A Leap Of Faith In Ourselves

September 26, 2015

If you want to see the hollow, corrupted shell that modern conservatism has become, check out its reaction to the leap manifesto.hysterical (The what? I know, I know. So like, 10 days ago.) “Naomi Klein’s Great Leap Backward,” wailed the Financial Post’s Peter Foster, “…issued on Tuesday by an asylum full of celebrity victims of Harper Derangement Syndrome…is certainly a thought-provoking platform. The main thoughts it provokes are: Does achieving celebrity cause a sharp drop in IQ and increase in hypocrisy, or does all-consuming artistic ego and/or power-hungry socialist inclination prevent all logical thought?”

Celebrities and eggheads. What do they know about the real world, am I right? Marxists and Maoists, the lot them, trumpeting long-refuted Keynesian economics, strangled as it was by the Invisible Hand of the free market. The FREE market.

Only moderately less hysterical, the Globe and Mail editorial board similarly dismissed the presence of ‘movie stars and pop musicians’ (and public-service unions — *spit*) signing on to this “…revolutionary (but not in the good sense of the word) critique of capitalism.” angrypartisanWhat might be a good sense of the word ‘revolutionary’? The G&M doesn’t really take the time to explain such details, too busy ripping apart the document’s contents for that.

In doing so, the Globe showed itself as willing as the Financial Post not to engage candidly with the leap manifesto. Misrepresentation was more to their liking. Not coincidentally both publications claimed that the manifesto called for an end to all trade deals with a big ripping noise. Problem is, they both cut and copied the first part of that particular sentence.

“We call for an end to all trade deals that interfere with our attempts to rebuild local economies, regulate corporations and stop damaging extractive projects. [Bolding mine.]

That’s a huge gulf of difference between what is written and what these newspapers claimed was on the page.

At least these papers made the pretense of having a serious (but not in the good sense of the word) discussion. Over on social media, all critique and flack began and ended on the word ‘manifesto’. In a nutshell: You know who else wrote a manifesto? Karl Marx. joemccarthyIt was called The Communist Manifesto. Therefore, all manifestos are communist. You support this manifesto? You’re a communist. You know who supports this manifesto? The NDP. They’re communists. Their leader, Tom Mulcair, is a communist. A Tommunist. Get it? Tom-Comm, Tommunist. Tommunist Manifesto. hashtag#tommunistmanifesto

A ‘50s-era line of attack smear intending, I guess, to provide cover for those still in desperate need for a reason to vote Conservative in the upcoming federal election. Well, Harper’s not perfect but at least he’s not a communist. hashtag#tommunistmanifesto.

Mock and ridicule. The current state of our conservative politics, folks.

*  *  *

(The three dots to denote a change of what will hopefully turn out to be a related narrative direction that I couldn’t masterfully do using just words. I’m fessing up to that up front.)

Along with the leap manifesto, I also spent some time reading Joshua Zeitz’s August Atlantic article, Born to Run and the Decline of the American Dream, commemorating (if that’s the right word) the 40th anniversary of the album’s release. “I don’t think the American Dream was that everyone was going to make it or that everyone was going to make a billion dollars,” Springsteen said in a later interview. borntorun“But it was that everyone was going to have an opportunity and the chance to live a life with some decency and a chance for some self-respect.”

That, in two sentences, summed up the rationale of the western post-war consensus. A mixed-use economy with the government playing an integral in both smoothing out the regular kinks the market suffered, as well as ensuring a level playing field in providing equal access to opportunity. Not, as Springsteen pointed out, equal access to a billion dollars but at `the chance to live a life with some decency and a chance for some self-respect.’

Born To Run became something of an anthem to the breakdown of that consensus occurring in the mid-70s. Conventional economic thought had not seen the economic shocks that rattled the boom time belief in never-ending growth and prosperity coming, and it wasn’t quick enough to offer up possible solutions to the malaise which set in. In its place, up popped a seductively simple alternative. Free up the markets from the death grip of government intervention. borntorun1Unleash the wealth creators and let the good times roll. Money will trickle down to everyone. A rising tide will raise all boats.

