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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.

Friday 30 January 2015

Loyalty, Consequence

Backbenchers playing politics; it's one of their stronger wedge files, after all, and they know damned well what their leader expects of them.  You need to present a united front and stay on message, reduce your target profile.  Then, hit 'em with everything you've got.
You're either with us, or you're against us.  If you're against us, you're out.  You don't belong.  If you are seriously enough against us to be a threat, or at least an obstacle, expect no mercy.  It's how empires work, am I right?
I'm not done yet.
Are you loyal to the Party?  Are you loyal to the Government?  Are you with us?  Are you in?  Stakes are high and we need everything you have to fight this battle against these enemies of ours.

Escalation?  Unintended consequences?  Catching flies by arming Saddams?  Think too much and you get stuck in analysis paralysis when what matters is acting now.  Stopping the threat in front of you.  We need to stop them at all costs.  At all costs.

Don't ask these things of the troops, the people who are fighting real wars, with real weapons and fatal consequences.  They know that it's not about them. 
It's too bad those they fight for have forgotten what it is we're supposed to be loyal to - and what the consequences are when we aren't.


The Cost of War

Well, you see, that's on a need-to-know basis - and if you're going to challenge government, you don't need to know.
Nothing surprising about this - it's a reality in this age of War Room politics.
When War Room politics meets war, however, we see definite problems.
When democracy is viewed through the lens of war, there are clear consequences.
As anyone who's lived through any war, ever - there are always costs beyond the conflict.
And it's always borne by the people.


Thursday 29 January 2015

Truth, Convenience

My mind is open to a good argument (or better yet, a great story) but for now, this is what I know.
It's not that there's no truth, nor that truth lies beyond our capacity to comprehend.  Rather, truth is a lot like zero - a concept we have created that is not reflected in nature.
Truth is whatever we define it to be - how could it be otherwise, since the very notion of truth is our creation?
Human rights are our creation, as is the very notion of "human", which means different things to different people.  The Word of God as recorded by whichever prophet or profit motive you ascribe?  Each set down in a language of human design.
Words, ritual, meaning, symbols - they are all creations of our increasingly densified noggins.  All this meaning, of course, is mapped out on top of wordless drives that we interpret as validation for our beliefs, instead of vice versa.
Pluck an ardent ISIL convert and stick 'em in a room with a political ideologue and watch what happens.  Their internal justifications will mimic each other; each will be spouting a truth, as emotionally true to them as they've allowed it to become, without the ends ever meeting.
The exist in silos.  We exist in silos. 
I know what truth is for me.  That's not particularly interesting.  I'm not searching for a universal truth, nor ideological domination as validation; I accept that truth lies in the eye of the beholder.
What interests me is your truth.  What people choose to believe - about themselves, about others, about the world - is a window deep into the core of who they are.
To know you is to love you.  To hate others is to fail in understanding oneself.
And that, folks, is... well, you know what I mean.

Wednesday 28 January 2015

Man, does Warmington Miss the Point!

Here's Warmington's frame: Wynne, that dastardly woman Premier, is manipulating children (little non-sentient creatures who are supposed to be protected from the world by their parents until a ritualistic coming-of-age) as political pawns.  Shameful.

Here's Vety's frame: this ungodly lesbian woman is trying to teach children to accept sex, because to even talk about sex is to suggest getting to yes is the objective.  Sex, after all, is sinful, unless it's procreative and within the context of holy matrimony.

There are audiences who will jump on such frames.  Clearly, their are politicians who will seek advantage in pushing those frames, possibly including Monte McNaughton.  He can differentiate himself from Christine Elliot by owning the issue and set himself up as the only one who can protect youth from evil Liberal attempts to sexualize children.

That's their frame.  Now here are a couple of factoids reflective of actual reality.

Millenials are a growing force to be contended with - they make up a full half of the workforce and, as baby boomers fade off into a retirement sunset many Millenials fear will be denied them, they recognize that the 20th Century social model is failing them.

Still on Millenials - they aren't motivated by the same aspirations that drove their parents; they're more interested in social ownership than just property.  They want to engage grow, build communities, put people and the planet before profit, etc.  This can be interpreted as lefty socialism or more right-leaning entrepreneurialism and direct participation in the nation-builder sense.

Now, on to religion.  Believe it or not, religious inclinations and the buying-in to complete religious ideologies is decreasing.  Youth don't see organized religion as representative of their reality or embodying of their values any more than they feel government has their long-term interests at heart.  If anything, youth feel that traditional institutions have played a massive role in mucking up the world previous generations borrowed from them.

