A Theory of Politics & Government

Posted: November 27, 2018 in Uncategorized

I want to stress at the outset that these two concepts should be distinguished. My principle concern is with governance, and governance is necessarily a political process. Thus good governance is founded on or exhibits good policy. Which begs the question, “What is good policy?”

To answer this, we have to address the fundamental concept. Politics refers to the business of policy-making, which is something we all know about, since it is part of who we are and choose to be. We adopt policies for our own lives because we believe that their fulfilment will reap rewards – desirable outcomes; if we envisage these as destinations, we adopt policies that steer us toward chosen destinations. If for example we want to gain promotion at work, we shall probably have to impress certain persons in a position to facilitate that promotion, and this will probably involve a range of policies successfully followed – such as the policy of getting to work on time. Thus policies are like directives or coordinates that allow us to chart a course and steer us toward our intended destination. We are, to use Aristotle’s phrase and with his original meaning in mind, political animals:

“. . . it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal. Nature, as we often say, makes nothing in vain, and man is the only animal whom she has endowed with the gift of speech. . . And it is a characteristic of man that he alone has any sense of good and evil, of just and unjust . . . and the association of living beings who have this sense makes a family and a state.” ~ Aristotle

micro2macro

The political, social and personal are inextricably entwined. No person is an island as the saying goes, all that we are and might be and do and experience involves, directly or indirectly, other people. What of the destination itself, is that political? In a sense yes, because destinations are not static events or experiences, they interact with, affect and are affected by the flow of human life. The business of living, getting to where we want to go and being where we want to be, entails continuous negotiative and political adaptation. The destinations we arrive at are political because they represent a negotiated political outcome between our will and the world, a dialectical relation which imparts political status.

Of course, this isn’t how we normally think about politics and government. But it’s useful to do so I think because we can transfer this model as it pertains to the individual to the larger organism of state or society. Where do we, collectively, really want to go – what sort of destination(s) do we want to arrive at? To paraphrase the Cheshire Cat, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road is sure to get you there. But the collective will can only be ascertained and actuated if the many that comprise the collective are genuinely represented in political decision-making processes. Back to the analogy of the individual: making a decision on a destination, with its implied policies and procedures to get us there, is not always easy! There are often competing wills within us, and we have to spend time resolving actual or apparent conflicting oppositions. This involves communing with and knowing ourselves, registering and articulating the various motive forces within, and playing out the implied scenarios imaginatively. Eventually we arrive at an ‘executive’ decision based on our preference(s) given perceived circumstances – this is the consensus within if you like. It is only when we achieve this internal consensus that we are able to subscribe to the policies and procedures implied, wholeheartedly.

Theoretically, in a properly functioning democracy – which literally means will or rule of the people – the process of arriving at consensus decisions should be inclusive, participative, dialogical and deliberative. So how shall we describe good government? By good, I mean government which serves the best interests of the people, the collective. In the individual it is the ability to arrive at an understanding of the most desirable outcomes (destinations) possible – in terms of lifestyle, career, personal relationships, etc. – and the efficacious adoption and actuating of policies that enable the realisation of those outcomes. Therefore it seems evidential that good government is one and the same as good political democratic process. Because the process ‘is’ the government. If the process is bad, there is tyranny, misrule and chaos. Does this description have a familiar ring to it? Perhaps it is indicative of the state of your society today. Critically important to the realisation of true democracy is the dissemination of and ease of access to veridical knowledge about the issues that impact on the individual lives that make up the collective. Without truth and truthfulness there is an absence of knowledge, and in the absence of knowledge there can be no genuine participation and representation in the political process. For only with knowledge, allied to imagination, is it possible to discern and critically appraise the issues at stake.

In the United Kingdom and in the United States at the present time, there is a real lack of engagement with truth in the political process. And until and unless truth reattains central status in the political process, tyranny and misrule are bound to continue. But this is, first and foremost, a cultural issue because the nature of political governance in any given society will reflect the dominant culture in which it is situated. Alas, today we might even go so far as to say that truth has become the enemy, in a capitalistic consumerist culture that thrives on distortion and manipulation, the mechanisms of political power are configured to primarily serve existing moneyed interests. Truth is of course multifaceted, but good government can only arise in conditions where accurate representations of reality – of what really is and how things really are – predominate in the culture and steer political policy.

#philosophy #goodpolicy #goodgovernment #directives#coordinates #destinations #Aristotle #politicalanimals #micro to #macro

 

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The Virgin and the Gipsy was a revelatory introduction to Lawrence for me, especially in his power to expose and elucidate the repressed and secreted activities of the psyche. His penetrative descriptions of his characters, their motives and intents, resonated uncomfortably at times because there was a sense in which my own difficult personal experiences had been captured and transcribed. Which is also to say that I think his characters are very true to life. In a nutshell, I would describe this novella as part adult fairy tale – the mythologic construction and archetypal identities are implicit – and part coming-of-age tale. Multi-layered, a number of themes can be discerned: existential anxiety; the yearning for authentic expression and affection; the family as microcosmic environment for contestations of power; the masks people wear to hide their lies and ipso facto the truth. Libidinous motivation is at the heart of this story; how it is framed, expressed and interpreted by the reader is pivotal to its meaning.

