Saturday, October 04, 2008

I'm feeling Churchillian about democracy these days

Check out (see below for explanation).

Okay, Stephen Harper scares me. But it is less anything that he says that scares me than what appears absent, i.e. some humanity, a bit of doubt, perhaps. While U.S. vice-presidential Sarah Palin performs a blithe, arrogant and contemptuous certainty about her conservative values with a winking (vapid) vim and vigour, Harper performs a similar certainty about similar values but with a lack of emotional affect that makes me think Body Snatchers. And as i caught one of his campaign ads this afternoon in which he says we "need certainty" and not "risk" i remembered these words from Eduardo Galeano (from an interview he did in NACLA-Report on the Americas many years ago):
...I do not have a bad opinion of doubt. I think doubt has been a factor in the movement of history. I have grown to appreciate doubt more and more and, at the same time, to distrust those compaƱeros who only offer certainty. They seem too much like the wooden men which the Popul Vuh in Mayan mythology describes as one of the mistakes the gods made when they attempted to create man and didn't know how to construct him and finally they made him out of corn and he came out alright. But one of those attempts consisted of creating him out of wood.

The wooden man was just like a man except that no blood ran through his veins; he had no spirit or courage and didn't speak a word. I believe he had nothing to say because he had no courage and therefore was never discouraged. The proof that one has courage lies in the fact that one can be discouraged. And the proof that one can arrive at certainties that are truly capable of transforming reality lies in the ability to entertain fertile doubts before arriving at certainty; doubts that buzz around in one's head, one's conscience, one's heart, in the imagination, like tenacious flies. We need neither fear doubt nor discouragement: they are proof that our endeavors are human. And we are fortunate that these endeavors are human. Otherwise, these would be the endeavors of false men, men of wood, that is to say bureaucrats, dogmatic men, people who choose models over reality. Discouragement and doubt indicate that one sees reality as it really is.

Well, Harper is as much a poster-boy for the Popul Vuh's "wooden man" as i've ever seen. And this "certainty" he speaks of is as treacherous a disposition as i've seen in Canadian politics. And i think we could use some of this ancient Mayan wisdom about doubt and uncertainty. How else do we learn anything? H.G. Wells once said, "Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe." When i watched Harper in the debates this week (and Palin as well, for that matter) i felt that he was not a person open to learning anything new. And to hear him speak of his "certainty" makes me feel like "catastrophe" is not far off.

As for feeling Churchillian about all this: after the leaders debates this week i couldn't help but feel underwhelmed by the whole thing. While I'll vote NDP, i do not feel like they will avert the catastrophes that lie before us, nor the Greens who are just too neoliberal for me. And the Liberals are less-bad Tories. So as Churchill said in 1947:
Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
So, i received a forwarded e-mail from friends (thanks, Lorne) from Bob Bossin of Stringband fame in which he appeals for some strategic voting. And as i was listening to the news this evening i was thinking how bloody annoying our voting system is - that a party can form a government with as little as 30% of the populace voting for them. And if the Liberals, Greens and NDP split the vote and let the Tories ride up the middle to a majority, i will be very sad (and mad). So here's Bob's e-mail in which he recommends a website that is tracking ridings and predicting which are the ones most vulnerable to vote-splitting. You know, they could be right.
Dear Fellow Canadian:

This letter is blatantly political, but it is also personal. And urgent. I've been watching the federal election campaign with something bordering on despair. In all my 63 years, I have never known a government less in tune with my values than this one - and that is going some. By the polls, most of us feel kinda the same way. But we are divided among four parties, and that may allow Harper and his cronies to waltz back into power.

Skip to the next paragraph if you like, but I gotta get this 100-word rant off my chest: "In two years under Harper, Canada has become one of the worst heel-draggers on global warming. Our military has shifted from peace keeping to war making. Where we once welcomed war resistors, we now turn them away. In April, the Conservatives de-regulated and privatized food inspection, and we know what happened in August. They plan to do the same for the airline industry. Prisons, they say 'are for punishment.' And
for 14 year olds. They don't much like the arts and they don't get the internet. I could go on. If Harper wins his majority, I shudder to think how, well, American, Canada will become." End of rant.

What - as William Bendix used to say - a revolting development this is!

And yet, something is afoot. I don't know about you, but I have been receiving dozens of messages from friends and strangers talking about what amounts to do-it-yourself proportional representation. I can't say I've become optimistic, but I do believe there are two effective things we can do.

The first is to make our votes count. We may not have rep by prop (we are one of the world's most backwards democracies in this regard) but we can fake it. If I lived in Central Nova, I would vote for Elizabeth May in a heartbeat. But here in Nanaimo-Cowichan, to vote Green (or for that matter to vote Liberal), is, de facto, to vote Conservative. Lucky for me, our local MP, Jean Crowder, is good people, and anti-Harper through and through. I don't have to hold my nose when I vote. (I just have to roll my eyes at Jack's car-salesman style.) But if the best way to stop the Conservatives was to vote Liberal, this time I would. With glowing heart. (Registered trademark, 2010 Olympics, all rights reserved.)

Fortunately, voting strategically has just gotten a whole lot easier. There is now an amazing website,, that is tracking every riding in the
country and making up-to-the-minute suggestions on how best to fight Harper. It is the coolest example of Canadian grassroots democracy since the Free Trade comic book.

So that is the first thing to do: check out

And there is another thing just as important. This happens to be a time when our ability to communicate with one another has never been greater. To contact you with this message, I just had to overcome my reticence about doing it. (I'm Canadian, after all.) The rest, nowadays, is easy. If you do it too, if you contact your friends and colleagues, acquaintances and list-mates, and let them know what you are thinking, we could actually affect the results in some key ridings and, who knows, we might even affect more than that. It's worth a try.


Bob Bossin - Old folksinger - Old folksinger's homepage:

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