Thursday, September 6, 2012

Why has Canadian public discourse been stripped of "subjectivity" and affect?

There is a quality in the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C. that Canadian political punditry seems to want to "skate" around....and that is the word and its connotations, "personal"...
Michelle Obama used it about her husband's view of various issues; indeed, her whole address to the convention delegates was "warm, and human and personal". And then President Clinton drew from his Arkansas folksy delivery reservoir to "connect" with the crowd, while decimating the Romney-Ryan critique of the Obama record. It was not only "Atticus Finch" from To Kill a Mockingbird, but it was also Bill Clinton arguing before the bar of the U.S. electorate.
And they were both brilliant, in their combination of both the facts and arguments with the "affect" that was accompanying those facts and arguments.
Objectivity, the detachment of the facts and arguments from their "affect" on both the speaker and the audience, attempts to vacuum all the feelings from the presentation, and while the Supreme Court, in both countries, may require that kind of presentation, there is no denying the "affect" on the political stump. And Canadian reporters do themselves and their readers a disservice by failing to make that affect an integral part of the story, as do Canadian politicians who present themselves as propaganda machines, merely arguing for the case their party requires them to put "out".
Stripping away all affect from the public discourse, something at which Harper and his talking heads have been ironically so successful, is nothing short of a full disclosure of their persons, and their personal reflections on whatever it is they have been "programmed" to utter.
Canadian government leaders, like historic Anglicans, run like hell from their own feelings and their public expression of those emotions, unless and until they become so "angered" as if such anger were part of the disdain they feel toward their opponents. In the spiritual life of an individual, as well as of a country, "affect" plays a very important, significant and often pivotal role. Those emotions are like signals of direction as to how we are approaching any subject, person or issue. And to remove public discussion from those emotions, and to refuse to name them or to consider them as "material" to the case, whatever that case may be, is not only an exercise in denial, but also a form of deception and lying, not so much by commission but by omission.
While Canada has a remarkable and proud history of its social net, we refuse to express public pride in that acomplishment too frequently, preferring instead to concentrate on the minimal impurities and imperfections of its execution. Or, for the opponents of the public health care system, their ire is directed to shaping public opinion in favour of a two-tiered public-private system, as code for their preference to pander to the rich voter, without having to engage in national or civic pride in the leadership and vision of our ancestors. So, we must assume, their racial profiling is camouflaged under a mask of "economic and fiscal" prudence.
And then, if they gain the upper hand, and the media adopt their stance, they are rendered immune to attacks about their racial profiling, while their economic and fiscal arguments get headlines, and the public bows down to that altar.
We are, collectively and individually, complicit in rendering public discourse "free" from the impurities of what are considered "weak and therefore unreliable human emotions" while we worship, ironically, the most unreliable of gods, the capacity of the economic guru's to understand or to predict the impact of any social policy. There is so much empirical evidence of the faulty even flakey posturing of the economic and fiscal "thinkers" as responsible and "market-driven or market-oriented" and then clustered in digital-mastery, that we are permitting such blatant seductions to rob us of our own humanity.
We need to begin to name our "gut-feelings" every time we watch and listen to a public figure, and our reporters need to be given permission to include those "aspects" of the events in their reports, so that they report not only the emotional responses of the audience at the scene of an event, but their own personal "affect" at the use of a word, or a phrase, or a statement, not only in some antiseptic and purified manner devoid of subjectivity, but honestly including such subjectivity.
We all know that subjectivity is the real test of any situation, for each of us, and for us to exclude such important truths from our public discourse, is merely to accept the emasculation of an important, and integral part of our identity. Skirting around those subjective reactions, and calling them "contaminants" and permitting our public figures to speak, as if they have undergone surgical removal of their emotional life, because they believe they can more easily seduce us as robots, renders our body politic as infantile, immature, and refusing to develop into healthy adulthood.
The school systems believe they are coping with negative emotions when they are excising conflict from their halls, classrooms and gymnasia and playgrounds. And in the process, they are expecting their teachers to undergo some mythical removal of their deep and profound emotional life, in order to present a professional "mask" to their students.
This is nothing short of the emasculation of not only the system but every individual who is complicit in such emasculation. And, of course, it will inevitably back-fire, with even more emotions bubbling up unpredictably, and potentially even more violently, than if we were to take the lid off the "pot" and permit the normal expression of honest feelings in all public situations.
It is the attempt to sanitize our public life of its real life-engines, and thereby render it the exclusive theatre of the professional, both civil servant and elected politician.
Jack Layton may have brought a happy face to public life, but in doing so, he may have so "bucked" the trend, that it exhausted his spirit, as one of a very few practicing politicians who permitted their feelings to be part of their public debate and life.
Feelings, and the whole "piano keyboard" of their nuances, are integral to every human encounter, and to attempt to remove them from our consciousness in our relationships with all our experiences, is to take all the colour out of the pictures, leaving a black and white image in our public discourse.
Was Paul Simon writing and singing about our little country when he wrote his "My Little Town"?

In my little town

I grew up believ--ing
God keeps his eye on us all
And he used to lean upon me
As I pledged allegiance to the wall
Lord I recall
My little town

Coming home after school
Flying my bike past the gates
Of the factories
My mom doing the laundry
Hanging our shirts
In the dirty breeze
And after it rains
There's a rainbow
And all of the colors are black
It's not that the colors aren't there
It's just imagin-ation they lack
Everything's the same
Back in my little town
Nothing but the dead and dying
Back in my little town
Nothing but the dead and dying
Back in my little town

In my little town
I never meant nothin'
I was just my fathers son
Saving my money
Dreaming of glory
Twitching like a finger
On the trigger of a gun
Leaving nothing but the dead and dying
Back in my little town
Repeat and fade:
Nothing but the dead and dying
Back in my little town

[ Lyrics from: ]

Are we Canadians afraid there might not be a rainbow somewhere in our public discourse, so we colour it black and white? Or are we afraid that there might actually be that rainbow, a beautiful coloured one, and we wouldn't know how to fully appreciate it?

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