Murray Dobbins' analysis is never superficial. He looks for root causes. In his latest column, he notes that two television shows -- House of Cards and Breaking Bad -- were tremendously popular. He suspects that, just as science fiction movies of the 1950's were about Cold War paranoia, these two shows were really about the psychopathy of 21st century capitalism. He quotes Canadian author Patricia Pearson:
The celebration of remorselessness is everywhere. Friends on Facebook have lately been reporting their scores on widely circulating psychopathy quizzes that ask users to agree or disagree with statements such as, 'I never feel remorse, shame or guilt about something I've said or done.' 'I'm 19-per-cent psychopath!' they announce. Or: 'I scored five out of 10!' As if the chilling absence of human empathy I witnessed as a crime reporter in covering trials like that of serial killer Paul Bernardo had become a fun little personality quirk.
Captialism has now become hyper-competitive. And the consequences are truly disturbing:
The stronger the imperative to compete, the weaker become family, community and friendship connections because in rampant consumer capitalism -- promoted and reinforced by television culture -- such connections are seen as irrelevant. Or worse, they are seen as weak and inefficient means, if not actual barriers, to the end of achieving more stuff. We are competing in a zero-sum game whose rules are written by those with psychopathic tendencies.
It's that psychopathology which is a the root of our democratic crisis:
It is not first-past-the-post voting systems, or the cancellation of government funding for parties, or even the role of TV advertising. It is at its core our gradual acquiescence "to things that are contrary to our individual and communal interests." This acquiescence, says [Fred] Guerin, is the "consequence of very gradual political and corporate indoctrination that consolidates power not only by inducing fear and uncertainty, but also by rewarding unbridled greed, opportunism and self-interest."
If we want to reclaim our democracy, Dobbin writes, we need to discover an old human trait -- kindness:
British writer Barbara Taylor has suggested in her essay "On Kindness" (co-authored by Adam Phillips) that the missing ingredient is just that: kindness. The authors point out that for almost all of human history, people considered themselves naturally kind. Christian philosophy called on people to "love thy neighbour as thyself." But by the 17th century, kindness was under attack by competitive individualism. Today, says Taylor, "An image of self has been created that is utterly lacking in natural generosity." This is in spite of numerous studies that show giving provides far more pleasure than taking. People involved in these studies are astonished by the results -- and simply don't trust them.
21st century capitalism sees kindness as a weakness. Certainly our prime minister regards it as such. But our prime minister -- unlike Dobbin -- doesn't believe in "committing sociology." He believes in our essential illness.