Noise Trespass

We need a noise trespass law.  At the very least, the concept of noise trespass should be as familiar among the general population as physical trespass.

Why is going onto someone’s private property without permission (physical trespass) considered a wrong?  Because doing so is intrusive (presuming a right to privacy) and potentially damaging.  The same goes for sending noise onto someone’s private property.

Noise is intrusive because it—the sound of machinery, loud music, screaming kids, even conversations (having to listen to someone have an extended cellphone conversation, for example)—detracts and distracts from whatever one is trying to do, whether that’s watching tv, listening to (one’s own preferred) music, writing an essay, filling out income tax returns, sleeping…it doesn’t really matter.  Surely we have a right to privacy concerning our attention; noise hijacks our attention—it coerces us to pay attention to something we don’t want to pay attention to.

Noise is potentially damaging in a number of ways.  Depending on a number of factors (of which dB is only one), noise “damages hearing [at least 20% of teenagers now suffer from slight hearing loss], disturbs communication, disrupts sleep, affects heart function, intrudes on cognition…, reduces productivity, provokes unwanted behaviors, and increases accidents” (Mitra).  It can also cause or contribute to “anxiety, stress, nervousness, nausea, headache, emotional instability, argumentativeness, sexual impotence, change in mood, increase in social conflicts, neurosis, hysteria, and psychosis” (Noise Free America).

Noise produced by industry, airports, and so on is already being monitored and regulated.  I’m talking here about the noise caused by individuals in residential neighborhoods.  Various sound charts put city traffic at around 80dB, the subway at 88dB, a garbage truck at 100dB; lawnmowers and leafblowers can also be as high as 100dB, and chainsaws, dirt bikes, ATVs, boat motors, and PWCs are louder still, at around 110dB.

But, one might object, although we own our own property, and so have a right to object when someone trespasses on it, we don’t own the air over our property, and sound travels through the air.  There are several replies to this: we shouldn’t own the land either (and yet physical trespass might still be wrong, merely because of occupancy); we should also own the air over our land (in which case, noise trespass is as wrong as physical trespass); we collectively own the air (and that’s sufficient to consider noise a trespass); ownership is irrelevant altogether (occupancy is sufficient).  People get upset when a neighbour’s dandelion seeds travel through air and land on their property; is there not similar justification for getting upset when a neighbour’s sound waves travel through air and ‘land’—ah, but they don’t land on one’s property.  No, but they ‘land’ on one’s eardrums: sound is not perceived until the sound waves ‘hit’ one’s eardrums.  Surely that’s even more intrusive: the sound waves actually touch our body, not just our property.

In any case, smoke from burning tires travels through air, and if it travels from your neighbour’s property through the air onto your property, or, more accurately, into the air over your property, perhaps even through your open windows into your house, you would, I think, cry foul.

In addition to the intrusion and the damage, most of the annoying noise caused by individuals is avoidable.  Manual lawnmowers, rakes, and clippers have enabled people to take care of their lawns for almost a century.  I suspect that dirt bikes, ATVs, and PWCs can be redesigned to be quiet; for starters, could they not use electric motors rather than two-stroke gas-powered motors?  They certainly don’t have to be modified to increase their noise (as they often are), and they can be driven in a fashion that minimizes their noise (as they often are not).  And, of course, people could use instead bicycles, kayaks, canoes, and so on.  And earbuds or headphones.  And landline phones inside buildings.

All of which begs the question: why don’t we consider noise trespass to be trespass?  Are we so unable to consider the invisible and the intangible?  It we can’t see it or touch it, it doesn’t exist?  Despite its obvious effects?

Or is it that men like noise?  (After all, for the most part, they’re the ones making it.)  And it is the male view, male interests, male values that dictate law and custom, make no mistake about that.  This is the view presented at Manly Power Tools.  It’s also the view endorsed by a certain electronic composer who, when asked why he writes such loud, dense music, replied “Besides the obvious?  The desire to fill all this space with sound?”  Perhaps men are still being led around by their primitive brain, and all their noise is just a sublimated roar, mistakenly believed to be necessary for survival.  (Which begs the question: when will they evolve into homo sapiens?)

