Political ideologies are at a crossroads. Those who favour democracy for the ability to speak freely nevertheless think that its present practice is corrupt and unsustainable. They see a decline of both commercial and personal values and consign democracy to the political dustbin. Those who prefer autocratic management also think it is corrupt – and brutal and unfair, as well. But they see it as making money, pulling people out of lives of abject poverty and creating order where slothfulness and misbehaviour will otherwise flourish. Both views are tenable. Neither view deals with the real issue which is personal freedom. The democratic team regard that as a sacred matter while accepting the inevitable loss of much of it in a crowded world. Autocrats claim the good of society outweighs the freedom associated with litter and libidinousness. Singapore, where I live, steers a remarkably comfortable middle road between the two.
No political system is going to be perfect. No ideology will guarantee a reasonable distribution of the world’s benefits. No human organisation is going to be fully worthy. If we have learnt anything in the last two thousand years it is that all organisations and institutions become exclusionary and self-serving at some point. A few individuals have avoided doing that but their limited lifespan may explain how they maintained good standards. They are the exception, not the rule. I have known some truly saintly people. Their saintliness emanated not from compliance but from courage – especially courage to face themselves. All saints seem to have elements of St Augustine’s “…but not yet, Lord” about their lives.
Leaders drive and driving involves pressure. That pressure may be exerted by apparently gentle means, such as Mahatma Gandhi’s fasting, but look below the facade and you will see grit and determination enough to frighten a dinosaur. In practice, it is often the noisiest, most pompous leaders who are the weakest. Putin exemplifies. Moreover, the idea of killing people in order to subjugate them would be funny if it weren’t for the tragedy and waste of human potential involved. Someone else’s life may not mean a lot to you. It means a good deal to them.
The heart of the matter is freedom. Not necessarily the freedom demonstrated by democracy but the freedom to live pretty much where you want and, significantly, how you want. The freedom to make your own decisions about how you bring up children and what they are committed to as citizens of your chosen state. The freedom to express a point of view, if done so politely. Freedom to believe in any socially acceptable form of religion. It is already clear that freedom is hedged around with so much control that it is at least tending towards conformity. Some of that is essential. Best to drive on the same side of the road as the other drivers. Some conformity is debilitating, reducing the individual to an automated process that denies personal creativity and human personality.
Little distinction has been made between the essential conformities and the areas of life which, if doused with freedom, will give happiness. Process practitioners become fixated with the idea that everything will improve if pre-ordained. Those preferring a Bohemian way of life maintain that unloosing the chains of control gives the human brain the wings of a dove and the vision of an eagle. So nobody wants to express and practice a Policy for fear it would forever be challenged in that repository of all conformity – the law. But humanity is at a point where it actually needs a Policy to steer it through the nightmare of the planet’s next thousand years.
This may all seem a trifle esoteric when the world’s debt is 350 times its annual GDP. The idea that it would take us 350 years to pay off our debt even if we were totally to cease all other economic activity is incomprehensible. But debt reduction, if not extinction, is a prerequisite to a fairer distribution of wealth. The idea that we can reconcile the warring ideologies of democracy and anarchy in one glorious Summit is the stuff of a good comedy not of real life.
However, the idea of a civil and cooperative society worldwide is not beyond imagination. It requires a large cast to stage it – about 10 billion people, as it happens. Only one of those people matters as far as you are concerned because only each of you has the power to make your own contribution to such a society.
No prize for guessing that one.
What’s your solution? We’d love to hear.
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15 October 2022