Search This Blog

CCE in brief

My photo
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.

Saturday 28 January 2012

Virtue is Not a Matter of Convenience

If Father de Souza bills himself as a man of God, surely he would understand that “success with honour” is neither successful nor honourable if it comes at the expense of others.

I don't put much stock in an ethereal heaven or hell, but I do love this quote:

"When you stand before God you cannot say "but I was told by others to do thus" or that "virtue was not convenient at the time."

  - King Baldwin from Kingdom of Heaven

There is no justification sufficient for doing that which you know to be wrong, nor failing to do that which you know is right.  Confabulate all you want - and you will - but we all die a little when we allow others to come to harm from our own inaction, just as we are equally guilty when we cause harm to others, whatever the rationale may be.

And we all find new life when we give of ourselves to the benefit of others.  It's really just as simple as that.

Thanks goes to Warren Kinsella for bringing this to my attention.

UPDATE:  Other side to the coin - if a leader has a compelling arguement, he doesn't need fear to sell it.  Fear is tiresome, it physically wears on the body.  And frayed by the times as they are, people aren't willing to take much more of it.

Harper's Insecurities Make Him Victim to His Own Game of Fear

“We believe Iran constitutes the greatest threat to peace and security in the world.”

There always seems to be another one of these, lurking in the wings.  So, Canada's Conservative government sloughs off responsibility for a national health care strategy (the kind of integrated planning that would actually make a difference), more or less ignores any potential instigator of global violence except for Iran, which is seen as a uniform nation of "people who have a particular, you know, a fanatically religious worldview" and squarely places Iran in its sights.

Here's the real clincher - after playing fear-based, divide-and-conquer politics among the people of his own country, Harper's latent insecurities are being played like a piano by the anti-Iranian hawks of the world.  Harper is victim to his own game, yet another pawn in the competitive escalation that is survival of the fittest.

There was a time when Canada led - not by staking a position against others, but by finding the solutions between them.  It might not have been a glamorous role, but it was a respected one.  Any Canadian who has been embraced while traveling overseas simply because they were Canadian understands this legacy.

Harper has based his entire political career around the appearance of being tough; Canada's reputation and potentially, our security are at growing risk as he plays out his compensatory needs on the global stage.

Friday 27 January 2012

Faith and Science, Church and State – and Politics

As public resentment against the failings of capitalism swells in a frustrated, embittered population, there is spillover resentment being aimed at other institutions associated with the Right – for example, the Church.  Of course, generalizations are human nature, so just as the Political Right is inextricably identified with the Church (the Christian institution in its multiple and diverse facets, again, generalized), the Church is viewed as inseparable from religion.
This is, of course, facetious.  Religions are systems of meaning, not structures or hierarchies.  Religious institutions no more encompass the entirety of a religion than grammar and syntax are the sum total of language, or for that matter, language the whole of communication.  Perhaps a better comparison would be cinema; a movie tries to get a message, a sentiment, a collective experience across through images, words, music, editing and all the tools of the trade.  This is what religion does; the institutions are simply the grammar.
While language is the single greatest tool humankind has developed – it allows us to communicate complex ideas, share information and collectively plan – it comes with its own inherent constraints.  A good example of this; we partly define a thing by expressing that which it is not.  When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly; when people see some things as good, other things become bad. 
The political spectrum is a perfect example of this; we define things as being “Right Wing” or “Left Wing”, though we fully recognize that a fiscal conservative isn’t necessarily a social conservative, or that a Liberal isn’t necessarily anti-capitalist.  People who self-identify as being at one end of the spectrum or the other will both claim exclusionary title to the basics of morality (things like compassion, integrity, resolve) even though that’s clearly not the case.  The oppositional definitions that we create for ourselves and our tendency to view others as being that which we are not greatly limits our capacity for dialogue.

Which is why, to be broadly successful, political parties invariably have to move towards the centre.
Religion, then, is not the antithesis of science; instead, they serve different, complimentary purposes.

