The Imperialism of Politics

A few strangers in a city I barely know are deciding things about millions of people. They are known as “representatives”, making decisions that will affect the lives of millions of people. At what point did someone have the “good idea” that giving a country’s citizens the chance to vote for their representatives every few years should be called “democracy”? The people rule by choosing who rules? The people decide who decides? Is that democracy? I have my doubts.

We get to choose who makes decisions about the society we live in and our rights as citizens – still seems an “oligarchy” to me, a few individuals making decisions on behalf of millions – a “democratically elected” oligarchy, but an oligarchy all the same. I would even call it a “partiocracy” – political parties have the biggest power in democracy; an ideologically motivated minority choose what policies and what candidates we get to choose from (lucky us), even though most people have no interest in ideologies.

There must be a way for citizens to bypass their representatives in the legislature and influence policy directly. As in Switzerland, if citizens can get a certain number of signatures on a petition, then a referendum may be called. As in Ireland, a randomly selected group of citizens (a bit like a jury) is gathered together in a citizens’ assembly to scrutinise and comment on legislation that a partisan system may not be able to handle on its own. Another is devolution of powers and federalisation of the state, allowing for more regional or local forms of government that might fit the more specific interests of groups within the State, without losing the system of coordination and cooperation that they exist within.

Certainly in the UK, suffrage has been gradually expanded to include most citizens of any class or gender, until we can say we have “universal suffrage”, and that it is the citizenry as a whole (with some exceptions) that determine who gets into Parliament. But the dynamic within the system still remains the same – it is still a “top-down” system with a meer “aperture” to public influence.

The creation of the UK’s institutions has an undemocratic past, being created by and for rich and powerful elites, not the general populace, and this is still embedded in its consitutional DNA. The nation-state is a micro-empire, diluting regional and local differences to augment the power and wealth of a particular class, and this carries on even when a nation-state adopts democracy or democratic features.

Sovereignty is still “locked up” in Parliament and has failed to reach the people, and so “politics”, even in a so-called democracy, isn’t the involvement of each and every citizen in the running and development of their society but the province of a few “elected oligarchs”. The protagonists of politics should be the millions of citizens represented, not their representatives, yet the media continually focusses on what’s going on in the insitutions to which politicians are voted. It is gravity upside-down.

I want to be an anarchist, but politics won’t let me. Its inteference in my life forces me to take a stance within a system I don’t wholly agree with and never voted in creating. It’s institutions and politicians interfere with my personal life, distracting me from important personal priorities. If politicians were doing their job properly, I could ignore them and live my life.

And so we come full circle to what I mean by the “Imperialism of Politics”. If 65 million people took democracy seriously, this situation would be turned on its head, our personal lives would command the gravity of politics, and institutions like Westminster and their hegemony would find themselves obsolete.

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Below are a few points I wrote on my Twitter account @GaianSon about how 65 million people are whittle down to 650 MPs.

1/ How does the UK whittle a popluation of 65 million down to 650 MPs and call that democracy? Here’s a tentative exploration of how…

2/ the UK has “universal suffrage”, but this still leaves people out, like those below the age of 18 and people who aren’t British citizens (some exceptions). That already excludes millions.

3/ next ignorance itself is a barrier. If you don’t know about the system, you can’t participate in it, except maybe by accident. More potential candidates filtered out.
4/ next is interest. Obviously, if you’re not interested, you won’t bother participating, perhaps not even vote. BANG! That’s probably more than half the electorate filtered out.
5/ so, you’re interested, you may vote or even run for election! What next? Do you have the resources (i.e. time and money) to become a candidate and do a bit of campaigning? Not many get through this filter, but if you can’t, maybe a party can…
6/ having ideological commonalities with one of our many parties [that] have the skills and resources to help get you in. This very small portion of the population decides on almost all the policies and candidates that end up going through Westminster. Helps to know your best match.
7/ A combination of charisma, know how, ambition and influential contacts also all help – doesn’t matter if you have all of them, just a couple in good measure (contacts and charisma, for example). Here you may have entered the “inner circle” of politics.
8/ and FINALLY the vote. With a bit of luck (or “contacts”), you’ll have ended up in a safe seat of one party or another – you’ve got it licked! If not, you may have to rely a bit more on public support and the whimsy of historical forces!
9/ and you have now entered Westminster and become one of our “elected elite”. From a population of 65 million through a lengthy process of filtration, you are now one of 650. Now, doesn’t that all feel democratic?

