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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.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

The Demise of Civil Canada

Or saying nothing at all, while paid spokespeople or dropped ads become the only vehicle for message to be sent, with no equivalent existing for input to be received.

This not to say it's a shift unique to the Conservatives; the "contact sport" that is politics has become increasingly aggressive and mean-tactic heavy.  Contact, by the way, refers to hitting opponents, not engaging with constituents.

Of course there are no apologies; apologies are for the weak.  Real men, or mannish women, hit hard, take no quarter, and as they are always in the right, are justified in doing whatever it takes to beat back the heathens at the gate.

If anyone calls into question their tactics, it's simply an indication that those self-same tactics are effective.  

Call Team Harper Nixonian all you want - they'll think of you as sore losers.  Nixon didn't get away with it, they'll say, but we did.  Clearly, we're better than he was.

This is not a democratic approach.  This is not about "exposing true feelings" or even about policy.  What's pushing these increasingly aggressive political players is the desire for power, not love of the leader.

Leaders look to their own self-interest, collect teams that do the same, and so on down the chain it goes. That's what a sociology-free government looks like; Sun News in the House of Commons.

Lest you think that's a universal condemnation, there are many who see that as a positive.  It's only in angry reaction, don't you know, that true selves are revealed, right?

Here is the heart-breaking, maddening irony.  When anything you do is right, and any attack that comes from opposition is only evidence of how powerful you truly are, you lose sight of the big picture and your place in it.  The tactics you use become increasingly shocking, simply because that's the nature of escalation.

It's the exact same spectrum that ISIS is on - they too are about power, instilling fear in their foes through harsh tactics and taking what they want simply because they can.

What happens when powers equally focused on destroying their foes and with no introspection about their purpose and the social impact of their action come head-to-head?  

Massive amounts of money gets spent on the weapons of war, ranging from robocalls, troll armies and attack ads to real troops throwing real grenades.  The severity of collateral damage follows suit.  The basics of italicization fall away, because they are all matters of sociology.

War is the worst time to commit sociology, right?  Your opponent isn't to be understood, but eliminated by brutal force, full stop.  This is the mind-set of the people wielding power who can't be bothered to understand their enemy and are so trapped by their egos they are incapable of understanding themselves. 

And so the only option they know and embrace is escalation.

That's where we're at, internationally.  That's what we're creeping towards, domestically.

These folk haven't won.  They've set fire to our common ground without realizing that wherever their heads are at, their feet stand on the same earth.

Hope exists in unlikely places, but there's a creeping darkness overtaking our politics.

Fall's coming and, as always, winter isn't far behind.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Skin in the Game

... with our own troops in harm's way, the trip-wires would be made visible again.

Canada's War-Room folk like to talk about throwing grenades, losing arms and such - all risks taken in a contact sport like politics, right?

I would very much like to know how comfortable any of them would be on the front-lines of an actual war.

Take a quick look at the average political campaign operative, the methodology they use, the priorities they keep, etc.  Then put them alongside an actual soldier from the field.

You'll see just how far the gap is between the War Room folk and the those who have actually lived in the theatre of war.

Which, alas, is kind of how these things start.

No matter how high you climb, always keep one boot on the ground.  That way, everyone knows where you stand -yourself included.

Character Conflict in Cdnpoli

He, of course, being former Premier of Ontario Dalton McGuinty.

Me, I like the guy.  I don't by any stretch of the imagination think he's perfect and have, on more than one occasion, disagreed with decisions he's made.  Never once have I questioned that he did anything other than what he thought was the right thing to do.

Whether you like McGuinty or not - whether you like Stephen Harper or not - if you have any knowledge of how politics works, you know that the quote above rings true.

In theory, the Speaker is the referee, but they hold sway only in the Chamber and have, at best, dubious powers.  Beyond the walls of the Legislative Chamber, anything you can get away with goes - including expense and robocall scandals.  So what if you get caught and have to pay a fine, after the fact? If you've won, you can raise more money and offset the cost, so really nothing has been lost.

