More Democracy

In the UK we have been in a situation where a small minority actually support the government. A larger minority vote for the government of the day, but only do so because they dislike the alternatives more. This isn’t democracy. A lot of people are fed up of it.

The problems of modern capitalism are fairly established as I see it. Western democracies were lucky that over the last century that technology and innovation produced enough economic growth that even those on low incomes quality of life improved. However we are now at the point where economic growth is sluggish at best and there is a decline in living standards.

It often seems as though people are more prepared now for change, to sweep away the failing establishment that has no answers. We have seen a rise in those who aren’t from the traditional political establishment. For example the rise of Donald Trump, the Brexit vote and support for Jeremy Corbyn. These populist causes have drawn support as being agents for a change from the established order.

There seem to be parallels with the 1930s, where political extremist causes both of the right and light of politics rose in prominence, offering the hope of a return to normality. However such extreme visions do not lead back to normality, but further away from it, such as Communism and the Nazis. While these extremes can gain popular support they don’t actually offer real solutions to the ails of populations, but rather offer a short term solution to a perception of the current problems.

The solution is simple better democracy leading to solutions based around the actual political centre of a society, where everyone is part of the system and buys into the system, creating patriots. Patriotism is really nothing more than I’ll help you if you help me or the idiom, I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine, it’s basically society that is necessary for organising ever more efficient use of dwindling resources. This patriotism need not be confined within a nation but extend outwards in looser arrangements.

The difficulty is that such radical centrists advocating more democracy, are often viewed as part of the establishment and not offering the chance of genuine change. I don’t think it has to be simply regime change, replacing one lot with another, but placing accountable politicians in power controlled through the democratic process.

Party politics is too much about winning power and retaining it, rather than exercise of that power for positive transformation of economies. If a politician argues for a policy but it is rejected then that politicians is of as much value as the one whose policy happened to be right or more popular. Democratic discourse should be about ideas and not a battle between movements.

True democracy comes from the bottom-up, so having smaller political bodies increases individuals voting power and forces leaders to live in the communities they govern. In large countries like the UK, the ruling class don’t have to live the life of ordinary people, so have no interest in ensuring the schools are the hospitals work well. It just seems that smaller countries, like Iceland or the Baltic states seem to do much better than the big ones. I don’t see what big states are for anymore. Supporting democracy is not about a desire to be separate, the reality is the reverse to create more accountable democracy that simply by being more accountable will aid economic growth.

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A City United

I often use this blog to talk about the importance of respecting differences between people, for we are all different, we cannot not be. Yet there is always more that unites us as human beings, common thoughts and feelings we all share.

Many people in the world have experienced terrorism. Terrorism is directly caused by division and forces that enforce that division. I’m British, the British government have been responsible for some of the worst divisional conflicts in the world: Northern Ireland, the formation of Israel-Palestine, Iraq and Syria and the partition of India. All of these conflicts have bred hate, division and terrorism.

This week I’ve been the closest I’ve ever been to an act of terrorism, the explosion at a pop concert in Manchester. I used to live in Manchester, I attended concerts at the city’s arena where the tragic events took place and i support one of the city’s football teams. I was concerned about my friends who still live in Manchester and their families. After the shock and concern there was a feeling of anger, of frustrations about the inability to get anything done about terrorism. However, the news then turned to the aftermath, such as the Manchester taxi drivers who offered people lifts to safety for free, the people who  helped parents find their children. Even the offer of Manchester United fans to dedicate their UEFA cup win to all of Manchester (I’m a Manchester City supporter myself) was a move towards unity. The sense of the majority of a community coming together in a spirit of unity, that the city would not be broken into division and hate.

Of course, not everyone shared that feeling of unity. There were calls by some to further ostracise the Muslim community, to rally the anger into an increased mistrust of Muslims. Such calls create division and are exactly what causes terrorism in the first place. If you are different and bullied for being so, you can find some solace in groups such as ISIS, to give into anger and share it with others with a similar story. Conflict becomes a vicious spiral where recriminations build and thinks deteriorate into more violence and death.

I can almost hear the criticism of these words by some conservatives of the thoughts of a liberal: That reaching out to people is not the way to resolve these problems. It all comes down to why I really don’t get right wing thinking. To me, the idea that there is one way to be, that one size fits all, just simply doesn’t work.

In Manchester, we like there being two big football clubs because you can find the club that suits you as an individual, but we share a love of Manchester football. I really don’t get why people would support United, but I appreciate that their supporters feel the same way about our lot. When I first starting going to Maine Road, I got a buzz from being accepted by the community of fellow City supporters and singing together about our love of the football club. In particular the feeling of inclusion and solidarity of attending away games in the boisterous away end.As a younger man, there were times I did feel a hatred towards Manchester United. Then I was guided through an acceptance that Manchester United weren’t so different from us after all, that we shared much in common. Indeed both clubs proudly sing versions of the same song ‘Oh Manchester is wonderful!’

In Wales, we seek an economy that allows Wales to grow and flourish, for Welsh culture to thrive  and the one size fits all policies of the government in London simply don’t work. At times I have experienced negative feelings towards England and the English for the history of oppression of Wales and the Welsh. Yet I have learnt that it was never intentional, it was simply an effect of the roundabouts of English politics, Yet I love England and the British Isles as neighbours and fell we shoudl eb working together not against each other. I desire for Welsh autonomy does not have a desire for separation as its motivation.

