I was able to attend the UBC consultation for helping improve B.C’s poverty reduction strategy which was designed to gain input on what students believe to be the main issues surrounding poverty, and their own personal experiences with poverty. The meeting was designed to split students up into groups of four with a facilitator available at each table to help lead the conversation- I would estimate the attendance to be around 45-50 people. They started off in groups of four discussing issues we face on our regular everyday life, and then we further expanded to focus on key issues that can be applied to a greater population. These discussions surrounded issues such as housing prices, the lack of availability of reasonably priced nutritious food, and living wage versus minimum wage. These discussions we’re supplemented by statistics about the impoverish conditions in British Columbia. These group discussions were further address as a whole, and we were given an option to move to a table with the issues we found most important- and then we were asked to discusses the problems within that certain topic and brainstorm solutions. The topic I decided to focus on was healthcare and transportation- I was shocked at how many issues B.C has yet to address in these areas, let alone bigger issues such as the housing crisis, and cost of university education. Before attending, I was sure it would be interesting, but it exceeded my expectations as it helped me fully understand how prominent the issues surrounding poverty truly are today. I entered the room quite unsure of what was required of me and felt intimidated as I didn’t know anyone I was seated with. I assumed that the event would inform us of the ways B.C is working towards creating a plan to help reduce the amount of poverty in British Columbia but the event was a lot more cooperation based as they were interested in the input of university students. I feel that the input of university students is important as we as students experience poverty first hand due to the high tuition rates, housing, and other responsibilities thus it is important to take into account the struggles we face and further how to address and solve these issues. I felt that this was a very useful event as along with it helping me understand some of the issues that my peers face- it gave me an overview of ways to get involved and help bring awareness to such issues. This discussion was extremely stimulating as individuals were able to discuss ideas and further develop better solutions together. The discussion surrounding poverty in B.C can additionally be applied back to some of Peter Singer’s philosophy. He argues that our moral conceptions need to change as humans have learnt to take life for granted and further we fail to acknowledge our moral duty to help others out of impoverished circumstances. He believes that if we are able to help others out of starvation and death by contributing either our time or money, we should do so as long as it doesn’t cause harm to the person helping- therefore, if applied back to the discussion as according to Singer, it is our moral duty to help others around us. (Singer). He also discusses the difference between a duty and supererogatory acts and suggests that “if it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it” therefore I claim that Singer would suggest that although it is the government’s responsibility to help control the poverty crisis in B.C, it is also each individual’s moral duty to help in any way possible. In many ways I support Singer’s philosophy as it is absolutely everyone’s responsibility to do what they can to help people in impoverished situations but unfortunately it is quite unlikely that everyone will follow it but discussions such as the one I participated in are extremely helpful as they start a conversation- thus acknowledging the problems and further trying to explore ways to improve the circumstances. They also included ways for us to further get involved by signing up to volunteer, or even just receiving newsletters from different organizations- I did both. Overall, I found this to be a very stimulating and critical discussion which further inspired me to become more involved in the cause as I believe it to be my moral duty.
On March 7th, along with other UBC students from different faculties and years, I participated in the UBC student consultation on poverty reduction in British Columbia. There were approximately forty people that attended. The event, hosted by the Center for Community Engaged Learning, the AMS, and local organizations such as Raise the Rates and the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, took place at the BC Hydro Theatre in the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) building and lasted from 1:00pm to 3:30pm. The purpose of this event was to give students a chance to contribute to BC’s first poverty reduction plan by recording their opinions and ideas into a report that would be submitted directly to the government. After some minutes of socializing with free buffet food, the moderator began to introduce the different participants of the event: the professors, the representatives of the local organizations, the student head of AMS, and the UBC graduate students who were in charge of organizing all the information from the small group discussions and compile it into a formal report for the government. After the introductions, both the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition and Raise the Rates, gave a short presentation to give us context on BC’s current policies regarding strategies to reduce poverty. During their presentation, the two representatives explained that British Columbia has one of the highest poverty rates in Canada. Although it is a rich province, they discussed how BC has never put into action a poverty reduction plan and because of that many people are still living below the poverty line; students amongst them.
Afterwards, we all separated into smaller groups on large tables and started to discuss the current problems that the BC government should address in their poverty reduction plan. In my group, we discussed issues regarding the expensive housing market, food, transportation, college tuition and many more issues. During this, along with three other former UBC students, I was able to participate and give my opinion regarding the difficulties that come with paying tuition and finding adequate, affordable housing in Vancouver.
