Friday, 11 November 2016

An Email to My Mother in the Wake of Trump's Victory

Hi Mom, 

Sorry I've been a bit silent since Tuesday, but it's taken me this long to process what has happened in the U.S. I have decided, ultimately, that this might actually be a positive thing in the long-term, even if it's very difficult in the short term. Here are my reasons why. 

1) At heart, I am a New Brunswick populist. One of the reasons I left the academy is because I truly believe that highly educated progressives are far too dismissive of less-educated people, writing them off as racist idiots and demanding recognition of their own authority as highly educated intellectuals. I think the highly educated needed a huge trauma to make them understand that they need to do more to close the divide between themselves and the less-educated. We can look back to the 30s and 40s for inspiration, where many intellectual socialists spent almost all of their time among the working class, trying to organize and support them (i.e. Moses Coady, Jimmy Thompkins). I think intellectuals will finally get the message and get out of an ivory tower shell that has existed for too long and grown far too thick. 

2) The more difficult part here is that beyond the populist victory, this election demonstrates that many Americans fundamentally believe that the country belongs to straight, white people more than it does to anyone else. I think this is the aspect of the election that scares most people. But I think this is also going to be okay for several reasons. First, I don't believe that Donald Trump has turned anyone into a misogynistic, transphobic racist who wasn't already one. In fact, he has shone a light on how much this already exists in American society, and now America will have to deal with it. People will get hurt, but I think the long-term effect will be a progressive one because I think the election has made the American public more aware than ever before about how vigilant it needs to be in combating racism, sexism, and all of these other things that liberals were content to think could not carry an election. Violence has always been happening toward marginalized groups in the States, and now we're just going to pay more attention. This same debate is coming to Canada, and now we'll be ready for it.

3) I think that this election is going to spark a fundamental rethink of the Democratic party, which (let's face it), has been a pro-market right-of-centre party ever since Carter's crushing defeat by Reagan. A lot of people are now looking at Bernie Sanders and realizing that he may, in fact, have had a better chance of beating Trump. Even the notorious Charles Koch has come out in the wake of the election saying that Trump's victory demonstrates a frustration with the two-tiered society America has turned into. This might be a case where conservatives are actually embracing economic populism, as long as they feel like they're getting it on their terms instead of having it imposed on them by a leftist government. 

4) Like I said, the next two years (at least until the congressional elections) are going to be difficult. But they have also shown us that the flows of global capitalism are no longer an inescapable reality that both parties agree on. It has shattered a political inertia that I think has existed since Reagan, and in that sense, it really might be the punch in the face America needs. 

The sad part is that I have the privilege of writing this as someone who will likely be least affected by what's happening. The real struggle will come with the members of the LGBTQ community, Muslims, African Americans, and other vulnerable groups who will need to stand up and fight a newly emboldened bigotry every step of the way. I am going to try to find new ways to get out of my comfort zone and be an ally to these efforts in any way I can. 

In any case, I just waned to share this. I love you Mom, and tell Dad I love him too. I think things are going to be okay. 

-Phil

Monday, 24 October 2016

The Decline and Death of the Rational Man


The Enlightenment ideal of the Rational Man will not survive in its current form.

In its heyday, the Rational Man was seen as the basis for a universal conception of human rights, a beautiful image of human equality that brought an end to the divine right of kings. The concept of the Rational Man was predicated on the idea that Reason and Power were antithetical, with Power being the tyrant and Reason the hero. 

The ostensible goal of the Rational Man was to create a Platonic slot that any human could potentially occupy, regardless of gender, race, religion, sexuality, and any number of other factors. In this idyllic world, individuals would exchange and debate ideas in a calm and respectful manner, and the best ideas would ultimately prevail.

Yet history has taught us that the type of rationality envisioned by this model is a fantasy, since knowledge can never be separated from power. The public belief that court judges can be unbiased, that science is immune from political and commercial influence, or even that political fact checkers can provide us with objective insights is eroding, and this is because of one inescapable premise: that knowledge and power cannot be separated. To call for calm and rational dialogue in this epoch is to reveal one’s privilege, a fact that can be easily illustrated by the science of gambling.

The House Always Wins

Why do casinos know that they will always make a profit on their gaming? It’s simple math. Take a roulette wheel, for example. It has 38 pockets into which the ball can drop, with the numbers 0 and 00 in addition to 1 through 36. The odds of the ball landing on black or red are the same, yet to land on 0 or 00 entails an automatic win for the House. Without these two green pockets, the game would be fair—a 50/50 chance. Yet the addition of the two green slots means that the house has a 5.26% aggregate advantage over any player. A lucky player may enter the game at any time and walk away a winner. But in the aggregate, the casino is guaranteed to win.

