Tag Archives: co-operation

Social contracts

Social contracts underpin our lives, but we don’t talk about them much. To participate in civilization and to benefit from it, we have to agree to contribute what we can or at the very least, not go round ruining things for other people. We benefit from all manner of things that belong to, or are funded by everyone – as do private companies, who often use the idea of their private-ness to suggest they shouldn’t have to contribute as much. They use the road networks, the police, the fire services, the education of their employees and so forth.

At the moment, our social contract obliges us to pay for participation with health – when the work demanded of us makes us ill, when the cities we live in have such bad air pollution that it kills people. Participation comes at a high price. I think government and industries alike are failing to hold up their side of the contract, because profit is put before health – especially where air pollution is concerned.

Any practice that allows a few to profit from the natural resources of the world while damaging the environment for everyone else, breaks the unwritten contract. There is no mutual good or benefit here. Why are some people allowed to profit to an obscene degree while others are exploited? Why are some people allowed to accumulate vast wealth at the cost of making others ill? The greater the distance between the richest and the poorest in society, the more strain there is on that unwritten contract that in theory binds us all together.

Poor, vulnerable and under-privileged people who seem to have broken the social contract, are punished for it. Having the resources you need to survive taken from you, being a case in point. That we have food banks feeding people who would otherwise go hungry and even starve, is itself a manifestation of the social contract, upheld by people who believe that we all have a duty to contribute to society and to help those who have less than us. There are a great many individual people trying to hold our social contracts in place despite the way those in power are ripping to shreds that which was never put on paper.

Humans have always depended on co-operation to survive. We all depend on each other. We depend on the people around us to respect us and not assault us. We depend on each other for food, for amenities, for shared resources. And yet all too often we are persuaded to think of ourselves as isolated individuals who can act alone with no consequences. If we don’t see the threads binding us together, we can do massive damage to everything we depend on. If we don’t see the importance of working for the common good, what we get is exploitation, and benefit for the few at a high cost to the many.

When we see society in terms of winners and losers, we make ourselves poorer. Most of us lose. When we see society in terms of co-operation and mutual support, more people are able to win. What would happen if we aspired to make sure that everyone was winning at life? What would happen if we started to see piles of wealth as weird, and offering assistance where needed, as normal? Why not aspire to a world in which everyone has enough and lives peacefully, rather than heading towards a world where a few powerful individuals get to be kings and queens of their own infertile piles of plastic rubbish?

Us and Them

I’ve been in too many internet arguments where people have attempted to position me by race and religion – thinking that to side with moderate Muslims is to support terrorism, or that voting one way or the other is anti-British and so forth. The logic of us and them, where ‘us’ is defined by some apparent commonality and ‘them’ by some kind of difference that I find irrelevant.

As Brexit brings out the worst in my country in terms of racism, hate, and twisted thinking, I find I too need the language of us and them. I want to draw my lines in the sand.

Us. Co-operative and willing to negotiate, open to diversity and willing to listen. Inclined to get on with our own things, peaceably and feeling no need to ram our beliefs or lifestyles down anyone else’s throat. Perfectly happy to accommodate anyone else who is quietly getting on with their own thing. Absolutely intolerant of hate, violence and any kind of activity largely designed to make other people miserable and/or force them to conform to some spurious standard.

Them: Driven by hate, greed, fear, resentment. Happy to blame vast swathes of people for the actions of the few, but often not willing to take the action that would curtail the violence of the few (see American gun law as a case in point). Unable to bear difference and wanting to hurt, punish or control anyone not like them. Willing to use violence to this end. Happy to see other humans, other life forms and the planet as collateral damage when it comes to seeing their agenda through. Devoid of compassion and empathy. Likely to announce that they live in the real world and that the rest of us are stupid, naive and need to grow up.

This is not about skin colour. It’s not about who you’d like to rub genitals with. It’s not about your religion or the absence of religion. It’s not about whether you are ill, or well, where you were born, what political party you support or anything else of that ilk. It’s about how you treat other humans, other life forms, and whether you want to co-operate for peaceful coexistence with the peaceful coexisters around you, or whether you want to do it the other way.

If your preference is peaceful co-operation, I stand with you, because the rest is just detail.

If you are all about hurting, damaging, disempowering, killing other people, you are my sworn enemy. I will fight you in every way I can think of – with words, and at the ballot box, with action, with any reasonable means at my disposal, and if you pose a real physical danger to someone, I will do whatever I can to stop you by whatever means are at my disposal at the time. And no doubt as I do this, you will wail about your right to free speech, your human rights, and how you are being oppressed, because you’re quick to co-opt the language of decency to protect your indecency.

But the thing is, tolerance is not the key thing for me, co-operation is the key thing, and co-operation is active, discernible. I’m not tolerating anyone in the ‘us’ camp because I don’t need to. I’m co-operating with them. And I’m certainly not going to tolerate the hate-based bullshit and the whinging used to try and justify it.

