Believing without evidence is always morally wrong – Francisco Mejia Uribe

is an executive director at Goldman Sachs in Hong Kong. He has degrees in philosophy and economics from the University of Los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, and blogs at The Philosopher Blog.

 

You have probably never heard of William Kingdon Clifford. He is not in the pantheon of great philosophers – perhaps because his life was cut short at the age of 33 – but I cannot think of anyone whose ideas are more relevant for our interconnected, AI-driven, digital age. This might seem strange given that we are talking about a Victorian Briton whose most famous philosophical work is an essay nearly 150 years ago. However, reality has caught up with Clifford. His once seemingly exaggerated claim that ‘it is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence’ is no longer hyperbole but a technical reality.
<p>If I believe it is raining outside... <em>The Umbrella</em> (1883) by Marie Bashkirtseff. <em>Courtesy the State Russian Museum/Wikipedia</em></p>
In ‘The Ethics of Belief’ (1877), Clifford gives three arguments as to why we have a moral obligation to believe responsibly, that is, to believe only what we have sufficient evidence for, and what we have diligently investigated. His first argument starts with the simple observation that our beliefs influence our actions. Everyone would agree that our behaviour is shaped by what we take to be true about the world – which is to say, by what we believe. If I believe that it is raining outside, I’ll bring an umbrella. If I believe taxis don’t take credit cards, I make sure I have some cash before jumping into one. And if I believe that stealing is wrong, then I will pay for my goods before leaving the store.
What we believe is then of tremendous practical importance. False beliefs about physical or social facts lead us into poor habits of action that in the most extreme cases could threaten our survival. If the singer R Kelly genuinely believed the words of his song
‘I Believe I Can Fly’ (1996), I can guarantee you he would not be around by now.
But it is not only our own self-preservation that is at stake here. As social animals, our agency impacts on those around us, and improper believing puts our fellow humans at risk. As Clifford warns: ‘We all suffer severely enough from the maintenance and support of false beliefs and the fatally wrong actions which they lead to …’ In short, sloppy practices of belief-formation are ethically wrong because – as social beings – when we believe something, the stakes are very high.
The most natural objection to this first argument is that while it might be true that some of our beliefs do lead to actions that can be devastating for others, in reality most of what we believe is probably inconsequential for our fellow humans. As such, claiming as Clifford did that it is wrong in all cases to believe on insufficient evidence seems like a stretch. I think critics had a point – had – but that is no longer so. In a world in which just about everyone’s beliefs are instantly shareable, at minimal cost, to a global audience, every single belief has the capacity to be truly consequential in the way Clifford imagined. If you still believe this is an exaggeration, think about how beliefs fashioned in a cave in Afghanistan lead to acts that ended lives in New York, Paris and London. Or consider how influential the ramblings pouring through your social media feeds have become in your very own daily behaviour. In the digital global village that we now inhabit, false beliefs cast a wider social net, hence Clifford’s argument might have been hyperbole when he first made it, but is no longer so today.
The second argument Clifford provides to back his claim that it is always wrong to believe on insufficient evidence is that poor practices of belief-formation turn us into careless, credulous believers. Clifford puts it nicely: ‘No real belief, however trifling and fragmentary it may seem, is ever truly insignificant; it prepares us to receive more of its like, confirms those which resembled it before, and weakens others; and so gradually it lays a stealthy train in our inmost thoughts, which may someday explode into overt action, and leave its stamp upon our character.’ Translating Clifford’s warning to our interconnected times, what he tells us is that careless believing turns us into easy prey for fake-news pedlars, conspiracy theorists and charlatans. And letting ourselves become hosts to these false beliefs is morally wrong because, as we have seen, the error cost for society can be devastating. Epistemic alertness is a much more precious virtue today than it ever was, since the need to sift through conflicting information has exponentially increased, and the risk of becoming a vessel of credulity is just a few taps of a smartphone away.
Clifford’s third and final argument as to why believing without evidence is morally wrong is that, in our capacity as communicators of belief, we have the moral responsibility not to pollute the well of collective knowledge. In Clifford’s time, the way in which our beliefs were woven into the ‘precious deposit’ of common knowledge was primarily through speech and writing. Because of this capacity to communicate, ‘our words, our phrases, our forms and processes and modes of thought’ become ‘common property’. Subverting this ‘heirloom’, as he called it, by adding false beliefs is immoral because everyone’s lives ultimately rely on this vital, shared resource.
While Clifford’s final argument rings true, it again seems exaggerated to claim that every little false belief we harbour is a moral affront to common knowledge. Yet reality, once more, is aligning with Clifford, and his words seem prophetic. Today, we truly have a global reservoir of belief into which all of our commitments are being painstakingly added: it’s called Big Data. You don’t even need to be an active netizen posting on Twitter or ranting on Facebook: more and more of what we do in the real world is being recorded and digitised, and from there algorithms can easily infer what we believe before we even express a view. In turn, this enormous pool of stored belief is used by algorithms to make decisions for and about us. And it’s the same reservoir that search engines tap into when we seek answers to our questions and acquire new beliefs. Add the wrong ingredients into the Big Data recipe, and what you’ll get is a potentially toxic output. If there was ever a time when critical thinking was a moral imperative, and credulity a calamitous sin, it is now.

