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May 7, 2013

Stephen Harper’s committing Sociology

Reuel S. Amdur

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Just after the Boston bombing, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau told CBC interviewer Peter Mansbridge that "Over the coming days we have to look at the root cause…. But there is no question that this happened because there is someone who feels completely excluded, completely at war with innocents, at war with society."

What would appear to be a rather uncontroversial observation, in fact corroborated by later information, created something akin to apoplexy at 24 Sussex Drive.

According to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, “I think, though, this is not a time to commit sociology, if I can use an expression.  These things are serious threats, global terrorist attacks, people who have agendas of violence that are deep and abiding threats to all the values our society stands for.  I don’t think we want to convey any view to the Canadian public other than our utter condemnation of this kind of violence, contemplation of this violence and our utter determination through our laws and our activities to do everything we can to prevent it and counter it.” 

Yet, in doing “everything we can to prevent it and counter it,” do we not need to understand it?  For Harper, understanding is akin to excusing.  Better, it seems, to proceed in ignorance.

Compounding this foolishness was the addendum provided by Tory MP Pierre Poilievre:”The root causes of terrorism is terrorists.”  This astute observation inspired an immense blogger onslaught. 

Examples: The root cause of acne is pimples, the root cause of Nazism is Nazis, the root cause of poverty is poor people, etc.  However, Poilievre defended his remarks in the Commons by pointing to the advantages that the Tsarnaev brothers, the alleged Boston bombers, had, showing that they were not excluded and in fact received all kinds of help from the United States. 

An article in MacLean’s quoted the Los Angeles Times, BBC, New York Times, and Reuters all identifying the older brother as “a loner” (“I don’t have a single American friend”), showing “signs of alienation” after visiting Dagestan and Chechnya, etc.

Poilievre was arguing that the two men had no cause for dissatisfaction.  He may never have heard of the sociologist W. I. Thomas, but Thomas’ Theorem might be of interest to him: “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.”  In short, whether or not our bombers were given advantages, the key question is how they saw themselves and their situation.  Not whether their situation was one of deprivation and neglect but whether they found cause—real or not—for dissatisfaction. 

Poilievre’s grossly superficial analysis is an attempt to join Harper in discrediting sociological reasoning, leaving us prey to anxiety, fear, and ignorance.

But it is not just sociology that Harper is not committing. 

He is also not committing statistics, demonstrated by his destruction of the census.

He is not committing accounting, as former Auditor General Kevin Page so aptly demonstrated. 

He is not committing health and safety, as his government’s treatment of Linda Keen, cashiered as head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission demonstrated.  She said that Chalk River needed to be shut down for safety reasons and the government overruled her and fired her.  Then they found that they had to shut it down after all. 

Harper is not committing science, abolishing the position of national science advisor, and terminating federal support for vital research on lake safety and viability.  Also in line with refusal to commit science is the government’s muzzling of scientists.  Before they discuss any of their work with anyone else, they must get Tory government approval. 

What does this all mean? 

There are two aspects of the government’s refusal to commit.  On the one hand, it is not prepared to listen to expert advice that may tell them things that they don’t want to hear.  They prefer to remain on script and on ideology. 

On the other hand, they do not want rogue expert information to become available to the public.  At all cost, the message and the information must be controlled.

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