Hope Springs Eternal…for Americans – But Not for Me

Hope Springs Eternal…for Americans – But Not for Me

by

Howard Adelman

“Trump’s election means new fears and new uncertainties that can only be countered by reaching out, digging deep, and finding new hope.”
Brittany, on behalf of the Leadnow.ca team in Canada

Natalie, an old anti-nuclear ally and good friend of my oldest son, wrote me this note:
Dear Howard, I think Jeremy is right–we may well have won with Bernie Saunders as a candidate. Rabbi Jill Jacobs of Truah writes that this is time to mourn, but it is also a time to think what we can do to protect the human and democratic values we hold dear and to protect our human fellows against war and our dear world against extinction. Chandler and I, older than you (I turned 88 yesterday as well), have lived through terrible times, and were buoyed by thinking what can we do and working with others to try to do it. That’s all we can do, try to keep the flame of hope alive.

Natalie

We are now feeling the after-shocks of the American election. Dramatically falling stock prices. The Mexican peso fell to its lowest level ever. My children who are American citizens (3 out of 6) are in mourning, as is everyone they know along the East Coast, A student of one broke down in tears. For another, the whole faculty, without pre-planning, came to teach in black. Foreign Policy on the morning after wrote, “We were wrong about Trump’s electoral prospects, thinking he had little to no chance to win. Is it possible we were wrong about Trump’s governing prospects?” and then went on: “For the sake of our nation and the world, we hope so.”

But that is the problem. Hope blinded us to the tsunami we faced. We believed our tea leaf readers and other prognosticators instead of walking about in the suburbs, exurbs and backfields of America. West Virginia was one of the first states to fall into Donald Trump’s lap. Larissa MacFarquar in The New Yorker in the 10 October 2016 issue went to Logan County and spent time talking to Trump supporters. In her article, “In the Heart of Trump County,” she asked how did West Virginia transform from a Democratic state to one that voted Republican? She did not unpack the scandal-ridden politics of the Democratic Party in West Virginia and the voter bribing as revealed in the FBI sting in Logan County in 2004 that revealed Thomas Esposito, the four-term mayor of Logan County, to be corrupt and could be used as a decoy to trap other corrupt officials. And there were plenty. For example, Danny Wells, the Magistrate (not to be confused with Danny Bundy Wells who was elected to the West Virginia Senate in 2004) received an eight-year prison term for taking bribes.

Instead, MacFarquar interviewed a third generation descendent of Muslims (Rick Abraham), a Latino (Richard Ojeda whose grandfather came from the Pacific coast of Mexico), a Black (Reggie Jones) and a white Protestant male (Brandon Kirk). All four had deep roots in Logan County. Rick Abraham, had a blown-up portrait of Hillary Clinton behind bars. Abraham “knew” Clinton was a crook. Democrats were all crooks had become the received wisdom. On the other hand, Keith Judd in 2012 in the Democratic primary defeated Barack Obama in the county even though he was a felon serving a 17.5-year sentence for extortion.

“Like most West Virginians, Rick Abraham was angry with the President for hastening the decline of the coal industry with what he regarded as excessive environmental regulation. Like most Trump voters, he considered Obamacare a scourge, and since he selects insurance policies for Mine Lifeline’s forty-odd employees…”

There are no immigrants in West Virginia. But the residents of the county resent refugees because they appear to receive entitlements that these third and fourth and fifth generation Americans do not. They do not resent them because they are Muslims or because they fear they are terrorists. They believe strongly in community and home; they are convinced that strong borders define a home. But they were not interested in sending the immigrants who had arrived illegally back home. They simply regarded Trump’s statements on this issue as opening bargaining chips in making a deal. His pomposity and arrogance were also regarded as devices to distinguish Trump from the other 16 candidates trying to become the Republican standard bearer. Further, Trump promised to support the coal industry; Hillary Clinton promised to bring clean renewable energy to West Virginia. They trusted Trump and the old ways rather than bet on empty promises of politicians. They also did not want monies spent on foreign wars, money that could be used to help West Virginia recover.

There was also the difference in the way they saw Barack Obama versus Hillary Clinton. Obama was a leader who began by getting inside their head space and then worked to reconcile that position with his own. Hillary Clinton, who called Donald Trump a promoter of division, was herself a divider. “Clinton, on the other hand, always describes herself as a fighter, and it is her style to draw sharp lines between right and wrong—between people who are being oppressed and the people doing the oppressing. This style can make it sound as though she thinks people who disagree with her on immigration are probably racists.”

Further, Hilary relied on a swarm of talent. Donald Trump seemed to present himself as primarily relying on his family. And the people of Logan County loved family. Brandon Kirk, a historian, focused on local life. Further, he came from a family of Republicans but was thinking of registering as an independent. Traditional political ties were becoming unknotted all over the place. But Kirk still planned to vote for Trump, primarily because of all the poverty around and how it has been ignored by Democrats and Republicans in Washington. Why not bet on a wild card, someone who comes to politics entirely from the outside? The four were not ignorant, were not racists, and were not appalled by the idea of a female president or a black president. Though they wanted the immigrant and refugee intake controlled, they were not suspicious and frightened of immigrants and Muslims.

So what does this tell us? Other than the broad strokes about groups more oriented to Trump rather than Clinton – white males without a college education (by 50 points), white females without a college education (Trump had 23 points on this group ahead of Clinton), it seems that the Trump supporters are varied, though more support comes from rural areas and small towns than big urban areas, from the less educated compared to the college educated. Trump forged an energetic enthusiastic mass movement of Trump Democrats.

David Wong, Executive Editor of Cracked on 12 October wrote a very insightful piece: “how Half of America Lost Its F**king Mind.” (http://www.cracked.com/blog/6-reasons-trumps-rise-that-no-one-talks-about/) To him, Trump supporters “voted for the brick through the window. It was a vote of desperation.” “You’ve never rooted for somebody like that? Someone powerful who gives your enemies the insults they deserve? Somebody with big fun appetites who screws up just enough to make them relatable? Who only get shit done because they don’t care about the rules?”

Let me offer a few additional quotes.

The theme expresses itself in several ways — primitive vs. advanced, tough vs. delicate, masculine vs. feminine, poor vs. rich, pure vs. decadent, traditional vs. weird. All of it is code for rural vs. urban.

