Following the U.S. Down the Slippery Slope is Unethical

A recent article in the Huffington Post discusses the Canadian government’s current approach to terrorism.  In light of the Boston Marathon bombings, the Canadian Conservative Government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper is revisiting the anti-terrorism policies that were ushered in post 9/11 but allowed to lapse after five years.   One of them would allow for “preventative detention.”  We all know what that means – an erosion of civilian rights in the name of national security.  Incarceration due to suspicion alone.  

Do we really want to follow the U.S. down this slippery slope – holding people without charging them, perhaps eventually condoning brutal interrogation techniques (a.k.a. torture)?  Do we want to party in the streets when someone is murdered without due process, without the chance of arrest or the benefit of a legal trial?  Do we think assassination is an acceptable answer to violence?  

Clearly, if this can happen, we do not live in a democracy and we do not practice an ethical approach towards our fellow human beings.  It appears our leaders may be headed in the direction of the U.S.  Our southern neighbour, in its response to terror, has undeniably flouted international law and fueled already extant ire from those opposed to its political and economic treatment of other cultures and countries.  Being a struggling and declining empire can turn a country into a rogue nation blind to its own systemic violence.  That is a very dangerous place to be, and it is the dark side of characterizing yourselves as either invincible or as victims.  

I am not denying the perpetuation of unspeakable acts and the appalling deaths of innocent people.  No one should tolerate such brutality and despicable hatred.  I am arguing against a vindictive response that makes things worse rather than better.  What form should our intolerance of terrorism take?  Folding a sense of a people’s victimization into state policy is precisely what has happened in Israel, as if the terrible mistreatment of Palestinians in the present is justified if you belong to a people who suffered systematic eradication in the past.  So taboo a topic is the present manifestation of Holocaust history that many Jewish academics who have tried to criticize Israeli state policies have been mercilessly derided, while non-Jews who cast a negative light on these issues are cursorily dismissed as anti-Semitic.

What message do we want to leave the next generation in terms of what is appropriate as a stance against brutality and violence?  How should a nation respond to the threats against it?  Can it act responsibly within an ethical framework in ways that do not deny human rights, exacerbate conflict, or invite further violence?  This is a difficult and complex question that nevertheless demands urgent consideration before we devolve into a new world order of perpetual war.


Just Another Vancouver Day

ImageThis was the view from Caulfeild Cove yesterday.  The sun, though glorious, was not shedding much warmth, plus there was a cold breeze.  The sloped rocks were a bit treacherous as we were trying to have our picnic.  It was a bit cumbersome trying to put things on the bread with the dog two inches from our faces and nowhere to set anything down without it tumbling over the rocky precipice.  I spilled tapanade on my sock.

Childhood Fears Return…

Seeing and hearing North Korea’s puffed up posturing and increasingly threatening rhetoric, I’m reminded of my childhood fears of a Nuclear Holocaust.  I was quite anxious about it, particularly as I tried to fall asleep in my dark room (things were always scariest then).  I cursed the inventors of nuclear technologies, knowing my fears were warranted.  

I once heard Dr. Helen Caldicott speak at UBC.  Since she knew so much more about the nuclear threat than I did, her words concretized my earlier fears.  Apparently we don’t live in a “post-nuclear” age anymore than we live in a “post-colonial” one.  Do we really have to be dragged back to this dreadful place?  Why must we be revisited by this terrifying menace? Can’t we have banishment rather than brandishment?  Perhaps it’s time for a public screening of Dr. Strangelove.   Only this time it’s the nuclear missiles rather than Vera Lynn singing: “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when…”  

This is Why I Love North Vancouver!

This is Why I Love North Vancouver!

I saw this pileated woodpecker on a tree less than ten feet away from me. I didn’t have my camera, so I had to draw him.


No Shortage of Books on Trauma

No Shortage of Books on Trauma

Since there was so much reader traffic on my last post, I thought I’d share these titles with you. I am happy to receive recommendations of books on art and trauma or art and memory…


Memories are Not “Like the Corners of My Mind”

Nor are memories “misty water-coloured” as the song describes.  I’ve been doing a lot of reading on memory, trauma, and history lately.  Of course, my particular interest is in how art is implicated in these issues.  What art can do.

Memories are tangled and interwoven and cannot be relegated to the corners of one’s mind, whether they are personal, communal, or national, private or shared.  They constrain, limit, and haunt the present, but they can also be redirected productively and creatively.

One of the books I find most compelling is Gene Ray’s Terror and the Sublime in Art and Critical Theory: From Auschwitz to Hiroshima to September 11 and Beyond.  This book is really about negotiating the past to find a radical ethical politics in the present.

What is forgotten in official histories is as important as what is remembered and how.  Many of Ray’s condemnations, particularly of the U.S. government, are necessary, profound, and urgently forceful.  Yet the book remains hopeful in terms of agency, empowerment, and refusal (the refusal of political domination, violence, and capitalism’s relentless inscribing of our world in terms of exchange value).  It is a challenging and difficult book, but I am clinging to it as one example of how to move forward ethically and empathetically in light of this century’s inheritance of catastrophe and trauma, as well as the ongoing manifestations of appalling violence and cruelty.