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This is excruciating to hear: the ill-treatment of Lindsay Shepherd, a teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University, by a panel of commissars. But, if it weren’t for the seriousness of bullying a young woman to tears in a so-called “safe” institution, this nasty episode would be the stuff of dark comedy.

When Christie Blatchford of Postmedia first broke this story, I thought it was too fantastic to be believed, and I said so on social media. I was wrong, and mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Even if we were provided only excerpts of a longer conversation, this absurd, miserable performance deserves contempt, right across the political spectrum.

Three not-so-grand inquisitors confronted Shepherd over her use of a short clip of the infamous Professor Jordan Peterson at one of her tutorials, one which, as it happens, was taken from TV Ontario’s The Agenda. Her sin—and I use the word advisedly—was not that she took his side, which, given his expressed desire to suppress academic freedom himself, and his penchant for doxxing those who dare to protest against him, would have been questionable in a university setting. It was to take no side. It was to engender debate, which no doubt it did.

It certainly did after the fact. Shepherd’s class generated a complaint, or several. The young woman was not permitted to face her accuser(s), nor to be given the actual substance of the complaint(s), nor was she even allowed to know how many complaint(s) there were. In this, the process departs from Maoism, at least, where facing accusers, usually a mob of them, was part of a ritual social cleansing. The inquisition at SWU was like an alt-right sketch of what the benighted imagine a university to be. A joint performance by Josef K. and the Three Stooges. Sounds like a grunge band, and so, in essence, it was.

And boy oh boy, did this ever play into the fashionable right-wing narrative about our universities which, judging from public commentary, is the dominant one. Havens of leftist cultism, motivated by that bizarre conflation of “cultural Marxism/postmodernism” that the unread go on about incessantly, not excluding Dr. Peterson. Indoctrination camps. The triumph of the Long March through the institutions.

Never mind that universities have, all over North America, been actively suppressing progressive thought—just ask anyone interested in Palestinian human rights. At Carleton University not so long ago, during Israeli Apartheid Week, students were sent warning emails from then-President Roseann Runte, and a poster advertising the week was banned. Scattered incidents like this have happened across Canada, but they fall outside the narrative and are usually all but ignored. Academic freedom at Canadian universities is, in fact, a bit of a myth, particularly when corporate interests are involved.

The maddening thing about this story so far is the amount of speculation that it has called forth—perforce including my own. We now have the full content of the interview with Shepherd, but we know very little about the classroom context in which the offending video—that excerpt from the TVO panel discussion—was shown. On the Right, there is the usual gnashing of teeth, but this time, unfortunately, with something to chew on. (They’ll see this apology for what it’s worth, like everybody else.) On the Left, there has been some intelligent commentary, not defending the university’s incredibly heavy-handedness, but critiquing the TA’s pedagogy, as well as pointing out the gigantic deficiencies in Jordan Peterson’s knowledge. But none of us except Ms. Shepherd was in the classroom. We have little idea of the context that was set, or the ensuing discussion.

Progressive critiques have suggested that the TA was insensitive to trans students, considering their lived lives to be mere trifles to be made the object of a debate. But we don’t know that the debate was framed that way. We don’t know if trans people would object, in fact, to participating in a suitably framed discussion. We don’t even know if there were any trans students attending the class, nor should we assume that one or more of them, if present, made the complaint against Shepherd. Statistically it seems far more likely that it was someone politically, not personally, motivated, who thought they had witnessed yet another instance of transphobia and wanted to call the TA out.

(A discussion of pronouns, just incidentally, should not necessarily be taken to be transphobic on its face, despite Peterson’s general unpleasantness. There has been a certain pronominal proliferation that could prove challenging, not only to a teacher, but in common social interaction. My own ageing memory simply cannot cope.)

Peterson’s raw, angry right-wing energy is now plainly present for all to see. His fame has led him to believe that he’s some kind of polymath. But he’s really a stupid person’s idea of a smart person, speaking on a wide variety of subjects that he knows next to nothing about. One hopes that Shepherd, who stated that she was not a supporter of Peterson, will not succumb to similar political adulation and follow his route, but it may already be too late.

The witch-hunt against academe, in any case, will now be pursued with redoubled fury. And the Inquisition, while presented in only one anecdote, will once again be presented as the norm. Post-modernism? My eye. We’re living in mediaeval times.

