The articles on this blog also appear on
Check out Michael Laxer's new blog The Left Chapter

Friday, October 19, 2012

Feedback loops, austerity & Tim Hudak's Ontario

Many of us, no doubt, have begun to hear about "positive feedbacks" or "feedback loops" over the last few weeks. This has been in regard to the increasingly alarming ecological situation that we all globally face with the far more rapid than anticipated melting of the arctic permafrost and the release of methane into the atmosphere that this is causing.

The "positive feedback" consists of the fact that, as methane gets released, it acts as a greenhouse gas and drives up global temperatures. This increase in temperatures causes greater polar melting which, in turn, releases more methane. After a certain point the cycle becomes self-perpetuating and irreversible and its effects become more consequential as the cycle unfolds. In this case, of course, in truly catastrophic ways.

If, as some climatologists feel, a "runaway" feedback loop has actually begun, then the best that we can hope for is to mitigate its consequences. There will be absolutely nothing we can do to undo or stop them.

Oddly, and ultimately for analogous socioeconomic reasons,  there is a similar process at work in many advanced capitalist economies. These economies, due to self-perpetuating consequences that are the result of tax-cuts, austerity measures and a societal propensity to accumulate debt to offset and finance a decline in production that corresponded with an increase in consumption, are now facing an unprecedented period of perpetual stagnation, gradual decline and persistent systemic risk, in addition to dramatically increased social inequality and instability,  despite the reality that most of them remain nominally very "wealthy".

If they slip into a period of  rapid decline due to the collapse of one-or-another speculative  sector of their economy, countries can descend into an economic situation where the systemic risk is realized and where a downward spiral becomes basically irreversible as long as the fundamental market and capitalist conditions that triggered it continue.

The most obvious component, and the easiest to demonstrate, of economic "feedback loops" is what could be termed the "austerity loop". The austerity loop, which has been an ongoing process in parts of Europe for several years now, is relatively simple. Due to the increasingly speculative (as opposed to productive) nature of the Western capitalist economy, many Western economies were experiencing highly inflated "growth" due to financial "paper-tiger" empires and other non-productive "stimulus" that bankrolled the ability of various governments to maintain lifestyles that had no basis in national production (in capitalist terms). When this financial bubble burst, these same governments were unable to stem the tide of the burst without either abandoning the system that had led to it in the first place, (which, of course, they did not do) or by seeking to keep the system in place by attempting to offset the now disastrous debts that they were facing by adopting austerity measures to allegedly placate international financial concerns and lenders.

These austerity measures generally consisted of massive cuts to social spending, to the numbers of government employees and to the wages of those who kept their jobs. They also usually included deep cuts to infrastructure spending. The primary, and worst examples of this are Greece and Spain.

In all cases, needless to say, the "pain" of austerity was felt almost entirely by those in the economy that had had the least to do with the conditions that led to it: the working and lower middle-classes.

These initial austerity cuts, as widespread as they were, had entirely foreseeable consequences that were, ironically, the opposite of their intent. They directly resulted in lowering, not raising, the social wealth as a whole and the money available to government. The reasons for this are obvious. Rather than placating foreign financial concerns, the cuts meant that citizens had less money to spend, less wages to pay taxes on and that national businesses and government departments received fewer projects and less government subsidy both directly and indirectly (such as workers being hired to pave roads, issue birth certificates, maintain historic sites, etc.). Lower wages and fewer jobs meant less socially disposable income, leading to less spending by citizens, leading in turn to more business failures, yet lower wages and yet fewer jobs. This had a further depressing effect on the economies in question, and the cycle repeated, getting worse with each wave of austerity and its consequences.

With every round of austerity measures, the same financial concerns whose confidence was supposed to be restored by the measures,  ended up lowering the credit ratings of the countries in question, thereby exacerbating and accelerating the very process which austerity was supposed to prevent.

Austerity measures compounded the problem, they did not alleviate it. They acted as a positive feedback mechanism.

In the case of the U.K., where the austerity measures were entirely unwarranted and "preemptive", they, in fact, have induced a recession, and the economy has now undergone three quarters of  GDP contraction. The U.K.'s GDP is projected to shrink by 0.7 per cent this year. Still, the U.K.'s Conservative PM David Cameron has vowed to stay the course on policies that are manifestly hurting the economy, not to mention the citizens of his country.

The illusions and ideological blinders of  neo-liberal politicians are so great, that they cannot accept that the models they hold dear are false. Akin to those who deny climate change, they deny the economic outcomes of their theories in action over the last thirty years.

