I don’t particularly want to wade into this US election debate (I really do) but something has been driving me nuts for weeks & any time anyone brings up the whole “Clinton email scandal” bullshit. Knowing what I know about the technical architecture of email servers, blah-blah-blah, the whole question of who-had-private what-and-what is really the wrong question. I see it more one of three realistic scenarios: (a) the emails were encrypted, which they should have been because email is literally the least secure of all internet protocols and no one should ever send anything over any email that you wouldn’t write on the back of a postcard and send through snailmail, and this whole thing is complete MOOT and shut up about it or (b) the US government is IGNORANTLY using non-encrypted email to send classified information, in which case they should all be fired for gross incompetence and Clinton should more be likely lauded for (accidentally) using a private server that was probably and statistically MORE secure due simply to security-by-obscurity or (c) the emails were STRATEGICALLY non-encrypted, in which case Trump is a dumb-ass for shining a light on a tool that was probably acting as a false information channel as part of a vastly more complex security operation… and by the way, smooth move dip-shit. Go read about Alan Turing and the Enigma code dilemma to save me writing a whole essay about meta-information. Either way, if you’re angry about it, you’re almost certainly angry for the wrong reasons, so can we stop talking about it now?
As of this morning, Canadians have ceased to be employees of the mega-corporation of Canada Inc, headed by a secretive and oligarchical CEO who assured us every day that he was in control that we shouldn’t worry our little heads over things like rights and freedoms and should rather just do our jobs, set the economy on a pedestal, and be good, quiet little workers. Instead, with the swearing in of our twenty-third Prime Minister, I am happy to say that we are once again citizens of a rejuvenated country, led by a young man who’s outward objective seems to be restoring the notion of representative democracy, and the essential, core idea of that democracy: that power is borrowed from below, not bestowed from above. As citizens, we all once again have a powerful stake in the course and success of this country and we will pull ourselves back from the brink of the arrogance and uncertainty of that path that our previous, single-minded leader has taken us on for nearly a decade. Agree or not, and whatever the future may hold for us as a nation, it is a good day for hopeful government and open governance.
That people and politics is like a volcano: it lurks there under the surface bubbling and boiling away until an election or budget cracks it open and then there is molten anger flying everywhere.
In the days following the recent federal election (and given that a judicial recount is underway in a nearby riding) it’s been interesting to see a number of comments on social media urging us to “hurry up and get rid of paper ballots.” I think the best argument I’ve ever heard against electronic voting, however, is that of scalability of attack. I mean, I’ll acknowledge that there are likely as many ways to commit electoral fraud as there have been elections, but nothing is going to add to the success of potential future attempts better than when we put all our vote into a computer and enlist software to be our agents of trust in our democracy. To hack ten thousand cardboard boxes with a few hundred ballots each would require a nationally coordinated effort involving hundreds or thousands of conspirators. On the other hand, to hack an e-vote would require one determined nerd and a twelve pack of Mountain Dew.
Democracy in action? Someone stole the election sign off my front lawn today.
Finally. It’s nearly over. For better or worse, whether we begin another span of broken democracy or a renewed stretch of an uncertain but hopeful future, by the time many of us go to bed tonight we will have a solid idea of who our next federal government is. It has been a divisive and frustrating few months. Canada is as partisan and divided as I personally have ever known it to be — be that due to perception or reality I cannot say. But, as I write one last thing about this election, I do encourage everyone and anyone reading this to vote today, no matter who you support: I will also add one final opinion. In the eleven years we’ve lived in our house we have also lived in a riding that was taken for granted by the parties in charge. We never saw nor barely heard from our MLA nor our MP. They didn’t represent us, and I couldn’t tell you what they ever did for our riding or the people who lived there. As I was cutting my grass on weekend, at one point in the dwindling afternoon hours, both my sitting MLA and my MP-candidate of choice were standing on my street, and I having already voted, got to have a real conversation with someone who potentially could be my democratic representative in Ottawa. Maybe my perception is skewed. Maybe chance was smiling on me. Or maybe I’m cherry-picking evidence to support my own delusions. But deep down I think that there are still politicians who understand the point of a democracy: to be smart about ideas, to be engaged with the electorate, and to represent the people who make up this country. You may not like any of the leaders, but if that’s the case vote for someone who will represent you and not just be another backbench vote for a leader who doesn’t.
