Tag Archives: government

Who needs strong and stable?

‘Strong’ is one of those words that can have many meanings. It can of course be a good thing, especially when we’re talking about physical capabilities. The strength to endure, to survive, to continue – that can be good too. Although in some circumstances, if strength isn’t tempered with wisdom, it can become pigheaded stupidity. All too often I’m seeing the media use ‘strong’ to mean uncompromising, unwilling to negotiate, dictatorial, domineering. These are not the qualities of a great leader, these are the qualities of a tyrant.

Strong can mean strong enough to hear the counterargument and to take onboard the flaws in your plan. When we’re talking about strength, we need to consider the difference between brittle, hard strength and a softer, more flexible strength. That which can bend a bit does not break so easily, and not breaking is certainly a form of strength.

Strong can become a way of saying unmoveable. It can be a cover for stasis, for a lack of ideas and an absence of innovation. If strong just stands there being big and solid, it may not be able to grow, adapt and change in ways that are necessary for the circumstances. Flexible and adapting can turn out to be a lot more enduring than merely ‘strong’.

Like strength, stability can also imply immobility and lack of the means to bend and transform when necessary. Balanced can be a good thing, but balance isn’t always what’s needed. Stability can all too easily stay still when all around it is moving in chaos, but it may miss the sudden leap of progress, becoming stuck and irrelevant.

I’ve seen others point out on social media that there are connotations in ‘strong and stable’ that have a lot to say about how we value the weak, the vulnerable, the unstable. The Tory government so keen on the strong and stable line, has been increasing the risk of death for those among us who are not strong, and not so stable. To pinpoint these two ways of being as the best virtues is a bit sinister when viewed that way. It’s also a very narrow way of being. Soundbites are not good models for existence. Strength needs to know when to yield, when to allow humbleness and vulnerability into the mix. Stability needs to know when to get out of its rut and make serious changes.

We live in changing, uncertain times. I for one am not looking for strong and stable leaders. I’m looking for wise, flexible, innovative leaders who won’t be afraid to change direction in face of new evidence or circumstance. I’m looking for people with more than hollow soundbites to offer, and people who are willing to dig deep and think hard about what might be needed from them.

Letting people go

When do we give up on someone? When is it ok to decide that the other person is not worth your time and bother? How much effort is too much effort? Who does not deserve your care, friendship, support?

These are questions we need to ask not just at a personal level, but also at a political level. There are a lot of impoverished, hungry, homeless people in the world. Refugees from war zones and tyrannies, more local victims of capitalism, the ill and disabled. A lot of our ‘leaders’ are of the opinion that we can let these people go, they do not matter. We can leave them to die. Internationally, too many ‘leaders’ seem to be viewing humans as either useful little units of production and consumption, or not worth their bother.

At a personal level, we are each of us finite beings. We have only so much time end energy to deploy. Who gets that time? Is it sucked up by a social media troll? Is it spent arguing with people who have no desire to listen? It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking these things are good stands taken for your cause, but the energy spent to outcome ratio isn’t persuasive, all too often. What happens if we let the not-listening don’t-care people go? It frees up time and energy to connect more usefully with people who are doing something useful, certainly.

Again at the personal level how much time do we have for the ill, the disenfranchised, the fragile? Any of us could end up there, although we might prefer not to think about it. Many people who are in crisis can’t be fixed with a kind word or a good deed, often it takes a lot more than that. How do we balance that with our own energy needs? When is it ok to say ‘you are too difficult and I can’t help you anymore?’ How do we distinguish between real need, and people with leeching habits?

There are no easy answers here, because so much of this has to be worked out on a case by case basis. I am going to argue against impossible fights with wilfully deaf opponents. I can’t save everyone. You can’t save everyone. None of us has much of a shot at saving people from themselves when they are their own worst enemies. We need to be kind to ourselves alongside being kind to each other or we just end up with more broken people. As individuals, we really need to consider our responsibilities and recognise at the same time that those responsibilities have to be finite because we are finite.

