The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Monday, September 13, 2004

A great tide of democracy

A great tide of democracy is sweeping our world.

Those in many non-free countries (as defined by freenation.org) once embraced the concept of personal representation on a mass scale eagerly: although the enthusiasm is very far from what it once was, not since the United States has chosen to identify "freedom" and "democracy" directly with its own policies. Once, individuals in those countries had been willing to take great personal risks to bring democracy to their nation. Now, perhaps, the relative personal value of the system, and what it represents, might have been somewhat connotatively redefined.

Those in free countries, generally, tend to be divided into two groups. The first consists of those who embrace the ideal of democracy whole-heartedly and cannot conceive of any enlightened social structure which would not place democracy at the pinnacle of political endeavour. Perhaps ironically, these also frequently tend to be quickest to assume that their vote should be of greater value than that of the hoi polloi -- to not have the faith in their fellow human being absolutely essential to the continuing effectiveness of the system.

The second, for a multitude of reasons ranging from observed results to perceived personal/minority disenfranchisement to disillusionment with the ability of the masses to decide morality, have partly or completely lost faith in democracy as a system, let alone as a system which absolutely depends on their continued participation for its effectiveness. And yet perceived disenfranchisement must always be a majority symptom of democracy: for human nature defines its environment based upon differences, never similarities (an old evolutionary survival trait): which suggests that any decisions not taken in perfect harmony with the average individual, in a system of government theoretically accountable to the populace (and thus "implicitly" any given individual), must be seen by that individual as disenfranchisement.

The true story comes out at the polling booths each election. Very nearly with the sole exception of some Swiss cantons, the older the democracy, the lower the percentage of people who choose to vote. As the institution of democracy is increasingly taken for granted (while its ideals are either blindly parrotted or shrugged away as already non-existent), the actual political structure of the country quietly morphs away from anything genuinely accountable and into polarity against itself: no longer concerned with what is best for "us", but what will keep "them" away from power. In an age heavily reliant on mass communication for its self-image and a population far too large for each (or even most) individual(s) to personally be familiar with the person selected, money is absolutely required in order to send out the appropriately-spun image-message: and so the realistic choices slowly dwindle to among those who have the money to create and send that message ... and no other. An illusion of choice still exists at this point -- the population still has the option to choose -- but between what?

While preserving the image of direct personal representation and accountability, a de facto plutocracy has come into being: and that all the more firmly entrenched in power for that it has never once shed the image of abiding by the democratic ideal.

But what of a small outpost (former colony, former and present piece of mainland empire), which suddenly finds itself in a position where the five-generational taken-for-granted's, suddenly can't be?

Who values an ideal, until it is in real and perceived danger of becoming extinct?

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