The Canadian Imagination

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

Friday, August 05, 2005

Respectfully disagreeing

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, ...

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person ...

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations ...

- Preamble, Universal Declaration of Human Rights


In spite of the blatant affront to America [in the United States not currently having membership on the UN Commission on Human Rights], U.S. representatives continue to seek use of tax dollars to fund the parent of this enterprise, the United Nations, to the tune of more than a half billion dollars.
- James L. Hirsen, UN In Your Face

A political professor of my acquaintance recently averred that the proper purpose of an official opposition is to contradict everything, expose everything, and try to topple the government at every turn. It is purely coincidence, no doubt, that the political party to which he belongs happens to be one that has no reasonably foreseeable possibility of forming a government and will not compromise with any other to do so; yet when it does come into power (and in time some variant of it will, all things change): I suspect that all those belonging to the parties no longer in power will endorse exactly the same view. Apparently (at least in some political systems) political opponents no longer need to work together ... nor, apparently, should they be required to. Why should anyone, let alone political parties, be required to work with anyone else? to compromise in the slightest? After all, it is clear that the others cannot possibly understand the situation. If they did, would they not be endorsing our policies?

No minority governing situation -- no proportionate representational, multipartisan system -- can possibly be tenable without some basic, human respect.

A polarised (bipartisan), isolated society quickly abrogates any such requirement (even if the polarity ends up splitting away a hegemonic world power from everything other). Instead, it rapidly metamorphosises any such right into a merit, to be earned only through appropriate agreement and support. The corollory is that no form of dissent can be tolerated: what does not support ME or agree with ME in every respect can have no possible validity and thus is not worthy of further consideration, let alone any possibility even of my minimal support. At its rawest, what is non-compliant is labelled "stupid" (per the "if you understood, you would agree with me" argument): which becomes a subsequent de facto revoking of any requirement to acknowledge dignity or worth in those who dissent, let alone freedom of thought and the implied right to disagree. Having failed in the primary caveat of rational agreement, those who dissent cannot but be "stupid", non-rational, and thus have themselves stepped outside the frontiers of decency. Whatever treatment they get from that point forward, they have brought upon themselves.

People who oppose us are stupid ... but once we have decided that they are stupid, they no longer represent any real threat. Only respected gadflies need to be slapped. Stupid people are deliberately kept around, even cultivated, as object lessons to those still marginal in a society and (being human) seeking to belong. Those who don't currently hold the power can be allowed to say anything they like, as long as it doesn't unbalance the current state of things. (The hive rustles again, the scent of the unfamiliar nearby.)

Yet in a (majority-ruled) democracy, it is an unhappy guarantee that sooner or later, the stupid people will gain power over the rest of us rational folk: after all, there are many more of them than there are of us. A representational government in a party-based system absolutely relies on the constant tension between parties, as well as a regular turnover of power, to keep each other honest: but when one (or more) of the parties have decided that the others are stupid, the words "honourable representative" take on a whole new irony. In fact, at that point it becomes not only desirable but an active duty to keep power out of the hands of the stupid people, by whatever means necessary.

Except that to them, given the evolving model: we are the ones who are stupid, and our goals the irrational ones. Based on the model we are providing: how far should they be willing to go to seize power? and then cling to it in their turn?

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