Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Happy Election Day Canada

Well, it's that time again. It's time to VOTE!

I know it's not very popular to say anything bad about democracy these days; but you know what, it's not a very good system. I still want for you to vote and if you read to the very end of this post, you'll find out why.

You should know that in fact, I'm not a huge fan of any political systems we have going on in the world these days; from far right to far left, they all leave something to be desired.

This isn't a new problem. Remember Athens? Circa 2500 years ago, it was a haven for philosophical discussion (well, they did kill Socrates, but I suspect it was suicide by execution) and democratic governance. Plato never really got over the death of his mentor and I think this is what lead him to be a harsh critic of democracy. Plato suggested that the people in charge were looking out for their own interests rather than the good of the state. When they did try to do the right thing, they spent so much time bickering with each other as to how to do it, things became completely inefficient. Or so Plato thought. He was a big fan of the benevolent dictator.

However, Plato's student, Aristotle didn't think that Plato was on the right track. Sure, Aristotle thought that democracy was messed up, but for additional reasons. The problem was more that special interest groups held the power of governance and the majority of the people were handed a few bones but were otherwise neglected. Wait, that sounds damningly familiar. Democracy might work, Aristotle intimates (but you have to read between the lines), if the people weren't in it for themselves. If they looked out for the people they were suppose to represent. But that never happens, humans are seldom as benevolent as we might hope. For that very same reason, a benevolent dictator that Plato suggested was out of the question. Even if by some miracle we could find someone wise enough and selfless enough to rule, they would eventually die off and with them any chance of finding someone else fit enough to rule.

No, Aristotle didn't like most forms of governance. But, there was one form of governance that he thought might just work: polity. This is like democracy in so many ways, but sort of a step up.

Polity is about everyone, every citizen, having a say in all issues. In Polity, you don't just elect some bloke to go off and govern you from some far off city, hoping that they will maybe live up to their promise of representing you. No. In a Polity, you get to vote when it comes time to increase or reduce taxes. You get to vote when NATO asks you to send troops to Afghanistan. Then again, in a true Polity, as I understand it, you also get to vote when it comes time to increase expenditure on toilet paper in the national park system.

I suppose you could mix Polity and democracy. Elect a small body of representatives to work on basic every day governance, but allow the citizens to vote for ALL serious issues.

I don't know if Aristotle is right. I can see some huge flaws in his system. The same flaws that many people have pointed out in what they call 'true democracy'. You have people involved in making important decisions who are uninformed and perhaps over influenced by propaganda. This doesn't necessarily lead to a good end. When faced with this problem, Plato's idea starts looking all that more shiny.

You know what, every form of governance looks beautiful on paper. The ideal of democracy is as joyously wonderful as the ideal of dictatorship or socialism. As Plato would tell you, the actual is an imperfect reflection of the ideal. Aristotle would add, all we have is the actual, you've gotta make the best of it. Of course, they would say it in Greek; I'm just paraphrasing.


So, let's make the best of what we have and stop dreaming of the unobtainable ideal form of governance. Let's take this democracy - sham or not, I don't know - and head on out and participate. I don't care who you vote for. Just vote. Take your ID, something with your address on it or that silly little election card they sent you, and go spend an hour standing in line. Take some knitting.

Heck, you can even write "YOU ALL SUCK" on your ballet. I'm tempted to. Just so long as you participate. Because, if you don't participate, you don't get the right to complain about it when everything goes to pot.

2 comments:

Josiane said...

Well said! I'm off to go and vote! Actually, the idea of not going would never in a million years cross my mind. I even go and vote at school boards elections, which says a lot considering that maybe less than 10% (my guess) of the population does so... But hey, voting is important at every level - my future will be affected by these children's education!

sarsbar said...

I voted today... haven't voted in-person for many years, so it was kind of neat to go and to see others participating as well. (Absentee balloting for years, since I lived in the States).
No line ups at 8:30 this morning!