Your stupid is not as good as my smart (and vice versa).

Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’
Isaac Asimov

I think “stupid” has become a favourite word of mine lately, and not for any good reason except that every time I read a news story or am anywhere near anything to do with a Republican candidate the word “stupid” is usually the first thing that enters my mind. Followed by the word “sad”. Yes indeed my dears, many current events just seem stupid and sad.

Example: the fact that our Conservative government recently pushed through an omnibus crime bill that experts (including experts in Texas who had previously used the same tactics) agreed would not work. STUPID. The fact that this crime bill, if it passes through the Senate, will most likely result in more punishment, less rehabilitation, and a disproportionate criminalization of young people and people with mental disabilities–SAD. Incredibly, incredibly sad.

The fact of the matter is, all of us are guilty of being willfully stupid if it makes things easier for us. Look at the issue of global warming. Once, it was treated by Canada’s politicians (and most schoolchildren) as universally agreed upon fact that the earth was getting warmer due to human actions (pollution, burning fossil fuels, etc.). Now, even though scientists (you know, people who STUDY this stuff ALL THE TIME) still agree that global warming is happening, people have chosen to latch onto the tiniest shadow of a doubt so that they can feel good about driving their cars and drilling for oil and not having to change anything about the way they live their lives. Because who would choose to inconvenience themselves if there’s even a microscopic shred of half-evidence that they don’t have to? Our own Prime Minister who is, by all accounts, supposed to be a smart man (he’s certainly smart at dismantling everything I care about) won’t even state whether or not he even believes in human-created climate change. This is a man who went to university, should therefore understand the rigorous guidelines of academic and scientific research, and, rather scarily, runs our country as if the principles of his own scholarship and education mean nothing.

But gee, it sure is easier for Harper to appease his voting base if they don’t have to care about the environment so…..Kyoto out. Handshakes all around. I’m sure Harper prefers this state of affairs to having to tell Alberta oil sands voters that the government wants to strictly regulate the industry because it could be contributing to the killing of our planet. That wouldn’t be very nice or very fun, would it? So who wants to do that? No one in government, that’s for sure. Al Gore didn’t call his documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” for nothing.

Our government thinks we’re stupid. They think they can imagine away uncomfortable issues and facts to make their voters happy and anyone that uses knowledge, expert opinion, education, statistics, or fact to counter them is branded an “intellectual elite”.

Being led by a government that counts on our ignorance, and panders to it, is horribly stupid. And turning anyone who pursues truth, education, and a more accurate understanding of the issues into an enemy is sad. Horribly sad. I am a good person. I love my country and I care about the people in my life. I would like to raise a family in Canada someday, I would like a country that is fair to working class families, I would like a country where anyone who works hard can get ahead. I am educated, and I pursue educated opinion. I am not elite. Being labelled un-Canadian or out of touch, when I pay my taxes and my bills like anyone else, hurts my feelings. But enough about my intellectual elite bleeding heart feelings.

If you don’t believe stupidity has carved out a prominent place for itself in today’s political culture, you may find some evidence swimming around in the pool of Republican candidates south of the border. From declaring that Three Areas need to be cut and listing only two, to rambling about witchcraft, to stating that Palestine never actually existed, it is obvious that none of these candidates are all that concerned with appearing smart. But the anti-intellectual culture of North America today provides plenty of room for these people not only to survive, but to thrive and have the opportunity to run for the most important office in the United Sates Government. Run a country? Represent millions of people? Have nuclear launch codes? That doesn’t take brains, facts, education, or a firm grip on reality, does it? ANSWER: it does, though sadly, stupidity might win out.

Stupidity isn’t a problem unique to North America. My inspiration for writing this post actually came from an opinion article in the Sydney Morning Herald, “Age of the Amateur with reason in retreat” by Erik Jensen. Whether the issue be same-sex marriage, climate change, or immigration, people seem incredibly willing to believe absolutely anything rather than believe a truth that makes them uncomfortable.

