Anti-anti politics

A powerful force in politics today is the strength of what we might call “anti-anti” sentiment. Self-doubt and cowardice prevent a lot of us from stating exactly what we’re for, but few have anxiety about stating what we’re against. And what we’re against, increasingly, is other people being against other things.

In America, the notion of anti-antism has its roots in the so-called “new left” of the 1960s, who often went around declaring themselves “anti-anti Communist.” Which is to say, they were neither anti-Communist like mainstream Democratic politicians — who had committed all sorts of monstrous crimes in Vietnam and elsewhere in pursuing that goal — nor pro-Communist like some of the socialist parties of Europe, who were equally unattractive apologists for the totalitarian oppression of the USSR.

Being anti-anti-Communist allowed leftists to criticize American foreign policy remorselessly, often openly echoing Soviet talking points, yet simultaneously dismiss responsibility for emboldening the other, “equally bad” evil empire. The result was a kind of aloof detachment from the strategic realities of the Cold War in favor of unimpeachable self-righteousness and moral purity.

Today, we see similar tactics emulated across the spectrum on a host of  issues.

On the environment, for instance, many modern conservatives embrace a worldview best described as “anti-anti climate change.” Their cause is not in favor of CO2 emissions, nor is it — as their critics endlessly allege — blind support for oil, coal, and pipelines. Instead, it is merely a critical orientation rooted in a deep, reactive skepticism of the sort of people who have the loudest voices within the environmentalist movement. Aware that the climate change cause is championed most vigorously by those whom they are already skeptical (progressive politicians, Hollywood liberals, urban street protestors and their ilk) offering policy prescriptions of the sort they ordinarily oppose (regulation of business, tax hikes, social engineering), their default stance is contrarianism.

An even more vivid example would be the current moral crusade to curb the “rape culture” of our schools and workplaces, championed so vigorously by the online social justice set. There has been an enormous amount of pushback from the right towards much of this, to which the social justice types have replied that anyone critical of their agenda must be actively in favor of rape, misogyny, gendered violence, and sexism. A more accurate reading would see anti-antism at work — obviously no one is pro-rape, but many conservatives do find fault with society’s increasingly liberal standards used to determine whether the crime occurred, and what other behaviors should be considered culpable.

It’s not a phenomenon limited to the right, of course. On the left, engagement with post-recession fiscal issues has become fairly anti-anti, in which we routinely see austerity measures opposed not because anyone, beyond the hardest hard core Keynesians, actually supports debt and deficits, but rather because it’s considered important to not concede an inch to those free market demagogues who “got us into this mess,” etc, etc.

Ditto for abortion, which Wendy Davis — an anti-anti politician if there ever was one — attempted with decidedly limited success to mobilize a liberal coalition around. Not celebrating the procedure, nor desiring it to be completely unregulated and unrestrained, but rallying furiously against anyone who might have a problem if they were.

Similar things could be said about the neutral-but-defensive liberal reaction to race riots in the aftermath of Fergusson, or indeed, the troubling behavior of Michael Brown himself. Then there’s the the convoluted existence of feminists we could describe as being anti-anti-anti rape culture, in which even brazenly untrue allegations of sexual assault, such as the ones contained in that now massively discredited Rolling Stone story, are defended simply because acknowledging their flaws could embolden the anti-antis.

The problem with these modern strains of anti-antism is the same as what made the original doctrine of anti-anti Communism so unimpressive — it’s a style of argument based on criticizing the tactics and agenda of your enemy while never revealing your own, and thereby lazily abdicating the difficult, but intellectually critical obligation of defending the conduct of those who have.

Any philosophy worth taking seriously should include some attempt to define a positive vision of an ideal society, and thereby a set of measurable, achievable goals — which in the political world means policies — to be pursued to this end. A ideology that only identifies its enemies only goes halfway; one that merely criticizes its critics’ criticisms goes even less than that.

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Canada’s weird monarchy problem

I drew a big long cartoon for Medium about the monarchy and Canada. Sort of a cartoon manifesto on a issue I’ve obviously been quite passionate about over the years.

I’ve had some fun drawing long form cartoon essays of this sort (check out my past offerings on rock stars and cell phones).

I’d be curious to know if there are any other topics you’d like to see me tackle in this form.

