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I read this afternoon that a group of big retailers will need to change their signs in Quebec to accommodate language laws that are in place. Costco, Best Buy, Gap, Old Navy, Guess and Wal-Mart are asking Quebec’s superior court whether the Office Québécoise de la Langue Française (OQLF) has the right to demand such changes to their trademarks. The OQLF wants these businesses to add French generics to their trademark, something that has been pretty common in recent years after crackdowns by French-language authorities. These generics are usually terms that describe the service or product sold by the retailer or a descriptive term that is added under a trademark name. A good example of this is Second Cup and its recently added “les cafés” before its name in order to comply with language laws. I have always wondered why a registered trademark would have to be translated, when I went to France KFC was KFC and McDonald’s was McDonald’s, people didn’t seem to have a hard time understanding what was being sold or what service was available. This is tiresome and unnecessary. The PQ is simply attempting to stir up old antagonisms. I would submit that the province has bigger issues to deal with (like the 30 000 homeless in Montreal). Language however, is a touchy and hot topic in Canada and always has been…

I find the language debate in Canada, and especially in Quebec, to be a difficult reality for me. Let me explain a little, I think that context is extremely important for this subject. Canada has always been divided about language and by default culture; we are a multicultural nation and it is normal that we may not agree with everyone on what Canada is or what it means to be Canadian. I am from New Brunswick, I am Acadian, language and my identity tied to my language has been a life long struggle. I grew up in a family where my mother’s side was francophone and my father’s side was anglophone, so I learned both languages at the same time as a child to be able to communicate with my relatives. My parents wanted what was best for me, so I went to school from pre-kindergarden to end of highschool in french (which was considered a school of privilege, a fact that I would be reminded of often by some of the neighbourhood english kids) and then did my university in english. So you could almost say that I am the poster child for the language debate, I am proud of my Acadian roots and my Anglo-Saxon roots, I believe that this is what makes my country great. I must admit that I have never been on the right side however, and this has made me the victim of bullying on both sides of the language spectrum.

As a child in NB I got beat up, called names like “frog, French fag, faggot, etc.” for being French. There were fights during my lunch hours where kids from the English school would come down to our school and pick a victim and beat them up as a group, it used to be called “Frog Bashing” (I actually have a dent on my forehead thanks to a skateboard to the head during one of these infamous bashings). My first “political” activity was egging the house of a COR NB party candidate during a provincial election campaign that happened to fall near Halloween. For those of you unfamiliar with New Brunswick politics; in the late 1980s, support for Premier Richard Hatfield and his Progressive Conservatives has collapsed because of corruption scandals in their government. As well, many English-speaking New Brunswickers were unhappy with the government’s promotion of official bilingualism (the use of English and French in public services). COR promised to repeal the 1969 Official Languages Act, which made french equal for official purposes with english on a province-wide basis. COR proposed providing government services only in areas that are mostly Francophones. The french speaking Acadian population believed this to be an anti-francophone policy, so the COR party had no support in areas with large francophone populations.

New Brunswick is officially bilingual since 1969, something that the Acadian population had to fight long and hard to achieve. I have always associated with the Acadian identity, a nation that was deported and destroyed and somehow survived against all odds. This Official Languages Act is a huge victory for a nation that was shipped off to all ends of the world, some were lucky enough to hide and continue this wonderful culture. So you can all imagine my joy and excitement to move to Montreal in Quebec for my Master’s degree, I would finally no longer be a minority but a francophone just like everyone else, I would be able to live in french. I was devastated to be welcomed as an anglophone when I arrived in Montreal, being served by people in broken-up english in stores, I didn’t understand what was going on…

I was later explained by people who, seeing as how I did not have a Quebec accent, that I had to be an anglophone, I did not even have the chance to prove my french roots: I was already labeled as a bloke (btw to all of you who insult anglophones with this term, it is simply an informal term for man or boy). I still to this day get called an anglophone on an almost daily basis, even by people who know me and know that I am an Acadian. I am not a Separatist, I do not believe that Montreal is english (I find that it is a beautiful mixture of french, english, creole, arab, and many other languages and cultures), I find that there are more important things for us to figure out before we start talking about a country that is Quebec. I have a question for the Quebecers out there: What are you so afraid of? French is abundant and strong, take it from the Acadians that survive in an Anglo-Saxon world and still maintain a beautiful and rich culture. Also, I have heard many times by Sovereignists that they would work with First Nations to insure a compromise if Quebec became a state, why are you not trying to find compromise with anglophone Canadians? Is it still because of a war that happened hundreds of years ago? Isn’t it time to pick yourselves up by your boot straps and try to find peace? I find that Quebec is still morning a defeat that occurred hundreds of years ago, Acadians I find celebrate the culture that somehow survived after a mass deportation and oppression. I think that you could learn a lot from these francophone neighbours.

Also, I find that nationalism is dangerous; more and more I am finding what I find to be xenophobic and racists comments by people around me or even politicians. This last provincial election was filled with hate speech and close-minded arguments. It breaks my heart to see people act hateful towards anyone that is not them. I find that more and more we are faced with an “us” vs “them” debate in this province and I can only see bad things come out of it. It is Ok to fight for what you believe in, but it is best to do it with everyone’s happiness in mind. My mother speaks with great pride about how her province is officially bilingual, something that she didn’t always have, but that she is thankful to have today.

