Category Archives: Politics

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing

resized-unsplash-wil-stewart-men-stars-silhouette

I’ve adapted a well-known quote for this post because originally it said good ‘men’, and I wanted to acknowledge that women have agency too.

I was motivated to write this post after the election of Donald Trump as president.

I was not as stunned as the rest of the world. I was hardened by the tragic results of the European Union referendum here in the UK recently, which no one expected to turn out as they did.

I witnessed firsthand the chaos that is wreaked by our modern media machine, controlled behind the scenes by big business.

Its big seller is fear, by constantly feeding the masses doses of terror, recession, and violence.

Actually, we live in a more comfortable time than we ever have, at least in the UK, some parts of Europe and the US. That’s how we’re able to operate under such a sophisticated model of media and business.

One that controls the masses tightly by promoting a societal order that benefits very few.

Don’t think of politics as isolated

I normally stay out of political matters and approach them indirectly through advocating for women in tech on my blog, or helping others to develop themselves personally and professionally.

Politics isn’t a separate area of society, however. That’s just a media construction.

Political matters are inseparable from our daily lives, and legislation affects every one of us.

You can make a difference ‘politically’ by involving yourself in organisations that promote social good, which aim to change society at a macro level.

For example, women in tech isn’t just about women in tech.

It’s about the idea of equality and respect for everyone, regardless of who or where they were born.

If individual women are empowered to pursue their dream careers in tech, this will also help them become more powerful individuals in society at large. This will benefit the causes of women overall.

I chose the title of this blog post because so many of the reactions to Trump’s presidency were from good people, the vast majority of whom do nothing.

Acceptance rather than fear

I know we have no direct power to influence the American political system from our sofas in Britain. Still, I’ve noticed that the most politically active people on my social media feeds were also the ones that preached acceptance and tolerance – rather than fear, hatred and division.

Ironically, the descent into name-calling and despair is exactly the fuel that Trump’s – and Brexit’s – campaigns ran on.

If people are afraid of and hate each other, then overly-conservative and divisive campaigns (under the guise of patriotism) can flourish.

At the risk of being as dramatic as everyone else, much of Trump’s campaign – the little I allowed myself to actively absorb – reminds me of Nazi rhetoric.

A return to a lost golden age that never existed, a revival of the great American society (where’s it gone?) which is a mask for the true social injustices perpetuated by those in power. Uniting against a common ‘enemy’ (non-Americans).

And of course, Trump is the charismatic leader, galvanizing the people by selling them a dream, playing on their fears and tempting their greed.

Good people stand up

But more fear and more division is not the right way. So that’s why I was motivated to write this blog post.

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for me to do nothing.

The opposite to Trump is not ‘not-Trump’ because that’s just Trump in a different form.

The true opposite to Trump and what he represents, the answer that everyone who was upset by the result of today’s elections is seeking, is more love, courage, openness and humanity, actively practiced by every human being.

That means every person needs to go out there and be more active in the causes that matter to them. That’s the antidote to Trumpism. Whether that’s helping inner city children learn to cook, or more women to succeed in tech, or get more homeless people off the streets, just participate.

Because it’s not like anyone was happy with the state of affairs before. The political climate could not have been called good.

We may now be reaching a point where it’s sufficiently bad that good people are motivated to speak.

It’s taken the election of a conservative government, the near-split of the United Kingdom, Brexit, the collapse of said government, the appointment of an unelected head of state, and, finally, the rise of Donald Trump, to get me onto the soapbox.

I hope this post reminds a few people that they aren’t alone. Lots of people who are normally silent are humane, compassionate and progressive. There’s always another election. There’s always time for change.

CatherineCatherine Heath is a freelance blogger and copywriter for B2B SaaS companies. She’s obsessed with the field of personality systems theory, and she also likes drawing, yoga, meditation and being in nature. 

Image: Unsplash.com

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What does it mean to be middle class, and why should we care?

Cost of Living Crisis (or, “Economics for Lazy People”)

As you can’t help hearing on the news at the moment, a core part of Ed Milliband’s campaign strategy is to wage war on the “cost of living crisis” on behalf of “middle income families”. Drawing attention away from Labour’s reputation for haemorrhaging money through benefits, he suggests we need to siphon some cash from the top-earners in entrepreneurial business, banking and finance.

By “middle income,” presumably he means what most people would call “middle class”. Indeed, a subheading in the Telegraph reads: ‘Foundations of middle-class life – well-paid jobs, strong pensions, housing ladder and university education – have all been “undermined”’, in reference to his Labour Party Conference Speech in Brighton during 2013.

But, before we all descend into chaos and panic, and even though we’ve only narrowly escaped the slavering jaws of a “triple-dip” recession, I’d like to conduct a short foray into what it means to be middle class in modern Britain and why we should care.

What does it mean to be middle class and why should we care? According to this BBC diagram, the middle class is to be defined by a history of consumption, from mass-produced cars to the modern-day farmer’s market – similarly to Ed using an exclusively economic definition.

I will naturally approach the question from a very British standpoint, as someone who has grown up eating chip butties, was educated at a local comprehensive and watched the BBC every evening.

Crisis of Confidence (See Urban Dictionary for Help)

Just who is having a crisis? What is the middle income bracket? Figures show the average UK family income (two parents and two children) is £40k combined, so probably a lot less than you might think. Urban Dictionary defines the middle class in exclusively cultural terms, suggesting that they are:

“Usually, working professionals and often take residence in suburbia or greenbelt areas. Generally speaking, their children attend university and do well within the education system, often following in their parents’ footsteps to maintain some sort of professional job.”

