Tuesday 25 July 2017

Are you qualified for Democracy

Keeping your head in politics
Every nation gets the government it deserves (Toute nation a le gouvernement qu'elle mérite), so said Joseph de Maistre after the French revolution. Plato (see, I always get him in) argued that not all of the populace are qualified to participate in democracy, in fact to include all people in democracy was degenerative. Of course, he had seen his mentor, Socrates condemned to death by a four-hundred-strong democratic court of peers. Then, Thomas Jefferson added that (When a people fear their government, there is tyranny,) when a government fears their people there is liberty. So, who had it right and what is the future of democracy, if any.
Now, as far as de Maistre is concerned, I think he got it right but we must first define a couple of words in the translation. When we talk about the nation we must assume that he meant the country as a nation, it is far too convenient to interpret this as the people. I cannot agree that the people get what they deserve unless we agree that they have free will and informed decision. Now, informed decision has never been an abundant resource in any nation. I would argue that informed decision of the masses prior to the education initiatives of the 20th century was at best limited and after Edward Bernays (Sigmund Freud’s nephew) revolutionised public relations and advertising using his uncle’s discoveries to drive people’s choices, it was completely thwarted. In order for the electorate to make informed decisions and thus elect a government they deserve, they must first objectively understand the bigger picture and secondly be able to count on the manifesto promises of the candidates, neither of which are tenable. I am not being derisive of the abilities of the people, effectively understanding the mechanisms of government and economics takes a lot of time and most are just too busy getting through their lives. Instead candidates campaign on emotive issues that people can feel rather than contemplate. This is a very general statement but if we can agree that democracy is the decision of the masses, it is also a very general decision. So, while many cast their votes based on social class affiliations (I am working class, therefore I vote left), personal gains based on the manifesto promises of the party or on an overall feeling about the character of the candidate, few are making a truly informed decision. So, the people getting what they want or deserve is a highly dubious proposition. However, as far as the nation is concerned, there is a different perspective. The nation administers education, it also regulates the democratic process, party funding, media exposure etc. So if government and politics is not taught in schools, manifesto promises are as ephemeral as marketing slogans and funding is accepted from sources with vested interests in less than democratic decisions, then it will get a pimped administration that whores itself to anyone with enough dollar to pay to ride the people of the nation. Of course, ‘deserves’ could also have positive connotations but seeing as the race to the bottom is invariably the faster and easier direction, it tends to win the day. Creating an upward spiral would necessitate investment in education, security and integrity, something that most nations don’t have the stamina for. So finally what they deserve is what they get, a self-serving bunch of politicians that bleed the nation of its resources in order to maintain their power, status and standard of living.
Be careful what you wish for...
Jefferson was bang on with the tyranny part, no people should fear their leaders. Just as children should not fear their parents, pupils their teachers or workers their bosses. When we get onto good wholesome god-fearing Christians things get decidedly muddy and unpalatable so we’ll leave that one well alone for the time being. As for the liberty part, here I must differ. Governments have the job of managing the biggest and most complex operations, nations. Like any any management team, they must often make decisions that will not be popular, many of you will know this all too well, but for the prosperity of the company and the many, some will need to put up with some results of hard decisions that were deemed to be ‘the least bad’ option. However, if the government fears the people, they will endeavour to appease them as much and often possible, often at the detriment of long-term plans and strategies. But according to Jefferson, liberty will be achieved. Bull! Liberty ends where another’s begins (a paraphrase from a quote originated by Voltaire If memory serves. Although I like another version: my right to swing my arm ends at your nose). So for each citizen there is a revision of the definition of liberty. This, however does not inhibit candidates from promising it and the electorate from demanding it, along with a number of other things such as higher wages yet lower prices and lower taxes yet better public facilities. When candidates and governments fear the people, popularism proliferates which creates demagogues and Trump. In order to have