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The false hope of Justin Trudeau

“Open nominations for all Liberal candidates in every single riding in the next election,” is what Justin Trudeau promised as he stood before the assembled party faithful on the eve of his crowning as Liberal boss. It may be one of the most spectacularly dishonest statements ever uttered by a Canadian party leader.

A column on this topic risks becoming little more than a long list of anecdotes. But here are a few.

In March, two-time Liberal nominee Christine Innes was banned from seeking the Toronto riding of Trinity-Spadina a third time, supposedly for bad behavior. Trudeau ally Adam Vaughn was installed in her place.

In July, former Ontario deputy premier George Smitherman expressed interest in becoming the Liberal candidate for the riding of Toronto Centre. Justin Trudeau made it clear rockstar journalist Chrystia Freeland was his choice, and Smitherman stood down.

In August, the Huffington Post’s Althia Raj ran a long piece describing Team Trudeau’s alleged meddling in multiple ridings in order to secure victories for Justin loyalists, including the manipulation of dates and bureaucratic approvals to handicap the undesirables, as well as more explicit expressions of discouragement.

In October, disgraced ex-Brampton-Springdale MP Ruby Dhalla seemed poised to announced a political comeback, only to abruptly change her mind in what CTV dubbed a “bizarre turn of events.” She claimed she had been told by higher ups in the party “not to do it.”

In November, former footnote leadership candidate David Bertschi was banned from seeking the Liberal nod in Ottawa-Orléans on the grounds he had failed to pay down his campaign debts. A couple weeks later Gen. Andrew Leslie, a high-profile Trudeau ally, was unanimously acclaimed to the position.

A few days later after that, Barj Dhahan, a would-be candidate for Vancouver South announced he would reluctantly step aside in favor of another Trudeau-backed military man, Lt. Colonel Harjit Singh. Dhahan’s people claim their guy was essentially bullied out with nasty rumors of campaign improprieties that would be cited to veto his candidacy if he wasn’t willing to do things the easy way.

Which brings us to this week, in which it was revealed that the Trudeau people have apparently persuaded BC philanthropist Joanne Griffth to seek the Vancouver-East nomination, in a clearly unsubtle attempt to quash the current off-message front-runner, flamboyant Marijuana activist Jodie Emery.

Backroom intrigue stories like these personify a particularly esoteric flavor of political reporting, and it’s not unreasonable to question why anyone beyond the directly affected should care. In practical terms, after all, who does or doesn’t get to run for a seat in parliament doesn’t matter much, simply because MPs themselves don’t matter much. Canadian members of parliament vote as they’re told — a Globe and Mail study found the most “disloyal” one still voted with his party’s leadership 99% of the time — and are thus interchangeable and irrelevant.

The undemocratic installation of “star candidates” is something a bit different however, in that it reveals a party boss’ explicit efforts to assemble a team of men and women intended to fill a theoretical future prime minister’s senior cabinet. And since cabinet ministers are generally on the fast track to become prime minister themselves someday (seven of our last 10 PMs have had cabinet experience) the result is nothing less than the crafting of the next generation of Canadian leadership through means deliberately designed to minimize public input.

If the Canadian style of parliamentary democracy is to be a system which subordinates community preferences to the tyranny of the party bosses, and tolerates the public’s ability to choose their own rulers only to the extent their choices are not unduly disruptive, threatening, or embarrassing to the current powers that be, then it is not a democracy worth defending.

American-style primary elections— in which any citizen can vote in a party’s nomination race simply by self-identifying as a party supporter, and there exists no party elite to veto or limit their choices — would represent a vast improvement. But that’s also the reason you never hear it proposed.

By now, everyone seems to agree something has gone terribly wrong with the Liberal Party’s nomination process. What’s sad is that so many have concluded Justin Trudeau’s greatest crime in all this is not chronically scheming to deny voter choice, but simply giving millions of Canadians false hope that our politics could ever be practiced any other way.

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Posturing on prostitution

Premier Wynne’s decision to pick a fight with Ottawa over the Harper administration’s new prostitution law reveals several things about the state of contemporary politics in Canada —  little of it encouraging.

The first is what The New Yorker’s Jeff Toobin once dubbed the “colonization” of the political system by the legal system.

In instructing her attorney general to “advise me on the constitutional validity” of the Conservative government’s Protection Of Communities And Exploited Persons Act, which criminalizes the purchasing of sex but not the selling (reversing Canada’s previous status quo) the Ontario premier is making it clear that parliamentary passage does not represent any sort of conclusion within the lawmaking process, but merely a beginning.

