On Electoral Reform

September 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

Version française à venir!

In the halls of the Social Sciences faculties like the one that I am just coming out of, there is lots of recurrent criticisms about the current state of democracy world-wide. Freshly imbued with the theory of how democracy should work, it is all so easy to pick out the shortcomings in its practical incarnations. Talk of a ‘democratic deficit’ is frequent, and if those students whom I have interacted with are generally very disillusioned with politics in general, their training and possibly remaining slivers of hope leads many to propose certain fixes to the problems of democracy.

One of the common irritants which warrants the invocation of ‘democratic deficit’ in Canada is our voting system. The country uses a system which is called uninominal majority voting, or more colloquially first-past-the-post, in which candidates are elected on the basis of a single round of voting wherein electors have a single vote with no possibility of somehow expressing preference; whichever candidate has the most votes in that riding wins. This creates distortions in representativity, because the relation between actual percentage of the national vote for a party and the number of seats it wins is most often completely disproportional. In certain cases, because of voter distribution and varying margins of victory in different ridings, a government can actually come to form a majority government by virtue of winning a majority of seats (and hence have total control over the legislative and executive branches of government) despite NOT having received a majority in nominal votes. This was the case in the 2011 elections, where Mr Harper’s Conservative Party assumed total domination of Parliament with just shy of 38% of nominal voter support, a number which shrinks drastically if we consider the fact that the voting population is MUCH smaller than the actual population. All said and done, a tiny minority of this country’s population has given absolute political control to the conservatives last elections. For everybody else, their ballot might as well have been spoiled.

At the Libertarian Party of Canada, we believe that individuals are the true proprietors of sovereignty, a sovereignty which need not be recognized by government because it is justified by natural rights. We believe that individuals should be free and bound only by what agreements they have freely agreed to with other parties, be they organizations or individuals. From these axioms, it isn’t hard to derive our position on the legitimacy of government in its current form. Ultimately, we’d like as little government as possible (some might even call for… wait for it… no government!), but if any form of representative government is necessary, then its only source of legitimacy can only be whatever bleak reflection of TRUE sovereignty it can garner; in a democracy, this legitimacy would come from a composition of government  that  is representative of the individuals in who’s name it devises policy. We’re a long way from there.

The fix is obvious: change the way we elect our governments. It’s a solution that inevitably comes up when invoking the problem, and one that makes sense: if  you want a government that represents its citizen, then the way politicians are put into power must integrate some sort of the proportionality. Proportional representation is seen as a long-awaited change favoured by everybody except the big three parties. But the implementation of such a scheme is easier said than done: once political will to carry on with this is secured (good luck with that), we need to make sure that the reform respects a series of requirements. Here are those which I can think of:

  1. Before we even start thinking of a new way of tallying votes, we as Canadians need to define our  ideal of democracy and government, and keep those ideals in mind while proposing solutions. We need to ask serious questions that go beyond the vote: is democracy the sum of its parts, and if not what is it? What are the true origins of political power? Piece-meal solutions to institutional problems applied over time is what led us to the arrangement of government we have now; fixing the vote piece-meal is not going to help in the long term. A holistic model of how voting fits in with our idea of democracy is absolutely necessary if we can voting to be more than choosing masters every 4 years.
  2. Reform must take into consideration the nature of political culture in our country. The most evident part of this is arguably a heavy tendency to vote tactically: do we want to kill this off? Can we? If not, how can we concile our old habits with a new way of voting? Here again, the holistic ideal of politics mentioned in the previous points can help with decision-making: do we cater to old patterns, or do we let individuals do the most with a new system they don’t know? This is just as true as citizen as it is for politicians: our collective disdain for political coalitions will inevitably need to disappear if we want functional government with proportional representation and a true plurality of political actors.
  3. Reform must take into  account the nature of our political structure, being that we are a plurinational federal state with several federated entities thirsty for more control over their political future. Quebec obviously is one of those, native peoples are the other big group, but regardless of these particular cases, it should be obvious to any Canadian that our country has great disparity in worldview, socio-economic standing and political culture between its regions. Choosing a way of running elections which would go against regional representation is a huge danger: models like national lists could potentially elect governments centered around a certain region, taking away the representation of regions who deserve it.
  4. Reform must take into account the nature of our existing institutional arrangements within the federal government and of governments below it. As I have mentioned in the introduction, the Senate has not yet been fixed, despite promises of reform. Traditionally, senates in many political systems have been either a check on parliament, or an entity which somehow represented the population by other means than what is used to form the House of Commons. Supposing we were also to reform the Senate, what place would it take alongside the House? What if it isn’t reformed? Upsetting the status quo of government could possibly inspire Senators to yield the power they have in the books but never exercise; we need to think about what that would mean for our democracy.

