Monthly Archives: August 2015

Probing the Panorganon to Find a Vote

Monday, August 31st

Since the election call I have been exploring ways to think about the coming election and the problem of how to vote. I have not yet come to any conclusions.

In particular, I am interested in the problem of complexity, because I believe that over-simplification is a blight on our political discourse. And yet, when October 19th arrives, I will be faced, as will all other voters, with a simple decision: to put my X beside one of a relatively small number of names. In my case, that number will be four, because I am not interested in any of the fringe parties or possible independents. Not in this election.

Somehow, therefore, in the course of the next seven weeks, I must find a way to reduce the entire complexity of considerations down to that choice. Unfortunately, for me, it’s not good enough simply to reduce the decision to one of party or personality. I want to know, not only how to vote, but why that choice is the right one. In order to do that I have to find ways to think that do justice to all the complex realities.

In approaching this I have professional attachments that influence my mind in two directions: towards data, and in particular data organized so as to illuminate decisions, and towards metaphors.

At this stage I have only one thing to say about the data, and that is, that the common reportage of economic data is so grotesquely unbalanced and over-simplified as to make it systematically misleading. Of social and environmental data we hear almost nothing, except perhaps concerning climate, and even that is oversimplified. I hope to do something about this mess before the voting decision arrives, but I haven’t yet had time.

Right now I am on a metaphorical kick, as you will have seen from my previous post, if you read it. Here is the status report on that:

I am imagining a “Panorganon” ruled by three “Orgs”: the Oekon Org; the Nature Org; and the Humanite Org, in whose entangling embraces we are fated to live, and over whom we have some varying degree of control or influence. I call them Orgs to draw attention to their organic nature. They are alive, driven by their own internal processes and both internal and external inter-relationships.

We have been defining Our Task, for several generations, as a quest to tame the Nature Org and unleash the Oekon Org, thinking that we could thus best serve the Humanite Org. But the Oekon Org is now out of control and on the rampage, the Nature Org is getting angry and is doing a little rampaging of her own, and the Humanite Org is engaged in both external and internal struggles, quite possibly life-and-death. I am not yet sure where Tech figures in all this: possibly as an unruly servant that feeds off Nature and over whom Oekon and Humanites are fighting.

(Note on pronunciations: You can pronounce these names any way you like, but I think Oekon is ee-kon, with the accent on the first syllable, and Humanites has four syllables with the accent on the third.)

Perhaps I can take this one step further. Suppose each Org is ultimately driven by its own particular imperative: Oekon, to grow in size and power; Nature, to survive and diversify; Humanites, to do what? That is, of course, a hugely complicated philosophical question, worth a lifetime of intellectual and imaginative exploration, which perhaps we can simplify in the context of this year’s voting decision, at least enough to get by.

I have stated, I think clearly enough and in different ways, that I would like to see Humanites become more just, across the entire spectrum where the word “justice”might apply. I think the present Conservative point of view is to urge Humanites to become a fully committed servant of Oekon, employing Tech to recruit Nature fully in the pursuit of material wealth. I think the Liberals and the NDP are, in their differently nuanced ways, trying to recommend a more balanced approach, mitigating the voracity of Oekon on behalf of Humanites and Nature but without essentially reducing his primacy. The Greens, I believe fundamentally, would like to give ultimate power to a coalition of Humanites and Nature, making Oekon and Tech unabashedly their servants. And although they believe they know how to do that, they also know that Oekon is likely to resist, perhaps stenuously, and because so many of the voters are more afraid of what Oekon might do if offended, and not yet as afraid of what Nature and Humanites might do if offended, they waffle.

We shall see, when the official platforms come out, if these surmises are anything close to accurate.

Perhaps it is fair to view Humanites as inherently, even desperately, conflicted between the pursuit of Wealth and the pursuit of Justice, who could perhaps be impersonated as demi-orgs themselves in the evolving eco-system of the Panorganon. Who knows where this analytical approach may lead?