In Christianity, we all go to different churches because we have found the churches we like that help us be closer to God, yet we appreciate that other people find different paths in different religions, with other styles of worship and spirituality. In churches we also find communities to be a part of and that gives us a strength that can be used to work together to help others.

A one size fits all system, forces people to conform to ideas that don’t quite fit. Encouraging  diversity allows people to find a place of strength which enables them to reach out to understand and respect the different ways of others better. One size fits nobody well.

The real tragedy of Manchester this week is that is was predominantly young people going to a concert by an artist, Ariana Grande, that they found they could relate to, who helped them find a sense of themselves and then experience the joy of celebrating the artist with other like-minded young people, just like a football match or a religious service. Yet, many of them lost their lives that night, due to the actions of a man, who hadn’t found his place in the world and people to share with, who was unable to then reach out to understand and help others, a person who could only find solace in a community of division, separating themselves off from the world, so lost that he took on their creed of vengeance on the world that had shut him out.

This was also the week of the death of Ian Brady, the Moors murderer. A man from Manchester who also murdered young people. It is also possible to view this troubled man as finding some kind of relief for his personal problems in killing and burying his victims on the Moors. As a society we should not exclude people or leave people behind.

Yes, it is sometimes a challenge to realise that those who make things harder for you or your community or indeed kill innocent children are not acting out of hatred to your kind, but are dealing with their own problems and you are the unfortunate victim. We are all victims sometimes of unfairness. The bully is never truly evil, but someone expressing rage about not finding their place the world, someone to take their own frustrations out on. The difficult part is realising how you are different and then finding ways to live at peace and friendship with those different from you. The task is to prevent people getting so lost and confused in the first place and not attacking them for where they have ended up, having failed to provide an inclusive society. A society that doesn’t divide it’s people but one that returns us to a culture where people are not ignored, where you will be picked up if you fall down. It isn’t always easy, as a species we still have a lot to do.

The problem with Liberals

On these pages I have often described myself as a Social Democrat and not a Liberal. These two political doctrines to the outsider appear quite close, yet I feel there is fundamental difference between the two. This difference is why I have a problem with liberalism.

Social democracy and Liberalism share some common world views. Perhaps most importantly that society should work for everyone, it is worth repeating, everyone; black or white, rich or poor, man or woman. However the two doctrines differ in how this society is to be realised. Social Democracy advocates working out what the centrist position is from first principles, whereas Liberalism finds the centrist position more relatively, based on prevailing public opinion. This relativistic stance is to me the weakness of Liberalism.

However, as human beings we are relativistic creatures, how we think, how we behave and what we value is determined socially. This social determination is guided by our families, our social peers and the communities we grow up in. The views of the world we hear around us, shape us. There is natural desire to compromise with prevailing views in a society, to ‘fit in’ and find our own space. To be able to compromise, you have to be able to understand and be prepared to be persuaded by arguments if you test them and find them convincing.

In many ways Social Democracy is the tougher discipline as it prescribes picking apart all this social fabric to get to the fundamental issue. Social Democracy is thus a cold discipline, relying on logic and reason,  can seem devoid of feeling. Yet it isn’t cold as the aim is to provide something for everyone. This criticism also applies to Liberalism, whilst the Liberal will listen, they may lack empathy as they are trying to work out where the centre is, rather than understand each individual.

Both the Liberal and the Social Democrat are a little jealous of those away from the centre on the left and right wings, the Socialists and Conservatives. Jealous, because the wings don’t have to think so much. To the wings political positions come easily, certain arguments just fit naturally with how they think and the opposite arguments seem alien and incomprehensible. Centrists often run into this problem that they don’t always get a reasoned argument for something. So often an argument will rest on an appeal to a common sense that runs true with how they think. The problem with such rhetoric is that is doesn’t extend beyond like minded people, to the centre or the ‘other’ wing. There seems to be this rise in division and the recent development of Nationalism in Europe and North America that raises serious concerns. I blame the Liberals.

Partly it is because the Liberals have moved from the centre, where us Social Democrats still are, towards the right as it has appeared that society has moved to the right. Electoral success has been the reward of this drift. Tony Blair, was essentially a Liberal, as were Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Here in the UK, the Liberal Democrats found themselves in a coalition government with the Conservatives from 2010 to 2015, for the good reason of providing stable government. However, the Liberal Democrats failed to do their job as a coalition partner and went native with the Conservatives, to the horror of Social Democrats and Socialists, the ‘Liberals’ had let us down, again. It was not unexpected, Liberals, with their mode of drifting to the centre ground, working everyday with predominantly right wing Conservatives would lead you to shift your perception of the centre quite far rightwards, which is what happened.

Liberalism may he partly the cause of the recent rise of Nationalism, of Brexit and Donald Trump. Once you start drifting in a certain direction currents often speed you on in that direction, because nationalism is very good at subverting human nature.

<Slight tangent in case anyone is getting confused, I am supporter of Welsh independence, or “Welsh Nationalism” as some like to call it. We are not “Nationalists”, it’s just not the same thing, ok? (maybe I’ll expand on this next time!)>

The problem with Nationalism is that the worldviews and opinions of the people who surround in our lives, in our communities, our desire to fit in and to work to make things better are essentially positive. For social animals everyone doing their thing and working with the people around us to improve society is simply a good thing.

