The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: social justice

Anatomy of Hatred

Hatred. Neo-Nazis. White Supremacists. Racism. KKK. These terms, and many like them, we had hoped were slowly disappearing from our public life and lexicon, yet they are everywhere in these troubled days. For those individuals and groups who have felt the sheer injustice of such things, however, they have been an ever-present reality.

With the events of Charlottesville, we are struggling to grasp the implications of what happens when those most troubling facets of hatred emerge again to prove we never did deal with them effectively. Rallies are being held across the United States and Canada, including London, this weekend that pit the best and worst of human nature against one another.

The troubles of recent days have caused me to reflect on the seminal speech given by former dissident and playwright Vaclav Havel, who went on to become president of the Czech Republic. In a 1990 address titled, “The Anatomy of Hate,” Havel unpacked the lessons he had learned during his country’s Soviet oppression and its eventual liberation. Whether in conflict or in peace, he discovered, hatred never rests.

What makes Havel’s insights so compelling is his focus on how individual hatred most often leads to group animosity, as when he said near the beginning of his speech: “Anyone who hates an individual is almost always capable of succumbing to group hatred or even spreading it. I would even say that group hatred … is a kind of funnel that ultimately draws into itself everyone disposed toward hatred.”

We have seen too much of this of late. Rather than drawing people through policy, human values or a sense of social justice, hatred, by itself, is sufficient enough a recruitment tool – just rile people up and they will destroy anything that stands in the way of their anger, whether it’s the public space or personal dignity. Where they can’t acquire recognition through the respect of all people, they seek to achieve it by destroying anything of human merit in their path.

Havel had lived long enough to see that many who allied themselves in his call for change were simply cruising on his notoriety in order to obliterate everything they hated. When he became president of his country he realized that his ascension to power had also ushered in many who simply wanted to destroy, never to build.

Yet modern society has progressed enough that it knows hatred in such settings and often organizes against it. This is what the alt-right, racist, bigoted, white supremacy, neo-Nazi coalition discovered in Charlottesville when those brutal two days were over – the country rejected them. And this is the stage that decimates the haters the most, Havel affirmed. “People who hate wish to attain the unattainable and are consumed by the impossibility of attaining it.” The result? “They grow tormented by the evidence of others rejecting their methods.”

How should we react to acts of hatred? That’s easy: reject and speak out against them. Yet it is necessary that in so doing we examine our own motives and our rush to anger, lest we become victims of the same harsh level of intolerance. Hatred always starts as animosity, moves on to wishing harm on others, and frequently results in actions that induce harm. Such a path requires only two things: an object for our animosity and the wish to damage it. The great teachers of humanity and ethics have repeatedly reminded us that hatred is easy to spot in our adversaries, more difficult in our allies and friends, and ultimately the hardest to see in ourselves. Such smallness of soul we must ever be on guard against, individually and as a community.

And there is another big lesson we must learn if we are to keep hatred from gaining ground: many in our midst are affected by it everyday, and remaining quiet about such occurrences, or pretending they don’t exist, is both beneath us as citizens and hurtful to our city. Online harassment, racism, verbal and physical attacks against those of differing sexual persuasions, political targeting and religious bigotry – these are ongoing occurrences and it’s time we acknowledged them and came together to defeat them.

As Labour Day approaches, we have work ahead of us as citizens. It involves building a better city where acts of hatred result in a community mobilizing against such travesties and for those victimized by them. But, as Havel would likely remind us, hatred is the enemy, not the haters, and as we gather this weekend to speak out against such vile practices it is vital that we know the difference, lest we become like those we oppose.

Want to Defeat Poverty? Take Time.

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ASKED BACK IN 2012 WHY POVERTY WAS SO ENTRENCHED in affluent societies around the world, President Barack Obama provided an answer that, while infuriating some social activists, actually gave hope to others. He simply said that it was time to apply “two-generation solutions.” He meant developing initiatives that affected both parents and their children as opposed to isolated programs that helped one but not the other. And such policies would take time to develop to be effective, he believed.

We don’t really want to hear this because those enduring grinding poverty require quick alleviation of their distressing circumstances. We want to believe that through good-hearted actions that we create paths to escape from poverty’s hold. I wrote a blog post last week concerning how communities must bring their various anti-poverty initiatives together in order to begin this process, but we must come to terms with the reality that they will never be enough. They are vital efforts at galvanizing a community around the challenges of low-income, mental illness, the gender bias of poverty, hunger, and early development. Without them, every community would lose focus on those struggling to make ends meet.

