Wouldn’t you know it? At exactly the worst possible time, I have come down with a head cold / cough / ear infection, so am feeling quite heavily under the weather at the moment. But to keep the show on the road (ish) I am posting some thoughts that I had earlier in relation to Identity. Thank you all so much for the emails and comments I received on that topic further to my previous blog post. Sorry for not participating more in that discussion, but it has been a crazy time as I try and settle into student life. I will try harder!

We had our seminar on Identity last Monday afternoon with the wonderful Professor Tony Kronman from Yale Law School. It was a lively and enlightening discussion, but didn’t wave a magic wand and provide a cure-all answer. I suppose that, in a complex world, there ARE no cure-all answers. All there can be is a greater understanding, and tolerance, of points of view other than our own.

Anyway, on to my earlier thoughts….

Amin Maalouf writes, “No doubt the scale on which globalization is taking place, together with the dizzying speed of change, make all of us feel as if we’re being submerged by it all and unable to affect the course of events. But we must keep reminding ourselves that this feeling is extremely widespread, and shared by those we tend to think of as safely ensconced on the top of the heap.”

Is anybody really in charge?

In other words, most people perceive that others are in charge, but really nobody is. Identity determines who we perceive as being “in charge” – God, corporations, government, etc. But is anybody really in charge? Most people are running scared, feeling under attack. Even corporate fat cats feel threatened by changing times, social media, exposure of shady practices, being overtaken by the younger generation. If most of the human race is afraid, what will the consequences be? Not good.

The biggest single gift we could give humankind would be fearlessness. In reality, it seems that human society is a process of co-creation, and if more people felt this privilege and responsibility, they would maybe be less afraid as more empowered, less helpless, therefore less threatened.

Of course, some things deserve to be feared. When I contemplate matters such as runaway climate change, or the parlous state of the oceans, I feel justifiably afraid. But I’ve learned from experience to control the things I can, and park my anxieties about the rest. They are just a drain on my energy. But right now, most of our scary stuff is human-made and therefore falls within realm of what we can control.

A different kind of leadership

This will call for a different kind of leadership, that doesn’t subscribe to labels such as capitalist or socialist, outdated notions that have been tried and found wanting. Maalouf again: “The twentieth century will have taught us that no doctrine in itself is necessarily a liberating force: all of them may be perverted or take a wrong turning; all have blood on their hands – communism, liberalism, nationalism, each of the great religions, and even secularism. Nobody has a monopoly on fanaticism; nobody has a monopoly on humane values.”

As much as possible (and I don’t know how much that is), government should be by referendum, bringing politics to the people. Make them feel empowered and they will rise to the challenge, not only considering their own views and getting better informed, but also recruiting others to their views to secure votes. This could be the beginning of genuine democracy.

There would still exist a need for strong and wise government because it becomes crucially important how question is phrased, as Dan Ariely has so eloquently argued in his TED Talk.

Government would also need to ensure that choices are appropriately restricted so as not to be blatantly inconsistent with existing legislation and infrastructure. (Further notes on organizing a referendum are contained in this document at lawandhumanrights.org.)

A better way for the future?

The point is maybe not so much to allow the people to govern, but to make them feel that they are engaged in the process of government, that they don’t just have to choose one party or the other and then put up with everything that party stands for, the bits they don’t like as well as the bits they do.

This increased engagement will increase participation, hence increasing feelings of control, reducing fear and stress. (It has been shown that perception of lack of control is key cause of stress.)

According to Maalouf, individuals shape religion: “it does seem to me that the influence of religion on people is often exaggerated, while the influence of people on religion is neglected.” Likewise, individuals shape society at the same time that society shapes individuals. (I am currently reading a book by Yale Professor Bruce Wexler, which makes this point – Brain and Culture: Neurobiology, Ideology, and Social Change.)

So there is no need for individuals to feel disenfranchised or threatened. They just need to know how empowered they are.

What do you think? How does democracy work in your country? Or doesn’t it?

Do you feel that your voice makes a difference, or would you prefer a different system? Maybe smaller units of governance?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please post a comment and get the discussion flowing!

