a case of social injustice.

Social Injustice is a bizarre concept. It is complex, multi-faceted, and takes different forms relative to perspective. By its very definition, social injustice embodies the deliverance of unfair treatment and bias by a group to an individual or subset group with differing views. It is often made synonymous to immorality, or being contrary to accepted principles. It is a particularly difficult reaction to withhold when judgment is passed cross-societally when fundamental beliefs are more likely to contradict, even acutely.

Without a single, universally-accepted version of “truth” or even a universally-accepted and plain definition for the word, society naturally diverges into a plethora of worldviews, principles, and opinions. This divergence in moral views is what has given birth to variance in political parties and in religious beliefs among humanity. It creates diversity. It creates democracy. It also creates conflict.

Conflict, when used as a tool to address issues and deliver justice, can be a healthy side effect of social-moral divergence. It’s what makes democracy work: discussing how matters do or do not conflict with a nation’s fundamental principles and laws. Oppressing a way of thinking because it is not the popular opinion is when society causes democracy to fail. When these outlying opinions are disrespected and punished, social divergence and moral conflict transform instantaneously into a case of social injustice.

In the United States, Canada, and much of Western Europe, the employment of democratic governments has solidified moral foundations on which the governments operate. Amongst these and in the forefront are the rights to freedom, equality, and free choice. Not only was such freedom almost denied to a young Canadian Aboriginal Makayla Sault and her family, but their principles continue to be assaulted online and elsewhere by ignorant and self-righteous critics.

Makayla Rain Sault

Makayla is the eleven-year-old daughter of two Pastors, Ken and Sonya. They are members of Ontario’s New Credit First Nation. In January, Makayla was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a blood cancer. She had been going through chemotherapy treatment per standard procedure until her story surfaced in the media around early May. It surfaced because Makayla reportedly asked her parents to quit chemo. She felt sick, she didn’t want to die sick, and wanted to exercise her rights to seek traditional medicine instead.

This story surfaced in communities such as Indian Country News as another tidbit of relevant happenings in the native community. Comments were of the supportive nature from other Indian Country community members who demonstrated their belief in the power of traditional medicine and the right to choose. In Canadian and American media outlets, however, articles ranged from liberally supportive to accusatorily denouncing. Comments on such electronic copies of the articles ranged as well. The supportive ones either came from people claiming native ancestry and thus having no qualms with traditional practice or from others who agree with the fundamental right for people to make their own choices, regardless of what one’s personal viewpoints were on traditional medicine, leukemia, or modern medicine.

The comments and the articles, however, which denounced Makayla, her parents, and their choices, built their foundations on their own beliefs of what is knowledge and of what is truth. A nauseating number of comments even took stabs at Native Americans as a whole, laying one inappropriate racist remark after another. Such comments served no purpose toward the end-goal and only exposed the grotesque ignorance Americans and Canadians have regarding the cultures that originally founded the landscape on which they now supposedly exercise freedom and equality for all. And while it would be hypocritical to withhold these people from their opinions, no matter how racist and ill-informed, their actions still work backwards against justice, freedom, and other constitutional pillars.

Between all the outcries, Makayla returned home to her reservation – but the medical “professionals” spat their protest in return. (I quote “professionals” because of, well, the whole what is truth and what is knowledge thing – on which I will elaborate in a bit.) Child Services was thus brought in to investigate. Should Makayla’s parents be deemed incapable of providing her the sound minds and care she was owed by them, the outside, non-tribal government would step in to take over. During the wait, Makayla’s parents released a video of their daughter reading a letter about how she felt in chemo, how much healthier she felt she was already becoming using traditional medicine, how she would rather die this way than in chemo, and how Jesus came to her in the hospital and assured to her that everything was going to be okay.

Now that it is June, the court has made its decision: to let Makayla stay at home with her parents. It was realized that Makayla’s parents were of sound mind, that Makayla was aware of her choices and knew which one she wanted to make, and that forcing her against her will might actually cause more stress, strain, and damage to her life than it would be an act to preserve it. Again, Indian Country comments praise her choices, her freedom, and traditional medicines. Mainstream comments either praise her right to choose and the strength of her family to let her, or they again denounce Makayla with such keywords as ignorance, stupidity, and shame. Some commenters are even gracious self-righteous enough to suggest her parents order the coffin now.

