... And So Here We Are - Yet Again

Plus ça change, plus c'est pareil - the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Indeed - the way things are already going in 2009, and regardless that we are fast approaching the so-called "New Dawn" which many folks apparently await breathlessly and which is supposed to occur following Barack Obama's inauguration, I just don't see how anything will change for the better by the time we reach 2010 ... or 2020 ... or even 2050, for that matter.

Here's why ...

1) Despite living in democracies, with all the rights and privileges this entails, we remain all-too-lazy to actually exercize our duty, our responsibility, as citizens and therefore fail to register and/or cast our vote - regardless of the stakes and whether we acknowledge said stakes or not. Cases in point:
U.S. Nov. 2008 general elections: only 56.8% of the voting-age population (i.e. all residents age 18 and older) voted - despite the obvious stakes. If you prefer taking into account only those who actually registered to vote (i.e. "vote-eligible" population), then you get a "whopping" 61.6% turnout rate - who would've thunk that this election was, you know, crucial for the future of the U.S.?

Canada Oct. 2008 general elections: only 59.1% of the vote-eligible population (i.e. registered voters) turned out to vote. Typical excuses heard for such a low turnout? "A ho-hum campaign", "uninspiring party leaders", and/or "no important stakes involved" (yes - and let's forget about the economy already worsening then, among other things, eh?).

Québec Dec. 2008 elections: only 57.4% of registered voters turned out to vote. Typical excuses heard for such a low turnout? "Too soon after the federal elections", "these elections were not necessary", "bad weather", and/or "no important stakes involved" (again yes - let's forget about the economy already at one of its lowest points then, among other things ...).
In short, our democracies are far from being healthy. Any excuse not to vote, let alone register, is a good one. In the meantime, those who actually care about such a dire state of affairs tend to dwell upon making voting easier, or making voting more accessible, or reducing voter lines by opening more voting polls, etc., etc., etc.

In the end, these, as well as intense time and effort in driving voter turnout from the grassroots, inevitably fall short - being as effective as applying band aids in trying to stem the loss of blood from a gaping wound. Why is that so? Because the actual root of the problem remains largely unaddressed. Acknowledged? Maybe, by some. But is anything ever done to actually resolve such a critical problem which keeps on eating away at our democracies? Any long-term plan and significant investment of time and effort to at least begin to resolve this problem? Nope. Nada. Zip.

You can't save a dying tree by doing everything in order to keep the leaves and branches healthy, when the tree is actually rotting from the roots. And as long as we refrain from fully realizing and understanding this verity, our democracies will keep on slowly - but surely - rotting away.

2) A large part of the "root problem" of our democracies remains our failing education systems:
The purpose of the educational reforms of the last 25-30 years in our modern societies will have had as the primary goal to make education less strict and authoritative, and rather more motivating, enriching and inclusive. That in itself is all well and good. Unfortunately, the reforms put in practice over these years will have brought us to the present situation whereby intellectual sloth is not only encouraged but, even more so, actually rewarded. Indeed, any effort that is slightly substantial is regarded as being incompatible with the cognitive development of a child (or of an adolescent) and, still worse, with the blooming of those who have “difficulties in learning” - in other words, our reforms will have lowered the bar to the lowest common denominator. Point in fact is that any difficulty of learning (except in specific situations like dyslexia) draws its origins from several factors: poverty, parental situation, traumatisms experienced, etc., and thus require specific teaching methods which take into account these factors. But nevertheless, we seek to motivate all children without requiring of them any truly significant effort: this amounts to seeking to motivate an employee into being willing to work with never ending promotions, while without requiring of him to perform his tasks decently. Ridiculous, no? But this is exactly how things are being done in our schools today.

In short, we are trying to teach knowledge while doing everything possible to make knowledge interesting and easily understandable, consequently lowering the bar by standardizing intellectual sloth. Moreover, we are at the point where we are actually making students practice important exams with the aim of improving their performances during these same examinations - what could be more ridiculous? And of course, each successive reform fails in its attempts to increase the motivation, to reduce the rates of failure, or to reverse the dropout rates. Why? Because at the base, all these reforms entrench in their new methods and teaching approaches the rewarding (direct or indirect) of intellectual sloth, as well as its by-products, the search for facility and for instant gratification. In other words, we perpetuate and accentuate the problem!

If this is not intellectual sloth in itself on the part of our educational leaders and decision makers ...

