Did Jody Wilson Raybould misunderstand JT's offer of Attorney General as the “empty gesture” that it was?Read Now
In polite society the 'empty gesture' (This is a key tenet of Slavoj Zizek’s philosophy) is a cornerstone of civility. We make offers all the time that are meant to be rejected, and all parties understand this unwritten rule.
“Oh, you have a flat tire and need a lift home? (even though it’s many kilometers out of my way?) I can drive you.” And the correct response would be “No, no, it's too much trouble, I’ll find another way.” The way you know that this is an unwritten code that everyone understands is that, if the friend really meant it, they would have to work really hard to convince the friend that they really meant it. No, REALLY. I WANT to help you. The friend has to send that subconscious message that “we both know what the social code is, and I want to forgo it.”
At the other end of the extreme are dictatorships where it’s understood that you are free to do anything you want, as long as you don’t. This is a tricky concept and a source of great comedy if you imagine Laurel and Hardy living under dictatorial rule and not understanding that the ACTUAL rule is the opposite of what’s written. This is part of the allegorical brilliance of “Who’s on First,” but I'll leave that to someone else...
In a social situation, if the code is misunderstood, it could compromise a friendship. In the situation with the offer of a lift, the outcome, if the empty gesture is not to be forgone, might be that the driver then spends the next few weeks complaining to everybody, “I can’t believe Justin made me drive twenty kilometres in the opposite direction from my house when he knew that meant missing the opening pitch of the Jays game!”
In the political arena, there is no greater subversive act than to follow the rule precisely as written.
So through this lens, one might see where the problem arose when JWR accepted the position of Attorney General. She did not understand it for the empty gesture that it was. “Of *course* you have complete freedom to make the final decision!” says Trudeau. “Of course we’d never dream of interfering!” say the parade of partisans that pounded on her door. You could almost feel the ‘wink winks’ getting bigger and more comical as time went on, and JWR is wondering why everyone who speaks to her has this strange eye-twitch tick that is increasingly confounding.
It reminds me of the time on set when the extras were, as per usual, asked to mime their dialogue behind the actors, but this young guy, newbie, I guess, didn’t get it, and I’m pretending to talk to him during the take and he keeps saying “I’m...I’m...sorry, what? I..I can’t hear you,” and we end up having to do more takes because of that, and we’re like, Oh jeezus, this kid doesn't quite get the concept.
And also through this lens, one might see the possibility that, from the very beginning, Trudeau’s “doing politics differently” was itself an empty gesture inasmuch as it indicates one thing, but not another. Having an equal number of men and women in cabinet is not the same thing as trusting someone to make their own decisions free from influence. There was another article that I read, in the course of this great debacle, that included research that concluded that men mostly get into politics for status and power, and women mostly get into politics to make a difference. Think about that. Who would you prefer to be making the decisions? The status seeker, or the person who has a greater capacity to let empathy be her guide?
To that end, in an essay in McLean’s on April 3, Political Science associate professor at Waterloo, Emmet Macfarlane, in discussing a kind of blindness among the punditry, says, “It is not that covering politics for 15 or 30 years necessarily makes you stupid, but it can apparently blind some to the idea that not all political fights are attempted power grabs. Is it so rare to see politicians act on points of principle that we can’t recognize it when it smacks us in the face?” (italics mine).
If JWR had grown up in a communist block, instead of merely working in the Langevin one, she might have more properly understood what was required of her...
Lalo Espejo is a writer, monologist and political satirist whose work has appeared on CBC radio, campuses across Canada. He has also taught writing and presentation skills at career colleges in Vancouver. firstname.lastname@example.org