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poppy.jpgSomething must really be done about tall poppies, uppity women and scientists who speak their mind. Especially when they’re all rolled into one.

So the White Male Tribe of “pundits” have been having another go at Governor General Julie Payette, after retreating in abashed confusion after an earlier failed pitchfork and torches episode. They’ve been yammering for days now, here and here and here and here and here and here, etc., etc., ad nauseam. A couple of women weighed in too, one well past her best-before date, another trying maybe a little too hard to make it in the man’s world of legacy media commentary.

As of this writing, Conrad Black has not graced us with his recondite lexicon, but that shoe may still drop. There’s no statute of limitations for these periodic episodes of biliousness—in this case, equal parts concern-trolling, head-patting sexism, and faux-outrage. Black, however, should he deign to stoop, would seal this orgy of self-gratulation idoneously.

Mobbing, according to prominent journalist Jon Kay, is unacceptable on social media—but not, it seems, by the legacy media. And his strictures do not appear to apply to himself.

A large part of this waste of space, ink and pixels may be inevitable, what might be expected when scribblers confront a person who sits atop a veritable mountain of achievement. Could there be just a soupçon of envy in the mix? Payette is, as I noted in my earlier piece, an electrical engineer, an astronaut, a qualified commercial pilot, a musician who sang with the Montreal Symphonic Orchestra Chamber Choir, fluent in six languages, possessor of 27 honorary doctorates, and an Officer of the Order of Canada. Not one member of the pundit class is a patch on that.

The latest shouty little tantrum was over a scientist talking science to other scientists. There was nothing remotely partisan about her remarks, nor did she utter a word about government policy. Her neutrality on such matters remains intact, even if Justin Trudeau undermined her to some extent with his unhelpful white-knightery. Payette did take a poke at quack medicine, astrology, climate warming deniers, and Guy in the Sky folktales. None of that is the stuff of Parliamentary debates. None of it is “political” in the GG-must-be-neutral sense. But taking the wider view, I can think of few comments, however anodyne, that could escape censure from some aggrieved soul somewhere.

So, in the end,one of the mobbers may have been right after all when he Tweeted that “Gord Downie would have made a damn good Governor General.” I agree, even if he didn’t mean it that way. Downie would be ideal, and bound to offend no one: quintessentially Canadian, popular—and dead.

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The reconciliation hoax

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Item: RCMP clears itself for breaking the news to a mother that her child has been shot, by surrounding the mother’s house and raiding it. The distraught mother collapsed after hearing her son had been killed—and was asked if she’d been drinking.

Item: The Supreme Court of Canada rules—by way of analogy—that Christians should have the right to worship freely, but it’s OK to bulldoze heritage basilicas to make way for condos. In fact, it’s even OK to kill the God who resides in them.

In this case, the Ktunaxa sincerely believe that Grizzly Bear Spirit inhabits Qat’muk, a body of sacred land in their religion, and that the Minister’s decision to approve the ski resort would sever their connection to Qat’muk and to Grizzly Bear Spirit. As a result, the Ktunaxa would no longer receive spiritual guidance and assistance from Grizzly Bear Spirit. Their religious beliefs in Grizzly Bear Spirit would become entirely devoid of religious significance, and accordingly, their prayers, ceremonies, and rituals associated with Grizzly Bear Spirit would become nothing more than empty words and hollow gestures. Moreover, without their spiritual connection to Qat’muk and to Grizzly Bear Spirit, the Ktunaxa would be unable to pass on their beliefs and practices to future generations. Therefore, the Minister’s decision approving the proposed development interferes with the Ktunaxa’s ability to act in accordance with their religious beliefs or practices in a manner that is more than trivial or insubstantial. The Minister’s decision is reasonable, however… [italics added]

No, I’m not ashamed to be a Canadian. But I’m ashamed of my country and my government, and the institutions of governance in which white supremacy lies coiled, like a snake, ready to strike at any time without warning.

Reconciliation is a hoax, and it’s time to name it as such.

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Political synechdoche in Quebec

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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.

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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”.

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Another anti-earworm

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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.

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The essential patriarch

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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…

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That Milewski interview

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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.

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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.

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Unto the generations

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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.

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