Politically, the so-called freedom convoy has served as a projection of all manner of discontent. But the deeper and more troubling fact is it has revealed a fundamental fissure in how we perceive social reality in Canada.

I began to understand the seriousness of this disconnect as I struggled to engage with constituents about what was happening with the occupation of Ottawa. When I posted an article about how journalists were taking extra precautions because of the threats of violence, several people responded with ridicule.

A grandmother summed it up, "If the media didn't lie, they wouldn't need to worry [about violence]." When I explained that I’ve witnessed harassment of local businesses in the occupied zone, some people accused me of lying or said I deserved to be put on trial.

How do you discuss politics when you're not arguing facts, but reality itself?

The convoy has been sustained within an info ecosystem where people from across demographics, genders and life experiences have simply opted out of national media or other anchors of commonality.

They have their own Facebook feeds, Reddit channels, and Slack chat information buttressing an utterly alternate reality of science, medicine and politics.

The convoy has made it clear that not only have we lost the war on disinformation, but we also didn't even know where to look.

In 2018-19, I participated in parliamentary hearings in Ottawa and the U.K. on the threat of digital disinformation. At that time, the fear was the ability of well-placed digital mercenaries to manipulate Facebook's algorithms to flip votes and possibly upend elections.

It was thought that such manipulations would be in the form of subtle monkey-wrenching in close constituency races where the profiling of Facebook users could be used to nudge votes in a certain way without people realizing they had been influenced.

What we failed to consider was the social implications of society being broken down into an endless series of individually curated, but distorted, funhouse mirrors in the Facebook algorithm.

Tristan Harris of the Center for Humane Technology tried to warn us at our committee hearings in 2018. "Technology is overwriting the limits of the human animal. We have a limited ability to hold a certain amount of information in our head at the same time.

"We have a limited ability to discern the truth. We rely on shortcuts, like what other people are saying is true, or the fact that a person who I trust said that thing is true."

Harris warned us about the danger of playing "whack-a-mole" in trying to separate facts from deep fakes in a digital sea where trillions of pieces of information are floating without an anchor.

Whack-a-mole was the response we took to medical misinformation in the early days of the pandemic. In 2020, I worked with U.K. MP Damian Collins and other parliamentarians on an international project called Infotagion.

Our focus was to identify COVID disinformation and challenge it with scientific facts.

At first, it seemed to go well until it became apparent we weren't fighting a few bad actors and false Facebook memes, but rather the combined power of ordinary people who had become their own research and online publishing forums of alternate medical and political facts. Where we counted on scientific journals, they relied on distorted content provided by the Facebook and YouTube algorithms.

This hyper state of disinformation has real-time social and political implications. In his attempt to explain the irrational rage that consumed the United States in the lead-up to Jan. 6th, Evan Osnos wrote that society is increasingly unmoored from local, regional and community links that traditionally provided a sense of shared experience. He describes it as a fundamental rewiring of the "geography of the mind."

The convoy is Canada’s Jan. 6th moment. I’d like to think that when the protest settles down, and the pandemic recedes, we will find our way back to a shared sense of community and nationhood.

But we need to face the fact that Canada, with its long history of social solidarity, was simply unprepared for the mass power of online disinformation and social frustration.

"How do you discuss politics when you're not arguing facts, but reality itself?" asks @CharlieAngusNDP in this oped. #cdnpoli #OttawaConvoy

That discontent has been manifested in truckers with guns at the Alberta border, people protesting outside hospitals and grandmothers who fantasize about journalists taking a beating. The geography of the public mind has shifted.

This shift will have profound political implications in the weeks — and years — to come.

Charlie Angus is a Canadian author, journalist, broadcaster, musician and politician and a contributing writer to the Centre for International Governance Innovation at CIGIonline.org.

Keep reading

Truckers are angry because they argue (and they are probably right) that vaccine mandate will result in losing their jobs. But these measures are temporary and will be eliminated eventually (if we ever get through that pandemic...).
What these truckers should be angry at are not politicians, scientists, nurses and other well intended people who try to do their best to save people lives (by the way, people are still dying of covid 19), they should be angry at people like Elon Musk (who supported the trucker action) and other people like him who have companies employing thousands of hight tech engineers working day and night on "driverless" trucks technology with the complicity of retailers giants like Amazon, Walmart, Loblaws and trucks manufacturers.
The development of "driverless" trucks technology will result in the loss of thousand of jobs all around the world and particularly in North America.
My advice to truckers who already lost their jobs to the pandemic, look for another field of work. For the other truckers who still have a job, prepare yourself because eventually you will be sitting in your home or in a coffee shop watching "driverless" trucks go by doing your job.

