Tag Archives: interesting people

Structure of Scientific Revolutions vs. The Black Swan (Journalism remix)

Structure of Scientific Revolutions CoverI’ve just finished Thomas S. Kuhn’s classic 1962 book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” For those unfamiliar with the title, it is the book that gave us the important and oft over-used term: “paradigm shift.”

I won’t pretend it was an easy to read. Written in a classic academic style, what is a fascinating topic and set of ideas struggles to shine. However, don’t hear me blaming the author for this… it is both that the book comes from another era, and that it springs from a cannon of academic writing that simply doesn’t seek to be as penetrable outside a certain community.

That said, I did enjoy it immensely. One reason is that I once again lucked out and ended up reading it at the same time as another book – Nassim Nicholas Taleb‘s The Black Swan – that despite being on a different topics and written 45 years later, dovetails nicely.

blackswan-199x300Paradigm shifts are black swan events. They can be hard, if not impossible to predict. They can arise because of the appearance of a single unforeseen data point (a black swan in a world where all swans were previously believed to be white) and they overthrow systems that we have become overly, comfortably, complacent and reliant on. Finally, although paradigms shifts are rare, because they force us to see the world in an entirely new way they have a disproportional and possibly even unparalleled, impact.

I often like to refer to Schopenhauer’s three stages of truth: “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.”

Both Taleb and Kuhn’s books play on this theme. For Taleb, our problem is that we can’t see or predict the changes in our world. We expect that we can predict them and that they’ll arrive in a nice orderly – or bell curve distributed – manner.

They don’t.

Despite the mental image we have of history (and our lives), history doesn’t crawl. It moves it fits and starts. Oscillating between long steady states and sudden change. We often believe the steady states will last forever, and when change comes we trivialize it and then fight it, until it becomes the new steady state, at which point, we come to believe it was always that way.

This is also Kuhn point. Look at how he sees paradigm shifts as being important for both the science and politics changes:

Political revolutions are inaugurated by a growing sense, often restricted to a segment of the political community, that existing institutions have ceased adequately to meet the problems posed by an environmental that they have in part created. In much the same way, scientific revolutions are inaugurated by growing sense, again restricted to a narrow subdivision of the scientific community, that an existing paradigm has ceased to function adequately in the exploration of an aspect of nature to which that paradigm itself had previously led the way. In both political and scientific development the sense of malfunction that can lead to crisis is prerequisite to revolution…

…The parallel has, however, a second and more profound aspect upon which the significance of the first depends. Political revolutions aim to change political institutions in ways that those institutions themselves prohibit. Their success therefore necessitates the partial relinquishment of one set of institutions in favour of another, and in the interim, society is not fully governed by institutions at all. Initially it is crisis alone that attenuates the role of political institutions as we have already seen it attenuate the role of paradigms. In increasing numbers individuals become increasingly estranged from political life and behave more and more eccentrically within it. Then, as the crisis deepens, many of these individuals commit themselves to some concrete proposal for the reconstruction of society in a new institutional framework. At that point the society is divided into competing camps or parties, one seeking to defend the old institutional constellation, the others seeking to institute some new one. And, once that polarization has occurred, political recourse fails. Because they differ about the institutional matrix with which political change is to be achieved and evaluated, because they acknowledge no supra-institutional framework for the adjudication of revolutionary difference, the parties to a revolutionary conflict must finally resort to the techniques of mass persuasion, often including force. Though revolutions have had a vital role in the evolution of political institutions, that role depends upon their being partially extrapolitical or extrainstitutional events. (Kuhn, Pages 92-93 of the 3rd edition)

If you don’t think the world operates this way, just look as far as the news industry.

When Shirky says revolutions are times when “The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place” he is paraphrasing Kuhn. Journalism is already dividing into camps, those defending the old, and those seeking to figure out what the “new” will be.

But despite all the discussion, we are still very early on in the debate. How do I know? Because we haven’t even begun to shed the old paradigm? The entire debate about journalism, what it is, how it should be practiced and what makes it good or bad is still being largely being evaluated and adjudicated by the old matrix. When journalism finally gets saved I suspect it will be because it will be, in part, radically redefined – a redefinition affirmed and made possible by the establishment of some new institutions, organizations and/or processes. (That’s what my post on the death of journalist was seeking to do).

So yes, we’ve left the ridiculed phase (that lasted 20 years), but we are still early on in the violently oppose phase. All thos unhappy journalists are angry because they may be the midst of a paradigm shift, and that means much like Newtonian physicists confronting Einstein’s theory of relatively everything, absolutely everything they believed in, fought for, taught and lived. is probably going to get redefined and altered beyond recognition. It will still be there, but it will forever be understood differently.

