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Archive for the ‘Local Elections’ Category

As I left the dog on her own to go off to the polling station I explained what I was off to do, it went something like this –

“I’m going to do something strange, human and pointless.”

As a clip from a former election campaign was played it prayed on my mind – it was a brief quote from James Callaghan who famously lost to Margaret Thatcher in 1979 where he declared that we had to decide what kind of society we wanted. Now I was too young to vote then but I have been thinking about that idea over the last weeks.

Every party is happy with policies that hound and harass 20% of the population – alright they may be smokers but is that enough to drive them away from where they would mix with wider society and make up 40% of the population. So what kind of society is it that we are voting for?

The idea of another five years of Gordon Brown scares me, the idea of being sold down the swanny to the Superstate of Europe gives me the heeby-jeebies thank you Clegg but I still did not vote for Cameron. Or anyone else for that matter…

When the political consensus agrees that 300 odd folk can choose to persecute one fifth of the population and then stick to it – What kind of society can we vote for?

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Let me unpack what I mean here. Happiness is standing in for Utilitarianism [as you can see ‘Happiness’ is comparatively user friendly] – Bentham the great grandaddy of this school defined it as the greatest total sum of happiness which has been rather cheaply reduced to the phrase ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’ [see Note 2 on Chapter 8: The Greatest Happiness: Is that the goal? in the slim volume Happiness: Lessons from a new science] on the other hand ‘a good life’ is standing in for an even older way of looking at the world – the ancient greeks and romans used to ask themselves just what made a good life…

Socrates championed being true to yourself and your values. If you think that’s an argument for Happiness he took the poisoned cup prescribed for him as not to do so would have broken his own values – hardly something that made him, his followers or even his detractors happy. Socrates thought that a good life was about living to standards – ethics and the one work we see this sort of thing [Plato’s Republic] at work – those who cannot live a good life need to be controlled…

Orwell, in one of his essays, attacked the supposed utopia of Swift’s Houyhnhnms as totalitarian of a very dark shade – that those peacefull beasts had to impose constrictions on their very thoughts and speech. Given that utilitarianism had not risen above communism and was still [I believe] a defence of liberty when he wrote his essay he would not have criticized it per se. Now we are leaving utilitarianism behind as a defence for liberty – let folk seek their own happiness as long as it does not harm others to a more pro-active ‘happy’ agenda… where we can discover what would make us happy and then legislate towards that end…

I prefer the idea that we should construct what is a good life built on principles – sometimes the decisions we make which make us grieviously unhappy are the ones we ‘know’ are right. How does that sit with the ‘happy’ agenda? How could you so formulate a world where there are no unhappy choices or to ask another question- how meaningless would that world be?

Just recently on the run up to the Euro and the local elections we’ve had clergy telling us to go out and vote… but what if we don’t like the political reality enough to more than hesitate over the voting slip – and what if we know that before we even get up in the morning… Now I’m sure that Lord Layard [that guru of New Labour] would want us to be happy to vote as much as the clergy.

But to take this as the nutshell to crack the the arguments about with…

I doubt the clergy would expect you to change your internal reality for the sake of the electoral process whereas Layard’s view is much more to do with our internal motivators – in short he would want us to have an internal reality that gave us a kick for expressing our views on the ballot paper…

Now I doubt either of these schools of thought would appreciate my deliberate spoiling of the ballot papers I was given yesterday [Yes – I did vote ‘Liberty!’ even though I had to write that myself… you’ll be gald to know, Dear Reader.] the questions I’m trying to get to are who would be the most displeased with my disposition? why? and what does that mean about how we should live?

In the end various members of clergy would have different views on how I behaved… so I’ll try to stick to the mentality that declared I should get out and Vote! and I’m sure they’d be dissapointed but understanding that I decided my own path despite the diferent values meant a diferent course of action to the one proposed. Perhaps Layard would be happy to know I was happy enough to vote against the entire status quo of the political situation. Perhaps not as it says that positively voting is meaningless in a world that should be seen as meaningful – boxes are to be ticked or crossed.

Layard does argue for electoral change in a world of diminishing turn out – so let’s stop being gentle and take the ideas he promulgates full on. My protest vote would be wrong. I was not happy, for whatever reason, to vote for anybody. In Layard’s world we should either change the choice until I am happy to vote or we should change me until I am happy to vote. Perhaps a mixture of both. What freedom then?

We return to the Houyhnhnms – do we want a society where we cannot express things which disturb the minds of others around us? In this sense I prefer the idea that we should be able to decide what pursuits make us happy but that we should seek to live a good life… We may not be happy but we can be right – not only in our own minds but that we can be acknowledged as having the right to decide what we think that is.

Call me hopelessly romantic [and I’ll reply with a very hard nosed reply made from a mixture of anthropology and game theory to defend my view] but I think if we were developped as individuals with a sense of our own responsibility we would not seek to harm those around us.  As opposed to the current state of affairs where we are taught there have to be losers and they are to be trampled by the system until they reach a certain low point in which case the government will look after them – so we don’t need to worry our little heads about them…

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I was listenning to Hearts and Minds, on Radio4, the second episode about Isaiah Berlin is the one I think has more going for it…. and was struck by one of the quotes of Isaiah about dictators and happinness that reminded me of one of the prominent thinkers of New Labour.

Lord Richard Layard,that economist come cheap hack, in his book ‘Happinness: Lessons from a new science‘ says that we can find out what will make us happy and thus the government should then ‘provide’ that – either by limiting behaviour in certain respects or by forcing us to have these things…

Berlin states in the second episode that Hitler, amongst other dictators, knew what would make folk happy and that once the regime was in place then the governed would appreciate the new regime…

Setting aside the seat belt regulations which declare we must have fasten our seat belts front and back in the privacy of our own vehicles for safety reasons this government has banned hunting and smoking in public whilst gearing up for alcohol amongst a host of  restrictions in other areas of our lives… We have had a shift towards a totalitarian view – ID cards and the like. And here I’ll add the proviso that at the moment the current government has decided that it can’t get enough support for the ID card not that they  would not want it…

A symptom of this is that we have, quite recently, the Archbishop Rowan Williams swat away at selfishness with the phrase ‘excessive individualism’ here and in other articles, despite the fact that not only is the phrase down right misleading and erroneous [somebody excessively individualistic would also be excessively responsible, if that’s possible] it also attacks the basis of defending individuals’ rights…

In a time when CCTV cameras are sprouting up everywhere and ever more details of our lives are being catalogued and liberties curtailed – is it right that someone dropping litter should have a photo of them in the local paper with the words [in effect] saying ‘Wanted‘? Becuase that’s what happens in a town in the north of the UK where the CCTV operators not only watch but can tell people to ‘behave‘… as documented in the first episode of Who’s Watching You?

Perhaps it’s time to shake the political tree and try to get the political class to rethink the value of Liberty…

Because, in the end, even if Layard can find out what would make us, generally, happy other studies show that once you repress folks’ ability to be responsible – that, Dear Reader, that makes us all unhappy… and we are on the path here in the UK with the biggest prison population of any comparable society by a large margin…

So, I ask you to join my cry and Vote ‘Liberty! in the coming elections and try to give a shock to all those jockeys who think they know best…

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