However, the sly fox of Nationalism achieves it’s end of replacing the ‘good of the community’ with the ‘good of the nation’. So instead of being inspired to improve our communities, we are inspired to work to improve our nation. This is not the same thing. Nations are somewhat artificial constructs and do not seek to help people, they have a life of their own and play around with our notions of self and community. Nationalism when it arises, often has a scapegoat, a group to blame for the nation not being as mighty as it could be, be it the Jew in 1930s Germany, the Socialist, the immigrant or the Muslim in recent times. This right wing nationalism, relishes competition, which is actually bullying as it slowly works it way through society, the narrative subtly changes until you find yourself in a totalitarian state, like in George Orwell’s ‘1984’. The Liberal just adapts in this environment, the Liberal remains in the social centre, even though this social centre is now way off balance. For the Conservatives, they don’t notice the true horror as to them at last society  is  chiming with their own worldview, they feel as though they have won something and even the Socialist may be happy as it appears that society is at last demonstrably ‘improving’. But, to those able to be Social Democrats and to those on the outside, it is a nightmare.

Whether we are truly caught in the  Nationalism trap in the UK and USA, is perhaps too early to say, but all the very worrying signs are there: There is stoking of fear of ‘foreigners’, the scapegoating of  minorities in particular Muslims, There have been elections won by populist extremists and possibly more to come in France and the Netherlands. and when we are told that these people win, so we now must conform to whatever they want to do, to be good “patriots”…

It just seems like that many people have forgotten the warning from history about Nationalism, that Orwell wrote about in ‘1984’. Even in Germany, the country that most painfully learnt the lessons of the perils of Nationalism, some 80 years ago, is seeing the rise of Nationalism. Remember ‘Ignorance is Strength’ & ‘We are at war with Eastasia, we have always been at war with Eastasia’.

 

 

 

 

 

And a Very British Coup

The enormity of what has just happened is slowly sinking in. Have my worst fears been realised, it seems so. It is why i have been so upset and concerned these last few days.

Today’s developments seem to confirm the worst. Today the deadline for nominations for the next leader of the Conservative party (the Tories) and the next Prime Minister of the UK, to be decided by the 120,000 odd members of the party. The coup is that all the candidates are from the hard right of the party, all pro-Brexit and all against holding a General Election in the autumn. So, what this suggests is that Brexit will happen after all, the members of the Conservative party will not be able to do anything about it, the ordinary people who canvas and campaign on local issues). ‘Well that was the democratic will of the UK’, I hear you say. If only it were that simple. what this  means is the completion of the wholesale taking over of the political establishment by the hard-right, a very British coup.

The market fundamentalists, the corporatists will then simply take over. Everyone left in the UK will suffer as more and more wealth is taken away from the general population to give to the few at the very top. Britons will become slaves.

The whole EU referendum was a stitch up job and not an exercise in democracy at all. a dreadful campaign was fought, the leave campaign was orchestrated to offer hope to appeal to those struggling from the effects of austerity, such people have been duped. Even if the vote had gone for remain, the result would have been the same, a victory for the neo-liberals, except orchestrated through the EU, with trade deals such as CETA and TTIP.

This right have been in power for over thirty years and they have been very clever: They allowed housing costs to escalate, trapping people into mortgages or otherwise insecure housing. One thing human beings cling to is having a roof over their head, so fear of losing this can be a very powerful tool. They have made work more insecure, less meaningful, again tying people into the system. Allowing the basic cost of living to rise so high, forcing people to make severe compromises in the attempt to earn a higher wage to strive for comfort and security. Essentially that have put everyone, apart from the lucky few at the top who can milk the system, in debt. Debt is essentially a powerful means of control, it’s not just housing, it’s education too, the ways out of poverty towards a comfortable existence entail taking on huge debts.

This right have also managed to wrest control of the political system. The Tories forced the Labour party into a adopting a soft right ‘Blairite’ position as the only perceived means of winning an election, allowing the situation to continue to worsen and ultimately leading to what has happened this week.

This week the Labour party appear to be imploding. The party members finally elected a moderate left wing leader, Jeremy Corbyn, one of the very few people untainted by the Blairite shift. However as the Labour party benches in Parliament are full of those who have made it up the party machine adopting Blairite compromises, they have failed to see their own situation and have duped themselves into believing that a true alternative to this Tory right plan is possible. It may have been their last chance.

They have even cobbled the Tory parties ancient foes the Whigs, or the Liberal party, by placing them in the position of taking the blame for the worst policies of the coalition government, whilst miraculously escaping blame from those on the right themselves.

Even the real conservatives (the venerable party of old, pre-Thatcher times that believed in a level playing field, family, social mobility, equal opportunities) and the upstart UKIP  has been conned. The leave campaign from this more traditional right had at it’s heart  a campaign about freeing small and medium enterprises and family businesses from the excessive ‘red-tape’ associated with EU regulations, for greater democratic control to truly represent the people. The whole campaign of misinformation was designed to cloud the real issues. ‘To take back control’ was the slogan, these people will not be helped by the neo-liberals in charge as they will find they have even less control.

All this in a society where the mainstream media outlets are very right wing and highly selective in what news they report, have become active conspirators in the coup, even the BBC, once seen as a bastion of fairness, is no little more than a government news agency. If the Tories proceed with Brexit, they can still claim they didn’t think it was a good idea and then blame Brexit for whatever ills befall the UK economy whilst entrenching their own power.

