Sunday, 27 June 2010

Addicted to Chaos

Thank you, Maureen Dowd at the New York Times, for being such an insightful observer and bringing your style and wit this weekend to the issue of cellphone radiation and potential consequences of heavy, long-term cellphone use.

The great read is attached here
and the jist is that many studies have been done and a wide variety of conclusions has been reached, none of which are very positive. But I'll leave the finer details for scientists and policy makers to figure out, and add on a personal note that I tried the whole car-cellphone thing in 2007 and found that the phone, like the car, is not for me (costs far outweight benefits, in my humble opinion). I admit that I have been instinctively paranoid about holding a hot, overheated, lithium filled, radiation emitting piece of plastic next to my brain for hours on end, or in my pocket a couple inches from my junk. And there again I find myself out of step with the mainstream, though it is certainly not derived from any misguided desire to be "different". I can say, though, that many people seem to be genuinely offended at my choosing (it was still a choice, last time I checked) not to have a mobile device.

What is so interesting about the article is its documenting of the strong arm bully tactics and naked threats used by the wireless industry and a consortium of tech companies on the mayor of San Francisco because of a recent initiative there to make cellphone sellers post radiation levels of the products in store. The organization representing the industry, the CTIA, working closely with giants ironically based in the SF area - Apple, Oracle, Cisco - threatened to cancel a conference scheduled to take place in the city in October and used words like "nuclear" to describe the consequences for all those involved if this policy moves forward.

It is interesting to see how this relatively new and still enormously profitable industry has already developed a fortress-phalanx block to agressively lobby government on its behalf. Because it is clearly a very vulnerable industry. Regardless of whether crackberrys and iphones are selling like hotcakes now or will be symbols of irrelevent dinosaurs that need to be bailed out by the government in five, ten, or twenty years, brass has clearly got already together and decided they need to have the ear of government just in case their goose (the person who never puts down or stops tapping on their smartphone, you may have come across such a person or eight million in your travels) stops laying the Golden eggs.

There is nothing strange there, you say, and there is nothing new. It is perfectly normal for drug companies, oil companies, food, sugar, soft drink and salt companies, and military-defence contractors, to name a few, to lobby governments on their behalf. Because how can they be sure that some hotshot stick in the mud M.P. or liberal mayor isn't going to try and win a few thousand votes on their backs over some punitive legislation aimed at them? Sure it's easy to scapegoat the oil sands or BP or Wal Mart or Coca Cola. But meanwhile, these companies are providing livelihoods, raising living standards and improving lives everywhere they operate, not to mention that their legitimacy is validated by continued strong demand for their products. So what is wrong with companies having someone with a deep chequebook over at the legislature to make sure that taxes stay low, that regulations are lax or non existant, and that the government's official stance about them and what they do is silence or denial? It's simply the cost of doing business (A cost that companies do complain about and wishfully think would go away if people just shut up and let them do whatever they wanted.)

There it is, I spelled it out. Businesses must produce something addictive to be profitable, and they must ensure that they have unfettered access to the continual feeding of these addictions. They will do anything and everything, spin and manoeuver, to protect this primary and all-important goal. To accomplish this, they have 1) a clear purpose (producing their product) 2) a clear goal (selling their product) and 3) a clear message. Other than the obvious greatness of this product everybody wants, we are satisfying demand, providing jobs, and paying too much tax to the state. So fuck off.

As a nation, as a continent, and as a broader entity known as "the west", we are quite happy in our complacent doldrums to have these terms dictated to us. So much so that, during a summit of international leaders who are one for all and all for one in the back pockets of these various industries, we are indignant and disgusted by the antics of so-called "non-state" actors. Anarchists, misfits, petty criminals and a random assortment of shit disturbers that we only hear about when these things happen are causing a surprising amount of trouble this time (a burned police car?! in Toronto) and Marcus Gee, the high priest of white Toronto upper middle class indignation, thunders from his "Analysis" pulpit at the Globe

"Who are you people? What do you want? Why are you destroying property? Why don't you respect law and order? What is the point of your violence? What do you stand for?" are the furious questions asked by his piece.

The incoherence of the protestors is thus their ticket to be written off and marginalized as a dangerous, irrelevant lunatic fringe. On the comment boards, people want blood. The protestors. For daring to question the order, not just with words but with actions. Actions whose message is primarily "Fuck you and fuck all this bullshit." The anarchists won't find a lot of sympathy for this message in the Canadian public. We live in Canada, after all, and there's never been a revolution here. No one has been killed over their political views since Louis Riel. And the government, with the complicity of citizens who for the most part manifest it in their indifference, is mostly concerned about turning the country into a fortress that we are free to consume and waste in (It sort of already is). Thus the tendency of people who come from places where the government has been forced to break out the tanks, where there wasn't enough to eat, to call us "naive". Most of us who are alive and born here have never been through real suffering here or been truly oppressed.

That doesn't make the political views or causes of the protestors irrelevant or unimportant. The intellectually lazy, and consequently overwhelming reaction is "These are a bunch of punks and there's no place for a couple hundred rogue agitators in our society so horde 'em up, string 'em up and hang 'em from the highest pole." People HATE seeing the status quo threatened. Me personally, I do share some values and opinions with "No one is illegal" immigrant justice groups, "No olympics on stolen native land" aboriginal activists, "Eco-warrior"-types who come down hard on resource extracting industries, "Queer activists" who stand up for the last group on Earth that is still hated and discriminated against openly, "Marxists" who question capitalism and where its leading us, and people just reclaiming the public space that is ever more encroached upon by international political corporate wack off sessions that accomplish nothing.

But by then I've lost nine tenths of the people. No consistent message, no clear purpose, no appeals to addictions that people are adamant about feeding. Just idealism, complexity and intellectual honesty. And pulling in a million different directions for the same team. It will not be possible to challenge the status quo until you make challenging it something the "tyranny of the majority" wants and needs to do. Which, alas, will be difficult until the system begins to show it's cracks. Until then, the majority will remain addicted to smartphones, mcdonalds, alcohol, petroleum, cable TV, shitty movies, and plastic, and the anarchists will remain addicted to chaos.

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