Gelding Our White Knights with Knowledge

By Jason Menard

We know too much.

There’s a price to be paid for this wonderful instant-info world we live in. We literally have the world in the palm of our hands – a wealth of facts, opinion, and counter-opinion just a click away on smart phones, tablets, and laptops.

But that information isn’t free. It has cost us our ability to marvel, it’s robbed us of our sense of wonder, and it’s rendered us chronically dissatisfied. The days of wonder are long gone – and those looking for inspiration are doomed to never again find it.

Ignorance truly is bliss because knowledge only leads us to greater dissatisfaction.

Now, that’s not a bad thing at all. I think the fact that people in this day and age have access to information is a great thing. We just have to change our expectations – especially when it comes to politics.

This thought came to me while reading John Cusack’s piece on U.S. President Barack Obama, which argues that voters must hold Obama to a higher standard than just being the alternative to the Republican Party.

In many ways, that attitude has permeated all levels of politics – and we see it in abundance in Canada.

Many people don’t vote for someone; they vote against someone else. Over the past couple of federal elections we’ve seen people advocate strategic voting – the desire being not about putting the right candidate in a seat, but rather to keep the so-called wrong one out of it.

We scrutinize every little word and every little action (or inaction) that our elected representatives make. We arm ourselves with information that allows us to become dangerously opinionated. Our political theatre has become so dramatic that people rarely take the time to examine all sides, rather searching only for validation and like-minded opinion. The information is all there, just waiting for us.

And that’s a wonderful thing – for the most part. Sure, it would be nice if people could play nicely, be respectful, and listen to all sides of an argument before formulating an opinion (today’s politico often prefers to formulate first; find supportive arguments later), but that will come. As well, it’s important that we, as the electorate, ensure our elected representatives are doing their jobs – and the only way to do that is to stay engaged.

So we read our real-time council Tweets, we peruse a few post-event blogs, we try to find out how Paul Wells and Ezra Levant can see the same thing so differently. And, in the end, we inform ourselves to the point where we have effectively immunised ourselves from the one political thing we need.

Hope.

We know too much to hope. We live in a time when wonder can be argued away. There are no white knights riding to our collective rescue because we geld them and their steeds well before they assume office.

There’s a reason why our parents and grandparents idolized John F. Kennedy and FDR – because the media was complicit in maintaining their iconic status. Today every one of Kennedy’s dalliances would have been front-page news; and you can be damn sure that more than two pictures would exist of Roosevelt in his wheelchair – two an hour would be Tweeted today.

Yet we still lament the lack of politicians in which to believe. Locally, many voted Joe Fontana in as the everyman opposite of Anne-Marie DiCicco. That image simply couldn’t stand up to scrutiny. Rightly or wrongly, our current council is portrayed as bumbling Keystone Kops – and every foible, perceived error, and misspoken word is amplified by a factor of 100.

Then we wonder why there are so few politicians to believe in nowadays. Paul Martin was once the next great hope – at least before he assumed the Liberal leadership. Now the collective rush is on to appoint Justin Trudeau as The Next One. But how long will it be until the long knives are sharpened?

Maybe Jack Layton was the exception. He’s still lionised by his followers – but it’s hard to deny that his untimely death has helped his case. Had he lived to remain in power, eventually we would have torn him down.

And so we stumble from election to election, voting against something. Don’t like Harper? Who is the lesser of the two evils? Joe didn’t work out for ya? Who’s taking their cuts in the on-deck circle?

It won’t matter, in the end. Nobody can live up to our expectations because our expectations are forged in an era that won’t come back. We want the charismatic, take-charge, dynamic leader, but we keep hobbling them at the knees before they get to the starting blocks.

Our expectations need to change. There will be no political saviour – instead, it’s up to us all to take this hard-won knowledge and do something with it. And maybe that’s the real lesson here. We, as a society, don’t need a white knight – instead, we must all take up arms and fight for what we believe is right.

We paid for the knowledge with our innocence; maybe it’s time to do something with it.

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