Tag Archives: media

Journalism and Democracy in the Chronicle-Herald Strike

The strike at the Halifax Chronicle-Herald (hereafter CH) is dragging into its 12th week. Events over the past weekend show how the strike is important, and not just for those directly involved. It shows how labour disputes are often as much about struggles over whose expertise within, and authority over, the work process is recognized, as they are about pocketbook issues like wages and pensions. And it shows the importance of responsible journalism for a functional democracy.

First, the backstory: The paper’s newsroom workers have been walking the picket line (and producing an online paper of their own) since January 23rd. In this weekend’s edition, the CH put out a particularly inflammatory story, stating that Syrian refugee children at a Halifax elementary school were “choking, pushing, slapping and verbally abusing their fellow classmates,” and that school staff appeared to be doing little, if anything, about it. Over the weekend, the CH first (without explanation) edited the story, taking out some of the details, and then deleted the story entirely their website with a terse apology. The story presumably remains in its original form in the paper edition. I won’t link to the CH site while its employees are striking. But if you are really curious, the original story is reproduced, along with an angry critique, here. Tim Bousquet at the Halifax Examiner took it apart in a post yesterday, focusing on factual inaccuracies and the failure to adhere to professional and ethical standards. The Halifax Typographical Union, which represents striking CH workers, issued a statement yesterday. The Superintendent of the Halifax Regional School Board made a public statement, addressed to all school board staff, today.

As Bousquet’s post makes clear, whoever was responsible for producing the story failed to adhere to some of the basic standards of journalistic integrity: a failure to verify claims, lack of balance, lack of context for granting interviewees anonymity, and unethical treatment of the children who were at the center of the story. And as both his post and the HTU statement make clear, these failures have to be put in the context of the CH labour dispute. The HTU statement puts it plainly:

Both [the story writer and editor] were hired and assigned according to the skills and abilities that management deems appropriate for the job.

This gets to the heart of the point about expertise and authority. Unions, by definition, are comprised of people who have a kind of work in common. What they share is not just an interest in getting paid decently by a common employer, but also inside knowledge about how the work process actually functions. Unions claim a particular kind of knowledge or expertise, and, through collective bargaining over working conditions, try to gain some authority over how their members’ work is done.

If it wasn’t clear before this weekend, it is now: the professional judgement of reporters and editors (the authorization of their expertise) is essential to producing a reliable, high-quality newspaper. If this weekend’s (non-)story turns out to be a turning point in the strike, it will be because it demonstrated that fact. And if it isn’t a turning point, then (as the CH apology for the story makes clear), that is because the CH owners have opted for a business model that doesn’t rely on producing a reliable, high-quality newspaper.

This points to the implications for democracy: this strike is important beyond the struggle over expertise and authority in a particular workplace. At a work site, it matters whether the people who are making the decisions understand how the system works. If you want effective workplace safety regulation, for example, you need an understanding of how the system actually works, so that you can appropriately determine risks. The same principle is true for political systems. If we want “government by the people” to be effective, then the people should be reasonably well-informed about how the system (society) operates. That a functional mass democracy requires a free press is obvious. If reporters are censored or otherwise constrained or unduly influenced by state officials, then the people (their audience) will not have a clear sense of what is really happening, and are more likely to make bad decisions based on that misinformation. But a functional mass democracy also requires responsible journalism. Reporting that is sensationalist, coloured by partisan or other axes to grind, or not fact-checked, can similarly lead people to make bad decisions. The ways in which this particular story seems to have inflamed anti-immigrant sentiment is a case in point.

My view of the CH before the strike was that it was a decent, though certainly not great, newspaper. Whatever its flaws, though, it is the newspaper of record for the province. The province’s media ecosystem includes (unfortunately increasingly consolidated) community newspapers outside of Halifax, and an impressive array of more critical/adversarial/alternative outlets like Examiner, the Halifax Media Co-op, and the Coast. But, with the possible exception of the CBC, only the CH has the depth of resources to provide a more or less authoritative account of provincial happenings. Such ongoing authoritative accounts not only reflect what is happening, they are also important drivers in constituting “us” as a distinctive community. (For those who haven’t taken POLS 3043, that last sentence is a plug for Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities.)

So journalism, particularly at a newspaper of record, is a public trust. And the failure to protect that trust can have seriously damaging consequences for democracy and good governance. It puts those journalists, at least potentially or occasionally, at odds with newspaper owners and managers, as newspapers in North America (CH included) are generally private businesses, which means they need to turn a profit. Or at least contain losses to within what owners are willing to spend.

