Friday, April 1, 2011

Fear and the Great Poohead

Fear rules.

It ruled when thousands of Americans lost their lives driving after 9/11, during a time in which zero were killed in/by airplanes.

It ruled recently when Angela Merkel – apparently confused by the concept of tectonic plates – shut down Germany's nuclear plants for fear that tsunamis could come streaming up the Rhine any day now.

I can't keep the disappointment out of my writing, but I do try not to react by condemning the entire human race for this inescapably bit of humanity. Economists have for years divorced themselves entirely from the realities of human existence in designing theories to explain a 'rational' actor (e.g. a person who behaves according to invented economic theory) who does not exist. Humans are not that simple.

Fear is a part of human nature, and as much as it can lead to poor decisions, it can neither be legislated out of existence nor ignored as a reality. Attempts to do so constitute relatively minor sins, but they stem from good, or at least ignorant, intentions.

It's those who exploit the fear of others for whom I reserve my venom. I would very much like to have, to take a random example, a chat with Mr. Stephen Harper about his use of ads implying that refugees are terrorists. Or perhaps about his shrill fear-mongering over the possibility of that most deadly of democratic ills: the coalition. Never mind that this is the man who led the first Canadian government in history to be found in contempt of parliament.

Geez, thanks, Steve, you poohead.

I've digressed to childish name-calling in my displeasure, which still leaves me at a level of discourse one or two steps above that of an election campaign that has so far merely couched similar points in more overblown language. Michael Ignatieff will form a coalition and there are bad things going on in the world and you should just generally be afraid.

We will, sadly, never be able to entirely remove the potential resonance of such claims on at least some segment of the population. But just as living on my own hasn't left me snorting lines of cocaine off surfboards, so we should hold political discourse to a slightly higher standard than 'anything goes'. Preying (and I really think this is the best descriptor) on the insecurities of the populace is irresponsible to its core and bereft of any ethical compunctions at all.

We struggle enough with our fear without politicians exploiting it for their own ends. But I'm missing the more important point here, which is clearly thus: Stephen Harper is a chicken-butt.

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