Descending rapidly from the metaphorical heights, I wonder whether it is fair to say that the Canadian electorate, in the bones of its majority, wants to be both “progressive” and “conservative”, using these terms in common contemporary ways. Or maybe that’s just another way of saying that they want to follow both Humanites and Oekon at the same time, and hope that Nature can be induced to live with that somewhat amicably. And since Humanites and Oekon want to go in different directions, and since Nature is proving to have a mind of her own and hitherto disregarded powers and vulnerabilities, this means they want Humanites and Oekon to work together, not at cross purposes, to the balanced satisfaction of both Wealth and Justice, and to prevent Nature from becoming really annoyed and smiting us all dead.

The trouble is: this may be not only the road not taken, at least recently, but the road that doesn’t exist any more. There would be the rub, for sure, and to be or not to be might indeed become the question.

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Introducing and Probing Œkonorg

Wednesday, August 26th

I keep reminding myself that the purpose of this blog, for the time being, is not to answer every “unsolved riddle” that I can find (the phrase is Stephen Leacock’s) but simply to advise myself, and anybody else who wants to listen, on how to vote on October 19th. I am coming at the question from various directions, having defined my political goal as the pursuit of Social Justice (using the term in its wide, Leacockian sense), my tools as Reason and Imagination, and my determination to embrace the complexities as well as I can and to use what skill I may have to render them as intelligible as my purpose requires.

Much verbiage has been required to bring this discourse to the place attained so far, with more to come. Blogging is a form of thinking out loud and working things out as you go along. For me, it’s a good medium.

In my most recent post I was prepared to go along with the Campaign, as it has presented itself to my view so far, by reducing the List of Issues to three. If a decision falls out from that analysis, well and good. If not, then I will keep plugging away until it does. Come to think of it, calling them “Issues” is bad terminology, because it implies contention. I’ll call them “matters”, that is, things that matter:

The Unsolved Riddle of the Œkonomy

The Unsolved Riddle of Security

The Performance of Government

Today I intend to explore the political side of economics as the matter that I think it ought to be, and not what is being talked about, i.e. “The Economy”, whatever that is. And my principal difficulty with the economic discussion so far, is that I do not think that “The Economy” is anything more than a facile and self-serving fiction derived from superficial impressions based on a handful of short-term marginal indicators of almost no value in understanding what the heck is going on and what can be done about it. I am prepared to believe that economies exist, but not “The Economy”. Out with it. And out with the ideas of anyone who talks in that simple-minded way, who are legion in both politics and journalism.

I have long thought that we should stop talking about “The Environment”, whatever that is, and talk about Nature, in order to bring it to life. I am now proposing that we should stop talking about “The Economy”, and talk about a being I will call “Œkonorg”, a metaphor, like “Nature”, for a huge, complex, inter-related organism with a mind of its own who surrounds us at every turn and whose health and future are vitally important to us. It is customary to make Nature female, despite its obvious bisexuality. I propose that Œkonorg should be male, with the same caveat.

I hold the following truths to be self-evident, and reserve the right to be suspicious of anyone who does not, suspicious of both their motives and their understanding:

