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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.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Hooked on a Meme

Innovation isn't about brand new - it's always about evolving and updating the old.

Which is why myths live on with a thousand faces, but I digress.

You gotta start somewhere, right?

Ouroboros and Political Evolution

You can call it a ploy if you like.  Me, I see it as simply where we're headed next.  I've been saying that for a while.

That, of course, is the real sinister sub-plot of politics; it's not the master strategists who shape where we go next; such is beyond them.  The smart ones look ahead, see where we're going next and get their first.  Then they claim credit for having shaped the course of history.

It's never the toughest, most obstinate who last.  It's those best able to adapt.

Conflicts and Powder Kegs: Butterfly Monday

Not on the news this morning - Rob Ford.

You know where things are at when not hearing about Rob Ford is a bad thing, because something worse supersedes it.

Tensions continue to mount between East and West over the Ukraine.  I keep remembering the chat I had with an intelligent Russian man in April while in Germany for the commemoration of the liberation of Buchenwald Concentration Camp.

He was convinced that Russia was in the right, carefully protecting itself from an expansionist West that, through NATO, was increasingly creeping up to Russia's borders and presenting a real threat.  This fella thought that Putin was playing his cards strategically, defending Russia's interests from countries like ours.

Of course, that's not how we feel.  We don't see Putin as a tough-minded leader keeping seas of troubles from lapping at our shores.

Then there's the worsening conflict in Israel/Gaza.  Frankly, there are no white hats or black hats in the Middle East - there are victims, threats, long-standing grievances and all kinds of foreign intervention.  The only real solution there is to change human nature, or better yet, to really embrace the core tenants that bind the Abrahamic religions together.

A hard thing for the aggrieved and righteous to do.

Especially when politics comes in to play.  As troublesome as the conflicts overseas may seem, they're not on our shores.  And hey, there's something to being engaged with a war or two that may make a good political narrative here at home.

After all, who would you trust to be a war-time president?  The kid with the flowing locks who loves China, the mad man in the beard or the tough-minded leader keeping seas of troubles from lapping at our shores?

Whether Harper makes it to the next election remains to be seen, though it's clear he likes being the boss. It's also clear that, in all Parties, there are folk who look at everything on the landscape for its tactical value. That means somewhere, someone is gaming out the advantage and disadvantage of differing positions and levels of engagement on international conflicts.

Which, of course, involves military equipment (which we can't afford) and boots on the ground (something in dwindling supply, before considering the morale of our troops and the increasingly offloaded costs of taking care of them).

Not that this matters, though, because Canadians have been told and readily accepted the notion that we're a consumerist society - we buy stuff, pay as little as possible and leave everything foreign in the feds' hands. We're not about to sign up for a conflict in which we may have to sacrifice anything.

Heck, in increasing numbers, we can't even be bothered to keep our democracy alive.  

As Canada becomes more increasingly polarized between those whose lives carry on as they have (positively) and those whose lives have been dramatically changed, worsened, reduced, the only consistency are those who've lived with the short end of the stick for far too long.  Their voice is growing as it's bolstered by those who used to have more and are starting to look for coalitions of their own.

Meanwhile, youth are becoming more organized, more vocal and more demanding of a society that doesn't leave them worse off than their parents were.  Some of those parents may think the kids are whiny complainers, but a lot of them are looking to youth as champions of the solution, not bearers of the problem.

Maybe it's always this way - conflicts and powder kegs.  I'm sure there are those who will say things are always the same, pay the rhetoric no mind, we will always carry on as we have.

As I get my family ready for another challenging week, I can't but wonder.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Emerging Consciousness

These biases are emotionally wired.  Some of them are learned, some of them are genetic programming, but they all exist to make us feel a certain way so as to catalyze a behaviour.  The problem is, emotional reactions are one-size-fits all, meaning they're often wrong.
My favourite example is how we might feel scared of an unwilling to touch a burn victim.  Why would that be the case?  It's likely that our limbic brain is perceiving unhealthy-looking skin that looks like something that could be contagious, like an ebola, and is encouraging us to stay away for that reason.
It's a reaction grounded in reasoning, but one not appropriate to the situation.  The same holds true for a white woman scared by a black youth on a subway, when there's really no in situ cause to validate that fear.
Homophobia is another one.
These biases are pervasive on countless levels that we're not even aware of (for the reason that our body is designed to take care of all this situational management stuff for us) - ignoring homeless people, being more interested in what attractive people have to say, disliking ideas that differ from ours or loving what a confident voice says, even if it's crap.
We make unconscious, reactive decisions all the time that we then justify consciously; it's the Vic Toews syndrome, one we are all susceptible to in differencing degrees under varying circumstances.
The only way to overcome these biases to realize that having them doesn't make us weak, or flawed, or evil.  Also, just because we feel a certain way, it doesn't mean that instinct is a good one to trust.  We have to learn to step back from our feelings - appreciate them for what they are and listen to them, but not to stop there.
This is the process of consciousness, of becoming aware of what influences our thoughts - and, at the same time, understanding what influences the thoughts of others.
A conscious society is a long way off, but I can see we're moving there in fits in spurts, even while reactive hatred and war continue to spread, like an illness.
I don't know if I have hope for us, or even our children, but we will get there.
I've got faith in that.

