Personally, I blame myself -

Personally, I blame myself


During last week’s chat, someone asked if I thought the public was, at least in part, to blame for the current state of our politics. My response was essentially “sure.” A couple days later, Slate’s Jacob Weisberg harangued the America public. And now here is Glen Pearson, quoting Aristotle and referencing Avatar.

Nobody talks like this anymore because of an abiding mutual contempt: citizens no longer trust their government, and politicians don’t trust citizens. The way we have chosen to deal with this is by creating illusions. Citizens claim to be concerned about their national political fate but then in the end don’t vote. Politicians tell people that their opinion matters but then often act as though it is their party, not the citizens, that is the ultimate arbitrator of their actions…

The last time I wrote on this subject, virtually all the comments agreed with me about politicians and then proceeded to say it has nothing to do with citizens. Well, that’s just not good enough. We are failing at both ends of the democratic exchange. We send our avatars out onto the playing field, while deep inside we know we should be doing better ourselves. Democracy awaits, but it won’t be healed by proportional representation, first-past-the post, or blind party loyalty. It will be bettered when we start speaking truth to ourselves.


Personally, I blame myself

  1. May I humbly suggest that we ban avatar metaphors from political discourse?

    Other than that, Pearson's take on things is fairly bang on, though a bit too 'meta' (as usual) to do much beyond eliciting nods.

    • If avatar didn't have solid meaning before the movie I'd be more with ya.

      Heck a good percentage of people here are represented by them to the left of their "name".

      • Some quite literally.

  2. we get the gov't we deserve!

    • "We" do, but "I" don't.

      • Excellent point.

        I don't think I do either.

  3. I thought Jacob Weisberg's rant was pretty pointless, since he was simply juxtaposing conflicting poll results. I mean, if you as k any sentient person if they would like government to give them whatever they want for no cost or penalty, the answer will generally be yes. This is hardly a political mandate for congress or parliament.

    And what is this mysterious "truth" that we should all start speaking? When pushed, I think we will find it is whatever the pundit in question believes to be the best thing to do. There is no "truth" out there, but rather the hurly-burly of power politics played out before us.

    What is most interesting about the recent break downs in health care reform and other great entreprises of our elected politicians is that they mirror the very real and difficult choices that are before us. They are not resolved by the application of pure reason, and they are not resolved in favor of some "truth".

    When you are on a mission to remake the world, as Obama seems to be, this can be a disappointing discovery. Blaming the voters seems to be a particularly weak-minded response.

    • I have no opinion on the American side of things, since I'm not one, but here in Canada there is a truth, and we, the citizens, are blithely ignoring it. We haven't the faintest idea how our parliamentary democracy is constituted, so we believe anyone who uses good buzz words, like "democratic" to tell us how the other guy is doing wrong. We aren't paying enough attention to what is really happening, so that we believe the "unelected" Senators have obstructed the government's agenda (just as a perfect example.) We haven't even looked seriously enough to discover why the Senate was specifically set up as unelected in the first place, and how discussions of electing them will have consequences that seems to be on nobody's radar.

      We expect the Governor General to step in and override the Prime Minister, when we have actually picked up arms in the past to take control of our own decisions.

      • "when we have actually picked up arms in the past to take control of our own decisions"

        Sounds like you're reasonably in touch with the American side of things. :)

        (and, I'd better start getting out to the Waterloo CAPP meetings – I had no idea they were headed in that direction!)

        • Well, yes, you should get out to the CAPP. Do you want to help us on the planning committee?

          But I was actually speaking about the rebellion of 1837/1838. In Lower and Upper Canada. And we rebelled because our representatives, who we elected, didn't get the final say once the executive council and the Governor General got in there and completely ignored whatever our representatives said. The executive council–known as the Chateau Clique in Lower Canada and the Family Compact in Upper Canada. Lord Durham came along as our GG and wrote a misleading "report" in an effort to get the British government to grant us Responsible Government. Unfortunately, it backfired a bit since the French-Canadians believed he meant the sh*t he was shovelling, and the British government didn't grant the Responsible Government anyway. It took his son-in-law, Lord Elgin as GG, before we got that.

