Archive for the ‘UWO’ Category

So, Adrian Grenier came to Western.  From the reaction it got on Twitter you would have thought it to be the second coming of Jesus Christ and not a brief appearance by a C-List actor known only for his role on TV’s Entourage.

Entourage star Adrian Grenier came to the Western campus in September.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Entourage is a great show and it’s sad to see it end its run.  And Grenier’s Vincent Chase is a great character who has come on in leaps and bounds from his humble beginnings in the first few seasons.  But I don’t understand why people flocked to see him like he has done something more meaningful with his life than filling up half an hour of our Sunday nights?

Today’s society puts celebrities, even minor ones – **cough** Jersey Shore **cough** – on a pedestal.  We raise them up to such deific heights that we forget that they are real people with different personalities than we see on their various movies, shows, or records.  And, unlike real life where we don’t like certain people for their personalities, we expect every celebrity to be a perfect model of friendliness and humility.

But I don’t want to question why we put celebrities on pedestals – that’s a question that probably could never be answered satisfactorily, but rather what we really hope to get out of meeting them in person?  What do we really expect from that meeting?  What kind of value do we expect for sometimes exorbitant fees and hour-long waits in line?

I suppose that everyone hopes to forge some kind of connection with a celebrity, whether just as a quick conversation or as a more long-term sharing of interests.  Is that actually going to legitimately happen though?  You might exchange some pleasantries while he or she makes out a semi-personal stock message on your dime-a-dozen album, DVD, or book created by that celebrity, but nothing meaningful is likely to occur.  However, when you do share a heart-to-heart with Justin Bieber be sure to let me know.

The fact is that we fall in love with the characters a celebrity acts, the music they play, or the characters they create as writers.  We don’t fall in love with celebrities unless their out-of-spotlight persona is larger than their in-spotlight persona, and that is very rare.  Bono is one celebrity that managed to pull it off, but he’s a piece of shit.  Let’s take Adrian Grenier for an example.  I bet maybe only five out of every one hundred people could tell you anything about Adrian Grenier other than what roles he has played and a large number of those will only be familiar with him from Entourage.  We don’t love Adrian Grenier as much as we love Vince Chase and that’s who we really want to see.  We don’t want to see Grenier sign autograph after autograph or talk about other projects; we want Vincent Chase.

Now, we can easily get Vincent Chase by pulling up an old episode of Entourage and throwing it on.  We don’t need to pay money to see the actor who plays him, doing so is likely to lead to disappointment when we see Adrian Grenier the real person and not in character as Vinny Chase.

By all accounts Adrian Grenier was a stand-up guy, the kind you wouldn’t mind being friends with.  But that raises another point against the deification of celebrities: you wouldn’t pay money to hang out with your friends.  It is a simple fact that one isn’t going to spend hard-earned money to simply sit and talk with one’s friend.  One might spend money on going to an event with a friend or for the dinner they eat while they talk, but never just for the privilege of talking to them.  That’s not what being a friend is all about.  Furthermore, in any celebrity encounter, as noted above, you’re never really getting a friend no matter how friendly the celebrity may seem.  You are just another gratification-hungry individual with some story about how much they love the celebrity in question.  If we’re going on the assumption that celebrities are real people just like you and me, then I bet they get pretty tired of the constant badgering and faux-adoration of the unwashed masses.  Sure, they make money out of pleasing the masses, but it’s a job for them.  It is not who they are.  They get paid because we like them.  If my livelihood was based on the whims of thousands of moody pre-teens I would put on the biggest fake smile you’ve ever seen and kiss so much ass that my face smells like fecal matter just like celebrities do…

These people provide you something tangible, unlike celebrities.

So, after all of this, why do we still partly define ourselves by which celebrities we meet?  It’s not like they’re meaningful encounters that have any true impact on who we are…  Why do we make a big deal out of serving Ryan Gosling coffee at a Starbucks – as one of my classmates did on WebCT?  He likes coffee just as much as 75% of the western hemisphere population…  Why is it a big deal that Paul Davenport and Shooter McGavin – another example of how we really only care about the characters played and not the person themselves – are Kappa Alpha alumni or that Alan Thicke burned down the original lodge?  They’re great people, but Kappa Alpha is so much more than how many column inches have been devoted to your praise…

In my opinion, there’s no rational reason.  I refuse to believe that celebrities are anything more than regular people who happen to make a living entertaining others.  And entertaining is far from the most essential or prestigious profession.  What of the farmer who grows your food?  What of the construction worker who built the house you live in?  If we’re going to idolize someone it might as well be someone who does something essential for our way of life and not someone who provides a secondary service that is only really used as a distraction from the stress of our everyday lives.

