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.

Obama and the Pope are leading the way to a new epoch

What an odd combination: a lame-duck president in his last year and a soon-to-be-octogenarian with a weak lung taking on Big Business capitalists at home and abroad. There are many scorecards out there that measure these two leaders’ progress over their terms in office, but let’s distill them down to a Top Five Accomplishments list each.
Let’s see, Obama has done the following:
a) Restored America to its economic powerhouse status from the Bush legacy of a collapsed economy in 2008.
b) Provided Healthcare to those without it in the richest nation on earth.
c) Ended two unpopular and draining wars abroad.
d) Taken a stand on the Environment and on Renewable Energy.
e) Stopped nuclear proliferation with a creative plan on Iran that traditionalists are having a hard time comprehending.

As for the Pope:
a) Cleaned out hidden accounts and rogue budgets at the Vatican.
b) Come out strongly on Climate Change and challenged corporations to comply.
c) Speaks to service rather than privilege within the Church hierarchy and demonstrates it by visiting prisons and washing the feet of prisoners.
d) Talks freely with journalists and reporters instead of using the carefully prepared press statements synonymous with corporate bureaucracies.
e) Has undertaken a reform of the infamous Curia.

Naysayers will argue that many of these initiatives are incomplete or that they have been improperly executed. The fact of the matter is that they have been attempted.

The world goes through cycles of economic systems: capitalists epochs, socialist ones, back to capitalism and so on. None of these systems are perfect, and when they have been in place for long periods, greed infiltrates, a stasis develops, and the epoch begins to crumble. In just the last century, we have seen parts of the world swing from monarchies, to unbridled capitalism to communism, to social-democracy and back to capitalism, with two global wars acting as catalysts for change. We emerged into the 21st century with capitalism being firmly in the lead, and with many of the other systems having fallen behind for reasons of poor implementation and lack-lustre management. But now it’s time for capitalism to take a back-seat for it has gone on for too long and caused too much damage:
a) The rich have got richer, the poor poorer, and by 2016 the world’s wealthiest 1% will own more than 50% of its resources.
b) Climate change is a fact and the 20th century was the warmest in 1300 years. And 14 of the hottest 15 years have occurred in the 21st century.
c) Worker rights have declined; first with governments taking over what trade unions did (because the trade unions themselves created their own bloat and demise), and then reducing those rights with subsequent legislation when under pressure from Big Business sponsors.
d) The world has become an unsafe place, with many countries ending up as “failed states” caused by civil war or economic mismanagement, to the point that the have-nots want to harm the haves, and the haves are erecting walls to keep the have-nots out.

Many of us, once former capitalists, agree that the world has swung too far right and a course correction is required lest we plunge into the abyss. It’s time to bring in the “other guys,” even for a breather, until we find our direction again. Therefore, tough choices need to be made at inflection points like this, and it’s refreshing to know that these two old veterans, Barack and Francis, are willing to lead the charge and go to bat for the rest of the world. It’s a pity that the rest of the world is not rising to this call as a collective, and that people are still polarized and caught up in a “to be or not to be” paralysis, caught in the middle by the clever media manipulation of both sides of the political divide.

Come on guys, give this odd couple a chance. These two aging puppet masters have no more skin in the game, other than personal glory. And personal glory has a better chance pumping some good back into the system than monetary gain which takes value out and places it only at the disposal of the puppet master.

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.

Are all stories political?

I recently contributed a story to an anthology titled Everything Is So Political (Roseway Publishing). In keeping with the book’s title, my story was called “Suicide Bombers”—how more political could that be, I thought. But then I realized that most stories, if not all of them, are political.

Politics has many definitions. Here are some from the Free Dictionary that I took particular note of: “intrigue or manoeuvring within a political unit or group in order to gain control or power,”  “the often internally conflicting interrelationships among people in a society,” “any activity concerned with the acquisition of power, gaining one’s own ends.” Power, intrigue, manoeuvring, conflict, relationships—all aspects of a rollicking good story or novel. Even a love story has all these ingredients in it.

So I concluded that fiction writers are closet politicians. We may not have the opportunity, energy or canniness needed to survive as real politicians (a few notables have tried and failed: Michael Ignatieff and Mario Vargas Llosa come to mind) but we certainly are eager for change and for promoting good in the world, our way. And that way may be by inventing situations in which the ills of bad politics are exposed or where the benefits of good politics rise to the surface. We also have the ability to invent a safe world through our fiction and kill off the bad politicians in it—something which is a bit hard to do in real life without going to jail.

Some books started civil wars, if you can believe that tall tale about Uncle Tom’s Cabin;  others like Ann Frank’s Diary warned us of our innate ability create good and evil; and others have extrapolated trends into the future to show us what might happen if we do not pause and shift course: Orwell’s 1984 comes to mind.

Many authors abhor political activism and believe they are above “those deal•making slime buckets that shift towards wherever the votes are the highest.” But in their own way, consciously or unconsciously, writers are involved in, and are making a contribution to political consciousness, not just on their home turf but wherever their work is read.

The challenge however is, like the shrinking turnout at the ballot box, the numbers of readers are diminishing these days as people are caught up in the struggle for survival, or with fulfilling advertising•led consumerist images of themselves. Or that blasted 140•byte writing and reading style has won them over. Get everyone reading engaging, entertaining, educational and enlightening literature, and we may raise the bar on political awareness in a nation—that’s my hope.

Now, I wonder, if I had sent Roseway a love story, replete with boy meets girl (intrigue), they have a great love affair (manoeuvring), boy cheats on girl (conflict), girl leaves boy (more manoeuvring), boy feels lonely and runs back to girl (power, or the loss of it for him), girl takes him back and they live happily ever after (relationships), would they have published me in their political anthology?