Tag Archives: politics

No one should be considered disposable

One of the hopeful things to come out of France re-electing Macron as president, is his promise that ‘no one will be left by the wayside’. France, like many countries, is facing a cost of living crisis. I am in no doubt that this crisis is fuelled by the way politicians have pandered to the desires of the unreasonably rich. 

Nothing drives people to political extremes like poverty does. The rise of the far right at the moment has everything to do with the widening wealth gap, and the way in which far right politics offer simple solutions to slightly more complicated problems. Rather than deal with the inequality, the far right encourages people to hate and abuse minorities, misdirecting justified rage towards people who are not the cause of our problems. Moving towards the right in this way means giving more power to those who are invested in further widening the wealth gap.

When more extreme groups get political traction, the result can be that previously more moderate groups move towards them. This has certainly happened with the Tory party in the UK, who may have successfully dealt with parties like UKIP by moving into their territory. Leaving the EU has made us a nastier and more racist country, as our treatment of refugees clearly demonstrates.

I hope that Macron is serious about tackling inequality. I hope that we will see moves towards fairness as a way of responding to the rise of fascism. People don’t make good choices when they’re under-resourced and scared – those conditions make all of us more vulnerable to manipulation and less able to make good decisions. We all need food, shelter, and basic security, and we urgently need political approaches that are about dealing with basic needs rather than treating most people as disposable for the sake of the profits of the few.

Billionaires are not successful people. Billionaires are total failures. They are people who have taken too much and do not know when to stop. Their compulsions are toxic to all life on the planet. To have so much when others are suffering, is a state of failure. That some people have been allowed to skew everything so badly, is a situation of political failure. That we treat these disasters as success is a collective failure of understanding and compassion.

We urgently need to do a lot better.


Not being political is also a political choice

What does it mean to be able to choose not to be political? It’s something I’ve seen discussed many times in Druid and Pagan groups – that politics and spirituality are at odds, or that a person doesn’t need to engage, or that not engaging may be the moral high ground.

The first possibility is that you assume ‘politics’ just means supporting a party or turning up to vote. Protesting is political. What you share, or don’t share on social media is political. Everything you spend your money on has political implications. How you treat other people is political. A person can be politically active while never getting directly involved with politics. Tax avoidance is political. Climate chaos is political.

You may not have noticed that politics is being done to you without your involvement or consent. You may have bought into the idea that you are powerless and irrelevant, or you may have been persuaded that all politicians are basically the same so there’s no point voting for them. This isn’t true – granted, many politicians, regardless of political affiliation, are not great people, but less bad is still an improvement. Voting for people who are not actively trying to strip other people of their human rights and who are not personally profiting from the destruction of the planet is a good idea.

It’s easy not to be political when the system is set up in your favour. There are implications to being white, male, cis and straight, and having money and good health. The more boxes from that list you tick, the more likely you are to be served by current politics than threatened by it. Not needing to be political is a state of privilege. Not feeling responsible for the suffering of others is also a choice to consider carefully. If you are alright and don’t really need to do politics, consider the people whose lives are at stake in all of this. Not just people in your own country. If a political expression isn’t likely to get you killed or imprisoned, maybe you could think about the people who are forced out of being politically active for fear of death, imprisonment, and torture.

Doing nothing is not a neutral choice. It is the choice that supports the status quo. It is a vote against change. We live on just the one planet, we are all affected by each other’s choices. The choice to do nothing in face of that has huge implications. If you don’t speak up to protect what you love, then who will?


Matriarchy? No Thanks

A while ago when I wrote about my understanding of what patriarchy is as a system, Mr Bish asked me what I thought matriarchy would look like. It’s interesting that replacing patriarchy with matriarchy seems like an obvious choice. It’s similar to the idea that wanting to take down capitalism means you must be a communist. The idea that there are only two options is in many ways part of the problem.

I’m not interested in the idea of replacing male dominance with female dominance. This is because I don’t think ‘male’ is the biggest problem here – dominance is the problem. Assuming that a group of people are automatically better than another group of people is the problem. It doesn’t matter much to me who the default people who should be in charge are, I’m not going to agree.

