Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ignorance and the Political System. . . .

I don't think one has to be profoundly knowledgable about history and political theory to be a political representative. I think, as a general rule, the more you know the better, but a compassionate instinct and an empathetic spirit can go a long way. What I don't quite understand, and what frightens me a great deal is the modern tendency for politicians, particularly right-wing ones, to be embarrassingly ignorant of almost everything and willing, even eager, to shot your mouth off at every opportunity. My dad used to like to say, it is better to stay silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. In Canada we have such startlingly ignorant politicians as Rona Ambrose and Peter Van Loan. Stephen Harper himself is remarkably ignorant about many issues but he does not, generally, spout off at the mouth.

But in the US this phenomenon has reached new heights with such politicians as Sarah Palin and now Michele Bachmann. (It is deeply unfortunate that so many of the recent example have been women.) Recently Bachmann told a Republican audience that the "founding fathers" of the US "worked tirelessly to end slavery." You can see interesting stories on the subject here and here. This ignorance is frightening, startling, and depressing. It is even more depressing that there are many people who are equally ignorant and are willing to support people like Bachmann because they think somehow that their folksy public image is some form of anti-establishmentarianism.

There are, of course, ignoramuses in all parties. However, it seems that the right-wing examples are often more eager to shoot their mouths off in order to display their ignorance and, frankly I can tolerate a great deal more from compassionate individuals who are naively ignorant of the facts than I can from an intolerant, bigoted, mean-spirited right-wing jerk. Politicians like Bachmann and Palin are scary omens that as corporate media gains ever greater control of political discourse ignorance becomes more and more the norm in politics and the gradual dumbing down of the population means that fewer and fewer people are going to be able to detect these basic levels of ignorance. In Canada the controversy surrounding the last prorogation of Parliament demonstrated just how ignorant the population in Canada is concerning the basic facts of our political system. How long until we have our own Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin?

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Few Lugubrious Thoughts for Friday Afternoon. . . .

- I would like to thank and congratulate the NDP caucus for their opposition to the back to work legislation concerning the Postal Workers. It is an important, if symbolic, gesture of solidarity which reminds us that there is someone opposing the corporate agenda of the Harper government.

-I hope that CUPW is inclined to challenge this legislation in court because in my reading of events this is a clear violation of the SCC decision concerning HEU vs the Government of British Columbia. It is, therefore, legislation that violates the constitution. Of course this government has made it clear that they possess nothing but contempt for the constitution and human rights in general. The fools and rogues that have supported this government will only realize that their rights have been taken from them when it is too late, just as many Germans only realized too late what a real threat the NAZI party really represented.

-I heard today that the Government of Italy said that they didn't have the monetary wherewithal to foot the $35 million bill to make the necessary renovations to the Coliseum in Rome. It seems that the 2000 year old building is showing its age and needs some TLC in order to avoid longterm damage so they managed to get an up-market shoe company to pay for the repairs in exchange for, what? Supposedly just for positive public notoriety. Really?! I am sure, given the level of corruption in Italy there is something else going on. And even if it is all on the up and up, what does that say about the government in Italy. As I understand it the Coliseum is the number one tourist attraction in Italy. And the government of one of the wealthiest nations in the world is not willing to spend the money to restore one of the most important architectural symbols in the world. Scary if you ask me.

-Today I sat by the Rideau River at a quiet spot where I used to take my dad when he was still around. It made me sad and happy at the same time. I read from one of my favorite books, Our Village by Mary Russell Mitford. It is a series of sketches of the English countryside that appeared in five volumes between 1824 and 1832. The pieces are so charming and written with such skill and affection that it made Mary Mitford nearly a household name for some years in the Victorian Era. I hope some day to write a book about dear Mary Mitford because there is just something so interesting and appealing about her and she, along with a number of other women writers of the early 19th century like Elizabeth Inchbald, deserves more notoriety. If you have never read any of Our Village, I highly recommend it and you can read some of it here. If you have only a moment read the chapter entitled The Cowslip-ball, it will give you a warm feeling.

-In the 1920s André Breton, the so-called Pope of the Surrealists, asked his contemporaries whether suicide as a legitimate course of action. Breton lost more than one friend to suicide and was always interested in this difficult question. Antonin Artaud, one of the most interesting of the Surrealist artists and one of the most interesting men of the entire century famously replied that he had already "been suicided by society." This phrase was from his now renowned essay "Van Gogh, the Man Suicided by Society." In it Artaud had written that "Van Gogh did not commit suicide in a fit of madness, in dread of not succeeding, on the contrary, he had just succeeded, and discovered what he was an who he was, when the collective consciousness of society, to punish him for escaping from its clutches, suicided him." I must admit that few days have passed since I was 18 years of age that I have not thought about suicide. Thus far I have never taken the plunge, so to speak. But I have certainly been suicided by society!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Senate Reform, A Non-Starter. . . . .

