People Suck. Right?

People are everywhere, but most of them are rubbish. Well-known comedian, Jerry Seinfeld once quipped, “People are the worst.” He was right. It is not a hard argument to make.  Everyone knows that people are inconsiderate, selfish and greedy. There are people that don’t signal in traffic, people that pick their noses, and people that sneeze without covering their mouth. There are those that pollute the environment, those that ignore the poor, and those that admire the cast of Jersey Shore. Bad people are all around. Some of them have bad hair. Some of them have smelly breath. Others wear too much cologne. These are the jerks, the idiots, and the morons.

Minor offenders cause aggravation, but major offenders cause real damage. Men that beat their wives, women that dump babies into trashcans and bullies that beat-up other kids represent the steaming heap of refuse that is mankind. These are the assholes, the bitches and the shitheads.

Beyond major offenders come truly evildoers like Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. These genocidal maniacs can barely be described as human beings, and yet they are. They are human, if barely. They represent the worst of all potentialities inherent in the species Homo sapiens.

The gamut of human nastiness ranges widely from vile and villainous to depraved, despicable and diabolical. There is no shortage of words to describe the worst that mankind has to offer.

So why put up with it? For better or worst, human beings are social animals that are dependant on one another. Holing up in a cave like a misanthropic caveman is not really a viable option. It might be tempting to run off and hide in the mountains, secluded and concealed from the dreary emanations of society; however the success of the species depends on co-operation and collaboration. Interdependency is the keystone characteristic that makes societal progress possible. More than that, people need each other. Beyond the basic necessities of food and shelter, people require companionship, love and affection. The desire to connect emotionally with others is a biological imperative, critical to the ongoing success of mankind. Simply put, people need people whether they like it or not.

Human beings exhibit a host of positive attributes designed to counterbalance negative ones. Forgiveness, compassion and generosity provide effective antidotes to many of life’s trivialities. When ‘golden rule’ human attributes are inadequate, as in the case of the worst evildoers, people invoke laws, punishment and justice.

Humans are social animals, but that does not mean that they are always sociable. Mankind has a split personality and is plagued by diametrically opposed forces vying for control. Like Robert Louis Stevenson’s character Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, humanity is caught up in a contest between rationality and animalistic tendencies.

Antisocial attitudes abound. An ongoing struggle between social and antisocial instincts is raging. The battle lines have been drawn between those that aim to improve society and those that wish to tear it down. To address this issue, politicians and bureaucrats have enacted laws that are designed to protect society, often to the point of absurdity. For every rule, there are people willing to break them. A teenager talking on his or her cell phone during a movie, a woman smoking in a no-smoking area, a man speeding through a playground zone: they are all thumbing their noses at those who comply. Discourteous individuals who blatantly disregard social niceties are a constant irritant to the protagonists of order. They are a thorn in the side, a burning ember of vexation to be stomped out.

Conflicts within social systems are inevitable, but do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks? Obviously so, otherwise there would be no cities, towns, or any large-scale groupings whatsoever, beyond the family unit. Even heinous perils, such as rape or murder, are worth risking to reap the benefits afforded by living in a collective. The benefits are hard to overlook. The great achievements of humanity would not have been possible if it were not for the setting aside of disputes and the reigning in of combative urges. Indeed, even mankind’s most nefarious pursuits, like war, have produced beneficial outcomes. Technologies like sonar, radar and other communications innovations were advanced through competition between the Allies and the Axis powers in WWII. Co-operation between individuals, families, tribes, communities, collectives and super-collectives has made all things possible.

The evidence is everywhere. Headline news is filled with stories about war, political backstabbing, crime, and other misfortunes. By flipping through the pages of any newspaper one will find plenty of evidence that people are a big bag of hurt. People are not to be trusted. Bogeymen lurk behind every corner. It is a world of trade-offs between good and bad. In spite of all that, our world can be a beautiful place. Can anyone say they would throw it all away?


Wedding, Willing and Able: A Guide for Novice Wedding Photographers

It’s more than a hobby – better to call it an obsession. Not only are you passionate about photography, you’re talented too. In fact, you’ve spent the last six months impressing your friends with artistic photos of ornamental orchids, snow-covered spruce trees and that rambunctious baby gorilla at the zoo. Now your best friend Sherry has asked you to put your brand new Canon EOS 60D to use at her wedding this spring.  She has even offered to pay you $500.00. Thinking this fair, you’ve agreed, despite the fact that you have no experience taking wedding photos. You’re a bit apprehensive, but don’t fret. I know what you’re going through. I made so many mistakes during my first wedding assignment I vowed never to do another. In the years that followed, however, I gave weddings another chance. Since then, I’ve photographed dozens of weddings and during that time I’ve learned many useful lessons. A few simple strategies make all the difference between success and failure. If you want to take amazing photos while avoiding common pitfalls, just follow these simple rules.

