• How to Make Up Your Mind

    With just over a week to go till polling day, the rival parties have now presumably finished setting out their stalls.

    There may still be the odd attempt to lure the floating voter, (or to cynically misrepresent what other parties are saying), but we now have a pretty good idea as to what we will get – or, at least, what they are promising – if they are elected.

    For many voters, however, the parties’ promises relate to issues that are of little relevance, or involve sums of money that are so large and incomprehensible or targets and dates that are so far in the future as to be meaningless.

    Offering policy goodies, in other words, may not be as effective in attracting votes as some politicians seem to think.

    My perception is that voters are more likely to vote according to whether or not they think that the country is in good hands and heading in the right direction.

    That may be so, perhaps, but in the end it will always boil down, experienced (not to say cynical) politicians will say, to “what’s in it for me?”

    I choose to believe, however, that people (or enough of them) are more thoughtful than that, and that for many there is a fundamental choice to be made.

    It was Mrs Thatcher who famously said that “there is no such thing as society”.  She apparently thought that we are just an agglomeration of individuals, who happen to be living in the same place at the same time, each one focused only, in the unlovely phrase, on “looking after number one”.

    In expressing this opinion, she was reflecting the views of some very influential thinkers – people like the philosophers Hayek and Nozick, economists like James Buchanan, and even (not very good) novelists like Ayn Rand.

    They argued that not only do we all always act in our own individual interests but that this is how it should be.  They took this view on two grounds – that to restrain individuals from doing what they want, even at the expense of others, would be unjustifiably to limit their freedom, and that society as a whole would in any case be better off, and everyone would benefit, if individuals – particularly powerful individuals – were free to do whatever they liked, without any restraint imposed on them by “society”.

    Those who disagree like to point to what they see as the adverse economic, social and environmental consequences of a free-for-all, not only for those individuals and families who lose out in the rat race (and they are all too easily identified), but also for the health and happiness of our society as a whole, and for the sustainability of the natural world we share and of the planet on which we live.

    These philosophical arguments may mean little to many voters.  But the issues can easily be translated into more comprehensible terms that are closer to everyday life.

    We can all recognise, in our day-to-day dealings with our fellow-citizens, different kinds of attitudes and behaviours.  We understand selfishness, greed and lack of compassion on the one hand, and kindness and willingness to share on the other – and we know which we like better.

    If we understand these individual qualities in our personal lives, why not in our politics as well?  Why would we choose to align ourselves with those who recognise no shared interest with their fellow citizens, but see them instead (perhaps as employees or tenants) as simply there to be exploited or pushed aside?  Why endorse those who resent paying the taxes needed to create a well-functioning society and to help those they regard as “losers”, and who then complain about the social consequences of the fractured society they have helped to create?

    On the other hand, why not seek a kinder, gentler society, one where we recognise that we are all in this together, and that we all benefit when everyone is treated fairly and with respect.  That, after all, is what our democracy is about – the democracy our forefathers fought for.  They saw an effective democracy as essential if power is not to concentrate in the hands of the greediest.

    I like the sound of “kinder” and “gentler”.

    Bryan Gould

    6 August 2017