A (re-)Introduction

October 24, 2013

We live in interesting, but not unprecedented political times. Darth Harper, the Controller-in-Chief, has done an admiral job of keeping things quiet, but the fruits of his autocratic nature are ripening quickly. The Senate expenditure scandal exposed that he vetted his appointments about as vigorously as John McCain’s campaign committee did when looking at Sarah Palin. And, as we’ve seen in the past, when control freaks get into real trouble, they deal with it by covering the problem up.  In order to make it seem like he didn’t make a mistake in appointing his CTV lapdogs, Harper has been caught either orchestrating or participating in a cover-up. (I’m being as charitable as I can here, obviously.)

Ottawa is starting to get that late-80’s stink when things started to finally stick to Brian Mulroney. You can tell that Harper feels it, public opinion polls express it, the National Post feels it, hell, even the Blogging Tories seem to be beginning to feel it. All that is left is to nominate a woman to be Canada’s second Prime Minister and inevitable fall girl. (Or maybe the end of this government will see the nation’s first gay PM?)

The demise of the Conservative Party is unfortunately not a foregone conclusion, as it still garners an unseemly support in the more self-entitled regions of the country. With an electorate split among three, four, or five parties that can be expected to take a sizable portion of the electorate in any given riding, thirty percent is all you really need in many places.

And what else is different is that it is not the political right that is Balkanized, it’s now the centre and left.

This presents a question: how best to get rid of this government?

In my heart of hearts, I’m a lefty liberal, but the Liberal party has never appealed to me. I’ve always seen them as liberal in name only, more of a financial party with ties to big banks, insurance companies and other people’s money, campaigning on the left and governing in the mushy middle. Because of that, I’ve traditionally voted either Green or NDP, the latter most often. However, having seen our Nova Scotia NDP party turn into an amalgam of all the dull ideas ever thought up by Liberals or Conservatives, party affiliation is less of an issue and more than ever up for grabs.

The next election is for me above all about getting rid of Darth Harper and his gang. That might mean hitching up to the momentum of the newly rejuvenated Liberal Party, or maybe backing the federal NDP, for whom Thomas Mulcair has done an admiral job (in my opinion) as Opposition Leader. I haven’t got a sense yet what the Young Trudeau actually believes in, so I’m hesitant. I know he’s in favour of marijuana legalization, but that tells me only that he wants to get out (and win) the young vote in the next election.  It’s a throw-away promise that will be put off and put off as one more important issue after another come up. I’d like to know where he stands on those important issues. Issues like the dramatically increasing wealth disparity, global warming, corporate taxation, fiscal policy, etc. I’m all for legalizing pot, but a promise of it is not enough to win my vote.  (A bag of weed on election day, well that’s another story…)

I’m open for convincing in almost any direction (almost!) and am hoping these pages will provide some guidance.


Michael Ignatieff tips his hand…

September 1, 2010

As much as I disprove of Jack Layton’s decision to sit on his hands during the promised vote on the long gun registry, for Michael Ignatieff to declare that the NDP have to “step up or they have no darn principles” is childish and counter-productive – particularly coming from the leader of the party that has fallen over itself to keep the Conservative minority from calling an election.  Anyone have a count on how many times the Liberals have floated a Conservative vote since Paul Martin thundered the party into the tarmac in 2005? I don’t play cards, but even with my lack of poker skills I know someone whose holding shit when I see it.

Harper must giggle every time he sees Iggy open his mouth.


Politics, Society and Technology: the Perils of Entitlement

October 11, 2009

As I was cruising the intertubes this morning, waiting patiently for the NFL to kick off, I came across a blog entry on Huffington Post by Jeffrey Feldman, entitled “The Outrage Pandemic“. It describes the rising tide of outrage from both the Right and the Left in regard to President Barack Obama, particularly now that he has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This got me to thinking about a few seemingly random things, which may not be so random.

We live now in an age where everything is instant – gratification of the need for attention, for knowledge and for fame is mere moments away for most people. Blogs for example are, or rather were, unique venues for the everyday individual who once was one of the faceless masses to be fed information to provide tasty opinionated snacks to the world (I am as guilty as anyone of checking the blog stats to see if anyone is reading what I have written, and how the ‘Kog is doing in general – I respect and admire my co-authors, and I’m glad I was invited to participate in this grand experiment). Add YouTube videos and Wikipedia to the mix, and we have unprecedented access to instant gratification, in the form of information, entertainment, or infotainment, from almost everywhere in the world.

