I have been Blog Squatting here as a continuation of my self-admitted local democracy experiment. I would like to thank Jim Duff as my benevolent Bloglord (blog landlord) victim for his indulgence, his turning a blind eye, or simply a lack of interest that has allowed me to indulge myself and experiment here.
Blogging can easily become narcissistic blathering. For the time being, I am hereby evicting myself from being an uninvited main voice on this blog that is not mine. I lack the skills, time, commitment and wider social connections needed to build this Blog towards anything resembling truly relevant discussion. Perhaps in modern times building that sort of relevance is becoming close to impossible. I will try to explain later in this post.
The basic questions I have been trying to answer recently are: How will small communities, lacking a politically involved local newspaper remain involved in their own politics and municipal destiny and what new modern tools are available to fill any gaps left by the disappearance of that local paper? I have yet to find a good answer, and I believe that the tools do not yet exist to replace good local journalists. Communities like Hudson who lack good local papers will diminish in some ways we don’t yet fully understand. Such change will come first to small communities, but where we once had multiple Montreal English dailies we now have one mostly branch office English paper. More of our media is controlled by fewer corporations, never a good omen for having balanced insight among citizens.
I’d like to thank those who have followed me on this period of the blog, an interested and interesting gathering of people who think and care about Hudson’s future and are willing to contribute their thoughts at the risk of judgement. You are quite unique within the municipal political landscape; even participating is a small group discussion can be a scary task in a small town divided into factions and social groups. Very few will like a post, fewer still will discuss it positively and contribute something, and even fewer will ever reasonably object to a position taken and almost no one will circulate a link to all their friends. Debate towards consensus eludes most of the modern world, so bullies will dominate the decision making.
The real control of municipal direction has always existed within an interested subset of any community and their willingness to get involved in any issue, either constructively or destructively would dictate the relative success of failure of successive Councils.
The cycle seems to repeat, driven by an almost insignificant part of our population that becomes disproportionately noisy for what they see as good reasons. One hundred citizens at a monthly council would represent less than 2% of citizens and half are there for constructive comments and initiatives. Ten angry hecklers at the last council represent less than 0.2% of citizens angry enough to debase themselves with inappropriate action. Only a very tiny percentage will form small groups to circulate angry emails and Facebook posts calling to dismantle and replace the Mayor and Council.
It’s easy for me to draw the logical conclusion that 98+% of Hudson citizens are happy enough with the government by a few elected fellow citizens to just not get involved. An alternative question is: If only 1% care, why should I? As I better understand this process, I begin to question whether what I write will be constructive or destructive. Am I better serving the 1% or the 99% and how might I ever balance both sides when one side remains mostly silent? Am I promoting peaceful progress or fomenting dissatisfaction and disruption?
We need dreamers and idealists. But, it can be too easy to get caught up in passion and belief and begin to lose sight of what is possible within the confines of past failures, existing constraints and the overbearing laws that govern municipal governments. None of those are the responsibility of any current council; government is in fact the political science of bureaucratic checks and balances that limit any government’s ability to move off course too quickly. The system is designed to prevent bold actions that happen in less than the time between elections when the people can speak again. It is painfully easy to overwhelm a municipal government drowning in past problems and red-tape with good ideas or well meaning demands and it is absolutely possible to freeze them to failure with only a small group of angry citizens.
I thank and admire all who serve our community, those have served us and those who will serve in the future as Mayor or Councillor. You undertake to dream of a better future for our town, and to work for low compensation and too little respect within a system designed to keep you from doing anything significant without massive support of a silent majority, while enduring the slings and arrows of a tiny minority. Without citizens like our Mayors and Councils, we’d suddenly cease to govern ourselves and quickly be absorbed and homogenized into a bland mediocrity completely unlike Hudson of past times.
Will Social media, including blogs like this one, improve local politics? I believe that social media will not easily join us into causes or drive progress based on broad vision and consensus. Especially in a small town environment with tightly woven social structures that can become quickly judgmental.
We who create blogs or Facebook groups risk dividing ourselves into significantly smaller and smaller groups of like minded people on narrow focused single issues. Until we find a formula that actually engages significant portions of a population into real respectful debate and discussion towards consensus, we will fail to make ourselves relevant.
I suspect that Bloglord Duff may come back in the near future and that his hiatus may have been pondering many of these same issues. Perhaps, Jim will have found some answers that elude and frustrate me, if so I will happily support his efforts to engage and educate more people in discussion.