On wine, The Boss and bird song

It’s Monday morning. And despite the sun being out my mood is less than sunny. I’ve already has a brief rant to anyone who will listen on Dorset Council’s Teams about my feelings of impotency regarding (what I consider to be) the Council’s slow response to our climate emergency. Perhaps I should have drunk less wine over the weekend, but I need something to look forward at the end of the week. And two experiences last Friday evening, an hour or so after wine o’clock, were of lasting value.

The first resulted from a desire the listen to The Boss, and in particular from listening to the last track on Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska album – ‘Reason to Believe’. I’ve always been struck by the line “At the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe”, but on the this occasion it seemed to have a bigger impact that usual – an impact that haunted me all weekend. Regular readers of this blog will now that I have often talked about the essential role stories play in our life; about how we construct / adopt stories that allow us to make sense of our experiences and give meaning and purpose to our lives. To my understanding this an existential human need. We cannot survive without meaning and purpose. No matter how hard or chaotic our lives are, no matter how much our focus is on material survival rather than intellectual contemplation, we are forced by a deep need to believe in some purpose bigger than our own life – even if that purpose is the belief (for example) that it’s a dog eat dog world and that I am, therefore, entitled to take any action necessary to stay alive. My point is that this story does not need to be true, we just need to believe it to be true. We need a reason to believe.

This experience has had two further effects on me. It fanned the flames of the socialism that has been burning within me since my teenage years – though, to be fair, this was more as a result of listening to Bruce in general than this particular song. People at the lower end of the social hierarchy are being disproportionally hit by the current pandemic. Those on low wages are least able to take any financial hit, let alone the hit that is going to be struck by the biggest economic recession since the depression of the 1930s; their jobs are most at risk, especially those on zero hour contacts; social distancing is so much more difficult when you live in high density housing with no garden or outdoor space of your own; and going into self-isolation is close to impossible for large families with a limited number of bedrooms. It also made me feel so much more understanding of those people who, at this time of crisis, have resorted to weird conspiracy theories to explain what is happening. Whilst a part of me will always remain critical of such theories and intolerant of those who resort to them, I can at least comprehend the role such theories play.

The second experience came shortly afterwards when I took my partner’s dog for a short walk before we ate. The streets of Bridport, and our nearby park, were silent. A silence that you would not normally believe possible for an early Friday evening. Well, actually not quite silence – the sound of birds was overwhelming, and not a little eerie. When I returned home and told of my experience I was informed of a recent explanation made by the folk singer Martha Tilston, who has suggested that the lack of traffic noise is allowing the mating calls of birds to be heard more clearly and over greater distances, and this is generating a lot of bird activity. Another example, then, of how this enforced lack of human activity is having a positive effect on both non-human animals and the planet.

I really hope that we can take some of our experiences and learning with us to the other side of this crisis. I really hope that the value we have been placing on health and care workers, on delivery drivers, and on foreign workers lasts. I hope that the general degree of civility and social cooperation that I’ve experienced continues. I hope that we are better able to appreciate the effects human life has on our only planet and the other life we share it with. And I hope that we do not forget the shortcomings of a market led economy and the value of cooperation over competition.

Reflections on the common good

A few days ago, in response to a question raised by a friend regarding the ethics of sunbathing in the park during the current crisis, and an associated article in the Guardian, I tweeted: “Yes, solidarity is important, but not the solidarity of a collection of individuals. We are who we are by virtue of our relationship to others, so perhaps we need to reflect on how our actions contribute to social flourishing, to the common good.” I quickly realised, however, that I failed to express my meaning clearly enough. This may have been down the sheer inadequacy of Twitter as a platform for philosophy / ethics, or it have been a lack or clarity on my part. Either way, I would like a second go with a few more words at my disposal.

