Political parties are deliberately feeding off one another's controversies.
This seems to be very much driven by social media. The controversy drives engagement, which tells the algorithm to serve the content up in more feeds, which drives the public discussion and fundraising.
I suspect, though, that this feedback loop will evolve. Remember when television advertising could drive huge behavioural change? We tend to get inoculated to stuff after a while. So time may soften the impact, but that doesn't help our current polarization.
We as citizens could start being more thoughtful in what we like and share on social media. Engagement drives views -- the content you engage with is more likely to gain a wider audience. Maybe we should all take that responsibility more seriously.
Moreover -- partisanship is a kind of tribalism that seems to measure success as getting all the policy goals *you* want done. That's not a great measure in a democracy where pursusion and compromise are built into the system. And where good ideas might come from anywhere. We're getting to a point where success is getting the policy goals YOU want enacted no matter what -- that 'your side' wins. That's not a reasonable goal ... Effective governance can't be about whether 'your' side wins.
As a close, I was just watching the latest Polievre video on the need for governments to use plain language. I am far from a PP fan, but it was a well-done, reasonable video that makes a pretty non-controversial point: that jargon makes it difficult for citizens to navigate government programs and hold governments accoutable. It was probably the most non-controversial thing I've seen him put out yet it's still getting negativity on Twitter. If we can't agree on things as basic as this, it's going to be hard to find constructive policy compromises on things that are legitimately challenging!
Good article - Trudeau has clearly inspired Pollievre to use the same tactics. I have Trudeau Derangement Syndrome - I admit it - just hearing his voice makes me physically cringe. However I think the 'small fringe minority' attack on the convoy protesters has backfired on him. I know many moderates who have commented on how offensive it was - particularly as more information about the vaccines comes out. His doubling down on vaccine mandates for travel is also turning off large segments of the otherwise politically indifferent class. Of course the two things are related as he clearly has a stubborn streak about never backing down on a bad decision.
Let's remember that 10% (and increasing, thanks Western U and U of T) or more of the population are still:
- excluded from many post secondary schools and residences
- excluded from many jobs, recreational programs, summer camps and private schools
- subject to 2 week house arrest every time they travel outside of Canada
all because they did not take a medical treatment which, whether at the time it was useful or not, is now universally agreed to be useless. Does anyone at all think that a person who took two vaccine doses in Spring 2021 is materially less likely now to contract or transmit Covid than a person who chose not to? Of course not.
And yet most of the political and media class (including, as far as we can tell from their writing, Matt and Jen) either continues to support this discrimination or simply doesn't care enough to even say "this is wrong".
Of course many people are angry. They ought to be. Everyone ought to be.
"But it also catalyzes political polarization. It constantly ratchets up the temperature inside the reactor that is our political system. Because every time you compare something to the Holocaust, you are invariably calling someone somewhere a Nazi, whether you use the word or not."
Mitch, you didn't need to link to the CBC and Scott Aitchison. Even the editors here at the, ah, "no bullshit" The Line do this: https://theline.substack.com/p/dispatch-from-the-front-line-conservatives
They say, "Others, including Scott "Saney McSanerson" Aitchison, have already stepped in on this one so we don't feel the need to add much beyond: wtf? We at The Line have been skeptical of vaccine mandates, too but, Jesus. Of course, of course drawing any kind of comparison to the atrocities of the Holocaust to a still-voluntary vaccine mandate demonstrates a wild lack of historical perspective."
