Beware the Power of the Dark Side
Sometimes, when I see the crazy places some people want to take our country or other countries I wonder to myself, are they serious? Do they really believe that government is a sham, that it would truly be better for everyone if we paid no taxes and just lived off our own initiative and money? Do they really not realize that up to a certain point, it simply is more efficient to run things centrally, and that if we do this without greatly hampering individual wealth and freedom that it will be overwhelmingly better for all of us? Do they really not believe that we’re all in this together?
For that matter, do they really think being gay is a disease, or a choice? Do they believe that we don’t have common ancestors with chimpanzees in the past few million years? Do they really fail to believe that we are upsetting the delicate balance of life and the energy equilibrium of our planet?
Sometimes I think, there couldn’t possibly be that many people who believe knowledge is a bad thing, that more data is not worth it, that we don’t really get anything for all out tax dollars. When I’m in this mood, I get to thinking it’s all a trick being used by a minority of people trying to manipulate the rest of us.
Like the Emperor trying to manipulate Luke Skywalker.
No seriously….just stay with me.
He didn’t care what Luke believed, he didn’t try to convince him with reason, facts or statistics. All he wanted was to make Luke angry and for him to give in to that anger. Getting him to let go of his beliefs and let emotion rule him was the goal, if he could achieve that, he would have won without lifting a light saber.
The extremist conservatives who argue for drastically smaller government as a principle, who feel queezy about gays and who think more prisons equals less crime make decisions and arguments mostly based on emotion and gut feelings. They believe a debate is supposed to be carried out by people shouting back and forth their strongly held, emotionally based beliefs. They believe that if you know a bunch of people who don’t like doing something (like filling out a census), and it sounds unnecessary or even offensive to you anyways, then that is a good enough argument for scrapping it. This is in comparison to making your decisions based on an attempt at unbiased analysis and study. Before you scrap something, perhaps find out if its important and if anyone has evidence that your plan will actually have the effect you assume it will.
From the Emperor’s point of view it would be great if everyone reacted emotionally because negative emotions are strong and you can’t tell me my emotion is wrong, you can’t prove to me that I’m not angry, you can only prove that I’m wrong. So he wants to make the debate not about being right and wrong but about being angry and being justified. This is the dark side of political debate, and those who believe in reason and truth must be wary of it. It is alluring, it is powerful. Witness the rise of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Witness the power that the NRA wields in the US. The lingering impact of deep emotional rifts in our own country from Quebec nationalism to western Energy Crisis anger. Fear and anger and defensiveness are powerful emotions and can be used to manipulate debate and keep discussion at the level of moral and emotional issues.
So I don’t know if this manipulation if all that conscious or if Harper is really “the Emperor” (who’s Vader then, Stockwell? OMG, that means Iggy’s Father is …NOOOOooo). But even if it’s just being done unconsciously there are two Forces of reason vs emotion pulling at political debate right now in Canada (I fear the dark side has mostly won amongst our neighbours to the south). It worries me that this is a battle at all and that the media and politicians don’t seem to come down firmly enough in favour of emotion. It worries me more that the public seems to think it’s a fair battle and that both approaches are reasonable ways to run government.
As for partisan politics, it is hard to define the antithesis of conservatism today in Canada. The Conservatives themselves that I’m talking about even have to be distinguished from fiscally conservative, socially progressive types such as the old Progressive Conservative (PC) party who sadly are hard to find these days and lay in hiding in the darkness under the emperor’s throne or guiltily lurk in the Liberal party. The liberal or progressive majority in Canada is represented by a diversity of parties in the NDP, Green, Liberals and even the Bloc. This diversity is essential to their identity yet also the source of their political weakness using our currently flawed electoral arithmetic. These parties don’t agree on much, but they do agree generally that government can do good work and that if you have a proposal for how to make it better you need to make a rational argument that isn’t justified solely by your own emotions or the emotions of others. Just because your anger or fear tells you to act does not mean that is in the best interest of the country. Emotions are important, but they often lead us down dark paths.
So my advice to Canada’s centre-left majority and its political leaders — use the Force Luke, listen to reason, and beware of the dark side.