Reflections on democracy
No doubt you are as horrified by the historical events playing out before our eyes as I am. We are all drawn in to the human drama as much as we are repulsed by the appalling waste and destruction. It can be hard to stop watching, and at times it feels almost disrespectful to the people caught up in the middle of this war to laugh, to relax and to enjoy a life of peace, comfort and privilege.
But reflect for a moment on what it is the defenders of Ukraine are fighting for. They are prepared to endure such pain, suffering and sacrifice to protect their basic human right to self-determination. The desire to be free runs so strong I suppose, because it has been so hard won. They have fought for freedom for too long to give up on it lightly now.
So how is it we in this country are so blasé about something that others so near to us in so many other ways are prepared to die for? We don’t need to cower in a basement while missiles rain down, or wait anxiously behind a barricade while the tanks grind closer. We can pick up a ballot paper, mark our choice with a pencil and cast our votes.
We are surrounded by claims of “fake news”. We are fed a steady stream of “propaganda”. Our values are undermined by “corruption”. Our indifference to “politics” has allowed a situation to evolve in which our very existence is threatened.
So what can be done about it? How can we fix this broken system? I would argue that we all need to focus on the small picture for a while. The “Big Picture” is just too big for any of us to truly see, even the so called, self-proclaimed “Big Players”. I would argue that this is about people as much as it is about politics. This is about co-operation as much as it is about competition.
Darwin has a lot to answer for in this respect. His ideas about nature red in tooth and claw, the survival of the fittest and the role of the top dog in leading the pack and reaping the greatest rewards are central to twentieth century ideology. But in the twenty-first century, when the battle for supremacy carries an existential threat for the entire species, our understanding and our thinking needs to evolve new ideologies.
Darwin's explanation of how preferential survival of even the slightest benefits can lead to advanced forms of life is the most important explanatory principle in biology, and extremely powerful in many other fields. Such success has reinforced notions that life is in all respects a war, where every individual has to look out for themselves, that your gain is my loss.
Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution is a 1902 collection of anthropological essays by (interestingly) a Russian naturalist and anarchist philosopher Peter Kropotkin. Kropotkin argues that mutual aid has pragmatic advantages for the survival of human and animal communities and, along with the conscience, has been promoted through natural selection.
Regular readers of this blog will be unsurprised to discover that fungi are a prime example of microbial co-operation, but co-operation has been fundamental to the progress of all human societies throughout history. Sadly though, it is always susceptible to cheats. There will always be those who take, without giving anything back.
Philosophers have long observed that cooperation in the form of a "social contract" is necessary for human society, but saw no way of attaining that short of a coercive authority. “In order then that the social contract may not be an empty formula, it tacitly includes the undertaking, which alone can give force to the rest, that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body”. Rousseau.
The Police and criminal Justice system or the United Nations perhaps? We can live in hope that Putin will eventually be made to face justice for his crimes against humanity, perhaps in the Hague, perhaps with a dose of Novichok from one of his former employees, or possibly even when he eventually gets to Hell (if he hasn’t already brought it here for all of us to share in).
I started this post with a fairly simple objective: to persuade you of the need to get involved in your community, to stand up for what you believe in, maybe even do more than just vote for a candidate in the upcoming local elections but be prepared to stand as a candidate yourself? There are spaces on our Parish Councils that need filling, because not enough people are prepared to stand. Each year I have been a Parish Councillor we have not needed an election because there were never enough candidates to justify it. So the same faces do the same jobs and the first rung of our democracy (that freedom to choose that others not so far away are prepared to fight and die for) lies moribund.
Your democracy needs you.