Self-Harm

Like a teenager bucking against instruction, the media telling us what to do just did not help

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Sitting in a room full of Americans dreading “Armageddon”, the result of the election came as no surprise to me. Finger pointing is rampant and social media has found another hot topic that will keep the servers busy – for perhaps 2 days. Yet, for me, we need not look far to find a major culprit: our very screens. Despite his many flaws, Trump pitted himself against the establishment very early on. He recognised himself as an outsider who would be rejected by the mainstream media, and took every opportunity to heighten this effect. The media, the engine of the “establishment,” were relentless with their coverage, and often in very obvious ways were unbelievably biased. Initially it seemed like this was the only response we could give. Was this seriously a candidate for the presidency? Anyone who viewed themselves as free-thinking had to be sure to let the world know that they could not support this kind of candidate. His messages incited hate, he didn’t give us the political-sounding spiel we were used to in response to our questions, he seemed unabashedly ignorant about world issues – let alone how to solve them. Despite the fact that people soon came to realise that Clinton was not much better, she at least played the game well and would surely not do anything as rash as building a wall (which is, by the way, mostly already built). The point, then, is this: the kind of coverage Trump was getting only played into his hands. It gave him the attention he needed, and it confirmed the suspicions of bias against him. Whilst all were busy waving Clinton’s CV and pointing to her experience, this only cemented the idea that she was indeed very much a part of the very system that many believed to be failing their country. In America there is a fear of the government gaining too much power and restricting freedoms – of the political establishment turning on its inhabitants. This has been a fixture of American politics since time immemorial, and to guard against this perceived risk, every man and his dog is entitled to a gun so that if such a thing ever comes to pass, they can resist. Furthermore, the idea that the reigning establishment, in Democratic hands for 8 years, did not want change and would do anything to protect its own was reinforced every time coverage of Trump’s mistakes were treated as much worse than Clinton’s.

Both candidates were weak in many areas, but instead of a divide amongst the liberal world as to which mistakes mattered more, or as to the manipulation of the people and the misuse of power as opposed to ignorance and an inability to mask one’s negative opinions, we were fine with picking the most obvious weakness. If Hilary ever did hold opinions that the world would frown at, it can be certain she would find a way to avoid expressing them, whereas Trump – oh Trump. I am not in support of Trump, I never was. However, after a while even I could not help but look at how one-sided this was all becoming. I also came to the conclusion that he would not deliver on most of his promises but was simply playing their game the only way he could. His main message was that the system has been failing its citizens, those in power have done little to help, and those same people are solely bent on keeping their power. Social media treated the bashing of Trump as if it were the next ice bucket challenge. Trump quickly took on the role of a victim, and the sheer support Clinton was getting from celebrities and world figures did more to make the common American empathise with him than endear them towards Clinton. This was not an election about political theory, policies, or even likeability. For many this was a chance to support the underdog and frustrate the establishment that had tried so hard to put him down.

For those that disagree, look at the reactions to this election. The hyperboles continue. The world is not going to end – in fact for the middle class militia, most things will probably stay the same. If this is a monster, it is one we made in our own lab, then cast away only for him to return and haunt us. The only thing our characterisation of Trump supporters as racist or stupid did was send into hiding those who agreed with his less polemical ideas, or the principles that the Republican party stand for. We should have learnt this lesson from Brexit. Negative characterisation doesn’t change people’s views; it just means we are grossly misinformed as to who really does support who. It remains to be seen how this will all end. As with Brexit, I believe that the overwhelmingly one-sided support, whether deserved or not, ultimately did more damage than good.

 

 

 

 

Politics: Frustration or Disengagement

“It seems we’re scarce of the honest guys because most of them aren’t tough enough for the dog-eat-dog world of politics; instead we are left with the professionals who know how to play the game.”

