Andrew Neil's BBC program 'This Week' is one of my favourites. He is at his wittiest, and not quite as aggressive as he is in his other current affairs programs. That said, I found last night's program very interesting indeed. One of his guests was Paul Mason, a self-admitted socialist as well as his usual Tory guest, Michael Portillo. Chuka Umunna was also present but had little to say on the subject I want to discuss.
Let me start by saying what happened is exactly the reason I was inspired to write my spectacularly unsuccessful book "The Art of selling lemons". I defined a lemon as an outright lie; a half-truth; a misnomer; innuendo; a wrong definition; assigning emotions and overusing them in ways the word itself was never intended; an irrelevant counter argument or a misdirection. When done deliberately I find it, at the very least distasteful but more to the point, unethical. All it achieves is to muddy the waters, confuse the issue being discussed and ultimately leads to partisanship and tribalism.
My gripe with yesterday's program falls into the category of overuse of words that have had strong emotions attached to them in our western societies, to the point that it could be argued, that today these words can be used to conjure up images of angels and demons. I refer to words like democracy, capitalism, socialism and communism. There are people in our society that would happily fight anyone that challenged their sacred 'democracy'. Others would rather be called a bastard than a socialist, and God forbid you accuse someone of being a communist or Marxist, be prepared for a punch-up. Just listen to the disdain in Teresa May's voice in parliament when she refers to Jeremy Corbyn's Marxist economics.
I recently saw a program a documentary on Chinese new year. Made in China, the very fact that foreign journalists were allowed to observe and even participate is reason enough to show that its not just democracy evolving, if that is what we are doing, China is at best a quasi-capitalist, benevolent authoritarian regime at best, but when millions of citizens are on the move each year to revisit their families for New Year, you realize that they at least still have something in their society we in the West are losing year by year. Family unity. This brings me to my point about societies of today and our aspirations of tomorrow. To clarify my point, allow me to lay out my definitions as I see them.
SYSTEM OF OWNERSHIP: CAPITALISM Vs. COMMUNISM It is not a system of good vs. evil or even old vs. new. In the former definition, capitalism refers to private ownership. Whether an individual or a company, such ownership is thought of as being private; to be bought and sold at will and to be handled in any way the owners see fit. The fact that the product is essential to society like power and water or even medicine is irrelevant. If the owner wants to use his monopolistic position to advantage bordering on extortion, well that's capitalism for you. The less interference from the government, the better. The latter term refers to a system that believes that all assets are ultimately communal or state-owned. They should be controlled by the state, whoever they may be. Needless to say there is no absolute capitalist or communist system in the world.
Few capitalists would agree with the principle privatizing absolutely everything for example selling off the roads, airports, Buckingham Palace and even the White House. By contrast, even the most the most ardent socialist/communist would resent it if his house which he built with his own bare hands , ended up being the possession of the state.
All countries, without exception fall into an area in-between and one I call socialism. These terms are often conflated by the way in which the leadership tries to implement these systems, hence Michael Portillo's contention yesterday, Communism (conflated with Stalin and Mao Tse Tung) ended up suppressing or killing millions of people. It did not. In fact that is exactly the kind of biased rhetoric used by extremists to make their point, and is no different to blaming all Muslims for Jihadism. The leaders of the day did.
SYSTEM OF LEADERSHIP/ DECISION MAKING : DICTATORIAL Vs. DEMOCRATIC This is the category I find, where the word is often grossly misapplied and frankly, just plain wrong. Other words can also be inserted but if you analyse them, they basically fall into one of the two categories above. Words like authoritarian are often applied as a polite form of the former system, dictatorial. By the sheer weight of emotion currently assigned to the word 'democracy', I would guess that if we were to survey 100 people, far more than three quarters would prefer 'democratic'. I can think of no more certain way of guaranteeing failure than to have a purely democratic leadership style. Think about it.
In fact dictatorial decision making is far more efficient and even more cost effective. In many instances it is also essential when the period available for the decision is limited. In the army for instance, or with parenting. Imagine a mother trying to get her children across a busy street. What would you think of her if she sat them down in the street to have a discussion on how to do it? What would you think of a general that decided to have a referendum with his troops on whether to attack or retreat? Every time Teresa May decides to ignore public opinion and not increase funds to the NHS, she is being dictatorial. (In fact she is being silly because eventually she will and the cost will be far higher).
