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4.13.2007

May and MacKay: The Trouble with Greens in Rural Canada

I don't understand this. I'm not a farmer; I split time between Montreal and Toronto. I go to university in Sackville, a little impenetrable bubble of academia and kegs amidst acres of misunderstood agriculture and fisheries...(and Moncton). Frankly, the Green Party CANNOT win in Central Nova. Farmers simply employ too much common sense and the Green Party does not speak on relevant enough terms. Smaller Canadian cities bode the best opportunities for the Greens.

So here is what I think. Robert Greene wrote a book called The 48 Laws of Power. In this he made every chapter a 'law' and showed historical transgressions and observances of hard-edged ideas like, "Crush your enemy totally" and "Conceal your intentions." In the margins he quotes relevant proverbs and sayings that help illustrate the point. The book is intense, but there are some fantastic little stories held within.

One of the stories is from the chapter "Know who you're dealing with" (I think). It talked about charlatans in early modern Europe. Apparently, they would roam from town to town selling ridiculous 'potions' that held fantastic promises of youth, beauty, and health. What Greene points out in this segment, is the clientele charlatans targeted. They specifically avoided those who had received greater than normal education levels. These people would generally figure out that what was being sold was false promises.

They also avoided farmers at all costs. They avoided them because they had no formal education whatsoever, and that this instilled a remarkable common sense when it comes to far-fetched ideas.

They preyed on the average townsfolk, who were familiar with the general ideas and terms, but not the specifics or critical thinking that come along with it. In essence, charlatans would prey on the half-educated.

To be clear, I'm not saying that farmers are ill-educated today. Quite the opposite, I think there is an amazing knowledge reaped by working the land as they do. It is something no university can ever offer. Further, I'm not arguing that the Green Party is run by charlatans. I respect what they do and am excited for when they enter the House.

There is a disconnect, however, between the two that makes May's interest in the riding folly. The Green Party will not win its first seat in Central Nova.

So May and the Green Party platform will show up and tell the agricultural side of Central Nova about sustainable agriculture. She will tell them what their way of life is doing to the planet, why environmentally friendly pesticides need to be embraced and why fishing, pesticides, subsidies, and oil-dependent farms need to be scaled back. May will tell them that Canadians need to farm smarter.

Farmers, true to their knack for common sense, will ask how. How can we do this without losing our farms? How can we do this without limiting production? How does a Green vote translate into better lives for Central Nova?

Farmers work so hard. Traditionally viewed as fearing change, the possibility of losing their farms creates a strange drive to innovate in people. If that means lobster shells for fertilizer, they're doing it. If that means switching to part time to eke out a living, so be it. Times are tough for these Nova Scotian farmers in particular, and they've been tough for a long time.

That being said, change isn’t universal. The farmer's almanac is still in use -- same time tested 1797 formula for predicting the weather. I have a good friend who lives on Big Island, part of Mackay's riding. Apparently the DRO can tell how new people vote when they move to the island. Some things don’t change in Central Nova. Apparently politics is one of them.

Now picture May's 2006 run in London. From my perspective, London is a college town with offices and insurance -- and the finest lawn in Canada not located on a golf course. Lots of middle class people who are removed from the land. Campaigning on abstract concepts of ‘smarter, more environmentally friendly agriculture’ seems to be an easier sell. I just see it being easier to tell London that Canadians need to be smarter environmentalists than Central Nova. Have you ever tried to pull a smart car out of a tractor rut?

Elizabeth May is a very smart environmentalist. I’ve read At the Cutting Edge, and thought it was well written and an important addition to environmental awareness in Canada. I do not, however, think that running in Central Nova is wise...

...especially when citrus prices are at an all time high and global warming is coming on strong. MacKay’s agricultural plans for the riding ??

“I’m proud to present the plans for Nova Scotia’s new cash crop: Canadian grown Oranges and Grapefruits, 2020.”

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2.27.2007

History and Theory: Group Movements and the Case of India

N.B. Evidence is generally drawn from: Brown, Judith M. Modern India: The Origins of an Asian Democracy. Oxford: Oxford UP. 1985

