Elected Responsibility

Now that Canada has a new government, I’m going to dedicate this post to exploring the moral responsibilities of elected officials. Elected officials are in a bit of an odd spot, morally speaking, because they must factor into account the moral weight of their responsibilities to the citizens that elected them even when the expectations of those citizens run counter to their own moral precepts. That is to say, I believe that being elected carries a notable moral burden to represent those that elected them, and it seems quite easy for a politicians moral responsibility towards those that elected them to come into conflict with their own moral beliefs. What this entails, however, can be difficult to parse, and this post will examine what exactly this responsibility entails, as well as how far the responsibility extends.

What is the nature of a politician’s moral responsibility towards those that elect them? I think that the key word or concept is that a politician is a representative: they are to represent the interests and beliefs of their constituents. There are two immediate problems with this, those being paternalism and minorities. First, should a politician represent their constituents expressed interests, or can she act as she sees best for the people. If we believe in the acceptability of paternalism then a great deal of the complexity is eliminated from this topic: the responsibility of a politician seems analogous to the responsibilities of a caretaker or parent – by taking up political responsibility the politician takes on duties to look after the well-being of their constituency. However, this paternalistic interpretation should be considered cautiously, since it is rather contrary to the spirit of democracy. For paternalism necessitates the assumption that certain people know what is best for others better, but democracy seems to assume that the electorate should have a say in their governance (at least on its face). There is a great deal more to say on paternalism, but I will not examine it any further here. The issue of minorities is more challenging, because it gets at a problem that democracies regularly struggle with: does a government represent the people, or just the majority? It is often the case that an elected offical has but one vote to represent the nuanced variety of opinions that they represent. On the other hand, it seems that they still bear the responsibility of advocacy for and attentiveness towards their constituents. The resolution of majorities and minorities seems like it must ultimately come down to judgement calls of the elected offical: for example, they may decide that it is important to speak for a cultural minority, but disregard, say, flat-earthers.

This leads into another issue – are the electorate electing someone to enforce certain beliefs, or are they electing a person that they trust to make good decisions? The answer will likely not be uniform. It is tempting to say that the answer depends on what a politician promises, if a constituency elects a clearly proclaimed feminist then they cannot reasonably expect that she will ban birth control. However, the electorate is limited in the choices they can make: they can only vote from a small selection of candidates, which inevitably means that no candidate will fully embody the beliefs of any constituents. This certainly makes it strategic to compromise one’s own beliefs to get votes, but it also raises the question of whether such compromising also has moral elements: should candidates seek to offer platforms in order to provide greater choice to constituents?

One particular feature of the Canadian system that I also wanted to mention is the fact that we do not elect our prime ministers to be prime minister – instead our prime minister is determined by the party with the greatest number of seats. This renders the representative responsibilities of the prime minister and MP’s even more difficult to discern because it makes individual votes play double duty – voters are simultaneously selecting who they want to represent their local area and who they want to represent their country. These desires do not necessarily align.

Those are my thoughts for the moment, let me know what you think,

Thank you,

CreativePhilo

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In Defence of Mulcair’s Stance on the Niqab

The primary purpose
of this blog is to allow me to explore philosophical issues in a
relaxed way: I do not struggle overmuch with research or even making
a specific point, instead I take my posts as an opportunity to
explore interesting ideas outside of the rigor of academic
philosophy. This post, however, is going to be a little bit
different. I have been paying a great deal of attention to the
upcoming election, and I have decided to write a researched
examination of Mulcair’s support of the September 15th
Federal Court’s ruling that the Conservative legislation that
citizenship oaths must be taken with face uncovered violated the
Citizenship Act (link
to article
, link
to Citizenship Act
). I will note that I do not think that the
niqab should be an election deciding issue, but, if this
poll is to be believed, 82% of Canadians disagree with Mulcair (and
myself) on whether it should be permitted in citizenship ceremonies,
so the topic is certainly worth exploring.

