Lakehead Professor Max Haiven Discusses Debt
Kaelen Pelaia, Staff Writer
LUSU has unveiled a new extracurricular lecture series, the first of which was held on Wednesday September 13th in the Study. English department professor Max Haiven, who also serves as Canada’s Research Chair in Culture, Media and Social Justice, hosted a politically charged discussion titled, “Welcome to the Debt Machine: The Betrayal of the University and Young People in the Age of Corporate Power.”
Professor Haiven’s lecture was well attended, with over a dozen students and faculty from all programs and departments present.
Haiven argues that our modern financial and political structures encourage and enforce a system that perpetuates debt, and therefore dependence, not only by individuals of low socioeconomic status, but also students. Students are punished by this system namely in Canada, the United States and other countries without free post-secondary education, which forces lifelong debt upon individuals and their families in order to simply have a chance at a ‘successful’ modern occupation and lifestyle.
Haiven argues that we have created a society where “debt is obligatory.” Understanding where debt comes from and how it is controlled is crucial not only to informing ourselves about the modern world, but also to promoting social and political change.
“We have been sold a false product on debt,” explains Haiven, “and our modern notions of debt punishes our freedom as individuals and as a society.”
Haiven also insists that the fate of humanity lies in people acting in unison to see the change they desire upon the world. “I am not advocating for an end to debt as a financial construct,” explains Haiven, “but rather a reconsideration of how we perceive debt as a social relationship.”
Haiven refers to the other debts humans hold as well. “We have to consider our debt to the environment,” he explains. Humanity has extracted and borrowed so much from our natural environment, that we must consider the Earth itself as the supreme creditor of humanity. The only way to repay this debt is to treat the environment with respect and appreciate our planet’s beauty and health.
Haiven also explains that debt as a social and financial relationship is not inherently wrong or bad. Debt has a long and useful history to humanity, and economics as we understand it today would be impossible without some form of debt. However, a large portion of modern debt is controlled and abused by corporations and governments around the world in order to control the populace and to line their own pockets with interest payments on that debt.
We are taught through our institutions and by society that having debt is shameful and a blight on our characters as people, but Haiven insists that this feeling stems not from debt as a financial device, but from the financial and political systems themselves.
Haiven’s main criticism of how debt is controlled is that “universities must not be founded by debt.” By forcing students to take out loans they will spend years trying to pay back, universities keep students dependent on banks and the government for support. This means students are kept under the shadow of a large debt that persists well after their education has ended and they have entered the workforce.
“This process is extremely detrimental to the lower classes as well,” Haiven explains, “as this perpetuates a cycle of dependency well into ensuing generations.”
The best way to avoid this problem is quite the elegant solution. “University must be accessible to all levels of society. The best way to do that is to institute free, public post-secondary education in order to fully circumvent the problems raised by student loans and to promote awareness and learning among young people.”
There will be plenty more of LUSU’s “Hard Topics For Hard Times” lecture series this year, so if you missed out on this one, don’t worry. Travis Hay from Lakehead’s Indigenous Learning Department is holding another seminar entitled “The Thunder Bay Inquest: Racism and Spotlighting in Ontario’s Courtrooms,” which will be held on October 6th at 6pm in the Study.
For those interested in Dr. Haiven’s work, he teaches Cultural and Literary Theory at the third year level here at Lakehead and would certainly appreciate any thoughtful discussion brought into his classroom.