Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Harper Tipping-point, Hope or Fear ?

I tend to agree with Heather Mallick in her recent interesting (and surprisingly forthright) article on why people like Trudeau over Harper. And I agree with what many commentators (and most of the polls) suggest, that we have finally reached the tipping point of Harper's political currency. Outside of conditions of extreme nationalism and social turmoil, it is very difficult for any politician to maintain power and popularity with a political persona of anger, hate, fear, and extreme secretiveness. Harper's zenith was inevitable and we now have a confluence of events which are dragging the Con's political machine ever downward. This confluence consists of typical voter weariness, growing evidence that economic and social inequality is drastically increasing, clear signs that Harper and his cabal are not simply strategic in their negative/secretive political style but that their nastiness is at the very core of their political identity, the rise of a very likeable opponent in the person of Trudeau (and let's face it, regardless of one's political stripes Trudeau is a likeable public persona), ominous signs that an over-emphasis on oil extraction is not only environmentally dangerous but economically short-sighted, and (perhaps most importantly) a slowly percolating mood in the country that we have been sleep-walking through a kind of collective nightmare of a government that is actually trying to destroy the positive aspects of democracy, good-will, hope, and peacefulness, that many once thought defined our country.

But even as we teeter at the tipping-point, there are stormy clouds ahead. For one thing it appears that, in the face of political disaster, Harper is intent of dragging this country further into the dark waters of hate, fear, and violence. Deep inside, I believe that Harper is desperately courting war in any arena, as a strategy to stay in power. In what we might call the Falkland Island gambit, Harper is increasingly ramping up his war rhetoric in every part of his foreign policy and, I believe, really hopes that the nationalism and rhetoric of a war will do for him what the Falkland Islands did for Thatcher.

Another disturbing political development is found in the fact that Harper has created a classic political vacuum around him. Harper has surrounded himself with yes-men, flunkies, and Ministers who he knows cannot pose any kind of national competition to his power. Men like Baird, Kenney, and James Moore, Oliver, and Fantino, are all (for different reasons) probably unelectable as party leaders. Not only is Harper's growing unpopularity potentially fatal political baggage for anyone who was part of his cabinet, I believe that Harper has consciously chosen ministers with their own kinds of political baggage so that they cannot challenge him in the way that, say, Martin did with Chretien. This kind of political vacuum may only be bad news for the Conservative Party, but such vacuums often create political chaos that can engulf entire nations. I would never put it past Harper and his flunkies attempting a coup in the face of an electoral defeat and with nothing but yes-men around him, people whose political careers essentially depend upon Harper himself, there may be no dissenting voices among his own.

Any kind of tipping point creates interesting events. But the curse of living in interesting times is a very real possibility now. The question is will the Harper years end with a bang or a whimper??

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.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Moral Righteousness of the Harper Cabal. . . .

Understanding anyone's motivations is a notoriously complex matter. One must always deal with the question that sociologists would refer to as "dramaturgical sincerity." In other words, when someone talks about their actions, one can never be entirely sure to what degree the person is being honest about their motivations and to what degree they are simply "playing a role." This question becomes increasingly complex in the public sphere as people spin their actions for public consumption. Honesty and sincerity in politicians is a rare commodity and 'spin' is almost always a matter of course. However, if one is willing to be fairly non-partizan (another rare trait), much political spin is easy to see through. Much of the time one need merely ask the question cui bono to know what is really going on. But political spin becomes an even more murky business when the politicians in question live on the edge of significant mental disturbance. In recent North American history we need only to look back to the strange, sometime eerie, figure of Richard Nixon to see how bizarre and complex a mentally disturbed political leader can be. What drove a pathologically paranoid man like Nixon, for example, to undertake his remarkable diplomatic efforts in China, while at the same time, as we later found out, he was turning the White House into a nest of law-braking psychopaths who talked on tape about stringing people up with piano wire? These are deep waters that are by no means easy to plumb.

These questions bring us to our own paranoid PM and his little band of psychopaths, like John Baird and Jason Kenny. What really motives this groups of men in suits is often impossible to understand as they continually funnel their apparently narcissistic and dissociative disorders into various legislative channels. A great deal of speculation has been expended on, for example, the question of Harper's bizarre Millenrian-like, remarkably one-sided, support of Israel. Is he motivated by simple vote-grubbing, or by his evangelical beliefs, by a shockingly simplistic misunderstanding of historical events, or by a mentally disturbed desire to see complex issues in a completely black and white manner? Similar question revolve around Harper's reaction to the issue of the growing war in Ukraine. What, for example, leads a guy like Harper to cozy up to the Chinese regime, unquestionably one of the most brutal, human-rights violating, and dangerous governments in the world, while condemning the Russian government in such a simple, black and white way? I certainly believe that any explanation for this apparent dichotomy that appeals only to vote-hunting is totally inadequate.

One thing seems clear to me: Harper and his crew demonstrate their near psychopathic mind-set in dealing such as the Ukraine question. As Harper attempted, in what, on a world stage, looks like a rather sadly pathetic attempt, to wield the sword of Canadian power by enacting various sanctions on Russia, his mental simplicity and animal-like puffery has become increasingly apparent. But yesterday, the depth of Harper's instability became clear when Russia retaliated with sanctions of its own. As one listened to the words coming out of the Harper cabal, one got the distinct impression that they were genuinely surprised by Russia's retaliation. Their surprise is, perhaps, motivated by a child-like simplicity that expresses itself in the notion that when one is so sure that one is on the right side of an issue, one's opponents wouldn't dare retaliate. You can almost see Harper and his ministers thinking to themselves "how can Russia dare retaliate when they are so clearly in the wrong?" Like truly incompetent politicians, Harper and his henchmen seem to really believe that they simply have to wave their magic wand of moral righteousness and whatever problem is at hand will simply vanish in a puff of saintly rectitude. They revealed some of their simplicity and disingenuousness yesterday when they said that the Russian sanctions wouldn't hurt the Canadian economy and then, almost int he next breath, said that they can't only consider economic questions when making foreign policy.

The Harper regime's madness is of the kind that is notoriously dangerous when it comes to democracy. When people are suffering from a pathological narcissism and dissociative illness, they tend to go off the rails when the world fails to conform to their simplistic righteousness.  When things don't go their way, such people have a terrible time accepting that they interpreted things wrongly or that the people turned against them. Rather, like Nixon, they look for conspiracies and satanically-induced plots for their failure. This is the stuff that coups are made of. As the Veteran's Affairs Minister and the Employment Minister throw around wild accusations that de facto suggest that the leader of Liberal Party is knowingly consorting with Islamic "terrorists," one can really see the dangers of the unhinged cabal that is in control of our government. It is not an unreasonable jump from these actions to outright accusations of foreign influence in next October's elections. Given all that has occurred, it is easy to imagine a Harper regime so driven by their own sense of moral righteousness that they would attempt to avoid or overthrow an election loss through an action of martial law. If you don't believe such a thing is possible just listen carefully to how they speak and watch carefully how they act when the world doesn't conform to their simple black and white view of their own moral rectitude. It is ominous and speaks of deep-seated mental disturbance.