Category Archives: Conservative

It Sucks to be a Conservative

 

In Canada and in the United States many people, but nowhere near a majority of the people, are objecting to actions by the government that they see as “over reaching” or imposing duties on them that are not justified in a free and democratic society. Some have gone as far as to call the health restrictions imposed by governments as “authoritarian” or “fascist.” Protesters in Manitoba, particularly in southern Manitoba, a region deeply committed to conservatism, have been making very similar remarks.

As Max Boot reported, in the Washington Post,

“Republicans explode with fury,” noted Fox “News” Channel. Republican governors threatened to file suit to stop what Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp called “this blatantly unlawful overreach.” Fox News accused Biden of being “an authoritarian” and declaring “war on millions of Americans.” Breitbart claims he went “full totalitarian” and the Federalist called it a “fascist move.”

 

Blinded by partisanship and populism, Republicans have lost all perspective. The crux of their argument — to the extent that they have one — is that the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has no right to tell companies with at least 100 employees that workers must either get tested weekly for COVID-19 or present proof of vaccination.

This is the same OSHA that has issued myriad regulations over the years governing such aspects of workplace safety as the placement of step bolts. (“The employer must ensure . . . step bolts are uniformly spaced at a vertical distance of not less than 12 inches (30 cm) and not more than 18 inches (46 cm) apart.”) I have no idea how many workers have been injured by misplaced step bolts — frankly, I’m not even sure what step bolts are — but I am guessing it is not many. I do know, however, how many Americans have been killed by COVID- 19: 655,000 and counting. If OSHA can protect against the menace of step bolts, I’m pretty sure it can protect against the deadliest pandemic in a century.

 

While I generally agree with these important points, I believe the last paragraph goes too far. This is not a perfect analogy. Placing bolts a certain distance apart does not impose a heavier burden on the citizen. Inserting a needle into an arm and injecting a substance that the individual believes will be harmful to him or her against his or her will, is a much more intrusive violation of the rights of the citizen and will require a higher burden of proof on the state to justify. Yet, I think it can be justified.

We know that conservatives in Canada and the US generally object to governments telling businesses what to do. At least they object when their political opponents impose their will. When their own party does it the objections are much less vociferous. For example in the United States, some governments such as the state of Florida have mandated (I use that word deliberately) that businesses are not permitted to demand vaccine passports from their customers. So far, at least 6 state governments led by Republicans, have passed laws prohibiting private businesses from doing exactly that. In Canada, and the United States, governments have in the past required students to demonstrate to school officials that they have taken a host of vaccinations for diseases such as polio, hepatitis, measles, mumps and rubella. They did that of course because those measures helped to prevent serious illnesses and these requirements were imposed without fuss or muss, because the issue of vaccinations at the time were not controversial. Nearly everyone saw the wisdom of such measures. The reason of course, is that vaccines were not political issues as they have become recently. President Trump played down the significance of the pandemic and told people it would just magically go away and they had nothing to fear. As Boot said, “His cult followers therefore felt compelled to echo his Panglossian outlook by falsely claiming that COVID-19 was no worse than the flu or promoting quack remedies such as hydroxychloroquine or ivermectin as miracle cures.”

As a result of identity politics, where people refused to take the vaccine or do take the vaccine, not on the basis of science, or analysis, or data, but on the basis of which political group they identify. As a result, in the US Boot reported that

“According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey, 86 per cent of Democrats have gotten vaccinated but only 54 per cent of Republicans. That, in turn, translates into rising numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the red states. Over the past couple of weeks, the United States has been losing an average of 1,579 people a day to COVID-19. More than a third of those deaths (570 a day) are in just two red states: Florida and Texas.”

 

For similar reasons, Florida led by Republicans, where more than 3 times as many people per capita have been dying from Covid-19 than California which is led by Democrats. The rate of death in Florida is 10 times higher than New York which is led by Democrats. In fact, recently, where the US was suffering 1,579 deaths per day from Covid-19 and more than 1/3rd of them were in just two conservative led states, namely Texas and Florida. It sucks to be a conservative in the US!

As Boot said,

“Republican governors don’t seem to mind killing their constituents in the name of a twisted theory of “medical freedom,” but that doesn’t mean the president of the United States is helpless to protect the life and wellbeing of its citizens. In fact, as Washington Post contributing columnist Leana S. Wen argues, Biden still has not gone far enough — for example, he still needs to mandate proof of vaccination for airline and train passengers.

 But at least Biden has given up the hope that he could reason with COVID-deniers and anti-vaxxers. The Republican reaction to his sensible mandate shows that much of the right is beyond the reach of reason. It is now time to use federal power to protect the most basic of civil rights: the right to life.”