To me, the choice is obviously Makayla’s and her family’s. To me, disagreeing with her choices is fine, wanting to withhold her choices is diverging from the fundamentals of American and Canadian society, and choosing to actually withhold her choices would be an act of social injustice. To me, acting on racist comments, ignorant opinions, and cross-societal judgment is also a form of social injustice. My viewpoints are obviously not universal, so I will break down the key components of this situation.

Race

A lot of reactions that I have encountered in arguing the rights of Makayla have been ones that insist race is an irrelevant factor and that it should be. But I don’t think that’s the case, that it is either irrelevant or that it should be (although it would be great if past conflicts hadn’t kept that from being the case). For one, if race were truly irrelevant, why is it in the majority of the posted reactions online? Why is it even mentioned in the article? Well, it’s mentioned in the comments because self-righteous, ignorant people evidently choose to base their arguments on fallacy, or maybe they are just cruel and insecure. I’m not about to attempt explaining why humans diverge from their own social standards, because maybe it’s just an inherent folly of our race as a whole. As for the article, it is an important factor in two ways: It, as with the mentioning of Christianity in the Sault household, lays the moral foundation on which the Sault family operates. It also develops a slightly more complicated situation as far as governmental procedures are concerned.

Although education on the histories and present states of indigenous cultures in North America still lacks significantly considering the proximity and relevance these groups of people have had and continue to have to America and Canada, the majority of the populace should have a basic understanding of their past conflicts. Without delving into a whole other argument, consider that the American government has been notorious for not delivering social justice to the hundreds of peoples encompassing the aboriginal population in North America. As a result, several factions exist separately from the mainstream government.

In America (I’m more familiar with this system), this means that certain tribes own reservations, which have their own tribal governments. The land of a reservation is technically not part of the state or states in which it geographically belongs. The federal government oversees both the state and the tribal governments. The tribal governments operate separately, as state governments do.

There is no way to easily summarize the complexity of issues on the average reservation, but here’s how I see it: Between the sudden relocations and unfair land allocations made through past acts of social injustice by the American government, many of these tribal communities find themselves with insufficient natural resources. So many societal and governmental changes over the last century, too, means that many have struggled to develop rapidly enough to catch up with “modern” society around them. Yet, these tribes still function under the same federal system and they still choose to exercise the cultures, traditions, and beliefs as those who have immigrated to the same lands also choose to do. Unfortunately, such exercise was not permissible until the 1970s, later than any other “race”. So between struggling systems, depleting natural resources, and culture shocks, these people have a lot of justified fear and have not forgotten what has happened to their cultures over the last few centuries by a government that has since absorbed them.

How does this pertain to a modern Canadian such as Makayla? Well, Makayla lives on a reservation. She is protected by treaty laws that would be violated if the Canadian government removed her from her reservation. (History repeating, anyone?) Furthermore, Makayla is of Ojibwe descent and actively living with her family in their tribal community. It is not surprising that her family values their culture and traditional medicine much like it is not surprising that a daughter of Christian Pastors speaks of Jesus having come to her. To denounce her and her family of their belief in medical healing would be, in my view, the same as denouncing her for their Christian beliefs – and I bet a lot more people would have a problem with the latter. But what is the difference? They believe God is Truth just as they believe traditional medicine is the same, better, or at least more peaceful than “modern practice”. So, please, save your comments about “white man” and his “strong medicine”. I don’t know whose egos are even boosted by such disrespect. And please respect the reason for reservation treaties, rather than mocking natives for being “racists” and “trying to isolate” themselves. It wasn’t that long ago that Canada had residential schools for “savages”. And by not long ago, I mean 50 or 60 years ago. Maybe within your lifetime. What oppressions have you faced in your lifetime that are of that intensity? Honestly and without making this a pity competition?

Knowledge

Accompanying the denouncing of traditional medicine is the belief that modern medicine is in fact the answer. Wow, talk about history repeating. This is looking down on another culture’s view of the human body and of its traditional knowledge. This is the same attitude that landed so many innocent people in those residential schools to begin with. It is the same attitude that, if unchecked, blossoms into a hatred as strong as Hitler’s for a single race or a single way of thinking. People believing they know the absolute moral truths of the planet are exercising their rights to moral standpoints, but forcing those beliefs on others is where lines are crossed. The truth is, we don’t know what truth is – at least not as a collective when so many varying fundamental truths exist amongst today’s cultures. All we can do is hold our own truths and respect the truths of others. These truths are what allow us to live and practices ways that we believe are correct. The combination of truths and beliefs allow us to ascertain what we consider “knowledge”, but “knowledge” is word that has been of strong philosophical debate since at least the time of Descartes. Why does this matter? Because knowledge is also a cultural perspective.

