Author: Alexander Robak

Charles Taylor’s Modern Social Imaginaries: Getting Western Thought Wrong

By Alexander Robak | United States

In Charles Taylor’s 2003 magnum opus work, Modern Social Imaginaries, he retells the story of the basis of political and philosophical thought in the western world. Charles Taylor uses dozens of examples from across the globe to support his theses and further the description of what he refers to as a “Social Imaginary.” However, in this masterful piece of political literature, there exists one flaw with his theses. The author uses specific examples to come to the conclusion that the basic points of the western social imaginary are based on mutual aid, cooperation, and the exchange of both services and goods to secure a prosperous living situation for all within the society. However, I disagree with him on this point.

It is evident that the basis of western society is, and always has been, individualism and the goal of attaining success, whatever that may be, for the individual. There exists sufficient evidence to prove that altruism is not a founding principle of our social imaginary; rather, it is individualism that has gotten us to where we are today in terms of economic, social, and governmental based spheres of our collective social imaginary. While there are some points in this book that I do personally disagree with, this book does serve as a comprehensive retelling of our current social imaginary, from the perspective of a collectivist.

The basis of this book serves as a stepping stone for the author to describe our current form of thought. There exists three spheres of our society, each one of which serves specific purposes to our collective social imaginary, and fosters specific sentiment within those who contribute to the imaginary at large. The author then goes on to show us how as the economic, social, and governmental spheres work in conjunction with another They create an imaginary that works as a collective. In saying this, he means that our society works together to achieve mutual benefit rather than self-benefit.

For example, he describes the economic sphere as being not a zero-sum game, rather with a fair and regulated economic exchange system, we can achieve, and have achieved a state in which economic exchange exists to benefit both parties, rather than just one.  However, I disagree with the author on this point. Since our economic sphere in the west is currently based on capitalistic practices, has always been based on these practices, and always will be, I believe that it makes more sense for society to be driven by the individualist mindset, rather than a collectivist form of thought due to the fact that the individual will always put his needs before the needs of the others which exist in society. This is evident in the fact that it has always been a personal search for success that drives innovation in Capitalist societies. The vast majority of individuals are not simply motivated by an opportunity to help other people. Rather, humans are animals that look out for one’s self and one’s self only.

However, I digress. This is only one of a few points in this book that I disagree with. There is one point in this book that the author attempts to draw connections between spirituality and communitarianism through virtue signaling of biblical and religious texts. In doing this, he attempts to discredit individualism as being falsely tied to spirituality.  However, I do not believe that religious or spiritual ties to either collectivism or individualism are entirely relevant, even within the social sphere. This is due to the fact that due to variance in modern spiritual and religious viewpoints, either collectivism or individualism can be linked to spirituality, depending on interpretation.

In one part of the book, Charles Taylor talked about how western modernities aid us in learning about other social imaginaries beyond our own. The reasoning behind this is due to other states dependence on the west in both the governmental and economic spheres of the social imaginary. Therefore, due to western hegemony across the globe in these spheres, the social sphere of other cultures is changing to fit a western social imaginary as well. This is simply the consequence of maintaining a global hegemony both economically and politically. This also helps us to learn about the social imaginaries of other cultures and how they continue to shift and adapt to our own overbearing imaginaries.

In the fourth chapter of the book, Charles Taylor begins to talk about a phenomenon called the great disembedding, in which in the social sphere, people become progressively more disenchanted with ancient social imaginaries as a new modernity sets in. This is an agreeable point made by the author, as our social imaginaries are always shifting in order to adapt to changes within the economic and governmental spheres of our society. All things considered, Charles Taylor did, in fact, make some reasonable assessments regarding the progress of our social imaginary and the impacts surrounding it in all three spheres of our society.

