The fury and rage.

The fury and rage.

Before all the dead have been found, before anyone has been buried, and the left has started using them as fodder to make political points. Before we know the facts they are trying to create the narrative – this, in their eyes, was a fire caused by austerity and social inequality. The possibilities of criminal negligence, inadequate building regulations or of materials failure are all put out of mind, while they try and stir the flames for their “Day of Rage”.

I will certainly feel enraged if we discover that malevolence or negligence caused this tragedy. If people were sacrificed for short term gain then the fury will be real and justified. But I will also be enraged if this manipulated political fury allows the guilty to hide from responsibility. I fear the shifting the focus from the real task of finding our the causes of the fire, and the causes of the failure of systems to mitigate against the fire’s deadly effects,  to the task of scoring political points will obscure the truth and allow the guilty to escape.

There are likely to be, at the very least, lessons to be learnt on how to offer help and support to communities in the wake of tragedies like this. Knowing how to do this, and doing it, is more important than scoring a point against a Tory council.

The only bright glimmer of hope so far has been in the response of the local community. Local groups and charities have managed to get assistance to the victims very rapidly and with great skill. They have shown that individuals, working voluntarily, can outperform government agencies. Rather than being ashamed of this, as some commentators have suggested, we should celebrate this and consider how we could support this approach more generally.

 

In Praise Of Failure.

In Praise Of Failure.

I watch and listen to my grandchildren growing up and I am aware of a major shift from the days of my youth. It is clear that rewarding and praising children is seen as very beneficial, as has always been the case, but it is also clear that there is a new emphasis on avoiding rebuke or expressing disappointment. There seems now to be a drive to give praise whenever possible, I note the most prosaic of actions being flattered and the most quotidian of results being rewarded. Failure seems something to be ignored, something to be avoided, something that needs to be brushed under the carpet and ignored.

In discussion with my offspring it seems that they are keen to keep any feelings of disappointment, or recognition of failure, away from children for a long as possible. Games are organised so that everyone wins and all get prizes, the belief is that this strategy will aid self-confidence and self-esteem by avoiding damaging early criticism. But is this the case?

Self-esteem arises from our awareness of our talents. It is recognition of our worth based on our achievements. Any self-esteem gained through empty praise of unremarkable actions is surely false. An ego based on such flimsy foundations would indeed be weak. The stimulus of praise to guide us to achieve will be missing and it might prove difficult for children to know how to aim their endeavours.

The absence of the experience of failure will also mean that the child misses out on a vital corrective experience.Wisdom is created by experience, we need to know what fails so that we can avoid mistakes in future.  Since the ancient Greeks we have know that we need to try things in which we fail in order to develop :-

“Zeus, who guided mortals to be wise,
has established his fixed law—
wisdom comes through suffering.
Trouble, with its memories of pain,
drips in our hearts as we try to sleep,
so men against their will
learn to practice moderation.
Favours come to us from gods
seated on their solemn thrones—
such grace is harsh and violent.”

Aeshylus

and this is echoed in the maxim “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” (Albert Einstein)

So far, I think most people would agree with me about the usefulness of the corrective effects of failure. But I feel that there is another wider reason we need to be able to compete and to learn what it is like to fail.  When we compete and win we learn about areas in which our skills excel, we learn which skills we possess in which me might take some pride and our confidence and esteem are bolstered as a consequence.

When we fail we learn another vital lesson, we learn that others may be better than us. They may be smarter, faster, stronger or wittier than we are. It is important to recognise this.  We are born egocentric and self-centred we need to learn that others are separate and equal characters. We need to know that in some areas other people may surpass us and that we are not the unique focus of the world. It is this balance of aiming for self-actualisation while at the same time respecting the autonomy and equality of others which allows us to develop fulfilling relationship in the world and to develop our character. Our individual and collective future depends upon this and I hope we are not undermining our options by these changes.

 

 

 

Did you see this about Donald ?

Did you see this about Donald ?

I am sure many others, like me, have found their timelines on facebook and twitter awash with jokes at the expense of Donald Trump. Joke about his character, his hair, his colour, his spelling ability and so on. Some are funny but most are simply attempts at humiliation. The audience for these jokes is obviously other like-minded  people and they serve as a way to share unhappiness with the present situation and to rail against this.