After some time, the moderator asked for volunteers to share with the entire room some of the issues discussed during the small group consultations.
Later on, the moderator asked us to discuss solutions to these problems. After writing down and talking about possible solutions, each table was given the instruction to choose one specific issue to focus on. We were then given the chance to switch to other tables to talk specifically about one topic: housing, tuition, food and etc…
At the end, apart from the official document that the UBC graduate students were to produce in the following weeks, all the tables recorded the solutions discussed on large white papers using colored markers. These large papers were then hung on the wall and each person in the room was given the chance to vote on which solutions or issues were most important by placing a red sticker on them.
As an international first-year student, I came to the event with limited background on BC’s current poverty situation. I assumed that, because BC is one of the wealthiest provinces and Vancouver is one of the richest cities in Canada, then the poverty rates would be lower than in other places. Due to these assumptions, I sometimes lacked the background knowledge to answer some of my group’s questions. Therefore, I asked many questions and clarifications on the current policies and situations of every topic so that I could form my answers more clearly. During our group discussions one of the facts that struck me the most was that currently one in five children in BC live under the poverty line. After our discussion, I felt more aware of the serious poverty problems that exist in BC and felt more strongly about the urge to put into action a plan.
I believe that university students offer a unique perspective on this issue, not only because they represent the future adult workforce; but also because university students often are amongst the group of people that struggle the most financially due to the high costs of their education; therefore, they have a lot of insight on what its like to live under hard financial pressures.
Philosophy is a study of all systems of knowledge such as ethics, reasoning and science. It investigates the knowledge produced by all sentient beings regarding different aspects of their reality. If we break down the origins of the word philosophy, “Philo” in Greek denotes love and “sophia” translates into wisdom.  Philosophy therefore stands for the love of wisdom. Philosophy seeks wisdom; and wisdom – true knowledge – can only be acquired through the evaluation of past, present and future knowledge: including individual and societal systems of beliefs, morals, values, mental maps of reality, assumptions about how different beings should interact, rules of justice and more. Philosophy therefore seeks to understand what is right or wrong, what exists or what doesn’t, and attempts to answer, through logic, some of the most difficult questions about our existence and how we should live it.This definition of philosophy fits with Peter Singer’s discussion on the ethics of human relationships because, as mentioned previously, philosophy is grounded on the search for wisdom, which encompasses the investigation of ethical and social obligation of human beings.
In his article “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”, Peter Singer states, “…suffering and death from lack of food, shelter, and medical are bad…”(https://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1972—-.htm). Therefore, he argues that human relationships should be based on helping one another and therefore it is our moral duty to help others who live under those bad circumstances. He goes on to say that the help humans are obliged to provide to others should not be based on their proximity to the person in dire circumstances. Singer underscores that there is “…no possible justification for discriminating on geographical grounds…” because if one is able to provide help, by any means, to others that are far away from them, then that proves how the moral obligation of a human cannot be limited to physical distance. Singer’s main argument is that, “if it is in our power to prevent something very bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything else morally significant, we ought, morally, to do it.” His discussion also touches upon the notions between moral duty and charity. In his article, Singer discusses how giving money away to help others is believed to be an act of “charity” or “generosity”. However, Singer states that giving away money, to help others who are starving or suffering, instead of using it for one’s own commodity, is a duty. Singer’s discussion redefines the societal beliefs regarding the act of helping others; therefore, it aligns itself with my claim that one of philosophy’s core areas of study is the knowledge of ethics. His revised utilitarian view, allows us to see how if we can do something to promote happiness it is our moral duty to act; and not doing anything would be morally wrong.
The experience of attending the BC poverty event fitted with my definition of philosophy –the study of knowledge claims such as that of our ethical duty – because we had to discuss why it is important to help others in poverty, talk about the injustice that some people suffer under the greed of corporations, and come up with solutions to these problems. For example, we discussed how corporations that privatize the housing market reduced the availability of social housing. This phenomenon impeded paupers ability to afford housing. In this instance, I brought up the point that because those corporations are creating social inequalities it is their moral duty to help others if they are able to; therefore a solution to this problem would be to tax them. The government could then allocate that tax money for social housing and for local organizations to help reduce the population living in poverty. During the event we also discussed how we should ethically help others, while reducing acts of discrimination, as well as stigmatization. All the issues that we evaluated in the event are tied to the overarching goal of philosophical investigation: obtain wisdom and truth in the way we ought to relate to other humans and live our lives.