The story depicts an essential enmity between two polarised natures: the free-born and the base-born. The free-born is consumed by life, desiring to experience it fully and authentically. Whereas the base-born is consumed by fear of life in all its authentic expressions, consequently they live in denial and repression as life-unbelievers and life-denying. This key polarisation is Lawrence’s rendering of the good and the bad in people; he wants the reader to identify with his free-born characters as the best of people. Yvette Saywell, the central character, is nineteen, restive, vague and yearning for more. She is a free-born, like her mother Cynthia. In the initial chapter we learn that when Yvette and her elder sister Lucille were younger, their father, a vicar, was abandoned by Cynthia who abruptly took flight with a younger man: she had recognised ‘the worm which was his heart’s core’. For Yvette’s family, all base-born excepting Lucille, Cynthia’s flight was inexplicable: just madness, or badness. Consequently, her name is not to be mentioned, she is simply She-who-was-Cynthia, once the snow-flower, now the ‘foul nettle of lust’. Cynthia attempts to re-establish contact with her daughters but her letters don’t find their hands. The story resumes with the sisters now nineteen and twenty-one, having completed their schooling in France and returning home to commence their adult lives. Their father is now a rector, and their home in the north of England; the family includes Aunt Cissie, Uncle Fred and Granny, all huddled together in the rectory home.

Decoding the characters, especially with regard to the aforementioned polarisation, is key to understanding and appreciating this story. Yvette’s father is wedded to his carefully crafted clerical persona, but it’s deeply disingenuous. He beguiles in his presentation of warm conviviality spliced with moral piousness. But he is a liar, a hypocrite and an abuser. This character embodies Lawrence’s hostility towards English bourgeois religion and morality: self-regarding presentation, but hollow. Ostensibly he is at the helm of the family, but the real dark heart at its centre belongs to Granny. Tipping ninety, blind, and deaf (at least when it suits her), the Mater, as she is deferentially referred to, wears a kindly, warm exterior, but it hides a cunning, cold and calculating soul. She is likened to an old toad, waiting for bees to emerge from the hive every spring, then catching and devouring each one as it emerges to fly. Aunt Cissie is nearly fifty, her youth and sex has flown in dutifulness to the Mater. Yet she must continue to bolster and defend the belief that her sacrifice was and is right. She harbours a deep animosity towards Yvette, in whom is recognised the likeness of She-who-was-Cynthia; on occasion, her seething animosity breaks out and ‘strange, green flares’ of rage are witnessed. Her enmity arises from an abiding sense of threatened security, Yvette, by virtue of who she inescapably is, reminds Cissie of the sham and the waste of her life. The Saywells (except Yvette and Lucille) are consumed by how they are perceived in the world – obsessed with their status, they are preoccupied with cultivating a front of familial unity, respectability, morality and normality. But behind this front, the family is deeply dysfunctional.

This environment is toxic for Yvette’s free-born nature – she feels suffocated and stymied; yet conversely is attached to the advantages of her circumstances. Rebuffing with éclat the conjugal attempts of the wealthy Leo Wetherell, we glean a sense of Yvette waiting to be ignited by a spark of authenticity: ‘I should like to fall violently in love’, she states in chapter two. Then, whilst gadding about the countryside with friends, they encounter a gipsy. Well-dressed in his way, handsome, defiantly proud and dismissive of the likes of the brazen Leo Wetherell, who yells ‘Get out o’ the way then!’, he asks: ‘Don’t the pretty young ladies want to hear their fortunes?’ Meeting the level search of his dark eyes, something takes fire in her breast, she thinks ‘He is stronger than I am! He doesn’t care!’ Although the gipsy has a wife, who tells the fortunes, and children and a way of life alien to Yvette, the magnetism between the two seems irresistible. Eventually she returns to his encampment and, whilst his wife is out selling wares, is persuaded to enter his caravan with him on a flimsy pretext. Suddenly a couple drive into the encampment, hoping to warm their hands beside the fire. They are the soon-to-wed Eastwoods, though she remains officially married to the man she intends to divorce. A rapport is soon struck between the woman and Yvette, and she accepts her invitation to visit them at their home; with kindred spirits she finds their company revivifying. They are free-borns – unafraid to transgress received moral dictum and convention, their relationship is nonetheless loving and authentic. However, Yvette’s father gets wind of her friendship with the Eastwoods and confronts her with contemptuous sneering, traducing her motives and theirs. Without specifying her wrongdoing, he threatens her with the lunacy asylum if she continues to see them. Now, the hitherto repressed dynamics of their relationship are exposed. Her father, a slave to cowardice like all base-borns, fears Yvette’s emancipation and reacts by tightening the shackles of her material bondage to him. She feels the ‘peculiar calm, virgin contempt of the free-born for the base-born’.

It is impossible to see how Yvette is going to escape this sorry predicament. Resigned to the facts and reasoning that it is useless to quarrel with one’s bread and butter, she decides to play up to appearances and resume ‘normal’ life. Inside her, a deep change has been wrought, her heart has hardened and her illusions lost in the collapse of her sympathies. However, another encounter with the gipsy preludes the story’s startling and dramatic conclusion. And in this final turn of events, there is something of the Providential at work, as they also fulfil the premonitions communicated to the gipsy and then to Yvette, by the old gipsy,

Something happens at the very heart of this story, which I have struggled to reconcile myself to. I’m talking rights and wrongs. Perhaps it is intended as fate that the Eastwoods make their appearance when they do, for it prevents Yvette and the gipsy from entering the caravan. We do not know what would have happened with certainty, but we can surmise and imagine. Yet Yvette knows that he is a married man with children. How would his wife react knowing what might have taken place? He would he react knowing his wife was involved in a passionate affair? What if Yvette had become pregnant? I wonder about his ‘pariah’s bold yet dishonest stare’ – was he seeking to take advantage of her naivety and vulnerability? But then there are the suggestions of deeper and purer feelings – the ‘delicate, barely discernible smile of triumph’ when she initially returns to the camp. My sense is that in his desiring gaze, she is neither objectified nor degraded – but adored and uplifted. For Yvette, stricken by her father’s degrading unbelief, she envisages comfort and confirmation in his arms. He is the belief that she yearns for. But understanding why people do what they do does not in itself grant legitimacy or justification. Lawrence admonished us to honour the ‘quick of ourselves’, but this should not negate the importance of acting wisely, lest untampered impulses and desires become destructive. Happily, the concluding events reveal the true quality of their feelings for one another; he courageously saving Yvette from certain death, at risk to his own life, and their final moments together are tender and beautiful. There are times in our lives when the foibles of circumstance force us to choose between what we feel is right, in the deepest fibres of our being, and what is impressed on us as right by those who are enslaved to the eyes of the world. If life is art, then the artist has license to create the beautiful, howsoever realised.

