An exchange of ideas for an effective, fair and fully functioning democratic

Freedom equals social responsibility plus individual accountability. Good government requires nothing more than these two factors, yet we democratic nations around the world neglect one or the other, in favour of a focus on the remaining ingredient. Capitalistic approaches shun social responsibility, preferring, instead, to lean on free markets to drive growth and success. Socialist approaches ignore the merits of individual accountability as a driving force in shaping good governance. Look to the American system to see the dynamics of the former ideology in play, or to much of the European continent to observe the emphasis on the latter concept. Both experience monumental failures and significant successes. This blog intends to explore alternative ideas and mechanisms to the either/or approach to freedom. We eagerly anticipate feedback, guest blogger articles, comments and ideas from you, the reader. Please take the time to register, as well, and, hopefully, we can not only share ideas, but work together to implement change!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Judge Judged For Inappropriate Comments About Sexual Assault Victim

It is more than politically incorrect to suggest or imply that the way a woman dresses contributes to the risk of sexual assault.  Yet, if a person walks into a ghetto flashing a wad of cash, we do not hesitate to state that he should not have done so, and should have known that he was at increased risk of being attacked.

In the city near where I live, we hear, almost weekly, of people being accosted and robbed of their alcohol when they leave a beer vendor in a rough neighbourhood late at night.  We shake our heads and say, “what was he thinking?”

On the other side of the coin, when a person climbs the social ladder because of good looks or powerful personality, we may resent it, but we understand how he achieved that success.  The person who studies hard, goes to university and receives accolades for his hard work deserves the prestige and power that comes with his personal efforts.

It has been a long time since I was young enough to frequent the nightclubs, and, because of my age, I undoubtedly will be branded as a dinosaur for my opinions in this article.  However true the “antique” label may be, the opinions should not be disregarded, simply because of the ease with which age is stereotyped as a cause of archaic thinking.  In fact, many of you already probably are assuming that I am not only old, but male, and a rigid, conservative thinker.  You would make these assumptions incorrectly.

Recently, a “dinosaur” on the bench of a Manitoba court heard a case involving a sexual assault on a young woman.  The woman, along with her companion, had, according to reports, made it known that they were out to party.  She was, according to the media, wearing a tank top, short skirt, and, apparently, looking every bit the part of a person looking for an evening of fun.

The judge, Justice Robert Dewar,  in convicting and sentencing the person who ultimately assaulted her, made the comment that, by her dress and appearance, she had left the impression that “sex was in the air.”  The uproar that resulted was predictable.  This older man was branded as insensitive, and worse.  He was accused of being insensitive to rape victims.  Victims’ rights groups demanded his resignation.

A few months earlier, a Toronto police officer was subjected to vitriol and condemnation for suggesting that women could reduce risk by dressing less like tarts.

There is no excuse for predatory behaviour by anyone.  Sexual assault deserves sentencing that equals manslaughter, since it leaves permanent scars on the victim, and takes away a part of that person’s life, in many cases.  However, the idea that the way a person dresses and behaves should not be mentioned as a contributor to the risk of being attacked is not only myopic, it is damaging to the safety of potential victims, who,  indeed, could reduce, however minutely, the risk of attack.

Was Judge Dewar wrong in what he said?  I don’t  believe that the essence of his comments was wrong.  We do, indeed, need to be accountable for our actions: both the victim and criminal.  However, we have become so politically correct in Canada that we risk being ostracized if we dare to imply that sexual assault victims should exercise the same caution that the rest of us are asked to do.  I feel badly for the victim.  I believe that the perpetrator should be incarcerated.  I think that the judge chose his words poorly.  But I think that we all need to be more accountable for our actions.

Lastly, as to your probable preconceived notion as to who I am, I am, indeed, an older male.  However, my history is one of fighting for the rights and protection of those people around me who are vulnerable.  And, the impetus for this article came from my wife, Janice, who was the first to state that the young girls who dress provocatively should have had more sense, and taken precautions.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hold the Phone! Is It Always Unethical To Break The Law?

Does being ethical require obedience and adherence to the law?  Does being moral mean that you never infringe on the rights and safety of others? Does compliance with the law make you an honest person? And if any or all of these questions are to be answered in the affirmative, does that mean that each of us should never break the law, for fear of being immoral, dishonest or unethical?

