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2007 06 14
Culture & Multiculture 8: The Democratic Imperative

Part of an ongoing series interrogating cultural issues in light of Toronto’s unsurpassed multiculture – and Canada’s role as one of the world’s most free and democratic societies

Be a little longer. Before searching the meaning and origins of our tolerance. What it is making Toronto multiculture and Canadian freedom and democracy so exemplary. Just a while longer. Not much point starting while there’s so much denying going on. Such denial of our multiculturalism, of our freedom and of our democracy.

Case in pointless. Few days ago, Harper pressed Putin on democratic behaviour. Made the Friday, June 8th Globe and Mail headline – Harper presses Putin on democratic behaviour. Friendly advice from one arctic-circle neighbour to another. Don’t go flipping cartwheels when criticized. Be cool, man. Chill. Putin, though, was like – Oh yeah? You ain’t so cool. You aren’t that democratic. Canada gets all kinds of criticized on human-rights and democracy.

Unfazed, Harper totally admitted it. Near bragged about it. Yes, indeed Canada gets criticized. But that’s just it when it comes to democracy. Not flipping cartwheels. Rather than flip out, “.. we’re prepared to listen to it and be open to it, and allow that kind of debate to occur in our society. That's the real test, not whether we're perfect, but whether criticism can happen and is tolerated and is part of the political process.”

No telling Putin’s reaction. Globe headline didn’t say. If he even got the point. Globe readers, though – seemed they didn’t get there was a point. Going by most commentary, Globe readers lost all critical faculties at first mention of Harper’s name.

Cases in pointless. Gary Mulcahey wrote, “’Harper presses Putin on democratic behaviour'… Aaaah, ha ha ha ha. That's rich. Pot, meet kettle.” Andrew S. wrote, “Given Harpo's trackrecord of secrecy and authoritarian rule, shouldn't Putin be pressing Harpo on democratic reform?” And Cryin Outloud wrote,
Canada has never in my opinion been a democracy. Until every person is voting and counted we are not a democracy. Until I and everyone else has a say in every policy that is being made for me and my country we are not a democracy… If Harper is the best a 'democracy' can do then we are not a democracy!
That’s how it went with readers commenting. Mostly. With but rare exceptions – such as C. H. Oakley’s: “As if Harper's refusal to speak with inconvenient journalists is somehow the same as Putin's murdering them. Get a sense of perspective, folks.”

Perspective indeed. Not on Harper nor Putin – how cool they may, may not or might have been. Perspective on our democracy. Better get some. That’s the whole point.

And fair enough. Canadian society isn’t genuinely democratic. Been saying so for over a decade. It’s true. True since, in putatively free and democratic societies such as ours:
Genuine democracy is constitutionally guaranteed,
But only Representative democracy is practiced –
And representation is not genuine.
Thus, representative democracy practiced here isn’t genuinely democratic.
Seriously. Despite constitutional guarantee, Canada is not genuinely democratic. Only represents itself democratically. And we know too well how genuine representation isn’t.

Representation is not genuine – therefore representative democracy is not genuinely democratic. Not only is it true – that representation is never genuine. In fact, it’s so blatant we can’t help knowing how true it is. No matter how we try, it invariably keeps getting too blatant to ignore. What is it we find each time we open the morning paper or turn on the evening news? What do we encounter near every single time? Corruption. Scandalous corruption oozing from every seat of governance. Are we ever surprised any more? Hardly. We expect it.

Can’t help knowing about it. Because in our representative democracy we don’t go speaking for ourselves. Must elect others speaking on our behalf. And can we – the people – hear our representatives properly speaking for us as pledged? In our best interests? Speaking on our behalf faithfully, devotedly, reliably – even at all adequately? As if. Were they all saints then maybe – just maybe we’d hear them speaking for us instead of themselves. But saints is precisely what our representatives aren’t. Our representatives are politicians. They promise speaking on our behalf in order to get all our say. So how much say have we really got in our lives? How genuinely democratic is our representative democracy? Given how we’re all spoken for by politicians – not saints.

We’d never stand for taxation without representation. But taxation with false representation? Well, that’s alright.

But, if so, then have we got no say in our lives at all? None? Does nothing distinguish Canadian society from totalitarian regimes? Can’t be. Plainly and obviously not. Too obviously, to those of us originating from totalitarian regimes, from where thugs with machine guns rounded every corner. The difference glares so obvious it’s hard even to describe. Where to start? There, in totalitarian regimes, questioning authority or merely speaking out of turn provoked potentially fatal consequences. In places like that, where people had no say whatsoever in their lives, there was no going around questioning, “Hmmmm.. how much say do we have in our lives? C’mon. Honestly. How much say have we really got?” Nope. Questioning how much say one’s got in life where there’s none permitted – one wouldn’t long survive the answer. Wouldn’t have much life remaining to speak of. Wherever people got no say in their lives, they neither speak nor go asking questions about it. They know the answer far too well and ever too intimately. Intimately as fear.

