Friday, 5 December 2014

Why Political Community is No Longer Community

(From the archives: October 11th, 2003. Things haven't got any better since...)

There has been radical change in the British political landscape in the last 15 years or so. Old alliances, like that between right-wing traditionalists and the economically effective, have broken up. There is substantial and growing disgust with the whole political system. More and more people are waking up to the fact that they and their views are unrepresented. The so-called body politic is disintegrating, along with the national feeling on which it depends.

I myself am on the forward wave-front of these changes. Today, I want to explain how I feel about politics, and why I feel that way. I want to explore the idea of community in general, to try to understand what is happening. And I want to air my view, that the way out of today's mess is to look wider than politics.

First, I will evince my own personal sense of community. I will not mince words. Although I was born in England, and have lived in Britain for all but about six or seven years of my life, I no longer have any sense of Britishness. I feel no community whatsoever with the blighted Britain of Blair, Brown and Blunkett.

Let me explain how this came about. In the late 1970s, tired of stagflation and Old Labour, I escaped for three years to Holland. This was a good period for me. It was good to have real money in my pocket for the first time. It was good to be away from living with my parents. It was good to sample the different cultures of Holland and Belgium, and a bit of France and Germany. I rapidly came to think of myself as a European.

In those days, I used to think of "Europe" as a good thing. I liked the idea of driving around Europe without being stopped at borders. I liked the idea of being able to live and work anywhere in Europe I chose. I did, it is true, wonder a little why those Brussels bureaucrat blocks were so ugly. But I didn't understand, at the time, the down-side of Europe – that crazy circus with its senseless subsidies and its damned directives.

During the 1980s, my work took me further afield. I spent months at a time in Indonesia, the USA, Italy and Australia. I started to think of myself as a citizen of the world. I used to compare prices in different places by putting them into the world currency – US dollars.

Then, in 1988, I discovered the ideas of individual liberty. A little blue card, pressed into my hand in downtown Atlanta one Sunday morning, set me on a new course. Within a few years, I had ceased to think of myself as a mere citizen of anything. Instead, I thought of myself as a civilized human being.

I considered settling in the USA, but found it too much of a police state for my liking. So I returned to England, where I have based myself since.

About 1994, though, things began to deteriorate. The British government became steadily more hostile towards me and good people like me. The Tories started it, and New Labour accelerated it. Ever more, crazier and stricter laws and regulations. Bullying bureaucrats and police. Destruction of privacy. Perversions of the justice system. Ever more and higher taxes and ever more re-distribution of wealth. Green policies, anti-car policies. Hatred of pleasures, like smoking and fox-hunting. Gradual suffocation of the economy. Suppression of our pension prospects. And all of this bound together by a culture of lies and spin.

Not surprisingly, my reaction has been negative. I have now lost all respect for and all confidence in the political system. I have come to feel for all mainstream politicians, regardless of party, a deep mistrust, contempt and loathing.

I have come to think of national boundaries as arbitrary lines, which serve merely to delimit the patches of different criminal gangs. I have come to think of the idea that I should feel a special affinity for someone just because they were born in the same island as I was, as ridiculous. I might as well be expected to feel a special affinity for someone just because they were born in the same week as I was. (The comparison is apt. For I was born in the same week as Tony Blair).

Please do not think that I hate the land or people of England, or all things English. I love the English countryside, and like to walk long distances through it. I love English country pubs, and make great use of them on my wanderings. I respect the English common law, where not perverted by politicians or vested interests. I love English cricket, though my bowling these days is not what it once was. I take pride in using, as well as I can, the English language, which is deservedly the nearest we have today to a world tongue.

Some might say, love it or leave it. My answer is, if there were somewhere in the world with a civilized, peaceful environment, a booming high-tech economy and no politics, I'd be there like a shot. But there isn't anywhere like that right now. It is a sad commentary on the state of the world today, that asylum-seekers are queuing up to get into Blair's Britain. That, where they come from, things are even worse.

I now want to broaden the topic, to consider community in general. First I ask, just what is community? The word, in essence, means "sharing walls.” It comes from the age of city-states, when people chose to live together inside the walls which defended them against barbarian marauders.

I identify six levels of human community, each with its own kind of walls. I will name them: Individual. Couple. Family or household. Marketplace. Society. Civilization.

The first and lowest level of community, many people would not think of as a community. But it exists. And it has walls. I call it the community-of-one. The walls of this community are formed by the personal life-space around each individual. When people respect others' individual rights and freedoms, then this community remains intact.

Second is the couple, the community-of-two. Since ancient times, custom has legitimized this community through the institution of marriage. Third comes the family or, more accurately, the household. Here, the walls are the physical walls of a home.

Fourth is the marketplace, the community of people with whom individuals interact in their daily lives. Your marketplace contains your friends, your workmates, those you serve and those who serve you. Here, the walls are more subtle; they are walls of choice. In the absence of violence and fraud, you can choose whom you will interact with. It is a beauty of the free marketplace that you can simply refuse to deal with those you don't like.

Fifth comes wide community, or society. Here, the force binding the community is shared culture. Shared desires, shared aims and objectives, and a shared sense of identity. Its walls separate members from non-members. And the widest level of community is civilization. I will come to its walls and its binding forces later.

Each level of community has its own characteristics. In some, we have to accept what is already there – within limits. In others, we have a right of free choice.

As individuals, we have to accept what we are born as. We have to make the best of our strengths and weaknesses. To couple, though, we have the right freely to choose a mate. (If, that is, we can find any suitable candidates).