When discussing change over time it is often useful to consider models of change designed to fit certain group movements. The Indian movement towards self-rule in 1920 under M. K. Gandhi is no exception. There are three major theories in the field of social psychology that have been developed to understand these movements: 'J-curve', 'rising expectations', and 'relative deprivations'. These were originally designed to analyze the Civil Rights movement in the United States, but have since been generalized for broader historical applicability. While these theories certainly apply to many historical examples, India will prove to be the exception to the rule (or theory). In terms of India's struggle for swaraj, Gandhi was central to a united movement. This is problematic for these theories , which make little room for the individual in social movement. Further, because of its religious and regional diversity, and its sharp disintegration of social hierarchy, none of these theories function because without Gandhi, a cohesive movement would have been unlikely. The evidence outlined in Judith M. Brown's Modern India: The Origins of an Asian Democracy is sufficient for a rejection of the major theoretical backing in relation to the Gandhi-led movement toward Indian self rule.
The three theories of social movements set out to prove the same thing, but are different in reasoning. Briefly, the theory of rising expectations asserts that action due to dissatisfaction is caused by advancements experienced directly prior to the movement. Relative deprivation takes into account the comparative advances of the dominant group, posing that a social movement is dependent on the perceived gap. Thirdly, the J-curve theory dictates that movements manifest after a period of real or imagined growth (political, economic, social) followed by a significant reversal.
These theories all assume a certain level of connectivity between members of the movement. While there are certain moments of significant cohesion, deep divisions between regions made any attempt to collectively move toward common advancement difficult. These regional divisions are exemplified by Brown in several ways. At the most basic level, some areas were, or were seen to be, politically unenlightened. Brown points to Sind and Gujarat as being called ‘politically backward’ by Wacha and places more familiar with politics. This led to uneven participation and eroded potential cohesion between the regions. More to the point, Brown notes that before Gandhi there was no political organization or leader who represented all of India. This is a strong example of the difficulties of collusion by the regions and the groundbreaking work of the Mahatma.
Religious differences were very important and also fell along regional fault lines. Muslims, Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs were constantly suspicious of each other. The feeble base from which they drew political alliances with other religious groups were never overly strong, and the disintegration of the all-Indian swaraj in 1922 is a prime example of this. Brown notes that religious factions originally bought into the first of Gandhi’s three ‘hallmarks’ – unity specifically between Muslims and Hindus. Even with the work by Gandhi, these groups quickly grew unhappy with Gandhi’s ‘idiosyncratic policies’ and lack of tangible returns. This speaks both to the unease with which these religious groups colluded and the success Gandhi had in simply uniting these factions enough to have them working together (albeit briefly).
Brown also notes the intense changes in social structure that occurred during this period. This pressure to abandon the untouchable caste brought intense change from within the Indian populace. These changes created division between Indians, while forcing them to adjust internally. This drew focus away from swaraj and toward Indian society as a whole. It is true that untouchables were not formally outlawed until the 1950 Constitution of India, suggesting a correlation between swaraj and social reform, but during the 1910s this can been seen as being acted on by Gandhi rather than accepted by all levels of society. Ultimately, this was to achieve the unity among Indians sought by Gandhi, but it made a cohesive movement in 1919 – 1920 all the more difficult
In placing the three theories within the India case, there are moments within regions where each theory fits to an extent. Brown points out that a heightened Indian self-esteem was caused by the Indian war effort from 1914-18. She suggests that by fighting side-by-side with the British, the Indians felt they had proved themselves worthy of self rule. This would suggest that the theory of rising expectations. The Montagu-Chelmsford reforms in 1919 fit with this as well, legislating more power to the provincial governments. The dramatic increase of prices, especially of foodstuffs, would suggest that the gap between groups was growing. This evidence points to the relative depravity theory. The cost of food would have been a much greater percentage of the average Indian’s income than the average Englishman in India. Therefore the average Indian was set back far more when food prices rose. The J-curve theory could draw on the economic crisis as well. A more poignant example of a significant setback would be Reginald Dyer’s Amritsar massacre. Drawing on specific examples shows evidence of all three theories. However, none of these theories dominate and all face significant counterarguments.
Each of the three criteria presented creates problems for these theories because of a lack of universality or common reasoning for the swaraj movement. The theory of rising expectations does not conform because of the setbacks economically that were felt in the late 1910s. Brown cites the increase of applicants to the police forces, who had only dropped wages by 10%, as an example of this. The economic crisis would seem, then, to be in accordance to the J-curve theory. However, Brown shows through a table of price increases that had this been the case, the greatest percent change in prices was in 1916, and that by 1919 prices had settled to a more normal inflationary level. This evidence serves two purposes: first, it questions why swaraj wasn’t undertaken during the war (when leverage likely would have been highest); it also indicates that a certain level of economic stability was reached by 1919. From the relative deprivation standpoint, the comparative gains being made in quality of life seem to be in check with those of the ruling British at the time. With the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms, more power was being offered from the Raj to the provincial governments, headed by the Indians. While this was far from self rule, it was a comparative re-adjustment in how India was ruled. This would suggest a closing in the gap between rulers and ruled. All three theories can be rejected and accepted depending on which arguments are put in place.
Ultimately, these factors make it impossible to accept these theories based on the fragility of the movement itself. Furthermore, the impressive nature of Gandhi in uniting all India from 1920 – 1922 shatters the three theories for not allowing enough room for individual political agency. Because these theories do not make room for the great figure in history, it is difficult to accept their argument. If Gandhi is excluded from the explanation of swaraj, the factors of religion, regionalism, and social disintegration would be enough to prevent any cohesive movement from forming.

