Cry me a fargin’ river, Janet Bagnall

With opinion columnists it is all black or white.

An adventuress. A “self-made” woman. Or, most cutting of all, “Not the kind of woman a high-level politician would have as a wife.”

These over-heated labels have been plastered all over Julie Couillard since her relationship with former foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier hit the news. Much of the fury seemed to be directed at the low-cut dress she wore to a stuffy event in a stuffy town: The kind of woman who wears that dress had no business being at a government ceremony. Victorian-era social snobbery was alive and well in Canada, 2008.

— Janet Bagnall, “The Victorian divide“.  Montréal Gazette, June 4th, 2008.

There’s another possibility here, Mme. Bagnall.  Perhaps Mme. Couillard is a bright woman.  Perhaps we can even admire her skill at landing and then lancing a Minister of the Crown.  Perhaps we can further say that even the brightest lights can occasionally (and even habitually) make incredibly poor decisions in personal relationships.  And it is entirely okay to laud such persons for their virtues and castigate them for their faults.

Quite a few famous astronauts have been divorced, for example.  They are clearly highly trained and motivated individuals, but that does not mean they always make the best decisions (especially regarding their romantic lives) while under enormous stress.  Former President Clinton is also a good example of a bright individual who, rather habitually, made family- and career-sabotaging decisions.  Is frowning on his infidelities an archaic throwback to a Victorian moral code?  Or maybe just the simple recognition that however we might wish otherwise, his infidelity causes his wife and daughter to involuntarily share in his disgrace.  Something they have absolutely no choice in, and can do absolutely nothing to mitigate.  Is it Victorian morality that makes us wish he did not subject them to these indignities?

The divide means that you can’t reinvent yourself. There are no second chances, especially if you don’t even pretend you’re sorry about your past.

I don’t know what the moral is. Once you’ve dated a mobster, a biker and a loan shark, you’ve pretty much done yourself in? Or, there are stupid, lazy men in every field, whether crime or politics, and, really, dating them is not a good idea?

M. Bernier could have avoided the entire spectacle had he exercised a little more precision in document handling, yes?  Likewise, Mme. Couillard is also (and not coincidentally) a gigantic tool for repeatedly getting into romantic liaisons with men with criminal ties.  She’s had her second chance, and her third chance, picking shady characters both times.  The idea that people are looking down on her because of a lingering Victorian divide is laughable.  People look down on her because she married a biker, dated a mobster and then a loan shark.  She is clearly not learning anything from her missteps, and possibly does not regard them as missteps to begin with.  She is a living example of the maxim about insanity (attributed to Albert Einstein), doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t look up to people who pursue failure so doggedly.

I have a friend who, at one time, had a serious drug addiction.  They kicked the habit with no small amount of effort and willpower, and one of their dating rules is not to date people still in thrall to narcotics.  I have seem them end relationships because of this rule, and it is (in my mind) quite sensible.  This is what somebody does when they truly learn a hard lesson.  They don’t continue to dabble around the periphery and flirt with danger.  They get out and are determined to stay out, because they know how damaging and long-term the wrong choices can be.

This is not Victorian morality, it is an appreciation of evolutionary biology.  Adapt or die is the phrase.  Most dinosaurs had the computing power of a walnut and thus could not adapt to the planet’s meteorological and botanical changes.  We expect a little better out of human beings.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.