Nov 292016

[Alternate title: “Penultimate” is such a cool word, don’t you think? I’m pretty sure I should use it, and ante-penultimate (which means “third to last”), in my blog post titles.]

You’ll forgive me if my post titles are getting a little meta—I blame Beth. Actually, Beth is to blame in many ways, because she seems to have mastered the knack of writing short-and-sweet postings and if I were a lesser friend, I would totally rib her for that making NaBloPoMo SUPER-easy for her… oh wait, I just did. ?

Me, though? I feel like if I am going to put something up here for “the public” (all 2 or 3 of you) to read, I should really put effort into making it somewhat substantial. And I don’t mean blog post substance is only possible with length… I just mean… I don’t know. All my shorter entries seem very perfunctory and flat to me. I think maybe I’ll blame sociology: I always want to connect whatever I’m writing about to larger themes or at least a few other topics. As I was writing yesterday’s post, there were several points where I wanted to elaborate or at least make fairly involved asides. And that post didn’t even end up being that short!

It’s probably because I’ve always tried to write like I talk, and I am not clipped when I talk to people, not people I like and whose opinions I value. As much as I might not be great at imaging the perfect supportive audience for my writing at all times, I must be getting part of that right, because the only time I’m regularly curt with people in person is when I can’t stand them and I want any conversations between us to end. In fact, you could probably pretty easily tell exactly how much regard I have for people just by observing how willing I am to speak with them at length.

For instance, I will always remember the aforementioned Beth and the first time she visited me when I was living in Toronto and I am pretty sure we talked non-stop for 12 hours straight. Without running out of things to say. Because we really do find each other that interesting. That kind of conversation is a true joy and there are very few people who I could imagine having that much to say to, and whose own stories would spark detailed commentary from me.

And what is a blog for, if not to share your thoughts and observations on the world, right? Because I sure as hell ain’t trying to “build my brand.” LOL

Nov 272016

Recently I tagged an entry here as “painfully aware.” You might be wondering what the particular tag is referring to, or if you aren’t wondering, you might not realize it’s a reference to a very specific tagline that has to be one of the best, most true, most suitable taglines I’ve ever encountered. So let me tell you the story:

Long, long ago, in the 2008/2009 academic year (which really, I mean really, shouldn’t be as long ago as it is so can someone please do something about that? thanks!), I was back at school getting another degree. Unlike some people, my degree of this era was not in the most evil, horrible field ever—unless you ask Stephen Harper. That’s right: I was learning how to commit *gasp* sociology.

And while learning how to commit this most heinous of crimes, I joined up with the Sociology Students’ Association.1 And this group decided to print some club t-shirts. And on those t-shirts, they included the group’s logo and its glorious, glorious tagline, which as I’m sure you determined by now is this:

painfully aware

If you know anything about sociology, you can probably figure out what those two succinct words are getting at. If you are a sociologist—or, perhaps more accurately, you are someone with a sociological orientation or a sociological worldview—then you see that phrase and you recognize immediately how perfectly it sums up what I shall pretentiously label the “sociologists’ condition.” (it’s really not exactly the condition of sociologists; it’s more about the condition of having learned enough sociology that you just can’t turn off your sociologically-informed viewpoint)

You often hear writers or critics complain that they can’t properly sit back and enjoy writing or whatever art they are consuming as, let’s say, laypeople. Once you know a certain amount about a field or domain, you can’t help but look at it differently. For instance, when I watch TV or film or see theatre, a lot of times I will find myself thinking, “Good grief, this actor must be ecstatic over getting such good material!” That’s for a variety of reasons, stretching waaaaaaaay back to my childhood when my mum did community theatre. But basically, I know a lot2 about acting and TV and film production. So when I enjoy TV or film or theatre, it’s not, usually, because I’ve lost myself in the magic, or at least, it’s not because I’ve lost myself in the magic effortlessly. It takes a really powerful performance (like when I saw Wicked the first time in London) to simply overwhelm my critical faculties3 and keep me “in the moment” as an audience member. Either that or I have to essentially consciously make myself unconscious of all the extra stuff I’m observing and evaluating without even trying to.

When you are sufficiently immersed in sociology, you are pretty much constantly painfully aware.  Aware of what? Aware of all the crazy institutional structures that are embedded in our everyday lives, aware of all the subtleties of the various forms of oppression present in society, aware of how various forms of oppression can interact with one another, aware of how difficult it is to effect change in the world on any kind of large scale, aware of how language is made and re-made to suit various agendas, aware of exactly how complex life and its problems can be, and how small we as individuals are. It can be terrifyingly paralyzing.

