The tai chi strategy label is just that, a label. It’s too broad and loose to be more than that. It describes a general set of preconditions and one approach to strategy, nothing more.
In my last post I drew examples from politics, about which I have very little direct knowledge. So it was gratifying when Andrew Coyne, political columnist and television pundit, used very similar language to describe the Prime Minister’s current difficulties:
“And so those early compromises of principle multiplied, and mutated, until over time they became compromises of a darker kind. It was as if they were carried along by their own momentum, unable to see where they were headed, or to stop themselves if they could. Until this spring, when at long last they pushed things too far. The funny thing is how little it took to upend them.”
This is a leader and an organization that exercises power in ways that make constituents, and indeed party members, uncomfortable. Coyne writes about how the prerogatives of elected authority are being exercised too often and too fully, and how this creates resentment and mistrust among those most affected by it.
Whether or the federal Conservative government continues to govern like a bull in a china shop, or wants to batter at its constraints, like a beast trying to escape the Plaza del Toro, and whether or not the opposition arises like a toreador to confront it, the preconditions have been met for a cathartic, national tai chi-ing.
The general precondition is a gross power inequity. Canada’s electoral and parliamentary systems create this possibility, but each successive government chooses for itself how it will use the power it has been granted.
Like the bull in the ring, the Tories feel that they can batter the framework of government until they’re free to pursue the agenda upon which the party was founded, back in the dark days of the Conservative Reform Alliance Party (or the C.R.A.P., an acronym that could only have been chosen on the darkest of those days). But bulls that expend themselves that way are typically served up as sausage the next day.
A wise bull doesn’t charge the walls of the arena, nor does it bother to launch itself against the elusive red cape. It has the sense to stop short and check whether there’s flesh or steel awaiting them. Building momentum, losing control, and charging right past the target, is often fatal.
Even in the parliamentary china shop, a cautious bull can wreak more havoc than a senseless one. Time is limited, so the bull needs to set some priorities to ensure that the most valuable items are destroyed before the SPCA shows up with a dart gun. Of course a good Canadian bull will need extra time to decide whether it’s more politically correct to demolish the Royal Doulton before the Limoges, or vice versa.
Perhaps bullfighting is the perfect illustration of the Tai Chi principle at work. The extreme imbalance of power and aggression is what makes it possible for the toreador to tempt the bull to its own destruction. Charging through the fluttering cape is a waste of energy and a loss of control. Predictability in strategy is a weakness. Steady nerves and a good sword hand almost always win out over massive superiority of strength.
Maybe this is a good analogy for the Harper Tories’ problem as well. A bull produces only four things; methane, manure, beef, and more bulls. Harper’s base impatiently waits for red meat while he munches grass, passes gas, and dumps on things he doesn’t like. His tai chi-ing may not be swift or final, but what Albertans sent to Ottawa as breeding stock may leave it as a steer after the next election.