Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Ushering in a new political age

There is a need for a change in the way we think about politics in society; for instance, there is an assumption that one has to be a ‘professional’ politician to get anywhere.  This is, to a certain extent, true.  To truly understand politics, one must first have studied the subject and understand the philosophical underpinnings as well as the ideological underpinnings of the chosen party one wishes to represent; this requires money to attend university courses and afford all of the associated costs inherent in being a student…or does it?  Surely, the truth of the matter is that all that is required of someone is the interest in politics and the willingness to read up on the subject which can be done in the privacy of one’s own home?  The only reason one would have to go to university for a politics course is the snobbery of the ‘professional’ politician who would look down on the enthusiastic but motivated amateur as less able to grasp the concepts of their subject.
Assuming one could successfully clear the first hurdle of preparing oneself for one’s foray into the political arena with the ‘professional’ jackals, the next problem is how to deal with the tribalism that is inherent in most modern democracies.  Is there actually a party that reflects one’s world view?  There is, in the UK at least, the choice of three main parties reflecting the moderate left (Labour), the moderate right (Conservatives) and the centre ground (Liberal Democrats). I call Labour and the Conservatives moderate in their approach simply to separate them from the extreme ends of the political spectrum (the British National Party, the Communist Party) and not necessarily because their entire membership or range of views are all moderate.  These three main parties may not really be to one’s taste with regards to their world view but there are plenty of smaller parties, however, there is less chance of wielding any real power with them.
Having successfully clearing those hurdles, one finds oneself as an elected representative but this is where the entire system starts to break down and where the biggest change is needed.  Taking the UK as an example, it only requires watching five minutes of Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) to see that the tribal nature of politics stops any meaningful work being done as there is a constant battle between the parties of a sort that would not look out of place in a school playground – jeering, shouting, braying and bleating.  This tribalism bleeds into the entire election process with political point scoring, the ‘blame game’ and, in some cases, outright slander, all with a view to grasping power.  The constant circus of regular elections means that the ‘professional’ politicians seek the most popular, vote grabbing ideas rather than doing what’s best for the country as all they are really bothered with is getting re-elected.  I am not, however, advocating the scrapping of regular elections in favour of a dictatorship, however benign it may be.  I am, however, putting the case for the abandonment of tribalism in favour of the citizenry of the UK electing representatives who are willing to put aside their ideological differences and work together in the best interests of the country.
At the moment, we live in a society that is ruled by the politics of fear, the politics of scapegoating and the politics of self-interest.  The current partisan system requires that a group of people are seen as ‘the enemy’ of a well-run, orderly and affluent society, in order to deflect the blame from the ‘professional’ politicians who are usually to blame.  To take a current example – the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition Government first blames the previous Labour administration who allowed public borrowing to escalate and then looks towards the ‘underclass’ of benefit recipients as a burden, a leech on the coffers of the Treasury.  Crass generalisations are made about benefit claimants by both sides of the political divide in an attempt to put the blame on the poorest in society.  “The benefits system must be changed,” cry the politicians and the burden of the current cuts to public spending fall on the shoulders of those who are least able to bear them.
‘Spongers’ is an oft-used term for people on benefit but, in most cases, the recipients of benefits are far from wanting to be reliant on what meagre funds are given to them by the State.  Many people would like to get back to work but are stymied in their efforts to gain employment for reasons as diverse as lack of academic qualifications, stigma and prejudice.  They are, however, made the scapegoats for reasons of requiring an enemy for their followers to hang all the problems of society on.
This situation is intolerable.  The UK has several hundred Members of Parliament who are in a constant struggle to gain or re-gain power by creating enemies for the general population to project their collective shadow on.  Surely, it would be better if they all worked together to solve the problems rather than back-biting each other and scapegoating whole sections of society?  If the current contingent of MPs had only half a brain each, there would still be around three hundred brains that could be put to better use solving society’s problems.
The situation is made worse by the fact that the ‘professional’ politicians are onto a good thing with fairly large salaries, far larger than most people in the UK will ever see, and they have the added perks that come with the job.  Some MPs even come from moneyed backgrounds so have little conception of the ‘real’ world that the people they represent live in day-to-day.  And, behind it all, is the fiction that you have to be a ‘professional’ politician to make a difference, to engage in the political arena; a fiction that ‘professional’ politicians are only too eager to maintain to protect their little empire and the benefits they enjoy.
What is needed, right now, is a new way to think regarding politics and who we elect to govern us.  We need to look at the political ideologies we have available to us, stripped bare of the partisan tribalism and create a new vision from the best each one has to offer.  We need to elect representatives who will adhere to the principles of justice and fairness to all, and not just the favoured few.  We need to usher in a New Age of politics – the age of the politics of aspiration, the politics of hope and the politics of equality.
Until next time…

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Standing on the shoulders of giants