Participating in events with other people produces better ideas, rather than discussing by oneself, because different views and opinions yield better evaluations of an argument. For instance, an idea that one strongly believes in could be disagreed upon by another or redefined in other terms, which then allows for the premises of one’s argument to be further investigated so as to obtain a more truthful knowledge claim. Moreover, different perspectives can reveal overlooked aspects of an issue. For instance, when discussing the housing market, one person discussed that student homelessness is an issue that is not very much talked about but is a serious problem at UBC. This broadened our conversation and allowed us to understand that both national and international students should be able to afford a residence in order to study. Philosophical discussions like this are very important for they bring to light what truly matters for individuals and for a society at large. We can thus learn from other people’s perspectives and opinions what is moral, just and ethical.
Singer, Peter. Famine, Affluence, and Morality, by Peter Singer, www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1972—-.htm.
Description of Experience
The experience was very heartwarming and enjoyable. It was very inspiring seeing all these young students buy in to the poverty reduction in BC. Seeing the young people of our generation involve themselves in causes bigger than themselves, proposes a bright future for not only British Columbia but Canada as a whole. The experience allowed students to sit in groups in the conference room, having speakers come to the front of the room speaking on behalf of their group, or club they were a part of. There were people from different cultures all sharing their own experiences and advocating for poverty.
I did not expect this to be as hands on as it was. It was very open for discussion and every student was respectful and willing to give their opinion. In regards to what I expected, I was expecting us to listen to a few keynote speakers boring us with facts we already knew. Instead we were allowed to exercise our free speech and fresh minds, by answering certain questions and collaborating with other students in forming mind maps to portray our knowledge.
Connection to Academics
- Define philosophy
In Philosophy, poverty is a very general topic. It is often seen in many different perspectives, arguing with it from spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical aspects. As Mill describes it through the Greatest Happiness Principle, he suggests that everybody strives for happiness. Since poverty comes in many different ways, Mill assumes a position of advocacy for the greater population of low income individuals. In his texts, he is known to argue more from a emotional point of view searching for happiness for the greatest amount of people. Philosophy in a sense, plays its part in poverty as searching for fairness as Emmanuel Kant would and his Kantian Ethics, which suggests the fairness of maxims across all humans through his focus on the categorical imperatives. Creating a more fair and just environment where everyone is seen as equal despite wealth, race, or gender, is exactly what the poverty reduction conference strives for.
- Consultation fit with that definition
In regards to the philosophy found in poverty, as I had mentioned above the values of many philosophers can be shared to create a less povertized world. It certainly fits perfectly, as seen through Mill and Kant’s ideologies, that persevere to create the fairest and happiest society.
Discuss Civic Aspects of the Experience
Totally. In answer to the question of group discussions as positive or not, yes it indeed was. Being able to break out of a comfort zone as an individual, and seeing others do so as well creates a positive environment open for discussion and awareness to the poverty around us. The ethics and philosophy of this event, was blind to any aggressive discussion or discrimination. All individuals, regardless of where they came from and what they came from, equally shared the same hurt for the increasing poverty in Vancouver. I personally think that the success of this event, should be made more aware to individuals on campus that I am sure share the same mindset. Because in more ways than none, poverty is an issue that affects all of us, and it sees no boundaries.
On March 7th, 2018, I attended the consultation event organized by the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition (BCPRC) and Raise the Rates (RtR). The two-and-a-half hour event featured brief presentations by local advocacy groups to cover basic facts about poverty in BC (e.g. What is the poverty line in BC? How many people does this include?), but the majority of the time was spent in groups of five to eight brainstorming and discussing poverty in the province of British Columbia. These discussions featured different topics and participants were encouraged to move between groups and contribute to the topics they found interesting. I chose to focus on Student Poverty, Poverty for Newcomers, and A Living Wage. Some other topics included Welfare Issues, Indigenous Poverty, and The Opioid Crisis.
Within these groups, participants wrote their ideas onto large sheets of paper which were then hung as posters. To conclude, each participant was given three stickers, red dots, which they could place next to the three ideas they found most important, as a form of endorsement. This process was called “dotmocracy” by the organizers and effectively allowed all ideas to be read and considered. It was also an effective way to visually demonstrate which ideas had popular support based on where the red dots were clustered. Personally, I put forward the ideas of Socialized Post-Secondary Education (already realized in countries such as Germany or Norway), increasing funding to Immigration Services of British Columbia, and Universal Basic Income.
At the end of the event, the various organizing groups informed us about future events of a similar nature and encouraged us to connect with them on social media. I was unable to attend future events, but did end up following a few on Twitter.
