A Cog Sci Treatise for Principled Leadership in NDP Election Campaigns
“There it was again, that creepy smil e,” I cringed as I cheered on my leader in the first leaders’ debate of the 2015 federal election. Following the debate, as pundits discussed how his handlers were to blame, I lamented, others had the same reaction as myself. I first noticed that smile in Mulcair’s address at the NDP 2013 Policy Convention in Montreal. I was wrong to assume Team Mulcair would surely correct this smile before the 2015 election.
In the last weeks of the 2015 election campaign I was engrossed in the book, Social Physics by Alex Pentland. I began to despair. Interpreting the media coverage of the NDP through the conceptual lens offered by this book, I anticipated the electoral demise of the then official opposition. Social Physics puts forth a methodology for measuring and understanding collective intelligence. It introduced me to the framework of fast and slow thinking which better integrated my study of why people do not always vote in their best interest.
Like many concerned citizens from around th e world my reading of the available science is that we are rapidly approaching a singularity where we must choose as a global collective between a caring and sustainable global society and the collapse of civilization. I see in the NDP principles coming from Tommy Douglas, a political path to a caring Canada. I wanted the NDP to shift from opposition to governing by leading the way to a Canada that cares for its constituents and the planet they live in. I contend Team Mulcair would have gotten better results if they paid more attention to the many modalities of fast thinking to take leadership and communicate NDP principles. This paper investigates how elements of human information processing, other than the process of slow thinking reason effected the outcome of the election.
Fast and Slow Thinking: Emotional vs. Rational
Since the 15th century slow thinking (reason) has increasingly dominated our understanding of our political motivation. George Lakoff contrasts this with cognitive science research indicating conscious reasoning was only 2% of our thinking while the other 98% was composed of other than conscious elements that significantly contribute to an individual’s behaviour (Lakoff, 2008). He describes MRI studies of the brain which show when a decision is made, the emotional centers of the brain are active prior to the rational centers (Lakoff, 2008). This led researchers to conclude, once a decision is made in the emotional region, the rational region is then activated to provide a rational justification for the decision. Consequently, Lakoff contends progressives should shed their “18th century rationalist view of communication and ethics” and understand the concept of rational motivation devoid of emotion is flawed.
Pentland advances some of the ideas of Lakoff. He distinguishes the two systems of thought embraced in the cognitive science research of Nobel Prize winners Daniel Kahneman (Kahneman, 2011 ) and Herb Simon. We as a species first evolved our fast thinking which is largely unconscious, driving our habits, beliefs, intuitions, emotions and motivation. A more recent capability of humankind is our conscious reasoning, referred to as slow thinking. A theory of fast and slow thinking is a superior explanation over Lakoff's emotion and reason because it is much more inclusive than what we would normally think of as emotion. Fast and slow thinking is also much more descriptive of the process than the similar unconscious/conscious distinction advanced by Carl Jung.
Each mode of thinking contributes unique functionality. Fast thinking enables us to carry out complex tasks like driving a car while we are relatively unconscious of the thought process and decisions involved. Studies show that in complex situations involving trade-offs between objectives, sensitivity to fast thinking intuitions usually outperform slow thinking rational processes. In emergency situations we decide and act appropriately even before our conscious slow thinking is even aware of a problem as in making a sudden stop when driving a vehicle. Much of the work of sorting the contents of our mind, associating one idea to another, is done by our fast thinking process. Once the fast brain has done all this parallel processing it presents a product for slow thinking.
Slow thinking on the other hand has evolved to help us to step out of our habitual patterns and innovate new responses. It gives us the ability to go beyond the bounds of here and now. Language and slow thinking are tightly coupled. Through language the belief structure delineated through slow thinking can be communicated to all parts of the world and from one generation to the next. It is what enables us to build on the shoulders of the intellectual giants who have gone before us.
Strategic voting is often used to describe NDP losses. In this scenario votes that would normally go to the NDP are captured by Liberals to avoid the worse evil of a Conservative win. The phenomena implies voters make a reasonable choice (slow thinking) based on who they think will best defeat Harper. While some voters vote this way, others only rationalize their vote this way while casting their vote as a product of fast thinking in tune with collective intelligence.