functional liberty, there must be respect from all parts and respect is tough to earn and harder to maintain. The recent wave of popularist candidates trade on, at best promising the electorate what they want and at worst distracting them on emotive polices from what they need. And while they may not fear the electorate, they do fear their disapproval. Children will prefer the adult that promises no school and ice cream for dinner everyday and the adult will revel in their popularity. Ayn Rand in her book Atlas Shrugged painted the picture of a nation that pandered to the needs of the people to the point where people realised that developing their needs was more lucrative than being productive and creative. Ms. Rand’s philosophies have a hugely devoted following among industrialists and while I personally find them a little too extreme, there is some merit to them. Especially when you consider that consecutive Greek governments have created public positions for the voting faithful to the point where it has one of the most bloated and bureaucratic civil services in the western world and is twice the OECD average in the Worldbank’s ‘ease of doing business’ ranking, where higher is more difficult. In order to curry favour with the electorate, it has scuppered the private sector’s ability to do business successfully and often legally. Governments should treat the interests of the people as priority but fear is never good counsel.
So, as for Plato, he argued that if you need a captain for a ship, you should choose someone well experienced in navigation. He gave a number of other examples but you get the idea. He said that the people in a democracy would make poorly guided, self-serving choices that would devolve into demagoguery, not dissimilar to Ms. Rand. But, what is the alternative. Businessmen have great insight into the workings of large-scale organisations but ultimately will make choices based on the needs of their business, profits and stock value. Academics have a deep understanding of the theories of government but often fail to appreciate the human condition. John Maynard Keynes, eminent economist, once tried his hand at the stock market (no-brainer, right?) but lost fortunes before realising that stock trading is not an exact science but driven by emotive decisions. So, a plutocracy and a scholarly aristocracy are as flawed as the system we have. Should we then do away with democracy all together. Entrust our nation to philosopher kings who work tirelessly for the greater good, unencumbered by petty desires and emotions. I fear that this Utopian dream is untenable and we could end up relinquishing authority to an AI system once we discover that such citizens could only be created in a lab.
The best alternative then must be to improve the existing one. To educate and inform the populace better and give them real choices. Force candidates to consider and realise their manifesto pledges better, control their funding better. Maybe even force voters to qualify to vote. This could not be achieved in a climate of fear, one way or the other. A nation is similar to a family, when the parents provide a secure, nurturing environment, the children will rest easy and get on with their job of developing into healthy well-adjusted adults. If the parents do a very good job, they will instill ambitions to improve on their own upbringing. If, on the other hand, the parents are weak and flakey, the kids will become insecure and rebel. They will become frightened, nothing scares a kid more than to look up at he people who should have everything in hand to realise that they are more clueless than them. And as I have already stated, fear is never good counsel.
Getting it right
So, how to make such improvements. In order to maintain a democracy, you need to invest in the people. Not just giving them good education and security but also encouraging them to take part in the whole democratic process. Many countries still have national military service, why could this not be adapted to national political service whereby everyone of voting age should in some way serve on local or national government for a mandatory period of time. The recent Brexit referendum in the UK illustrated the results of complacency. The young did not vote because they either did not engage with the issues or felt that as usual nothing would change for them. They were wrong. Many did not make that mistake twice and the recent general elections brought out record numbers of those who would inherit the results. This, I hope, was a turning point. If as many young voters were to make the same effort to vote for their government as they do for X-Factor we may see some change. If education was afforded the same investment as seducing high-tech companies that desperately need higher educated employees. If the health service were to get the same support as misbehaving financial institutions. If the parties were forced to concede that the electorate could no longer be bought with promises of less foreigners and lower taxes while hanging out with rock stars and comedians. This may result in a nation getting the government it deserves, finally.

