Here on Bowen Island, we are still small enough and friendly enough that stuff like Bowen LIFT can get started relatively easily. Bowen LIFT is trying to help people self-organize transportation options to complement our limited but excellent public bus service. This morning on CBC Radio, our LIFTers got a lift of their own. Listen to the podcast here.
It’s an old saw with me, but Dave Snowdon puts it very nicely and succinctly:
Numbers are good, but they are never the whole picture. Its easy to focus on them, they give the comfort of apparent objectivity and used to support human judgement they have high utility. The problem is when they replace judgement rather than supporting it. Of course in the ordered aspects of any enterprise statistics and numbers can do a lot of the work for you, but in a complex situation they can be dangerous. Applied to ordered aspects (boundary conditions, probes and the like) they have utility, but for the system as a whole they are more problematic.
via Judgement & statistics – Cognitive Edge Network Blog.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog post advocating that newspapers should close their comments sections. In the days since then I have heard from many people agreeing with me, and no one has disagreed. I have had a twitter conversation with a National Post reporter whose piece about the breaking of a copper on the steps of the Victoria Legislature was – as is typical – hijacked by racist comments. In that Twitter conversation, Tristin Hooper, the reporter stated that there is nothing he can do to influence this conversation and that “freedom can be an ugly, ugly thing sometimes.”
Well no doubt. But in pondering this situation more, I am left to conclude that newspapers are actually trafiicking in racism. Take for example this really interesting Globe and Mail piece about the spiritual side of Idle No More. This is a good discussion where people actually learned something in the conversation. And then you get comments like this:
“What a load of crap. With the chiefs, elders and anyone directly related to them on the take the two spiritual sides of ‘idle no more’ are 1) Hand over more cash,2 ) and dont even think for a second we want to work at an 8 to 4 job. Oh, and add the mantra of Accounting? Accounting? Thats a white mans distraction.
If you dig back far enough you will find the simple hunter-gatherer approach to understanding the cosmos. Toss in the guilt ridden white mentality and the stone age vision of the world becomes an all encompassing stewards of the land ‘religion’. The only way this all flies is that modern society buys into the idea and pays for it.
Settle directly with everyone covered by the Indian Act bypassing the chiefs and elders completely. Give them their home and the land it sits on fee simple, a wad of cash and that is the end of it. It would be way cheaper then continuing this on for ever!”
The Globe and Mail has a polcy at the top of its comments page that reads:
Editor’s Note: Comments that appear on the site are not the opinion of The Globe and Mail, but only of the comment writer. Personal attacks, offensive language and unsubstantiated allegations are not allowed. For more information on our commenting policies, please see our Community Guidelines page, or read our full Terms and Conditions. If you see a typo or error on our site, report it to us. Please include a link to the story where you spotted the error.
The comment above contains two of these three violations and elsewhere in that same comment section Teresa Spence is referred to as “Thief Spence.” The editor’s policy may be that these are technically violations, but they are allowed to stand. To make matters worse, replies on the Globe and Mail website are collapsed in threads, making it impossible to address this information and have your objections seen. Not much of a free market of ideas. A false comment gets more visibility than the reply that aims to correct it. Want to create a set of misperceptions of First Nations? Just write all manner of comments. No one will read the replies.
So what is going on here? The Globe and Mail does not enforce its own polices, or at least does it completely arbitrarily. An interesting read on the spiritual side of Idle No More gets poisoned by racism, personal attacks and unsubstantiated allegations, and we just keep looking.
The editorial policy says that the opinions in the comments are not the opinions of the paper. But by leaving comments sections like this open to this kind of abuse the Globe and Mail is sharing an opinion with you. It is stating that “it is the opinion of this paper that comments like the ones below are not in violation of our policy and contribute to the conversation.”
Furthermore, according to the Globe’s own terms and conditions, when you upload anything to the comments boards at the Globe and Mail you give the Globe and mail a license to use the material any way they want. By leaving it on their site, they are using comments to drive traffic to their advertisers and therefore earn revenue. Comments, and especially outrage, represents real cash money. Racist speech, unsubstantiated allegations and personal attacks all drive comment threads that are hundreds of comments long. More readers = more revenue. Racism sells.