We might have facts. These are statements that are made and cannot be disproved because they are true. But to say something is factual is a difficult process. Religion is one of constant “factual” debate. In my view, Science is, too, a religion – something that cannot be humanly controlled and therefore is difficult to prove. Maybe things can be disproved. But to prove something? To actually make something true? You can expect society to develop diverging opinions. As mentioned before, that’s why we have different branches of government and different denominations of religion. (If “the Word” is “truth”, how are there so many different kinds of Christianity?) Alas, what makes science any different? Some “believe” in Darwin’s theory of evolution. Some don’t. Gravity is a theory, too, a thing that we can’t see but that we have so far consistently demonstrated – but it could be inaccurate. At what point is it a true, completely defined, controlled thing?

Modern science is no exception. We get statistics. We try to control simulations. We perform experiments, derive theories, draw conclusions. But we haven’t always been right. Do you know how many times chicken eggs have been considered “healthy”, then “unhealthy”, and then only “healthy” if eaten with some arbitrary amount of moderation? Quite frankly, I think the human body is super complicated, that modern medicine has discovered some amazing details and observations about it, but that humans don’t know jack. Humans also love to think they have knowledge and then use those notions as a weapon to beat down others.

One of the steadiest arguments against Makayla’s case is the reportedly high chance of survival with her particular kind of leukemia. Statistics have been report here and there, inconsistently, but most seem to average out at about 70%. That means there are four cups in front of you. Pick one. (Slighly more than) one contains a death sentence. No one denies chemo isn’t horrible, although I bet you the majority of medical “professionals” dealing with cancer patients have not actually experienced cancer or chemo themselves. So back to the cups: suffer through chemo and pick one. Was it worth it? Would it have been worth it if it were 50/50? What about 10%? What if? Someone says this: There’s virtually no way you will survive this, but modern medicine says chemo is your best chance. If you try traditional medicine, you can bet you’re going to die. Without the side effects of chemo. And you can bet it based on that “professional’s” opinion, a “professional” who has only studied and been given the opinions that exist in “modern” medicine to date. Because so many statistics exist regarding traditional medicines. Because, Billy Best anyone?

Let’s not forget where “modern” medicine even came from. Did it just crop up one day, like someone opened a box and declared “I have found modern medicine!”? No! It started with the basics, with plant remedies and simple survival skills that are the reason why we exist today. Our ancestors survived on these basic medical practices. Our bodies evolved consuming(or were simultaneously created with to consume) the plants, the atmosphere, the world that naturally occurs around us. Traditional medicine isn’t some spontaneously invented, unwarranted native voodoo – it is, to some cultures, also a “profession”. A “profession” that not every member of a culture is skilled or knowledgeable to even practice. To be as arrogant as to declare that we know something that we can’t possibly know but that we can only infer from select inquiries? Well, isn’t that like the whole GMO argument? Isn’t that “playing God”?

The Right to Choose

But really, who cares? Who cares who or what Makayla is or anything else? Her parents aren’t lunatics but reportedly loving. They believe they are exercising their love for their daughter by giving her the choice of comfort and familiarity. They are all well aware of the possible consequences, but they believe in the power of natural remedy in the way they believe in their Savior looking over them and making choices that human hands can never make. I don’t care if you believe the Spaghetti Monster is by your side – it’s no one’s business to hold your beliefs against you, especially with something as intimate as a life-or-death matter. With all political, religious, and cultural turmoil aside, they are Canadian citizens with the right to choose. And poor Makayla… To quote her, “I live in this body, and they don’t.” Child or not, Makayla clearly understands her rights and her right to choose, and no Ontario law prohibits her from doing this. Her community supports her right to choose as well and all authorities are in compliance that her parents are of no danger to her. So why is this so complicated? Because doctors disagree with Makayla and some members of the outside community have voiced opposition based on their differing views. All I can say is Thank you, Makayla, the Saults, and the supporting community for recognizing the right to choose and exercising it. Thank you, Ontario, for honoring and protecting the rights of Canadian individuals and choices regarding their own lives. And now let’s show support – whether you like the choice or not – for a sick but strong girl. It’s not a call to liberals, to aboriginals, to Canadians, or to Christians – it’s a call to a humane humanity. Gishwe’ muk kshe’ mnIto pine’, Makayla!

what-ifs and truths.

“I felt kind of…convicted when you said that.”