With a majority of voters not likely voting for Harper, a strategic vote between one of the major non-Harper parties was a logical strategy to insure a Harper defeat. There were citizen organizations like Fair Vote Canada whose mission was to systematize this voting strategy. The rules they established were:
1. To vote for the incumbent if the incumbent wasn’t a conservative.
2. In ridings where the incumbent was conservative a vote trading system would prevail. In ridings where Liberals were likely to win if the vote wasn’t split, an NDP voter would vote Liberal with the promise a Liberal voter in a different riding bearing the opposite conditions would vote NDP.
With the defeat of so many NDP incumbents this Fair Vote Canada strategy obviously did not influence the actual voting outcome. A constituent whose vote I thought I had recruited for the NDP revealed to me he voted in the advanced pole for Trudeau claiming it was a strategic vote. In his riding the incumbent was NDP and there was no chance the conservative would come close to being a threat. In another case a constituent actually sported an NDP sign for the length of the campaign. He told me he was going to vote strategically for the NDP incumbent. On Election Day he voted Liberal, justifying his choice because he was fearful Harper would get back in. The incumbents in each of their respective ridings were NDP candidates Mathew Kelway and Dan Harris. The reasoning of these two individuals did not make sense.
These are cases where voting choice is influenced by the 98% of thought that is fast thinking. The 2% of our thought that is slow thinking is not likely the real voting motivation but the after the fact rational justification for what they did. Pentland’s thesis is people act like idea processing machines combining individual thinking and social learning to make decisions. When information from individual thinking is weak as is the case for most voters, there will be a greater tendency to rely on social information or collective intelligence. (Pentland, 2014, pp. 22-24) Fast thinking gets inputs from a collective intelligence that will influence the choices a person makes and could explain how the Trudeau Campaign captured the “anything but Harper” vote.
Pentland uses his social research based on live demographics obtained through the collection of phone meta-data (Social Physics) to formulate and validate an understanding of how innovation and change in collective intelligence occurs. (Pentland, 2014, p. 28) He discovered collective intelligence develops through two processes that manage a community’s idea flow. First, elements of the community participate in the exploration of new ideas. They discover, through fast thinking new ideas, by combining diverse ideas from diverse contexts. Individuals then use their slow thinking to formulate a viable proposition of a compelling idea presented to them by their fast thinking. The proposition is then integrated into a consistent and logical map of the world to create a narrative. Individuals then test out this proposition by engaging with others and using fast thinking to evaluate the feedback. Fast thinking uses this vast array of unconscious factors to determine an intuition, which because of the engagement spreads throughout the community as community intelligence. Whereas Lakoff notes our intelligence has evolved to run our bodies, Pentland would say our intelligence has evolved to better run our increasingly global community.
The intellectual community is increasingly discovering new factors that inform fast thinking. Some factors explored are perceptual filters, value orientations, reference groups and cultural development hierarchies. Out of these new technologies data is being accumulated enabling practitioners to better understand the people they are trying to influence. The most highly evolved marketing technologies are value based and equipped with the means to target specific groups using language that corresponds to their interests. The means exist to manipulate or communicate. They can be used to facilitate consumerism or they can be used to facilitate collective action to save the planet.
One such technology, very relevant to politics is the field of Moral Psychology. Moral Psychologist and Philosopher, Jonathan Haidt (Haidt, 2012) puts forward a set of several fast thinking moral hot buttons some of which we share with other primates and dolphins. For example, when we witness an unfair call at a hockey game we quickly judge it so and are propelled by strong emotion to rectify the unfairness. It is why previous Toronto Mayor Doug Ford's gravy train campaign was so effective. It pushed the fairness cheating moral hot button. Awareness of these ethical hot buttons can explain why negative campaign ads can have a profound effect in some cases and backfire on others.
There are several moral hot buttons that shape our sense of morality and allow our species to govern our lives so we can live as free individuals in groups and create society. As we share many of the moral hot buttons with primates, these moral capacities probably are behaviour patterns encoded in our DNA. They are standard capacities in our species and form part of our collective intelligence. This enables a whole baseball stadium to see an unfair act, judge it and respond with the same indignant outrage.
