some excerpts from
A Place to Stand
Green Island Home
The large meeting room was full as Thoreau and More and I made our way through the door, after separating from our interesting companion on the zeppelin flight, who said he needed to make some notes before the meeting. There were 20 or so people sitting around the long meeting table at the front, and the chairs around the edges of the room were all occupied and many more people stood in small groups here and there. The hall was abuzz with animated conversation, as everyone was talking animatedly, with people constantly coming and going through the several large and small doorways. By and large, as were almost all such meetings where pretty well everyone knew everyone else, it was an amicable if somewhat raucous gathering. Although the odd scowl could be seen, or voice raised in anger, by and large the debaters were all quite civilly engaged in their various debates - it's a fact, people enjoy such things, and I think even moreso when they know that their input matters, and they will participate in decisions that will become action or policy - very unlike the previous situation, where citizens could 'input' all they pleased, and in the end the government people did as THEY pleased, even if a large majority of the citizens wanted something different. Citizen input in such situations is minimised for this very reason - too much of that sort of thing and the actual extent of 'democracy' starts to become pretty clear to even the dimmest bulbs.
One of the contributors to the joylessness (false laughter, of which there was and is a great deal of in modern society, is not 'joy') was the very fact that people felt so out of control of what happened around them in their own societies, with governments growing increasingly unresponsive - here it was the opposite in every way, with people fully in control, and they loved it in every way, and consequently were much happier - truly happy - than most people elsewhere, although human resilience certainly did its best anywhere to find what happiness could be found in even the worst situations - such efforts did not validate the conditions under which they lived.
As we wove our way through the crowd looking for a place to sit various snippets of conversation could be heard:
"So I told her - I said Maggie Carmichael, if you don't get your boy into a normal school he's never going to find a job..."
"Well, Helen, catch up with the times some day! We got no use for either normal schools or jobs, at least the kind you're talking about! Our boy's a citizen of Green Island, not Corporate Earth, and he's learning a lot more at the Basic School than your young lad, I'll tell you - you ought to ...."
"You see, Doctor, we who have been in the business for awhile have a perhaps deeper understanding of these issues, and we really think..."
"By God, John, I'll have no more of it! You know that easement has been in the family since Prince bloody Hal himself came over, and..."
"Aiehieeh!!!! He REALLY said that?!?!?!..." shrill giggles ....
"Three hun'red pound today, Johnny, three hun'red! Biggest damn zucchini I ever sawed!!"
... and so on - as many voices and opinions as there were issues. That was why we were here, actually, to observe one of the District Council Meetings in action. Both More and Thoreau had indicated considerable interest, especially after getting a taste of direct democracy in Georgetown the day before, and seeing the student trial where We the People managed our own justice system.
"I still find it a bit unbelievable, you know, Stephen, that all of the people in this country, your Green Island, take an interest in government decisions, and help make them. After centuries of experience of 'representative' government, where people elect others to look after the running of the country, it sounds rather, well, fanciful, if I do say so myself!"
"Indeed!" chirped in Thoreau, looking in from where he had been looking out the window at a passing bog, I think if we'd been on a train with a stop anywhere around one of these he'd have been gone exploring, "Ideal, of course - it was the theory of course of our New England and the Town Hall meetings - but fanciful, I think also - even in my time most citizens were content to elect their 'representatives' and leave the rest in their hands, with the odd exception when some issue caught the public's fancy. It's been my experience almost everywhere I have travelled, or of anyone I have read of, that far too many people seem to have no interest in the workings of the world, or their society, beyond their own immediate community and interests, and that is the root cause of many problems, I think. Still, now, I do recall a few notable New England town hall meetings in my time, and real people tend to gather at such, and real people are invariably interesting people. I think I may have contradicted myself there - but then that's why I prefer the writing life, to work these things out first. Perhaps you ought to have brought along that Whitman fellow - he seems quite comfortable with such things, able to carry any number of different thoughts around at one time, expostulating on each in turn, or out of turn - remarkable man, really."
"Oh, it's not all that fanciful, really," spoke our new companion, who had a quite satisfied look on his face from the quite excellent steamed codfish dinner he had just finished, "in my own small island somewhat south of here, we have been doing direct democracy for many years now, and it really does and can work. We are not as advanced as you are here on Green Island, I fear, but there are other reasons for that, it occupies a lot of time and money that might be devoted to more useful things keeping the jaws of the bear from our shores - but as far as the democracy goes, and the people making decisions themselves - why, it can indeed happen - if the people want it to, and demand it, is the key."
"Well," I laughed good-naturedly, getting back to Thoreau's comment as our new friend Ernesto looked for the waitress to get an after dinner brandy, I think, "probably not all of the people come all of the time - often, of course, people are more inclined to get involved in discussions about an issue that concerns them directly. But certainly a goodish number, anyone who wants to, really - but just wait a bit, and you shall see for yourselves what it is all about!"
"Sounds best," answered Thoreau, turning once again to his examination of yet another bog passing below, "Say, Stephen, do they have any of those wonderful little flytrap things I read about in these bogs, d'you know? I can't seem to see any, but then they're quite small and we're travelling by quite a ways away ..."
So here we were, at the Alberton District Council Meeting, a short stroll from the Alberton GRIS-RT Central station where the shuttle from the Zeppelin Field had dropped us earlier, wherein, announced the sign on the door, ".. matters of immediate interest to all citizens of the district will be discussed, which have had some discussion already on the AGORA and must now be finalized with personal attention to them, and decisions taken concerning them, to be then taken to the Island Governing Council by our representative(s) at its next sitting for discussion among the representatives of the entire Island and the possible formulation of a Green Island Policy Directive, as they are matters that concern us all... It is hoped and expected that all citizens with opinions or desires concerning these matters shall present them at this time in order that a suitable and true position concerning them, agreeable to all or at least most and reflecting the true wishes of the people of this community, with due consideration to what can and cannot be done of course, can be arrived at ...."
As we stopped for a moment to peruse the notice, written evidently by someone with a taste for verbiage, as most such things I had seen were somewhat less flowery and more direct, I saw a small frown appear on More's face.
"I say, then, Stephen," he asked, turning to me, "we have oft noted this AGORA discussion on your computer thing, and you have said that everyone gets involved on it, or in it, or whatever you say about this long-distance conversation among a great crowd - but if that is so convenient, as it seems to be, why then do you even need meetings like this, and - what is it? oh yes, the Island Governing Council meetings, and what not?"
"Oh, well, the AGORA is certainly a wonderful medium for all of the preliminary discussions, and for being available at one's convenience and allowing people to participate who might find trouble getting to a meeting, and many other things - but in the end, in the end, there is nothing at all that can replace face to face meetings of the people, to look in another's eyes and observe his or her character to judge the temper of his or her words. And also as important, while the computers are indeed very sophisticated, so also are those who might wish to tamper with the machines, and insert lies and falsehoods into the workings. There was a big scandal in the US a few years ago when several elections were apparently stolen by the use of such computers for voting - "
"Really!" said Henry, a slight tone of shock in his voice, "that is indeed evil!"
