Could the goodies lose?

I’m sure that one of the formative influences of my life was watching Westerns on the new medium of TV. You know the story. It was always about the goodies and the baddies. The baddies got together in gangs, and got more of their share by force, imposing their will on the goodies, who were well meaning but ineffectual. Then along came the hero(es), who sorted out the baddies and gave them their just desserts. The goodies won.

Can the goodies win in real life? If we look at history who were the goodies? The indigenous peoples who lived a sustainable life over thousands of years in sympathy with nature? They lost bigtime, their lands and precious artifacts, even their lives, stolen by Europeans over hundreds of years, who look suspiciously like baddies.

The winners of wars against the likes of Napoleon and Hitler? So many baddish acts to rid the world of the worst sort of baddie. Hardly goodies.

The creators of political systems out of the ashes of wars – the American constitution, the UN, the welfare states, the German constitution, the Marshall Plan. Yes, these look very much like goodies.

The thing is, this is not a symmetrical polarity, as might appear. Goodies are, well, good. They do the right thing in all their dealings. They are driven by conscience and abhor bad acts. They are even inclined to give baddies the benefit of the doubt. They recognise the bad in themselves.

On the other hand, baddies are bad, and have no conscience. Baddies always do what will benefit themselves and those who profess loyalty. And they will do whatever it takes. They have no self insight, nor any desire for it.

So, in a straight contest, the baddies will probably win. Putative heroes are driven out of town, or worse.

But the thing is, goodies are more numerous, and more co-operative. Given the right political system, such as democracy, the goodies can and do win. Welfare states thrive.

However, in the wrong political system, the one-party state, the corruptible democratic institutions, the ruling junta, the baddies can rule the roost for a long time. So many countries seem to be in this state at this moment. Name your own examples.

This is why democratic institutions and the rule of law (and I would add limited terms of office) are so important, and why they should never be allowed to be undermined, which is precisely what populist leaders and beneficiaries of the status quo try to do.

My conclusion – the goodies can win, but eternal vigilance is needed from the heroes within the people, to sustain the institutions that are their defence against emerging baddies.

Featured image is shootout from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Healing the Heart of Democracy

I was very struck by a recent communication from the Charter for Compassion, which summarised five critical ‘habits of the heart’ to sustaining a democratic society. As I read through them they seemed intuitively right. See what you think:

  1. An understanding that we are all in this together.
  2. An appreciation of the value of “otherness.”
  3. An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways.
  4. A sense of personal voice and agency.
  5. A capacity to create community.

I consider this in the context of some of the related current symptoms of what needs to change in the West today (same numbering):

  1. Gross inequality. Many live like kings while large numbers struggle to survive.
  2. A fear or rejection of other races, nations or groups of people.
  3. The immediate setting of hard boundaries when there is tension, eg Catalonia today.
  4. The attempt by so-called leaders to suppress people expressing dissent, numerous examples.
  5. The polarised divisions in many leading countries eg USA.

The five habits are detailed more at the website of the Centre for Courage and Renewal, and originate from Parker J. Palmer’s book, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (2011)

Note that these are habits ‘of the heart’ – it is after all a change of heart that is needed in the majority, starting with me and you. Where else?

A psychological take on Brexit

Consider a man or woman. As individuals our job in the early part of life is to develop the psychological ego, so that we become effective members of society. As this process proceeds, we also begin to become aware of this ego entity we have created, and to transcend this to some degree – to co-operate with friends, family, co-workers and so on. In the limit, we realise that we are all interconnected and our job is to contribute something to the whole – which is what we really came to this earth for. Ultimately we are spiritual entities whose job is to transcend that ego we ourselves created.

Now consider the nation state. Its life process is no different. In the early stages of nationhood we develop a strong identity and go through various processes of self assertion, looking after our people and not worrying too much about others. Of course, wars happen from time to time, we form alliances and these and the wars and the problems get bigger and bigger. In the limit the nation realises that its job is to contribute something to the whole rather than just look after number 1. Thus were created the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United Nations.

None of these bodies is perfect. All have unsatisfactory characteristics that need to change. Just as within the nation state it is people’s job to work to improve it, so within these greater bodies it is the nation state’s job to work to improve the institution to more perfectly accord with what is needed. So it is the UK’s job to stay within the EU and work with our brothers and sisters (for that is really historically what they are) to improve the Union.

To withdraw and attempt to go our own way appears to be a nostalgic attempt by the national ego to revert to an earlier, less co-operative level, a primitive ‘sovereignty’ such as in the days of empire. In a world with mounting problems, particularly related to resource depletion and global warming, this is precisely the wrong way to go. The need is for nation states to transcend their nation-egos to a greater degree in order to satisfactorily address these problems.

The campaign for the UK to leave the EU is essentially appealing to our immature ego to step back from the great progress made so far. Fear and selfishness is its name.

Featured image courtesy of agsandrew and Shutterstock

 

What did you expect?

What did you expect when you elected a PR man to be head of the UK government? Government by PR.

