To hell in a handcart

I’ve started to use a phrase often muttered by somebody I used to work with. ‘Going to hell in a handcart’ seems to totally sum up the current state of humanity. What’s brought on this doom and gloom? Well, many things, but the tipping point this weekend was reading a newspaper report on the US House select committee investigation into the attack on the Capital that followed Trump’s defeat in the presidential elections. One commentator said that despite the damning inditement against him we shouldn’t rule out the return of Trump. What? If this happens I see no future for humanity.

What is it about us that makes us elect popularist political leaders like Trump and Johnson? They are cartoon characters who better belong to a TV soap opera than the political world stage. What is it about us that desires, and puts our faith in celebrities rather than serious politicians who have a genuine understanding of the issues we face? Why do we dismiss serious politicians with phrases like ‘they’re only in it for themselves’ yet keep supporting those over-inflated egos who are only it for themselves? That we do so says as much about us as it does about those charlatans we elect to office.

Part of the problem is that humanity is, on the whole, crap at assessing risk and making predictions. We are only motivated to change things when the we are directly experiencing discomfort, not beforehand to avoid discomfort. And we seem to have an inbuilt faith that things will either continue as they have done or get better in some way. We seem intoxicated by the notion of progress and blind to the all the existential storm clouds building on the horizon. Why do we resist realist assessments of our situations in favour of ‘happy ever after’ fairy stories?

Another part of the problem is that we are nowhere near as intelligent as we like to think we are. We seem to make sense of the world through the use of simple narratives like those used for soap opera story lines; narratives with easily identifiable heroes and villains – characters like Trump and Johnson and their evil (often foreign) nemeses. We seem unable to deal with complexity and nuance, with important debates quickly descending into a simplified polemic. As a recent Radio 4 programme on the loss of nuance pointed out, in a world of increasing complexity we are more and more seeing things in black and white, yes or no, support or reject.

Yet despite all this we somehow believe that we have a special place in the universe. Unless we quickly wake up to the reality, the precariousness of our situation, I fear that our arrogance will be our downfall. If we want to avoid that trip to hell onboard the handcart of our self-belief we need to start having proper and meaningful public debates and discussions about the future of humanity’s place on Earth. We need to understand that we are part of the natural environment, not separate or above it, and that this relationship is complex. If we don’t, if we keep with the soap opera story lines and characters, we’re “doomed, we’re all doomed!”

Reflections on a royal weekend

Whilst I’m more than happy to accept four days on which no one expects any work from me, the last thing I did over the long jubilee weekend was become involved in any royal celebrations. In fact I found it all rather nauseous. As I’ve said on other occasions, it is completely inappropriate for a modern democracy to have an unelected head of state. In addition to this short-fall in democracy our monarchy simply endorses existing notions of class and privilege. In this day and age it is simply not acceptable for anyone to inherit their place in society according to who gave birth to them.

Nevertheless, there were people who obviously got quite enthusiastic about the royal family. Why? A quick internet search found five reasons why people think them a force for good. The first said that monarchs “serve as figureheads, providing a focus and unifying force, bringing countries together and healing divisions.” Well I see no evidence of this happening. The only way I can imagine this happening is if people accept a strong social hierarchy and their place in it, accept inherited power and privilege, and, as my mother used to say, “don’t get above themselves.”

The second that monarchs “are apolitical and therefore better suited to representing their countries at state occasions such as remembering war dead, or celebrating social causes, than politicians.” This annoys me in the same way that so called independent councillors claim to be above politics, and only fighting for what’s good for their communities. A person’s political perspective shapes the way they interpret social events and social causes, and it helps determine what they consider to be socially good. Whilst I’ll admit that, out of respect for the dead, political statements should be left out of certain state occasions, elected politicians are more than capable of doing this. In fact this is what they do.

The third that a “royal family provides a sense of continuity and stability that ordinary politicians, who come and go, cannot provide.” However, as Karl Marx famously said, “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” Whether we like it or not, many things in British society need to change, and clinging hold of tradition and our past can blind us to many of them. And before I’m attacked for wanting to destroy our history, that is not what I’m saying. We are more than capable of having a good understanding of our past without constantly reliving it and endorsing it as appropriate now.

The fourth that “national pride and patriotism is focused on a largely ceremonial figure and is therefore harder for political leaders to exploit.” National pride and patriotism requires political scrutiny. Again, it is not apolitical. The main issues affecting our wellbeing, issues such as the climate crisis, food and energy security, international conflict and war, and asylum seekers and economic migration, are global issues – issues that require global solutions and global cooperation. A strong sense of national pride and patriotism quickly leads to a distorted view of ourselves as ‘world leading’ and superior, feelings that get in the way of global cooperation.

And lastly that monarchs “can stay out of the fray of party politics, and are therefore better to provide a role model, or leadership role, in times of national emergency or constitutional crisis.” Really? Has anyone noticed any member of the royal family acting as a role model? Prince Andrew perhaps? Or how about the Queen herself? In what way does she act as a role model? People say that she has shown a sense of duty and commitment, admirable qualities, but what evidence is there that anyone emulates her? According to the Daily Mail (hardly a republican journal) the Queen uses a wheelchair much of the time but cancels engagements because she is ‘proud’ and ‘doesn’t want to be seen struggling’. If she really wanted to be a role model she could swallow her pride and be seen in public in a wheelchair like so many of her subjects. She could even start highlighting the difficulties faced by wheelchair users.

None of the above reasons justify the continuation of an out-of-date and undemocratic anachronism. They don’t even get close to counteracting the endorsement of inherited privilege and a strongly hierarchical social structure. And I haven’t even mentioned the wealth they have acquired over the centuries – wealth that has been taken from other countries and the exploitation of other people. This wealth has certainly not been earned through hard work or merit. And to make matters worse, we, their subjects, continue to give them money through the taxes we pay. No, the royal family need to be given their cards. We need to become a republic with an elected head-of-state.