I remember that conversation in January…part of a valley surrounded by peaks that had been defining the coexistence between me and another person.  I remember the conversation for its weight but also for that expression.  With all of the books I read, can you believe I’d never known how to used “convicted” like that before?  And yet I keep reading blog entries of others saying how “convicted” they felt at revealing something of themselves.  Hmm.

Well, then it happened: I felt convicted.

Lately I’ve been beating myself up to seek out the perfect truth to everything.  I’ve been driven by this concept that there’s a perfect way to live, to think, to be and that I must tear down every wall to find it.  I must clean every slate and read anything I can get my hands on and try to see the world completely open-mindedly.  Because I wanted to find the  truth.

Then I somehow stumbled upon The Order of the Star…and its dissolution.  I was confounded by the words “Truth is a pathless land” until I read this article.  And I thought wow have I been confused.  And it made sense.

You see, the more and more I’ve been trying to find the “truth” about anything and everything, the more muddled and confused I’ve been feeling.  I’m suddenly finding myself checking off lists in my head to see if my logic is precise or my methods of evaluating a situation are according to my standards of open-mindedness.  I’ve been picking apart everything I observe based on two streams of thought: humans as survivalists and humans as spiritualists.  But for what?  It has only made me more confused and surely appear more callous and dull to my friends.

Yet, “Truth is a pathless land”.  There is no truth.  Truth is just an idea that grows into a restriction, into a box out of which to live.  Truth becomes a religious doctrine.  Truth is a lie that sits idol and constricts.  Truth is the reason why the Order dissolved, because truth becomes religion and religion becomes convicting regardless of circumstance.  And I can say that safely after having read several church sermons (okay, mostly UU) which tell this story:

The devil and his friend were walking down the road.  A man in front of them picked something off the ground and put it in his pocket.  “I wonder what he found?” asked the friend.  “A piece of truth,” said the devil.  “Oh, well that’s bad news for you,” said the friend.  “No,” said the devil.  “I’ll let him make a religious following out of it.”

So, in other words, living with absolutes restricts growth.  Seeking that black-and-white answer to become better can actually make us worse.  I know many will disagree, that there is a set list of principles to follow, etc., but I always come back down to intention.  You can follow whatever practices you want, but if you go through the motions then you’re not really practicing anything.  When you pour everything into something, that gives it meaning.  Even when you slip up, it’s the distance you’ve come and the intent in your heart that matters way more than saying you belong to a particular group.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being an individual, group-less good person.  One who finds his own “truths” which he does not raise up or of which he does not hold others accountable.

And now that I’ve eliminated truth, it’s hard to explain my feelings of what-if.  As an engineer/scientist, I want to say FACT, FACT, FACT – yet I believe religion and science are exactly the same thing: they are explanations for the same phenomena and all consist of THEORY.

Examples of accepted facts (which does NOT equate to “truths”):
-gravity is 9.81 m/s2
-the earth is round(ish)
-I must eat to stay alive
-water boils at 100C
-humans don’t have wings

These accepted facts are, well, accepted based on how we define our words and the things we have managed to observe.  But they canNOT be absolute.  Especially when you can only prove something is true by, well,…The truth is, you can only prove something to be wrong, can’t you?

And what about the what-ifs in my life?
what if i hadn’t said that just that one time
what if i had tried harder
what if i hadn’t been late
what if i had made another choice
what if i had been a different person

Well… I can never know what is true from this list since truth doesn’t exist.  But I’m thinking we’re all better off that way.  As my friend said, “The hard times make the good times better.”  And if we had all of the answers and if truth were real, we wouldn’t have any of those unpleasant or pleasant surprises to be thrown at us!

The Future: Where Are We Headed?

population_growth

As an environmental engineer, I can’t help but think about the future and what is becoming of our planet.  I study charts and statistics about how the world is environmentally spinning out of control and analyze the correlations of this erraticism to the evolutions of technology over the last several centuries.  I have concluded that the sharing of information has become both the most and least progressive movements of the human age.  How is that so?  And where does that take us now?

I doubt many people can argue that the ability to communicate ever more efficiently has accelerated the progression of man.  From our days in caves when language first developed, to spreading word of warfare or the discovery of new land, we have constantly been moving and changing our actions according to word of mouth.  Both verbal and physical language alter how we perceive others and situations and are the primary ways in which we communicate both intentionally and unintentionally.  First we developed oral language, then we developed messengers and means to communicate outside of our direct linguistic groups.  This turned into a written language with mail carriers.  With the rise of the Industrial Revolution, we were suddenly sending information via Pony Express, telegraph, radio, telephone, Internet… but where are we heading now?

