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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 15 May 2015

Rona Ambrose and Oxycontin

It's good that the government is taking opioid abuse seriously.  It would be even better if they tried to understand the circumstances around why abuse is so prevalent.

If kids are getting their Oxycontin at home, that means they're probably pulling from their parents 'prescriptions.  So the question is, why are so many parents being prescribed such powerful painkillers?

I spent the better part of two-and-a-half years on Oxycontin, so have some unique insight into the matter.

My experience started with a bout of terrible neck pain that felt like a knife had been slid between my vertebrate.  The pain shot up from the base of my neck to the back of my skull and seared along my shoulders, a cowl of sharp agony that made sleep impossible and everything else difficult.  

At the time, I was a loyal political staffer who put the interests of my Member and community (and then the party) above all else.  I was also managing a staff member who required a great deal of managing.  On the home front, my wife was facing bad post-partum depression after the birth of our first child.  That condition was complicated by hypo-thyroidism.

Without really thinking about it, I was none-the-less bouncing back and forth from one difficult environment to the other, day after day, month after month.  I was already sleeping less, taking less care of myself, spending more time documenting things on a computer and more time hunched up, waiting for the next crisis to emerge when my neck seized for the first time.

Visualize the posture of being hunched up, of tensing those muscles (trapezia) all day, every day. Hunched over, as in hunched over a computer.  Hunched over, carrying the weight of stresses it does no good to articulate, not when getting through the next few hours is your main objective.

I did everything I could to stabilise both environments, doing what I have a habit of doing - taking on too much responsibility when no one else does, because that's what loyalty is about.  The pain was my body responding to that environment, doing what pain does - telling me I was in an unhealthy environment and my body was suffering.  Instead of dealing with the root causes of my pain, I did what I think many people do - Oxycontin became a band-aid, a way to sweep my structural challenges under the carpet.  Essentially, Oxy became my out.

I was never addicted to it.  In fact, I never liked the feeling of being on it - I felt sluggish, removed, like standing at the bottom of a pool and trying to interact with the people around the edge. Periodically, I'd go off it, just because I didn't want to feel that way for at least a while.

I was, however, physically dependent on it.  Not being on it was torture, withdrawal even worse.

Eventually I smartened up enough to recognise my environment was part of my problem. 

Unfortunately, that realisation came with an offer to join another team, which turned out to present an even less-appropriate work culture for me.  By this point my confidence had equally taken a hit, so depression and anxiety were all mixed in with the never-ending pain.  If something wasn't working out, the only conclusion I could draw was that it was my fault - it's all I'd been hearing from the people I spent the most time with for so long, what else could be true?

For two more years, I lived in a cavern of pain and depression.  The pain was real, but the conditions that caused that pain were by and large external.  Had I been in a different set of environments, or if one had made an effort to be more accommodating, the pain could have subsided.  The work I was doing (but not promoting, 'cause that's what you do when your serotonin-rich) was excellent, but went unnoticed.  No one cared, if they even noticed; I was an employee on one end, a husband and father on the other.  My job was to do what others needed and if I couldn't do that, what use was I?

It wasn't until my wife started getting proper treatment and support for her health conditions and I had been let go of the job that things started to get better - because my environment changed.

I weaned myself off of the Oxy - went cold-turkey, actually, which I don't recommend - and started making a point of relaxing, of doing stretches, of taking care of myself - not something that comes naturally to a kid with ADHD and on the autism spectrum, but that's the power of discipline.

It wasn't until years later that I read The Rational Choices of Crack Addicts and saw an actual study that tied environmental stress to substance abuse that everything clicked into place.  When the environment and culture change, so too does the physical response to it, and the need for an out like Oxy.  It happened to me.

This is a growing theme that's emerging in our world, especially where work and finances are related. The laissez-faire, competitive alphas of the world are downloading responsibility, increasing pressure and using sticks more than carrots to keep their people in line.  Especially when creative cognitive work is what's desired, this is counter-intuitive but hey - he who's got the gold makes the rules, right? 

People just need to suck it up, get with the program.  It's an abrasive world, don't you know.

