Watchdogs and Whiners

imagesThere are two schools of government criticism: the Whining School and the Watchdog School.

At the Whining School, millions of people are taught to whine and complain about how miserable their lives are as a result of the government. The complaining is meant to do nothing more than expiate the misery. The Whining School teaches non-constructive criticism and generally seems to provide an excuse to grumble and cry about everything in this world which oppresses, hinders, and blocks.

It is a school which teaches victimization as a value. When we are victims, we need take no responsibility, and we cry out for others (whoever they may be) to rescue us from our horrible plight.

On the other side, however, is the Watchdog School. The Watchdogs are there to ensure that government is not overstepping its bounds. It points out abuses and misuses of power. The Watchdog School teaches that vigilance in matters of public policy is very important. It is based on the premise that public institutions belong, after all, to the public and that the public has a right to respond – congratulating successes and pointing out shortcomings.

Problematically, it is not always easy to tell the difference between the two schools. Ideally, Watchdogs will propose solutions where possible, but it is not always the case. Whiners, on the other hand, just want to complain.

We criticize the government because it is OUR government. We elected it to perform a public service – for ourselves and for our communities. Because we live in a democracy, the δῆμος (i.e., ‘demos’, the people) have both the right and the responsibility to keep government in check. This can only be accomplished by telling them what is good, bad, and ugly.

These last three Days of Mourning in Serbia, for example, provide a good template.

No one will dispute the government decision to impose the days of mourning. A natural disaster has devastated a huge part of the country. Lives have been lost, homes destroyed. The humanitarian effort needed to rebuild will require all of the country’s resources as well as those of everyone else willing to give. This is undisputable.

Less clear, however, are the ways and means. Notably, the government decided to close down all of the entertainment on television, leaving only national news for three days. They mandated cinemas to be closed. They made the radio play only classical music.

Watchdogs like myself would point out that this is not so much a gesture of mourning but an imposition of power with questionable judgment. As the government, I should expect it to act in all areas which it controls directly – the civil service, public radio and television, public services, schools, and the like. Some more appropriate measures might be –

  • Demonstrate mourning by flying flags at half-mast (this was done)
  • Give non-essential public servants a day off
  • Close public schools at mid-day and have them hold assemblies to explain what has   happened (this was also done in some places)
  • Adapt the programming of public radio and television (RTS)
  • Suggest to cable operators to black out advertisement
  • And before all of this, make a clear public announcement of the days of mourning, what will happen and how private people and companies can show solidarity.

The point being that the government should allow the public to join the mourning by choice (and I doubt very much if many people will refuse) rather than have measures imposed upon them. A day of mourning is a national day of sorrow, not a punishment.

I believe that government has overstepped its mandate in doing this and, as a Watchdog School graduate, I feel it is our responsibility to point this out in the hopes that next time (God forbid) it is necessary they will take our concerns into account.

Otherwise I would just be a guy whining about missing the latest rerun of Grey’s Anatomy. And this is not the point.

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