Resisting the pull of cynicism since 1969.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Is there such a thing as too much perspective?

I have a confession to make. While my ideals are quite thoroughly lefty in every way, there's one way I don't fit in with my ideological soulmates: I'm not really wired for outrage. There are a few exceptions--a few sore points that will always make me screaming mad--but for the most part, my gut reaction to something worthy of outrage (and believe me, there's plenty!) is to think: all right, so how can we rearrange things so that we can best live with this very suboptimal situation? If I actually want to spur myself into taking action, I have to forcibly short-circuit that gut response and cut straight to dispassionately evaluating what can realistically be done and what can't. It makes me a pretty lousy activist, though it has the advantage of keeping my blood pressure down.

This tendency is, of course, compounded by my background. This is because nine times out of ten, when something worthy of outrage happens in Canada, it's still worse in the U.S., and despite the fact that my life is quite firmly anchored here now, my brain can't help but make the comparisons. Take my Stephen Harper and Hillary Clinton post. I really do think Harper and his party have been terrible for Canada, and if they ever were to get a majority government, things would be even worse. But in the U.S., the party proposing policies along those same lines is the leftmost party, and in Canada, there are three national parties to the left of Stephen Harper's Conservatives. And even after more than a year of gagging their crazies and controlling their messaging in order to show people that they're really just misunderstood moderates, the Conservatives still only have 33% of Canadians excited about what they want to do for the country. That makes it exceedingly difficult for me to take on a "oh, woe is us, Canadians have it so bad right now" mentality, you know?

So when L-girl from We Move to Canada pointed her readers at this Toronto Star article talking about how the Conservatives had done focus groups across the country trying to figure out what they were doing wrong on the messaging for the war in Afghanistan, she was outraged. And she's right--it is pretty outrageous that the Conservatives would look at the war as something to sell to Canadians. But when I read that article, what I notice most is this part:

The report lists "vocabulary/terms/phrases/concepts to reinforce" the message that the government is right about its commitment to the war in Afghanistan. They include "rebuilding," "restoring," "reconstruction," "hope," "opportunity" and "enhancing the lives of women and children."

Words and phrases to avoid include: "freedom, democracy, liberty – in combination this phrase comes across as sounding too American."

Strategic Counsel also advised that the government "avoid developing a line of argumentation too strongly based on values. While the value of human rights is strongly supported, there is a risk of appearing to be imposing Canadian values. Again, this is not seen to be the 'Canadian way.'"
Basically, if you want Canadians to believe that a war is worth fighting, you have to convince them that Canada is helping the people of that country on their own terms. When you start making it sound like Canada is imposing its own values on those people, Canadians find it distasteful. This forces Harper and his crew to adopt language--and sometimes even stances--that don't reflect their values in order to win over even thirty-three measly percent of the Canadian people.

I can't help it, I just find that delightful. In fact, it kind of makes me want to hug my whole damn adopted country. Forgive me?

13 comments:

L-girl said...

Thanks for the link, I/P.

I was really more disgusted than outraged about this one.

But although I am definitely wired for outrage (good expression!), I very much share the feelings you've expressed here. It's hard to get too outraged about the current state of our adopted country - because things are sooo much worse in our original one.

Kuri said...

I don't think lack of outrage is a problem per se. But for a lot of us, lack of outrage would translate into lack of action. If anything, outrage provides a clarity and certainty that drive political action. If I weren't ever outraged I could "consider all sides of an issue" forever and never accomplish anything positive. I know you don't do that, but I find it hard to imagine how you get inspired to act politically without occasionally getting angry.

Secondly and seperately, I disagree with the idea that you have to save your outrage for the worst of the worst. If anything, it's more outrageous when the people going against principles are your supposed allies. Because you expect to be able to trust your allies. I think that dimension is behind most of the outrage over Tony Blair's decisions, actually. British lefties trusted Blair; they would've shared beers with him, would've felt he was one of them. So, on that level of betrayal it's actually easier to be outraged at him than it is at say, Mrs. Thatcher, about whom no one should have any illusions of comradery or even decency.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Kuri,

I find it hard to imagine how you get inspired to act politically without occasionally getting angry.

