Some things don’t mix: Rob Ford and vegetable pizza, the federal NDP and forming a government, and Stephen Harper and sociology. Recently, the latter combination has proven particularly interesting. Stephen Harper, our proto-robot Prime Minister, has come under fire for rejecting social explanations to social problems. In fact, he so keenly rejects social explanations that one might suspect that there is an underlying cause for his…never mind. The point is that this has been going on for a long time, and that it shows no signs of going away while El Jefe is in charge.
Our Prime Minister went public about his distaste for sociology following the arrests of two men accused of planning a terrorist attack on a Canadian train. When asked about the root causes of terrorism, Harper said, “this is not a time to commit sociology, if I can use an expression.” He might have asked if he could invent an expression, since this was the first time anyone had addressed sociology as if it was a crime (research potential was limited, since the Margaret Thatcher era predated the Internet). No bother, he added that he wanted to convey an “utter determination through our laws and our activities to do everything we can to prevent it and counter [terrorism]”. Everything, that is, except actually trying to prevent and counter it. That would require some elementary understanding of sociology, so it wouldn’t be acceptable.
Despite his limited problem solving approach, nothing limits our Prime Minister from trying to solve problems. Consider his recent tour of the north. In Nunavut, a head of cabbage can cost $28, and the rate of suicide among Inuit people is 13 times the Canadian average. The crime rate in the Yukon was double the national average in 2011, while the crime rate in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut was four times the national average for the same period. How did Harper address these problems? With common sense, of course. Last week, he announced a new Arctic research program that will aim to increase the rates of survival in lifeboats and improve performance of immersion suits in the Arctic Ocean. Even without sociology, he was still able to discern that what Canada’s northern residents need most is access to better drysuits. The line to kiss his feet must stretch out the door!
Oddly enough, some people don’t appreciate Harper’s willful ignorance of cause-and-effect relationships. This week, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger took issue with Harper’s response to a call for a national inquiry into the cases of murdered and missing aboriginal women. Our Prime Minister cautioned Canadians against thinking too much: “We should not view this as sociological phenomenon,” he said, and continued, “We should view it as crime. It is crime against innocent people, and it needs to be addressed as such.” There’s no need to consider the fact that Aboriginal women, 4% of Canadian women, account for 16% of female homicides and 11% of missing women. In the absence of any critical thought, these numbers represent nothing more than a coincidence. This is a “lock ‘em up” situation if there’s ever been one. Yet Wynne wasn’t convinced. She said it was “outrageous” for “Stephen Harper to say there’s not a systemic aspect to this.” Steve might have responded, “Listen Kathleen, it’s called Crime and Punishment for a reason. No one would buy Crime Avoidance and Ensuing Social Cohesion because it would be a boring book. And all my big new prisons would be empty.” Is there a lesson here? Yes. Stephen Harper may not be good at pattern recognition and comprehensive problem solving, but he is a literary genius. We should trust him.
Regardless of whether A Great Game was a great success or a great disappointment (I’m not going to buy it because I can find cheaper toilet paper at the corner store), sociology has an interesting way of proving its value. If one ignores the sociological causes of crime, for example, one might notice that the crime never seems to go away. Criminals disappear to jail for short periods of time, and then recommit crimes upon release because, well, the conditions that made crime lucrative or necessary in the first place are still there. The result is an increasingly petty, violent, and unfortunate society that exists in this state only because it refuses to deal with its problems. On another note, has anyone noticed that Harper’s Conservatives are tanking in the polls? If it’s any consolation, Harper probably won’t read much into that one either. As he ignores his problem, he solves ours.