The Straw

My intention in creating this blog was mainly to start conversations about great stories, the myths that shape our realities and celebrate all it means to be human, with human failings, triumphs, loves, losses, questions and answers.  It is supposed to focus on the positivity of humanity- there is far too much evidence of the opposite in the media on any given day.  Despite such good intentions, I do have a tendency- partly nature, partly habit- to sit back and observe, offering occasional commentaries on the ways of the world and the politics of the day, without being stirred into action to affect change.

I am not a politician.  I have little respect for most of the people who call themselves ‘career politicians,’ but I have never really been motivated enough to speak publicly and directly against any one political party or person (dinner or cocktail party discussions are a different kettle of cod).  To do so seemed like little more than a support of partisan divides in ideology and approach.  Tilting at windmills that are powered by blowhard, reactionary rhetoric.  I am generally slow to anger and inclined to view all sides of an argument before rushing to judgement and condemnation.

That changed recently.  The Prime Minister of this great country that I am proud to call home has, admittedly, never been a favourite of mine.  I think he is little more than a career politician who is looking out for his own power base and pandering to the opinions of the elite of the country, while taking far too many pointers from his conservative compatriots in the US about such things as the usefulness of attack ads and the need to keep the majority of the people in ignorance about what is really going on in the halls of power.

I don’t like him.  I don’t understand how anyone of conscience could have voted for his government.  I was disgusted by his attack of the new leader of the federal Liberal Party when Mr. Trudeau had the gall to suggest that we need to look for the root causes behind such acts of terror as the Boston Marathon bombings.  I was complacently resigned in my belief that we just have to ride this out, that he, and his lackeys, both in Parliament and the Senate, would continue sounding their own death knell, because Canadians HAVE to be seeing what I am seeing.  I had hope, like many fellow Canadians, that come the next election (which can’t arrive soon enough) the government would be replaced and repairs to our social fabric and economy might begin in earnest, under the reins of people who are looking out for the interests of more than a minority of the population.

Then this happened.

Yesterday, in the context of the recently exposed terror plot to derail a VIA train between Toronto and NYC, the ‘leader’ of our country said that we have to avoid ‘committing sociology’.

I’m sure that he, or his speechwriter(s), thought that he was turning a witty phrase, paraphrasing W H Auden’s poem “Under Which Lyre: A Reactionary Tract for the Times.”  Too bad he used it incorrectly.  The poem, with its wonderful use of mythic language and themes, was a reflection on World War II, and a commentary on the tension between the practical realities of the post-war environment and the more abstract benefits of higher education.  The former would see “Truth replaced by Useful Knowledge”, and Auden ironically described the pursuit of a university education as following the free spirit of Hermes.  If he had actually read the poem, Harper would see that he falls on the side of Apollo’s “Official Art” and “fat figures in the public eye,” and that Auden was advocating the cultivation of higher education as an adventurous end in itself, and not simply a means to a job and ‘proper’ position in a ‘properly ordered’ society (a philosophy that runs in diametric opposition to that of the Harper government).

The deeper political ideology behind his comments, and the use of a quote taken entirely out of its intended context, has me enraged.  Completely ‘Hulk Smash’ enraged.

His comments are in keeping with destructive, fear-mongering language that encourages punitive rather than preventative responses, and a disingenuous anti-intellectual agenda.  This is not new(s).  But enough is enough.  No one suggested that, in the midst of the drama following the Boston tragedy, any resources should be taken away from law enforcement seeking to capture the perpetrators of the horrific crime so that ‘intellectuals’- sociologists, psychologists, or anyone else- can attempt to establish the ‘roots’ of the radicalization of people that leads to such horrible acts of terror.  American law enforcement was successful in killing and/or capturing the accused perpetrators of the bombing.  Canadian security officials prevented the train derailment and placed two accused conspirators in custody and, by all accounts, are keeping a close eye on the rest of those suspected of complicity in the planning of the act of terrorism.  Security and law enforcement are doing their jobs.  There will be discussion and debate regarding whether more could/should be done with respect to prevention, and this is something to which our security agencies will have to respond.

A significant, responsible part of prevention HAS to also involve the examination of social, economic, religious, historical and political factors that CREATE an environment in which radical ideologies can develop and recruit the young, the disenfranchised, the marginalized and the desperate.  The truly cynical person could say that politicians don’t want those social, economic, religious, historical and political situations examined too closely, since they may be found to be the originators, or perpetrators, of those conditions and therefore make the ruling elite complicit in the acts of terror that are enacted.  I am starting to reallyreally fear that politicians like Harper (and his conservative American bedfellows) are simply determined to continue the insidious dumbing down of society, keeping us mindlessly watching our ‘reality’ TV after we come home from excessively long hours, working on contract, in the trades, for minimum wage with no benefits.  Physical and emotional exhaustion and disconnection from community cause stress, anxiety and what sociologists call anomie.  Historians know that periods of sociological anomie lead to the development of apocalyptic ideologies.  And apocalyptic mentalities (for all that they create some of the BEST myths), when acted upon, do not generally lead to happy endings.

