Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Jungle

Now that the Rob Ford tornado has blown out of the area for the moment, leaving a fresh trail of devastation everywhere, it is time- as is the case after any natural disaster - to see if there is anything that can be salvaged.

Let us begin with the fact that despite all the carnage, Rob Ford retains a measure of popularity. This is an extremely significant discovery, one that should (but of course won't) turn the entire political establishment upside down.

If Rob Ford can emerge from the last couple of weeks with people still behind him, then it raises questions about whether there is a point at which everyone says, "OK. No more." Is there such a point of no return? Will anything cause the Ford faithful, the real and true believers, to say enough is enough? Probably not.

And, it must be said, there is an equally large segment of people for whom everything Ford does is wrong, and wrong before he does it. Tomorrow, Ford could invent a totally new energy source. It's not likely, but there is a chance it could happen, and if he did, these people would never use it, just because Ford invented it.

So if there is nothing that can be said to convince Ford lovers and haters that the other side has a point, then we need to reexamine a few assumptions.

The first assumption is that the reason why a politician, or campaign, or idea doesn't catch on is because the messaging is flawed in some way. Or, if a politician, campaign, or idea does catch on, it's because the messengers were on point. But with the case of Rob Ford, the Ford haters have a message, and it's been stuck to better than the best political campaign could hope for. The Ford haters say that the man is simply unfit for office and shouldn't be there, and they give reasons to support it. It's not a question of whether his decisions are unpopular- it's whether the guy can get through a day without detonating a massive PR bomb that totally obscures anything else.

The second assumption is that the reason things are the way they are is that people are misinformed or uninformed. Lefties like to use this excuse, but right wingers do it often as well. The reason why we have (problem) is because the media doesn't report on it enough. There is an agenda at work to keep the real reason for (problem) out of the headlines. The agenda is systematic and put into place by powerful interests, and "the grassroots" can't get a fair shake. But for the past few weeks, the Rob Ford coverage has been nothing short of a constant feed. Every detail has been put out there, reblogged, retweeted. It's been on The Daily Show, folks. Nobody can say that the supposedly bought and paid for media has treated Rob Ford lightly. And yet, there he stands, stripped of power but still enjoying the support of people ready to believe that he's the victim of a conspiracy.

Finally- and here's where things get scary- we have to ask ourselves if it makes sense debating things with people at all when the question of Rob Ford still remains unsettled after all that has happened.

Because democracy gives voting power to people, it kind of follows logically that for democracy to work, people have to use that power appropriately, or in some way approaching appropriately. We -especially conservatives- assume that people are smart enough to make their own decisions and vote appropriately, and if they don't, they need to accept the consequences and do better.

But that's not what's been happening. We have people in every province beset by terror, voting in massive stampedes this way and that without any thought to what the message is or where the message is coming from. That is the behaviour of herds of animals, not people. 

After the last round of by-elections, Justin Trudeau didn't win any new seats and was declared the victor. Nobody said that Harper's handling of the Senate scandal, or the delivery of any "message" through whatever medium, or the efforts of this or that campaign worker or team, kept Brandon Souris in the CPC fold. The Liberals didn't actually win in Brandon Souris, but it was close enough not to really matter- Justin Trudeau is the winner and will be Prime Minister soon. Continue on as you did before.

Tim Hudak has been banging away at scandals, waste and mismanagement, overspending, job losses, and the like for two years since the last election. Yet PC Party "grassroots" have a problem with the guy, and can't seem to agree on a way for him to get it right, nor can they figure out who'd they'd rather have instead of him. Every other week the man is beset by some upset party person who has been wronged or slighted and decides to run to the media to voice their complaint. They complain Hudak is a wimp, while focus groups turn up the opposite result- that Hudak is too mean and snarly. What's the problem here? Is it "messaging?" Is it "media bias"? Or is it the fact that the Ontario voter is so terrified of the unions and of tumbling into the economic abyss that they cannot be talked to, cannot be convinced that Tim Hudak's favourite topics are worth discussing?

How many scandals, waste, overspending, etc. have to happen before Ontario says, "Enough is enough?" Is there a threshold? Is there a point of no return? If we get the message right and if the Toronto Star stops being a bunch of dicks to the PC Party, will Tim Hudak fly to the top of the polls? Well, I have to take a lesson from the Rob Ford situation and say no. If people love or hate Rob Ford and won't hear a word of the other side, then there's no reason to expect that they are any more rational about the question of what the hell we're going to do about all this debt.

If I needed more proof that people are not rational about the question of what we're going to do about the debt, I could consider that there is precisely nobody in the whole of Ontario that is willing to give up anything without a bloody fight to the very end. Nobody says, "OK, the economy is in the toilet, let's do what we need to fix it. Let's invest more. Let's take a tax hike. Let's make do with less." Kathleen Wynne is on her knees before the unions because she has absolutely no authority as Premier to say that the party is over, because if she does the unions will take another riding away from her. Hudak's views on unions are problematic amongst the PC Party grassroots, the same people who gripe about Hudak not being conservative enough. And the unions are of the opinion that any cutbacks constitute a war on the middle class and put us right back to a time and place where the poor were in effect wage slaves to the rich.

