Thursday, March 19, 2015

Personal control still exists over our own apathy, indifference and engagement in our own governance.

There were two moves made and announced by Putin's Kremlin this week:
first he is moving bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons into Crimea;
second, he has taken off the table the former Soviet Union commitment never to strike first with nuclear weapons...in the words of his spokesman, "no more illusions"...
In a week in which 19 innocent tourists are gunned down in an art museum in Tunisia, (ISIS is the suspected group), Netanyahu spewing racial epithets about 'hordes of Arabs turning out to vote in a brazen (and apparently successful) move to hold onto power while rejecting a Palestinian state so long as he is in charge, Putin celebrates the one year anniversary of the Russian take-over of Crimea, and the continuing threat to eastern Ukraine, along with the commitment to "protest" Russian people wherever they live.
However, against a backdrop of perpetual civil war that has already killed 220,000 in Syria, where Putin's ally Assad remains in power, and (Putin's ally) Iranian generals fighting ISIS in Iraq (making Iran a short-term ally with the west against ISIS) while negotiating with the Group of 5 Plus 1 over nuclear centrifuges, and the Israeli elections grabbing headlines, Putin's moves are effectively buried, serving Putin's motives even further.
The loudest voices among the western media, especially in the United States, too often in their blatant pandering for readers and viewers, to support the advertising sales force, provide millions of people with a worldview that is slanted to the parochial and instant-gratification needs of a simplistic stick-drawing of what is going on in the world.
Frequently, the serious press in Great Britain is providing a more balanced and even perhaps more frightening picture of the dangers of a leader like Putin.
In Canada, the federal government's talking heads, reading the prepared talking points spewed out of the Prime Minister's office, are so fixated on Islamic terror threats, (although they did strongly rhetorically condemn Putin's coup in Crimea and are sending non-lethal support to the government in Kiev) and the passage of their Bill C-51 which attempts to provide the authorities more leverage in their search and detecting and arrest and punishment of those committed to a terrorist agenda. Not incidentally, many Canadian academics and former supreme court justices, not to mention former prime ministers, have all come out in protest of the proposed legislation as an assault on personal freedoms, just as the Prime Minister announces his government's intention to expand and extend the current commitment to fighting ISIS in Iraq, likely to include joining the fight in Syria, possible enlarged forces in both countries and, facing a national vote in October, extending the term to as long as nine or twelve months or perhaps even longer.
The media coverage of the fine print of Bill C-51 is lost in the managed fog of another government announcement that brings the public news cycle back to the terrorist threat, both as a cover for the potential loss of personal freedom that will result from passage of the bill (guaranteed with the government's majority) and also as a way for the government to reassure its political base, those whose trust in their government exceeds what should be the legitimate scepticism and even cynicism that the public expects from the fourth estate.
So here is a democratically elected prime minister taking advantage (and also taking strategic and tactical steps to manage) of the news cycle and the capacity both of the reporters to cover and the public to digest so many details that his government is more able to survive even a public protest of considerable proportions. And if we are watching that kind of "governance" in an open and free society, (albeit the government is openly funded primarily by large corporate interests, especially those of oil and gas) imagine the breadth of the "road" Putin can and does travel where he controls the primary media services, along with the "oiligarchy" (not a typo) that props him in power in return for continuing to participate in the flow of wealth his government has created and sustained.
We bemoan the failed states in which governance has fallen to war lords and to small civilian cells seizing weapons and threatening the official governments, while we watch, seemingly helplessly, while our own countries are manipulated, deceived, misled and fed a diet of talking points that almost universally ignores and/or denies the protests contained in the questions being asked by the reporters.
A similar fog of denial has begun to set in inside our workplaces, where and when a mis-step is openly reported for discussion and for acknowledgement, that mis-step is immediately transferred to another, talked over with irrelevant blather, and/or the topic is changed to avoid a full discussion of the background to the specific mis-step that began the conversation.
We are peddling a pervasive and invasive and cancerous culture of escaping responsibility.
We are, at the same time, enabling any who seek power, legitimate or illegitimate, to seize that power over weaker foes (real or imagined) with impunity, accompanied by the fog of war which dictates that the first casualty is truth.
In Canada, and countries with a history of democracy, the government is far better funded to fend off protests even those from former supreme court judges and former prime ministers, than are the protestors to sustain their protest. Hence the growing flood of cash from the right-wing moguls to potential and current legislators from whom they expect and will get their agenda approved.  In a Moscow that was once purportedly moving to a more democratic form of governance under Gorbachev, Putin enjoys an approval rating of well over 80%, demonstrating beyond doubt the capacity of power/money/inner circle to take over a population regardless of the methods and goals of that government. If Putin's real goal is, for the moment, to destabilize Ukraine, and thereby to provide him with an opportunity "engineered" by the Kremlin to take the country over, ignoring and snubbing the protests of those citing broken treaties signed by Russia, with Putin's signature, then he is demonstrating the triumph of lawlessness over civil society. He is, singlehandedly, whether purposefully or simply opportunistically, playing into the hands of, while taking advantage of, the turbulence and the chaos that Islamic terrorists are generating and the media's decreasing capacity to provide a comprehensive world view for ordinary people living in all countries.
While the medical community is moving forthrightly toward "precision treatment" as opposed to "once size fits all" in cancer treatments, the world is in danger of losing a comprehensive and detailed and balanced view of the conditions under which we are working, living and attempting to sustain a world safe for our grandchildren. The danger is that, overwhelmed with partial information tidal waves, the various publics and ethnicities and tribal entities will move into the vacuum created by the withdrawal of "the body public" and the "public square".
Just yesterday, I listened as a young man recounted the tale of the devastation of his "town square" by a tornado in Ontario, complete with its rebuilding at public expense, and today see his story as a metaphor for the tornado of almost indigestible data that is dividing (through the inserting of wedge issues), distorting (through a narrow focus on the immediate headlines) and destroying (through a combination of both division and distortion the capacity of ordinary people to truly hold their government to account.
Responsible government, over which our country has fought wars, is in danger of slipping through our hands, while many of us turn our attention to our digital devices, our parties and drinks, and our personal and private cocoons. Through our indifference, might we be playing into the hands of those who "govern", by creating conditions which make excessive over-reach both possible and free of impunity.
Nuclear weapons are dangerous; Islamic terrorists are dangerous; microbes that are resistant to antibiotics are dangerous; our individual indifference, apathy and withdrawal could prove to be the lynch-pin that gives power to the most dangerous. And we still have complete control over our capacity to engage, to participate and to debate. If we are to tame the several beasts that are baying at our front doors, we are going to have to join in a global effort to push back, in the name of the "public good".

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