[Repost of article appearing originally on the WordPress hosted site in the Spring of 2015]
Preamble: I was motivated to write this after reading an article appearing in the 19 March 2015 issue of the Toronto Star, by Thomas Walkom, about Netanyahu’s victory in the Israeli election. In the article he attributes the last minute surge in support for Netanyahu (overturning the poll predictions) to the Israeli PM’s claim that there was an Arab ‘fifth column” operating with the goal of high-jacking the democratic electoral process..[i]
I also urge you to start watching the CPAC channel, whatever your political ilk. Rather than relying solely on your favourite newspaper and television sources, you have the opportunity to see for yourselves what goes on in the House, and in committee, and to form your own opinions. Just now (26 March) I have listened to a comprehensive rebuttal of the Cons’ rationalizations for going to war in Syria by Don Davies, the NDP member for Vancouver-Kingsway. His presentation was absolutely outstanding. You can read the text here:
The upshot is that, if we go into Syria, we will actually create the very situation that the Conservatives falsley claim already exists. ISIL was not involved in the two tragic attacks on our military personnel in Canada; but if we start bombing their homebase in Syria, they are sure to make a point of retaliating. The Assad regime would be the direct beneficiary of these bombings; not the Syrian people. Assad has killed many more of his own people than ISIL, and shown himself to be just as able to perpetrate the most horrible atrocities upon innocent people. One side beheads people for effect; the other side uses bombs and chemicals. Innocent men, women, and children are dying by the thousands. What would you do? MP Davies provides the answer to this question in his presentation. His logic is watertight; it point for point exposes the Cons’ plan for what truly is: ill-conceived, extremely short-sighted, and shamelessly imperiling our military’s young men and women in committing them to such a dubious venture.
Please read this most excellent letter to the editor (Toronto Start, 14 March 2015). Continue to read the very elucidating comments which follow. You can find it here: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/letters_to_the_editors/2015/03/14/more-voices-on-bill-c-51-and-politics-of-fear.html
Lastly, I implore the reader to consider that PM Harper sees Canada as a business, and he governs like a CEO; albeit with globalization, he is behaving more like a departmental manager. No country is a business; countries are, rather, societies of people. The distinction is critical. Society’s aspirations are supported, not determined, by business. If you apply the business rationale to Bill C-51, it is easy to understand how elements which have nothing whatsoever to do with our safety came to be included. Bill C-51 is only the latest Conservative manoeuver in the battle for Canada’s soul. Are we a democratic society, or are we a business? Are we citizens, or are we employees? Do you value your life, your dreams, your relationships with those you love, only to the extent to which you may materially profit from them, or are they such that no amount of money could ever replace them? Come Election 2015, you will have the opportunity to answer this question, and depending on your answer, determine just which kind of soul our Canada possesses. Is Canada a business, or is Canada a society? Think well upon it.
There is much being made in the news these days about the ascension to power of right-wing governments, not only here in Canada, but in other parts of the world. The key to the far-right’s success is to appeal to the emotions of the citizenry at the most basic level: fear, material satisfaction, mistrust of those who are different in some way; and, in order to sell all of the above, they seek to exploit the human weakness for hearing what one wants to hear, the facts be darned.[ii]
In previous articles, I made mention of the societal cancer known as movement conservatism. This is the label applied to a socio-political machine that achieved its first major victory in 1980 upon the election of Ronald Reagan.[iii] Movement conservatism grew out of a partnering of libertarians and anti-communists in the 1930s in reaction to President Roosevelt’s New Deal, which itself was a reaction to the pervasive human tragedy of the Great Depression.[iv] After 1950, this movement progressed in leaps and bounds…first developing a conceptual base, then a popular base, then a business base, and, by 1970, incorporating a network of think tanks. After 1970, they were joined by the religious right[v]. By the 2000s, movement conservatives had acquired substantial control over the U.S. Republican Party.[vi] I encourage you to read the Wikipedia article.
The articles appearing recently in the Toronto Star by Thomas Walkom and Tim Harper are,[vii] as always, well thought out, well-rendered, and informative. That being said, what stood out even more were the readers’ comments. A few quietly praised the writers for a job well done, a few were quietly critical, and more than a few were angry. What concerned me was the proportion of angrily venting comments seemed to be in the majority; much more prevalent than the other quietly and carefully considered responses.