"- indeed it is," I continued, "and there are evil people out there doing such things, that we must take every precaution against. And these face to face meetings, not only here, but between people from different parts of the Island, are the final insurance that We the People are indeed doing what we think we are doing. If the AGORA says that everyone, oh, here in Alberton, for instance, feels a certain way about something, then you can be sure that tomorrow, or the next day, someone from this very meeting will be in Montague, or Charlottetown on regular business of some sort, talking to others there, and confirming that things are indeed so. And thus it works everywhere - when We the People control everything, and verify everything many times through various open redundancies and feedback processes, there is essentially zero chance that lies and liars will be able to subvert our will through chicanery of some sort. It's a very intertwined and diverse web - which is, of course, a great part of its strength."
"But surely the media are also a safeguard against such things..." ventured More, "not that I don't agree with your principles, of course..."
"Well, theoretically, of course," I said, "the media are indeed supposed to expose lies and liars in the public sphere. But as I think we discussed briefly earlier, in the latter part of the last century, the wealthy elite bought not only the governments of the world, but also the media, so the media not only ceased its true function of safeguarding the public weal, insofar as it ever really did so, although that is a story for a time we have more time!, but they actually became little more than propaganda organs for the elite governments, very much against the interests of we the people. Remind me to tell you a bit about the most recent invasion of America of a country called Iraq - based entirely on lies put forth by the government, and carried faithfully in the most jingoistic way by all of the media. All of the major media, without exception. Lies by the government, lies by the media - even the Canadian and British media, supposedly a bit more independent and conscientious than the American media, carried these lies as if truth, with next to no apology or even acknowledgement when those lies were eventually exposed. Canada was involved for several years in the invasion of another country in the area called Afghanistan, and although most Canadians opposed this, the media was nothing more than a daily barrage of boosterism for the 'mission'. And what are the people supposed to do in such a case, when it is a massive and hugely expensive undertaking to open a modern media of any sort, far beyond most of us? As you have seen, we still have the Colonial here, full of lies and calumnies each and every day. When integrity is lost from the public sphere, the people are in great trouble. And so it was in pre-Green Island days - people sitting in front of their televisions absorbing the things the elite wanted them to absorb, with no public meetings, no way to connect to the others in their community, no way to ensure the integrity of the government - and of course this great void was filled by the corrupt and the elite - actually they created the void in order to fill it, but that again is a long discussion for another time - the web of evil that existed in this country, indeed the world, was, and remains, much broader and deeper than this small web of good we have managed to create here."
"Oh, I could not agree more," said More, "Integrity has been ever hard to find in political situations, where the temptations of power and money are so great! What you tell me of your system seems like one of the few ways to expose this corruption, and keep it from happening in the first place - the greatest enemy of the dark forces is, and has always been, the bright light of truth!"
"Yes, very, very great temptations to corruption, in any form of government," I said, "which is why we eventually came to understand that the only form of government that We the People can trust and rely on is the government in which all of us are involved, in every decision, every day - if some wealthy force wishes to influence our decision, they must influence each and every one of us in a public debate - something we consider highly unlikely, to say the least, at least for most of their elitist schemes!"
"Mmmm-hmmmm," replied More, shaking his head thoughtfully, "nothing there to disagree with at all. And so the same sort of ideas apply when you send representatives to a central meeting, such as the Charlottetown Council, then, of course."
"Right," I said, "it is impractical for very large groups of people, such as the 150,000 or so here on Green Island, to gather regularly, so some sort of representation is necessary, even with AGORA, for the necessary face to face confirmations and discussions and formalities. Each meeting like this will select someone, or several someones, to go to Charlottetown when it comes time to discuss the issues talked about here in an Island-wide sense, and go to represent the views of the people here. Such representatives have little autonomy, their only remit being to present the views of the people from this meeting. If a consensus is not reached in Charlottetown amongst all the local representatives, each of them takes back the points of contention to their local meetings for further discussion. Of course, such things are discussed in what you might call a plenary of the whole on the AGORA as well, so most serious points of contention are pretty much resolved before the face to face meetings, either locally or in Charlottetown, which act more often than not to simply confirm decisions that have already been, in every practical sense, taken. But it is a necessary step - machines do not run our society, people do. And we do need some visible ship of state, some visible sovereignty, something more than words or ideas, but a physical representation of 'we the people', and this is also what the face to face meetings accomplish."
"Ah, well put, Stephen, well put!" said Thoreau, clapping me on the back, "It is always, in the end, the heart and spirit of man - and woman! - that counts, not the mysterious goings on inside some plastic box. But look now, I see the stated time for the meeting here has come, and perhaps we had better find our way inside as the others seem to be doing?"
A regular flow of people had been passing us as we stood to the side of the large double doors talking, and by the time we got inside there were no free seats, the crowd was that large, so wound up standing next to one of the doors at the back of the hall with a small group of citizens, a couple of whom I knew slightly.
"So, then, Art," I asked one of them, an old fisherman who had been running a lobster boat since before I was born, after we had got all the names straightened out and exchanged some small talk and greetings, "what's up for this evening?"
"Well, Stephen, I thought that was you outside!" he answered, with a friendly grin, putting a match to his half-smoked yellow-brownish rollie-cigarette, which seemed to be a fixture with his generation of fishermen, along with the grizzled grey-black beard, "What are you doing way up at this end of the Island?? But as for this evening, well, we've got most of the small potatoes planted the last couple of days finally, and a few of the bigger ones - you know, that stuff about the Greenbelt Council, and the Wind Farm at North Cape Head, and sending a delegation to Porto Allegre in the fall, and supporting the O'Leary HalfWay House for Recovering Capitalists - "
- I had a small involuntary laugh at this, the old fishermen always had a good sense of humor, I could see More and Thoreau frowning a bit, not really understanding the joke, but smiling when they saw me laughing -
" - but I guess what's left is mainly this matter of you people in Charlottetown wanting to impose regulations on the harbour here in our town. Now you know that our situation isn't the same as they have in Rustico or Souris or Seal Harbour or your own St Pete's Bay or other places where ..."
"Whoa, Art," I laughed, putting up my hands in a defensive posture, trying to forestall a potentially long lecture, "there's no point in going over it all with me! I'm just here to observe, as I told you, and I really can't take part in any of the discussion, as you know, regardless of my own opinions about it - and also as you well ought to appreciate I am NOT a Premier like we used to have here who could almost do as he or she pleased, which I assuredly cannot and you know that!, so it's not 'we people in Charlottetown' you have a quarrel with, like you might have had a few years ago, but all the people of Green Island who are concerned about looking after the Island and have been talking about it on the AGORA - so you might better save your breath for the meeting!"