Is it just me or is all this talk of Senate reform so much fart-gas? As far as I my understanding goes you cannot do anything to or with the Senate without agreement at three levels, to wit: the House of Commons, the Senate itself, and the agreement of the Provinces. Now the smaller provinces will surely never agree to the total élimination of the Senate, and neither will, I suspect, a majority of Senators. Meanwhile, Quebec and Ontario will fight tooth and nail to prevent an equal Senate and I suppose with good reason. Unlike the US where Senate power is well distributed because there are 50 states, an equal Senate in Canada would be rather absurd because there just are not enough provinces to effectively distribute the potential Senate power. A Senate in which PEI has as much power as Quebec, and there are only eight other provinces, makes little sense to me. If there were thirty or forty provinces then maybe I could see an equal Senate working.

Meanwhile there is lots of talk of a national referendum concerning Senate reform. Because there is no binding referendum system in place, Harper, I suppose, hopes to use a popular vote to pressure or shame the provinces into compliance with his wishes. One would have to be a fool to imagine this would work because since when has a province ever been shamed into giving up any real power? Politics seldom works that way.

No, for the time being Senate reform is, I believe, a non-starter. And any serious attempt to force it through will just plug up the court system for years to come. I don't know for sure why Harper is bothering with this can of worms but I am fairly sure his motives, as in all cases, are self-serving. Stop bothering with Senate reform because it just isn't going anywhere.

What say you?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Whither Corporate power?

I have to say that I truly don't understand why it is that modern conservatives are so willing, even eager, to see corporations have so much power. For a long time it has supposedly been a central tenet of conservatism to oppose big government because of the problem of centralization of power. Now, putting aside for the moment that right-wingers usually actually increase the power and scope of government despite what they claim, right-wing pundits such as the famous Milton Friedman consistently claimed that the fundamental evil to be struggled against in society in general is the concentration of power and he suggested that the market was a adequate bulwark against power. The problem is, of course, that modern corporations are one of the most significant concentrations of power that has ever been and this power is increasing exponentially. And despite what many people think this power is remarkably unaccountable. Large corporations can increasingly operate in obscurity; abusing workers rights, polluting the environment, making unsafe products, etc. And they use cooperative governments and the courts to maintain and reinforce this power. As corporatism expands so does the disparity between rich and poor as a smaller and smaller percentage of the population possess more and more of the wealth. As a result of this disparity and the extreme increases in corporate profits, the courts as well as elected representatives become the playthings of corporate power. Corporations can spend millions to avoid accountability. And since the media is increasingly in corporate hands, the idea of a media that will hold corporations up to public scrutiny is a fantasy.

To make matters significantly worse the present government has demonstrated that it is willing to use the power of government to enforce the interests of the Corporation in relation to workers, even showing that it will legislate workers of non-government corporations back to work. Keep in mind as they push the envelope of this power the Harper government is heading to a time wherein the government can set and or cap your wages, tell you where you have to work, what your hours are, and when you can have time off.  If Harper can tell workers at a private corporation like Air Canada what they must settle on and when they can strike or not, it is a relatively seamless step to them telling all workers in the nation what they must accept and when they have to work.

It is very clear that the right-wing is increasingly working on behalf of large corporations to ensure that individuals have few rights and corporations can do almost anything they want. They even have the majority of people convinced that decent pensions are beyond the scope of our power in the modern economy, while corporations make unprecedented billions and the management of those companies retire with huge pensions in extreme prosperity.

But all of this begs the question, why do right-wingers want to eliminate individual rights, workers' safety, pensions, healthcare, general prosperity, all the while creating a monolithic structure of corporate power in which private companies do almost anything they want and we are turned more or less into modern slaves of the most concentrated, unaccountable power structure in modern history???

I don't know the answer to this question. I just know this creeping evil is well underway.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Syria. . . . we are all in the same oppressive boat. . . . .

I must admit that I am tired of the feigned nobility and ridiculous superiority voiced by many Canadians, particularly men like John Baird, concerning the various protests in countries like Libya and Syria. People are so quick to condemn the governments of those nations for acts of violence committed against their own people. But it is mostly disingenuous noise by people who a) don't care a whit for the people in those nations (recall Harper in opposition speaking happily about how Mahier Arar was sent to Syria because the Syrians know how to deal with terrorists) and b) they would do exactly the same thing in the same situation.

