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Thursday, December 31, 2020

Book Review by Roberta Cory: “The Death of Democracy: Hitler’s Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic” by Benjamin Carter Hett

First, I am sharing this book review just before New Year’s Day when so many of us are struggling to be positive about 2021. While friends are trying to party any way they can under lockdown, and beat back the blues, I am discussing a book about the last days in Germany, when a dictatorship could have been avoided, and was not. The latest news is that Trump is provoking Iran, which could lead to war, providing an excuse for Trump to declare a state of emergency. 

Anything important that happens south of our border affects Canada too. More importantly, Canadians should ask themselves if the “free world” is strong enough to withstand the stresses we will face in 2021.

Four weeks after Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany, the Reichstag (parliament) burned. That enabled the “Reichstag Fire Decree” which suspended the civil liberties guaranteed in the German constitution, legalizing imprisonment without trial, abolishing freedom of speech, and gave the Reich government the power to replace any existing administration that failed to accomplish security and order.

Hett asks why the Germans supported Hitler, rather than rising up and resisting totalitarianism, and his answer is that they preferred conspiracy theories and lies to a rational factual reality. Hitler, who seemed to be a nobody (“He looked like a waiter in a railway station, people said, or a hairdresser.”), was a gifted actor who could use his voice, his eyes, his whole body, to seduce crowds and individuals. The Germans, in 1933, wanted to be seduced. 

As Hett writes, “The Nazis would have been unthinkable without the First World War, and here, right at the beginning of the story, we see something else: the trauma of defeat left millions of Germans believing a particular narrative about the war not because it was demonstrably true, but because it was emotionally necessary.” MAGA – Make America Great Again – was used as Reagan’s campaign slogan, but its roots go back to Hitler’s “Make Germany great again,” the assumption being that Germany was great before the First World War and had been in decline ever since. Germans wanted solidarity: “unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.”

Although the Treaty of Versailles crippled Germany with debt, and the economic solution resulted in gross inflation, the constitution of 1919 created a state-of-the- art democracy. The Weimar Republic, under the leadership of Gustav Stresemann, began to participate in a proto–European Union. Trade agreements and membership in the League of Nations were efforts to prevent another war in Europe. Germany excelled in every field: scientific, business, culture and creativity, civil rights; and workers had won the eight hour day with full pay. Hett contributes to understanding the death of Weimar Democracy by finding the fractures along the tension lines that eventually turned into fissures. There were too many political parties and most of them had their own militia. 

When the Reichstag was deadlocked and could not act, President Hindenburg and his conservatives ruled by executive decree. By 1930 there was a general distrust of “the system.” Germany was experiencing a spiritual malaise. People yearned for “solidarity.” Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, supplied the stories, costumes, lighting, and choreography for a myth of white supremacy.

2021 is coming in with a pandemic and an economic fallout that we cannot yet imagine. Out of control climate change has radicalized environmentalists, while a fundamentalist Christian faction waits for the second coming. Some of our most unstable people are vulnerable to conspiracy theories and dogmas, acting out with domestic terrorism. Already primed by years of sophisticated marketing campaigns, consumers are increasingly unable to separate stories and lies from reality. Non-governmental watchdog groups, independent journalists, and public broadcasting struggle for funding and attention.

“The Death of Democracy” is timely.

Roberta Cory

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Roberta Cory's Book Review of A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency

 Book Review: A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency, by Seth Klein


I’m using my time at home now to read and comment on some of the many books we have bought in the last two or three years. If this were a college course, they might be called out of date. But if you will never read these books yourself, enjoy and comment upon the ideas in this book review. Or, if you want to read these books yourself, either ask the library, or ask me to borrow a book. 


A Good War uses the measures taken during WWII as a blue print for the fight of our lives today, against an enemy which has no face, uniform, symbol, or nationality. Climate change, runaway climate change, climate change that makes living on Earth impossible, is real. Scientists continually update their predictions about the speed of the melting of the icecaps and glaciers. This is a given: that we are in an emergency situation and must use emergency measures. This book makes the case that there are already solutions available to turn this nightmare around, and we must start using them now. 


