Who will protect the land from reckless development?

Who will protect the land from reckless development? A thoughtful proposal for a moderate (to me) vision of decolonizing. I like the careful way the writer points out the nearness of military action against oil protestors in Australia and Canada. I like the way he names the denial and lies in the colonial “narrative” of Canada. I like that he centers indigenous people as leaders, decision-makers, and stewards of the land. I am very cautious about his proposal to forgive colonialism and move on to shared prosperity. We settlers are pretty hungry to be forgiven; it’s important to be careful there, not to jump ahead or assume we deserve that.

So in Canada, what if, instead, we decide not to ransack every last corner of our vast country in search of commodities that we can sell abroad or to ourselves, but we experiment in developing an economy that honours local culture and history, celebrates place, protects the environment, increases the resilience of local people, and provides them with the means to invest in a future of their own design? Why not attempt, while we still have the option, to pursue a natural model of development, to pursue what the late Jane Jacobs once so aptly called “reliable prosperity?”

In that regard, Indigenous people arguably offer not more despair, but hope. If we are to prepare ourselves for the inevitable shocks that the 21st Century still has in store, it might behoove us to seek lessons in resilience from people who have survived every imaginable assault, and are just now coming back into a position of prominence and eminence in a country that might yet come to see aboriginal people as powerful and visionary citizens with a capacity for forgiveness and an appetite for regeneration and renewal, whose unwillingness to assimilate may turn out to be their best defence against the boom that the rest of us seem powerless or unwilling to resist.

Talking Maps: Arctic atlas reads out Inuit names

Talking Maps: Arctic atlas reads out Inuit names. Who was telling me about this? Lynne (Leah?) the puppeteer?

Fraser Taylor’s atlas of Canada’s high Arctic reads out the names of the towns to you. The real names.

Cape Strathcona is Arvaaqtuuq. Peter Richards Island is Qikiqtatannak

It is, the eminent Carleton University geographer explains, a decolonization of the Nunavut map and a repatriation of the Inuit names.

Beyond Marriage

Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision For All Our Families and Relationships. Yes! Glad to see this. Queer relationships and communities have so many more inspiring forms beyond marriage and nuclear families.

The time has come to reframe the narrow terms of the marriage debate in the United States. Conservatives are seeking to enshrine discrimination in the U.S. Constitution through the Federal Marriage Amendment. But their opposition to same-sex marriage is only one part of a broader pro-marriage, “family values” agenda that includes abstinence-only sex education, stringent divorce laws, coercive marriage promotion policies directed toward women on welfare, and attacks on reproductive freedom. Moreover, a thirty-year political assault on the social safety net has left households with more burdens and constraints and fewer resources.

Meanwhile, the LGBT movement has recently focused on marriage equality as a stand-alone issue. While this strategy may secure rights and benefits for some LGBT families, it has left us isolated and vulnerable to a virulent backlash. We must respond to the full scope of the conservative marriage agenda by building alliances across issues and constituencies. Our strategies must be visionary, creative, and practical to counter the right’s powerful and effective use of marriage as a “wedge” issue that pits one group against another. The struggle for marriage rights should be part of a larger effort to strengthen the stability and security of diverse households and families. To that end, we advocate:

  • Legal recognition for a wide range of relationships, households and families – regardless of kinship or conjugal status.
  • Access for all, regardless of marital or citizenship status, to vital government support programs including but not limited to health care, housing, Social Security and pension plans, disaster recovery assistance, unemployment insurance and welfare assistance.
  • Separation of church and state in all matters, including regulation and recognition of relationships, households and families.
  • Freedom from state regulation of our sexual lives and gender choices, identities and expression.

Marriage is not the only worthy form of family or relationship, and it should not be legally and economically privileged above all others. A majority of people – whatever their sexual and gender identities – do not live in traditional nuclear families. They stand to gain from alternative forms of household recognition beyond one-size-fits-all marriage.

How to Be a Stuffed Animal

How to Be a Stuffed Animal, on the early days of the American Museum of Natural History, high class taxidermy in America, and obsession with fake nature and fake realness.