Pentland shows the snap judgments we are likely to make in an emergency situation tend to be more altruistic than when slow reasoning is in play. This phenomena indicates there is an underlying caring nature rooted in our fast thinking. The ideology we construct using slow thinking subverts a caring attitude. The strong sense of right and wrong that exists in all healthy human beings is addressed more by fast thinking than by slow thinking. Principles ignite passion. We should not underestimate the power of moral principles to shift a group’s behaviour.
This makes the collective intelligence difficult to manipulate. In the end principles rule. Pentland says that our inteligence comes as much from the community as from individuals. (Pentland, 2014, p. 26)
If you recall the behaviour of a school of fish. The school appears to act as a unit as it synchronizes the direction it takes. Recent investigation of this and similar phenomena, like migrating birds, indicate that the direction taken is democratically decided through a process of instantaneous social signaling. As soon as 50% + 1 of the individual members signal a direction the whole group will move in that direction. These patterns of social decision making based on “body language” are common in many animals and virtually all primates. Social signaling is a very powerful unconscious consensus process enables social individuals to act as a group tempering social behaviour from extreme decisions. (Pentland, 2014, p. 35)
Pentland indicates a basis for this signaling is mimicry as found in a newborn child’s capacity to mimic the facial expressions of parents despite a general lack of coordination. Similarly a bubbly happy person can transform the somber mood of a group or vice versa. He attributes the capacity for mimicry to our mirror neurons that form part of the distributed brain structure providing a direct feedback channel between humans. (Pentland, 2014, p. 74) Hence the basis for rapport and solidarity is similarity.
It is widely accepted that communication is less about the words used and more about nonverbal communication relying on tonality, enunciation, gestures, and body language mediated through the contextual background. The currently accepted statistic on communication is 93% of a communication is made up of the nonverbal while only 7% of the communication is in the words themselves. Unlike words we are unaware of the fast thinking involved in reading all these non-verbal cues to associations. For example a sarcastic tone in one context conveys humor and in another conveys insult. Nonverbal communication is wired directly into our emotional motivation system and textures verbal content.
I was specifically aware of Mulcair's smile as early as the 2013 convention. I had explored some of the intricacies of the Science of Non-Verbal Communication. A proponent, Michael Grinder, defines charisma as the flexibility to use both an approachable voice and an authoritative voice along with the ability to determine which voice to use in a given context. (Grinder, Charisma : The Art of Relationships, 2009) The key to conveying both approachability and authority for Grinder is in the inflection used in the spoken message.
I believe that at the 2013 policy convention Team Mulcair were concerned about Mulcair's approachability. They presented a film of Mulcair showing the lighter approachable side of Mulcair with his family, etc. Ironically, the forced smile he sported as he gave his address to the membership was an experiment in approachability that was never evaluated and corrected.
Mulcair, while a master of the authoritative voice, did not convey approachability. The Mulcair team tried to correct this lack of approachability but had mistakenly seen it as a matter of optics. Perhaps if they had worked on giving Mulcair flexibility in his intonation they would have been more successful in making his brand more approachable. Approachability may have been the distinguishing feature of Jack Layton which gained him such popularity. It was why we could say he was more charismatic than Mulcair. Trudeau too was naturally approachable. While not so authoritative, television clips broadcast showing his father's authoritative voice may have made up for this weakness in the young Trudeau.
In the end Mulcair did not seem any more approachable in the first debate than he did back in the 2013 convention. Given his slow thinking bias, he probably did not consider nonverbal communication very important. In my observation Mulcair was the weakest of all leaders in his use of gestures and nonverbal communication. When not speaking during the debates he could be seen on camera glaring at his opponents. No Canadian leader came close to the mastery of nonverbal communication evidenced in Obama. Perhaps somebody knowledgeable in the art of nonverbal communication could have corrected some of Mulcair’s shortcomings in this area with a little training.
Kahneman formulated his understanding of fast thinking largely through his study of fast thinking. Much of his book Thinking: Fast and Slow (Kahneman, 2011 ) is a discussion of cognitive biases and cognitive distortions. The Liberals, using their voluminous experience getting into power and staying there, were able to utilize cognitive biases in preparing their campaign. The Liberals seemingly frivolous leadership selection process, by my accounts, actually effectively exploited cognitive biases in selecting Trudeau as leader.