 

Private Property and Visual Intrusion

There should be regulations about what people can put on their private property that will be in view of their neighbours.  Even more than in public spaces, visual material on private property is not easily avoided.  If you put a swastika or a pornographic image on your garage door, and that door is right across from your neighbours’ living room window, they will have to see it every time they look out their window.  Asking them not to look out their window is unreasonable.   If they were there first, they have a right to ask you not to put the image on your garage door.  If you were there first and had the image on your garage door when they were looking for a place, they could have chosen to not move in (and so don’t have the right to ask you to remove it) (maybe).

But it’s not even, or not only, so-called ‘offensive’ images that I’d prohibit.  It’s anything the neighbour doesn’t want to see every day, anything that’s an unwanted intrusion on their consciousness.  It could be a ‘Jesus Loves You’ sign (unwanted by the atheist), the Canadian flag (upsetting to someone who is well aware of Canada’s environmental record), or even an inoffensive and non-upsetting image of an infant playing with building blocks.  Who knows?  It doesn’t matter.  The people who are forced to see your house every day are the ones who get a say in how it looks.  From the outside.  To them.  What you put in your back yard doesn’t affect them, so they don’t have a say.  What you put inside your garage, or inside your house, doesn’t affect them, so they don’t have a say.  But what you put in plain view?  They should have a say.  A reasonable say.

Obviously the effects of such a prohibition increase the more visible you are.  If you own a penthouse apartment that can be seen by thousands, guess what.  If you own a house on a lake that can be seen by everyone on the lake, guess what.

To provide just one example, I live in a cabin on a lake in a forest and several people consider it appropriate to ‘decorate’ their property, lakeside, with solar lights that can never be turned off.  Some are arranged in a runway fashion to mark a path from their house to their lake; some are arranged in a row along their frontage.  Needless to say, the lights really ruin the beauty of the lovely moonlight glimmering on the water, the otherwise dark forest…  I claim that such lights shouldn’t be allowed.

First, my right to revel in the natural beauty every night trumps their right to ‘decoration’ that isn’t even being appreciated (if they’re weekenders, they’re back in the city during the week and so don’t see their lights; if they live there, they’re typically asleep in bed after midnight and so don’t see their lights).  Second, my right to revel in the natural beauty trumps the marginal utility of the lights even when they are there or awake because there are alternatives (one can use a flashlight or install motion sensor lights that go on only when one needs to see the way).  People with lakeside solar lights are imposing their conception of decoration and utility on everyone else, and they are preventing others from appreciating their own conception of beauty (the dark night, the moonlight glimmering on the water).  If your property is in the middle of natural beauty, you have an obligation not to ruin it.  And if you don’t see that, you shouldn’t live there.  Similarly, people who don’t appreciate Beethoven shouldn’t go to concerts and talk all the way through.

And if those lights are blinking, it’s even worse: given the way our brains are wired, our attention is coerced.  No one has a right to force me to pay attention to something I don’t want to attend to, and blinking lights do just that.

One may counter by claiming that surely one is allowed to do what one wants on and with one’s own property.  Well, no.  For example, you shouldn’t be allowed to dump oil on your property because it will seep through the soil into other people’s property and into the lake.  When your actions affect others, there are limits to what you can do.

In short, even though your property is ‘private’, what you put on it is not: as long as it can be seen by others, it’s public.  And it should therefore be subject to restrictions: you don’t have a right to coerce other people’s attention, especially if what you’re forcing them to pay attention to is something they don’t want to pay attention to.

And here’s something else that would never happen to a man …

So this guy in our neighborhood has early Alzheimers and dizzy spells.  He’s looking for a babysitter (his word) and someone to cook for him and do his cleaning so he doesn’t have to go into a home.  And he asked me.

I have no experience babysitting.  And absolutely no aptitude for it.

Yes, I do my own cooking and cleaning, but I have no interest in it, at all, and do as little as possible.

So why did he ask me?  Because I’m a middle-aged woman.  Apparently that’s what middle-aged women do, that’s what we are, that’s what we’re for.

Yes, I’ve been friendly with him, stopping to chat or at least wave when I walk by (as a result of which he once asked me if I like sex and whether I’m any good at it—apparently that’s another thing women do, are, are for), but I doubt that friendliness on the part of a man would have indicated that he’s available for babysitting, cooking, or cleaning (or sex).

I’ve got three degrees, I used to be a philosophy instructor, I’ve published several books, and I’m currently making a living as a freelancer.  Would a man with such credentials be asked to be someone’s babysitter and do their cooking and cleaning?

