When Truth Died and Greed Won

An uneasy silence has fallen upon the land in the wake of the US election. The unexpected has happened (again!) after those lazy, non-voting Brits screwed it up on the other side of the pond four months earlier. Following the gnashing of teeth and the spewing of sour grapes among the young and disconnected, accompanied by a mild rebound of a stock market running on irrational fear and greed, and after some populist after-shocks in Italy and France, the world is nervously waiting to see whether it has been visited upon by a demagogue, a messiah or a con-man, and whether the economy is due for a course correction after two generations of globalization.

What gave rise to these developments? The first thing that comes to mind is that somewhere along the way truth died and greed won. Truth has been steadily devalued over the last thirty-five years to the point where it has ceased to be our moral currency. Greed has won out, greed that doesn’t reside only in the hated 1% but is a disease that has infected even the lowly garbage collector who believes that he will one day become a millionaire. The new climate is one where might is right, where the slick message scores over the honest gaff, where the ruling elite is corrupt and popularly perceived to be sorely in need of punishment, where the cowboy who rides in from the outside and shoots up the town is returning to cult-hero status, where positioning has transplanted admission, and where achievement is measured in celebrity status and money.

Truth has been dying for some time now, since the early ’80’s, when liberal democracy was trumped by Thatcher-Reagan neo-liberalism, and “make money at any cost” became the global operating mantra. Matters came to a head during this last US election. Both parties and both candidates contributed to truth’s final death-blow. Both candidates campaigned as upholders of the truth and yet were exposed as liars, several times, and nobody cared because truth was dead. False news channels kept mushrooming everywhere, announcing contradictory polls and dishing out well-concealed personal dirt on the candidates. Russian spy-games of the James Bond era entered the fray, adding a cinematic touch. After awhile, truth-telling had to be set aside, for no one knew what the truth was any more, and the choice boiled down to: “If this system is so screwed up, I need a change, any change, at any cost.” Enter the President-Elect, the man of the honest gaff, the dealmaker, the admitter to locker room talk that elites normally try to keep concealed, the holder-to-task of corrupt media and corporations; yet he is also a moneyed celebrity, and we wonder whether his image as the maverick cowboy bent on cleaning up Dodge is mere artful positioning? We shall see, for we have chosen him in desperation now that truth is dead and greed has won.

So what will the post-truth era look like? I see media companies being less belligerent and more co-operative for their own sakes, given that their financial positions are now weaker; thus their integrity and relevance will diminish further—journalistic sycophancy will be on the rise. If fringe media replace them, then they too will have to ensure that their message is not subverted in order to gain corporate funding or political patronage. I see more “deals” taking place behind the scenes; the existing, visible ones will be left to wither on the vine. Social Media will become the dominant advertising platform, and the dissemination of filtered news will be governed by an algorithm. The real truth will become even harder to find on the internet, even though the Net will also be the place where you will find sincere nuggets by those caring to bare all, risking censure. When “leaks” about the establishment take place (and there will be more of those!) the noise will be so deafening on social media and on the street that people will tune out, for emotion would have crowded out judgment providing impetus to the new ruling elite to carry on unfazed. Elite? I thought that was an obsolete word? Didn’t we vote in an elite-bashing cowboy? Nonsense. We just replaced one elite with an unproven one comprised of several novice gunslingers.

But all is not lost. In this post-truth era, I see an increasingly vigilant role for citizens who are concerned with the public conscience, who are essentially the public conscience, who are committed to uncovering the truth, and who are willing to stand out from the crowd by distilling the issues down to their essence so that even the unwashed get the message. This is not the time to retreat into a cave and wait out the next four years. Much would be lost if the new steamroller is left do its work unchecked over this period. This is the time to channel the steamroller to do as much good as it can while its propulsion lasts. A populist leader needs the cheers of the crowd; boos will make him unhappy and force him to rethink his strategy. And we need to boo and cheer in equal measure when appropriate so that he gets the message, even if it has to be limited to tweets in the Twitterverse where he spends a lot of his time.

Thus, as the new administration girds up its loins and heads off into unchartered waters in the new year, I hope that Americans and the rest of the sane world will be alongside, encouraging when warranted, opposing when necessary, holding to task when promises fizzle into thin air, and most of all, becoming engaged like never before in the flawed but crash-tested political process that keeps western democracies from slipping back into the abyss, an abyss that looms closer now that truth is dead and greed has won.

A letter to a politician on the eve of the Ontario election

Dear Premier Candidate,

You are asking me for my vote. I am a jaded voter, one who once took pride in my regular visits to the ballot box during federal, provincial and municipal elections. One who used to push friends and family to exercise their right and vote, one who gave his employees time-off to go to the polling booth. I understood the importance of the democratic vote because I previously lived in countries where it was denied for a number of bogus reasons. But now I am jaded. Why? Let me tell you why…

But first, promise me that you will not act like Mike the golfer, who in his first term fixed a lot of things and cut out fat, but in his second term indulged in so much excess and wastage that we have spent a generation paying back, and may never pay back. Another second-term (or was it third?) flop was Dalton who promised not to raise taxes during his first election campaign and promptly introduced a medical tax the moment he came into office, to pay for Mike’s excesses, he claimed; he later misused his position with a billion dollar gas plant scandal – another bill that we (or you) may never be able to re-pay. And then there was the one-term guy, Bob, from our third political party, who tried to be all things to everybody and ended up being a nobody; he only managed to have a day in the month named after him for public employees to goof off and not get paid – a piece of dynamite for a sector that has often had its productivity questioned.