I will begin by
examining the recent history of the niqab in Canadian politics
leading up to Mulcair declaring support for the court ruling, after
which I will explore the ethics involved in the discussion. In 2011,
conservative immigration minister Jason Kenney implemented a ban on
face coverings during citizenship ceremonies (link),
on the basis that citizenship ceremonies are ‘public declaration that
you are joining the Canadian family and it must be taken freely and
openly.’ This ban was challenged in 2014 by Zunera Ishaq. Ishaq was
willing to remove her niqab in a private ceremony, but did not want
to be forced to remove it in a public ceremony (wiki
link
, bottom of article). Though I have not thoroughly verified
this, the wiki article also says that roughly 100 people are affected
a year by the head covering ban. The Federal Court ruled in Ishaq’s
favour and overturned the conservative law against the niqab on the
basis that it violated the Citizenship act. The conservative
government appealed, but the Court of Appeal upheld the Federal
Court’s initial decision. Reaching the end of this story, the topic
of the Niqab then arose in the french leadership debate on September
24th, in which Mulcair declared his support for the court
(‘the courts have spoken’, and ‘They’re there to defend your rights,
including freedom of religion’, link)
and the court’s ruling (‘let me be clear: No one has the right to
tell a woman what she must — or must not — wear.’ link).
This, apparently, has led to a significant shift of support away from
the NDP, especially in Quebec. As I have already linked above, the
polls suggest that Canadians almost universally side with the
conservatives on this issue (again, 82%).

Though there are
certainly some details left to be filled in, I think this is a fairly
complete account of the recent discussion that has occurred on the
niqab. We therefore come to the second part of this article. Why do
Canadians oppose the niqab in citizenship ceremonies, and why does
Mulcair support it? In my perusal of forum comment sections, I have
found three major themes as to why Canadians oppose the niqab. The
first theme is that of security: some Canadians fear that the
identity of new citizens are being improperly verified. The second
theme pertains to the rights of women: some see the niqab is seen as
a symbol or tool for the subjugation of women. Finally, the third
theme is that of culture: if someone is going to become a Canadian
citizen then they should conform to Canadian standards and values.
Mulcair’s position, as some of the quotes I have already referenced
demonstrate, seems to be essentially that women should have the
liberty to wear the niqab in the ceremony. As far as the first fear
of improper confirmation of citizenship goes, all of my research
suggests that there is nothing to be concerned about – all new
citizens have their identities verified before the citizenship
ceremony (there are many articles like this).
I will therefore only be examining the other two themes more closely.

It is worth noting,
initially, that there is significant room for overlap between the
second and third theme. Those who oppose the wearing of the niqab in
citizenship ceremonies because they view it as a tool of oppression
are also necessarily taking the stance that new citizens should not
support the oppression of women, that is, they should adopt to the
Canadian norm. Therefore the second theme seems more accurately to be
an offshoot or variant of the third theme. The second theme, however,
is explicitly moral. I shall therefore redraw the distinction between
the second and third theme as pertaining to moral and amoral
(non-moral) arguments.

The second theme is
therefore opposition to the niqab on the basis that it immorally
subjugates women. Is this correct? I would argue that, for the matter
at hand, the issue the morality of the niqab is irrelevant to a
liberal society such as our own. Though it may be a tool or symbol of
oppression, wearing the niqab is a matter of choice: if wearing the
niqab does not cause harm to anyone, it is not clear on what basis it
can be banned. One response that might be made is that the Canadian
government somehow endorses the subjugation of women through
permitting the niqab in the citizenship ceremony. To me this seems
false: allowing the niqab in citizenship ceremonies seems to support
the subjugation of women as much as my belief in free speech commits
me to being a pro-lifer (note: CreativePhilo is not a pro-lifer). It
seems the only avenue left if one is to oppose the niqab on moral
grounds is to lessen one’s commitment to liberalism (by which I mean
the belief that people should be able to do what they want, as long
as they are not causing harm to others). Liberalism may have its
limits, but I do not think we find such a limit when it comes to the
niqab.

The third theme,
that of aesthetics, more or less falls with the second. For, I hope,
most Canadians consider liberalism a more crucial aspect of Canadian
identity than dress-code. I will make a final note on my own views on
Canadian identity. In many ways we define ourselves in opposition to
our southerly neighbors: when it comes to multiculturalism the
traditional schism is to say that the US is a melting pot that makes
everyone the same, while Canada is a mosaic. I do believe that this
distinction is drawing our attention to something important.
Multiculturalism has historically been key to Canadian identity, in a
way that seeks to celebrate rather than suppress differences.


