Monbiot, Progressive Activism and What’s Wrong With Toronto


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Toronto, ok greater Toronto, elected Rob Ford as mayor. Canada is a pariah of climate change activism and at the UN. We can’t stop Stephen Harper from being prime minister. Canada is no longer my Canada.

But why?

In my seemingly endless quest to figure out why progressive activists are fighting resignation and cynicism instead of global neoliberal capitalism and the tremendous threats to universalism, communitarianism and social progress, I finally got the courage to read one of George Monbiot’s recent pieces. I started it a few times, but I needed to be in the right kind of stable, emotional headspace to not get all depressed.

He addresses why people make self-destructive political decisions:

Instead of performing a rational cost-benefit analysis, we accept information which confirms our identity and values, and reject information that conflicts with them. We mould our thinking around our social identity, protecting it from serious challenge. Confronting people with inconvenient facts is likely only to harden their resistance to change.

This is why films like An Inconvenient Truth didn’t lead most of the OECD world to sell their cars over the last few years.

But more, Monbiot writes:

Politics alters our minds as much as our circumstances. Free, universal health provision, for example, tends to reinforce intrinsic values. Shutting the poor out of healthcare normalises inequality, reinforcing extrinsic values. The sharp rightward shift which began with Margaret Thatcher and persisted under Blair and Brown, all of whose governments emphasised the virtues of competition, the market and financial success, has changed our values.

What’s the Matter with Kansas? is part of Canada now with Mayor Ford. But then maybe Canada was never as progressive as I nostalgically recall?

I think it was, it’s just that after three decades of neoliberal individualism, the evil doers are eroding our culture of compassion and community.

Conservatives in the United States generally avoid debating facts and figures. Instead they frame issues in ways that both appeal to and reinforce extrinsic values. Every year, through mechanisms that are rarely visible and seldom discussed, the space in which progressive ideas can flourish shrinks a little more.

Like faith-based policy making among US conservatives, Harper’s blatant rejection of the long-form census, real data, and evidence-based policies reduces the space for compelling arguments that violate his beliefs.

The progressive response to this trend has been disastrous. Instead of confronting the shift in values, we have sought to adapt to it. Once-progressive political parties have tried to appease altered public attitudes.

This explains why so many progressives are disillusioned with the organizations that we have historically turned to for political expression. In Monbiot’s analysis, we must:

stop seeking to bury our values and instead explain and champion them. Progressive campaigners, it suggests, should help to foster an understanding of the psychology which informs political change and show how it has been manipulated. They should also come together to challenge forces – particularly the advertising industry – which make us insecure and selfish. Ed Miliband appears to understands this need. He told the Labour conference that he “wants to change our society so that it values community and family, not just work” and “wants to change our foreign policy so that it’s always based on values, not just alliances … We must shed old thinking and stand up for those who believe there is more to life than the bottom line.”

So if we find our progressive political parties refuse to commit to principles or policies that are rooted in our sense of a civilized culture with a progressive agenda, we become disillusioned. We are constantly searching for champions who will actually pursue our goals. But that might be a futile vestige of some nostalgia past.

Monbiot’s warning reminds us why organizations that are not political parties are attracting so much activist talent lately:

We cannot rely on politicians to drive these changes. Those who succeed in politics are, by definition, people who prioritise extrinsic values. Their ambition must supplant peace of mind, family life, friendship – even brotherly love.

So we must lead this shift ourselves. People with strong intrinsic values must cease to be embarrassed by them. We should argue for the policies we want not on the grounds of expediency but on the grounds that they are empathetic and kind; and against others on the grounds that they are selfish and cruel. In asserting our values we become the change we want to see.

The citizen politician. The citizen leader. The citizen activist. Gandhi said it too: “we must be the change we want to see in the world.”

When the people lead, the leaders will follow. This is the threat that Alex Hundert and the other G20 harassed activists represent: the people rising up against a corrupt state that actively opposes the best interest of the populace and the planet.

So it makes sense that 30 years of neoliberal brainwashing leads us to a place where we can tolerate massive assaults on the rule of law we have seen at the G20, and a Glenn Beck for mayor in Toronto.

And while the political sociologists will have a good time trying to explain how Calgary and Toronto ended up with each other’s mayors, the rest of us have an uphill battle of redefining a progressive culture against the politicians, corporations and media all designed to individualize us.

Time to roll up our sleeves and start hosting more salons!

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Stephen Elliott-Buckley

Post-partisan eco-socialist. at Politics, Re-Spun
Stephen Elliott-Buckley is a husband, father, professor, speaker, consultant, former suburban Vancouver high school English and Social Studies teacher who changed careers because the BC Liberal Party has been working hard to ruin public education. He has various English and Political Science degrees and has been writing political, social and economic editorials since November 2002. Stephen is in Twitter, Miro and iTunes, and the email thing, and at his website, dgiVista.org.

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5 thoughts on “Monbiot, Progressive Activism and What’s Wrong With Toronto”

  1. Where are the leaders of the 60’s and 70’s in Canada? Warren Almond, Ed Broadbent, David Lewis, Trudeau, Tommy Douglas, Judy LaMarsh, Francis Fox, Alan Rock etc.

    The progressives in this country have packed up and retired or are too busy being well off to do a god darn thing anymore. They got spoiled. After the Charter happened, that was all we needed. Silly people.

    Toronto elected rob ford because progressives would not defend the current Mayor, lies about out of control spending became the “fact” of the day.

