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by Michael Jessen on Wednesday Aug 13 2014
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Mene. Mene. Tekel. Upharsin.
The words that title my piece are biblical and mean, roughly, “number, number, weight, division.” They are apt to this moment. I believe that numbers, judgment, and a state of feeling divided, are clues to our malaise as Canadians right now.
To say that Stephen Harper divides Canadians like no other prime minister before him is likely an ideological statement, not a factual one. I cannot weigh his divisive effects against those of Trudeau or Diefenbaker or Bennett. Leaders who provoke strong feelings, for and against, are divisive.
Harper is not a bad man. That needs to be said.
I find too many willing simply to write him off as a truly nasty man, intentionally out to hurt people by policies he knows are not positive or uplifting for us. There is a website dedicated to opposing “what Harper is doing to Canada.” My own front lawn sports a poster I erected weeks ago: “Preserve Jumbo--Resist All Harper’s Right Wing Agenda.” These are symptoms, indicators of ideological positions, not factual data.
Harper himself is an ideologue. He pursues policy because it makes the world conform to his perception of it. Drugs are not used by good, productive, well-adjusted people in his world, so make the war on drugs a priority of policing in defiance of many authorities who are coming to the conclusion the war is worse than lost, it hurts us by wasting resources when other strategies have proven more useful.
Crime is never understandable or explicable: it is merely a sign of poor morals, evil intent, bad character, weak will and/or laziness that can be deterred by fear of tough laws and long prison terms, in Harper’s world view.
The economy is the reason people are happy or not, because jobs and the income they give us allow us to purchase more goods and services that are the source of our sense of happiness, and having more things and experiences is the path we chose in our pursuit of feeling good. He likes big numbers.
Subordinate all government goals to the economy and to the people who make it work like a smooth engine, the corporations and the super-rich who direct them. What other purpose is higher than serving the growth of our GDP?
No other, in Harper’s world.
Opponents of the development of the economy are wrong, or unintelligent, or unpatriotic. Economy trumps ecology, as paying your way trumps taking charity, in his world.
For him, Canada is greater when it increases its military presence in the world and projects an image of enforcing norms of Western democracy, rule of law, open markets, and civilized society, alongside the USA and other NATO nations. Patriotic pride begins with a robust armed force. Numbers.
One does not have to venture into the questionable territory of imputing fundamentalist Christian motivation to Harper to explain him. Secular ideology as outlined above does an adequate job. But his religious convictions might shape his policy goals. Would that be wrong?
It would be politically unwise when his faith is not the choice of a majority. But then again, we judge people by values they believe in, and trying to act on principles, so if Harper tries to appease Christian sentiment in his voter base, one cannot say it is wrong, merely ideological. His opponents do not manifestly have the moral high ground.
Finally, the division in Canada is about ideas, not about a reality. We divide on whether we want life here to be much as it has been since the end of WWII, or transformed into a less materialistic, more nature-friendly and cooperative (not competitive) life.
Technology and its miracles tears us in two directions, seeing it both as salvation from catastrophes and as guarantee we can have all the affluence we ever had without paying a price in damage to the earth. The belief in progress is held on both sides of the divide.
Is it true that Alberta wants the Harperite blueprint and Quebec wants an alternative? Is the resource-rich West inferior to the de-industrializing-but-very-urban East?
I ended a recent piece by saying my father’s generation, whom I thought in my teens was grossly materialistic, turns out to look better by comparison with what we have accomplished since the baby boom constituency assumed power in the rich nations of the West.
My dad and his peers fought a war against fascism, enacted legislation to create old age security, our healthcare system, insurance against being unemployed, a graduated tax system in which corporations paid their fair share, a well-funded education system and student loans program right up through university, and nearing the end of their hegemony in electoral politics in the 1970’s, just as boomers arrived, my dad’s generation supported a slate of acts to protect the environment.
What have boomers done but lose much of what our parents constructed?
I feel justified in my antipathy to Harper; I know where I stand. His view has divided Canadians. We aren’t nearly at war, as is Wisconsin’s fate. But prospects are murky. Neutrality is not a real option, though I know plenty of folks who pretend they love both economy and ecology. Wishful ignorance.
I’ll bang a casserole in solidarity with Quebec ‘s movement. I will engage in civil disobedience to block pipelines and developments that kill natural ways of living. We will meet police on the streets at civil disobedience actions. They protect private and government property, enforce the laws passed by our “democratically-elected legislatures,” -- and defend the materialist status quo we all have loved and nurtured by our own consumptive habits until recent times.
Who will say with complete certainty “I am in the right”?
I will say, I chose a side. In the balance of conflicting worldviews, I know where I want to weigh in.
Knowing my allegiance, still I am disturbed by the rhetoric against Harper because I know he and his conservatism have supporters, and I meet those people every day although his name and his vision never come up in conversation. They are not my enemies and neither is Harper nor his party.
Number, number, weight, division.
When those words appeared on a wall in a king’s prophetic dream, that king lost his crown soon after. I hope Harper may be about to fall from dominion over us, and Christy Clark with him, and the entire global economic order.
NOTE: The title of this column is ascriptural quote from the Old Testament book of Daniel.