The difference is entirely too obvious to those originating from totalitarian regimes. Not only, though. It’s plain enough for all. No need to have been hit over the head and crushed beneath curtains of iron. Like C. H. Oakley said. It’s plain as the difference between not speaking with journalists – and murdering them. It’s plain as the difference between borders designed to keep anyone from getting out – and borders designed to keep everyone from rushing in.

What is it, though? What is this plain and too obvious difference distinguishing totalitarian regimes from our not genuinely democratic society? Not so much – in theory. Nothing but pretending.

We are fully prepared to agree with our representatives ruling us – just so long as they keep pretending to represent us. We don’t expect public servility. They can go right on ruling. Break each single promise they ever made getting us agreeing with them ruling. Fine. Just so long as they don’t get totally blatant about it.

When our pretend representatives get too blatantly arrogant about ruling – about not representing us – that’s when things get revolting. Right? Like when Mulroney got too blatantly arrogant. Leading us around with his chin the way he did. Quite ruined conservative political partying for some years. Or when the liberals began tossing our public purse around like it was their private cookie jar. With Chretien shouting stuff sounding too much like “L’etat c’est moi!” from the side of his mouth. Far too much. No option but liberal de-throning.

Must at least seem like trying to represent the peasants – um, the people – in order to rule around here. It’s impossible, of course – but must look like trying. Must pretend. That’s what our representative but not genuinely democratic society is all about. We all pretend and gladly keep pretending. Sure, we know better. We know we can’t expect our representatives to actually be representing us. But, so long as they do a decent job pretending representing us – fine, we’ll gladly run along pretending too. We don’t demand they succeed. We only demand they do a decent enough job pretending.

It’s only when our representatives don’t even bother doing a decent job pretending representing us that we get all scandalized. Can’t they even manage pretending? We’re not surprised by perpetual corruption – we know they’re just pretending. But of course we get scandalized when they don’t even bother finding rugs to sweep it under. When it starts squelching our feet. Reeking in our faces. When our representatives make such total mess and mockery of representing us, we have no option but getting scandalized – when there’s just no pretending any longer. If we can’t even pretend then we’re right back to having our justice, legislation, even constitution mean no more than words, words, words. When we can’t even pretend, the plugged nickel of our non-genuine democracy comes unplugged. Then we altogether agree someone else should pretend representing us for a while. Anyone else.

Like, what’s wrong with these people? Can’t they even manage pretending to represent us? If they can’t even manage to play pretend then for sure they’re not competent to be in charge. Hell, if they can’t even manage pretending then how do they manage tying their own shoelaces? Are they even toilet trained? If they can’t manage pretending, can they manage anything for real? Anything at all? Who knows – but no way are they getting their filthy, corrupt, incompetent say in our lives any longer.

That’s the difference between totalitarian regimes and societies that aren’t genuinely democratic – like ours. Just pretending. Doesn’t sound like much in theory. The tiniest of steps. In practice, though, it’s huge. The vastest of leaps. In totalitarian regimes there’s no credible pretence that people have any say in their lives. Kings, dictators and Dearest Leaders rather tend to bragging about it: “L’etat c’est moi.” Not so in Canada. Here, those in power must keep pretending they aren’t. They must pretend they’re subject to the people – that they’re only representing the people.

There’s such a long way to go. Such a long way – and chances all stacked against arriving. Against our ever making it to what genuine democracy entails. Having every say in our own lives. We’ve now officially got two nations, one state in Canada. How about the First Nations, then? Rather overdue. And why stop at many nations, one state? How about countless nations – no state? How about self-representation for all? How about sovereignty association for each, every and single one of us? How about an end and a riddance to the legitimacy of coercion? A complete final realizing that what’s written at the end of a gun is never truth?

Such a long way. But it’s in Canada we’re finding paths and blazing trails. Where else but Canada? Two nations, one state. Where else are states sufficiently democratic to cohere any plurality of nations – absent threat of terminal force or the universal bloodletting so historically definitive of statehood? Not even in the United States – wouldn’t have remained united, when pushing got shoving, but for Civil War. Certainly not in the former Soviet Union – or Yugoslavia. By no means in China, Tibet and Taiwan. Nowhere in the Islamic Middle East. Not so very much in Africa. Nor that plainly in Basque Spain. Maybe in Northern Ireland. Just maybe ever so recently.