Remove the human element from the free market, the FREE market, and let it run perfectly, like Newton’s well-oiled cosmic clock, keeping exact time according to the immutable laws of the universe. Keynes was dead. Long live the Chicago school!

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong,” H.L. Mencken wrote decades earlier, predicting, I’m sure, economic theorists.

The upheaval wasn’t simply economic. The social consensus also fractured. In this everybody for themselves environment promoted by the new economic model we were told would solve our problems, oppositional forces turned on each other. Union leaders were now seen as fat cats and leeches. Racial divisions hardened. And what were the damn girls screeching about now?

As Zeitz points out in his article, the protest politics of the 60s didn’t disappear in the 70s. They changed. Gone were the hippies marching against an unjust war, in favour of peace and love. 1970sIn their place, the taxpayers’ revolt and the moral majority. The counter-revolution, reactionism.

Like many Canadians of my demographic, I was buffered from the tumult, by and large. I had discovered Bruce Springsteen post-Born To Run with Darkness on the Edge of Town. He spoke to the mild youthful rebellion I was experiencing. Springsteen and the punks. But I was far from one of the working class figures he depicted in his songs.

My parents certainly were but they had seized the opportunity offered up by the post-war consensus Springsteen spoke of, to live a life of decency and self-respect, and ensure I never had to toil as hard as they did. The irony is, the only time I spent on the factory floor was in a summer job between 1st and 2nd year of university, in a union shop, making a shitload of money. A shitload of money.

But that was during the early-80s, and things were different back then. Me and my generation (probably grammatically incorrect but sounds appropriately gritty) kicked away the ladder behind us as we climbed into the comfortable positions our parents created for us. Sorry, kids. Didn’t you hear? The rules have all changed.

*  *  *

(Act 3, or the Final Act, a variation on the Hegelian thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Fingers crossed!)

Just as the post-war consensus era ran its course, collapsing after 30, 35 years, its successor, what do we call it, The Great Unravelling, is walking wounded on its last legs. breadlineHidebound ideological adherents refuse to admit it but it all came crashing down in 2008, and now limps toward its demise, unable to staunch the bleeding.

We call it the Great Recession because, apparently, it wasn’t as bad as the Great Depression which, along with World War II, was an important element in the subsequent creation of the post-war consensus. We’ve been through some tough times recently, sure. But not that tough, not Dust Bowl, bread line tough. Everybody’s got a cell phone and hi-def TV. How hard can it be?

2008 was just blip, a bad downturn, a correction, if you will. Nothing that 7 years of sluggish growth wide spread economic insecurity won’t help fix. Pay no attention to any dark clouds that pop up on the horizon, it’ll be blue skies and smooth sailing ahead if we just keep doing what we’ve been doing, adamsmithkeeping taxes low, governments small and our ears to the ground for any sort of threat to our way of doing business life.

Friend of this site, former city councillor and proud Progressive Conservative, John Parker, in reaction to the news that the pay of the average U.S. CEO in 2014 was almost 400 times that of the average employee, “multiples of what it was a few decades ago,” Mr. Parker tweeted, asked how many had read Adam Smith’s book, Wealth of Nations. Smith was an 18th-century philosopher, hero of the neo-conservative/liberal set, who penned the idea of the Invisible Hand, the magic of the free market, the FREE market, summoned by our rational pursuit of self-interest.

“And hands up everyone who knows that Adam Smith also wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” Parker continued. “The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith, redux: An economic system must have a moral foundation in order to be sustainable.”

Markets don’t have morals. They just determine winners and losers. jacobmarleyPeople are moral (or should be). Government should reflect people, moral people, not markets.

While it would be simplistic to chalk up the cause of the crash of 2008 to just one thing, I do not think it outrageous to believe that the key to understanding such a massive economic failure (and its ongoing lingering malaise – there’s that word again) is that the system had absolutely no moral foundation. It wasn’t sustainable, a spectacular flameout was inevitable because it lacked morality, fairness or any sense of responsibility beyond me, mine and my own.

I would postulate that it is this lack of morality the leap manifesto seeks to address.

