Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Erosion of Public Trust Was Cold and Calculated

Hannah Arendt in her book The Origins of Totalitarianism, mentions the erosion of public trust as a key element in the creation of an authoritarian state. This erosion of trust "leaves us increasingly open to dangerous manipulation by the enemies of open societies, those who disdain democracy as inherently weak and inefficient."

This erosion did not begin with Stephen Harper or the Reform/Neoconservative movement, but they have turned it turned into an art form.

And they do this in part by never taking responsibility for anything.

When caught in a sticky situation, they simply turn the tables and bring up past indiscretions of the other parties, especially the Liberals. There is never any closure. Any notion with the public that those committing sins (and sometimes crimes) were punished.

Stephen Harper ran on a fabricated notion of accountability, and yet his government has been the least accountable of any before it. However, if they cry "law-and-order" loud enough, giving the impression of being tough on crime, that's what gets our attention.

But as Bob Altemeyer reminds us: 'Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor of Germany running on a law-and-order platform just a few years after he tried to overthrow the government through an armed insurrection.' (1) A noble lie, since Hitler's "law-and-order" regimen created lawlessness, chaos and fear.

Cynicism as a Political Tool

Harper's former boss, Preston Manning, used to tell his candidates to dig up as much dirt on their political opponents as possible. Create a dossier, preparing for any debate. Policy was wrapped in ambiguity, but combativeness was carefully crafted.

And they took this with them to the House of Commons.

Obstruct, holler, chant and posture, but above all poison the well. And when all else fails, lie and lie deeply.

All of this contributes to a high degree of cynicism. As Chris Hedges says in his book Losing Moses on the Freeway:
When government and public institutions are no longer trusted, when they become engines solely for personal power and wealth at the expense of the interests and welfare of the public, it sends the message that honesty does not pay. There is a loss of faith in the structures designed to hold community together. Trust evaporates. People begin to believe nothing, or rather, they believe what they want to believe. Established media organs relay the lies of the powerful with little or no scrutiny, serving to further obscure the truth. A society without the means to detect lies and theft soon squanders its liberty and freedom. (2)
A recent international poll concludes that the public’s faith in political parties is eroding, with "four out of five people saying they are corrupt or very corrupt."

This has been most significant with the mishandling of the financial crisis.

In Canada, the Harper government spent more time worrying about the political leverage with infrastructure spending, than job creation, and in the U.S., those taking most of the stimulus funds, used the money to better themselves.

Elizabeth MacDonald called it the: Federal Reserve’s Bailout of the Rich and Well-Connected
The conflicts of interest and policy controversies in the Federal Reserve’s bailout of the financial system now include helping out millionaires, billionaires, foreign automakers, and companies whose executives sit on the board of directors of the U.S. central bank.
How could you not become cynical?

Yet all of this cynicism and negativity is playing into the hands of the neoconservatives authoritarian agenda. In fact it is a necessity if they hope to succeed and maintain their hold on power.

As Hannah Arendt writes:
It has frequently been noticed that the surest long-term result of brainwashing is a peculiar kind of cynicism—an absolute refusal to believe in the truth of anything, no matter how well this truth may be established, in other words, the result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lies will now be accepted as truth, and the truth be defamed as lies, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world—and the category of truth vs. falsehood as among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed. (3)

Calculated ambiguity is used to sell their message, but earning the public's distrust is actually more important, once they have gained power.

Low voter turnout always favours the incumbent and a turned off public will leave those elected alone. We have been brainwashed with cynicism and thus trust no one, so we simply retreat.

If we could find a way to get the parties in the centre and left of centre to stop nattering at each other and focus on what's important, we might be able to give some hope to the electorate that there is an alternative.

Because if we can't do that, I'm afraid we're going to be stuck with Stephen Harper for a very long time, and his threatened majority will become a horrible reality.
"The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it." - Albert Einstein

1. The Authoritarians, By Bob Altemeyer, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Manitoba, 2006

2. Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America, By Chris Hedges, Free Press, 2005, ISBN: 0-7432-5513-5, Pg. 133-134

3. The Origins of Totalitarianism, By Hannah Arendt, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1968


  1. It's okay, millionaires are giving back 0.00000000000008% of their fortunes back to the poor now.

    Secret Millionaire Part 3/4 Greg Ruzicka

    My fav. part is at 7:45 where the dad and son are discussing how they always thought poor people were poor because poor people are ignorant and uneducated.