WTF Democracy Part 3

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A third issue with democracy: land versus people.

A common topic brought up in US politics is the structure of the senate: two senators per state. This is not representation divided into districts of similar populations. Wyoming has the same number of senators as California, with 1% of its population. This is skewed, obviously, but I can sympathize with its setup as a matter of space.

I live in a generally underpopulated province (in a generally underpopulated country) but with a vast amount of natural resources. Ontario has ten times Manitoba’s population, and so the federal government is way more influenced – in both the House of Commons and our very-different-from-the-US Senate – by them, proportionately. Per capita Manitoba has more space, more land, more natural resources than Ontario but Ontario could very well have more impact on the decision of what to do with that space. The constitutional scope of provincial versus federal government in Canada helps ease that, but there is still an imbalance in certain ways that can affect the land – which affects environmental issues and falling dominoes ensue.

Manitoba also has a higher portion of indigenous people in its population, and despite attempts at cultural genocide some of the traditional values of those peoples remain and are growing as a new era of cultural awareness and pride in heritage has begun. Within this diversity of cultures there is a common value that the land is a spirit, a consciousness, a god to which humans owe their gratitude. Animals are also a blessing to humans, who provide a gift and must be honoured and respected. The gist of those attitude has me reconsider democratic divvying by population alone: how much power does the land itself have in political decisions that affect it.

Many of the lower population American states are large in size – Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Alaska, the Dakotas – and contribute a lot of the land-based resources that human beings will always need above what highly populated places are known for, like LA and its entertainment industry and NYC and its financial market. Federal American decisions in the house of representatives (that makes up over 80% of congress) reflect population proportions. The purpose of the Senate is as a safeguard, another step bills have to go through, and should be structured differently to ensure another angle of scrutiny. So while it may be mathematically “undemocratic” to have two senators for WY and two senators for NY it helps balance power for the agricultural, geographical, and ecological diversity in the country. Most of the world is urban, now, and that is on the rise. The people who work the land to sustain both urban and rural populations for basic needs in complex societies can’t be silenced.

And even still, the land itself isn’t getting a voice even if sparse states are represented disproportionately high. The people in these states, the senators they elect, may be biased towards short-term gains in abusing this land and that is also in conflict with the common indigenous values towards nature. Democracy is based on an unconscious assumption that the people own the world, rooted in the given-from-(the)-god(s) mentality brought across the Atlantic from the Old World. We can take time to listen to the land more carefully in making political decisions yet we’re stuck on the notions of economic growth that is really of superficial benefit past a certain point. The land is going to have the last word no matter what. Global warming would happen without people but it might not happen so violently if there weren’t so many people whose lives depended on it not happening. There wouldn’t be so many of these people if we didn’t obsess over man-made issues like employment as if they were the old-as-time absolute factors of human life that we think they are. We are not bigger than the planet we live on; we are much, much smaller.

If trees could vote…

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