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.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

The Truth Hurts

Embedded image permalink

We don't like to see shit like this on our teevees - our entertainment (which, let's face it, for many is what televised news is) is supposed to be fun and wholesome or, if risque, in a titillating, removed kind of way.

The truth rarely manifests itself in clean white-bread sound bites.  It tends to be rough, tough and uncomfortable to know.  But it must be heard.  You can't recognize or solve the big issues otherwise.

Props to CNN for this.

On @jandrewpotter's Response to #Ferguson and War Room Politics

I don't know if Potter quite intended to make this point, but there it is.  When he talks about the increased militarization of society on the whole, he could just have easily pointed a finger directly at War Room politics.

Partisan politics is all about forcing a political outcome.  It tends not to involve violence and deadly force, lately, at least in some countries - but that wasn't always the case.  As Potter hints at, we've seen a slow debasement of standards in politics, a subtle shift that has allowed more and more questionable tactics to be used.

Destroy your opponents?  Hate, step on their throats, etc?  How is this a healthy way to engage in policy debate in a democratic country?  Yet that's how war-roomers frame the battle between them and the barbarians at the gate, or in office.  

Only we can save you from them.

It's not much different from the mentality that produces lines like "bring it, you fucking animals, bring it."

They will eat your babies and salt your land out of sheer malice, given the chance.  Heck, they're trying to do both already, aren't they?

Truth be told, plenty of partisans are just like the cops Potter describes; they relish the combat and want to rack up wins, whether it's for bragging rights or for career advancement.

Instead of guns, though, they use robocalls, Nationbuilder and behavioural economics to force their wins and defeat their foes.

As I've written before, though, this is the sort of slow creep from which actual shooting wars always start. We're seeing that play out right now.

Potter makes another crucial point, though, that has been lost in the fog of pseudo-war:

Police officers serve and protect.  They are keepers of the peace who, by the nature of their work, face extraordinary risk to life, life and mind.  Soldiers are different.  Soldiers are trained to walk into the line of fire; there job isn't to preserve peace, but to fight for it.  It's a completely different enterprise.

Funny enough, we're seeing a strange shift in behaviours; friendly neighbourhood cops are being replaced as the cliche by heavily armed, tough-talking cowboys in SWAT gear while the US military has become the biggest consumer of Positive Psychology in North America.  

Soldiers are learning about social-emotional learning and communication at the same time as how to survive in the war zone.  There are some police I know who get this stuff and are committed to using the positive tools available to do their job - to serve and protect - better.  Having said that, there are lots who simply love the power of wearing a badge and carrying a gun.

Soldiers accept that sacrifice is part of their job; they, as people, come second to the cause they serve.  Both sides will have guns, both sides run risks which have often been mitigated by codes of honour like bushido or chivalry.  Omerta is not a code of honour - it's a defense for the Prisoner's Dilemma.

Cops don't have the same level of skin in the game; they could and probably should expect to punch out form their day job and have a regular life at home, same as anyone.  As such, risk doesn't play the same way for police as it does for soldiers.  

Which is partially why we've seen an escalation of weapons and tactics among police, especially in light of 9/11, but even in response to situations like G20.  They want to be in control of any given situation, but they don't want to be at risk.  More guns, armour and the like helps mitigate their risk as crowds grow in response to an increasingly disengaged decision-making class and the consequences of armchair policy making.

The truth is, folks, you can't take the risk out of war - certainly not against your own people, not without becoming a doomed-to-fail tyrant.  Trying to do so unilaterally and without a willingness to honour your opponents as you'd like to be honoured yourself is a sure-fire way to escalate tense situations into shooting conflicts.

Something that also holds true for political parties, by the way.

I hate to say it, but things are likely going to get a lot worse before they start getting better, which bodes well for none of us.

Monsters and the Heart of Darkness

There was a time when the dark was a truly terrifying place.

Beyond the boundaries of the campfire lurked wild things, monsters that saw our ancestors as prey.  To survive, people learned to be afraid.