  1. That Œkonorg is a huge, complex, inter-related organism with a mind of its own who surrounds us at every turn and whose health and future are vitally important to us.
  2. That Œkonorg Canada as a smallish part of Œkonorg World, a part more influenced by than influential to the larger creature. Corollary: Any Canadian politician’s economic “Plan” (or even “Action Plan”) is worth exactly nothing. Zero. Naught. Zilch. Squat. Zippo. And other expressions of nullity more or less rude.
  3. Any actual or aspiriing government’s claims to be able to “manage” Œkonorg are expressions of hubris, that is, the kind of prideful arrogance that brings down disaster on itself and its dependents. Our governments may react to the twitchings of Œkonorg, but they do not manage the beast. He does what he will do and there is no doing anything about it, at least causally. We can, however, mitigate his effects, and therein lies much opportunity for reasonable, imaginative and humane endeavour.
  4. The magic, which is real, lying potent in the reality, is that we can motivate Œkonorg to change depending on the nature of our mitigation. If we mitigate viciously, then Œkonorg becomes more vicious. If we mitigate humanely, then Œkonorg becomes more humane. Œkonorg is not a creature of natural organicity, but of human; its energy comes not from the Sun, and not from God, but from people making decisions and doing things: producing, serving, consuming, sharing, competing, communicating with one another, living together, enjoying the present, learning from the past, dreaming of the future, saving, investing, building.
  5. No government can manage Œkonorg. To say they can is foolish talk. Furthermore, no cabal of banks, corporations and their client authorities and agents can take control of him without our permission. With our votes, and our decisions about producing and consuming, we can mitigate the vice and brutality out of him, at least significantly if not totally. What we need in our economic policy, is help to do that. The decisions that we make and the things that we do, that ultimately shape Œkonorg and determine his nature, are both individual and collective at various levels and sizes. That is part of the complexity of the beast. Our national government is simply our largest domestic collective, acting on our behalf. Or at least, so we always trust, rightly or wrongly, possibly both.

So let us stop, and stop our client political parties, pretending that they are going to “manage the economy” and ask them instead what they are going to do to help us mitigate the brutal and vicious tendencies of Œkonorg and to enrich his humane ones. And let’s be specific about what those are. And let’s recognize that keeping the beast healthy is a necessary part of the task. And let’s be specific about what that means, in all its complexity. It means much more than “growth”, whatever that is.

Balance, Complexity, Generosity, Compassion, Knowledge, and Intelligence, employed with Imagination. Where will they take us? Where will they take Œkonorg?

Œkonorg deserves a lot more conversation. So do the other matters. In fact they are all related. I will circle through them, therefore, in as many iterations as I can manage before October 19th.

Sunday, August 23rd: Reason, Imagination, and the Mind-Set Crux

In my previous post I proposed the goal of politics to be Social Justice, and offered a Party-of-One Platform that might lead there. It will require us to think about politics with Reason and Imagination, neither of which is strongly evident in this campaign so far. (Our NDP candidate proposes to widen the scope to encompass Economic Justice and Environmental Justice. I include those in Social Justice. It’s a question of what one means by “social”.)

I understand the reluctance, because thinking rationally and imaginatively is hard work, for me as much as for anybody else. But I believe it must be done. What I really want to do is make a glib decision on emotional or intuitive grounds and get on with my life. But that would be lazy and irresponsible, and I don’t want to be that. So come on, Conway, take a deep breath and bite the bullet.

By “rationality” or Reason, I mean a way of thinking that approaches problems, or “unsolved riddles” (see below) with Balance, Complexity, Generosity, Compassion, Knowledge, and Intelligence. These can all be applied in skilled, technical ways. The other part, Imagination, is not technical but creative, enabling us to look beyond what is to envisage what could be. We approach Reason with the tools I have listed. We approach Imagination with Courage, even perhaps Faith.

So here is what I believe as of this date: I believe the Conservatives would like us to believe that the issues are (1) their own experience in governing, (2) “The Economy”, whatever that is, and (3) “Security”, whatever that is. I think that the Liberals and the NDP would like us to believe that the issue is the Conservatives, in general, and Stephen Harper in particular, with a bit left over for the “middle class”, whatever that is. The Greens are a little more complicated, although not necessarily in useful ways.

From here on I am going to call the party now in power the “Harpo-Cons” (a sub-species of Neo-Cons), and not Conservatives, because I don’t think they are very conservative. In fact, I think they are very radical, because they want to replace what was built up in the 50 years following the Second World War (and in some respects since pre-Confederation began 175 years ago) with something quite different and based on contrary principles. And if that is not being “radical”, what is? But they call themselves Conservatives, and are allowed to get away with that, so Harpo-Cons, instead of Harpo-Rads, or even Harpo-Reds, will have to do for the time being.