He looked at me for a moment, then a smile again creased his wrinkled brown fisherman's face - these folks were never in a bad temper for long, I had found. "Of course you're right, lad!" he laughed, slapping me on the back in a friendly way, "I'd forgotten momentarily, I had, about the new system! Used to be, you know, (he continued reflectively) I could corral Pat or Joe or any of 'em who passed through the last 30 years and get 'em to promise me all kinds of things the next time the Legislature sat there in town - they knew I could bring em the votes here - or deny em! That seemed all right too - of course, more often than not they never did what they said! (laughing) - but they always had a real good excuse for everything but promised to do it next year by which time they hoped it was forgot about hoho, and we all knew that was the game in them days, and didn't mind so much - they tried to look after us when they could, they did, after the lawyer folk and rich businessmen who bankrolled em were taken care of. This new way now - well, it's takin some gettin used to, if you know what I mean, but I think I like it, you know, too - why, when we send our boys - or girls sometimes now to be sure! haha - away from this here meeting to Charlottetown for the face-to-face palavers of the district reps, we know exactly what he or she or they are gonna say, whatever we all have decided together - no changing their minds, no big surprises about things we never talked about, no 'meetings of the whole' behind closed doors to talk about stuff they never talked about before like their new pension plan or something - cause they're accountable to all of us here, and they know it and we know it, and anyways they're most of the time only one-issue or at least one-meeting reps, and we'll probably select someone else the next time anyway. Seems right, somehow, if you know what I mean, I kind of sleep a bit more comfortable in my bed of a night, less knots in the old gut not knowin what mischief the local pols might be planning to screw me around a bit more, y'know, maybe a bit more comfortable about my back, like - and I sure do like the no lyin or changin yer mind bit! - it was a real confusion and frustration when all them lawyerly types kept twistin all their words to mean things they never said or reneged on promises they had no business renegin on - stuff we normal people just call lies," he finished, taking a pull on his rollie, noticing it had gone out and was too short to relight, and thoughtfully reaching for his tobacco pouch.
That was probably the longest speech I'd ever heard Art Fowler make in his whole life - although he was an opinionated man, as were most who worked the hard lives of the sea or the land, he usually managed to keep his comments short but pithy. I was impressed. He was just in the process of lighting his lighter to ignite the tobacco of a longer butt he had extracted from his packet in exchange for the shorter one when a voice rang out behind me.
"Art Fowler! I thought I smelled something foul! What are you doing with that - that - whatever you call it in here?!? You know very well we have passed a town by-law, with a big majority of people agreeing, that says No Smoking in public buildings!"
I turned in surprise to see a 40-ish woman, long straight brown hair, glasses, attractive sort of face, hands on hips, standing behind me, staring somewhat aggressively at Fowler, although with a smile twitching around the corners of her lips. He was somewhat startled himself, and immediately extinguished the lighter and pulled the not-quite-lit butt from his mouth.
"Oh, geez, Alicia," he said, grimacing, "you and yer bloody no-smoking do-gooders! I tell ye, it's come to a hell of a day when a man can't even enjoy a peaceful smoke while he's talking with his friends at the back o' the meeting hall!"
"Yes - and give everybody else a share of your cancer while you're at it!" rejoined the lady called Alicia, "The law is plenty watered-down as it is, as far as I can see, but at least we do have the freedom to breathe clean air in public meeting halls like this, as you very well know! You can smoke your cigarette or pipe or anything else you like (with a somewhat meaningful glare in my direction - I'd been involved in similar discussions before with Alicia) out in the hallway - or better yet, outside!"
Fowler looked over to me, as if seeking help in the discussion. I smiled and shrugged a bit ruefully - I didn't have any for him. I had met Alicia a couple of times before, and knew her to be a solid person, honest and hardworking and caring for her community, back-to-the-lander, growing organic vegetables and herbs with her partner and two or three children on a few acres in nearby Menaganset, an absolutely enchanted little community on the shores of one of the many small scenic rivermouths of the western Island. And politically active and outspoken. We actually agreed on most things - she had played no small part in the surprising victory of 5 years previously.
"Hey - don't look at me!" I said, smiling at the pair of them, "You know it was decided, Art - together at one of these very meetings by all of the people around here - that any regulations concerning smoking and suchlike were the business of local communities themselves. I agree, Art, in my opinion!, that some of these bylaws are a little restrictive, as you know (indicating my shirt pocket where my pack of cigarettes was stashed) - but what the hell, sometimes it's nice to be in a smoke-free room - and I think it's fair enough that we do have to give consideration to those who don't smoke, or feel like Alicia. Compromise, my friend, compromise - that's what living together in a community is all about! At least we've stopped them from declaring the whole Island smoke-free - you know a lot of people we worked with figured Green Island to mean no smoking at all!, and a lot of others thought it had more to do with NOT having do-gooders forcing us all to live in some fantasy island!! - so here we are somewhere in the middle, and that's mostly about the right place to be, for me."
I stopped myself before getting hot under the collar from old memories leaping into my brain - the fight about political correctness on Green Island had been a long and often bitter one and was still apt to spring up at unexpected times, between those of us who believed in maximum freedom and a gang of do-gooders, many of whom had been prominent in the older governments, who thought they had a right to force their sterile lifestyle on everyone else, and that the new Green Island government would surely be a fertile breeding ground for their ideas. It was a scary time, an unexpected, very malignant cancer suddenly appearing that required instant action, from winning freedom from the would-be fascists on 'the right' of the political spectrum and their desire to create a new feudalism and then almost losing it to the equally fascistic gang on the sort of x-dimensional 'left' and their desire to create a society-wide kindergarten of squeaky clean Stepford Citizens, wives, husbands and all. Democracy is never easy. Fortunately Alicia was much closer to the middle than the extremes, which is why we had the respect for one another we did.
"Yeah, I s'pose," Art agreed, with a not-real-large but nonetheless accepting smile on his face, "and at least we got a smoking room on the Northumberland Ferry again, without having to go outside in the cold in friggin November!, but I tell ya, the day they try to make the Legion 'smoke-free' is the day there's gonna be a war in this town!" he finished, throwing a not entirely friendly glare Alicia's way.
I could see Alicia rising to the occasion, little puffs of smoke collecting in her ears, as it were - the Legion was high on their list of evil dens requiring the intrusive hand of mother-knows-best, but the old-timers were putting up a big fight (I still could not understand why so many people who would NEVER set a foot in any Legion building anywhere for any reason were determined to take away the cigarettes from all the old-timers who spent several nights there a week, and any number of other places they would never go to - but at least with our more direct form of democracy on Green Island, they could not simply lobby a few politicians and get their laws passed that a large majority did not approve of as in the old days - the old much disliked seatbelt law, for instance, had gone the way of the dinosaurs (against the loud protests of Alicia and her gang, but this time the majority was speaking, not the do-gooders) within a year of the new Green Island actual democracy arriving - a rather substantial majority of Islanders decided that although seatbelts might be fine and might even save lives, there was a lot to be said for personal decision making as well about such things, and our GRIPPs should be used for more appropriate and useful things than running around like uber-nazis forcing everyone to buckle up against their will - but just as Alicia was about to respond whatever she was going to respond, never being one to back away from a confrontation where her beliefs were involved, there came the 'snap' of a microphone switch, followed by a voice over the hall PA system, fuzzy but understandable.
"Ladies and Gentlemen! How y'all doin this ev'nin? I hope y'all had a good dinner now, and are ready to get to the business of the meetin, 'cause we're about to get at it, and I'm sure like me you want to get home at some sort of reasonable hour. If you'll all take your seats please, or find standing room for those so inclined, I'd like to call this meeting to order!"