Or sought to address, I guess it’s fair to conclude. Ten days is a long time, especially in a 70+ day campaign. The leap manifesto seems to have become something of a relic, a tic. Big news for a day or two, then vapour. Almost as if it didn’t happen. A new shoe tried on but ill-fitting. It didn’t stick to the NDP like conservatives hoped it would. It didn’t stick to the NDP because the NDP wanted nothing to do with it.

Clearly, an election campaign is no time to talk about root causes, big ideas or actual change from a rotten status quo. Carry on, gentlemen. jmkeynesIt’s business as usual.

Now we’re on to niqabs and the conservative rallying cry of Can Governments Really Do Anything About The Economy? Really?

A couple weeks back, Doug Saunders, certainly no avid proponent of government interventionism and writing for the same Globe and Mail newspaper that had haughtily dismissed the leap manifesto, suggested that maybe, just maybe, the government does have role to play in economic affairs.

Many economists came to realize not only that government intervention bailed many countries out of the post-2008 recession and restored growth and employment, but that the crisis itself may have been caused, in good part, by the disappearance of active government support in the economy – the sort of direct investment and partnership that had existed in earlier decades.

“The crisis itself” — a crisis of 21st-century capitalism – “may have been caused, in good part, by the disappearance of active government support in the economy.” Active government support “that had existed in earlier decades.”

How’s that for your great leap backward? To a time when government didn’t simply get out of the way and let the magic of the mythical invisible hand do its thing. freemarketTo a time when it was expected that a government would do all it could to ensure that, how did Bruce Springsteen put it? “…everyone was going to have an opportunity and the chance to live a life with some decency and a chance for some self-respect.”

That doesn’t seem overly ambitious or too unachievably utopian. It just doesn’t square with the self-made man image of the economic right where worth is measured solely by wealth regardless of the manner in which it was amassed. If you haven’t made it, bucko, look no further than the mirror. The blame lies squarely there, nowhere else.

It’s everybody for themselves and everything else will fall into place.

Except it doesn’t. It never has, and the façade of that political and economic belief system shattered in 2008. Having spent the past 7 years trying to piece it back together, to tweak and tinker it as if only minor adjustments were all that was needed, we’re simply denying the reality our current situation. Only a transformation, another great transformation, if you will, is in order.headinthesand

That’s what the leap manifesto is all about.

That it’s already yesterday’s news suggests we’re not ready to make any sort of transformative leap. We agonize over almost rounding error deficits and accept the faulty premise that only balanced budgets will cure the economic ills that ail us. We’ll elect our next federal government based on minor differences, all revolving around a discredited economic model and an abused sense of governance. And then we’ll wonder why nothing much has changed.

ever hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Show The Cartoons!

January 11, 2015

Is it alright to come out yet, to admit to being conflicted about the shootings in Paris this week? Hopefully, some of the chest beating has subsided, our free speech warriors’ call to arms. Show the cartoons! Show the cartoons!

And can I say that without hearing how I’m siding with the terrorists? War has been declared on our way of life, free speech, the very foundation upon which our democracy is built, is under dire threat. You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists.

Do I really have to add to my misgivings that, of course, I condemn the killings, shocking and deplorable? The hate-filled act condemned without having to fall in line with a uniform response of bellicose outrage. Show the cartoons! Show the cartoons!

I will admit to you that I was as shocked by the glib response of Ottawa author and journalist Dan Gardner to the attack on the office and staff of Charlie Hedbo as I was the killings themselves. “Appalling that so many media outlets won’t show the Charlie Hebdo cartoons,” Gardner tweeted, “Cowardice. Capitulation. A win for terrorism.”

Really?

As if this whole conflict can be boiled down to such simple, stark terms of engagement. We’ve been attacked because they want to silence us, to limit what we can say, print and draw. They hate our freedoms. We cannot cowardly capitulate and bow down to their murderous methods. We must show no fear. We must defend our freedoms. Show the cartoons! Show the cartoons!