So, we need to stop treating celebrities like they are God.  As some militant atheists might tell you, God doesn’t actually exist…

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Let’s be honest, Western is a school of entitlement.  There are those here that think that Daddy’s credit card should be enough to get them an A+ average and their pick of jobs upon graduation.  Those are the same people who believe that Richmond Row is a good place to spend both their Tuesday nights and that $2000 that just magically appeared in their bank account.  The trend is that they expect something to be given to them on a platter just because they have the money to pay for it.

Yes, I graduated. Now give me a job.

But let’s get back to education.  What do we expect out of the money we put into this university?  I think it is fairly safe to say that most university students look to their university career to prepare them for a real career after graduation.  The expectation being that they will graduate with the requisite skills necessary to enter their chosen profession, or at least with the skills to get into a professional or graduate school.  The next question then is how do we determine that we’ve actually got those skills?  I mean, sure, your diploma technically states that you possess the required skills, but anyone with an ounce of intelligence will tell you that a diploma is given out to all students who meet a bare minimum standard of competence.  Another astute observer might note that some graduates who wave their diploma around like it’s a Nobel Peace Prize are actually as dumb as the proverbial door knob that they can’t quite figure out how to operate.  What we’re left with is that darling of graduate admissions officers everywhere, the transcript.  Yes, the transcript that holds record of what mark the professor has given us.  It is possibly the truest reflection, other than being able to actually demonstrate knowledge in practice, of what we have taken out of our university experience.

So, let’s adjust our expectations based on this reality.  Initially our expectation was to graduate with adequate preparation for whatever society-mandated slavery we choose to sell ourselves into.  If we can only judge that preparation by grades, our expectation then becomes that we get high grades out of university.  To put it in different words, we expect that upon graduation our transcripts will be a flawless run of A-pluses.  This twisted logic is given some much needed justification when we consider that we pay over $5000 in tuition every year for the privilege of having stuffy old men pound things into our skulls for at least fifteen hours a week.  Essentially, we pay the university for a service, that being preparing us for real life, and we expect them to deliver to the tune of a glittering transcript that even God might be proud of; it is a trade of money for grades.

This is the face of entitlement. Be scared.

Now, this smacks of the kind of entitlement usually reserved for hotel heiresses with daddy issues and that usually results in multiple failed TV shows that cumulatively had less viewers than that night-vision sex tape that was “leaked” on the internet.  This places the onus on the university to try and teach someone skills that they will be able to apply to the real world even if said student spends the entirety of their time trying to destroy their brain cells with alcohol, pot, and other recreational drugs.  This viewpoint completely ignores the necessity of hard work.  Ironically, the people upholding this viewpoint are likely ignoring hard work in reality too, not just in theory.

In reality, all our tuition is buying us is access to top-quality professors and resources.  For our parent’s or OSAP’s hard-earned money we get to come to campus, use the library, and study with distinguished individuals in their respective fields.  And what we take out of it is up to us.  We can spend that time learning skills that might someday make us slightly wealthier than the Joneses, we can get a Masters in English and not get hired by Wal-mart, or we can completely waste our time fist-pumping at Jack’s on a Monday night.  What we get out of these resources is entirely up to how much effort we put in…that and our respective mental capacities.

However, there is one thing that we can safely feel a sense of entitlement towards in our university careers: we have the right to have our hard work recognized.  We have the right for professors, TAs, and other beings shackled with the ball and chain of paper marking to give us credit for completing the assignment even if we don’t complete it well.  Essentially, we have the right to hand in a paper addressing the question and not receive a mark of zero in return.  No matter what is put on the paper, the act of completing the assignment is worth at least some marks.  By all means, fail a student because they did not argue well, make a point, or are just generally inept at writing a paper, but students are entitled to having their hard work recognized.  For example, if the essay question asks the student why the sky is blue, then the student should get credit if their paper tackles that question in some manner, even if it is completely wrong.

