System Errors. These are the catastrophes and accidents that stem from, as explained by FIMSSC president Jordan Pearson and vice president academics Stephanie Schoenhoff, ubiquitous systems in our world such as capitalism. Pearson and Schoenhoff introduced the idea of these travesties as not accidental but consequences of something much more insidious at the beginning of Saturday’s first ever undergraduate student conference hosted by FIMS, System Error.
After these opening remarks from these conference organizers, acting FIMS Dean Dr. Nick Dyer-Witheford addressed the crowded Natural Science lecture hall of current students, Western alumni, and community members. To emphasize the significance of a conference such as this, Dyer-Witheford read from a mission statement created shortly after the faculty was first formed roughly 17 years ago.
This statement identified three qualities the faculty strives to be: critical, creative, and cross-disciplinary. Such themes carried throughout the conference, and as host Sandra Smeltzer, a FIMS associate professor, introduced the first speaker it became clear that these pillars of the faculty still hold true.
Professor Tim Blackmore began with a presentation centered on the notion of perfection: a fallacy within itself but nonetheless something we demand from our technology. Blackmore went on to use the desperation for perfection to frame disturbing trends within military weaponry and brutality – specifically touching on nuclear missiles, Guantanamo Bay torture, and drone mechanics.
Part-time professor Warren Steele followed, continuing the discussion around nuclear arms in relation to the end of the world. Steele used literature with apocalyptic narratives to highlight ways in which we collectively relate to destruction, love, and the end of the world.
Though Steele’s apocalyptic world seemed distant, after the conference lunch break keynote speaker Naomi Klein spoke about how the dangers our world faces are less science fiction than reality. The time to correct the significant environmental damage that capitalism has created, as Klein argued, is running out. Unless our economic infrastructure collectively shifts away from a dependence on fossil fuels and other damaging modes of power it may soon be too late.
After Blackmore and Warren joined Klein for the speaker panel discussion, the audience had a chance to raise questions or concerns about what had been tackled. Moderated by FIMS lecturer and journalist Jeremy Copeland, the panel spoke about the challenges of mobilization, the underlying tensions of race when it comes to environmentalism, and how capitalism can proliferate conflict, militarization, and environmental decay. One issue that was brought up, but never fully agreed upon, was the chance of real change.
Ending the conference, however, was host Smeltzer with a reflection on how conferences like System Error stand as evidence to the potential of young people as agents of change. Similarly, Pearson concluded that if we understand harmful capitalism as the dominant system, then perhaps we – through conferences like this one – are the error to take it down.
Stay tuned for highlights from System Error later this week