Of the list of things I said we would talk about, this wasn't one of them. It is an issue we have touched on before, and one that I am sure we will talk about again, but I have felt a need to sit down once again and put metaphorical pen to metaphorical paper and get this out into the world. Perhaps, to a degree, it is folly to focus on something so abstract when there are much more serious and looming issues in our world today; but it is where my mind is focused, and one only moves on from finally expressing a thought and getting it out into the world.
The issue I speak of is disillusionment.
Since an early age, I have always been fascinated by politics. I don't know quite while, but I suppose it is the same way some children are drawn to sports, or music, or any other hobby that exists. And while at times in my youth, I didn't always understand the stakes or the players, I was no less fascinated by them. I'm sure I'm one of a handful of thirteen year olds in 2000 pleading with his parents to let him stay up to watch the election results come in.
When I entered university and declared my major as political studies, I had a group of friends who tended to debate and spar with me on the issue of politics. It's hard being the only 'declared' NDPer in a den of Liberals, but it was certainly easier than dealing with the numerous Conservative leaning youths I had met both prior to, during, and after my university career.
As the years have gone by, I've watched several of my former political sparring people withdraw from the contest. We went from a group that constantly talked politics, to a group that only mentions it when we're less of a group and more of a pair. In fact, my former strongest political sparring partner, promptly ended all political discussions a few years ago with the declaration that he no longer cared.
This is should not serve as a surprise to anyone. Politicians continue to talk about getting youth involved, about preparing the next generation to rise up and play roles in future administrations (as both supporters, candidates, and bureaucrats.) But increasingly, the next generation is answering with shrugs and blatant apathy.
I have tried to understand this, and there are moments when I swear I've peered through the fog and seen into the abyss that fuels this indifference and disillusionment with the political process. But, like Nietzsche warned, when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you. By which, I will state openly, that even I have had my doubts and felt the pull of disillusionment on my shoulder.
However, I must admit this openly and firmly to all who bother to read this: This apathy is not a product of my generation, or the one that succeeds me, but rather it is far reaching and flows back to previous generations before me.
I've talked before of my parents on this blog. They're both non-political to the point of my of my generational compatriots; unless they're trying to get my goat about something they've heard on the news, then they'll have a bit of fun and make me think they lean a certain way. One of the most earnest conversations I'd ever had with my mother on the subject of politics elicited this phrase from her:
"Why can't they just do what they said they were going to when they wanted to be elected?"
In my younger naivety, I tried to explain how agendas were blocked and cajoled by opposition parties and things of that sort. In my somewhat older age, I find that excuse wanting. If I were asked that question today by her, or anyone else, I'm not entirely sure how I would answer it.
The practical part of me would make the argument about money, and how certain objectives couldn't be achieved if previous governments ran up huge debt loads. The idealist part of me would argue that some objectives require the political will of the people, and that as long as we function as a country where we hobble together loose coalitions of "this party over that party" or "anyone but that party", we will never have the political will to undertake certain political objectives.
The realist part of me would laugh at both, and explain that today's political parties are engaged in their own personal Game of Thrones. Which, sadly, is closer to the truth than I'd like to admit. Despite all the possible excuses and explanations, it seems more and more likely that each political party has become something of a 'great House' out of medieval history.
They seek nothing more than power for their side, destruction of their enemies, and good health for the King...until the King ticks them off and a plot is made to replace them with someone more palpable. Stephen Harper has made no concession to the fact that one of his goals is the utter destruction of the Liberal Party, and the replacement of them with his own party as Canada's go-to government.
And there you have it, the beginning of the planting of a seed of disillusionment. When a political party, let alone a Prime Minister, has the grand goal of burning another party's support to the ground, no small wonder most people couldn't give two damns about the political process. And then we have the flip side of this coin. Every once in awhile, there comes a person. A leader who stands outside of the herd, who attracts the attention of thousands of people.
They talk about doing things differently. They talk about making changes to the political process. They talk of getting people involved, and giving all citizens a voice in the political process. And then they get elected, and the talk goes from a shout to a whisper before it is snuffed out completely.
The best example of this would be the Obama Administration in the US; which while the lesser of two-evils when compared to the Republican Party, has still managed to be a let down to the idealists who thought they had voted for change. Obama back peddled on issues like Guantanamo Bay, didn't do much to include the younger generation who helped get him elected (instead bringing forward old guard Democrats to fill important positions in cabinet), and is now leading the US towards another war in the Middle East.
