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Tuesday 25 October 2011

Open The House

It all started with a guy in a plastic lawn chair.

While I have no doubt that The Premier will not listen it is the protest and the collective discontent that is important. I only wish more people had the courage of Matt Howse.

Thanks Matt.

Friday 21 October 2011

The Illusion of Care

We care about our customers. This Government cares about the fishery. The corporate community cares about the environment. The Hospitals cares about patients comfort. All untrue, but not for the reason you might think.

We hear it all the time, the word care. As with many words it has been bastardized to a point where its meaning has been lost in the mix. Makes me think of one of George Carlins stand up bits on language use. He made the point that we have lost respect for what words actually mean and instead we make up new definitions that water down the actual definition. How can you pre-board an airplane. Do you get on before you get on? For that matter to quote Carlin "F**K you I'm getting IN the plane!"

So what does all that have to do with the word "care"? There's a guy named John McKnight who is not an academic but was offered a post at a university in the US based on his work around the idea of Asset Based Community Development or ABCD. This idea is focused on the fact that it is the people within a community that are the real assets and can be better organized and mobilized to make all our communities better, even, or maybe especially, without government intervention. John has been in NL a couple of times and I was lucky enough to take part in one of his seminars and it truly changed the way I look at community development. But the point here is that John wrote a book called "The Careless Society" and in that book he discusses how society has changed to a point where structures no longer work in the best interests of individuals. He makes the simple point that while individuals can care corporate entities cannot. Not because the people in those entities don't, but because to care is a human emotion that corporate entities are not capable of. Simple.

Governments and corporate entities want to use the word care for two reasons. First because the individuals who write the policies and communications, and the individuals who work there, or sit on the board may actually care about people or their well being. Second because it humanizes the corporate entity or government. "We care" make a cold corporation sound like a small group of neighbours. The reality is that corporations, healthcare agencies, and governments all lack the ability to care. They are legal entities that exist in a word of blind policies that do not see individual people, but instead see clients, patients or numbers on a spreadsheet. It doesn't make them evil or bad, but we need to understand how they operate so that we, as a society can operate in cooperation with them and know what to expect from them. In the case of governments it means that we have to build into the system a series of policies that require the human touch as opposed to the corporate claw. And that isn't easy.

So how do we ensure that a non-human entity can maintain a level of humanity? Just like John McKnight's approach to community is based on the individual skills and capacities of people, good government policy should be a mix of decision making processes tempered by an actual person who makes the final call or has input into the system at some point. The Healthcare system is the perfect example of where this kind of approach could really make a difference. We often hear of cases where individuals who work within the system would like to help but the existing policy prevents them from doing so. The policy removes the human element from the equation to protect the system, and as a result the system treats unique individuals as numbers and statistics. As a matter of fact our current healthcare system uses the word "client" as oppose to patient. As I indicated here the larger a system is the more work is involved in protecting the system and those who run it. The system becomes the focus and not the people it was set up to help, but the word "care" is ubiquitous in Government departments and agencies as if it actually meant something.
When you look at a loved one and you tell them how much you care about them you mean it. When a Government, one of it's agencies, a corporation or any other legal collective tells you it "cares" about you it is lying to you. Sometimes it's because it doesn't know the difference, sometimes it's because it does.

From a perspective of good government policy we need to remember that government is in place to serve the people and not feed the system. We need policy that recognizes that all the employees have valuable contributions to make, and that each "client" is a person. If we can actually accomplish that then we may begin to say that as individuals we care enough to make change that helps others. Until then we're all under the illusion of "care."

Wednesday 19 October 2011

The System is the Problem

The Occupy Wall Street movement has caught on and appears to be spreading across the globe. The reason we know it's really catching on is because we have our very own Occupy NL protest happening in downtown St. John's. It may be a small group but the fact that people care enough to protest over anything is some kind of miracle. I've mentioned our troubling slide toward apathy before so I won't beleaguer the point here. At the same time there's a guy named Matt Howse staging a solo protest against the decision to keep the House of Assembly closed until the Spring. I'm not sure if they realize it but the two groups are protesting the very same thing: The System.

Sure it sounds easy to say blame it on "the man" or "fight the power" or some other empty catchphrase but they do have some component of truth in them. When a system grows to a certain size part of that system's function becomes to maintain itself and that usually means maintaining the status quo, no matter how messed up it is. It can defy logic and still be perfectly acceptable to those who exist and operate within the system. Governments of all levels and their agencies are usually the worst offenders and the most resistant to change.

On the global scale we can look to the current economic crisis that we are trying to fight our way out of. It was essentially the result of nonsensical policies of the US Government because the banking system held so much sway in the system that they set the rules. And those rules were basically that there should be no rules. As such major corporations sold things they never really owned and others purchased insurance against the security of those items, banks began predatory lending practices because they didn't care if people could pay, and the US Government and its regulators let it all happen. Not unlike ENRON, the system of buying and selling things that only exist in theory is like playing Russian Roulette, you win big until you loose big, and while we lost big the system protected those responsible because thats what the system does.

Now back to NL. Those who protest in the Occupy Movement may not be able to tell you what they are protesting beyond corporate greed, but they are actually protesting government policies and a system that allows huge corporations to exploit the working class. Oh and Matt House is protesting bad Government policy that allows one person to determine when public debate will take place in the peoples House of Assembly. Those in power do not want to change the system because it may put their jobs at risk and unfortunately they do not see the greater good as the ultimate goal.

How about we elect some folks who care less about maintaining the system and their jobs and more about changing the things that need to be changed to improve the system, even to gut the system if necessary. Tabula Rasa.    

Friday 14 October 2011

Some Political Quotes for Thought.

The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.
John F. Kennedy 

If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in government to the utmost.

Democracy is the form of government that gives every man the right to be his own oppressor.
James Russell Lowell 

Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.
Franklin D. Roosevelt 

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter. 
Winston Churchill 

Advertising is the very essence of democracy.
Anton Chekhov 

A fool and his money are soon elected.
Will Rogers 

A liberal is a man who is willing to spend somebody else's money.
Carter Glass 

A conservative is a man who just sits and thinks, mostly sits.
Woodrow Wilson 

A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward.
Franklin D. Roosevelt 

Apparently, a democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates.
Gore Vidal 

Democracy is being allowed to vote for the candidate you dislike least.
Robert Byrne 

Friday 7 October 2011

Read This Before You Vote

Before you cast your ballot on Tuesday check out this article by Geoff Meeker. Muskrat Falls should be the number one issue of the election, but don't take my word for for it, take his.