Archive for October, 2015

Resentment and the 2015 Canadian Election


Christopher Hume’s column in the Toronto Star on Friday joined the plethora of pundit-led assessments of why Stephen Harper and his Conservatives fell out of government last Monday.

He spent most of his ink on the need of large municipalities to have federal dollars for infrastructure, but ended with the following about voter feelings: “The message of the federal election, we are told, was that Canadians are hungry — starved — for change. They’ve had it with the politics of resentment.” This is the first reference to resentment and to the idea that resentment deserves recognition as an important part of politics I have ever seen, despite Hume attributing it to unnamed others.  He concluded with a hint about what causes resentment: “They want the public’s business conducted in good faith, not bad blood.”

Yes, the Conservative Party under Harper is  mean.  Even though its basic tenets are still popular — more money left in taxpayers’ pockets, defend your friends from terrorists — the public has noticed how mean-spirited he is, starting with the ads mocking youngish Liberal leader Trudeau as being “not ready.”  There has also been the canceling of the Census’ mandatory long-form, so necessary to social scientists, policy analysts, and even marketers, along with muzzling government scientists across the board.  His niqab ban was spuriously based on an assumption that the few Muslim women that wore them were needing protection from demanding husbands and fathers.   His muzzling didn’t stop at government staff, but extended to his own backbenchers and, according to many reports, his ministers

Resentment is one of the emotions, but one that is different.  While it is confused with anger, the word contains an important clue as to its power — and its significance to politics.  “Resent” means to re-feel something.  It is an anger against how one is treated by another person or institution — or how others one cares about are treated.  And because the treatment is doled out by  a person or organization that has more power, it cannot be reversed simply by fighting back, because the treatment is probably simply get worse.  So it goes on and on.

Harper wasn’t this bad in how he treated others during his first two mandates; he had minority governments and restrained himself for what he really wanted: a majority.  Once he had that, the way he treated others turned darker, enough so that he became enemy-number-one at the first time sanctions could be considered: a federal election.

In news examples of resentment, I have come to realize that those who mistreat others often are, themselves, resentful of real or imagined mistreatments throughout their lives.  In Harper’s case, it is liberals and progressives, but also justices, media, and criminals.  It is seen as a matter of justice — an idea from the “old West” — that when one has, finally, the chance, one corrects injustice.  For the last four years, Harper was wearing a white hat, correcting age-old injustices he and fellow conservatives are resentful about.

He could, perhaps, have saved himself and the power he had amassed by utilizing the wisdom of PR people who suggest one can save one’s reputation by  saying you’re sorry and promising to change.  But that would have required self-awareness that Harper never evinced.  Instead, he is muttering, “enough with all you knaves” — including his own colleagues in government — and exiting abruptly and without allowing the media any question (or gloating, as his mind probably sees it).  Perhaps part of his blindness to this resentment — which, after all, most of us don’t identify as such in our lives — is his economics background: he so believes that voters want to maximize their economic well-being that he can’t see any role for emotion, especially for the most important one for voters: resentment.




Flight plans for driving?


The flurry of predictions about the rosy future for self-driving cars has missed an important feature: the car needs to be told the driver’s destination before starting out, just as pilots of airplanes have had to do pretty much from the beginning. How will this change ground transportation?  And how soon with drivers (or their self-driving cars) be required to ‘file’ this plan with the local traffic planners?  Airlines do that now with a federal agency.  My experience with carsharing showed how even the scant commitment users had to make — for when they would leave and when they would return (and the $25 fine for returning the car late) — had the effect of injecting rigor into trip planning.

The drivers of most buses and larger trucks already do that, even though there is no government agency requiring it. That is because their vehicles are owned by — or are contracted to — large concerns which have made commitments to third parties about what/who will be delivered where by when.  It’s called “logistics” and is now a science.  Even though the federal aviation authorities use the mass of schedule information to “manage traffic” in the air, this is not pooled by ground-transportation authorities to allow for congestion-avoidance strategies, leading to, at least, greater efficiency.

If each vehicle — self-driving or human-piloted — sent their users’ plans to a central website that could do on-the-fly projections of the amount of traffic at each pre-identified “pinch-point” in its system, some very beneficial steps could be taken:

– fewer driver last-second maneuvers would occur, some of them causing collisions or near-collisions; and no drivers would get lost;

– traffic planners could ‘see’ congestion before it would occur, allowing time to advise drivers or on-board computers to alter their plans according to scientific suggested alternative routes.

– drivers with empty seats — sensors in the cars to detected the status of each seat, as they now can sense whether a seatbelt should be deployed — could function as a provider of “trans-seat” for people on foot needing a time-saving lift as part of their own trip, a kind of “Uber-ization” of transit — or the automation of hitchhiking to make it work on an intra-urban basis — all linked by our smart-phone system.

Already, proponents of self-driving cars are suggesting that they will significantly reduce road collisions and car-ownership (thus a city’s car ‘population’) by eliminating both driver error and vehicle down-time (it would drive itself from one user’s trip-destination to next user’s trip-origin) eliminating the between-trips parking requirement associated with private car-ownership.  The plans of users will be known before a shared-smartcar company even assigns the trip, further improving vehicle efficiencies.

Would we, today, consider travel by air, train, or bus if such a system didn’t exist for each?  We even insist that it is not enough to now a vehicle’s schedule, but its current status, too (since plans can be adhered to flawlessly).  And if the road system planners, knowing the plans of all vehicles on the road and those about to enter the roads, are able to predict congestion, and share its findings with all users, wouldn’t that allow people to make — and change — their plans as traffic status report became available, including delaying or dropping their upcoming plans to drive, at least for the next few hours? Might, finally, we shape travel demand to road capacity, rather than expecting government to eternally expand it to our whims-of-travel?