New questions about strikes

New questions about strikes

If we would have new knowledge, 

we must get us a whole world of new questions. 

Susanne Langer, philosopher (20 Dec 1895-1985)

What a wonderful, timely quote to start the Christmas and the New Year. It’s how all the myriad start-ups are coming about. How can this or that new technology be used to benefit people? Many entrepreneurs make good money out of answering this question correctly; even more lose money by getting it wrong. Technology exploitation will continue along these lines. Whether it turns out to be good for humanity will be decided by the correct answer to questions we have yet barely formulated. Will those questions lead to answers that eliminate the need for strikes? Where will those questions first be asked? Who will be able to answer them?

Are we learning enough about ourselves to be able to keep the more advanced technological developments under control? As fast as we develop terrifying low-flying supersonic weapons and Artificial Intelligence capable of teaching itself to develop and out-think humans, are we equipped to know what we want, to know how to get it and to remain in control at the same time? A brief study of today’s world would suggest not. If we were, the question of climate control would unite us all without a second thought. It would become the world’s agreed priority. There would be no question of mumbo-jumbo statements from unfriendly climate damaging conferences attended by people at least 50% of whose purpose is to sell a contra control point of view.

Do our new questions lead to rational, practical thought about wages? Apparently not. If they did, we would not be facing strikes to harm and kill sick people and massively spoil the holiday period for millions of children and old people and parents. We would be facing rational discussion about inflation – except “not my fault”. Well, whose fault is it then? Putin’s? China’s? The Banks? The Politicians? Are we agreed to put it right? Absolutely not. We are agreed to damage anyone less powerful than ourselves – and then go to church to pray for peace.

If we agreed to seek solutions, the extrapolating inequality of personal resources would stop. Worldwide vaccination would become our second priority; hunger, disease, poverty and migration alleviation, our third. In other words, we would be cooperating instead of competing. Growth, so flaccidly accepted as the criterion of success, would become the subject of investigation – something that is already starting to happen but only in a minor way. To make all this work we would need a totally new view of democracy since individual country elections precipitate competition – ‘may the most successful government win that it may be reelected at the next poll’.

Indeed, our whole view of competition, growth and selling would have to change – the present economic basis of society, capitalism, would have to be re-thought, not just by academics but by the big companies. Not just by them, either but by everyone. Exploitation of any kind would have to be tested to see how well it fits the planet model. With instant internet communications and fast travel we are one world whether we see it or not. To behave like one world at one moment and for one purpose and then to do the opposite for the rest of the time is stupid.

What, then, are the questions we need to answer? Strangely they are questions we have often asked ourselves but seldom, if ever, answered. I think it is safe to say that billions of people are asking them now of the heads of big organisations, of politicians, of senior managers, of those they manage and of the man who sweeps the floor at the end of the day. The key question is so simple to ask, so hard to answer. It is “What do I really want out of my time on earth?” Ask it in the wrong context and it turns into a game which might be called GRAB. “Big money”, “a huge yacht”, “lots of servants”, “freedom from worry”, “perfect health” – you could go on longer than Monopoly. Truthfully intelligent and informed people will say that those things don’t bring happiness. Only one thing brings real happiness and that is to be able to love, totally, completely and beautifully. How is that love to be practically expressed? By helping others, of course.

It is not necessary to give a lot away. Of course it is nice and kind to give to people who have less than you. But the act of giving material goods is sometimes more for the pleasure of the giver than for the comfort of the receiver. The only gift you can give exclusively for someone else’s benefit is love. In Colin Bittleston’s, my father’s, book of definitions he calls love “the gift of self”. I think he is right. It took me fifty years to begin to understand that. What is the relationship between this ‘love’ and the strikes we now face?  To perceive that is to break the logjam of greed and self-interest.

The relationship between the two is care. We make care a complex process. It is really very simple. It is usually thought of as ‘care about’.  In reality it is ‘care for’. Turning questions of ‘caring about your enemy’ into ‘caring for your enemy’ opens up the possibility of harmony and peace.

It is what we ask for at this time of year.

It is what Christmas is about.

John Bittleston 

15 December 2022