Saturday, July 10, 2010

Re-thinking power, authority and command structures, post G20

The Toronto Police Services Board has called a judicial review of the security operations for the G20, to determine who was in charge throughout the events of those meetings.
There is considerable grumbling that both the federal Minister Public Safety and the Provincial Minister in charge of the OPP were kept abrest of the full situation, while the Toronto Police Chief, William Blair, was caught, for example, having to explain a "last minute law" to arrest anyone within five meters of the chain fence, when, not only was there no such law, but he did not fully understand, nor had it been explained to him, why he was "hung out to dry" for security forces generally. The feds are responsible for the RCMP, the Province for the OPP and the city police chief was in charge of the streets outside the proverbial "fence."
Complex? Too complex? Typically Canadian?
Like money, and sex, we Canadians do not deal comfortably with authority. We have a similar complex, and almost paradoxical relationship to all three "faces" of our unconscious.
We love (indeed worship?) money, sex and power! They are the new 'gods' of contemporary North American culture, and perhaps even religion.
Yet we also know that they can, and often are, abused by those "with" the power over those "without" the power. In other words, some "have money, sexual attraction and authority" over others who do not have those symbols of "ascendancy."
So we cover our power in various ways, so as not to intimidate others. We build houses with narrow and inconspicuous fronts, but with large and rather extravagant unobserved "rear ends" off the street; and we dance coyly around the head of the fertility god(ess) attempting to "conceal" anything that might give a hint of the odour of sensuality, (while creating and broadcasting ads marinated in sexual innuendo) and we bury authority among several layers of competing offices of responsibility, so that no one will be ultimately responsible.
There is such a veneer of minimizing sophistication of all three of these "faces" or icons of our society that we are in virtual denial of the real power of their energy. Consequently, we all are complicit in our cover-up of our money, our sexuality and our authority, except, perhaps behind closed doors or in the military or police forces themselves, where the "chain of command" is overt.
And, no one wants to take "responsibility" for any overt use or display of their power because to do so would subject him/her to unreasonable, inordinate and perhaps even dangerous retaliation.
Confederation built a foundation of "shared" powers between the federal government and the provinces, and the cities fell through the cracks. In fact, there is a legitimate argument to be made that our major cities, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal could become provinces, under the constitution. Another rationale for "sharing" is something called "checks and balances" with each seat of authority checking and balancing the authority of each other seat of authority. We see this in the court system, in which the lower court decisions can and are appealed to the "Court of Appeal" and eventually to the Supreme Court.
The political "operatives" in a complex system get to know "what it is they want to know" publicly, and what they "do not want to know officially" and they operate within very strict boudaries. Did both Harper and McGuinty personally, and through their ministers, sign off on the command structure for the G20? Or was there merely a sign-off on the costs, without much attention paid to the details of the line of authority, the chain of command.
Was Toronto Chief Blair the victim of a willful "slip" of communication and authority? Or was there merely an oversight and he found himself "holding the bag" for the system?
This observer is never eager to grant amnesty to those in authority, given their obsession with the use of their own "power" which is what motivated them, in most cases, to seek the offices they hold. Furthermore, in the Canadian context, there is historical precedent abounding for screw-ups based on nothing more than "failure to decide and failure to communicate" as a way of hiding from responsibility, and letting the "other guy" (or other jurisdiction) take the heat.
We are  a nation of complex, hidden and often denied urges and impulses, and one does not have to be a Freudian to know that those urges (like sex and aggression for Freud) have the potential to be less than "respectable" given their power to reduce each of us to blithering idiots. The problem, for those in public office is that they are not permitted those urges, at least overtly, without repudiation, so they have to "closet" those urges under the blankets of publicly acceptable excuses, cover-up, failed communications, or complex command structures that cost more and usually fail to deliver.
In a mature society, we would be able to wear our private urges comfortably and openly, and set clear lines of communication, authority and command, without fearing the abuse by one jurisdiction needing to be checked by another, and develop trust that the buck can and does stop with the person in charge.
In the cock-pit, the pilot is in charge, and anyone who doesn't know that is on the plane very long.
In the classroom, the teacher is in charge, and anyone who doesn't know and respect that, is not or should not be there very long, including the teacher him/herself.
In the operating room, the surgeon is in charge, and all staff know who that is, and bear witness to the respect of that person/position during the operation, after which there is time for a review.
The movie and plays of the theatre each have a "director" in charge, and it is the manner in which that "authority" is used, whether open or not to actor suggestions, recommendations etc. that distinsuishes the specific person's capacity to exercise that authority.
In a society that ducks responsibility, perhaps we need to re-think the "complex command structures" we have been deploying, and consider, when necessary, such as at a time of a G20, putting a single person in charge, with a deputy, for shift change purposes, and clearing and rehearsing the lines of authority and communication prior to the events...No commercial nor military plane would ever take off without such a "command structure" and making our structures more complex does not reduce the need for a high state of alert, and an even higher capacity for sound judgement under "fire".
Sometimes, sound judgement requires reassessing our history and our tradition, in the light of changed circumstances. And the terrorists are a "game-changer".
Those assigning authority have to learn to trust those who whom that authority is assigned, and they must take responsibility for that trust, before the assignee can do his/her job.
If no one "at the top" is prepared to accept (or be assigned) "full responsibility" for his/her actions, decisions, attitudes then who "at the bottom" will ever accept such responsibility.

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