Ah, but this guy doesn’t know I’m all that.  And that’s also telling.  If I were man who has lived in this neighborhood (small, rural) for twenty-five years, everyone would likely know all of that about me.  But I don’t go around announcing these things, and no one’s ever asked.  Because they just assume I’m—well, none of that.  After all, I’m just a middle-aged woman.

P.S. – Spread the word – I invite women to add their own “And here’s something else that would never happen to a man” entries via the comments function.  I’d love for this post to turn into a blog sort of like ‘What is it like to be a woman in philosophy?’

 

New and Improved

‘New and improved’ is not just a bit of harmless puffery; it’s a two-party addiction.  Stupid consumers must have and stupid companies must produce – new and improved stuff.  And it hurts third parties.  Such as the animals who are used to test a product every time it changes, every time it becomes new and improved.  And, perhaps more importantly (though I’m really not sure anymore), the people who won’t get their needs met because resources are being spent on stupid people’s wants.

There is a difference.  Between needs and wants.  One you can do without, the other you can’t.  People like to call wants ‘needs’, however, because needs are more compelling, and such people are thus being manipulative: to say ‘I need X’ makes it sound like it’s not an option, like X must be provided; but to say ‘I want X’ leaves the other more free not to fulfil the request.  We need clean water, nutritious food, shelter/warmth, and sometimes, medical care.  Everything else is a want.  (So yes, Freud and Maslow and every man since who says sex is a need – you’re wrong.  Evidence supports the contrary claim: surprising as this may seem, people who don’t have sex do not die.)

Nor do you die without the new and improved dish detergent or lip gloss.  Or this year’s Chrysler.  Don’t get me wrong: many improvements are indeed improvements; some are even valuable improvements.  The new detergents without phosphates are much better than the ones we had before, the ones with phosphates.  And the car with the catalytic converter and higher mpg is better than its predecessor.  But most changes are not improvements.  (There is a difference – between change and improvement.)  And most improvements are not significant enough to warrant new and improved products at the rate they’re being put on the market.

Most of the new and improved stuff is stuff we don’t need.  Actually, so is most of the old and unimproved stuff.  There’s a frighteningly high number of people in our society who exhibit arrested development, who seem stuck at the infantile phase of shouting ‘More! More! I want more!’  I yearn for the day when kids across our country do not start each day reciting a prayer or the anthem but the words ‘We don’t need.’  Because, by and large, in Canada, we don’t.  We don’t need.  We already have.  Enough.

Growth is not always good.  We have these good associations with the word because we think of a child growing.  But the healthy child stops growing when it reaches an optimum size.  There’s a name for unlimited growth: cancer.

And it’s this not stopping, it’s this making and taking more than we need, that has gotten us into this dead end.  The oil supplies will run out, according to the oil industry, by 2040.  The ozone layer is still dealing with the CFCs we released in the 1980s.  We have enough radioactive garbage to make a six foot high pile stretching clear across our country and we don’t know what to do with it.  Isn’t it time to stop?  To grow up and say ‘No thank you, I’m fine, I have enough’?

 

Solo Women’s Invisible Economic Expenses

It really hit home when my father gave me twenty bucks for a pizza, his treat.  As if I were a teenager.  Instead of a 50-year-old woman with a mortgage to pay, property taxes,  and monthly bills for oil, electricity, phone, internet, tv, house insurance, car insurance…  Amazing.  He was sitting in my living room at the time.  (My living room.)  A carpenter I’d hired to do some renovations on my house (my house) was outside working at the time.  And yet, he seemed to think I didn’t need, or couldn’t use, any real money.  He couldn’t see me as an adult negotiating my way in the real world, the one with jobs, paycheques, mortgages, and bills.

How did he think I came to own my own house?  Who did he think would be paying the carpenter?  Who does he think bought the car sitting in my driveway?  And pays for its repairs?

I don’t doubt for a minute that my parents have given my brother and my married sister a lot more than twenty bucks over the years (I divorced them thirty years ago, so I don’t really know) (and for that reason, I don’t feel entitled to anything from them, but that’s not my point), starting with the hundred-dollar (thousand-dollar?) gifts they gave them to start their households.  Said gifts were ostensibly wedding gifts, but hey, I had a household to start too.  Why do they get a new fridge and I get a hand-me-down blender just because they’re starting a new household with someone to whom they’ve contracted themselves?

