Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Tory/Liberal attack ads, crazy old ladies

A few days ago, the Tories showed off their newest attack ad.

Two nights ago, I almost ran over an elderly woman, probably homeless, definitely confused, who was walking in the middle of the road at rush hour, in the dark.

These things are, believe it or not, connected by our political system.

Let me explain.

In the beginning, was representative democracy. This was the idea that people would choose their own leaders, instead of having leaders chosen for them by violence, heredity or religious superstition. It was a major leap forward in human society. Because it is a human institution, it almost immediately began to reveal its own set of flaws.

One of the chief among these was the system of parties. The west's first modern representative government, the United States, actually tried to avoid the party system for some time. It was referred to as "faction" and was seen to be a bad thing, an undermining of the basic system of democracy. But, people being people, they clubbed together based on mutual beliefs and interests. Parties and factions are probably unavoidable in any political system, but their influence may be greater or lesser.

Here in Canada, it is definitely greater. Because of the first past the post electoral system, and for historical, cultural and financial reasons, it is a hell of a lot easier to get elected as a party member than in any other way. So anyone who wants to be a political ruler has to join a party. And the parties compete with one another for votes.

This is not, I should add here, because the party members are uniformly cynical, venal, bad people. Unlike some folks whose political orientation, like mine, is outside the norm, I've met a lot of politicians, at the local, provincial and federal level. Most of them are, or were, very idealistic. They have lofty goals, and they genuinely want to make the world a better place. Some of them are stupid, or venal, or nuts, but they're drawn from the sometimes stupid, venal or nutty mass of humanity.

For example, they want to do something about homelessness. They would all agree that it is bad that an increasing number of people live on the streets, and sometimes wander into traffic. They have solutions they would like to put into place. But first, they have to get elected.

Getting elected is hard. It takes money. You have to convince a justifiably cynical electorate, or around 50 to 70 per cent of it, anyway, that you are not a total asshat. You have to deal with grotty local reporters and the national media, and annoying, whiny bloggers. You have to shake so many hands that you will certainly get every cold and flu bug going around.

Then, once you are sure you are going to get elected, you have to make sure your party wins. It's no good to just be out in the wilderness, with 10 or 20 seats out of 308. You've got to sweep at least half the fucking game board! More money. Leadership conventions. Internal party politics. Many people have to compromise, and special interests have to be appeased. And that's all before you take power.

Once you go through this for months, maybe years or even decades, you might still remember that you got into politics because you wanted to end homelessness, but you've spent most of your resources, your time and your effort doing other things. Fighting partisan battles also tends to become all consuming. It even seduces other people who aren't even members of the parties with its spectacle. Reporters and bloggers and political junkies. We all get consumed with the game. And we forget about the real-world consequences of the game.

So this is the game: the Tories and the Liberals, the NDP and Greens and Bloc, they all want to help that old woman out of the street. So they raise money, and form national organizations, and hold meetings, and strategize and scheme, and hate one another, because they all know that their plan to help the old woman is much better than the other guys' plans. They run hugely expensive campaigns and viciously undermine one another. And the game is never over. You just keep going around the same board, over and over and over.

Fuck the game.

Humans need systems to get along with each other, sure. But we might want to consider that this system does not work, at least not any more, not for the 21st Century. It's like trying to thread a needle while wearing 20 pairs of gloves. To get at the problems we face, to bring the whole weight of our society behind some great endeavour, we have to go through this bizarre process, which has acreted over the years.

I say, tip over the game board, and start again. Let's make up some new, simpler rules. More direct. More open.

Because I'm tired of living in a world where an attack ad has anything to do with old women in traffic.

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