Truthfully, I get more inspired by visions of how much better things could be than I do by visions of how awful things are. I'm inherently skeptical of "sky is falling" rhetoric, and too much of it is more likely to turn me off than turn me on. Tell me briefly what's not working and then proceed quickly on to show me that there are concrete actions we can take to make things better--that's what I find inspiring.

The things that actually manage to outrage me aren't even the worst things, either, necessarily. They're the stupid things. The times when the status quo sucks, there's a relatively easy fix for that, and yet people have too big a cultural blind spot to realize it. That makes me crazy.

I disagree with the idea that you have to save your outrage for the worst of the worst.

You're right, of course. It's just where my brain goes, though, I suppose. I certainly have no excuse for it, and I'm not proud of it. It does help keep me sane and level-headed, though.

L-girl said...

I disagree with the idea that you have to save your outrage for the worst of the worst.

Good point. I always say Canada has to do better than "it's worse in the US". That sets the bar too low. I'll remember this next time I mentally pull my punches.

The JF said...

I'm exactly the same as you IP. I mean, there are things that get me riled up, but these are usually not external events, they usually occur in the context of a heated debate. As such, I can get outraged at people, but very rarely situations.

I'm also more inspired to political actions by just wanting to improve the status quo rather than fighting back against an injustice. I guess that's what makes me a moderate reformer rather than a passionate socialist. I'm glad that there's others like me out there though, I was fearing being a cold, analytical heartless bastard!

skdadl said...

Gosh. Some people here must be very comfortable.

You have never seen your own life or the life of someone you love threatened, directly threatened, by neo-lib/neo-con orthodoxies? How lucky you have been -- so far. Wait a bit. It will happen.

In Canada. Yes.

West End Bound said...

Thanks for that perspective on the article - Makes me feel better about my future homeland.

In fact, it kind of makes me want to hug my whole damn adopted country. Forgive me? You're forgiven, and give it a hug for us, too!!

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

skdadl,

Some people here must be very comfortable.

No, we're just not exactly like you.

That's allowed...right? It takes all kinds, yadda yadda?

JF,

Hmm. I'm not sure I buy that being someone who doesn't outrage easily automatically makes them further to the centre than someone who does. For me it has a lot more to do with personality than it does with ideology.

Kuri said...

No, we're just not exactly like you.

That is, most likely, uncomfortable. Which is itself food for thought. :-)

The JF said...

I'm not sure I buy that being someone who doesn't outrage easily automatically makes them further to the centre than someone who does. For me it has a lot more to do with personality than it does with ideology.

Isn't not being outraged easily a part of your personality? I'm not saying this is true for absolutely everyone, but I don't think it's too much of a stretch to imagine that if you're more cool-headed, you just don't have the motivation to change things radically. I also think it makes sense that the further you stray from the centre, the more likely you are to encounter people who tend to be more outraged.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Isn't not being outraged easily a part of your personality?

Yes, that's what I'm saying in the first paragraph of this post.

I don't think it's too much of a stretch to imagine that if you're more cool-headed, you just don't have the motivation to change things radically

Whereas THIS is absolutely not true for me, as Kuri and I discuss in the comments. I'm very motivated to change things, and sometimes the changes that are needed are very radical. I'm just not motivated by anger. Anger discourages me and makes me want to quit. Realizing that those radical changes are possible and figuring out the path to them is what fires me up and makes me want to chuck the day job and go make it happen. *grin*

KevinG said...

IP-

What a great way to live!

Besides, if you're trying to effect change, there are real practical benefits to shrugging off outrage: (1) the people most affected by outraged responses are the ones that are already convinced; (2) 'moderates' are generally turned off by outrage -- they're just as likely to reject the whole issue as fringe; and (3) it's easy for people on the other side of the issue to make the outrage look irrational.

Idealistic Pragmatist said...

Kevin,

Aw, thanks for the vote of confidence. I don't know any other way of being, so it's definitely a good thing that there are pluses to it.