Tag Archives: politics

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.

The politics of madness

Political choices are causing mental health problems. This isn’t going to be a properly referenced article, but everything I’m talking about is out there in the public domain and easy to find if you want to poke about.

A great deal of psychological distress is caused not by something going on inside the sufferer, but by external things. We tend to place the blame on the sufferer, and most interventions focus on what the sufferer can do to sort themselves out, not what needs changing to make their lives bearable.

Twenty years ago when I studied psychology at college it was known that stress causes mental health problems. It was also known that your ability to resolve the problem is the major factor in how much stress you feel. Powerful people with great responsibilities do not feel anything like as much stress as poor people with no control over their lives.

Political choices are increasing poverty and insecurity. Zero hour contracts, precarious renting arrangements, threats to the NHS, to families and business and local environments all piles stress onto people who can do nothing to resolve the problems. The actions of our politicians are increasing mental health problems.

At the same time, funding for mental health care is abysmal, and the system that should take care of anyone too sick to work is such a nightmare that getting into it is likely to cause a person significant mental distress and lead them into anxiety and depression.

To be well, people need to feel reasonably secure and passably in control of their lives.

Poor diet has a negative impact on mental health. You can look at prison research into increasing vitamins in the diet and how that changed things for people. You can look at anything at all about brain chemistry. A person needs protein to build serotonin, and this chemical is key to feeling ok. Anyone on an impoverished diet will have impoverished body chemistry, with consequences for their mental health. That would be everyone depending on foodbanks.

Exhaustion, sleep deprivation, lack of rest and lack of fresh air and exercise all impact on mental health. Everyone I know is tired. We know we collectively have a sleep shortage problem. Noise pollution deprives us of quiet and traffic deprives us of clean air to breathe. Traffic deprives us of safe places to walk. Anything making our bodies ill will also impair our mental health because it’s all one system.

The trouble is, most of us are just statistics. There are more people than our government feels it needs, and so we are a disposable commodity, easily replaced. Why waste money taking care of people when you can throw them away and get new ones? It is, quite simply, the politics of madness, devoid of kindness and humanity. We are being normalised to it, and told any other way of being is naive and unrealistic. We are told all the things hurting us are in our interests – because it all comes down to money and growth.

All the while, the people pedalling this, who have to recast failure as success, the well meaning as traitors, the good as the enemy, the vulnerable as villains, are slowly driving themselves round the bend with cognitive dissonance.

Tips for angry arguments

Politics doesn’t bring out the best in people, and angry political exchanges can put strains on otherwise viable friendships. What to do if someone you thought was ok starts spewing hate, insults and what looks to you like madness?

  • Don’t respond in kind. You’ll just cause them to dig in and may confirm their prejudices.
  • If they respond to facts and evidence with insults and unfounded belief, you won’t shift them by hitting them with facts. Instead, ask for their facts and evidence. Ask for the underlying philosophy of their stance. The odds are they are regurgitating unconsidered propaganda. By asking them politely to explain it, you force them to look at it, and this can be rather effective.
  • People project. If greed and self interest are their major motivators, they may be unable to imagine that anyone else has other motivations. Thus it is normal for anyone defending the welfare state to be told that they, personally want a handout and that’s their only motivation. It is worth saying if you are secure and altruistic, but don’t expect them to believe you! Try asking how they picture their old age, how they feel about their own health care prospects, how confident they are that their families can pay the bills for them in an emergency. Keep it focused on them if that seems to be all they can think about.
  • Don’t rise to the insults, and don’t reply in kind. Insults can be undermined as conversation weapons by agreeing with them – I’ve told many an antifeminist that yes, he’s right, I am fat and ugly and that doesn’t bother me at all. When recently told I lived in a swamp I enthused at length about how fantastic swamps are for water management and wildlife. You get the idea. Laugh at the insult and say you’ve heard it before and they need to try for something more original if they want to cause offence. Give them points out of ten for creativity. Treat it like a joke. If they cross the line into hate speech, report them, but otherwise laugh until they lose the will to abuse you. This includes being called stupid, naive, gullible etc – don’t defend your politics to them, it doesn’t work. ‘I’m sure it comforts you to believe that’ is more effective.
  • Sometimes on social media you’ll meet someone who is working from a script. They may be a hired troll. They may be part of a group with unpleasant intentions. Their main aim may be to suck up your time, energy and hope. Unless you know them personally, I advise stepping away because they’re a waste of your time. Here’s some signs to take into account – no discussion, only insults. Incoherence – dropping things like ‘ah, the sweet taste of liberal tears’ in where it makes no sense, referencing irrelevant things (still banging on about Hillary Clinton for example) responding to all questions by calling you butt hurt…. if there’s no real exchange, there’s not much point and they may not be a real person anyway.