So what is the best way of implementing reform? To be honest, I don’t know. As will be shortly revealed on Fairvote.ca, the Libertarian Party of Canada unofficially promotes a system of Single Transferrable Vote (SVT), wherein voters can create an ordered list of candidates in a district with many seats. Counting is complicated, but the end result is a district representation more or less accurately the preferences of voters within it. While the idea is great and has important backing in academic circles, there are caveats. Namely, in a country where most Northern ridings are bigger than most European countries, pooling ridings in order to get electoral districts seems impractical for potential representatives and very harmful for regional representation. What are we to do with territories that only have one riding? Diluting their representation in the federation is unacceptable. The easy fix to that is to add members of Parliament, but most would agree that having more politicians is hardly a good idea. Stephan Dion’s P3 model proposes a similar system without answering the question of regional representation, and  coupled with larger voting districts which invites to big party voting, sets a vote threshold which is detrimental to small parties and serves only to solidify the big 3 parties’ grip on the country.

The Jenkins model could probably work best, with top-up candidates having the potential to become a reservoir for interesting independent and small-party candidates, while not growing the size of ridings to unmanageable sizes if the number of top-up candidates is kept at an acceptable level. The Law Commission of Canada’s Mixed Member Proportionality (MMP) is not very different to Jenkins,  with the primary difference being the retention of first-past-the-post voting we are already familiar with. I see these models as a system where you can vote with your head for your local MP, and vote with your heart for the party who’s ideas really reflect what you want. Impact on regions is still present, but somewhat mitigated. While not truly proportional, this system leaves a crack open for other political options, albeit only if political culture internalizes this possibility.

Karl Popper in Open Society and  its Enemies, said that all problems of politics are ultimately problems of institutions, and that the road to more free society is ultimately the institutional control of power. A pure libertarian perspective on this is that there should be no central power (read: government), and hence no need for institutional controls on it. However, I believe that in our setting where ridding ourselves of the state is impossible on the short term, institutionalized controls of these powers are in fact the best option we have to put a check on the growing beast of government. Re-engineering our democracy to better control who is in parliament is one small step towards freeing ourselves from the grasp of government, and with the help of a populace rekindle with the ideas of freedom and personal responsibility, I hope we can one day live in a world where government is small, people are free, and society is prosperous and peaceful.

The Ala Buzreba Case: What Future for Millennial Politicians?

August 21, 2015 § Leave a comment

Another election campaign, another scandal involving young candidates. In the last provincial campagne in Quebec just barely over a year ago, a candidate for the Coalition Avenir Quebec was publicly shamed for pictures posted on Facebook which showed him nude, but which were PG-13 by anyone’s standards. In the 2011 federal elections, paper candidates who sailed on party’s popularity made a brutal entry in politics; journalists and pundits had a field day going through their social media, trying to spark whatever controversy they could. This time, more than a month from the elections, it’s a young LPC candidate that is targeted over tweets she posted at age 16. It’s about time we talked about having digital natives running for office entails, because the phenomenon isn’t about to stop.

Kids say they darnest things; when they’re kids, we just tacitly accept this as a fact, knowing full well that the social pressures in favour of political correctness takes some time. Growing up is a process: life experience shows us what can and can not be said in certain settings, and those darnest thoughts become repressed, but not absent. Thankfully! I’m not psychologist, but I can hardly see how ruminating on thoughts, challenging them through experience, reasoning and debate with peers  can be anything other than good for personal development.

