Your Privilege is Showing: How Climate Change Movements Miss the Point

Let’s cut to the chase: The current climate change movement, on both a national and international level, is an excellent cause with a plethora of misguided notions.  Not a piece you were probably expecting to come from a 2016 COP22 Youth Delegate candidate.  But it’s a piece that has to be said, and it has to be said now.

Before we continue blasting the world with our thoughts about environmental and social injustices, before we unite across state lines and borders to commit ourselves to challenges of the best intentions, we need to realize the lenses on our own faces.  We need to become familiar with the privileges we have that give us a voice.  We need to be aware of the hypocrisy of our actions, and how some of our actions actually silence those who, for whatever cause, have a limited participation.  With so much of our advocacy moving into cyberspace, we must acknowledge how many off-the-grid victims of climate change are left out of the conversation.  We use globalization as a strength, but isn’t globalization also our biggest enemy?

PRIVILEGE ON THE CLIMATE CHANGE FRONT
Many of us have privileges for different reasons, and if you’re reading this right now you already have one: internet access.  It’s so crucial for us as individuals to understand what privilege is and also for us to acknowledge it.  In order to make any true social change, understanding privilege and power is key to success.  These privileges are things we have access to in our lives that are in fact luxuries.  They might even be social classes or citizenships we were born into that were simply a roll of the dice.  Yet these privileges affect us both passively and actively.

When privilege affects us passively, it may be because, e.g., we do not experience discrimination or struggle financially day-to-day.  A lack of discrimination, or a lack of financial difficulty, therefore becomes our accepted norm.  In fact, it might not even occur to us how many privileges we have because we haven’t experienced a lack of that privilege.  On the other hand, privilege affects us actively when it creates a lens through which we see the world.  We have a certain idea of how life “should” be, usually based on our norms, and we end up transposing our ideas cross-culturally without even realizing it.  It’s sometimes hard to see a lens when we don’t even realize we are wearing it.  (Click here to read more about how I think our cultural lenses affect our conversations with “developing”, “impoverished”, and even indigenous communities in an interview by Chloe Maxmin.)

Today, we live in a global economy.  Our actions, more than ever, have a rippling effect that touches even the most remote face that we will never get to see or know.  This is so evident to those passionate about climate change and carbon emissions.  We understand the earth is one being, that the trees are its lungs, and that water is a sacred, shared source.  Our days move in a rhythm with the same fiery, gaseous, and extinguishable sphere in the sky.  Even before the internet, we were synchronized in this way.  Our existence, whether spontaneous or planned, relied on this synchronization in order to come into being.  Yet we are weaving that interconnectivity even closer to the point of complete interdependence.

So how does this globalization affect the movement against climate change?  The more and more we become interdependent in our global economy, the more and more we rely on international movements to address global changes.  Carbon emissions is at the forefront of this struggle.  However, we can’t help but be hypocrites; for, as we strive to resolve shared issues from globalization – like carbon emissions – through international efforts and coordination, we are in fact reinforcing the same principles we are trying to defeat.  We look to international leaders, we rally the people from every corner of the globe, we use the effective global communication tool known as social media, we buy cotton shirts in support from unknown material and labor sources, and we hop on a jet plane to get us everywhere in between.  In this way, we become hypocrites – and we exclude those without the same privilege as ourselves from the conversation.

A LIMITED PARTICIPATION
Social justice and environmental justice are not mutually exclusive things.  In fact, our Western lens tends to separate all things that should not be separated.  To think that human rights can be preserved without addressing environmental protection is a foolish notion that will destroy us if we cannot separate ourselves from it.  Yet as the culture of modern, Western society strives increasingly to separate the two, the inseparability between indigenous communities and the protection of their natural resources become evermore clear.  Our disconnect from where our food comes from, who makes our clothes, and even our cultural values translates into a disconnect from humanity and social justice.

