Tag Archives: zeitgeist movement

Baby Steps


As someone who tries to look at the big picture and find the root causal mechanisms which give rise to the problems in the world, I try not to get (too) embroiled in issues-based discussions or put too much stock into piecemeal (attempts at) solutions.  For example, I have discussed in the past that fighting for* black rights, or women’s rights or gay rights is a doomed endeavor on two counts: 1) It promotes division by advocating for one group at the expense of others, inevitably creating resentment, and 2) It hacks at the branches of evil, rather than striking the root, to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau.
However, I have come to realize that round dismissal of furtive steps toward a better world is no way to proceed either.  Rather there is a way in which admirable but mistaken good intentions can be channeled in the right directions.  More importantly, a surfeit of of proposed solutions, even those which only marginally improve on established methodologies, while still retaining many of their drawbacks, are perhaps a mandatory first step in a paradigm shift.
If this is sounding a little abstract to you, well you’re in good company, cause I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about either.
Let’s make things a little more concrete with a tangible example, shall we?

A while back my friend Kelton and I were talking about the problems with our monetary system and how best to make the transition to a resource-based economy.  Acknowledging the difficulties with challenging people’s unwavering faith in the dollar, Kelton brought up the examples of alternative currencies which were being used in other parts o the world, specifically the WIR.  I remember at the time I was pretty dismissive of the WIR and other forms of alternative currency because by operating through the mechanism of scarcity, sooner or later they would all be plagued by the same problems our current monetary system faces (i.e. usury, money supply expansion/inflation through credit, hoarding, etc).  But as I thought about it more, I saw the merit of this first step in a new direction.  Perhaps by creating new currencies and backing them with something tangible like our future labour,** we could break the stranglehold of established national currencies and by doing so create openness to the possibility of a world without currency.
You see, I likened it to religion…

More specifically Christianity.  Religious freedom is taken for granted in most parts of the world.  True, in certain countries, communities and families it is taboo to question the accepted faith but as the descendant of two families from two of the most Catholic countries in the world (Italy and Portugal) I never felt afraid of being burned for heresy by becoming agnostic, then an atheist and then evolving from there into whatever I am now.  To what do I owe such freedom and latitude on the part of my family and community?  Well there’s no one answer, but I suspect Martin Luther and Henry VIII had a little something to do with it.  You see by openly addressing problems with the church establishment Luther emboldened others to be more vocal about their grievances.  On the other hand, by forming his own church, Henry VIII, for better or worse, broke the stranglehold monopoly of Catholicism in Europe.    I’m not gonna say these developments came with no costs or violent schisms, not am I foolish enough to believe they addressed the root causal mechanism which makes people indoctrinate others into ideologies in the first place.  But what I am saying is that if these first few furtive footsteps were not taken, I might not be able to write so cavalierly about my own lack of faith without you reporting me to an inquisitor.
Still I can’t help but think that if I were  contemporary of Martin Luther watching him nail his 95 theses to the door of the church I would be that guy discouraging him by yelling, “Hey Martin, you’re not digging deep enough! Have you ever asked why we have religion in the first place?!”  People were ready to bring grievances to the church but they weren’t quite ready to abandon it altogether.  Martin Luther knew this on some level and appealed to his audience.

Baby Steps!

So going forward I will endeavour to be a little more patient with ideas that seek to break established power structures even if they don’t address causal mechanisms.  Certainly I will try and reason with my well-intentioned comrades and try and help them see a broader picture, but its not for me to pooh-pooh good ideas that I deem too narrow in scope.  For even if they are only interim fixes, anything would be an improvement at this point.

-Andre Guantanamo

*Even rhetoric like “fighting” demonstrates an immaturity about how to deal with problems we face effectively.  We frame everything as an epic battle against good and evil rather than understanding the mechanisms which give rise to such problems and ameliorating them.

**It could be argued that are current dollar, being a fiat currency is already backed by our labour (or at least the public’s faith in it) since we are no longer on a gold standard.  In fact some go further and state that the U.S. went bankrupt in the early 1930s.  However, the problem with such arguments is that people who advocate a gold standard don’t realize that the value of gold is all arbitrary speculation rather than empirical and absolute.  Indeed, outside of its technological applications gold has necessity for our survival.

