The Honourable Taxpayer

January 11th, 2012 - R. Rados 

When a stack of flesh, bone and cartilage covered in a fancy black robe enters the room, you are told to rise to your feet in a show of respectful obedience. When a man or woman of identical biological makeup, but in a suit and tie, is introduced to an audience, they are sometimes referred to as “honourable”. These two types of people have more than just their humanity in common. They are both employed by taxpayers. One might be a judge entering a courtroom, the latter might be a member of parliament or the

Prime Minister about to give a speech.  Both are given very highfalutin titles to go before their names for reasons that not only involve archaic traditions, but matters of civil obedience and binding admiration. You, the taxpayer – the employer – are expected to pay an unequivocal amount of unearned respect to someone who is above you.

Although many of these biological entities with highfalutin titles pay taxes just like everyone else and may not consider themselves superior, that does not change our responsibilities as citizens to respect them without question, even in the most undue circumstances. Such traditions of administered respect and aggrandizement date back to the kings, queens, and self proclaimed royalty of medieval Europe. Some may view these historic carry-overs as just harmless traditions, but when we're faced with the arrogance and matching highfalutin attitudes of some politicians and law enforcers, we can't help but think about possible reforms or minor adjustments.

My purpose for writing this, aside from being able to use “highfalutin” as often as possible, is to draw attention to something most of us might not notice or think about. It is a subject that I, kind of, take issue with. In a so-called free society in which individual freedom is considered unique in comparison to what history has been known to produce, it seems mildly ludicrous to refer to anyone as honourable or to put a single individual on a pedestal; especially when that individual has been directly employed by the people. This isn't to say that elected officials or judges should not be respected, but rather that we should change the titles that we bestow upon them, if not for our own simple psychological reasons.

It would be absurd to refer to your cat or dog, that you feed and provide shelter for, as your “honourable puppy or kitten”. It would be equally absurd for the founder and president of a business to refer to his accountant as “the worshipful, Mr. or Ms. Smith”, as much as they might prefer such a title. These comparisons might seem ridiculous, but the point is pretty relevant: we should not refer to people who rely on our financial support to maintain their way of life as worshipful. This title implies that this person, somehow, requires a divine and unquestionable respect and loyalty from the persons below them.

As an average Canadian citizen, you probably go to work everyday. You do this because you are trying to keep a roof over your head, food in your belly, and a general level of personal comfort within your daily activities. Most Canadians rely on their employers for this. As a business owner, you may find it reasonable to refer to your clients or customers as worshipful because they are responsible for your success, however, most of them would probably find the title unnecessary. Most humble individuals would refuse to be called honourable, or to be put on a pedestal, regardless of how much control they have or how responsible they might be for the success of those they employ. In the context of public service, when hard working Canadians have their salaries taxed so public servants can have jobs, we have to wonder why some of these servants have garnered the worshipful title. 

The mayor of your city is often referred to by his councilors as “your worship” during debates and regular civil proceedings. During public forums, regular citizens are often instructed to refer to the councilors they are addressing, or the mayor, as “your honour” or “the honourable”. To the average citizen, this type of title implies that the citizen is subservient and that the mayor and council are some sort of royal, divine authorities. These worshipful titles seem to defy the actual facts at hand. These public servants, whether councilors, parliamentarians, prime ministers, or presidents, are directly employed by the voters. Not only are they hired by voters, they are paid by voters to fulfill their orders and requests.

The city of Calgary has recently voted to expunge the title of Alderman, which is an archaic term for a councilor, on the grounds that the title is sexist. Calgary is one of the few major cities left in Canada that uses the old title. Beginning in a few years, every alderman will be officially referred to as a councilor. The term is neutral and eliminates an old tradition for good reason. Now, since we no longer live under an archaic monarchy, we should also look at expunging some of the out-dated and pretentious titles that our public officials have been reveling in.

These changes are small and would likely not effect how our governments are run. However, they would help restore the idea of democracy and the superiority of the taxpayers over their servants; which is an old idea that has somehow gotten lost in the fray.

From now on, perhaps we should no longer be required to rise when a judge enters the courtroom. Nor should anyone be obliged to call him “your honour”. Our current judicial system requires that all citizens be regarded as innocent until proven guilty, so the idea that all citizens should rise and declare their tractability under a public system of law (with the judge as figurehead) is unnecessary. The only person obliged to submit and forfeit his individual right to not rise is the convicted. Only upon being convicted of blatantly spitting in the face of public law and civility should a person be treated like a lackey. The average law abiding citizen should not be undermined by a system that subtly promotes the superiority of public officials through grandiose titles.

All of this seems trivial in the grand scheme of things, but everything that we do can be attributed to some psychological factors. If we lay a psychological groundwork for people to believe that their public officials are worshipful rather than employed, we will end up with a democracy that is designed to erode from within, through generations, as it already has. A few simple adjustments in terminology and language may create a more promising situation for some Canadians who have started to lose faith in the original ideas of individual freedom that most of us value.