It is estimated that ten percent of the population never will knowingly break the law, 10% will often attempt to circumnavigate those same rules, and the remaining 80% will, under the right circumstances, bend or deviate from the law. Three decades ago, a survey in Ontario, Canada found that nearly 82% of citizens would cheat on their taxes, if it were risk-free, and 38% admitted that they had already done so. That is an enormous amount of deviance!

But does compliance with the rules make one honest?  One individual that I know pushes the envelope regarding the interpretation of the law routinely, justifying his mistreatment of others and his habit of maximizing his personal gain at the expense of others by saying, “If the government thought it was wrong, they would create a law against it.”  Yet, he knows that his actions cause others to suffer.

One foreign student at the University of Manitoba approached another student and asked her to write his ethics paper for him.  It is difficult to refrain from laughing at this too-obvious paradox!  Yet, in his culture, the political regime tacitly encourages such subterfuge, by intruding so aggressively into one’s life that, in order to maintain a semblance of personal power, people look for creative ways to hide their behaviours from the government.  In his view, the act of cheating on an ethics course merely was a way to express power.  He did not see it as a moral issue.

Then there is the question of whether there are circumstances where to not break the rules is immoral or unethical.

Last week, my wife needed to be rushed to emergency care at a nearby hospital.  Her condition, as I viewed it, was desperate, as she tenuously clung to consciousness, her breathing was shallow, she was perspiring profusely, was pale, and had numbness down her entire right side.  As I sped along the back roads, exceeding the speed limit, I called 911 on my cell phone.  I continued to use the cell phone even after I had intercepted the ambulance.  I needed to notify her immediate family.

Using a cell phone while driving is against the law in our jurisdiction.  So is speeding.  I potentially placed others at risk with my aggressive driving, even if I was inside the letter of the law.  Yet, if I had not reacted with such speed, my wife may well have died.  If she had succumbed, and I had not given the family an opportunity to learn of and react to her emergency, I would have caused them undue suffering.

I determined that, although I was choosing to break the law, the law needed to be broken in this situation.  I viewed my actions neither as immoral nor unethical.  How do you interpret supposedly necessary breaches of the law?  Now, give us an honest answer, please!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Blame The Dieter, Not The Diet

Lifestyle changes are difficult, without doubt.  However, failure to implement desired lifestyle changes is doubly difficult on the initiator of the change.  We all intend well.  We all believe ourselves to be ethically sound, well-meaning persons. Yet, we look to blame others, or other circumstances for our own failures.

On the extreme end of blame are the conspiracy theorists, marching, lock-step, with the racist element.

I have a former friend whom I feel falls into, if not both categories, the classification as a conspiracy buff.  His claim is that the Chinese are strategizing to take over the free world.  His basis in fact?   Actually, his basis in fact is fact only in his own thoughts.  The theory began to take hold of him when he lost his job to an Asian person.  Then he lost another.  And another.  Not once did he self-evaluate, and say, “Maybe there is something that I am doing wrong.”  Instead, the easy way was to blame the Asian community for stealing his job.

Next was his recognition that there were thousands of Chinese students in our universities, taking, according to him, spots away from Canadians.  He ignored the reality that no Canadian was turned down as a consequence of a foreign student buying his way into that spot.  Like my friend’s jobs, the seats were filled with students who had the dedication to advance their education.

My friend then chose to add to his arsenal of “proof” that the Chinese were sending only the brightest to “his” country, and that they were acting as an advance guard, who would use their higher learning to take over.  Again, he dismisses the idea that individual families were screened carefully by Canadian authorities, who decided which students obtained visas.  To assume that these were “spies” bordered on ridiculous, but conspiracy theorists tend to ignore realities in favour of biases.  It is easier to blame others than look at uncomfortable truths.

My old buddy goes on to claim that the tens of thousands of economic immigrants that arrive each year actually are sent by the Chinese government, as well, to take over our economy.  Perhaps, a small bit of truth.  The investment by foreign interests in our country is huge.  But we make the choice to accept the inputs, so it is difficult to blame the Chinese authorities for our decisions.  Still, hundreds of thousands do ignore fact, and blame the Chinese.