Bousquet speculates that

“The point of publishing the article seems to have been to get content out, possibly content that generates wide discussion, and never mind the ethical considerations.”

Attracting eyeballs to advertisers, without regard to broader or longer-term consequences, is certainly a way to run a content-providing business. But it isn’t a way to run a reputable newspaper.

PS. The influential One NS Report tells us “IMMIGRATION IS ESSENTIAL” (p24) for the future of the province. The Report frets about the number of Nova Scotians who “do not see immigration as the preferred route to population growth.” (p7) And its default mode is to scold those with such bad attitudes, in contrast with the bold and innovative entrepreneurs and visionaries. But attitudes are cultivated. They flourish, or not, in particular cultural environments. One ironic outcome of this episode is that it shows how business elites’ relentless focus on improving the bottom line can produce just the kind of attitude that the report laments.

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Electronics in the Classroom

I was part of a twitter conversation over the weekend about student use of electronic devices in the classroom. My thinking about and practice around this issue has changed over time. I’ve started using it as an opportunity to engage in, and think about, democratic governance in the classroom. What follows is a bit on the weekend’s conversation and the background on my situation, and then a discussion of that practice.

The conversation started with Raul Pacheco-Vega (@raulpacheco) tweeting about the hard line he plans to take on cellphones:

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Perhaps not surprisingly, this got some pushback. Robin Nagle (@rznagle) linked to a piece by Michael Oman-Reagan, which makes the case for uninhibited student use of technology in the classroom quite strongly. It’s quite a thought-provoking article (but do we really need that many rhetorical questions?) Oman-Reagan points out that a few studies about student tech use have been widely but uncritically circulated. Like the one done at McMaster University a couple of years ago, which found that the most harmful effects of student laptop use were on non-laptop using students, who were distracted by the screens around them. Alberto Roca (@MinorityPostdoc) pointed to this study, which seems to come to somewhat different conclusions (the article is paywalled; I’ve only read the abstract). Paper note-takers did better on exams than laptop note-takers, but it didn’t matter whether students were in a classroom where laptop use was restricted to a particular “zone” (presumably less of a potential distraction for non-laptop-users).

My own thinking and practice on this has evolved over time. I teach at a university that pioneered digital tech in the classroom, and our faculty contract stipulates that we have to “explor[e] the use of information technology in developing effective means to meet pedagogical needs.” This was in place before I arrived in 2002, and while not a total tech booster, I dutifully learned how to use powerpoint, our CMS, etc. In this environment, laptops in the classroom just seemed to be a fact of life (students had paid quite a bit for them, as part of their tuition, so it was difficult to make the case that they shouldn’t bring them to class). It was argued that they could take notes more efficiently, and of course, without leaving the classroom, they had a world of information at their fingertips. (During my job interview, a senior administrator bullish on the program basically described it as giving students the ability to fact-check the professor in real time.)

Cellphones, on the other hand, well, that seemed to be a different issue. Those annoying ringtones were just a distraction, something that interfered with the creation of a pedagogical space where we all had a common focus. Lines were (or seemed) clear, and I was comfortable putting a statement like this in my course syllabi:

Students are encouraged to bring their laptops to class for note-taking and similar course-related activities… Catching up on email, messaging, updating your Facebook page, gaming, random net surfing, writing papers for other courses, etc. should NOT be done during class time. Attempting to multitask seriously impairs your ability to process new information and to engage in meaningful dialogue (i.e. to learn and do well in this course). And it is rude. Similarly, while in class cellphones should be turned off or silenced and ignored.

And then: cellphones became smartphones, capable of doing just about anything that laptops do. And laptops became smaller. And tablets, ipads, e-readers, etc. filled in that gap between “computers” which can have a positive function, and “cellphones” which are just a distraction. Worse: I had the increasing sense that I was totally clueless about how students actually use these various technologies. The first time I heard “I use my phone to take notes,” I was skeptical, but had no way of actually judging whether it was true, or what to do about it. The psychology of learning is a big field that I am not trained in, and in any case technology use is a fast-moving target.