No system is ever going to be perfect. My ideals around politics involve including as many people and as many views as possible. I think we need people whose job it is to speak for the land, the water, the unborn future generations and so forth. I believe in holding power at the lowest levels possible and with as much participation as possible. I believe in cooperation and working towards consensus wherever possible. I am deeply averse to work-shy scroungers living off the rest of us – and by this I mean rich people. 

I’d like ways of doing things that aren’t so gender oriented. Call something a matriarchy and you’ve brought gender straight back into the equation. As someone who doesn’t really identify with gender I get pretty tired of the way gender is part of politics. The assumption that being born with a penis and being comfortable with that is the major qualifier for being in charge is nonsense. As one of my psychology lecturers said, many years ago, it wasn’t literally the case in the past, that you had to whack your dick out on the way into parliament, but it might as well have been.

The most useful measures of people are the hardest to take. We’d benefit a lot more from being led by people who know what they’re doing. People who understand stuff. Also people with wisdom, compassion, listening skills, long term thinking, imagination and problem solving skills. As a species we’ve become unreasonably attached to whatever we can measure most easily. Having the culture defined by a gender, or the dominance of a gender makes as much sense as putting the tallest people in charge, or the ones who have proven they can stuff the most eggs up their bottoms. Just because you can count it, doesn’t make it good!

Compassion and wisdom are hard to measure. Unlike other kinds of expertise, we don’t even have exams for them. Compassion is not a female trait and wisdom is not a male trait, and any human system that doesn’t involve compassion and wisdom is going to be problematic.


Learning how to read

Most of us are taught early on how to extract basic meaning from these little symbols on the page. We learn the fundamental mechanics of reading. Studying literature, we’ll likely also learn a few things about how language gets things done – tone and mood and characterisation and whatnot. If you also study history as a young human  you’ll learn something about biases, and assessing sources for reliability. That’s as much as most of us get.

Many, perhaps most adults don’t read that widely, focusing on a genre or two, an area of interest, or maybe just a few authors. Moving between genres, authors, styles and subjects can actually be hard to the point of off-putting, and not everyone picks up on their own how to approach that.

I’ve always ranged widely with the fiction. Thanks to the kind of work I do, I’ve ended up reading all kinds of things alongside that. Technical content, legal content, political content… it all has its own forms, language and assumptions and engaging with anything unfamiliar also requires you to learn how it works. The first few encounters with anything unknown can be confusing and off-putting. A great deal of writing is intentionally or unconsciously manipulative and seeing how that works depends on understanding how a community uses language in the first place. The differences between persuasive writing from scientists and persuasive writing from pseudo-scientists are considerable, for example.

Much as I love literature, I wish I’d had a lot more time at school being shown how to read more diverse kinds of writing. How to read a newspaper article and pick out what’s opinion and what is hard fact. How to read a house of commons white paper, a legal contract, a scientific paper and so forth. In my experience what makes this even harder is that often the biggest issue is what’s missing, and you need to know quite a lot to have any clue what to be looking for on that score.

Reading, like so many things we do, is considered basic and widely available. The actual skills required are many, and complicated and we’re not actually taught them. If you haven’t done science beyond A level the odds are you’ve never read a scientific paper. If you’ve not tried to work in politics, you’ve probably never read the kinds of documents that are created when policies are being developed. These are barriers to participation and understanding.

You can be incredibly skilled and informed reading in one area and have no idea how to approach another kind of writing. 

These last few years have really shown us how problematic it is when people don’t know how to scrutinise different kinds of writing and how well we need to be able to read if we are to effectively inform ourselves.


The end of the world

It is a curious thing to have to wonder whether your species has the political will to save itself. Here we are, with many places on fire, with floods killing people and drought purging life from landscapes and a clear report that we’re in a lot of trouble and must act urgently… and I do not know if the political will exists to do anything.

Already in the UK some of our politicians have started making noises to the effect that there’s no point us doing anything unless China does. Apparently no one is keen to square up to short term discomfort in order to fend off disaster in a few years time.

