Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Read a book

One thing I've noticed of late is that people do not understand politics. They don't understand how governments work and they don't understand the schools of thought that create the political spectrum. This is a problem. If we are to be active participants in the world around us, understanding the ins and outs is extremely important. The political culture and public discourse, in my view, are just as important as the issues themselves. The way we understand and talk about the issues should be well informed. Most of the time, they're not. Yeah, that's a problem.

Case in point, the recent coalition brouhaha in the Canadian House of Commons. There was a survey done, I think, by the CBC that showed that maybe half of Canadians think we elect the Prime Minister directly (we don't) and over two thirds couldn't name our head of state (the Queen). The alleged popular opposition to the coalition spoke to this ignorance and the Conservative government exploited it, claiming that the coalition would undermine Canadian democracy, even though it's a perfectly normal aspect of the parliamentary system which has taken place throughout the history of parliamentary democracies with little controversy.

When we as Canadians vote in a federal election, we are electing Members of Parliament. The way things usually work is that the party with the most members of parliament (a plurality, not necessarily a majority) gets to form the government. That government has to hold the confidence of the majority of the Members of Parliament in the House of Commons. If a government has a majority of the MPs in the House, then that is no problem. Right now, however, the Conservatives hold only a plurality of the seats. The other three parties collectively outnumber the Conservatives. If those other parties do not feel confident in the government, they can bring that government down. This is very normal in a minority government situation. There are then two options: An election, or the other parties can form a coalition, approach the Governor General, and then she can appoint the coalition as the government. This is a completely legitimate and normal function of parliamentary democracy. Apparently not many people realize this. Go figure.

Another one that bothers me is the idea that anarchism means merely chaos. That anarchists just want to tear down any sense of order and peace that exists in society. I hear this a lot, especially from liberals on a message board that I frequent (which admittedly is a liberal/Democratic—big D, no kids' table—message board). They have pretty much bought into the Sex Pistols brand of anarchy = chaos. On a slightly less ignorant level, some like to equate it to an extreme form of libertarianism, meaning free reign of the market, which describes one strand of anarchism (anarcho-capitalism) but is by no means the prevalent form that most anarchists would associate with. When you look at great anarchists throughout time, from Bakunin to Goldman, to Chomsky and Zinn, there's a strong sense of equality and justice, not just a free for all social Darwinist approach to anarchism.

To quote Howard Zinn in a recent interview: "The term anarchist to so many people means somebody who throws bombs, who commits terrorist acts, who believes in violence ... Anarchism is also misrepresented as being a society in which there is no organization, no responsibility, just a kind of chaos. Anarchism to me means a society in which you have a democratic organization of society—decision making, the economy—and in which the authority of the capitalist is no longer there, the authority of the police and the courts and all of the instruments of control that we have in modern society, in which they do not operate to control the actions of people, and in which people have a say in their own destinies, in which they're not forced to choose between two political parties, neither of which represents their interests. So I see anarchism as meaning both political and economic democracy, in the best sense of the term."

Socialism is another sorely misunderstood concept in public political discourse, as evidenced but the completely absurd claim during the US presidential campaign that Barack Obama is a socialist. The first time I heard John McCain call Barack Obama a socialist and accuse him of class war, I laughed. Hard. Then when Sarah Palin did it, I laughed even harder, because she's a complete joke in general. The fact that anyone can take those accusations seriously, and then run with them the way the McCain-Palin camp and his cheerleaders have, tells me that no one in the United States (or at least no one in the public eye of the united states) seems to know what the hell they're talking about.

Do these politicians want some sense of a social safety net? Yes. Is that socialism? Hell no. Socialism is the EQUITABLE redistribution of wealth (if you only want to talk about the redistributive tenets of socialism, which they all seem to...I'm looking at you, Sarah Palin). Not just equality of opportunity but equality of result. You think a Democratic tax policy is going to make everyone economically equal? If you do, to be completely frank, you're an idiot.

Idiot or not, it's an argument I've seen come from conservatives for a while, in reference to liberal/Democratic politicians in general, and the absurdity never ceases to amuse...then bemuse....then just flat out annoy. Not only because of the fact that Obama nor any other mainstream American politician are socialists, but because of the idea that this is somehow a bad thing.

Returning to Zinn: "Here in the United States, the beginning of the twentieth century, before there was a Soviet Union to spoil it, you see, socialism had a good name. Millions of people in the United States read socialist newspapers. They elected socialist members of Congress and socialist members of state legislatures. You know, there were like fourteen socialist chapters in Oklahoma. Really. I mean, you know, socialism—who stood for socialism? Eugene Debs, Helen Keller, Emma Goldman, Clarence Darrow, Jack London, Upton Sinclair. Yeah, socialism had a good name. It needs to be restored."

If I could sum this all up to you, my wonderful non-existent (hopefully soon to be existent) readers, I would simply say this: Read a book. Learn a thing or two about what you're talking about before you actually run your mouth about it. There are so many more examples, but these are just the ones that stick out in my head right now.

Anyway, I'm going to try to do weekly updates here. I'm also working on a rad design for the blog which will hopefully be done when I have some free time. I can write from work. I can't design here, sadly.

Also, I'll try to keep these shorter from now on. I promise.

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