Saturday, December 29, 2012

Rae: "collective attention-deficit disorder" plagues our politics

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae prepares to leave political spotlight

By Susan Delacourt, Toronto Star, December 28, 2012
(Bob) Rae believes there have been some important shifts in the political culture of Ottawa since the late 1970s, when he sat as an MP for the New Democrats in the Commons.

In speed and in tone, Rae says, the political arena is a much more unforgiving place — a constant battle to stay at the top of the never-ending news cycle. Rae clearly enjoys some of that pace — he’s logged a lot of kilometres on the road this year and he’s been an enthusiastic adopter of Twitter, with more than 33,000 followers and an archive of more than 2,000 “tweets.” Yet politics, writ large, is paying a price for its accelerated nature, Rae believes.
“It’s almost like we have a case of collective, attention-deficit disorder … People have a hard time remembering what you said last week,” Rae says. “There’s a total unpredictability about the business … It’s not the same game that it was 20-30 years ago.”
Collective attention-deficit disorder is not a condition that favours strong, mature, responsible and stable governance. I think Mr. Rae is right about the current political culture; it is one that both has to chase and to respond to the never-ending news cycle. In many ways, good governance has been sacrificed to two uncontrollable monsters: one, the digital age and two, the voracious, and defaming and glib media coverage of public affairs in which character mis-steps are exaggerated into soap-operas and policy mis-steps are either ignored or papered over with another "headline"...
The public is left with a tsunami of quotes from an army of voices, without a coherent and stabilizing rudder of discernment...and one of the results is that, as Mr. Rae says, no one remembers what anyone said last week. One result is that credibility and substance have given way to the politician as an autumn leaf blowing in the wind whipped up by the latest "send-up" on some digital platform.
Trudeau (Justin) visits the hunger-striking Attawapiskat Chief and Garneau (Marc) sends a note, while the Minister whines about her refusal to meet with him, and she pleads, in vain, for a meeting with Harper and the nations' chiefs.
Harper's response to the current climate is to tighten down the hatches on all the larynx's in his caucus, vetting all the words spoken "on behalf of his government" a vain attempt to project an "image" of competence, while all around him the evidence points to a variety of blunders of both minimal and substantive proportion, none of which have much "sticking" capacity to the government's reputation. The public's memory, about the size of a nano-second, has atrophied through lack of disciplined use, except for those stories "of character" that have a tendency to prove unduly toxic, rendering both the political actor and the political audience (the electorate) as co-dependents in a kind of national soap-opera, moving from emotional response to emotional response, without bringing the details and the substance of the specific issues along for the ride, and for the serious consideration of the actors, both inside and outside the House of Commons.
Journalists still write about their perspectives, and presumably there are both journalism classes and political science classes that read some of their stuff. And, perhaps, there is an incidental quote that might merit inclusion in a term paper, while the public generally becomes less and less engaged, attached and therefore interested in any real discussion of the pro's and con's of any issue. They seem to prefer, instead, to turn the conversation to their personal "pet subject" such as their hobby, their latest trip, the last movie they attended, the weather (especially if it is exceptionally stormy as it has been for the last week or so).
Meanwhile, comedians like Stewart and Colbert are becoming "news sources" for much of the American audience, and in Canada, we have not developed our Canadian counterpart...not yet! That will come very soon, as another troupe puts together a different slanting "22 Minutes" from the CBC's current version.
Science, mathematics, electronics, digital design, program writing and "leisure time" seem to be marching to the head of the cultural parade of importance in the popular culture..."Where are the jobs?" being the question driving much of the decision-making of too many people. The service sector, which was supposed to be surging into the twenty-first century, has so-far provided only minimum wage positions, and those of only a temporary or semi-permanent nature, and always without benefits.
Loyalty of worker to employer is part of the museum of history, as is loyalty of employer to worker. Everyone is operating on a minimal cost-efficiency basis, reducing the human contribution to the equation, both in the political arena and in the business arena, to little more than a potential tweek once or twice a month, while continuing to bear the burden of resistance to change, resistance to equality, resistance to long-term commitments and their significant benefits.
And, it is not rocket science to observe that the collective attention-deficit disorder plagues everyone, inside and outside the political theatre, rendering both the individual actors and the process emasculated, distracted, disoriented, confused and completely dysfunctional....without yielding clear and worthy options for change to some form of political/cultural/informational process in which the public can have confidence, trust, memory, vision and hope.
We are like micro-digits tumbling through a global, national, provincial and even urban centrifuge without a conscious sense of how and when the tumbling will slow, stop, speed up, or explode or implode....and no issue is served effectively in such a tumultuous dynamic...we are merely "rolling with the punches" and most of the punches are administered by those with the biggest cheques and the biggest bank accounts and the biggest boardrooms and the biggest megaphones (physically and metaphorically) and the tumbling continues with no hand on the control switch....
Little wonder sales of both alcohol and pharmaceuticals are roaring through the roof, as alienation, separation, segregation and disconnection flourish....almost as if we have prescribed our own version of the ritalin that too many educators push into the mouths of too many boys, to keep them in line.

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