I don’t understand why anyone thinks there is any advantage to being rich if we don’t have a functioning planet. You can’t buy your way out of being on fire. There is no economic advantage that will get you a free pass to avoid all the consequences of climate chaos. Granted, the poor will suffer most, and are already suffering. But at this point, surely, enlightened self interest should kick in?

Apparently some 70% of the problem is caused by 100 companies. We know, and we have known for a long time that it is the richest 1% who urgently need to curb their consumption. Those who have most need to do most. Will they? Will the people who could do most to avoid us all watching life on this planet get wiped out, act? Or are we going to wipe ourselves out as a species by being too greedy and lazy to survive?

I spend a lot of time trying not to despair of humans trying not to think the worst of us and trying to imagine that we will do better. We’re running out of time. Today I am allowing myself to be angry and frustrated. I’ve spent years working to reduce my carbon footprint, which was never large. I know that if well resourced people had made more effort, we could have made a real impact without waiting for governments, big business and the 1% to get their shit together. But here we are, and I’m angry, and exhausted and frustrated and afraid.

All I can do is keep doing what I can. I refuse to give up. But dear Gods we could have done so much better, and should have done, and should be doing everything we can right now to sort things out.


All Stories Are Political

Every now and then some bright spark will object to their favourite creator saying political things. Or to other fans involving the creative work in political conversations. ‘Don’t politicise Terry Pratchett’ was a stand-out recent example of this…

Politics isn’t just talking about parties. Every story involves a world view, a sense of what’s wrong or right, valuable or problematic. These are also political issues. Who is present and who is absent is a political issue. What is shown as desirable, is political. Stories tell us what to aspire to – and whether that’s wealth, or kindness, or power over others, or the bloody death of your enemies, has implications for how we think about life.

If a story doesn’t seem political, there are reasons for this. One may be that it represents the world as you think it is, and so it seems entirely free of judgement. We often don’t see the political implications of supporting the status quo – at the moment a good example would be that most people won’t see car adverts as politically loaded.

If the story reflects you and your life and experience, and you have a lot of privilege, you might just see it as normal. There are all kinds of issue around access to education, to books, to who gets to be a high profile writer in the first place, that bring politics into writing. There are longstanding issues around getting to write children’s fiction if you aren’t white. There are issues around how mainstream publishing favours white, educated in specific ways, middle class voices. Especially if your book isn’t about offering exotic novelty to the assumed white, middle class reader.

You might not realise a book is political if it is speculative. As with the Pratchett illustration at the start of the post, people don’t always make connections between the stories they read and the world they live in. Speculative genres can be better at speaking to real world issues because they can take short cuts and explore alternatives. Racism becomes specieism, disability becomes undead issues and so forth. It can be easier to think about things when they’re presented to us in a more entertaining, less loaded sort of way. But, for the person whose heart is set on not seeing that, it remains possible to pretend that stories are free from politics.

One of the most insidious forms of ignoring the politics is to suggest that we don’t hear from certain voices because those people just aren’t good enough. The stories that are published, and discussed are supposedly the highest quality ones – which often means they are told in the way that seems most familiar to the white and affluent people who dominate in all the relevant industries. ‘Dest’ often really means ‘sounds like me and is something I can relate to’. The way race, class, gender and disability narratives are assumed to be less accessible to a ‘mainstream’ audience tells us a lot about who gets to decide which stories are universal, and which are of less interest.

All stories are political, and none more so than the stories we never get to hear.


Druidry and Politics

It always makes me sad when I see modern Druids claiming that Druidry isn’t political. We know the original Druids were political, and we know this simply because the Romans went to some effort to wipe them out.

On the whole, the Romans took a really inclusive approach to colonialism. They had given some thought to what keeps a population biddable – bread, circuses and continuity. So where possible, your leaders continue to be your leaders, only they are answerable to Rome and send taxes in. Your Gods are still your Gods, although you might get a Roman name tacked on so they become a double-barrelled entity. There’s not much incentive here for the regular working person to rebel. People get grouchy when you take away their Gods and priests, so mostly you don’t, and conquest is easier. You co-opt their Gods and Romanize them too.