Or angry at a world in which individual capitalists like Elon Musk get to decide the future of thousands and thousands of workers based on their drive for profit. But then, what do you do with such anger. Unfortunately, seems like it's up for grabs.

My advice to anyone who seems likely to take a serious financial hit from vaccine mandates if they don't get vaccinated is . . . get vaccinated. More than four fifths of the country including little kids can do it, so can they.

Quite agree about Elon Musk though. I'm glad the guy is making lots of electric cars, but it becomes clearer every day that on pretty much everything else he's poison, a turbocharged example of predatory capital messing up society.
And the thing is that this phenomenon we're seeing is not random. It takes two things coming together. First, a dysfunctional society creating anger. Second, elites who profit from the dysfunction, pushing lies to redirect the anger away from themselves and towards anything inconvenient to them . . . often scientists of one sort or another, such as climate scientists who want them to sacrifice profits to not end the world, or public health epidemiologists who want them to sacrifice profits just to save a few miserable prole lives, or historians who want them to sacrifice profits so racialized groups can get decent pay. Make no mistake, all this social media stuff has a lot of money behind it, it's not a purely organic phenomenon, the hate-oriented grassroots are being assiduously fertilized with bots and sock puppets and paid astroturfers.

The original discontent is real. The directions it points and the forms it takes are to a fair extent a product of well-financed propaganda.

Let's call a spade a spade, engagement and surveillance platforms are not just creepy, they're absolutely dangerous - they monetize people's frailties (sound familiar, big tobacco and big-winners-happy-place casino?) by literally tailoring an environment (a reality) designed to press buttons in those parts of a brain that short-circuit reasoning in favour of raw evolutionary-wired fight-flight instincts.

Which is worse, a company that pollutes a river with mercury and other toxins, for profit and without consequence, or a company whose engagement and surveillance platform pollutes our democratic political discourse by amplifying toxic opinions (for some, effectively manipulating their reality) for profit and without consequence leaving no part of our entire country untouched or unaffected?

At what point do we finally take public policy leadership to at least attempt to metre what flows out through these pipes? What exactly does it take, how much damage to the common good, before we all say enough is enough?

Driverless trucks have been used in the Tar Sands for at least a few years whereas Tesla has no electric trucks or driverless trucks coming off the assembly line yet. So let's not put this all on Musk. Yes, he is no paragon of virtue. He perhaps hopes to curry favour with a future demographic of truck purchasers and dislikes lockdowns so Tesla can continue to pump put cars as quickly as possible in a pressurized environment.

Thanks Charlie--keep fighting, please.

The more I think about this mess, the more convinced I am that we, as a society, have acted from ignorance, at best, and from gross arrogance at least.

I have anti-vaxxers in my extended family. They're not nuts. We respectfully discussed this issue for months, until it became clear that neither of us was going to change position.

They take their information from social media. That's what they have access to. Neither of them are stupid people, far from it. The more vocal member talks about the inability to trust governments. Main-stream media. Big pharmaceutical companies. As far as that foundation goes, I understand and agree, to some extent (child of the 70s: trust no-one).

Big pharma is the easiest to understand, given the horrors of the opioid epidemic throughout North America, and the causes: monstrous greed on the companies' parts, lack of due diligence on the part of far too many prescribing physicians, and the complicity of government regulatory bodies. And complete lack of recourse for the dead, disabled, their families, their communities, the health care system... This was, IMO, mass murder, and no-one will ever pay any real price for it.

Main-stream media. This one's tougher, and the root of distrust here is the fact that we have lost, and continue to lose, independent and local media services. Media is a huge business now, and I'm fully in the court of mistrusting big business. If your end game is profit, rather than providing sound information to the public, well.

And governments. And here's where I'm most terribly concerned. I believe that the roots of the convoy movement and its kin in the States are deep and long-lived. Poverty, with everything associated with it--and with the gap between the rich and poor expanding every year--with no government action to address that. No changes to legislation that allows those who can to stash billions of dollars out of reach of their home state, to avoid paying their fair share. Abandonment by governments of such crucial supports as affordable housing. Social programs that might actually provide enough for adequate food, clothing, etc. Entrenchment of the Horatio Alger madness--if you're poor, it's your own fault, get up off your ass and get a job.

Lack of voter power, and the associated apathy--why vote, if my vote isn't going to count for anything--ANYTHING? Why educate myself about the various platforms so I could be an informed and conscious voter? Same reason. I don't like the last person in power, so never mind how horrible the next candidate is, I'm just going to vote for him/her, just to show that former occupant how angry I am.

