• SETHICS, SETHIQUETTE 30.11.2011

    One of the things that drives me to roll my eyes at politicians in general, and my British Columbian representatives in particular, is that most of them (or at least the most successful of them) seem to live in perpetual spin. When a legitimate criticism finds its way to them, their duty to their brand seems to be to misinterpret, misdirect, and/or simply confuse the issue until the previously straightforward matter is going in circles. Or, if their mistake is too damning to spin, then they simply hold up a mirror in the direction of their opposition and point out that, when the rival brand was in power, they did something similar.

    The latter is a brilliant technique for escaping the most daunting scrutiny because, for almost every level of blunder that you make, one of your enemy political brand members will undoubtably have at some point committed a similar faux pas. Indeed, when eventually the enemy retakes power, and provide their own scandals, they in turn will recall your mistakes back to the stage – and so the circle of politics continues.

    As much as my eyes roll with this spin, I can understand its origins. Much like a product on the market, it is difficult for our democratically elected leaders (and the media that covers them) to focus too much on nuance in the 30 second soundbites that define them. Nevertheless, I often wonder if there is room for a mild case of humility amongst politicians. Perhaps if former BC Premier, Gordon Campbell had been more humble in his imposition of the HST, the populace wouldn’t have developed such an unreasonable hatred for it.

    Maybe I’m wrong: maybe we the voters see humility as a sign of weakness. Perhaps, if a politician admits imperfection too often, we will think they lack confidence. Indeed, the strange modesty-free behaviours of politicians seems to back up this notion. Whereas the rest of are expected to speak of our own achievements with a modicum of self-deprecation, politicians must continually cheer themselves on and associate themselves with any successful enterprise whether they spawned it or not.

    In a few-party system like British Columbia’s, this strategy apparently will get you elected, but it will eventually get you hated. Most political leaders, no matter how popular they are in their arrival, will leave office under a hale of contempt. Campbell was one of the most successful politicians in BC history, but by the end, he was amongst the least popular leaders we’ve ever run out of office. The decapitated political party, though, can still survive by renouncing their own former head and admitting they need a fresh start. Which brings me (finally) to my point. I think I see why the Occupy movement in BC (Vancouver, specifically) seemed to lose so much of their fan base so quickly. Because they are a consensus movement, they have no one but themselves to blame for their mistakes. And so, when the criticism was stronger than standard spin could handle, instead of serving up a fall guy for us to swarm, they simply denied their flaws and claimed the press was not fairly covering them. (It’s never a good idea to attack the media that you rely on to promote your rhetoric.)

    Using my talk radio listening experience as my blunt measuring tool, it seems to me that most Vancouverites are significantly sympathetic to the Occupy movement in the US as we perceive that their financial system has betrayed them. Given, however, that Canada, whatever its flaws, has been—-my pundits tell me—-a beacon of financial security during the current world economic crisis, many wondered, when Canadian Occupiers first arrived, what our self-proclaimed 99% representatives were going to be ranting against.

    At first, the Vancouver version wouldn’t really say. They were a consensus movement, which meant, as one Vancouver representative admitted to my radio host (Bill Good), creating a coherent thesis was going to take a while. Nevertheless, the general “down with the Man; up with the rest of us” seemed to resonate with many in the populace who have never heard a pander they didn’t like.

    To their credit, some of the Vancouver occupiers were capable of discussing with the press the things they wanted changed about the world, but understandably no two occupiers seemed to think alike, and so the general notion that they didn’t know what they wanted persisted. In the meantime, many observers were becoming increasingly impatient with the Occupation of previously shared public space. The Occupiers seemed to feel that they were above the bylaw: not only were they ignoring the rules against tent structures, they renounced the authority of the fire department who had claimed that the impressive tent village was contrary to fire code. The movement did eventually conform to the fire department’s “recommendations,” but not without antagonizing their bylaw-abiding audience.

    By the time the Vancouver Occupy Movement put forth a list of 60 demands, which itemized a coherent selection of idealistic goals, for many of us, it was too much, too late. In general, my radio friends (at least those who called in to the radio talk shows) agreed with a large percentage of the ideas within the Occupy platform, but they were tired of their anti-social methodology. (And when Vancouver had to re-route its Santa Claus parade around the Occupation, that was the last straw that broke the camel’s back!)

