Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Andrew Potter highlights the difficulties in practicing and encouraging truth-based politics at a time when entire parties make a deliberate strategy of lying - as well as the one technique that seems to be working:
Lying for political advantage is as old as the hills. But for the better part of human history, getting caught out in a lie was considered politically damaging, which is why politicians used to go to great lengths to hide the truth. And when caught, they would act apologetic, contrite and somewhat ashamed. But there came a point when politicians discovered that, if you simply kept repeating the same thing, over and over again, people would come to believe it regardless of whether it was true.
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One difficulty is that the truth is not self-revealing. That is, you can’t debunk a claim simply by calling it a lie and pointing to relevant evidence, precisely because a lot of that evidence will itself be contentious. Facts don’t sit out there in the world waiting to be discovered. They exist at the centre of a web of overlapping observations, judgments and inferences, all of which are themselves open to challenge. Fact-checking will never be as principled and disinterested as we would like.

But a bigger problem with the effort to truth-squad our way back to fact-based politics is it misunderstands the way political persuasion works. Successful politicians don’t win over the electorate by giving them a set of plausible facts that in turn motivate a set of policies, they sell them on an attractive narrative. The best politicians, from Reagan to Bill Clinton to Barack Obama, are storytellers.
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Truth should always remain a regulative ideal of political life. Facts matter, and fact-checking is still an important function of the independent press. But in the age of post-truth politics, it is important to remember that the guiding light of reason is the satirist. The literary devices of irony, sarcasm, and parody are the mechanisms through which grand political narratives are exposed not as false, but as laughable, preposterous or absurd.
- Of course, the U.S. experience also suggests that self-parody can have a rather profound impact on political decisions as well - if not in the way intended by the speaker. And Canada's political scene may soon offer its own examples if our own Fox News copycat is able to push itself on viewers.

- Meanwhile, the flip side of post-truth politics is an obsession with appearances. Needless to say, there's been plenty of evidence the Cons are far more interested in those than with facts thanks to multiple revelations about public money being used as media monitoring slush funds for the Cons' leaders - not to mention concerns that critical comments are being disappeared and questioning voices silenced. And Eva Sajoo offers some particularly important comparisons on the latter point:
(T)he political criteria of the CRA are applied with remarkable selectivity.

On the federal list of registered charities is the Fraser Institute, a self-described "think-tank" whose mission is to promote free-market economics. It produces a guide called Miningfacts.org, which promotes the economic benefits and safety of the mining industry. This puts the institute squarely behind the Harper government's controversial development and export policies on the oil sands industry via the Northern Gateway Project. The Fraser Institute also posted a recent study on the plan of the federal and B.C. governments to export liquefied natural gas to Asia, advocating removal of "the existing cumbersome and overlapping regulatory process and environmental reviews."
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Then there is the Friends of the Oil Sands Interpretive Centre, also a registered charity. Its mission is "to serve as the gateway to Alberta's oilsands by presenting its history, science, and technology, promoting appreciation for it, and providing learning opportunities to all visitors." According to its website, the organization was founded by donations from "individuals, companies, and the Alberta government."
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Or take Imperial Oil, which -- yes -- appears on the registered charity list although it invites investors, not donations.

Organizations that criticize government policy are another matter, notably on environmental issues.

The Vancouver-based Tides Canada, which opposes the Northern Gateway Project, has found itself subject to repeated audits from the CRA. Environmentalist opposition by organizations such as the Sierra Club has been condemned as "radical" by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver, and labelled as domestic extremism by Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

Once again, review of charitable status has been used as a threat to encourage silence.
- Finally, Andrew Stevens comments on the attempt by Saskatchewan's business community to turn our province into an anti-worker backwater through "right to work" laws.

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