See, political types talk about “red states” and “blue states” (where red = Republican/conservative and blue = Democrat/progressive), but forget about states. If you want to understand the Trump phenomenon, dig up the much more detailed county map. Here’s how the nation voted county by county in the 2012 election — again, red is Republican:

Every TV show is about LA or New York, maybe with some Chicago or Baltimore thrown in. When they did make a show about us, we were jokes — either wide-eyed, naive fluffballs (Parks And Recreation, and before that, Newhart) or filthy murderous mutants (True Detective, and before that, Deliverance). You could feel the arrogance from hundreds of miles away.

If you’d asked me at the time [when David Wong lived in a small town], I’d have said the fear and hatred wasn’t of people with brown skin, but of that specific tribe they have in Chicago — you know, the guys with the weird slang, music and clothes, the dope fiends who murder everyone they see. It was all part of the bizarro nature of the cities, as perceived from afar — a combination of hyper-aggressive savages and frivolous white elites. Their ways are strange. And it wasn’t like pop culture was trying to talk me out of it.
It’s not just perception, either — the stats back up the fact that these are parallel universes. People living in the countryside are twice as likely to own a gun and will probably get married younger. People in the urban “blue” areas talk faster and walk faster. They are more likely to be drug abusers but less likely to be alcoholics. The blues are less likely to own land and, most importantly, they’re rural.

Cities live in the future; small towns live in the past.

Terror victims scream in the street next to their own severed limbs, and the response from the elites is to cry about how men should be allowed to use women’s restrooms and how it’s cruel to keep chickens in cages.

Basic, obvious truths that have gone unquestioned for thousands of years now get laughed at and shouted down — the fact that hard work is better than dependence on government, that children do better with both parents in the picture, that peace is better than rioting, that a strict moral code is better than blithe hedonism, that humans tend to value things they’ve earned more than what they get for free, that not getting exploded by a bomb is better than getting exploded by a bomb.

Or as they say out in the country, “Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining.”

Rural jobs used to be based around one big local business — a factory, a coal mine, etc. When it dies, the town dies… they say their way of life is dying because their way of life is dying.

These are people who come from a long line of folks who took pride in looking after themselves. Where I’m from, you weren’t a real man unless you could repair a car, patch a roof, hunt your own meat, and defend your home from an intruder. It was a source of shame to be dependent on anyone — especially the government. You mowed your own lawn and fixed your own pipes when they leaked, you hauled your own firewood in your own pickup truck.

Step outside of the city, and the suicide rate among young people fucking doubles. The recession pounded rural communities, but all the recovery went to the cities. The rate of new businesses opening in rural areas has utterly collapsed… hopelessness eats you alive.

Hopelessness eats you alive. So what do liberal Hillary supporters tell one another. Keep your hopes up as they experience hopelessness as well. Langston Hughes in his 1935 poem, “Let America Be America,” wrote: “I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart. I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars. . . I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek — and finding only the same old stupid plan of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.”

Why did Democrats not know this group better, appeal to them more directly, offer policies that would actually improve their lot as well as touch them? Why did these Trump supporters give the intellectual and policy elites the middle finger?

This is how Michael Brenner summed it up in an email to me:

What follows are just a few tentative suggestions on how to proceed once we get our bearings.

1. This should not be a surprise – except in the sense that the final outcome was not predicated by the pollsters. Being off by a few percentage points in nothing compared to having missed the signs of the bigger phenomenon. The causes of the American political system’s unravelling are multiple and tangled together.

The failure to pay them due attention was itself symptomatic of a political culture that has degenerated progressively over the past few decades. Public discourse lost coherence, norms that set boundaries of the permissible in content and language were erased, the media lost their way in the maelstrom of the wider, celebrity-focused pop culture, and the leaders of institutions – private, professional, and public – abrogated their responsibilities as de facto custodians of intellectual and political integrity.

2. America’s political elites betrayed the people. Republicans shredded the post-WW II consensus on the parameters of public policy and governance; they abandoned the basic civility that is a critical part of the software of democracy; they indulged the haters and racists of the Tea Party by entering into a merge-and-acquisition deal; and they embraced fully the emerging plutocracy. Democrats ignored the magnitude of the challenge; appeased it out of meekness, lack of belief in their own traditional values, and the promotion of superficial careerists to positions of party leadership; selling out their natural constituents for access to big donors; and then tied their fate to a fatally flawed candidate.

3. America’s elites and political class generally either encouraged or passively acquiesced in the transformation of American society from one characterized by openness, opportunity, economic fairness and decency, and legal equality into one whose distinguishing features are gross inequality, social rigidity, economic insecurity, and privilege for that stratum with the financial means and clout to game the system. Thereby, they discredited the so-called “American Dream” – the package of beliefs so central to both individual self-esteem and the civic contract.

4. America’s elites and political class have worked overtime since 9/11 to sow fear and anxiety among the populace. That has exacerbated greatly the emotional insecurities stemming from the other socio-econ-cultural conditions noted above. The country has been living in a state of collective psychosis associated with the “War On Terror.” That has helped to prepare the psychological ground from the irrational behavior that reached its climax yesterday.

Why was it anticipated that it was the Republican Party that would have to be patched up and put back together when it appears that this applies to the Democratic Party? I believe that I, for one, was wrong about Bernie Sanders – not about who he is and what he stands for, but on the need to rely on him to run a more populist program that could defeat Trump? I was part of the complacency and arrogance that resulted in a major misjudgement.

Now defeated, Democrats and liberals want to rely on hope, on the spirit that they can win on another day. What can you do except rely on hope, except rely on the checks and balances system of the American government, except rely on the return of hope with the dawning of a new day? Marc Fisher in The Washington Post wrote, “Every chapter in the American story so far has resolved into hope. The Civil War birthed Reconstruction. The riots and generational strife of the 1960s settled into sweeping social and cultural change.” But with the rapid acceleration of climate change and the growth in power of the deniers, the sliver of hope is closing fast and darkness is once again on the face of the deep. If Donald Trump could show he could thumb his nose at his Republican colleagues, if almost all, one by one, came crawling back, if not to join his movement, at least to accede to his new authority, what will these supine power-hungry men not do now? The world has a high-risk gambler running the United States after 22 January 2017. Unlike our ex-mayor, Rob Ford in Toronto, there is no evidence that The Donald takes drugs. He does not even drink or smoke. Therefore, we cannot even hope he will simply implode in his first two years.

Donald Trump remains unfit, unfit in terms of experience, unfit in terms of his personality, and unfit in his lack of principles. But look at the logic of the eternal hopers that Americans constitutionally are even when they elect a man like Donald Trump as their president. After all, if the prognosticators were wrong about Donald’s chances, if they were wrong time after time about his possibility of winning, and if he proved them wrong once again on election night in America in 2016, are they now wrong in questioning their assessment of what kind of president Donald Trump will be? To hope that he will be other than who he is makes Americans not only optimists but fools.

