XXXTentacion and the Muddied Dilemma between Art and Artist

 
 

The death of the young rapper opens up an array of ways to remember him. Let’s not make it about his music.

On June 18th, two armed men pulled up on a black BMW i8 near a motorcycle shop in Deerfield Beach, Florida. They proceeded to shoot multiple times at an individual in the driver's seat, killing him instantly. This individual was colloquially known as XXXTentacion, born Jahseh Dwayne Onfroy. He was just 20, yet lived a life rampant with grief, misery, aggression and unspeakable brutality that belied his years. He also had a straggly ascent as a musical success story.

Onfroy was one of the first to personify the Soundcloud era of rap. The gnarled, hectic sound of rappers that spawned numerous artists to break into the mainstream, like Smokepurpp, Tekashi69, Trippie Redd and the deceased Lil Peep.  Yet, whether it be Tekashi's sexual misconduct case (with a 13 year old) , or Trippie Redd's assault allegations, conflict and the come-up of these stars seem inevitable, yet their popularity is inarguable. Onfroy's second album, "?", debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200, with over 20 000 in albums sold in one week. He even nabbed a spot on XXL's coveted Freshman List in 2017.  It is unmistakable the impact he has had on teenagers. His dreary, depressing lyrics found an analogous connection with teenage angst. His songs focus on the topics of heartbreak, depression, anxiety and paranoia, with his hit song "SAD! " an encapsulation of these feelings

Yet, we should remember him instead for his horrific assault allegations (which you can find here).  While in Juvenile Detention, Jehsah took his cellmates head and proceeded to stomp it on the concrete floor. His reason? "He was staring at me". 

We should really remember him more for his crimes on his ex-girlfriend; aggravated battery and domestic battery by strangulation (which you can find here). One night he purportedly started punching, elbowing, head-butting, and strangling her until she almost passed out. He then took her to the bathroom and demanded one last time that she tell him everything or he would kill her in the bathtub. She was pregnant at the time.

Even with these unspeakable allegations against Onfroy, he was propped up by streaming services, most notably Spotify, featuring regularly on their weekly-curated playlist Rap Caviar. When Spotify introduced their Hateful Conduct policy back in early May, XXXTentacion was one of the main artists to be taken off all promoted playlists. Yet, with much backlash and a threat from Hip Hop titan Kendrick Lamar of pulling his music, they reneged on the policy. It seemed that Onfroy's music was, in a way, too big to fail. 

As rappers and fans grieved the death of Onfroy, some began to paint him as a martyr in the gone-too-soon club amongst Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and Jimi Hendrix. That is callous and aporetic. We should mourn for his victims, like the ex-girlfriend: Geneva Ayala and her $20 000 surgery she is going to need. We should instead focus our time on supporting the LGBTQ+ community, and disparage the remarks he made on them .

We listen to music to feel emotion. Whether it be in your room after a break-up or at the club dancing, the beats and melodies elicits a varying array of physical and mental cues. We don't necessarily think about the artist when listening and for many, that's OK. Chris Brown's voice is charming yet his actions to Rihanna? Repugnant. But after a death, RIP's and 'you will be missed' are usually what cascades out of people, regardless of their past. His songs will top the charts in the coming weeks, if only briefly, to fleetingly moan for his loss. Yet his vile past may forever be scrubbed.

I don't think art and artist will ever fully be coalesced together, in any circumstance, and maybe that is OK.

But, for me, whenever XXXTentacion comes on, the only mourning I am going to do is mourn the loss of two seconds of my life by clicking skip on my phone. Because all I see and feel when his voice floods my ears is unrepentable pain. Even in death.

 
 

Human Rights Violations in Guatemala: A matter of Canadian foreign relations

 
 

 

During Guatemala’s thirty year long civil war, the population suffered a massive genocide, whereby an estimated 200 000 people were killed, most of whom were a part of the Mayan Indigenous population. The civil war ended in the 1990’s, but the struggle did not. The country continues to exist under a repressive government.

This February, I was fortunate enough to join a delegation of students traveling to Guatemala. We went with Service Learning and Breaking the Silence (BTS), a solidarity network based out of the Maritimes. The purpose of the trip was to learn about, and bear witness to the human rights violations that have occurred in Guatemala, and the ongoing repression that Guatemalans face. During the trip, we were also called upon to consider Canada’s relation to the Guatemalan state, and how we can hold our own government accountable.

I would like to use two cases of injustice to illustrate the ongoing challenges that Guatemalans face: the Rio Negro Massacres, and exploitative mining practices. While in Guatemala, the group spent the first days in Rabinal, hearing from a survivor about the Rio Negro Massacres. We got to visit Pacux, where many survivors have resettled, and built monuments to commemorate their lost loved ones.

These massacres were a part of a larger politics of extermination by the Guatemalan government. In particular, the Rio Negro Massacres were over the building of the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam, which was funded by the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. Residents of Rio Negro resisted the project, and were labelled as guerrillas because they stood up for their rights. What followed was a series of assaults on the town, which essentially wiped out the population. Today, the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam stands tall, but at a great cost; thousands of Indigenous people were senselessly murdered.

My delegation travelled to Rio Negro by bus and boat. Once there, we hiked an hour and a half to the Rio Negro Massacre site, where 170 women and children were brutally murdered. This was only one of a series of assaults that whose intentions were to exterminate the Indigenous population in the town for the construction of the dam. Today, survivors are returning to Rio Negro to rebuild. They have reclaimed the land, and are bringing life back to the region. Survivors of the Rio Negro Massacres have been fighting for recognition since the genocide, and they continue to resist efforts to extinguish their culture. The Guatemalan government has failed to pay adequate reparations to survivors, and they have failed to recognize the genocide as such. Genocide trials, spearheaded by survivors, are still ongoing.

Following the civil war, Peace Accords were signed, which essentially opened the country up to foreign investment. Today, there are four major mining corporations in Guatemala, all of which are Canadian. Due to the nature of these mega-projects, they have been harmful to the land and peoples surrounding them. Beyond this, a number of the corporations have committed atrocious human rights abuses.