Now, before you point out that this is essentially giving students marks for free, remember what it is that we expect out of university.  We expect university to prepare us in some way for our chosen career.  We expect university to give us a true evaluation of whether we are prepared for the real world.  Now, are you so naive to think that hard work isn’t necessary in the real world?  Because the fact of the matter is that being a lazy dirtbag like you were in high school isn’t going to get you far when mommy and daddy kick you out on your ass.  You will be forced to work hard.  You will be forced to give your interpretations and answers to questions.  What giving these “free” marks does is act as positive reinforcement in the breeding of skills that are going to benefit you in real life situations.  These marks are saying that if you work hard you will get farther than someone who doesn’t put any effort in at all.  They are saying that it is better to try and possibly be wrong than to not do anything at all.  These are valuable lessons that people can take on board for their futures.  Not teaching them this just breeds the next generation of people who think that they are too good to wait in line at the bar or should get free drinks while inside because they once said hello to the bartender when they passed him on the sidewalk.

The long and short of it is that money doesn’t entitle us to squat.  It enables us to take part in the wonderful world of higher education—sometimes even when we’re so dumb that if we took a standard admissions test we’d be sent back to grade five—and potentially reap its rewards.  But like the farmer who reaps his crop, we must work hard for that reward.  Thinking otherwise only entitles us to failure.

University of Western Ontario Professor Emeritus Paul Davenport

Since the day oh so many years ago that Paul Davenport coined the phrase, The University of Western Ontario has prided itself on having the best student experience (at a research intensive university – funny how that part gets forgotten).

This year campus and London-area event planners seem to have out-done themselves by featuring a long line-up of acts that includes Lights, Basia Bulat, Avicii, The Sheepdogs, and Said the Whale.  And that’s just this coming week.  Later this year King’s has booked acts such as Bedouin Soundclash and Stars while The Wave is bringing in acts such as Keys N Krates.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

But is this really the best student experience that Western – and the USC – can provide?

Simply put, the aforementioned groups/artists really only cater to a certain segment of the 30,000-strong Western population.  They cater to the popular music-loving, generic techno-loving, line-up-at-8pm-to-get-into-Jim Bob’s crowd and are being put on in conjunction with promotions companies such as Premier Life whose main goal is to make students buy over-priced alcohol.  And I can guarantee you that the segment of the Western population mentioned previously make up only a small fraction of Western students.

So, what’s in it for the other 22,000 or so Western students that don’t care about that kind of music or that kind of scene??

Sadly, not very much.

In one example of Western doing it right, last night the Arts & Humanities and Music Soph teams put on a good event, featuring a talented band who played some of their own tunes as well as some classic rock and country favourites.  That was followed by an open mic that featured an eclectic array of performances with something that everyone could enjoy.  It was fun, friendly, and inexpensive (in this case it was free).  The catch you ask??  The event was for Frosh and Sophs only.

Now, when Dr. Davenport became President of The University of Western Ontario back in 1994 the school had a reputation as a bit of a party school.  That reputation was something Dr. Davenport set out to change.  The slogan “best student experience at a research-intensive university” was meant to show a balance between Western’s “enjoyable student atmosphere” (read: rowdy shenanigans) and its outstanding academic record.  That Dr. Davenport served as President for fifteen years (a feat only exceeded by W. Sherwood Fox and George Hall who both served 20-year terms) is a testament to his success.

However, a recent survey of Western alumni shows that the school’s reputation has floundered.  Western is seen once again as a party school, and this coming from people who attended this institution back when it was in its partying heyday.  Western’s VP-External, Kevin Goldthorpe, has made it his responsibility to change that perception.

In this writer’s opinion a good place to start would be providing events or a range of events that cater to all students.  Stop putting on events exclusively for the Richmond Row crowd and start putting on events for everyone, even those who don’t seem to care.

Events like this year's Avicii Frosh Week event only cater to select elements of the Western population.