Looking for the reasons behind the growth of radical, destructive ideologies is NOT the same as ‘justifying’ or ‘legitimizing’ acts of terror.  Conversely, burying our collective heads in the sand in the belief that ignorance makes us blissful, keeps us blind, and susceptible to getting our asses kicked from all directions.  Since he obviously misinterpreted Auden’s use of irony in his poem, how DARE the putative FIRST minister of our country equate the search for cause in the aftermath of terrible effect with an unethical, if not criminal, action.  People commit adultery.  They commit murder.  We commit those people who have psychological issues to facilities in which they can be helped.

But we also commit to positive things.  To relationships with one another, causes in which we strongly believe.  So I am going to commit.  I am going to commit, and to support others who commit, sociology, history, psychology and to any and all other tools at our disposal to get to the root of the societal problems that lead to levels of anomie that, in turn, lead to unspeakable acts of terror against each other.

The idiom the straw that broke the camel’s back has its origin in an Arab proverb.  One small, light, otherwise inconsequential piece of straw can render a sturdy beast completely incapable of dealing with any more.  This latest, in a long history of unacceptable straws, is the one that has taken me down.  Time to shed the whole bale and say and do something in reaction to idiocy such as that offered by the Prime Minister this week.

My friend, a talented, intelligent, socially conscious SOCIOLOGIST (the HORROR!), posted a thoughtful reflection and battle cry last night as her response.  After some reflection, she took it down.  She is a federal employee and feared possible repercussions (another indicator that ‘Harper’s Canada’ is something we have to speak against).   Like her, I promise to make something happen that will lead to positive change in this country that I love.  Even if it involves committing suspicious and seditious acts of sociology.

And in case Harper truly wants to follow the ‘Hermetic Decalogue’ he should obey all the commandments given to those who refuse to adhere to the ‘official’ party line:

“Thou shalt not do as the dean pleases,

Thou shalt not write thy doctor’s thesis

On education,

Thou shalt not worship projects nor

Shalt thou or thine bow down before Administration.

Thou shalt not answer questionnaires

Or Quizzes upon World-Affairs,

Nor with compliance

Take any test.  Thou shalt not sit

With statisticians, nor

commit a social science.

Thou shalt not be on friendly terms

With guys in advertising firms,

Nor speak with such

As read the Bible for its prose,

Nor, above all, make love to those

Who wash too much.

Thou shalt not live within thy means

Nor on plain water and raw greens.

If thou must choose

Between the chances, choose the odd;

Read the New Yorker, trust in God;

And take short views.”

– W H Auden, 1946

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16 comments on “The Straw

  1. […] have already made my feelings fairly clear about the PM and his actions and ‘Action Plan’, so his non-response to the scandalous goings on with […]

  2. […] specific corresponding examples with one leader in particular, but I’ve already ranted about that guy enough this month.  Suffice to say the story of Gilgamesh recounts what ultimately happens when a […]

  3. […] wrote here about societal anomie and how it leads to expressions of anxiety that include apocalyptic […]

  4. […] have mentioned before that I have a tendency to be more-than-a-little complacent in my Canadian-ness.  I love this […]

  5. […] great place, back to feeling overwhelmed by power- and hatred-driven craziness.   There was that anomie again, and I was feeling as if attempting to affect change is very much a ‘one step forward, […]

  6. […] up:  The whys and wherefores regarding the need for the search of root causes (‘committing sociology’, if you will) and an examination the problems associated with ‘making’ […]

  7. […] of his expressed opinion that we should not ‘commit sociology’ (I ranted about that here), has changed his tune about searching for causality in a different circumstance.   The causes […]

  8. Two more years…and then, hopefully we move on.

  9. […] called ‘Limited Good’ a anthropological/sociological (please don’t tell the PM of Stephen Harper’s Canada that I’m committing sociology here) concept that suggested […]

  10. colemining says:

    Reblogged this on colemining and commented:

    I had such good intentions…

    I was going to come home and work on a post that has been percolating in my brain over the past couple of days (while hoping that my laptop cooperates and hangs in there long enough to permit the composition/posting process). Then I made the mistake of turning on the news.

    The top story was all about how we need to be looking at the root causes of radicalization.

    I’m not- generally- one for the whole ‘I told you so’ sort of thing. I’m making an exception here. I wrote this post quite some time ago, in response to something idiotic that our Prime Minister had to say.

    It would seem that some of the chickens I spoke about are coming home to roost, a fact that is leading the the changing of a tune or two up there on Parliament Hill. Unfortunate that this little ditty is coming on the heels of an attack on two members of our CAF- and attack that left one of those members dead and the other seriously injured.

    But then, our PM is nothing if not expedient. Provided it’s politically beneficial, of course.

  11. […] worse, it feeds the sort of power-driven insanity that leads people in power to state that we needn’t be looking for the societal origins of anomie (or discontent and […]

  12. […] worse, it feeds the sort of power-driven insanity that leads people in power to state that we needn’t be looking for the societal origins of anomie (or discontent and […]

  13. And Bingo! I probably need to email you soon with my novel outline and pick your brains! Do you believe in karma? Feck, I think I might now. Catch you soon to join a few more dots. 🙂

  14. […] is among the oldest ways of committing sociology. It is a lens through which we can see problems, contradictions, and irrationality. It isn’t […]

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