How has this final, coup been achieved. The Tory party contained both this new nasty breed of corporatist, neo-liberals and the more traditional ideology of the real conservatives. for the past thirty years the Tory party has been divided over the issue of the EU. the referendum was portrayed as an attempt to once and for all end Tory squabbling over EU issues and as a sop to UKIP to enable the Tories to win the last general election. However what it really achieved, which I was afraid of, was the effect of eradicating the pro-EU pro social co-operation, real conservatives from positions of influence in the party. Even Cameron himself, can be viewed as the last real conservative, but he couldn’t achieve anything, constrained by the powerful forces in his own party around him and a misplaced party loyalty. The real tragedy is those traditional centre right people, who seem to be the last to notice what has happened.

The people who are wealthy or are people of the hard and moderate right, are probably celebrating. Everyone else now faces some tough choices: Stay and suffer, Stay and fight or  leave and seek a life in one of the few remaining nice places left in the world.

So, what to do? In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland we have a developed civic nationalism (a solidarity with all people who live in our community) and should campaign in earnest now for independence from the UK. Yes, our economies will suffer even more, but we can ensure the basics of a roof over our heads, heat in winter, food, the opportunity of productive work and hope. Real economic growth will take time. England, will sadly have an even tougher battle, as those in power have been so effective in dividing opposition.

In the pub last night, conversation turned to George Orwell’s ‘1984’ being reasonably educated it is easy to forget that not everyone has read and understood this important book. I wish I wasn’t so paranoid about this, it just seems that the whole referendum was about the destruction of European culture, of support for our fellow human beings, for working together to solve problems, of the social contract. going back to the feudal system, which I don’t think is the country anyone really wanted back.

The thing is there are lots of positive things to come out of the referendum: increased political engagement, a greater understanding of issues and a strong call for a change to address the issues raised. But, my concern is that this hard right government, will continue not to listen and impose some kind of Brexit in it’s own narrow interests that doesn’t resolve the problems but will increase it’s own power and influence, rather than deliver for all the people of Britain. The UK should not to anything other than commit to listening and addressing. the real problems

 

Keep Calm and have a cup of Tea

Now that some of us have calmed down a bit and people have realised what has happened. It is very clear that the UK is in no way prepared to leave the EU. My last post highlighted some of the issues that would need to be sorted out before a Brexit, should that be what the people and politicians of the UK actually want. Furthermore raising the possibility of Brexit seems to have brought about a surge in ugly racism, which is making many question whether this is indeed a route the UK would wish to go down. We knew the racism was there, but suppressed, it now seems that the racists are having a field day.

Many people, including myself, got a little carried away on results night in thinking that the vote would  immediately trigger Brexit, as Cameron had suggested he would (but we shouldn’t have believed the serial liar). The reactions have highlighted the difficulties of having a binary vote on a complex issue. As I’ve stated before, the vote doesn’t mean as much as some people will claim it does. Referenda rarely answer the actual question on the paper.  What the Brexit vote does show is simply that the British are unhappy with the political establishment and want change and they are also unhappy with the UK’s relationship with the EU (and really any fool could have told you that, without wasting millions of taxpayer’s money), that is it. How to move forward from that is complex, which is perhaps why the two main political parties are holding internal elections to decide how they wish to go forward.

One of the main problems with such a binary vote was it’s vagueness. A more informative advisory referendum would have had perhaps three options:

1/ More political integration in the EU.

2/ Maintaining current relationships with the EU, with  change not related to further integration

3/ Withdrawal from the EU

Many people have been communicating that they were against 1 and 3, but were unable to express this opinion on the ballot paper. There was a feeling that the best outcome was a narrow win for remain, effectively giving the 2 option a win. The polls were suggesting a 52-48 win for remain, and there was perhaps too much trust for opinion polls, now that opinion pollsters have no way of getting a random sample of the UK population (due to change in how phones are used and internet polling methodologies). Perhaps too many tried to game the poll (the UK electoral system encourages such gaming) and vote leave to express discontent, expecting the remain win, that everyone expected, even the UKIP leader expressed this at close of the polling stations.

The difficulty now, is that with the result there is now an expectation of change, but with no clear time-scale or even what they change could be. The adage ‘Keep calm and carry on’ seems highly appropriate. Really, the situation now is simply that the UK is considering changes to it’s relationship with the EU, but nothing is going to change soon. This is challenging for large business making decisions about whether to locate inside or outside the EU, but it is perhaps better to get on with the process of reform than continue with steady decline.

This idea, I talked about yesterday of moving to a federal UK, may gain pace. Having a federal UK would remove the constitutional hurdles to a UK decision to leave the EU, allowing constituent parts of the UK, including possibly the City of London, to make their own arrangements. It would also simplify the process of change, avoiding the issue of multiple decisions awaiting requisite decisions (possibly involving referendums which take months to organise) during a ticking clock time-scale of the two years stipulated in the article 50  of the Lisbon treaty article. Each region could forge it’s own brexit, some regions could remain in the single market, others completely sever ties with the EU. It is a time to be positive, to use this opportunity to explore new options. Differentiation, not to break an already divided UK, but to accept differences and ultimately strengthen the unity of the British Isles.

