The Politics of Ethnic Fraud

Guest post by Avigail Eisenberg

When I was growing up, my best friend and I would play what I now recognize to be a kind of ‘Jewish identity game’. We would identify different celebrities and historical figures who were Jewish or partly Jewish. My friend was much better than I at this game. She told me that Goldie Hawn was Jewish as was Sigmund Freud, and Bob Dylan. It wasn’t all good news – she claimed Hitler was partly Jewish as was Stalin (no idea where she got this). But there was lots of compensation for these stains in people like Karl Marx and Sammy Davis Jr! She had a book about Jewish communities all over the world, with pictures of the Chinese Jewish community, Indian Jews, Ethiopian Jews, and many more that I’m forgetting. There was no winning or losing this game (no fact checking or challenging). It was about impressing ourselves about our shared identity by creating a sense that so many people (and especially celebrities like Goldie Hawn!) were part of our tribe.… Continue reading

The age of anti-consumerism has passed

It took the butt-ugly advertising wrap around my morning newspaper to remind me that tomorrow is Black Friday, supposedly the biggest shopping day of the year. You know, the day when Americans stampede one another to get into Walmart and pull guns on one another in the flat screen TV aisle of Best Buy.

It wasn’t so long ago that Black Friday, and the anti-consumerist hysteria that surrounded it, was one of the biggest days on the culture jammer’s calendar. Because that was also the day that Adbusters magazine sponsored Buy Nothing Day. That is the day when anti-consumerism activists try to “jam” the shoppers by cutting up credit cards, engaging in sit-ins, riding their bikes, participating in zombie walks or critical mass rides, and so on. The point is to not buy anything, while drawing attention to the grossness of those who are.

We had a lot of fun with BND in The Rebel Sell.… Continue reading

Punk’s not dead…

Thanks to the The Rebel Sell, I’m still asked to give my opinion every now and then about music and culture. I usually decline, but Jeremy Allen had a story idea recently that caught my interest, so I did an interview for this article: Punk was Rubbish and it Didn’t Change Anything: An Investigation.

Unfortunately, we did an email interview, and he wound up not using most of it, which is a shame, since email responses take a long time to write. So here is the full interview, for those who are interested in such things:

You suggest in your book The Rebel Sell that the counterculture is not a threat to the system. Does art change anything?

What Andrew Potter and I were arguing against, in The Rebel Sell, was a certain political idea, which originated in the 1960s, but remained enormously influential during the punk era as well.… Continue reading

Retour sur le nouveau réalisme

Pour son cinquième anniversaire, le magazine d’art Zone Occupée m’a demandé de contribuer à son numéro thématique intitulé « Prospectives ». Comme je ne sais trop ce que l’avenir nous réserve—je n’ai même pas été capable de prédire le gagnant de la dernière campagne électorale fédérale!—, j’ai plutôt choisi de présenter une mouvance philosophique, le « nouveau réalisme », qui s’impose de plus en plus et dont notre monde a bien besoin. Le Devoir a publié une version abrégée du texte dans sa rubrique « Des Idées en revues », ainsi qu’une réplique d’André Baril. J’ai reçu des courriels de collègues séduits ou irrités par le nouveau réalisme, et le texte a suscité de nombreuses discussions sur Facebook. In fine, le plus réjouissant est sans aucun doute le fait qu’un petit texte portant d’abord sur des questions d’ontologie et d’épistémologie ait provoqué autant de réactions.

Quelques précisions sur la version du texte publiée dans Le Devoir.… Continue reading

The (messy) ethics of freedom of speech

A few days ago, I took part in a very interesting panel discussion on the issue of free speech. The panel was prompted by the tragic events that took place in Paris a couple of weeks ago. One of the most interesting aspects of the panel was that despite our disagreements, none of the participants actually thought that the brutal murders at Charlie Hebdo actually raise any particularly interesting issues to do with freedom of speech as it is usually understood. As far as I am able to tell, hardly anyone thinks that the cartoons that the satiric magazine has published over the years warrant censorship. Even commentators who believe that there are cases in which the state appropriately steps in to limit freedom of speech – cases in which speech promotes hatred toward an entire group, for example — acknowledged that Charlie Hebdo steered clear of the line separating ridicule directed at religion, religious symbols and religious beliefs on the one hand, and contempt or hatred directed at a group of people, on the other.… Continue reading