Todd Smith Nails It: Leaders Walk with the People

Are Liberals the only ones who care about your children's future - or is that the PCs, the NDP or the Greens?  Are the Liberals the only ones who are like political wraiths, not-quite-human and therefore can be trusted only to destroy your lives - or is that the PCs, the NDP or the Greens?
As politics has become more tribal, two significant things have happened. 
One - political parties have become more insular, seeing themselves as soldiers on the front lines of democracy while citizens are the passive folk on the homefront.  As such, they've begun to adopt more militant mentalities, both in terms of "fighting the competition" and how they view citizens themselves.  Joe and Jane Frontporch are the beneficiaries of the unpleasant but necessary work of political soldiers and, as such, need to stay out of the way and play by the rules those political operatives lay out for them. 
A great example of this is the current challenges around polling.
Two - political organizations have become more tribal and militant in their hierarchies, with the people at the top wielding battlefield commander-type authority.  Staff can expect to face drumhead trials and excommunication if they don't do as their told and break the code of political omerta.
Those at the top will justify this tight control because, well, they get it, they've got the battle scars, only they know how to win and, by dominating politically, restore/maintain democracy.
This is, of course, a dangerously facetious delusion.  Militaries aren't democracies - they function externally, protecting a nation from foreign threats; the moment military action or approaches start being applied internally, you don't have a democracy.
There are no only we can save or only they will destroy in democracy; we're in this together and it's up to all of us to make it work.
There's a reason for this - because, in a sustained social context, it's absolutely true that only we can make things work.  It's especially true in an open economy; if we're all pursuing selfish interests or pushing our mandates onto others without meaningful dialogue and co-design, we are going to come up with the wrong answers.
We see this all the time - even when a Party wins and claims some kind of victory, people lose.  Democracy loses.  It doesn't matter what rhetoric gets spouted in the media, or even believed (or as is more often the case, paid lip-service to) inside; it's a lipstick on a pig kind of thing, or better yet - a fresh coat of expensive paint on a rusting car. 
That's the rub, and that's the secret sauce that Todd Smith has nailed - compassion isn't a weakness, nor is it a virtue that is the sole property of one tribe or another, one leader or another.  It's way more than that.
Especially in today's climate, we're realizing that compassion and empathy are simply good management practices.  They involve theory of mind, listening, exploring perspectives and thinking holistically.  Instead of whack-a-mole politics or policies that are decided, sold and defended without thorough exploration, you get shared, co-designed solutions that are constantly iterated upon.
It's not about failure, but iteration, expansion, inclusion, dynamism.  You only get that through collaborative efforts.
You don't get that when you assume you're smart and they are dumb, or they can't do a task that you know how and just need to get out of your way.
This is especially true in a democracy; they may not be good at top-down messaging or packing rooms with koolaid-drinking fanatics, but maybe the reason isn't that they're incompetent, but because those aren't skills that are actually useful in a democratic contest.  By dominating the field with their top-down, tightly controlled ways, maybe these political operatives are weakening democracy.
We'll have to see how the PC's reform shakes out, just as we'll have to see what steps the NDP take next and how the Liberals make use of their majority. 
The jury is still way out on whether the behavioural economics lessons of the last 20 years, or last election have been learned by any.
One thing is guaranteed, though - we'll never get where we need to do if we are dedicating the vast majority of our energy and building ourselves up and putting others down.
If we are to move forward at all, we can only do so together.  Which means leaving no one - no one - behind.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Strange Bedfellows: Sex Work and Politics

As all things sex-trade related have bubbled to the surface as a hot topic in Canadian politics (and features as the subject for next Monday's Why Should I Care) I've found myself thinking about the social views around prostitution.

