Tag Archives: politics

Two Party Politics

The UK and the US both suffer from having political systems dominated by two parties. There are a number of reasons why this doesn’t lead to good democratic outcomes.

Firstly it gives us something adversarial in nature. Us versus them. Polarised tribal politics with little room for co-operation. We’d be better served by compromise.

Secondly, most issues have more than two sides to them. If you aren’t represented by the two sides in an argument, you’re stuck.  More parties means more breadth, depth and diversity.

Thirdly, if you then feel unrepresented you may well see no point voting. This is part of a narrowing down, as the two parties go after the people who do vote, they may move closer together, representing fewer people.

Fourthly, it is difficult to shift back and forth between two parties. If they are at all different and you agreed with one, the odds of that changing at the next election aren’t that high. Democracy works better when we’re offered a range of options that might be relevant to us and we get to decide what we think is best.

When there’s a bit more diversity, there’s more room to look at the individual qualities of candidates. How honourable they are, whether they keep their election promises, how they treat people, what kind of results they get and so forth. If you’re stuck with two viable candidates and one of them is unthinkably awful, you may feel moved to vote for someone who is simply less bad. More options tend to improve quality.

Unfortunately, the two party system serves the people who are in the two parties – the only people with any real power to change that system and open it up. So, little wonder that they don’t, usually.

Druidry and Politics

There are some people who feel that belief and politics should be kept separate. My understanding of the role of ancient Druids is that they were political. If you have the reputation of being consulted by kings, and being able to get onto battlefields and stop the fighting, you have a political role. Further, what we believe invariably colours what we do politically. There’s also the issue of what right wing folk claim to do in the name of Jesus (which has precious little to do with actual Christianity, Jesus or the Bible). That needs resisting.

There are no rules about what a Druid does around an election. We aren’t high profile enough for anyone to want to co-opt us – this is good news for us.

One of the things I’m seeing Druids do that I feel really good about, is simply encouraging people to register and vote. Democracy has its flaws, but works better when more people are involved. It tends to be the most disenfranchised people who feel there is the least point in voting, and these are the people we most need to hear from. One of the great lies of politics that stops us making radical change is the idea there’s no point trying. If people believe that their vote doesn’t matter and that politicians are broadly the same anyway, they may be persuaded not to vote. They may also be overly persuaded by someone who does an effective job of selling themselves as an alternative to all that, even when they are from a ‘ruling class’ background, rich and exploiting the people who vote for them.

When people feel that their vote matters and that they can vote for real differences and real change, they are more likely to show up. When we show up to vote, we send a clear message that we are not to be ignored. If politicians only feel they have to court ‘traditional’ voting demographics, they won’t bother with policies that would help the rest of us.

This election, the thing I’ve felt most moved to say goes as follows. Don’t vote for parties, vote for people. We’ve seen MPs change parties, change leaders, start new parties – a vote for a person is not a vote for their current leader or party in any reliable way. Those parties are full of splits, and who exactly gets in will likely inform the direction any given party takes.

Don’t vote for ‘personalities’ in the usual sense of that word. Do look at the beliefs and intentions of individual candidates. If they have a voting record, check it out. Do they recognise climate change or do they believe it’s not an issue? Are they inclusive? Do they support human rights? Do they mostly seem interested in business as usual? Are they compassionate? Or are they greedy and self serving? Are they more interested in their career and the welfare of their party, or do they show some signs of giving a shit about anything else?

Vote for the future you want to see. Vote for what matters most to you. Vote like lives depend on it – because they do. If you’re going to vote tactically, please be tactical – find out who can win based on who has won before and who came second last time and what happened in recent EU elections. A tactical vote for someone you mostly disagree with isn’t much of a tactic – not all candidates are created equal.

What you do, matters. Business as usual is destroying life on Earth, killing us with air pollution, flooding our homes, depleting our soil and exterminating the bees who pollinate our food. To do nothing is to enable this.