    The trouble, I think, with the Occupy movement—-in contrast with standard political parties—-is that while, yes, most politicians will attempt to spin their way out of criticism, the Occupy party appears to feel that they are above it. After two drug overdoses (one leading to a death) in the Vancouver encampment, they were quick to absolve themselves of any responsibility as they blamed the government for not having better programs for the drug-afflicted—-their lost comrade, they implied, would have died anyway. Perhaps they were right, but their unwillingness to express a morsel of remorse or acknowledgment that they could have done anything differently themselves once again alienated their audience.

    All of that, I supposed, could be described as standard political rhetoric, but the Occupiers stepped off script forever when a few of them tried to intimidate the press away from covering these potentially damaging stories. Some Occupiers tried to talk down the “don’t broadcast our problems” wing of the movement, but they did not renounce them. In standard politics, if you provoke a scandal (or tax) too big to spin, the party has to leave you under the bus. By the nature of their consensus design, though, Occupiers can never disown their own and so are left to feebly spin the egregious behaviour of their brethren as free speech to which “they have a right.”

    Strangely, then, this is one case where critics can legitimately paint the whole organization with the same brush. The consensus movement is beholden to the actions of its least reasonable members. One caller to my radio noted that the dreadful behaviours of those aggressive Occupiers were not unlike the beasts in George Orwell’s Animal Farm whose originally righteous resistance to oppressive farmers eventually mutated into a facsimile of the very enemy they had overthrown. As intriguing as this criticism is, I don’t think it’s yet fair to this particular movement. If they continue to treat themselves as infallible, however, they may be on their way.

    The 60 demands of the Vancouver Occupy movement may be wonderful goals for our society. But Utopia is not easy to create. As flawed as Canada may be in terms of social justice, it is still, as compared to all of the societies in history, probably in the top 99th percentile. Democracy, with all of its problem areas, has so far proven to be the most effective way to achieve the best in humanity.

    However, it is certainly not perfect. For instance, one thing democracy didn’t seem to account for in its birth is that we the people may actually destroy our earth. Unfortunately, we seem unwilling to vote for politicians who will change our habitat-destroying habits. So maybe the only way to save ourselves is by overthrowing democracy with a less selfish and “now”-obsessed political system.

    At this point, though, I don’t believe the Occupy Movement in BC is the one to achieve this goal. When Occupy Vancouver received (and, to their credit, obeyed) legal injunctions to remove themselves from public sites not long ago, they promised to get their message across via flash occupations of public places such as the Skytrain. But the Skytrain is something our society has gotten right, hasn’t it?! Isn’t such public transit good for the environment as it promotes people out of their gas-sipping cars into much more energy efficient trains? And more importantly, from the 99% perspective, Skytrain service helps the majority of us to get around cost-effectively.

    But our self-proclaimed 99% reps apparently are so certain of their righteousness that they’re willing to disrupt the travels of often non-rich, green-abiding constituents. As with all politicians, I’m sure they’ll spin this contradiction brilliantly, but, if that doesn’t work—-and the 99% is as outraged as it should be by their un-green threat—-the Occupiers, sadly, don’t have the option to simply fire their leader. Consensus has no scapegoat.

    P.S. So far, thankfully, Occupy Vancouver have not lived down to their Occupy Skytrain threat. This gives me hope for their future; however, the fact that the idea was even suggested by their representatives is a discredit to their movement.

    Posted by SethBlog @ 11:15 AM

  • 4 Responses

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    • Tarrin Says:

      Someone must have pointed out how perverse it would be to disrupt Skytrain services. Perhaps they’ll blockage a free health clinic instead. 😉

    • TomM Says:

      Did that Tarrin person actually say ‘blockage ‘ instead of ‘blockade’
      Nicely written piece, professor!

    • Natalie Says:

      Haha! “Live down.” Good one;)

    • SethBlog Says:

      Thanks, Natalie: all the writers at SethBlogs worked hard on that one.

      TomM, thanks for your question: Tarrin did indeed say “blockage” as a play on the brain-blockage going in the offending protestors’ brains.

      Well played, Tarrin: next they should set up a blockage of a SethBlogs concert. Way to alienate themselves. 😉

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