Be prepared for a long day of work. A typical wedding assignment will include: photographing the bridal party as they prepare, the arrival of guests before the ceremony, and the actual ceremony. Afterwards, you may be asked to stay for the reception, which can last well into the night. Believe me, if you try to do this in formal shoes, your feet will feel like lead weights by the end of the day, so wear a comfortable pair of shoes.  I recommend black Nike trainers. They’ll keep your feet comfortable and won’t look out of place with dress pants. My photographer friend Derrick summed it up nicely: “Shooting a wedding is like running a marathon. You‘ve got to pace yourself and keep your energy up if you expect to make it to the finish line.” With so much to keep track of, it’s easy to forget about eating. If you do, your stomach will let you know about it. Avoid a gastronomic gaffe by snacking on high-energy foods such as protein bars, granola bars or trail mix.  God forbid your stomach gurgles audibly in the hushed silence before the bride says, “I do.” In addition, it’s important to keep hydrated. Packing heavy camera equipment will cause you to sweat and dehydrate, so bring bottled water (or better yet Gatorade) and drink regularly. By being physically prepared you can more readily focus on your primary task: taking great photos.

Get up close and personal. Famous photographer Robert Capa said: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Don’t be afraid to cozy up to your subject. You might obscure the view of the guests who are trying to snap a photo, but remember: you’re getting paid to get the big shots. If you have to block the view of the audience to capture that magical moment when the bride and groom kiss, so be it. Do whatever it takes. When it’s impossible to be in close proximity, use a telephoto lens with a focal length of 200-300mm, as it will allow you to zoom in from across the room. By being close, you’ll improve the creative quality and intimacy of your images.

Finally, don’t forget to manage expectations. When the wedding is over, Sherry and her new husband Greg will be itching to see the photos. They’re sure to exclaim, “I can only imagine the photos you get with that amazing camera of yours!” as if it’s all about the camera. You may indeed have some excellent images, but never let on. Downplay their expectations by saying, “The lighting was very difficult, but hopefully we got a few really nice ones.” Once expectations are lowered, your friends will be that much more astounded and amazed by the number of winning shots you captured despite the odds being stacked against you.

Being a first-time wedding photographer is not easy, but if you follow these simple rules, you and your clients will be pleased with the results. When Sherry and Greg finally see the photos of their first kiss, or the moment he slipped the ring on her finger, they will know they made the right decision hiring you and lavish you with praise. Within a few weeks your phone will be ringing off the hook as referrals come pouring in. Engaged couples will be lining up to have you shoot their wedding. They will say, “Sherry and Greg can’t stop talking about how happy they are with your photos. Would you be interested in doing our wedding this autumn?” Being in high demand, your rates will naturally increase over time. Many top wedding photographers charge as much as $4,500 for the day. With your newfound capital you’ll be able to afford that shiny new lens you saw at The Camera Store. And when you print your new business cards, don’t be afraid to add the word ‘professional’ to your title. You’ve earned it.

Why Safe Injection Sites are Needed in Calgary

Calgary is a jewel in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. With its high standard of living, bountiful job opportunities and great natural beauty people are migrating here in record numbers. In fact, Calgary’s population has ballooned in the last ten years from 1,076,000 in 2002, to 1,385,800 in 2012. A resilient job market has benefitted many Calgarians even in the midst of a worldwide recession. With many benefitting from a strong economy, Calgarians take pride in ‘giving back’ through community outreach programs. There are more volunteers per capita in Calgary than any other major Canadian city.  However, Calgary also faces serious social issues like homelessness and crime. According to the RCMP, addiction to illicit drugs like heroin and opium are on the rise.

Although many Calgarians are unaware of the problem, a number of concerned citizens and social workers have been working to reduce some of the risks that drug addicts face. Fatal overdoses and the spread transmittable diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C are a real issue. To combat the problem, cities like Vancouver, Quebec City, Montreal and Toronto have opened safe injection sites – called Insites – where drug users go to inject drugs in a safe, controlled environment. Shelly Tomic, a 40-year-old Vancouver woman who has been fighting drug addiction most of her life said, “We’re looking for that life preserver and Insite is that life preserver.” Unfortunately, Calgary has no such life preserver; drug users must resort to shooting up in parks, public restrooms and other public spaces, putting themselves and the general public at risk. Calgary should provide a safe injection site, thereby reducing the risks associated with injected drug use.