False Equivalence

Creating false equivalence is a gaslighting technique that I’m seeing all too often on social media at the moment. Here’s an example – The British PM is called out by MPs for using words like ‘surrender’ over Brexit because this kind of talk inflames hate and increases the death threats, and presumably, the risk of death for MPs. On social media, random people start comparing this to the left saying ‘bollocks to brexit’.

False equivalence often works because at first glance it looks plausible. People on the left say mean things, people on the right say mean things, if you’re on the left and you complain about the right doing it you’re not just mean, you’re mean and a hypocrite. Saying ‘bollocks’ to something doesn’t incite violence in the way that moving into militaristic language does, and we’ve seen some people talking about ‘getting the knives out’ and using overtly violent language around politics.  It’s not equivalent.

When you see a single example of gaslighting, sometimes it is obviously rubbish. It works through repetition and reassertion. If you keep hearing the same lies, expressed with confidence and certainty, it can start to erode your confidence in your own stance. This is very much an issue in the domestic sphere. For example, if you’re living with someone who reacts as though you’ve punched them if you say no, or that you don’t like or don’t want something, you’ll probably start to feel like you’re doing something awful. I did. Repeatedly being told that expressing distress is exactly the same as someone expressing anger by punching you, will undermine your reality.

Gaslighting is an evil sort of process, designed to drive people mad. For some time now, we’ve been treated to the techniques of gaslighting from people with power and platforms. It’s there in the tabloids, and it impacts on everyone involved. For the person persuaded that ‘bollocks to brexit’ is just as nasty and dangerous a thing to say as talking about getting knives into the opposition, reality is also being eroded. Perhaps more so.

We aren’t wholly logical beings. Often our emotions get the steering wheel. Gaslighting techniques bypass logic, and tie it in knots in order to have an emotional impact. When you feel something keenly, it isn’t easy to be reasonable about it. Whether that’s feeling hurt or diminished or justified or empowered, our emotions colour our perceptions. Equally, if you are persuaded by gaslighting, you are a victim of it, even if you are apparently on the same side as the people dishing it out. Even if you become one of the people dishing it out. A broken reality, is a broken reality no matter how you got there, and there is absolute equivalence between people who have been messed up in this way.

If you’re dealing with false equivalence for yourself, focus on the reasoning and go through things in as calm and logical a way as you can. If you are dealing with someone else’s false equivalence, bear in mind that anything escalating the emotions in the situation will increase the effect on them, not decrease it. Arguing with them may make it worse. Avoiding putting emotional energy in is essential, and better for you as well. If you lash out – however righteously – you will play into the stories about how there is no difference between sides. You will make true the false reality they have been sold. That doesn’t help anyone.

Peterloo, 200 years on

Two hundred years ago today, St Peter’s Fields in Manchester – now St Peter’s Square, was the site of a massive protest.  Some 60,000 people gathered in a peaceful pro-democracy, anti-poverty rally. Their circumstances were desperate and starvation was a real threat.

In response to this, local magistrates read the riot act and set armed forces on the assembly, killing some and injuring hundreds. The name ‘Peterloo’ was chosen to echo Waterloo – then a fairy recent battle. For more of the history visit http://www.peterloomassacre.org/history.html

One of the things we’ve been told in the run up to the UK ‘government’ being set on no deal brexit, is to expect civil unrest. This is likely to be the consequence of hunger, as we have nothing in place to enable us to deal with creating hard borders. Food, medicine and toilet paper from abroad won’t be so available, and the consequences will be ugly for many people. Push so many people to the edge and trouble is likely.

And what does our inglorious leadership propose to do for the hungry masses when the time comes? Send in the army to put down any misbehaviour.

We were one of the richer countries in the world when desperate, hungry people gathered in Manchester 200 years ago. Much of what was creating the hunger then was that our laws made bread prices too high for the poor to afford. Those laws served the rich landowners growing grain. We remain one of the richer countries in the world, and we remain a place where ordinary people go hungry. Which to me means that how we measure ‘wealth’ is clearly wrong. I want a definition of wealth that has more to do with everyone’s wellbeing and less to do with the riches of the few.