Furthermore, also from the Globe’s Terms and Conditions:
When participating in a Forum, never assume that people are who they say they are, know what they say they know, or are affiliated with whom they say they are affiliated. The Globe and/or its affiliates and licensors cannot be responsible for the content or accuracy of any information, and will not be responsible for any reliance or decisions made based on such information. When using a Forum, you may not post, transmit, link to, or otherwise distribute any information, materials or content that do not generally pertain to the designated topic or theme of the particular Forum. Use of a Forum for commercial purposes of any kind is strictly prohibited. Please note that The Globe reserves the right to refuse to post or to remove any information or materials, in whole or in part, that, in its sole discretion, are unacceptable, undesirable, or in violation of these Terms and Conditions.
This is no about restricting freedom of speech. This is not about stopping a conversation in society on First Nations issues. Quite the opposite in fact. Every single person who posts in a comments thread has the freedom to start their own blog and post anything they want. What it is about is this clever dodge that papers use to hide behind the guise of freedom while trafficking for money in hate speech and libel. And the sheer volume of it plus an insubstantial disclaimer protects them from legal action.
So is there hope for a conversation with editorial boards on the merits of comments sections? Are their editors who agree with me? Are their journalists out there who consider this worthy writing about? Or are we just too tied to the money to turn off the tap?
Public conversation, and by extension, public policy suffers for this rhetoric.
PS…bonus link…the Globe and Mail allows a personal attack to stand in an article about one man who is addressing racism on Craigslist. WTF?
PPS…The Globe and Mail has, since its inception, had this quote on its editorial page: ”The subject who is truly loyal to the Chief Magistrate will neither advise nor submit to arbitrary measures.” Going to war against arbitrary measures was the paper’s founding principle. I wonder if people still talk about what that means around the editorial board?
Got a bunch of work done today so to celebrate I headed out on my SUP for an hour long paddled from Tunstall Bay to Cape Roger Curtis across pristine shoreline teeming with life. Gulls eating starfish and anemones, oystercatchers with their high pitched calls skimming the top if the way. Eagles soaring over the trees.
Only the slightest hint of a headwind outward bound but glassy still on the return leg. It’s so quiet out here today.
And the beauty of living on the South Coast of BC in winter is that Sunday I will go skiing with the kids over at Cypress Mountain.
Beach in Friday, ski hills on Sunday. Winter ain’t so bad after all.
Thus morning, at the entrance to Howe Sound where I live.
We are entering early spring here in the south coast. I call it herring season. Daffodils are a couple of inches above the earth, redwing blackbirds are calling in the Cove and the rain and the sky are both lighter.
Herring will be coming soon and with them perhaps the dolphins that feed on them. It’s quiet at this time of year. And we are waiting.
Today I heard the premier of Alberta, Alison Redford use the term “bitumen bubble” to describe the reason why Alberta’s provincial revenues have fallen so much that the province now faces an $8 billion deficit. The obvious answer – surprisingly being trotted out by Chambers of Commerce, oil companies and conservative governments! – is that we need to build a pipeline to the west coast to get Alberta tar to an Asian market so that Alberta based oil companies can charge higher prices and therefore more tax revenue will flow to the coffers.
I have a new term too: “gaiacide.”
Over the last few years, the primary case being made for building a new pipeline to the coast has been this. We are “leaving money on the table” and every barrel that goes uncontested to the USA is being underpriced because it’s hungry competitor to the east doesn’t have a chance to drive the price up.
But this is not a reasoned response to the Basis of opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline. The reason I am opposed to it is exactly because it will facilitate the mass burning of fossil fuels. Burning the tar fields of Alberta will irrevocably push the temperature of our atmosphere to catastrophic levels. It will endanger all life on earth.
If you have planned your provincial budget around enabling this eventuality, it makes you almost an accomplice to a crime against humanity. Why on earth are you not using the current revenues from the oil sands to diversify the economy and wean yourselves off oil?
Let me give a clear example. You could, by Alison Redford’s logic, argue that BC is missing a huge opportunity by not attracting producers of toxic waste to locate here. You see we have a huge ocean and we could make billions by charging people to come here and then dump uranium, toxic chemicals, PCBs and asbestos into the ocean. Think about it. Other disposal technologies are expensive, but the ocean is right here. We could just fill it up, and the water carries it away. We are clearly suffering a “toxic waste bubble” and all that needs to happen is to make a few regulatory changes to allow us to dump it all in the sea.
