Referenda Vs Reason
Referenda Vs Reason
Why we need a Philosophical Renaissance
Prime Minister May’s U-turn on the subject of care costs for the aged followed another U-turn on National Insurance for the self-employed after the last British budget. Look elsewhere in the world and you see governments’ reacting, sometimes very quickly, to voters’ feedback.
Sounds like a good thing? After all, democracy is about majority rule. Swiftly responsive politicians surely epitomise that? Not so fast!
First of all, democracy is not about majority rule. It is about exercising the wishes of the majority for the benefit of all. It is about shaping a cohesive, caring society in broadly the image of the majority of people. It is about inclusiveness not about division. Politicians are not delegates, chosen to do what their voters tell them, they are representatives, required to act in all the voters’ best – not just short-term – interests.
The world become so KPI-driven that decisions are now based mostly on what can be delivered today. This is strange because with the growth of knowledge and our increasing ability to determine our own lives you might expect our view would be longer-term. After all, our grandchildren will have the possibility of never dying. Our great grandchildren may never even have to suffer pain at all. Making a place of fulfilment and light is surely a priority for them? People who have tried to build a “heaven on earth” in the past have been constrained by length of life and limitations of thought. Both of these will soon be history.
Politicians juggle the longer-term with the immediate. The old western structure of Service – often military – first, Money – usually business or profession – next, Current Politics third and House of Wisdom last, worked well when the rhythm of life was 70 years and predictable. The order has been reversed. Now politics start at university, continue in the research department of a political party paving the way to a seat in the House. Mid-years that often morphs into business or academia. The House of Wisdom has been vacated.
Wisdom does not automatically come with age. There are plenty of very stupid old people about. But wisdom that uses experience intelligently and adaptably is better than wisdom that has limited history. Scholarship, too, is not necessarily wise. In the middle ages it led to asking how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. Many scholastic discussions today are stuck on the pin-head. Has Scholarship turfed Wisdom out of the nest? With all the resources we have Wisdom could have moved on. But it hasn’t.
The imbalance between scientific learning / discovery and philosophical enlightenment has become acute. Without philosophy the humanities are ignored in favour of technology. Greater control over our lives demands more understanding of what is special about a human and how it can be satisfyingly developed. As it is we are getting less.
You will probably never forgive me for bringing the subject back to purpose but I see no other way of making us think better about what we are creating and why. When every man, woman and child on the planet has a clear idea of what is their purpose we will be able to create a society fit to live in.
Regrettably, we are some way off that yet.