One of the first things to hit me, when I moved from England to Canada many years ago, was the weather. The Canadian winter can be brutal.
I left London, England, in a beautiful spring: the grass already high enough to mow, daffodils everywhere, the leaves on the trees, newly budded, a light verdant green. I arrived in London, Ontario, in a snow squall. The trees still denuded. The grass, where you could see it through the patina of grey and black encrusted ice, a moribund, derelict beige. The temperatures, the exact reverse of each other. I was unprepared for how different the country was. We spoke the same language. The coins had the same regal head on them. I knew the land and cityscapes through the osmosis of popular culture. These vestiges offered a perception of familiarity that proved false and unnerved me. It took time to truly appreciate Canada, a place I am now more than happy to call home.
Of all the unnerving Canadian things I was exposed to, it was the ridiculously bright sunny days of winter that really drove that sense of false perception home.
When snow threatens you know what you’re in for. If you can stay warm inside, a snow storm can be soothing: Watching the flakes (smaller, dryer, colder than the ones I was used to in the United Kingdom) or even taking a short walk out into the crystal haze where you feel the crisp pop of melting ice on what small amount of exposed skin you might dare risk. In those circumstance the old song: let it snow, let it snow, let it snow, rings clear and true.
But then the storm clears and you are faced with that most brilliant of deceptions: Bright, sunlit days, armed with a wind-chill that can induce frostbite in minutes. The normal assumption, sunlight equates to warmth, is turned on its head. The sun can still burn you (oh, the irony!) whilst at the same time your nose hair freezes and the air you breathe feels like a physical assault on your whole respiratory system. In Canada you associate winter sunlight with warmth at your peril, it is a dangerous and false perception.
It has been this way throughout human history, false perceptions based upon the familiar and comfortable that prove both tenacious and therefore dangerous.
· Supply-side economics will, it is always promised, lead to middle-class economic prosperity. Despite the lack of any evidence that the wealth from the top 1% ever ‘trickles down’.
· Taxes are bad and Government is the problem.
· A constitutional democracy and/or republic, once created, will always sustain itself. (Tell that to the Roman emperors, monarchs in all but name, who hid their military dictatorships in the worn clothes and rituals of the distinctly anti-monarchal Roman republic.)
· There’s no real difference between the GOP and the Democrats (See the opprobrium heaped from the left on M. Dukakis, W.J. Clinton, A. Gore, J. Kerry, B. Obama, H. Clinton)
The modern GOP will set up a familiar stall in the US mid-terms of 2018. Highlighting the “out of touch liberal coastal elite”, they will use the perception of a tax cut, due to melt away in less than a decade, to continue their demolition of the state, whilst continuing to trample their way through their revolutionary remodeling of the judicial branch, appointing people as qualified as I to life long positions on the bench, having resisted the appointments of the previous administrations on somewhat spurious grounds.
In 2018, we will hear a lot about the size and role of Government. In the UK it will be wrapped in the false perception of Brexit ‘taking back control’. (Control of what, through what, from whom?) In the Ontario election in June and throughout the US at the mid-terms, it will be untruths about the role and cost of government and what exactly taxes are used for that will dominate the news cycles. The non-liberal elite, the oligarchs and plutocrats, will be out of sight to the general public, quietly pulling the strings of right-wing populism in the background; weaving, relying on cynicism and a lack of hope to continue to deliver them less over-sight, less regulation, more money, disruption and control.
So, as we enter the new year, let’s challenge false perceptions. A cold winter day does not mean global warming is fake. A sunny day is not necessarily warm. Government can do good things. (Education, Healthcare, Roads, Firefighters, Air Quality, Water Quality etc., etc.,) Brexit can be reversed, The news (and Disney) will survive Murdoch and hope can (and must) win in 2018.
Happy New Year!