It reminded me of when I was a junior doctor and would share black humour with my comrades. We made jokes about dreadful things, and in dreadful taste, in an effort to show to ourselves and each other that we shared and appreciation of the predicament. It fostered camaraderie and developed support at a particularly stressful time in our career. We knew this and found it useful. However, we never mistook it for a strategy to improve things. It was a coping strategy not a mechanism for change. Increasing experience and knowledge, union activism, and political change were the things which improved things (partially), not our black jokes.

I can therefore understand why some people make jokes about Trump. It helps them cope and to identify themselves to other fellow ‘sufferers’ so they may develop a sense of community and lessen any feelings of isolation. But is it wise in the world of politics, and, more importantly, could it be counter-productive ?

Though many wish to go back to the thirties to look for historical similarities which might help us understand Trump this is unnecessary. We barely need to go back 10 years and can look at the story of Silvio Berlusconi, the infamous Prime Minister of Italy, who despite many obvious failings also has the distinction of being the longest serving Prime Minister of Italy as well as the most controversial.

In an article in the  New York Times Luigi Zingales considered how this pompous, brash, and at times corrupt man could remain in power for so long. One reason seems to have been the failure of the opposition to him to take him seriously, and the tendency of the opposition to focus on his personality rather than on politics. As with Trump, there was no shortage of attempts to bring down Berlusconi with humour and ridicule. Unfortunately, while this made the opposition feel good about their ability to create stinging puns, and confirmed their prowess in the cartoon, it did nothing to unsettle him and may have strengthened his position.

Mr. Berlusconi was able to govern Italy for as long as he did mostly thanks to the incompetence of his opposition. It was so rabidly obsessed with his personality that any substantive political debate disappeared; it focused only on personal attacks, the effect of which was to increase Mr. Berlusconi’s popularity. His secret was an ability to set off a Pavlovian reaction among his leftist opponents, which engendered instantaneous sympathy in most moderate voters. Mr. Trump is no different.

 

And ..

The Italian experience provides a blueprint for how to defeat Mr. Trump. Only two men in Italy have won an electoral competition against Mr. Berlusconi: Romano Prodi and the current prime minister, Matteo Renzi (albeit only in a 2014 European election). Both of them treated Mr. Berlusconi as an ordinary opponent. They focused on the issues, not on his character.

We need to debate the issues and politics with Donald Trump. We need to show what needs to be done and warn against what should not be done. We should not allow ourselves the distraction of the option of an easy joke or a zippy one-liner. We must ignore what he looks like, must ignore his bluster and style and focus on what he says and does. It is easy to debate the wrongs of protectionism in the economy, the wrongs of religious prejudice, the wrongs of nationalism and the wrongs of cronyism. If we do this we will possibly avoid the danger of just talking amongst ourselves and might, hopefully, win round others to our views so that four years do not become eight.

Standing up to Trump (via Spiked)

Standing up to Trump (via Spiked)

The Daily Prompt today was “resist”  and initially I was going to give this one a miss. However, the worry that many people have about the changes in America under President Trump is causing much discussion on issues of resistance.  However, much of this initial resistance seemed very unfocussed and, at times, even anti-democratic. It almost seemed that people wanted to oppose the democratic result itself – a wail against the result – rather then looking at specific political points that need to be addressed and, trust me, there is no shortage of these issues.

Spiked, the online magazine has been a valuable source of good critical political debate and I thought that this article by them gave a good summary of where some of this activity could be directed. There are clear good initial pointers to action. There are also some good general points about the political changes.

In particular, we need to be very careful about the direction of “anti-politics”, as the article reveals, this can be very dangerous :-

Trump … “Your pose as the anti-politician, the man who hates the political class, is getting wearisome. It has crossed the line from criticism of he establishment, which is good, into a trashing of politics itself, of the very business of people getting together and talking and voting in order to make things happen. When will your anti-politics shift into a conviction that you alone should decide how things should be run? That’s the logical conclusion to anti-politics, whether it takes the form of demagoguery (you) or technocracy (Hillary).”

Spiked also makes a direct call to Trump :-

“In short, Trump, do not interfere with individual autonomy, freedom of speech or reproductive choice; do not promote the politics of fear; do not keep fighting the disastrous ‘war on terror’; and do not expand the power of the state over people’s lives. Respect freedom and choice and trade and growth: true, good liberal ideals.”

