A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for the ‘Forum’ Category

[FORUM] What do you think will happen to the United States? What should Canada do?

Earlier this week, I linked to a post at JSTOR Daily, where Hope Reese interviewed historian Jill Lepore about the crisis facing American institutions in the 21st century. Lepore argued that the sheer degree of polarization

There are a lot of specific institutions that I have a lot of faith in. That doesn’t necessarily leave me with a lot of optimism about the moment, partly because of what I said about the automation, the polarization––that’s very difficult to escape. I think we live in an age of tremendous political intolerance. I think we live in an age where people don’t understand the nature of our political institutions.

I don’t think it’s great that we have made Supreme Court Justices all but elected to the office. That’s actually quite terrible for the pursuit of justice. But, you don’t even hear people talk about that. It’s just, “who’s gonna win the battle?”

That really, really concerns me. Because it’s a symptom of the way people want to win by any means necessary. Because we’ve been given this kind of rhetoric of life or death, we’re on the edge of a cliff. It’s very hard for people to operate as a civic community interested in the public good in that kind of a climate.

Just this weekend, I came across an essay by Canadian writer Stephen Marche essay in The Walrus, “America’s Next Civil War”. This article’s title perhaps somewhat misrepresents Marche’s aticle, in that he imagines not so much outright civil war as a breakdown of civil society, as bipartisanship and polarization makes normal political life impossible. This will have, among other things, significant effects on Canada.

To sum up: the US Congress is too paralyzed by anger to carry out even the most basic tasks of government. America’s legal system grows less legitimate by the day. Trust in government is in free fall. The president discredits the fbi, the Department of Justice, and the judicial system on a regular basis. Border guards place children in detention centres at the border. Antigovernment groups, some of which are armed militias, stand ready and prepared for a government collapse. All of this has already happened.

Breakdown of the American order has defined Canada at every stage of its history, contributing far more to the formation of Canada’s national identity than any internal logic or sense of shared purpose. In his book The Civil War Years, the historian Robin Winks describes a series of Canadian reactions to the early stages of the first American Civil War. In 1861, when the Union formed what was then one of the world’s largest standing armies, William Henry Seward, the secretary of state, presented Lincoln with a memorandum suggesting that the Union “send agents into Canada…to rouse a vigorous continental spirit of independence.” Canadian support for the North withered, and panicked fantasies of imminent conquest flourished. After the First Battle of Bull Run, a humiliating defeat for the Union, two of John A. Macdonald’s followers toasted the victory in the Canadian Legislative Assembly. The possibility of an American invasion spooked the French Canadian press, with one journal declaring there was nothing “so much in horror as the thought of being conquered by the Yankees.”

The first American Civil War led directly to Canadian Confederation. Whatever our differences, we’re quite sure we don’t want to be them.

How much longer before we realize that we need to disentangle Canadian life as much as possible from that of the United States? How much longer before our foreign policy, our economic policy, and our cultural policy accept that any reliance on American institutions is foolish? Insofar as such a separation is even possible, it will be painful. Already, certain national points of definition are emerging in the wake of Trump. We are, despite all our evident hypocrisies, generally in favour of multiculturalism, a rules-based international order, and freedom of trade. They are not just values; the collapsing of the United States reveals them to be integral to our survival as a country.

Northrop Frye once wrote that Canadians are Americans who reject the revolution. When the next revolution comes, we will need to be ready to reject it with everything we have and everything we are.</

Michael Enright at CBC Sunday Edition interviewed Marche for almost twenty minutes.

This scenario reminds me of nothing so much as the decline of Argentina in the 1960s and 1970s, political incapacities leading to economic failure leading to mass violence leading to the terrible junta.

What do you think? What is the United States heading towards? What should Canada do amidst all of this chaos to our south, this incipient breakdown? For that matter, what should the rest of the world do?

Written by Randy McDonald

October 28, 2018 at 11:55 pm

[FORUM] What do you think of Michael Hobbes’ article “Together Alone”?

This weekend, I’ve been thinking a lot about Michael Hobbes‘ very recent Huffington Post article “Together Alone: The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness”. I know I’m not alone in this, having seen this article shared by several other friends and in at least one other discussion group.

Hobbes’ question is simple: Why, despite significant legal progress in the past decades, are the lives of young gay men (probably generalizable to young queer men) still marked by so many signs of trauma?

