Nunc Scio
Thursday, March 16, 2006
  Malcolm Gladwell on Canada and the United States

I had the chance to see Malcolm Gladwell- journalist and author of The Tipping Point and Blink -speak last night. Really interesting in general, but one point he made really struck me. Drawing on the work of sociologist Charles Tilley, Gladwell claims there are four basic ways of describing the world:

Say you saw two kids fighting. You could:

1) Refer to Convention ("Kids usually fight");
2) Tell a Story ("Billy is fighting Johnny because Johnny stole his milk");
3) Invoke a Code ("It is illegal to fight"); and
4) Provide a Technical Account (Billy's testosterone and adrenaline levels are elevated").

Divisive social conflict results when people can't agree what kinds of accounts are appropriate in particular situations. We have a more constructive political culture in Canada because people generally agree about our vocabulary for discussion. We may vehemently disagree about how best to provide healthcare, but we all proceed from a Convention: everyone has the right to have access to quality medical services. By contrast, the right and left in United States cannot find even the most basic common ground. Take the wire-tapping controversey. Bush is telling a story: we are threatened by faceless enemies, and we must therefore use extraordinary measures to triumph over this evil. His opponents (about 64 per cent of the population, by last count) are making claims to conventions and codes: you do not have the power to do this, and when you do, you violate our rights. Frustration and anger results.

In other words, we're pretty lucky in Canada to have a functional political dialogue, notwithstanding Ezra Levant. Let's try to keep it going, shall we?
Really enjoyed this post Graeme. ONe of the positive aspects of Canadian political culture, to say the least. Best of luck in London.
Howie Bender
Hey, thanks Howie. Good to hear from you. Hope all is well with you, despite tuition craziness.
very good post. Ive always valued the kind of political dialogue we have here in Canada. Its amazing the compromise and fairness we sometimes have, and sometimes we take it for granted.

Btw, im Chris, i go to UofOttawa (polisci) ive been readin your blog for about a month now. Interestin story tellin my friend.

Keep it up.
Ill be commenting ;)
Thanks for this. One of the last books I bought for "fun" reading (yes that was last summer ) was Blink. Gladwell always makes me think.
sections of the book The Tipping Point as well as a radio interview the author did for NPR were in a textbook i taught to Korean university students recently. the textbook had been put together by a group of profs at an American university in New York. I'm from Canada.

talk about international!

your post reminds me of a conversation i had with a girlfriend back in university. she said that the pro-life and pro-choice camps would never ba able to agree, because they were actually talking about two totally different things. pro-life: whores and babies. pro-choice: women and their bodies. there was no way for the "dialogue" to continue because there was no basic agreement on the meanings of words.

i wonder, though, how the four ways of seeing the world you mention in your post relate to Quebec and the ROC and also to the "Keep Alberta's Money in Alberta!" movement (now that the seeds of that movement have grown into the PMO).
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Welcome to the Nunc Scio blog. Politics. Media. Culture. Now you know.

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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Jack of all trades, master of none, Graeme is many things to many people. Unfortunately, none of them find him very life-affirming in any capacity. He is a freelance writer, broadcaster, amateur cryptozoologist and occasional political commentator late of London, England and now based in Toronto. Most of the time, he's confused. And a little hungry. But mostly just confused and somewhat uncomfortable writing in the third person.

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