"You can't catch me!" Agency or will? The democratic call to action
Close your eyes and take a trip with me down memory lane to your earliest days. Do you remember the delightful nursery rhyme titled "The Gingerbread Man?""Run, run, run as fast as you can, you can't catch me..." says the Gingerbread man. In this story or song, however you remember engaging with it, a gingery cookie magically comes to life and escapes its pursuers only to be taken in by trickery at the hands of a sly fox. Oh what lessons we glean from this nursery rhyme if only we could stop and reflect carefully our collective path.
The prosperity and growth of a society and nation are the democratic outcome of a vibrant and active citizenry who take seriously the call to stewarding their civic and political responsibility. The animating principles or motives for civic and political participation by the populace is varied: on the macro level to promote democratic responsibility, to procure good governance, ethical representation and a peaceful society, to sustain economic growth and development or perhaps even on a micro level for self-preservation. Whatever the motivation, needs or interests, the "will" of a person, group or community determines involvement. This will is grounded in our constitutional freedom as Canadians. We have the freedom to choose, the freedom to participate or not. "The will of the people..." as we so often hear in government parlance. But is it the will of the people that determines and procures democratic principles?
An equally important but subtle right is that of personal agency. If good governance ensures the actualization of citizens' rights based on our Canadian constitution, in tangent it also secures personal and collective agency through the enactment of generative policies that stimulate economic growth, human capital development as well as social and communal well-being. Within such milieu, active participation at all levels of socio-political life becomes commonplace. Lately, however, the phenomenon of low voter turnout and lack of political participation and activism is evident. Signs of apathy and disillusionment mar the landscape and erode democracy. Elected officials or party do not necessarily represent the will of the people as a result of unequal representations and lack of political participation. What is ultimately of greater concern is that while the people's rights are in principle being protected and enacted to a great extent, agency is not.
So I return to our nursery rhyme story/song. It was ever so easy for the gingerbread man to resist the farmer and his wife, the animals in the forest when their intentions to eat it were clear. Our doughy and athletic gingerbread retains its motivating principle and agency as it keeps running and taunting "catch me if you can" in tandem. Yet upon reaching the river, our sprite gingerbread man encounters a dilemma- how to get to the other side. The sly fox offers an alternative narrative that erodes the gingerbread's agency. It is at this very moment of dependency that the fox could enact the gingerbread man's demise. Nursery rhymes formed part of political commentary in the 18th Century (and even earlier). Lest we think for a moment that we can forego our responsibility for active participation in the democratic and civic process, we are reminded of the ginger cookie who did crumble. Just how did this come about? Dependency.
Governmental policies and regulations that signal bigger government and seek to forward greater social programs and bureaucracy will inevitably also promote greater tax increases, while narrowing our freedoms through greater regulations to coerce power. These, in turn, perpetuate the inequality of opportunities and have the (perhaps) unintended consequences of eroding personal and collective agency in favour of populace dependency. The call to protecting our democratic principles and the economic sustainability of our country is not a function of our collective will and responsibility alone. Never before has the call to political action been more necessary. Seismic shifts in the governmental landscape are noted, with the erosion of the agency of its people as a subtle force. Government representatives' sense of entitlement, the people's apathy and overall lack of understanding of the issues at hand are forwarding a very different socio-political and economic trajectory for future generations. We may have well been "caught" while we gave up running, but let's ensure we turn it around so we don't crumble as a society at the merciless hands of political dysfunction.