That’s a scary thought. But it is fun one as well, filled with possibility. Which is why Kuhn and Taleb are fun to read together.

It's a brave man who advocates against R2P at the U of O…

…and my friend Matteo Legrenzi – assistant professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs of the University of Ottawa – appears to be just the guy. Remember, this is the University at which Allan Rock is president.

Recently Matteo penned this critical piece on R2P in the Ottawa Citizen. In his trademark style it has some notable harsh lines including:

Occasionally calls to mobilize Canada’s diplomatic network in support of such notions reverberate through Ottawa. The current government is perceived as not incisive enough in the promotion of these “emerging” norms in international relations.

Admittedly, these calls more often than not come from retired politicians who are not in charge of Canada’s foreign policy, let alone world affairs. They are part of that wider syndrome that affects many individuals involved in policy-making after they retire: We are sorry we did not save the world while we were in charge, but let us tell you exactly how to go about it now that we are out of office.

and, because he is an expert on Middle Eastern issues, this quote:

In many Muslim-majority countries such as Egypt, opposition to R2P is the only thing that unites the government and the Islamist opposition.

Matteo and I don’t always agree but I do always enjoy his blunt assessments of Canada’s foreign policy. There is a strain of thinking in Canadian foreign policy that is more obsessed with pursuing the perfect ideal than pragmatically finding solution that works. This is something I’ve occasionally tried to write about. Matteo’s assessments is far tougher, and is the type of piece few Canadians are willing to voice and fewer still like to hear (especially in Ottawa).

What makes Matteo tough is that there is truth to his assessment. Contrary to what some politicians preach R2P is unpopular in many parts of the world and it is not established international norm. George Bush spent 8 years believing that the world could become a certain way if he simply believed and acted that it was as such… it was a dangerous strategy that had devastating results. A similar strategy, even if motivated by what we believe are more noble intentions, will also be fraught with danger.

I know not everyone will agree with Matteo’s analysis, but even those who disagree with his prescription should at least take away that one lesson: reality may bite, but we can never ignore it.

Articles I'm digesting 6/2/2009

The Quiet Unravelling of Canadian Democracy by James Travers

This poignant piece by James Travers is long overdue. The concentration of power in the Prime Minister’s Office – which started with Trudeau and has continued with each successive Prime Minister – along with the decline of cabinet and of parliamentary committees, is corroding our governing institutions. Travers sums it all up succinctly and frighteningly.

My sense is that – while no one would articulate it this way – people may be disengaged from politics because we expect so little from our MPs, so little from the system itself. Our governing system has – I believe – been durable because it relies less on hard rules and more on conventions and norms. This has given it flexibility but also demands a certain degree of self-restraint and self-managed code of conduct among its participants.What makes the corrosion hard to point at specifically is that there is rarely a single, specific triggering event – no moment when a “rule” is broken, but rather a slow process where conventions and norms are abandoned. Take the recent Conservative Party tactic of engaging in personal attacks during member statements. No “rules” were broken, but another norm, one that tried to help elevate the level of discussion in the house, was weakened.

I’m less interested in radical changes – such as new ways to elect members – since it is unclear to me why or how these would change things (and the unanticipated consequences are more troubling still). Instead, there are small steps that could have dramatic results. Giving MPs real money for research and policy staff (like their counterparts in the US) would be one area where I think a small change could – over time – shift some (admittedly not all) power back to MPs. But in the mean time let us get better aware of the problem – so if you can, take a look at Travers piece.

Einstein, Franklin, and the Role of Creativity in Today’s World” (a lecture) by Walter Isaacson (via David B)

After listening to this beautiful lecture Saturday morning I realized that I’d read (or listened to, to be precise) Isaacson’s book Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. The lecture tries to tease out what made Einstein and Franklin great men – it wasn’t enough that they were intelligent (lots of people are intelligent) but what is it that made them creative? In short, it is to do what is important to you and to maintain the capacity to challenge – to be intolerant of assumptions, institutional inertia and lazy thinking – while remaining hyper-tolerant of others, their thinking and their perspectives.