Because what exactly are events like Avicii saying to people outside of that crowd?  Events like that, when they are all that’s being run, tell alumni, parents, and interested parties everywhere that the school is more focused on getting wasted and listening to a guy play music by clicking a button on his MacBook than being academically-focused and promoting creativity.  The USC’s partnership with Premier Life and other promoters to put on the event points to a culture that is driven by the downtown bars, not by academic excellence and the pursuit of knowledge.

You might ask what having varied events might change about this picture?  After all, having different events does not necessarily mean more studying is going on.  What can change is the way student life at Western is perceived by those outside the Western bubble, not to mention making the lives of those inside it more enjoyable.  Let’s take the Arts/Music event of last night as an example.  There was no drinking involved, no promoters, the money for the event came from students, and the content was wholly student-driven.  It was, as you might say, good, clean, wholesome fun.  It was just a bunch of students innocently enjoying their Friday night.

To broaden the picture a bit more, having varied events showcases that the administration and student government actually care about what all students want instead of doing whatever they want and hoping students like it as well.  And one thing that many studies on academic performance indicate is that happy students do well in their studies.  Students who feel left out, who don’t have a good student experience, don’t.

In short, caring about students goes a long way to bandaging your damaged reputation.  Not caring got us the reputation we have now.

Yes, you heard it correctly.  After what seemed like an eternity of student elections we have been plunged back into the world of expensive campaigns, designer websites, non-informative campaign videos, and a bunch of candidates who just want to be popular enough to get the vote.

No, Andrew Forgione has not been forced to step down as USC President-elect due to connections with the Italian mafia.

I know it's hard, but it's every Canadian's right to do it...

I am actually talking about the Canadian Federal Election that is set to happen on May 2nd, 2011.  For most people my age, this will be the first time that you are able to cast a vote for the government of this great country, and I hope that you use it to the fullest.

However, that means that you will actually have to pay attention to what’s going on in the world of politics.  Hint: following topics like #cdnpoli or #elxn41 on Twitter would be a good start for the social media inclined (that includes myself).  That also means reading platforms that might seem like a bunch of throwaway promises designed to lock in the vote of a certain demographic.

Because it is important to vote.  I know that is said every time an election rolls around and it is always met by the same snorts of ‘yeah, right’ or ‘one vote won’t make any difference.’  And those claims might be true in a two-party, two-candidate system like what is used in the United States.

Your vote is your voice.  It might seem like your voice isn’t loud enough to make a difference, but the point is that you use it.  Because when you actually speak up, someone somewhere will hear you and pay attention.  Hopefully that someone will be your local MP who represents you at Parliament.

It’s not about whether your vote will be the deciding vote in the election.  It’s not about picking the winner in a landslide election or jumping on a bandwagon (*cough*, Obama, *cough*).  It’s about the mandate.

Any elected official is given the mandate to represent the voters and that mandate is only as strong as the number of voters who turn out to the polls.  A smaller number of voters means that the government’s mandate is not as strong as if every single eligible voter actually voted.  It’s the difference between a couple people saying something and the whole country saying something and, in all honesty, which one would you be more likely to listen to?

These government types are all master-debaters!

So vote, if only to put pressure on the government to do its job.  And then, if it doesn’t do its job, you can complain about it and protest.  If you don’t vote, you don’t have that right.  You can only complain about the government if you give them a mandate.  If you don’t and refuse to vote, then you forfeit the right to complain about their actions.  You didn’t vote for them or against them and in doing so lost your right to comment on anything that the government did while in power.

So, use your voice and vote!

This talk of mandates leads me to think of another problem I have with voting practices: the practice of voting for a party rather than a person.

In the Canadian system, we elect MPs from our local riding to represent the voice of that riding at Parliament.  Then, the party that has the most elected MPs is asked to form the government and the Prime Minister is chosen by dint of being the leader of the popular party.  It is expected that we vote for our MP, and not for the Prime Minister.  So why then do we vote for parties and not people?

Voting for parties may get us the party that matches most with our ideals in power, but the ideals of the Conservative party and a Conservative candidate may not be identical.  That same candidate could meet the same base ideals, but radically differ on things such as gun control or daycare.  They also could just be not the best candidate.  There may be someone out there who is more responsive to the voters and more capable of being heard in Parliament.

