Lazy Luddite Log


Widening My Fingers

I have been asked to elaborate on my political Five Fingers posted a few weeks ago. With that in mind I will try to define my terms a bit better here because they are very much open to interpretation.

A cosmopolitan and permissive society

I love this phrase. The word 'cosmopolitan' refers to the notion of a whole world within a city. It is an amazing notion but also one that has existed in practice here-and-there for millennia. I think it is a more comprehensive term than 'multiculturalism' in that it can encompass both culture and sub-culture. Another shortcoming of the term multiculturalism is that its opponents have had some success in saying that it is merely a policy invented in the 70s rather than the recognition of a long-term societal fact. In the word 'cosmopolitan' we have something much more organic and rooted in history. In such a culture the old combines in many ways to form the new and few things are set in stone.

I think such a society is implicitly one in which personal life-decisions are facilitated. However I want to be explicit in saying I also advocate for a permissive society. The term is a controversial one which I am happy to mess with. For me a 'permissive' society is one in which we are each permitted to be who we are and who we aspire to be. This is important because the best decisions tend to be made by those closest to the matter under consideration. In such conditions societal problems tend to be overt and can then be addressed by a harm-minimization response. This contrasts markedly with a traditional one in which one must live according to arbitrary conventions resulting in societal problems that tend to be covert in nature. I need to clarify one thing – in a truly permissive society one can be traditional as long as one allows others to make decisions for themselves. Those who think it necessitates replacing one kind of conformity with another are gravely mistaken and undermine its value.

A mixed economy that strives to be both prosperous and just

The concept of a 'mixed economy' is a familiar one in economics. It has been shrewdly observed that every economy is a mixed economy because one can never have a pure command economy or market economy. However one can grasp at such purity and that desire undermines human quality-of-life. All things in economic policy are just tools intended to meet human objectives so why get all dogmatic over any one combination of those tools? The important thing is to find the best combination of tools to fit the present circumstances. I for instance think that welfare (helping those who have lost or lack a livelihood) is much better than protectionism (helping national industry in the hope that it will then help to provide a livelihood for all).

In economics different interests focus on either the overall size of the economic pie or the way in which that pie is sliced. But both are important. If the pie is too small then everyone is closer to hardship. If some slices are too small this results in hardship for some. But economics can be better than a zero-sum game. Striving to be both prosperous and just is a challenge and so I must rely on economic expertise. And I can support politicians who will work with economists in such a way that human needs are sufficiently met.

Preservation of the natural environment from over-development

I have an admission to make: I think that environmental issues are important – arguably more important than any others – but I just cannot get all that interested in them. The intricacy of ecology and climatology is beyond me. The best I can do is understand what I can and put trust in those that understand more.

A key term is 'preservation' – the natural environment is robust and self-supporting but it is facing unusually significant changes due to human activity and for the sake of our long-term livelihood it is necessary to more carefully manage those changes. The other is 'over-development' and implicit in that is the notion that there is such a thing as a level of development that can exist alongside a robust natural environment. Some more dogmatic environmentalists may feel otherwise but we cannot simply wish humanity away. The only thing to do is find a better balance than we have now. What that balance is exactly is something for more and better minds than mine. Technological change can help as we move into a service and information economy. So can reforming industry practices. And finally decisions made by consumers must factor in environmental responsibility - we need to re-visit notions of what affluence is if we are to live together within natural limits.

Nuclear disarmament and peaceful forms of conflict resolution

I feel like this more than anything is common sense. How can anyone even contemplate endorsing the maintenance of weapons of mass destruction? Destruction! Come on! Global Climate Change is a mugging while Nuclear War is a sudden decapitation by an axe murderer. And even if that mugging was guaranteed while the decapitation was only a minuscule risk I would still be more scared of the latter. I have been involved in activist groups dedicated to this issue so that may affect my tone somewhat. Still this has to be a priority for any government engaging in the international community – reduction and eventual removal of nuclear arms. And that is just the most important aspect of making the world more peaceful.

I have a few notions on how to promote peace and many of them relate to other parts of this entry. Peace is linked to economic and cultural and environmental factors. But that is a bit too optimistic. Look more closely at relations between nations and you sometimes see attitudes that we experience in our personal lives. We neglect communication. We are more interested in what we think is right rather than what is necessary. We understand our own grievances all too well but rarely acknowledge those of others. We focus on how conflicts started in some vaguely remembered past rather than address them in the present. And we rarely if ever ask ourselves what we have done to contribute to the problem. If we act like this for too long then we become fanatics who cannot negotiate with others.

A secular parliamentary democracy that fosters public participation in respectful debate

Originally a 'secular' state developed as a kind of neutral ground in which different denominations and religions could co-exist. It now allows us all to decide exactly how religion plays a part in our lives (by the time we are adults anyway). Some take the notion of separating church and state too far and think that nobody in politics can be religious. This is problematic if significant portions of the electorate are religious. I am fine with religious persons of all kinds getting some consideration in political debate but creed is only one aspect of who we are. We all have different needs and wants that deserve expressing and testing in a process of reasoned debate. Nothing improves concepts more than a bit of argument and present standards warrant marked improvement.

In a mass society representative forms of government are necessary. And 'parliamentary democracy' in particular has a long heritage of important concepts like rule-of-law (which governments themselves must abide by) and majority rules that is tempered by consideration of minority rights (since ultimately any majority is just a combining of minority groups). But we can do better than just elect representatives then sit back – hence 'public participation'. We can pay attention to what they do and communicate with them. If we see one interest over-stating its significance then we can get into the game and represent ourselves more effectively. We can assert our own opinions while also understanding that democracy sometimes involves compromises that nobody is completely happy with. And we need to remember that politicians are flawed and that they are drawn from us. Finally I come to the word 'respectful' which is the way in which I hope we can debate and indeed interact because ultimately we are all human.

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Media speculation on an imminent Federal Election has got me thinking I need to start decided who to vote for. This will be the first election in which I am totally free of any party loyalty, but nobody is free of ideology. With that in mind I want to articulate mine and then assess contenders in relation to it.

I am happy with my description of the progressive but it is rather general. Besides which it is silent on some important matters. In the Political Objectives Test I have defined political ideology in terms of human relations rather than 'things' but it just so happens that some of those things (from concepts like God to objects like the Earth) keep on impinging on politics. So I need to articulate my stance further if I wish to assess a host of policy statements.

The Australian Democrats is a part of my past now. But personal experience comes in handy. One thing that was frustrating for me was that we had over twenty Objectives that were difficult to remember and convey. As a result I developed my own ‘Five Fingers’ as a simpler summary of ideology. And it just so happens that they still work well for me as an ideological loner wandering the Australian polity.

My Five Fingers

* A cosmopolitan and permissive society

* A mixed economy that strives to be both prosperous and just

* Preservation of the natural environment from over-development

* Nuclear disarmament and peaceful forms of conflict resolution

* A secular parliamentary democracy that fosters public participation in respectful debate

All of these statements can be expanded on and have qualifications made (as was requested and done here). This is a good thing as discussion always refines ones understanding. In any case these are the sorts of criteria I will take into the election as an Australian citizen. It will be a new and interesting experience to be coming at the event solely from the voter side of the fence.

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