Fighting Alienation: Finding & Creating Meaning in Everyday Life

Do you have meaning in your life?

I have long been frustrated by how difficult it is for people in our modern (postmodern?) society to come together, create a community, and foster meaning. Everyone’s life has meaning, whether they believe so or not, and some more than others strive to find meaning in their work, school, children, friends, lovers, and an array of other outlets. For me, this has never been enough. I’ve always been frustrated that every community I enter, I have to leave. And when I speak of community, I speak of feeling as if you belong in a group of people, whether or not they have direct relationships with you.

For some context, I must explain that for most of my life I have not felt I had a literal, physical ‘community’, and I suspect that I am not alone in this. Each school I attended was not in my neighbourhood, I can count on two hands the number of friends I have ever been able to walk to in my lifetime, and my home until two years ago was not located in an area that had a lot of community events (that I was aware of). Even community soccer teams, which I did join as a kid, didn’t seem to stick.

School, from kindergarten to university, provides an excellent opportunity to foster communities. School spirit initiatives, charity drives, and social events all contribute to this feeling of belonging, this feeling of being part of a group. This can be more condensed for people who join smaller groups at school – sports teams, drama groups, and music kids all come to mind, for me.

But what do we do when school is gone?

I’ve had this conversation with my Nanny, a wonderful, incredibly spiritual and intuitive woman. Maureen, my Nanny, is part of a worldwide religious community, and found my plight interesting. I strongly believe that a sense of community is conspicuously absent in Western society – or at least the slice I’ve seen – and is indelibly linked to the escalating capitalism and consumerism rampant in our culture. This hole can be filled, I think, by belonging to religious groups and organizations, but why can’t I find somewhere else? In an age when so many young people seem to be saying “I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious”, religious communities don’t represent a legitimate option when looking for community. But why does this mean that we must end up alienated?

I read once, and this is horrible of me but I cannot remember who to cite, that the greatest coup of capitalism was giving the Western world the impression that individualism results in empowered individuals. In truth, individualism removes our power – we are so focused on ourselves that we refuse to risk our personal goals in pursuit of something greater. Could the Industrial Revolution have happened in this climate? I don’t think so. The cost of individualism is obvious when you look at how work is being treated in the newspapers, by the government, and legislation. By picking off groups of workers one area at a time, people have refrained from banding together to protect workers’ rights because it did not concern them – and then, when it does, the momentum is too strong to stop. I might write another time about union busting and the new two-tiered systems that employer after employer is implementing, as it is so incredibly reflective of neo-Marxism that I keep waiting for it to show up in a textbook (if it hasn’t already), but I’m going to try not to get further from the point I wanted to make than I already have.

My point? There is hope. There is community, if you know where to look for it. Even in London Ontario, a conservative (lowercase c) city full of chain restaurants, suburbs, and temporary student residents, there is a community focused on supporting small businesses, shopping local, sustainable living/working models, and having healthy relations with people, the economy, and the environment all at once.

The Root Cellar is right – where you buy your food is political, but beyond that, it can give your life that third dimension it may be missing. Buying Christmas presents and meeting the person who made them at the same time can give your shopping a meaning that consumerism – even Christmas shopping – usually lacks. Finding out that one of your local theatres – for me, I am speaking of The Palace – is actually run completely by volunteers. The food at the Root Cellar is not only organic, but directly supports local farmers. On top of that, going to a co-op (are you guys officially a co-op yet?) for your lunch is really fun! Ellie always has a smile, and Max is really such an amazing chef. And how many places can you go and always know who will be there, by name?

The community I have stumbled across not only gives me chances to make necessary purchases mean something, but makes me feel connected to my city in a way I never have before. I call this a community because it is – while we may not have a Christmas party, all of the people that are passionate about local art and local business are connected. If this is something you care about, it adds a third dimension to your life, being aware of this connection and incorporating it into your life.

This involvement is, to an extent, not achievable for everyone. Shopping local, going to a local yoga studio, or supporting local artists can be more expensive than mainstream alternatives. However, volunteering is always free, and there are lots of deals to be had if you look carefully enough!