Critics of Insite point out the high costs of operating safe injection sites. In Vancouver it costs about $2 million a year to operate one facility, which is open seven days a week. However, the costs of not having safe injection sites are also worth considering. Taxpayers may pay even more if drug users wind up in the prison or healthcare system. When drug users do not have access to clean needles they will often share them with others. The resulting spread of communicable diseases, like HIV or Hepatitis C, often requires expensive medical treatment. Insite has been shown to reduce the spread of disease and thereby reduce the costs of treating patients. A drug user can be rehabilitated, but if they become infected with HIV or Hepatitis C, it is a lifetime affliction – and a lifetime expense for taxpayers.

Opponents say that safe injection sites simply enable people to continue what they are already doing – injecting harmful drugs. Admittedly, some research suggests, “drug-consumption sites merely serve to rubber stamp the use of illicit drugs unless they come equipped with accessible, effective drug-rehabilitation programs.” However, since the early days – nearly ten years ago – before rehab programs were available, much has been done to improve drug users’ access to rehabilitation. Debra McPherson of the B.C. Nurses Union noted, “Over 500 went to detox last year. Over 200 were prevented from overdosing accidentally.” Clearly Insite is not merely about enabling; it is about breaking the cycle of addiction and saving lives.

Those opposed to Insite insist society is sending mixed messages to drug users by appearing to support their habits. As Toronto police Chief William Blair said, “The ambiguous messaging that comes out of a society that says you can’t use these drugs, they’re against the law, but if you do, we’ll provide you a place to do it in.” Blair is not alone in his opinion; according to studies conducted in Ottawa and Toronto, many in law enforcement are skeptical of so-called harm reduction strategies. As one Ottawa police officer said, “We’re keeping them as addicts, as opposed to trying to get them to be former addicts, where they can once again contribute, maybe do some things that they’ve always wanted to do as opposed to being stuck in a vicious circle.” Admittedly, the lack of support by law enforcement is cause for concern, but police are focusing on – and sending – the wrong message. The most important message is: society cares about the health and welfare of drug addicts and wants to help them break their deadly addictions. By having Insite locations in Calgary, it would send a powerful message that Calgarians care and sincerely want to help.

Calgarians largely support progressive policies as long as they are effective. Worth considering then is Insite’s proven track record of success. The first Insite opened in Vancouver in 2003. City officials have had nearly a decade to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. Recently Vancouver’s mayor, Gregor Robertson, expressed his support of the facility. “Insite has proven beyond a doubt its value to the community.” Robertson is not alone in his support of Incite. When the Harper government tried to shut Incite down five of Robertson’s predecessors – Sam Sullivan, Larry Campbell, Phillip Owen, Mike Harcourt and Art Phillips – collectively sent an open letter to the federal government arguing that Insite should remain open. The research backs them up. It shows a clear reduction in the transmission of infectious diseases, fatal overdoses and continued drug use.

Calgary would be well served by opening an Insite. It is not a perfect solution, but an important move in the right direction. Illicit drug use is a complex and challenging problem. For some it is a matter of public safety, for others it is a matter of life and death. For Shelly Tomic, it was Incite that turned her life around and freed her from addiction. By supporting progressive social change, by petitioning local politicians, by being part of the solution, Calgarians will be saving lives. It is a noble cause, and as Shelly Tomic can attest, very achievable as well.

Review of Peter A. Goddard’s “The Devil in New France: Jesuit Demonology”

The essay The Devil in New France: Jesuit Demonology, 1611-50 by Peter A. Goddard is an informative and well researched look at the attitudes and opinions of the Jesuits and early missionaries regarding demonology during the pre-enlightenment period of the early to mid-seventeenth century in New France. Goddard’s opening paragraph focuses on the observations of a number of pioneering missionaries and Jesuits which lends credence to the theory that demonology was alive and well in the minds of these religious men. Quoted or paraphrased sources include Paul Le Jeune, Jean de Brébeuf and Pierre Biard. These sources are especially relevant as they supply the reader with firsthand observations by people that lived in the culture and time in question, namely between 1611-50. Goddard presents ample evidence suggesting Jesuits truly believed Algonquian and Iroquoian peoples where directly influenced by the Devil. Bruce Trigger, Karen Anderson and William Eccles concur that Jesuits had an ardent belief in the Devil and that New France was “truly a fertile ground for the Demon.”