As we all shuffled around again for a minute, finding seats or getting otherwise sorted, I looked to the head of the table where I saw Marianne Witherspoon, a 50-ish woman with grey hair, stocky, looking out over the crowded meeting-hall, waiting while those at the table turned to her, and those not yet seated found their seats. A minute or so later, after things had quieted down, she continued.
"Okay, folks," she said, looking around the room, "I think we have most of the things we were supposed to be talking about this week sorted out, but there's a couple of things still on the go, which is why we're all here - and they seem to be a mite contentious, you might say, and might take a while to sort, so why don't we get at it? I see from my list here (glancing down at a clipboard she was holding thick with papers) that Chief Wilfred is going to be the one to introduce our next item, so why don't I just turn the floor over to him right now and we'll get started - hopefully we can finish up today - haha sorry tonight, been a long day already! - in time to get home for a gander of the news with a pie and coffee and then a decent night's sleep! Chief Wilfred?"
And so saying, she turned to a man who had been sitting at the table beside her, and handed him a long golden feather, which was a symbolic gavel, of sorts, indicating the holder had the right to speak without interruption, an idea the Alberton council had adopted from the old native council way of conducting meetings that they thought very good. When the holder of the feather or other symbol was finished, he or she would pass it on to someone else, and on it would go. The system had been accused of being cumbersome, but it did have the main advantage of discouraging shouting matches that decided nothing except who had the loudest voice(s) and/or imposing presence. All participants understood that everyone who wished would, sooner or later, get their chance to hold the feather and speak, as many times as they wished, in turn, so it was by and large accepted as a fair method of conducting meetings. There was a certain symbolism involved too, on various levels, from respecting the past to saying, in a way, that the people's business was important and not to be rushed - the demands of a corporate, money-making, rush-rush society were very much NOT dominant here, anymore. Not all Green Island Councils used a feather, but all did have some way of ensuring that everyone got a fair chance to have their say, and no one person or group was allowed to dominate in any way, as had so often been the case in the past.
I knew the man Marianne was calling on fairly well - he was the Chief of the West Prince Mic'Maq Council, had been for some years, and was a well-spoken and popular leader. From browsing AGORA, I knew generally about the discussion that was about to begin. The Mic'Maq had been one of the main Native American tribes in the area now known as eastern Canada for at least hundreds of years before the 'discovery' of this part of the world by Europeans; by all accounts the area was teeming with fish and wildlife at that time, but a couple of hundred years of occupation by the white man had decimated the natural flora and fauna, including the magnificent Acadian Forest which originally covered most of this geographic region - used to build ships to carry the fur and meat of dead animals, and fish, to trade in other parts of the world; many of those native species not used for human purposes were further decimated as 'pests' for daring to eat food desired by humans (or eat humans themselves on occasion) or for 'sport' or just for the sheer damn pleasure of killing that so many humans seemed to feel, until today the odd fox or rabbit was about the extent of the mammalian 'wildlife' on Green Island, and most parts of the civilized' world, for that matter. A sad record. Tragic, really. Criminal, really.
But in the present, the Green Island government had drawn on a number of Mic'Maq traditions for dealing with the 'affairs of state', as it were, for although the idea of a fully participatory democracy-by-consensus of all people was quite new to western societies (all propaganda to the contrary notwithstanding), the Native Americans, among other peoples throughout history not given much attention in the history books, had actually been practicing such things long before the white man came to these shores and introduced government by gun, which prevailed to this day in most parts of the 'civilized' world, although disguised to a certain (although ever-weakening) extent by the farcical 'elections' (tweedledum or tweedledee?) and propaganda (what's on television mom??) of our modern Big Brother. Slavery, however, is NOT freedom, nor is ignorance knowledge nor lies truth. Nor is government of, by and for the Elite democracy government of, by and for We the People. Boy, did the mainland, mainstream press (owned and managed by the same Elite, of course - and staffed by people either so brainwashed they actually believed the Elite interpretation of the way of things, or didn't bother thinking much just wrote what they were told) hate that kind of talk! Don't get me started.
"My brothers and sisters at this council," began Chief Wilfred, slowly looking around at all, speaking with the quiet voice of one used to being listened to; he was an elder in the tribe, perhaps 70 years old, a bit portly, but with his deep black eyes and long white hair sticking from under a somewhat worn but nonetheless quite regal headdress of eagle feathers and medicine pipe and brown face lined with wind and wisdom and laughter he projected an aura that commanded respect and attention, "as you all know, we have come here today and the days before to discuss many things of importance to our peoples. And I have listened to and sometimes participated in the discussions that have gone before, and observed the decisions that have been taken, and I can say truthfully that I think you - we - have been very wise with all that has passed already and the decisions we made together. And now I hope we can together reach an equally wise decision with the matter I have been asked to bring here today, a matter of great concern to my people, for indeed there is only one path possible to the sustainable life we now all desire, one path that will see our shared Island prosper rather than die.
"For on this day, my brethren (and sistren of course) have charged me with trying once again to resolve the issue of restoring the bounty of the sea to the levels they were like in our grandfather's generation - which may not be as good as in his grandfather's generation, but at least would be at a level that we may safely assume the great life will not be gone from this place ere my grandson stands at a council meeting speaking of his grandfather's day, which would be a legacy of eternal shame on us all - it would even be a sad, sad time indeed were there to be a time when the disaster of our seas today were ever to be referred to as a time to look back on to try to recapture. I think of an analogy, a comparison, imagine our people, who lived like great gods in the great Acadian forests, green in the summer and white in the wintertimes, free in our tents under the great sheltering and nurturing trees, the rivers and oceans and forests full of food on which we dined better than the finest kings Europe ever had, and without having to kill our fellow humans in great numbers to steal their wealth or enslave them to do so! - now we see an ever growing number of our young people across this country living shamefully in the streets of cement cities, begging for change for a bottle of cheap wine to cover their brains and their shame with a fog to hide in, their roof a piece of dirty cardboard when they finally pass out! We have come to sad times."
Chief Wilfred hung his head for a second, perhaps reflecting, perhaps giving the others listening raptly a moment for contemplation as well. They must have been thinking - they were not talking. He had their attention.
He finally resumed, in his slow, methodical way, voice rising and falling, cracking at times with emotion or maybe just a dry throat, the golden feather twirling slowly in his old but strong fingers.
"Let us try to make our lives better in this time, as we have been doing for the last few years now.