I do want to say that there is a lot more to this issue of alienation than I am delving into here. There are serious causes and enormous consequences to this issue, and I am particularly passionate about how criminology (often referred to as the ‘new’ criminology) tackles this issue. However, I am 85% sure a rant on this topic would be just for me, so let me know if you’re interested!

I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while now, since I moved into an area that seems to be a central node for this community (but location really doesn’t have to matter). This blog was inspired by AAF, An Artist’s afFair, which I visited spontaneously today and really loved. In the half hour I had before it closed, I picked up a Christmas present from Ausable River Soap Co., a couple of amazing magnets for Zach and I to look at, and a little something for me – an ‘upcycled’ (love that word) necklace from a local jewelry artist/yoga instructor who creates all of her jewelry using reclaimed pieces!

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What do you think?

Do you feel that you are part of a community? What is it like?

I’m new to the London scene (despite living here most of my life), so if you have any tips on where I should be going next, please let me know!

For those of you on Twitter, that social media outlet is really a mindblowing way to connect and explore these options. If you live in London, Ontario, here are some to get you started:

@Downtown_London, @MorrisseyHouse, @KantinaLondon, @WFFarmerMkt and @WFArtisansMkt, @joelcadams

@CityLightsLdn – A local used bookstore that has a lot to say!

@atthePalace – The Palace theatre, the previously mentioned volunteer-run local theatre!

Aside from Twitter, all of these places (and so many more) exist in this city, and it is so rewarding to find them.

Thank you for reading, and please share your thoughts – discussions are so much more fun than monologues!

Confusion, Trepidation, and Politics – Bill C-45

Hello, people on the internet!

I have a disclaimer that I must share with you before getting into this topic.

I have very little background knowledge on these issues or relevant changing laws. If I have misunderstood something, please tell me! If I have inadvertently trusted a media source when they had it wrong, please tell me! If I have accidentally said something in a culturally insensitive way, please tell me because ignorance is no excuse.

For those of you that, like me yesterday, have no idea what Bill C-45 is, Bill C-45 is the second budget bill to be presented this year. Bill C-38, the first budget bill, similarly had huge changes for Canada and completely slipped under the radar. Between the two of them, the Conservative party has presented more than 900 pages this year in connection with the budget (when the average is usually in the double digits, prior to 2005).

The scary part is that a great deal of these changes are about so much more than saving a dollar here or there. I have had a very hard time trying to find any information on what exactly is contained in Bill C-45, so it looks like one of these days I’m going have to try to read the brick – yikes. And not only is it 400+ pages, but it is very difficult to understand proposed legal, legislative changes because they so often refer to lines of documents that aren’t included in the text itself, so a great deal of reading has to occur outside of the bill to understand the full effect.

That being said, I am going to attempt to summarize what I have read about Bill C-45 in the last 24 hours, what I see and what others have said about the potential or certain ramifications, and ask some of the questions that are driving me crazy.

Changes to the Indian Act

Now, idlenomore.ca is saying that Bill C-45 violates a number of U.N. conventions geared at protecting the rights of indigenous people, but again, I cannot seem to find which parts these are. If anyone knows, please tell me!

What I have managed to find (in the second CBC article listed below) is this:

Currently, if a reserve wishes to lease a portion of its land for commerical purposes (keep in mind that, to my knowledge [please correct me if this is not always the case], reserve land is communally ‘owned’ by the people of that reserve) a majority of residents on that reserve must vote in favour of this lease. The articles seem to paint a picture of inefficiency and unnecessarily wasted time when they discuss this part, which sets the stage for the proposed changes: when Bill C-45 passes, the majority of residents do not have to approve the leasing of land to outside companies/individuals/etc. A meeting or referendum must be held, and the majority of people that attend the meeting or respond to the referendum is sufficient to allow the land to be leased. Oh, except the Aboriginal Affairs Minister has veto power, and can reject a proposal for land leasing brought to him by a given band council.

This may be my paranoia coming into effect, but this sounds like it leaves a great deal of room for corruption. There are a few burning questions this has raised for me, and while some of them may sound rhetorical, I would appreciate input, information, or answers to any of these questions!

Does this mean that a band council could call a meeting, fail to give proper notice, and then lease out land based on those who managed to attend?

Does this mean that a meeting could occur in a location where those without cars could not attend?

