The narrative whether about internal or external affairs is about control in a world of chaos. We are told continuously that we live in dangerous times; we have enemies that can’t be seen and economic recovery is not assured unless we take dramatic steps.
The narrative on everything from welfare and immigration, to extremism and Trident is one that urges greater control by the authorities over our lives and over information. What we’re witnessing is the ripple effect of hundreds of years of worry by successive people in power that populations can no longer be totally controlled by the fear of God.
The world used to be so simple. There was a God and the people with power derived their authority via that God. Everyone underneath was born underneath because that was what they deserved. Everyone believed it. But then the Enlightenment, Protestantism, scientific rigour, the Theory of Evolution and a host of other emancipatory events meant that the old narrative couldn’t work anymore. If the authority of the Pope was nonsense why couldn’t anyone be a preacher? If evolution was correct why should anyone believe in God anyway? If God did not exist then why would anyone believe in the divine right of Kings to rule? These questions kickstarted a revolution in how politics would be conducted.
Centuries later democracy was won but let’s just consider what we mean by the word. Liberal democracy with it’s Parliamentary representation is not the people power system the word evokes in imagery. Democracy is a system won and therefore handed down by the rulers to enable the populace to enshrine their rule in law. It is a gift comprising a double edged sword. In exchange for the vote the populace gets governed over – the people accept being governed and the rulers accept they have to give the people an occasional say. This is obviously a step better than not having a say at all but we often make the mistake of imagining the ancient Greek system when in fact we have something developed from the Roman Republic. Democracy is arguably the wrong word.
In the UK we are often told we have a coherent history spanning hundreds of years with a constitutional framework dating back to the Magna Carta in 1215. We never talk about the vast majority of our history being a dictatorship. When did democracy begin though? For the sake of argument let’s say it’s when everyone got the vote. That’s 1928 in the UK. I’m not suggesting that the UK was a dictatorship without rights up until then but it was clearly not a democracy. Around the world the UK was very much a dictatorship of course – the British Empire was plundering countries, destroying peoples and was well known and feared for mass murder. The loss of Empire, the rise of the EU and the loss of the UK status as superpower also plays into the narrative of lost control and a more dangerous world.
So we’ve been a democracy for just a handful of decades in which our rulers have been trying desperately to balance the forces of freedom within the population and the urge to control now that God is not a reason for oppression. Enter the 2015 general election and the resulting legislation. Are we expecting a greatly enhanced democracy? It doesn’t look like it. It looks like some of the hard won rights people deserve are going to be lost – and we’d barely got used to having them.
The Tories are talking about greater control all the time. Immigration, the economy, welfare, extremism, threats from other countries – these ‘problems’ require greater control and the right people in control, we are told. The fear these people feel must be tangible and terrifying. It’s the fear of losing control and the fear that democracy has gone too far. However, most of us have very little control over these policies or problems and so we have very little to actually lose. We have our freedom to gain. But for the rulers and the bosses they lurch terrified in search of a more controlling policy than the last because guess what, the last set of controls didn’t work.
They can’t work. The world has changed and whilst the ruling class flails around at the chaos searching for ever better ways to remain legitimate via being voted into position they also attempt ever more damaging attacks on civil liberties. Hard fought for rights and freedoms are now under threat exactly because people used them and they shouldn’t have – they were supposed to be nice little concessions that looked pretty on the constitutional mantelpiece. Instead people got the book down and read it. Naughty citizens! But we can’t unlearn what we know. We know we are equal and we know that hierarchy and division have no justification. We know that capitalism is harmful and unnecessary.
The fear of the ruling class needs to be understood. The measures on ‘extremism’ and union strike ballots produce reactions of revulsion and anger but they need to be channeled into a coherent fightback. Know your enemy. Understand why it operates. The fact that it operates out of fear is important. I’m not suggesting we should sympathise; I’m suggesting we should organise knowing our strengths and their weaknesses.
Above all else understand that the fear and the urge for control is actually a fear of you and what can be achieved when we all stand together.