Youth in particular need to "man up"; taking drugs and whining about the lack of paid opportunities out there won't change the way the world works.  They need to hustle harder and expect less, is all. They are lazy, risk-taking, irresponsible; their low voter-turnout has nothing to do with how the system ignores them.  If they cared, they would do something about it, right?  Same on the job front.  They have to sell harder, harder than their parents did, because that's just how the world works.  

Except the world isn't working, and more people are looking for internalised outs to cope with it.

The people at the top who make tons of money and have as many sycophants as critics don't notice this, because they're too busy abusing other substances to notice.

Oxycontin addiction isn't the problem; it's a symptom.  One of many.  Until we choose to recognise the real problem and tackle the root causes of poverty, depression, unemployment, voter apathy and yes, drug abuse, it's only going to get worse.

A national mental health strategy that emphasises emotional resiliency and appropriate support/workplace empathy is a start.  Beyond that, though, we need a massive culture change that has to start with the top.

If she's serious - more so than her boss - that's where Rona Ambrose should be focusing her attention.

Thursday 14 May 2015

Doppers: The Psychology of Killing

Unless you're a psychopath, completely devoid of empathy, there's really just one way to validate doing inhumane things to other people.  You dehumanize them.  Even that's not enough; to be a proactive hunter, you need the proper motivation, the hunger, to actively seek opportunities to cause harm to others.

You have to feel a certain level of entitlement, of superiority.

This is how the polarization sets in; you think more and more highly of yourself, and look at those you would attack with an increasing level of distaste.

High-level political people tend to view themselves as rational actors, powerful, in control of themselves and their environments.  Politics is all just a game - they can work happily with someone in one campaign, then viscerally attack them on the next, and then work together again the one after that, because it's just business and they're just playing the game.  Nothing personal.

Can you turn on and off hate like a switch, though?  What happens when you train young recruits in the art of hate, using the language of war and violence as a frame?  Is anger a good skill to be sharpening?

In politics, I have seen high-level staff refer to their opponents as animals, and then blatantly lie about some tactic said opponent has used as a way to get their teams angry, too.  I've seen swag made that compared competition to terrorists, or worse.  Later, in more high-level conversations, they'll throw out snide comments about their own teams.

Then there's the litany of attack ads, smears in Legislatures, self-promotion at all turns.  The message is clear - we are righteous and deserving, they are dangerous and must be destroyed.  In political terms, mind you; we're talking character assassination and votes, not extermination camps.

I've said it before, I'll say it again - being inhuman is a spectrum and it's far less of a stretch from dehumanizing your political foes so as to be brutal in verbal attacks or dehumanizing new Canadians so as to protest against them as job-stealers to rounding up undesirables and putting a bullet through their heads.

Unless the actual elimination of your foes is your goal - and you have the means to do it - hate is not the answer.  

You cannot dehumanizing others without destroying your own humanity as well, which is exactly what happened in Nazi Germany.

Not the model I think we want to follow.  If we're not careful, though, we very well could.

Wednesday 13 May 2015

GSElevator, #FHITP, Culture Change

#1: If someone asks you a question and you don't know the answer, belittle them. It's better to be an asshole than stupid.
1,349 retweets2,022 favorites

Look at the number of likes and retweets.  Clearly, this message struck a chord, didn't it?  

I received a very similar bit of advice once from a very wealthy, influential individual who regularly belittles or plain ignores the people who answer to him (and theoretically, he is supposed to lead).

Politics is all about this - you don't answer questions, you shout down or mock your opponents.

Keep all that in mind when you think about #FHITP.

Women with microphones are in positions of power.  Denigrating them and doing so en-masse isn't about being funny, it's about trying to change the power dynamic.  Rampant police carding is also a way of asserting power. 

Winning is about competition, which is about beating foes - not about being right, not about landing on the best solution, just winning.

Being seen to be the winner matters, too, because what's the point if you aren't recognized?

It's true that you can't please everyone, but those in positions of power are picking their battles, intentionally marginalizing some for personal/group gain.

Until we address that, none of our social problems - marginalization, poverty, etc. - will never change.

Income Splitting, Fractured Society

The fight rages on over income splitting; the spinners smile when they feel the narrative is going their way, furl their brows and gnash their teeth when they feel it isn't.

The people with tons of money will focus on what they give and why they're deserving of government largess, and point to social assistance as proof some get more than they should, and more than they put in.  