Rather than expediting the leasing of land to non-reserve businesses and individuals, doesn’t this leave a great deal of room for abuse?

Why would the Aboriginal Affairs Minister be able to veto a motion accepted by the band council of a specific reserve? Doesn’t this infringe on independence and self-determination?

I would like to include another disclaimer: by mentioning corruption in connection with band leadership, I am not saying that reserves or their leadership are corrupt. I have been lucky enough to meet some fantastic people while living on a reserve for two summers, and I am sadly aware that sometimes, the needs and desires of the few in power may not reflect the needs and desires of the general populace. This is not unique to reserves (hello, Joe Fontana? Rob Ford?), and it seems like this change is part of a process that moves the administration of reserves closer to the way that municipalities are run, without consultation with the people it effects.

What do you think?

Changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA)

Did you know there is an act called the Navigable Waters Protection Act? I didn’t, either! It currently places a ‘protected’ designation on approximately 40,000 lakes and 2.5 million rivers. Bill C-45 presents a new list of protected lakes and rivers that includes less than 100 of each. In addition (it is unclear if this is part of the NWPA or somewhere else), fish that have no commercial value are no longer protected.

Environmental groups are saying that this is a shocking, tragic, horrendous change. Lakes and rivers that provide drinking water and fishing grounds will be even more vulnerable to pollution and corporate neglect. Large projects that affect waterways such as dams, booms, bridges, and oil pipelines currently have to run reports assessing the potential environmental impact of their project on these protected lakes and rivers – they will have to do this no longer.

My only question here is… what the f?!

Windsor-Detroit Bridge

Another ‘what the f’ moment: Bill C-45 creates a new law surrounding the creation of a bridge between Windsor and Detroit that changes “some legislation and exempting this bridge from other Acts which would have otherwise applied, including the Environmental Assessment Act, Fisheries Act, Navigable Waters Protection Act (which is being amended too, see above), and the Species at Risk Act.” (Second CBC article below)

Please forgive my sloppy citations.

Please let me know what you think of this. What am I missing? (I know there is plenty, but I have yet to find it.) What does this mean for Canada?

Do you think this can be remedied in 2015 – or is this indicative of the direction in which Canada is moving?

This is where I got my information from (ignoring news sources that shared the same article – for example, the first CBC link is also on huffingtonpost.ca and some lesser-known news sites):

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2012/12/04/pol-liveblog-budget-vote.html

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2012/10/19/pol-list-2nd-omnibus-bill.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/10/21/omnibus-budget-bill-c-45_n_1997300.html

http://idlenomore.ca/

http://canadians.org/blog/?p=17379

Thank you to Naomi Sayers (follow her at @naomisayers00). She is the only person across Facebook, Twitter, and the casual first-page checks I do of news sites that brought this to my attention. Evidently I need to expand where I get my news from… suggestions are welcome!

How Media Constructs Our Reality – Apodaca Prison Riot and Beyond

On November 10th, 2012, there was (yet another) prison riot in the news. 27 inmates were killed in Sri Lanka during a clash between inmates, security, military, and police ‘commandos’.

It is absolutely fascinating when Western media discusses events like this, violent events that take place in another country, because, without fail, they do not give any sort of cultural context. This is not in the United States. Or Canada. Or even Britain, France, or Australia. This is Sri Lanka, a country that I – and, I would argue, most of the Globe and Mail audience – know next to nothing about.

Why does it matter? Because most Canadians assume that there is an obvious dichotomy where prisons are concerned (…citation needed?). The inmates are bad, the police/military/security/corrections officers are good, and therefore any clash between the two is a simple, objective story of good vs. evil with a variety of results.

Reading about this event (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/27-inmates-killed-after-sri-lankan-prison-riot/article5181194/) just made me wish I knew more about Sri Lanka. What kind of laws put these people in this prison? What is corruption like in this country? What is the gang situation like here? And how long have these people been incarcerated?

This reminded me of a really intriguing assignment my classmates and I were given last year, which asked us to ‘(Un)Make the News’. As I’m interested in prisons, I chose to unmake a recent prison riot I’d seen on the news – and what I found about the framing of news pieces themselves really opened my eyes.

