Tag Archives: environment

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Friends,

I find it difficult to give a shit about things that I can’t relate to, but sometimes my give-a-shit is stimulated in the most unexpected ways.

Bears & Turtles Teach me About Climate Change

As a product of the 80’s, I’ve heard about “global warming”/climate change for most of my life.  For example, the “greenhouse effect” was something I first remember reading about at around age six or seven.

9780679813835

I actually read about it in this book so I knew it was a serious issue.

But even though my childhood heroes, the turtles mentioned such problems, they never seemed more than a background concern for me.

Then, at some point I saw a picture similar to this one:

skinny-wet-bear

The polar bear has been, for as long as I can remember my favourite animal, and this emaciated, sickly-looking bear is one of the casualties of loss of habitat due to human activities.  Suddenly the importance of our actions crystallized for me.  And whether or not you put stock in concepts like climate change, global warming, etc., I want to illustrate that a picture like this one is what made such concepts real and tangible for me.

Jesus the Smoove Mack-Daddy

In September 2009 I resumed my university career after a three-year hiatus which included a stint in Afghanistan.  I wouldn’t say that the experience made me cynical, but I recognized a need for organized violence in the world as a reality of life.  When doing my course selection for that returning year I decided to take Theory and Practice of Non-Violence for giggles and to see what it was all about.  I found the readings and the lessons interesting but I just relegated it to the area of my brain reserved for fanciful notions like unicorns and the female anal orgasm.

Fast forward to late in the semester and I was still puzzling over what to write about for my final paper.  The idea of arguing for the necessity of violence in the world had fallen flat when I ran it by the prof and I wasn’t really sure what to do.  As I sat reading one of the class’ weekly readings, an idea started percolating.  The reading was a modern interpretation of Jesus’ actions and showed how he was the paragon of non-violence, but what it read like to me  was a guide on how to be an alpha male.  To me it smacked of pick-up literature,

the_game

and Jesus was painted to be a master of social dynamics.  Something clicked in my head and I began to see the wisdom of non-violence, especially when viewed as just being cool and not being a dick.  I hadn’t completely accepted it as an ethos, but it had taken root in my head in this much more palatable permutation.

The Point of All This

There is a saying about leading horses to water but not being able to make them drink.  There is merit to this saying but I think it begs the question, “Why isn’t the horse drinking?”  Well, why didn’t I accept certain propositions until after their merit was seen in a more personal, relateable light?  Personally, I am fond of saying that “While it is the listeners duty to understand, it is the speaker’s duty to be understood.” The upshot is that whether you are talking or listening, the onus of understanding is always on you.

I guess I bring this us because I used to beat people over the head with (my) truth.  And while my convictions have remained the same I find that I am much more effective at communicating now because I realize how long even the most evident and truthful ideas can take to be accepted and take root.

Rest assured though that no matter how long it takes, the truth will always take root.

Best,

-Andre Guantanamo

ADDENDUM: I think there is a point here about the importance for a unified view of the planet.  We so often tend to try and remedy the injustices to disenfranchised groups through piecemeal actions which inevitably disenfranchise other groups. Whether you think its right or not, there is a very real feeling of alienation among males suspicious of feminism, among whites suspicious of affirmative action,  etc. As a result, people take on a tribalistic mentality and only care for those immediately around them or who are of a similar demographic (I think this is ultimately a problem of scarcity, but that’s another discussion). Taking a unified view and viewing ourselves as one species would make the imperative of treating each other well really hit home and force us to question a scarcity-based system which forces us to get ahead at the expense of our fellow human beings.

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Ugly People

There is a saying: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”  That’s a bunch of bullshit and we all know it. If that were the case there wouldn’t be websites like uglypeople.com and there would be no cosmetic surgery industry.  We should stop deluding ourselves with the idea that ugly doesn’t exist so that we can address why it does.

My Friends,
   I was working at a trade show this past weekend and it proved something to me which I have suspected for a very long time:  This life takes its toll in some very unexpected ways.
   First, a thought experiment: Imagine someone widely regarded as pretty.  Say Brad Pitt:

At his prettiest in Thelma & Louise if you ask me

Now I would argue that Brad Pitt is physically attractive because he has gentle features, all his teeth, a chiselled physique and eyes that twinkle like Paul Newman’s when he smiles  
No Homo

