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Trudeau, Pope Francis, and the dawn of the post-partisan political era

By Paul H. LeMay
11/04/2015

Though I was only 12 years old at the time, I can still remember it like it was yesterday. The year was 1968, and my dad had brought me to my first large political rally, one that was part of the general election that year. I recall standing next to a podium on the lawn that once sat next to Ottawa’s old airport terminal. Then in the distance came a helicopter, one carrying a man who was to speak to the crowd of obviously supportive fans. Talk about an entrance!

Being the age I was, I barely understood what all of the fuss was about or just who exactly was arriving. But what I do remember was the name of the man who was about to speak — Pierre Elliot Trudeau — as well as how, at the end of his rock-star received speech, the crowd began to rip pieces of the cardboard bunting off the frame around the makeshift stage for the chance at a souvenir.

Fast forward to Feb. 18, 1980. The place: The Château Laurier’s grand ballroom soon after the Liberals defeated Joe Clark’s short-lived Tory minority government in that winter’s general election. Once again I was there to witness another fascinating moment in Canadian political history — the same Mr. Trudeau making his way to the podium through another thunderous well-wishing crowd to then nonchalantly deliver his now immortalized phrase welcoming us all to the 1980s.

So here we are now 35 years later, and the most recent election finds us collectively welcoming the dawn of another Trudeau era. Yet it’s only as the election dust now settles that we can begin to make out what that might mean, and to discern the signs that Justin might be more than just the man of the hour. Might he also be the man of the coming decade? The answer may surprise you.

Future Shock

First let’s set some of the wider context. In 1970, Alvin Toffler’s best-selling book Future Shock captured more than just the curiosity and imaginations of the era with its florescent lime or pink covers. It foretold of a future that would come at us at a rate faster than what most of us could handle either psychologically or socially. Thanks in part to an uptick in liberalizing social values, and an accelerating rate of technological change, most of us would experience some measure of recoil or discomfort. And Toffler wasn’t off the mark. The rise of conservatives — Thatcher in England, Reagan in the United States and Mulroney in Canada — might well have been a recoil response to the shock of the future arriving faster than what people liked.

Yet the pace of change did not relent. Knowledge continues to double every few years, and we’re now living with devices once only dreamed of on the original Star Trek television series, the most notable, our own version of their “hand-held communicators” — smartphones — which are not only commonplace, they’ve gone on to become devices that are not only reshaping how we relate to one another and to information, but how we conduct politics.

Indeed, on a recent Power Play show, a Google spokesperson reported that 30 per cent of all voters in the recent election had “interfaced” with campaigns in a digital-only manner, a proportion sure to grow in the coming years. What’s more, she reported that Liberals made better advertising use of the digital medium than did the NDP, fielding 10 videos to the NDP’s four, while the Conservatives fielded none. And who better to relate to younger digitals as spokesperson than a younger candidate? OK, so much for Trudeau’s tech-age advantage. The question is: Did he have others?

For the older crowd who remember his father, he most certainly did, especially along mythic lines. Remember, we are not only talking about the son of a widely respected former Canadian prime minister, but of a person who might actually have been conceived at 24 Sussex Drive. Implications? For those who live life according to Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist beliefs, we’re talking about a soul that may well have been “summoned” to incarnate in that very spot to fulfil some future appointment with destiny. A far-fetched proposition? Not for those that subscribe to the doctrine of reincarnation and the transmigration of souls into specific circumstances according to a person’s previous life karma.

Of course for the beer-drinking, Saturday night hockey-fights-consuming segment of our nation, perspectives such as these have about as much traction as a summer tire on glare ice, and they’re more apt to provoke the rolling of many an eyeball than anything else.

Quantum age

But let’s not forget, we’re now living in the future of which Alvin Toffler wrote. And, in case you hadn’t noticed, we’re now living in the quantum age. In fact, we’ve been in it for the last 90 years! Yet from the way our mass culture continues to think, you wouldn’t know it, despite that fact that without the application of a number of rather ethereal quantum principles, such as quantum tunneling, those smartphones so many of us use, would be impossible. Oh sure, we’re happy to use the technology. Just don’t ask us to explain how it works, let alone cogitate over what the science behind it has for years been telling us. One of those things is how consciousness appears to be able to influence how reality manifests down at a quantum scale. In other words, what you think really has the ethereal ability to affect events.

Without wishing to invoke the ego-indulgent philosophy of The Secret — quantum physics postulates the existence of informational pointer states. Pointer what? And what relevance do these have to the recent election of Justin Trudeau, of all things? We’ll come to that, but first to pointer states.

Pointer states

Pointer states are akin to an express lane of coherent information, one that has the power to influence and shape other not-so-coherent masses of information floating all around us. You could think of them as informational wormholes or tunnels. What they suggest is that so-called material reality takes its formative cues from pointer states. What’s equally intriguing, however, is the possibility that consciousness itself may be implicated in pointer state formation, opening up the theoretical possibility that telekinesis, telepathy and premonition are anything but fanciful, bogus speculations. Of course, most quantum physicists interested in preserving their institutional funding tend to shy away from making any such claims, even while defending the reality of observer effects, non-locality, quantum entanglement and in some cases, even faster-than-speed-of-light communication. Go figure.