Even the great "no-bullshiters" Matt and Jenny fall into these illogical, cognitive biases. They, like Aitchison, either intentionally or via subconscious bias confuse "type" and "degree". Saying something violates a principle -- the Nuremberg Code -- in no way suggests that vaccine mandates are comparable IN DEGREE to Nazi atrocities. And yet, Aitchison, The Line, and others just end up helping people like Lewis because anybody who actually thinks critically can see that those objecting to what she said have zero valid content in their objection. Bodily autonomy isn't just in the Nuremberg Code, it is a well-defended concept throughout the liberal world for decades, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms with a long history of legal precedence: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/csj-sjc/rfc-dlc/ccrf-ccdl/check/art7.html
They even make it worse with the self-paradoxical phrase, "a still-voluntary vaccine mandate". I would have hoped Matt and Jenny would have had enough language education at least to recognize that the word "mandatory" is the adjective form of "mandate": https://www.wordnik.com/words/mandatory
To work for the government, you needed to be vaccinated. To contract with the government, all private employees needed to be vaccinated. To travel by train or plane, you need to be vaccinated. To be let in the country you needed to be vaccinated. [Edit: The federal government did suspended -- but not end -- some of these mandates on June 14, 2022. But, many workplaces still require them as a result, and this is after the damage was done. These mandates were never "voluntary", they harmed people, and they violated the principles behind bodily autonomy.]
By contrast, the term "voluntary" means "without coercion", "done or undertaken of one's own free will", or "without legal obligation or consideration".
On a scale of 1 to bullshit, I think The Line editors rate a, "Were you drunk when you wrote that?"
So I agree with you Mitch. But, I think you are diagnosing the symptoms. Political divisiveness, even within parties or moderates, is a symptom. I don't think Scott, Matt, or Jenny intentionally tried to make themselves look that foolish, or to create divisiveness.
The issue is more psychological. We all have the same ape sub-structure in our brains that drives us to "us vs them" tribalism and to fling poo at each other (whether literal ape poo that chimpanzees throw, or the metaphorical kind that humans throw that we blame on bulls). It doesn't need to be extremist tribes like the "woke" left vs "MAGA" right. It can occur by individual topic, like sports and politics.
In this case, many people including The Line editors have picked a side on vaccine mandates and cannot see past the opacity of their solid faith in that belief to even consider they could be wrong or that objectors can have a legitimate case -- or even a better one. Like, for instance, when the WHO repeatedly came out against such mandates as did bioethics groups, and bioethics councils set out policy 15 years ago against such mandates, of which one of the reasons is exactly the distrust and divisiveness that results from them: https://adnausica.substack.com/p/who-keeps-on-trucking
Gee, you'd think we'd learn to listen to the science and expertise on how these things play out. But alas, once you set your mind that these mandates are the correct things to do, our tribalist minds become great at ignoring and dismissing the legitimacy of points like Lewis', calling dissenters names, using non sequitur and self-humiliating statements (like The Line editors), ratcheting up the divisiveness, and believing you are taking the high ground.
Perhaps I'm just pessimistic here, but we're not talking about some radical elements or even uneducated masses. When our political leaders and journalists -- and journalists who claim to reject bullshit -- cannot think critically about these things clearly, then what hope is there for reasoned discourse?
I think it will take our society to burn itself out on tribalist discourse first, for the success of intellectual discussion and disagreement in the marketplace of public viewership, and for the celebration of, and respect for, dissenting views as critical to social progress, before we start to see the dissipation of this type of bullshit, even from the "no bullshit"-ers. That will take time. Maybe 5 more years? Certainly in Canada it will require Trudeau to be gone, and that's at least 2025.
Edit: I will re-tract and apologize for an implication. I lumped The Line editors here in the ideological support of vaccine mandates, which is beyond their positions. They even say in the line I quoted, "We at The Line have been skeptical of vaccine mandates, too". They are not one-sided on the mandates. But, their clear mixing up of type and degree, dismissiveness of Lewis' valid point, and the oxymoronic "voluntary mandate" reference do not appear to be intentional trolling for the sake of divisiveness, but rather honestly, yet nonsensical, held beliefs based on cognitive biases. Or, perhaps, mind-altering substances.
