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The Polarization of Politics

Eriana (my wife) and I were talking the other day about the legacy of a Prime Minister of Canada. Brian Mulroney was around during the heydays of Ronald Reagan and Maggie Thatcher and was a big fan of their politics; he was our first right wing ideologue. Being a Canadian he was not as severe as them, but he was enough of one to plant the same seeds as his fellow travellers. Until his tenure you could feel fairly secure that no matter what the political stripe of the party in charge in Canada that things would be governed according to a certain standard. That a certain code: universality of social programs, respect for the poor, and compassion, would be maintained. But in his wake we have been left with the polarization of our political spectrum.

On the one hand are the social and financial conservatives who preach stop spending on social programs, less government interference (read regulating business practices concerning labour, the environment, and equal pay for equal work) and something called traditional family values (American sit-com from the fifties and early sixties lifestyle). The other end of the spectrum ranges from middle of the road liberal/conservatives who preach a more moderate approach, social democrats who want increased spending, and then the variety of groups who have sprung up to defend the various groups affected by the reductions in spending on social programs, or whose lives have been damaged by the imposition of a rigid morality.

On reflection I realize that this of course is not a uniquely Canadian experience. As usual we are a milder reflection of what has occurred in the rest of the world. Since the onset of globalization, the fall of the east block, and increased demands by the "developing" nations for a better life, we have been witness to an increase in regional tensions far beyond anything witnessed during the height of the Cold War. Instead of the easily monitored manoeuvrings of two major players, each day brings a new point of conflict into focus. Divisions fall along lines ranging from tribal, economic, religious and regional. A whole new lexicon has been invented to describe the horrors we have learnt how to inflict on each other: ethnic cleansing and collateral damage make inexcusable behaviour sound mundane enough to be read on the nightly news.

If I were as truly paranoid as I think I am I would give credence to those who claim this is all part of the agenda of the conservative Christian right. These are the people who actively support the idea that Armageddon would be what the world needs right now so that they can ascend and assume their place on the right side of Christ leaving the unbelievers to rot in hell. Believing as they do that the beginning of the end will occur in Israel they actively support the more militant factions who want nothing to do with the peace process with the Palestinians, hoping to ensure the battle to end all battles will occur in their lifetimes.

I know this sounds like the work of a few isolated kooks, and I continually reassure myself of that fact, but sometimes the facts fly in the face of such reasoning. Both Ronald Reagan and the current incarnation of Bush were or are either firm believers in this prophecy or surrounded by people who both endorse it and are capable of bringing it to fruition without leaving any fingerprints. American foreign policy has for the last twenty years (more really but its only recently been so overt) created the conditions that have given rise to the fanaticism in the Muslim world. There's nothing like ostentatious displays of wealth combined with aggressive behaviour, with support for seemingly oppressive regimes tossed in for good measure, to make the job of leaders like Bin Ladin easy.

Add in the hypocritical policy decisions of the past: arming Hussein to fight the Iranians, arming the Taliban to fight the Russians, and working hand in glove with Bin ladin family in order to curry favour with Saudi Arabia's government, you a sure fire recipe for Muslim unrest. This is the ideal situation for the right wing Christian movement. An enemy who is easy to stir up unrest against because they look different, believe different, and whose pride and honour can only take so many beatings.

Now you can't give the policy makers all the credit for the situation we're in, not even they could have orchestrated all the details to fall out the way have, but they sure have taken advantage of them in order to suit their needs. Instead of working with peoples to come up with viable alternatives to violence and poverty they have instituted a policy of hit them while their down. When a people are completely without hope, they are going to grasp at any hand that offers them a chance to retaliate at the one who has seemingly put them down.

Although the polarization of the world appears at first blush to be merely happenstance, or even simple short-sightedness, I do believe that a very definite agenda is being followed. I do not believe it is with the ultimate goal of Armageddon as is so hoped in certain circles (too many wealthy people have too much money invested) but the us against them feelings generated have made circumstances easier to manipulate for governments, allowing them to sway populations to their view points by pushing the right emotional buttons.

There is of course a solution, and that is to provide a viable alternative to what is being offered. It could be left up to people at large to accomplish this by letting politicians know we would support a more conciliatory approach to governing. Politicians do not like taking chances, so until we let them know that this is what we want none of them will have the bravery to stand up and say we have to do something different. Why not keep that in mind the next time you have to vote for somebody?

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