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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.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Altering History to Control the Present has Consequences for the Future (UPDATED)

The main thrust of Lawrence Martin's piece is that Team Harper is destroying public information and attempting to redefine and mythologise Canada's past.  We'll get back to this in a second, but first I want to pause on the quote above.

This is Canada.  We are not a police state; Stephen Harper isn't Chancellor Sutler.  People don't disappear from the street because of views they hold or associations they keep.  The threats Harper's PMO can level against his caucus are of a partisan/Parliament/Government carrot-stick nature - there's nothing stopping them from walking away and finding a career elsewhere.

There are consequences to actions in Canada - some of them unjustified - but we have freedom.

Yet Harper's Caucus doesn't walk away unless they're under the gun or being offered something better. They take the infringements on their rights (some might say responsibilities) as Members of Parliament, they allow for their freedom of speech to be usurped by party message-makers, so on and so forth.

You wouldn't think that would be kosher for members of a party that's all about personal liberties, transparency and freedom of speech, but it is.

Then there's responses from the party's base like this rant to the media that isn't just frustrated - it's hateful.

I raise these things simply to point out that they're possible, even in a country like ours.  

It's true across partisan lines; how many MPs who got into politics to champion causes have found themselves parroting speaking points or heckling out of normal character?  It's a bit like the Stanford Prison Experiment in real life; people, whatever they think of themselves, will change their behaviour and even their morals in reflection of their environment.  

It's a sociology thing (or a behavioural economics thing if you're uncomfortable with the concept of social science).

Back to the re-mythologizing Canada's past (and emphasizing the military glory of old stock Canadians) and the deleting of massive quantities of Canadian public data (that is, data that belongs to the people of Canada, not the party in power) that is contrary to the ideology of Team Harper.  Add in the solidifying CPC narrative of Harper as super-human, infallible, the only one who can fight off threats and defend Canadian pride, etc.  

That's the culture the CPC is creating; that's the landscape they're devising.  

Within that landscape, good people are voluntarily giving up their right to free speech, perhaps even their right to think critically as they buy into the narrative of power for whatever reason.  In this Canada, die-hard supporters feel comfortable tearing strips off of journalists for reporting the facts. Those die-hards have no problem ignoring or minimizing blatant corruption from Team Harper.  

It isn't just Team Harper, mind you - I've seen partisans of deep intellect and real-world experience parrot party lines and wax rhetorically on the brilliant nuance of their leaders stance on, say, ISIL. It's not just troubling that these partisans are so comfortable suppressing their own experience and judgement in favour of the party message - the fact that they will do so to young audiences in policy discussion is downright alarming.

The party in power at the moment is the CPC, however, and its the way they have abused their position that is more than questionable, it is dangerous.

When Harper leaves office (and despite comparisons to power-mad dictators, he will), his successor will have to win a majority of support from the CPC base.  To do that, that successor will have to woo those angry base supporters with "red meat" in the way that Donald Trump is doing south of the border.

What will those positions be?  What data will they be based on, when data is scarce and the culture the Harper CPC has fostered is anti-facts and pro-ideology?  How much will allusions to Canada's new mythic past be used to connect that leader with Canadian nationalism?  Who will be excluded - and because politics is all about defining your enemies, who will be framed as the bad guys Canada needs to be defended against?

Regardless of which party "forms government" after the next election, will the trend towards consolidation of power/national identity in the form of one person continue?  If a minority Parliament leads to a ham-strung government, how will partisan use that to further anger their supporters/potential supporters to nudge action that will overcome the dead-lock?

Yes, I'm intentionally making references to 1930s Germany when I hint at mythology-making and data-burning, not to invoke Godwin's Law, but to point out that "civilized" countries can slide into rather uncivilized patterns of behaviour without even recognizing its happened.

Fear.  Anger.  Mythologizing the past and in so doing, emphasizing "old stock" traditionalism as better than the disruptive cultural, economic and demographic changes of the present.  Deleting records.  Increasing the vitriol, upping the rhetoric.  Taking liberties with electoral best practices and ethics in service of The Win.

This approach not only erodes our country's ability to understand and solve the Wicked Problems facing us (while simultaneously creating new ones), it changes the culture, justifying anger and nudging good people to behave in ways they wouldn't dream of behaving under different circumstances.

Like the MPs from the quote above.

I understand the competitive nature of "blood sport" politics and the pressure to win.  I get that the electoral watering-hole is shrinking, leaving backroom folk to push tougher tactics.  I know that the aggressive War Room messagey- stuff works and that owning the narrative means suppressing points and data that are contrary to your narrative.

I would just ask everyone - partisans, non-partisans, media and political stakeholders, but especially the politicians and their backroomers to slow down, think ahead and consider the ramifications of their approach on Canada and Canadians.

It's not you I'm worried about.  It's the culture you're creating that worries me - and the sort of "leaders" that thrive in such environments.

UPDATE - Same Day

Think I'm exaggerating the potential concerns here?

Since Bloc-sponsored attack ads came out late last week, NDP campaign signs have been defaced, with the word Islam scrawled across the face of some local Montreal candidates.

Same thing happened in Toronto last municipal election.  There is a great deal of rage bubbling just beneath the surface of an increasingly frustrated public and it's deeply unfortunate that parties are tossing around sparks for strategic gain.

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