 

Although not every one will agree, I must say that I do agree.

 

When Ideology Swallows Sense

 

I have been struggling to understand this amazing phenomenon that regions with a high prevalence of Christians and conservatives, such as southern Manitoba where I live, also have a high prevalence of vaccine hesitancy. Why is that the case?  What unites these two ideologies with nonsense? I think this is a very important question.

 

I have been surprised by the number of people that won’t take the Covid-19 vaccines because they don’t trust the government. To me that seems ludicrous. I have managed to dodge the prevailing political wisdom that assumes anything the government does is bad while anything the private sector does is good. I hear it all the time.  It is particularly prevalent here. That has been the prevailing political belief since at least the time of Saint Ronald Regan. Even left wingers are subject to this ideology; it is so common and so pervasive.

Some people blame the internet for this problem, and it is a partial cause.  But it does not explain enough. One of my favorite political commentators in my favorite newspaper (now a magazine), Nesrine Malik of The Guardian, pointed out something very interesting when she said,

“People with the wildest theories about the pandemic can be found in countries even where most people don’t have access to the internet, cable TV or the shock jocks of commercial radio. A common impulse is to write off those espousing conspiracies, consigning them to the casualties claimed by WhatsApp groups, disinformation or silent mental health issues. These things may be true – but vaccine hesitancy is a symptom of broader failures. What all people wary of vaccines have in common, from Khartoum to Kansas is their trust in the state has been eroded. Without understanding this, we will be fated to keep channeling our frustrations towards individuals without grasping why they have lost trust in the first place.”

 

Malik emphasizes that governments around the world, particularly in the developing world, have earned this distrust. Endemic corruption breeds justifiable distrust. I agree entirely with that. But what about countries like Canada with governments that are not as corrupt? Why is distrust of governments so common here? Not that our governments are perfect, but they have at least a modicum of integrity.

As Malik said,

“Vaccine rejection doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s easier to dismiss hesitancy and conspiracies as unhinged behaviour; it makes us feel less unnerved by displays of unreason from those who we think are, or should be, rational people. Sure, among vaccine-hesitant people are those who are simply stubborn, misanthropic or selfish. But, just as the pandemic exploited the weaknesses of our economic and public health systems, vaccine hesitancy has exposed the weaknesses of states’ bond with their citizens. There are no easy answers for how to deal with those who repeat conspiracy theories and falsehoods, but scrutinising the systems that lost their trust is perhaps a good place to start.”

 

I also want to point out that in the west since the 1980s during the reigns of Saint Ronny, Princess Maggie, and Prince Brian in the US. UK and Canada respectively, people have been fed a steady diet that the state is unreliable and predatory.  As Saint Ronald Reagan said, the most scary 11 words in the English language are, ‘I am from the government and I am here to help.’

 This is all part of neo-liberal dogma/propaganda that the government can’t be trusted only the private sector is worth our trust. Of course, this ideology has for decades served the interests of the wealthy who care more about minimizing their personal or corporate taxes than the plight of the less advantaged. As a result many of them  have used their wealth to convince us of its truth because it is in their interest to do so. This ideology is now so prevalent that even people whose best interests would be served by government are reluctant to accept its help. Vaccines are a case in point. Governments provide many things of enormous value that the private sector is unwilling or unsuited to provide including hospitals, roads, libraries, universities, parks, environmental regulations, health and safety standards to name only a few. For decades we have been taught and many of us believed that governments are bad and private enterprise is good.

Now we are paying a heavy price for blindly following that ideology.

Billionaires do Great; Poor people suffer

 

While billionaires like Jeff Bezos have seen their wealth explode (again) during the Covid—19 pandemic, poor people have suffered the most (again). Poor people are feeling the brunt of the ill effects of the pandemic. Funny how that happens.

I recently  heard a very interesting interview with Mariana Mazzucato Professor of Economics at University College in London. She  wrote a book called The Value of Everything. I assume the title is a reference to a famous  quote by Oscar Wilde, that “a cynic knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.” I actually have used that line to describe some conservatives I know. With some justification I might add.

 

At the time she was speaking on the television show she said that just as 8 million case of Covid-19 have been experienced in the US, 8 million people have dropped down below the poverty line. At about the same the average wealth of billionaires had gone up by 25%. More than a million people had died and 38 million people infected (at the time of the interview). Many more since then, of course.  According to the Gates Foundation at the time 37 million people around the world had been pushed from poverty into extreme poverty! That means they earned less than $1.90 per day. Meanwhile the rich are getting much richer. Meanwhile conservative politicians think everything is fine and no changes are needed. That is what my own member of Parliament, Ted Falk believes.  with enthusiasm he believes that. In fact any suggested changes must mean the crypto-communists are trying to turn our country into a communist hell.  