The Complimentary Difference

The purpose of religion is to provide meaning: “Why am I here? What was I meant to be?"  These are esoteric questions that can’t be quantified or rationalized; therefore they are beyond the capacity of science to answer.  Religion is interpretation, not a statement of fact.
Fact is the domain of science.    The purpose of science is not to provide meaning, but to expand understanding – to know the mechanics of existence.  This is invaluable.  If we didn’t, for example, understand the properties of light, we wouldn’t have electricity, CDs, X-Rays, etc.  Knowing how the world functions allows us to interact with it more efficiently and to better harness the potential that lies in nature.
While science may provide us with the button, it can’t tell us whether it is right to push it.  The more we learn about the universe and ourselves through science, the more questions we have about our place, purpose, and responsibilities – again, questions that science has never claimed to have answers for. 
Science opens the door; it’s religion that takes us through.
Yes, as the global village goes through its current period of growth pains, polarization is natural; tension leads to agitation, which is narrow in scope and confrontational.  The solutions to our challenges, though, won’t lie in seeking to differentiate ourselves from each other by gravitating to the left or the right, but in the way the confluence of each propels us forward.
Science is not capable of giving our world meaning; despite what  some would claim, that doesn’t imply that meaning doesn’t exist.
When the doctrine of any religion was written, the writers didn’t have access to the vast amount of knowledge science has provided us with, nor do they now have all the facts we will ever know – our understanding of existence continues to expand and evolve.  This doesn’t repudiate the message or the values carried by religious beliefs – meaning and knowing aren’t the same thing.  Why not "render unto science the things which are science's?”
Religion and Science, much like the individual approach of the Right and the collective approach of the Left – the only way forward is together.

Thursday 26 January 2012

The Culmulative Impact of Socio-Environmental Factors on Mental Health

I've been arguing this for some time now; fortunately, people are starting to see the bigger picture. 

In treating mental illness as a given and treating those with illnesses as clients, we're essentially trying to find better treatment for lead poisoning.  We can no longer afford to ignore the huge impact environmental factors have on cognitive ability and mental health.

The mind is a tool we don't understand - we use it less effectively than we could and we stress it in entirely avoidable ways.  Understanding the root source of thought, communication, creativity, emotion, altruism, confidence, planning - the tools we build our society from - will allow us to do it all better.

Matt Fisher explains:

"The cumulative evidence on mental illness in populations, along with research on stress arousal, tells us that some aspects of life in modern environments causally contribute to illness by acting as chronic stressors.

This pathway is thought to lie behind associations found between exposure to conditions such as insecure employment, unaffordable housing, low income, social isolation, and abuse or violence, and common forms of mental illness. The uneven distribution of these factors across the population thus contributes — in no small way — to social inequalities in health outcomes.

The lesson for health promotion is that there are tremendous opportunities available for primary prevention of mental illness, by reducing population exposures to these factors. Necessarily, this requires prudent use of complementary policy measures across a range of portfolios, including measures to reduce overall socioeconomic inequality.

Current mental health policy does not venture to pursue this wider challenge."
We can do better - we NEED to do better.

Reacting is Not Enough

Capitalism on the Brink

-          David Rubenstein

Where We Stand – at the Precipice

For Government, the cost of social services continues to escalate.  In particular, greater understanding of human health, new therapies and technologies that allow more people longer, more productive lives have ballooned health care expenditures.  People demand access to these opportunities, but frankly, can’t afford what they cost individually or if they can, aren’t interested in footing someone else’s bill as well.  With rising social service costs, (including health care) and following a wave of economic stimulus distributed in response to the recent Global Recession, governments the world over and at all levels are looking at unsustainable levels of red ink.

