Category

political thought

The endgame

By political thought

Covid-19 is the latest setback for mankind after a year of forest fires and floods. WeThe end game are entering the end game, when human advance can no longer be taken for granted.

History is evolution in action. Human progress has been driven by individuals and communities striving for success in an evolutionary process. Those communities that thrive, propagate their   technologies, skills, organisational systems, knowledge and culture. The unique habits, language and mores of failed communities are lost forever.

The process is known as memetic (or cultural) evolution, and up to now it has been a fantastic biological success story. World population now exceeds 7.5 billion. Complex multi-tiered societies have been formed, amazing new technologies have been created and science has established an understanding of the workings of the universe. We live 3 times longer than our distant ancestors and have massively more stimulating and enjoyable lives. It is true there have been setbacks along the historical path. There have been devastating wars, life-wasting pandemics, famines due to harvest failures and horrendous natural disasters. But thus far humans have recovered from these events and moved on.

Successful communities have to acquire wealth to thrive. We see the force of the desire to both gain and spend money in our everyday existence. Families aspire to acquire nice homes and flash cars. Charities beg us for contributions. Companies compete to sell us ever-more technically advanced goods. The NHS pleads for more money to keep us all healthy.

In this globally interactive world, the rich are accumulating wealth at a rate never seen before. However, there is a limit to the amount of wealth that the Earth can provide.  It appears that the easy years of thriving are now behind us; for every advance there is a setback. Recent forest fires, cyclones, floods, financial disasters, pandemics and revolutions have all taken their toll.

We have reached a pivotal point in human history; it is now apparent that there are environmental limits to the improvement in the human condition. It is no longer possible to pretend that it will be all right on the night, that all the nations of the world will find ways of co-operating and overcoming the evolutionary dangers ahead. Memetic evolutionary forces are too strong. The national, community and individual desire to act in their own self-interest is too difficult to overcome on a global scale. The fact that Trump, Modi, Bolsonaro and many other climate-change deniers have been elected to power is a testament to the challenges ahead.

We are at the start of the end-game, when global wealth will not advance, life expectancy will deteriorate and humanitarian crises will proliferate. As we cope with the coming emergencies, we have big decisions ahead on the type of society we want to become.  The citizens of those nations who believe in liberal humanist values and the need to preserve the environment, need to reach out across national boundaries and work fervently to protect both our values and societies from the traumas that are coming.

Local Government is in crisis

By political thought

Local democracy is in crisisLocal democracy is in deep crisis. Starved of funds by central government, but still with the same legal responsibilities, it is struggling to cope with the many problems laid at its door.  Disconnected with its electorate (only a third of people vote in local elections), it is failing to provide adequate leadership. Council services are failing across the country. How have we got in this mess?

The BBC asked people why they don’t vote: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-47666080. The responses they received should not be a surprise:

  • Many of the people we speak to feel there is a disconnect between politics and their everyday lives. Everyone has issues they care about, from local planning and leisure facilities to bin collections and schools, but it can be difficult to identify how local councils operate and affect these issues.
  • There is also little national attention paid to the role councils and councillors play in communities. While national politics continues to dominate headlines, it can appear that change can only happen via Westminster – and those making decisions at a local level are neglected of the due attention, and scrutiny, they deserve.
  • When you have one party dominating in an area it can be hugely off-putting, with many people feeling like their votes don’t count and it’s not worth turning out.

We desperately need to re-establish effective local government. The whole political process needs a complete rethink. Reform should be based on three criteria:

  1. Clear accountability- responsibility for many services is divided between central and local government. Local government should have clear areas of responsibility and the powers to raise money to manage them.
  2. A clear distinction between governance and representation- the leaders of those in government should be directly elected with powers to act. In an extension of the local mayor system, local responsibility of individuals should be emphasised. Those who represent should have the power to hold officials to account. The role of national political parties should be minimised.
  3. A need to engender a local community spirit and pride- local government services should be integrated with those of the charity and voluntary sectors to tackle local issues in an innovative, inclusive and cost-effective fashion.

Only when we reconfigure our local political system will we get the active and positive community governance that we need.

Optimism

By political thought

Optimism - the signpost to disasterBoris Johnson’s recipe for the future of the UK is clearly based on energy and optimism. The belief that if you think something will happen, put aside negative thoughts and stride forward with enthusiasm, you will succeed. However, if the direction is wrong and there is not sufficient analysis and forethought, it is also a recipe for disaster. A splendid piece by Tim Lott in the Guardian warns of the dangers ahead.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jul/24/boris-johnson-optimism-sales-pitch-only-disappoint.

