Wrestling Rank, Murky Water

“I was just thinking exactly what Matt Gurney said here!”…

… is not something I say very often. But broken clocks being right twice a day, two even more so, if the math holds up which it probably doesn’t.

The above tweet was in response to the reaction to the presumptive new Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre’s handshake with a far-right fuckity fuck mucky muck, Jeremy Mackenzie, now facing assorted firearm and assault charges. If you’re interested in further information about the dude, Google it yourself. I don’t want to get my hands filthy.

Poilievere’s opponents including rival leadership candidate Jean Charest demanded he denounce Mackenzie and all that the man stood for. To which Poilievre’s campaigned issued a resounding M’eh.

Matt Gurney’s point here, I think, if I’m understanding it correctly, is that the meat of the matter isn’t so much about the content as it is about the reaction, and reactions to the reaction. Basically performative with a life of its own.

If you’re offended by the handshake or — conceding the possibility Mackenzie was an unknown quantity to the Poilievre camp — his campaign’s limp, not even direct condemnation of the man, like I would guess a solid majority of Canadians are, there’s a good chance you were never going to be on Team Poilievre in the first place. Not now. Not ever. Pierre’s intent is not to please you, to apply balm to your wounded sensibilities. In fact, there is every reason to imagine there was nothing accidental or mistaken about the handshake. It, and publicizing it, achieved everything it was meant to achieve.

The handshake solidified Poilievre’s support with the increasingly extremist faction of the Conservative party. His campaign’s steadfastness in not stepping back from the encounter displayed his resolve in tending to this faction while standing up to the screeching and shrieking of the amorphous ‘elites’. Everyone else’s umbrage serves up the icing on the cake. The ‘others’ outrage only proves the rightness of their cause.

It’s intellectual and political jujitsu. Or is that judo? Using an opponents’ force against them.

We’re being punked, in other words. Deliberately poked in the eye because campaigns like Poilievre’s, conservatives like Poilievre, are all about creating an impregnable base and attempting to work outward from there, scratching and clawing beyond that to achieve a bare minimum of support to eke out a hold on the government. In ye olden dayes that would entail reaching across a permeable divide with at least some token olive branches representing the concept of compromise and reasonableness.

No more. At least not now. At least not from these types of conservatives.

For the rest of us, we stand, aghast. How could they?! How dare they!? This simply isn’t done!! we declare imperiously.

“Flood the zone with shit,” former Trump advisor and current fraudster Steve Bannon
said as part of his disinformation communications strategy. “This is not about persuasion,” Jonathan Rauch wrote in response. “This is about disorientation.”

Dealing with this new reality, to paraphrase Matt Gurney above, using old tools of polite public discourse is proving to be highly ineffectual, quite possibly counter-productive. Cats constantly chasing the red dots of laser pointers. We can’t keep up, swatting helplessly at moving targets that will never be pinned down.

Like the Marquis of Queensberry showing up at a machete fight, we make calls for a return to a rules-based engagement. Honesty and accountability. Responsibility’s a good one too. We demand reforms of social media to try and rein in the spread of misinformation. If only everyone could get back to reading from the same hymnbook, ecumenically, we could restore a sense of order and reasonableness, an amiable agree-to-disagreeness.

In a couple recent articles, Daniel Williams, a research fellow at Cambridge University, points toward a deeper problem that cannot just be wished away by a return to simpler times. His thoughts on ‘belief-based utility‘ and a ‘marketplace of rationalisations‘ suggest that we may not be dealing so much with mis/disinformation and the condescendingly dubbed low-information citizen as we are a highly informed population who know exactly what they believe and think, and know exactly where to go to back up and bulwark their belief systems.

The toxic event had released a spirit of imagination. People spun tales, others listened spellbound, Don DeLillo writes in White Noise. There was a growing respect for the vivid rumor, the most chilling tale. We were no closer to believing or disbelieving a given story than we had been earlier. But there was a greater appreciation now. We began to marvel at our own ability to manufacture awe.

Disorientation. This Can’t Possibly Be Happening. A retreat into separate and competing versions of reality in search of some sort of explanation.

The problem isn’t that a segment of our society is uninformed or under-informed or misinformed. They’re plenty informed, over-informed even, in ways designed to disregard, dismiss and ably mock opposing, contrary views. They’ve sourced their own material and rules of engagement.

There’s no art of persuasion available here, not in any sort of traditional sense. It’s a bold, shameless bloodlust too thick skinned to be brought down by deft intellectual thrust-and-parry. No sense in even trying.

The only option at this point is to try and cauterize the rift. Isolate the gangrenous wedge and cordon it off. Demarcate it as a no-go zone with a sign warning those still contemplating its merits that they’re at risk of entering a toxic dump.

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