In particular, I would like to touch on nickel mine in Guatemala, located near the town of El Estor. The Indigenous population living near the mine were forcibly removed to make room for the mine. As a result of conflict caused by this relocation, there have been a number of murders, assaults, and other human rights violations. Including: two academics who were assassinated, seven men who were killed, eleven women who were raped during evictions, and a community leader who was killed during protests in 2009. The company responsible for these actions is Hud Bay Minerals.

The company has had three lawsuits filed against them. However, Canadian courts are not required to hear these cases if they find that Guatemalan court would be more appropriate, or if the Canadian mining company does not owe a duty of care to the Guatemalan people. Fortunately, all three cases were accepted by Canadian courts in 2013 and are still in progress.

To complicate things even further, Hud Bay was previously owned by INCO – also a Canadian company. INCO became involved in Guatemala at the beginning of the civil war, in the 1960s. The Canadian Department of External Affairs was supportive of this venture. INCO planned to mine near the town of El Estor, however there were two significant challenges: law prohibited open pit mining and guerrillas in the area.

INCO worked around these challenges by having a lawyer rewrite the policies, so that open pit mining was made legal. They also gained permission from the military government to mine in the area, so long as stability was ensured. Colonel Carolos Arana Osorio was responsible for relocating the Indigenous people who were living where the mine was to be. Osorio then began what has been called by some a “reign of terror”. Between three and six thousand people were killed in the relocation.

During this time, Canada continued to support the creation of the mine, and the Canadian ambassador to Guatemala even toured the region. Also during this time, the mine was widely protested by the Indigenous population, as well as concerned Guatemalans. In particular, the topic was publicly protested by a group of professors at the University of San Carlos, who were silenced, and two professors were assassinated. These types of brutal acts of repression continued with Canadian support until 1982, when the mine was shut down because of the declining price of nickel.

I am telling these stories to bring readers attention to the importance of holding our government accountable. Recently, the government has implemented an office for the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise. This was a fought for position, which will hopefully improve the conditions under which Canadian corporations operate. However, it is crucial that as Canadians, we continue to keep a watchful eye on the office, and we hold our government accountable for their actions.

 

Fighting Disappointment With Action

 
 

At every graduation, there are numerous speeches that congratulate the new graduates on everything they have done in the past several years and motivate them to do great things in the future. Each year, one graduate from each ceremony at StFX is chosen to be the senior class graduate speaker. I nominated myself for this position because I felt I had something to share with the senior class, and my friends encouraged me through heart-warming letters of nomination to include in the package I submitted. I met with a committee, and they interviewed me on the theme I would be speaking about. I chose the theme of home, inspired by the lyrics of the song “To Build a Home” by Cinematic Orchestra. Unfortunately, I was not chosen as a candidate to run before the senior class as their Grad speaker. I would like at this point to congratulate all of the candidates on their selection and I know that all of you would have done a fantastic job had you won. To Cameron, I look forward to hearing your words of encouragement as I experience the joys and sorrows of convocation alongside the lifelong friends I made here at StFX.

My desire to share my own words was not extinguished upon hearing that I was no longer in the running for the position. I was bitterly disappointed, and looked for excuses as to why I was not viewed as able to deliver this address. I went back to the committee to ask for feedback, and was told that it wasn’t my ability to speak, but rather the message I chose to speak about that limited this opportunity for me. They urged me to not be discouraged by this outcome, instead to think about it as “deking left instead of right.” I reflected on this feedback, and looked forward to find a way alleviate this disappointment. My grandfather says “if you don’t stand tall enough, you won’t see far enough” and this quote has inspired me so much that I had part of it engraved on my X-Ring. My interpretation is that you can never forget why it was that you started and what motivated you to put your hat in the ring in the first place. You will face adversity along the way, but you must stand tall and keep sight of your goals. My goal was to share words of congratulation, inspiration, and expectation with my graduating class, and although the platform of convocation is not available to me, I have the privilege of another avenue to spread my message. This avenue strips me of my ability to hide behind presentation skills, and forces me to focus purely on the message I was told would not resonate with my graduating class. To those of you reading this, I hope you find meaning in the words. This is the convocation speech I won’t get to make (at convocation).

“There is a house built out of stone, wooden floors, walls, and window sills. Tables and chairs worn by all of the dust. This is a place where I don’t feel alone. This is a place I feel at home.” Graduating class, parents, faculty, staff, and administration, welcome to our graduation ceremony. After years of work, we gather here today to celebrate perseverance, growth, and success. We come together as a community, to reflect on the chapter of our lives that is coming to a close, and to look forward to the exciting journey each of us will embark on. A short time ago, before we experienced this campus and understood exactly what it meant to be a Xaverian, we were explorers seeking out our next adventure. We were leaving our old homes with the values taught to us there by our families and friends in our hearts, and venturing into a new world. In this world, we would find new friends, new passions, and build new homes. Each of us brought our own values here, and shared them with each other. One of the magical things about this place is its ability to bring people together in ways it is difficult to explain. This sets the foundation of what we have created during our time here. Every passing hello, class discussion, and late night debate strengthened the floors, walls, and roof. This is a place where I don’t feel alone. This is a place where I feel at home. Home means something different to each of us. It could mean the quiet buzz of the Angus L. MacDonald Library as you study or pretend to study, the softness of a Students’ Union Building couch for a mid-afternoon nap, or the comfort of a Schwartz bathroom. With our exams behind us and nothing but the world in front of us, we can turn around and admire everything we have accomplished. These homes that we leave behind have everything we brought with us when we began, and now include everything we have shared with each other. Like every home, there are countless memories we look back on with happiness. But we can also see the imperfections born of missed opportunities and regretted decisions. It is our duty to learn from all of this, and as we walk into our futures to carry those lessons and use them as we build our next homes. No matter where we end up, the values we brought, learned, and carry with us will be forever intertwined into the homes we build for ourselves and the ones we care about. On behalf of the graduating class, thank you to everyone who has contributed to our growth, we hope you grew with us as well. To the graduating class, thank you for sharing your values with each other and with me. We have built magnificent things here, and we should be so proud of ourselves. We made it, and as we leave this home behind with our steps, we keep it close in our hearts and our hands, and we will build something even greater with these lessons in our heads. Congratulations to the graduating class, may we go forward and build places where we do not feel alone, and create a future where we can all feel at home.