Why does it have to work that way? The short answer is that it doesn’t have to work that way, it works that way only because we allow it to work that way.  We keep electing politicians like Ted Falk. That is the system the well to do, together with their political minions, want to conserve. That is the essence of modern conservatism. Everything is fine for us, so everything is fine.

USA: Is this a country without Honour?

 

I love America; I love Americans. They are a wonderful people, but they have gone seriously awry. But sometimes they are seriously misguided. And when that happens a friend should be able to say that to the friend. This is one of those times. It is not enough to claim that you are honorable—you have to walk the walk and talk the talk.

Honor used to be an important value among Conservatives—genuine conservatives I mean. But increasingly among modern conservatives at least, honor is no longer important.

When Donald Trump realized what he had done in letting loose the Turks on his allies the Kurds, and realized that to some of his supporters, honor still meant something, this is what he announced, by tweet of course:

“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I in my great and unmatched wisdom consider off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the economy of Turkey (I’ve done before)”

Stephen Colbert described this as Trump going “full God Emperor.”  This is on a level with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.  But ignore the incoherence of this quote. Ignore the corrupt and idle boasting. Just look for the honor. You won’t find it. This is what America elected as their President. A man without honor! And 63 million Americans seem to like it. Does that mean American without honor too?

I don’t accept that Americans can blame it all on an ill chosen President. 63 million people voted for this one and I have been told most of those who did, still support him.  This is not an issue about Trump. He is too easy a target. But what about the country? It is not as if Donald Trump ever concealed his lack of honor. He boasted about. He said that in the Vietnam War he served by managing to avoid getting a venereal disease. Then he dismissed John McCain as a poor war hero because he got caught. Trump escaped the Vietnam War the way many rich boys did, by getting dubious health deferments as a result of alleged bone spurs, so that he could stay behind and chase models and starlets, while other young men and women, usually poor men and women, risked their lives and fought the war. Americans knew exactly what they were getting, and although 66 million voted for Hillary Clinton, 63 million voted for him. That is no aberrant number. That is a lot of support. This is where the problem lies. Trump himself is easy prey, but not 66 million Americans. Is the country without honor? I think it is time for Americans to step up and be counted. I think it is time for Americans to think about this.

Big Ideas

I agree with Greta Thunberg. We are in a climate emergency but no one is acting like it. At best, our political leaders are treating it like a problem, not an emergency.  We really need to transform our thinking. It is much too late for little ideas. We need big ones.

Norman Brandson, the former deputy minister of Manitoba Department of Environments wrote well on the subject in the Winnipeg Free Press. He said,

 

Big ideas are transformative, visionary. U.S. president John F. Kennedy did not check with the General Accountability Office before presenting the American people with the vision of reaching the moon.

Although having a big idea ought to be part and parcel of political party agendas, it’s also necessary to have a good big idea, one that captures the imagination, enthusiasm and support of the voters, and is achievable. If either test fails, the big idea fails.

 

If we had dealt with the climate change issue 50, or even 30 years ago, when we were first alerted to the danger, we might have got by on modest ideas. Frankly, I have a deep preference for modest ideas over radical ideas. I guess that makes me fundamentally conservative (in the true sense of the word, not in the modern perverted sense of the word.) We squandered those decades, now it is too late for anything other radical new transformative ideas. Now we need ideas as radical as the Green New Deal in the United States. I will comment on that later.

Brandson put it this way:

“The big idea we ought to be talking about — not just at election time, but all the time — is the transformations necessary to enable the transition to a world economy that runs on renewable energy and is carbon-neutral (zero net emission of greenhouse gases); the essential precursor to the Green party’s big idea.”

Actually we need to discuss an even bigger idea—the need to change from a consumptive society to a much more modest society, but I will leave that as well for a future occasion. I am thinking about the election that we just had in Canada. Brandson mentioned that Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party in Canada is much too savvy to be talking about transformative ideas like that during an election. This reminds me of what Kim Campbell said in her one and only election while she was leader of the Conservative Party of Canada: “An election is no time to discuss serious issues.” Sadly, she might be right.

.        I have called the idea of constant growth the original sin of economics and the capitalist system. David Suzuki called this the creed of cancer. The idea that it would be possible and even desirable to have constant growth is what is killing us. This idea is poisonous. It does not have legs. It is the current big idea, but it is dead. We need a new big idea. This new idea was described by Norman Branson this way:

“It would be seen as an attack on the universally accepted measure of economic success — at least in the financial sector — growth. It would be a challenge to the reigning economic philosophy so successfully promoted by the Chicago School of Economics and its acolytes — deregulated free-market capitalism.

