Political synechdoche in Quebec

| Disqus Comments

Niqabi Quebec.jpg

With the looming passage of Bill 62, Quebec is poised, in the name of “secularism,” to ban Muslim niqabi (women wearing face veils) from boarding city transit.

In its first incarnation, as Bill 94, then federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff expressed strong support for it: a crass bit of political pandering to hérouxvilliste yokels, but in fairness hardly the only one. The Bill died when an election was called and the ruling Quebec Liberals lost. The Parti Québécois, a social-democratic party under René Lévesque but now one that oozes xenophobia, had opposed that Bill because it did not go far enough. They had their own go at it in 2013 with the infamous Quebec Charter of Values, but that legislation died as well when the Liberals regained power in 2014.

Now it’s the Liberals’ turn once more, and the band plays on. Yet again the “religious neutrality of the state” is trundled out of its musty vault, no longer the laïcité that protected citizens from a once-powerful Roman Catholic Church, but now a blunt-force instrument to be used by vielle souche Quebeckers against the Others.

The total number of women wearing niqab in Quebec may be as high as 90. Yes, you read right.

So clearly we aren’t dealing with a serious practical matter. What we have instead is a synechdoche: the part, in this case, standing for the whole. That’s why the public and political furor seems so exaggerated.

As an earlier example, consider the angry opposition to long hair on men in the ‘sixties. It wasn’t really about long hair at all, but stood for one side of a broader politico-cultural war being waged simultaneously on a number of fronts. The fight was fuelled by the powerful who had a fear of losing control: parents over children (the “generation gap”), the state over its citizens (Vietnam draft evasion), or an embedded white supremacism (segregation). Button-down minds and the assorted brutes eager to do their bidding were ranged against creativity, experimentation, freedom and revolt. Summer of Love, if you will, versus “law and order.” Or so, at least, it seemed, if one read the headlines—although decent folks were swept up into the wrong side of the conflict as well.

Like all political synechdoche, however, the part developed a life in some ways independent of the whole. Long hair was held to be “unkempt,” “dirty,” “girly” and/or “faggoty.” Every one of those adjectives, of course, could potentially open up into wide discursive avenues, but usually didn’t. Long hair also became associated with drugs: that one imperfect but immediate way out of the Matrix, and hence heavily punished by a veritable army of Agent Smiths.

So too it is with the partial but significant ban on the niqab in La Belle Province. “The veil oppresses women,” we are told, although the women often say otherwise, when people allegedly fighting on their behalf deign to talk to them. “We don’t want religion and the state mixed together,” say Quebec legislators, enacting “religious neutrality” under the crucifix that adorns the wall behind the Speaker of the Quebec National Assembly.

“Nothing really to do with religion at all,” humphs Stéphanie Vallée, Quebec’s justice minister. It could apply just as well to masked protesters, she insists. To this barefaced lie, one can only reply, “Mon oeil.” Here is the title of the Bill: “An Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality and, in particular, to provide a framework for religious accommodation requests in certain bodies.” The Bill itself is all about the providers and recipients of public services: it says nothing whatsoever about masking in public. In fact, the mayor of Quebec City recently bemoaned that very fact.

In practical terms, just to remind everyone, the Bill will apply only to niqabis. That’s it and that’s all.

What is the whole, then, of which this niqabi-ban is a part? Quite simply, an ugly, exclusionary nationalism, that has even led, at its extreme fringe, to mass murder. Whether Liberal or Parti Québécois, it appears politically expedient for the party in power to pander to the unsavoury Lionel Groux/Marcel Chaput current of Quebec nationalism, which, along with its progressive counterpart, has been present in the province for many decades. This strategy has proven to be the path of least resistance to obtain the support of a substantial block of swing voters, although it’s a narrow path, to be sure: the PQ overplayed its hand with its Charter of Values, while the Liberals cannot afford to stray too far in the direction of, well, liberalism. Pandering to bigotry has its own intricate political calculus.

In any case, to conform to the law, the minuscule number of niqabis in Quebec will now be less able to leave their houses, more dependent than ever, one might suppose, upon the swarthy male brutes of popular imagination who allegedly force the “Islamic” dress code upon them in the first place. Outside the house, the state lies waiting to enforce a different dress code—even on public transport. O lucky women! You’re about to become, like earthlings in the old science fiction story, as thoroughly liberated as it’s possible to be.