For sure in Canada. Blazing trails to more genuine democracy. And right here in Toronto. Thriving our multiculture from countless nations. Increasingly concerted in common identity by our cultural principle of tolerance. Such long ways remain to go. But it’s here the trails are blazed.

And that’s just it. What the opponents – the ideological enemies – of democracy deny. When agitating claims against Canadian democracy they don’t mean to say we blaze trails but fall short of genuine democracy. To the contrary. They mean to claim Canada as seat of subjugation – and Canadians as victimizers.

They’d rather we stop speaking of Canada as any kind of free or democratic – even if only in relative terms. Way they think it, positive speaking of Canadian democracy contravenes some or all following: past European imperialism, broken native treaties, assimilation and residential schools, menial labour of Carribean people, menial labour of professional southeast Asian people, and any sort of social inequality whatsoever.

Any sort of social inequality whatsoever. The Irish had a hard go when first arriving. See? Canadians aren’t so tolerant. Italians were totally discriminated against when first arriving. So much for the multicultural mosaic myth. Heard about the Chinese head tax? What kind of free and democratic society does that? And how about Japanese internment? There. Rampaging discrimination, prejudice and bigotry. Canadian intolerance rampant over fields, streams and entire domains of oppression. Flying bells, whistles, banners and streamers of subjugation and suppression. No justice – no peace! Silence is violence!

Fair enough. No denying social inequality in Canada. However. There’s no denying social inequality anywhere at any time throughout human history. There’s no denying subjugation throughout human history. What people have not been oppressed?

Most of all, it is pointless denying the ideological roots of subjugation of any one people by another. Since the very identity and cohesion of collectivity, of all people is rooted in ideas, ideals and ideology. In cultural principle(s).

Not just pointless, denying the ideal and ideological roots of identity. Utterly and perpetuatingly destructive. Since it is from ideological divergence that oppressive, coercive conflict unremittingly arises. And so long as the ideal and ideological roots of conflicting identities are not realized – nor admitted – subjugation shall continue unabated and not understood. Unavoidable. Nevermind effectively resisted.

The ideological roots of conflict. Divergence and inconsistence in ideals, ideology and cultural principles from which conflicts can’t fail but arise. Differences entailed by commitment to divergent ideas – ideas which reflect no description of the world that is but rather meanings, definitions and principles of worlds that ought to be. Differences which reflect cultural not-understanding or ideological disagreeing but which, provided sufficient tolerance, may prove enhancing. Like, what if all peoples experience conflict when regarding each other as strangers but, provided sufficient mutual tolerance, they may become friends? What if, provided sufficient tolerance, they become one? United as a singular people particularly by the cultural principle of tolerance?

That’s what sets us apart as Torontonians and Canadians. Not that once we were strangers. Not that we’ve had conflicts – as if anyone anywhere hasn’t. It’s principled tolerance distinguishing us – our multiculture and our relative democracy. It’s tolerance so enviably enabling resolving our conflicts. Bringing about our uniquely reasonable accommodating. As Haroon Siddiqui wrote in his March 8th, 2007 Toronto Star article – Don’t give in to prevailing prejudices – it’s the “.. honourable Canadian tradition...” That’s right: “..finding reasonable accommodation for a myriad of minority practices.”

That’s what sets us apart. And look. Canadians of Japanese, Chinese, Italian descent – they’re not doing so bad any more. Some few even have become established. As for the Irish.. well, there’s nothing so wrong a good stiff drink won’t fix. Silence is violence – but liquor is quicker.

Bottom line. The deniers of our relatively free, democratic, multicultural society seek to disable the language of democracy, self-determination and responsibility – and perpetuate the language of victimhood. But our best – our only – hope transcending conflictual subjugating emerges from our cultural principle of tolerance as democratic behaviour. What point, then, in overtly denying our democratic behaviour? Much suspicion has the denial motive as seeking to perpetuate subjugating. That by endless agitating putative oppression and victimization, the deniers seek not to combat subjugating – but to get their so long and bitterly overdue turn at subjugating. Which turn at subjugating is, of course, necessarily consistent with their ideology of class struggling. Their ideologies of subjugation, of warfare by economic class or gender or race or any potentially politic material difference whatsoever.

[Peter Fruchter is a part-time faculty member in the Division of Humanities at York University. He writes about the nature of truth (and truths of nature). North America is his third continent. Toronto Culture and Multiculture is an ongoing series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7]

[Protester image by Grant Neufeld and used via Creative Commons.]
[email this story] Posted by Peter Fruchter on 06/14 at 02:17 PM

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