Thank you for
reading,

 CreativePhilo (Ryan
Workman)

via Blogger http://ift.tt/1Lu5BJq

In Defene of Mulcair’s Stance on the Niqab

The primary purpose
of this blog is to allow me to explore philosophical issues in a
relaxed way: I do not struggle overmuch with research or even making
a specific point, instead I take my posts as an opportunity to
explore interesting ideas outside of the rigor of academic
philosophy. This post, however, is going to be a little bit
different. I have been paying a great deal of attention to the
upcoming election, and I have decided to write a researched
examination of Mulcair’s support of the September 15th
Federal Court’s ruling that the Conservative legislation that
citizenship oaths must be taken with face uncovered violated the
Citizenship Act (link
to article
, link
to Citizenship Act
). I will note that I do not think that the
niqab should be an election deciding issue, but, if this
poll is to be believed, 82% of Canadians disagree with Mulcair (and
myself) on whether it should be permitted in citizenship ceremonies,
so the topic is certainly worth exploring.
I will begin by
examining the recent history of the niqab in Canadian politics
leading up to Mulcair declaring support for the court ruling, after
which I will explore the ethics involved in the discussion. In 2011,
conservative immigration minister Jason Kenney implemented a ban on
face coverings during citizenship ceremonies (link),
on the basis that citizenship ceremonies are ‘public declaration that
you are joining the Canadian family and it must be taken freely and
openly.’ This ban was challenged in 2014 by Zunera Ishaq. Ishaq was
willing to remove her niqab in a private ceremony, but did not want
to be forced to remove it in a public ceremony (wiki
link
, bottom of article). Though I have not thoroughly verified
this, the wiki article also says that roughly 100 people are affected
a year by the head covering ban. The Federal Court ruled in Ishaq’s
favour and overturned the conservative law against the niqab on the
basis that it violated the Citizenship act. The conservative
government appealed, but the Court of Appeal upheld the Federal
Court’s initial decision. Reaching the end of this story, the topic
of the Niqab then arose in the french leadership debate on September
24th, in which Mulcair declared his support for the court
(‘the courts have spoken’, and ‘They’re there to defend your rights,
including freedom of religion’, link)
and the court’s ruling (‘let me be clear: No one has the right to
tell a woman what she must — or must not — wear.’ link).
This, apparently, has led to a significant shift of support away from
the NDP, especially in Quebec. As I have already linked above, the
polls suggest that Canadians almost universally side with the
conservatives on this issue (again, 82%).
Though there are
certainly some details left to be filled in, I think this is a fairly
complete account of the recent discussion that has occurred on the
niqab. We therefore come to the second part of this article. Why do
Canadians oppose the niqab in citizenship ceremonies, and why does
Mulcair support it? In my perusal of forum comment sections, I have
found three major themes as to why Canadians oppose the niqab. The
first theme is that of security: some Canadians fear that the
identity of new citizens are being improperly verified. The second
theme pertains to the rights of women: some see the niqab is seen as
a symbol or tool for the subjugation of women. Finally, the third
theme is that of culture: if someone is going to become a Canadian
citizen then they should conform to Canadian standards and values.
Mulcair’s position, as some of the quotes I have already referenced
demonstrate, seems to be essentially that women should have the
liberty to wear the niqab in the ceremony. As far as the first fear
of improper confirmation of citizenship goes, all of my research
suggests that there is nothing to be concerned about – all new
citizens have their identities verified before the citizenship
ceremony (there are many articles like this).
I will therefore only be examining the other two themes more closely.
It is worth noting,
initially, that there is significant room for overlap between the
second and third theme. Those who oppose the wearing of the niqab in
citizenship ceremonies because they view it as a tool of oppression
are also necessarily taking the stance that new citizens should not
support the oppression of women, that is, they should adopt to the
Canadian norm. Therefore the second theme seems more accurately to be
an offshoot or variant of the third theme. The second theme, however,
is explicitly moral. I shall therefore redraw the distinction between
the second and third theme as pertaining to moral and amoral
(non-moral) arguments.
The second theme is
therefore opposition to the niqab on the basis that it immorally
subjugates women. Is this correct? I would argue that, for the matter
at hand, the issue the morality of the niqab is irrelevant to a
liberal society such as our own. Though it may be a tool or symbol of
oppression, wearing the niqab is a matter of choice: if wearing the
niqab does not cause harm to anyone, it is not clear on what basis it
can be banned. One response that might be made is that the Canadian
government somehow endorses the subjugation of women through
permitting the niqab in the citizenship ceremony. To me this seems
false: allowing the niqab in citizenship ceremonies seems to support
the subjugation of women as much as my belief in free speech commits
me to being a pro-lifer (note: CreativePhilo is not a pro-lifer). It
seems the only avenue left if one is to oppose the niqab on moral
grounds is to lessen one’s commitment to liberalism (by which I mean
the belief that people should be able to do what they want, as long
as they are not causing harm to others). Liberalism may have its
limits, but I do not think we find such a limit when it comes to the
niqab.
The third theme,
that of aesthetics, more or less falls with the second. For, I hope,
most Canadians consider liberalism a more crucial aspect of Canadian
identity than dress-code. I will make a final note on my own views on
Canadian identity. In many ways we define ourselves in opposition to
our southerly neighbors: when it comes to multiculturalism the
traditional schism is to say that the US is a melting pot that makes
everyone the same, while Canada is a mosaic. I do believe that this
distinction is drawing our attention to something important.
Multiculturalism has historically been key to Canadian identity, in a
way that seeks to celebrate rather than suppress differences.
Thank you for
reading,
CreativePhilo (Ryan
Workman)