 

Don’t be Afraid of Feminism

 
 

 The Importance of Women and Gender Studies Courses at X

With women’s week having just ended here in Antigonish – and with all the different events and keynote talks that are going on this month – I was thinking a lot about how much my perspective on life and other women has changed since choosing to major in Women and Gender Studies.

I think, not to be completely biased, that the most influential courses a student can take in their undergraduate degree would have to be women and gender studies classes.

Yes, this is my major, so I obviously have a lot of wonderful things to say about this department, the professors, the courses and material that we learn in class. But there are so many other reasons as to why these courses are so fundamental in a young person’s learning.

Before you get tired of me rambling and decide to skip this article to read something else, please read a little bit of it; maybe it’ll even convince you to take a class in this area.

Before I even started taking courses in the WMGS department, I thought I had a relatively good understanding of feminism, issues of systematic oppression around the world and anything that was related to the equality/inequality of how humans are treated. Turns out I knew pretty much nothing.

In my first intro class with Dr. Lisa Pasolli, I got a bit of a taste of everything. The big thing that I learned from that class was intersectionality, which is something that everybody should be interested in.

Intersectionality is a concept used to analyze how all women throughout the world, whether they be Indigenous, Black, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern, trans, bi or a lesbian, are impacted by systems of oppression and how they differ from one another.

This concept opened my eyes to how differently women and men are treated as well as ways to tackle these systems of oppression and help our sisters, mothers, daughters, aunts, cousins and any woman that you can think of.

Now that I’m in my third year, a class that I’ve been taking – Critical Race and Sexuality in Canada with Dr. Rachel Hurst – in my opinion should maybe be mandatory for every student to take.

In the past three months of being in that class, I have learned more than I have in some in my year long courses (no shade). In this class we analyze Canada, we learn about the different systems of power within Canada and how it has had an impact on our own people: namely, indigenous peoples and black people. There are issues going on in Canada that frankly I was not aware of, and it is likely that many other students are not either.

Simply a few examples: the Japanese internment camps that happened in Canada during WWII, or the reality of how black people are treated like criminals in Canada, black men being carded in the streets of Toronto.

Most Canadians have a blanket over their eyes thinking that this country is a country of freedom, a land where no wrong can happen. That is so far from the truth. Yes, we do live in a country that when compared to other countries is doing a bit better, but when you look closely, we’ve still got a long way to go before we can claim to be the ‘best’ country in the world when it comes to equality and how we treat others.

If you’ve been avoiding taking a WMGS class because of how you see feminism portrayed in the media and you think that women are these men hating monsters, that’s not what it is. There are a lot of great advocates for feminism that are doing a great job, but there are also quite a few folks that are skewing the word feminism and making it only for them (white feminism) or using the word feminism without actually understanding it and standing up for feminist issues.

If you’re not interested in feminism because you think blah blah blah it’s only for women, a) you’re wrong, feminism is for everybody, and b) you should be taking more interest into women’s rights because, well… you’re a human, are you not?

Maybe you’ve been wanting to take a WMGS class, but you cannot find anything to fit your schedule or your program; that’s fair, it can be very limiting. This is why each program should have classes dedicated to pairing your degree with women and gender studies related course. I’m aware that that is another issue altogether, but it’s something worth looking into and fighting for.

Feminism is for everybody: it’s beautiful, it’s growing, and forever changing. The future of society relies on feminism.

So, don’t be scared. You know what, maybe be scared! Be nervous to not know about something, but then take that fear and push yourself a little further to educate yourself. You’re not only educating yourself, but you’ll then also be helping those around you who might not know as much, and you can take the time to educate them as well. Education is bliss!

 

Divisive Discourses

 
 

The underlying problems with identity politics

Humans, as social primates, require membership and responsibility in groups to feel a sense of belonging and meaning. It is a reality embedded deep in our psyches, stretching back to the days of painting in caves. And yet I feel that in some ways, these ancient motivations are at odds with what modern society currently offers. People are increasingly isolated, devoid of meaningful relationships and membership in meaningful groups. Social media’s prevalence has served to erode the social competence of a generation. Many people go broke just to educate themselves sufficiently to land a job that they hate. Anxiety and depression rates are skyrocketing. It seems that we are no longer living, we are enduring. Thanks to this new modern and depressing world we live in, we look to superficial replacements to provide us meaning, yet they only serve to damage us.  One of the manifestations resulting from this increasing chaos and quest to fill a void of meaning is identity politics.

Identity politics refers to the tendency for people to form exclusive political alliances based on a particular aspect of identity, and to lobby and work for achieving the perceived goals of the social group with which they identify. The result of this has been a widespread fixation on what separates us as people from one another, as people reduce their ability to think critically to the frame provided by their group. Combine this tendency with the already present shortcomings of modern life for some people, and it is a recipe for ideological extremism. This rapid breakdown of a cohesive national identity into sub-identities is eating away at rationality and causing mass polarization.

White supremacist, social justice warrior, radical feminist, postmodernist, racist, sexist, alt-right, alt-left, communist, neo-marxist, etc. These are labels which, if you pay any attention to the political spheres, you have heard applied to people in the news, on social media and in conversation. Undoubtedly there are times at which certain labels such as these are warranted. However, perhaps you consider that these terms are also applied ubiquitously to individuals and groups alike in order to disarm and delegitimize them for benefit of another group or individual.

Individuals in today’s identity groups are frequently static with their ideology and identify personally with it. This is unideal at best. When political discussions arise among ideologues, it is much more likely to devolve into an emotionally charged argument if someone’s ideology, their personal identifier, is being put into question. There is a shocking amount of confirmation bias, echo chambering, no exposure to opposing viewpoints and people who claim to speak for all of their ‘identity’. These bubbles are formed and can be hard to escape from. One should instead identify with the version of themselves which transcends understandings, beliefs and attitudes, never taking their status-quo for granted. It is easy to get stuck and comfortable in a given state, but this must be avoided. What is comfortable and easy is rarely worth doing.

