Too much ideology and belief, I fear, is based on the idea that everyone can be above-average, or can excel in some way. Obviously, that is nonsense on the face of it: how can everyone be above average? How can most people excel? The human population is huge, huge populations will approximate a normal distribution - the "bell curve" - which means that there will be as many people above the average as there are below it, and the vast majority will be clustered around the centre.
Any time I see an ideology that believes one can push people to be better and to do things they would never normally do, I have to disagree; people, on the whole, aren't going to get any better than they already are. Let's take a look at neoliberalism, because this is something it does. Neoliberalism holds that by curtailing the parasitic activities of the state and of collectivist organizations, we may unleash the power of individual creativity and entrepreneurial activity, which will result in a better society for all.
The problem is that most people just aren't that entrepreneurial or that creative. Creative and entrepreneurial people have been exceptional throughout all human societies, and I use that word deliberately: exceptional, outstanding, not normal. Most people just want to get on with their lives. They will conform to dominant social discourses, and live out their existences in roughly something like the patterns which their culture has laid out for them, which tend to change only gradually. Everyone who might be entrepreneurial is probably already entrepreneurial; scaling back the state is not going to push people out of their positions as employees and into small-business ownership.
Being an entrepreneur is risky. The odds of a new business surviving for five years are about two in ten. Most people are generally quite risk-averse. They prefer to pay off their mortages early over playing the stock market. Less than one in five American households actually owns any stock (PDF link) outside of employer-sponsored retirement plans. It makes sense; a species with a fairly high level of risk aversion is likely to survive longer and pass on its genes, so there may be an innate, genetic explanation for this. It's possible that there is not, of course; risk aversion might be a complex trait, which would not be heritable. But even as a cultural meme, I think that, given the level of failure for entrepreneurial activity, risk-aversion is still dominant.
This is a partial explanation for the actual results of neoliberalism when held up to the theory. On paper, as marginal tax rates are decreased, we should see more entrepreneurs. In reality, we don't; the few people who already had successful commercial entreprises get richer, and the vast majority of people start spiralling towards the bottom. See the centre graph below. Despite the tax cuts of the Bush administration, the number of jobs created by start-up companies was in a steady decline throughout the decade. Correlation is not causation, but it is still safe to say that tax cuts alone cannot create more entrepreneurial activity.
Most people don't want to go it alone. They want to work at a dependable job, where they can put in a reasonable number of hours and still have a life outside work (none of which is true for any entrepreneur with a desire for success). These people are harmed by neoliberalism as the social programs they depend on are gutted, and as the free market siphons their wealth to the rich. I think that you could decrease marginal taxes to zero and still only have a small proportion of society in the entrepreneurial class. The rising tide may raise all boats, but most people aren't boats. They're wearing concrete overshoes, and those that barely have their heads above water to begin with are going to drown.
I think that any theory of sociology, economics or politics has to assume that most people are mediocre. I do not mean this in a disparaging way, I simply mean that they are average. They are not going to be given to any huge feats of bravery or courage, any insights of genius, or any staggering achievements of athleticism or endurance. Let us not build a society on the misguided belief that inside every average Joe, there is a superman fighting to get out if only he were not hemmed in by government regulation. Don't punish people for being people.
Scott Walker has rammed his "budget repair bill" through the Wisconsin legislature without needing to recall the Democrats. The lone Democrat present alleged that this was a violation of the state's open meetings law, but since when has breaking the law stopped Scott Walker?
There are rumours that Wisconsin labour leaders are discussing a general strike. I hope they're true.
It really floors me that small-l liberals and free-market advocates could be against labour unions. It's logically inconsistent (even when I was a free-market advocate, I was never anti-union for precisely this reason). They advocate free association, they advocate freedom to form contracts, and they profess to love democracy, so why is it that workers don't deserve free association rights and shouldn't form labour unions? Why is it that a group of shareholders can collectively contract and bargain, but a group of workers should not? Why should democracy advocates shun labour unions when they are fundamentally democratic organizations with democratically elected leaders in which no major decision is made without a vote? Why is it that these USian groups insist that they elect federal, state and local governments, school boards and garbage commissioners, but that workers must have absolutely no democracy in workplaces? We're not even talking about control of the means of production here, just some worker input into what goes on in a place where they spend 40+ hours of their lives every week, which provides them and their families with their only source of subsistence, and which ends up killing over 5,000 of them every year.
This movement of teabaggers and Randians has nothing to do with liberty or freedom, and everything to do with class warfare. It begins with the conclusion and searches for the evidence afterward. It doesn't matter if they pressgang the philosophy of thinkers like John Locke or Adam Smith (who would be appalled at what they have done and what they propose), or just grab hold of the ready-made, half-baked nonsense of fools and sociopaths like Thomas Sowell or Ayn Rand. The philosophy is irrelevant. It's concocted after the fact to support the greedy scrabbling of the rich for every last cent they can squeeze out of the working poor.
In honour of International Women's Day:
(TW: rape, culturally normative femininity, spousal abuse)
OK, that's inflammatory and not what I mean. I mean these women, specifically, are wrong. March is National Women's History Month in the USA, so it might be a good time to reflect on things like women earning something like 60 cents on the male dollar, women performing 2/3 of all unpaid work in Canada, or even why my s/o has to put up with catcalls and harassment when she goes about her business in public, and why the best way to avoid such problems is to be in public with me, because she's my property, and guys don't mess with another guy's woman since a woman is just an extension of her man, so it's like messing around with the guy himself </sarcasm>.