Of course this seems absurd. We don’t plan our economy around that opportunity because it would permanently destroy the health of the oceans, and by extension human beings. That seems obvious. So why all the noise about needing to do the same to the atmosphere? Alberta and Canada needs to be told that this is illegitimate economic activity, and that we should not be encouraging it. We are deeply buried in oil and we need to get OUT of it, not get deeper into it. When the ones with the policy and economic power can’t even entertain this possibility, I despair. I cannot wean myself off oil, and neither can you, not alone. All I can do is wait until someone comes along that can change this, and somehow prepare my kids for a life in a hot world.
Until oil is priced according to the externalities that are foisted on to the atmospheric commons and future generations, we will never wean ourselves away from this, and the narcissistic and psychotic minds that plot their own personal profit at the expense of the future of life on earth will continue to believe that they are legitimate business people and not gaiacidal maniacs.
All the best stuff I have learned about mentoring has been in the context of traditional culture, whether with indigenous Elders from Canada or in the traditional Irish music community. Traditional Irish music is played and kept alive in a structure called a “sessiun.” There is a repertoire of thousands of tunes, but most musicians who have played for a while will have a hundred or more in common, and that can easily make for a long evening of playing together. Sessiuns are hosted by the most experienced musicians (traditionally a Fir a Ti, or Ban a Ti; the man or woman of the house). These guys are responsible for inviting people in, inviting tunes, keeping a tempo that everyone can play with, resolving any conflicts…in short they are the hosts.
But the best ones are also the teachers and the mentors and they dispense wisdom, lessons, encouragement and direction during and between tune sets. If you are smart and you are learning you try to sit near them in the circle to pick up teachings.
With Irish music, the best mentors I ever had always did a few things well:
- They were better musicians themselves than I could ever imagine myself to be
- They created space for me to play with them and gave me increasingly more responsibility from starting tune sets to perhaps playing a solo air to eventually sitting in for them if they couldn’t make it out to host a sessiun. But they didn’t invite me to lead the session when I was just beginning.
- When they knew I had a set of tunes down they invited me to lead that set. If I had a slow air they knew I could play, they would invite me to play a solo.
- They pointed out things that I could DO, rather than things not to do, and if they played flute (my instrument) they showed me on their instrument what they meant. There was never any abstract conversations about the music or technique. If I was doing something wrong, they would suggest an alternative (indigenous Elders, and especially Anichinaabe elders are very good at this. There is something peculiar to traditional Anishinaabe culture that makes it very hard for an Elder to tell you NOT to do something. They always point to doing something else.)
- They protected me from “hot shots” who like to show off by playing tunes too fast for you to play with them.
- And when I was ready I got invited into more and more responsibility with the sessions and was eventually invited to perform with them. The day of becoming a colleague is a big deal, and I still feel that I can’t hold a candle to my teachers, even though they insist that we have moved into a co-mentoring relationship.
What was beautiful about all that was that, even when i became colleagues with my mentors I never lost the sense of gratitude of being able to play with them. Even today 20 years later, it is a treat for me to play with those who taught me.
Mentoring in the art of hosting, of leadership of working with groups is the same. It is a traditional practice.
Perhaps we need words for the seasons here on Bowen Island. ”Winter” isn’t exactly accurate. Since December 21 when Winter was supposed to have begun we have had the following kinds of days, among others:
- Cold and clear days with no wind
- Snow that falls in some places but rains in others
- Southeasterly winds with rain.
- Calm and cold everywhere except in the Queen Charlotte Channel where a Squamish wind one mile storm force wind is blowing with freezing spray.
- Foogy to 100 meters above sea level with an inversion making it 10 degrees on top of the mountains.
- Damp evenings that produce heavy hoarfrosts in the morning.
- Nights when the owls call for joy.
- Sunny and warm mornings when the winter wrens take a stab at their spring calls.
- Heavy snow that falls and stick on the Douglas-firs and cedars and brings down the alders and rotten maples.
- Quiet mornings when the towhees explore the underbrush.
- Days when it rains so hard that the deer just stand in it looking miserable.
- Calm days where the ocean is like glass and you can here ravens calling from miles away.
It makes more sense around here to follow the old Celtic calendar which has just ticked over Imbolc on February 1, the beginning of spring. It feels like that today, with southeasterly winds blowing and rain showers coming and going with patches of bright sky over the Sound.
Imagine you are stuck in traffic. By the side of a road is a billboard that changes it’s message every five minutes. You glance over at it and read this:
“Some claim. One race in Canada should not have to work for a living. That this race should receive millions in funding without accountability. That the elite of this race should be allowed to defraud their regular people. How can anyone support this? How can anyone slam Conservatives for not supporting this like the NDP/Liberals?”