An invitation to lead or join an expedition for the museum, thus cashing in the most desirable tag in the hunting world, was indeed flattering. The mammologist Roy Chapman Andrews, famous for his “intensive exploration” methods and, from 1934, director of the museum, was fond of reminding people that “thousands of men have applied for places on my own expeditions, saying that they are ‘good outdoor men’ but have no special training. They would be expensive luxuries. Every…man must do either a technical or a scientific job.” Newly bestowed with the gravitas of “specialists,” armed with large-bore guns made by Holland & Holland and permits obtained for them by the museum, outfitted in Abercrombie Camp, the blue bloods of American capitalism set off into the wilderness to atone for their fortunes (which had played a prominent part in endangering it) and find their inner Crocketts and Boones.

Presiding over the whole enterprise was the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt, an ardent supporter of the museum until his death in 1919, and a major donor of specimens, including the large cow elephant displayed in “The Alarm” (Kermit, his son, shot the calf). Roosevelt self-consciously positioned himself in the tradition of Daniel Boone, the buckskin-clad hunter and frontiersman who helped settle Kentucky in the late eighteenth century, revering him as an indigenous (white) American who, like Davy Crockett, thrived in a free, egalitarian wilderness. These were “nature’s noblemen,” rugged libertarians and premier symbols of democratic manhood. Their descendants were the guides who accompanied the president—or general or railroad baron—and taught him the codes of the wilderness. Sharing a blanket with one of these guides was to enter an unrestrained, “uncontaminated” state where the social order was leveled. Roosevelt seriously believed that “no Americans of the outdoor type, fond of nature and the habitants of the wilds, will ever develop Bolshevik tendencies.” The wilderness experience was offered as a direct allegory of social peace, the guarantee of a negotiated tranquility. No matter that behind their backs the guides often mocked the men of fortune as “tenderfoots” or “dudes,” or that they had to defer to them when it came to bagging a trophy. There was equality in theory. In practice, it was a “teddy-bear patriarchy” in which droit du seigneur prevailed.

One of Us

One of Us, discussing some Western concepts of animal consciousness through the ages. Simon was right that I would like Spinoza.

Anguish (1880), by August Friedrich Schenck

Apart from the general point—horses feel horse joy, cats feel cat joy, etc.—Spinoza makes two less familiar but equally significant claims. The first is his lovely definition of the soul: that it is in some way wrapped up with, coextensive with, the “essence” of the creature possessing it. The particular nature in which every creature is able to rejoice precisely by being most entirely itself is the soul. That settles the matter of whether animals have souls. Of course they do. The horse has a horse soul, the fish has a fish soul. The second claim is Spinoza’s radical—but instantly persuasive— statement that one human being’s essence could be unintelligible to another. The drunkard is a different type of human being than the philosopher, but he is also a different creature, full stop. Are we so sure that species identification is proof against the canyons of misapprehension that separate us from, say, the monkey spider? This could be a frightening thought: accepting that no two consciousnesses can ever have transparency, or at any rate can never have certainty about it, leaves us on some level cosmically alone. Spinoza takes the notion in stride. He’d be more prone to say, Well, no doubt we sometimes understand each other.

Suprisingly, perhaps, these thoughts did not lead Spinoza to a recommendation of total empathy with the animal kingdom, as the animal-rights activist in us would hope. He is fairly cold-eyed, even cold-hearted, writing,

It is plain that the law against the slaughtering of animals is founded rather on vain superstition and womanish pity than on sound reason. The rational quest of what is useful to us further teaches us the necessity of associating ourselves with our fellow men, but not with beasts, or things, whose nature is different from our own; we have the same rights in respect to them as they have in respect to us. Nay, as everyone’s right is defined by his virtue, or power, men have far greater rights over beasts than beasts have over men. Still I do not deny that beasts feel: what I deny is that we may not consult our own advantage and use them as we please, treating them in the way which best suits us; for their nature is not like ours.

In order to understand this, we have to know something about Spinoza’s definition of fundamental or natural right, which comes very close to meaning, simply, power. We have the right to do with them “as we please,” just as they have the “right” to eat us, if the meeting happens on ground more favorable to them. Spinoza isn’t trying to argue that we shouldn’t act kindly toward them, when we can, but he does imply that we needn’t feel guilty about it, when we treat them violently. It’s our right. It suits us.

That is a common ex-vegetarian place to end up. Animals are amazing, individual, worthy beings, and also we find their bodies delicious and useful.