via Blogger http://ift.tt/1Pfo4Jl

What is an informed voter?

Given the amount of time that that I have spent volunteering for the NDP (New Democrat Party) for the upcoming Canadian election, I feel that I am more informed about the issues in this election than for any other election I will have voted in. This brings up a question that I have previously reflected upon. What is a responsible voter? Crucial to democratic rhetoric is the notion that voting is both a right and a responsibility. That even if you do not know who you intend to vote for, you should, at the very least, show up and spoil your ballet. This is a very minimalist notion of voting responsibility, even if it is one that many people fail to achieve. The question remains, however, how much people should aspire to know or understand in an election.

There is an economics argument that I have read a notable amount on which argues that informed voting is a kind of tragedy of the commons – we would all benefit substantially if all voters spent an hour researching who to vote for (if nothing else, this would lead to higher levels of scrutiny for political parties), but we would all prefer it if others spent that hour researching their vote and we spent the time relaxing or researching where we would like to go on vacation next year. Similarly, party loyalty is arguably an effective means of saving time and energy – after an initial investment deciding on which party to support, the voter can assume that the party will continue to represent their beliefs in the future. In asking the question of how much voters should know, I do not think that this kind of economic logic can be completely disregarded. Our time is precious, and I do not want to take it as a given that pursuing political knowledge is a responsibility of citizens. There is something to the rebuttal that is often uttered that people have fought and died to have the right to vote. This, however, does not quite draw out why it is a responsibility. Perhaps our responsibility is to our fellow citizens, though this is possibly contradictory given that each vote in the voting pool dilutes the votes of your fellow citizens. There is some evidence that group decisions can actually be better than individual decisions in some cases (see more on this here), though the extent to which this is the case is difficult to discern.

So how much should people aspire to know? It is obviously not a formal or lawful responsibility, at least not in Canada (there are 13 countries where voting is compulsory, according to wikipedia, including North Korea, where ‘Dissenting votes are possible but lead to repercussions for voters’). The question is instead how much a ‘good citizen’ should aim to understand in making their vote. Of course, notions of ‘good citizenship’ only have power in a very existential way, quite distinct from what is advantageous as I’ve explored in the previous paragraph. We all ‘should’ be good people, that’s pretty much the definition of good, but the main force behind such a concept is just our desire to be such. This, then, is my question: for someone seeking to be a ‘good citizen’, how much should they set out to know about politics. Even then, though, I do not think there is a uniform answer. When it comes to doing good work, we split responsibility. We can not be masters in all areas. Having a strong grasp of politics, like being a good teacher or an active member of a volunteer fire brigade* requires a significant investment of effort. It seems quite reasonable to say that some members of a community should be knowledgeable about politics, but it also seems reasonable to say that someone who’s interests lay elsewhere may lean on political savvy people they trust when it comes to political decisions.

As is often the case, after exploring what I know of the topic, I must conclude that I have less of an answer than when I started. I’ll probably write on this again next week.

Thank you for reading, let me know what you think,

CreativePhilo

*There are probably better examples in existence.

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