HOME HEARTSTRING 30: INSTINCT

In the last 350 years, many peoples have been wiped off the map and great empires – the British one included – have fallen. Yet Quebec has survived. We owe our survival to the Heartstring that is linked to our sixth sense: Instinct.

It’s easy to talk about the Instinct of the masses, but we still know only very little about how this group phenomenon actually works. Animal psychologists like Konrad Lorenz and Jane Goodall are some of the first scientific researchers to shed some light on the topic.

In the lab, we’ve established that the Instinct of Quebecers often goes hand in hand with their intuition, or knowledge of a truth that doesn’t require reasoning. French philosopher Henri Bergson believes that, “Instinct is a divining sympathy that has nothing to do with intelligence.” He also says, “Instinct is a (collective) internal experience that doesn’t involve analysis, an immediate and unreasoned response to various situations and things.”

Is it possible to explain the phenomenon behind political factions or the charisma of certain leaders? Popular sayings claim the Quebec mass votes with its heart, not with its head, and that it never votes for one party but rather against another. Voltaire says that, “All feeling is instinct,” which explains why most types of Quebec nationalism have an instinctive component to them.

Public relations professionals, advertisers and political propagandists all draw from our large pool of Nationalisms (Heartstring 18) to help make their campaigns stand out during elections. Could something as stable as Quebec Nationalisms be the result of our whims? Should we consider them the (instinctive) responses we have to our situation in North America and Canada?

In Nationalismes et politique au Québec (Quebec Nationalisms and Politics), a book that anyone who has the right to vote should read, political scientist Léon Dion highlights the nationalist component at play in our most influential political slogans. “The symbolism behind Duplessis gives to his province, Liberals give to strangers is reminiscent of themes found in conservative nationalism, like the cult of the leader, ethnocentrism and autonomism. There’s a distinct parallel between Premier Alexandre Taschereau’s slogan Ottawa should return our booty and Duplessis’s slogan, as well as between Liberal Jean Lesage’s Masters in our own home and PQ René Lévesque’s When we truly become masters in our own home.”

Dion puts this way:


“Slogans are more than just words put together to make rallying support easier. In addition to revealing the true nature of a political culture, they represent the bridges built between those defining the national situation and those responsible for finding the right symbols and words to keep communications open and flowing to the general public. Whether during election time or not, political parties more or less gladly go searching for the arguments, facts or lessons that meet their needs in the many different types of Nationalisms we have in Quebec, to ensure they have a firm grip on public opinion and can gather support for their projects.”


Political communicators know that what makes a message powerful when it comes to appealing to the feelings of a people, “seems to depend a lot more on the symbolic satisfaction it gives to people than the actual needs it helps to meet,” says Dion. It appears that when the intellectual elite develops a message, communicators and politicians are right there to exploit it. It’s as consumers of ideas that Quebecers really manifest this Heartstring, especially when they’re looking for political leaders.

Konrad Lorenz compares political leaders to a pack of animals, “the ones in the group with the best instincts (who know where the river is) and the most powerful jaws (who can lead their pack to the river while fending off outside threats).” Propelled to the top by their (animal) magnetism, political leaders stand alone by definition. Alone with their instincts, that is.

Behavioural psychologist Ernest Ditcher claims we lend animal attributes to our politicians. According to a study conducted with students at a major US university, President Ford exhibits the characteristics of a Saint Bernard, President Carter, those of a rabbit, President Nixon, those of a fox, and Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, those of a poodle.

I carried out this study – which brings Aesop’s Fables to mind – with a group of communications students in 1973. I handed out a list of 25 animals and 100 qualities, both desirable and not. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was compared to a monkey (intelligence and manoeuvrability), Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau to a raccoon (order and cleanliness), Premier René Lévesque to a rabbit (speed and gentleness), Premier Robert Bourassa to an owl (alertness and patience), Premier Jean Lesage to a horse (nobility and hard work), and last but not least, Social Credit Leader Réal Caouette was compared to a Scottish sheepdog (loyalty and kindness). (I’m not exactly sure how relevant this observation is, but I’ve never seen an exercise generate such enthusiasm and noticeable [noisy] pleasure in a class of 60 students.)

It seems Quebecers always recognize the authority of three different leaders. There’s one in Ottawa (even if he leads the opposition), one in Quebec City, and one in Montreal. This mystical trinity resembles the leadership structure of the Kuna tribe of the San Blas Islands in Panama.

I’ve always been amazed at how many esoteric codes there are in politics. Why couldn’t a population rely on extra-sensory perception, or make use of telepathy, clairvoyance or precognition as a group? Can Heartstring 20 help us find the answers that Heartstring 32 cannot?

One might wonder if the much talked-about charisma attributed to Trudeau – or to Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, for that matter – wasn’t created by the masses instead of really being their own. Does magnetism belong to the realm of parapsychology, miracles, saints and the chosen ones?

In an article in La Presse (July 16, 1977) entitled “Trudeaumania Still Wreaking Havoc,” journalist Mario Lafontaine looks for a reason (Heartstring 32) besides the instincts of Quebecers to explain the results of a Gallup Poll that show Trudeau’s party currently enjoying a 51% popularity rating when Lévesque’s PQ came to power with 41.3% of the votes just a few months ago.

