Nero’s performance on the roof of his palace while Rome burned around him was not recorded for posterity. We have no idea what tunes he played or if he had any talent as a musician. The current leaders of the world will not be so fortunate if our species, two thousand years hence, is blessed with enough security and comfort to allow the study of history.
Thanks to digital capture and storage of sound and motion, every scrape of bow on the wrong string, every fumble on the fingerboard perpetrated by the current incumbents of our palaces of governance will be there for future generations to endure. Our historian descendents will surely shake their heads in disbelief at the ineptitude of those who held positions of power in the second decade of the 21st century.
Nero was a prize numpty, but he was a solo artist. Today we have a global fiddlers’ rally of political performers who are making spectacular arses of themselves. The planet and all that it contains is crying out for harmony, but this motley orchestra of fecklessness is hell-bent on delivering a cacophony of discord.
Right denounces left. Left excoriates right. Nationalist, blind to irony, deplores nationalist. Tribe is cultivated to detest tribe. The raucous squeals from a thousand strands of tortured catgut congeals into a hideous uniform whine: us – superior, exceptional, justified – versus an abominable them.
Meanwhile, the wildfires rage.
Yes, that latest wildfire might have been started by a careless camper but the metaphor holds good. Physics tells us that climate change is happening, will continue to happen, and will irrevocably change for the worse the lives of all of the children yet to come.
The more we do now to attenuate it the less severe will be the damage, but what is the response from our merry band of great and good to this inescapable logic? More bum notes. Denial from the fossilised carbon junkies. Strategic posturing by the climate emergency band-wagon jumpers. Screaming condemnation of everything and everybody by the eco-evangelists. Lots of sound and fury. Practical action: none.
Meanwhile, the wildfires rage and countless children are robbed of sleep by the pain of hunger and hopelessness.
Yes, poverty has always been with us but it need not be. Poverty is man-and-woman-made, so it can be unmade. But instead of getting on with the job of unmaking it our fiddlers insist on fiddling.
The right blames indolence and moral failure while the left points the finger at anyone who’s wealthier than…. well…. themselves, obviously. The nationalists peddle myths of magical transformation if only we were free, while the ecos prescribe veganism for all. Another generation of children drifts into hopeless adulthood. Bellies filled: none.
Meanwhile the wildfires rage, children go hungry, and a thousand shock-absorbers burst their seals as a thousand wheels hit a thousand potholes.
You should be mending the roads, screeches Mr Right, the BMW driver. You should be paying your taxes, choruses Ms. Left, and her chums from the council. You shouldn’t be driving anyway, bleats Mrs Green as she parks her bicycle in her garage alongside her hybrid SUV that she only uses when it’s raining or when she’s in a hurry to get back from the shops before the bus drops the kids off from school, obviously. The band of finger-pointing bickering plays on. The song remains the same. Potholes filled: zero.
I first became aware of the concept of politics as a force for change during the UK general election in 1979. Forty years later and I’m still waiting for politics to do anything substantial about anything that actually matters. Four decades of false promises, posturing and grievance-mongering that have got us precisely nowhere on the journey towards an equitable sustainable world.
The lack of focus on diagnosis of problem and identification of remedy is baffling. The problem is not a lack of capitalism, or socialism, or centrism, or nationalism, or thou-shalt-not eco-evangelism so why waste all that effort pretending that it is?
The challenge for humanity is to produce and distribute the things that we need for our collective security and comfort in a sustainable way. The problem is anything that prevents us from doing this.
Just about everything in the current political landscape is a distraction, preventing us from seeing and doing what needs to be done. We have to tear ourselves away from the game-show of contemporary political incompetence and apply our collective intellect to the root of our problem. “They” aren’t going to do it for us. “They” are too busy marching the gullible faithful up blind alleys of useless “isms”. We have to do it ourselves.
I wrote an entry for the IPPR’s economics prize earlier this year. It’s my attempt at describing the root of the problem and suggesting what remedies might work. You can read it here:
Much of what I see as the problem and describe as the solution can be found in similar vein in the writings of others around the world. Lots of us are trying to bring these ideas to the fore but are being drowned out by the fractious fiddlers’ rally of capitalist, socialist, centrist, nationalist, eco-evangelist politicians and their cheerleaders.
If you are affiliated to any of these factions please consider forty years (at least) of failure and think again. Join instead the growing band of reformers who see universal sustainable prosperity as the only credible destination for humanity and are busy working out how to get us there, in harmony.