Hope, not hate

If you’ve been following UK politics in the news, you’ll have been hearing far too much about the ‘success’ of the far right party, UKIP, and very little about how well the Greens have been doing. The media bias makes me very uncomfortable, but that’s an issue for another day. Perhaps in part due to the media hype, a lot of people did vote for UKIP; whose policies include getting rid of maternity pay, making rape in marriage legal, and blaming anyone ‘not from round here’ for just about everything. No doubt some of those votes were in protest against the mainstream, not meant as endorsements.

However, I’ve seen UKIP supporters online. Angry, anti-intellectual, resentful, frustrated, shouty… they do not inspire joy. This is not a party which brings out the best in people, but a party that calls the police to challenge someone who had posted actual UKIP policy statements to twitter. What do we do in face of this?

The temptation is to get angry back. It’s very easy to shout abuse at angry, destructive people who put their fingers in their ears and sing loudly if there’s any risk someone might show them evidence that doesn’t back their claims. I’ve hardly been complimentary in the last few paragraphs, but I’m also terribly aware that these are people. Somewhere in there, they have feelings, and there’s a good chance that for many, beneath the veneer of noisy anger is a deep seam of terror. Life is scary just now. Climate change is terrifying. How much easier it is to be able to blame all the big economic problems on powerless immigrants! It would be even more alarming if we had to look at how those with power are screwing us over. And all the while, those with power are no doubt rubbing their hands with glee as those of us who should have been working together for change are mired in fighting each other.

Getting angry does not cause angry people to magically become compassionate. It doesn’t get rid of hate, but entrenches it. Shouting at people and calling them bloody stupid, does not get many of them to engage productively. I suspect people are going to UKIP under the mistaken impression that this party cares, and is listening. These are people who have every reason to feel that the mainstream doesn’t care and isn’t listening. That needs to change.

In the normal scheme of things we hate people who have personally wronged us, and where we can see a direct causal link between them and the specific wrong. What we’re getting is a truly irrational mass hatred of whole groups of people. That’s not hard wired into any of us but is being constructed, and fed. It would be all too easy to make UKIPpers another hate group for smug people to look down on. Another vast generalisation and condemnation to feed the division and keep us all harassing each other.

Hug a UKIPper. They probably need it. We need hope, not hate. We need to co-operate, not tear each other down. We need to recognise and respect each other’s fundamental humanity – it’s fine not to like each other and not to agree, but that doesn’t entitle us to strip others of rights and dignity. There are some large and real problems out there just now – wealth distribution, climate change, human rights, our viability and future as a species… the more people there are working together to tackle that, the better. Hope not hate means having to work out how not to hate the haters – and that’s going to be really hard. We will not build a better world by chucking shit at each other, we have to inspire each other to do better. There is no other way.

(and, while the media silence is curious, the Greens actually did very well in the local elections).

A little light evil

One of the themes we play with quite a lot in the Hopeless Maine graphic novel project (www.hopelessmaine.com) is the issue of small evil. Not the big, dramatic, self-announcing, end of the world variety, but the small scale, puppy kicking stuff.

Every day affords us small opportunities to do it well, or do it badly. Help a stranger or hassle them. Get angry, or try to listen. Part of the trick is paying attention in the first place, noticing what is happening and thinking about our own responses. Part of it is thinking about what we want to put into the world.

Yesterday’s long train haul brought an interesting mix of people. Some were grumpy and rude, having a bad day and intending to share the misery as widely as possible. Many were patient, kind, helpful and co-operative. Some turned out to be fun and really interesting. Some had just experienced a pasting themselves and needed a bit of care and being listened to. No doubt there were bits that we handled better than others. An overcrowded train full of tired people with too much luggage is a perfect opportunity to really have a go at some random person you’ll never see again. It can be something else, it depends so much on what we do.

Those small acts of unkindness, disharmony, rudeness, that turn up as much in social media and in the street as on a train, have impact. That’s one more stressed, hurt, angry person who can ripple their frustrations out to affect the next victim. We grow evil out of these small events. We breed and nurture it, pushing towards more conflict. Verbal aggression so often turns into physical violence. The next thing you know, lines are drawn, it’s us and them and there will be bloody noses.

Small acts of making things just a little bit better make worlds of difference. The words of gratitude, of understanding, the working out a viable way for everyone, the not shouting and blaming… that too ripples out into better things, a happier space.

I’ve spent the weekend with Steampunks. It’s a community that takes manners seriously. Those small acts of kindness and courtesy make Steampunk a happy, comfortable sort of place to be. Co-operation is so much nicer than blame and harassment. When things aren’t working perfectly, people who pull together solve and overcome problems. People who lash out at each other just make things worse.

We do not have the same ethos of kindness and courtesy in the Druid community. We may talk about personal honour, and honourable relationship, but we’re far too quick to get cross with each other online.

Some of it is about losing track of what matters. So it went a bit wrong. You didn’t get what you wanted. It was too hot, too crowded, too expensive… yeah, these are things a person can choose to get mad about. But there is that other choice, of shrugging, saying ‘ah well, that sucked,’ and either making it better in some way or moving on to the next thing. We argue over irrelevant trivia and forget there’s a whole world out there full of genuinely wrong things that could use our attention. So what if we don’t agree on some esoteric point, or the best way to do ritual? It doesn’t matter. Let’s disagree considerately, let’s ripple out those little moments of good, not put yet more strife into the world.