No such thing as a ‘neutral’ ethnicity

August 18, 2012 at 12:37 PM (Current Events)

            In a move that many critics have characterized as ‘giving in to racism,’ the Bank of Canada has ordered a ban on the plastic polymer $100 bank notes which have circulated for the past ten months, in order to remove the appearance of an Asian-Canadian scientist from the verso. After focus groups raised questions about the scientist’s ethnicity, the Bank of Canada has opted to withdraw the notes from circulation entirely, rather than accept the appearance of a woman of Asian descent on our national currency.

A Strategic Council Report performed in 2009 details questions raised by the Canadian focus groups regarding the ethnicity of the woman in the drawing, presented alongside a bottle of insulin in an image designed to highlight Canadian medical achievements. “Some believe that it presents a stereotype of Asians excelling in technology and/or the sciences,” the report explains. “Others feel that an Asian should not be the only ethnicity represented on the banknotes. Other ethnicities should also be shown.”

            Rather than speaking in terms of removing the Asian woman from the note, Bank of Canada spokesperson Jeremy Harrison has described the new image as an attempt to present a scientist of a “neutral ethnicity,” which he contends is in keeping with company policy to avoid ethnic depictions on bank notes. While the Chinese Canadian National Council has rushed to denounce the Bank’s decision to alter the image, the aspect of this odd tale which all Canadians should consider is the assertion of a ‘neutral’ ethnicity itself, something which, as the new notes depict, is decidedly Caucasian. As a country that has legislated multiculturalism, the assertion of Caucasian as ‘neutral’ in Canada is in fact anything but; the image of what a Canadian is should not default to a person of a particular background and the language of neutrality presents an attitude more harmful than those of the initial focus groups themselves.

            The Executive Director of the Chinese Canadian National Council, Victor Wong, specifically lambasted the Bank of Canada’s policy of so-called neutrality, expressing how by keeping with such an ideal, the Bank is “erasing all of us.” Ironically, by buckling to racism against Asian-Canadians in a bank note designed to capture Canadian history, these actions by the Bank of Canada are perpetuating a history of racism that can be traced prior to the 1885 Chinese Head Tax, intended to discourage the immigration of Asian peoples after the completion of the Canadian Pacific railway. The Head Tax itself, an aspect of history that is often elided in classrooms, represents the first use of photographic identification in Canada. If someone appeared to be of Asian descent, they were required to pay a $50 Head Tax (an amount which would equal roughly $1500 today) and be photographed and catalogued to ensure that no two people could claim the same payment. This mass deployment of photo identification developed the infrastructure for government ID which is still employed today.

            The institution of the Head Tax in 1885 asserted that, above all else, Chinese immigrants were ‘different’ and were required to pay fealty to those Canadians of ‘neutral’ ethnicity in order to remain amongst them. Sadly in 2012, the Bank of Canada has repeated this assertion, as Canadians of Asian descent are apparently disallowed from appearing on our national currency—least of all in an image celebrating Canadian achievement.

            The new image depicted on the plastic polymer $100 bank notes is anything but neutral. The female scientist in the design does not represent all of us; the assertion of neutrality not only erases all visible minorities in Canada (totaling over five million people, according to the 2006 census), but it dismisses any Canadian that believes there is not—nor should there be—a ‘default’ Canadian identity. Regardless of how one feels about the new image itself, one thing is certain: as the new plastic polymer bank notes have been designed for longevity, we will all have the opportunity to face down the idea of a ‘neutral’ Canadian ethnicity for many years to come. 

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August 22, 2011 at 1:36 PM (Uncategorized)

“I think life has gotten too fast for novels.”

She made the remark a little too loudly, as usual, while eyeing the girl with the copy of The Diviners across the café. She ignored her espresso and her companion, choosing rather to stare around the room and scoff. Sometimes she would vary her routine and would stare out the window to her left and scoff, instead.

“You don’t have the patience for novels anymore?”

“That’s not what I said, is it?” Her glare moved to him now, and he scratched the back of his neck, trying not to show his frustration with her. In actuality he didn’t want to show fear. “I said that life is too fast; the problem isn’t us. The novel is a relic of a bygone epoch where people took the time to look around and contemplate. We can’t do that anymore.” Her lips pursed, she tongued the stud above her chin and seemed to lose confidence in her own observation. She let the hair fall in front of her eyes and sighed, exasperated with the usual lack of response. He took his cue.