When we operate with this disconnect, we risk framing our actions and the reasons why we do them in a way that limits how people feel they can participate.  This circles back to privilege and to having an expected vision of what life should be like.  It’s easy to make a movement where you encourage people to shower only 1 minute a day, ride their bike instead of drive to work, and buy only locally-sourced, organic foods.  Well, there are many places in the world where the population cannot participate in such a movement.  And it doesn’t have to be a remote corner; sometimes it’s in the American backyard.  Even where I live on the Navajo Reservation, many people don’t have running water so they can’t reduce shower time; they might hitch-hike to work, but they can’t bike clear to the border cities where the work and the bus routes only connect major towns a few times a day; and we live in a “food desert” where some folks don’t have electricity for refrigeration, so the choice is usually between a bag of chips or canned conventional food.  Yet it’s undeniable that the Navajo Nation is feeling the effects of climate change.  In some ways, these changes are contributing to the food desert effect.  So how can these exceptions be inclusions?

My example is just one of many, and it’s something I’ve thought about more and more as I’ve traveled.  So often the people being affected the most by climate change are the same people who don’t live with the luxuries that we “cut back on” here and there to “reduce” our impacts.  Of course, it isn’t just about how we rally ourselves socially and who is or isn’t included in social media movements.  It’s also about who is making the decisions on how we live and our health.  The policy-makers who separate themselves from the rallying public and who negotiate behind closed doors are making decisions that will affect the health and prosperity of literally every being in the world.  Talk about privilege, and talk about power.

Another example that I think really embodies the same concept of limited participation actually has to do with public art.  Public art is such a powerful tool of communication, a wordless language that transcends boundaries and delivers messages of varying complexity.  But public art can also be incredibly exclusive.  In the United States, public art is too often used as a tourist statement to encourage people to visit and come into an area.  Sure, it might positively impact local business, but the art the movement introduces is static pieces that live among the unintended audience.  The art isn’t meant to necessarily do anything for the citizens in the area, and it especially tends to exclude certain citizens like the homeless.

A classic example of how public art can be exclusive is the Fremont Troll of Seattle.  The bridge where this art piece is now used to house sleeping homeless people and some alleged drug activity.  As a way to “creatively address” this “problem”, the “public” united to install the Fremont Troll.  On the surface, it looks like a nice idea; but really, the statue displaces the “problem” rather than addresses it – and it most certainly alienates the people the art is actively targeting.  It simply strengthens and widens that social divide/gap.  It reinforces the already present issue that homeless people are not viewed as citizens, as part of the public.  The alternative?  Public art that is in fact a fluid space, inviting participation from the community.  Urban peace gardens are an example of this.  They serve as educational platforms open to any human and they rely on the community’s efforts to keep the installations running after the artists have created them.

If we really want to make a difference on the climate change front, we have to be aware of how we limit participation.  Maybe we are limiting others, and maybe policy-makers are the ones limiting us.  Regardless, we have to avoid reinforcing these gaps by building a Fremont Troll and to instead create a change that runs deeper than just a bandage on a communal wound.  We have to actively seek voices and participation from all demographics and situations, in spite of the nature of the movement and because of the movement itself.  Movements that look to include all kinds of experiences, and which add real perspective to privilege in every form it takes, it’s those movements that are more like the education tool of the urban peace gardens.  They work to include every story into the need for change. 

Ironically, Chloe’s blog also touches on this issue, describing her experience between “us” and “them” while participating in COP21.

THE HYPOCRISY OF OUR METHODS
As I mentioned briefly when addressing privilege, the methods we have to have access to in order to participate – such as transportation, cell phones, and social media – are also methods that reinforce our hypocrisy.  The most obvious is when we have to take a plane or a car to a conference on climate change, or to promote having Zero emissions by 2050.  But some of them aren’t as obvious, and not acknowledging them weakens every effort we could dream of making to combat a changing climate.  Do you know the environmental and social consequences of your cell phone?  Of the coffee you drink?  The clothes you wear?  The manufactured bike you ride?  The alternative energy you promote?