Disqus Comments

In a recent post, I took up the serious and imminent issue of the movements of young men who seem to be a key provider of energy if not votes for the current expansion of far-right political phenomena. In that post, I rather tendentiously took up the apparent core complaint of these young men at their word: they do not have access to female attention in the form they think generations of men before them were afforded, they recognize that the world has been rearranged to give women choices that heighten the chance of their involuntary exclusion from such interaction, and they believe that left-wing and socially progressive movements subvert common moral discourses to deny them advocacy for what they see as a real source of suffering for themselves. They then reject analysis of their dissatisfaction in terms of their own patriarchal malprogramming — they know what they feel and what, and honestly, you can’t really ask someone to pretend to themselves to not want what they really want. If one takes them — and many of the attempts at analyzing them as a phenomenon — at their word, what they are really arguing is that they as men cannot help but make a demand upon women that the state must satisfy, or that they will work as a group to cause the state to satisfy, of course necessarily by restricting women’s choices once again. It would therefore be either the case that reproductive maleness qua maleness contains an inherent and irremediable moral defect, or that they’re wrong about their subjective psychological state, something by its very nature impossible to verify.

Some of the comments to that post raised the objection that I was setting forth a peculiar sort of biological determinism by doing so. Which, by taking these young men at their word, I was.

But of course biological determinism, at least as most usually conceived, is a crock. Biological determinism is typically used in the following manner: observed differences and inequalities are not the rest of discrimination or mutable social processes, but rather, the outcome of genetic difference (genetics being misconceived as a program that writes out all biology, when the reality is more complex). The implication is that dealing with inequality is impossible.

There’s lots of reason why this is problematic, including on the matter of biological sex. When as many social variables are controlled for as possible, most biological behavioural differences in both intelligence and inclination turn out to be relatively small — at least not of the sizes required to account for economic inequality, underrepresentation, and so on. And there is a deeper problem: it turns out that even at a genetic level, how genotypes are transformed into phenotypes turns out to be extremely complex and not at all amenable to straightforward explanation, particularly in the matter of “abstract” cognitive characteristics at a far developmental remove from Mendelian inheritance. What differences appear still to be explainable as “genetic biology” weaken as more difficult confounds are obtained.

So let me lay my cards on the table on the biology front: yes, it is very unlikely that biological determinism of this kind explains anything of patriarchy, and indeed, these young men are not playing out some kind of genetic programme to demand that the modern state “encourage” women to sleep with them. However, it is also unlikely that human reproductive biology has no social consequences. The problem is that we do have, for lack of a better word, reproductive “estates” inside the human race that come from the social interactions of sexually-reproducing species. There are at least three such “reproductive estates”: the estate of those assumed capable of pregnancy and birth (call this the CPB estate), the estate of those assumed capable of instigating pregancy (call this the CIP estate), and a third estate of those who for various reasons are assumed neither to have the pregnancy power nor the impregnation power in a way that has social relevance (the “neither” estate), that may actually be composed of an archipelago of smaller estates.

Biological reproduction is a part of social reproduction, and social reproduction necessarily has implications for class interest and class conflict. Separated from claims about genetics, what Kekistani young men are perceiving is an inability to participate in their estate and to obtain the power of the patriarch to influence the terms of social reproduction. And while it may not be the case that the pressure for patriarchy is inherently a result of the physical mechanics of membership in the “CIP estate”, the potential for certain kinds of conflicts among these estates remains, and the ultimate dismantlement of the virtual fascist nation of Kekistan depends, I think, in part on identifying the class dynamics among these estates. And that is why I titled the previous post, “The essential patriarch”, and not “The essential male”.

Disqus Comments


Another anti-earworm

| Disqus Comments


OK, I have another anti-earworm for you, after a few years. An anti-earworm, as you may recall, is a song whose abstract characteristics you are obsessed with but cannot remember the actual lyrics or the tune. This song:

  1. Seems to be relatively recent.

  2. Has a female singer who sings relatively melodiously and softly, but with a peppy beat.

  3. Has a saxophone solo.

  4. The end of the vocal refrain has a little…curlicue at the end in the tune, and seems to involve the word “heart” or “hardest”, I can’t tell. It’s possibly not in English (which would make this futile) but I think it is.