The Conscious Baby

Being a father has been the most interesting adventure in my life (almost a year!). I have observed not only the step-by-step making of a human being, but also my own development as I take on a new role in my life, a role I’ve partially lived with other children, but now can live full-time!

One thing I think a lot of us don’t realise is how sensitive and precise babies are as they develop. We think of them as a “uncivilised” and in need of education – which I don’t entirely disagree with, they need help “navigating” this complex social world – but a large part of how they are reflects how they are treated. If we treat them roughly, they will reflect that back into the world; if we treat them with gentleness and respect, more often than not, that is how they will approach the world.

Observing my daughter, I’ve learnt just how precise she can be at times and how delicate she can be with various objects. She can be a little rough with the cats, and we don’t let her handle some objects in case she breaks them or hurts herself, but she isn’t reckless or clumsy. When she is being “destructive” it can be almost scientific, experimental. She is actively making observations about how she can affect the world around her. The point is, this isn’t something she does all the time, she can be really selective and careful.

If we do not allow them the time or space to experience things on their own terms, it goes directly into the unconscious, and from there they have no choice but to accept it. We expose them to things that overwhelm them, cause them stress or otherwise harm them, and they have to learn to accept it. It is “normal” even if it shouldn’t be, even if they should be allowed to reject it.

On the other hand, if we let them have the space to observe the world on their own terms and let them interact with the world in way they can understand consciously, each action then becomes careful and deliberate. They learn not to react to the world but act within it as conscious agents, carefully choosing what they want to do with a myriad of options.

It’s a lie that babies “don’t notice anything” – they notice everything; it all gets recorded in their implicit memory, influencing how their brain develops and forming the bedrock of their personality. The trick is that if we treat babies well early on, it will become the foundation for their own approach to the world. But if we are not so careful with them, we are creating problems for ourselves later on and the “terrible twos” can unnecessarily be terrible and possibly beyond!

Slowly and Incrementally Down with the Monarchy!

I’m a republican by default: give me a referendum choice between republic and monarchy, and I’d vote republic – but only if I found its form acceptable and was convinced that it would improve things in society. Perhaps I’m most sceptical on this point, just because an elected head of state seems more “reasonable” than a hereditary one, doesn’t mean things will get magically better. Is a republic more just, democratic, equitable and less corrupt than a monarchy? Not necessarily, the difference may just be symbolic.

In a democracy a hereditary monarch looks out of place; we’re meant to choose our leaders, not inherit them from the mists of the past. On the other hand, if the people show clear signs that they want a monarchy, then that is also democratic (each time you vote for a monarchy-supporting party or candidate, you are indirectly voting for the monarchy).  It can be an important part of some people’s cultural and historical identity – just not mine.

You cannot impose values on a society for which it is not ready, even values which are beneficial, because if that society doesn’t like or understand the new values, they will be rejected, like germs in a body. That is why gradual reform is better than abrupt revolution – the results stick better. Any change from monarchy to republic should be legal, constitutional and, above all, democratic. There are plenty of changes to do to the monarchy and its position in society before it can be removed and/or replaced with something else.

I think the more democratic a society becomes, the less need there is for a monarchy, the ritual and symbolism it represents becomes more irrelevant to the real needs of citizens. But we’re not quite “postmodern” enough to do away with the ritual and symbolism that monarchy embodies, which is the natural sovereignty of the people. For many people, the monarchy is a point of stability, an anchor for their society. Take it away and you destabilise a part of their world, which can potentially have horrific political and social consequences. My republicanism isn’t so strong to pursue this.

There perhaps is no “true democracy” in the world today – all such are just “works in progress” – so for the moment we can accept the juxtaposition of monarchy and democracy, whilst we work on what it means to be “democratic” and how to make it work. Only when each citizen becomes their own monarch can an external one be disposed of or simply made redundant. Really, you cannot abolish the external monarchy, just replace it with an internal one that exists within each and every citizen.