On top of that I have heard him in interviews and when he is not coming off as lovably, charmingly bewildered, he does seem very coherent and affable.  And as if that weren’t enough, I’m sure he smells good too.  These non-visible cues tend to add to his physical appeal and I would argue that this holds true for all physically attractive people.
   However, working at a trade show all weekend I saw lots of people who fell short of the Brad Pitt standard of physical beauty (imagine that!).  On the whole it was an average looking bunch, but there were many incredibly ugly, disfigured, wretched people who came by and more often than not their behaviours, whether obnoxious, creepy, inappropriate, spiteful or aggressive, matched their appearance.  Now I say this with no malice, for I love my fellow man, but it occurred to me that these folks were living portraits of what this life can do to people.  
   Science has shown us that from a behavioural perspective, people are shaped by their environments.  It has been posited, and I would agree, that behaviours are a reaction or adaptation to one’s environment.  This is not to say that there is no genetic component, but the genes simply determine a range of possible behaviours while the environment dictates where a person falls in that range.  The best analogy I have heard is that human beings are like computers: the genes are the equivalent to hardware and the environment is the programming.  
10 years of running a bad program called “Crystal Meth”

   I guess I never stopped to think deeply about the ramifications of this principle on physical appearance, but if you think about it, the way someone looks is both a product of their genes and their environment.  If they did not have the genes to look at a certain way, lets say morbidly obese, they could not possibly look that way.  But just because they have the genes to look a certain way, again morbidly obese, does not mean they are going to look that way if their environment doesn’t reinforce that predisposition (i.e. exercise, proper nutrition, etc.).  In the above before & after picture, the woman obviously has the genes to look both ways, but her post-meth appearance was by no means pre-determined by genetics.  Rather it was a possibility which became reality due to environmental factors.  
   On a sadder note (yes, sadder than meth addiction), look at this little girl.
Not only is she going to be physically ugly for her whole life (scientifically provable based on the labels pointing out her defects), but she is going to be so very wretchedly so due to environmental factors imposed upon her by the indiscretions of another.  For she suffers from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, meaning her mother drank while pregnant with her.*  Often we think of life beginning the moment you are born, but we forget that the newborn has already been developing in its own unique environment for the previous nine months.**  
   So when I saw so many sloppy, ugly, slouchy, slack-jawed fucks this weekend (again, said with no malice, but ironically love), I couldn’t help but wonder how much of their appearance was a direct result of bad programming or environmental factors.  And of course, to what extent, if any, are these environmental factors a result of socio-economic status?  
   Now before you protest what you think I might be getting at here, watch this video:
Now I axe you: do you think the majority of people in that video were from relatively high or relatively low income brackets?  I would hazard a guess that they were mostly po-folk from shit-kicker American towns reduced to poverty after the mill/plant/factory closed down.  
   Now I am not saying that the people I dealt with this weekend were as wretched as the Wal-mart all-stars (thankfully I saw no butt-crack), but many tended toward these appearances (obese, unkempt, misshapen) and behaviours (general apathy toward outward appearance, rolling around on scooters).  And while I believe it is wrong to judge someone based on socio-economic standing, the affluent and the downtrodden are by and large very easy to pick out.  The wealthier, or at least comfortable have a certain carriage and deportment which is reflected in their attitudes, behaviours and appearances.  This is not to say that they always behave better; on the contrary, they can quite often be insufferable assholes and preening douchebags, not to mention misshapen and physically ugly.  However, in my experience they tend to carry themselves with a confidence and deportment that poorer types lack.  I can only attribute this to some sense of self-worth that they have, although I don’t pretend to know where they derive this sense of self-worth from.
   On the contrary, more poorer types in my experience tend to behave more erratically, being often unpredictable and squirrelly, not carrying themselves so much with confidence, but with a mixture anxiety, fear, desperation, or even malicious cockiness.  To me, these seem like symptoms of someone with little sense of self-worth.

I’ll just leave this here…

I don’t pretend to know why their sense of self-worth is so low though.

   Of course there are exceptions to these observations, and I find it fascinating and encouraging to see someone of modest means who carries themselves with dignity.  Again, I don’t pretend to know where their sense of self-worth comes from, but I do know where it doesn’t come from: their bank-account, for we already established that this person is not affluent.

To Be Contuvre…

~Random Tangent – Read at Your Own Peril~
   To this last point, there is a Spanish word, Hidalgo, which I am rather enchanted by.  Its actual historical context doesn’t impress me so much, but its literary context, that of a nobleman who has lost all his wealth but still retains the privileges of his class, well I rather like that.  For what more important privilege of nobility is there than knowing your worth; knowing that you are better? Not better than other people mind you, but better than the value society places on you based on your material wealth.  This is the most important knowledge.  A nobleman can be broke, destitute, emaciated and starving but he could still go somewhere and make a demand with the full expectation that it will be fulfilled. He had knowledge of self and that can’t be taken away once it is learned.  The problem is that many don’t ever learn knowledge of self in the first place; they either learn some religious malarky like “original sin” which implies they carry someone else’s sin which they must atone for, or they are just subjected to a society which reenforces subordination to legitimized forms of authority no matter what (don’t question your parents, always co-operate with police, etc.).  This teaches people that they are less than  a human being, they are simply subjects in a pecking order.  So instead of rooting their self-worth in the very fact that they exist, they tie it to fluid and changeable things like money, the opinions of others, etc…  Things, in other words, which can ultimately be lost or taken by others.  This process of acquiring financial means, social capital or other fluid things for the sake of moving up in society’s pecking order is colloquially called “getting ahead.”  So many are caught up in this game when they should be trying to figure out how to get free instead.