Anyone got any candidates? I keep hearing it on store and mall background music systems and have for a few months but can never catch enough of it to google the lyrics.

Disqus Comments


The essential patriarch

| Disqus Comments

In the wake of revelations — not that it was any surprise to those of us paying attention — that the Breitbart Empire has long been working in close collaboration with out-and-out neo-Nazis, I am once again, as I am frequently, drawn back to this essay about the online subcultures of young men who particularly via Gamergate have helped drive us steadily to a bad political juncture.

To the deplorables, whose central complaint is one of masculine frailty, pride, and failure — to deny their identities as men is to deny their complaint. They are a group who define themselves by their powerlessness, by being trapped into defeat. But if they are to accept the left’s viewpoint, they must accept that the problem at core of their being is all in their heads. That is to say, the left’s viewpoint of sexual-difference-as-illusion is exactly what they don’t want to hear — that they have cornered themselves into their mother’s basements.

The left does more than simply declare their opposing viewpoint wrong, the radical idea of sex/gender-as-illusion denies their viewpoint an existence. To the left, a complaint stemming from being a man is null space, lying outside the realm of what it will acknowledge as true.

The irony here, of course, is the radical idea of sexual-difference-as-illusion is meant to solve the deplorables’ problem. It was created to liberate those who are oppressed by the concept of sexual difference by dispelling it as a cloud of pure ideas. But to these powerless men, it’s as if the left were addressing their issue by saying in an Orwellian manner, “There’s no such thing as your problem! Problem solved!”

Here the notion of sexual-difference-as-illusion is not performing the work it was built to do, rather the opposite. Ironically, it works to convince alienated men that sex/gender has marked them as a unique sort of outsider/failures, who cannot be accepted even into the multicultural coalitions that define themselves by their capacity for acceptance. In this way, 4chan’s virulent hatred of gender-bending “safe spaces”, though not justified, makes at least a perverse sort of sense, one tangled in wounded masculine pride.

The whole thing is very much worth reading, but central to it is the sense of sexual failure and the fundamental ego wound that comes from it. As the article says, these angry young men aren’t interested in being told that their sexual anxiety is merely the result of a patriarchal outlook of which they just need to let go. It’s not merely a matter of not being able to satisfy an urge, it is a very deep ego wound that to them reflects a failure in life that cannot be turned aside by sublimation into another source of ego satisfaction. We can’t all be career artists or scientists or famous gardeners… The number of people, male or female, who really don’t care about this, while a lot more than zero, is nevertheless very small.

The problem is, the implicit demand made — validation from women via sexual availability — can ultimately only be guaranteed by restricting women’s choices, i.e., by reasserting and reinforcing patriarchy. A common “Patriarchy Hurts Men Too” analysis is that patriarchy means that men’s relationships with women are inauthentic and not based on real feeling, because there is a gendered difference in the degree of coercion required to put these relationships together. But for these men, this is not a problem: half a loaf is better than none, better a woman socially coerced into having sex with him, bearing his children, and validating his ego, than nothing at all — the knowledge that their problems are viewed as a form of unjustified entitlement, and no one is coming to relieve them of it as they seem to be so enthusiastically for black people, for gays, for women … opens the space for the destructive political anomie and ultimate fascist tendency of the Pepe-poster and Kek-worshipper.

A subset of second-wave radical feminism, the one most associated with lesbian separatism, basically made the case that patriarchy was essential to the male being, because maleness had an implicit demand in it, from the very mechanics of sexual reproduction, on the physical space of the female, and consequently, the only way women could be free of patriarchy was to free themselves from men full-stop. (This version of radical feminism actually had until recently a robust internet presence until it apparently consumed itself in its own ambivalence over the phenomenon of trans liberation.) And indeed, this expression of patriarchy proves itself again and again the door through which war and genocide pass in modern society — seeing once again as it is Gamergate that provides one of the major openings through which Breitbartism enters the mainstream.

