Thursday, April 30, 2009

You, Me and Other People

American politicians love to criticize people who are nominated for things, and a recent Time magazine article mentioned that a current fight centres around US involvement in international treaties and laws. The worry is always about national sovereignty: "Why should our people be subject to rules and decisions made by people we didn't elect?" I heard similar objections when I was in England by people suspicious of the EU Parliament. A variation emerged in Canada when Stephen Harper said he was all about a "made in Canada" solution to global climate change.

You can see the emptiness of the argument by extending it. If I demand to know why I, as a Canadian, should be subject to decisions made in Geneva or New York, I must also ask why I, as a Nova Scotian, should be subject to decisions made in Ottawa. For that matter, why should I, as a Cape Bretoner, be subject to the whims of government officials in Halifax? Damn it, why should I, a resident of Glace Bay, have to kow tow to the fat cats in Sydney? I live on Quarry Point, so why should I care what the gang over in The Hub thinks? In fact, why should I, as a free individual, have to listen to anyone at all?

The answers are obvious and they extend right back to international cooperation. Simply put, as the problems get bigger, the solutions require more people. I can handle some things on my own, but I don't have a place for all my garbage, so I rely on my local government to collect my trash. My municipality can't run its own education or health care systems, so those are done by the province. Each province can't have its own military; the Federal government looks after that. Canada alone cannot solve our climate problems or eliminate nuclear weapons or any number of the big problems of the world. That has to be done on an international scale.

At every level, some personal autonomy is lost, but the benefits are worth it. I don't get to choose the day the trash gets picked up, but I don't care as long as it gets picked up. I don't choose the local high school principal, and I don't want to. I'll let others do that. Ditto for defending that borders. We all enjoy benefits from citizenship even if it means other people are making decisions that affect us. Alaskans benefit from being citizens of the USA just as Yorkshiremen benefit from being citizens of the UK, even if it means taking direction from the Congress in Washington or the Parliament in London; Chiang Mai depends on Bangkok, and Brisbane relies on Canberra. Fill in your own localities here.

Why should we give control to those that we ourselves did not elect? Because sometimes that's the only way it works.

1 comment:

SC said...

The difficulty for many people, I suspect, is that it's easy to see the benefit of working together to get the rotting garbage off the sidewalk; harder to connect global cooperation with the preservation of polar ice-caps (for example), at least until the water is lapping the front step of your inland property. That's not to defend the narrow minded, me-centred perspective, but rather to ask how we make the intangible and abstract personally relevant for people who do not habitually think in that way.