La Presse journalist Guy Cormier is also looking for reasonable explanations to Trudeaumania, “which seems quite the paradox at a time when everything is going wrong, like unemployment and the cost of living.”

Masses elevate their leaders to an almost saint-like status. In exchange, they expect them to know how to prophesy and make their predictions a reality. Another way of putting it is that the masses want their leaders to channel the messages they get from above and make them come to pass (miraculously).

With its slew of landslide victories and charismatic leaders coming out on top (think Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Jean Drapeau, Robert Bourassa and René Levesque), the last decade in Quebec politics has given political observers and political scientists a lot to talk about.

The electoral instincts of Quebecers will make it impossible for anyone, including political scientists and public relations professionals, to successfully build leaders à la Frankenstein and market them to the people like cans of soup.

The premise behind the Joe McGinniss bestseller, The Selling of the President, which Jacques Benjamin updated Quebec-style in Comment on fabrique un premier ministre québécois (How to Build a Quebec Premier), was widely accepted in Quebec, at least before the PQ came to power. Would the same still hold true in a society that is more scattered, less close-knit than Quebec?

Hypothetically speaking, if it were possible to create a premier through simple marketing activities and advertising, then it would also be possible to keep him or her in power indefinitely using the same means. Advertisers can definitely get politicians known, but they have no way of turning them into great statesmen. They can take any random person off the street and make them a media darling, but turning them into a hero is a different story. Admen don’t have the recipe for charisma, and anyone who says otherwise is a fraud.

Quebec journalist and writer Pierre Vallières is outraged by Premier Lévesque’s thoughts on political marketing. In the May 27, 1977 edition of Le Jour, he writes:


“Lévesque seems to think the Quebec population doesn’t make decisions based on politics, but rather on marketing, and how policies are marketed, regardless of what they’re about. He believes that if the marketing campaign for the separatist cause is good, then people will vote Yes, but that if the federalist marketing campaign is better, then they’ll vote No. In either case, political awareness will have nothing to do with the end result.” (In the November 25, 1977 edition of Le Jour, Evelyne Dumas expressed how strongly opposed she was to the article, writing that, “Lying is an old trick.”)”


Another phenomenon I’ve noticed is that scientific marketing can create heroes and saints. Former Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis, Francisco Franco and Chairman Mao never had slick image consultants in their entourage. But what they did have – and which is innate in any good natural-born leader – was extensive knowledge of the instincts of the masses.

Hitler said, “Any great idea used in building a propaganda campaign is rendered useless if its organizers don’t take into account the fundamental principle that in order to be successful, the campaign must focus on a small number of messages to be repeated over and over.”

Mussolini believed that, “Italians need two things: specific orders and music on the piazzas.”

Mao was of the opinion that a leader should, “Take from the masses to give to the masses. Find out what the beliefs of the masses are and focus on them. Only then can you successfully spread these beliefs among the people.”

It seems to me that these three leaders were more the type to package and market their message than to be packaged and marketed themselves.

The voting population is always prepped for the arrival of their new leader through lots of marketing. Communicators do nothing more than help candidates turn on the charm (if there is any to work with), spread the word and set the stage for them. Although he was a master of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels didn’t make Hitler. It’s more likely that the Fuehrer created Dr. Goebbels.

If masses are feminine, then Quebec has a whole lot of intuition. And as psychologists have shown, a woman’s intuition is a defence mechanism and communications tool that is exclusive to those of the female gender.

In the July 16, 1977 edition of La Presse, Réginald Nantel discusses Alain Pontault’s “Holy Alliance” using the now common and widely overused image of the small female country being dominated by the large male one. “The small country is Quebec and the large one is Canada, which now answers to multinational corporations, those non-countries of undisputed and undeniable power.” Quebecers will rely on their sixth sense to understand the incomprehensible.

According to Canadian economist and politician Maurice Lamontagne, “A new generation of sociologists, trade unionists and writers (and filmmakers) seems convinced that our collective progress now depends on the working class. It appears workerism has replaced agriculturalism.”

Quebec is like a department store that carries a wide range of ideologies where “isms” line the shelves of every aisle and go on sale every spring.

But when one has Heartstrings, one knows how the song goes. We all realize that those who push ideologies are only really looking for power. That’s their common thread. They need the people and all want what’s best for them, but theirs is the only ideology that can lead to improved collective well-being.

They all use the same propaganda tools, like psychological warfare, pressure tactics, sociological blackmail, fear, skeletons in the closet, Machiavellian actions and low blows. They’ve all read The Rape of the Masses: The Psychology of Totalitarian Political Propaganda by Sergei Chakhotin, the works of American community organizer and writer Saul Alinsky, John Kenneth Galbraith, Herbert Marcuse and Ivan Illich, as well as the papal encyclicals. They all openly despise Quebecers who don’t share their ideas because there’s only one right side to every story, after all.

