Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Harper's Fear of the "other" . . .

The various racializing tropes to which Harper and his minions have begun to appeal in a desperate attempt to win the election ("UnCanadian," "Old-Stock," "Our Values,") are intended as 'power-markers.' They mark off the power relations between an 'us' and a 'them,' generating a passionate defence of certain perceived identities and notions of cultural and racial 'purity.' Such tropes are initially intended to 'distinguish,' then to 'divide,' and ultimately to 'conquer' (or alternatively, to generate a fear of being conquered). Racism is not, generally speaking, an end in itself, but rather is a means to the end of division and, by association, control. It is not so much control, or even the exclusion of the 'other' that is really at stake, but the wider goal of general political control with all of its sociopolitical implications.  These self-conscious and divisive word games seldom appeal, except in the case of the most ignorant listeners, to any real threat of invasion by the 'other,' but rely on more sinister (and often more dangerous) implications such as 'infiltration,' 'cultural watering-down,' and 'attack on (our) values.' The need for this indirect racialization is rooted not only in a blatant lack of actual 'real-life' threats and a growing (if irregular)  mainstream intolerance for directly racist statements, but in the emotive power of the sinister and the conspiratorial. In other words, implying that our cultural is 'threatened' by an 'outside' force which is acting in nefarious or indirect ways to somehow subvert our perceived values can be considerably more powerful, particularly in a milieu of ignorance, than any direct claims that must rely on some reasoned argument about a threat that has no basis in fact. Thus, it is not surprising that even a liberally minded citizen can get caught up in fears of 'hidden identities.' Perhaps more importantly, more direct discourse (one that will ultimately be reduced to legal rights and categories) now favours those who would eschew exclusion.

Fears of the 'other' have always been rooted deep in the nationalist psyche, but only recently have the perpetrators of such fears been able to appeal to (in a remarkably ironic twist) fears of a loss of freedom in order to restrict freedom. In this regard, the fear of 'infiltration' is of fundamental importance. The restriction of a religious freedom (for example the wearing of a niqab at a citizenship ceremony) has to be fashioned not in terms of facts but in terms of an underlying fear of cultural inflitration, as though the religious freedom granted to the 'other' today will turn into domination by the 'other' tomorrow. Never mind that no such material threat obtains, never mind that the particular racialized group constitutes only a small minority, what matters is the narrative of threat and the exclusion from the body politic. Similarly, a law which grants the government the right to revoke citizenship is, by its very nature a power marker that is not particularly directed at the individual criminal, but is intended to inform the citizenry of the government's power to exclude. This power is initially restricted to particular acts of conspiracy or violence (either here or abroad), but once granted can quite easily be extended to jaywalkers or political protestors. This 'thin edge of the wedge' problem doesn't even address the establishment of a de facto 'separate but equal' citizenship status.

The overriding generation of fear is a shockingly easy political target. Fear of the 'other' preys upon latent racist feelings by which the most bigoted are suddenly given a free range of legitimation for their racist feelings which are usually suppressed or kept quiet in the contemporary context. This age old political strategy cannot be outmoded by modern decorum, only refined by a new sensibility.


3 comments:

Anonymous said...

It doesn't negate your subsequent argument, but all parties and their supporters resort to allegations that their opponent (or opponent's policies) are "unCanadian" or run counter to "our values." It is rather commonplace, actually.

It is symptomatic of a trend in our political discourse towards de-legitimizing the political opponent, as opposed to merely disagreeing with them.

Kirby Evans said...

@ Anonymous There is, as you say, an element of such talk in all politics nowadays. But the Cons are the only ones at the moment using this racializing element.

the salamander said...

.. in many ways.. one of your most important & timely essays.. In the end, Canadians really should recognize the distorted nonsense.. the rabid legislation, the attack upon environment - species & habitat.. and the toxic aversion to truth transparency and accountability on every single file these 'public servants' were given the opportunity to look after & excell at.. There is simply nothing but the pathetic personal ideology of Stephen Harper behind the entire charade, farce & fairy tale.. Its truly astounding what a twisted myth has been perpetrated