And this is after six years of criminology – will I ever stop being surprised to find to what extent our ‘reality’ is constructed by the media?

The Story as Western Media Tells It

In the early hours of Sunday, February 19, 2012, members of a Mexican drug cartel known as the Zetas instigated a riot in Apodaca correctional state facility in Apodaca, Mexico. According to various news sources at the time, at least nine guards working in Apodaca prison aided the Zetas in escaping their prison cells, and confessed to doing so during the investigation of the riot. This investigation found that the Zetas staged the prison riot as a distraction in order to facilitate an escape attempt. The Zetas were released from their cells and “slaughtered 44 rival inmates”, who were members of the Gulf cartel. Thirty Zetas managed to escape the prison compound and “are still at large” at the time of reporting.

From this point, the story as it is related by news media began to focus on the weaknesses of the Mexican criminal justice system, overcrowding as a fatal issue in Mexican and/or Latin American prisons, corruption in this system, and the failing drug war in Mexico spearheaded by President Felipe Calderon.

Meaning?

While the story described above may be the ‘facts’ of the prison riot as they can be understood from a variety of news sources, the actual generation of the meanings of these representations mean much more for the cultures they are generated within than the cold facts of a news story.

I won’t get into the nuances that my 14 page paper gets into – although I would love to talk about it with anyone who has an interest. In short, the language of Western media repeatedly refers to overcrowding as an issue in these ‘violent’ and practically lawless countries, while drawing comparisons and parallels that make no sense – for example, one newspaper cites 350 killed soon before in a prison fire in Honduras as proof that violence in these countries is essentially rampant.

This prison fire, like most of the riots discussed, was linked to “harsh overcrowding”. This harsh overcrowding is talked about like a distant thing, a problem of these far away, ‘uncivilized’ countries – never mind that Canada has a painfully high rate of overcrowding, and some states in the U.S.A. may be comparable to Mexican prisons in this effect. No, it has to be a foreign issue of these less developed countries.

Of course, the articles focus on the dirty details of the Apodaca prison riot: how many people were killed. How many days were spent in lockdown. The gangs responsible. The corruption. The overcrowding. The problems Latin America is facing that are so unique to prisons in these specific countries (but not really).

This photograph was displayed prominently on one such article, written by Archibold and posted to the New York Times in February of 2012:

Image

This photo shows prison guards attempting to hold off family members which, I would argue, appear to be violent themselves in this photo (although the guards don’t look like sweethearts either).

Interestingly, the related Canadian article published on CBC.ca is written and published by a Canadian company and has a distinctly different approach than that taken by Archibold of the New York Times.

This article refrains from blaming the entire country, or Latin America as a whole, for the violence and death as the New York Times article seemed to do. Again, there is a great deal of really fun – from a media analysis perspective – things going on in these articles. One of the greatest differences between the CBC article (actually from the Associated Press) and the New York Times article is that, while the American article chose to picture angry, frightening-looking family members fighting for entrance into the prison, this is what the CBC headlined their story with:

ImageSource: http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2012/02/19/mexico-prison-riot.html

These photos were taken by the same photographer, and are used by different newspapers – in different countries – to discuss the same event.

Fascinating.

My point?

Sadly, you can’t believe everything you read in the news – not if you want to know the truth. While the notion of ‘truth’ is intangible and abstract for some, I personally prefer not to have that nebulous concept filtered through a newspaper that carefully chooses its photographs to achieve a certain effect.

After scouring the internet for translated Mexican news of some sort that covered this riot, I eventually found the story as it was described by local media: a story of uncertainty, of potential tragedy, as families waited outside of the gates for days on end waiting to hear who had died, who had lived. Was their father, son, brother, lover, cousin one of the dead? This slice of humanity – completely ignored by American media and touched on with one photo and a paragraph in Canadian media – captured the local people until this crisis ended.

So what really happened in Apodaca? What really happened in Sri Lanka?

It depends on who you ask.

Back again…

Well, hello there again, blogosphere!

My blogging experiment fell apart a bit – but here I am again! I love to write. Why did I stop? Maybe my thoughts weren’t coherent enough.

The last six weeks have been insane. There are so many things I want to talk about – hash out for myself, and perhaps for any readers (now or later) that come along and have input – but I haven’t yet figured out how to do that while maintaining the anonymity and confidentiality expected of me. To start, maybe I’ll just sum up what I’m doing.