The same process may soon be coming into play in Ontario courtesy of our own Tories, very much inspired by Cameron, despite the results "across the pond".

Now, as the province's economy was just beginning to show some signs of recovery from the 2008 North America wide government stimulus bailouts, a government intervention that obviously prevented economic collapse and that should have put an end to the ideas of austerity and unregulated, "free market," Chicago School economics forever, we find instead that governments continue to play into the fallacies of the failed models.

It is bad enough that the Ontario Liberals have set the process in motion by shifting the focus from economic recovery to deficit fighting and by implementing the first steps of austerity with wage freezes and  setting the ideological tone through the commissioning of the Drummond Report, which was little more than a blueprint for social collapse.

Much worse, the Tories have recently released an economic plan which is basically guaranteed, despite its title "Paths to Prosperity: An Agenda for Growth", to stall, if not reverse economic growth, especially should it be implemented to coincide with the possible collapse of the housing bubble in Canada.

The plan calls for the reduction of ALL government spending by 10% outside of health and education (allegedly), which means the removal of billions of dollars in direct stimulus from the economy. It promises further "tax relief", despite the clear, and easily demonstrable fact that not only does "tax relief" not create jobs, it also necessitates greater spending cuts that act as a brake on growth.

The Tories would "support a mandatory public sector wage freeze -- saving Ontario $2 billion over two years." What they fail to mention is that this means removing $2 billion from the pockets of citizens and consumers, (and public sector workers are citizens and consumers) and thus directly from the economy. It also means that these citizens will have $2 billion less in income to pay taxes on; an unfortunate side-effect to wage freezes that the Liberals are already running into.

In addition to removing this $2 billion from the economy, they would further remove an additional $2.5 billion by ending "corporate welfare." But, despite the seemingly leftist overtones of this slogan, stealing a phrase popularized by NDP leader David Lewis in the 1970s, what they are proposing is the massive slashing of subsidies that will unquestionably lead to the slashing of jobs and closing of plants, businesses and, in some cases, the demise of entire communities.

Yet somehow we are to understand that the cumulative withdrawal of billions and billions of dollars from the economy that is outlined above, all to take place in a very short period of time, will actually result in economic and job growth?

Further, rather farcically, during his recent press conference on how his plan would create jobs, Hudak said "We actually will have to have fewer people working in government...There's no doubt about that.", presumably indicating his firm belief that the province has to throw people out of work to ensure that they can then find work.

The Tory plan is also explicit in its commitment to suppress wages generally, taking yet more disposable income out of the economy, by calling for dramatic and very broad anti-union measures in the private sector; measures that he openly admits are inspired by American anti-union laws. He advocates the end of the very notion of public sector unionism with his ridiculous proposal to open many basic government services up to competitive bidding, presumably in the fantasy that the private sector can deliver these essential government services efficiently with the cut corners and costs and the low wages it would take to do so and still turn a profit. Profit being the basic motive force of private enterprise after all.

Their platform pits public and private sector workers against each other by stating, entirely disingenuously,  that "it’s only fair to ask public sector workers to share in the sacrifices their private sector colleagues have already been making" without noting that the "sacrifices" of the private sector workers came through recessionary economics and the appalling fiscal irresponsibility and greed of the private sector. The two have absolutely nothing to do with each other, and the "sacrifices" of private sector workers, (lost jobs, lower wages and so on), are what need to be reversed to create true economic growth.

The notion that the public sector should copy the proven incompetence and inability of the private sector in providing stable jobs and living wages would seem at best misguided.

Of course, despite all of its populist rhetoric,  Hudak's policies would also  accelerate inequality in Ontario. Wage suppression, anti-unionism, public sector job cuts, deregulation and deep cuts to social spending and social services are not only certain to increase the economic instability and threats faced by workers and some elements of the middle class, they will also directly benefit the upper middle-class and the wealthy and many, though not all, corporations and their profits in the short term.

Given that millions of Ontario residents are a couple of paycheques away from missing credit card and mortgage payments, and given the government created and backed housing bubble and personal debt crisis, the Tory plan to "create" growth and jobs by taking wages, benefits and either the actuality of or possibility of union rights out of the pockets of these same citizens is a recipe for disaster.

While McGuinty may have got the ball rolling, Hudak's vision, if implemented, would set the austerity loop loose. Once unleashed, Greece and Spain are only a housing bubble burst away.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Guest Blog: Blinded by the right: My past as an anti-abortion activist

Guest Blog: This article is Natalie Lochwin's account of her family's involvement in the anti-choice movement when she was a teenager.