The same holds true for attacks.  Whatever you can get away with, goes.  Sure, there's some collateral damage; some soldiers will lose limbs and all, but hey - it's all worth it when you win.  In a contact sport, you have to expect to get bloodied.

But politics isn't a sport; it's a debate, a policy-discussion forum.  Democracy is about participation of many, not survival of the fittest.  Can we not have civil discussion in civil society?  Can we not be respectful in discourse and substantive in both our arguments and our criticisms?

Ha, yeah.  Keep dreamin'.

Politics is the War Room; it's lobbing grenades, circling the wagons, etc.  

That's how politics, increasingly, operates.  It's a Lord of the Flies slide that is happening as our government becomes increasingly opaque in its service delivery and we, as citizens, become increasingly ambivalent to its practices.

We don't care about the operations of the Legislature, don't you know.

That's one school of thought in Canadian politics.  It's the culture of conflict that McGuinty refers to, that partisans relish as they pundify and plan their next attack.

Reputation has always been fodder, but it's gotten so that one wonders why people of character would even bother.  Good character almost annuls your ability to survive in politics.

As the political watering hole shrinks and the walls go up around our Common Houses, though, society still needs to function.  As we're witnessing with the provinces looking to create a new federal conversation that doesn't involve the actual federal government, it's clear that we can, with effort, find ways to keep moving forward regardless.

People of good character can still find ways to be effective, just not always through traditional means.  Those are going to people more worried about protecting or destroying reputations than character.

Times are changing; it'll be interesting to see where we go next.

Storm's a Comin'

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What can I say, I love storms.  And symbolism.

Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!

You've probably seen the signs around town - they are every where to be found.  They come in different shapes and sizes; they use different colours and fonts.

Jobs Jobs! Jobs! they promise, giving no other information but a phone number.

I've thought a lot about these signs of late, as well as conflicting information about the job market.  People like Andrew Coyne suggesting things are tickety-boo with employment numbers - not perfect, but hardly worrisome.

Meanwhile, the on-the-ground reality seems to be quite different.  Many youth can't find anything, many trained adults are shut out and way too many people are working two or three jobs to make ends meet.

Something doesn't at up.

Back to the signs.  The only reason I can think of to call a number on a sign that says nothing but "jobs" is that you either have no skills or are desperate.  Otherwise, you're doing what youth are taught - focus on your skillset and seek work that aligns with your pre-existing ability.

What of the people on the other end?  That they'd go to so little effort in their advertizing does not bode well for how seriously they take their employees.

All this was on my mind these evening as I took a phone call from QuickSilver snow removal, doing routes in my area.

After the woman on the other end (who sounded like a Torontonian) had read her script, I asked her where she got my phone number; her answer was "from my supervisor."

"Where did your supervisor get it?" I asked.  She didn't know. When I asked to speak to him, she said he I couldn't.

"I'm asking you for some pretty basic information, and you're not being helpful," I suggested. "It's not the best way to start a business relationship."

"I don't care what you think," came the answer, and the phone call was ended.

That it was exceptionally poor customer service didn't bother me; it happens.  The evident lack of training, though, I found interesting.  She had no segues, no comforting statements, no hooks, no anything.  Even political campaign volunteer phone-bankers tend to be better prepared than that.

Which brings me back to the signs.

In a successful economy that is weathering the storm, as it were, there are jobs that pay sufficiently for people to earn a living and have cash and time left over for toys, sports, entertainment, travel, etc.  That's how other jobs get paid for.

Quality work of any kind takes a certain amount of training and selection, which also cost money.  When companies do their own training, they have more control over the final service product, but it's a cost they have to bear.  

Many employers don't want to spend these days, especially on training or HR.  Instead, they're talking about the need for job prospects to be more competitive, more aggressive, to play golf, etc.  

