I will graduate today. Today I receive my Bachelor of Arts, with Honours, in Political Science. Yet, what does this really mean? Many of my family and friends will attend to commemorate my hard work, and there was certainly a fair deal of hard work that went into my degree, but is getting a degree really a reflection of one’s work? My rough estimate is that with tuition, administrative costs, student fees, and such, my degree cost approximately $25,000. While in no means detracting attention away from the work that goes into a degree, I would argue that a degree is a way of preserving privilege; and this is certainly much more about luck than it is about hard work. After all, who gets a degree?
How lucky I am to have been born into a family where my parents make more than $10/day. Over 5 billion people are not so lucky. Luck would also have it that I was born in Canada where our education is largely subsidized, therefore I will not be graduating with massive students debts that I could not escape (for, at least in the United States, one cannot declare bankruptcy on student loans). But the luck continues, and not just mine either. My father was fortunate enough to have found employment in Canada Post, a unionized position secured by the government that would give him the job security to put money aside in RESP’s for my education. Luck would have it that I was this man’s son. How many hard working savants were not so lucky, I wonder? How many geniuses spent their lives toiling needlessly in fields where luck would see them die of poverty? Certainly it is not that these people do not work hard enough, their very survival depends on hard work to an extent that most of us reading this will never know.
I cannot help but think that there is, really, nothing more to a degree than a piece of paper that is awarded to those who spend enough money at their local university. A degree does not, necessarily, go to one who has read all that I have read. It need not even go to one who has read far more than I have, and I am certain that these types exist. Nor does it go to those who write with more vigor and talent than I, which unfortunately must be many I am sure (as I have heard my usage of commas is still atrocious).
As one that hopes to go to grad school, the situation becomes altogether farcical. Why am I perpetuating this, then? Will an MA or a PhD make me a brighter individual? Will it make me more intelligent? No, certainly not. A degree does not do any of these things. It will, instead, be my reading and writing exercises that improve here, and through them the development of ‘higher’ thought processes. These certainly come down to hard work; though I cannot say the same of the funds used to pay for these degrees.
But what of the one who does the work and attains the skills, but does not -or cannot- pay? One does not know, but he or she certainly does not get a degree. As such I think it is quite clear that: A) luck largely influences one’s economic position; B) one’s economic position largely determines one’s ability to pay for a university degree; and C) that great minds who refuse to play this game are denied the privilege of a degree.
Needless to say, while I am proud of my studies, I have no attachment to this piece of paper I will be receiving.
Is there more to life than consumption? And if so, where can it be found? A lifestyle, as I am to understand it, appears to manifest from our possessions and their relationships with one another. The woman that is attractive, has her beauty derived from her outward appearance as a combination of natural features and store-bought accessories. The ideal man, who is portrayed first and foremost by his own attractiveness and his ability to maintain a steady high paying job. If this is the case, it appears that dating is by and large the selling of oneself to another. I will provide this for you, if I receive that in return. I’m inclined to think that there is more to it than this, though I doubt it will present itself to me.
I have not posted for quite a while, as I’ve been trying to avoid speaking before fully developing my thoughts. I would not say, by any means, that the following thoughts are fully developed. However I have, for quite some time, had this in the back of my mind and feel the need to express my views. These views are in response to the claims of many over the last few months, concerning the alleged ‘hypocrisy’ of the Occupy movement with regards to their consumption habits -although these comments have not been as prevalent since the removal of the tent-city of Occupy Vancouver. These consumption habits I refer to are that these protesters are hypocrites for: (1) drinking Starbucks coffee, (2) having/buying iPhones, or more generally, being consumers. The claimed hypocrisy here, is that these are the same protesters that are ‘complaining’ about issues ranging from capitalism, corporate greed, or income inequality, while all the while ‘supporting’ these corporations and maintaining the status quo. It is to this that I offer my rebuttal. I do not intend to argue against the claims that the tent-city was a ‘safe-haven’ for ‘drug-use’, ‘criminal activity’, or the safety of its existence. While I would argue that these claims are blown out of proportion, I doubt my skill in laying a foundation for a rebuttal would be sufficient for countering such claims. For when you object to the views held by the majority, the onus is, inevitably, on you to prove to them otherwise.
Returning, then, to the issue of hypocrisy, I must first state that to some extent these claims are indeed correct. There is, to some degree, something hypocritical about protesting against the power of corporations, while all the while consuming the products of these same corporations. This is a given. However what I argue, is that these claims are pointless, uncritical, and to be frank, a reflection of an uneducated opinion. Building off of my earlier point, the onus lies on the dissenting individual to provide the argument or the basis for his or her dissent. Therefore in the case of anti-corporate protesters, the protesters must present and defend their case, which many have argued: they have failed to do. My argument is: is it possible to be an anti-corporate protester, without being a ‘hypocrite’? Furthermore, is it possible to have any opinion that is critical of the mainstream opinion, without being a ‘hypocrite’? Ultimately, I argue that no, it is not possible. Hypocrisy is implied for any counter-culture.