But no. The Network of Enlightened Women (think so, huh?) is presenting the Gentlemen's Showcase to honour Gentlemen. They believe that gentlemanly conduct is in decline, which I say is a good thing, since it seems to me that "a gentleman" is a man who hides his misogyny behind a thin veneer of politeness. The key term in that is not the politeness. If you asked people when they thought that gentlemanliness was at a height, they'd probably say the fifties, when a man would hold a door open for his wife and beat the shit out of her when they got home, or the Victorian era, when a man would remove his hat for a lady he met in the street, but wouldn't allow her to vote or hold a job.
Alright. Let's do this.
The Gentlemen’s Showcase seeks to restore dignity and respect between the sexes by honoring and recognizing gentleman [sic]. Gentlemanly behavior is rarely valued or deemed necessary. In turn, the respect for femininity is deteriorating.
Firstly, I disagree that we have ever had "dignity and respect between the sexes," and you can't restore that which was not there. I can only therefore assume that these women want to return to an era such as I briefly described above, and restore that golden, wife-beating, disenfranchised age when you could rape your wife with impunity (well, you still can, but then it was actually legal too), slap her when she became "hysterical," and refuse to take her opinion on anything seriously unless it was about kittens, cooking or knitting.
Secondly, by "femininity" I am pretty sure that they mean "emphasized femininity," which is that culturally received norm of what it means to be feminine: a coquettish, long-haired, make-up wearing, slender, giggling vision of womanhood that denies femininity to women who might dare refuse to comply with such norms. Womanhood is culturally informed. The NeW basically wants to enforce a particular cultural vision of what it means to be a woman on everyone of the female gender.
Here is a list of acts that college men were nominated for in past gentlemen’s showcases.
A gentleman opens your door for you, without expecting anything in return.
Does he slam it in the face of the man behind you? Is it not just possible to open doors for people in general?
A gentleman helps an older woman carry her groceries.
Not an older man, though. Fuck him!
A gentleman comes alongside you as a leader, not to demand submission, but to earn respect by giving love.
He tells you what to do because he loves you! He makes the decisions because your poor girly brain can't do it! Why do ya gotta make me hit ya, baby?
A gentleman treats you like the lady you are.
And by "the lady you are" we mean "the vision of ladyhood we want to enforce upon you." Fat? Tattoos? Facial piercings? Enjoy sports? Like cars? Hope you can open your own doors!
A gentleman is confident, but not conceited.
And he's an asshole, but not respectful. Oh, sure, he's respectful in that very shallow way, but really, he doesn't respect women at all. They are imperfect males and god's second mistake. That's why they can't open their own doors or hold their own opinions.
CUPE 4207 represents almost 900 part-time instructors, teaching assistants, lab demonstrators, markers/graders, course coordinators, and full-time ESL coordinators at my university, Brock University. They have been attempting to negotiate with the university for a new collective agreement since April; their old one expired in July. They have been making every attempt to meet and negotiate a new contract, while the university has stalled, resisted, backtracked and generally put up roadblocks at every turn.
For more information on the potential strike, there is an excellent PDF FAQ put out by the union. I recommend reading this rather than the BrockTV and student union FAQs, which are rather more uninformed and won't give you all the information you need.
The facile Brock Students Union (BUSU) has made their position clear: they advocate a negotiated settlement that does not result in a strike, and urge both sides to be reasonable.
Here is the problem: That has always been what CUPE 4207 wanted. No worker wants to go on strike and forgo his pay for who-knows-how-long. When you're one of the lowest-paid teaching assistants in Ontario (as Brock's TAs all are), you can't really afford to put yourself out of work. However, 80% of those workers voted in favour of a strike should one prove necessary, which clearly means that something is more important to them than their livelihoods. It's worth considering what that might be.
A negotiated settlement also requires both sides to be willing to negotiate, and they are not. The university has consistently failed to negotiate, failed to offer counter-proposals, arrived at bargaining sessions totally unprepared, and generally been thoroughly intransigent. Their behaviour is consistent with an attempt to deliberately provoke a strike. The government-appointed neutral conciliator has gotten nowhere with them. BUSU's misguided attempt to appear balanced is obfuscating this. If BUSU really wanted to see a negotiated settlement and no strike, then they should be putting pressure on the university administration to start taking negotiations seriously (and time is running out - there's only one more bargaining session left before the strike deadline).
BUSU has also urged that both sides keep student interests at the forefront. Again, one side is already doing this, and again, it's the union. CUPE 4207 is negotiating for smaller class sizes, to preserve the seminar system, and to maintain the availability of teaching assistants (and others) who provide the education for students. The university wants larger classes, bigger seminars or no seminars at all, and less time for teaching, marking, grading and so on. Basically, the university wants to lower educational standards and CUPE wants to raise them, or failing that, at least keep them from falling as far as the university wants them to. Petitioning both sides to consider student interests here is nonsensical; the problem is entirely on one side.
Now, I'm all for fair-and-balanced where it's warranted. I would not give equal time to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. I would not give equal consideration to the Holocaust Museum and to Ernst Zundel. It seems to me that BUSU's reaction is a knee-jerk "we must be fair" response when fairness is not in the offing, as the problems, even as identified by BUSU itself, are pretty much all being caused by one side. One side in these negotiations has been a complete jackass from the start and will not even pretend to negotiate or open a conversation. The other side is genuinely trying to reach an agreement, and has even indicated where it would be willing to compromise, and where a dialogue could be opened. It is the fault of the jackass.
If students are remotely interested in the quality of their education, they should put pressure on the administration, who is conspiring to raise their tuition fees while lowering the quality of education they will receive. If they are interested in avoiding a strike, they should put pressure on the administration, who has refused to be reasonable and has stalled negotiations to the point where a strike seems like the only way to get things moving again.
You should join the Facebook group "We fully support Brock's TAs and instructors," contact the Office of the President at Brock and tell him what you think, express your solidarity with CUPE 4207, and email BUSU and tell them to start actually working for student interests instead of just pretending.