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About Meslin, academia, and the "democratic deficit"

So why am I writing this? Much of it is just about my personal life and my transient frustrations, like with my educational institution. What the hell, its my blog. My life somehow keeps relating to a few key topics. One is voting/political reform.

The stuff below was written off and on over three days. I am finished with classes in this course. I am working like crazy to get a stack of stuff read that I need to use for the final essay which is due in a week. When I am done with this I will have a number of articles that will be worth putting on this list or my blog, about democratic reform as it relates to voting reform.

Why am I working on this instead of my essay? I need a break now and then from that. The information I have about Meslin is worth putting out before I forget about it.

Dispensing with Mez

Well, I really should tell all the FVC ginger snappers about my encounter with Mez tonight. Or rather, non encounter. I did not talk to him and he had brains enough not to try to talk to me. Actually this took place last night but I started writing this yesterday.

He got invited to be one of the judges of this presentation competition the professor put on. We are required to give a five minute presentation about our basic thesis in the final essay, which I have barely started to put together. I think I did reasonably well. We were supposed to pretend we are talking to a cabinet minister. I will attach what I delivered to the bottom of this post.

Actually, Mez said something I can support partly. He talked about never going to university himself. He went to York for a few months but decided he could save money and read the books himself. There is one problem with that. You have to buy all these books and they are not cheap. You also have to know what books to get.

If I were not enrolled, I would not have had access to the Robarts library, which allowed me to read these books and articles for free. Scholarly articles tend to be behind paywalls these days unless you are a university hangabout of some sort. As well, I have had this nice grant for all these years which enabled me to take one course at a time.

Dunce Scotus cap

That worked well enough until I ran into this course. It is the toughest thing I have ever encountered. There is no way in hell I can pass it. Most of the rest are, but these are real brainiac kids. The course has been worth all the rest of the political science crap I have been taking, but it is just too much all at once. I would have been able to handle it if I had the full year instead of this condensed summer course.

It is a real paper blizzard, and I am going to be reading this stuff until thanksgiving. The prof has agreed that he will comment on my writing even if I hand it in next christmas.

But I want to graduate from all this pretty soon. I thought I had the credits but starting out in philosophy and switching to polysci long ago is causing some bureaucratic complications. I need some way I can continue to have access to Robarts and maybe take the occasional course which interests me.

Also, I do not want any more of this synthetical crap that is taking over U of T. The prof mostly agrees with me about that. He thinks I really should have gone to Ryerson. The counsellors did not advise me thus because they "wanted my money". That place is ridiculed as "Rye high" and tends to be where the worst type of radical idiots hang out. But Prof thinks it is also the home of more practical minded people who have actually done something in the real world. U of T is full of people who have never done anything except write papers and read papers.

Also, a big problem with it is that it is controlled by religious organizations; know what I mean? Yes, back in the middle ages university was taught in a very syntheticizing way; from known to known. Stay inside a very narrow box. But a few centuries ago the scientific revolution happened and the modern world began. People started to think in an analytical way; from known to unknown. Human knowledge then began to expand rapidly and the scientific revolution lead to the technological revolution and all the nice stuff we have now. You know; heat, light, safe food and water, useful medicines, media and communications.

They have not caught onto this at U of T yet. A few U of T teaching aide types have not liked it when I opined thus to them. It is great that they want to make a career in academia, but they had better get it straight that the rest of the world does not work that way and if their university is not educating people for life in the real world, it has no reason to exist.

As I said, this Prof agrees with that but he is stuck within the university system. He has to set a strict "rubric" for all written work, and I have to stay in it. This is not like when I first started at U of T in 1995 when I could just write, and if it was well written, logical and supported, it passed. I cannot research a paper anymore, which I used to be good at. Now I just regurgitate the prescribed readings.

argumentum ad auctoritatem

So, regardless of Mez, there is value to actually going to a university if it is a modern university. It is about learning to organize information and present it logically, not just about reading. Doing that is what teaches you to think. A lot of the RaBIT people's problem is they need to learn how to think. You will notice that their style of arguing is very "from authority"; this is what we are going to be allowed to have, so get inside it.

We can't have PR in city government, but we can have AV. Says who? Says Mez. How does Mez know? Because the "smart people" told him so. Who are these smart people? The people who want AV and do not want PR. And who are these people? The people who benefit from things as they are know and for whom AV would freeze these things in place. And why do these people get to decide that everything must suit them? Because they are the smart people. And because, they pay Mez to tell you what is so.

Mez also talked about his "spacing magazine" project. It is now a big selling publication. Go take a look at it. You will find that it is a propaganda blow hole for the development lobby. Spacing people like the Ontario Municipal Board. They hate resident's associations who do not want uncontrolled development in their neighborhood. Spacing people want densification, but do not think that includes densifying public services for the denser population. That is very dense. But the smart people all say that this is all good and they are the smartest because they are.

As I have said before, everything Mez has ever done has been to trump initiatives by the NDP or community organizations, usually in the service of the Liberal party or old money groups. That is not to say I am a big NDP fan either. He was talking about how he and some friends started Spacing with a few hundred dollars out of their own pockets. But how did they live while they were starting this magazine? They had some big money from somewhere.