This applies equally to second-gen Canadians as to those whose families have been here for ages.  "We're not married to your past," they say. "We have to protect our future by building a world that can sustain it."

Then, there's the reality of Gomeshi, the Parliament Hill assault scandals and the overarchinig and incredibly uncomfortable public conversation around unspoken sexual abuse that largely involves powerful older men targeting younger women.

Now let's add this all up:

On the one hand, you have the Warmingtons and Vetys of the world, aghast at the idea of kids learning about sex, being indoctrinated into an adult world before their time and in a way that subverts traditional sexual enculturation (talk birds and bees, ignore sex entirely until the kids get married).  They see youth as pawns, ie without ownership, without will, without any ability or right to speak for themselves or make decisions about their own self-interest.

On the other hand, there are youth who see the Warmingtons and Vetys of the world as poster-boys for everything that's wrong with the world; chauvinist, borderline imperialist with their sense of cultural superiority, instigators of social disorder and apologists for every male who has abused power so they can abuse young women.  

Remember - Tessa Hill and Lia Valente started a petition; they did indeed lobby the government and were successful at it, too.  If the tables were turned and it was Warmington and Vety at the podium, talking with the Premier about the need to keep kids in the dark about rules of engagement around sex and just hoping predators would leave them alone, the Warmingtons and Vetys of the world would be congratulating themselves on their win.  It's patronizing, hypocritical, domineering.

That a Conservative leadership hopeful would miss the demographic reality behind this scenario suggests they're either super short-sighted or hopelessly cynical.

Meanwhile, there's Kathleen Wynne, right in the middle.  She's not using the youth as pawns - they came to her.  The Premier is serving as a conduit for their message, their initiative and their taking ownership of their own future.

Hill and Valente are stepping up in the same vein as Morgan Baskin and Munira Abukar; don't judge us by our age or our gender, they're telling us:

- this is our time, folks; we hope you'll be with us, but we're moving forward regardless

That's their frame.  They feel that the educational status-quo is putting them at risk.  They feel the institutional status quo is impeding their opportunities.  They feel that the old boys' network is intentionally keeping them down so that the Warmingtons and Vetys can continue to reap more than their fair share of society's benefits.

With Premier Kathleen Wynne, however, they see someone who listens, who treats them seriously and understands their perspective.  They see Wynne as their advocate.

Wynne knows exactly what she's doing.  The game is changing, and she's adapting in ways that are both strategically beneficial and better for Ontario in the long term.

If there is a fight brewing, it isn't between the left and right; it's between the past and the future. 

Wynne knows which side she's on.  Her opponents are making it pretty clear which side they're on, too.

Tuesday 27 January 2015

Brand Humanization: Whose Party is It, Anyway?

In my Inbox rests a political donation solicitation letter titled "are you in?"  It is not designed to create a community.  It does not encourage participation, does not provide an opportunity for learning or growth and certainly isn't a place to interact.
Unless, of course, be participation and interaction you mean giving money.
The voter/donation solicitation process is supposed to work thusly:
-  you Big Data your way towards an understanding of what people are hungry for
-  you put your smart people in a room to come up with some ideas with an eye towards differentiation (not solution)
- you focus-group and hone your messaging
- you use it, your candidates and local issues as a way to ID potential voters
- you "touch" those potentials a minimum of three times to turn your leads into commitments (vote, volunteer, donor potential) and then hammer them until they do all three.
See what's missing in this picture?
There's no community. It's not social. 
Back to the letter in my box.
And I'll, answer the question on everybody's mind: Will we have enough money to win?
- on whose mind?  It's definitely not on mine.  In fact, I was never asked what was on my mind.
Our victory will depend on raising the maximum amount of campaign funds.  It's really simple, your donation will help us reach more voters, by putting more organizers on the ground, more callers on the phone, inspire more volunteers and help us knock on more doors.
- who is referred to by "our" in this?  I don't feel it reflects me.  I don't feel like my contributions are desired.  There's no opportunity in here for me to learn, nor participate and really be part of something, like the our community.  They only want my money.  They are using ABC pressure tactics to get me to give it to them.  I feel kind of used.
During the final push, your donation will determine how many undecided voters we can identify.
Now I feel like I'm being squeezed out.  Without even lying that they'll call me later, they're rushing off to identity the next crop of people to be used.
This isn't community.  This is the opposite of community.
Now, for the opening sentence of the letter that I left out:
Later today, I'll head to a meeting with the senior campaign team.
By everyone, the writer meant the campaign team.  By our, the writer meant the campaign team.
Not the party, nor the member, not even the Member.  We aren't part of their "our" and we aren't wanted.  They matter; what they do, how they recruit, all of that is way more important than we are.  Our role is to give them money and get out of their way.
Politics is sales and the pie can only be cut so many ways.  Therefore, it's competition.  You're with us, you're against us or you don't matter.
Keeping that in mind, take a look at these MP exit interviews.  Consider the reality of civic disengagement and distrust of our politics.
Then, consider this:
I've shared that post a dozen times.  I've tweeted about it, promoted the event that's mentioned at the end of the post and shared variations on this theme from my own unique voice.
I haven't given Nick a red cent, but he's gotten a lot of free labour out of me, and intellectual property.  So have you, if you read anything I right.
It doesn't matter what colour their big tent is - they're not going to let you onto the stage to dance anyway.
If you want to join the real party, you don't need to pay to get into the tent.  It costs nothing to dance in the open.