Simply put, a party does not make a candidate who they are.  A party simply gives them a platform to be a candidate.  It doesn’t change who a candidate is or how they are going to do the job.

All of this is why, when exercising your right to vote, you should vote for the candidate in your riding that best represents your riding regardless of what party they are running under.  They may be running as a member of the Galactic Empire Party for all that allegiance is worth.

While we’re on the topic of candidates in ridings, how much campaigning do you think Stephen Harper, Michael Ignatieff, Jack Layton, Gilles Duceppe, and Elizabeth May are doing in their home ridings?  How much campaigning are they doing to ensure that people see them as the best person to represent the wishes of the people?  Or are they always on the road promoting their parties?

Jack Layton's tan made me confused as at first I thought he was a Typical Western Girl.

In all honesty, if any of those candidates were in my riding, I would not vote for them.  Not because I have anything against the parties that they lead, but rather because they put going on publicity tour as a higher priority than actually engaging the voters of their riding.  I’m sure the other candidates in Jack Layton’s riding aren’t just sitting around with their feet up because they know Layton is in the same riding.  They are likely out there trying to get to know the thousands of people in their riding and understand exactly what they want from their MP.  Leaders like Layton though are off being celebrities (and Layton certainly looks like one with the traffic cone coloured tan that he’s been rocking so far this campaign period).

Things like televised debates and Vote Compass don’t help this situation either.  They are all about breaking down politics into broad, generalized Party ideals.  They have no time for picking the best candidates, only for painting anyone who runs under the Bloc Quebecois banner with the same brush.  They chase voters to the ideals that match up best with their answers to questions, completely missing the point that the ideals of parties and candidates don’t always match up.

So, when your casting your ballot like a dutiful Canadian, vote for the candidate that best represents your ideals, not just the one who is best friends with the leader of their party.  Voting for the best candidate will only result in a better, more responsive government instead of one that is content to avoid transparency and public opinion like the plague.

At the end of the day, no matter who you vote for, do the right thing and vote.  Earn your right to complain when the winning party fails to live up to its promises!

Mindf*cked

Posted: March 25, 2011 in UWO
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For the first time in my life, something is screwing with my brain.

I don’t just mean that I don’t know – that happens often enough on its own.  I mean that I don’t understand how or why.  It just doesn’t make sense to me.

And it’s doing a number on my head.

I just can’t figure out exactly why World University Service Canada Western and/or the Student Refugee Program were protesting outside the University Students’ Council’s offices this week.  Their stated purpose was to protest undemocratic actions by the USC after the referendum concerning a student fee for the SRP was disqualified despite having an overwhelming number of votes in favour of the “YES” side (for my opinion on that phenomenon, see my previous blog post).  Their claim was that the voice of the people is more important that proper referendum procedure.

Their claim amounts to saying that just because a number of students voted in a certain way that therefore the rules do not apply.  If the shoe were on the other foot, i.e. if the referendum was invalidated due to the disqualification of the “NO” campaign and the “NO” campaign was protesting, I doubt that the WUSC and SRP people would have any problem with the system.  Their claim is simply down to not getting what they want.

This is where my lack of understanding comes in.  The sole reason that the SRP does not have a student fee right now is the inability of their campaigners to follow the rules.  It is entirely their own fault that the referendum was invalidated.  Basically, the protest they staged was protesting their own inability to follow clearly-defined and broadly-communicated rules (which no other candidates in any other election seem to have problems abiding by) that are designed to promote fair and equitable campaigning.

Bylaw #2 is one of the USC’s most talked-about documents.  It gets more airtime than most motions that are passed through council on a weekly basis.  Each year during elections season it is trotted out and displayed for all to see.  It is readily available to any UWO student who wishes to peruse it.  There is no excuse for not reading it – if that is indeed the case in the scenario at hand – especially if you plan on running any kind of campaign in a USC-run election.  It should be your Bible…

Now, there are complaints about Bylaw #2 being hard to decipher and therefore hard to follow, and I understand that sentiment, but as it stands, there are many ways to get clarification about the Bylaw.  The first is the MANDATORY All-Candidates meeting on the eve of the campaign period.  I can say from attending two such meetings under the current CRO Adam Smith that it is clearly outlined what candidates can and cannot do in simple and easy-to-understand language.  Candidates are also given a package with all of this information as well as the CRO’s contact information in it to take home.  The second way is using the CRO’s contact information.  The CRO gives you this information for a reason, they’re not just looking for a few more BBM contacts.  The CRO wants you to ask about Bylaw #2 and elections procedure.  They would much rather iron out issues beforehand than have to hand out demerit points for it afterwards.