Since I have begun re-labelling, permit me please to indulge in a little more.

Let me re-label the first issue in today’s trio The Performance of the Harpo-Con Machine, and make it the third issue, to avoid repetition. Let me re-label the second issue The Unsolved Riddle of Œconomics (with credit to Stephen Leacock). I will explain presently. We are assured, especially by the Harpo-Cons and their adherents, that this is in fact the first issue in people’s minds, so I’ll put it first. I think that The Unsolved Riddle of Security will do for the other issue.

The Unsolved Riddle of Œconomics

When I hear respected news media tell me that “‘The Economy’ has had a bad week”, and support their assertion with the news that the stock market took a fall as did the price of oil, then I know that Reason and Imagination are what has in fact had a bad week. Because I think that the news means that the people who produce and sell oil have had a bad week, as have the people who are speculating on a quick rise in the price of stocks, but that the people who buy oil and use it to produce something else, or to consume, and the people who have speculated that the price of stocks will fall, have had a good week. And I think all of them are part of “The Economy”, whatever that is. Hence the “unsolved riddle”.

I believe that “The Economy” has come to mean a few economic indicators out of the vast array available, chosen on the basis of convenience and self-interest by the news medium or politician using the term. I am therefore going to use the term the “Œconomic Organism” for reasons that I will explain, I promise you.

The Unsolved Riddle of Security

When I catch a government trying to make me feel insecure, even frightened, in order to attract my vote and give power to their friends in policing agencies, then I begin to feel insecure indeed, but not for the reasons they suggest. I ask myself, first of all, whether it is reasonable for me to be afraid of the monsters they describe, and whether the anti-monster measures they suggest are reasonably likely to get rid of the monsters. I ask myself also why they have chosen that particular set of monsters out of the vast array available. And I ask myself whether their approach to monster-suppression is not simply another monster. More fodder for later posts.

The Performance of Government

I suggested earlier that the third issue is the performance of the Harpo-Cons. I truly think, however, that the questions for Reason and Imagination in pursuit of a path to Social Justice concern not only the performance of the present government, but also the likely performance of the alternatives, and while we may think those to be significantly less knowable, I am not convinced. I think that we can use Reason and Imagination to tackle the whole field fully well enough for practical purposes.

To that end I advance a two-fold Proposition, as follows:

  1. We will be governed, not by the “platform” of the party that wins, but by the “Mind-Set” of that party, its leader, and the people with the power to make decisions (some elected by us, some not), applied to current events, opportunities, pressures and constraints as they unfold.
  2. We can study the Mind-Set of the present government directly, and we can use Reason and Imagination to deduce the Mind-Set of the others.

We have data for the present government, and plenty of clues for the others. Reason tells me that the formal platforms of the various parties are incomplete representations of their Mind-Sets, much edited for electoral purposes. They will contain clues, however, possibly more clues than the sound-bite vacuities of the daily pronouncements. They need to be studied carefully.

Isn’t it lucky that the Prime Minister has given us such a long campaign! We will have plenty of time not only to suss him out, and his henchmen, but his opponents and theirs too. This is going to be interesting.

Of course we get our data and our clues through various “media”, and we must concern ourselves with their Mind-Set too. Are they distorting our perceptions? Heaven forfend!

Election 2015: August 17th: The Cause is Social Justice

Away back in 1919 Stephen Leacock wrote a book called The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice. An unsolved riddle Social Justice was then, an unsolved riddle it remains. Which is not to say that we should give up on it, as our over-arching goal.

(To my friends of the Green persuasion, rest assured that I include justice to Nature as integral to the cause. Also individual justice, economic justice, natural justice, international justice, justice to the future, etc. Social Justice is wide, it contains multitudes.)