Theoretically, the more competitive et al you are, the higher-paying a job you will be able to secure.  The notion that employers would want to exploit work, well, that's just silly, or implies somehow that the labour force which clearly has lots of employment options are easy marks and probably deserve what they get.

Competition drives everything up - skills, wages, the economy, etc.  Unsuitable companies get eaten up by the free market, survival of the strongest, so on and so forth.  That's exactly the frame our Prime Minister has been pushing.

But what happens if that's not the case?  What happens when employers don't care about HR or the market, because all they're offering is something like shoveling snow from driveways?  It's a transaction, like buying a Tim Hortons coffee - you want the product at low cost, period.  

How hard is it to make coffee?  How hard is it to shovel a driveway?  Exactly.  

So, to maximize profit, all other costs go down.  Investment in HR goes down.  Quality of service goes down, even on the sales side.  So what?  It's like picking up at the bar; get slapped in the face 9 times, the tenth will go home with you.  

So there are jobs that offer little pay, little personal value and poor service but that desperate people must be lining up for, given how many signs are out there.  They do poorly at their work; perhaps the service end isn't so great, either.  

No problem for the employer; they just put more work on fewer employees and keep their margins decent. It's all just business, don't you know - if their employees had any value, they'd be working somewhere else.

Much of this is speculation based on annecdotal evidence.  I also know there are a lot of great employers out there exploring best onboarding practices and employee engagement.

But you have to wonder.  

When I talk about policy plans to make our country/province more competitive on traditional manufacturing, I often say that the only way to compete with the Bangladeshes of the world is to lower wages and work-related costs (like safety) in par with theirs.  Meanwhile, they have sick children working in factories, factories collapsing due to infrastructure neglect and a growing grassroots rebellion against the kind of Dickensian labour conditions they face.

I say that to mean it's a lowering of the bar we wouldn't be willing to accept here in Canada.  

Now, I wonder if, in at least some cases, that's already happening.

All We Have to Decide is What to do with the Time that is Given to Us

This is probably the most effective use of time there is, but probably not what Tolkien had in mind when he wrote that quote...

Don't Be Hasty

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Is life a race to the finish line?  It often feels that way.  We're rushing out the door to work, rushing to complete tasks, rushing to pick up the kids before we have to start getting fined for overtime.  

It's a competitive world out there - to get ahead, you have to do everything faster than the other guy.  Time is money, etc.

Since time is so precious, we don't want to waste it on things that don't provide a rapid return on investment (ROI).  What does that mean, in practice?  It means people who don't provide value don't get your time, unless they pay for it.  Communication has to be distilled down into talking points with as little detail as possible, since no one has the time nor inclination to understand big ideas.  When you look for wins, you focus on what provides the most for the least effort - ie, the low hanging fruit.

That's the frame in which our society works.  This would be the same society that's cracking at the seams from structural neglect.  Anything that can be kicked down the road has been, to the point where we're almost out of road.  That applies to infrastructure repair, upgrades to our education, healthcare, social service and even democratic apparatus.

It should therefore come as no surprise that a growing number of people are falling through the cracks.  

Missing aboriginal women.  Persons with mental health in the justice system, or the hospital.  Cardiac patients who fall into patters of expensive recidivism before they die.  Presenteeism.  Substance dependence, ranging from functional alcoholics to Xanax prescriptions to the use of harder drugs, like crack.

Too many people are falling behind.  

What of it, though?  This is a race to the finish line - those who can't keep up get left behind, right?  That's how it's supposed to be.

So the driver maximizing their time by talking on their cell while rushing lights - if they hit a pedestrian or a cyclist, it's kinda their fault, right?  They should've seen the busy guy and stayed out of their way.  If they didn't, they fall behind, or down, or step out of the race prematurely as it were.