To start, I didn't want to write this. So I searched hoping to find someone that had a similar experience to share and to read their take on their progression from "pro-life/anti-choice/anti- abortion" to believing in and advocating for abortion rights. I'm sharing this story of my past anti-choice activism because it is a past I have been ashamed of. Yet it also shaped me and is part of what, ironically, made me who I am today.

This, in the end, is a story about how destructive an influence this movement can be not only socially, but to individuals as well.

In the late 80's, when I was 16, my mother had decided to move the family away from the inner 'rough' city of Toronto and to take us to live, tucked away, in safe, clean, boring suburbia.

The day Canada's abortion law was struck down I recall my mother watching the news and listening to the reaction from the public. She was motivated to do something and to get involved. Determined to take a stand. I didn't really know or care about this issue. I was still a kid really, in high school, geeky, blessed with an awkward nature and teenaged skin.

My mother, however,  decided that we (my mom, my sisters, and I) would go down and picket the hospital circuit with our home made anti-choice signs and hand out pamphlets spouting anti-abortion propaganda. Regularly after school we would travel down with her from Etobicoke, grab some veggie pitas en route and protest the "killing"of the unborn in front of the hospitals. I'd beg to do something else after school, to go out with friends, but the answer was always no. There was no other option. Picketing and homework were my lot.

We had become Born Again Christians. My mother had believed that this would save her crumbling marriage and stop her kids from turning into wayward anarchist heathens. To my mother Christianity and Pro-life activism changed everything. It delivered us from skull earrings, sprouting multicoloured hair and from 'satanic' black nail polish. We were saved!

We began to "fellowship" with other like-minded folks, as is done in movements like this. We were going to church and youth events all the time.

I grew to like the attention, negative or positive. We became known and somewhat famous in the anti-choice movement as an "activist family". At one point Toronto Life magazine even featured us in a piece.

A sick and paranoid mythology was part of anti-choice ideology. We'd heard about the evil "pro-aborts", how they hated children, how they'd get pregnant and  intentionally have abortions. They really believed "feminazis", as they called feminists, were evil, and that they sacrificed fetuses- in some sort of satanic ceremony. Clinics were rumored to sell fetal parts for medical experiments and to meat processing plants and fancy cosmetics companies-for the collagen. They claimed there were experiments on "living" fetuses, decapitated fetuses and so forth.

We'd hang out at Aid to Women, an anti-choice, "counseling" organization that was littered with Christian propaganda and expressed a truly extremist anti-abortion ideology. The atmosphere was extremely oppressive and very controlling. According to them, the mainstream, secular media were all liars and any stats or information that seemed to contradict their views were lies or government conspiracies.  Followers were always strongly encouraged to follow Christian or Catholic sources and to avoid mainstream media. The world presented through their eyes was a very ugly place.

In addition to being very good at controlling their followers, all of whom were religious, it must be noted that few, if any, were involved who were not Catholic, Born Again or some faction of Christianity. Their stated goal was to save babies. But their broader agenda was to "save the world" from the secular, non-Christian agenda, and they had an over the top anti-gay (homosexuals were seen as "aids carriers" who were out to "get the family") and anti-woman manifesto of beliefs and works. Ultimately abortion is just a stepping stone into their paranoid, homophobic, hate-filled world.

Accosting female patients on their way to abortion clinics was just like a game for them. My mother had begun to regularly sidewalk counsel and did convince a young, nineteen year-old woman from Grenada whom she met in the alley not to have an abortion. She dragged her into the fake "pregnancy counseling  centre", the one beside The Morgentaler clinic on Harbord St., and shoved a bunch of pamphlets and a plastic fetus in her face asking her why she wanted to "kill her baby". The young woman began to weep. This was a "victory" for her and made her the envy of other, more experienced, sidewalk "counselors" as they lamented "why do you get to save a baby, I've been doing this longer than you."

Ultimately, we joined Campaign Life Coalition (CLC). My mother was rather generously supporting them, back in the days when they had charitable status, with donations to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. We became involved with many, truly extreme characters. There was Vlad, a Soviet defector, who actually lived at their Dundas St. headquarters. He was an eccentric who worked in the office and was devoutly religious. He would accompany us on regular trips to Buffalo to participate in their Operation Rescue efforts. He hated abortion providers. Asking him once why he would never traditionally protest, he answered me that he would kill the doctors if he saw them. I don't think I brought it up with him again.