Business, for its part, is watching the future unfold with an understandable level of apprehension.  Those that rely on government support or government contracts can’t know with certainty what will happen to the bread and butter of their business.  The Global Economy is acting like a force of gravity, shifting manual and scripted verbal work away from where they have been based towards those countries with the cheapest labour and lowest social responsibility requirements.  Yet, as the Knowledge Economy ramps up and networked technology expands, location matters less when it comes to cognitive skill.  Business doesn’t have to work where they live, but can still apply for government assistance.

At the same time, people are losing faith in the traditional economic model.  For the 99%, capitalism has become a dirty word.  For the people at the top of the spectrum, the anguish being felt by the majority is being seen from the 10,000 foot level.  They can’t relate – as such, they suspect the 99% are likely exaggerating their plight.  Quit whining” is an increasingly popular refrain – one whose paternalistic, condescending tone does not sit well with everyone else.

Trapped in a cycle of debt and uncertainty, hiring in places like Canada is contracting. Even worse, training opportunities – the biggest driver in the Knowledge Economy – is shrinking.  Public service positions are contracting.  Existing EI programs that may have worked well in the past are ill-equipped to manage the increasing demands they are facing.  People at all levels believe that something’s gotta give.

Caught in the centre of this maelstrom of economic uncertainty is the much-maligned middle class.  As the employment opportunities (many of them public service positions) for which this class trained for prior to entering the workforce dwindle, middle-class folk must either up their training independently, up their salesmanship or become innovatively entrepreneurial (all of which take money and an assumption of risk to achieve).  The alternative is to see themselves sink into the swelling ranks of the lower class.  The stress this pressure places on families is only exacerbating the problem.  For those fighting for a shrinking pool of mid-range employment positions, striking down one’s opponents becomes almost essential in gaining advantage.  As the saying goes, I don’t need to outrun the bear, I just need to outrun you.

1)      Connectivity

o   It’s all about who you know” – background checks are the norm, but require less effort when your considerations focus on known commodities.  Personal networks and the savvy to expand those networks are heavily influenced by socio-economic factors

2)      Ability to market oneself (or detract from competitors)

o   This includes “charm” and broader communicative abilities, but also delves heavily into the hard-wired preferences of the person hiring.  It is still the norm that more attractive and more demonstrably confident people get the best jobs, regardless of task performance ability.  This makes sense from a biological evolutionary perspective but not a social evolutionary one

3)      Skills and experience

o   Which are impacted heavily by genetic and social factors

4)      Capacity to develop new skills and willingness to try on new experiences

o   Also determined to a large extent by realities beyond the control of the individual

Notice the trend?  There is a heavy leaning on contextual (socio-economic) or biological factors on the part of employers – in other words, hiring is stigmatized.  This should come as no surprise; bad teeth can be more of an indicator of social position than genetic strength, but are a turn-off regardless.  Whatever we tell ourselves, we’re still human; our responses are still heavily influenced by pre-programmed, reactive thinking, as true for hiring as it is for mate-selection. 

As economic tensions and resulting stress levels increase, people naturally become more reactive and lean more heavily on response-oriented, limbic models of threat/benefit analysis.  Employers under duress will progressively fall back on what makes them comfortable, ie. that which is known or that which seems less risky (including innovative ideas), repeating the cycle.  It’s classic evolutionary drive.

In a capitalist system, then, the labour market is really governed by the rules of Dai Hin Min; the genetic, socio-economic, geographic and experiential cards you’re dealt determine whether you’re President or Asshole.  Movement in either direction is more about luck than it is about skill. 

There are plenty of folk out there who would say, there’s nothing wrong with that paradigm, though many are changing their tune.  If you can’t cut it, there’s no place for you – shape up or ship out.  Best social program is a job, etc.  Selection of the fittest exists for a reason – if you allow the unfit to succeed, you pollute the whole gene pool.  There are three major flaws in such thinking:

1.       Selection of the fittest is about beating the competition, not about improving one self.  When one’s focus is on beating the other guy, it’s not on working with them.  Collaboration is a key determinant of innovation, the biggest driver in the Knowledge Economy.