Ever-expanding desertion of our public education systems. Social studies? Canadian history? Critical thinking? Cause and effect thinking? Nope. I have two adults in my extended family, both in their late 40s/early 50s now, smart, well-educated (at least one degree each), socially conscious, and active. Several years ago, in conversation, I mentioned the FLQ crisis in passing. Neither of these smart, educated, adults had ever been exposed to that, at any time, during their education. This dumbfounded me to the extent that I've never pursued with them other potential gaps: Canada's history of slavery and ongoing race discrimination; comparable history regarding women and women's rights; ditto Indigenous peoples; and on and on. If education does not cover those critical issues, WTH is it covering?

So, take a working class that's under more and more and more pressure, more and more neglect, more and more blame, less and less access to sound medical and scientific information, let alone the training to understand and analyze and evaluate it--and no-one in any government, focussed only on their primary goal of getting re-elected, has done a blessed thing about it.

And for those thralls in government who have visited unspeakable offenses against their area, their citizens, what recourse do we have? I sat in 401 traffic for the whole of Mike Harris' testimony on the Watertown crimes. Repeatedly, I listened to him say that, if found accountable by the Inquiry, his government would be accountable. They were not. He, and so many others, don't even understand the difference between responsibility (yup, I did that), and accountability (and here's the penalty I will pay for having done that). There are no penalties, there are no consequences. Not getting back into office isn't even in the same atmosphere. We can't sue them. We can't pursue criminal action against them. They pay no fines. They spend no time incarcerated. There is nothing in legislation that gives us any recourse.

I don't know how to fix any of this. But I'm profoundly and eternally grateful for those, like you, who can, and do, pursue corrective and preventative action.

I want my country back.

An amazing and thorough response Kathy.......I endorse all of it. We have let things slide into the present sorry state of affairs........and to make matters worse.....our vapid consumerism and need to 'get away', 'travel', be entertained....has shot GHG through the roof, and put the entire planet on potential life support.

It's no wonder, as you say, that people are mad, scared....and with no idea what to do about all the crises we're facing. Still, we need to look behind us to see how we got here........and we need to come together with something other than our social media tribal beliefs, to figure out how to move forward...for the good of the country and all her citizens.

Thanks for this analysis of how we got here....and why we find it so hard to trust anything. Thank God there's Charlie!

Heh, think it was 'trust no one over 30' and the year was 1964.

As far as Canadian history is concerned, not a lot of breadth offered in high school history classes in the 80's, what I remember was that it was more about looking at fewer topics in greater depth with an emphasis on analysis and critical thinking. More about preparing one to learn (an emphasis on life-long learning) versus a straight fire-hosing of Canadian facts. Not sure if and how that has since changed. True that I didn't learn much about the FLQ crisis beyond the acronym, and that I'm sure that I learned more about the Quiet Revolution in French class via an in-depth exploration of contemporary Quebecois music.

I submit that (and it's beyond working class, it's actually a whole generation) that the anger we're seeing is actually about fear and control (or lack of it), and that to the degree that a person lives over top of an economic trap door, they're never dealing with anything much higher than survival on Maslowe's hierarchy. And that puts them in a place where they're easily manipulated by engagement algorithms and demagogues and others that can only engage effectively at that level.

How do we fix any of it? It's actually pretty simple. For today, support any and all public policies that encourage economic mobility. All things big and small, from free public transit, to universal childcare, pharmacare, medicare, education and universal basic income. And for the future, by showing leadership and tackling climate change now, not by picking winners and losers but by sharing the burden equally and making it clear that as Canadians we're all in this together and we're not leaving anyone behind.

"Freedom convoy" is a good start (better than freedom convoy). But please let's be more honest. It was, at worst, a hostage convoy. But at best it sure seemed like a self-indulgence convoy.

It's always good to hear what Charlie Aengus is thinking and doing. For sure, the disinformation/misinformation generated by self- styled on- line experts, and their often big money right wing backers is a new phenomenon...and a dangerous one.

We need to start paying attention....to the real world AND its delusional twin. Belief is a wonderful thing, but it can also be a mind trap...and no alternative to good research and sound science.
We've overlooked its negative impacts for long enough.

Without cognitive dissonance organized religion as we know it would likely not exist. Of course some have argued that it might be the other way around.

I'm not sure which came first, but either way the result (dissonance) has the potential to be pretty unhealthy for both individual and society.