Weary from the First World War, and struggling with an economic depression, Canadians did not want to get into another war in the 1930s and used many psychological attitudes, from denial to appeasement, to avoid the hard call. Our equivalents today are the anti-science crowd and the oil and gas industry supporters. We have many ways of excusing ourselves: blaming China for coal pollution, feeling relieved that most of us live in the northern hemisphere and above sea level, assuming that technology will come up with a solution soon, continuing to fly, and descending into a culture of impossibility – “that feeling that we are collectively unable to rise to this task.” We tell ourselves that Canada’s emissions are relatively small compared to other countries, but…”on a per capita basis, Canadians are the highest GHG emitters in the world…”  And, on top of that, Canada’s economy, (certainly Alberta’s economy), is based upon exporting fossil fuels to other countries. 


On the other hand, a public opinion poll of 2,000 representative Canadians, carried out in July, 2019 by Abacus Data, showed that the public is ready to support systemic solutions to the climate crisis that go farther than what governments are willing to do now. The Abacas Data survey results, provided in this book, reveal that most Canadians are on board with the social changes required to make a just transition to a green economy, to take in climate refugees, and although most had never heard of the Green New Deal, when they learned what it was, they supported it. Climate communications experts Louise Comeau and George Marshall found, after reviewing many climate change polls, that people were becoming more aware of climate disasters and that they were bored with dry statistics proving a point – they responded to passionate, ethically based, empathetic arguments and examples. Following from this, Klein has presented the type of solutions that stand a good chance of drawing mass public support. 


While some argue that a “war metaphor” turns people off, others, including Margaret Klein Salamon, Ph.D in clinical psychology, point out that many people who lived through the Second World War found it to be the best years of their lives. It provided meaning to their lives, it united people, as everyone, rich or poor, had the same rations, and everyone was employed doing something for the cause. The rest of this book proceeds to put forth what it would take to use the media to educate and motivate the public to join together for a Good War. 


This book is dense, jammed full of serious issues that are not easily resolved. For example, in Part 2, Chapter 3, “…Marshalling Public Opinion…” Klein puts his toe in the murky waters of the morality of rhetoric (Plato), propaganda (Orwell), and the arts in appealing to our emotions over our brains. For someone who wants to explore this nuanced area see “Two Ways of Looking at Propaganda,” John H. Brown, CPD Blog, June 29, 2006.  Also in Part 2, “Confederation Quagmire…,” Klein faces the issue of Provincial jurisdiction (the same issue faced in the U.S. with “states rights.”) A country that spans the continent, with enormous geographical differences, ethnic and cultural identities, and population inequalities is beyond challenging when solidarity is required, as it is when facing an emergency. Part 3, Chapter 6, “Paying for Mobilization, Then and Now,” revolutionizes just about everything, using the Bank of Canada, creating Crown Corporations, selling bonds, and giving financial incentives to corporations, cities, and individuals who switch from fossil fuel use to green energy alternatives. This chapter could be a book in itself and could sustain a book club in discussion for a year. 


This is one of the most researched books I have encountered on the subject of how to meet the climate challenge immediately. The sources are so numerous that I would strongly suggest owning the book in order to return to it over and over. It is a beautiful book, full of lucid arguments, statistics, and a can-do attitude. I get the same feeling from reading it as I do when watching a BBC film set during WWII in Britain when people in all walks of life talked proudly about “doing their bit.”


Canada has become increasingly divided. Computers, cell phones, air conditioning, subculture identification, the working poor vs the top 1%, rising populations of the hungry and the homeless, and then the Covid 19 epidemic all tend to leave us to experience our despair alone. What I want, and I think what most of us want, is to “do our bit.” We want to pull together not apart. We need a larger sense of meaning than our own family and job. Surely, turning to heal our planet so that we can continue to live on it is something that can activate our deepest passions. But not if it is merely encouraged – it has to be embraced emotionally and the government must be involved with the carrot and the stick.


