Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Political Irony and Emotional Intelligence. . . .

It is interesting that it is only in the wake of Harper's downfall that the full weight of the irony involved in the decade of Conservative rule begins to become clear to many.

The last time a conservative party lost their federal majority they lost not only to the Liberal Party but they lost to another upstart conservative party, the ironically named Reform Party. It seems almost unbelievable now to recall that the Reform Party came to Ottawa on claims that they would have lots of free votes, their MPs wouldn't accept the rich pension plans,  their leader would never live in Stornaway if they became the Offical Opposition, and they would stand for a genuinely open government (in contrast to both the PC Party and the Liberals). WOW! That program of reform was so short lived that many people have forgotten it altogether. It also seems easy to forget now that Peter MacKay sold out the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada even after verbal and written agreements that he would not do so. But like the proverbial toad in the slowly heating water, many people seemed blithely unaware that a political party that had begun its life devoted to openness and honesty became the very symbol of secretiveness and corruption. Conservative all over Canada readily accepted (and still accept) this wild perversion of our system. If nothing else, this past decade has confirmed to me (along with some other personal experiences) how little people really are committed to democracy, openness, honesty, fair play, and responsible representation. I fully realize now that people just don't care about that stuff, they are fine with corruption and secretiveness etc. as long as it is their side doing this stuff.

In an effort, perhaps, to double down on the irony, next week Brian Mulroney is giving a speech at Toronto's Albany club in which he is widely expected to make some kind of case for the return of civility, openness, and even centrism to the Canadian conservative movement. Fact, as they say, is stranger than fiction. Many of my peers are watching with a certain amount of glee as the knives begin to come out in the days after the Conservative fall from power. Will we see the so-called 'Red' Tories attempt to reassert themselves in the wake of a leader who more or less gutted the party of any position short of his own maniacal hunger for power? Is there anything left to recapture at this point? Let's face it, over the past ten years there was hardly a single voice of dissent in the conservative movement against the over the top centralization and nasty one-man rule of the party. There were a few of course, but the fact that they were such an exception, demonstrated the rule of discipline and centralization in the Party.

The past decade has made me think that what we need in politics is something like a Turing Test. The Turing Test is a test designed by Alan Turing intended to determine whether a machine or robot can display true intelligence and can appear to a person as conscious. We need a kind of Turing Test of politics, not to show us whether a politician is conscious or intelligent, but whether they possess enough human empathy to qualify to be political representatives.  Few of us have any doubt at this point that Stephen Harper would fail such a test miserably. The real question is- will those who seek to replace Harper try to apply some standard of meaningful social behavior to their new leader, or will they accept the status quo?

Of course, the real dilemma of the Turing Test is that it might always be unclear whether the robot you are testing is truly an "artificial intelligence" or just a very well programmed simulation of intelligence.

3 comments:

Rural said...

"Of course, the real dilemma of the Turing Test is that it might always be unclear whether the robot you are testing is truly an "artificial intelligence" or just a very well programmed simulation of intelligence.:
And that I think sums up our entire political system and its participants, Kirby!

The Tory Pirate said...

"That program of reform was so short lived that many people have forgotten it altogether."

It is interesting to look at *why* it was short-lived. A pretty good overview is given in 'Tragedy in the Commons: Former Members of Parliament Speak Out About Canada's Failing Democracy' by Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan.

Their overview notes that every effort the Reform Party took to reduce party discipline and the leader-centric party structure was portrayed by their opponents - and the media - as evidence that the party was disorganized and amateurish. A party will only take such coverage for so long.

By the time the Reform Party became the Canadian Alliance it had learned its lesson and was well on its way to becoming the tightly controlled Conservative Party which stayed in power for a decade straight. Like it or not the Canadian electorate rewards parties that seem to have their act together (this election being no exception) and parties are only portrayed as having their act together when tightly controlled.

Kinda tragic actually.

Kirby Evans said...

@ Tory Pirate - I understand what you are saying and Loat and MacMillan make a solid argument in this regard. But in hindsight it is easy to say that the media and the political class made the Reformers look amateurish and foolish, but in truth, the simple fact is that they were amateurish and foolish. The problem wasn't their desire to be better, to be less corrupt, to be less "politic." The problem was that they were, like Harper, know-nothings who were mean-spirited and, ironically, not really interested in democracy. The kinds of political reforms in which they were interested could easily have been done by a more honest, intelligent, fair-minded group. I simply don't agree that a party that has its "act together," as you say, can't also be reform minded and make good things happen.