We have to accept the family we are born into, at least for the first 20 or so years of our lives. And, if we decide to have children of our own, we have to take on the responsibility of supporting and educating them until they are independent. In the marketplace, on the other hand, we have free choice of whom we will deal with. But the marketplace needs a minimum framework of law – prohibitions against violence, theft and fraud, at least – in order to keep it free.

At the level of wide community, or society, we have to accept the rules of any society we choose to join, so long as they are and remain reasonable. But we always have the right to leave a society, and to join another (or many others). Or to form our own societies. And we are entitled to expect benevolence from others in the societies we belong to. For no society can survive for long without mutual benevolence among its members, or at the very least mutual tolerance.

Finally, civilization is again a level of individual choice. We choose who we will count as our fellows, by judging how far their behaviour is civilized.

Today, community is a mess at almost every level. Political governments trample on our individual rights, like property and privacy. Many marriages end in divorce. Families split up. The marketplace, the economy, is stagnant instead of vibrant. All these problems, I think, stem from the failure of community at the fifth level – the society. They stem from the failure of political organizations to deliver the kind of societies people need.

I used to wonder why it was that, in the 18th and 19th centuries, nationalism took such a hold on people. Why did the Italians, for example, show such energy in uniting their country? Then I realized, that what nationalism gave people then was a sense of identity, a sense of shared culture. It was for them a way forward to a better kind of society.

But then was then, and now is now. Today, nation-states like Britain have lost their power to unite. It is no longer possible to assume that everyone living in a particular area has common objectives and desires. Geographical closeness is no longer necessarily community.

My aims and aspirations have nothing in common with those of the likes of Blair, Brown and Blunkett. I want justice – common-sense justice, where individuals are treated as they treat others. They want claptraps like "social justice,” which are no more than rationalizations for their re-distribution of wealth. I want a forward-moving society, bright, individualistic, peaceful, prosperous, and happy. They seem to want a stagnant, dreary, collectivist society, full of wars, terrorism, violence, theft, dishonesty, hatred and fear.

Nor are the Tories, or the third lot, any friends of mine. All British mainstream politicians today promote bad policies. All of them, tacitly if not openly, favour the same collectivist, green, authoritarian agenda as New Labour. None of them will represent me, or defend me against this evil agenda. They, and other supporters of this agenda, are malevolent towards me. They are not my fellows. I can feel no sense of community or society with them.

Britain has failed me. I cannot feel part of it. So, where to?

Once national identity is lost, it cannot be re-gained. It is like the proverbial can of worms; the only way to re-can them is to use a larger can. So, the only way to community, for those of us alienated from nations and politics, is to look wider. And that means looking to the next level, civilization.

Imagine if there was a world-wide community of civilized human beings. Imagine if race, skin colour, gender, physical size, geographical location, cultural origin, even genuine disability, were no bars to entry to that community. And as to religion, the only stipulation was that you don't try to foist religion on others. Imagine if the binding forces of that community were shared willingness to behave in a civilized manner, and shared desire for the happiness of all civilized human beings.

As to what might be our rules of civilized behaviour, I have space here only to give pointers. They could include non-aggression, respect for individual rights and freedoms, and a commitment to objective justice. Willingness to let people live their own lives, in their own ways and at their own paces. Respect for traditional family values, without attempting to ram them down others' throats. In the marketplace, individual expression, an urge to create wealth, and determination to pull your weight. A desire for everyone to enjoy the pleasures they earn. A love of human achievement and human progress. And, above all, a commitment to honesty, and uncompromising rejection of lies, spin, rationalizations and double standards.

But what of the uncivilized, those that cannot or will not behave up to civilized standards? Who needs the uncivilized? Why waste resources on them? They are responsible for the great majority of all human suffering. Why waste our time, energy, or sympathy on them?

Like the city-states of old, our community would need walls. First, we would need philosophical walls. We would need clear, easy-to-use ways to distinguish the civilized from the uncivilized. Second, we would need economic walls. We would need to stop the haemorrhage, that is the theft of our wealth by the uncivilized. And we would need our own currency. We could not trust any national currency – and most certainly not the US dollar.

Third, we would need walls of physical defence. We would need a government. Not a political government, but a real government. One which performs the only legitimate purpose of government, that is, to defend civilized people, their ways of life and their possessions against the uncivilized. It would defend us, not only against common criminals, but also against religious and enviro fanatics and political-government goons.

With none of our wealth being wasted on bureaucracies, or offensive weapons, or politicians' grandiose schemes, we would prosper like never before. Just imagine what good people would think, when they saw the prosperity and happiness in our community. Particularly when we say to them, Are you civilized? Yes? Then come on in, the water's lovely. Imagine people, one by one, quietly seceding from nation-states and joining our civilization. Imagine this flow building to a torrent.

Under the umbrella of the widest level of community, civilization, we would be able to fix the problems at the next level down, society. We would form new societies, based not on geography, but on interests. Imagine the projects we could invest in and work on for mutual and human benefit. For example, getting the economy moving in the third world. Developing energy supplies for the medium and long-term future. Ensuring that law and justice can never again be corrupted.

The fate of the uncivilized, though, would be in their own hands. Each of them either can learn to behave as a civilized human being, or cannot. It is entirely their choice. But if they want to join our community, they must first compensate all those they harmed through their uncivilized acts. Every penny they stole, every minute they wasted, every iota of damage they caused to our lives, every obstacle they put in our way, they must compensate us for.

And what of those uncivilized, that cannot make the grade into civilization? There is a name for them. It is the name the ancient Greeks gave them. They are barbarians.

Bye-bye, barbarians.

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