Canada’s Obama. Only white. And more boring.

“The thing that politics most strongly resembles is being on soccer teams and hockey teams when I was a child. It’s not a lonely writer in his den thinking thoughts. You’re mostly listening all day long to people, trying to take the measure of their personalities–their strengths, their weaknesses.

It’s much closer to being a journalist. You sit with other politicians: what does this person really want? You hear what she’s saying. But what does she really want? That’s a political moment.

The New Yorker‘s Adam Gopnik profiles Michael Ignatieff, a former Harvard human rights professor (and Canada’s Prime Minister in waiting). The transition from public intellectual to politician is almost complete. And intellectualized:

“As an intellectual, you can speculate, you can ruminate, you can muse about things. Can’t do that in politics. They want to know what you think, what you do.

A lot of the time, intellectuals are engaged in the business of showing people how clever they are. The public isn’t interested in how clever you are. It wants something very different, which is, Can I trust this guy? Does this guy understand me and will this guy be withy me when times are difficult?

Ignatieff’s Needs of Strangers was a favorite philosophy text of my younger self–a pragmatic discussion of our ties and obligations to strangers. But I haven’t read it in a decade. Time to do so again.

I’ve also just ordered, and am intrigued to read, his CBC Massey Lecture on the tension between individual and collective rights.

Ignatieff has the intellect to lead, but we’ll see if he has the talent. I do like that fact that I come from a place where a human rights philosopher has a chance at carpetbagging an election.

(And no, that’s not a self-serving comment. Even if I had an interest in a political career, this blog more or less cements its demise.)

4 thoughts on “Canada’s Obama. Only white. And more boring.

  1. Prime minister in waiting! And to think this blog sometimes has informative things to say about statistics!

  2. Yes it’s quite exciting. It was reading Ignatieff’s The Warrior’s Honour just over a decade ago that inspired me to move from development focused work to humanitarian work.

    But can he motivate and relate enough to lead a party? At the least I hope it reinstils intellect and philosophy into political debate in Canada. But that perhaps may be inseparable from the main challenge. He needs to lead and inspire Canadians to think and debate more, which requires overcoming the culture of shallow sound bite driven, twittering, single line facebook updates, and one line blog responses.

    That leads me to the other blog on how people learn and how we can help people learn and apply knowledge within their work. Modern communication tools are important but I think a major challenge we have is a possible future where people are engaged in far too many things at the same time (at any one time engaging in several SMS, IM, facebook, email discussions), with no depth to any of them and great transaction costs everytime one engages/disengages from something to focus on. That’s off topic now, so will pick this up elsewhere.