Thursday, September 21, 2017

thoughts on "response-ability"

Often lately I've been contemplating “responsibility,” both as a concept and a word. To say we have a responsibility means, as is quite literally enumerated in the word itself, your ability to respond; eg. your “response-ability.” It's not so much an abstract construct as it is a general disposition contingent on your capacity to notice events, people, and objects around you and thus 'compute' your responses to such based on your available repertoire of abilities. At its most basic form, it's nothing more than how you respond to life and all events, people, and objects in it. In its higher form, it's also what initiatives one's intention to respond may generate and thus entail.

Ultimately, both basic and higher form response-ability are unavoidable. To attempt to abdicate either is simply to stand in petrified denial of life itself. The beautiful thing, however, is that there is no concrete road-map or template with which to assuage existential angst or command yourself with unwavering certainty as to what a 'correct' response would be or might look like. Some of the more philosophically traumatized writers of the past century have presented this as a terrifying state of affairs in the absence of the illusory certainty previously provided by Judaeo-Christianity, often topping off a similar diatribe about the ambiguity inherent in one's choosing how to respond in any given circumstance with, “and now man is utterly alone in the universe, condemned to act and react to life in its totality on the fragmentary and thus flawed moral and ethical merits devised and implemented by himself, and himself alone.”

This is one of many 19th and 20th century philosophical examples (paraphrased and reduced from the writings of many nihilists, existentialists, post-structuralists, etc.) of the psychic overcompensation for the loss of God in the general cultural metanarrative(s) of our day. This was expected even by Nietzsche, the man who himself declared God dead when he wrote: “After Buddha was dead, his shadow was still shown for centuries in a cave - a tremendous, gruesome shadow. God is dead; but given the way of men, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown. And we still have to vanquish his shadow, too.” In the absence of God, our metanarratives became, at best, emptier, more confusing, seemingly illegible—while at worst, they morphed into vacuous black-holes that sucked away all that was previously thought so sacred and meaningful in our lives.

Either way, the important point is that a collective psychological wound was inflicted upon us, and as all organisms do when wounded, we recoiled in pain. But since it was a collective reflex recorded in detail for posterity through the work of many brilliant thinkers, many of us became as immersed in and as convinced of these new insights like they were eternal religious truths, something to fill the gaping hole of meaning left by God, even if this 'meaning' described its central meaningful insight as 'meaninglessness.' Some philosophers and their readers thus found the certainty they had lost in their new doctrinal uncertainty. In other words, they were no longer simply uncertain; they were certainly uncertain. Even if this led to bleakness in perspective, some of those who felt they needed the guarantee of certainty were willing to go to the darkest corners of the psyche to find it.

In this certain uncertainty, many of us fell for the illusion of a fiercely hyperbolic individuality and lost our ability to respond meaningfully to life, because life, though certain in its uncertainty, remained as dead as before. This describes the state and sensation of abdicating responsibility (response-ability) on both key levels, and demonstrates the petrified denial of life itself that results from and embodies this attitude.

It is my assertion that we now have the will and ability to cross this horizon of hopelessness in human thinking. By taking responsibility for ourselves, holding a belief in our honest heroics, truly cultivating our ability to respond to anything life does or can throw at us without compromise, and trusting our impulses to meaning without becoming intoxicated by neatly ordered systematized worldviews that appear to offer us some form of certainty equivalent to the old self-evident religious truths we've lost, and if we can do all of this without rejecting meaning wholesale whenever we lack the old conventional resorts provided by ready-made worldviews, we'll once again wake ourselves up and ask the most important question of all: “is it not beautiful?”      

Friday, July 28, 2017

On “The Great Decoupling” of Consciousness from Intelligence


 -In his chapter on “The Great Decoupling” of consciousness from intelligence, Harari posits that with the rise of unprecedentedly intelligent algorithms, 'intelligence' as a faculty is no longer intrinsically tied to consciousness or subjective experience. As computers, these algorithms are not at all conscious or experiencing subjectively; they are 'mindless,' and thus require a new and novel description: “mindless intelligence.”

-As a result of the rise of mindless intelligence, the competition between humans and machines comes to regard not only physical abilities and capacities, but psychological abilities and capacities as well. This means that the paradigm of mass automation taking human jobs has, perhaps, reached a point where machines will not be employed simply for the automation of physical work, but also for jobs which until recently would have required a certain cognitive acuity and depth possessed only by humans. As such, Harari asks: “As long as machines competed with us merely in physical abilities, you could always find cognitive tasks that humans do better. So machines took over purely manual jobs, while humans focused on jobs requiring at least some cognitive skills. Yet what will happen once algorithms outperform us in remembering, analysing and recognising patterns?”

-Earlier in “Homo Deus,” Harari points out that science typically understands consciousness (insofar as it does understand it) as akin to a complex set of algorithms as our artificial intelligence is. Winding the clock back to the 19th century Industrial Revolution, he points out how the general scientific / academic consensus of that time understood consciousness through the comparable analogy of the steam engine. Sigmund Freud's work is a good example of this insofar as he writes of such tactics as a military trying to curb and exploit the 'sexual drives' of individual soldiers by sexually frustrating them, thus building a pressure that is strategically released and utilized for combat. In other words, like a steam engine, pressure is strategically and mechanistically applied and released to propel the engine forward, hence the saying that one needs to “let off some steam.”

-Why were steam engines the analogical focus of the time? Harari says, “[b]ecause that was the leading technology of the day, which powered trains, ships and factories, so when humans tried to explain life, they assumed it must work according to analogous principles. Mind and body are made of pipes, cylinders, valves and pistons that build and release pressure, thereby producing movements and actions.” The same applies to our use of algorithms as the dominant analogical device for consciousness; because algorithms are “the leading technology of the day,” we work our studies of brain, mind, and body quite strictly from said analogy.

-It is my assertion that, though the analogy is very valuable, it should be recognized for what it is: an invented analogical framework with limits intrinsic to how strictly we apply it as a comparative rule of thumb. This seems to get lost on Harari as he delves further into his writing and applies the analogy within strict parameters as if it is now the only analogy possibly relevant to understanding consciousness. Though consciousness does undoubtedly have manifestly algorithmic qualities, to take our theoretical understanding of intelligent algorithms as we have invented and discovered them and then turn to strictly1 apply it to our studies of the human mind would ultimately be a case of making the tail wag the dog. Though Harari does undermine the strictness of the analogy as applied by himself and others by presenting the parallel between the 19th century steam engine analogy and our present-day analogy of algorithms, it seems he still holds on to the latter too tightly himself, thus perhaps obfuscating certain insights (and endorsing such obfuscation as a rule) with an implicit doctrinalism.

-Further into “The Great Decoupling,” Harari says there may come a day when algorithms are essentially able to do everything we currently do, but much better. As a result of such an evolution, people will no longer be economically relevant, leading many to say this could be an opportunity for all those who have become productively disenfranchised to focus on creating art. However, employing his rather reductive tone, Harari then goes on to give examples of how algorithmic intelligence is able to compose incredible classical piano, orchestral, and symphonic pieces alongside haiku and other such poetry as well as or even better than average humans can. Thus, he asserts, humans will also become artistically irrelevant. The automation of classical composition, for example, has led to much disgust and fear on the part of traditional classical musical buffs who a) do not think a computer is capable of meaningful artistic composition because humans have a certain 'touch' that cannot be replicated, and b) likely feel threatened at the idea of being relegated to said artistic irrelevance.

