I am something of a creature of routine. For example, all things being equal, my early morning ritual consists of retrieving the Toronto Star from my mailbox and reading the front section while enjoying my breakfast. It is during this reading that I often get my idea for the day's blog post. Firing up the computer, checking email and going to my blog dashboard are my next steps, assuming no exigencies have arisen requiring my attention elsewhere.
A requisite part of these quotidian activities is a certain amount of focus and concentration, perhaps one of the reasons I don't scan the entire paper during breakfast. If reading a political column, for example, I have to concentrate so as no to misread the writer's intent. Without that focus, distraction and digression would undoubtedly result. Of course, as I get older, that concentration becomes harder to maintain. It is the way of all flesh, I suspect.
It seems to me that as a nation, perhaps as a species, we allow ourselves to be far too easily distracted by the bauble, by the sensational, by the essentially meaningless, while failing to note or appreciate far more important underlying realities.
Take the overreaction to Elizabeth May's 'performance' the other night at the press gallery dinner. The fact that she dropped the 'f' bomb, and not the context of its use, is what everyone talked about, to the point, quite hypocritically in my view, that some say she should resign as Green Party leader.
In today's Star, Thomas Walkon
offers some perspective:
First she said she was surprised that previous speakers hadn’t acknowledged that the dinner was taking place on land claimed by the Algonquins.
“What the f--- was wrong with the rest of you,” she said.
This, incidentally, was one of only two times she used vulgarity in what has been labelled a profanity-laden speech.
Then she noted that the prime minister, as usual, wasn’t attending. Maybe he fretted about being hit by flying bread rolls, she mused, before suggesting that such fears were unfounded because “there’s got to be a closet here somewhere.”
I confess I found that rather amusing, in a mean sort of way.May then turned her attention to Omar Khadr:
“Welcome back Omar Khadr,” she said. “It matters to say it. Welcome back. You’re home. Omar Khadr, you’ve got more class than the entire f---ing cabinet.”
And in fact he does. Khadr’s response to being jailed almost half of his life for the crime of being a child soldier has been gracious and measured. The Harper government’s response to Khadr has been anything but.Despite that very important context, all anyone could talk about was May's language and whether or not she was drunk.
Our predilection to think trivially, to be overwhelmed by the sensational while ignoring the substantive, serves the ruling class very well. Gwynne Dyer's most recent column
, I think, addresses this issue within the context of anti-terrorism laws passed by both France and Canada:
Left-wing, right-wing, it makes no difference. Almost every elected government, confronted with even the slightest “terrorist threat”, responds by attacking the civil liberties of its own citizens. And the citizens often cheer them on.
Last week, the French government passed a new bill through the National Assembly that vastly expanded the powers of the country’s intelligence services. French intelligence agents will now be free to plant cameras and recording devices in private homes and cars, intercept phone conversations without judicial oversight, and even install “keylogger” devices that record every key stroke on a targeted computer in real time.Things are almost equally as grim here in Canada:
The Anti-Terror Act, which has just passed the Canadian House of Commons, gives the Canadian Security Intelligence Service the right to make “preventive” arrests in Canada. It lets police arrest and detain individuals without charge for up to seven days.
The bill’s prohibitions on speech that “promotes or glorifies terrorism” are so broad and vague that any extreme political opinion can be criminalized.In both countries, the sensational, (the threat of death by terrorist) stoked by respective governments to cultivate a compliant response from their citizens, ignores a very important factual context:
France has 65 million people, and it lost 17 of them to terrorism in the past year. Canada has 36 million people, and it has lost precisely two of them to domestic terrorism in the past 20 years.That seems to have worked for France:
The cruel truth is that we put a higher value on the lives of those killed in terrorist attacks because they get more publicity. That’s why, in an opinion poll last month, nearly two-thirds of French people were in favor of restricting freedoms in the name of fighting extremism—and the French parliament passed the new security law by 438 votes to 86.It appears to have been less successful here:
And the Canadian public, at the start 82 percent in favour of the new law, had a rethink during the course of the debate. By the time the Anti-Terror Act was passed in the House of Commons, 56 percent of Canadians were against it. Among Canadians between 18 and 34 years old, fully three-quarters opposed it.Should Canadians feel superior? Not really. After all, Bill C-51 is now the law of the land, and we can be certain that the 'terror card' will be played relentlessly in the Harper campaign for re-election.
Time for a crash course in Critical Thinking 101.