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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.

Thursday 19 July 2012

Politics: Game of Power

                                "You don't fight with honour."

                                "No.  He did."

I used to live a ten-minute walk from that park.  My son and I have played there many times.  I know some of the families that would have heard the gun fire and I have a very good idea of what living in fear does to one's ability to focus on anything other than survival.  In a climate of fear, there are only two escapes; to hunker down and stay as isolated as possible from potential threats or become the feared and take what you want by force.  Anxiety and aggression; that's how survival of the fittest really works.  That's what's happening with these shootings.

We really shouldn't need to explain this to Rob Ford.  By all indications, he exists in a near-constant state of cortisol-fueled reactiveness himself.  He doesn't like to be managed, says his former Hand who also used deceit to eliminate a potential threat to Ford's ascendancy to the throne.  Now holding the chains of office, Ford feels harassed by media and wants to retreat to the safety of his castle and even increase his holdings if necessary to feel secure there.  Along the same theme, he bans access to reporters and outlets he doesn't like, or whole retinues if people he doesn't like are in the party.  Beat that, reporters.  Meanwhile, Ford himself is hyper-aggressive; chasing jouranlists down halls, giving the finger to drivers, snipping at TTC drivers.  Argue all you want about his justification; he's got a track-record of escalating problems. 

There's the rub - he keeps suggesting people should just go along with him and things will work out, but people don't go along with him, creating mounting problems.  Council won't fall in line?  Ford focuses on how to get rid of them next election instead of working with them now.  He's Mayor, after all, he should be able to do what he wants.  Gang violence in the streets of Toronto?  Get rid of them, too.  "...I want them out of the city. Go somewhere else, I don’t want them living in the city anymore.”  His solutions is to get rid of problems or pass them on to others - not solve them. 

Run 'em out of the city.  How do you do that, exactly?  How do you get people with guns out of the woodwork?  By toughening sentences?  All that does is make criminals work that much harder to avoid getting caught.  See, they don't want their rights trampled, either.  They want to do what they want; consequences are for those without control.  People who kill other people are really the pinnacle of survival of the fittest - they remove the competition, proving just how tough they are.  They're the boss - they get to do what they want, so long as they reinforce their power.  The only way to tackle that approach head-on is through escalation.

Which is exactly what Stephen Harper is doing.  With what I'm sure he feels are the best intentions, he is reducing opposition to his reign and increasing punishment for those who don't fall in line.  He's also a fan of firewalls; building moats around his castle to keep the barbarians at bay.  Barbarians within the realm need to be removed, either directly or indirectly.  It's all in the name of free market capitalism, he'll tell us with a nod to his economic background.  Regulation, special interest groups, unions are all impeding prosperity.  Without rules, the law of supply and demand takes over.  Am I picking unfairly on Tories?  Well, how 'bout this - it was the other guys who introduced the concept of the War Room. 

Politics isn't about supply and demand.  It certainly predates a money-based economy.  Politics is about the obtaining, retaining and the hereditary passing on of power.  Politics is selfish, tribal and focused on doing whatever it takes to win -  be it treachery, manipulation or the surest way to force compliance, violence.  In a battle of strength, it's he who has the most destructive weapons and the largest army that survives; but you need money to buy these things. How do you get them?  People consumed by power don't bargain or negotiate for what they want; they take it by force.  They oppress challenges to their power through force.  To things not directly connected to their power, they say "so what?"  Which is what Toronto's gangs, or drug cartels in Mexico, or any extremist group tries to do.  Sadly, it's what our frame-the-message, define-the-ballot-question political agents (Parties, sectors, everyone) tries to do, too.
The narrower our wedge of focus becomes, the more we miss the external factors that create threats.  Issues like poverty or civil rights are "minority group" issues; if they're not going to support you anyway, and their causes are in opposition to the causes of your voter base, ignore them or use them as wedge issues to foster more support on your side of the scale.  Sustainable economies and productivity; those come second to the rights of the brotherhood.  What are the populations that fall through the cracks through this approach?  The poor, the disenfranchised, those who are more likely to take up arms, join gangs and get what they want at the margins of civil society, where regulations aren't enforced.  Pirates, brigands, gangs all gestate in this social gap, eventually creating problems for those at the other end of the spectrum.  What happens to those in the middle?  Fear is only sustainable for so long, before it turns to anger.  Angry people have this habit of taking to the streets.

What happens when civil society comes into conflict with feudal politics?  Take a gander at Syria for an example.  While we will see an increase in violence across the Western World and the need for more militant intervention in the face of unacceptable violence, we aren't going to have a civil war, nor repeat World War II.  I don't say that out of whimsical hopefulness, but out of an understanding of history.  War might make a profit for some, but not when it's being fought in your backyard.  In terms of stable profits, you need stable society, which means compromise solutions.  Those with capital will tire of the hits instability inflicts on their wealth and will use their resources to reign in the politics. 

Private sector interests facing loss want regulation, they want stability, they desire order.  Nobody is imposing this on them; it was people of means that gestated our current system of governance in the first place.  People of means will also proactively support stability and market generation; charity, education, micro-credit, whatever are all means of enhancing the labour pool and expanding markets.  With stories like Davos and Goldman-Sachs we see a proactive-approach to emerging threats that the private sector is hoping to proactively resolve, before it's too late.  They talk about this lots, but what action do we see taken?  

Action might be directed from the top, but it always comes from the bottom.  The foot soldiers of any movement are the rank and file of society.  How do you motivate every-day folk to risk their lives?  It helps if their lives are already miserable and they have little to lose, but the best motivation comes from believing in something that is bigger than the individual; the tribe, honour, a better world.  Here's a vision that would help convince a guy like me to take up the sword:

Peace, order, good government - and opportunity.  Not for me; I'm part of the first generation in a while that's being told to expect a lower quality-of-life than my parents.  If the world is contracting around us due to the narrow vision of some, it'll take a generation to broaden our horizons.  As I contribute to a better world, it's for my son and, by association, all the children that will be adults around him.  I would rather none of them in this increasingly-integrated world grow up in poverty, surrounded by gunfire and without hope, because I know what sort of behaviour that experience fosters in the long run.  History provides lots of examples.  I'm even willing to give up a bit, personally, to foster that world.

Power is about control - drawing resources to oneself and gaining the ability to do whatever one wants.  The only way to acheive power is through manipulation, be it verbal or by force.

The opposite of power is not powerlessness.  It's sacrifice; the willingness to put collective interests ahead of individual interests.  Sacrifice is not something that can be forced from without; it has to motivated from within.  Honour isn't something that must be shed for accomplishment; it's something that must be obtained to maintain it.  By empowering others, everyone gains something.  It's this thing called society.  We can live together, or we can die alone.

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