Dec 11

The Pluralist Paradox

Deep down inside of me, there is a swing voter waiting to get out.

A true British I-don’t-really-know-what-I-think voter, someone who could go both ways. Hell, I could go three or four ways.

I know, dear imaginary reader, you are thinking, “but how can someone so … so – political – how can you not be true and loyal to a single party?”

Don’t get me wrong. The swinger inside of me is not the typical British non-thinker. Not the common man on the street who waits until there is a critical mass of others to think on their behalf so they can chime in at the last minute and back the winning party. Not the fickle man on the street who just loves to complain about whichever party is in power and backs the opposition because, “there’s no possible way we could have four more years of the same old [insert current governing party here]”.

No, my swinging tendencies come from much, much deeper within me. My struggle is thus:

On the one hand, surely our socio-economic outlook looks far prettiest when people are allowed to do what they want whilst not harming others; a liberal, pluralist society? What is wrong for you might not be wrong for me, and therefore we should agree not to legislate for what you consider to be wrong, because it would be unfair for me. Instead we should just hang out / do business with people who have similar views to our own.

Of course we should have high taxes and good quality public services. This isn’t a matter of politics, it’s a matter of economies of scale: pooling resources allows us to reduce overheads. (I’m talking theoretically, of course.)

But on the other hand – and please excuse my Newtonian worldview (blame my Christian parents) – given that humanity, if left unchecked, tends towards selfish and greedy behaviour, perhaps after all it doesn’t look that fabulous when people are allowed to do what they want.

Here I cite the global financial crisis as being caused by unfettered or poorly-regulated capitalism.

Or what about society and the family? It is horribly non-liberal to interfere with matters of the family: married couple tax breaks between man and woman, making it legally difficult and expensive to get a divorce, reducing benefits to single mothers and punishing walk-away fathers who don’t take responsibility.

Whilst the above may offend our sense of social liberalism, let us hypothesise what their long-term effect on society might be, and therefore the effect on our economy and, eventually, our wealth as a nation of individuals. In economic terms, those societies defined by people pulling together (be this around the traditional unit of the family, or otherwise) are the ones that generate wealth for their futures. Those societies that are fragmented and socially disorganised are the ones that get poorer.

Given humanity tends towards greed and ultimately destruction (we agree on this, do we not?), and given in my example of the family above this would mean men will love women then walk away from them unless there is a compelling financial reason not to, perhaps a liberal society with fewer rules is a less successful, inferior one?

I used the construct of family to make my point, but this could equally apply to other constructs.

And this is the crux of my indecision. Conservative rule is too socially prescriptive. Labour rule causes too much fragmentation of society to allow for growth or progress. Liberal Democrat rule… well, our party just gets laughed-out or shouted-at most of the time.

What is my problem with political loyalty? Why do I mistrust staunch Labour party members, staunch Conservative party members, or staunch Any party members?

Is it that my world view espoused above is essentially flawed? Is it that I’m merely a liberal mind trying to get out of a conservative body? Or is it because my politics derive too directly from the existential questions in my head? Or is this a common Paradox of Pluralism?

Oct 09

Royal Mail. Doing Justice to its 'Royal' Roots.

Royal Pain in the Arse, more like.

Yesterday, our post came at 2pm.

I ran to the door, because two days ago I had noticed they had delivered mail for another house altogether, and I wanted to ask the postman what he was doing. (Politely. I am always polite, however angry.)

But first, I inspected the letters that had just dropped.

One for me, one for 61 Tunis Road (lucky me!) and one for 61 Stanlanke Road.

“What, AGAIN?!”, thought I.

I immediately dropped the mail, opened the front door expecting to see the postman a couple of steps away. I was ready to lose a little bit of patience, actually.

Even if it was the fault of the sorting office who had put things in the wrong piles, and even if it was the end of my shift, I would still not do something like that. I would look at the post, and think “I should take this to where it should go, one road down”. I would then sacrifice 10 extra minutes of my life to explain to my manager that this has happened too many times now, and it’s not acceptable.

Alas, the postie was half way down the road in a red van by the time I looked out on the street. How on Earth he must have returned to his van from my doorstep, started up, and driven half-way down the road in the space of about 8 seconds, I have no idea!

This is a special skill. An art, you might say. One that requires practice.

The plot thickens.

I walked around to 61 Tunis Road to politely offer them some important mail (return address was PO Box Northampton, does the reader know what this means? Yes, the letter had a credit-card shaped, er, card inside of it, no joke), and was greeted by a lady whose young boy asked if I was Matthew.

Good GOD. This sharp-eyed young boy had remembered seeing my address and name on some mail for me, delivered to them! And it was my online VAT registration details, including membership card. Great, so nothing too important then!

Do these people see “letter from HMRC REVENUE AND CUSTOMS” and think “sod it, I’ll deliver it elsewhere”?

Is it because I made a complaint about them shoving a “while you were out” notice through the letterbox two months ago without having even knocked on the door only to open the door immediately to ask what was going on and to find the postman didn’t even have the parcel he was claiming to try to deliver that day? Was it revenge for the formal complaint I had made about this terrible behaviour?

I visited my next location, where I was greeted by the grateful face of a lady whose HMRC REVENUE AND CUSTOMS letter (yes, another really important letter), or that of her husband, had been missing.

How desperate!

This country is a joke!

I am giving up and moving to Spain.

In Spain, people sit around in sunny piazzas, drinking espresso and talking about important things.

People look after others’ babies without the fear of being arrested or told off by officious social services workers.

Do people misbehave like this in Spain, where it’s hot?

Do people not take pride in their jobs here at all?

Do people have no souls? Not an ounce of goodness? Any sense of right?

Am I the only one who has a sense of basic human decency and duty? No, thankfully I am not. But it’s so hard finding others who also do!

Our road names are different! Our postcodes completely different! They are DIFFERENT ADDRESSES! Your job is to deliver an envelope to an address, not a random letterbox nearby because you are at the end of your shift, you lazy jobsworth-y heap of disrespectful human uselessness!

It’s one thing when we can’t trust others on the street to behave considerately towards others, but it’s another thing altogether when people do so AND take a pay packet for the privilege at the end of the month!

Member of the chattering classes that I am, I feel it’s my duty to apportion blame at this point.

Middle management. Not postmen. Middle management. For it is they who refuse to accept there is a huge problem with their workers. An enormous problem with quality of service. As long as they install customer care lines where they pay people to smile over the phone at you in order to form a convenient black hole for serious service complaints (every call ends with “thank you for your call, I will chat with the area manager and have this resolved as soon as possible“, which invariably masks a complete lack of understanding of the severity and spread of the endemic problems of worker attitude and area manager accountability), as long as they refuse to admit there are management structure problems and wipe out entire sections of the business to remedy the problem, this problem will continue to further plague the Royal Mail and cause its eventual demise.

Talk about an industry giving itself a black eye when it’s already got major health problems.

I only write because mail workers voted in favour of a strike today.

Good one. Imagine if everyone had a little bit of a strike. Postal workers, train workers, politicians, policemen and women, teachers, firemen. Anarchy, it would be anarchy. That’s why striking, in a society like we have today, is practically immoral; if you don’t like your job, or the sector you decided to go in to, why the hell are you staying in it? Sure, try to reform it, if you do care about your job or sector. But striking doesn’t have that effect, it has the effect of stirring up anger from the public and solving nothing between ‘robust’ negotiators for the industry and insolent negotiators for the unions.

God, it’s not like we are sending people down the mines any more, is it?

Striking: in our current societal status, it’s what lazy people who think they deserve more do. Here’s my message to you: everyone in the world thinks they deserve more. Apart from those who really don’t have anything, and they appreciate life in every way they can. Yes, workers think they deserve better treatment and pay, even politicians think they deserve better pay, even after The Scandal. I don’t want this to sound trite, but I have come to appreciate those around me who appreciate what they have got, I am one of these people myself.

Anyway, enough of the happy clappy, on with the vitriol.

Or perhaps it’s lawyers’ faults?

Lawyers have turned our society into a compensation society, like the USA. They didn’t mean to, their motives for campaigning for individuals to have greater power to challenge organisations were pure. After all, they were about power to the people. But actually it has backfired, and it means we are not able to simply get rid of rubbish workers, for fear of tribunals and court cases of unfair dismissal. The public sector, which doesn’t have the money to get serious heavyweight legal assistance in such cases, is the one that loses. Or rather, we, consumers of public services, are the ones who lose. The Lawyers didn’t think about that, they didn’t think about the long lasting effects of handing legal power to the individual.

Sounds good on paper, but actually leads to inefficient, ineffective organisations, ones that have to care more about workers’ rights than the job they are trying to get done. That surely cannot be right.

Sack it, I blame the Labour government. (NB I say this tongue-in-cheek.) Might as well. Spoon feed society, pay them for sitting around on their arses all day, and the wretched disease of indifference about life, the universe, and everything, will filter up into the working classes, god help us because it has probably permeated the middle and upper classes too, and soon enough 99.9% of the general public will be unable to make decisions for themselves and abuse their surroundings and take others for granted. This is the thin end of the wedge. The thick end is crime and intolerance.

Socialism. It may seem like a great idea to give handouts to those who need them the most, but it does nothing for society – all levels of society – in the medium to long term.

It simply means more people spit in the street, and dump their rubbish illegally, and behave in antisocial ways. And drop mess, and eat smelly food on the tube, and carry knives around. And drink and start fights, and can’t look each other in the eye.

That’s why I simply cannot bring myself to vote Labour, however much I don’t want the Tories to come to power.

Rant over.

I wish I were not in the impossible position of having to vote for a party I don’t really believe in, nor do I think will ever have enough power.

Can’t someone fill the political gap?

No, not you, UKIP, you single-minded waste of a manifesto.

A party I could take pride in, one that represents a political ideal I can connect with. One that is in favour of Europe, peace, technology, progress, social justice, reasonable taxes, fiscal conservatism. I wouldn’t mind paying higher tax if we could find one.

Am I a Tory? Please tell me no. I am not a Tory.

Apr 09

When is a deep-seated problem in society not a deep-seated problem in society?

Is racism inherent to humanity? A societal construct? A belief we are taught? Is it possible to be untaught? Are some people genuinely completely devoid of racism, or are we all complicit in the racism that is a part of our society whether we own that belief ourselves or not?

Needless to say, I know exactly what I think the answers to the above are.

I rarely rise to the bait.

Especially on issues as emotive as racism, debated as publicly as online, at someone’s blog.

But I posted somewhere about the fact that I don’t see colour, and someone responded by linking me to a blog post about how so-called “colour-blindness” can be detrimental to the progress of racial equality.

With great interest, and a very open mind on this matter, I followed this link to a blog entitled Uppity Brown Woman, and read the article. I didn’t think too hard about the title of the blog.

I read it, and I agreed with its central tenet: that perhaps “colour-blindness” is not the process by which equality can be realised, but rather the end-point.

Thought I: “A little arbitrary, perhaps a little dogmatic, but I guess it’s important to get these things perfectly straight if we can, after all, we are talking about ideals and progress”. Clearly if I had been subjected to racism in some form, I may be far less flippant with this last sentiment, and so I didn’t write this thought out. But I would still hope to think it deep down. Let’s take the example of white-on-white crime; for the sake of argument I’ve been beaten up and mugged, I would be very upset but I wouldn’t necessarily become too worried about the chicken-egg argument of whether it was a problem with parenting in society or a problem with humanity itself. I’d tell myself “beating up is immoral, it’s wrong, and nobody should be subjected to it”, and I’d leave it at that.

The first blog response I read, however, I found difficult. So I posted a response. Bad idea.

It was the wee, wee hours:

Someone on the internet is wrong

Nota bene, there wasn’t actually anyone shouting “are you coming to bed” from another room; that would sound spookily like there was someone in my life who actually did that kind of thing.

I don’t know what else to say here really. Please take a quick look at the comments on that blog. If you are without time, skip the blog entry itself and go straight to the first comment, as I have summarised the bit I’m talking about above.

I’m the enigmatically titled “Mr Smith”.

After a little more reading of the blog, I discovered there are, in my opinion, a few chips on a few shoulders – and it was this I was railing against. Now I kind of regret going there.

Can someone tell me I am not being completely unreasonable here?

I get really angry when people tell me “everyone is a rittle bit lacist”. (Ref: Avenue Q.)

Jan 09

To what extent must society shape capitalism?

Another post from a self-proclaimed economy non-expert.

This post is one big question mark, just so you’re aware!

I am sure that most of us, even the most right wing, would agree that capitalism is most effective – from a utilitarian point of view – when tempered to an extent by social forces. These may be ethics, the metaphorical workers’ rights of the marketplace; regulation, the health-and-safety handbook; economic progress, the constitution and philosophical goals of capitalism; trading law, the global rules of operation; process, the top-level efficiency of the capitalist system; communication and diplomacy, the oil in the machinery; the list could go on.

In fact if that list were to go on, it would become less and less directly related to capitalism, and the metaphors would become more and more broad. This is because capitalism itself eventually gives way to the aspects of society that surround it. For example, business ethics are informed by the aspects of global/local society that feed it, namely politics, environment, art, national and regional development, media, and so on. I hope to have explained this point as a construct rather than a view, as it exists whatever one’s views on the autonomy of capitalism within a state are. Whether you believe capitalism should be capitalism and completely uninformed by society, I am attempting to at least define the interdependence that could, does, should, or should not exist.

Which leads me to the point of writing this. As a layman I’m totally ignorant as to the schools of thought that define these boundaries. If anyone reading this knows of some studies on the interdependence between capitalism and society, I’d really appreciate a reading list. Or maybe even just a quick summary, or some keywords or authors I can search. Specifically the questions I have are as follows.

Most ‘moderates’, as I would consider them, believe that a marketplace should have a good degree of independence, but that there should be some healthy acknowledgement of the surrounding world. National politics usually define regulations, international consortia define trade law, but my question is to what extent should free market ethics be defined by society? A business should be able to use its powers to create a market and generate demand where there isn’t any, but the equal and opposite is that a business should also be able to use its power to close down a market, reduce demand, force down wages, etc. The obvious questions of business ethics arise from this example of irregularity. More importantly than “to what extent should free market ethics be defined by society”, is “who theoretically makes that decision” (this is rhetorical because it’s the powerful who end up making it), and “what system of rationale governs who makes the decision”?

I guess there are inevitably no answers to the above questions, but I am interested if there’s any research in these more esoteric areas.