Islands of Light
I live on a beautiful island. It has a generally sunny disposition, and even the grey rains are welcomed as a necessary part of growth and life. I live in a place far from perfect, but with the advantage of knowing we are far from perfect (and that is far more important to understand than you might think at first glance), and understanding it is with each other we might find our way towards increasing the general happiness of our lives. On this island we, mostly, understand people are different, that people have different desires, different beliefs, and different ways of doing things, and as long as they don’t harm the general public those people are very welcome to just get on and do things, feel things, believe things, pretty much as they like. We laugh at each other, we call each other barmy, we go home and gossip about the wallies we saw today, but we laugh at ourselves at least as much as we giggle at others.
It’s been said democracy is a terrible way to govern a people, it’s just better than all the others… What makes democracy so awful is most people haven’t any clue as to what is really, in the long-run at least, best for them, and so they make their decisions with their eyes fixed on short-term gratifications. What makes democracy so wonderful is its ability to put checks and limits on people gaining too much power and putting all the resources of a nation into seeing those short-term gratifications… well, gratified… at the expense of all the other people.
There have been times in history when some benign dictator, able to focus the entire resources of a nation into the betterment of his or her people, have raised those people to new heights of achievement, but inevitably someone comes along and wrecks it all… snatching power and once again degenerating that vision to their own desires and perspectives. Power inevitably corrupts…
Perhaps limiting what people know, what they can learn, what they can watch, can engineer a society into being… happier, more content (but the word docile does want to emerge), but when you limit experience you remove choice, and when you remove choice you make a slave of a person. Lies by omission, lies by misinformation, are still lies, and perhaps all the more dangerous if there is just no way to ever, not only find the truth, but worse, never know you are being lied to.
We face a technologically evolving world where new and exciting items are constantly replacing the older ones, and we are mesmerised by adverts designed by psychologists encouraging us to believe it is very important to have them. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this… There has unlikely ever been a time when we didn’t look at our neighbour’s farm and say, ooo, I’d love a fence like that, or at our neighbour’s diving school and say, ooo, I wish I had a wetsuit like that, or… well, you get the idea. It’s going to take a very long time, and a very different environment, to allow people to find satisfaction in the very processes of living (and most of us pretty much giggle at the tree-huggers who advocate it). So, we make the most of what we have, we crave and desire, or we are satisfied and happy, but for most of us it’s a movement between these to points of existence… like everything in life we live in the grey without right and wrong.
Democracy allows for this… imperfectly, of course, what is not, but it works… Open conversation and debate, the ability to disagree, to get angry, to wander up and down a street holding a placard saying ‘free the geraniums’, while might not make people happy, seems far better than the alternatives. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m all Platonic in thinking we should actually send our politicians to politics school… I’m all about education… I think that education, open and spanning more subjects than might necessarily buy you that fifty-five-inch telly, allowing for thought and perspective, allowing for invention and debate, is as necessary as a powerful military to protect those freedoms, and I think generations of education is what will eventually save us… if we are to be saved, for today, the daydream seems more and more likely to be treated to a very rude awakening.
Authority must be kept in check… dogmatism must be locked in a room until it calms down… The most dangerous threat to a generally liberal and utilitarian way of existence are the people who see things in black and white, and more often than not have thoroughly convinced themselves their unconscious desires make perfect logical sense and the things they say and do are utterly justified and for the best.
This is what democracy offers… it steps in and says ‘you’re daft’, and if the democracy is right everyone stands around and has a giggle. It steps in, it might take a little while, but it gets there, and says, ‘ok, we’ve had about enough of you, you can toddle off home now’, and then it tries again, usually with someone or a belief structure pretty much opposite to the last one, and by necessity it keeps trying, as so struggles its way to slow but eventual improvement – there are no quick fixes to existence with each other.
We face a world more dangerous than ever… warlords decimating countries, authoritarian leaders imposing their own world view on their populations (and others) through whatever means necessary, and unfortunately democracies being bought and sold to the highest bidder, but there remain a few islands of light, predominately in the older European countries, where democracy still struggles along in pretty much the way it is supposed to.
We are, almost thankfully, faced with cataclysmic environmental concerns (one could easily make the comparison to forty days and forty nights and a wiping clean of the slate, although I’m not so inclined), which for perhaps the first time is making our islands of light face issues not simply concerning this generation, but generations to come, and with a little luck the ensuing calamities may check some of the more aggressive movements around the world, although the pessimist in me says it’s more likely to make the bullies snatch what they can from all the weaker participants…
The tragedy, the heart-rending, tear jerking horror… we are finally in a position to understand our problems, to address our problems, to work in united concert to actually do something about our problems (ok, perhaps I’m a little of a tree-hugger), and all but a very few of us are doing nothing about it whatsoever.
As I said, there are no black and whites, so I find myself in a natural place, a human place… where my hatred for injustice wars with my feelings of inadequacy, my feelings of inadequacy drive me to distraction, and my distractions mostly revolve around a big telly, while at the same time I drag myself away from my big telly to write this short article on democracy and tree-hugging, posting it somewhere no one will likely ever read it… It is the very truths education inspire and democracy allow that allow me to understand what people do is for their own truths, and it is the philosopher in me who understands, unlike so many of them, those truths are perspectival. It is the human in me who feels such frustration at not being able to just sit down with them and persuade them to other possibilities, and it is the brutal realist in me who realises without some large and dangerous soldier standing right behind me they would snatch me away to silence this voice only democracy allows to disagree with them…
I hope for the future, I weep for the present, but most of all, for this short moment, I’m grateful to have the ability, the freedom, not only to do these things, but to write about them…