It is always ok to walk away from people. Even people you know in real life if they become unbearable to deal with. We are not obliged to try and save other people from themselves. There are some big, social conversations that need to be won, but we don’t win those by echoing the behaviour of angry trolls, or by getting lured under their bridges to play their games.

A Druid on election day

I made the decision during this election not to campaign for a specific party. I’m Green, to the core, but aware that this is complicated. Hand on heart I believe nothing is more urgent than dealing with green issues – clean air and water, sustainable energy, food security and the long term viability of our species. I like and value the NHS, but if we can’t breathe the air, health care won’t save us.  At the same time, a Labour government would be a good deal better to press on this than a fracking-obsessed Tory outfit, and I have every sympathy for the SNP, and think independent candidates are an important part of the mix.

I’ve invested time in trying to persuade people that they should vote. I think non-voting is a massive issue. No matter why you do it, those in power will see it as apathy. They will see it as a blank cheque to do whatever they like. In all parts of the country, if non-voters  showed up, everything could change. If all previous non-voters voted Green, we’d have a Green parliament tomorrow. That’s a lot of potential power going to waste.

I want people to understand that their voting does make a difference and can change things. That even if you don’t get your candidate in, your support for them can still help shape national politics. I want people to realise that every single aspect of their lives is shaped by politics, and that not being interested means it is done to you, perhaps without your knowledge, likely not in ways that are in your interests.

There is a lot more to democracy than voting in general elections. There is a lot more to politics than newspaper headlines and dubious BBC reporting. It is not inevitable that things will stay as they are.

More than this, I want people to look around them, at the land they live on and the society they live in and vote for something better. Not the politics of fear, hate, and greed, which we’ve seen a lot of recently. Not the politics of who can give my family the best deal for the next five years. A proper look at who we want to be and how we want to live with an eye to the long term.

We have to ditch austerity. It doesn’t work on its own terms even – government borrowing is up. Austerity doesn’t deliver economic growth or prosperity for any but the very richest.

We need long term thinking so that our species can survive and thrive without wiping out everything else.

We need to care about each other, and care about our shared resources. We need to ditch the politics of the personal grab and face up to our collective responsibilities for each other. We need to be a good deal more civilized, and some enlightened self interest would go a long way. Any one of us can be knocked down by bad luck, and ill health. Most of us will be lucky enough to get old and need looking after. We have to stop pretending that the good things in our lives are earned and that our ‘hard work’ insulates us from misfortune and start recognising that anyone can get in to trouble, and build systems that are kinder, and fairer.

What I want from politics

I write this a day before a general election, conscious that the things I am most concerned about are not on the agenda for mainstream parties. Here are the things I wish were major election issues. There’s no priority order here.

Climate change – real commitment to tackling the causes and preparing for the uncertainties of the future. Recognition that poorer countries and the most vulnerable people are likely to suffer most as a consequence.

Recognition that capitalism is a snake eating its own tail, that we are exploiting finite resources and cannot have perpetual growth. As automation replaces jobs we need a radical rethink about the structure and purpose of society.

Exploitation – both on the domestic front and internationally. We drive down prices by oppressing others, exploiting finite resources and exploiting workers in other counties. There are many international forms of slavery still functioning, including debt slavery.

Recognition that we all need clean air and safe, drinkable water and that these issues do not respect borders. Recognition that we need to co-operate internationally to safeguard these essential things and to work for long term food security for all as well.