-However, just because algorithms are capable of creating beautiful artistic works, so are humans. It seems impossible to me that humans will somehow thus be rendered valueless in their artistic endeavours as a result of artificial intelligence. Likewise, the idea that a computer can create art should not degrade its value to anyone for two interlinking reasons:
  1. just as the name of the chapter implies, this 'Great Decoupling” of intelligence from consciousness means that, though the algorithms are irrefutably intelligent, they are not conscious and do not draw their artistic insights and abilities from experience as humans do, but instead from aggregated and processed data; though people may not be able to tell the difference unless explicitly stated, when aware of whether a computer or a human composed a piece, humans will understand and appreciate more highly the piece that is known to be the product of a combination of human intelligence and consciousness, as it roots from the expression of a subjectivity we can and must relate to as said subjective relatability is one of the prime reasons for the existence of art. Art as human self-expression for other humans will not disappear simply because algorithms are now capable of effective creativity. This is the reason people became offended when they discovered a beautiful piano piece that had truly moved them was actually composed by a computer: because now the rug of self-expressive relatability had been pulled out from under them whereas they were under the illusory understanding they were relating to something emanating from a like subjectivity at least as complex as their own, with similar life trials, tribulations, ecstasies, boredom's, and joys. When it was revealed to be the creation of an algorithm, the audience understood this for what it is: the result of the aggregate data-processing and self-learning of a mindless computer—of mindless, as opposed to a relatable mindful, intelligence.
  2. And, in the algorithms defense as well as to contextualize, the compositions created by said algorithms are the result of aggregating, processing, and learning the techniques of innumerable human composers from throughout history. As such, it is still from the perch of unconscious intelligence, but as the old medieval saying goes, it is “standing [or, perching] on the shoulders of giants.” Human composers do this as well, but from a necessarily more partial position as regards the limited capacities of an individual human brain. Thus, human compositions will remain valuable even if algorithms are capable of much more technically impressive heights regardless of personal technical ability and prowess as subjective relatability is and will remain a central tenet of artistic expression and reception. However, the algorithm's music can also still be appreciated for what it is, as it obviously would retain a human beauty and relatability as a result of it ultimately being the product of nothing but. In other words, human creativity will be joined by human-generated algorithmic creativity and perhaps even fused with it in novel ways, but it will not be steamrolled out of existence.
1: In some ways, 'literally' apply in a format similar to tired monotheist dogmas, as in the singular 'mono' implying 'this and only this' analogy as it once implied 'this and only this' God or doctrine.

Friday, June 2, 2017

“Under what conditions, if any, is it acceptable to eat the flesh of non-human mammals?”

The animal rights debate has necessitated much philosophical re-evaluation of our relationship with animals as pets, consumable livestock, and involuntary test subjects for human medical experimentation. I will take the position that it is permissible to eat the flesh of non-human mammals when there has been both an equal consideration of these animals interests as well as their capacity for pain, and the consequent mitigation of unnecessary suffering alongside the enhancement of these animal's lives preceding their deaths for human consumption because 'animal rights' does not preclude animal husbandry or killing for consumption on an ethical basis. This paper will not explore the vast bodies of literature regarding the subjects broached and will thus not address all possible supports and objections central to this very complex debate, but will instead rely on two primary arguments to demonstrate its points.
The first is Peter Singer's prescription for universal animal rights as addressed through his utilitarian approach within the framework of the rights debate itself, and the second is the interpretive eastern philosopher Alan Watts's simultaneous rebuff of both the commodified industrial slaughter of factory farms as well as vegetarianism in its uncompromisingly abolitionist forms, evaluating it to be an evasion of the central truth that life does, ultimately, feed on other life. Despite his critique of vegetarianism, Watts' did later take up the dietary habit himself; when asked why he had done so, he famously quipped, “because cows scream louder than carrots.”1 In this paper, I will be extrapolating, rephrasing, and, at some points, re-interpreting Watts's main philosophical arguments and contrasting them with Peter Singer's position in favor of full animal rights as the equal consideration of individual interests. What results is a position supporting animal welfare in a very broad sense, wherein the basic sanctity of these lives is deeply respected and the death is swift and painless when the time for consumption arrives. As such, it is permissible to eat the flesh of a non-human mammal if the life of said mammal has been given equal consideration not only in an ethical death, but in the life preceding said death; and, as will be demonstrated, this should logically also apply to an equal consideration of the interests of plant-life, insofar as it is known that plants do feel pain—but do not have the same complex psychological capacity to consternate over said pain in the same way humans can. More complex animal life, with some exceptions, cannot be said to 'consternate' (as in, become filled with anxiety over) pain in any anticipatory way entirely analogous to humans, unless they are being physically harmed or threatened with such quite visibly. Their reactions to pain, like ours, are hardwired in as basic instinct. The difference is that our pain is often amplified into many different forms of often uselessly or involuntarily prolonged psychological (and thus physiological) suffering through excessively 'creative' processes of thought and worries about the future or the past, thus able to—and often—anticipating future pain or suffering, causing greater commensurate suffering in the subjective life of the individual.
In its universal prescriptions for the total abolition of animal agriculture and consumption, extreme elements of the animal rights debate project anthropocentric characteristics on non-human beings in a way similar—but not directly equivalent—to the exploitative anthropocentric prejudices born of the Judaeo-Christian psyche, in which animals, plants and everything else are made for 'man,' whether in exploiting natural resources including non-human mammal flesh, or acting as their benevolent suzerains as designated by Judaeo-Christian, or Western, cultural orthodoxy. Resting on such assumptions, abolitionists ultimately choose to privilege the rights of animal life based on an evolutionary proximal relatability in the form of sentience and an ability to feel emotions often uncannily like our own. If we can relate to animals based on Singer's definition of equality as extrapolated from a criteria established on the 'lowest common denominator' of similarities between humans and animals, we can (and, by Singer's logic, must) do the same for plants; though just as 'equal consideration of interests' is dependent on the contextual 'interests' of the beings or people involved, so would we reach a separate criteria of 'lowest common denominator' similarities between humans and plant-life.
What this yields is not the same moral sensation of equality in consideration of interests as established between humans and animals, but a new set of considerations relative to a separately measured criteria wherein we do not treat plant-life and its capacity for pain with an anthropocentric guilt complex, but instead recognize and respect plant-life's capacity for pain within its own unique context. Does it then inevitably follow that such consideration would preclude us from consuming plant-life? Or does it simply imply 'ethical consumption'? It has been shown that plants do indeed feel pain insofar as they have some sort of nervous system, but that they do not 'consternate' over such pain, just as many animals do not. The difference is that non-human mammals still have a nervous system centralizing and interpreting signals in the brain, thus able to feel pain in a much more consolidated, self-conscious sense that does, ethically, require a deeper consideration as regards the animal's right to life and freedom from useless and unnecessary suffering. Now, the question that is begged is whether this likewise should preclude us from consuming non-human mammal flesh, or if this too is a case requiring ethical consumption. It could even imply a more nuanced measurement based not on broad generalizations (such as 'animals' or 'non-human mammals'), but on species in particular. This does not imply that we are thus able to kill and eat our pet dogs and cats as that would be said to be abrogating not only an established convention of affection for these animals as pets in this context, but an embedded cultural norm as well, as selectively discriminatory as it is or may seem. Within differing parameters, it is not inherently wrong to consume cats and dogs as livestock like we do other non-human mammals providing they are given an equal consideration of interests under such circumstances. This may almost seem Kantian insofar as animals are portrayed as mere means to human ends and never as ends in themselves, as Kant asserted humans to be. What I would like to propose is not treating animals as mere means to human ends, but as ends in themselves (just as plants are) who can still ethically be a means to human consumption sans being neurotically moralized from an elevated place of anthropocentric moral indignation which extrapolates and overlays too much of our manufactured rights debate onto our relationship with animals in a way that suggests direct equivalency in context. Animals are seen as being almost lower-format humans who operatively yearn for equivalent treatment, as distinct from an equal consideration of each being's interests.
Though this is not the explicit message pushed by Singer, it seems to be the implication of his musings on the matter that animals must be considered not only with the same ethical weight, but through the same complex social lens of the 'rights' debate. What reveals the anthropocentrism central to such opinions is the fact that rights will always be extrapolated, delegated, and applied to these animals from 'on high'—as in, from humans socially contextualized enough to consensually sign the implicit 'social contract' that comes with the constructed rights debate. This is not to suggest the rights debate is totally null or useless in regards to animals, but simply to point out that our relationship with animals is deeply contextual and our considerations of their interests must occur within this understanding of said context just in the same way we find ways to sustainably interact with, cultivate, and grow plant-life with a consideration for its effect on a wider environment, its vague capacity for pain, and the basic fact that it is life, the sanctity of which must be deeply respected most especially as regards consumption. When all is said and done, however, life does—and always has—fed on other life. Our best hope and highest calling as human beings is to make such a cycle of consumption an ethical one for all life involved.