Still, it’s not all that hard to see where this same phenomenon might be playing itself out in more everyday human terms. Ever been to a pro hockey, football, baseball or basketball game during the playoffs? The energy you feel in the place is often palpable, is it not? No less was true when it came to watching Canada’s Olympic hockey team win gold on television. Who can deny that when Team Canada wins, it generates a massive infectious wave of euphoria across the land?

Even random number generators at Princeton University have documented this phenomenon in the slight, though statistically significant diminution of the random flux when large numbers of people have experienced a common event like 9/11.

Until recently, though, we never had a physics language that allowed us to connect the conceptual dots between what most of us “know” to exist on an intuitive level and a nation-wide experience of a collective emotional sense.

Some artistically intuitive social commentators have long called it the zeitgeist. Political operatives call it momentum, though often make the mistake of attributing changing polling numbers exclusively to social imitation or bandwagon effects. But what really gets polling numbers to move in the first place? If a politician’s words fail to resonate with the preferred mood of the electorate, there really is no consciousness basis for a bandwagon effect to form. In other words, there’s no pointer state to influence the otherwise random quantum flux of information.

Pope Francis in America

I found that no less of a sense of a potent pointer state swept over me when Pope Francis visited the United States for six days beginning on Sept. 22, aided as he was by the wall-to-wall coverage given to the visit by CNN. But still, at the centre of that coverage was the pope and the inspiring energy of his message. Without that, all the coverage in the world wouldn’t have been worth a hill of flatulence-causing beans. In fact, so effective was Francis in delivering his message, that when he appeared before normally warring Democrats and Republicans in a history-making joint session of Congress, he was able to skillfully thread a path of consensus between them. But what made it possible was the non-partisan note he succeeded in striking. (To watch his address, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBM7DIeMsP0.)

For me personally, and as someone who was raised as a Catholic, it felt like a veritable tsunami of positive energy had been unleashed across America, one whose healing waves washed over the border into the midst of our federal election. The contrast in energies and perspectives was both stunning and sobering, and it launched me into what can only be described as a post-partisan political frame of mind. Within that frame, what mattered most were our common human values and care for another, and a desire to emphasize the things that unite us rather than divide us.

Post-partisan

Sound familiar? Though Justin Trudeau certainly spouted his share of partisan-sounding messages that found only a fractional resonance in me, where he distinguished himself was in the fact that Trudeau was the most positive-sounding among the contending alternatives. In fact, a longtime friend of mine in Toronto echoed this same sentiment, but put it a slightly different way. He said he really did not like any of the choices on offer, but he would vote Liberal because Justin Trudeau was the least terrible of the lot. Of course, that’s hardly a ringing endorsement of the Liberal platform or its leader. But for a fellow who had never once in his life put an election sign on his lawn, and in this election did, it tells us something about the level of disaffection many people hold for politics and politicians. Could it be that, like me, others had already moved into a post-partisan political frame of mind as well? It’s not a trivial question, especially when it comes to the more fluid, non-party-aligned voter.

Early in Trudeau’s leadership bid, he postulated that the reason so many people were getting turned off by politics was because of the negativity and personal attacks they seemed to bring about, and the turn-off effect this had. So he pledged to do his part to stay as positive as possible. Not an easy thing to do in politics to be sure, but in the last election, he likely earned no less than a B grade for his efforts. As for the others? Well, I’ll let you be the judge.

Sunnier ways

But young Mr. Trudeau may well be more than the man of the hour on this score. With his earnest intent to lift us into sunnier ways, what he is in effect intent on doing isn’t just to lead our country beyond a previous era where a fighting mindset was the driving default mindset of our culture. He is, by virtue of his actions, helping to feed a new, more wholesome pointer state within Canada’s otherwise tainted political culture, and in that regard, many of us genuinely wish him Godspeed.

Yet the challenge before him may be greater than we think, for we continue to live with the long-lasting pointer state legacy of two world wars, and the even longer legacy of a frontier experience where European economic refugees flooded into the New World and displaced the original inhabitants with scarce concern for them in our bid to take what we wanted, unleashing bad karma all around. So if we’re intent on changing potent psychological pointer states such as these, it is going to take a very exceptional generation of people singing from a similar song sheet to lead us into such an era. To make that happen, political parties are going to need to focus less on partisan advantage, and more on the common good. Let us hope that Justin Trudeau can remain faithful to that goal.

Paul H. LeMay is a Vancouver-based science writer and the co-author of a newly released book, Primal Mind, Primal Games: Why We Do What We Do, now for sale in Canada. He is also the former special assistant to the late Senator Sheila Finestone, PC.