A proper look at the causes of terrorism, and most especially the financing of terrorism, with actions to change this that do not simply involve killing more civilians. Recognition of the role of the arms trade in terrorism. Recognition that no matter how great the imagined benefit of profit from weapons sales, selling weapons is fuelling international violence.

An end to habitat and species loss, with recognition that trying to turn everything into fleeting profit regardless of the long term cost just isn’t clever or good. Stopping killing the oceans.

An approach to humanity that recognises common dignity and basic rights rather than seeing the many as a resource to be used and abused for the benefit of the few. A rejection of all political and religious grounds for dehumanising others.

Recognition that war, terrorism, oppression, exploitation, and the consequences of climate change and resource loss are the reasons for mass human migration at present. This will not be solved by closing borders, but by facing up to the causes.

We have the resources, the knowledge and the means to deliverer a fairer and more sustainable way of life for everyone. While we reject that in favour of short term profit for the few, we make ourselves ever less viable as a species.

Keeping it real

We are social animals and we often do better when we can gather with other people. I’ve been noticing over the last few months some of the ways in which social media doesn’t answer social need.

In times of difficulty, many of us seek relief in saying what’s going on, but on social media at the moment this translates into a relentless wall of negativity. I find, and I’m no doubt not alone in this, that I can’t come up with something good, supportive, encouraging or just simply witnessing for every facebook friend who is struggling each day. I’d like to be able to, but with the way politics is grinding most of us down right now, it would be a full time job, and I don’t have the emotional resilience to do it.

By contrast, I found myself at a spoken word event at the weekend, where politics came up. Politics handled by clever, funny, good hearted people turned into the cathartic power of being able to laugh at it in a room full of likeminded souls. I came away feeling better about things.

I’m lucky in that I live somewhere there are more good and affordable events than I can get to in a week. I’m blessed with a fantastic network of friends as well. No matter how bad things look, they seem less grim when in the company of other people who care, and feel anxious, frustrated, angry… because what we do with those feelings over a pint or on a walk enables us to witness each other, and think about how to keep going, where the bright spots may be and so forth. Sharing with people in person has power.

Of course not everyone can get into spaces with other people, for all kinds of reasons. I’ve been there – cut off by a lack of transport and money, living in a place where very little happened. It helps if those who have the means are willing to get themselves to the people who don’t once in a while. It helps when we think about each other and support each other.

It doesn’t take prohibitive amounts of time and effort to name a place and time. I’ve been doing this for a while now, and doing it as someone with unreliable energy levels and limited resources. Keeping it minimal helps. A drink and draw in the pub. A walk. A picnic. Making sure there’s easily accessible space every weekend for anyone who wants it. Posting on events and social activities other people are running. It’s important that we keep putting our bodies in the same space when we can, because humans respond well to being in the same space as other humans we like.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless. It’s easy to feel lost and alone. Ostensibly social media can often be a blessing, but it can equally serve to make things seem even worse. Being with other people gives us more scope to change things within ourselves. It’s a small resistance, a small revolution, but I think that right now, just refusing to be beaten by all the hate and mean-spiritedness out there is a significant act of resistance.

Politics for the common good

Imagine for a moment how different things would be if the whole point of politics was to serve the common good. Clearly there are, around the world, parties, leaders and individuals who very much care about the common good, but far too many care about their own power, and the preferences of rich lobbyists.

What would politics for the common good look like if we imagine that on a world scale? An end to war. A fairer planet, free from slavery, exploitation, poverty and hunger. An end to oppressive regimes. Taking care of the Earth and making sure we don’t pollute the air, or the water, or over exploit resources, or mistreat other living things.

At a country level, it would mean putting quality of life for all ahead of profits for the few. It would mean everyone with a roof over their head and no one going hungry. Free healthcare and education for all, access to leisure, sports, culture and community for all. It would mean freeing ourselves from the politics of hate and fear to focus on the good we can do for each other. It would mean resources going where they are most needed, rather than to the highest bidder.

All sounds a bit far fetched, doesn’t it?

