Friday, November 5, 2010

Have the Conservatives Gone Bi?

I have a confession to make. Politically speaking, I'm bi, that is to say biconceptual, and I have suspicions that the Conservative Party of Canada also has some bi tendencies that for the longest time have been kept in the closet.

In his brilliant book, The Political Mind, neuroscientist George Lakoff demonstrates that culturally dominant metaphors become hardwired into the brain at the level of the synapses. For Lakoff, the conceptualization of the nation is divided into different metaphors of the family, the authoritarian strict father represented by the conservatives, and the empathetic, nurturing parents represented by the progressives. He observes that the political spectrum is not a left/right continuum, but a continuum of progressives on one end, conservatives at the other, and in the middle those that are biconceptual, meaning that in some contexts these people will have their progressive cognitive frames activated and in other contexts it will be their conservative cognitive frames that dominate.

As a evidence-based democrat, I find myself wavering between the two frames depending on the context. Most of the time, I am a progressive, but there are times when the conservative networks in my brain get activated. For example, here in Quebec, we run a program called Act Differently, which is designed to reduce the incidence of high school drop outs. Unfortunately, research shows that after a number of years and $40 million later, the program has had no effect on bringing about its intended change. When I see this type of intervention into the social sphere, I become fiscally conservative within this particular context. I don't, however, generalize and transfer my conservative cognitive frame to other social contexts.

During the last week, we have had two significant political decisions made by a Conservative government that demonstrate that they too, within certain contexts, can be progressive. In refusing to let the Prosperity Gold and Copper Mine go forward in British Columbia and to intervene so to prevent Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan from being taken over by an Australian based company, BHP Billiton, they appeared to be acting in a manner more becoming of a progressive, social democratic party like the NDP.

Since it appears that a single party majority government in Canada is something of the past, perhaps in our political future bi is the only way to fly if we want to have good government.

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