1 Sean Voisen, "Staying Vegetarian", The Kōan, March 23, 2013,   

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

News Analysis: “Qatari jet sits on tarmac in Baghdad as royal hostages await release”

Below is the Chicago-style citation for the news story being analyzed.
Click the link provided in the citation to read the original article from The Guardian itself:

Chulov, Martin. "Qatari Jet Sits On Tarmac In Baghdad As Royal Hostages Await Release". The Guardian. Last modified April 19, 2017. Accessed April 19, 2017.    

- - - 

An aircraft sent by Qatar to retrieve 26 kidnapped member's of Doha's royal family has, according to an article in the UK's Guardian newspaper, remained on the tarmac of a Baghdad airport for a fourth straight day as a result of a delay in a deal exchanging the Qatari royal hostages for a ransom payment alongside safe passage of all those wishing to leave the Syrian towns of Kefraya and Fua. This as all part of the comprehensive and delicately negotiated deal regarding population swaps occurring in the area. The release and exchange was delayed by the suicide car bombing of buses full of evacuees on April 16th which resulted in 126 deaths. The negotiations have laid bare at least a fraction of the complex webs of contacts and alliances involved in the agreement on population swaps, underpinned by the diplomatic engagement and guarantees of Iran and Qatar. Many of the militant groups involved are scheduled to get pay-outs with the disbursement of the ransom money, leading some in the rebel camp to postulate the bombing may have been carried out by a group who was not in on the deal and thus would not be obtaining any of the money.

As so often occurs in war, human rights are not part of the relevant combat discourse and thus remain the partial, elevated ideal constantly propounded by Western countries and the United Nations. It seems that, in the case of similar state terrorism, the global discourse on human rights is somewhat effective at naming and shaming state actors who were complicit, as in the case of the chemical weapons attack likely carried out by the Syrian regime on the town of Khan Shaykun earlier this month. The weight of such condemnation does not apply with the same force, however, when directed at amorphous non-state actors such as splintered rebel groups or militant jihadists, leading to a narrow selectivity as to which severe breaches of human rights are straightforward enough in their occurrence to warrant a temporarily exclusive focus. In this case, it is easy to chastise a recognized state for war crimes, but it is far too complex and ineffective to attempt a similar strategy in regards to non-state actors, especially when they are in fragmentary abundance and thus cannot be discussed as a singular monolith. As such, the Qatari government's efforts to secure royal release through a mixture of guarantor diplomacy and paying ransom exists in a moral grey-zone, as the possible blow-back is implied in providing such groups with significant financing, thus putting a greater premium on the future kidnapping of Qatari royals as a valuable risk with a significant potential payout. This, in the long run, also finances further breaches of fundamental human rights within the obfuscated murkiness of Syria's many non-state rebel groups. Perhaps, then, it might be time to open up the human rights dialogue in regards to Qatar's hostage swap, permitting a level of nuance in discussion that will evade the simplicity of straightforward condemnation.  


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

From Obama to Trump: Tracing the Contours of Change and Consistency Between Administrations

