Thursday, August 27, 2009

Majority - we all agree, therefore, it is right.

What does it really mean when a news clip starts with the sentence, "a majority of the public..."? We live in a democracy where the rule of the majority is not only inevitable but a tool through which governments are elected and policies are justified. So intrinsic the concept of majority is in our society, that it is difficult to even talk about democracy without mentioning the word 'majority' somewhere in the sentence. A majority of New Zealanders think mobile phones should be banned in cars, a majority of the public think health care is a right not privilege, a majority of the people think David Bain is guilty. If we were subscribing to the Greek view of direct democracy, would we be adopting these ideologies because the majority thought so? If that were the case, then billions of dollars would not be spent to conduct studies about effects of policies all over the world. We would not be weighing up consequences and we would not be comparing pros and cons. We would simply leave it up to the majority to decide. And we would have policies like that in Saudi Arabia where the majority do not believe that women should have a right to vote or drive or receive higher education or have a profession of choice. We would not have an adversarial justice system where the onus is on the state to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. And perhaps torture would be justified in the interest of national security.

There is no doubt that in the interest of effective governance, the use of majority consensus not only simplifies many processes, it almost most certainly is the only way things can get done as well as elect presidents like Bush. But does the number of people that watch a movie dictate a "good quality movie"? A book? A piece of art? As a society it is perfectly within our rights to throw our arms up in the air and say that it is impossible to take every situation and weigh up the merits of every different options based on every different circumstances. But unless we really do that, no outcome can be claimed to be the "right" outcome. It is just the preferred outcome. Humans made it possible to go to the moon, to take salmon gene that allows it to survive in cold waters and put it in a tomato so we can have it in the winter, to make skyscrapers that withstand earthquakes. Surely we should not have to leave it up to the majority to decided what is suitable for us to have a better society because the alternatives are too complicated. And if we had left it up to the majority, New Zealand would not have been the first country in the world to give women the right to vote, blacks would not have the right to vote in the 50s, and homosexuals in this country would be criminalised as late as the 80s.

In the end, one only invokes the 'majority' to justify policies that do not have merit on their own, especially when that is the only justification. No one would justify women's suffrage by saying that a majority of the public would like to retain a women's right to vote, no one would justify criminal liability by saying a majority of the public believe that murderers should be punished, and no one would to justify the condemnation of genocide by saying that majority of the world's population thinks genocide is an abominable act. The majority number gives us an indication of the individual’s choice and preference, which is of course important in a democracy, but it does not tell us what is fair, just or right. So now, in the year 2009, when more people than ever are educated, when we have access to more information than ever, when we were more aware of long term consequences of our actions, when we should be doing everything to promote a more peaceful and civilised society, a majority of the New Zealand's public want the right to smack their children in order to discipline them and the government elected by the majority would like to usurp select committee processes, ignore Treaty implications and remove Maori seats in the Auckland Supercity Council.

Is this what most people want?


Is it right?

Surely not.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Who's going to take care of the children?

Last week on 60 Minutes there was a story of a group of Australian women are who are going back to being the 50s style stay at home housewife after having a stint at being a career woman. These women are in their late 20s to early 30s that had a taste of the corporate world and then decided that being a fulltime mother and wife was preferable. As a woman in her 20s working towards a potential career in the public sphere, I was completely appalled when I initially watched the segment. Our mother’s generation did not fight for women’s rights for a small group of women to undermine all working women and their ambitions. Women have and continue to work very hard for legitimacy in the working world and to me their stance on what women (as a general entity) should do is appalling. These women claimed that it is impossible to juggle children and the corporate world and that the feminists of the 60s and 70s duped us into thinking that we could both. Their assessment of the situation was that women who are mothers would be better off staying home for the children and husband, ensuring a stable family life for all.

On principle, I believe that if a woman chooses to stay at home, it is her prerogative and she should be commended (as well as fathers who chose to stay home and raise children). I see such a decision as a sacrifice to be willing to take on a task that is purported to be equivalent to having two full time jobs in terms of stress and ethic. But I categorically refuse accept that it is the woman’s role to be home and raising children or that it is even necessary. Women have made a lot of changes in their lifestyle in the last few centuries while men have generally continued to what they’ve been doing for centuries. To this day no one expects a man to have children by 35, no one expects a man to stay at home when he does have children and no on expects the man “to have it all together” at all times. So where have we gone wrong?

Women’s liberation have a come a long way to ensure that we do as well as men in academia and that we can go out and have enjoyable sex without regrets. But at the end of the day after all of that, women are still the only ones that can bear and have children and so we continue to impose the unspoken burden on women to marry and have children. Baby formula changed that burden with regards to breast feeding so there is no doubt in my mind that natural bearing and birthing of the children will one day become a thing of the past. I trust that science and technology will give us at least that much. But who’s going to take care of those children?

Women have been behaving like men to get ahead for decades but men have not done the same. Most women would cringe if men behaved like women so what is the solution to this problem? It seems like society forgot to address all the issues before giving the green light to women to take charge of the workplace and their sexual lives. Studies have shown that children fare better when they are raised by their family rather than day care. So I ask again, who’s going to take care of the children? Both sexes have been given the ability to serve society in many ways and I firmly believe that it is neither the man’s nor the woman’s job to have to raise children. Where men are physically stronger, women have been given better negotiation and empathy skills. Without the input and perspective of both men and women, a society cannot be expected to develop in a healthy and inclusive manner. So it is imperative that we have a significant amount of women in the private and public workforce.