 I read this book to confirm and elaborate my convictions. I am not a climate denier. The only thing that raised a red flag for me was the 2019 Abacus Data Survey. So much of the book rests on the results of that survey. Klein must establish at the beginning of the book that the “people” want immediate action, that, while lowering CO2 and methane emissions, will grow a more egalitarian society where everyone benefits, not just a few. I feel the questions asked in the survey encouraged more positive answers. But then that is what is needed. During the war “defeats as well as victories were reported, but there was no pretense of neutrality.” “…media outlets in the Allied countries modeled a form of “patriotic press.” For example, the press can treat the benign term “climate change” as the climate catastrophe it is.  In May 2019 The Guardian swapped language to make it more compelling with terms such as “climate crisis,” “climate emergency,” and “climate breakdown.” In October 2019, in Victoria, BC, the CBC radio morning show started posting a “daily CO2 reading” into the stock market report. These are examples of the many solutions suggested in “A Good War” which are actually workable – a needed therapeutic for our cynical pessimistic times. 


Roberta Cory




Saturday, October 31, 2020

Roberta Cory’s Review of Sylvia McAdam’s “Nationhood Interupted”

Nationhood Interrupted: Revitalizing nehiyaw Legal Systems by Sylvia McAdam (saysewahum).

Book review – Roberta Cory
The European colonizers of Turtle Island made the assumption that the inhabitants were savages and had no culture. Using their own culture as a yardstick, they saw lack of a written language, no property rights for land, subsistence hunting and gathering, and ignorance of Christianity as primitive and set about imposing European values and laws onto the original inhabitants. But what they did not know, because they did not care to find out, was that there already existed a very complicated culture which functioned very well if left alone. 
Sylvia McAdam shares her Cree (nihiyaw) culture and legal system with us in this book. Her main topics are language, protocol, oral history, types of relationships and the breaking of laws governing these relationships, gender, and right mind. 
Treaty 6 was created under these nihiyaw laws. The understanding of the nihiyaw was based upon the only system they knew, their own, and the meaning of their own words in the context of the treaty. Therefore, the English words and interpretation of Treaty 6 are not binding. The Nihiyaw see all words as imbedded in a matrix of relationships. Language is active. It is a dynamic world of responsibilities and obligations so that both parties to a treaty or agreement enter into it with a clean conscience, a positive attitude, and trust. For the Nihiyaw, the Creator made everything to live in a positive relationship. Everything was in ecological balance in the physical world, and in social balance in the human world. They thought of each type of creature or plant as a nation and nations do not touch or hurt one another. 
Their language is nuanced. Pastahowin means to go beyond or over. For us it means breaking a law against another human being. This can happen through an act, through omission, or by talk. Pastamowin is what someone said which lead to an undesirable happening. Words have power and are a gift from the Creator. Only humans were given the power of language. Ways of committing pastamowin are threats, gossip, profanity, and boastfulness. Words have power because once you say them they have a life of their own. Ohcinewin is breaking a law against anything other than a human being. This means any human activity that has a negative impact upon the environment. Torturing an animal, polluting the land, overharvesting of resources, hunting laws that are broken are all examples of Ohcinewin.
The Earth is female and the Clan mothers have a great connection to Mother Earth. The sweet grass is her hair and when they braid it they are braiding the hair of their mother. When a law is broken, the legal council is composed of the Clan mothers. Because they have known the person since even before they were born (the pregnant mother is considered to be bringing a soulfire from the Creator into the human world), and have watched the child grow and develop character, they understand how to best treat the breaking of a law. The treaties that speak of hunting and fishing rights are patriarchal and do not acknowledge the power held by the women of the clan. Women were left out of the treaties.
Some of the early Jesuit priests observed that there was almost no crime. Every child was born into responsibilities and relationships to others and was taught continually by their parents. They were born into a world that is meaningful. Those meanings were shared by all others in the clan. Each child was nurtured in right living. When wrong doing happened, such as harvesting too much of a plant species, or trapping a beaver and hurting it, or not sharing the bounty with others, ceremonies for apologizing and setting things right must take place. 
Europeans only honoured written treaties. But the nihiyaw had an oral tradition and history. Certain children were raised to remember and repeat what was said. Europeans had to be very careful in all negotiations. It is reported that a European could hardly believe that what he had said two years ago, at a treaty meeting, was repeated word for word by the Chief who was involved in the negotiations. 
When I read how hard the nihiyaw people tried in every aspect of their living to do the right thing and to live within the social compact with other humans and with all members of creation, from smudging and going to a clean and quiet place before doing something important, to making it right after breaking a law, I understood that if there was a higher or more advanced civilization when Treaty 6 was made, it was the nihiyaw and not the Europeans.
Roberta Cory

