Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Taint of Ideology

Although I'm sure that I frequently fall victim to it, I am deeply offended by lazy thinking, our seemingly endless capacity to fall back on ideological bromides as a substitute for careful and reasoned consideration of an issue. Instances of such defective cogitation abound, and are especially noticeable in online commentary, where, for example, those of a left-wing or progressive perspective will regularly denounce their ideological opposites as 'fascists', while those on the right frequently take great delight in dismissing progressive notions as the work of 'leftards' or other such idiomatically imaginative labels.

The challenge in overcoming these reflexive reactions is considerable, but I sometimes wonder if part of the problem lies in how we phrase the issue or ask the question. All too often, the choices are presented as grim absolutes. For example, we are told by our political leaders that any measures to improve our society can be achieved only at a great cost to the economy. Never is there a middle ground, where a tradeoff between the two polarities is presented as a viable option. But perhaps we are not asking the right question.

The following video is a brilliant example of how to reframe the question. The library of Troy Michigan, fighting a well-funded Tea Party campaign opposing a 0.7% increase that would keep the facility from having to initiate severe cutbacks, came up with this strategy:

Stunningly effective in its simplicity, the campaign perhaps suggests that there may be many ways in which to frame a question, many ways to engage people so that they think about the implications of an issue rather than simply dismiss it reflexively on ideological grounds.

My reflections are prompted by Martin Regg Cohn's column in today's Star. Entitled Time to put Flaherty on the spot, his opening sentence says a great deal:

When Finance Minister Jim Flaherty debates pension reform with the provinces Monday, he’ll be counting on Canadians to tune it out so he can wait it out — yet again.

He goes on to discuss something many of us are well aware of, namely that far too many of our fellow citizens do not have sufficient savings to ensure a comfortable retirement, and that the average pension afforded by the Canada Pension Plan is hardly adequate to bridge the gap. Real reform that would ultimately lift many retirees out of poverty is very achievable at moderate cost, as attested to by a 30-page discussion paper prepared by federal officials. Unfortunately, Finance minister Jim Flaherty, doubtlessly prompted by ideology and the financial community to which he pays obesaisance, claims that this is not the right time to act, as additional payroll costs would hurt employment in Canada.

Cohn dismisses this fatuous defence of inaction effectively, and I hope you will take a few minutes to read his piece.

As a retired teacher who enjoys a pension that provides for a decent standard of living, I am acutely aware than many others struggle tremendously in life. However, unlike those commentators who disparage and debase people like me for my good fortune and would like to see me brought down to a more hardscrabble existence, I am very much interested in seeing the opportunity of comfortable retirement living extended to as many people as possible. And that can only be achieved by confronting and challenging the conventional 'wisdom' of our political 'leaders'.

We have become a nation of complacent people, content to use our cynicism about the political process as an excuse for our inactivity, our refusal to advocate for an improved society.

We can do and be so much better than this.


  1. Cohn's piece deals effectively with Flaherty's argument that "we cant afford it," Lorne. It also explains why he and his fellow Conservatives have been successful.

    Their most reliable ally is public ignorance.

  2. if only there were an easy way to dispel that ignorance, Owen. The road ahead to improving the lives of everyone, I suspect, is indeed a rocky one.

  3. That Troy, Michigan library video is brilliant. This insanity has to stop. Prior to taxation, we lived in a Hobbsian scenario where no services or safeguards existed. Good old Tommy Douglas nearly lost a leg and that experience fueled his quest for universal health care. Depending on those with means to take care of those with less is a mugs game. Why can't people understand this?

  4. I think, Beijing, that unless people make an effort to become familiar with relatively recent history, the lessons of that history will be lost.