In case you missed it, CTV News ran this Anonymous video addressing Public Safety Minister Vic Toews over Bill C-30. I think it’s clear what the Harperites want to control; I don’t think it’s clear to them what they’re up against, the extent of public outrage and the extent people are willing to resist this bill and what it represents. We’ll have much more on Toews and other Conservative antics when the pending post on Frye and Canadian conservatism is finally ready to go up. But it’s worth pointing out here that this is what happens when an ideology blindly adheres to an agenda against the will of the people: in this case, the 61% of Canadians who voted against Stephen Harper last May.
This should be the first of a series of posts on these issues, which I hope will provide some critical context for the aggressive radicalism of the Harper government. In the meantime, above is Public Safety Minister, Vic Toews (whose tale will be told in further detail shortly) lying about what he said in parliament last week to opposition members taking a principled stand against Bill C-30, which is intended to provide police unwarranted access to the internet traffic of private citizens.
I’m pulling together material on Frye and ideology for further posts. In the meantime, picking up on the theme of the brain death of American conservatism, here’s a photo from today’s Republican-sponsered hearing in the House of Representatives on contraception. They did not allow a single woman to testify. They did not allow a single woman to testify on the issue of a woman’s right of access to contraception.
Over the long hiatus I gave some thought as to how the blog portion of the site might be improved. The encounter with current events from a Frygian perspective is rewarding enough, but perhaps occasionally too fleeting. My strategy has increasingly been to bring current events to Frye rather than the other way round. That’s why I’m attempting to run a lot of threads simultaneously to provide some sturdy terms of reference. I hope to get better at that, and perhaps keep the focus a little tighter than I have sometimes managed.
The American election cycle, for example, has become a grotesquerie more fit for a dystopian satire, thanks to the Republican primaries which have featured a parade of cranks and nincompoops, and appear to be approaching the pitch of mass hysteria with Rick Santorum, of all people, as the current front-runner. Mitt Romney, a sociopathic liar and reptilian opportunist from whatever angle you approach him, remains everybody’s fifth choice, and it may be enough to get him the nomination once the kamikaze portion of the process has finally consumed itself.
The Republicans appear to be the vanguard of the collapse of “conservative” ideology, which has more or less devolved into a kind of casino capitalism where the house always wins and the public are rubes to be stripped of their assets by whatever tricks are available to convince them the game isn’t rigged. As Frye observes, when an ideology becomes decadent enough, it ceases to have any reliable external reference, or even to possess internal consistency. At that point, it may become murderously dangerous. Incidents of political violence in the U.S. have come from the far right for the last couple of decades at least, and has more recently been preceded by escalating rhetorical violence by supposedly authoritative and respectable public figures. If you call political opponents “traitors” long enough, someone’s going to figure out that traitors should only get what they deserve, and that will eventually be served up by some maladjusted simpleton who’s been convinced by Rush Limbaugh and Fox News that the Kenyan-born-Muslim-Nazi-socialist Barack Obama is coming to take away his guns.
The madness isn’t new. It’s just developed a more insidious pathology. Here’s a an excerpt from ”Fear and Loathing in New Hampshire,” one of many dispatches from the 1972 presidential campaign trail by Hunter S. Thompson, then chief political correspondent (that is, only political correspondent) for Rolling Stone, published forty years ago, almost to the day:
Meanwhile, I am hunkered down in Washington — waiting for the next plane to anywhere and wondering what in the name of sweet Jesus ever brought me here in the first place. This is not what us journalists call a “happy beat.”
At first I thought it was me, that I was missing all the action because I wasn’t plugged in. But then I began reading the press wizards who are plugged in, and it didn’t take long to figure out that most of them were just filling space because the contracts said they had to write a certain amount of words every week.
At that point I tried talking to some of the people that even the wizards said were “right on top of things.” But they all seemed very depressed; not only about the ’72 election, but about the whole, long-range of politics and democracy in America.
The absurd consequence of this demoralizing trend is this convocation of idiots, most of whom at some attention-deficited moment or other have enjoyed front-runner status: Michelle Bachmann, Donald Trump, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, in a rarefied example of Republican cognitive dissonance, remains the presumptive nominee, even though he is intensely disliked for good reason by just about everybody, including most Republicans. These people represent an ideology of greed and predation that was always dubiously articulated at the best of times, and is now so hollowed out that it cannot even pretend anymore to have any relation at all to the public good. It is merely rationalized thievery crafted by bandits.