For those of us on the left of the political spectrum in particular, the idea of solidarity is held in high regard. The suggested unity of interests, especially among those of the same social class, has historically been associated with strength – the strength to overcome oppression. And there is also the strong implication of being unified in our endeavours towards a particular outcome. Whilst I do not want to dismiss these notions out of hand, I would like to question this implied unity. In fact, if I’m being honest, I have a problem with the notion of unity itself. My concerns come from my understanding of complexity and complex systems, or what the French philosopher Michel Serres has termed ‘the multiple as such’; sets “undefined by elements or boundaries. Locally [they are] not individuated; globally [they are] not summed up”; they are neither an aggregate nor discrete. No collection of people, no matter how big or small, can be defined by either the individuals who make up the collective or by the collective as a whole. This is because the relationship between group members is too rich, too interactive, and too subtle. From this highly dynamic relationship (referred to as “background noise, the murmur of the crowd”) novelty is always being created. In the language of complexity science, any group of people form a dynamic complex system which is self-organising. This means that structure emerges. If structure is applied, for example by defining the overarching task or purpose of the group, either the group will only function in a limited setting (like a sports team) or it will loose all creativity and eventually stagnate and die.

To return to the pandemic. I have no problem at all with the desire for everyone to work together to achieve a specific outcome – for example, fight the pandemic. What I do have a problem with, however, is for the actions and behaviour of group members to be overly defined or controlled. This does not mean that I endorse a libertarian approach. Far from it. It’s rules and norms that hold the group together. But if these rules and norms are rigidly defined, if they are largely imposed rather than emerging from within the group itself, the group loses its creativity and ability to adapt to novelty. So in terms of the specific example that led to my initial, clumsy response (a Guardian article about people sunbathing in parks during the lockdown) I think that there should be a clear and specific objective (reducing the spread of the virus), together with clear guidelines for how to achieve it (social distancing / washing hands), but no rigid control of individual behaviour. If someone who lives in a flat wants to lie in the sun on their own and does so at least two metres from anybody else, what harm is done?

I think that I also want to make a wider ethical point, one related to Aristotelian virtue ethics, but the details of this may need to be deferred to another occasion. The gist of this, however, is that we are all highly interdependent on each other, and that our flourishing (a better translation of Aristotle’s ‘eudaimonia’, often translated as ‘happiness’), our common good, is achieved collectively by each of us developing certain character traits – character traits that facilitate our flourishing / common good. It would be for the greater good if we could all spend some time during this crisis reflecting on our own behaviour / character traits: deciding which of our traits support the common good and which don’t, then working to develop the former and weaken the latter.

Exposing the competitive myth

One of the prevailing myths of our global economic society concerns the supposed fundamental nature of competition. The origin of this myth can arguably be traced back to Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan. In this influential book Hobbes famously described the state of human nature as a war of all against all, as a war in which individuals are in constant competition with each other for scarce resources. In doing so he rejected any notion of a natural political community working together to achieve the greatest good for all. In fact, this state of nature was not very productive at all:

“In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently no culture of the earth, no navigation nor the use of commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” (XIII.9)

For Hobbes, it is the desire to rise above this state of nature that drives us to give up certain of our liberties to a monarch or government. However, by the time classic capitalism emerged as an economic theory, that natural state of man, his rational self-interest, was deemed a good thing. Basically, if left relatively unrestricted, and as if by some invisible hand, this self-interest promotes the good of all. And, by the time neo-liberalism took hold, this free market rationale was extended into areas of society that had previously been seen as outside of market influence.

This theory of human nature is quite simply wrong, and the atomisation of society that has resulted from it is grossly detrimental to human flourishing. My greatest concern, however, is that this understanding has been so absorbed into our common sense view of the world that most people, people who are not in the slightest bit interested in economic theory, just accept it as fact. It is relatively easy to argue against a theory, but a great deal more difficult to expose the error of common sense. The theory can be challenged by pointing out that for about 90% of human evolutionary history group cooperation has been more dominant than in-group competition. Not only have groups survived because cooperation within the group has proved itself to be of greater benefit than unbridled competition, but in many cases inter-group cooperation has proved to be of mutual benefit as well. Put simply, just about any modern evolutionary approach to understanding ‘human nature’ will provide a serious challenge to the core principles of capitalism. The real problem we face is that these core principles have been repeated and repeated so many times across recent decades that they have been absorbed into our ‘common sense’ view of the world, and challenging ‘common sense’ is never an easy task.

