Responding to the politics of fear

There are a pair of important ballots coming up this year for Metro Vancouver residents, one a mail-in vote on the plan to raise the sales tax by half a percentage point to fund long term regional public transit plans and major road transportation projects, and the other the federal election.  The former I’ll be talking about more in upcoming posts, but in the meantime, a Michael Den Tandt article on Monday commented on how the collapse of three pillars of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s economic strategy (maybe a fourth as well with China’s ambitious investment plans to build a new multi-mode Eurasian Silk Road dampening Canada’s trade prospects) has led him to focus tactics towards promoting himself as the safe choice to lead Canada in these uncertain times.

This does not bode well for the tone of the upcoming election campaign given the attack style political messaging and tactics Harper’s Conservatives are well known for in Canada.   Many people, including myself, hope that political parties and their candidates would run on their own merits rather than disparage their opposition, but negative campaigning appears to get results.

First, similar to what I said in my post concerning the Ebola crisis, the problem with fear-based politics is that they draw the mind toward personal risk at a time when we need to consider the bigger picture.  There are certainly legitimate reasons to consider our personal interests when it comes to our voting decisions, but that doesn’t mean that extra weight should be given to dubious or speculative information just because it involves an issue that we can relate to, but either does not involve us individually or has a low probability of happening.  While helping impoverished nations handle the ebola crisis is important, raising the spectre about the risk of infection here in Canada is nowhere near as relevant as long term health care funding, especially as the senior population begin to escalate.

Second, making decisions based on what you think is certain isn’t always the best option as it is, but, as I wrote in my Moving beyond certainty piece, safe choices always favor our self interest perspective.  Going with what you know. Endeavoring towards what is best for everyone, the public interest perspective, always involves a greater degree of uncertainty, a natural feature of social life as I called it, but that hardly disqualifies it from consideration in our choices.  Drumming up the fear of the unknown should not be allowed to distract us from understanding and comparing our options.

Just a couple of things to keep in mind the next time you are bombarded by campaign messaging in the lead up to a vote, no matter where you are.

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Posted in Canada, Politics, Transportation

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