I do believe that Charles Taylor was incorrect in his thesis that our western social imaginary is based both politically and philosophically on principles of mutual aid, cooperation, and zero-sum games that are meant to secure prosperous living conditions for all within the society. However, some of the tangents that he focuses on in later chapters regarding the disembedding of individuals from the social imaginary, as well as the hegemony of these modernities are in fact quite agreeable in nature. In conclusion, this book was masterfully composed of riveting ideas about our modern social imaginaries.

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Jagmeet Singh: Cheating the Canadian Political System

Alexander Robak | Canada

Following the resignation of now-mayor of Vancouver Kennedy Stewart from his seat in the House of Commons, the seat has sat empty, awaiting a by-election. The seat represents the constituents of Burnaby South. Since September 14th, 2018, this seat has sat vacant. Therefore, the people of this constituency have had no say in federal Canadian politics for about two months. However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has yet to call by-elections for the four vacant seats currently in the House of Commons. The ridings in question are Nanaimo-Ladysmith, York-Simcoe, Outremont, and Burnaby South.

It makes sense that he would be hesitant to call these four by-elections. After all, not a single one of them previously held a Liberal Member of Parliament, following the federal election in 2015. The New Democratic Party controlled three of the seats, while Conservative Peter van Loan held the last. By-elections, hence, are unlikely to benefit Trudeau. Many believe, in fact, that his inaction thus far is meant to preserve the political benefits of empty opposing parties. If true, it calls the prime minister’s integrity int question. Will he let these constituents remain unrepresented simply because it doesn’t fit his political agenda?

The Burnaby South By-election

Of the announced candidates for this proposed by-election, we have Guy Champoux of the Rhinoceros Party, Jay Shin, of the Conservatives, and Jagmeet Singh of the New Democratic Party. All seems in order, considering Trudeau has yet to call the election. However, one this simply does not make sense, when inspected with a cautious eye.

Jagmeet Singh is from Toronto, not Burnaby. He has only put himself into this by-election only because it is a certainty that he will end up in the House of Commons. Jagmeet Singh has never sat in the House of Commons, despite being the leader of the New Democratic Party since 2017.

It makes absolutely zero sense for the people of Burnaby South to elect Jagmeet Singh to their seat. It is meant to represent the constituents of that riding, not give a soapbox to a failing political leader. Jagmeet Singh is not from Burnaby South. He has no idea how to represent the people of Burnaby South, considering that he himself has never been one. He does not have the interests of these people in mind when putting his name in this by-election. That is for one simple reason: he has no idea what those interests are.

Jagmeet Singh: Not a True Representative

Singh is completely out of touch from the people of Burnaby South and their interests. In fact, Jagmeet Singh has spent his entire political career inside the borders of Ontario; he has not once been politically active in British Columbia. He is exploiting a by-election in an NDP stronghold, simply to give himself a soapbox to spread his views in the House of Commons.

In doing this, he is completely cheating the purpose of the Canadian parliamentary system. If Jagmeet Singh wins the Burnaby South by-election, the people of this constituency will not be represented. It will be like the election had never occurred at all, for the people will still have no voice.

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Vietnamese Migration to Canada As a Template for Refugee Settlement

Alexander Robak | Canada

Following the conclusion of the Vietnam war and other military conflicts in South-East Asia, many refugees fled from their war-torn nations, and eventually settled in western countries such as the United States and Canada. These mass migrations reached their peak during the late 1970s but continued on through the 1980s. These refugees came to be known as “Vietnamese boat people” due to the fact that they fled their native country on boats and rafts. Following their departure from Vietnam by sea, hundreds of thousands of migrants were put into refugee resettlement camps in other South-East Asian countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, and Hong Kong. Once in these camps, the refugees then dispersed into developed Western nations such as the United States, Australia, and Canada for permanent resettlement. The ways in which these refugees were resettled into Canada and other western nations were extremely successful and should be used as a template for resettling refugees in the future.