Some of the greatest democratic leaders of history were anything but democratic in their viewpoints. Abraham Lincoln even suspended Habeas Corpus at one stage and Churchill did not suffer fools lightly.
POLITICAL SYSTEM: DEMOCRACY Vs. DEMOCRACY Vs. DICTATORSHIP When we think of the Western world, we think we are the good guys, we think democracy. But there is far more than one type of democracy. The method of voting differs drastically from country to country. The Americans, as much as they revere democracy, think of their democrats as 'liberals' or 'labour'. In that country in the last election, the candidate who got less votes than his rival ended up being president (Want to guess which one?), The last Republican president was effectively awarded the presidency by the law courts. There are numerous political systems where results are not simply determined by the number of votes. but can also be influenced by redrawing boundaries or lines on a map. 'Democracy' really??
THE FOUNDATIONS OF MODERN DAY DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY To me, this area of today's era is the one that is most in need of a brush up. Not because I think it is particularly wrong, but because it is so important, so fundamental to our legal system and so misunderstood. This field contains all of the above 'lemons' that I mentioned, all of the above confused definitions and is particularly prone to partisan and divisive pressures. It is also Western society's sacred cow. It is, after all, the basis of Western societies; and is the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which follows on from America's Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789), based on the French Revolution which in turn was based on the works of philosophers like John Locke in the 17th century etc. etc. There were others before, but let's start there.
I won't bore you with the details, but it makes for very interesting reading I recommend the www.britannica.com/topic/Declaration-of-the-Rights-of-Man-and-of-the-Citizen version. To me the ideas, the thinking; belongs to a bygone period in history. Society has changed. Mankind has evolved. It was written to protect individuals from rogue states, politicians and autocrats in a world that was rife with autocratic rulers. In a world where many peoples were still considered to be no more than chattels, to be utilized and disposed of by their masters.
But today there have been massive changes in the nature of our societies. Firstly the concept of a state with a tyrannical dictator that governs through cruelty is limited in its existence. Where the world has encountered such states it has proved to be weak and at times even powerless if the undemocratic state simply refuses to accept the basis of the doctrine, the social contract. If they refuse to implement the declaration for themselves, how do you force them to accept it? Two world wars have made us all weary of war, and in the few cases where the world has interfered, the cure has often been deadlier and more lethal than the disease.
Secondly, and more importantly, this is the basis of our legal system. Since criminal and social law is older and more developed than, say business law, this is the area where it can most easily be recognized. Ideas like 'you can only be tried once for a crime' and 'Miranda Rights' now ubiquitous throughout Western societies were established precisely for this reason. Consider the Amendments in the American constitution, the 'right to bear arms' and 'the freedom of speech'. To protect the individual from the state. Now consider the number of areas where it has been demonstrated time and again to be wanting.
Mass killings through gun play.
When the accused or perpetrator is using the system itself against his fellow individual and accuser. A case in point is the right of the accused to face his accuser and question them, even in rape and abuse cases; or a rich person involved in a divorce settlement using top lawyers that he can afford while his spouse cannot afford to pay anyone. We know about the rights of the accused but what about the rights of the victims? What happens when the rights of the individual are at odds with the rights of society, like in the Worboy's case?
What about the case when individuals abuse certain inalienable rights to the detriment of society? For example, using free speech to promote extremism and terrorism or to corrupt the minds of the young and vulnerable. How best to handle that?
What about the case of big business, where certain corporate entities today have the size and financial strength of a nation state and have been awarded the rights and privileges of an individual? How does any individual fight such a foe? How does any single nation fight such a foe?
What about the case where business enterprise is so large it can 'buy' influence government through lobbies and sadly, even fellow large businesses through friendships and cartels?
What about the case where large corporations can afford to pay an army of lawyers to do nothing but look for loopholes in the law to enable them to avoid paying tax?
All the above satisfy the criteria of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but should they be allowed? Isn't this what brings about and erodes faith in the system? Isn't this the reason that for many, including me, believe that justice and legislation seem to have parted ways a long time ago?
Isn't this reason enough to revisit our fundamental social constructs and renovate them and making them fit for purpose in the 21st century?