To today’s progressive elites, laws passed by the nation’s elected representatives are but an opening bid, destined to be haggled down — or ideally overturned —  by a phalanx of lawyers and judges with sensibilities more enlightened than the ignorant rubes that fill our legislatures. Premier Wynne was strikingly blunt about this, conceding that while “I am not an expert, and I am not a lawyer,” she is nevertheless breezily optimistic the legal process will ultimately echo her opposition.

That politicians of the left can so frequently carry themselves this way — that it can always be happily taken for granted that Conservative legislation is but a unanimous Supreme Court ruling away from the trash heap — should trouble many more than it does in what it reveals about the dominance of a single strain of philosophy within a judicial system based on subjective interpretation of an ambiguously-written constitution.

The other theme is more sinister. The progressive bona fides of contemporary liberal politicians like Wynne are increasingly established not by tax policy, spending policy, or indeed public policy in general, but rather a series of mostly symbolic positions on a number of emotionally-charged social issues.

Like most modern parties of the left, Wynne’s Liberals are overwhelmingly the party of the urban — in the last provincial election hers won all but two of the dozen-or-so downtown Toronto ridings. Urbanites, in turn, tend to be more educated and wealthy than their rural, Conservative-voting compatriots, and more obsessed with the sort of status jockeying and ostentatious flaunting of enlightened thinking that comes with inhabiting a white collar universe where career and social benefits are often tied to one’s mastery of abstract knowledge and fashionable intellectual trends.

In the mind of the urban progressive, one’s stance on a matter like the appropriate legal status of prostitution is now simply a metric for measuring the presence of virtues like open-mindedness and moral libertarianism. Hence, opinions on prostitution are not really about prostitution at all, but rather government’s right to regulate the private realm of sexual activity, which the socially correct are expected to resist.

As the head of the Toronto NOW recently put it, in an editorial defending her decision to run prostitution ads in her newspaper, “the new prostitution laws are part of a political agenda that aims to turn the clock back on the acceptance of human sexual diversity and our right to choose our own individual paths.” It’s basically the “same struggle that the LGBTQ community has waged for full human rights,” she adds, evoking the modern left’s all-purpose analogy for measuring moral decency.

Yet tragedy invariably arises when we insist on abstracting serious issues in this fashion. The sex trade is not just a thought exercise, after all, but a real-world enterprise centered around the exploitation of female bodies for profit, a trade which by its dehumanizing design inflicts a terrible physical and psychological toll on its participants. Thanks to their wealth and education, ruling class progressives understand this, and are the demographic most likely to avoid participating in the sex trade themselves, or dwelling in close proximity to it, just as they are the demographic most likely to avoid hard drugs, out-of-wedlock births, and the various other irresponsibilities they enjoy defending intellectually.

As Charles Murray succinctly put it, what we are witnessing is the rise of a political and media elite that doesn’t “preach what they practice.” The end result is a society in which the real-world tolls of liberal social policy, the horrors of physical exploitation, substance dependency, family breakdown, and emotional trauma are born disproportionately by the social classes whose ignorance is most dangerous and whose influence is smallest within the realm of the powerful.

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Elizabeth May and the Truthers

Elizabeth May swears up and down that her decision to present a petition to the House of Commons demanding a “parliamentary review of the omissions and inconsistencies in the official United States of America 9/11 Commission Report” was simply about respecting the wishes of constituents and doesn’t reflect her personal views on this apparently subjective matter. Though her ostensible defense has been the popular urban myth that MPs “have to” read into the public record any petition they’re given (not true, says the House website), it’s hard to avoid viewing her actions as anything but a dog whistle endorsement to a certain faction of her partisan base.

As the preferred party of the fringe and alienated, the Green Party of Canada has had a long and complicated relationship with the Truther community.

On the one hand, among the deranged subcultures of the extreme left, Truthers represent a constituency who are organized, energetic, and (in their own way) politically informed — precisely the sort of highly-motivated go-getters any self-respecting kook party would want onside.

On the other hand, their preferred cause is undeniably toxic from a PR perspective, championing, as it does, stomping on the graves of the nearly 3,000 souls slaughtered in New York and Washington by absolving guilt from the fundamentalist sadists who have repeatedly claimed responsibility.