Hardly an expert or one with much profound knowledge on the issue, I wonder how it is that my generation are supposed to look on today’s politics with optimism. Not to go down the naïve path of believing “one person isn’t going to make a difference”, I can’t help but despair at what goes on in the political sphere. I used to respond when prompted that the reason I don’t like politics is that they’re all liars. Of course that was a generalisation I didn’t mean literally. Yet my main point was and still is that politicians exaggerate all the time, or make promises they can’t keep, sometimes knowingly, only to get there and not fulfil most of them. If politicians got up and were completely honest, it is more than likely they wouldn’t get elected, thus we push them to speak purely to get votes or as we’re seeing with Trump – attention. As much as many Trump supporters argue that he is merely not letting political correctness curtail what he says to the public, I wonder how much of what he says he truly means, and how much of it he would really fight to achieve if elected. Despite this, what is more important is that Trump is simply an easy target, for he is far from the only one who’s integrity can be questioned when we analyse actions or words. We could just as easily question the integrity of many politicians from Clinton to May, Buhari or Putin.

 

Then comes the plethora of decisions that seem to arise through the lack of adequate consideration or a desire to please either the wrong people or for the wrong reasons. In 2013 Cameron’s proposal for airstrikes in Syria was rejected in Parliament. Yet in light of mounting terror attacks in the Western world, when brought up again at the end of 2015, they were accepted. The difficulty for me was the motivation behind this decision. It seemed fear, an inevitable motivator of hate, played a large role. Furthermore when the goals of the terrorists were considered did it really seem like killing some of them by drones, without sufficient ground support or a detailed plan of action, would really do that much to solve the problem? I wondered if it was simply felt that a show of force was immediately necessary to make people feel better and warn the enemy of Britain’s might. As one who looked at it from an academic standpoint, I could not help but strongly disagree with the decision. I cannot think of a greater recruitment tool for extremists than the wails of innocents hit by drone strikes where the possible civilian representation was collateral in the name of “the greater good”. However, this may be because at the moment I am struggling to fully reconcile with utilitarian principles such as fighting, while ignoring some wrongs, for the greater good; especially when that good is judged by a specific set of ideals that are not universal and are viewed from one society’s point of view.

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What I see in democracy today is a balancing act between what the majority want and what the informed are aware is right. Why should it fall to John Smith down the road, who thinks Africa is a country, whether the economy would fare better if trade with Europe were risked at the prospect of greater trade with the rest of the world? Why should politicians act in a way that will fill him with the kind of national pride that emanates from the feeling of superiority over “lesser” countries? I am unsure of the idea that age alone is what should dictate eligibility for political engagement. If there can be a cut off point of some sort, can we not ensure that the electorate the politicians try so hard to win over are those who are informed to an acceptable degree? If enough engagement or interest is not shown by people to investigate thoroughly their opinions, why should they have a hand in deciding matters of great national importance?

 

Perhaps, after consuming film after film of men and women who stood uncompromisingly for all that was good (whatever that is), our standards are too high. Perhaps without access to the complete picture, we judge our leaders too harshly. Yet from where I stand it seems we’re scarce of the honest guys because most of them aren’t tough enough for the dog-eat-dog world of politics; instead we are left with the professionals who know how to play the game. Thus when I consider future elections I wonder if we’ll be voting in the best possible leader or choosing between the most convincing car salesmen. Such frustrations with the political system lead to the political disengagement described by Charles Taylor in his book “Ethics of Authenticity”. To paraphrase Taylor, it can no longer be denied that many see no point in engaging with politics as long as leaders provide the means to the satisfactions of private life and distribute them widely. This leads to a sense of being trapped and a soft tyranny where ironically the people are no longer the ones making the important decisions.

 

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Democracy vs Epistocracy

Upon the release of Jason Brennan’s book “Against Democracy” an interesting question is raised. Ostensibly, it seems the very notion of challenging democracy is one that evokes such emotions it ought not be done. Yet perhaps our emotions play too large a role in analysing the prevalent system of government today. With the present political climate in mind, the increase in popularity of nationalist ideologies, the precarious situation that the majority of the world’s muslims find themselves in, and the surprise of Brexit, it couldn’t be a better time to question whether all voices ought to be equally heard.

It goes without saying that democracy or the indifference of the majority can lead to atrocities [insert Nazi comparison or extreme utilitarian thought-experiment for “positive” fear mongering], yet is an upheaval of our current system actually necessary or peacefully possible? It’s not like we could get the majority to agree to giving up their equality and importance – at least not if they knew.

Will democracy lead us to a dark place [again] or have we made sure manipulation of the ignorant is no longer a possibility?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2016/09/03/democracy-vs-epistacracy/?utm_term=.bc7ea0659f0c

Any thoughts to add? Leave a comment by clicking below the tags on the topleft of the article.