Harper’s 1984 Moment
Stephen Harper is the Big Brother of our time.
Author: Bryn Hadubiak
If George Orwell were alive today, he’d see the new subtleties of rewriting history no longer relying on the blunt methods of old despots. Removing funding from scientific, artistic and intellectual sectors, silencing those employed who disagree with their ideology – the Harper government is rearranging Canada’s societal and cultural structures providing the building blocks of our history. For Orwell, rewriting history to whatever lies suited those in power was a game played by totalitarians. In his polemic The Prevention of Literature, Orwell said mistakes are rewritten to become successes and imaginary triumphs are inserted where none existed before. Inconvenient figures, like Leon Trotsky to Joseph Stalin, are erased and shamed while those in power are glorified upon an untouchable pedestal. Sound familiar?
The Conservatives spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on glamorous “War of 1812” ads glorifying Canada’s confederate history. Leaving out, conveniently, colonial attempts at cultural genocide and assimilation upon the First Nations. Ads describing nonexistent programs helping strengthen Canada’s economy and improve the lives of Canadians, the “Economic Action Plan,” also still pop up.
Remember when Senators Brazeau, Duffy and Wallin became a scandal? Harper dumped them from his caucus and fired his chief of staff, Nigel Wright. The narrative put forth by the party: each was acting on his/her own initiative without the prime minister’s prior knowledge. The leader is revealed as innocent, while greedy mavericks, in the end, take the blame.
Now, distancing from a political inconvenience, is a common practice of most politics today: the assumption being people vote more with their gut than they do with their head. Using tax income to put out propaganda flirts with totalitarianism, but doesn’t quite reach the corruption Orwell might have expected from a despotic regime. Literature still exists in Canada, after all, and so does journalism; both thrive off societal and cultural values of free speech and knowledge. The trouble is when these values are eroded slowly away. Can a tree exist without fertile soil to nurture and provide a place to plant its roots? The same can be asked of our literature, journalism, history and, ultimately, our democracy. Can democracy survive without these values nourishing it?
It can’t. If there’s no vehicle to provide information, evidence and thought to the public to challenge or contradict a ruling party’s ideology, then it’s the same as having no information, evidence and thought whatsoever. The building blocks to write history become restrained to those pre-approved, limiting what can be said or thought. Instead of rewriting history in the crude, direct manner Orwell expected of totalitarians, the Harper government lets history rewrite itself in a flavour in line with its own ends by limiting the conversation.
The Conservatives claim these funding cuts are made for the economy and keeping government spending from going out of control. After all, isn’t it important to save taxpayer’s money? Well, why are our scientific, artistic and other intellectual sectors being cut over things like military spending, big oil subsidies and tax breaks for corporations? What makes the latter so valuable over those things that contribute directly to our knowledge and freedom of thought? The answer: they’re integral to Conservative ideology and financial support during election time.
People could save money by not buying food or clothing, of course, but it wouldn’t make much sense: it’s suicidal. The same can be said of our democracy, as it cannot survive without the necessary knowledge each citizen needs to make an informed choice. Right now, that knowledge is being suffocated at its source. If Orwell were still alive today, he’d see the threats purveyed by totalitarianism haven’t left us; they only changed tactics.