Contuvre…  

   When people who root their sense of self-worth in wealth and status which they do not have, I believe they are wont to treat themselves poorly (poor nutrition, deliberately poisoning themselves with alcohol and other drugs, poor posture).  They are worthless in their own eyes when compared to others who have done so much better by the standard which they judge themselves by.  This contributes to a less physically attractive person both superficially (slouched, vacant look in the eyes, slack-jawed) and in the long-term, as certain prolonged diets, vices and lifestyle choices will have irreversible and detrimental effects on a person’s physical beauty (see above photos of crystal-meth addict).
   So back to Brad Pitt, just imagine that he hadn’t had the particular upbringing he had and he had instead ended up as a lower-class worker or homeless person.  He would cease to be the pretty boy we all know and secretly (if you’re a dude) have a crush on.  He would likely be some long-haired, leathery-faced, fat American chain-smoker riding around in a rascal at the Springfield Wal-Mart.
   Conversely, when you look at the so-called ugly people from the Wal-Mart video, or just the ones you see in everyday life, imagine the wasted potential for hotness that their genes might carry but which has been squandered from perhaps as early as their time in utero when their mother may have drank or done drugs, to their childhood where they were perhaps malnourished and not taught their true worth as human beings, all the way up to adulthood where their bad habits intensified due to the ingrained belief that they don’t deserve any better than what they have and society’s persistent reinforcement of this idea.  This wasted potential for hotness is the unsung casualty in discussions about social change.  I truly believe that the further stratified our society becomes and the greater the amount of poor people becomes, the more the average physical attractiveness of the population will go down and the lower the overall number of 5/10s and above will be.  If this doesn’t instill a sense of urgency in you as to the importance of changing the world for the better, you should check your pulse cause you might be dead.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

*By calling the little girl with FASD ugly, I am not trying to be malicious, but honest.  One of the worst distortions of truth is soft, politically correct language because it turns some unfortunate human being’s real problem into some statistician’s quantified abstraction.  We must be precise in language and call things what they are, lest we trivialize the problems of others.  As is often the case, George Carlin had something to say about this:

**One of the important qualifiers for what constitutes life, or more accurately what constitutes an organism is that it has an environment which it affects and is affected by.  In the case of the fetus, its mother’s womb counts as this environment which in my mind pretty much galvanizes the position of the Pro-Life camp that life begins at conception.  However, this realization in my mind does not soundly resolve the abortion debate because if we are arguing the baby’s right to life we must also argue the mother’s right to security of person, which should be just as inviolate.
   I think the oft-overlooked position in the abortion debate is ameliorating the factors which lead to unwanted pregnancy and the desire to abort at a fundamental, root cause level.  Giving out condoms and lectures about safe sex apparently have not resolved matters.  A discussion about abortion is something that merits some attention and I may get to it at a later date but I wanted to clarify that although I believe life provably begins at conception, I don’t think it soundly decides the abortion issue.

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Thug Luv

“If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed.  The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but the one who causes the darkness” 
-Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

My Friends,
   A few days back I became embroiled in a lively lunchtime discussion centered around the Canadian government’s plan to renovate some Canadian prisons.  My fellow co-workers were indignant about footing the bill, as taxpayers, for the plush accommodation the prisoners in said jails were to be receiving (bigger cells, world-class gym, wi-fi, etc…*).  One co-worker even said “put them in a dungeon,” though he later retracted this statement as the conversation developed.  Naturally I chimed in as I feel very strongly about prison, what its purpose should be and how that purpose should be achieved.
   First of all, I reject any argument for prisons being segregated from the population.  What a great world it would be indeed if we could just sweep our problems under the rug and forget about them.  Concepts like the Lunar penal colony and inter-dimensional penitentiary make for great fiction but what they amount to in practice are horrors like Siberian gulags.  No, that simply wouldn’t do; prisons should be located centrally and serve as a constant reminder that there is something not quite right about the world we live in as it makes monsters out of men.
   Second, and related to the first point, any argument for greater austerity in the lives of prisoners related to the costs of housing them should be refuted.  Prisoners are once again, our collective burden and a group we must deal with if we live in a system which creates them.
   With these two points made, I feel that the purpose of prisons can be discussed.  The purpose as I see it should be rehabilitation, not punishment.  Now its hard to rehabilitate people who commit crimes for money (over 90% of inmates) because they will always need money and the system is set up in such a way that there often is not access to decent-paying jobs in low-income areas.

