The discussion we aren’t having about the Quebec Protests

With the students protests in Quebec still showing no signs of stopping it seems the rest of Canada has become almost completely numb to what is happening over there. We hear again and again how much money Quebec gets transferred to it from other provinces, how little they are actually paying in tuition even with the contested tuition increase and how, in general, Quebec is filled with spoiled students who just protest and complain till they finally get there way. The Quebec protests are being treated by the media same way the Occupy movement was: immediate interest only when there is a chance of violence and confrontation, quick and sarcastic dismissals of what the protestors ideals and causes, portrayal of the protestors as naïve and ignorant, and culminating in this “don’t these people realize they are wrong already” attitude with quicker and lazier dismissals of any kind of argument the protestors put forward. As Canada forgot about the Occupy movement once they realized they weren’t violent so too are we forgetting about the students on the street in Quebec.

What hasn’t happened, besides from those who are sympathetic to those on the street, is a discussion of whether the ideals the protestors are fighting for are actually creatable or beneficial. Neo-liberalism, it seems, has become such the norm that it no longer makes sense to even question it.

The question that needs to be discussed is whether less tuition fees for students and more state money in education is preferable to higher tuition fees and less state money. The media has overwhelmingly dismissed the Quebec protests as being a Quebec problem with no real influence on the rest of Canada. However with student debt growing and the job market shrinking as more and more of us graduate this is a question to which whose answer we should definitely be debating.

Most pundits have just put forward just these three arguments why the protestors are wrong and why Quebec is doing the right thing by raising their tuition fees:

  1. Quebec tuition fees are lower than all the other provinces, so they are doing it wrong. Therefore they should be raised
  2. Quebec is a ‘have-not’ province and recipient of equalization payments which means it is spending other provinces money on their education which is unfair because the other provinces are not getting this ‘free’ money to spend on education. Therefore they should be raised
  3. We are in an economic crisis. The Government needs to reduce its deficit. Cutting government spending to education is a necessary evil. Tuition fees must rise to make up this downfall in spending.

 

Of course, the objections too these three arguments can be laid out just as plainly:

  1. Just because Quebec has lower tuition then other provinces doesn’t mean it’s doing it wrong. They might in fact being doing it right and the rest of Canada should follow their example.
  2. Quebec being a ‘have-not’ province means it makes less money than the provinces transferring money to Quebec. The equalization payments are supposed to do exactly as their name says and equalize. Quebec does not have more money than the provinces transferring it money, in fact, it has less. Just because Quebec chooses to spend some of this money on education rather than other things does not mean they are being unfair by doing it.
  3. Yes we are in an economic crisis. This does not mean we should cut education expenses. For spending money on education can create jobs in the educational sphere and it also creates a smarter, more talented public who can put those skills to work by creating jobs and being more productive.

 

You would be hard pressed to find any of these objections in any main-stream Canadian media. The students are trying to get Canada involved in a debate over what we should be doing with government funding for education and student tuition fees. Should we be raising it, lowering it or keeping it the same? But barely any of Canada is listening. We have dismissed the student’s arguments too quickly without any actual rational thought of whether it could be beneficial. And from this we have now become numb to these students and their ideas.

 

I’ll have another blog post about the Quebec protests soon. On whether lower tuition rates and more government spending on education would be the right way to go. A postion I am myself still iffy on.

Should Abortions be difficult?

In an earlier blog I expressed my frustration with how the abortion debate here in Canada – reopened by Stephen Wordsworth’s Motion 312-  has become a black/white issue when in reality it is much more complex. I do consider myself to be pro-choice but I think it needs to be realize that abortion is a confusing and complex issue that cannot be simply broken down into two sides and nor can any side claim to have any substantial superiority over the other (be this superiority of reason or faith). Those interested more on this should check out my prior blog: Rethinking Abortion Law in Canada: Motion 312.

