Crawl Across the Ocean

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Casts of Mind

"perhaps to be too practical is madness, to surrender dreams this may be madness"

There's a funny section in Jane Jacobs 'Systems of Survival' where she illustrates how differently someone with a commercial syndrome mindset views things vs. how someone with a guardian mindset views things. In the book, Jacobs weighs the benefits of a society like medieval Europe where people are separated by birth into either a guardian life or a commercial life vs. our current approach which allows people to do whatever they please, allowing greater flexibility, but potentially at the cost of some moral confusion.

Anyway, I only bring that up, because the most rational, most commercial syndrome minded pundit in Canada is, in my opinion, Dan Gardner, so I was wondering ahead of time how Gardner would react to the two week, irrational, Guardian syndrome festival that is the Olympics.

Gardner didn't let me down, as he churned out post after post after column after post after post after column after post after post after column after post after post after post after post after post after post after post on the Olympics, every last post critical, with all of the posts amounting at root to Gardner pleading with Canadians to stop being so irrational, taking pride in the Canadian athletes when everybody knows that you only buy medals not win them, or that athletes have to work too hard as children to become world champions or that McDonald's food isn't necessarily the healthiest choice or whatever he felt might serve his goal of convincing people not to support the irrational Olympics.

The funniest part was in the comments on this column, where commenter 'Shiner' repeatedly, politely, tries to get Gardner to admit that maybe people just like to cheer for the home team to win and if that's irrational, who cares - but Gardner was completely incapable of even acknowledging the question, getting more and more upset and snippy throughout the exchange without ever engaging Shiner's main point. To the pure rational (commercial syndrome) mind, any activity that doesn't promote comfort and convenience is irrational and rational is a synonym for 'good' or 'right'. The notion that something could be both irrational and good just doesn't compute.

Most of the time, a commitment to rationality is a good thing, as when Gardner is debunking homeopathic medicine quacks or pointing out the inefficient way we go about satisfying our obsession with security. But during the Olympics, an uncompromising commitment to rationality just seems a little silly. Speculating, I think that may be part of the appeal of the Olympics - in a world dominated by rational commercial thinking, the Olympics represent a rare outpost of acceptable guardian type activity. Anyway, not to worry Dan, the Olympics are over now, so you have a couple of years of unrelenting rationality to look forward to. :)

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  • Yee...ah... I set aside my loathing for the "bread and circuses" aspect of the Olympics while it was on - we're going to be paying for this thing for a long time, no real point in not enjoying it while it was here. So I "woo!"d with the best of them, and cheered the athletes on. But I don't think people will realize for quite a while what we're going to have to give up to get the party paid for, and that's kind of depressing.

    Despite being an avid Dipper I was completely against the bid when the NDP first proposed it (I worked in government at the time and saw what it was costing), though I have to give props to the Liberals for actually making the event come off quite well. But this is the same government that brought in huge corporate tax cuts and huge service cuts their first few months in office (remember "blenders for the poor" when they removed dentures from welfare coverage?), so I don't think the public really understands (nor cares, honestly) that they will do (are doing) that again if they need to, without a second though, on the backs services for the lower middle and lower class to pay off the enormous debt. Oh well; it was a swell party!

    By Blogger Renee, at 8:51 PM  

  • I've been reserving comment until the finances are clearer after the games, but I have to admit I don't really follow all the concerns about paying for the games for a long time.

    The Canada line and Sea to Sky improvements will be paid for over 20-30 years, but that is fairly typical for government projects and nothing really specific to the Olympics. In the same manner we will be paying for improvements to the Trans-Canada through Kicking Horse pass for 20-30 years.

    I assume that the security budget has to be paid now. My understanding is that the money that needs to be paid for by B.C. has already been allocated in the current budget, so it will not be something we pay for beyond this year.

    I assume that the units in the Olympic Village will be sold over the next year or two. I guess the city might take a shortfall of $100MM or so, depending on how sales go, but that's really the only piece I could see being left over in terms of costs.

    I'd be surprised if VANOC ends up in the hole by any material amount (e.g. > $100MM)

    So I guess I don't understand what it is that people are concerned about in terms of 'paying for this for decades' - I see the phrase a lot but nobody ever goes into any more detail. Are they really expecting big operating losses by VANOC? VANOC was claiming to be on budget just a couple of weeks ago, and I can only imagine that the huge support for the games wold have improved the outlook. There weren't really any major last minute expenses to cover.

    I think maybe people confuse the Summer Olympics, which requires a lot of massive construction projects and almost always ends up in the hole, with the Winter Olympics which doesn't tend to have the same construction needs and cost overruns and usually ends up with Olympic revenues covering operating expenses.

    By Blogger Declan, at 9:08 PM  

  • My concern with the Olympics, at least the way we talk about them here in Toronto, is that winning a sporting event appears to be the only way we can convince people to spend public money on major infrastructure projects.

    We see it here a lot with the upcoming Pan Am Games and its requirements, and how if we got the Summer Olympics, it would solve a lot of our infrastructure problems. They're right, but it seems to be begging the question, doesn't it?

    It seems to me very much akin to the fact that it's easier to expand public gambling than it is to raise taxes. Everyone seems to think that $150 million on our medals was money well spent.

    Although I'm intrested in this connection between public funding and entertainment, there is something troubling about it as well....

    By Blogger Andrew W., at 7:38 AM  

  • Yes, it doesn't seem quite rational that billion dollar decisions (i.e. building new transit lines) are only made correctly when our logic is supplemented by the same emotion that causes us to clean the house when company is coming over...

    By Blogger Declan, at 8:37 PM  

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