Enough with the right and the left
TheStar.com – opinion/editorialopinion
Published On Thu Apr 21 2011. By Rick Salutin, Columnist
As if there weren’t enough right-vs.-left hysteria in this election, along comes SunTV. It’s the new cable channel determined to give a voice to the hard ideological right, so under-represented in our media by all the Sun papers, the National Post and the many papers in that chain, CTV, Global etc. Poor silenced babies. SunTV so far feels like a Wayne’s World version of Fox News in the U.S., without the humour. Its most vigorous moments have been ads for Dr. Ho’s air orthotics hosted by Dr. Ho. Maybe they should give him an hour in prime time.
Stephen Harper leads this parade. He can hardly think without a right-left grid to stretch reality out on and then proceed to torture it. Just before the debate he challenged Pierre Trudeau, who had “a different philosophy of government — a high-spending philosophy, centralizing philosophy — and that’s not the philosophy of this government.” That’s Pierre, not Justin, Trudeau, dead since 2000 and out of office since 1984. If that Trudeau had any “philosophy,” it was about the evils of Quebec independence, not government size. But look, you see how easy it is to slide into ideological banter once someone starts it.
At its core, ideology is built on abstractions and generalizations about human nature, history or the universe, versus someone else’s abstractions. Most ideology in the 20th century came from the left. Then, as those certainties disintegrated, the right picked up the ideological slack by taking over think-tanks and political parties like our formerly progressive Conservatives. Ideology turns out to be almost indestructible. I’m not against those who honestly put it first, but it isn’t how most people live or view the world so it tends to jar in normal election politics. How would a less ideologized politics look?
Last November I sat in the northern Finnish city of Kokkola with educator Peter Johnson, a thoughtful, philosophical man. He talked about Ontario schools guru Michael Fullan, who advises Premier Dalton McGuinty. Fullan says the world needs “agents of change” to fight the enemies of change. “You read him,” said Peter, “and you think, Hey, I’m a change agent! But really, that’s not how change works. Most people are in the middle. They’d like change but they’re wary.”
That rings true. The real political task isn’t convincing people to accept changes you want, based on your theories of reality. They can decide that for themselves and everyone wants some change for the better. A politician’s task is to show his changes won’t do more harm than good, especially in light of attacks from his foes. All parties in this campaign have hit the fear chord. None has done the job of reassurance, which is why voters seem so undecided. Is there a whole other political language available, outside the left-right (and right-wrong) framework, that’s so hard to avoid once it gets unleashed?
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, a French philosopher, psychologist and journalist, died in 1961. He lived through the intense ideologies of the Soviet and Nazi years. He was on the left. He went so far as to defend some of Stalin’s policies because they fit the requirements of History, capitalized. But he was willing to rethink, toward the end of his shortened life, when he said progress “is not so much a movement toward a homogeneous or a classless society as the quest . . . for a life which is not unlivable for the greatest number.”
What a modest, achievable goal. It’s strange how much harder it is to compose a phrase like that than to riff off some “liberal” or “conservative” clichés. If someone like Merleau-Ponty can get there, others should at least make the effort.
“A life not unlivable for the greatest number.” That is the law and the prophets, Jesus might have said if he were running for office. The rest, as Rabbi Hillel of the Talmud could have added if he were a columnist, is commentary.
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