Two cognitive biases known as Traditional bias and the Halo effect were influential in winning the election. Traditional bias refers to the tendency of people making a selection based on choices made in the past. Many Canadians have voted Liberal in the past and added to this the young Trudeau represents the tradition of his father. A common expression of this was the reference to Justin Trudeau as Canadian Royalty. The Halo effect occurs because we have a proclivity to prefer the young and the attractive. Trudeau not only had nice hair; he had a nice family, he exercised regularly and he had the CBC who gave the Liberals free media exposure to broadcast Trudeau's halo to the public. While these areas may have been outside the control of Team Mulcair, factors conceptually in their control were neglected.
From Principled to Instrumental
Once the writ was dropped the NDP shifted its orientation from principled leadership to instrumental conformity with the other major parties. I believe once the primary objective of the NDP became the instrumental goal of winning the election; their currency in the collective in telligence began to shift, leading to an eventual decline in the polls. As the opposition in Parliament they had a reputation for principled opposition. Pundits acknowledged them as the best opposition in years as Mulcair reasoned against the bad behavior of the Harper regime even when their opposition was statistically unpopular as with Bill C51. For four years they led a consistent narrative, “Harper had to go” while the Liberals floundered using their fast thinking to habitually do the politically expedient. The Liberals readily voted with Harper and his fear mongering. The NDP were clearly established as the best alternative for a Non-Harper Government. The polls indicated this and it seemed to be the dominant opinion in my discussion circles.
Once in campaign mode the NDP frame of reference changed dramatically. They transitioned from principled opposition to a focus on elect-ability. Beginning with Jack Layton, the NDP leadership opted for elect-ability over a principled campaign. They thought principles were only effective if they got elected, so they had better focus on the instrumentality of getting elected. Their ideology of elect-ability became they had to occupy the middle. They wanted to occupy the space they perceived was occupied by the Liberals. With the Liberal defeat in 2011, some were encouraged to aspire to replace the Liberals for all time. Inured in this strategy they had courted allies from Team Obama. In successive policy conventions they hosted first Marshal Gantz in Halifax. In the Montreal 2013 convention they hosted Gantz' associate, Jeremy Bird. Bird was featured in Isenberg’s The Victory Lab: the Secret Science of Winning Campaigns as the get out the vote strategist and innovator for Team Obama. (Issenburg, 2012, pp. 78-99)
Idea Flow for the NDP
My impression was Bird’s corporation, 270 Strategies was the exclusive consulting company for the NDP 2015 campaign. Based on my observations at a distance the national directors of the Federal NDP were the principle interface between 270 Strategies and the party apparatus. I believe by following the individuals who held the national director role you can follow the influence of 270 Strategies and their take on elect-ability. They seemed to be the sole authority consistently relied upon on issues of electability, both at party headquarters and at the Broadbent Institute, an NDP think-tank.
I heard from insiders that when Mulcair was elected party leader, he was quite disappointed to discover the national director Brad Lavigne did not show up for work the next day.
Mulcair considered Jack Layton’s elect-ability infrastructure to be a valuable asset. Lavigne went on to manage and lose the BC provincial campaign. The torch for 270 Strategies was then taken up by the new national director Nathan Rotman. When Rotman left the directorship to run Olivia Chow's mayoral campaign, Anne McGrath then became national director and Lavigne was eventually brought back to the Ottawa party office in a consulting role. This would indicate the strategy begun by Layton was also a consistent strategy implemented throughout Mulcair's tenure as leader.
The elect-ability strategy which worked for Obama in 2008 and seemed to work for Jack Layton in 2011 did not bear fruit in Canada in 2015. Context and time do not stand still. Culture is constantly evolving. Maybe Layton’s success in 2011 can be attributed more to his charisma and other factors than to the direction provided by a segment of Obama strategists. With so many factors contributing to an electoral gain it is hard to isolate a specific factor as the primary cause of the win.
One of the factors that contributes to the transformation of the community intelligence and idea flow is variable response and openness to new ideas. These conditions facilitate both exploration, to introduce new ideas, and engagement, which expands exposure to these new ideas. Pentland's research shows that high exploration leads to high engagement creating overall greater idea flow with greater propensity for changing collective intelligence.