In this blog I want to address something different. There are a lot of internal debates on each side of every issue. I want to look at an internal debate on the pro-choice side that (I think) has not been granted the attention it deserves. This debate comes from the question I put in my title: Should Abortions be difficult? Now by ‘difficult’ here I do not mean physical difficulty. Obviously abortions are an unpleasant procedure which involves one being touched and entered in ways which most people would do a lot to avoid. (I am not trying to undermine the importance of the physical difficulty of abortion. Due to my sex I can only imagine how uncomfortable and painful it really is, but such is not the focus of my article). What is my point of contention is whether abortions should be treated as being so emotionally and psychologically difficult.

This is not to say that abortions are not currently emotionally and psychologically difficult, for clearly they are, the question is should the pro-choice side try to change this view of abortions. That is, should they work actively to enforce the belief that abortions aren’t really that hard of emotional/ psychological think to do?

Now some at this point may be saying that this is exactly what the pro-choice side is doing. They are trying to make abortions more acceptable and easier to do, so the patient will feel it is ok to get an abortion and not feel guilty about it afterwards. And yes, this is completely true. However there is still placed this importance on the reasons for choosing an abortion; that it must be chosen through much deliberation and not be chosen all ‘willy-nilly’. Both sides of the debate, the pro-lifers and the pro-choicers, are both against the party girl, Paris Hilton type character getting an abortion so that she will look better in her swimsuit. The head of Planned Parenthood in my region (who is also one of my professors) said something exactly along these lines. She said that women are making well-thought out decisions when they get an abortion so we need not worry, which implies that if women were making quick and un-rational decisions to get an abortion then we should be worried.

The emotional/psychological difficulty of abortion is contributed to by such a view. For it makes an abortion justified only if there is good reason behind it. This stress on ‘only good if good reasons behind it’ makes the process more difficult because it introduces this self-doubt as a woman may wonder, “are my reasons good enough?”. It also makes not getting an abortion the default position, one that you are automatically justified in doing. You need not have good reasons or bad reasons for it. Women then are challenged to produce a good justification for an abortion which can introduce feelings of guilt and shame when they begin to doubt their reasoning (for we do not always question and doubt our choices in areas where ‘good reasons’ are required?) or they can assume the default position of not getting an abortion which does not require justifying to oneself or others the reasons why they chose so (and thus, especially for those – like me- who constantly doubt their reasons and choices, not getting an abortion would seem much more attractive and getting an abortion would be a hellish procedure)

Now let me slow down here. It is a worthy retort to this argument to say, simply, that abortions are hard and should require a good reason. But my question would then become: are abortions really so hard or is it just the result of our social structure that for centuries saw abortions as sinful and illegal and tried all it could to deter women from having them?

Talking about abortions in general is tough to do without as there is always this small unconscious sense that it is actually murder remaining. We have no real satisfactory way of referring to a potential human in the womb without giving it status as an actual human (an attempt to do this has been made with the word ‘fetus’ but it seems to be outweighed by the other terms we use, like calling someone a mother even when they are just pregnant, and ‘fetus’ itself seems to just function as a placeholder for ‘baby’ no matter how much we try to believe that it doesn’t).

I worry that by the pro-choice side stressing that abortions are difficult and should only be done if thought through carefully, that it may be actually underhandedly supporting the pro-life side. For the pro-life side does not require justification of your action (which, granted if you are pro-life is limited to one option). And also because the pro-choice side requiring good reasons for an abortion will raise questions of what a ‘good reason’ for getting an abortion actually is. This line of questioning seems doomed to fail because there is no clear set list of good reasons (You can probably think of one right now, but all of those can be (and are) debated and questioned by those on the pro-choice side, besides the few that deal with rape). Which may lead some to come to the faulty realization that there are no good reasons for getting an abortion because no one can agree on them. And thus join the pro-life side.

So my question is, should we pro-choicers get rid of this agreement that abortions require good reasons?

Finding an Ethical Basis

In a post before this I tried to explain why atheists are so distrusted by society. I put this down to most people seeing ethics as being universal and objective and thus needing to find basis in some sort of supernatural power, i.e. God. I also critiqued any attempt at creating a secular ethic (without supernatural basis) because it would seem to necessary be particular and subjective. However there is more to this story, and myself being an atheist, I think I need to defend the idea of a secular ethic being less powerful or binding as a religious one.