Furthermore, the obsession with grouping and classifying everyone based on these identifiers creates an ‘us versus them’ atmosphere which only serves to breed resentment and deepen divisions. Everyone is different. People hold a collection of many different viewpoints, values and beliefs, some of which together may be at odds with a traditional ‘left and right’ spectrum. This shows just how arbitrary these groups actually are.

What transcends all these groups, divisions, and arbitrary differentiators is something that applies to everyone. Meaning. Belonging. Love. Responsibility. Purpose. We all inhabit the same planet, we all live what can sometimes be a tragic, malevolent existence. We should be working together to give our short time on earth new meaning, and that means breaking away the divisions of identity politics. Until we can listen to each other, until we can sit at the same table without yelling and until we can speak to each other on a wave length that will be universally understood, progress will be made for no one.

Some argue to be in the middle is to stand for nothing at all but in my opinion, to be stubbornly and unapologetically on either side is to not stand for one’s self.

 

Has AI gone too far?

 
 

The dangers of increasing reliance on artificial intelligence

We’ve all seen the many movies and TV shows that show a dystopian future in which robots or supercomputers take over and enslave all of humanity. While this reality is many years in the future if ever at all, it doesn’t mean that artificial intelligence (AI) isn’t an issue that needs to be tackled today.

But first, it’s important to define what AI is. AI is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines. It can be narrow or weak AI, which is an AI system designed for a particular task. Yet it can also be strong AI, where an AI system can find a solution when presented with an unfamiliar task because it has enough human cognitive abilities to utilize the reasoning required.

Most of us already use AI and don’t even know it. Every time you’ve used Siri, Cortana, or any other voice recognition program, you’re using AI. These programs take into account your preferences so that later, your experience with them will be more personalized. The same type of AI system lies behind targeted advertising and getting directions on Google maps, among other things.

With AI starting to creep into all areas of our life, it does become a question of how much is too much. Any interaction with an AI, no matter how small, can be gathered to create huge amounts of data on users. The problem becomes then about who gets access to the data. The government can access a user's online history and data for security purposes, as well as some businesses and those with enough technical knowledge. This is a big problem for user privacy and security.

One of the other immediate fears with AI besides access to personal data concerns robots. While the technology and computer systems needed to create a powerful robot overlord aren’t quite there, they are certainly a possibility for the future. The more pressing concern however currently with robots is the rate at which robots will replace workers in factories, transportation, and other industrial sectors.

There are also concerns with the increasing use of robots and AI for military purposes. Already, drone strikes are being used in situations where it is a safer option than sending in conventional military troops. While it’s good that AI and robotics can decrease safety risks associated with military tasks, the consequences would be horrific if this technology falls into the wrong hands or becomes uncontrollable.

Beyond physical manifestations of AI, there’s also problems on the design side of AI. This is especially with the increasing popularity of machine learning, which allows AI systems to learn and improve without programming. The boundaries of this simulated sentience are being increasingly pushed. Without proper human supervision, this could create an AI with values or goals that don’t align with our own. Different goals or values could mean that down the road, there could be problems that involve life and death with technologies using AI like self-driving cars.

Also worth noting is the discussion about ethics surrounding AI. Since the data input into systems that helps them “learn” is from human sources, it reflects human experience. This means that any bias or stereotypes present in our systems and data can be replicated in AI. Those creating AI systems should be taking that into account, especially for AI being created for areas like law or medicine.

So, with all the risk and problems related to AI, should we stop using it? At this point, AI has already become entrenched in our daily lives, and probably won’t be going away anytime soon. However, the most prudent thing to do with it is to be aware of the problems that arise from using it, and what can be done to mitigate them.

 

Skipping Irritation

 
 

Does living in a world of extremes boost our unpleasant emotions?

We’ve all done it before. We were cut off in an intersection, or maybe were stuck walking behind someone really slow on the sidewalk. A friend might have made an off-side comment or you could have even just dropped your order of fries on the McDonald’s floor.

Out of nowhere, this rage boils inside of you. The situation certainly does not merit this kind of extreme anger, but there it is nonetheless. You grit your teeth, or shout a profanity. You might even get aggressive with the people around you, either verbally or physically depending on your level of inhibition. Deep down inside you want to go full Michael Douglas in Falling Down.

In most instances, this rage is mostly felt internally and therefore has little consequence. In others, though, it can be devastating. Last summer, American David Desper was arrested on murder charges for shooting a girl in the head out of road rage. I think it goes without saying that cutting someone off in traffic does not merit a death penalty. Even driving aggressively as a result of road rage increases likelihood of accidents, and has caused various fatal crashes over the years. A quick browse through a YouTube video’s comments section makes it very evident that people are just so angry for seemingly no reason.

The question is now… why do we get so angry over such insignificant situations? In a recent classroom discussion that took place in my Contemporary Literary Theory course, the topic was Sianne Ngai’s essay on “ugly feelings.” It was suggested by the professor that this tendency to skip over irritation and fly blindly right into homicidal rage is a fairly new phenomenon. The driver overtaken by road rage is not a scene readily found in old black and white movies. Not to say that overreaction is an exclusively new reality, but it does seem to have increased. Why? In my opinion, there are certainly many factors going into what I believe is over-reactive anger, and I will provide some suggestions on what I think some of these may be.

For one, people in the world today are entitled, plain and simple. No, I am not just talking about millennials. In our individualistic society, everyone seems to think that the world revolves around them. Every meaningless thing we do in our lives matters more than whatever meaningless thing the guy next to us is doing. For this reason, when someone cuts us off in traffic, it feels like we’ve been the victim of some horrendous personal violation. How dare they make my drive to the grocery store take an extra 10 seconds? This overall lack of empathy makes it hard for us to put ourselves into the other’s shoes, and instead of concerning ourselves with why they may also be in a rush themselves, we feel our hands grip tighter on the steering wheel or flip them the bird.

