Thursday, August 05, 2021

Alberta's Conservatives Are Abusers

 It should come as no surprise to most readers that I have little use for conservatism in its current form. I think it has become something to be reviled, and today, I was introduced to an article that reinforced my thoughts on the matter, and in some key respects highlights the nature of how conservatives have been abusing Albertans - for decades.  

The article is in Alberta Views:  "Rural Resentment"

When I saw this article reposted on Facebook, I started to write out a comment, but I quickly found it was getting too long to be a comment, so I'm moving it here. 

I keep saying that Albertans have been in an abusive relationship with conservatives (and not just the current UCP variety) for a very long time. This article underscores some of the key features of what an abuser will do:

1) Isolate their victims

For decades conservatives have played up the "urban/rural divide", telling each group that only they (conservatives) can fix their problems.

2) Foster fear of the "Other" to maintain isolation

Rural Albertans are fed a steady stream of how "city folk" don't understand them, they're a bunch of "overeducated eggheads", and lord knows what other stereotypes.

3) Continuously tell their victims that only they understand them.

We only have to look at the statements we see coming out of various rural MLAs to identify the underlying message to their constituency residents: "only I can save you from the predations of the city folk".  Talk about how special the rural folk are (salt of the earth talk) to make them feel good, while implying that urban dwellers are essentially parasites on their hard work. 

This pattern is common in abusive relationships - it both isolates the victim, and it enmeshes them in the abuser's web. It's not good for the victim, but it then becomes so scary to look beyond the "bubble" that is created, that the victim feels truly trapped with no way out.  

It's the perfect structure for an abuser to take advantage of, and conservative politicians have done just that for a very long period of time. Don't think for a moment that this is isolated to the UCP - every conservative party has leaned on this structure for decades because it's been politically convenient. 

To the point that they have bred anger and resentment. Why is rural broadband such a difficult problem to solve? Because it's politically advantageous to let the problem languish. It's real easy to blame it on "costs", and let anger at the "city folk" fester rather than do anything concrete about it. It makes it easier for MLAs to continue telling rural residents how "city folk" think about them. Look at the anger that is expressed in that article in some of those conversations. That kind of anger doesn't happen without it being fostered for a long time.

I've encountered it myself, and as an urban dweller, I get told "Oh, but you have to just listen to them and hear where they're coming from".  Consider the following quote from the article:  

“Most of [them] see us as rednecks who can barely get our pants on by ourselves. I don’t have a college degree, so I’m an idiot. That’s what they’re thinking. I worked from nothing to a senior management position in an oil company. But I’ll always be a redneck in their eyes.” His wife chimed in, “Oh, yes, they think we’re rednecks… It’s nice that you came out here. Nice that someone wants to listen. Do you think anyone will listen to what you write?”

This kind of alienation doesn't come from nowhere - it's been fostered, nursed, and fed for a very long time. Think about it - where is there "ground to listen to where they're coming from"?  They've already decided that because I'm an urban dweller (and worse, I hold not just one degree), that I'm just looking down my nose at them. There's no room for conversation here - what ground might have been there has been salted long ago. Automatically, the urban dweller is the "other", the "outsider" - the person not to be trusted. Where are they "coming from"?  Fear - plain and simple. They've been told over and over to be afraid of "the city folk", and well, guess what - they've fallen deep into that well. 

What's really sad about this is that the door to conversation has long since been closed, locked, and boarded over by generations worth of rhetoric designed to isolate Albertans from one another. At the end of the day, we all have fundamentally the same objectives - to lead good lives, and raise happy families. We may differ over matters of what exactly that looks like, but the goals are the same. 

A toxic form of divisiveness has been used to convince people that rural and urban Albertans are dramatically different in their life goals - and that divisiveness has been fostered by conservative leaning politicians for decades. 

More recently, we saw this divisiveness in the messaging regarding COVID-19. Rural Alberta was basically being told "oh, well, it's really just a big city problem because cities are so crammed/dirty/whatever", and then we had MLAs from the more libertarian wing of the UCP demanding that their ridings be treated differently than cities because the incidence at that time was so low.  Again, the messaging wasn't hard to figure out - it was designed to isolate people from each other. 