Disney Princesses Get an Edgy Twist Reimagined as Noir-Inspired Femme Fatales

By Sara Barnes on October 29, 2018

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Belle of “Beauty and the Beast”
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Artist Ástor Alexander reimagines some of our favorite Disney royalty with an edgy twist. His series titled Noir Princesses features the beloved characters portrayed as private eyes and femme fatales. In doing so, the digital portraits offer an alternative perspective on the characters we know and love. Alexander’s use of a dark color palette with a nod to vintage film noir posters suggests that there’s evil lurking beneath their beauty.
The San Diego-based illustrator has also given movie titles to each Noir Princess that hints to who these women really are. Each has her own agenda, whether it’s pursuing vigilante justice or leading a daring caper. Belle and the Beast, of Beauty and the Beast fame, are given the title Beast Hunter, suggesting that they save innocent folks from terrifying monsters. Ariel from The Little Mermaid has a different plan; her noir tale is called High Sea Robbery. Clad in a wetsuit and brandishing a gun, it appears that she is planning an elaborate heist.
Want Noir Princesses on your walls? The entire series is available as prints through Alexander’s Society6 store.

Illustrator Ástor Alexander has created a series called Noir Princesses featuring Disney princesses reimagined into detectives and femme fatales.

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Snow White of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”
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Pocahontas of “Pocahontas”
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Princess Jasmine of “Aladdin”
Ariel of “The Little Mermaid”
Digital Illustration by Astor Alexander
Tiana of “The Princess and the Frog”
Disney Princesses Reimagined by Astor Alexander
Mulan of “Mulan”
Disney Princesses Reimagined by Astor Alexander
Cinderella of “Cinderella”
Disney Princesses Reimagined by Astor Alexander
Princess Aurora of “Sleeping Beauty”
Ástor Alexander:  Behance | Tumblr | Society6

My Modern Met granted permission to use images by Ástor Alexander.

War Against All Puerto Ricans: Inside the U.S. Crackdown on Pedro Albizu Campos & Nationalist Party

Commemorations are being held today to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Pedro Albizu Campos, popularly known to many as Don Pedro, the former head of the Nationalist Party and leader of the Puerto Rican independence movement. Albizu Campos spent some 26 years in prison for organizing against U.S. colonial rule. He was born in 1891, seven years before the U.S. invaded the island. He would go on to become the first Puerto Rican to graduate from Harvard Law School. Once he returned to Puerto Rico, he dedicated the rest of his life to the independence movement, becoming president of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party in 1930. It was a position he held until his death in 1965. In 1936, Albizu Campos was jailed along with other Nationalist leaders on conspiracy and sedition charges. His jailing led to protests across Puerto Rico. On Palm Sunday, March 21, 1937, police shot and killed 21 Puerto Ricans and wounded over 200 others taking part in a peaceful march to protest Albizu Campos’ imprisonment. The event became known as the Ponce massacre. After his eventual release, Albizu Campos was arrested again in 1950, just days after a Nationalist revolt began on October 30. Pedro Albizu Campos would spend almost the rest of his life in prison, where he repeatedly charged that he was the subject of human radiation experiments. We hear Albizu Campos in his own words and speak to three guests: Rep. José Serrano (D-NY); Nelson Denis, author of the new book, “War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony”; and Hugo Rodríguez of the Puerto Rican Independence Party. Democracy Now!, is an independent global news hour that airs weekdays on 1,300+ TV and radio stations Monday through Friday. Watch our livestream 8-9am ET: http://democracynow.org