Because Donald Trump, whatever his faults, only tried to repress his faults for a very few weeks in the campaign. Now he is totally free of the constraints of his handlers. And anyone who believes that the instruments of checks and balances in America will hold him are deluding themselves. The Republican-controlled Congress has show that it is made up largely of supine supplicants. Even John McCain, a man of outstanding courage, folded well before the end.

And what about the members of the chattering class? Because Donald Trump is “now our president-elect, he has now our initial support.” What madness! Because Rob Ford was elected mayor of Toronto, how does it follow that he should have any reasonable person’s support? “We continued to believe he will have to change in same fundamental ways,” wrote Foreign Affairs. Thomas Friedman, as far as you can get from being a slouch among media pundits, in yesterday’s NYT wrote, “Donald Trump cannot be a winner unless he undergoes a radical change in personality and politics and becomes everything he was not in this campaign. He has to become a healer instead of a divider; a compulsive truth-teller rather than a compulsive liar; someone ready to study problems and make decisions based on evidence, not someone who just shoots from the hip; someone who tells people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear; and someone who appreciates that an interdependent world can thrive only on win-win relationships, not zero-sum ones. I can only hope that he does. Because if he doesn’t, all of you who voted for him — overlooking all of his obvious flaws — because you wanted radical, disruptive change, well, you’re going to get it.”

Not just them, Tom, all of us! And if you can only hope that he does change, your hope is fool’s gold. Donald Trump has shown unequivocally that he does not have to change at all. It is he who has and will change America. “He will need to put the nation’s interest ahead of his own,” wrote Foreign Affairs. Why? Has he ever? He deeply believes his interests are America’s interests. It was an urban myth that Charlie Wilson, formerly the head of General Motors and then Eisenhower’s Secretary of Defense, had said that, “What is good for General Motors is good for America.” (In fact, he said that the interest of government and the private sector were mutually reinforcing.) But it is Trump’s belief that what is good for Donald Trump is good for America.

To suggest to such a man that, “He will have to study policies more and polls less.” Why? He has shown that he could trust his instincts more than any of the conclusions of pundits. In any case, he has shown that he is incapable of studying. Further, he never studied the polls. He railed against them as part of a rigged system. And on that he was, to a degree, correct. To hope that he will listen to people who disagree with him is to mistake a man who surrounds himself with supplicants and sycophants for an intelligent and considerate leader.

He can and will be suave. He can be personally charming. And he will work across the aisle, but on his terms. He is, after all, the subject matter of the art of the deal and its pretended author. He can and probably will unify Congress, but only because there are many supplicants on the other side of the aisle as empty of principles as he is. Asking him to reach out!!! Are you kidding? When he reaches out it will be to glad hand and pat another on the back while suggesting that if they do not cow tow, he will reach out with a clenched fist and an irascible voice.

Why would he now reach out to the foreign policy experts from all parts of the political spectrum when they spurned and disdained him? And he disdained them in turn. He will get enough of them to come on board as window dressing, but it is not they who will determine the direction and conduct of foreign policy. Donald Trump will.

Foreign Policy wrote, “We hope the Trump inner circle will reward competence and experience, and not just enthusiastic loyalty. And we hope our friends will heed the call.” Bunkum! More misplaced hope. Donald Trump will only reward those with enough competence to do his bidding. The reality is that Americans have chosen a president who is a regressive strongman, much like what is taking place in many countries across the planet. And it is not because we or Americans are under hard times. The American economy, if not roaring ahead, was not sputtering either. And the average Trump supporter was not in dire straits. He or she earned an average of $72,000 a year. Now that Trump is elected, the only thing we should follow about Trump is his dystopic view of the world because he will bring about what he already professed to see.

Trump, as one pundit perceived correctly, is a man of “factious tempers, of local prejudices and sinister designs,” using the words of one of the founding fathers. That kind of soothsayer and snake oil salesman was precisely the man the founding fathers feared might rise in America. And all their brilliant efforts to prevent that outcome did not work. Donald Trump is president-elect. He washed the floor with his Republican opponents. He beat Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College decisively against all predictions, even his own.

Donald Trump remains a pathological liar, a delusional narcissist, an exemplification of high risk and erratic behaviour. Don’t allow the optimistic belief of Americans that hope springs eternal to pull the wool over your eyes once again. The reality is that America is a democratic monarchy. It elects its kings (or queens). It looks to its leaders for strength in governing and not for wisdom or intelligence. Strength is what they have always wanted. And strength is what they have in spades from a man who has never served in any legislative or government administrative position, who always managed to avoid rather than serve in the military. He may praise veterans for their valour and sacrifice, he may praise generals for their dedication, but he would only boss the military not serve within it. For to do so involves a willingness to make sacrifices.

David Remnick wrote the following in an op-ed piece for the online The New Yorker when Donald Trump was declared winner of the election. In an article entitled “An American Tragedy,” he wrote: “In the coming days, commentators will attempt to normalize this event. They will try to soothe their readers and viewers with thoughts about the ‘innate wisdom’ and ‘essential decency’ of the American people. They will downplay the virulence of the nationalism displayed, the cruel decision to elevate a man who rides in a gold-plated airliner but who has staked his claim with the populist rhetoric of blood and soil. George Orwell, the most fearless of commentators, was right to point out that public opinion is no more innately wise than humans are innately kind. People can behave foolishly, recklessly, self-destructively in the aggregate just as they can individually. Sometimes all they require is a leader of cunning, a demagogue who reads the waves of resentment and rides them to a popular victory.”

“The point is that the relative freedom which we enjoy depends of public opinion,” Orwell wrote in his essay “Freedom of the Park.” “The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.”

Hillary Clinton, pushing back tears, tried to normalize events. Whereas Trump had announced that the contest was only worth it if he won, Hillary lost and insisted that “fighting for what’s right is worth it.” But she too fell in line with standard rhetoric and urged everyone to get behind our president, Donald Trump. Nevertheless, she urged her supporters to fight on, rise to fight another day, stay together and work together. The ideology of hope and hard work was still a fundamental trait of the American body politic. But how is this possible when the American electorate has chosen, through a majority of votes in the Electoral College, Donald Trump?

