Monday, July 30, 2012

The Economic Freedom of the Few Limits the Political Freedom of the Many

Politics is all about who decides on whose behalf. Inevitably, political decisions entail winners and losers.  In an ideal world, political decisions would be made by inclusive institutions that allow for a thorough analysis of the substantive issues in which the will of the majority prevails.

Sadly, this is not the case.

In fact, where I live the political system in place prevents people like me, who believe that effective measures to minimize catastrophic climate change must be undertaken quickly, from having effective representation in our elected legislatures.  Moreover, the federal court recently ruled that it is part of the Prime Minister's royal prerogative to unilaterally withdraw Canada from the Kyoto Accord, the only international agreement that attempts to prevent catastrophic climate from coming about.

In summary, the political system, in particular the voting method, effectively thwarts people like myself from having an effective voice in this nation's deliberative process and at the same time maintains the absolutist powers of the crown so to benefit those who would transfer as much of the carbon reserves in Alberta's tar sands into the atmosphere as possible.

What's up with that?

Well, the economic freedom of big money for one.  There is a ton of cash to be made from the extraction of oil from the tar sands and the negative impacts upon the environment are simply to be externalized.

That's as far as it goes.  No need to entertain economic arguments about short-term gains versus long-term costs or risk management.

Wealth extraction is the name of the game.

The rules favor those who want to be free to extract as much wealth as possible, and the rules are not likely to change anytime soon.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Democracy's Last Conquest: The Anglo-American Empire

Slowly but surely democracy is spreading and finding roots around the world. The latest countries to begin their path towards democratic governance are Tunisia and Libya. In both countries, democratic elections were held to fill the void left by the toppling of a tyrannical dictator.

Looking at a map of the world that demarcates democratic governance, there is clearly a trend since the end of the second world war for democracy to find its way into countries that were anything but. Central America, the former Soviet Union, and now North Africa have all experienced the incursion of what is becoming the only legitimate form of governance.

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Unfortunately, there is also the tendency for former and present day imperial powers, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, to pass themselves off as democracies by equating popular elections with democratic governance. In reality, they are nothing more than plutocracies.

As a result, the persistent presence of the democratic myth has taken in the vast majority of each country's respective citizens, making it such that those who protest the absence of truly democratic political institutions are marginalized.

In the case of the UK, the plutocracy is anchored in the wealth and privilege brought on by a steadfast adherence to tradition and custom rooted in time immemorial. It as though the British are stuck in the eighteenth century, unable to reform their unelected upper house, the House of Lords, more than one hundred years after declaring the intention of doing so. Moreover, the Brits actually refused to abandon the first-past-the-post voting system by way of a national referendum despite its well known propensity to distort the popular vote so that majority governments are manufactured for the benefit of a minority of the electorate.

In the United States, the plutocracy is supported by a political system that empowers the financial sector and the corporate class at the expense of everyone else. Despite the lofty enlightenment rhetoric of its founding fathers, the privileged persons who wield the most power are in fact the nation's corporations, which were, in fact, granted the legal status of a rights holding person by the US Supreme Court. Consequently, corporations can make unlimited financial contributions to political campaigns, which is tantamount to buying an election, thereby making mockery of the so called democratic process.

Fundamentally, both countries adhere to culturally held beliefs that stem from the Protestant Reformation, and as Max Weber pointed out the cultural consequences of Calvinism run deep. So much so that the religious belief in the divine separation of the Elect and the dammed manifests itself socially in the rampant inequalities that would have people believe that the poor and the oppressed are responsible for their lot and deserve their divinely ordained suffering. Wealth, on the other hand, is a sign of being favored by God.

Contrary to the perverse inequality of those who believe that they are members of the Elect, democracy is an ideology founded on a radical conception of equality: equality at birth, equality of rights, equality of the vote, and equality before the courts. This is not the ideology that supports the inherent inequality favored by those who desire an ostentatious display of wealth that suggests a divinely inspired sense of their superiority.

As Machiavelli so aptly observed at the beginning of the Renaissance, in order for the Republic to come about, men must love the Republic more than they love their souls.

This is certainly not the case in either country where the radical individualism nascent in widespread historical religious belief found the fertile ground of the radical individualism associated with Anglo-American capitalism.

Americans and the Brits may have become less enamored with their souls, but not with the status hierarchy that wealth brings about. The pursuit of happiness in each country is in reality the pursuit of wealth, and since this obsession is at the core of Anglo-American culture, any ideology that is inherently egalitarian like democracy must be avoided at all costs.

So, in the end, a combination of the myth of democratic governance and the cultural beliefs that require large inequalities make the Anglo-American empire impervious to real democratic reform with the exception of Australia and New Zealand, two countries that have transcended the limitations of the Westminster parliamentry system and Anglo-American culture.

A fish doesn't think about the water that surrounds it, and as long as there are fortunes to be made not a lot of serious thought will be devoted to bringing about democracy in either the US or the UK.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Canada's Lamentable Lack of Imagination

When I was a kid growing up, I thought Canada was cool. Canada's centennial celebrations made me believe that as a young country we were just coming into our own. A few years later, Paul Henderson scored the winning goal to beat the Soviets, which proved we were the best at something. We were at the top of the world.

Since then that bright future has faded. In all honesty, other than Henderson's goal, life here in Canada has been deadly dull. Let's face it, as a nation we lack both imagination and passion.

Ask yourself, what has been Canada's most memorable event since we celebrated Canada's one hundredth birthday?

The only exceptional event that I can recall is Terry Fox's attempted run across Canada. I'll never forget that young one-legged man with his hopping gait who set out to accomplish a dream that was as big as the country.

Unfortunately, trying to live the dream did him in, and I think that we never got or understood his message that regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in, we can dare to accomplish something extraordinary. I think he would have been disappointed to see how run-of-the-mill we have become.

We pretty much slog along doing things like they always have been done since our colonial days. Nothing really innovative. Nothing that would rock the boat.

On the political front, we are still a settler state that privileges the birth rights of two charter groups. On the one hand, we are still a constitutional monarchy that has the monarch of one of the charter groups as Canada's head of state, and on other, the desire of the other charter group to assert its collective sovereignty over the territory it occupies.

Talk about being trapped in a time warp. Even hockey has become dull.

No more Gretzky, no more Lemieux, just the boring dump it into the corner and then pass it back for a slap shot from the point, hoping that the puck will make it through the five opposing players who have collapsed in front of their net.

Wow, like watching the balls from Lotto 649 drop out.

We need to be jolted out of our collective stupor. Life is far too short and far too precious to be lived in its entirety always on the safe side.