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Handling Things the Mature Way

My Friends,
   I have a real problem with being overly argumentative.  I am in fact horrible at conveying messages to a crowds which are not predisposed to liking what I have to say.  This is a real problem for me because I think I have some good shit to say.  At the very least I have some less cancerous shit to say than some people I know, all things being relative.  The most glaring manifestation of this argumentativeness and poor communication is my tendency to get embroiled in Facebook threads which devolve into flame wars real quick.  Its not because I hate the person, or so much that I object so much to their initial comments or posts (well, sometimes its that), but very often its how people rationalize their opinions when challenged (and I use rationalize in the loosest sense possible).  I think it bothers me when people don’t do thought experiments with their opinions, extrapolating premises out to the nth degree to see if they still hold water, or attempting to rationalize these ideas within a larger global picture.  And when you try and have a discussion with someone who is in a box like this, their truncated frames of reference and ideologies invariably lead to misgivings and resentment.

   So yeah, this cognitive dissonance is a very real problem for me, someone who operates on the foundational premise that that the more logical argument should prevail.  But in a slow, stubborn way I am becoming more and more aware that such arguments shant prevail if one is sufficiently determined not to be swayed

“Traditional sentiment is constantly in conflict with emergent knowledge” -Peter Joseph, “Defining Peace”

I don’t want to pull punches because if I can’t be brutally honest here then I can’t be honest anywhere, so I will say that as of late most of the head-butting I have been doing has been with buddies of mine from the army who post some super-moto, gung-ho shit, jingoistic tripe about Canadian pride, or bellyaching about how veterans don’t get enough respect.  I can’t stand shit like this but then I can’t stand a lot of things.  Interestingly though I see myself in the position of being able to call them out on their bullshit while being able to take their main bullet out of the chamber with regard to a rebuttal: “Yeah, well why don’t you try doing a tour of duty and then come say that.”
   Lol, been there done that and I’m still calling you out.  And just when I think that my street cred might actually mean something to them and that they might take my point of view seriously because I have gone through what they have gone through, they find some other ad hominem attack to go with which invalidates my points of view in their eyes.  Its very frustrating, but its a lesson which more or less jives with my view that you should consider the message absent the messenger; frankly I wouldn’t want someone to consider my views simply because I have shared a certain struggle with them, or because I have a certain credential in their eyes.  This type of selective attention seems to be the primary way in which we go about things today and its effects are mostly negative.  Don’t get me wrong, credentials have importance in many regards, but they should only serve as the cherry on top of a soundly-reasoned hypothesis-sundae, not the sundae itself.
   So anyway, I have as usual gone on a tangent.  My intent here is not to do a critique of the way knowledge is done (I find I do that far too often as it is), but to explain the way I am handling the inane bullshit and drivel I frequently encounter on the Facebooks.
   But first, a brief outline of the things which either cause me to comment rashly, face-palm hard, or ask myself, “Why am I friends with this person?”  
1. Super gung-ho army shit, jingoistic fervor and the aforementioned bellyaching that veterans don’t get respect.  While I do believe that the state entity is entirely responsible for taking care of any wounded (phsysically or mentally) solider and his family, I am more talking about this idea that John Q. Public doesn’t give a fuck about the military.  I am not sure where this comes from; maybe some people saw a disenfranchised Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump and feel his pain a little too acutely, but I can say that in 9 years of service I never had anyone say a sideways thing to me.  In fact they were all smiles and Hallmark cards, thanking me on the street, telling me how brave I was, etc.  I can’t speak for other countries but at least here where I’m at, the veteran is more or less revered.
2. People who post the most pathetic and desperate aspects of their daily lives for….I don’t know, pity maybe?  This shit gets old but there’s not really much you can say to someone who is complaining about how sick they are all the time, how exhausted they are, how much their kids cost, how tight money is, etc…  These are touchy subjects and unlike people with dumb opinions I don’t see any glimmer of hope with regard to helping these people come around.  As such, I never really comment on these posts, I just kind of cringe to myself.
3. People who make too much of politics.  Perhaps this one baffles me more than it should.  After all, I voted in the last federal election.  But hey, we all do stupid things when we’re young.  I get that it takes time for some people to realize that non-participation is the best route to meaningful change, and not established processes like voting, and many others never realize this at all, but knowing this still has not afforded me the patience I should have.  When someone posts something about how the Liberals are really shitting the bed and how the Conservatives would handle things better I will typically ask the poster something like “Do you think who’s in office really matters?” assuming that like me, they will look back to the chain of contrived causality which leads to a partisan system,  various offices and of course the media circus which ostensibly handles things with the highest journalistic integrity (wink wink).  But no, they take my question at face value and respond, “Of course it matters….”
4. Championing minority rights, a particular disease’s cure or the plight of a small nation by advocating the use of established, in-the-box resolution methods and not considering the root cause which lead to these problems.   With regard to minority rights, I think helping the black man is great, but if you try to help the black man by trying to help the black man you’re only going to piss off the white man, the brown man and the yellow man.  There are no minority problems, there are human problems.  We gotta start implementing solutions that help everyone and this might mean trying some new things and abandoning others.  This same logic applies to curing diseases.  I think a lot of people don’t really know how disease and addiction are fomented and thus believe there is a way to handle each related problem on a case by case basis.  Or even trying to “help” a country without giving it the means to help itself.  All of our solutions are not solutions at all, but ways of stroking ourselves to make us think we aren’t part of the problem.
   So anyhow, these are just a few of my favourite things.  And my master plan to avoid the frustration and rage that comes from being subjected to these inane ramblings every time I log onto the Facebooks?
   Unsubscribe.  This shouldn’t be that revolutionary to me because I have indeed directed friends of mine to unsubscribe from me when they complained of how their own news-feeds were full of updates whatever flame war I was embroiled in.  But I can actually feel waves of relief over me when I do this.  Its so satisfying to scroll through your news-feed and repeatedly lament the absence of a dislike or downvote button.  
   To be clear I haven’t unfriended these people as in most…all cases I still like them.  I just don’t wanna hear their stupid, tired, unrationalized bullshit every time I log on.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

