About a millennia and a half ago Chosroes I, the twentieth Sassanid emperor, ruled over Persia. Sometime during his long reign, from 531 to 579 A.D., he reputedly stated, “With justice and moderation the people will produce more, tax revenues will increase, the state will grow rich and powerful. Justice is the foundation of a powerful state.”
History remembers the popular reaction to his words and deeds. The appellation ‘the Just’ was added to his name.
Chosroes I in some historians eyes came close to the classical Greek ‘philosopher king’ who Plato posited ideally should rule the city-states of his time nearly another thousand years further back into our antiquity. Would we add ‘the Just’ after the names of any of our contemporary political leaders? Does the blind acceptance of the current system and its unquestioned underlying assumptions make justice impossible today?
With the gap between the rich and poor growing more rapidly here in Canada, even in these times of economic crisis than in the United States, the ideal of a just society seems ever more elusive. On the global stage this goal definitely remains only a dream. The 2015 targets for most of the vaunted Millennium Development Goals likely will not be met.
Official development assistance, the foreign aid dollars sent to assist the poorest in the world, have significantly fallen not increased. We regrettably know the score on the goal of ensuring environmental sustainability with a quick look at the upward curve of carbon dioxide emissions. Little to no progress has been made in reducing extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa and affected areas of Asia. Modest gains on other goals don’t counter the overall failure to live up to our global commitments.
Here at home, while previous Yukon governments talked about building a just society, the Fentie government to its’ credit actually began the work needed to put in place a territory-wide social-inclusion and poverty-reduction strategy. Factors conspired, though it seems, to delay but hopefully not derail the process. All the major parties appear committed to continuing this effort if elected.
Imagine a Yukon government that really demanded that all its’ departments from Health and Social Services to Highways and Public Works see how their policies and procedures promoted social inclusion and poverty reduction. Would this mean that resources would be freed up to address the underlying causes of poverty here rather than just applying Band Aids? Can we envision a Yukon without food banks or not enough beds for our homeless?
The Catholic school students and the parents and teachers who assisted them, fanned out across Whitehorse to collect much-needed supplies for the food bank last Wednesday evening. They collected literally tonnes of generous donations from our community to meet the challenge of hunger in our midst. Their exuberant energy and our community’s outpouring of concern demonstrated that the vision of a just society is alive. We must give their hope wings. Our efforts for their sake must mirror their enthusiasm.
Decision-making during the time of Chosroes the Just was definitely top down. A vibrant democracy demands today that the citizenry not limit their participation to participating in a once-every-four-years election. To be truly called citizens we must remain actively engaged in our democracy’s on-going functioning, pushing and prodding when necessary and praising when warranted. Our democracy is still very much a work in progress.
We build our future; a just, environmentally, sustainable future, one act at a time. Tuesday is Election Day here in the territory. Vote.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.