Now imagine that I, a middle-class white male, have been asked to participate in a debate on the subject of sexual assault. My opponent is a woman with a personal history of sexual assault and who has developed PTSD as a consequence of her experiences.

The debate has one simple rule: each participant must remain calm, respectful, and rational when making their arguments.

Much like the roulette wheel, the very nature of the situation gives me an intrinsic advantage. Yes, the other participant may remain calm and defeat me on the basis of her rational ideas. But if you hold the same debate over and over with many individuals, the advantage of the person who has no personal experience of sexual assault will express itself.

This advantage is called privilege.

Take for example professional pundits who have made a living out of saying politically incorrect things. The very purpose of saying these things is to make their opponents uncomfortable, because doing so increases the likelihood of their opponent becoming emotional or irrational. The point of saying upsetting, politically incorrect things is to widen and exploit this gap already created by social privilege. Again, the pundits’ opponents might remain calm and still manage to win a debate with clear, rational thinking. But over time, the advantage of privilege will manifest itself, just as surely as the House always wins.

With the decline of the Rational Man, we will see the decline of calm, rational dialogue as the ideal standard for mediating disagreements. This is not to say that calm, rational dialogue will disappear and that we will replace it with vitriolic shouting matches. Rather, what rational dialogue will lose is the self-evident superiority accorded to it by the ideal of the Rational Man. It will become one form of debate among others, and “becoming emotional” will no longer discredit a person’s argument.

Many of the Privileged Have Already Given up on the Rational Man

In many cases, we find large groups of privileged individuals who have already conceded to the fall of the Rational Man, and they are now trying to make their arguments within the new terms of engagement. Those who recognize the connection between knowledge and power have begun arguing that they are in fact the oppressed.

Men’s rights groups claim that they have been emasculated; they point toward the fact that they die earlier than women and are more likely to commit suicide. What they often do not point out, and probably should, is the fact that many men will also experience sexual assault in their lifetime—with the caveat that it usually occurs in childhood. Regardless of what one thinks of these arguments, they mark a willingness on behalf of these men to frame the debate within the terms of marginalization, vulnerability, and power.

In the United States, supporters of Donald Trump have decided to do away with the Rational Man altogether. They have instead embraced the principles of might makes right, me first, and fear of the cultural and racial Other. 

Many of the lingering calls for the Rational Man come from people who identify as secular progressives. Bill Maher, for example, will often cite statistics from around the world that supposedly demonstrate a fundamental incompatibility between a Western conception of human rights and a religion like Islam. Slavoj Zizek has voiced a similar opinion. Many secular progressives in Quebec and France will not hesitate to ban Muslim clothing on the belief that such clothing is the token of a barbaric culture.

There is one respect in which I think people like Maher and Zizek are right, and that is this—it is utterly impossible for a white male to envision a world in which their historical privilege is gone, and this is terrifying.

On a similar note, there is one respect in which I agree with Donald Trump, and it is this: white men feel disempowered.

What I would add to this sentence is “… compared to the historical privilege they’ve become accustomed to.”

The Law

Our laws are built around the ideal of the Rational Man, for they do not treat people as historically bound entities caught up in a complex web of power relations. Rather, they treat us as sexless, raceless, genderless rational actors who are immutably responsible for our choices and actions. This conception of the law, however, has one crucial flaw—it is subject to the bias of whatever judge is interpreting and enforcing it, and even more so if that judge is blind to the influence of privilege.

We find a clear case of this inconsistency in the trial of Jian Ghomeshi. After Ghomeshi’s acquittal, his lawyer Marie Henein appeared on TV in an interview with Peter Mansbridge and received widespread praise for her performance. To put it quite frankly, her argument was airtight. Mansbridge asked her whether sexual assault cases should be treated differently than others in the courts, and she said no. When Mansbridge realized he didn’t have a way through this defense, he began reading out cruel Tweets that people had posted about Henein on the Internet.

What Mansbridge should have asked Henein about was the bias of judges, particularly in this case, where the judge clearly lacked a rudimentary understanding of how trauma and violence can affect the memories of sexual assault survivors. To be clear, this is not to argue that the judge should have found Ghomeshi guilty on the basis of the evidence provided. But his characterization of the women as a group of deceptive liars, combined with his clear lack of understanding about the psychology of sexual assault, revealed a significant gap in the legal system that cannot be addressed by changing the laws themselves. Then again, it is extremely unlikely that Henein would have commented on the potential bias of the judge.