2.       The people that don’t or can’t shape up aren’t shipping out.  Instead, they’re feeding the lowest-tier of society, the ones that rely more on social assistance, health care, justice supports, etc, detracting from social cohesion when they don’t get it.

3.       Health care.  If we really embraced a selection-of-the-fittest model, health care would be gone in an instant; otherwise, we have sick parents, disabled children and mentally ill neighbours burdening the system.  Worse, people that genetics has determined aren’t supposed to reproduce get to do so any way.  Health care is essential to societal living, as its lack leads to epidemics that impact all classes equally.  The only way for a fully selectionist model to work is to break down society and remove the central coordination – kinda like what the Feds are doing now.

It’s a fact – lower-class citizens have more kids, less opportunity, less capacity to aggressively seize what opportunities do come their way.  The daily stresses that add up from this reality result in limbic-based, reactive responses rather than thoughtful planning.  This is why all the indicators of poverty ranging from hygiene to domestic abuse concerns to crime are emotional in nature.  This is the class that is swelling as hiring contracts and existing jobs are discontinued.  Where does that trend lead?  History provides us with plenty of examples.

Such is the conundrum of our times:

-          Government can’t afford to spend more; there simply is no more money

-          Those with above-comfortable wealth don’t feel motivated, or perhaps empowered, to give more back (despite the proven benefits to society and the economy from universal access to education, health care and accommodations)

-          We can’t afford to spend less, either – less jobs means less employment and less tax revenue. 

Less balance in society, which has always been facilitated by public funding for things like health care and education, means a greater class disparity and an increase in the lower-end, creating a structural, cyclical problem that, left unchecked, has historically led to revolution.

What do we do?  If you have a model that doesn’t serve the purpose for which it was designed – as people of all walks of life are saying is true of our social system – you change the model.

While leaders look at the facts and despair, that new model already exists and is beginning to gain traction.  What is required now is the courage and bold vision to embrace that model fully.

More on that later.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

The Truth Will Set You Free

- Dr. Ann Cavoukian

There is great fear that the immediacy, reach and memory of the Internet is destroying anonymity.  The implication in this is that anonymity is desirable.

I can see why not everyone is interested in being under the microscope.  While an understandable concern, I don't think it's as much of a risk as we have convinced ourselves.  If everyone was on TV all the time, there wouldn't be anybody left to watch - the same applies here.

There's another side to this, though.  Anonymity is about the individual not having responsibility in a social context.  That approach has failed - now, people are demanding more.  The theme today is of the individual being accountable in a social context; the notion of responsibility is something that is gaining in resonance, globally

Personally, I see this level of transparency as a positive response to urban living.  When time was, you always had to mind your manners; smaller communities meant less anonymity and greater social accountability.  The Golden Rule has been repeated across time and cultures, for good reason.

This level of transparency is, ultimately, liberating.  When you aren't weighing the pros and cons of doing something you know is wrong, or of not thinking an action through, you're spending more time doing what you know to be right and making sure you've thought through the consequences.  That's better for the individual and better for society.

UPDATE: The FBI is apparently looking to develop an application that would allow for them to monitor social media. This is the kind of thing that makes people's spines shiver - government sneaking looks into your personal lives.  It's Big Brother McCarthyism meets Minority Report

There's a flip side to this coin, though - with the Internet and social media, the playing field is increasingly equal; information can and does find the means to go both ways.  Hence, WikiLeaks.

We're all going to be holding each other to account, which is how it should be.

UPDATER: Another story about how the content and context of a Twitter comment led to an unitended consequence.  We're all being forced, by public accountability, into thinking a bit harder before we open our mouths or strike our keys.  This is a good thing.

UPDATEST:  .  Need I say more?

Updated-ier: Robocalls.  Crime might pay in the short term, but there are fewer and fewer dark corners in society to hide in.  The light of transparency shines ever brighter.

