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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 27 February 2013

Society: Solutions Gone Viral

There's been an historic effort in the Americas to solve "the Indian problem."  It's a paternalistic approach that undermines the value of aboriginal culture and tradition to aboriginal peoples themselves, but also to the dominant societies on the continent.  Concepts like the medicine wheel (picture above) provide a different view on healthcare and social services - two areas where it's safe to say we're in need of some changes if we want these sectors to be sustainable.  Yet we don't go looking for solutions in out-of-the-box places like this, do we?

Why is that?  Why have successive governments at all levels not actively tried to explore aboriginal culture as a way to build bridges, but also seek opportunity for policy innovation?

Coincidentally enough, as a First Nations politician is making headlines for abuse of a female partner, there are parallels between "the Indian problem" and "the feminism problem."  Traditional wisdom had it that women were too emotional to vote, therefore men shouldn't proffer them the opportunity.  However, this belief exists in tandem with the notion of the temptress - women who have such control over men that they can sway male thoughts.  This rationale has been applied to the case of South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius: Former Nigerian government minister Femi Fani Kayode suggested that Pistorius “was provoked into a murderous rage by his pretty little lover (who) played on his insecurities and inadequacies.”

I think it breaks down like this - the ruling society has to solve the minority question.  The ruling gender has to deal with the other one.  You could carry the trend further into politics, language, culture, religion, any sector of human society - when the people at the top are of one group, they are going to share the same perspective.  It takes the addition of diversity to mix up the thinking and provide additional viewpoints, some which will inevitably bring value to the table.

Problem is, we're not hard-wired to seek alternatives - in fact, evidence suggests we're motivated primarily by a desire to be effective.  Effectiveness implies efficiency, which requires a clear trajectory.  We're bridging the gap between points A and B as directly as possible.  You can't do that if you don't have a clearly established destination that you have confidence in.  The concepts of "truth" and "perfection" don't exist in nature any more than the notion of nothingness does - therefore, we create definitions ourselves.  The degree to which we're confident in our own perspectives determines how flexible or intransigent we are in realizing them.
If you're supremely confident that the destination you seek is the only valid one, then everything that distracts from your clear path is extraneous.  Like opposing views.  Like Parliaments.  Like minority perspectives.  From this perspective, there can only be two choices - your way or the highway.  Those who don't think or operate the way you can only seen as problems to solve.

Which brings us back full circle: homogeneous, unchallenged leadership results in unconsciously rigid thinking.  Of course the Indians are the problem - they aren't us.  Naturally, women are the problem - what's the alternative?  It's the socialists and the separatists that threaten a singular vision of a traditional Canada.  Multiculturalism is a non-starter.  When it's an us or them thing, though, the Other that threatens a clear trajectory most be eliminated, if possible, or at the very least isolated.  Failing these two options, you can always wall yourself off.
I tend to pick on the political right, but the truth is all Parties fall victim to this approach - look at the challenges progressives in Canada have had in uniting behind what should be an easily-realized common set of values.

We have lots of cyclical conflict, but resolution continues to elude us. 

Except - the long-term trend shows that diversity is creeping into the mix regardless of how we feel about change, as are alternative perspectives.  As our leadership becomes more diverse, it also becomes more receptive to differing voices and approaches.  Perspective continues to evolve - we are increasingly recognizing that the world is not just round, it's connectedEverything from heliocentrism to modern medicine to flex hours at work are reflective of this trend towards cultural adaptation and innovation. 

Individually, we can argue that alternative perspectives are like viruses that need to be fought off, but in practice, a bit of challenge absorption is a good thing, because it forces reconcilliation and adaptation to a changing world.  That world, after all, keeps on evolving - you gotta run even to stay in the same place.  Socially, it doesn't matter whether we like the changes we see or not - they continue to happen.
We can continue to focus on personal/micro-level symptoms and discomforts that come along with an increasingly integrated societal system and ignore the elephant in the room.  If we don't want to go the way of other civilization dodos, however, there's value in getting ahead of the curve and adapting proactively - which is what  social services like education and health promotion enable us to do.
Nothing comes from nothing - it's as true in policy as it is in art.  If you want to innovate, get ahead, perhaps lead the pack, you have to look for opportunity and seek to learn from, not defeat, difference. 
It's when you start to view the world thusly that problems start to look like solutions in waiting.

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