In Canada, the main method that was used to resettle migrant families following the Vietnam war was to set up a program of host families. With this program in place, Canadian households were able to voluntarily sponsor refugee families coming to Canada, and allow them to live in their household for a certain time. What resulted from this program was a grace period that allowed settling refugees to adapt to the Canadian style of life with their host families helping them, after which they would be put into Canadian society to thrive on their own. This grace period system was effective at allowing new Canadians to adjust to a way of life that is founded on the ideas of tolerance, respect, and freedom. This is in contrast to the country that they were fleeing, which was ruled by an authoritarian communist government that did nothing but crush these principles in favor of conformity and collectivism.

Before continuing with this analysis of a mass migration into Canada,  it is essential that the principles that Canada was founded upon are understood. These four principles are freedom, equality, tolerance, and respect. It is important that when introducing a group of migrants into Canadian society, the forces responsible for this migration are absolutely sure that this group of migrants is able and willing to comply with this standard set of values. Not only are these the values that have made Canada what it is today, but these are the values that differentiate the western world from the rest of the world. This mindset is not a modern idea and has existed since the beginnings of mass migration on a global scale. We can and should use this system as a sober second thought when considering mass migration into the western world from non-western nations. When the government of Canada accepted 50,000 Vietnamese refugees into Canada following the Vietnam war, those responsible were aware that these migrants were willing and able to comply with Canadian values.

It is crucial to the analysis of this migration that some background information on the cause of this refugee crisis is given. To summarize, the North Vietnamese communist forces were able to overtake the southern portion of the country in a bloody war that lasted from 1955 to 1975. The Northern communists were supported by the Soviet Union, and many Eastern Bloc countries including Czechoslovakia, Poland, and East Germany. On the opposing side, the Capitalist southern government was supported by superpowers such as the United States, Canada, and Australia. The explicit or covert involvement of major world powers means that this war was a proxy war. Both sides were supported by opposing superpowers fighting over control of an area. The war ended with the fall of Saigon in 1975 to the communist forces of Ho Chi Minh. What resulted was the continued persecution of capitalists and dissidents to the new authoritarian government. Many of those who fled Vietnam to escape persecution were South Vietnamese capitalists, who believed in the principles of freedom, equality, tolerance, and respect.

The Vietnamese people brought a factor to Canadian society that was extremely important and beneficial to the society at large. This factor was their entrepreneurship. Following the integration of these refugees into Canada, many of them set up their own small businesses, which were important to the growth of the Canadian economy. It was in this instance that the Vietnamese people’s entrepreneurial spirit showed us that they were important to Canada as a whole, and were worthy Canadians.

Upon the arrival of these refugees into Canada, they were generally well respected among Canadians for their hard-working attitude and willingness to integrate into Canadian society. A big part of the settlement of these refugees into Canada was their ability to maintain traditional Vietnamese culture, while also adopting the culture of their new home. In contrast to many refugee groups in the modern era, these Vietnamese migrants did not demand that Canadian society make accommodations for them and their culture. Rather, they were thankful that Canadians had allowed them to take refuge in their country. This was a very important factor concerning the settlement of these refugees into Canada.

Another part of the settlement of these refugees into their new home was the fact that they were only brought in if Canada was able to support them. These refugees were dependent on the goodwill of the Canadian people to support them, as they migrated into a completely unfamiliar land. The system created helped Vietnamese migrants to settle in Canada and be financially and socially secure.

The Vietnamese were successfully brought into a society in which they had no experience, and within a short span of time, had become productive members of society. This can be compared to the modern Syrian refugee crisis, where many were pushed out of their country out of fear of persecution during a civil war. However, the government handled this refugee crisis completely differently from the one that proved to be successful in the past. Rather than allowing Canadian families to sponsor refugee families, the Canadian government brought in more refugees than could be handled, and as a result, they were not properly assimilated into Canadian society. As a result of this mismanagement, rather than having a support system that integrates refugees into Canada, these refugees were simply put into the whole of Canadian society and expected to prosper on their own. The exact opposite has happened. The unemployment rate for Syrian refugees is astronomically high in comparison to the rest of Canada, and many of them wish for Canada to conform to their culture, rather than the other way around. In the case of the Vietnamese refugees, they were thankful to the Canadian people for supporting them in a time of need and were willing to conform to Canadian culture, customs, and values if need be, while also maintaining their own heritage. It is entirely debatable whether or not the same can be said for the Syrian refugee crisis.