    George played far too “right” wing to have a hope of winning.

    How about progressives actually being progressive and understand we have to do things before an election if we want to keep and improve our world.

    1. sure, lots of progressives are passing the baton. sadly, though, the younger generations don’t see the value in the same institutions that once were useful. but they are picking it up and joining/creating NGOs.

      i think the Charter may be a valid explanation, but i wasn’t involved in any movements before 1982, so i can’t really say.

      perhaps progressives didn’t defend the current mayor. perhaps spin did become fact. but the monbiot article explains a lot about mindsets that led to progressives letting the current regime spin in the wind.

      monbiot’s piece explains not only rob ford’s candidacy, but the size of his vote.

      lots of progressives do take part in elections, but tons don’t. many see the flaws in the electoral system so they know the fix is in [corporate financing, corporate media]. many progressives also see the vanished integrity in some progressive parties:

      http://politicsrespun.org/2010/07/building-community-as-a-tonic-for-political-cyncism/

      http://politicsrespun.org/2009/05/why-the-bc-ndp-lost-the-election/

  2. All well and good…until you have to open your wallet to pay the bills. No not just food and clothes. But property taxes, water taxes, road taxes, education taxes and costs, and then there is the electricity costs of the present AND the future. All these and more, which go up every year at a far greater clip than inflation.

    We have divested ourselves of so much and we are still on the brink..of being tapped out.

    Your ideology of compassion is worthy but very few of us can afford the dream anymore. Besides the dream is not cast in your vision of stone, it actually may be everchanging.

    1. few of us can afford the dream? this attitude is exactly what monbiot is writing about: how our mindset has been defined by neoliberalism, with phrases like “tax burden” as if taxes were a prison sentence and not how we buy things together, as a group/society.

      while some think any tax is too much, it is a lie that we are being over-taxed when corporate income taxes in bc are approaching zero and for small businesses [under $500k in revenue] will BE zero in 2012:
      http://politicsrespun.org/2010/10/corporations-already-pay-virtually-no-tax-in-bc/

      the government’s own bragging [see the bottom of page 2]:
      https://www.leg.bc.ca/_media/docs/consultations/Consultation_English.pdf

      also, the bc government has defunded its revenues by $5 billion/year through tax cuts to those corporations and the rich.

      who says we don’t have the revenue? we did 10 years ago.

      but sure, cut all taxes and privatize everything. private, for-profit seniors residential care companies seek up to 30% profit levels. how is that good value for money when government-owned sites have higher staffing levels from not having to pay out a profit.

      i, for one, don’t want to go back to the days when people had to contract with private fire brigades to put out their house fire if it ever went up in smoke.

      over 40 million americans live without health insurance. millions more have over-priced, insufficient insurance, so they live in fear of becoming ill. cancer means bankruptcy.

      if we defund government so all public services disappear, which is where we’re going, we will always have to cover corporate profit margins in everything we end up paying for:

      – water fees [see Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2001 where people had to pay more for private water than they earned, with even rain-water collection being made illegal]
      – tolls on every km of road, lane, alley;
      – unsubsidized tuition fees guaranteeing massive poverty for grads and no access for a large minority of society if not a majority
      – private electricity rates 30x higher the past BC Hydro subsidized rates [see the current usurious forced purchase contracts BC Hydro is establishing with the private IPP corporations]

      it matters little to me if you feel the ideology of compassion is worthy. if it is not worthy of paying for, then it is worthless. and it’s tragic that so many people think we can’t afford these things because they don’t know the government has defunded itself into a series of Shock Doctrine crises. again, see page 2 of https://www.leg.bc.ca/_media/docs/consultations/Consultation_English.pdf

      essentially, your whole comment reflects the neoliberal ideology that has changed our values.

      and as monbiot talks about how US conservatives avoid talking about facts, you need to consider the facts of bc’s corporate tax cuts before you claim the tax burden is that much of a problem.

      the sad irony is that when you say that very few of us can afford the dream anymore, it is the well-off in bc who actually can afford the dream far easier. when the hst came in and people of modest incomes saw their consumption taxes go up, the bc government removed the 3% luxury tax on expensive cars. that’s another inconvenient truth to contend with. any justice there?

      the dream certainly is ever-changing. THAT’s exactly what monbiot was writing about.

      what it’s changing into is repulsing me.

  3. hi

    have a look at these 2 website :

    http://www.torture2010.yolasite.com

    http://www.torture2010.jimdo.com

    passwd : bamako2010

    intimidation of witnesses , coercing doctor writing false note ,
    the system that i describe on the website serve for surveillance (silent the person wouldnt realize it)

    i did contacted the police on march 4 ; i was in ottawa these past friday the rcmp wouldn’t act

    suggesting i should try with ottawa hospital ( do more test)

    ( they interfere with mri report the report dont mention thing that are shown on the pic , doctor writing false note etc)

    i even asked to book me so i can see a judge ( the evidence is there )

    thank you

    Bonjour M. Sidqui,

    Nous vous remercions pour votre courriel et le transférons au service concerné pour leur information.

    Pour toute autre question, nous vous invitons à consulter la Foire aux questions ou à la section Pour nous joindre de notre site Internet.

    La Direction des relations avec les municipalités et des communications

    Sûreté du Québec

    —–Message d’origine—–
    De : internaute
    Envoyé : 4 mars 2011 17:06
    À : Information
    Objet : Plainte

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