Thursday, May 31, 2018

"A Better Loss": Updated Thoughts on the Jays

With due credit to Tom Dakers at BlueBirdBanter for the headline.  One thing I like about Dakers reporting is that he continually searches for an upside. We need that because, well, there has not been a lot of upside to the Jays, at least this last month. People might recall that I was optimistic at the start of the year. I thought that the Jays upper management had done a good job letting salary clear and keeping prospects. I thought they had done a good job piecing together a low cost team that could be in the hunt -- winning somewhere between 78 and 86 games, putting the Jays on the margins of the playoff race -- while not taking on any further longer-term salary commitments. There were "ifs" in my equation and things started out well and then .... So, what do we make of what is going on with the Jays right now? Is there reason to change my assessment?

No ... the Jays may not be in the playoff hunt but I don't see any reason that they cannot look to a .500 season. Right now they are playing horrible ball -- and some of their problems are telling -- but the team, overall, is still OK. Injuries have hurt, as has age, and this is one of the reasons I continue to be optimistic about this season: the Jays may not win but we know more about what the future might hold with each passing day.  How so?

Well, we know that Devon Travis has been seriously harmed by three years of injuries. I feel bad for him. Three years ago, he was 24 years old (perhaps a bit older than we would like a guy who was basically a AA player becoming a rookie) but when in the lineup he played well. His defence was better than average, he seemed like he could swipe 20 bags a year given the chance (that is, he seemed like an intelligent baserunner even if he was not blessed, say, with Pillar's speed), and his offence seemed to have a real upside. Three injury-plagued seasons later, he is struggling, and struggling is generous. Eyeballing him, he seems to have trouble getting to balls, he never walked a lot but he is not walking *at all.* No walks + truly horrible batting average = an on-base percentage so low that it makes one ill. Again, I feel bad for him. He seems like a really nice guy who works hard and his current situation is not his fault. It is made worse, however, by the fact that he does not have a lot of versatility.  It seems unlikely, in other words, that he could become a utility player to keep his job.  With a number of good looking middle infielders in the minors, he will be pressed for playing time by September, if not before.  He's got his job back only because the roster madness and tryout like approach at short after Diaz went down did not allow anyone to take control of the job.

So, what do we know: we know Travis is not our second baseman of the future. Knowing that is good because it allows the Jays to think about who is (Biggio, Bichette?)

We also know that Russ Martin's career is truly over, baring some sort of Devine intervention.  One of Martin's appreciable strengths is that he takes a lot of walks and so, theoretically, gets on base, but this is compromised by another truly horrible batting average. And, his defence behind the plate remains slightly -- just slightly -- better than average.  The Jays seem to be looking for a way to keep him the lineup, although exactly why has confused a variety of commentators (the guys on Blue Jays Central claim to not be able to figure out what is going on). Martin has started at 3rd, short, and left field this year as well as at Catcher. My view is that he is done and both he and the Jays know it. They are not trying to transition him to a utility player (although there might be more merit in this than one might think if one reconstructed the lineup), but instead letting him engage in a bit of a swan song before he steps aside.

It would be great if he did step aside. The Jays should give him an office job -- a consultant, roving ambassador, bullpen coach or catcher or something like that. Keep him in the public eye because he's a good face for the Jays: he speaks well, gets along with reporters, seems to really love and respect the fans and that Canadian thing means he is popular with the fans. I don't lament that his career is done. I think it Joe Siddall (on Blue Jays Central) said that the Jays knew this was coming when they signed him as a free agent 3+ years ago. They knew they were going to eat salary on the back end of his contract and were paying him anyway as the price of getting to the playoffs. That was my thinking, too. The chickens have now come home to roost. Pay the man and see who the future catcher is.

It ain't Luke Maile either but he might be the back up. The way the Jays construct their roster creates problems with call ups -- as we have seen -- but we will likely see Danny Jansen after the all-star break (or, earlier if the "right" injury occurs). I read some dingbat saying that they thought Max Pentacost was major-league ready!! He ain't (and I feel bad for him too because this is another story of injuries).  Keep expectations on Jansen limited. He's having a good year AAA and he is only 23, but his record this year is significantly better than his overall minor league record. Remember, this is a guy who spent three full years at various levels of A ball and who, last year, started the season at the A level (admittedly advanced A) and then just hit everything going for the first time in his pro career.  In other words, I hope he is good (for both him and the Jays), but don't over expect. Still, on the what do we know front ... we know Martin is on his way out, Maile is likely the back up of the future, and we will likely see Jansen as a starter this year.

We also know that Morales is done. The Jays will likely cut him this year. His offensive and defensive WAR (wins above replacement, a measure of how a player performs relative to an average replacement player) are both negative. This means that simply replacing Morales with an average player, say from AAA, will make the Jays better. Morales has really tried this year. He's gotten glasses and lost weight. I suspect age is the key factor so he might get on a hot streak, but don't be confused. We know the future and he is not in it.

There are some other things but I'd like to move on to a couple of less optimistic points:

Point #1:, we know there is a lot of pressure on the Jays to elevate Guerrero, Jr. More on this in another blog. I think rushing the kid to the majors would be a mistake, even though I think we should see him this year.

Point #2:  I think we now know why Teoscar Hernandez did not have a major league job. The guy can hit. In less than 400 major league at bats, he's whacked 20 HR and has a +.800 OPS. OPS is a measure of power and ability to get on base. +.800 is all star territory. But, his defence is ... well ... horribly horrible.  I can't say this for sure, but the Jays coaches don't seem to be doing anything about it either. They seem to be letting him to try to work the matter out. The commentary on him notes that he takes bad routes to balls and misplays balls he should be able to catch. It is just a subjective opinion, but my eyeballing of games tells me that he gives up on balls too easily, gets frustrated, and then gets distracted by his own frustration.  Maybe he could be moved to DH (replacing Morales). We do have outfielders (Smith, Alford, Pompey) in the minors or on the bench.

Finally, and I'll end this blog on this point, I think Gibby has lost the team. The number of mistakes they are making is truly outstanding. There is more to say on this point but the Jays are just not playing good baseball. This is frustrating because, in my view, some of their problems could be addressed through coaching.