While I admire the #ZeroBy2050 movement from the COP21 Youth Delegates last year in Paris, I think it is also a good example of how we tend to really miss the point.  Yes, zero emissions is an amazing concept.  But there are numerous flaws.  Perhaps the biggest offender is the support of renewable energy.  During the #ZeroBy2050 movement at COP21, the participants were fighting to get language entered into the Paris Agreement that would call for the complete phasing out of carbon emissions by 2050.  Similar to the Break Free campaign, which aims to abandon fossil fuels completely, this movement vehemently promotes “clean energy” in place of emissions-generating operations.

I’m a Masters candidate in Mechanical Engineering for the purpose of studying alternative energy, what goes into the systems, and how they have yet to improve.  I am in this field solely for the purpose of understanding the technologies and what we are actually promoting.  One of the biggest flaws of these alleged “clean energy” sources: they depend enormously on the mining industry.  I’ve experienced across so many different organizations and communities this diehard approach to going “alternative” without having seriously considered that the “alternative” is not “clean”.  True, renewable sources will last us longer, but the current technologies we have leave us tied to mining, no matter how much we want to keep it all “in the ground”.  And it’s not just the metals and rare earth materials that go into fuel cells/solar panels and wind turbines, it’s also the metals and chemicals in our painted bikes and modes of transportation and the gold in the circuitry of all our electronic devices.

Yet, the more you think about it, our world works in a balance.  That’s part of what we are fighting for, right?  To maintain the atmospheric balance.  To reverse rapid changes we have made since the Industrial Revolution to which Nature is struggling to adapt.  But we can’t completely eliminate carbon emissions.  It sounds radical to say, but carbon emissions are also part of the balance.  When we say “carbon emissions”, we simply mean “carbon dioxide” – a key component to the atmosphere.  Too much of it can have serious ramifications.  For example, too much CO2 in the atmosphere heats the earth during radiation.  It also causes an imbalance in calcium carbonate precipitation in the ocean water, leading to the acidification of the ocean and the dying of coral reefs.  (Read my term paper on this topic here.)  But the same can be said if we dramatically reverse and completely eliminate carbon emissions.  We have to be careful that we don’t promote the idea that no carbon dioxide equals a healthy planet.  Rather, we have to find a way to strike a balance.

Saying we will not burn fuels that create carbon emissions also means we must strike down every effort to promote biomass energy.  Why?  While burning coal, oil, and gas does produce far more emissions, burning woody mass is not “clean” either.  Here in the southwest, biomass offers an alternative to fossil fuels that also has an alarming abundance.  When we get forest fires, they tend to rage for long distances at greater intensities.  The tendency is to fight them, yet forest fires are crucial to the ecosystem here.  Certain seeds only open when burned, generating young trees.  Fires create breaks that keep disease from spreading across entire forests.  Climate change, sadly, is having a negative impact on the natural phenomenon of these fires as well.  All of these factors result in crown fires that lick up the dense, dry, unburned undergrowth and fuel the intensity of the flames.  Encouraging people to burn this undergrowth through biomass projects would help reverse our negative impacts on the natural cycle of fires, but, of course, it would technically produce carbon emissions.

My mom always talks about diet by saying “Everything in moderation.  You can have too much of any thing, even if it’s good for you.”  I think our attitude about climate change and natural phenomenon should be like that too.  Not nonchalant, but in a way that accepts there are meant to be periods of drought, there are meant to be periods of flood – as long as it’s the way of the world deciding what happens and not humanity’s greed that is causing the changes.  I think this perspective is really important and grounding if we want to seriously make a difference.

When I was younger, I used to be zealous about changing light bulbs. Then my focus shifted to changing the systems that determine how we use energy, because, as the saying goes, “we need system change, not climate change.” As a youth delegate to COP21—the international climate-change conference in Paris last December—I witnessed the most sophisticated political skills the world has to offer focus on one goal: to change the fundamental components of our energy systems. They failed. In Paris, I learned that there is an even deeper level of change required to prevent climate catastrophe. It’s not system change—it’s human change.

