Watchdogs and Gadflies: Activism From Marginal To Mainstream,
    by Tim Falconer, Penguin Books Canada Ltd., 2001, 277 pages, hardcover,
    ISBN: 0-670-89417-6, $35.

            Canadian left bios need to take account of this recently published book. I have already seen a couple of reviews
        and read of the author, Tim Falconer, being quoted in a column in the national newspaper The Globe and Mail,
        on his views concerning the anti-Globalization movement, post September 11th. Anti-globalization activists, for
        Falconer, "are not against international trade...", want "fair trade," not free trade, and do not want
        "protectionist policies."
(Pages 94 ,  97.)  The author does not have an Earth-grounded ecological critique,
        which therefore influences his view of activists not fundamentally opposing globalization. He also, quite
        erroneously and dangerously, calls the Sea Shepherd Society an "eco-terrorism group." (p. 123) The chapter
        on globalization does present some radical voices who refuse to condemn property damage or violence given
        specific circumstances, and also give the view that the State and its ideological defenders cannot be reformed.
        When an author writes such a book, the media will turn him into an "authority" so it is appropriate, I think, to
        have a viewpoint on Watchdogs and Gadflies.

            There are eleven chapters in this book and only one, although it is the longest and perhaps the most substantive,
        is on the environment. Falconer teaches journalism part-time at Ryerson University. He describes himself as a
        capitalist, but "not a terribly good one." (p. 50)  I think of him, based on his book, as tuned to basically making
        capitalism work better - and not challenging those core beliefs of interest to left bios. His early education is
        candidly described as that of a "a pampered upper-middle-class private-schoolboy." (pp. 2-3) The book
        describes the author as someone who has engaged in "cynicism" for many years but that meeting the people
        described in his book, has made him see the impoverishment of his conception of citizenship. In Canada,
        Falconer believes, citizenship needs to incorporate the activism he has seen in the research done for his book.

            He makes the following comment about the academic level of his students:
                "I often wonder what, if anything, schools are teaching these days. Most of my students have no
                sense of history or current events and few read newspapers or magazines, let alone books, even as
                they profess to want careers in journalism. When I teach second-year students, I must spend the
                first few minutes of each class going over basic rules of grammar. But I can't blame my students;
                usually only one or two in a class of twenty-five have had any grammatical training. Under
                ‘child-centered learning,' teachers don't worry about grammar or spelling, they just want the kids
                to ‘express themselves.'"
p. 74

            Three left bios, including myself, were interviewed by the author, and, based on these limited interviews, he writes
        about our ideas. Actually, the only discussion of deep ecology in the above book derives from these three interviews.
        A former left bio, living on PEI, is also interviewed and quoted, as is a local activist in my area, whose work I know
        quite well. Given the limitations of such interviews (mine was something over two hours) and the task set by the
        author for his book, I consider Tim Falconer's accounting to be quite fair for the people interviewed in the Maritimes.

            There are a couple of issues for me raised by this honest and interesting, although limited, book, which should
        concern our discussion group. The first concerns how Falconer, and we ourselves, define "activism". Doesn't for
        most of us, the term activist/activism have positive connotations? A considerable part of his book deals with
        right-wing groups and what the author calls "conservative activism." Is this a legitimate use of the term activism
        from a left bio perspective, even if we do not like it? For example, Falconer spends 22 pages of his book, the
        result of three visits, with describing the work of the federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. In
        2001 the federation had a budget of 3.2 million dollars. The CTF considers government spending on arts and
        culture "an abuse of our money." (p. 63) Other right wing groups are discussed. For the author, all activists seek
        to "change the system from the outside" but conservative activists have less antipathy to participating in electoral
        politics. (p. 51) Yet it is difficult to see how Falconer's basic definition of activism, "activism is the struggle for
(p. 201) lends itself to so-called conservative activism.

            So I am very uneasy about how Falconer defines the activism he writes a book about. It is strangely
        disembodied, without context, in a post modernist way! Even though many left bios do not accept the left/right
        continuum in any fundamental sense, from a social justice perspective we see ourselves as part of a Left. In a
        June 2001 article on "Joanna Macy and the CIA", I pointed out that while communism and capitalism, as
        political and economic systems, are human-centered, growth-oriented, and basically anti-Earth, social justice
        has more of a natural affinity with the Left than the Right. Does Falconer's class grounding prevent him from
        seeing this, as shown in the disembodied definition of activism he works with in his book?

            The second issue concerns the "reason model or power model" of decision making, outlined in the book,
        articulated by Alberta oil and gas environmentalist Mike Sawyer and frequently discussed in the past on left bio,
        using perhaps different terminology. Sawyer has a progressive reputation among radical environmentalists for
        challenging the oil and gas companies in appearances before federal and provincial regulatory boards, what he
        calls "regulatory monkey-wrenching."
                "Rather than the ‘reason model,' Sawyer prefers the ‘power model.' It's not the people with the
                most reasoned argument who win the day, this line of thinking goes, it's those who have the
                most power - either money or the ability to offer benefit or inflict pain. ‘If you have power and
                the other side knows you're prepared to use it,' he explained, ‘then you can sit down and
                negotiate.' The way activists view decision making - reason model or power model - determines
                the tactics they'll use."
p. 123

            I prefer the reason and power model. It is totally pointless, for example, for environmentalists to take part in
        conferences with the forest industry and governments, without a large organized base of supporters who can be
        mobilized, and with so-called environmental representatives who are sometimes fairly ignorant about actual
        forest struggles and who have their "status" tied to shallow ecological activities within industrial capitalism. Here
        in Nova Scotia, where I believe there is a growing, as yet unmobilized, fundamental discontent with industrial
        forestry practices, we have yet again a "get together" at the end of November, with the Registered Foresters
        Association of Nova Scotia, the Certified Technicians Association, the Canadian Institute of Forestry, and our
        own Trojan horse within the environmental movement, the government-funded N.S. Environmental Network in
        the form of an alleged Forest Caucus. The end result of this meeting will be another PR victory for the forest
        industry, who will be presented as "reasonable" and "open to dialogue."

            Falconer, because he is not involved in environmental activism, has difficulty understanding the bitterness of
        the feelings of more radical environmentalists, who see activities as the one described above as Earth-betrayal,
        not in any way as moving things forward. Also, this book will help the Right appropriate the progressive
        connotations associated, in the past, with the terms "activism." and "activist." But it is still worthwhile to read, for
        those concerned with the theoretical analysis of the green and environmental movements in Canada.

                                                                                                                    David Orton
                                                                                                                    November 12, 2001

Printed in the Socialist  Studies Bulletin, No. 65, July-December 2001. Also published in the    
online magazine Elements    

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