Do I remain optimistic? Yes, in the long term. We finding things out and that is what this season, I think, was really all about.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Journalist Ethics and Alt-Right Wannabes: Trying to Create What Just Ain't There

It turns out that one newspaper set out to intentionally try to create division in the run up to an election and to portray Ontario (and by extension Canada) as in the midst of a US-style "culture war." Here is the information: here. This raises a number of questions and highlights the importance that media plays in representing politics. Why would anyone want to create divisions in society? What would they gain from it? How can, or should, this news source be trusted after its plot has been exposed? What does this tell us about the state of Canadian journalism?

I can't answer all these questions and, frankly, I am a bit ... well ... like others, I am a bit shocked. The fact of media bias is not news to most people, but an overt plan to manipulate people to promote extremist alt-right politics is something a bit over line of what we are used to. When we study media bias, most of us think about things like stories that are ignored, the need to pacify advertisers, connections between reporters and certain sectors of society, etc., that frame common worldviews. We don't think in terms of someone -- or, a group of people -- setting out to inflame public opinion, target minority groups to more vehement hatred, intentionally disrupt national unity, and the like. I want to argue that there are both good and bad implications to this plot. 

The bad are likely more self-evident. Some might argue that it challenges the idea of journalistic "objectivity" and if I were a journalist I would be deeply disturbed by this. In scholarship, however, most of us are aware that journalistic "objectivity" is a bit of a rhetorical buzzword that does not touch down in reality. Journalists are biased and that bias affects how they report on certain issues. But, what this shows is a potentially deepening division between different styles of journalism that is, frankly and without prejudice, far more advanced in the US.  It is the journalism of alternative facts where all reporting becomes politicized and the political lessons are determined well in advance of the story actually being written. In the US we can see this clearly in the increasing division between how different news outlets report stories. I won't get into this, and some do a better job of fact-checking than others, but if you've watched, say, Fox News lately, you can tell that they promote certain political positions come what may. The don't really worry too much about the facts of the matter and have been caught, say by Jon Stewart, actually swapping in archival footage for supposed footage of ongoing events when what actually happened did not suit their bill. They don't really report so much as they offer political slogans under the guise of reporting. 

The problem is not objectivity. The problem is that there is an increasing divisions between those journalists who -- however biased they might be -- still subscribe to an idea of some sort of professional ethics and those who see their job as promoting a particular political perspective. Those professional ethics -- to say this again -- do not amount to objectivity but they do amount to something that may have some merits: the idea that there are facts and those facts can be checked, that journalists should have a commitment to accuracy, that centralized control of journalists' storylines is intensely problematic and subverts accuracy and and fact checking, that overt partisanship is a deep challenge to journalistic accuracy, a certain amount of humility is not a bad thing because it allows for the idea that there are other sides to any particular story, and that one should strive for fairness and balance in public statements. The views of reporters can have a place in journalism, but that is in the editorial. If journalists want to state their views, they can, but they should do so in a way that is distinct and recognizable, that separates reportage from opinion. 

Overtly politicized journalism, by contrast, ditches these principles in favour of something else. It determines on the basis of its reading of often current history that there is a right perspective and a wrong perspective. Events are, then, read through this prism. The weight of historical perspectives and a correct ideological perspective outweighs the need to investigate issues in a thorough way or check facts deeply because the weight of perspective is on one's side (said differently, the precise facts are irrelevant as long as the general framework of discussion is OK.) Centralized direction is OK because it is an owner's or editor's right to determine what his or her media outset does. After all, it is their property and because it is their property they can do with it what they will. This right to property trumps journalists' commitment to some sort of impartiality or balance and those journalists that do not like this view can look elsewhere for work. Everything is politics and so must be treated as such, even if it seems, say, heartless to not sympathize with those who have suffered a tragedy. The other political side distorts journalism as well and so for anyone to be critical of politicized reporting ... well, that is just hypocrisy. 

Once upon a time -- back in the day, as it were -- all journalism involved some degree of political bias. In Canada, for instance, it was not unusual for different towns to have more than one newspaper, each reporting the news from a particular perspective. Is today's politicized journalism a return to this older approach? 

Not really. The politicized journalism of, say, the nineteenth century, went to great lengths to engage in dialogue. It was honest about its politics, which it went to great lengths to defend. Long essays laid out the philosophical and empirical basis for conclusions. Thus, the goal of reporting was to link current events to broader perspectives, on say, trade or foreign policy, by explaining the philosophical basis for that. Its goal was not to start a "culture war" but to provide an ethical and philosophic basis upon which citizens could support particular policy choices. 

What this means is that the overt, politicized journalism of the Canadian proponents of culture wars, is something new, facilitated, I suspect by social media, and a range of other factors.  But, what is most interesting about it is an oddity, and potentially contradictory, relationship to accuracy. On the one hand, it needs the very idea of journalistic objectivity for it to lay a claim to truth. Otherwise, it would simply be a perspective that lacked any connection to reality. What do I mean? 

This: politicized journalism may not view accuracy as particularly important to its reporting but it needs to at least claim to be accurate ... otherwise, no one would believe. Consider, for instance, one of those FB comments that made the rounds a while ago. It said something like "don't change the national anthem" in response to the federal government's minor alteration of the national anthem to introduce gender-neutral language into it. That story had to make a claim to accuracy or it would have been viewed as comedy, a stunt, silliness, etc., something not to be taken seriously. So, it had to claim that there was (a) something unusual about changing the words of the national anthem, and (b) that there was something wrong -- a-traditional -- about introducing gender-neutral language. Without these claims, there was no story. Thus, this overtly politicized journalism relies on standards of accuracy and a claim to be accurate even if it violated its own standards (the national anthem has been changed many times in Canadian history and its original language was gender neutral). Otherwise, without this claim, the post simply said "we're sexist and want to keep on being sexist and we think key Canadian icons should reflect our sexism and screw anyone who believes differently." Obviously, this is something that would not be treated seriously. It is the claim to accuracy that attracts attention.

The other odd characteristic is that, in my experience, the supporters of this overtly politicized journalism don't seem to really want to engage in facts or argument. For instance, on a very minor level, I know people who dismiss what I am saying right now as so much "liberal" twaddle. The fact that it is not "liberal" does not seem to bother them. In other words, there is an element of certainty among the supporters of overtly politicized journalism that transcends the need to investigate issues or logic them out. They believe fundamentally in what they say and, in my experience, little amount of evidence or logic will alter their views. 