But surely we can’t settle for the belief that donated food supplies are the ultimate answer for eradicating hunger, or that temporary shelters are the solution for the housing crisis, can we? Food banks, hostels, school breakfast programs, donated furniture or articles of clothing – examples like these are what keep citizens engaged, but they can never replace having a good job, a safe place to live, the income to purchase food for the family, or dedicated services to help someone through the difficult journey of mental illness. All the charity in the world will never be truly effective unless it leads to systems change. And for that, we require governments at all levels to up their game for poverty reduction – something that we’ll cover in the next post.

It remains vital to reform systems because those suffering in poverty or homelessness struggle far more against prevailing customs and system indifference than they do hunger, unemployment, or stigmatization. Virtually every person in poverty has had to learn to navigate economic, political, judicial, educational, and democratic system obstruction in order to survive and hopefully prevail. Hunger is real. The lack of shelter is real. Gender bias is real. But they became prevalent because systems couldn’t summon the courage to tackle them.

And if you want to reform systems, then be prepared to fight for a few decades – for perhaps two generations, as Obama notes. It will require healthy investments in early learning and childcare, post-secondary education, healthy communities, productive paths to employment, plenty of social capital, a democracy that includes all, roads to defeating endemic racism, secure housing, and all those facets of community life that lead to a productive future for all. There is just no way a single community, populated by remarkably generous citizens, can accomplish all this without proper policies, decisive decision-making, and resources that can only come from government levels.

Poverty didn’t suddenly arise because some people had money and others didn’t. Prevailing systems exacerbated the gap between the rich and the poor. They refused to close the gap between women and men for equal pay for equal work. They legislated decisions that saw those suffering a mental illness being taken care of in hospital emergency rooms instead of in dedicated facilities that provided the kind of wrap-around supports that guided patients through a journey that leads to independence and success.

It is time that we added democratic conviction to community compassion, and if we refuse to bring that about, then poverty will prevail over our neighbourhoods and cities for decades to come. We have to stop maintaining that we are “affluent” societies when we tolerate child poverty at such high rates. There’s nothing affluent about living on a street where citizens can’t afford their own food, or where able-bodied women and men can’t find a career path. There’s nothing affluent about living in a neighbourhood where the colour of a person’s skin determines their prospects for opportunity.

We are either all in this together, or we will slowly come apart – as we have been doing for the last few decades. Canadians are a good people and can be counted on to share of their bounty. But goodwill can never eradicate poverty. Only equal opportunity for all can do that. And for that, we require legislation, more inclusive policies, dedicated politicians, and a democratic system that will fight just as vigilantly for every person to gain prosperity as it does for every citizen to secure the right to vote.

Gandhi once said that poverty is the worst form of violence, and he was right. Supporting systems that keep people in poverty is equally as dispiriting as relegating them to chains. This is not the Canada we want, and if we want to change we must begin by listening to those who have survived the systems of diminishment and yet still strive for a better life. Let’s take the time to do it right by listening to them and build an equitable society that refuses to compromise the most vulnerable among us.

Canada’s Kind of World

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PERHAPS THE GREATEST TEMPTATION IN THE WORLD of government is the politics of the urgent, and in a world of bad news the pressure to “do something” becomes endless. The recent incident in Strathroy, Ontario, of a man suspected of plotting a terrorist attack only provides further fodder for those concerned over the presently precarious state of the world. Turkey, Syria, France, mass shootings, individual acts of madness – all of these occurrences are pressing on the Canadian government at once, with pundits endlessly reminding us that something has to be done before our planet blows up.

But there is another world out there – a global place of collaboration and effectiveness that continues to get glossed over in favour of front page headlines. It is the kind of world that Canada excels at, and has for decades, and which runs concurrently with the other more alarming dimension that seems bent on violence and which gains almost the entirety of media coverage.

We rarely hear of the victories being won against the worst of the planet’s poverty, for instance, but the president of the World Bank, Jim Young Kim, says that it is the “best story in the world today.” In 1993, almost two billion people lived on less than two dollars a day. But as the world came together to support the Millennial Development Goals and their successor, the Sustainable Development Goals, in a more coordinated fashion, extreme poverty began to drop fast. And it continues to do so. Today that number stands at 700 million – a drop of almost 60% in just two decades.

How about education? According to UNESCO, the UN’s education arm, the last 15 years has seen a drop of almost 50% – 100 million to 57 million – of those children who had no access to schooling whatsoever. Before 1980, only 50% of girls in poorer countries finished primary school – a number that now stands at 85%. And where less than 50% of women could read and write, that number now stands at 93%. This is a remarkable achievement by any measure.

In a report released by Global Findex, we discover that between 2011 and 2015 an extra 700 million people from 140 countries gained access to finance for the first time. New mobile money accounts are resulting in tens of thousands of new businesses being established where before there was only grinding poverty. A portion of the success has been the access to the Internet that is presently revolutionizing the developing world through cell phones, especially in Africa, which has seen access to the Internet climb 51% in just five years. Right now, some 3.2 billion people can get online, but 2 billion of them are from developing countries. To understand the scale of this, back in 2000 only 300 million people could get on the Internet and only a third of those were from the developing world – an eight-fold increase.

