Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What it means to be a progressive.

Happy New Year everyone. Welcome to 2010. Is it everything you thought it would look like?

I remember the new year of 1990 very well. I was 10 and it was the first time in my memory that we were celebrating the start of a decade. I remember vividly thinking about the future - the nineties - and what they would hold. I think that was the first time I really thought about the year 2000.

As a ten year old dreaming about ten years into the future, your imagination runs wild with possibilities. Sure there are no flying cars, but I do remember imagining boxes that sat on your hip that could do anything you needed it to. It was a phone, a calculator, a watch and a walkman; whatever you wanted it to do, it could do it. I think it was even a candy dispenser and a grappling hook. I'm so glad those geniuses at Apple keep thinking about the future and all its possibilities. (I can't wait for the grappling hook app to come out!)

Nonetheless, there is a point to me telling you about how I was a nerdy kid with a vivid imagination, because I want to talk about what it means to be a progressive and the most important thing about being a progressive is dreaming about the future and imagining all of the possibilities it brings. I also think that being a progressive means understanding that we are all in this world together and thinking about others.

Planning for the future.

A progressive takes the long range view on issues, assessing what the needs of society will be in 5, 10, 20 or 100 years. We look at the world that exists today and compare that to the world that we want our kids to grow up in. We understand cause-and-effect relationships and consider the consequences of our decisions.

In the context of Alberta today, progressives think seriously about the long range implications of energy management. We have a clear understanding that burning fossil fuels negatively affects our environment and we, as living creatures, depend on our environment to sustain life. We also understand that we are lucky to be sitting atop the amount of oil that we do and that that oil will be in greater and greater demand as global supply decreases. In other words, the oil under us will be worth more in the future than it is now and therefore we shouldn't be in such a rush to get it out of the ground and sell it off at the lowest price.

Planning for the future also means making smart investments that you know you will need down the road. First off, that means investing in education. The best thing we can do for ourselves and our children is to ensure that those children are as smart as they possibly can be. The world is changing rapidly and the rate of change is increasing. The issues of tomorrow will be solved by the children of today. But smart investments also includes public transportation and sound urban planning. Through migration and reproduction, Alberta's population is exploding and most of those people will live in our cities. We need to plan today for Calgary and Edmontons of 2 - 5 million people. But we can't keep expanding out because we need to maintain and invest in agriculture - that many people need lots of food. We need to look at major centres around the world to see how they have managed large populations and large population densities.

We are all in this together.

The politics of us and them is over. The world is a finite space and we are approaching 7 Billion people. The population density of Canada is 3 people per square kilometer, but the global population density is 45 people per square kilometer. We have one world that we increasingly realize is a place that we have to share. We can no longer afford to think about our friends and enemies, because we need to think about all of us.

The advent of the internet and cell phone have allowed us to understand how close we are to one another as human beings. Last year, millions of North Americans had the ability to join an uprising on the streets of Tehran via Twitter. A conflict half way around the world was humanized through the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, recorded on a cell phone and delivered to our desktops. Real people connected in real time.

Progressives understand this deep inter-connectivity of humans, whether its within our communities, cities, province, country, region or world. Facebook allows us to share our lives with hundreds of our friends and acquaintances all the time and it allows us to rally around causes and issues with the click of a mouse. There are multiple layers of community that exist and regardless of our differences, we have to live together and look out for one another.

Understanding that we are all in this together means replacing politics (which is about power) with processes for collaboration (which is about problem solving). Progressives are looking to step past the Cold War rhetoric of us versus them, east versus west or capitalists versus socialists and are looking to talk about how to establish meaningful systems to solve the problems that impact our lives.

Thinking about others.

If you have a sense that everyone is in this game of life together, you start to think about how you are the same as others and how you are different. Progressives think about the plights of others and think about those that have a different path or perspective on life. We understand that there are two types of issues: issues for individuals and issues for the collective.

