How our culture treats boys

My children are a bit older now, so I don’t shop at The Children’s Place as much as I used to. I happened to stop in the other day though, and I found myself worrying about the sort of messages that we are sending to boys in our culture. For those who don’t know, it’s a clothing store. The layout is always the same: they are split right down the middle, with girls’ clothing on one side and boys’ clothing on the other. This provides a particularly convenient opportunity to compare what is being sold to girls and boys, at any given moment, and to contemplate the various assumptions about gender that go along with it.

For instance, looking the “graphics tees” section, I noticed a very striking difference in the type of images and messages being marketed to girls and those being marketed to boys. Here is a selection of the girls’ T-shirts.… Continue reading

Redefining racism

There’s a little semantic game that’s being played a lot these days, which seems to me worthy of analysis. (And since philosophers are so often of accusing to getting hung up on “semantic questions,” who better to comment on it?) It has become quite standard in many quarters to condemn Canadian society, along with all of its institutions, as being thoroughly and systematically racist. There is however an important ambiguity in the way that the term “racist” is being used, with critics often shifting back and forth between two quite different meanings of the term, in a way that vitiates the force of their criticism.

When most people hear the word “racism,” the way that they understand it is in terms that would have been familiar to civil rights activists of the 1960s. This type of racism was interpreted first and foremost as a derogatory attitude certain individuals have, that leads them to engage in discriminatory behaviour – treating some people better than others based on their racial characteristics.… Continue reading

Is this time different? What can we learn from #MeToo and #NeverAgain

At first blush it is tempting to just assign #MeToo and #NeverAgain to the growing pool of hashtagged social movements that happen to get their teeth into the media cycle for an extended period of time. They both benefit from being related, in one way or another, to the infinite-scroll train wreck that is the Trump presidency. And most importantly, both are at the spearpoint of what looks to be rapid and in many ways shocking social change.

But these two movements are interesting for another reason: They force the question of why this is happening. Or to put it more forcefully, why is this happening now? After all, in both cases the triggering events or circumstances are far from unprecedented. Harvey Weinstein had been threatening, harassing, and abusing women in Hollywood for a very long time. And in the case of the Parkland shootings, it is unfortunately far from the first time a student in the United States has gone into a school and massacred some students with a semi-automatic rifle.Continue reading

The Perils of Paid Content

Back in the late nineties and early 2000s, I worked in various capacities for This Magazine, a spunky little lefty magazine in Toronto. I wrote for it, helped edit the front of the book, and served for a while on the editorial board. The magazine’s slogan was “nobody owns us”, by which they meant two things. First, there was no corporate owner calling the shots, and second, there were no advertisers to speak of.

As declarations of independence go, it was as wrong as it was proud. Pretty much everywhere you go in life, there’s always an owner, there is always somebody to answer to, someone calling the shots. In the case of This Magazine, there were two such owners. First, the magazine has charitable status (it is technically an educational charity) and is hence highly constrained by the requirements of that status and the limitations it puts on the sorts of things it can publish.… Continue reading

The problem with “critical” studies

When I was an undergraduate, I believed that the prevalence of positivism in the social sciences – the idea of studying social phenomena in an “objective” or “value-free” manner – was one of the great evils in the world. Not only was it an illusion, but it was a harmful one, because beneath the guise of objectivity there lay a hidden agenda, namely, an interest in domination. Treating people as objects of study, rather than as subjects, was not politically neutral, because it generated a type of knowledge that just happened to be precisely of the sort that one would need in order to manipulate and control them. “Objective” social science, in other words, was not value-free at all, but rather a tool of oppression.

The alternative to this, warmly recommended at the time, would be a new form of social science, one that was explicitly guided by the “emancipatory” interest of human reason.… Continue reading

Why “homophobia” must be tolerated in a way that racism need not

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms prohibits discrimination based on the following characteristics:

15 (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

The Canadian Human Rights Act (HRA) goes a bit further, specifying a longer list of prohibited grounds for discrimination:

3 (1) For all purposes of this Act, the prohibited grounds of discrimination are race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.

It goes on to specify what constitutes a “discriminatory practice” (e.g.… Continue reading

A tale of two Trust Projects

Once a year at the Citizen, usually on a Sunday, we’d let readers into the newsroom. It was part of the citywide Open Doors programme, and we would strongarm a few editors and junior reporters into working a weekend shift that involved giving a gaggle of news fiends (well, mostly retirees and maybe some parents dragging their kids) a quick tour of the newsroom and the presses and a spiel about how they do their job, how the front page of the paper comes together, and so on. I always dreaded it, but when I did it, I always had fun. People were genuinely interested in this sort of stuff, and it is always fun to talk about how the news gets made.

I should have taken a lesson from these things, but I didn’t. One of the bigger regrets I have from my time as an editor at the Ottawa Citizen was that I didn’t make more of an effort to build trust with readers.Continue reading

On Iain M. Banks

I found it very poignant when Iain Banks announced — 4 years ago now — just a few months before his untimely death, that he had inoperable cancer. I resolved then to sit down and write the piece about his Culture novels that I’d been meaning to write forever. I did that in relatively short order. Publishing such a piece, however, proved somewhat more difficult!. Now, however, thanks to Sci Phi Journal, it is in print (here).

This is, by the way, the first half of the piece. The second half should be coming out in the new year.… Continue reading

Jour du Souvenir et engagement militaire démocratique

À toutes les époques, la guerre fut discutée et critiquée de diverses manières. On a certes souvent condamné les guerres mal menées, qui mènent à la défaite. Mais ce n’est pas tout, les Athéniens ont de manière célèbre condamné à mort leurs généraux victorieux en 406 avant notre ère pour avoir négligé de traiter morts et blessés selon la tradition.

Dès lors, on peut dire que depuis des millénaires, on critique non seulement la conduite de la guerre en termes d’efficacité, mais aussi suivant des critères moraux. On dénoncera par exemple les excès contre les populations civiles et les lieux saints, et divers mouvements ont même remis en question toute guerre, le pacifisme se retrouvant bien avant le 20e siècle, par exemple chez les premiers chrétiens et certains courants bouddhistes.

Cependant, un grand oublié de cette longue histoire est la question de l’expérience individuelle du soldat. Ainsi, on a beaucoup plus rarement critiqué la guerre pour ce qu’elle infligeait psychologiquement au soldat individuel.… Continue reading

Affirmative action for conservative academics?

Back in 2016, some students at Emory University were so traumatized by the appearance of pro-Trump slogans, written in chalk on various sidewalks on campus, that they called upon the administration to investigate the incident as one of “hate speech.” The thought that an entire university campus should constitute a safe space, in which students might be insulated from any expression of support for one of the two major U.S. political parties, struck many as being in tension with the ideal of the university as a forum for the open exchange of ideas. At the same time, the fact that the existence of Trump supporters in their midst could have so alarmed these students shows how unusual or rare the expression of political disagreement has already become at certain U.S. colleges. The fact is, you can search far and wide in American academia, without finding a single Trump supporter, or even a political conservative.… Continue reading