 

Now if there is a God who creates a universal ethic, how does She come to this decision? Does she choose it randomly? Just deciding with no basis to label certain things wrong and other things good? Such does not seem to be the case, for if God just decided randomly to make certain things bad and other things good, then what reasons would we have for following this ethic? This seems like it is a very weak ethic and not really an ethic at all. If something is good or bad there should be reasons why it is such.

Now if God did use reasons to decide what her ethic was. What are these reasons? If our God is a creator God and everything the result of her creation then it seems these reasons are also her creation. This means we are back where we were before with God deciding ethics randomly. For if the reasons for choosing what ethics are, are in fact, decided by God then it seems God needs to produce reasons for deciding these reasons. After all we do want God to decide things randomly, for if she does then her status as being all good is undermined by her deciding what good is. So we go into a kind of infinite regress here with God always needing reasons for having reasons, because otherwise she is just deciding randomly because she created these reasons.

In order for God to not decide stuff randomly there needs to be something outside of and beyond God, that she did not create, that she can use as a reason for making stuff the way it is. If God is the complete creator of everything, then we are left with a God who decides stuff randomly with no basis because there is no basis beyond her. Thus there needs to be something external and beyond God that is not her creation in order for us to not have a randomizing and chaotic God.

Ok, off topic there. Here is the point: Unless there is some external basis for ethics, God is just deciding it randomly which makes it no better than a subjective secular ethic (one could perhaps say that God is more intelligent so her choice is a better choice, but how can a choice be better if it’s random? Also if God is an ‘all creator’ it is she who decides what intelligence is and she does so randomly…unless we want a God who is a contradiction, we must concede to something being beyond God).  What could this external basis for ethics be? I have no idea. But since ethics seem to need to be based in this, is it not fair than that the atheist can skip the God telling him the ethic and go right to these reasons?

If the ethic comes from beyond God, what is he really but a messenger? You don’t need God to have an ethic, for God must find her ethic from somewhere beyond her, so we can find it without her as well. Some might argue that God is the light that leads us to discovering this ethic and without her we can never find it. But why would an all good God make the ethic impossible to find unless through her? Why would she restrict our abilities to do right and wrong?

So finding a basis for ethics is not just a problem for atheists. It is also a problem for theists and deists because the ethic seems to need to find its basis beyond God. Now this creates all sorts of problems. Any attempt, I think, to discuss the basis for ethics always turns into a Pandora box. The question; “why do what it says is good” will always be there.

Do we answer it saying that you should do it because it’s what God wants and he will reward you? Because then it seems like just acting from self-interest.

 

Do we say that acting ethical will make you happy? Again it appears to be self-interested and selfish and also, some people do not find acting ethical makes them happy.

 

Do we place its basis in evolution? Well then, why do what evolution says?

 

Any attempt to give an ethical “ought” can always be responded with “why”.

 

Any philosophical ethical system falls apart when it comes to this question. From Kant’s confusing categorical imperative that only seems to find objective basis in few situations to Mill’s utilitarianism which is reverted to a deontology in certain situations and has no real argument for why it should be followed. (I will go through and explain my problems with ethical systems producing by philosophers in a later post. This here is very simplistic, don’t focus too much on it)

 

Such is my discontent with ethics. Any attempt for finding an objective and universal basis quickly falls apart. Perhaps it is best to pursue a descriptive ethic rather than a normative one.

 

Saying all this, I am not an ethical nihilist. I think ethics does exist. I try to do right things. I just don’t think anyone has a satisfactory basis for why they do right things and what right things are for that matter anyway. Appeals to God for ethics just don’t work.

 

So. Here I am. An atheist who still tries to be ethical without knowing how or why.

 

 

An Aboriginal Spring?

            Could their potentially be some sort of Aboriginal spring in Canada’s future? One similar to the Arab springs where populations made known their discontent with their governments and demanded change? A few high ranking Native leaders and chiefs have warned of such a possibility at the recent summit with aboriginal leaders that Harper called because of the problems on the Attawapiskat reserve. They also have suggested that this coming crisis may be more than a protest, that it could be an uprising. Military analyst, Douglas Bland has commented that Canadians “ignore the plight of aboriginals at their peril”.

