multiculturalism and the clockwork city

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As an immigrant from an under-developed country, one of the things that amazed me about Canada is efficiency. Everything is a well oiled clockwork. The streets are clean, information flows transparently through power point presentations and government websites, both public institutions and private businesses respect their appointments in a timely manner. There isn’t a layer of corruption that weaves through every transaction, meritocracy can sometimes trump kinship ties, and a policeman cannot be bought by a couple of bills. The politicians are managers – their divisions do not arise from worldview tensions, but from simple managerial differences. Jobs are more or less well paid, and although the working day is shorter than in some underdeveloped countries, an hour of labor-power here produces more value due to a combination of technological and social efficiency.

Much has been written about how capitalism is wedded with instrumental reason – the streamlining of social and technological processes for the purpose of efficient capital creation. Canada is genuinely a case study of this phenomenon – the clock in general, ticks here faster. However, such profound streamlining of all social phenomena inevitably lead to a level of homogenization. All the parts of the clockwork must tick in synchronicity. Some technocrat somewhere in an office figured out through an excel spreadsheet that drinking in the streets generated financial and social losses. Your coworker can do more in less because all their life they were taught that time is money, therefore you shall optimize, or face a mediocre career or joblessness. Cutting the corners, telling that white lie? Forget it, that’s fraud and has criminal consequences. Snitch on your cousin, because the law is more important than your kinship ties.

Canada sells itself as one of the most multicultural countries in the world. It is true that many religions, skin tones, and languages coexist here. But the diversity stops there. In a clockwork world where synchronicity is required, only the right sized gear or spring can fit. The immigration system has already filtered the worthy candidates that can adapt to the friendly and generous canadians. That cab driver used to be a doctor in Islamabad. That engineer’s parents were the upper one percent in China. I am studying a PhD in the natural sciences. Someone in some office with a masters degree in public policy has decided that we were more worthy than the others. There is no diversity in any of this. No varied modes of life. Either a skilled worker, a technocrat, or a capitalist.

The fictitious nature of this diversity is the most obvious with the question of First Nations. The multiculturalism in Canada does not include them. They are not a cog, bolt, or spring that can fit nicely into the multicolored, shiny clockwork. Many racists, from white, latin american, indian, and african backgrounds have asked: why aren’t they like us, with our college degrees and career jobs? Are they even in an income tax bracket? Why does my tax money goes to them?

There is a child locked in Omelas, in a dungeon under a municipal building.

Liberalism and the linear.

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Human cognition is linear. You push something harder, it moves further. You spent more money, the larger the debt. Someone punches you harder, it hurts more. We intuit that a system changes in the same proportion we change its properties.

These are mostly banal examples, but this cognition translates to larger topics as well. How many immigrants shall be let in, how many social programs shall be slashed, what is the ultimate doom of humankind. Specialists on these topics base their evaluations on an extrapolation of past data, a line roughly drawn through the points. The expectation that what comes next is extrapolated from what came before. The basest of all mathematical tools for the policy makers is the linear regression.

 

Scientists have known for long that the world is nonlinear. Proportional increase in temperature does not necessarily lead to proportional change in the properties of water – think of liquid water turning into ice. It may be sunny one day and in a couple of days it could rain. The mathematician knows that that a chaotic system has stable attractors, one could find itself in one attractor, one conceptual framework, universe, and just in an instant, the world shatters to bring out the next. But the tyranny of linear cognition affects them as well. Solvable scientific systems tend to be linear – the oscillation of a pendulum, the small perturbation of the sound wave, an electron stuck in a potential well – much of the techniques developed to solve non-linear equations are built by appealing to these systems, to this basic linear cognition. That the value of a function changes in proportion to some input variable is perhaps the most basic of all quantitative intuitions.

Human linear cognition doesn’t necessarily reflect the measurable reality. If that was the case, one could apply a linear regression to the next timestep of the universe, and predict with certainty the revolutions, stock markets, the weather, the exact point in the universe a star will be born. Forecasting is hard. But the big questions about life, from the personal, the political, and ultimately, how we organize as humans and how we relate to the earth, are tackled through our linear cognition while we know from empirical evidence that universe is very rarely linear. More carbon emission leads to just a slightly different reality than the one we live in. The hike of rent and property values may lead to a couple of homeless people more. But what if homelessness and carbon emission and global warming are nonlinearly coupled?

The Earth is a complex system governed by nonlinear interactions between humans, plants, animals, the ocean, the atmosphere, the influx of solar radiation. An example of a nonlinear relationship within the system is the connection between the glaciers and climate change. Increasing temperature reduces the volume of glacial ice, which in turn leads to less solar rays being reflected back into outer space, this in turn, heats up the earth, shrinking the ice further, creating a feedback effect. This effects interact with human society: melting of the ice in turn raises the sea level, destroying ecosystems, annihilating whole economic sectors, making the poor poorer, causing mass migration and refugee crises. Once this critical point is reached, what we know from past scenarios will not help in evaluating the present – because the world that was left behind will be radically different and therefore the models developed to represent that world will not help in the present. It will become the no man’s land for the technocrat and their linear regressions and machine learning algorithms.

Liberalism is the consequence of linear cognition because it assumes the world of tomorrow will look similar to the one of today – a little bit more pollution, more capitalism, a couple of years more of life expectancy, a crude line you draw through the scatter of points. Everything will be alright provided we move slowly, according to what we have learned from the scatter plot. Anything that steers too far is unrealistic, the domain of the political fringe, and more importantly, lacks evidence. Liberals cannot imagine either the apocalypse or utopia because both of them depict radically different scenarios that do not quite fit in their linear world.