Back to Basics

Following up on my post from yesterday about the results about the US Midterm election and thinking about the way forward.

I spent many years on the advisory board for a secret magic society (so secret I’m not allowed to say anything about them, you can only find out about they by visit their website) and a few times a year would sit in lengthy meetings, discussing things and following Roberts Rules of Order (and for a millennial, there are few things more ridiculous than making and seconding motions.) And two thirds of meetings always revolved around the same topic: increasing the membership of our secret society.

My response was always to table discussions of new fancy initiatives and get back to basics. In the case of our group, basics meant things like sending out regular emails so everyone knew when the next meeting was and what was going on. It also included boring things like making sure the website was up to date and that the photos from the last meeting were posted to the Facebook group. The thinking is that without the basics, redesigning the membership cards or designing t-shirts won’t get you particularly far.

I came across the concept in a 1st Year Business Course there was a delightful technical term for it which I have forgotten and that textbook has long since been sold (so, Professor Jalland, if you’re reading, you can throw a hint in the comments.) There are things in a system which are necessary but not sufficient to excel. If you are a restaurant, you need to have a nicely laid out menu and a clean washroom. But you can’t get a Michelin Star by devoting limitless energy to scrubbing toilets and experimenting with menu fonts. You need to focus on the quality of the food. Still, if the washroom is nauseating or the servers are rude, your customers will disappear quite quickly. And this squishy definition of important is really hard to wrap your head around because there are things that matter more but also things that matter first.

In the world of politics, we would benefit tremendously from going back to basics. For one, we need to find a way to get people to show some shame and embarrassment when they are caught lying, but even when they are caught being wrong. We want our elected officials to know that we will hold them accountable when they claim as true things they don’t know from a reliable source or just made up.

Other basic premises might include understanding the law of the land your in so that if you draft a piece of legislation which is unconstitutional on its face or if you ignore conflicts of interest, you won’t be able to keep your job for very long. The classic example is court challenges designed to rile up voters but which any first year student could tell you were foredoomed and often result in the jurisdiction paying tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees when they lose.

And lying and conflict of interest are not partisan issues. They only give the illusion of being partisan if one party does it more often than the other.

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