the virgin and the gipsy

#DHLawrence #Desire #TrueDesire#sexandlove #intuition #Freeborn#Baseborn

 

Dear Alcohol,

Posted: January 3, 2018 in Uncategorized

You pander for my attention after all this time – and lo! You have it. But I’ve rewritten the terms of our engagement. How now can I forget all those erroneous moments in time, when we held each other tight, carousing through the night like demagogues, talking night into day at a swig, and day into night at another? You were the luminous stars I held in my hand and the raging fire in my gut, as I spluttered in the sewer, and reached for another.

It’s true, when I’m lonesome I think of you still, for a troubled moment or two. And I’ll ask, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could dance again?” But everything’s been stripped bare now. The chasm that you used to fill, is no longer there for you. Times are a changin’. I’m stepping up, claiming me. Filling the spaces with particles of beautiful reality. Watch the show, you’ll see. I’m reaching for the light, and the darkness of negation you seduced and smothered me with no longer serves this holy plight.

Alcohol, you hurt me so. Yet you always said, “Here I am, join with me, let’s run from the hurt and the rules – rules are for bending, or protesting against. We can turn the world upside down.” If only. What a horrible world this can be; perfectly horrible people running amok, seemingly running the show. But we’re not going to make it better in flight, or salvage a scintilla of reason and peace from this unholy mess in desertion of duty. Best to know one’s ground, then hold it, then fight the good fight. So I shall fight, and burnish the light of this life I have. It’s all I have and all I’ll ever have. My light, kindled by God’s.

But I thank you for our many engagements. It was er… An education. Yes I learnt things. About illusions, chasing shadows and chasing my own tail. Sometimes we get to know the substance through the shadow. The reality through the multitudinous dissimulations. What ‘is’ is all that remains when all that is not has been rendered transparent to sight. You have taught me that there is only spirit that can fill this vessel and make me truly Me. God’s indwelling Spirit and Presence in my thoughts and feelings, words and deeds.

Yours sincerely,

StephenBottle Trash Dump Garbage Waste Ecology Recycling

#thedemondrink #fillingthevoid #thegoodfight #realityinnegation #groundofbeing #spiritofgod

Reconnecting to life as it is

Posted: September 21, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Sun above clouds

Life as it really, REALLY is – the bigger, veridical picture as it were – is liable not to be emphatically evident in how things appear. Appearances very often contrive to deceive and distort our sense of how things actually are. Obscured by clouds, the sun is lost in sight for a time, its warmth on our skin diminished temporarily. But of course the sun’s existence and power is no less real, its life-giving rays no less certain. Everyday, I am reluctantly obliged – as a denizen of planet Earth – to confront and resist and sometimes fight hostile misrepresentations of what is the case: narratives to do with identity and possibility. And what is at stake in this is all that really matters: my ability to register and realise my truest and (w)holiest revelations pertaining to my place in the world. Ultimately, we alone are the guardians of our reality – of who we are, why we are here and what is deeply resonant and meaningful for us. And in all that we choose to say and think and do – we reify or occlude the centrifugal sun at the heart of our living truth.

#biggerpicture #reality #appearances #deception #identity #possibility

The Tale of Father Brook

Posted: September 10, 2017 in Uncategorized

I shall never forget a sermon I once listened to, delivered by the enigmatic Father Brook at St. Mary-on-the-Quay in Bristol. As sermons go, it was a little out of the ordinary I suppose – no direct quotations from the Bible for example. But for me, it did just what a sermon should do – it spoke, clearly and directly, to the spirit of humanity in the minds and hearts of those assembled. Father Brook then – over twenty years ago now – was an old man, around eighty I guess, but very lucid, affable, witty, and grounded in the best sense of the word.

The sermon took the form of an informal and rather amusing anecdote. Father Brook related how he had received a telephone call from a woman, a regular parishioner, who had called to complain that a particular Service had not been held when scheduled. Apparently she had turned up only to find the church door locked. The complaint then broadened, or perhaps degenerated, into a more general tirade and lament about how things weren’t working properly and standards were slipping.

“She was very angry!”

Father Brook let those words linger a resonating moment. Then he told how – when he could get a word in edgeways – he then calmly informed the woman that the Service in question had in fact taken place, but not at the time she had been expecting. It turns out the woman had simply misread or muddled the Service times.

One has to read between the lines for this homily to be appreciated. Father Brook was addressing the subject of anger, and the readiness of many to express this emotion in the absence of all relevant facts pertaining to the perceived ‘wrong’ at the root of that anger. The way in which this woman’s anger then grew into a more general angriness is also illuminating; anger is liable to spread like wildfire, with situations soon spiralling out of control and descending into disorder and acrimony. There is also a nod toward our more general sensibility today – in a consumerist milieu, we are encouraged in our impatience and want things NOW! Instant gratification; instant justice; instant retribution. We have become lazy and complacent, and when things don’t work out as planned, we are often far too quick to point the finger of blame. I think we also live in a milieu in which the tabloid news media encourages gratuitous angriness – scapegoating ‘easy targets’ for blame: the unemployed, disabled, immigrants, Muslims, single mothers, etcetera. But the moral outrage so incited, is in fact the real outrage. There are so many people angry today, about things they barely understand. Anger is addictive too – perhaps in the midst of a verbal tirade life suddenly seems meaningful again, as we imagine we’re setting the world’s wrongs to right.