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2.17.2007

Book Review: Harvey, David. Paris, Capital of Modernity. New York: Routledge. 2003.

David Harvey is one of America’s most prolific geographers. He has written several important studies including Social Justice and the City (1973) and Limits to Capital (1982), which are both seminal works in class based geography. Harvey is heavily multi-disciplinarian, thus Paris, Capital of Modernity is likely to be considered his magnum opus in the field of historical geography. Paris, Capital of Modernity includes forays into cultural history, an attempt on his part to be fashionable given the current attention given to cultural historians. This a major downfall of his work. While Paris, Capital of Modernity is an accomplishment, I would consider this new direction a disappointment. Harvey is at his very best when continuing his traditional work on material history, yet when he attempts cultural and literary history his presentation leaves much to be desired. At the core of Harvey’s thesis is a challenge to the notion of ‘modernity as break’. He uses the socialism seen in the 1871 Paris Commune as his core example. Harvey feels this brief period of socialist organization is often portrayed as a break from all that came before. He argues the Commune was a social process congruent with socialist literature produced in July Monarchy Paris and working class life in Second Empire Paris.
Paris, Capital of Modernity is divided into three parts. The first part is designed to draw the reader into the work using culture produced in Paris from 1830 – 1848. Harvey attempts to coax ideas out of the writing of Balzac and Flaubert to show socialist utopian concepts. He places these alongside Marx and Saint-Simon to exemplify the socialist spirit in Paris generations before the Commune of Paris. Harvey’s most redeeming work in this section is his use of visuals by Daumier, but rather than incorporate the pieces as evidence, he leaves them to speak for themselves. This section is distinct from his prior work in history because of its primarily cultural focus. Because of this inexperience, he does not have the dexterity that literary critic Marshall Berman, for example, does in his analysis or prose. When contrasted with the writing in the rest of the book, this is especially disappointing.
The second part is where Harvey’s strength lies. This section details the access to capital and agency felt amongst the worker and the scope of Haussmann’s creative destruction in Second Empire Paris. This is shown in his chapter Abstract and Concrete Labor, where Harvey uses spatial relations to condemn bourgeois values. He sees their actions as relegating the worker and industrial space to the edges of Paris while creating idyllic space centered on speed and commerce in the heart of the city. Another example is Harvey’s chapter Rent and the Propertied Interest, where he shows the powerlessness of the worker during this period. Through intense fieldwork, Harvey shows the working class to have experienced ‘displacement and segregation’ coupled with decreased access to power in Haussmann’s reconstruction of Paris. The presentation of empirical evidence coupled with thorough analysis makes this section engaging, yet a criticism of this section is that Harvey could nuance his portrayal of the Bourgeoisie. Harvey has a tendency to personify the bourgeois simply as Haussmann, giving little identity to the rising class of professionals or sense of independent agency.
Finally, Harvey creates a micro-history of the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, which was built after the Paris Commune. In performing this he offers a case study of Bourgeois dominance for the reader to consider after explicating the working class’ experience in Second Empire Paris. He concludes that the Basilica was built to oppress the working class: both as a powerful, elevated structure and as a reminder of the failure of the Commune. This last section, titled Coda, offers exactly what its name suggests, an independent passage to bring this work to a proper close.
The reader is left with several questions at the end of this work: In content, is there enough evidence of literary socialism and utopia to consider Parisian literary thought congruent with the socialism of the 1871 Communards? What drove the Bourgeoisie to segregate the city so completely? More importantly, is Harvey’s shift from material history to the more fashionable cultural history worth a serious sacrifice in the reader’s sense of engagement with his work? I submit that it is not.

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1.28.2007

Book Review: Barnett, Correlli. The Collapse of British Power. London: Alan Sutton Publishing, 1984.

Correlli Barnett's monograph The Collapse of British Power posits (in a rather bellicose - or Realpolitik, depending on ones' point of view - fashion) that Britain had strayed from the hard-nosed nature that made it so successful in the eighteenth century. He seeks to answer several questions, asking "why such men...as Baldwin, MacDonald, Chamberlain, Simon, and Halifax held sway? Why British public opinion...was so pacifistic. Why British governments handled international crisis...[the] way they did." He laments the decline of Britain as a "sorry and contemptible plight... Derived neither from bad luck nor failures of others." He feels that Britain's collapse in global power was because of the values imparted on it by the Romantics and Victorian Britain of the early nineteenth century. He writes that the "answer lies... in national character itself... For it is character which...governs destinies of nations as well as individual man. It is key to all policies, all decisions." Victorian Britain, according to Barnett’s thesis, put ultimate priority on "moral principle and moral purpose rather than strategy" that was retained until the policies of appeasement had failed. This is a marked difference from the pragmatists that, Barnett posits, dominated the Georgian era in the late eighteenth century.

