Archive for November, 2008

A Great Re-evaluation: The Silver Lining on a Dark Economic Cloud

Posted in Culture, Environment, Media, Philosophy, Relationships with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2008 by 99ppp

For the last couple of months I’ve been fascinated by the financial coverage on CNBC. The commentators struggling to make sense of something that is senseless to them. They declare the market is undervalued, and look for the mythical bottom where the best buying opportunities occur. They hope the promise of great riches will entice more to pick up some great bargains. The Dow numbers jump up and down frantically and the commentators become equally manic depressive. There are both the bulls (optimists) and the bears (pessimists) that give opinions ranging from an economic apocalypse not unlike the Great Depression, to a simple correction that will go away in a couple of months. They begin to speak their occult financial jargon, giving the idea of great confidence of expertise to their opinions. At first I watched with amusement, since I am no fan of the Temple of Greed, the casino Wall Street devolved into. Underneath it all though, I saw something, very human.. a slight desperation.. a deep anxiety on seeing their worldviews being dismantled piece by piece. Global corporate capitalism itself is being tested.  They are witnessing something they know is extraordinary, and terrifying. They are witnessing a Great Re-evaluation, and it transcends the golden chambers of international commerce.

What is value?

What we value is what is important to us. In this consumerist society, many ascribe the accumulation of material goods as the highest measure of  value. Many will point to family, friends and community.. yet most will acknowledge old cliches like “Money makes the world go round” and the so called “ownership society” that Bush aspired to lead his country to. However, now the values are changing. Environmental concerns are incompatible with tenets of infinite financial growth. The earth has limited resources and cannot handle a world with people with unlimited material ambitions. Many are looking towards a simpler life.. looking for the freedom to act, rather than simply freedom to possess and own. If this trend continues, the current economy, that relies on ever increasing consumption, sees this as a large threat.

A Layman’s View of the Financial Crisis

I cannot claim any expertise on much of the subject, although it has captured my attention recently. The sub prime mortgage bubble, a glut of overpriced houses that people cannot even begin to afford, is causing a great cascade of foreclosures. Banks have been exchanging exotic financial instruments where mortgages being cut up into little pieces and being transacted by it had actual value. The illusion of ever increasing home values made many homeowners get in greater debt using the equity on their houses. When the defaults and foreclosures began, homeowners couldn’t pay, the paper became toxic, and the values crumbled. Then big financial houses holding or backing large amounts of such paper like AIG and Lehman Bros and others couldn’t handle such liabilities and their stock prices plummeted. This has triggered off a cascading set of events that created the current situation. A more detailed explanation can be found HERE (MUST READ).

Bailouts: The Government Response

As these banks stop lending to everyone and one another the govt decides to hand a $700 billion (and counting) bailout to these irresponsible institutions. The system is in critical danger they exclaim, “worst since the Great Depression”. We are scared into giving them carte blanche to have the taxpayers buy into shitty investments. The dogma of the “Free Market” goes out the window, and now we have to save the system from itself. Socialize the risk, privatize the profit, and the owners of the world must keep getting their tribute since their corrupt mechanism is under extreme danger. Slogans like “too big to fail” is spouted off by politicians and the massive bailout is given the green light, a bailout which did not work on defrosting the credit freeze. The mythical free market has lost investor confidence, and many of the clerics of unregulated capitalism now decrying the government for not acting faster, to save them from themselves.

What will happen next in the short term?

Beats me, although I have some suspicions. Right now they are looking to the consumer, who supplies two thirds of the economy for guidance. You see, the stock market investors don’t want the people to do what banks are doing, hoarding money. They want people to spend so they can make greater profit. Now they are looking to the annual orgy of consumption (x-mas) to see where the trends lie. If the consumer doesn’t begin to buy more and more stuff they know they can’t make more money off of them. So I look to CNBC, not to see the nausea producing oscillations of the market (although they can be interesting indicators of the mass psychosis of the market), but the financial news of earnings, sales and layoffs.

A Great Re-evaluation

If the system works, why isn’t it working then? Who does it work for most?

It is very natural to feel overwhelmed with the incomprehensible amounts of money and the momentum of a crumbling global economy to make one feel powerless. The reality is that we all are part of it, in some way or another. We participate in an economy where the lines between needs and wants are blurred into oblivion. “Consume more to save jobs!”, “It’s OK to get into debt”, “Too big to fail!”. Those in power need us to buy into it to justify placing greater obligation on taxpayers, since without the system, they believe we are helpless. Are we?

Each of us can now reassess what we value, and why we value it. We can explore it, discuss it, and debate it. I doubt there will be only one answer, but a myriad of approaches. Some will work better than others. Yet it is better to experiment ourselves rather than rely on those perched on top of economic and political hierarchies to make these decisions for us. Even with the best of intentions, these people are often too isolated and distanced from the consequences of their decisions. We can bemoan the unfairness of it all, yet we are not powerless. I believe that recognizing and reclaiming the power we each have may be the silver lining in these difficult times.