Slow Wednesday nostalgia file

Back when the earth was young, and I still believed that music mattered, I used to have a favorite song. If you had asked what I thought the probability was of anyone producing a worthwhile cover of that song, I would have said zero. But then I came across this:

(Hint: give it until at least 3:28)

Okay, off to my departmental Xmas party now.… Continue reading

The Ghomeshi Affair and the Ethical Power of Consent

The internet is abuzz with reactions to Jian Ghomeshi’s dismissal from the CBC. At this point, it is unclear what exactly Ghomeshi did to whom and how whatever he did could be grounds for his dismissal. There are allegations from three anonymous women that Ghomeshi violently assaulted them during sex and a fourth claims he told her at work: “I want to hate fuck you.” Ghomeshi’s response has been to claim that the allegations of non-consensual ‘rough sex’ are false and that those making the allegations are liars. He does not dispute that he has engaged in BDSM practices with women but he insists that the activities that he has engaged in have all been fully consensual and thus are above reproach. Brenda Cossman, a professor of law at University of Toronto, has already pointed out that in Canadian law consent to violence is not always sufficient to immunize oneself against a criminal charge of assault.… Continue reading

Maximes pour le blogueur contemporain

Dans la quantité monstrueuse de mémoires, thèses, manuscrits et autres travaux universitaires que je dois évaluer cet été, je suis retombé sur les célèbres maximes de Grice pour une « conversation coopérative ». Je n’ai pu m’empêcher de penser que le blogueur contemporain aurait tout intérêt à respecter lesdites maximes, du moins si son but est de contribuer à améliorer la qualité de notre conversation démocratique. Le blogueur dont le but est strictement de raisonner de façon stratégique, de marquer des points, de caricaturer la position de ses adversaires idéologiques, et ainsi de suite n’a que faire des ces normes communicatives.

Paul Grice a été l’un des philosophes du langage les plus influents dans l’univers philosophique anglo-américain du XXe siècle. L’histoire s’en souviendra entre autres pour son « principe de coopération conversationnelle » et les maximes qui en découlent. Ce principe doit idéalement gouverner les discussions visant la coopération entre les locuteurs.… Continue reading

Mindfulness in an Unjust World

Mindfulness meditation has become very popular. Its exotic Buddhist origins combined with the mounting evidence produced by Western science that meditation is (mostly because of brain plasticity) good for us, makes it very appealing. Many therapists are now designing new mindfulness-based cognitive and behavioural therapies, and some physicians now recommend it to their patients. Mindfulness-based programs are used to treat depression, anxiety, chronic stress, chronic pain, and so on.

Being mindful is being able to focus our attention, moment by moment, on stimuli such as one’s breath or bodily sensations and, in doing so, to step out of the constant flow of thoughts and feelings that inhabits our mind under normal conditions. This is why many think that meditation “quiets the mind”. It is recognized that thoughts and emotions will always irrupt, but such mental states should be welcomed in a non-judgemental manner and objectified, i.e. observed as external phenomena by the reflexive and compassionate self that we are when we practice mindfulness meditation.… Continue reading

Débat sur le franglais: miser sur le pouvoir d’attraction du français

Ce n’est pas d’hier qu’une frange du mouvement nationaliste québécois se lamente de l’état de la culture québécoise et s’inquiète de son sort. Les penseurs phares du néo-nationalisme des années 1960 comme les historiens de l’« École de Montréal » ou des auteurs comme Pierre Vadeboncoeur et Fernand Dumont ont alimenté ce diagnostic pessimiste quant au devenir de l’identité québécoise. Dans un essai publié en 2000, j’ai consacré un chapitre au « nationalisme mélancolique » québécois. L’éventuelle disparition ou folklorisation du français–la « lousianistation » du Québec–est le plus souvent le point focal du discours sombre, et parfois catastrophiste, sur l’avenir de la culture québécoise francophone.

Comme je suis de bonne humeur après une agréable semaine de vacances au Québec, je n’ai pas lu les textes d’opinion sur les Dead Obies, le « franglais » et les menaces de « créolisation » et d’« anglicisation ». Tout ce que je sais vient de ce texte de Marc Cassivi partagé hier par plusieurs de mes contacts sur Facebook.… Continue reading