One of my neighbours, who is not only local captain for the NDP campaign but also an independent businessman of impeccable credentials, a man who by stereotype might be found in the Conservative camp but is not, stood in my yard yesterday and reminded me that Social Justice belongs at the heart of politics. Without Social Justice, he said, nothing else is possible. People who are being ground perpetually by unjust conditions and the stresses of difficult daily living cannot be expected to give much attention to wider, more long-term or even immediate concerns outside their immediate sphere.

Let me therefore revise the Official Platform of my Party of One, first published here on November 14, 2014:

  1. Explicit recognition that the pursuit of Social Justice is the proper Goal of our politics, the cause in which we are all engaged. The fact that that Goal remains riddled and elusive must not be offered as an excuse for us to settle for less.
  2. Explicit adoption of a search for Balance as the means by which we grope our way forward. This means respect for the complexity of all public affairs and refusal to reduce them to simplicities. It means that policy must be made based on data, conversation, and negotiation.
  3. Strength to the Social Fabric: languages, cultures, communities, enterprises, arts, opportunities, employments, governments, public services.
  4. Strength to Parliamentary democracy, including electoral reform, and to democratic institutions at all levels.
  5. Strength to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and related elements of our inherited constitution.
  6. Strength to the Social Safety Net.
  7. Prosperity, vigorous and justly shared; respect for the complexity and difficulty of this goal.
  8. Stewardship, resolute, protective and far-seeing, of our air, land and waters.
  9. Internationalism in foreign affairs, pursuing peace, prosperity, justice and the rule of law.
  10. Vigilance in the protection of our own territory and sovereignty, extreme reluctance in foreign adventures.
  11. Reconciliation as the fundamental principle applied to disputes, contentions, and criminal justice.
  12. Sound public administration and responsible fiscal management.

When I put these ideas out in their original form, the Liberal Party responded immediately with a promise to get back to me, which they never did; the Green Party responded favourably and in detail, but only once; the NDP put me on an e-mailing list showering me with requests for donations; the Conservative Party remained silent.

I was much encouraged to hear this week that Mr. Trudeau wants to “grow the economy from the heart outwards”. I thought he might mean an ideological heart, as in Social Justice. But, alas, it appears he meant only the “middle class” (whatever that is) as the heart, whose pulse would be stimulated by tax cuts. This differs essentially from the Conservative vision?

Political news this week was dominated by the Duffy trial and Mr. Nigel Wright’s testimony, a shocking display of amorality at the highest levels of the political bureaucracy, which I fear may be deeply imbedded in its culture. The rules are unclear so it’s all right to steal from the public purse. Take what you can get away with. Fill your boots. Wow.

I am looking for Balance, Complexity, Generosity, Compassion, Knowledge, Intelligence, Imagination, in political discourse and in the formation of policy. Where can I find them?

Election 2015: Discourse of August 12th

The election call became official more than a week ago, and so far the air has remained unstartled by my Party of One, to some slight impoverishment of the National Discourse, I feel sure. But what could I do? A regular procession of family and supper-concert guests must be fed and entertained, my parts of those concerts remembered each time, my house painted, my share of domestic chores performed, my aging frame regularly fed, rested and exercised, my mind kept as nimble as possible by regular spells of reading, thinking, and jotting, the National Discourse followed, my correspondents respected, and most importantly the cohabitants of my household, being my dear partner in life and one elderly dog, given the attention they need and deserve. When I tell you that the trail-clearing season has officially opened and I have lopped barely a limb or cropped barely a shrub since it did, you will recognize how full my life has been since the writ dropped. And so it continues.

But on what grounds should I aspire to even some little voice in the National Discourse? Well, to be blunt, I believe that certain ideas need to be there, and so far as I have been able to detect, they have not yet appeared, or at least not with clarity. I intend to pull every lever I can to insert them.