Barnett sets about proving his thesis in several specific arguments which flow remarkably well: the Public School system, the colonies and dominions, the economy at home, and the characters who led Britain from Victorian England forward. His methodology allows for these far ranging arguments tracing developments in a very multidisciplinary way. Some very clever (and occasionally humourous) associations are made by Barnett’s use of virtually every sort of evidence available. His evidence ranges from personal letters to Hansard documents to scholarly work and raw economic data, all of which are employed in full. Regrettably this strategy, while offering much evidence to further his arguments, can lead the reader to cast doubt. Also, some of Barnett’s arguments seem counterfactual after thirty five years (it was written in 1972). The Collapse of British Power can be perceived to have weaknesses both in methodology and argument.
In terms of methodology, much of his evidence is quick and incisive into different fields. This becomes problematic. For example, in his evidence of raw emotion leading the actions of the English in the Victorian Era, he points to characters who identify with the celebrated Pre-Raphaelites. This is a fine example of the Romantic period. However, as an expression of national character through British Victorian art, it leaves less than a full picture. A counterpoint could be the creation of Crystal Palace, the epic structure from London's 1851 Exposition - a model of dehumanized creation, virtually polar in sentiment to the Pre-Raphaelites. Another example would be the Darwinian influence held in the Victorian era and afterward. Thus, the fact one of the greatest achievements in scientific thought in the eighteenth century was created during a period that is characterized as one of romance over science and morality over pragmatism. To sacrifice comprehensiveness with aggressiveness in characterising the Victorian Era, Barnett weakens his own arguments.
Barnett’s critique of the British Public Schools and universities in early 20th Century Britain may also have missed the mark. He postulates that a curriculum heavy on Christian values, classic texts, and chivalrous notions of fair play and sportsmanship created extraordinarily weak leaders in the interwar period. While the classics were (and are) embraced, it is unlikely that Britain’s competitors embraced more modern works with more vigour. It is also unclear as to whether Germany or other powers had business or truly technical schools. Whether that would be enough to alter the thoughts and minds of a national character, and further explain Germany’s rise is unknown. In defence of the Public Schools, it can be argued that a liberal arts education forms skills in critical thinking, and that the subject matter is little more than a pedagogical exercise to develop those skills. Whether or not German students were studying Nietzsche or Hobbes in the early twentieth century, it would be difficult to imagine that this would create a great difference in the quality of their comparative education and abilities as leaders and decision makers.
Lastly, from a methodological perspective, Barnett choses not to stake out a concrete parallel example of Georgian culture besides the foreign policy and leaders during the Victorian era. By doing this he relies on the reader’s memory of Georgian times and implies that they were marked by pragmatism rather than proving it. When contrasting British identity in the twentieth century to Victorian or Georgian times, it would strengthen his argument considerably if he chose to clearly map the Georgian character or identity as assertively as he does the Victorian.
Finally, to tackle his core argument, Barnett's assumption that Britain could have maintained it's 'real power' advantage is unlikely. In fact, that Britain still wields the power it does today is remarkable. This power is often attributed to the currency the English language is given globally. Barnett ignores the fact that taking a 'moral,' or culturally imperial view on the colonies brought benefits that political scientist Joseph Nye would term 'soft power;' a similar ideological and cultural values (or at least familiarity) and most importantly, played a large role in building the lingua franca that is contemporary English. While it is debatable as to whether it actually holds power over the policies of nations or not (in other words, hard power), soft power has been critical for Britain in protecting British interests in the twentieth century - especially financial interests. While obviously the United States had a large part to play in the language's dominance in post-World War Two history, Britain's focus on her 'civilizing mission' must be considered when understanding the importance of English as a global tool for communication. It can be argued that this intangible has led to a cultural empire beyond what could ever have been expected of Britain in terms of real power. While Barnett is focussed on the strategic implications of policy in a pragmatic, realist light, modern theorists (albeit neo-liberals) would argue that there is more to a nation’s power than its ability to militarily coerce others to their will.
The objective of history is often to replace unfounded memories with concrete analysis. While Correlli Barnett certainly presents a thoroughly researched case, he seems to place argument over analysis. That being said, The Collapse of British Power is an important historical work, at the very least for expanding the debate on the question of British leadership in the early twentieth century. There is much work to be done by historians on this question, but perhaps Barnett's notion of an everlasting empire is as pragmatic as the morals an liberalism that clouded the thought of Britain's great leaders in the first half of the twentieth century.

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