Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Big Love for civility

For those of you deprived of well-written television (which should be nearly everyone, from well before the writers went on strike), you have to check out an HBO show called Big Love.
The series follows the trials and tribs of a polygamist family living in secret in the suburbs of a city in Utah.
The show is socially insightful in a way similar to All in the Family: it takes taboo subjects and throws them on screen for you with all their beauty and ugliness in full view.
Of course, having to hide their lifestyle is a constant source of conflict in the series. Everyone the family runs into has an opinion (keep in mind, the show is set in the Mormon state with its sorted history with polygamy). Some are certainly ready, willing, and aching to expose any polygamist they see. However, the vast majority seem to disapprove, but take a "stay out of the bedroom" approach when they come into direct contact with a family.
A sentiment bubbles that could feed a witch-hunt, but never seems to boil over.
Rather, people seem content to shove things back under the carpet when they slip out. This is far from a genuine or honest approach, but it keeps the peace.
To me, this is an expression of citizenship.
People take pains daily to simply avoid making themselves uncomfortable. But the show expresses a logic behind letting polygamy be, so long as its not abusive (most reported and prosecuted polygamy cases have come to light because of accusations of abuse first.) Every citizen of a community, be it a religious or civic one, has an interest in maintaining civility and peace.
The vast majority are not polygamists and wouldn’t suffer if they were all arrested. Most are against polygamy. However, tolerance is maintained because it is a tone that permeates all the interactions between citizens in their community.
In the face of this notion I consider what the Harper government’s latest move to leave a Canadian death row inmate in the U.S. hanging (or stuck with a lethal needle.)
We have arrived at a day, it seems, when the politicisation of our citizenship is clear and present.
The decision has either, knowing Harper’s penchant for strategizing, a vote-winning (or solidifying) intention or is driven by pure ideology.
Ronald Allen’s crimes have already been committed. He will not walk free in any case. This is not an issue of safety, but rather of ideology.
We have known, like the citizens of the community in Big Love, that attacking individuals hardly leads to peace and civility. Law, ruled by angry mobs attacking this cause or that, leaves everyone unsure of what is sacred and what one can expect.
Harper’s move has let a populist (though not very popular according to polls) sentiment that would like to see murderers killed by a state rule at the cost of the sanctity of our citizenship.
Canada is known to embrace stands, like those in favour of gay marriage, that may not be supported by mass opinion but stand nonetheless for inalienable rights.
The citizens of Utah in Big Love have embraced that same notion of maintaining civility. Yet, we let ours go. Let the witch-hunts begin.

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