samedi 10 octobre 2009

In whose interest?

The political question has three parts:
  1. Who decides?
  2. How do they decide?
  3. In whose interest do they decide?
The problem with electoral spectacle-politics is not so much in the process of voting - it's that it only answers the first question, and in the most superficial of ways.  With elections, we determine the visage apparent of power.  To find out who really decides, and to have a full comprehension of politics, we have to answer the two other questions.

Hey!  What is this?  Some kind of academic/intellectual treatise on political science?  No, just stay with me a second, I'm getting to something of local interest...

Take Turcot, for example.  Most of the opposition is based on what is ultimately an a-political position.  Groups and citizens focus on the negative impacts of the project.  That is natural, for the negative impacts are multiple and serious.  But by focusing on only the negative impacts, and not the underlying motivations behind the project, groups inadvertently make the government's decision to proceed with the project appear irrational.  Citizens end up asking themselves, is the government just plain mean? Or incompetent?  This is demobilizing.  For what is there to do in the face of irrationality but to throw one's hands up in dismay, flee into cynicism, or the comfort of artificial realities?

Some groups, somewhat less establishment, will go so far as to address the second question.  Call into doubt the whole consultation process, the BAPE charade.  This is useful, but it doesn't address the third question, without which we cannot have a global understanding of the project.

Only the most radical groups address the third question.  Good thing they exist, though there's a problem with those groups too (that I will get to in another post).  Yet, regarding Turcot, it seems quite easy to answer the third question.

In whose interest was the Turcot project designed?

  1. Increasing the capacity of the Turcot interchange facilitates the transport of merchandise, keeping with the "just-in-time" principle of the globalized economy;
  2. Increasing the capacity of the Turcot facilitates - quite literally! - the mobility of the work force, particularly of the professionals who work downtown and live in the suburbs.  The "suburban economy" - with its' "lifestyle center" shopping malls and the like - is obviously an essential component of the consumer society and North American capitalism;
  3. Opting for the highway-on-embankments (rather than aerial structures) solution means lower short-term construction costs and lower long-term maintenance costs for the State.  Reduced costs means easier control of the fiscal burden of companies and high-income earners.
We could go on and talk about how Turcot also represents an indirect subsidy to the automobile industry, not to mention the oil companies, but I think we already have enough evidence to answer the question.  So, in whose interest, Turcot?  Capital's, of course.  Seems so simple.  Why is no one, besides a few radical groups, saying it?  Turcot is not an example of government incompetence, it is the result of economic choices made quite consciously by the State.

Why is it so hard to get that message across?  Again, it seems so much more logical than the possibility of the government being just full of poor-planners and mean-spirited bureaucrats aimed on community destruction.  Guess I can't work that out in a few lines though.  It is obvious that there is a kind of taboo regarding the third question, the question of  interest.  Bringing it up is a way of losing mainstream "credibility".  Still, I think unless we can start making those connections, people, ordinary citizens, are going to prefer escapism and cynicism.  Otherwise, the spectre of an irrational government is simply too frightening.