Statement of Principles

I’m going to use this page to emumerate (and work out) what I believe.

I am a Canadian living in the US. I was born in Canada, raised during the Trudeau “Just Society” era. I currently live in the US. In many ways, I still think of Canada as home, and I probably always will. But I’m getting more comfortable living the in the US and I also think of Rochester as home.

Liberal is not a dirty word. It’s shocking to me, as a Canadian, to see “liberal” used as a negative, and to see liberals portrayed in such negative terms, and even worse, to see liberals trying to avoid using the term. I read the dictionary definition and think “yeah, that’s me. And I’m proud that I’m that.” We’ve got to reclaim the word.

I believe the strong have a duty to protect and not dominate the weak. That means that businesses shouldn’t be allowed to destroy the environment or exploit their workers in the name of short term profits. That means that a supervisor shouldn’t be allowed to put an underling in a position where they may think, rightly or wrongly, that their job will be affected negatively by behaviour outside of the responsibilities of the job – such as sexual behaviour or expressing personal or political beliefs. I believe that the rich should help the poor to have a decent standard of living. I believe that parents should help their children grow up to be strong and independent and functioning and happy members of society.

I think the government has a pivotal role in making this happen. Yes, it would be nice if the strong would just do their duty to the weak on their own initiative, but experience shows that either this doesn’t happen, or it happens in an uneven manner. The government is the only strong entity that has the power to force other strong entities to do what they should be doing, through regulation, incentives and their own social programs.

I believe that too much reliance on government to achieve this is bad. Yes, we’ve all heard the term “Nanny state”, and I believe there is a tendency to go too far in that direction in some regulations and programs. We shouldn’t abdicate our responsibilities to each other and to our selves.

Self-reliance is a virtue. So is the ability to rely and depend upon others. These two polar opposites have to be balanced to make a happy person and a happy society. I think one reason the Right hates social programs is that they go against the image of the hard working self reliant archtypes of American society like the frontiersman and the cowboy. But not everybody can be self reliant all the time.

Government social programs aren’t perfect, but they’re better than nothing. Yes, there is a lot of waste, there is a lot of doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, but only government has the means and the scope to affect the whole country. I saw a statistic the other day that showed that before the Social Security program started, something like 50% of seniors were below the poverty line, and now it’s somewhere around 10%. That’s incredibly impressive.

Government social programs should be a safety net not a hammock. Not everybody can be turned into a productive member of society, but I suspect that there are people dependant on government social programs who could be supporting themselves if they got the right sort of incentives and training. The solution to that program isn’t to kick everybody off the programs, but to do a better job of identifying which people can be helped and which can’t, help those who can be helped and support the people who will always be incapable of supporting themselves.

A poor person’s life is important too. Poor people shouldn’t live less healthy and die younger than rich people. Socialized medicine would appear to be the only solution to that. I have no qualms about allowing rich people to pay for and get non-essential services that the poor don’t, why should they live longer? I often point to my native Canada as a good example of socialized medicine done right, but I have to wonder why things like chiropractors, dentists and prescriptions aren’t covered in Canada.

Government should pay their bills. One of the reasons I don’t call myself a “Trudeau liberal”, even though most of the other principles I’ve enumerated were heavily influenced by growing up in the blooming of the Just Society in Canada, is that Trudeau ran huge budget deficits even in boom times. I think a government should only run a deficit during a crisis. Otherwise they are running up debts to benefit people today, and passing the costs onto a future generation.

I don’t mind doing more than my part. People as rich as I am should pay more taxes, proportionally, than people poorer than I am. And people richer than me should pay even more. We should, because we can. When I was younger, I was living a middle class existence, but barely. I had credit card debts that never went away. But as my income went up, my expenses went up as I started living a bit better, but at a slower rate than my income. So now I’m living a very comfortable existence – sure, I’d like a nicer house, I’d like to own a new digital SLR and a Photo iPod, I’d like to own a plane. But my credit cards are cleared, my kids and step-kids education expenses are covered, I give a fair amount of money to causes I believe in, and I don’t need more than I have.

