Keep your head? or Find it?

Keep your head? or Find it?

Kipling wrote “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you…” That was in about 1895 but he might have been writing today. I have not seen such foment on the international scene in my lifetime. Trump, Johnson, Putin, Erdogan, Truss (who?) and many other oddball leaders are making reason unfashionable and celebrity exactly what it has always been, phoney. 

Do people get the leaders they deserve?

Probably, but why do they deserve such leaders? Because the leaders have failed to provide the education necessary for each adult to play a meaningful part in the politics on which they vote – either voluntarily or compulsorily – every few years. Scratching to fill the gap in how the voters have been taught, the pollsters provide sampled views on everything from the price of eggs to world nuclear control. Polled views get adopted by short-tenure governments who react hastily regardless of the medium- and longer-term consequences.

Political life then becomes a shifting series of tactical moves to achieve fleeting ‘goals’ with almost complete absence of strategy. Tactical alertness is important in all aspects of life but it only works when it is part of a sound strategic framework. Interesting that the strategic plan Mr. Lee Kuan Yew set up for Singapore – the most successful city of modern times – some sixty years ago, is itself starting one of its periodic strategic reviews in the light of the attention being paid to ASEAN countries and their developing role in world security. 

Without a strategy, the most adept of tactics are merely opportunist.

The cold war between autocracy and democracy is being played out in a purely tactical way. In theory autocracies, which are generally more durable than democratic governments, should have the advantage since gainsaying is not allowed. In practice, this is becoming a myth. All control, whether autocratic or democratic, depends on limiting information to those who might vote differently, or be more inclined to protest, if they knew the truth. The autocratic advantage of information control has gone with the advent of the internet and social media. ‘Live’ reporting, action pictures and the person on the street giving their views on air are more powerful media than the press. Even the tragedy of North Korea is now for all to see.

Democracy demands more than an occasional right to vote but it should never become government by referendum. Brexit, now admitted as a disastrous failure even by those who voted for it, is a prime example of the short-term views brought forth in a flash vote. Good management requires firmer handling than why you didn’t like what the French President said yesterday. In the case of Brexit the purpose of the referendum was purely internal anyway. A serious misjudgement too far.

We cannot put the world right in a hurry. Different standards, views, lifestyles, beliefs, practices are part of the diversity of humankind. They are valuable for their differences. What we have achieved dramatically in the past century is two things – getting many people out of severe poverty and widespread education allowing for the interchange of ideas and views. Coupled with technological (tools) developments this has improved communication and understanding more than we could ever have hoped. The development and exercise of political understanding over the same period has been virtually zero. Possibly even negative.

In the absence of good political understanding the natural greed and hostilities of humankind will destroy the species. Only education can correct this. Education is not fast and the strategy for making a durable planet and species will take probably three generations.

It’s a daunting task.

But, for our own sakes, let us begin.

Good morning

John Bittleston  

Do you have ideas about how to educate the voters? We’d love to hear them if you have.

Perhaps a line to would be possible?


Discussion about democracy might become a widespread topic for groups of interested people?

16 June 2023