Tag Archives: democracy

Pontifications along a road less travelled. How much self-destructive hatred do we need?



Oh the joy of facebook. Before social media we could cling pathetically to the belief that people were by and large, reasonable, sensible, and decent. Admittedly we clung to it like a drowning man clings to a spar after a shipwreck, but still it was not an entirely impossible belief.


Then I saw somebody, an American, had posted this on their wall. It’s from one of the US political sites.


If Robert Mueller finds overwhelming and indisputable evidence that Trump conspired with Putin to rig the 2016 election, Trump’s presidency is not authorised under the United States constitution.

The only response to an unconstitutional presidency is to annul it. This would repell all of the unconstitutional president’s appointments and executive actions, and would eliminate the official record of the presidency.


And below it everybody had piled in. They were all hollering and cheering and throwing their hats in the air.

So I read all this and thought, ‘Well, it’s not my circus, they’re not my monkeys, but perhaps a little bit of reality here?’

So I merely pointed out that this meant, ‘any payments made by the government, for example to employees, would also be illegal and would have to be handed back. And grants paid out by government for any reason, disaster aid or whatever, would be illegal and would have to be handed back.’


I didn’t think it would be a popular stance. But frankly I didn’t expect it to be totally ignored. The hollering and throwing hats into the air continued. There was a bit of a dispute over whether this meant that Hilary was automatically president but the fact that their joy would come at the cost of personally bankrupting innumerable numbers of their fellow citizens was a total irrelevance.


At that point I realised that this was our salvation. Their total irrelevance. We see it everywhere, small groups and coteries who hold the masses in contempt and would sacrifice them all to ensure their own perquisites and social advantages are maintained. Gradually as time goes on, they become more inward looking, their numbers shrink as reasonable people start to shun them, and they become more extreme. Finally they disappear as age carries them off or they fall victim to satire and fizzle out in embarrassment.


Democracy works because we talk to each other, assume that, actually, the other person might just be right, and it they aren’t there’ll be a correction at the next election.



The belief that dare not speak its name?



It’s an old story, a very old story. Who rules? The Greek city states were torn by strife between the Aristocracy (a term which comes from the Greek, aristokratía. Aristos means “excellent,” and kratos translates as “power”) the rule of the Excellent, and Democracy, which again is from Greek, demokratia, or “rule by the demos or common people”.


And then I read this blog http://quillette.com/2016/07/08/remain-vs-leave-elite-technocracy-vs-liberal-democracy/ where he discusses Elite Technocracy versus Liberal Democracy.


Both sides have good antecedents. The democrats can look back to Cleisthenes, Pericles, Locke and the English Whigs. Their stance is the citizen is central and the state must govern with the consent of the citizen. Without consent there is tyranny and the right of rebellion.

The aristocrats, or in more modern terms the technocratic elite follow Plato, Thomas Hobbes and Georg Hegel. These stress the authority and wisdom of those in government as the only ones who really understand what is going on and are the only ones equipped to make the decisions about the future.


In Greece the conflict between the two ideologies led to strife within the state between the competing groups. As always it is more complicated than a simple ‘class’ war because the leaders of the demos were often men drawn from the same wealthy class which provided the aristocracy. Personal feuds and factions complicated and intensified the battle.

Obviously personal feuds and factions are unlikely to have a part in our modern politics, doubtless the dispute between Boris Johnson and Michael Gove was over the deepest philosophical conjectures. Similarly within the Labour Party, the current bickering between Jeremy and virtually everybody else has nothing to do with the fact that his MPs see little chance of re-election with him at the helm and again is a nuanced dispute over high political principles.


The last couple of weeks have thrown the fault lines into high relief.  We have those for whom the will of the demos, the common people is sovereign. (Even when they disagree with it.)  We have others who believe that some people are just too stupid, or too ill-educated to be allowed to decide matters of any importance. I’ve seen suggestions that persons over a certain age should not be allowed to vote, or that there be IQ tests before people are allowed to vote. (Or in extreme cases restricting the franchise to nice people like us who live within the M25)


The Greeks had many faults, but one they don’t seem to have suffered from was political correctness. They were perfectly happy to give something the label it deserved. I think we would start seeing things far more clearly if we were to do that. Let the believers in the rule of a technocratic elite proudly stand for their principles, let them boast of them, let them flaunt them in the market place of public opinion. “The man from Whitehall knows best, trust us to look after you.”