A woman should have a right to choose. As a father of adopted children, I wish more women would choose to carry their babies to term and put them up for adoption rather than aborting them, but I don’t feel that I have a right, and neither does my government, and neither does her abusive ex-husband or her parents or any other third party, of telling a woman that that little clump of barely differentiated cells in her body is more important than she is. I think there should be some limit on how late in the term you should be able to abort, but I have no idea where that limit should be set. Possibly some comfortable margin before the earliest date where a premature baby would have a reasonable hope of surviving. I am also uneasy over the possibility of women aborting pregnancies for what I would consider trivial reasons (the baby isn’t the gender they were hoping for, the baby has a genetic predisposition to something or other, etc), but that’s a far, far too slippery slope for me to consider allowing anybody down.

People should have the right to choose at the other end of their lives, as well. My wife and I have discussed this many times, and neither of us particularly wants our bodies to keep living after our brains have stopped. If I were left in a vegetative state with no reasonable hope of recovery, Vicki knows that I would want the feeding tube withdrawn. And if anybody else wants to interfere with my wishes, whether parents or politicians, they can fuck off.

Government should get entirely out of the marriage business. The word “marriage” has two different meanings – one is something that occurs in the context of a religion, and one is a civil contract between two people that is overseen by the government. Using the same word for both things is confusing people, and making them think that religious considerations have any possible bearing on what the government is doing. So I propose that governments choose a new word for that license they give you, say “civil union” or something like that, and give you the right to choose whether that civil union license is signed in a church wedding, or a pagan hand-fasting, or in front of a group of friends on your favorite beach. And the sexual orientation, or indeed whether or not the two participants are going to have sex with each other, is nobody’s business but their own. Some churches will continue to care, and so they won’t perform marriages for same-sex couples. So what? That’s their right as private organizations – a marriage won’t have any legal rights or obligations, that’s what a civil union is for. Heck, while we’re at it, why not issue civil union contracts that have limited time periods? And the only reason I can see for keeping a civil union defined as between two people rather than any number of people is that the expense of possibly adding extra people to a person’s benefits at work might be prohibitive.

As a nation, and as people, we should pay more attention to facts. Watching the last election, I kept getting so angry that people were making decisions based on things that had no basis in reality. If you voted for Bush because you think the rich deserve tax cuts, then that’s your opinion and while I disagree, I respect your right to have that opinion. But if you voted for Bush because you think Saddam was connected to the 9/11 attacks or you think weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq, then you’re a fucking idiot and I hate your stupidity.

It’s too bad that stupid people are allowed to vote. I wouldn’t advocate intelligence testing for voting, or anything, because I know that such tests would be used to exclude the weak, the poor, and the minorities like similar voting restrictions have done in the past. But doesn’t it annoy you that you research the issues, listen to what the candidates are really saying, not just the sound bites and the attack ads, and your vote is cancelled out by some mouth breathing Fox watcher whose sole reason for voting the way he does is because he thinks John Kerry is French?

Science should not be subject to political whim. Scientific facts are facts. Just because they are inconvenient to your viewpoint doesn’t mean you are allowed to ignore them. Yes, there are shades of gray and interpretations, but some things are incontravertable. Scientific Creationism isn’t science. The Theory of Evolution is. And it isn’t called “theory” because there is something unproven or non-factual about it, but because scientists don’t use the word “theory” the same way you do. There is also a Theory of Universal Gravitation, but that doesn’t mean we’re in any danger of being flung off into space when it’s proven all wrong.

My religious beliefs are currently in a turmoil. For much of my formative years, I was an avowed atheist and had nothing but contempt for any believers in any god. And I was especially contemptuious of the Christian churches, who I saw as the force or justification behind much of the badness in the world. But though my extensive exposure to the natural world, I started wondering if it really was all just random chance, and wondering if there wasn’t a guiding hand behind all those random particle decays and mutations. In later years, thanks to Vicki I’ve been exposed to the Christian church as a force of liberalism. And so I got baptized into a Christian church, and became a semi-regular if unenthusiastic church-goer. But now once again I see the Christian church being used as an instrument of George W. Bush’s narrow minded hegemony, I see people I love or people that people I love love dying, and suddenly I’m not as sure that I believe that the Christian church is a force of liberalism, and I am not as sure I believe in a God who is interested in the day to day affairs of the world. So I wouldn’t call it a crisis of faith, because it was never strong enough to be put in crisis, but it’s definitely on life support.