In his book Le type économique et social des Canadiens (Canadian Economic and Social Types) published in 1958, French author, poet and naval historian Léon Guérin describes our province’s electoral practices of the last century.


“The new regime didn’t fare so well due to the distrust of some, the evil passions of others, the dishonesty of most and widespread electoral corruption. Those who showed the most interest in political debates often only cared very little about the nature of the discussions taking place. In the end, they would let their preferences take over or be swayed by the favours extended by certain candidates or party leaders. It happened on occasion that people wouldn’t think twice about resorting to violence in their own village, a practice reminiscent of their Celtic roots. Right or wrong, the shady or dishonest behaviour of elected officials was the reason behind all the infighting.”


With Instinct being the determining factor in choosing a leader, admen can just let loose and have fun when developing election campaigns.

Despite all of its power and influence, the clergy will never be able to put an end to irrational electoral practices. In 1878, Bishop Favre said, “In these times of severe election turmoil, the Canadian population, which is usually so moral, peaceful and religious, is giving in to the most burning passions. Hatred, revenge, cruel remarks, vile slander, drunkenness, lying and perjury are all part of the elections process out here.”

“Us habitants are simple folk,” says one of the characters in Louis Hémon’s classic Maria Chapdelaine to his priest, “and because of our ignorance we have to elect educated people to lead our municipalities. But in the end, these people exploit us and are probably not worthy of the high regard our honest hearts hold them in.” The story doesn’t provide the priest’s response.

The clergy is mostly blue, the colour of the Conservative Party and of the heavens. When Bishop Laflèche killed off Le défricheur (The Pioneer) newspaper started by Sir Wilfrid Laurier, the politician defended the matter all the way to Rome. End result: the Vatican openly criticized and reprimanded the French-Canadian clergy for, “getting too involved in the elections.”

Joe Tremblay talks about his voting habits:


“The first time I voted was in the 1953 federal election. We elected Liberals in 66 of 75 ridings, if I remember correctly. The best combo is to vote blue in Quebec and red in Ottawa. Only hardcore Liberals are dumb enough to vote red in both places. I know how to vote with my head. Does that surprise you? I vote either for or against the leader of a party, for or against a party, and for or against a member. I have a dozen choices when I vote.

Get this. When the elections came around in 1972, my pelvis was in a cast (I’d had an accident). Did that stop me from voting? No, sir. I took a cab and went anyway. I never let anyone steal my vote. I would’ve liked to vote for Trudeau, but I voted against his candidate. I voted for Wagner instead, and he won. How does Fernande vote? She says all the candidates are good, so I think she votes for the best-looking one. Or she votes the exact opposite of how I do just to contradict me.”


Solicited from all sides and a bit confused by the many different kinds of nationalism at play, voting Quebecers, their heads spinning, start plucking at Heartstring 1. They grab a beer, turn on the tube, go to the movies or up to their country place to meditate on the state of the human race. On election day, the only slogan they have in mind is, “Let your instincts be your guide.”

But that doesn’t stop them from taking part in all the madness. Streets lined with Brink’s armoured trucks. Real poor people being shown on TV like a bunch of bears on parade. Interviews with panels of real unemployed people who speak better than sociologists. Union leaders doing jail time in an effort to move the little people. People walking around shouting “Quebec,” fighting each other and bleeding in the streets. Hippies to the left and squares to the right. Strike makers vs. lockout creators. Come on, man! The French-Canadian candidates in Ottawa are all sellouts, and those in Quebec are socialist dreamers. It’s a total zoo!

Léon Dion writes that, “Partisans or opponents […], Quebecers would benefit greatly from reading John Milton’s essay on freedom of the press and tolerance. Ancient Chinese writings already encouraged people to show leniency in battle, advising them to always leave the enemy one exit.”

The average voter knows two things about political candidates. No. 1, they use foul language in the House, and No. 2, according to the May 25, 1977 edition of La Presse, “the funds assigned to their well-being make them the second best cared for legislators in the world after US senators and congressmen.”

Union Nationale leader Daniel Johnson tells his party delegates that, “Emotion made us forget we had to win the election first. In Quebec, a party is only worth something when it’s in power, and then it usually ends up imploding. Things are usually very different in Ottawa.”

American civil servant John Deutch notes there are two kinds of political emotionalism in Canada. “English Canadians are committed to the idea of a united Canada for emotional reasons. Their hesitations and fears are economic in nature. French Canadians want a united Canada for economic reasons. Their hesitations and fears being of the emotional kind.”

Deutch’s observation is crucial information for communicators in politics who need to remember that political slogans cannot be translated from English to French. By trying to unite English-speaking and French-speaking voters with translated slogans, politicians run the risk of doing exactly the opposite.

The English slogan for the latest Canada Day celebration, “Let’s shake hands with Canada,” was going to be translated literally until the very last minute when the powers that be decided to go with “Le Canada un beau pays, un pays libre” (Canada, a beautiful and free country) instead, saving the day and preventing the country from splitting up.

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© 2014 – English translation and website by Lawrence Creaghan. Published online with the permission of Guérin Éditeur Ltée and the Fondation Jacques-Bouchard.