Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A year of play in politics

I had an epiphany last week while waiting for a decent chicken lunch in the concert hall of the iconic Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto. The pre-lunch speaker, CNN and Reuters entertainment asset and peer-respected thinker Dr. Mohamed El-Erian was addressing my urgent question: Is the global outlook so fraught that I should vote strategically this year and sell my ridiculously overvalued house?

Through the last third of his presentation, however, I concentrated on the growing stacks of silver serving pallets discreetly steaming in the corner.

El-Erian insisted that if I’m going to make it through these exceptionally uncertain times, I must, above all, be adaptable. Yet he didn’t tell me what to do with my semi, or even suggest that any single approaching election, caucus, primary, summit, budget or central bank interest rate meeting will disturb my enviable status quo. He didn’t even acknowledge that Toronto voters must decide Canada’s fate in October.

It seems that for now, we’re free to not drag our families and friends into adult conversations about any one big problem on the move out there. Indeed, El-Erian shrugged knowingly that the American economy will keep growing smartly and that China will experience a “soft landing.”

My goodness, the base is safe.

So why must we keep saying we’re appalled about the shallowness of contemporary political discourse? Or be squeamish about spending hours in the "entertainment room" following current affairs. After all, the "fundamentals" are nicely grazing out there, without a shepherd and without a wolf in sight. 

The entertainers in our political capitals do know what they’re doing; they know it’s safe to play around. So let’s enjoy the show.  

As a primer, here are phenomena that can be taken seriously or not:

*Barack Obama admits US is so powerful that he can “test” new relationship styles with significant others, including Iran and Cuba. Note the ways his playful doctrine—and its disciples in the NSA and the state department—keep upsetting leaders in Ottawa and Berlin without harming US interests?

*Republican leaders insist we don’t know what Iranians are doing in their caves so we can’t tell them to stop them doing it. Yet do any of them actually know whether the Brits, the French and Israelis still have nuclear weapons? Why not put our ignorance about nuclear proliferation to use for peace and fiscal prudence; why not simply imagine that Iran and Saudi Arabia and Ireland already have them and treat everyone carefully?

*Canada’s catch catch-22: we’ll get another multiyear national inquiry into the victims of Canada’s ancient and notoriously corrupt Aboriginal Reserve system if the "activists" beat the "conservatives" in the October election.

*Political panels in Ontario will name Jim Prentice the Canadian politician of 2015 if he wins an anti-recession mandate to impose some 50 new taxes on Albertans.

*This year the UN will deliver its best climate change deal so far because its most influential negotiator, the US, will not be bound by treaty or legislation to implement it.

Remember, the ways we spin don't matter.

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