"Perception is strong, sight is weak"

An incident yesterday has blown up when a Wildrose supporter in north Edmonton got physical with the "Progressive" "Conservative" candidate, Thomas Lukaszuk.

Almost as interesting a story as the actual confrontation is the actions and the motivation of Red Redford's attack dog Stephen Carter, who seemed to know about and publish the details of the story awfully quickly. It may have been a bit of vendetta motivation, but it just as easily could have been a badly played move. Politicians shouldn't look too "thin-skinned" and even people who would not have supported a Wildrose guy are a little impressed with the man who's willing to push a politician around rather than listen to what promises he's about to make.

Today the homeowner released a security video of what took place at his door. He narrates it for Global TV Edmonton below (you'll have to wait for an ad, sorry, and this link probably won't work anytime after May 2012):

Taking off the political enthusiast hat for a moment and putting on my scientific hat, there's a lot of interesting stuff on here. The first thing to notice, for big fans of Umwelt, is that watching this footage (which appears to be running close to normal speed), the homeowner is not good at judging the passing of time. This is likely an emotional adjuster: time passes differently in your head when you get older (20% faster), and more importantly when you're emotionally stressed. Al Michalchuk, our homeowner, originally told CTV News that Lukaszuk was at his door for more than 15 minutes. The entire incident lasts only a fraction of that, seeming to indicate that Michalchuk is lying.

He's certainly not telling the objective truth. But watch the video at about the 0:17 mark. Michalchuk says how "he keeps yapping and yapping", and in about the same amount of time it took Michalchuk to say just that one sentence both Michalchuks (the one on the video at the time of the incident and afterwards narrating it to Global TV) determine that Lukaszuk has been speaking for an incredibly lengthy period of time and that its precisely been too long to remain on his property: Michalchuk initiates physical contact with Lukaszuk at about 0:21 on the tape. That's roughly twelve seconds of span. Michalchuk said it was 15 minutes the night before. Yet the post-incident Michalchuk still agrees that the four or five seconds of listening to Thomas Lukaszuk is far too long to be reasonably expected to bear.

How long, as an exercise, would you let somebody stay talking on your property when you have asked him to leave? Two minutes? One minute? Even Gandhi would have to admit that after some timespan this guy has overstayed his welcome and its time for him to leave. It's quite clear that to Michalchuk what seems to you to be barely enough time for this guy to mentally process that you aren't interested in his spiel and move on is a pretty significant length of time. This may, and I caution this in the strongest of terms, may be a sign of a mental illness. It is entirely impossible for even the most gifted of psychoanalysts to determine something from the flimsy amount of evidence that we have available, and I'm hesitating to even bring this up.

The key thing we do know, however, is that Michalchuk seems to perceive time as flowing at a very different rate than what normal people would describe. The perception of the passage of time does vary greatly from individual to individual, and as stated above both age and stress can shorten our perception of time. I would be remiss though if I didn't point out that actual mental disorders such as, say, schizophrenia impact a person's perception of time (remember, armchair psychologists everywhere, that "schizophrenia" is not multiple personality disorder so don't be looking for symptoms of one). Other mental disorders may also impact a person's perception of time such as Parkinson's, ADD, and aphasia. Again, this is not a clinical diagnosis or even meant to imply any certainty that a disorder exists. It is entirely possibly, he says while slowly removing the scientist hat, that Michalchuk is just a bit touchy about his property and isn't entirely rational in how he deals with it for non-mental-disorder reasons. But it is very interesting how he judges the passage of time in that video, and it may be a sign that this individual does have a condition (possibly neurological) which means that to him, Thomas Lukaszuk merely introducing himself would be an unbearably long period of time.

At 0:37 of the tape, Michalchuk describes "this whole incident" as taking...and then a very pregnant pause..."about two minutes". Yes, even watching this play out on tape in front of him a 37 second span (where Michalchuk didn't even appear for the first eight seconds) morphs into "about two minutes". Around 56 seconds in, Michalchuk narrates the video from the outside. Again, about 20 seconds have gone by before Lukaszuk again is visible walking away. However, the thing here is that Michalchuk himself says "and right here you'll see him again" while he's watching a tape with a timestamp clearly visible in the corner. Even after calling it two minutes just moments earlier, Michalchuk is fully aware after about 12-13 seconds that the incident has nearly run its course. There was certainly a good chance of exaggeration being given to CTV ("15 minutes" and all that), but I don't think that in Michalchuk's mind the incident was really that much shorter. At the time, it probably seemed to him like it was at least 7 or 8 minutes, maybe even 10. So why not beef the story up and say 15?

Which leads us to the next interesting thing from a psychological perspective: when Lukaszuk (or a rep, it's not clear) talked of the incident he said he was pushed and punched and kicked. As Michalchuk dryly notes at the end of his narration, Lukaszuk sure "looked pretty beat up". The timespan doesn't seem to give Michalchuk much time to place any blows on Lukaszuk, so is the politician lying as well?

Well, as with Michalchuk the answer is certainly "his story did not match the record but he perceived the incident much differently than it occured, rather than perceived it accurately and then falsified it". Now that we've looked at the incident from Michalchuk's perspective, let's look at it from Lukaszuk's. Let's assume that Lukaszuk perceives time more or less "normally". He shows up at the door, is told to leave, tries to explain himself, and is suddenly turned around and pushed out the door. He then walks over at high speed to his volunteer helper as you can see on the tape. It seems pretty obvious that he wasn't punched or kicked, or else that it happened very quickly. There is a tendency for the victim of an attack to overstate the severity of the attack: as I noted on Twitter, anybody who's just been physically removed from a bar by bouncers usually gives a pretty wild story of what just happened. This is a bit more pop psychology to be sure, but from Lukaszuk's perspective the initial pushing off the property was already an unjustified attack. With the ego a little shaken and another male to impress, the details of the "fight" get a little bit exaggerated. Of course, once you've publicly stated your conviction to something you tend to get more defensive and refuse to back down on it: any politician who's in the business of putting up lawn signs should know that. The same as how Michalchuk seemed to have a firm grip on what happened but not how long it took, Lukaszuk is pretty much a lock on how long the incident took, but as the guy getting shoved he certainly was in a position to exaggerate the details of how he was physically manhandled.

And now with that, taking off the psychologist hat entirely, we come to the question of was it really justified? Well, okay, we can't take it off entirely, we have to reflect what we've learned and/or guessed here: that Michalchuk definitely was far too quick to remove Lukaszuk from the property. Had we seen Lukaszuk standing at the door for 45-60 seconds with a Michalchuk clearly getting more and more agitated by his presence, we would have much more reason to "side" with the homeowner. The end result is likely to be some legal troubles for Michalchuk in considering Lukaszuk as a trespasser far earlier than a "reasonable person" would agree is...well, reasonable. As for the physical aggression, it seems that Michalchuk did use minimal force in removing Lukaszuk from his porch, and we can see that once he was out of the house the physical contact has ended. Michalchuk didn't push Lukaszuk all the way to the sidewalk, for example, despite the fact that he would be no more legally wrong to do that than to remove Lukaszuk from the porch.

If you were going to guess what would happen if this did go through the courts (charges may not be laid, and if laid they may ultimately be stayed indefinitely. Pace Colby Cosh, it may not be in Lukaszuk's political interest to pursue this in the courts) one would suspect that a guilty verdict would be reached because of the timeframe, but considering both the strong possibility of mental health factors and the certain calmness and harm-prevention method that Michalchuk used, the sentence would be minimal.