Common Sense Comes to Town!

Common sense is the most fairly distributed thing in the world, for each one thinks he is so well-endowed with it that even those who are hardest to satisfy in all other matters are not in the habit of desiring more of it than they already have. (Descartes)

Mandatory Openness and the Information Crisis

Posted on | December 8, 2011 | 2 Comments

The FTQ Investment fund taken over by the mob. Minister Courchesne granting subsidized daycare licenses to the highest bidder. A long time ago there was also the VIP stickers scandal in Montreal. Is corruption really everywhere?

In a word : yes. Why are you so surprised? Power (financial, political, judiciary) does have a value and as such can become a variable in a noxious game of supply and demand. Someone will always find a way to bargain some favour in order to get closer to power – and the currency used isn’t necessarily cash. Just remember the Lewinsky affair…

Any self-respecting democracy tries to set up counterweights to power. Regular elections, auditors, freedom of the press are a few of these. Yet sometimes these counterweights are inefficient against organizations that are not subjected to any direct control. This is the case of the FTQ: of course its books are audited, but the power of agency of its administrators is rarely probed in depth. It is therefore tempting to use this opportunity to gain access to a limitless source of income, subsidized through generous fiscal policies.

The commonness of scandals lately does not only mean that corruption has intensified in Quebec in recent years. It also forces us to realize that ways to investigate and broadcast information are now extremely refined. Every conversation leaves a trace. Every cell phone, e-mail or any electronic communication can be hacked into. Wikileaks reminded this to the whole world while exposing the hypocrisy of American diplomacy.

We are basically heading straight into an era of forced mandatory openness, in spite of the imperative need to defend our private lives. The ethical dilemma begins here. This forced and undesired openness unfortunately appears necessary to some people given the erosion of traditional counterweights. Auditors can be trapped by their own administrations. The media are concentrated into conglomerates for which information is only of secondary relevance (and even seen as a bartering tool). When the choice offered to voters is insufficient, they may turn to cynicism instead of action.

Yet is this a reason to call for totalitarian transparency? Can we replace the law through our accusation, as a citizen tried to do recently when he exposed a few pedophiles online? Absolutely not – but unfortunately the judiciary and the police aren’t known for their transparency , sometimes for obvious reasons.

The fact remains that our conception of democracy is shaken by a crisis caused by communication and information technology. This crisis is not only an awakening (sometimes bitter, sometimes cynical), it is also an avowal of powerlessness against some branches of power, which mandate, means and accountability are no longer in sync with contemporary society.

Just like all crisis some face it in a reactionary way, others see it as a threat, others as an opportunity.  But it is important as citizen to be conscious of if and to put forward, in our common reflections, solutions allowing us to modulate power in a suitable way.


2 Responses to “Mandatory Openness and the Information Crisis”

  1. Crissy
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