Monday, August 25, 2014

The "sociological phenomenon" of Herr Harper. . . .

Herr Harper's recent claim that the disappearance and murder of hundreds of Aboriginal women should not be viewed as a "sociological phenomenon" is an important reminder of what rightwing ideology is really all about. It has been central to rightwing ideology in the modern period to continually reduce society and human interactions to individual units. They see society only as individuals and are desperate to make others see it that way. There are a number of reasons for this act of reductionism but they all come down, in the end, to control. If you atomize society and isolate individuals they are significantly easier to control. Before the phrase 'civil society' took on the positive connotation that it has had in recent years, it was used by a number of sociologists and political thinkers to connote a war of all against all. And it is this war that the rightwing wants to promote. Cooperation among the general population is the death knell of rightwing ideology in the same way that when, say, Cape Buffalo in Africa stand united as a small herd the lions they can fend off attack.

To any vaguely rational person crime is, of course, always an individual and a sociological phenomenon at the same time. For example, African Americans in the US make up about 13 percent of the population, yet they make up somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of the US prison population. This statistic presents a remarkable dilemma for the rightwinger. If, as Harper would have us do, we are to treat individual crimes as just that, individual events rather than sociological phenomena, then we are essentially forced to make the radically racist assumption that African Americans are simply criminally minded while white people are more law abiding. Now, while some rightwingers do, in fact, believe this, no politician in his/her right mind would publicly acknowledge such a belief. However, I believe that most people (even slow-witted rightwingers) know that such a statement is clearly untrue and that, despite the words of King Harper, crime is, in fact, a sociological phenomenon. But the rightwing is desperate to dissuade the public from such sociological thinking because such thinking takes us down the path of a more cooperative social outlook. To put it plainly, when we acknowledge that trends in crime are not just individual acts but also indicative of social trends, social beliefs, and socioeconomic demographics we are embracing the idea that society is not simply a bunch of individuals acting in isolation but that our actions are significantly connected to our environment and the society in which we live. This belief, in turn, will make us realize that generations of neglect and oppression of a group, like, say, the Indigenous people of Canada, will result in a myriad of social problems such as poverty, violence, substance and sexual abuse, etc. This fact means, much to the chagrin of rightwingers, that we are collectively responsible for these problems and we cannot, as they are wont to do, reduce them to the individual choices and actions of the people involved. And here is the rub; if we are to adopt this kind of 'sociological thinking,' then the problems of Capitalism must also be seen in a social light, and this is what the rightwing really fears. If crime is party a result of our place in society and our social problems and biases, then the problems of capitalism (such as spiralling income inequality, debt rates, under performance in education, increasing student debt, rises in homelessness and various health problems, etc) are not simply a result of a bunch of poor choices made by individuals but are structurally related to political mismanagement, or perish the thought, to fundamental problems in Capitalism itself.

Marx wrote that people make history but not in circumstances of their own choosing. An easier way of looking at this idea is to say that people make choices that make sense to them in their particular time and place. But if they are raised in the midst of poverty, crime, violence, substance abuse, and in the middle of a society that continually gives them the message that they are worthless and will probably amount to nothing, then the choices that make sense to them will be very different from the ones that they might make if they are raised in a safe, nourishing environment of love and education. The problem is, of course, that people like Harper don't really want us to make good choices. A society with more cooperation, from unionized workplaces to better social healthcare, ultimately means less relative wealth and power for the five percent who control society and reap the benefits of skewed capitalism. And these are the people that Harper and the rightwing work for.

Harper will always resist calls for an inquiry into the murder and disappearance of aboriginal women for the simple reason that the results of such an inquiry will inevitably have sociological implications. It will remind people that certain groups of people in society are collectively seen as expendable, that generations of racism and legislative mismanagement result in violence and social oppression. It will help bring to the public eye the real conditions of aboriginal people in this country and the structural racism that infests our society. More importantly, it will remind people that there are social solutions to these problems, and if these problems are subject to social solutions then so are our other problems like economic and social inequality. And the rightwing doesn't want us to believe that. Rather, they want us to believe that our collective fate is in the hands of that bizarrely invisible phenomenon that they tell us so much about, a phenomenon that is nothing more than an aggregate of individual acts.

There is an ironic postscript to this story. Let us not forget that Harper was the first to embrace a sociological approach when it suited his purposes. In the wake of the so-called sponsorship scandal, Harper told us it was not a result of a few criminal individuals but was a direct result of a 'culture' of corruption which promoted such individual kinds of choices. Here, for all to see, is the smoking gun of Harper's hypocrisy.

6 comments:

Owen Gray said...

A true disciple of Margaret Thatcher, Kirby, Harper would have us believe that, "There is no such thing as society."

Lorne said...

Well-stated, Kirby. Perhaps John Donne said it best in Meditation XVII: "No man is an island entire of itself".

It must rankle the right wing that certain truths can never be eliminated.

Scotian said...

It also speaks to the basis of Harper's clear and massive obsessive hatred with PET and his works, because at the center of what made PET so beloved a PM was the concept of the Just Society that he expounded and via the Charter helped push us a long way forwards in. The Just Society concept was one that shaped at least a generation of Canadians directly and more by the imprint it left behind, and it is and always has been clear to me that this is one of the main targets of Harper and his brand of so called conservativism.

Yet another good post Kirby, but then that is why I make it a point to always read anything new you put up, the quality of thought in your writing whether I agree or disagree makes it well worth the time and helps further advance my own thinking, which is always worth it to me.

Kirby Evans said...

Thank you Scotian, for your comment and your compliment. I live something of a hermit life since the death of my father, and I usually write as an act of catharsis, so your complement (on the eve of my 50th birthday) means a great deal to me.

Scotian said...

You are quite welcome Kirby, I call 'em as I see 'em as the expression goes. I don't give empty compliments anymore than I give empty criticism, there is too much emptiness in the world of conversation (especially but not limited to the online world) as it is in my view. I have always enjoyed your comments around the blogosphere and posts here for many years now, they have substance to them and clear serious thought to them, and that for me is what I crave most in dialogue/conversation, both in general and especially in politics (since I find a particular dearth of depth in that area of conversation these days alas). So take it for what it is worth to you, it was sincerely and truthfully meant.

P.S. Happy 50th when it hits, I'm less than a handful away from that one myself. Take care and be well.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Except even though no right wing politician would say it out loud. I believe that deep down inside they truly believe that the negro in the States, the native in Canada and the brown folk in the middle East really are inferior and more prone to criminal behavior.