Behind the Smile and You’re an Idiot

A Tale of Two Books
READ IT by Bruce Mason

Judi Tyabji’s Christy Clark: Behind the Smile and James Hoggan’s, I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean It Up

• I just finished reading a couple of current, timely, best-selling BC books back to back – make that back and forth – that speak volumes about our worrisome future. They also cry out for comparison. The first book focuses on the life and times of our premier, the second, on the result of a five-year global mission to answer a question from David Suzuki, “Why aren’t people demanding action on environmental issues like climate change, despite the overwhelming evidence?”

They are respectively: Judi Tyabji’s Christy Clark: Behind the Smile and James Hoggan’s, I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean It Up.

“Political insider” Tyabji’s “unauthorized, arms-length” biography is complete with dozens of pages of Clark family photos. It promises “an astute political portrait and a biting critique of the brutal partisan dialogue that often distorts our views of our leaders and their accomplishments.” Proves you can’t judge a book by its cover; the reviews have been, well, biting and brutal. One critic best sums it up in one word: “sad.”

The author, a friend of Clark since “1984 or 1985,” first noticed “her laugh, her curviness and her hair. She reminded me of a sexy version of Peppermint Patty from the Charlie Brown cartoons because she was at home with the boys, had a husky voice and a wry sense of humour.” Make that, Peanuts cartoons.

The interviews – and Tyabji claims to have conducted 30 or 40 – include Clark’s best friend from elementary school, who informs us that Christy had a Holly Hobbie lunch kit, a fierce competitive streak and “bubbly personality.” In “grade three, or four,” the future premier was “Leader of the Pack,” in a dance routine of the Shangri-Las’ hit record. The book reads like the Sister Sledge hit We are Family.

For personal history, there’s Clark’s older brother Bruce. Tyabji’s husband, Gordon Wilson, fills in some blanks. Glossed over is the fact the couple was facing foreclosure until Clark gave Gordon a fat contract as an “LNG-Buy BC” advocate. On Christy’s obsessive, fracked methane gas fantasies, there is, of course, LNG mouthpiece, Jas Johal. The all-important environmental file is virtually unopened. Ongoing scandals? Sssh.

Just as the reader begins to think this “in-depth biography” strays no further than numbers on the author’s cell, one discovers a bizarre, nine-page diatribe entitled Barbie Goes to Victoria in the chapter The XX Factor. The writer, one Pamela Cramond-Malkinon, describes the piece as a “largely academic analysis of why women in politics, particularly attractive ones, often get terribly and viciously excoriated by men and women alike.” Post-publication, she has taken to categorizing devastating criticism as the work of “trolls demented with anger against anything that is not their political belief system.”

Tyabji has reacted to all the thumbs-down with, “If me coming out with a book… if that makes me a target, that’s not about me. That’s about the people targeting me.” However, she does provide one insight in her 370 pages of fluff in a chapter entitled Young Liberals and True Believers. Christy is, above all, a “true, true believer.” In what? “Targeted government spending… tax policy that encourages economic growth or business investment, scientific work tied to economic development… and fiscal responsibility, including balanced budgets.” In short, neo-liberalism, now universally regarded as the main source of humanity’s do-or-die crises.

As for “balanced budgets” – for which Clark is applauded by one-handed right wingers – former CKNW talk show host and elected official, Rafe Mair, recently observed and proved, “The fact is we are in terrible financial shape and the government is lying through its teeth.” He points out the province’s financial obligations increased $72 billion in the past six years, more than the provincial debt in BC’s first 135.

James Hoggan is, among other things, chair of the David Suzuki Foundation and co-founder of the influential, ground and truth breaking website DeSmogBlog. He is also the author of Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming and Do the Right Thing. In addition, he led the Green Energy Advisory Task Force on Community Relations and First Nations Partnerships.

Common Ground asked him about our most divisive, polarizing premier and her oft-quoted phrases, such as “Forces of No,” “problematic,” and “a bit troubling and disturbing.”

Hoggan, who chooses his words carefully, replied, “I’m perplexed and frustrated by the spin doctoring swirling around the global warming issue, making it easy for people to refute the reality of what’s going on and ignore this critical collective problem. But I’ve became even more concerned and alarmed by the crazy state of debate today in general – the toxic rhetoric that permeates virtually all important issues we face, whether it’s vaccinations, refugee immigration, gun control or environmental degradation.

“I decided to take a deep look at our resistance to change, the human relations and ingrained psychology causing it and the gridlock, inaction and despair that result. Sometimes, it’s intentional, sometimes it’s inadvertent, but the troublesome fact is this toxic mix is coming from all sides and stifling discussion and critical debate.

“I began to explore how these tendencies arise, what spurs us to become close-minded, aggressively vitriolic and most importantly, what we can do about it. I also began to analyze how we can become highly effective communicators, deflect over-the-top advocacy and make our arguments more convincing.”

He describes his research and writing the book as a “fascinating journey,” especially the discovery of keenness for this discussion, which enabled him to share collective wisdom. In 60+ interviews with everyone from a NASA scientist to a deep-sea oceanographer, from cognitive researchers to authorities on systems thinking, he sat down with an expert in the House of Lords lunchroom, spent a week with Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, and travelled to the Himalayas to speak with the Dalai Lama. Insights from political pundits, philosophers, moral psychologists, brain scientists, scholars, media gurus and corporate analysts are all included.

I urge you to read this book and study the 10-page Epilogue: Lessons Learned. The phrase that echoes throughout is Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Speak the truth, but not to punish.”

I asked Hoggan if he found any hope. He said, “Some people think I’m saying activists should do less. On the contrary, I believe we have a responsibility to do more. People can face reality, change, and there is hope in the fact that we can, and are, getting better at it.”

Common Ground has sent a copy of I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean It Up to the premier’s office.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based banjo player, gardener, writer and author of Our Clinic.

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