Going into this event, I considered myself reasonably well-informed about issues of poverty, but I still learned a lot about the extent and prevalence of poverty, especially local to BC. While I had known that welfare was designed to be inaccessible in order to reduce applications (thus creating the illusion of fewer welfare applicants), I was still surprised to learn just how badly the government had designed the system to be. Most memorably, the BCPRC shared how the average phone call results in a 45 minute hold time, and can only be used to address one issue. Any welfare recipient with multiple questions would need to re-join the 45 minute queue for every individual question. This lengthy wait time, combined with marginal access to telephones (or, even worse, cell-phone minutes), serves to reduce access to programs that ostensibly exist to serve the poor.
Another avenue along which I learned a lot was which levels of government are responsible for what services. More than once, I was reminded that the event was a focus specifically on the provincial government of British Columbia, and not poverty in general. (Meaning I had to restrict my focus away from topics under federal jurisdiction, such as drug enforcement, or refugees.)
The decision to host the event at a university meant that the demographics of the group tended to skew away from those most extremely affected by poverty (ie by virtue of being able to attend the University of British Columbia, student participants already must have had access to a certain minimum level of income). The student perspective included the obvious, such as tuition and the cost of textbooks, as well as other less obvious vectors that I had not considered, such as housing, affordable groceries on campus, and international students’ issues. While issues such as the affordability of post-secondary education are important, I was also interested in addressing the more acute sort of poverty that affects access to physical needs, such as homelessness or reliance on food banks.
Philosophy, as a study of “what is good”, is well suited to be the foundation on which we answer “what we should do?” Throughout this semester, our class has discussed the views of philosophers that were interested in addressing poverty on a societal level.
Mozi and his idea of impartial caring (jian ai) meant that his ideal society included maintenance of social order. Mozi thought this social order, meaning a lack of crime or immorality, could be achieved by making a minimum level of wealth (eg enough food, clothing and shelter to be comfortable) available to all members of that society and that societies had a moral obligation to make that happen1.
John Stuart Mill’s ideas of utilitarianism are still championed today by philosophers such as Peter Singer, who wrote his book Famine, Affluence and Morality hoping to spur people to contribute more generously to mitigating the effects of poverty around the world. Briefly, the reasoning is as follows: If suffering due to preventable sources is bad, and if we are able to prevent that suffering without causing ourselves similar amounts of suffering, we have an obligation to prevent those sources from causing suffering; we ARE able to prevent that suffering without causing ourselves similar amounts of suffering; therefore we should prevent suffering due to preventable sources.
We also studied Onora O’Neill and her interpretation of the philosophy of Immanuel Kant as it relates to famine problems. She calls our duty to mitigate poverty “beneficence to the vulnerable” (O’Neill. 264). The Kantian perspective considers this duty an imperfect duty, meaning that, unlike a perfect duty, we do NOT have an obligation to always help, but we DO have an obligation to help at least some of the time. Contrast this to the more demanding perspectives of Singer and Mill, who would argue that we have a duty to help until we sacrifice “something of comparable moral importance” (Singer, 231)
Finally, Martha Nussbaum and her list of human capabilities offers yet another perspective on our duty to alleviate poverty. Like Kant, she rejects utilitarianism, but on the grounds that utilitarianism offers a poor metric for measuring human life. It does not account for individual differences within a society. A society with extreme inequality may, on the whole, be quite well off. It does not account for human wellness to be pluralistic, and focuses only on a single factor (in the case of Mill, utility). And finally, utilitarianism does not account for adaptive preferences. With this in mind, I think Nussbaum’s perspective on poverty, capabilities and human flourishing are the best suited for practical application of poverty reduction strategies. It strikes a comfortable balance between duty and demandingness, and offersa nuanced look at what is possible in a world with limited resources.
Attending this event reinforced my support for efforts to mitigate poverty through government intervention. As well, this event (and this class) equipped me with better vocabulary to explain my thoughts and to be better able to support my opinions. In its small way, attending this event was an exciting way to feel included in real world decisions. Even though the event was several steps removed from policy making, being surrounded by like-minded activists and agitators and the recent election of John Horgan’s NDP government left me feeling optimistic that (some of) the proposals would be implemented. Overall, the event served as a practical application of “what should we do” based on pre-conceived notions of “what is good”. By this, I mean the focus was on practical solutions, and the event was not spent deciding whether or not we should reduce poverty.
The group aspect and discussion nature of the event was very important to its success. Working individually would not have yielded nearly as many useful results as the group aspect forced us to refine and focus our ideas. The dotmocracy activity of the event also simulated the way governments are forced to contend with limited resources. By being limited to only three red dots, I was forced to prioritize which strategies I wanted the most.
