This election campaign is big on promises, but failed to inspire voters to give of themselves, writes Glen Argan. Photo by Ishmael N. Daro

Glen Argan: Politicians fail to grasp moral leadership role

  • October 18, 2019

The current federal election campaign is perhaps the saddest in Canada’s 152-year history. With its emphasis on political spectacle, minimal contact with voters and a refusal to look the future in the face, one wonders what democracy has become.

The current generation has an abiding responsibility to do what it can to make life more bearable and more productive for its children and grandchildren. This responsibility is lived out dramatically in those who risked or gave their lives in a war against tyranny.

It is also seen in the immigrant — those who left their homelands to come to a new country with more opportunity and freedom. The immigrant left family and friends behind, often had to learn a new language and adapted to the strange ways of their new homeland. Often, they lived the remainder of their lives feeling maladapted to the new society. Still, the sacrifices were worth it in order to give their progeny a better life.

In the election campaign just concluding, political parties promised voters the moon, leaving future generations to pick up the tab through higher taxes or increased financial debt. Government debt may be somewhat tolerable, but debt always makes one the slave of the one who loaned you money, and the greater the indebtedness, the greater the slavery.

Major parties have failed to offer policies which, instead of promising to give voters something, would have asked voters to give of themselves. For example, most parties have failed to develop policies which would enable Canada to meet its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas production. 

One party leader even refused to participate in a debate on the issue — a scandalous moral disengagement from what is likely the most urgent and threatening global concern.

Yet, as much as we should be critical of politicians, we must acknowledge that their attitudes reflect those of the wider population. 

Our common ethic is one of living for the moment, to engage in self-gratification while giving little more than passing notice to the needs of others. The focus on present pleasures has eroded our fidelity to lasting commitments, such as those of friendship and marriage.

The media and academia have had a pernicious effect, especially in their deconstruction of objective moral norms and in the media’s reliance on advertising which promotes consumerism and thus bolsters corporate power and profits.

The existence of moral limits gets little more than ridicule from much of our intelligentsia. As a result, we have unregulated abortion and legal assisted suicide as testimony to the belief the present desires of individuals outstrip the common good.

Our culture of living for the moment and eroding moral limits will lead to chaos if not reversed. Jordan Peterson describes chaos this way: “Chaos is the despair and horror you feel when you have been profoundly betrayed. It’s the place you end up when things fall apart; when your dreams die, your career collapses or your marriage ends.” Societal chaos is not a place we want to go.

Yet with many children being raised in fatherless homes and a lack of concern for moral order, individual and government debt, and a stable natural environment, it is the direction we are headed. Have the politicians confronted this situation or merely gone with the flow?

Our crisis is a moral one. Canada was founded by making the Great Northwest a well from which to draw corporate profits irrespective of the First Peoples who made that region their home. Treaties were signed and ignored, and a way of life destroyed. Here is another debt which remains on the books, staining our past and casting a dark spell over the future.

Reversing the moral direction of a society takes an all-out commitment from individuals as well as inspired leadership. It also calls us to courageously challenge the powers which benefit financially from moral dissolution.

Moral maturity is the result of self-sacrifice, something governments cannot do much to implement without becoming oppressive. They should set legal limits to protect the common good, but the biggest step forward will come when the people rebel against consumerism and make the needs of others as much of a priority as their own desires. 

This should not be too much to ask, but in a mass society where instant gratification has taken hold, it may prove to be beyond our collective capacity.

(Glen Argan is program co-ordinator for Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert, Alta.)

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