I've seen something similar in business.  My favourite example was a consulting firm who build staff time by the hour; this firm made a ridiculous amount of cash, but they wasted a ton of it, too.  By rushing, by valuing the boss' time over the team's time, countless billable hours were lost as staff waited in meetings for the boss to arrive, or take a phone call, etc.  Over the course of one week, this firm lost $20,000 in billable hours due to time mismanagement by the leadership.

The same was true of process and paperwork; the organizational system was so weak that expenses that could and should have been filed disappeared into the ether.  More than this, everyone at the firm was constantly rushing, popping advil like candy.  Communication was poor, because who had the time for empathy or clarity?

It's a story we see everywhere; there's no time for anything, we have to keep rushing forward.

Even our kids have to take a back seat to us getting ahead in the real world, making money to stay afloat and maybe have time to rest in that period of years between when we retire and when we die.

How many children are raised by daycare operators or nannies - or in lower income households, are latchkey kids?  What does this experience do to their social development?

Oh well, we say.  Would love to do more, but there's no time.  No time.

We rush through our days because there's not enough time.  We speed through neighbourhoods and cut corners because there is no time.

We fret and fume because of gridlock, queues, slow service providers because there's no time.

Yet what do we all look forward to?  Those times when we get to slow down.  

It could be after work, it could be vacation, it could be retirement.  We busy ourselves to the point of heart palpitations, rushing to get to the point where we can rest.  

In this mad dash, everything listed above falls through the cracks, which continue to widen.  

Including our youth.

Recently, at a Why Should I Care mayoralty conversation, 19 year-old candidate Morgan Baskin told the crowd that her greatest asset was her future - all the time ahead of her that she could use productively.  She expressed concern that the adults in the political room were squandering that future for her and other youth, which why she was running.

This isn't to say we don't want what's best for our youth; in fact, parents will often work harder and push their kids harder so that they may be competitive down the road, as in able to move even faster.

Yet how often do we vent about the notion that kids want to get from education to meaningful career overnight?  How often are we telling them they have to take the time to work to get where they want?

Never does it occur to us that their inclinations are being shaped by the social influences around them - now is not the time for sociology, after all.

I was asked today if money makes the world go 'round.  My answer is, no - physics makes the world go round, at the same speed, consistently.  This steady pace will continue long after we as individuals, societies and even as a species have faded away.  

What is money but an exchange system?  It's a bridge for communication that helps us work together in something theoretically equaling a fair trade.

We like to say that time is money, but the truth is we are sacrificing our time for money - and doing a poor job of it, too.

Our mad dash to the finish-line has caused us to lose sight of where we're going.  The journey there is increasingly becoming a harrowing experience.  There's no gold medal at The End - so what are we racing for?

A quick little annecdote about Minister Yasir Naqvi.  You'll note that he cleverly inserted a line in his quote about knocking on doors regularly, which he does.

Yasir, despite being a Minister and having busy work to do if he wants to increase his brand value for future ambitions has always, always made time to connect with his grassroots constituents.  He does this, so far as I know, every week.  It's something that matters to him and that he makes time for.

It should come as no surprise, then, that when elections roll around, Yasir's already got the goodwill of his constituents, which impacts his results.

Our time isn't money - our time is our most valuable commodity, because once gone it can never be returned.

The finish-line, of course, is when we die.  There's no gold medal, no bonus, no 15 minutes after that.

We have to decide what we do with the time that is given to us.  And as of right now, we're not getting nearly the value from it we could.

Slow down for the kids.  A meta-statement if ever there was one.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Open Dialogue: Andrew Leslie and Alexandra Constantinidis Do It Right (UPDATED)

Andrew Leslie is a professional soldier.  War has been his trade.  He understands strategy and tactics, weapon systems and supply chains.

Alexandra Constantinidis is a political aide who's job, in theory, is to help her boss wade through complex policy questions and positions, as the Israel/Hamas conflict is.

Her question was good; it wasn't partisan-skewed, but focused on opinions and evidence.

Leslie's answer was equally thoughtful and based on his professional experience.  He was cautious to provide a frame for his answer - nations have to defend themselves, terrorists must be eliminated, but also that civilian lives shouldn't be fodder.

