Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Reflections on a Black Swann in Alberta Politics

I am reassured that a man like David Swann can win a political party leadership in a place like Alberta. Getting 54% of the less than 5000 votes is not sign that Swann is seen as the “game changer” that many politically frustrated Albertans are looking for. I am not sure a game changer is what we need anymore. The game has already changed. We now need a pioneering leader who can help us adapt to a very different and difficult human journey.

I don’t know if David is a game changer but he may be a mapmaker who charts a new course for politics in Alberta. We are sailing into unknown territory economically, ecologically and socially all over the globe. Alberta may be more blessed and less stressed than many other places but we are not immune from the new realities of recession and restructuring. The game has changed and so must our politics.

The early mapmakers described the as yet unknown parts of the world as “There be Dragons.” It is an apt metaphor for today as we venture into this new sense of the unknown. I call it “Vueja Day.” That funny feeling nobody has ever been here before.

The new world order is going to challenge our conventional narratives and business-as-usual model of politics. We have emerging and imminent challenges that we have created by enabling greed and the centralized political power that has been abdicating its oversight roles and responsibilities in the economy, the environment and even in our social institutions.

We are at a stage where we can’t solve the complex problems coming at us by applying the old cultural norms and institutional levers. That is because they are not simple not responsive enough, applicable enough nor adaptive enough. Our conventional tools of government, our traditional definition of success and our current decision making models are actually adding to the problems, not resolving them. We see more political bungling and lost opportunities as a result. We have our “leaders” posturing to avoid accountability, transparency and responsibility. We see more squandering of our scarce resources with disingenuous politicians who are good at feigning that they care as they fail to provide adaptive leadership in the face of the new dynamics.

Alberta seems to many like a political mono-cultural and a one-party state. That may have been Alberta’s past but I don’t think that is Alberta’s future. The Alberta narrative is about to change significantly. The myth of the rugged self-reliant individual, risk-taking wealth generating entrepreneur who exploits the abundant natural resources for big bucks will not go away. But it will not be the only narrative that defines Alberta going forward. If it is the only operational narrative, then Alberta will quickly fail because we will fail to adapt to the new realities of the post hydrocarbon world that is confronting us.

If there is no post hydrocarbon world coming at us, then Alberta will still fail. We will just fail along with the rest of our species as the planet heats up and we slavishly seek to keep to our illusions and delusions that tomorrow will be a variation of yesterday…regardless of evidence to the contrary. The world will go on, perhaps without us, but the planet will not care one way or the other, if we fail to adapt and survive.

So I’m hoping David Swann is the Black Swan and the improbable exception that enables us to make new models of politics, governing and government. Our democracy is ailing and we lack political leaders who have sufficient wisdom and judgment to be life affirming. Instead we see them all to selfishly focused on preserving personal and political power. David Swann strikes me as being unselfish and life affirming. After all aren’t medical doctors all about being life affirming and in service the public good?

The educated person quickly comes to realize the more we learn the more ignorant we actually are. The wisdom of that truth has to be brought to bear on our politics and become foundational to the new operating narrative for the next Alberta. I’m thinking David Swan may be the new mapmaker that is willing to explore new ways of seeing and doing politics. He may be able to help us realize our current ignorance and actually encourage and enable us to write a new citizen-based narrative for the next Alberta.

Will he be able to lead us in ways so we start to really reengage in responsible, caring, resourceful citizenship? Will Albertans be wise and skillful enough to take on the adaptive change challenges that the new world realities demand of us?

Will David Swann be allowed to become the kind of unconventional pioneering political leader that can help us find and refine the next Alberta? Or will he just become another prophet? A prophet’s lot in life is to be stoned by the masses. Time will tell but one thing is obvious to me, we need new maps to be drawn by new mapmakers as we move forward as strangers in a strange land that is the uncertain, chaotic and complex future of the planet.