Canada faces the same in Justin Trudeau. He's hitting the same keys as Obama, yet those who have payed close attention to the political process, know that he's already hit some odd notes as warning signs. He's voted with Harper and his agenda more times than against it. He's pro-Keystone, pro-Tar Sands development, and seems just as willing as Harper to sell Canadian wilderness to the highest bidder.
It's the same Harper brand in great new packaging!
And there is yet another seed of disillusionment planted.
My grandfather is often fond of saying that in the long run it doesn't matter who you vote for, as the parties are pretty much the same. He's flipped back and forth between Liberal and Conservative quite a few times in his life, and has openly admitted that he never has nor ever will vote for the NDP.
This lack of difference between the parties, however, is a mess of our own making. As I've said above, people tend to vote in a coalition against one party in this country. We saw it in 1993 with the destruction of the Progressive Conservatives. We saw it in 2011 with the collapse of the Ontario Liberal vote to the Conservatives in an apparent effort to stem off a potential NDP minority government.
Perhaps that is the real problem, at least in Canada's case. It has become less and less about presenting ideas and a vision for the country, and more focused on winning and forming government. Our little Game of Thrones continues, but the players are not just the party members, but the average Canadian citizen who votes for them.
People like a winner, that's no secret. When a sports team rallies to victory, the fans are almost as overjoyed as the players who won the game. More importantly, the victory feels shared between those on the field and those in the stands. I knew a person, who funnily enough happened to be an Educational Assistant, on the eve of the 2011 Saskatchewan Election. He was planning to vote for the Saskatchewan Party, regardless of knowing what they were doing to EAs throughout the province, simply because the winds were blowing in their direction and he wanted to side with the winners.
Even worse, there were and remain, people who vote a certain way because their parents tell them to. Or their teachers, or a role model, or a friend. People who will go to a voting booth, with no grasp of the issues or the slightest thought of consequence of casting a ballot one way or another, as if they were cows being led to the slaughter.
What's that, yet another seed of disillusionment?
The only surprising thing is that is comes from our fellow citizens as opposed to the parties they vote for, for once. As a politically minded citizen, it is difficult to watch someone vote for a party that they don't actually support. Much like my EA friend who was voting against his own future; it's my understanding now that he's in University now, seemingly because I'm sure his EA position ceased to exist due to budgetary measures from a government he helped elect.
To watch citizens cast ballots, without giving any real thought to it, ensures only one thing: Our political system will remain as broken as it is today.
Take the myriad of issues surrounding the Harper Conservatives. Their CIMS database provided information that was unquestionably used to commit election fraud, no one has batted an eyelash. Three Senators appointed by the Harper Government are being investigated by the RCMP, or soon to be, for questionable accounting methods; while Conservative Senate leadership helped them all along the way. But still, the mighty bear of the general public stays in hibernation.
Justin Trudeau admits he smoked pot once while as an MP, and suddenly there is a firestorm. This is an issue in the same way that a bridge is a car; in that it isn't. Yet, the Harper Government has spent millions in bringing in communications officers to the bureaucracy, all of whom seem to be working directly for the Conservative Party not the Government, in spinning issues and inflaming voters over small matters.
Perhaps that is where the true confusion lies, with our non-politically minded citizens. Numerous people have said there's nothing wrong with PMO staffers spinning out attacks against the opposition parties; but there is. Government is not a political party, political parties are just a piece of government. They're a strange bastardization that seems a bit like a symbiotic relationship at this point, neither can exist without the other but they are indeed separate organisms.
A citizen who can't tell the difference between the bureaucracy and what they're paid by taxpayers to do; and a political party operative and what they're paid by the PARTY to do, needs to sit down and open a book about governance.
The Harper Government has given Canadians so many things to be angry about. They've bastardized our political system, or at least continued the bastardization undertaken by previous governments; they've diminished our reputation on the world stage; they are responsible for the single largest government deficit in Canadian history; they are responsible for the largest Cabinet in Canadian history; and they are indeed responsible of dividing our country along such polarizing lines that one simply wonders how it will be possible to even achieve a modicum of national unity for the future, all in the name of Conservative power and strengthening the role their 'House' has to play.
Granted, our Game of Thrones is a lot less bloodied than the one in the novels or the TV series, but there are indeed consequences for bystanders. With yet another proroguing of Parliament, Harper has killed several important commissions and bills; the commission into missing Aboriginal women, and stemming violence against Aboriginal women, being one of them.