David_Cameron_huskyMeaningless slogans that are contradicted by real actions in the opposite direction, for example:

  • “Greenest government ever” – anti-green ministers appointed, moves investment from renewables to fossils and nuclear, green investment bank diluted.
  • “Compassionate conservatism” – reduces benefits to the disabled, more people sleeping rough.
  • “We’re all in it together” – takes from the worst off and gives to the better off, increases inequality, builds insufficient lower-priced housing.
  • “No top down reorganisation of the NHS” – the Lansley top down reorganisation.
  • “The NHS is safe in our hands” – now battling with NHS staff.
  • “7-day NHS” – somehow going to happen without increasing investment.
  • And so on…

Untrue narratives or half-truths propagated to ensure advantage in the polls. Just a couple of examples:

  • “Labour caused the financial crash” – it didn’t; it was bankers and virtually none were punished in any way.
  • “We will save £12 billion (but we won’t yet tell you how)” – now we know – it was by taking money from the weakest in society.

Real problems, such as the care crisis, lack of affordable housing, global warming, gross inequality, the inadequacy of current banking – shunted into the long grass.

That’s not to say the Cameron governments have not done some good things, but put a PR man at the top, and nothing is ever quite what it seems. Of course, he watched Blair closely, and learned…

A sad dissolution

A glance through history shows that there are major turning points apparently triggered by key individuals. The establishment of the Church of England, and the wrenching of religious power from the popes in Rome, all at the behest of King Henry VIII, was one such point. Part of this process involved the gradual dissolution of the catholic monasteries, both to remove this alternative source of power to the King, and to gain for Henry the riches accumulated by these institutions over the centuries. Wikipedia tells us that at the start of the dissolution in 1536, there were over 850 monasteries/nunneries/friaries in England; by 1541 there were none.

glastonbury_abbey
Glastonbury Abbey today

This was brought to mind as we visited Glastonbury Abbey, which was at that time perhaps the richest and most powerful of all the monasteries. The abbey controlled large tracts of surrounding land and was instrumental in major drainage projects on the Somerset Levels.

Led by Henry’s henchman Thomas Cromwell, the dissolution process had begun with the smaller institutions and gradually extended its scope. In September 1539, Glastonbury Abbey was visited without warning by Cromwell’s commissioners. Investigations proceeded and eventually it was determined that the Abbot Richard Whiting, who had resisted the dissolution, was a traitor – an impartial observer might say this was on trumped up charges. On November 15, Whiting was drawn through the town upon a hurdle to the hill called Glastonbury Tor, where he was hanged and quartered – a particularly unpleasant and ghoulish way to die. Thus did the infamous Henry impose his will, through the agency of the equally infamous Cromwell.

Anything of value was removed from the Abbey and its lands went to the Crown or Henry’s favourite nobles. The Abbey remains as a set of evocative ruins. As you walk through them, the sheer size of the edifice becomes apparent – on a par with the major cathedrals of Europe – destroyed on whim. The titanic nature of Henry’s struggles with the pope and his own citizens becomes clear. The ego of the absolute monarch would impose any price to get just what he wanted.

Tyrants since then have followed the same sort of formula, always with willing henchmen such as the hapless Cromwell, who himself soon proved expendable. This is why formal constitutions and the ideal of democracy and the rule of law have proved to be so important. The scary thing about the UK is that it does not have a written constitution, such as in the USA, so the checks and balances are left to an establishment that could, in theory, become dominated by a charismatic individual (there are many examples in history) who decided to do just what the hell he liked.

But then, it remains to be seen whether the US can handle Donald Trump…

 

The American Soul

american_soul_coverRediscovering the wisdom of the founders

Review of a book by Jacob Needleman

America in the form of the USA was once the hope of the world. The founders of the US constitution tried to create a new form of government that would be suited to governing this is new virgin land. They recognised the problems of factionalism that had blighted the old continent of Europe and other civilizations of the world, leading to needless conflict and wars. They were inspired by the hope of a new form of governance that would reach the needs of the people in a way that addressed and encouraged both the inner development of the person and the outer development of society. Their motivation was essentially spiritual, founded on the idea of the spiritual development of man and mankind.

us_eagleBut of course there soon emerged evil, as the founders knew there would, it being the nature of man. Major evils from the beginning were the destruction of the indigenous Indian society and culture and the institution of slavery of the black man. Other forms of evil appeared along the way, such as the multiple needless wars America engaged in and a frequent stepping away from its ideals, such as recent examples of torture and secret surveillance.  We might also add the excess materialism and the consumer society, spread from America around the world, which encourages focus on the trivial and ignores that which is most important and of the essence.

The US Constitution, with its checks and balances, was designed to be resistant to the emergence of such evils – recognising that the nature of the highest good is perhaps that it needs to experience evil in order to develop the wisdom to be good.

Today we see the ‘hope of the world’ in disarray with factionalism in the ascendant in the form of the recent interminable conflict across the institutions of government between the two leading political parties, but there is always hope and in this book Joseph Needleman gives us reason for hope.

