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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.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Truth Vs. The Political Position

Or confabulating, as it were.

Of course, politics-as-usual is all about the half-truth thing; in the biz, it's called "spin."  Spin isn't about lying, technically - it's about presenting elements of the truth in a way that is A) favourable to one's side or one's objectives or B) unfavourable to one's opponents or one's opponent's position.  

Those who play the game have a hard time seeing it as anything but a game, a struggle between your side and the other side - it's a Plato's Cave kind of thing, I think.  

In this great game, the people aren't constituents whose trust is to be earned, but blocs of influence to be manipulated.  The non-partisan, the mushy middle, stand in for the Third World, less players than pieces to be jockeyed over by the Powers.  In a survival-of-the-fittest contest, the big picture doesn't matter - only winning does.

When your sole focus is the win (and by extension, engineering the field of combat with the goal of fostering perpetual winning conditions) and you make your living telling half-truths, you forget what the whole truth looks like.  

Which is why in politics, instead of statements of fact, you have "positions."  

That kind of thing.  It creates a vicious circle of halves that don't fit together to present a whole.  

Those doing the spinning can't see this, as everything not in their immediate field of view becomes blurred.  Again, the Big Picture doesn't matter - only one's position does.

It's why we don't trust politicians, nor the people who inform their choices; we know they're not telling us the whole story.  In fact, we're not even sure they know the whole story.  Would you trust someone you knew was withholding or ignoring important information to pick up your kids from school or to keep your extra front door key?  I'm thinking not.

Here's the great, tragic irony; we may not trust politicians to look at the Big Picture, nor even trust them to recognize it - but they don't trust us, either.  Why should they?  We're just as selfish as they are.  

They are our representatives, after all.  

The politicians are actually doing exactly what they're supposed to - representing the narrow bandwidths on which they are elected.  Part of the democratic contract implies responsibility on the part of the citizen to proactively become informed themselves; we're supposed to review the whole suite of positions and, from an informed, rational perspective, determine the whole picture for ourselves.

We are choosing not to.  We want what we want, regardless of context, regardless of consequence - that's our position.

Pick your contentious issue:

Subways?  How many average citizens are actively looking at the big picture - what does a system that works equitably for everyone look like?  How many are cherry-picking political soundbites to validate their own positions?

Bike lanes?  Who out there is proactively looking for shared solutions, vs. lining up into competitive camps in some fictitious zero-sum game?

Back to those gas plants; Oakville is one of the wealthiest, most powerful communities in Canada.  Their massive pay cheques buy massive homes, pay for lavish golf courses and enough free time to play on them; those cheques are also available to pay for well-organized advocacy campaigns and to punish Political Parties who don't heed their NIMBYist positions.

But Ontario does have increased energy needs.  That energy capacity has to come from somewhere, meaning generating plants, and those plants have to be located somewhere.  The residents of Oakville could have spend their prodigious dollars on a consumption reduction campaign, setting the example themselves and perhaps targeting corporate entities to invest in energy efficiencies.  But that wasn't their position, was it?

Politicians know what their job is - to win enough public support (not all of it) to gain power.  Money plays a big part in that.  If they have to fight off well-organized and well-financed campaigns against them if they do what is right for all Ontario, not part of Ontario, they lose.  Which is why every Party found it in their hearts to commit to moving the gas plants.  The Liberals were in power, and bungled the job - just look at the 407 mess to see how the PCs would have fared.

Now, all sides are telling us half-truths, but then we were only ever prepared to listen to half-truths in the first place.

Downtown Toronto has a massive gridlock problem; the infrastructure in place simply isn't designed to handle the capacity it's facing.  As a result, you have line-ups backing into suburbs of cars trying to get on the Allen at rush hour; impatient people are tailgating through intersections, blocking traffic and exacerbating the problem.

There's no either/or solution to this problem, but getting some kind of capacity relief is essential.  If more "Downtown People" rode bikes to work, there would be less downtown bodies on subways or in cars, reducing the pressure.  A relief line would ease congestion for everyone commuting into the downtown core.  Employers showing a bit of flexibility on at-desk hours, or even empowering more employees to work from home would equally add to the solution.  

Subways for everyone would be great - so would a million dollars in everyone's pocket.  That's not realistic, so we have to live and build within our means.

But that requires change and accommodation, and nobody wants to give up their position.  Rob Ford, populist that he is, intentionally avoids looking at context and consequence and instead, applies pressure to get what he wants - just as Oakville did.

Like a dopamine surge, this quick hit might make people feel good in the short term, but it does nothing to further their long-term interests.  In fact, it will only cause everyone pain.

Sometimes, the truth hurts.  We don't want to hear it - we might vilify the messenger, in fact - but it has to be told.  It takes guts to tell the whole truth to an unwilling audience; guts, and a willingness to sacrifice one's own standing for the greater good.  Whatever his reasoning, Paul Ainslie has decided to walk this path.

He's not the first.  In fact, he's but the latest in a slowly emerging trend of people willing to speak truth to power, even when they are in positions of power themselves.  

It began with Kai Nagata.  By quitting his job as a reporter of half-truths, he blazed a trail for others to follow.  It continued through the ranks of Goldman Sachs and through the halls of Davos as people began to see the structural dissonance of living the lie that each man for himself can work.

The idea that we've been living in a dream world of siloed positions is catching on; businesses, politicians, even planners are beginning to recognize that we are all lying to ourselves through omission; the whole is more than the sum of its parts.  Altruism isn't enabling the weak, it's planning ahead; for the whole to function, its functions must be coordinated.

Society's simply gotten too big, too dense and too complex for fiefdoms to work anymore.  If we can't find it in ourselves to look at the big picture, together, we will all burn as our silo walls crumble down around us.

If that's not the truth, what is?

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