On the morning of March 6th, 2017, Donald Trump signed into law for the second time an executive order attempting to stop the flow of migrants and refugees into the United States from six (down from the original seven) Muslim majority countries, this time excluding Iraq on the advice of the Pentagon and the State Department on account of its essential role in the ongoing campaign against ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).1 A year ago, under then-President Barack Obama, a move of unilateral legal bombast of such blanket proportions emanating from the White House would have seemed close to impossible, though most of the American political landscape shares this same tinted veneer of impossibility—an impossibility which, now fulfilled, has morphed into a dangerous and unprecedented absurdity. This essay will trace the foreign policy contours of both the Trump and Obama administrations in order to contrast them and analytically investigative what—and to what extent—has thus far substantively changed in terms of America's policy dispositions in the realm of international relations. Major contrasts in already implemented policies of the Trump administration are plenty, many very dangerous in implication; however, much of the underlying policy infrastructure in foreign affairs remains both expectedly and unexpectedly contiguous with the preceding Obama administration, such as a strategically rhetorical caution with regards to North Korea's missile testing, the continued existence of the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the policy of unilateral American strike intervention in places such as Yemen. Much else, however, has cleanly broken from the previous administration, such as the scrapping of the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) trade deal, the above mentioned hard-line xenophobia of the executive orders on refugees and immigration, the advent of the far-right in a more general regard to the executive branch and social landscape, the development of an apartheid-style wall on the border between Mexico and the United States, and an extremely friendly relationship with Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu, extending so far as to probe the possibility of moving the official American embassy to contested Jerusalem, which both Israel and the decimated Palestinian Territories claim as their rightful capital.2 Due to limitations on length, all of the above is sufficient only towards scratching the surface of these issues; or, rather, towards tracing their contours.
There is much in President Trump's demeanour and tone that add to the generally correct impression of discontinuity with previous political orthodoxy, especially that practised by Obama during his time in office. However, despite the tectonic shift in operative ideology, policy content, and rhetoric, it can often be far too easy to overlook some of the analogous similarities and continuity between the two administrations when Donald Trump as an abrasively overwhelming spectacle flaunts himself so readily and constantly through the news media.3 In this time of unprecedented political instability, it is essential to trace these continuities and catalogue said analogous similarities as have been made apparent thus far in order to tease out a deeper context from the web of volatile and widely misunderstood socio-political complexity that is the American political landscape. As such, we can start with Trump's promise, made as a candidate on the campaign trail in April of 2016, to cancel remittance payments to Mexico and redirect the money towards funding his wall on the southern border.4 An important distinction, however, must be made between Trump's rhetoric and truly enacted policy, as it is clearly enacted policy that is of greater consequence than policy promises. This being said, Trump has only been in office for a little over a month at the time of writing, and has not enacted his pledged cancellation of remittances, though he has officially begun development of the southern border wall with Mexico, but has yet to concretely impose any measures to force Mexico's payment for its construction. Rather ironically, then-President Obama was quick to chastise candidate Trump for such a promise when he said, “The notion that we’re going to track every Western Union bit of money that’s being sent to Mexico—good luck with that.”5 What is overlooked in this exchange is the fact that, under legal directives implemented under his administration, Obama cancelled remittance payments to Somalia from Somalis and Somali-American's working in the United States. The intention was to cease these payments so as to avoid the money falling into the hands of terrorist organizations, though it facilitated quite the opposite when people desperate to send portions of their earnings to destitute relatives instead opted to pack suitcases full of money onto planes, often unattended, in the hopes that it would make it to its intended beneficiary.6 Not only did this mean that many Somalis did not receive the money that acted as their primary source of income, but that when the suitcases did not make it to their intended destination, they are far more likely to have instead wound up in the hands of the same terrorist groups the American government intended to financially starve.
On climate, Trump's rhetoric may be as good as policy insofar as the agreement signed in Paris during November 2015 by 194 countries on capping carbon emissions and weaning off fossil fuels over the course of the coming decades is, for all intents and purposes, non-binding. As was reported by the UK's Guardian newspaper this past November, only 4 days prior to the 2016 American election, “The Paris agreement is legally binding in forcing governments to accept and cater for the [cap on global temperature increases by 2 degrees Celsius]. But the commitments on curbing greenhouse gas emissions in line with that goal are not legally binding. This means incoming governments can renege upon them. There are no sanctions for governments that flout the goals.”7 This means that Trump should have no real procedural issue withdrawing the United States from the covenant if he decides not to abide by its terms. There would have perhaps been a chance for the agreement to enjoy a stronger legal standing in America had it been presented as an official treaty and put to the Senate to ratify as such, but as it stood in late 2015, the Senate was stacked with an overwhelmingly obstructionist Republican majority bent on stymieing President Obama's every move. Regardless of this, it is also true that, even if it had been ratified as a national treaty, it could have been repealed by a new composition of senators following another election. Considering the recently-elected Republican majority in both houses of government, the push to repeal would likely have remained as much of a risk as withdrawal is today, and was thus not likely something Obama could have worked to avoid.8 As it stands, however, it seems that Trump has yet to make up his mind in as far as the Paris agreements are concerned, and is, reportedly, being counselled to remain within the pact by his daughter Ivanka and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, while being advised to the contrary by former Goldman Sachs banker as well as former Breitbart News executive and the first demonstrably fascistic—or, cryptofascistic—White House chief strategist, Steve Bannon.9 Alongside this, Trump appointed former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be the next administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a man who, when asked whether he believed in global man-made climate change, simply stated that “the climate is changing, and human activity contributes to that in some manner.”10 More substantively, however, and more troubling, is that during his time as Oklahoma's Attorney General, Pruitt sued the EPA as many as 14 times11 as part of his crusade against the agency he now leads as a self-described “leading advocate against the EPA's activist agenda.”12 In this respect, he attempted to clarify during his confirmation hearings that he believed most environmental policy can be left within the exclusive jurisdiction of the states, distancing himself from the more federalist approach taken by previous EPA administrators such as Obama's last appointee, the air quality and environmental health expert Gina McCarthy.13 Beyond all this, the elephant in the room would be Trump's 2012 Twitter remarks which alleged that “[t]he concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”14 It is absurd past statements like these coming from none other than the new President of the United States that paint a more ideational concern for those in opposition, regardless of who Trump puts in place to oversee matters of environmental and energy sustainability. When Obama attended the signing of the Paris climate agreements, most world leaders and dignitaries present assumed Trump was going to lose the coming Republican primary contests and slip into political obscurity. However, fear-mongering found further legitimization and social license as only a few days prior to the congregation, the French capital had been devastated by a series of coordinated terrorist attacks that took the lives of 130 people, and injured hundreds more.15 Immediately, the environment became fertile ground for political gain through fear by the likes of the far-right French Presidential-hopeful and National Front leader, Marine Le Pen.
Trump himself, then just a candidate in the Republican primaries, also capitalized on the Paris attacks, stating that things “would have been different” if Parisians had been carrying guns.16 Thus far, despite incoherently belligerent pledges made on the campaign trail, the Trump administration has kept anti-terrorism policy and operations coherently contiguous with those of his predecessor, having given the green light to a Navy SEAL raid on an al-Qaeda branch (AQAP, or al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) compound in Yemen in late January 2017. The raid itself had been developed under Obama's administration, but the Pentagon advised waiting for a moonless night to launch the operation, the next of which would not come until after Obama's term ended on January 20th. In itself, the raid resulted in the death of a Navy SEAL, as well as several civilians including the 8 year old daughter of Anwar al-Alwaki, an al-Qaeda operative who also happened to be the first American citizen extra-judicially assassinated by drone strike in 2011 on the orders of President Obama.17
During his time in office, Obama oversaw the rapid expansion of the weaponized drone program begun in earnest under his predecessor, George W. Bush. Intended as a strategy to deal with the proliferating asymmetrical threats facing the American military machine without putting any actual personnel in harms way, these remote drone operations consist of two main tactical approaches. The first are known as 'personality strikes,' the criteria for which “require the operator to develop a high level of certainty about the target's identity and location, based on multiple sources such as ... imagery, cell phone intercepts and informants on the ground.”18 Personality strikes, then, are designed to be accurate and specific in their choice of targets. On the other hand, the second main tactical option are known as 'signature strikes,' which are notoriously vaguer in their strike criteria. When planning and orchestrating signature strikes, “the United States assesses that the individuals in question exhibit behaviors that match a pre-identified 'signature' (for example, pattern of observable activities and/or personal networks) that suggests that they are associated with al Qaeda and/or the Pakistani or Afghan Taliban organizations. Because the identity of the target is unknown, even during the strike, it is possible that these persons are innocent civilians, a possibility that both [the Obama] and former [Bush administration] officials concede.”19 As a result of such indiscriminate attacks, innocent victims are galvanized by anger, fear, and despair, only to then become radicalized and easily lured into joining—and thus growing and perpetuating—extremist organizations like al-Qaeda, ISIS, or the Taliban. This is one particular realm of American foreign policy and its consequent blow-back that is unlikely to change under the Trump administration, and the remote drone program in particular could see significant growth in its military application as Trump looks to 'get tough' on such groups as listed above. In this respect, many see the new administration's so-called Muslim ban as a bit of cruel and deliberate irony, insofar as the countries to which the travel ban applies have been the target of American bombings, both discriminate and indiscriminate, over the course of the past three decades.
It can be soundly argued that the Obama administration was responsible, alongside the preceding Bush administration, for fuelling violence and chaos across the world which resulted in the continued destabilization of these regions, thus contributing to the circumstances conducive to the ongoing international refugee crisis. It seems incontrovertible, however, that Obama was, on net, much more open to and receptive of refugees and immigration from all corners of the globe during his tenure than his successor is, or likely ever will be. In 2016, under Obama's watch, the United States granted entry to some 85,000 refugees, 38,901 of whom identified as Muslim.20 As it stands, this means “the U.S. has admitted the highest number of Muslim refugees of any year since data on self-reported religious affiliations first became publicly available in 2002.”21 This data set, however, belies a deeper and more disturbing point of similarity between the Trump and Obama administrations: in the first five years of Obama's Presidency, ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) issued deportation orders to over 2 million people, most of whom were disproportionately Latin American including “hundreds of thousands of parents of U.S.-born American citizens.”22 Trump, by contrast, has yet to truly begin his pledged mass deportations of illegal immigrants, but already there has been debate over so-called 'sanctuary cities' which have committed to denying federal authorities the requisite information and access needed to identify and deport undocumented immigrants within their local jurisdictions. On its face, it seems strange that these cities did not make themselves available as 'sanctuaries' at all during the Obama era, but upon closer inspection, the nuance in deportation criteria has indeed altered to an extent which may soon be stymied due to legal overreach. Whereas the Obama administration gravitated into a primary focus on the deportation of undocumented immigrants who were shown to be involved with gangs or credibly accused of serious crimes such as murder or drug trafficking, in mid-February 2017, the Trump administration broadened the criteria for deportation so as to make “[a]ny immigrant who is in the country illegally and is charged or convicted of any offence, or even suspected of a crime [...] an enforcement priority, according to Homeland Security Department memos signed by Secretary John Kelly. That could include people arrested for shoplifting or minor offences.”23
It is a challenge to attempt an ideological classification of Trump, as he appears to exist primarily as a cult of personality deeply cultivated through the media with a rather impulsive Presidential disposition which, at its most coherent, seems to be operatively transactional. He is against strictly globalized free trade, though he still believes in American global imperialism as demonstrated in his adding $54 billion to the military budget via dollar-for-dollar cuts in other departmental funding, including the EPA and international financial aid through the State Department.24 Obama, on the other hand, is much easier to categorize in terms of his double neoliberalism, first in the form of his support of neoliberal economic theory, and second, in the form of his operative neoliberal multilateralism on the world stage. Both are demonstrated aptly in his dedicated pursuit of the now-defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would have expanded global free trade and integrated the markets between the signatory nations into the international system to an unprecedented degree. On another level, Trump's ascendancy represents the rise of what is broadly known as the so-called “alt-right” (alternative right) to the American political scene and, by implication, the globe. The most forward example of said ascendancy would be the appointment of former Goldman Sachs banker and Breitbart CEO Stephen Bannon as White House chief strategist, a man known as an open white supremacist25 and anti-Semite.26 In this regard, the operative ideological composition of the American executive branch is, in many ways, unprecedented. It is also in stark contrast to the ideological make-up of the Obama administration, as well as the entire political orthodoxy that has both implicitly and explicitly reigned since the end of the Second World War. Through a more constructivist lens, a certain cryptofascism of immense ideational consequence has come to inhabit the American executive branch, one that speaks broadly of 'taking back the culture' for those of white and ultimately European descent. Though it would be naive to explicitly define the new administration as openly and operatively “fascist,” it is not only entirely fair, but is also entirely true that all of the ingredients are now present, and if a particular political, geopolitical, or domestic attack incident appeared as a convenient catalyst, then the administration would likely not only be required to respond, but would respond vigorously and comprehensively via an authoritarian and 'dystopian' overreaction. To clarify, it is essential to define fascism so as not to allow the reader to mistakenly conflate it with its other more specific historical connotations. To do so, this paper will rely on the definition synthesized and provided by Alex Schulman in his study for Human Rights Watch titled “PurgePolitik: The political function of decadence in fascism,” in which he asserts that “we cannot circumscribe fascism as a simply political system that held power and prestige from about the early 1920's until the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945, but rather as a set of sociopolitical and cultural tendencies that, while particularly ascendant in that period, threaten to break through in various forms at any time.”27 Through his scholarly synthesis of multiple other academic sources looking at fascism as a political phenomenon, Schulman comes up with a list of nine demonstrable 'symptoms' or signs of fascism, eight of which are disconcertingly applicable to the new Trump administration and its political standard bearers. For the purposes of this paper, only the eight applicable symptoms will be listed and elaborated on. The first is a “virulent antiliberalism and anti-individualism,” demonstrated quite presciently in the Trump administration's aggressively adversarial relationship with the media, which Stephen Bannon explicitly labelled “the opposition party” that should “keep their mouths shut,”28 alongside the banning of multiple news organizations from White House press briefings. Second is the “[e]mphasis on the aesthetic structure of politics, on [...] emotion, usually involving some sort of cult of personality at the center”; third, “[a] totalizing system where a single party under a single “great leader” is associated with the will of the entire nation-as-organism”; fourth, the “[e]xaltation [...] of the new against the old, [and] of charisma over rationality”; fifth, “[e]xcessive militarism, whether imperialistic or simply focused on a fetishization of martial discipline at home,” demonstrated in the increased military budget and aggrandizement of imperialistic martial values; sixth, the “[f]etishization of masculinity, defined as aggression and a will-to-power, as a virtue”; seventh, the “[f]etishization of continuous struggle as a virtue, variously defined”; and, finally, the eighth and final symptom, a personal addition of Schulman's, which is the “purgation of [social, cultural or political] decadence” as an excessively prevalent motif.29
It can be soundly argued that the United States has been a 'totalitarian democracy' since the legal ratification of the U.S. PATRIOT Act (a terrifyingly clever Orwellian acronym which stands for the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act”) under the Bush administration in 2001.30 As such, the first prerequisite circumstances toward a more fascistic polity have been present since 9/11, but the machinery of state has now, 16 years later, fallen into the hands of an unpredictable ethno-nationalist administration under the helm of a dangerously narcissistic and temperamentally unstable 'Great Leader' who has a serious disdain for complexity. So, though it may not be explicit fascism, it is operatively fascistic in a way that is entirely unprecedented in the history of the United States of America. As well, as a result of the unipolarity of American hegemony in a largely globalized system, there is little to delineate the domestic and international spheres due to the sheer scale and reach of American imperial and economic influence.31 The Obama administration, though nominally liberal in contrast to the invasively over-abundant right-wing political extremism so widespread in the American body-politic, ultimately still worked primarily to maintain and preserve American imperialism, thus acting as a bridge between the regressive right-wing extremism of the Bush administration and the fascistic ethno-nationalism of Trump and his cabinet, and even working to inadvertently increase the tools of coercion available in the arsenal of the executive branch. Much has changed drastically in the transition from Obama to Trump, but ultimately, the deeper machinery of the state has remained a totalitarian democracy ready for further abuse by fascistic elements of the far-right since the attacks of 9/11. Guantanamo Bay is about to get a new and expansive lease on life.