He made a clear distinction between state and citizen, even further targeting his response to a select group of folk.

In Leslie's considered opinion, "dumb" weapons (as opposed to smart weapons with more sophisticated targeting and impact radius capability) were not the way to go, because they killed more civilians and, as a result, have a negative impact on the PR war as well as the ground war.

This was a great exchange that was focused on evidence and opinion.  This is what we elect our Members of Parliament to do; these are the kinds of questions and conversations, quite frankly, we should be having more often.  Hell, it's what we as citizens should be demanding.

Yet once again, the partisans and media are turning this into a "with us or against us" story, both in terms of sides taken in the middle east and Party solidarity with the Liberals.

Positions are being taken, stories are being spun - hell, I'll bet fundraising letters are being passed around.
That's what politics in Canada has come down to - black-and-white cat fights and partisans who fiddle while the world burns.

This, they will say, is how politics works.  These are the kinds of fireworks that get people riled up enough to donate or vote for one party or another.

War Rooms lob grenades at each other and hey, sometimes people get hurt.  It's a brutal business, etc.

It's also the kind of childish bullshit that turns people off politics in the first place.  It's what keeps smart and informed people from running - or if they're in office, from commenting candidly on issues.

Aren't we supposed to be having policy discussions and leaving no stone unturned?  Isn't it about shared solutions, not party talking points?  Are we trying to build a strong country or are we trying to eliminate undesirables?

Politics should be about developing democratic solutions, but largely it isn't.  No, politics these days is all about the War Room.

You know where this kind of approach takes us, pushed hard enough?  To where the Middle East is now - war.

When you bring War Rooms into politics, war is what you get.  Those metaphorical grenades become actual grenades; character assassination turns into real assassination and collateral damage involves more than damaged reputations and lost services.

But the War Room folk don't seem to get that.  Too busy being James Bond, I guess.

This is why I'm a fan of initiatives like Open Government and Why Should I Care.  If the partisans are going to circle their wagons and play Hatfields vs. McKoys, it's up to the rest of us to be the adults in the room.
I commend Alexandra Constantinidis for her question - it was a good one.

I commend Andrew Leslie for his response - it's what we pay him for.

I only which more folk in and out of politics had the wherewithal to be so thoughtful, candidate and forthcoming.

That's how democracy flourishes - not through tribalism.


The party sent out a fundraising email blast mid-week, slamming Leslie's "stunning lack of awareness of the dangers Israel faces"

Of course they did.  I doubt there was even any consideration on whether the statement was remotely true or responsible.  Who cares?  Politics is war and w need as much money as possible to back their righteous cause, eh?

Just wait 'til they get really clever and realize they can get money from their opponents by letting it be known they have amazing dirt on their people which will be released unless they send money your way.  That'll really teach 'em.

UPDATE-IER:  Had a chat the other day with another OpenGov advocate from Australia; she talked about agonism, the idea of civilized debate that doesn't look to attack and defeat but explore and understand.

Imagine that. 

The Ocean in a Drop

At some point today, between meetings and bustle in downtown Toronto, I will sit down on  a bench in Queen's Park and simply absorb the world around me.

It's good to remember, sometimes, that though the waves on the surface are rocky and we may feel battered against the rocks of adversity, beneath, the water is still.  That's where it all began, that's where it all comes back to.

There's no us vs them, except as we try to define ourselves as better than.  There is existence, and we are part of it.

When you submit to this humbling knowledge, you don't need to fear your dwindling time pushing against the currents of history.  You become part of the movement.

We are great.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

This is Big: #OGT14 gets endorsed

Those of us who were at the #OGT14 Queen's Park kick-off remember it was a struggle to get permission for a quick pic in front of the Legislature with the #OGT14 before Richard began his epic journey.
He wasn't a celebrity, after all, nor a political pundit with gravitas.  He was simply an engaged citizen with a dream and a journey before him.