Sometimes, those thoughts seep out. It’s one of the pivotal moments where thoughts are challenged in the open with other human beings, a test which can reinforce or alter pre-existing thoughts and opinions. For the boomers, most of the time it seeped in the classroom or with relatives. In the case where this through was considered unconventional or undesirable, it was met with anything from a serious talk to a good spanking to fingers getting snapped by the teacher’s yardstick. I’m just guessing this was the case of course, not having been there to verify, but the hundreds of stories revolving around bodily punishment told to me by older relatives make for an impressive collection of anecdotal evidence. Millennials, for whom being a teenager also coincided with the rise of Web 2.0, had another place to voice their ideas and be exposed to reactions from their peers: the internet. An internet which never forgets, and with the advent of big data, knows pretty much anything there is to know about anybody. An internet which also encourages sharing thoughts, in one way through the means it deploys to make it possible (removing ‘barriers of entry’ to expression), and through the social pressures that ubiquitous use presents. Social media became second nature, a visible tip to the iceberg of through processes which don’t always comply with political correctness.

As Jaime Weinman from Macleans so intelligently puts it, holding someone to something they’ve said years ago is essentially denying them the right to change opinions, which really makes no sense. Add to that you’re holding someone responsible for what is essentially short bursts of teen angst, make so easily broadcast-able by internet social media, and it’s just plain ridiculous.

Politically, continuing this tradition of hawking on the young hopefuls of institutionalized politics by scrutinizing their social media can only yield bad things. If everybody with questionnable social media posts is automatically disqualified from running for office, then the only people left on the ticket will be incumbent gerontocrats who never had social media in the first place and those young people who are good enough at self-censorship to weasel their way out of being accountable for their past mistakes. Tacitly choosing politicians which SEEM to be spotless by shunning those who were essentially too transparent at certain parts of their lives is basically the equivalent of favouring secrecy, blandness and/or hypocrisy.  In a world were everyone distrusts politicians, is this really what we are looking for? Would you rather a liar with an immaculate facade, or a human being who’s traits, flaws and life experience shows through, for better or worst? Elections are already popularity contests in which the name of the game is marketing and strategy much more than substance; lets not make it worst by allowing only those who have social media consultants to be successful.

Ala Buzreba is stuck in the perfect storm. When I was sixteen, I probably called Youtube commenters horrible things, but since it was most likely stuff about video games or computers, nobody gives a shit. She commented on two of the most sensitive subjects, untouchables to the PC crowd: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and homosexuals. Instant media crucifixion. Dealing with the media attention must be difficult to a level which I can’t even grasp, but I wish she had stood up. I wish she would have explained herself as she did, but written it off, to break this idea that what you said offhand or with a hot head at 16 invalidates you from running for office for life. I also wish she would have told those journalists just how disgusted we all are of them going for such low hanging fruit, contributing to the widespread political cynicism. Even thought I think her party and her leader is part of Canada’s political culture problem, I wish she had stayed on the ticket, because she deserves her chance.

Uber et le covoiturage: Lettre au Ministre Poëti

May 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

Uber dérange: il dérange au même titre que le VHS, Napster, le iPod  a dérangé. Face aux dérangement, l’État fait la seule chose qu’elle est capable de faire: réprimer les gens et les innovateurs qui brisent le statu quo. Dans la dernière année, les autorités ont cru bon réprimer les chauffeurs Uber, et, comble de l’audace, les gens qui font du covoiturage. C’est d’un absurdité totale: le marché et l’initiative populaire vainquent un monopole, et l’État s’empresse de sévir pour le défendre.

Devant cette injustice j’ai décidé d’envoyer un courriel au Ministre des transports M. Poëti. Le courriel va comme suit:

M. Poëti,

Je suis un citoyen de la région de Québec, maintenant sans représentant à l’Assemblée depuis le départ de M. Bolduc. Je vous écris pour vous faire part de mon indignation face à la situation actuelle de ciblage des conducteurs offrant des services de transport Uber, les contraventions émises aux gens de ce service, mais aussi à d’honnêtes citoyens qui ont offert des services de covoiturage non affiliés à Uber. 

