In my last post I talked about the fact that we each have a world-view, whether we know it or not, and that many of the tenets of our worldview are not in fact susceptible to what a scientist would regard as adequate proof. This is true whether or not our worldview is an overtly religious one.
For instance, many people today would find themselves instinctively agreeing with the idea that ‘You’ve got to follow your heart’. Where is the rational proof that this worldview is valid or helpful? Is it not responsible, for instance, for the breakup of thousands and thousands of marriages, and the subsequent misery of hundreds of thousands of children, whose parents fell in love again with someone they weren’t married to and decided it was more important for them to ‘follow their heart’ than to keep the promises they made when they got married in the first place (why did they think that wedding services included promises that talked about ‘forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her’ if they didn’t mean that you weren’t supposed to ‘follow your heart’?). I know children whose parents divorced thirty or forty years ago, who are still scarred by it today and who make it obvious by their behaviour over and over again. And yet we still cling to this entirely illogical and completely unprovable idea that ‘following your heart’ is the wisest and most honest way to live. It just seems axiomatic to us, and we simply have no idea how much we have been formed by the presuppositions of our culture in accepting it.
To take another example: universal suffrage, or the right of everyone to vote in elections and referenda. Today we take it for granted in the west that everyone (over a certain age) should have this right; it seems obvious to us that this is required by simple justice, but a moment’s thought will make it clear that this is by no means the only reasonable view.
Back in the early 1990s the Conservative government of Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney negotiated something called the ‘Meech Lake Accord’, a proposal to get Quebec to sign on to the Canadian Constitution Act of 1982 (something, incredible though it may seem, that it has never done). A further refinement of Meech Lake, the Charlottetown Accord, was proposed by the federal and provincial governments in 1992 and was put to a national referendum in October of that year. It was defeated, and since then no solution to the problem has been found.
I had given a great deal of time and thought to considering the Charlottetown Accord and even though I thought it was far from perfect, I thought that it was the best deal we were likely to get for the whole country, given the sharply contrasting views of Canadians, which is why I voted ‘yes’. However, I vividly remember having a discussion about this with someone else in my community at the time who told me that she was planning to vote ‘no’. When I asked her why, she replied, “Because I don’t really know enough about it to vote ‘yes'”. It seemed obvious to me that if you didn’t know enough about the issue to vote ‘yes’, you didn’t know enough to vote ‘no’ either, and that therefore the only reasonable course of action for her was not to vote at all, but this logic did not seem to convince her!
But seriously – why should everyone have an equal vote when it comes to elections and referenda? Some people spend hours and hours reading and researching on subjects before they make a choice and cast a ballot; other people are dyed-in-the-wool conservatives or liberals or whatever and simply vote as they’ve always voted. Politicians seeking to get elected do their best to reduce complex issues to simple sound-bytes that support their party’s view of a subject, but the reality is often far from simple, and it takes hard work and careful thought to navigate through the labyrinth of ideas and opinions to something close to the truth. Why should the vote of a person who is not prepared to put in the work in order to grasp the issues and vote intelligently be given the same weight as that of a person who has burned the candle at both ends in order to do so?
The answer is, of course, because we think human beings have a right to decide their own political destiny, and this includes the right of all adults to vote. Personally, I support that right (although I think it carries with it a responsibility to educate oneself enough to be able to vote intelligently, and I don’t think that we emphasise this enough – or that politicians necessarily want it to be emphasised), but I think a rational case could easily be made for other views. After all, we ask politicians to make decisions for us on economic issues, and economics is a hugely complicated subject of which I personally have a very poor grasp. Even the elected politicians, I should think, have to be briefed for days on end by professional economists before they can begin to grasp it, and even then I think that in the end they make decisions about which economic theory they are going to follow (there are several, so I’m told) based more on political ideology than on impartial investigation of the facts. But the complicated economic proposals made by those politicians then have to be voted on by millions of people who have no understanding of economics at all. Is this reasonable? Is it rational? Surely it would be better to leave those decisions to people who have given years of their lives to studying the issues, wouldn’t it?
Well, I think not, but my thought has as much to do with my emotional attachment to the ideological principle that I have a right to take control of my own political destiny – and that the fundamental way I exercise that right is by voting – as it does with any rational, logical thinking I may have done on the subject. In other words, it’s my world view. Now, with regard to the issue of my previous post (should I take my world view out and wave it around in public, or force it down the throats of others) you might respond to me by saying that no one is forcing this world view down the throats of others. But you’d be wrong. Isn’t this just exactly how we Canadians justify our involvement in the war in Afghanistan, and how the Americans justify their ten-year adventure in Iraq? Are we not trying to export democracy to countries which have for centuries shown a marked preference for tyranny and dictatorship? In other words, we’re forcing our world-view on them (Unless, of course, they democratically elect a government we disapprove of, as happened in Chile with the socialist government of Salvador Allende in 1970. Then, of course, it was legitimate for the CIA to get involved in events to overthrow a foreign government and replace it with a non-democratically elected regime that would oppose Allende’s left-wing ideas. Yet another example of ramming our political world-view down someone else’s throat).
To us in the west, the Soviet Union was a brutal dictatorship in which only members of the Communist Party were eligible to run for election, while we in the west were the guardians of true democracy. Democracy was the absolute, and so everything else had to take second place to it. But think of it, for a moment, from another point of view. Andrei Gromyko was the Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1957 to 1985 – a total of 28 years. How many American secretaries of state did he see come and go during that time? How long did it take each one to get up to speed on the major international issues? What happened to American – and international, since we all sneeze when the U.S. gets a cold – interests during the ‘learning curve’ of each of those Secretaries of State? Could Gromyko – who was described in the Times in 1981 as ‘perhaps the most informed minister of Foreign Affairs in the world’ – not have been forgiven if, from time to time, after another US election and the appointment of yet another new Secretary of State, he had sighed and thought to himself “Here we go again – here comes another young pup I have to start back at square one with”? Yes, the US Secretaries of State took office as the result of a democratic process, while Gromyko did not. But on the other hand, Gromyko’s years of experience surely counted for something important too? My world view says that the democratic process is better – but it is a world view, and it isn’t the only possible one. Many in the world today would disagree.
The sign I mentioned in my previous post says that ‘religion is like a penis: it’s fine to have one, it’s fine to be proud of it, but please don’t whip it out in public and start waving it around, and please don’t start shoving it down my children’s throats’. I argued in my previous post that a religion is simply a world view, something we all have, and that it seems somewhat discriminatory to allow non-religious world views to be taken out in public and waved around while religious world views must be kept private.
But in fact, as I have tried to show in this post, this is not happening. People talk about their world views in public all the time, and they try to persuade others of their validity as well. And in some cases, we as a nation are taking our own political world-view and shoving it down the throats of people in other parts of the world, many of whom have shown very little sign of wanting to accept it. So perhaps the issue is a little more complicated than the memorable and catchy language on that sign might lead us to believe?