St_Mary_on_the_Quay_Church,_Bristol_by_Anthony_ONeil_Geograph_2229903

My own father, with whom I attended that Mass, looked blank and uncomprehending throughout. At its conclusion he repeated the same words he uttered prior to it: “Mind, he gives sermons like I’ve never heard before.”

#anger #homily #consumerism #quickfix #massmedia #tabloids #moraloutrage #addiction #scapegoating

 

This is a taut and edgy murder-mystery which had me fastened to my seat – alternately wincing, furrowing a perplexed brow and blithely speculating – right up until the final ‘Screw you!’ denouement. It’s a whodunnit? of sorts, only for much of the film the chief suspect is our central character, Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), who we’re also supposed to be empathising with. Indeed, Rachel isn’t entirely sure she isn’t responsible, given her alcohol blackouts and feelings of ire towards the, initially missing person, then murder victim. On top of that, she can’t explain the bloodied and bruised state she awakes to one morning. On one level the film works as an engrossing suspense-thriller, but it also addresses and explores themes of alcoholism, trauma and loss, deceit and infidelity. Finally, it’s about redemption and renewal in truth and justice.

Rachel commutes into Manhattan by train, wandering hither and thither like a lost soul – she is – invariably inebriated, and then commuting back to her shared flat in the evening. This has been her life for about one year since she lost her job and her marriage hit the rocks due to her sterility and then husband’s (Tom Watson; Justin Theroux) infidelity. Every day she peers out from the train window – at one house in particular where, in her mind, the ideal couple reside, apparently hopelessly in love. She’s obsessed by the couple because they represent something she thought she had but lost and still yearns for. Until one day, to her dismay, she sees the woman on her balcony apparently in a passionate embrace with another man. This perturbs her greatly, believing that the woman is recklessly destroying a very precious marriage. From here on in, things get very murky and convoluted. It turns out that the woman on the balcony is Megan (Haley Bennett), nanny to Rachel’s divorced husband’s child with his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). Then, Megan goes missing and suspicion falls on Rachel because she was seen in the vicinity on the night in question. Megan’s husband Scott (Luke Evans) however, is volatile and violent, but has alibis for that night. I could go on, but I’m not going to spoil it for whoever happens to be reading this.

Suffice to say, the plot twists serpentine and turns at perpendicular angles. Rachel’s investigations, motivated by her desire to prove her innocence as well as her personal feelings, and aided in no small measure by the return of veridical memories due to alcohol abstinence, drive tawdry and sinister truths to the surface. I must say, Emily Blunt delivers a mesmeric performance as a pitiable, alcohol-drenched unfortunate. This was a characterisation, along with its contextual narrative lineaments, that was of particular interest to me. I believe that extreme alcoholism as is portrayed here doesn’t just happen because of a faulty gene or some mysterious allergy. Behind the outward manifestations of addiction and irrational and self-destructive behaviour, there is inevitably some unresolved psycho-emotional disturbance. And truth and coming to terms with the truth is always the light at the end of the tunnel.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkoEE1i0CX8

 

on-the-train

Stephen J. Oram: 19th November, 2016

Friday Night

Posted: April 5, 2015 in Uncategorized

The scene creeps in so slow,
Like a reluctant fog,
Now the reckoning and woe.
Desperate measures,
As the sleepy village of this mind
Comes alive in ice cold sun.
The darling of savage grace,
Wallowing in his pathos,
Bellowing for his bride.
Next time Mr. Moonshine,
It’ll all be fine…
Eating away the hours,
And rescued for a plunder,
Kiss curl hanging dear,
Welcoming smile so near –
‘Forget me not,
In your Byzantine perambulations.’
Black the scream,
At the Edenic apple seen,
So she told –
Oh pure bizarro gold.
Maybe then I need more,
Than just a little grace and understanding,
If I’m to make this endless mile,
Touch that vaunted smile.
Solitary confinement now,
Eking out the milliseconds,
The shame and the strain:
And loving you,
More than can be true.
And hoping beyond hope.

_66784862_66784861

 

This poem was written in the aftermath of one of my infamous and decidedly dangerous drinking binges. It went on for about ten days – about usual, and started on a Friday night. I was feeling very, very sorry for myself – I’d just turned 45 (I’m now officially middle-aged) and was contemplating my great love interest of the past six months or so, who I’d been in close and intense communication with: she’d severed all lines of communication with me…

Maybe it was the right thing to do. But all those many times she’d assured me she loved me. And the many times I’d told her I loved her – she was the first woman I’d said those words to. Didn’t our words mean anything anymore? Was it all make believe? We didn’t even make it to a face-to-face meeting – she would find excuses from somewhere to put it off. For a time I was the beloved, her twin flame – we talked of having a child and living together in blissful concubinage. But towards the end, I had morphed into a ‘pitiful wretch’, and a lying, vicious misogynistic bastard to boot. I was the Serpent in her Garden of Eden, and she wasted little time in conveying to all and sundry just how bad and sad I was. Yet she seemed blind to the things she’d said and done which really hurt me, and blind to her double standards. But I was willing to work through these things with her – our shortcomings, our mistakes, our skeletons in the closet – such was the esteem I held her in. Then I was expunged from her life just like that – all lines of communication severed. How could she do that after all that time? After all the emotional and psychical investments we’d made? All the dreams we’d woven? We’d declared our love for one another many times. Was it all just make believe? Were we just in love with the ideal of love, hastily fastening that ideal to one another until reality ruptured the mutual fantasy? Perhaps, but when have there been roses without thorns? Isn’t there always a price to pay for love? I thought she knew that, had accounted for it. I still believe I love something essential I beheld in her. But I’m falling into a perennial trap – blaming the other for the breakup. I was guilty of much. Said things that should never have been said. Relationships require constant tenderness and this can only come from being and staying in empathy.