The fact that apparently this cannot be turned aside by an appeal to reconstruct masculinity — because its objects reject the call as inauthentic to their own feelings — presents a dismal and pessimistic prospect indeed. Since the demand to restrict women choices so that they can have a bed partner cannot be in any way ethically satisfied, and since the dissolution of gender also cannot offer them the guarantee they demand, it means that there will always be a door through which patriarchally-induced fascism may pass. It means that fascism is the result of a possibly inherent consequence of reproductive maleness. Perhaps the post-patriarchal utopia will only be achieved when humans evolve natural parthenogenesis…

Disqus Comments


That Milewski interview

| Disqus Comments

Picture this: the newly-minted leader of a major national political party, Justin Trudeau, has his first interview on the CBC’s Power and Politics. He is pressed relentlessly about Paul Rose, a former FLQ member, now deceased. He’s still seen as a hero of the independence cause by many Quebeckers. Will Trudeau denounce Rose’s supporters? Justin tries to answer the question more generally, stating that violence is never acceptable in a free society, and his record on Quebec separatism is clear. But the questions, more like an interrogation now, keep coming…and coming. The interviewer then takes to Twitter to go after Trudeau.

Unprofessional? You bet. Likely to happen? Not in this universe. Instead, the interviewer asks him about his hopes for the country, where he will lead his party, and some general policy questions.

But for some reason, CBC reporters seem to have a problem when the interviewee is not white. We recall the manner in which Julie Van Dusen went after a First Nations woman this past July. And now we have Terry Milewski, dragged out of retirement, homing in on Jagmeet Singh’s ethnicity. He demanded that Singh denounce Sikhs in Canada who see Talwinder Singh Parmar, by several accounts the mastermind of the Air India bombing 32 years ago, as a martyr to the cause of Sikh separatism in India. Palmar had been shot and killed by Indian police in 1992, and some argue that he was murdered in custody. Sikh nationalists in Canada have been known to display his picture during festivals.

Singh is a defence lawyer by profession, and he knew full well that charges against Palmar, related to the bombing, were dropped. So he answered the question in general terms, stating that the Air India bombing was a “heinous massacre,” and that violence of this kind should be unequivocally denounced. While he was more indirect than I would have liked—a far cry from his directness on Quebec’s Bill 62, for example—his response was appropriate from the perspective of a lawyer commenting upon a man who was found legally innocent, and whose supporters (so far as I know) do not defend the Air India atrocity.

But that was not enough for Milewski, and he took to Twitter to attack Singh, making it personal, something a little unusual in the annals of Canadian journalism. Milewski has been on the “Sikh beat” for some time—he covered the Air India bombing for many years—and went after Michael Ignatieff back in the day for scheduling a short interview with a Sikh journalist—who, it runs out, appeared regularly on the CBC, and who interviewed former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

That there was something at least borderline racist about Milewski’s interview with Singh is undeniable. You would not see him demand of a white party leader that they denounce the white nationalist supporters of the current US President, or the defenders of Timothy McVeigh who might still be lurking around 22 years after his crime. But it seemed perfectly appropriate to him to effectively put Singh’s ethnicity on trial. It’s 2017, but the mainstream media still permit a politician’s race or religion to trump their role, responsibilities, talents and vision. One hopes that this appalling interview is not a harbinger of things to come, but I am not optimistic.

Disqus Comments

NDP leadership.jpg
The NDP leadership vote is upon us. “None of the above” is not an option. I re-joined the party to vote for Niki Ashton, although (I must here confess) it’s more a tactical boost that I’m looking at, a hoped-for rising of a significant number of NDPers, new and old (or both) prepared to support a left turn for a party that has grown more and more indistinguishable from the Liberal party it hopes one day to replace.

Those of us who are tired of “a little more of this, a little less of that” politics will support Ashton—or what she stands for, at least. She represents, however imperfectly, a politics of difference, and she dares to dream.

But a disqualifying issue has arisen.

Quebec is poised to pass a secularization Bill—or so it has been misleadingly characterized. It’s nothing of the kind, of course. To honour the principle of secularization, in the provision and the consumption of provincial and municipal public services, Bill 62 outlaws the niqab.

That’s it. That’s all it does.

This highly selective legislation, aimed at a tiny handful of women—perhaps as few as 24—will come into law under the Christian cross that decorates the wall above the Speaker’s chair in the Quebec National Assembly. It is only the latest iteration of the nasty and sometimes deadly current of xenophobia that has coursed through Quebec nationalist politics, from the days of Lionel Groulx through Hérouxville and on down to the present day.