          A fascinating history. In fact I wrote a novel about it, I was so fascinated (sadly, the lack of publisher may mean I'm the only one who finds it fascinating).

          • That'd be a cool novel – keep submitting it!

            I grew up north of Toronto, and I still remember my grade 8 teacher showing us a musket ball he'd pried out of a tree by the field where the rebels had been shooting for practice (near Aurora).

      • "We the citizens"!

        Where do get the gall to speak for adult Canadian voters?!! And any way, since your "we" does not include "me", I suggest you go and rectify your self-proclaimed shortcomings and learn how our political system works.

        • Oh dear! I do apologize, I particularly hate it when people speak for other people. And my "we" didn't include "me" either!

  4. How about the media? They're the ones who cover politics like it's tabloid trash. Citing standings in polls every week when an election isn't in site. Splashing headlines with verbal insults while ignoring legislative debate. Live-blogging inane but juicy committee hearings. Obsessing about prorogue, which creates even more distrust from the government, which then feels it has to push back. etc.

    • Publishing Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn, playing off cheap reaction rather than real insight….

      • …Aaron Wherry…

      • Publishing Aaron Wherry, playing off cheap demagoguery rather than intelligent analysis…

        • Reliably stupid, as usual.

    • Politicians do stuff to get elected. The media publishes what people want to read. Simple as that.

      • Partly.

        But I agree with Dennis to some extent – PPG reporting tends to be very reactive; there isn't a lot of in depth coverage, it's very "he said, she said." As I said in another post, for example, the media has repeatedly reported that the Senate is blocking crime bills and that the opposition parties are blocking senate reform. I have seen very little analysis of to what extent these statements accurate.

        • But this is precisely a symptom of what Bill's talking about. The reason the coverage is superficial is because the market for coverage with depth is smaller. Privately-owned media is in business to make a profit, and even the CBC has to scramble for ratings because the government won't fund them enough. So they show what people will watch, because it will make them money.

          Just like politicians will tell us what we want to hear, because we'll vote for it without considering whether it's true, a good idea, or even remotely possible. Public opinion gives politicians and the media their incentives, and thus governs their actions. To change their behaviour, change their incentives.

    • The media have let us down, for sure. Then again, who decided it was the media's job to make sure we were educated? That, if you think about it, does seem outside the realm of providing news. What should happen is the media presents the two (or three or four) sides of an argument, and the Canadian people can see through the spin, the lies, the false outrage, etc. to the position that most benefits Canada. Instead, we seem to treat it as a case of the party with the best sound bite wins.

      • you're right Jenn: it isn't the media's role to educate us. Truly educated people take the media for what it is: a representation of one side of the story. It is up to the reader to sort through these varying opinions and come to reasonable conclusions. It is wrong for the media (when wanting to push an idealogical agenda forward) to use it's reading audience and it is equally wrong for a reading adience (when wanting to push an idealogical agenda forward) to use the media in turn. But such is going on all around us.

        • Well, the idea of the media that I grew up with was that the media showed all sides of the story. That doesn't happen anymore, at least not consistently and honestly by all media. To me, that's the media's fault, but it likely didn't start with them, as you say.

  5. Harper speech draws protesters So do allot of these Conservative Spin Doctors.

    Public opinion is turning against Canada in some of the country's most important trading partners. According to BBC News (February 11, 2010) between 2005 and 2010, “in the USA the proportion rating Canadian influence as positive fell from 82 percent to 67 percent, in the UK from 74 percent to 62 percent, in Australia from 77 percent to 72 percent, and in China from 75 percent to 54 percent.”

    The survey also found that Canadians are increasingly giving their own country a more negative rating. In 2008, 86 percent of Canadians thought the nation had a positive influence on the world; this has now dropped to 75 percent.

  6. There's nothing wrong with our politics. Pearson is upset because the Liberal 13-year was broken and it looks like another one won't be starting anytime soon. Liberals seem to think that delivering Liberal policies is what the voters want, when in reality we did not elect the Liberals.

    • That's a good bit of trolling right there, credit where its due.

  7. I liked Pearson's point about the university event where he asked: “How many of you voted in the last election?” and only 20% of the audience raised their hands.