The clash of cultures between European explorers and First Nations people reveals a host of differences in attitudes, beliefs and core values that often led to misunderstandings and even armed conflicts. First Nations were generally matrilineal, while the Jesuits where patrilineal. The multitude of cultural differences led to mutual suspicion and distrust. Although both Europeans and First Nations had colourful and well-entrenched beliefs in the afterlife, the European’s dogmatic approach and religious zeal framed their mission to convert the so-called savages. Since the native’s beliefs were not organized or hierarchical, the Europeans did not consider them to be true religion. They believed that the only path to eternal salvation lay in the acceptance of the Catholic religion through baptism. It can be argued that First Nations people may have been more accepting of Catholicism if not for the fact that many baptized people were struck down by disease and illnesses. The Jesuits exhibited a number of other characteristics that further exacerbated the issue, for example they had a tendency to dress in all black, they had mysterious contrivances, such as clocks and the written word. First Nations relied on oral tradition in the form of stories or songs in order to pass on information and to record their history as a people. These cultural differences led many First Nations to distrust the white men and to think of them as sorcerers and workers of evil magic.

For their part, the Europeans had their own misconceptions regarding the native people. Initially, they were quick to assign devilish influences whenever they witnessed practices they considered to be irreligious.  Dream guidance was one such issue of contention. Jean de Brébeuf states that the natives “consider the dream as the master of their lives, it is the God in their country.” The issue of dream guidance is also referenced in the film Black Robe, released in 1991. In the film, Chimona, the Algonquin Chief, has a prophetic dream about Jean LaForgue, a Jesuit priest who is traveling with them. With great import and reverence he recounts the dream to his men. His dream suggests a course of action, which is interpreted as the need to leave Jean LaForgue, the Black Robe, behind. When one of Chimona’s warriors says, “a dream is more real than death and battle” it further illustrates the importance of dreams to the First Nations people. The early Jesuits saw these dreams as evidence of direct communication between the Devil and the heathens.

The concept of good and evil, heaven and hell, and the struggle between God and the Devil was pervasive during the seventeenth century. The Jesuits used these themes to underscore the importance of conversion. Through the use of illustrations or pictures, Jesuits could communicate exoterically to their intended converts. It is worth noting that when the Jesuits requested images from Europe they asked for demonic depictions of hell, not the gentler and uplifting images of Jesus and heaven. This may have been a tool used to frighten the people into accepting baptism. Contrary to the use of fear and scare tactics, the Europeans also gave gifts as a way to incent co-operation. These gifts included basic tools and implements as well as the highly prized muskets, which according to French policy were only given to “First Nations people that were baptized.”

The ultimate goal of the Jesuits was to bring religion, and therefore salvation, to the natives. They saw this as their heavenly mandate, but their progress was slow and setbacks were common. In order to explain their lack of progress, the Jesuits often referred to the Devil as being the source of their problems. Whether they truly believed this or were using it as an excuse is difficult to determine, but it is clear that explaining natural events in the light of demonology was still an accepted practice.

By 1650 the Devil was seen as an ever-present agent working against the Jesuits in an overarching sense if not in a direct way. This fact is evidenced in the Relations sent back to France. Whether or not the Devil was involved in specific and individual events remained an open question, although skepticism was a growing position among progressive Jesuits. In fact, Jesuits began to interrogate the “unlearned and religiously suspect witnesses” in order to disprove their claims of diabolic activity. The burden of proof for demonic interference, and miracles alike, was being raised. It can be argued that rampant demonology threatened to spiral out of control and therefore needed to be reined in if the Jesuits wanted to maintain their authority on matters of the divine and supernatural. As demonology came under heavier scrutiny it was used less and less as a way to explain the undesirable customs of the natives. Paul Ragueneau was pragmatic in entreating his fellow Jesuits to treat irreligion as mere stupidity. He may have been shrewd enough to know that humiliating the natives by pointing out the silliness of their actions was more efficacious than doggedly forbidding native customs as crimes against God. Paul Ragueneau was also reluctant to attribute dream guidance as direct intercourse with the Devil, rather attributing these claims to “herd mentality and suggestibility.” Using this approach the Jesuits were apt to discredit native beliefs and to substitute their own biased ideas. It is possible the Jesuits were able to discern the tactics of the shamans to  “invent … new contrivances to keep his people in a state of agitation and to make himself popular” because they used these same tactics themselves.

