Stephen Harper and the Self-Prez Instinct

Stephen Harper doubled-down on Canada’s self-prez instinct, and lost.

The Self-Preservation Instinct (known in Enneagram circles as “self-prez”) refers to one’s physical wellbeing. Someone who has self-prez at the top of their instinctual stack will have a frequent focus on one or more of three areas: health, finances and domesticity.

Stephen HarperFormer Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper very well might a self-prez type. He’s been staunchly pro-business his entire political career. More oil sands development and a rabid push for the Keystone pipeline. Closing down research stations and muzzling scientists because of the danger of their findings making a dent in investment and profits. Cancelling the long form census, ostensibly because of the cost of it.

Canada, as a whole, emphasizes the self-prez instinct. American culture does too. The American Dream is to get rich. The Canadian Dream is to get by. And getting by means a stable job, a house you own, a cottage by the lake, and frequent trips to Tim Hortons.

Harper appealed to the Canadian public’s self-prez concerns right from the start of his time in office. He cut the Goods and Services Tax (GST) by one percent, and then another. He defunded publicly run day cares, and gave that money out as increased family allowance cheques. He instituted tax-free savings accounts (TFSA).

As this recent election ramped up, he made a big show of having balanced the budget. He promised to invest in the auto industry, and increase military spending, to provide jobs. As things came to a close, his party bought full page, front page ads on every newspaper in the country, saying:

Voting Liberal 

will cost you. 

With higher taxes and lost benefits to fund new government programs

$4 028 for a typical family, and

$4 086 for a married couple over 65.

Can You Afford a Liberal Government?

It didn’t work. The Conservatives got trounced.

In his concession speech, Harper affirmed his self-prez priorities, saying: “Laureen (his wife) and I have embraced the public life because we believed that Canadians that are working hard should keep more of the money they earn because we believe that government should manage the people’s money the way that they manage their own.”

Later in the speech, he proudly claims a legacy that’s primarily financial: “We have built a Canada that is stronger than ever, our economy is growing, and new jobs are being created. The budget is balanced and federal taxes are at their lowest in 50 years. We are poised to seize the opportunities that come with free trade access to Europe, to the Americas, and now to the Asia Pacific.”

Self-preservation is, of course, really important. Without a healthy self-prez instinct, none of us would be alive. But the danger of overemphasizing this instinct is that you can conflate material wellbeing with genuine happiness.

A major flaw in the American psyche, as identified by Noam Chomsky, David Simon and others, is the tendency to measure human worth solely in relation to a person’s ability to generate wealth.

There are other values that deserve our attention. They’re just harder to measure.

The survival of our civilization, and even our species, might come to an end, with the darkest irony, if our collective self-prez instinct continues to prioritize short term financial gain over long term wellbeing for us and the planet, as well as the healthy social unity that will keep us taking care of each other instead of excluding, bickering, and murdering each other.

An open letter to Stephen Harper from a BC woman went viral, quoted in full below, expresses exactly this.


Dear Mr. Harper,

I live in BC with my husband and two little girls. I grew up in Calgary and have many friends and family members there. I’m white and in my early 40s. One of us is a stay at home parent, so we benefit 100% from the direct deposits in lieu of a National Childcare Program. We also benefit 100% from income splitting. And we can afford to take advantage of the increased allowance in our TFSAs.

In other words, we’re the picture of the family who benefits the most from your economic policies.

But we’re not voting Conservative on October 19th.

You see, you’ve misjudged us. We enjoy our standard of living, we work hard for it but it’s not the only thing that matters to us.

You assume we don’t care about our First Nations neighbours, or Canadians trying to bring their family members here from war torn countries. That we don’t care about less fortunate Canadians, our veterans, or scientists. You think we don’t mind that to save a few bucks and balance the books we axed the census, dumped decades of research from our libraries, cut funding to CBC, under-spent our budgets in important departments and closed coast guard stations. You figure we no longer want our lakes and rivers protected and that we don’t understand that climate change is a far greater risk to our way of life than Barbaric Cultural Practices.

You’ve underestimated us.

On October 19, we’re not voting for our bank balance. We’re voting for change because we want the caring Canada of our youth back. The Canada that supported our single mothers that gave us the opportunity to succeed in the first place.

Mary Cleaver

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