So, until next time, slowly and incrementally down with the monarchy!  Long live the Kings and Queens that we all are!

Anarchy Status: Reformism and Revolution

Nimue was right (in comment of previous post), my perspective of anarchism has been informed greatly by Taoism, and my idea is that “anarchy” is the natural state of all things, including humans, when we just stop interfering with natural processes and let everything, including ourselves, work “self-so” (Peter Kropotin’s idea of Mutual Aid,  a later discovery, fits in well with this).

So now onto revolutions: I once said on a message board “We need a revolution in society” and the reply was “but revolutions tend to be bloody and violent, you want that?” Good point, thanks for that, and no I don’t. What I meant was that society, and more specifically the people, need a radical psychological change, but “revolution” is not quite the word due to its political overtones (I think I should have said “paradigm shift”).

Reform should be the norm in a society, because it represents a gradual advancement that is in tune with current political and social realities. It is sure and stable change, which means that society will be a safer and more stable place to be. Revolution means that the current status quo is out of sync with the lives of the people and that the need for small changes (reform) accumulated to the point that revolution became inevitable. Societies suffering revolutions are, in general, unstable and unsafe, violent and even dangerous – and since they arise out of the most primal and reactive depths of the human mind, they may not take a desired or enlightened direction, they may go against our own nature. Even if a revolution is “successful”, it will just produce more of the same if the minds of the people have not changed with it.

If the political class doesn’t keep up with or anticipate well the changes within its own society and make the appropriate reforms, conflict will build up and threaten the status quo. The unreformed pressure in society will build up and blow. This is why I think a constant and progressive reform is necessary to keep pace with the developments of society – there must be no rest for reform.

Within reform there will be disagreement, but it will be done within a legal and constitutional consensus – this represents the “broad” will of the people (as long as reform keeps pace) and so marks the limits of what the people will accept or not. I cannot force the world into a shape I desire if the world is nor ready for it. Also, I cannot stray too far out of the prevailing political reality without becoming disconnected with the world’s issues as they exist in the present. If I disagree with this consensus, it will not help to advance as though it doesn’t exist – I can work to change it, acknowledging that there is something to change and take steps in the relevant direction. So really, my anarchism is very lowkey and I feel I must somehow acommodate the dominant political forces as they exist and not deny their realworld influence in my life. Even if my ideal is “anarchism”, I will still engage with conventional politics to reach it.

As I said before, my anarchism is based on the idea that imposing my will on another’s is somehow “wrong” (or unnecessary), so on balance, reform is more preferable to revolution (I must be some weird, rare breed of anarchist or something). As mentioned above, revolution happens when the general political will of the people has been ignored by the political class over time and has reached boiling point, reform happens when there is a good equilibrium between the political class and the general political will of the people.

Ultimately, my ideal revolution is to make society function so well, efficiently and harmoniously that governments simply become obsolete without any fuss. One day the last Prime Minister/President in the world realises that they’re actually doing nothing for (or to) anyone, so they might as well go and start a veg patch (their ministers had all disappeared anyway, so they were feeling quite alone).

 

 

Anarchist Status: it’s complicated

So, my last post gave a hint of my anarchism, and a little while ago I wrote something a bit more indepth, but today I thought I’d revisit the theme, just to show how complicated my relationship with anarchism is.

It’s hard being an anarchist sometimes – there’s a lot of militancy and revolution associated with it, which just go against my own anarchist instincts, strange as it may seem. A quick look at anarchist pages quickly brings them up, and I get the heebie-jeebies. My sort of anarchism is based on the principal that it is “wrong” to impose your will on the will of another and that each person should have the right and freedom to use their will – it is “free” after all.

Even more,  when people are connected with their true will they are naturally harmonious with the wills of others, so there can be no real conflict (deep down, though on the surface conflicts will arise). Deep down the will of each person comes from the same source, and so when people come from their true wills there is no conflict, or any conflict is just superficial – I’ll see how this idea holds out when my daughter reaches her “terrible twos”! Put another way, if my will imposes itself on the will of another it is no longer free (there are many times when I’ve fallen down on this one – but whose’s perfect, eh?).

