In British Columbia—where we live the Small and Delicious Life—it has been just twelve hours since the election was called for the expand-business-as-usual B.C. Liberal Party. For a little excitement, the leader of the party lost her riding, and so a byelection is likely in the near future.
After the election was called by media and the leader of the opposition had conceded defeat, the Premier gave her victory speech. And, just five days after atmospheric carbon passed 400 ppm,1 she cheered the expansion of Liquified Natural Gas, and promised great economic growth.
We will focus on the fundamentals that promote private sector growth, entrepreneurial innovation, and a thriving small business sector…
So, in the interest of clarity, here are some of my assumptions:
Look at a picture of Earth from space. You can see it has edges; it is finite, therefore nothing can grow forever. Try to think of anything that has grown forever,3 there is nothing. Every tree has or will fall down. Every human stops growing and dies. Tortoises that live centuries eventually die. Philosophies and religions wither. Empires collapse. Without fail, everything stops growing.
So, to hinge every promise of betterment on an impossibility seems like a bit of a waste of time. Maybe we could start talking about what betterment without growth could look like.
And regarding climate change, I am convinced there is a scientific consensus. The strange weather events we are seeing with increasing frequency match the predictions of climate scientists. The warming and melting we are seeing exceed the predictions of climate scientists. Almost universally, climate scientists have erred on the side of caution and things are getting worse faster than predicted. This is going to be very unpleasant.4
So, the Liberals are going to lead us to an impossibility, and spice with disaster. The NDP would like to increase the social justice of the impossibility of growth, and, since growth has never been decoupled from fossil energy,5 also spice it with disaster.
In effect, the NDP is fighting for better working conditions for the belowdecks crew of the Titanic. And I don’t think that is terribly meaningful.
I want to talk about Democracy a little, before I return to Meaning. Or maybe I am not talking about Democracy—I don’t know, I never studied Political Science. But I do know that people are right bent out of shape about low voter turnout and how other people fight and die for the rights we have and how great Democracy is.
Democracy may be great, but our political system is not. The fight is largely between two different flavours of ice cream—crème caramel need not apply. Having chosen your ice cream there is not much for you to do for the next four years. You can write letters, but not many people do. You can protest in the streets, but not many people do.6 Or, you can rely on the opposition to hold them to account.
I have a particular spot in my spleen for “holding them to account”. If you hold someone to account, you would expect them to experience the consequences of their actions. So, largely, this means the opposition will try to smear dirt on the government to the degree they lose the next election—after four years. That is not exactly Draconian punishment. And, of course, since voters must bundle their hopes and dreams on dozens of issues up into one vote, there is just as good a chance the government will be re-elected and no accounts will be held. This is a reasonable take on last night’s election—voters in B.C. sure do not want pipelines of dirty Alberta crude besmirching our pristine coast—but we sure do love jobs and a growing economy!
So, there is no real way for my hopes and dreams to be included in our political system. Does that mean I would like referendums on everything?7 No. If you have taken the 45 minutes for the video and essay I linked in the side notes, you will understand why. And if you haven’t taken the 45 minutes, I don’t blame you, but you are demonstrating the realities of life that make widespread referendums a bad idea.
So, our system does not include people in a way that feels meaningful in their lives. A lack of meaning is profoundly demotivating, as has been articulated by Dan Pink and Dan Ariely. So, it is not that The Kids Don’t Care, it is just that our political system is not really worth caring about.
Because some people demand a positive vision, here it is. The next step I would like to see towards a Meaningful Politics is Proportional Representation augmented with regular Citizen’s Assemblies.8
My mother has long advocated for Government by Lottery, and I am pretty much with her; I have no confidence in the Political Equestrian Class. I would much rather be ruled by my randomly selected neighbour, because I think they would take the task very seriously, and so Citizen’s Assemblies seem like a great process. We cannot all learn everything there is to know about every important issue, so delegating groups of people like us to make various decisions seems a lot better than Technocracy.
So, the bright side…the bright side is an NDP victory could have gotten all Obama, where everybody breathes a sigh of relief, and before you know it, six years have passed and Guantanamo is still operating. The Liberals are clear—we should burn, sell and pipe any and all fossil fuels as long as we get a fat cheque. We know what we are in for.
And so I think the Liberals may actually be good for my mental health. One of the benefits of the Small and Delicious Life is reduced cognitive dissonance. I found that living in a world that did not make sense was very difficult, I felt crazy a lot of the time. The conclusions I draw do not match up with what society seems to think, and that seems like a pretty functional description of insanity. Now that I spend more time gardening, I spend more time in a world that makes sense.
But, Obama’s Siren song pulls at me too. It would be so nice to just be normal. It would have been great to just sit back and let the NDP create some Green Jobs in the Growing Green Economy.
Sadly, fossil-fueled-growth is exactly what we should expect. Loss is twice as painful as gain, and so, in uncertain times, in a world beaten by storms, with failing banks, bankrupt cities and countries, and record bonuses for bankers, you can easily understand why voters would want jobs, why the story of growth is so much more comforting than the fear of the unknown. The whole world is turning to strict governments who will make us take our medicine. I expect to see more of this, not less.
And so, I will write my letters, don’t you worry. I will march. I will sign petitions—perhaps even more of them than before. But these things will really just be empty gestures—I am not interested in the working conditions on the Titanic, or even a discussion about building iceberg detectors. I want to ask where we are sailing to and why we are setting sail at all.
And, when in doubt plant beans, for every bean you grow is a bean the world didn’t have before. This year, my tomato seedlings are the most beautiful I have ever grown, with thick strong stems and broad leaves. The peas are looking for something to do chin-ups on and the bees have stuffed two boxes full of eggs and larvae. Almost two years have passed since we moved here, and we are gardening community as well. I think that has meaning. I vote Beans.