Should one therefore be surprised by the preponderance of the promotion and exercise of leisures and hobbies, in the house as well as outside? As with everything, too much of a good thing is bad. If intellectual sloth is silently (or by negligence) encouraged by parents and at school, how can the children, and their own children, and so on, do anything else but perpetuate this vicious circle at all levels of society?
The solution is of course quite simple - but would require a complete re-thinking of our educational approaches as well as a definite long-term commitment to solve this critical problem:
(...) the inculcation, beginning in childhood and throughout the educational process, of the need for questioning, for reasoning, for discerning, for gathering information, for contextualizing, for criticizing, for evaluating/re-evaluating, for thinking - in short, for the need of intellectual activity - constitutes the best vaccine against intellectual sloth.

(...) My solution is that we must inculcate intellectual activity, as defined above, as soon as possible in children. Let us not wait until college or university to do so like we have always done so far, for by then it is visibly too late and intellectual sloth has already set in too many students - not mentioning all those who dropped out or ended their education after high school.

Inculcating intellectual activity in our schools as it should be, i.e. without encouraging intellectual sloth in any way whatsoever, is a matter that holds the very future of our modern societies at stake, including that of our cultures and our democratic values and institutions as well. It is by countering intellectual sloth that we will eventually allow the emergence of future leaders who will make better use of reason in establishing the application of true and durable solutions to the problems facing our societies and humanity as a whole.

In conclusion, it is by countering intellectual sloth that we will make way for the inevitable emergence of a majority (in the least) of competent citizens in all spheres of activities within our societies - and the latters will only be the better for this.

And we as well, incidentally.
So far, I still don't see this coming any time soon ... and so intellectual sloth, the constant search for instant gratification and overall incompetence will continue to rule the day in all spheres of activities in our societies - thus further spreading the cancer that keeps on eating away at our democracies.

3) We still wallow in our self-centerism and selfishness, while hypocritically congratulating ourselves at being "good guys" who walk on the bestest of moral high grounds.

Well, let us take a hard, painful look at what we truly are:
The increasing erosion of our constitutions, civil rights and democracies as they are being gradually subjugated by Authoritarian Security Surveillance States. The bloating no-fly lists and terrorist watch-lists. The continuing inhumane and barbaric renditions, "enhanced interrogations" and indefinite detentions - of children, teenagers and adults alike. The continuing standing of Military Commissions, which are nothing more than politically-driven, rigged, kangaroo courts. The seemingly unending wars of choice and occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq - both based on lies to justify a vengeance operation for 9/11 and the securing of foreign oil resources. The ever mounting toll of civilian deaths, displaced refugees and soldier casualties.

This is the overall state of things today with regards to our so-called "Western civilization" - especially with regards to the U.S.A., the U.K. and Canada.

Through it all, much of the currently occurring discourse and debating on these above-mentioned, self-evident evils deal largely with semantics and quaint legalese gymnastics in order to defend and justify not only their perceived necessity, but to actually establish, maintain, or cement, their legality as well.
In other words:
We justify breaking laws, war crimes and atrocities because, goshdarnit, we're the good guys and therefore we only do what is necessary - and consequently we can do no wrong.

Nor can our friends do any wrong, because, you know, if we're the good guys, then so are our friends.

But all those who are not our friends, well ... they should be denounced and prosecuted for the same things that we are doing - but since we're the good guys, we can be excused because we are doing those things in good faith. So, there.
To which I am compelled to respond thusly:
In these days when torturing is conveniently justified as a matter of necessity, when debate about torture is more than ever about the effectiveness of torture versus the "ineffectiveness" in following the rule of Law, when torture is apparently no more a cause for tarnishing reputations of countries and governments, when military commissions rule at whim (one more example here) over the rule of civil and human rights, when prosecuting torturers and torture promulgators becomes something to be actually requiring debate, when promulgating/instituting torture is no more a criminal matter but rather one of "good faith" but "misguided/wrong" policy-making, or misguided interpretation of laws or merely a matter of proper "spin", when black holes of human decency and justice have become acceptable, when torture has become nothing more than a "mere legal term" and something done casually that is not to be feared or condemned, but in fact to be made money from, trivialized or joked about ...

Then more than ever, we have lost any semblance of human rationality and grace - consequently rendering the Universal Declaration of Human Rights naught but empty words to make us feel noble, good, principled and civilized - allowing us to conveniently forget however much the deluded, hypocritical, savages and barbarians that we truly are.

