Wednesday, September 22, 2010

James Cameron, Avatar and the Craziness of Globalization Studies

It must be wonderfully liberating to study in a field such as Globalization Studies, where ideologically-soothing rhetoric so often tends to supplant facts.

Globalization studies tends to boil nearly any problem down to two basic themes: capitalism and racism, typically with very few facts -- if any at all -- offered to support them.

A typical case is an essay being distributed by University of Lethbridge Globalization Studies professor -- and 9/11 truther-in-residence -- Dr Anthony J Hall.

In one such essay, entitled "Avatar Meets the Bowl With One Spoon", Hall suggests that the brutal treatment of the Na'vi in the film is comparable to the treatment of aboriginal communities in Alberta's Athabaska region.

Fortunately for Hall, his discipline seems like it doesn't require a discussion of the facts. If it did, Hall would have to admit that the pertinent facts don't support his argument.

Hall writes:
"Huge amounts of energy and fresh water are required to extract fossil fuels from the bogs of the arctic watershed. While the profits from this activity enliven the urban cultures of, for instance, Calgary, Houston, Dallas, and Beijing, the liabilities in terms of high rates of cancer and the loss of indigenous political economies are borne disproportionately by the Cree and Dene peoples of the region."
A statement like this is so rife with error and counter-factuality that it's hard to know where to begin.

First off, the economic activity derived from oil sands development development also benefits aboriginal communities in the Athabasca regions. They benefit not only from direct revenue from royalties collected from oilsands operations on their land, not only from related businesses operated by local First Nations, but also in terms of aboriginal employment.

Moreover, Hall ignores key portions of Alberta Health Service's report on Fort Chipewyan that notes that the communities' rates of cancer are actually within natural variation, and could simply appear elevated due to increased rates of detection.

Moreover, a key indicator of an environmental cause to elevated rates of cancer is not present in Fort Chipewyan -- notably, the lack of elevated cancer rates in children.

This merely deals with the factual/conceptual errors in Hall's essay. It isn't the only area in which it suffers.

It also suffers from the presence of a key logical fallacy: the false equivalency.

As Avatar unfolds, it becomes clear that the kinds of abuses perpetrated by the RDA mining company are possible because there seems to be no legally-recognized sovereignty over Pandora. No government holds any jurisdiction over it. It is, for the purposes of human legality, a lawless planet.

The situation in Alberta is not even remotely equivalent. Companies operating in the Athabasca region are subject to multiple levels of jurisdiction. They are subject to the jursidction of Canadian law, Albertan law, as well as the restrictions and requirements imposed by First Nations on whose land they operate.

This isn't to say that there aren't any issues related to legal jurisdiction anywhere in Alberta. The ongoing state of affairs regarding the Lubicon Cree, where oil development proceeded without a settlement of the treaty status of the group -- who have never signed a treaty with the government of Canada -- remains legally intolerable.

But this is not the situation in Fort McMurray, where local Cree and Dene populations have frequently asserted their jurisdictional rights, and have received the cooperation of the companies working on their land.

In short, the scenario in Avatar, with Na'vi being swept aside by overwhelming military power, and the scenario in Fort McMurray, wherein aboriginal communities have benefited from the cooperation of oilsands developers, are not nearly the same.

Dr Anthony J Hall is fortunate that he works in an academic field where rhetoric consistently out-muscles fact. His theories may be accepted by the remarkably-insular academic circles in which he travels, but it won't find traction in a more rigourous intellectual environment.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post your comments, and join the discussion!

Be aware that spam posts and purile nonsense will not be tolerated, although purility within constructive commentary is encouraged.

All comments made by Kevron are deleted without being read. Also, if you begin your comment by saying "I know you'll just delete this", it will be deleted. Guaranteed. So don't be a dumbass.