Letter to the Liberal Party of Canada on Electoral Reform

This is the letter I just sent to the Liberal Party on the topic of electoral reform (yes, it’s still on their website). They aren’t convinced Canadians care about it. I care. Leave your thoughts: liberal.ca/contact or email [email protected] (or write a letter/call, if those are your jam).

I’m a young person, and I registered as a Liberal at the beginning of 2016 because I really liked what I saw the Liberal Party doing after winning the last federal election. I’m probably not going to write a letter to my MP (firstly, because I live in Ottawa-Vanier and we sadly lost our MP earlier this year). However, I do feel very strongly that electoral reform needs to be brought to the table again.

I’ve been hearing news recently saying that Liberals will only continue to push the issue of reform if the public still cares. Well, I still care. I voted Liberal because I have progressive views that align well with those of the party, and one of those views was the fact that first-past-the-post doesn’t lead to representative government. Many NDP voters sided with you not because they agree with your platform 100%, but because the left needed to align to get Stephen Harper’s conservatives out of office.

While the current system did work to get your MPs elected, it’s a broken system. Even giving a ranked ballot system (like single transferable vote) will let the people show a strong desire for change, but without forcing them to choose between two parties in a system to actually get a resulting majority.

This is really important to myself, my friends, and my family. We’re all very busy and have entrusted you with governance for the next few years, so you might not be hearing a lot about this issue from Canadians today. I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention, but another broken electoral system just elected a demagogic sexist right next door earlier this month. We want reform, not because we want you out of power, but because the best electoral system is one that doesn’t necessarily restrict choices or lead to relatively unrepresentative leadership.

Other than this issue, I think you’re doing a lot of great work so far. Thank you very much.


The “Your Child” Test (Society is Changing, Part 2)

This is the second section of a multi-part piece I’ve been thinking a lot about, which I’m calling ‘Society is Changing’. You can read part 1 here, which will provide some context for this section.

There has been a ton of energy, brainpower, blood, sweat and tears that has gone into political movements throughout history. As has happened many times in the past, several places in the world seem to have come up against particularly challenging political climates of late. Ideological conflicts like Brexit and the 2016 American election, in addition to armed physical conflicts like the battles raging in several parts of the Middle East, point to the notion that civilization might just be approaching an ideological inflection point.

At times like these, it can be disheartening to see and hear that about half of your country or region seems to hold such rigidly opposed views to yours. In part one of this story, I discussed how ‘society’ as city folk like me see it is changing, in ways that rural Christian communities 50 years ago would see as unacceptable and sinful. It’s absolutely vital to understanding modern politics that those rural communities still exist today, and many of those same beliefs are still firmly held.

Those voters have watched Democrats (for the last eight years in the US) shred some of what they consider to be sacred tenets of their belief system. It’s only natural that those voters would be scared about what might happen, especially as their elected officials have been spouting nonsense about racial minorities ‘taking over’ and the government ‘coming for your guns’.

There’s a lot more to say about the ways society is changing to become more divided, but for the rest of this piece I want to focus on a principle I’ve been thinking a lot about this year. I’ve been calling it the ‘Your Child’ test, and it works a little something like this:

Before you judge somebody, consider how you would feel about them if they were your child.

Give them the absolute benefit of the doubt before criticizing or attacking them. Ask questions to make sure you understand their point of view. If your child wants to do something you disagree with, have an open mind and talk about it. The same should be true for any other human, because we’re all just people.

We all have to share the space on this earth, and we have for the most part agreed on a set of basic human rights (life, fresh water, access to food, to name a few). Taking those as a given, if you’re not hurting anybody, I think most other ideas should be up for discussion.

Imagine if your child told you they wanted to convert to Islam.

Imagine if your child told you they were gay.

Imagine if your child told you they didn’t feel comfortable with the gender they were assigned at birth.

Imagine your child’s skin looked different than yours. Would that really make you love them less?

Humans make a lot of mistakes. We are inherently flawed. This doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to be loved and treated with respect like anybody else. In this divisive time, I’d encourage you to think about how you’d react to your child in a given situation. I’ll bet if we all did this, trading in judgment for compassion, we’d all be a lot happier together.

The Future of Morality

This post was first published at robattrell.com on August 26, 2012. It has been edited for clarity.

I would like to start off by saying that I am a pretty laid-back person. I am the first person to avoid discussions of religion, simply because I know that some people take it very seriously, and in the history of most religions, hereticism is considered a major party foul. I feel as though this discussion will probably raise the ire of some people, so consider this a warning that if you continue to read, I am not responsible for your reaction. I sincerely hope that you do stick around, because I consider this very important, but I understand if you don’t.