However, our response to Coronavirus, particularly the multiple responses that have emerged at community level across the country, are surely evidence that when we face a completely novel situation, one for which our we have no ready made habitual thinking to fall back on, we ‘naturally’ engage in cooperative, not competitive behaviour. Yes, there are still calls from a few on the right of the political spectrum, a small number of ardent free marketeers or extreme libertarians, who argue that doing all we can to preserve market competition is a priority, but they are very much in the minority. For these poor few, the ideology of the free market has so totally taken hold of their thinking that their natural cooperative behaviour has been completely suppressed. Fortunately, for the vast majority of us, this ideology has a less strong grip. Most of us feel a natural desire to cooperate in a crisis, not compete.

Our task then, the task of those of us to the left of the political spectrum, is to firmly re-establish cooperation as our default setting. Starting with the wonderful examples of community cooperation that have spontaneously emerged all over the country, we need to talk about cooperation as much as we can. We need to talk about it, write about it, and, most importantly, cite local examples of it, at every opportunity in all that we do. We need to do this until the idea of cooperation is so firmly embedded in our thinking that it feels like it has always been there – in other words, until it feels like just plain common sense, until it feels like the natural thing to do. Then, and only then, will left wing or socialist policies be met with a positive response from the electorate.

On time being out of joint

The Norwegian philosopher Lars Svendsen has written about the importance of a cohesive story of the self. “To be a self”, he says, “is to be able to give an account of a self through a narrative of who one has been, who one will become and who one is now”. In other words, our sense of selfhood requires us to be able to gather into a unity our past, present and future, or rather, I suggest, a ‘healthy’ selfhood requires this. I’ve been thinking about this creation of a unity of the self through the use of narrative quite a bit recently, but in the last few days, in relation to the current coronavirus emergency, it seems particularly relevant. To what extent has this emergency, and the strange situation we find ourselves in, disrupted our personal narrative? To what extent has this disruption of a personal narrative interfered with our sense of unity? And, perhaps more importantly, how does this make us feel?

Speaking personally, whilst I am obviously still able to provide a narrative account of the relationship between ‘who I have been’ and ‘who I am now’, the sense of unity I feel between these two tenses seems somewhat fractured, or, to paraphrase Hamlet, my “time is out of joint”. Just a few weeks ago my diary was nearly full. I was often attending several meetings a day, I was engaging with many people each day, and (perhaps most significantly) I was going to the gym most days. Now my diary has been stripped of meetings, and the only people I’m really engaging with are those who I am ‘staying at home’ with. Whilst this could change in the coming weeks as virtual meetings are gradually arranged, the sudden difference between now and then seems strange, perhaps even unsettling. And most unsettling of all – the enforced change to my exercise regime. Whilst walking my partner’s dog is most enjoyable – it doesn’t provide the same ‘buzz’ as a good workout in the gym!

And the relationship between ‘who I am now’ and ‘who I will become’ is equally ‘out of joint’. At the most extreme level, whilst I have no underlying health conditions and therefore should not expect a serious threat to my future existence should I contract the virus, it’s difficult to entirely dismiss the increase in threat level. But even at a less dramatic level my timeline is somewhat fractured. All short term plans have been cancelled. And whilst it’s still reasonable to make loose medium term plans (i.e. plans not tied to specific dates and places), because of the vagueness of these plans they fail to provide the same sense of direction that planning for the future usually does. I feel like a bird who has lost a wing and can only fly in circles. Alright, I’m not sure this last analogy works – I’m not sure that a single winged bird can fly at all – but you get the image! My point is simply that without something tangible to work towards we / I lose momentum. My fear is stagnation.