Both First Nations and Europeans had deeply entrenched worldviews. They both viewed the customs and practices of the other party through the lens of superstition and fear. Ultimately, that clash of cultures led to the destruction of many lives, and even the extinction of entire populations. As Goddard’s essay makes clear, the tendency for people to invent elaborate fantasies to explain that which they do not understand is a reoccurring theme. It is a lesson that must not be forgotten, lest we slip back into ignorance and false ideology.

Canada: A History of Environmental Exploitation

Canada is a nation with abundant natural resources including coal, oil, gas, fish and game animals, fertile farm land, rare metals and minerals, fresh water and timber. Although Canada’s resources are abundant, they are not limitless. Striking a balance between economic growth and environmental stewardship has been an ongoing challenge for Canadians since the first European settlers colonized eastern Canada and the Maritimes.

For thousands of years before the arrival of the first Europeans, First Nations people had unrestricted access to Canada’s lands and its resources. First Nations’ impact on the land was negligible and they were able to maintain near equilibrium with nature. Although First Nations hunted many animals, they did not take any more than what was needed to feed and clothe the tribe. Buffalo, deer, beavers, and fish were used as food sources and trees were felled to construct teepees or longhouses. First Nations made excellent use of the resources they took from nature. When a buffalo or deer was killed, the meat was used for food and the rest of the animal was also used for other purposes. The skins, bones, innards and sinew were used to make tools, clothing and cooking utensils. In this way, First Nations people minimized their impact on the environment. Nothing was wasted; their use of natural resources was sustainable.

When European settlers arrived in Canada, they discovered a land that was largely untouched. Forests were plentiful, wildlife was abundant and the ocean waters around the Maritimes were home to colossal fish stocks. Although First Nations people were already established in the Maritimes and along the St. Lawrence River, Europeans did not recognize the rights of the First Nations people. Instead, they began to divide up the land for colonization and farming. They also established large-scale fisheries. The impact on the environment was significant. Large areas of forest were clear-cut to prepare the land for farming. Without trees, whose root systems held together the soil, erosion began to take place. Rich topsoil was washed away into the surrounding river systems and many farms simply dried up.

In New Brunswick, the timber industry was big business. By1826, fully 75 percent of that province’s export revenues came from timber. Historical Geographer Graeme Wynn noted the impact of the timber industry on the local rivers: “Sawdust dumped into the rivers soon became sodden, sank to the bed of the stream, disturbed the river ecology, and obstructed navigation. In suspension it floated downstream, was deposited on the banks and intervals, and drastically reduced fish populations.” Deforestation was negatively impacting the environment, but the economy was being stimulated by the sale of lumber. With a steady supply of wood, the shipbuilding industry in New Brunswick flourished.

Early European settlers put pressure on the environment in a number of ways besides the felling of trees. Across Canada, different regions were facing different ecological pressures. In Nova Scotia, marshlands were drained by Acadians to make room for farms. In Quebec, forests were felled and land was eroded. Around the Maritimes oceans were being over fished. In British Columbia, otters were nearly decimated for their pelts. In the north, seal populations were being reduced by over hunting. Indeed, all across Canada, animals, especially beavers, were slaughtered en masse for their furs, which were fashionable in Europe.

As Canada’s economy became increasingly dependant on trade, the demand for resources intensified. First Nations were not immune to the pressures to conform and trade. Because of a growing dependency on European goods such as guns and iron implements, First Nations began to take more from the land than what they needed to survive. They hunted and trapped as many animals as they could in order to trade with the Europeans. The culture of aboriginal people was being influenced by metropolitanism and a burgeoning trade economy that extended across Canada. Once careful custodians of the land, they were now complicit in the decimation of animal populations. As animal populations declined, the traditional way of life for First Nations people became less and less viable.

