Tuesday, 7 February 2017

To Dream Again...

To Dream Again leaflet design by Wendy Cockcroft
Our annual church retreat is coming up and I've volunteered to design the welcome leaflet. The results of my artistic endeavour are available to view on my Behance profile but I'd like to talk about the title since it's close to my political heart.

There is a growing sense of cynicism in society in general, an idea that we're treading water, going round in circles, stuck in a maze trying to find our way out by following our own footprints. This is a feature, not a bug, of binary politics, in which we're forced to choose between one side or another on a left/right axis. I'm forever writing about it. A few days ago I decided to tackle the binary angle head on by challenging the underlying assumptions about what what it really means to be a liberal socialist. tl;dr: a centrist. There, I've saved you a sixteen minute read. If, however, you are so inclined to work your way through that post you may find it helps to illuminate this one. There are three things I'd like to feel more positive about: faith, hope, and charity. Let's take a closer look at them.

Faith


People of faith have been getting a bit of a bashing in the news. As I pointed out in What Is A “Liberal Socialist?” Christianity is fading in America. This is not just due to the secularisation of society, it's because the leaders of the largest and most powerful groups have binned Christ and replaced Him with the unholy trinity of populism, money, and power. Seattle-based graphic designer Tucker FitzGerald explains his conversion process thus:

Because the conservative religious vision is, in the end, not of a world with no dead babies. But rather a world with women bound to men for life, sexually available but lacking any personal sexual desire (which could lead them away from their husband), at home and in the kitchen, raising children and tending to their husbands.

It is not a pro-life world. It is a world full of death at the hands of men shooting suspicious black teens in the neighborhood, men killing brown terrorists day in and day out, drone strikes taking out entire wedding parties of adults and children. It’s a world where the poor choke to death on the toxic pesticides, smog, and global superstorms that allowed the wealthiest men to grow their power and wealth beyond the wealth and power of any million of us mere mortals combined. - How I Moved From Being A Pro-life Evangelical to Become a Pro-choice Feminist, by Tucker FitzGerald on Medium

Basically, his peers are bullying hypocrites in denial of the damage they're doing to the rest of us with their harmful, hateful creed. 

Authoritarianism is the problem


That's religious authoritarianism for you, and I will have no part of it. I'm not interested in Making Them Behave since I've got people from t'other side trying to do the the same to me; atheists who say I must be nuts to hope that my imaginary friend the great Sky Fairy won't chuck me in the lava pit where giant demons poke you in the bum with their pitchforks, etc., if He successfully guilt-trips me into living a boring life. Authoritarianism is the problem, not a given creed per se. The trouble starts when some tinpot dictator decides their creed has the force of absolute moral rectitude. One of the best examples of this is Thatcher's Sermon on the Mound, where she lectured the Kirk about its members campaigning against her policies, which were hurting the Scottish people.

Framing


"Gaslighting," or messing with other people's experiences of reality, and framing (presenting a situation in such a way as to encourage your audience to see it from your point of view) is skewing political discourse to such a degree that you find yourself taking sides without really thinking things through. Read this BBC Magazine article on affordable housing in London. It's framed to present the issue as a binary choice between having a right to live in expensive areas or not. What he doesn't seem to be interested in is what actually makes various areas more expensive: housing hoarding and speculation. The assertion, "The middle class have always been prepared to go all over the country to find work" is based on the idea that this is somehow beneficial. As a matter of fact, it's broken up the traditional extended family structure that used to make caring for our nearest and dearest easier because we lived near them. But you're supposed to move to where the work is. But you're supposed to live within your  means. But you're supposed to take responsibility for the burdens your family. That's the problem with framing: the frame only fits the well-to-do who can afford to move, who have the luxury of being able to live in comfort on a single income, and whose elderly don't use the bin as the bog. That's the trouble with authoritarianism: authoritarians are only interested in power, they won't take responsibility.

