Thursday, 10 December 2015

Political scheming

A short post this time - just to flag up a very good article from Owen Jones in The Guardian about the  various ways that the Tories have successfully manipulated the truth in various issues over recent years.

My favourite quote from the article is below:

"Illusions are what the Tories excel at. They back Labour’s spending – down to the last penny – when in opposition, then in government claim that it was financial extravagance that plunged the country into economic chaos. The crash may have originated in Britain’s financial hub, a sector whose lavish donations keep the Conservatives financially afloat, but Cameron and Osborne skilfully transformed a crisis of the market into a crisis caused by state spending. A failing of laissez-faire economics was spun into a historic opportunity to scale back the state."

For me, this is the key fact about the last few years of Conservative (including the coalition) government, and I find it almost unbelievable that the media and the general public in the UK have swallowed whole the Tories' narrative about austerity and why the cuts were needed, when it is so obviously a none-too-subtle smokescreen to enable them to push through the ideological cuts and further dismantling of the state that they had so yearned to complete after Thatcherism.

We need to make more noise about this false narrative, as everyone has been mislead, and the country is suffering for it.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Where's the fight?

The General Election result in May 2015 was a shock for anyone of a vaguely progressive bent.  It was more than just a shock though – it brought about a sense of profound dread as to what this group of Conservatives would do to our country and society once they had disentangled themselves from the shackles of a coalition government.

This Government (and the powerful array of mainstream media that support them) appears driven by a fervent ideological desire to bring about a market society – to treat every aspect of human life as a function of economics – under the assumption that every person is naturally just interested in furthering their own needs, and that anything that gets in the way of this should be attacked or dismantled.

The current breed of Tories at the top of this government also want to use this opportunity to aggressively pursue a range of other traditionalist conservative prejudices – from the promotion of fox hunting through to the destruction of the BBC.

As I write this, proposals are being discussed to dismantle some of our most cherished and respected institutions – including the NHS, education system, welfare state and BBC

The scale of these attacks is unprecedented since the war.  They attempt to do things that even Thatcher at her most bullish thought were a bit much.

And once these things are gone, we’re unlikely to get them back.  It took two world wars for some of the countries of Europe (including Britain) to realise that there was such a thing as society, that life for everyone would be better if we looked after each other and to make the investment in creating institutions that would achieve this, like the welfare state.   So, without another epoch-defining event, we are unlikely to get to that point of ‘a society fit for people’ again – so this truly is a battle of life and death for some of these institutions.

Needless to say, what’s happening under this current Government makes me dismayed and angry. But what annoys (and mystifies) me most about these developments is the terrifying lack of dissenting voices or, heaven forbid, action in response to them. 

Is it because everyone is happy with what’s happening here?  Surely not.  Is the lack of action due to ignorance of what’s being done in our name (on a paper thin mandate based on a tiny majority)?  Is it because the dominant voices of the mainstream media and the state make it difficult for any dissenting voices to cut through to the public to challenge their views?  Or have we been battered into submission by the steady barrage of attacks on progressive society that took place during the 5 years of the coalition?

It is of course a mixture of these things, plus another potent overarching influence – the fact that, over several decades, we have already slipped into a society where the emphasis is on pursuing our own individual needs (and lambasting any groups, institutions and individuals that could compromise them in any way), rather than seeing ourselves as part of a mutually supportive group, in which an important aspect of living a good life is to contribute towards the common good.

Perhaps we simply aren’t shocked about this stuff anymore as we’ve stopped questioning or resisting the overall narrative that’s being offered to us.

But we must resist it – and this may be our final chance before the things that we hold dear vanish before our eyes.   So, who’s prepared to fight for them – and for each other?

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Where next for progressive politics?

I've just caught up with a very interesting post by Neal Lawson on OpenDemocracy today. 

The article asks how the Labour Party should  move forward in the light of it's devastating defeat in the 2015 General Election - not simply as a votewinning machine but as a true political force that can deliver a progressive, fair future within the transformed political and cultural landscape of Britain in 2015.

The article provides a useful, credible analysis of the situation and of the best way forward for the party and progressive politics in general.   It also supported my own overall sense that politics has changed and that it makes no sense for progressives (the term 'the left' is redundant now) to build themselves around a party any more.  Rather, it needs to work the other way round - we need a political entity (a party) to represent the vision of a diverse progressive movement (from online platforms such as 38 Degrees to members of the well-being movement). 

And this representative 'big tent' role could be the best future for the Labour Party.

Read the article here.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Change is hard

Change can be difficult to achieve.  Change on a global scale can be very difficult to achieve - perhaps even impossible.  And, despite what we may want to think as campaigners, we may not be in control of all the levers that need to be pulled to achieve the change we want - in fact, we may have no influence over some of them at all.