He says that too often:

optimism leads to disappointment- attended by its henchmen, bitterness and resentment … If optimism does not produce the desired results, then optimism itself has been sabotaged – not by realists but by the pessimists, otherwise known as traitors.

Optimism and an appeal to national fervour are the building blocks of populism. The belief that if our nation/race/religion all band together we will overcome all obstacles and triumph over others. It is attractive to many because it appeals to deeply held tribal instincts.

However, if we are to seriously address the critical issues of our society such as climate change, an aging population, the gig economy and increasing wealth disparity, optimism alone will not succeed.  It will inevitably lead to further divisions within society, less and less rational action and diminishing international cooperation. We need a more thoughtful approach based on shared human values. Optimism and its cohort populism are dangerous.  They represent the antithesis of the principles of eco-humanity and will inevitably result in a poorer, more divided world that continues to destroy the planet.

The issue of immigration

By political thought

The issue of immigration brings into focus the developing confrontation between liberal humanist values and nationalist instincts.  Increasing levels of immigrants from different cultures have fuelled the rise in populism across the world. As a result, the international cooperation necessary to save the planet is becoming even more difficult to achieve.

The Turk Umut Ozkurmh has been pondering the rise of the far right in Sweden, where he lives. This paragraph from  his article in the Guardian is worth quoting:

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/23/cosmopolitan-sweden-far-right-refuge-europe

I had to understand that the central question is, as the Swedish historian Lars Trägårdh puts it, whether it is possible to resolve the fundamental tension between, on the one side, “universal moral rules founded in notions of human rights”, and on the other, “nationally bounded claims derived from the idea of citizenship in particular nation states”.

My answer is yes, and the formula is simple: emphasise the connection between rights and duties; speed up the process of integration of newcomers (refugees or migrants) without demanding that they fully assimilate into the dominant culture, but asking them to respect the existing social contract; foster a sense of common destiny that does not necessarily require myths of common ancestry; and engage with the demand for recognition in a fair and equal way, without privileging either minorities or majorities.

Governments of the world should listen to his views  and act accordingly to avert future strife.

How can it be morally justified to risk the future lives of our children?

By Climate Change, political thought

How can it be morally justified to risk the future lives of our children? The biological purpose of human existence is the preservation of our species, and yet somehow the threat of climate change doesn’t register as an overwhelming moral issue.  Religious authorities are supposed set moral standards, and yet Evangelical religions and the Catholic Church are much more concerned with today’s unborn children than worrying about the prospects for future generations. How can this be so?

We are suffering a crisis of moral leadership. Our religious and political leaders are overwhelmed by their own issues born of past events. No one is looking at the big picture or is statesman enough to  to lead us safely through the year’s ahead.

We have been told that we should cut back on flying and eating meat if we are to have a chance of reducing carbon emissions to zero. If we had leaders who exercised moral authority and showed their commitment by changing their own lifestyle, then perhaps the public at large would follow.  Right now, we seem to be stuck in a moral abyss and drifting towards ecological tragedy.

Racial hatred is a cultural issue

By political thought

Homo sapiens is a tribal species with a dangerous propensity to unite ‘us’ against ’the rest’.  Our history is marred with despicable acts of cruelty, as contact between different hunter-gatherer bands, tribes and states turned into inter-community hatred and violence. Since the Enlightenment the level of violent conflict has declined and the major powers of the world have learned to live in peace with each other. However, inter-community hatred is still present and can bubble up at any time. When combined with differences in physical characteristics this inter-community antagonism is known as racism.

Those in the Eugenics movement in the early twentieth century tried to show that this racial division had a scientific basis; that different races were essentially different species. This has since been disproved; we now know we are all one species that emerged some 200,000 years ago in Africa. The latest proof comes from David Reich in his book Who We are and How We got Here.  He has shown conclusively that the makeup of our DNA is a result of tens of thousands of years of intermixing of peoples from different geographical regions. Differences in skin colour and facial and physical characteristics between people from different countries account for only one sixth of the natural variation in DNA between humans.

Racial hatred is a cultural issue that has no scientific validity. This does not mean that it does not exist or is not important. It is part of our inherited tribal behaviour; it can only be overcome by changing cultural habits. Groups of humans always have a choice about the way they interact with other groups; they can compete or co-operate. In our globally integrated world competition that leads to hatred and violence is especially destructive. This is why developing a culture that can unite people of different cultures, religions and nations is so important for the future of mankind.