Alright, now that that is out of the way, I’d like to discuss a little about how I feel pertaining to religion and its impact on morality. As a bit of background on me, I was raised Anglican and baptized in my early teens. I spent quite a few Sunday mornings in church, as well as my share of Christmas Eves. I have attended a number of religion-based camps in my youth, and my entire family, if I have to generalize, is religious. So trust me when I say that I have a little bit of experience here.

One thing I will say, having read many of the interesting parts of the Bible when I was growing up (and at that time, they couldn’t print words fast enough for me to read them), is that I don’t really see what all the hype is about. I suppose if one were to interpret the Bible (I’ll use that text as an example, as it’s the only religious work with which I have any familiarity) as literally being historical fact (at least the parts where that is possible), that it would be a pretty incredible story. But from what I have seen and heard and read, and what I believe, the Bible is not to be interpreted literally. It’s meant to be a moral guide and a compelling narrative about the human condition and our desire to aspire to something more. I’m given to understand that most religious texts are calls to bring people together under one set of agreed-upon laws and conditions and to be able to live harmoniously based on those individual documents.

The problems with relying on an ancient text for this kind of morality don’t necessarily have to extend to religion to see that there are some major problems with doing so. For example, the British Bill of Rights, and the US Constitution, are written for the time they were created in. There are many things that change in the world, in a way that no one document or group of authors can ever anticipate or account for.

Once documents like the Bible or the US constitution are written, problems inevitably arise. It is human nature and a core feature of the species that we are pack animals, and we are inclined to hear a good idea, propagate it and ultimately defend it. There is nothing wrong with that in itself, but over time, these ideas end up moving down bloodlines, potentially for several generations. Since the original sources and authors of the material are no longer around to assert their original intent, issues will arise when society continues to evolve.

moralityThe example I am going to use to hopefully demonstrate this point is one which some background reading (done just now, for context) shows is more correct than I could have ever imagined. The second amendment to the US constitution, which colloquially describes the ‘right to bear arms’, is one which is defended constantly by associations like the NRA, but which the average American also holds dear. To a completely pacifistic Canadian, this is just a ridiculous law to have on the books.

While there are several very good reasons for people to have guns and other weapons, the average person has no reason to actually own one. Even bearing in mind that there are people who use these weapons to hunt game, there is really no sport in shooting an animal with a rifle in 2012 (editor’s note: or 2016!). Going into the writing of this piece, I had it in my head that this law was written in the late 1700s, when an “arm” referred to my vision of a musket. It took around a minute to load these guns when trained and practiced, and each one fired a single round metal ball at a time.

These guns were just as likely to misfire or explode as they were to actually have the bullet leave the barrel. If the bullet did make it out, the gun was horribly inaccurate. These are not assault rifles with precisely machined barrels and laser scopes. Additionally, this was also a time in history when the Americas were in a time of great turmoil. Not only was the country trying to establish itself and declare its independence from Great Britain, but it was (is?) deeply divided between old and new ideas (resulting in a Civil War not too long after its independence). All of that being taken into consideration, it actually makes completely logical sense that:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” –Wikipedia

Even this layout, passed by congress, is different from the one the states ratified, though only in grammar and capitalization:

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” -Wikipedia also

Even these two sentences actually read very differently if you take punctuation seriously. In both cases, though, a militia whose purpose is the security of a free state is the reason for giving the people a right to arms. There is no inherent threat in the US today that would require easy access to, and everyday use of, a firearm. And there is not much weight to an argument that you can use it to defend yourself from having a weapon used against you. In a country, like Canada, with few or no guns, the risk of finding yourself facing one is greatly reduced. Finally, there are many other, non-lethal, ways of defending yourself today in the event of an attack. This old law just doesn’t make very much sense today, and yet it is upheld constantly and consistently.

As it turns out, this argument can actually be taken back even further. As hard as it is to believe, the founding fathers of the United States had some background on how to run a country, and had some inspiration in coming up with the second constitutional amendment. Delving a little deeper into history, you can find that Britain passed its own Bill of Rights, back in 1689. This document also mentions something similar to the right to bear arms in its pages, though you’ll notice the wording is a little bit different:

“That the Subjects which are Protestants may have Arms for their Defence suitable to their Conditions and as allowed by Law” – More Wikipedia

This document, which outlines the rights of British Parliament, was passed at a time when Protestants (those who maintained most Catholic beliefs but had issue with, or protested, some of the church’s policies) had had their arms confiscated by a Catholic king who took issue with the rising Protestant population in Britain. This law, which formed the foundation of current gun law in the US (and Britain to a lesser extent), is based on religious persecution. This decree simply served to allow citizens of any religion equal right to acquire and carry arms. Again, this was at a very difficult time in that empire, where the clash between powerful political and religious entities was causing a great deal of turmoil across all of Western Europe.