En 1998, l’Union des Municipalités du Québec présentait à l’Assemblée un mémoire qui faisait état de la flexibilité insuffisante du système de taxi de l’époque pour adéquatement desservir la population. Dix-sept ans plus tard, je fais le même constat, voire pire. L’offre des services de taxis, gangrénés par l’absence d’innovation qu’a invitée le système de permis et tout le carcan réglementaire, se retrouve confrontée à l’innovation née d’une lacune dans leur offre de service. Alors que les compagnies de taxi viennent tout juste de rendre disponible de façon universelle le paiement par carte de débit, Uber offre un produit qui à des années-lumière de tout ce que les compagnies de taxi réussissent a offrir, et ce a moindre cout. Autrement dit, ils ont réussi a passé outre le monopole officiel des services de transport pour offrir un meilleur service, à meilleur prix, rendant caduc le monopole. Ce qu’on constate, c’est l’échec d’un marché régulé. Face à la persécution des chauffeurs Uber et des covoitureurs,tout le monde est en grogne: les utilisateurs, qui sont toujours prisonniers d’une offre de service restreinte, et les chauffeurs de taxi, qui voient leur chasse gardée disparaitre. 

Il est facile de comprendre la réaction des chauffeurs de taxi actuels; dans cette situation, ce sont manifestement eux les plus grands perdants. Ils se sont fait avoir une première fois en 1983 par le cartel gouvernemental qui a été mise en place, avec son système de nombre de permis fixe qui les a forcés a déboursé des sommes astronomiques pour la simple obtention d’un permis. Je n’y étais pas, mais fort à parier que personne dans l’industrie n’était très chaud à l’idée de devoir acheter un permis vendu dans un marché où l’offre est artificiellement maintenue basse, démultipliant les prix. Maintenant, ces mêmes chauffeurs de taxi se retrouvent confrontés à l’inévitable réponse à toute offre de service inadéquate, soit l’apparition d’une nouvelle offre. Le présent gouvernement semble ne pas reconnaitre l’échec de ses démarches réglementaires, et selon les nombreuses saisies effectuées dans les centres urbains de la province, semble vouloir à tout prix conserver ce monopole injuste. 

Ce que vous demande, c’est de reconnaitre l’échec qu’est la législation sur le service de taxi. Il est compréhensible de légiférer quand le marché connait des ratés; maintenir cette législation en situation où l’offre du marché domine largement et rends inutile un monopole officiel, c’est de l’acharnement et de la folie. 

Voici les propositions que j’ai à vous faire pour résoudre l’impasse en ne pénalisant personne. 

-Premièrement, racheter à la valeur marchant les permis des chauffeurs de taxis qui en sont détenteurs, sur plusieurs années s’il le faut. Le gouvernement est directement responsable de leur misère, et ils méritent un dédommagement pour le vol légal auxquels ils ont été soumis pour toutes ces années. 

-Deuxièmement, opérer une solide réforme de la Loi concernant les services de transport par taxi, jusqu’à l’abrogation complète de cette loi. Ceci doit être fait unilatéralement, en confisquant aux municipalités les prérogatives qui ont été déléguées. Une injustice demeure une injustice, peu importe quel palier de gouvernement la laissant exister. Je comprends que cette mesure peut être politiquement risquée: au minimum, la manipulation de l’offre des permis qui crée un monopole doit être abolie.

Le réseau routier existant et les voitures privées sont des actifs importants de l’infrastructure de transport de la province. Il me semble que de réprimer l’utilisation à l’efficacité maximale de ces actifs, par le covoiturage et le transport rémunéré au prix du marché, est à la fois injuste et absurde si l’objectif principal de notre politique des transports est de maximiser l’utilité de nos infrastructures à moindre cout. 

J’ose croire qu’un gouvernement tel celui dont vous faites partie, qui privilégie de la sorte la rigueur fiscale n’est pas insensible aux autres impératifs du marché, dont la libre compétition est une composante cruciale. Je vous implore de reconnaitre l’illogisme de la loi, et d’y mettre fin, pour le bien des gens qui offrent et de ceux qui demandent des services de transport.  


Maxime Rousseau

“Transport illégal de personnes”. On m’aurais dit que c’est un crime il y a un ans, j’aurais surement lancé à la blague que le Québec, c’est quand même pas l’Allemagne de l’est. Eh non. Je vous invite a envoyer des courriels d’appui à mon courriel à M. Poëti, son courriel est le ministre@mtq.gouv.qc.ca. Mettez votre député en CC, peu importe le parti.