This brings me to the rules themselves.  The only way to institutionalize democracy is through rules that protect the equality and rights that are necessary for a democratic society to exist.  They allow for every voice to be heard rather than just the loudest or most forceful.  This is what Bylaw #2 is: rules that protect the fairness and equality of the elections procedure as well as ensure the rights of the voter to not only vote, but do so free from pressure to vote in a certain manner.  If one says that these rules should not apply, they are basically saying that the democratic process should be biased in favour of those who shout loudest or who are best able to force their beliefs on others – in short, the tyranny of the majority.

If you want to protest that the rules are unfair, fine.  There are channels that you can use to make constructive changes.  If you want to protest that the rules should be ignored, that’s a completely different and completely unacceptable position.

So, let’s get to the root of the problem: that the “YES” campaign broke the rules.

The “YES” campaign was found to have broken a number of rules including rules against campaigning during the voting period, sending unapproved mass-emails, and not campaigning in the the spirit of fairness.  The rules that the “YES” campaign were found guilty of carried a maximum punishment of 52 demerit points.  The threshold for disqualification is 30 points.  Eight more points and they would have been disqualified twice over.  However, the Elections Committee was fairly lenient with the points that it chose to dole out, giving the “YES” campaign only 35 of the 52 points.  Yet, despite this leniency, the sum total of the rules broken was still enough to pass the threshold for disqualification.

If a USC Presidential candidate were to accrue 30 or more demerit points, their name would be removed from the ballot and they would cease to be a valid candidate.  The same applies in a Registered Interested Party referendum.  If one side, “YES” or “NO,” accrues 30 or more points, they would be disqualified and their position would be removed from the ballot.  The SRP referendum was a special case in that the points were given after the voting period ended, thus making it impossible to remove the “YES” answer from the ballot.  Therefore, the referendum itself was invalidated.

Given the availability of the rules before and during the campaign period, I just can’t wrap my head around why so many rules were broken.  Between that and the leniency displayed by EC, I also can’t wrap my head around why the people who protested on Wednesday thought that the USC was involved in some conspiracy to stop a student fee for the SRP.  Because, if that were actually the case, the referendum would never have passed through council in the first place nor would there be a policy whereby students could initiate a referendum by collecting a number of signatures.

The bottom line is that rules are rules.  You can’t break them whenever you see fit.  And if you do break them, it is the responsibility of the Elections Committee to punish you for doing so.  It makes perfect, logical sense.

It also makes perfect logical sense that if you argue that the rules can be overturned when one sees fit to do so, then I have every right to kill you.  Let’s say that overturning the rules is acceptable so long as I (or whichever party is in question) benefit from it.  We have a rule against murder.  It is a very well-founded and generally accepted rule.  I see a benefit in not having to listen to people protest because they annoy me.  You are protesting.  In order to end my annoyance, keeping in mind that doing so is a benefit for me (and undoubtedly countless others) I kill you.  Because it is okay to overturn the rules whenever it benefits me, I am entitled to kill you.

This scenario is certainly absurd, but it is logically valid.  These are the potential consequences of overturning rules whenever one sees fit.  In no way am I condoning murder as a way to end annoyances, but in a world where the rules can be overturned for the slightest benefit it is certainly a valid way of doing so.

The sum total of these reasons is why I just can’t understand the SRP protests.  All the logical signs along this path point to one thing: the rules were broken and punishments were handed out.  It falls down to the people who broke the rules to admit that they screwed up.  It falls to the leadership of the “YES” campaign to take it on the chin and realize their mistakes.  They shouldn’t blame the USC and they certainly shouldn’t be deflecting blame away from themselves in doing so.

