Cultivating political awareness
The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being. – Socrates
On my internet dating profile, I describe myself as “ultra-liberal; in the nice, Canadian, sense”. But it has only been in the past few years that I have come to think about how I developed that world view.
I am a child of immigrants from two very different countries with only their Catholic faith in common. Yet both families espoused conservative political views. In the case of my mother’s Irish family, it was simply a continuity of the traditional life sanctioned by the church. For my father’s eastern European family, it was a reaction to the excesses of the communism that had overrun their homeland.
And yet, my father and his brothers worked in the local paper mill at the start of their careers (only one retired from that business) and belonged to the union that organized those workers. When Trudeaumania came along, my mother was an enthusiastic acolyte, to her father’s great disappointment.
Living in such a small town, it was easy to absorb a collective view since the mill was the major employer. The fortunes of our town were intricately tied to the success of that enterprise.
My parents also “imported” The Toronto Star to our home. Every day, we would pick up our subscription at the newsstand downtown. Being a voracious reader all my life, I would read the paper after my parents did. I read it cover-to-cover, looking up words I didn’t understand; asking questions if I didn’t understand an article.
It probably wasn’t wise to allow a 7-year-old to read about political assassinations and the Vietnam War, or famines and riots, military coups and massacres, or the end of the Prague Spring – an event that caused my father’s parents no end of anguish. Yet no one tried to stop me.
Reading the paper taught me the differences between small and large “L” politics and conservatism, the definition of Gross Domestic Product and how unemployment affected a country. It took me around the world where I learned that other governments treated citizens as impediments to personal gain, or tools to exploit to amass fortunes, and made me very happy to be Canadian.
The 60s were no more or less a turbulent time than today, the difference being that in North America in the 60s people seemed more publically involved. There were large demonstrations against the Vietnam War, against racism, and for feminism. In the decades since then, around the world, popular political movements led to the fall of communism, the end of apartheid in South Africa, and the Arab Spring in Egypt, as examples.
With the exception of the Quebec student protests last year, people seem to be content to let things happen to them, rather than working toward the life we want. Declining voter turnout is the most egregious example of this.
There are many reasons for this and many fingers are pointed in blame, but the simple fact is that we are failing future generations by not cultivating political awareness.
How did you become aware? Have you thought about how you developed your world views?
How can we, as a group, help others to develop their own political awareness?