52B/52W, Week 10: Irak La Machine Infernale

December 30, 2013 § Leave a comment

Photo 12-30-2013, 9 20 56 PM

Irak la machine infernale – Samir al-Khalil

Remember Derriennic from my second post? This book is his fault. As a matter of fact, many books I own are his fault: I went absolutely nuts one night with his reading list for his Middle East class, and bought something like 200$ of books on Amazon, many of them used. I feel I kinda jumped the gun too soon on some of them… I don’t think I have the mental fortitude yet to attack a 1000 page brick on the history of zionism… however this one was a very concise read that I feel is generally useful for both general culture and as a part of my studies. As with the book on Lebanon, this post isn’t going to be a summary of the content of the book, but rather a wider reflection on what I found interesting during my read. As a factual piece, I don’t feel that this book was necessarily the best intro to late 20th century Irak mostly because of it’s publishing dates back to 1991 (although most of it sounds like it was written before the end of the Iran-Irak war). This book, while passé, was an excellent read.

One thing struck me throughout is how everything I  was reading sounded so alien. It was the same kind of feeling that I had when I read that book on Khomeini I have: I had not prior knowledge of what I was reading, nothing for the new material to link up to and to construct sense. That in itself is not surprising, there are probably a lot of things that I ignore everything about. What was surprising is about this book is that it was about Irak, the super-villain from the axis of evil, the country against which the US ground the blade of it’s post-Cold War foreign policy, that country that served as a theatre for what was probably the biggest war ever to happen during my teenage years. Saddam and his pitilessness, the Ba’ath and it’s violence, the gassing of the Kurdes, the country’s military weight, I thought I knew a couple of things on Irak. Turns out I didn’t know much, because what I knew was based on events that mostly all took place post-Gulf War. I forgot, probably like others, that before the Gulf War, Irak was still a thing, albeit pale in comparison to other important countries and events at the time, most probably related to the Cold War.

This book didn’t build on the prior knowledge of the Gulf War, because it hadn’t happen yet. This book treats the Iran-Irak war as the end-all moment of the Irakis, and thus builds up the analysis from a much earlier historical experience than just the Ba’ath->Saddam->Iran-Irak->1st Gulf->2nd Gulfe series of events to which I was exposed in classes and books.  This deepening of the historical analysis for one is very helpful, and the insight on the relatively little known operation of the Iraki Ba’ath from an insider’s perspective makes for a very interesting read.

From a distance, the historical root causes of phenomenon always appears simpler: you don’t NEED to understand the Ba’ath and the founding of the Iraki regime to understand that the US kicked their asses. To understand that Saddam is a ruthless, cunning and bellicose is enough. When a subject is deemed interesting, scholarly analysis is often overabundant, but when events shrinks to insignificance and are noted in the history books, very often it is poor and historically tainted. Researchers in the field of terrorism for example seem to agree that academia is going totally nuts over the phenomenon, making complete mastery of the field a difficult task because of the sheer number of studies based on it. The sad thing about this field is that a few years from now, it is most likely that an infinitely small fraction of all that content will be considered relevant. This book was an excellent reminder that history, while in appearance based on  objective facts, is in practice subject to change.

Also interesting is the fact that the link between the Iraki Ba’ath and socialism is explored in more detailed, giving an interesting insight in how the arabs, and in a larger frame the third-world, deployed it’s own brand of socialism. My curiosity has been piqued by both the theory of Franz Fanon’s third-worldism and the pratical application of third-world socialism by Nyerere in Tanzania, and in that respect it was interesting to get the arab perspective on these matters. Expect more books relating to this.

Bottom line, this is very good, westerner-friendly primer to pre-90’s Iraq. Tons of stuff helpful to a wider understanding of the Middle East at large is mentioned, with references mix 50/50 between arabic and english publications, which is a nice balance of stuff you can read for yourself and helpful bits cited and translated from Arabic that you’d probably never have read otherwise. It’s available in french or english.

52B/52W, Week 9: Comment mettre la droite K.-O. en 15 arguments

December 18, 2013 § Leave a comment


Comment mettre la droite K.-O. en 15 arguments – Jean-Francois Lisée

I’m back from an almost semester-long hiatus! The reading hasn’t stopped… however, most of the reading I have done during this period was school stuff that may or may not have been relevant to blog about. Not to mention that working upwards of 30 hours, going to school full time and participating in extra-curricular stuff had the best of me. But that’s all behind now, and I plan on doing some catch-up during the Christmas break. 