The Slippery Slope

You would think that the Rational Man would be the last figure to resort to logical fallacy in order to make His case. Yet in his waning days, the Rational Man is doing just that by resorting time and time again to the slippery slope argument. It has become commonplace for educated thinkers to defend free speech against what they see as oversensitive whiners; to say that if we ban one type of Halloween costume because someone is offended by it, we’ll have to ban all of them; to say that the moment we allow our decisions to be influenced by the fact that different groups have different levels of exposure to threats, violence, poverty, incarceration, and any number of other social ills; we will essentially create an unequal system.

What all of these arguments miss is something the Rational Man should know as well as anyone—that the slippery slope is a fallacy, a form of argument that is by definition logically incoherent. We have known this for thousands of years, and the fact that the Rational Man would appeal to it so regularly in his waning days displays a level of hypocrisy and moral cowardice that is hard to fathom, much less tolerate.

Fighting for Space and Freedom of Speech 

One of the places we are most likely to find the Rational Man nowadays is on university campuses, wading into debates about the sanctity of free speech. Students and community members from marginalized groups are protesting, making loud noises, and disrupting events that feature controversial speakers. The Rational Man sees this and feels great fear, for these students are revealing something he wishes would stay hidden: that one cannot separate knowledge and power.

Desperate, the Rational Man appeals to the ideals of calm and respectful dialogue, implicitly shaming the marginalized groups for being too emotional, irrational, and unwieldy; for being incapable of seeing an issue from the other side’s point of view.

When the protestors continue to draw back the curtain on power, however, the Rational Man will once again resort to the slippery slope fallacy, saying that we are heading for a world in which no one will be able to say anything because someone will always be offended. The thought of having to judge students’ grievances on a case-by-case basis, taking power and context into account, is off the table. What the Rational Man wants in His law, in His speech, in His society is a universal standard by which everyone can be judged.

Why does He want this? Because if you have a universal standard, you don’t have to talk about race, gender, sexuality, and all of the other manifestations of power that the Rational Man wishes would stay hidden. 

Now for the Clowns

In the past several months, another phenomenon has spread across college campuses and public spaces—the seemingly inexplicable appearance of creepy-looking clowns. These clowns have been seen across much of the world, and the Western world in particular, and yet they have so far been met with a mixture of fear and confusion from commentators. Some people have felt so threatened that they have attacked and even killed the clowns.

So what can these clowns tell us?

To begin, we know that dressing up as a scary clown means going out into public space while invoking the potentially contradictory feelings of menace and humour. If you laugh at the clowns, that’s great. If you feel threatened by them and complain, you’re just somebody who doesn’t get the joke.

Last week, an individual on the campus of the University of Guelph dressed up as a scary clown and held up a sign bearing the message “#clownlivesmatter,” in addition to other signs that reportedly made light of language that is often used to advocate on behalf of sexual assault survivors. After clashing with students, the individual voluntarily left the campus when asked to do so by police. Yet a video of the event went viral and quickly created a significant debate regarding freedom of speech and campus safety. After all, it is not illegal to dress up as a scary clown and occupy public space, nor is it illegal to make light of Black Lives Matter.

Defendants of the individual said that he or she was simply making a joke, or that he/she was making a point about political correctness and free speech. What they didn’t highlight was that the individual specifically chose to do so by trivializing a social movement that is predicated upon African Americans occupying public space and highlighting their disproportionate levels of exposure to violence, threats, poverty, and a number of other social ills. The Rational Man sees this and says “All lives matter,” trying to invoke a universal concept of human equality that has never made it from theory into practice. 

In essence, the scary clown phenomenon is the physical manifestation of the Internet troll. The mask provides an opportunity to invoke a menacing anonymity without breaking any specific laws. The attempt to trivialize Black Lives Matter tells us one more important thing: that this phenomenon may in fact be an explicit reaction against the threat of black bodies occupying public spaces and pulling back the curtain on power.

With the decline of the Rational Man, we have the embrace of the scary clown, a menacing absurdity that can be found in Donald Trump just as easily as it can be found in those who now openly embrace this role on a more literal, if not any more subtle level.

The End

With power made visible, and attempts to conceal it failing, we face a new situation—one where governments will insist on values testing for new immigrants to see whether they embrace the universal human rights that are embodied in the figure of the Rational Man. As I’ve said above, we’ll do this for one obvious reason: because absolutely nobody can claim to know what the world will look like if the Rational Man disappears altogether, and along with Him the privilege historically enjoyed by white men.