Alan Moore: By the BookAlan Moore: By the Book

Sept. 8, 2016

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Alan MooreCreditCreditIllustration by Jillian Tamaki
The author, most recently, of the novel “Jerusalem” says if he could compel the president “to read one book — other than ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ — then I definitely would.”
What books are currently on your night stand?
I remember being called on a couple of occasions by American comic-book professionals who were essentially asking how we “Brit guys” could sleep without a gun on the night table. Their concern seemed genuine, and it would have been inconsiderate to add to it by admitting that since I very rarely read in bed, I don’t even have a night table. But I know what you mean.
The books that would be currently piled on my (at this point wholly aspirational) night stand include “Playing the Bass With Three Left Hands,” by Will Carruthers, a ruinously frank and funny account of the emergence of both Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized from the sonically celestial squalor of nearby Rugby that features a number of close friends amongst its stagger-on cameos; “Content Provider,” by Stewart Lee, in which the hostile below-the-line comments from Lee’s online readership are almost as funny as the columns and essays that they’re vilifying, and so go some way to explaining this brave and doomed comedian’s innovative technique of spraying his own audience with caustic bile; “Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy,” a brilliantly lucid and informative account of the evolution of Anonymous and LulzSec by Gabriella Coleman; Jon Ronson’s thoughtful and troubling “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”; plus two or three books of essays — “Consider the Lobster,” “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” and “Both Flesh and Not” — by my recent infatuation, the late David Foster Wallace, whom I’m currently gorging on indiscriminately in a manner that I’m told betrays my standing as a poorly disciplined autodidact. I’ll try not to burden this volley of questions and answers with too many mentions of David Foster Wallace.
What’s the last great book you read?
After thinking about this long and hard, the last truly great book I read would have to be “Infinite Jest,” by David Foster Wallace. Yeah, sorry. This was my first exposure to Wallace’s work, only a month or two ago, and I don’t think there’s anything about the novel that doesn’t impress me: its stream of satirical invention, with conventional dating gone in favor of a subsidized calendar and the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment; its mandarin prose that perfectly conjures the trancelike drift of a modern consciousness overwhelmed by detail; and its breathtaking risks with structure, so that the whole experience seems to pivot upon a climactic resolving chapter — either right at the end of the narrative or right at the beginning — which does not actually exist and which therefore requires the reader to create it herself, from slender inference. I think the moment I probably fell in love with Wallace as a writer was the point where I realized that I was actually meant to be irritated by all of the occasionally crucial footnotes. An author after my own heart, and a genuine modern American diamond in the tradition of Thomas Pynchon, Robert Coover and Gilbert Sorrentino.
Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?
Questions like this make me uneasy for two fundamental reasons. Firstly, in anything other than a stark and unqualified list that unreels to the end of our allotted space here, there are going to be serious, gaping omissions that will cause me to wake at 3 in the morning and groan in useless torment at my own inadequacy as both a friend and reader. Secondly, I tend to exist at a remote and quarantined distance from most of the world’s news and information media. Given what a spectacular year this is turning out to be for bad news on both sides of the Atlantic, there remains a lingering anxiety about whether all of one’s nominees will still be extant come the (so to speak) deadline. With that said, there follows a painfully incomplete list of names that happen to be passing through my mind right at this specific moment: Pynchon; Coover; Neal Stephenson; Junot Díaz; Joe Hill; William Gibson; Bruce Sterling; Samuel R. Delany; Iain Sinclair; Brian Catling; Michael Moorcock (his currently underway “Whispering Swarm” trilogy is astonishing); Eimear McBride; the remarkable Steve Aylett for everything, and in particular for his indispensable and quietly radioactive “Heart of the Original”; Laura Hird; Geoff Ryman; M. John Harrison; screenwriter Amy Jump. . . . Look, I can either go on forever or I can’t go on. I’m already mortified by the pathetic lack of women writers represented and find myself starting to come up with wretched excuses and squirming evasions. Best we end this here.
