Ouch it hurts! By accident, we have swallowed a whole arsenal of silver bullets. Now democracy is kicked around like a limp old football. Here are some rather very unfinished thoughts about UK Democracy Inc.
There are many worldviews
A few weeks back I reported from Deborah Stone’s book “Policy Paradox” about the three worldviews underlying political action: radical, liberal and conservative. If a certain political system is in power, with them, their worldview is in power too. This partially happens because, naturally, the voters have decided and the better wins so to speak (notwithstanding the voting system favouring certain power to emerge and certain powers to be subdued). But partially also because of associations the political parties spread through machineries of influences: media and marketing. Reality is malleable after all. Fake facts. What are facts? Is a question to ask in today’s many realities. I put some of my thoughts on that subject of “truth and data” in a previous blogpost. Thing is, as hard as it is to swallow (after all, all we desire is certainty!) it always comes back to ethical systems: the (yours, others) underlying worldview(s). Ethics. Your own position. Knowing your own position and feeling comfortable with it.
The unsolved uncertainties of modern life
With the age of industrialisation our (western, white) world has become more uncertain, social conventions have broken away, and we navigate the big plains of social life like nomads without a compass or map. We feel helpless. We have to literally chart new pathways, new forms of living. We are explorers when really we want is an “easy life”. Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim vividly describes these ever-new and personal beginnings in her literature. Uncertainty seeks stability though. Through planning ahead modern wo/man tries to compensate –thereby paradoxically running the risk of sucking the last remaining adventure (uncertainty) from their everyday lives.
The question also persists how to deal with that uncertainty in relation to political forms. Periods of unrest and uncertainty bring with them reordering and reorientation, social and/or political. Uncertainty, periods of fear, see whole nations becoming susceptible to cheap plastic nationalism, when a grounding in community would provide real lasting stability. The human mind seeks community (that is the physical and mental presence other humans) for shelter and reassurance. It is a basic need. We are social animals after all; and we wither and even die through lack of social contact. The quest for other humans can result in getting lost in virtual social bubbles or it can happen “in the street”: neighbours offering neighbourliness. The real life brings physical and mental stability, the social bubble only mental stability with a lack of physicality. We simply (as yet) cannot physically pop round to the neighbour’s house in moments of crisis, sitting down over a cuppa and discuss strive and circumstance face to face, on facebook, twitter or instagram. Physical reassurance, the possibility of physical help, however is vital for a grounded unfearing social life.
The powerful path of fear politics
Today, it appears that our current political path is one of ungrounded fear. History has shown that susceptibility to seek stability in authoritarian conservatism is a path well trodden. In many ways it is the easy option for the politicians to promote and the individual to accept too. We yearn for a strict father (confer with George Lakoff) who has a map and knows the future path so well. You lead, we follow.
Enter capitalism. Capitalism with its inherent consumerisms and individualisation has torn apart society so much, we do not know our neighbour any more, other than wanting to be better than them. Blame the Jones’. A radical politics of care and community becomes more distant.
Just like the automobile has rearranged our brains to become dependent to the point of unnecessary sacrificing of lives for the upkeep of the automobile system (Urry, Knoflacher), capitalism has flattened out society so much it can now willingly receive authoritarian political forms (political sciences of Foucault, Harvey and many, many others).
Humans in the vice: personal and political
A few lines above I wrote “We are social animals after all”. What happened to the human, the social animal? Arno Gruen’s writing gives answers. When our society started valuing money and power for power’s sake, as a matter of symmetry it had to devalue basic human needs. This means that humans had to divert their deep need for social exchange and community by serving the system of power as pawns on a political chess board. We have become slaves to the system. We had to deny ourselves. We denied ourselves our own humanity. We do not know ourselves, we have become strangers to ourselves.
In his book “The madness of normality” psychoanalyst Arno Gruen writes “The madness of the so-called realists is their denial of humanity and human needs under the veil of a deep care for humanity. … Instead of a real and authentic self these realists only feel a void. To fill that void and to flee their inner turmoil, they have to destroy life, so that they can feel alive again.”
In summary, we live in a fissured world with diminishing ethical values for humanity and planet. A path which has consistently been paved by capitalism and the low value it places on humanity and the environment we depend on. We, as individuals, try to politicially compensate by seeking strong leadership (to get us out of this mess). In times of crises and fear there is urgency… the search hence may happen without a reflection of the situation. We are trying to personally compensate by becoming part of the machinery. Looking inside yourself to unbury your true self would demand personal energy and effort. We may be held back to do our inner digging because we already know that we do not like what we may find.
History tells us that a political power pendulum keeps swinging. Somewhere on the range between authoritarian-conservative to egalitarian-radical. When it will swing back in the UK (from its conservative position towards the humanity of radical politics) is only a matter of time. Recent history also tells us that democracy does not sustain itself, it needs supporters, watchers and defenders. It vanishes when not attended to carefully. We need to either fight for it or table alternatives.
Above quote is translated from the original German text by Arno Gruen “Der Wahnsinn der Normalität”, dtv, 1999:
Der Wahnsinn der “Realisten” ist ihre Leugnung des Menschlichen under dem Deckmantel der Sorge für den Menschen. … [A]nstelle eines lebendigen Selbst fühlen sie nur Leere. Um dieser Leere und dem inneren Chaos zu entkommen, müssen sie Leben um sich her zerstören, nur dadurch fühlen sie sich lebendig.