April 20, 2007

Death and Ratings

I have been struggling over the past week with how I am supposed to appropriately react to the tragedy at Virginia Tech. As someone who works at a university, this terrible event struck me much harder than I had anticipated. It brought me back to my first year of studies, in December 1989, when a similar horror occured at Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique.

Of course, a great deal of that emotion was fuelled by the wall-to-wall coverage on the U.S. news programs. At one point this week, every link on the top-half of CNN's web site was about the Virginia Tech shootings. I kept expecting to learn that FOX News had scooped its rivals and trademarked "The Worst Shooting in U.S. History". I was struck how, buried about a quarter down CNN's home page, I found a link that casually mentioned that 160 people had been killed in Baghdad that day. This terrible information, for whatever reason, did not warrant the honour of being placed in the special "Breaking News" section that adhorns the top of the page. Surely these innocent Iraqis, senselessley slaughtered as they shopped in a market, deserve to be honoured and mourned?

I mentioned this concern to someone, who replied, "It's because they're Americans". The logic being, we suppose, that an American tragedy trumps all other tragedies. I was further struck how on the same day as the CNN web site was filled to the brim with everything Virgina Tech, the CBC web site had placed the tragedy within context. There was a button to click on to enter a special commemorative mini-site, but otherwise it was postioned within the events of the day, amongst the global tidings of hopes and sorrows. Even the April 18 U.S edition of the venerable Financial Times had just one photo of the gunman on the cover and referred the reader to page 6, where three articles respectively discussed the effects on Virginia Tech's reputation, the gun lobby's gearing up to battle over rights, and the role of new media in the tragedy.

I struggled this week to respond appropriately because I am not sure how one can fight the pressure to care about some things more than others, particularly if one is an avid consumer of news media like I am. Is it any surprise, when I read that in 2003 nearly 43,000 Americans died in automobile accidents, that the American Cancer Society expects 559,650 Americans to die from cancer in 2007, or that at least 180,000 Iraqis have been killed as a result of the U.S. occupation, that in the midst of such terrifying numbers I channeled my anger and fear and finally broke down and cried when I watched a young woman on CBS in her Virgina Tech sweatshirt talk about how she has lost her best friend?

April 17, 2007

25th anniversary of rights and freedoms...

25 years ago this week the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted, thus establishing a more comprehensive codification of numerous rights of Canadian citizens than the previous Bill of Rights (1960). Such rights include fundamental freedoms, democratic rights, legal rights, equality rights, and mobility rights, among others.

Legal scholars (and politicians) on the right have argued that the Charter has enabled the proliferation of so-called activist judges. These are judges who use their dreaded leftist/liberal bias to make judgements in favour of special interest groups. A "special interest" group is a derogatory term referring to minority and marginalized groups (women, homosexuals, the mentally and physically disabled, etc). You'll note that the lobby groups representing Big Business (Tobacco, Automobiles, Weapons, Security, etc)are never referred to as special interest groups by those on the right. Only those pesky citizens demanding the same legal protection as corporations...

As flawed as the humans who drafted it, the Charter has helped to reflect and to refine Canadian values that are immensely respected globally. Canada's tradition of redefining equality rights and protecting fundamental freedoms of the person are a significant contribution to global human rights. It is an accomplishment worth celebrating--worthy of our pride and our steadfast commitment to uphold.

April 11, 2007

Future Shock...Present Shock

I've been re-reading Alvin Toffler's 1970 juggernaut, Future Shock. At its heart, the book's premise is that there are limits to the amount of change that humans can absorb without being overwhelmed, both physiologically and psychologically. The state such an over-stimulation creates what is Toffler coined "future shock". The future, Toffler wrote, will present the super-industrial citizen with a paralyzing dilemma: overchoice.
Toffler strikingly argued that we will like to belong to subcults as a way of handling the enormous volume of information, choice, and stimuli. Typically, these subcults will reflect our lifestyle (or rather the lifestyle we desire to reflect) and we will consume the products and the values of that preferred lifestyle. In an era of fractured society (values, families, groups, etc), how interesting that we are are flocking to blogs, Facebook, and MySpace to create our virtual subcults.
We are enormously adaptive creatures and the imagination and creativity we bring to the choices we make will determine our survival of what I call our present-shock. Otherwise, Toffler contends, "we face a tempting and terrifying extension of freedom".