The good news is that I don't actually think this group is particularly large. They are larger than I might have imagined and potentially growing but I don't think they are anywhere close to a majority of the population. They might represent, say, 20% of the population, which gives them tremendous political import if they vote. But, I suspect that the ideal (even if it is not the reality) of journalistic neutrality I described represents an aspiration for most journalists and general public.  Ultimately, then, The Sun failed because someone leaked their plans. That will not stop them again and I doubt their readers really care if they contrived a culture war. They will still argue that there is one. 

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Nobility of Right, or why discrimination and bigotry suck as rights

Somewhere, and I forget where, Joseph Heath mentioned a concept which he called something like "the nobility of right". It was not a key concept in his thinking but I want to argue that it should be. The idea is that rights reach their fullest potential and greatest effect when they are used to defend and promote noble principles and ideas. For example, rights become noble when they extend democracy, address marginalization, provide security, end bigotry. These is a nobility in working to promote a good cause that enhances life for citizens: that creates the circumstances in which an individual can live a fuller and more meaningful life. Conversely, rights lose their nobility if they are used to defend and promote the opposite of noble causes: if one uses rights to marginalize, deny equality, oppress or harm. Heath suggested, if I am remembering what he said correctly, that this distinction, in fact, might help us in determining whether we felt the articulation of a particular right was a good idea or not.

The ways in which some people have recently been using religious freedom to defend their bigotry against the LGBTQ community is an example of the un-nobility of right. In other words, it is a misuse of rights because it impoverishes the very idea and concept of rights. It is an instance where rights are being used not to advance equality but to limit it; not to promote inclusion in the body politics but to exclude from; not to ensure the security of the person but to endanger it.

A good example of this comes from south of the border: the Trump administration's initiative to allow medical practitioners to deny care -- that is to refuse treatment -- to people on the basis of their sexual orientation. What is upsetting about this is not that there people who want to discriminate against LGBTQ people. I knew that already and I strongly suspect you did as well. What upsets me is that they are doing so by using a noble right -- freedom of religion -- to try to argue that their bigotry is just an exercise of their rights. As a Christians, I might pause to ask WWJD in this instance and I'd urge anyone considering denying service to the same thing. In other words, I'd argue that denial of service is not a defence of Christian beliefs but a contradiction of them -- but we can save that discussion for another day. Here, I want to address the issue of rights and whether or not we have a right to deny medical services (a dangerous step, to be sure) to individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. I am arguing no. There is no such right, in an ethical and moral sense and, moreover, this ethics has implications for other debates that surround freedom of religion.

Let's start with some basics. The key point here is that Heath is trying to disaggregate the concept of rights. Rights talk, for a very long time, has set up the concept of rights as absolutes. A right is a right is a right and, in fact, that is what makes them rights. This approach to rights may have been created for good reasons: because the prevailing view, back in the day, was that not everyone had, or deserved, rights. Women, for instance, or racialized minorities, it was argued, were incapable of full citizenship and so they could not be accorded equality with white men (nor the poor with the rich, etc.). In an effort to guard against this, I suspect, the idea of rights as an absolute developed. You either got 'em or you don't.

In more recent times, as Michael Ignatieff noted, rights talk has come to dominate public discourse. Ignatieff is not sure this is good, not because he opposes rights -- indeed, it would be a deep disservice to him to suggest that he did -- but because he believe that as a society we have substituted the language of rights for other languages that are more apt. We can leave off that discussion, too, except to note that it in no way lessens the significance of rights but instead points to a confusion of language. Things that people might want to do or wonder about or whathaveyou, come to described as rights when they are really something else.

Heath's point is that we need to look at rights and without minimizing their importance recognize that rights are not a monolithic category. We often hear about conflicts of rights (say, individual versus collective, freedom of religion versus gender equality) when this is not really what rights are all about. There is, for instance, I explain to my students, a difference between a law that is *intended* to promote equality and a law that is *intended* to maintain discrimination. Intentions, in other words matter.

Don't believe me ... why do people apologize? Because we understand that intentions matter: a mistake is something different from an intentional act. My daughter, when she was 2 or 3 took something -- a small bottle of shampoo -- from a store. It looked cute and she had not idea what stores we all about. She was not thrown in jail because intentions matter. It is, in fact, a basic element of law: a crime (excepting negligence) consist of two parts: intention and action.  We all know that intentions matter and I'd go so far as to suggest that it is the opposite point -- that intentions do not matter -- that should be under scrutiny. What does it take to argue such a point? I don't agree with this but is this not what each officer involved in the shooting of a young Black man in the US has argued: it was not *my fault* that I shot him.

One can agree or disagree with the law. That is another discussion. For example, consider a law that is intended to promote equality. One can argue about its efficacy, its morality, its usefulness, etc. These can all be valid discussions to have. But, we cannot suggest that the promotion of equality is the same thing maintaining inequality, we cannot say that one's intent does not matter. They differ intent and effect (inclusion, equality v exclusivity and inequality).  To use an example: getting rid of racism is not the same as racism.

I make this point because some disturbing things are disguised by their association with rights. If someone says "I have a right to my freedom of religion," we tend to agree because control over one's spirituality is an important thing.  When we think of freedom of religion, we think of the need for it: for protection of religious minorities against oppression. Jews in Nazi Germany is an example that comes quickly to people's minds but we can with some thought all think of other examples: of places where "heretics" are executed or the Padlock law or the Inquisition. Freedom of religion was put in place in liberal societies in order to protect individuals and allow the free expression of spiritual beliefs, the association connected with it, and the assembly (getting together) that it required.

I want to be quite clear on this: freedom of religion was never about hate. It was not about refusing to help people. It was never about denial of care, that is turning one's back on someone in need. It was a positive right that allowed people to address something that is good about humanity: spirituality. Its recent recasting as a negative right -- as in, I have right to hate, to ignore, to leave in harm's way -- is a disturbing trend not simply because it, in effect, it says "some people are worth saving and helping and others are not" and claims that the right to make that decision falls not on reasoned dialogue or collective agreement but on an individual and his or her prejudices. It is a disturbing trend because it involves the recasting of rights as something that can be used to oppress and marginalize, to maintain biases, as opposed to circumventing them.

