Friday, 1 April 2016

Only Fools & Porsches

Every year, millions of people are duped into supporting politicians whose real concerns are with helping the superrich elite expand their many mansions and off-shore accounts, not to mention their fleet of yachts, jets, and Porsches.

That is the ultimate indictment of political illiteracy.

All too many people believe that if workers are made ever more powerless, the bosses will be free to make more money that will “trickle down” to everyone; when in reality the bosses will just pay themselves even more and workers are left with greater hardship and insecurity.

All too many people think that if public goods and services are cut and privatised, taxes will be lowered and everyone will be better off; when in fact most of them will lose vital support wherever they turn, while the wealthy few make substantial gains.

All too many people echo claims that if foreigners, minorities, and women will just do as they are told, their country will be great again; when the targeting of scapegoats is callous, and only helps to deflect attention from the exploitation most people have had to endure.

So what should be done?

First of all, we must end the delusion that political education can ever be “neutral” in the face of propaganda and deception. If medical education were only ever to be taken forward when its contents had been approved by quacks and snake-oil salesmen, it would be utterly useless. We cannot raise political understanding if we are not prepared to criticise hollow arguments and expose shameless lies. We will be accused of being biased, but integrity comes, not through retreating from the quacks, but through confronting them.

Secondly, while encouraging people to vote is laudable, it must be backed by explanations of electoral procedures, tactical options and corresponding implications. Some candidates may look pleasant enough on the doorstep, but if elected, they will back their party’s vicious policies in the legislative chamber. The advice ‘Just vote for the candidate you like best’ is as sound as ‘Just take the medicine that strikes you as powerful’. However appealing a particular medication may appear to be, we have to take into account the overall circumstances and how it may work, if we are to find the most appropriate prescription and get better.

Last but not least, we must steer people away from the trap of tantrum politics. It can be tempting to vent one’s anger and frustration by supporting some campaign of ‘tough action’, even though there is no indication of what real improvements it would bring. Demagogues know all too well how to exploit the masses by goading them into thoughtless and aggressive outbursts, when it’s all designed solely for their own aggrandisement. People should be given instead the chance to work constructively to find desirable alternatives through collaborative projects that help each other.

But who is going to make any of this happen?

Educators from schools, through universities, to lifelong learning, should play their part. Community organisations concerned with promoting shared interests and local improvements should integrate political awareness raising into their everyday activities. Businesses should help fund political education as a key part of their corporate social responsibility, and trade unions should encourage all workers to take part. Above all, groups and institutions with a declared interest in increasing political understanding and democratic participation should review their activities and ensure they take on board the advice set out above.

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