Speaker warns about being ‘happy consumers’

Last Saturday, Laurier’s Religion and Culture Society hosted the annual Interdisciplinary Arts Conference (IAC) in the Science and Bricker Academic Buildings. The IAC is a competitive forum for faculty of arts undergraduate and graduate students across Canada to present papers and share unique ideas.

Winners of the competition were chosen not only on their thought-provoking topics, but also on the structure of their arguments and their ability to effectively convey their ideas.
Undergraduate president of the Religion and Culture Society Zabeen Khamisa explained that the goal of the conference is to encourage scholarship and academic discourse.

“The conference has grown with the intention of promoting scholarship in an academic setting outside of the classroom, allowing students to explore their ideas and speak up to their ideas in a very creative manner.”

The conference is also firmly rooted in the oral tradition. “They’re not conventional presentations that these students are giving,” explained Khamisa. “They’re not standing up there reading a paper, they’re telling you ideas.”

15 students presented papers, two of whom were from the University of Waterloo and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Paper topics included Internet relationships, ethno-religious pluralism, social Darwinism and native residential schools in Canada.

Laurier religion and culture student Scott Craig won the undergraduate award for his paper, titled “The Erosion of Yoga in the West: The Problem with Cultural Appropriation”. At the graduate level, Religion and culture masters student Uriah Pond won for her paper, titled “Negotiating Irreconcilable Differences: The Challenge of Developing an Ethical Code of Conduct for Religious Conversion”. Each student was awarded $100.

Power of corporations
The conference ended with an address by keynote speaker Chris Hedges, an American Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author and war correspondent. Hedges’ speech related to his book Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle; he framed his address by speaking of the commercial exploitation of Michael Jackson.

“He was a reflection of us in the extreme,” explained Hedges.
“The fantasy of celebrity culture is designed to drain us emotionally and confuse us about our identity.”

Hedges also discussed the commodification of Americans, the ethics of Wall Street, the inverted totalitarianism of the United States government and President Barack Obama as a brand.

“[The Obama brand] is about being happy consumers. We are entertained, we feel hopeful, but we are being duped into supporting things that are not in our best interest … the goal, as with all brands, is to fool consumers.”

Hedges further warned of the dangers of unregulated capitalism, the exploitation of human beings and the environment and ultimately, the collective cultural retreat into illusions.

“We must become as militant as those who are seeking our enslavement,” urged Hedges. “If we fight back, we have a chance.”

Hedges believes that Canadians are more critical of the power of corporations and possess a “mainstream discourse that doesn’t exist in the United States,” as evident through the popularity of author Naomi Klein, theorist Marshall McLuhan and the anti-consumerist organization Adbusters.

However, according to Hedges, Canadians are hardly immune from sophisticated forms of corporate enticement and control. “We’re all hallucinating, all the time,” he said.

Speaking to The Cord in an interview after his lecture, Hedges stated that following his keynote address he hoped students would become more aware of the control corporations have in our lives.

“The power of corporations are so pernicious and so pervasive that if you don’t actually thwart their attempt to expand and control it will destroy your democratic state,” said Hedges.

“[Corporations are] not benign institutions. They’re fiercely anti-democratic; they, because of globalization, seek to create a kind of neo-feudalism where the working class in every country are reduced to the level of serfs. And once that happens, democratic egalitarianism becomes an impossibility.”

Khamisa believes that conferences such as the IAC are important, as they encourage students to engage in academic discourse and promote their ideas.

“Students don’t often feel motivated to speak up to their ideas and as a result being in a classroom setting is not interesting, then they’re not motivated to respond to it if they’re not encouraged to respond to it.”

He further explained that conferences provide a forum to continue discussion outside the classroom.

“Sometimes [students] don’t feel like they have a space to say what they’re thinking, or they don’t feel like they have the confidence to say what they’re thinking and I hope, at least the vision of the conference, is to create a space for that where students are able to take what they’ve learned and apply it and make it a reality, not something that’s confined within four walls, so putting it out into the world and making it real.”

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