If you want people to believe in your God, become a good example. Show us why we should want to believe in your religion by showing us that people who believe in that religion are happier, or they do good things for their fellow man, or something. Not that they’re mean spirited control freaks. You don’t convert people to your religion by forcing people to obey the rules of your religion. Or by making the government force people to obey the rules of your religion. Or by “invading their countries, killing their leaders, and forcing them to convert”.

You don’t need to believe in God to have a moral compass. Jesus might have been the most famous proponent of “do unto others as you would have others do unto you”, but it doesn’t mean you have to believe in the divinity of Jesus to believe that as well. Society exists because people put aside their short term selfish impulses in favour of the longer term gains to be had through cooperation. Life is just richer and simpler if I don’t have to worry about some random stranger stealing my stuff and everybody isn’t pointing a gun at me because they think I’m going to steal their stuff. I want society to function to my benefit, and so I strive to make it function for others’ benefit as well. That’s just enlightened self-interest.

Guns should be controlled. No, I don’t believe they should be banned. There are real reasons why a person might want to have a gun or two. I’ve owned guns, I’ve used friends guns, and I was in the Army Reserve. But I believe that government should be able to regulate who has guns and what types of guns they have. I don’t believe in bans for purely cosmetic reasons (like the so-called “assault weapons ban”) but I do believe in strictly controlling who has access to, say, automatic weapons or rifles over a certain calibre. And I believe that the government should set rules about safety training and how you store your guns, too. I don’t believe anybody has a compelling reason why they need a loaded rifle on a rack on the back window of their pickup truck, nor do I think that somebody dumb enough to leave a loaded handgun on the kitchen counter while feeding their cat deserves to own a gun. If you disagree with me, you’re welcome to argue, but the second you call me a “gun grabber” or a … damn, what’s that word they use? Ends with “ophobe”. Anyway, if you use either of those terms, you’ve lost the debate.

I believe in military service as a character builder and a service to your society. I was in the Army Reserve. I didn’t have to fight anywhere, and for that I’m eternally grateful, although my unit and I did go down to Missisaugua after the train wreck to volunteer our services. It is something I’m proud of. There is a lot of bullshit in the military, and there is a strong underlying thread of suspicion of people who think too much, so I got a lot of unwanted attention from NCOs, but I learned a lot and had some fun. I have the deepest respect for people who served in a combat zone.

Sending soldiers into an unjust and unnecessary war is the worst betrayal possible. I am outraged over the war in Iraq, not just because the justification for it was a tissue of lies, but because we rushed into it without enough troops to decisively keep order in the aftermath, and without fully equipping the ones we sent for the situation. When a person volunteers to become a soldier, they are basically trusting us to use them as a last resort, and to not throw away their lives needlessly. We’re asking these brave men and women to risk their lives for their country, the very least we can do is make sure that they don’t die if they don’t have to.

I buy Canadian or American where I can. Outsourcing is a scourge to our economy. I don’t see a clear-cut way to prevent it, but I think the harmful effects might be lessened if the goverment were forced to always give preference to domestic companies that don’t outsource over all other companies. Otherwise the rise of the middle class that can be directly traced back to Henry Ford paying his workers enough that they could afford the products they were making is going to go away. At least in this country. I’m sure India and China’s middle class is going to be thriving in a few years. Oh, and Walmart are evil fucks who are doing everything they can to ruin the US economy.

It’s too bad that unions screwed themselves in the 70s and 80s, because we need them now. In the 70s and 80s, we heard an awful lot of stories about unions who seemed to have forgotten that they were started to prevent management from abusing their power, and they’d become more interested in abusing their own power. Certainly every Canadian of my age will remember the nearly annual Christmas time post office strike, and every fan of British cars will remember the horror stories of British Leyland downing tools every time you turned around. The backlash against these acts has dealt terrible harm to the union movement. Without a strong and united union movement, who will stand up for the American and Canadian worker to prevent the loss of jobs to overseas?

More later.

4 thoughts on “Statement of Principles”

  1. Paul, if I had the power to so confer, and you had any interest in accepting it, I would bestow upon you full American citizenship. We cetainly need more people like you who vote, now more than ever.

    Every passing day under the current administration makes me weep for the generations to follow. America is running full steam toward turning into a tyrannical theocracy, with no regard to the ideals of freedom and liberty upon which it was orignally founded.

    If you move back to Canada, can I come too?

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Everything I used to bore people on newsgroups and mailing lists with, now in one inconvenient place.