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Explaining Tom Flanagan's spectacular fall: Professorial Mentality Syndrome

TORONTO

Prof. Tom Flanagan (ret.) may have been thrown over the side of the Good Ship Tory by Capt. Preston Manning and the Motor Vessel Wildrose by First Mate Danielle Smith, but he still inspires warm feelings of solidarity at the Fraser Institute.

Leastways, Flanagan remains on the list published by the loony-right Vancouver-based "think tank" of its favourite "senior and visiting fellows" -- fellows, indeed, who to a man, and woman, have never seen an opportunity for privatization of public assets they couldn't love.

Flanagan most certainly would have approved the swift political justice meted out a few days ago by Manning and Smith -- at least if it had been some other nutty professor who had operated his mouth in public without engaging his brain. 

Which brings us to the purpose of today's inquiry -- now that we’ve had a few days to contemplate these strange events. How could Flanagan, a certifiably smart guy, have blundered so spectacularly as to appear to defend the use, or at least the users, of child pornography in a public meeting that he had to know was being taken down to be used against him by someone on one of the ubiquitous video and audio recorders attached to virtually every mobile telephone nowadays.

Canadians continue to wonder how to explain the bizarre lapse that led to the neoconservative elder's spectacular flameout in the Southern Alberta community of Lethbridge at the end of last month. Well, let me, as Perfesser Dave might say, illuminate your fuzzification.

Now, as previously noted, notwithstanding his recent troubles, Flanagan remains a Senior Fellow -- but he is also, it must be noted, a pretty senior fellow, having been born 69 years ago this month in Ottawa. Ottawa, Illinois, that is.

But merely qualifying to be termed a sexagenarian not ought to guarantee one is addled! (Calm down, offended Tories, that big word only means you're in your 60s, like the author of this blog.)

Naw, you heard it here first, Professor Flanagan suffered from the tragedy of Professorial Mentality Syndrome (PMS).

PMS comes from standing at the front of a university classroom for decades lecturing shiny faced and well-motivated young people -- and it can afflict you whatever the topic you happen to be lecturing them about, even the kind of quasi-religious ideological claptrap that characterizes neocon boiler rooms of the cult-like "Calgary School" where Flanagan held forth for 45 years.

If you're not paying careful attention, getting up on your hind legs almost every day in front of a group of respectful students can leave a fellow with the impression they're treating you that way because you deserve it, not because you have a significant amount of power over their futures.

That's why Perfesser Dave reminds those thinking of embarking on a teaching career that it's worth remembering from time to time your students may be chuckling at your jokes because you can punish them if they don't, not because the jokes are actually funny.

If there was any confusion on Flanagan's part, it is said here, it was likely because of the hubris inherent to PMS, combined with a slight tendency among us older folks not to be in tune with the latest developments in technology, not because of the addling effects of old age. 

Flanagan was in a classroom. The people who turned out to hear him looked like students. For a spell, they may even have listened like students. So he must have started to think that, just like the bad old days back at the "Calgary School" -- the self-serving name for the publicly supported far-right claque that has come to dominate the University of Calgary’s political science, history and economics departments in defiance of sound academic practice and good public policy -- he could say whatever he pleased and the students would smile and nod.

What's more, he'd said the same kind of thing before, and gotten away with it. 

The real tragedy of PMS, of course, is that a sufferer may yield to the temptation to say exactly what he or she thinks -- which may or may not be what Prof. Flanagan was doing in Lethbridge. 

Regardless of Flanagan's intentions, what he did have to say was outrageous enough that it took three whole days of virtual silence before his neocon pals at the National Post were able to cobble together a lame defence of his comments. (Viz., He didn't really mean it. Here's what he meant. Really!) Since then, a few others have joined in.

But Flanagan has not been "thrown under the bus" by his fair-weather friends in the media and politics, as Jonathan Kay of the National Post claimed in his revisionist apologia for the man whose long fall began in Lethbridge on Feb. 27.

He has been repudiated for his specific and outrageous opinion on one subject, one of the few topics in which there is a healthy degree of consensus in our increasingly polarized society. In this, for once, I find myself in complete agreement with the direction taken by the leadership of the federal and provincial Wildrose parties. 

Alas, as Karl Nerenberg pointed out in his excellent analysis on Rabble.ca the day Flanagan described his final coruscating track across the heavens, the man's odious economic ideas and stealthy and deeply cynical political strategies live on.

"Flanagan's ideology is very much alive and well, and living in the halls of power, in Ottawa," Nerenberg concluded.

Indeed, it is far from being thrown under the bus -- where it belongs.

This post also appears on David CLimenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.ca.

 

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