Jan 31, 2014

A Little Chat on Feminism and Democracy by Sandra Turner

Democracy started in ancient Greece where it was able to thrive due to a homogeneous voting public and a small population. In modern times, with larger populations, democracy as it is traditionally known – that is, the rule of the people – needs to be redefined. Direct rule is not possible in large populations so representative governments have been designed.  A representative government seeks to allow every person voting rights. The people rule not by gathering and devising policies but by electing a controlling policy. What representative government really is is hard to pin-point. Many philosophers have different interpretations of it. What decision criteria one must use when voting is also hard to agree on, and it can be assumed that in practice different people use different criteria. However, even in theory its hard to elect a governing principle. Many of the varying opinions on the subject of feminism may stem from differing views on the function of government. In my opinion, government should be put in place to benefit society in general.

There are also disputes on why democracy is even the standard political framework at all. Typical justification theories point to the fact that democracy helps to distribute political power and maximizes the satisfaction of the voters’ desire. This theory leaves out a critical question though, namely, how desirable are these goals? Susan Mendus, a feminist philosopher, does not believe that it concludes in just laws and policies for everyone, especially not for women. A good system would allow each different class to have equal voting power. Representative states should not allow various sectional interests to become influential enough to defeat truth and justice and other sectional interests. There is a fear that the “rulers” will try to benefit a certain class due to the ruler’s own selfish interests. In the original democracy the voting population was mostly male and similar in biological factors. In the modern conception of democracy the voting public has much more heterogeneity. Some contemporary philosophers see no trouble with this heterogeneity. This is because they believe that democracy sways in the favor of popular rule and that can be held even if a portion of the population differs from the representatives.

Susan Mendus is saying that equality should not be about removing the differences among people but rather to embrace the differences. She is also saying that differences should not be perceived as disadvantages. One of the issues present is that the democracy of the past, the rule of the people of the past, has been dominated by men. Legislation, building on itself, has left woman at a natural disadvantage. The enacted functioning of society is created by legislation passed and culture built on the past. Mendus fears that ignoring differences at the inclusion level may lead to minimizing differences when forming social policies. The world is predisposed to male needs and male capabilities. Women are at a disadvantage due to some of the gender’s biological differences from men. Woman are being held to a standard that is male-orientated. Differences in individuals are typically explained in terms of differences in social and economic power. Feminists argue that women are different in more ways than just that; they are different because they have been excluded historically from being citizens.

Mendus points out that some differences can never be removed. Some differences, such as the lack of social and economic power can be but differences such as the differences that arise from the biological differences inherent in gender can never be removed. So even if there is a desire for society to have a homogeneous population it is not possible under the modern conception of democracy. Mendus seeks to render these differences to make them compatible with equality. Mendus does not seek a world where woman are considered equal because they are no longer different. Woman should not need to accept and adopt masculine values. The second part of Mendus’ statement concerns the assimilation of females into male values. She does not like the idea that society should ‘assist’ women.

Many ideologies of perfect states presented in the past, in the form of hypothetical “utopias” such as Moore’s Utopia and Plato’s Republic have missed a key point; that is, society needs to accept and embrace diversity (also, they all seem very dull to live in). The ruling theory must also be designed to progress and not be a static state. Society is not made up of indistinguishable individuals. I believe that there is an intrinsic value to differences. One fear (of many) that I had with Plato’s utopia was that it allowed no room for creativity, no room for individual expression, no room for progress. Diversity, I believe, helps create progress and progress leads to a better world.

Democracy, if it does in fact discriminate negatively against differences, will eventually cause assimilation and reduce diversity. One of the key ways that business people get ideas for products is to hold focus groups and conduct interviews in that manner. The key benefit of this process is that numerous ideas come up and participants can bounce ideas off of each other. The main concern that focus group conductors have is a concept known as “group-think”, wherein the participants cling to the loudest member of the group or contrasting viewpoints are not brought up as outside participants assimilate to the majority. Democracy could potentially run the risk of causing a similar thing to happen on a grand scale.