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Structural Dishonesty

My Friends,
   I work in a warehouse where we receive refrigerators and stoves from manufacturers, perform quality control on them, attach some standards stickers and company logos to them and then sell them as our own products.  We are the very definition of a middle-man, and sad will be the day when the retailers and manufacturers realize that they could get by without us.  But for the time being we facilitate things well enough to be a profitable business.
   In the last year the decision has been made to re-source a substantial portion of our refrigerator models from a Chinese company called Delware.  Try as I might I can not find the website for these dudes, but I assure you they exist.  Now when I heard that we were going this route I had to ask why; the models to be replaced are high-performing and attractive.  I asked my immediate supervisor a few months back and he explained that the one company we have been buying from (a subsidiary of Whirlpool based out of Brazil) is no longer making that model.  But then he also explained that they have been systematically jacking the price up every year for the last two decades so we wanted to go with something more cost-effective.  So between those two answers I was not really sure what the deal was, though I suspected it had more to do with the latter (cost-savings) than it did with a company discontinuing a reliable and popular product for no apparent reason.
   We received some sample units from Delware and I was struck by how ugly and plain they were.  Now you may think a fridge is a fridge and you would be right, but you would also be surprised about how important the little details are when you deal with them on a day-to-day basis.  Frankly, they looked cheap, and I inquired if they were in fact significantly cheaper.  They, of course, were.  Next I inquired if they were going to sell for the same price as their Whirlpool predecessors.  A resounding “yes!”  I assumed naively that this was simple greed.  I was wrong.  More on that momentarily.
   Mulling it over in my head, it occurred to me that if we were sourcing our products from a Chinese company for significantly less money, there might be some of those … whaddya call ’em??? Oh yeah, Human Rights Violations going on at Delware.  Never one to be subtle, I walked up to the operations manager at the end of the day and asked him point blank about his trip to China where he discovered this company and toured their facility.  I specifically inquired about the working conditions and wages.  He said (seemingly, a little uncomfortably) that conditions were “relatively” good there and that the company had a high turnover rate.  It didn’t click with me what “high turnover rate” meant, even though he said it like three subsequent times as if the fact that people were constantly quitting/getting fired was somehow supposed to assure me that things were copacetic at Delware.  But I trust this dude, so I feigned satisfaction with his words which I didn’t truly understand.  It was only after I did some more mulling on the way home that I realized he had told me nothing and that he was probably just regurgitating lines which the company tour-operator had said to him to pacify his conscience while he was touring the plant.
   High-turnover rate?  The fuck does that even mean?  McDonald’s has a high-turnover rate too and its a shitty job.  In fact all restaurants typically have high turnover rates because a lot of the positions in restaurants are shitty.  In fact, a low turnover rate would typically indicate a better employer, wouldn’t it, as it would indicate a job which people actually want to stay at.  The only positive thing a high turnover rate expresses to me is that technically the job is not slavery, because technically the workers can quit whenever they want.  So the best thing that our operations manager can say about the ethics of our sourcing is that technically its not produced by slave labour?
   Great Job!
