prorogation and participation

Posted: January 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: politics | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

i’ve been keeping my eye on the prorogation kerfuffle, in particular the discussion happening in blog posts by people like remarkk and the members of the extended changecamp community, trying to get my mind around this “moment” as Mark likes to call it, and i’m left with a vague unease.

of course i’m uneasy over what’s happening in ottawa, we have a minority prime minister actively subverting the democratic institution with seemingly great effect. it may sound like hyperbole to say that having government answerable to parliament (no matter how screeching and ineffectual the house may and often be) is one of the fundamental principles of democracy in canada, but it’s bloody true. yes we have other pillars holding up our system here in Canada*, but i can’t help but feel that this prorogation is just the latest sign of a system crumbling under it’s weight. AB, a commenter on remarkks post decrying complacency, would disagree (as would others) but just because something is technically legal doesn’t make it right or good for democracy or society.

we’re really lucky in canada, so lucky that most people don’t bother to become involved in politics at all. i don’t really blame them. unlike Mark, i’m not particularly angry at people who don’t bother to vote (although i do try to convince them to do so, even if only to spoil their ballot), politics is a game with weird rules filled with unlikeable players who often make terrible decisions while acting like spoiled children who won’t share their toys. i wouldn’t care either, if i wasn’t obsessed with trying to figure out why our world is so eff’d up and looking for ways to make it better.

Mark has made a call for people to get up, do something. connect with their communities, and somehow, we’ll forge a new world and come up with “something better”. i believe this is possible, but i worry. we may come up with “something just as bad” or “something worse”. in an effort to both act on his call and satisfy my own worries, i think it’s important for us to talk concretely about what it is we’re doing. what is this new present we’re trying to make?

i don’t know what it is, but i think i can try to describe some of it’s attributes.

  • it’s definitely more connected. individuals matter more but some individuals matter more than others. we can talk about how the internet allows for anyone to hop on their digital soapbox but the fact remains that building a strong network you can influence is work. if you have the time and resources to do that work good for you, but recognize that there are lots of people who don’t (or don’t want to) and who are only perhiperally connected. these people still matter.
  • it’s definitely global. sure in canada we’ve got a prime minister who has gone prorogue, but democracy is under threat everywhere. it’s not a question of having good versus bad people in power, democracy pretty much guarantees that we’ll always (at some different points in time) have stupid/mean/corrupt/evil people in power at some point or other, the problem is that our democratic processes aren’t resilient enough in our new global/technical/connected context when the inevitable dumbass comes around.
  • it’s definitely more equal (for some). among my group of friends, and my wider network of connected individuals it doesn’t really matter if you’re black, white, aboriginal, asian, indian, gay, bi, straight, baptist, atheist, or muslim. yes we all bring our own point of view, but your cultural identity doesn’t exclude you. that said, you’re not excluded by virtue of race, religion or sexual orientation, but there aren’t really very many people in the wider networked group i’m observing who aren’t university educated or working in a professional capacity.

i think that the change we’re (and i say we, but i can only of course speak for myself) all actively participating in has those attributes. it’s still too vague for my liking though, and i don’t agree that simply re-establishing community is enough. we need to change institutions and the rules of democracy to update them for our new context. we need to get into the difficult details. i think we need to stop fiddling with the symptoms, and start thinking about tackling the very real, and very tough problems with foundational code underlying our society. in canada that means the constitution, but what we’re going through is (i think, hunch really, but i trust my hunches and maybe one day i’ll try to write out a justification for it) symptomatic of a wider global difficulty with trying to come up with a governance system that fits the new reality.

*namely an independent judicary enforcing a strong set of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, a fundamental lack of corruption amongst our public bureaucracies (this is not to say our bureaucracy isn’t without it’s faults, but i have yet to be asked for a bribe by any public official. try getting through a routine traffic stop in many parts of the world without paying i a bribe) and a democratic process (read: elections) that is generally not open to cheating