In general, I’m in the beginning stages of writing my Master’s thesis on the clients of sex workers. I initially intended to write about clients (for lack of a better word) and their experiences with stigma. What is it like doing something that so many people revile? How do they deal with not being ‘caught’ by family members, friends, law enforcement? Do they think they’re doing something ‘wrong’?

Of course, these are totally leading questions. I struggled a lot with my own bias here, because I know that I am assuming that clients feel stigma, that they are aware of and internalize society’s rejection of the sex trade. On top of that, though, I made the problematic assumption that society is actually hostile toward the sex trade. From so many things (i.e. laws, policies, newspapers) I have read, I believed this to be the case. I honestly thought that it would be difficult being a client in Southwestern Ontario in the twenty-first century.

Turns out… it might not be.

This was a great example of something I have been told before, but not really seen in action like this: perspective is crucial. Maybe the media I am exposed to and the policy developments I am aware of makes me feel as if society as a whole is against the sex trade. But what about people who are exposed to an entirely different slice of media? Different individuals who they interact with each day? A different focus (or lack of focus) on legal developments in Canada?

Caveat: my interpretation of the  interviews I conducted is subjective. My sample is absolutely not representative. There is no way to guarantee the accuracy of the stories, feelings, etc. the participants shared with me. From seeing other things written on the online board that I recruited from, I’m sure that some feel stigmatized. The clients who feel very stigmatized may logically be less likely to want to have anything to do with me, a stranger, in-person interviews, and a published paper.

Still… it has been incredible. Fascinating. My eyes have been opened so wide it’s a miracle I still have eyelids – and everything I have learned has shown me how little I know.

How often did I hear “no, I’m not doing anything wrong”? Or “it isn’t really illegal anyways” (which is true)? Or “no, I don’t tell my friends or family, but I don’t really tell them about my sex life anyways”?

It was fun to have a bias shattered so neatly. The rest of what I’ve had to deal with, academically, has been just as fun. What I have had to deal with personally has not been so fun. I’m good now, after 14 interviews (and perhaps at the end of interviews… we’ll see). Transcribing is going to be great, though… I get to relive it all over again, at 60% speed!

 

Issues?

  • My identity as a sexual woman talking to men about sexualized women
  • Hearing women discussed as a commodity – but a treasured and (dubiously) ‘respected’ commodity
  • Being in a long-term relationship and empathizing with men who explain infidelity in very logical terms
  • Trying to force my own bias out of this, or at least know what it is when it comes into play

 

I want to write about these soon. Not now. Now it’s time to transcribe!

 
But if you have any thoughts on these issues, this topic, men who buy sex, anything of the sort… please feel free to share it with me. 🙂

Yours,

Z

 

Punishment.

Should the purpose of the criminal justice system really be punishment?

Is it not?

What is the PURPOSE of punishment?

How does punishment differ from retribution? And is retribution any different than vengeance? Is it appropriate for a government to take vengeance upon the lawbreakers of society? All of them? Some of them? None?

I think that the Canadian (and American) criminal justice system(s) are heavily reliant on punitive and retributive ideology that does not stand up to scrutiny. However, I have only been looking at this since I have been involved in criminology, and that makes me fairly biased, as my field considers crime and justice essentially the most important societal focus. I wish I could understand how the general public thinks. When you don’t think about crime, justice, punishment, and prisons every day, how does that make punishment more logical? What is going on in my country that we allow – ENCOURAGE – this type of ideology?

Is punishment harmful? Can vengeance hurt?

Can either be useful? Do they serve a practical purpose?

What do you think?

The Elusive Teacher of Quebecois French!

Sometimes it’s just so hard to focus, isn’t it?

I have a few things on my plate right now, and they are (predictably) much more attractive to deal with than this presentation I should be concocting.

First question for any readers out there: How the hell do you learn Quebecois French when you aren’t in high school?!

I’m interested in doing a PhD at a school that requires you to pass passively in French at the end of the four year program. I want to work in Ottawa and/or in government, both of which essentially require French. Almost every plan of mine requires that I learn French.