Saturday 1 July 2017

Episode 47: Confession

You know me. You followed me around the country. You loved me on the TV when I had you in stitches with jokes about my penis. You followed me in the tabloids, you supported my charitable works. Then you didn't. I don't know why. You just stopped. Now, I have people who love me again. So much that they made me their mayor. This is my new story, From Under Dark Clouds.

I was alive and I had no idea how or why. The stench of death on his breath caught in my throat. Rotten undigested meat and bile. The light in my eyes prevented me seeing his face but I knew exactly what he looked like. Hate moulds all faces into the same gnarled affectation, over-chewed gum once all the taste has gone.

We had followed sometime after the set up team. Partly to get the arrival choreographed and partly because it had taken a fire extinguisher to get me off the well-assembled secretary.
Jude had gone off to Germany. America had a new president, an ex-country and western singer and she was to meet with the chancellor and her eurogroup pets. This took precedence over my antics in the arse-end of Europe.
When we arrived in the town square, I readied my face for the public. We circled the square looking for the welcome team. The secretary was sat up front so as not to distract me too much. I searched for our boys. A pick-up truck pulled out of a parking space into our path. My driver rubbed his hands together waiting to take his place. The secretary leaned round in her seat, she wore a terse smile. I spotted our banner and PA system. It was still in a pile in the middle of the square. I tapped the driver on the shoulder to circle again and call the set up team to get a move on. Shoppers shopped. Kids played. No crowds await.
The pick-up was still blocking our way. My driver raised his hands and huffed. The pick-up driver got out. A shadow fell over the car. The door burst on its hinges, the car rocked. Now, our driver was no light-weight but the hands that reached in and grabbed him were construction grade. He was excavated from his seat and replaced by a wirey man with cropped hair. The excavator wrenched my door open and planted himself next to me. I grabbed the door handle but the pick-up truck driver was there to keep it closed. The secretary screamed and the driver planted his fist into the side of her head and she fell silent. I felt impotent chivalry course my veins. We were moving out of the square. I spotted a squad car and waved frantically at the officers, the driver lifted an open palm, tipped his head and waved. My only thought was to get their attention, my only thought was bounced across the inside of my skull as the excavator replaced the thought with stars.
My hands were tied behind me but would have been useless under the circumstances. The wirey man standing over me was hewn from frustration. I was a man of comedy. Behind him stood the same piece of plant machinery that had filled my head with stars.
“Where is the girl?” I demanded.
They laughed. The excavator glanced at a door to my right.
I warned them not to harm her. I made a show of shaking free from the ropes. I amused them. A man of comedy.
The excavator pumped a laugh, “Like the Chinaman.”
I was alive, maybe the secretary was too. Maybe not. I was too high profile to kill or they were biding their time.
“Listen guys, what do you want me for?” This wasn't the first time I had faced bullies. It was them I had to thank for my career in comedy. “Let me introduce you to some people in London. They’re always looking for talented guys like yourselves. New suits, nice cars, toothbrushes, deodorant!” I didn't get to the pretty girls before they gave me a round of applause around my head.
I came to with the slamming of the front door. Wirey and Excavator stood to attention. The voice behind me was the reason I was still alive. Last time our paths had crossed he was pummelling my face on live TV. Ares was standing behind me. He smelt a lot better than the two before me but I could feel his fury like static electricity. He spoke with the smile of the victor. I hoped he was smug enough to Bond-villain his plans for me before the good guys broke down the door and whipped their arses.
“We've got a girl in the next room who’s full of your DNA.” He was smug enough.
I could feel my phone in my pocket. “MIKE!” The device pinged a response.
“You didn't get his phone?” They looked at each other. “Get the fucking phone!”
“Ares, they did a hopeless job of kidnapping me. I wouldn't stand for it if I were you!” my neck crunched as the blow from behind connected. The boys dove for my crotch.
“Destroy it!”
Wirey looked at the screen. “Just a facebook notification, boss.”
“Destroy it!”
“It’s an iPhone 7 plus, boss. 800 euros!”
I didn't hear another word but Excavator pushed Wirey, plucking the phone from his hand as he fell to the floor then folded it between his fingers.
“You annoy me, faggot!” Ares paced in front of me. “You should have gone home when you had the chance. Back with your beautiful family in London.”
I warned him to leave my family alone and I felt like I really meant it, like my warning made a difference to him.