The other idea is electoral reform. The other thing the whole Brexit débâcle is the huge disconnect between the positions of politicians and the general public, both at a UK and EU level. This has been exacerbated by the antiquated UK FPTP system. There should be no need for referendum in a representative democracy, with an appropriate degree of proportionality,  where the elected politicians make decisions as a representative group of the general population. The UK should not have got into the position where at least 53% of the population are unhappy with something (in this case the EU) whilst 75% of the elected members of the political class are largely happy with the current EU set up. It makes one wonder how many other issues there is such a wide democratic disconnect over? Electoral reform would partially resolve this problem, styrenghening th eUk in the long term, allowing all of the UK to be more quietly governed with the consent from the population. Over the last few days it seems as though the nations of the UK have been radicalised, due mainly, to the failings of democracy to represent opinion. Instead political parties game the electorate with their electioneering, pitting people against each other, playing tribal politics, which is simply wrong. We have to learn to work together, it is so much more efficient.

 

It shouldn’t be allowed.

You know when you are getting old when the values of your generation are replaced by a different set of values. Over the past few years, student unions at British universities have been banning speakers from speaking. The reasoning for such bans seem to be not to give a platform to non-mainstream views and to protect students from hostile ideas.

I grew up with the highest value given to freedom of speech and protection of the environment. Perhaps the two greatest causes of the times I grew up in. Going back I remember the sheer disbelief that Nelson Mandela was incarcerated in apartheid South Africa, members of Sinn Fein were not allowed to speak on broadcast media, having to be dubbed in interviews. Their were endless debates about the rights of the  BNP (British Nationalist Party) to be heard. In can perhaps be said that my generation failed to succeed in it’s two big causes.

The basic idea is that freedom of speech trumps any other consideration. With this freedom there is then the freedom to respond to ideas that people don’t like. Debate is seen as vital to a healthy society, so without it society is unhealthy.

The other issue for my generation was privacy. What you did in your private life had no bearing in your public or working life. There was a sense that you didn’t have to say anything you didn’t want to. There was also a freedom of not to speak. I grew up in a world with grandparents who had vivid memories of the Second World War, fears of a totalitarian Nazi state and a general fear of a manipulative ‘Big Brother’ state as exemplified in George Orwell’s ‘1984’, which was made into a film in 1984!

Of course generational shifts occur. Each generation deals with what it perceives as the great failings of the previous generation. My generation threw off the shackles of appearing respectable and doing what you feel you should do, to have the freedom to be ourselves, pursue our own dreams. Really this was at a time when the establishment itself was becoming less and less respectable anyway, hence the lack of respect for respectability!

If there is any single cause of the shift from Generation X to The Millennial generation it is the internet. My generation grew up with computers evolving into ever more powerful machines, performing ever more amazingly useful functions, my generation love computers. The difference is that Millennials grew up with the internet already there, for Millennials the internet wasn’t a source for wondering what could we do in ten years time. Really computers haven’t developed all that much recently , all that has happened is that bandwidth has increased, enabling streaming video and functions available on portable devices, such as smartphones. How I remember the days of leaving the computer on overnight to download a series of pre-chosen music tracks for listening to the next day. This seems almost laughable now.

Putting these these things together, you have my generation in thrall to the internet, yet hugely paranoid about privacy. So much so that many people my age, spurned social media because of the fear that anyone could then trace our tastes, opinions, location, contacts, etc and use this information against us. So many people, myself included, just gave up on maintaining privacy to make use of new forums. Yet, my generation have this idea that snooping on peoples activities is bad and thus no ‘respectable’ person should use such information, like how you pretend not to hear and forget things you accidentally overhear. Except some unscrupulous people do, privacy is not respected, online presences are scrutinised by employers and security services. I don’t livwe in soviet russia, but I think I’m would be less surprised if at some point I am taken away at night and never heard from again.

Dealing with this creep in increased access to information, working both ways is something society has not really addressed in any meaningful way. Social media, such as Facebook, started off innocently enough. I was introduced to Facebook as a way of keeping in touch with a group of friends once we became geographically separated. Over time, as with most Facebook users, More and more ‘friends’ were added, now several hundred people from various aspects of my life. To the point where my Facebook is full of people with widely different outlooks on life, though the majority generally share my worldview. In many wasy this is bad, any prejudices I have are enforced, people and views outside my social circle are not encountered.

Prejudice is a terrible thing. Back when i was a very young man, I had prejudices, and held ill thought through beliefs. I’m  sure I still do have prejudices, but I strive not to have any. anyway, because I was comfortable to express my opinions, I was questioned and these things were discussed, I listened, reflected, discussed further with other people and eventually overcame some of my major prejudices. Arguably such prejudice removal processses are being less common for two main reasons:

Firstly, that we end up in social circles of similar people to ourselves, made up of people with similar world views, so any prejudice doesn’t seem like a problem.

Secondly, if we do venture to be open about our opinions, instead of being listened to and the ideas discussed, there seems to be a growing tendency for abuse, to be shouted down, to be ‘unfriended’. The problem with this is that if you are shouted at, seemingly unreasonably, you start ignoring what you hear and build a wall between yourself and your opinions with the wider world, it enforces the prejudice rather than dispels it.

An example of this second reason happened this week on Twitter. A man wrote “I confronted a Muslim woman yesterday in Croydon and asked her to explain Brussels. She said “Nothing to do with me”  a mealy mouthed reply”.