What genres do you prefer? And which do you avoid?
To be honest, having worked in genre for so long, I’m happiest when I’m outside it altogether, or perhaps more accurately, when I can conjure multiple genres all at once, in accordance with my theory (now available, I believe, as a greeting card and fridge magnet) that human life as we experience it is a simultaneous multiplicity of genres. I put it much more elegantly on the magnet. With that said, of course, there are considerable pleasures to be found in genre, foremost among which is that of either violating or transcending it, assuming there’s a difference, and using it to talk about something else entirely. Some subversions, paradoxically, can even seem to reinvigorate the stale conventions that they’d set out to subvert or satirize. All genres, given enough ingenuity, can be adapted to this strategy, and the sole genre or subgenre that I personally am pathologically averse to would be that pertaining to the superhero, but apparently that’s just me.
What books did you read while working on your new novel?
Bearing in mind that it’s been almost a decade since I commenced work on “Jerusalem,” I’d have to say that I read very little fiction while I was writing it. I think I read Mike Moorcock’s “The Vengeance of Rome” quite early in the process and also read the first volume of Brian Catling’s monumental “Vorrh” trilogy, and it was around then that I decided that it would probably be best not to read any more massive and beautifully written works of fiction until I’d finished the one that I was personally engaged in. I suppose I didn’t want to subject myself to the pointless torment of “maybe I should have written it more like this,” and as a result for the past few years I’ve been largely engaged with nonfiction. This has consisted of a lot of work by the prolific Iain Sinclair, including his superb “Ghost Milk,” “American Smoke,” “Black Apples of Gower” and a half a dozen others. Then there was “The KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds,” by the immaculate John Higgs, along with the same author’s revelatory history of the 20th century, “Stranger Than We Can Imagine.” I also read a whole stack of books by Slavoj Zizek, like “The Year of Dreaming Dangerously” and “Living in the End Times,” but the bulk of my reading over the last several years has been research. Very little of this has been pertinent to “Jerusalem” (most of the research for which was concluded before I commenced the book itself) but has instead been focused on my current comic-book series Providence, which is a serious fictional engagement with the works of H. P. Lovecraft. As a result I have roughly half a bookcaseful of contemporary H. P. Lovecraft criticism and biography, much of it by the inspiring S. T. Joshi, along with numerous invaluable works on some of the more obscure corners of early-20th-century America, like the Boston police strike riots of 1919, or gay culture in New York prior to 1920. One interesting insight that I gleaned from working on both books at roughly the same time was that a lot of post-World War I American history was predicated upon the Russian Revolution having occurred in 1917 — the original Red Scare was 1919 — while the dismantling of the Boroughs, the working-class area that Jerusalem revolves around, was commenced in 1918 and was presumably precipitated by the exact same thing. A sufficiently heterogeneous reading list can sometimes yield vital and unexpected connections (but it will always devour your precious time).
Were there any works that inspired or otherwise influenced the writing of the book?