I think, though, that the fact Harper exhibited such an apparently irrational hatred of sociology in general, and sociologists in particular, is telling. Sociology is a way of looking at the world that pushes you to see holistically, to uncover complexity, and—maybe most importantly—to see the interconnectedness of all things. To me, it’s the antithesis of conservative thought, because I’ve never read or discovered one conservative position that isn’t, at its core, founded in the idea of selfishness. Maybe not individual selfishness, but certainly fairly limited group selfishness. Family selfishness, racial selfishness, economic selfishness, gender selfishness… find me a conservative idea that isn’t about benefitting a group of haves to the detriment of a group of have-nots and I’ll eat my toque.

This is not to say that all sociologists are “bleeding heart liberals.” Oh no, there are some marvellously delusional schools of thought in sociology, like structural functionalism and rational choice theory, that actually dovetail quite nicely with conservative ideologies. Indeed, perhaps they were promoted and gained attention within the field because of these “fortuitous” alignments. But the fundamental perspective of sociology considers how groups of people act and interact, and that perspective, as certain people say about the facts in general, has a “liberal bias.”

I think there’s an explicit reason sociology isn’t taught as its own discipline (generally) in high school and I think it’s because it encourages a worldview that is perhaps a bit too likely to cause people to challenge authority. This isn’t to say everyone who studies sociology becomes some kind of enlightened left-wing activist who magically eradicates all their prejudices… but if ever there were a field of study that puts all the right tools at people’s disposal to at least start breaking down their bigotry, to start questioning why things are the way they are in society, to start cutting through everything in society designed to distract us, to start making connections that—to borrow a very famous idea from a very famous sociologist4—perhaps the power elite don’t want the rank-and-file asking, then sociology must be it.

And somehow, all of the above, along with innumerable other multitudes, is all contained in two small words: painfully aware

So next time you see someone you know is studying, or has studied, sociology, offer them a hug—because buster, you better believe they need it!

  1. note the proper use of the apostrophe to form a plural possessive []
  2. for a person basically untrained save for participation in some school musicals []
  3. as in, able to critique and analyze, not “unable to say anything positive about” []
  4. that would be C. Wright Mills in The Power Elite []
Nov 262016

A friend sent me this article to read: It was the Democrats’ embrace of neoliberalism that won it for Trump

I sent her back my thoughts and she seemed to think they were cogent, so I’m sharing them more publicly. (Thanks for the encouragement, kele!)

Not sure I agree completely (and it’s a bit self-serving since the Leap Manifesto is Klein’s baby) but it certainly encompasses how we’ve seen the NDP sputter federally and politically here in Canada.

But Hillary Clinton was definitely part of the problem… not because of past scandals or being a woman, but because of the Wall Street coziness aka neoliberal championing. It would have been really interesting to see a Trump/Sanders face-off, that’s for sure.

I think, though, that racism and misogyny are probably stronger forces here than Klein cares to admit in this article. Neoliberalism has put people in more precarious positions and that has heightened their fears, for sure, and when people’s fears are heightened, they are more likely to lash out, blame others, and not listen to their better angels… but it’s not like neoliberalism created racial and gender divisions to start with—it just creates scenarios where people can exacerbate them for their own gain (Trump and the Republicans).  You could dramatically improve the economy for the working class white male and that wouldn’t make his bigotry disappear, just go underground.

And I still think the media issue is a HUGE issue.  But ultimately the failure of the press could be seen as a direct result of neoliberalism, it’s true.

Ugh.  Not sure how we get people to realize the huge problem of neoliberalism.  Capitalism just enjoys this insane position of power and favour in our society and it’s hard for people (without a very specific background) to understand how capitalism in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s is vastly different from capitalism since them.  The dramatic shift towards neoliberal policies is so cleverly positioned as just the “natural evolution” of capitalism, the “inevitability” of globalization… *sigh*

It comes back to how things like “the market” are just presented as these somehow “natural” forces that are outside human control, their own living breathing things.  ALL of this is under our control.  It only exists because we choose to allow it to exist, to make and enforce (or not enforce) laws that allow it to exist, to build (or demolish) institutions that are essential to it existing.