"For too many years now have we been fighting over this issue, but I see much more hope now, much more talk, since the new Green Island government arrived like a miracle from the Otherland on these shores, but still in many places the old patterns of exploitation of the sea, the old habits of 'get mine before there's none left' have prevailed, including in at least in some parts of our new Green Island Nation - and not only are we seeing no signs of recovery, this year we have once again witnessed the return of the abomination of the murder of the seals, and the, excuse me for the modern slang words but they fit too well not to use, totally idiotic claim that these seals some would slaughter are responsible for the decline of the great cod stocks, so wantonly destroyed by human overfishing these last generations, especially the factory ships of the maritime capitalists in their foolish lust for gold. I - "
"Now you just hold on there a minute, Chief, " a voice interrupted, a large, middle-aged rough-hewed man rising to his feet from one side of the room, "now you know damn good and well that's only your point of view that you're speakin out there like some sort of gospel, and a few of them hippy treehugger commie crazy types who come down here to cause trouble to people just tryin to make a livin - there's perfectly good reasons for the seal cull, and by god they do eat a lot codfish that we can't afford to be losin right now, and - "
The man got no further - from the time he had interrupted, people were turning to him and telling him to sit and be quiet, and one lady's voice finally took precedence.
"George Wilkas! George Wilkas, now you sit down right this minute!" a 40-ish woman was saying from a couple of rows behind and to the side of the man, pointing a large black umbrella his way, "you know damn good and well how these meetings work, and they've been working damned well the last few years, too! We will not go back to the old ways where a few people like yourself just try to shout down everyone who disagrees with them, or worse in the damn parkin lot after with your bully ski-masked brothers and friends! You know we ALL get our say here, and we ALL show common freaking courtesy and decency to whoever is speaking! You know you will get a chance to say whatever you want to say - as soon as the Chief is finished and you get your turn - and then people will let you speak, no matter how stupid they think whatever it is you're saying is, George! And we'll just keep speaking until we get to some sort of agreement here - you KNOW that's how these things work - now sit down and let the Chief speak and wait your frigging turn!"
There was a loud and vocal chorus of agreements of various sorts for the lady's words as she finished with an angry bang of the point of her umbrella on the floor beside her, evidently just missing the foot of a young lady who jumped in surprise, and although he opened his mouth once or twice as if to respond during and after her admonition, the chorus of "Be quiet George!" and "Wait your damn turn" and glares directed his way and so on increased in volume each time he did so until it was clear he was not going to be listened to right then no matter how stubborn he got, and finally, with a small, only slightly sarcastic smile he raised his hands in the old "Ok! I give up!" gesture, and sat down. Followed by the lady, who had remained on her feet also, glaring at the man called Wilkas until he finally sat down, and then she did as well, arms crossed, a look of grim satisfaction on her face. A few seconds later the room had once again quieted, and the Chief resumed his talk.
"Thank you for your patience, and your devotion to the proper ways of council. This is the way of community, of civilized discourse, the old ways of democracy we used to know in this land before the white man came with the thing they called democracy that was not and is not democracy. Yes, some say the seal slaughter is indeed just a cull as the omnipresent modern fishers take over our poorly functioning nature, but that is not what I wish to talk about, if others wish to speak of this later they will of course be free to do so, as those who wish to maintain that the original inhabitants of this land welcomed their white brethren from across the great sea with open arms as they slaughtered my great great grandfather and his family with their gunpowder and disease are free to believe such stories.
"But I speak tonight to the many of you whom I have gotten to know during my many full years, to the many who believe as I do that there have been great injustices the last hundreds of years, not only towards my people, but towards the very planet we live on, and this small island on that planet and the forests on it and the seas around it and the endless numbers of living creatures that live here and around on which we all depend for our own lives.
"What my own council wished me to come here tonight and try once again to see on the path to sanity is the issue of a complete 10-year moratorium on fishing in the coastal waters of this Island nation, while the stocks have a chance to recover. We are well cognizant of the potential hardships this could cause on the families which depend on fishing, and the communities which depend on the fishing, and that even if we do not take what is offered by the sea others might, making our efforts in vain - but we also try to look ahead, and understand the broader picture, the picture that says a little pain now is perhaps preferable to a big pain in the future - a future pain that may indeed spell death for our own children and their children, and spread who knows where? This is known in some circles today as a precautionary principle - but we have always understood it in our societies as the responsibility principle - it is the belief of our peoples that we must consider the effect of our actions unto the seventh generation hence, and act in such as way as to ensure that what we do today does not steal life or make life less for the grandchildren of our grandchildren than what we have today. For many generations now we have been forced to live in a society which has had apparently no conception at all of this principle, rather treating the world as an endless cornucopia of everything free for those who would take it all, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, but we are gladdened mightily these last few years on Green Island that we seem to have many leading people once again who do understand it.
"We make a plea, then, that we talk about this principle, and then enact it.
"And at the same time, of course, we must talk about how to allow those who formerly fished on the seas to find new lives, new good lives, not lesser lives, that will enrich not only their families, but their and our communities - and so our children's children will know the bounty of the seas that our father's fathers knew, and that we today may all improve our lives as well. And we must talk about how to discuss this with nearby places who might see our conservation as just a chance for them to fill their nets more, which it must not become. And we are greatly encouraged by the new spirit of cooperation and responsibility we see here on Green Island, and the new prosperity we are all finding as we banish the capitalist berserker from our shores, and are hopeful that now, at long last, with this new prosperity, we can find the way to return to the sustainable path for us all here."
There was a few seconds of silence when Chief Wilfred finished speaking. He lay the long single feather on the table beside him, and moved back a step to his chair, where he sat, looking rather stonefacedly out to the room, waiting for someone else to speak. Someone started clapping, and someone else joined in, and soon there was a solid round of applause for the Chief's words.
"Well, Bigelow, that was a fairly impressive performance, I must say, in the end," said More some three hours later, "although there were times I was wondering how it would turn out!"
We were waiting on some stools outside a small coffee hut on the Alberton pier for the converted trawler that was to take us on the final stage of the day's travels, an overnight boat to Rustico, reflecting on the evening's meeting. I took a sip of my coffee to warm me a bit, as the night air was always a bit chilly around here, regardless of how fine the day might have been - there wasn't much between us to slow or moderate the southern drift of frigid air from the Arctic Circle, and the great Gulf Stream passed far south of us, so the North Atlantic chill never really left the waters. Neither More nor Thoreau seemed to mind the coolness much, though, and the onshore breeze was certainly pleasantly refreshing after the several stuffy hours in the Alberton Council Hall. The sky was clear and the stars sparkling and beautiful over the ocean, and an almost full moon gave the dunes across the bay an ethereal sort of ghostliness - it truly was a province of great beauty, in many and varied ways. As was, of course, our entire planet. Such a crime, a universal crime, that we were so close to destroying it all in the name of nothing more than shortsighted general stupidity and lives of exceptional luxury for the exceptionally moralless greedy and stupid few who thought they were kings.
"Yes," agreed Thoreau, "it had indeed a bit of the feel of a New England town meeting of times past, at least the better ones - everyone gets a chance to speak, and democracy is accomplished as I believe it is meant to be accomplished, that is to say, more of a consensus is finally arrived at than some sort of majority of 51 telling the other 49 what to do, which seems more like war and violent oppression at times than cooperation of any sort."
"Or worse!" I couldn't resist adding, as this was one of the things that had annoyed me most about the old FPTP (first past the post) electoral system used in most of Canada - "how about 20 telling the other 80 what to do through some skewed plurality voting process, including the 50 who didn't bother voting and the under-18s not allowed to vote."
