Monday, March 28, 2011

Cowabunga, Dude.

It's a heady combination of a coming election with my own mercurial literary ambitions, getting me into that frame of mind in which I want to have arguments with big words and big ideas.

I get excited about elections. It's probably not a good habit, though - these things are expensive. It's also perplexing; I don't think I have ever in my life cast a vote for a winning candidate. Depending on your metrics, I have wasted every single vote I've ever cast. That's in three years of being legal voting age - just imagine the poor blokes for whom this has been a reality for thirty! Why all the excitement, why the nervous energy and the hope for changes that will never come? It would be too easy to become despondent, and perhaps I would have more reason than most. Well, if we're being technical, more reason to do so than a plurality of the Canadians who even bother to vote.

It's at a time like this when perspective can be, for lack of a better word, handy. Dandy, even. Why should this election's failure to produce radical, progressive change in this country bother me? Human history is a long chronicle of justice mostly prevailing over injustice. I realize that I run the risk of sounding positively panglossian when I write this, and I would like to qualify this statement. Progress has been erratic, fundamentally un-equal, and above all else it will never be complete. That does not mean that progress has not happened, nor does it excuse us from trying to extend the rights, freedoms, and quality of life that "we" (i.e., the kind of people who are affluent enough to spend their monday evenings blogging for no pay) possess to as many people as possible.

I should be careful to define my terms. "Progress" is a vague and loaded term, but I shall do my best to reach an agreeable definition. Progress may be scientific, technological, social, or spiritual. Progress can be said to have happened when we reach a new, or more complete understanding of an object, a process, or a concept than we previously had. Progress can also be innovations or insights gained from such understanding. I think that some people question this sort of definition, because some innovations are not "good" in their eyes. I don't think it should matter that a novel design of coal plant is an environmental nightmare; it merely offers us the ability to accomplish a task in a different way than we have before. When we come to understand that burning coal is not desirable - for any number of reasons - that, too, is a kind of progress. It is our responsibility to apply the new wisdom we have gained, and in this case, to stop building coal-fired power plants. At least, it is if we believe in the cause of environmentalism. I should add, finally, that progress can be said to have happened when humans meet the goals they have set for themselves.

I think that while it has taken "us" a very long time to come to a more complete understanding of what constitutes a human being and a citizen, that the definition has nevertheless been continuously expanding. From the exclusive club of propertied Athenian men, how our definitions have grown. Grown from white men to encompass men of every colour and creed. Grown from men exclusively to include women. Grown to encompass notions not only of belonging to a city-state, but to states and provinces, counties, countries, and even now the notion of global citizenship gains traction. We talk about citizenship and participation in online communities, which cross national boundaries (although linguistic ones may prove harder to breach...). Our notion of rights is expanding, too: we can conceive of rights to reproductive choice, to sexuality - healthy sexuality, to fresh drinking water, to education, to privacy...rights that have never existed comprehensively and for entire populations before in the whole history of our species.

The Harper Government has not been a stellar one. It can even be argued that they have tried to back-pedal on some of these crucial liberties. But always remember that it is we, we who side with the greater measure of liberty, inclusiveness, and tolerance who surf atop the inexorable wave of history. Let Harper build his sand-castle prisons; the tide is coming.

No comments:

Some Rights Reserved

Creative Commons License
This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.