-Chloe Maxmin, In 2016, No More Human-As-Usual

It really is human attitude and perspective that is the underlying, root cause of so much turmoil in our world today.  It is a disconnect from the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the social/environmental impacts of getting those products to our hands.  We can’t fully depend on policies to govern how we rule ourselves.  As Chloe says, the change for humanity and the health of the world has to come from within.

SO WHAT CAN WE DO?
I don’t have the solutions.  In fact, I go through days of doubt when I’m convinced there is no solution.  But what I can say is self-awareness is at the core of this movement.  For the collective human body to make a change, that change has to come from within the individuals.  To create this change and self-awareness, we have to acknowledge where we do and don’t have privilege; we have understand the implications of everything we do, purchase, and consume; we have to be aware of the lenses we have.  We have to include, not exclude.  We have to share stories alongside facts, because it is the facts the policy-makers want to see and it is the stories the people want to hear.  And always, always, always, we have to keep an open and honest perspective.
To see how these topics have surfaced in my own global challenges, and how I’ve questioned “What does solidarity look like in the eyes of climate change?”, click here to read my experience in Nicaragua from May 2016.
 
FullSizeRender (1)
A repost of a watercolor I did after being inspired by the street art in Nicaragua.  Read my post on my trip to Nicaragua for more information.

my view on marketing.

I had written a huge entry about the evils of marketing and then accidentally deleted it.  So this shorter recap will just have to do.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the media, TV shows, celebrities, sports, politics, and health topics and realizing how backwards America is.  I also realize how all of these things are rooted in marketing.  I’ve always accused journalists singularly for being selfish, pushing articles, and putting up false or inappropriate images just to make a buck or sell a pitch.  Now I’m realizing it’s not just journalism the marketing part of journalism, as well as marketing in general.

The Mascot Issue would not exist without marketing.  Eons ago, back when “racism” wasn’t a concept because White was the only race, Native American (and other minority) images, names, and stereotypes were generated to market sports teams, movies, and things like books.  Marketers are literally the people sitting around going “how can we make this obvious to the public as something they can identify with”, then selling out minorities to win over the majority.  A perfect example of this when Darrin Stephens in Bewitched has to sell dental crème.  “We all know witches have hooked noses, warts, and blacked-out teeth,” says the owner of the crème company.  Darrin doesn’t hesitate in creating an image that sells based on this stereotype.  Ethics don’t play a role in business.  And until Samantha flies (understandably) off the (broomstick)handle, Darrin doesn’t even pay mind that his own beautiful wife is a witch insulted by such discriminating images.  Today, these same logos, brand names, trademarks, and other images become a kind of metonymy for a product.  For example, “tissue” harkens to Kleenex, and we begin to think nothing is as good as that brand name.

When the media expresses its opinion on an issue, the author has to decide between pitching to this majority or understanding the minority cause.  In the case of recent articles in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and The Washington Post, some authors have taken huge risks in defending Natives in both cities against imaging by the local sports teams.  In the case of other large-stream media with other marketing interests, where unemployment is too much of a risk, this isn’t always the case.  For example, Bloomberg media rarely reports on the mascot issue, generally copies-and-pastes words when it does, and considers the issue old and “scandalous” – a rather pathetic word bank, if you ask me.

But sports continue to be marketed as the Neo-Patriotism of America.  These images become holier than the American flag.  People put more money into expensive plastic food and chemical-laden, cheap beer than they do for positive things.  They accuse doctors who save lives as making too much money and sue them like crazy for malpractice, yet it’s okay to pay a football player absurd amounts of money and let him off the hook for violating people.  Even celebrities and TV are often popular for the wrong reasons.  Shows like 16 and Pregnant, Jersey Shore, and Bridezilla make me grown as I realize how many Americans idolize these shows and lifestyles.  These become “normal” ideas of the American life.  And, trust me, I see the effects of this marketing.  When Europeans turn up their noses at Americans for being lowly and when Central Africans tell you they could never stand this country and love their lives in Cameroon, that’s when you know you have problems.  We’re not the land of the free; we’re the land of big egos, stressed lifestyles, and erroneous priotization.

