Cynicism and Inspiration: A Call to Action

Monday, February 11, 2008


Written by Tristan Dineen

There has been a lot of talk about the level of cynicism in this country, perhaps too much talk, and almost always centered on the youth and their stubborn unwillingness to participate in the political process. Parents who grew up in the euphoria of the Trudeau years and who vote as a matter of course seem to be wondering where they went wrong and why their kids are so apathetic or hopeless about politics. Voter turnout is lower than it has ever been, we all know that, and yet (for all the efforts of those people who encourage young people to vote for the sake of voting [remember the “I care, I vote” pins?]) nothing seems to work, government does not change, and the system remains the same, so what do we do now?

To begin with it would be a good idea to clarify what cynicism effectively represents in the context of Canada and most places in the industrialized West and it really means one thing overall: self-defeat. Cynicism is fundamentally a self-defeating concept, especially with regard to politics; you essentially don’t care (or do care and try to bury it) because it is useless to care enough to participate in elections at whatever level. There is an overwhelming sense of weariness: the same kinds of people, the same parties, the same issues, the same old tired 19th Century ideas, and, perhaps worst of all, the same threats (global warming, terrorism, WMDs, take your pick). The Liberal, Conservative and NDP (which used to be socialist) parties effectively represent old ideas, old modes of thinking, old politicians (try finding a party leader under 50 let alone under 40), and they are all old and very much established political machines. At election time the party leaders scramble to try make themselves and their parties look young, vigorous and in touch with the times and every time (unsurprisingly) they fail miserably.

Some of you are likely asking, well what about the Green Party? They’re relatively new, vibrant, in touch with what a lot of people think and believe and I would agree that they are, but they are still heavily constrained by their environmentalist roots and (for all there efforts to break free of this) are still largely viewed as a “one-trick pony” so to speak. Also, the Green Party is not making any of the rules here; they are playing by established parliamentary tradition, which means they have to fight “the war of the old men” so to speak in order to make headway – they have to fight their election campaigns in the same style the Liberals and Conservatives do and therefore they are beaten by those who know the game a lot better than they do. Why do they fail to capture the imaginations of people (even those who do vote seem to do so as a matter of tradition or duty, not out of enthusiasm – it’s hard to detect a lot of energy around a polling station at election time these days – people just come and go like clockwork)? Why is it so hard in an age when people are still so inspired by music, by sports, by intellectual expression, by literature, by drama, science, religion and all the other aspects of the human spirit, to get people interested in political expression, that which inspired the ancient Greeks and Romans so much that they were among the first peoples to overthrow their kings and govern themselves – why is it such a hard thing in the modern world of the 21st Century?

The answer really isn’t far away: inspiration! That’s why cynicism is so rampant right now, people are not inspired, people do not believe, and they are given no good reason to believe. Now I could go down the route that some people have followed in recent years and argue simply that not participating means you have no voice and will allow George W. Bush type leaders to retain power indefinitely due to the silence of the progressively-minded people who do not think that they can change anything – but that is not enough. What we need is a cause, a rallying cry, something to mobilize us in a way that environmentalism, opposition to the Iraq War and protests against G-8 summits have not – we need something constructive and most of all we need the have enough imagination to visualize the change we want to implement. Imagination is really the only weapon against a reality we all hate: we don’t like the way the political system is, we don’t like current foreign policy, the War on Terror, the persistence of hunger and poverty not only overseas but on the streets of our cities, and on and on and on – we don’t like it. We have a choice, we either throw up our hands and despair of ever solving the problems facing us and refuse to believe that we can ever build a better day, or we can imagine and picture the kind of society we want and then (with the lessons of history in mind) strive to build our vision. This is the only way, THE ONLY WAY, significant change has ever been wrought in human affairs.

So most of you are probably thinking, ok Mr. Smartass that’s some nice pipedreams there but seriously these new ideas are never going to come. Well, let’s think about that for a moment. First of all, change comes, it inevitably comes, even if it takes centuries change comes – so no worries about new ideas ultimately emerging and radical change resulting from them. When it comes to what do we do right now, what can inspire us right now, things are less certain but I’ll throw this idea out there anyway just to show that the human mind never stops working.

Canada is a great country and not because of hockey, or donuts, igloos or whatever else the stereotypes say. It is a great country because the full spectrum of humanity in all its diversity is represented here: so many different languages, skin colours, religions, ways of thinking and a lot more. Now a lot of other countries have this too nowadays but in our case we don’t have a really strong and strictly defined sense of nationalism that forces these people to conform, we are a lot looser and more open when compared to the United States where immigration concerns and Evangelical Christianity form a key component of the political landscape. All of this puts an intriguing prospect within our reach: we can be the first truly human nation – not a nation for only speakers of a certain language or certain religion or ethnicity or prejudice but a place where all human beings can feel truly at home. With our political system (a relic of the colonial era), our inequalities, our prejudices, our petty struggles over provincial rights etc, we are far from perfect and we are certainly not a human nation yet, but given our demographics we are going to have to go in that direction and become more and more inclusive if we want to progress. Think about it: a human homeland, free from ethnic strife, free from racism, free from the extremes of nationalism and prejudice where human beings can be all they can be and where the commanding principle will be unity in diversity – we have all the resources to make it happen, all we need now is organization and willpower.

Stephen Harper, Stephan Dion, all of them, if you follow them you will be voting for the past, for the colonial era Parliament modeled on British tradition and for the inequalities and prejudices that have scarred our history. They do not represent the future; they are nothing but fossils trying to cling to life and their visions hold no weight. Change has to start somewhere, it has to have direction, it has to be progressive and it has to be inspiring. So I ask you, the youth, whether you vote or do not, would you fight to change the system if you knew that there was an alternative? Would you support a noble cause if you saw one? Would you vote for a party expressing that noble cause and determined to put it into practice? Will you allow yourselves to be inspired to greatness or will you allow yourselves to decay amid hopelessness and cynicism into self-defeat? Think about it. Is a universal state, a human homeland not a noble future for this country – would it not set a dignified example for the world? Is this not a vision worth fighting for? Certainly as a human homeland we wouldn’t have to worry about losing our identity to the States anymore – we would really be permanently distinct!

The point is, even if you don’t like my ideas, that the negative situation in national and world politics that we are in today isn’t the end of history, and we haven’t reached the best form of society we’re ever going to get to and it’s not all downhill from here like so many people seem to think now in light of things like global warming, terrorism, state breakdown etc. Really, we’re at the beginning of a new century and new ideas, positive and progressive ideas are emerging and will continue to emerge – I believe that I have just proven that in the last few paragraphs. Now we can allow ourselves to be inspired by these new ideas or we can ignore them and drown ourselves in cynicism and drowning in cynicism ain’t much fun and certainly doesn’t lead to a very happy way of life. There has always been some form of progressive discourse, whether underground or out in the open, going on throughout history – even in its darkest periods – and change came, change will come and will always come because human society never stays the same and there is always room for improvement. We can do one whole hell of a lot better than what we have now, and we will.

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  1. Posted by: andrew on Feb 12, 2008 @ 6:08pm

    "try finding a party leader under 50 let alone under 40"
    Stephen Harper, CPC Leader, 48
    Jean Charest, PLQ Leader, 49
    Mario Dumont, ADQ Leader, 37!

  2. Posted by: on Feb 13, 2008 @ 9:34pm

    True, but Harper and Charest hardly count and Dumont is a serious exception. Rhetorically speaking I simply meant that there are far too many older leaders in this country and that does have an impact on our political culture and how the younger generation relates to it.

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