In conclusion, equality should not mean to remove the differences among individuals. A difference should not be considered a disadvantage, as people should not be held up to standards that do not reflect their own capabilities. A pregnant woman should not be seen in the same light as a sick man. Women, and other groups that are different from the “norm”, should not be compared to the “norm”. Society should be shaped in such a way that differences are not disadvantages. Historical progress has shaped modern democratic society into one with a male-centric atmosphere, and current democratic theory will not allow this to change with the simple inclusion of women as full-fledged citizens. More drastic and pro-active measures may be needed in order to change society to one that embraces differences and diversity.

However, and this is a big 'however', it escapes me why Mendus decides on the bi-gender split and only shoe-horns in other groups that are not in the norm (males, in her opinion). Even considering the dominant group there exists numerous critical divergences in opinion as to social choices - not all men want the same thing. First-wave feminism fought for the right to vote, a noble cause, and second-wave feminism fought for equal opportunity in the work force and the end to legal sexual discrimination. Modern feminism has no unifying goal, unless the goal is to bring these measures to countries that do not yet have them. It runs the risk of swinging the pendulum in favour of females. For example, one of the goals that has been brought forward for feminism is to reclaim certain words, such as bitch. I guess my husband can start calling himself an asshole, or a dickhead when he's being stubborn or mean, and its fine because he's 'reclaimed' the word to empower himself. A new protest popped up recently called the "SlutWalk" in response to a comment a police officer in Toronto made, "women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized." Apparently its a world-wide phenomenon for women to dress up as "sluts" and go for a walk to reclaim the ability to wear what ever they want. It is my interpretation that the police officer made a fatal mistake of terminology, but he may have been giving sensible advice: Don't dress seductively while walking in a dangerous area. Once again, that's not the final solution it is a preventative measure to be used while society attempts to reduce rape.

I feel that, ultimately, it all falls flat, and the assistance that Mendus wants to not need will have to remain for many of the demographics that fall out of the norm. I created the analogy that women are like cars, and men are like trucks, with society being the rules of the road. Currently, the rules favor trucks, and the pavement is designed for trucks. But even after we make roads that are suitable for both vehicle types we still have to consider whether the road we go down, the destination, is even desirable. Whether society is able to provide us with a meaningful existence or not is a topic for another, broader, and longer discussion.

Sandra Turner
Assimilating bras in Penticton, BC
March, 2014


Jan 17, 2014

Societal Acceptance of Surveillance by Andrew Anson

The surveillance age is upon us, and it has been rising steadily with the progress of technique and technology. Privacy can now be removed in areas once thought to be secure, such as telephones. For example, in the past a government would be considered totalitarian if it were to monitor letters sent in the mail; now it appears to be completely acceptable, and economically feasible, for a government to monitor our phone conversations. And this is happening in some places, if not here in Canada; for example, the U.S. government has been surveilling its citizen’s phone records since it enacted the USA PATRIOT Act back in October 2001(Cassata, 2013). Technology has enabled the economic feasibility of mass surveillance and societal acceptance of surveillance is leading to a state of law where governments are able to monitor its citizens. Laws are often defined by the collective rules of society dictating what is right or wrong; these ‘rules’ are referred to as societal norms. When frame-working a practical way to defend privacy in a legal manner we must analyze societal norms; if people in the aggregate demand privacy this demand will be reflected in law. Culture and its norms are derived from an accumulation of shared messages, rituals, and traditions; all of which can be influenced by mass media such as Reality TV (Hofstede, 2001). Reality TV includes such popular shows as Survivor and Big Brother. Currently, society still has the choice to defend its privacy but it must still believe in privacy’s importance. ‘Reality TV’ with its negligent attitude towards surveillance is having an impact on the Canadian attitude towards privacy. If surveillance becomes a socially acceptable practice privacy will be lost. We must begin to appreciate the value of privacy and have that value be reflected in new anti-surveillance law.