Cockburn, Andrew. "A Policy Of Hypocrisy". Harper's Magazine, April 26, 2016. Accessed March 6, 2017.

Connor, Phillip. "U.S. Admits Record Number Of Muslim Refugees In 2016". Pew Research Center. Last modified October 5, 2016. Accessed March 8, 2017.

Davenport, Coral. "Top Trump Advisers Are Split On Paris Agreement On Climate Change". The New York Times. Last modified March 2, 2017. Accessed March 7, 2017.

Dennis, Brady. "Scott Pruitt, Longtime Adversary Of EPA, Confirmed To Lead The Agency". The Washington Post, 2017. Accessed March 7, 2017.

Detrow, Scott. "Scott Pruitt Confirmed To Lead Environmental Protection Agency". NPR. Last modified February 17, 2017. Accessed March 7, 2017.

Diamond, Jeremy. "Trump: Paris Massacre Would Have Been 'Much Different' If People Had Guns". CNN. Last modified November 14, 2015. Accessed March 7, 2017.

Fair, C. Christine, Karl Kaltenthaler, and William J. Miller. "Pakistani Opposition To American Drone Strikes". Political Science Quarterly 131, no. 2 (2016): 387-419. Accessed March 7, 2017.

Harvey, Fiona. "Keep It In The Ground: The Paris Climate Agreement Is Now Official". The Guardian. Last modified 2016. Accessed March 7, 2017.

Kellner, Douglas. "Donald Trump And The Politics Of The Spectacle". American Nightmare 117 (2016): pp 3-6.

Lazaroff, Tovah. "US Delegation In Israel To Study Relocation Of Embassy To Jerusalem". The Jerusalem Post. Last modified March 4, 2017. Accessed March 6, 2017.

"Legally Binding? It's Nonsense! - COP 21 Paris Summit". COP 21 Paris Summit. Last modified 2017. Accessed March 7, 2017.

Ofir, Jonathan. "Steve Bannon’s Judeo-Christian ‘Camp Of The Saints’". Mondoweiss. Last modified March 11, 2017. Accessed March 13, 2017.

"Paris Attacks: What Happened On The Night". BBC News. Last modified December 7, 2015. Accessed March 7, 2017.

Sales, Ben. "Stephen Bannon: 5 Things Jews Need To Know". The Times Of Israel. Last modified November 14, 2016. Accessed March 13, 2017.

Schmitt, Eric and David Sanger. "Raid In Yemen: Risky From The Start And Costly In The End". The New York Times, February 1, 2017. Accessed March 7, 2017.

Schulman, Alex. "PurgePolitik: The Political Functions Of Decadence In Fascism". Human Rights Review 8, no. 1 (2006): 5-34.

"Sen. Bernie Sanders Questions Scott Pruitt". C-SPAN. Last modified January 28, 2017. Accessed March 7, 2017.

Street, Alex, Chris Zepeda-Millán, and Michael Jones-Correa. "Mass Deportations And The Future Of Latino Partisanship". Social Science Quarterly 96, no. 2 (2015): 540-552. Accessed March 8, 2017.

Steinhauer, Michael. "Trump To Seek $54 Billion Increase In Military Spending". The New York Times. Last modified February 27, 2017. Accessed March 11, 2017.

Trump, Donald. "Donald J. Trump On Twitter". Twitter. Last modified 2012. Accessed March 7, 2017.

"Trump Administration Plans Could Lead To Vast Increase In Deportations". CBC News. Last modified February 21, 2017. Accessed March 8, 2017.

