Why are the guys with the guns out of control?

Canadian activist and thinker Ursula Franklin summed up the impact of  globalization and neo-liberalism on Canada  (and the world) better than any writer I know. In her essay “Global Justice Chez Nous” (to be found in The Ursula Franklin Reader) she describes the new world order in Canada this way: “In my picture of what is going on, we are being occupied by the marketeers just as the French and Norwegians were occupied by the Germans. We have, as they did, puppet governments who run the country for the benefit of the occupiers. We have, as they did, collaborators. . . . We are, as they were, threatened by deliberate wilfulness, by people who have only contempt for those they occupy and who see their mission to turn over our territory to their masters.”

What strikes me as I witness the chilling testimony of the senior officers in charge in Afghanistan, and the deep corruption of the RCMP at virtually all levels, is something else Franklin said: the occupiers suffer from “moral dyslexia.” But unlike those with other disabilities, these sufferers “. . . don’t request assistance to recover a clear moral vision. Most of them are morally disabled by their own choice.”

That this is true of the corporate carpetbaggers who run the  economy, and for the most part the country, and the political elite, is hardly debatable. They have been busy ever since the signing of the free trade deal in 1989 giving away the country – its industrial base, its sovereignty, its respected place in the world – while showing utter contempt for the citizenry. Stephen Harper is only the worst because he seems to revel in dismantling the nation while the likes of Paul Martin did it with a smiling face, pretending to care.

But it is clear now that as this affliction enters its third decade at the elite level it begins to affect other institutions. One of the most unnerving developments is that the people with guns in this country – that is, those who can legally kill people – are demonstrating a complete moral breakdown. I can still remember feeling sick to my stomach at the testimony of the four RCMP cowards who murdered Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport. It wasn’t just the lies (fear-of-stapler-syndrome) they told, it was the nature of the lies: lies that they knew no one would believe; outrageous lies, insulting, breathtaking lies that demonstrated the cops simply didn’t give a damn if anyone believed them. The lies were designed purely for self-preservation.

If just one of these wretches, these little men, had lied we could take some solace. But what was truly chilling was that we knew this was okayed at the highest levels of the RCMP. There is no way that lawyers paid for by the RCMP would have presented these men and their lies without official instructions and overt complicity from RCMP headquarters. It means that there is at the highest levels of our national police force a complete contempt for the rule of law, for Parliament, for democracy and for their own policing mandate. Not to mention for the people they are supposed to protect.

The same is clearly true of the senior ranks of the military. While at least some ordinary soldiers expressed genuine concern and even alarm at what was happening to the people they turned over to the psychopaths in the National Directorate of Security – the secret police of Afghanistan – there seems to have been barely a single officer who gave a damn about what happened to the people they turned over, even though they had to know that at least some of them were completely innocent.

This betrays a truly frightening mentality on the part of the people who are supposed to provide leadership to the troops. That leadership is surely not just training soldiers how to kill.  These are Canadian soldiers, who are supposed to have higher standards than the “scumbags” they fight – they are supposed to be acting on behalf of Canada whatever they do (even in a war that is itself unjustifiable). We now have an entire officer class that is either completely unschooled in the Geneva Convention and the definition of war crimes, and why torture is wrong, or one that thinks such rules are quaint throwbacks to another era.

I don’t know exactly how it came to this – it would be a great topic for a social psychologist to ferret out. But I am convinced that it could not have happened except for the broader context of a corrupted democracy.

For twenty years we have witnessed the inexorable transformation of government, from one that really did base itself on moral imperatives, democratic principles and political integrity (for the most part), to the corporate model of governance. We are not a country any more, we are an economy; we are not citizens, we are clients; public services are not the things we do together for each other, they are “products” (the easier to privatize them).

The mantra of the corporate world in the 1990s was that we needed to run government like a business. Well, for anyone whose imagination failed when that phrase was first uttered they now should know what it looks like. It should scare the hell out of us. And its symbol is dramatic – we should now all be afraid of the people who are sworn to protect us.

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