At a government level, every life matters. No one should live in poverty in this world that clearly has more than enough resources for everyone. No one should live in grotesque excess while others starve, and people are more than production units. Any government that thinks some of its populous doesn’t matter and is expendable and not worth bothering with, is a government that needs to be replaced.

What is government for?

I’ve been reading John Keane’s ‘The Life and Death of Democracy’ – slowly, because it contains a lot of history otherwise unfamiliar to me, and is a book about the same size and weight as a house-brick! Yesterday I ran into a thought form that stopped me in my tracks. To paraphrase Mr Keane: Should government reflect society or counterbalance it?

Democracy is mostly based on the idea of majority rule, but this can lead to two obvious problems. One is that the majority are given the power to oppress the minority, or minorities. Secondly is that those who accumulate wealth, fame and power can easily use that to try and get their own way. If democracy reflects the social and economic dynamics in a country, can it be fair? We tend to assume that the democratic systems we have are pretty much the best thing available, so this questioning of core tenets really interested me.

What happens if the basic job of government is to counterbalance society? Government would then exist, to a fair degree, to right wrongs, protect minorities, ensure fairness, prevent money from controlling all advantages and generally try and keep the playing field as level as possible. It would be a system that prioritised the needs of the weakest, least able and most vulnerable on the grounds that those who are wealthy and successful can reasonably be assumed to be capable of taking care of themselves. And you wouldn’t turn them into some kind of minority to pick on here, no French revolution style execution of aristocrats (I refer you to majority rule). Would counterbalance government be viable? I like it as an idea, but I don’t know if it would work and I’m pretty certain a lot of people would hate it.

The current system encourages us to think about our needs, to vote from a place of selfishness, and perhaps with some eye to enlightened self-interest. It can be a bit short term. I have noticed repeatedly that people who are successful tend to ascribe that to their brains, efforts and other things that make that both deserved, and likely to continue. It isn’t entirely true. Anyone can fall. Illness, misfortune, accident, assault… anyone can end up a victim of crime, or just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Then your life falls apart. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how clever you are, you can’t think your way out of debilitating illness, buy off a terminal disease or be talented enough not to get hit in a random motorway accident you didn’t see coming.

What keeps many of us (not me!) from wanting to invest in a safety net for other people, is that ‘we’ think ‘they’ don’t deserve it, and we refuse to believe we could end up in just as much trouble. That could use a rethink. There but for the grace of (insert random element here) go any of us. People who have wealth, money and power fear that other people are going to take that away from them. We are, culturally speaking, so terribly afraid of each other. It reduces our collective scope for co-operation. What would happen if we set up government to counter balance, rather than to reflect? I’m not sure, but I think it’s worth thinking about.

In case you were wondering, it’s not an entirely hypothetical idea. Uruguay was exploring it in the early twentieth century. I knew almost nothing about South American political history before this week. It is fascinating seeing how fiction authors I’ve read; Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabelle Allende, Louis de Berniers, fit into that context. There is always more to learn.

The other sort

You know who they are. The ones who don’t contribute anything. The ones who take up space and no one would miss if we culled them. The ones who are a veritable misuse of carbon atoms, and whose demise would improve the overall state of the planet. Who you are will determine who you define as being the other sort. And somewhere, there will be someone who would be very glad to put you on the ‘cut’ list.

Wouldn’t it be better if we got rid of the (insert name of hate object here)?

My prejudices include those who are wilfully stupid (not biologically disadvantaged) abusers, those parasites who make fortunes that cripple nations, and the politicians who let them get away with it and keep bleeding the poor. And there are days when, if someone suggested we line them up against a wall and shot the lot of them, or course I’d be tempted. I have the distinct impression this whole ‘them and us’ mentality is pretty much hardwired into how a lot of us think. It’s easy to play on and manipulate, as well.

It is the sure and certain knowledge that plenty of people would put me on their extermination list, that keeps me on my toes with this issue. It’s when you start getting smug and comfortable in your superiority, along with other people who support that sense of betterness, that the trouble starts. The people I hate most, do this. They sit around in their very plush ivory towers and condemn others by the thousands for being poor, under-educated, desperate. I will not get rid of them by emulating their methods. Even if there are days when I think that a hungry crocodile roaming the corridors of power might be a good thing.