"Trump Aide Bannon Lambasts US Media As 'Opposition Party'". BBC News. Last modified January 27, 2017. Accessed March 13, 2017.

"Trump Signs New Travel Ban Executive Order". CBC News. Last modified March 6, 2017. Accessed March 6, 2017.

Vukadinovic, Radovan. "America In The New World Order". Medunarodne studije 1, no. 2-3 (2001): 5-20.
Zeljak, Cathy. "The USA Patriot Act." Problems Of Post-Communism 51, no. 1 (January 2004): 63-65. Military & Government Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed March 13, 2017).
1"Trump Signs New Travel Ban Executive Order", CBC News, last modified March 6, 2017, accessed March 6, 2017,
2Tovah Lazaroff, "US Delegation In Israel To Study Relocation Of Embassy To Jerusalem", The Jerusalem Post, last modified March 4, 2017, accessed March 6, 2017,
3Douglas Kellner, "Donald Trump And The Politics Of The Spectacle", American Nightmare 117 (2016): pp 3-6.
4Andrew Cockburn, "A Policy Of Hypocrisy", Harper's Magazine, April 26, 2016, accessed March 6, 2017,
6Andrew Cockburn, "A Policy Of Hypocrisy", Harper's Magazine, April 26, 2016, accessed March 6, 2017,
7Fiona Harvey, "Keep It In The Ground: The Paris Climate Agreement Is Now Official", The Guardian, last modified November 4, 2016, accessed March 7, 2017,
8"Legally Binding? It's Nonsense! - COP 21 Paris Summit", COP 21 Paris Summit, last modified 2017, accessed March 7, 2017,
9Coral Davenport, "Top Trump Advisers Are Split On Paris Agreement On Climate Change", The New York Times, last modified March 2, 2017, accessed March 7, 2017.
10"Sen. Bernie Sanders Questions Scott Pruitt", C-SPAN, last modified January 18, 2017, accessed March 7, 2017,
11Brady Dennis, "Scott Pruitt, Longtime Adversary Of EPA, Confirmed To Lead The Agency", The Washington Post, February 17, 2017, accessed March 7, 2017,
12Scott Detrow, "Scott Pruitt Confirmed To Lead Environmental Protection Agency", NPR, last modified February 17, 2017, accessed March 7, 2017,
14Donald Trump, "Donald J. Trump On Twitter", Twitter, last modified November 12, 2012, accessed March 7, 2017,
15"Paris Attacks: What Happened On The Night", BBC News, last modified December 7, 2015, accessed March 7, 2017,
16Jeremy Diamond, "Trump: Paris Massacre Would Have Been 'Much Different' If People Had Guns", CNN, last modified November 14, 2015, accessed March 7, 2017,
17Eric Schmitt and David Sanger, "Raid In Yemen: Risky From The Start And Costly In The End", The New York Times, February 1, 2017, accessed March 7, 2017,
18C. Christine Fair, Karl Kaltenthaler and William J. Miller, "Pakistani Opposition To American Drone Strikes", Political Science Quarterly 131, no. 2 (2016): 387-419, accessed March 7, 2017,
20Phillip Connor, "U.S. Admits Record Number Of Muslim Refugees In 2016", Pew Research Center, last modified October 5, 2016, accessed March 8, 2017,
22Alex Street, Chris Zepeda-Millán and Michael Jones-Correa, "Mass Deportations And The Future Of Latino Partisanship", Social Science Quarterly 96, no. 2 (2015): 540-552, accessed March 8, 2017,
23"Trump Administration Plans Could Lead To Vast Increase In Deportations", CBC News, last modified February 21, 2017, accessed March 8, 2017,
24Michael Steinhauer, "Trump To Seek $54 Billion Increase In Military Spending", The New York Times, last modified February 27, 2017, accessed March 11, 2017,
25Jonathan Ofir, "Steve Bannon’s Judeo-Christian ‘Camp Of The Saints’", Mondoweiss, last modified March 11, 2017, accessed March 13, 2017,
26Ben Sales, "Stephen Bannon: 5 Things Jews Need To Know", The Times Of Israel, last modified November 14, 2016, accessed March 13, 2017,
27Alex Schulman, "PurgePolitik: The Political Functions Of Decadence In Fascism", Human Rights Review 8, no. 1 (2006): 5-34.
28"Trump Aide Bannon Lambasts US Media As 'Opposition Party'", BBC News, last modified January 27, 2017, accessed March 13, 2017,
29Alex Schulman, "PurgePolitik: The Political Functions Of Decadence In Fascism", Human Rights Review 8, no. 1 (2006): 5-34.
30Cathy Zeljak, "The USA Patriot Act", Problems Of Post-Communism 51, no. 1 (January 2004): 63-65, Military & Government Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed March 13, 2017).

31Radovan Vukadinovic, "America In The New World Order", Medunarodne studije 1, no. 2-3 (2001): 5-20.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Who Killed William Robinson?

During the years of 1867 to 1869, Salt Spring Island and the surrounding region experienced a spate of four spectacularly violent murders that shook the gulf island and its surrounding communities to their cores.  Following the murder of William Robinson in March 1868 1 (chronologically, the second murder to occur), a 26 year old native man by the name of Tshuanahusset was hastily arrested, tried, and convicted to death for William's murder by a colonial jury through a British court that took no stock of the complexities in reaching a credible verdict when the accused himself could not read, spoke little to no English, and was not educated in any sophisticated western sense as the members of the jury were.2 As well, though he was convicted of Robinson's death, eight months following the murder, settler Giles Curtis was similarly killed, as well as partially decapitated, while his farmhand partner Howard Estes was at church one Sunday morning.3 Though it is conceivably possible that Tshuanahusset found time to get involved in Curtis's murder prior to being arrested, he had been dead less then a month when a native man who went by the name of Charlie was murdered as well, his body being left eerily half-decapitated just as Curtis's was. This leaves open the possibility that Tshuanahusset was either wrongfully convicted, or there was more than a single actor involved in what seems to be a series of connected murders. This paper will set forth a theory of what occurred all those years ago, based primarily on the observations of mutually reinforcing cultural misunderstandings that often resulted in a racism aptly demonstrated by all sides throughout the archives. Racism, as embodied in a clash of cultures, was one of the defining features of 19th century North America, and in this sense, British Columbia was certainly no exception. Misunderstandings between colonists and Natives escalated at times into serious violence. Though this did not define every individual relationship between natives and colonists, it did make for 'itchy trigger fingers' on both sides. When one such misunderstanding led to the death of two native chieftains near Nanaimo, it sparked a vengeful saga of native partisan violence and robbery, tragic examples of which seem to have been the three murders that took place on and around Salt Spring Island between 1867 and 1869, and appear not to have been committed by a single person, but rather by a small, organized group (or groups) of people. 

Looking back from 1907 on the grim events of the 1860s, Thomas Crosby, a Methodist missionary from England who had journeyed to British Columbia to spread Christianity among aboriginal tribes and was working at doing so in Nanaimo at the time of the murders,4 reflected on an incident in which a couple of white men sailing a sloop came across two native chieftains in their canoes who desired to procure some of the alcohol they were selling. After the chieftains purchased said alcohol from the men, they—belligerently drunk on what they had—demanded more. The quarrel escalated, and the two white men shot the chieftains dead, almost certainly out of feeling threatened. When their bodies were brought home to their respective tribes, it caused an angry furor among them. Crosby himself, connecting the dots, theorizes that the tribes “swore vengeance on those who had murdered their friends, or any other white men [... and i]n consequence, not long after this a white man by the name of John Brown, at Cowichan, was murdered, and poor innocent Robinson, a colored man, was shot in his cabin on Salt Spring Island, and about the same time Hamilton, another white man, was killed near Nanaimo.”5 This was part of a vengeful militant reaction among certain aboriginal groups and individuals, and the three murders under inspection in this paper were likely part of a bigger picture that included the additional murders Crosby mentions. Three things must be noted here which are of the utmost importance: one, that it was not necessarily just 'white men' who were targeted, but settlers as a whole; two, that it must be understood by the reader that this is not to say this single incident in question catalyzed a uniform reaction, but that this circumstance represents one aggravated misunderstanding among many, whether they were executions of young aboriginal men, private encounters between colonists and natives gone horribly awry, the perception of territorial and spiritual encroachment, or an endemic sense of transplanted Euro-American superiority, such incidents would compound themselves cumulatively over time in the frightened and angry perceptions of “the Other” on both sides; and three, that such impressions were not monolithic among all settlers and natives, nor was it strictly dichotomous in terms of whom felt sympathy for whom at any given juncture during these particularly troubled times. But it appears that, among some, there was an organized and violent response based on a sense of vengeance rooting from native disenfranchisement in their own lands and the oppressive imposition of European legal and cultural norms under the yoke of the British colonial project and sparked by numerous misunderstandings between settlers and natives that escalated into tit-for-tat murders on both sides. In some cases, the murder committed was judicial in nature, as the expeditiously negligent execution of Tshuanahusset demonstrates.