The Rational Man appears again at this point, yet something has changed. He has come to resemble the wheezing tyrant king that He deposed hundreds of years ago. It is the Rational Man who is the tyrant now, telling us that all will fall into chaos without Him. That there will be blood in the streets. That the slippery slope is in fact real and that everything we have worked for since the Enlightenment will be lost.

But He doesn’t know, and neither do we. 






Sunday, 3 January 2016

Novel "Lune" Now Available on Amazon.com


My new gothic novel Lune is now on sale at Amazon.com.

http://www.amazon.com/Lune-Philip-Glennie/dp/1329780876/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1451846932&sr=8-1&keywords=lune+philip+glennie 

An excerpt of the novel can be found below. 

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The night of the next full moon arrived.  Invisible waves radiated from its surface and passed through cosmic lifetimes before descending over the northern forests. No cover of clouds could block them. The waves fell upon trees, rocks, and cabin walls alike, penetrating every crevice, passing silently like wandering spirits. Jean and Marie-Claire Comeau were blind to the force that slipped into their home and altered every supple cell in their daughter’s infant body.
Marie-Claire thought Marie was suffering from a fit of hunger when the girl began wriggling in her arms. Yet the struggle soon grew much stronger, and Marie-Claire glanced across the dinner table to find her husband furrowing his brow at the bundle she held. Slowly, he was overcome by an expression she had never before seen from him. His pipe fell from his lips and chipped its bowl against the floor. She swallowed and lowered her eyes.
A changeling! It was the same creature from a month before. Yet it no longer possessed the closed and helpless eyes of a newborn cub. It wore a full coat of fur and peered upward through abysmally black eyes. Marie-Claire yelped and hurled the bundle into the air. The animal landed on the kitchen table and sprang from its bonds. Here was a beast with no natural mother, one whose young animal mind had appeared in only an instant amidst the facts of existence. It made a chirping squeal and ran for the edge of the table, yet instinct told it that it could not leap from the ledge without injury. It ran about the table’s perimeter, checking the distance to the floor from every side. Monsieur Comeau wasted little time before snatching up a cast iron frying pan from the kitchen. 
Little Jacques emerged from his bedroom with sleep-crusted eyes. He spotted the grey figure that scampered across the kitchen table and screamed when he saw his father raising the pan to kill it. Forever a child of the wilderness, Jacques rushed forward and wrapped his arms around his father’s knees while his mother struggled to take the pan from the man’s hand.
You cannot harm this creature! shouted Marie-Claire.
You saw what happened, answered Jean. That thing transformed in your very hands.
It was at this moment that Jacques became aware of his sister’s absence. He scanned the room for an indication of where she might be, yet even during this search, he could already perceive the truth behind what his father had said. He released his grip on his father and looked toward the wolf cub, which was kneading the edges of the table and still gazing with uncertainty at the drop to the floor. Jacques cursed himself for having interfered with his father’s efforts to destroy the thing.
Marie-Claire gave no ground between her husband and the animal. She is your daughter, she shouted, and you would burn in the fires of hell if you murdered her!
She is a demon sent by Satan and it is my Christian duty to destroy her, answered the man, who took a step forward.
Marie-Claire set her feet more widely apart, bracing for a struggle. You know that she will not be like this for long, Jean. Soon, she will change back into her beautiful Christian form, and I will not have you murder her in this way. You must confront Marie not as an animal, but as your daughter. Only then can you decide whether you can murder her.
Resignation flickered inside Jean after Marie-Claire had finished. He paused to gather a fresh wave of anger, hoping that its crest would heave him into action, yet the sensation came and went, and he felt only a further weakening of his resolve. He could not help but love the daughter he had baptised himself—the girl he had failed to protect from the wild spirits of the forest.
When will this transformation occur? he asked.
In the morning.
Just as Jean felt the approach of calm, a fresh darkness overtook him.
How do you know this, Woman? Have you known about this monstrosity all this time? Is this the complication Mademoiselle Tremblay spoke of on the night this—this thing was born?
Marie-Claire held his eyes.
So you planned never to tell me of what happened? Is that it? Jean stepped toward her again. You were going to keep this a secret? You would have me give sanctuary to a demon without my knowing? The Bible tells of a man who was tricked by a woman, and for this they were banished from Paradise forever!
He struck Marie-Claire across the face.
Seeing the blow, little Jacques rushed forward and rammed his fist into the softest, most numbing place he could reach on his father’s body. The man felt his legs buckle as he collapsed onto the floor, choked with pain, aghast that his son would strike him where he had. Marie-Claire regained her footing, and when she saw the crimson-blue mixture of anguish and rage that engorged her husband’s head, she threw the swaddling sheets over her daughter and spirited her into the bedroom.