I wait and hope for the day where I will be recognized as the francophone that I am, even if it is different from the definition that others have… Just because I’m different does not mean that I am not what I identify myself to be… I still believe that Quebec is a multi-cultural society, even if my Premier says that it is not a Quebec value… I also hope that one day our federal government will recognize Acadians like a nation, just like our neighbours Quebec. I am however, never interested in separating from this country; a nation is stronger than a country.

«Les Acadiens sont un peuple, et un peuple est plus fort qu’un Pays. Un Pays est une institution, mais un peuple est plus fort qu’une institution, car il a une âme, il a des rêves, il est vivant….» (Antonine Maillet)

 

As we all got to read this week, the Harper government canceled all non-Christian chaplain positions in federal penitentiaries. Having been involved in the Federal system by bringing meditation to inmates in medium security penitentiaries, I am extremely saddened by this move by Harper and his goons and their continuous crusade to cut all social programs that help those in greatest need. I have seen first hand the benefits bringing meditation and other religious perspectives in penitentiaries, helping inmates make peace with their troubled past and their long healing process that they face. I have been trying to get back in federal penitentiaries since Harper has been elected with a majority government and keep being met with obstacle after obstacle with cut after cut in programs to insure that inmates are denied basic human rights in terms of faith, something that Harper might believe is still respected if they have access to Christian guidance (but tell me how a Buddhist is to get guidance in meditation from someone who believes that the inmate will be going to hell seeing as how he doesn’t follow the teaching of HIS lord and saviour?). Before I continue, I think that it is best that I take a few minutes to explain the Canadian penitentiary system, its history more specifically.

The penitentiary was first introduced by the Philadelphia Quakers in 1789 as a more humane alternative to the harsh punishments of the time. The Quakers believed that a sentence of imprisonment, served under conditions of isolation, with opportunities for work and religious contemplation, would render the offender “penitent” and reformed. In New York, the penitentiary sentence was adopted out of a belief that work and training would lead to a reduction in the crime rate. The idea of sentencing offenders to long terms of imprisonment spread next to England as an alternative to exiling offenders to the colonies. Imprisonment as we know it in Canada today dates back to the building of the Kingston Penitentiary in 1835. For more than 30 years, Kingston Penitentiary was operated as a provincial jail until the passage of the British North America Act (1867) established federal and provincial responsibilities for justice.

With passage of the first Penitentiary Act (1868), Kingston and two other pre-Confederation prisons in St. John, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia were brought under federal jurisdiction, creating a federal penitentiary system “for the establishment, maintenance and management of penitentiaries for offenders sentenced to two years or more.” Construction of federal institutions started in 1873 with St. Vincent de Paul (now Laval Institution). Three more institutions followed: Manitoba Penitentiary (now Stony Mountain Institution) opened in 1877, British Columbia Penitentiary a year later, and Dorchester Penitentiary (New Brunswick) in 1880. All were maximum-security institutions, administered by a strict regime—productive labour during the day, solitary confinement during leisure time. A rule of silence was enforced at all times. Parole did not exist, although inmates could have three days a month remitted from their sentence for good conduct.

In the Depression years of the 1930s, a rash of inmate strikes and riots focussed attention on penal philosophy and management style and lead to the formation of the Archambault Royal Commission of Inquiry. With its emphasis on crime prevention and the rehabilitation of offenders, the Commission’s 1928 report was  a landmark in Canadian corrections and much of its philosophy remains influential today. Among the Commission’s recommendations was the complete revision of penitentiary regulations to provide “strict but humane discipline and the reformation and rehabilitation of prisoners.” In many ways, the Archambault report reflected a society that had become less concerned with retribution and more with rehabilitation. But the priorities of a nation at war superseded penal reform, and few of the Archambault report’s recommendations were implemented.

Following World War II, rising prison populations, overcrowding, and prison disturbances spurred the creation in 1953 of the Fauteaux Committee for another investigation into the correctional system. The Fauteaux Committee envisaged a new type of prison that would not merely be a facility for custody, but also a place of “worthwhile and creative activity” with programs focussing on the attempt to change the basic behaviour, attitudes and patterns of inmates. The nature of prisons had to change in order to make these programs work and to provide opportunities for vocational training, pre-release and after-care programs. Most importantly, prisons needed more and better-trained professional staff in such fields as social work, psychology, psychiatry, criminology and law.

The recommendations of the Fauteaux Committee initiated a new era of legislative and institutional reform and expansion. During this time:

  • The National Parole Board was established as an independent body to exercise authority over the parole of inmates.
  • The Penitentiary Act was amended (1961) to establish new procedures for the operation of penitentiaries and other reforms.
  • A plan (1963) to construct 10 new penitentiaries across Canada that reflected the Fauteaux Committee’s vision for Canada’s prisons was implemented.

In 1976, continuing deficiencies in the correctional system were manifested in a series of disturbances that lead to a new approach in the management of Canadian correction institutions. The new approach was based on the belief that many of the abuses in the system would not take place if proper public accountability existed and public involvement in correctional policy development was sought. Consequently, access to penitentiaries by outside groups was expanded and citizens’ advisory committees were established.

This brief history is brought to us by Corrections Canada, which obviously makes us believe that inmates are treated well and that they only have the inmates health and well-being in mind. I must disagree with this perception, I have seen inmates be denied help and treated with less than humane techniques. One of the most blatant inhumane techniques that I must speak out against is the isolation treatment that is still status quo in all Canadian penitentiaries, as a form of rehabilitation and which takes no consideration of the actual damage that it does to the people who are victims to this “treatment”.

