Search This Blog

CCE in brief

My photo
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.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Political Fanaticism: Is Fear and Loathing Democratic?

Here's my theme for the day - by embracing the emotional and tactical approach of their opponents, are progressives becoming as regressive as they claim their political foes to be?

Contempt of one's opponents is a mainstay of politics.  It's been particularly egregious of late, as both the political left and the political right have sought to dehumanize their opponents and heap all kinds of conspiracy theories on them.  

There's a definite logic to this approach; if you see yourself as morally superior, as all political entities tend to do, you can't do to others what you wouldn't have them do to you.  To do otherwise, unless you're a sociopath, leads to uncomfortable cognitive dissonance.  Nobody wants to be the villain.

If, on the other hand, you dehumanize and demonize your opponents, you free yourself to treat them as you will and consider yourself heroic for defeating them.

This approach fits perfectly with what Richard Hofstadter describes as "the paranoid style of politics" which, from a cognitive point of view, is (consciously or unconsciously) designed to agitate and otherwise complacent populace into doing something.  The risks if they don't act, vote, donate or oppose, the End of Days will be upon us (or the socialists and separatists will ruin our country forever).

The problem with this approach is that it plays into the idea of an apocalyptic, zero-sum game where the enemy will be finally and utterly vanquished on Election Day.  When Harper set out to make Canada Conservative, he played with this end-state in mind; he could pillory or ignore any opponent that got in his way and ignore misdeeds within his own team because they didn't matter - history is written by the victors, etc.

But The Other doesn't go away.  Election Days come and go and political opponents have to work together for democracy to function.  When they've gotten their backs up and maintain a functionally fixed approach to utter obliteration of their foes, the working together thing becomes much harder to do.

If progress is about moving forward, it needs to be about planning ahead, too - and that means recognizing a world where The Other doesn't go away and things never end, but rather evolve.  If you can't beat 'em, you have to work with them, understand them and find common ground to build your shared garden on.

I love the garden metaphor, for obvious reasons.  If the plants run wild and compete over scarce resources, some eventually wither and dry out, creating the conditions for a cleansing brushfire, restarting the competitive cycle.  If, on the other hand, the garden is tended, the crops rotated and sustainable growth promoted, you get an interdependent but thriving ecosystem.

True progressives behave like gardeners, planning ahead and thinking systematically, seeing the forest and the trees.  Trolls try to stop any form of progress from happening - consciously or not, they are agitating for the brushfire.  Social conservatives, on the other hand, believe the garden is something we had and lost through social evolution.  They wish we could go back to a mythologized past where people were strong, independent and completely in control of both their individual fates and the world as a whole.

We can't go back to a past that never existed.  We can hasten the end of this cycle, instigating a new one, but that eventually puts us right back where we are now.

There's only one way to break the cycle, which means tacking neither left nor right and circling back, but moving forward into the unknown, undiscovered country of the future.  

In the long run, it's going to be alright; there's no need to be afraid. 

No comments:

Post a Comment