The G20 prostests in Toronto were almost all non-violent efforts to bring important issues to the public eye and the government responded by rounding up everyone in sight and holding them without cause or charge, as well as assaulting many innocent by-standers. It was a total suspension of human rights with absolutely no consequences for the government or the police and there was not even any threat to the system whatsoever.

We live in a system in which about 25% of the adult population voted for a government that has more or less the power to do ANYTHING it wants. (Keep in mind they were just about to legislate the employees of a private corporation back to work - not government workers - and no one was going to bat an eyelid.) Yet if Canadians rightly took to the streets in the tens of thousands to call for an actual democratic government the police and the army would be called out immediately and they would not even flinch at gunning people down at random. They would kill anyone who got in their way and if the international community said anything they would tell them all to mind their own business They would kill and abuse with an efficiency that would make the Syrian police look like amateurs. Again I reiterate that the G20 protests did not even present a threat of any kind yet they were willing to completely suspend the constitution and human rights. Imagine what they would do in the face of a real threat to their power..

And if you don't believe then you are just hopelessly naive. Until John Baird (and the rest of disingenuous Canadians) are prepared to condemn the violence, anti-democratic spirit, and criminality of their own Government then they should stop shamefully making political hay out of the deaths of Syrians who are really struggling.

So the next time you hear someone condemning the Syrian Government for their oppression, ask them if they condemn their own government for the G20 and if they would stand behind protests in this country to overthrow a government that has less than 40% percent support of the population and can govern with more or less the power of a dictatorship.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Whiter Utopia?

One of my readers was kind enough to leave me a comment that he has missed reading my posts. Thank you for that, because the internet is quite abstract and one sometimes forgets that there are real people out there with which one is interacting.

Indeed, I have written almost nothing since election day. The truth is that I have become emotionally exhausted and, quite frankly, rather fed up. I had originally wanted to stay out of the whole election process and try to distance myself from it or insulate myself from it because elections have become sort of ridiculous in the current global context. The people with the most money overwhelmingly control the social and political agendas, the majority of people are steeped in ignorance about the real nature of global capitalism, and governments have almost no room to manœuvre even if the wanted to institute more egalitarian and humane policies.

Oscar Widle, a  great hero of mine, once wrote "A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, because it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country and sets sail. Progress is the realization of Utopias." This has always been a sort of guiding principle for me. I really believe that the dreamers make the world and almost everything we value in our lives derives from dreaming and the striving for utopia. But we seem to live in an age of cynicism (read the great book entitled The Critique of Cynical Reason by Peter Sloterdijk) and a kind of hopelessness and complacency has infected many people. This cynicism is undermining the importance of utopian dreaming and, like a debilitated immune system, leaving us open to the horrible infection of newly invigorated, hateful style of Conservatism which, given the impending environmental disaster, could be the last such move toward cynicism in human history. Politics is being increasingly dominated by genuinely evil individuals who are breeding new forms of cynicism and hate and leaving many progressive people feeling exhausted and hopeless.

In light of these problems, increasingly characterized by a sense for many people that something is desperately wrong but it is not worth bothering trying to fix things, also leaves me hopeless and feeling as though the struggle to liberate people who increasingly partake of their own oppression is hardly worth the effort. Like Antonio Gramsci, I have always depended upon an 'optimism of the will,' and know that one can never really give up on the struggle for utopia. But since my father's death I find it increasingly difficult to muster the will necessary to keep the memory of utopia alive in my heart. I suppose such feelings are an inevitable result of aging and growing tired.

A little while after the election I had a dream in which my father and I spoke of the strange, shadowy nature of the past and shaky nature of human identities. As a result of this dream I have begun to write a book about the subject with a particular focus on Samuel Coleridge who is not only one of my favorite writers but is, I believe, one of history's most interesting human beings. I have been reading Sartre on the problem of biography and identity, particularly his remarkable book on Flaubert entitled l'idiot de la famille. I have also been rereading much of Coleridge, particularly his Biographia Literaria and his strange and turgid periodical called The Friend. As people who regularly read my blog will know, I believe our grasp of a 'fixed reality' is tenuous at best and our sense of the world is largely based upon a complex web of narratives that we tell ourselves from the Bible to the Big Bang. In light of the rather depressing story of the election and growing human apathy around me, I am trying to tell a new story. It might not reinvigorate my political consciousness but it might just save me from abject dispair.