On top of the practical data gathering aspect of the event, I also enjoyed being able to hear ideas from people who were better educated than I was and being exposed to their work and ideas expanded my world view. I specifically recall a representative from Raise the Rates suggesting a rent freeze to help with the affordable housing crisis in Vancouver and being shocked I had never heard such an elegant idea proposed before. This exposure to knowledge is another intangible benefit of the study of philosophy.
As well, I was encouraged to hear the touring nature of the event. By travelling throughout BC, the event will (hopefully) gather input from a variety of perspectives (Indigenous, rural, working class, academic, etc.) which will be used to create a poverty reduction strategy that works for all British Columbians.
Mozi. “Ch. 2. Mozi.” Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy, edited by Ivanhoe, Philip J, pp 59-61, 68-79 (excerpts).
Nussbaum, Martha C. “Capabilities and Human Rights.” FLASH: The Fordham Law Archive of Scholarship and History, ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/flr/vol66/iss2/2/.
Singer, Peter. Famine, Affluence, and Morality. Oxford University Press, 2016.
1Perhaps Mozi was an early proponent of Universal Basic Income?
On March 7, 2018, I attended a poverty reduction strategy consultation, initiated by the BC provincial government and held in cooperation with Centre for Community Engaged Learning of UBC and other local organizations. The purpose of the consultation was to gather community feedback on people’s concerns and to brainstorm possible solutions. The event took place on UBC campus, with around thirty to forty people attending, most of them students. The facilitators were from organizations such as the Raise the Rates, a non-profit advocating the rise of welfare rates, and the UBC Alma Mater Society. They gave a brief presentation about poverty in British Columbia, relevant statistics and the problems facing British Columbia’s welfare system. The participants were placed in one of six tables and at each table the group was led by a facilitator to speak on issues concerning poverty in BC. The first rounds of discussions were about the aspects of poverty that most concerned the attendees, second was for possible solutions. Each table first produced a flip chart paper with a list of concerns, and then one with possible solutions. The second list was posted on the walls of the room and participants and facilitators, who were given three small dot stickers, posted dots next to what they considered were the best solutions. The results of these consultations are to be incorporated in a report due later this year.
I came into the consultation with little expectations but curious to know what university students—who might come from financially comfortable backgrounds—had to say about poverty. Though many came from relatively well-off families and had not personally experienced poverty, many were concerned and aware of poverty affecting others. A few were actually experiencing financial needs themselves. For example, some university students were parents who needed affordable childcare, paramount for those living on limited income but trying to pursue an education. Others relayed concern about the general lack of affordable housing and education was reducing quality of life in BC. Although I thought that the poverty consultation would focus mainly on material concerns, it actually addressed how poverty reduced rights, and how a lack of political rights cause poverty as well. It was seen as a vicious cycle that was hard to address by merely providing money or goods. Lack of knowledge of one’s rights, for example leads people to stay in abusive relationships or jobs, which also affects one’s ability to escape poverty.
The experience of the poverty reduction consultation reflected a philosophical method as well. I believe that philosophy studies ways of thinking that promote better understanding of the world. Ways of thinking are frameworks, structures that allows one to focus on what is relevant. These frameworks are built by first defining the relevant facts, making deductions from them, and finally applying the implication to the world at large.
For example, Martha Nussbaum, in her essay “Capabilities and Human Rights,” weeds out the irrelevant information that prevents one from knowing how well human beings are actually doing. She then replaces the irrelevant information with what actually does indicate the well-being of human beings. Gross national product (GNP), she says, is a very crude and imprecise way of knowing the welfare of a country’s citizens. She also excludes “quality of life,” a less crude but ultimately distortable measure of welfare. (Nussbaum) The ideal state, she argues, is not one of material entitlements but rather the ability to choose, the means of determining one’s ends. What is relevant then are capabilities, rather than the distribution of goods or satisfaction.
Instead of a metric relying on GNP or utility, she suggests capabilities as the framework to evaluate welfare. In her words, capabilities present the “relevant space within which to compare lives and nations […] Capabilities inform us as to what type of equality might be thought pertinent…” When trying to measure the well-being of people, what should matter is whether they are able to live the full-length term of their lives, whether they have freedom to associate, able to play, determine their futures, etc. It is not that people will live long, associate, play, etc. but that they are able to choose to do these things. (Nussbaum) She suggests applying this standard to assess how well a country was providing for its citizens.