Tom Friedman wrote, “Unlike the Republican Party for the last eight years, I am not going to try to make my president fail. If he fails, we all fail. So yes, I will hope (my italics) that a better man emerges than we saw in this campaign.” But he will fail. The question is what can be done to try our best so that the rest of us do not go down with the ship of state? We can blame the media for turning an election contest into entertainment, for exhausting us with repeated attention to the insignificant. We can blame ourselves for not seeing more, for not trying harder, for not recognizing the necessity of Bernie Saunders. We can despair and become convinced that Western civilization is nearing collapse and, therefore, this earthly ecosystem is beginning to collapse. The resentment, fear and anger of Trump’s followers have now shifted. It now fuels the demonstrations of the young across America.

Will hope do the job? No. That is more claptrap coming out of the same mindblindness of the pundits. They deluded us then with hope. I do not intend to allow hope to delude me now. Though I desperately look around for answers, I will not pretend that hope can save us from drowning.

With the help of Alex Zisman

Image and Reality

IMAGE AS REALITY

by

Howard Adelman

 

Images and Words

Images recorded on tape have destroyed the career of Rob Ford. Others contend that the words he utters have done that job. Though the Toronto Star assiduously tried to get a copy of the notorious crack cocaine video, the same newspaper wrote an editorial yesterday depicting Rob Ford as a boastful serial liar. Rob Ford claimed that he, HE, had transformedToronto into an economic powerhouse, presuming that it was anything but before he took office. The audience of businessmen understandably laughed. Rob Ford claimed, “in a break from the past,” that he had succeeded in building a subway. Setting aside the fact that the Scarborough subway has not yet been built, or whether or not it is something to boast about, the reality is that the Spadina subway is moving slowly north to York University and beyond. Mel Lastman, for good or ill, built the Sheppard line. So why does anyone listen to a mayor who differentiates himself from his predecessors because he built a subway when he really differentiated himself from them by his inability to distinguish truth from outright lies.

This mayor who cavorts with drug users in his office and can barely follow an agenda or an economic analysis, claims to have run Toronto like a business. If the business was a mad circus, perhaps; he always showed only that he was excellent at getting potholes filled when constituents phoned to complain. Rob Ford says he was elected with the largest mandate in history. He did get a substantial plurality (47%), but Lastman won 80% support in his last run and even Miller got 57%. On the basis of these sheer fictions, Rob Ford claimed to be “by far the best mayor the city has ever had”.

This is the thinking and rhetoric of a psychopath, someone so detached from reality and wedded to his own self-created imagery that he cannot tell the difference between his beliefs and reality. I wrote in the past on Lance Armstrong and suggested that, though a very accomplished athlete, his psychopathological exercise in self-creation raced ahead of that ability until he became a prisoner of his own lies. Being a prisoner of your own lies is what this blog is about.

I have written about commentators on the Iran nuclear deal who distort and invent and contort the clear provisions of the agreement. The deal does not mean opposition is unwarranted. It does mean and require – in my world – that one be accurate in representing it. There is an epidemic of pundits and politicians who seem to believe the only thing that is important is the fictions they create and communicate and clearly seem to believe in phantoms and mirages, in dreams and illusions in the wish to blind us to the truth and isolate us in our imaginary worlds. I have just been introduced to another phenomenon, far worse, but related, and it horrifies me.

Internet Suicide

After downing pills and vodka, a student at GuelphUniversity evidently immolated himself in his dorm room, or tried to, while recording the event for the internet and while his electronic community on his chatroom site egged him on.  Not one of the 200 viewers over the forty minutes thought to call the police or fire department. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2516641/4chan-user-sets-live-streamed-suicide-attempt-200-people-watch.html Evidently this incident was far from a first. There have been a series of such events. Two weeks ago a thirteen year old succeeded. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1088173/Teenager-commits-suicide-live-online-1-500-people-watch-video-stream.html

Why do people watch? Why would they encourage such an act? I went online to see for myself. I actually watched in absolute horror one of those videos where a young man hung himself in his own bedroom and you literally watched him wriggle and his face turn blue. I had never seen anything like it before.

The explanations for the person who commits the act and the observers who watch and encourage vary. Evidently, students record such acts because they have both shock value and have the potential to go viral giving the person who commits the act a type of immortality. Further, in breaking social taboos in such an outrageous way, they become insiders with a select few, those few who subscribe and watch electronically tied to one another. The suggestion is that those who watch treat the performance as no different than all the other shootings and killings they watch on TV and movies. There is a diminished sense that what is occurring is actually happening. The sense of unreality is linked with the rejection of any sense of responsibility reinforced by the way watching a screen turns one into a spectator and not a participant. The horror is then escalated when, following the act and the widespread viewing, “trolls” call the person who attempted suicide a “retard”, not for trying, but for failing to accomplish the task at hand. The devastated family has to endure a plethora of vile abuse in the aftermath.

Is there any connection between these actions and the political performance of liars? Certainly in the most extreme cases, they share a common characteristic of self-destruction. But is there something more that can throw light on the phenomenon?

Plato’s Cave

One of my philosophy professors when I was a student at the University of Toronto was David Gallop, an expert on the Greek thinkers. His lectures on Plato’s Republic elaborated on the latter’s allegory of the Cave, in particular, the relationship between imagery and reality. In the perfect Republic, imagery and the imagination have no role in the perfect state, but, paradoxically, Plato makes that point with many very creative images, of which the Cave allegory is a prime example. This allegory, and the illustration of the divided line that follows in the Republic, more specifically, the bottom two sections of the divided line and what happens within the cave before anyone escapes into the sunlight, bears an eerie resemblance to these situations, particularly since they deal with the relationship between images, fantasy and fabulism versus realism. I will ignore the realms of science and pure mathematics, of understanding and reason. My concern is the imagination and common sense.

What is the relationship between the shadows and images we watch on our TV, movie and computer screens to the solid world of “real” chairs and table, acts and dogs? This question is impelled by politicians seemingly wedded to hyperbole and outright lies, whether commenting on the Iran -P5+1 nuclear agreement or acting out like Rob Ford. Philosophers have dealt with the relationship of imagery and reality – Plato is a prime example. So does the Tanach. After all, in the Garden of Eden, Adam is a scientist charged with naming objects found in the natural world. But he knows nothing about his own body or his passions. He does not even know he is alone and, in his sleep, has come to imagine that woman has been created simply as an extension of himself. He does not even know his own body. He imagines his penis is a separate being, an erect snake that has independent agency and talks. So he takes no responsibility for his (or its) actions.