Anyway, such was my mental perturbation and downheartedness as I set about a second bottle of wine that Friday evening. Things could have been a lot worse that night. But whether it was mere coincidence or something more – like synchronicity – a stranger turned up out of the blue and befriended me. I was made to feel someone again, plus I was introduced to Joni Mitchell – singer, songwriter, and poet extraordinaire. Despite this, I continued drinking hard for the next few days. I’ve had a self-destruct button for as long as I can remember. Perhaps I’m just addicted to pain? Or taking things to the brink? Things go wrong, or not according to plan or what I’d hoped for, and I feel that I have to make it that much more worse. And then of course I feel ashamed and at loggerheads with myself.

© Stephen. J. Oram

Knowledge is power; power tends to corrupt.

As the General Election approaches you might do worse than to ask where your preferred party or candidate stands in relation to the ubiquitous surveillance that now pervades UK society – a lot worse in my view. Indeed, perhaps you should ask yourself where you stand on the subject of surveillance and Big Brother. There are more CCTV cameras per square mile in the UK than any other nation on earth. And evidence is mounting sky-high that the comforting notion that ‘If you’ve done nothing wrong you’ve nothing to fear’ is and has been for some time a fanciful fiction. Today, the extensive powers of surveillance (enabled through cutting-edge sophisticated technology) at the disposal of the police and security agencies, are – as the near continual stream of stories in the news media indicate – being routinely abused, or at least being used for purposes other than those many would like to believe. There may be legislation in place which is supposed to curb the abuse of these powers, but it’s clearly not being enforced properly. There should be stringent and effective checks and controls on the use of surveillance powers – for example the surveillance of individuals’ internet usage – but there aren’t quite simply. Legislation is fine, but what if there’s an agenda that you and I are not supposed to know about to allow certain individuals to operate in breach of that legislation with impunity? I do believe that this is the case, and I can assure you I am not a rabid conspiracy theory enthusiast.

In truth, what is happening – and it’s pretty much what Orwell feared and prognosticated – is that these powers are being routinely employed to keep tabs on and stymie the activities and aspirations of individuals and groups exercising their lawful and perfectly legitimate rights and freedoms, but who happen to be regarded as ‘a problem’ for the vested controlling interests of other members of society who want to protect their privileges, power and influence. Usually, what it boils down to is that the interests of those invested with social authority and power, who are either extremely wealthy or in the pay of the very wealthy, trump the interests of people like me – the hoi polloi, the great unwashed. The police are paid first and foremost to serve a wealthy controlling elite and their state apparatus (see The Socialist Worker ‘Police serve the state and the rich’), some would say. Unruly, that is to say enlightened, members of the hoi polloi are smeared as ‘subversive’ and surveillance in its now manifold forms is being used as a weapon to quell the possibility of widespread social consciousness breaking out. You are really in danger today of being pigeonholed as subversive for simply being involved in honest social activism. But the freedom to protest and be involved in such activities is what people died and fought for in two world wars.

People are being spied on for wholly the wrong reasons. Three examples, off the top of my head,  come to mind. The family of Stephen Lawrence, the murdered black teenager, were spied on for years because the police were obsessed with finding reasons to discredit the family so as to deflect attention away from the inadequacy of the original investigation into Stephen’s murder. Sukhdev Reel, mother of Ricky Reel, who died in mysterious circumstances on October 15, 1997, was shocked to discover that she had been spied on by undercover police for years, simply because she had campaigned for a proper investigation into her son’s death and was vocal in her criticism of the original investigation. Seventeen other families running ‘justice campaigns’, including the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, were also monitored by undercover police. And it’s routine for undercover police to try and infiltrate and sabotage activist/protest groups regarded as ‘subversive’ (see for example The Guardian (Jan 20, 2012) ‘Disclosure likely to intensify controversy over long-running police operation to infiltrate and sabotage protest group’s’). The fact that a number of these undercover police proceeded to have long-term intimate relationships with – even having children with, female activists involved in these groups before disappearing from their lives, reveals the base mentality and appalling lack of moral probity of the individuals involved in these operations. These few examples I’ve provided here only scratch the surface of what is going on today, right now.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the use of all surveillance powers per se – of course, when used properly and responsibly they can be a great aid in crime prevention and in bringing the perpetrators of crime to justice. I’m just acutely aware (unfortunately I’m drawing on personal experience here in part) that unless there are very rigorous checks and controls, these powers are going to be misused in a society in which all too often ‘might is right’ prevails. Just two Sundays ago I noted the presence of an individual (who I very much suspect was an undercover cop) standing and watching intently from across the road, for at least an hour, whilst three 38 Degrees activists sought signatures from members of the public for an anti-TTIP petition. Was he trying to intimidate? Perhaps he was watching closely for an excuse to move them on? I can only conjecture. And I cannot say that he was an undercover policeman (I would have asked him, but I don’t think he would have appreciated that). But for me, he might as well have been wearing a badge saying TTIP policeman. That’s kind of the point of here, because once the police begin privileging the interests of certain individuals and groups over others, it is no longer a truly public service – it has become a mercenary, purchasable ancillary for the socially powerful. Such is the path to tyranny. Here are some sobering and scary surveillance related facts worth reflecting on*:

  • Of the nearly 3 million surveillance decisions taken by public bodies under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act since 2000, fewer than 0.5% were approved by a judge.
  • The scale of CCTV use in Britain is so unclear estimates of the number of cameras range from 1.8 million to 4.2 million.
  • “The CCTV schemes that have been assessed had little overall effect on crime levels.” Home Office research, 2005.
  • During the 1990s the Home Office spent 78% of its crime prevention budget on installing CCTV.
  • Since 1998 the surveillance of communications in the UK has more than trebled.
  • At least 243 Police Officers and staff received criminal convictions for breaching the Data Protection Act between 2007 and 2010.
  • 19, 551 people have successfully challenged the information disclosed by a CRB check since 2003.
  • 370,000 records from the Police National Computer, Prison records and Drug Interventions programme were lost on a single memory stick by Home Office consultants in 2008.
  • “There is information on the Consulting Association files that I believe could only be supplied by the police or security services.” David Clancy, investigations manager at the ICO, speaking about an alleged construction industry ‘blacklist’, March 2012.
  • The Data Retention and Investigative Powers Act (DRIP) was rushed through Parliament in 2014 and grants broad surveillance powers ruled unlawful by the European Court of Justice (ECO).