I saw Thoreau frowning a this idea, and smiled at him.
"Yes, it's something you don't hear about much, but in a country with many political parties, as Canada has had for many years, and a 'first past the post' voting system, as we have in a few countries still, such as Canada, although most countries have gone to some much more fair form of voting known as proportional representation, a party can get a majority of the seats with a very small minority of the vote."
"How so, indeed?" said Thoreau.
"Think of it this way - let us say you have 5 parties - sometimes more, sometimes less, the idea is the same. Four parties get 19% of the vote each, and the fifth party gets 24% of the vote. If there are 30 ridings, and this pattern repeats in them all (yes, very unlikely, but as an example!) - then the party with 24% of the vote takes 100% of the seats, even though 76% of the people voting voted against them! That is of course very hypothetical, but some variation of that is what usually happens here, and when the actual number of people who do not vote for various reasons including complete disgust with the lies of the politicians and the highly unfair system, the government of Canada, for instance, the last 30 or more years has rarely 'enjoyed' the support of more than 25% of so of the population, but usually manages a 'majority' government."
"That's truly awful!" exclaimed More, "but why do the people put up with this outrage? It can hardly be called 'democratic' to have 75% of the people ruled by the other 25%!"
"Yes, and even with only 3 parties here on PEI, at least 3 that got more than a few hundred votes on a regular basis - and one of them very weak - we often had results as bad on the old PEI, where a party would get say 50% of the vote and 95% of the seats. But as to the answer to your question, you'd have to ask the people - it was always a mystery to me why there wasn't a bit of outrage about it all. I suspect it had a lot to do with the media, though, once again - the day after the election, you wouldn't see a headline like 'Party A wins majority with 24% of the vote', and associated commentary pointing out the undemocratic nature of this type of thing, which might have got some people thinking, you'd just see a headline like 'Stunning victory for Party A - huge mandate for new program!' or something, no mention at all of the low numbers who actually approved of the 'victor' - and the commentators allowed on the television and in the newspapers would not make any issue out of it either. Actual figures were available, buried somewhere on the inside pages, but nobody seemed to take much of an interest. I think it also had a lot to do with people who are not educated to think critically or for themselves, but are trained from an early age to trust their media, and take their lead from the media as to what is important and what is not, and which points of view are allowable, and so on, rather than thinking for themselves. We could speculate long on this, of course - but I think we have come beyond that here, anyway, finally, and minority rule is definitely a thing of the past here, finally - which explains all the good things for most of us. Not without some kicking and screaming, of course - those who have had privilege for a long time are quite loathe to relinquish it."
"Quite!" added More, " Nothing new about that! But to get back to the meeting, I was also very encouraged to note the number of truly engaged citizens who were taking a real interest in the proceedings - very impressive! I think there is quite a lot of thinking for themselves going on here now."
"Well," I said, "This is pretty much what we have been working towards the last few years, and I must say it did work quite well tonight - some of the earlier meetings two or three years ago, with a lot of people trying to implement some approximation of a new system nobody was sure about yet, and many others trying to maintain their influence through continuing the old system and dominating by sheer force of volume as you saw the one man trying to do even tonight. But there was enough unhappiness with the results of the old system - too few people telling too many to do things they did not like doing for too many years - for enough people to keep trying to get the new ideas into place - and I think we passed through a critical stage about a year ago, and since then we have really started doing some good things with the consensus process as people start to understand it, and trust and accept it - but it has been a struggle. There will be an election coming up soon, mandated by both Canadian and still existing PEI-GI law - and if enough people agree with the new way, it could be the last old-style election on Green Island."
"Well," said Thoreau, "it may be a bit axiomatic to say so, but few things worth accomplishing come easily. And I suspect, from the people I have met the last few days, your new methods are meeting with pretty strong approval, which should be reflected in the election."
"Quite," said More again, with a small sort of smile, "but tell, me, then, what happens now? As the old gentleman noted, this is only one small area of Green Island - how do the other areas feel?"
"Well, Chief Wilfred will prepare a summary and post it on AGORA for everyone who is interested, outlining their concerns and the consensus position they reached here tonight, and over the next few weeks the issue will be considered in local meetings. Then in a month or so - assuming we are still the government, of course! - the representatives will meet in Charlottetown, or some other place they all agree on, and see if they can easily come to some agreement based on the wishes of the people they represent. If so, good, if not, they must try to work out some sort of compromise themselves, and take this back to their local areas for further discussion. As long as the people are well-meaning, we find that usually this process is quite flexible but also quite quick. Problems mainly developed in the older system when you had some small group who refused to consider the wider picture, but wished some kind of special treatment that would benefit them but harm others - and such people usually did a lot of their lobbying and so on behind closed doors with influential people, which of course, they cannot do here anymore, which is why they are so upset and trying to reinstall the older system."
"Such as the seal hunters we saw arguing earlier," noted More, "I suppose..."
"Exactly," I agreed, "anyone who has any understanding of the environmental issues involved understands that the basis of the entire problem was the terrible amount of overfishing that went on for years and even decades under the old governments both of this area and of Canada itself, pretending like stupid blind children in a candy store that taking such huge amounts of fish from the sea could go on forever and ever with no consequences - until one sad day they woke up and the stocks had crashed, and they had to declare the first moratorium you heard about. Well, the fishermen, as are most people, I suppose, were a bit reluctant to stand up and proclaim their guilt to the world, and really it was the large factory fishing boats that did most of the damage the last few years, so they scouted around for something to blame the crash on, and didn't want to create a direct conflict with the large fishing operators who provided their communities with jobs and a living of sorts, and soon settled on the seals as a handy scapegoat. At least many of them did - but they also wanted and needed some sort of way to replace at least some of the income they had lost through the crash of the fishery - self-interest completely trumping common sense or the rights of others to a decent environment - an old problem also.
“Their position had, and has, all the credibility of the child who has just thrown a stone through a window pointing at little Susie across the street, but that sort of thing has never stopped such people. Unfortunately, in our modern world, the real stone throwers - at many things besides fish stocks - are quite wealthy from this type of resource rape, and more often than not own the media through which people get their information, so manage to get away with a lot of finger pointing that would otherwise not be possible. Here in Green Island, of course, we have stopped a lot of that through the Island Voice, for starters, where people get much more reliable information than they used to from the corporate-owned papers, and were and are thus much less likely to be scammed by the finger-pointers. We've also stopped a great deal of the bullying that used to go on, where people were stopped from speaking due to threats of ridicule or even physical violence or lost jobs from the multi-national corporations which owned the big fishing boats and fishing factories. And I think there was quite a lot of support tonight as well for the idea that the Green Island government find some way to fully replace the money lost from the seal killing and other fishing, so the moratorium does not cause financial disasters - that is exactly the kind of thing we can do here that the old government found impossible in the face of the powerful vested interests."
"But, then, Stephen," asked Thoreau, "what about the regular elections and things, you know, electing Congressmen and Senators, or the MPs, I guess you call them here and in Britain? - I don't recall anyone identifying themselves as the 'official' rep or anything like that tonight?"