Plato in the allegory of the cave envisioned people tied to a log and unable to turn their heads in any direction. They are in the bowels of a cave watching shadows projected on the wall; they take those shadows to be reality. They cannot turn their heads to look around. They are totally absorbed with the shadows they observe on the cave wall. In the unevenly divided line illustration of four sections where the upper and lower sections of the line are divided in the same unequal proportions as the whole line, using an unequal division of 2:1, the upper section of the line is an 8, the next section a 4 and, in the lower section, the upper section is a 4 and the lower section is a 2. Plato insists that each different segment signifies a different measure  or degree of clarity and obscurity. Thus, the bottom section, dealing with images and fantasies on the cave wall and identified with the world of imagination, contains the least clarity. Above it, what we now call common sense, can have double that value. This corresponds to the experience in the cave when individuals are freed from their bonds and fixed positions and are able to look around at others in the cave. Thus, the visible realm of knowledge (distinguished from the intelligible segments in the two upper segments of the line) is made up of common sense and the imagination. In the latter, we are mesmerized by the products of the imagination, by the shadow dancing across the cave wall. In the Jowett translation, it is: .

a line divided into two unequal sections and cut each section again in the same ratio—the section, that is, of the visible and that of the intelligible order—and then as an expression of the ratio of their comparative clearness and obscurity you will have, as one of the sections of the visible world, images. By images I mean, first, shadows, and then reflections in water and on surfaces of dense, smooth, and bright texture, and everything of that kind…As the second section assume that of which this is a likeness or an image, that is, the animals about us and all plants and the whole class of objects made by man.

Knowledge at the highest level is noêsis, at the next highest is understanding or dianoia making up the two intelligible sections of the line that you experience when you are outside the cave. The next segment down is belief or pistis where your knowledge is obtained, not my rational proof, but from experience and the opinion of others and empirically looking around. It is, therefore, only called belief. The last and lowest segment of the line is the observation of images, eikasia, the realm of the imagination where what is known is only projected shadows of reality as two-dimensional images.

Pay attention to the claim, not that the lowest section of the line possesses the least clarity when it comes to knowledge, but that it is a realm of knowledge. Further, without that realm, the upper sections of the line make no sense – we need to climb up to the higher realms through images. Further, as is clear in the tale of the Garden of Eden, the lowest section of the line is a realm of knowledge, the realm of knowledge where Adam came to know Eve. If we waited for common sense to get its ducks in a row, we would not be here. There would be no sex.

Part of the imagery of being tied to the log and watching images on a cave wall means that we are obsessed and possessed when we are totally within the realm of imagery, possession and obsession that leads to bodily knowledge that cannot be conveyed at the higher levels. It is the realm where blue is the warmest colour. It is the realm where we become possessed and do not take responsibility for our own actions. It is the realm where we are not in possession of clear and self-evident truths but see only through a cloud darkly, where we do not know what we do and where we do not take responsibility for our actions for we see ourselves imprisoned in the world of images. Hence the dangers two passionate lovers pose for one another for they live in the realm of conjectures able only to draw inferences from small and inadequate signs. As Plato wrote;

Behold! human beings living in an underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets. They see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?  The truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images. Fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?

Suicide in an Imaginary World

Why then is projecting your own suicide through a videotape onto the worldwide web seen as the ultimate expression of being caught up in this world of fleeting images and immediate bodily experience? ALL juveniles dream of being at their own funerals. Here they achieve this degree of agency, they are the producers and directors of the imagery that is the precondition for there being a funeral in the first place. It is the closest feeling to omnipotence and being at one with the gods,  While totally enraptured by one’s own state, one does not and cannot empathize with others. So why do we attend movies to experience the pain of others? Because it is not what we experience. We experience a simulation of pain and know we are in a movie theatre. That is why we are able to watch. I challenge you to watch those videos of young kids killing themselves on the internet and not feel corrupted and polluted rather than gaining cathartic relief.

The characteristics of being caught up in the self-destructive world of being totally obsessed and possessed by images is that we lose any ability to correct ourselves. We lose the ability to take responsibility for our own actions. We lose the ability, most of all, to distinguish the world of images from reality, for the world of images has become our reality. It is more real and more powerful and more convincing than anything we experience in the world of cats and dogs, tables and chairs, in the world where we get to look another in the eye.

Plato turns to Glaucon and says: “When our eyes are no longer turned upon objects upon whose colors the light of day falls but that of the dim luminaries of night, their edge is blunted and they appear almost blind, as if pure vision does not dwell in them.” Those young kids live in their own caves but now linked by the internet with other young people living in their caves. And they challenge one another to see who can best live on the edge.  

There is no longer a dichotomy of the hidden and the revealed, the suggestion that there are other surfaces to be seen from another perspective, for there is absolutely no sense of perspective. It is a 1-dimesnional world in which the observer envisions himself on the same plane as that which is watched. Thus, there is no occlusion and no binocular disparity. Part of this is achieved because head motion or motion parallax is reduced to zero. There is, however, convergence, for the eyes can and do focus and are absorbed by the spectacle witnessed. and the eyes accommodate to the shadowy light and the grey images but always in the sense that what is seen is not seen with clarity but in fog and what is in front of us is a dance of light and shadows.

Believing solely in the image is belief in a phantom, in a magic world not of causes and effects, of agency and acts. As Northrop Frye wrote in The Educated Imagination, “The world of literature is a world where there is no reality except that of the human imagination.” How much truer that is of the world of movies and even much more so the world of UTube and the internet. Instead of being absorbed into that other world, the dreams and illusions insinuate themselves into the psyche mesmerized by the images. In the real world, eternal life is impossible. The imaginary world creates exactly such a possibility. The world of advertising had conditioned us to believe in the miraculous possibility of images, for products ARE their images. What higher magic than to be frozen for eternity on the internet, a poor fellow’s cyronics. 

Further, you have become the artist of your own being. “The genuine artist, Harris is saying, finds reality in a point of identity between subject and object, a point at which the created world and the world that is really there become the same thing.” (Northrop Frye, 211) As Frye writes, “Like all forms of fiction, these simulations depict, not the world as it is, but a vision of the world transformed by the imagination.”

Photographs and Action Videotapes

Why aren’t we happy with photographs of ourselves? It is not the same. Photographs are but frozen reminders, flimsy means of stimulating memory, not re-enacting life, and, most of all, not re-enacting the decision to end the life of the body so that desire can finally win its battle with the will to survive. Photographs capture and preserve experience. They do not reproduce it. Photography is the terminus for a possessive individualist and part of the modern age, not the age of post-modernity. Photographs package and preserve; the dancing  shadows on the cave wall mesmerize and seduce.

