Sunday, 19 May 2013

The system or the individual?

I just watched part of an investigative report on missing or murdered women in BC that have never been solved and it got me thinking about an article I read recently on Scientific American's Mind magazine (May/June 2013 edition) called, Why We Cheat, which talks about a phenomenon "copycat behaviour":

Seeing someone else cheat without apparent consequences strongly encourages others to do the same. One needs only watch pedestrians waiting at a crosswalk or passengers jumping a queue at a bus stop to observe examples of this phenomenon. (Mind, May/June 2013, p. 35)

Being an aboriginal male whose had his fair share of racism (from both the system and my fellow Inuit) there is another phenomenon of cheating that the Mind article talks about which the authors call "what the hell effect" as in "what the hell, I already blew my diet, so I might as well have the dessert." (ibid) that is also very familiar to me - as in "what the hell, he's just an Inuk..."

The copycat behaviour is very fresh in our minds right now because Harper's gov't seems especially prone to it. To wit: half-hearted attempts at hiding the gutting of environmental and labour laws by way of omnibus "budget" bills, and pretending that Canada's success in economic performance depends upon doing away with these long-standing laws of the land (never mind that there was no real public consultations - they have a majority, after all); the recent moves by the public safety minister to rein in communications policy of the RCMP already beset by various issues of public trust (perhaps a clumsy tactic to stave off further injury to the much-sullied image); the $90K "gift" from Harper's chief-of-staff to solve senator Duffy's problems; etc. etc. (BTW, the PM's chief-of-staff has since resigned over the $90K "gift"!)

Earlier in the Mind magazine article the authors muse: We believe that anxiety over loss [of money, reputation, careers, etc.] is a principle driver of cheating...(ibid)

I heard Andrew Coine  - a regular in my favourite weekly feature (At Issue) of the CBC's The National news broadcast - say that this type of unethical behaviour seems to pervade much of Harper's tenure especially in the majority he now commands and Coine wondered aloud whether all of CPC's value system was up for sale.

Disregarding for the moment the more dogmatic aspects  - the "what the hell," if you will - of the Christian faith that has done much to discredit it, the Christ says in more than one passage in the New Testament:

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’" (Matthew 25: 44-45)

In my career, especially as a policy analyst, I've tried to view (and constantly remind) myself that I'm an advocate for the fulfilment of fiduciary obligations in the Inuit-Governments relations. To me, this work is less an exercise in technical, legal, or constitutional well-formedness (though it is these for sure) but have tried, to the best of my abilities, to take back the "ownership" by re-posing the issues as open-ended questions of ethics: am I my brother's keeper? if so, how serious am I (or should I be) in my representation and advocacy (for "the least of these")?

My reputation as a "professional" has suffered over the years - some lost respect for me and stopped talking to me altogether, including some of my fellow Inuit (people I love and respect; people I can live without). But I always go back to a powerful comment one of my bosses said in talking about our grandchildren's historical assessment of our generation: What the hell were they thinking when they agreed to diminish our rights?

It may be that the very fabric of the system calls upon us to sometimes "sell out" and settle for something less. I can live with that. I ask not for perfection. The question is not that; the core of the issue, as far as I'm concerned, is how I deal with the ethical dilemmas invariably posed by the system we have no choice but to work within.


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