Which brings things back to the poverty reduction consultation. In our discussion groups, we were able to discern the most pressing welfare needs. For most, it was not base goods that concerned them. The relevant information was access. Are people effectively given the option of education? It was not just cost of tuition, but whether they had adequate access to healthcare, housing, childcare, that would allow them to even consider education as an option. This was what Nussbaum referred to as “combined capabilities” which take a more comprehensive view of what is reasonably available to individuals. It was not that everyone was being educated but that they are in circumstances to pursue it. People whose main concerns are cost of healthcare cannot take time away from jobs that provide extended health benefits, thus limiting their access to higher education. It was not suggested that everyone receive social housing, but that no one was without access to affordable housing. With the framework of access, our group was able to better determine possible solutions, such as adequate stock of social housing, financial assistance for education that extends beyond mere tuition.
Although anyone can individually submit comments for BC’s poverty reduction strategy, a setting where people are able to discuss the situation gave greater scope of concerns, clarifying what was and was not relevant to reduce poverty in BC. In isolation, it might have been difficult to account for similarities and difference of concerns, and to create a strategy that more takes these collective concerns into account. The discussion exposed which areas people felt their access was limited to, and their preference for access over a more prescriptive solution that distributes goods per person.
Nussbaum, M. (1997). Capabilities and human rights. Fordham Law Review, 66(2), 273. Retrieved from https://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/flr/vol66/iss2/2
I attended the UBC student consultation on poverty reduction in British Columbia on Wednesday, March. 7th. Around 40 other people were present and there were small groups of tables of four to six people each. The event began with a short presentation by local activists outlining their organizations mission statements and informing the audience of issues regarding poverty that are occurring in British Columbia. We sat in small groups led by two grad students, one who acted as a facilitator and another as a note taker. We first discussed problems that we, as university students, faced and felt strongly about solving. Although my group was composed of all university students, we all had different concerns that were impacting us and then we moved to the larger discussion that included everyone to participate. We got to hear more from others and also heard perspectives from people who weren’t UBC students, such as, the organization members. Since we were asked to discuss problems that we personally face, concerns about affordable housing and reducing the financial hardship from university were brought up a lot, for example, reducing tuition prices and reducing the amount of non-academic additional fees that are charged continually and don’t impact all students. After this we split into different groups with whose concerns aligned with our own on what we felt we could contribute the most for finding solutions, then we brainstormed solutions onto posters and hung them onto the walls for everyone to see. At the end, we all collectively voted on what solutions we thought would be the most impactful and should be a part of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Plan that was produced and that we were submitting to the government. After the end, we were given the opportunity to reach out with the local organizations where I left my email in their sign-up sheets, for more information on further events and possibilities for volunteering in the future.
I expected the event to be more of an informatory session but I was surprised at the amount of participating taking place with the meaningful contributions I got to make by providing problems that I was concerned with but also giving solutions to the governments to combat these problems. I think, however, what really surprised myself and others was when the local activists mentioned the possibility of having free tuition through social activism to cause a change in policy. The fact this could happen hadn’t resonated with me before and to think it could be possible just seemed too good to be true but we were assured that even though it would be difficult, it’s definitely a possibility. An assumption I brought to the event was that as a university student I knew most of the student struggles even if I wasn’t experiencing all of them but this event proved to me there was a lot I didn’t know. For instance, I haven’t taken any student loans out yet but it shocked me to discover that while applying for loans that regardless of the fact if a parent is paying for university expenses or not, the parent’s income is taken to account and determines whether or not the student will get the loan. Additionally, I think that as university students, we did give a unique perspective and it is one that’s often overlooked in politics because unfortunately not all of us vote so our concerns aren’t always in the spotlight for politicians but having this discussion made me feel like the government is making more of an effort to listen to everyone’s concerns. If this event was done by non-students than the concerns brought up would be different than ours but would be just as valuable as ours because everyone’s voice matters and should be heard. After the event, I came away feeling differently about the poverty situation because I gained a more well-informed perspective on it. Moreover, I was surprised by the amount of poverty that is prevalent in British Columbia, for a lack of better words, it’s simply way worse than I had assumed. The issues brought up by the organizations about the difficulty in obtaining welfare and space in homeless shelters were unknown to me and the percentage of those who live in poverty was at such a high rate that was not only unbelievable to me but many others in the room.