With time, technology, innovation and knowledge, the dark corners of our world have slowly been painted in; what once were monsters are now curios, or resources.  There's really no creature waiting in the shadows for us any more; if anything, we've replaced the monsters.

Yet fear remains.

My eldest son has been having occasional night terrors; it's something I can relate to, having suffered through similar fears when I was his age.  He's a bright, inquisitive, creative boy, capable of populating the darkness with bone-chilling nightmare creatures that would freeze your very soul - which is exactly what he's doing.

To help him through these, I've been employing a combination of neuro-psychological tricks; making funny, discussing his successes to build confidence, letting him snuggle for the oxytocin boost it gives him.  Call it pandering or committing sociology if you want - I know what works, I know why it does, and the results prove themselves.  He's sleeping calmly now.

One of the key things he and I have discussed is that which we fear - the monsters in the dark.  I asked him to go through and tell me about all the monsters he knows - ghosts and goblins and orcs and vampires and zombies and werewolves.  We have explored each of these creatures, slowly coming to the conclusion that hey, none of them are real.  They are all fiction.

So what does that mean, I asked him?  That the monsters we feel aren't in our closets or under our beds, he said, but in our minds.

In our minds - we create the monsters we fear or, more accurately, we take latent fear and give it form. That's the deep dark secret of humanity - we feel first; it's our feelings, not reality, that we rationalize.  Such is the hidden truth of any stigma or human conflict in the world.

My son and I talked about the individual monsters we were familiar with - characters in stories, villains in movies, etc.  The reality is that more often than not, some good guy gets the bad guy in the end or, in other cases, the villain is funny, or misunderstood, or comes to see the light (punny, perhaps, but equally telling).

Monsters, I told my son, are products of our own fear.  They have power in numbers that is stripped from then when we understand them as individuals. The way to fight a monster isn't with a stake, a gun or a sacred book, but with two things - light and ownership.

When we cast a light on the dark places in the world, the snake in the path often turns out to be little more than a curved stick.  Understanding takes us out of the shadow world of The Cave; it kills mystery, perhaps, but fear also - and replaces both with wonder.

That's one.  Two is ownership.

When we give our monsters names, backstories, motivations, personality traits, they cease to be unknowable fears and instead become products of our imagination.  When we breathe life into a character, they become part of our story - as in, a story that we author with ending we right ourselves.

We need not dread the dark, nor fear or welcome death.  There is no universal unknowable; there's just what we don't know, yet.  When we take ownership of the creatures that lurk in the dark, they hold no power over us - instead, we consciously control them.

This is true of the darkness within, as well.

How Stephen Harper is like Rob Ford

Rob Ford has lied, repeatedly, about a whole host of things, minimized them when caught and then taken to demonizing the press for bringing up his track record of fibbing, gross negligence and blatant criminality.

The Harper PMO had been less than candid about everything from the Cadman bribe to Mike Duffy; political truths have proven to be different for them than the actual truth.

There's a rationale behind this, called Omerta - if everyone on the inside holds the line, stays silent and expresses confidently their innocence, the theory goes, the cops have got nothin'.  Prisoner's Dilemma avoided.

Only the House of Commons isn't a prison and, one would hope, our government isn't the mob.

The truth doesn't match the rhetoric.  Fewer Canadians are willing to tow the line, accepting a growing list of rule-breaking as justified so as to keep the Left at bay.

It's as true for Team Harper as it is for Rob Ford.

Leaders Set the Example


Leaders set the tone for society.  There's an expression for it in Italian that translates into "the fish stinks from the head."  If our representatives are combative, insisting that policy development and debate is a blood sport - well, that's the pinnacle of our democracy, isn't it?  Everything else should probably function the same way.

It's a well-known fact that you need to stir people's emotions to get them to act, though the focus in politics tends to be acting by donating, voting or parroting partisan messages.  The truth is, though, there are always those who will escalate things further, given fodder to do so.

Think how different things would be in Ferguson right now if the cops had less artillery on their side, if - as is likely the case for most of the predominantly-white police force - they didn't feel like their whole way of life was threatened by a mass of Others.

