Flippant ethics or the art of trivializing what's important

Flippant ethics or the art of trivializing what's important

Monday, 06 November 2017

Looking at selfies means looking on a screen at people looking at themselves on screens.

“To throw that bag away, what madness!" says Le Bret. "But, what a gesture!” answers Cyrano.  

For quite some time now, a devil-may-care attitude has had a good reputation. Rostand vouched for it by making it a key attribute of Cyrano de Bergerac’s personality, but it is obvious that, nowadays, politicians at the federal, provincial and even municipal levels act in an excessively offhanded way. Some turn up their noses, while others look down on their audiences Marlon Brando style, while others feign ignorance or—even worse—they repeat an unfounded, unpersuasive answer over and over. 

Flippancy is still customary and seems to have become an indispensable attitude for politicians when they decide to avoid answering certain questions.

But, let’s dare to ask, although the term is known: in addition to being a certain form of arrogance, what does it mean to be flippant? 

According to the Oxford Dictionary, it is a word dating back to the early 17th century. Early meanings included “nimble” and “talkative,” hence “playful,” giving rise to the current usage, “lacking seriousness.” When people are flippant, they give the impression of taking everything lightly.

In our times, flippant people speak in discussions or media scrums with the least amount of effort possible while aiming to dismiss the questioner’s argument. They adopt a certain sang-froid to place themselves, or so they believe, above the fray. In fact, they are flaunting their power, which is in fact the foundation of their legitimacy. There is no offhandedness without power, nor is there offhandedness without legitimacy. It is thus this power, coupled with legitimacy, that emboldens these people to act flippantly and perform trivial gestures that speak volumes, without ever having to open their mouths or offer a well-developed answer. 

For example:

"Holidays with the Aga Khan? It’s not what you think."

"No, I did not put my assets in a blind trust as required, but it’s not what you think."

"We exempt foreign companies from taxes while taxing Canadian companies, but it’s not what you think."

"Senior Ministry executives met with a foreign company’s lobbyists more than 50 times, but it’s not what you think."

Even outside the precincts of Parliament, when questioned on government affairs, it seems that our elected representatives never hesitate to act glibly. They avoid answering citizens’ questions and committing to anything, preferring to be all smiles and offering to pose for selfies. 

Yet, what citizens demand of their elected representatives is not to strike a pose for their Facebook pages: they simply want solid and credible answers. But offering such responses is in direct opposition to the flippant person’s outlook. To them, only silence or their image are effective.

Unfortunately, flippancy and its silences do have an effect: they directly contribute to reinforcing cynicism and the already low regard that citizens have for politicians. We can expect that this regard will not improve as long as offhandedness is not curbed and politicians continue to offer only pirouettes intended to avoid answering rather than responding to legitimately raised questions.  

Politicians might think themselves cool by acting this way, but they are directly disparaging citizens by reducing them to the level of mere spectators or photo accessories. This attitude is unworthy of members of government and cannot continue in the long term without causing irreparable damage to citizens’ trust and confidence in their governments.

By cultivating flippancy, politicians themselves choose to lose the game by devaluing their own actions.  Opting for silence or a photo has consequences, because, rather than trust, it is distrust that is sown.

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