One of the few historical accounts we have of the Druids is of the Romans going to Anglesey specifically to wipe them out. Clearly, as an invading and colonial force, the Romans found the Druids a bit inconvenient. Enough to fight them. Enough to describe them for posterity in ways that did not make them look good. Whatever it was the Druids did to cause that much offence, I can’t help but feel it must have had a political dimension to it. Rome just wasn’t that fussed about religious diversity. By all accounts, the Christians of the period really had to make an effort to get martyred.

In face of oppressive, militaristic colonial capitalism moving into their territory, the original Druids put up enough of a fight to justify trying to wipe them out. Now, you can take that onboard and decide that they got it wrong – that the survival of Druidry was more important than resisting Rome, perhaps. You might decide that in the same situation, you’d have been off to some remote and romantic retreat to practice peace and light because your Druidry isn’t political. Maybe there were Druids who did that at the time – we don’t know. But there were clearly Druids who preferred death to submitting to Rome, and that’s about as political a choice as anyone gets to make.

The idea that you can step outside of politics is a mistaken one. The Druid who does not resist the Roman invasion is also making a political choice – to tacitly support the aggressor, to not defend people and traditions, to take what might be the easiest and safest personal path. In times of peril, conflict and great change, not doing politics is itself a deeply political choice with huge political consequences. You don’t get to be a Druid and opt out of politics because you don’t get to be a person and opt out. You do get to decide who you support, and doing nothing is a choice that supports whatever already dominates. Pretending you can avoid politics is a political decision, either to accept what is done to you or because you are comfortable and don’t suffer what the less fortunate do.


Everything is political

I notice a lot of people saying we shouldn’t politicise the virus, or that making a political point in a crisis isn’t the right response. This assumes it is possible for something not to be political. Just because we don’t see the political dimension of something, we imagine it isn’t there. This does not help us.

Everything we are allowed to do, required to do and forbidden to do is held by laws that have been decided on through our political systems. There is no area of our lives where this isn’t relevant. Alongside that, the rights, freedoms, obligations or the lack thereof for companies, wealthy individuals, landowners, and politicians also impact on us.

There are so many ways in which lockdown and the virus are inherently political issues. Funding decisions over the last ten years have undermined the NHS. Political ideas about Europe have cost us protective gear and ventilators. Treating the economy as more important than lives has killed people. These are all political choices. The degree to which we are battered by all this, the number of people who die and the economic damage we take are all tied to political choices. The crushing of whole areas of economic activity – arts, leisure, self employed folk, is a political choice that will have long term consequences. Funding billionaire tax dodgers while letting small businesses go to the wall, is a political choice.

Everything about the virus is political. The decision to not treat it as a political issue is also a political issue. If we insist on not being political about it, we do not call politicians to account. We accept that they could not have done better – and they so clearly could. We accept that the political decisions creating the context for our poor handling of the pandemic, were not important. That’s really dangerous territory. What do we think politics are for, if not for creating the framework in which we all operate? If that framework fails us – as is happening now – ignoring the political part of that is an act of powerlessness, of our abdicated responsibility as well as theirs.


The politics of illness

I’ve been struck by the massive and wide reaching political implications of the coronavirus. There’s a lot to think about here.

Governments that put people before profit are clearly going to take better care of their people. Leaders who believe experts and take science seriously are going to be an advantage to their populations. Societies that organise for mutual aid and protection will do better than anywhere dominated by rampant capitalism. This may change how we think about politics and politicians.

Good leadership will reduce panic and focus people on what they can usefully do. Good information will help us stay safer, slow infection rates and protect the most vulnerable. Governments that don’t do that will put their people at risk.

There are many things we’re now looking at that we could have had all along – working from home, conferencing and studying from a distance, cutting back on travel. These are things that would always have helped disabled people. There will be no excuse moving forward, for not being a good deal more inclusive – clearly we can do this. These measures also reduce the need for travel, which has huge environmental implications and again, we should have been taking this seriously already.

Western countries that have been so intolerant of people fleeing war, famine and climate crisis need to get some perspective. If we look at our own responses to this threat, we might see people in other kinds of crisis in a more compassionate light. Many people around the world suffer a lot more, with considerably more stoicism and sense than white and reasonably comfortable panic buyers around the world have been demonstrating recently.