So as not to be coy, I will name them briefly now, leaving fuller explanation for the days ahead:

  1. Strategic Voting: The idea that under our current political system, whereby we elect representatives to Parliament by means of a first-past-the-post race with more than two entries amidst a plethora of anticipatory polling, all voting has necessarily become strategic.
  2. Searching for Balance: The idea that since the only sustainable political ideology and governmental practice under contemporary conditions is a relentless search for Balance, then we must make that explicit, and talk about what Balance looks like, and how it might be sustained. The details of course are highly complicated, but the principles are simple: We achieve Balance by constant exploration, conversation, negotiation, and experiment.
  3. Recognition of Complexity. The idea that we are surrounded by, and constantly create, complexity in all our myriad affairs. For example, we are told that the biggest issue for Canadians is “the Economy”. Well, the fact of the matter is, “the Economy” is a myth, and we should stop ourselves and others from thinking and talking about it in such a simplistic way. We face a similar situation with respect to “the environment”, which is likewise a myth, and “Nature”, which is not, but rather a complex organic system full of mysterious relationships and interactions which we struggle continuously and with only partial success to understand and which has a huge influence on our environments. So too “the Economy” is a myth, nurtured by our passion for lazy thinking and facile reporting, when what we mean is that organic creature for which we do not have a suitable name, the creature of our collective activities of production, consumption and investment in all their dynamic interactivity. What shall we call it? Ekonos, perhaps? Or Œkonos?
  4. The Practice of Generosity. The idea, which I believe to be a reality, that the vast majority of Canadians are generous people with an inherent sense of community and a real concern for each other. For reasons that I do not entirely understand we have allowed our National Discourse to be dominated by those who believe us to be inherently selfish and largely indifferent to each other. They think they have persuaded us that we cannot afford to be generous and concerned about each other; they certainly talk, or rather shout, as if we cannot, and for some reason we have been shy to confront them concerning the utter sterility of what they are urging on us. Of course we have individual interests, and we want the best for ourselves and our immediate families, but we also have collective, community interests and I firmly believe we want the best for them too. These are not “either-or’s” but “both-and’s”.
  5. Bringing Out the Best. I hope that on October 20th we will be welcoming a government that is committed to bringing out the best in us, the best that we can possibly be, as a nation, as a people, or a complex of peoples. Is that too much to ask?

With these principles in mind I am approaching the Election of 2015 with the following specific questions:

  1. Given that my vote must be for a specific person belonging to a specific party in a specific constituency, that is, Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound in Ontario, and given the strategic realities, for whom should I vote?
  2. Which of the candidates-parties talks about Balance as a vital political idea, and with conviction? How do they describe it? How do they propose to achieve it?
  3. Which of the candidates-parties seems most prepared to respect the complexities of our national affairs, and to understand that we, the voters, are entirely intelligent and mature enough to have that discussion? What kind of discussion are they promoting?
  4. Which of the candidates-parties seems most generous and prepared to embrace the imperatives of both our individual and collective selves? What avenues for our generosity do they prefer?
  5. Which of the candidates-parties do I think likely to bring out the best in us? What will it look like?

I am going to use this blog until October 19th to worry out the answer to these questions, using such reading, talking and thinking as I have time and opportunity to undertake. Perhaps my way of doing that will be helpful to others.

I don’t know enough yet about the Liberals, NDP’s and Greens to give any opinion about them. I watched the debate the other night, and I did hear Mr. Mulcair use the magic word “Balance” in discussion of, if I remember correctly, a foreign policy issue. That’s something. We’ll see if that idea grows.

It’s difficult to get away from a preoccupation with the party leaders, because they make themselves, and are made by our beloved media, so conspicuous. For me, however, they are of lesser importance. I believe that parties, rooted in their memberships, are ultimately stronger and more enduring than their leaders.  I am therefore more interested in them, and in my local candidates, of course.

I would also like to sniff out, if possible, what the memberships of these parties, and their candidates, really believe, as opposed to what they or their advisors thought would be electorally most effective. Because I believe we will be governed accordingly.

And thus I leave the National Discourse for today.