What is wrong, and why we can’t seem to fix it

Throughout most of my life I have been living under conservative governments, and the nicest way I can find to describe political conservatism is to say that it embodies the popular phrase ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. However, as we all know there are many things wrong at present, and they need fixing. No amount of ignoring them will make them go away. This blog is about those awkward facts of world that won’t go away and which political conservatism won’t make go away either.

What I’m going to aim to do is post a blog once a week, on a Friday, so you can digest it over the weekend. The next week’s blog will either be the next in my series, or a discussion of issues that have arisen from the comments.

I’m going to have a very strict comments policy, comment will only be accepted if they are intelligent and polite contributions to discussion around the topic of the post. Everything else will be moderated.

If you find a blog here sympathetic, you might consider reading the blogs from the beginning, as they are supposed to be a more or less continuous argument.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Grumble 12: Lack of Leadership

In the previous post I was arguing that our society finds it difficult to make necessary changes because the holders of power (the 1%) have made sure that their media has brainwashed people into supporting their interests, not their own interests.

One of the problems we have at present that contributes to this is a lack of leadership. Now leadership of the properly virtuous kind is a thankless task, firstly because to be properly virtuous is immensely difficult, and to be properly virtuous for long stretches is impossible, and secondly because to be truly virtuous in this age is to stand against received wisdom at every turn and be battered and bloodied by the wrath of media.

Nevertheless, to my way of thinking, the effort is worth making, even if results in nothing, because what is the point of entering public life only to do the wrong things?

A true leader has to do two things. Firstly he or she has to find out what is the correct course of action for a given situation. Secondly, he or she has to work out how the existing opinions and dispositions of the people can work towards the correct solution. Additionally the true leader has to find ways to deflect wrong opinions from the public so that they do not affect public policy.

The very worst kind of leader is the kind that seeks out all the bad ideas and incorrect positions that the people hold and panders to them (I’m sure that the reader will be able to think of several recent leaders of countries who fall into this category).

Now the interesting thing is that although there are very few politicians in the world today who are prepared to go through the process of steering their people on the correct path, there are and have been many who have used all their skills and energy leading people the wrong way. For example Paul Keating, former Prime Minister of Australia, took Australia down the path of deregulation and globalisation (globalisation=accelerating ecological destruction in the name of prosperity). When he was queried about his ‘economic rationalism’ he replied ‘would you prefer economic irrationality?’ To describe living beyond our ecological means as ‘rationality’, of course, is to give the word a sense it has never had before.

The good news is, I think, that most people still have a fundamental sense of what should happen, even if this sense has been manipulated by engines of public opinion production. For example many Australians are fervent racists. However, instead of deploring this, I prefer to believe that this is partly a survival of the human (or social primate) instinct to distrust anyone who isn’t a part of your group, and also a survival of the very acute sense that social primates possess for when their own group gets too large for its resource base.

Australians’ racism has been noted and channelled by the powerful into an anti-immigrant sentiment, and more recently further refined into a hatred of asylum-seekers. This last animus is very convenient for unscrupulous politicians as they can be seen to be ‘tough on refugees’, and deflect people’s attention away from the 120,000 odd immigrants that Australia accepts each year, who, realistically, are far more likely to ‘take away the jobs of Australians’ than are the 10,000 refugees taken each year.

In this case true leadership would not hide behind racism but might say: ‘I recognise that you are concerned about the future of the country. I believe that the future of the country is best served by having a declining population; so we are planning to reduce to almost nothing the intake of immigrants, (though we will continue to take refugees). However, we have to recognise that even if we cut off immigration Australia’s birth-rate is still too high and we will need to introduce policies to encourage people to have fewer children.’

A notable feature of the sorry story of democracy in the latter half of the C20 and into the C21 is the corruption of key demographics by selective tax cuts or other government benefits (‘Middle Class Welfare’). Elements of this in Australia include federal government funding of ‘private’ education at the expense of public education, a rebate for ‘private’ health insurance at the expense of the public health system, negative gearing for would-be property speculators at the expense of people wanting to buy a house for the first time, and ‘family benefits’ which are paid too high up the income scale at the expense of the poor, whose own welfare benefits are almost non-existent. It should be a principle of good government that benefits are only paid to people who need them, if they are paid to people who don’t it simply inflates prices in, eg education, health and housing.

I did also point out earlier in one of these pieces that our woeful and out-of-date electoral system makes it too easy for politicians to choose the demographic to bribe and cobble together a majority in parliament from the bribed and less-than-virtuous citizenry in the constituencies.

By contrast to modern politicians consider Winston Churchill, taking office as PM of the UK in May 1940. Faced with the disasters of the Norwegian Campaign, followed closely by the prospect of the Fall of France, you might have expected him to introduce a tax cut or two, or announce a new welfare benefit for the middle classes. Instead of this he said: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.’ Can you imagine any politician of the present saying that, and then being followed by the majority of public opinion? Sadly I don’t think I can, and yet, the situation we are in currently is worse than that of Britain in May 1940. Granted we don’t (metaphorically) have Panzer divisions revving their engines across the English Channel, or the London Blitz, but, in contrast the situation of May 1940, the crisis we are in is literally global, and there is no possibility of evading the consequences of ecological overreach, no USA to come and save us, merely the prospect of facing these consequences.

To do this we need better, in the sense of more virtuous, and cleverer politicians than we currently have.

Next week: Grumble 13: lack of a virtuous populace

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