Each year since the early 2000’s there has been a survey by CCC of how the community is feeling about itself. When I sat at the Council table, we used it as the best independent review of the Council performance and how people were feeling about the City, other than elections. So, it was sad to read this week about the Council numbers plummeting to a new low.
This feedback by the community is understandable, this City has been through a lot and this survey calls the results to be responded to sensibly, and methodically. People in this City have become completely disillusioned with the myriad of institutions which are supposed to serve us. This survey should be a warning to every public institution in Christchurch. It was interesting to see rate levels figured really low in the study. Close to the margin of error.
I read a wonderful article by the President of the University of Dallas recently. His article reminded me that the public response to CCC isn’t just a Christchurch issue. It’s an international issue.
… ours is a time of what sociologist James Hunter has called a legitimation crisis for institutions — a crisis of trust and confidence. From journalism to all the branches of government, from schools to churches, ordinary citizens have lost faith in our institutions.
The expansion of venues for public criticism of institutions, especially in social media, and the 24-hour news cycle, combined with a number of spectacular moral failures of leaders of prominent institutions, have generated scepticism, if not despair. Leaders often substitute ambition, profit or political grandstanding for the hard, unromantic work of fulfilling the mission, and serving the constituencies, of whatever institution they lead.
To make matters worse, the most prominent contemporary political movements — on the progressive left and the populist right — are dismissive of institutions. The former sees institutions as bearers of oppressive practices, while the latter sees them as dominated by ideologically suspect experts. Lack of experience is now a boast of candidates for public office; similarly, journalists often substitute fame, ratings or the advancing of ideological goals for truth-telling. And seemingly everyone seeks the thrill of outsider denunciati….
I was lucky to leave public office before social media really cut in. I am astounded when I speak with politicians to hear them focus on their preoccupation of what people are writing at the bottom of media columns. I now read media which has got rid of the trolls who write nasty things at the bottom of articles.
I engaged in trolling for a time. It was the equivalent of in the old days when it was possible to sign a letter to the editor of the papers “mother of nine”, or whatever took your fancy. Then the papers insisted that your name was required and many of the nasty letters dried up. After a while I asked myself, if my real name was on the posting I used (I had been informed by friends, who knew about these things, I had to use a non-de-plume) would I be writing the same comments. I decided the answer was “NO”.
It had been quite fun writing anonymously about people I disliked, but it was adding nothing to the debates, other than vile. I decided I was adding to the undermining of the very institutions I really believed in.
The President of the University of Dallas went on to say:
participation in institutions is one of the great counters to the isolation and hostility that increasingly characterize our public life — or what passes as public life, conducted largely in the virtual world of social media. As American Enterprise Institute scholar Yuval Levin explains, institutions “offer us an edifying path to belonging, social status, and recognition; and they help to legitimate authority.”
This paragraph reminded me that we are emerging from one of the greatest challenges to our society for some time. We have been locked down for the greater good, and are emerging into an economy which will take years to recover. We have relied on collective action to survive this exercise; and will need to rely on the institutions of our society to guide us through the next scary years. We will need to participate in decision making. We must not become victims of processes. We must be engaged, and this Council result is our challenge.
We must demand that our politicians, and political commentators, move beyond jingoistic slogans which add little value. Offering people, a sense of hope with empty slogans is facile politics. Offering people hope by walking alongside them means a lot more. Public institutions are not there for the advancement of politician’s egos. They aren’t there for the staff’s career opportunities. They exist to enable collective activities, which hopefully will lead to a better society.
The Dallas University President concluded by saying:
Alexis de Tocqueville a French commentator on American society, thought that the shared building of institutions fostered a number of virtues: the habit of sacrificing short-term self-interest for long-term good; the fostering of the skills needed to build and sustain common enterprises; and the nourishing of civic friendship reaching across ideological divides.
This is, indeed, our great challenge. We have to ensure that we have the correct structures in our society. We had many new ones imposed on us post-earthquakes. We have a chance to rewrite what we want. The Tuesday Club exists so that public policy can be debated in an open and engaged manner.
We need CCC to succeed. We need public confidence to return to the institution. We need the games which have been played by too many people to cease; or to be publicly shown to be what they really are. Just nonsense. Power plays, which add little value to our society.
Last year the numbers from the Citizen’s Survey were hidden from us in a display of disgraceful institutional behaviour by a few. This year they have been produced for all to see. This year the CCC hierarchy, to their eternal credit, produced un-doctored documents and they made no effort to hide from the facts.