The evidence to support this theory of vengeful murder and robbery as a reaction to colonial excesses, both real and perceived, is clearly indicative of a pattern that lends much weight to the theory's credibility. In court records pertaining to the murder of Giles Curtis, settler John Norton testified that, while travelling from Nanaimo accompanied by who he calls “my Indian,” they came across a group of five other natives who began to speak in their language. Norton asserts that “[o]ne of them took the axe up belonging to us and was walking [off] with it. We took it from him. The Indian we had with us wanted us to go away, he said they [were] talking about killing him. We then got away and when we were in the Boat and out of danger my Indian told me that [they] had said they wanted to kill a Boston man, and that they wanted to kill all of us and throw us into the sea, to pay for what the Kanakas [native Hawaiian migrant settlers] had done at Nanaimo.”6 This testimony is simply a thread in the observable pattern, superseded by the stronger testimony of Sylvia Stark regarding the violent death of Giles Curtis. Recalling how a native man by the name of Willie was apprehended as a suspect shortly after the murder, Stark writes that “[h]is wife said she would tell all she knew about the case if the law would protect her. She was left to mind the canoes and could only tell of seeing the stolen goods brought back. She knew their intent, though not a witness to the slaying.”7 Sui-Tas, an aboriginal man, similarly testified at the trial regarding the murder of Robinson that he had been travelling with Tshuanahusset at the time and bore witness to the killing. His story is as follows: “[w]e started from Chimainus. We crossed over to Salt Spring Island [... and as] we got there [Tshuanahusset] said he [would] like to kill the colored man ... [he] left the canoe & took his musket with him & went to the house [...] I got very cold in the canoe & I started for the house of the colored man too[, and w]hen I got there I went to the fire to warm myself & the colored man Robinson was cooking at the time. [Tshuanahusset] was sitting down ... with his musket in his hand. [Robinson] then went to the table to eat what he had been cooking. [Tshuanahusset] was standing by the fire[,] then [he] told me to look round & see if there was anything of value & to take them when he shot Robinson [...] I got afraid & went outside & just as I got outside I heard a shot. [Tshuanahusset] shouted to me come back & take the things but I was too much afraid & never went back.”8 Sui-Tas was subsequently banished by his tribe following Tshuanahusset's trial and execution, threatening him with death were he to ever return.9 This reflects one of two possibilities: either the tribe was simply offended by the fact that his testimony resulted in the execution, or they were likewise aware of what occurred. 

Though there is much more evidence available to be utilized in support of this theory, restrictions on length leave them out of the permitted scope of this paper. Racism was a key theme of the day, resulting from a myriad of mutual misunderstandings and aggravations. This led to 'itchy trigger fingers' on all sides, often as a result of conflating such misunderstandings and misdeeds as being culturally indicative of something inherently threatening about every member of the body politic opposed. As aboriginal peoples became less and less at home in their own lands, some integrated with the European cultures while others were desperately prompted by events into crudely revolting through murderous vigilantism. It is likely that some of these crimes, however, were motivated by alcoholic intoxication, though this would not be a suitable explanation for the majority of cases. In conclusion, the circumstances were far from binary, but in a wider appraisal, cultural confusions and the neurosis of imperial superiority increased the felt distance between the dominant and subordinate cultures, leading to innumerable tragedies, many of which became glossed over as the necessary casualties of British expansion. As Martin Luther once said, “blood alone moves the wheels of history.”10 
-  -  -


BCA, Vancouver Island, Supreme Court of Civil Justice, GR-2030, Mflm. B-9802, Joseph Needham, Bench Books of Criminal Cases Heard Before Judge Joseph Needham 1867-1869, Trial of Tom, June 2, 1869, 85, 107-145. 

BCA, Colonial Correspondence, File 1169-70, Morley, J. (Mflm B1342), John Morley, The Curtis Murder, Coroner's Inquest, December 17, 1868. 

Bolt, Clarence. "Biography – CROSBY, THOMAS – Volume XIV (1911-1920)". Dictionary Of Canadian Biography. Last modified 1998. Accessed November 19, 2016. 

Crosby, Thomas. "Among the An-ko-me-nums". Toronto: William Briggs, 1907. 137-139.

Luther, Martin. "Martin Luther: Quotable Quotes". Goodreads. Last modified 2016. Accessed November 19, 2016. 

Smithe, W. "Letter to the Editor," The British Colonist, June 5, 1869.

Particulars of a Horrible Murder, Daily British Colonist, December 21, 1868. 

"Threats." The British Colonist, June 3, 1869. 
Wallace, Marie Albertina (Stark). Salt Spring Island Archives, Add. Mss. 91, Sylvia Stark's Description of the Death of Giles Curtis, n.d.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Primary Source Analysis: Pope Leo I the Great & the Council of Chalcedon, 5th Century CE