So now onto militancy and revolution: both of these concepts, as I understand them, involve the rather authoritarian imposition of one will on another. In the case of militancy, any aggression or violence denies the natural will of other people not to be harmed, so even if you’re fighting for anarchy, you’re doing it via “authoritarian means” – depends on whether you think the ends justify the means or, as Ghandi put it, there is no way to peace, peace is the way.

Of course, if you’re attacked what do you do? Do you just passively accept it as “their will”? Well, at moments like these all “ideals” have gone out the window, noble causes are irrelevant as you are just fighting for survival. You may be fighting for the survival or creation an anarchist society, but for the moment anarchist ideals are put on hold. I suppose you could learn a martial art like Aikido that teaches how to react to violence by neutralising it rather than adding more violence to the mix, but I speak from experience (three years): this is a long term project, perfected over a lifetime, not something you can learn instantly. Peace really is a process, not a just result.

Next up: Revolutions! More on the wierd alliance between reformism and anarchy!

Triad of Anarchism

Three qualities essential to a functioning and harmonious anarchy: psychological autonomy, a potent spirit of cooperation and resources used wisely, sustainably and fairly.

If each individual were to develop a psychological autonomy, combine that with a strong sense of social cooperation and use resources so that everyone gets what they need sustainably without depriving anyone or destroying the planet, big government becomes unnecessary.

See my previous blog: The State-loving Anarchist

The Expectation of Huath

Huath is the 6th few in the Ogham alphabet, but the first one of the second aicme. It’s tree is the hawthorn.

There are many things we can’t see the outcome of, and yet we are expecting something to happen. Can’t do much about it, or even prepare – how do you prepare for the unknown? You won’t know what it’s like until you get there and experience it first hand. But until then, you just wait. That’s my life right now; I’m expecting my first child, been waiting for almost nine months (yep, not so long now). You hear stories about what it’s like to be a parent and have a baby and you studiously soak up all the theory about the subject, but until it actually happens to you, you don’t know. Life will change drastically, but I don’t know what that change is going to be like. I know it’s going to be tiring and frustrating and yet also “ultimately worth it”, but I have nothing to compare that with, so can’t really prepare myself for the experience. I can but wait, but I can say it’s the most interesting waiting experience I’ve ever had!

Aikido and Kabbalah III

Da’ath – aikido is something that is always transmitted, from master to sensei, from sensei to student, it is a lineage that carries on through its practitioners. It is the realisation of aikido in its ideal form to its practiced form, which is filtered and adapted by each practitioner. What I learn from my sensei will be limited to how and what my sensei learnt from his sensei and also how he teaches. In turn, as it is transmitted to me, I will be changed by the aikido I am learning, but also aikido will be changed in contact with me. And yet there is still a continuity of lineage.

Binah – the form of aikido is a martial art. Each technique has been derived from earlier forms – jujitsu, judo, amongst others –  that often hurt, damage or even kill an opponent, but these have been adapted to the philosophy of non-violence. We learn to use the bokken and jo (wooden training sword and stave), which were used by the samurai and peasant soldiers in war. The form and attitude of using these weapons complements our main work with the empty handed practice of aikido. It is at its core about self-defense, and even if it takes a long time to perfect, all that we learn should be effective in a combat situation.

Chochmah – the impulse of aikido is produced not by violence but by peace. The guiding philosophy encourages harmony and neutralising aggression, not only of the person attacking you but also your own aggression. It has been mentioned before, aikido is best done in a relaxed and calm attitude. Any tenseness or force used will work against you. An attitude of aggression is itself unbalanced, and if you attack first, even more so, that is why, in aikido, we recieve the attack and respond from a balanced and harmonious centre. That is how aggression can be neutralised (I have to admit though, there is a long, long process to get there!).

Keter – the source of aikido as a distinct martial art was Morihei Ueshiba or Osensei. It was he who, after years of studying various martials arts and an encounter with a pacifistic Shinto religion, began developing his own style that has many adherents around the world today. Aikido shows its Japanese roots, not only in the form of the martial art but also in much of the ritual and etiquette, including the use of some Japanese words. Perhaps overwhelming or just odd for many non-Japanese, but it’s all integral to its practise, and there is honour in remembering this.