The Green’s preferred solution to this dilemma, it seems, is to utilize the gifts of Truthers so long as they remain quiet and unseen, while simultaneously engaging in high-profile purges of those whose prominence crosses that thin line separating asset from liability.

In 2007, Vancouver-area Green candidate Kevin Potvin was fired by Elizabeth May following revelations he not only rejected the “official story” of 9/11 (“I have no idea what happened on that day, but it’s certainly not the story that Washington propagates”) but somewhat confusingly also supported the attacks themselves. In an editorial published in some far-left rag shortly after the day in question, he described the sight of the towers and Pentagon in smoke as “beautiful,” and having provoked “an urge to pump my fist in the air.”

Potvin’s ouster was followed a few months later by the purging of another Green candidate, John Shavluk of Newton-North Delta, for even more odious remarks. Arguing online with a DC cop, Shavluk had taunted the officer with what he no doubt imagined to be a withering burn, noting that “i [sic] heard some guy in Australia knows someone who says he had something to do with your governments [sic] complicate [sic] attack on your shoddily built Jewish world bank headquarters.”

Then there was Qais Ghanem, prospective 2011 Green Party candidate for Ottawa South. He quit on his own accord following Elizabeth May’s expression of concern over his involvement in a “peace conference” that hosted, amongst other anti-semites and Iranian regime proxies, a speaker positing that 9/11 was an elaborate Zionist conspiracy.

Ghanem himself was no stranger to such theories, having previously written on Truther websites that the carnage of September 11 was clearly an “inside job” that “could not possibly be the work of a dozen amateur Saudis.” Three other Green Party candidates were associated with the conference, too. I’m not sure what became of them.

Whether or not Elizabeth May is a Truther herself is fairly irrelevant at this point. Her party is clearly attractive to them, and it doesn’t appear difficult for a sufficiently motivated Truther to climb to significant heights within it.

May’s willingness to dignify a Truther petition before a parliamentary audience, when, by all accounts she would have been completely legally and morally justified dismissing their concerns as frivolous nonsense (as it is exceedingly easy to imagine her doing, with, say, a petition claiming global warming is a load of baloney) can be easily interpreted as a kind of proper care and feeding of this valuable constituency.

After all, even if May does not endorse the Truther subculture personally, the practical consequences of her stunt — which she certainly knew would make national headlines — are hardly unfavorable to their interests.

Their message has been heard, their crankish conspiracy theory has been legitimized as a perfectly valid “voice” in our national dialogue, and, most importantly, their perception of the Greens as a party that’s sympathetic to their existence (even if only to a point) has been reconfirmed.

What perceptions of the Green Party have been reconfirmed in the minds of the 96 percent of Canadians who don’t vote for them is a matter Ms. May might want to pause and consider.

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OPEC’s rising tide

A new toon posted on the Nib about OPEC’s recent decision to undercut American oil prices through overproduction.

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Where are the comics?

A number of you have asked this question, and I apologize for not providing a clear answer sooner.

Longtime readers will know that I’m constantly experimenting with this site and its format, of which I am never fully satisfied. I’m always either trying or promising new ideas to best reflect my current priorities as an artist and writer, but often those change faster than I can change the site.

Right now, I’m making most of my income as a television commentator for Sun News, a conservative TV station here in Canada. My secondary source of income is my comics, which I am now specifically commissioned to draw once-a-week for a website called The Nib, which is hosted by Medium.com, run by my pal and yours, noted lefty cartoonist Matt Bors. A third source of income is writing editorials on Canadian politics for the Sun News website. A fourth source is doing long-form comics, such as this one on rock stars for Medium or this one on cellphone sizes for CNN (I have one coming up about the monarchy I’m quite excited about).

Readers of this site have come to expect cartoons accompanied by essays, which I am having a hard time finding the time to write these days. I could just post the cartoons as stand-alones, but I feel that would be redundant, and divert traffic from The Nib, who I feel loyalty to as an employee. Hence, this site has been rather cartoon bereft recently, and for that I apologize. I have begun to use this site as more of a forum for slightly idiosyncratic essays on topics I want to engage with, but have no other appropriate forum to do so.

As usual, I appreciate the feedback of you, my readers. I read all your commnets and take your opinions seriously when you tell me what you want to see from this site. I have some exciting projects underway right now, including a new informational wesbite in the spirit of my Canada Guide, and possibly even a book.

