Perspective, People. Perspective.

I’m often blessed with the opportunity to forget the way that conversations about the NDP in this country almost inevitably turn out. It’s part of a basic sanity regimen for me, which includes a significant component of not reading the comments left on mainstream news sites or YouTube. But a couple of days ago, I just couldn’t quite help myself and took a glance at the top few comments left on a CBC article about the crashing financial markets. Comments are posted “most recent first” on that site, so what I was seeing were mainly responses to responses (and which also means there’s not much point trying to find them again and link).

Someone had posted a relatively lengthy and fairly well-reasoned socialist viewpoint on what the hell is going wrong with this free market capitalism thing, including some supportive comments on the federal NDP. One of the reasons getting involved in these conversations is so damn sanity-destroying is because one always has to fight the assumption that the NDP is incapable of governing with some commentary about how we can’t know that, they’ve never been in a position to try at the national level, and referencing some of the reasonably successful provincial-level NDP governments of recent years. In this case, our socialist friend specifically said something about how none of the provinces that had seen NDP governments had seen long term detrimental effects from their terrible, terrible socialist ways.

The first direct response s/he received actually said something like “I’m sure China and Cuba have space for you. Please buy your plane ticket now”. Which: okay, seriously? There are people in the world who are not aware of just how much of a caricature this attitude is? Really?

The second just sent my sanity blowing straight out the top of my head, as it said (paraphrasing, obviously) that the good people of Ontario would beg to differ – hadn’t s/he ever heard of ‘Rae Days’?

I’m sorry, we’re talking about the consequences of a global financial crisis of, not to put to fine a point on it, rather enormous proportions that my cat can recognize as directly connected to unregulated free market capitalist policies and that, in a perfect world, should have us all asking some serious questions about the major, major flaws with this system and you’re referencing as a counter point fucking Rae Days? Which were all of fifteen years ago, which certainly can’t be said to have had any lasting negative impact on the lives of anybody in Ontario (except maybe Bob Rae), and which nobody except Wikipedia seems to remember very likely did actually result in nobody losing their goddamn jobs in the middle of an enormous recession.

But apparently, we have to have this conversation. We seriously have to frame the relative success of free market conservativism with its accomopanying fucking global financial disaster against 12 unpaid days off per year for Ontario civil servants in fucking 1993.

I just really hate the world some days.

A Post that Shows the Extent of my Disconnection from the Blogosphere of Late

So, a few weeks back, we did this election thing up this side of the border, and honestly, I was seriously shocked that Harper not only managed to get himself re-elected, he actually made gains. I wasn’t expecting some radical shift to the left, but with the financial crisis and whatnot, I really did figure conservatives were looking somewhat less shiny these days.

It was getting a look at the turnout numbers that really killed me. Over 40% of eligible voters didn’t even bother. Voter turnout just keeps getting lower and lower. Again, of course, this is two-week old news, but it’s taken me this long to have a thought about it.

My very unscientific methodology of “talking to people I see and hearing why they say they didn’t vote” has offered the following insight: for the most part, people flat-out admitted they couldn’t be bothered, or, in the midst of a stream of “I can’t believe Harper won”, they confessed that they actually forgot to vote. I hate to do the “compare and contrast” thing as much as the next Canadian who always falls into the inevitable “compare and contrast” pattern of thinking about Canada, but I just can’t imagine, three weeks from now, a substantial portion of the eligible American electorate will be suggesting that they forgot it was election day and hadn’t already scheduled in the time to go and check off a ballot. I’ve written about this Canadian political boredom before, but I’m still shocked at how deep it runs right now.

And I wonder how much it has to do with the fervour and excitement and tension and grandiose media narratives that have been in the air regarding the American election since long before the Canadian election was a twinkle in Mr. Harper’s eye. Riding the bus, all I hear about is Obama, Palin, McCain. As someone people know to be relatively up on that feminist thing, everyone is asking me what I think of Sarah Palin (which…shit, loaded question). People really believe something big is happening…over there. Big things don’t happen here, and again, if they’re not bigger, more global, with more dollar signs attached to them, well then they can’t possibly be important and can’t possibly affect anything, really. Except of course, seeing as the majority of us are not also American citizens, we have absolutely no say in what happens over there, and all these sweeping decisions are going to be made without anybody bothering to ask us anyway. I suspect, after two years of watching this US election play out from what really are great box seats, knowing that we’re always going to remain spectators, and frankly being relatively comfortable in that warm, cushy box as it is, we’ve pretty much signed over our political will in exchange for some opera glasses.