Here are some quick facts about Solitary Confinement, it exists in many penitentiaries under different names: isolation, control units, supermax prisons, the hole, SHUs, administrative segregation, maximum security or permanent lockdown. Inmates can be placed in these units for many reasons; as punishment, while they are under investigation, as a mechanism for behavior modification, when suspected of gang involvement, as retribution for political activism or to fill expensive, empty beds, to name but a few. Although conditions vary from penitentiary to penitentiary and other institutions, systematic policies and conditions of control and oppression used in isolation and segregation include:

  • confinement behind a solid steel door for 23 hours a day
  • limited contact with other human beings
  • infrequent phone calls and rare non-contact family visits
  • extremely limited access to rehabilitative or educational programming
  • grossly inadequate medical and mental health treatment
  • restricted reading material and personal property
  • physical torture such as hog-tying, restraint chairs, and forced cell extraction
  • mental torture such as sensory deprivation, permanent bright lighting, extreme temperatures, and forced insomnia
  • sexual intimidation and violence

Beginning in the early 1970s, prison and jail administrators at the federal level have relied increasingly on isolation and segregation to control men, women and youth in their custody. In 1985 there were a handful of control units across the United States (could not find stats for Canada in regards to this, but it should be similar with population taken into consideration). Today an estimated 44 states have supermax facilities confining more than 30,000 people. Prisoners are often confined for months or even years, with some spending more than 25 years in segregated prison settings. As with the overall prison population, people of color are disproportionately represented in isolation units.

Increasingly isolation units house the mentally ill who struggle to conform to prison rules. An independent investigation from 2006 reported that as many as 64% of prisoners in SHUs were mentally ill, a much higher percentage than is reported by states for their general prison populations. Contrary to the perception that control units house “the worst of the worst’, it is often the most vulnerable prisoners, not the most violent who end up in extended isolation. The AFSC Healing Justice staff worked with 60 Minutes on the production of The Death of Timothy Souders, a riveting testimony. Numerous studies have documented the effects of solitary confinement on prisoners giving them the name; Special Housing Unit Syndrome or SHU Syndrome. Some of the many SHU Syndrome symptoms include:

  • visual and auditory hallucinations
  • hypersensitivity to noise and touch
  • insomnia and paranoia
  • uncontrollable feelings of rage and fear
  • distortions of time and perception
  • increased risk of suicide
  • PTSD

If one is not mentally ill when entering an isolation unit, by the time they are released their mental health has been severely compromised. Many prisoners are released directly to the streets after spending years in isolation. Because of this, long-term solitary confinement goes beyond a problem of prison conditions, to pose a formidable public safety and community health problem.

Prison isolation fits the definition of torture as stated in several international human rights treaties, and thus constitutes a violation of human rights law. For example, the U.N. Convention Against Torture defines torture as any state-sanctioned act “by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person” for information, punishment, intimidation, or for a reason based on discrimination. For all these reasons – for the safety of our communities, to respect our responsibility to follow international human rights law, to take a stand against torture wherever it occurs, and for the sake of our common humanity – prison isolation and segregation must end.

Just like Segregation is a violation of human rights I believe that this last cut is yet another attack towards inmate rehabilitation and helping to assure that they will be able to integrate into society when they have finished their sentence. The contracts were cut after Toews suspended plans to hire a Wiccan prison chaplain in B.C. and ordered a review of the entire program last month. “Upon reviewing the program, it was determined that changes were necessary so that this program supports the freedom of religion of inmates while respecting taxpayers’ dollars,” said Bergen.

But Liberal justice and human rights critic Irwin Cotler responded that “requiring inmates of other faiths to turn to Christian chaplains for religious guidance is clearly discriminatory.” “The Minister of Public Safety says that he is ‘not in the business of picking and choosing which religions will be given preferential status’ – but by providing funding for Christian chaplains only, he is doing precisely that,” said Cotler. In question period NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar questioned how much money the government was saving by cutting 100 part-time positions. “This is not a costly program. The minister has no justification for cutting it,” said Dewar. The total cost of the chaplain program, including full-time and part-time positions, is about $6.4 million a year. The part-time contracts represent approximately $1.3 million of that total, the Public Safety Ministry said on Friday morning.

Outside of parliament the cuts also spark strong reactions from religious leaders. David Koschitzky, chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said access to appropriate religious counselling in prison was key to many inmates’ rehabilitation. “It is no stretch to say that chaplains are at the forefront of the rehabilitation process, and work every day to ensure that inmates awaiting release have the tools they need to avoid re-offending,” said Koschitzky. “While this is a matter of protecting freedom of religion, there is also an important aspect of public safety at stake in this decision.” Sikh and Muslim leaders have also called the program’s cancellation discriminatory.