You say you have a plan; all politicians have plans—which they keep guarded lest the other guy copies them—to be revealed only in Twitter-sized bytes on the eve of the election, with the whole enchilada being dropped on us after they come to power. But at that point, the enchilada seems to smell and taste different from the savory samples we were offered before E-day. Show me your plan before the election. And then, will you also promise never to go back on your plan after you reveal it? Better yet, put your promise up on Facebook (from where it will never be deleted, despite Facebook’s promises to the contrary) so that it becomes your testament to standing out from among the sorry bunch of predecessors I mentioned earlier, or your millstone if you choose to act like them.

If you can do all this – you have my vote, unreservedly.

Oh, I forgot to tell you why I was jaded. Instead I went into a circular stump speech. You see, I am beginning to sound like a politician already. But then you already know why I am jaded, so we don’t need to go there. Instead you have a glorious opportunity to turn history around and restore respect to political office, and bring us once-loyal voters back into the fold.

Sincerely,

 

A 50-something ex-voter who lives by his wits to make a living these days, who has given up the prospect of employment or retirement and does not expect or request any government subsidy but still pays his taxes to support this (once) great province and nation.

To vote or not to vote – that is not a question anymore

It’s election time in Canada again and I can’t avoid pondering matters political. Nothing much has changed from the last election it seems, and therein lies the question. Will there be voter apathy this time too? Too many people saying, “Well, it’s the fourth election in seven years and it will end up with another minority government, so why bother?” After all, the debates were ho•hum, the attack ads are back in force, the politicians appear on TV with backers dressed in costumes and looking more like props than supporters, funding promises are doled out in copious quantities, many never to be honoured post•election, and scandalous stories pop up along the campaign trail only to be drowned and forgotten in the tsunami of tweets, e•mails and other info bytes sent from party offices to clog our PCs and PDAs. And over in another part of the world people are fighting bloody battles and dying for a whiff of democracy.

Will I still go out and vote on Election Day? Of course, I will. And I will be available to give people a ride to the polling station in my riding if need be. Voting is not a choice any more, it is a duty. A duty brought home to me not from within this easy•going country but from the countries fighting for democracy at this time in history. There seems to be a sudden awakening by the citizens in nations suppressed by despot rulers, and the smell of democracy is in the air in those places. This phenomenon is similar to what happened to the colonies following WWII, when they agitated for freedom from their colonial masters, who had themselves been weakened by the two global conflagrations of the last century and were finally willing to let go. These periodic eruptions for democracy are necessary it seems to release us from the countervailing force of suppression that comes in the form of colonizers and despots, and perhaps Martians next! But after the threat is behind us, we return to trivial pursuits, and ensconced in our democracy, we forget!

As much as mankind is hard•coded for greed and power, we also seek structure, hierarchy and social harmony. As much as we play rough and tumble in the fields of sport, commerce and life, we need someone setting the rules and acting as referee, like in our beloved game of hockey. A good and fair government is our referee, setting the rules and administering them. The referee does not play the game, we do, but there is no game without a good referee either. On Election Day we will be voting for our good referee.

What bothers me about voter apathy in the developed world is not that we will not get a new government—minority or otherwise—but that we will lose a government. Democracy demands constant vigilance, or we will lose it when those in absolute power slowly dismantle the franchise with cuts in the name of economic growth, defence, deficit cutting or other ruse, while we, the apathetic voters, sleep at the switch.

Yes, I will pump a full tank of gas into my car and drive around offering people free rides to the polling booth, and even chastise them for not getting out and voting—my gesture towards retaining democracy in our cold but complacent country. I’d rather do that now than have to run around on a near empty gas tank later, brandishing a gun, and trying to regain a squandered democracy, like those poor souls in North Africa are attempting to do right now.

Voting – a forgotten civic duty?

The Opposition had finally got its act together it seemed and was going to make a fall election happen – not! The timing was apparently not right – again!

I wonder what the real holdback was this time? Courage? Or anticipated low voter turnout? Maybe that’s the real concern. And why do our voters not show up? Apathy? Democracy taken for granted? A neglected birthright? A “let the other guy vote because nothing changes anyway?” attitude? A “I have to hold down three jobs to survive, I have no time to vote” excuse?

Oh, yes we seem to have lots of excuses—not only for not calling elections, but for not voting at them. Not very healthy, I dare say.

I remember feeling proud the first time I received my Canadian citizenship— I was able to vote again! I had only had that experience once in my life in my home country, where thereafter elections became fewer and far between due to civil wars or nepotistic rulers who kept arbitrarily extending their rule by edict. After becoming a Canadian citizen, I voted in every municipal, provincial and federal election since.

For inspiration, I look over at that desert and mountainous country half a world away, which our young soldiers are valiantly trying to defend in its conversion to democracy. Over there, elections were held as planned, despite vote rigging, death threats and other obstacles. Citizens, who could barely sign their names, braved machine guns, bombs and other forms of terror, to go out and vote, exercising their desire to make their world a better place, believing that despite all the mayhem and corruption, the worm would turn and democracy would prevail, believing in Winston Churchill’s famous dictum, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Perhaps there is a lesson from that desert outpost – that when you lose something (or never had it) you fight a tougher battle to get it back (or obtain it for the first time), but that when you have something that is considered a birthright, you can fall into complaisance and easily stand to lose it.

Therefore, I am advocating that as much as reading 50 books a year become a new civic duty, voting at the next election for the party of your choice return to active civic duty—if the Opposition ever forces an election, that is.