What is problematic in the access to ‘sending’ and ‘receiving’ we all enjoy is the atomization of social life – when everyone can write their own newspaper, or make their own movies, or, more tellingly, limit themselves to reading the ‘news’ from the viewpoint they prefer, shared experience becomes less… shared. The common experience of having access to a limited number of media that still existed until about 15 years ago has been lost, replaced by the ability to create a world that reflects you, and to search for others who share your views, no matter how extreme.

Add to the atomization phenomenon the usual action and interaction associated with anonymous communication, and the landscape becomes considerably more volatile. It has been said, quite rightly, that you can be literally anyone online – it’s why I don’t bother with chatrooms. The sneaking suspicion that the 18-year-old nymphet at the other end of an intertube is actually a hairy, naked trucker in a cheap hotel ruins the whole experience for me. Sometimes it is possible to know, or suspect, too much. But, that’s not the important aspect I am talking about (whew). The translation of thought into text without much usable context (the emoticon is useful, if annoying, but not foolproof) leads to misunderstanding, and the usual human interaction to perceived disagreement or outright verbal or textual attack is an emotional one, completely out of proportion with any reaction to a similar real-world situation. To borrow from theories of collective behavior, a group of individuals becomes a mob because of the combination of:

  1. A reasonably large group of people (critical mass, if you will)
  2. A precipitating or ‘trigger’ event
  3. An individual who recognizes the protection of numbers, and escalates his behavior to violence
  4. A cascade effect in which others in the collective follow the extreme behavior, losing shared or ‘normal’ morality in the crowd, as it were.

Now, imagine the same idea, translated to a single individual, who wears his cloak of anonymity granted not by a crowd, but a keyboard. There are no immediate repercussions to negative actions, at least no physical threat of incarceration or personal injury, so actions and reactions can become routinely larger than life – the internet age has created a uniquely bipolar citizen. In essence, we become our own individualized mob. How’s that for a contradiction?

To cast back a bit for the next thread in the narrative, let’s take a look at the 1970’s – not too closely, or we’ll be blinded by hairspray and huge collars. The ’70s have been referred to as the ‘me decade’ – the sexual revolution resulted in a revolutionary sense of permissiveness, and an indulgence of hedonism that has been unequaled since – thanks primarily to the negative impacts of recreational drugs and sexually transmitted disease. The ’80s were the ‘greed is good’ decade, which led to more self-indulgence, not to mention teased hair and fluorescent colours. Gratification of the need for entertainment, in particular, became more the order of the day as cable television networks grew. The most important, and potentially most negative aspect of this development is the launch of CNN in 1980. News became entertainment, the personal continued to be political, and every small development in the evolution of social life was placed under a microscope. Access to this unending stream of information, rather than being a boon to society, meant that people were getting used to having all the information they needed, all the time – there arguably never was a better time to be politically active, as information was becoming more readily available, but was still limited, to a degree. The ‘me decade’ morphed into ‘me too decade’.

The commercialization of the internet in the mid-1990s enhanced the public’s access to information – which had its’ downside in the fact that not all sources are reliable – in fact, I would venture to say that 90% of the information available on the ‘net is opinion rather than objective fact. It became too easy to find others seeking information, or willing to share information in such a way as to make it more palatable to certain tastes. The ability of bloggers to vilify politicians or other public figures because of the emotional volitility of anonymity, and the ability of readers to limit their interactions to like-minded individuals has led to the evolution of the know-nothing know-it-all, and the growth of the political rabble-rousing we see constantly around us, particularly in relation to American politics.

So, we have passed the ‘me decade’ and the ‘me too’ decade, and entered, around the turn of the century, the ‘me too, right now decade’. The failure of anyone to live up to our comfortable vision of society, cultured online, of nodding heads and reinforcement of emotionally comfortable and fiercely defended beliefs leads to the inevitable volatility of reaction. What we have is a generation of people who have grown up online, in which very few vote but almost all pontificate on the slightest outrage committeed by those who do not respect the boundaries of our own little undiscovered countries.

This is not limited to the political Right – we see now the political Left dogging the footsteps of a President with intelligence and wisdom, but who is unable, as is any human or organization, to fulfil the immediate wants and needs of everyone, all at once. Therefore, the rhetoric becomes more vehement, the outrage more emotional – those who do not agree or who do not cater to our beliefs are instantly the ‘enemy’, the ‘other’, the traitor who consorts with terrorists because they diagree with your vision of America – which in reality is limited to the boundaries of your home office or your parents’ basement. There is no longer an ‘America’ for people to be proud of, but several million Americas on every street, and sometimes more than one in every home.

