Sunday, 26 June 2016

What Next?

Well, one question has been answered, narrowly, on Thursday night. I find myself full of questions.
  • If the Brexit 'out' vote was a protest against poor government and injustice, why hasn't there been more support for things like electoral reform, and concerted demands to address things like social inequality?
  • Now we have 'freedom,' what does that actually mean? Freedom for whom? What form does this freedom take? I certainly don't feel any freer today than I did on Wednesday.
  • If those who voted out hate elites and wished to topple an elitist government, why do so many seem happy to let another, probably worse, elite take over?
  • If the referendum was an example of democracy, why aren't we more worried about the undue influence of propaganda upon it? Isn't propaganda and demagogery anti-democratic?
  • What will happen if another few years roll by, there has been an erosion of workers rights, fracking has been going on a full pelt, social inequality is worse, our economy is still crap, top bosses are still walking away with huge bonuses when the rest of us are powerless and poverty stricken, and immigration has not been noticeably effected?
  • Are we really going to let xenophobic nationalism take over? Why do we find it easier to blame scapegoats for our problems as opposed to solving them?
  • Now that we have 'sovereignty' (whatever that means), what are we going to do with it?
  • Where do we go from here?

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Brexit: Why I am voting remain, Part Two

I was intending to write a second post that looked at the arguments that the Brexiteers have been making (there have been some reasoned ones, on the left and right, but also read counter arguments here and here).

 After reading a piece by Polly Toynbee in the Guardian I realise that the situation has gone beyond that. In fact, I think that Britain will probably vote out next week. And I think that this is folly.

Leaving the EU will not solve the problems that so many people seem furious about. In fact, there seem to me good reasons to think that it will make things worse.

My own political agenda is roughly as follows:  I want the sustained increase of true, representative, participatory democracy in culture, an economics that is post-growth, more scientifically sound and democratically accessible, the reduction of social inequality, and the creation of a culture that fosters creativity, imagination and wellbeing. I support extensive rewilding and ecological restoration for the benefit of human beings and other forms of life. Finally, I support a rapid transit from an unsustainable fossil fuel based civilization to a sustainable one based upon renewables and extensive automation.

Despite the EU's shortcomings, I agree with George Monbiot that membership is the lesser of two evils, and offers more opportunity to pursue these goals.  Caroline Lucas and John Ashton (The Guardian, Monday 13th June 2016) also seem correct when they claim that climate change can be most successfully tackled from within the EU. Our current collective attitude to global warming is roughly as follows:

I understand that many do not see climate change as a priority, but unfortunately, they are mistaken. Lucas and Ashton point out that "our security and prosperity depend on a successful response to climate change, the most urgent challenge of our time." The issue is the survival of our culture, our society and our technological civilization.

As far as national sovereignty is concerned, they point out that "our democracy is indeed broken. But it is we who have broken it, not the EU."

So the issue is how to push for significant democratic and social reform, and offer a robust program to tackle the CO2 crisis. As Naomi Klein points out in This Changes Everything, both issues are linked. A wholehearted response to climate change offers the best chance for social justice.

Political context matters a great deal here. If we were having the Brexit vote when a truly progressive government was in power, as a package that went along with electoral reform in the direction of proportional representation, strong environmental protection, a commitment to greater social equality and the rapid transition from a fossil-fuel economy to a renewable one, then I’d be far more likely to take the Brexit case seriously.

But since the vote is being offered by a government that is dedicated to eroding worker’s rights, abolishing environmental protections, increasing social inequality in favour of the one percent, persecuting the poor, and actually accelerating the CO2 crisis via destructive practices like fracking, I think that there are good reasons to suppose that these trends would worsen after Brexit. And in fact, a very reactionary Tory government seems inevitable in the case of a strong exit vote.

Unfortunately for all of us, there is no time for this. The serious problems of the 21st century say to me that we live together or die alone. Because there does not seem to me too much time left for humanity to get its act together, and build a truly sustainable and mature civilization.

Yesterday, the clouds gathered and there was torrential rain. Our village was flooded, just another example of the rash of extreme weather events that now seem commonplace. It felt like a warning.

We need to stop being ruled fear and anger, vote sensibly, and come together to create a better tomorrow.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Brexit: Why I am voting Remain, Part One

Nationalism is spurring Brexit
I was moved to write this after seeing that a facebook friend of mine had ‘liked’ a piece of nationalist propaganda by Britain First. The far-right group, apparently, objected to a council asking a local resident to take down all his George Cross flags from the front of his house. 

I’m saddened when an acquaintance of mine, however slight embraces, however unwittingly, British Fascism. I’m also saddened when intelligent friends of mine enthusiastically back Brexit in the hope of gaining ‘freedom’ without really thinking about whether that’s really true at all.

Clicking ‘like’ on a Britain First post is just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve lost count of the nice and mostly reasonable people I’ve heard who claim to be proud to be British and almost in the same breath condemn ‘immigrants.’ They all back Brexit, and seem to be outraged at the idea that we’re ‘ruled’ by Brussels. 

Many of those favouring Brexit that I talk to (and there’s no shortage of them in rural Lincolnshire) want to leave the European Union for three main reasons:

1. They don’t identify as European, they see themselves as British and the Europeans as Others, Foreigners.
2. They are afraid of the impact of immigration on British People.
3. They see the EU as tyrannical and threatening to British sovereignty and freedom.  In this narrative, We are undemocratically ruled over by Them.