Given, that I fear, it is likely he will reject this advice, the other pointers to practical  ways to resist him will prove invaluable.

 

via Daily Prompt: Resist

Will it never end ? Quebec’s terrorist attack.

Will it never end ? Quebec’s terrorist attack.

Another atrocity, six innocent men gunned down, while at their devotions, 19 others injured and 5 remain in a critical condition. Again we are witness to innocent people, slaughtered as thy try to get on with their lives and again we know that wives have been left widowed and children fatherless for no reason.

This time, it seems highly likely that a young man with right-wing nationalist views (Alexandre Bissonnette) is responsible for this horror. If it is he, we will no doubt discover that he, like Dylan Roof and  Omar Mateen and many others before him, was a warped young man unable to tolerate those he disagreed with, unable to tolerate those different to him. It is no surprise that these people choose their targets by features which mark out their group as different to his group; the white supremacist attacking those performing their religious duties while the jihadist identifies those participating in banned activities.

Terrorists from both groups are much more similar than they would like to imagine, both see themselves as warriors defending their group against the others or avenging wrongs done by the other group. While these are extreme members of their groups, this tendency to see politics and life in terms of groups is a major problem. It does not matter if the group is defined by religion or race, nation or class, heritage or any other  tribal banding, viewing the world in this manner distorts our society.

Humans are intrinsically social animals. We don’t survive in isolation and instinctively seek out our fellows. Despite what dystopian films and novels may tell us, in good times and bad we band together to cooperate, help and trade. We find ways to be with others that is mutually beneficial. It is important to recognise that xenophobia and fear of others is commonest in people who have little contact with other groups. When we have to opportunity to mix and mingle we find ways to make this benefit both ourselves and the others and fear quickly dissipates. When we are left to our own devices we create an emergent order which is beneficial to all. This only goes wrong when we are grouped and ruled.

This is not simply the old story of “divide and rule” but rather “categorise and control“. When we are encourage to see ourselves as members of groups ( American, Christian, Black, Lesbian, Working Class, Welsh, Jewish, Islamic, Aryan, etc) we are encouraged to see the differences we have with others. We are encouraged to view others as being not only different but wrong and potentially threatening. We are encouraged to feel under threat and in need of protection. And in responce to this perceived threat, there are usually a group of people (politicians, clergy, kings,  inspired leaders, etc) who will guard us and look after our interests. These are the people who benefit from this grouping, they now hold the power (and usually a great deal of the wealth) as they control how we may and may not interact to preserve our group. All their power comes from controlling spontaneous  activity by individuals  and disappears if people are allowed to interact freely.

Once in our groups we are encouraged to view all problems in terms of this. It leads to partisan and transactional politics. Our group is always right, the other always wrong. Our problems come from the malevolence of the other group. While watching the coverage of Quebec I noticed on social media the cheerleaders of each group swinging into action. Those on the alt-right ecstatic when it looked as if a muslim might have been involved (erroneously), the progressives cock-a-hoop at having another timely white nationalist terrorist just in time for the fight with Trump about closing borders. Our politics have descended into this. We are unable to discuss issues without this being along the lines of our group identities. This means we fail to develop and change as quickly as we might otherwise be able.

The Quebec tragedy will end up being defined as a battle between those fearing islamophobia and those fearing islamofascism. Left to their own devices, followers of different faiths would cooperate happily and beneficially. When they are individuals they find a way to coexist in a way that benefits all, it is only when they are pushed into groups that hatred such as this arises. It is leaders who lead us down these dark alleys of discrimination and violence.

Remember the men who lost their lives in Quebec, remember them as real people like you or I, remember them as fathers or sons like you or I, remember them as individuals.  Don’t think that their religion makes what happened to them explicable in any manner, nor does it explain their murderer’s actions.  Don’t force them into a group and don’t let yourself be forced into a group. When we stay as individual units we remain individually responsible and recognise that we have the same rights as everyone else. Maintaining this is our only hope of preventing future tragedies. The first step in murder and maltreatment is making the victim an exemplar of a group rather than an individual. The second step is removing our own individual responsibility by passing it to a higher authority.  Don’t be pushed to take these dangerous steps.