This is, I suspect, why even the alt-right is shy about saying precisely what they mean. No one, for instance, talks about the right to hate. Instead they say things like "the government should not tell me what to think." But, this is a bit disingenuous. The point of rights is precisely *not* to tell someone what to think but to guarantee protection, security, etc., the right to think. This policy of Trump's -- along with his policies viz the military -- say, in effect, you have the right to ignore a person in need if you don't like them. The reason most people -- excepting extremists -- don't talk about "I hate" because they recognize that they will sound horrible.  They sound horrible because their religion is about love (love of God, love of your neighbour) and because there is no right to hate. You might hate somebody or something. That is your business, but is this how you want to define yourself: as a hater?

In Canada, the situation is not nearly as grave but much of the evangelical opposition to the Trudeau Liberals is coming very close. There is more to say on this point but some evangelical Christians have argued that their rights are being infringed because they cannot use state funds to organize anti LGBTQ and anti-abortion programs or policies or institutes or campaigns or whatever it actually is.

What we can note is the same process. No one is saying "I want money from the government to promote inequality, to harm and marginalize, to recreate the conditions in which, say, gay bashing was normal." There is a reason why they don't say that: no one would be one their side. Instead, they say "I have a right to my views." You do, but is that the same thing as getting paid to subvert and endanger someone else?

I would argue it is not. A person will think what they will think. But, you do not have a right to get paid (or, to pay others) to subvert someone else's equality or safety.

Let me return to religion. I lament this recent turn in evangelical politics for another reason: it makes Christians look bad. We are not -- or, should not be -- about hate. We should not be about trying to find a way for the state to pay us to force gays and lesbians back in the closet. We should not be looking for the state to protect anyone's bigotry. Imagine the alternative: would you be OK if a secular group were funded to run an anti-Christian organization? I really hope freedom of religion has not been reduced to the right to hate because if it is ... the battle is already lost.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Thought Police and Post-Secondary Education

The argument I have been trying to make so far is that the equation of "political correctness" with thought policing is misplaced. This can be qualified. There are people on every point on the political spectrum who are not particularly interested in open mindedness. But, that can be taken for granted. What I am interested in is demonstrating that the idea that asking people to think again about something is not wrong. I tried to argue that most of do this all the time. It is a normal part of conversation because we often talk to others about things about which we disagree. There is nothing wrong with saying to someone, you know, I thought X and here is why. Far from being thought policing, it is a normal part of discourse. It is the way we carry on conversations. Likewise with politics. Democracy requires people changing their mind. No mind changing ... no democracy.  Suggesting to someone, then, that they can and should look at an issue (the economy, health care, the environment, it does not matter what) in a different way is hardly thought policing. Likewise, there is nothing wrong with suggestion to someone that bigotry or insulting someone is wrong.

Post-secondary education is one ares where people are often accused of being PC. If you follow the logic of my argument, this will not come as a surprise because post-secondary education is about thinking differently. If it was not ... would it be education? I periodically hear this from critics of PC: "Professor So-and-So said that something I fundamentally believe was wrong and wants me to change my mind. That is so PC." If you are one of those people who has said that, can I ask: what were you paying for when you paid your tuition? Imagine a situation where you paid your tuition and spent the entire year being told only things you already knew. How would you feel. At the end of the year, you knew precisely and exactly and only the things you already knew at the start of the year. No one had challenged your thinking. No one presented data that refocused your attention. No one suggested a different methodology that might yield different results. Would you believe that your tuition was money well spent?

Education can and should be about many things. It should be about skill acquisition. It should be about some measure of cultural literacy. It should be about empirical knowledge. There is, in other words, not a single thing that higher education -- or any form of education -- is about. In my view, for instance, it should be about something we've called in the past "habits of mind": how you look at and think about how you will think about issue and interact with others and knowledge. But, if you completed your university degree and your views on anything that is important were never challenged, regardless of your political perspective, would you say that your education was complete?

Post-secondary education places a premium on critical thinking. To be sure, that can be -- and is -- defined in different ways. To be sure, what that means is approached through different research methods. And, to be sure, faculty hold different political perspectives. On my floor (which houses three different academic units), at Mount A, for instance, just about every perspective on the political spectrum (with the exception of the extreme ends) is represented.  [BTW: It might surprise people to know what we professors, in fact, spend shockingly little time talking about politics. We talk about it, perhaps more than other people in other jobs (I've never held a job where politics was not a subject of discussion at some point in the working day), but we spend the vast majority of our time talking about other things ... like our jobs (teaching strategies that worked or did not work, attendance issues, students who are struggling, departmental budgets, professional development, research) or .... ordinary life things like kids and household repairs and movies we like.] This is my point: despite these differences, we all get along. No one accuses someone else of being the thought police because we share a commitment to an ideal of post-secondary education that does many things: builds knowledge, conveys facts, promotes skills, and sustains different perspectives on the events or issues in question.

I want to be clear on this point: different faculty take different approaches to challenging student thinking. I had a colleague years ago who played devil's advocate, intentionally adopting the opposite perspective of his students. Most of us don't do that and can't really do that, say if you are lecturing to 100 students. What you can do is explain certain perspectives and challenge conventional thinking as a way to spur thought. In my classes, for instance, I ask students to think about what the mistreatment of First Peoples tells us about Canada or what we should think of contradictory tendencies in foreign policy or why we take wilderness icons for emblems of nationhood but produce so much pollution. Sometimes, I will confess, I don't have answers to these problems. I have my own views -- and this blog is a place where I articulate them -- but I don't have the answer to every issue or every problem that perplexes national public life.

But ... what if I did have answers? Well, it turns out that there are some things on which I do have some things that I think I can contribute to the general discussion. Most faculty are this way.  There are issues about which I have been teaching, or which I have been researching, for some time. I'm getting close to twenty years at Mount Allison, which means that some of my current students were not alive when I started here. I've done more reading on some subjects than my students and, in some cases, a great deal more reading. Where one of my students might have spent, say, hours reading about a subject they find interesting, I might now have spent 100 times that. I'm not bragging, just doing math. I've seen the evolution of scholarship over time (where students are often coming in half way through a story; not their fault, this is simply a product of age). I've see policies that have begun with much promise but resulted in failure. In other words, it is possible that I know more about something than one of my students and I might have ways of thinking about some matters that can help them. I do lecture in some of my courses and I lecture because I can use that forum to get students "up to speed" on an issue quicker than sending them away to read the dozen or several dozen books (let alone scholarly papers) that I have read on the same subject.

