Thursday, March 06, 2008

Dragging the people along

As I pointed out in my recent post, democracy is not so easy to measure. The sine qua non of democracy is generally felt to be "free and fair elections". But that begs quite a few questions: Can you have "free and fair" elections without freedom of the press? How was the list of candidates assembled? Is wealth a precondition for running? Have there been any implicit or explicit threats conditional on the outcome?

But there's a lot more to democracy that elections ("free and fair" or otherwise). Elected representatives should be responsive to their constituents' concerns. When those concerns are consistently ignored, there is clearly a problem.

This has been just the case with Canadian public opinion on the war in Afghanistan. According to public opinion polling conducted by The Strategic Counsel for The Globe and Mail and CTV News, since the summer of 2006, a majority of Canadians have opposed sending troops to Afghanistan. In the poll of January 10th-13th, 47% said they would like to see Canadian troops return as soon as possible, 31% said the troops should remain in Afghanistan but hand over their combat role to another NATO country, and just 17% said that they should continue their combat role against the Taliban.
Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.
                                   — Hermann Göring
These words are chilling, not just because they were uttered by one of the top Nazis, but because they continue to be put into practice.

What're we fightin' for?

According to the government:
Our goal is to protect Canadians by ensuring that Afghanistan never again falls into the hands of the Taliban and that Afghanistan becomes a stable, free and democratic society.
Interestingly, despite the grandiose language, the supposed danger is only hinted at.

To boost support for the war, it helps to fan the flames of patriotism. And what better way than banners and decals proclaiming "We support our troops!" In several cities across Canada, including Ottawa and Toronto (where there was considerable controversy), decals have been put on police cars and fire engines.

Proponents claim that there's nothing wrong with this, that it's just expressing concern for the wellbeing of Canadian troops. But as many have pointed out, there's a political message here and dissent is being marginalized. It seems to me that putting political messages on public vehicles damages democracy.

To further stifle debate, here's General Rick Hillier, Canada's Chief of Defense Staff:
I'm not going to stand here and tell you that the suicide bombings of this past week have been related to the debate back here in Canada. But I also cannot stand here and say that they are not.
Imposing democracy

The great irony is that these anti-democratic developments are justified as advancing the cause of democracy in Afghanistan. But as Ghandi said:
The spirit of democracy cannot be imposed from without. It has to come from within.

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Blogger Raywat Deonandan said...

Hmm, I see some questionable people are linking to this post. But I guess that's the nature of democracy, huh?

10:33 AM, March 10, 2008  
Blogger Nick Barrowman said...

I would say blogs bring some interesting twists on ideas about democracy. Some people seem to think that every blog should be a democracy, which is silly. The owner of a blog can do whatever she/he wants with it (including deleting questionable comments). At the same time nobody can control who links to a website. What is scary is when authoritarian regimes monitor Internet traffic and block certain URLs. It's also scary what titles some people give their blog posts!

4:26 PM, March 10, 2008  
Blogger babooshka said...

Agree with Nick it's far scarier that Certain url are blocked, and that regime monitoring occurs, take china for instance.

Blogging is deomcratic, which i applaud, but as always with democracy there will be the odd idiot out there who blogging has given a voice to.

7:58 PM, March 25, 2008  
Blogger Nick Barrowman said...

I agree. Sometimes when people make disparaging remarks about blogs in general they are really just demonstrating their anti-democratic tendencies. I think the idiots are—as Douglas Adams put it—mostly harmless. (Of course he was referring to the whole planet!)

10:44 PM, March 25, 2008  
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