Admitting that I can’t become an expert, I do a couple of things. 1) Revert to traditional, old school pedagogy in cases where I can and think it’s worthwhile, 2) find ways to avoid the vexed question of whether students learn better with computers or paper, and 3)

  1. In seminar-style classes, I have either outright banned or at least strongly discouraged tech use. In these classes we spend class time in discussion, often working through difficult texts or ideas, and we all need to be focused on the same thing (text) in front of us. I tell students that it is a discussion class: I won’t lecture. And these classes are small enough – rarely more than 15 students, often more like 8-12 – that I can get all students involved in the discussion. Within certain parameters, I let the students set the agenda for discussion: they decide what is worth talking about (important, interesting or confusing) in the texts. And if they don’t have any questions or comments about it, we’ll sit in awkward silence for the three-hour block. Fortunately this hasn’t happened yet.
  2. In larger classes, I’ve tried to incorporate more active learning in class time. This really started with a Contemporary Political Theory course in 2014 (first time I explicitly completely banned electronics), and some of those ideas are documented here. And I did some more in a Politics & Mass Media course (40 students) last year (two things storified here and here). And increasingly in my Intro politics class (one thing storified here). Intro classes in my department are capped at 65, and 2nd and 3rd year classes are smaller. So “larger classes” is obviously a relative term, and it would be harder to do at least some of these things in a 200-person lecture (but see here).
  3. Finally,in my Intro class, for the last three years I have let students determine the electronics policy in our class. Untitled1 copy

I tell students that I do this out of my ignorance of what you darn kids do with your newfangled gizmos. But I do it for other reasons, as well. My initial thought was that it would give the policy a kind of legitimacy that it wouldn’t have if it was imposed by some clueless old dude who just wants to get your cellphones off my damn lawn. I’m less sure about legitimacy now, but I’ve found other reasons to continue doing it.

The class is, after all, an introduction to politics. This exercise, which they are told about on the first day of class and do on the second day, gives us a concrete example of deliberative democratic decision-making as a starting point for the course. And it also fits with one of my aims for the course (in which a majority of the students are non-majors), which is to introduce students to democratic citizenship and think of politics as an activity that they engage in, as well as an object of study. The process invariably involves not just getting students to construct logical arguments, refer to evidence, think critically about the arguments presented – the kinds of things teachers want students to do in all kinds of classes. But it also forces them to engage in the specifically political activities of articulating their needs in ways that make sense to others, listening to the articulated needs of others, and negotiating a solution that everyone can live with. Politics, as I mention in the course syllabus, is fundamentally about answering the question: “how should we live together?” At least for one aspect of how they will live for three hours per week over a semester, this gives them a chance to explicitly figure that out.

I’ve done this three times now, and the results have been pretty similar each time. A number of students are committed to the idea of paper note-taking. A number really want to use their laptops. And a few will, with varying degrees of sheepishness, admit that they really don’t want to go 50 minutes disconnected from the world outside the classroom. They realize that generalizing their own preferences can have negative implications for others, and they try various forms of argument to persuade others. When these fail, they end up with as much of a live-and-let-live policy as they can find, usually with laptop users relegated to the back of the classroom so their screens won’t distract people behind them. If things like texting are allowed, they have to be done “discreetly,” so as not to distract others. This emphasis on maximizing individual choice without impeding others’ freedom isn’t a surprising result in a liberal society. And it provides a good point of contrast when we talk about non-liberal approaches to politics (like Plato’s idea that there is one best way for human beings to live) later in the term.

One somewhat surprising result is that students have tended to demur on the question of enforcement: what to do when someone breaks the rules? I tell them that policies need enforcement mechanisms, and the limits we have to work within (no expelling offenders from class, for example). I had thought they might come up with creative forms of social sanction. But they seem to not want to deal with this problem, and if anything, leave it to me to deal with offenders. I’m torn between two contradictory conclusions about this. More pessimistically, this can be seen as evidence that we (or at least the subset of “we” that finds itself in my Intro Politics class) don’t really trust ourselves with institutions of democratic self-governance. Maybe this is because we are so thoroughly constructed as liberal individualized subjects that we don’t trust collective processes, even when we are a part of them. Maybe we are post-political and don’t trust that we non-experts can make the right decision. Maybe in liquid modernity we are too uncertain about our future selves and their desires.

The more optimistic reading of it, is that it represents an intuition that institutions of coercion are only necessary in large groups, with relative strangers interacting in systems that aim at the (re)production and legitimation of inequality. At least ideally, university classrooms don’t fit that description.

