Re: “Shame!”

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I have an old stand-by joke for partisan political events that I happen upon or at which I end up.  How can you tell an NDP event?

The cries of “Shame! Shame!”

There are a few tropes we can pile together about political rallies.  Conservative ones seem to have hired goons at the door and only admitted the evangelical supporters, forceably ejecting (sometimes by means of the RCMP) anyone who doesn’t agree.  Liberal ones have people in suits, well-dressed, career type people, out for a day of cheering for whoever will get them a job in the Natural Governing Party.  And yet the NDP is the one that sometimes feels like a ‘born-again’ church ceremony, with the mutually expected choruses of “Shame!”

(I went to the NDP’s platform launch in Toronto: Jack Layton, energetic and Lenin-Lookalike as always, even taught us to yell it en Français: “Honteuse!” Also, I suppose: “Honteux!”)

Alex has recently written about the superhero narrative in popular fiction.  In her piece, she talks about the feelings of worthlessness that this narrative can instil, at how disempowering that it can be — unless you happen to be the superhero.  She instead suggests we need a different narrative, one of collective hope, collective action… perhaps a more democratic narrative.

So why is it that the NDP sticks to this “Shame!” trope?

There’s a specific narrative at use.  The other guys did something SHAMEFUL. (“Shame! Shame! Honteux!“) And the NDP won’t be as SHAMEFUL. (“Yay!”)

It’s an oddly patriarchal narrative, and the discourse dynamics of what does on is, in my mind, nerve-grinding.  The party sets up the scenario.  The party identifies the shameful situation. The party expects the faithful to yell “Shame! Shame!” and maybe “Honteux!

It’s basically a 3 step process: 1. Shameful situation is exposed. 2. “Shame! Honteux!” 3. The NDP will do the opposite.

One, the use of the word “shame!” really strikes me as outdated. It’s not what we’d say today.  Admittedly, they can’t yell out what I’d be thinking (“That’s fucked!” maybe “C’est fucké!“), but “shame!” strikes me as what my lovely grandmother would yell at the TV.  Actually, no, she’d be slightly more forceful.  The groupthink feeling is slightly creepy – when you’re at the event, you’re expected to cheer along.

And the discourse is disempowering.  The role of the public is to chant “shame!” when the politicians present the proper incentive.  Not much else.  Actually, I think it’s similar to Alex’s superhero narrative – here, the NDP is the superhero, the evil-doing has been presented, and the NDP will be off to fix the problem!

Other rallies – by all parties – have the same problem.  A political issue is presented that must be changed.  Who’s going to change it? The party and the politicians!  I was at an NDP rally about the HST in Vancouver, and the speakers said something along the lines of “You tell us what you think needs to be done, and we’re gonna do it for you!” Of course, there was ample amounts of “Shame!” built in.  The same thing just happened at the BC NDP convention when Adrian Dix won the leadership of the BC NDP – the BC Liberals are full of “Shame!” and the NDP are not.

There isn’t much discussion of why the NDP aren’t as shameful – just that the BC Liberals/Conservatives/Evil Reptilian Kitten Eaters from Another Planet are full of shame!

But what can be done?

We need to think of a different way of organizing ourselves politically.  Parties  – and the stupid political system (FPTP) that we’re currently stuck with, because of parties – are constructs that are designed to win mass and vague support from large amounts of people.  They’re supposed to channel political action through the parties, limiting the role of people – like you and me – to simply assigning our support to the party that is the least offensive, in the hopes of avoiding the most offensive from taking total control.

We need to work on this. A better world is needed. And I don’t think simply yelling “Shame! Honteux!” at the people whom we hope won’t be as bad is the best way we can do it.  We need a more democratic narrative, where we’re not reduced to yelling “shame!” at things we don’t like but actively working towards the things that we do like.  Like Alex says, we need a political reality and discourse where “[w]e can define our own lives and tell our own stories, because we don’t need no superheros.”

Or to simply shout “Shame!”

That we must, for now, is…

…a shame.

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Kevin is a cooperator, an always-student, and passionate about the arts. As a principal of the Incipe Cooperative, Kevin works with colleagues in a workers' co-op offering services for advocacy and nonprofit organizations. He's passionate about education policy, having been through twenty some-odd years of schooling and still thinking it changes the world. He also thinks that art changes the world, and he works with Art for Impact to celebrate art's power for social change. A Vancouver born and raised resident who is exiled from Toronto, he constantly loses umbrellas and probably rants too much.

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10 thoughts on “Re: “Shame!””