For the time being, however, let me just provide you with some critical links if you would like to more actively follow my output.

I am quite active on social media, so first and foremost please follow me on Twitter and join my Facebook page (still called Filibuster, but they won’t let me change it) for real-time updates the moment they happen.

And here is a link to my most recent cartoons, as archived on The Nib.

 

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Kinder Morgan protestors show striking thoughtlessness

In the spring of 2013, British Columbia’s nebbish NDP leader, Adrian Dix, staged a stunning upset and lost a provincial election everyone assumed he had in the bag. Once the dust settled, a chorus of pundits blamed his defeat on a single strategic blunder — an abrupt decision, late in the campaign, to come out against expanding Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline. Wags joked endlessly about the “Kinder Surprise” that cost Dix the premier’s chair. A former NDP premier quit the party in protest of the “astonishingly stupid decision.”

In those distant days, conventional wisdom held it was possible to go too far in opposing British Columbia’s natural resource sector. To oppose the contentious Northern Gateway pipeline was one thing — few denied that proposed 1,177 kilometer tract linking Alberta’s oil sands to the BC coastal town of Kitimat was fraught with logistical and environmental ambiguities. But Trans Mountain? That thing was already built, and had been shipping Albertan oil to tankers on the southern BC coast for more than six decades. It was neither scary nor mysterious, just a tried-and-true piece of western Canadian economic infrastructure, quietly gurgling beneath BC neighborhoods since 1953. For Dix to oppose increasing its flow — which is what Kinder Morgan humbly requested in the winter of 2013 — was to ally with the most regressive wing of the green movement who opposed simply for the sake of opposing.

Well, what a difference a year makes.

With Northern Gateway now widely considered dead, or at least zombified — the victim of hunkered-down opposition from the BC government, a bevy of burdensome regulations from the National Energy board, and dogmatic resistance from the aboriginal set — Trans Mountain has steadily become more acceptable to oppose. BC’s powerful environmental activist industrial-complex has shifted focus to make Kinder Morgan their new public enemy number one, and the public seems game. A poll this summer found opposition to Trans Mountain has risen to nearly 50% (with 10% on the fence). Politicians have scrambled to ride the changing winds.

November 15 saw the mayors of Vancouver and Burnaby — British Columbia’s first and third-largest cities — re-elected in part on anti-Trans Mountain platforms, with the particularly virulent Derek Corrigan of Burnaby winning a particularly sweeping mandate, earning nearly 70% of the popular vote and securing his NDP-aligned party all eight seats on city council. At the federal level, both Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair have begun carefully backtracking their earlier endorsements, as yesterday’s moderate proposal becomes the devil of the present.

It’s worth noting just how ludicrously premature much of this opposition is. A year after its proposal, the Trans Mountain expansion remains in an exceedingly embryonic state. Construction has not begun, nor has the project gained the necessary approval of the BC government (who have very strict rules about this sort of thing), the federal government, or the National Energy Board — to say nothing of affected First Nations. The current hysterical protests of Suzuki et al. enveloping Burnaby Mountain — which the expanded pipeline is considering burrowing through in order to be less invasive to local communities — are simply opposing Kinder Morgan’s attempts to collect modest rock samples for a feasibility study. Over 100 people have gotten themselves arrested trying to stop this.

The national media enjoys portraying pipeline critics as deeply principled, but the rushed, faddish nature of Trans Mountain opposition shows a movement that’s striking in its thoughtlessness. Any critic rallying this early, after all, is either implying they have zero faith in the National Energy Board (or any other government entity with veto power) to support their conclusion that the Trans Mountain expansion presents a existential threat to BC’s forests, seas, and atmosphere —  which suggests the evidence for such arguments is hardly persuasive — or that theirs is not really a fight grounded in science at all, but rather shallow NIMBYISM, or petty ideological hang-ups about oil.

And yet such forces appear to be winning the day. Pipelines are becoming an increasingly totemic subject of scorn in the British Columbia political conversation — a consequence, it seems, of the steady decline of environmentalism from serious scientific movement to lazy, populist craze peddling easy salvation from doomsday prophecies.

In retrospect, one must truly pity Mr. Dix.

As a politician, he was undeniably ahead of his time. As a victim, he may prove one of the last casualties of a moderate impulse unlikely to strike his province again.