Pollution and environmental degradation were not only affecting rural areas, but cities as well. By the early 1900s Canada’s urban populations were facing major pollution problems. Large amounts of sewage and refuse were being generated as cities expanded. Many municipalities simply drained waste into the nearest rivers or lakes. For example, in 1911, city officials in Vancouver hired expert sanitation engineer R.S. Lea to design a sewerage system to deal with the wastewater problem. Lea’s plan involved building a network of sewers to collect waste from houses. The waste would then be routed into larger inceptor sewers and finally pumped into the sea or the Fraser River. This approach demonstrated a belief commonly held in the early 1900s that nature was like a sponge into which pollution could be absorbed.  In his report, Sink or Swim, Arn Keeling illustrates the lack of foresight regarding environmental protection among leading city planners: “Lea’s definition of pollution weighed hygienic, aesthetic, and economic considerations, not environmental quality per se.”

After World War II, Canadians began to prosper and the economy was growing. By the 1950s many newly prosperous Canadians were taking part in outdoor recreational activities. Provincial parks were overflowing with visitors putting natural ecosystems at risk. Early conservationists called for the protection of natural habitats in the form of nature preserves. In Ontario, the government introduced a program of park expansion in response to the high demand for protected parks.

During the 1960s and 1970s, environmental issues came to the forefront of Canadian’s collective consciousness. Environmental protection groups, such as Greenpeace, were founded as citizens sought to affect change. Clean water was of paramount importance. Novelist Hugh MacLennan’s insistence that Canadians should “think like a river” lent support to the general populace’s concern over the environment. Pulp and paper companies and smelting companies were the biggest offenders in polluting the water. Because cleaning up the production process was a huge expense, critics petitioned the government to force companies to share the burden. Detergent manufacturers were also to blame. Their phosphate-laden suds were causing rampant algae, depleting oxygen levels in the water and killing vast quantities of fish. Politicians responded by addressing public concerns. In June 1969, Vancouver’s Mayor Tom Campbell took a swim in English Bay to show his constituents that the water was clean and that pollution was being dealt with, however his critics were quick to point out that there was still more to be done. Because of mounting pressure from environmentalists, including the Pollution Probe, the government agreed to take steps to cut phosphate use.

Although water pollution was still an issue, in the 1970s air pollution from automobiles seized the public’s attention. Both in Canada and the US, regular citizens and environmentalists alike demanded that something be done to curb emissions. Smog covered major Canadian cities including Calgary, Montreal and Vancouver. In 1970, the United States Congress passed stringent new laws to cut back on automobile emissions in their Clean Air Act. Canada, however, did not follow suit by harmonizing their laws to those of their American neighbours. Historian Dimitry Anastakis noted, “In Canada, the federal government and industry focused upon the economic consequences of harmonized emission standards.” Once again economic considerations trumped ecological concerns.

In the 1980s, pressure on government to enact environmental protections reached new heights. Canadians had discovered the ill effects of unregulated economic growth.  Local and national issues dovetailed with global issues such as global warming, acid rain, ozone depletion and the destruction of the rain forest.  Canada responded by signing a number of multilateral agreements designed to address environmental concerns. Although people were looking to the government for better regulations and environmental protections they were increasingly looking to their own consumption habits as one means to reduce demands on natural resources. Citizens organized by forming associations and political lobbies to support a variety of environmentally friendly initiatives.

Passing laws to protect the environment was not easy for regulators. Many of the largest polluters were also important to the economy since they employed thousands of workers. When the provinces attempted to impose controls, companies resisted and threatened to close down operations.

Public support for environmental protection historically takes a back seat to economic issues. When given a choice between supporting job creation or the environment, most people put their immediate self-interest above potential long-term damage to the biosphere. The negative effects of cutting corners by exploiting natural resources in unsustainable ways is often hard to see until much time has passed. In the 1990s, cash-strapped provincial governments found it easier to cut environmental spending than to cut other programs such as health care. Indeed, budgets were so low that existing eco-regulations were often unenforceable due to lack of funding to monitor compliance.

Canada’s history of exploiting its natural resources for economic gain has evolved over time. Many positive changes have been made as a result of increased public awareness. While the fur trade once threatened to wipe out whole species of animals, endangered animals are now protected. Beavers, sea otters and many other endangered animals have made spectacular comebacks. Clear cutting forests have given way to sustainable management of the timber industry. Old growth forests are now protected. Many national and provincial parks have been created. Laws to reduce carbon emissions have been enacted. Water has been treated and cleaned.