We also came to know Ken Campbell, who was a prominent anti-choice Evangelical Christian who spewed his own special brand of reactionary hate via a Christian radio show in the early 90's. He would pontificate on air at great length, often with the blessings and dollars of  his faithful listeners, which included my parents. They, sadly, donated tens of thousands of dollars to him as well.

He would rant on-and-on about the "pro-aborts" and how anti-family they were. He was also extremely fixated on homosexuality, oddly so for someone so hateful to gays. He related stories of how he was tormented by gay men in his dreams!  Every broadcast Campbell made was a call to action against the supposed anti-family, anti-traditional marriage, homosexual agenda. Then, of course, he would beg for money.

Eventually my mother had a falling out with him when he kept pushing for more and more money. The last straw was when he showed up at our home with prearranged loan papers all ready for them to sign. Fortunately, they declined.

Operation Rescue & the exploitation of the young

Lots of exciting things were happening in the Anti-Choice movement in the USA, led by the Christian hardline fanatic pastor Randall Terry, whose "Operation Rescue" movement appropriated civil rights activist tactics and then dared to compare itself with the civil rights movement, even going so far as to sing their songs and twist their slogans. "They ended slavery, we're ending slavery in the womb!", they would say. Randall Terry embraced the role of "prophet" that his followers cast him in. He, and others, worked everyone up to a frenzy in Washington in the early 90's with calls to take action against the murderous doctors. Unfortunately, some of those followers did.


In 1994 the Morgentaler clinic in Toronto was bombed. In private in the movement the anonymous cowards who did this were seen as heroes and extolled as noble. They had obeyed a higher law. Morgentaler was said to "deserve" it. They would make comments on how it was ironic he had survived the holocaust only to now kill North American babies.

Emulating the USA, in Canada we started to block clinics too. The movement's male leaders, preferring to lead by words, not example, never put their neck on the line. Often the front line activists at the clinics; Morgentaler's, the Scott, the Cabbagetown clinic, were kids and teens. My 10 and 14 year old sisters were arrested as were many other children. Time after time, kids and teens were encouraged by the anti-abortion adults to do this as they liked the media attention we got.

Sometimes we'd attach our necks with Kryptonite locks to gates or to each other. We were imitating the Lambs of Christ (an extremist American anti-abortion group at the time). A good family friend of ours was a "Lamb". He was a single 40 year old who wanted nothing more, as he put it, than to die in service to the lord. He also had ties to the Army of God who were Christian anti-choice terrorists. He was proud of his explicit Army of God manual, (an underground instruction manual for vandalism and violence against abortion clinics and providers). He was such a fanatic that his father had taken out a million dollar life insurance policy on him. He would accompany my mother and sisters on their strange and confusing "missions" to many U.S. cities campaigning against Christians using birth control. Sometimes she'd suggest that I marry him. Given that  I was 17 at the time, I have always hoped she was joking!

A big part of being a pro-life youth involved socializing and attending various conferences across Ontario and the USA. But this was all a part of of socialization into extremism and their ideology of control.

At one Human Life International conference my sister and I were "shamed" for being vegetarians as this meant we were going against the Bible and against our parent's wishes. Our vegetarianism was deemed anti-Christian.

At our Evangelical church  there were people who spoke in tongues "chosen" to convey a special message from "the Lord". It was, of course, always the same two people who "received" and interpreted. One of the tongue speakers looked me over one time and proclaimed to my mother that she detected witchcraft. This started a whole mess of trouble for me, and my mother got rid of the palm reading books that I had along with many other things.

No matter what, I felt like I could do nothing right. Any thoughts, especially anything sexual, normal for a 16 year old girl to have, were sinful. We were taught we could not trust a single natural thought. Everything about being a teenage girl was evil and unclean. I was convinced and constantly reminded at church and at home that God would judge us and that His vengeance would be visited upon us.

My mother would inquire about our sexuality and remind us that masturbation was wrong and sinful. We were to practice chastity until marriage. Their answers to teenaged hormones were lame. "I'm worth waiting for" buttons were thrust into our palms. The movement and Christian churches had a fundamental mistrust of youth and felt that all of us were in grave danger of becoming sex crazed animals and drug addicts. It is like they simply forgot, or never knew, what it means to be human, to be a young adult, and were unwilling to accept that it is an awkward age meant for discovering and learning about who and what you are.