Mez talked to the students about how instead of spending their money on fancy clothes and clubbing, they should put it into activism. This brought forth some snickers. The two who did their service learning placement with him were not laughing. I could not talk long with the prof because they and Mez were waiting to talk with him after other witnesses had left. I know they are having some problems with him. I think the Ole Perfesser is starting to understand that what I told him about Mez is true. That includes his fondness for spending his spare money on certain substances which are not legal.

the range of solutions

My own placement was at Central Neighborhood House. That is a community center in the east downtown between Ryerson and Regent park. I used to live around that area. The situation in the area has not changed and can cause thought about the usefulness of proportional representation in local government.

It is still a target of intense gentrification efforts, with local resident's associations trying to drive "everything social" out of the area. They even try to close down businesses which cater to low income people, often by legal harassment. They will eventually succeed; they have already closed most of the rooming houses east of Parliament.

CNH is vital to the remaining low income people. That is why it is under such intense attack from the local resident's associations. The staff there do a good job but they are short funded and kept on the choke leash. They cannot do any political advocacy. They can not get funding for any new initiatives. The people in the area are hunkered down and trying to survive. There is no voice for the low income people in the area; only the "white painters", the "yuppies", the "gentrifiers", have any voice. Even the supposedly NDP affiliated local councilor has little sympathy for them.

Now, the question for FVC local democracy people is; what sort of voting reform would give the roomers and social housing residents some voice in the governance of the area? Would proportional representation really help? Would more devolution onto neighborhood governance groups help? Would anything help if these people have absolutely no resources?

Creating a neighborhood level of government to organize government services, getting away from a social agency model of delivery, would not help much. The yuppies are not a majority in most parts of east downtown, but they have the time and resources to call the shots. The older community is hugely compromised by income, health, and language issues.

Proportional representation would presumably be by STV at such a local level. Would this lead to some voice for the roomers and TCHCers? They might get a few seats but would have some trouble translating a majority of population into a majority in the local council. But that is better than nothing. That is a big part of what PR is about anyway; representation by areas of interest, not geographic areas.

If true decentralization occurred, with money and authority, and responsibility, to deliver social services, would this improve delivery to the low incomed? Or would the yuppies seize it for themselves? A study of community councils in the U.K shows a lot of nonsense going on, with councils being sieved by whack jobs of either the left or the right wing, either of them a hazard to poor people. Yet local government works well in other countries, such as France or parts of the U.S.A. The key is said to be giving the local government real power and resources, as well as responsibility and assurance of legal actions for abuse of authority.

Suppose the area around central neighborhood house really had a neighborhood council. It had a budget, real power, and an obligation to provide services to everybody. There was a real system of prosecutions for local councillors who failed to carry out legal and moral obligations properly. For example, if some whack jobs from the local resident's associations gained a majority on the council and started trying to shut down the community kitchen again, there could be interventions from a higher level. Likewise if some leftist types started trying to divert resources to "the comrades".

But to repeat, local governments generally work well when it is serious; when it has power, responsibility, and resources. For low income people to have some voice in it, it helps for them to have some basic resources of their own. This brings me to the other topic I obsess about a lot; a guaranteed income. Pilot projects in many places now show that giving people enough money to take care of themselves has a very powerful effect on poor neighborhoods. If the people in central neighborhood could do more than hunker down and survive, that would solve a very big part of the problem around there.

A guaranteed income would be more useful for local and low income empowerment than PR. However, PR at a higher level would be very useful getting and protecting PR. It is a dream of mine; PR making a low income people's party of some kind viable, which then leads to a basic income as well as devolution of power to lower levels of government.

But enough of this. Here is the presentation.

Hello Minister;

You have asked for a briefing on the causes and solutions for civic decline. You see an absence of trust and low voting turnouts. You believe that democracy means the transaction of trust, otherwise it develops into a tyranny.

In order to find solutions for a problem, you have to define what the problem really is. Also in this case, what a democracy really is. Democracy has become a debased term. For example, many people talk about democracy as trust between stakeholder groups. That is oligarchy, not democracy.

In a democracy, there is one stakeholder; the public. The reasons for declining trust and participation is partly that the public, especially the younger ones, are no longer fooled; they know what system they live in. As well, declining trust and participation suits oligarchs well.

Problems are not solved with the kind of thinking which gave rise to them. The problem of the so called democratic deficit will not be solved by tinkering with the present system. Before we storm the bastille we should reflect that revolutions do not achieve their aims unless those for whom it is made have a clear idea of what they want to replace the existing order with, and have some organizational ability.

The public in Canada does not have these. No constructive change to the present order is possible as yet. What could be done is to increase the public's organizing capacity and its awareness of alternatives. This would be done by a deliberate program of increasing social capital at a local level. This is in effect a form of deliberative democracy. Even this would engender serious opposition, with attempts to discredit local groups, restrict or eliminate funding, and prevent the groups from having any effect or authority.

These attacks would come as much from "left" political networks as from "right" ones. Such initiatives must be fought for very hard and persistently, but some countries have made some progress at it. They are not a solution to the democracy deficit; they lay the ground for a better outcome when the present system eventually collapses.

Thus, the promotion of deliberative democracy is counseled as the primary solution for the democratic deficit, that is within the present capacity of elected officials.

Your questions, please.

postscript

I listened to most of the other presentations. I think mine was pretty good.

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