I can analyze this world but I cannot really understand it. I belong to print culture, to a world that is lineal and causal, where a correspondence theory of truth presides. It is a world that celebrates interpretation and not exhibition. It is a world of objects and subjects and not the merger of the two. In the world of objects and subjects engaged in describing and interpreting, a third world of meaning is created. The world of the shadows on the cave wall has no meaning, no third dimension and no second dimension.

On the other hand, there was a propensity in the modern world – as there was in the ancient – to ban the imaginary and the realm of interpretation. In the golden age of modernity in the twentieth century, when the printed word became king, and before advertising, television, movies and the realm of imagery usurped the throne, the objectivity of the world was expected to be accompanied by an objectivity to meaning. However, as Nietzsche and Kierkegaard already recognized in the nineteenth century, the infinite passionate interest in one’s eternal happiness was thrown overboard as superfluous. The great quest of desire had to be bracketed, limited, boundaried and even, for extremists and fundamentalists, discarded.

In the realm of the electronic, all that is solid vanishes into the cloud. Even the visual based on the eye loses its crown through the new visual universe for there, instead of isolating and privileging sight, all the senses become involved. Your whole body, not just your eyes, watch Blue Is The Warmest Colour.  Even more profoundly, the basic dichotomies of our structured understanding of the world are subverted. Those children committing suicide on the internet belong to a very different world in which images, signs and codes have no meaning in my world but ARE meaning in the world of the chatgroup that he joined. Unlike Plato’s depiction, the images on the wall are not representations of reality that mirror and reflect that reality. They become the reality, a super-reality that permeates the world in which we live. The relationship between image and reality is inverted.

So the suicide does not have meaning. It cannot be interpreted. And the hi-jinx of men – they are mostly men – become the new order of celebrity culture. Rather than a wall which miirrors and displays the dancing shadows, we have instead a Black Hole that aborbs and swallows up energy and gives nothing back. The content – any content – is dissolved by the very media itself. There is nothing there to interpret – the final revenge of this post-modern world on my world. The suicidal child offers an entry point to the entropy of the universe, its dissolution rather than its ordering where the spectacle of an exploding star just before a new black hole is created becomes the entertainment for the day. Instead of aspiring to reach daylight and see the sun, we have the vision of a cold and lifeless universe turned in and imploded on itself. The individual person becomes just a terminal in a process of self-destruction. and the last we see before Alice enters into this Black Hole is not the delightful stories of absurdity and inverted logic with which she returns but an explosive display of fireworks that seduce and fascinate, an ecstasy of obscenity, a simulacra to beat all simulacra where all is visibility and transparency before dying forever. 

On Stupidity: Rob Ford and Stephen Harper.22.05.13

On Stupidity: Rob Ford and Stephen Harper                                                         22.05.13 

by

Howard Adelman

Many will be offended by this blog. It is one thing to call Rob Ford, the Mayor of Toronto, and Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, arrogant, insensitive, lacking in principle, full of themselves – you name the characteristic. But to call them stupid is to be abusive and insulting. That is why when I read the many and various articles and commentators and listened to pundits, I cannot recall hearing or reading anyone dubbing them stupid. Pundits do not want their own outrage turned against themselves by their readers or listeners. But the reality is, as Woody Allen cracked, “Some people drink deeply from the river of knowledge. Others only gargle.”

In Rob Ford’s latest imbroglio over a film of him allegedly smoking from a crack pipe and using derogatory words to depict Justin Trudeau and racist expressions for the teenaged footballers he coaches, and in Stephen Harper’s equally tight-lipped response to the Senate spending scandal and the much larger scandal of the Office of the Prime Minister being used to pay a Senator over $90,000, whatever the evidence for impropriety, unethical behaviour and even illegal behaviour, the greatest sin both men have committed is not even the sin of stupidity, though I believe that is their primary sin, but the sin of thinking that voters are stupid without acknowledgement of their own superiority in that realm.

We must be stupid. We may not have voted for them but we elected them. And we are stupid. For all humans are stupid. Everyone knows that when Confucius said that, “It is impossible to sling mud with clean hands” he was dead right. If we call someone else stupid, we must recognize our own stupidity. Stupidity is the fundamental condition of man, his original sin recognized by both Socrates and in the opening chapters of Genesis in the description of Adam’s behaviour.

Adam was the epitome of stupidity. That does not mean he was unintelligent. Webster’s dictionary is misleading in equating stupidity with unintelligent behaviour or unreasoned action. Adam was the archetypal scientist beginning with the most basic of traits of a scientific mind – classification through noting similarities and differences. Adam was made in the image of God because he brought things into being through language, by giving them names. He said and there was. But while very intelligent, Adam was also very stupid. After all, he did not even know he felt lonely. God had to tell him. And when Eve was created, he was so stupid that he did not recognize she was another person but imagined she was an extension of himself – an essential trait of the most fundamental forms of stupidity particularly characteristic of the male gender. Further, when the erect snake seduced Eve, he objectified that erection and said it was another, an independent being and not himself. “Oscar (or Peter) did it, not me.” The complementary behaviour of projecting onto everyone else one’s own stupidity is then blaming someone else for your own actions and failing to assume responsibility for what you do. This is the essence of stupidity.

“Stupid” is rightfully regarded as a derogatory term because we are stupid. That is why when Liberal MP Scott Brison yelled at Conservative MP Shelly Glover in Parliament to say, “You’re stupid,” the language was called “unparliamentary” and Brison was both ruled out of order and required to apologize. We must not say what we most fundamentally are, especially in parliament. We can say to someone that they are misinformed or deceptively misleading. But we cannot say they are stupid. We denigrate the adjective and demean it lest we have to accept it as our essence. That is why Socrates thought that the most fundamental moral lesson required is that we first learn that we know nothing and are essentially stupid. To make a mistake in reasoning is not being stupid; it is just being illogical. But not to recognize a fact staring us in the face is to be stupid. That is why Forrest Gump is such an intriguing character. He may have had an IQ of 70 – intelligence is measureable after all – but he was not stupid. His mother taught him to be wise. As he says sitting on his park bench, my momma always taught me that, “Stupid is as stupid does”.