That journey - OpenGov on the Open Road, #OGT14 - has proven an inspiration for countless Canadians from coast to coast.  Richard has helped remind us that l'etat, c'est nous when we choose to engage.  He's helped us discover our country and ourselves while spreading the world about why Open Government matters.

From modest beginnings camping in a backyard to being registered as an official event for Canada's Democracy week - many would have said it couldn't be done.

Richard did it anyway.  Not for himself, mind you, but for what he believes we can be when we get informed, engaged and try to make a difference - together.

And this is merely the end of #OGT14 - the journey towards fully Open Gov is just beginning.
It's a great time to be involved, isn't it?

Oh, snap! ISIS gets Trolled

  1. Can't be asked to deal with these people now. May Allah increase us all in patience.

ISIS wants you to fear them.  They're mean, beheading machines - they could be your neighbours.  They could sneak up on you in the subway, or while you're walking down the street.  They're on Youtube.
In some sense, ISIS is like a more lethal version of Justin Bieber.  Making ISIS fanboys the jihadi equivalent to Beliebers.
And guess what?  Just like celebrities with leaked nudie pictures, ISIS has been hacked.
It's kinda hard to be feared when you can be so easily caught with your pants down.
But that's just the start of it - what does ISIS do when they're punk'd?
You can't deal with those people, maaan.  May we all be patient, maybe pass a joint around or something.
So much for their Armageddon scenario.  ISIS is more like a punchline.
Not to make light of what ISIS is doing; they are to the Middle East now what Christian crusaders were in times past; rapists, imperialists, thugs with guns and a superiority complex.  They stand for a power-grab and are destroying lives and scarring generations to come.
At the end of the day, though, they are as vulnerable as any of us.  That it takes having their ass handed to them on a global digital sphere just shows how weak they are as human beings. 
How long do they have to torture journalists to get them to buy into a cause they were dumb enough to take on of their own free will?  Yet all it takes is one embarrassment for them to tuck tail between their legs.  Hell, the best weapon we've got against ISIS is probably Jon Stewart.
Imagine that scenario for a second - a small group of angry men who couldn't get dates tuck themselves into the desert to show how unfraid they are; they cut off the heads of abused men with their hands tied behind their back to show how strong they are; they hide behind masks to show how strong their belief is; they use one-way internet videos to show how confident in their message they are -
And then the world trolls them.  They get reduced to fart jokes and puns, and memes, and mash-ups with whatever celebrity poke is making the rounds. 
 In other words, their quest for a recognition of legitimacy and strength gets mocked.  They get mocked - not feared.
Not so easy to recruit weak souls looking to get tough by association when your brand is a joke, is it?

IGN on ISIS: Fear the Mind Killer

Watch this video wherein IGN staff are asked why it it that we love to fear zombies.  The answers, I think, are pretty bang-on:

- Fear of the loss of self
- They are the Heart of Darkness manifest
- There's a little part of us that fears Armageddon, the end of the world we know
- There's a little part of us that craves Armageddon, the end of the world we know
- Zombies are kinda human, but not really human - meaning it's okay to cut their heads off
- There's something terrifying about the perceived natural process of things (sociology to some, societal decay to others?)
- Fear that we're the rational actors we like to tell ourselves we are and could become zombies ourselves
- That mindlessness is infectious (ie Rome is the mob)

I love the concept of zombies, because they're such an apt metaphor for the human condition.

Which brings us to ISIS.  The people who flock to ISIS, whatever they might tell you, aren't all born-again Islamists or whatever.  Like those who join any aggressive cult, there is a drive to belong, to have power, to be safe against the zombie hoard and to survive the apoclypse.

It should come as no surprise that the US Joint Chiefs of Staff have warned us that "This is an organization that has an apocalyptic end-of-days strategic vision that will eventually have to be defeated."