The advances in healthcare are equally as staggering. Malaria cases have declined precipitously – 50% since 2000. Almost 7 billion people (91% of the global population) now are using improved clean water sources – a figure that stood at 76% in 1990. HIV cases have dropped by one-third. In 1960, 22% of children born in the developing world died before their fifth birthday; today that number is 5%.

The list of such advancements could go on and on, including income rise, the political empowerment of women, the decline of war worldwide, and the advance of democracy in developing nations. Better coordination among donor nations, improved ethical leadership in developing nations, and the success of globalization in these sectors have made the difference.

This is the world in which Canada excels and has contributed to in significant fashion. Successive Conservative and Liberal governments, with frequent insights and prodding from social activists in the NDP, Green, and even the Bloc parties have placed Canada squarely in the centre of global improvement. This is the Canadian influence Justin Trudeau inherited and must build upon. More than any other time in world history, success in these areas has risen to remarkable heights – a feat almost totally ignored by modern media.

From global emergency aid to longer-term international development investments, from micro-finance programs to Canadian business investment, and from peacekeeping to the modernization of our military – all of these are presently under an internal review in Ottawa and will take their time to roll out. In the meantime, however, Canada’s decades-long investment in improving the development of humanity is achieving remarkable heights. The Trudeau government, pundits, and Canadians, in general, would do well to keep all this in mind, even as we seek to respond to the immediacy of the global terrorist threat.

 

The Thaw

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WE QUIETLY WORKED OUR WAY ACROSS THE ALEXANDRA BRIDGE this week in the stillness of a beautiful summer morning at 3:45 a.m. Nothing was happening. Few cars crossed the span, but that was it – everything else was just the swirling sound of the Ottawa River.

But as we drew closer to the Museum of History on the Quebec side, across from Parliament, we heard a quiet stirring of voices on the shoreline just below the museum itself. These were the folks Jane and I had come to find. It was almost impossible to detect the identities of those quietly shuffling around on the grass – sunrise was still an hour off. Most were quiet, but all knew their purpose for their meeting. This was the sunrise celebration for National Aboriginal Day and some Canadians were gathering for a quiet event that had suddenly taken on more meaning.

Indigenous Affairs Minister, Carolyn Bennett, had asked us the day previous to join her on the riverbank. Present were PM Justin Trudeau, Justice Minister, Jody Wilson-Raybould (also a BC First Nations leader), House Speaker Geoff Regan, and numerous other politicians, staff, and interested citizens – perhaps around 200 people altogether.

But the focus was on the fires slowly burning on the shore – the origins of the smoke for the ceremonial “smudging” exercises taking place throughout that hour. The whispering in the crowd stilled. People shuffled forward to hear the speakers. And everywhere I detected nothing but reverence – not for the river, the fantastic illumination of the Parliament buildings across the way, or the slowly lightening sky – but for those from indigenous communities who prayed, beat drums, sang, and collectively transcended in an instant the world of politics into the domain of the natural order. It was stirring. The PM or other political leaders merely observed as, in the seat of ultimate Canadian power, the country’s original peoples taught those present the need to work collectively in the land we all share.

I thought back to the times working at the Calgary Stampede in my youth, as proud people of the Blackfoot (Siksika) nations rode their horses in the Stampede Parade and worked their way in ceremonial dress around the Stampede grounds, among the stands and the booths. They were mysterious figures back then, to me and to others, somehow representative of Canada’s past. But I realized on that particular morning by the Ottawa River that our Indigenous People are quietly become essential to our country’s future – not through assimilation or domination, but by a gentle enlightenment and respect that have been far too long in coming.

Something was brewing in Ottawa and across the land, some kind of recognition that what we have at present is entirely unsuitable when it comes to our understanding and partnership with our First Nations, Metis, and Inuit citizens. If our future is to be truly enlightening as a nation, then we must come to understand how we erred in the past few hundred years.

One elder spoke near the end of the ceremony, noting that a bird had swept by over our heads at the same time as a fish jumped out of the water. We all laughed with him, but the truth was that none of us had really noticed. It had taken a seasoned and practiced eye, one that has endured much through the decades, to remind us of the remarkable country in which we live and the great journey we have yet to travel to full understanding. We will know we have completed that journey not just when our indigenous communities are a recognized part of our great collective experiment, but when we as citizens come to acknowledge and internally discern where we went wrong and learn to accept forgiveness.