So the question is: How do I overcome this disruption to my time line? How do I avoid stagnating in a pool of psychological / social / physical inactivity? Well, my suspicion is that just being conscious of the need for a narrative, and actively talking or writing about it, actually restores it to some degree; that talking or writing about the past, present and future puts ‘my time back into joint’. The danger, in contradiction to the advice of ‘mindfulness’ or many meditation manuals, is to focus too much on the here and now. Concentrating too much on the present literally fractures my personal sense of unity; I surrender my sense of becoming to being trapped in the present. So thank you for listening. In fact, it doesn’t even matter if you don’t exist, it doesn’t matter if no one out there reads this. Just sitting down and writing this restores my sense of time, unifies my sense of self. I feel better already.

A cocktail of Stoicism, community spirit and red wine

What I was dreading the most has happened. They have closed gyms! I now, somehow, have to survive without my daily workouts – workouts that (I have convinced myself) help to keep me sane. We are all going to be tested during this time of crisis, and I totally accept that this imposed sacrifice is really quite trivial in the scheme of things, but it’s very much been a part of my life now for several years, and will be hard to live without. However, as there is nothing I can do about the closure, my only recourse is to meet this, and all the other tests that COVID19 will present, head on. Now, to help meet these tests I have elsewhere recommended a cocktail of Stoicism, community spirit, and red wine. And the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced of the efficacy of my advice.

I wrote a little about Stoicism a couple of weeks ago. Then I talked about acquiring the strength to change those things in life that can be changed, the resilience to accept those things that cannot be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference. I would now like to add an Aristotelian spin to this by suggesting that the path to achieving this is through the development of certain character traits. Now the obvious character traits requiring development here are psychological strength, emotional resilience, and good old fashioned wisdom, though, given the space would, I would make the case for several others. But let’s stick with these for now. The point I want to make is not so much what these character traits are, but how they are developed. For Aristotle they are developed through sheer hard work – through practice and repetition, through developing the right habits. In other words, it’s not a matter of just thinking about it, of saying to yourself “right, that’s it, from now on I’m going to be…”, but of trying to display these character traits at every opportunity, of accepting that sometimes (most times) we will fall short of who we are trying to become, but that success comes from constant repetition, from constant application.

To my thinking, the development of community spirit is more fundamental than most people acknowledge. It’s more, much more than that added sense of group endeavour achieved when individuals decide, in times of trouble or strife, to come together for the good of everyone. For me it’s more fundamental than our own individuality. We are, at our very core, part of a community. We can only develop a sense of individuality through interactions with others; it’s only by way of interactions with others that our sense of self develops in the first place. One of my biggest criticisms of capitalism, particularly its modern incarnation of neo-liberalism, is the centrality of the individual – the core belief in rational self-interest. Yes, we can be competitive and self-interested, but in evolutionary terms we were cooperative and group-interested first, and for a much longer period. We tend to forget this, and focus solely on our individuality. Even when we talk of community spirit we tend to think it in terms of individuals coming together rather than acknowledging how communities give rise to individuals in the first place. I think it would be of great benefit to us to acknowledge the primacy of the community.

And red wine? Well part of me thinks that any need to justify the drinking of this essential tonic suggests a problem, so let’s just accept its importance and move on. But as such an approach ruins my rhetorical use of a three part list let me simply refer to the 2019 album by the folk singer Kate Rusby – Philosophers, Poets and Kings. How literally should we take the lyrics of the title track that say that “if it wasn’t for red wine, we would not have philosophers, poets and kings”? Well I’m pretty sure that despite the examples she cites, particularly from amongst the ancients, by no meals all philosophers and poets have relied on the restorative and creative powers of red wine to produce their work. And becoming a king has far more to do with being born to ‘the right parents’ than it does to their consumption of their favourite bottle. But the other way to take this claim is at the personal level, that Kate Rusby would not have written the album “if it wasn’t for red wine” – and I’m pretty sure that she’s a fellow fan of the drink. And it’s a great album. So let’s raise a glass to creativity, and to a little something to take the edge of a hard day!

