“[The Niquab’s] not by any means the biggest issue of this campaign. The biggest issue is the economy, but I think our position is widely understood and supported.”
Hon. Stephen Harper, 6 October, 2015
On August 4th, 2015, Prime Minister, Stephen Harper kicked off his campaign by…
- announcing a 15% renovation tax credit for homeowners
- having himself and his son photographed buying an economical chicken wing dinner.
And now just 2 months later? Our Prime Minster proposes that if elected he would introduce dress code legislation for civil servants.
So what gives? Well, it’s an election – our 42nd – and teams of every political stripe will behave badly. Campaigning favours those who foment friction, sacrifice decency for expediency, and soothe the indigestion of lapdog constituencies with balms drawn from the public purse.
But I sense something transformational at play. When Bill Clinton, in 1992, admonished “it’s the economy, stupid” he invoked a realpolitik with the American people that refocused their interest from a desert storm of externalities to domestic capacity for dominating the world’s economy.
Would we be wrong to think that in 2015 the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) is simply stealing a page from Clinton’s playbook? Yes. In 1992 the world was still pretending remnants of industrial civilization existed. Not so today.
In Canada, almost a quarter-century down the road “it’s the knowledge economy, stupid!” And among the political parties the CPC have effectively demonstrated how they have harnessed its capacity to divide and rule.
Each day a discursive leap takes us from economic prosperity to identity politics: a shift from party platforms of collective goal attainment to an Othering that conflates our economic well-being, e.g.,#TPPA, with a need to include only the right kind of Canadians. Manipulative and awful right? But maybe also a harbinger for a virtualpolitik that will do real damage to national decision-making down the road.
Seasoned politicos balk at this characterization. But while the punditry has rehearsed the art of vote getting over and again, they have rarely shone a light on micro-targeting, the algorithms behind precision voter analytics, and the strategic wins it yields. #Elxn42 is a “live and do” experiment with disenfranchisement. It signals the re-alignment of cognitive boundaries and the altogether human disengagement that custom messaging invokes within our civil society.
What is being bred in our bones? First, isolation. We may rightly observe that Canadian community is being cut loose from the processes of participatory democracy. The CPC hates the public sphere. It pulls back its candidates from open debate in local fora and directs them to front stoops to privately persuade electors that lurking threats are more real than ever.
We’re ultimately addressable. Our digital devices pretty much make us all cross-indexable, sortable, assignable and, importantly, predictable. The rattle and hum of big data analytics pinpoints preferences and constructs profiles. Ask yourself this: how many pop-up screens or automated survey calls prompted your vote before election day? What else? Many of us have accepted that a money value can be attached to any aspect of life. If we can be monetized then Others can be worthy of naught.
Briefly, Alphonso Lingus wrote a brilliant little book suggesting that community exists in the unique nothingness that we share. For him a community of those who have nothing in common is resilient and vital. It resists the drone of incessantly repeatable cultural code assigned to us on our behalf. Lingus sees the fullness of life in the noisiness – the strangeness and the strangers – that appear and retreat from time to time.
The interweb of knowledge economy as practiced by the CPC specializes in Othering. It enables election narratives that construct virtuous avatars, imagine despicable threats, and incite ruthless trolls. Importantly, it places the “Other” outside civil society and targets segments of supporters to engage in unacceptable behaviour.
What can we do about it? Get noisy. Talk to each other. Engage in the flesh: see, smell, and feel the diversity that makes us a glorious community of free-thinking, beautiful beings. Then vote, so that in four or five years you can say, “it’s the polyphony, stupid!”