Perhaps the people who should be protesting are the 5700-odd students who voted “YES.”  They should be protesting against the “YES” campaign leadership screwing up and taking what was a landslide victory and turning it into a sham.  Perhaps who should be protesting is Nathaniel, the current student sponsored by the SRP.  He should be protesting the way in which the “YES” campaign leadership has deprived fellow refugees the opportunity to come to Canada to study by failing to understand the simplest of campaigning rules.

Because the protest in front of the USC offices didn’t help.  For those with any logical sense it only showed desperation on behalf of a group of people that are unwilling to admit their own mistakes.

Guilty as Charged

Posted: March 23, 2011 in Miscellaneous, UWO
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It’s easy to succumb to peer pressure.  It’s easy to go along with what your friends do, think, or say just because you don’t want to be left out or shunned for behaving differently.

And our elders and the people we look up to have told us for years that we shouldn’t act like other people just to fit in.  We get told instead to think for ourselves and if we do, then we will be much the better off for it.  We’ve all heard the same spiel since we were kids, something along the lines of: “If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge too?”

Well, my question to you is very similar: If your friends told you that voting “YES” was the ‘moral’ choice, would you also vote “YES” even though it seems ridiculous to ascribe a single morality to the entire human race?  Would you still vote “YES” if you did not believe that the “YES” option was moral at all?

This is a problem that has risen in the latest round of University Students’ Council referendums.  One question on the ballot, asking whether students would allow the USC to collect a student fee on behalf of the Student Refugee Program and World University Service Canada – Western, blatantly involved guilting students into voting “YES.”

For those of you unfamiliar with USC referendum processes, the SRP referendum was listed as a Registered Interested Party referendum.  This means that one group of people campaigns for the “YES” side and another group campaigns for the “NO” side.  The other option would be a Information-Based referendum, in which the USC would distribute unbiased information about the referendum.  With the RIP-style referendum, the two parties are treated like individual candidates and all the same campaigning rules apply.

But the rules are not at issue here.  What is at issue here is that the “YES” party in this campaign were able to guilt students into voting “YES” on the basis of it being somehow immoral or wrong to vote “NO.”

Their logic is simple.  Students not being able to go to school is bad.  People that live in third-world or war-torn countries deserve the help of people in wealthy and peaceful countries.  People in wealthy countries have the obligation to help those less fortunate than them no matter what the cost.  Therefore, if there is a student out there who needs money, then it would be wrong to withhold that money.  This is then translated into if you don’t vote “YES,” then you’re a morally-bankrupt person who doesn’t care about the fate of your fellow human beings.

Again, the key point is that voting “NO” would be WRONG.  There is nothing to say why it is GOOD or even RIGHT to support refugee students.  There is nothing to say why I should care about my fellow human beings.  It is simply assumed that I believe in the same moral principles and will jump to the same conclusions as the people telling me to vote “YES” simply because it is the RIGHT thing to do.

Society as a whole backs this up.  Society places a great emphasis on altruism and the idea that one should go out of one’s way to help others.

This is not a concrete argument.  This is not logically sound.

I do not agree that people from wealthy countries should be obligated to support people from less-wealthy countries.  I do not agree that need should be a legitimate means of acquiring money.  If you take need as the only criteria for donating your money not only will you be bankrupt within a week, but you will lose all moral agency.  You will be a slave to those with more needs and more problems than you.

And you can’t donate to just one needy party and not another else you lose your reputation as a ‘moral’ person.  Giving money to one needy party and not another makes you a hypocrite.  By setting need as your standard, you leave yourself no room to choose which need deserves your money more.

After all, you can’t put a value to a need.  You can’t make a scale from one to ten and rank needs along it.  What makes one need greater than another?  All needs are a lack of something essential.  How do you prioritize what is most essential?  Do you say that food is more important?  Shelter?  Education?  Religion?  If you ask a thousand people, you will get at least a hundred different answers.

However, there is one thing that we can value more than any of these needs: life.  Without life, none of these things have any importance at all.  Without life, humanity doesn’t need food.  Without life, humanity doesn’t need shelter.  What is there to educate if there is no life?  How can there be an afterlife if there is no life from which to pass on?