“Yeah, I don’t know if that’s true, Angie. I’m sure it’s just a matter of stopping to smell the roses, innit?”

“Stop and smell the cliché, you mean?” She had begun to unscrew the stud in her lip but stopped and left it loose, neither done up or undone, in order to defend her remark. “Look: tweets are direct, immediate information. Facebook is a repository. Television is a really cute guy on the street corner yelling at you as you walk by; we notice, but we’re still gonna keep on walking. Maybe short stories could work, but not novels.” She was managing to convince herself as she built momentum.

“But you still haven’t said why not.” He had reached across the table and taken her untouched espresso. If she had noticed, she didn’t let on; she sometimes prevented him despite rarely drinking her orders herself. “I think it’s just you.”

“Novels are like a visit. A real visit. You get to learn how the character sleeps, how they wake up, how they shower. Anything else would just start when they already got to work, but the novel makes you stay with them all the time.”

“I can think of about a thousand exceptions—“

“Well there are exceptions to everything if you think hard enough, that’s not the point. The point is, the novel is a real visit with someone you care about and we don’t even fucking do that with real people anymore.”

“We’re visiting right now, you and me.”

“Just because neither of us have anything better to do.”

“Love you, too.”

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Memories of a Lab Rat

May 28, 2011 at 12:47 PM (Academia, Autobiography)

As a child I lived in a very small town with a very small contingent of elementary school students. In the first grade, myself and one other student (a female of my same age) were selected as the first representatives of what would become a Gifted Resource program for exceptional students. This meant a much ballyhooed boon for the school (complete with our appearance on local television, on a talk show with our little six-year-old legs dangling over the seat-cushions). We were skipped ahead out of the first grade (leading to at least a decade of bullying, as I was younger and smaller than my new peers) and were periodically subjected to Intelligence Quotient tests the likes of which have been summarily debunked in subsequent years.

One such test I will never forget: we were taken into a room one at a time and presented with a written test and puzzle. There was a large, red digital timer facing the table which would keep track of precisely how long we furrowed our little eight-year-old brows over this complex conundrum before us. We were told, before we began, that “every other child completed the test in five minutes.” The kicker? The actual test was impossible to complete in under ten minutes–that was the test. They wanted to see how our performance was altered by time constraints, frustration, and feelings of crushing inadequacy and inferiority. The red glaring numbers ascended, staring us in the face as we tried to ignore how many more questions remained as we did our very best to complete whichever task was next.

I have long upheld this memory as an example of the fact that psychology is essentially just systematic mind-fuckery when it comes to children but I have recently been coming back to this memory over and over again. This particular test served one invaluable purpose in my life: it was preparing me for graduate school.

No matter how well you work, how hard you work, it was not completed fast enough nor as well as your peers. Rather than actually testing our ability to think, to work through problems, to produce viable intellectual literature, the goal is simply the DEADLINE: should you turn in nonsense by the deadline, it is preferred to brilliance after the fact.

It’s looking like it’s time to move on, whether I like it or not. Onto the next test, I suppose.

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They Call it a Ghost

August 13, 2010 at 10:06 AM (Fiction, Uncategorized)

They call it a ghost he said

at dusk when gnats mate in Autumn

kalaidescopecolliding, female male

female male.
 
 
 
There is nothing but frenzy

you see

a cyclone out of stillness (except

cyclone implies a shape and an

idea the ghost wont answer).

There is swirling instead of stillness where

stillness is expected

and these ghosts should be expected

by now.
 
 
 
They named it

–name everything–

Collective Nouns, the control of Adam

making crows murder and

every last ape shrewd.
 
 
 
They are endlessly

laboriously

promulgating

taxonomies of

subcategory

until rain scatters in ways that

we all have names for; smaller than

your hands.
 
 
 
They are connecting if they can

in the swarm, in time they have to, why,

their lives are just so brief they are allotted so

few moments to make

to make sure that they will leave

a ghost when they are gone.
 
 
 
(where did gone go)
 
 
 
I don’t quite remember

not quite

exactly how long they live for

These ghosts we see

Spectrality

fucking the sun to sleep as

we stare into motion and envy.
 
 
 
I don’t know quite how long, he said.

No matter. No matter.

Neither do they.