A nation that turns its army on its own people is a nation that has failed. A nation that lets its people go hungry is a nation that has failed. The right are keen to talk about patriotism, but anyone who is happy to see their neighbours suffer, go hungry, die for lack of medicine, and the like, for the sake of a political idea, has no love for their country. A country is not some abstract idea, it is a group of living people. When you don’t see those living people as inherently worth taking care of, there is no national identity. There is no community or collective co-operation at a national level. How anyone can identify as a proud nationalist, and not connect that pride to the wellbeing of all is a mystery to me.

Food for politics

Every hierarchical society has depended on the labour of an underclass – slaves or peasants, or both. This tends to go with a reliance on cereal crops, or potatoes – cheap carbohydrates that will keep your underclass alive and productive, but won’t do much else for them. What it gives us is an approach to farming that does the land no good at all – diverse crops mixing trees, horticulture and animals clearly works best for the land, but it doesn’t give you a cheaply fed underclass. Diversity also makes food harder to control.

Brendan Myers pointed out in his excellent book – Reclaiming Civilization – that once you have a granary, you have an essential resource that can easily be controlled by a few armed men. Storing cereals allows some people to become the ‘protectors’ of the cereals, and by that means they get power over everyone else.

People who mostly depend on one crop are much more vulnerable. One bad harvest spells disaster. One hike in the price of the key foodstuff and many are pushed to, or over the edge. Frightened people living in scarcity are easier to manipulate and control than happy people who experience sufficiency.

What if we were able to eat more broadly, and more locally? What if food wasn’t traded internationally for the profits of those who only get their hands dirty playing the markets? What if we had more food security around the world, and less dependence on the big companies that control seed, pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers?

What if the food you eat is a key underpinning of capitalism? What would changing people’s diets do to the world’s political structures?

Value Powerful Women

This is the final blog post inspired by Molly Scott Cato’s suggestions for resisting fascism.

How we treat powerful women is an interesting question. Unpopular powerful women tend to be the targets of a great deal of sexist language. There’s also often an assumption that women are supposed to be kind, tender, gentle and that women who aren’t that, have something wrong with them. When it comes to politics, there are a lot of women who are no kinder or nicer than their male counterparts. If you don’t like the politics, that’s fine, but it is important not to attack women whose policies you disagree with on the basis of their gender.

One of the things that fascism does, is try to narrow everyone’s options. Where women are concerned, what it tends to celebrate is staying at home to have lots of babies and raise them. Now, for some women, that’s the life choice of preference, but certainly not for all of us. Any woman who wants to be a domestic goddess should have the freedom to follow that life path. No woman should be obliged to do it. It’s worth remembering that the Nazis had no space for queer folk, and that gay people also ended their lives in concentration camps.

In a partial democracy, the people who can vote and the people who can be elected get their concerns taken seriously while everyone is considered far less relevant. People without representation can be easily reduced to the status of property. They can be scapegoated, ignored, oppressed, and there’s nothing they can do about it unless the people who have all the power can be persuaded to include them. We need diversity in politics because a narrow selection of backgrounds makes for very limited views of how the world works.

It may be worth pausing to remember that the time in history that defined modern economic thinking was a time dominated by men. We have economic models still in use that hark back to then, and that fail to recognise the value of unpaid work to the economy as a whole. The things that women were doing weren’t considered important, and we’re still dealing with the consequences of that.

Value powerful women. Let’s overthrow the old fashioned idea that women are less able to wield power than men. Let’s have room for everyone in the domestic sphere, and room for everyone in the workplace, and political representation for everyone.

Politics and adverts

Last week, an advert from the company Iceland was banned. In practice it’s a little bit more complicated because much of the content was created by Greenpeace, and apparently there are some nuances around ’banned’ when it comes to what’s allowed on the TV. It’s not allowed out (as far as I can make out) because Greenpeace are considered to be a political organisation and therefore any content that comes from them is deemed too political for screens and isn’t allowed.

