For those who are unaware, this is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. I was asked this morning if I have plans for celebrating the weekend. I responded, in my typical style, by asking "Do you mean plans to celebrate the subjugation of first nation peoples by European colonialists?. I am glad that I live in Canada, I am glad to live here with all of the people who share the land, and I hope that as we mature individually and as a nation that we can share the land more equitably amongst us all.
I am truly thankful for the things that I have. I am healthy, sheltered, have a relatively healthy diet, am not dependent on others to assist me with my most basic human needs, the list goes on and on. I believe that Thanksgiving is an important time to be intentional about how thankful we are as individuals, families, and communities,something that we should be doing as a meta narrative every day of our lives. I can't help but emphasize that Thanksgiving should also be a time to lament the mistakes of our past and of the present, hoping to do even better in the future.
I hesitated momentarily before publishing this article, because my views on some issues are definitely not those of the majority. Nevertheless, I have decided to publish my lament on some issues, if for no other reason than to spark some thought in the minds of my readers on the topics. I hold firmly to the principal of "strong opinions held loosely". I am always willing to participate in discussion and debate of my ideas, with the hopes that all participants, myself included, will grow as individuals, and members of the communities to which we belong.
Charity has done much good, and likely much bad, for people over the ages. But, let us not be fooled, charity is not equity. Equity is equal opportunity. The opportunity to sustain oneself, to raise a family, to contribute back to society the skills and experience that are the amalgamation of our lives.
I believe that charity, people freely choosing to give of what they have toward a communal good, is very important indeed. A community may wish to have a pool, a library may wish to expand its collection, a group may wish to clean up a public park or beach. These, in my opinion are excellent examples of a proper use of charity, not withstanding the fact that government should likely, when able, be responsible for the resources required for some of these activities.
There are terrible uses of charity. Food banks; rehabilitation services for persons with disabilities; and safe, secure and fulfilling shelter for those in society who cannot care for themselves; to name only a few. Aghast are some of you at this moment. Surely these are far better uses of charity than swimming pools, extended library collections and clean public beaches. I respectfully submit that you are incorrect.
The U.S. Declaration of Independence states:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - * That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men * deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, - That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. (http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/, emphasis added)
Putting aside, for the purposes of this article, that the Declaration of Independence is not truly equitable ("all men" was not merely common vernacular for "all human beings"), I think that the above excerpt is an accurate reflection of my belief. It is the responsibility of government to "secure these rights", which include, but are by no means limited to, "life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness".
Do I think that food banks, disability rehabilitation service providers, and community living organizations, that are supported by charity should be abolished? Absolutely I do. Do I think that this needs to be done carefully, and as part of a strategy that sees the responsibility for these services being shifted onto the shoulders of government? Undoubtedly. Do I believe that it will require us to "alter or to abolish" current governments? We certainly need to alter the priorities of government. I should hope that it does not require the abolition of government, but I am not certain how long we wait to make that decision.
I am empathetic toward anyone who has been the victim of "crime", whether directly or indirectly. I am also empathetic toward those who commit "crimes".
What is a crime?
A crime is behavior that the government, through the authority given to it by the governed, has decided to be so harmful as to require special intrusion into the private lives of citizens by the state. A crime is often, but not always, a behavior that the majority of the governed find to be morally objectionable.
Marijuana as an example
The possession and use of marijuana, as an example, is considered a crime in every part of Canada, with the exception of a very small number of citizens who have been given the right to possess and use marijuana for medical purposes. Not being one to confuse a good story with the facts, I will go out on a limb and say that a clear majority of Canadians do not consider this crime to be morally objectionable. I ask the question of readers: is there a compelling reason that the government should intrude into the lives of private citizens to dictate who may and may not possess and use marijuana?
Moral fault requires human free agency
In order for an individual to be morally at fault for their action they must have been able to freely choose an alternative action with better (whatever that means) consequences than the action they chose. In order for society to be "civilized" and relatively peaceful, each human being must be held to account for the actions of their persons, whether they were morally at fault or not. Here is where I will begin to lose any readers who I have not already lost.
I am philosophically a determinist, while at the same time living every day of my life under the commonly held belief that we all have freedom to choose the majority of our actions. "Hypocrite!". Damn straight. I am absolutely a hypocrite to believe that no human being has freedom over any decision, while at the same time holding myself and others responsible for the poor decisions we each make. How can I live this way? With periods of stress, frustration, and internal conflict. Should you have a rational or empirical argument in support of human free agency please leave it in the comments below and you will be helping me to sleep better at night :)
To punish someone, something that over a half century of psychology (for those of you who believe in that mumbo jumbo) has shown us does not positively modify behavior, requires moral fault. How can you punish a person for behavior that is not their fault. Rehabilitation, a stated goal of our "justice" system does not require moral fault, it merely requires a person to behave in a way that we, the governed, have decided to be so injurious to society as to require "correction" or modification. Nevertheless, our prisons are filled with people who have not received anything that even comes close to meaningful rehabilitation services (insert facts here if you care to argue).
I am not sure what the best approach is to reform our justice system. We clearly need to provide rehabilitation services to those "criminals" willing (able) to accept them. We sentence people to an arbitrary period of time in our prisons for crimes, at the end of which they are free to rejoin society (but not really) whether they have been rehabilitated or not. We keep those who have been rehabilitated in our prisons until the end of the minimum detention period for their arbitrarily assigned sentence. Oh, and we really have no reliable method of determining if a person has been rehabilitated, and we provide minimal services to assist with reintegration with society outside of the prison (shocker, the adjustment is not marginal).
I have no answers, only questions. Questions that we all, on a day of thanksgiving for what we do have, should spend some time pondering. I don't think we should all lose sleep over these questions, but we should be willing to confront them and to allow them to affect our lives.
As always I welcome comments and discussion. Perhaps working together we can find answers to these problems before those of you in the U.S. celebrate the subjugation of first nations people.