While it’s obvious that visionaries such as John Bunyan, James Hervey, William Blake and John Clare cast long shadows, or, perhaps, long lights, over “Jerusalem,” the single book which most inspired it and to which it owes the most has to be a slender volume published locally in 1987 by Northampton Arts Development and titled “In Living Memory — Life in ‘The Boroughs,’ ” compiled by numerous people including my dear friend Richard Foreman. The book consists largely of interviews with the ancient area’s older inhabitants, many of them known from my childhood, augmenting my own familial history of the neighborhood and providing a few of the book’s more memorable characters; names like Freddy Allen, Black Charley, Georgie Bumble and Tommy Mangle-the-Cat, that I’d heard my mother or grandmother mention when I was a child but with whom I’d been mostly unfamiliar. If anybody can manage to track down a copy of this marvelous but marginal booklet, I think they’ll be surprised by how little of “Jerusalem’s” improbable narrative I had to make up.
How do you organize your books?
Huh. Yes, I suppose I could organize my books, couldn’t I? That might actually work a lot better than my current method, which is to tell myself that I know roughly where all my books are according to a kind of literary form of proprioception; a psychic gift which, glaringly, I don’t possess.
What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
Probably most of them. I know I always am. Of the volumes I can see from where I’m sitting now, there’s a copy of Captain Fuller’s “The Star in the West,” co-signed by Aleister Crowley and the politically questionable British Army officer-cum-occultist who invented the concept of blitzkrieg; but possibly everyone would expect that to be on my shelves and wouldn’t be surprised at all. How about my first-edition copy of William Hope Hodgson’s “The House on the Borderland”? I’ve got five or six different editions of this book, including the Arkham House version with the Hannes Bok cover, but as far as I know, my 1908 Chapman & Hall edition isn’t even technically supposed to exist in the immaculate rebound condition that I have it in. And please be advised that this isn’t humblebragging: This is plain, unreconstructed old-school bragging. Envy me, bibliophiles.
What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?
That would be the second unabridged edition of the Random House Dictionary of the English Language, one of the first of many marvelous gifts from my wife, Melinda. Aleister Crowley once stated that the most important grimoire, or book of magical instruction, that anyone could ever conceivably own would be an etymological dictionary, and in my opinion he was exactly right. I keep it right here by my desk, and just 10 minutes ago it confirmed for me that I had the spelling of “proprioception” right all along, even though my spell-checker had raised a crinkly red eyebrow. Quite seriously, this is the one book in my collection that I’d save in the event of a fire.
Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?
I’m afraid I’m rather dubious about the whole concept of heroes and villains, and feel that there are probably more useful and less simplistic groupings of complex human personalities that we could come up with if we put our minds to it. Of course, when I was 13 it was a different story: The brilliant and sociopathic underclass anarchist Steerpike from Mervyn Peake’s electrifying “Gormenghast” trilogy was definitely an early role model, which perhaps explains some of my misgivings about the whole hero phenomenon.
If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be? The prime minister?
You can bet that if I could compel the president or prime minister to read one book — other than “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” — then I definitely would.
What do you want to read next?
I think it should be fairly transparent by this point that I want to read a couple of critical or biographical works concerning David Foster Wallace, in order to test my developing hypothesis that a particularly bleak interpretation of the phrase “death and taxes” is at the heart of his last, supposedly uncompleted novel, “The Pale King.” And, after that, perhaps some poetry.
A version of this article appears in print on Sept. 10, 2016, on Page 9 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: Alan Moore. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