Pope Leo I's letter to the bishop Flavian regarding the heretical theologian Eutyches, alongside the definition of the faith from the Council of Chalcedon, are both documents written in the year 451 CE during a period of recurring theological dissonance between different arms of the Church throughout the fragmented and decaying Roman Empire. Pope Leo, also known as Pope Leo I the Great, was in constant correspondence with many disparate portions of Christendom, intervening in an attempt to mend theological schisms through rebutting heresies and implementing strong sanctions on those who did not strictly follow the tenets of the faith.1 The Bishop Flavian is addressed in the letter also intended as one such Papal intervention in the proceedings of the Council of Chalcedon, elaborating on Christological concerns regarding the proper relationship between God the Father and God the Son in light of a strictly defined institutionalized orthodoxy.2 The primary focus of this paper will be on such Christological concerns as they appear in the primary source documents already named above, placing them and their authors in the historical context of the fourth and fifth centuries, as well as identifying some of the religious themes and theologies surrounding.
Though eastern Byzantine Christian orthodoxy was slowly yet inexorably drifting away from the purview of the western church, during the time of the Council of Chalcedon in the middle of the fifth century, the two sects had not completely removed themselves from the others orbit. As such, it was not highly unusual for the western papacy to occasionally involve itself in the activities and controversies of the east. Pope Leo I, whose pontificate was dedicated to the preservation of orthodoxy and the unification of the western church, felt compelled to contribute to the ecumenical debate in Chalcedon through letter, condemning Eutychianism and reaffirming the equally human and divine natures of Christ.3 The letter itself, written in the evocative, religiously-layered prose typical of the time, was probably first penned in Latin from the Pope's residence in Rome and sent to Chalcedon by way of sea or land. Eutyches, who had first seen himself ejected from the priesthood on the grounds of his alleged heresy, was reinstated a priest until the Council of Chalcedon in 451, when, according to Leo, he spoke of renouncing his heresies, thus deserving mercy under the doctrine of the church.4
The heresies allegedly committed by Eutyches were primarily Christological in nature. Whereas the orthodox position, articulated by Leo, held that Christ was both human and divine since his conception, Eutyches emphasized the divine nature of Christ, seemingly to the neglect of any human nature if we are to accept Pope Leo's interpretation of Eutyches' beliefs.5 The orthodox position was reaffirmed in the definition of faith from the Council of Chalcedon, a statement of collective religious belief and prescribed dogmas agreed upon for the eastern Byzantine church by the close of debate.6 The statement also clarifies the purpose of Leo's letter to Flavian as having been written also for the Council of Chalcedon. As well, nowhere is a single author named for the definition of the faith, but the start of the document specifies that both the Council and the resulting agreement were decreed orthodox by Marcian and Valentinian Augustus, the latter, as emperor of the Byzantine (or Eastern Roman) Empire, and the former, as emperor of the Western Roman Empire during its period of final decline.7 The overarching purpose of the definition of the faith is a reaffirmation of the beliefs and dogmas decided upon at the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE, alongside the Council of Constantinople in 381 CE. Partially affirmed, as well, is the consensus on doctrine agreed upon at the Council of Ephesus in 449 CE. However, in explicitly designating the Nicaean and Constantinopolitan councils as more authoritative in their consensus than Ephesus, this definition of the faith in some sense 'repealed' the heretical doctrines put forth two years earlier without rejecting them entirely.8
Near the end of the definition of the faith, there is a more nuanced rebuttal to a heretic other than Eutyches, as the document turns its attention to those who refuse to apply the title of “God-bearer,”9 or as it was known in its original Greek, “Theotokos,”10 to the Virgin Mary. This heretic, who went by the name of Nestorius, was officially challenged and disgraced in his beliefs through letters written by Cyril, the pastor of Alexandria until his death. In these letters, Cyril asserts that through rejection of the God-bearer title, it is implied that Nestorius thus did not believe that Christ was God.11 What one must wonder is whether or not this was a broad-sweep misinterpretation of Nestorian theology, one which saw all alternative Biblical interpretation as a serious sin, perhaps in part because of the perceived threat it posed to existing orthodox structures and doctrine. Interesting as well is that “Theotokos,” the original Greek terminology for “God-bearer,” has often also been translated as “Mother of God,”12 and is likely the etymological source of the use of said title as a statement expressing sudden shock or disbelief. Certainly, the Christian reverence for the Virgin Mary would also in part be causative of the strong emotional tone usually associated with its cultural use as an expression.
Central to both the definition of the faith and Pope Leo's letter to Flavian and the Council of Chalcedon itself is the Nicene Creed, indirectly referenced earlier with the mention of the First Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. Pope Leo, in his letter, articulately paraphrases it as “the common and undivided creed by which the whole body of the faithful confess that they believe ... [one:] in God the Father almighty, and [two:] in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord ... who [three:] was born of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary.”13 This creed, authoritative in both the eastern and western churches, was explicated and approved as dogma at the above mentioned Council of Nicaea, establishing the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as a counterweight to theologies such as Arianism and Sabellianism. Whereas, on the one hand, Arianism stressed significant difference in substance between God the Father and God the Son, Sabellianism, on the other hand, pushed an argument which emphasized that both God the Father and God the Son were of a single, unified substance.14 As examples, Arianism and Sabellianism are two among many, a well-spring of competing theologies which posed a threat to the institutionalized centralization of power in the hands of existing church structures, both east and west. Sabellianism, as well, is similar in theological substance to the ideas disseminated by Eutyches. Though the heresies of the fourth century differed slightly from those of the fifth, the tradition of countering opposing theologians by convening an ecumenical council and coming to (or forcing) a consensus was, by this time, over a century old.15 It must be clarified that during this period in history, the divide between the eastern and western churches was not so dichotomous. Pope Leo I's involvement in the Council of Chalcedon, hosted as it was in Byzantine Anatolia, is evidence of this, as both east and west continued to push their doctrines as universal despite their growing so far apart over time as to become as discernible from one another as they are today. Though the Nicene Creed remained a mutual doctrinal bedrock for both sects, nuanced differences piled up and evolved over time to create the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches as we know them. Pope Leo I died ten years after the Council of Chalcedon, in 461 CE,16 earning the posthumous moniker of “the Great” for his many important contributions to early Christianity, as well as for the effort he expended to maintain orthodoxy throughout Christendom. One must wonder if a heretic is something nearly exclusive to monotheism, with its insistence on a single deity and thus a single, irrevocable truth. In conclusion, this truth is a clumsy set of contractual mantras. Stipulating a contract not so much with God as with a religious bureaucracy defending its sacred hierarchies, these final words from the definition of the faith spell it out clearly enough: “no one is permitted to produce, or even to write down or compose, any other creed or to think or teach otherwise.”17 Such singular universalisms bred the religious conflict so typical of the day, as each new and nuanced interpretation was taken as a revelation that now needed to be imposed on the world for its own wicked sake. Structures of oppression were given an unassailable religious legitimacy that elevated kings and popes into men appointed by a metaphysical deity for the good of all. As regards this and all religious conflict, one can perhaps reflect on the words of Pope Leo himself when he said of all heretics, of which he was one in contrast to others, that “[b]y not being pupils of the truth, they turn out to be masters of error.”18

1. William R Cook and Ronald B Herzman, The Medieval World View, 3rd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012). 44.
2. Leo I. The letter of Pope Leo I the Great (440–61) to Flavian, bishop of Constantinople, about Eutyches. 451.
3. Leo I. The letter of Pope Leo I the Great (440–61) to Flavian, bishop of Constantinople, about Eutyches. 451.
4. Leo I. The letter of Pope Leo I the Great (440–61) to Flavian, bishop of Constantinople, about Eutyches. 451, [15].
5. Leo I. The letter of Pope Leo I the Great (440–61) to Flavian, bishop of Constantinople, about Eutyches. [4].
6. Definition of the faith from the Council of Chalcedon. 451.
7. Definition of the faith from the Council of Chalcedon. 451, [1].
8. Definition of the faith from the Council of Chalcedon. 451, [4].
9. Definition of the faith from the Council of Chalcedon. 451, [10].
10. William R Cook and Ronald B Herzman, The Medieval World View, 3rd ed., 60.
11. Definition of the faith from the Council of Chalcedon. 451, [7].
12. William R Cook and Ronald B Herzman, The Medieval World View, 3rd ed., 60.
13. Leo I. The letter of Pope Leo I the Great (440–61) to Flavian, bishop of Constantinople, about Eutyches. [2].
14. William R Cook and Ronald B Herzman, The Medieval World View, 3rd ed., 54.
15. Definition of the faith from the Council of Chalcedon. 451, [3].
16. William R Cook and Ronald B Herzman, The Medieval World View, 3rd ed., 44.
17. Definition of the faith from the Council of Chalcedon. 451, [11].

18. Leo I. The letter of Pope Leo I the Great (440–61) to Flavian, bishop of Constantinople, about Eutyches. [1].

On This Day in History:

Our World Is Ours to Keep.

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The world is meaningless,

there is no God or gods, there are no morals, the universe is not moving inexorably towards any higher purpose.
All meaning is man-made, so make your own, and make it well.
Do not treat life as a way to pass the time until you die.
Do not try to "find yourself", you must make yourself.
Choose what you want to find meaningful and live, create, love, hate, cry, destroy, fight and die for it.
Do not let your life and your values and your actions slip easily into any mold, other that that which you create for yourself, and say with conviction, "This is who I make myself".
Do not give in to hope.
Remember that nothing you do has any significance beyond that with which you imbue it.
Whatever you do, do it for its own sake.
When the universe looks on with indifference, laugh, and shout back, "Fuck You!".
Rembember that to fight meaninglessness is futile, but fight anyway, in spite of and because of its futility.
The world may be empty of meaning, but it is a blank canvas on which to paint meanings of your own.
Live deliberately. You are free.