So, knowing that, what should be my approach as an instructor? As a faculty member, I am paid for many reasons. I am paid to teach classes, to administer an academic program, to provide effective collegial governance, to research, to edit, to advise. But, surely one of the reasons students pay to sit in my class is that they have something that they think they can learn from everything I've just wrote in the previous paragraph.

This is not arrogance. To be sure: some faculty are arrogant but arrogance has no single political home. It is not the sole provenance of the politically correct. And, in my view, the issue is not arrogance. We all agree that it is not a good mix with teaching. There is, though, a difference between arrogance and knowing something or having certain skills. My plumber knows a lot more about plumbing than I do. Is that arrogance on his part? My mechanic knows a great deal more about car engines than I do ... is he arrogant when he fixes my car? You see the point and the oddity of some of the accusations of thought policing or PC. When a faculty member corrects a mistake a student makes ... are they arrogant? Some people -- particularly but not exclusively, I suspect -- those in the anti-PC camp come very close to arguing that this is the case. But, imagine a different situation. What if I spotted a mistake and did not correct it? Would I be doing my job?

These are something more than rhetorical questions. What I am saying is that a reasonable conception of education involves thinking, changing your mind, learning new things and we expect instructors to guide us in that process. We don't expect them to sit on the sidelines while errors are made and ignore those so as to avoid becoming "thought police." The fact that someone who knows more about a subject than I do corrects me is not a horrible thing. It is not an insult to me, or a challenge to my moral worth or identity, as a human being. It is simple that: a correction.

Let me conclude: if you wondered why so much politically correct discourse (pro and con) is on campus, at universities, it is not an accident. It is not some sort of left wing academia. It is a product of the nature of the higher educational enterprise. Challenging people's thinking, correcting mistakes, asking people to look again at an issue, and recognizing that there are people who know more because that is their job, is not horrible. Yet, in hoopla that surrounds PC on campus, I think we have lost sight of those simple facts. The goal of education is *not* to remain the same. That is why we go to school: to develop, to change, to become better. If we assume that anyone who seeks to change us is involved in some sort of nefarious conspiracy or is some agent of the thought police, we are, in fact, condemning the very idea and purpose of education.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Democracy is PC? Seriously?

In my last post, I tried to argue that there was nothing nefarious in asking questions, suggesting alternatives, and engaging in a conversation with others, even when the aim of that discussion was to change someone's mind. Everyone does it and calling it PC and dismissing it, is really missing the point, particularly since the anti-PC crowd has itself been pretty vocal in trying to convince people that there are things wrong with feminism, gay and lesbian equality, and other like matters. I argued that they either need to concede the point -- that there is nothing wrong with discussion -- or accept their own hypocrisy, which is, then, reason to disregard everything they say. Would you listen to a rank hypocrite? How would you know that they actually believed what they were saying and weren't just stringing you on for some other reason?

Let's take this argument one step further and move it into the realm of politics. Politics is about many things. It can be about power, common visions of the nation or the future, ways to run the economy or respond to problems, like unemployment or the environment. But, one of the things it is about is getting people to change their minds. Getting people to change their minds is so far from being "thought police" as to be the opposite: it is a precondition of democracy. If people did not change their minds ... we would never have a competitive party system or a competitive election. One person would just stay in office until they died or left of their own accord to be replaced by another person who stayed in until they died or left of their own accord. Since no one's mind ever changed, there would, in fact, be no reason for voting.

Said differently, trying to get people to change their minds might or might not be PC, but one thing we can say for sure: it is democratic. In fact, it  is a precondition of democracy. Thus, every political party behaves pretty much like a PC activist: they try to convince you to alter what you were going to do. They try to get you to see their issues as the most important issues, to trust them as opposed to someone, to vote for them, to donate to them, to like their posts on Facebook or retweet their tweets. To criticize PC for asking people to think again about X or Y, then, is not simply to criticize a particular perspective you dislike, it is to criticize the foundation of democracy.

At this point, someone might argue: PC is about limiting *my* expression and *I* want to say things a certain way and anyone who tries to limit what *I* can say is limiting my freedom.

In some existential way this might be true. But, I would argue, we are actually talking about a very limited conception of freedom.  For instance, PC does not actually try to change the way you or I or anyone else thinks. Let us accept one of the critiques of it: you can't police people's thoughts. Or, rather, let us accept it for now because saying that no one ever changes them mind is the equivalent of saying that education is completely useless and no one ever learns anything, so I want to come back to this. For now, however,  and for the sake of argument, let's accept this critique.

What PC says is not that you cannot think X or Y. It says that there are some things that should not be expressed. We will get into why this might be the case in a future blog. Instead, think about freedom. Freedom of expression is vitally important but is measuring our freedom by our ability to, say, insult someone else really a worthwhile measure of freedom? Even when we accept the idea that expression is important, and I do, one should ask what else do we need to think about in terms of freedom.

This is one of those big question and people who say "expression is most important" are trying to create a hierarchy of values.  Again, I am not disagreeing with the anti-PC crowd by trying to engage their arguments because, frankly, I find them limited. In my job as an educator, challenging limited conceptions of something is what we do. It is a process of learning and I'll get back to that as well.

The point I want to make here is that approaching freedom in this way is approaching it through what strikes me as its lowest common denominator.  I am interested in suggesting to you that we can and should have a more robust definition of freedom. After all, the ability to call someone names is either (a) irrelevant if the anti-PC people are right in their claim that calling people names does nothing bad or (b) is relevant, in which case we need to assess it.

Obviously one cannot have it both ways. The right to call someone a name as part of an argument for freedom of expression, however, actually does try to have it both ways. It tries to argue that calling someone a racist epitaph or saying something homophobic or anti-Semitic, etc., is irrelevant because it hurts no one and then tries to argue that limiting someone's ability to insult others will cause democracy to collapse because it is thought police. If it is irrelevant -- why do it? Why spend your days and night defending something that is irrelevant. I don't and I know few people who do. If it is relevant ... well ... OK, fair enough, we can look at it. But, you can't say it is both irrelevant (harms n one, concerns are overblown) and vital (to expression and self-identification) and these very relevant.