Save for the army

As well, with a criminal record they will be even less likely to get a decent job, exacerbating the problem.  No matter how good any prison rehabilitation program is, it is failure if the convict, released back into the toxic environment which made them resort to crime, relapses into their old ways. To come down on these individuals who have been so obviously fucked over by the system and who will get fucked over again, seems to be kind of a cruel joke, and I don’t think their rehabilitation can truly take place without sweeping structural change which would render crime for money obsolete.
   So the only criminals left would then be the actual sickos; people who enjoy doing bad things to others regardless of the payoff.  In my unqualified view these people have been poorly socialized and there is evidence which indicates that in most cases these people have been subjected to severe abuse throughout their lives, especially as children.
   In either case, whether sicko or criminal for pay, the approach to the stated goal of rehabilitation seems clear.  One is not rehabilitated by being locked away in poor conditions and deprived of human dignity.  Nor are they rehabilitated by being either held in solitary or immersed in a general population which has been just as poorly socialized.  It seems clear to me that these measures only serve to aggravate maladjustment and make better criminals.
   In a perfect world there would be no crime.
   In a slightly less perfect world, maladjusted/poorly socialized individuals would be be accepted into communities of people who live harmoniously with each other.  There they could learn that they don’t need to hurt other people to get ahead and they wouldn’t have to fear for their own safety.  This has been tried with notable success by the Israelis when they decided to send criminals to kibbutzim for rehabilitation.
   The problem with this solution is that most people don’t want to live among criminals.  We have been so individualized in our culture that we feel little kinship with or affinity to our fellow man, much less those whom society deems criminals.  So we instead make them live in prisons.  Well ok, but assuming we still want to rehabilitate these people (and that is the operative assumption here) we can’t really nickel & dime them on amenities.  A prison sentence should be a period of growth, positive growth.

Even someone who has been sentenced to life in prison or death should be able to improve themselves every day until their demise.
   Without getting too specific, the broad categories of things which I feel contribute to rehabilitation/remedial socialization would be comfortable (not decadent) accommodations, access to fitness facilities, access to education, and lots of interaction with people outside the system.  Remember the goal here is not punishment but rehabilitation, but even if you do believe that there should be a punishment component remember that the prisoner is still without their liberty.
  I should mention that I lack a psychology degree and I have no formal training in rehabilitation.  I have spent no time in prisons** and friends of mine in law enforcement and corrections would probably disregard my ideas as idealistic and naive, citing the gravity of the crimes of the inmates.  What I do have is personal experience though.  And while I realize that you can’t extrapolate personal experience into general rules, it strikes me that people in similar situations would be inclined to make similar choices.  For example, I have been been destitute, desperate and hopeless (albeit by choice) while hitch-hiking and travelling.  These emotions tend to make you do things you would not normally do: strike yappy animals, steal, and run from police.  I have done all of these things on the road, and except for that last one I am ashamed of these actions.
   These experiences taught me that the wretched are prone to wretched behaviour.  My whole stance on prisons is predicated on this idea and this is why I don’t believe in punishment so much as an earnest effort by the state to reform its wayward citizens.
   Now of course the alternative viewpoint is that some people are just bad.  Natural born killers as it were.

This is an ironic title for the film when you realize that both main characters were severely abused from childhood.

I refute this type of dangerous thinking because it is a bedfellow of psuedo-sciences like phrenology and eugenics.  Furthermore, attributing crime to genetics/heritage is a cop-out because it allows us to glaze over structural problems which cause crime and need fixing.  Such problems have no easy solution, so it is far easier to blame the individual.  I think that anyone who hasn’t felt wretchedness and the cavalier attitude toward morality which it engenders can not really understand how good people can do wrong.
   Basically I think we all have a capacity for evil which can be brought out by poor circumstances and a lack of socialization.  If jail is to remedy criminal behaviour (which I believe it should) it must address the causes of the crime and supply the education/skills, interaction, meaningful relationships, and positive expectations the criminal has been lacking in their life.
   It is much easier to preach about my beliefs however than it is to act, so I am going to look into volunteering for Corrections Services Canada so that what I write is not just so many meaningless words.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo
   

*Try as I might I could not find the article dealing with these renovations and as such my knowledge about the specifics is lacking.  As well, they might not be getting wi-fi in Canadian prisons, as that might have been brought up when European prisons were introduced into the conversation.


**I have a actually spent a little time in Sarpoza prison in Kandahar City, Afghanistan during a tour of duty.  I was not permitted to tour the cell blocks though unless I left my rifle with security.  I was unwilling to do so.  

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