My Team, Right or Wrong?

by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

First, a Rumination About Being on the Losing Side

This past election has so many implications, most of which have been amply addressed.  One not fully explored is what to do, as a person of strong conviction before the election, now that my side (the No Majority for Harper side) lost the contest.

A letter to the Globe and Mail said boldly, in response to Heather Mallick (mourning the loss to our country of its liberal foundations), “Stop whining.  You didn’t get what you wanted and you can’t take it.  Don’t be a sore loser” (not a direct quote).

This launched my thoughts on what being a ‘sore loser’ is about and how not to be one because I retain the school yard code that doesn’t like them, and what’s the alternative when you’re a loser and sore about it.

Question: Did the Right – and all the other losers – feel the same way in the years when they couldn’t get elected and seemed vanquished?  Probably.  And eventually they got even.  There’s one avenue: get up, dust yourself off, and get really smart about getting even.

The Moral Component

Part of the pain of losing may be just the bitter stab of defeat.  We lost.  Much as my husband feels when the Canadiens fall out of the playoffs.  Depressed!

But a political loss is also about losing something you’ve identified as right and good, which the Other side doesn’t see the same way.   For instance, one such ‘good’ might be the extending by Canada of some humanity and generousity of spirit toward a child soldier, Omar Khadar, who was subjected to years of torture and imprisonment by another country while he grew to be an adult and we watched.   The Party that won expresses no intention to demonstrate such humanity.  Thus some principle is violated and some hope has died with it.  There seems a moral component to this. 

Not unlike when a fine old building is torn down to make way for a concrete box, or when fields of green are torn up and the soil hauled away to make way for oversized houses in rows. Political loss feels like it’s going down that track.  Societal loss.

The Other side has its disappointments too.  Why do people fail to take responsibility for their actions and leave their mess for others to clean up?  That’s when liberalism has gone too far.  It’s a moral travesty.  This Omar Khadar business – the young man broke the law and has to pay for it and that’s all there is to it.   We’re not responsible. 

Does our Brain Chemistry Plunk Us on One or Another Side?

In the Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente  (Are Your Politics Hard-Wired? April 16, 2011) discussed the theory that the brain is hard-wired toward a liberal or conservative response to and interpretation of experience.  The former is open to new viewpoints and experiences: the latter is naturally wary of it.  Difference excites interest in one group, provokes caution in the other.  Hence our lining up politically behind leaders and parties that promise (a) opening up to new ideas and visions, versus (b) hi-lighting fears and promising to fence in the danger and increase security.

Now I’ve no idea if this simple notion holds up to scientific scrutiny.  But let’s pretend it does.

If brain chemistry urges me toward a political side in addition to me weighing and choosing between the merits of the ’sides’, we can see that Party allegiances are more complicated than right and wrong.  We go for what our mind AND emotions find comfortable.  A significant dividing line is how my brain reacts to the world.   Regardless of whether one party is more correct than another, I’ll be drawn toward the one that comforts my need for caution or openness. 

So what the heck do we do about that?  Suggestion: get familiar with how I’m responding, so at least I know what my brain is urging me toward or away from.  Let the mind work a little harder at figuring out what I really think matters and who moves this society closer to that.

Couple of Fundamentals

Back to the question of the moral responsibility of the losing side.  Options: back off now that the Right (my Wrong) is in the ascendent?  Or find ways to express my disagreement with the government of Toronto and Canada to anyone who will listen?  Pick certain issues, stay informed, and try keeping the topic in the air, the paper, the magazines, cyberspace?

Ted Schmidt, among others, has done the latter.  He has remained loyal and committed to the issues looming for him, bringing up the plight of the Palestinians in meetings, congregations, on the internet – even when booed at the synagogue where he was invited to speak.  We don’t all have that stamina.

But drawing from the examples of heroes in the social justice struggle, Three Things are perhaps our moral duty, whatever side we think we’re on.

  1. Don’t stay silent in the face of decisions and directions that seem WRONG, from whatever side.
  2. Don’t assume your side is always right.  Just can’t be so.
  3. Realize there are many sides and some, so far not identified, might open us up to a fresh perspective and new ideas, and some might indeed keep us a little safer.

