Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Parliamentary Democracy to be Suspended for More Than Two Months

As reported online in today’s Globe and Mail, our sinister Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, plans to suspend Parliament until March. Although he will have to ask permission of the Governor-General, Michele Jean, this is considered a formality, and, indeed, a forgone conclusion given her collusion with the government just over a year ago when she agreed to a Parliamentary ‘time- out’ to prevent the government from falling and being replaced by a coalition consisting of the Liberals, the Bloc, and the NDP.

What is the Harper government fleeing from this time? The answer lies in the parliamentary committee examining alleged government knowledge that our military was contravening the Geneva Convention in handing over Afghan detainees to Afghan authorities who commonly practice torture on its prisoners. Recent testimony by Richard Colvin clearly suggests a cover-up about this knowledge, and the fact that the government has refused the committee’s request for unredacted documents is the most obvious catalyst for this contemptible move by a craven Prime Minister. Harper is doubtlessly counting on the public’s short attention span to be his biggest ally in this shameful attack on freedom of information in particular and democracy in general.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Animal Shows, Human Nature, and Chris Hedges

I recently had the pleasure of watching a Nova special on PBS entitled The Last Great Ape, which profiled the bonobo ape, an endangered species found exclusively in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Aside from its intelligence, the most remarkable aspect of the bonobo is that its matriarchal culture operates on co-operation, not the confrontation and violence that defines its chimpanzee cousin’s way of life. The program tells us that the two species diverged about two million years ago. Given the fact that we all evolved from a common primate ancestor, the program reminds us that human society has elements of both species in its makeup, both the capacity for terrible aggression and life-affirming co-operative behaviour.

So why is this so important to appreciate? I just read a thought-provoking book by Chris Hedges called I Don’t Believe in Atheists, the thesis of which is that both religious fundamentalists and the new atheists (people such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens,) are equally dangerous in that both cling to ideologies that ignore some basic truths about human nature. While the fundamentalists prescribe a very narrow set of beliefs as the way to salvation, condemning all others to the fiery pit of hell, scientist- atheists such as Hitchens and Harris argue for the perfectibility of humanity through scientific progress, going so far as to advocate the extermination of Muslims because of the extremist element responsible for terrorism. What makes both polarities so dangerous is the intolerance of all opposing beliefs, the arrogant belief in the absolute truth of their own positions, and the failure to recognize that humans, by their divided animal nature, can never achieve perfection, either through the acceptance of religious or scientific doctrine.

I found both the program and the book refreshing. As implied in the Nova documentary, and made explicit in Hedges’ book, until we confront and completely acknowledge the immutability of the animal side of our natures, real progress (but never perfectibility) in the human condition is not achievable, and we will be forever susceptible to those demagogues, both religious and secular, who try to convince us that salvation is to be found in a set of beliefs, a set of actions, or a ‘final solution.’

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ah, The Sweet Smell of Integrity

It’s hard, when looking at local, provincial, national and international political behaviour, not to be deeply cynical about human nature. The failure of the Copenhagen Summit is but the latest example of our short-sightedness as a species. But occasionally, something happens that confirms the human capacity for principled and honourable choices. Two such examples are to be found in yesterday’s Globe and Mail.

Entitled “The day the music died,” the article tells of two defections from the opening and closing 2010 Winter Olympics to be held in British Columbia. The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, led by conductor Bramwell Tovey, has decided not to be part of the opening ceremonies because it was asked this week to prerecord its music that would then be mimed by other performers during the spectacle. Seeing this as a gross public deception, Mr. Tovey compared it to Ben Johnson’s victory in 1988, winning gold but later stripped of the medal when he tested positive for steroids that enhanced his performance.

The second defection is by Terry Dove, a performer who auditioned to march and dance in the closing ceremonies. An enthusiast of the Olympics, his ardour has been diminished by the recent treatment of those who oppose them for a variety of reasons. One such person, Marla Renn, faced a long delay and intrusive questioning at the Canada-U.S border, simply because she is known as an anti-Olympics activist.

Both Tovey and Dovey have made very difficult choices here, ones that I think we would find hard to make were we in similar situations. God bless them for their integrity, something the modern Olympics lost many years ago. They are real heroes in my eyes.