The clear cut answer to this problem has always been relationships. Relationships are the building block of society and it doesn’t take a woman to raise a child but a village. What we lack in society is a balance between our individual pursuits and our responsibility to our society. We no longer have healthy relationships with our parents, our aunts and uncles, our cousins. We try to move as far away from our family and “do our own thing”. We no longer maintain healthy friendships with people we can trust and count on. We no longer know the first names of our friendly neighbour. The working women of this generation no longer stay in touch with the one friend that does decide to stay at home and raise the children. The problem is that we ARE trying to do it alone when we should be involving everyone. I am not suggesting that we revert back to some form of communitarian cult-like culture. What I am suggesting is that while our individual pursuits are necessary, those pursuits have harmful affects when we decide to start a family which by nature is inherently contrary to the “individual pursuit”.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Best clip on tv this week

Bill O'Reilly: I didn’t like the line in the (inaugural) speech about ... uhh... we don’t have to compromise our values to protect ourselves. Ummm I think sometimes we do.

Jon Stewart: If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they're not values, they’re hobbies!

Republicans - Talk to the hand.... !

It is neither major nor surprising but this week’s news started with the Republicans’ staunch opposition to stimulus package on grounds of their ever flimsy ‘fiscal responsibility’ lies. Democrats faced this opposition and responded in a manner that they know how to do best – running scared and grovelling to the base of the other side. When Republicans took the “my way or the highway” approach in recent history, we saw a complete destruction in may areas of governance, so I am inclined to support the Obama administration’s willingness to cooperate with differing points of view. However, destructive points of view should have no place in politics. On this and many other points Democrats do not have cave to the Republicans. As Paul Krugman, a noted Nobel Prize winning economist has asserted, the best budget bill passed during the Clinton Administration was done with zero votes from the Republicans. While I am against any possibility of a tyranny of the majority, regardless of whether it was Republicans or Democrats, I am also against sabotage, political lunacy and fear mongering, which is all the Republicans have shown they are capable of. The hypocrisy of Republicans of labelling people as un-American if they do not support their President during a time of crisis clearly only applies to Republican Presidents. I for one, however, am not going to discourage Republicans from saying whatever they want because it is their right.

It should be noted that the American people have categorically rejected the platform the republicans put forward. The U.S. House of Representatives have 256 Democrats out of 435 members, the Senate has 58 (possibly 59) Democrats out of 100, and a Democratic President, all of whom have been decisively democratically elected. It is disappointing to see public service and infrastructure projects are being cut out form the stimulus package to accommodate tax cuts, which clearly did not and do not work. We need a way to kick start the economy where people have a source of income and NOT a once a year payment that they clearly are not going to spend. One only has to look at the behavior of banks that were given bailout money to specifically spend it, to see that in times of crisis people hold on to whatever they’re given unless there is a promise of more in a predictable periodic fashion. One word - Security. The public needs to know that there will be a steady income and funnily enough a job provides steady income, tax cuts decidedly do not. Perhaps the time had come for Democrats to show that they too have a spine to make decisions that they were elected to make. Unless the Republicans take a reflective position of what went wrong and more importantly the wrongs they have committed in the last 8 years, Democrats should only have one response.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

An Open Letter to the President of United States

Dear Mr. President,

Well it has been almost 2 years since I immersed myself in the US election and now it is finally over. It was one of the most gruelling election primaries in the history of American elections and I loved every minute of it. I cringed at racism, sexism, ageism, and every other despicable “ism” that the media came up with to make this historical election more interesting. But somehow it is over and thank goodness for it and we got the greatest political show on earth to prove it. My election experience consisted of going to one of your rallies in San Antonio, TX during the primaries, following the primary debates and learning about the delegate system, watching and discussing all three Presidential Debates and reading countless articles and blogs. If I have to read another Post article or watch another Youtube ‘viral’ video I will have an aneurism. Although the election is over, there is no doubt that today is the beginning of a new era in leadership.

Mr. President, the American people have not given you a right to govern but a privilege to govern through their valuable time spent in endless campaigning and waiting in lines to vote. The greatest promotion of democracy is its true demonstration and America has no doubt demonstrated that in the last election. You have promised tax cuts for the middle class, universal health care and a restoration of the dignity of diplomacy. I urge you to stand by your word. Prove to the critics and Republicans and the sceptics that the empowerment of the middle class will lead to far greater economic stability than the farcical non-existent trickle down effect from the selfish rich. Prove that universal healthcare is not socialism but an inherent right synonymous with the right to life, which will make America a healthier nation. Prove that the ‘civilised world’ is capable of facilitating the fine art of diplomacy over the savage institution of war and violation of human rights.

Mr. President, I urge you to keep to your promise of holding those responsible for the perpetual defamation the U.S. Constitution in the last 8 years by giving back to Americans what they have the false security of thinking they already have – civil liberties, freedom to dissent and ability to question how they are governed. In a democracy, the power belongs to the people, which the people have entrusted you with. It is now your responsibility, as the face of this nation, to ensure that the thousands of soldiers who have died serving their nation, the millions of people that have endured pain and suffering to make their way to America from various backgrounds in the hope of a better life, and the entire nation that worked harder than any other nation to make it the most powerful country in the world, did not do so in vain.

Mr. President, I am moved by acknowledgment of the USA as a nation among nations, by the extension of your hand to all nations, and the pledge of bringing positive change in not only the United States but the world. I am impressed by your direct address to the Muslim world, the poorer nations and the false notion of a choice between ‘safety and ideals.’ You have more support than dissent, in you more hope and optimism then fear, and the willingness for progress. There was a time not too long ago when people wanted to be America, to have the charms, the ambition, the inspiration to be the best that America symbolises. Deliver us that America from the shroud of secrecy and defiant domination, and end the nightmare that consumed a third of my life. Good Luck.

January 21, 2009
Christchurch, New Zealand