Here’s the Clearcast statement regarding the advert.  – https://www.clearcast.co.uk/press/iceland-advert/ 

Not knowing the rules about adverts, I poked around. This is a useful bit of the government’s website for anyone who wants to look. No doubt somewhere there’s a detailed version written in difficult legal jargon, but this is at least the official gist of it. https://t.co/WwIc2Hy6iM

One of the things that becomes evident reading through, is that the status quo is fine, and change is political – or at least potentially political. Now, as I see things, there are huge political implications to the status quo, and this means business as usual gets to lobby anyone with a screen on a daily basis to persuade us that business as usual is just fine and dandy.

Greed, consumerism, waste, throw-away possessions, pollution, constant growth, capitalism, market economies – these are all part of business as usual. We are killing ourselves and the planet with business as usual, but because it’s normal, encouraging it isn’t considered political.

Take the car industry – with implications for road building, tax, air pollution, noise pollution, climate change, peak oil, road deaths, premature deaths from air pollution… these are all political issues. These are all issues that require governments to spend money. Many of them are issues that kill people. Transport is a big issue in terms of climate change. People with TVs are reminded on a daily basis of how good and desirable their cars are, because it’s business as usual and that’s fine, apparently. Car companies are not considered political, despite the massive political implications of car production.

Adverts for flights to exotic destinations are much the same. The fashion industry is a massive polluter, but apparently there are no political implications to showing adverts for clothes that help us wreck the planet. We can watch all the adverts we like for shampoos that are using palm oil and destroying habitats, but we can’t watch something that invites us to question this.

So much around us is set up to affirm that how we do things is fine, and change is suspect. We’re killing ourselves. We’re killing life on Earth. Business as usual is destructive, poisonous and unsustainable and we have to challenge the assumption that if something is normal, that’s a good thing. We need to radically change everything that humans do, which is a massive task. Doing it in the face of constant normalising and encouraging of all the most damaging things, makes it all that bit harder.

Here’s that Greenpeace/Iceland advert.

Taking the politics out of art

It happens a lot on twitter; that fans will tell creators to shut up about the politics and get back to the art. From what I see, the politics are usually left wing. It seems a very odd idea to me, for all kinds of reasons.

Firstly, any creativity happens in a context. Artists and writers and musicians aren’t kept in little boxes where the rest of the world can’t affect us. We may be talking about politics because they impact on us – changes to working tax credits, national insurance the VAT put on electronic content in the EU – these things all affect creators directly, to give some recent examples. In America, lack of money for healthcare is a very big problem and one that kills creative people. We don’t have the luxury of ignoring the politics that affect our everyday lives any more than anyone else does.

Most of us do not sit in high towers imagining how the world is. We have friends and families, neighbours, communities. Things that may not impact on us directly may well be impacting on them and we may need to speak up for them – and when you’ve got a following, of course you want to use it for good, and sometimes that means saying something about foodbanks, child homelessness, or environmental destruction.

To be a good creator, you have to care about your creative form. To make up stories, or to reflect the world through song, or visual art, you need to be interested in the world and to care about it. Good art is rooted in the world. Yes, there’s a lot of imagination involved, but imagination that isn’t informed by experience doesn’t tend to work. It is a creator’s empathy and insight, their ability to speak meaningfully to people that makes the work good and gives it substance. You can’t ask people to care about the world as part of what makes their profession function, but never say anything about it to avoid causing discomfort to people who just wanted escapism. You can’t ask people not to put politics in their work – to only have irrelevance and silliness that has no relation to the rest of culture or human experience is preposterous.

Last but by no means least, silence is also a political choice with political consequences. To say nothing, is to support whatever’s going on. It is to enable, and allow. Silence leaves the voiceless unheard. It leaves questions unasked, and mistakes, and abuses unchallenged. Silence is often taken as tacit consent. And it allows people who can’t be bothered to engage with real issues, people who are comfortable and privileged, able to carry on in their untroubled bubbles. Which is what is being asked for when creators are told to shut up and stick to the art. Do we exist to supply amusement to people who only wish to be amused? No we don’t.

This post was inspired by something Professor Elemental wrote this week about politics and steampunk – you can read that here – https://www.patreon.com/posts/18350074

The trouble with countries

I’m not a big fan of countries as a way of organising and getting things done. I mention this in case we ever get opportunities for a radical restructure.