Sun Tzu, in The Art of War, said the following: “If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperilled in a hundred battles.” I read this book to know my enemy. Enemy might look like a strong word, but if politics is a civilized and institutionalized struggle between forces competing for power as I believe it is, then the usage of the word would be exact. Jean-Francois Lisée is pretty much a polar opposite in terms of political alignment: separatist and Parti Quebecois bigwig, leans left of center, union sympathiser, you get the idea, not exactly my kind of stuff.  Seeing as this book sold quite a lot and that I have heard it been used as reference before in friendly arguments, I thought I’d better read it myself; if the likes of him and the likes of me are ever going to debate something, I’d better be prepared.

The gist of the book is that it is a response to criticisms often levelled against Quebec and what is called the “Quebecois model”, our welfare states system which has a heavy hand in things like employment, culture, health, social issues and business. Most of these criticisms are presented by think-tank-ish organisations like Chambers of Commerce and various institutes centered around business, and are more often than not centered around statistical data. In this book, Lisée attempts to fight fire with fire by responding with different interpretations of statistical data, either by putting things in perspective to delegitimize claims which he (and the left, mostly) believe are blown out of proportion, or by showing that numbers don’t necessarily reflect reality. In certain cases, he cites statistics from other sources and pits them against what is usually presented, showing potential biais.

The effort is noble, but the method is flawed. The left, specially in Quebec, when confronted with empirical evidence about the failure of their model, often offer qualitative responses citing collective choices (“choix de societé”, referring to some type of social contract that never was) or ideals which are to be attained, regardless of the costs. While I generally disagree with the left, I can appreciate any politic choice made on solid philosophical grounds… which is why any argument I have with political opponents generally ends up with a discussion on the traditional philosophical problems like the nature of freedom. I hate arguing with statistics; they are the tools of technocrats and pencil pushers, veils with which true political issues are hidden away from sight. I hate to see statistics make policy; the pursuit of goals in the form of numbers alienates humanity, replaces the debate on the ends of human existence with a endless debate on the means of attaining a superficial goal. Governance through statistics is one of the hypermodern heads of the hydra that modernity created, a beast which is killing it’s maker. But I digress, more on that on an other post maybe. 

This book presents statistical data, which like all statistical data, has to be interpreted to make any sense. What Lisée considers the right has presented interpretations, Lisée responds with another. Often, while underlining errors in interpretation, he commits the same in his rebuttle: using small-N surveys as proof, rehashing numbers to include this or that factor, and when all else fails, the falling back on those “choices” we made as a society. Here’s an oft-discussed example: fiscal burden. The right argues: fiscal burden is horrendously high. Lisée’s answers: not so when the services are considered, when an arbitrary evaluation of the cost of services is included in the calculation, the fiscal burden is actually negative! This is flawed in two ways: first of all, a negative average fiscal burden means that we are receiving more than we can buy… which means we are collectively buying it on credit. Secondly, the total fiscal burden after services point is moot: the issue is not what you’re getting for your money, it’s that you don’t have a choice over what you’re getting. By discussing the issue of tax burden through numbers, Lisée offers a quantitative indicator of how well our system works, which totally ignoring both the root problem, and problems highlight within his own demonstration. That’s hardly a constructive effort. 

All 15 arguments presented are discussed in this way, each touching on different socio-economic indicators. The conclusion is the one you’d expect from a PQ hard-liner: hurray Quebec, we’re the best, vive le Quebec libre, etc etc. Did Lisée’s book definitively address the socio-economic problems of our province and create unshakeable consensus by definitely pinning down every opinion right of center as it’s title implies? The answer is no, of course. It’s just another instance of the dick-showing through statistics that’s been going for ages. Doctrinal hard-liners like Lisée don’t adresse problems: they show you how the problems don’t actually exist according to their vision of things. I would have better liked a book on solutions. 

Read it, don’t read it, whatever. If you learn anything, it’s going to be numbers, abstractions derived from empirical data which can be shaped into pretty much anything, and therefor useless in the grand scheme of things. 