If you don’t have the patience to listen to the whole talk (which is 44 minutes, there are 25 minutes of Q&A) then consider fast forwarding to the 37th minute of talk where he talks of both men’s final moments. The way they are at humble, aware of their sins and successes, inspiring to those around them but, most of all, consistently dedicated to the values and tasks they love, well, honestly, it left me teary. Consider Franklin’s funeral in 1790 where:

“All 35 Ministers, Preachers and Priests of Philadelphia link arms with the Rabbi of the Jews to march with him to the grave. It is that type of creativity of tolerance, of looking for new ways of doing things that they were fighting for back in Franklin’s time and I really do think that’s a struggle we are fighting for both at home and in the world today.”

The lecture reminded me of why Isaacson’s book transformed Franklin into a hero to me.

The Quiet Coup by Simon Johnson

This article has been circulating around for a couple of weeks now and it is the most damning admonition of both the financial collapse and both Bush’s and Obama’s response that I have read.

But there’s a deeper and more disturbing similarity [between the US and the financial collapses in South Korea, Malaysia, Russia and Argentina]: elite business interests—financiers, in the case of the U.S.—played a central role in creating the crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse. More alarming, they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive. The government seems helpless, or unwilling, to act against them.

It gets worse.

But these various policies—lightweight regulation, cheap money, the unwritten Chinese-American economic alliance, the promotion of homeownership—had something in common. Even though some are traditionally associated with Democrats and some with Republicans, they all benefited the financial sector. Policy changes that might have forestalled the crisis but would have limited the financial sector’s profits—such as Brooksley Born’s now-famous attempts to regulate credit-default swaps at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, in 1998—were ignored or swept aside.

The biggest danger? The crises gets somewhat resolved… and nothing changes. This is why I’m such a big fan of Umair Haque’s blog.

Is Charest ready to pounce? by Rheal Seguin

A while back I predicted that, after the Conservatives bungled the budget and the coalition was struck that Layton, Dion and Harper would all lose their jobs before the end of 2009. I stand by the claim (and now have money riding on it with some good people out there). It would appear that the press is increasingly smelling blood in the water around Harper…

Journalism in an Open Era (follow up link)

Been getting a number of great comments and emails from people on the post on Journalism in an Open Era.

Another blogger I meant to link to he’s ideas on the future of organizations I find smart, edgy and thoughtful is Umair Haque, the Director of the Havas Media Lab who blogs for the Harvard Business Review.

In a piece entitled How to Build a Next-Generation Business Now, Haque’s concludes that the problem that dragged down wall street is in part, the same one that is killing (or transforming to be nicer) journalism. My journalism in an open era piece is set, in part, on the belief that the gut wrenching changes we are experiencing economically are part of a transition to a new rule-set, one that will favour, and possibility require, more “open” institutions and business models. This will require – in part – a new journalism but also real leadership in the private, public and non-profit sector (the type Henry Mintzberg raged about in his excellent oped in the Globe and Mail).

Here’s Haque (bold and italic text is mine) on the subject:

The first step in building next-generation businesses is to recognize the real problem boardrooms face – that we’ve moved beyond strategy decay. Building next-gen businesses depends on recognizing that they are not about new business models or even new strategies.

The stunningly total meltdown we just witnessed in the investment banking sector – the end of Wall St as we know it – was something far darker and more remarkable. It wasn’t simple business model obsolescence – an old business model being superseded by a more efficient or productive one. The problem the investment banks had wasn’t at the level of business models – it had little to do with revenue streams, customer segmentation, or value propositions.

And neither was it what Gary Hamel has termed “strategy decay” – imitation and commoditization eroding the returns to a once-defensible strategic position, scarce resource, or painstakingly built core competence.

It was something bigger and more vital: institutional decay. Investment banks failed not just as businesses, but as financial institutions that were supposedly built to last. It was ultimately how they were organized and managed as economic institutions – poor incentives, near-total opacity, zero responsibility, absolute myopia – that was the problem. The rot was in their DNA, in their institutional makeup, not in their strategies or business models.

The point is this: the central challenge 21st century boardrooms must face is not reinventing strategies, or business models, but reinventing businesses as institutions.

Old stuff is breaking fast. The rot is in the DNA – we may, in may circumstances, need a new institutional make up. And the new rule sets need to be understood quickly. Are we coming into an Open Era? I don’t know, but I think open and/or transparent organizations are going to have a leg up.

Public Service Renewal Event in Ottawa: Etienne LaLiberte

For public servants who read my blog I wanted to let you know that Etienne Laliberte, who I’ve got a lot of time for on the Public Service Renewal front, is coming to Ottawa to do an armchair discussion this Tuesday. I consider Etienne a must talk to person around this stuff so if you find the ideas on this blog interesting, definitely go check him out.

