Wednesday, 17 December 2008

we the people

Some wise words from Bruce -


"Everybody complains about politicians. Everybody says they suck. Well, where do people think these politicians come from? They don't fall out of the sky. They don't pass through a membrane from another reality. They come from American parents and American families, American homes, American schools, American churches, American businesses and American universities, and they are elected by American citizens."
George Carlin


Bruce: A co-worker of mine is forever saying "of course".The government will screw this up - of course. Our section is understaffed again - of course. Of course this won't be done on time.Of course. "Of course" is a kind of cynicism, of course.It sounds wise and worldly, and that's the intent in using the phrase, but it's cynical. It says, not that there's no choice in the matter, but that no choice will be made when one was needed.

We like to complain about politicians, and about anyone who has the power to make decisions that affect our lives. Yet as Carlin observed, we create and support politicians through our institutions and at the ballot box. Our democracies - and I'm thinking of America, Canada, the European Union, and anywhere else that observes the ritual of pulling levers or marking X on a piece of paper - only function because a core fan-base thinks that their particular candidate will at least be less deplorable than the people running against him or her.

In our democracies we vote, when we vote at all, in favour of a name on a ballot or screen that is associated with a set of ideas and proposals that are called a platform - a sort of expedient world-view deemed appropriate by the candidate and his or her advisors. We can't pick and choose individual issues in those platforms.We select the name that represents the platform we can best live with, in our own lives. If our candidate wins, we delight in having our particular issues dealt with in the way we see as "obvious" and "necessary", and put up with the rest of the platform without thinking about it much - but since it's "our man" or "our woman" in office, we're sure they will deal with those things in a similarly resolute and inspired manner.

But I wonder about these allegiances. Why do we advocate and adhere to a worldview designed and expressed by someone else?What is it we believe about the way the world works that lets us rest satisfied, while someone else runs our world?You and I don't have our hands on the levers of power - we don't directly preserve the good and change the bad -so how does it happen that we endorse someone else acting as our proxy? I mean this in the widest sense.Not simply elected politicians - we the people (one of the great phrases and concepts in the history of the world) may at least take some measure to decide what personalities occupy those offices - but also those appointed by the elected. By what means do we trust them?

As a private citizen who was, until the present crisis, oblivious to the machinery of the financial system, I assumed that the persons set in those controlling offices knew what was best, not only in applying my contribution to the tax pool, but with that of the wider population and of industry. I assumed that the greatest good of the greatest number was being seen to, even if I was not aware of the means by which this was being done. When children used to attend a class called "Civics" in school, this was the governing assumption - that our system works: see how well, in our science, our industry, our arts, and in the dignity of hearth and home.

This has now vanished.

The trust is broken. Broken because the basis of that trust has been shown to be false. The image from the 1950's of a wife in a pretty print dress who tends to her breadwinner's every need is found ludicrous and predatory. A suburban home with white bread and television is a picture of imprisonment. The son who rises to soldierhood to die in some foreigner's land is not democracy's hero but a victim of a bad education and poor civilian prospects.

What of us now?The substance of those civics lessons that children used to receive no longer pertain.The fabric of the society that taught those optimistic lessons is torn apart. The American Way - and not merely the American Way, but the way of all industrial societies - is shown to be one of impunity, indifference to suffering, callousness toward the victims of business decisions, and obsessions with contemporary fashion and of lucrative trends.

Just the worst outcome of all the current cash injections and bailouts to banks and factories would be that they succeed brilliantly in restoring the status quo. That they allow the comfortably numb to stay that way. That they allow the true believer in capitalist industrialism to go on believing with their very essence that they are the pinnacle of human civilization. That our fathers were right all along, and that we should proceed on their course again.

Would that we do endure a decade of retreat and reconsideration. And that out of that we emerge a more patient, more tolerant, and wiser people.

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