Or we could try democracy. The problem with democracy is that it’s difficult. It demands a lot of hard work from both the leaders and the led. Leaders really have to make a constant effort to keep in touch with people, not merely to know what hoi polloi are thinking and saying, but also to educate them and explain. Leadership is a two way process, where both sides listen and are changed.

And for the led, democracy cannot work alongside the cult of celebrity and a culture which emphases me, me, me. It also works best when you have a population that have been educated, not abandoned in sink estates and sink schools.


There again, what do I know, you might as well ask the dog


As one reviewer commented “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”

Electoral snobbery and the dog poo fairy

After the uprising of the 17th of June

The Secretary of the Writers’ Union

Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee

Stating that the people

Had forfeited the confidence of the government

And could win it back only

By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier

In that case for the government

To dissolve the people

And elect another?

Bertolt Brecht

I don’t think anybody has written better about anthropomorphic personification than Terry Pratchett. In his Discworld books, they occur when people believe that a phenomena or a concept has a personality, and thus the personalities become real. One of Pratchett’s best characters is DEATH, but there are others.

Within his books it seems that the more belief there is, the more likely the personification is to exist. So Jack Frost really does paint windows and the Sandman creeps round with his bag of sand sending children to sleep. Belief is what matters.

So I was a little perturbed when a couple of days ago, I saw pasted to a litter bin, a sticker bearing the immortal words, “There’s no such thing as the dog poo fairy.”


This wouldn’t normally be an issue, but given the lack of trust in authority in this country at the moment it might become one. After all, if ‘they’ say that something doesn’t exist, and ‘they’ normally lie, then obviously the dog poo does exist. We’re more likely to believe in something if ‘they’ tell us not to. Hence I’m expecting to see the dog poo fairy with her red hair and white dress giving TV interviews in the not too distant future.

This lack of trust tends to manifest as contempt.

Q   “How do you know when a politician is lying?”

A    “Their lips move.”

The problem is that contempt seems to leak into other aspects of life and I don’t know about anybody else but I’m getting worried by the amount of contempt there is in politics at the moment. You see one extreme in Thailand where the country’s urban elite refuses to be governed by a party elected by the peasant majority, accusing them of taking power by bribing the peasantry (whereas previous governments took power by bribing the urban elite?)

It looks pretty bad in the US. A friend of mine described his country as “The place where the ‘liberals’ aren’t liberal and the ‘Christian right’ isn’t Christian.”

But what is it like here in the UK? When you look at stuff people post to their Facebook walls, what strikes me is the visceral contempt they, (or the people who create the ‘witty’ memes they post) appear to have for those who don’t share their political viewpoint.

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with regard to the UK Independence Party. It’s notable that at a high level both the Conservative and Labour parties have been backing away from the extreme rhetoric. Indeed they’ve stressed that they don’t regard UKIP as racist.

At the moment the local election results are coming out, and already people are trying to make sense of them. One quote I thought was interesting,

“Some academics say Ukip’s base these days are those “left behind” by New Labour: generally older, generally male, generally less likely to have degrees or other academic qualifications, generally more rural, generally home-owning. (Note, yes, generally.) They feel, the theory goes, like they no longer recognise or like modern, post-immigration Britain and cannot trust the political elite.”

The big difference between London and the rest of England is also interesting but then a lot of people outside London don’t regard it as part of England anyway.

I confess that I’m waiting with some interest to see the results of this Euro-election, or at least the UK results. I’m not so much bothered by the actual result as what sort of comments we start seeing on Facebook about them.

Will people be willing to accept the choices of their fellow citizens or are we going to see the sort of vitriol people have poured over political parties poured over those who voted for them?

One thing that worries me about the US is that they seem to have taken this level of contempt for fellow members of the electorate even further than we have. Certainly I’ve seen comments, from this country and from the US along the lines of “Anyone who votes for party X is too stupid to deserve a vote.”

It’s amazing how rapidly people forget that we’re supposed to be equal. My vote, your vote, and the vote of the person who just voted for the party you loathe are equal, just as we are all equal.

If we’re to remain a democracy, it’s something we just have to learn to live with.


What do I know, if in doubt ask the dog


As a reviewer commented, “Another excellent compendium of observations from the back of Mr. Webster’s quad bike in which we learn a lot more about sheep, border collies and people. On the whole, I think the collies come out of it best. If you fancy being educated on the ways of the world, with a gentle humour and a nice line in well observed philosophy, you could do a lot worse than this.”