16 Comments

  • Dear Roz
    Thank you for sharing your life and thoughts at Yale. It is good to hear you are having such a good time.
    Your thoughts are fascinating. I remember being genuinely shocked when I realised at an age when i should have known better just how restrictive UK democracy is The first realisation of the party system stranglehold on an M P being able to vote freely. How can they represent their constituents if against party lines ? I am not a prolific writer to myMP but often enough to have had answers to concerns which are patronising and merely explainations of party policy Is this my representative ?
    The Swiss model is so much freer and flexible allowing the populace multiple referenda. Of course social media power can drive very biig changes and this is still at a ‘watch this space ‘ moment. Lots to think about there with e petition powe.
    You consider if most of the human race are afraid . Perhaps this is true in the intellectual classes but most are in ‘ next day next month survival’ world and overwhelmed by talk beyond that .Rest from the ‘intellectually described disaster to come ‘ is found by some in a trust in God who is all powerful ,still some despair , and many ignore for their immediate protection.

    If social media can educate the individual rapidly to an empower

    • Thanks for your comment, Fiona. I’m intrigued by the Swiss model too. But how many current governments (or presidents or prime ministers) would introduce a new constitution that would curtail their own powers? I must find out how and when Switzerland first introduced their constitution.

  • Yoo Hoo Roz!..
    for sure, people need to be INVOLVED with anything that impacts significantly on their lives. as you indicate , if you are properly involved you are more in control, less stressed and likely to be committed to whatever the task entails. eg folks involved in beach clean-ups are far more likely to take care with rubbish reduction, disposal etc Modern Uk politics and electoral systems do give a certain amount of choice and therefor influence….but as Fiona has already said earlier the party system restrains matters. Referenda should play a HUGE part in what influences our lives…..sadly politicians seem to shy away from them in the Uk. Recent on-line petitions that have forced a debate in the House of Commons are one small step forward i guess. As you say, if you feel engaged you are likely to feel more in “control” of you destiny in some small way……
    best, David Church

    • Thanks for your comment, David.

      It will be interesting to see what impact the e-petitions have. Just a point of note, getting 100,000 signatures on an e-petition cannot FORCE the House of Commons to debate it. It only becomes ELIGIBLE for debate. I had an interesting meeting with Jane Ellison, MP, who sits on the committee that decides which petitions actually get debated. There are a lot more variables than I had realised, such as whether something similar has recently been debated, whether the request is within the remit of the House of Commons, etc etc.

      • thanks Roz…interesting to learn there is no compulsory debate following 100k signatures.Thanks for the explanation 🙂 David

  • Interesting stuff.
    I am writing from Antigua, my home from age three, with Syd Genders as my neighbor as a boy. Many years have passed and the World and this slice of paradise have changed significantly.
    We have had successive governments that have done some good, but much wrongs as it relates to the ecosystem locally and indeed are serious players in varying UN forums and signatories to treaties that shape the “game”.
    However “in country” on a political level I will always be made to felt as a foreigner, while I voted once I will only spoil my voting slip in the future as I fail to see any real leaders who are not participating for their own personal gain, while of course selling their power of representing the people during campaigning times.
    Having spent the last ten years asking the hard questions as it relates to our actions in the context of Climate Change, our marine resources and sustainable development the answers are poor and the results are worse.
    I was invited to a meeting to address the issue of lethal yellowing (a disease that affect some 36 species of palms, particularly coconut).
    What is now very clear and glaring to me is that few people get how lax the technicians and bureaucrats who are the gate keepers of our ecosystem are it is an endemic malaise while they play big boys on the international stage and we become an annex to China with significant infrastructure projects that have NO regard to climate change, adaption, mitigation etc.
    While legislation and policy has been developed it sits on desks and is not passed, due to the fact that it would not be politically expedient. My one wish would be to have the resources to take them before the court as we have gone beyond letters and protests.
    The social, political history leaves us with a majority of the population to scared to really speak out or advocate for this or that, founded on poor education so that the common man fails to see what is really going on and the implications to their future and that of their offspring.
    The democratic component, that is a sham as elections get fixed by a variety of means and it stuns me how cheaply people will sell their rights for. Everything is politics or as we say Politricks!
    I’ll sign off with a nom de gare as writing is a cathartic release and allows me to play with a mask that gives me a sense of place,purpose and puzzlement to local readers, Who of course may arrive here to!
    Keep up your works and thank you for sharing your journey.