“We are watching them and I only need to call…” He took out his phone and it pinged twice. Fuck, was it once for no, twice for yes? Four rapid pings. I think this means malaka.
“No!” I yelled. Excavator’s phone pinged twice. “OK”
Ares continued, “Yes,” Ping! “I only have to give the word and they are in a skip.”
“OK, I get it!”
He explained how the bitch in the next room could end up in a skip filled with my shit and I would be safely tucked up in a place in Greece where I would be frightened to take a shower, sleep or even eat for a very long time. He enjoyed this enormously wringing his hands. “…or you can go home.” He swung his fist into my cheek. “Personally, I hope you decide to stay.”
So, they were not going to kill me. This was some relief.
“So, should I stay?” Ping! “Maybe someone is coming to save me?” There was no ping. “I can’t fly without my passport.” Ares reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a British passport. Without let or hindrance. “I guess we are going to the airport. I hope you have money, my credit cards are with my…” He pulled my wallet from his other pocket.
I was surprised that Ares didn't take this opportunity to pummel me some more and before I knew it I had given voice to the words.
“You and me,” he paced. “Are not so different.”
“Yeah, there’s a bit of fascist cunt running through everyone’s veins.”
He smiled, “TV. We both understand the power of it.” He walked around me landing a heavy fist in my gut but at least he missed my nuts this time. “YouTube, facebook. It can make or break people.” He pulled out his phone and waved it like the holy book. “And we can do it all from here.” He swiped, tapped and spoke. “Bring her in.”
A moment later the door opened and Roni entered on the end of a shaved weasel, another came in holding her camera.
“Alright, Roni?” I asked.
She was sat down on a stool opposite me and her camera thrust into her lap. She instinctively made it ready. She was not alright but showed no sign of being treated with the same hospitality that I had.
A piece of paper was shoved into my hand covered with 5-year-old writing.
“I can’t read this, it was written by an illiterate!” Ares told me his nephew had written it and he had a Proficiency from Michigan. Figures.
On the page was supposed to be me apologising to the Greek people for insulting them with the idea that I could save them, that I had the answers, that I was a fraud. I questioned their validity and concluded nothing.
Wirey had pulled himself up from the floor and was rubbing his head. “You know, I could always get Asteris here to wring your scrawny little neck.” Asteris looked perturbed. “He might spend a few years inside but we’d look after his family.” He stopped. “And, it always sends a better message to the community when one of us takes responsibility for his actions. Anyway, when we get in this time, he gets out. And we WILL get in this time.”
“Why not the other one? He’d probably do it quicker.”
“No, he’s too handy and my mother likes him too much. Got a good appetite.”
Excavator smiled a grave-yard grin.
Roni lifted her camera and it was show time.
Ladies and gentlemen of the proud nation of Greece, for that is who you truly are. Not the gilded heirs of a land but the privileged caretakers of this fructiferous European allotment. Mia culpa. I confess my transgressions, of hubris that I may coalesce your democratic voice to one of common cause and purpose from one of self-service and proliferation of a status quo whose objective is to maintain division and denigration.
“STOP!” Ares waved at Roni to lower her camera. “what saying he?”
Roni swallowed hard, “He is saying that he is an arrogant big-head and Greek people are proud and wise.”
He grabbed my shoulder and waved the page in my face. “You say words!” his spittle stank.
I told him in his language that if I read these words, nobody would believe them. He kicked the floor and yelled that he should have brought his nephew.
“Would have been nice to meet the whole family!” Roni kicked my shin.
Roni raised her camera again and I worked out how to say what I wanted without getting myself in a skip.
That same misanthr… shit! Greek word, he’d get that. That same demago… more Greek, this was not going to be easy. Might end up in rhyming slang.
Roni kicked me again and pointed to the paper. Of course. Read it.
And so I make my risible confession so ineloquently composed to aforementioned ends. I read it. Punctuation errors, spelling mistakes like a senile in the throws of aphasia. This pleased Ares no end. And so into democracy’s crucible, I throw my hat.
“HAAAT!” Ares was spitting again. “WHAT IS THIS HAAAAT!”
“Throw in your hat, it means give up, quit.” Roni offered.
He snapped his fingers at Roni but she looked at him.
“Card, memory card!” He pulled out his phone and she gave him the large CF card from her camera. He offered it up to his phone. “What is this?”
“Compact flash. We don’t use the same cards as phones.”
The two men stepped back from Ares, they knew something was going to happen.
He swung the door to the bedroom open. The secretary was laid out naked on her front, her face to the door. Her eyes were open but there was no one behind them anymore.

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