Other people have offered much better arguments against 2 and 3 than I can. Owen Jones tackles immigration here, and Francis Pryor points out that the idea that the EU is like the Roman or Nazi Empires is just plain wrong.

There’s a vast difference between a voluntary federation working together for mutual benefit (which the British voted for, remember), and an Empire that’s held together by military force. So 3 is a spurious argument, promoted by irresponsible tabloids.

As far as immigration goes, I understand that the issues are complex in East Anglia. The presence of things like human trafficking in places like Wisbech has not helped. The driver seems to be the demand for the constant replenishment of goods in supermarkets, which requires cheap labour available at the drop of a hat.  But issues like this will not be solved by leaving the EU: far better, perhaps, to challenge our current business models, labour practises and patterns of consumer spending.

In my view, though, the biggest problem for the Remain campaign is the frankly terrifying rise of nationalism in the UK. If the UK leaves the EU, it will not be on rational grounds. It will be on a wave of nationalism.

Nationalism needs to be distinguished from patriotism. Patriotism is a healthy kinship for one’s place of birth, one’s fellow people and a sense of shared history. Nationalism is a toxic mix of fervent prejudice in favour of one’s country, seeing it as superior to all others, and xenophobia.

It is an extremely dangerous force, because a population that is whipped up by nationalistic fervour can do the most terrible things. Whilst it's true that current national sentiments seem nothing like as extreme as those in, say, Nazi Germany, the point is that any collective choice made in this state is not likely to be a wise one.

Unfortunately, and especially in troubled times like these, healthy patriotic feelings can very easily turn into nationalistic ones. The trigger for this is chronic fear and anger, which can easily be manipulated by the unscrupulous.

And there are plenty of unscrupulous people about.

It is very worrying, for example, that those in the Tory party who back Brexit seem to be doing so as part of a power struggle. The issue is far too important for this, and I think that it is being handled with incredible irresponsibility.

The tabloids also have a lot to answer for. For quite a some time now, most of them have been putting out pro-Brexit propaganda. The narratives focus on immigrants and also compare the situation to the UK’s defiance of Hitler in World War II.

Aldous Huxley wrote that this sort of propaganda “offers false, garbled or incomplete evidence, avoids logical argument and seeks to influence its victims by the mere repetition of catchwords, by the denunciation of foreign or domestic scapegoats [think immigrants and benefit ‘cheats’], and by cunningly associating the lowest passions with the highest ideals.” (Brave New World Revisited, p. 44).

In this debate, both sides have used propaganda of this sort to score points, but the Brexiters have done it more effectively.

The problem with this sort of propaganda is that it does not lead to well-reasoned conclusions, but ones based upon emotion and snap judgments. And even if you disagree with the sentiments, you can end up expending all your energy arguing about immigrants and National sovereignty, when these are not the most important issues at this time.

The important issues have much to do with the UK and Europe’s longer term survival in an era of growing environmental catastrophe, about the deepening of democracy within our different cultures, and whether we can build a civilization that is truly just and sustainable. Nationalism and xenophobia are destructive because they reflect an almost total lack of long term, constructive and expansive thinking, which are needed to tackle the important issues. So whatever your views on Europe, mindless nationalism must be fought.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

From Hierarchy to Network

I’ve been reading Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism recently, and have decided that I’m a network person as opposed to a hierarchy person.

Mason contrasts the hierarchical, command-and-control pyramids that permeate our politics, institutions and work culture with a potential future where networks predominate.

He suggests that the main political struggle of the twenty-first century will not be between the ‘left’ and ‘right’ as traditionally defined, but between cooperative networks facilitated by advanced IT technology and the older, authoritarian, hierarchical systems of capitalism. Although Mason does not state this, it seems to me that modern capitalism owes a lot to the feudal system, where the elite lords it over a larger, subservient serf population.

These two modes of thinking, network versus hierarchy, might represent something fundamental in the human psyche. Hierarchical thinking seems to me to owe much to primate dominance – think of the strict pecking order of a baboon troop. In human terms, this implies fierce competition for scarce resources, and a winner takes all mentality. Think Game of Thrones: you win or you die.

Network thinking is more like symbiosis; mutual cooperation to get needs met. By its nature, it’s win-win as opposed to win-lose. My suspicion is that humans have the capacity for both styles of being, and often mix them up on a day-to-day basis.

We live in a time when hierarchical systems predominate, in our political and work lives, and these are often maintained by violence. With those at the top commanding most of the power and resources, it might seem naïve to expect a network culture to ever emerge.

So I’m encouraged by the thought, expressed by biologists like Elisabet Sahtouris, that organisms within ecosystems evolve from hostile competition modes to that of peaceful cooperation.

If Sahtouris is right, then the struggle Mason discusses might in fact reflect a deeper, ecological reality. Because I believe that if we are to survive as a species, and solve our various, very serious problems, then it will be through the network mode.

And this is an encouraging thought. Because whereas someone wedded to the hierarchical way of thinking might want a Big Leader to ‘save us,’ the networking mentality says that we can begin, as individuals in communities, to make a difference.

We can’t expect salvation to come from above. As Naomi Klein makes clear in the case of climate change, our leaders do not care enough about the future of civilization to take the necessary action to save it, because they are too preoccupied with maintaining the existing structures of power and wealth.

So we must.