People who never think about politics beyond how much they pay in taxes or whether they’re going to get some immediate, tangible benefit from the government they elect tend to think of fixed election cycles as a good thing. My again very unscientific analysis figures this comes first of all from the fact that the Americans do it that way (and we’ve bought that exceptionalism line nearly as much as they have) and second from the sense that it gives the government too much control over when they hold the election, because they can spin it for when it’s going to be best for them. To some extent, that is what Harper did here, and successfully. But for the most part, if you have fixed election cycles, what politicians get to do is hold the politics hostage to the cycle, rather than vice versa, and choose just not to ask certain kinds of questions because it’s an election year. Given my growing impression that we’re in a perpetual “election year” just over those Falls down the QEW…well, I have to run off to work before I can think of anything deeper than…sigh.

Gained in Translation

(Okay, so it turns out, I miss you people. And I’m sure there’s an election or two I could say something about, or a crashing economy on which I could offer some commentary from my completely economically-challenged brain, but at this point, trying to think about those questions just adds up to brain freeze. So I’m gonna talk about words).

But what I see is the millions of people, of whom I am just one, made orphans: no motherland, no fatherland, no gods, no mounds of earth for holy ground, no excess of love which might lead to the things that an excess of love sometimes brings, and worst and most painful of all, no tongue. (For isn’t it odd that the only language I have in which to speak of this crime is the language of the criminal who committed the crime?…

Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place (31)

First of all, read that book. It’s one of the shortest novels I’ve ever read, the quickest novels I’ve ever read, and the most powerful novels I’ve ever read. It hurt. A lot.The inner linguist in me having officially be re-awakened, of all the affecting passages in there, however, the above is the one I just can’t shake out of my head.

It occurs to me that on the surface, there is something a little bit contradictory about the fact that those of us who care about language death also tend to believe very strongly that listening to the stories of the oppressed, the colonized, the othered is a major part of progress. Personally, I wouldn’t be able to read that novel if it weren’t in one of three colonizing European languages, and while obviously my (individual or white English collective) ability to read something is pretty far down the list of reasons it needs to be expressed, I do think that it’s important that I hear it. The fact that the privileged need to listen is not news. The value of creating space in which to speak about things that have long gone suppressed/unspoken/ignored is not in dispute.

I happen to think bi- or multilingualism in individuals is a damn good thing, so of course, the revitalization of Aboriginal languages doesn’t preclude these kinds of words from being spoken in English as well as in Cree (or Dene, or…). And I’m not really sure why this particular thought has never quite occurred to me, but I’m also realizing just now that I think translation is a good thing. We talk all the time about concepts being lost in translation, thoughts that just don’t come out right when filtered through another language. Misunderstandings and frustrations ensue, comedic potential abounds. Translation is confusing, translation is imperfect, translation is hard work, translation is costly.

Which is why it’s a good thing. I mean, when something is translated, I think at least we recognize the imperfections of our ability to understand its original connotations. We can (ideally) appreciate the limitations of what we’re receiving. One of the first things my Applied Anthro prof said in our course was that communication is probably the hardest thing that we (both as academics and as human beings) do, and I’ve always been well aware that most people take it for granted far too much. If we think we’re speaking the same language, if you assume the words I’m using mean the same thing to you that they do to me, and if you get frustrated and upset with me when you find that they don’t, then we haven’t even started communicating.

If we know we’re in translation, if we’re accepting that we’re going to miss something, and if we’re at least trying our best to patiently tease out what we can understand of the real meaning, then maybe we can get somewhere. Again, I’m writing this from the angle of the privileged, and I fully recognize that the priority of decolonization in general/language revitalization specifically has nothing to do with my/our ability to understand. It just occurs to me that if we’re speaking different languages, at least we know we’re speaking different languages, and we can work from there.

Something I’ve Been Meaning to Do for a While…

I’m doubtful anyone is still out there, and it seems a little strange to write this when I haven’t been around all month, but for my own reasons, I wanted to note that this quaint little blog joint turned a year old towards the end of last month. And sentimental old fool that I am, I have to note that it’s been quite the year for me, and that this blog thing – and related internet enterprises – have turned out to have been really good for me.

I started this place in a state of chaos. I started it, in some ways, because I was running away from other spaces, virtually and metaphorically. And in that way that people who don’t live in this sphere can never quite understand, it’s been a huge part of me pulling myself back together. I’ve had space where I can think concepts through and connect them to emotions and have that be okay with the nebulous community I was doing it in and then be able to actually think those emotions through. I’ve found this little environment in which I can challenge my own thoughts and be challenged by brilliant people and come to a lot more solid understanding of where I stand on a lot of issues. When I started this blog, I was pretty wishy-washy on the not wanting to piss anyone off, not even really trusting my own opinions. Through the people I’ve encountered and befriended to some extent, I’ve learned a hell of a lot and come to a lot more courage on shit that I think needs to be said.

I’ve come to love this blogging thing, and I really should try to write a thing or two, even in my crazy state of busy, because it’s been therapy, it’s been social, it’s been education, it’s been energizing, it’s been catharsis. And on a much more shallow note, I think it’s really eased the transition back into essay-writing academic mode. Kept my brain mostly sharpened, it has.

Thanks, y’all.