Sometime around three decades ago, the modernized and industrialized Western nations permitted a new political construct to leak into their language – the “Left” versus the “Right”. Nothing has been the same since. With two sides now clearly defined, people moved fairly quickly to one or the other. There were two real problems with this.
The first is that it never effectively reflected the complexity of Canada itself. We were a pragmatic people whose official political landscape wasn’t about one side or the other but how to coalesce around the middle as a means of benefitting the majority of the population.
The second problem with Left versus Right is that there was no real sustainability built into the terms. By their very nature they were opposites and battles were the inevitable result. It was no longer about compromise, but winning. That being the case, most Canadians showed little interest in such a construct and just went on about their business, leaving the battlefield to the political professionals who showed little interest in the public space.
And now there is the third great problem: neither side is relevant anymore. Consider this. A recent report that has received all kinds of attention purports that in the U.S. the rich have gained $5.6 trillion in the financial recovery, while the remainder lost $669 billion. The richest 8 million families saw their wealth rise, on average, from $1.7 million to $2.5 million each. Meanwhile the 111 million families that constituted the bottom 93% suffered a decline of $6,000 each.
None of us are surprised at these numbers because we’ve believed the game has been rigged for some time. In 2012, on Wall Street, the top hedge fund manager earned in one hour as much as the average American family in 21 years. Surprised? One would have thought the huge lending institutions, including the banks, that brought on the economic downfall would have had to foot some of the bill for the recovery. Instead, Wall Street leaders pressed governments at all levels to cut public expenditures, slash public employment, and use public funds to bail out the big guys.
We aren’t shocked by such developments anymore, but what is interesting is that in the U.S. both governments from the Left and the Right basically enabled the same outcome.
And then we play the game of observing that these are American numbers, not Canadian. The influences are the same, however – groups lamenting that corporate taxes are too high, governments are too big, regulations are too numerous, and Canadians are just too distracted to care. Unemployment not only remains stubbornly high, the majority of the jobs recovered from the recent economic downturn now make less than $15 an hour. Yes, new jobs have appeared, but you might need two or three of them to support the standard of living you enjoyed two decades ago.
Well-known Canadian entrepreneur and former under Secretary General of the United Nations, Maurice Strong, witnessed the birth of the Left-Right divide and worried that it might place economic matters above all else on the global agenda. “Most of the valid needs as yet unsatisfied are of a non-material nature.” He was right then, and he’s right now. And neither the Left nor the Right have any answer to this. Canadians instinctively know this and thus turn away from the political order as a subtle means of protest. The professional political soldiers keep duking it out, but the front has already moved someplace else.
American political observer Jim Wallis observed these developments at the same time as Strong. His conclusion was fundamental to how we need to move on in our political and social language:
It is time for both the left and the right to admit that they have run out of imagination, that the categories of liberal and conservative are dysfunctional, and that was is needed is a radicalism beyond both the right and the left, which is neither liberal nor conservative but fully compassionate and just.”
The premise of a “society”, especially a democratic one, is that its participants are in general agreement and are willing to work together for solutions. But when its political system is one of perpetual combat and “take no prisoners”, it is hard to understand how a good society can keep from becoming a dysfunctional one.