JI Newsletter 2021-02-01
Welcome to the February issue of the Justice Internationale newsletter. This is the closest to the deadline I’ve ever come so I don’t have time to think up a joke for this bit.
In this issue of the newsletter; Yogthos writes about the occupation of the US capitol in January and looks for parallel movements in Canadian politics while Loljapes covers legal action in India brought by scientific publishers (who are bad) against Sci-Hub and Library Genesis (who are good).
As we watched unprecedented events unfold south of the border at the US capitol this month we couldn’t help but ask whether the same could happen here in Canada.
To understand what’s happening in the US today we must understand the driving factors behind the rise of fascism in the country. The general public tends to have little political interest when the majority of the population are able to provide for themselves in a predictable way. However, deterioration in material conditions typically leads to public unrest. Economic hardships and uncertainty naturally lead to anger.
Both parties are channeling the anger away from the ruling class. The Republican party in particular channels this anger into hate towards the least fortunate. Rhetoric such a ‘immigrants are stealing our jobs’ and so forth is designed to channel the outrage away from the ruling class and towards marginalized groups who are painted as a burden on society. Such rhetoric inevitably leads to increased sectarianism by bifurcating society into mutually antagonistic groups.
Trump entered the political scene presenting himself as an outsider who was going to drain the swamp of corrupt politicians and used populist rhetoric to rally support. Trump then spent four years bringing fascist discourse into the mainstream. While the rhetoric predictably started with the attacks on marginalized groups, it eventually expanded to encompass everybody who was not a Trump loyalist. Even after January’s events there are still millions of people who support him and his message.
For all his talk of draining the swamp Trump continued to pass policy that predominantly favored the rich. Economic conditions continued to decline, and anger continued to rise. Then the pandemic dealt the final blow to the already struggling economy, plunging the country into a deep recession.
For their part, the Democrats spent four years questioning the integrity of the electoral process with the Russiagate conspiracy, suggesting that the Republicans may have cheated during the election. This narrative planted the seeds for Republican claims that the 2020 election was in turn stolen by the Democrats.
It is important to note that the political process fundamentally requires public faith in its integrity in order to function. Once the public loses their faith that the elections are fair there is no longer any reason to accept the results. At that point violence often becomes the next logical option, and this is precisely what we see happening in the US with the attack on the capitol.
The situation following the 2020 election continues to stay volatile due to mass unemployment, food insecurity, and mass evictions. Neither party cares about solving the underlying economic problems, and instead creates scapegoats to blame for the problems. We’re now seeing the ultimate result of such politics starting to manifest itself as sectarian violence. A model the US themselves developed is predicting a civil war.
Let’s now examine some uncomfortable parallels present on the Canadian political landscape. Duverger’s law holds that single-ballot plurality-rule elections, such as first-past-the-post, favor a two party system. This precisely what we’re seeing in Canada where we have two dominant parties that trade places every few years. It has also been shown that a majority-rule democracy is vulnerable to manipulation.
Both the Liberal and Conservative parties represent the interests of wealthy Canadians. Decades of policy passed by these parties have decimated the Canadian public sector, cut social services, deregulated industry, and dismantled many worker protections. The situation has reached the point where the 100 richest families now own more than the bottom 6 million families while nearly half the population can barely pay their bills.
What we’re seeing here is similar to the dynamic that led to mass discontent south of the border. True to their nature, the Conservative party started embracing nationalist rhetoric in a similar fashion to the Republican party in US. Politicians such as Doug Ford, Jason Kenney, Erin O’Toole, and many others in the Conservative party have been enabling, and dog whistling white supremacist groups. In some cases, Conservatives even hired members of these groups.
As the Conservative party continues to embrace Trump style rhetoric their base is becoming increasingly more radicalized. The Conservative party spread a conspiracy theory questioning the integrity of our electoral process. Meanwhile, QAnon is now operating in Canada, and has been linked to a recent armed invasion at the residence the prime minister.
If we continue on the current trajectory then it’s only a matter of time until we start seeing similar events to the ones playing out in the US at home in Canada. The short term solution would be to elect a NDP majority government and pass electoral reform that would allow for more diverse representation in the government.
In the long term we must demand a socialist policy from our government that ensures the needs of the majority are prioritized over the wants of the capital owning minority. We must ensure that all Canadians have their needs met and see the government work in their interest. We must address the root problem of economic inequality to staunch the growing tide of fascism in Canada.