The Better Human

“There is nothing so stupid or dangerous or painful that people won’t eagerly do it, if by doing it they will make others believe they are better or stronger or more honorable. I have seen people poison themselves, destroy their children, abandon their mates, cut themselves off from the world, all so that others would think they were a better sort of person.”
Motivation fascinates me. 
There is what we tell ourselves drives us to act and respond (or not act or respond) in certain ways.  This is the world we perceive consciously or, perhaps more accurately, create for ourselves.  This is a world of justification, of comprehension, of placement and association - we are invariably the centre of our own perceived realities.
Below this veneer, though, lies a world of subconscious motivation we are largely unaware of.  The vast majority of choices we make and actions we take are not carefully considered and rationally decided; instead, they are developed deep within.  Everything we tell ourselves about why we made that choice is justification.
This is fresh-of-mind for me following a Why Should I Care conversation last night on Canadian foreign policy.  There were two concepts that stood out; one, that Canadians have a highly over-inflated sense of our own importance and two, much of the rhetoric and actions of our leaders that so many find offensive really does come from a place of good intention.
Canada is a former colony.  We did not wrest our independence from the British Empire, as did the US; it was handed to us.  Canada is blessed with natural resources that have traditionally sustained our economy.  Our foundation is peace, order and good government - comfortable stuff, but hardly inspiring. 
Apart from perhaps Peacekeeping, we have had no major achievements on the global diplomatic stage, ever.  We celebrate tales of military grit such as Dieppe and Verdun, but have we ever played the decisive role in anything?  Yet that is what we define ourselves as - Canada, the quiet colonialist, shaping the world in powerful ways from the comforts of our national armchair.
On to our leaders.  Devoid of context, the positions Team Harper takes on issues ranging from Israel to social services make total sense.  Of course Israel has a right to exist and of course it makes sense for Jews, arguably the most persecuted people in history, to have a safe haven to call homeland.  We really do want Canadians to be net contributors to society more than net detractors; it's better for everyone not to be too reliant on supports that might not be sustainable in the long run.
Put these things in appropriate context, though, and the black-and-white choices of the Harper government are clearly detrimental, even to their own end-goals.
Canadians aren't stupid.  Team Harper isn't evil.  That's too simple a frame.  Instead of focusing on the irrationality of our perception, we need to ask why we perceive a reality that's so disconnected from the real world.
Everyone struggles to identify Canadian culture, what makes us unique, what separates us from the US.  If we were to break it down to a bumper sticker, perhaps our clearest self-definition would be we're better than the Americans.
That's how we want to see ourselves.  That's how we want to be seen; more compassionate, more self-aware, more considerate of geopolitical realities, more humble yet more leader-like.
Similarly, our leaders - all of our leaders - contently play the frame game.  Politics in our country is all about perceptions, not reality.  Our politicians are, by and large, actors on a stage who don't know what role they're playing.  Some of them are great at creating personas and riveting audiences to their performance.  Others aren't.  Yet all of them are trying to be seen as something, rather than just being.
The same holds true for our cultural identity.  We like to think ourselves more tolerant, more accepting, more hip to globalization, yet it's not exactly true, is it?  Our politics is bitter and as was seen during the recent election, Toronto, the most multicultural city in the world, is not as tolerant or accepting as it likes to think it is.
We try so hard to fill roles, to create personas that present to the world (and to ourselves) a cloak of respectability, even superiority.  The things we do or don't do fit this narcissistic lens, focusing on surface concerns rather than actual depth.
If Canada were a human body, I'd say we invest more in suntan oil and teeth whitener than on walking in the sun and drinking milk.
This is why there is so much decay in our country, from our infrastructure to our leadership, from social engagement to community volunteerism.
We are trying so hard to be seen as quintessential Canadians that we aren't actually embodying our "Canadian values" in practice.
Instead of trying to be seen as the better person, perhaps it's time we start walking the walk.  It's a much harder process requiring more time, investment and love to pull off.
Believe me - we and by association the world will be better off if we try.