It can be seen that the Vietnamese people who took refuge in Canada, fleeing communist persecution were properly integrated into Canadian society in a way that proved to be beneficial to all parties involved. The support system of using Canadian families to sponsor Vietnamese refugee families proved to be a great system that allowed refugee families to integrate into Canadian society at large, before being put into the country to survive on their own, with no support whatsoever. Seeing as this system has proved itself to be a more than adequate method of integrating refugees from a war-torn country into Canadian society,t is crucial that this system is used in the future to properly integrate refugees, rather than through mismanagement and supporting more than can be handled.

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On The Importance of Free Trade in the 21st Century

Alexander Robak | Canada

In our current society, there exists perhaps no other economic problem greater than the continued hindrance of free trade and public choice by increasingly overreaching, bureaucratic, authoritarian states. Where private enterprises divided by political borders should be permitted to conduct business as usual, they are being continually oppressed by states who want nothing more than to interfere in a once-free market in the name of protectionism. Rather than attempting to support our local private enterprise by hindering the functioning of a free market, the state should allow the free market to operate as it naturally does in as many ways as possible, in order to increase competition and benefit the consumers. The longer that the people allow authoritarian state structures to hinder free trade with oppressive policies, the more the consumers will be affected.

One of the most prominent examples of the government hindrance of free trade in the Canadian economy would be the system currently in place known as “supply management.” Under this system, the federal government of Canada manages the production of egg and dairy products, as well as facilitates the sale of these products under fixed, but constantly increasing prices. This oppressive system came into being in 1972 under the rule of Pierre Elliott Trudeau with the passing of the Farm Product Agencies Act. This piece of legislation was created in order to protect Canadian dairy and egg farmers from American competition, as well as stimulate their success in the marketplace. In essence, Prime Minister Trudeau believed that this piece of legislation would bolster portions of the Canadian economy in the face of daunting American competition. In reality, this legislation benefitted less than 20,000 dairy and egg farmers while increasing prices for almost 37 million Canadian consumers. This policy is a prime example of government interfering in the functioning of a free market to bolster their protectionist system.

The supply management system currently operates through a series of quotas. The government of Canada issues quotas to dairy and egg farmers across the country, who are only permitted to produce an amount of product equal to that which the government allows. On top of this, the government puts quotas on American dairy and egg products, which make it impossible for them to be able to sell their products to a Canadian consumer base while being profitable. Through this policy, the government is able to keep the supply of these products to a minimum. Following the laws of supply and demand, when the supply of a product is low, yet the demand is high, the price will always be increasing, in order for producers to benefit off of a high demand. However, this is opposite to the functioning of a free market. The only reason this policy is in place is to protect the Canadian producers of these products from American competition. In reality, it has increased the prices of essential products for all Canadians. If the market of dairy and egg products were allowed to function without government interference in Canada, there would be far more competition in this sector from the south of our border. This competition would drive the prices of these essential products to a minimum, while also fairly giving Canadian consumers the power of choice. As it stands right now, the power of choice has been revoked from the Canadian consumer base. In addition to this travesty, with the loss of choice in this industry, the Canadian consumers are being forced to pay a premium on products that are absolutely essential. The only people that benefit from this policy are the producers of dairy and eggs in Canada, while the rest of the population is forced to suffer under the policies of a government that believes it is right to interfere in the functioning of a free economy.