The Green party has called for a war on climate change, but of course you don’t wage war against a phenomenon; you wage it against the causes or, in this case, the economic and social paradigms that are the cause of climate change and the interests vested in those paradigms. Such talk is not likely to win too many seats in Parliament, at least not yet.

What we require is an adjustment to, not an abandonment of, our current economic thinking. We need a Chicago School-style philosophical revolution that articulates an economic philosophy appropriate for our time, a time in which we are facing the existential threat of climate change. We need to decouple economic health and growth, leading to a system that generates profit without growth.”

Many people are not sure this is possible. Pundits keep saying if we don’t have growth we have stagnation or worse, decline. If they are right, capitalism is dead in the water.

Naomi Klein is right about one thing: the climate emergency “changes everything.”  This was what America conservatives feared for decades and they proved to be right. Climate change is a fundamental challenge to capitalism. Their worst nightmare is coming to fruition and frankly they have no one to blame but themselves. American conservatives for years have been spending vast sums of money to convince people that the climate crisis is not a crisis and as a result they caused people in the US and Canada to delay action for decades, during which time they reaped enormous profits, but during which time the fuel for a revolution, like fuel in national forests, was increasing every year, until we are all now about to experience a conflagration of epic proportions. This is the hell that America conservatives have purchased. They bought it with vast sums of money that was used to manufacture lies that have now been exposed. They have sown the wind, now they have to reap the storm. I can’t believe these conservatives will ever be believed again, but particularly in America, though in Canada too, one should never under estimate what people can be persuaded to believe no matter how unbelievable.

I don’t know if this big idea is the right idea; I just know that no small idea is the right idea.

We need Conservatives

Where are the conservatives when we need them? Around here all they want to conserve is the right to earn money without barriers, and the right to continue their destruction of the natural world. None of them want to conserve what is critically important—the natural world.

The science is clear—unless we change course we are headed towards a disaster and it is a disaster that we cannot really calculate.  We are conducting an experiment with our planet unlike any done before. The dangers are extreme.  One would think that conservatives would want to avoid such foolish risks.  Yet the Conservatives I see want to ignore the risks and continue with business as usual. They are not prepared to make even modest changes to our behaviors. In the face of an emergency, that is not conservative, that is batshit crazy.

Greta Thunberg is mocked by most of the conservatives I know. But she has a very simple message: ‘Listen to the scientists.” To me that seem simple and rational. The conservatives around here seem content to ignore the warnings from scientists. To me that seems radical.

Most of us see going on strike, as Thunberg’s young climate change resisters did recently, is usually understood as an extreme act done only when all else fails. Is that not what has happened? All Thunberg and other young climate strikers are saying is that they want a future for their generation. This is not really radical is it?  All they are asking for, as Simon Dalby explained in a recent Winnipeg Free Press article, it is this:

“A future in which one can live well, have children and obtain a decent job, maintaining a world of predictable social order, is what conservatives usually wish for. Instead, so-called conservatives across much of the English speaking world are telling us we have to burn more stuff—oil, gas, and coal—and ship it around the world so others can join in on burning things as well…There is nothing remotely conservative about assuming we can destabilize the climate system and somehow society will be fine because at least some people have amassed major wealth with money made by burning things.”

With the consequences of climate change now clear, and the science able to much more accurately predict what is coming if we stay on our existing course of using ever more fossil fuels, it is the fossil fuel industry, its propagandists and supporters who are the radicals, and very dangerous ones at that.

I wish conservatives had not abandoned conservativism. But at least we have the young conservatives.

Cherish the Old

 

This old building, I found in western Manitoba,  was one of my favourites until it sank into this pond.  I thought it was beautiful. Until then I enjoyed it. Joy can be short-lived, but that does not make it less real.

Wabi-sabi is a philosophy that is a determined opponent  of  soulless consumption.   It resists consumer society that insists always on something new. It cherishes the old. It reject  the modern fetish of the new. It accepts  the old for what it is—something of lasting durable value, even where the outer appearance is shabby is worn. The real value of the thing remains. It is what endures, no matter what blows are suffered upon it. Until it disappears that is.

It is only the dull, shallow, and shabby who no longer appreciate old thing or old people. People who are swindled by the temptation of shiny appearances, baubles in other words, are the same ones who can no longer recognize true value. There is an enduring value in things that the genuine conservative wants to preserve. The conservative wants to conserve the valuable no matter how old or no matter how likely to decay and die.

Those who don’t see the enduring value think that time spent on repairing, protecting, or restoring is time wasted. So often in today’s shallow world as soon as something is apparently not working as well as it should it is discarded. Not only is that wasteful, it is foolishness. The person of Wabi-Sabi cherish  what is of enduring value.