* Most of these stats are now a little dated, but I can assure you things have worsened since 2012.

Main source for factual data:

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“To thine own self be true; and as sure as night follows day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” ~ William Shakespeare

Last year I attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and listened intently as the member delivering their share (the share is the focal point of these meetings, it’s where a seasoned AA member recounts how alcohol addiction affected their lives – usually harrowing listening, and how through engaging with AA and working diligently through the twelve-step programme for recovery their life has been transformed) earnestly admonished, “You are only as sick as your secrets.” I was intrigued by this statement and soon thereafter discovered that it was tantamount to an article of faith in the AA canon, reflecting the rigorous honesty and self-exposition which is considered integral to the success of the twelve-steps and a successful life beyond recovery – life imbued with meaning, purpose and a real sense of achievement. Subsequently, I resolved to spend some time reflecting on the truth of this revered admonition; here then, are some of those reflections.

What does it really mean to be sick? Sick, that is, in the heart and mind – the soul. That sickness, I believe, is inevitable when the finest expressions of the soul are bound, twisted and gagged; when our luminosities are blighted by the tears and scars of their obfuscation and distorted guises. There’s a pandemic of this kind of sickness, and it began with the history of humankind. Knowing and pursuing what we really or most desire has always been fraught with difficulty, not least with regard to who and how we shall be. Yet, this question of who and how we shall be is central to our lives, and clearly, if we are to succeed in fulfilling our desires pertaining to potential identity and being, we must be open and honest with ourselves. Many people are like closed books, not just to others but to themselves – pages unread for fear of understanding or trying to understand; other pages are read, and the book abruptly closed again, the information encountered secreted away into a dark corner of the mind. It is secreted away thus, because it hurts – perhaps because challenges who and how we think we are, or our present outlook or worldview, or our present mode of existence. Yet if we secret away information like this – refusing to hold it up to the light of reasoned analysis and evaluation – we obscure who and how we really are, and the meanings and values we really hold. How then are we to know and pursue our true desire and expression? And how are we to be authentic in our relations with others and in the world at large? We will be burdened with having to wear counterfeit guises – disguises – through which others can relate to us only partially and inadequately. How then can we love and be loved?

The soul desires above all to love and be loved. In the folds of love in its variegated forms, the soul finds its succour and exaltation. But love must have an object, a reality to behold and enfold; marriages breakdown, careers crumble and lives falter because secrets and lies (alternate sides of the same coin) are exposed which reveal a reality inimical to the one in which love sought to root and grow. And yet, we can feel tempted to secret and misrepresent reality because of our overwhelming desire to be loved. When we misrepresent reality and truth however we are obliged to act and order our affairs in such a way that those misrepresentations are perceived as veracious reality by others; in the endeavour to protect an original concealment and hence misrepresentation, we can end up having to live its falsity burdened with having to conjure a myriad of buttressing distortions: otherwise known as having to ‘live a lie’. This is liable to foster chronic anxiety because we are continually in fear of the truth coming to light and the consequent withdrawal of love, and liable also to foster a sullying sense of guilt and shame because we cannot help but be continually reminded that we are betraying the trust implicit in the love and acceptance others are investing in us and the manufactured reality in which we have situated ourselves in their eyes.

There was an interview on the radio recently with a young man who had been addicted to viewing internet pornography. Whilst subsumed in this addiction, he kept its reality under wraps, but constantly lived in fear that it would be discovered. And he felt guilty, ashamed and diffident because the persona he continually presented to others, a persona which he really wanted to believe in himself, was at odds with how he really felt about and saw himself. His communicative engagements with others and pursuits and activities more generally were marred and diminished by the schism in his consciousness pertaining to self-identity. His addiction belonged to an identity with which he wasn’t comfortable with and dared not disclose to others: he was nurturing and protecting, albeit misgivingly, a Mr. Hyde. His perception of women in particular was schismatic – on the one hand viewing them as sexual objects void of any real humanity, and on the other as complete human beings on an equal footing with himself. Resolution came about for this young man through rigorously honest self-examination; he had to be clearer about the organic loving contexts in which meaningful and fulfilling sexual expression takes place. His addiction was a substitute for genuine human engagement, and as a consequence he felt unable to love or be loved. Honesty and openness with himself opened the door to honesty and openness with others – as evinced by his talking on public radio; I think overcoming our inhibitions and fears to share and talk about our inner conflicts encourages the process of catharsis through which we are able to identify our organic needs and expressions. As something of a meaningful aside, according to research 80% of internet activity is porn related – I wonder what percentage of that monumental mass of individuals is openly honest about its viewing activities?

