Politics: where C-minus students become D-minus people

Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished (slight­ly expur­gat­ed) as “Pol­i­tics: Intel­li­gent peo­ple need not apply” in the “Pow­er and Pol­i­tics” issue of Rhubarb Mag­a­zineIssue 34, Spring 2014.

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. — Aldous Hux­ley

I want­ed this col­umn to be fun­ny, tru­ly I did. What could be eas­i­er, I thought, than mak­ing fun of pol­i­tics? I could put togeth­er an arti­cle made up entire­ly of idi­ot­ic things politi­cians said that day. Hell, books have been pub­lished on the rumi­na­tions of Sarah Palin, a politi­cian so incon­ceiv­ably dim-wit­ted she con­sid­ers her­self an expert on Rus­sia because she can see it from her house.

You think about that. She said this, out loud, in pub­lic, and siz­able amounts of peo­ple still take her seri­ous­ly.

Yet I want­ed this col­umn to be fair. I didn’t want to choose sides; I want­ed to be an equal oppor­tu­ni­ty offend­er. Many peo­ple have point­ed to this ten­den­cy of mine as a fail­ing, as in, “Dammit, quit see­ing both sides of the issue and just agree with me!”

I desired to point out the foibles of our elect­ed offi­cials with gen­tle good humour. I yearned to craft wit­ti­cisms of aston­ish­ing crafts­man­ship and dev­as­tat­ing hilar­i­ty, some­thing along the lines of Mark Twain’s “Sup­pose you were an idiot, and sup­pose you were a mem­ber of Con­gress; but I repeat myself.”

And there’s some fine inad­ver­tent humour out there. There’s Jean Chretien’s glo­ri­ous, “A proof is a proof. What kind of a proof? It’s a proof. A proof is a proof. And when you have a good proof, it’s because it’s proven.” Bril­liant com­e­dy, that. It belongs in a Kurt Von­negut nov­el, or a Dr. Seuss book. Or George W. Bush’s gut-bust­ing­ly hilar­i­ous, “There’s an old say­ing in Ten­nessee — I know it’s in Texas, prob­a­bly in Ten­nessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”

Both sides of the aisle have come up with some howlers over the years. I want­ed to con­cen­trate on that. I want­ed to be fair.

But a fun­ny thing hap­pened to me on the way to the key­board. Well, not so much fun­ny as soul-crush­ing­ly dis­turb­ing. While mulling over top­ics with myself, I lis­tened to a nation­al radio inter­view with two elect­ed Cana­di­an “rep­re­sen­ta­tives.” The duo spoke of recent sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence and clin­i­cal tri­als and proven facts. They weren’t in favour of them. They claimed that their com­mon sense was a bet­ter barom­e­ter of truth.

Once, for the pur­pose of this very joke, I didn’t both­er doing any research on a pre­sen­ta­tion. I used my com­mon sense, and came up with a hypoth­e­sis, facts, and con­clu­sions that, to me, sound­ed ratio­nal. I pre­sent­ed my “find­ings” to the class. I was told that I clear­ly had no idea what I was talk­ing about, earned a F-minus, and was then forced to do the research I should have done ini­tial­ly.

And I dis­cov­ered my mis­takes. And I cor­rect­ed them. And I learned from them.

That’s not a true sto­ry. But no one in his or her right mind would say that its moral doesn’t make sense. If you don’t under­stand what you are talk­ing about, do the research. Do the home­work. Do the math.

This is what we teach our chil­dren. To learn. To think. To prob­lem-solve. We tell them this as if it’s impor­tant some­how. I had naive­ly assumed such basic tech­niques of learned intel­li­gence would car­ry me through life.

Until I heard the inter­view, and learned a new les­son: When you become a politi­cian, learn­ing is option­al.

And so I thought: Screw fair­ness. And screw them.

Because pol­i­tics is hard work, and what’s more, it should be hard work. If you are elect­ed to rep­re­sent the peo­ple, you should work your god­damned ass off mak­ing sure every lit­tle thing you say is backed up by sober thought and ver­i­fi­able research. We are taught this as kids, and when we grad­u­ate from high school, we are not then told just kid­ding.

So, two elect­ed offi­cials — and let’s not dance around it, they were con­ser­v­a­tive; so con­ser­v­a­tive you could hear their anus­es clench shut when they had to dis­cuss facts and data and *shud­der* sci­ence — this pair sat there, behind their micro­phones, and said not only that they didn’t do their home­work, but they didn’t even need to, because evi­dence only con­fus­es the issue. Yes, there is noth­ing more dam­ag­ing to an argu­ment than evi­dence, so do all you can to ignore it. Evi­dence is scary, any­way. Makes your insides feel all frowny-face.

This isn’t pol­i­tics. This isn’t good gov­er­nance. This is dan­ger­ous, igno­rant, and down­right evil. And to play the old-man-yelling-at-kids-to-get-off-the-lawn card, my tax­es pay their salaries.

So, again, screw fair­ness. I feel no need to be fair. If you’re a politi­cian that refus­es to learn, you deserve every ounce of scorn and humil­i­a­tion heaped upon you. And all par­ties are guilty of this, yes, but you know what? Right-wing igno­rance out­paces all oth­er par­ties by a ratio of 72:1.

And that’s a fact. I looked it up.

Or, real­ly, it isn’t, but it sure feels true, doesn’t it?

And if you dis­agree with this? Screw you too.

I am angry. I’m angry that peo­ple elect­ed to posi­tions of author­i­ty can’t be both­ered to learn. I’m angry that I live in a coun­try where this is not only allowed to hap­pen, but encour­aged.

Most of all, I’m angry that I worked my ass off to get good grades when all I had to do was pass. I could then run for office and coast along for the rest of my life on igno­rance while peo­ple lis­tened to me as if I had a clue.

And if that isn’t fun­ny, I don’t know what is.

[UPDATE: I didn’t both­er men­tion­ing the walk­ing punch­line that is Rob Ford in this piece, because in terms of com­e­dy, it’s too easy. Like shoot­ing fish in a bar­rel. In a drunk­en stu­por, of course.]