Reputation stands or falls on one's conduct


If behaving badly and setting a terrible example reflects badly on your faith or your creed, stop behaving badly and set a good example, it's not rocket science. What annoys me is when people see their creed/ideology/whatever as being so intrinsically pure that nothing they do could possibly spoil the image they believe it has. Take a look at this... good ol' girl. Oh, dear, right? Now take a look at this story about her. The parody account has been suspended but the impression you get is that it wound her up something rotten by tagging her with posts that exaggerate her decidedly right wing views. She flipped her wig and sued, but it's unlikely that she'll win. My point about conduct affecting reputation the most is proven right again. She's deleted her tweets about the case but unless she ends it she will become a new chew toy for the internet; Charles Carreon and Patrick Zarelli have apparently got a clue now and no longer entertain us with their antics.

My dream


Where matters of faith (religious or secular) are concerned I'd like to see people taking the link between reputation and their own attitude and conduct more seriously. I'd love to see integrity become a cherished value. Have you noticed that Trump supporters are all over the fact that he's keeping his promises? He done done what he said he'd do, after all, they're going nuts about it. Now imagine a politician or thought leader acting with that level of integrity all the time, not just in enacting horrible, harmful policies. Religious observance might well see an uptick if people had better examples to follow. The trouble is, they don't. We need to raise our game.

Hope


The Trump presidency is a cause for great alarm. Though "lib'ruls" of every stripe are indeed doing their collective nut, the wolves really are among the sheep. Even the Economist has taken a pop at him, correctly describing him and his cronies as the anarchists they actually are. It's the Establishment trying to restore the status quo that got him elected — will they ever learn?

Partisan pattycake is losing ground to reality


Yet there is hope. Americans who were formerly distracted by partisan pattycake are beginning to realise they've been played. It began with the threat of repealing the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") and continues with the promotion of an anti-public school advocate to the Secretary of State for Education. People who opposed public services for healthcare and education on principle are beginning to realise what this actually means and are kicking off. Yes, this is being touted as a liberal thing but some conservatives are starting to caucus with them as the truth sinks in: "Liberal" is only a dirty word because people allowed themselves to be divided for the sake of the culture wars. Not all liberals are intent on foisting weirdness on us "just because."

My dream


I'd like to see more conservatives step forward and work with their liberal neighbours for a future for all of us. I don't want to restore the neoliberal status quo that got Trump elected, I want people to put their heads together and come up with a system that works for the good of all of us.

Charity


I got involved with a Warm Hut cultural initiative last year as part of our company's Give A Day Of Your Time scheme. I was glad to be part of a plan to give voice to African womens' experience of motherhood. This year I'll be doing admin for a homeless charity. I'm very proud of what my employers and colleagues are doing in terms of assisting in charitable work but the best thing they're doing is providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities or who are long-term unemployed. I grinned with glee to see my line manager sit beside my mobility-impaired colleague and ask him if he wants to go full time. He's thinking about it; he has to be able to do it after all so he's going to ease his way in from three days a week to five. I've seen that guy go from barely saying two words to anyone and refusing to use the phone to becoming a right feisty so-and-so with no qualms about getting on the blower. Wes is a great administrator and I'm pleased to see that being recognised.

Government must not shirk its responsibilities


While it's great that companies like mine can partner with charities like the Shaw Trust I'm concerned that the government seems determined to outsource welfare services to charities and private enterprise. It's one thing to give people a chance to prove they can do a job well but we're not set up to handle severe disability or mental illness. Basically, we employed the smartest, most efficient people the Trust sent us. We're a company, not a charity. We can't do much for people who don't come in on time every day or who have complex needs (I've not seen any of that, I'm speculating here).

My dream


Our Glorious Leader keeps making the right noises about providing for our needs but Tory woman speak with forked tongue. Tory ideas of affordable housing aren't quite the same as ours. I'd like to see our government represent the people properly and work for our interests, not for their ideology. I'd like to see charities being relegated to the edges where they're taking up the slack instead of taking over the functions of the welfare state — our birthright. The welfare state exists because wages are low for ordinary workers; the rich don't need a safety net. It is paid for by our taxes so we are owed it. Let charities be for optional causes, not essential ones, and let the government do its damn job.

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