"Well, the plan is to move away from that entire system, as I said." I answered, "It is, we feel, a real dinosaur, and functions primarily - as do so many things, regardless of the propaganda to the contrary - to maintain the old ways and levers of power, and we have moved on to new ways here on Green Island, where the power, such as it is, is shared and exercised by all, rather than a small clique, whatever the pretension to exercising it 'legitimately' through being 'elected'. The whole concept of 'party politics' is simply a means of control of the political process - any individual might have better ideas or be more acceptable to the people in his or her area than a party candidate - but the parties have the connections to the corporate money and the media that mean their candidates get all the advertising, and the national leaders get to set the agendas, and the local candidates, no matter their qualifications, in almost all cases get marginalised. The propaganda about this has been quite impressive - from the earliest time children are told about their society, they are told over and over that this is the greatest system ever, and any type of what is called 'socialism' is very, very bad. Likewise the system of fixed elections, or the same election day across all the country, or small island in this case - that works only for the benefit of the party politics people, but literally never are the people told there might be alternatives to this way of doing things.
"Here, although it is not entirely official yet, many of our elected independents have moved to the system you saw in place tonight. There are no long-term representatives - this has been passed into law already on Green Island, as a form of recall, they call it, although we wish to go further yet - the people of any area can change their representative when they like, for any reason - perhaps the rep is trying to betray them in various ways (much less of a problem here than under the old, very corrupt system), or perhaps the rep wishes to retire - it doesn't matter, really - at any time, the people of a certain riding can change their rep, who will then take their wishes to the next province-wide meeting, whenever and wherever. When people think about this, they realise that it is nothing but beneficial for them, as there are no more people out there who make a career of politics, building contacts and friends and influence among the wealthy and powerful to maintain their sinecure, but always, always, always screwing the people by doing so, as they do favors for those whose money allows them to keep their job. We also do not have regular 'sittings' of the parliament, as they do elsewhere - again, not at all necessary.
“We have our share of bureaucrats and bureaucracies, and they do most of the day to day work - they do not make decisions, simply administer systems that are already in place, and implement policies agreed on by the people. When, as happens regularly, such as tonight, a certain group thinks they have an issue that needs to be dealt with on a larger basis than their own riding, or something comes up here or outside that must be dealt with somehow, they will have a meeting like this, and the selected rep will contact the other areas, and a meeting will be arranged. Usually they will meet for a number of days, as other areas will have other issues they wish dealt with in the larger context. But local issues are kept local - we do not have some small group somewhere trying to force their preferences on everyone everywhere - heh heh, you met Alicia earlier on, who, along with some others, is trying to have the whole world declared a no-smoking zone - "
I saw Henry's eyebrows arch a bit -
" - but by and large they are having little success, as few local areas - few people, really - wish to assume that sort of pseudo-moral stance over everyone else - nor are they allowed to, for that matter. This sort of thing, of course, was much easier to accomplish with larger, less accountable governments, no matter how many people opposed their ideas - it was quite notable that none of these issues, such as smoking bylaws, or seatbelt laws, were ever raised during an election - I think they all well knew that most people do not support that kind of intrusion into personal lives and decision making - it is only certain people who have those sorts of Napoleon complexes, and they find it much, much more difficult to get anywhere in a room full of concerned, thinking, freedom-loving citizens who prefer to make up their own minds about things like personal levels of safety and so on, and don't much like anyone else telling them such things and getting the police to enforce it all."
"Hey Stephen!" a voice interrupted from behind, accompanied by footsteps echoing on the dock, as we turned, "how's it going, then, eh boy?"
The speaker was Roy McMusel, a fisherman I had known for many years; we had often enjoyed a few culled oysters livened with a splash of Tabasco and washed down with a cold Alpine beer (or Green Suds lately), from his culture patch a few miles down the coast.
"Hi Roy," I answered, smiling, "are you driving the boat tonight, then?"
"Yupper," he answered, arriving to where we stood and stopping for a minute, "looking like a great night for a sail, there, ey, boys? And these are your friends then?" he said, turning to More and Thoreau.
"That they are, Roy," I answered, and made the introductions.
"Well, lads," Roy said after a few pleasantries had been exchanged, "I can't stop to chat now at all, y'see, it's almost 11 and the tide's high just a few minutes after, so we better get her underway - there's a sand bar been creeping across the opening there, Stephen, that we gotta get dredged soon. Finish your coffees, dere, boys, we'll be boarding in five and underway in ten!"
Thoreau and More, smiling slightly in bemusement perhaps, watched Roy stomp down the dock to where the 40-foot trawler, stern-on to us, painted basically white with faded green and red trim, sat bobbing in the small swell, the name KITE darkly visible against the fading white paint of the transom. He was a sight, a tall, bulky man, 60-ish now, broad of shoulder, straggly, longish hair, only a small enlargement of the belly area, upper body swaying mildly from side to side as he walked as the shoulders of men who spend much of their lives on the sea tend to do. I'd found him to be a good companion, and stories abounded at the legion among the younger fishermen of his courage and strength on the sea, his loyalty to his friends, his honesty in his dealings with all. He'd been approached more than once about taking a turn as a rep, but laughed uproariously each time, saying he'd be damned if he'd ever get his feet wet in that boat, hoho.
"Well, anyway, Stephen," said More, as Roy disappeared over the side of the Kite, "so what is the plan? You actually do mean to take us for a sail overnight, then?"
"Yes, this is it," I answered, waving to the Kite, "it's a kind of irregular service, with the train available to transport most goods to the other parts of the island, and now the zeppelin service, but it gets used quite a bit in the good weather - and most days between June and September they can count on tourists or even locals to go for a morning or afternoon out in the Gulf. I've always loved it myself, when I've had the chance to get a few hours on a lobster boat or small fishing boat like this - there's a peace and a reality out on the ocean, with some good companionship, that used to be pretty hard to match, although things are a lot better now on Green Island, in terms of what I would call 'real' people. But there now, Roy's telling the hands to cast the lines and prepare for departure, and I expect he wants us on board. Shall we?"
Not fifteen minutes later the lines had been cast, the boat pushed away from the pier, motors started, and the Kite was underway towards the small opening framed in the moonlight between the large dunes, looking like great huge beached whales in the moonlit darkness, of which there were six distinctly visible to the south and one to the north as we headed east to the open sea, the breeze from the land behind us, the billion stars of the galaxy sparkling gloriously above us on a wonderful clear night. Roy had given the wheel to one of the hands and joined us on the foredeck, producing a small cooler that seemed to have everything anyone might desire (not entirely a coincidence or evidence of supernatural powers - he had asked me what my companions might prefer when I arranged the passage, and from previous times together I managed to give him the right ideas).
"Well, Stephen," he was saying, smacking his lips after a taste of his rum, "you've lucked in tonight! I had a reservation for another party of 4, but they decided to spend an extra day or three they were having such an enjoyable time in West Prince. But I've got a group from Rustico scheduled for the morning as well, so I have to make the trip tonight anyway - and we've got a few boxes of lobsters for the restaurants as well - that time of year, you know - I think half the economy of this island revolves around them lobster suppers at times! So you've got the boat to yerself tonight - a tad more room with fewer people, as you know - and maybe an extra lobster in the pot as well, we got no shortage of canners."
