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The colour of food – pt 2…

April 12, 2015

That the decision to try and move the ethnic food vendors off the main floor of the Halifax Farmer’s Market has blatant undertones of racism is obvious to anyone who thinks about it for five minutes.

But I realized this weekend that the more I thought about it, the more I felt that there was a second piece of chicken bone getting stuck in my throat about this whole issue.

At first I couldn’t put my hand on it, but then I realized what it was: the Halifax Port Authority (who is in charge of the Farmer’s Market) argues that the decision to move the non-white vendors upstairs comes out of “public consultations held in 2013” – implying as it does, that the process has been a fair and democratic one right from the beginning.

And that’s the bug-a-boo for me.

When “democratic process” is used to justify the marginalization of people.

It’s the old “we are just doing what the people want” argument.

Which had me scrambling back to one of the most important books on democracy I have ever read: John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, and his nineteenth century examination of the dark side of democracy.

“The will of the people, practically means the will of the most numerous or the most active part of the people; the majority, or those who succeed in making themselves accepted as the majority; the people, consequently, may desire to oppress a part of their number; and precautions are as much needed against this as against any other abuse of power…this view of things…has had no difficulty in establishing itself; and in political speculations “the tyranny of the majority” is now generally included among the evils which society requires to be on its guard.

Society can and does execute its own mandates; and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not meddle, it practices a social tyranny more formidable than many forms of political oppression…it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating more deeply into the details of life, enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough: there needs protection also against the tyranny of prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose…its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them…there is a limit to the legitimate interference of collective opinion…and to find that limit, and maintain it against encroachment, it is indefensible to a good condition of human affairs, as protection against despotism.”

Bertrand Russell also wrote excessively on the fundamental notion that of the infinite desires of man, chief is the desire for power over the Other. Most especially when the Other is different – socially, economically, culturally.

And “this impulse to power has two forms: explicit, in leaders; implicit, in their followers…the kind of mob the [leader] will desire is one given to emotion than to reflection, one filled with fears and consequent hatreds…that the best elements in human life are collective rather than individual…one of the advantages of democracy is that it makes the average citizen easier to deceive, since he regards the government as his government.”

That the Halifax Port Authority thinks itself vindicated in this situation merely because they held “public consultations” is thinly applied varnish to a pile of horse shit. It still smells like shit, and will continue to smell like horse shit, no matter how many applications they try to apply.

That they try to hide their marginalization of the Other behind the facade of a democratic process is a page right out of the Stephen Harper playbook.

That it is a reactionary response to a globalizing process, whereby Canada, and Nova Scotia, will increasingly become a multicultural reality is easy to understand. “White Canada” and those who want to maintain a white Canada are increasingly within the grasp of global historic powers that are far beyond their control.

We are in a century-long transition period whereby Canada (and the US) will move from being predominately white to being a multicultural flower garden.

We can begin to understand that we are all flowers in the same garden and work together to best till our collective soil, or, we can deteriorate into a poisonous collective reactionary white narcissism which ultimately leads to violence, authoritarianism, and social collapse.

Its still a democracy. Its still our choice.


John Stuart Mill. On Liberty. 1859.

Bertrand Russell. Power. 1938.

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