Civility in Politics is on Life Support
If I were going to level one accusation against humanity, it would be that we lack discipline. And we are the only creature on this planet that is capable of it. Your dog is not interested in their morning walk because they’re keen on staying in shape…no, they want to spend time with you and soak up your attention. They are just lovable and do not really aspire to anything greater which is in their nature. Whereas us humans, we have conquered the lands and the sky, explored the oceans, and will likely find our way into the stars someday.
We are powerful and it is distinctly because we are capable of discipline. A problem though is that we are so busy fulfilling our goals that we hardly seem to stop and ask whether we should or should not fulfill them. And that is undisciplined.
Is it disciplined to have a global population that just keeps expanding endlessly? As of October 2020, the United Nations estimated that the world’s population is at 7.8 billion people. Was this planned? No, it wasn’t planned, rather it’s just in our nature to “flourish”.
Newton’s third law of motion is that for every action there is an equal or greater reaction. Now, for all the benefit and advancement our discipline has reaped, there will inevitably be an equal or greater reaction. In fact, we’re experiencing one such reaction right now. COVID-19 swept through the world in a matter of weeks. By contrast, the Spanish Flu in 1918 circulated the globe in the span of a year and a half and infected an estimated 500 million people, a third of the world’s population at the time. Moreover, it killed upwards of 100 million people. Our incredible ability to populate the world seems to have its drawbacks.
Another drawback that we are seeing with our own eyes is the effect we are having on the natural world. Climate change is being stressed as the greatest challenge of our time. And the destruction of natural habitat and extinction of animal species is the highest ever in human history. Apparently 7.8 billion people have that effect on a planet.
When it comes to the fate of humanity, nobody really cares what side of the political fence you stand on. Existential threats don’t vote Liberal or Conservative, Republican or Democratic. Partisanship has gotten so bad in modern times and it has polarized opinion to such an unhealthy extent that it’s ridiculous. It’s categorically ridiculous. Here’s a perfect example of this: the word liberal, derives its meaning from the Greek word Liber, meaning – free. Hence liberty. Somehow in an ironic twist of fate this term has been adopted politically and then hijacked, and then ransacked so that it represents the opposite of freedom and liberty according to many political-minded folk. Apparently, it’s something more akin to communism and by extension fascism. Go figure! I guess it was stupid of me to believe my lying eyes and my deceiving mind.
The truth of the matter, despite this sort of annoying gaslighting of terminology, is that we live in a liberal democracy. Canada is a liberal democracy. This means that we have representative government under law. Liberal democratic values are not associated with any political party, even if that party uses the word in their own name. Canada is a liberal democracy that supports true capitalism, secularism, equality, individual freedoms, and representative government. All these simple concepts are fundamentally Canadian, not associated with any one political party, and if you disagreed with any of them, well maybe you are living in the wrong country. I hear Belarus is currently welcoming any support available for their crummy thuggish dictatorship.
It is rare throughout the world that these democratic concepts have been brought together to form the institutional foundations of a democracy. A Democracy Index compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EUI), a UK-based company, found that throughout the world there are only 22 countries that rank as “full democracies.”1 Only 22! Only 11 that rank in the highest category with Canada as one of them.
So, the next time you are reading the news and bitching about whatever the Prime Minister did, or the Premier did, do try to keep in the back of your mind that you have been blessed to be living under such a system. Yet, for some reason there are some who want to separate from Canada. Guess what…. nobody trades in a Kentucky Derby Thoroughbred for a three-legged donkey eating garbage on the side of the road. It’s just not done!
Back to discipline. It takes incredible discipline for a democratic country to exist and continue along a healthy and effective course. “Real democracy means liberal representative government under law, sustained by a political culture that accepts open disagreement and demands accountability.”2 This definition highlights the importance of the role of institutions and established norms in making a political order work. The point is that we’re all in the same boat, under the same umbrella, and travelling in the same direction. Despite our many disagreements we are fundamentally keen on following the same direction, it is how we get there that’s up for debate.
It used to be a scenario of us versus them. The Allies versus the Axis powers. The West versus the Iron Curtain. Sadly, now the script is now us versus us. It is hard to say when exactly this happened or what circumstances precipitated it, but the rise of social media and its global influence has been instrumental in changing political and social perspectives. Regardless of your interests, you can find a media source that caters to you and you can live inside an echo chamber.
The greatest danger of this sort of concentration of thought factioning is its isolation. Groups looking inward and continuously reinforcing what are naturally incomplete perspectives—as all perspectives are. It is the metaphor of the six blind men describing an elephant. They all have a different part…the one holding the tusk says the elephant is like a spear, the next holding the trunk says it is like a snake, and so on. They are all correct, but none of them understand the full idea of what an elephant is. And this is how people need to view their sources of information, informative but incomplete.
There are some grotesque problems affecting the world today, and Canada has its fair share. Not since the 1920s has the gap between rich and poor been so broad. This is not just a concentration of wealth in the established few, but a concentration of quality of life. The value of our salaries, our education, our health care, and our ability to bolster commerce is all compromised within a social and political system that favours those at the very top. The real fight is not between ‘us and us.’ It is still between us and them. The only problem with this scenario is that ‘them’ is an extremely vague target. No doubt many of you have Jeff Bezos or David Thomson jumping into your minds, but not unlike your dog’s unconditional affection, these tycoons are simply doing what is in their nature. They are acting within the system that has been created. Therefore, with the ‘us and them’ analogy, the ‘them’ must be understood as our social and political system that we have created.
Luckily, in Canada at least, we can influence this system through our democratic rights. With a strong enough consensus, change does happen. However, this change is difficult to achieve when people are divided up into silos of thought. My humble advice would be to foster as much compassion and understanding as possible. Accept that your viewpoint is naturally limited. There is nothing wrong with this. It comes down to discipline. Let us be more determinative of our future.
Looking out at the stars and the vastness of space, how can you not stop and look around you and not revel in it all. We are the one unique living planet. I don’t think that we value ourselves enough through this lens. That every square inch of this planet is precious. Become aware that you are privileged to be alive and living in a magical world. And with this awareness, take a level of seriousness in its stewardship. A stake in its continued splendor. We no longer have time to make mistakes.
1,2What Is Democracy? Liberal Institutions and Stability in Changing Societies by William Anthony Hay, Foreign Policy Research Institute, https://www.fpri.org/docs/hay.what_is_democracy.pdf