Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Work, Justice, and Time

There has been a lot of public discussion lately about work time in the public and private sectors. Today, the Conference Board of Canada released a report saying that sick time, mostly in the public sector, is a problem to the cost of $16.6 Billion per year.  The Canadian Tax Payers Federation has recently critiqued the sick days taken by public workers in Quebec and in Ottawa.  What is behind this assessment? On one level, there is a blatant ideological attack on unionized public sector workers suggesting that they are entitled and thus not hard workers.   But on another level is the assumption that the only value workers provide in the economy is when they labour in paid employment.  In essence, paid work time is the only value we place on these workers.

Yet, Jeff Noonan argues in his masterful new book, Materialist Ethics and Life Value, that the free realization of human life capacity is grounded in taking back control of workers' time.  In other words, in order to fulfill our capacities as human beings we need time to rest, time be healthy, and time to be free from exploitative and stressful relationships.  Here Noonan argues,

"Since human freedom is a form of activity, and all activity takes place in time, the full experience of time as free depends not only on the quantity of time available for our own appropriation but on how we experience the time in which we act. The full experience of time as free is not given in the experience of not having to do one thing rather than another but of being able to do in the present what we decide is most live-valuable, unconstrained by temporal pressures generated by the ruling value system over our activity (80)."

Noonan's point is not to ignore the importance of work to reproduce socially necessary goods or services (we all have to eat) but rather that we can only fulfill our full potential as human beings by creating socially necessary (and valuable) time.  Such an analysis is different than the assumptions made by the Conference Board and the CTF which simply reinforces the dominant value-system by quantifying workers based on money-value and the time they spend at work.  Having time to be healthy is essential to living full lives. The struggle for more free time seems like an essential struggle for a just and good society.            

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Education and Justice

Education holds a special place in liberal democracies.  For liberal societies, education is promoted as a means to level the social playing field, allowing anyone to access the basic skills to compete in the economy.  While many of these assumptions are problematic (the ability to do well in school, for instance, depends on a host of social indicators), it is equally true that societies that educate their people are generally more equitable. Yet, in the current era, universities and schools are increasingly being placed under market-led restructuring.  Will these initiatives lead to greater access and more effective education or will it be a radical departure from Canada's traditional university model? What do these changes mean for a just and good society?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Justice, Truth, and Reconcilation

Yesterday, the social justice and the common good class heard eye opening stories about poverty and injustice in Saskatchewan.  As our discussion progressed, there was discussion of the horrifying legacy of the residential school system.  We all agreed that more education is needed in order for Aboriginal survivors to find peace and for non-Aboriginal Canadians to confront this horrid colonial legacy. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is certainly a good place to being addressing this history.  How can the commission create the conditions for a just settlement?  What more can (and should) be done for a more just future?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Charter of Quebec Values Part II

Not much to add from the previous post, but a fascinating debate in the Globe and Mail today about the Charter. A 9 person legal panel says 9-0 that the Quebec Charter violates the Canadian Charter.  Read through the arguments here.  There is also an excellent critique by Darryl Leroux on English Canada's reaction to the Quebec Charter of Values here, arguing that it is embedded within deeper conceptions of empire, colonialism, race and racism in North America.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Charter of Quebec Values

The debate on the Charter of Quebec Values is raging across the country.  The Quebec government's decision to ban the wearing of religious symbols in public institutions certainly raises important questions about social justice in the current ear.  On the one hand, there is a consistent and likely correct argument that the Values Charter violates individual rights to religion in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  This raises the question as to why the Quebec government would introduce such legislation.

Yet, on the other hand, is it legitimate (or just) for a community to legislate religious neutrality, as the Quebec government claims? What does justice demand in this situation?  Is the Values Charter an attack on the individual rights of religious minorities or a community attempting to legislate religious state neutrality?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Social Justice and Remembrance

September 11 is the anniversary of two horrendous events: The fascist coup in Chile (1973) and the murder of 3000 people in New York (2001).  Both are tragic events characterized by mass brutality and death. The coup in Chile killed thousands and overthrew Chile's first socialist government.  Salvador Allende remains a fascinating political figure who died fighting for the principles he endorsed.  He certainly had a vision of a just society that was different then the free-market discourse in North America.  You can read more about Allende here. It is important to remember the victims of Chile's coup, especially given the role that the American government played in that coup.  You can read about it here.

It is equally important to remember the victims of political violence that occurred in New York City in 2001. I remember reading Michael Moore's luminous daily journal as he travelled across the United States in the days following Sept.11. It remains a touching account of how ordinary Americans coped with the violence of those attacks.  It is worth reading.  Justice requires that we remember the victims of all senseless killings, while striving for a world where political violence becomes a thing of the past.    

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Noonan and the public good

We are using one of Jeff Noonan's excellent books on the critique of materialist ethics.  Essential to Noonan's critique is the concept of "life value" as opposed to individualized "money value."  In this article, Noonan lays out a defence of public institutions (and the workers who run them) as contributing to collective "life-capacity development."  Noonan's position is that the preservation of public institutions is essential for defending justice and the good.  Do you agree with Noonan?  Is it essential for a just society that public workers fight to preserve the dignity of public institutions like at the University of Windsor?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Justice and War

It is impossible to discuss questions of justice today without mentioning the civil war in Syria. The current debates surrounding Western intervention in Syria sound eerily like the debates for war in Iraq and Afghanistan a decade ago and those conflicts are still ongoing.  It would seem that few people equate war with peace. Given the overwhelming opposition to war, can there ever be such a thing as a "just"war?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

SJCG started today!

Social Justice and the Common Good started today.  It looks like it will be a dynamic and exciting class.  We began with a simple question with complex answers: What makes a "just" and "good" society?  We'll be coming back to this question throughout the term.  In the meantime, Janine Brodie offers an interesting analysis in Reforming Social Justice in Neoliberal Times.