I don’t really like talking about politics. It is one area of conversation where people cease to be polite at all and will basically flat out call you an idiot if you choose to think or vote opposite to them. There is not really a spirit of intellectual debate about it as there is bullying and name calling. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising at all considering the House of Commons is worse that kids on a playground. All the snide back and forths, and standing to applaud their party’s best put down… I don’t know why politicians aren’t embarrassed by their behaviour. I am embarrassed for them.
During Elections in Ontario today, I don’t know anybody who has told me they are voting for a candidate because they like them or believe what they are saying in their campaigns. Almost every single person is voting based on a “lesser of two evils”, and strategically trying to vote out one person, rather than voting in another.
I don’t think Democracy is supposed to constantly put citizens “between a rock and a hard place”. I am not a poli-sci major, political journalist or anything even close, but I personally feel democracy is broken.
When I was in Greece, I went on a walking tour with a very talented guy named George (I couldn’t pronounce the Greek version of his name). He was born Greek and studied Archeology and History at Cambridge and at one point of the tour he led us away from the Ancient Agora to a small street to chat about Democracy. It was the best lesson on the topic I have ever heard and so today, instead of telling you to go out and vote or who to vote for (you big idiot!), I am going to tell you what I learned about the origins of Democracy.
(My apologies to any scholars, this is the abridged version as told by George and remembered by Katie)
In the Beginning…
It is incorrect to say that Ancient GREEKS created Democracy. Greece didn’t exist as a unified thing yet. It was a bunch of city-states that ran themselves independently of one another. It was the Ancient ATHENIANS who created democracy and to be honest, the other would-be Greeks thought they were totally nuts.
Way, way, back many centuries ago Athenians realized that their system of government was failing. The two major causes: Tyrants & Demagogues. Let’s look at this definition for a second as it seems WAY too appropriate after the last round of campaign commercials…
a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.
synonyms: rabble-rouser, agitator, political agitator, soapbox orator, firebrand,fomenter, provocateur
Isn’t it interesting that by the definition this applies to all our major political parties right now, and that the synonyms all sound aggressive and negative vs. inspiring and “good leader”-esque?
So the Athenians realized people with too much power were pulling too many strings. The government wasn’t for all the people, it was for those who had the money to control it. This was a major problem.
First off, all Athenians saw it as their duty to participate in the governing of their city-state. You didn’t have to send facebook reminders to tell people to vote, they just knew it was their duty to do it. You could not have a representation of the people if each person did not represent themselves first.
Now, in order to ensure that tyrants and demagogues could not buy their way into power or buy favour with those elected, the Athenians did two things.
1. Once a year, every citizens name was put into a large bingo machine (it was actually the forerunner to what bingo halls used to use) and from that they would draw names for the government positions. That way, there was little use trying to buy votes and popularity because it was all left to chance. One year you might have a noted philosopher running the city. The next you might have a farmer. The poor and elite has equal opportunity to make the important decisions that dictated how the city operated.
Now, there was a problem the first few years of the draw system, because not everyone was qualified for the jobs being given to them. If you couldn’t read, your job reading new policy proposals would be very difficult. So free, equal education became a matter of PARAMOUNT importance to EVERYONE. When we look back at the golden age of classics that just exploded with philosophers, mathematicians, playwrights and the like, we idealize it and wonder how it was possible. But it was possible when everyone took it as their civic duty to better themselves. Right now, I feel like most of us better ourselves for personal gain and higher status in society instead of bettering ourselves for how we can help our country. You know, the whole “It’s not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” type thing. You don’t just need to fight for your country. You need to educate yourself and help to educate others. This is also how theatre became a thriving art form because the Greeks saw it as tool for education as well as entertainment. If you were too poor to afford a theatre ticket, the state would pay for it because the experience was an essential part of your education (let’s bring this back, shall we?!). So education was first and foremost. (People still pretend it is today, but I am not even going to get started on how messed up the system is now…)
To guard against anyone becoming too popular or powerful, the Athenians also implemented a second measure:
2. Once a year, citizens were asked to enter a name of any person they thought was becoming too powerful or popular. If any person had too many votes they were then promptly exiled for 10 years.
How great would that be?! Take that Rob Ford! See you in a decade, Justin Bieber! Maybe you’ll have grown out of your douchey ways by then! (fat chance…) After 10 years that person was allowed to come back and it was hoped that in their decade absence their power and influence would have dissipated and if not, you could always vote to exile them again. It would certainly be a deterrent for power-hungry people to abuse their position or authority.
The sad truth is that if I had the chance to exile people today, I would pick Tim Hudak AND Kathleen Wynne. Out of all the people in the province, we have to choose between the successors and mentees of the two most notorious and reviled Ontario Premiers to date. How is that supposed to inspire confidence and hope for our economy and provincial well being? Leaders who will buy us through fear, lies, and misleading soundbites?
Democracy is important. It cost many lives to win this privilege. I will honour those lives and my freedom by voting tonight. But it will be done with a sense of irony as I think of how far we have come in the opposite direction of what the wise founders of Democracy intended, and it will not be for a party that I only choose because I like the other party less. I don’t support demagogues.
Thanks George. It was a really great lesson!