Sorry, You’re Not Really Progressive

I’m a Torontonian, born and raised (and now permanently living) so I took some interest in reading Mitchell Anderson’s piece that was essentially an anti-amalgamation piece about the city of Toronto. In a nutshell it argued that the massive central power that is now the City of Toronto is not only harmful to Toronto (in the purest, downtown sense) financially, but also politically. Those damn suburban conservatives keep mucking everything up! What the piece doesn’t blatantly say, but still is obvious is the doctrine of isolationism.

Over the past several years I’ve had my fair share of conversations with fellow leftists on the subject of what the source of the problem is with society, and a common opinion that pops up is that the problem is those damn reactionaryconservativereligiousrightwingbackwardscooks who are constantly fighting good positive progress, or even worse, reversing and making things more terrible for everyone but themselves. Then all too commonly my fellow leftist will propose decentralizing power, starting a commune, or in extreme cases giving up and becoming a libertarian.

Admittedly, I’ve had dreams of moving to some faraway socialist Scandinavian paradise. It could also be argued that my internet browsing habits are intellectual isolationism (or “filter bubbles”) but I don’t think I’ll move to Finland anytime soon, nor am I anywhere close to even considering internet communities hold the same importance as real life societies.

What the real life tendency towards isolationism reveals one of two things; A) giving up or B) the person speaking it is not really progressive. We all have obligations to one another, and isolating yourself from others and disavowing any responsibility to even interact with those who generally disagree with you (heck, let’s just even call them wrong) is completely missing the point of what progressive ideology is all about. Let’s return to the Toronto problem; you can disassociate yourself from all the idiots surrounding you…but your still surrounded by idiots. The belief that the terrible decision making that happens on the other side of some border, or on the other side of the world, does not effect you negatively is the exact belief that supposedly died out when liberalism won the West. Say what you will about liberalism, but let’s face it: the tragedy of the commons isn’t the non-preferential outcome it’s that we are all thrust into the commons whether we like it or not. Don’t even get me started on future generations, the moment you start condemning areas of the world as none of your concern, you are turning your back on children that could benefit from progressive policies being placed now.

Every time a fellow leftist of some kind advocates isolationism a part of me dies inside. The moment you start thinking “Well at least [insert group I belong to] will benefit!” and you disregard the consequences for other groups you are not being progressive, you’re being a reactionary asshole.


Abortion and Animals

I have been thinking recently of a discussion on abortion and the term “pro-life” that I had with a friend and (at the time) fellow philosophy undergraduate. In a nutshell we both came to the agreement that, I as far-vegetarian (I don’t buy leather, eat gelatin, etc) and they a vegan, could potentially take a “pro-life” argument seriously if it was coming from a vegan or vegetarian.

While I can think of plenty of ways an argument could go about, the pro-life argument would probably be quite secular in nature, or at the very least not rooted in the typical context that those opposed to abortion operate in today. What this reveals however is that in the abortion debate that is seemingly unending (in the United States of America most obviously) is that those interested in animal rights end up losing no matter what.

Of course, it is safe to assume that the typical “pro-life” supporter and the typical “pro-choice” supporter both eat meat (this is a statistical fact) and do not think much of the topic of animal rights at least when discussing abortion but their positions both ultimately on the face of it support that animals do not have rights and the entire abortion debate is inherently quite anthropocentric. On the pro-choice side you will be hard pressed to find a supporter who at least would not call a fetus a potential human, and ultimately if a potential human can be terminated in an ethically defensible way then it stands to reason that animals do not mean much in the grand scheme of things. In other words, if a potential future member of your own species is not considered something inherently important and sacred so to speak, then members of other species probably do not have much importance.

Conversely, the pro-life side of the argument rests (most commonly) on a religiously founded form of anthropocentrism. Abortion is wrong in the eyes of the pro-life supporter because it is ending either a potential, or fully realized human life.


