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
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
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
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
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
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
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
At the beginning of every apocalyptic thriller there’s always a scene where the hero is getting ready for work, feeding the kids breakfast, dealing with a dog that has barfed in the living room, and generally dealing with the million minor stresses of every day life.
Meanwhile, on the TV or radio in the background the news is cycling through the usual mundanities of petty crime and traffic and local weather, except thrown into the mix there are always a handful of Easter eggs: warnings of nuclear sabre-rattling by jumped-up third-world dictators; quirky reports of bizarre weather patterns in Europe; a fun little hit about a couple from the midwest who swore they saw an alien spacecraft collecting samples in a field behind their house.
These scenes play a key role in setting up the narrative, in three ways. First, they establish the family ties that will provide the emotional basis for the film.… Continue reading
I had the privilege last night of seeing Dan Drezner give the inaugural Barton Lecture at Carleton’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa. His lecture was a condensed version of the argument of his book The Ideas Industry, and while I’ve read the book, the talk was useful. It’s often interesting to see people give book talks, since you get a better sense of what they think their book is about.
Drezner begins with a paradox: Everyone laments the decline of the public intellectual in our civic discourse, and yet, via outlets such as TED and related Big Ideas type lecture series’, the demand for ideas has never been greater. Drezner squares this by distinguishing two types of ideas industry labourer: Public Intellectuals and Thought Leaders. They break down as follows:
What Drezner argues, in a nutshell, is that public intellectuals have been largely eclipsed by thought leaders, so that people like Niall Ferguson and Fareed Zakaria now dominate.… Continue reading
This is a quick afterthought on the piece I posted the other day about religiously-based exemptions, and also a response to some of the comments made on that piece. My central objective in that argument was simply to point out that many rules in our society already have exemptions built into them, in order to handle circumstances in which there is significant heterogeneity in the underlying interests. In some cases, just averaging them all together, or taking the vector sum, is not the best way of responding. This is particularly true in cases where a small minority has an interest (or assigns weight to an interest) quite divergent from that of the majority. In that case, it may make more sense to have a rule that applies in most cases, but then to grant an exemption for those in the minority. The example I gave was of speed limits, which have selective exemptions for emergency vehicles.… Continue reading