THIS IS STUPID. AND SAD. Stupid because the actual truth is happening whether you think it is or not. Sad because a refusal to accept this can only lead to suffering.

Being diagnosed with a flesh-eating disease would be incredibly uncomfortable to think about, but we know the disease wouldn’t stop eating our body just because we decided to believe it wasn’t happening. Well, climate change is hurting our planet. Ignorance is hurting its people. You are not absolved of guilt just because you choose not to believe the facts. Don’t like being made to feel guilty or uncomfortable? Change your lifestyle. Examine your prejudices. Then see if your original opinions still hold water.

I’m not perfect and I’m not elite but if I have taken the time to become educated about something and you have not, if I have referred to experts, academics, articles and case studies to learn about something and you have not, I will feel more right than you. Yes, you have a right to your opinion, and you have a right to let that opinion (rightly or wrongly) affect your life choices. But your stupid is not as good as my smart.

And you know what? It goes both ways. Yes, I try to keep up to speed on current events and social issues but I recognize the bias I have as a young Caucasian woman from a middle-class Canadian, leftist background. There are experiences you may know more about than me because you have lived them. There are areas you may know more about because you work in them or study them intensely. I may have opinions on certain issues based on the media I choose to consume (and I know that my choice of media itself reveals bias), but you might actually know the truth of a certain situation.  And if that is the case, my stupid, my lack of actual knowledge and facts, is not as good as your smart.

And if that is the case, I want to know. I want to know what’s true.

I’m not asking everyone to agree with me. I’m not asking Republican candidates to deny their religious backgrounds or their beliefs about fiscal management. I’m not asking a Conservative government to become a left-wing party. What I would love to see is a joint pursuit, by politicians of all stripes, and by Canadians and voting-eligible citizens in countries all over the world, of truth. Of facts. Of using reason, and common sense, and the wealth of information that educators, scientists, academics, researchers, and reputable experts can share with us to form a real picture of what is actually happening in our world. In the end many of our opinions may not change but maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to work together on things that are really important, like examining our own prejudices to avoid violating the rights of others, or saving our planet from the harm and destruction that experts agree we’ve doomed it to.

Consider it. I’ll cut my bullshit if you will. If we let stupidity win the day, by the time we all realize we were wrong it might be too late for smarts to help us. Because guess what? No Stupid, however comfortable and inviting, is going to deal with the challenges ahead like Smart can.

A Call to Political Participation for the ME-llenial Generation

In the November 22 issue of Maclean’s this fall, columnist Andrew Potter had this to say about the generation I belong to:

The members of the “millenial” generation have been accused of being a self-centred and politically apathetic cohort of cool-hunting technology addicts whose central claim to notoriety is that they have the attention span of a puppy dog on Red Bull. In last week’s mid-term elections, they did their level best to prove their critics right.

The context of this diatribe is an article entitled, “Where Was the Youth Vote?”, examining the effect poor youth voter turnout had on the recent mid-term elections in the US. Though I think my generation has a little more to offer than a puppy on Red Bull (I for one don’t pee on the rug), I can’t say I blame Andrew Potter for blaming us.

According to Potter’s article, Obama was voted into office in 2008 on a wave of support from new voters. A vital component of this wave was the youth vote: over 50% of eligible voters between 18 and 29 showed up at the ballot box (the second largest young voter participation rate in US history).  Fast-forward to the 2010 mid-term elections, and only about 20% of young voters bothered. Apparently two years can do a lot: “Yes We Can” has turned into “Do We Have To?”.

Yes. We do. I know voting for a more-or-less not famous Democrat or Republican during the mid-terms isn’t quite as exciting as being given a chance to vote for the first black US President ever, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important. Unfortunately, being a Canadian, I am not able to vote in US elections.