It is a misconception to say that Frye is anti-ideological, a misconception Jonathan Hart dispels in Northrop Frye: The Theoretical Imagination. But Frye does certainly recognize that ideology is subordinate to the primary concerns whose primary expression is the mythological basis of literature, and therefore the foundation of a genuine social vision liberated from the fatal cycles of panic and complaisance most of human history seems to amount to. As he warns in Words with Power, “primary concerns must become primary, or else.” When our political class is made up of rapacious dolts who promote unregulated markets and deny global warming in the face of all evidence to the contrary in both instances, we have a particularly urgent priority to set it straight, to ensure that political power is an expression of the best interests of society at large and not the caprices of those who don’t know up from down but can blindly nose their way up to the feeding trough replenished by corporate malfeasance. History tends to be cruel at moments like these, and nature is always unforgiving. The institutionalized corruption that almost exclusively characterizes both our politics and principles of governance must be addressed, or else. There are no excuses not to, because, with so much at stake and our situation already precarious, we are all Romanovs now.
Three stages: first, we belong before we are, & few of us find any clarification of our social context. Second, an antithesis develops in which the individual with his wants, collides with what society will let him do. Third, a state in which the individual is not diminished in dignity with his social contract. This is the state of ideal democracy, where primary concerns are primary, and therefore social concerns are subordinated in individual experience. (Notebook 44, CW 5, 177)
We really are back this time. My apologies once again for what unexpectedly turned out to be a long hiatus. The school I teach at is moving very quickly toward 50% online delivery, which is scheduled to be fully in place next year. There is therefore much to do to prepare and to adjust to such a radical change. Once the new semester got under way last month, the reality of what this would involve became apparent, and the demands of it have kept me preoccupied. This, for me at least, is a good time to begin a new thread on Frye and education, which we’ll run along with our ongoing Frye on democracy thread.
Speaking of that thread, the trends in current events we’ve been following closely for months continue to be relevant. The increasing nastiness and nihilism on the political right in the U.S. has produced the most buffoonish and dangerously reckless field of Republican presidential candidates imaginable — at least until the next round of elections. The case against them no longer needs to be made. The fact that Newt Gingrich remains a significant figure in the race, or that Mitt Romney has just accepted an endorsement from Donald Trump, or that Rick Santorum has any significant constituency at all and may even win the Minnesota primary, says all that needs to be said. It used to be that the Republican primaries only had one Lyndon LaRouche in the field. Now they are all Lyndon LaRouche; political extremists trafficking in lies, delusion, and paranoid resentment, whose rhetoric daily becomes more and more ominous with regard to those who do not share their worldview.
Occupy Wall Street continues to represent the most consistent insurgent response to the deepening insanity on the right. People used to mock the Occupy movement for having no message. We don’t hear that anymore because it is demonstrably not true. The Occupy movement has completely changed the political narrative in at least one crucial respect: the single issue that has moved to the forefront and seems poised to dominate all others in the upcoming presidential election campaign is economic injustice, which is now so rampant that it is impossible to ignore. The clapped out conservative narrative that has been running at the mouth since Ronald Reagan’s presidency seems to have been reduced to incoherent babble that no one outside of the asylum really listens to anymore. Meanwhile, Occupiers themselves continue to be subjected to escalating police violence, most recently in Oakland and Washington. I suspect it will not be enough to prevent a massive resurgence of the movement in the spring when the weather improves and as the election season gets fully underway.
Finally, the Keystone XL pipeline remains the only issue with any urgent priority on the Conservative government’s agenda, which is no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to who Stephen Harper is and what he represents. Harper — an evangelical Christian convert belonging to a church with deep roots in End Times and Rapture theology — seems to manifest a more profound nihilism than even the Republicans, and that’s saying something. Bringing the toxic tar sands up to full production, as Harper is absolutely determined to do, represents what can now only be called a runaway death wish. This seems to be a pronounced trend on the Christian far right: because they will be delivered into the arms of their Caucasian and high-thread-count-be-robed Jesus sometime soon, it doesn’t matter what they do to the environment or to the rest of us. We’re doomed anyway, and this world is going to be drenched in blood and consumed by fire, so what does catastrophic global warming really matter? The Harper government, which received only 39% of the popular vote in the last election, has decided to commit the nation as a whole to a form of state-sponsored eco-terrorism more deadly and more immediately dangerous than any other form of terrorism currently at work anywhere in the world. That makes this a good time to begin yet another thread: Frye on Canada. The current Conservative government is a grotesque anomaly in our political history, being so openly disdainful of the wishes of the electorate as well as indifferent to our longstanding social contract. We need some perspective on that.
So let’s pick up where we left off. As always, we will bring the formidable work of Frye to bear on all issues that arise as we go.