Federal Court of Appeal overturns Northern Gateway Pipeline approval

The Federal Court of Appeal just ruled that the Canadian government had failed to adequately consult indigenous peoples and so quashed the 2014 federal approval for the project.

As one of the subjects of my PhD thesis, all developments on NGP are of great interest. It’s certainly a fast-moving as well as an important topic.

Traumatized by violence

I think it has been plausibly demonstrated that people who witness the violent and traumatic death of other people may experience adverse psychological consequences as a result.

It’s hard to interpret the significance of that in the present era, or more so in the case of my own life. Ignoring early childhood, I don’t think I witnessed any violence which produced a deep psychological effect until 2001-09-11. People have subsequently told me that they don’t believe me, but this was my first day of university classes at the University of British Columbia. I don’t remember what woke me up, but I walked down to the end of the hall and saw World Trade Center CNN footage, went to the dining hall for breakfast and saw more of the same, and then went to my first ever university class where we discussed what happened, who might be responsible, and what American response might be justified.

In terms of personal experiences, there have been other cases where mass violence reported through mass media could have involved friends of mine.

I also once saw a man crushed to death in front of me by collapsing scaffolding, no more than 50 metres from where I stood.

Still, I think the phenomenon of the violence-induced trauma affecting many people alive today is a broader issue. I was born in 1983, and have never lived in a time when nuclear war wasn’t a plausible possibility. I have seen personal and media responses to dozens of acts of political violence, from professors discussing thwarted bomb plots in Toronto to dear friends mourning from mass shootings near their homes. One close friend of mine, whose wedding I attended, decided to propose because of how close their partner came to dying in the London bus/tube bombings of 2005/07/07.

Aside from that, I have been traumatized by potential violence. I have read dozens of books about the history of nuclear weapons, great power war, the risks of accidental or unauthorized nuclear launch, etc. I certainly cannot comment about whether the terror and helpless feelings associated with these possibilities have anything to do with the experiences of people who have seen violence first-hand and directly. I do think there is a better-than-even chance that nuclear weapons will be used in war again during my life, and some of these possibilities and their ramifications impress themselves on me every day.

Mass shootings have been traumatizing: Columbine when I was 16; the attack on a Norwegian summer camp when I was 28; the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting when I was 29; Orlando just weeks ago.

I don’t believe that humans were divinely created. We’re just long-term consequences of physics and chemistry. Not long ago in evolutionary time no single human was capable of killing a lot of other primates, even if the aggressor was strong and intent on murder. Perhaps more importantly from a psychological perspective, none of us had any idea about what was going on 1,000 km away, much less across the world.

My intention here is not to comment on political violence or to suggest how we ought to deal with it. If anything, my intent is to suggest that our biological makeup and history do not prepare us for a world with accurate rifles and nuclear weapons, and to raise the question of whether people educated about the world wars and other modern conflicts, and who have also been exposed across their lives to graphic and traumatizing coverage of acts of political violence, can reasonably expect to not be traumatized in a way that would be unfamiliar to most of our human ancestors across tens or hundreds of thousands of years.

And if we’re all traumatized, what do we do now?

Let down by Gibson’s The Peripheral

The main storytelling device in William Gibson’s novel The Peripheral is after-the-fact exposition (ATFE), which gives it the feeling of a mystery more than conventional science fiction. Rather than tell you in advance how a world or a technology works, Gibson shows you the results without context and provides the explanation later. This does well for avoiding the tedium which is sometimes mocked in speculative fiction, where books or chapters open with the author describing the parameters of the fiction with a boring lack of tension or mystery. For me, at least, it falls down in the case of this book when the central mysteries are never resolved. In increasing order of importance:

  1. Why is Lower Manhattan underwater due to climate change in the far future (p. 435), but London is apparently untroubled?
  2. What was the point of the “party time” test of character (p. 382)? The woman tested never seems to face an important moral choice later.
  3. Is Aelita actually murdered? If so, why? What do the antagonists who are revealed at the end have to gain from it?
  4. What’s the story with the Chinese server that connects the mid-future with the far-future (p. 189)? What did the people who built it use it for?
  5. What’s the metaphysics of this book? It says that the middle-future in communication with the far-future (p. 185-6) has its timeline changed as a consequence (p. 422). Is this a case of infinitely branching universes where communication pathways can be established between any two? Every time someone far the far-future communicates with the past, do they create a new future timeline starting from there?
  6. Why do people in the far future care what happens in this particular mid-future? A major plot point is one character from the far-future trying to avoid a catastrophe in the mid-future (p. 320-1), but what’s the point if (from the far-future perspective) this is just one branch in a vast number of pasts? Why care so much about this one?
  7. Why is having people from the mid-future drive robots in the far-future useful? They never do anything that remote operators in the far-future couldn’t do without all this time travel communication.

I was also frustrated by how a large part of the book is devoted to people training to pilot these future robots (as well as acquiring specialized weapons), which only end up getting used in a rather disappointing way. In particular, a supposedly evil red cube from a custom universe focused on weapon development never ends up doing anything interesting.

Sometimes the ATFE approach is quite frustrating: especially the habit of opening chapters using only pronouns to describe the person involved, pointlessly leaving the reader unclear about what is being described. When people are murdered, the motive and immediate consequences are often unclear.