Forrest Gump’s mother recognized that stupidity is not a trait, like beauty or intelligence. Stupidity is a practice. It is what we do, not how we are. Stupidity is a form of behaviour and not a reference to our intelligence. Stupidity cannot be measured but we can smell it, taste it, see it and hear it. It is a behavioural characteristic that most assaults us. And the assault was best captured by the response of one Tory supporter to the scandal on a CBC call-in show, “Cross Country Check-up”. “Does Harper think I am a blockhead?” Because that is how we recognize stupidity most acutely – when those who behave stupidly think and say or imply that in questioning stupid behaviour that we are the stupid ones.  

Stupidity is an embodied behavioural trait. It comes out in our sweat, in our pursed lips, in the way we use our tongue and haunch our shoulders. Most significantly, stupidity is the body language of the throat and larynx and emerges in the way we form our words. The most usual expression is stupefaction: “What me! I’m innocent. He – the snake, the Toronto Star, the Chief of Staff – did it.” Anyone else but oneself! That is the grossest language of stupidity. When our thinking is befuddled, when it is drowning in the recollection of stupid behaviour, we say stupid things. “It is ridiculous.” It is deserving of the mockery of a Jonathan Swift. It is not The Toronto Star that invites derision, that behaves ludicrously, but the language of the stupid perpetrator who denies responsibility that is absurd and laughable.

Stupidity is a disease. It can be diagnosed like an illness for it has a set of notable symptoms, an anatomical locale, a particular physiological pattern and a definite genetic aetiology in some. And the disease comes in different types and varieties. But we can take note of the general symptoms first of all in forms of the disease characterized primarily by general denial of what quickly becomes self-evident. The following traits of denial (DEODER) are symptoms of stupidity:

a) Displacement;

b) Evasion

c) Obfuscation;

d) Deception;

e) Egoism;

f) Remorse only for being caught.

Let me illustrate by reference to the behaviour of both Rob Ford and Stephen Harper who otherwise might appear to be at opposite ends of the disease spectrum. Displacement is the characteristic of blaming others for a current brouhaha for which one bears a primary responsibility. For Rob Ford, the fault is laid at the passion of journalists, and, particularly The Toronto Star, to get him. The displacement in his case is characterized by outright dismissal. Stephen Harper’s denial and displacement onto others is cooler, less emotive and more subtle. Look at his statement the day before yesterday. Nigel Wright alone and without the Prime Minister’s knowledge and against the Prime Minister’s ethical principles made the payment to Duffy and he, the Prime Minister, knew nothing about the payment. This is denial by displacement in the most blatant way by telling a partial truth.

Of course, Harper did not know that the payment was made or how it was made. Nigel Wright was Stephen Harper’s chief of staff, his fixer. He is expected to carry out his fixes in controversial and ethically problematic areas without the knowledge of the Prime Minister so the Prime Minister can maintain deniability. The leader of the Liberal Party, Justin Trudeau, betrays his naiveté and ignorance when he insists that the only way the public can learn about the secret payment is if the key players testify under oath. Harper could testify under oath with impunity and Trudeau fell right into the clever trap of the wily Harper. The denier tells a partial truth, but it is partial and reveals the lie behind it. And it came out in the profession of the higher ethical ground on which he stands. If I had known I would have disapproved it, he said. Precisely! The structure was set up to allow you to say that. But why would you have someone as intelligent and well trained as Nigel Wright in your office if you were so principled and he was so unprincipled? Why would you have someone in your office as your spokesperson defend Nigel Wright days earlier for acting out of the goodness of his heart, out of a generosity of spirit to save the taxpayers money? And why, if you were so ethically upset would you dismiss the whole affair the day before as a distraction? As the Tory caller from the Maritimes on the call-in show remarked, do you think we are blockheads?

Then look at the evasion. “I’m very sorry this has occurred.” Not, in retrospect I apologize for hiring such an unprincipled person as Nigel Wright that he would betray my trust and the trust of the Canadian people. No. Harper apologizes for the occurrence, for an event that embarrasses him but not for creating the context and the conditions that allowed the scandal to take place in the first place. And the irony is all the greater for Nigel Wright evidently has a reputation for being a man of integrity and principle, a straight shooter and not someone who practices displacement onto others and evasive responses.  

Does Harper agree to release all the documents and allow his staff to testify under oath about the circumstances that led to Nigel Wright agreeing to reimburse Duffy for $90,172 in ineligible housing expenses and per diems?  No. The denial is simply ratcheted up several notches so that the displacement, evasion and obfuscation are further compounded by more deception. Of course if he had been asked, he would not have approved the payment. The structure was designed so that he would not have to be asked. “Had I, obviously, been consulted, more importantly I would not have agreed, and it is obviously for those reasons that I accepted Mr. Wright’s resignation.” So why was Wright not asked to resign many days earlier when Harper did know if it was “obviously not correct for that decision to be made and executed without my knowledge or without public transparency.”

Nor is NDP critic, MP Charlie Angus, correct in suggesting that if Harper was unaware of Wright’s repayment, it raises questions about his management of the Prime Minister’s Office. Quite the opposite! That is precisely how top officials have always managed in a position of high office, whether they are Liberals, New Democrats or Tories. At least if you are a “good” manager. And Duffy, a former Capital Hill CBC reporter, could have taken the script right from Harper’s writers. As he said, “Canadians deserve to know all of the facts. I am confident that when they do they will conclude, as Deloitte has already concluded, that my actions regarding expenses do not merit criticism. I intend to co-operate fully with the board and with all other authorities and will have no further public comments until those processes are complete.” In the supreme egoism of the denier, there is no remorse for one’s own actions whatsoever, only remorse for the brouhaha.

The rest of the Tory cabal simply join the same chorus. In the House, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said, “no one in the government knows about any legal agreement with respect to this payment.” The disease is clearly infectious. For no one was expected to know about any agreements. The question is whether the government will ensure that all discussions and all documents relating to the affair are made public instead of ignoring such requests. And everyone knows that the Senate and the PMO are both masters of their own worlds and can deny access to the RCMP to those documents and records or memories of discussions. You can be assured that the PMO did not have any built-in device to record all conversations for, however sick, no one is as monomaniacal in their egoism as Richard Nixon revealed himself to be in the Watergate scandal.

Thus, though Harper’s process of denial is far more sophisticated than Rob Ford hiding in an elevator and putting Doug Ford up front to insist that he believes his brother, the general locale and pattern of behaviour reveals the same basic elements. Both affairs stink to high heaven and cannot pass the smell test of even my generally insensitive nose. 

