Thursday, 18 June 2015

Humanity in Politics

When approaching any debate, people will often judge you for speaking about a topic ‘emotionally’, and this has always confused me. On The Big Questions last weekend, a man in favour of nuclear weapons criticised his opponent for speaking ‘emotionally’ about the topic, but surely this is necessary. Once we take emotion out of a debate, what are we left with? Politics and Big Business has become a chaotic intertwined establishment, failing to meet the needs of all people.We have become insensitive, trapped in a bureaucratic machine that does not consider the consequences of policies implemented, on the lives of the very people targeted. Over time we become more empathetic. Yet I find compassion and empathy, two traits so intrinsic to being human absent in the very institutions they’re needed most.

The reason why many young people are disillusioned by politics is lack of representation.  To solve or offer a solution to any issue faced by the most vulnerable in our society, it is essential to first understand  the causes of the problem and how it affects members of the community. The Conservative government cannot do this. In 2014, 54% of Tory MPs were privately educated. Yet David Cameron ( a lineal descendant of King William XV) , who was privately educated ( surprising ) said in February this year that he will cut funding on schools by 10%, is this how he repays the people who voted for him?  In 2005, shortly after becoming leader of the party, Cameron said: "We will change the way we look. Nine out of ten Conservative MPs are white men. We need to change the scandalous under representation of women in the Conservative party and we will do that." The representation of women in the party has barely improved (in the 2010 election, the party had 46 female MPs, and 256 male). I’m going slightly off track, but the point is the conservatives are failing to provide for all members of society, not out of malice, but because they simply do not understand the people they are supposed to help.

 Not only this, but there are few attempts to go into communities on an individual level to discuss problems with people, human to human on how best to help. The over reliance on data leads to unhelpful assumptions by politicians who have never once experienced any of the problems they’re trying to solve.  It is dangerous to make policies based on data; it relies on the ridiculous notion that all people are the same. It forces policy makers to see these people as numbers on a sheet, rather than human beings who are complex and deserve to be treated as such. For example, when looking at the rate of teenage pregnancy, we should look to the words of David Brooks, "A pregnancy...isn't just a piece of data in a set. It came about after a unique blend of longings and experiences. Maybe a young woman just wanted to feel like an adult; maybe she had some desire for arduous love, maybe she was just absent-minded, or loved danger, or couldn't resist her boyfriend, or saw no possible upside for her future anyway. In each case the ingredients will be different. Only careful case-by-case storytelling can uncover and respect the delirious iconoclasm of how life is actually lived".  Politicians have a duty to go into these communities and learn about social issues such as teenage pregnancy, rather than middle aged men guessing at the causes (which often ignores the role of the teenage boy, and leads to the penalisation of young girls). 

In order to make significant change in politics that helps all members of society we need to revolutionise the whole system, not simply evolve what already exists. Before the industrial revolution, no such bureaucracy existed as only people on local levels had the information needed to provide for their people – and it worked. The centralised planning system cannot recognise individuals for who they are, politics has lost its humanity. Capitalism places monetary value over human value, and distributes wealth unequally. We need to return to a moral centre which underpins political and financial structures. Find your humanity! Embrace your emotions and use compassion to effect change.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Love in Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights was published in 1847, and since then has been analysed by hundreds of critics in attempts to draw meaning from a disordered and frenzied story. When originally published, it was rejected by society because of its unapologetic disregard for all things proper. Its transgression of love, and crucially religion forbade Victorian readers the chance to emerge themselves in the story, and take part in the roller-coaster of Heathcliff and Catherine’s tempestuous love affair. 168 years later, is it still shocking, if yes, why?

From an ethical view point, there are countless questions to be raised concerning Heathcliff, and why history has made him a romantic figure.  He’s violent, merciless and abusive to all who encounter him. Even Catherine, the soul he most loves and desires is hurt by him. To me, it is a work of unintentional genius on behalf of Bronte. Her depiction of torment, and then a love so overwhelming is what the reader clings on to as a means of redemption for Heathcliff.  Modern and contemporary readers will differ in what shocks them. To a contemporary reader, it is the senseless love affair itself that is abhorrent. Heathcliff is a victim in their society because he is illegitimate, and Catherine a victim as she is a woman.  To a modern reader, Catherine’s betrayal of herself and love for Heathcliff is what becomes most shocking. Wuthering Heights explores different ideas within morality, one being authenticity- that of being true to one’s self. Catherine’s marriage to Edgar therefore is an act of bad faith, which in turn precipitates all subsequent tragedy and evil. The power of love and its destructive nature is epitomised through their relationship. Not only do they destroy and kill one another, their love ruins the lives of all people surrounding them in its wake. This is not romantic. In fact, there is nothing romantic about Heathcliff and Catherine. Bronte’s intention may have been to create an epic tale of self-destruction; to explore the power and force of love as a human emotion, but their relationship cannot be one we strive to emulate. So why are we attracted to the story?

It is undeniable that as individuals, Catherine and Heathcliff are not good people. However as a pair, they become something else entirely.

 “Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”  

What makes Wuthering Heights the greatest love story in literature is exactly why it was disliked.  In Catherine and Heathcliff’s world religion cannot stop them, society cannot stop them, they have nothing but their love and they need nothing else. Their love transcends earth, heaven and hell, Heathcliff confirms this himself.

Nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us”. 

The largest and most heart-wrenching irony of the novel is that it is Catherine who causes their separation. It is Catherine who causes the torment and years of misery for Heathcliff (and the reader) in marrying Linton and preventing their souls from being one. For when Catherine has died and Heathcliff remains on earth, his life is empty.

The entire world is a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her”. 