The Value of Privacy

The common argument for surveillance is that it provides greater safety for people, as was the justification for the USA PATRIOT Act. Surveillance effectively reduces privacy; so in the argument against surveillance it is important to justify the value of privacy. I believe that it can be shown that the benefits of privacy outweigh the costs of increased risk. Governments and private corporations have a bias to defend surveillance because it provides valuable information for them.

Jeremy Bentham noted the power of surveillance; he introduced the concept of mass surveillance as the “panoptic gaze”. Bentham stated that mass surveillance; the type of surveillance being realized now, is capable of giving its user “power of mind over mind.” This means that the observer can have a drastic influence in the lives of the observed (Bentham, 1995). Surveillance is an essential part of discipline. Michel Foucault discusses "disciplinary power" which is a form of surveillance which is internalized. The goal of disciplinary power is to produce a person who disciplines himself and eventually becomes docile. A person under surveillance necessarily governs himself in order to avoid punishment. This self governance internalizes the values of the watcher and is ultimately a form of coercion.

A common misconception concerning surveillance is captured in the phrase “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about”" (Cassata, 2013). It was spoken just recently by the American Senator Lindsay Graham concerning the phone surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA), an agency of the United States Department of Defense.  Graham stated, “If you're not getting a call from a terrorist organization, you've got nothing to worry about". This is an illogical excuse to dismiss privacy concerns for two reasons. Firstly, it does not take into account the problem of administrative information error. This type of information error made up the narrative hook of the popular movie Brazil (1985) wherein a small typographical error led to the imprisonment of a man named Buttle, instead of a man named Tuttle. This type of error is certainly not reserved to fiction. Secondly, the statement does not allow for the progress of law and social acceptance. In a world of no privacy, power of autonomy is lost; the individual is no longer able to make illegal decisions. And often times illegal activities become legal through common adoption and acceptance, such as laws prohibiting homosexuality. In a world where people are not able to practice illegal activities prohibition laws will remain for longer. Under constant surveillance, people will fear to challenge the law. There is no freedom without the freedom to fail.

A recent article, published by UK News, demonstrates that the technology to conduct an economically feasible type of panoptic surveillance is not reserved for science fiction; the European Union is developing a program that can hunt the internet and CCTV images for abnormal behavior. An example of the application appears in the article: a fight at a shopping mall can be stopped before it even begins if the program can identify the behavior that occurs before a fight, such as arguing and pushing. The program will alert security who will go to the area of the fight and possibly prevent it from taking place (Johnston, 2009). I believe that having autonomy is more important than potentially stopping fights. People sacrifice safety for other goods in everyday situations. For example, people drive cars at 60km an hour instead of a safer speed of 20km an hour because they value the benefits of speed over the potential benefit of increased safety. When it comes to surveillance, the government claims that it is protecting its citizens, as is the case with the US government and the NSA incident; yet, the value of privacy for millions of those citizens is more valuable than (potentially) saving the lives of a very few. With this logic of safety over privacy a government could justify putting cameras in private homes to prevent domestic violence. Furthermore, people often do legal activities that would result in embarrassment, or some other harm, if observed by a third party. For example, activities such as watching pornography are acceptable by legal standards, but they are often not acceptable by certain social standards.  A person will, presumably, refrain from an activity that they would otherwise enjoy, such as watching pornography, if the person had knowledge (or even suspected) that he or she was being watched. An environment observed by a panoptic gaze lacks basic human freedom of autonomy. A free citizen should not live in a prison environment. The restriction of autonomy becomes even more alarming when discussing basic democratic rights. In a society oppressed by surveillance basic political functions are jeopardized as ruling powers can use the panoptic gaze to control the votes of its citizens (Johnson, 2008). Privacy is also an important factor in the control of personal information giving. Some argue that personal information control is integral to the definition of interpersonal relationships (Rachels, 1975). In conclusion, the importance of privacy should not be overlooked.