The NDP elect-ability campaign strategy seems to have been determined before it became a big part of the Halifax 2009 convention. Consequently if one invests heavily in a course of action like a long term plan for elect-ability exploration of new ideas will be stifled. Generalizing from Thomas Kuhn's hypothesis on scientific paradigms in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Kuhn, 1970); investment in a long term strategy establishes vested interests. Managers of the strategy expend time and effort learning and creating scenarios elicited by the strategy. Their social and economic status becomes coupled with the strategy. Variation to that strategy suggested from the outside would then tend to be discouraged, because innovation threatens vested interests. Dedication to a long term strategy tends to obstruct idea flow by limiting the ideas available for engagement with the larger group.
It was my personal experience pitching ideas on fast thinking over several years to NDP Central that the federal NDP were not receptive to ideas that were foreign to their elect-ability strategy. This notion was confirmed for me in an interview of Naomi Klein and Avery Lewis viewed on Democracy Now Oct. 5, 2015. Klein, Lewis and a number of other Canadian celebrities of conscience posted the Leap Manifesto: A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another. The NDP were already down in the polls and I thought maybe the manifesto might provide an opportunity for Team Mulcair to back pedal on his unpopular promise to balance the budget. The drop in the polls occurred immediately following the announcement of this policy. I was disappointed when Naomi Klein announced on Democracy Now that while she received no feedback on the Leap Manifesto from the Mulcair Team, she did receive a supportive response from Trudeau.
Idea Flow for the Liberals
Whereas Team Mulcair were the front runners with an agenda set in 2009, Trudeau began in a much weaker position with a platform devoid of concrete policy loaded with an inconsistent voting record. The Federal Liberals did not have to deal with an established strategy. They hadn't figured things out, so come election time they had to ad lib. They turned this liability into an advantage.
Initially they made no substantive policy claims other than they would consult and listen to the Canadian people, to the provincial Premiers, to the refugee settlement organizations and any other group that wasn’t being listened to. In the beginning the group was the Marijuana Party. Having been incessantly spurned by their first choice, the NDP, they approached Trudeau who took up their cause for legalization of the demonized herb. The many attempts by the NDP and the Conservatives to tarnish the Trudeau campaign by associating him with the horrors of marijuana usa ge failed. The credibility of the demonized claims for this beneficial plant waned in the Canadian collective intelligence. In the final days of the campaign Mulcair too supported legalization.
Trudeau's vocalization of a consultatory approach worked better for him than having clear well defined targets and policies like the NDP. Having no climate change targets he was able to say he would consult with the provinces. Having not made the commitment to balance budgets, he was able to take advantage of this NDP gift to distinguish his brand as unique from the NDP and Conservatives. Rather than run on balanced budgets he was going to run deficits. To the surprise of many it quickly became clear that deficits after years of austerity resonated with the population. The Liberals had better idea flow. Their approach had the flexibility to vary response and engage new ideas. Thus they were able to discover ideas that engaged the collective wisdom and build their brand to be in solidarity with that wisdom.
Trudeau consistently opened his tent to groups alienated by Mulcair, slamming doors shut. First it was marijuana activists who endorsed the Liberal party. Next it was activists striving for social justice in Palestine who had nowhere to go accept the Green party. When elements of the NDP base proposed the Leap Manifesto, the event was ignored by Mulcair.
Social Learning from Perceived Behaviour
Pentland's research confirms perceived behaviour works stronger than words in transforming the collective intelligence. (Pentland, 2014, p. 26) Social learning occurs more through the fast thinking process of observing behaviour than through an exercise in the slow thinking process of rational discernment. As mentioned before we are likely to make a decision based on fast thinking and follow this up by using our conscious reasoning to justify our decision. Even if the actuality of Liberal openness and cooperation are unsubstantiated there are sufficient examples in the media to the Liberal’s open and consultatory approach to give currency to the perception of openness and fairness in the collective intelligence.
In many instances the national media facilitated the perception of Liberal openness. On Oct 15th 2015 in the last week before the election Trudeau’s Campaign Co-chair, Dan Gagnier, had resigned for lobbying on behalf of Trans-Canada. CBC Senior Investigative Reporter, Diana Swain gave an editorial commentary attacking Mulcair in a very sarcastic voice. Mulcair had described this scandal as the “same old Liberals'. A more honest journalist would have included an outtake to what Mulcair actually said. The CBC desecrated their journalistic ethics by hiding Liberal collusion in Trans Canada pipeline deliberations. This certainly is not an example of political transparency and without the spin of the pro-Liberal CBC, it should have engendered social information associating the Trudeau brand with Liberal corruption and lowering its trustworthiness.