He takes us on a tour of some of the major figures in the development of the US constitution: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln. For each he draws out the story of how they were involved, and the spiritual principles that they lived by or at least ensured were followed in the constitution. And how their principles were followed through in the writings of those two eminent Americans Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Reading this book you will gain an understanding not only of the development of the US constitution and the inspiration behind it for creating a new form of society, but also of the essence of the contribution of these and other heroic figures .

And there is inspiration in the idea of a society dedicated to the inner development of its citizens and of society itself. Truly these ideas are the hope of the world, threatened by global warming, resource conflict, overpopulation, species extinction, pollution and all todays ills that modern politics is apparently unable to address effectively.

Sadly, the recent emergence of the Donald Trump presidential campaign suggests there are still more lessons to be learned before the US can reclaim the spiritual leadership of the world that is sorely needed. The election of President Obama showed that the desire is there in the hearts of many, and there may be disappointment at what his administration has been able to achieve in practice. We need the US to resist the siren calls of Trump and elect a leader who might prepare the way for a new generation of more spiritually inspired leaders.

 

Crazy world?

crazyIn my blog profile I say it’s a crazy world we live in. Why?

Where to start?

We live under threat of nuclear annihilation, yet few people have any concern or give any priority to reducing this threat. It didn’t go away after Reagan’s deal with Gorbachev, and new nuclear powers have emerged.

We face a catastrophic change of earth’s climate through global warming, caused by our own carbon emissions. Since Rio 1992 and earlier we have had global discussions on this, yet nothing has been allowed to interfere with the rapid economic/technological/debt expansion that has caused this. We have pious words from Paris 2015, yet are hell-bent on economic expansion and refuse to take necessary actions such as taxing carbon fuels or controlling them at source. Indeed, we still subsidise carbon fuels to a much greater degree than renewables. We are still chopping down trees at a rapid rate, reducing yet more the protections provided by forests and their sequestered carbon.

We have allowed the transfer of resources from poor to rich to continue unabated for many years. Inequality means that life is a struggle for many of the poorest, and the middle class that ensured 70-ish years of stability in the West is being eroded. The erosion of tax base means that resources are being taken away from the public sphere through ‘austerity’ policies.

The globalisation programme over the past 30 years or so has ensured this hollowing out of the centre, moving jobs and pollution to poorer countries of the earth. Yes it enables Western economies to continue to expand, but at what price? The development of expanded free trade areas (TTIP etc) aims to continue and accelerate this process. The crazy competition of low-tax countries and tax havens has greatly reduced the moneys paid by global corporations into the treasuries of the countries in which they operate – so they have competitive advantage against local small/medium businesses – a long term catastrophic change.

The financial crash of 2008 was never fully followed through. Few were punished and many prospered at the subsequent expense of the people. It is arguable that lessons were not learned and the system has reverted to something quite like it was before. The system does not work in the interests of all, and the opportunity should be taken to change it before the next crash – eg measures such as publically created money, tobin taxes, land taxes, basic income, etc.

Religious fundamentalism again stalks the earth, as in the middle ages. Despite major advances in education it continues to gain traction with the credulous and those who will always rise up in times of confllict. Religions themselves seem largely divorced from the inner spiritual experience of many in the modern world.

It is apparent that democracy has a much-flawed implementation in many places, notably the USA where big money and corporations seemingly have overwhelming traction on the political process. In other countries it is often the fig leaf for maintaining a ruling clique in power.

Science has made great advances, which have been translated into wonderful technologies which dazzle us all. The internet gives the potential to revolutionise the way we live our lives. Yet we become more vulnerable to misuse of the technology, such as cyber crime and cyber wars, and to the cracks which we had not foreseen in the world we have created, such as the adaptation and emergence of new forms of bugs and diseases resistant to modern antibiotics and other treatments.

There has long been a ‘war on drugs’ that have millions of users, providing fertile ground for criminal enterprises with massive rewards. This so-called war manifestly failed many years ago. As for the ‘war on terror’, how was that nonsensical idea ever invented?

The spectre of species extinction haunts the earth – particularly the large mammals, birds and sea creatures that remain after the depradations since the European expansions spread across the earth. It is accelerating.

The seas and the soils are becoming increasingly contaminated by plastics and chemicals whose effects in many cases will be long lasting threats to living organisms. The ‘precautionary principle’ appears to be insufficiently applied and often bypassed in the exploitation of new innovations.

What can one say of the Middle East, which appears to be in chaos to such an extent that the disastrous Israel-Palestine impasse is now but a sideshow.

We have a United Nations that is dysfunctional, in that it is powerless whenever so-called Great Powers, aka known as members of the Security Council, disagree. There is no effective system of global governance.

The consumer society. Well I could go on and on about this. Too many cgoods, too much stuff. Too much to do. Focus on the surface, while ignoring the essence and what really matters…

I could go on…

So, crazy world or not?

I rest my case.