Leftward Bound

Oh no, I’m turning a peculiar shade of Red, it won’t rub off. Uh, feeling faint…

So, a little while ago I wrote about Getting Radicalised, and how my thinking has taken a turn for the Left. I thought I might be a bit more specific, and explain more here.

If the economy doesn’t work for the benefit of all and only for the rich few, there’s something wrong with the economy. Capitalism has in it to be of benefit to everyone,to provide everyone with enough wealth to make life bearable. And I’m not talking about economic equality for all, just that there’s enough wealth to go around to give a bit of basic support to everyone without buying them luxuries.

For example, one rich man has 6 private jets in their garage, and he has the money to maintain them, even when they’re not in use. This is a lot of money. On the other hand, 6 families struggle each day to earn enough money to have a loaf of bread each day. The rich man doesn’t have to get rid of all his planes, and he doesn’t have to buy the families planes to make them “equal”, but the cost of one of those planes and its maintenence could pay a year’s worth of bread for six families, and with the change left over there’d still be enough to buy a small business or two (i.e. to make more money).

It also seems wrong that a lady living off a poor pension can scratch around the bottom of her purse for spare change to put in the charity box whilst some rich folk store their millions in offshore tax-evading schemes. Perhaps she feels embarrassed that she “couldn’t give more,” but she’d feel angry if she knew. The world is upside down. I have a feeling that millionaires have it within their power to make taxes and charities a thing of the past. Possibly even poverty. If only they could gain a bit of generosity. Some governments sell off public services to private owners (i.e. privatisation) in the hopes of ironing out economic irregularities. Wouldn’t it be easier to tax the rich and raise the quality of public services with that money? Crack down on tax-evasion? (well no, because the government is in cahoots with private owners, and they even cut taxes to the rich to “encourage wealth”).

Perhaps what’s even worse is that a lot of people are rich, not because they have worked hard and done something productive for society, but simply because they know how to navigate the economy, knowing how to make more pour in than out, and how to hold onto that money. Other people do the work, and they reap the benefits for merely owning the “means of production”. That’s like getting the cream from the top of the milk bottle, then getting half more of the milk before using the rest to pay for workers and various expenses.

The capitalist idea of “accumulation of wealth” sounds good, and should be applicable to everyone, owners and workers. But something isn’t right because most people live month by month, accumulating very little of what they earn and spending the rest on taxes, bills, debts and other expenses (most dreaded are the unexpected expenses). Perhaps they can put some aside for savings and then what little they have left they spend on luxuries. For those that can accumulate a lot of wealth, they quite rightly have a sense of “ownership” of the money; for everyone else there is a lack of control and a continuous leaking away of money. Even of the money that they rightfully earned, that should by right be theirs but instantly gets swept away in the tide of expenses. I suppose we can count ourselves lucky; we’re having to live month by month, but many more live day to day, hand to mouth, not sure where their next meal will come from. Aren’t we fortunate, eh?

If I put my mind to it, I could make a lot of money. I could take what little money I have, invest it in something, and within a few weeks or months, I’d be bathing in the stuff without having done a bit of work. It would take a bit of knowhow (something I haven’t got, but I suppose I could learn it), but I could do it. But my “problem” is that my values and priorities are elsewhere. If I start concerning myself about money, I’ll get money, but I may miss out on appreciating other things in life. Simplicity for a start, which doesn’t earn much money, but doesn’t cost much either. It also makes me feel more human, and if I put that aside to prioritise making money, I’d feel less human! I have no problem with capitalism in principal – it does indeed create wealth and has brought benefits for many people – but it’s the way it is used that gets my goat. It’s become something essentially unfair and in some cases immoral and destructive.

So, what do we do? Tax the rich? Put all production into public hands? (crack down on tax-evasion, that for a start). I’m not sure that will work either, not without a change in mentality. We can change the government and how it works, but if we don’t change our very thought patterns, we’ll repeat the same mistakes again but in a different form; instead of “privatisation” we’ll call it “nationalisation”. Just because the political form has changed, doesn’t mean the psychological patterns behind it have changed, too. Power adapts itself quite well (ooh, I think I’ve just lost a bit of Red). This is where I turn anarcho-communist, but only in an ideal world where everyone has learnt psychological autonomy combined with a potent spirit of cooperation.