What makes me endlessly frustrated is the people who participate in their own oppression. The whole system depends so heavily on this. The folks who get into debt buying overpriced Christmas presents. The folks who have so bought into the myth of consumption that they barely see their own offspring. The people who do not realise that identifying when you have enough is the most liberating thing. We do it to ourselves, aided and abetted by media, government and advertising. Not that there’s always much difference between the three.

The question that plagues me, has this sort of shape. How to reach out to the people who are, from my perspective, blithely oppressing themselves, damaging the planet and facilitating the crap? How to lure them over to this side of the fence. I know, when I blog here I’m mostly talking to people who think in the same way. Short of standing on street corners with placards, how do I reach out? Has anyone else had any luck trying to do outreach work?

If Druidry ruled the world

While the likelihood of us ever again having a culture that is governed by Druid principles is small, I think it’s still worth considering what that would look like. Would it even be viable to have a culture where Druid ideas underpin government, law and so forth? I think one of the measures of any idea’s usefulness is whether it would work to have everyone adopt it, or what the consequences of universal uptake would be. Foolish things which cause no problem in the hands of a few lone idiots can turn into nightmares if they get a widespread hold. We could compare atheism and fascism on this score, the first has contributed to improving the human condition, the second becomes murderous once it has power. What would Druidry become, if universal?

The next question is, whose Druidry are we talking about here? My brand of liberal, inclusive, non-dogmatic Druidry, or something more controlling? Something more about titles and people who want to feel important? I think as soon as Druidry becomes dictatorial and authoritative, it’s no different from any other kind of self serving tyranny. If Druidry was universal, it would acquire all of the self serving tyrants, and I am not confident that all of them would become liberal, benevolent Druids. What this mostly suggests to me is that it probably isn’t in our interests, or the interests of Druidry, to have Druidry be universal. I can’t help but feel the anti-materialist, liberal healer and pacifist from the desert wouldn’t be at all happy about the wars and oppression rich men have undertaken in his name. I have no desire to see that happen to us.

One of the things Druidry has in common with other faiths, is the aspect that, if everyone took it up and practiced it with integrity, we wouldn’t need much in terms of systems and mediations. The reality tends to be, in any religious climate, that most people do not go deeply into spiritual practice. There are plenty of people in the UK who call themselves Christian but only turn up for rites of passage and show no discernible Christian influences in their daily life. Plenty of people who call themselves pagan are no different, wanting to learn a bit of magic, acquire a bit of glamour, turn up in their best cloaks for the odd ritual, but not really change their lives. So far, history suggests that this is what the majority do with all religions – surface, recreation, power base, ego boost, social engagement; the non-spiritual aspects of religion tend to dominate, while the majority resent being expected to put any ideas into practice.

It is, for example, one of my most certain beliefs that a person following a spiritual path should begin by putting aside their television. TVs take too much time and energy from us, and feed us wrong ideas, wrong beliefs, wrong desires. Every time I say this there are squeals of protest from people who have so many reasons why their television is good, helpful, contributing and needed. They like it, they want it, need it, consider that it benefits them. I can call it spiritual poison until I’m blue in the face, it will make no odds. Except with those who have come to the same conclusions for the same reasons and made the jump already.

A society run on superficially druid principles would, I anticipate, be hardly any different from what we’ve got. We’d change the language a bit, we’d drape beards and robes over a few things, dangle some conceptual mistletoe and get back to business as usual. Superficial religion only has the power to change surfaces. Again, look at the kind of right wing ‘Christian’ business in America, and what you’ll see is the demand and aggression of greed, trying to use God for its own ends, wearing a mask of belief behind which behaviours utterly at odds with the essence of the faith, continue unchecked. At least being a minority faith, we don’t have to watch Druidry being perverted in the same way.