Where does this borderline narcissism come from? It’s possible that, now in a society in which face to face interaction is seldom needed and relationships are filtered through texts and pictures, people have just grown to have less emotional intelligence. As there are fewer people around us on a regular basis, maybe we have grown less aware of those that are present at times. People no longer needed to develop proper social skills and therefore simply did not. As a result, simple concepts like repressing inhibitions and dealing with emotions become alien and foreign. People feel entitled to the same level of unperturbedness that they have in their habitual solitude, and so when one thing goes awry, it may feel like the entire world is against them.

Another certain possibility that I feel could be a huge contributing issue is overall stress levels in the population. Stress and anxiety are at record highs, and it is certainly not without its consequences. With higher demands than ever on the working citizen and less time allotted to relaxation, people are generally high-wired. In the human brain, this can result in high concentrations of cortisol, the stress hormone. Aside from many health problems that can be traced back to high cortisol levels (for example, elevated blood pressure), we may be seeing the fruit of some societal problems.

In a brain that is constantly stressed, it seems natural that emotions will swing strongly either way. The brain is not far away from a state of constant fight or flight mode, ready to jump into serious action at all times. So it may not seem surprising then that people are literally snapping into murderous rage. The brain is stressed 24 hours a day. Things that stress you out and irritate you accumulate throughout the day, week or even year. Finally, something happens. Just even one little thing, as small as the drive-thru worker giving you a coke rather than an iced tea. Then and there, you just snap. It was the final straw that broke the camel’s back and your brain just cannot take it anymore. You scream, you cry and you lose your goddamn mind. It does not seem like a far stretch to me, and maybe some of these outbursts could be avoided with more realistic expectations for people.

Along the same lines of accumulative effects, I think disenfranchisement is a serious problem for this angry mob of a population, too. It’s a reality as old as the emotion of anger itself: sometimes, we take things out on the wrong people. In an age of great ideological divides, bleak futures and just overall frustration, many feel a constant ember of anger ebbing and sparking to tiny degrees throughout their day. The frustration at things much larger than one’s self – things that seem out of one’s control – has often manifested into some of the ugliest version of humanity. For instance, it is Germany’s economic frustration that gave birth to WWII. It is the largely overlooked frustration of the middle states that gave rise to the recent presidency we love to hate.

Are we really surprised then that people are so angry? It seems like you can no longer log into your Facebook account without seeing some type of political melodrama going down on one status or another. That is just the problem. We yell at each other instead of protesting before our politicians. It’s grown to the point that when someone represents in our eyes what we have grown to hate, we want to hurt them. We want to hurt people. Emotionally or physically, both stem from an anger that is directed at something far beyond that person, and yet in that moment the blood boils for them.

Clearly, I am only scraping at the tip of an iceberg. There are likely many people out there that know more about all three areas than I do, and people that would be able to bring forth insight that I do not myself possess. But I urge you all, in your hottest moments of anger to stop and reflect about where the anger truly stems from. Blind rage does well to neither you nor to anyone else. We can change.

 

Politics as Usual

 
 

In the wake of yet another school shooting in the United States, is gun control around the corner?

On February 14, Nikolas Cruz walked onto the grounds of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and opened fire. The school shooting only lasted a few minutes, leaving 17 people dead, others injured, and the rest of the school to be evacuated room by room. It has been declared one of the deadliest school shootings since 2012 in the United States, and there have already been more school shooting incidents since.

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting is being hailed as different. This time, the survivors have themselves started a protest movement to prevent more school shootings. Already, they’ve protested at Florida’s capital Tallahassee, taken to social media with the hashtag #NeverAgain and have even caused some retailers to boycott the NRA. But is it going to be enough to get gun reform or to topple the NRA?

President Trump has already stated he might change the age for buying a gun up to 21, address mental health issues and prohibit the sales of bump stocks. But he also has received significant funding from the NRA and has the generally pro-gun Republican party to contend with. Furthermore, the president’s word isn’t incredibly reliable these days given he could tweet a curveball policy change on gun laws at 2am if he felt like it.

There is however hope that companies boycotting the NRA or refusing to sell guns at their stores will help put some pressure on gun reform laws. While corporations like Walmart do have sway if they change the age required to buy guns in store, airlines like Delta are already facing the consequences of boycotting the NRA by losing tax exemptions in Georgia. Not to mention boycotting the NRA and refusing to sell guns doesn’t get rid of the guns already purchased and won’t be very effective unless most companies are following suit.

Some of the alternative solutions seem to be promising as well, like having more mental health support. While mental health issues do play a role in some school shootings, it is one factor among many that causes these tragedies. Notably, mental health issues are often used as the scapegoat justifying why white males are school shooters, while in turn people of colour and other minorities are immediately labelled terrorists or criminals instead.

Arming teachers isn’t really a viable solution either. It’s not just a matter of getting firearm training; it’s a matter of potentially having to shoot your own student and making schools more like prisons than places of instruction. It also asks teachers and administrators to take on another role in an education system where some schools have barely enough funding to keep the buildings from falling down. Not to mention giving teachers guns seems like an underhanded way to make double the profits from gun sales – by selling to the teachers and potential school shooters.

What about implementing stricter gun laws, more extensive background checks or requiring firearm education before you can purchase one? Unfortunately, the NRA stills holds a considerable amount of lobbying power in the United States, especially at a time of great political cleavages. There is a ray of hope that in the upcoming midterm elections, more Democrats will be elected and that they can push through stricter gun control laws.

Gun control in the United States remains a complex issue with many proposed solutions that will take years to implement, on any political level. But now, politicians will have to contend with younger generations savvy with social media, with access to information and that grew up in fear of their school being the next victim of a school shooting. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and subsequent protests are a tipping point to have these young voices push politicians to act and could inspire change.

So, to the outstanding young Americans protesting to get gun reform, there’s a long road ahead. Despite that, know that you have already brought about change in your actions. One day, Washington might realize that it is inexcusable to support a system that threatens the lives of youth trying to get an education.

 

More Than You Bargained For

 
 

Why Olympic spending just isn’t really worth it.