My ‘keeping sane in a crisis’ action plan

We are living in strange times. To be honest, I, along (I should imagine) with many other people, feel unsettled – perhaps unheimlich? Unheimlich literally translates from the German as uncanny, and was a term used by Freud to describe the psychological experience of something being strangely familiar. Familiar? Yes, familiar! At this point I’m beginning to think that I’ve read too many science fiction books, and watched too many science fiction films. I’m starting to imagine a scenario whereby a previously unknown virus breaks out and within a short period of time is causing fear, panic and economic collapse; a situation that so rapidly deteriorates that the pubic demand firm and decisive action from their governments. These governments first respond with calls for the public to stay at home and stay calm, but when food shortages cause riots to break out martial law is declared, troops appear on the streets and those deemed ‘trouble makers’ are shot on site. An imagined scenario of course. It could never really happen – could it?

The trouble is that all of a sudden I’ve got time on my hands. Time to think. Time to imagine. A couple of weeks ago I was complaining about how busy my diary was. Now, within a matter of days, my diary is pretty much clear for the foreseeable future. Just about all meetings and events have been cancelled. So, if I’m not going to let my imagination have free reign to fantasize and construct all types of apocalyptical futures I need to use my time constructively. I need a plan. I can feel that dormant careers adviser lurking within telling me that I need an action plan. And he’s probably right. So, in the short term at least, I have three projects to occupy my time.

First, 5G. Bridport Town Council’s Environment and Social Wellbeing Committee has received two public expressions of concern regarding the potential roll-out of 5G technology in recent months. My usual, rather glib response when the issue of 5G is raised is to comment that I would be grateful for a regular 3G service. But this is obviously an issue that many people are concerned about, it’s also an issue that I really don’t understand. I don’t fully understand what the technology is, what it will be used for, why we need it, and what the concerns are. So that’s my first piece of research.

Second, planning. I sit on both the Area Planning Committee of Dorset Council and my Town Council’s Planning Committee, and it’s my biggest frustration. I have a pretty good idea of what we should be doing, what we should be approving or rejecting, what we should be requiring in all new developments, but I feel constrained by our out-dated local plan and the National Planning Policy Framework – both of which are heavily on the side of developers, and neither of which fully acknowledge our climate emergency. Not only do I need to understand both of these documents in more detail than I currently do, I need to understand where they could be interpreted in ways that better reflect our climate emergency.

Third, ICT. For some reason that I have not yet worked out I have managed to become a member of a team of ICT mentors for my fellow Dorset Councillors. My ICT skills are not bad, but they are no where near developed enough for me to feel comfortable in this role. There is a wide range of applications that I have never used, and of those that I have used I am uncertain of many of their capabilities. So I need to view the many online instruction videos that are available, and try out their full range of uses. These then form the projects of my ‘keeping sane in a crisis’ action plan. I will keep you informed of progress.

A touch of eco-stoicism

A couple of incidents during the last week have made me think of stoicism. I’ve no intention of going into the detail of this ancient philosophy that flourished in the Greek and Roman worlds up until the 3rd century AD, and which has had several revivals over the years (including quite recently), but I would like to comment on a ‘prayer’ that for me sums up the stoic approach to life. This is to achieve:
The strength to change those things in life that I can change
The resilience to accept those things in life that I can’t change
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Whilst the exact wording of the above was never uttered (as far as I know) by an actual stoic philosopher, and whilst in modern times it has found form as the Christian ‘serenity prayer’, I think it exactly encapsulates the stoic approach to life. Taken as a statement of intent, of personal development, rather than as a request to a non-existent deity, I think that it provides us with a valuable guide to living – even the saving of humanity.

