Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ruling From the Echo Chamber

It's a hard lesson, but it's true: no one group, be it an individual or a government in power, has all the answers. They may think they do, as people are wont to do, but that just demonstrates humanity's boundless capacity for arrogance and self-deception. Everything we see, everything we know about the world is filtered through many lenses: what we believe, what we know, what we want to achieve, and so on. Be it one person or one group of like-minded people, they're incapable of coming to a nuanced understanding of the world just by interrogating it from their own perspective. Outside input is necessary to challenge us, to find the weaknesses that we never would've noticed ourselves.

You know what else, though? Challenges hurt. Something in our heart of hearts, the most primitive sectors of the brain, doesn't like it when someone else points out flaws in our view. What do you mean there are flaws? There aren't any. It's perfect. You're just trying to displace me and become alpha male of the troop, aren't you? You're trying to replace me!

It's a deep-seated drive, sure, but it's easy enough to overcome with the application of enough conscious will and intellectual vigor. So it should come as no surprise that Canada's Conservative government embraces it.

On Monday, the Globe and Mail reported on the fate of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, an independent advisory group which had been around since 1988 and was defunded in the Conservatives' first majority budget last year. While Harper's mouthpieces initially claimed the defunding was because the group was redundant, with advice on sustainable development far more easily available from a multitude of sources now than it was in the '80s, we now know that it was really just nothing but governmental capriciousness.

"Why should taxpayers have to pay for more than 10 reports promoting a carbon tax, something that the people of Canada have repeatedly rejected?" John Baird said in the House on Monday. “It should agree with Canadians. It should agree with the government. No discussion of a carbon tax that would kill and hurt Canadian families." [CITATION NEEDED]

I don't even know where to fucking begin.

This isn't really a concept I can illustrate - so here, have a nice, calming photo of Cariboo Park.

Let's put the typically shrill Conservative arguments aside for a moment. The issue here is not their defunding of an environmentalist advisory board. No, the real issue is that this government is so arrogantly self-assured, so convinced that it is the font of authority and knowledge and wisdom, that there is no room for anything which does not already agree with its preconceived notions. This government doesn't want challenges - Harper has never wanted a challenge, and I can only imagine how much he raged for the five years his power was restrained by those idiotic citizens not making the obvious right choice and sweeping him into a majority in 2006.

The issue here is that, by its actions, this government is making it clearer and clearer every day that it has no business being in power. This is a government to which ideology is paramount, and a government that is too stupid to realize that ideology is an artifice. Events will not unfold a certain way because it would be politically convenient for them to do so, and all the ideology in the world won't hold back the relentless tides of reality. Entertaining disagreements and alternate viewpoints are vital if you want to remain dynamic, if you want to keep yourself from being blindsided by what you can't see yourself.

For some people, echo chambers are comforting - they provide a place to be right. In an echo chamber, you don't have to worry about some stranger barging in with some new information, frightening information, information that threatens your view of the world. No, in an echo chamber you have a place where everyone agrees with each other--at least, superficially so. But no group has complete consensus on everything, even a group kept in as tight an ideological lockstep as Harper's Conservatives. The details may seem irrelevant to outsiders, but inside an echo chamber, irrelevancies are magnified... particularly when people have the temerity to disagree.

There are still three years before the next scheduled election; I can't help but wonder if Harper won't be able to keep a tight grip on the reins, if the overwhelming importance of ideology will create cracks in the great grey Conservative edifice. As long as there's life, there's hope...

It's enough to make a man pine for Cascadia.

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