The Impact of Media on the Societal Norms that Concern Privacy

Television is a system of storytelling which bring images and messages into the home; these stories help build a shared national culture. These television programs, in the aggregate, build long-term exposure to a system of messages that ultimately cultivate “stable and common conceptions of reality”(Gerbner, 2002). Reality TV, with shows such as Big Brother, displays a ‘reality’ of being constantly watched, which will lead to a society that accepts surveillance as a norm. Steven Reiss states “the message of reality television is that ordinary people can become so important that millions will watch them. And the secret thrill of many of those viewers is the thought that perhaps next time the new celebrities might be them”(Reiss, 2001). In summary, Reality TV glorifies that act of being watched.

Other factors have been at work in the creation of a culture that is accepting of surveillance. These alternate factors generally focus on fear based rationales. The most important component of fear-based surveillance acceptance occurred with the World Trade Center attacks in September 2001. These attacks created an atmosphere of fear where the culture accepted the notion of safety over privacy (Pyszczynski, 2003). The brilliance of the Reality TV influence on this cultural shift is that it does not rely on fear-based stimuli. Reality TV is creating a culture where people enjoy being watched, as can be demonstrated with the recent popularity of random webcam based chat websites such as Chatroulette (Koskela, 2003) (Braiker, 2010).

The Protection of Privacy

Many people heavily fought against the introduction of closed circuit television surveillance technology. The new forms of surveillance that are more effective, subtle, and economically feasible, appear to have had less opposition. It seems that even with people that remain against surveillance the fight for privacy has become fatiguing. A recent leak from NSA reveals the mass amount of private information collected by the US government (Greenwald, 2013). The average person feels hopeless in the goal of remaining anonymous (Duncan, 2011). Users of smart phones often allow applications to track them (apparently even the app for Dictionary.com wants to have access to your location) (Cohen, 2010). And online it is seemingly impossible to remain anonymous for the non-technical user. Even shopping stores gather personal information with loyalty cards, and the practice is getting increasingly popular.

There are, however, steps that people can take to protect their privacy and websites that will help you, as a user, measure your privacy protection (Hasemi, 2012) (Purdy, 2010). The consumer through demand channels can accomplish privacy protection with concern to corporations. For example, one can stop using the Google search engine and opt for a search engine with a no-track policy such as the Duck Duck Go search engine. If the consumer market demands privacy businesses will provide those options in the search for profit. Protection from government intervention is more difficult but not impossible. A recent article published by The Globe and Mail outlines some reasonable actions to promote a more private political landscape (Foust, 2013). A significant number of voting citizens can elect a government with strict privacy policies. If society acknowledges the value of privacy, it can begin to fight for its protection.


Back in Bentham’s age to lack privacy was to lack a room of one’s own; now privacy can be removed even within areas once thought to be secure. The impact of surveillance is already being felt: in modern cities most public and semi-public areas are monitored by CCTV. You can’t pick your nose without feeling self-conscious. Reality TV pushes an acceptance of surveillance; it makes surveillance seem fun and exciting. But being observed has negative consequences. The panoptic gaze of both corporations and government accomplished through the use of modern surveillance technology restrains individual decision making and autonomy. Society has two options: it can accept being watched as a social norm or it can take an active stance against being watched. We cannot rely on any supposed “right to privacy” to protect us, but by taking an active stance the voting population of society can vote for policies that restrict surveillance and create laws that protect privacy. If surveillance becomes a social norm, privacy will disappear completely. Society today has a duty to prevent surveillance for itself and for following generations of people.

Recent events have shown that certain members of society still care about its privacy. For example, Edward Snowden, the man behind the NSA leak, cared enough for Society’s privacy to ruin his career, and possibly his entire life, to expose the mass amounts of surveillance the NSA does. But, the fight for privacy cannot be accomplished by the actions of individuals. The fight for privacy must have Society’s full support.