Currently our aboriginal population is growing at much larger rate than the non-aboriginal one. From 1996 to 2006 it grew an astounding 45% compared to only 8% for non-aboriginals. They are expected to grow from making up just 3% of our population in 2001 to 4% in 2017.

Our current aboriginal population is also very young. Their median age is currently 27 years compared to the 40 years of the non-aboriginal population. About a third of their population is under 16.

Also they have reason to be very angry. This is probably an inexhaustible list but here are just a few reasons I can think of the top of my head:

-          Male Aboriginals make up 20% of the prisoner population of Canada. (They only make up around 3% of Canada’s male population. Meaning their incarnation rates are more than triple)

-          Female Aboriginals make up one third of female prisoners

-          Aboriginals have a higher likelihood of going to jail then completing high school

-          High Suicide rates

-          More than 10 years less of life expectancy then the average Canadian

-          Increased health problems, drug addictions and, as we have seen with Attawapiskat, the horrible state some reserves are in

-          Dealing with the mental and physical consequences of Canada’s past Indian  residential schools

 

And as the Globe has warned, the C-10 crime bill, with its tough on crime approach and mandatory minimum sentencing, will only add to the amount of incarnated aboriginals.

So we have a very young population dealing with the past nightmares of their parents, who face a lack of educational opportunities, high incarnation and suicide rates, multiple health problems…

The seeds of revolt are all here.

However, such a revolt and uprising is not for sure. As many have commented on the Internet, that while it is a potentially great tool that can be used for increasing one’s abilities, there is also the chance that this tool might just be wasted by watching porn and funny videos. Likewise, young discontented aboriginals might fall for vices and short term pleasures and not try to advance their status. This is a big worry currently as we see many young males joining gangs and young females entering into prostitution.

However the ranks of young political active aboriginals are growing. There is a new law school opening in Thunder Bay aimed precisely at capitalizing on this demand. An aboriginal spring or uprising may be in the near future as the youth age and realize how bad their situation is. And how unfair it seems to be with the majority of Canadians living much better then they are.

The Oka crisis never really was solved. The Natives got the land back they initially claimed was theirs but they did not get the recognition or powers they wanted. There has been this inner tension in Canada it seems, just waiting for another of these crises to happen. Perhaps this next crisis will be soon and perhaps it will make what happened at Oka look minuscule in size.

 

Aboriginal youth need to awake, arise or be forever fallen.

Science, Religion and Albert Einstein

This post, like the one on Hitchiking I posted before, are two articles I wrote that got published in my local newspapers. This one I wrote almost 3 years ago, before I reached my intellectual revolution, but it was the first piece I ever had published and I am terribly proud of it:

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind”, as goes the too-often quoted and too-often misunderstood saying of Albert Einstein. Einstein however, was not a religious man, at least in the way we define “religion”. For Einstein “religion” meant the faith that there would be answers to questions, it meant the belief that there is a solution. This belief is at the very core of all religions from Christianity to Scientology. When you subscribe to a certain religion you believe that religion holds the correct answers. But to be religious in Einstein’s sense simply means you believe there is an answer. Notice under this definition that atheists, agnostics and deists can all be religious. According to Einstein, religion is synonymous with hope.

Now science for Einstein is the search for answers or the pursuit of knowledge. This means you don’t have to hold a degree in science for Einstein to consider you a scientist. Science is just looking for a solution. So as religion is synonymous with hope, science is synonymous with curiosity.

The search for answers (science) without the belief there is answers (no religion) will not get very far. It is like searching for car keys when you don’t own car keys. If you don’t think there is an answer you will not look very far for it. Thus science without religion is lame.

Now believing there is an answer (religion) without searching for it or trying to prove it (no science) is ignorance. It is like believing you own car keys when you have never seen them. Religion without science, is accepting something to be true when you have no proof that it is. Thus religion without science is blind.

