How Stupid People Threaten the World

Here’s a column I wrote for The Kitchener Post back in July. It seems a good thing to bring up again as we enter the final weeks of the American election, and Britain still struggles with the fallout from Brexit:

Stupidity can come back from brink

Kitchener Post
By James Bow
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I’ve been searching in vain for a quote I thought former Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard had said in the early 1990s. It was when the Meech Lake constitutional accord hit a reef and he quit the Progressive Conservative government to eventually found the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

I remembered an unguarded rant where he said something along the lines of, “Stupid people are the reason why this country is falling apart.”

I have not found this quote, so it was likely not said. However, I still think about it, because I don’t think Bouchard was wholly wrong. Stupid people on both sides were destroying Canada.

Canada was shaky in the early 1990s. Quebec separatism was back on the rise. Quebec had angered English Canada by using the notwithstanding clause to block English on all signs within the province.

On our side, 27 cities, including Sault Ste. Marie, adopted divisive, “English-only” resolutions. Protesters in Brockville stomped on the Quebec flag.

I had just graduated from high school; I was at that precarious age where the adult world stretched out before me but I wasn’t sure if I was ready to leap into it.

My friends and I watched the rising rants from both sides and wondered, how could we be doing this? We had a good country, and these forces were throwing it all away.

It’s strange to think of that now, 25 years later, as Americans upset at the rise of Donald Trump and Britons fearful of fallout from Brexit talk about moving to Canada as refugees. You hear echoes.

Donald Trump doesn’t lie so much as he makes things up off the top of his head without caring whether it’s true or not. He proposes solutions that would be unconstitutional and disastrous if tried, but which appeal to his supporters because they mix well with their ongoing anger that the world isn’t working as it should.

In the United Kingdom, proponents of leaving the European Union are today trying to walk back their promises of what was possible should the Leave option win.

Leave proponents are now confronted with the reality of the financial and political cost of the uncertainty they’ve inflicted, the mammoth task of rewriting all the laws, and the vicious and misplaced anger against immigrants that they stirred up in order to win.

All of these things were told to the proponents and their supporters before the polls closed, but they replied that “Britain was tired of listening to experts”.

That’s how stupid people threaten the world.

And I’m not using “stupid people” as the insult one thinks of it as. I myself have been a stupid person on occasion. Who among us can say different?

Who hasn’t gone with their gut rather than their brain? Who among us hasn’t responded with fear or anger because reason didn’t seem so satisfying, or possible?

And yet Canada had a period where our political leaders did stupid things on behalf of their followers. They killed the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords and brought this nation to the brink of rupture.

But then we pulled back and moved on.

Separatist and federalist parties have governed in Quebec; Liberal and Conservative parties have governed in Ottawa. We’re still here.

It’s a comforting thought. Even as the United States and England find themselves on the brink, Canada shows it is possible to pull back, and stop being so stupid.

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