Monday, December 01, 2008

Just the facts, ma'am.

When he announced his candidacy earlier in 2003, MacKay told reporters "I want to make something very clear. I am not a merger candidate."

But less than five months after becoming PC leader, MacKay announced he had struck a merger deal with the Canadian Alliance.
I understand that Stephen Colbert once claimed on air that "reality has a liberal bias", and I guess that must explain the phenomenon I'd like to explore today.

What seems to characterize those on the right more than anything else, more than religiosity, socio-economic class, education level, income or profession is the penchant for untruth. Politicians, activists and commentators of all persuasions are prone to error, for the are only human. We are all tempted to spin the facts, highlighting some and relegating others to the shadows. We even have a tendency to obfuscate, because, quite honestly, the world is not left or right or black or white.
Harper said "that is just panic" and the opposition would raise taxes and put the government into a deficit. Dion's ideas "will take us into a recession, not around one," he said.
However, to come right out and say something that's untrue, it seems you've gotta be a conservative. We're none of us saints, as a wise man said to me once, and I've been known to lie. But to do so repeatedly, publicly and brazenly, tilting right seems to help. There are essentially three things that could account for the tendency. First, they are very, very stupid. They have no idea what's going on, and they don't know what's right or what's true. I have to dismiss this, unfortunately, because even if it's true, they seem to be willfully resistant to education. Second, they might be insane. They simply do not relate to the world the way it really is. The problem with this thesis is that it's useless, and probably detrimental to the conversation we're forced to have with them. And it's unlikely that "Conservatism" will be added to the DSM anytime soon. So the only option remaining is that they are simply bad, or selfish, or insensitive. Put simply, they're all a little bit evil, so lying is to be expected. I suggest that the real answer lies somewhere in a Venn diagram encompassing the three options.
Even though Conservative Leader Stephen Harper vowed during the 2006 election campaign not to touch income trusts, Flaherty was faced with the prospect of losing hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue. His decision stunned the market, and billions of dollars of investors' holdings were wiped out.
Maybe it can be explained another way. Maybe there's a tic, a sort of mental spasm that is engaged by conservativism. I know that mythology plays a part in any ideology: you've got your holy trinity, you've got your free market, you've got your 72 virgins, you've got your dialectic, you've got your golden rule. And I know that it's hard to give up the mythology, because it weakens the ideology. And without ideology, organizing shit gets tricky. The world is a big, scary, complicated place, and having an ideology helps one keep things together. It gives one stereotypes, narratives, categories, and communities. It sorts, categorizes, and defines. It gives one purpose: god's will, socialist utopia, amassing a fortune or helping others. It gives one enemies: infidels, welfare moms, capitalists, gays, illegal aliens, secularists or rock musicians.
"Harper lied when he said he wanted to clean up politics in Ottawa," Duceppe said in French.

Duceppe pointed to several incidents: the ongoing investigation by Elections Canada into allegations the Conservatives exceeded by $1.3 million the legal limits on campaign spending in the last federal election, in 2006; the so-called Bernier-Couillard affair, in which Quebec MP Maxime Bernier resigned as foreign affairs minister in May after it was revealed he had left confidential government documents at the house of his then girlfriend, Julie Couillard; and accusations that the Tories attempted to bribe the late Independent MP Chuck Cadman in May 2005 to vote down the Liberal minority government.
Conservative ideology is simpler than most, so maybe that's why it's so pervasive. All you have to do is hate things: socialism, secularists, liberals, activists, gays and politicians. There's no need to think about new things, because tradition is the guide, and there are talking heads to tell you what you think. The things that are wrong with the world are, in many ways, attributed to sin, even if the conservative in question is not religious. It's the sin of naiveté, or of coddling people, or of socialism. However, this does not explain the lying. Not alone, at any rate.
Harper has insisted Canada's economic fundamentals are strong and said his party is the strongest to handle future economic uncertainty, while saying all Dion offered was his "risky" carbon tax plan.
But the lying is inherent in the philosophy. It's even in the name. They are "conservatives", but they won't conserve anything. They don't save money anymore, they don't save the environment, they don't save people. They don't even stand for traditional values. They lie all the time. The basic untruth of their position does not hide behind rhetoric, and it does not lurk in the darkest areas of their souls. It comes right out and lies to you from the beginning. The label is misleading.
At the moment there are problems in the Canadian economy, but we aren't in a recession," Harper told reporters during a campaign stop in Kitchener, Ont.
There are bigger issues at hand, of course. There's the fact that the voter is an ennabler. There's no reason for them not to lie, to be honest with you. Lying got Peter MacKay the Tory leadership and then the deputy leadership of the CRAP. It got Mike Harris elected and reelected. It got Jim Flaherty his job in the PMO. It got Steve his job as PM. It got him reelected. It seems to work, and that's the fundamental problem I have with this bullshit. If they lied, and then everyone said, "Hey asshole! That's a lie," I'd have no problem with it. But they lie, and when you call them on it, people are genuinely surprised.
The federal government is not considering any bailout plans for Canada's banks and other financial institutions, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Friday, as a massive and unprecedented package was being prepared in the United States.
This despite the fact that everyone says that politicians are liars.
"If you want a government that is tough on environmental crime, then you should re-elect a government that is tough on crime generally," Harper said.
There is no easy way to fix this. "Conservatives" will continue to lie because they can and because they have to. There's no there, there, to borrow a clever line from Stein. The ideology is bankrupt. It has no ideas. It runs on fear: homophobia and xenophobia, the fear of socialism and the fear of reason. It resists new information and cannot abide scrutiny. It reacts with hostility when challenged becasue it has no other weapon.
Harper, who railed against Liberal patronage in the 2006 election, later failed to deliver on a campaign pledge to put an independent commission in charge of vetting cabinet appointments.
It has been clear for centuries that human rights progress, yet they resist. It has been evident for the last hundred years or so that capitalism is a flawed system, but they worship the golden calf. It is obvious to anyone who looks that corporations cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of the public, but they continue to privatize government functions. To miss the fact that there is no such thing as a free market requires an obstinancy that is nearly admirable, and they stubbornly refuse to see it. The idea that growth can continue unchecked forever is contrary to common sense, but they rely on it.
A Conservative government would not need to cut spending to keep the government from running a deficit, leader Stephen Harper said Saturday.