    People have the lamest excuses for not bothering to vote or to otherwise participate in our democracy, but the reality is that many people who pretend to be concerned about this or that issue are really just lazy, apathetic, and self-serving.

    • My favourite is: "My vote won't change anything" – when 40-50% of the people who could don't.

      Think about that for a second….

    • Teenagers typically don't pay any attention to politics. It's not until you enter your early twenties that people start to care – typically it coincides with looking for work and paying taxes.

  8. A lot of people – especially young people (18-30) don't vote because they don't know how. I think there is a surprisingly large number who fall into this category.

    1. Their parent's never took them to vote, so they've never seen it done;
    2. They don't know where to go;
    3. They don't know how to "register";
    4. They don't know if they need to bring documentation, or what documentation to bring;

    The many who fall into this category are too embarrassed about their lack of knowledge to ask for help because, well, everyone should vote and therefore everyone should know how to vote.

    This is an unscientific analysis, but it comes from the personal experience of political campaigning and knocking, quite literally, on thousands of doors, and talking about elections with thousands of people.

    • URL for those of us too ashamed to ask how one votes:

      Or more simply:

      There's no excuse, for an internet generation — one doesn't even need to ask another human being.

      Having registered to vote in two provinces and three states at various times before my thirtieth birthday, voted absentee in two presidential elections and early in one federal general election (didn't qualify for an absentee ballot but did know that I could vote at the Elections Canada riding office), I am thoroughly unsympathetic.

  9. A free society can't exist without some critical mass of virtue amongst its citizens. Ergo, we are all responsible for improving our own character/actions if we want to make society better. That "improving" part is where the train of thought generally breaks down, at least for me, since it generally involves personal sacrifices and changes of behavior.

    • Whose virtue? It sounds like you would like to both define it and possibly coerce adhesion.

      Other Rand-ian nonsense aside.

      • You can't coerce virtue. It is an act of the will.

        I'm not sure what you mean by "whose virtue". Perhaps you mean that there are different ideas concerning what is virtuous conduct. True, in some respects where our society has become confused, but not true in most respects. Everyone at some level understands that honesty is better than dishonesty, that respecting life is better than murdering people for convenience, that courtesy is better than vitriol, that protecting the weak and vulnerable in society is noble, etc.

        Virtue was defined millenia ago by a much wiser man than I, but we don't need the definition to improve ourselves. To paraphrase the immortal words of Stewart: we (generally) know it when we see it.

  10. Democracy is like anything else. Once the basic rules have been around for a while, the tacticians, the coaches and the players all seem to converge around the most boring but seemingly effective way to win.
    Take the NHL for example. From the mid 90s and to the mid 2000s team after team adopted the Neutral Zone Trap because it proved a highly effective way to shut down the other team's offence and win games (and in terms of bad teams it let them not get blown out night after night). It did not however make for particularily exciting hockey viewing for many fans and as a result fans started to tune out.
    So the league changed the rules. They made almost any contact in the neutral zone an obstruction penalty and got rid of the two line pass rule. Now when I wake up I enjoy watching the highlight reels before heading off to work.
    In politics everyone seems to have coalesced around a certain rule. A united party with little to no publicly visible divisions is better than a party that might contradict itself by having members express different or opposite points of view. This way you shut down the other guys offensive attacks. Its a political Neutral Zone Trap.

    • That is… a surprisingly perceptive simile.

    • A quintessentially Canadian metaphor. :) But I think you're dead on here. The question is, who can change the rules and change what wins in politics?

  11. I don't blame people for not voting, lot's of the ones who do should probably do us all a favour and stay home.

    Passively trudging out to mark an x every few years or even every year is hardly the gold standard for citizenship. It's not even a bare minimum if you don't know the names of the candidates and just vote for whichever party your grandparents voted for, or whoever won last time.

    Someone who organizes a forum or tries to raise awareness about on an issue they care about or joins a political party and gets involved is more important to democracy than a voter drone.

    And by the way, guess which "citizen" political parties prefer? They like malleable undecideds who vote more than people who ask questions or think for themselves. Try a writing a letter to a minister to ask about policy (any government any party) and you'll get a letter back about how they are "managing" their portfolio. Politicians, even candidates, rarely discuss politics or engage anyone, they just market their brand.