A little closer to home the picture doesn’t seem quite so bleak. The Stats Canada website didn’t have a neat little figure like “such and such percentage of eligible voters between 18 and 29 voted” (at least not that I could find), but I was able to glean that 59% of Canadians in their 20s have voted in at least one election. This is pretty much on par with the 58.8% of eligible Canadians who voted in the 2008 federal election. This doesn’t mean we should rest on our laurels. There are still 40% of Canadians in their 20s not doing the bare minimum when it comes to participating in democracy in Canada, and I see no particular virtue in being only as bad as everyone else.

All is not lost, however. The Stats Canada webpage helpfully goes on to cite a report called “Willing to Participate: Political Engagement of Young Adults” that found that while voter participation among young people was low, young adults are just as likely as any other age group to participate in non-voting political activity. This non-voting activity includes signing a petition, boycotting a product, or choosing to buy a specific product for ethical reasons. Social networking has made these non-voting activities all the easier (no more walking door to door collecting signatures: 200 000 Canadians can express their disapproval of Harper proroguing Parliament on Facebook!).

I understand that it’s easy to become disenfranchised with the government and have a preference for non-voting activity over voting in elections. As one of my friends (a Poli Sci grad) recently pointed out, government’s hands are often tied when it comes to the issues that are important to us. For diplomatic reasons (or because they want to get re-elected), governments are sometimes unwilling or unable to go to certain places or to tackle certain hot button issues and leave that gap to be filled by NGOs, non-profits, and advocacy groups. Being the young people we are, it’s reasonable to expect that we’d rather put our energy and faith into supporting non-voting activities that actually seem to have an impact than cast a ballot and try to choose one bunch of stuffy old jerks over another bunch of stuffy old jerks. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t vote.

The only way to make politicians care about the concerns of young voters is to make them think they actually have something to lose if they don’t. A lack of voter participation in elections allows the governing party to pander to the demographic that voted for them– and no one else. An example of this would be the tempest in a teapot the Conservative government created this summer over “privacy concerns” and the mandatory long-form census. What do they care that minority and low-income groups might be poorly represented by a voluntary census? Statistically, these groups are less likely to vote, and so the government has nothing to gain in the polls by troubling themselves over the concerns of those groups, and everything to gain by catering to the caprices of the far right groups who “don’t think it’s the government’s business to know how many bedrooms they have”, because these are the groups that can be counted on to show their support on election day.

The government doesn’t really seem to have a lot do with my daily life. I suppose as a BC theatre artist, the provincial government has a lot to do with the fact that I had to take a job in a different sector to support myself, but really, we all just seem to hum along no matter who’s in power and maybe we assume we can just hum along forever and it will never matter who we have in government. Well, someday it will matter. If you ever have children, it will matter what the education system is like. When your parents (and someday you) retire, it will matter what pensions are like. And unfortunately, someday, without warning, it will matter very much what the health care system is like.

I am incredibly impatient. I hear a lot about my generation having a short attention span and being addicted to instant gratification and maybe that’s true. I hate the excruciatingly slow pace of getting something, ANYTHING, done in government. The systems I mentioned above are in need of massive change if we want to preserve the quality of life we enjoy now. But change comes in baby steps. So why not take the baby steps now, become part of a strong voting base NOW, so that by the time you really need change to occur you’ll have provided the foundation to bring it about?

Marketers have realized that the millenial generation is the most important consumer demographic, because we can be counted on to buy things. Wouldn’t it be great if governments treated us as the most important citizen demographic because we could be counted on to vote?

Voting is practically one of the easiest things I’ve ever done in my life. Not registered to vote? Register with Elections Canada online at and click on “Voters” in the upper left of the home page. Are you one of those lucky readers who can vote in the US? Visit and get your ass registered.

Technically, Canada isn’t scheduled for another election until 2012, so in the meantime, effect change in that non-voting political way we’re so good at. The internet is full of information about how to get involved with just about any cause under the sun. Seeing as how we’re all “cool-hunting technology addicts”, I’m sure we’ll have no trouble finding it.