I find that Canada needs to review its whole penitentiary system and its programs for rehabilitation, we should be leading the way in more  humane and efficient way to assure that people first of all are not placed in penitentiaries, by creating a more equal and just society; and also assuring that inmates are just stored in federal penitentiaries like unwanted furniture for a selected period of time. Let us not forget that there is also a huge homelessness crisis happening all over the world, in Montreal alone there are about 30 000 homeless people for a city population of about 1.8 million (don’t try to tell me that we don’t have to do anything about this), which makes certain people turn towards a life a crime when they are simply desperate and out of ideas… I will talk about the homelessness crisis next time… But for now. talk to your MPs or even Stephen Harper if he is willing to listen, we need to take care of your citizens and assure that they have the best chance to redeem themselves and become a productive member of society again… Lets show the world that we can be a society that is compassionate and open-minded, who are we to judge what spiritual guidance one needs?

 

I had the pleasure of seeing Michel Onfray speak last night in Montreal, a philosopher that I admire greatly. He is the first voice that I have heard in a long time, besides Chris Hedges, that speaks to me directly and holds an understanding of the world very similar to mine. It is always great to hear oneself in the words of someone much more eloquent, but it is also such a special moment when we read someone who understands our idols like us. One thing that I admire most of Onfray is his mission to make philosophy accessible to everyone, much like Camus who believed that we should ensure that philosophy does not only stay in the hands of the professionals, when this is the norm we are faced with philosophers who write for philosophers only and what is the point of that? Michel Onfray, to continue with this personal mission, founded the tuition-free Université Populaire at Caen where he and several colleagues teach philosophy and other subjects. The Université Populaire, which is open to all who cannot access the state university system, and on principle does not accept any money from the State – Onfray uses the profits from his books to help finance it – has had enormous success. This concept and specific inception is based on Onfray’s book La Communauté Philosophique: Manifeste pour l’Université Populaire (2004).

I find this concept to be exciting and necessary, especially in these – Occupy Wall Street, Maple Springs – reactionary times, the popular university in an incredible tool to be able to offer an education by the people for the people. I used to feel uncomfortable with the elitism that permeated my Master’s philosophy classes, the notion that specialized language – which alienates anyone that has no working knowledge of the material – somehow gave it validity and helped to reinforce the academic ivory towers. Camus was of the same opinion if you ask me, that is why he said repeatedly that he was not a philosopher, if we use a Hegel or Sartre as an example, writing texts that are extremely complexes and lost in specialized vocabularies, then yes I agree that he was most definitely not a philosopher. Also, this type of philosopher would say that it is a completely cerebral activity; one of writing books that no one really understands except for the small circle of contemporaries. Camus, on the other hand, lived his philosophy. He believed like Nietzsche that he had to say Yes to life and wrestle with these ideas every day in all situations and expressing in diverse mediums – novels, essay, plays, articles – and with a language that tried to include everyone in the debate. Always focusing on the human – whether it be the human sentiments felt during the Algerian war for independence or any other situation where one had to look at the world with honest eyes – was always a priority for Camus.

If we are to continue these micro revolutions (Maple Spring, the Occupy movement), we must assure that philosophy and other revolutionary ideas be brought to the general public and out of the hands of the professionals. Caen was the first popular university, there are already other copies that have sprung up in France in Lyon, Narbonne, Arras, and other cities, and I was pleased to find out that there is also one in Montreal. This movement must not lose momentum, and it can bring a milieu where people can gather and contribute in the development of radical ideas and theories. With these “institutions” we can work to rehabilitate materialist and sensualist thinking and use it to re-examine our relationship to the world. Approaching philosophy as a reflection of each individual’s personal experience, inquiring into the capabilities of the body and its senses and encourage society to celebrate them through music, painting, and cuisine.

I am calling for a postanarchism, I advocate an anarchism in line with Orwell, Simone Weil, Jean Grenier, Foucault, Deleuze, Guattari; a Nietzschean revolt in order to put an end to the “One” truth, revealed, and to put in evidence the diversity of truths, to help make disappear ascetic Christian ideas and to help arise new possibilities of existence. This is a call to everyone, people sick of living in this unjust world. Michel Onfray is accused of not being 100% objective in his works, when he despise someone he really tears them a new one (i.e. – Freud, Sartre), and when he admires someone he will paint a generous picture of them as people and their philosophies (i.e. – Camus, Nietzsche). I am of the same school, it is hard for me to believe and fight for the vision of someone who did not live by their philosophy. The more that I look into the life of Camus, the more I see a generous, humble, and moral man; and that is how we can start this Nietzschean revolution!

The American Dream is one that is unattainable and yet idealized in capitalist American society as something that will, inevitably, lead to happiness. The American Dream is a concept that encompasses a number of priorities crucially important for the majority of Americans, both economic and non-economic, and serves as a guideline that is aiming for an impossible utopia. The economic side of the American Dream is especially emphasized as the most crucial part of the American Dream and can be attributed to the growth of capitalism in America. Chuck Palahniuk’s controversial novel, Fight Club, disproves and deconstructs this American Dream through the utopian and dystopian worlds exemplified by the narrator, an unnamed protagonist, and his alter ego Tyler Durden. Camus’ The Rebel can be used to identify and analyze the narrator of Fight Club and his quest to escape capitalist American society. The narrator, through his dissociative identity disorder, rebels against capitalism through Durden in order to create a new world order.