Why did I go along?  I think for a young person it was about the attention at this point. The excitement of the lead up to an Operation Rescue action, the camaraderie, the police, the media interest, and all of the people. Then to get arrested, to go to jail for a few weeks for a tactic that you aren't even entirely sure makes sense anymore and to get even more attention from those within the cult; much more because of your youth and "dedication". I'd been involved for a few years now and the magic number 18 wasn't too far off, which would mean the end of my Young Offender charges and sentences. Soon I would be in adult court. Just how dedicated was I?

If I could speak to my now long-dead mother now, I might ask her why she let us do this? It destroyed our already fractured family. All we did was obsess over "the cause" and it ate up every weekend and all our free time. It became our focus and it was as though a stranger had  moved into our lives.

What did the "pro-life" movement teach us as kids and young adults? It taught us that god's "law" overrides any other laws or rights. These were the anti-social "values" they instilled. Their family values involved showing graphic and misleading imagery to kids and violating the rights of women repeatedly. It involved invading privacy, doing insane acts like stealing clinic garbage to scrounge for fetal parts, picketing escort's homes, committing vandalism and the condoning and even encouraging of violence against abortion providers and their property. They taught us that there was to be no concern  for anyone's rights or property because we were obeying a higher law, and we answered only to our "god". 

When I read about current Anti-Choice activists, or when I see them at demonstrations or in their propaganda videos, they seem so sincere. Yet many are full of hatred and are sickened by the sight of women standing for reproductive-rights. They see us as the enemy and as bloodthirsty 'baby killers'.

I see familiar faces, like the McCash's, Jim Hughes, Linda Gibbons and others. I see those who I once stood alongside and who now involve their offspring, creating future generations of activists in the sole cause of quashing women's reproductive autonomy and carrying out their reactionary agenda.

Painting a false portrait of abortion rights activists is key to their movement. This portrayal must be as ugly and paranoid as possible to succeed with their flock. Hence their over the top literature, as demonstrated by the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR) or Lifesite News. The lies the anti-choice perpetuate and the tactics they use are fundamentally wrong-headed. They are controlling, anti-woman and fundamentally anti-family.

Their agenda reaches far beyond abortion. The beliefs they hold dear are part of an unholy trinity of hate that is anti-abortion, anti-homosexual and anti-feminist. They work tirelessly at scheming new ways to complete or promote their agenda, of which abortion is only a way to draw people in. This is why Campaign Life is also so prominent in opposing Bill-13 in Ontario, and Gay-Straight alliances in general, even though they have nothing at all to do with abortion.

Their vision is of a world where women are happy breeders, at home making dinner and raising their children, fulfilled by their duty as baby-makers with no selfish thoughts of education, career or personal achievement. Pregnancy was viewed as a duty, a must, and a completely natural and necessary rite of passage. They believe that making-babies is for everyone. Whether you're a 15 year old girl who just had sex once and got pregnant, or if you're a rape victim. Married, single sinning "sluts", or even if you have cancer. To them the circumstances are irrelevant.

It would make sense that such a movement, if it was actually about the love of  "unborn babies" would be concerned with the well being of pregnant women and the potential life they carry. You might think that these activists would support a government that would fund daycare, prenatal programs, affordable housing, programs to assist single parent families, or fight for an end to hunger and poverty in our country so women might be in a position more often to be able to safely, when they wanted to, bring a new life into the world. This is not so at all. Anti-abortionists are encouraged to vote according to one issue: abortion and abortion alone. They are fixated, paranoid and poisoned with an anti-female ideology.

This is why their heroes are the Mitt Romneys, Rush Limbaughs and Michael Corens of the world. They are not at all concerned with children or women. Only with fetuses.

It is a truly cult-like movement. Cutting ties if one wants to is not simple as so many of your friends are anti-choice, Evangelical or Catholic. They make sure of that. Weekend retreats and pro-chastity, anti-abortion conferences were held in out of town locations, far from most attendees homes. This made them a great opportunity for bonding and brainwashing. You really believed that when you blocked clinics you were doing something good. Doing the right thing. We believed we were involved in the noble cause of saving women and babies from being dragged to a horrible fate.

Seeing the light 


I can't exactly say what opened my eyes. It wasn't one specific incident but rather several. The shootings and anti-abortion violence helped to wake me up of course. 

Then there was anti-choice hysteria surrounding the Nancy Cruzan case in Missouri. She was a woman who after a terrible car accident was in a coma (persistent vegetative state) and whose family requested that she be removed from life support after several years. They believed they were following what would have been her wishes. The Right to Life (RTL) movement in the United States and Canada went berserk, hatching plans to go and 'rescue' her. They claimed that she showed signs of brain activity and that her doctors and family were out to kill her.  There were protests. The court ruled in favour of her family and Nancy was finally allowed to die. The movement's heartless action around Nancy and her family were pivotal in changing my mind and the case stayed with me.