Issues for individuals are those matters of personal choice for which your choices have little to no impact on others. While it is difficult to explore this area in its entirety, I am referring to issues related to religion, sexuality, morality, censorship and personal freedoms. To speak very generally, progressives feel that individuals should be free to do what they wish, so long as they are not bringing harm or risk to others. In short, issues for the individual should be settled privately and should not be part of public discourse.

I think its important at this point to talk about the progressive value of diversity and how it relates to citizenship. At some point, given the size of the global population and the variations in population density, we must understand that Canada will be a destination for many for a very long time. Progressives understand this and value the diversity and varied perspectives that immigrants (and other minorities) bring. We go past the ideas of tolerance, acceptance and melting pots to the values of respect, understanding and multiculturalism.

Issues for the collective refer to those issues where public value or public impacts exist. On these public issues, debate needs to occur in order to come to settlement on the issue. As I said, today's progressives understand and appreciate differences and individuality and therefore recognize the value of open, honest and respectful debate. Settling issues is not about power, it is about searching for the common good and determining solutions to help get us there. It also means that those people who are "in-power" have an obligation to use it wisely, to consult and to respect the perspectives of the minority opinion.

Finally, progressives understand that matters for the public interest which have costs associated with them, need to have those costs adequately funded. We do not begrudge paying reasonable taxes because we recognize that they fund important programs that benefit all of us like, roads, schools, hospitals and policing. I believe as well (although I am loath to attach this belief to other progressives) that these obligations should be borne to a greater extent by those of greater wealth. I believe this simply because they are in a better position to afford the expense and they will benefit through the economic well-being of others.

It is not easy to try and describe what it means to be the person you are. In many ways this felt like writing the executive summary to my manifesto. Ultimately, many of the ideas I expressed in this post have not been fleshed out, but hopefully I can do that over time on this space.

Thanks for reading.


Andrew McIntyre said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew McIntyre said...

Well said Jonathan. I especially empathize with your concluding remarks about the difficulty of writing down your thoughts on this topic - the act of blogging about your core beliefs.

Writing down my own deeply-held political convictions, how I "see the world" - though I rarely articulate them - seems to give them a sense of quasi-permanence that begs further contemplation and reflection to ensure nothing is left unsaid or accidentally omitted.

Thanks for writing.

Theresa said...

Thanks for this. You have articulated what I have often struggled to say outloud or put on paper, even for no one but myself.

Anonymous said...

IF solutions to our local and global problems as expounded in "What it means to be a progressive" were realistic as far as humans are concerned, that's OK to a point.
But reality sets in and demands something humans cannot achieve. Three points:
1. Environment: We can be minutely successful on a local level with moderate demands on our resources. But what human agency can stop a local rainstorm, let alone global warming?
2. Economy: The reality of repairing local or global economic problems is already out of control. No politics or economics can correlate effective solutions. Bail-outs can only be effective until taxpayer money and patience are depleted.
3. Morality: Local or global morality can be neither policed nor legislated. "Peaceful protests" give evidence of what groups can do. When a tornado, tsunami, fire or other tragic event occurs, groups of looters, etc. come out of the woodwork carrying no compassion.
So, what is the solution?
God creaated us with the power of choice; otherwise we would be robots, and robots cannot love. But God has given use a choice to be for God or otherwise. As sacred scriptures teach us, those who are for God have a future beyond the grave, in a re-built world. They will be safe for God to transplant into a re-newed planet. As for the "otherwise," they can never be comfortable in a new world. For them, a short future in the coming event: the fires of "hell."
BTW: Hell is NOT a present location; it is a future event.
Summary: My life today is to make life as pleasant as possible for every person within my sphere of influence. My goal for the future is to live with a God who has prepared a brilliant future involving not only Planet Earth, but the billions of "island universes." Living eternally will never be boring.
A cynic's response may be, "What if you're wrong?"
If I'm wrong, then my life at least has made life more pleasant for my neighbour; my end will be the same as for the cynic. BUT, if I'm right, wow!
Caesar Nawalkowski