Tag Archives: canada

Internet and the Leadership Deficit

20 Feb

The rise of social media seems to have mirrored a steady fall in the quality of leadership throughout the world’s great Western democracies. Whether it’s Brazil, Canada, the United States, or somewhere in Europe, there appears to be a decline in the quality and level of competition for political responsibility. This leadership deficit is a cause for alarm, since it comes at a time when the free market Western democracy model finds itself once again faced with a number of formidable challenges.

The current economic crisis has persisted across the world, and while America seems to be in recovery, most of the rest of the global economy remains fragile, vulnerable, and highly unstable. China’s Communist Party, long dependent on high economic growth to justify single party rule, faces a demographic time bomb and insufficient economic growth to sustain itself. This will require more rhetoric and bellicose posturing on the part of Communist China towards its smaller more dynamic neighbours. A more militaristic China will inevitably mean a rise of Japanese nationalism and ultimately Japan abandoning its commitment to disarmament. The Korean Peninsula remains a frozen proxy war, which could reignite should Japan, Korea, and China clash over territorial waters. This too is mirrored in the south:Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and the Philippines are all potential hot points for conflict.

In Europe, Stefan Zweig’s dream of a continent united through peace, is once more under a belligerent threat. Borders realigned through conflict, commercial airliners shot down, near misses, challenges to Western European airspace, the rise of extremist left and right wing parties throughout the continent, deflation, austerity, refugees, and violent Islam. Russia’s use of rhetoric juxtaposed over silent warfare is shaking the NATO alliance, and all what was good from economic integration has now frozen Germany and France into inaction – they trade so much with Russia that punitive sanctions would hammer their economies so hard that the European electorate would simply revolt. Thus through dirty war, propaganda, subversion, and ethnic cleansing, the map of Europe is once again set to be redrawn.

Bordering India, Europe and Russia, Sunni and Chiite Islam are once more at each others throats, with a dwindling number of Christians and an isolated Israel caught in the middle. A tragic result of Ottoman mismanagement, European imposed borders, and Cold War proxy states, the Arab world has fallen into darkness. Women have limited rights – in many of these places they are forced to cover their entire bodies in vast amounts of cloth so as not to incite the carnal desire said to be innate to man. In the worst of these countries, places such as Yemen, Somalia, and ISIL, these societies have become failed states, engines of terrorism, operating under primitive and violent tribal laws infatuated with a prophet and a one god. Institutions are non existent, corruption is endemic, and modern science is scorned. The region has become so regressive that not only has it become a black hole for civilization, but it has also turned to exporting its interpretation of religion and its violent behaviour to the rest of the world. The tragedy of the Arab world will not be easy to solve, I believe that baring a few exceptions, the entire region will remain economically and socially impoverished for many more generations, a source of great challenges for Western democracy.

In Latin America the Obama administration has been making a concerted effort to ensure the entire region remains firmly entrenched within America’s sphere of influence. Engagement with Cuba, the sharp decline of Venezuela, the end of Kichnerism, all fit with a general theme that has seen the US and its Latin American neighbours slowly but surely converge towards an entente of sorts. Yet the threat of corruption and weak leadership is also to present across the Western Hemisphere. Apart from the Obama administration, there have been few bright lights in Washington, and the picture is no better in Canada, Mexico, or Brazil.

And so one asks, “Why in an age of hyper connectivity and information saturation, is Western democracy at such an impasse?”

“How can it be that just when the Western world has the technology to leap into the future, it is strangled by impossible levels of inequality, corruption, and belligerence on the part of our political and business leaders?”

“Why are young people so turned off from politics, and why are so many of our leaders so rotten?”

Social media has an incredible power to mobilize vast numbers of people very quickly, for good or for bad. One need just think of the Arab Spring, the Maidan Revolt, or Alibaba. It has an intoxicating power to hypnotize and to distract. In an age where most of us no longer can sit in silence and just think, where every moment we are bombarded with images and lights, it becomes quasi impossible for the majority of people to hold their politicians and their business leaders accountable. For example, here in Canada we rarely pay attention to the activities of our parliaments, yet these very institutions, founded on the Magna Carta, are the places where the laws and the leaders of our time are supposed to be held accountable to us, their citizens.

Social media has another ill. Humans have an insatiable desire for instant gratification – give a person the choice of ten bucks now, or fifteen tomorrow, and most will take the ten now. Smartphones, texting, sexting, facebooking, chatting, and yes even blogging, not only consume our silence, they expose our deep dark secrets to everyone. One need just think of the long list of congressmen and political leaders who have had their careers cut short because a bit too much of them had been shared a bit too far on the world wide web. The great tech barons of our age unleashed the end of privacy, and we are but the first generation of humans whose every inner thought, desire, and naked passion is shared to all – how Orwellian it is. The ramifications of this border on the incomprehensible – I do not doubt there are whole schools of research devoted the field.

With the picture painted as it is, is Western democracy and the free market doomed? Are we destined to be enslaved by incompetency, hypnotized by social media rhetoric, terrorized by radical Islam, and bombed by Russian nukes? While I may give off that impression, contrary to my musings, I do believe humans have an innate ability to learn from the follies of their forefathers. We do repeat mistakes, often at the cost of countless lives, but in general the life we lead today is orders of magnitude better than what our ancestors had to put up with. Just imagine how jealous Marie Antoinette would be of modern plumbing, Oscar Wilde of gay rights, and Diogenese of Tinder.