Sometimes the citizens of these atomized Americas come together and share their outrage, but the emotional reaction, unmuted by people who may disagree, continues to build until the individual begets the crowd, which begets the mob. We are not, and are unable to, translate the interactive processes that are built by personal contact and childhood interaction to the internet – rather, the interactive rituals and emotional responses of the internet are being translated to real life, with dire consequences. Disagreement becomes hatred, disappointment becomes betrayal, caution becomes intolerable delay. The lure of the emotional and the instant is too strong.

President Obama has had the misfortune of becoming the leader of the free world at a time when personal interaction has degraded to black and white – the ‘for us or against us’ mentality was not limited to the inside of President Bush’s head. If Obama fulfils his promise of hope and progess, he will earn the hatred of those who benefit from the status quo, either emotionally or financially. If he fails, he will be vilified by those who feel that change is the only way to make the world better – in every way, both politically and personally. If he even achieves half of his lofty goals, he will still make enemies of people on both sides.

As has become obvious from some of my prior posts, I have high hopes for Barack Obama – I think he represents a change long overdue in American politics, as well as in global relations. My fear is that the Lyndon Johnson-esque Great Society that he envisions will be sabotaged by the millions of ‘better’ societies that live in the emotional cores of those on both sides, and that people will guard their personal borders against unwanted information or action to such a degree that co-operation in moving forward will be impossible. Those that are most highly motivated to speak are inevitably the loudest and most dogmatic on both sides, and the voices of entitlement, the shouts of the ‘me too, right now’ generation may drown out the reasoned, intelligent dialogue he offers.

The telegraph linked us on a very basic level. The telephone enabled contact with one another. Television and radio showed us, through pictures and words, the world outside our windows. Now, the internet, the great boon to mankind, has enabled us to examine, to know, and to experience, the inside of our own heads.  Will it rule us, and decide our future for us, or will we reclaim ourselves, our knowledge, and our bonds to each other? Who knows.

Make no mistake, however, the future may depend on our mastery of our tools, and of ourselves.


You have just entered… the Twilight Zone

September 20, 2009

The NDP is going to have to take a clear position…

I’mma gonna let that sink in for a while, cuz it’s so delicious coming from the mouth of a Liberal “leader”.

Bwahahahahahaha!


A Letter to A Neighbor

August 17, 2009

Dear America:

How are you? We’re fine up here. I’ve been looking at the news coming from your part of the world lately, and it’s beginning to trouble me a bit. As a Canadian, I, along with millions of your citizens, felt hopeful that the Obama administration would be able to pull you out of the morass you found yourselves in – a morass created by the subservience of previous administrations to the dual addictions of profit and power. I was under no illusions that November 5 would dawn on a country where everything was fixed, nor did I believe that 6 months, even a year, would be enough to enact real change. Nevertheless, I continue to keep an optimistic outlook on your future.

The strength of your culture has always come from the “melting pot” philosophy that was the guide for the many to unite into the one – everyone, regardless of origin, was an American, dedicated to the continued prosperity of the nation. It was the best example of a shared value – an ideal, of course, never achieved but at least remaining as a spiritual goal of the country. It was shared values that brought you together in the first place, united the first thirteen colonies, and continued until America was the world’s last superpower. Much of the strength and unity that was built was a result of perceived external threats; competing ideologies like Nazism or Communism that united you in opposition to an external threat. The problem is that there is currently no external threat that can compare to entire ideologies as represented by discrete nations or united movements. In physics, it is accepted that energy doesn’t ever go away, it just goes somethere else, and that is what has happened to the once-great beacon of liberty. In the absence of unified or concrete opposition, the energy that defined by opposition had to go somewhere, and, unfortunately, it has turned inward.

The conservative element in America has always been there, and they look upon particular times in your history as ‘golden ages’, times that were better than now, primarily because America was united, was strong, and had shared values (keep in mind, however, that these were rarely, if ever, golden ages for anyone beyond white males, but it is to be expected if that is the group that is reminiscing). The population went from “Russia? We’re not like them!”, to being unable to define themselves through opposition. Who’s next on the list? The people within your own country who disagree with you: “My neighbors, I’m not like them!” It’s always easier to define something by what it is not, and American culture is no exception.