I think these are important realities for campaigners to face up to - particularly those battling certain global issues, like climate change - as they could help them to set more realistic expectations, communicate better and prioritise their activities better.  
Click on this link to see how this applies to the prospects for change on the issue of climate change and energy consumption - as developed in 'The Story of Energy' for Life Squared.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The commodification of wisdom

I like what the School of Life is trying to do - bringing philosophy, wisdom and broader thought into our daily lives.  Indeed, Life Squared shares a similar aim in much of its work. 

Where we differ (apart from size, finances etc!) is that Life Squared is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to offer its ideas and output to anyone who needs it, regardless of their ability to pay - whereas the School of Life is a business, offering its wisdom only to those who can afford it.  This is not a criticism in itself - it's a business with a positive social outcome. 

But I worry that the finance-generating side of the business could be diluting the credibility of their content. 

It was seeing some of their new products in a local shop that made me feel sufficiently queasy to write a post on it.  These products include 6 pencils, each embossed with a 'key word' (such as 'tragedy') from psychoanalysis, literature and visual art - all for the sum of £12.  Or a set of 3 essentially blank note books for £15. 

Not only does this seem like a lot to pay for very little, but surely it also contradicts some of the wisdom and ideas that they are trying to spread to people?  And also by commodifying these ideas in a rather throw-away manner like this it feels like the SOL leaves itself open to accusations of being inauthentic, which may reduce its credibility as a source of wisdom and stimulating, challenging ideas.  Just a thought.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Consuming experiences, not stuff, is still consumerism

I went to an interesting talk at the RSA today by James Wallman who has just published a book called 'Stuffocation'. His basic argument was that in the society of scarcity of around a generation ago, what mattered in life was having more stuff – i.e. in a society of scarcity, materialism is not a dirty word.

But as we have moved into a society of plenty, materialism and 'more stuff' are no longer the answer to the question of 'What will make us happy?'. So far, so good.

He goes on to suggest that, in our society of plenty, what we do is now more important than what we have in terms of its contribution to our happiness. He therefore advocates the idea of 'experientialism' – of seeking experiences rather than new stuff.

He made some interesting arguments but the trouble is he didn't go far enough. He was careful to state that he didn't want his ideas to be seen as anti-consumerist – but why not? The only way they would have any real value is if they were anti-consumerist. Otherwise, he is simply shifting the problem of consumption from stuff to experiences. We'll be on a treadmill seeking the next new experience and trying to find the money and lifestyles to enable these experiences to happen, and rather than enjoying our experiences our lives will become a list of experiences to try and tick off. It'll be no different to our attitudes towards stuff today. And in fact we already have this attitude towards experiences! See the forthcoming Life Squared booklet 'How to achieve less' – out at the end of the year – for more details on this issue.

The problem we have in the modern world is about much more than having too much stuff and the fact that this doesn't make us happy. The broader problem is the fact that our lives are focussed on acquiring this stuff and of chasing a particular vision of 'the good life' that seeks us to acquire more. The point is that we're making too many sacrifices in terms of our personal identities, autonomy, stress levels and fulfilment in order to chase this pointless acquisition.

We live in a bubble in the modern world. We need to help people burst this bubble and live truly autonomous lives. That is the only way we'll lead the fulfilled lives we really want – and sadly just changing our consumption from stuff to experiences won't do this.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Listen, don't change

I was at the Compass Change:How? conference today and was struck by a few things in a discussion we had about 'why it's so hard getting people to change'.  By this it meant getting members of the public to take action for a more progressive, sustainable (etc.) world.

The first thing that struck me was the way that many people seeking change on progressive issues seem to believe there are two sets of people - first, us - the people seeking a better world, who are ethical, intelligent, well-informed and see the world for how it really is, and them - the general public that we are trying to influence - who aren't so enlightened and don't care so much.  This assumption is deeply condescending to other people and completely untrue.  And is perhaps at the root of our problem of why we find it so hard to gain social change.

The second thing that interested me directly follows from this point - it was the assumption we have as 'change seekers' that other people need to be 'changed' in some way - in other words, the idea that we need to shift them from their current position to another one, because we don't approve of their current position.  When we articulate it like this, it's not hard to see why we're having problems gaining social change on key issues - because we're trying to herd people into opinions and actions that they're not currently prepared to take, and we're doing so in a way that pays little attention or respect to what they think.

These observations gained greater credibility in my mind as one member of the conference suggested that the best way he had found to gain change was to actually ask people what matters to them and then to listen to their views properly and respectfully - and then try to find a course of action that takes account of these.  It's really no surprise that this should be one of the most successful ways of gaining change as it doesn't try to change people - it tries to change issues by focussing on the things that people care about.

But this idea of 'listening to people' has its risks for the progressive change makers.  I hear many progressive voices saying that we must become more democratic and let people have a voice - but at the same time they want people to hold particular views and behave in particular ways.  These two aims are conflicting - it's one or the other.

As people seeking change, we've got to work out what we want from people.  If democracy matters to us and we want to let people have a voice we have to do this whilst understanding that people may choose some things we don't like as progressives. 

These are just thoughts I'm chewing over at the moment, and I've not formed a definitive opinion on them but they do provide food for thought....