Archives for posts with tag: politics

I’ve been posting, commenting, and shouting about socio-political stuff on The Facebook for a little while now, and some people have been confused. Some think I’m a socialist, a typical lefty. Others can’t decide what they think I think. I’m going to try to clear things up, or maybe just muddy the water some more.

I try very hard to avoid being pigeonholed as an ‘ist.’ If it’s possible at all to draw any conclusions from the last couple of thousand years of ethical philosophy, then they are; treat others as you would expect them to treat you, and be extremely suspicious of any who claim a direct line to moral truth. The first is the so-called Golden Rule, and pops up all over the place where people talk rationally about how best one might go about living, and is familiar to anyone with even a nodding acquaintance with the Bible, or even The Water Babies. The second abjures against subscribing to any pattern of thought that assumes an objective truth, of which they are the keepers. All religions, and most political ideologies fall into this definition.

Thus, I don’t call myself a socialist or anarchist, even though aspects of them appeal to me, because to anchor oneself to an ideology, especially in a polarised political climate such as the present, is to automatically refuse to consider validity in any other.  I don’t even call myself an atheist any more, as that is slowly becoming bogged down in dogma and ideological purity; I was blocked from commenting on the Holes in the Foam facepunch page after questioning the words of the Holy Madelyn O’Hair.

To refuse to engage rationally with another human being because their views are not exactly congruent with your own is foolish and arrogant, and ideological purity offers you this handy salve for cognitive dissonance.

It may come as a surprise, then, that there is one ideology I am prepared to embrace wholeheartedly; it is a totalitarian, elitist ideology.  The pseudo-Samurai ethic of traditional Shotokan Karate, which stresses self-discipline, fighting spirit and contempt for pain.   It is an ideology I apply only to myself and to students who have voluntarily entered the dojo to train.  A world run by the rigid Japanese etiquette and parade ground spirit of a karate dojo would be hell for most!  It is an aspect of my personality that I am pleased by rules and systematic hardship…it is an aspect of my intellect that I realise that what is true for me is not true for everyone.

Submitting to compulsion can be acceptable then, if one is doing so voluntarily in full knowledge and understanding, accepting that it is not permitted to attempt to enforce it upon others.

So a strong personal ideology, but no fixed political ideology, beyond the two statements of ethical philosophy mentioned above.  I’m not a lefty, either, or at least I’m not just a lefty.  The spectrum of left and right is lacking at least one axis if you ask me.  I was going to launch into a whole description of a certain geeky game’s system for describing the moral/ethical state of a character, but I decided not to.  Suffice to say, I consider myself neutral-good.

I appreciate the safety brought by the rule of law, but resent it’s interfering in private matters, and am incensed when it is used to marginalize and punish the vulnerable.  Not enough law is a bad thing, but so is too much.  I think it is far more important to do good than do well, and to take more than you need at the expense of another is the worst crime in the world.  If I can go back into the carbon and water cycles leaving the world one Planck Length better than when I arrived, I will consider my life worthwhile.

What I want for the world is freedom, with the understanding that freedom implies responsibility for one’s own actions; justice, with the understanding that justice means everyone gets what they deserve and need, not that I always get what I want; tolerance, with the understanding that tolerating something doesn’t mean you have to pretend you like it; and rationality, with the understanding that rational thought is just another instinctive process.

Peace.   I want Peace.   Between nations, ethnicities, religions, ideologies, towns, football team supporters, and individuals, with the understanding that peace requires constant maintenance, adjustment and nurturing to remain peaceful.

We are ruled by people who do not want these things.  People who profit from our misery, from our pain, but more subtly from our obedience, inertia and irrationality, bending the world in the direction that suits them.

They want control, justice for themselves and oppression for the masses.  They want us hating and fighting each other so that we do not notice, and turn upon, them.  They want us stupid, quiescent, fat and lazy.  They want the material profit and power our dumb compliance gives them.

War.  They want War.  War keeps us afraid and foolish, accepting oppression of our own freedoms in the belief that it hinders ‘the enemy.’  War culls the poor, keeping our numbers manageable, allows tyrannical laws to be passed by frightened governments without a squeak from the even more terrified populace, and brings profit and power into the hands of those who will never have to shoot another man or bring shrapnel home with them.

In a lawful evil world , the neutral good man becomes restless.  I am finding it increasingly hard to sit still.

Humanity stands on the lip of a catastrophe curve.

We have rushed headlong from wandering troops of balding apes on the plains of Africa to hurling ourselves and our machines into the gulf between worlds and returning safely. We have made the change so quickly, so vigorously, that we have outstripped evolution. We developed biological imperatives that gave us a survival edge on the savannah; to breed as soon as, and whenever possible, to gorge on fat and sugar when it is available, to react to alarming occurences with agitation, noise and violence. Alongside these, we developed the curious trick of thinking rationally, and that was our blessing, and has become our curse. Our blessing because it has lead the way in the development of our greatest achievements, our curse because it has lead us to the childish belief that every decision we make in our lives is rational, when in fact we are still prisoners of the primitive drives most people consider consigned to prehistory.

The human mid-brain has evolved a battery of methods to convince the callow, inexperienced, rational fore-brain to believe it is making the decision, while, in fact, most decisions are made by the hoary old lizard of the hind-brain; a knee-jerk instinctive response to a stimulus dressed up as a rational decision, like a grizzled old Sergeant pulling the strings of a Lieutenant fresh out of Sandhurst…

Remember when you went out for a meal, and spent ten minutes thoughtfully perusing the menu before finally deciding on steak? Your hind-brain had decided on steak, before you looked at the menu, before you entered the restaurant, then it let the fore-brain act like it had anything at all to do with the choice. And you believed it.

It is possible to force the fore-brain to override the hind-brain, but it tends not to be pleasant…perhaps you are not exactly flush just now, and reluctantly choose the fish, which is half the price of the steak. But you still want the steak, and you know it. It’s at moments like this that we are most aware of the dissonance between instinct and rationality, and they are a microcosm of the challenge facing humanity. The hind-brain wants the pleasure-reward of the steak now, and cares not for theoretical concepts like bank accounts. The fore-brain must find the courage to exercise it’s authority to force the hind-brain to forego pleasure now in order to avoid pain in the future, like Lieutenant Dale finally issuing direct orders to Sergeant Breslaw.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that vast swathes of the population (in the ‘civilised world’ at least) can go for depressingly long periods of time without ever exercising that rational discretion over responding to an instinctual desire for gratification now, and thus we have over population, obesity, panic and war.

The challenge facing humanity now is to make, as a species, the rational decision to take control of our own instincts and emotions, to listen to their advice and requests without handing them a casting vote, to choose the fish instead of the steak.

Except, now the fish is sharing resources and opportunities equally, accepting that many of the things we want we do not even slightly need and doing without them, the fish represents giving more to society than we take, giving up the destructive habits that damage our home, and the bank account we keep in the black is our grandchildren’s security and future and the advancement of humanity beyond it’s fragile cradle, and that satisfies the most fundamental biological drive of them all…survival of the species.

The curve, on the lip of which we teeter, offers destruction and degradation, possibly extinction, against the chance of the brightest of possible futures. Which way we slip depends heavily on our behaviour in this century. Oblivion or immortality.