Opinion » Maxed Out

Maxed Out

Listen up and speak up, Saturday



Opinions are like… well, you know what opinions are like. And yes, everybody has one. The ubiquity of opinion does not diminish its value. The quality of opinion? That’s another matter.

Regardless, the free and open exchange of opinions, ideas, hopes and dreams is what makes the world a better place to live. Without a robust markeplace of ideas, we wouldn’t have, just to take a trifling example, Cherry Garcia ice cream. The Ice Cream Dictator for life might have decided enough was enough when strawberry joined chocolate and vanilla and the world would be a tricolour, Neapolitan mess.

That’s a basic problem with dictatorship as a form of government — lack of choice; lack of input. Oh sure, everything might seem well and good when a firebrand dictator takes over and alleviates the citizenry and any former government officials still living from the odious task of making decisions, but let’s face it, sooner or later the honeymoon ends and you’re left with some strongman who’s telling you what flavour of ice cream to eat and killing off your neighbours who insist on making tutti-frutti.

But the enduring allure of dictatorship is its efficiency. One man; one rule; no vote. Citizenship in a dictatorship asks — demands — only obedience. There’s no need to follow the issues of the day, no need to educate yourself on the myriad choices of candidates and platforms in an election, no need to think about what actions might make your little slice of heaven a better place to live, no onerous requirement to participate, be involved, make your voice heard and your opinions known. No need to hope and dream; both are quickly outlawed by the Supreme Commander. Just eat your ice cream and shut up.

I’ve never lived under a dictator; I’m a democracy kind of guy, born and bred. And while there have been times in the recent past when it seemed as though my elected leaders had no more than a cosmetic interest in my opinions — perhaps especially my opinions — I had the chance, as did the rest of us, to voice them.

Now though, after a painfully long absence while we experimented with a form of government known to political scientists — they’re not real scientists, you know — as Backroom Dithering, our mayor, council and staff are rolling the dice one more time. In a bold experiment in participatory democracy, the town meeting is back.