As far as Olympics go, Pyeonchang wasn’t the worst. Despite featuring no official Russian delegation, right-wing protests against a prayer room for Muslim athletes and constant dread of nuclear war, it went alright overall. There was only one corruption scandal, and it didn’t go too far over budget. However, with the Olympics having come to a close we have to grapple with the important question of the day. Are the Olympics even worth it? Looking at both their economic and their social costs, as well as the swindling and corruption they foster, the answer can only be “no.”

Remember, the Olympics are funded by taxpayer money. Not once since 1968 have they been on-budget, and the spending is always counted in the billions. In fact, analysts point out that the Olympics tend to run 156% over budget – in other words, they cost almost three times as much as planned. The London Olympics were billed as a low-scale and efficient Olympics, but cost an (at that time record-shattering) 15 billion dollars. Since 1992, every Olympics has cost at least 2 billion dollars, and the monumental Sochi Olympics cost 21 billion dollars. Russia’s Olympic spending outstripped the GDP of most small countries.

The poster-child for Olympic overspending was surely the Montreal Olympics. The mayor of Montreal, Jean Drapeau, proudly announced that “the Olympics could no more go over budget than a man could have a baby” and vowed that these Olympics would be the first to finance themselves. The Olympics then cost eight times as much as the initial budget allowed, took 30 years to pay off, almost financially broke the City of Montreal, and – through their conspicuous corruption – might have been a factor in a rising wave of support for separatist politicians. The Athens Olympics similarly are often credited as the straw that broke the camel’s back for Greece, adding to a mountain of debt.

It’s modern economics. The rich get richer and the civilians foot the bill. Every time a city secures the Olympics, it receives a massive influx of government funding for construction, marketing, real estate development, financial services, staffing and post-games maintenance. This money is usually distributed quickly, and the gloss of the Olympics covers dirty dealings. In Montreal, most of the spending went directly into the hands of the city’s notorious construction companies and the Mafia dons. Union bosses deliberately kept construction sites in a state of chaos unless they got personal payoffs. In Sochi, much of the money went into the pockets of the big businessmen who had been asset-stripping the country since the fall of the USSR. The Pyeonchang Olympic bid is being investigated because Samsung may have shelled out significant bribe money to secure the bid, and Japanese marketing giant Dentsu used a Swiss bank to bribe IOC members knowing that the Olympics would bring significant wealth.

A lot of Olympic spending is justified as “development." Prominent Greek politicians – now out of a job – justified the Olympics as a way to get an updated airport and subways. Beijing used the Olympics as a catalyst for architectural renewal. Rio de Janeiro, the most ambitious, put forward a sweeping plan to use its Olympics as a way to transform the city for the better. But behind all this rhetoric is state-backed looting. Part of Rio’s Olympic plan involved clearing out the slums and re-housing the people in new locations, as well as tackling crime with social spending in keeping with the agenda of the ruling Worker’s Party. However, the Mayor of Rio, affiliated with the business-friendly Brazilian Democratic Movement, instead occupied the slums with militarized police and drove out the mostly black residents. The slums were demolished and high-income communities were built. Meanwhile the previous residents were relocated into other slums in eco-hazardous zones. None of the broader promises were delivered upon, but the business elite got even more elite with Olympic spending; spending that had little to do with the Olympics.

The Olympics also piggyback increasingly elaborate security theatre and political repression. Brazil’s Olympics came in the midst of mass protests. President Dilma Roussef had been ousted on spurious charges of corruption – by a Senate in which two thirds of the membership were under investigation for bribe-taking – and replaced by Michel Temer. Temer, whose popularity has since doubled to a whopping 6%, apparently took 3 million dollars from suspicious pork developers and is now trying to privatize significant parts of the state. He declared the Olympics open in a 14-word speech which was drowned out both by the jeering of the crowds and the samba music blasting to cover said jeering. Even as the Olympics were going on, vast police deployments were made against anti-Temer protests outside the stadium.

Other countries were no better. In London, it was discovered that the military was placing anti-aircraft missile launchers on the roofs of London to shoot at potential interlopers. In Greece, America and the UK forced the government to spend almost 1.5 billion (an eighth of the budget) on vast anti-terrorism measures. China ramped up state repression around the Olympics, drastically heightening internet censorship and anti-dissident actions. Russia, as usual, was a spectacularly bad offender. The Sochi Olympics outraged Chechen separatists who demanded that the games not be conducted on their ancestral lands. They likened the games to “dancing on the graves of our ancestors” and threatened to disrupt them. The Russian state responded by increasing repression of Chechnya, accomplished both through brutal deployments of the FSB and the aid of Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov has since grown famous for his love of Instagram, sports and torture camps. Western newspapers blithely commented that the Sochi Olympics would be the end of the Chechen problem. In a way, they were right.

The Olympics are fundamentally political theatre. Brazil first took on the Olympics to prove that a Latin American country in the developing world had reached political and economic maturity, meanwhile desperately trying to cover up the chaos outside the stadium. In 1980 and 1984, respectively, mass boycotts of the Olympics were organized by the Western powers over the Soviet war in Afghanistan and the Warsaw Pact over Western saber-rattling in Europe. The Pyeonchang Olympics were used by North Korea to drive a wedge between the South and the Americans, and international observers closely watched Mike Pence for signals that the United States would start a nuclear war in the Peninsula. Beijing’s Olympics were essentially an announcement that China was finally taking back its position as a world power.

Unsurprisingly, the Russians take the cake here. The media was tightly controlled by the Russian state, as was the narrative around the event. Its opening ceremony was interesting to watch for its political vision. It was an almost dizzying avant-garde rendering of a reactionary depiction of Russian history. With bizarre floating shapes, a shifting landscape pinned around rock-steady leader-figures and the reduction of broad concepts to narrow forms, it presented a highly coherent message. Russia, as depicted in the opening ceremony, was the product of a single continuous march to glory guided by strong men of vision and the Olympics seemed to be a milestone in this journey. This essentially summarizes Putin’s view of Russian history, and the methods used to present it are those perfected by the regime’s infamous “political technologists.” Sochi was an ideological product par excellence.