Education is needed. Not “fill head with information”, but “learning how to think for oneself” and self-directed education. If we want “power to the people” then it’ll have to be based on intelligence and reflection, not knee-jerk reactions of the masses (which will be delegated to a “specialised” ruling minority, anyway). If money must be invested in anything, let it be education, so that future generations can learn to think independently and democratically. The rich need to learn that money isn’t worth what they think it is (it’s actually worth more, but not in the way they think it is). Not entirely sure the State can handle this type of education without fudging it up, but just increasing education funding and removing economic barriers to it should be a good start. Education also is an effective way of slowing down or reversing population growth, so millionaires don’t have to worry about creating new generations of “dependents”.

Perhaps I’m not so socialist after all, since it shouldn’t be the government’s responsibility to redistribute the wealth, but the responsibility of the wealthy themselves, of anyone with money to spare, no one should have to force anyone to do anything (fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of a liberal man). The rich should be decent enough to share their wealth and invest it in things that improve society as a whole – there are decent rich, philanthropists and such, but it seems to me they aren’t always so visible. But until that happens or the role of money is replaced by something else, redistributing the wealth will have to be the government’s job, and I’ll have to continue entertaining socialist thoughts.

Wha… what happened? Where am I? I think I must’ve had some sort of black out. It must have been a red out. 😉



Empathy and Identity

How did the achievements of others become our own? This question comes after all the recent events in sports and politics.

In sports, like the Olympics and Tennis, the UK is often a united whole with the individual countries forgotten. Yesterday, for the first time in many a year, a British sportsman won Wimbledon. Suddenly the whole of Britain is celebrating, “We won, at last!” A few Scots are saying, “No, Scotland won.” From my perspective, nations don’t play sports, individuals do, so Andy Murray won that one. Obviously, in football, it’s a bit more difficult since the teams share their names with their nations. Still, Portugal the country didn’t win UEFA Euro 2016, a group of skilled athletes from Portugal did (or maybe I’m getting a bit too postmodern). When a government does something bad, the nation is blamed, as if it were meaningfully unified. Likewise, if it does something good, everyone gets a share of the credit. Imagine my confusion years ago when a Spanish waiter told me “Give us back Gibraltar.” What have I got to do with Gibraltar? I’ve never been there, and certainly have no say over who “owns” it (and nor do I have interest to). I may be British, legally and culturally, but I am not the UK.

Years ago I saw something on telly saying that what we see we experience. The example was a rowing competition, and the idea was that as you observe their effort, somehow, the brain interprets it as your effort. This is something I’ve experienced with various things. Watching sheep give birth, for example, is a tense affair, as if you were able to get involved and help (which, as a male human, is pretty difficult). I’m not really interested in sport, but I have experienced at times the elation or disappointment of “my team” winning or losing, whether it be England in the world cup, Wimbledon or the Olympics.

There’s a good word in Spanish to describe this: ajena, which means, roughly, ‘of someone else’. At some point our empathy with someone else becomes identity, and we lay claim to logros ajenos, someone else’s achievement, or achievement by proxy. It doesn’t quite sound fair, yet in many circumstances is accepted and even encouraged.

I’ve also been experiencing this lately with Brexit. For the first time in my life I feel identified with politics, not because I’m particularly attached to Europe or the UK, but because Brexit could affect my legal status in Spain. I have been living here freely, like any Spanish or European citizen, because of free movement. Suddenly that is put at risk. Will I be able to stay here as I have done? Am I expected to apply for a visa? If I hadn’t followed the news, I could have carried on with my life without any knowledge of it, yet a distant happening is affecting how I feel. Some of my identity and empathy is certainly invested in it, and quite rightly, but it isn’t my life, the life I live day to day, just one of many influences upon it.

I’m quite fascinated but Roberto Assagioli’s idea that “what we identify with controls us,” I think it’s a key that could open up so much insight into how we are. When we identify with a group, for example, we become subject to the ebbs and flows of that group, and to some extent lose the right to our own individual thoughts and feelings. If individuals can’t think and reflect for themselves, they’ll be pushed and pulled by a blind mass, not their own insights – it’ll be the “blind leading the blind.” Obviously, this can lead to stupid and/or dangerous results. Perhaps there is a point where the overlapping of empathy and identity is useful, such as compassion for a fellow human being, but I think it’s important to look into where these two are entangled so they don’t trip us up.