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Recorded Future

May 12, 2010 at 10:28 AM (Random Nonsense)

This past week, Google invested an undisclosed amount of money (they’ve assured us it is less than one hundred-million dollars… so y’know, any ol’ number below that gobsmacking figure) into a company called Recorded Future. The goal of Recorded Future is to utilize Google’s existing ‘googleware’ and search index algorithms in order to track historical trends in business, culture, and elsewhere–with the aim of predicting future trends and events.

If this is enough for you and you’re already tickled and don’t care to read more from me, here is a link to a recent news article concerning the investment by Amanda Manull at the NYdaily: http://www.nydailynews.com/money/2010/0 /04/2010-05-04_google_invests_in_company_that_tries_to_predict_the_future.html

Or maybe you feel like checking out the company themselves? http://www.recordedfuture.com

Watch the brief introductory video on their site, if you’re inclined. This company discusses the act of predicting the future as though they were explaining what they had for breakfast that day; this is the banality of the impossible which Google has brought into our quotidian existence.

The strangest thought regarding this entire event is simply the fact that this could actually work. As the article above explains, Recorded Future utilizes existing search engine algorithms in order to track and assign a MOMENTUM VALUE to literally everything on the entirety of the internet. That momentum value is assessed and developed automatically–no need for pesky human interference–and can then be accurately charted and graphed. These graphs, modeled on similar trend-tracking methods developed for the global economy, stock & futures markets, etc. will be capable of, for instance, predicting who will be the early adopters of a new trend or technology and who will or will not follow suit.

Curious about the status of American corporate outsourcing in India and other parts of the world? Well, Google can tell you who has done what; Recorded Future can tell you who will do what, soon.

As has been widely reported, in 2009 human beings produced more data–everything from the inane tweet about how you hate broccoli, to recorded data concerning environmental/economic/political occurrences–more data than the amount of data produced during the entirety of human history up to 2009, combined. Every single year in recorded history is outweighed by 2009 alone and 2010 will outweigh 2009’s output by an astronomical margin. In 2002 it was reported that the average Western person spent eleven hours a day looking at some form of screen; the promulgation of smartphones has upped this figure to a staggerring thirteen hours.

Why does this matter? Well for one thing, I am completely fascinated by speculative fiction (everything from H. G. Wells to Issac Asimov) and our seemingly endless drive to create those futures in our own lives. Wells wrote extensively about his conception of a World Brain before he died, a database of information which everyone in the world would be able to contribute to and access. We have that World Brain, today. It is already cognizant: Recorded Future promises it shall become pre-cognizant.

What do we do, now?

Just like with any other technological advancement, we deal with the unexpected fallout. For whatever reason, people continue to cling to the outmoded belief that the internet is just a tool, one which is commonly used simply for porn and facebook. The internet is not just a tool, as it is impossible for our world to return to a state without it. The internet is nothing but connectivity; we are the internet, the internet is us. We cannot remove ourselves from the internet even if we flee every computing device in sight–our very existence is now coded, recorded, digitized, tracked. I am not writing some pessimistic doom-and-gloom narrative here; we should take comfort in this.

What this connectivity provides is an ability to lead the equivalent of hundreds of lives, compared to what it meant to live a life only a few decades ago. Our relationships change, our assessment of global affairs has reached a breakneck speed, and our dealings (and re-dealings) with trauma have become systematized to the point where a global catastrophe can be digested in a matter of hours.

We have a world brain but none of us want to admit it. Martin Heidegger is most famous for naming the ontology of a human being, the Being of a being, as Dasein (literally meaning, there-being). For Heidegger, once everything about a human is stripped away (language, memory, ethnicity, gender), what remains is their experience of being in the moment in which they are mired.

We are no longer Dasein, socially–we cannot even understand the moment which has found us. We present a social consciousness of Dahintensein (Back there-being), operating based on rules, ideals, and functional processes developed before the entire world changed.

We have lived through an apocalypse, already. We are now its survivors, on the other side. All bets are off: the new world is going to become what we shape it, if we’re strong enough.
Recorded Future has arrived to systematically predict future occurrences. If we wake ourselves up to the present moment… we might just be able to make things a touch more unpredictable.

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Dancing with Myself

May 3, 2010 at 9:06 AM (Random Nonsense) (, , , , , )

We here in the West tend to conceive of ourselves as static, unchanging persons amidst a constantly altering body. Locke used the thought experiment of waking up one morning, feeling precisely as you do every morning, but seeing someone else’s face in the mirror; you have all of your own memories, you recall going to sleep last night as yourself, but now you are in a new body. The logical assumption, Locke claims, is that you switched bodies with another person–and if you can switch bodies yet still, for all intents and purposes, be YOU, then the body must not be necessary for personhood. This remains the basic tenant of our faith in individual autonomy: we speak as though there is an Adam J. Langton operating in the world, moving, breathing, fucking, eating, speaking, and this body is my vehicle via which I interact with and experience materiality. Descartes is one seductive sumbitch.
This is all wrong, of course, as each new breakthrough in neuropsychology adds to the insurmountable pile of evidence to the contrary. Rather than speaking of experiencing the world through our five senses, it would now be more accurate to speak of truly CREATING the world through our forty-or-so senses. Yet there is nothing more pervasive than a useful metaphor and the metaphor of the Adam in the Meat-Machine will not be going quietly into the good night any time soon. These are concepts that govern, condition, and in cases fully determine our perspective and definition of reality; the notion that there is an acting Adam-agent forms the basis for our every notion of responsibility, autonomy, being. I call this a metaphor because we are using it to understand something which is fundamentally paradoxical (bearing in mind the original definition of a paradox, simply referring to something ‘beyond belief’). The self is a paradox:
– I am everything I have done but it is not me.
– I am not what I have yet to do but I have the agency to choose.
– I have a language but it is not my own–I was born into its rules.
– I choose how to use language as it chooses how to use me.
– I am in the world as I create the world as I know it.
None of the above makes any sense yet it is an accurate description of the dominant concept of the self. This is inherently stilting and difficult to operate amongst, becoming increasingly difficult in the digital age.
Why is it harder to negotiate a classical sense of self today? Partly because our space-biased technologies now emphasize speed in every form: speed of production, of consumption, of comprehension, and certainly speed of forgetting. We no longer need to recall anything we read online nor what was sent to us via email as it is digitally stored and archived for us, for as long as we should require it. My students in a Media, Information, & Technoculture course asked me what I, personally, believe the future will be like: I said that all I know for certain is that in the future there will be a record of each question being asked and each response proffered, archived and selectable in multi-media. The concept of personal memory is losing its teeth with each passing Tweet.
Yet despite this endless archivisation, it is easier than ever to be multiple selves; social networking media allow for various selves to be expressed interchangeably, depending on the targeted audience and the circumstances surrounding our interaction. Back in 1997 I received my first email account, one I still own to this day: who_will_i_be_today@hotmail.com. I was simply trying to be clever and had no idea I was actually presaging the very essence of being in cyberspace. Who will you be today? Are you the you who did all of those things yesterday? And if not, what role does your body play, seeing as how you were that body when those previous actions were committed?
Neuropsych links us to our bodies more than ever (there is no Adam beyond the Meat-Machine) yet cyberspace frees us from bodily trappings (ethnicity, age, gender) in a manner previously unforeseen. We are what we are not; I am not what I am. Yet what if we take up arms against a sea of useful metaphor, what if we refuse the idea of Adam’s Meat-Machine trudging through the material world? If we turned this around and instead viewed Adam in the moment–a moment constructed by his very perception of it–then he would cease to be the Adam-bot operating in a closed system, affectively doing things that ‘Adam would do.’ Instead, I am able to do whatever the moment calls for, whatever my body tells me is necessary, and it would immediately become something that ‘Adam would do.’ Flipping the metaphor on its ear frees us of our slavish adherence to the past: specifically, it is a useful mental exercise for freeing yourself from past mistakes.
Every single day I have awoken and failed to meet my own expectations, failed to accomplish that day’s meagre goals. It doesn’t matter one iota whether this has been the case for each day in succession for the past decade: today is different, today is new. If I suddenly break this streak, if I do something no one expects… then that becomes what Adam is. I do not have to be yesterday.

“What are you going to do? What are you going to do TODAY?” – Paul Valéry

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A Beginning

May 3, 2010 at 8:56 AM (Uncategorized) ()

This blog was suggested to me as a method to stop my slow descent into someone I have never wanted to become. I am not sure if a blog can effectively halt this process, but I figure that in the worst-case scenario this will at least serve as an accurate record of that selfsame descent.

Descending into madness has been done to death, after all.

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