And don’t even get me started on politics.  I’ve come to realize it’s just a game rich people play to be famous without having any acting skills or intelligence.  If they’re so good at raising money, why don’t they pull us out of debt?  Any person who can market themselves to win Presidency is not an honest enough person to do the job, but any person honest enough to do the job would never sell themselves out to market themselves a win.  Yup, I am disgusted with the practice of advertisement and marketing.

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!

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.

When Women Blame Men for Things They’ve Encouraged

I’m no feminist by any means.  That doesn’t mean I don’t get incredibly riled up when a guy singles me out in a hockey game to check me, or when I’m at a club and every man on the dance floor suddenly decides I wanted him to fondle me from behind.  Disrespect infuriates me.  But there’s a difference between being disrespected when I’m minding my own business and being disrespected when encouraging disrespectful behavior.

My friend and I were walking around campus this past Tuesday when we encountered a long stretch of handmade signs protesting rape.  There were no posters defending men who are raped.  Every poster accused men of raping women and of disrespecting them.  My friend, an incredibly chivalrous 22-year-old male, was highly offended by the message presented.  “Yes, all men are evil,” he scoffed.  “I hate these posters.  I would rip them down, but then everyone would be all ‘Oh, yeah, that one…he’s gotta be a rapist because he disagrees with those posters’. “. He pointed at a few which read things like “My dress doesn’t say yes” and “I should be able to drink at parties without getting raped”.  “I’m sorry,” he said. “But if you’re hammered at a party with other hammered people, you’re scantily dressed if at all, and you’re making out with everyone you see, something is naturally going to follow.  It’s not that I support it, but calling all college men rapists because you’re out of control??  It’s so unfair.”. And I completely agree with him.

Taking advantage of a woman is not okay by any standard, drunk or not, but my friend has a valid point: Women finding themselves in such situations have often put themselves there willingly.  I don’t think it’s right to generalize men and accuse them all of actively disrespecting every woman they encounter.  It is still a woman’s responsibility to take command of her actions and treat herself and others the same way she expects them to treat her.  Im disgusted when I go to clubs and I see the low-cut, mini-skirt dresses and excessive makeup all around me.  This new identification of “beauty” is merely a reflection of inter-feminine competition for attention.  Seeking male attention by these means is only ever asking for trouble.  I personally prefer to dress modestly and act to not impress.  I would rather win respect acting respectfully of myself and others than be disrespected because I, well, asked for it.  That doesn’t mean dressing suggestively means you deserved to be raped, but what does dressing “sexy” mean by definition?  Think about it.

But this inter-female competition for male attention is a new root of evil among unisex social gatherings, such as clubs.  The female strive for perfection is often self-induced.  So many of my female friends get ready to go out with the intentions of being the most attractive girl in their company.  By causing a rift amongst our own ranks, we invite the opportunity for men to judge us at the same level.  Out of all the places I could find a quote, I actually was most struck by a recent re-run of Mean Girls.  Ms. Norbury is asked to speak to the female population at school about a “burn book” some students used to document hurtful words about their classmates.  Referring to the entries, she addressed the crowd, telling them “You’ve all got to stop calling each other sluts and whores.  It just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.”. Her point is spot on and demonstrates how bahavior can directly affect levels of respect between the different sexes.

I just wish more women would realize the things they’re bringing upon themselves and other women.  To be respected, you must give respect – to yourself and other women.  Women should not be itemized by men, but what example is it if they present themselves as items first?  Think about this the next time you’re out and maybe you’ll see what I mean.  Meanwhile, I will continue to go against the grainof society and be modest, respectful, little ole Kayla, hiding in the corner and rolling my eyes at the women who seem determined to make the expectations men have of me more and more difficult to navigate.