I think that there is a great deal of misunderstanding concerning those things in life we can change and those we cannot. Take the meaning and purpose we ascribe to life for example. For so many of us this is provided by our blind acceptance of the belief that we are naturally competitive creatures whose raison d’etre is to accumulate as many goods and as much wealth as possible, and that our success in life is measured by the amount of these we have accumulated. Such an attitude is largely believed to be set in stone as part of human nature, and that therefore we should just accept the fact and continue accumulating more and more stuff, even if this accumulation strips the planet of resources and poisons it with our waste.

However, we could, if we wanted, if we could find the strength, provide our selves with an alternative: we could appreciate that for over 90% of our evolution co-operation has been more important than competition and that its development will provide us with the best chance of dealing with most of the big issues that we face; we could see our raison d’etre as that of flourishing as part of a highly inter-dependent global eco-system. Yes, we could if we wanted. This last bit though, this seeing ourselves as plain members of the land community (as Aldo Leopold put it) rather than conquerors of it, is simply the acknowledgment of the truth, and can’t be changed – no matter how much we may wish it otherwise. This acceptance of the fact that we humans are just part of the Earth’s ecosystem, not masters of it, not exterior to it, and that we could easily become extinct if we disturb our relationship with our ecosystem to a much greater extent than we have so far, will require a fair amount of human resilience because it flies in the face of our over inflated sense of importance.

Yes, we humans really need to develop our wisdom. We need to learn to be able to differentiate between those things in life that can be changed and those that can’t. For so many aspects of our existence on this planet we have got it arse about face, believing that much of what we could change if we could find the strength is, instead, a fixed part of human nature, whilst simultaneously failing to see that much of what we are trying to change is in fact inalterable outside of a small degree of variability. If we fail to develop this wisdom soon our future existence has a great big question mark hanging over it.

Something slightly more philosophical

I’m not quite sure why, but I don’t think that I’ve often, if at all, mentioned the Philosophy in Pubs group that I run in either this blog, or on Twitter. I think that whilst political opinions are openly and robustly discussed at the Philosophy group, I have probably tried to keep this group at a little distance from my overtly party political activities and comments. It may also be that I don’t wish to give the group any more publicity than it already receives – a monthly column in the Bridport Times magazine. Largely as a result of this monthly column, attendance at the monthly discussions has been, well, shall we say, very healthy, sometimes bordering being a bit too healthy. Once you start getting more than 20 people together to discuss an issue it becomes difficult to control and ensure that everyone has a chance to engage.

So, why am I writing about it now? Well, quite simply, because, following last week’s meeting, it is dominating my thoughts. For two reasons: what we discussed at this meeting, and what we agreed to discuss at next month’s meeting. The question chewed over last week was: Can or should technology be ethically neutral? I will avoid summarising a direct answer to this question here (if you want one, see the April edition of Bridport Times) and instead focus on some thoughts that came to me as a result of our discussion.

These concern the extent to which technologies like social media have the power to change social norms and embody new norms; the degree to which these technologies can directly influence our perception or understanding of the world. I’m thinking particularly of how easy it is to use abusive or threatening language against someone who you have never, and are unlikely to ever meet; how our language to others can be normalised without the opportunity of direct social engagement. Or how teenagers learn about sexual norms from pornography rather than the fumbling embarrassments of direct sexual experiment. Up until very recently new norms have developed slowly. They have evolved. Those that have proved useful have been retained, those that have not have been lost. And the test has always been direct social feedback, feedback that has been nuanced by other body language and social context – feedback that now comes in the form of a simple, context-free ‘like’.

At the next meeting we agreed to discuss fashion. Yes, fashion…the philosophy of fashion. This has come about because of my association with Transition Town Bridport. Every year TTB run ‘Green Fortnight’ – a series of events around the town aimed at raising public awareness of a particular aspect of developing and living a sustainable way of life. As this year’s event is focussing on fashion I rather casually suggested to the person leading on the event that we devote a PiP session to discussing its philosophical aspects. Now I had completely forgot about this when I received an email from the organiser asking if this was actually happening. Fortunately this arrived the day before our PiP meeting, and when I suggested it to the group the idea was very favourably received – especially as I offered to introduce the topic myself. So my project for the coming week will be to do some research and thinking into fashion from a philosophical perspective, something that will be completely new to me, but something that I’m actually quite looking forward to. I will report back in a subsequent post.