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Women’s Issues

Dr. Matthew Taylor of the European Space Agency was publicly reduced to tears this week, the latest victim of what The New Yorker’s Joshua Rothman dubbed the “self-serious, hypercritical, omnipresent, never-ending, and unpredictable justice system” that is contemporary social media.

Taylor stood accused of wearing a garish shirt featuring scantily -clad (though by no means pornographic) depictions of women at a media scrum following his team’s successful completion of the Rosetta meteor-landing mission. That the shirt was a gift designed by a female friend mattered not — the judges of the internet courtroom have a hair-trigger for these sorts of things, and their ruling of guilt was swift.

Over here in Canada, meanwhile, heightened tensions in the aftermath of the Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault scandal have provoked an equally striking instance of kangaroo justice. Two female NDP MPs anonymously accused two male Liberal MPs of harassment, and Liberal boss Justin Trudeau promptly exiled both from his party in response. But the purported victims have simultaneously “declined” to make their complaints official, or otherwise participate in any grievance resolution mechanism. That puts the two ex-Liberals in a curious sort of purgatory as far as due process goes, but from Trudeau’s perspective it’s much safer to err on the side of ruining two men’s careers than enabling “rape culture.”

When we speak about the climate of the times, the phrase I keep coming back to is “moral panic,” the idea of a public constantly whipped into a lather about frightening, dangerous phenomenon that may or may not actually exist. Panics relating to omnipresent sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual assault are currently proving most salient, with much madness being done in their name.

All available evidence suggests incidents of sexual violence and sexual harassment are at unprecedented lows, while metrics of female achievement sit at unprecedented highs. The recent midterms, for example, saw a record number of women get elected to Congress — a fact which has been true of basically every election of the last nine decades. That women still have much to desire in terms of safety and success goes without saying (and everyone says it constantly anyway), yet contemporary feminism’s disinterest in such “big picture” questions in favor of picking fights on the periphery, or compromising fair process to secure satisfyingly salacious prosecutions, has prompted even ordinarily sympathetic corners to worry things are starting to get a bit, well, McCarthyesque.

The roots are broad. Educated, upper-middle class women still tend to view their gains as fragile, and it can take a while for any community to abandon a skepticism of opponents from whom hard-fought rights were only recently extracted. Women similarly remain a highly-coveted demographic as both consumers and voters, meaning there’s considerable capital to be gained from stoking and appeasing their insecurity and anger — emotions which tend to be strong motives for action.

Articles, videos, cartoons, and advertisements that offer women empowering stories of confrontation with sexist society — be it a documentary on walking the streets of New York or an 11,000-word essay on the gender politics of Frozen have become easy clickbait, while liberal politicians and activists seeking to curry favor with the female electorate have found reasonable success framing conservatives as proponents of misogynistic conspiracies. Twitter and Facebook provide the grassroots chorus, and the result is a culture walking on eggshells.

That much of this is excessively censorious and judgmental — and at times, even totalitarian — is indisputably true. Yet the conservative in me can’t help but wonder if there may be some tertiary cultural benefit to this new era of heightened sensitivity, too.

Sensitivity to indignity and vulgarity have been historically conservative virtues after all, while many of those most vigorously fighting feminism’s most recent incarnation have been crass and cruel. As ideologues, today’s loudest anti-feminists — stereotypically embodied by the fringes of the “Men’s Rights” and GamerGate subcultures — are motivated by a strange sort of juvenile libertarianism, with arguments based more on unrestrained entitlement than anything else. The freedom to be offensive, ignorant, and insensitive are taken as positive ends unto themselves, while any expected standards of conduct or decency are construed as persecution and oppression.

Writing about the current freak-out over the dubious pandemic of university rape, Heather MacDonald in the Weekly Standard speculated that such feminist moral panics may be inadvertently “neo-Victorian,” in that the heightened climate of fear they foster may wind up generating a more conservative social culture. A culture in which we become a lot more instinctively cautious about meaningless sex and depictions of women’s bodies, and moderate ourselves with exaggerated displays of mannered restraint. A culture that’s considerably less sexually liberated (or, in current jargon, “sex positive”) but also less promiscuous, obscene, and lustful.

In some ways, it will also be a culture hypocritical to the current panic’s stated aims, at least in the sense many men will be inclined to patronizingly regard women as inherently delicate and hypersensitive. But if the result accompanies a revival of chivalry, protocol, and manners — and indeed, less boorish politicians and scientists dressing like grown-ups — that’s hardly something to mourn.