I am hopeful that if we survive this critical period of democracy deficit, those who come after us will be more mature and accepting of the realities of a world without privacy, and in so doing bring a new raison d’etre to the West. Should this happen, Western democracy will once again spread enlightenment to the world.

It starts with us, not with “mais vous”…

12 Nov

Just a few months ago I met close friends of mine whilst travelling from Ibiza to Zurich. We spent the day meandering the streets of one of Europe’s most historical cities, walking plazas, cathedrals, and cobbled streets covered by the first leaves of an early autumn.

As with close friends, conversation comes easily, and inevitably we delved deeper into the goings on of our lives, and the world we are a part of. By lunch time we were already on to politics, and the inevitable discussions that shape French politics, and in particular the almost inevitable return of Sarkozy to the Elysyée come next election. This of course raised all kinds of questions of what it means to be Français; the transformation of French culture by waves of Maghrebian immigration from former French colonies, the persistence of le Front National, the inability for many immigrants to be French, simply because of their family name. Is France becoming more radicalized, or is this simply a trend being observed across the globe since the end of the stary eyed interlued following the fall of the Berlin Wall? My friends argued France certainly has an immigration problem, and the Arab muslims of France are a challenge to integrate, but it was more than that, it was…and then it came…”mais vous, vous…”

I was surprised, since I would have never imagined hearing it from such close friends, and I am certain they did not mean it. Their point was that Israel was responsible for the radical Arab Islam problem in France and in the world in general. I certainly took offense to their point, but elected not to debate it, since we only had a day and I wanted us to remain focused on making the most of our short time together. Friends have a right to disagree, and I am the first to jump at civil debate.

In the weeks since that day in France I have found myself thinking a lot about what they had to say. Is Israel really responsible for the ailments of the modern world, a clash between Western Civilization and current Arab Islam, a war of the worlds? Or is Israel simply a scapegoat for failed states, and mismanaged democracies? How could Israel be responsible for the failure of France to integrate its Arab Muslim population, many of these people who had arrived in France by the simple fact that their homelands had once been colonies of France?

One of the greatest arguments against the State of Israel is it is a continuation of European colonialism into a region that is Arab, an off shoring of the Jewish problem from the cities of Europe to the medinas of Arabia. Yet paradoxically, the first thing any tourist will notice when they arrive in Israel is that almost everyone looks like an Arab. This can be particularly disconcerting for a naive European anticipating a white society filled with white European Jews. One may ask, “why is Israel so brown, where are the white Jews  who stole the land from the Arabs?”

Well most of Europe’s Jews were gassed in Germany and Poland between 1939 and 1945, which radically diminished the number of “white” Jews. Also between 1955 and 1975 over a million Arab Jews fled an Arab Muslim world in the throws of revolt against European colonialism, becoming refugees in Israel, and overnight transforming the country into an “Arabesque” one. Walking the streets of Haifa, Tel Aviv, or any Israeli city, it is impossible to discern who is a Jew, a Muslim, a Bahia, or a Christian, just as it is impossible to tell who is a real “Israeli”. Yet walking the streets of Paris, or any French or European city, one knows who is Arab, and who is French, even if the “Arab” has been living there for generations, and the “Frenchman” is a white tourist from Louisiana with a french last name.

The revolts of Arab Muslims against Jews, who are considered an extension of Israel, is a serious problem in France, just as is the persistence of the Front National, and the arrogance of the Gauche, who believe France can somehow magically stay its path even though it has failed miserably in integrating its immigrants into a free, equal, and just society. France’s problems are not unusual, as eluded to in this post, this is a problem throughout the West, as rather than work hard at integrating immigrants into our societies, we prefer to focus on nationalism, tax cuts, and reducing essential government services.

My life partner recently became a Canadian, at the ceremony I was struck by how remarkable an exception Canada is to the laissez-faire of most Western democracies. Much was made of the beauty of Canada, its security, its high level of trust, and the peace we enjoy in our communities. The citizenship judge also said something more, and I quote, “none of this is free, indeed nothing is free. Canada is what it is because of the work of those who came before, who worked to build upon a land that had begun with the aboriginal peoples.”

She continued, “as Canadians you now have the responsibility to do your part, to contribute, to communicate with others who may not look like you, who may not worship the same way as you, who may not have the same mother tongue as you. It is important to vote, to take part in the civic process, to volunteer, and to meet people from all communities.”

Remarkable in its contrast with France, and much of the West, Canada realizes that in the immigration market place, Western Civilization is a tremendous draw for the talent of the world, yet Canada knows that bringing talent is but one part of the immigration pie, the other piece is integrating everyone into a free, just, and open society; so that rather than spawn suspicion, hatred, and violence, it builds trust, friendship, and peace.

In this day following Remembrance Day, I take this lesson, that it really is possible to make a just society, but it requires constant work as engaged citizens in our neighbourhoods and communities. Too many soldiers, civilians, and animals at war have been sent to their deaths for us to be lazy, to blame others for our problems, rather than us getting off our sofas to vote, volunteer, and reach out to others.


Music listened to while I wrote this: https://soundcloud.com/solomun/lana-del-rey-west-coast