Armchair Discussion – National Capital Region

Tuesday, March 17, 2009, 8:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. (ET)

Living Renewal: How to Turn an Organization Around in 1,000 Days

Speaker: Etienne Laliberté
Senior Advisor, Change Management and Organization Development,
Conservation and Protection – Fisheries and Oceans Canada

English Presentation

Challenge the myths around change management and demonstrate how simple – and yet difficult! – turning an organization around can be!

To say the organization was in a poor state would be an understatement – it was a mess! Much of the pride and commitment of the employees had been eroded, if not lost altogether. Relations between management and staff were strained and the organization was preceded throughout by its “bad reputation”.

Fast-forward 3 years later: trust has been rebuilt, employees are as dedicated as they ever were, and people are now saying: “If this organization was able to realized great change, anyone can!” How did this organization renew itself? What were the steps that lead to organizational healing? What were the big lessons learned? What can you do to make renewal a reality in your organization?

In this presentation, Etienne Laliberté, will tell the story of the renewal lived in his organization over the years, and even share the secrets of how they systematically do staffing in three weeks (yes, that is correct: only three weeks!!!). Please join us!

You are invited to attend this Armchair Discussion on-site at 65 Guigues Street (Ottawa) or participate online via live Webcast (video and audio feed offered online).

Speaker: Etienne Laliberté is Senior Advisor, Change Management and Organization Development, for Conservation and Protection at Fisheries and Oceans Canada in Vancouver (Etienne.Laliberte@dfo-mpo.gc.ca). He is best known for his provocative paper “An Inconvenient Renewal“. He is also the author of the blog “Contrarian Thinking“. A federal Public Servant since 2003, Etienne holds a Masters in Project Management (M.SC.) and has ten years of experience in the subject areas of consulting and management. He has received recognition for his work including the 2005 Management Trainee Association (MTA) Merit Award; the 2008 Fisheries and Oceans Canada Pacific Region Distinction Award, and; the 2008 National Managers’ Community Leadership Award for the Pacific Region. For more: http://www.gcpedia.gc.ca/index.php/User:EtienneLaliberte

To register, please visit the School’s Web site:

http://www.csps-efpc.gc.ca/eve/air/index-eng.asp

Discussion informelle – Région de la Capitale Nationale

Mardi 17 mars 2009, 8 h 30 à 11 h (HE)

Vivre le renouvellement: comment transformer une organisation en 1000 jours

Conférencier: Etienne Laliberté
Conseiller principal, Gestion du changement et développement organisationnel
Conservation et protection – Pêches et Océans Canada

Présentation en anglais

Détruisez les mythes entourant la gestion du changement et voyez à quel point il est simple – et pourtant si difficile – de transformer une organisation !

Ce serait un euphémisme que d’affirmer que l’organisation était en mauvais état – c’était un beau gâchis! La fierté et l’engagement des employés avaient été gravement ébranlés, voire complètement anéantis. Les relations entre la direction et le personnel étaient tendues et partout, la mauvaise réputation de l’organisation la précédait.

Projetons-nous dans l’avenir, soit trois ans plus tard : la confiance est restaurée, les employés sont plus dévoués et les gens disent maintenant : « Si cette organisation a réussi tout cela, tout le monde peut y arriver! ». Comment cette organisation est-elle parvenue à se renouveler? Quelles étapes ont mené à cette guérison organisationnelle? Quelles sont les grandes leçons apprises? Que pouvez-vous faire pour faire du renouvellement une réalité dans votre organisation?

Au cours de cette présentation, Étienne Laliberté relatera le déroulement du renouvellement vécu dans son organisation au cours des dernières années, et partagera même comment on y fait de la dotation en trois semaines (oui, vous avez bien lu: seulement trois semaines!!!). Soyez des nôtres!

Vous êtes invités à assister à cette Discussion informelle en personne au 65, rue Guigues (Ottawa) ou participer au moyen de la webdiffusion en direct (couverture vidéo et audio offerte en ligne).

