Feb 282013
 
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It’s an old topic but both Norman and Chris feel obliged to revisit it.  Clearly, there must be something which keeps it up in the forefront of our minds.  It does in mine too – most days of my lapsed Catholic existence.  So why might this be?  Norman quotes from John Lloyd, writing in New Statesman (the bold is mine – and I particularly draw your attention to the use of the word “armoury”):

[...] the responsibility to protect remains a powerful moral imperative. It must remain part of the armoury of those states with the power and the will to stop tyranny where it is possible to do so and where intervention is likely to work – as it did in Sierra Leone, in Kosovo and ultimately in Bosnia. It may work in Mali. More thought needs to be given to how it might work in Syria. For the left, the responsibility to protect should be part of aprogressive view of global problems. That the principle has become synonymous with a kind of refurbished imperialism is a sign of decadence.

Meanwhile, Chris suggests the following:

One message of Lincoln is that even decent men must sometimes use unpleasant means to achieve worthy ends. [...]

Now there have been plenty of arguments over what the British Coalition government has been doing to its people over the past three years or so.  Most explanations on the left of the political spectrum seem to centre on stories of conspiring neo-conservatives looking to replace sensible British socialism with the corporate capitalist landscapes they already shape in the US to fill their ever-deepening pockets.  In fact, I wrote yesterday about two examples of where this might already be happening – first of all, in Greece; second of all, here in the UK.

On the right, meanwhile, the publicly acknowledged discourses seem to focus on seeing life in terms of the deserving and the undeserving.  We get language such as “scroungers” and “shirkers”, contrasted violently with those who “strive” for what they have.  Hard-working families versus disabled couch potatoes who cause local councils any number of financial problems at the expense of the “economically viable” in society.

Not such a massive gap between such attitudes and New Labour’s aspirational socialism, to be honest.  Something we, perhaps, do not readily recognise enough – nor often enough either, it would seem.

Yet it seems to me that without wishing to demonise any human being a priori – that is to say, solely on the basis of their politics – we need to examine if there isn’t a far more profound and fundamental fault-line causing all this awful disenchantment; all this societal dysfunctionality; ultimately, all this cruel mismatch between what we start out exhibiting, as birth gives way to initial innocence, and how we end up in the hours before death.

Can we honestly say that any human being ends up doing more good than bad?  If progress – real progress fairly conceived – is the measure of how efficient, competent and inclusive our democracies and wider civilisations are supposed to be, how on earth can we define this “doing good by doing bad” as any kind of convincing progress?

And here, exactly here, it seems we finally find our fundamental fault-line: whilst we on the left sincerely believe in a supportive human existence, you on the right sincerely believe in a warlike human existence.  Whilst we construct strange caverns of political duplicity to get past you all kinds of Machiavellian intentions – witness New Labour’s famous socialism by stealth, for example, in the honestly held and understood (even where failed) intention to create a tapestry of humanity – you perceive precisely our best efforts as terrible weaknesses bound to lead us all to damnation.  For you, the world is a violent place of conflict.  To deny this reality is to play manipulative games of self-deception.

On doing good by doing bad?  That is – perhaps – what the right has done since time immemorial.  Not out of a desire to do evil at all.  Simply out of a nonchalant acceptance of the animal within us.

“Transformative reconciliation” was a phrase which came my way via Twitter this early afternoon.

We certainly need more of that right now.

But, perhaps, in the violence the right is inflicting on us now – out of this firmly-held belief that since violence is inevitable whatever one does, better a doing-good style of violence than an entirely doing-bad one – “transformative reconciliation” isn’t even for those of us on the left to perform.

No.  The Tories are not Nazis.  At least, not yet.

But the battle enjoined may have a similar sense and insensibility.  It might be the case that we on the left have to consider John Lloyd’s terminology very carefully.  When he says the responsibility to protect “must remain part of the armoury of those states with the power and the will to stop tyranny”, perhaps – equally – we must apply it to our internal conflicts back home.

A war of a kind then?  Even if only figuratively couched?

Time to do good by doing bad?

I hardly suggest this lightly.  Democracy is a precious figure which, once lost, is truly hard to regain.

I just know that – somewhere along the road we are blindly treading – this Britain of mine, this homeland of mine, this nation of mine, will begin to look just a little like the earthquake-ridden anterooms, which, located all those years ago along all those Balkan fault-lines, destroyed millions of lives, as well as their corresponding tranquillities, that we felt post-war Europe had awarded us.

As a Spanish general recently observed (page in Spanish): “The fatherland is more important than democracy.”

So is that the terrible place we are slowly being driven towards by the righteous Tories?  (Or, indeed, by our stealth-riven selves?)

And if so, how on earth should we properly react?

By doing bad ourselves too?

Is that really the only way?


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Sep 162011
 
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This tweet came my way via @RyanNewYork – a startling example of how Twitter provokes both thought and sudden understanding:

Alec Ross says he thinks social media much better at forging dissent than compromise. Quite possibly true. #usipblogs

And, of course, it’s undeniably true.  Only recently we have seen how the Internet can bring down undemocratic governments – and, indeed, how it has helped sustain public disorder in times of Western economic crisis: both examples demonstrate clearly how deconstructing social media can be.

Meanwhile, we only have to look at the kind of vocabulary which has grown up around more traditional Internet dissent – “trolls”, “trolling”, “flames” and “flame wars” – to understand how easily people disagree when sitting behind a screen; how difficult they can find it to reach sustainable consensus and compromise.

So what are the implications?  Pretty unhappy, I would have thought.  Debate in a democracy requires a starting-point; it requires informed opinion (if that isn’t too much of an oxymoron); it requires a process which channels the to-and-fro; and it requires a mechanism for resolution.  But if what we’re saying here is true – that is to say, that social media (whatever we might mean by that term) is better at disagreeing than agreeing – then a virtual world where governments attempt to do more and more of their business online is going to end up disintegrating in a series of half-baked – and half-implemented – tools and processes.

The lesson would seem to be that with social media, we can easily find out what people don’t want.  What we need to do as a consequence, then, is to work out how to interpret from the same information thus provided exactly what people do want – even as, perhaps, they continue to refuse to communicate it neatly or politely.

If this thesis is at all correct, people’s wishes will need to begin to be defined in terms of what they can’t express – by default, we must begin to look for the spaces voters and users leave behind them in those gaps between their mutual disagreement; and extract useful meaning from those event horizons around what we might describe these black holes of social media-located data.

And then once we have done so, attempt – in some further way – to fashion a different set of tools to the ones we currently think appropriate: tools which might encourage that fairly non-existent impulse to true and constructive consensus which all democratic consultation requires to function efficiently.


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