(Artwork by Tommy Ingberg: www.ingberg.com)
I received an email from a University of Toronto researcher thanking me for yesterday’s blog on “Negative Discovery.” He reminded me that it could well be true that most important discoveries were happened upon when the searchers were looking for something else and developed some new findings by accident. If so, with all the technology swamping the ability of the senses to make progress of it all, perhaps it might be better to stop looking for answers and start asking questions. Maybe part of survivability in the modern era is learning that in our complex societies it’s not so much the finality of the answers that matters, but the fertility of the questions. Most of the facts pounding us each and every day often have little relevance to our daily lives, so maybe we should start our own process of negative discovery as citizens.
Let’s look at politics for instance and see that what appears to be there actually isn’t. We’ve all known for some time that political speeches and press releases aren’t really about facts but spin – a kind of propaganda designed to distract us from what’s really there. All parties do it, so we shouldn’t worry about looking too partisan about this.
Consider what happened in London in the last couple of days. Two of our local defence firms lost out on $1.25 billion in contracts. That was a huge blow to a city already enduring significant job loss. These defence jobs lost in the recent decision by the federal government will only add to our collective pain.
So this is where we believe politics comes in, right? I mean we elect people to fight for our interests, win or lose, right? We are now learning in London that we are going through a tough period of negative discovery. We have three MPs from the governing party in our city and I believe they offered sincere responses to what was clearly a difficult situation for them. They expressed condolences, wishing things could have turned out otherwise. But that’s not what Londoners really wanted from their elected representatives. They wanted fight, verve, tenacity, a willingness to not give up. Instead what they received was this: “The whole principle of this is to keep it independent of political interference.”
Welcome to the world of political negative discovery. This was never about these government MPs fighting till the bitter end, but rather a quiet but sad acquiescence to modern political reality – such is now the way of Ottawa. Why call it politics, then, when our elected representatives become mere employees of the PMO and not advocates for their communities? Democracy is all about competition. This governing party pulled out all stops in the last election – perhaps even illegal ones – to get the decision they wanted. What’s wrong then with continuing on the fight for our communities where we live? But there you have it; this isn’t about democracy but political management – not about citizens’ desires but corporate decisions. It’s the corporate machine with its mindless minions.
This is what it really has come down to. How can the democratic process protect us against corporate manipulation in the private sector when such ideology is part and parcel of the political order? Actually, that’s it: MPs are increasingly becoming the regional managers of Canada’s governing corporation, led by the most dogmatic CEO in the land. London just went through a season of that with ElectroMotive and its heartless CEO and we’re not wild about enduring more of it with the people we elect.
I believe our Conservative MPs here in the city lobbied for these contracts behind the scenes and that they, too, were disappointed with the result. But democracy isn’t supposed to take place behind the curtain alone – it’s to be an open process where citizens can gauge the narrative.
What we thought was democracy was actually management. And there’s lot of it going around, with things like a massive and imperilling omnibus bill that the government is keeping to itself, cutting off debate, and hoping that the public doesn’t come to understand its full intentions. It’s a touted official apology to our aboriginal communities that actually had no deep contrition or teeth within it – ceremony-centered, not content driven. Or it’s like Rob Ford, who was quite fine with voter suppression in Toronto, nevertheless turning on his own citizens because not enough spoke up about plastic bags. He didn’t like his own medicine.
It’s time to stop looking for concrete answers – not because they aren’t there, but because those pronouncing the solutions have a political agenda. No, we’re better to start asking more intuitive questions. What is democracy anymore? Can a politician defend his or her community and not be punished? Are citizens content to be managed when they are actually looking to be the change agents in their own communities? Can we start a new movement in our land under the banner, “Politics is I; democracy is we?”
Democracy is supposed to be about citizenship, not MPs. And the greatest public servant of all is supposed to be the PM, charged with the responsibility of protecting democratic impulses, not killing them. But this is the age of negative discovery and we realize that such things are no longer true. So let’s press on and see what we missed and perhaps we can recover from this mess of our making.