Friday, July 22, 2011

Do we live in a sick society? Are we collectively mentally ill?

Reflections on the falling crime rate and the Harper government's reaction

              Violent crime is down, crime is at lowest level since 1973. A cause for jubilation?

              At least one might think it a cause for jubilation. But apparently not for Harper government hairy-chested ideologues.

              They want to spend lots of $$ - taxpayers' money, not their own - "gettin' tough on crime". Professional criminologists think they are crazy, obviously: even down in the States they are having second thoughts about all that money they've wasted.. And besides, the crime decline is probably due, in large part, to demographics, not to government programs. In an aging population, like ours, "exhibitionist" / machismo crimes like barroom brawls, murder, muggings go into decline. Older folks are more cautious: they embezzle the bank they work for or swindle their clients out of their life savings, they ship their profits overseas to island tax havens or use those havens to launder money from drug importation / production..

              The rhetoric is getting a bit hairy, too. Some of Harper's people are claiming crazy things like: "the crime stats are being manipulated" (to fit a liberal-secular humanist-socialist / communist agenda, no doubt..) or, again, that the beleaguered, victimized public has become so discouraged that - in droves - they have ceased reporting crimes. Wacky, wacky, this is wacky thinking..

              The pattern here appears obvious: the Haperites always, instinctively, return to their populist / reactionary core or base, whether we speak of principles or of targeted "audiences" (subsets of the electorate to whom the rhetoric of the Right appeals). Such targeting - think: focus groups - is, in reality, a sure sign that a party, or a political system, is bankrupt of ideas and vision. "They pander to the Right wing / reactionary vote", we say..

               But perhaps we mistake the trees for the forest. Perhaps we are overly focused on what are really only symptoms of a deeper, more pervasive, cultural or civilisational malady: the very lack of ideas, the lack of vision for the future and its potentialities or the flagrant moral irresponsibility with which our societies have addressed issues like 3rd world development, social justice, equity between nations in access to the earth's ressources..

                We contend that the Harperites' obsessive, paranoid fixation on punishing (ubiquitous) evildoers deserves to be put in parallel with, for example, some of Rush Limbaugh's recent conspiratorial ravings.

                For years, I have avoided the conclusion that our leaders, hence our society, is somehow "mad". After all, can one legitimately apply concepts drawn from individual psychopathology to a collective, societal context? Not so sure about that one, me..

                But the evidence is now pressing, invasive, omnipresent. Even professional psychologists are beginning to worry about our collective mental health; we're not talking about crime here but something else, more ominous still. What is happening? For example, why, exactly, are so many people droping psychotropes - prescription, stolen, legal or illegal? Why are wacky, extremist, fundamentalist religious sects gaining political power in the US, the country that put men on the moon and began robotic exploration of the inner and outer solar system, is daily cataloguing exoplanets capable, possibly, of harboring extra-terrestrial life: is this not a worrying trend? If it is not a worrying trend, what is then..

               What we are witnessing, I believe, is an increasing disconnect-from-reality on the part of ascendant reactionary forces in Western societies. Why this is so, I don't know. In fact, none of the social scientists whose work I've consulted has been able to answer this question for me. We can, at best, merely describe this social pathology although its etiology - its origin and nature - remain opaque to understanding, at least at this point in time.

              Such was the case for the plague which ravaged Europe for centuries before people began to get a handle on controling its spread through improved public hygience, quarantine and  rodent control. Only much later was the ultimate cause of the disease isolated after the rise of microbiology.

               Social psychologist, Bob Altemeyer (University of Manitoba) has well described the "highly compartmentalized thinking" and logical incoherence (self-contradiction) so often noted in authoritarian / reactionary / conspiratorial thinkers. Exactly, why these folks are like this is anyone's guess at this stage of the game, but at least we can assess their "illness" and it's potential impacts on society.

                 It is evident, I hope, that one does not have to understand a danger in order to recognize that it IS a danger. In this case we are not dealing with a plague caused by a microbe but a "psychic plague" (Wilhelm Reich): reactionary, fascistic politics and their precursor, contemporary right wing populism. As the recent, still unfolding tragedy in Norways trumpets: our societies are sick, we are in trouble..

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Refugees: Can you speak from both sides of your mouth at same time?

            A recent  CBC radio "The Current" segment dealt with the incredible ordeal of the Benhmuda family. The father's brother belonged to a group opposing the Qadhafi regime in Libya. The cops began to hassle the brother to the point the family immigrated to Canada and sought refugee status. Reason: they feared for their lives. That's clear enough ain't it? Qadhafi is known to do bad things to people who he thinks oppose him: he's a dictator that Canada is fighting, right?
          Strange thing. After living in Canada for EIGHT YEARS  the government wackily decides to deport the family back to Libya. Why? Difficult to get info, of course (we expect this by now..): another lack of transparency in a government elected on a reformist platform with transparency a hot button issue.

           What is going on here? Check out the above link to get a feel for the irrationality of the gov's action. The Benhmuda segment is the first interview.

           To all appearances, the family members commited no crime, either in Libya or Canada. The family had integrated. A son, who considers himself Canadian, was born here. Why, then, deport them back to a hellhole like Libya? And why NOW, with a goddam WAR going on??!! 

          Fortunately the Benhmudas managed to escape Libya and now live in Malta (on assistance, poorly). They have initiated legal procedures and hope to return to Canada which they consider their home.

           But why deport them in the first place? - And after EIGHT YEARS living in Canada! Does it take EIGHT YEARS to find out if they are legit? If so, why does it take so long? - all those cuts to "bureaucratic fat"?

            Given that such behavior on the part of the Harper government is not isolated to this single case, one is in right to question whether or not a pattern is being revealed. One need only think of the truly odious Arar case,where an innocent man was shipped overseas to be tortured to extract information during the war on terrorism:

            Or the absolutely Orwellian / Kafkesque Mubin Shaikh case where a Canadian born muslim volunteered to infiltrate a terrorist cell for the RCMP leading to the dismantling of the gang, convictions and prison sentences. For his trouble - not to mention patriotism and courage - Shaikh was placed on terrorist lists in the US and Canada. LOL, will cockups never cease..

            Do we see a pattern revealed in these - to say the least! - "strange" cases and, if so, what is that pattern? Such behavior obviously demands a response on the part of responsible public servants: Harper was elected on a platform which stressed responsible government, let us not forget.

           Muslims seem to be a prime target in these and other cases. Does that mean anything? Is the government - or segments of that government - pandering to ethnocentric populist sentiments? One surely hopes not..

           In more general terms, one detects a hardening of approach to those seeking refugee status in recent years. Is Canada still the "compassionate nation" we so like to pride ourselves on being? Or have our values imperceptibly shifted? Do we, for example, afford a higher priority today than formerly to economic immigrants, those bringing money to Canada in exchange for citizenship?

           Is Canada STILL the "compassionate nation" we so like to pride ourselves on being? To you to decide, dear reader..