Cicero once wrote “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need”*. The effort to provide every human a garden seems sadly stalled at the moment, however, there are a few people who can legitimately claim to be providing a library to every (internet connected) human on the planet. Unfortunately, the efforts of these people to liberate human knowledge are under threat from a collection of scientific publishers who have brought legal action in India in an attempt to shut down Sci-Hub and Library Genesis (LibGen). If this lawsuit succeeds, two of the greatest libraries ever assembled will shut down, kneecapping the ability of citizens, journalists and scientists alike to access information about the world around them.
Sci-Hub and the shambles that is academic publishing
The Sci-Hub website** performs a simple job; it allows you to search for journal articles and, if it has a copy of the article you’re looking for, provides it to you free-of-charge, usually as a PDF download (LibGen does essentially the same thing, but has a focus on providing access to books rather than journal articles). The only other way to access the materials provided by Sci-Hub is to either buy journal articles separately (this usually costs between $30 to $50 per article) or to possess a subscription to the journal. Most academics working at institutions in the developed world can expect to have institutional subscriptions purchased via their library, however, there’s no guarantee that every journal of interest to an academic will be covered, and even incredibly rich universities like Harvard are starting to balk at the high costs of such subscriptions. Academics in the developing world, and citizens and journalists everywhere, are effectively shut-out of the academic conversation because of the high fees charged to access original research reports.
The high fees charged to access scientific publications benefit scientific publishing companies like Reed-Elsevier and Wiley. It’s possible this could be justified if these companies were the ones who funded the research being written up in their journals. However, that is almost never the case. Researchers at universities usually have their work funded through some combination of public and private money, but publishing companies don’t typically provide any money to researchers. In fact, many journals charge researchers to have their work published in a journal. What’s more, publishing companies often get academics to perform peer review on other scientists’ work without paying them. This means that taxpayers often end up paying for research two or three times over. In the first instance, public money often funds the basic research that provides the raw material for journal articles; in the second instance, post-doctoral researchers who perform the bulk of unpaid peer-review work are often receiving bursaries or grants from public sources and it’s this money that allows them to take on unpaid work for journals; and in the third instance, when a citizen tries to access research articles, they’ll find themselves paying once more, just to get past a paywall which is blocking access to findings they may have already funded.
Through essentially an accident of history, a handful of publishing companies have come to occupy a strategic chokepoint in the infrastructure used to disseminate scientific findings. For the companies that engage in this there are massive profits to be made. Reed-Elsevier reported a 37% profit margin in 2018, which rivals the profits of Google and Apple.
Showdown in Delhi
Until recently, scientific publishers have waged a restrained war against Sci-Hub and LibGen, mostly consisting of efforts to suspend the URLs these websites use, which forces Sci-Hub to periodically change its web address. However, in December, Elsevier, Wiley and the American Chemical Society filed a joint suit in the Delhi High Court which seeks an outright ban on the Sci-Hub and LibGen websites in India. If successful, the suit would strangle the academic sector in India, where researchers and institutions often can’t afford the high fees charged to access journal articles and books. It would also undoubtedly encourage the publishers to pursue similar suits in other jurisdictions. The Breakthrough Science Society, a society of students and scientists dedicated to the advancement of science in India, is organizing a petition against the legal action. BSS has also hosted a seminar where they question the legality of the action brought against Sci-Hub and LibGen.
In any sane society, Alexandra Elbakyan (the founder of Sci-Hub) and the anonymous team behind LibGen would be celebrated for performing the great service of making knowledge more accessible to all. Instead, they find themselves continually harassed and criminalized by a handful of companies who profit from research they didn’t fund, reviewed by people they didn’t pay. The Great Library of Alexandria, which was once the greatest repository of human knowledge ever assembled, was destroyed by accident in a fire. Should the legal action against Sci-Hub succeed, the library of Alexandra Elbakyan will be destroyed on purpose. Every thinking person should be opposed to this act of intellectual self-mutilation.
* Although according to this source, it seems like this might have been landscaping, rather than philosophical, advice
** An exciting element of using Sci-Hub and LibGen is that they are continually changing their URL (I presume due to legal issues), which makes it slightly difficult to link to them—just use a search engine if you want to find this week’s URL.
- Can it Happen Here? - yogthos
- Making Knowledge Free - loljapes
- Web support - snoe, yogthos
- Editing - loljapes
- Typesetting - loljapes
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