Other than that which can be found under the supply management system, the government of Canada has made many other interferences on free trade through the use of tariffs against American imports into the country. Many of these tariffs have been in retaliation to the tariffs placed on Canadian aluminum and steel by President Donald Trump. Many analysts believe that the government of Canada has made up to $300 million off of these tariffs in this period alone. These retaliatory tariffs put in place by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have only contributed to the problem and expanded the sectors in which the Canadian consumer base is economically oppressed. What happens when these tariffs are put in place, is that many of these products continue to be sold in other countries, despite the tariffs. However, in order to make up for the cost of tariffs, these products are sold at over-inflated prices. This forces the consumers to pay more than they usually would for the same products. In essence, the government is forcing consumers both at home and abroad to pay premium prices for products simply because they are not domestically made. It can be seen why this is not a good idea, and negatively impacts our economy. If consumers are forced to pay extra in one sector of the economy for products that they would normally buy, the average consumer has less disposable income that is available to be spent in more niche areas of the economy. This hurts the diversity of our economy in every possible way. The only reason that these tariffs exist is so that the federal government can make money off of the back of a market that it is attempting to function normally, despite government interference in their sector of the economy.

Recent negotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement saw both the US and Mexico come away from the conference with a deal, despite the mountain of tariffs between the countries. However, Canada was left out of the agreement, due to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s massive demands in regards to tariffs on American products being sold in Canada. Many of these tariffs in question were put in place as retaliatory measures against American tariffs on Canadian aluminum and steel. In order to come to the agreement that is currently in place, Justin Trudeau was required to make many concessions to the United States. However, the United States did not have to make trade concessions. What resulted was a lopsided deal in which the United States benefited greatly, while Canadian imports into the United States are still hindered by a mass amount of tariffs. What this means is that it has become easier for American products to be sold in Canada, but it still remains just as hard for Canadian products to be sold in the United States. This begs the question: Is a bad trade deal better than no trade deal?

It can be concluded that not only do these tariffs negatively impact the consumers of both countries, but they also hurt producers that are attempting to sell their products in a national market other than their own. This goes not only for negotiations between the United States, Canada, and Mexico, but can be extended on a global scale. Every country places tariffs in order to counteract tariffs that negatively impact themselves. The problem comes with the fact that tariffs are beneficial to nobody but the government. Over 7 billion people in the world are being negatively impacted by tariffs on a daily basis. The proposed solution to the tariff problem is one of free trade, free markets, and distribution of goods and services on a global scale in relation to the demands of the market, rather than the demands of world governments.

In Friedrich A. Hayek’s 1944 magnum opus The Road To Serfdom, he addresses the problems created by government involvement in the economy. He believed that the economy should be left to those who are actively participating in it, such as consumers and producers, without any government interference whatsoever. This is due to the fact that consumers are better at consuming than the government is. Thus, consumer choice should be left to those who consume. On top of this, the government is ineffective at properly managing production. In the economy, improvement and innovation are able to come about through competition between private enterprises. The government is unable to bring about technological advancement with the effectiveness and efficiency that comes with private competition. He argues that both capitalist and socialist systems are responsible for the travesties perpetrated against the consumers through tariffs and taxes put in place by overreaching government. He concludes that the only way the consumers can have maximum benefit in the economy is through an elimination of all government interference in economic practices.

The only solution that adequately addresses the problems posed by mountains of tariffs in international trade is to abolish almost all tariffs, or in the very least reconsider and renegotiate existing tariffs. We must put an end to the protectionist tax reaping methods of the State so as not to continue negatively affecting both consumers and producers of all products, in all sectors of the economy. Continuing on this path of protectionism will only continue to hurt innocent consumers who wish to contribute to the global economy through the act of consumerism. Mounting tariffs raise the prices of goods and services for consumption. This effectively discourages consumer bases from purchasing goods and services that are essential to many people’s lives. Many times, this leads to consumers either searching for alternatives or going into the unregulated black market to get goods and services that are cheaper than their expensive, tariff-ridden counterparts. Neither of these options are in the interest of world governments, who wish to have consumers effectively contributing to their own economy. The only way to encourage consumption in the economy is through the lowering of prices. This comes about through an increase in competition in the marketplace, and an elimination of auxiliary costs for producers, such as tariffs.