If it is relevant, it can only be relevant in relation to other things. Food is, for instance, more relevant if you don't have it. Anti-PC arguments, then, start to have a problem that is twofold: (1) they try to argue that expression both is vitally important and irrelevant since it does nothing and (2) they ask us to accept a very limited definition of freedom (the ability to call others names) in place of more robust conceptions of freedom that advance society and sustain democracy.

What might these be? What might a more robust definition of freedom include. I can think of several things: the ability to change governments, alter public policy, enjoy a safe environment, learn, meet people with whom you share bonds of loyalty and friendship, worship, work meaningfully, and I am sure there are a bunch of others. Said differently, if you had the right (which you might) to call someone racist names but lived in utter squalor with no chance for your kids to go to school, no friends to whom you could really turn, and a job that just taxed you while you lived next to a dump ... how much would that freedom of expression (in that you can indeed insult someone of a different colour, say) really mean?

This is the point I am trying to make: I don't doubt the importance of freedom of expression but in reducing it to the ability to insult others -- to call a Jew a "Kike" or a use the N word -- have we really built a robust and meaningful definition of freedom? Have we really actually established the basis upon which it could be built. (I'd argue no ... but that, too, is a story for another day.)  In this way, anti-PC provides a very limited perspective on life. It is not that the PC argument is right. I can -- and has -- had its own problems. It is that the anti side is looking for meaning and importance and significance in the wrong place.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Telling People What to Think, PC, ... or, is this really thought police?

Among the various criticisms of PC and SJW is that they try to police thought and, the story goes, this is (a) offensive to basic conceptions of individualism, (b)not needed because what bad has thinking ever done anyone, (c) arrogant, and (d) just plane dumb because it cannot really be done. One cannot, so this saying goes, legislate morality. Worse, it stifles the free speech and thought needed for progress and democracy.

This is a tall indictment and I would like to take the time to engage it. I won't get to it all today so I'll come back to this issue over the next several blogs. I want to be clear: my point is not to argue against it, to provide some sort of point by point refutation. It is to engage this issue from the point of view of modern post-secondary education. In making my case (or, cases), I want to do my best to depoliticize this discussion because, in my view, it has become too politicized.  The critique of PC and SJW by the new right is an interesting cultural development but my aim is not to engage their thinking. It is, instead, to take a number of the points that come out of this discourse as a starting point and construct an argument that, I think, is important to higher education and, I will argue, human development. In short, I am not arguing for thought police but I do want to suggest that effective education engages what people are thinking and forces them to reconsider and potentially change their minds. If we ditch this idea, or try to catch up any effort to alter how people think, in one blanket "big no no" umbrella we are missing the reasons why we teach, campaign, and talk to other people (or, one of the reasons) in the first place.

Let me begin with that point. Suggesting to someone else that they change the way they are thinking is nothing new and its nothing radical. Most of us do it all the time. A few nights ago my son spent ten minutes trying -- effectively as it turned out -- to convince that a particular basketball team is better than another one. There is nothing horrendously wrong in this. In fact, he was acting on his beliefs. The issue at hand is inconsequential but the point is of value.

Imagine a different scenario. I am raising money for the local hospital and I call on you to donate. You say no. I might -- most charities have rules against pestering people to donate -- then try to convince you that this is a good thing to do. Or, you might have decided to stop seeing a particular series of movies. I've seen the latest instalment and think it is good. I talk to you about it and say "you really should go see it."

In all of these instances, I am not trying to police your thoughts. I'm trying to suggest that you can and should see things a bit differently and, with more information, you might make a different decision. Or, if you look at the matter from a different angle, your mind will change. I suspect, in fact, that most of us do this or something like this all the time. It might not be every day but it is likely every week: should we make bread pudding for Easter? Is it time to get a new chair? Is there anyway your aunt could visit in August instead of July?  These are, in fact, so far from thought police that we have a different name for them: discussions.  I might call them engagements, whereby someone challenges your thinking or asks you to reconsider a point you have decided. And, to the best of my knowledge, no one thinks this is wrong. No one gets upset and accuses you or I or the neighbour raising money for the United Way of being in league with thought police.

I'd go further: I'd guess -- I cannot say for sure but I'd guess -- that the better we know people, the more of these types of discussions we have with them. We have more opportunities to have them, for sure, but we also have a higher level of mutual trust and caring. I, frankly, make more suggestions to people and institutions with whom I have positive relationships that people or institutions I don't know, don't trust, or don't care about it. I'd guess you do things in pretty much the same way.

One needs to be careful about this and one cannot go to far or make a blanket statement but I actually feel an obligation to point out to family, friends, loved ones, mistakes if I am pretty convinced that they are about to make a mistake. Back when I was a student my friend and I used to have parties and we took people's keys when they arrived.  Want to come to our party, the price of admission is surrendering your car keys.  When you go to leave, someone who is sober will determine whether you get your keys back or we call a cab. Was that thought police? I don't think the fact that I see things a different way gives me license to control someone's life but I do think that friendship imposes of burden on me. If I ignore my friends when they are in trouble ... how good a friend am I? Am I a good friend if I let another friend drive home if they are intoxicated?

If this logic is sound, and the burden of my argument is that it is, then how much more true must it ring for important issues. If I am willing to talk to someone about movies or basketball teams, should I then, shift ground, and completely ignore significant issues? If I am willing to point out the merits of Star Trek to a friend or neighbour or family members, should I then neglect the significance of a healthy environment or a good public health care system or a safe educational environment? Said differently, on those big issues, on this issues that fundamentally affect a person's life (in a way that watching a movie or selecting a snack do not), should I sit there in silence?