And Rounding Out 2013:

The Tables Have Turned: Now We're Watching the NSA

And closing off 2014, courtesy of #ghomeshi:

I predict that, just as the accusations made by Anita Hill against Clarence Thomas ushered in a sensitivity to sexual harassment many years ago, the Ghomeshi saga will create a sea change in Canadian’s views toward abuse of power in the workplace and the responsibilities of everyone involved.

 UPDATE #elxn42, Fall of 2015:

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Rob Ford should brush up on his Lao-Tzu (Updated)

Poor, polarizing Mayor Ford would do well to visit his nearest public library and take out a copy of the Tao te Ching.  In his political peccadilloes, he would benefit greatly from Lao-Tzu's advice:

"When people see some thing as beautiful,
  other things become ugly.
  When people see some things as good,
  Other things become bad."

Or, when you see some folk as left of Stalin, others are going to define you as being right of Hitler.

Lao-Tzu's advice?

"The Master doesn't take sides;
 He welcomes both saints and sinners."

"Hold on to the centre."

UPDATED: There've been lots of opportunities to add to this; but this one was too good not to include:

After some back and forth between Ford and I, the mayor said "I am going to hang up before I say something I regret."

I think it was too late by then, your Worship.

Opposites create each other.  So, by creating a "with me or against me" dichotomy, Ford has basically undercut his own ability to adapt and, as a result, is turning everyone who could and should be his ally against him.

Call it natural selection.

If you are a patter for the world... there will be nothing you can't do.

Monday 23 January 2012

The Net Gen not following Where Harper is Headed


This article speaks for itself, but here's what's only hinted at:

Where Harper hopes to take Canada is in the opposite direction of where the NetGen wants it to be.  His tightly-centralized authoritarian streak and vacuum-chamber approach to communications doesn't jive with what young Canadians expect from leadership.  His kingdom is divided; it can't stand.

Happy Year of the Dragon!

A Bold New Vision for Canadian Social Services: Networked Intelligence, the LPC and an Opportunity for RIM

 “Implementing a comprehensive unified communications solution, for example, allows organizations to maintain a common platform for all their communications needs. It provides a quickly-deployed, scalable environment to roll out needed features to different people within the organization.”
-          Chris Hummel, Guest-writing for Forbes

"We can perhaps shoot for a grander goal - a province that provides the best public services, delivered in the most efficient manner, in the world.  If this sounds impossibly ambitious, put the question anothe way: Why not?"

 - The Drummond Report


RIM has seen better days.  As of this morning, the company’s stock had taken a 6% hit, dropping $1.09 to $16.15 on the TSE.

The cause of this is a familiar story – locked in a competitive model, RIM appears to have lost direction.  When it’s all about position, you lose forward momentum.  As that happens, others get ahead of you.  Besides RIM, this is exactly what has happened to the Liberal Party of Canada.

In other news, the Harper government is looking for every possible way to wash their hands of national responsibility, simultaneously firewalling executive function in the PMO.  Here in Ontario, everyone is waiting with baited breath for Don Drummond to come down from the mount with his Report On What To Do Next. 

This hesitancy makes sense.  The paradigm of the last century that has carried us thus far is stalled.  Our established, vertically-integrated institutions and models – some of which date back without much change to the 17th Century – are not up to the task of managing the realities of the 21st Century.

Nature abhors a vacuum; you never see the end of one model without there being something else ready to expand and fill the void.  That something else is already here – it’s called Networked Intelligence, and like the Industrial Revolution and the Green Revolution before it, NI is slowly transforming the system to meet the needs of modern-day society.
If you’re reading my post, this is not news to you.  You found my article via Twitter or Facebook, or through a Google search; you may have posted a comment or passed it along to your friends.  That access and connectivity is, fundamentally, what NI is about.  It’s a model that smart businesses are employing in their operations, successfully.