“What Would Jesus Buy” – Trailer

Posted in Culture, Environment, Philosophy with tags , , , , , , , on November 25, 2008 by 99ppp

From Morgan Spurlock, the producer of SuperSize Me and the terrific series 30 Days, comes a timely documentary following the theatrical antics of anti-consumerism activist Reverend Billy. Hopefully many of those who gleefully wallow in the annual orgy of over-consumption, especially in these difficult financial times, can pause and consider this message. (2Min vid)

Edit: Oops.. the DVD is already released, but decided to keep the trailer posted since Black Friday is coming, the start of the Christmas shopping season, and I thought it was fitting.

Responsibility: Duty, Blame or Power?

Posted in Culture, Philosophy, Relationships, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on November 13, 2008 by 99ppp

The word “responsibility” is fascinating, especially the context and the spirit in which it is used, primarily in three contexts that often interrelate: duty, blame and power.

Duty

Responsibility as duty can restrict the psyche from reflection and contemplation. Duty and obligation often suggests a standard of behaviour, right and wrong, that hasn’t been formulated by the individual but simply by regurgitating the mores of the prior generation, convention or tradition. When someone wears traditionalism as some badge of honour I become extremely skeptical, since it suggest that the person hasn’t examined the “traditions” enough to formulate their own opinions. This is not to say that there aren’t good values that come from our human past, and yet to say one is a “traditional” says little about one’s values and suggests one hasn’t examined them fully.

Some take more than their share of responsibility, so they take on much more duties that they need to. They can deny any chance for those who simply pass it off to get their shit together and stop being dependent. I believe most people don’t want to be dependent they just have lost confidence in their ability to act, and simply look to someone else to take care of things. This is what happened during the Obama campaign, where this particular person believe that the fact that Obama has been voted in would magically solve all their problems (see vid below).

Often the phrase “This is how I was raised” is used to justify behaviour and morals that haven’t been examined by the individual. It often comes from a distorted admiration to some authority figure, often parents or the larger society. This is an example of either empowering oneself of responsibility from one’s opinions. When I hear “This is how I was raised” I often translate it as “I haven’t taken to the time to examine the values I was indoctrinated with(even if well intentioned) . It is easy to simply obey the morals of another instead of constructing a personal sense of ethics. To question everything can plunge one into an existential dilemma and it is understandable to wish to avoid that. Yet the cost of avoiding it can leave one feeling a nagging sense of helplessness, especially when the voice of a suppressed personal conscience increases in volume and contradicts what we are taught to believe.

No one can guilt me without my permission. Any person who says to me, “You are making me feel guilty” is a person who hasn’t taken responsibility for their own conscience. They have embraced someone else’s values without examination. Guilt can be a useful emotion when it is a violation of our own personal standards and principles, and not someone else’s, as long as one doesn’t wallow in it.

Another form of responsibility as duty is “I am only doing my job”, in other words, simply doing as one is instructed. This is a difficult one since one’s livelihood can be in jeopardy if one disobeys. Personally, I previously began to see my job as an opposition to my personal ethics and I was having trouble sleeping and began to get aches and pains in my body. Then came the breaking point and I quit, and all the pains went away. Stress places the body and mind in continual survival mode and can exact a heavy cost on people: anxiety, heart disease, hypertension, depression, substance abuse and so on. This question has no easy answers since people are being pulled in two directions, have bills and families to feed.

Blame

Many use the word responsibility to lay blame unto others. By using the word in this matter, ironically dissuades many people to take more responsibility. You see, we have to allow for people to make mistakes. If we easily forgive mistakes,  share our insights on how to improve things instead of finger pointing, those who try to evade responsibility will use it to learn instead of mindlessly escaping them. There are those who claim to take responsibility as a lever to gain more power. Since I have greater responsibility than you, then you should do what they say. This is why it is easy to point fingers at politicians. They make all kinds of promises to gain power, suggest that the problems entrapping the society will be fixed without any discomfort. I found it interesting during the Obama acceptance speech, that when he mentioned there may be sacrifices to stem the expectations projected onto him, the crowd became temporarily silent from the boisterous jubilation. Obama was already feeling the pressure of being anointed as “a saviour” facing the current economic crisis.

During times of war those who commit atrocities such as the killing of innocent lives and are later confronted by a barrage of questions, often pass the buck once again by saying “I was just doing my job” instead of looking into their conscience. They believe it absolves them from looking deeper into the actions they take with a more critical eye instead by following blindly the orders of others. Here “I am just doing my job” translates into “The person giving me the orders is responsible”.