Nice! I don’t consider myself an unengaged voter but I believe it works on people like me as well. Just appreciate the term “stray voltage”, new to me but I like it and will use it. In the long run however I do think it’s a toxic addition to a system already viewed by many with cynicism. I currently have a hard time believing any politicians have the best interests of the citizenship in general at heart
"I would argue that if you understand the Trudeau government as an Obama cover band (the quality of which is entirely up to the reader), its governing philosophy makes a lot more sense."
I think this is a fantastic analogy that highlights why I find watching the ascent of Poilievre almost comical - Trudeau and his team are fighting the last war and don't know how to fight him.
I don't really want him to win - but oh, is he going to do it. In slow motion, watching an absolute annihilation of a loss is kind of funny.
Unfortunately the really hard work in politics is changing the structure of government rather than throwing money at a particular segment. It is also the most likely action to get a government criticized for errors and the least likely to get it credited for successes. What is most visible is often the least important.
I’m not surprised at the links between Obama and the Liberals. With what little time they have left after engaging in leadership adoration ceremonies and translating everything into French, political advisers find it easier to hire US consultants than actually develop a more moderate Canadian strategy. And ever since the US Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United case that PACs could spend unlimited funds on political campaigns as long as no individual individual or party was promoted/supported, negative ads have predominated. So for instance I could legally run an ad saying the Conservative leader is the AntiChrist, but not one saying that Trudeau speaks good English. Even though this US ruling has no legal effect on Canada that I know of, it’s certainly easier and quicker to ape US practice than actually come up with something new.
This is so smart. We don't allow big political donors in Canada (good thing!), so parties have made raising money a weekly thing requiring weekly 'shocks' to convince citizens to part with their money. They help finance political events which are partisan to thank donors and keep them involved. The system feeds itself and less time is spent trying to reach consensus.
Fascinating column. I wonder if traditional non voters were always angry and you see it now b/c it is tied to politics or whether anger was whipped up?
Great article, now how do the masses react to something they know is happening to get their reaction ?
Well said. Though 'firing the central banker' was used by Chretien too, eh, well before this era of political stray voltage? By going around the legacy media, turning the tables on his opposition, I wonder how much Poilievre is circumventing this game.
Interesting article. First up from ‘Pops’ is an excellent example of why ‘stray voltage’ works. It’s a bit like Pavlovian’s dogs. In this case, the very name ‘Trudeau’ apparently elicits physical responses.
There will come a time when those slavering to take revenge, or whatever their point is, on those who they can never be will face consequences, as I hope the chap in the underwear and his female sidekick, who threatened the Deputy Prime Minister, will, in short order. I’m thoroughly sick of this small cadre of Canadians (maybe) who think they are more important than anyone else.
You guys are being used and it’s not pretty.
Succinct and on point.
See this approach in grotesque proportions in the current UPC leadership race. Barry Cooper's damn the Constitution campaign for Danielle Smith is shock politics in extreme. They know it's wrong but are doing it anyway to fill warchests and divide loyalties.
What's missing is the fact that public figures will cry havoc and unleash the dogs of war when the inevitable happens. A loser in a stained wife beater screams obscenites and the PM threatens to bring the state's security establishment down upon the heads of those that disagree with his values. Let's fsce it, Trudeau and company have been called worse in Albeta.
The politician as victim routine that came after was nauseating.
Fantastic article and while social media bears some of the blame it only reflects the underlying anxiety people feel, as Stephen Punwasi (highly recommend following him on twitter) put it
Increasingly Canadians are telling me they can't get ahead. It doesn't matter how hard they try, it just doesn't work. A household can make double the median income and still not be able to afford housing in 🇨🇦's major cities. This isn't just a Millennial issue.
I missed that you are actually implying there is something wrong with firing the governor of the Bank of Canada. The Bank had one primary mission: controlling inflation. They failed catastrophically.
Why on earth wouldn't we fire the governor? Because he tried hard and it's not fair to fire him? Seriously? Boo hoo.
When regular people are treated unfairly by the government, that's a problem. When an organization fails, removing the leader is just accountability.