The foredeck of the Kite was somewhat more comfortable than it had been in days gone by when it was a working boat exclusively - as was the interior, where there was a small but well-furnished kitchen and head and half a dozen small private bunking areas, as this sort of overnight trip had become popular enough to undertake on a regular basis. On calmish sorts of days or nights, like this one was, there was a table that could be pulled from a cleverly designed slot under the roof of the bridge and quickly securely fastened with three large wing-nuts to a pedestal that could be raised from below, and as many as 8 or 10 people, a bit crowded, could sit around it on foldup stools that stashed securely in a small locker at the bow. As we were that night, having a nightcap before turning in, with a plate of cheese and crackers and cooked oysters as a welcome snack with our drinks - conversation was a bit muted for a few minutes as we all found it more urgent to assuage our appetites than chit chat, whetted by the surroundings, and observe the progress of the Kite to and through the opening to the Gulf of St Lawrence.
A few minutes later, appetites sated, watching the occasional lights of the Prince County shore pass to the west of us as we chugged on south through the light swell, the conversation resumed.
"Stephen, I'm curious also, if I might step back a bit to earlier tonight," said More, "about what you do when some group refuses to accept the majority view, refuses to accept the consensus agreement of the majority. The fishermen tonight, for instance - they did eventually accept that they had to change their ideas and lifestyles, or most of them seemed to anyway, but they were given some very good positive options as well as the negative they faced. But what if a group refused - then what do you do?"
"Well, we're still working our way through that, I have to admit," I answered, "with some failures and some successes - as the Chief said at the first, this has been an ongoing situation, and we have tried to deal with this in the past with poor results - hopefully this time will be better. But humans are a diverse bunch, and problems are never far away when they live together in large numbers, as they negotiate for various rights and things. The idea here is maximum freedom for all people - we are somewhat Millsian in that regard - a lot of our ideas are similar to Libertarian, actually - and as with Mills, we feel that the freedom of one individual stops where the freedom of the others begins - but defining that particular line to the satisfaction of all is a great deal easier to say than to do! The smoking ban, for instance, you saw at the beginning - that is up to individual communities, who follow policies desired by a solid majority - it's kind of evenly split, between communities with a no-smoking in public places policy, or in public buildings, or no smoking policy at all, if you see what I mean - and then there are traditional places like the Legions which are very firm in their belief that their members want to be in a smoking room, and no outside community should have any right to regulate them. There are all kinds of situations like that. There are always a few who are against most anything, humans being humans - but these minorities do not have the right to dictate their wishes to the majority, at least here on Green Island!, so such things as the smoking bans are instituted in some places but not in others. There are some who try to go even further, and say that they have some sort of right to clean air anywhere they go, which gives them a 'right' to force people to stop smoking everywhere, or for another example, since they work to help support hospitals they have some sort of right to force people to behave in certain ways to reduce their risk of injury and thus their use of the health care system - but those arguments have not been meeting with much success when a community consensus is required...."
"Humph. And I should hope not!" interjected More, "the stuff of the very worst sort of extremists!"
"You got that one right, Sir!" interjected Roy, who had not been saying much, he never did, sitting and listening, sipping on his rum, watching the sea, puffing on his rollie. "This here boat, now, she's a smokin boat all the way, and there'll be blood in the water if they try to say otherwise."
I smiled too, fully in agreement, "Quite indeed!" I said, agreeing with Roy, not necessarily about blood in the water but I certainly supported the right of a man to reign supreme as far as smoking or no smoking went on his own boat.
"But then there are other things, like the fish stocks - they cannot be said to be the property of any one person or group - but it is quite demonstrably in the best interests of all of us - not to mention our children and their children and so on as the Chief also pointed out - that the health of these stocks, and the natural environment as a whole, be maintained, so we feel justified in passing - and enforcing - laws to see that they are maintained - although of course, again, this is a majority position here, a strong majority, and it is less clear what we might do, or be able to do, if the majority, for some reason, decided they were going to fish until the fish were gone and to hell with those of us who wanted to conserve them. In some ways the federal government was trying a bit of the same before, except their main purpose seemed to be to squeeze out the small traditional fishermen in favor of the giant multinational corporate fish firms and their 'factory' ships which could decimate entire seabeds or fish stocks in a matter of days under certain circumstances. We try to consider all of the players, including those not yet born as the Chief said, insofar as we deem them to have rights, as we do.
“But to answer your question about what do we do with those who refuse to go along with the consensus - well, you have seen the GRIPPs, and we use them as we have to, with the support and assistance of the community when available. If some individual, for instance, feels he has a right to physically coerce other people to do as he demands, or to sneak around and steal from them - well, we make the judgement that we have a right, collectively, to protect ourselves, and do whatever is required, basically, to stop that person, or that gang of people, so we can live safely and securely in our own communities, as defined by a majority of us. Which is, of course, the basis of collective action - the strong individual, with no sense of any collective working in his brain, could dominate any of us individually, which is the basis of much crime in the past - but together, we have the numbers to assert our rights, if we have the courage to do so, and the will to work together. Which is, in many ways, the underlying rationale for democracy, as King John had pointed out to him at Runnymede. We fasten chains on no person, if someone does not like our way of doing things, they are free to leave. Which applies to no-smoking halls as much as to imagining you have a right to physically intimidate smaller people.
"In the very end, of course, the very final analysis, it comes down to force, it must do so, unfortunately, as those who feel they have some sort of right to exploit - steal, actually - the labour of others, or steal from their neighbors or the community, usually regard force as the ultimate weapon - 'do as I say or I will beat or kill you', and it has been an effective weapon throughout history, and remains so, and the only way to deal with it is to respond in kind. Today, the modern state has attempted to legitimise the use of violence to itself, and has largely succeeded. This may be defensible as long as you can trust your government, but when you understand that the government has been taken over by interest groups whose sole aim is to plunder the community and the earth itself, and have simply transferred their own violence to the government, which they have stolen from we the people, then it comes time to fight back - as we have been doing here, in our own small way. We try to avoid getting into situations with other governments where physical violence is the final arbiter, because, although, as you have observed, we are quite able to defend ourselves individually or against small groups of outlaws of various sorts, we do not, as a small island, have the sort of organised force to meet organised state violence against us on a larger scale."
And so we talked on, over our drinks, sitting on the deck of the Kite, watching the lights on the shore and the stars above - but the conversation did not last long that evening. It had been a very long day with many thoughts and experiences and words already, from Charlottetown to the Hunter River School and on to Alberton and now the soothing sounds and motions of the Gulf of St Lawrence on a beautiful night, and although the spirits were always willing to carry on the interesting conversations, the bodies of these three gentlemen were all very weary, and my first beer was hardly finished, and the glasses of my companions emptied, before we found our eyes spending more time closed than open, and Roy escorting us, one by one, to our bunks, where the gentle sound of the waves on the hull, and the fresh sea air blowing through the boat, sent us all of into a deep and refreshing sleep.