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.


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?

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

Depth Politics – Roots of Conflict

Politics is all about conflict, and there are thousands of different conflicts present in politics (below I present a “small” selection). Every political system and ideology expresses some sort of conflict or another that has to be resolved in society, and we prioritise them and take sides.

Political theorists look at history, pinpointing the conflict/s that they feel define history, but usually at the expense of other conflicts. Usually their analyses look at the workings of the political and economic systems in an attempt to improve them or provide alternatives. They talk about how they work, how they should work and what would be best, yet very few reach into the psychological roots of conflict.

These conflicts aren’t just aspects of our society, the are present within us, emanating from us into society and our political systems. If we don’t resolve these issues within us at the root and in our most immediate and intimate relationships, there’s little hope for them to resolved in the world. Below are a list of conflicts, many of which have deep historical roots, and all of which are very much active today, but they all have a little space within us, and will continue to do so, whether we live in a republic or a monarchy, dictatorship or democracy.

It’s very easy to see these issues at work in society at large, but what about within us?
man vs woman
masculine vs feminine
adults vs children
human vs nature
cultural vs natural
technological vs ecological
sustainability vs consumerism
domestication vs wildness
organic vs artificial
urban vs rural
agriculture vs industry
producer vs consumer
owner vs worker
public vs private
rich vs poor
self-sufficiency vs trade
leisure vs work
solidarity vs bargaining
elitism vs equality
individual vs collective
foreign vs native
history vs progress
tradition vs innovation
stability vs change
cosmopolitan vs provincial
global vs local
centralism vs federalism
control vs democracy
security vs liberty
justice vs freedom
rights vs responsibility
economic vs social vs ecological values
needs vs wants
science vs religion
spiritual vs secular
collaboration vs competition
thoughts vs feelings
reflection vs reaction
strength vs sensitivity
beliefs vs experience
verbal vs non-verbal

To name just a few!

National Triad

Three fantasies of nationalism: historical continuity, common identity and political autonomy.

(relating to Separating Nation and State?)

The history of a nation isn’t as smooth and coherent as we’d like to think, the homogeneity and the solidarity of its people leave much to be desired and on a small planet such as Earth, no nation can be considered an island. *

*yes, okay, some nations are islands, but I don’t mean geographically 😉

The State-loving Anarchist

Weird, I consider my ideal world to look anarchist, but I support the idea of the state? More political quizzes with I Side With have shown me that I’m more authoritarian than I thought (not thoroughly, but a bit more than on the Political Compass) On the balance of small/big government, I keep coming up strongly for big government, which just shocks me. The most effective arena for expressing personal sovereignty is local, face-to-face, grass-roots government. What have I been doing wrong? I think I know, the quizzes present me with the “state” option, issues of politics on a national scale, and of course I give my answers in respect to that.

My philosophy here is “if it exists, make use of it”. The state exists, it has its function, might as well take advantage of its existence, right? It’s the world we live in, it’s the way most politics works. The basic sovereign unit is the nation-state, it’s how everything is organised. The highest political organisation in the world is the United Nations, not United Regions/Municipalities/Citizens. Going against this seems a tiny bit like a water pistol taking on the ocean. Just call me a defeatist anarchist, or a “biding-my-time” anarchist.

And if we abolish the state? Chaos. People are used to the idea of “the State”, take that reference away is a recipe for much confusion. I’m a sucker for stability, and replacing the current status quo with anarchy just won’t work, people aren’t ready for it, they aren’t psychologically equipped to exist in a world where they must think independently, rationally, ecologically and cooperatively. But governments will have to do this for them (in so much as they are capable of it). The government exists as a compensation for what the citizenry is not yet ready to do, but the more they do it, the more empowered they become and the more irrelevant big government becomes. I envision this as a gradual phasing out or displacement as opposed to a revolutionary abolition and replacement. Its roots lie in the education of the people, which is a looooooong process – 500 years? It also requires a more hands-on approach to local politics instead of delegating it more and more “upwards”. I voted for the UK to remain in the EU, not because I believe in the multi-national bloc, but because I see it as a better opportunity to have stability, social justice and learn cooperation.

I like the state – having lived in two – since I feel that it has given me a relative sense of security and the freedom to pursue my interests and live the life I want. Any form of government or non-government can be corrupted by anyone with a will to do so. The democratic nation-state seems to be the best way of neutralising this tendency, and giving a relative sense of freedom and security. This sort of space also gives freedom to experiment with other political forms. Whilst this status quo exists, I’ll support it because it presents us with opportunities to try something different and more direct, such as Flatpack Democracy or the Transition Movement  (see also the works of Murray Bookchin). There’s no magic formula to make the world perfect, but with a bit of imagination, energy and personal drive, we can always make steps towards it.



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.