I tell myself to calm down, to take less interest in things, to not get so excited and to mind my own business. But the good journalists won’t let me. They won't release me from the problems of the day.
Here are 3 quotes from today's Halifax Examiner. Solid Muckraking journalism like this, as uncomfortable as it is for some people to read, is what will improve our government and help make Nova Scotia whole.
Some people are connected and some aren't. Government sees the 'positive' impact of the connected people and sees the unconnected people as 'the problem'. The irony of Ivany is that the report was an opportunity to get at the 'unconnected people' and understand how their disappointment, discouragement, and disconnectedness impacts our economy, our culture, and our hopes for the future, but it was created, shared by, and used to rally the connected people. Ivany simply told the unconnected people to buck up.
Let's agree that journalism is a cornerstone of good government. Good journalism connects the unconnected. Journalists from Joseph Howe to Tim Bousquet act as mediators - translators between regular citizens and policy-making elites.
On Political Insiders and Bureaucrats
"It cannot be more clear: Stephen McNeil, Laurie Graham, and Ray Ivany have utter contempt for the people of Nova Scotia. This is all one big joke to them. As they see it, they are of one stratum of society and deserve giant salaries and comfortable lives provided by the working people who pay taxes. And those working people are of a lower stratum, not worthy of decent paying jobs, job security, or protected pensions."
On Land Speculators and the Politicians they Influence
"Council approved 14 exemptions to the Centre Plan, which will be adopted later this year. In effect, the 14 developments are now grandfathered into the plan, making the plan essentially meaningless.
It’s HRM By Design all over again: yes, it was a great plan for downtown, except for that part where they carved out a two-city block exemption in the centre of downtown in order to let the Borg be constructed.
There’s no point in having a plan at all if you’re going to build in 14 exemptions to it."
On Hucksters and the Innumerate Media
" OOE keeps throwing out the figure $6 million as the amount it spent on provisions last year in Halifax and the media is dutifully reporting it, although no one has asked to see receipts. (This is a classic example of citizens being asked to accept on faith what any businessman worth his salt would demand be documented).
Campbell has touched on the basic truth of “economic development” in Nova Scotia: just toss out any bullshit number and the plebes will eat it up."
Why are the Ivany's, Land Speculators, and others "in" and most everyone else is out?
Philosophers through the ages and business schools around the globe have been studying why the in are in and out are out.
At the core of our society, there is a group of people who seem to call the shots. More precisely, all the shots seem to be called for their benefit. It’s as if the organization, beneath its formal statements of mission and purpose, has actually been set up to fulfill this group’s needs and priorities. Everything else that the government does comes later. They are means to the end of keeping the core group happy.
The core group won’t be found on any formal organization chart. You can't pick them out in a crowd. It exists in people’s minds and hearts—indeed, the root of the word “core” is probably the Latin word cor, for heart. It comprises the cluster (or clusters) of people whose perceived interests and needs are taken into account, consciously or not, as decisions are made throughout the government. In most circles, talking explicitly about this group is taboo; its existence is a dirty secret that contradicts the vital social premise that we all have a common stake in the our province's (or whatever group, institution, or system) success. In fact, we all do have a common stake in the province's success, but the core group has a greater stake in the success of some than of others.
Core groups aren't inherently bad. They are part of what groups are. They've probably existed since the earliest human society and they will be with us until the end. At their best they represent a symbol of our hopes, values, and knowledge.
What happens when core groups go bad?
Harvard Business school has done some fascinating studies on "the oil of anointment". How is someone entered into or rejected from a core group? The basis of it is a matter of attunement - a syncing up of the hopes, values, culture and knowledge of the group. This is generally a good thing. The people most harmoniously able to get along with the group are welcomed into the core group which is kept naturally small... 1% to 5% of the whole.
Unfortunately, they report it’s disturbingly easy for core groups to become dysfunctional. There are powerful dynamics at work in these groups that can tear at the very fabric of the organization. Most notable among them is a phenomenon that psychologist and management consultant Charles Hampden-Turner has labeled amplification. Amplification is the process by which a core group member’s remarks, actions, and even body language are automatically magnified by his followers. In other words, the leaders’ comments come across to others in the organization as louder, stronger, and more commanding than they seemed to him when he uttered them.
When the message is good news, improvement, helping, being creative, this Amplification is an awesome thing. But, when the message is fear or any fear-based thinking like greed, deceit, inefficiency, moral cowardice, mediocrity, and general unaccountability, the Amplification of feedback loops within the core group causes it's purpose, often unconsciously, to diverge profoundly from the whole.
So how do we get the core group on track?
First we must confront and fight fear and mediocrity of thinking. This requires that we recognize fear-based lines of talk and behavior. Thinking that the group is a zero sum game, that we're poor, that we have problems that can't be solved is fear based. Interestingly, fear-based thinking doesn't allow for complexity and uncertainty, it rejects it. Fear rejects the notion of doubt and nuance. Fear overly simplifies things. Fear is yes/no binary.
Next we make sure the messages are correct. When core groups display independence, creativity, and power, the rest of the group follows. The same goes for when core groups take courageous stands; when they talk together openly and raise disputes for the sake of understanding them better; when they are diverse in their makeup and their thinking; when they forgo politicking, empire building, and exploitive behavior; and when they embody a sense of stewardship for the organization.
Finally, we attenuate the messages so that they are not overstated or over simplified. This can be done best by allowing for complexity and uncertainty and introducing the notion of doubt. Doubt is the hallmark of the rational mind and the scientific method. In the 200 years since the industrial and scientific revolution it has brought human kind farther than any other concept. It is terrible that we seem to be turning back now - imagining that everything is done and known; that our current success is proof of the rightness of everything our core group thinks and says.
Central to this organized doubt is the journalist, the questioner, the skeptic. They ultimately are the ones who will keep our core groups on track and keep us - the rest of us - connected and influential to the core.
Writing about life, citizenship, and Nova Scotia.