My brother, like my friend, lost his job to an Asian worker.  The fact that the Asian worker was a much better employee than my brother does not stop my kin from claiming that the Filipino community is plotting to take our jobs.  He trumps that claim by stating that his former employer, a Jewish person, is part of a global Jewish plot.  I suppose that the Filipinos are now a part of that sinister program?  What my brother ignores is that we are part Jewish!  Does that make him part of the conspiracy?  He rationalized that fact away, briefly, by denying his origins.  That is, until my research proved otherwise, and then he claimed that there might be some Jewish people who were not part of the universal plot.

These two anecdotes seem a far reach from discussions of lifestyle changes and blame, but they are not.

How many millions of us have tried, dozens of times, to implement a diet, but failed?  How many have made New Years resolutions, but lacked the commitment to see them through beyond January?  And, in turn, how many of us have said, “That diet doesn’t work.”

Diets neither work nor fail.  The work is in the hands of the dieter.  We simply choose to deflect the blame, and decline to accept personal responsibility.

This deflection occurs regularly.  “The government should do this,” or “that accident occurred because the city didn’t clear the roadway,” and so on.  The truth?  We are the government, so we make choices, and the government that we have is the one that we allowed to be put in place.  The accident occurs, always, because someone fails to exercise proper caution, given the conditions in which he or she was driving.

We cry about high crime rates, yet expect others to take measures to prevent crime.  We cry about high fuel prices, then drive up those prices by driving big vehicles, using excess amounts of petroleum-based products and invest in oil companies so that we can benefit from the soaring stock prices.  We blame the rich for getting rich, then aggressively seek to get rich ourselves. 

In an old (1960s) study, jurists in a British shoplifting case found a young man guilty of stealing a few pounds worth of goods, sentenced him to a hefty sentence, and then took the afternoon to discuss, among themselves, how to inflate their expense claims for the trial!  The Kitty Genovese incident of the 1960s is one of thousands where people have chosen to not come to the aid of someone in urgent need, opting to expect others to step forward instead.

Personal accountability is difficult.  Accepting responsibility for our actions takes effort, and often can cost us.  Yet, the failure to accept the personal onus for ethical action costs us much more, in internal esteem.

When we do the difficult, and make moral, ethical choices regardless of the cost, the ease with which we live with ourselves becomes greater, while the more frequently we choose the easy, less ethical response, the more anguish and angst we face inside. 

The best diet, the hardest to adhere to, is not one that involves actual food.  It is the one that weans us off attributing blame to others, and leads us into accepting responsibility for who we are, who we want to be, and how we want the world around us to evolve.  Stop blaming the diet!  Be the ethical dieter. It is not the diet that doesn’t work: it is that people fail to implement the diet.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Watchful Eyes Deter Crime