I think it’s critically important that we interrogate our motivations for our secrets. There are, I believe, times when concealment serves the greater good – one can speak of ‘white’ lies, and secrets can be viewed in that light too. Again, whether or not a secret is justified depends on our motivation and the outcome sought. As a matter of common sense, we know for example that there are appropriate and inappropriate times to disclose certain facts and truths to others – timing is an important consideration, because we must be mindful of the effect the information disclosed is likely to have. Will the recipient of that information properly understand its significance? Children, for example, are generally taught the facts of life pertaining to procreation only when they’re ready and able to digest that information. Always, we should consider the contexts around what we communicate. What we choose to disclose to the less understanding and morally compromised, may come back to bite us. If you won a large amount of money, for example, wouldn’t you be circumspect in whom, how and when you chose to disclose that to others? We belong to a broken world, a world in which it is too often necessary, as a pragmatic matter of self-preservation, to veil our true thoughts, feelings and circumstances. And then there is the delicate matter of how we feel about revealing certain matters pertaining to us and our lives. I met a lovely lady recently who used to attend AA meetings; she was eventually persuaded to give a share, but told me that she felt very exposed and uncomfortable in this. I can certainly understand and relate to that; I believe that there is a sense of when and with whom it is propitious to share information with others; in a sense I’m repeating the previous point made, but here the emphasis is on our sensitive and subjective feelings about other people. There are things that I would prefer not to share with many people, not because I fear any immediate deleterious consequences but because I simply don’t feel it’s right and proper that I open a window onto my soul for others who haven’t earned my trust and respect. It’s perfectly natural and normal however to want to share the nature of our very particular journey through life with those with whom we’ve established a strong empathetic bond.

Despite the inhumanity that exists in the world, and consequently the mistrust and suspicion of our fellow brothers and sisters, there is an innate desire to want to believe in our humanity and in this place our trust in others. It doesn’t matter how many times we are lied to, kept in the dark about the true motivations and purposes of others, and betrayed, there is a yearning to behold a common humanity we can trust in that will never go away. If we cannot believe and trust in the good that exists, however obfuscated and repressed, in the human soul, how can we trust in ourselves? How can we trust in love or a universe that is loving? Does life itself secret away its true meaning from us? So, if we are to believe in a common humanity – and I believe we have no real choice in this, for to believe otherwise entails that nothing in life, including life itself, makes sense, and this is an untenable and impossible position for us to adopt – we have but one choice: do we fulfill our humanity, or participate in its negation? The answer should be obvious, and we start by opening our minds and hearts to the reality of all that we are, uncomfortable though that can be: to lie to and secret the truth from ourselves is to participate in our negation, and ultimately humanity’s. If we are not honest and open with ourselves, how can we be with others? And how can others know us as we are, and where they stand with us, if we don’t know ourselves? Who we really are and desire to be is veiled behind all the misrepresenting narratives that we tell ourselves about ourselves and the world, narratives that construct a false persona in order to confirm the veracity of what is not, a persona which we can mistakenly believe in however, and enlist the aid of others to confirm this mistake; as secrets to ourselves, we are certainly sick.

If we are to flourish and flower we must continually learn and grow through a deepening engagement with the lived – our experiential journey. There is always the temptation to stymie our progression in this through repressing and suppressing those experiences and the narrative structures they invoke, which challenge the veracity and coherence of our existing structures of understanding. It’s par the journey to encounter structures of understanding we find difficult to integrate into the matrix of our current beliefs, values, feelings, attitudes, expectations and investments in life. It can be daunting and disorientating when we have to confront narratives of knowing which implicitly or explicitly challenge and undermine our existing structures. ‘I’m an alcoholic/drug addict’; ‘My marriage is on the rocks’; ‘The career I’ve been pursuing for years is the wrong one’; ‘The policies of the political party I’ve supported for years are fundamentally at odds with my core beliefs and values’; ‘My long-held conception of God conflicts with the truths implicit in what I have experienced’ – these thoughts posit truths that we probably feel a desire to repress and suppress – secret away into a dark corner of the mind, because to accept them often entails a fundamental overhaul of our structures of understanding, and the lives we have constructed and known around them. But if we choose to believe flowers grow where choking weeds reside, we renounce what is most integral to our humanity – the ability to respond mindfully to the lived. The more we propagate weeds conceiving them as flowers, the deeper we sink into a netherworld of denial and illusion, becoming progressively more enmeshed in and betrothed to a life that is counterfeit. To live mindfully is also to live authentically, being fully present in the world; only in this authenticity of presence can the world be made authentically, fully present for us; in an open and honest communion with the lived we are emancipated to be all that we can be.

© Steven J. Oram

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I look backwards, because I want to look forwards

