The Disengaged

Stephen Gwynne posted this comment during a discussion on Small Farm Future:

I sense your frustration and I certainly know how slow the wheels of structural change can be even over relatively insignificant changes in policy.

Your project is obviously a biggie and despite it being well worked out you have liberal, conservative, socialist etc elites against local self-determination since how elss are they to control our communities. Even well-meaning liberals would be opposed to local sovereignty due to their religious like beliefs in liberal values and principles.

I only came to local sovereignty through Brexit and so called ‘rightwing’ populism by realising that a confederacy of self-determining communities seems to be the only way to allow different people with different values to live peacefully in the same territory by facilitating self-determination on a local/regional level.

This indeed has many aspects of conservatism since it relies more on virtues and duties within the context of civic associationism as a moral framework compared to the deontology of rights which liberalism tends to incorporate which cannot be localised due to its emphasis on equality as opposed to equity.

[…]

Myself I think there is more hope in making the argument for local sovereignty within the context of conservatism or a variant of populism that promotes a confederacy of self-determining communities aa the ultimate opposition to elite control which is just municipalism of the social ecology variety or communitarian anarchism.

Apart from elites, I think another significant obstacle is whether people want to take on the political responsibilty that comes with local sovereignty. I certainly have friends who do not engage because they see politics as something for the rich, i.e see politics as essentially elitist, and so not for the poor. In this respect it is hard to know how and if local sovereignty would reengage this disillusioned mass of the electorate.

Anyway sorry to go on. Im also interested in how to localise power, especially regarding licensing decisions that put industrial diesel generators in my local park for 6 week durations 24/7. Disgusting abuse of power just so some council official can have his salary paid for a year. If local people can vote on local licensing decisions then at least there is a democratic chance to overturn the decision.

Again good luck.

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6 Responses to The Disengaged

  1. Thanks for the comment, Stephen.

    In a way, I think I’ve gone beyond frustration. All the time that I’ve been trying to push my ideas within the current system I’ve been aware that, if anyone did run with them, they would end up being greatly watered down and would lose much of their coherence. So, with the widespread disillusionment, I see the current situation as having much more potential for genuinely radical reform than has ever been there before.

    My biggest fear now is of that sense of disengagement that you talk about, with the accompanying sense that nothing will ever change (or be allowed to change). But, where you lead into that with the phrase ‘Apart from elites’, I see those things as being two sides of the same coin. The disengagement is there because the whole system seems to be completely dominated by established players who don’t leave room for anything new. My feeling is that there’s a massive hunger for reform underlying that disengagement and, if we can tap into that, we can genuinely transform things.

    I’m afraid I can never get into debates about ~isms. I never have a very clear idea of what words like liberalism or conservatism mean and my impression, as an on-looker to those kinds of debate, is that they often mean very different things to different people. I can see the usefulness of such terms if the subject is people’s ideologies, but I find them a distraction when you want to concentrate on the fundamentals.

    So I tend to stick with the underlying questions. How should we organise ourselves as a community, and as a society? What rules should we define to govern the relationship between different levels of organisation?

    Having said that, I do think that those ~isms do reflect the fact that there’s an ever-present tension in every society (in every organism) between a need for consolidation and a need for growth. To me that’s at the root of the divide between conservative and progressive thinking, and that’s why I’ve floated the possibility of Polarised Representation.

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  2. Steve Gwynne says:

    Hi Malcolm. Good idea to bring the discussion to here.

    It was interesting how you raised the inevitable ‘social question’ or what is a good society question and then deferred back to isms.

    “So I tend to stick with the underlying questions. How should we organise ourselves as a community, and as a society? What rules should we define to govern the relationship between different levels of organisation?”

    I think answers to these questions are bound up in isms simply because these questions are in themselves ancient considerations which over time have been formulated into bodies of thought.

    For me however, putting questions about the appropriate mix of conservatism, liberalism and socialism to one side whilst at the same time rejecting your framing of left and right within your polarised representation model, I tend to place morrme emphasis on the underlying ethical models that are at play and in particular which ethical models are competing with one another. For me this gives a better illustration of what motives the left and what motivates the right, at least in terms of the balance between different ethical models.

    To me the main ethical models in play are deontology, consequentialism and utilitarianism with the left tending to favour a balance that is biased towards deontology (rights frameworks) and rule-utilitarianism (equality by the equal consideration of interests) over consequentialism and act utilitarianism (case by case appraisal and cost/benefit analysis) and the right visa versa.

    These are two quite different ways of mediating the irreconcilable difference between the right and the good with the left tending to consider that the right takes priority over the good and the right tending to prioritize the good over the right.

    This for me explains the usual reaction by the left in relation to the right and why the left tend to take a rules-based approach towards the underlying questions of:-
    1. How should we organise ourselves as a community and as a society?
    2. What rules should we define to govern the relationship between different levels of organisation?