Okay, lets pretend not to know about what happened after this tweet and give the guy the benefit of the doubt: A man  didn’t understand the Brussels terrorist atrocity of last week. He has heard countless reports from the media about this being an attack by “Islamists”. He has put these two things together simply as ‘Muslims are to blame for acts of terrorism” So, he aired this view to a Muslim woman in his community. So what should have happened is that members of his community discussed the situation with him, he would listen and reflect and modify his beliefs to reality and possibly vice versa . It may be that this man didn’t know any Muslims personally to ask. However instead of this being an episode of freedom of speech working for mutual benefit, instead the situation created increased tension, the man was subjected to endless abuse and probably feels compelled to apologise, for expressing an opinion he knows is probably shared by millions around the world. My point is that by not expressing his opinion, by there not being the freedom to air it and for his concerns to be addressed thoughtfully and sympathetically, he is instead ridiculed and ‘banned’.

So, for a generation Xer, like myself, the world seems to be becoming a worse, more scary place, where instead of being honest, open and ready to listen, we seem to be entering a protectionist world, where we start to hide out  personal thoughts and opinions, this is very bad. where instead of working together to resolve problems and misunderstandings, we pigeon hole the rest of society and keep our opinions to carefully selecte similar people to ourselves.

One of my early prejudices was racism. In a pre-globalised world, where people didn’t travel the globe, it seemed perfectly acceptable to laugh about funny stories about the strange people who lived on the other side of the world. Of course, once people do travel and people learn more about other people and cultures, it is no longer acceptable to ‘point and laugh’ at the different people. Because those other people become part of our communities and ourselves part of theirs. Society adapts to changes in circumstances by speaking and listening. the issues are worked through.

A concern is that this happens less. People used to socialise with all of their local community, rather than a sub -set of it. Any community anywhere in the world is made up of different types of people, with different personalities and opinions. In a local community, if someone airs a controversial opinion that offends others, it is often said that the person who said the offending remark was a decent person, meant no offence and the community would then go to work discussing the issue with the offender, working it through with them. With no such local close-knot community this fails to happen, people prejudices are not addressed.

Of course, local, isolated communities have there own issues, their own prejudices, I know I grew up in one! But at least there is some diversity, rather than the narrow social circles we can easily inhabit through work or social media. Perhaps because there isn’t the wider social support to help people overcome prejudice, that people are physically and mentally attacked fro expressing views that there is a desire to protect, to keep people free from controversial ideas, rather than confront them head on. That if you were to confront the racist, sexist, homophobes in the pub, instead of community support, you would be left to be attacked yourself by that sub-set of society that supports that prejudice, or in cruder terms to be beaten up by their mates.

In local communities humanity has developed systems to regulate these local communities. As individuals or families it is possible to regulate what information is kept private and which shared, we decide who we tell certain things to. With the internet, there has not been this evolution of social systems. We use the internet for private communication between friends and family as well as publicly and we also use it to communicate professionally. sometimes it is not clear who we are broadcasting to. The problem with this is a free open discussion within a group is fine for developing understanding of an issue, it is another thing when things are seemed to be discussed more widely. The problem is that we haven;t developed clear ways of differentiating what is more private and what is public.

Another issue is access to information. The internet is a fantastic resource, it is possible to look up information or opinion on any matter within a few clicks. From this it should not be possible to claim ignorance. However, of course it still is, there is more data available than anyone can sift through. Whilst research is seemingly ever easier, the direction of things is actually more difficult. For example a search engine should speedily take a user to the information they seek, but they don’t, they pigeon hole users, and give results based on geographical location and previous browsing history, so seeking objective information becomes harder, we are still subjected to very bias data. We still haven’t really developed ways to use the internet effectively, we rely on  curated material and the bias of our own communities. so much as this occurred, so used are we too bias data that there is a tendency to no longer look for facts, to build up a full picture of an issue. Rational argument is coming to seem less important than who is saying something, someone’s background is more important than what they actually are saying.

There seems to be a worrying trend of protecting access to opposing opinions, with so much information available, as individuals we do yearn for simplicity, to be able to see the wood for the trees. Hence the wish for protection from the wilds of extremist views as we are increasingly exposed more to extremist views and less of the reasoned consensus views of the community, because there no longer is a community in the traditional sense to buffer and question extreme opinions.

 

 

 

Fighting Extremism

To my eternal shame, when I was a teenager I was somewhat racist. I thought that people from different races and cultures, had different morals and because of this should not integrate into my own culture. I grew up in a community in rural Wales, which back then was exclusively white Caucasian with a Christian background, a monoculture. Racism does exist in this community, even today, because some local people think that the way things are done around here are somehow better than that which occurs in the rest of the world. The media is partly to blame for describing bad news in such a way as to lay blame on a community that locally is not fully understood.

Fortunately, Wales is a multi-cultural society, the capital city, Cardiff, historically a major world port, attracted people from all around the world. All it takes to debunk any notions of that people from other cultures are less moral, it to talk to them, and understand their culture. From this increased understanding comes the realisation that any cultures moral system is no better than any other, every culture attempts to be moral.

People fundamentally are very different, however certain traits are more common in some races and cultures than others. It is these demographic differences that leap out to outsiders. It is crazy though to then immediately judge that culture for these differences, based on only a very partial understanding of that culture.