Look at the core issue. A mayor is accused of being a druggie. The Prime Minister is accused of having an office that illegally pays monies to Senators without clearance or revelation to an ethics commissioner. This is malfeasance of the highest order. In neither case will those acts be sufficient to force Mayor Rob Ford or Stephen Harper to resign because their backers have been chosen and hand picked and been conditioned to be sycophants and incapable to standing up to the shenanigans of either Rob Ford or Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The reality is that when the ethical and legal rot can be traced directly to the highest centres of power, then the public in a democracy must act to throw the bums out. Though the public is impotent for several more years, it can build its strength of disgust. The real pity is the absence of a leader waiting in the wings who with clarity and principle could step into those empty shoes.

The symptoms and the anatomical locale for the disease must be recognized for what they are. But the diagnosis requires more. Look at the physiological pattern of stupidity. In the case of Rob Ford, he wears it on his sleeve as a badge of honour. Over and over again he insists: “It is just lies after lies and lies.” And he is right. But it is not the Toronto Star that is lying. It is Rob Ford. He is a serial liar.

As The Toronto Star editorial yesterday morning opined: “Beyond any one incident, or gaffe or anecdote, consider Mayor Ford’s overall, long-term conduct…the mayor’s staff, troubled by his drinking, have encouraged him to enter a rehabilitation program.  The Star’s Robyn Doolittle and Kevin Donovan also reported that Ford was asked to leave a gala celebrating the Canadian Armed Forces last month because he appeared impaired… Earlier this month Ford was at another public event where former mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson accused him of grabbing her backside while posing for a picture. …Ford caused embarrassment a few days later when he reportedly showed up disheveled at a gathering attended by several orthodox rabbis and awkwardly delivered a pro-casino rant… Ford hardly ever schedules meetings or events after 3:30 p.m. — a remarkably lax attitude for the chief executive of a $9.4-billion corporation…Then there are Ford’s repeated calls to 911, including an allegation that he resorted to obscenities with a dispatcher; his drunken tirade at a hockey game, inflicted on a Durham couple and flatly denied until overwhelming evidence forced him to confess; and Ford’s no-contest plea on a 1999 Florida charge of impaired driving.  He didn’t tell the full truth about that, either.”

I think that this is a misleading litany, not because the list of failings is incorrect, but because the failings as presented reinforce a portrait of an individual with a substance abuse problem in terrible need of compassion and treatment. What is left out is Rob Ford commandeering a TTC bus so that his Don Bosco football team could be “escorted in safety.” Or Rob Ford advocating subways, subways, subways but offering no mechanism to pay for them and opposing any taxes to do so. Or Rob Ford, against the advice of a city lawyer, not only speaking but voting on a matter in which he was in a conflict of interest. Or Rob Ford, in perpetual campaign mode, pinning magnets on cars. Or Rob Ford bumping into a camera man who has been backed into a corner and then swearing at the camera man for hitting him. So when the Star says that, “What Toronto needs from Ford — what he owes everyone, including himself — is a full and frank explanation of what’s really going on. That’s the essential first step in making it better.” “Full” and “frank” and “explanation” are NOT part of Rob Ford’s repertoire.

Stephen Harper lacks Both Rob Ford’s crassness and his propensity to slip on banana peels. However, Stephen Harper is far more dedicated to institutional stupidity than Rob Ford. He gutted the basis of the Canadian long form census so crucial to collecting comparative data. He let 600 scientists go from Parks Canada who were the backbone of our collection of data on the natural environment. Though I am only really familiar with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Immigration Department, Harper’s attack on the intellectual basis of policy analysis extended across the government; he closed the libraries and archives of the various departments so that policy could not be based on intelligent analysis by mandarins. Harper appointed an “economist” who knew nothing about libraries to be Canada’s chief librarian and archivist. Daniel Caron, that appointee then had the audacity to run up personal expenses of $174,000 over two years as he dedicated his appointment to cutting $10 million in the budget by laying off staff, cancelling grants to independent archives and ending the interlibrary loan program that made access to much vaster collections available to civil servants. After all, why would they need them if civil servants were not being used to develop policy options based on data collection and analysis or permitted to speak to the public without permission for the dedication to ignorance as the foundation for action had to be insulated from any wider discourse or interaction.   

As Christopher Hume wrote last year when hundreds of scientists protested against “the Death of Evidence,” “Not only was the protest unprecedented, even extraordinary, it struck at the dark heart of the New Canada, a nation more interested in hiding the truth than understanding it, exploiting resources than conserving them. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to search-and-destroy the environmental movement has now been ratcheted up to the next phase; his government has launched a war against science itself, an attack on the collection and analysis of the very data that enable us to comprehend the world of which we are part and on which we depend.”

 

What is the cause of this disease whether it expresses itself in a crass form or in a polished and suave way? The cause, as philosophers and theologians throughout history have recognized, is in all of us, and deepest and most intractable to those of us who wear a costume of transparency or profess profusely about a dedication to accountability. Rob Ford is the authentic man; he is what you see, a fat, sweaty doofus but a real guy’s guy, highly opinionated and lacking a self-critical gene in his DNA.  Stephen Harper has been dressed by the experts and talks in cool and melodious tones. He became Prime Minister and the first act of his government was to table the federal accountability legislation following the Gomery Report and the Sponsorship Scandal. Harper’s changes focused on building a moat against undue financial influence from outside. But who knew that Harper’s expertise would be in building far more important moats, moats against any intellectual influence from within government and intelligent intercourse between government officials and the public. Undue economic influence is not to be equated with undue intellectual influence, but Stephen Harper believes in cutting off both. His major changes to the government were about the latter rather than about the former recommended in the Gomery Report. As Christian Rouillard from the University of Ottawa, an expert in governance and public management, said at the time, “I fail to see how any change of law, or how any additional norms or rules and regulations could make sure that political actors that deliberately choose not to follow the law, will from now on.”

Transparency is as transparency does. Accountability is as accountability does. Stephen Harper has constructed the most secret government in the history of Canada.

When we deny who we really are – especially males with a more pronounced dedication to stupidity – then we will act out in a war against reason. It will be a never-ending war secretly dedicated to the life of non-reason. Only when we recognize that propensity, only then will criticism by others and self-criticism be esteemed and valued.  However, when we inherit an anti-critical gene, then those who carry this handicap will be a danger to us all. Rob Ford’s dedication to non-intelligence is only surpassed by Stephen Harper’s dedication to protecting his esteem for his own intelligence against the intrusions of either his own self-critique or the criticism of others. As the German poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, wrote, there is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action.” Or, as one of the greatest scientific minds, Einstein, put it: “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.”

Stupidity is as stupidity does.