52B/52W, Week 8: Simulacre et simulation

September 13, 2013 § Leave a comment


Simulacres et simulation – Jean Baudrillard

I had one more week to read something not related to my university work, and I decided to go hard in the proverbial paint. I’ve been wanting to read this since I’ve heard about it on a documentary showing off the philosophical content of the Matrix trilogy, and as it turns out it was a very pertinent read that I will probably cite and use in my 20th Century Political Ideas course. I think I’ve talked about French intellectuals and their tendency to write non-linear, elusive works much harder to digest than their english counterparts, and Baudrillard definitely fits right into this phenomenon. The theme central to the book is the constant cultural contact of modern westerners with “hyperreality”, an augmented reality where the latter is transformed through emulation or replaced by simulacrum, the copy of an original which never existed. This theme is faint throughout the book, and addressed by demonstrating the presence of the phenomenon of hyperreality in various aspects of life, socialization, arts, politics, etc.

As with any critical work, it is important that the reader take some and leave some when reading: Baudrillard goes to great lengths to interpreting many things in his chapters, and sometimes, you’ve gotta wonder what the hell this guy was smoking. Most of the analyses seems honest and grounded, but some of it definitely smell like conspiracy theory in certain parts. Mentions of “the system” are repeated over and over in many chapters, which at times evokes Kafka-esque uncoordinated systemic oppression, other times just sounding like the leftist conspiracy theorist. At some point, the author discusses how the attempted murder of figures of power confirms their power (that much I get), and goes and to say that Kennedy HAD to die, because he incarnated real power which is proscribed in the world of simulacrum in which we live; as if all events were to be blamed on this system of simulacrum, bar none. Forcing events to coincide with theory a posteriori is too easy, and Baudrillard does it throughout his essay. You have to stay on guard for the nonesense, yet with open-minded enough to read between the lines; this is exactly what makes it a pretty difficult read.

This book seems to be generally regarded as quite left-field even in it’s genre, since the university classified it in a code reserved for general literature, and not with the other works on philosophy. It’s real merit is it’s originality, predating Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent (which I will not doubt be reading very soon) and other serious works on media imperialism by a couple of years, but also it’s audacity in pushing the logic hyperreality to the furthest it can go. Some of the passages on mass culture and reality TV are even eerily prochronistic, perfectly applicable to the media environment of today with it’s social media and user-powered (inspired?) web.

Bottom line, if you can find a copy, definitely read it. It’s the kind of book you that you can grab when you reek of scotch at the of the night and want to talk metaphysical nonsense with a lady friend. It’s that book you mention right after you can use to say “meh, I’ve read worst” after going through something particularly stiff. It’s also great bookshelf fodder. But buy it used… prices are getting a little bit insane, as reprints probably haven’t been done in a while.

52B/52W, Week 7: Ethique à l’usage de mon fils

August 31, 2013 § Leave a comment


Ethique à l’usage de mon fils – Fernando Savater

Another CEGEP read from my flat-mate’s bookshelf… the next book to be review is a quite rough read, so I had to read something lighter. While I didn’t learn much from this book, I’m still glad I got my hands on it.

As it’s title implies, this book is a treaty on ethics, from a father to his son. This implies many things: first and foremost, the tone is quite different from other works of philosophy, as you’d expect. First off, it’s terribly cheesy: maybe it’s the fact that this book was written in the 90’s, or the way is was translated, but some passages are totally cringe-worthy. We’ve all been through “serious” talks with out parents: were babies come from, why you shouldn’t smoke, money and how to spend it; that kind of awkward. Secondly, examples are abundant, and more often than not are very personal: Savater Jr. probably was really big into motorcycles, because that definitely came up a lot. Thirdly, the book cites occasionally, but generally refrains from laying down statements as if they were facts. As a descendant to existentialism with regards to the notion of freedom that the book exposes, Savater presents his content more as guidelines and pointers rather than rules, being obviously sensible to giving his progeny a free mind, one that through reason and experience  can come to it’s own truth, and forge it’s own ideas.

This is the first work on ethics that I have read cover to cover, having only read bits and pieces of Aristotle, Epicurus and the likes. Because of it’s intent, I don’t feel like I have learnt too much; the flipside of the expository nature of this book is that the basics are brought back, important things like the different between ethics and moral, their place in the wider spectrum of philosophy and the implications of elaborating one’s ethical code. In both form and content, it is an excellent primer the philosophy of our time, with it’s implied agnosticism and tendency towards concepts relating to secular humanism; the perfect book to spark interest in philosophy in the heart of a young adult.

Really hoping I can steal this book off my buddy. I’m of the opinion that a general grasp of philosophy is essential for any cultured individual, and I’d love to give this to my own son some day.


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