 What do you think??

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7 Comments

Filed under Rosemary's entries, Uncategorized

7 responses to “My Team, Right or Wrong?

  1. Mike Gouthro

    Great topic. My paradigm for explaining political trends is simplistically the rule of thirds which I suspect could be roughly correlated to our primate relatives by Jane Goodall.

    One third of primates are inherently adversarial and aggressive – the Right. They require another group to focus their aggression on – and are even willing to sacrifice comfort for the pleasure of causing distress to their perceived enemies. They see their opponents as attempting to impose their will and their burdens on the favoured.

    One third are altruistic and pursue win/win scenarios even when that requires a reduction in their personal comfort – the Left.

    The middle third are essentially focused on short term self-interest and comfort. They perceive long term strategic thinking (whether Left of Right) as boring and elitist. This middle group is essentially the only one up for grabs in any election. If they perceive their interests to have been severely damaged by one of the other thirds, they can throw their support to the alternate third for an extended period as happened between 1933 and 1952 with the Roosevelt Democratic Party or for decades in Europe following the devastation of WWII. If they are merely annoyed, their support can quickly flip-flop between thirds as happened between 2008’s Obama support and 2010’s Obama repudiation.

    In the Canadian context this paradigm can explain both Harper’s limited endorsement by 40% versus his core 33% and Ford’s 47% (and current 60% approval) versus his core 33%. The middle third are soft and in play and can’t be counted on for strategic positioning unless society is in ashes. The bottom line is that the deck is stacked against the Left third and loaded in favour of the Right third. It much easier and immediately less costly to tear down than it is to rebuild. New Deals may never occur again – and there are many who cheer this notion even though they know diddly squat about the original New Deal

  2. I could not have said it as eruditely as you, but I concur most heartily. As for being harsh, I say, horse feathers (thats the clean version). Not harsh at all.
    Diana

  3. You’ve hit a hot button topic, Rosemary! Lots I could say, but I wanted to speak to Mike’s comment.

    Last year I wrote in this blog about a fascinating TED talk by Jonathon Haidt, who studied the moral values of liberals and conservatives around the world. He found that liberals strongly value care and fairness. Conservatives also value these things, although not to the same extent. But liberals don’t value loyalty, respect or purity — all things conservatives value as much as care and fairness. As Haidt commented, liberals run on two channels; conservatives run on five. (You can test your own responses at http://www.yourmorals.org — a fun exercise.)

    Picking up on Rosemary’s great title for this blog, Haidt cautioned that, “When a group of people all share moral values, they become a team, and when you look at the psychology of teams, you see that it shuts down open-minded thinking.” For me, the shaming part of the election was that low-income people voted for Harper. So now I have to ask myself some hard questions about why I’m so out of step with the people I profess to care about.

  4. Thanks Rosemary for your article. As a fan of the Leafs, Raptors and Blue Jays, I am well versed on siding with Losers. The fact that in my politics I don’t fare any better should me cause to re-think which side I’m on. But then I remember that verse about how the last shall be first and my devotion to Losers is re-kindled.
    Among my closest Christian friends, are die-hard Conservatives, some who love their neighbour more I do. I can no more figure them out than articulate the Trinity. But they do have much to teach me about loyalty even as I take issue with how blind it is.
    I suppose that’s the point. We’re not all supposed to be on the same team. Otherwise Towers of Babel arise where those who govern, govern uncontested. When that happens, regardless of the politics involved, violence abounds and the way of peace is obstructed.

  5. Robin Ethier

    Not to be sidetracked, but willing to respond to the notion of winning or losing being the political point of an Election, I agree to this idea. But is that not the short term goal ?

    Voters need to be aware of why they would want one Party over another. We need to focus on the values we vote for and choose the Party most representing those values. When that Party is unsuccessful at “winning” we as voters need to continue our support of those values in ways that most impact the Party in power.

    Whether society is divided into thirds politically , right, left, or the wishy-washy middle, or whether the work of Jonathan Haidt holds true- that Liberals value “care and fairness” but not “loyalty, respect, and purity”- surely care and fairness entail respect. Loyalty requires thoughtful judgement and not blind association. And purity? I would have to ask a Conservative how he/she would interpret that notion in practice politically.