    In this respect the left are much more procedural/structural and the right are more about process and just desert. In other words, the left is more concerned about the rightness or wrongness of the actions themselves (systems and structures) whereas the right is more concerned about the rightness and wrongness of the consequences (processes and just desert) of these actions (systems and structures).

    This consequently pits equality against equity with the latter framed by the left as equality by the equal consideration of interests (or rule-utilitarianism) and the latter framed by the right as act (or case) utilitarianism.

    The equality before equity (or the right before the good) balance from the left tends to utilise a top-down state-centric approach whereas equity before equality (or the good before the right) balance from the right tends to utilise a bottom-up community centric approach which in a way completes the circle between deontology, consequentialism and utilitarianism since the left will tend to utilise agent-neutral consequentialism and the right agent-focused consequentialism, in other words the left will tend to favour the public over the private and the right visa versa. So in all we have in ranked order

    Left-
    Deontology – rights based rules and social contract theory
    Rule Utilitarianism – using the equality principle foremost.
    Agent-neutral consequentialism – undifferentiated public.

    Right-
    Agent-focused consequentialism – differentiated private.
    Act Utilitarianism – using the equity principle foremost.
    Deontology – natural rights theory and divine command theory.

    From this perspective the left and right continually needs to check and balance against the other because exceptions always exist within each different system which can be countered and mitigated by the complimentary system.

    So in many ways left ideological thinking is actually quite different to right ideological thinking with the left being more structural and the right more about process. Each needs the other so in terms of:-
    1. How should we organise ourselves as a community and as a society?
    2. What rules should we define to govern the relationship between different levels of organisation?

    These questions can only really be answered by the self-determining communities themselves in relation to the consequences of these self-determining communities within an overarching framework that assesses and measures the utilitarian requirements of these different self-determining communities. In other words, in my opinion, democracy from the civic to the civil is the only right and good way to answer these questions.

    What you and I are interested in is how to strengthen and deepen both civic and civil democracy.

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  3. “answers to these questions are bound up in isms simply because these questions are in themselves ancient considerations which over time have been formulated into bodies of thought”

    Well, yes and no. My feeling is there’s a big gap between academic and practical politics. Academically, yes, those ancient considerations have, over time, been formulated into bodies of thought. At the practical level, though, what matters is what’s embodied in institutions and practices and I’m dubious whether the academic stuff has contributed significantly to the evolution of political systems. I think that’s generally been driven by more pragmatic concerns.

    “rejecting your framing of left and right within your polarised representation model, I tend to place more emphasis on the underlying ethical models”

    My interest isn’t primarily in what underlies the ideological divide. I simply recognise it as an ever-present destabilising feature of political life. What I’m concerned with, therefore, is how political structures and/or processes can be reformed so as to allow both of those polarised modes of thinking to be expressed as fully as possible in ways that don’t compromise social stability. That’s what this project is about.

    There are two aspects of that: there’s the essentially technical one of what specific reforms would allow that to happen, and there’s the political one of how the need for those reforms is best explained to the general public. So, from my point of view, the question of what underlies the ideological divide is only important to the extent that it helps with those two problems.

    My guess is that understanding the whole dynamic in terms of ethical models is unlikely to help us solve the practical question of how the two poles can find expression in ways that complement rather than oppose each other. And I suspect it would be positively counter-productive to present it to the public in those terms, particularly with the kind of academic language you’ve used above.

    I think most people would find my way of presenting it much easier to grasp, because most people are familiar, in their own lives, with the conflict between the impulse for consolidation/security and the desire for growth/betterment.

    So, basically, I’m not sure why you’re rejecting my framing of the issue, and I don’t see that your emphasis on ethical models could lead to any practical solutions. However, if you think they could lead us to reforms which would be more effective than the ones I’ve floated, I’d be interested to hear how.

    “These questions can only really be answered by the self-determining communities themselves”

    I certainly don’t believe a healthy society can live with the kind of ‘top-down state-centric approach’ that you refer to. However, we are starting from a position in which central government has absolute sovereignty over local government – local communities cannot unilaterally decide to be self-determining. I think the manifesto reforms proposed on this website would be an effective way of changing that, but those reforms can only be brought in by Westminster.

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  4. Thanks for the suggestions, Steve. I hope you will find time to look at what I’m proposing.

    My own position on Brexit could antagonise extremists on both sides, so I’m not worried whether others who share my goals appeal to remainers or leavers.

    But I don’t see it as particularly relevant to what I’m trying to do here, because all the reforms I’m advocating will be needed whether we leave the EU or not. The reason this site has a page on it is because it’s currently a hot topic and because, as I said on Small Farm Future, I think the leavers have kicked opened a door that I and others have been knocking at for years. As far as I can see, it’s only the vote to leave that has made proper reform conceivable.

    My main interest in the Brexit situation is in how we can use the opportunity it’s created to force change in our internal system of governance. For example, I have floated the idea, in a discussion on openDemocracy, that the EU should seek judicial confirmation that a hasty notification from Theresa May, without further confirmation from the electorate, will satisfy the requirements of Article 50.

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