It may have just been the sunrise but there was a reddish-orange glow on the eastern horizon this morning.
Spoiler Alert: I’m about to get a little political and quite serious. If you no longer have the patience for that sort of thing, you may be interested in this article I wrote a few years ago about the value of running in the fallout of a zombie apocalypse, so read that instead. On the other hand, if you can put up with just one more rant, read on…
When I was in my early twenties, I spent a month travelling through Europe. My bus tour, between stopping at numerous pubs and other exciting sightseeing locations, spent a somber trio of hours at the remains of the Dachau Concentration Camp in Upper Bavaria, near Munich (after checking out the nearby Oktoberfest party that was happening there.)
Having spent the prior evening in a beer tent, most of my travelling companions were hung over and probably fighting to stave off wicked headaches as we wandered through preserved bunkers and various brick buildings with disconcertingly large furnaces. I, on the other hand, was sober… and further sobered by the tour.
Whatever group now operates that site, showcasing it as a stark reminder of a terrible span in European history, they should pride themselves on the fact that of the thousands of things I saw on my month-long adventure through that continent there are only a few crystal clear memories still stuck in my heart today. One of the things that still haunts me nearly twenty years later is standing in the courtyard of that camp in Dachau and feeling the weight of that place on my shoulders. It was a boulder set upon my back, and surely chained there for the duration of my life. I’ve come to understand since that I did not feel that weight because I feared that I’d have been one of the millions who’d been queued up for their fate in a furnace. No, I felt the weight because I feared that I’d have so easily become one of those on the other side of the fence, one of those whose house was being dusted with the ash of human extermination each day and never questioned it, never stuck their neck out to say WTF?
Many folks online like to fend off any discussion of this sort by quoting Godwin’s law: the proposition that all online discussion eventually devolves into calling someone with an alternative opinion a Nazi and comparing their leader to Hitler. And surely, after reading the last couple paragraphs, some people reading this are already dismissing these words on that basis.
I’m not calling anyone a Nazi. I’m not comparing anyone to Hitler. Even I don’t agree that our broken government has devolved that far quite yet. But I am attempting to make a point that hinges on my experiences between those introspective moments in Dachau, my intervening years on and offline, and the frustrating discourse that has been given life in this recent election.
See, about mid-way through this election I was challenged by someone with words that he probably doesn’t recall saying, nor if he did would he probably own up to their impact. I was told to stop behaving like my education made me better than other people… that I was being arrogant because I was well-read, lettered, and had a viewpoint that (while imperfect) is something I’d always considered was based (with focused effort) on a balance of fact, trusted opinions, and societal empathy.
At first I took the insult at face value, and like the metaphorical slap in the face that it was, retracted a bit in shock and readied myself to re-evaluate my thinking on this accusation of arrogance. Maybe I was asserting my opinion too forcefully. Perhaps I was coming off as an asshole because I feel a responsibility to learn, read or think about things and then try to share that information with people who have different opinions, willing to listen or not.
And so, yes, I retreated a bit. I stepped back from writing about ideas and posting my position. While in my own head I’ve been angry and frustrated and ready to rail against political stupidity and divisive campaigning that seems to set ready to further crumble the foundations of this once-peace-loving nation, I kept to myself.
However, I stayed informed. I watched the discussion. I read the articles from all three major camps. And I voted in the advance polls, but because I couldn’t stand the lingering pressure of that nagging self-doubt and minuscule possibility that having picked my ballot choice based on years of their actions rather than weeks of their promises, that my fortitude might somehow crumble in the remaining days and I’d sway in some unforeseen direction I’d later regret. All the while, I kept to myself, afraid of arrogance.
Then that stone still chained to my back felt too heavy again: I remembered Dachau Concentration Camp.