    • Thanks, Nemo. Great to hear from Antigua, of which I have VERY fond memories as the finish line of the Atlantic Rowing Race in 2006. Also intrigued to e-meet a neighbour of Syd Genders, an enigmatic legend in ocean rowing circles.
      In relation to your “one wish”, you might be interested to check out the work being done by my amazing friend Polly Higgins, who is seeking to have Ecocide established as the 5th international crime against peace. See http://eradicatingecocide.com/ for more details.

  • Hiya Roz, As to fear, I saw this carved in the inglenook at the Pelican Inn years ago… Fear knocked at the door faith answered no one was there
    Cheers, Steve

  • I like your comment on capitalism and socialism being outdated and found wanting. It has occurred to me over the last few years that as humans evolve they might take the best ideas and actions of socialism and capitalism and make something new and better out of it all. Taking care of people and still promoting individual success and of course taking good care of Earth. Perhaps there is a new form of government evolving that could take these ideas into account. Of course human nature is involved in the process for better or worse.

    • I would like to think that we are evolving, individually and collectively, towards something better. But some institutions (and constitutions) are more entrenched than others, so this could take some time.
      I hope that in future centuries, human beings will a) still be around, and b) be able to look back at the 21st century and feel sorry for our poor benighted age!

  • Roz, have been engaged the past 48 hours and spent the night in Yosemite en route to a pipeline demonstration in Texas. So, for the moment, a quick acknowledgement that my initial thoughts include “personal”, “engagement”, “ownership”, “local”, “responsibility”, “selfless”, “community” and more that have come to mind as I drive … you can probably find the connective words that pull these thoughts together … more later, after a few hundred more miles …

    on the road right now
    driving, thinking, will respond
    telepathically

    • Roz, done driving for the day, here in Flagstaff, AZ. Five hours off network, much to think about, and came up with a few more key words: “education”, “knowledgable”, “informed” and “interested” which tie in with “engaged” and “responsible” from previous post. To answer your specific question whether democracy works, I’d have to say from personal experience, that we give the appearance of doing it, but in fact abdicate to our elected leaders. One can question whether the election process is adequate, given all the rhetoric, falsehoods, lies, distorted truths and plane old shenanigans and dirty tricks that pervert the system. I say “personal” because for two decades or more while raising a family, making ends meet, climbing the ladder of alleged success, writing checks to my favorite non-profit, etc., I “voted” — admittedly using my best judgement — but then simply left it to whomever was elected to go about their business on my behalf. What I now believe is that we must challenge our elected representatives, and that takes “knowledge”, taking the time to make ourselves “informed”, compelling ourselves to be “interested” enough to attend our representatives’ town hall meetings, writing letters, calling to discuss issues with staff, showing up in their office. This all takes time and money, and thought! Now that the kids are grown, I have time to do all of the above, and only wish that I had been engaged as a young adult. My wish is that more youth will realize that their very survival depends on it.

      • Great comment, Doug!

        It’s true that democracy is a privilege, not a right, and with privilege comes responsibility. It would be great if more people had the time – and of course inclination – to participate more in the democratic process.

  • Great line of thought Roz, as usual.
    Wouldn’t it be great if these were the kinds of debates being held in palaces of power right now? It would sure beat tit-for-tat foolishness about two month “fiscal cliffs”, personal attacks and eternal struggle between the powers-that-be and the proletariat (love that word) or between the followers of Hayek and Keynes.
    Traditional anarchistic philosophy would suggest smaller, autonmous regions would provide a tighter social cohesion, more involvement and better resource management. However, all such social experiments have been abysmal failures so far, which suggests there is a lot more thinking to be done before that pathway resolves itself into anything practically valid and coherent.
    It really is the problem of the age – how do you build/foster/create an inclusive form of management when the human starting point is me (us) vs Them.
    With a large part of the globe not operating under a democratic system, how can a globally cohesive management plan be created?
    Sorry to not have much to offer in answers – just sharing my thoughts on the question.

    • Really fantastic points that you raise. We had an excellent talk from our regular Yale World Fellows psychologist last week on authority structures and how they distort communications. People at the bottom will always be suspicious of those at the top, and won’t communicate honestly with them, while those at the top assume that those at the bottom wouldn’t be able to handle the truth if they knew it.
      If only we could figure out how to promote honest communications, we would be at the start of solving these problems.

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