 

Does This Change Everything?

From notes for a panel discussion following a screening of “This Changes Everything,” at the Al Whittle Theatre in Wolfville on November 3. Thanks to the Fundy Film Society and Acadia ESST students for organizing the screening and panel.

This Changes Everything” starts with Naomi Klein confessing that she doesn’t like films about climate change. I feel the same way. Or at least, I feel like I have seen enough of them to be tired of some familiar tropes. Or maybe even that feeling is just a lazy generalization based on my frustration with “An Inconvenient Truth.” In any case, given Klein’s opening claim, I’d like to think about how This Changes Everything is both different from, and similar to, other climate change films.

Let’s start with the differences. Some of these are not stated as explicitly as I will put them here, but I am exaggerating both to highlight the contrasts and because I think these are directions worth pushing in. With that in mind, the first difference that strikes me is that the film talks about (or at least encourages us to talk about) the economics of climate change mitigation in terms of expropriation. The film talks about a global carbon budget, and how much of the world’s proven fossil fuel reserves have to be kept in the ground in order to keep global temperature increase to 2 degrees or less. It is a lot. Dealing with climate change means stranding those assets, which means the companies that hold them will have to write them off their balance sheets. In other words, dealing with climate change requires potentially enormous financial losses for very powerful people and organizations (7 of the top 10 global Fortune 500 companies are oil and auto companies). Klein says at one point that she agrees with the climate deniers at the Heartland Institute about one thing: that what climate change activists (or environmentalists more generally) is a redistribution of wealth – that they are “watermelons: green on the outside, red on the inside.” It’s vanishingly rare that we contemplate the scale of expropriation that is suggested here (more on the scale of change that is implied later). One of the few comparable situations I can think of is the abolition of slavery in the United States. To see how that worked out, I recommend Ta-Nehisi Coates’s award-winning essay “The Case for Reparations,” and his book published earlier this year, Between the World and Me. The book is commendable for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it is beautifully written. It has almost nothing to say about climate change, until the second-last paragraph, which is devastating.

A second difference is that the film’s prescriptive message is all about collective political action. As far as I can recall, there is not a single appeal to green consumerism, switching to energy-efficient lightbulbs, low-flow taps, etc. This is an important and welcome shift, for reasons Michael Maniates explained over a decade ago.

Third, a significant portion of the film focuses on the “environmentalism of the poor”: communities in the global South, who are not only facing some of the worst impacts of climate change, but are also portrayed as political agents, not just passive victims. For these people and communities, climate change represents an existential crisis. In that situation, the political choices are framed quite differently from the way climate change appeals are often framed for us in the wealthy global North. While the film’s cases are far from exclusively in the global South, many of those that aren’t seem to be marginal in different ways: indigenous communities dealing with the tar sands in northern Alberta, Greece in the midst economic disaster, and Montana ranchers trying to recuperate a traditional way of life – an eclectic group that Klein famously characterizes as “Blockadia.” I saw the movie with an audience that was mostly white, and dealing with what is, in comparative terms, relatively mild neoliberal austerity. What does the film have to say to those, and there are many, who don’t see climate change as an existential threat? What about those who aren’t inhabitants of Blockadia, but maybe read about it, or at best go there for a short visit?

In his introduction to Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, Jean-Paul Sartre says that, for Europeans, the book “often talks about you, but never to you.” (xlv) Then: “Why bother to read it if it is not meant for us? … read it, primarily, because it will make you feel shame, and shame, as Marx said, is a revolutionary feeling.” (xlviii-xlix) There are a few moments like this in the film, particularly for a Canadian audience (Klein and Lewis are Canadian). But “This Changes Everything” isn’t really a shame-inducing movie. And that is partly because the film at least implies that we (those who are most responsible for climate change) don’t have to be constituted the way that we are, and that we can sense a profound wrong-ness in the way that we are constituted. Most powerfully, “we” here refers not just to the sorts of people who would walk into a film like this predisposed to liking it. Early in the film, the hollow pleasures of life in Fort MacMurray, despite (or because) of all the money that is flowing through, are nicely portrayed. And one of the more hopeful moments is the suggestion even those living through and benefiting from this hyper-extraction recognize its emptiness in relatively short order.