I remembered that millions of people were murdered because of fear. Yet, not only because of their own fear. They were murdered because over a decade of gradual erosion of trust, after years of divisive political nudges, through subtle defacing of checks and balances in the system, erosion of the rights of one vaguely defined group over another vaguely defined group, persistent xenophobia and the never-ending threat of aggression from some foreign state or terror-minded actor, Hitler made everyone else afraid. Afraid of questioning. Afraid of speaking out. Afraid of forcefully claiming that hell, yes they knew better: because they were smart, educated, or had access to information that others might not. Perhaps dozens or hundreds of houses in Dachau were daily covered in ash, the burnt remains of millions of systematically destroyed people raining down on other people, too afraid to step out of line and fight that fear.
I’ve kept to myself, and been afraid to be labeled as arrogant because of fear itself. While yes, this election has presented us with valid issues of true economic weight, topics of hefty environmental importance, and discussions around the security of all of our jobs, drugs (legal and otherwise), service delivery and cuts, and funding for everything imaginable, there has been one blazing red light issue outshining the rest in this election for those who are well-read enough to recognize its hue. I glimpse it. And me, I just want to shout out from the roof of my house: “Don’t you see it? How can you value of a few years of fat paycheques over a generation of social harmony? How can you ignore that our lack of scientific evidence about environmental change is only because of government muzzling? How do you sleep peacefully knowing our government is slowly, methodically allowing our aboriginal population to suffer while subtly turning the blame back on the victims of that slow genocide? How does your math not add up that one crazy young man taking a gun into parliament should never have equated to police-state-like powers granted to a government agency?”
Listen: we are not so special as to be immune to any possible fate, evil or otherwise. Yet, I have hope that we can avert it. I have trust that we are not so far gone down a dark path that our future together can be long and prosperous and peaceful and full of hope.
But in a world where information really can be made into power, the only thing we should truly fear is someone who tries to control, muzzle, restrict, or twist that information: be that you, I, or anyone else.
Our fear to governments is like honey to a hungry bear.
In the coming years when partisan politics, racially charged xenophobia, control of the media, and the vilification of science become the weapons of choice for the government to control the people, your knights and our champions will be the educated and the well-read. Your front line will be those arrogant enough to know that their education is so powerful that it is one of the few things oppressive governments actually fear. The best of these become Warrior-Poets, whose words are like arrows and whose ideas are like swords. They train by learning, and they fight by spreading thoughts and freeing facts, and yes, their pride in their finely crafted skills can sometimes be mistaken for arrogance just as their rage against misinformation and fallacy can be mistaken for intolerance.
Many aspire to their ranks, but few are so worthy. Yet, their studies in the words, facts, knowledge, and the power to move and motivate people with the same are what will truly make us free, safe, and prosperous for generations.
Most importantly though? We should never assert that knowledge is about arrogance. It’s never been so clear cut as black hearts and white ivory towers, because education is not a yes or no question. It’s not about who has intelligence or who lacks it. We are all smart, or able to seek being it. We’re all of us capable of hearing both sides, judging facts against opinions, and of using information, experience and truth to fight the irrationality that builds fear. We, all of us, can use our brains to make this the society and nation we want it to be: the difference is not arrogance versus intelligence, nor pride versus intollerance.
The difference will be judged much later: Someday it will be asked who was hiding in their house as the ashes fell from above, and who stepped out and asked why.
Just like I think every adult should have a list of things to do before they die — a bucket list, as per pop culture — so too every child should have a parental-supported list of things to do before they leave the age of innocence and become a teenager. I decided to write that list down, and from my daughter’s fifth birthday until the day she turns thirteen we’re going to try and do them all. This is one of those one hundred things…
38. See a rally, protest, or other political event.
I prefaced our evening with something of a caveat. “When you’re old enough to vote, you don’t necessarily have to vote agree with dad.” I told her. “But until then, you need to learn about how things work.”
This has been a political kinda year, after all. A divisive provincial election was rocked by a landslide change of power that still drives a frenzy on some of the social medias at the merest mention of it. Not six months later, the entire country seems set to follow suit and our federal politicians are in full-on campaign mode for a multi-month slog through election-ville.
In years past, Alberta –a stronghold of traditional conservative votes– has been overlooked as something of a lost cause by those of a leftier-lean. In previous elections, it seemed that the best that local lefties (liberals or new democrats) could hope for was a airport layover announcement as a token of acknowledgement that this province even exists. Why bother, after all? There was never a hope for them to win seats here. Yet, with a seeming swing to the left last spring, suddenly this province is in play again… politically speaking.