Monday 26 January 2015

I Disagree with @stphnmaher

If the objective is to replace Harper, then yes - cut him off at the knees. 
In kindly, paternalistic fashion, lay out all his psychological foibles for public airing.  What leaving Toronto meant to him and why he wants so damned much to be seen as a Westerner.  Why he left the Liberals (which is why he hates the Liberals) and the things leaders he wanted to admire did that disappointed him that he himself is doing now.  The quiet things that torment him even now, driving him further and further away from the values and principles he thinks he holds dear.
If your sole focus is to destroy Stephen Harper, that's completely doable.  However, that shouldn't be the goal.
Canadians are cynical of their politicians in the same way young Stephen Harper was.  Any politician that focuses on destroying their opposition and portraying their own leader as an faultless demi-god aren't going to address our emerging democratic deficit and all the structural ills that come with it - they'll merely become the next party presiding over the demise.
Attacks of opposition and "framing" of your leader are all about messaging, attempting to build confidence through repetition.  Neither are about trust.
Our collective goal shouldn't be to get rid of Harper.  Harper is a symptom of broader societal malaise and civic rust.
When was the last time we had a leader that worked tirelessly to make us believe out democratic system was what mattered most?  That our voices mattered, when we raised them, and that policy was better when we engaged?
What we need now isn't a leader who can defeat the other guy.  What we need is leadership that brings us together with common cause and shows us that democracy works.
That's an even harder job - it means eschewing the quick wins and the low-hanging fruit and doing the more complex business of actually leading, and leading by example.
Whenever that happens, though, we'll all win.  And wouldn't that be a refreshing change?

Dear Harper, What We Have Here is a Faliure to Communicate

A disconnect between the PMO and Cabinet?  How about a disconnect between the PMO and the civil service on the whole?  The Harper government has made it clear that they are in charge, that their partisan interests reign and that the job of the entire machinery of government is to back them up.
You don't resolve a disconnect by stamping out dissent.  That's not communication, that's stifling, discrediting or removing all oppositional voices.
All this talk of "communications strategy" completely misses the fundamental truth of communication, which is that it's something that exists between to or more parties.  Messaging isn't communication, any more than messaging is consultation.
What's being touted these days as "communications plans" are really marketing strategies, finding the right way to pitch a message to the masses.
How does our message play?  Who can we count on as our target audience - then which oppositional groups do we pick fights with to ensure our block solidifies and comes out?
All Parties are doing this.  The idea of real communication and co-designed policy is taken no more seriously than Parliament.  Everything is being designed and tailored towards political wins.
Canada weathered the previous recession because, at some point not that long ago, there were people around the Hill though thought more of the country's fortunes than they did their own. 
Now we have overconfident partisans who see themselves as demi-gods, waging war against each other on the battlefield of mere mortal voters/taxpayers.
And our problems begin to grow.  Economic eggs in one basket of which the bottom is coming out.  Harper's "tough on crime" rhetoric is turning should-be mental health patients into indoctrinated terrorists, attacking us on our own soil.  Neglect to infrastructure is starting to weigh.  Neglect to social services is starting to weigh.  Neglect of science and R&D is slowly starving our future opportunities to support the message track of the present.
People aren't happy.  They're scared, bitter, faithless in the politicians and looking for someone to blame.  Partisans are all too happy to point at each other, at each other's core supporters and to undermine the media in the process.  What's emerging is a fog of war that keeps people anxious and keeps the focus on blame rather than solutions. 
It's going to get far uglier before it gets better.
Yet what this is all about is something we have seen before; the way forward will be the same as it was with Magna Carta, with the Peaceable Revolution.
You don't know what your doing, elites; you're too far from our reality, your decisions are hampering us.  We don't want less system between you and us; that only removes you from the grassroots even further.  It's time for more power to rest closer to the ground.
That's the message coming from the ground, and gaining in strength.  Too bad history's actors have forgotten how to listen.