Today, many challenges still remain, but many Canadians are now aware that the environment and the economy are inextricably linked. In the 1990s, when Newfoundland’s cod fishery collapsed, around 40,000 fishers and fish processors were put out of work. The dangers of unsustainable exploitation of Canada’s natural resources are generally understood and public support for sustainable development, minimized consumption and recycling are strong. Unless Canada plans for the long-term protection and management of its resources, the results will be dire.  In this, Canada is not alone. The global community of industrialized nations is struggling to address environmental concerns in ways that will not hurt job creation. Politicians in Canada have an opportunity to lead the world in this area, but they are still putting industry ahead of environment. For example, in 2006 when Stephen Harper was elected as Prime Minister, his Conservative government rejected many of the goals of the Kyoto Accord because of the risks posed to the economy. Later, in 2007, Canada rejected the implementation of revised proposals unless all countries agreed to them.

As a country with vast natural resources, Canada’s economy has benefited from globalization through its exports of coal, grain, minerals, oil and timber to countries like the United States, Japan and China. The Canadian economy depends on these key exports for much of its GDP. As history has shown, Canada has faced a number of environmental challenges in relation to the management of industry. As technology progresses, new environmental issues will arise. Historical patterns can help politicians make informed policy decisions as they deal with emerging issues such as genetically modified crops and oil sands production. The history of Canada’s exploitation and subsequent management of its environmental resources is of profound importance for regular citizens and policy makers alike. The challenge now for Canadians is to learn from the past and apply those lessons to the future.

Divine Command Theory vs. Ethical Relativism

The following is a paper written by Jesse Yardley. It is by no means a comprehensive comparison, and should only be considered a cursory view of the two philosophies. Any errors should be reported in the comment field, and I will attempt to revise the paper as necessary.

Philosophers have been arguing for centuries about the nature of morality. In the field of ethics, philosophers have focused their attention on answering important questions such as: What is right and wrong? What is good and bad? By what process should we make moral decisions? The answers to these questions have been – and may always be – hotly debated. Philosophers have posited answers through a range of moral theories. Unfortunately, no theory is perfect. Not surprisingly then, no theory has gained universal acceptance. Does that mean that all moral theories are equal? No. Through critical analysis philosophers may evaluate the merits of a theory, thereby determining the relative strengths and weaknesses of each. In this essay, we will evaluate and compare two competing moral theories: Divine Command Theory and Ethical Relativism. Although each theory has its proponents and detractors, it is argued here that Ethical Relativism is the stronger theory. In order to support this argument, we must first examine the basic premises of each theory. Then we will address the key criticisms of each theory as well as the corresponding counter arguments. Next, we will examine the similarities and differences by comparing the two theories. Finally, we will demonstrate how Ethical Relativism is preferable to Divine Command Theory.

Divine Command Theory
Divine Command Theory (DCT) is the view that ethical principles are derived from the commands of God. DCT proposes that an action is obligatory if, and only if (and because) God commands it. An action is forbidden (wrong) if, and only if (and because) God prohibits it. Mortimer argued for the correctness of the DCT as follows:

  1. God is the creator of everything, including humans.
  2. Therefore, everything that we use is held in trust from God.
  3. Therefore, we are required to use them as God wills.
  4. Therefore, we are required to act as God commands.
  5. Therefore, the DCT is correct.

Mortimer’s argument can be condensed to:

  1. God exists.
  2. Therefore, DCT is correct.

Although the DCT is predicated on God’s existence, a theist (who is not convinced by Mortimer’s argument) could continue to believe in God while rejecting the validity of DCT. By appealing to the Independence Thesis, which holds that morality is independent of God’s existence, a theist and an atheist may agree that DCT is wrong, while disagreeing on the existence of God.  Plato examined the relationship between God and moral values in a thought experiment known as the Euthyphro Dilemma. He asked, “Do the gods love piety because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” For DCT to be correct, piety must be dependent on the God’s command. Therefore a proponent of DCT must answer: “It is pious because it is loved by the gods.” To answer otherwise would lead to values that are independent of God. But if DCT is true, God’s commands are arbitrary. Thus, if God commanded us to commit murder, than murder would be obligatory (and right) – because God commands it. A rebuttal to this problem has been posed: God’s goodness constrains His commands; God could not command anything immoral. But this rebuttal is unconvincing because it uses a redundant standard of goodness to constrain God’s actions. If it is meaningful to say that God is good, there must be a standard of goodness that is independent of God’s personification of goodness. Ultimately, DCT is unconvincing because it is arbitrary, redundant and lacks explanatory power.