ISIS is essentially a bunker for the apocalypse who fear the zombie masses of the Other.  The Other, oddly enough, that they have no issues beheading, because you know - if you're not us, you're a zombie.

Funny how, if you look to the left, you can't pick out any particular individuals, can you?

What happened as the walls went up around Ferguson?  The police started to get aggressive and call protesters fucking animals.  The use of force went up and the threats to kill escalated.

What response does the West have for terrorism, or society have for Ferguson?  Lines get drawn, sides are chosen and the other begins to look suspiciously like a person impersonation, not a neighbour.

Fear your neighbours, suggests ISIS - they could be one of us.

Fear outsiders, say North Korea, libertarians and Canada's Prime Minister - they mean to take away your individuality and even your life.

What's the consistent thread through each of these scenarios?

The more we fear the Other, the more distance we put between them and us.  They are a threat, inhuman.  It's okay to hate them - our hatred of what they could do to our individuality is, in fact, a purifying force.

Don't feel guilt.  Don't feel shame.  If you don't cut their heads off, they will destroy or worse, convert you. It's our tribe against the zombie hoard; you're either with us, or you're one of them.

Now, go back and read IGN's list.  Notice anything?

The more we dehumanize the Other, the more we feel compelled to band together, circle the wagons, stay on-message.  The more we identify them as an inhuman threat, the more justified we feel in treating them inhumanely.  As we feel increasingly outnumbered, the count-down clock ticks ever more loudly; no time to think, act now!!  Always be closing!

Fear is the mind killer.  It's as simple as that.

Sex Work and Politics: Do as I Say, Not as I Do

Government auditing a think-tank for bias.  Got it.  Research and resulting policy suggestions must be holistic, unbiased, evidence-based.

Unless, of course, it's government that's in the driver's seat.

A bill on Sex Workers that was crafted without the input of sex workers.  That, to me, sounds kinda biased.

Leaders set the example; when they choose to set a bad one, that's the lead that people follow.

This government feels entitled to create the reality they want and to shoot down those who feel differently.

Not a great example to set, this.  In fact, there's precedent for what happens when government besides they play by different rules.

It's time all of us start thinking ahead a bit more - this isn't a race to the finish line.  It's supposed to be democracy.

Consciously Changing the View

The world doesn't want us here.  It's rough, tough, competitive - only the strong survive.  If you can't cut it, maybe you don't belong.

Right?  Except none of us can do it entirely alone.  Not even this hermit could survive on his own.  For all their tough-talk, could you imagine a hunter/fisher surviving Maine winters without a little help or resources from their fellow man?

They'd be dead.  This shouldn't be a surprise - we're not meant to live in the climate we do.  Without social infrastructure, it wouldn't be possible.

If there's no such thing as society, than we wouldn't need social infrastructure, would we?

But we do.  We all do.

As always, quotes need context, including Thatcher's line about non-society.  What she was, perhaps, really referring to was the fact that government is not God and has no power other than what we, the people, invest in it.  
Not for ourselves, mind you - there's little ROI on taxation that benefits millions of people when your priority is Number One.  Society isn't an immediate, selfish gratification kind of thing.  It's something bigger that we have the privilege and responsibility to be part of.

Back to Thatcher.

And the truth of it is, no one can look after themselves in exclusivity.  The tough-minded people who've inherited or earned a spot at the top rung of the social ladder?  They didn't build that ladder, not study the physics that made the ladder possible.  They have benefited from the labour of others.

Did they push, pay, motivate the people to get it done?  Maybe.  Without the people, though, they'd be nowhere.  And if those people aren't able to look after themselves, then there's no ladder to climb.  

As a species, if we didn't rely on each other, we'd never have left the Savannah plain.

So, we're in this together.  What does that mean?
It doesn't mean those with access and resources are obliged to carry their less successful peers for the simple reason that to do so is to deny others the opportunity to reach their maximum potential.  Without committing sociology a bit, it's hard to imagine those top-dog alphas can reach their full potential as human beings, either.

