Aug 2006

Basking in Mahmoud's reflected fame

Bloody Mahmoud Ahmadinejad! Guess what he’s gone and done? Only started a blog is what. So suddenly I’m getting hundreds of hits from people typing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad blog into google. Which would be nice if it weren’t so disheartening. Hundreds of people arriving at my site, taking a two second glance, and thinking “ugh, this definitely ain’t what I was searching for” before hitting ‘Back’ on their browser in the hope of finding something to better suit their disposition.

Mind you, I guess I should take heart in my failure to capture the large audience that google and its ilk can theoretically provide. One’s popularity is – with a few noteworthy exceptions – a direct indication of one’s general wrongness. Don’t believe me? Take a glance at who wins elections, who tops the charts, what has the exclamation ‘Bestseller!’ on the cover, and what sort of regurgitated drekk is putting bums on seats in cinemas this summer. The Sun is not only the most widely read newspaper in the UK, but The Irish Sun is the most widely read rag on this side of the water. And don’t even talk to me about reality television and just how far up the collective arse humanity can shove that.

Yes, yes, there’s exceptions. You don’t need to tell me about The Beatles or Gandhi. But for every Beatles there’s a Jason Donovan, a Cliff Richard, a Simple Minds and an Oasis. For every Gandhi there’s a Stalin, a Blair, a Nixon and a Hitler. So yes, I’m more than prepared to accept that once in a while they get it right, but I’m also firmly convinced that as a general rule, the judgment of The People is fundamentally faulty.

Which is usually OK. We’re just bloody monkeys after all, so it doesn’t really matter, in the grand scheme of things, how we make our decisions. Let everyone have a turn at the wheel whether they’re drunk or not. Where’s the harm?

Except… and here’s the problem… when I say “we’re monkeys so it doesn’t matter”, I don’t actually believe that. Well, I believe we’re monkeys of course (don’t get all fricking pedantic and insisting on using the word “ape”. I prefer “monkey”, OK? Purely on the basis that it sounds funnier). But I don’t believe that our decisions – and even how we make those decisions – don’t matter. Because, and this is where we move from the solid to the ethical, I am not a moral relativist.

In fact, I’m an absolutist of the Old School… harking right back to the Greeks no less; though I’d obviously like to throw the odd “neo” around to get rid of some of the more wildly superstitious stuff. I believe that each of us is born with rights and obligations. And I take what I call an “Einsteinean” view of the source of these rights and obligations. Einstein himself would cite The Buddha and Spinoza.

But source and justification is a tangent I’m not going off on today. Instead it’s the ramifications for sociopolitical organisation and decision-making that interest me. Because clearly, unless your moral system specifically enshrines the right of every individual to have an equal say in decision making (and mine doesn’t… moral codes derived from pantheistic belief systems are rarely so explicit) then moral absolutism implies a curtailment of democracy.

1) For democracy.

We are committed to democratic norms, procedures and structures — freedom of opinion and assembly, free elections, the separation of legislative, executive and judicial powers, and the separation of state and religion. We value the traditions and institutions, the legacy of good governance, of those countries in which liberal, pluralist democracies have taken hold.

You see, it’s difficult to square all those beliefs. “[D]emocratic norms, procedures and structures”… that means elections and stuff, right? But what if the people vote for closer ties between religion and state for example? Does that mean you stop believing in “the separation of state and religion”. Well, clearly not… but it is saying that where The People vote for closer ties between religion and state, that in such a situation it is right to implement such a policy. Right?

Which isn’t very absolutist. In fact it’s waaaay at the far end of the relativist crowd. It’s almost saying that morality can be mandated by popular whim. Which it can’t. And because social policy must reflect our collective rights and obligations, it follows that social policy (in relevant areas) cannot be decided by democratic mandate.

The most basic one…

… we each have an obligation to live our life in such a way that it does not prevent others from living theirs.

Without that obligation, our own corresponding right to live full lives is meaningless. And although we each bear that obligation as individuals, it also translates upwards as a collective obligation to organise our society sustainably. Because it doesn’t matter whether those we prevent living full lives are separated from us by distance or time; our obligation to them remains.

And because this obligation cannot be removed by popular vote, so it follows that decisions which impact the longterm sustainability of society and the ability of future generations to live full lives must be made based upon our unchanging obligation and not the current desires of the people (“full lives”, incidentally isn’t a crass gauge of life expectancy but a phrase that implies a life without being forced to bear unreasonable burdens created by your grandparents and their friends).

Luckily though, as well as containing the wet western wank of The Euston Manifesto, the internet also hosts some far wiser and more coherent voices. Voices such as Harry Hutton, who wonders…

Whose idea was it to have elections, anyway? If MPs were selected by competitive examination we wouldn’t be in this hole. We don’t elect airline pilots or heart surgeons, so why Prime Ministers? The idea that Mr Average Briton, walking around Tesco with his mouth hanging open, should be allowed to choose the government is superstitious nonsense.

Who the hell needs my oh-so-knowingly-dry pseudo-academic toss when we’ve got Mr. Hutton? That’s what I want to know.

Posted in: Opinion