It reduces the killers to nothing more than blind zealots whose only intent is murder and mayhem, striking out to strike fear into all our hearts, to silence us. The Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders wrote of a “dividing line between extremism and civility, authoritarianism and democracy…drawn along this line: For lack of any coherent ideologies, many of today’s extremists are fuelled on pure demand for silent adulation and blind faith.” An enemy with nothing more than a Rodney Dangerfield grudge. I get no respect!

This way our hands are clean, you see. We’re just here, minding our business, with our freedoms and liberty. These crazy barbarians don’t like it, so they kill us. Well, we will not be intimidated. Show the cartoons! Show the cartoons!

I just think our continued diminishing of intent by this brand of radicalism only serves to prolong the struggle, limits our ability to react effectively and decisively. The same mistake we’ve continued making for over a decade now, contributing in our own way to a sense of perpetual war. They strike. We strike back. A destructive and endless feedback loop.

When 9/11 happened, the West lashed out under the same banner, They Hate Our Freedom. They want a war? We’ll give them a war.

There didn’t seem to be much official reflection about the causes of the attacks. There was little credence given to the idea that it could be anything other than a clash of civilizations, driven purely by, how did Mr. Saunders put it, ‘blind faith’. Impossible to imagine there could be geo-political calculations behind the motives of those who planned the strikes, if not those who carried it out. Start a war, maybe two or three. Set the Mideast on fire. Destabilize the region. Topple corrupt governments.

Come on. These people live in caves. The calendars on the walls stop at the 8th-century. Violent and radical extremists. They only understand violence.

And yet, here we are. Afghanistan. Iraq. Syria. Libya. Yemen. The Mideast and environs on fire. Regions destabilized, governments toppled, failed states in their place.

What if those who orchestrated the Charlie Hedbo attacks had similarly broader objectives then just silencing the blasphemers and murdering our right to free speech? What if they actually wanted more of us to publish those cartoons, to show the wider Muslim world how much we disrespect and mock their religion? See? There is a clash of civilizations. Come join us in the battle.

I’m not suggesting the cartoons shouldn’t be published. They just shouldn’t be published simply as a way of giving radical Islam the finger, as an empty gesture of our enduring freedom. To prove a point. We deal with the perpetrators of the crime. We bury the dead. We ask serious questions about why it happened without settling for easy answers. Because Free Speech!

Like much of the non-French speaking world, I imagine, I’d never heard of Charlie Hedbot before this week. I’ve taken no time to look at the various offending cartoons to be able to judge them. I happen to believe it’s beside the point. Regardless of the quality of the content, whether they’re pure satirical genius or little more than racist mean-spiritedness, the only conclusion I’m prepared to draw is that nobody should be dead because they drew or published them.

In the aftermath of the murders, Voltaire was getting quite the workout on the social media. “I do not agree with what you have to say,” he’s attributed to have said, “but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” A noble sentiment indeed. Certainly not one I’d disagree with.

But we know it’s an objective we don’t purely hold to. There are many things, words, sentiments we don’t go to the mat for because they are destructive and hateful. We won’t condone killing people who say them, and will only very rarely put them in jail or fine them for doing so.

Yet somehow it’s no holds barred when it comes to Islam, or at least, what we’ve decreed to be radical Islam. The fanatics have earned any barbs and derision we feel like hurling at them. Maybe so. As Mr. Saunders points out in his Globe piece, “Mockery travels faster than news or analysis… the instant spread of disrespectful imagery is capable of threatening entire edifices of authority overnight.” Sharpen your pens and pencils, you mockers and satirists. There is a might edifice of authority to be brought down.

As novelist Saladin Ahmed pointed out, “In an unequal world, satire that ‘mocks everyone equally’ ends up serving the powerful.” The claim that Charlie Hedbot skewered all the major Abrahamic religions equally and only followers of Islam struck back rings hollow as you look around and notice the bombs dropping on all those Muslim countries. Only in the minds of the deluded do Christianity and Judaism (or western style secularism) face a similar onslaught.

