Where Is the Fire in Our Politics? Research Time, 04/06/2014

I watched some of the leaders’ debate for Ontario’s provincial election last night, though I couldn’t bear to watch it all. The thorough disappointment looking at Kathleen Wynne and Andrea Horwath combined with my disgust at the condescension of Tim Hudak’s folksy non-answers such that I eventually had to turn away for my own health. As I’ve said before here and on Twitter, I live in Andrea Horwath’s district, so my vote will probably count as a protest. 

Peter Ormond is the Green Party candidate in my district,
running on the electoral suicide mission against NDP
leader Andrea Horwath. Here is his platform, and you can
follow the links on that page to general Green Party policy.
I’ll probably vote Green, despite my broad philosophical problem with linking environmentalism to a single political party, because many of their social policies and plans to protect Ontario's watersheds and agricultural land are very good ideas. As well, I support their plan to destroy Ontario’s Catholic school board and merge its resources with the secular state system. This is a personal issue for me, as my home province of Newfoundland was badly wounded by Catholic dogma and abuse — our orphanage system was the home of horrifying sexual abuse by priests for decades, and our Catholic school system was culturally complicit in instilling such blind, dogmatic trust in the church that there are still people, even after the spectacle of a public trial featuring horrifying victim testimony, who believe that no priest, pious man of God that he is, could ever molest a child. I was shocked that Ontarians accept the presence of a Catholic school board in their province when I first moved here, and I still am.

But this post is about more than just my thoughts about the provincial election and my ramblings about social policy in general. Otherwise, I would have labelled it another Jamming. Because I regularly looked down from the cheap talking points (everybody), empty populism (Wynne), faux-leftism (Horwath), and idiotic folksiness (Hudak) to my iPad, where my book of essays by Antonio Gramsci lay open. And it made me wish the fire I could see in the early essays of this Italian activist from a century ago could appear in the politics of my own country and time.

Of course, one of the major reasons for that political fire was that these essays came from the socialist left of Italy during the First World War, when the economy was collapsing, much of the Italian countryside was impoverished and illiterate, and the rise of Mussolini and Fascism was just around the corner. Tumultuous times like those make for exciting philosophy.

But Gramsci offers a voice that is sorely missing in this election, as Ontario’s major politicians all play to a standard set of talking points, setting the election's agenda by following trends in buzzwords more than any substantive engagements with issues that would make a real difference to the lives of people in this province. Horwath arguing over who will balance the budget better and faster, Wynne making public transit (one of the most important issues for southern Ontario, especially inter-city) sound boring, and Hudak explaining education policy by talking about how his dad used to give him math lessons are not real politics.

Here’s an example of real politics. Midway through the First World War, Gramsci wrote a series of essays on education policies for his radical magazine, Avanti!, that hit at a heavily class-segregated system. The prestigious university programs received the lion’s share of government funding, but only went to the overproduction of lawyers and other white-collar jobs. Vocational schools received a pittance because of their association with labourers. As a result, the upper class found themselves underemployed, and the working class found themselves out of work because Italian factories had to import better-skilled labour from other countries. 

Gramsci imagined a vocational system that combined humanistic political, philosophical, and literary educational grounding with the vocational skills training needed to manufacture physical goods, the basis of genuine wealth production. “Technical schools should not be allowed to become incubators of little monsters aridly trained for a job, with no general ideas, no general culture, no intellectual stimulation, but only an infallible eye and a firm hand.” Philosophical education was necessary for all people, since “Philosophy finds people opposed to it especially when it states truths that strike at vested interests.”

Those university administrators who think nothing of treating the tuition payments of their students as collateral for corporate partnerships should understand that “A school which does not mortgage the child’s future, a school . . . of freedom and free initiative, not a school of slavery and mechanical precision” is a place where “the sacrifices which everyone in society willingly makes in order to foster improvements and nourish the best and most perfect men who will improve it still more — these sacrifices must bring benefits to the whole of society, not just to one category of people or one class.”

That’s real politics: imagining a better way of life for your fellow citizens and working to create it.

And to boost my readership, I’ll end with the hashtag #ONpoli, with the hope of encouraging a little actual politics in ON.

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