Those with less will look at who they consider wealthy - not just the exorbitantly wealthy who could give away half their income in taxes and still live like kings compared to everyone else, but those who can actually work one job, pay the bills and take two-week vacations while never worrying about things like affording groceries or daycare.

Political parties will play one group off the other for votes, and then do things their way.

None of them get it.

Laissez faire doesn't work, because it implies the people at the top want to spend money in ways that will benefit those at the bottom - hires, training, purchase of craft goods, whatever.  That doesn't happen.  Blame the poor for not convincing the rich to seed their business or hire them, but if it takes money to raise money and you start with none, you're kinda screwed, aren't you?

When the expectation is on those without to fight harder for their share, they will - but when the rules of the game are exclusive by nature, the people pick other rules to fight by.

Teachers are protesting, in essence, the downloading of parenting from the home to the school, with fewer resources available (ECEs) and more kids in fewer spaces with more complex needs present. The narrative is being shaped by those who know best how to get headlines as one of salaries and benefits more than the really pressing issue, which is the structural failing of the educational system.

The healthcare system costs too much, and so the emphasis is on how to reduce service, getting new moms out of the hospital as quickly as possible, putting restrictions on drugs without providing alternatives, so on and so forth.  Financial well-being is replacing humanity in our social services.

The assumption on the part of government is that people might get mad, might write some nasty letters-to-the-editor or post some bitter tweets, but they won't go any further.  There is an embarrassing ignorance at the top of how much rage their is at the bottom, getting worse day after day.

For government's portraying themselves as kings of security, you can't have road blockades or protests that go ugly happen on your streets without looking weak to the block you're appealing to, so you clap down harder.  The people targeted the most are those with the least opportunity.

It can all go so wrong, so quickly.  We've seen it happen before.

There is, of course, an alternative.  It requires sacrifices of different kinds from different elements of society; it requires an emphasis on long-term gains, making the effort to understand complexities and true empathy - the desire and ability to understand a person's circumstances through their eyes.

Yet here we stand, on the burning platform, waiting until we are fully engulfed before deciding to jump.  

I've heard some rich folk talk about how the poor are wrecking the country and how they are raising their kids to be mobile - ie, leave Canada for greener pastures should things get too bad.  Where, I would ask, would they go that's better?

That's the one thing I wish people would understand, would internalize and accept; there's nowhere else to go.  There is this world, and there are the people in it.  The people who annoy you won't go away; the people you take advantage of can't endure it forever.  Something has to give.

Monday 11 May 2015

Elizabeth May: The Wall Comes Down

I've been to a number of Ontario's press gallery's Spring Flings, which is the same kind of thing. Politicians say wildly inappropriate things, make fun of themselves and each other in entirely non-PC ways they would never dare to do in public.  

Similarly, I've got a collection of infantile swag produced in backrooms and a memory full of grossly inappropriate things said by political people away from microphones and outsider ears.  Everyone in politics does.

In a business that's as much about destroying your foes as anything else, run by people who view the working of democracy as war and the prize being incredible power and access to ridiculous sums of money, does this come as a surprise to anyone?

If you answer yes, you're either naive, lying to yourself or (and this is most likely the case) you consciously or unconsciously towing the line.

As scandals ranging from sexual abuse to questionable HR practice to the expenditure of public funds show us, there's a lot of dirty laundry to be aired in our political places.  The same can be said of the other institutions on which our democracy hangs, like justice.

And that's the thing, isn't it?  Bad behaviour that has existed and been known about by everyone, including journalists, is being exposed.  

It wasn't before.  There was an unwritten code about what did and didn't get discussed; if someone got caught, they were often fair game, but some things just weren't talked about.  If you did - if you still do, in many fields - you're cut out, ostracised, removed from the tribe.  It's the typical whislteblower story.

I'd be curious to know if Althia Raj is being rebuked by the insiders of that world for taking and airing the video.  It's interesting how many other folk came forward to discuss the May incident, considering it happened at an "in camera" event where lots of other inappropriate things were no doubt said.

It goes without saying, of course, that plenty more video exists on plenty of phones.

Naturally, people who benefit from doing their deeds in the backroom are working double-time to pull the blinds closed again.  Threats are being issued, actions taken; I'm sure we'll hear about more clamp-downs on bringing smartphones into venues like Spring Flings at the same time as journalists question why they have to give up their phones for budget lock-ups when governments are leaking the news anyway.

