Voting for Fear

Last week, I had the opportunity to contest for the federal Green Party nomination in my riding. I didn’t win, but hopefully I was able to get people thinking in different directions and to see that political solutions to our problems may not be the only or best path to ultimate solutions for our society and the planet. I learned some valuable lessons in the process and I learned a lot more about the society I live in.

“How can we get young people to vote?” was a common theme during the question periods. I didn’t really have a good answer either night. The other two candidates didn’t either. Someone brought up that youth in other countries were using social media to organize and why wasn’t that happening in this country? I did venture a guess as to why they are uninterested. They really have nothing to complain about. They are a little bit spoiled and their immersion in the electronic culture distracts them. But a more interesting question to me is: why do older people care so much?

I think it is fear.

Canadian politics at the federal level appears to me to be based on fear. As we grow older, we begin to pay more attention to the social and political environment that we have spent our lives living on the periphery of. This awareness leads to the unquiet certainty that there is something seriously wrong with the world. We see wars and threats of wars, the dissolution of civil society manifested by crime, economic woes, inequalities in income and wealth, environmental degradation and the ascension to power of ideologies that we do not agree with. Politicians exploit this fear. They use it to gain members, to solicit funds and every once and a while, they can scare up some votes. If it wasn’t for fear, I fear that our federal political system would face a crisis of identity, of purpose and of meaning.

I guess that it really shouldn’t be that surprising. We are only human beings after all. I look around every day and see fear. We are individually afraid of many things in everyday life. A major societal fear that we all share is the fear of change, disruption and the unknown. Politicians will promise change, talk about change and even demand that things must change (think Obama), but once elected will do everything they can to keep things from changing. People then see them as steady, conservative (in the real meaning, not the co-opted political meaning) and the kind of people who should be running things, the incumbents. When disruptive events or ideas intrude on this conversation, they are shunned, avoided or otherwise marginalized by the politicians and the public. As we age, fear, leading to conservatism, drives us to keep things safe, to keep them the same.

This thread of fear runs through the very fabric of the political parties we have created to represent us. The Conservative party uses fear of class with a hard dose of morality to play to its base. The Liberal party uses fear of the Conservatives and fear of the socialists to play to its. The NDP uses fear of economic and social inequality. All three play to the fear of poverty, their unwavering support for the growth economy and jobs, jobs, jobs speaks to this. The Greens use fear as well, fear that we may have destroyed the world in pursuit of profit. They too play the jobs card, but of the four, only the Greens appear to have much of a plan that makes any sense for what they would do with a rise to power.

The cultivation and expansion of needs is the antithesis of wisdom. It is also the antithesis of freedom and peace. Every increase of needs tends to increase one’s dependence on outside forces over which one cannot have control, and therefore increases existential fear. Only by a reduction of needs can one promote a genuine reduction in those tensions which are the ultimate causes of strife and war. – E. F. Schumacher, Small Is Beautiful

We live in a society based on fear. Fear of losing our health, our homes, our jobs and ultimately, our lives. All of these fears make us vulnerable to those who would allay our fears. They tell us to buy certain products and we will save the world. Vote for us and we will keep the poor out of your neighbourhoods. Vote and the fear will go away, for a little while at least until we need you to fear again. How can we break the cycle? How can we build a better system, one that doesn’t run on fear? Schumacher tells us how. Reduce the things in our lives that we cannot control. Reduce our needs. This is difficult. People do not want to hear that it is their turn to “take one for the team”. They will go to almost any length to deny that the most effective solution to our problems relies on the opposite of everything that is comfortable, everything that we have been taught is necessary, everything we have been brought to believe about our economy and what we might actually need to survive and prosper on this terribly finite planet. We talk of electric/hybrid/biofuel cars instead of no cars. We talk of sustainable/green/ecofriendly products instead of no products. We talk about economic growth, 3.5% to 5% per year, forever. We sign up for every single thing that someone else can do for us for a buck. We let someone else grow our food, build our shelter, teach our children. We offload all of the essentials of life, we depend on them to do their part. We are dependent. And we are afraid.

Our culture, the civilization that it has brought to the forefront of human existence, the societies that have grown to dominate the Empire that we will all get to watch as it collapses, are all badly broken. Want to buy an electric car? I would be more concerned with locking down your food supply. “Shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic” comes to mind. Real solutions to peak oil and climate change do not include cars or air conditioners or food that travels 3500 miles to get to your plate. Real solutions start with individual changes towards a sustainable life. They progress through societal changes to develop a humane and sustainable society. I am convinced that unless we can remove the fear from our society, our political systems will simply remain a badly broken remnant of a past better forgotten.

As it ever was…

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