Here’s my thing: When one is feeling angry, one cannot think as productively as when one is not. How can you? You are distracted. Your mind’s focus is divided between what you are feeling and what you are trying to think through. The mind, as powerful as it is, can only think one thought at a time; just as computers, powerful as they are, can only execute one instruction at a time; unless of course there is more than one CPU. Humans have only one of these.
When we are angry, or frightened, we think less and react more. We incline to a heavier reliance, therefore, on ‘canned’ arguments; we resort to our default patterns of thinking and behaviour, because those require less effort and less time. These patterns are hard-wired into our brains.[viii] Our brains are very powerful, however. We can create new circuits any time we choose; but that takes effort, time, repetition, and focus – the kinds of things which came easily to us when we were babies and young children because we had no constraints on our time( and more time to focus). Furthermore, rather than being belittled or chastised(which leads to resentment and entrenchment), or socially ostracized(which leads to anxiety and low self-esteem), for the odder things which we might come out with from time to time, we were cuddled, smiled at, told we were ‘cute,’ and/or provided with an explanation as to why we should not say or do this or that thing.
This, in an nutshell, describes what leads us to the mess we often find ourselves in as adults: as we progress in age, the opportunity to fully utilized the abilities with which we are born, lessens. As we get older, we have more responsibilities, and more to think about. Owing to the constraints on our time, to fatigue, and to stress, we are unable to consider anything as fully as we would like, and should. We are obliged to think and to act quickly; then move on to the next thing on our list. But this is not thinking so much as it is reacting. George Lakoff knows this; the movement Conservatives, among whom count the Harper Conservatives, also know this – what’s more, they are exploiting this situational response to maintain power and control over the social agenda. We become like pinballs in a pinball machine – being paddle-whacked this way and that, always moving, but with little time to consider where we are going.
Recalling the famous words of Descartes:
I think, therefore I am.
But in this context, we should wonder:
If I do not take the time to think, what am I?
As for leaders and political parties: I find nothing wrong with wanting to be in power per se; if you are a politician, how else would you manage to bring your vision of Canada into being? What I do find wrong is that any individual who so wants political power that they would present themselves to the electorate as something they are not; say or promise anything (but not necessarily do it), in order to appear good rather than to be good; invest more time in branding and marketing their product, than in developing a good one, so that the buyer gets what they believe they are buying. This is all too much like the proverbial used-car salesman. It is too little like the leaders of a democratic country, much less public servants. These Conservatives should by rights drop the ervatives portion of their moniker; then it would be a much truer reflection of what this group really is.
Common Conservative Strategies to Confuse and Divide the Electorate:[ix]
- If you aren’t with us, you are against us…remember George W. Bush’s speech before bombing the heck out of Iraq? Now compare this to PM Harper’s taunting the Liberals and the NDP as being “soft on crime” in response to their objections to mega prisons, mandatory sentencing, the war against ISIL,[x] and, oh yes, the anti-terrorism legislation.
- Mix desirable elements and undesirable elements together in the same policy: Bill C-51 is but the latest example. True, better communication among security services is necessary (I for one cannot see why people in these services even need to be told this since they are but different strata within the same institution), but do we also need to give them the power to hold people without warrants for extended periods simply because someone imagines the worst, without any real evidence in support? If they have reasonable grounds to be worried, fine, but that’s why we have the existing warrant applications and a judiciary – these guard all of us against false perceptions.
Do we need to give CSIS the ability to act with force, at home and abroad, with no sobering influence other than to apply to a judge who must then decide only on their say-so? Do we need to place so much trust in the integrity of specific individuals in the security services? By experience, and human nature being what it is, we know some individuals will inevitably betray their positions of trust. Our security services have already been given significant capability to monitor Canada’s citizens; this because a few of us are not always trustworthy. The denizens of our security services are drawn from among us; it follows, therefore, that a few of them are not always trustworthy. PM Harper wants to increase the capability of our security services to survey and summarily detain Canadian citizens who do not work in security services; he does not want to apply that same rule to Canadians who do.
The anti-terrorist bill could very easily have been broken down into several distinct bills; grouping related provisions together. Voters and MPs -this is all important – would have an easier time to study and critique them, because the provisions are not jumbled together.