John Dee and the Empire of Angels: Enochian Magick and the Occult Roots of the Modern World

jason louv

 

A comprehensive look at the life and continuing influence of 16th-century scientific genius and occultist Dr. John Dee

  • Presents an overview of Dee’s scientific achievements, intelligence and spy work, imperial strategizing, and his work developing methods to communicate with angels
  • Pieces together Dee’s fragmentary Spirit Diaries and examines Enochian in precise detail and the angels’ plan to establish a New World Order
  • Explores Dee’s influence on Sir Francis Bacon, modern science, Rosicrucianism, and 20th-century occultists such as Jack Parsons, Aleister Crowley, and Anton LaVey

Dr. John Dee (1527-1608), Queen Elizabeth I’s court advisor and astrologer, was the foremost scientific genius of the 16th century. Laying the foundation for modern science, he actively promoted mathematics and astronomy as well as made advances in navigation and optics that helped elevate England to the foremost imperial power in the world. Centuries ahead of his time, his theoretical work included the concept of light speed and prototypes for telescopes and solar panels. Dee, the original “007” (his crown-given moniker), even invented the idea of a “British Empire,” envisioning fledgling America as the new Atlantis, himself as Merlin, and Elizabeth as Arthur.

But, as Jason Louv explains, Dee was suppressed from mainstream history because he spent the second half of his career developing a method for contacting angels. After a brilliant ascent from star student at Cambridge to scientific advisor to the Queen, Dee, with the help of a disreputable, criminal psychic named Edward Kelley, devoted ten years to communing with the angels and archangels of God. These spirit communications gave him the keys to Enochian, the language that mankind spoke before the fall from Eden. Piecing together Dee’s fragmentary Spirit Diaries and scrying sessions, the author examines Enochian in precise detail and explains how the angels used Dee and Kelley as agents to establish a New World Order that they hoped would unify all monotheistic religions and eventually dominate the entire globe.

Presenting a comprehensive overview of Dee’s life and work, Louv examines his scientific achievements, intelligence and spy work, imperial strategizing, and Enochian magick, establishing a psychohistory of John Dee as a singular force and fundamental driver of Western history. Exploring Dee’s influence on Sir Francis Bacon, the development of modern science, 17th-century Rosicrucianism, the 19th-century occult revival, and 20th-century occultists such as Jack Parsons, Aleister Crowley, and Anton LaVey, Louv shows how John Dee continues to impact science and the occult to this day.

Sidewalk Toronto: Slow and Dangerous Civic and Political Complacency

It’s been almost a year of this Sidewalk Toronto adventure. October 17th will mark a true year. And in this year, the depth of our civic confusion has been exposed, exploited, and extended.
Let’s name the fundamental problem about this deal and this project. It’s not privacy. And it’s not that this is Google. The fact that this is Google matters, but that seems to distract everyone so let’s set it aside for today (an overdue update on that front shortly though).
Today, I will write on one thing only. Our city and our governance. Control and democracy. Economic development and service delivery. Delete Google. Delete privacy. And think, for a moment, about our city and the people that live here.
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From the MyData 2018 Conference — Mad Ball’s slides
This deal would be a bad idea with any company.
There is a compelling and important argument being made about data and intellectual property. But it’s still not the main argument. I don’t want Canadian smart city companies defining and framing our data and tech governance either. What I want is for our city to create its policy and guidance for everything about data and technology independent of any economic development narrative because that’s how it’s supposed to happen. Smart cities mix two things into one and in the process create mass confusion, co-opting usually responsible civic institutions along the way.
The mess of this deal is the competing narratives. There are two. The first narrative, the one that all levels of government have fallen victim to, is the economic development narrative. This should not be narrative number one.
Narrative and issue number one should be if and how we want to build data and technology into our city operations. I challenge you to find any politician at any level of government that can explain that part of this deal. This is not a part of the story to leave until the end. This is not a part of the story to allow a corporate partner to define and frame. This is not the part of the story to rush. Any corporate actor will situate themselves as an indispensable part of government operations and a vendor to have to pay for ever more. It’s a story as old as technology in government.
Sidewalk Labs continues to fund and hold public discussions on any plausible urban topic and people continue to act as though it’s normal to have a corporation convening these talks. A corporation that is out and out ignoring any responsibility to convene accessible and entry level public discourse around data and technology. Which the government isn’t doing either. Which is completely shameful. Far worse than a company sticking to its marketing plan.
The primary problem of this deal will never go away. It is festering. And a range of civic institutions and organizations are enabling it. And the most culpable of all is the government. Can a corporate entity run over the rights of the people to set an agenda for our urban spaces? Evidently yes, yes it can — and kudos to Sidewalks Labs for seeing and feeding the economic development frenzy with a perfect and confusing partner — a public corporation with an economic development mandate. Well played.
As for the three levels of government that continue to allow this confusion of roles? The ones that were party to this RFP since day one? They still have time to pull the plug. They want to do this kind of deal? Shut it down and start again in a year or two once we’ve figured out what we want in our city in regards to our data and digital infrastructure.
Cities are where we live first. They are economic development zones second. Not both at the same time. This part of the problem isn’t about Google or the Canadian tech scene. This is an order of operations problem. Love Google all you want. And let them do this somewhere else first while we sort ourselves out. The city will be here, the land will be here, and the legitimacy of the government might be back too.