Society should put a floor beneath everyone - get the basic needs out of the way and direct people towards growth.  This will be different for each individual, meaning mass customization is required - something slowly being realized and implemented within both our education systems and the workplace.

Sometimes it means a bit of cash and some training.  In other cases, it may require intensive medical support.  In a lot of places, though, what's required is encouragement and nurturing.  

How might we help those who fall or are knocked down learn to get back up again?  How can we empower them to be their best - strong individuals for a strong society?

This brings me to the image lined above; a brave young lady who had the courage to tell her story and try to inspire others.  For her efforts, she was bullied further.  It was too much.

If those who took advantage of her had had some social emotional learning and training in emotional regulation, might they have thought twice before dehumanizing a young lady for a power trip?  Could Amanda Todd have found strength in peer support, enough to overcome the trauma that became her daily life?

The point of sacrifice is to take pain out of the world so as to keep others from harm.  There is, however, very little that one individual sacrifice can do to make the world better; instead, what martyrs do best is provide inspiration, a catalyst point for introspection so that we who remain behind may be moved to try harder at being better together.

Moving forward together means leaving no one behind.

The world doesn't care if we're here; we have a systematic role to play, one that we've overstepped the boundaries of.  Yet here we are, and here we will stay unless we wipe each other out or succumb to the ravages of nature and time.

Do you care about your own future?  Then you've no choice but to consider your neighbour - not just for the Golden Rule, but for mutual survival and growth.

Why are we here?  No particular reason - we just are.  But we are, together.

And since we're all here, together, whether we like it or not, why not ask - what can we be doing with the time that is given to us?

Amanda Todd, - Every day I think I'm here, so what can I be doing?

Monday, 1 September 2014

Humanity's Riddle

Social-emotional learning, emotional regulation, innovation, imagination, communication - sociology is on the rise, as it has been in fits and spurts since the first bread and candles.  Whatever you think the first profession was, I guarantee that the first act of altruism came first.  In fact, we know this already - why else have we evolved into a species whose young are so dependent on their parents for so long?
Yet sociology-committing (in some circles) is viewed as so bad and harmful to the individual as to be almost sinful.  Even those who feel otherwise will hold people able to overcome personal or societal barriers to succeed in high esteem - they are clearly more independent, have more grit than the poor souls more reliant on others.
There's this age-old trope about the Enlightened Hermit - an individual grander than society who has removed themselves from the white noise of humanity to seek deeper truths.  It's a myth we cling to, even when it manifests itself in the real world.
People are the problem; the truth lies beyond us.  Those who are able to be beyond humans must surely have brushed against The Meaning of Life.
Yet we feel that humans are superior to all the rest of God's creation, right?  We have fire, we have consciousness - we stand above.  Why does it make sense that for a man to retreat from that which we deem superior to that which we deem inferior would have a better bead on meaning?
Flip this around a bit and an interesting notion emerges - we may feel, at one level, that we are homo superior - but at the same time, we know that we are frail, mortal coils.  The idea of a person able to survive separate from family, friends, business partners, perhaps even social infrastructure - they're the ones that will endure no matter what apocalypse comes our way, right?  Therefore they must have recognized something that the rest of us are missing.
Meanwhile, the social catalysts in this world are often dismissed, patted on the head - or exploited.  That they are willing to give, not take, is indicative of frailty.  Left on their own, they wouldn't have a hope in hell of surviving - often they don't, or at least never leave a big brand-mark on the world.
These aren't the wise - they're marks.  Valued for what we can take from them, not what they are offering.
Despite how many faiths and parables we have that suggest the exact opposite.
If you're looking for the meaning of life, look no further - it's free.  If, however, you're looking to put meaning into life, I'll tell you what - I know someone you should chat with.  I know you'd get along famously.
In fact, I can only begin imagine what you could create together.

Meaning is Free

The answer was already given.  We just have a hard time accepting the truth.