Saturday, 15 June 2013

The senate scandal

There is an Anishnaabe saying about two wolves in our natures we must feed and that we become like the one we feed.

The Canadian senate scandal is reflective of the state of politics at the federal level. I've seen and heard and read both sides (Harper's and the oppositions') and it certainly leaves a lot to be desired. Pundits like Rex Murphy and other right-wing trolls (is there a difference, really?) have been wanting to throw out the baby with the bathwater while the Liberals can't seem to see the forest for the trees themselves caught up in it with senator Harb.

I'm sorry, but the senate scandal is not a partisan issue. It is no less a national ethical crisis and the end result of years and years of patronage plum.

I must say it is a disappointing state of affairs when our political "leaders" scramble like headless chickens trying to convert this ugly state of affairs into a political "win". How utterly pathetic when unabashed glee is apparently found in pointing out that the kettle was just as black as the pot all along. Have we reached such a point as to now think that pieces of legislation cannot get passed without the guarantee of plum appointees? Have the politicians lost the art of politics - is now cajoling and negotiation and compromise outdated?

There was a time (pre-Vietnam) when corporations were creatures of the governments, when governments were sovereign, when gained territories (figuratively and literally) were used as leverage to exact a semblance of re-balancing geo-political normative peace. Since then there has been one bright light in Kissinger (yechy and odious a man by some estimates). But upon closer inspection, Kissinger is seen in a better light when the influence of Grotius rather than Machiavelli is called to memory.

To wit: the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says of Grotius the man:

Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) [Hugo, Huigh or Hugeianus de Groot] was a towering figure in philosophy, political theory, law and associated fields during the seventeenth century and for hundreds of years afterwards. His work ranged over a wide array of topics, though he is best known to philosophers today for his contributions to the natural law theories of normativity [emphasis mine] which emerged in the later medieval and early modern periods. (

The notion of "normative peace" is a very important concept in (especially) geo-political discourse but (in my mind) we should also remember its utter importance in domestic politics. It is the very difference between Iraq/Afghanistan wars and that which produced East-West-Germanies/North-South-Koreas. Indeed, it is the difference between pre- and post-Harper Canada. "Normative" is defined as:

Establishing, relating to, or deriving from a standard or norm, esp. of behavior: "negative sanctions to enforce normative behavior". (Google, "normative definition")

Grotius also said that though we decide one is an "enemy" we should never forget that our enemy is yet human like us (to quote Stanford Encyclopedia again):

...Grotius' method concerns his refusal to divide ethics, politics and law into separate subjects. These days, compartmentalization is the norm; ordinarily, we study one of these subjects while paying scant attention to the others. Now, it is true that Grotius does often identify ways in which legal norms differ from moral or political ones...At the same time, he does not think that law, politics and ethics are entirely distinct domains. If one reads Grotius with the expectation that he will keep them apart, one will likely be befuddled by the way he ignores distinctions which are important to us. It may help to know that he does this because he is interested in picking out the fundamental principles which lie at the basis of all normativity, not just a portion thereof. He cannot talk just about ethics, say, because his views on ethics are informed by his views on politics and the law. A fundamental tenet of his thought is that moral, political and legal norms are all based on laws derived from or supplied by nature.(ibid)

Harper's hyper-partisanship and, indeed, the rise of the "military-industrial complex" completely ignore the alternative to normativity, seeing and interpreting as they do only the negativity (ie, the bathwater in which the baby now resides).

We can only hope that the opposition leaders have the realistic expectations and wisdom to see the alternative to normative measures of the Canadian constitution, laws and the confederate arrangements that make Canada possible. The closest we gotten to Grotius is Lester B Pearson, the last true Canadian visionary who saw nothing wrong with "dirtying his hands" without getting dirty and ugly as the dictators and tyrants he knew we had to deal with to strike a better world.


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