When we discuss the concept of keeping a watchful eye on illegal activity, most of us focus on potential criminal or misdemeanour activity by youths, loose gangs or minorities. It is a stereotype and response that need to be resisted, since much of the deviant behaviour around us occurs at the hands of other groups, as well: law enforcement personnel, corporations and everyday citizens who infringe on human rights.
An equally pervasive reaction to calls for citizens to prevent crime is to assume that this responsibility should fall to others, and that we will have little impact, individually. Both responses are detrimental to making our lives and our communities safer. The adage that “it takes a village” to rise a child is equally applicable to making your life more safe and crime-free. Where there are watchful eyes, crime of all type decreases. Concurrently, when we assume a little responsibility, we make it less burdensome on those empowered with authority.
Consider that if, in addition to your own home, you paid attention to situations amenable to crime (break-ins, vandalism, etc.) for each of your neighbours on the four sides of your own property, one pair of eyes could prevent such activities in five, instead of one residence. Now, imagine if only one other owner out of those four properties did the same, and that pattern continued throughout your city, 20% of the community could deter 100% of the problems in every home.
In rural and smaller communities, statistics reveal that property crimes and serious violence are significantly lower than in larger centres. Neighbours concerned about neighbours constitute almost all of the reasons for this disparity between large and small centres. While many people view the attitudes of country folk as intrusive, nosy or prying, the interest of neighbours and friends in one’s life offers real dividends! Watchful eyes do work.
Conversely, anonymity provide the cover for deviance. Again, watchful eyes offer the best chance to see decreases in crime, by spotlighting deviant behaviour. It is no surprise, then, that many of the meth labs and concentrated grow ops in North America are placed in big cities, where people do not involve themselves in their neighbours’ lives, and place the onus for safety and crime prevention solely on the shoulders of justice and law enforcement systems.
Relying on the principle of five – that is, assuming responsibility for watching out for your four neighbours can be extrapolated to the workplace, or to the environment around you. Five vehicles adjacent to you, five nearby businesses, or five nearby co-workers can both benefit from your concern for their wellbeing, and be deterred form potential criminal activity. Expand your boundaries and horizons systematically and you expand your zone of safety and security, as well as the zone for others.
As our communities expand, and we become less involved, we invite crime. Simultaneously, our attitudes toward crime become more blurred, and acceptance of so-called softer crimes becomes easier. Think of how we view shoplifting. The very name implies diminished seriousness. Vandals who deface property brand their activity as “tagging,” making it sound more like a game than a crime. One study found that 38% of taxpayers admit to cheating on their income tax, and over 60% feel that avoidance of tax is not a serious problem. Maybe, stacked against murders, fraud is “soft,” but a willingness to cheat your fellow taxpayer and citizen out of money (our government is not independent: it is us!) is a willingness to step across that line of morality that separates criminals from honest people.
The violence in the United Kingdom in August, 2011, or the violent protest in Greece (some of it occurring because people, many of whom do not pay their taxes, were upset that the decreased tax revenue available could no longer pay for their early retirement) largely was based on concern for self, rather than concern for those around us. That psychology needs to change, if we want a safe environment around us. We need to think of others first, and watch out for our neighbours, ahead of ourselves.
Having a watchful eye, though, and merely watching are two different processes entirely. For what are we watching? The entrenched habit is to concentrate on youth, minorities, people who differ from us in beliefs, people who differ from us in objectives and activities, and people whom we see as not conforming to our way of viewing the world. On the other hand, many of us implicitly trust our law enforcement, our religious leaders, our seniors, our friends, and those who provide us with the things we desire. That is both myopic and misdirected. However, it also contains a small part of the essence of what we should be observing: differences.
Unfortunately, we cue in on the wrong differences. One religion or another, or example, has no exclusive domain over morality. Neither does one race or another. Blind studies and objective observation have found that youth often have a moral sense equal to adults, and that seniors are no less subject to the temptation to deviate. Rather, the differences that set us apart from those that are deviating from acceptable behaviour are those of action.
Think of the person in the car next to you, who texts on his cell phone. Notice how furtive his glance is, or his downward gaze, when he should be watching the road. Notice the shoplifter, who looks around for people who may be observing, rather than at the merchandise. Notice the vendor who tries to steer you away from examining some aspect or feature of the item that you are considering for purchase. Note the collection of people, not in the front but in the back of a building. Note the after-hours visits to a location that may indicate that illegal activity is being concealed. Note the person whose behaviour with you is markedly different than his behaviour with someone else. It is the difference in action that set apart differences in intent.
In the next article, I will discuss the MOI Inventory. MOI is an evaluative technique employed, in one form or another, by police and investigators, and relies on understanding of the three ingredients of any crime: Motive, Opportunity and Indicators.
In subsequent articles, I will provide details on how to watch, how to record, how to report and respond, without putting yourself at risk.
However, the beginning of the process is to be vigilant, and to keep a watchful eye, since merely being noticed often is a strong deterrent for those engaged in inappropriate behaviour.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Individual Accountability, Social Responsibility Lead to Good Government

