Friday, December 7, 2012

Honest Disagreements and the problem of Harper. . .

Though disagreements can be difficult at times, I think the majority of us understand that honest disagreements are not only healthy but essential to growth and understanding. We have to weigh the options in life, think about the possibilities, consider not only the facts but the feelings and concerns of others. My father, may he rest in peace, taught me a great deal about the importance of honest discourse, especially in the face of radical disagreements. And to his credit, over the period of my adult life I watched my father change a great many of his ideas and opinions as a result of experience as well as through discourse. In fact I would say that my father really bucked the trend of aging people becoming more intractable and less open as they get older. It was, perhaps, his greatest gift - he taught me the importance of flexibility and compromise.

However, despite all that my father taught me concerning honest disagreements and the importance of discourse, this teaching falls flat in the face of much rightwing discourse. I have had many disagreements with rightwingers over my life that have been very basic differences of opinion on things like Gay Marriage, the death penalty etc. I have even had meaningful discussions about things as sensitive as sexism and racism. I think most of us at one time or another fall victim to some opinion without realizing the sexist or racist implication that our opinions might carry. In fact, in my last post I pointed to how Ian Capstick's support for certain kinds of immigration and refugee policies have implications that are, in fact, deeply racist. I am certain that Mr. Capstick doesn't believe that he is racist and that he even finds the prospect abhorrent.

Anyway, the point of this discussion is simply to say that we can have disagreements that are rooted in honest mistakes, errors in fact, moral or ethical differences, and the discussion of such disagreements can be, if we are honest and flexible, instructive and helpful.

The problem is, however, that not all disagreements are rooted in honest differences of opinion. This is where the rightwing ideology of a man like Harper comes in. If Harper honestly believed that his political approach would bring about a better and more prosperous society, then our differences of opinion would be just that - differences of opinion. The problem is that all the evidence (both contemporary and historical) suggest that this is just not the case. In other words that are other, unstated, goals behind contemporary rightwing rhetoric that make honest discourse impossible, to say nothing of unfruitful. As I have said here on this blog, and as a growing number of people are saying everywhere (in most cases much more effectively than I), the real goal of contemporary rightwing ideology is a massive shift in society away from generalized prosperity to an increase in poverty and weakness for the majority. The real "hidden agenda" of Harper and his cronies is not simply the return of the death penalty or greater restrictions on abortions (though I think those issue are real). The real "hidden agenda" is something much more abstract and sinister. Haper and his ilk actually seek to impoverish society, weaken people's democratic voices, and undermine many things that we have begun to see as basic human rights. And the reason for this goal is to substantially increase the power and wealth of the few (among whom he obvious considers himself). One needn't be an historian or development expert to understand that when the people are impoverished and weakened, the rich are necessarily more powerful and even richer. Though this is a huge goal, it is also one that can only be pursued subtly and in an rather underhanded manner. After all, people don't go around saying they want to make the majority  poorer and powerless, because let's face it you just would have no chance of getting elected. (By the way, this ideology of impoverishment of the many is actually at the heart of Harper's eventual goal of making guns more available. A society of rampant crime and violence makes the rightwing agenda easier to pursue because it makes people afraid and allows the government to increase the power of police.) In other words, what I am saying is that Harper does indeed have a "hidden agenda" and it is a large, if subtle one. The goal is to undermine democracy, impoverish the majority, and put an end to the very concept of equality.

The problem is, of course, obvious. We cannot have honest disagreements with people who are not being honest. Even under the best of conditions, disagreements can be problematic. Some people have better access to information, a larger platform for making their opinions known, or are simply better equipped to debate a particular issue. This is one of the many reasons that people on the left seek greater equality of opportunity, to remove as much as possible the relations of power that continually haunt our differences. But when those opposing you are not only richer and more powerful, but are simply not being honest about their actual goals, then the very notion of discourse becomes meaningless. We cannot face the Harper cabal on a level playing field of debate and disagreement because they not, in fact, debating anything. Rather all their political machinations are just a sideshow to divert attention away from what they are really trying to do.

If this scenario sounds familiar, it is because we careful observers have been watching the very same thing in Palestine for over 50 years. If Israel really wanted peace with the Palestinians, one could have a meaningful debate about how that might be achieved. However, for those in power in Israel, peace has never, per se, been the goal. Rather the goal is the eventual destruction of the Palestinian identity and the absorption of all Palestinian land into the state of Israel. They therefore are engaged in a continual process of diversion - a political sleight of hand - in order to take people's attention away from what they really want. So the discourses are dragged out indefinitely and even overwhelming compromises by men like Arafat are quickly turned aside, lest peace really happen and take away Israeli's excuse for their expansionism.

