into electoral defeat, even in a democracy as flawed as ours.  Now, they are turning news that Canada will be excluded from a meeting of defense ministers from nations fighting ISIS into fodder for criticism, rather than accepting the news as the logical outcome of changes to Canadian foreign policy under a new government, who was elected only two months ago on a platform promising to pull Canadian bombers out of the war on ISIS.

We can expect this level of commentary from the Queen’s Loyal Opposition for years to come.  After the attack in Paris, the party renewed its calls for Trudeau to reverse his election promise as if the promise to pull out Canadian CF-18’s was premised on the belief that there would never again be another terrorist strike somewhere in the Western world.  In response to the latest news, the Conservative Defence Critic said on Twitter, “Due to the Liberal’s incoherent policy on #ISIS Canada is not back, we lost our seat at the table,” a sentiment echoed in his official statements.

James Bezan

Conservative MP James bEzan rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Monday February 2, 2015 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Adrian Wyld

Well, fine. There is indeed  incoherence in Trudeau’s foreign policy.  There are legitimate questions to ask; how much longer will the pullout be delayed; what role will our special forces continue to play in the conflict; is the government merely going to pretend to not participate in a war, even as it continues to do so, like the Liberal government under Jean Chrétien?  Skepticism is  healthy, and governments should never be trusted, but every now and then, once in a while, they do exactly what they said they’d do when stumping for votes, and that’s pretty much the most one could ever hope for from a government.  It still remains to be seen if the Trudeau will deliver on his promise, but the critique from the right seems to be premised on the outrageous notion that he will. But then, the CPC has long had a shaky grasp on the concept of democracy. Which is a shame, because as the official opposition the party could do the nation a service by holding the government to account for its actions.  To do so, however, they would need to be asking the right questions.



It would be unfair to not mention that the Liberal government’s own explanation for why they are not attending the meeting, is equally, if not more disingenuous than the Conservative critique:

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s statement that there are “lots of meetings” to the assembled scrum is a cheap dodge.  He may be right in trying to downplay the significance of Canada getting snubbed, but the question was why it had happened in the first place.  He could have at least paraphrased his statement in a less deceptive, but more honest way: “There are lots of answers to questions. Questions get answered all of the time.  I answered some questions last week, and I’m really looking forward to answering some question in the future.”