Obviously, radical Islam brings a lethal menace to those living in free and open democracies. What it also does is open up a fundamental divide in those democracies, not between free speech champions and scaredycats, willing to zip it up at the first sign of danger but between those who view such attacks as an actual existential threat to the future of our society and those, like I do, who see it as a current condition that’s resulted from actions we have taken, choices we have made in the way we’ve engaged with others at home and abroad. This is not some generational struggle like was endured against the Nazis. Our way of life only hangs in the balance if we let it not by someone snatching it away from us.

submitted by Cityslikr


Technocons

November 27, 2014

So, a national newspaper columnist, libertarian and city councillor walk into a bar…

(This is going to be the biggest subtweet ever, written in blog form.)

I was following along with a Twitter exchange a couple days ago on the subject of Uber. lurkingI know, I know. More fucking cab talk, am I right? We addressed the topic last week, believing that to be the end of it from our angle of interest. But this discussion revealed some deeper ideological underpinnings to the role of technology and governance.

Stemming, I think, from an article Councillor Gord Perks wrote for the Globe and Mail, Eight reasons why Toronto should push back at Uber – note ‘push back’ not ‘ban’ or ‘rid itself of’ – the Twitter discussion developed into a critique and defense of regulation and the role government has to play in the face of new technology and innovation. For some, it seems, smart phones and the interwebz will save us from government tyranny, allowing us to go about our daily business of hailing cabs, unfettered. Who needs official oversight when you have crowd sourcing?

An old hand with all this new technology stuff, I used the Google to see if anyone had coined the phrase ‘technocon’ yet. givemelibertyApparently not, although I’m willing to accept the possibility I didn’t actually exhaust the search. Technocon is the ideal word, I believe, to attach to conservative leaning, utopian futurists who are banking on technology to eventually reduce government down to the small size they’ve always dreamed of.

I mean, seriously. If God had had a morality app, the 10 Commandments would never have been imposed on us. Users, working it out for themselves.

Such technological fetishism mirrors the kind of perfection these conservative types assign to the workings of the free market. An actual free free market. That flawless element of nature which dwells in harmony with the cosmos until touched by the damn, dirty paws of defective human meddling. Technology, like that of Uber, diminishes the need for such artificial interference in the natural process of commercial transactions. It puts the ‘free’ back into the free market.

Evidently, as consumers, our judgement is impeccable if not infallible. The customer is always right, right? Therefore, what do we need of regulation and oversight?

Technocons put pretty heavy stock in the savvy and good sense of consumers. A taxi service delivers a bad driver? Customer reviews will collectively speak and punish the miscreant, forcing both the company and driver to do better. It’s called self-regulation and user oversight. That’s never steered us wrong before. thefuture1Hell. It’s been hard at work, keeping Uber on the straight and narrow. I mean, if cheaper fares and superior convenience are really the only things that matter.

Unleashing the wisdom of the crowds, we’re told.

But then I think, don’t we already have that? A little something we call democracy. We elect people to enact laws and regulations to strike a balance between competing and various interests. It most definitely isn’t perfect. It needs constant tweaking and adjustments. Updates are always in order.

One single technological innovation doesn’t change that. Certainly a taxi app, of all things, shouldn’t be heralded as ground zero for a transformative change in governance structure. It’s new and may force adaptation by the cab industry. That doesn’t earn it space to simply disregard what’s in place, to thumb its nose at established practices. At least not without expecting, how did Councillor Perks put it? Push back.

The councillor was berated during the Twitter exchange for not being able to think outside of the old paradigm. Uber, Uber technology, he was told, changes everything, everything. Elivinginacave1verything you thought was necessary, all that old, tired ways of going about governing needed to be tossed onto the trash bin of history. To deny Uber was to deny the future. A future that looked to be a whole lot more conservative, small government leaning. Just like technocons like it.

We need to be leery of such stark, simple binary alternatives. It’s either this or it’s that, nothing in between. You’re with Uber, new technology and innovation, progress and the future or you’re standing in the mud, like a stick, stuck in the past, hiding behind the skirts of the nanny state, waiting on the corner, you’re hand in the air, hoping for a cab that’ll never come and if it does, it’ll stink of incense and the driver will ask you for directions to the place it is you want to go.

warily submitted by Cityslikr