And it’s not just my parents, of course.  The twenty-bucks-for-pizza incident wasn’t by any means the first time my economic expenses have been apparently invisible.  A neighbour (a kept woman) explained to me once that she and her husband were happy to have given the commission from the sale of their property to a certain real estate agent, a woman, (instead of selling the property without involving her, which they could have done), because her husband had recently died, so she was on her own now.  No similar sympathy has ever been directed my way.  And I’ve been on my own since I was twenty-one.

Why is this?  What can explain this phenomenon, a phenomenon that is surely causally related to women’s lower salaries?  The belief, clearly mistaken if anyone cared to open their eyes, that every woman is married?  (And every married woman is completely supported by her husband?)  The insistent belief that women are, or should be, considered children?  (And children don’t have adult needs, adult financial responsibilities…)

In 2009, American single women outnumbered married women (All the Single Ladies, Rebecca Traister).  So what do people like my parents think?  That banks waive our mortgage payments, and landlords never charge us rent; that insurance companies waive our premiums; that oil and propane companies fill our tanks, but never send us a bill; that we get our cars and bus passes for free; that we don’t have to pay for gas; that grocery stores let us walk out with all the food we want, for free; that our dentists and optometrists don’t charge us for check-ups; and that little elves come in the middle of the night and leave heaps of money so we can pay for whatever else we need.

 

On Power Outages in the Middle of Nowhere

I live in a cabin on a lake in the forest.  You’d think that whenever the power goes out, there would be silence.  Lovely silence.  And lovely dark.  And there is.  For all of thirty seconds.  Then everyone’s backup generator goes on.  And for the next five, ten, twenty, or forty-eight hours, I hear engine noise.  Constant engine noise.  Like a tractor trailer is parked in my driveway.  Idling.  Loudly.

Because my god but the world would end if people had to go without TV for five hours!  Or without whatever the hell it is they need their generators for.

Two hours in, and they’re driving into town.  Because ‘What about supper?’  What?  Food is that foremost on your mind?  You’re not in Ethiopia.  You just ate a couple hours ago.  And if you’re really that hungry, don’t you have anything in the house that can be eaten raw, out of the box, or out of the can?

Perhaps they can’t stand the silence.  No, that can’t be right, because everyone’s generators are on.

Is it that they can’t stand the severance from—what, exactly?  Civilization?  Please.  Most people here couldn’t care less about their neighbours.  When I asked one to join a sort of neighbourhood watch so we could call the fire department whenever, during a total fire ban, some asshole one had a huge, blazing campfire, as was his habit, she refused.  Didn’t want to stick her neck out.

Quite apart from the fact that a power outage doesn’t sever you from civilization.  Can’t you hear everyone’s generators?  Everyone’s still here.

Is it that people are so fearful they need the illusion of safety that noise and light provide?  Hm.  Now I understand why people have their TV on all day even though they aren’t watching it.  And it suddenly occurs to me that most of the people who live here never leave their houses, except to get into their car and go somewhere.  I never see them out for a walk, on the road, or in the forest.  I never see them down at the water, let alone out on the lake.

Or perhaps it’s just that there’s nothing going on inside their little heads, so they need the external stimulation to keep them from utter boredom.

Far more than pathetic, it’s scary.  That people are so dependent on that kind of (external) energy.

Why don’t we have professional jurors?

A while ago I received a summons to appear for jury selection.  So I dutifully drove to the courthouse on the day in question ready to establish my fitness to serve.  No, that’s not true.  I drove to the courthouse on the day in question ready to answer their questions – and curious as to whether one or both of the lawyers would decide they’d rather not have me on the jury.

The judge welcomed us — all hundred of us, it was standing room only — and  briefly described the upcoming trial and the jury selection process.  He then said, “If there is anyone with hearing problems who has trouble hearing what’s being said in the court room, please raise your hand.”  The process was off to an impressive start, I thought.

We were a motley crew of housewives, electricians, social workers, administrative assistants, metal fabricators, and restaurant owners.  I know, because as we were called one by one to stand before the lawyers, that information was provided to them.  We weren’t asked if we had any prejudices, if we had any issues with the law that had been broken, or if we would be able to render a fair decision.  (‘Yes, but the relevant issue is whether my prejudices would get in the way’; ‘Yes, I don’t think possessing marijuana should be illegal, nor do I think selling it should be illegal – especially as long as selling alcohol is lega’l; and ‘That depends on what evidence is presented and how it’s presented – and your definition of ‘fair’.’)  Which means that the lawyers’ decisions to accept or reject us were based solely on what we looked like and what we did for a living.  So much for prejudices and rendering a fair decision.

