Democracy Today

I’ve been thinking a lot about democracy recently. How, ideally it seems, what democracy allows in a society is the ability for a population to consent to their own governance. Which is really great. Like really great you guys, really this cannot be understated. The opposite of consenting to your own governance is oppression, manipulation, exploitation, disempowerment… and people generally having less say and control over their lives and the direction of their community than they want.

Image made by the very talented Josh Coffy. Check out his stuff here.

Democracy also requires people to engage in a certain level of civility. To really do democracy, you have to be willing to accept that the ideas and beliefs of other people are valid and need to be addressed – even if you think those ideas and beliefs are completely and totally wrong. Because otherwise, how can you work with them? Democracy, as is defined by google, is “a system of government by the whole population.” That means you have to work with the whole population, find common ground, and create agreement so that you can move forward in the best interest of your town, city, community, state and/or country.

I’ve been thinking about democracy a lot because everywhere I look in the news and world today I see either failures of democracy or people deliberately subverting democracy to achieve their political goals. There are a lot of reasons this is foolish, but I think the most important point is that when we erode democracy to reach our goals then our achievements are decidedly temporary. When you do not create consensus, or even agreement, what you get is instant resistance to your policies regardless of how good your policies are. It simply does not matter how right it is, the thing that you want to do. When you force that thing upon people they are going to focus on the negative aspects of it.

A textbook case is the most recent attempt by Mitch McConnell and the GOP to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. Whether you agree with that idea in principle or not, I can tell you with absolute certainty that writing the bill in secret, giving people an hour to read it, and then forcing a vote is not an effective way to create consensus. And what do you know? They couldn’t even get the 52 Senators in their own party to agree on the thing.

Another disparate example is the first post-Saddam Hussein government in Iraq. It seemed to be more interested in subjugating the Sunni parts of the Iraqi population than serving them… and then the Sunni militia Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad became Al-Qaeda in Iraq – which then became ISIS. Many more people have written much more in-depth than I will about ISIS, but making sure a significant portion of your country is not served by your government is a great way to destabilize your country.

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable” -JFK, according to the internet.

Whether or not JFK actually said that (I’m not going to believe stuff just because it’s been made into memes on the internet), I think that quote is the most prescient lens through which to look at events throughout the world today. Functioning and effective democracy is a means by which we allow for peaceful revolution, as well as peaceful change and peaceful growth. A judiciary based on the rule of law is another. When those institutions are subverted, we increase the likelihood of injustice. And when that injustice is not addressed, eventually people turn to violence.

Not that we should be waiting until people want to take up arms to secure the institutions of our democracy. I value consent, and a functioning democracy ensures that it’s citizens our governed by consent. Maybe not everyone values consent? I don’t know. But for me democracy is important because it is the best means we have to governing with consent. And we should always be working to make sure that whatever our government is has as much consent as possible.

That’s what I’m thinking about these days…

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Consent at Work

Consent isn’t just for sex. It’s great that we’re all finally realizing that without consent it isn’t called sex, it’s called rape. But limiting our conversations about consent to just intimate relations really limits the power of the conversation that we are having about consent as a society. I’m going to argue that sex is the third most powerful thing that we can apply consent to. The second most powerful thing is work. The first… well the first thing we’ll get to later.

How do I mean?

-Mandatory overtime is not consent. Telling someone that they have to work extra hours then they planned, even if it’s just a few minutes, with the threat of some sort of consequences if they don’t, violates whatever trust your employees have in you.

-Mandatory holiday work is not consent. It’s one thing if you hire someone specifically to work the holidays. But it’s another to tell your staff that they have to work on holidays or face consequences.

-Suddenly changing job descriptions is not consent. You can certainly get consent about changing a job description, but if you are simply announcing to your employee that their job is now going to be different – you are not getting consent.

-Dictating job performance metrics is not consent.

-Ignoring your employees input is not consent.

-Limiting time off from work is not consent.