On the other hand, the emphasis on hopeful stories is not all that different from other climate change films. And as is often the case, I think some of these hopeful stories are overstated. Germany’s green energy revolution is one example. The extent to which (or speed with which) people in the Fort MacMurray/ Oil Sands machine recognize and rebel against the personal toll that it takes on them may be another. As well, if the stories are long on hope and inspiration, they are short on the strategies and tactics that activists in Blockadia use. Like many other climate change films, This Changes Everything is ultimately designed to inspire, but isn’t a toolkit.

A second similarity with other climate change films: whatever Klein herself thinks, the film sends confusing messages about the kinds of changes that are needed, and the ways in which different systems are interrelated. There are at least three systems operating, and it isn’t always clear which ones are driving what, or how best to intervene in them. At one level there is the technological system: how feasible is it to replace our fossil-fuel intensive system with low- or zero-carbon alternatives? How quickly can this be done, and to what extent is a downscaling of consumption patterns of the global North needed? Aside from the technical components of those questions, which different characters in the film seem to answer somewhat differently, these questions operate on political and economic levels, as well. I mentioned earlier the scale of expropriation that needs to be contemplated. Historically, this scale of change has been characterized as “revolutionary” (e.g. 1789 or 1917). Abolition in the US isn’t always characterized in those terms. Maybe that’s because the expropriation wasn’t really successful, and the exploitation of black bodies continues in other ways, as Coates and others argue (see above). Or maybe the Civil War did mark a revolutionary change in America’s political-economic system, comparable to the French, Russian, or Chinese revolutions, as Barrington Moore suggests in a classic study of comparative politics. And it is here that the film seems ambivalent in possibly unhelpful ways.

In terms of economic questions, I’ve already noted the film’s willingness to deal with the issue of inequality and of capitalism. But ultimately the film seems to waffle on whether the criticism is to be aimed at neoliberalism (a particular form of capitalism), or at capitalism itself, more generally. Do we need better regulation, the right market incentives, etc. to move from a fossil to a green energy system? Or do we need to socialize the means of (energy) production?

A similar ambivalence structures how the film deals with politics. What does “This Changes Everything” tell us about the state? Just as some of the actors in the film argue that better-regulated (non-neoliberal) capitalism can usher in an energy transition, some of them argue that more democratically responsive states can do so, as well. Indeed, Klein herself on at least one occasion in the film notes the importance of citizen action in pushing states to behave appropriately. It was citizen pressure, she says, that made the energy transition (to the extent that there has been one) in Germany happen. But just like capitalism, the state system has a logic of its own, which may not be compatible with a just energy transition. While some in the film argue that states (like corporations) need to be held more accountable, others (most clearly Indigenous communities) argue that the state itself is part of the problem. A couple of years ago, Joel Wainwright and Geoff Mann argued that climate change may demand a politics that is both anti-capitalist and opposed to the state form at the planetary scale (“planetary sovereignty”) – what they call “Climate X.” Climate justice movements represent for them “the seeds of Climate X.” Although necessarily diffuse and shadowy, the Climate X does suggest a politics adequate to a condition – the potentiality of catastrophic climate change – that changes everything. At least some of the voices in Klein’s film, and maybe Klein herself, seem to be hedging their bets.

What if we are always on the job?

It has been less than a month since reporter Shauna Hunt’s famous confrontation with a group of sexist jerks outside of a Toronto FC soccer game. (In case you missed it, see the fairly extensive CBC report, including a link to the video here.) The bros were banned from the games of all MLSE (owner of TFC) franchises for one year. (Whether missing a Leafs season counts as “punishment” is another story.) There was speculation about the filing of criminal charges (e.g. Causing a disturbance) although I haven’t seen any reports that charges were actually filed. But at least one – the one who tried to defend the initial incident by saying it was “f__ing hilarious” and “you’re lucky there isn’t a f__ing vibrator here” – was identified via social media and as a result fired from his job at Hydro One.

