Friday, December 1, 2023
December 1, 2023

Viewpoint: Transfer of power needed


As a result of the election just past, Americans will argue for years about voting systems and the Electoral College, historically understandable but deeply flawed.

I think the problem is far more basic. The whole idea of nation is wrongheaded. Nations were born of empire, and power is as fatal a foundation for nation as selfishness is for capitalism. Nations still celebrate their birth in false myth, but the fact is that a bunch of newcomers from far off overrode residents of ancient tradition and forced them into new ways of living.

We can’t do much about yesterday. The question is whether nations are a good way to organize human affairs today. I think they aren’t. They encompass a jumble of geographies and cultures while at their edges they divide landscapes with the same characteristic natural forces, and separate neighbour from neighbour. At the northern extreme of the Alaska/Yukon boundary, for instance, a line (invisible, weightless, more easily crossed by lemmings than by people) first divides Inuit families, then Dene neighbours. Emerging from the Pacific at the Strait of Juan de Fuca it splits communities that delight in and harvest the same waterways. Zooming transit-straight eastward for 1900 kilometres, the border splits oil patch from oil patch, wheat field from wheat field, woodlot from woodlot.

Since America’s start from fiercely independent colonies, power has shifted from local to national bodies. The upshot is that boundaries that wouldn’t stand a test of common sense promote turmoil and then assure that the people who decide outcomes of local issues are the people who understand them the least. When two combines meet in mid grain field, one driver scowls and the other grins.

It’s easy, and an odd sort of fun, to find fault, but hard to find solutions. (As true of scholars as of protest marchers.) I’m trying. I picture a slow transfer of power away from national to regional and local structures. The key would be mid-level partnerships between city and country folks who recognize their dependence on each other. (How would city folks get water if country folks didn’t take care of the land that produces it? How could country people have decent health care and full enjoyment of the arts if city people didn’t help create and pay for them?)

I’d call these partnerships “home regions,” and their job would be landscape stewardship with both care and use in mind. In that arena, home regions would be in charge.

Modern life has mostly blinded us to the fact that people are products of the land as much as moose and maples. Home regions would help make that truth a big factor in everyday life.

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I picture a slow transition, not an abrupt change. Is there time? Maybe. Some scholars think we’ve already begun a truly fundamental transition away from a society based on belief in perpetual growth. Global populations are rising only slightly, women are choosing to have fewer children, per-capita consumption is dropping, and substantive technological changes are coming less often.

Let’s hope we are moving toward a world in which lives aren’t frantic reactions to rapid-fire change, but where the conditions under which we make choices for tomorrow are a lot like those we lived in yesterday.

We might even have time to figure out how to put brain and heart into democracy.


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