I'd happened to watch an incredible Frontline documentary  "The Death of Nancy Cruzan". The tenderness and love that her father showed for Nancy really moved me. I wondered why the "right to life" movement didn't talk about this? Surely they could see  how much her family loved her and see their pain watching this once vibrant young woman who was brought back by "roadside heroics" to be an empty shell. The real Nancy was never coming back. Her body, now pale and bloated would be unrecognizable to her former self. This was not living with dignity. 

I was in art school now, and was being exposed to liberal thinking. I flourished. My best friend was a wonderful gay man and we became kindred spirits. I read authors like Toni Morrison and experienced the arts education I'd only dreamed of. And yet I would avoid intimate relationships, drinking, and most types of socializing. Feeling uncomfortable in my own skin, unable and unwilling to connect in a healthy, non-paranoid way because I was so used to having a movement and a religion looking over my shoulder.

Fortunately the next twenty years would take me on a new personal and political journey.

Having become a feminist and socialist, as well as the proud mother of a daughter I hope will embrace the freedoms her foremothers fought for, I now see things very differently. I understand that the anti-choice see the world through hate tinted glasses. They are the proverbial wolves in sheep's clothing. Their ugly construct of women and the world bears no resemblance to reality.

Natalie Lochwin is a Toronto activist and artist. She is the Spokesperson for the Socialist Party of Ontario.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Lies our fathers told us: The men's rights movement and campus based misogyny

I first encountered the Canadian Men's Rights Movement directly when I was in Peterborough last November.

Some friends and associates of mine and I had driven from Toronto early one morning to attend the Policy Assembly of the Socialist Party of Ontario that was being held at Trent University. Upon arriving, we were greeted by the usual array of posters that litter the halls of any university. Among them were dozens of posters for what was a newly formed campus "Men's Issues Awareness Society".

The posters were juvenile in both presentation and content. They made a variety of claims, entirely out of context, that, simply put, attempted to make the case that not only are women no longer victims of systemic inequality, but also that the shoe is now on the other foot. It is men's issues that are being "ignored" and it is men that are now allegedly facing discrimination. This "discrimination", further, is being disregarded due to the influence of feminism in our society.

These claims, of course are absurd, a point to which I will return. However,  their very idiocy had the effect of making me not take the groups around this postering campaign seriously. That is a mistake. The "Men's Rights Movement" needs to be taken very seriously, and many of its adherents and ideas are very dangerous.

The Canadian Association for Equality

The group behind the campus campaign is the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE). CAFE is an interesting group that bears greater scrutiny. They have been aggressively recruiting on college campuses and have at least several campus branches.

CAFE's basic premise is simple. This is that men are now facing real and fundamental obstacles to "equality" and that men, as much as women, are unable to fully participate in society. In the case of CAFE they claim that this is due to "misandry", which is their alleged counterpoint to misogyny. Misandry, of course, is the supposed "hatred" towards men that is now becoming, apparently, common in our society.

CAFE presents itself in a non-extremist way. It claims to be LGBT positive. It states that its mandate is being "committed to achieving equality for all Canadian men, women, girls and boys." It asserts that it is not opposed to feminism, per se, but rather they  "feel the public should be made aware of the existence and specifics of Men’s Issues and the fact that these issues are not isolated, but rather interconnected and part of a large societal pattern of discrimination, ignorance and harmful public policy that in many ways disadvantages boys and men". 

In other words, men are being discriminated against too.

The group works hard to present a pretense that women are also involved. They have videos that feature women as speakers, they have had such "luminaries" as Barbara Kay of The National Post speak at their events, and they have two women, including, apparently, a "Course Instructor and Research Co-ordinator" from Trent University's Sociology Department whose "work began with an exploration of the psychological ‘disorder’ muscle dysmorphia and has reframed this as a sociological exploration of the connection between masculinity and muscularity" on their list of "Advisory Fellows".

But even in this, the most "mainstream" attempt to recruit men and women from campuses, the lies and distortions immediately come out.

CAFE, whose primary outreach is on-campus activism, has a "newsletter" that one can download to distribute among one's fellow students.