[T]he rates of depression, loneliness and substance abuse in the gay community remain stuck in the same place they’ve been for decades. Gay people are now, depending on the study, between 2 and 10 times more likely than straight people to take their own lives. We’re twice as likely to have a major depressive episode. And just like the last epidemic we lived through, the trauma appears to be concentrated among men. In a survey of gay men who recently arrived in New York City, three-quarters suffered from anxiety or depression, abused drugs or alcohol or were having risky sex—or some combination of the three. Despite all the talk of our “chosen families,” gay men have fewer close friends than straight people or gay women. In a survey of care-providers at HIV clinics, one respondent told researchers: “It’s not a question of them not knowing how to save their lives. It’s a question of them knowing if their lives are worth saving.”

I’m not going to pretend to be objective about any of this. I’m a perpetually single gay guy who was raised in a bright blue city by PFLAG parents. I’ve never known anyone who died of AIDS, I’ve never experienced direct discrimination and I came out of the closet into a world where marriage, a picket fence and a golden retriever were not just feasible, but expected. I’ve also been in and out of therapy more times than I’ve downloaded and deleted Grindr.

“Marriage equality and the changes in legal status were an improvement for some gay men,” says Christopher Stults, a researcher at New York University who studies the differences in mental health between gay and straight men. “But for a lot of other people, it was a letdown. Like, we have this legal status, and yet there’s still something unfulfilled.”

This feeling of emptiness, it turns out, is not just an American phenomenon. In the Netherlands, where gay marriage has been legal since 2001, gay men remain three times more likely to suffer from a mood disorder than straight men, and 10 times more likely to engage in “suicidal self-harm.” In Sweden, which has had civil unions since 1995 and full marriage since 2009, men married to men have triple the suicide rate of men married to women.

All of these unbearable statistics lead to the same conclusion: It is still dangerously alienating to go through life as a man attracted to other men. The good news, though, is that epidemiologists and social scientists are closer than ever to understanding all the reasons why.

Hobbes’ answer, that young people are traumatized firstly by the stresses of growing up in the closet in often very difficult circumstances then by entering a gay community that insensitively allows the imposition of new restrictions and rules, all without much recognition of these psychological shocks never mind treatment of said, is one that convinces me. I have say that I think I recognize some of the symptoms in my own life, certainly in the sort of cultivation of emotional distance from any potential stressors Hobbes describes towards the end.

What do you think? Have you read this article? What are your opinions on the issues it describes?

Written by Randy McDonald

March 5, 2017 at 11:56 pm

[FORUM] What are your favourite strategies of political protest?

Please, discuss. I’m interested in hearing your ideas.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 4, 2017 at 11:59 pm

Posted in Forum, Politics

Tagged with ,

[FORUM] What are you doing about the current crisis, in the US and elsewhere?

We’re only nine days into the Trump Administration, and already it feels as if we’re on the bring of something.

What are you doing? (What am I doing? Watching, for wanting of knowing what to do.)

Written by Randy McDonald

January 29, 2017 at 11:59 pm

Posted in Forum, Politics

Tagged with ,

[FORUM] What sort of a difference do you think #womensmarch has made and will make?

All weekend, my Facebook and other social media feeds–Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, G+, probably even LinkedIn–have been filled with images of people taking part in their local manifestation of the Women’s March. I’ve seen images of people marching in protest of the new president in dozens of communities around the world, with photos coming from as close to home to me as Toronto and as far away as Antarctica. It’s quite heartening.

My question tonight is simple. Do you think that #womensmarch is the beginning of something big? Is it your sense that it might lead to new mass movements of decided heft? Is that your experience, so far? Or do you think it might not be all that, in the end, if not for others then not for you?

Please, discuss.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 22, 2017 at 11:59 pm

[FORUM] Any recommendations for someone visiting Montréal next weekend?

Any recommendations for someone visiting Montréal next weekend? #toronto #montreal #montréal #travel #tourism

Somewhat embarrassingly, the last time I was in Montréal was in the summer of 2003. What can I say but that, sometimes, it’s ridiculously easy to get caught in traps, to be bound up in tight patterns and not have the imagination to look outside these at the wider world. At least I’m doing it now.

Friends, readers, others: What would you recommend to someone going to Montréal? What attraction stands out particularly for you? Are there tricks I might be well-advised to learn in advance? What are your favourite memories of Canada’s second city?

Please, discuss.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 7, 2017 at 11:59 pm

[FORUM] What are your plans for 2017?

Discuss, please.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 1, 2017 at 11:59 pm

Posted in Forum, Non Blog