The clutter of neighborhood signs. The radio banter. She’s been asking lots of questions and I’ve been doing my best to simplify the political system, electoral process, and chaos of our sputtering democracy.
Which brings us to last night.
Last night the left’s leadership came by and planted a flag. This came in the form of a political rally downtown where more than fifteen hundred folks packed into the Shaw centre to hear Tom Mulcair stumping and revving up support.
Agree with me politically or not, you gotta admit that this is a rare –oh-so-rare– event just a short train ride away. I wasn’t missing it. I registered us both online, plotted the logistics of a chaotic commute home and then back downtown, and then put my plan into action.
Claire and I made the trek, scarfing some subs along the way. We hiked a short distance through downtown, merged with the straggling others clearly headed the same direction as us, and descended into the throngs of grinning, hurrah’ing crowds to watch the blur of political frenzy that accompanies these kinds of things. She waved her sign. She clapped and cheered.
She participated in her first political rally.
Again, agree or disagree about affiliation, we can talk politics if you’d like. Call me. Chat. Whatever. I’m ready to defend what I believe.
Yet, I don’t often deign to write much of my position here (though you’d probably be pretty thick to not have deduced it from my other writings) and that’s not the point of this post, either. I also know: she doesn’t understand issues.
Yet her participation (along with a few dozens of other kids there) is one of those life experiences we should all probably have at least once: young or old, left or right. To understand –witness, feel, and experience with the full sense of your heart as your caught in the crush of people and cameras and lights and noise trying to reach out have a glancing moment with the leader– that is a priceless thing. That is the crux of our democracy: a room full of people who are not only hopeful, but active, to the sense that democracy works and can have an affect upon their lives.
I said it during the Provincial election and I’ll say it again here: I think a lot of folks don’t understand one very important (but nuanced) element of a healthy democracy. That leadership comes in many flavours is obvious, but what isn’t always clear is that leadership –true leadership– isn’t necessarily management. Management is a controlling action: a manager is a boss or an overseer of a fixed process that needs to be followed. Managers are in charge and are usually only accountable to those above them. On the other hand, leadership is guiding action: a leader can just be someone with a good sense of direction and the ability to bring people to the place they need to be. Leaders are accountable to everyone, particularly those who they are leading. Our current government has spent a lot of years managing the people of this country and very little time leading them. Think about that when you go to vote.
Ever heard of a “straw man” argument? If you haven’t heard about one, chances are you’ve read one on the socials lately. The ones I’ve read have been taking the form of little anecdote-style fictions, usually starring a good-ole-boy slapping down logic on a pie-eyed leftie. First they set up the fear factor, invoke some buzz words like “terrorism” or “homelessness.” Then the story veers as the pie-eyes attempt to solve the problem with a metaphorical hug. Finally it concludes with the country-logic-sense slap-down by the storyteller. Oh, and a “booyah, welcome to [city/province/country]” is thrown in at the end for good measure. Straw men trick you, and mess with your perception (and you’re better than that.) They do this because they establish the contrary position on their own terms. Also known as: they make it up, with a thin varnish of twisted truths on top to make you think it’s all real. These stories build a “straw man” on false pretenses which is meant to burn down the other side as a kind of effigy. In reality the opposite position is usually more nuanced, more complex, and could easily defend itself against the attempted slap-down. But while any straw man is an easy way to think you’ve won an argument, all you’re really doing by sharing it is proving you’re full of shit.
Facebook is ablaze with angry people raging about topics they only half understand on both sides of a complex political spectrum. Thing is, politics is not sports: you’re not supposed to “cheer” for some team you’ve arbitrarily picked because of where you live or what your friends think. You are supposed to use your brain. So, if you do only one thing this election season, do this: don’t vote for a party. Vote for someone with convictions that matter to you and your family. Vote for ideas that will make this country better. Vote for a candidate that will represent and fight for policies that work for you. Vote for a leader who will listen to your community. Vote for someone who will answer their phone or respond to your email or re-tweet your inquiry with a coherent response. Open your mind to all available options and vote for something… and not just a color or a logo.