In general, I was impressed by the variety and the depth of certain presentations. However, I was deeply bothered by a number of statements that had creeped in the presentations. I am not sure if those presenters meant what I heard or they were fretted by the tyranny of time constraint. However, I was surprised to see the lack of objections by an audience who would get way too enthusiastic about these statements. I will clarify what I mean by “bothering”, by providing examples from the whole festival.
I heard some keywords that made me literally jump on my chair, not because of the words per se, but because of the lack of context, the lack of explanation for their use and the lack of evidence provided:
1) Responsibility (social or otherwise)
as I have already mentioned, this is a fantastic concept if contextualized properly and attached to a certain action (responsibility in doing what? eating responsibly? thinking about the environment? be thoughtful and read between the lines?) the problem here is that if the term is used out of context and only anecdotal examples are provided to strengthen its significance, we run into some serious risks: in fact, responsibility is a double sward term: it can imply responsibility in making choices that may benefit us and other people, but it also means having to deal with problems by ourselves because it is “our responsibility” not someone else to do it (and of course, not the government’s, the social system, or health care’s problem). the first meaning implies a number of negotiations and reaching out to a community or a group of likeminded individuals who discuss and eventually legitimate what is “responsible” and what is not (and this implies conflict, but conflict can be healthy sometimes). this means dealing with a number of “power” relations, because what is meaningful to me might infringe the right of someone else and vice versa (se what is good for Alberta’s oil sand workers and what is good for the communities who have to clean up after them). the second meaning gives me the shivers: it implies an invalidation of the role of the community and a fragmentation of society, and a validation of private and single interventions (and why should the oil sand worker leav his job becasue he is taking is responsibility when he is making money with that job?). may I remind everybody that we live in a society that encourages already this behavior?
2) Complexity (allright, everything is complex)
I have noticed that at ST there was a a tendency to use the term in a “scientific way” that is, through “cognitive science,” as if this science could legitimate its liberal use. of course, no explanation on how cognitive science is using this term was given whatsoever (it was often said that it was coming from there). while I do understand that things are messy, convoluted and ….well, complex, I would have loved to see an actual analysis. it is not sufficient to say that we should reject dichotomies or the “us vs them” attitude because “they are not productive.” how specifically are they not productive? is it because they imply a conflict? but isn’t that conflict part of that very complex system? Frances Wesley gave a few examples of what she meant by “overcoming the us vs them attitude”: in particular, she mentioned a “victory” to save the rainforest in British Columbia that implied a series of negotiations, advocacy and collaborations between individuals rather than fights over the issue. however, she failed to recognize that before agreeing to go to the negotiations table, activists of all positions and political beliefs had fought hard with demonstrations and protests: had it not been for the protests, probably there would have been no negotiation at all. sometimes (most times to my experience) acting at the policy level solely does not solve much. At the end a “solution” was found by sitting together on the same table: but a solution for whom (mmmm, the pictures she showed of the “victorious team” only displayed white folks….and where are the indigenous people? just a coincidence)? once again, here there is a failure to recognize the mechanisms of power involved in any negotiation, struggle, or agreement.