Unfortunately, all of this means that we cannot rely on meaningful discourse to defeat men like Harper, or bring peace to the Middle-East. Rather, we have to rely on the gradual exposure of our opponent's real goals and their continual failures in the normal political realm. We fight, in other words, in the margins, on countless fronts, until Harper's style exposes his real goals, until environmental failures become dangerously obvious, until his political mistakes and malfeasance expose his dishonesty to more people, until the very force of history undermines his decadent cause.

10 comments:

Owen Gray said...

As you ay, Kirby, it's hard to have an honest disagreement with people who are dishonest.

Next week's auditor's report on the F-35 purchase should -- once again -- make that abundantly clear.

Darrin said...

Well said.

doconnor said...

Most of the people on the right and many of its leaders honestly believe their policies of rewarding the rich and punishing the poor are just because those people did something to deserve their lot in life.

They have an ingrained respect for people they view as leaders whether or not they deserve it.

The irony of Israel's actions is it more likely to result in the integration of the Palestinians into Israel (the One State Solution) then the expulsion of the Palestinians.

kirbycairo said...

doconnor - in your last sentence did you mean "then" or "than" ?

doconnor said...

Integration is more likely than expulsion.

karen said...

I also think that to have an honest disagreement with someone, both parties have to be willing to admit they don't know enough, or that they might be wrong. There has to be a willingness to acknowledge some legitimacy of the position of the other. It doesn't look to me as though these conservatives are capable of that.

Rural said...

"We cannot face the Harper cabal on a level playing field of debate and disagreement because they (are) not, in fact, debating anything. Rather all their political machinations are just a sideshow to divert attention away from what they are really trying to do."
And there my friend lays the whole problem with trying to constructively refute the attacks upon our democracy, environment and parliamentary systems by this regime.

Anonymous said...

It is impossible to rationalize with someone, who isn't rational. Harper is not rational. Stalin, Hitler and Mussolini were also irrational dictators. Harper's bizarre omnibus bill alone, tells us that. That bill doesn't make any sense, to normal sane people, what-so-ever.

It's a damned good thing, Harper arranged to be out of Parliament, on the day of anger. Harper knew beyond the shadow of a doubt, his lunacy was going to cause trouble.

Despite Harper starting out, with a $13 billion surplus. Harper has Canada in the worst debt in history. Harper didn't keep his word on anything. No ship building contracts. No armored vehicles. No new army trucks and no F-35 jets.

Harper only kept his word, on one single thing. We would not recognize Canada, when he got through with this country. How true that is. Canadian Democracy is gone. Our Civil Rights and Liberties are taken away from us. Our Freedom of Speech under attack. Our Human Rights being eroded.

Now Harper is a Traitor, doing acts of High Treason. Selling Canada out to Communist China is the lowest, of all low crimes.

Robert G. Harvie said...

Alright, Kirby...

I'll bite.

I'm a card-carrying Conservative, party donor.

I'm pro-choice, I'm pro gay-marriage, and I've been openly critical of the Toews "tough on crime effort", which I see as little more than pandering to the base - much as I see the same as the underpinning of the gun registry by Alan Rock.

So.

There's the problem... a broad generalization of someone who happens to disagree with some of your points of view - though not all.

If you were describing a black person instead of a conservative, that would make you a racist.. wouldn't it?

And I don't say that to suggest you are a bigot or something, only that there are many, many people who have voted conservative who have no "secret agenda" - they just weigh the differences, and come out voting on that side of the spectrum.

I don't think poor people "deserve" to be poor.. however, I have a fundamental difficulty with the notion of excessive "redistribution of wealth" as I believe it stifles initiative and industry. Nor do I believe in empowering the "robber barons" of Wall Street.

I think, actually, I'm part of a great huge middle - who leans left sometimes and right sometimes.. just another Canadian who happens to now vote Conservative.

kirbycairo said...

Dear Mr. Harvie,
First of all let me say that I didn't mean "everyone" who identifies as a conservative wants to generate a Third World style economy. In fact most average conservatives obviously wouldn't take this postion. Rather, I am saying that many of the leaders are pursuing this policy thrust. And I think most contemporary conservatives have unwittingly been drawn into supporting policies that will lead to exactly what I am talking about. The evidence that this is where the policies are leading are, I believe, overwhelming, but I obviously believe that most conservatives simply don't understand the developmental history of capitalism and are unable to see what is going on at the global level and where their leaders are taking them. But people like Harper or Mitt Romney know far too much to feign ignorance on this issue. But I honestly believe, based upon what I see and read is that most conservatives are nowhere close to understanding that what they say they are voting for and what they are actually getting are radically different things.

As for the other issues, we obviously don't have the space to go deeply into them. But let me just say this - 20th (and 21st) century 'conservatives' have simply blatantly ignored the very simple facts. The most prosperous countries with the highest standards of livings have consistently been the ones with exactly the redistribution of wealth that you oppose. In almost every case, period. Far from "stifling" industry or inovation, the evidence is overwhelmingly clear that systems with high degrees of social welfare do the exact opposite.