Hell is other people - Sartre

Andrew Anson
Being monitored in Kelowna, BC
July 2013

Jan 3, 2014

Report the Facts: Late-Victorian Criminology in The Hound of the Baskervilles by Thomas Tomas

This was an essay I originally did for a literature class I took as an elective in college. As the title states, it concerns the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, which I didn't really enjoy reading... I have however in the past few years developed a fondness for the Victorian age, I think because of Alan Moore's From Hell which partially examines their dated criminology tactics (I should do an essay on that book instead...) Anyways, this is the essay, I hope you enjoy it.

Report the Facts: Late-Victorian Criminology in The Hound of the Baskervilles

Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles illuminates the Victorian-age constructions of criminology through its characters’ actions and character archetypes. In the Victorian age great emphasis was placed on the physical traits of a person; some criminologists, such as Cesare Lombroso – who had an influence on British criminology, believed a criminal could be detected through the use of physical analysis (Sabbatini, see works cited at bottom). In the novel, Mortimer is a phrenologist and believes he can detect character traits by observing the construction of one’s skull. The two criminals in the story are the escaped convict Selden and the disgraced Baskerville Jack Stapleton. These two characters are of different criminal types. Selden represents the typical degenerate criminal of the time, while Stapleton represents the intelligent, hidden criminal. The characters in Doyle’s The Hound are often misled by their misconceptions of criminal detection while Sherlock Holmes rejects certain constructs of criminology and uses his rationality and theories of deduction to detect the true criminal.

Watson, the primary narrator of the story, is affected by the tale of the curse of the Baskerville Hound and is more willing to accept a supernatural explanation than is Holmes. In the opening chapter of The Hound Holmes is able to observe Watson examine Mortimer’s walking stick while looking the other way by the use of a “well-polished, silver-plated coffee-pot” that mirrors Watson’s actions. Yet, Watson is initially confused by Holmes’s observation, and claims, albeit in a jesting manner, “I believe you have eyes in the back of your head” . This quip shows the potential of Watson to examine the supernatural in order to explain a scenario instead of trying to discover the rational way that Holmes was able to observe him; Watson leaps into an irrational explanation. This incident foreshadows Watson’s fear of the Hound of the Baskervilles curse and Holmes’s disregard of the supernatural elements of the story. Holmes’s true interest in the curse lies in the effect and power that it has over others and how it can be used in a criminal way – such as Stapleton does use it. Holmes claims that they “are bound to exhaust all other hypotheses [to explain Sir Charles Baskerville’s death] before falling back upon [the supernatural explanation]”. Holmes is able to investigate past the curse and into the true cause of the crime.

Mortimer’s interest in phrenology is quickly ridiculed by both Watson and Holmes. Supporters of phrenology, a theory of the brain, purport that the shape of the skull reveals character traits. The practice of phrenology had diminished in popularity in Britain in the 1850s (Wyhe). Holmes is unwilling to use physical character traits to detect a criminal – he is more interested in looking for incriminating evidence, not faulty evidence of criminal potential. In Holmes’s mind everyone has the potential to be a criminal, to Mortimer’s chagrin. Mortimer; a writer: papers include such works as ‘Is Disease a Reversion?’ and ‘Some Freaks of Atavism’, is portrayed in the first chapter as a “strange visitor” and Holmes disregards Mortimer’s observations of his skull. Mortimer’s hobby is ridiculed further when Watson uses Mortimer’s obsession of craniology to distract Mortimer from his interrogation of the reason of their journey to Coombe Tracey. This ridicule of Mortimer and his phrenology, an element of criminal detection through the analysis of physical features, represents another element of Doyle’s critique on the popular criminal anthropology of the Victorian age. Holmes recognizes that Mortimer is “an enthusiast in [his] line of thought”, as Holmes is in his, only Holmes obviously believes that his “line of thought” is more effective at detecting and apprehending criminals.