The degree of that toxicity shows up in issues like rolling out broadband in the rural areas - a process that we've been talking about since the 1990s, and has had less than no traction.  Why?  Well, the excuses are always that it's so expensive to lay down the infrastructure, or that it's not profitable enough, etc. Yet, politicians promise it all the time ... and little happens.  Ditto with other matters like paving roads, or ensuring that hospitals are accessible where people can get to them in reasonable time. In Alberta, if conservative politicians wanted to address these issues, it's not like they have lacked for opportunities to do so - the province has been dominated by right-leaning politicians ever since Aberhart won in 1935 - with the exception of a period from 2015 to 2019.  That isn't just years - it's decades. 

Telling people "oh, you just have to listen" isn't going to change a damned thing, because when one side has already decided that the other party is "wrong" because of some assumed attribute, there's no chance for dialogue. Part of me looks at rural Alberta voters and thinks "you want to convince me you're intelligent, thinking people?  Quit voting for conservatives that keep abusing you and your trust". That applies more broadly to Alberta conservative voters, really. 

This is a wake-up call.  Not merely for urban or rural Albertans, but for Albertans as a whole:  The political stripe you have spent so many decades supporting is your abuser. 


gundamzuki said...

There is just SO MUCH to take apart and digest about that article. My very first thought about the whole thing is, as you noted, it's specifically designed to alienate people from each other. But the more I go over it, the more I find it problematic. In broad strokes, it is specifically designed to alienate people, as you noted. The fascinating (and horrifying) bit is in just how nuanced that attempt is. The most obvious layer is that it tells 'rural' readers "Urban people hate you. You need to band together and fight back." You covered that quite well. Something you didn't quite touch on as much, however is that at the same time it tells 'urban' readers "They actually think this about you. You need to disengage from them." The alienation is two-fold.

It does all this with impressive subtlety. There's a further, unspoken layer to 'rural' readers: "The views presented are commonly held. You should hold them too or risk alienation." This all becomes painfully clear when you ask whether or not the views are common, or even if they actually exist at all outside of feelings fostered by pieces like this. An almost ubiquitous trick by media is to 'interview the right person'. Then they will have hours-long discussions to pick out the bits that support the views the article wants. Further than that, I have to ask if the people quoted even actually exist. "An exchange in a McDonald's" is pretty hard to (dis)prove. Note, also that the actual question is not quoted leaving open the question of just how leading this interviewer was.

To be clear, I am certain that a frighteningly large number of people do honestly feel this way. As you pointed out, you don't go through years of this kind of propaganda without that happening. I simply pointing out the unspoken implication that this view is to be expected and identified with. Doing that really breaks the entire article. Getting people to do it is the hard part and I honestly don't have any good answers for that. You can't just sit down and have hours long discussions with the hundreds of thousands of people you'd need to.

Your response to the article is great, but I wanted to say something because I think you might have got stuck on the fact that it's intentionally driving a divide without digging deeper into the "how".

Unrelated, but it really struck me, the horribly sexist rolls presented by Mr. "great personal accomplishments" Oil and his "meek, quiet, and submissive" wife. Again, it's the unspoken implication of "This dynamic is normal an unquestioned". Their actual, real life relationship may not be remotely like that, but I'll eat my hat (and film for proof) if you can convince me that presentation wasn't done intentionally.

MgS said...

You make some excellent observations.

There is no question that my own perspective is both limited, and a direct reaction to having had to swim in that swamp for far too long. Yes, the article itself contains some stereotyping, but it’s also not entirely an invalid stereotype. I’ve certainly talked to a number of people (women especially) who will say things like “Oh, I let my husband tell me how to vote” - You’d think in today’s world that wouldn’t be a thing, but in Alberta, it certainly is.

The “how” is something worthy of a lengthy paper in its own right. It literally goes back to the days of the Social Credit party running the province, and really took hold then. Beyond that, in the years after Pierre Trudeau’s “National Energy Program (NEP)”, conservatives escalated their tactics of division, leveraging popular sentiment about the NEP as a platform.

On Politics and Qualifications

 Back in July, I wrote an extensive piece advocating for all but removing the party system from our parliament . In other discussions the to...