If everyone followed a spiritual path deeply, the differences in what we practice would not be that important. The heart of every major faith involves peace and harmony. The essence of every deeply observed spiritual path, is spirituality. Along with that, are versions of virtue. While understandings of virtue vary between faiths, acting with responsibility and compassion are frequent themes. In a world in which everybody made it their job, in all their waking hours, to undertake everything they did with care and respect, with compassion and honour, we wouldn’t need any systems. We would not need the police, judges, courts of law. We might need people to help facilitate mediation and figure out best solutions, but that would be it. Government would only exist as a way of facilitating bigger projects and things we couldn’t manage at a more local and personal level. We would not need much in the way of laws, we would tackle each situation as it came, seeking the best for everyone and able to trust that everyone else was also committed to finding the best for everyone. Sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it? But the reason we don’t have that, is because most of us, as individuals, have chosen not to do it. And when you stop to think about it, that’s pretty shocking.

Living dangerously

I’m going to be talking broadly and generally today, but there are some very specific things underlying my thoughts. There are also legal implications to these issues, which is why I’m going to talk obliquely.

In the UK, it is understood that we are policed by consent. There are a lot of people, the police do not carry guns and so viable policing depends on public co-operation. When people riot, as they did last summer, that relationship has broken down, and it is very difficult to fix. We can only be policed by consent if we agree with the laws and the methods of the police. In a healthy, and functional State, the police themselves are governed by the rule of law and answerable to the politicians, who in turn are answerable to the electorate. Policing by consent works because there is a degree of scope for response when things go wrong. We have a police complaints commission. We take death in custody seriously. I have no doubt we could do better on that score, because there is always scope to do better in all things.

It’s not just the police who have the right to police us, though. To a certain extent we are also policed by the inland revenue, customs and excise, border control, the TV licensing people, the car tax people, we have council tax, VAT… all kinds of situations in which all kinds of people in official places are empowered to make us do certain things. The systems we have as a country require this, the raising of revenue for government depends upon it. Most of these structures are reasonably fair, reasonably transparent, and reasonably possible to work with. There are also systems in place for complaints, and a limit on exactly how much damage any one of these outfits can do to you if you fall foul of them. The vast majority of government run policing outfits do not have the power to entirely destroy your life, and this is as it should be.

I am very glad to say that there are laws in this country governing what any person or organisation with power, is able to do to an individual who does not have power. I think one of the most important things laws can do is give protection to the weak and vulnerable from those with the power and influence to just crush them on a whim. The measure of a country is its treatment of its poorest and most vulnerable people. We could do better. There is always scope to do better.

However, all of these checks and balances depend on a number of things. If an individual does not know their rights, and does not know the law, they cannot call on it anything like as effectively. If a person believes that the system is bound to be hostile to them, the odds are they won’t even take the risk of seeking justice. We are getting better, the ordeal of taking a man to court for rape is not as hideous as it was. It’s still pretty awful. We are not quite so institutionally prejudiced against people for reasons of race, affluence, gender, sexuality or religion. But it is also fair to say that we are not entirely free from prejudice either. There are biases and assumptions. That we can still even ask what a rape victim was wearing suggests we assume a person can bring rape upon themselves. We still blame the victims, we still look far too kindly on money, we still make it hard for poorer people to access justice. We also have a legal system so vast and convoluted that a normal person cannot hope to know all of the law. Not knowing the law as it pertains to you, is not a legal defence. This is a breeding ground for injustice. It disadvantages the less literate, the less mentally astute, the less educated and those who cannot afford to buy advice at every turn. We cannot uphold the law, unless we have a fighting chance of knowing and understanding the law.

And so it is that there are people, and organisations, who are successfully abusing power, using the language of law to threaten and intimidate, and manipulating a flawed, but well meaning system, in order to persecute people. But they’ve got lawyers, and I have not. They can afford to sue me into the ground if I speak out. They know where I live.

I believe that laws should protect the weak and vulnerable from those who are already too powerful. I believe in freedom of speech and I am utterly opposed to abuses of power. And I have absolutely no idea what could happen to me, here in England, were I to go public about what I think is happening. I could just sit on it, and hope that none of the bad stuff happens to me, and try to ignore the people I know who are suffering. But I won’t. I also know there’s at least one journalist subscribed to this blog. I’m open to suggestions.