"I have never in my life learned anything from any man who agreed with me." ~ Dudley Field Malone (1882 – 1950)
At last! Controversy! Thank you Common Sense for replying to my post, and especially for disagreeing with me. It forces me to think some more and take stock of my ideas. One day, no doubt, I shall be presented with an argument that makes me change my mind and I look forward to that. But not today. Here is the comment in full:
I seem to think that you bristle when you feel that bloggers are dismissed out of hand as a breed. Yet you lump all politicians together and throw them into the fiery furnace. Did you never hear of a politician you had any time for? Nelson Mandela? Franklin Roosevelt? Willi Brandt? Nye Bevan? Itzhak Rabin? By and large, we get the politicians we deserve, the ones who, like the poor immigrants who service the public sector, are prepared to do the dirty jobs that we are too delicate to face – such as taking responsibility for the dull business of keeping the national show on the road and, sometimes, making the tough decisions that people who don't have to think much about it resent in a knee-jerk way. If you don't like it, put yourself up for public office. Do better. Otherwise you are merely an anarchist or (worse) a blogger whistling in the wind. Oh and by the way, I didn't sign your petition because I thought there was some merit in the argument about health and safety. If the flowerbed tender had been hit by a driver who hadn't seen her, that driver would have been entitled to feel aggrieved and that it was her own fault. The authorities have to make decisions that affect everyone. Just because a local busybody feels her freedom has been curtailed doesn't mean that the authorities are fascists or indeed that they are wrong to cleave to their decision. If you think that's officialdom gone mad, you must have spent most of your life avoiding organisations of every kind.
Smaller discussion first.
The wearing of a peaked cap, real or metaphorical, does not stop an individual from being a busybody. Some of the
restrictions imposed by health and safety officers are silly and need to be scrutinised. So do many of the restrictions placed on everyday life by officials making their own interpretations of enabling legislation.
There is a growing body of academic evidence which supports the view that a person stops behaving normally when placed in a position of authority. This explains atrocities like Abu Graib; ordinary decent people feel that their official position allows them to treat others without considering their humanity. On a less vicious scale, the phenomenon happens everywhere and every day in the enforcement of petty regulations by the bureaucratic process.
Iraqi translators who worked for the British army are being refused asylum when their lives are under threat and many have already been killed. This is a nasty but bang up-to-date example of how the moral compass can be lost by those who work in an official capacity. Power goes to their heads.
I shall be writing more about Philip Zimbardo and his Stamford Prison Experiment, as well as his own review – 36 years on – of this groundbreaking work (in his book The Lucifer Effect). This provides incontrovertible proof that the phenomenon exists and is universal. What Zimbardo has to say about how the experiment, and his part in it as designer and controller, affected his life should make us all sit up and take notice. His insights offer hope and understanding. There is a real chance that – if we wanted to – we could devise strategies for controlling the more beastly aspects of human social behaviour.
If you read my text carefully, you will see that I rarely say that bureaucratic actions should be stopped, simply that they should be thought through better, that decision processes should be transparent, and that there should be simple procedures to achieve redress.
And that brings me to the bigger issue: my attitude to politicians. I get a lot of flack (you are not the first to complain), so I revisit my thinking regularly and I agree that at one level I must be wrong. There must indeed be people who go into politics for good reasons.
I also have to admit that the fire which fuels my distrust has subsided with the departure of Tony Blair and his familiar, Alistair Campbell. I see Tony Blair as a political version of Jordan. He bemused people with his charisma just as she bemused people with her chest. Whatever one thinks of Gordon Brown and his policies, he cannot be accused of being vacuous or of not being a serious thinker. Whether or not he is a conviction politician does not matter. He is competent, he has a track record, and when he sets himself a task, he usually gets it done with limited negative fall-out. The fact that he believes the constitution should change in a direction that I would like is an added extra (although not far enough, I hasten to add.)
One of the aims of my blog is to examine ways in which democracy, a fragile system, can be strengthened so that incompetents like Blair and his sidekick can be stopped before they do too much harm. And one of my themes is that the separation of powers, which is at the heart of all serious democratic models of government, should be preserved and extended. No-one has a monopoly on wisdom and the spreading about of ultimate authority is an indispensible safeguard.
An aspect of this, covered in "Cheerleaders", is that MPs should have a separate role from the government executive. They should represent their constituents (i.e. act on their behalf) more seriously, keeping a watchful eye on what the government is doing, instead of blindly cheering them on or constantly attempting to put a spoke in the wheel depending on their party affiliations.
Now back to my problem with politicians. Common Sense provided a helpful parallel between politicians and immigrant workers. I should like to offer another. But I must put up a big warning sign here. It is a powerful simile to illustrate what I mean, no more and no less, and you must not take it any further than that.
If you want to find a concentration of paedophiles, you might look for them at work in children's homes or in other places where children are gathered together away from the supervision of their parents. This does not – of course – mean that everyone who works in these places is a paedophile, or even that a high proportion of them are. But these places are magnets for people with paedophile tendencies.
Now, if you want to find a concentration of control freaks – people who enjoy interfering in other people's lives and telling them what to do – you might well look at the political classes and the places where they gather. As with paedophiles, this does not mean that everyone there is a control freak, but the political process is a magnet for people with controlling ("I know best") tendencies.
I would further argue that, unlike working in a children's home where an ordinary person stays ordinary, working in politics engenders an intoxication with power in all but the strongest.
So my parallel is between uninvited and inappropriate fiddling with private parts, and uninvited and inappropriate fiddling with private lives (if you see what I mean).
Personally, I find power distasteful. I enjoy my life and I believe it is up to others to enjoy theirs with minimal interference if they harm no one but themselves. So the option of seeking office is anathema to me. To go back to Common Sense's parallel, I would prefer to clean lavatories with the immigrants.
Late in life, I became interested in thinking through my ideas about the political world. And I now realize how much my thinking has been influenced by Karl Popper, whom I have not read for at least 35 years. But his ideas have stayed with me. Openness and opportunity for all is what I would like to see and, for much of my life, I have watched it grow in fits and starts. I grieved when I saw it crushed underfoot by unthinking men such as George W. Bush and Tony Blair.
Philip Zimbardo has a website here.
This discussion continues at https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=37259763&postID=3469532051110072827