If your healthcare is free at the point of delivery, sick people won’t be afraid to come forward. People who are identified and treated are less of a risk to others. State funded healthcare is in everyone’s interests.

If you have good laws around work and sickness, people don’t have to work when sick. All diseases, coronavirus included, won’t spread as much when ill people are allowed to take time off to recover and not infect others. Flu kills a lot of people every year – there’s a lot we could do to reduce misery and suffering if we had a better work-health culture in the first place.

If we had universal basic income it would be really easy to shut down all non-essential work for a few weeks to reduce transmission.

The more structures, networks, systems etc your country has in place for taking care of people, the easier it is to respond to an emergency. If we focus on profit and efficiency, we pay for it in terms of resilience.

Coronavirus at its worst affects breathing. It is known to hit smokers hard. Clearly, air pollution will also create increased vulnerability. Our polluted commons make us much more vulnerable to diseases. We need to recognise that human health and planet health are the same thing.

Perhaps some good can come out of all of this. Perhaps we can start recognising how much we depend on each other. Health needs to be a collective concern. It needs to be framed within the health of our world as a whole. The politics of profit and growth are killing us, and this is just another example of that playing out. We need to change how we think, and stop treating people as expendable, and economic growth as a master to be served in all possible ways.


Politics and abusive relationships

Why do people stay in abusive relationships? This question has never been more pertinent, because politically speaking, a lot of people in the UK are choosing to do just that. Let me start by saying that if you decide it is a person’s fault for staying with their abuser and that they must be stupid to stay – you’ll help keep them there.

Loss of self esteem is key to keeping people in abusive relationships. You stay because you think there’s nothing better out there for you. You may even be persuaded that you are so awful that no one else but your abuser could put up with you. Consider what’s happened in the last ten years or so to blame the poor for poverty and to crush the self esteem of anyone who is struggling, and to suggest that nothing better exists.

If someone is persuaded that they don’t deserve nice things, and that their suffering is their own fault, they stay. Telling a person it’s their fault they will go hungry as they’re sanctioned to meet targets is a similar process to telling a person it is their fault you hit them. If you’re subject to blame for long enough, the odds are you will internalise it. If you think you are too clever, too self aware, too well informed to succumb, let me tell you that you are wrong in this, and that minds are fragile and break in certain circumstances. Everyone has points at which they would break and things they cannot resist. Pray you never get to find out where yours is, but don’t imagine you are ‘above’ all that.

You do not save people from abusive relationships by trying to tell them how awful their abuser is. This can cause victims to dig in, defending the one person they are convinced could even tolerate them. You don’t get people out of abusive relationships by shaming them, making them feel responsible, or making them feel stupid because this reinforces everything their abuser has been doing. We do this around politics a lot. It’s not helping.

The only way to help someone break out of an abusive relationship is to re-build their shattered confidence and self esteem. If they can feel better about themselves, they can better see what’s being done to them. The person who finds they are loved, valued, supported and cared for by someone who is not their abuser, can consider the ‘love’ their abuser shows in a new light. It takes time and patience to put back together someone who has been taken apart, but it is the only thing that works.

When people vote in a way we consider self-harming, we have to stop responding like this is because they are stupid. It is exactly the same as telling a battered wife that she is stupid to stay – women in such circumstances already know they are stupid and worthless and that life would be even more terrible if their abuser wasn’t there to sort things out for them. This is exactly the same, just on a much bigger scale. Only when we stop victim blaming can we help people believe they are worth more and should be able to have nice things, and that the way to have nice things is to get away from the person who keeps telling them they cannot have nice things.

It is of course much easier to be cross with people for staying, and to blame them and feel like you have the moral high ground for not being in that mess yourself. I’ve been there. I’ve been broken, robbed of my confidence and convinced I was so worthless that I should be grateful to the person who constantly mistreated me. I felt stupid, and useless and could not imagine I deserved any better. Being treated kindly and being valued got me out of there, eventually. Lifting each other up gets amazing things done. Blaming and shaming keeps people thinking they deserve no better.