It's generally accepted that prostitution is not a desirable career, as in no child dreams of growing up and becoming a prostitute like they may a lawyer or a politician.  It's recognized that being a prostitute is a potentially dangerous job, carrying the risk of catching (and transmitting) sexually transmitted diseases, but also the risk of abuse by clients and exposure to seedier elements of society.
Are those reasons to stigmatize prostitution as a trade, though? 
I don't imagine many kids dream of growing up to clean floors or toilets or collect garbage, but those things get done.  I know in my home town (Cornwall) kids in school would often assume they'd follow in their parents' footsteps and work on a factory assembly line - this wasn't a lofty, aspirational goal, but then work was seen as a way to make a living rather than a focus on personal growth.  Life was what was lived outside of the 9 - 5 workday.
At the same time, I know a bunch of kids who paid their way through university by performing as stripper at strip joints frequented by factory workers after that work day ended.
Not to diminish STDs, but there are a great number of illnesses that can be contracted on other jobs, ranging from cancer through inhaling chemicals as a firefighter, coming down with PTSD as a police officer or social worker, even carpal tunnel syndrome from too much typing (I fit in this category).  It could be losing a limb on a factory floor, too. 
For all these careers, though, government (through fits and starts) tries to create and enforce safety standards so that these vital positions can be carried out with minimal risk to the worker.  Do we penalize the consumer of products developed in unsafe conditions?  I imagine there are a host of kids in Bangladesh who'd disagree with that notion.
That leaves the exposure to seedier elements of society and the risk of exposure to drugs, crime, etc.  What we always miss in these sorts of conclusions is the fact that crime breeds where civil society opts not to tread; safe drug injection sites, licensed brothels, transparent government are all ways to cast light into the dark corners of our society and bring them into the mainstream.
So, all this aside - why is it that we look down on sex as a trade?  And is it the actually the case that nobody wants to be a prostitute?  I find it hard to believe there aren't some who gain meaning from their profession.
The stigma around prostitution has less to do with the logistical nature of the work, I think, and more to do with the cultural associations surrounding it.
One - when we think prostitutes, we tend to think women.  Women, in our eyes, are mothers; each should be Gaia - nurturing, loving, child-focused and family-oriented.  Sex is a means to create babies which women nurture into adults who repeat the cycle.  For a woman to sell sex is somehow a betrayal of this unspoken (and unagreed upon) social contract.

Two - sex is power.  Men the world over like to feel strong and in charge, yet are fearful of the power women have over them (Oscar Pistorius or Boko Haram, for instance).  For alpha males that like to feel they're in charge, there must be something disconcerting about women having ownership over their own sexual relations and not needing to be property of any one man.
Three - sex is a biological act that, at its core, is about reproduction.  Human babies are totally helpless, requiring a certain level of parental commitment for those children (our future) to survive.  A kid you can buy at the corner store will have less value and, theoretically, receive less attachment than a child conceived through intimate acts between committed individuals.
Of course, sex is more than that - the sexual drive to reproduce is more deeply engrained in our cognitive matrix than is the urge to commit sociology.  Even if we don't always act on sexual urges, we experience them; the hot guy or girl on the subway or in a TV ad may have us feeling lusty; attraction is, after all, why we pursue intimate encounters in the first place.
Where sex is a service, though, the intimacy is gone.  The entire mythos around sex is gone.  It becomes a transactional enterprise, something that could be bought and sold on the market.

Now, theoretically, you'd think the Conservatives would be all for promoting a money-generating enterprise, especially one as lucrative as sex.  Imagine Canada having the best modern Geishas in the world, creating a regulated sex holiday sector that would draw in cash from all over the world.  You could attract the best sex talent from around the world, creating a powerful industry - and then tax it.
But that's economics, not social conservatism, which brings us back to the Gaia complex.  Prostitution is not a noble profession; no one with an ounce of nobility or integrity should want to take part it in, either as a provider or a consumer.  In fact, folk like Peter MacKay seem convinced no prostitute wants to remain a prostitute and is just hankering to get out of the dirty business.
Which is a really interesting position to take, given the fact that MacKay is a politician.
MacKay, who I think it's fair to say had some tumbles in the hay with a couple of women prior to getting married and having a kid, is an expert at contorting himself into partisan knots and slips.  He spins, deflected, misleads, obfuscates and is hypocritical.  He's a great partisan politician in that it's easy for him to do whatever benefits his Party without any thought as to the ethical implications.
His boss, Stephen Harper, is even worse.  We can't limit ourselves to just the Conservatives, though - through all Parties are Members who will spout rhetoric they don't believe in because it helps further their political career, will ignore issues of relevance because they can't be bothered and will generally twist the purpose of being a representative of the people for personal gain through partisan gain.
There are many elected officials with integrity, but there are plenty of partisan whores out there, too.  Just as their are lawyers who will defend clients they know to be guilty or support insurance claims they know are fraudulent, because it pays their bills.

Such abuses of power and public interest are at least as "dirty" as sex with strangers, yet how many kids want to grow up to have powerful positions like this?  How many politicians and their supporters like being in the ethical quagmire of politics?
It really doesn't seem that surprising that politicians and prostitutes should find themselves bedfellows. 
Which is why sex as work is such an interesting, challenging topic.  One the one hand, there are real risks that could be mitigated - that's logistics.  There are financial gains to be had and capitalized on - that's economics.  Then, there's all the social and biological baggage around sex.
So what are we to do?
There are solutions to be had, behaviours to be corrected and stigmas to be addressed - there always are.  For any solution involving sex workers to work and be sustainable, though, here's an unavoidable truth -
Solutions can't be conceived on high and seeded among prostitutes; they have to be agents and drivers in the social/structural changes that will make them safe and empower them to make the choices that are in their best interests.
The next time we see changes to prostitution laws, it shouldn't be a frat boy like Peter MacKay leading the charge - it should be sex workers themselves.  The role of the Minister should be to listen, empathize, facilitate, understand and serve as a conduit for solution.
Surely, Peter MacKay doesn't think that's women's work, does he?