The Rebel by Camus analyzes the rebel and the psychological process the rebel to bring awareness to a problem to make way for change. Once an individual has formed awareness for what is and what should be the rebel must then encompasses “the idea of the sublimation of the individual in a henceforth universal good”. American consumerism “has these people chasing cars and clothes they don’t need. Generations have been working in jobs they hate, just so they can buy what they don’t really need”. The narrator is a prime example of Camus’ rebel, by way of his previously utopian lifestyle and Durden the narrator is able to recognize that common good can only be brought if the consumerism can be destroyed. In Fight Club, Project Mayhem is a clear form of fascism targeted specifically against things that are symbolic of American consumer culture and rampant materialism with the narrator as the leader of the group. Project Mayhem requires that a legion of Fight Club members, created by Durden and the narrator, destroy the consumerism that has destroyed lives. The narrator explains “like fight club does with clerks and box boys, Project Mayhem will break up civilization so we can make something better out of the world”. Here, the ultimate goal of Project Mayhem is exemplified and seeks to create a new and better world order that will not consist of capitalism and uncontrolled consumerism.

I am currently reading the book Days of Destruction Days of Revolt by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco, it has been an eye-opening exercise for me. I have been aware for a while that society, or more specifically consumer culture is creating a dystopian society against or own wills. Most people do not realize, like Palahniuk says so brilliantly, that the things that we own or now owning us. I am surrounded by people on a daily basis that are always just waiting for the next object that will best describe who they are. I think about this and then I am reminded that there are some that can’t even make a decent living in what we call the greatest and richest country of the world, and I don’t mean just a few unlucky people, but a great pocket of the population. In the proud populist tradition of Howard Zinn (whose A People’s History of the United States provides a foundation for this book), the reader is presented with an illumination of the American underbelly, as the exploitation of a perpetual (and growing) underclass makes the “sacrifice zones” of global capitalism which makes one this of third world countries.  Though Hedges and Sacco are more known for reporting international warfare, the war they document here is in America, where “[c]orporate capitalism will, quite literally, kill us, as it has killed Native Americans, African-Americans trapped in our internal colonies in the inner cities, those left behind in the devastated coalfields, and those who live as serfs in our nation’s produce fields.” They immerse themselves in these depleted areas and illuminate the human and environmental devastation in those communities, with the warning that no one is immune. “The ruthless hunt for profit creates a world where everything and everyone is expendable…it has enriched a tiny global elite that has no loyalty to the nation-state,” writes Hedges. “These corporations, if we use the language of patriotism, are traitors.” While finding some surprising pockets of hope within communities that are otherwise steeped in despair, the pair reserve their concluding glimmer of optimism for the Occupy movement. Otherwise, they find no hope in politics as usual, depicting Democrats and Republicans as equally complicit in policies that benefit the few at the expense of the many. Hedges and Sacco are calling for a new American Revolution that might be starting in the Occupy movement and then growing on a much larger scale.

Hedges and Sacco travel to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota to examine the misery of the Native Americans who remain there. It’s nice to think that we’ve corrected our crimes through political correctness, and yet they continue uninterrupted — unconscionably, intolerably, tragically. Here the human stories are told, and told by those affected and by those resisting and struggling to set things right. Ironically, the victims of the United States’ first imperial slaughters are now disproportionately suffering the pain common to veterans of recent U.S. wars. As we continue to other areas in the book we are faced with that same pattern of widespread military experience, while other communities in this country have virtually no participation in the military.

Camden New Jersey is the next stop in this book, and there is a story that I think hit me the most, one about the perception of poverty. In Camden it is the world of impoverished and ghettoized African-Americans whose lives have been worsened by the many measures of past generations, despite all the progress that has been done by the civil rights movement. Poor whites are also mentioned in the story of this forgotten city, with a focus on those struggling to improve the world, whether on a small or large-scale. We meet Michael Doyle and tells us the story of decline and devastation that the city has experienced, and this is what hit me the most:

“You hear people my age get up and say, ‘We were poor. We put cardboard in our shoes.’ We talk like that. But we didn’t know we were poor. Today you do. And how do you know you’re poor? Your television shows you that you’re poor. So it’s very easy to build up anger in a, say, a high-voltage kid of seventeen, and, he knows he’s poor, he looks at the TV.”

Doyle went on to say that the cause was unclear, the “enemy” was unclear to people, and “so you take it out on your neighbor.” Young men with no education have no employment anymore, he said, no opportunities to be worth anything — except through the military. This hopelessness is striking in a nation that portrays an image of success and that those at the bottom are there by choice or plain laziness.

Welch, West Virginia, those suffering from and resisting mountain-top removal by the coal companies is a really hard and upsetting section in this book. Larry Gibson, who lives with death threats and other health hazards, has saved a fraction of his family’s land from the surrounding devastation. “You heard about the World Trade Center terrorists?” he asks.

“You heard about them? Bombing, three thousand people dying, but have you heard that with the emissions of coal we lose twenty-four thousand people a year in this country? You know, eight times bigger than the World Trade Center. Nobody says anything about that. Then you have the something like six hundred and forty thousand premature births and birth defects, newborns, every year, EVERY year, and nobody’s doin’ anything about that. Coal kills, everybody knows coal kills. But, you know, profit.”

Gibson points out that cities have passed laws restricting cigarette smoking in public, but families living near coal fields breathe the dust. Julian Martin, a retired high-school teacher and son of a coal miner, says, “It’s a sacrifice zone. It’s so the rest of the country can have electric toothbrushes and leave the lights on all night in parking lots for used cars and banks lit up all night long and shit like that.”