Book Review by Roberta Cory: “How Democracies Die”, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

Without outside interference, my brain has been comparing and contrasting ideas regarding the ascendency of the Nazi party in Germany in 1933, the culpability of Martin Heidegger* and the fragility of Democracy. I ask, “Can we understand the historical times we live in, and can we act collectively in a positive way to ensure that truth (what is) is debated and not covered up?” 
Authors Levitsky and Ziblatt (L and Z) take a look at democracies around the world that have died. Although some have died from a military coup, others have gradually grown more and more authoritarian. These are the cases that are compared with the situation in the United States today under the Trump presidency. And they will sound familiar to Canadians who are just one election removed from the government of Stephen Harper. 
The first idea these authors put forward is that there is an unwritten understanding between citizens in a democracy of a larger belief system that cannot be found in the constitution or in the law books. This involves a commitment to dialogue and compromise in order to prevent totalitarianism from happening. In the United States it is called a system of checks and balances. The constitution does not list every single situation that is conceivable and gives each branch of the government (the executive, the legislative, and the judicial branch) considerable power. But U.S. presidents have not in the past (save the administration of FDR) used the power of veto, the power to declare war, the power to stack the court, to the extent that they could, because of their belief in the balance of the three branches of government. The Senate has the power of advice and consent. But they have generally confirmed the appointments to the Supreme Court if they were qualified, and have not politicized the judicial. The House and Senate could, if they wished, hold a president hostage by not authorizing funds for programs. But, until recently, this has not happened. The Congress can filibuster to prevent action on a bill, but this negative power has in the past been rarely used. The Constitution does not say how many positions there are on the Supreme Court. Several times in the past presidents have added or subtracted judges but not with overt political intent. Impeachment has not been used in a casual manner and was not intended to be used, since it requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate, which means it must to some extent be bi-partisan. The unwritten understanding, the cement that holds a democracy together, is imbedded in the “robust norms of mutual toleration and forbearance.” Three cases that have challenged America’s democratic institutions are the presidency of FDR, McCarthyism, and the Nixon administration. But, in those cases, the U.S. did not go “off the rails.” “Politicians from both parties – and often, society as a whole – pushed back against violations that might have threatened democracy.” 
In the second half of this book, authors L and Z point to three moves by U.S. governments that are slipping toward an authoritarian regime. 
The first move is “Capturing the Referees.” Not all Republicans, although they may vote for the leader of their party, support all the positions and actions of their representative. Democracy depends upon dialogue within a party. If some of the party faithful are censored, threatened or coerced, democracy has failed. The press has always taken a critical position, more so when the government is unpopular, and less so when it has a high level of support from the people. But the integrity of journalism itself has not been questioned to the extent that it is today. The term “Fake News” undermines the confidence of the public in their ability to make decisions or even argue a position. Bombastic language, lies, generalities and abstractions instead of facts, and the threat of cyberwarfare neutralize the press and the media. 
The second move is “Sidelining Players.” This involves stricter voter identification laws based upon the false claim that voter fraud was widespread in the United States. In this situation, in effect the imposition of a “modern day poll tax,” poor voters of colour, recent citizens, and rural voters were discouraged from voting at all or were turned away at the voting booth. President Trump’s claim that voter fraud denied him votes (in states that Hilary Clinton won) undermines the public faith in the electoral process. 
The third move is “Changing the Rules” or tipping the playing field. For example, gerrymandering of Congressional districts is used to make sure the outcome of an election will be to a particular party’s advantage. The appointment of the president’s family to high positions in the government, where they are able to read and act on classified material and to act with the authority of the president, is tantamount to creating a dynasty. The power of the NRA is also covered in this book, prior to the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In supporting the NRA, the government is encouraging a citizen militia that may prove useful to it at some future date.
Here I will add my personal opinion: that conspiracy theories, whether in spy novels, 911 critics, or Bilderberg narratives, foster fearfulness. If the fabric of democracy is really based upon “robust norms of mutual toleration and forbearance,” then mistrust of other citizens is the acid that will dissolve it. There is a general fear that democracies are in decline all over the world. The authors show that this is not true, but if it is believed to be true, then that belief will weaken our resolve to protect democracy from totalitarianism. 
The last chapter of this book is entitled “Saving Democracy.” The authors point to the 1960s and 1970s, when true racial equality was finally fought for (repressive laws and attitudes having become the norm in various forms after the Civil War). In their opinion, people fearing loss of white supremacy flocked to the Republican party. This increasing polarization is what threatens Democracy; the authors fear that a cultural “war” will rip the country in two. Instead, they plea for cross cultural alliances and compromise, for the moment, on some fronts in order to push hard on other fronts. I feel the sense of danger that these authors are talking about, and I have to support their plea: that we keep our eye on the big picture, that freedom to speak our truths is something we all hold as precious, and that we cannot afford to let that die. The idea of Democracy is the glue that can hold us together. 
Roberta Cory