An integrated, crowd-sourced, transparent framework is good business; it’s also proving to be smart politics.  Every successful political entity in North America employs a collaborative network for data input, storage and access – the really good ones make prodigious use of maps.  In his presentation to the LPC at their recent biennial, Don Tapscott encouraged the Party, as well as the country, to take it a step further.

“Imagine an integrated health care system,” suggests Tapscott.  Heck, take it even further – imagine a fully-integrated, plugged-in social service system.  Imagine being able to track down any service you need via an Ap on your mobile phone.  Not sure what service it is you need?  Plug in some search terms of symptoms, employment interests, etc. and your mobile device will point you in the right direction. 

Crowd-sourced, with the crowd including government, government agencies, Not-For-Profits, Private business and the average folk on the street, a social service network would instantly connect you with what you needed or wanted, or offer alternative suggestions that fit previous preference patterns.  The integrated nature of the network would show you which service locations were closest and how to get there.  Reading recommendations by past clients or tailoring your ask for language or accessibility concerns would help you personalize your choice of provider even further, saving time both for you and the service providers you won't go to now that you know you don't need them.  The use of colours and icons could add an Apple-like simplicity to the often labyrinthine and confusing service access portals and application forms.

This is not a stretch – Google Maps or Microsoft's Sharepoint are leaps and bounds down this road already.  Government service provision is playing catch-up.  Where the new carrot lies for government and the taxpayer is in the reduction of duplication, gaps and overlaps that will be realized through the transparency of integration.  Networks facilitate data collection, storage and analysis, too, meaning they could fill the census gap.

There are some concerns, you suggest:
-          What would a fully networked social services platform do to privacy?  What would prevent your health record or your criminal record from getting into the hands of your spouse, your children, your friends, your employer?

-          There’s something Big Brother/SkyNet about all of this.  I don’t like the idea of the existing world being replicated through an online platform.
-         Who would build this network?  How would the average person access it?  Even for the points where Networked Intelligence is a good idea, it’s completely unrealistic.
These are questions that are already being answered.  Privacy today is not what it was in our parents’ generation – it’s more like it was before that, when society was more rural and there was no keeping secrets.  In particular, the NetGen are accustomed to sharing information and doing so online.  While there are mechanisms to ensure privacy and ownership of information, we’re going to find moving forward that people will be less-and-less concerned about privacy and, as a side-benefit, will become more pro-social in their behaviour as their lives become increasingly open to scrutiny.  Lord knows politics will benefit from this.

In terms of building and selling the infrastructure (and ensuring proper access through personal, hand-held devices), I think there is a company out there with the technical experiential knowledge to take a crack at leading the way. 
RIM could get its game back; it would certainly provide them with a destination to head towards.

In terms of the fear of integration – this is a valid argument.    There are those who view progress with suspicion; a horizontally integrated system might not be the sort of thing they could get behind.

In politics, you can’t please everyone.  It’s foolish to try.  Smart strategy begins by taking something you believe in, determining who your audience is – and isn’t – and tailoring your policies and communications to connect with your audience and convince them voting in support of you is the absolute best thing they can do with their time.


Whichever Party is going to champion a Bold New Vision of social service integration is going to have to accept there will be blocks of voters who won’t support them or their vision.  If you follow the demographic/voting trends, you’ll find that a lot of those voters form the backbone of Conservative support.  On the other hand, those that are preeminently engaged in and comfortable with all things online are youth.
Is there a Party in Canada that is looking for direction, is not tied to a particular block or restricted from embracing 21st Century ideas?  I think there is.

Networked Intelligence is already here – business is benefiting from it in spades.  It’s only a matter of time – a short matter of time, I’d warrant – before demand and fiscal challenges dictates that government social services become fully integrated and networked, too.  It’ll take a company or companies with the background, expertise and comfort with risk that RIM should be embodying to make this transition happen. 

It’s a brave new world that needs a bold new vision to champion it – a torch the Liberal Party of Canada is uniquely positioned to pick up and RIM is well-placed to facilitate.

Welcome to the 21st Century.