Friday, May 13th, 2011

A Simulacrum for Action

A Simulacrum for Action
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Stephen Harper has just been elected Prime Minister of Canada, for yet another term. I have mixed feelings about this. He’s a suspicious fellow, and with a majority government, his presence becomes more dubious than ever. Many fear that this increased impunity will allow him to act on some of his more concerning perspectives. He’s publicly noted an anti-gay-marriage bias, has cut social programs, and has shut down parliament on two separate occasions, to further his agenda.

On the other hand, Canada is economically stable, and it would be unfair to not attribute some of this to his involvement. Some argue that this achievement only occurred as a result of the actions of previous administrations. In my mind, this isn’t entirely fair, as these same critics would be quick to level blame on Harper should the economic tides change. (Such accolades/accusations need to go both ways, or neither.) Meanwhile, the official opposition, which won record numbers, is not yet prepared to lead. In spite of good intentions, they need time to mature and learn how to make use of their new found power. Should they have been thrust into the driver’s seat at this time, their lack of experience could have been disastrous for both the NDP and the nation.

It’s important to note that Stephen Harper and the Conservative party do not embody the characteristics I believe suitable for the leadership of Canada. Harper’s manipulative actions, open hostility to the press (which directly handicaps the public’s awareness and understanding of the actions of those they elected), and abysmal behavior as it relates to policies like the environment are deeply concerning. In spite of my opinions on this matter, however, his appointment was democratic. It was (surprisingly) what the Canadian people wanted.

My Facebook Friends

I’m connected to a number of fine people on Facebook, and I appreciate how this utility has allowed me remain in touch with them in a fashion that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible. I’m also quite amazed that more of them don’t hit the “unfriend” button, given how I seem almost completely unable to resist the desire to comment on every bit of minutiae related to my existence.

On election night, and in the days following, I recognized that I (figuratively) reside amongst a rather distinct segment of the Canadian populace. While Canada at large voted Harper into office, very few of my friends and colleagues would have done the same. In fact, my Facebook newsfeed was abuzz with shock and dismay at this Conservative majority. Some were disappointed, a few feared some kind of political apocalypse, and others spoke of moving to Finland (because Finland has absolutely no problems and Canada has apparently become some sort of unsurvivable ghetto or police state in the making).

In my role as provocateur (or dick, should you prefer) I was quick to make a slightly snide remark related to the level of hyperbole related to the topic. While I’m all for dialogue in such forums–in fact, I argue that most critical discussion is, for the most part, absent on Facebook–the level of discourse found (sorry, friends) was more akin to that of sports banter than real discussion. Teams were selected, sides were chosen, and most everything rapidly became overwhelmingly black and white.

The Facebook Generation

I’m not particularly well informed when it comes to politics. My time at smashLAB, coupled with my desire to be at least somewhat present in my children’s lives, leaves painfully little time for self-education on such topics. This is not an excuse, rather, it’s an embarrassing admission I feel must be made. Still, as I examine the political landscape, I find no single party truly representative of my beliefs, nor, is anything as simple or clear as many are apt to claim.

While I was in college, Douglas Coupland’s Generation X was widely discussed. Those in business and media raced to understand this part of the population, and explore how they might profit from it. Subsequently, we watched varying research groups and authors concentrated in the social sciences, work to classify similar groups and their motivations by relation to date of birth. These findings seemed as insufficient as political parties are, for representing up where one might stand.

To my point, however, I’m increasingly of the mind that our behaviors and collective predilections are less informed by when we were born, and more by the technologies surrounding us. If this holds any truth, we may–for at least the time being–accurately describe ourselves as the Facebook Generation.

Pretending to Engage

We speak of social networks, but this term has become misleading as, in practice, we really only mean Facebook and Twitter. This is an incidental note, but one I feel we should start to consider more carefully. We don’t use many social networks, but we are on Facebook, and this has changed a great deal about how we act. Or, perhaps it hasn’t.

I loathe team sports. While I’m quite keen on going for a bike ride or perhaps a hike in the woods, I find the notion of sitting on the couch, while rooting for “my” team, rather ghastly. While I can appreciate the desire to actually partake in some sport, this hysterical behavior from the sidelines seems pointless and masturbatory. While it may make you feel good, it accomplishes very little else.

In spite of criticizing this dialogue, I don’t mean to silence anyone. Instead, I ask when we take the next step. Posting a status update regarding one’s fears for their nation is a start. Putting down the mouse and actively joining a party that more accurately reflects one’s beliefs is so much more. For all those folks who posted their gripes online, I’ll bet less than 1 in 10 watched the debates. I’ll bet that less than 1 in 100 knocked on doors, campaigning for their party of choice. I’ll go one step further and bet that less than 1 in 1,000 considered exercising their democratic rights, and running for a seat.

This, then, becomes the tragic irony of the social network. We “like” pages in order to not offend our friends, “share” mundane nonsense and self-promotion, and “engage” with well-intentioned causes, so long as none of it avoids us doing anything more than contributing a click. We’re all “concerned” about the environment, but few of us sell our cars. We “boycott” oil companies for a day, only to fill our tanks the next. We think we’re “engaging” with our friends, but when we see many of them in public, we hardly know how to behave.

Most notably, we’ve convinced ourselves that we’re doing something constructive, when we’re mostly just adding to the chorus of meaningless banter that has become a global affliction. Want to connect with a friend? Invite them over for dinner. Want to share something? Give them something you’d actually miss. And for heaven’s sake, if you want to affect change in your community (or nation), turn off your computer, get off your ass, and actually do something.

A (Likely Pointless) Post-script

Mr. Harper, this is a historic juncture. Now that you finally have this power you campaigned so long to achieve, people like me hope that you’ll look at it less like an opportunity and more as a responsibility. Consider that the interests of our weakest populations are as important as maintaining a strong economic engine. Remember that people are often short-sighted and that the voting majority does not necessarily reflect what’s in the best interests of the nation or future generations.

While many of my peers can see little but darkness with this ostensibly galvanized position you step into, I remain optimistic. I’m hopeful that the shrewd, calculating mind you’ve revealed to us over the past years is too viciously intelligent to not see the multitude of interests and facets relating to the issues faced by our nation. In short, I hope you’ll prove to be the leader I don’t believe you to be.

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