Good luck, folks, but it won't work.  Whether it's Canada Post, the auto sector or the education industry, the reality is that which adapts, survives while that which doesn't fades away.

You can't change access or stifle the impetus to share - not without becoming oppressive in the way people respond to negatively.

All you can do is evolve with the times.

The Beneveolent Slave Owner: Coyne in the Democracy Box

On matters such as these, my friend Richard Pietro loves to ask the question - which would you prefer, a benevolent slave owner who is kind, or the nasty slave owner who beats you into a pulp whenever he's in the mood?

The best answer, says Richard, is neither; the most desirable option, the one that was left off the table is freedom.

Our Westminster model of democracy dates back to 1066 - before cell phones and the Internet, before TV, before even cars. Society was generally broken down by class - the gentry, high-born or land-owning "upper class" and then the unwashed masses, powerless except for their ability to become mobs.

Under this model, Parliament was formed as a way to hold government - the crown - to account for taxation and laws.  The Crown and the Crown's Ministers would propose laws or taxes based on whatever notions they had or advice they got, then Parliament would weigh in.  Parliament consisted of elected representatives who would leave their communities, travel the distance to the capital and be present in actual Parliament.  The nature of this relationship meant that Members of Parliament had to be able to exercise their own judgement and be through representatives of their constituents' interests,. because there was no means to get real-time feedback from them.

Eventually, caucuses of interest formed, ensuring that there were enough people carrying unified messages to break through the din and force the Crown to pay attention.  Message discipline mattered, even then.

Of course now, by convention, the Crown's Ministers (who make policy) are pulled from ranks of Parliament (whose role is to hold The Crown to account).  Instead of getting their messages through, the goal of caucuses today is to form government, ideally a majority government.  They then get to make policy without really having to worry about Parliament, of which they hold the majority, holding their feet to the fire.

That process now happens once every four years through elections, and in minor fashion throughout the mandate by media and the like.  The media can be undermined, circumvented, even used as a tool for fundraising drives.  Add to that the fact that traditional media is dying as people get their news in other formats and look for different, more interactive experiences online.

Coyne is media.  Coyne is one of Canada's most recognized Canadian pundits.  Like the gentry of old, he has access to our policy makers and shapers in ways most Canadians do not.  Like most traditional media, he sees his job as to create and push content - not to interact with them.

The choice Coyne offers us is akin to Richard's Slave Owners - he asks about who should decide the details of leadership debates, which still involves partisan leaders the vast majority of Canadians cannot elect - after all, we elect Members of Parliament, not government.  

Each of those leaders has narrow coalitions of voters they are targeting, with a great deal of their energy going to attacking their fellow leaders and giving their potential voter coalitions pause.  Somewhere down the line are the actual representatives we vote for who will parrot policy lines delivered to them from on high far more than they will focus on local concerns and solutions.

Meanwhile, we've already seen that it's possible to engage the public directly in the policy making process, both online and in person with policy hackathons.   When communities have access to the public servants who can explain how the process works and provide information - even open data - to support local policy development, some great ideas emerge.

The people on the ground, you see, aren't interested in forming government or playing the Game of Seats - their concerns are more about quality of life, service delivery, equitable access and economic opportunity. 

I understand why Coyne takes the angle he does - like all of us, he is a product of his environment. Much like the most well-meaning politicians can get lost in the tribal partisanship of politics, journalists can only see the world and options available through the lens of what they know.

More debates and opportunities "to see what they're made of" are great - I always love a good conversation.  What we need more of, however, is civic literacy, civic engagement and skin in the policy making game.

The real debates should be happening in communities, with residents bringing forward the solutions they want and would-be politicians acting as facilitators, winning based on their facilitation skills and ability to message up, not down.

And the House of Commons need not be an exclusionary place; not when Open Government can move the conversation onto common ground.  We just need to think outside our usual box.

We cannot elect the leaders we spend so much time focusing on; our should-be representatives are enslaved by a process that discourage them from speaking truth to power, the role they are supposed to fill on our behalf.

In today's politics, democratic freedom is about more than the vote; it's about being part of the debate.