Getting Radicalised

I’ve got a feeling that certain capitalist/conservative governments have turned me more onto the Left. I used to have nebulous ideas about being “left-leaning”, and I liked it. I didn’t know exactly what it meant, didn’t really care for the difference between private or public ownership, but I knew that I was “left-leaning”. I was always interested in environmentalism, and I liked the word “liberal” better than “conservative”. I had an idea that there was something “unfair” about which way the money and power flowed, but it wasn’t elaborated. However, now I feel a distincly socialist type of thinking has taken hold. I’ll explain.

A couple of years ago I took the Political Compass test and ended up smack-bang in the middle of the lower left corner, “Left Libertarian“. Close to the Greens in the UK parties pages (no surprise there). But I recently took it again, and ended up further to the “Left”, which coincides with more exposure to what the Conservative government have been doing in the UK.

crowdchartThere’s been a lot of talk about privatisation, tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts, to the extent that it is no longer looking at all like a way to balance the economy but to make the rich richer, keep the poor where they are and remove all sorts of restraints and regulations on “making money”. On another political questionnaire, I got “environmentalism” at the top (absolutely no surprise) and after that Social Liberalism. In principle I agree, but as a political stance it seemed a bit weak, directionless and a compromise between what I think and the way the world works.

I decided to take the questionnaire again, this time not holding back and really going for what I believe in, not just a practical compromise. Again, environmentalism appeared at the top, but underneath anarcho-communism appeared. So I read up about it, and read a book I’ve had lying around on the shelves (The Conquest of Bread by Peter Kropotkin) and I was impressed, this did sound me. It sounded ideal, an absolute utopia, a world I would like to live in – everyone recieves what they need, and everyone contributes to society in whatever way they can, and no need for big government. Not an ideology for public policy, but can be pursued on the small scale, as in grass roots movements and local government.  – a scale that doesn’t need to abolish big government, but simply make it obsolete over time (probably a lot of time, but we got to start somewhere).

I think I may just stay with Left Libertarian, which encompasses several similar ideologies, or even making it simple like “liberalish, left-leaning and Green,” like it has always been. It’s more understandable by most, anyway.

I can’t say I’ve gone completely to the Left; I get chills when I hear “nationalisation” as much as “privatisation”. There should be a good balance between the two, a way to neutralise two dire extremes (that would end up with the same thing, anway: world controlled by centralised/monopolised organisation that exists to make its leaders rich and everyone else work for them). Keynesian? Possibly.

Anyway, if there’s any leftish thinking in me, it’s the rightish parties that made me do it.  Once a leftish government gets in I may return to “normal”, possibly.

Triad of Specialisation

The three effects of exclusive specialisation and concentration on only one skill: more production, more profit and poverty of the human spirit.

This is a triad inspired by the chapter on the division of labour in Peter Kropotkin’s book The Conquest of Bread. There are many and varied things we can do in life, and if we are limited to one, we don’t fully enjoy the potential that life gives us.

Triad of the People

Three basic skills that would return much power and sovereignty to the people: creation of food, creation of housing and the creation of clothing.

We are very much detached from where the basics of life come from. We depend on others to meet the majority of our needs, and effectively give them power over our lives. We need not become self-sufficient, but if we were more aware and even more involved in the basics of life, such as “food, shelter and clothing” we could surprise ourselves at how empowered we would be.

Ecothought: Nature of the Soul

When I think of “me”, my ego identity, it isn’t the whole of me, just a fragment. The whole of me, my soul, is something higher, wider and deeper than anything I specifically identify with. It transcends. The body, seen by many as a mere container for the soul and/or ego, is closer to the wholeness of being than this “I”, so the body is closer to the soul than the ego… or it is the soul. It is higher, wider and deeper than the ego, and far closer to the wholeness of self than “I am…” The body transcends the ego.

My body isn’t a separate object, it is the convergence of many different interactions, connections and sensations. Everything is sensation, immersed in the webstrings of the senses. I do not need to search for a connection to nature, because I am nature, and it is only the fragment of the ego that takes seriously the illusion of being “disconnected.” My soul, my being, stretches and connects to the whole cosmos.

