|The suppression of individuality – the sense that one is listening – is even more pronounced in our politics. Television, newspapers, magazines, are a cascade of words, official statements, policies, explanations, and declarations. All flow from the height of government down to the passive citizen: who can shout up against a waterfall? More important, the language of politics is too often insincerity, which we have perhaps to easily accepted but which to the young is particularly offensive. George Orwell wrote a generation ago: ‘In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details.” In this respect, politics had not changed since Orwell wrote. And if we add to the insincerity, and the absence of dialogue, the absurdity of a politics in which elected officials find sport in joking about children bitten by rats, we can understand why so many of our young people have turned form engagement to disengagement, from politics to passivity, from hope to nihilism, from SDS to LSD.|
|‘Pick some dominant emotion if you want, but touch on it only for a few minutes. Then swing your argument to something else. Then come back to it. The human mind is like a pendulum: you can start it swinging a little at a time and gradually come back with added force, until finally you can close in a burst of dramatic oratory, with the jury inflamed to a white rage against the other side. But if you try to talk to as jury for as much as fifteen minutes, and harp continually upon one line, you will find that the jurors have quit listening to you before you finish.’|
|Americans seem to have two natures, one extraordinarily positive and forthright, the other dark and cynical. Historically, in challenging times, it has been easiest for politicians to appeal to the baser side. Thus we’ve had the success of Father Coughlin and Huey Long during the depression, and later, of George Wallace. (It has always struck me as odd that virtually all of the Democrats who supported George Wallace had previously been RFK Deomocrats. The same Americans who voted for Wallace were able to share RFK’s vision of this country – a much different view.) I have never come across a public pronouncement by RFK in which he made an appeal to the darker side.|
|Father Charles Coughlin occupied both a strange and a familiar place in American politics in the 1930s. Politically radical, a passionate democrat, he nevertheless was a bigot who freely vented angry, irrational charges and assertions. A Catholic priest, he broadcast weekly radio sermons that by 1930 drew as many as forty-five million listeners. Strongly egalitarian, deeply suspicious of elites, a champion of what he saw as the ordinary person’s rights, Coughlin frequently and vigorously attacked capitalism, communism, socialism, and dictatorship By the mid-1930s, his talks took on a nasty edge as he combined harsh attacks on Roosevelt as the tool of international Jewish bankers with praise for the fascist leaders Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler. The “Radio Priest’s” relentless anti-elitism pushed Roosevelt to sharpen his own critiques of elites, and in that sense Coughlin had a powerful impact on American politics beyond his immediate radio audience. This 1937 sermon, “Twenty Years Ago,” reflected much of what made Coughlin popular.
|Huey Long first came to national attention as governor of Louisiana in 1928 and U.S. Senator in 1930. He ruled Louisiana as a virtual dictator, but he also initiated massive public works programs, improved public education and public health, and even established some restrictions on corporate power in the state. While Long was an early supporter of Franklin Roosevelt, by the fall of 1933 the Long-Roosevelt alliance had ruptured, in part over Long’s growing interest in running for president. In 1934 Long organized his own, alternative political organization, the Share-Our-Wealth Society, through which he advocated a populist program for redistributing wealth through sharply graduated income and inheritance taxes. As his national recognition (and ambitions) grew, he spoke with increasing frequency to national radio audiences. No politician in this era—except Roosevelt himself and Long’s sometime ally, Father Charles Coughlin—used radio as frequently and effectively. In this April 1935 radio address, Long sharply criticized FDR and the New Deal and then sketched out his alternative program.
|“It is simple to follow the easy and familiar path of personal ambition and private gain. It is more comfortable to sit content in the easy approval of friends and of neighbours than to risk the friction and the controversy that comes with public affairs. It is easier to fall in step with the slogans of others than to march to the beat of the internal drummer – to make and stand on judgements of your own. And it is far easier to accept and to stand on the past, than to fight for the answers of the future.” Daniel Webster, American lawyer, orator, and statesman (January 18, 1782 – October 24, 1852)|
|[During one of RFK’s speeches, a student in the crowd asked, “where are you going to get all the money for these federally subsidised programmes you’re talking about?] From you. Let me say something about the tenor of that question and some of the other questions. There are people in this country who suffer. I look around this room and i don’t see many black faces who are going to be doctors. You can talk about where the money will come form ….Part of civilised society is to let people go to medical school who come from the ghettos. You don’t see many people coming out of the ghettos or off the indian reservations to medical school. You are the privileged ones here. It’s easy to sit back and say it’s the fault of the federal government, but it’s our responsibility, too. It’s our society, not just our government, that spends twice as much on pets as on poverty program. It’s the poor who carry the major burden of the struggle in Vietnam. You sit here as white medical students while black people carry the burden of fighting in Vietnam.|
Make gentle the life of this world
From The World As I See It
|“My political ideal is that of democracy. Let every man be respected as an individual and no man idolised.” “I am quite aware that it is necessary for success of any complex undertaking that one man should do the thinking and directing and in general bear the responsibility. But the led must not be compelled; they must be able to choose their leader. Autocratic system of coercion, in my opinion, soon degenerates. For force always attracts men of low morality, and I believe it to be an invariable rule that tyrants of genius are succeeded by scoundrels.”|
|“What I value in our political system is the more extensive provision that it makes for the individual in case of illness or need”
“The really valuable thing in the pageant of human life seems to me not the state but the creative, sentient individual, the personality; it alone creates the noble and the sublime, while the herd as such remains dull in thoughts and dull in feeling.”