  1. yes, part of all this comes from the representative democracy we live in: FPTP, party system, binary language in political discourse.

    our younger generations are used to participating with each other in broad, flat, egalitarian social networks like facebook and twitter. i will read a tweet from some of my favourite actors and singers in between tweets from friends with 67 followers.

    there is an inherent egalitarianism emerging in our world today. this changes expectations. it also changes what people are willing to tolerate.

    less and less are we willing to tolerate subcontracting our democracy to politicians and backroom operatives. we want/need to be more involved, if only to keep egyptians and libyans from shaming us in our self-absorbtion about 4 elections in 7 years.

    4 elections in 7 years is the sign of a healthy democracy in the post-majority/tyranny parliamentary world.

    as people demand more participation, hopefully we’ll see voter turnout increase, more youth voting, and more valid, constructive criticisms of traditional modes of political discourse, so we’ll get more meat and less rhetoric and spin.

    the more elections, the merrier for honing a new style of political communication.

    bc is lucky. we’ve just had 2 of 3 party leadership races, we’ve had some recall attempts, we’ll have an hst referendum, a by-election for a new chosen premier, a municipal election in 7 months and likely a provincial election before the end of the year.

    it’s time to try new modes of dialogue to engage more people.

    let’s make politics as broad, flat and participatory as our social media!

    1. Engaging more people to vote in the broken system called representative democracy by the Party is counter-productive to change. It operates, in the words of Twain, ‘to only encourage them (ie politicians).’

      The problems we face are that the plutocrats control the entire paradigm — the Party, the main stream news media, the laws tabled and passed, and the state rhetoric.

      We also need to make government strictly accountable to the people, and it would start with transparency.

      Third, we need to remove our standing military and start being the type of nation we hypocritically command others to be.

      The NDP was once considered the conscience of Canadian politics. Today, it appears to me that we have a sociopathic government without conscience. If democracy was working for the people, and if our young democraqcy was growing since its inception, shouldn’t our state of living reflect that fact? So just as a young couple starting out develop their career(s), their family and pay off their home as time wears along; shouldn’t our growing democracy become more representative of the people? Clearly our democracy has eroded and, in my view, to the point of it no longer being democractic except in terms of double-speak.

        1. No, I am not, but thanks for the link. I’ve perused it and would quickly say my sorts of reforms must include entrenched fiscal controls and limits on all things politic.

          Money, or those who control money, must not be allowed to dictate to everyone else. It is a complete con. What can I say? I think we live in a cultural hologram perpetuated by our mythology and supported with state propaganda. I do not think there is ever any reeling the establishment in as it is an animated perpetual motion machine.

          Check out the easy to read book called 23 Things They Don’t Teach You about Capitalism. It isnt anti-capitalism, but it is capitalism revisioned.

            1. I am far too jaded to think change is coming with voting, at least not until the laws are re-written in favour of the people.

              Fiscal controls on politics was my point, and I know that point wasn’t clear after re-reading my post once published.

              In short, I’d like to see No Political Parties. Period. I oppose capital being accumulated, and then used as a weapon, to gain office or dictate the laws or political policy.

              No campaign contributions except by voters and limited to nominal amounts most ANY Canadian could afford like $10.

              If politicians wan’t our vote, they earn it by holding town halls and canvassing door-to-door.

              Also a return legislatively to where incorporation is made by application and only for specific jobs, openly audited and shown to be in the public interest, before being granted. Upon completion, the corporation ceases existence.

              Our myths about wealth are driving the politics, and it cannot be stopped until we control this legal fiction called money. I would accordingly seek regaining strict control of the money supply and our monetary creation.

              I would also dismantle the standing Army and keep to a truly peaceful mandate, primarily domestically but elsewhere as needed. I would also made the RCMP accountable to public scrutiny, and relieve them of their arsenal of weapons.

              I would also ban all nuclear weapons from Canadian soil to send a message that Canada is moving in a new direction toward a sustainable peaceful existence.

              That is a quick thought on what I think it would take before we got headed in the right direction.

        2. I should state, philosophically, I am not inclined to asking the robber-barons or politicians to throw us a bone or to reform the rules in our favour.

          They never do without it coming at some other price we are later to learn about (eg, women’s right to vote lead to double income families to tax more heavily, and to tax for family benefits and retirement plans with ponzi schemes that are disintegrating before our eyes; meanwhile the money has been pissed away into their own pork barrel projects and the like).

          Point is, there’s no free ride.

          Cultural revolution, on the other hand, is far more attractive to my ideals.

  2. I can’t take issue with what you said at all, although I would probably go further and state the Canadian political system is so broken and corrupted and bastardized and mutated from what a thinking person may consider ‘representatively democratic’ that it is now nothing short of insulting.

    Here is a recent Chris Hedges article and, though American in context, it also illuminates many of the same problems we have in our lick-spittle nation to the US Empire.

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