*Martin Heidegger was one of the most important philosophers of the 20th Century and the motivation for Hannah Arendt’s work, postmodern thought, feminist thought, and deconstruction. In Heidegger’s Germany of 1933, suppression of alternative “truths” (including firing of professors, performing book burnings, issuing propaganda and using brain washing techniques, and encouraging conspiracy theories) and persecution of Jews, gypsies, LGBT groups, Catholics, Quakers, and the physically and mentally “abnormal” gave the green light for extremism and the darkest forces of human nature to actualize themselves. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Book Review – Red Skin White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition by Glen Sean Coulthard

Roberta Cory 

Review – Red Skin White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition by Glen Sean Coulthard


Anyone who reads a review of a book should take into consideration the subjectivity of the reviewer (not deliberate bias, but for sure the background experiences, gender, and political position the reviewer comes from).  Short bio then: I am a synthetic thinker between the biological sciences, continental philosophy, and art/anthropology. As a female, a synthetic thinker, and an intellectual, I grew up alienated from my social circumstances. I have great empathy for righteous rage.


Red Skins, White Masks begins as an academic piece, covering the history of the subject of racial alienation and victimhood. It acknowledges the Hegelian dialectic of confrontation between the subject and the object (either/or thinking), French existentialism, colonialism, and the psychology of the oppressed. Coulthard follows the position of Frantz Fanon, psychiatrist, Marxist philosopher, and freedom fighter in the Algerian war for independence from France in two ways. First, by analysis of the term “recognition.” Second, in discussion of the term “resentment.”


In agreement with Fanon, Couthard makes the case that, in a master/slave, or colonist/colonized power imbalance, asking for recognition means that the terms and understanding of relationship are defined by the giver, and enforced by the giver, the party in power. But it goes deeper than that, since the mind of the colonized is under control of the colonizer. That is what is meant by the recent call to “decolonize your mind.” Whatever recognition is granted by the colonizer, the language, and culture, (the hegemony), of the party in power remains. In addition, the skin of the colonized is always an object of difference and speaks a history of victimhood.