|“May I begin with an article of political faith? it runs as follows: The State is made for man, not the man for the State. And is this respect science resembles the State. There are old sayings, coined by men for whom human personality was the highest human good. I should shrink from repeating them, were it not that they are forever threatening to fall into oblivion, particularly in these days of organisation and mechanisation. I regard it as the chief duty of the State to protect the individual and give him the opportunity to develop into a creative personality.|
|That is to say, the State should be our servant and nor we is slaves. The state transgresses this commandment when it compels us by force to engage in military and war service, the more so since the object and the effect if this slavish service is to kill people belonging to other countries or interfere with their freedom of development.|
|We are only to make such sacrifices to the State as will promote the free development of individual human beings.|
|“Political leaders or governments owe their position partly to force and partly to popular election. They cannot be regarded as representative of the best elements, morally and intellectually, in their respective nations.
The intellectual elite have no direct influence on the history of nations in these days; their lack of cohesion prevents them from taking a direct part in the solution of contemporary problems.”
|“The cult of individual personalities is always, in my view, unjustified. To be sure, nature distributes her gifts variously among her children. But there are plenty of the well-endowed ones too, thank God, and I am firmly convinced that most of them live quiet, unregarded lives. It strikes me as unfair, and even in bad taste, to select a few of them for boundless admiration, attributing superhuman powers of mind and character to them. This has been my fate, and the contrast between the popular estimate of my powers and achievements and the reality is simply grotesque. The consciousnesses of this extraordinary state of affairs would be unbearable but for one great consoling thought: it is a welcome symptom in an age which is commonly denounced as materialistic, that it makes heros of men whose ambitions lie wholly in the intellectual and moral sphere. This proves that knowledge and justice are ranked above wealth and power by a large selection of the human race. My experience teaches me that this idealist outlook is particularly prevalent in America, which is usually decried as a particularly materialistic country.”|
|Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world|
|Whenever anything goes badly wrong, our first instinct is to blame those in charge – in this case, bankers, credit agencies, regulators, central bankers and governments. We turn to blame the ideas only when it becomes obvious that those in charge were not exceptionally venal, greedy or incompetent, but were acting on what they believed to be sound principles: bankers in relying on risk management systems they believed to be robust, governments in relying on markets they believed to be stable, investors in believing in what the experts told them. In other words, our first reaction to crisis is scapegoating; it is only by delving deeper into the sources of the mistakes that the finger can be pointed to the system of ideas which gave rise to them.
Bankers have been the easiest targets, and understandably. They controlled trillions of dollars of wealth. They ruined their shareholders, their customers, their employees and the economy, while continuing to collect large bonuses. They had ridden a boom in which nearly all profits went into private hands, followed by a gigantic bust in which taxpayers became liable for their losses. Spectacular payments for success may be acceptable; spectacular rewards for failure – especially if unaccompanied by contrition – are obscene.
‘Bring back the guillotine…for bankers,’ cried Britain’s Liberal Democrat Treasury Spokesman Vince Cable in the Daily Mail on Monday 9 February 2009. ‘The bonus-hunting bankers…stand charged with destroying wealth on an epic scale. Foolish, greedy, irresponsible behaviour and excessive risk-taking led to massive losses…which [are] now costing millions their jobs and many their homes’. ‘Betting our cash for personal gains’ should be outlawed, thundered Will Hutton in the observer on 25 January 2009.
|Keynes – The Return Of The Master
|Nevertheless, there is something disagreeable about the mass hysteria directed against the bankers, reminiscent of ancient witch-hunts, pogroms and human sacrifices at times of poor harvest. It is also counter productive. Unless one is prepared to take over the banking system oneself, one cannot attack bankers for reckless lending and then expect them to lend, any more than one can condemn excessive profits and expect businessman to invest. Also, the polemics missed something. What does it mean to say bankers were ‘greedy’? The concept of greed is incomplete unless on has a notion of what is ‘enough’, which we lack. The more thoughtful realised that bankers’ failures were part of a wider intellectual and regulatory failure, as well as a moral climate which celebrated moneymaking above all other activities. Bankers were scapegoats for the whole Reagan-Thatcher era, which exalted finance and humbled industry, and which had allowed the fruits of progress to accrue disproportionately to the rich and super-rich. (The new class struggle, the quip had it, was between the haves and the have-yachts.)
Moreover, in following ‘risk-management’ models which they barely understood, bankers acted, in their own lights, correctly.
Indeed, had they acted otherwise, they might have been held culpable for failing to ‘maximise shareholder value’. Their behaviour, while selfish and self-satisfied, was in the highest degree conventional. They swallowed the whole securitisation philosophy without understanding its ramifications. Many of them no doubt felt they were conferring a public benefit by enabling poor people to acquire homes and other desirable goods. Keynes hit the nail on the head when he wrote, ‘The “sound” banker, alas! Is not one who sees danger and avoids it, but one who, when he is ruined, is ruined in a conventional and orthodox way along with this fellows so that no one can really blame him.’
|Keynes – The Return Of The Master
Back on Wednesday, there were armed police at Kings Cross Station – when i wonder did that start to be something that happened. Back way when there used to be armed military at Zurich Airport – then later and occasionally some could be found roaming an airport terminal in the UK, this seemed new. Unwelcome sort of new.
|An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind||Mahatma Gandhi|
|It is essential to remember that civilisation takes long to build and is easily destroyed. Brutality is infectious.||As It Happened – C R Attlee|