US should return stolen land to Indian tribes, says United Nations

UN’s correspondent on indigenous peoples urges government to act to combat ‘racial discrimination’ felt by Native Americans

 

A United Nations investigator probing discrimination against Native Americans has called on the US government to return some of the land stolen from Indian tribes as a step toward combatting continuing and systemic racial discrimination.
James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, said no member of the US Congress would meet him as he investigated the part played by the government in the considerable difficulties faced by Indian tribes.
Anaya said that in nearly two weeks of visiting Indian reservations, indigenous communities in Alaska and Hawaii, and Native Americans now living in cities, he encountered people who suffered a history of dispossession of their lands and resources, the breakdown of their societies and “numerous instances of outright brutality, all grounded on racial discrimination”.
“It’s a racial discrimination that they feel is both systemic and also specific instances of ongoing discrimination that is felt at the individual level,” he said.
Anaya said racism extended from the broad relationship between federal or state governments and tribes down to local issues such as education.
“For example, with the treatment of children in schools both by their peers and by teachers as well as the educational system itself; the way native Americans and indigenous peoples are reflected in the school curriculum and teaching,” he said.
“And discrimination in the sense of the invisibility of Native Americans in the country overall that often is reflected in the popular media. The idea that is often projected through the mainstream media and among public figures that indigenous peoples are either gone or as a group are insignificant or that they’re out to get benefits in terms of handouts, or their communities and cultures are reduced to casinos, which are just flatly wrong.”
Close to a million people live on the US’s 310 Native American reservations. Some tribes have done well from a boom in casinos on reservations but most have not.
Anaya visited an Oglala Sioux reservation where the per capita income is around $7,000 a year, less than one-sixth of the national average, and life expectancy is about 50 years.
The two Sioux reservations in South Dakota – Rosebud and Pine Ridge – have some of the country’s poorest living conditions, including mass unemployment and the highest suicide rate in the western hemisphere with an epidemic of teenagers killing themselves.
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Mount Rushmore National Memorial, Black Hill
“You can see they’re in a somewhat precarious situation in terms of their basic existence and the stability of their communities given that precarious land tenure situation. It’s not like they have large fisheries as a resource base to sustain them. In basic economic terms it’s a very difficult situation. You have upwards of 70% unemployment on the reservation and all kinds of social ills accompanying that. Very tough conditions,” he said.
Anaya said Rosebud is an example where returning land taken by the US government could improve a tribe’s fortunes as well as contribute to a “process of reconciliation”.
“At Rosebud, that’s a situation where indigenous people have seen over time encroachment on to their land and they’ve lost vast territories and there have been clear instances of broken treaty promises. It’s undisputed that the Black Hills was guaranteed them by treaty and that treaty was just outright violated by the United States in the 1900s. That has been recognised by the United States supreme court,” he said.
Anaya said he would reserve detailed recommendations on a plan for land restoration until he presents his final report to the UN human rights council in September.
“I’m talking about restoring to indigenous peoples what obviously they’re entitled to and they have a legitimate claim to in a way that is not devisive but restorative. That’s the idea behind reconciliation,” he said.
But any such proposal is likely to meet stiff resistance in Congress similar to that which has previously greeted calls for the US government to pay reparations for slavery to African-American communities.
Anaya said he had received “exemplary cooperation” from the Obama administration but he declined to speculate on why no members of Congress would meet him.
“I typically meet with members of the national legislature on my country visits and I don’t know the reason,” he said.
Last month, the US justice and interior departments announced a $1 billion settlement over nearly 56 million acres of Indian land held in trust by Washington but exploited by commercial interests for timber, farming, mining and other uses with little benefit to the tribes.
The attorney general, Eric Holder, said the settlement “fairly and honourably resolves historical grievances over the accounting and management of tribal trust funds, trust lands and other non-monetary trust resources that, for far too long, have been a source of conflict between Indian tribes and the United States.”
But Anaya said that was only a step in the right direction.
“These are important steps but we’re talking about mismanagement by the government of assets that were left to indigenous peoples,” he said. “This money for the insults on top of the injury. It’s not money for the initial problem itself, which is the taking of vast territories. This is very important and I think the administration should be commended for moving forward to settle these claims but there are these deeper issues that need to be addressed.”
A Native American at his home on Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota, which has some of the US’s poorest living conditions. Photograph: Jennifer Brown/Star Ledger/Corbis
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