“Resentiment,” from Nietzche, is the psychological position of wanting what those in power have, including wishing to have their skin, and to blend in. This is not a healthy position, and the only way to overcome it is to turn it around. Fanon affirms “violence” as the needed therapeutic in overthrowing the power of the hegemony. All revolutions for freedom and independence are violent. But there is a violence that stops short of revolution, when the property, the infrastructure, and the symbols of the oppressor are rendered impotent. When treaties, Acts, Rights, legislation, and determinates of status (written by the colonizing powers) are signed but not enforced (in other words, there is no mutual good intent between the signees) then the only way forward is “direct action.” 


First Nations are of two minds. The elected Council and Chiefs have not decolonized their minds. They want in on the capitalist game. They want to own the land which was taken away, in order to profit from resource exploitation. 


Coulthard devotes the last part of his book to the “spiritual” traditions which are still available, as a different relationship of Indigenous people to their land, which is that of sustainability. In a hunter, gatherer culture, humans are on an equal and not superior plane with all of the life and life sustaining systems in which they are imbedded. The understanding of a mutual, balanced, and not exploitive relationship with the earth is shared by deep ecologists, their potential allies in this last struggle to save the habitability of the planet. The issue of tradition is a gnarly one – we see it contested in the recent Supreme Court nominee hearings in the United States where a “pure, true way” of thinking from the writers of the U.S. Constitution is appealed to when settling ethical issues in the present reality. Many historians have shown that there is no “garden of Eden” to go back to and recreate. But within the reality of current issues (climate change) the capitalist paradigm of exploitation and resultant inequality does not hold and indigenous ways of dialogue, listening, respecting, and holding sacred are needed.


In his Conclusion, Coulthard says, “…the efficacy of Indigenous resurgence hinges on its ability to address the interrelated systems of dispossession that shape Indigenous peoples’ experiences in both urban and land-based settings.”  In earlier chapters he had drawn a distinction between time based and space based relationships. Colonial thinking is time based; ownership is determined by historical documents. Indigenous thinking is space based, rooted in the mutual relationship of the human animal to the land. For example, in colonial thinking, water rights belong to the person who owns the deed to the property. In Indigenous thinking, water, as it is essential to all life, is shared and protected as drinkable for all future generations. Mi’Kmaq scholar Bonita Lawrence is credited for her work on the necessity to repeal the “colonial divisions” which separate Native individuals from their land and their identities, and to work towards relationships of mutual empowerment. This implies traditional teaching and healing within the urban environment, access to the Native land and the Indigenous people still living on it, economic and political aid from urban Indigenous people who are in a position to give it, and a curb on gentrification of Indigenous low income spaces in the city. 


Dory Nason, Anishinaabe feminist, is the second woman Coulthard credits with taking on the issue of colonial divisions, in this case perpetuated between genders in her work towards Indigenous resurgence. Nason shows that the violence done through the residential schools, the Indian Act, and other state institutions has resulted in both material and symbolic misogyny. Yet with Idle No More and subsequent resistant actions women have taken the lead. The strength of women, their righteous anger, and their encompassing love, needs recognition from within the Native male community to heal the divisions created by the colonizers. 


One can read this book as relevant to all minority cultures oppressed and divided by their colonizers to render them either useful as serfs, neutralized by infra-conflicts, or terrorized by bullying. As a woman, all of the above pertains to me and my sisters. We have been useful as property; sex partners, mothers, caregivers, and domestic or field servants, we have squabbled amongst ourselves over degrees of oppression or privilege, over who is a true “female” (under the hegemony of dualism), and over “identities,” and we have been bullied by our fathers, our husbands, our bosses, and our firstborn males. So, I for one have great empathy for the situation this book tackles. In the spirit of inclusion and intersectionality, I have to recommend a book that not only takes on a most relevant topic, but, is universal in its message. 


Roberta Cory