How would you feel? Would it make you angry? Would it make you happy? Would you wonder how a message like that – containing three of five common racist assertions against First Nations peoples, got put up on a billboard for thousands to see?
The billboard is by the side of a road, and the person who has written that has done nothing to warrent the eyeballs that are staring at it. They didn’t pay for the space, they haven’t had their comment fact checked for accuracy. They haven’t even signed their name. It appears that no one even cares if it is hate speech.
And then what if a headline on the billboard declared “Join the Conversation!” and had an ad attached to it? Would you feel like there was a conversation to be had? Would you wonder who was profiting?
This is exactly what comments sections on newspaper web site are.
The above is an actual comment from an anonymous poster that has been allowed to stand in an article about how the Conservative government refuses to make legislative changes to Bill C-45, which is what the Idle No More movement has been protesting.
As a practitioner of real conversation, it drives me crazy that the Globe and Mail among other outlets invites us to “Join the Conversation.” What happens on newspaper websites is not a conversation. It is shrill hit and run racism, unsubstantiated opinion, outright lies and conjecture. It is often targeted personally (the comments against Teresa Spence and Shawn Atleo in recent weeks have been shocking) and it cheapens the idea of conversation and free speech and poisons the environment of public service for those who wish to enter it.
The fact that newspaper comments sections are moderated matters not at all. I don’t believe newspapers are doing society any favours by allowing this kind of discourse to happen.
I am not advocating for a restriction on free speech. What bothers me about this is that anonymous posters are using the reputation of newspaper to get views on their comments. These posters have done nothing to warrant thousands of people reading their vitriol. So why do newspapers cultivate market share, and then allow this stuff to stand? Money? The longer you linger on a page – and outrage is a cheap thrill – the better the bottom line. Pandering to the basest forms of rhetoric works for papers. No matter how much newspapers disclaim the opinions in their comments sections, the fact is that by providing thousands of readers per comment the are enabling hate speech and giving it a wider audience than it would get on its own.
But this stuff absolutely destroys the calibre of public discourse. Those of us that are part of Idle No More or who have been advocates for progressive solutions to First Nations issues spend all of our time addressing myths and not creating substantial proposals for change. And when we do table substantial proposals for change, we are met with contempt by mainstream society and policy makers, who often repeat the lines that are propagated in comments sections.
So here’s what needs to happen. Let free speech thrive in it’s own free market of ideas. Newspapers should close down their comments sections and invite people to join the conversation by creating their own blogs where they can publish their opinions as much as they like. If the opinions have merit, they will get a following. People can invite comments on their own posts. If newspapers want to actually foster conversation, they should convene large World Cafes where human beings can meet each other face to face and share their opinions without hiding behind anonymous pseudonyms.
in the absence of that, newspapers surely must see that they are complicit in the falling standards of civic discourse. Has it come to this, that the only stream of revenue for newspapers is link baiting and outrage? Responsible journalists write the articles and anonymous Canadians provide the juicy violation of media laws that bring in the page views and therefore the revenue. I wonder if anyone has the steel to change this.
All things come and go and especially in the world of professional helping (otherwise known as “consulting”). I’ve been around the world of enghagement and consultation long enough that I have seen various names for this work: focus groups, advisory groups, public participation, consultation and now community engagement.
Mostlyover all those years, my practice and the practice of the field in general has gone from monolithic broadcasting of ideas to “tell and sell” consultation to much more complex dialogue based work. And now I think I and we are coming to a more seismic shift in how community is engaged. Since the dawn of the social web, citizens and stakeholders have been able to access as much or more information than proponents of engagement projects. It is wise when planning these kinds of things to assume now that your audience and your advisors know more than you do. it was always the case but now it is much more evident.
And so it is occurring to me, after working with some boundary pushers on this stuff that we are at the point where the term “community engagement” is now redundant. If you have community, you don’t need to do engagement. And if you have engagement, you have community.
My friend Tim Merry has taken to saying that we can’t do community engagement we can only do community. Or not. I think this is a compelling idea. Engagement is meaningless now as a term. We are seeking real community, a genuine sense of being in this together. Whether it is public policy or building infrastructure you have the choice to do it to people or do it with people. Just using the word “engagement” is not enough.
Time to put real power behind the idea of community.