Sunday, April 25, 2010

You, Murray Dobbin, Own This

As Canadians continue to wonder precisely what they should make of Frank Graves' recent suggestion that the Liberal Party should provoke a culture war for political gain, one should take some time to remember some of Canada's other erstwhile cultural warriors.

"I told them that they should invoke a culture war. Cosmopolitanism versus parochialism, secularism versus moralism, Obama versus Palin, tolerance versus racism and homophobia, democracy versus autocracy," Graves told Lawrence Martin.

People like Murray Dobbin.

Nexus readers may remember a recent article about Dobbin's objections to a poll commissioned by the Manning Institute that indicated Canadians' political attitudes were becoming more conservative.

As it turned out, Frank Graves featured prominently in Dobbin's original article.

In particular, Dobbin took exception to the Manning Institute poll's conclusions on abortion, which indicated that 60% of Canadians considered it to be immoral. He countered that with results from an EKOS poll that concluded that 52% of Canadians describe themselves as "pro-choice", 27% described themselves as "pro-life", 10% answered "neither", while 33% declined to provide an answer.

Dobbin and Graves seem to suggest that only one of these polls can be correct.

But in order to accept their conclusion on this matter, one would have to overlook that the question of whether or not abortion is immoral and whether or not women should be allowed to choose are actually two very different questions.

If a belief on the part of Canadians that abortion is immoral automatically meant that Canadians believed that Canadian law should not allow women to make this decision for themselves, Canadians would be adopting a strictly moralistic attitude toward the law.

That polls could indicate that the majority of Canadians believe that abortion is immoral while also believing in the right of women to make their own choices about moral behaviour could be argued to indicate that Canadians do not hold a strictly moralistic attitude toward the law.

In other words: that Canadians believe that morality shouldn't dictate legality, and that legality doesn't dictate morality.

Each poll clearly asked different questions about abortion. One asked whether or not Canadians considered abortion to be immoral, and another asked them whether or not Canadians favoured a woman's right to choose. The very different conclusions reached by each study demonstrate how the questions asked shape the answers received.

Dobbin and Graves make it clear that their greatest objection to the Manning Institute study is that they don't approve of the questions that it asked.

Dobbin and Graves must know that by defining what questions may be asked about abortion, they stake out that issue for themselves. This is a hegemonic tactic that forgets the most important element of hegemony as defined by Antonio Gramsci -- the notion that hegemony is not dictated, but rather is negotiated.

Instead of hegemony being a remarkably democratic concept, hegemony instead becomes dictatorial.

What is a culture war if not the exploitation of negotiated hegemonic ideas in order to be able to dictate those ideas in future?

One should direct their attention toward the values that Graves advised the Liberals to divide Canadians over: Cosmopolitanism versus parochialism, secularism versus moralism, tolerance versus racism and homophobia, democracy versus autocracy.

Cosmolpolitanism, secularism, tolerance and democracy are all hegemonic ideals of Canadian society, socially negotiated between Canadians through their day-to-day interactions for decades.

By invoking these values as part of a culture war, Graves has suggested that the Liberal Party identify a group of Canadians they will allege do not share these foundational values. By doing so, the Liberals will brand these individuals as cultural outsiders within Canadian society.

Graves has made it clear who he wants to identify as such outsiders: the Conservative Party of Canada. In time, his strategy will not only counter-brand card-carrying Tories as outsiders, but will in time counter-brand anyone who votes for that party as outsiders.

In the end, that will likely amount to approximately 30% of Canadians. That is a lot of Canadians to attempt to force to the periphery of Canadian culture through a culture war.

But once the Liberal Party have branded themselves as the altar keepers of Canadian values, they will have made a bid not only to make themselves the standard bearer of that culture, but also to empower themselves to define what Canadian values are, without the participation of the so-called "outsiders".

Should the Liberals embrace Frank Graves' potentially destructive advice, their goal will become attaining the power to themselves define -- in effect, dictate -- Canadian values. The same Canadian values that form the hegemonic basis of Canadian culture.

So, judging from the title from this post, one may wonder precisely how Murray Dobbin has to take ownership of this purported culture war.

Dobbin takes Graves' upcoming EKOS poll -- which, as already demonstrated, distorts many of the answers in accordance with the questions it asks, and how -- as triumphal proof that Canadian political values are not, in fact, "blueing".

Dobbin thus infers that if Canadian political attitudes were in fact shifting toward conservatism, it would be a defeat for he and his ideological cohort, and that anything Frank Graves could do to stem perceptions of such a shift would be a good thing.

Dobbin's commentary on Graves' promised forthcoming polling results indicates that he has believed there is a culture war at the centre of Canadian politics for quite a while.

So as Canadians wary of the social damage a culture war would inflict begin to wonder who else is in favour of such a conflict, many Canadians should wonder how badly Murray Dobbin has wanted such a culture war, and for how long.

It may not be unfair to suspect the answer is "very badly", and "very long".


  1. Great post. The intolerant left will continue to marginalize the views of others.

  2. Should the Liberals embrace Frank Graves' potentially destructive advice, their goal will become attaining the power to themselves define -- in effect, dictate -- Canadian values.

    "Will become?" That is a goal they've ALWAYS strove for. You and I both know that, the examples are legion.

  3. I'm personally not convinced of that. I believe that the majority of Liberals believe they're merely defending existing Canadian values from a force they mistake as hostile to them.

    The problem for them is that they frequently mistake their personal values for broad societal values.

    Frank Graves is talking about something very different. He's talking about exploiting common Canadian values by simply alleging that conservatives don't share them.


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