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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.

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Deconstructing Harper

The important thing to realize in this, though, is that Harper isn't trying to prevent the identification and management of structural injustices, per se - that paints him in the light of a moutstache-twirling villain.  As convenient as this dehumanized frame is for those who don't like his politics (or are in the business of attacking partisan foes), it fails to understand the man and shed light on better ways to engage with and persuade him.

Stephen Harper isn't trying to be the bad guy.  He does what he does because he genuniely believes his world-view is the right one.  

It isn't - but neither are those with polar opposite views to his.  Think on that for a second - how on earth can you define yourself as the anti-Harper because you commit to shades of grey whereas he doesn't?

Harper thinks that too much government is bad, because government sucks at managing complexity.  He's not wrong on that.

He also thinks that too many social services impede the growth and success of individuals.  It's like teaching a kid to ride a bike - eventually, you need to take off the training wheels and let go, right?  You can't be telling them to brush their teeth and do their homework for the whole of their lives.  

Is carrying debt a good thing?  Are debt payments an allocation of financial resources that could go to other things, like tax cuts to reduce the amount of money being taken away from people and impeding their ability to succeed independently?

This doesn't mean that Stephen Harper isn't disdainful of the general public.  It's not to say he's a deep admirer of the general public, either.  He has his frame and in it, reality is determined by action and actions are committed by go-getters.  He wants more people taking care of their own business and less things that get in the way of that.

Like data, for instance.  He knows, rightly, that data can be skewed one way or another.  Lies, damned lies and statistics, all of that.  The data he disagrees with is clearly wrong or misguided or poorly represented, because it doesn't jive with his world view.

If it was right, wouldn't he feel better about it?  Conversely - the positions taken by his partisan opponents seem so bizarre and even dangerous to him, he can't help but lash out at them and go to whatever lengths he can, having power, to quash both opponent and alternative position.

It's what his opponents would do in his place, isn't it?  It was the other guys who introduced the War Room to Canadian politics, after all.

To crib from Obi-wan Kenobi, everything Harper says and believes makes sense, from a certain point of view.  However, it isn't the whole perspective, which matters.

The man that Stephen Harper is stems from multiple elements including biology, experience, even diet.  His frame doesn't much allow him to accept this, because it implies he's not the super-in-control rational actor he thinks he is.

What's more, considering that others don't share the same basic drives that he does is frightening, because it implies an inability on his part to communicate with a wide swath of his peers, which is an incredibly isolating and humbling thought to have.  In some cases, even debilitative.

Far easier and safer to stick with "we are smart and they are dumb" as a frame, isn't it?  Easier - but not smarter.

Stephen Harper is not the bad guy.  In fact, he ultimately wants the same thing his opponents do - empowered, collaborative individuals that support a healthy society.  The only difference is he sees it as a healthy system that frees individuals to engage in transactional self-interest, reinforcing the stability of the whole.

Harper doesn't want to be confused by an interest-group fed data smog, nor does he want that for everyone else.  He's afraid we're all getting bogged down with too much information and conversation, like a kid with autism, and missing the really important stuff. 

Anything that challenges his point of view, his black-and-white outlook on the world makes him uncomfortable, is wrong and therefore needs to be stopped.  Any moves he takes to make that happen are correct, because 1) he's doing them, and he's a rational actor and 2) it's the way things work, right? Survival of the fittest.

The cognitive dissonance he comes across with this frame is that the competitive people he brings in to help him get ahead - folk like Mike Duffy or Bruce Carson - are bordering (and sometimes crossing the line) into criminality with what they're doing to promote their interests through supporting his brand.

Can he readily admit that the political culture that helped him win or the environment he's nurtured as leader are part of why government fails and big issues remain pervasively unaddressed?  What would that do to his self-narrative and legitimacy?

This is all a lot of complex, unnerving stuff to think about - stuff that, most importantly, makes him feel uncomfortable in that sociology, hugging kind of way.  The fact that it feels so much like an allergen surely implies how harmful it would be to consider that kind of thing.

Like how, say, Rob Ford is unwilling to engaged with Pride activities because of how uncomfortable being around gay people makes him feel.  It's not that he's a bigot, right?  Things that make you feel that uncomfortable must be unnatural - the only alternative is that it's you, not the source of your discomfort, that's got something out of whack.  

The problem is that Harper's cognitive frame shuts out much of what he needs to know in order to do his job effectively.  The irony, of course, is that by undermining government, he is winning by empowering his foes.

Think about it for a second - all the Premiers are coming together and could very well start planning around him.  Once that happens in any significant manner, how much of federal government becomes irrelevant (though, more accurately, replaced with new social infrastructure)?  

The same holds true for Corporate Social Responsibility taking on roles previously served by government - isn't that kind of what Harper was going for?  He may have missed the fact that non-government actors would start acting progressively and commit sociology, but he is showing us that the government he dislikes isn't as important as we thought.

Neither, frankly, is the role he has and loves so dearly.

And that's just Harper.  You could equally take any individual politician, or political staffer, or activist and deconstruct them down to their natural and nurtured parts.  Like an archaeological artifact, though, you can't understand what it means without context.

A dead canary is a dead canary, right? It died is what mattered.  You can know all you need to know about the thing because of what it was without confusing or straining yourself with murky context.

Let's say, though, that the canary corpse comes from a coal mine you're working in.  You might want to know what the death of that canary means for you.  If you don't work in the mine, though, do you care? Well, you might if you find dead animals around the entrance to the mine, too.  

The further away you are from a problem the less likely you are to consider it seriously, a fact that isn't necessarily reflective of the impact that problem may have on you.  It's why people with disabilities or of minority status make the best advocates of their peers (and why democracy is all about representation).

As a better example, let's look at Pompeii, or better still, Easter Island.  If you want to go macro, look at the fall of the Roman Empire, or any civilization and consider what the causal factors were and what they mean to you and your circumstances.

It's not simply "the way things are", like natural selection, that individuals fall and societies fail.  There are contextual details, always a combination of internal and internal, that paint the scene.  If you commit sociology, put yourself in the headspace of Others and make efforts to understand what happened, you can avoid similar pitfalls yourself down the road.  

Which is, essentially, what learning is all about.

We know that climate change, for instance, presents some significant risks.  We know that climate change destroyed civilizations, even entire species in the past.  There's no way to be individually resistant to the immediate and after math implications of a massive earth quake or flood, for instance.  You can take out insurance and whatnot, but if the bank gets destroyed?  If the impact is worse than you imagined?  If you suffer the loss of loved ones, a limb and physical resources all at the same time?  It's happened to others - why couldn't it happen here?

The ability to commit sociology allows us to learn from the past and shape the future - not willpower, not toughness.  

Selection of the fittest favours those best able to adapt.  In a social context, adaptation is about learning from the lessons, both positive and negative, of others so as not to have to experience them oneself.

This is all rubbish nonsense spouted by a clear lefty nutjob, ergo the kind of thinking that Stephen Harper (and not a few other human beings) doesn't have time for.  Which is probably why he remains obstinately, willfully oblivious to the corner he's painting himself into.  

Maybe he plans to leave before the going gets bad - he's backed away from problems before, so that's something we could expect from him.  Perhaps he's slowly feeling that sense of being painted into a corner and his obstinance is a fight defense - the kind that led him to prorogue, or attempt a coalition with the Bloc, or to bribe a dying man.

All I'm saying is that the PM's personal interests would probably be better served if he looked around a bit more, empathized with others and started to see the context of his world.

He wouldn't even need to call it sociology.

They didn't invent the term behavioural economics for nothing.

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