This being said the NDP did not help matters by engaging in behaviour that subverted the internal democratic process of the party creating social information challenging their own trustworthiness. They used stealth to effect outcomes in the NDP policy convention and they interfered with the nomination of candidates that in the NDP more so than the other parties is considered to be the jurisdiction of the riding associations.
Trust and Idea Flow
The elect-ability doctrine carried with it an agenda for renewing the NDP Brand. At the Halifax 2009 convention a motion to drop “New” from New Democrat Party to create a Canadian “Democratic Party never went to vote. It became clear the party membership strongly disapproved. At the Vancouver 2011 conference a motion was brought to the floor to drop the concept of democratic socialism from the preamble to the NDP constitution. For most members this was an introduction to the Preamble. Once read, the requested changes to the inspirational document were readily rejected by the membership. In 2013 the motion to drop democratic socialism from the constitution was introduced once again. This time the motion was passed through stealth. The MP's and staff were whipped in the vote. The vote was introduced almost clandestinely at the end of the conference as members were leaving to catch early flights. Discussion was cut short taking advantage of an earlier motion that mandated fewer speakers before a vote could be called. The machinations to drop the words democratic socialism from the constitution and thus “modernize the party” are particularly ironic in that the UK Labour Party is now led by Jeremy Corbyn, an avowed socialist and Bernie Sanders is running as a socialist for the Democrat nomination. He is a leading contender. The word socialism is once again an acceptable word.
Tactics that use stealth to betray a group’s sense of consensus may achieve their slow thinking objective but the reactions they elicit in fast thinking are less than desirable. Words were changed in the Preamble to the NDP constitution but the action breaks faith with the collective intelligence of the group. Pentland notes social learning is most likely to occur when the reference group for that learning is trusted. Stealth maneuvers that break with an underlying consensus of the group, jeopardize that trust. It flies in the face of the collective wisdom of the labour movement. In unity there is strength. This stealth maneuver at the convention is only one of many examples of the Mulcair team making slow thinking victories that create mistrust in the fast thinking and collective wisdom of the party faithful. .
Mulcair as leader further exacerbates the level of trust among the NDP rank and file. Mulcair seems to conform to the other major parties in submitting to the blind support of Israel in its illegal occupation and settlement of Palestinian territories. The Mulcair team claims they support NDP policy which demands Israel obey international law and withdraw from Palestine. Yet the NDP leadership have remained mute to Israeli injustices and discouraged rank and file support of Palestinian rights. They have turned their head and have mutely encouraged Israeli expansion of settlements and the disproportionate killing of Palestinians (2100 deaths in the 2014 assault on Gaza). The leadership instead of upholding NDP policy concerning Palestine, have engaged in a purge of pro-Palestinian candidates in the NDP caucus. In Nanaimo/Ladysmith, the consecutive riding association nominations of Paul Manly and Laurie Gourley were both overturned by the central party and finally replaced by a central party selection, Sheila Malcolmson. Later Morgan Wheeldon and Jerry Natanine met similar fates. Independent Jewish Voices said this about NDP suppression of Wheeldon’s free speech in his social media comments:
“Mr. Wheeldon was publicly smeared by the Conservative party and Canada’s Israel lobby for speaking the truth about Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians, through Israel’s decades-long, ongoing project of expelling the native inhabitants from their lands, and demolishing their homes. In other words, the forced removal of one ethnic group to make way for another, or ethnic cleansing.”
These breaches of trust created a narrative that was quite effectively exploited by the Liberals even as Liberal conduct catered equally if not more to centralized control. I recall an article by progressives speaking out against injustice in the party with the title: Is Mulcair a Harper with a Beard? At the end of August I was canvasing in the Alberta bi-election to replace Jim Prentice. I recall a discussion I had with a voter I recruited for the Alberta NDP. He was trying to convince me to vote Liberal in the federal election. He told me a story about a relative of his in Ontario who experienced the nastiness of Mulcair's use of power to control his caucus. “Just like Harper”, he concluded. I didn't give the story much credibility but the narrative was out there.