Another area of research that has been dominating my thoughts for the last couple of years concerns the role that stories and narratives play in our lives; the extent to which we use them to structure and give our lives meaning and purpose. More particularly, I’ve been thinking about the extent to which meta-narratives, those over-arching narratives such as supplied by religion, or more recently supplied by our dominant economic model, supply what we take to be common sense. I’ve been following this line of thinking because I suspect that one of the main reasons why so many of us accept, at one level, that our climate is starting to breakdown and become a problem for human societies, but at another level refrain from taking the necessary action, is because it will retard economic growth or development – and this feels like it is contravening good old common sense. Fortunately I have been invited to talk at a number of local climate related events in the next couple of months, so will have an opportunity to test my thinking in live debate – always the best test!

A week of political frustration and humour

Last week’s meeting of the full Dorset Council was, for me, another chapter in my growing frustration at the lack of actual meaningful action emanating from the Council in response to our climate and ecological emergency. Two agenda items were of particular note. One was the presentation for approval of the Council Plan, its ‘corporate’ plan for the next four years. I accept that as a result of comments received from its public consultation the Council acknowledge the emergency as an all-encompassing issue in the plan’s forward, and give it a central location in the graphics illustrating the plan, but it is only referred to in passing when the actual main aims of the plan are spelt out. This is just not good enough. However, being the only councillor to vote against the plan I was in a significant minority on this issue.

The other key agenda item was the approval of the Council’s budget for the forthcoming year. Both the Liberal Democrat and Green groups submitted amendments to this budget; both were defeated. One of the two proposals within the Green amendment concerned the establishment of a fund to support climate emergency action. Given that Dorset Council’s reserves are almost twice as large as those of other councils, we had hoped to propose an immediate £5m capital investment in such a fund. However, after being advised that such a proposal would be vetoed on procedural grounds, we proposed something far more modest: That the scope of the Council’s transformation fund (a £5m fund already established to improve the efficiency of the Council) should be revised with immediate effect to include not just projects which lead to revenue savings but also measures which materially mitigate or adapt to climate change and improve Dorset’s ecology. As other councils are able to create such an emergency fund from reserves (even Bridport Town Council has effortlessly made £100k available to help deliver its Climate Emergency Action Plan) I fail to understand the resistance that emanated from the Conservative majority group. I can only assume that they will only support actions that do not hinder economic ‘business as usual’ – even if such principals are the cause of our emergency!

Last week also saw the first of the Climate Emergency Inquiry Days set up by Dorset Council as a result of its pubic consultation on possible action. Whilst the degree of public attendance was a little disappointing, I cannot fault either the ideas that came forward or the enthusiasm of their presenters. My frustrations around this public consultation have nothing to do with the ideas that are coming forward. No, they concern the fact that in broad principle we already know what we need to do, and whilst such a consultation may well bring forward some very creative and innovative projects, we should not be delaying necessary action whilst waiting for them.

However, last week was not without its highlights. Thursday evening saw BBC’s Question Time broadcast from Weymouth. And there, on the front row, in full view of every camera shot of the audience, was our Town Council’s very own Town Clerk. Now this, in and of itself, may not be worth commenting on. But what made this so great, and created a bit of a local social media storm, was his facial reactions to the woman sitting next to him (who, he has assured me, is no relative or friend) as she expressed some rather bigoted and not very well informed views on “all those foreign workers coming over here taking all our jobs”. Well done Will. After a particularly long Area Planning Committee meeting your face lightened my mood no end!