I look backwards, because I desire to look forwards

1. Palestine was finally recognised, officially, as an independent state by the United Nations. Long overdue of course, but perhaps here is hope. Because this recognition is really the recognition of a people’s sovereignty, and the rights and freedoms that that signifies. But this recognition has yet to translate into meaningful action, so now, in 2013, we should renew our commitment to the rights and freedoms of the Palestinians, and all oppressed peoples.
2. The austerity agenda. Many remain sceptical, to say the least, about the need for the severe austerity measures, certainly in terms of how they’re being implemented and who they’re targeting. The UK government’s mantra of ‘We’re all in this together’ is obviously a damned lie, and that’s the all-important clue which reveals the Machiavellian interests at the heart of this agenda. I think the whole austerity narrative is a contrivance which the government is using, on behalf of the plutocratic elite they truly represent, to restructure society ideologically and really: it’s about facilitating greater top-down control and pooling yet more power in the hands of a domineering few. But, if their ultimate end is to be achieved, they must win the battle for minds – and they’re not winning. Despite a largely soporous and cahooting mainstream media, Net based campaigning organizations like UK Uncut, and Net based sources of analysis and opinion are steering more and more minds towards the truth. I feel that something’s going to give – is it revolution in the air?
3. The success of Net based campaigning organizations. Net based campaigning organizations such as Avaaz, 38 Degrees and Change.org were instrumental in some real successes for people power in 2012: the recognition of Palestine as the world’s 194th state; pressurising the Pakistani government to introduce a stipend programme for 3 million children to ensure that boys and girls receive a proper education; persuading the UK government to backtrack on plans to sell-off public forestry into private hands; helping to stymie legislation that would severely circumscribe Internet freedoms and transform the Net from a tool for personal emancipation and democratic engagement into one which primarily serves a corporate capitalist agenda; the list goes on… Naturally, many politicians are none too happy about these new platforms for exercising a real democratic voice: a fantastic reason to get involved if ever there was one! For too long we’ve been fobbed off with the fable that our governmental systems are democratic – but when election time shambles round the choice is overwhelmingly a choice between rhetorics rather than anything substantial. It’s a clever ruse, this so-called representative democracy; in truth it’s a cunning system that ensures the continued hegemony of plutocratic top-down control, and the last thing that feral elite wants is the proliferation of real democracy. So perhaps the most important service these campaigning organizations provide is their power to facilitate reflection on and participation with things that really matter – and in this foster the real spirit of democracy. Which, needless to say, bodes well – so long as the Internet remains free from repressive political interference.
4. The Hillsborough disaster. At last! The official recognition that families, friends and campaigners fought so long and hard for: behind an obfuscation of lies and clandestine collusion, 96 gross miscarriages of justice ensued. Through 2012 and in recent years there has been a steady stream of exposés revealing the corruption that exists amongst those very people and in those very places that many might not have believed possible. Comforting as it may be for many to believe that those who attain positions of seniority in our institutions somehow stand atop metaphoric moral pedestals, society is not served if the truth is repressed. So in one sense the various unpalatable revelations of recent times might be made to work for the good, if they serve as a reality check and a call to action. There is, in my opinion, quite a discrepancy between how our institutions work in theory, and how they work in practice, and the morally and spiritually wayward all too easily find opportunities to abuse their positions of authority. I want the workings of our institutions made much more transparent, and more efficacious procedures for being held to account by the citizenry. For the Hillsborough victims, the fight for justice is not yet over: let’s hope and pray that the new inquest in 2013 points fingers of blame in the right directions.
5. Iceland. Noteworthy events have been taking place in Iceland in recent times. In the aftermath of the country’s financial crisis in 2008, unorthodox measures were adopted. Members of the banking elite were held to account and jailed, and the ordinary Icelander – not of course responsible for the crisis – was insulated: education, health, social security and policing all being shielded from spending cuts. The focus was on increasing consumption. Now, the Icelandic economy is growing at a pace whilst the eurozone’s is stagnant or shrinking. And on October 20, 2012 the country provided the world with a lesson in democracy when a referendum was held on a bill formulated by its Constitutional Council (its members being elected by the people); voters approved amendments that would mean the country’s constitution would be redefined by the people. If the bill is passed by the Icelandic parliament in 2013, some of the constitutional changes would mean: the votes of the electorate would have equal weighting; a specific proportion of the electorate could call for a national referendum on a specific matter. The bill should be ratified by the country’s parliament in 2013 (there’ll be uproar if it isn’t). All this may well be news to you, because the mainstream media in this country and elsewhere doesn’t exactly spotlight matters pertaining to genuine democratic reform. Real democracy is achievable, especially in the age of the Internet, and Iceland is paving the way.
6. George Galloway, expelled from the Labour Party in 2003 for calling Tony Blair a liar, was elected to parliament as Respect MP for Bradford West. This is the situation we’ve arrived at – any politician belonging to one of three mainstream parties is liable to be expelled if he/she tells it as it is. I’ve long admired George Galloway, and believe that he is one of the few politicians who speaks the truth: says what he means, means what he says. Although I’m a member of the Green Party, I recognise that Galloway’s Respect party is genuinely socialist and progressive – ‘Respect’ is an acronym and stands for Respect, Equality, Socialism, Peace, Environmentalism, Community and Trade unionism. Despite the differences in rhetoric, all three mainstream political parties in England – Conservative, Lib Dem and Labour – advocate the neoliberalist corporate-capitalist agenda. And the continued destruction of society and the environment is assured by this blinkered and benighted agenda. Humanity cannot be understood, celebrated and supported, when looked at through the distorting lens of capital accumulation and the attempted commodification of all that there is. I really hope that in 2013 and beyond more and more people recognise that what is urgently required right now is a renewal of the democratic socialist spirit, translated into 21st century forms of democratic socialism. I think it’s going to happen!
7. My home town of Bristol chose independents for its positions of City Mayor and Police and Crime Commissioner; George Ferguson, now City Mayor, then chose a Green Party councillor, Gus Hoyt, to be in charge of environment and communities in his three member cabinet. Although I, along with the Green Party (I’m a member), think city mayors are in general not to be recommended, the fact that Bristol and other places in the UK chose independents demonstrates I think that people are eager to have new and more faces on the political stage, faces not circumscribed by the three mainstream parties. This is good news because the problem as I see it is that the three main parties are all tethered to neoliberalism, which is the real problem – the straitjacket we need to wriggle free from. I wish George well for 2013, and if Gus Hoyt can deliver in his position, it will be great for raising the profile and standing of the Green Party.
8. I finally switched my energy supplier from one of the UK’s Big Six (corrupt cartel!), to a greener supplier (Ecotricity; other greener energy suppliers are available), and I switched my bank from Barclays to The Co-operative (much more ethical).Oh, and I’m recycling a lot more. We can all do our bit, and it all adds up to real change: ‘Be the change you want to see’, Gandhi said. I aim to use ethical trading outlets much more in 2013.
9. The world’s still spinning, despite the supposed doomsday Mayan predictions for 2012; I’m still here, and if you’re reading this you’re still here. Well, that’s a good start. 2013: bring it on!
10. ‘Hmmm. Number ten, what shall it be?’ I pondered. Nothing immediately came to mind; but then, a sudden shaft of illumination: the unquantifiable good happenings that occurred every day in 2012. Good happenings are manifested every day and every moment, by people who will probably never hit the news headlines. And it’s the good happenings that people manifest in everyday life, that really makes the difference. But good happenings don’t just happen arbitrarily. It’s the people who hold a light to their souls through mindfulness, and see the sufferings and confusions in the world abiding there, these are the people who can make the difference. Only when we are truly present to ourselves, are we truly present in the world as the miraculous creations that we are. And the greatest gift we can offer to the world and ourselves, is all that we are.