Finally, they head down to Immokalee, Florida, to meet with immigrant farm workers, tomato pickers, new slaves, resisters, and organizers. The wages for picking tomatoes have dropped by half over the past 30 years. An unlimited supply of cheap and vulnerable labor has meant less concern for workers than there may have been in some cases for slaves of old. “Before the war, we owned the negroes,” a planter said in 1883. “If a man had a good nigger, he could afford to take care of him; if he was sick, get a doctor. He might even put gold plugs in his teeth. But these convicts: we don’t own ‘em. One dies, get another.” From 1883 to today, what’s changed is that many of the workers are effectively owned and in some cases literally enslaved, chained up, confined, and threatened should they attempt escape. What has not changed is the expendability, a product of corporate global trade and unregulated greed. With less work for women in the fields, many are essentially enslaved as prostitutes. But these most powerless of immigrants — the farm workers of Immokalee — have organized, resisted, and won major improvements from massive corporations, inspiring others across the country and around the world.

The next section in this book is about resistance and rebelling against a system that is clearly broken, the Occupy movement is the focus. Occupy is national, even international, and — at least at first — had much greater attention from the corporate media (which is what made it national). It is also more middle-class and less-rooted in a community. If it can build one massive movement out of all the pockets of resistance, and move on from resistance to creation and substitution, it may indeed turn this avalanche of horror and misery around and push it back up the mountainside. “I have no interest in participating in the traditional political process,” says John Friesen, occupier of Wall Street. “It’s bureaucratic. It’s vertical. It’s exclusive. It’s ruled by money. It’s cumbersome. This is cumbersome, too, what we’re doing here, but the principles that I’m pushing and that many people are pushing to uphold here are in direct opposition to the existing structure.”

Hedges notes, importantly, I think, that the governmental response we have seen to the Occupy movement, the militarized police brutality, and the passage of federal legislation allowing the military to engage in domestic policing, is not a sign of weakness in our movement, but rather one of strength — a sign of fear by Congress and its corporate bosses. Now we have to turn that fear into realization that the spreading of sacrifice zones will absorb us all unless radical change comes soon.

This is where we ask Camus his thoughts on the Occupy movement, or the need for revolution, where is The Rebel? Camus has written about poverty, he was very conscious of the poor working class, having been raised in extreme poverty in Alger, he did not forget his roots during the rest of his life.  Let us not forget that Camus is not only famous for his works of fiction and theater, but as an active member of the Resistance, as a commentator on the political problems of his age. His warnings against fanaticism is still relevant today, as well as his passion for individual freedom. His pained and angry denunciations of social injustices serve as a reminder that people still suffer from avoidable ills, despite the many political and social changes that have occurred and continue to happen since his death. What I have always appreciated Camus for warning me against the various postures of chic revolt so common among teenager of bored, affluent nations. There is no silk-screened Che across my bosom. Revolutions aren’t secular versions of the Rapture, in which the “bad” government disappears, to be replaced by a new, “good” one. Revolution is generally a social calamity, a nightmare of inhumanity: one regime dissolves, and in the already violent chaos of meltdown various factions kill, rape and pillage in a struggle for ascendancy; the leaders of said factions tend to be nihilistic knaves (Lenin, Hitler) who would have lived, ranted, been ignored and died safely on the fringes of the old society. The Rebel is an incredible display of philosophical insight and moral awareness; next to Camus, Sartre is at best a naive bourgeois, from a distance lionizing the revolutionaries who would have destroyed him if they had had the chance, and at worst a cynical degenerate, a knowing flatterer of tyrants.

Camus begins by defining the Rebel as one who affirms by negating, who says yes in saying no–one who decries absolute freedom in establishing limits to acceptable behavior. He thus immediately counterposes the rebel with the nihilist, who, in denying that anything has meaning, valorizes a conception of life which is dominated by mere facts–power. He takes issue with revolutionary movements as they have existed in the twentieth century, claiming most of them to have betrayed the origins of rebellion by replacing it with an absolutist–even, totalitarian–ethic. He sees much to be respected in the efforts of the Russian ‘revolutionaries’ of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (a group from which he of course excludes Lenin), who rebelled against tsarism and tyranny often violently. Camus finds their nobility partly in the fact (which he posits) that these revolutionaries, unlike many of their counterparts of the twentieth century, were often quite consumed by doubt and engaged in murder and assassination only with much reluctance and much moderation. He laments, then, the disappearance of such doubt and moderation in the nihilism that gripped much of the twentieth century, nihilism that gave rise to the uncompromising ideology of Marxism-Leninism and, not unrelatedly, Nazism, and denounces its consequences.

Camus also roundly criticizes many of his intellectual contemporaries for their undying faith in Marxism, claiming, for one, that Marxism reproduces some of the central problems of religious faith (ie, in relegating justice, etc., to the “Later On,” as he puts it–that is, post-capitalist society) and entails the negation of much that is defensible and good in humanity by reducing human obligation to the promotion of revolution. I think he’s certainly on to something here, but I think his reading of Marx is also somewhat flawed, in that Camus seems to disregard Marx’s concern with emancipation and free conscious activity in his efforts to discredit the approach of the “prophet of justice.” Camus posits a different approach to social change, claiming that rebels/revolutionaries, in their efforts to combat injustice, should never lose sight of the importance of beauty within the conception of human dignity.