In Greece, citizens riot because they do not want to relinquish their “right” to state-supported retirement at the old age of mid-fifties. In the USA, government comes to a standstill when the two parties –each of which holds a majority in either the Senate or Congress – cannot agree on whether companies should pay more tax and people be denied adequate health coverage or whether people should be handed a Cadillac of health and retirement benefits while business is hamstrung by increased taxes. In Canada, a new majority government looks to model the American Republican party approach to fewer government subsidies and supports for individuals while increasing incentives to big businesses (i.e. taking from the poor to give to the rich). This, in spite of the Canadian model being one of only a handful to survive, relatively unscathed, the 2009 worldwide economic collapse.
Democracies rule through majority, in theory. In practice, they rule through the power of receiving more votes of those eligible voters, who were sufficiently engaged to opt to vote, than any other party. In Canada, for example, only slightly more than 50% of the eligible adults that were enumerated cast their ballots in 2011. Often, only 80% of the eligible voters are willing or able to be enumerated. The current government received around 40% of that 50% of the 80% that were listed as eligible. That is 16% of the people who are empowered to decide the direction of our country! This, unfortunately, is typical of most elections and most democracies. So, bad government is not the fault of those elected officials, so much as it is the fault of those of us who were not committed enough to take the time to make a choice.
But let us look a little further into this whole voting process. In the USA, roughly one third of the voting population who respond to pollsters indicate that they are committed to the Republican Party approach, and about 1/3 committed to the Democratic Party approach. On the surface, that sounds like good involvement in the democratic process. But most people who support wither party can cite specific policies, ideas and priorities of their selected party! In Canada, farmers – a collection of individuals who historically have survived only by working cooperatively through crises – most often vote for the federal party most committed to increasing the power of corporations over small collectives. On the other hand, many academics and others in a position to gain wealth through their own intelligence and initiative support a party whose primary tenet is to give power to unions that historically benefit those workers who do not commit themselves to achievement based on merit and commitment to hard work. We, it seems, make very self-destructive decisions, not necessarily based on reason.
However, let me reverse field a little here. When I indicate that academics and intellectuals vote against their own self-interest that may not be a bad thing! When I suggest that farmers also vote against their own self interest, that, too, may have merit Those that vote, though, based simply on past practice, or do so without applying forethought and understanding of the issues involved, do the most serious damage to democracy.
I have voted for and worked for all three of the major political parties in Canada, and would have supported the Bloc Quebecois – a separatist party in Quebec -- if it had run the right candidates in my province of Manitoba. It has, in my view, a good, balanced approach to the environment and a fair approach to social policy, while not denigrating the merits and contributions of business to our country. I am certain, as well, that a different approach to our unity issue is needed, to make our great country work better. I vote for the candidate first, and the party second, and, in so doing, rely on the candidate’s ethics and values to guide my choice.
In following the US political scene, I have seen good qualities in the president with the lowest approval ratings in American history: George W. Bush. I embrace many of the ideas of Barrack Obama, even if some are detrimental to Canadian interests. But there are negatives in each of these leaders, as there are in every leader. Would I vote for either, or any of Canada’s politicians based on an abstract ideology? No.
Good government requires two elements: a commitment to individual accountability and an emphasis on social responsibility. If either of the two is missing or inadequate, then that party or candidate comes up short.
We cry loudly when our tax dollars are used inappropriately, but we view inappropriateness very subjectively. I have a libertarian friend who believes in minimal government involvement. Social safety networks should be the responsibility of the community at large. He insists that any regulation and control is intrusive. Yet, he wants to be secure from crime, have a paved back lane, enjoy the arts, know that his food is safe to eat. So how do you have no regulations and yet expect controls? Would a profit-oriented business prefer to buy low cost food and sell at a good profit, or would it want to have to devote time and money to making sure that the goods are meeting exceptionally high standards?
I have another friend who is enraged when tax dollars are spent on silly research projects or foolish arts events. Yet, he is adamant that the government should kick in money to support his professional sports team efforts to build a new stadium.
These two illustrate that social responsibility suffers, when narcissistic ideas are allowed to flourish. For-profit corporations, by definition, are profit- oriented. Public companies, by mandate, must place the interests of their investors above all others, in order to thrive. Social conscience takes a back seat to money. Individuals, though, who are less motivated to succeed in the corporate world, often feel that they should be supported in their choices, and demand greater and greater concessions and benefits, while offering less and less in return.
Give me early retirement, give me free access to cosmetic surgery, give me shorter work days and less responsibility. So where does the funding for these benefits originate? From the hands of those that are driven to earn it. Those demanding greater benefits, such as those in Greece and the U.K., also are reluctant to pay the price to earn those benefits. They demonstrate poor individual accountability.
Personally, I feel that our problem, around the free world, is that we all are selfish. If we were to return to the concept that “it takes a village,” we would look to others viewpoints and needs prior to making any decision that involved our own self interest. That would be the beginning of making us more socially responsible, and concerned about our fellow citizen. If we took the time to appreciate the effort and contribution of others, before we asked them to contribute to our own wellbeing, that would be the start of individual accountability.
The question is, what specific steps must we take to achieve that end? This will be the meat of the discussions that will be posted on this blog.