Oh, and we were asked to look the accused in the eye.  (“AAGH!”)

And then, if we were accepted, we were asked this question: “Do you swear that you shall well and truly try and true deliverance make between our sovereign the Queen and the accused at the bar, whom I have in charge, and a true verdict give, according to the evidence, so help you God.”  Well, ya should’ve asked that before.  Because first, I don’t know what the hell “true deliverance make” means.  Second, as for being able to give a true verdict, if we knew what the truth of the matter was, we wouldn’t have to have a trial now, would we? And third, I’m atheist, so I’m not putting my hand on that.  ‘Reject’ both attorneys say at once.

Well, no they didn’t, actually, because I never got a chance to say any of that.  The required thirteen jurors were selected before my name was called.  And I have no idea why the chosen thirteen were chosen.  Why was the college instructor rejected?  Because she might ask too many questions and get too few answers and, therefore, hang the jury?  Because it would be too inconvenient for her to be away from her job for two weeks?  And why was the steelworker accepted?  Because he smiled at the judge and seemed like an awshucks kinda guy?  Or because his employer would reimburse him so the five dollars an hour we’d be getting paid wouldn’t be quite so appalling.  (Mind you, that’s just if the trial goes on for more than ten days; for the first ten days, we aren’t paid at all — which means it may well cost us to be a juror, given the ten days’ lost income.)

What’s even more appalling, of course, is that someone’s future is at stake.  Whether or not the accused spends time, possibly years, in prison is up to people who aren’t even getting paid.

‘Course why should they be?  It’s not like they’re qualified.  Their names were drawn out of a hat and they were chosen largely on the basis of their appearance.

All of which BEGS the question, Why don’t we have professional jurors?  People who are trained not only to recognize and resist personal prejudice, but to recognize and resist loaded language.  People who understand the difference between fact and opinion, and who know what an argument is, and the difference between an inductive argument and a deductive one.  People who can identify and evaluate unstated assumptions, and who understand relevance, the difference between correlation and causation, and the difference between necessary and sufficient conditions.  People who understand the many ways to reason incorrectly and who know how to evaluate personal testimony, sources, and studies.  People who are paid according to their qualifications and contribution.

Seriously, why don’t we have professional jurors?  Is it because we want a jury of our peers to decide our fate?  Why in the world would most people want that?  Most people’s peers couldn’t tell the difference between good evidence and bad evidence if their – your – life depended on it!  Is it because we think that in a democracy such decisions are best made by the common people?  Right, well, maybe that’s the problem with democracy.  We have professional judges; our judges are trained to be clear and critical thinkers (notwithstanding the one mentioned above).  And since jurors often bear more responsibility for the judgements to be made in our courts, they too should be trained, qualified to do the job.

I can do whatever I want on my own property!

I am so very sick and tired of hearing ‘I can do whatever I want on my own property!’  The latest instance concerns a neighbour who has stuck some of those new solar lights in front of her cottage, lakeside of course.

Thing is, they don’t have an on/off switch.  So what she’s done on her own property means the rest of us will have to see her lights every night, all night, for the rest of our lives.

If we lived in the city, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad; they’d get ‘lost’ in their surroundings.  But we live on a lake in the forest.  Where the stars are amazing and the moon glimmers across the water. And now there are a dozen lights at eye level a little to my left whenever I look out at night. They stand out like a middle finger.

I can understand the desire for outdoor lights in order to see where you’re going, but then turn them off when you go to bed.  Or in this case, cover them.  And I can understand the possibility of all-night lights deterring wildlife, but motion-sensor lights would be a better choice, if only for the startle effect.

Please, people, are you really that stupid?  Do you really not see that what you do, even on your own property, affects others?  On that basis, those others most certainly do have a right to ask you not to do something.

In the same way, your pre-1980 use of spray cans is justifiably subject to my complaint.  It’s why I’m at risk for skin cancer now.  Your excessive use of fossil fuels was partly responsible for the flood or drought that destroyed my house.  (Let’s say.)  Your actions often have consequences for me.  Not immediately and not directly and maybe you’re too stupid to see any other kind of consequence, but nevertheless, most certainly, what you do affects me.

