Monday, August 22, 2011

Nous Te Souviendras

There are few absolute truths about politics.  No matter how strongly we hold our beliefs or how clear and righteous we believe them to be, there will always be someone who believes the opposite with equal fervor, who believes their stance is just as obviously good.  This is why those seeking absolutist solutions to political challenges are doomed to failure, and why those policies will simply be overcome, not necessarily by opposing parties or individuals, but by the passage of time and the fluid state of politics itself.  For this reason, the few truths that do exist about politics are all the more sacred, and cannot be claimed by one passing party or one mortal individual.

There is one truth above all the truths, and it's simpler than one might think: we live together as humans on this Earth.

It's not that simple, of course, but in a few essential ways our joint presence on this Earth is all that matters.  It means that we cannot escape each other, that every man, woman and child who dies is a loss for all of us, and the birth of every boy and girl is a promise that they will change us all, for good or ill.  It means that every resource we discover or create will be drawn upon by us all, that once exhausted they will be missed by us all.  It means that the better we make our neighbors, the better they can make us, and as we degrade them, we degrade ourselves.  None of this is optional, and because none of it is optional, we all have to be invested in the communal project of our own existence.  This means that no matter our differences - and we have had them, and will have them, forever - we must understand that we are all together, as humans, on this Earth.

Each of us is delivered to this home naked and screaming, with little but luck and circumstance to direct our path forward, and this demands that we respect each other as humans fundamentally, before anything else.  This too requires that we remember that those below and above us share this humanity.  None of us are infallible, none of us are perfect, none of us escape life without feeling fear or being intoxicated by love.  Still, we must rely on imperfect humans to shape our politics and our societies, because there are no other options. God, the universe, chaos, chance - these options are no options at all because they write no policy and take no votes, make no speeches and settle no arguments.  To require them to do so would be insulting in itself, to resign great sublime powers to the grind of determining the minutiae of human life, and it would rescind from us the great power of free will, which allows us to learn from our mistakes and victories alike.  It removes the miracle of humanity and its beautiful relationship to everything beyond us - it renders God and the Webb telescope equally irrelevant.  We must work through this business of living together with each other, as imperfect, mortal human beings.

Canada lost a man who understood this today.  The Honourable Jack Layton passed away today after a long fight with cancer.  He will be fiercely missed.

Jack Layton was no apolitical being and he could never be called a non-partisan voice.  He lead the New Democratic Party to extraordinary gains this past election, and his last letter, when directed at his party, his caucus and his beloved province, rings clearly like the bells of the ships and ports of Quebec with his liberal identity.  Liberals in Canada have lost a powerful leader, one whose work, had it not been cut short by cancer, could have taken Canada to a new position on the world stage.  As a liberal, I hope every day for a leader like Layton, a leader who is willing to mount a spirited defense of liberalism in its robust, rich and appropriate form, and to challenge the image of liberalism that has been painted by those foolish enough to believe Mao and Stalin represent liberalism, rather than their own perverted and ultimately weak doctrines. The NDP will have an extremely difficult time replacing Jack Layton, and they may never succeed - every so often we are given political leaders who are simply unique.  They will find a new leader, and they will have strong leaders, but they may never replace Layton.

What I think makes Layton special is when he turns to Canada as a whole, it is at the end of his letter, and it is nothing but these universal truths.  In the end, Layton understood that he stood on this Earth, amidst his fellow humans, engaged in a communal project that will outlast but still enrich all of us in the time we do have, and bear up those who will succeed us. You can - and should - read the entirety of his letter here, and it would be foolish of me to try paraphrasing his last message to Canada, so I will simply leave it here.
And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

All my very best,

Jack Layton

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