This all goes to show that the Olympics aren’t for ordinary people. That’s why the stands are almost always empty and they never make money back on ticket sales. They’re a tool which the rich use to get richer and which the great powers use to promote the narratives of their world-striding leaders. They’re closely politically stage-managed, even in Canada and the democracies. Despite being billed as expressions of global unity and beamed live to the entire world, still part and parcel of the global systems of financial and political power. For all their pretensions, what the Olympics boil down to is just another struggle for power and wealth. There might be potential for change, but as they are, the Olympics are just another mechanism for taking power and money away from ordinary people and redistributing it upwards. They just aren’t worth the cost.

 

Shooting the Messenger

 
 

Blaming Instagram for insecurities is short-sighted and inefficient

The generation growing up now is in a unique position of not being able to remember a world pre-internet. Most students here at best remember having a dial-up connection, but would be hard-pressed to have spent a long period of their lives without internet whatsoever. In the wake of this new era of tech savvy and arguably tech-dependent millennials, the landscape of social interaction has evolved greatly.

Whereas advertising mainly appeared in magazines and television commercials before, countless sums of money are now being invested into online social media platforms. And yet – despite major invasions of privacy and a concerning amount of our data being taken and sold to multi-million/billion dollar companies to tailor ads specifically to us – this is not the biggest grievance that I hear lately from my fellow scrollers.

As of the last few years, an overwhelming complaint has surfaced about the popular app Instagram in particular. The argument is this: Instagram makes people insecure. At first, I was a little dumbfounded by the argument. I personally have very rarely felt insecure about myself while scrolling through Instagram, so I had a hard time buying into it to begin with.

The argument is that people only post the best aspects of their lives. They post pictures that are so heavily edited that the people within the screen are unrecognizable. They post pictures of expensive vacations, elaborate meals and ridiculously luxurious nights out on the town. Meanwhile, the rest of us sit there scrolling through these pictures, feelings badly for ourselves that we are not living a life exactly like these people. We wish we were richer, prettier or more popular; whatever it is that tickles your fancy.

I have a problem with this argument. It seems as though we are shooting the messenger a bit. Instagram is only the medium used, not the dictator of what we post. If you so choose, you can post nothing but a picture of your cat every single day. The problem is not Instagram itself, it is the way in which we are using it. It is the need for us humans to try to make our mediocre lives seem thrilling and amazing, and this need is certainly not new. It is not only with the age of social media that parents would yell at you to clean your room before guests came over. People have always had the tendency to flaunt the best parts of their lives and hide the skeletons in the closet.

If the case is true that Instagram is a particularly significant catalyst for insecurity, it seems to me that the population actually has a problem with envy or self-esteem that needs to be dealt with. It’s silly to blame the girls posting their bikini pictures online for your insecurities. They are as entitled to post what they want, and they do not exist to make you feel better or worse.

In my opinion, if you find that scrolling through Instagram turns you into a big green monster or results in you crying in the fetal position, perhaps Instagram is not the real culprit here.  We are always quick to blame the medium and not the people using it. In some cases, it is justified. For example, guns are designed with the specific purpose of killing, so it is not a far stretch to toss them a part of the blame when a shooter goes rogue. However, Instagram is simply a picture-sharing platform. Outside of the basic terms and conditions guidelines, Instagram has no horse in the race in regards to what you post. They make no suggestions. We take it upon ourselves to post what we choose to post.

Even more, I had to laugh a bit at implication that only posting the best parts of our lives is in some way wrong. The same people that make these complaints frequently also not only do the same, but shame people that do share negative aspects of their lives as “oversharing.” Which is it? Are we morally unsound for only posting the rainbows and unicorns or are we morally unsound for posting about how we cried earlier that day?

Better yet, if this is an ongoing issue that you cannot seem to resolve, perhaps a move as radical as deleting your account is in order. There is no mandate to have an Instagram account, and if these images are something that you really find you cannot grapple with, then just don’t look at them. I know a few people personally that have taken this route and are much happier for it. You know what they say: “if you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

I am empathetic to those that deal with insecurities while scrolling through the web. We all have insecurities, and to say that I never ever have any flare up myself would be misleading if not an outright lie. But all I’m trying to say is that being too quick to blame these external forces may force you to overlook very influential internal forces. Maybe ask yourself where the envy and insecurity stem from, and whether it’s from a place that you can improve or from a place that you could come to terms with. From my own experience, dealing with those underlying personal issues first has a trickle-down effect that tends to see other issues solve themselves.

Either way, I hope that anyone reading this that relates to this struggle somehow finds a way to cope with these issues and can learn to scroll happily on.

 

The Burden of Truth

 
 

The moral dilemma for the infidelity informant.

In our modern culture of hookups and alcohol fuelled antics, it seems as though it is almost impossible to avoid infidelity, whether it be from personal experience or simply knowing someone who has gone through it. Complicated and hurtful, the knowledge of infidelity is a heavy cross to bear, regardless of who holds it. However, if one were to know of another’s infidelity, is there an obligation to tell the person who is being betrayed?

Some might argue that no one should be compelled, in any circumstances, to relay this information. They can do so if they wish, but there is no obligation in the least. If you don’t want the drama of dealing with a cheating couple, then it is best to remain silent. This seems a little less than empathetic to the person being cheated on, but it is also understandable that some might be wary of handling the consequences of revealing such information. Not many are inclined to engage in Jerry Springer-esque interactions.

Nonetheless it would seem that most attach some obligation to inform the cheated-on of their partner’s missteps. The simple question it boils down to is whether or not you would want to know yourself? Some might say, no – they don’t want to be informed of their partner’s betrayals, but this seems to stem more from fear than a true desire to keep the infidelity hidden.

Relationships are meant to be about sharing the most intimate parts of oneself, entrusting the intricacies of one’s life and personality with another human they have deemed worthy, capable and close enough to be able to share it with.  They are about creating mutual trust and communication, building up a positive space for both involved, openly and honestly. To withhold knowledge about a betrayal of this trust, of this agreement to work together, is to hide something that definitely has an impact on the dynamics of a relationship.

