Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Politics – Theatre for the simple-minded?

As a long time follower of politics I have become increasingly disturbed by the dumbing down of political discourse. Perhaps it’s the ubiquitous 15-second sound bite on the evening news, or the relentless politics of fear and division, or the 24 hour news cycle (the media have to fill all that time with something – anything), or the myriad other societal upheavals and changes, but never have so many people supported so many politicians who have so little of substance to offer.
China.” Response of a young Trump supporter when asked who would pay for the wall The Donald wants to erect to keep out illegal immigrants to the US. After prompting he then tried, “Mexico?”
While the scene playing out now in the US with the presidential primaries is, without doubt, plumbing previously unimagined depths of extremism and intolerance, and stupidity, last fall’s election campaign in Canada was little better. The Conservative Party campaigned, in part, based on implementing a “barbaric practices snitch line” and limiting the freedoms of those who were “not like us”. Although the brain trust was careful not to put it in quite those terms the vast majority of Canadians understood and rejected their politics of fear. But they still enjoy a significant following who feel that their own lives would be immeasurably better if the government would only restrict the rights of “the others”.
“You’re a lying piece of shit.” Conservative supporter screams at a reporter attempting to ask questions about a fraud trial involving a Conservative Senator.
What is most frightening about all of this is that a single overly simplistic hot button issue resonates with so many of our fellow citizens. There is no room, nor desire it seems, for subtlety or nuance. The average voter’s support can apparently be bought by a well-timed pull  on the political equivalent of a fire alarm.
“You’re either with us or you’re with the child pornographers.” Vic Toews, then Member of Parliament, when challenged about his proposed bill to allow for increased surveillance of electronic communications. Wedge politics remain their stock in trade.
We have become so fractured as a society, so ensconced in our tiny insular camps, so frightened and disdainful of each other’s opinions that  it is virtually impossible to have a reasoned political conversation any more. Now the typical response one gets is, “Well so-and-so is an idiot/ bleeding heart/ closet Muslim/ terrorist supporter/ coward/ Lieberal/ Repugnican/ Socialist/ Fascist …” . And the list goes on, with an entire policy platform and world view neatly summed up in a single, usually pejorative, noun or adjective by a citizen who, while unable to see beyond their own shallow, biased understanding, is totally convinced of the righteousness of their position.
Positive, adj.: Mistaken at the top of one's voice.” (Ambrose Bierce)
The conversation, such as it is, allows for no alternate viewpoints, leaves no room for compromise, no space in which to moderate positions or share insights. It is tribal in nature with its with-us-or-against-us mentality, even more restrictive in that it is often based on a single policy plank, or worse, something they read on Facebook.

We are losing the ability – and have almost certainly lost the desire – to discuss and share viewpoints on subjects critical to our own futures and those of our children and, as a result we all, as the philosopher Joseph de Maistre opined back in the 1700s, “get the government we deserve”.

And we, as a supposedly advanced society, are the weaker for it.

As Mencken said, “For every human problem, there is a neat, simple solution and it is always wrong.” If only we could understand that and act accordingly.

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