Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Toronto the Meh… 

Minimalist Toronto map art by jennasuemaps via BlogTO
we live in a state of confusion and uncertainty to which the only response is ‘Oh dear’

“We live with a constant vaudeville of contradictory stories that makes it impossible for any real opposition to emerge because they can’t counter it with a coherent narrative of their own. But it means that we as individuals become ever more powerless, unable to challenge anything because we live in a state of confusion and uncertainty to which the only response is ‘Oh dear’ but that’s what they want you to say.”
Adam Curtis

I only wish I’d read this before going to a bar last week in Toronto’s Kensington Market. I was there for an event promoting a media criticism podcast called Canadaland. As such, I was surrounded by smart, engaged (apologies for the cliché), funny, Independent-minded and thoughtful people. Unfortunately, meeting people like this isn’t that common but in the last week or so, I’ve met a lot of them.

In 2014, the British documentarian Adam Curtis contributed to Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe series by discussing the strategy of some in government to employ contradictory policies and messages to create a seemingly complex and confusing state of affairs with the aim to keep critics off balance and toothless. Through such actions, the government maintains status quo by catching critics in a hypocritical quandary while appearing to be disagreeing and implicitly agreeing with them at the same time.

For instance, in Russia, the government can dispatch soldiers to take territory in the Ukraine saying they are really not there, but if they are there, they are only there to protect Ukrainians from their own government. While annexing the Crimea, the Russian government can also send emergency supplies to towns in need near the fighting. The fighting, it should be said, which is caused by Russia’s aggressive incursion into the Ukraine.

In Canada, the Harper government wants to be tough on crime but remove legislation to register fire arms (a registration which law enforcement has been vocal about keeping). Harper wants to abolish the Long Gun Registry because it’s an invasion of individual’s rights and privacy, yet they have just introduced bill C-51 which aims to lawfully increase government surveillance on its citizens. Harper wants to reform the Senate, yet perpetuates the failings of the house by filling Senate seats with Conservative cronies who through misappropriation of funds and misuse of expense accounts only prove that the Senate desperately requires the reform the Conservatives desire but still, somehow obfuscate.

Recently, I’ve heard a political wanker say something like only 50% of Canadians consume political media (generous perhaps) yet 60% vote (even more generous) so there’s a meaningful 10% gap of people who will decide who to vote for based on basic impressions. Meaning what? Rumours, innuendo, and general impression of a politician are how people vote. My guess would be no matter what intellectual reasoning you do in your head, your gut will always be what controls how you vote.

Unfortunately, it seems rare to speak really deeply about any of these kinds of issues anymore. I don’t mean society at large but me, personally. In Ottawa a group of like minded and opposite minded designers would meet up every Thursday night and just chat. About nothing and about everything. It was a very important part of what I loved about Ottawa. It was small enough to seem a simple thing to just get together and talk. I suppose that’s been replaced for me by cycling advocacy. Yet that is a very specific political discussion and the only thing anyone has in common is a bicycle, which is a surprisingly broad demographic. The one thing I can say about that group is you do meet people who are genuinely trying to make the city, Toronto the Good, rather than "Toronto the Meh - it’s Okay I guess.”

What I do find interesting is how hard it is to get people talking politics in a meaningful way here. I have to actively seek out podcast-supporters or cycling enthusiasts to get people discussing something other than the weather (which has been total crap, by the way… but I digress). Perhaps I’m just at that phase in life where work colleagues avoid religion and politics, where I pay more taxes than I used to earn or that I’ve seen enough elections that it would be difficult to say I wasn’t jaded in general by an undeniable socio-economic malaise. Or maybe Adam Curtis is right; I’m confused by these uncertain times.

I feel I should do something. Exercise more, eat right, look after my body and my mind, read more, ask more, be more. For the last few years, I’ve forced myself to go to events like public meetings, obscure films, book launches partly just so I’m not sitting home alone watching television but also not to get dragged down to the middle where I hold no opinion because I didn’t bother to find out if I cared. I do care about “stuff” but I find I’m running out of steam, and time. Why does it have to take so much effort when being bored is so much easier? And in the end I’m not sure it makes a difference.

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