Yes, President-elect Barack Obama recently renewed his pledge to end the practice of torture - and yet, what are we to make of calls for him to keep pro-torture Bush appointees in his administration-to-be, of those potential alternatives floated around and those other "torture-is-necessary" elected representatives (like this fatuously-reasoning barbarian) so far?

In other words: it remains to be seen whether hypocritical, quaint rationalizations (like this, or that, or this, or that) to justify torture will be at last dumped in the trash bin of history of savagery, so that the barbarian practice of violating human and civil rights will be abandoned once and for all ...

(...) .. and we have quite a long way to go in order to finally make the Universal Declaration of Human Rights not only a reality, but an absolute, unalienable standard of what it means to be human and civilized.
Then again, I should not be surprised that we claim to hold onto noble principles, and congratulate ourselves for this, yet nevertheless dismiss said principles whenever we feel threatened.

After all, are we not still in the habit of proudly claiming our adherence to high ideals while we summarily ignore them for the sake of convenience, of expediency? Here's a few examples from the top of my head:
How often have I witnessed self-proclaimed and self-righteous followers of this or that "peace-loving" religious faith (Christian, Muslim, Hebrew, et al.) promulgate lack of compassion, or intolerance, or hate and even violence onto others?

How often have I heard self-proclaimed "good, decent, caring people" (or the same religious adherents as above) express xenophobic remarks, or summarily condemn the homeless, poor and/or jobless as "lazy slobs"?

How often have I heard self-proclaimed "good, decent, caring people" (or the same religious adherents as above) demonstrate utter indifference at injustices perpetrated onto other fellow citizens by security agencies, either because they automatically assume guilt and/or said other fellow citizens so unjustly abused are perceived as "not regular, honest folks" (i.e. ethnic minorities)?

How often do I still hear self-proclaimed "good, decent, caring people" (or the same religious adherents as above), men and women both, exhibit lack of outrage at a woman being raped while muttering that "she was probably asking for it by dressing like a slut"?

How often have I witnessed self-proclaimed "pro-environment" people still failing to separate their recyclable trash from the rest of their waste, and equally failing to put said recyclable trash into the proper recyclable trash bins for pick-up by city services, because doing so is "too much trouble"?

How often have I heard self-proclaimed "concerned citizens" railing against the government ... and yet rarely get off their couches to go out and vote when they are called upon to do so?
And I could go on and on and on.

All these things I have seen, heard, witnessed in my own province of Québec, as well as in many other places in Canada and the U.S.

Overall, such rank hypocrisy on our part, such repugnant self-delusions about our grandeur, our goodness, our moral high ground, borders on the pathological.

We have a long way to learn the simple truth that holding on to noble principles is worth nothing unless we steadfastly hold them closer to our hearts and minds whenever we are tempted to ignore them - regardless of the reasons, the justifications or the opportunities, to dismiss them.

Claiming the moral high ground means that you stay on said moral high ground - through thick and thin, through rain or shine, through beautiful or stormy weather.

Then again - as long as intellectual sloth, the constant search for instant gratification and overall incompetence will continue to rule supreme in our societies, all that we have lived just in 2008 alone - from political hypocrisy and incompetence to unfettered, unchecked and encouraged corporate greed, from wars of choice to genocide, and everything in between - we will continue to experience time and time again.

And so we'll keep on getting right back where we started - until that fateful day when the house of cards we so proudly call "civilization" comes down crashing hard on our bewildered, dumbfounded, hypocritical and deluded collective heads ...

... unless, of course, the bulk of Humanity finally wises up and stops itself from repeating history in one way or another year after year after fucking year.

Granted - this may be nothing more than wishful thinking on my part.

And yet ...

And yet, I remain convinced that once we tackle the three main problems outlined above, we will be well set onto that so-elusive road to maturity as a species of sentient beings.

As opposed to stubbornly - and stupidly - running in circles, as we're still doing now.

So, in conclusion, I reiterate that which I stated at the top of this post: the way things are already going in 2009, and regardless that we are fast approaching the so-called "New Dawn" which many folks apparently await breathlessly and which is supposed to occur following Barack Obama's inauguration, I just don't see how anything will change for the better by the time we reach 2010 ... or 2020 ... or even 2050, for that matter.

In the meantime, I'll keep on "commenting on/documenting the horrors" ... while still hoping against hope that we'll somehow, some way, actually improve and better ourselves as democratic societies.

(Oh - and a belated happy new year 2009, folks ...)

(Cross-posted from APOV)


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