-Being told who to hire and who to let go is not consent.

We have a word for performing labor without consent: slavery. I’m not saying that everyone who works is a slave, but I am saying that anyone who works in an environment that does not respect consent experiences a similar level of shame and disempowerment.

I feel like I’m just scratching the surface here. This might become an ongoing series as I flush out the topic. Stay tuned…

The 10 Key

These days I often find myself using the 10 key on my keyboard at work. It’s faster for me when I’m entering a lot of numbers at once. But every time I do, I’m reminded of my first temp job. I was about an hour into working there, and I was entering a lot of data into the computer. I was not in the habit of using the 10 key at the time. The admin assistant who was “managing” me gave me a look, a look that I’ll never forget, and said “you don’t use the 10 key?”

At that precise moment I knew I wasn’t going to last very long at that assignment. I was right.

Looking back, being good at using the 10 key was pretty much irrelevant to what I was doing for that company. For me, it’s a great example of how we decide that people are or aren’t able to do a job based on skills that are totally irrelevant. Or we dismiss capable people because they don’t have skills that can be taught – even though they do have the skills that can’t.

The young man in me – who was desperate to be given a chance professionally so I could spread my wings and show what I could really do – feels the frustration that I felt then, when people in the position to hire me didn’t see (what to me was obvious) that I could learn the skills they needed for the job quickly. That I could excel at anything, given the chance. I just wanted a chance.

Yet I’m also reminded of the film producer I worked with that only knew how to sell action films. He and I had worked on a couple projects together, and I had spent a bit of time telling him how his model for financing films could be applied to movies of other genres. His response, at the end, was “But I don’t know how to sell those movies. I know how to sell action films, so those are the ones I make.”

Some people only know how to sell action films. Some people only know how to capitalize on really specific skill sets, and those skill sets need to be presented to them. They can’t teach them, they may not even really know how to measure them. But when they have access to them, they can capitalize on them.

That’s all I have for now. Just a few observations, about work.

Our Views Have Been Weaponized. Or, What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Immigration

In America we don’t actually talk about immigration, really. We talk about loosening immigration or tightening it. We talk about where immigrants should or shouldn’t be from. Or what kind of people they should or shouldn’t be. A conversation about immigration would be much different than the conversation we are having.

If we were going to have a real conversation about immigration we would start by answering the question of; how many immigrants do we want at once? What is the ideal mix of new and old residents that preserves the original culture while being enriched by the culture of the immigrants? How do we ensure that immigrants enmesh themselves in our society instead of forming their own little enclaves of like-minded people and not interacting with the culture as a whole? Are there certain kinds of people that we want to actually recruit to come to this country? Doctors, for instance? Temporary workers? Is there a percentage of the overall number that we want to reserve for refugees?

So that’s step one, determine how many immigrants we want in our country at once. Have a nationwide conversation to get some sort of agreement around that. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to choose that America can manage an immigrant population of ten percent. I don’t know what an actual ideal number would be, but ten percent makes the math easy. Ten percent of our current population, according to the population estimate on Wikipedia, would be 32 million people. But it probably takes more than 1 year for someone to acclimatize to living in America, to “become American.” Let’s say it takes an adult five years. We divide our 32 million by five and get: six million, four hundred thousand people.

So, let’s imagine that we decide 6.4 million people can immigrate to the country each year. The next question is, how long do we want it to take for someone to get approved to immigrate to the US? The actual immigration process rarely gets the coverage it deserves in this country – but it seems that an underreported issue is that the reason we have so many illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central & South America is due to the insanely long wait times for residents of those regions to get into our country legally (check out this post to get started on your research). If you have to choose between being able to feed yourself and your family, or waiting to get into our country legally, well I don’t really begrudge anyone for breaking the law in those circumstances. Once we pick a timeframe that someone has to wait (say, a month), then we staff the US Citizenship and Immigration Services to meet the demand.

