Is “balance” enough?

by Yule Heibel on February 26, 2008

Just a quick post, as I’m still in catch-up mode. This morning I read an article in the local paper about a man who has 250 charges against him for public drunkenness, causing disturbances, aggressive panhandling, harassing people, and so on. “Red,” as he’s called in the article, is not homeless, according to police, and they do not believe that he has a mental health problem (although that’s debatable, given his behavior). See Persistent panhandler gets summons under a section of community charter.

Now the city will use a new community charter bylaw to haul this individual before court, where they hope the judge will sentence him to stay away from the downtown core. The intent is to ban Red from panhandling and from “socializing” downtown.

One city council member, quoted in the article, says, “There’s always got to be a balanced approach in dealing with all the issues.”

This bothers me, maybe because we hear too much about “balance” these days. The councilor is concerned that Red’s rights to be downtown on the street to panhandle (which isn’t illegal as such) aren’t infringed upon, and that the way to address the problems caused by the behaviors of people like Red is to seek balance. It somehow makes me think that balance is starting to become a sort of mantra which doesn’t allow valuation. And if that’s the case, you have to ask: Is “balance” stasis? If so, it’s death.

What about judgement? Are we (especially in Canada) so afraid of judging (as my daughter pointed out to me a couple of years ago, in Canada judges need to take workshops to learn how to be non-judgemental…) that we opt for balance (stasis), versus embracing quick, nimble, intellectually aware and alert change? And besides, isn’t our supposed balance often enough just an appearance of balance? All sorts of stuff is still out of whack beneath the surface and in other domains, and the fervent wish for balance is …well, just a wish. Perhaps a wish to get out of making judgements and decisions?

It’s ironic that the US should be full of religious evangelists, whose mantra on the Christian side of the register is not to judge, lest ye be judged, and yet it’s we in Canada, supposedly secular, who are holier than thou in being non-judgemental.

So here’s the deal: I have a problem with being non-judgemental, especially since I’m not a Christian or religious. Being non-judgemental might work fine in your spiritual life, but it sucks when it comes to ethics and politics and economics and policy. You know, it’s like that old shibboleth about rendering unto Caesar what’s Caesar’s and onto god what’s god’s.

Which finally makes me wonder if politicians, when they talk about “seeking balance,” are refusing to judge, …which makes me wonder whether focusing on “balance” is replacing decision-making. I also wonder whether balance in the spiritual sense was ever intended to be a sort of placeholder for anything, whether painful or pleasurable.

As an atheist, I object to any strategy or philosophy that introduces religion into politics. When people talk about “balance,” they usually mean something quasi-religious (or at least “spiritual,” whatever that horse of a different color means to all the riders out there).  Whether the councilor in question is religious or not is moot for me at this point.  I’m concerned with the discourse of “balance,” which is starting to sound like religion.  I object to religion whenever and wherever it worms its way into places where it doesn’t belong.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

melanie February 26, 2008 at 8:09 pm

Reminds me of the BBC interpretation of ‘balance’ which basically means “present both sides but don’t try to find out the truth of either.”

Yule February 26, 2008 at 8:44 pm

Ha, there ya go…

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