I am part of the continuum of nature. Nature is my soul.

Separating Nation and State?

I tried to avoid mentioning politics on this blog, but recent events have really set my mind working on political ideas and I feel I can share them here. I’m not interested in campaigning or commenting on present events (too much), but just keep my ideas “philosophical” without being too controversial (success not guaranteed lol) – more thought-provoking than thought-crusading.

Scotland has had a referendum on its union with the UK, Catalonia on its place within Spain and the UK on its membership with the EU. For me this brings up questions of the identification of nation with state and what is meant by “independence”. First of all, in today’s globalised and interdependent economy, I find the idea of “independence” is not realistic (unless we take on a policy of protectionism and self-sufficience, which doesn’t show signs of being very beneficial to all). A nation’s government, even if politically independent, must still count on the economical and social influence from around the world, so “independence” is really a relative term.

The other thing is identity, do I feel identified with my government? Do I feel it represents my cultural and national identity? Yes, but not entirely. I grew up with British culture, have a broad mixed British ancestry and my legal identity is British. My name’s even registered with a UK constituency, meaning there’s a Member of Parliament that represents me in the House of Commons, even if I didn’t vote for him or don’t agree with his policies. But I now live in Spain with a French Swiss family, so I live being “European” every day. I can’t say I’ve stopped being British (you can take the Brit out of Britain, but you can’t take Britain out of the Brit), but I can’t say that that is the limit of my identity either, and the history of Britain itself has always been tied to Europe, no amount of “island thinking” can prevent that. I’m more nostalgic than proud of my native culture and history – it is so very familiar – but my pride in being British is when I’m faced with cultural diversity, when I’m in a group with a variety of nationalities.

Do I also feel that within a nation there is unity of identity? Not at all. I may share culture, ancestry and nationality with many people, but I feel more identified with people that share the same ideas as me, ideas that often transcend cultural and national boundaries.”Self-detemination” doesn’t really work if there is no united “self” in the first place. If there was more unity within a nation there’d be more harmony, coherence and cooperation between people. But this clearly isn’t the case.  I feel there is more conflict within societies and nations than between them, and more unity by way of ideas than difference of culture. Centuries of Anglo-French territorial conflict are perhaps not so important as the conflict between men and women, rich and poor, owners and producers, old and young, selfishness and alturism. These issues are present everywhere.

And where do nations come from, anyway? As I look at British history, or any nation’s history,  I have no sense of One People forging themselves a place in the world, I get the sense that nations are accidents of history, created by the wars, marriages and diplomacy of the rich and powerful few, whilst the poor have been working away in their fields wondering what accent the next Lord of the Manor would have (Norman? French? Scottish? German?). The Magna Carta is a very important document, but most of my ancestors had to toil to survive, not argue over words, territory and the distribution of power.

Who or what would an “independent nation” benefit? The culture, language and anyone identified with them, but the world is a diverse place, and there are plenty of minorities that don’t identify or agree with the majority. This is the same reason I believe in the separation of church and state, since a state allied with a single religion will be biased towards members of that religion. Nationalism of any stripe is another type of religion, and not everyone within the nation is a member (even if they do share cultural and ethnical heritage with the majority). A secular state can better represent the diversity of its people, and a collection of states can better counterbalance cultural onesidedness, if only we look for our commonalities.

Our world is ecological and interdependent, it is small and not worth creating smaller, separated worlds within it. Instead of running away from the challenge, we can face it and learn to cooperate, discovering our commonalities, and working together on that basis. I may be British, but first and foremost I am human. I feel kinship with all humans, a kinship that can’t be represented by any government. Long ago, England was a collection of independent kingdoms and client kingdoms that now is one country, but these distinct territories have become lost in history or now form minor administrative districts and counties. This seems like an inevitable part of history, and eventually the nations and cultures we know and love today will become irrecognisable to us. Bit by bit we are becoming a global family, and nations are just one step towards that. I only ask from the state enough freedom, security and stability to live with, not that my identity is linked to it and swept around by its whims.

Humanity was not made to benefit culture, culture was made to benefit humanity.