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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Unity through political diversity

The purpose of this post is to discuss how our political differences have become a way of distinguishing who we are not, rather than who we can be.

When I first began blogging, my writing was more aggressive and perhaps more theatrical than the style I’ve since become accustom to (albeit still maintaining a tendency toward a ranty, reactionary post now and then). However, after my first few posts a good friend sent me an email suggesting that I temper my writing. The logic behind this was that the more aggressive my writing the fewer people who would actually read my blog. Additionally, that if my purpose was to open up the debate then my vitriolic rants would inhibit that goal. Of course, I was taken aback at first, but he was right. There are plenty of ranty leftwing and rightwing blogs that added very little to the debate because they limited who could or would participate. And besides, he said, the particular style was only compelling for those who already shared my views and simply turned off any potential readers who might actually be receptive to some of the things I had to say. Sage advice. Because it appears the blogosphere is another platform for division.

I’m going to refer to some things I have read that highlight this division and why I think the blogosphere is the place to build unity through political diversity.

Firstly, on Maui Street blog, Morgan wrote:
 “The first challenge is to build a community. The first step in that challenge is easy - bring together a community of bloggers and their readers. The second step is harder - build a community of readers and commenters from outside of the leftwing blogosphere”
I agree.  There is an abundance of talent in The Daily Blog line up.  My worry is any preconceived prejudices based on The Daily Blogs creator - Bomber.

In my view, Bomber is to the left what WhaleOil is to the right, or alternatively stated, Bomber is to the right what WhaleOil is to the left.  They are both aggressive political and social commentators and while they've both established a strong readership they are unlikely to attract the more reserved reader. Like Morgan, however, I am optimistic that any pre-conceived prejudices will be overcome simply because of the talent pool Bomber has cleverly lined up. The beauty of The Daily Blog is the possibility. Although, I  think if its purpose is to shape opinion then what could make it more interesting would be to include rightwing bloggers who can offer a challenge to the leftwing line up.

An example of the blogosphere/social media divide was demonstrated this week through the debate over benefit fraud vs tax evasion. I was amused to see that the left vs right arguments typically considered one to be the lesser evil and the other by default, the greater evil. To an extent, there were even some attempts to justify either benefit fraud or tax evasion.

I make no secret of the fact that I lean left but in my view benefit fraud nad tax evasion are equally dishonest. Here I want to discuss why I think the debate was framed wrong resulting in an inevitable (although avoidable) division, where the real issue was ignored. Its true that there are those who commit fraud for reasons of greed and that there are also those who commit fraud because the state limits their options.

Lets brielfy look at the limits created by the state. We (in NZ) have social security in the form of 'benefits' because the government operates according to an economic ideology (neo-liberalism) that cannot cater to full employment and must create an underclass to support prosperity. Through neo-liberalism the state creates beneficiaries and must at the same time actively demonise welfare to maintain a competitive labour force.  The governments focus on benefit fraud over tax evasion serves this purpose - to reinforce the idea that everyone can get a job and that the economy is capable of full employment even though those in power know this to be a myth. On the other hand, we have tax evaders because they object to forcible deductions on all their sources of income. However, the government must tax so that they can support the beneficiary class created through this flawed economic model. 

So lets look at the issue - it is a result of an inferior economic model that requires widespread taxing to support the underclass it creates and at the same time it propagates welfare demonisation  to create the illusion that every person is capable of attaining prosperity within this model (I wrote an earlier post on this called Unemployment benefits the Wealthy). So instead of trying to justify who were the less evil fraudsters and allowing our political ideals to divide us, the debate should have been around what created the problem and how it can be overcome because this division is silent, intentional and operates to perpetuate the status quo.

I want to move on to a common left wing argument: ‘solidarity’. The rhetoric is nice.  But its treated as an aesthetic and lacks true meaning in the way its being used. Solidarity and unity are often used interchangeably and that is how I will use them for the remainder of this post because this concept ties together what I have talked about in this post.

Solidarity is often used as a method of opposing capitalism and all that it is argued to represent – exclusivity, selfishness, anti-democracy, cronyism to name a few things. Its usually aligned to socialism, but John Ansell has shown that the concept can be incorporated in rightwing politics under Nationalism via his Together New Zealand Campaign, even if his use of unity is merely superficial.

My view is that the way solidarity and unity are used are inherently exclusionary. When used by either leftwing or rightwing movements, the intention is to unite against an opposing politic. This creates and perpetuates division and therefore limits social progress and works against solidarity.

While writing this post I was referred to a very interesting YouTube clip by @AAMCommons (Twitter) called: 
 The possibility of political pleasure

This video link helped me solidify what it was that I wanted to write about. The idea was similar to what I had been thinking about – we don’t have to all agree on our beliefs and values – but we do need consensus to fix problems that affect us both locally and globally. This is direct democracy and is what we ought to be striving for – not democracy by the majority – but real participatory democracy, because in my view there can be no solidarity where political diversity is shunned.

Arguably, a good example of true solidarity is the Anonymous community. They have no leader. Each person contributes to the community in whatever way they choose to. They are guided by the protection of civil liberties and resisting banker occupation. They come together voluntarily and because there is no ‘Leader’, community members follow ideas – bad ideas fail because community members discontinue with it and good ideas succeed but never in perpetuity -  because innovation underlies the community. In this sense, Anonymous is fluid.  And fluidity is necessary for the persistence of the group because it allows members to participate meaningfully and directly.

There are a couple of good documentaries that you might like to watch:
We are Legion

Generation OS13: The New Culture of Resistance

Tying this altogether – if we as a country who are in fact a community of people, valued our political diversity and shaped our decisions around good ideas and not a single politic, then we might actually start to see some progress. We might actually see solidarity.