Ethical Relativism
Ethical Relativism holds that there are no universal moral truths that apply to all people at all times. Instead, moral principles are thought to be local, conventional, subjective and self-justified. Based on Cultural Relativism, which highlights differences in societal norms, customs and practices, Ethical Relativism concludes that what is right or wrong is determined through cultural consensus. In other words, what is right or wrong is determined by what is considered normal within a specific society. It is only possible to judge the rightness or wrongness of an action by appeal to its cultural acceptance. The fact that moral beliefs and practices are often the product of cultural upbringing, rather than rational decision-making, provides Ethical Relativism with strong “external support” from the society or culture. In addition, Ethical Relativism also gains strong “internal support” from individuals. But Ethical Relativism has its disadvantages as well.

One major problem for Ethical Relativism is that it upholds the morality of such practices as slavery, sexism and racism so long as the cultures in which these acts occur accept them.  If a progressive, revolutionary agent claims that that slavery is wrong, and if he or she were in the moral minority, then the Ethical Relativist must admit that that person is wrong because they are going against the norms of their society. This system of morality makes moral reform impossible.

Another problem for the Ethical Relativist is the difficulty defining culture. Could a church be considered a subculture within a larger culture? A family? Indeed, an individual could constitute a culture of one. Following this logic, Ethical Relativism can be reduced to Subjectivism whereby individuals may claim singular moral authority.

Lastly, it is argued that the underlying principles governing all societies are not as disparate as they appear, even though practices and customs appear to be markedly different on the surface. When we consider these issues in combination, we see that Ethical Relativism undermines important universal values, fails to provide consistent results, and is indeterminate; it does not provide a reliable decision making procedure.


Comparing Divine Command Theory and Ethical Relativism
DCT and Ethical Relativism are similar in that they both appeal to authority to determine the rightness or wrongness of an action. For the Ethical Relativist, moral authority comes from cultural consensus; for the Divine Command Theorist, moral authority comes from God. DCT is also similar to Ethical Relativism by its culturally dependency: God’s commands differ in each society. Indeed, Christians, Jews and Muslims often disagree about what God commands, yet they all appeal to the same God for moral guidance. Each society interprets God’s commands to suit their society’s local needs.

DCT and Ethical Relativism have key differences. DCT is universal: what is good/bad, right/wrong is not relative, but absolute. By contrast Ethical Relativism is local and subjective.

Final Evaluation
By depending exclusively upon external moral authority to decide what is right/wrong, good/bad, we encounter serious difficulties in determinacy and consistency. In this regard, both DCT and Ethical Relativism are both problematic. However it can be argued that ceding moral authority to God (or his representatives on earth), presents a tremendous risk to society for a number of reasons. Firstly, humans who interpret God’s commands are notoriously fallible and prone to corruption. Historically, appealed to God’s authority was used to justify all manner of immorality. Indeed, holy wars, slavery, sexism, racism and infanticide are all condoned by the command of God via the Old Testament and Koran.

Further more, if we agree that both DCT and Ethical Relativism appeal to authority, we must conclude that authority derived from a tangible, earthly culture is preferable to authority derived from an intangible, heavenly God who may or may not even exist.

Finally, cultures that generally embrace relativistic ethics are typically more tolerant, more progressive and maintain higher standards of personal wellbeing than those that rely on divine commands.

The Massive Audience Theory

I was watching the History Channel. As is often the case, the program centred on a WWII theme — something about the rise of Hitler — and I found myself marvelling at the power of massive audiences. Let me explain. In the case of Hitler, I believe his greatest strength was his ability to stir up a crowd. The larger his audience, the more powerful he became. Unfortunately, Hitler put his great oratory powers to nefarious use. However, I started to wonder if all political power stems from the ability to broadcast messages. It got me thinking about how our collective worldview has been shaped and how our culture seems to be rooted in the ideas, discoveries and opinions of a relatively few people. Notwithstanding, there have been many influential people that spread their memes by other means, such as printed word, art, song or motion picture.

This blog will explore the notion that massive audiences are the source of all philosophical, religious, cultural and political change. These massive audiences are tapped by people who, either by talent or circumstance, gain access to the attention of vast numbers of people. I posit that the impact any individual person can expect to make in his or her life is directly correlated with the number of people he or she can gain audience with. If you speak to one person, you may affect that person’s life. If you speak to millions, your impact logically increases. Therefore audience building is of paramount importance to an individual who wishes to affect change.

Admittedly, there are parts of my theory that are obvious and intuitively self-evident; however, I plan to explore this theory and develop it as a framework for my writings on other subjects. I hope that this blog will become a place where rational and considered views are expressed and debated. Let’s get started.