There is a delicate balance between science and religion, without one the other will produce wrong answers or not produce answers at all. Also too much of one and too little of the other will also upset this delicate balance. Science can be seen to be crippled with things such as quantum mechanics, where without the belief in truth there is nothing but chaos and uncertainty. Religion can be seen to be blind with such things as creationism, where the staggering amount of evidence for evolution is ignored because of a few passages written thousands of years ago.

This quote by Einstein is a warning to not get too wrapped up in one world and forget the other. We need to believe in a truth and be willing to change it if the evidence demands.

Why write a column on the balance between religion and science, you ask? Because of two issues that have been making front page news in this paper. TheVatican’s sex abuse scandal andOntario’s elementary sex education program. In both of these cases I believe the scale has been tipped. Either people have become so obsessed with science they have forgotten religion or so obsessed with religion they have forgotten science.

Rethinking Abortion Law in Canada: Motion 312

This blog post was based on a facebook response I gave to one of my friends who posted this petition: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/oppose-motion-312-rejetez-motion-312.html

 

Motion 312 is a motion introduced by my local elected, federal politician Stephen Woodworth. Woodworth is a pretty fierce anti-abortion activist. He posted this motion to try and change what he claims is Canada’s “400 year old law” on when human life begins. Current Canadian Law has it that a fetus does not count as a baby- as a human being- till that baby has drawn its first breath outside of the mother’s body. So really Canada’s abortion law is that it has no abortion law.

A recent survey showed that 80% of Canadians don’t know about the lack of an abortion law we now have in place, most of them think that we have some restrictions on abortion. This is probably because almost every other country in the world has some sort of limit on when it is illegal to abort a baby. Canada is one of only six (six!) countries in the world who allow for unrestricted abortions up to the point of birth. We are joined in this elite group by such countries like North Korea, China and Vietnam (none of them exactly countries that uphold Human rights)

Let me be clear. I am very pro-choice. I think being pro-life seriously undermines and discriminates against women in society. It was the wide accessibility of contraception and abortion that allowed women to finally start to play a role in a male-dominated world. Trying to outlaw abortions is government taking control over female bodies, it is letting the females be dominated and the men be in control.

All this being said though. I am sympathetic to what this motion is trying to do. Are current lack of restrictions on abortion are ridiculous and so is peoples lack of knowledge about them. Other, much more feminist countries have at least some weak restrictions, so should not we as well?

However I do believe an argument can be made that our current lack of abortion law actually works. For what I am really opposed to is allowing really late term abortions. But in Canada a late-term female would be very hard pressed to find a clinic or hospital that would do a late term abortion (because it’s dangerous for the mother and she would probably still have to give birth, only to a not fully developed dead baby). So maybe our current lack of a law is the best way to go. However this motion would allow us to openly debate whether such is true and hopefully come to some sort of agreement. As I said to the woman who posted this petition; If this nothing else, it will at least inform people.

Another reason I can see to oppose discussing this motion is that Woodworth motives are not what I call noble. He is against abortion entirely, he is just using this motion as a stepping stone to make more and more restrictions on abortion. So perhaps by allowing this motion we are opening the flood gates. In that case, it might be better just to keep them closed. But as I keep saying, with such a uniformed population it seems like discussing such a motion would be good for our democracy.

 

Now I tried to stress in my response to my friend that one of the big problem with the abortion debate is that it gets so polarized. People see it in black and white, not realizing that there is a lot of grey space in-between. Am I pro-life because I do not like late term abortions? Or am I pro-choice because I think a women should be able to get and early to mid-term abortion easily and with no questions asked? However, even after I tried to explain that we shouldn’t polarize it and reduce it to simple black and white. That’s exactly what she did. When I told her of a female who supported Woodworth’s attempt to change the abortion law she immediately called her a “twit” and an “idiot” assuming she was pro-life and against all abortions in general.

 

However my friend also made a good point. She mentioned how discussions about abortion shouldn’t be so male dominated for it is the female body after all and they should get more of a say. I completely agree. It is a feminist issue. Females should have more of a say then us men do. So for any females reading this blog and thinking I am an idiot and I have no idea what I am talking about, I fully agree with you.