That's the problem, but what's the solution? I find that conversations and social relations, when done well, are important, but what about the higher-ups? Question: where can I read the scientific review and argumentative document that the government of Canada bases its various COVID policies on? I tend to agree with most policies, but given the current cultural climate, I don't think that "just trust us" or "we have experts" is enough and I don't think I should have to argue for policies in place of the government.

If we had a central place for open national dialogue and information that facilitated transparency, that could help. Then it would be more like "this is what the government is basing it on, we can read it here, what exactly do YOU disagree with?" And then the onus is on people to disprove the policy. And if they tried and couldn't do it, then they would look bad and be acutely reminded that they don't really know what they're talking about and are out of their depth. Won't work on many people but at the very least, you can improve the dialogue that way, and then the government looks more credible. And it's not as important to get through to people who are already far down the rabbit hole as it is to prevent more people, especially young people, from entering in the first place.

Also, that will have the benefit of correcting mistakes when the government does get things wrong. I would want it to be updated regularly and to be able to see the updates and what has changed and why. Talk about confidence and level of evidence. I want this too for things I don't agree with!

I don't think that "just trust me" and "it's...like...science" are good enough anymore. Has to be real dialogue. Has to be real transparency. Who are the experts? Who should we be paying attention to? The people who are best able to deal skillfully and honestly with the evidence. Nobody else, that's how you get to be an expert. Well if you want to be the government, you're going to have to show us that you, or whoever you appointed to the task, is deserving of that distinction.

I think it's helpful to understand the scientific method. It's not enough for David Suzuki to explain it on Nature of Things as that really is mostly only reaching folks that already know something about it. In Quebec, "Tout Le Monde En Parle" might do. Not sure if there is currently an equivalent in English.

Understanding the scientific method, the precautionary principle, and a few other foundational ideas will give folks most of the tools they'll need to help them cut through the politics and understand the degree to which their governments' policies on COVID are "following the science".

I totally agree! I think the overall lack of emphasis on scientific and philosophical thinking has been a major tactical mistake over the last 20 years or so. Ultimately, what we need is a society where enough people have a robust toolbox for evaluating questions that we can have proper discourse.

The basic threat to all rational thinking is fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of the other. Fear takes us down all kinds of tunnels that unfortunately can lead most to anger. And that anger gives way to paranoia. It's what drives most people to follow the 'planted' red herrings suggesting the leaders of the community, country, nation are the culprits, the cause of your fear. Not realizing they are being manipulated and are now primed for the lies and manipulation to take hold, they will find it hard to accept the fact, if they do at all, they've been duped. Edward Louis Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud and considered the 'father of public relations' was adept at persuading companies, governments & organizations that they could convince anyone of anything. He described the masses as irrational & subject to herd instinct—and outlined how skilled practitioners could use crowd psychology & psychoanalysis to control them in desirable ways. In his book 'Public Relations' (1945), he outlines the science of managing information released to the public by an(y) organization, in a manner most advantageous to the organization. The media in many instances, owned and operated by organizations and governments, have been primed for this type of control of the masses today. Hence, the far-right, far-left, anarchists, etc,, ready to uproot an elected government behind a 'freedom' convoy that was doomed from the start. However, the disinformation, misinformation has not stopped. The masses are still being fed the poison and react irrationally. Not sure where or when I read that approximately 40% of the population are frozen in their mindsets. They cannot be taught nor shown they are being manipulated. That's where they live everyday. I cannot even imagine living daily inside a mind like that. The fear must be paralyzing. The anger that builds must be like a volcano. And, they live each and every day that way. My one question for them is - do they know moments of joy, pure, unadulterated joy, joy that transcends all negative thoughts and emotions. Those of us who experience them know they are only moments in time, moments that don't last. But they stay with us.

Thank you for that - your comments about crowd control, backed up by the previous expression of how I also feel and react to our present global political governance - lack of transparency and mass psychology are the two major issues which facilitated our current slide into "the great reset". First, our QR passes will serve as the basic data for the forthcoming - some say as soon as June 2022 - digital identity. Does anyone have any idea on how to get off this slope? Or have I also been looking at nasty right-wing désinformation? Also I find that our governments use the term "scientific" very loosely sans preuve à l'appui, i.e. transparency. Have you met or red about the "scientists and scientific facts" the government refers to in reference to the "pandemic"?

I also wonder very seriously why, in the photo leading this article, all "manifestants" have covered their faces with either masks or their placards or both - they are - allegedly Ottawa citizens??? - against the convoy and demonstrators. Not unlike the "police" force which dissipated the crowds supporting the "convoy" lacking any names or serial numbers and well hidden faces.