My new project, The Enlightenment Project, whilst trying to work out solutions to the problems the world is facing in whatever new perspectives the members can discover, will also be looking at the great thinkers of the human race and their perspectives as no one wants to reinvent the wheel.  This is a necessary and quite useful process as I discovered to my advantage in my current reading.  It was not that I discovered any solutions but, in just a few words, two of the writers I am reading the works of have summed up some underlying truth of our society.
The first piece is from CG Jung’s book The Undiscovered Self which seems to paint an accurate picture of today’s society.  Jung first writes about the fact that we are increasingly being taught to think in terms of averages, what in science is called ‘the line of best fit’, and that we ignore the individual results that fall either side of that line.  Jung believed that we have, thanks to a kind of mass-mindedness, done the same thing to people.  “I am not a number,” declares Number 6 in the TV series The Prisoner but this is not a declaration we can make in this day and age as we are being reduced to the status of mere soulless statistics.  Jung’s picture of today’s society is eerily accurate for a book written in 1957 as can be seen in the extract below.
The goal and meaning of individual life (which is the only real life) no longer lie in individual development but in the policy of the State, which is thrust upon the individual from outside and consists in the execution of an abstract idea which ultimately tends to attract all life to itself.  The individual is increasingly deprived of the moral decision as to how he should live his own life, and instead is ruled, fed, clothed and educated as a social unit, accommodated in the appropriate housing unit, and amused in accordance with the standards that give pleasure and satisfaction to the masses.
(page 8, The Undiscovered Self by CG Jung, Routledge Classics)
The rest of The Undiscovered Self is Jung’s attempt to show us the way to resist this mass-mindedness and is a very good read for those who wish to join me in the project.
The second piece is from Michel Foucault’s book Madness and Civilization that in a short section throws some light on the stigma faced by people with mental health issues.  Confusingly, the book starts off discussing the plight of lepers and how society almost completely eradicated leprosy by excluding them, banishing them from the rest of society into communities of similarly afflicted people.  The Church aided in this by performing rites which conferred upon the act of exclusion, the notion of it being the road to the lepers’ salvation; as Foucault puts it - “Abandonment is his salvation; his exclusion offers him another form of communion.”  But how is this related to people with mental health issues?  As Foucault explains:
Leprosy disappeared, the leper vanished, or almost, from memory; these structures remained.  Often, in these same places, the formulas of exclusion would be repeated, strangely similar two or three centuries later.  Poor vagabonds, criminals, and “deranged minds” would take the part played by the leper…
…With an altogether new meaning and in a very different culture, the forms would remain – essentially that major form of a rigorous division which is social exclusion but spiritual reintegration.
(page 5, Madness and Civilization by Michel Foucault, Routledge Classics)
As we can see from this extract, the seeds of today’s stigmatisation of people with mental health issues can be traced back to the time of the almost total eradication of leprosy.  Are we really that uncivilised and un-evolved that we will allow such old prejudices to rule our current society’s worldview?
From reading just two writers’ books, I can see the world from a new perspective with new understanding of what problems we are facing and that will enable me to try to tackle not just the visible problem but the underlying contributory factors that make up the visible problem.  So, as you can see, there is wisdom in being guided by the great thinkers of the past, for it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants that we can see the brighter future on the distant horizon.
If you want to join me as a member of The Enlightenment Project, contact me at valen1971@hotmail.co.uk.
Below is a list of recommended reading for you with the ISBNs.

Books I’ve Already Read

Politics by Andrew Heywood (ISBN 0-333-97131-0)
Political Ideologies by Andrew Heywood (ISBN 0-333-69887-8)
Memories, Dreams, Reflections by CG Jung (ISBN 978-0-00-654027-4)
The Undiscovered Self by CG Jung (ISBN 978-0-415-27839-3)
Gaia – A New Look At Life On Earth by James Lovelock (ISBN 0-19-286218-9)

Books I’m Reading Now

Madness and Civilization by Michel Foucault (ISBN 978-0-415-25385-7)

Books I’m Going To Read

Trying Hard Is Not Good Enough by Mark Friedman (ISBN 978-1-4392-3786-1)
On Dialogue by David Bohm (ISBN 978-0-415-33641-3)
The Sane Society by Erich Fromm (ISBN 978-0-415-27098-4)
Wickedness by Mary Midgley (ISBN 978-0-415-25398-7)
Education and the Social Order by Bertrand Russell (ISBN 978-0-415-48735-1)
On Education by Bertrand Russell (ISBN 978-0-415-48740-5)
The Open Society And Its Enemies by Karl Popper (ISBN 978-0-415-61021-6)
Until next time…

Friday, 13 January 2012

What is The Enlightenment Project?

