Friday, May 05, 2006

The road to hell is paved...

"The evil that is in the world almost always comes of ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding." (Albert Camus)

To move towards an understanding of the root of matters.

Political tyranny requires a personal sense of rectitude which refuses the critic. “There is no alternative.” The tyrant will claim a monopoly of understanding. The tyranny will promise the redemption of the people – from fear, from poverty of the mind or of the body, from another form of slavery (it can be argued that the Ideology of the Market has developed the most sophisticated form of enslavement in the recorded history of the world). It is typical for the tyrant to begin with a rationalisation of good intentions and, if brought to book, end with the plea of those same good intentions: “But you don't understand.” The Trains ran on time. The Jewish problem would have been solved if you had only let me finish the job.

Let me then seek to conflate that premise of personal rectitude with a further premise: that the desire for power is rooted in jealousy which is in turn rooted in fear. The fear that, since you cannot control the world, it will be taken away from you. You cannot possess it. In the denial of recognition of that fear, of that jealousy of a world which takes attention away from you and requires that you give attention to others, the efforts to control the world are reinforced. For an individual in a position of great authority and responsibility, such emotional immaturity, such isolation from others, is dangerous. It is close to the outlook of the psychopath.

To clarify, let's first distinguish such a conception of power from the acceptance of an offered responsibility which has access to the means to facilitate that authority. That acceptance brings with it a requirement of probity, for the separation of responsibility from self-interest. That combination of responsibility and authority might be perceived, construed or described as power and will be taken as such by those who aspire to power and by those who seek to influence that. The ethical requirements of responsibility are but rarely realised. The distinction between conceptions of power and those of responsibility with authority is a key signifier of an attitude of mind, of the approach to the use – or misuse – of authority.

That the exercise of authority requires safeguards to prevent abuse within the personal arrogance and self-glorifying associations of the “powerful” has, through some millennia of philosophy and practice, led to various checks and balances to scrutinise and limit the actions of those entrusted with authority in order to enshrine the protection of individual rights and liberties. "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" (Originally a reference to guards in the harem). In the UK we have had a judiciary which has, at least on the face of matters, evolved to resist political and ministerial interference. In the UK we have had a Parliamentary and Party Political system which, again on the face of matters, has limited the whims of monarchs, provided some public scrutiny of the actions of governments and which, from time to time, has obliged them to change policy. Neither the Judicial nor the Parliamentary system is ideal. Each involves compromise and creates injustice. In the judicial system, the correction of or defence against injustice is fully accessible only to the rich. Just as, at one time, was Parliament. Hence the battle for universal suffrage and the argument for reform the House of Lords with its legacy of hereditary peerages (or more recent bunce-peerages).

Why introduce these themes? Why such basics? Well, I think that the preoccupation with the surface symptoms of the time, the events of the moment, risks our own capitulation in the business of forgetting We need to be alert to how we are ourselves influenced by the “Spirit of the Age”. How we can learn to recognise and therefore resist the abuse of the political system and how we can learn to recognise and resist the erosion of our being, the accumulated influence of propaganda on our minds.

Long enough. I will move on with a later post.



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