To illustrate this, consider the case of David Suzuki. David Suzuki is, first and foremost, an environmentalist. His goal, at least to my knowledge, is to educate and convince the world that protecting the environment is an issue that warrants all of our concern. To do so, David Suzuki travels, frequently by airplane, to varying locations around Canada, and the rest of the world to give conferences, film documentaries, and speak generally about his cause. Does this imply hypocrisy? Yes. David Suzuki is, to some extent, a hypocrite for flying around in a plane around the world to promote his cause of environmentalism. As planes give off far greater emissions than say, riding a bicycle, David Suzuki is personally ‘betraying’ his views to promote his message. However the ends to which Suzuki is trying to promote, greater awareness and adoption of environmentalism is something that he is attempting to spread at an aggregate level. If he convinces enough people to reduce their emissions and adopt more environmentally friendly lifestyles and practices, we can say that Suzuki has been successful to these ends.
Do the means justify the ends? Some may argue that they do not, and I respect their opinions if they can convince me otherwise. However we must all agree that Suzuki’s message would be far less effective if he “practiced what he preached”. If Suzuki, rather than make documentaries and speak publicly about environmentalism, made YouTube videos from his apartment with the lights turned off (because he does not want to pollute more than necessary), he would certainly not reach the audiences that he does now. Therefore in promoting his message efficiently, he must necessarily be a ‘hypocrite’. Some may argue that with the rise of technology, messages can more effectively be conveyed through new media sources, and perhaps this is the case. However for Suzuki, I am under the impression that he has been very successful in his promotion of environmentalism with his current methods.
Returning to the Occupy protesters, one cannot adhere absolutely to the ideas that they hold. Just as was the case for environmentalism, anti-corporate protests cannot be clear of hypocrisy because humans are consumers. Regardless of whether they are capitalists, socialists, anarchists, or what other varying -ist is presented before me, humans need to consume to live. One could make the argument that anti-corporate protesters do not need to consume Starbucks or Apple products, and they could consume Fair Trade Coffee and/or avoid electronics altogether (as I don’t know any electronics that are made ‘ethically’). However this is silly. Regardless of whether one is anti-corporate, or a corporate executive, one is a member of society and is influenced by its social norms. One can avoid electronics if one wishes, but it would be at this person’s utmost inconvenience and would frankly be unfeasible (would his or her house not have a smoke detector, or lights?).
Regardless of what a protester consumes, what is important is the ideas that they hold. Do not feed me this bullshit about how they shouldn’t be doing this or that, because they are doing something. They are exercising their rights of expression, against something that they view to be wrong, while at the same time existing in a world that ceases to provide feasible alternatives. The fact that I own a Blackberry, does not mean that my views on life or political opinions are shaped by my consumption, and to suggest this is preposterous. In fact I can say that I do not support any phone manufacturer as the components and production of cell phones is generally done for slave wages. This does not change the fact that in a twenty-first century society, having a cell phone is highly advantageous. I have a Blackberry, then, not because I support the corporation who makes it, but because it is in my interest to do so.
So can we call anti-corporate protesters hypocrites? Sure we can. They are hypocrites, just like everyone else who has an opinion on anything. Be it the meat eater who opposes cruelty to animals, or the environmentalist. In short, stop criticizing people for hypocrisy, you fucking hypocrites! (Pardon my language, I just had to get that off my chest.)
Now first and foremost, I have no problems with Will and Kate, or any of the royal family for that matter. What I do have problem with, however, is the very concept of royalty. It seems that now would be an appropriate time to voice this, as Will and Kate are honeymooning in Canada and all of my news coverage, well some of it at least, is dedicated to watching the two wave, shake hands, and smile for the camera.
So what do we celebrate? Well this is what seems to confuse me, because as far as I’m concerned, we’re celebrating the remnants and the history of the British Empire. An empire that had colonies around the world, with the sole purpose of nothing other than exploitation, whether that be people or natural resources. We should never forget or confuse the fact, that the sole purpose of colonies is to expand the interests of their colonial power. This is nothing to celebrate. Even in Canada, and today being Canada Day makes this even more appropriate, our country’s primary purpose was to send primary resources back to Britain.
I don’t propose that we take any action against the monarchy, or try to exact any revenge, but rather that we recognize what it is we are celebrating when we give legitimacy to the monarchy. The way I see it, and its certainly not the only way to see it, the fact that we still celebrate royalty is the only reason that it still exists. Nobility only has power, because we give it power. The entire royal family are no different than you and I, they’re simply ordinary people born into privileged families. So why, then, should we hold them on a pedestal? Why do we celebrate the excess waste that went into the royal wedding, fantasizing about how wonderful it is and how great it would be to be them? We should be appalled! When I see the Abbey, I don’t see the magnificent architecture or the beauty of marriage, but rather noting that the Ivory and Gold that line the place came as a direct result of the exploitation of slaves abroad and the labour of workers who were hardly paid enough to feed their children.
It doesn’t have to be like this ‘though. What gives royalty power, is the support of the people. When collectively we decide that we’ve had enough, only then can we redirect our energies to more productive things. Assuming we believe that democracy exists, then it is us, the people, who make the decisions. Let’s turn them into ordinary people for goodness sakes!
So it’s been a while since I’ve posted in my blog, and I took it down for a little while as I was gathering my thoughts. It’s very easy to blog your thoughts as they come to you. As I’ve noticed for most political science students, I too have an opinion on everything. I’m hoping to return now with a more open approach to things, and I’ve learned a lot in the last few months.
More to come soon. (Very soon)