It seems that many so-called revolutionaries, though (probably more of the socialist-Marxist bent), would reject Camus’ analysis as sentimental and, in fact, supportive of the status quo. Does Camus then break with the predominance of Marxist thought in his day and accept something close to anarchism? He certainly seems to reject revolutionary society (at least, the revolutions demonstrated thus far by history), but he remains highly critical of bourgeois society as well. Contemplating these tensions is crucially important, and Camus’s The Rebel certainly represents an important contribution to this debate.

I think that we must continue to explore this thread, I will take some time to ponder on what would Camus really say about Occupy Wall Street and the promise of a more just and equal society, which this movement is trying to create.

 

So I have been thinking… Yes, it does happen to me to sometimes, to take some time and reflect on whatever I am about to embark on. I have decided to slightly modify this blog’s project, or purpose if you want, to bring this discussion to a more modern context. I have been reading lately, and find myself to often ask myself “What would Camus say about this?” I wanted to spend a year reading Camus’s writings and seeing his evolution as a thinker, but that has already been done, so why not do something more modern and in better touch with what is happening right now. What would Camus’s position be on the Occupy Movement that is happening right now? Syria? The illusion of democracy that is present in the West? I will be bringing Camus into modern debates with contemporary thinkers like Slavoj Zizek (The defense of Lost Causes and Totalitarianism), Chris Hedges (The Myth of Human Progress and The Myth of the American Dream), and Naomi Klein (Disaster Capitalism) and everyone’s position on the global Occupy Movement.

I find that Camus would be able to bring an interesting point of view and maybe even help us find solutions to problems that may need a fresh new look… The first month or two I will be bringing Camus’s The Rebel into a head to head debate with Chris Hedges and his texts Days of Destruction Days of Revolt and The World As It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress. The Rebel was a controversial text when it was released and I think that it will bring much insight on the need for rebellion in today’s world. As Hedges states on the back cover of his book The World As It Is a message that Camus would not only agree with, but also to bring a personal ethic approach for finding a solution to a problem that seems unsolvable at first sight:

Rebellion – which is different from revolution because it is perpetual alienation from power rather that the replacement of one power system for another – should be our natural state. And faith, for me, is a belief that rebellion is always worth it, even if all outward signs point to our lives and struggles as penultimate failures. We are saved not by what we can do or accomplish but by our fealty to revolt, our steadfastness to the weak, the poor, the marginalized, and those who endure oppression. We must stand with them against the powerful. If we remain true to these moral imperatives, we win. I am enough of an idealist to believe that the struggle to lead the moral life is worth it.

Among industrialized nations, the Unites States has the highest poverty rate, general and for children; greatest inequality of incomes; lowest government spending as a percentage of GDP on social programs for the disadvantaged; lowest average number of days for paid holiday, annual leaves, and maternity leaves; lowest score on the United Nations index of “material well-being of children”; worst score on the United Nations gender inequality index; lowest social mobility; highest public and private expenditure on health care as a percentage of GDP. These trends are accompanied by the: highest infant mortality rate; highest prevalence of mental-health problems; highest obesity rate; highest proportion of population going without health care due to cost; second-lowest birth-weight for children per capita, behind only Japan; highest consumption of antidepressants per capita; third shortest life expectancy at birth, behind Denmark and Portugal; highest carbon dioxide emissions and water consumption per capita; second-lowest score on the World Economic Forum’s environmental performance index, behind only Belgium; third-largest ecological footprint per capita, behind only Belgium and Denmark; highest rate of failure to ratify international agreements; lowest spending on international development and humanitarian assistance as a percentage of GDP; highest military spending as a portion of GDP; largest international arms sales; fourth-worst balance of payments, behind New Zealand, Spain, and Portugal; third-lowest scores for student performance in math, behind Portugal and Italy, and far from the top in both science and reading; second-highest high-school dropout rate behind only Spain; hight homicide rate, largest prison population per capita.

For the first couple of months we will visit the marginalized and whom are enduring oppression in the US (don’t think that you are off the hook Canada or Europe, your time will come soon enough) by visiting the suffering of Native Americans on the Pine Reservation in South Dakota; African-Americans in Camden New Jersey, we will then turn our attention to the old mining town of West Virginia that have been ravaged by drug addiction;  next is Immokalee Florida, a center of immigrant agricultural labor, mostly Latino and their horrible living and working conditions; and finally finishing in Zuccotti Park in New York city for the Occupy movement! Hedges argues in his book that the Occupy movement and historical figures–including Crazy Horse and Eastern European communist era dissidents–are models for resistance to the corporate tyranny that is afflicting us. This is why I believe that Camus is needed more than ever in this debate!

See you in a couple of weeks when I begin to bring my Buddhist-Existential-Anarchist-Acadian perspective to a global crisis with the help of my friends, especially Mr. Camus. What will Camus bring to the global debate that is happening all over the globe as the people are starting to show how they are discontented with the reality that we live in…

I just finished reading a book by Michel Onfray entitled L’Ordre Libertaire: La vie philosophique d’Albert Camus, it is a philosophical biography about the person and the development of his thoughts throughout his life. It is a really great concept, I find that this is always a question that we ask ourselves when we read the great minds of our times or the past, did they actually live their philosophy? Camus lived his philosophy and always stayed true to who he was. The poor boy from the neighbourhood of Belcourt in Alger, was a “pieds noirs” by definition but lived the life of a Muslim Algerian much more than his European brothers and sisters, the boy of a poor illiterate cleaning lady widowed during the First World War, used literature as a way to escape the strict and stern grandmother that would beat him on a regular basis at home, and found a way out of the only world that he knew, one of poverty and suffering. He didn’t have the privilege of being raised in the same circle as Jean-Paul Sartre and the others of the St-Germain des Pres group, who were raised in a family of privilege and surrounded by books and the best of ivy schools. Camus saw philosophy and literature as a way out, his philosophy always reflected the life that he lived and he made it a point to always stay true to his beliefs no matter what the subject was. Because of his upbringing, he did not approach philosophy the same way, he was more of a non-philosophers philosopher, living the Nietzschean ‘Yes’ at all times. He lived a philosophical life until his untimely death in 1960, where we found the manuscript to The First Man and The Gay Science by Nietzsche.