The method the Conservatives often use in order to manipulate Canadians into acceptance is to present policies in such a way so as to put each voter at odds with him/herself. This how they present things to Canadians: if you vote for adequate oversight(not included in the bill, but nevertheless desirable), you are voting against increased communication(which is included in the bill, and is desirable). If you desire just treatment of individuals(not included in the bill), and oppose the bill on that basis; you oppose the bill’s implicit provisions to make your family safer(which you surely support). This is how the Harper Conservatives choose to do things in order to have us swallow things which no citizen in a democratic society would ever tolerate. If you support one element, you are obliged to support everything – even the rotten stuff. If you disagree with one element, you are obliged to disagree with everything – even the good stuff….heck of a dilemma these Cons are presenting to us, isn’t it?
Would you continue buying your groceries from the store which routinely repackages its rotting fruit along with the fresh, so that they do not have to throw the rotten stuff out? Please do not allow the Conservatives(or any other party that is disposed to using the same strategy) to get away with behaving like an unscrupulous grocer. If they insist on packaging what we really need together with what they really want us to accept (though it may be against our personal and democratic principles to do so), then shop somewhere else. Vote them out, and vote in a group of individuals who have good old-fashioned Canadian integrity.
- Deny, deny, deny…Conservatives: ”Our job record is a success.” CIBC: ”Canada’s employment and job creation record is dismal.”
- If your highly touted and expensively propagandized Economic Action Plan (sounds good though, doesn’t it?), create something else to grab the voter’s attention.[xi] Well, we now have the niqab, and the threat of terrorism to occupy our conversation while the economy, under the great master Con, is going to…well, somewhere south of here (and in more ways than one). On this point, I am profoundly saddened to observe that the tragic events at Parliament Hill and Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu were so shamelessly and opportunistically politicized; this to manipulate public opinion into support for a bill, which, in its current form, will do the public (and their children, and their children’s children) much more harm than good. It will further increase the risk to our police men and women and even encourage more violence, rather than diminish it.[xii] The government has yet to show, nor can they, how this bill would have prevented those tragedies.
- Make people so afraid, they will not want to question anything you tell them. Fear is a powerful motivator. It is as powerful as opium in its ability to block sober reflection. The Conservatives understand this, and they choose to exploit it for their own ends.[xiii] Tell me which is stronger: a society full of courageous, rational individuals, or a society full of frightened, reactionary individuals?
- Repeat the lie so often, it takes on the semblance of truth. It also helps if you remove all evidence which would contradict you…Long Form Census? Muzzling researchers? Underfunding institutions?
We must accept that the world is not perfect, and that our leaders need not be perfect for them to be, on the whole, good leaders. We are not perfect, we will not ever be perfect, nor need we be. We need only to be honest, and always strive to do good, for ourselves and for others; to learn from our mistakes, and be more tolerant and forgiving of others. Huey Lewis and the News:
…Nobody’s perfect, not even a perfect fool,
If you’ll have faith in me,
I’ll keep faith in you.
Ain’t no livin’ in a perfect world,
There ain’t no perfect world anyway…[xiv]
Perfection is not an attribute of existence. Everything is Yin and Yang. The Harper Conservatives’ electoral success depends on our buying their illusion of perfection. This depends on our belief in such a thing, which in turn relies on our not seeing, or seeing, but not accepting, all evidence to the contrary. We know, from our own experience, that we are not perfect. We wish others were more tolerant of our mistakes. We all agree that life is journey that is taken, not on the road of perfection, but rather on one which is heading in that direction. This road will be full of bumps and potholes; obliging us to learn as we burn. These things are a necessary part of life. To quote another song, this time by Supertramp:
…So your life’s become a catastrophe,
Oh, it has to be,
For you to grow, boy…[xv]
I remember a kids song by Rolfs Schulweg, entitled, Alle machen Fehler….everyone makes mistakes.[xvi]
Finally, I happened to read an article in the Opinion section of the Toronto Star (20 March 2015) concerning PM Harper’s comments regarding rural security and gun ownership.[xvii] My initial response to his comments was a qualified rejection – I had lived out in the country as a teenager. I say ‘qualified’ because my first thought was, “A good dog is way better than a gun.” But I also thought, okay, maybe you need more than a dog. After reading the opinion article, I have to admit there were things that I had not considered. Having learned something new, I was obliged to change my stance. I believe we should approach guns in the same way as we do nuclear weapons; rather than encourage more guns, we should strive for less. If you have one, the chance you will use it is no longer zero. As more and more people acquire guns, the chance of their being used inappropriately is proportionally that much closer to becoming a certainty. I strongly recommend that you read this opinion piece.[xviii] If afterwards, your opinion does not change as mine did, so be it; as for me, I’d rather keep a baseball bat handy. It serves its intended purpose – I’ll feel safer, and odds are astronomically against my ever having to use it, especially with the dog around; regardless of where I am living. If I did encounter a situation where I might instinctively reach for it, at least the intruder stands a far better chance of being merely incapacitated, and a lot lower chance a being dead. There is never any just cause for using lethal force, unless it happens in self-defence, and even then, only if it is accidental. Guns permit the possessor little latitude in this regard.