There are a few more questions to answer. Are there certain types of people we want to weed out of the immigration process? Serial killers, serial rapists, people who habitually commit crimes and aren’t going to change with a change of scenery, people who are going to blow stuff or people up…. Then, do we have reliable ways of identifying those people and removing them from the immigration pool? If not, can we create ways to do that? I personally think that if we haven’t developed means to do that, it is well within our capabilities. If you don’t think so, I would assert that you aren’t talking to the right people.

So that’s a framework. Develop some consensus around answers to those questions, and in this country we will be well on our way to winding down immigration as the hot button topic that it is today.

I’m going to assert something here, something that may sound like a bit of a stretch but that I think is worth considering. Or, it maybe old news to everyone reading this. I really am not going to be able to tell until I post this and see how you all respond: If the politicians/political parties/pundits/”news” outlets that you follow are not working to answer the questions above, they’re not interested in actually resolving anything for this country. Politicians are using the fact that you are for or against open immigration as a rallying cry, to easily and effectively motivate you and people like you to take action. The great majority of politicians are mediocre at best, and don’t have great speeches that they can pull out of their back pocket. So they use political footballs like immigration to get people excited about them running for or staying in office. The pundits and media use your passion about issues, like immigration, to generate clicks and views. The more they inflame people on both sides the better their ratings are. Issues that become political footballs are divisive, so as politicians drive supporters to them, they are also driving detractors away and widening divisions in our country. But in the short term, people get elected by using political footballs. That’s why they stick around. This is why everyone keeps talking about immigration, but rarely do people talk about specifics.

As soon as you start talking about specifics, you start talking about things that actually affect people’s lives. Hopefully I’m not losing too many of you here with this metaphor, but our political footballs are about scoring points. Not about actually affecting people’s lives. It feels good to “score one for the immigration team” to beat the “anti-immigrants.” Or vice versa. They are about winning and losing – yet not about people who actually win and lose because a policy has been enacted – winning and losing for your ideological team.

So am I saying that we could solve all the world’s problems if we were just able to give up beating the other guy that’s different than us?

Well yes, apparently I am…

I guess the important distinction here, after writing all of this, is that it’s time to call out our leaders on this behavior. It’s time to say “hey, if you were really motivated to resolve this you wouldn’t be talking about Muslims or sanctuary cities or immigrants stealing our jobs. You would be talking about how many immigrants we want, how we make sure they contribute to society, and how to make sure people aren’t foregoing the immigration process because they simply can’t wait through it.” Or instead of asking “how are you going to make ‘what we think’ into the law of the land?” asking “how are you going to lead our people to a solution that will work for a large majority of the population?” Or however you want to say it. Don’t use my words, use your own. To be fair to our politicians, and most people who are talking about the issues in general, is that most probably don’t realize that how they are talking about these issues simply perpetuates them. They don’t realize that by taking a side in the fight they simply further entrench both sides. So I suggest… be nice when you’re calling people out on this stuff?

In any group of people there are always going to be interests that pull people into conflict and interests that drive people apart. A capable leader is someone who gets people’s interests aligned where possible, and gets them out of conflict when alignment isn’t possible. It is not an easy thing to do – but it is the opposite of what our elected representatives and our media have been doing. They have been inflaming our differences and driving us apart for political expediency. Because conflict is more invigorating and motivating in the short term than resolution. Nevermind that constant conflict has a negative effect on our country, and on the ties that bind us together as a people. Nevermind that it affects everyone in their daily lives whether they notice it or not. Nevermind that the issues that we have been wrestling with for years remain unresolved, and that we are not moving on to new challenges as a people.

My friends, our views have been weaponized. They are being used against us.


PS: I would love if there was research on the effects of constant “perceived conflict” have on people within a society. If you are aware of any research like that, please let me know.

PPS: Until I get a graphic designer to work with me for my posts, they are going to continue to feature pictures of my animals. I hope you like the unrelated sleepy cat 🙂