Conférencier : Etienne Laliberté est Conseiller principal, Gestion du changement et développement organisationnel, Conservation et protection, Pêches et Océans Canada à Vancouver. Il est l’auteur de « Un renouvellement qui dérange : les gestionnaires de la FP sont-ils disposés à modifier leur mode de gestion ». Il est également l’auteur du blogue « Contrarian Thinking » (site anglais). Fonctionnaire au gouvernement fédéral depuis 2003, M. Laliberté est titulaire d’une maîtrise en gestion de projet (M. Sc.) et compte dix années d’expérience dans les domaines de la consultation et de la gestion. M. Laliberté a été reconnu pour son travail. En effet, il a été récipiendaire du Prix d’excellence de l’Association des stagiaires en gestion en 2005, du Prix de distinction de Pêches et Océans Canada pour la région du Pacifique en 2008, et du Prix du leadership de la communauté nationale des gestionnaires pour la région du Pacifique également en 2008. Pour en savoir plus: http://www.gcpedia.gc.ca/index.php/User:EtienneLaliberte

Pour vous inscrire, veuillez consulter le site Web de l’École:

http://www.csps-efpc.gc.ca/eve/air/index-fra.asp

friends of eaves.ca now online

A couple of friends and colleagues have recently made the transition online and I wanted to point readers in their direction:

For foreign policy fiends Daryl Copeland – who has always had a thoughtful and forwarding looking view of foreign policy – has a new blog up in anticipation of the release of his new book Guerrilla Diplomacy. I like Daryl cause he’s smart, outspoken and has been a supporter of anyone, like those of us who worked on From Middle to Model Power, who are trying to figure out what the future of diplomacy and the foreign ministry is. He and I agree that that the current model probably isn’t working.

On the environmental front Chris Hatch has launched his new blog – Zero Carbon. Part of the PowerUp Canada initiative, it serves as an outlet for the ideas and thoughts of several long time Canadian environmentalists as well as an aggregator for environment and climate change related news.

Finally, for the men out there who are looking to look good for less, my fiend Chris K. has recently launched his new company, Moniker. As Chris puts it on his site: “Moniker is a global group of friends who have cracked open the luxury supply chain.” And cracked it they have! Finally, I’ll get some french cuffed shirts for all the cuff-links I own…

The internet is messy, fun and imperfect, just like us

Last October 23rd David Weinberger gave the 2008 Bertha Bassam Lecture at the University of Toronto. I happened to be in Toronto but only found out about the lecture on the 24th. Fortunately Taylor pointed out that the lecture is online.

I’ve never met David Weinberger (his blog is here) but I hope to one day. I maintain his book – Small Pieces Loosely Joined – remains one of, if not the best book written about the internet and society. Everything is Miscellaneous is a fantastic read as well.

The Bertha Bassam lecture is classic Weinberger: smart, accessible, argumentative and fun. But what I love most about Weinberger is how he constantly reminds us that the internet is us…  and that, as a result, it is profoundly human: messy, fun, argumentative, and above all imperfect. Indeed, the point is so beautifully made in this lecture I felt a little emotional listening to it.

Contrast that to the experience of listening to someone like Andrew Keen, a Weinberger critic who this lecture again throws into stark relief. After reflecting on Weinberger, Keen dislikes the internet and web 2.0 mostly because I think he dislikes people. It may sound harsh but if you ever hear him speak – or even read his writing – it is smart, argumentative and interesting, but it oozes with an anger and condescension that is definitely contemptuous and sometimes even borders on hatred. If the debate is reduced to whether or not we should, however imperfectly, try to connect to and learn from one another or whether we should just hold others in contempt, I think Weinberger is going to win every time. At least, I know where I stand.

Indeed, this blog is a triumph of Weinberger’s internet humanism. It is a small effort to write, to share, and to celebrate the complexity and opportunity of the world with those I know and those I don’t, but who share a similar sense of possibility. Will millions read this blog. No. But I enjoy the connections, old and new, I make with the much more modest number of people who do.

I hope you’ll watch this lecture or, if you haven’t the time, download the audio to your ipod and listen to it during your commute home. (lacking the slides won’t have a big impact)

Must see show this Sunday in Vancouver

It’s Friday and time to prepare for the weekend. In that spirit the perfect opportunity has arisen to both notify Vancouverites of a great cultural opportunity and give a shout out to my friend Misha Glouberman who is bringing his famous Trampoline Hall event to Vancouver! What is Trampoline Hall you ask? Look no further then the links above, the text below or the event’s facebook page:

Trampoline Hall is a barroom lecture series usually based in Toronto, but sometimes in other places. On Feb 1, it will be in Vancouver for the first time, as part of the Push Festival.

Trampoline Hall is this: Three people talk, on subjects outside their professional field of expertise. The lectures are sometimes ridiculous, sometimes moving, and always wildly unpredictable. Each talk is followed by a Q&A with the audience which is usually also a lot of fun.