Jean watched from the floor as his wife slammed the door behind her. When he had recovered enough strength to regain his footing, he leapt after her and pounded against the barrier with his fist. He promised God that he would kill the demon-child before dawn, and this pledge reminded him of the axe that was lodged in the wooden stump outside. He turned to leave the cabin, but only to find his son Jacques still standing in the middle of the room, a look of hatred on his face.
You will pay for what you have done, boy.
Jacques recognized from the look in his father’s eyes that he was in mortal danger. He rushed away from the man and hurled himself through the cabin’s front door, sprinting toward the black forest. He could hear his father pursuing him, and knew that it was only the meagre speed of his seven-year-old body that stood between him and death. He led his father deeper and deeper into the woods, passing through tangles of brush that not even the full moon’s light could reach through the canopy of trees. He had spent most of his life among these woods and was adept at navigating them in blindness. He listened with triumph as his father cursed at the same brambles and soft patches that he evaded with ease. Yet his blood froze at the thought that he was leading the man farther away from his little sister. What if the man became so exhausted that his temper cooled, and he no longer possessed the strength to return home and kill that sickening creature?
It took a severely twisted ankle for Jean Comeau to give up on catching his son. He turned to grope his way homeward, and it was only after an hour of blind wandering that he finally arrived there. He glanced wearily toward his bedroom door before collapsing onto the floor in a dreamless sleep.
*
Just as Marie-Claire had hoped, the next morning brought the miraculous return of her daughter’s perfect human form. Yet she knew she would not be able to protect the poor girl from her husband forever. If the man wished to kill her, he was bound to succeed. Marie-Claire held the infant tightly to her chest, and with tears in her eyes she left the bedroom and stepped toward the body of her unconscious husband. This would be the best and perhaps only chance she would ever have to save the girl’s life. She stood over her husband, and when she looked into the man’s sleeping features, she tried to convince herself of his fundamental decency. She knew that Jean’s zeal could rival that of Abraham, but there was nothing left to do but test his love for his family, to place her daughter’s fate completely within his brutal hands and to confront him with the face that would haunt him forever if he dared to rob it of life. Marie-Claire knelt and nestled her child into the crook of Jean’s sleeping arm. Tears had run to the corners of her mouth, and she could taste the salt that swam within them.
Monsieur Comeau moaned like a man possessed as he emerged from sleep, and he stiffened when he felt his daughter’s face resting next to his own, her skin brushing against his stubble. Little Marie giggled and reached for his nose. He blinked and glanced about for some sign of Marie-Claire, but being unable to find her, quickly understood the decision she had thrust upon him. He cradled the child in his arm and rose from the floor to press her against his chest. The thought that a child like this should suffer such damnation filled him with a rare pity. Yet the raging flames of Christian duty had not expired within him, and thus it was with great regret that he made his final resolution. He walked to the door of his bedroom, and finding it unbarred, went inside to meet his wife.
Marie-Claire sat at the edge of the bed with her eyes toward the wall. When her husband entered, she knew from his breathing that he would allow their daughter to live. He handed her the bundled child without a word and turned away. She stared after him as he went, and once he had disappeared, she moved to the window and watched him approach the wooden stump outside that held his axe. Her heart leapt in terror, yet calmed again when Jean brought the blade down on a nearby log. He was chopping wood to warm his family.  
 Jacques Comeau had not returned home the previous night, but had found a sunken place on the forest floor and had lain there to drift in and out of a tortured sleep until dawn. It had been a warm night for that time of year, yet despite this luck, he began his homeward walk with a deathly chill in his chest. Not even his young rhythms and hot blood could keep his teeth from chattering wildly. His joints cracked like an old man’s. As he stumbled over the final distance toward the cabin, he spotted his axe-wielding father in the backyard and wondered how much time still lay between him and the next world.
Jean paid little attention as his son crossed the yard and staggered icily toward the front of the cabin. He figured that the boy’s sorry state was punishment enough for his insolence on the night prior. He began working away at a new piece of wood. It was not kindling, but a long and hard trunk that he planned to hew into a seven-foot timber. His daughter would not always be an infant, and therefore would not always transform into a mere cub. She would soon grow into a juvenile wolf, and it would be madness to keep her within the house beyond a certain point of maturation. This concern impressed Jean with peculiar gravity, for he did not yet know what unseen force had provoked his daughter’s curse. If Marie Comeau were going to live, the cabin would require a special place for her.