With eyes open

Less than half of Canadian parents think their children will have higher living standards than they do.

Analyses of these ill-feelings about the future often attempt to frame them in strictly economic terms. But when asked about their “deepest concerns” regarding what lies ahead, Canadians rank both “decline of democratic institutions” and “a severely environmentally degraded future” above “a diminished economy for the next generation”.

Sadly, Canadian’s profound concerns about democracy and the environment are not unfounded.

Climate change is already happening and will accelerate out of control if humans don’t take significant action to reduce carbon emissions.

As far as Canada’s democratic vitality is concerned, the reality is only slightly more heartening. Citing things like declining voter turnout and increasingly cynical politics, commentators from a variety of ideological backgrounds — everyone from Andrew Coyne to Elizabeth May — wonder aloud if Canada is still a democracy.

It’s worth noting that we aren’t alone in this stagnation — all Western democracies are facing similar issues. Voter turnout and political party membership are down across the board and there’s widespread dissatisfaction with institutions and nominally democratic outcomes.

There’s only one plausible overarching cause for these problems. Corporate globalization and related increases in inequality, particularly the rise of the 0.1 per cent, have disempowered the average citizen. In Canada, virtually all the income gains of the last 30 years have gone to the top 10 per cent of earners, heavily concentrated in the top 0.01 per cent.

In the United States, political science scholars have demonstrated that those in the bottom 70 per cent of the income scale have practically no effect on government policy. If you are politically irrelevant, why bother voting?

One notable attempt to undermine the current political quagmire in Western democracies is Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing. It remains to be seen if there will be a substantial backlash in response to what he’s revealed. The exact role ubiquitous surveillance plays in defending political regimes is equally unclear.

What’s apparent is the huge prioritization of state surveillance. In some cases, it verges on parody.

For instance, at some point this year, construction will be completed on Canada’s electronic spy agency’s new headquarters. Dubbed the “spy palace” by critics, its price tag of over a $1 billion will make it Canada’s most expensive public building ever.

The current political moment may seem hopeless on the surface, but nothing is inevitable.

Apathy is something of a fallacy, at least in the long term. Given the circumstances, you’ll be forced to act eventually in some capacity. You might as well start now with both eyes open.

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