Balance the Budget: Neo Liberal Frame
There is an adage coming from proponents of re-framing technology that he who names the frame controls the game. To the surprise and dismay of many of the party faithful the central plank to the NDP election platform was to balance the budget. My reading of this was, Party Central were playing out their elect-ability doctrine, trying to occupy the middle. They wanted to dismiss the claim of the right that a vote for the NDP is a vote for economic mayhem. They were going to prove they were good fiscal mangers. It is as if the Federal NDP unquestionably adopted the neo-liberal frame foisted on them by the Transnational Corporate Ideologues.
The NDP emphasis on balancing the budget was such a gift to Trudeau. By exploiting this opportunity to campaign on running a deficit he could differentiate his party from the Conservatives, the NDP, the IMF and anti-austerity campaigns. The timing of this platform was perfect for Trudeau. Greece was battling the IMF austerity program. Iceland had succeeded in defying IMF imposed austerity sanctions. After years of Harper dismantling services to shrink government, Canadians wanted these services once again. Canada was in an economic downturn and a Keynesian solution requiring increased government spending was becoming more acceptable to educated Canadians. The message being successfully communicated by progressive economists, Armine Yalnizyan of Policy Alternatives and Jim Stanford from Unifor, was that running deficits was a wise choice for government under the current circumstances.
Canadians were also becoming more aware of the deleterious impacts climate change would have on global economies. Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything had been published and was receiving favorable reviews across the North American Continent. Canadians were increasingly educated to the fact that gradual reforms to a consumption based economy were inadequate. Gradual change would not maintain civilization in the wake of the climatic consequences of an economy bent on burning up the world’s supply of carbon. To many, the NDP policy to balance the budget signified an NDP government would not commit the funds needed to mitigate against climate change.
Prior to the election I published on YouTube an extraction of a speech Tommy Douglas made at a Federal NDP convention in 1971. Douglas gave a passionate speech encouraging Canadians to repeat what they did in responding to WWII and borrow from the Bank of Canada to build a caring society that provided for the weak and eliminated poverty. How ironic it was to hear Mulcair invoke Tommy Douglas in defense of his promise to balance the books, making the claim that when Douglas was premier of Saskatchewan, he successively ran balanced budgets.
Upon hearing the balanced budget platform I communicated my dismay with my MP and candidate, Craig Scott. Craig assured me balancing the budget would not lead to austerity measures and he had guarantees from Party Central. If austerity measures were needed to balance the budget, the budget balancing would cease to be a priority. He convinced me that by instating tax fairness policies we could invest in Canada's future and still balance the books. The NDP had a very realistic fiscal platform while Liberal policies were flaky and not thought through. However when I tried to convey this message to my circles the tide was against me. The narrative did not travel.
Trudeau was able to spend advertising dollars on World Series ads vilifying Mulcair as another Harper delivering austerity to the Canadian people. His positive message and associated halo effect were being competently delivered as CBC programming at no expense to the Liberal Party. My hopes that Mulcair would find a way of distancing himself from his balanced budget platform were not realized.
The elect-ability doctrine played right into the framework of neo liberal discourse of the past half century. Socialism was evil and capitalism was ordained by God. Team Mulcair assumed the cold war frame of left vs. right was the best explanation of reality available to them. They did not explore alternative understandings or seriously test the actuality of their assumptions. They had a certainty the winning strategy used by Obama in 2008 would work here in Canada in 2015. This certainty blinded them to the pulse of a rapidly changing Canada.
Team Mulcair’s focus on a strategy derived from a rational slow thinking understanding of ideas provided to them by the neo- liberal frame of reference, limited the options that were available to them. Preparations and cultivating tools for influencing the fast thinking of Canadians were not considered or given enough importance to provide the flexibility to change course when expected results didn't materialize. The doctrine of elect-ability as conceived by Team Mulcair created boundaries to thinking up solutions and imposed a distorted view of reality that was only tested in the heat of the election. The hard work of a principled opposition was set aside for the instrumental reasoning of elect-ability within the static universe provided neo-liberal ideologues.
End NDP Foray into Instrumentality
Instrumentality is a philosophical concept advanced by Kant and later by others including critical theorists, Habermas and Horkheimer. Kant argued the ethics of an action was determined by its intention. If a good action like providing for refugees is done because it furthers electoral ambitions it is considered to be instrumental and unethical. It is a means to a selfish end and is no longer a principled moral act. .
