I’ve been writing a few posts about bringing people together and doing the right things. I am acutely aware of a couple of old sayings. “United we stand and divided we fall”, “Divide and conquer!” Right now we need to bring back a unity to our country and a consideration that I fear has been dissipating over time. Right now, with the big changes that will follow from the referendum there are definite political implications as to the direction in which I think we should be going as a nation. I’ve been having an online conversation about this which raises two questions:
- Given my conservative nature and my adherence to traditional values can I still be thought of as a moderate in today’s political climate?
- Can I claim to still be in the centre ground and is that even still a good place to be?
I thought I’d spend a little time explaining my pleas for moderation and consideration and, in doing so, discover if I am a moderate or not. First I want to examine what it is to be in the political centre. I know this is very broad brush picture I’m painting here but I hope it helps us understand what is happening.
What are LEFT and RIGHT?
There are two great philosophies that are at work in our societies, and we have labelled them LEFT and RIGHT. Conveniently for this discussion we already have terms like “FAR LEFT” and “FAR RIGHT”, indicating that there is a continuum that ranges across a spectrum.
So what is the philosophical basis for each side, and why do they clash? As I understand it, the LEFT is about the importance of us all being together, the importance of the society in which we live. The RIGHT is about the importance of the individual and individual achievement.
Those I talk to on the LEFT fervently believe that we need to care for each other. There are many people who are down trodden and who struggle though life. Our society, they say, should care for these people and allow them to be happy too. Then questions arise on how you do this. The further to the LEFT you go, the more definitive the drive becomes to ensure caring takes place. Government is involved and typically it eventually takes over the responsibility of caring. That way everyone is guaranteed to get the same level of care as everyone else and this, they claim, is only fair. The further the government is to the LEFT, the more likely it is to see the Government take control of all resources in society to facilitate and enforce this level of equality.
The challenge I see is that the further we move LEFT from the centre, the more society begins to lose contact with the real people that are supposedly being served. Part of this is that as the state take over the role of carer, individuals leave them to it. Care becomes a purchasable commodity, and because money is involved, efficiencies are looked for. Care stops being care and becomes a form of nursing. Care workers arrive at their destination, do their job (15 minutes only) and on to the next location. Even though care workers typically will want to provide real care, commercial realities mean that they are unlikely to provide it. By “real care” I am referring to the real heartfelt care that parents have for their children, the time to sit and chat and share experience and feelings.
People actually care more by doing caring activities, voluntarily giving of ourselves to help those around us, and the closer to home this is the better. That is why service to others is such an important part of our individual lives. I fear that too often activists care more about general principles of justice and equality than about specific and personal acts of compassion. If we could find a way of having local people and voluntary groups become more fully involved in caring, rather than focussing only on improving government-originated services, perhaps helping the old people or homeless in our community, we would see a real humanising effect on our people. I think that love and tolerance would increase.
State organised and controlled care is established with the best of intentions but too often has a fundamental flaw. People are not robots, they have feelings. They need to feel validated and will often measure their worth by their contribution to society. When living on entitled benefits, coming from an amorphous entity, the tax payer, recipients know they are not contributing. There is danger of loss of self-esteem and a drop into depression. Consider benefit offices. These should be places where care is provided to claimants to help them get back in control and feeling good about their lives. Instead they are not nice places to go to. Applicants are considered spongers and are looked down on. This might be totally contrary to Government policy, but it is fully in line with human nature. Sadly you cannot legislate human nature.
An interesting and frightening feature of this journey out from the centre, is that the increase in central control provides a proportional increased in the opportunities for corruption. As those who believe in the rewarding of the individual (themselves) find themselves in this structure it is easier to alter things so that they become “more equal than others”. The increasing number of bureaucrats required to administer the system allows adjustments to the system to achieve their own person fiefdoms and gain power over those whom they are responsible for and about whom they care nothing.
On the RIGHT it’s about individual responsibility. We need to be responsible for our own lives, making our own decisions and being self-reliant. This is the path that can give self-worth through contribution. The further RIGHT you go, the more that the emphasis is success by your own hand. There is a temptation to say to people “you need to get on your bike and find a job” without knowing the saddle sores already received through constant searching. Indeed, that is one of the criticisms of the RIGHT is that it lacks compassion.
Talking about care as we go RIGHT, when people do it, it is real care. We know that because they are doing it voluntarily. No-one makes them. The problem is that as no-body makes them do it there is a serious risk that it just does not get done. The poor become beggars and there is little solace for them.