By the Ottawa River on a remarkable morning this week, I reflected on the observation of Thomas Wharton, recounted in John Ralston Saul’s Reflection of a Siamese Twin:

“An exposed ice surface often displays a dull, undifferentiated façade. The intricate crystalline structure can be revealed, however, by pouring a warm liquid over the ice.”

A great national thaw is emerging, introducing us to remarkable indigenous cultures that have a required place in our daily lives, and which we must respect. Judging by the way official Ottawa quietly showed that honour in the sunrise celebration this week, our journey together might finally be making a solid beginning.

The Future Is No Longer A Gift

Contestants compete in an early round during the 6th Annual LG US National Texting Championship August 8, 2012 in New York's Times Square. A 16-year-old boy retained his title as America's fastest texter Wednesday in a duel of the thumbs staged before yelling fans on New York's Times Square. Austin Weirschke took home $50,000 prize money for the second time in two years when he bested 10 other texting demons in feats of thumb speed, memory and fluency in texting shorthand. One round was performed with the remaining contestants blindfolded and having 45 seconds to type the verse: "Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder what you are, up above the world so high, like a diamond in the sky." The event, sponsored by LG Electronics and using the company's cell phones, took place on a traffic island in Times Square. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/GettyImages)

STAN HONDA/AFP/GettyImages)

Note:  This post is also available to view on National Newswatch here.

BARACK OBAMA WAS ELECTED ON A GENERATIONAL SEA CHANGE in politics and government. Justin Trudeau, on the other hand, is riding its crest. The American president’s agenda eventually came up against an angry partisan opposition, remaining somewhat unfulfilled. The new Canadian prime minister’s policies have yet to sail through choppy waters.

When the two leaders summited in Washington D.C. last week, there was the unmistakable sense that something new was brewing and that the brief moment in the sun between Obama’s retirement and Trudeau’s arrival was a kind of passing of the torch. But behind each of these men emerged a new social and political force that will make our tomorrow, for better or worse, unlike our present age of democratic underperformance.

For the first time, the abiding and somewhat lackluster political imagination of the Baby Boomers is formidably matched by the Millennial generation – those born from the mid-1980s onwards. We should have noted by now that the key trait of this new political reality is decidedly progressive. Like Trudeau and Obama they view the public estate through a centre to centre-left lens. How else can we explain the massive success of Bernie Sanders with young voters in the American primaries, or Trudeau’s enlistment of over two million new or re-engaged voters in the past federal election? Things are not only changing in both countries, but are transformational in their effect.

Naturally there are many of the younger generation that ascribe to the conservative agenda, but they are the exception, not the rule. Everything else among the Millennials is about a social and economic shifting of gears – the mobilization of the public spirit.

This new force demands transparency over backroom deals, authenticity over authority, social inclusion over historic stereotypes and practices. And unlike their predecessors, who systematically tolerated, even promoted, the shrinking and paucity of the public estate, the Millennials envision a strategic place for government in their collective future. In their own way they are angry, frustrated that two nations that produce more wealth than at any other time in their history would permit so much of it to be frittered away in the pursuit and practice of a narrowing capitalism.

What else should we expect? They face stiffer unemployment than their predecessors, are saddled with unacceptably high student loans, and have watched their wages either stagnate or shrink. They largely played by the rules, went to university or colleges in record numbers in order to secure well-paying jobs to secure their future – the same pattern their parents had employed and enjoyed. Except it didn’t work out for them, or for their respective countries.

And so they are playing the hand they have been dealt with, pressing for environmental renewal, for capitalism with a heart, for a politics that actually includes constituents, and governments that reflect their diverse communities. They shake their heads at a political architecture that still can’t work out wage parity between men and women. They reflect in wonder how countries so resourced and rich can tolerate yawning gaps between the rich and the poor. And they double-down in anger over a political class that has stood by and watched as dignity has been stripped out of hard work.

This new political force has now arrived – revolutionaries, not reactionaries. They want meaning and inclusiveness and they expect their politics and governments to fight for both. They aren’t so much a volatile force as a moral one, and they have the scars to prove it. They are no longer the future we frequently patronize, but the living, breathing present we must now accommodate.

Only months prior to his assassination, Bobby Kennedy made a remarkable observation while addressing a crowd, one that perfectly challenged his generation: “The future is not a gift; it is an achievement.” Fewer observations capture what’s going on right now in politics. Gone are the days when by simply by following a time-honoured agenda that the wealth and individual choices of the future would simply unfold for us. We are living in an era where we must fight back to reclaim the public space, where we get out to vote to change politics itself, and where we link money with meaning again. This is the era which gave us Obama and which propels Justin Trudeau. The recent meetings of the leaders in Washington weren’t so much about the affability of their relationship as this new reality of sacrifice in politics that put them in their lofty positions in the first place. Far from just electing change, this new generation wants to jointly build it.

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