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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Thursday 19 September 2013

Vic Toews: A Case Study

I don't mean to pick on Toews, really - he just provides such great fodder for analysis.
Despite how we've framed politics - a left/right battle between isms - the truth is that the political positions we take are more about cognition than anything else.  Political people can tell themselves that really, they're clever, Machiavellian manipulators of public opinion, but truth be told that's really a delusion, like a drunk driver who convinces themselves they're okay to drive.
The Conservatives do have a hidden agenda, as do all Parties - agendas so deeply engrained that they're hidden even from the pols themselves.  Depending on how we're hard-wired, what our upbringing was like and what pressures we're under at any given time, we human animals will gravitate between survival-of-the-fittest behaviours that are either selfish/deferential to like-minded confidence or pro-social behaviours that are more altruistic but also willing to question authority and common wisdom.
Toews provides a classic example of a limbic, reactive, aggressive, hyper-confident and externally-dismissive person.
Without delving into his personal life, which can be mined elsewhere, there's enough material from his political performance to create a clear profile.
Toews speaks before he thinks.  It gets him into trouble, but he seemingly can't help himself.
Toews views the world as black and white.  You're either with us, against us or you don't matter.
Along the same lines, if you're on the black side of the spectrum, you don't get to be a victim.  In his mind, Ashley Smith is like a bike-rider; whatever happens to her, she had it comin'.  You swim with the sharks, you're gonna get bitten.
Toews doesn't do contrition well - it'd be too much like admitting fault, which as any blue-blooded limbic thinker can tell you is tantamount to admitting weakness among competitors dying to take you down.
Toews does do attacks well - in fact, it's his default form of communication with anyone he doesn't understand (i.e. doesn't think like him).
Toews sees threats around every corner.  Seas of troubles, etc.; we gotta hit hard, hit first and build tall walls to keep The Other at bay, both from without and within.
None of this is to say Toews is a bad man - he isn't.  There will be people who praise his hardened stance on sex offenders just as there are those who will condemn his increased criminalization of marginalized groups and disregard for the rights of prisoners.  At the end of the day, though, Toews' legacy is nothing more than a series of decisions and the things that informed them.
From a neuro-anthropological perspective, Toews is threat-oriented, aggressive and dismissive of people he saw as useless or risks as non-humans, not worthy of those who rested in his plus column.  He's a chest-thumper, a shoot-from-the-hip gun advocate and someone who is unquestionably authentic, if not well-thought out.  In a different time or place, he would have been calling for aggressive strikes on Cuba or filling of Gulags in Soviet Russia with enemies of the state. 
Which is to say that he's a classic selection-of-the-fittest, limbic-oriented thinker. 
The other day I went for a walk in the woods, at night and without a flashlight - I could barely see a few feet in front of me, the brush closed in and the ominous sound of creatures going bump in the night got my heart racing.  Although I was alone, my gut kept telling me that I was being pursued; every shadowy object felt like an obstacle before my senses made me fully aware that it was just a grouping of leaves that only seemed solid from a distance.  At the same time, I felt alert and ready for anything; adrenaline and cortisol flowed through my system, extending my situational awareness and increasing my response time.  It was fight-or-flight mode.
I imagine this is the sort of mind frame someone like Toews is in the majority of the time.
Not that there's anything egregiously wrong with his position; in fact, it's quite appropriate for the sort of smaller and less socially complex groupings humans lived in for the majority of our existence.  Again, Toews isn't a bad mad - he's simply maladapted to living in a diverse, complex society where an increasing number of factors beyond mom-and-pop parenting and tribal codes of ethics shape both pro- and anti-social behaviours (like crime and over-simplifying discrimination).
Evolution isn't a homogenous process, nor does it travel in a set direction; instead, it's simply the process by which life adapts to changing conditions or, failing that, dies off.  The evolution of society has put some controls on this process; much as feats of engineering have allowed us to redirect the flow of rivers and move entire mountains, the act of committing sociology allows us to control our own trajectory as well.
As social evolution is mapped on top of biological evolution and actual cognitive adaptation lags behind, we often find ourselves in positions of cognitive dissonance where our instincts are at odds with the decisions that would be in our own long-term best interests.  Toews, reactive, aggressive and exclusionary fella that he is rests further on the limbic, biological-evolutionary end of the spectrum.
Toews thinks he's doing a service in locking away the bad people and throwing away the key, without realizing that the cognitive mechanisms through which he's determining who's a victim vs. whose an animal are leading him to exacerbate the problem. 
There's no point in hating people like him - that simply fuels in-kind thinking and reciprocative, aggressive behaviours.  That gets us nowhere in a social context where we can't make opponents go away.  It's better to forgive them, for they know not what they do; folk like Toews are equally victims of their own behaviour and prisoners of their own limitations.
Instead of responding in kind, it's better to model right thought and right action and show 'em the light.  Progress isn't easy, after all - it's something we can only achieve together.

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