This craziness, this leaping to generalisations does happen. For example, if say an Afro-Caribbean man comes to the culture and makes a minor social indiscretion, people often then extrapolate from this one instance to blame an entire race for this minor mistake, because they are the only Afro-Carribbean person they have interacted with, so based on their experience, 100% of that race are seen to have this negative trait. Of course, anyone should know not to form conclusions based on one experience. It is sometimes difficult to assert if people are just criticising an individual or an entire community.

This phenomena of judging without understanding happened to me recently in the wake of the Paris attacks. Certain people I know, who are Atheists expressed the opinion that it was religion that was to blame for extremism. I explored what they were saying with them, I conceded that it does happen that some religious people do become extremists, but not all. In any case extremism occurs in atheist cultures too. The point is that these people had leapt to the generalisation that religion in itself caused extremism and they didn’t really understand what faith is, what prayer is. It is people that cause extremism, not religion. Really, the concept of cultural relativism is so important.

People cause extremism by making judgements before having a good understanding of a culture. Groups of extremists then gather together who share these same naive views. Extremism exists everywhere.

The debate in the UK this week is how to tackle the extremist group ISIS. The question is portrayed as should the UK bomb Syria, where ISIS have political control, in addition to bombing ISIS in Iraq. Syria is already beign bombed by various other cultures. It seems a cosmetic change in policy and arguably a distraction from tacking extremism. However governments can’t defeat extremism, people must defeat extremism. How do people fight extremism?

Firstly, we must not be quick to judge.  Acknowledgement that our own and all other cultures are imperfect. To be wary of the easy answers peddled by politicians and the media. To commit to study the other culture in depth to see if there is any truth in these easy accusations.

Secondly, to not tolerate intolerance. To not allow extremist views to propagate, to challenge the views of people in our communities, to not allow extremist views to become acceptable. Really extremism shoudl be tackled worldwide, in every community, globally. Only then will extremism be deafeated.

The war on terror, isn’t really about bombing people or restricting peoples movements. The war on terror is in hearts and minds of those around us. Extremism has to be beaten locally before any community can genuinely help at a wider level. Already, since the Paris attacks, Muslims in the UK have been physically assaulted and abused. The focus should be on talking to these extremists attacking British Muslims. By doing this the cause of extremism can be tackled, rather than the symptom, terrorist organisations.

 

 

 

#parisattacks and Community

Once again, Paris is subject to terrorist attacks and I was affected as the news of the tragedy filtered through late last night. Earlier in the evening I also heard of the terrorist attacks in Beirut and Baghdad , whilst this news saddened me, it didn’t affect me as much, so I wondered why this is. The deaths of innocent people everywhere are surely equally tragic.

I concluded that it was because it was closer to home. In the same way as when there is news of a rape or murder in Wales, it affects me more deeply than when there is news of rape or murder in, say, Australia, because it is more local. I believe that as human beings we view the whole of humanity as the targets used in archery, the rings closer to the centre have a stronger significance to us, as they are closer to us, I think everyone is at the centre of their own sphere of influence:

Zone 1 : Partners, immediate family and close friends – These are the people I care about the most and whom I am most effected if there is bad news and I am motivated to go to the ends of the earth to help.

Zone 2 : Extended family, casual friends, work colleagues, members of local social groups

Zone 3 : Local community, people I interact with more occasionally, who share the same lived in space

Zone 4 : National community, in my case Wales

Zone 5 : National neighbours, for me, Ireland, England and Scotland.

Zone 6 : Similar cultures, for me, Western society: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Northern, Western and Central Europe.

Zone 7 : The global community, the rest of the world.

To me, this hierarchical system, makes sense. Incidentally it explains why I regard myself as Welsh first and British second. Being aware of ones place in a community, enables individuals to learn that everyone elses archers target is different, that people closer to us tend to have their centre closer to our own centre. It is always interesting to be open to and learn about people in other cultures, to learn how their ‘archers target’ is different to our own.

Understanding that our own target, our own values, whilst important to us individually, on a global level are equal. no one individual is more or less important than anyone else. As rational beings, people know that any individual ‘archers target’ is no more important than any other. What it is is that we are more affected by change to our local community than the wider community, yet, are able to realise that  local effects affect us locally, whilst a murder close to home or a long way away is equally tragic.

It is perhaps when this ‘archers target’ system is ignored, that conflict arises. It is possible, especially in a globalised world, for people to regard social groupings that they belong to, for people in outer zones to be more important than those locally. For example, as a Christian, I may feel more affected by the murder of a Christian in say, Pakistan, that the murder of a Muslim in Wales. I don’t, I am more affected by the local murder, but I know people who do feel this way. As society is more global, our social sphere becomes global and there become sections of our local communities that we don’t interact with, because we spend more social time online, then this distortion of how we care for people can become affected.

There is so much trouble, so much conflict in the world and with the internet and global news coverage, we know a little about what is going on all over the world. People do care, if there is a tragedy anywhere in the world, people want to help. Perhaps the difficulty is that in helping, people, naturally, in the first instance wish to help in a way that imposes the slightly different values of their local community, rather than listening to troubled community and responding to the needs identified locally.

For example, I worked on a camp alongside an isolated village in Madagascar, surrounded by one the last remaining areas of  primary forest. I went there with the motivation that such areas of such natural beauty and diversity should be preserved, as much of Madagascar has suffered from the loss of it’s forests. In my first few days there, I saw evidence of tree felling and clearing of areas of forest for farming by the local villagers. An initial reaction was how daft are these people for razing such an important and increasingly rare resource. After spending time there, I realised that these Malagasy villagers are not daft, but witty, friendly, cooperative people.