Flash forward to a case, made public by CBC News yesterday, where an employee of Northern Pulp in New Glasgow, NS, was fired for complaining to the mayor about racism in the community. There are some differences in the two cases. Arguably, a statement like “[a particular rural Nova Scotia community] is the Mississippi of the north,” said to a mayor, is more obviously a political claim than “[a particular statement] is f__ing hilarious” (let alone the vibrator comment). There also may be more truth to it. Still, I can’t help but feel that the two are connected. Perhaps not in a causal sense, but rather in revealing something about contemporary society, and the dangerousness of its mix of ubiquitous surveillance, precarious employment, and pervasive branding.The point of ubiquitous surveillance, assumed at least since Jeremy Bentham dreamed up the panopticon, is that it tends to make people engage in more self-policing. But as he expresses in CitizenFour, Edward Snowden’s exposure of the NSA’s mass surveillance programs was motivated by the concern that “self-policing” would also mean the stifling of political dissent. In this context, it is important to remember how many political changes, that are now widely accepted as sensible, were driven by movements that were at the time seen as dangerously subversive – the US civil rights movement being just one obvious example.
The desire to break the law – for an individual not to fully internalize social authority as vested in the law – is hardly pathological. But being able to act on the desire to break the law requires a certain degree of security. In some cases, it is security grounded in privilege: you know that you are unlikely to be caught, or that the consequences will not be too severe. Given what many reporters subsequently said about the pervasiveness of such harassment, it seems plausible that the ex-Hydro One employee wrongly judged that he had just this kind of security. In other cases, there is a kind of moral security that comes with knowing that you are doing the right thing, whatever punishments may be inflicted on you.At least with respect to the former, a generalized condition of precarious employment is important (with some obviously being in more precarious situations than others). Most obviously “precarious employment” as a general descriptor means an increased reliance on short-term contract work in the economy as a whole. But it also means the dismantling of various protections, built into labour law, that apply even to workers in non-“precarious” jobs. And it means employment contracts are settled in a context where opting out of the labour market is increasingly difficult (tightened eligibility requirements for (un)employment insurance, for disability benefits or other forms of social assistance, increasingly expensive education, etc.) And, perhaps least obviously, the context includes an economy and socially accepted “standard of living” that is increasingly financed by personal debt, so that the vast majority of workers are only one or a few missed paycheques away from financial ruin and its associated perceived social costs.

The third dimension is the phenomenon of pervasive branding. On the one hand, this refers to developments in the contemporary economy where a company’s “brand” is increasingly important. The company’s name and logo represents a financial asset that has a measurable value, one that is backed by the company’s public reputation. Like all capital assets, these are built up by labour. Just as corporate marketers and spokespersons can build up the company’s reputation, and thus add to the brand asset, so too can an employee who publicly does something disreputable be seen to creating a real financial liability (hence the morals clauses that are frequently explicit in the employment contracts of public figures). And while “brands” are often thought of as a distinctively late-modern phenomenon, as in this article which describes the 1960s as the “Cambrian explosion” of brands, they have a longer history, which begins with the physical marking (burning and scarring) of flesh to make bodies legible as property.

Social activity today is highly individualized, and it is increasingly common to see the phenomenon of branding thought about and practiced at the individual, not just corporate, level. Precarious workers, who once had nothing to sell but their labour power (or “nothing to lose but [their] chains,”) now have their “personal brand.” And make no mistake: (personal) brand management is a constant task. (For more on this, see Alison Hearn’s excellent “Meat, Mask, Burden: Probing the Contours of the Branded Self” (unfortunately paywalled)) The constant refrain, especially to youth, to be more reflexive (self-policing) in their social media activity is a reflection of this. A kind of scrutiny applied to current or past indiscretions, that used to be reserved for politicians seeking high office, is now presumed to apply to anyone seeking anything like a middle-class career, or even just a tolerable social life. Thus the old-fashioned separation of “personal” from “work” activities no longer obtains, because anything that you do, on the job or off, may diminish the value of your, and your present or potential future employer’s, brand.

Personal branding as a kind of self-commodification seems troublesome enough, particularly if we recall the mutilation that is required to make living bodies legible as property. Ubiquitous surveillance and a precarious employment economy just seem to make it all the more necessary to engage in it, and to engage in it constantly. And if we are constantly providing an outward performance of a particular brand of ourselves, well, Vonnegut’s Mother Night puts it well:

‘We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.’

All this seems to undermine the possibility for a kind of moral security, dependent on an inner resolve that King called “self-purification,” that makes principled resistance to authority (aka political dissent) possible.

Compared to Hydro One, the Northern Pulp case seems to give these questions a more explicitly political twist. Here the damage is not to the cultural capital that is built up in the company’s brand, but to the company’s political capital. The dismissal letter posted on the CBC story states in part: “you have tarnished the image [of the company] and undone a lot of work that the company has been doing to build relations with our local officials.” The implications that this has for the expression of political dissent (about concentrations of economic as well as state power) seem rather ominous.