Even Heideger who considered his relationship to the Nazi party his biggest mistake, reasoned the greatest danger facing modern humans was their own instrumental relationship to the world and society. Capitalism embodies this instrumental relationship to the world and drives this relationship to its logical conclusion, where all of nature and society are subverted to having value only as a means to maximizing profit.
The old preamble to the NDP constitution took issue with this subversive tendency of capitalism. It is symbolic of the perspective of Team Mulcair that it was removed from the constitution. It elucidated a principled understanding of economy contrasting the principled objective of a caring economy with the instrumental objective of Capitalist profit.
“That the production and distribution of goods and services shall be directed to meeting the social and individual needs of people within a sustainable environment and economy and not to the making of profit;” (Old Preamble to the NDP constitution)
In a similar fashion the elect-ability doctrine sets its primary objective as the instrumental goal of getting elected. The principle of transforming Canada into a caring society we find articulated in the Leap Manifesto and which the NDP defended as the official opposition is lost when the primary goal is getting elected. The principled stance the NDP held as opposition was subverted by the 2015 NDP electoral strategy into the instrumental goal of gaining power. The campaign platform to balance the budget served the get elected goal. New social information provided by new experiences and education had shifted the collective intelligence of the Canadian population debunking the metaphor that a nation was just like a household. People began to understand deficits as necessary investment to creating a sustainable future.
Party politics also served the get elected goal. According to the NDP constitution the ultimate authority is the convention floor where each member has an equal vote. Using stealth tactics to make changes to the constitution is an egregious affront to democracy. Instead of an end, party democracy has been subverted to a means. It has become an instrument of the get elected goal.
While Party Central has certain rights to vet the suitability of candidates, this right is abused when vetting overrides the democratic choice of a fully functioning and responsible riding association for questionable reasons. The Mulcair Team has consistently disqualified federal election candidates for voicing policy passed on the convention floor. Full of fear that a strong Israeli Lobby would jeopardize their goal to be in power they have suppressed the free speech of elected representatives and persecuted potential candidates who cry out against the ethnic cleansing and the grave injustices foisted on the Palestinian people at the hands of the criminal Israeli state.
It seems the product of instrumental objectives can be counterproductive to those objectives. In the case of Mulcair's elect-ability strategy, occupying the middle failed to get the desired results. Having moved to the right they found the middle had moved left and the Liberals had been astute enough to occupy the space abandoned by the NDP when they shifted into election mode. While Mulcair was able to capture his flags at party conventions and in the selection of candidates he did this at the expense of breaking trust with his base. This has hurt the credibility of the party in the eyes of a growing progressive collective intelligence which strives to build a caring society embodied in the Leap Manifesto where “the production and distribution of goods and services shall be directed to meeting the social and individual needs of people within a sustainable environment and economy and not to the making of profit”. (>Old Preamble to the NDP constitution)
Faced with three instrumentally oriented parties, the collective wisdom selected the party that was least like the austerity policies of Harper. That the leader of this party also had a halo was gravy. The NDP would have performed much better in the election if they had run a campaign based on the principles of building a caring, sustainable, socialist society. The time has come for socialist leadership in transforming our instrumental relationship with nature and each other into a sustainable caring society.
Grinder, M. (1991). The Elusive Obvious–The Science of Non-verbal Communication. Battle Ground, WA: Michael Grinder & Associates.
Grinder, M. (2009). Charisma : The Art of Relationships. Battlground WA: Michael Grinder and Associates.
Haidt, J. (2012). The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. New York: Random House.
Issenburg, S. (2012). The Victory Lab: the Secret Science of Winning Campaigns. New York: Crown Publishers.
Kahneman, D. (2011 ). Thinking, Fast and Slow. Toronto: Doubleday Canada.
Kuhn, T. (1970). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago : University of Chicago Press.
Lakoff, G. (2008). The Political Mind: A Cognitive Scientist's Guide to Your Brain and Its Politics . Toronto: Penguin Group Canada.
Pentland, A. (2014). Social Physics. New York : Penguin Press.
http://www.democracynow.org/2015/10/5/naomi_klein_on_the_leap_manifesto Klein’s comment about Trudeau supporting the Leap manifesto has been edited out of the archival footage.