Slash and burn agriculture has been used for centuries throughout the world. An area of forest is cleared, the wood used for building and fuel, and the area cleared, farmed until the soil nutrients are depleted. Then another area of forest is cleared and the process repeated. This was sustainable, as over time, the forest would re-establish itself, it would be generations before that area was cleared again. The problem is population growth and finite areas of forest. To the villagers there has always been more forest to clear if need be. However the villagers learned from us that the forest wasn’t infinite and they were interested in developing ways to preserve the forest, whilst maintaining the resources needed to sustain their village. Indeed, they were wondering why the price for wood products at their local market was rising. Local solutions work, simply going in and telling people not to cut down trees, only creates conflict.

I suspect, there will be many calls in the next few days to do something to solve the problems of the broken fractured societies in the Middle East. Perhaps we should all remember, not to join in with the loudest, angriest voices, but to keep listening to all voices, maybe one day, humanity can learn to work together and respect one another, before conflicts get out of hand.

Fighting Against Evil Supermarket Bread

I love bread! I love making it, baking it, the smell of it, eating it and spreading it with jam! It is the most wondrous stuff and the staple of European food. To an outside observer it would seem that the British in general have ended their love affair with bread. The story is a rather middle-class first world problem, but also illustrative of creeping value loss.

I was lucky to grown up in a small rural town, isolated from the early wave of the supermarket takeover of the British high street. The town had a bakers shop, mainly baking bread for the townsfolk and local businesses such as hotels and restaurants. We had several butchers shops, a fishmonger at the weekly market and several greengrocers. We also had a local independent supermarket , which sold one of everything, basically all dry goods, it even had a cheese counter. Shopping meant walking from shop to shop to purchase your provisions.

Nowadays the town has a rather poor chain baker, is very fortunate to have retained a butcher and convenience shops (which are basically only good for alcohol and snacks). There is a huge supermarket, 7 miles away in the next town, a drive or a bus journey. Time wise, weekly shopping now actually takes much longer. How did this happen? How is the only way of getting a decent loaf of bread to travel 7 miles to buy flour and bake it yourself, indicative of a more modern efficient society?

Supermarkets came about as they offered a more efficient distribution network, offering lower prices, more choice and exotic goods. There were supermarkets in the big cities first. My family used to drive to the city (a three hour round trip) once a month or so, for shopping: books, LPs, clothing and anything else we desired. On the way back we would visit the supermarket to stock up for the month on dry goods, such as rice, as this was much cheaper and to be able to buy foods we couldn’t get at home.

Most people in the town did this kind of shopping (in those pre-internet times). This did impact on the local shops. However the bakers survived as, fresh still warm bread is something very special, to be picked up from the local shop and delivered to the breakfast table. As time passed, local bakers declined. The supermarkets sold the soggy crappy ‘Chorleywood’ sliced, plastic bag bread, only good for toast, at rock bottom prices. So people bought this cheap crap and didn’t eat as much of it, instead people ate more and more of the other things the supermarket provided to replace bread (which they made more profits on),  bread declined. Occasionally people missed fresh bread, the supermarkets provided ‘in-store bakerys’, producing bread any real baker would be ashamed of. However, this made those who only used a supermarket to think that this was what real bread tasted like, it was no longer seen as something very special.

The supermarkets won and killed off real bread as an everyday staple. Bread is now seen as an artisan, luxury product, and often priced accordingly. This is very sad. Many place the blame on the ‘evil’ supermarkets, exploiting the British consumer. This is a rather reactionary view and is indicative of how extremist views can arise, whether they be on bread, meat-eating, political creed or religion. A blame culture, blaming others for a failure to act responsibly. Are the supermarket bosses really that evil, do they drink the tears of virgins with glee?

No. The supermarkets have simply followed the path of maximizing their own profits, without regard for their impact on society. The town planning system failed in holding back their growth.  They are not evil in the sense that they set out to destroy peoples enjoyment of bread,  A consequence of this is loss of bread and a loss of appreciation of the value of various foodstuffs. People are not evil, they simply follow convention and seek cheap food. This explains why bread demised, why the disgusting factory farming of animals proliferated, why people vote for political parties that superficially make the right noises.

Those of us who have invested the time to research, investigate and think have understood this. but the majority don’t. So, for those who understand, can see the situation as one where people just need to be told the truth, to be educated and they will form the same conclusions as these early seers. However, the majority appear not to listen to this vocal minority. They don’t listen because surely a minority of wierdos can’t be right, they must be extremists. So, all these dedicated minorities become tarred with the extremist label, whether they be religious converts, animal rights activists or political activists. The minorities respond by becoming exasperated, so shout louder and sometimes start acting immorally themselves ‘for the greater good’. Moral principle is lost, as well as access to a decent loaf of bread.

Corporate culture has killed off many things precious to ordinary folk. Not because pursuing a profit or greater efficiency is evil, but by taking the idea too far, without control, trying to be all encompassing. It is often heard that people don’t have the time to enjoy kneading there own loaf of bread, yet people have the time to sit for hours everyday in a traffic jam on the way to work and queue in the supermarket. It is very curious indeed how people don’t seem to take responsibility for there own lifestyles anymore in this ‘need’ to comply with contemporary economic theory.