Philosophy, in the simplest of terms and the universal message behind all of its definitions, is the discussion of methods on how everyone can live their best life possible. This most relates to the Epicurean philosophy in Letter to Menoeceus, where Epicurus states how to live a good life (Epicurus). He also discusses how natural desires, such as, food and shelter are needed to live the best life possible which is what generally was discussed at the event to achieve better accessibility to for all (Epicurus). Although this definition does mostly apply to Epicurean philosophy and the event, the one difference is the discussion aspect. Epicurus mostly refers to his own methods and doesn’t regard much of his philosophies for debating this or listening to others about this, which was a big component of the event in listening to what others had to say. This aspect of listening to others, questioning others and ourselves, our beliefs, and on discussing what is right mostly aligns with the philosopher Socrates. Similar to the event, in Euthyphro, Socrates questions everything that’s being discussed to produce more thought in the conversation and therefore, this causes a discussion on life’s philosophies (Plato). Which, ultimately, was what the event was about, discussing life’s philosophies.
Participating in an event like UBC student consultation on poverty reduction in British Columbia ensures a better set of comments than just one individual sharing their perspective. There’s power in any voice speaking out but having multiple voices speak out incites a powerful conversation. That’s the key word. Conversation. When there’s more than one voice speaking you tend to hear different perspectives and also hear more concerns that need handling rather than just listening to one person’s point of view. Discussions, like the ones at this event, provide useful to individuals and society at large because not only does it raise awareness to problems that need focusing on but it submits solutions to the government to implement change in policy to fix what needs fixing. These discussions not only help individuals feel they’re voices are being heard but there’s action being taken which is different than just talking about what’s wrong. Actually getting to provide solutions to the government to take action is a distinction in this discussion that benefits individuals and society as a whole.
On March 7th I attended the UBC student consultation for poverty reduction in British Columbia. Roughly 40 people were in attendance. The afternoon was broken into two parts: the problems and the solutions. It started with a brief presentation which outlined about five local organizations combatting poverty in BC and their main goals and accomplishments. We discussed both in small groups composed of UBC students, alumni, a facilitator from a local organization, and a notetaker. After approximately half an hour of small group discussion we joined together as a large group to discuss what had been brought up in our smaller groups as well as have the chance to suggest any new ideas participants may have. Our ideas for solutions were written on large pieces of paper afterwards and the group had a chance to vote on those which they believed would have the biggest impact or were the best suggestions. I signed up to receive newsletters by email from multiple organizations as well as put my name on a list to be contacted if volunteers were to be needed.
This experience is one I will likely remember for some time. I found the space to be one I was very comfortable in and was therefore able to participate and provide my own opinions where applicable. I came into the experience expecting it to be mostly informative with limited opportunities for input. I was surprised upon arriving at the relatively small size of the event as well as the structure of the afternoon which allowed for ample audience participation. This expectation of a larger, more information based events prepared me to be more of a listener than a participant. To my surprise, these mental preparations I had made beforehand did not interfere with the degree to which I participated in the forum. I came away from this consultation with an enlightened sense of hope. Despite learning of the undeniably high levels of poverty present in our city, this event fostered the feelings of hope by showing the participants that our opinions and our actions can make a difference. With a provincial government that is listening to our concerns and propositions for solutions, we are at a point where we, can truly change the situation at hand. I believe that university students offer a unique perspective to the issue. The conversation was opened up to include the concerns of the majority of students surrounding tuition and board costs. As those who experience firsthand the effects of these expenses, I believe it was very beneficial to have university students in attendance.
Philosophy is the discussion of moral questions and the study of the different responses to these questions. This idea of philosophy is strongly rooted in the study of Socrates in his tendency to question those he is engaged in conversation with, this style coming to be known as the Socratic Method. This is seen in his dialogue with Euthyphro where Socrates actively listens to Euthyphro but questions aspects of his wisdom and ultimately challenges his self-perception and that which he claims to know. I found my experience at the Poverty Reduction Consultation to fit this style of philosophy quite well. It was through questioning and conversation that we, as a whole, were able to come to answers or agreements. This style of questioning also produced divides in the group where opinions may have differed which, in turn, lead to further conversation and discussion of the topic.
I believe consultations on topics such as this one with groups of people are extremely beneficial to both individuals and society at large. Conversation and discussion with others is, in my opinion, a much more useful and successful way to address problems. With more than one person attacking an issue, many more ideas and opinions are likely to come about. In a Socratic questioning style of philosophy, individuals are encouraged to share their beliefs where, in turn, these beliefs are questioned and the product from this type of conversation may be something entirely new. From debate or conversation ideas are expressed and are further discussed and improved by multiple minds thinking and working together. This type of discussion is key to decision-making in all areas as it accounts for an array of opinions and ideas.