And that was not the end of the humour. On Saturday evening I was fortunate enough to see the comedian Mark Thomas perform at the Electric Palace in Bridport. Mark’s political (Marxist) humour was not only entertaining, it was also, in my opinion at least, insightful. In many ways comedians can say stuff that politicians are very cautious of saying in public. His comments about the large number of northern former labour voters who, in December, decided to give their support to the Tories instead in the hope that they will make Britain great again (my paraphrase) by restoring our former place in the world order, a place that basically came about through our abusing, invading and/or plundering all but a small number of other countries, I found particularly poignant, as I did his pointing out to all those people like that woman on Question Time that rather than being full only 1% of our country is actually occupied. Oh, and on a local(ish) note, he didn’t express much love for our wealthy Dorset South MP Richard Drax, a man whose family wealth, in case you didn’t know, was derived from the slave trade.

Restoring my political mojo

I have been lacking some political motivation. This is the first time I have written for three weeks, and have barely offered any comment on Twitter. The first week of inaction can be easily explained – I took a week off to visit my daughters and grandchildren – but since I have been back I just haven’t been able to find the enthusiasm to comment. Why? Has my political fire gone out? Where has my motivation gone? In an attempt to restore my mojo I even revisited the main theories of motivation in the hope that some cognitive reflection might rekindle my fire, but alas they offered no help or solace at all. They all appear to be focused on the workplace or success in an organisation.

However, this attempt did lead me to the rather obvious realisation that my problem is quite simply the size of the task before me, the hard fact that no matter how hard I work the chances of anything worthwhile changing are minimal. We have a Conservative government with a sufficiently large majority that barring some unexpected scandal they are secure for another four years. We have a Conservative led Dorset Council with a much reduced majority, but probably just as secure. Both pay lip service to the need to take our climate and ecological emergency seriously, but both are so constrained by their adherence to the neo-liberal mindset that they are incapable or either serious action, or more importantly, of providing political leadership. And in a strange way this realisation helped. I realised that my day to day political activities will almost certainly be pointless, and that I should simply accept this. But having just talked this through with my partner I was also reminded that despondency and inertia are not the answer either. Instead, what I / we can do is…well…do what ever I / we can, no matter how small, to make a difference. Focus on the small, the local, on community actions…and hopefully watch them grow.

Last weekend is was fortunate to be taken to a Sam Lee concert in Lyme Regis. Sam is a folk singer with an amazing voice and an incredible backing band. However, my reaction to his music prompted much reflection, not least because some of the people I went with were somewhat surprised that, as a green politician, I wasn’t more taken with the sentiment and lyrics of the traditional songs he sang, songs that were very much about nature and our natural environment. My problem, I think, is that most of the songs he sang, songs he had collected from the travelling community in particular, were songs related to folklore, to traditional beliefs, customs and stories of different communities. Whilst these songs are certainly interesting, to my thinking some supporters of a ‘green’ attitude simply see their implied return to nature as the answer to all our problems. I am very sceptical that a return to any past attitude, in and of itself, will solve anything. Instead of resurrecting old ways of thinking we need to be developing new ways. Whilst we can no doubt learn from the past, we need to develop non-tradition mindsets. We need to develop a new common-sense, not adopt an old one.

One area of our lives that really demands a re-think is that of fashion and the fashion industry. On Thursday, to coincide with the launch of London Fashion Week, Transition Town Bridport launched its Fashion revolution. This much needed revolution concerns the negative social and environmental impacts of producing, consuming and wasting clothes, particularly clothes produced to meet the artificial demands created by the fashion industry itself. Put simply, there is a very high environmental cost to the production of clothes in terms of the materials used, the incredibly high volume of usable clothing that is simply discarded into landfill, and the carbon footprint of transporting clothing from factories in the far east to high streets and shopping malls in the west. There is also an incredibly high human cost in term of the conditions of the factory workers employed to make these garments. When we buy new clothes we really do need to consider these factors. We need to ask ourselves whether we really do need to replace an item of clothing or buy an additional one. And if we manage to convince ourselves that we do, perhaps we should consider buying from a charity shop instead. Rather than bemoan the number of charity shops on our high street, perhaps we should consider it an asset.