What is political rhetoric if not a call to action against a dangerous Zombie Hoard of inhuman partisan Others?  They must be stopped, their throats must be stepped on, their careers destroyed.

Actual words used by actual political people.  These people, though, are supposed to know they're actors on a stage, that none of the combativeness really means anything in the real world.  It's all sales, street-theatre.

The public, though, are intended to buy the message as authentic, real, and the threats as clear and present dangers.

If Justin Trudeau is a threat to the nation, surely he must be stopped.  If Stephen Harper is devil-spawn, surely he must be removed.

Be wary about treating the people as sheep, partisans; you never know where the real wolves are hiding.

Rethinking Emergency Services - and Emergency Preparedness

Now this is interesting.

Reactive costs around emergency services is unsustainably high.  Cops, their benefits and their resources cost a bundle.  Fire and emergency medical services - the folk who respond to 911 calls, including everything from home fires to car crashes to EDP situations on the street - they cost a bundle, too.

But we need these things, right?  We have to be tough on crime, which means these are justified costs; we have no business influencing public behaviour or offering handouts to people who might otherwise commit crimes, get into accidents or cause themselves harm - that'd be too much like committing sociology.

Law enforcement officers watch on during a protest on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri on August 18, 2014.
Far better we cut proactive social services, support for charities and all that kind of lefty stuff to afford the back-end costs of cleaning up avoidable messes.

Yet it's vital that taxes be low, because people should have a right not to invest in public infrastructure and social sustainability or some such.  If we can't raise taxes to pay increasingly expensive, reactive emergency/crisis services, what do we do?  

Heck, it's a proven thing that the private sector is better at everything than government, right?  Why not outsource policing, like we do with garbage?  The magic of the free market will ensure the best service at the lowest price, right?

I wonder what Blackwater charges for city policing.  Or those cops in Ferguson; they'll be looking for new work before too long.

The path that we're on is not a sustainable one; slowly but surely, we're creeping down a dark road of fractured society, increased marginalization of growing communities that will be "managed" by security forces that don't answer directly to the public, nor to elected officials, who answer to their Parties first anyway.

It's the Decline of the Roman Empire, Western style.

This is before we take into account aging infrastructure, poverty, employment, health, mental health, gridlock and all the rest of it.  

These things are connected; it's folly to think otherwise, even though that's what we tend to do.  What does heart health have to do with exercise, or work stress?  Why should I have to pay out-of-pocket to help someone else's kids - even if those payments can help prevent their kids from shooting mine down the road?

The reality is this - every man for himself is not going to work.  We have to get organized - we have to figure out how we're going to live here.  No one is going to do that for us; no one is going to sweep our problems away.  It's all on us.

Us - not us vs them, but the collective us; white, black, gay, transgendered, Muslim, Jew, pauper and king; we all live on the same earth, breathe the same air, so on and so forth.  There is no ground except common ground.

So what next, ideally?

First things first - recognize that short-term fixes don't save money, they simply allow costs to fester. We need to stop looking at short-term ROI and start making long-term investments in infrastructure, in people, in systems.  Fiscally, we can't do this by piling on to our debt - there has to be another way.

Fortunately, there is, but it requires a massive change of perspective from people in every corner of society. We have to engage, to want to engage with each other, from top to bottom.  The incredibly wealthy need to understand they haven't earned the right to live above society; investments in their world are beneficial to them.  The marginalized need to realize they are as much a part of our whole as anyone else, but will have to learn some comms skills and the like to have their voice recognized and opportunities provided.

I'd frame it like this - society needs to come 25% of the way to the elite, who having the most resources should have no problem coming 75% of the way to the middle.  For the poorest, most disenfranchised, the ratio gets reversed - society needs to come 75% of the way to them and stay engaged for the long-haul.  No one-offs here.

Why on earth would we do this?  It sounds a bit too much like work, like change, like pandering or cow-towing.  Fuck the others, it's us against them, or they simply don't matter.  