Quebec is hardly alone in its popular racism—none of Canada is immune to that virus. But Quebec is distinct in attempting to legislate it. And we should make no mistake about the current initiative: while Quebec’s history of aggressive secularism since the Quiet Revolution is well established, the single-mindedness of this legislation cannot be explained away by rote reference to laïcité alone. How denying a woman the right to board a bus in Montreal advances that principle one whit is anything but obvious, at least to me. At best, the Quebec government is pandering to the dark side of its electorate. At worst, it has joined it.

So where are the NDP leadership hopefuls on this?

If the NDP has a future, Quebec is key to it, and the candidates all know it. Progressives, to one degree or another, accede to Quebec’s right of self-determination. But what happens when that principle collides with other rights? Especially when “self-determination” is a diffuse and contentious concept, covering a multitude of scenarios, whereas the rights of women are much clearer, better established in law and society, and more concrete? The temptation for candidates, unfortunately, is to look for rhetorical escape doors.

Ashton, disappointingly, has hedged. Her attempts to clarify her initial stance sound like waffling. Oh, “sound,” hell—I’m not about to fall into that same trap myself. She has not handled the matter well, and it’s hard to find excuses for her.

Guy Caron has been clearer, but not in a good way. While he “personally” believes that women should wear whatever they choose to wear, and that the state has no business legislating their wardrobe, he has stated that the Quebec government has the right to decide for itself. Charlie Angus has a similar position, if “position” in the singular is the correct term.

Only Jagmeet Singh, whose lack of policy specifics has been rightly criticized, has come out clearly and unequivocally against Bill 62. Perhaps he has less to lose: his candidacy has apparently sown panic in the ranks of the NDP’s Quebec wing, and one Quebec NDP MP is considering a provincial run for the Parti Québécois if the man with the turban prevails. Singh has responded with his trademark grace, but it may well not suffice to keep that wing intact, let alone attract a sufficient number of Quebec voters even to become the Official Opposition once again. Kudos to him, in any case. No dancing—at least on this occasion!

I prefer policy to leadership politics, so my vote for Ashton was cast today regardless. But this has been an unsettling spectacle, to put it mildly, and I, for one, have lost my enthusiasm for the race, such as it was. Given what’s been going on south of the border, the least I should be able to expect is moral clarity on racism and sexism from the one major party in Canada that allegedly speaks for the poor, the marginalized, and working people. With the exception of Jagmeet Singh, I’m not hearing it. And, in 2017, that’s deeply distressing.

Disqus Comments


Unto the generations

| Disqus Comments

There’s a minor thing that has frequently mystified me, particularly in comment threads about US politics, but it keeps happening and no one ever remarks on it. Someone points out that the Republican Party in the USA has had a lot of out-and-out racists in its midst. A Republican pipes up and mentions that, at some point in the past, the Democratic Party was the party of segregationists and had ex-KKK members until recently. The (presumable) Democrat points out that the party landscape is different now since Nixon’s Southern Strategy and the polite and not-so-polite white supremacism has moved to the Republican party due to defections and ideological changes. Then this is the part that mystifies me: the Republican partisan then rejects this by essentially repeating the historical sins of the Democratic Party. They even make make elaborate propaganda videos about it.

The reasoning is really odd and perhaps goes to a deep difference in left vs. right wing mentalities, perhaps? It demands a weird sort of metaphyics that requires that institutions retain immutable essences that are transmitted and remain valid even if the bodies and minds that form the institution are changed complete and disavow their predecessors’ thinking. I mean, the result of the underlying logic is that a black voter who votes Democratic to prevent a Republican with white-supremacist dies from getting into office somehow partakes of the spirit of John C. Calhoun, and a Republican who votes for someone who will cut funding for services in black neighbourhoods somehow partakes of the spirit of Abraham Lincoln.

What strikes me even more is that while I don’t have a link on hand, I must have read this kind of exchange dozens of times, with no resolution whatsoever. It is as though the Republican participant simply assumes that everyone will recognize this metaphyics — that no matter what people do and how they change over time, some sort of fundamental institutional essence is necessarily committed unto the generations, whether they like it or not.

