Thursday, September 13, 2012

What Do You Believe?

Ontario politics seems to be in the process of radicalizing itself, which I find baffling.  Radicalism is an inefficient way of thinking, it closes too many possibilities.  I've never found it a comfortable way of thinking, yet it seems to be becoming increasingly popular in Ontario politics, and feeds partisan firestorms that the media licks up.

The angry right winger seems to be dictated by their emotions, letting anger rule their judgement.  The righteous left winger also seems to be a creature of emotion, enjoying a self created sense of superiority that makes their politics a public event.  Both play well in media bites where emotive, irrational displays get you tens seconds of air time well before a thoughtful response.

http://mattpaul.org/tao/te/ching.cgi?n_verse=17
I've been reading the Tao Te Ching in relation to politics.  The simple common sense and humility presented in this tiny classic seems as far from the spin and manipulation of Ontario politics as one person could possibly get from another.  Where we manufacture crisis for personal benefit, Lao Tsu's masterful governor quietly does what is best for everyone, then retires.  Our politics are all about self aggrandizing, cynical manipulation.  The  Taoish ideal is the opposite of that.

Call me old fashioned, but I'd like to think my way through issues and not follow dogma in developing opinions.  That approach may lead to some less than popular positions - especially if most people make decisions designed to serve their own tribal interests rather than looking to maximize the efficiency of society as a whole.

With all the vitriol and drama in Ontario politics around my job this summer, I now know more clearly what I hold as self evident truths, so at least all of the emotional trauma and intellectual violence has led to some clarity.

I believe that human beings are our most vital resource.  Even in a world bulging with population, I believe our minds and hands can resolve any problem we create; I'm an optimist at heart.  Because people are the most powerful resource we have as a society, I believe that it is government's first and most vital duty to attempt to develop its citizens to their maximum potential.  There are other factors in society (racism, capitalism, classism) that cause people to fail to reach their potential.  Government must be dedicated to reducing those inequalities.  A government that throws citizens on the fire to serve economic interests is no representative government at all.

Any time a government uses its power to tend to its own tribal concerns, it hurts society as a whole, reduces people's ability to make the best of themselves and creates a less even playing field.  When a government attacks workers to reduce their rights, they are setting a precedent that concentrates power and wealth in a smaller group.  I don't see that this is a good idea, ever.  Maximizing a few people's wealth to ludicrous proportions causes many others to not have enough.  The damage from an expanding poor class hurts a society more than the benefit gained from the wealth of a few.

It's a myth that rich people use their wealth primarily to benefit society.  The first goal of a rich person's wealth is to maintain their wealth, that's how they got, and remain, rich in the first place.

This may all sound very leftist, but I don't believe in government as a solution to all ills.  As important as it is for the government to act to spread wealth in society and even out the inequities of the greedy, it is more important that citizens are active in their duty and focused on recognizing their own potential.  Without an individual side to this equation, people get lazy.  They have gotten lazy.

I occasionally re-read Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers as much for the sci-fi military futurism as for the political value theory.  In Heinlein's future, democracy collapsed under the weight of leftist forced equality where soft, socialist thinking set the standards so low that society was destroyed by the dangerous, feral children it created.  The idea that all people are actually geniuses and there is no common standard of citizenship causes the failure of representative democracy in the 20th Century.  Heinlein goes into great detail about this in the novel, and it's hard not to sympathize with the thinking.

The rebirth of democracy in Heinlein's future democracy is never handed out because you were born somewhere.  All citizens have to earn the right to vote by demonstrating that they are willing to put societal need before their own interests by joining government service for two years.  This kind of responsibility really appeals to me as an immigrant who had to earn his Canadian citizenship.  Watching the lackadaisical home-grown Canadian makes me realize that anything that is handed to you doesn't have a lot of value to you.  A veteran would know what I'm talking about, as would other new Canadians.

I'd extend that requirement for competence to many things beyond citizenship.  Unless you can build a car and understand how it works, you don't get to drive one.  Until you can build a computer, you shouldn't get to use one.  Too many people with too little ability of their own are empowered and amplified by the brilliance of others.  It creates an odd sense of equality not based on anything real.

There is a harsh side to my politics that demands excellence from people.  In that regard I find myself quite comfortable with some progressive conservative ideals.  If the government is dedicated to maximizing everyone's potential, I believe it is a citizen's duty to participate in the state to the best of their ability.  A citizen who does nothing of value should not be considered a citizen.  As I've already said, being given something as powerful and important as Canadian citizenship, itself paid for in blood by others, shouldn't cost you nothing, yet it does, and then if you choose to do nothing with it, or use it to support your own interests at the cost of many, people come to believe that this is all citizenship is - a license to serve your own interests.

So here I am, demanding a government that doesn't protect its own interests, but rather works tirelessly for the good of society as a whole, even willing to risk their government in order to do the right thing.  Here I am, demanding that citizens take their responsibilities seriously, or not have them.  You choose not to learn what is needed and vote in an election?  No tax return for you, and we'll take that money from the selfish and resolve societal problems with it.  Better still, citizenship is valued because you've committed yourself to it by offering to serve your country.  This does not mean military exclusively, it could mean any number of social services.

I expect better from government, and from the citizens that support it.  Democracy is an ongoing experiment, and I hope Democracy 2.0 brings us better access to each other through social media, so that more voices can be heard beyond the spin of organizations in broadcast media.  Any technology that de-centralizes the ability for political parties to spin big media is an improvement in my mind, even if it's messier.  Most traditional organizations, political, governmental, business, are terrified of this sharing of the message.

A messy, active, honest, engaged democracy would be ideal.  Instead we have less than half the possible voters showing up and voting out of habit.