This is the Burning Platform, the Tragedy of the Commons; we are loathe to do what is in our own best interests long-term, because we simply aren't that rational.  We're selfish, petty, short-sighted, flawed.  We fumble in the darkness of ignorance - all of us.

How might we motivate, catalyze culture change on a global scale?  

It's been done before; there are models out there of how to get massive social blocks to embody the Golden Rule, to practice hygiene and see supporting one's neighbour not as a bother or a hand-out but a responsibility.

As always, it comes down to carrots and sticks.  You need a threat, one so massive and daunting that there is no way money can help you escape it.  We're seeing that threat emerging now - social chaos, infrastructure collapse, the Godzilla Armageddon.  Ebola, Ferguson, crushing debt, unemployment, war, collapsing infrastructure - it goes on and on.  I don't care how much money you have; when the whole world is on fire, there's nowhere that money can take you.

The threat of collapse due to our own shortsightedness is part of the picture, but not the whole one.  After all, there's enough information out there right now to show us the risks of pretending we live in silos, yet we do it anyway.  Something more is required.

Enter the carrot.  We're not going to leave the burning platform unless there is somewhere more desirable for us to go - that's simply the way people work.  So, what does this better world look like?  How do we get from here to there?

This is where vision comes in - something we've not heard a lot about in our political discourse for quite some time.  We've had plenty of pronouncements, plenty of vague resentment, but an actual vision?  We have almost forgotten how to dream, it seems.

Which is where we return to emergency management and individual preparedness.

We can't collectively afford the cost of back-end emergency response; we don't feel like we can afford the cost of prevention, either, though it's invariably cheaper to stay healthy rather than it is to cure a disease.

Instead of outsourcing emergency preparedness/response, we need to internalize that capacity; every home should have an emergency management plan, every community a coordinated response plan and hand-off mechanism.  

When the next big storm hits and there are too few emergency responders to get to everyone consistently for days, weeks on end, people will need the ability and resources to collaborate and hold the fort until support arrives.  

That means training, social-emotional resiliency-building to help with the stress and above all, empowerment. These also happen to be good tools for citizens to have to be engaged citizens in a responsible society.  

Another thing about engaged, responsible citizens?  

They're far better at holding government to account, open style.  That means not treating politics like a spectator sport, cheering or jeering from the sidelines but getting on the field, putting some skin in the game.

People are more than their home lives or their communities, though - they are work, they are school, they are transit.  As it stands now, we design life in silos - work and home are supposed to be separate; transit is considered a pathway, not a barrier, which it often is; people are viewed in terms of their assets and liabilities rather than as whole creatures in a social ecosystem.

We need more engaging leaders in all sectors that don't look at their companies or the world as a pyramid on which they sit at the top, but a system of which they are part; the more they take from the common ground, the less there is for others, impacting their growth.  When they block out the sun, others can't but wither.

Society's like a garden that way.

The allusions here are intentional; hopefully they connect the dots for you as they do for me.

We can build that better world, should we choose to work together.  Things will continue to get worse the longer we opt not to.

Something we collectively need to be conscious of.

Zagreb and Ferguson

"We were normal kids, studying, playing, living our lives.  The war was always something happening over there - on the border, in the next town, the other neighbourhood, always somewhere else.  We were normal - war couldn't happen to us.
"Until the bomb that blew out our window.  I remember; I was in my home, doing homework at the table.  Leading my life like normal girls and boys do.  Then the blast - then everything changed."
That story was told to me in 2001 by a Croatian English teacher I'd met in Zagreb.  She was recounting to me her experience of the war, how it had crept up on her, her family, her friends.
It's a message I've heard many times by many people in similar circumstances; whatever's going wrong, it always happens somewhere else.  The other plane will get hit, someone else's car will crash, etc.  War is something that happens to other people; we, somehow, are immune, even when we know we're not.
I think about this as I read tweets about Ferguson, which has become as far to many Americans as Zagreb seemed then, or as the Middle East feels now.
Nothing like war to remind us of our true place in the big picture, is there?