This seeming lose-lose situation for the animal rights supporter is somewhat remedied by dividing humans from animals, or by placing heavy importance on utilitarianism or the wishes of the mother. Of course an easy fix is by identifying abortion as a specific human problem, and any concerns of reproduction should be left to individual species to work out (be it through evolution, instinct, or what have you).

The issues for the animal rights supporter still remain. I will make the assumption (I could very well be wrong, but I would be surprised to find so) that most vegetarians and vegans are of the pro-choice camp when it comes to the abortion debate. Yet the heavy anthropocentrism still remains in that if humans are allowed to end potential human lives, the idea of ending other animal lives seems quite trivial. While the easy fix above gets around this for the animal rights supporter, it doesn’t solve the problem of how the abortion debate reinforces anthropocentrism quite heavily.


It would appear that aside from the easy fix, a form of utilitarianism could also rectify this, such as Peter Singer’s. Singer however remains a controversial figure on the topic of abortion, and even remains one within the realm of animal rights (the most damning and common critique of him would be his position as a “welfarist”). While I am personally drawn to Singer’s ethics, I do not think it be necessary on this topic. The animal rights supporter can easily rectify their beliefs with a pro-choice position if one views abortion as a human problem, and that generally concerns of reproduction should be left to individual species.

This however raises issues of activities that humans participate in, such as population control and encouraging breeding of endangered animals. An obvious answer to these issues is that of Singer’s utilitarianism or variations there of. Yet I would take my easy fix and apply it more generally, as in many cases population control and encouraged breeding are viewed as ways of fixing problems, problems caused by humans. So to take the easy step one step further, we should just leave animals to their own devices and stop interfering with them all together.


[Two examples that come to mind in terms of population control and encouraged breeding is that of white tailed dear and pandas respectively. White tail deer have had their populations culled due to them over-eating their sources of food and killings were done in order to avoid mass starvation, what is often not talked about however is that the reason the white tail deer population needs to be culled in the first place is because they lack natural predators, namely wolves which humans have effectively killed off. Giant pandas are endangered due to hunting and habitat loss, direct actions taken by humans. The general position I propose should not be taken as an abrupt abandoning of the help we lend to animals now, but rather a policy of non-interference in that similar problems that we experience now do not arise again in the future.]

I Told Facebook I Hate Everything for 4 Years

At the beginning of the first year of my undergraduate I saw an ad on my Facebook homepage for Walmart. It was at this moment that I noticed for the first time that there was a small “X” in the top right of the small ad, which I clicked and was given the option of hiding the ad (and funnily enough, all ads from Walmart!). The only thing Facebook wanted in return for the service of never showing me a dirty Walmart ad ever again was that I give them the reason why I wanted to never see the ad again. I told them it was offensive. It’s also important to note that at this time I had also changed my Facebook gender to female (which it still is) which was done partly to see how it would change the ads I saw on Facebook, as well as the fact that Facebook only operates within a gender binary.

For the next four years I proceeded to tell Facebook that every ad they presented to me was to be hidden, primarily for being offensive or sexually explicit. I don’t entirely know why I did this, but I did it for every single ad I saw. Sometimes I would go weeks at a time without seeing any ads, but eventually they would pop up again and I would notify Facebook that I hate them. Sometimes I would have fun deliberating why I hated them; a local framing store was repetitive, the Teen Choice Awards were misleading, and of course a Michael Buble concert was sexually explicit.

This had an interesting consequence for me. I have absolutely no idea how Facebook works, let alone the ad feedback system, so for all I know everyone is seeing the same ads as me. I don’t think this is the case however, as instead of the “personalized” ads that everyone has become accustomed to on the internet, I am now getting ads for the most abstract shit ever.

To begin with, a few months ago I was shown an ad for an eco-tourism company. This made sense to me as I often post about environmental issues and I have my job history on Facebook (which includes working for two well known environmental non-profits), I told Facebook that the ad was against my views. The next day I was presented with a similar ad, but only instead of eco-tourism it was an ad to visit Washington DC (sexually explicit) and then later Cuba (against my views). I no longer get any travel related ads.

