Tony Blair said something at the end of the G8 conference that caught my attention. It wasn’t anything to do with the specifics of the details announced, but it was about the announcements. I can’t quote it verbatim but the gist of it was, that it was up to the public to keep pressure on the politicians to ensure that they kept the promises made over the weekend. We were responsible for holding them accountable.
Now I’m sure a lot of people who read me have reached the conclusion that I carry a lot of anger around with me. Some of you probably dismiss it as sour grapes: “He’s jealous, obviously poor, not part of the power structure, etc. So he feels left out and has no option but to criticize.”
Maybe that does have something to do with it, but the thing is, I come from a very privileged background (upper middle class), can pass as a member of the majority if I so choose, and live in one of the most privileged societies in the world. Unlike the majority of the world’s population, I have access to free medical care, a social welfare system that allows the disabled to maintain a marginal standard of living, have the freedom to speak my mind, and live relatively without fear of death or injury.
That being the case, why all the anger? A prevailing attitude is that you should just be grateful for what you have and not bite the hand that feeds you. This attitude has filtered down into the public consciences from the top recently as an attempt by governments to provide a target for the frustrations of the middle class who have seen their true earning power erode over the years.
By deflecting the blame away from failures in our system, and themselves, the powers that be have created a scapegoat of those most unable to defend themselves. By blaming society’s woes on its victims, they not only justify actions taken against them but ensure, at the least, benign complicity from the public at large. It also gives the added benefit of making people like me seem like ungrateful whiners.
It’s a very cynical take on the divide and conquer technique. This insures that the disparate elements of society are separated by an “us and them” attitude. Not only does this limit opposition, but it enables a government to elicit support from those who might not otherwise endorse their policies.
An example of this occurred in the province where I live in Canada, Ontario. A conservative government siphoned union rank and file support away from a pro labour party by slashing taxes at the expense of social programs while demonising the poor as cheats, drunks and lazy. This type of policy only works if you can count on people being selfish enough to not care about those less fortunate then themselves.
Unfortunately, that is something that governments seem to be able to count upon in more and more situations. The environment, health care, and education are just three areas that I can think of off the top of my head in which they have or are attempting to play this card.
Let’s take Ontario’s “Health Care Crisis” as an example. To help finance tax cuts, the aforementioned government closed half the hospitals in Ontario declaring them surplus. All of a sudden, waiting times for procedures doubled and we had a health care crisis. The only way to resolve it would be to allow private hospitals so that those who could afford them could jump to the head of the line and reduce waiting times. By creating a “crisis” and getting a few well trained pundits to speak, they increased support for the privatization of our health care.
In instances like these, there is a dependence on the short-sightedness of the public at large for them to have gotten away with implementing these policies. They counted on everybody looking out for their own interests over those or society as a whole. Since almost everyone in the province got a nice check for two hundred dollars (those who were on social services didn’t), they were happy. They couldn’t see past their wallets.
Those chickens are going to come home to roost as real ugly turkey vultures one day soon. We have already seen in Ontario the result of cutting back on water testing regulations. The townsfolk of Walkerton lost too many lives when their water supply was polluted with e-coli for any of us to forget the real cost of tax cuts.
As fewer people are able to get regular medical attention, they will eventually need expensive long term care to deal with illnesses that could have been prevented with timely intervention, which means our hospital will become even more overcrowded and less able to keep up with demands for surgery and other procedures.
Cutbacks to post secondary education have turned the universities into factories for producing a professional class. This will only guarantee a continuation of the widening of the gap between rich and poor, and the eventual disappearance of the middle class.
With such a pessimistic view of life it really you must be wondering why I’ve called this article “Hope.” It’s not sarcasm, it’s genuine. You see there is hope.
Look at the things that make me angry. Look at what they’re dependent upon. Everything is dependent on us acting the way governments want. They cynically manipulate our emotions to contrive situations that will elicit the response that suits them. They couldn’t do any of the things they do without our acquiescence.
That’s where the hope lies–that we can do something about it. We are not powerless. Our leaders are the ones without power, all that they are they get from us. If we want health care then we must demand it. Don’t take no for an answer.
The time of excuses is over. Stop blaming the politicians, look at yourself in the mirror and ask what is more important to you. A little extra money in your pocket or your child staying healthy, having a chance at an education, and being able to grow up in a world with fresh air. You are your own best hope for a better world, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, and don’t trade it away for the false hope of instant gratification.
Maybe Tony Blair didn’t realize the wider implications of what he was saying. Or maybe he doesn’t care anymore because he’s not going to be running again. But he was right. It is our responsibility to hold all politicians accountable. It is our best hope.