Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Key Concept 1: Political Theatre

As some readers of this blog may know it's been getting harder and harder to put my thoughts down on current events. There are many reasons, some of it is because the events themselves are repetitive, and stupid. How many times can one write about how markets and budgets are pointless and meaningless so long as central banks use "stimulus" to maintain the illusion of growth? Another portion of this difficulty has been time, I'm busier now than when I started this blog and I don't have as much time to put into the posts I make.

When I combined this reasoning the path forward became clear. I use several key concepts when making my forecasts and commentary of trends and each key concept pretty well deserves a post all on it's own. Almost every post I write references one of these key concepts and often I find that providing the back story of the concept is just beyond the scope of whatever post I'm currently writing. I can't, for instance, go into depth of the concept of peak oil every time I bring it up but for many reading my newer posts it probably feels as though information is missing (because it's been described in past posts).

The solution to these problems is to lay out my key concepts so they can be referenced moving forward. this post will describe the first of my key concepts: political theatre.

What is political theatre?

Political theatre, also known as the Left vs Right smokescreen, is the premise that the majority of debate and opposition within the political system is for show and that ultimately on the issues that matter to the global elite little or no debate is had.

The current "senate scandal" and CETA provide a good example. Some journalists have sort of been asking the right questions regarding this scandal (though it seems the answers still evade them): Stephen Harper chose latest Senate fight. The question is, why?

Yes, why indeed, especially just as the negotiations around CETA concluded. I would submit that the senate scandal was timed perfectly to coincide with CETA and ensure that CETA (the product) gets just enough coverage and that CETA (the content) gets little or no coverage. "Free Trade" deals sound great until you realize that they reconfigure laws and interfere with national sovereignty. If there wasn't a senate scandal to occupy journalists then some, with nothing better to do, might put their time into other things, like demanding to see and release the text of CETA or even questioning the legality of keeping it secret in the first place.

The senate scandal might be fun to watch, but how much real work and how many real problems are being addressed in the meantime? The senate scandal amounts to nothing more than entitled and corrupt individuals flinging shit at each other. $90,000? After all of the financial waste and fraud and lies and $1billion on G20 everyone is up in arms about $90,000?

After year after year of lies we're now all worried that Harper lied? Or that Duffy lied? My God, when will we stop giving these criminals the benefit of the doubt? My default position whenever a politician or banker says anything these days is to simply assume they're lying. As far as I'm concerned the onus is now on public servants to prove they're telling the truth, they've lost the privilege of having the benefit of the doubt.

As Andrew Coyne says in his speech on 'the alarming state of Canadian democracy', the problem we face in our Canadian democracy (and democracies worldwide) is a [deserved] complete lack of confidence in politicians. Even the politicians who tell the truth can't get anyone to believe them. I would add to this though that there is no reason anyone should believe them. The cloud of dishonesty and theatre that hangs over politics diminishes every single politician for even if they are telling the truth about the policy or portion of the society of which they are talking about, it is always within the context of acceptance of other lies.

A good example of this might be the management of government funds. All of the different party platforms describe the allocation of funds within the current system, but few challenge the system itself. No political parties are challenging the government to return the borrowing authority to the Bank of Canada. No political party is suggesting that a way to help balance the budget would be to stop interest payments on public debt landing in the hands of private investors or foreign entities.

There is an ultimate status quo, one that's hidden behind bureaucracy and the political control we think we have. I liken our political system now to the management of a corporation. The CEO, CTO, CFO, etc, of a corporation might change, the implementation of corporate policy might change, and  even, within constraints, the vision of the corporation might change, but the ultimate mission never changes: to serve the shareholders. The shareholders of government policy are not the citizens, but those who purchase government debt which enables the government to enact policies. Tax money doesn't pay for future policies, it pays for past debt. Is it any wonder the government doesn't listen to the "taxpayer"?

One of my favorite moments from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is the episode in which Quark's employees decide to create a union. In the lead up to the creation of this union one of the Ferengi is asked why essentially it's part of Ferengi culture to be stepped on during employment. The answer is that all Ferengi aspire to one day do the stepping. This is exactly how our economic culture works and perhaps even more so how our political culture works. No politician is ever going to seriously reform either system so long as it remains possible that they may eventually benefit from it even if it currently hampers them. Politicians don't mind being stepped on so long as one day they may get to do the stepping.

People Issues, Justification Issues, and Real Issues

The majority of issues politicians "debate" today in the joke we call question period are what I like to call "people issues". People issues are issues that while very important personally to many people are completely inconsequential to the global political agenda or the elite. They are issues meant to be primarily consumed by the peasant class and are usually framed in such a way that they create divisions and play well into the "team concept" of modern politics.