This newsletter makes a variety of claims, some more absurd than others. In the ridiculous category one gets comments like "Other than a couple of magazines on men’s health and fitness subjects, there’s not a whole lot in terms of men’s health awareness. Everyone seems to have men in their lives with health problems. But it seems that few are equipped with the tools and knowledge when it comes to addressing the challenges of men’s health." This is apparently due to men working so hard in jobs women supposedly don't do, as the next paragraphs claim.

The problem is that these issues have been studied at great length  (and yes, fellas, there are many magazines and publications devoted entirely to men's health)  and entire movements, such as the union movement, were founded to address these issues and to fight for these "forgotten" men. They are, in other words, issues that have nothing at all to do with gender, but rather with class and working conditions. If CAFE actually cared about better working conditions for male workers, it would encourage them to  join unions and the Canadian Labour Congress.

Some claims are even more specious. This newsletter, and it is a theme they come back to again and again in their propaganda, emphasizes the alleged "suicide gap" that supposedly shows that men are facing greater social pressures than women. Thus "Men kill themselves three times more often than women for all ages, but suicide is especially high for men in their teens and twenties."

True, but once you realize that, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association,  "Women, however, make 3 to 4 times more suicide attempts than men do, and women are hospitalized in general hospitals for attempted suicide at 1.5 times the rate of men. Studies indicate that there is a significant correlation between a history of sexual abuse and the lifetime number of suicide attempts, and this correlation is twice as strong for women as for men", the original statistic seems a lot less systemic than it first did.

As with many other things they claim, it is a distortion.

They also state, disingenuously, that boys suffer more bullying than girls.They site the CPHC Safe School Study as proof.

Yet, when you read the study, the story is not what CAFE presents it as.

When it came to LGBT harassment "Proportionally, boys were significantly more likely than girls to suffer this form of harassment, and they identified groups of other boys as the aggressors on most occasions. Groups of boys were also most likely to victimize girls in this manner, although female victims said that other girls were the aggressors in one-quarter of the cases". (Emphasis added)

Additionally we find that "one in thirteen students reported that someone at school had made an unwelcome or crude comment about their body weekly. In a majority of these incidents, boys were
identified as the aggressors of both male and female victims, and many more females
reported harassment compared to males."
(emphasis added)

This, frankly, changes the entire complexion of their "expose". The reality is, as we all know, that men and boys are the aggressors in the vast majority of these incidents of bullying. 

And, as such, it remains an issue that has to do with violence and aggression by men and boys under  Patriarchy and has little to do with women, other than that they are its primary victims!

In addition, the fact that boys and men are the victims of boys and men's violence does not mean that they are victims of anything other than male aggression and Patriarchal notions regarding what constitutes male sexuality .

CAFE also minimizes women's inequality generally. They make claims about the rise of women in universities and professions, but ignore the reality that women still make, as full-time workers, almost 30% less than men as a whole, and make less hourly for similar jobs in almost all studied professions in Canada.

The CAFE Clones

While CAFE acts as the "moderate" front for "men's rights" activism, their offshoots spare few punches. They are outright extremist and anti-woman, and they carry the posters and propaganda that we saw in Peterborough, and that CAFE carefully keeps off its site.

The Toronto Men's Meetup group starts to show you more of what they are about.

In their very masthead they outright lie with claims like " Men and women commit domestic abuse against each other at roughly equal rates (for every level of severity), yet there is 1 men's shelter in all of Canada".

Sounds good propaganda wise, but not true. In fact, of course, male violence against women is dramatically greater, and, as Statistics Canada proves, at the ultimate level of "severity", namely death, men kill female partners at a rate well over two times the inverse.

But even at lower "levels of severity", what they say is simple false. As Statistics Canada noted in a study released just this past May : "Looking at rates, the risk of becoming a victim of police-reported family violence was more than twice as high for girls and women as it was for boys and men (407 per 100,000 versus 180 per 100,000). This heightened risk of family violence among girls and women was true regardless of age, but was most pronounced among those aged 25 to 34 years (Chart 1.3). Females in this age group were over three times more likely than their male counterparts to become a victim of family violence (rate of 709 per 100,000 versus 216 per 100,000 population). The main factor behind females’ increased risk of family violence is related to their higher representation as victims of spousal violence. Women aged 15 years and older accounted for 81% of all spousal violence victims."

In addition, when it comes to sexual violence there is simply no comparison. According to Statistics Canada "Looking at the particular types of sexual offences, police-reported data show that the differences in victimization rates between females and males were consistently notable across all categories of sexual assault." Also, "While females are disproportionately the victims of sexual offences, males are disproportionately the accused. According to 2007 police-reported data, 97% of persons accused of sexual offences were male, higher than the representation of males among persons accused of all other types of violent crime (78%)." In other words, women and girls are far more likely to be victims of sexual assault, and even when men and boys are victims, they are overwhelmingly being victimized by other men.