What exactly is a philosophical life? How can we think of a man’s existence, his engagement in the world, his outlook on the work, as clear and singular. Michel Onfray would respond that the philosopher thinks that to live and live better, he must reflect on what drives his actions, meditate on the goal and draw an existential map, he reads, writes, in order to organize the chaos that is categorised by a certain verb. For Camus, his verb is action. During this work, Onfray takes all the writings from, whom some would call the James Dean of philosophy, and does not distinguish them, his novels, essays, theater plays, correspondences with friends, notebooks, and treats them as a continuous work. But who is Camus? Michel Onfray describes the philosopher as sensitive and affectionate, generous and loyal, sometimes fragile, hesitant, not sure of himself. Camus wrote to be read and understood, this is what helped him to exist. Thus, who is the real Albert Camus? Philosopher, author, journalist, the creator of a new language, passionate reader, freedom-loving positive anarchist, anticolonial thinker, no ones disciple. Onfray says that Camus was a hedonist philosopher, pagan, pragmatic, Nietzschean, and he was the son of the poor and he remained loyal to them his whole life.

What this book made me realize was that Camus had a different approach to his colleagues, he commented on Being and Nothingness by stating that it was a strange mistake in our lives that we try to feel our lives from the outside. It is this fidelity to the interior life that Camus builds his philosophical and political sensibilities. It is thanks to this fidelity that he speaks in the first person, just like Montaigne, Pascal, Rousseau, Kierkegaard or Nietzsche. It is in this fidelity to the basic values (honour, dignity, simplicity, fraternity) that he is able to describe the emotions and perceptions from Algeria: the sounds of the city that enters the homes through the balconies, the smells of restaurants in the small side streets, the light from the bay in Alger, the freshness of the evenings with their gentle perfumes. Noces was written for the hedonists and The Rebel for anarchist thought.

I must admit that I really enjoyed Onfray’s study of anarchy and Camus’s lifelong relationship to it. The Rebel is a text that I have always admired, for many reasons, but one that I truly connected to is the fact that Camus knew that this book would not be well received by the public. He, however, stayed true to who he was and wrote a book that was antitotalitarian, antifascist, anti-capitalist, Camus the libertarian, defends pacificism and the right to criticize. The reception of the book, as we all know, started a war between the intellectual elite against the poor farmer’s son from the poor neighbourhood of Belcourt as being a philosopher for the bourgeois, seeing as he condemned the Soviet regime once it was discovered the existence of the Gulags (very reminiscent of the concentration camps that had happened not that long ago). I always found this argument hard to follow, that Sartre justifies the work camps in the ultimate goal of the communist regime in Russia is fine by me, but how is he the philosopher of the people (a bourgeois by every sense of the word) and that Camus was not with the people. We all remember the series of articles that he published in Alger Republicain at the age of 25 about the situation and suffering in Kablylie in 1939. He defended the arab and muslim minorities, criticized colonialism and its mechanics, avid opponent of classism, and opponent of the death penalty and bloody revolutions. He also stated that the rise in Algerian nationalism was due to the accumulation of the humiliations, frustrations, and exploitations that the people endured. I find that this book was maybe not read with the attention that it deserved, The Rebel is still relevant today and thanks to the clarity and insight that Camus brings, it will always be a reference for our world.

Camus had only one wish, ” Je demande une seule chose, et je la demande humblement, bien que je sache qu’elle est exorbitante : être lu avec attention.” Roughly translated it says that he asks for one thing, and he asks humbly, even if he knows that it is exorbitant: to be read carefully. I think that we owe that much to him.

 

Hello Everyone,

First of all, thank you for taking the time to drop by this blog, one that I hope will keep you entertained for the months to come. I will be embarking on a year-long project, I plan on reading the complete works (this includes all correspondences and unfinished works) of Albert Camus in its chronological order (thank you Pleiade for the Oeuvres Completes) for the year to come. I will read them in a chronological order to be able to see the evolution of this great thinkers thoughts, and also to be able to live this philosophy of life to its fullest as he had from his childhood to his last days.

This blog will begin in the month of august, I will be posting about two posts per month about whatever reflections or other experiences in relation to what I am reading and applying in my day-to-day. I am sure that some of it will be autobiographical, but I will also take time to discuss and explain the various concepts that arise in the writings of Albert Camus (i.e.- the absurd, rebellion, death, etc.) and how I make sense of them in theory as well as in my daily life.

I hope that this journey will bring something to you and your understanding of Camus, but mostly, thank you for joining me for the ride. In the hopes that this posts will help generate debate and reflections for the next year!

“Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” – Albert Camus