Because of this fact, I am of the opinion that our only moral barometer should be that of life.  Specifically, our moral barometer should be our own life, as it is all that we truly and rightfully have control over.  The guiding principle for our moral decisions should be whether some action will or will not benefit our own lives.  Will my life be worse if I act in a certain manner?  Will my life be better?  Will such an action by other parties have a meaningful effect on my life, both directly and indirectly?

So, why shouldn’t I help out the needy?  My life will not be any worse by helping out the needy, other than I will be slightly poorer.  In fact, one might argue that my life would be better for helping out others (although might I point out the inherent and arbitrary association of ‘better’ and ‘altruism’ in such an argument).

To make such an argument, one mistakes one of the fundamental points that comes with living in a free and democratic society: the right to live one’s life as one chooses.  The mistake lies in the interpretation of this right only as a prohibition against affecting other people in a negative manner (i.e. making their life worse).  Under this interpretation, it is perfectly okay to make someone a king against their will, because being made a king would be seen as making a person’s life better, not worse.

The proper interpretation of this right is to regard it as a prohibition against unduly affecting the lives of others in both positive and negative manners.  Both manners are intrusions and both interrupt a person’s agency over their own life.  Helping the needy is no less of an intrusion, even though it purports to give people a better lot in life that the one they were given in the beginning.  It takes away a person’s agency over their own life.  It takes away a person’s right to live as they choose.

As you can see, my moral position is almost the polar opposite of that being ascribed to me by the rest of society.  I don’t find need as a valid criteria for altruism.  I don’t find altruism inherently valuable.

The moral of this story is that I should not be guilted into voting against my moral beliefs.  I should not be pressured into betraying my moral beliefs because society values something different.  When I approach an issue, I want to be able to judge the issue through my moral filter, not have my moral filter usurped by that of either another group or society as a whole.

And this goes for all referendums, issues, and questions that I come across, not just the recently-concluded SRP referendum.  Although they are guilty of the practice of trying to guilt students into voting “YES.”

It is March 19th.

By the end of today, all USC elections – both internal and external, barring the election of the Speaker of Council – will have been completed.

The council positions for the 2011/12 year will have been filled, a new executive will have been elected, and new councilors will get about the business of learning how to fulfill their roles to the best of their ability.

But after the excitement surrounding AGM parts I and II dies down things will go back to normal and everyone will go back to their respective lives.  And at that point you will realize just how many more people you see on campus during elections season than during the death months of November and December.

See, during first semester people go from moving in, partying during O-week, cramming hard for exams, to taking a well-deserved Holiday break.  Everyone is focussed on their lives and in first semester our lives don’t interact in quite the same ways as they do in elections season.  When I go about my life in first semester, I focus on my life on its own and not the lives of others.

Then when second semester rolls around, I seem to be interacting with nearly twice as many people as I did in first semester.  When we come back in January, everyone is gearing up for their respective campaigns, whether USC Presidential or otherwise.  People are taking meetings left, right, and center while trying to put together platforms that appeal to students while keeping them feasible.  It doesn’t matter that the campaign period doesn’t start until the start of February, people are already getting out there and making themselves more visible.

From that point until the middle to end of March there is a constant deluge of people that you know hanging around the UCC Atrium, the Spoke, the Wave, USC Council Chambers, and your favourite hangout spots around campus.  You simply cannot get away from them.

Apart from it simply being elections period, there is another indirect reason why you see so many people you know during this time of year: facial recognition.  From September to February of each year each university student meets any number of new people and many of those new people become new Facebook friends.  The January-February period is outstanding in this regard in and of itself as friend lists jump in exponential rates as candidates meet new people and try to round up votes.

Therefore, under the facial recognition hypothesis, it isn’t so much that you see all the people you know all of a sudden, but rather that you recognize people’s faces and start seeing them around campus where your eyes would have slipped right past them in the past.  It looks like there are more people that you know, but just that you know more people and by the time elections season rolls around those faces start to register to a more meaningful extent.

Then again, it could just be that more people are appearing more often, because that is certainly the case to some extent.  Either way, it will be irrelevant when everyone goes back into hibernation to study for April exams.

And then campus will be a lonely place once again, where your friends hide out in underground study holes carved into various buildings across campus.  You will wonder where the days went when you couldn’t walk for five steps without running into someone.

And you will count down the days to the next USC elections period…