Sunday, April 10, 2011

Over My shoulder: I see Stephen Harper

Crime fighter Stephen Harper says that Canadians deserve “to live in a country where they don’t have to look over their shoulders as they walk down the street.”

Throughout the ages, fear-mongering has always been a weapon of choice of those we need to fear.

The theory that Canadians are afraid when they walk down the street is nonsense, of course. Having walked down the streets of Canadian cities and towns at all hours of the day and night for more decades than I care to confess, I have had few moments of anxiety, unless you include fear of dogs, cyclists on sidewalks and pedestrian-hating motorists. I once went for an early morning run at Lake Louise and the garbage cans with pictures of grizzlies on the lids did scare me.

In the interest of full disclosure, I grew up at Dupont and Christie in downtown Toronto, a tougher neighbourhood that the one where Stephen Harper spent his childhood.

It’s not exactly a secret that the crime rate has been falling in Canada for several decades but that doesn’t stop Harper from promising to spend billions on more prisons, along with the billions he plans to spend on jet fighters, just in case the Americans, the Russians or the Danes (with whom we have borders) launch an air attack on us. I love the way so-called conservatives who claim to spend taxpayers’ dollars with great prudence are always ready to squander billions on tough-guy outlays, while resenting the expenditure of a nickel to improve the lives of people.

It’s not that hard to frighten people who watch a lot of TV and who seldom visit a city to imagine that downtown Toronto is a fearsome place. In fact, Toronto has a lower crime rate than the cities to the west of it, and they’re not exactly terrifying either.

Locking up more people for longer won’t drive down the crime rate---witness the results of such policies in the paradises of the U.S. and China. Greater social and economic equality would help, to some extent, but crime is not going away, it’s just not getting worse at the moment.

What I do fear is the fool’s gold pledges of those who promise us something approaching complete security. And just as absolute power corrupts absolutely, absolute security equals absolute tyranny.

When I look over my shoulders, what I see is Stephen Harper and his minions skulking through Facebook and the myriad other online activities of Canadians to find out what we’re up to. That’s how they draw up their enemies lists.

George Orwell understood all of this. Beware the half smile on the face of the man behind the glasses.


Anonymous said...

Hi James. Jack here living in the GTA after having lived in the Detroit area for most of my life. (born in Windsor).
I have seen firsthand what really murderous neighborhoods look like and the GTA doesn't even come close, thank God. That idiot harper and his neo-con wannabes are taking ALL their cues from the 'merkan far-right wing for corporate tax breaks (the better to plead poverty with, thus cutting public programs so they can privatize them and that's when the real paychecks start to roll in from their buddies that bought up those "needless socialistic programs" we used to have), phenomenal military spending programs (can you say needless/useless?) that WILL bankrupt Canada just like it is bankrupting 'merka but making the industrialist/military obscenely wealthy, not to mention the bought-and-paid-for politicos that helped get the chequebook pried open to the tune of billions of dollars that were never theirs to spend in the first place and, as you so aptly pointed out, the attitude that that EVERYBODY IS SUSPECT! We has met the enemy and he is us! Don't believe me? Just ask that braying ass baird. He sees an enemy behind every closed door ever since Canada was attacked on 9/11!!! (or so he thinks) If real Canadians don't act right now to take back their/our government from the hands of the paranoid/delusional harper cabal, we might really become the 51st state (a favorite joke down there) in the united corporate-controlled states of fear and terrorist activity that have devoured the "land of the free" to our south while they are truly are looking northward hungrily to our natural resources that they will have no compunctions about using any and all violent means necessary to procure for their own ends with the willing and well-paid-for help of idiots like harper and baird.

Dame said...

My only fear is giving Power to these guys who are about to destroy the Canada I love and Cherish ..... and sometimes the unpredictable mentally ill people what is a health care issue very poorly addressed ...
Harper is poor replica of Stalin or even Hitler ...

Bill Bell said...

You and the rest of us who detest Harper and his party's policies keep trying to apply reason against his appeals to fear and other base emotions. It's not going to work, is it?

westwood said...

I walk around in my city's 'bad neighbourhoods', and though I've seen a few things I wish I had not, it sure as hell is no Chicago. But if we get as tough on crime as Harper wants, as irony would have it, that reality won't be too far off...

Nadine Lumley said...

Foreward to Neil Postman's 1985 book, Amusing Ourselves to Death.

We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions". In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.

-- Neil Postman
Foreward to the book, Amusing Ourselves to Death

Nadine Lumley said...

Orwell warns we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history.

As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

Huxley v. Orwell: comic strip where you can actually read everything

Huxley v. Orwell: comic strip put to cool music ala video

Anonymous said...

Prof. James:
There are areas where people do live in fear. But higher penalties for crime isn't the answer. It's Harper's answer, but it isn't the answer. Often, the remedies are simple: willing witnesses and witness protection plans; block parent groups. In short, people taking an interest in the area where they live. That's not Harper's way. He wants high minimum penalties and limited judicial discretion in sentencing. He'll need both to fill those penitentiaries he's building.
Harper creates fear where there should be hope. Don't believe him when he says he won't bring back the death penalty. He says there are certain crimes which merit the death penalty. That's his personal opinion, he says. That means if he gets his majority, a private members bill restoring the death penalty for, say, the murder of a police officer will magically appear.
That's Harper's way.

Anonymous said...

"Throughout the ages, fear-mongering has always been a weapon of choice of those we need to fear."

"Beware the half smile on the face of the man behind the glasses."

I really would have expected better.

safemeds said...

it is a great philosophy and I hope that he can accomplish it. It would make the difference.