For this assignment, I attended the BC Poverty Reduction Strategy Consultation on March 7. When I walked into the BC Hydro Theatre, the room had around 8 separate tables. Each table had around 6 people, including a discussion facilitator and a note-taker. Funnily enough, the other people at my table were all students of PHIL 102 as well— I guess we saw familiar faces and sat down.
The event started with a brief introduction of the history of poverty in Vancouver, with the usual statistics and graphs to show trends in the city. But the real discussion began soon after. We talked about how poverty (or money in general) has been a problem relevant to our lives, or in the lives of those around us. Although everyone in my group was from PHIL 102, we were each shaped by different experiences in our lives. For example, I don’t live alone and I don’t have student loans, so it was a learning experience to hear from those who did. After a break, we split into new groups based on topics such as housing, post-secondary fees, or general affordability. We brainstormed ideas on a poster, then pinned it up along the back wall to be seen by everyone. The best solutions would be included in the upcoming Poverty Reduction Strategy Plan. Overall, it was a very enlightening event because I got the chance to talk about issues I never thought about before.
I didn’t really know what to expect when I signed up for the consultation. I actually thought it would be like a big Q&A discussion with a panel up front, so I was very surprised when I saw the room was quite small! It was definitely telling that this discussion took place in a university, just because my groups talked a lot about how UBC could alleviate financial strain and provide support for its students and staff. I came out of the event learning about issues that matter, even if they didn’t affect me, and potential small steps towards bigger changes. My favourite ideas I saw at the end was a low-income transit pass for those who can’t afford normal transit fare, and rent freeze— a concept which I was completely unaware of before.
This experience made me realize how much philosophy isn’t just about what you think— it’s about how you share your ideas with others and expand your worldview from discussions. That is my definition of philosophy: the learning and sharing of ideas in order to understand the world better. This definition is very similar to what Socrates/Plato defines as philosophy, which can be summed up as an unending search for wisdom. He enacts this by going around Athens asking people questions, trying to prod them to think. In Euthyphro, Socrates spends asks Euthyphro, a religious figure, what the definition of piety is. The more uncomfortable Euthyphro becomes, the more persistent Socrates gets, because he is trying to probe Euthyphro for an answer. Socrates does this because, as he is famously quoted for ‘saying’, “the unexamined life I not worth living” (Plato, Apology 11). Socrates believes living a full life requires an unending questioning of oneself and of others. Even when persecuted to the point of execution, Socrates stands by his words, refusing to stop his search for wisdom.
The consultation was not interrogative or accusatory, as Socrates sometimes appears to be, but enlightening and welcoming. However, the general theme of gaining knowledge and wisdom from questions and answers is still prevalent. Our discussions were prompted by questions: how is poverty an issue? Why does it affect us? What can we do to fix it? There were no right or wrong answers, because it was dependant on each person. We can disagree and refute somebody’s opinion, but in the end, that is all it is— an opinion. But by talking and listening to others, as well as speaking through big issues, we make connections and link ideas in our heads. By asking and answering questions, learning can be catalyzed; the Socratic method is based on discussion.
One can argue that the reason why public consultations are effective is because they are public: they involve groups of people that otherwise may not be in conversation. The event brought together students from difficult faculties, ages, political standings… People typically seek out others that think similarly, so these groups give a chance for the problem of poverty to be taken apart from various directions, allowing points of view that may not be present from groups of similar people. If the consultation only involved one person a time, then although I would be able to give my opinion on poverty reduction, I would not be able to learn what others think of the issue. To illustrate, consider this: there was someone in my group who was a couple years older than me; he had a different perspective of poverty and money, one that I wasn’t familiar with because I don’t need to support myself. So not only did I contribute to the consultation, I was in conversation with others, and my worldview expanded as a result. This is where philosophy— gaining wisdom through discussion— is relevant.
Although the consultation does not seem philosophical on the surface, it is the methodology and result that makes it philosophical. Facilitation of discussion and encouragement of knowledge is extremely important to learning and improving quality of thinking. This type of group discussion is necessary for brainstorming ideas and inspiring change— how else are we supposed to be challenged to think of what might be possible? Society progresses when people come to together to discuss, whether for rebellions or policymaking. Group conversations are philosophical because they provide a place for us to acknowledge our ignorance, and is a birthplace of wisdom and knowledge. Through the consultation, I was able to converse with experts working to reduce poverty, and with peers that have different perspectives than me. And through these interactions, I learned to think differently and became all the little wiser in the process