Communication with such ease is both a blessing and a curse.  Although we can share important information to help accelerate a situation (how loved ones are doing, what someone has discovered in a laboratory, that a tornado is coming), this communication also affects us negatively in two ways.   Firstly, think of our history of bad choices, such as slavery.  We communicated the idea that slavery is a good choice, then we chose to select certain peoples as victims and exploit certain regions which were communicated to one another over the years and distances.  The second way that communication has negatively impacted society is that, although curing disease and preventing disasters are desirable to a person, they are not necessarily beneficial to humanity as a whole.  No one wants to hear it, but overpopulation is a rapidly growing concern and communicating ideas and warnings that prevent nature from taking its course instead facilitates the spread of problems and population booms that would otherwise not exist.

As a dorky engineer, I like to model the growth of human technology, population, and communication as a conglomerate graph: y = ex. What does that mean?  Well, x simply notes the rate at which any of those categories exponentially grows.  It doesn’t take a very impressive number to accelerate y at a nauseating speed up the graph.  In fact, a horizontal asymptote can be readily achieved without moving very far down the x-axis.  In other words, infinity is achieved with ease.  But what does infinity mean in the real world?  What will happen when we reach this point of infinity?  When technology has multiplied with the spread of knowledge and grown so rapidly that it has now reached that asymptote line at the brink of infinity?

Mathematically speaking, we can’t even verbalize the concept of infinity.  Honestly, though, I argue that infinity is exactly what will happen.  We describe infinity with as much difficulty as we define “zero”, although “zero” is a concept we can visualize.  Infinity and the numbers approaching it are truly exponentially more difficult to visualize as they grow, which makes sense.  But it’s not enough for me.  Why can’t we visualize infinity?  Why can’t we predict where we are going?  Why can’t we see an end and a solution that are agreeable to this exponential growth?

Enter: Kayla’s slightly superstitious or perhaps extraterrestrial opinions.

I am wholeheartedly convinced that the human mind only has a certain capacity to imagine, invent, and comprehend.  Much like we cannot imagine a dimension beyond the third (unless we consider the addition of time an addition of dimension), I don’t believe our minds are suited to comprehend beyond a certain limit.  I believe the acceleration of an exponential graph – when the derivative becomes too steep – is the exact moment that we stop comprehending.  We’d like to say it’s “mind overload” or that our minds will “explode” trying to comprehend so much.  And although that might be a figurative explanation, isn’t it a bit naïve to blame our lack of comprehension on something that we can’t prove?  Isn’t that the same as assuming religion as the explanation for all things for which we have no better theory?  Like when the first peoples explained lighting as the power of a repulsed god?  Saying that suffrage was “meant to be” and is “his choice” because we need something to believe in?

Thus I define the asymptote of our growth and y as x approaches said asymptote to be the point at which our currently evolved brains have reached overcapacity.  In other words, progression stops at this point.  We are not equipped to compute, comprehend, and invent beyond this predefined limitation of our intelligence.  There is a way, however, to get around this barricade: that is to evolve.  But how can we evolve when we have converted from nomadic, warring lives to lives of comfort, luxury, and tight-knit societies?  How can we expect to evolve under such security blankets when we nurture the suffering, coddle the inept, and put bandages on every slight provocation?  We can’t.  And no one wants to hear those words, but the truth is we try too hard to play Mother Nature – or god if you so choose.  We cannot expect to progress as a race until we have overcome our crutches, namely our unprecedented compassion for helping, protecting, and saving all that would not otherwise survive.

So, in conclusion, the future, communication, and where we are headed all sums into the following: Communication has accelerated us exponentially in all good and bad aspects of our history as humans.  This acceleration will halt when we have reached the limit of our intelligence.  Our intelligence will not improve or progress because we have decided to protect and preserve all the flaws and populations “not meant to be” in our society.  But, all in all, we do not control the universe and Mother Nature will prevail.  Natural selection has been the law strongest against the test of time.  I do not see our intelligence progressing any further before we either kill each other or we screw up the environment enough for nature to kill us.  So I don’t think this entry has been particularly enlightening or relieving, but maybe it’s something to ponder on?  Or maybe it’s just something to which we ascent and proceed to accept our fate.  Maybe there is no way out.  Then, again, maybe that’s what nature intended?  C’est la vie.