   In spite of my misgivings I am just a peon in the company structure so my opinion + two quarters doesn’t add up to a dollar.  I kind of just kept on living my life.  But yesterday while talking with the receptionist during lunch, I heard her say that she wasn’t allowed to tell customers that the fridges are made in China.  I asked, “Well what do you tell them?”  “I tell them that we are the ‘manufacturer on record’,” she responded.  “Diabolical,” I thought.  Then I said as much.  I asked her about situations where a customer pressed her to explain what manufacturer on record meant.  She told me that if any customers were not satisfied with her answers she was supposed to refer them to the owner or ops manager.  I was angry (not surprisingly, as I have a tendency to get irate about injustice) that she would be compelled to perpetuate misinformation.  I realized this deception related back to the price we were selling the units for: Since we were keeping the same prices we had for the previous models, the customers would hopefully not suspect that we were selling them a shittier product from China => Not just greed, but dishonesty as well.  So, if it wasn’t bad enough that we were sourcing product from slighlty-better-than-slavery conditions, now we were denying it outright, or at least putting a glossy veneer of technical language on it.  Manufacturer on Record, my ass!  We’re a warehouse!  We manufacture nothing!
   I was mad for a second, and in that second I thought of the owner of the company.  I thought about everything I didn’t like about him.  This is the kind of guy who spouts off statistics about how the average life expectancy in Canada is increasing and concludes from there that the world must be getting better and better because he can’t see over the fence of his backyard in the rich neighbourhood he lives in.  He’s the kind of guy who will say “no vacations til the end of summer” for employees, but then talk excitedly about his upcoming mid-summer vacation; not out of malice but due to a complete lack of tact.  This is the kind of dude who will micro-manage the fuck out of every aspect of his company and then call a meeting at the end of the day (delaying the departure of employees) to talk about how his “pep-talks” are really having a positive effect on production.  Tis also he who will hold up production so we can do a detailed cleaning of the warehouse so he can give the visiting bankers (who have no interest in the warehouse) a tour of it.  Also, during these bank visits he’ll make anyone with a nice car park in the back so the bank doesn’t get the impression he’s paying anyone too much.  Now apparently he is also the type of guy to unethically source product and then tell his employees to lie to customers about where its from.  His relationship to reality has always been tenuous but now its seems it is will-fully so.
   But like I said, I was only mad at him for a second.   I mean, is it really his fault?
   One thing I have become more and more cognizant of is how this system corrupts people and puts them at odds with others, not just to excel, but simply to survive.  Anything I or anyone else gets is necessarily at the expense of someone else.  In that paradigm how can you blame someone for playing by the established rules, even if that entails outsourcing and a cavalier attitude toward the truth?  Certainly it must be harder to see the flaws in the system too when you’re making a ton of money.  So to call this guy a bad person is not accurate.  For one thing, I think he makes genuine, if misguided, efforts to do right by his employees.  But more importantly, he is playing by the rules we all must play by to some extent.  Whereas I try and extricate myself from this game as much as possible, he revels in it and commits 100% to the deception, to the point where he would deceive others.  Our respective socio-economic standings are the practical outcome of our various commitments to this deception, or lack thereof.
   For his sake, I hope I never have to pick up the phone and speak with a customer who is curious about where their product comes from.  For starters, lying doesn’t sit well with me, and second, I’m not getting paid enough to fib.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

P.S. To be clear, I don’t object to outsourcing on any patriotic grounds.  I don’t think “Buy Canadian” or “Buy American” campaigns are worthwhile because they don’t address structural flaws and they perpetuate xenophobia.  Ultimately it won’t be Chinese or Indian or Malaysian people who take all the jobs but an automated assembly line.  And that’s the way it should be, as menial, repetitive labour, or “monkey-work” as I call it, is simply a stultifying existence which needs automating.  I simply wanted to elucidate upon the dishonesty this system fosters with a practical example.

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