When we refuse to take responsibility for our actions over and over we tend to lose respect, and trust from others. We also start losing confidence in our own abilities in the things we do and continue to pass the buck unto others and yet continue to learn nothing from our own experiences.

Power

Responsibility can be power. Response ability, the ability to respond..To avoid it can make one feel powerless, a paper boat in a tsunami, where we are directionless in the currents of circumstance swirling around us. It would be facile to say we are directly influential in everything that happens to us, but often we underestimate our ability to cause effects. I elaborated further on this on the “Fat acceptance” post earlier in this blog.

I am in full agreement that each of us could take greater responsibility for our lives, this I say in the spirit of compassion and advocating people empowering themselves instead of passively waiting for others to help them. Unfortunately, many have used the term “personal responsibility” as a blunt weapon to demonize those who are in difficult position and suggest that their situation is fully of their own doing. This is using responsibility as analogous to blame, not power.

One way to pry blame away from responsibility: To feel responsible for everything one does, but not responsible for everything that happens to us. This may first seem like a paradox. Allow me to elaborate.

Humans are fallible. We aren’t capable to predict exactly what results our actions may trigger, but we can’t allow that uncertainty to paralyze us from action.We will fuck up. But that’s ok, if there is a sincere recognition of the error. There is conditioning we may need to emancipate ourselves from. Prejudices and fears that cloud our ability to see clearly. Pressures we may have felt from others. We have to be cautious though, to see them as influences and not excuses, since it may lead one to place blame on circumstances and simultaneously disempower ourselves from the ability to act. We can see them as obstacles to move around instead of walls that paralyze us.

Blame, duty and power relate to time as well. Blame (past), duty (future), and power (present). To live closer to the moment, it is best to frame responsibility to the present.

[Obama supporter referred above]

Gay marriage banned in two states, leading in California

Posted in Culture, Love, Relationships, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on November 5, 2008 by 99ppp
According to CNN as of this writing, a ban on gay marriage has passed in Arizona and Florida, and it’s winning in a close vote in California (52-48). In addition, there is a ban on unmarried couples adopting children in Arkansas.This is very unfortunate but I am hardly surprised. There is a strain of traditionalism woven into the concept of marriage in most people’s minds. Introducing a newer concept like civil unions (or common law) that could grant the same protections of state marriage , would likely get greater consideration as the issue becomes more about equal rights than “desecrating” an ancient tradition.

Here in Canada, particularly in Quebec, marriage as an institution has had it’s popularity and cultural importance erode over the years:

The number of couples forgoing marriage has more than doubled since 1981, the first time the statistic was tallied. At the time, there were 357,000 common-law relationships – about six per cent of all couples. By the 2001 Census, roughly 14 per cent of all couples were common law. Common-law unions are most prevalent among young people and couples living in Quebec, where more than 30 per cent of all families are common law. {LINK)

As I mentioned in my previous post, equal rights activists would likely be best served to simply let go of the word “marriage”. As far as I’m concerned the institution itself is losing prestige, and energy towards promoting a fairer world can be better placed elsewhere.

Surrenderring “Marriage” to Religion: A Case for Civil Unions

Posted in Culture, Love, Relationships, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2008 by 99ppp

There is a controversial question placed before California voters today, Proposition 8 which will legally impede same-sex  couples to marry if it passes. Plenty of money has been placed to pass the measure, most prominently, the Mormon Church which poured approximately 20 million dollars into the campaign to pass it. The progressive viewpoint is to champion the cause of same-sex marriage, and at first I would be so inclined, as it isn’t fair to discriminate how people choose to unite regardless of their sexual orientation. The deeper problem is the word “marriage” itself. This issue will not go away, and the best way to transcend it, is to give the word “marriage” to religion and have the state only perform civil unions for ALL couples.

I am not a fan of marriage as an institution to begin with. I’ve already argued that it has nothing to do with love, yet I can concede that there are potential reasons why two people would want to get married: children and property. Civil unions can provide the identical protections without calling it marriage.

Giving religion the word, will dismantle the lever which those who wish to project their religious morality through the mechanism of the state. Those who get the religious ceremony would still need to get a civil union to be recognized by the state. Those same-sex couples of faith who still wish to get married, may need to wait for a while, yet surely there will be some progressive religious groups who would perform the ceremony, since the freedom of religion is inviolate.

Additionally, by giving the word marriage to religion, it gives greater clarity to the division of church and state.

All this time and energy fighting over a word is pointless, attention that keeps us distracted from more important issues, like the economy, the environment and questions of war and peace. Those with progressive secular values could simply abandon the quibble over one word, it simply isn’t worth it. Religion can even take the words “husband” and “wife” and we can embrace the inclusive gender neutral “spouse”.