People issues tend to be subjective, based primarily on emotion, religion or prejudice rather than logic and necessity. They are the type of issues that can routinely be brought up and are never truly resolved. Some examples are gay marriage, and abortion. The debates around these two issues exist solely for you to take sides on and always crop up conveniently when there are important issues the elites don't want you to focus on. They tend to invoke a major response, and major participation, causing people to expend massive amounts of energy "defending their view" while losing sight of what's really going on.

Now, this is not to say that "people issues" are not important especially to people. They are, of course, that's the point. But do you think government's ordering the bombing of children or defending the Apartheid policies of Israel actually care if gays get married? Or if babies are aborted? Do you think the elites pulling strings around the world care about people issues?

Justification issues are ones which generate little response from the public and end up being generally accepted based on a false principal the government is claiming it respects. They are usually used to reinforce the belief that some sort of moral authority is guiding government's actions and play well into our national identity of self, an example of such an identity being 'Canada is a country of peacekeepers', or 'Canada has high environmental standards'. In the end justification issues are issues that exist to justify the existence of government, or more accurately: "lawmakers".

One of the prime examples of a justification issue is smoking. Alberta has just passed legislation which makes it now illegal to smoke in a car (when children are present - because "it's for the children"). It's an issue that is meant to garner massive support while framing the government as concerned for children and environmentally responsible. Of course, this is the same government that defends the oilsands in face of spikes of cancer, contaminated water, and constant denial. All of these things will be disproportionately affecting the children they claim to protect. The irony of no smoking in the car isn't lost on me either when our growth doctrine demands we must sell more cars, and so as a result we have children walking along roads breathing in carbon monoxide and our economy demands there must be more cars sold. The car itself represents far more danger to the children, in example: Would you rather be locked in a garage with me, smoking, or your car, running? Which is going to kill you faster?

Every other month "lawmakers" are passing new restrictions on smoking, or rather, on smokers. While regulations and monitoring for cancer causing industry is cut. By focusing on the smoker, and not on the tobacco companies themselves the government gets to play both sides of the fence. Being simultaneously against smoking, and also in support of smoking and the tax money it generates. Instead of constantly raising the tax on cigarettes which just disappears into "general revenue" the "lawmakers" could focus on say banning tobacco companies from putting deadly and unnecessary chemicals into cigarettes. Much could be done, and isn't being done, in the name of health regarding smoking without prejudice against the smoker themselves but none of that would play into the justification for existence provided by continually addressing the same problems over and over again.

Lawmaker self-justification is a huge problem. Is our society really in such chaos that we need a full time career called "lawmaker"? How many laws do we really need made these days? How many laws being made are pointless, unnecessary, and seemingly only exist to exist? these laws are made not because society needs them, but to justify the existence of "lawmakers" and government and garner support by appearing to work for the people when in reality they are choosing a single tree out of the forest of problems they are creating and having everyone focus on that. Do you really believe the Alberta government cares about children while they downplay continual reports of rare cancers as a result of oilsands activity just because they spend most of their time debating smoking which they profit off as well? Think about it.

Finally, we have real issues. Real issues are the issues the elite's actually care about. They are actual events that have impact on the world. They are decisions which affect the standard of living and quality of life of millions of people every day. They are the issues we rarely talk about, and never debate. Political parties are just unanimous of how great CETA is, none want to appear to be "against trade" (even though being against free trade has nothing to do with trade). CETA is a real issue, one the elites care about, unlike the senate scandal which ultimately means nothing to the elites, especially those involved as they all have nice cushy careers ready for them in the corporations they've been helping while in office.  Real issues, when out in the open, tend to contradict the morality of justification issues and the passion behind people issues. Whenever you hear Harper talk about 'Canada' and 'protecting our sovereignty', 'Canadian interests', etc, remember that in the context of real issues he's selling us out.

Marketing democracy

Politics today is largely political theatre meant to market the idea of democracy rather than actually implement it. A real democracy would not stand by while it's dealings with foreign countries are negotiated in secret especially when it has the potential to affect the ability for the will of the people to be acted out. In a real democracy reporters are free to ask questions of the politicians, scientists are free to report their findings. A real democracy by the people for the people has no need for arbitrary information control or propaganda campaigns designed to have the population come around to "the government's point of view". A real democracy doesn't care what flag you fly and certainly isn't going to arrest you over it. A real democracy will engage their citizens not frame and then mass arrest them. A real democracy is about fostering debate about real issues and lacking that political theatre is needed to fill in the void.

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Richard Fantin is a self-taught software developer who has mostly throughout his career focused on financial applications and high frequency trading. He currently works for CenturyLink

Nazayh Zanidean is a Project Coordinator for a mid-sized construction contractor in Calgary, Alberta. He enjoys writing as a hobby on topics that include foreign policy, international human rights, security and systemic media bias.

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