Sunday, February 24, 2008

political rant

I'm home to the snow & ice of mid-Canada from a sun-filled trip to Cuba (Feb. 13-20) with my partner, who does not wish to be described. Some notes on the experience are on my other blog at Livejournal, where I post as "Lizardlez."

Cuba is not a rich or glamorous country. Everyone knows this. We were approached by Cubans working at the hotel where we were staying (part of a package deal - for more info, look up "Sunwing Airlines") who wanted to practice their English and subtly complain about low pay & long hours. The hostess of a delightful bed-and-breakfast place in a cobblestoned village on the south coast of Cuba told my partner (in Spanish, their shared language) that everyone she knows wants to escape, immigrate, defect to the U.S. They seem to imagine that life there is just like in the movies.

Everyone wants to live in a place which does not exist, with a beautifully temperate climate and satisfying jobs for all, plus a social safety net to soften the blow of disease, accident, job-loss, unexpected bolts from the blue. Socialist utopia has never existed & probably never will, but much of the "bad luck" besetting the many is systemic and unnecessary.

Some time ago, someone sent me an email on why they (email correspondent) had never been a "liberal" because practice and theory are different things. Here is my response.

Why I have never been a Republican or a Conservative

I'm a woman of (ahem) a certain age, and I have seen too much to believe the hype from the Right. (I don't believe the hype from the extreme Left either, but this is not the topic of today's sermon.)

I live in Saskatchewan, a large rectangle near the middle of Canada which most people in large urban centers regard as The Back of Beyond. However, I watch the media when I’m not traveling to various cultural Meccas and sunny beaches. Everyone who lives anywhere can observe reality, as distinct from theory.

Conservative/Republican/Jingoist American Theory tells us that the U.S. is the only "free country" (as I was taught as a child in Idaho), where the Yoke of Tyranny has been thrown off, and a system of "checks and balances" allows the almighty People to control the government, rather than vice versa. Monopolies presumably can't take root in a system of "free enterprise."

Hoo ha.

Visiting any city in the U.S. from a place (such as Saskatchewan) with a tradition of grass-roots socialism is educational.

U.S. cities are great places to visit if you don't have to live there. The stores full of consumer goods (for those who can pay), the sights, the fashion, the music, the art, the restaurants, the architecture are all very hip. All you need is $$$$.

Goddess forbid that one get injured or come down with a serious illness without having adequate medical insurance. In the Land of the Free, you're free to die.

If you can't find a unionized, relatively well-paid job, you're also free to live on the sidewalk until the cops tell you to move on.

And of course, if you own anything, you are a target for those who don't, so increasing amounts of your income need to be spent on good security systems for your house, your car, your person. Even then, you can't be sure you're safe.

The movie Ghost Busters includes an explanation of the river of psychic green slime that flows under a representative U.S. city which looks like New York. Most folks don't actually see it, but they feel it and know it's there.

In the Land of the Free, you have the freedom to hate and fear: fear the Man (if you have nothing), and what he can do to you, fear the riff-raff (if you have good grounds for thinking they resent you and want your stuff) and what they can do to you, hate & fear those who don't look like you or live like you.

You also have the freedom to breathe polluted air and drink polluted water, thanks to the freedom enjoyed by Big Business to exploit the resources that God supposedly gave only to those with capital.

Those of us who live elsewhere know it doesn't have to be like this - at least, not this extreme.

But if you live in the Land of the Free, you assume that what you see is normal, no matter how bizarre or painful to you personally. This is because the "free press" tells you that this is as good as it gets and if you dream of anything better, you are a flaky idealist who believes in pie in the sky.

Is it really naive to believe that the richest nation on earth could fund its public school system adequately? (This is not a reference to curriculum, but to crumbling walls, broken windows, outdated and dog-eared books, and blatant advertising in schools by Coke and Pepsi because they are providing needed financial support.)

Is it naive to believe that REAL "family values" must include some responsibility for children on the part of fathers (including non-biological co-parents), and practical support for mothers who must work outside the home, as well as for their kids?

Is it naive to believe that an ounce of social-problem prevention is worth a pound of cure? (This means that even if investing in day-care, schools, the welfare system, libraries, training programs, job-creation and other social services looks like throwing money at the undeserving poor, it's better than having to spend ever-increasing amounts on the police and the prisons, not to mention the military.)

The real problem with Right-Wing Theory is that, in some sense, THERE IS NO PLAN. This is the meaning of "Laissez-faire," which (like other French phrases such as “mange de la merde”) sounds more appealing than it really is.

From a conservative viewpoint, leftist idealism is easy to laugh at because practice usually falls short of theory. When the well-intentioned theory is interpreted by a zealot who wants to run the world, the practice can be appallingly unsocialist by the standards of those who want the greatest comfort for the greatest number. This is not surprising.

It's still better to have a plan than no plan. Laissez-faire capitalism arose more-or-less haphazardly from the ruins of feudalism, and a good thing too. That doesn't mean it is the greatest economic means of advancing civilization.

"Let It Be" or "Let It Happen" means: let the robber-barons take over, let the drug lords take over certain neighborhoods, cities, nations, let a high crime rate force all potential victims to live under siege, let people die of hunger and disease as they did in the Middle Ages.

Is no design more intelligent than this? If none of the alternatives work, why does a certain degree of government planning for maximum general survival work in the Scandinavian countries and (probably to a lesser extent) the rest of Europe? Why does it still work (sort-of) in Canada, despite decades of attrition from the Right?

Due to the gap between theory and practice, I'm probably ill-suited to belong to any political party because, sooner or later, they all let me down - and not only me. But I can't accomplish anything by staying completely out of the political process, so I still look for the least-worst party in terms of who has the most sensible plan to prevent the rich from eating the poor. In an imperfect world, that's the party that gets my vote.


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