Except for the small issue that politics is something humans invented, and what’s running it and doing it is nothing but other humans. Why can’t we change it so that it works for everyone? Is it just the fantasy that we too could magically become one of the minority who benefit rather than being part of the exploited majority that stops us trying to turn things around? Is it lack of imagination? Or lack of belief? What’s stopping us? Are we all so obsessed with competing for survival and our own personal greed that we can’t see the massive advantages in fairness and co-operation?

Imagine if politics existed solely to provide and facilitate good things and to manage resources fairly and responsibly. What would it take to make that happen?

Challenging Apathy

“They’re all as bad as each other, there’s no point…”

Whether we’re talking about religions, politics, corporations, the media, or anything else with power, this kind of apathetic thinking is really problematic. If we won’t call to account the ones who are actually awful on the grounds that nothing better exists, then what we do is give our support to the worst that’s out there.

Alternatives always exist. They may seem like long shots. There may only be small improvements you can push for. Sometimes you may have to choose between a mouldy pear and a rotten apple, but a few good bits have to be better than entirely gone off.

There are those who will tell you that wanting anything better is just naive daydreaming and you don’t live in the ‘real’ world. This of course is just another way of keeping things as they are. If the majority of us rejected this thinking, the real world would rapidly have no place for lazy cynicism.

It is easy to say ‘they’re all the same, there’s no point’. It saves a person from feeling like they have to bother. If nothing can be done, why make any effort? Why bother trying to find a reliable news source, or a party that has some values you could respect, or a religious group that isn’t a money making operation? If nothing can be made better, you free yourself from any possible reason to make any effort at all. This is how what’s worst in the world is allowed to thrive.

As long as we give ourselves excuses not to act, terrible things are given room to flourish. We have a human world made entirely of people. It’s just people doing stuff. Anything and everything can be changed if there’s the will. We don’t have to let apathy make us complicit.

The Politics of Pants

Go into a regular supermarket and eye up underwear for women, and you will find that pants tend to start at a size small enough to not cover your pubes, and get smaller from there down to buttock-floss with triangle. Cotton pants can be bought, but a great many knickers are made to be lacy, and thus are made from a high percentage of synthetics. This kind of fabric will keep you cold in the winter (inviting piles) and make you sweat in the summer, (encouraging thrush). Women’s pants are designed to be looked at, comfort is secondary.

Now shuffle yourself round to the man pants isle, where you’ll not find anything synthetic or lacy. You’ll find sizes that start at a close fit and expand through to shorts. Pants to keep you warm in winter and pants to keep you cool in summer. Pants to either let your tackle swing free, or to hold it neatly in place depending on your needs. Pants you can pee from without having to take half your clothes off. Man pants are made for use, not for decoration.

Of course women’s pants have to be small otherwise the edges might be visible under our closely fitting clothes, and that would never do!

For a whole array of reasons, I’ve been wearing man pants for a couple of weeks now and it’s been a revelation. They don’t chafe my inner thighs. They’re so much better for temperature management. I have discovered that I feel more confident, more sexy and more powerful wearing them. I can saunter about in just my pants, and not feel self conscious, because these pants cover my genitals rather than drawing attention to them. If I was the sort of person with shaving inclinations, I might be affected by the way that all of my pubic zone is entirely covered up.

Small female pants leave you exposed, and make your genitals accessible. I’ve never felt sexy wearing lingerie, only self conscious and vulnerable. Not least because lingerie is something I’ve only ever worn for someone else. I wouldn’t wear it for me, because what I want for me is to be comfortable.

I know there are people of all genders who enjoy lingerie and who feel sexy in it. All power to them. What bothers me is that if you’re one of the women who doesn’t get on with that, it’s not easy to find underwear designed for women that isn’t designed to be small and ‘sexy’ in line with the idea that revealing is sexy. If women’s underwear was designed primarily to be comfortable, it would be all soft fabric and a variety of leg lengths, and we’d go from thongs to shorts as well. In an ideal world I think there would also be more availability of sexy pants for men. You won’t find posing pouches in the supermarket. Male undergarments designed for the female viewer are few and far between. It would be good to have a more level playing field.