It also should be said that cheating is not usually a singular offense; normally there is the act itself – the act of cheating on one’s partner – followed by the omission, as the cheater covers up or ignores the nature of their offense. The hurt that stems from cheating is not just the fact that someone can have relations outside of the commitment they make, but also that they are able to keep such information from a partner that they have agreed to share their life with.

An imbalance occurs, in which one person is put at a disadvantage without all necessary and available material required for an informed decision about whether they want to again place their trust in their partner. The uninformed victim is consenting to a relationship without truly understanding the nature of the relationship in which they engage. Not only this, but they will continue to divulge sensitive personal information and share experiences with someone that they cannot claim to fully know, considering that they are unaware of what betrayals their partner is capable of committing.

Because of this, it seems that knowledge of cheating ought to be shared with the person being betrayed. It seems unfair and cruel to have them continuing on in ignorance, unaware that the person they trust most could do such a thing. Not every person shares the same level of obligation; there seems to be a spectrum of obligation that correlates to the depth of the informant’s relationship with either side of the couple. The closer you are to the couple – in particular the person being betrayed – the more obligation you should hold to inform them of the indiscretions.

This all being said, the real issue is not having to inform someone of cheating, but the cheating itself. This can be circumvented through many accepted methods. Open relationships and polyamory are quite evident in our society, and thus pose an option that does not involve a betrayal. Remain honest with your partner about how you feel and discuss how it is you should proceed.

Those who make a mistake in a spur of the moment and “accidentally” do something (perhaps induced by substance consumption) should just own up to what they have done and admit it themselves. It is far easier to forgive someone who does something and owns it than someone who does something and denies it. If your reason for cheating is that you are unhappy in your relationship, sever the relationship before doing anything with another person; it makes it far less complicated as well as much less hurtful.

Most importantly, (granted, easier said than done sometimes) don’t cheat. Make everyone’s lives a little easier and resist temptation for the sake of the love and care that you share with your significant other. Make it so that no one is in the position to have to reveal your immoral act by simply avoiding the immoral act in the first place. It saves everyone a lot of trouble and stress.

 

What Does Feminism Mean to You in 2018?

 
 

StFX students discuss feminism in a post-Weinstein, #MeToo and #TimesUp world.

Feminism to me is that my future daughter(s) know their worth, and that they have the ability to be respected and achieve anything they want. Feminism to me is that my future son(s) know what respect is, and that they look up to women as leaders, heroes, great philosophers and thinkers. Feminism to me is finding a girlfriend or wife that independently achieves her aspirations. Feminism to me is taking paternity leave so that my wife can enjoy her career. It’s being able to go out and see women comfortable to dress how they choose and walk home alone without fear that they will be attacked because the outfit they wore. – Liam Hyland

Feminism in 2018 means inclusivity, intersectionality, and empathy. We need to be fierce and forceful in supporting all marginalized people. It is a must to listen and uplift voices of dissent, educate ourselves on how to be the best activists and allies we can and leave room for others to grow and learn through their own activist journey. - Jasmine Cormier

Feminism in 2018 is intersectional and inclusive. It means having difficult conversations, working in solidarity (while also understanding and validating diverse experiences/histories!), and working towards gender equality from a place of compassion and love. - Sydney Van De Wiel

Feminism to me is more than equality of the genders. Yes, it primarily encompasses the dismantling of the patriarchy and eradicating sexism. Yet further, it includes ridding the world of all forms of oppression. Feminism should be thinking about race, sexuality, ethnicity, gender, ability, age, religion, class and how individuals can be oppressed on these fronts. Feminists need to ensure that they are not just advancing gender equality but looking out for those who have historically been marginalized, at risk and kept down. - Hannah Moore 

In the past when someone has asked me, “What does feminism mean to you?” I often times have taken much longer to answer them than any other question I’ve been asked before. This isn’t because I am unsure of my answer, but rather I take a few seconds to ponder why the answer to this question has become so complex. I am now wondering exactly what the term feminism means to them and whether or not they are looking for me to tell them exactly what they want to hear, or if they’ll look at me funny when I tell them, “Feminism is advocating for women and their rights and ensuring that they are equal among all sexes.” To further elaborate on this brief and very concise definition of feminism, I want to explain to you what I believe feminism is not. Let’s think back to our times in middle school when it was ‘Track & Field Day’ and we were all getting ready for our races. Feminism is not women wishing to cut everyone out of the race just so they can come in first. It is simply women stating, that if you truly want to be considered the best at something, you’re going to have to compete against everyone, including women. Feminism is not women asking for a head start in the race, but rather for all of us to have our feet begin behind the same white line. Feminism is not asking for anybody to slow down, or wait for women to catch up. Although we do believe it's unfair when everyone is running the normal 100 metre relay, and women are running the 100 metre relay with the addition of hurdles. Lastly, feminism is not asking for anybody to pity women and give them something they don't deserve. Rather it is letting women know where they placed in the race instead of just handing them a participation ribbon. You see women are capable of doing everything that a man can do but those unnecessary hurdles that women face are a problem. No woman is incapable. Unfortunately, most women are deprived of the opportunity to prove this statement. Feminism to me isn’t hard to understand. It's looking at the world as if we were all in middle school and we are all running the same exact race. No funny business. That's it. – Rebecca Charnock

To me feminism is a mindset. Feminism is the idea of lifting the female gender up in order to enable and empower them to be able to do anything. It is helping to lift the restrictions society places on females, in all aspects of society. It is confronting the stereotypes of women in the media and changing them. It is enabling females in the workplace to be paid the same as their male counterparts and treated equally. It is about challenging sexual harassment in workplace and the culture that allows these transgressions to thrive. It is advocating for women’s rights in all aspects of life: from education and employment to sexual health and medical care. It is about teaching girls from day one that they deserve respect no matter what, and they should fight for it. It is about fighting for those who suffered before us to get women’s rights to where they are today and continuing their fight. To me, feminism is more than a social movement, it is a mindset that females are equally as important as men and it is fighting for what women deserve. – Shannon Hundt