So, what is The Enlightenment Project? 
Put simply, the project is going to be a group of amateurs who will look at various aspects of today’s society – politics, economics, etc. – with a view to working out the problems with which we are faced.  The idea is for The Enlightenment Project to completely change the way that we face our problems and solve them in a way which is in the best interests of everyone and not just the privileged few.
The group who look at politics, for example, will look at the political ideologies that form the basis of the political parties but without the muddying influences of party politics.  Looking at the various ideologies, the group will then take the best aspects of all of them and seek to find a way to combine them into a new, fresh approach to politics which will then be used as the basis for a new political movement.  If successful, the resultant movement will be in a position to mould the political landscape for the betterment of the entire population.  The group looking into economics will have a similar function and so on.
The Enlightenment Project will not just look at politics, economics, etc., though.  There will be groups within the project looking at alternative energy production, the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence, art, the sciences, literature, philosophy and the so-called heretical sciences as well.  Each group will look at finding new perspectives in their chosen subject whilst writing papers on their deliberations for publication in a project magazine that will be considered as a beginner’s guide to everything, a place for debate and argument on the various subjects.
It is time for the human race to look at society, culture, the Universe and ourselves with a critical eye and the willingness to have an open mind.  We have to find new ways to solve our problems or we will be destroyed by them.  The Enlightenment Project is a step towards a better way of thinking, without the blinkered view of the so-called ‘experts’.  The members of the project will allow themselves to be guided by the teachings of a wide variety of experts but not to the point that they will be unable to create a synthesis of those teachings in a new and vibrant world view.
I hope some of you will join me in this work.
Until next time…

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Where I'm coming from

Before I launch into my new era of campaigning I thought it would be a good idea to give you an idea of where I’m coming from so below is a short biography of my journey so far.
All my life I had been essentially directionless and feeling as if there was something missing in my life, a missing piece of the puzzle that is me.  I’m sure that would have been the pattern of my whole existence if it had not been for two very important events.  The first event was meeting, in 1995, J Michael Straczynski, the creator of sci-fi series “Babylon 5”, who was able to put substance to the ghost that was haunting my life.  He was explaining the mystery behind two of the characters in his show, one of whom asks “what do you want?” and the other who asks “who are you?”, questions that were asked in that order across the first two seasons.  Straczynski explained that the characters who answered the first question did so without knowing the answer to the second and that, without that knowledge, were doomed to make bad choices because, unless you know who you are, how can you really know what you want?  This simple truth was a revelation to me as it was the answer to what was missing in my life in a few simple words, two questions that would unlock my spiritual cage and set me off on my journey of self-discovery.  I have not yet found out the answer to the question of who I am but it has given me some kind of direction where once I had none and I believe that the journey is more important than the destination.
Taking a quick step back for a moment before I describe the second event that changed my life, I must explain a peculiarity of my personality.  I have always been aware of having two competing personalities within my own, one is the scientific and the other the philosopher, and between the two there are diametrically opposed points of view.  I have to say at this juncture that I am not talking about having a case of Multiple Personality Disorder, merely a heightened form of the human capacity to have two different personalities to suit the social situation.  This dual personality is shared by everyone to some degree, it allows us to put up with people we can barely stand or otherwise have to get on with even if we have an aversion to them.  Not everyone, however, has two competing personalities that are so opposed to each other.  The turmoil that rages within me from holding two such violently opposing personalities is, as you can imagine, very hard although it has provided me with the ability to see all points of view on issues and has given me a high degree of creativity too.
I was under the impression that I was alone in my affliction until, in 2005, I read a book on CG Jung and his theories.  It gave me the first hint that there was someone out there who knew what it was like to have such division in their mind.  I immediately took to Jung and his theories and decided to seek out a copy of his autobiography, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”.  It was a long search but, in 2009, I found a copy and it was a revelation on par with my meeting with Straczynski.  I felt a kinship with Jung that I have never felt with anyone in my life; his world view, his personality, everything he was struck a chord in my soul.  I will never be half the man Jung was, but what part I could achieve would be a testament to his influence on my development.
I have had other influences on my personality but Straczynski and Jung have been the greatest.  Between meeting Straczynski and finding Jung, I became interested in politics, specifically political ideologies, and, from my interest in them, I became interested in philosophy, theology and anthropology.  Together with my life-long interest in psychology, my studies in these areas have informed my creative efforts and my spiritual journey to find the answers to not only who I am and what I want but also what it is to be human and what needs to be done to change the world for the better.
I once started a magazine to explore every subject under the sun, a beginner’s guide to everything if you will.  It was to act as a place for people to discuss and debate, for amateurs to be helped by those with expertise in the subjects we covered and for the experts to gain an outsiders view of their subjects from amateurs.  The magazine was called Enlightenment.  I have always thought that to be an apt title and so my new project will be called the Enlightenment Project.  I hope you will be interested enough to join me on my journey.
Until next time…