The economy is not going into recession, and "our plans are more than affordable," he said while campaigning in southern Ontario.

A reporter asked about possible cuts because a weakened economy could cut tax revenues, and the Tories have promised to keep the government in the black without raising taxes.

But Harper said the economy is not going into a recession, and the prospect of program cuts is a "ridiculous scenario."
Conservatism might have meant something once. I recall that it once meant smaller government and reduced spending. However, I can't tell. The first conservatives I can remember are Reagan and Mulroney. Not particularly good examples of "traditional" conservatism. But ideology is not the issue. There is a basic problem with facts. Conservatives can't use them, so they ignore them or make them up.
Last week, the Conservatives issued a statement questioning whether Moore and NDP incumbent Tony Martin violated the Canada Elections Act by hitting the hustings together in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

"This canvassing appears to be a violation of the Canada Elections Act, which clearly states that only Canadians can actively participate in a Canadian election," a Tory statement read.

But in a letter Monday to an online newspaper in the Sault, Moore said it was the Conservatives who initially invited his film crew to go campaigning with Tory candidate Cameron Ross.
There is a wonderful essay about the nature of truth and the character of lies entitled "On Bullshit". Harry Frankfurt proposes to begin a philosophical study of bullshit, and requires first that a working definition be agreed upon. The essay is his attempt to come to terms with bullshit, what it is and more importantly, what it isn't. What he decides may be useful here.
Flaherty also said he has "absolutely no concern" about the health of Canada's financial institutions and added the government was not looking at any plan to bail out banks, as have other countries such as Britain, Ireland and Iceland.
Frankfurt differentiates between lying and bullshit not by relying on veracity. In fact, it is possible to lie and still be telling the truth. Lies of ommission are a good example. Or stating something that you believe to be false that turns out to be true. That would be a lie independent of the veracity of the statement. And so it is intent, not veracity, that defines lies and bullshit.
The federal government's $25-billion takeover of bank-held mortgages to ease a growing credit crunch faced by the country's financial institutions is not a bailout similar to recent moves made in the United States and other Western countries, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said Friday...

...Flaherty announced the new measures in an attempt to assuage concerns over the burgeoning global financial crisis and defuse criticism that the Harper government was ignoring the spreading lending crisis.
Lies are intended to decieve. It certianly looks like conservatives are constantly lying, always trying to distort the reality around them. But I'm not sure that's so. It may be possible that cons don't actually recognize truth. I'm sure they understand it as a concept, but the relationship between what's real and what's described must be, for them, tenuous at best. There are parallels to schizophrenia that can be drwn from their perception, I'm sure
The opposition has every right to defeat the government but Stéphane Dion does not have the right to take power without an election.
-Prime Minister Stephen Harper gives the nation a lesson in parliamentary democracy from the foyer of the House of Commons (November 28, 2008)

As leaders of the opposition parties, we are well aware that, given the Liberal minority government, you could be asked by the Prime Minister to dissolve the 38th Parliament at any time should the House of Commons fail to support some part of the government’s program. We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority. Your attention to this matter is appreciated.
-From a letter to then-Governor General Adrienne Clarkson signed by all three opposition leaders: Gilles Duceppe, Jack Layton and Stephen Harper (September 9, 2004)
It seems that, at first blush, the Cons are lying. But bullshit is characterized not by deliberately misrepresenting the facts, but by consistently disregarding them. So there are certainly elements of bullshit in their constant stream of, well, bullshit. But how are we to know? Do they lie? Do they care?
Flaherty acknowledged that the U.S., Europe and Japan are in recession and that private-sector forecasters expect negative growth in Canada in the fourth quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009 — meeting the definition of a recession.
The simplest way would be to ask them. But given their track record, it would certainly be unreliable. Besides, it would almost certainly be taken as an attack, and met with hostility. There is little hope of truly understanding if the Cons are lying to us, or merely bullshitting us, or if they even recognize a difference.
Pierre Poilievre, Harper's parliamentary secretary, told CBC Newsworld the opposition parties are focused on power while Harper is looking at the economy.

"We have a prime minister fixated on the economy and a group of Liberals, separatists and socialists fixated on taking control." he said.
So what I suggest is this. Forget about motivation. While it is an interesting diversion, we gain nothing from the analysis. Whether their statements are lies are bullshit, they remain untrue. And that, my friends, is the point. We have history on our side. We have reason on our side. We have reality on our side.
The catalyst for this remarkable state of affairs, in which the opposition parties say they are planning to unite to bring down Harper's government and replace it with one of their own, is Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's economic update – a bizarre document that bears no relation to either reality or any of the current prime minister's recent statements.

In that update, Flaherty downplays Harper's fears of a lengthy economic depression, ignores his stricture not to cut back at a time when governments should be doing more and singles out seemingly random targets in an effort to solve problems that don't exist.
All they've got is bullshit.

*PTGHWAC to the CBC and the Toronto Star. Thank you for maintaining your archives.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.