With an abolition of all tariffs would come a completely free market, where consumers are responsible for deciding supply and demand based on collective action. In a free international market, consumers would have the maximum choice, at a minimum price. The only reason that a system of international trade such as this has not yet been implemented is due to the fact that governments have no way of making money off of this. It can be seen when put into black and white terms that the state is responsible for the abolition of free choice in the economy, and does little to no good while attempting to maintain their guise of “good intentions.”

The problems caused by state interference in the economy are not reformable by any means. So long as we allow the state to continue interfering in the practices that should be left up to consumers and producers alone, we will only continue to hurt the economic growth and innovation around the world. The only solution to the problem of tariffs and government intervention in the economy is an abolition of state power in the economy, and the formation of free markets, which are allowed to operate free from interference from outside sources such as the state.

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The Incompetence of the Canada Post Corporation

By Alexander Robak | Canada

As of October 16th, 2018, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) has declared that they will begin rotating strikes across the country. Over the past month, these rotating strikes have hit many major cities across the country such as Mississauga, Ottawa, and Toronto. Not only have these major cities (which are responsible for the processing of much of Canada’s mail) been affected, but many of the smaller cities and townships in Canada have been affected as well. This strike comes in the wake of the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement between Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. The CUPW believes that striking will prove to be an effective method in ensuring a fair agreement for employees of Canada Post. However, all they are doing is hurting the much despised government-operated corporation.

As rotating strikes hit many regional distribution centers across the country, distribution of mail in Canada has been slowed to a snail’s pace. On top of this, these strikes are not expected to end any time soon and are not uncommon. Almost every time that a new CBA must be negotiated between Canada Post and the CUPW, the workers strike and demand more benefits and pay. This is doing nothing but annoying Canadian consumers and forcing them to lose trust in the once-beloved crown corporation. The only logical solution for the Canadian consumer in this situation would be to boycott Canada Post altogether and make the switch from public mail distribution systems to private ones, such as UPS and FedEx, when sending and receiving both mail and parcels. This solution will not only show the government how the Canadian people are losing trust in Canada Post and crown corporations but will put Canada Post in a state of financial danger if done correctly.

A Government Failure

The main problem that comes with the mere existence of a corporation such as Canada Post is that it is owned and controlled by the government of Canada, yet it does not maintain a monopoly over the mail system as a whole in Canada. While Canada Post does maintain a massive market share, it has nowhere near enough of a market share to choke out its competitors that are privately run. On top of this, these private competitors have often exceeded Canada Post in terms of quality of service and customer satisfaction. My question to the Canadian taxpayer is this: Why do we continue to allow ourselves to pay our income to support an overpriced government-owned corporation that is often beat out by its competitors?

Under no circumstances does it make sense for the Canadian consumer to support a crown corporation with tax dollars and also have to pay to use the service provided by the said crown corporation. This financial ineffectiveness on the part of Canada Post only plays into the fact that governments are inept at creating and managing businesses in the free market. If Canada Post were a private corporation, but still maintained this deplorable level of service, there is absolutely no way that it would survive in the free market, being forced to compete with giants such as FedEx and UPS. The only way Canada Post continues to exist is through the extortion of the Canadian taxpayer.

The only solution to the Canada Post conundrum is to pressure the Canadian government into selling the corporation to a private owner. At the very least, the Canadian government should open up the market to allow more private options to the consumer. This would only happen through a minimizing of the size of Canada Post’s responsibilities, and the size of the business as a whole. However, we should seek for the Canadian government to abolish Canada Post. The Canadian consumer would be better serviced in the postal industry by a series of privately owned corporations, competing in a free market without government intervention.

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