For a lot of purposes, a country is too small a unit to be useful. Many issues cross borders – pollution, crime, climate change, rising sea levels, food security, war, refugees from war and climate disasters, extinction, human rights. These are all things that do not care about borders, can’t be controlled or stopped at borders and where the actions of individual countries aren’t enough.

For many other things, the modern country is too big a unit to be of much use. In the UK (a small country compared to many others) we see routinely how a government operating out of London fails to grasp or pay attention to the issues of everywhere that isn’t the south east. Taking the economy of the country as a whole, for example, means that The City of London money moving operations can make it look like our economy as a whole is healthy. Meanwhile, in most of the rest of the country, local economies are in poor shape. I expect larger countries suffer bigger distortions than this.

Most of us feel remote from politics. We aren’t a big part of the decision making process most of the time. Every few years we get the option to replace the current set of suits with a different set of suits. Sometimes it seems there’s not much to choose between suits. For most people, it’s difficult to tell as well where relevant power is held, and that’s alienating. We have a lot of layers of government – parish councils, town, district, and county as well as country are all in theory democratic, all spending money on behalf of the people. All making decisions that radically impact on our lives, and on the options available to the tiers below them in this political structure.

I don’t know what a meaningful unit of organisation for political purposes would be, but I am entirely convinced that modern countries are way too big. We end up with these crazy stories about national identity that are supposed to bond us to a vast number of people – most of whom we have nothing in common with. These stories are increasingly used to make us resent other people for no good reason. I’d like to be part of a much smaller unit, held securely to world standards. It wouldn’t be perfect because nothing is, but it might be more relevant, accountable and meaningful.

The politics of wetlands

People have lived in wetlands in the UK, as far as I know, for as long as the UK has been inhabited. The fens of the east coast were vast, and Hereward the Wake hid there when trying to fight off the Normans. The Glastonbury area was once wetland. Subsistence living is entirely possible in fens. However, draining fens for agriculture has, ever since the Normans showed up, been treated as a civilizing process.

Wetlands will support people alongside wildlife, but there are things a subsistence lifestyle cannot do. It cannot pay for a military, for building castles or roads. It cannot support an indolent class who wish to have both considerable leisure and luxury. You need much more intensive agriculture for that. Before the Normans, we had a lot of wetland. After the Normans we started draining the wetland and we also developed the most unfair land distribution in Europe. I don’t think these things are coincidences.

Low lying wetland that has been drained is problematic. It may sit lower than the water near it. You may be obliged to expend a lot of effort pumping and draining. The land may keep sinking as it dries, and the sea levels now are rising. Wetland used to be part of how we dealt with floods. Stretches of land known as flood meadows – because that was where excess water went – have been built on and must now be protected from flooding. This is just as inherently political as that stuff with the Normans. We have more rain now, flooding is a bigger issue. We need flood meadows more than ever.

Many wetlands are not perpetually or continuously wet. With patches of land and water, a proper wetland is for most of the year a complex patchwork of habitats supporting a vast array of wildlife. Fish, amphibians, water birds, water mammals – they all need wet places. There are many plants that only really thrive in these wet environments, too. As we dry out the land, we kill off the wetland creatures. This too is a matter of political choice, and priority.

A combination of paying fair prices for food, and not wasting between a third and a half of it, would mean farmers might not need to keep all low lying land in ‘useful’ production. We might be able to give some of it back. This is a political choice that brings in the role of supermarkets in price setting, and the way we all contribute to the total immorality that is food waste.

Wetlands are liminal places, uncertain, wild, beautiful and full of wonder and mud. They are not entirely human-friendly even though we can live in them. They are not tame, and they change without our permission in response to seasons, tides and rainfall. As climate change makes everything ever less predictable, we need these wild margins to help us cope with unexpected floods, to soak up the water and to lay down the carbon.

It would take a large and complex network of human choices to make wetlands more viable and to let them return. We’ve harmed ourselves by harming our habitat, and I hope that we see that and make the changes while we still can. If we can’t do it for love of the world we live in, we should be doing it selfishly for our own safety and survival.