Sadly, America, your citizens are just as proficient at creating divisions as they are at justifying them, in order to create a sense of identity. They dig in their heels and refuse to hear other opinions, because it takes them outside of their comfort zone, violates their own vision of their identity, so inextricably bound up is that identity in the persona of “America the Beautiful”. For the purposes of simplification and ease of rationalization, there is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, ‘black’ and ‘white’, ‘victim’ and ‘victor’. There is no grey, just the heavily fortified extremes of the emotional spectrum. When people stop listening to one another, they stop learning, when they stop learning, they stop maturing, and when they stop maturing, they feel as if their own opinions are the only ones worthy of respect. In the country of the self-centred, the most selfish man is king.

I could go on at length (and I have) about the motivating factors behind the polarized and increasingly violent culture that has evolved: religion; political ideology; profit; race; gender identity and so on, but that isn’t necessarily the important thing – zeroing in on one or two background motivations is not the purpose of this letter. What is the purpose of this is to decry the dangerous combination of a lack of respect and an extreme, almost allergic sensitivity to criticism or even simple disageement. Your media isn’t helping (I’m looking at all of you, not just picking on Fox) by feeling and acting on the ‘necessity’ to amp up the emotion in everything to the detriment of the actual sharing of information that could empower the populace and nurture debate – is it a reflection of the extreme form of the current culture, or one of the root causes? I think it’s probably best not to look too closely at that chicken/egg scenario right now, this letter is already too long as it is.

So, America, my southern cousin, what do I suggest? I thought you’d never ask.

Respect is the number one suggestion I have. It is obvious that many Americans hold opposing views on health care reform, for example, but it shouldn’t be necessary to have armed police present at town hall meetings. Everyone needs to feel as if they are being listened to, and their opinions understood and respected. As an additional benefit, this is kryptonite to the radio and television hate mongers inhabiting your airwaves – fairness and respect are difficult to criticize. Paradoxically, my other suggestion, this one to your leaders, is that they currently have the power to make things happen, to make bold and historic strides, to make your citizens healthier and more prosperous – use it. The outreach program that preached inclusion is obviously not working. Learn from others who have had the hand of conciliation slapped away enough times to understand that cooperation is neither wanted nor realistic. Listen to the concerns of the public, take note of the feelings and desires of the populace, as befits a democracy, but ultimately, you must use the mandate given to you to enact solutions that are feasible, affordable, and create the most benefit. Your leaders have already stumbled, but that shouldn’t stop you from moving forward – we are all meant to learn from our mistakes, and your leader is particularly intelligent. Do what you can, for the benefit of the majority, because you can. The political benefits can be great, but the benefits to your society will be greater and more long-lasting. In short, defuse the emotional cries with understanding, defeat the hatred with respect, but ultimately, steer the ship as your people have chosen you to do, despite stormy waters ahead.

All this, of course, is my opinion. I share it with you because I look at you and see the potential for greatness, or renewed greatness, inherent in you. I would hate to see that potential go to waste because of internal disruption or, in the worst case, catastrophic partisan violence. Yer a good country deep down, and I know you mean well, but now is the time to act before this goes any further. You have been a good neighbor so far (I’m overlooking that whole 1812 thing for now), and it makes me sad to see you in such despair.

The sooner you all realize that your goal, a greater and more prosperous America, is the same, and you can all agree that the benefits of peace are more deireable than those of conflict, the easier it will be to bring America closer to her ideal. Naive? Probably, but sometimes things just need to be said. I feel better for having gotten this off my chest. I’m looking forward to continuing our friendship for a long time to come.

All the best,

Flash

P.S.: Stop picking on our health care. Seriously, it’s really pissing some of us off. It’s not perfect, but it’s ours, and for the most part, it works. Knock it off.


Those Wacky Foreigners

February 2, 2009

Apparently the New York Times has decided to laud praise on Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, referring to him as sort of a Canadian Barack Obama. The fact that the article is in the “Fashion & Style” section is, I assume, not intended to imply that he is a fad of the moment – I’ll reserve judgment on that one. The Globe and Mail is evidently skeptical.

I’m sort of moved to wonder a few things about this: why would the Americans even bother to notice a ‘Canadian Obama’ when they have the real deal? Is this just a prelude to the President’s first foreign trip?

And, most significantly, do they know something we don’t, or do we know something they don’t?


Get the Facts, and Make Your Voice Heard

December 4, 2008

For the information of Blevkog readers, I offer the following:

And, for the edification of the Canadian public, and to counter the falsehoods layered upon us by the Conservatives:

And last, but certainly not least, I offer the link to the “I’m Part of the 62% Majority” online petition.

I encourage everyone who supports this timely effort to take a moment to express your support.


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