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The fall of Mayor Moonbeam

In November of 1974, Californians elected an eccentric 36-year-old named Jerry Brown to run their state. For his obsession with far-out philosophy they nicknamed him “Governor Moonbeam.” He was particularly taken with the works of noted Canadian bigshot Marshall McLuhan, who posited (among other things) that symbolic gestures could get you just as much credit as doing something substantial —  the so-called “synecdoche” theory.

Vancouver’s new-age mayor Gregor Robertson has now inherited the “Moonbeam” nickname himself, and it’s doubtful many critics who level the slur know its origins (an ignorance less excusable than it may seem; in 2010 Jerry Brown was elected back to power after a 27-year hiatus). Yet the analogy remains an apt one, as symbolically rich, substance-free gestures have proven Gregor’s bread-and-butter.

As head of the Vision Vancouver slate, which aims to ally pragmatic centre-left supporters of British Columbia’s ruling Liberals and opposition NDP, Robertson’s supposed coalition of the serious has done little but expose the exceedingly superficial priorities of contemporary urban progressivism. The fact that he’s currently struggling to win a third term in an election presumed to be a cakewalk highlights the practical limitations of government by empty gesture.

In a jurisdiction that boasts Canada’s lowest big city median income, highest rate of underemployment, most unaffordable real estate, and most pathetic rates of small business growth, Robertson and friends have proved distracted Don Quixotes, forever charging at windmills whose slaying appeases few beyond a narrow clique of hipster social justice-types.

Mixed martial arts were banned in 2009 for being too violent. Doorknobs were outlawed in 2013 for being too painful for the weak-wristed. Residential composting was made mandatory, though poorly-designed containers led to a rat infestation. The popular Vancouver aquarium was given orders to phase out dolphin-breeding. A $475,000 grant from the Chevron corporation to fund local schools was rejected for being too “corporate.” A bleeding-heart council declaration redefined the city limits as “unceded” aboriginal territory.

Such ideological flights of fancy often occur in open indifference to experts and the public. A moral panic over a supposed pandemic of transphobic violence was whipped up to ram through a sweeping “gender neutral” policy for Vancouver classrooms, which, amid other social engineering, condescendingly forbade teachers from informing parents if their kids were having issues. Parents are now suing. A gang of protestors crashed a summer council meeting and intimidated the mayor into letting them camp illegally in a city park for three months. The result was a violent carnival of chaos that ended with one death and the cancellation of three community events.

Robertson’s aloof promise to “end homelessness” by next year in the face of a 249% spike in the unsheltered homeless population has resulted in the government stuffing hobos into vacant buildings hastily rebranded as “low income housing,” with insultingly brief gripe sessions offered as compensation to neighborhood residents. And then, of course, there are the infamous bike lanes, which have imposed endless headaches for motorists, pedestrians, and local business alike in order to appease a self-righteous cyclist minority comprising a whopping 1.7% of Vancouver commuters.

Little is known of Robertson’s main opponent, former newspaperman Kirk LaPoint, who heads a civic slate known as the “Non Partisan Association” (one of BC’s most treasured paradoxes). The NPA is sometimes dubbed “centre-right” by lazy journalists who prefer their politics to come in neat dichotomies, but in practice much of the LaPointe agenda is of the same big-government flavor as Robertson himself. Vision has uncharitably pegged the bill for LaPointe’s various promises at around $146 million, without any discernible plan for payment.

But mundane things like balanced budgets are luxuries in a race that’s become more about temperament than anything else, with LaPointe playing the role of cautious grownup — vowing, with monotonous repetition, that his administration will decide no issue without first subjecting it to an endless array of studies, investigations, and consultations — in contrast to the wide-eyed Robertson, a frantic ideologue motivated solely by fad and fashion.

In functional terms, the fall of Mayor Moonbeam might not mean much for Vancouver. Municipal governments are weak and dominated by bureaucrats and special interests, and both Vision and NPA are well-heeled vehicles for the city’s moneyed elite (a fact which may be bleeding some of Robertson’s base to Meena Wong, a far-left third party candidate).

But as Marshall McLuhan and Jerry Brown well understood, sometimes symbols matter. For a city that often struggles to escape stubborn cliches of left coast silliness, this race could prove a powerful one.

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