Remember that the Pope and the King of England were both considered to be one degree from God at the time. The writing of this document came at a time when the theory of divine right, that the monarchical bloodline was vetted by God, was coming into question and eventually abandoned. It is only logical that the unjust decree of a religious king be formally revoked afterwards, and it certainly shouldn’t apply centuries later, across an ocean, in cases all the way up to the US Supreme Court. To this day, religion and its morality enters into public debate about this sort of topic, even though it has been generations since the arguments were made, and they are in no way valid today.

Alright, now with what is hopefully a strong case and some background on why I think that it is absurd that religious morality be strictly applied to modern society, I can continue to discuss my personal issue with some of the aspects of religion which I find most questionable.

It is important to note, again, that I personally have no problem with anybody who believes in a specific god, or believing anything they want for that matter. In the same way, when I’m walking down the street, and somebody tries to tell me about their pet issue, I find it hard to feel bad when I tell them that I don’t care about what they have to say.

I am not going to seek you out on the street and try to forcefully share information with you to which you have not consented, and I would appreciate if you would do the same for me. We have common, courteous ways of passing along information, as well as polite ways of engaging in discourse with a large group of people. I’m getting off topic here…lets try this again.

I am not going to get in the way of your religion, as long as you don’t tell me that I am going to hell, or getting no virgins, if I don’t agree with your system of belief. I personally have a strong set of beliefs about how the universe was formed, and how we came to exist on this planet, and that belief system also explains every religion on earth. In itself, this is more than can be said for most religions, wherein accepting the existence of other faiths hinges on the idea that those are “lesser” religions.

I can absolutely empathize with religious people. It is for this reason that I am not constantly getting into fist fights with people over things that they say or do, simply because they are different from what I say or do in my own free time. When somebody tells me that they are “praying” for something to happen, I know to interpret that as meaning that it is something they would very much like to see come to pass. I do it myself all the time, when I calculate the approximate odds of something occurring, and think to myself, I wonder if thinking about this a lot in my head will affect the external outcome.

I can also note that having done that several times a day for my entire life, it is pretty disheartening sometimes when the odds of something happening are VERY low. At those times, often all you can do to affect the outcome is to think about it silently to yourself. It would be, and presumably is, very reassuring to believe that there is somebody listening, and that through some physical manifestation of supreme power, the outcome of an event can be affected by the power of suggestion. In fact, there is solid evidence that psychologically, there is a process wherein knowing somebody (or many people) is (are) wishing very hard for you, for example, being able to fight off a disease, can actually impact your bodies defense of itself and impact the outcome of the illness.

In the general case, “praying”, followed by success, reinforces the idea that prayer works. On the other hand, a negative outcome would simply suggest that either you weren’t praying hard enough, or that you had done something bad, or been unsure of your faith in a way that meant that you didn’t deserve the outcome you wanted.

In any case, I will never be able to rationalize the argument for keeping your morality consistent with your religion. If I am miscalculating and have backed secularism in the mistaken belief that when you die, you simply cease being alive, I will have a lot of explaining to do. That being said, I think I’m okay with that. I personally don’t think I am going to be any worse off than anybody who claims strict adherence to religious ideals, even if those are few in number.

If, when it’s all said and done, we are all ranked and filed according to who followed a strict set of arbitrary rules the closest (no matter which religion ended up hypothetically setting those standards), I think I will have a lot of company in the afterlife. Personally, I choose to live my life on a case-by-case basis, solely based on what I have seen, heard, read, learned, tasted, smelled, touched and experienced. Some of that comes from religious teachings, some of it comes from my parents, some of it comes from friends, some of it comes from television and movies.

In the end, what I do alone is of concern only to me, or who I choose to share it with. Involving other people does get a little messier (instances of deceit, theft, or murder spring to mind) in coming up with a consistent morality for the whole world to follow. I think a good model for the American (or even the world’s) “Constitution” would be something similar to Wikipedia, wherein anybody can suggest changes at any time, in an ever changing document that is democratic and comprehensive. It will be effectively future-proof because it will never be “done”, but evidence suggests it will mature very quickly.

If everyone can accept that on some level, we’re really all the same, we could peacefully coexist without too much violence, war, or any such nonsense. Upholding long-standing religious beliefs on the idea that they are moral is a very slippery slope, one which we tiptoe around every day. We are all entitled to our own opinion, obviously, but differences of opinion can have consequences if they are baselessly upheld for too long.

On a side note, Googling morality can have some odd implications: