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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Conscious Revolution is Catching

Mental capacity, and the lack of it, was much discussed in and around Ottawa last week.

The word "crazy" gets bandied about with alarming regularity, considering how poorly defined it is.  You can use crazy in the sense of nonsensical, bold, aggressive, reluctant, petulant, ignorant, dumb or even as a descriptor for an actual condition of cognitive impairment.  Given its vagueness of meaning, crazy is really a poor term to use as anything other than an insult.  If you want to actually give a situation, a condition or a person meaning, you need to refine your terminology a bit.
Hence, Rob Ford's functional fixedness is being considered through the lens of a recognized cognitive behaviour suite, obsessive compulsive disorder.  There are plenty of other politicians who could be diagnosed as having a "mental illness" and indeed, many have come forward, admitting to battles with neurologically-originated conditions like depression or alcoholism.  In fact, the study of the political brain has become trendy in science and journalism  Now, we're still in that phase of the game where we look to use labelling of cognitive ability as a stick to beat opponents with; there has been a lot written of late tying social conservative beliefs to our "reptilian" brain, with the implication being that one end of the political spectrum is dumber or less open to new ideas than the other. 

But there are a couple other things happening at the same time that, whether we see it clearly are not, are wholly connected to this phenomena.  One, the mental health crisis that, while not prominent on the radar these days due to the focus on our economic doldrums, still lingers.  It is the economy, though, that reigns supreme - along with questions like "how do you motivate innovation to grow new economic activity?"  Innovation, artistic creation and that nebulous concept of crazy are rightly intertwined; innovation is equally a function of our grey matter.  Then, there's health care, specifically the unsustainable nature of our existing model.  There's a huge mental health component to that Gordian knot as well.
Who makes decisions about our health care, our economy, our services?  Those people who get it into their heads that the world needs their leadership to function properly - a delusional belief if ever there was one.  Just because it takes a bit of delusion or narcissism to think you're that important doesn't mean that it isn't true; exceptional individuals, for better or worse, do change the world.  It's these outliers who, given the right opportunities in life, will build the better light bulb, cure cancer or develop a health care model that is adjusted to the realities of modern society and demand.
There is a lot of crazy in politics, but we need that crazy to move the ball forward.  Even if you're a status-quo libertarian who thinks of progress as inconsequential, you can't deny the historical reality of manic, motivated people developing followings and nurturing change.  It's just the way things are, the way they've always been.
In service use, in labour but especially in politics, we are beginning to peel back the layers; instead of simply accepting "that's just the way it is" we're asking "what makes them that way?"  In the days of colonialism, anthropology was a tool used to help Western powers understand (and better manage) those that they colonized.  The corollary of that process was the absorption of bits and pieces of indigenous culture into Western society.  Today, there's almost a reversal of that process emerging; through the studies of organizations like Samara or the information exposure efforts of Wikileaks or 404SystemError, it's now the average citizen who's peeling back the layers of political motivation, reverse-engineering the behaviour of our pols to understand it better.
As the public becomes increasingly inquisitive about the cognitive capacities or our pols - and as we have ever-expanding access to every breath they take, every move they make - there is more and more thought being given to how we can read, choose and motivate our political class better.  This trend ties in to the notion of managing cognitive labour to greater results, reducing external service dependence, de-medicalizing mental health and of course, getting more out of life.
This notion of maximizing human potential and of creative destruction in our society at all levels through systematic change is not a new one, nor is the idea of sudden bursts of civic activity, demanding more of society's leaders.  In fact, you could say it happens with startling regularity, with each iteration allowing people at all levels to climb the pyramid a bit further.
We're in the bust part of one of these cycles now; there will be hard times for those at the lower echelons of society that will trickle up, in degrees, to those above them.  As the wheel turns, though, both sides will realize that to reach their end goals, middle ground needs to be found.  It's that balance between executive function and systematic reaction that at some level, we are constantly striving to achieve. 
What all this focus on mental capacity at all levels does is allows to pursue that goal more consciously.


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