Friday, August 17, 2007

A confession on stimulis and response, pokes and smears

There's an ancient principle of biology that goes back thousands of years - stimulus and response. The idea is simple - you learn about a biological system by providing a stimulus and then observing and measuring the response.

During the 1780's, biologist Luigi Galvani performed experiments at the University of Bologna involving electric charges and frogs. Charges could make frog legs jump even if the legs were no longer attached to a frog.

In neuroscience, a classic set of experiments provided fascinating results. They opened up the skull of a conscious subject and then probed the brain. The subject, in response to the probes, experienced smells, emotions and memories. Those results produced the first rough map of the brain function.

As with a frog leg or a brain, you can perform the same experiment on a body politic. Provide a stimulus, say a series of provocative blog posts or talk radio telephone calls, and check the response.

The results are complex. Depending on the region of the body politic observed, the response might be approval, agreement, delight. Other parts register disapproval, annoyance, anger.

And then there are those dank corners where the response is peculiar and disproportionate. It turns out that, on some topics, the response is more than mere disapproval. The response is paranoid, suspicious and irrationally hostile.

It's the response that tells you more about those rigid and claustrophobic corners than you ever wanted to know.

I must be in the secret pay of great forces, they muse. How else could a sole individual, on their own, dare to take on the powers that rule this province? I must be the tool of those who wish to do us harm. Why else stand before the tide?

Smears and sleazy, baseless questions about motivation come into the light. While speculation is offered, no evidence is provided or produced.

But of course, you don't need evidence to posit a conspiracy theory. That's what conspiracy theories are all about. It's the arched eyebrow, the knowing nod and the open-ended question that condemns through quiet implication. Evidence, sense, facts have no place in the conspiracy theory.

Now here's the confession part of this post: I poke.

When I see an issue where foolishness reigns, I poke hard to knock in some sense. When I see smoke and mirrors, I poke to dissipate the fog and break the mirrors. When I see darkness, I poke to let the light in.

And when somebody pokes me, I poke back. I can't help it.

I've spent most of my life studying, formally and informally, the objective underlying causes of public issues facing this city, province and country. I've studied and considered where they come from, how they come to be and what can be done about them with rational public policy. And I've studied and practiced how to communicate those things to others.

Some people like that about me and encourage me. I thank them.

Some people don't like it and prefer I just keep quiet. Go along to get along, they say, and come with us on the most-traveled path.

But I'm not good at checking my brain in at the door and letting others think on my behalf.

One thing for sure, one can't be all things to all people all the time so I don't even try. Besides being somebody that I'm not, I just can't maintain that kind of empty facade.

I got to be me.

And I want to make this province and people the very best, most successful and happiest we can be.

The fact is that I do what I do, write what I write, say what I say based on my own knowledge, my own experience, my own ideals. And I have no problem associating my name and face with that.

My views and opinions are not available for sale, rent or even a short term lease. If they were, I'm sure some of those I've irritated with inconvenient facts and would cheerfully cut me a cheque at the drop of a hat just to get me out of their hair.

So when you see the low reflexive response of paranoia to my political stimulus, recognise it for what it is: it's not a conspiracy.

It's a frog leg jumping in a dish.


UPDATE: If all it takes is a blog post of denial to generate the withdrawal of a smear, it might be worthwhile to substitute research and thought in place of idle, baseless speculation.

No comments: