Jonathan Dodd’s latest column. Guest opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the publication. Ed
Well well, here we are again. Despite everyone’s best efforts, we’re being asked to vote for one of many evils. No wonder that so many people are confused and frustrated and angry, and all of the other things people feel right now, that they either didn’t feel before the so-called referendum was foisted on us, or that they did feel, but were too polite to mention. That politeness has certainly gone to ground lately. I don’t expect anything to be resolved in any direction by this election, but I don’t actually think that’s so much of a bad thing.
The trouble with long periods of peace and relative prosperity is that people get bored, and they forget the terrible times that caused the troubles in the past, which made us grateful to join in with efforts to try to make it never happen again. After a while we become enchanted, our senses are lulled by bright and pretty things, and we start to feel that we deserve the world fit for heroes that so many people fought and died for. We start to think that we should have everything we wish for, and we forget that you get what you deserve after all, rather than what you want regardless of the actual cost.
Moving forward on Progress Road
I’m talking about everyone here. The so-called ‘people’, the rich people, the excluded people, the smug people, the politicians, and you, and me. I can’t speak for you, but I can speak for me. I’ve reaped the rewards of a lifetime of freedom and peace. I’ve worked hard (mostly), I’ve had hard and difficult things happen, sometimes I’ve failed to heed the writing on the wall, and sometimes I’ve never even noticed that writing on that wall. I’m just an ordinary man who tries to keep up, and I make an effort to make sense of the things I see.
I always had a sense of things moving forward on Progress Road, a broad highway that leads from the darkness of the past towards the light up ahead, where gradually, through hard work and unselfish effort, everyone gets to be safe and comfortable, and everyone takes advantage of improved healthcare and education to become more aware and more considerate, because they understand that being wise and taking care of oneself and others is the key to civilisation and a good and long life. I thought that was obvious. What folly. That’s where I was lulled.
Slavishly climbing on each other’s backs up that greasy ladder
I forgot about the very few people in the world who own practically everything, and whose appetite for ownership will never be satisfied. I forgot about the unending need of politicians to pretend to be truthful and working for the common good, while slavishly climbing on each other’s backs up that greasy ladder, and lying endlessly because it makes them look good or score more points. I forgot that politicians no longer have to resign if they’re caught breaking the law, or taking money, or with their trousers down. I was never so bothered by the trousers, but the corruption thing is a step too far for me. Not every politician has indulged in these activities, but they all seem to look the same and speak the same language, and they’re not very good at denouncing each other when wrongdoing occurs, and they’re in too much thrall to the party and their position within it.
Or so it seems, at least to me. I forgot about a lot of things. I was busy getting on with my life, and I didn’t protest enough about the things I cared about. Staying in Europe, for goodness sake. Stopping those disgusting wars and the consequent endless streams of displaced people roaming around the world looking for refuge via frozen lorries and leaky boats, dying in their thousands and ending up, if they’re lucky, as illegal aliens in countries such as ours, with no rights and hardly any future. I forgot about the ability of some humans to become enormously rich on the proceeds of people-smuggling and so-called modern slavery and trafficking of all sorts of stuff that our governments should be dealing with rather than reducing the very workforce that should be policing it.
Averting those crises didn’t defeat them or make them go away
I forgot that it’s not enough to set up the United Nations and then prevent it from carrying out the very functions it was created to serve. I forgot that governments could fail to regulate bankers, then allow them to wreck the economy, then give them huge amounts of money so they didn’t go bust, then reduce our welfare state and education system and our civil service and schools and social care system to pay for all that, and we’re still more in debt than we were then. I forgot that politicians can be as lulled as I have been all this time.
I also forgot that the climate crisis and the great extinction that we’re causing has been going on for decades. Back at the end of the Sixties there were many warnings about all of these things, and a great flurry of concerns over famine and overpopulation and other end-of-the-world scenarios. I forgot that averting those crises didn’t defeat them or make them go away, it just delayed the inevitable, and made the effects of that ignoring far more drastic.
I forgot so many things, but the most important thing I forgot was that most precious of quotes – “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance”. It used to annoy me that nobody could agree on who actually said it first. It has been attributed to Andrew Jackson, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, and many others. But that just makes it more relevant and true, in my honest opinion. Getting freedom, or equality, or the vote, or universal education, or a welfare state, or a national health service, or a bill of rights, or an honest government and judiciary, or the abolition of slavery, is very hard work.
Everything that we ever achieved was ground out against the implacable opposition of all those who didn’t want to put their hands in their pockets, or were defending their own privileges, or their traditions, or their religious intolerances. And those people don’t go away. The moment some victory is won, the opposing forces start to gather their strength and resources, and the plotting begins to reverse this affront to their determination to return the world to their own golden age when nobody dared to challenge their supremacy. We also forget that there are lots of people out there who have no privileges, and are desperate to grab power at any cost. Some of those are now raising their heads above the parapets as we speak.
We should be ashamed of ourselves, but it’s not too late
The first thing we forget is that getting rights and freedoms isn’t a foregone conclusion. They can be reversed, rather easily. The second thing we forget is that the gaining of freedoms and rights isn’t a tick box, all done. They need to be defended against assaults of all kinds and from all quarters. We nearly forgot that in the 1930s, and the actual cost of stopping Nazism was far greater than it would have been if we had acted earlier and more definitively. The third thing we forget is that for every freedom won, there are more freedoms to be fought for. We still don’t have so many of the things that should be in place to ensure that everyone gets an equal chance in this country.
I was determined not to write a rant this week. So many times in the recent past I’ve started to write and had to stop and delete everything because I’m so angry, but I’ve not found a way to say what I want without blowing my top. We should be ashamed of ourselves, but it’s not too late. We can rescue ourselves from the lifeboat we’ve thrown ourselves into. It takes some effort, and maybe some sacrifices, and probably a lot of compromise along the way, but it’s always possible, and achieving a result that pleases most people is so much more productive and safe, for the world and for all the people who live in it. Not to mention the environment.
Spend a few minutes imagining how the world should be
What I’m suggesting that you might try to do is to stop thinking and talking about what makes you angry, and what you don’t like, and what you don’t want, for just a few minutes. I’d like you to spend a few minutes imagining yourself sometime in the future. It might be a year or so, or twenty years. It might be when your children or grandchildren have grown up. I’d like you to imagine what sort of world you want to find yourself and your loved ones in when you reach that future. I’d like you to include as many others, and their loved ones in that future too.
We’ve seen a lot of versions of unpleasant futures lately, with wars and environmental disasters. We’ve heard about wars for oil, and wars for water, and enormous movements of people from war zones into places of safety, and the destabilising of those very places as a result. We’ve seen the results of the foolish election of unfit leaders, and the rise of leaders who are divisive and dangerous.
We’ve experienced the increase in hate and anger and frustration. How about spending a few minutes imagining how the world should be instead, and trying to find ways to resolve these difficulties, so that we and our children, and the world can survive, and our precious freedoms can be preserved?
Vote for the future, rather than for the past
Please take a look at the candidates for this election, and decide for yourself which of them, if any, could possibly be trusted to work towards that positive future, rather than carrying on in the same old destructive way. I’ll be trying my best to do that. I’ll be voting for the future, rather than for the past, or for hatred and division. I want to hear the voice of reason in our Houses of Parliament again, and the speaking of truth and belief rather than point-scoring.
I’ll be voting for life and liberty, and staying on Progress Road, rather than running off blindly down the Road to Perdition.
If you have been, thank you for reading this.