So, while the players of the game will escape mostly unscathed, it seems us small folk are made to suffer at the hands of our lords and ladies who are posturing for political power.
I talked about this sense of disillusionment not being a new thing, as I can point to my parents and others in their generation that couldn't care about politics any less than your average 18 year old. If anything, my thoughts on this subject have only troubled me more than helped.
I say so thinking about the counter-culture movement of the 1960s and 1970s, especially in regards to the US. As such, I would say disillusionment almost seems to be a cycle. We saw people rally against war, against government oppression, and against the ideals of their parents for more inclusive and open views of their own, and against corporate influence in our lives.
We saw celebrities come out about issues of the day, singers wrote and performed songs, and writers were equally critical. And yet, decades later, the same issues that plagued those counter-culture 'warriors', for wont of a better word, continue to plague us today.
Wars are still seen as the first option, rather than the last, a means to an end. Government oppression continues, as people begin to wonder whether or not the concept of privacy continue to exist in this technological era. Allies spy on allies, and god knows what else. And we continue to fight for equal rights for all citizens, a fight we make tremendous strides in (like the Supreme Court striking down DOMA) while we take two-steps back at the same time (Russia and it's new stance on homosexuality.)
And corporate influence has grown to staggering new levels.
And there, perhaps, is the seed that has struck my parents and my grandparents' generations. Fifty years after the 1960s, we continue to fight the same battles that existed in the past. The world spins forward, but it would seem our politics and our ideologies are firmly stuck in the past.
Perhaps it our own failure to put the blame on. Winston Churchill, in a quote recently used by John Kerry to justify an attack on Syria, once said that "if you're aren't a liberal in your twenties, you don't have a heart. And if you're not a conservative in your fifties, you don't have a brain." Is that what happens? Did those counter-culture warriors simply grow up and shift their views?
Thirty years from now, will I look back on everything I've written for this blog and think what a spineless socialist I was? I can't quite see that happening, but perhaps it is true for the majority. Perhaps those who rallied and raged against the dying of the light simply grew up and tired of fighting the same battles. And when you can't beat them, you join them, as the saying goes.
That at the very least would explain the complete lack of change for the battles we fight politically. And it would also explain why some of the older generation have given up on changing the world; like George Carlin once said, "if you scratch the surface of every coldhearted cynic, you will find a defeated idealist."
Perhaps the younger generation are just better students of history; perhaps we've cued in earlier that we've fought the same political battles for the last six decades, and there hasn't been movement for either side. Or any movement made is simply replaced by the next battle on a slightly different field. We went from women's rights, to African American rights, to LGBT rights. We went from the cold industrial revolution, to the rise of worker unions, to the embrace of cold corporatism and the decline and outright war against worker rights.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. And this is because of our great Political 'Houses', who are just different enough in ideology that when they get elected they want to undo the strides made by the previous great 'House'. Again, though rolling back workers rights, or cutting social programs, or what have you. Successive governments have been less about vision, and more about retroactive revenge schemes.
And we've seen our share of politicians who have said they will do things differently. Who succeed in bringing the next generation to their campaigns, and who sometimes end in defeat, but other times march in triumph to elected office...Only to turn around and immediately act like their predecessor.
The crazy thing is, despite all I've written here, and all the problems that seem impossible to conquer...I still wouldn't stop being a political citizen. I don't know if that makes me insane, or still just a cockeyed optimist when it comes right down to it, since I still am willing to believe that SOMEONE could actually change all this...Or at the very least, start the ball rolling in getting actual change to arrive.
All of this, and more, is the source of disillusionment for the average Canadian citizen. You have citizens who just don't care, citizens who care too much but are blinded by ideological battles, and those who care only about power for the sake of power. All of which mean we rehash the same battles, over and over, without actually achieving a damned thing in the long run.
I wish I could end this on a happier note, with some grand prescription that would allow us to engage citizens of all generations on higher level than blind ideology. Or that I had some note that would encourage all citizens to learn more about their political process, and to accept that democracy means being informed and making informed decisions about who you elect as your representative.
Sadly, I'm lacking such a closing statement. In the end, it would seem that disillusionment strikes for different reasons for different people. And in a democracy, all we can do is vote and hope that the politician at the microphone means what he or she says, and the people will actually vote about substance over stage presence.
It's a lot to hope for, perhaps, but stranger things have happened.