The really sad thing is that my neighbour doesn’t even notice the lights.  She doesn’t believe me when I say I do.  She’s that desensitized to her environment.  Or that inattentive.  She thinks I’m exaggerating the intrusion.  I received the same response when I complained about the bright red Home Hardware sign that suddenly appeared nailed to a tree at the end of the lane.  And when I’ve complained about any one of a hundred noises – dirt bikes, atvs, leaf blowers, weed trimmers, generators, chain saws.  Those of us who see things, who hear things, those of us who pay attention to what’s around us, we’re the ones to suffer.  The dullards who go through life with a ‘What?’ expression permanently on their face, who wouldn’t notice, well, anything, they’re the ones living happily.  So in order not to go crazy, I wear earplugs most of the time now.  And my reading glasses, so everything more than six feet past the tip of my nose is out of focus.  The alternative is to become as oblivious as the rest of ‘em.

Business in Denial

‘We’re just providing what the market, what people, demand.’  ‘The customer is squarely in the driver’s seat.’  Yeah right.  Gosh, shucks, don’t-look-at-me.

One, I doubt that’s true.  I mean, if people really wanted your product, you wouldn’t (have to) spend millions on advertising, advertising to persuade them to buy it.  Supply isn’t (just) following demand; demand is (also) following supply.  Your supply.  You’re in the driver’s seat.

Two, even if it is true, that people do want it, I find it hard to believe that someone with enough whatever to get into positions of power, decision-making positions, would be so meekly obedient to the desires, the demands, of the common people.

Or so helpless: ‘demands’ is such loaded language, implying that resistance, your resistance, is futile, implying that you are without power here.

Or so spineless – as if you have no mind, no desire, no will of your own.

Please, have the guts, the maturity, to take responsibility for your actions.  You have a choice.  You produce/provide what you do because you choose to, because you want to.  If you are acceding to market demands – and I have no doubt that you are – it’s because it’s profitable, it’s because (you think) it’s in your best interests.  You ‘want to make it easy for the customer to do business with [you]’ because business with you is business for you.  Customers are a means to your end of profit.  Otherwise you’d be as interested in poverty management as you are in wealth management.

‘Our shareholders demand high returns.’  Another pass-the-buck denial of responsibility.  One, again, I doubt that’s strictly true.  Did you ask them all?  And was their response fully informed?  Were they aware that their high returns come at the expense of others? (Others’ low wages, loss of employment; others’ high prices, loss of choice through monopoly; environmental degradation; etc.)

And two, even if they do, again, do you have to obey them?  Of course not.  Unless – and here’s the all important hidden (by you, from you) assumption – unless you want the value of your company to be ‘high’ so people will give you money.  There’s that self-interest again.

‘Return on equity is an important measure of our success.’  Not the amount of good one does, not the amount of happiness one creates, no, these things don’t matter; success isn’t even justice, isn’t getting back what one puts out, no, success is how much more one gets back than one puts out.  Self-interest.  Literally, interestFor the self.  It’s egoism, pure and simple.  And childish and dangerous.  I don’t think ‘society as a whole’ is in the vocabulary.  The total inability to recognize, let alone deal with, the moral dimension – i.e., the consideration of others – is frightening.

And the ego knows no satisfaction.  ‘From start-up to growth.’  The life cycle of a business seems to stop there.  At growth.  And more growth.  And more growth.  Excuse me?  What about stasis?  What about decline?  They are part of the entire life cycle.  Only a cancer grows and grows and grows.

 

Visionary?

Reading about Nipissing University’s Students in Free Enterprise (NUSIFE), which is a group of students who undertake projects “intended to increase the public’s awareness of entrepreneurship and business-related subjects,” it occurs to me to wonder why such an endeavour is undertaken only by business students.

Consider the projects listed below – and imagine…

– “Global Crusaders” educated high school students about minimum wages and exchange rates in five different countries – why not educate them about gender issues in five different countries?

– “Team Builders” led team-building exercises during a weekend program at the YMCA – my guess is that sociology students’ take on team-building would be quite different than that of business students…

– “Junior Tycoons” were high school students presented with a basic business plan – why not present “Junior Diplomats” with a recess plan based on insights from political science, history, and psychology?