The 2015 federal election is about much more than the economy, the niqab, or income-splitting; it is about our Canada’s Soul. Will we Canadians elect a government which cares about power, not democracy, about marketing, not truth, about dollars, not people, about appearance not reality,[xix] or will we send a clear NO to anyone who thinks they can get away with governing our country in this way?
The challenges present in the domestic and global status quo are a serious impediment to Canada’s reconciliation with the national spirit which motivated the great sacrifices made by the Canadians of WWI and WWII. Those Canadians never looked away from injustice, and always used violence as an absolute last resort. They were not acting in their own interest, but rather in defence of the vulnerable. Being Canadian, they felt compelled to do these things out of their sense of right-action. Many of them never lived to enjoy the opportunity which they so bravely won for others.
I remember a WWII veteran, in his late 80s – early 90s, who began to share with me an anecdote about the war, over tea. After only a few minutes, he started to cry and could not continue. The horror he experienced, he had carried with him his entire life. He could not forget it; he could only try to get on with his life and try not to think about the deep wound he would forever carry in his heart. He could not forget. We should not forget.
We are a free country with a tradition of looking out for our neighbours and for each other, even if it costs us – and we never do it for gain. That’s who we are. If the Cons remain in power, it may fast become who we were.
We must never forget.
A final word:
The Conservatives are proving to be their own worst enemy. Their shameless antics will be the very think that is going to awaken and engage us. Democracy is an ongoing process of renewal; if we do not attend to it fully, if we only do so when things break, then our democracy will inevitably degrade and die, like the body does. We cannot afford to remain asleep; we must continue to be aware of what our governments are doing and provide them with feedback through our MPs, emails, newspapers and internet media articles….and don’t forget to engage your family, friends, and neighbours, in discussion of these issues. That is the only way democracy can work. If the modus operandi of our government does not wholly support this , it is not democracy, no matter what they say.
Don’t let this government Con you.
[i] You can read Thomas Walkom’s article here: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2015/03/18/benjamin-netanyahu-win-a-good-omen-for-stephen-harper-walkom.html
[ii] Simon and Garfunkel, The Boxer. “Still a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest…”
[iii] You can read all about the evolution of the Conservative movement in the U.S, and Ronald Reagan’s part, here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservatism_in_the_United_States I briefly scanned the article; and I am going to make it a point to read it. I believe I will be quite surprised; in particular at how easily and how often people can believe they are doing “God’s Will,” and the right thing for their country, while they create and perpetuate the very misery that their religions deplore (all religions- no exceptions). None of us are immune to the self-righteous fantasy which ego is able to concoct. This applies to the adherents of all Faiths, all over the world. Thankfully, there are many who are not fooled by their egos in this respect; but it seems there are many more who are. But this is something we must each of us deal with on our own. That is why our Creator gave us Freewill and in support of this gift, the ability to think, and not only react, according to behavioural patterns which are substantially determined by things other than the rational mind. Michael Jackson, God bless him, said, or rather sang it best: If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.
If you need to be further reminded of the terrible conditions many regular people were having to raise their families in, and with what callousness many of those fortunate enough to have money were given to treating those who did not (the sons, daughters, brothers and sisters of whom would, nevertheless, soon join with their wealthier compatriots and offer up their lives of in defense against Hitler’s war machine and ‘final solution,’ read John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. You can get the book through your library or purchase it online. The movie version, starring Henry Fonda, is excellent. You can get this from the library too.