    Though more can be said about who the voters are and why they vote as they do, might we also look at the political motivations of the Party members themselves and more to the point, the actual leaders within a Party hierarchy. My sense is the leaders do want to win regardless. They do see Politics as a game of winners or losers. And they will do all that is necessary to gain and hold on to power. No negative criticism intended but even the NDP’s remarkable Jack Layton showed a blatant desire to win in the televised debates. And of course an election is primarily about winning and losing. It is the “game”.

    But winning is one small part of the game, small, but crucial of course. The more important element for the leader in particular, appears to be holding onto that power. What is he/she willing to do to keep the position. We need only review political activity around the world to see how precarious leadership can be, from the necessary extremes of the rebellions in the Middle East to Obama’s rise and fall in the polls, to Sarkosy’s or his team’s possible involvement in the downfall of DSK, to the “coalition” in Britain.

    Leaders go to great lengths to retain power. They must respond to the political pressures exerted on them particularly in a democracy. So for me, winning or losing an election can certainly be a sad or happy event. And I do believe we “get the government we deserve “. I also, as the tone of Michael’s and Joy’s remarks suggest, feel terribly let down by the electorate. But the reality is Harper has a majority. He wants to keep his power therefore he must be seen to be listening to the people- great populist that he is. The people must therefore continue to speak.

    In politics winning or losing does not end the “game”. In a democracy it is the process that counts. It is our government not Harper’s and we are responsible for staying true to our values by staying in the Process.

    Write to our MPs
    Support the CBC
    Speak out in support of a particular cause
    Email Harper and tell what you think regarding the issues
    Support your Party financially and physically
    Encourage the politicians who speak your values

    There are democratic ways – they are our strength

  6. Mike Gouthro

    Right wing citizens regained control via Reagan’s Republicans in the 80’s and Harper’s Conservatives in 2010. These are folks who resent the kind of society that evolved from FDR’s New Deal. Their top priorities seem to be: defending their assets from redistribution and defending their social values from erosion.

    Core conservatives know they can only count on 30% of the population for unwavering support. But they also know that society can be reformed to their views if their leaders woo enough of the soft middle, especially in a first-past-the-post electoral system.

    My guess is that these conservative voters would go for broke to turn back the clock in a four or eight year mandate. They would do so with the confidence that our current society could never be recovered even if they were driven from power and exiled for a generation. Their most important goals would have been achieved.

    The real question is whether conservative political leaders are similarly single minded. Will Harper and his provincial and municipal cohorts bet all their political capital to undo our social democracy? Will these leaders and elected members be willing to permanently return to the sidelines or private life knowing that their mission has been accomplished?

    Or are they merely pragmatic politicians whose holy grail is to wield political power? Will they give their core base some of what they want while not alienating the soft middle which has the power to return them to power over the longer term? Is Harper just a right leaning moderate who is using his core conservative base as a leg up to power? Or has he tricked the soft middle into handing him the axe?

    Trying to not be paranoid, I think the pragmatic approach will prevail and that there will be an intact Canada after four or even eight more years of Harper. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be casualties. The electorate will not punish Harper and company for eviscerating the CBC, unemployment insurance, unions and even the environment. But he will tread very carefully when it comes to universal health care, government pensions and equalization transfers.

    Jack Layton and the NDP will have to figure out how to talk over the heads of Harper’s Conservatives and directly to the Canadian people as Trudeau did with the provinces. Jack will also have to assertively remake the NDP into a 21st century party in the absence of any good world models to emulate. Without a giant like Trudeau, I have little hope the Liberals have it in them to do something similar, and I fear they may be a spoiler. They really do need to merge with the NDP to form something much more than the sum of its parts. Perhaps this merger is the main demand that concerned citizens should keep shouting at both the NDP and the Liberals – else a pox on both their houses.

  7. I am a low income person. I did NOT vote for Harper. No one in my low-income building did either. Actually, I am not sure they voted at all.
    Diana

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