Sunday, February 08, 2009

You Gotta Laugh at What Hurts

More than anything else during all the hullabaloo of the proroguing of parliament last December i was discouraged by the spectacular ignorance of Canadian democracy that was exposed. Nor was this simply ignorance of the Canadian populace. A citizen not otherwise specializing in democratic process can be forgiven for failing to understand the (often arcane) formalities of parliamentary democracy as we've inherited it from our imperial progenitors. But to see politicians and journalists perform their ignorance was profoundly disturbing. I'm used to people being baffled by how "rules of order" work - we are hardly born with natural inclinations to move and second motions, let alone prorogue a parliament. These are processes that must be learned. But i can see that we are doing a really poor job of it. I've also just come through a strike by my union CUPE3903 at York University and, while i am a staunch defender of the democratic right to strike (and if anyone doubted the need to strike, the University's often cavalier belligerence made it pretty clear that nothing less than a strike would move them) my experience of democracy within the union was almost equally discouraging to that of my experience of witnessing the parliamentary fiasco. Nor would i simply say that it's about enforcing any particular set of rules (Bourinot's Rules, the basis for Canadian parliamentary procedure, were first written by a clerk of the Canadian House of Commons in 1884 - and if they favour a certain type of patriarchal leadership, this should hardly be a surprise after over a century of feminist activisma nd scholarship). I would like to see the rules reformed in a process of dialogue that democratic, critical and creative. But until we can bring that about, we got the rules we got. And they're not that hard to follow. Or so i thought. It seems we are equally ignorant about how to apply formal democracy at the national level as we are about applying at more modest organizational levels. The thing about rules in formal democracy is that they should be used both to ensure that the voice of the powerless is heard as well as the voice of dissent. However, most rules are used to regulate power such that the rule by the powerful and privileged is reconstituted pretty much as is. When i think of all that needs to be done this century in terms of climate change, the environment in geneal and continuing to resist and reverse the profound and historic injustices of inequality, i despair a wee bit when i see the comedy that passes for democratic process in our countries. Thus i need to see actual comedy (as with Rick Mercer above of John Stewart's Daily Show below).


Anonymous said...

I agree-you have to laugh. And educate. I don't know how much our kids will remember, but we talked to them about what was going on. That isn't enough--there needs to be more. In schools. In after-school programs. I wonder what we can do about that?

Chris cavanagh said...

I'm reminded of one of the most moving films i've ever seen: Korczak by Polish director Andrzej Wajda. Have you seen it? It's a heartbreaker and i don't recommend it lightly. I can recall weeping after seeing it at the Toronto Film Festival in 1990. It inspired me to learn more about Henryk Goldszmit, the Jewish pediatrician and pedagogue. His biography by Betty Jean Lifton (The King of Children - this is a link to the whole book - wow) was an equally weepy read. Apart from the famous tragedy of the story, two things have stuck with me from that film: one is a scene in which Korczak stands up to a Nazi soldier who was humiliating a child. Korczak's defiance embarrasses the soldier (and i like to think reminds him of his humanity). But it is the second memory of that film of which i am most reminded by your comment. In the orphanage that Korczak ran there was a process of a children's parliament. The film shows at least one scene of this. And i also recall reading descriptions of the process as well. At the time i was also making my way through all of Swiss psychotherapist's Alice Miller's work and, along with learning of Korczak's pedagogy, i was inclined to see in children a much greater capacity for understanding justice than i had believed possible until then. When you wonder about "what we can do about that" i wonder if Korczak didn't show us the way over 50 years ago?