Disqus Comments


Lest We Forget

| Disqus Comments

Omaha Beach.jpg

Everyone knows the phrase: it’s a staple of Remembrance Day ceremonies. But what does it mean?

Lest we forget people we never knew? No. Lest we forget the cause the fallen of WWII fought for (let’s put WWI in parentheses)? I, for one, would hope so.

They were the best and most effective “antifa” we had. As for the current anti-fascist movement, here’s a little history of its distant origins.

Now “the bitch is in heat again.” And the same liberals wring their hands. The Neville Chamberlains are everywhere, enabling, conceding, minimizing, whining about the freedom of speech that abruptly ended in Germany at the point of a gun in 1933. Violence, against people whose core ideology is violence for its own sake? Heavens. Fainting-couches. Pearls. The media, deeply complicit in all this, present us with a veritable carnival of the morally compromised.

I call it self-defence.

If Quebec City and Charlottesville aren’t wake-up calls, you aren’t merely sleeping. You’re dead.

Every day is Remembrance Day—or should be. And if history can teach lessons—which, I admit, is a debatable point—now is not the time for politesse.

Fascism must be torn out of our soil before it takes firm root.

By any means necessary.

Disqus Comments


Deep Schadenfreude

| Disqus Comments

It’s been a rough week for the Right—and for alt-right Canadian spox Ezra Levant in particular.

Ezra sent a white nationalist “reporter” to Charlottesville to journalize on the anti-racist protesters there, and who referred to the neo-Nazis out in literal force as “patriots.” In the background, a Nazi mowed down 19 people with a car, killing one. Even for the US, that was a bridge too far. Revulsion erupted, even within Republican/conservative ranks. The President, who repeatedly excused the neo-Nazis, was excoriated. And in Canada, a red line had been crossed. From his by now heavily-bombarded bunker, Ezra pronounced himself, as it were, “shocked, shocked I tell you, that racism is going on here.” Nazi-schmazi.

Rebel Media quickly began to lose its heavyweights (relatively speaking). Over the side, one after the other, they went: John Robson, Brian Lilley (a co-founder of Rebel), Barbara Kay. And now Gavin McInnes. Sauve qui peut.

The annual Rebel Media hate cruise was scuttled. As comedian Mark Critch put it, “First time I’ve seen a ship deserting the rats.” Kudos to Hope Not Hate.

And now, in an explosive finale (see above), a young Rebel blows the whistle on Ezra’s Rebel Media money-making machine. Almost incidentally, Ezra can be heard blasting his own lawsuit against my friend Canadian Cynic out of the water (@4:30). Heavy damages and costs on a full indemnity basis for my pal are in the offing. Suing in bad faith is frowned upon by the courts.

Levant flailed back, but that bastard is well and truly flensed. And I, facing more work than I’ve had in a while, and tight deadlines to go with it, am taking a little time off, paralyzed with pure enjoyment. If I had any popcorn in the house, I’d be lying on a bed of it, eyes glued to social media.

I’m going to have to settle for beer, some of which I have already consumed this frabjous day with Canadian Cynic.

The bitch in heat again? Nope. I have been far too pessimistic. That dog is dead, and so are her infernal puppies, in utero. Including Canada’s answer to Ettore Ovazza, probably looking just as surprised at the moment as Ettore did when the SS shot him.

History repeats itself. The first time as tragedy.

The second time as farce.

Disqus Comments



| Disqus Comments

Canadian flag in sky.jpg

Apparently I am breaking the law by publishing a photograph of the Canadian flag. My flag, and yours.

I’m not conventionally patriotic. I dislike flag-wavers, as a rule, and those who wrap themselves in them as well.

But this is too much. Canadians should not require permission from the government to publish a picture of our own flag. It does not stand for the Canadian government. It stands for us. All of us.

Want me to take this photograph down? Make me.

Disqus Comments

Recent Comments

A Canadian Progressive Blogroll

A progressive mandarin


Fellow Dawg

First Nations

Humane Libertarians

Kiwis and Te Tangata Whenua

Live stream news

Ottawa blogs: paging Hizzoner Jim Watson

Sui Generis

Toronto doings

Monthly Archives

Powered by Movable Type 6.3.5