As we move out along the RIGHT path, we come to libertarians who claim the right to do anything they want. They ask, “If I want to do it and I doesn’t obviously hurt anyone else, why shouldn’t I?” Nothing is held as sacred, but are only regarded as resources for the individual. The policies of the RIGHT also seem to result in individuals that succeed economically using their financial power to cement their power and control over the society in which they live. They will employ others to do their will and share out the rewards with them (though as little as possible), forming large corporations.
The RIGHT of course has the same trouble with corruption. Corporate bureaucracies provide similar opportunities for corruption as state ones. Those in power want to get more and don’t care how they get it. There is the temptation to use their power without consideration of ethics, the society in which they live or the lives of the people at the lowest levels.
The result of unadulterated policies on the RIGHT can be just as destructive as the policies of the LEFT. Less-capable individuals and families are can be left in desperate situations even while the more successful become very affluent, resulting in huge inequalities and abandonment. This is destructive both the people involved and to the fabric of society.
The irony is that even though the thinking of both LEFT and RIGHT is flawed and incomplete, there is a tendency for the strength of feeling and certainty to increase as one moves towards either extreme. With this passion comes a need to silence all the folly of the opposition. They KNOW they are right and do not want any debate/disagreements that will waste time over facts that are self-evident. Indeed the people are not trusted to know what is good for them. This sort of thinking leads towards having a ruling elite whose view is maintained by force and coercion. Referendums are not desired as the people will likely get it “wrong”.
We’ve seen this in the past with both communist and fascist regimes. We are beginning to see it again today in the handling of some libertarian views.
My experience is that the reality of life is actually very different from that specified by any political dogma. Instead it is finely nuanced because, as written in the famous quote, “There’s nowt so strange as folk”
The Centre Ground
The problem is that there are no easy answers and there are important contributions to the ideal that come from both LEFT and RIGHT. We absolutely must take responsibility for ourselves. The dependency culture we have been building over the last decades is a bad thing for both the country as a whole and for the individuals concerned as it robs them of self-esteem. At the same time there will be times when most people go through a tough time. It’s a great thing that there is help available to get them through it. The help that we give, however, would be better if it allowed the individuals receiving it to still be responsible for themselves. This is where the CENTRE ground is.
In the CENTRE we must be moderate. We will support and protect the foundations of our democracy – free speech, the rule of law and trial by our peers. These must be strongly protected from the extremes. Not by violence, meeting the violent mobs that disagree with us with violence of our own, but by free speech and supporting the rule of law and justice.
So, in troubled times, how do we move forward and gain the national unity that we all look for? First we must recognise that everyone’s experience is valid and likely different from our own. Because someone disagrees with us doesn’t mean that they hate us or are even angry with us. It certainly does not give us licence to be angry or hateful in return for their perceived actions. We first need to understand their motivations and values. We may still disagree but that’s okay.
To me, this is what moderation is all about. It is staying away from the extremes of self-certainty and the desire to control others that stems from it. It is being moderate and thoughtful in the presentation of our ideas and understanding that others are at liberty to disagree with us.
When being moderate, we can propose new and sometimes radical ideas, or we can re-state old traditional values. Our ideas, however, will be based on respect for others and their rights for self-determination as much as possible. We will recognise the two conflicting needs that we all have and look for balance – ways that we can contribute to the greater good and allow individuals to excel and stimulate our society.
We will debate and try to persuade each other that our ideas are right and bring others on board. You will have thoughts that expose weaknesses in my thinking, and I will want to hear them so that my ideas can be improved. Indeed as a moderate, I am happy to be persuaded that your ideas have merit and can be an alternative to my own, or be used to enhance my own. Note that I have said “be persuaded by”. I expect your ideas to be well thought out and presented too, and if they are not persuasive enough, I will reject them.
The media is generally very poor at this. With a commercial motive they appeal to their own readers as they each preach their political view and show how stupid the others are. The Daily Mail, for example, just goes about making its readers angry at the stupidity of the LEFT and demonstrates this with exaggerated examples. The Guardian presents elitist LEFT perspectives as reality and shows little respect for the arguments of the RIGHT.
Just recently I have read a number of articles about the older generation ruining the futures of the young though Brexit. It is presented that they are being selfish and gratuitous in deciding to leave. There is no understanding being provided and the divisions between old and young are significantly widened as a result. I can assure you that I voted Leave because I want my children to be free and self determining and have wider opportunities than I believe we would get in a failing EU. I believe that though there is an immediate economic struggle, we still have the capacity to build strong relationships and opportunities around the world.
Phew! This has gone on long enough. Whether I achieve it or not, my objective is to be moderate in outlook and keep us in the CENTRE ground. We need to encourage individuals to get out there and excel and receive rewards commensurate to their efforts. At the same time we must care for each other and encourage other individuals to do so too.