If you answered yes, well, that is an interesting position because, of course, that is the point of political campaigns. One of the great ironies about those who reject PC as thought police is that they are doing exactly the same thing they shoot down PC for, just in reverse. If the politically correct are trying to convince you and I of something, those who oppose them are also trying to. The PC people are trying to convince me that they are right; the anti-PC people are trying to convince me that they are wrong. If PC is thought police ... surely those who are trying to do exactly the same thing -- convince me of something -- must also be involved in the same enterprise. That is why they argue with them: they are trying to change minds. After all, if one really believed that every person should be left to their own and any engagement with another were "thought police," the only sensible thing to do is remain silent on all issues. The fact that the anti-PC people don't illustrates two things: (1) that they are trying to change your mind (or, my mind or someone's mind) because otherwise they would not make the argument or post the video or tweet the tweet, etc. There is absolutely no point in making a video or tweeting or writing a blog or engaging in a debate other than trying to affect how people think. (2) They must feel that there is nothing wrong with what they are doing because, otherwise, they are simply acting like hypocrites and that -- hypocrisy -- would undercut their own argument.

To recap: I am not trying to refute any particular political perspective. I am, instead, trying to establish that people discuss things and part of discussions is that we try to get other people to change their minds. There is nothing nefarious in this. It depends on what you do with it. Most of the time, it is a product of the normal operation of life, our caring for others, our commitment to positive relationship and, in the university, our commitment to education.  We might not be telling someone what to think. I don't think we are. But we are trying to say: can I ask if you've considered other alternatives? Not only is this not thought police, it might, in fact, be an element of simple common humanity.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Life after NAFTA

The Financial Times ran a couple of stories recently about free trade. One was about a new White House economic report -- issued under the name of Donald Trump -- that contradicted much of what Trump had been saying about free trade in general and free trade with Canada in particular. It has some interesting things to say, even if FT reporting on it quickly gets caught up in a numbers game that is, well, neither convincing nor important.  The other piece was about "life after NAFTA" and it is more important. It is important because it suggests that there is life after NAFTA. This make sense, of course, and it is a bit of clarity in otherwise fairly bad public reportage on this issue. What is more, there always was life after NAFTA and that is important to recognize for Canadians because Canada needs to be willing to explore what that life means and where it might lead the country. Some of the tenor of the discussion on free trade can be found here. As I have tried to indicate before, there is a bigger picture here and it is that bigger picture I would like to address.

The Ideology of Trade and Anti-Trade

The first bits of reporting about the US post-Trump trade policy were nothing short of alarming and some still are. They were presented in a stark binary way that was, in fact, conducive to different political agendas. Trump's arguments against free trade (which had always been part of a isolationist sub-set of Republicanism in the US dating back at least to Pat Buchanan), provided rust-belt Americans and Americans in other regions suffering from de-industrialization, with an argument that checked a number of political boxes at the same time. The anti-free trade argument explained American long-term economic stagnation through a conspiracy. It was nothing Americans had done. They were, in effect, sold out by greedy foreigners pretending to be the allies and weak governments at home who off-loaded American largesse.

There was, of course, little truth to this argument. Free trade is part of a broader neoliberal policy orientation that, almost certainly, had hampered growth in family income in the US and Canada (and Mexico and a bunch of other places) but neoliberalism, for Canadians and Americans, is a self-inflicted wound. Or, rather, self-inflicted in this sense: the economic problems that neoliberalism created were the product of largely Canadian- and American-based multinational corporations. Mexicans did not "steal" American jobs, for example. American companies decided to lay off their American workers and move their plants to Mexico because, they reasoned, they could make larger profits. The decision was not taken in Mexico but in American and Canadian boardrooms by American and Canadian chief executives. Mexicans, we know, overall did not benefit from this, at least there is no evidence of any economic benefit for the average Mexican (rates of poverty, for instance, and rates of extreme poverty remain shockingly high).

The political side of the anti-trade argument, however, was that it allowed a critique of trade without a critique of neoliberalism or at least of the substance of it. The anti-trade argument, for instance, ignores a series of other disconcerting trends in the American (and, Canadian) economy and society, including: widening income gaps, persistent and potentially worsening poverty, stagnating average incomes, increased imbalances in political power based on income. It ignored concentrations of ownership and uneasy questions about the role of American capital and the profit motive in shifting jobs to other countries, avoiding taxes, failing public infrastructure, and the like. The critique of trade was not a critique of capitalism or, it turns out, a critique of the lifestyles of the wealthy.

The other side of the coin was Canada which was painted, in this picture, as a pro-free trade country and there have been some polls lately that suggest that Canadians are in favour of free trade. But, exactly how Canada got to be in favour of free trade is not clear. The idea that Canadians embrace free trade and that this embrace is somehow progressive paints Canadians as at ease with neoliberal reforms when, in fact, they are anything but. Canada has attempted to build its neoliberalism differently than has the United States or, rather, what we might say is that Canadian Liberals have attempted to build a different type of neoliberalism than American Republicans (which is almost self-evidently true). Even acknowledging this, Canadians are somehow cast as defenders of neoliberalism and globalized neoliberal trade. Once more, this casting is self-inflicted.

Why mention all of this? Because it shows that the free trade debate ushered in by the Trump administration is actually about things other than free trade. It creates binaries that limit alternatives and which paint unidimensional pictures that are partial approximations of reality and which elide a consideration with the broader historical processes shaping American and Canadian life.

From Canada with Trade

What the discourse ushered in by Trump elided -- and what we now know is that the Trump administration assumed that free trade was the problem and, literally, made up data to confirm their perspective -- was a consideration of the nature of Canadian/American trade. From the Canadian perspective, however, what we have been treated to is a long drawn out quest to find a way to off-set the supposed implosion of the Canadian economy *if* free trade went down the tubes. In other words, a large measure of public discourse on the subject has focused, in Canada, on how Canada cannot economically survive without neoliberalism.

In my view, this is another ideological position and one about which we should be wary because I don't think it has much truth to it. No one is arguing, btw, that trade is bad. The question is how should it be regulated, what should be its objectives, how do we ensure fairness and proper ecological protection?

What is interesting is that we have heard this storyline before: lose neoliberal trade and your economy will go down like a tonne of bricks. We heard it, for instance, about Brexit. Those people who argued for the EU often used this argument: the British economy will suffer serious and deep damage if Brexit goes through. There were a few days of a down stock market but the truth of the matter is that the much predicted big hit did not come. Likewise, the election of Trump, we were told, and an anti-free trade agenda, could send the US economy into a tailspin. It has not. I'm not convinced this lack of a tailspin has anything to do with Trump's policies, but for now the simple and important fact is that trade has not collapsed.

