Regardless of your political feelings about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, you have to admit the guy has guts.
Not many politicians would have the courage to host a town-hall meeting in a place as openly hostile as Nanaimo, B.C. Immediately upon entering the building last week, the climate bullies jumped on him with a torrent of violent rants. “You’re a snake, you’re a liar,” were some of the kinder (printable) shout outs.
What did the prime minister do to warrant this avalanche of abuse?
He simply stated the obvious. “We will be moving forward with the Kinder Morgan pipeline … that is the nature of the compromise we (the federal government) have taken in the best interests of the country.”
What he didn’t say (out loud) was that the B.C. government’s attempt to unilaterally restrict pipeline shipments and launch a new round of studies is unwarranted and probably illegal.
The Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion has been through a lengthy national review process with multiple environmental impact studies. Billions have been spent preparing the ground for this pipeline and there are detailed plans to deal with problems, should they occur.
But all this is irrelevant to Canada’s radicalized fringe.
An obscure and somewhat bizarre cult of oppression has gripped Canada’s West Coast. Although other regions of Canada are suffering as well, British Columbia has a much stronger dose of the disease. As a result, issues get twisted and motivations confused. For example, local activists’ opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline has little to do with the environment (as important as that is). It’s part of a 21st century revolt against the status quo.
The West Coast (Vancouver Island in particular) is home to an increasingly passionate mob of neo-romantic activists whose assault on the ‘establishment’ is nothing less than a moral crusade. The environment is only a side issue; the ends they seek are more ambitious: the dismantling of Canada’s evil ‘petro-state.’
Like their Soviet-era precursors, the environmentalist vanguard believes concepts like balance and compromise are acts of cowardice and should be met with scorn (or worse).
What lies behind this violent hatred?
University of Toronto professor Jordan B. Peterson suggests that much of this anti-establishment bias is formulated in our universities. According to Peterson, universities are increasingly intolerant, indoctrinated with a poisonous cocktail of negativity. Students are taught that western civilization is the source of inequality and all gender and racial repression.
In particular, Peterson believes this negative worldview has infected the social sciences and helped launch a divisive era of identity politics, which now fuels the growth of gender, race and sexual subgroups who believe they’re being actively oppressed.
Of course, western civilization is far from perfect. But it’s one of the few civilizations in history to identify equality as an achievable societal goal and work to achieve it.
Ironically, a few short decades ago, westerners believed they were at the forefront of a new humanistic world order. The western cultural narrative, dating from classical Greece, through Magna Carta and the Age of Enlightenment, was championed as a unique font of liberty and individual freedom.
What’s happened to reverse this narrative?
The disease is deep-seated, rooted in a mistaken theory of history. Romantics believe that the natural state of humanity (i.e. in the absence of societal restraint) is utopia, a society in perfect liberty and equality. Therefore, logically, the presence of any inequality must be evidence of active coercion. From a Romantic perspective, since we don’t live in a utopia, society is obviously oppressing us.
If you believe this historical falsehood, it’s perfectly logical to identify society’s victims and focus attention narrowly on inequality. Rather than celebrate our progressive achievements over many centuries, Romantics demonize the establishment.
This is not simply a philosophical debate – these mistaken ideas have been the source of much of the systemic hatred and violence in history, including the murderous class hatred that characterized Soviet communism.
Town-hall meetings are not a good place to start explaining the lessons of history. But Trudeau is right, democracies need a healthy dose of compromise and the sober application of laws.
Unfortunately, intolerance and violence are the stock-in-trade of idealistic neo-romantics and the behaviour the prime minister experienced last week in that high school gymnasium is just a sampling of what’s to come. It’s the tip of a very divisive iceberg.
Robert McGarvey is an economic historian and former managing director of Merlin Consulting, a London, U.K.-based consulting firm. Robert’s most recent book is Futuromics: A Guide to Thriving in Capitalism’s Third Wave.