– “Budgeting for Mental Health Patients” – how about “Philosophy for Mental Health Patients”?

– “My First Bank Account” – whatever happened to “My First Library Card”?

– “Nipissing East Community Opportunities” received a marketing plan – they could have used an environmental assessment plan…

– “Show Me the Money” was about financial planning guidelines on the web – how about “Show Me the Stars”, astronomy on the web?

– “A Feasibility Study” was presented to graphic arts students – how about presenting them with an ethics study?

Such projects, both by training students to apply their knowledge outside academia and by increasing the visibility of business in the outside world, probably contribute to the strangle-hold business – business activities and business interests – has on the world; therefore, suggesting that such endeavours be undertaken by humanities and science students as well is more than an exercise in imagination – it’s an identification of responsibility.

This particular infiltration of business is so developed that there are actually competitions among universities for their SIFE teams.  Yes, there are poetry and drama competitions too, but poems and plays don’t reach out and engage the community in the same way; they just present to, perform for, the community (except for those cool workplace theatre guerrilla groups).  Perhaps science does a little better – there are, of course, the annual science fairs, but from time to time I also see students out in the field with their lab kits.

This lack of engagement is rampant throughout the humanities curriculum.  We teach our English students how to appreciate and write poetry, but not how to find a literary agent; how to appreciate and write drama, but not how to produce a play.  Philosophy students are great at clarifying concepts and values, identifying hidden assumptions, testing for consistency and coherence; psychology students know all about how our minds and emotions work; sociology students know about people in groups, small and large, in cultures and subcultures and countercultures; history students know what hasn’t worked.  Along with our students of gender studies and native studies and our other social science students, humanities students (the humanities focus on humanity – and who, what, are we talking about when all is said and done?), and of course our science students (what is humanity but one bunch of carbon-based organisms among many), would be great consultants if they had any consulting skills.[1]  But we don’t teach them how to write a proposal, how to contract for business, or how to manage a project.

Until we do these things, our humanities and science students will be dependent on business students as go-betweens and as enablers.  And since business students, by definition apparently, have profit as their motivator, their purpose, and their goal, there is bound to be a certain amount of unfulfilled potential.  Business students are not likely to set up Sociologists, Inc. or History Is Us.  Nor are they even likely to engage the services of non-business students as consultants.

OPAS is another example of the deficiency I’m trying to expose.  It’s a partnership between Ontario universities and Canadian companies, named “The Office for Partnerships for Advanced Skills” with a mandate to “foster more effective relations between universities and companies who hire and maintain a highly skilled workforce” and “respond to requests and develop initiatives that promote increased use of university-based resources including advanced skills development.”  One might be forgiven, therefore, for thinking it was pretty inclusive.  This seems indicated even by the Special Events & Programs (which includes “the Visionary Seminar Series, Industry Sector Symposia, Internship & Reciprocal Exchange Programs and the development of a National Network”) and by the Skills Development statement (which says “In knowledge industries, skills requirements advance and change, creating new needs. OPAS responds to these changing skills needs with solutions designed and delivered by leading university programs across Ontario”).

However, a close look reveals that there isn’t a whole lot of room for humanities and social science; there’s something for science and engineering (an auto parts symposium is listed, as well as a biotech sector symposium), but it seems that the university programs they’re talking about partnering with are pretty much the BBA and MBA.  Their website welcome page confirms this: “In today’s knowledge-based economy, business organizations are faced with the need to address constant changes in operating practices, human capital requirements, and technology.”  That page is pure business buzz (“human capital”?!).  (And there you do see the specification – “business organizations….”)

Indeed, had I visited the OPAS website first, I wouldn’t have been so surprised to discover that the keynote speaker (the only speaker) at the “Visionary 2000” seminar was the CEO of the Royal Bank (how much more focussed on business, profit, money, can you get?).  And the very fact that his talk, nothing more than a Royal Bank promo, was billed as visionary indicates just how much we need to correct this deficiency.

 

[1] Marc Renaud, president of SSHRC, says “many of the key questions confronting our society fall within the realm of the social sciences and the humanities and our disciplines represent a goldmine of knowledge that can help.  We need to make sure that people outside the research community know about this goldmine, so that it can be put to broader use” (quoted by David Bentley in “Humanities for humanity’s sake” University Affairs).