More recently, the Trump government announced a tariff on steel and aluminum. Disaster in the brewing in Canada and, the Cato Institute warned on TV, in the US as well. Yet, Canada -- and Mexico -- has been exempted from the duty. There was an air of last minute reprieve to the announcement and some posturing that a better deal on NAFTA should be forthcoming ... or, else ....! But, catastrophe was adverted.

Reconsidering Trade

Trade is important and that is precisely why I would suggest that a refashioned NAFTA, or even no NAFTA, is not going to have the effect its promoters think it will. I might say "for good or ill" but I want to be clear that I am trying to avoid the simplistic trade = good binary.

The Trump government backed away from a tariff on Canadian steel not out of the goodness of its heart but because it needs Canadian steel, or rather American industry did. According to the Cato Institute the ratio of workers in steel production to workers using steel in other products is something like 1:47. What that means is that for every worker making steel, there are forty-seven workers making things out of steel. The US does not produce enough steel for its needs. Hence, it imports Canadian steel. Moreover, increasing steel production is not something that can be done overnight. If one assumes that the US is not artificially lowering its own steel production (a pretty straightforward assumption), then adding new capacity means mining more ore, building new plants, making new bids, and networking new suppliers. Said differently, it is not an easy thing to do and it cannot be done in the short term. Tariffs can and should be used for a variety of things. I am not, as a matter of faith, opposed to tariffs in all circumstances and for any reason. But, their short term ability to increase production of heavy industrial products that rely on new capital goods is limited owing to the high cost of market entry. Think about it like this, it is easy to create new ice cream stands. You need a freezer, some cones, a scooper, and a cash float. It is a lot more difficult and more expensive to build new steel production facilities. Cato suggested it could take years.

Thus, despite the threat of the tariff, there was no real threat to Canada. Hurting Canada through a tariff (which would limit Canadian exports to the US), would simultaneously hurt Americans and it would be done in the name of helping a small group of workers by harming much much larger (almost 50 times larger) number of workers (by increasing the costs of the key raw material in their product).

There can, and likely should, be a vigorous debate about international trade, its merits, who benefits, how and why. In having this discussion, we should not make the simplistic assumption that everyone necessarily benefits from trade. A rising tide, it turns out, does not float all boats. But, we can also start to ask about why certain nations look to solidify trading relationships with others. Here, there is likely a diverse range of views. One can argue whether or not Canada or the US has benefitted more from NAFTA (I actually think this is a silly debate, but I'll save my thinking on that for another day. I'm just saying here that one can allow that debate.) The point is that the benefits of trade, on a national level, are not all one way. As the Politifacts piece I cited earlier shows, Canada accounts for over 18% of US exports in good by itself. Limiting trade with Canada, then, creates problems because one cannot or should not assume that such exports will continue at the same level. In the absence of trade with the US, Canada would have to put its market (which is a lucrative market) on the block in deals with other countries.

This is not a threat. It is simply a fact.

It also means that even if we don't have NAFTA -- and we might want to change it -- Canada/ US trade will likely continue. The truth is that Canada is, overall, not ripping the US off on trade. In fact, the man who claimed we were now concedes that he has not checked the facts. We might find individual products where Canada has a surplus but that is really getting deep down in the weeds. The point of a trade agreement is not that one country has a surplus in every good. In fact, under capitalist economics, the opposite is true. I won't get into the details on this but the point of capitalist trade is that it is supposed to make use of comparative advantage. I can make shirts cheaper than you can; you can make pants cheaper than I can, so I focus on making shirts; you focus on making pants and we then trade so we all actually have more of products that we both need. Comparative advantage suggests, in this model, that I am supposed to have a deficit with regard to you in pants and you are supposed to have a deficit with regard to me in shirts. That is the point of the trade.

A capitalist breaking down trade into individual products and then claiming that a deficit in one product is an example of trade gone wrong is, in fact, making a statement that runs deeply against the grain of capitalism.

And, this is the reason America companies trade with Canada. They don't do it to be nice. They do it because we buy their products. Likewise, Americans buy Canadians products not to be nice but because they need them. Much is made of the Canadian energy sale surplus with the US, something I think will draw to a close for its own reasons, but it is a case in point. Americans buy Canadian energy because they need more energy than they produce. Ipso facto, hey, those Canadians have a lot!

Trade After NAFTA

So ... what happens if NAFTA goes down the tube. Well, not nothin', but perhaps a lot less than people think. If NAFTA goes down the tubes, it will be a clear sign that the US government has become a lot more interventionist and protectionist and is willing to, in effect, harm itself and its allies. This is not a new trajectory.  America's allies have been wondering about its governments for a long time. That might surprise Americans (or, I guess it might not) and there is more to say on that, but not here. That being the case, allies like Canada will have little choice but to search for economic opportunities elsewhere. Canada might, for instance, need to seriously consider (or, reconsider) a northern gateway for oil shipments to East Asia. But, let us not over-estimate this. It may happen but let's not assume we are going to suddenly see China as Canada's number one trade partner.

I also expect that the collapse of NAFTA would be felt unevenly across Canada.  Some provinces will be harder hit than others.

But, I also expect that, in other circumstances, not a lot will change. In the shorter run, the US will still need to buy Canadian steel and energy. Multinational corporations have integrated cross border production facilities. I read somewhere that the part in the average car cross the border multiple times (something like 10 or more) before the car is finished. That will not change. Nor will American companies stop seeing Canada as a market for their products. It is doubtful, for instance, that the US will want take a pass on almost 20% of its goods exports.

What this means is that the US and American companies have good, built in reasons, for keeping up positive trading relations with Canada.

Other things won't change either. I don't expect Canadians to stop vacationing in the US and vice versa. I don't expect educational exchanges to stop (the US is the number one destination for foreign schooling for Canadians). I don't expect Canadians to stop watching American TV or Americans to stop seeing a peaceful Canadian border as a real plus in their national life. I don't expect American comics to stop making fun of Canada.

NAFTA may not be here to stay. I honestly don't know. Canadian-American trade, however, is. Why? Because both Canada and the US, Canadians and Americans benefit from it. 

"A Better Loss": Updated Thoughts on the Jays

With due credit to Tom Dakers at BlueBirdBanter for the headline .  One thing I like about Dakers reporting is that he continually searches ...