Late-Victorians put great emphasis on the physical traits of a criminal. In the context of The Hound, Jack Stapleton is viewed with less suspicion than other potential suspects by Watson due to his intellectual pursuits and well-being. In Stapleton’s entrance in the novel Watson describes him as a “small, slim, clean-shaven, prim-faced man, flaxen-haired and leanjawed”. Selden, in direct contrast to Stapleton, is described in beast-like, degenerate terms: Watson states that Selden has an “evil yellow face, a terrible animal face, all seamed and scored with vile passions”. Watson allows a false correlation between a person’s appearance and his or her criminal intent to bias his investigation. The elements of being a gentleman by the Late-Victorians included social class and occupation as well as a strong moral code (Cody). By being perceived as a gentleman, Stapleton is assumed to be moral person further misleading both Watson and the Late-Victorian readers of Doyle’s novel. Doyle further examines his reader's bias by using Barrymore, a man of lesser social status than Stapleton, as a red-herring.

In the climax of the novel Sherlock Holmes discovers a portrait of the “wild, profane, godless” Hugo Baskerville that reveals a striking resemblance to Jack Stapleton. This similarity alludes to the idea that not only did Hugo’s physical features reappear in Stapleton, but also his character traits. The idea of an evolutionary throw-back of Jack Stapleton to Hugo Baskerville is another element of Victorian criminal anthropology: that some people are criminals by hereditary elements and that criminal behaviour is an evolutionary diminishment of man. Holmes is not interested, however, in the potential of Stapleton being a hereditary criminal, he is interested in establishing that Stapleton, being a Baskerville himself, has motivation to eliminate the remaining Baskervilles and inherit the estate.

In Lombroso’s theory a criminal like Selden is viewed as an evolutionary mistake. Yet Selden’s sister, the wife of Barrymore, claims that Selden’s becoming a criminal was a product of the way that he was raised and the influence of his social interactions. She says “[w]e humoured him too much when he was a lad” and then Selden “met wicked companions, and the devil entered into him”. Mrs. Barrymore herself claims that she is “an honest Christian woman” and there is no criminal history hinted at in Selden’s family’s past. This explanation of Selden’s criminality is in direct opposition to Lombroso’s atavistic criminal theories and hints at the theories concerning environmental factors in criminal development.

Victorian criminology used invalid techniques such as phrenology and held a bias based in false-correlations between criminal activity and social status, or lack thereof. Doyle, in Holmes, helps to illuminate modern techniques. Holmes avoids prejudiced assumptions concerning a suspect’s appearance and instead relies on the development of probable hypotheses and indications of a suspect’s involvement in a crime. He uses the portrait of Hugo Baskerville not to prove that Jack Stapleton is an atavistic return to the character traits of Hugo but to help support his hypothesis that Stapleton has probable motivation to kill Sir Charles and Henry Baskerville in order to inherit the wealthy estate. Holmes is able to look beneath the surface of the suspects, rely on the facts of the case, and solve the crime.

Thomas Tomas
Telegram from Kelowna, BC
February, 2014

Works Cited
The Victorianweb.org is a really good source for lots of information on the Victorian age. The novel can easily be found online.

Cody, David. “The Gentleman” Victorian Web, 2011. Web. 23 July 2013. <http://www.victorianweb.org/history/gentleman.html>

Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Hound of the Baskervilles. Toronto: Random House, 2002. Print.

Sabbatini, Renato. “Cesare Lombroso: A Brief Biography”. 2000. Web. 25 July 2013. <http://www.cerebromente.org.br/n01/frenolog/lombroso.htm>

Wyhe, John van. " The History of Phrenology." Victorian Web, 2000. Web. 23 July 2013. <http://www.victorianweb.org/science/phrenology/intro.html>.