The next wave of ads were decidedly cosmetic product related (which were all offensive). Then were followed by a wave of retail store ads (Sears was sexually explicit, The Bay against my views and Target is simply uninteresting) which were then replaced by promotion for artists and record labels which I had already “Liked” on Facebook (all of them were repetitive).

Now Facebook’s ad system appears to be grasping at anything, anything I like. Brazilian waxes for 19 dollars, guitar amps, screwdrivers and the list goes on. It’s gotten to the point where I sometimes forget to tell Facebook I hate their ads because now they’re showing me ads for products I didn’t even know existed. Who’s interested in ice resurfacer rentals? Facebook thinks I am.

Everyone gets worried about “smart ads” on the internet and filter bubbles, but there’s an important thing we’re all forgetting. The internet is stupid. Remember when you were young and were prompted to give a birthday? The same principle applies. All internet use should be equal parts practical amusement, equal parts self disinformation. At the very least it nullifies ads on your Facebook news feed.

EDIT: Immediately after posting this I went onto Facebook. I had 4 ads up, all for gastric bypass surgery.

It’s not the problems, it’s the solutions that are the problem

This post is a response to Jonathan Haidt’s  TED Talk “How common threats can make common (political) ground” which can be found at

I’ve had a major problem with this guy since I first saw one of his TED Talks a while back. Without addressing the inherent problem with seeing centrists as some sort of divine onlookers who are the saviors of our civilization, simply looking at his four “asteroids” it goes: 1st one the left can see and the right can’t (environment), 2nd one the left can’t see and the right can (debt), 3rd one the left can see and the right can’t (inequality), 4th one the left can’t see and the right can (marriage). 

He then uses this even amount of seeing/not seeing from both sides to make an appeal to central political thinking (or in the American context, bi-partisan thinking). The issue is however, that leftists do indeed see a problem with growing debt (it would be impossible not to), and in many ways seek to counter this with raising taxes, which is a joint solution to asteroid 2 and 3 (for many at least) and a primary contention between the left and the right both in America and worldwide is that the left wishes to increase taxes and keep/increase services while the right want to cut taxes and keep/decrease services. 

Now looking at asteroid 4, the marriage issue. The proposal that marriage is somehow an equality issue is ridiculous. The divorce rate is still 50% (even among magical college attenders). Even if people of lower socio-economic classes were to marry and raise children together (his primary focus was on fathers taking up responsibility) he glosses over/ignores that just because people are married does not mean they are going to be able to raise the child any better, primarily due to the socio-economic class they belong to is a primary reason they cannot earn enough money to raise a child, as well as a significant factor in the chances of the father being imprisoned (thus completely nullifying whether or not the father and mother are married for the child, as the father can not provide in prison). So in other words, people aren’t poor because they don’t get married – they don’t get married because they’re poor (I’m using “people” not “persons” which is important to note).

But to get back to the whole asteroid problem, in reality we see three asteroids the left is willing to get behind (note that asteroid 2 is clearly an issue for the left), and just two the right is willing to get behind. Of course, someone could easily say that my critique of “asteroid” 4 is just my political bias showing, which is obvious. The promotion of marriage or “family” values is highly rooted in religious/non-secular morality which is a problem for the left in many cases. But even assuming that a promotion of marriage would turn out more well off children ignores that even if the children are going to be better off, they are still going to be significantly less well off than the children of married parents who are in higher socio-economic classes, so in reality asteroid 4 does not seem to be a true asteroid, but rather a minor contributing factor to asteroid 3 (inequality). Inequality will certainly not be solved by increasing marriage.

So looking at leftist politics we see that 4/4 asteroids can at the very least be addressed, which still leaves asteroid 1 which in no way is being addressed by the right. Ultimately however the issue with political divide is not disagreement over what are issues, but disagreement over how to solve those issues. Jonathan Haidt completely ignores this, which is evident by his argument about asteroid 2.