Trampoline Hall was invented by the writer Sheila Heti, and is hosted by Misha Glouberman. In Toronto, it is something of an institution, playing every month for the past seven years or so. It’s also played to great crowds in around a dozen US cities, including Atlanta, Boston, New York, Louisville, Chicago, and San Francisco. Feb 1 will be Trampoline Hall’s first time in Vancouver.

All lecturers for the Vancouver show selected are selected by Veda Hille. Here is the lineup she has chosen:

1) Andrew Feldmar will talk about Cooking from Memory.
2) Kevin Chong will discuss Fraternal Polyandry
3) Faith Moosang will assert “There are Clues Everywhere!!” in a talk about Nancy Drew.

~~~~

“”Unruly… Caustically Funny” – Durham Independent

“They’ve been doing this for several years up in Toronto… now New Yorkers are in its thrall. Clearly, we love it.” – The Village Voice

“Cloud-splitting Genius” – Lola Magazine

“Eccentricity and do-it-yourself inventiveness” – The New Yorker

I’m hoping my plane lands in time so that I can make it!

Noam Chomsky name drops Taylor Owen

Check out this video of Noam Chomsky dropping my man Taylor Owen‘s name over and over again in regards to the excellent article he and Ben Kiernan wrote in The Walrus about the scope and impact of the bombing of cambodia.

Definitely check out the article if you haven’t already – it outlines a compelling case for why bombing campaigns are so problematic against insurgencies. It is a thread that Taylor and I picked up on in this op-ed in Embassy magazine last May.

name dropping begins around minute 46 – you can skip straight to it

left wing tonic for Michael Byers

Recently I’ve been reading more and more of Policy Options. I’m not a reading every issue (although I’m not trying to) but I am enjoying much of what I do get through.

Going way back to the February issue there was an article by Robin Sears entitled “Canada in North America: From Political Sovereignty to Economic Integration.” The piece was a hard assessment about the limits of Canadian sovereignty and economic independence in light of our geographical position next to the United States. He notes that our position is one where we must work with our American cousins and try to gain as much influence as possible – a bold statement these days – but one that remains true. Perhaps no more so today. When things are at their worst (and I’ll admit, they are) that’s precisely when we need a map for a better path. As Sears points out…:

Imagine the vision, the courage and imagination that it took in the harsh winter of European famine of 1947-48 for two powerless French statesmen to sit in a Paris café and begin to plan for a united Europe! …They reflected grimly on “the success of the victorious Allied powers” in Europe.

The continent was being savaged by Soviet armies in the east and staggered under starvation in the west. The only European unity any rational person could foresee was a shared visceral hatred of Germany and everything it had stood for. The miracle that was the Marshall Plan was still in the future. Germany was a decade away from its economic leap forward. England, torn by its loss of empire, with its special relationship with the United States and its eternal ambivalence about Europe, was unreliable.

The simple fact is, we are stuck on this north american rock with the a powerful neighbor who knows little about us, and cares less and less every day. The only thing that will be worse is when they suddenly do care about us – like our border after 9/11. Sears’ is at pains to find ways to foster political structures to promote cooperation between Canada and the United States and he’s right. We need them. Those who wish to die at the altar of sovereignty, preserving it absolutely at no matter what cost, will find that they have significantly less influence, not only abroad, but at home as well. Worse, sovereignty is usually not what they care about. In perhaps the pieces most biting line, Sears points out:

“Canadian nationalists trying to ring-fence our sovereignty are engaged in an especially ironic struggle, given their citizenship in the nation that invented the modern, more supple form of sovereignty: federalism. Those who are most determined to draw deeper lines in the ongoing crusade against American encroachment on our national sovereignty are often the strongest advocates of Canada’s leadership in the development of global governance through multilateral institutions. The contradiction reveals less about their convictions about sovereignty than about their plain vanilla anti-Americanism.”

Ouch.

The piece is interesting and worth reading on its own merits. But what makes it still more compelling is its author. So who is this man? Excellent question. First, despite the article’s bent, analysis and conclusion, he’s not a Conservative. No, for the uninitiated (like me) Robin Sears was the national campaign director of the NDP during the Broadbent years and served as Bob Rae’s chief of staff when he was premier. He was also Deputy Secretary General of the Socialist International. For those on the left whose only prescription to our geographic conundrum is to seal the border and throw away the key (a proposition that would see no end of pain for the Canadian economy) it is interesting to find those, on the same side of the spectrum, who disagree. I hope we see more of them… frankly the debate needs their perspective.