Learning Parisian French would be just embarrassing, but the majority of tutors and self-learning programs/books teach Parisian French. Yes, tutors in Ontario teach Parisian French. Random and weird, I know.

So, what do I do? This dilemma is way more fun than working on my presentation…. although my topic is getting a bit more fun.

Our Schizophrenic Country

Oh, Canada.

I need to utilized you today, WordPress. I need to brainstorm.

For all of you Readers out there, present and future, I’m heading to Ottawa in a few days to present at the Critical Perspectives conference at Carleton University. Graduate students, professors, scholars, and working people all involved in criminal justice will be presenting over the weekend, and by some insane stroke of luck I managed to get myself put on the agenda.

Now, what am I going to talk about?!

I’m presenting a version of a paper I wrote for my penology class. That paper asked ‘What is the purpose of prison in Canada?’ and used a portion of Bill C-10 to try to answer that question. Problem is, 2/3 of that paper establishes the classical approaches to prison, what the various purposes of prison are, what the evidences of each of those positions are, etc. etc.

I cannot go to this conference and explain to these experts why long prison sentences reflect retributive approaches to prison, because in our world that’s obvious and elementary, my dear. I cannot spend time describing what rehabilitation looks like, because most of these people probably have a great deal more experience – both academic and first-hand – with rehabilitation than I do.

So, the bulk of my paper is out the window.

I want to use this blog to brainstorm. If you’ve come across this blog, even long after I present this, please let me know what you think of this issue, my ramblings, punishment and prison in general, or anything of the sort! Even if the literal need for this blog is over, this is still one of my main interests and fascinating to discuss.

So! Here is what we have to work with.

Canada and the criminal justice system in Canada appear to be in a state of flux. Our criminal justice system does not seem to have a universal approach to prison, punishment, or the breaking of the law. Considering this, establishing as a whole the purpose of prison in Canada is extremely difficult, and likely can change dramatically depending on which laws you use as evidence. Considering this, I do not aim to establish the general purpose of prison in Canada; rather, I aim to expose… what?

To begin this discussion, we must consider what is officially recognized as the purpose of prison in Canada for, of course, there are official missions and mandates. To get this information, I considered the website of the CSC.

There is an official 8-page document written and published by the CSC that establishes the official core values, approaches to ethics, responsibilities of employees, and other such mission statements. The four core values show that the CSC is committed to respecting the dignity of individuals, the rights of people in society, and the potential for human growth and development. They recognized that an offender has the potential to live as a law-abiding citizen.

These core values contain within them the seeds of rehabilitation. By establishing that the CSC respects the rights of people in society, the first core value protects against rehabilitative practices that could, in theory, harm the general community; however, overall this approach fits with a notion of prison that allows for growth and development, that exists to help inmates become law-abiding citizens.

This document was published in 2003. It is still in effect, and still available on the CSC website, although it is not easy to find. In fact, navigating to the section titled ‘Mission Statement’ does not provide a link to this information, or a summary of this information.

The ‘Mission Statement’, the one paragraph mission statement on the CSC website, seems to provide an alternate interpretation of these key goals. Or are they new goals? If anyone here knows how these two conflicting mission statements can exist, please talk to me.

This is the Mission Statement on the CSC website.

“The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), as part of the criminal justice system and respecting the rule of law, contributes to public safety by actively encouraging and assisting offenders to become law-abiding citizens, while exercising reasonable, safe, secure and humane control.”

I think it is crucial to note that the word ‘control’ is not in the 2003 Mission. This portion of the website was last updated in 2010 and, while it still contains the seeds of rehabilitation with the mention of encouraging offenders to become law-abiding citizens, places much more emphasis on the control and security of these offenders in addition to public safety.

Okay, that’s enough for now. I’m pretty sure I’m rambling. Need to back it up, read this over, and condense! Thanks for bearing with me.

 

Edit a few hours later:
Holy crap, that was boring. Good to know!! Wow.

New approach. Focus on the BILL, not the CSC. It’s hard to make it sound interesting, because it gets into word-by-word analysis which seems smart on paper but brutally dry when I’m speaking out loud.

Not sure how to make this memorable. Ugh. Lots of work to do tonight.

Will blog about it tomorrow! 🙂