Malcolm Gladwell on Canada and the United States
I had the chance to see Malcolm Gladwell
- journalist and author of The Tipping Point
-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?