The fine art of emotional manipulation

[Updated, see end]

So the Canadian Conservatives no longer support procreative marriage. A vote at their convention in Vancouver overturned their support of heterosexual marriage. In one sense this really shouldn’t surprise anybody – the writing was always on the wall – but it does demonstrate that the Conservatives have actively and deliberately abandoned their place as Canada’s reality-based political party.

Let’s dissect the explicit emotional manipulation that underwrites the success of the campaign to overturn the Conservative’s acknowledgment of the importance of the procreative element of marriage.

The campaign began by two young “conservatives.” I put it in quotation marks because one of the two “leans libertarian” which ought to have one scratching their head about where exactly the line exists that differentiates political philosophies anymore. I’ll come back to this later.

Political philosophy aside, this campaign was begun when these two young individuals “discovered” that the party they stood for also stood for procreative marriage. I put “discovered” in quotation marks because one of the two was a riding association president for the party, and the other sits on the executive for the party in her riding. How in the world did these two get into positions of relative authority in the party when they didn’t even bother to understand what it was that their party stood for in the first place? If they disagreed with the Conservative party’s platform then maybe they should have joined one of the other parties with policies that they did agree with. Which, of course, would require that they read the party’s policies first. Crazy thoughts; I know…

One of them was “appalled” and the other was “horrified,” when they “discovered” what the party they had been actively representing and promoting actually stood for. They teamed up with a Conservative MP who happens to have a gay relative. As she was pitching the idea to reject procreative marriage to the convention, she…

chose a more personal tack, telling party faithful about her cousin: “She is brilliant. She contributes to our country. And she’s gay,” Rempel said, her voice cracking.

Do you notice the trend? One was appalled. The other horrified. The third cannot talk about this without having her voice crack.

It’s all pure emotion.

Not one hint of rational discussion. At least, the Maclean’s article doesn’t report any rational discussion.

Now I’m not going to claim that emotions are wrong, evil or inherently misguided. I’m not Spock; though I may be closer than other people are. Rather, emotions on their own, in isolation from carefully reasoned analysis, more often than not reaps disaster. If we make our decisions based purely on the emotional impulse in the situation we are often likely to make very poor choices that end up hurting more than they help.

This was really brought home to me when I read the book When Helping Hurts. One clear message in the book is that western civilization has actually exacerbated the poverty problem because too many efforts to “fight poverty” are guided by our emotional response to the situation rather than a careful analysis of the problem. To illustrate, we see a homeless woman on the street panhandling and we instinctively reach for our wallets.

Bad idea!

The authors show, over and over again, why this is a bad idea. While they make it very clear that we need to maintain our healthy emotions in the situation, they make it equally clear that we must balance those emotional instincts with careful analysis and robust reasoning. And sometimes the most helpful thing to do in a situation is to say “no” to a request dripping in emotional appeal.

emotion + reason = helpful

emotion – reason = hurtful

I don’t think they describe it in the book, I would add:

reason – emotion = hurtful

Just as we should not abandon our reasoning, we should not abandon our emotions, either. Our reasoning does need to be kept in check, just as our emotions do.

But you’ll fail to find any robust reasoning coming from those who scrapped the Conservative party’s support for procreative marriage. Or, if there was some robust reasoning, it failed to make it into the Maclean’s article.

The new Conservatives

I always valued the Conservatives in Canada because I knew there was at least one party who still used their brains; who were willing to make political decisions based on the facts of the matter. A party that neither abandoned their hearts, nor obeyed their every emotional impulse, but found an appropriate balance between reason and feeling. Even though it may be “popular” to support this or that policy (whatever happens to be the celebrated cause this week) the Conservatives were willing to engage in the reasoned analysis necessary to determine whether the emotional appeals upon which that policy was based were grounded or not. The Conservatives had enough of a spine to say “no” when that answer was the most helpful – least harmful – answer.

But that is no longer that case. That version of the Conservative party apparently died after the last election. Change, it would seem, is in the air. Or so says one of the activists behind the rejection of procreative marriage (my emphasis added).

“We are seeing a younger group of Conservatives with a different definition of what being a Conservative means to them. They are challenging a lot of policies and issues that have been around for a long time.”

What he fails to grasp (and what so many people seem to fail to grasp) is that changing the definition of a word has consequences. If you change what “conservative” means you don’t get a different version of “conservative,” you are simply using the word to describe something that is not Conservative. If I change the definition of “apple” to mean “an orange colored fruit with an inedible peel, but a delicious inside” I haven’t actually changed what an apple is, I’ve simply used the word “apple” to describe an orange.

If you change the policies of “conservatives” you don’t actually change what it means to be Conservative, as one delegate at the convention observed, you just get “liberal lite.” Perhaps one day “conservative” will come to mean:

  • Socially progressive (already there)
  • Large government
  • High taxes
  • 100% “clean” economy
  • Massive public sector
  • Minimal private sector (somebody has to pay the government bills)

You know, something like this. Is this the future of “conservatism” in Canada? If that’s what “conservative” comes to mean one day, then Canada will be a nation with a “conservative” party but without any political party to represent Conservatives. We will be a nation of oranges calling ourselves apples.

Update – 2016-05-30 – 1700

A reader pointed me to Carl Trueman’s review of a book by John Inazu. In it Trueman expresses his support of Inazu’s book, but writes that it has two flaws,

The second flaw is that Inazu’s argument makes sense. Yes, the vision of society he presents actually makes sense—it really does—which is a major drawback today, dooming the book to immediate irrelevance. People simply do not operate in the public square in terms of sense any more, for that would require a kind of minimal objective unity of social purpose. The self-fulfilling nature of the notion that the world is a psycho-linguistic construct is now so deeply embedded in our social institutions that any such unity of larger purpose has become a chimera. Indeed, it is now hate-speech even to deny the cretinous notion that the world is merely a psycho-linguistic construct, as all the transgender nonsense (and I use the word in its strictest sense) indicates. Perfectly reasonable arguments that assume at root a common human nature and a minimal consensus on human flourishing have little purchase.

It makes sense. Who would ever have thought we would devolve to such a point where that was seriously considered a liability.