We have evolved as a culture to the point where Rob Ford is the worst thing that you can encounter all day, and where the issue of whether video games depict women properly, or anything relating to Miley Cyrus, is a subject of intense debate. Yet somehow all this will be lost if we permit the tiniest of cuts, the slightest change to the way things are. A little oppression is as bad as all of the oppression. A lessening of oppression does nothing; evolving attitudes and openness does nothing; better communication and increased standards of living does nothing; technology and science and literacy and all these things do nothing. Then, as now, 100 years ago, the issue is the divide between the 1% and the 99%, or the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, or whatever you wish to call them. Life is hell, jobs are not voluntary, oppression is the order of the day.

Don't go blaming capitalism, the Toronto Star, or mediums and messages for your problems. Settle the question of Rob Ford, or an absolute standard will imposed on us from without, from a power beyond control. If we don't want that, then it's up to us to make a better choice. If we in Ontario give up control to the unions, that is our own fault. If we give ourselves over to Trudeau and make him our king and hope we will be better off for it, we will be sorely disappointed.

Get to work and master yourselves, or give yourselves over to the jungle, to the force of nature, and be ripped apart. Your call.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Fault Lies Not In Our Stars

We choose our culture.

The left believes that our messed up culture is the result of the 1% foisting things on us we don't want. Powerful privileged people control our world and exert such a degree of control that we don't even notice all the ways in which we are being controlled. Our minds are battlegrounds. Our bodies are battlegrounds.

Paradoxically, they also believe that mass popular uprisings- emphasis on the mass, because none of us are as strong as all of us- can and have improved our culture. If a mass popular uprising leads to widespread death and repression and people being generally worse off than they were before, that's because 1) the uprising didn't go far enough, i.e. it didn't remove capitalism entirely, and 2) people not on board with the uprising sabotaged it from within or without, thus proving the absolute power of the people doing the oppressing in the first place. 

And these two beliefs, hand in hand, are so very powerful because they remove all responsibility from the individual.

Nobody- not even conservatives- wants to be responsible for their actions. Freedom is great, but responsibility.....not so much. If there's one thing we all get, left or right, it's how there are ALL of the reasons why whatever happened to us was the result of something utterly beyond our control.

None of us, for example, is responsible for the Rob Ford story. Not Ford himself (who's in the grip of something bigger than himself he can't control), not Doug Ford (who was only protecting his brother), not the Toronto Star (who do Activist Journalism which is super important), not the people who voted for him (because he was authentic and the message of stop the gravy train "resonated"), not the international media (who grabbed this story and lifted it up for the world to see) so that now, going forward, the Rob Ford story will be the new standard in what Canadian political journalism looks like. After Ford is gone, we will have to elect some other bozo just so the media will have something to play with. And then nobody will be responsible for the fallout from that either. It's not our fault- it's what's expected.

The Liberals are not responsible for Justin Trudeau's general vacuity, for events hosted by the Liberal Party of Canada that are advertised as if they are meant to procure women for the Liberal Leader, for the ongoing debts of the other leadership hopefuls, for an absence of policy, for being out of power since forever, for anything at all. 

You don't tell people who are below the poverty line that maybe they could make changes that could benefit themselves because their poverty is in no way, shape or form their fault. You don't tell Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin that maybe they should have realized that what worked in the world of broadcast journalism doesn't work in the Senate.

You don't tell Kathleen Wynne that the economy is important because she's off making ads about running down a country road. She's the Premier, and it's the Premier's job not to fiddle about while the province slowly crumbles, but here she is with an ad about running. Running is a nice activity that doesn't hurt anyone and nobody can be blamed for having a nice run. Everybody runs! Why do you hate running? The PCPO will close and/or privatize running!

None of this, of course, really obscures the fact that there are, and there must be, hard, brutal consequences for actions. The province will burn. That is obvious, especially since people unable to accept the fact that the PCPO lost the last election two years after the fact are busily leaking election plans to the media.

But when Ontario does burn- likely after yet another mass popular NDP-and-union-fuelled uprising gone wrong- it will be so, so important for each of us to be able to put up our hands and say, "It wasn't me! It was the one-armed man!"

We just had Remembrance Day, where we're supposed to remember the horrors of war and all that kind of stuff, and in some vague way think about what it means to go to war and put your comfortable life aside and take responsibility for your life, the lives of your fellow men and women, and the lives of the people on the other side and who you're protecting, and about how we're supposed to be carrying the torch that these soldiers threw to us from failing hands, or something. Whatever.

Then after that ordeal is over, let's go right back to being like Kathleen Wynne in that ridiculous ad, so utterly insubstantial as to not even register, running down a deserted road that leads nowhere, talking about goals that don't exist, looking all the while like you are doing something so meaningful and so significant that you have to make an ad about it and share it with Ontarians who have bigger problems.

We choose our culture.