  Alas, once dead they are finally free of society and can be with each other as spirits. Do these same restrictions on love exist today? Perhaps not the same, but love is, nevertheless restricted. Whether through law, religion, or simply geographical means it seems that love does not always find a way. In light of this, perhaps what the reader takes from Bronte’s creation is that love is only what you make of it.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

The Election

Like many others, I was devastated with the result of the general election. I can see why the Conservatives appeal to the rich, and even the aspiring middle class. However, what astounds me is the number of working class people who will continually vote for people who cannot, and will not ever represent them or attempt to help them.  The fact that David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson were a part of the Bullingdon club is surely the biggest insult to every hard working person in the UK. It is the perfect illustration of British class privilege, initiations into the said club included burning a £50 note in front of a homeless man.  Do the less privileged voters of the UK know this? And if so, why vote Conservative?

The only response I have to this is that politics is about unification. The Conservative election campaign emphasised the glory of Britain, working together and a ‘brighter future’ for all.  Aware that after five years his record has not borne out the promise to the people, Cameron spent many interviews talking in grand generalisations about the economy and keeping on the same path; even abstaining from some of the leader’s debates. However, people are always more inclined to find comfort in a simplistic message. In comparison, Labour was tackling education, the NHS, social housing, tuition fees, and the huge inequality that has increased over the last 5 years. Unfortunately for Labour, the details and complexity of the issues they were tackling in the elections never got through.  In addition, the press has a biased coverage. Many people were influenced by the right wing newspapers that strive to shape public opinion rather than reflect it. The impression is created that the Conservatives can offer the working man or woman a way out in life but what is not disputed is that under this last government, Britain’s billionaires have seen their net worth more than double since the recession, with the richest 1,000 families now controlling a total of £547bn. Since the Conservatives won their unexpected narrow majority, it is widely believed, even among their right wing media friends that a new Cameron government will waste no time in implementing massive benefits cuts. Who will bear the brunt of that?

One particular fear for the next 5 years is the Tory promise to repeal the Human Rights Act. It was announced that Michael Gove, with no legal experience or training is to become Justice Secretary. The same man who advocated the return of hanging, and the death penalty. Mr Gove wrote that abolishing the death penalty “has led to a corruption of our criminal justice system, the erosion of all our freedoms and has made the punishment of the innocent more likely”.

He further argued that “Hanging may seem barbarous, but the greater barbarity lies in the slow abandonment of our common law traditions. Were I ever alone in the dock I would not want to be arraigned before our flawed tribunals, knowing my freedom could be forfeit as a result of political pressures. I would prefer a fair trial, under the shadow of the noose”.

Mr Gove quickly became a controversial figure after his reckless handling of the education reforms. He was eventually removed after the National Union of Teachers (NUT), unanimously passed a vote of no confidence in him. The future is bleak if Mr Cameron plans to repeal the Human Rights Act. The rights protected by this Act are listed below. Which of these would any right thinking person want to be rid of?

1)      Right to life
2)      Freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment
3)      Right to liberty and security
4)      Freedom from slavery and forced labour
5)      Right to a fair trial
6)      No punishment without law
7)      Respect for your private and family life, home and correspondence
8)      Freedom of thought, belief and religion
9)      Freedom of expression
10)   Freedom of assembly and association
11)   Right to marry and start a family
12)   Protection from discrimination in respect of these rights and freedoms
13)   Right to peaceful enjoyment  of your property
14)   Right to education
15)   Right to participate in free elections

Monday, 23 February 2015

On Law, Belle, and other things

Lord Mansfield - ‘Let justice be done, though the heavens may fall’

Despite the cheesiness of starting with a quote, it is these words that inspired this blog post. It explains that we cannot at any point be afraid to do justice, we cannot be afraid to do right just because of the consequences. Yet these are all vague statements that may mean very little, but represent a sense of hope and philosophy by which I try to live. I recently watched the film Belle, which follows the story of Dido Belle, a mixed-race woman raised as an aristocrat in 18th-century England, and the social problems that entails. Yet on a broader scale, the film explores the theme of law and how it is implemented in society.

Incredibly, the film is based on a true story. Rather than describe the film (which I strongly recommend you watch) I will briefly discuss the point of climax. In which the Chief Lord Justice decides upon whether or not to allow a firm to claim insurance on its lost cargo, which were slaves. At the end of the film we see him do right in denying the insurance, but more so- he goes on to denounce slavery as the disgusting barbaric trade that had supported the country for so long. As one of the most influential men in the country, he put his position in great risk- yet he did what is right, and that is what we must learn from.

From watching the film, I feel certain in my view that the law is not doctrine that is to be aimlessly set out when seen fit, but rather interpreted. Law is a constantly evolving concept as it must reflect the changing morals and ideology of society. This seems obvious, yet I feel law is constantly perceived as a black and white view of what we deem right, and ultimately wrong. The practise of law reflects the history, values and other peculiarities of society. In the UK, recently we have witnessed the unveilings of horrific acts of indecency in institutions such as the BBC. However this can be seen to represent the development of our society.  I am not suggesting that at the time these acts were deemed acceptable, but rather a culture existed in which they were frequent and, therefore uninhibited by the lack of impotence to counter authority. The law in many ways is the foundation of any society, and so has a duty to progress morality. Perhaps that is another blog post entirely, and I seem to have wondered off.

In terms of doing what’s right, I aint callin’ myself no Mother Teresa,  ¯\_()_/¯,  But I do think we all have a social responsibility to try and elevate each other to the same standards of living and prevent the exploitation the weak. You know what, screw it! I am Angelic, and I believe that if everybody just tried to be a little more angelic in their day to day life the world would be a better place. 

Jokes aside, I am aware that this is a blog that only I read, (shout out to Patricia though!)  and I hold no social influence, these are merely my opinions. Peace out!