They add misnomers such as "female genital mutilation is considered a UN human rights violation yet male genital mutilation is supported by doctors, ethicists and is frequently the basis of mockery on TV". Yet this is also false. Whatever one may think of male genital mutilation it is, again, a result of Patriarchy and male social and religious rituals and traditions. To make it analogous to female genital mutilation is simply absurd.

A spinoff Vancouver group, as another example,  posts posters online for download, all of which are also promoted on other Men's Rights sites, that suggest that "rape culture" is a myth (despite the obvious fact, given the statistics above, that it is not), under the slogan "Had Enough of this Shit Yet?". They also state that men are more likely to be victims of violence, in general, without, of course, noting that they are likely to be so due to the actions of other men. In fact, as we have seen, 78% of all violent crime is committed by men.

These are examples of the CAFE ideology in action.

Systemic Injustice & False Oppression

The Men's  Rights Movement is clever in its propaganda approach in that tapping into perceived injustice is always a great starting point. So it is smart to state that men face the same adversity as do women and that this adversity is being ignored, even if this is a lie. It is an easy recruitment point for men, and some women, who lack a greater overall historical and social perspective of the nature of Patriarchy. It reminds me very much of whites who cry "reverse racism" at attempts to redress centuries of systemic discrimination against Canada's People of Colour and Canada's Aboriginal and First Nation's Peoples.

In reality there is no comparison, at all, between what women and men  face in terms of systemic social injustice. In the case of men, the systemic injustice simply does not exist. Anywhere. It is a total falsehood. But notions of false oppression and false victimhood certainly exist,  and they allow men to feel justified when they attempt to stop or fight the basic ideas of feminism.

It amounts to a terror at the loss of a sense of perpetual entitlement born, as Stephanie Coontz recently put it in the New York Times, of the fact that "Fifty years ago, every male American was entitled to what the sociologist R. W. Connell called a “patriarchal dividend” — a lifelong affirmative-action program for men"

She goes on to note that: "The size of that dividend varied according to race and class, but all men could count on women’s being excluded from the most desirable jobs and promotions in their line of work, so the average male high school graduate earned more than the average female college graduate working the same hours. At home, the patriarchal dividend gave husbands the right to decide where the family would live and to make unilateral financial decisions. Male privilege even trumped female consent to sex, so marital rape was not a crime"

The fact is that men and boys still grow up in a culture very much permeated by the idea that they remain entitled to this "patriarchal dividend". While some may see groups like CAFE and other MRA groups as on the fringe, in terms of the appeal of their retrograde and reactionary ideas the fringe is rather larger than one might want to believe.

Anger and exceptional hostility towards women and feminism is alarmingly widespread online. In fact, I would suggest it is a growing phenomenon. Most of us have heard of the appalling case of Anita Sarkeesian.  But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Men, often emboldened by ideas they are somehow being "radical", are "telling it like it is" or are fighting that old stand-by of "political correctness", are aggressively pushing back against women when they speak up in online forums and are willing to use misogynist language, terms of humiliation and threats of violence in ways that are very disturbing and, as any honest user of the internet knows, are also surprisingly wipespread.

These comments are, further, more defensive than I can recall at anytime in my adult life, when women (or, more rarely, other men) question what seem to be male "institutions" like porn, prostitution, objectification of socially "attractive" women, etc. This is not only true on the right, but is also true in the comments and ideas of many supposedly "progressive" men. They become indignant at the idea that, for example, the sexuality that they have been taught to embrace may possibly be an instrument of social oppression for women as opposed to just the "reality" of things and the "way it is", as they have always believed.

But far from being radical, they are a total throwback to and repetition of the misogyny and defensiveness of men that women and the feminist movement have faced from the beginning. Only now that the movement has made some inroads, the intensity of the reaction is greater, and now that the internet is there, the size of the bully pulpit is unprecedented. 

The backlash to feminism, it ideas, its advocates and its advances have existed since feminism began. The media and popular culture have been very keen to de-radicalize feminism at every stage.

This is why we need to take heed of the reemerging, on-line, campus oriented Men's Rights Movement and its propaganda. They are dangerous and the false ideas they propound  will appeal to many young men on campuses and may lay the foundation for the next in a seemingly ceaseless wave of attacks on the feminist fight for women's equality.