An Oddly Intimate Stranger

“What I *really* want as a representative in parliament is somebody who will think through the issues, from a principled position, and with whom I generally agree on the major points of values, goals, and what constitutes a good and decent world… I also would like my representative to be less beholden to party politics, almost as though I elected an adult with a brain to make important decisions on my behalf, not merely a seat warmer to stand and sit at the behest of the party whip. I’m so demanding, aren’t I?” (Comment I made on another blog turned Facebook update turned inspiration for a post of my very own.)

As I said after the election, I’m not particularly interested in uniting the voices and devolving to a two-party system. The nature of reality is too complex to choose reasonably between a slate of two sets of policies and call it a mandate. The idea of strategic voting is still more problematic. Here’s my best description of strategic voting: Figure out the least uncomfortable making of the slates of policies. Now try to guess how the other voters in your area are going to vote. Now try to guess how to cast your ballot to get the least distressing of the other slates of policies, even if you disagree with the majority of them, so that the worst one doesn’t get elected by everybody trying to play the same game on the other side. YUCK!

We claim to have a representative democracy, so I want to take a moment to talk to the hypothetical representative that comes about at the end of all of this guessing, second-guessing, and manipulation. Platforms are the stuff that dreams are made of, in a perfect world, where nothing goes wrong, and in which the money magically turns out to be what the other guy claimed it was before you went to the polls. So, to be clear… even if I voted for you, I probably don’t agree with your complete platform, and I have absolutely no faith that you will implement the parts that I did vote for. I want to be clear exactly how much trust I am placing in you, and I want everybody else to be clear… because I think that this awareness is glossed over, and I think that looking at it more clearly would get to the heart of a lot of the anger, fear, and vitriol that sweeps around in politics.

What I am agreeing to in this rather painful and nasty process is to let you think for me.

I don’t let anybody else do that. I don’t let parents, I don’t let my husband, I don’t let my teachers… when I can get to the Unitarian church, I don’t even let my minister do that. But this is the agreement that we are under when you go to Ottawa on my behalf. I will let you make decisions and I will abide by them (since you get to make laws that leave me no choice.) Not only that, but if I go somewhere else in the world, other people will judge me on the basis of the decisions you made… even if I disagreed, even if they were made surreptitiously, behind closed doors, and even if they were made dishonestly. This is the level of intimacy that is asked for in a representative democracy.

I become uncomfortable and upset when I feel that I had no real say in who, exactly, was going to have that role. Or when it is implied that all dissent must now disappear for four years until our next paltry little X on a slip of paper. And that is really the point of this whole post.

It took me a lot of soul searching to get to the heart of why my reaction to this election was not irritation or disappointment, but fear and dismay. Because even if I did have that level of trust in my immediate representative, even if that process were something that left me comfortable, the next level of power-concentration has exactly the same problems, only at a further remove. So when I hear people saying, “This isn’t the Canada I thought it was,” I understand the sentiment. It means that a process I don’t agree with left me with somebody that I don’t trust doing my thinking and speaking for me on the world stage. And it means that I anticipate having to apologize for choices I never would have made. And at some level, it just doesn’t feel very good, having this level of moral entanglement with a complete stranger.

And now, having solved the problem of my left-wing despair, but concluding that it is a battleship not of my turning, I look away from politics once more, and back to the more immediate problems of building local community, growing food, and finding the nature of truth in the face of complex hermeneutical difficulties.

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2 thoughts on “An Oddly Intimate Stranger

  1. Yes. Well put.

    Lately I’ve also been wondering if there aren’t more ways to bring the public deeper into that decision-making process. At this point, technology is at a stage where we don’t really need to send people to Ottawa just to vote on bills. We could all do that from our computers. The hard part is the process of negotiation and compromise that goes into prioritizing those bills and hammering out a budget. At this point, even most MPs don’t get much say in that process. The binary yes/no decision that ends the process is really the least thoughtful part of the whole thing.

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