[v] Remember Jerry Falwell? Read an informative article on his life here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Movement_conservatismhttp://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/16/obituaries/16falwell.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
[vi] Taken directly from the Wikipedia article, Movement Conservatism. Their source is Paul Krugman’s, The Conscience of a Liberal. You can read the Wikipedia article here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Movement_conservatism
[vii] Reference the articles: Benjamin Netanyahu win a good omen for Stephen Harper, by Thomas Walkom, and Could Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau ever join to oust Harper? by Tim Harper. You can read Tim’s article here: http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2015/03/18/could-tom-mulcair-and-justin-trudeau-ever-join-to-oust-harper-tim-harper.html
[viii] An interesting read on how this happens is presented by George Lakoff in an article appearing at www.salon.com called, This is why conservatives win: George Lakoff explains the importance of framing – and what Democrats need to learn. November 22, 2014.
[ix] If you care to, read this article describing some of the malfeasances of members of the U.S. Republican party: 10 insane, fear-mongering G.O.P. lies, this election cycle. See if you can find any parallels, in spirit, with the modus operandi of our current government. You can find it here: http://www.salon.com/2014/11/01/10_insane_fear_mongering_gop_lies_this_election_cycle_partner/
[x] Today (March 24, 2015), on CPAC, PM Harper announced his intention to extend the mission by 12 months, and to extend its reach into Syria. What he said, on the surface, made sense; but then he usually does. It is only upon further reflection, that you perceive the cracks. Messrs. Mulcair and Trudeau provided some of that further reflection. I found Mr. Mulcair to be true to form, and quite eloquent. I listened to Mr. Trudeau and I came away feeling this promising young leader has found his mojo. I was gratefully impressed. There is more to Canada’s involvement in this affair than PM Harper has, or is, telling us. I trust him. I trust him to be the type of CEO who feels no obligation whatsoever to tell his employees (sadly, these are euphemisms for Canada’s Prime Minister and citizens), anything other than what he wants them to know, and to believe.
[xi] I read an interesting comment to an article about Harper’s extension of Canada’s extension of the Iraq mission by 12 months, and into Syria, where the reader describes the Harper manoeuver as the Conservatives “Economic Distraction Plan.”
[xii] Please read the article by Jim Bronskill of the Canadian Press, to understand how. Here’s a link to the French version: http://www.lapresse.ca/actualites/national/201503/24/01-4855093-c-51-donnerait-gain-de-cause-aux-extremistes-selon-une-avocate-autochtone.php
[xiii] Remember that it was Netanyahu’s evoking fear of the so-called “Arab fifth-column,” and Reagan’s evoking fear of communism which helped them get elected. The use of fear is not limited to those of movement conservatism ilk either; it is something that unscrupulous leaders across cultures and time have resorted to, in order to have their people swallow the bitter pills which they are feeding them. In any democratic society, majority public support is a requirement, else…well, you know…
[xv] This is from memory, not the Internet. The song is, Take the Long-way Home, from the album, Breakfast In America.
[xvi] If you google ‘alle machen Fehler,’ the song should come up. In the Suggestions section, there are many other outstanding kids’ songs by this composer. My favourite is Rot und Grün. This guy is truly amazing. I probably enjoyed listening to his tape on car trips more than my kids did.
[xvii] This is in reference to an engaging opinion piece appearing in the Toronto Star. You can read it here: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2015/03/19/harpers-dangerous-advice-on-guns-for-rural-security.html
[xviii] You can read about Harper’s comments on guns and rural security, in this fine article appearing in the Globe and Mail, here: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/alberta/in-rural-canada-harpers-gun-ownership-comments-ring-true/article23569748/
[xix]Defence Minister Jason Kenney’s tweeting fabricated photos of black-draped Muslim girls and women being led of in chains, along with the words, …”thank-you to the [Canadian Forces] for joining the fight against [ISIL’s] campaign to enslave women & girls.” Kenney’s ‘slaves’ were actually part of an Islamic pageant celebrating the heroism of that Faith’s early martyrs. The honourable minister tweeted on International Women’s Day 8 March 2015. The misinformation the Cons have heaped upon the public must by now be piled higher than old rubber tires in a Toronto junkyard; but seriously, do you need further proof that this government is over-the-top immorally imbecilic than the tweet by Jason Kenney? You can read the article about the tweet here, in the Ottawa Citizen: http://ottawacitizen.com/news/politics/the-gargoyle-kenney-tweets-misleading-photos-of-muslim-women-in-chains