Being middle class seems to be defined by educational and economic attainment, and revolve around the family unit. Urban Dictionary isn’t completely certain, and admits that there are other factors to consider.

Many middle-class children don’t do well in school and never go to university. Plenty of working-class children perform excellently at school, and the figure of the eternally-unemployed, middle-class “waster” is well-known. On the other hand, being middle class does seem to provide a degree of immunity to being convicted of a crime, being a serious sexual offender or having mental health problems.

Angela Monaghan in the Guardian wonders the same thing: just who are these middle class? Monaghan says, ‘Research suggests membership of Britain’s middle class depends on personal perceptions as well as incomes.’ But what are these perceptions? Who decides whether one can enter the middle class, and does everyone actually want to? Is it a definable category or simply a fluid zeitgeist of feeling privileged, intellectual and future-oriented, ‘living by your wits rather than your hands’?

University and Class Consciousness

I went to the University of Southampton and there were plenty of privately-educated students, with the rest of the student body comprising a mixture of public school, grammar school and state comprehensive. I didn’t pay much attention to the stratification at first.

Eventually, I learned that the politicians who represent us in the Houses of Parliament are predominantly privately-educated, which will probably mean that their parents are rich. Someone explained the concept of ‘rah’ within the first few weeks of Freshers’.

Urban Dictionary defines it as:

“Someone who went to private school… likes rugby (not football), probably a member of a rowing, sailing or yachting club, refer to their parents as “Mummy and Daddy”. Boys: often seen to be wearing a lemon (or any pastel shade) sweatshirt slung casually over their shoulders and deck shoes. Girls: Dress similar to that of boys along with pearls, numerous shopping bags and Daddy’s credit card.”

Again: linking class to culture. Oddly enough, there hadn’t been any rah people at Poole High School, which is free to attend. In my time, it had the highest teen pregnancy rate in the area and apparently failed an Oftsed report (I can find nothing to substantiate this though). Southampton, on the other hand, is a Russell Group university (but not in the same league as Oxford or Cambridge) so it had many rah people. To call someone “rah” is to express disdain towards them for consciously choosing to align themselves with a privileged elite (by wearing Jack Wills, flip flops in winter and Ugg boots when it rains). You can be rich and not rah, but not rah without being rich. 

Tea and the Times Crossword

Middle class-ness is a category of identity learned from others, and therefore is an aspect of culture transmitted by sets of behaviours and common modes of thought. I found I liked these middle-class things – prizing education, equal rights for women, good food – a cup of tea whilst doing the Times crossword.

No one ever had to explain being middle class to me. Suddenly, I had found a culture I fit into, where no one mocked you for wanting to learn or liking to read. I learned about the wonderful history and cultural context of books, new ideologies to analyse and absorb, as well as how to turn food into a substantial leisure pursuit. I slowly but surely started reading broadsheet newspapers, going to art galleries and discovered BBC Radio 4.

But how does all this relate to Ed Miliband’s “Cost of Living Crisis” for the middle class?

The Middle Class makes it’s “Marx” in History

During a module called ‘Novel in the Literary Marketplace’, we were taught that in the seventeenth century, the “rising middle class” were comprised of merchant capitalists, clerks and small landowners, some of whom eventually accumulated enough wealth to rival the influence of the landed aristocracy. The Industrial Revolution cemented the fact that power would reside with those who own the means of production, hence the decay of the landed aristocracy (see popular ITV drama Downton Abbey for further details), and the mechanics of it are evolving still.

Thus, aristocratic Britain was no more, and the middle classes sprang into being as a result of capitalism, flourishing well into the nineteenth century and Queen Victoria’s long reign. Partly as a result of this, I think being middle class is upholding the values of: freedom, equality, education and enterprise (I can see an acronym emerging).

This section of society historically has had members who exhibit traits such as intellectual independence; are often explicitly feminist, environmentalist or atheist; are educated beyond the national curriculum (but not necessarily formally so); make decisions based on some level of reason, have the interests of others at heart; strive to succeed and aspire to equality between sex and race. These personal and intellectual freedoms have been enabled by the middle class of history, who made money and fought for the right to vote, insisted on free education for all and the right to free speech. Naturally, these values are not exclusive to the middle class, but I digress.

That class isn’t so readily identifiable anymore, because now those battles have been mostly won. Class is created by inequality, but in modern Britain social mobility is prevalent: that’s why the term “middle class” now pretty much covers everyone. This is why using a purely economic definition doesn’t work anymore. Middle class culture survives: the enterprising, principled and intellectual middle class, who give us cause to celebrate.

The appropriation of the term ‘middle class’ (or the sneakily disguised ‘middle income’) by politicians like Ed Miliband has rendered it nearly meaningless. It’s being used as a tool to encourage people to fear a crisis and therefore vote for Labour; apparently this is called ‘dog whistle politics’.

Class is an outdated term, reliant on immutable social structures which no longer exist. It’s a smokescreen employed by politicians in a calculated attempt to increase personal power.

There seems to be a penchant for Marxist theory now, as the 2014 electoral race begins – and no wonder, since Conservative policies really do hit the poorest people hardest. Hopefully recent political and economic developments don’t suggest that the privileges won for us by the historical middle class might be revoked. There’s so much more to class than Marxist theory – a downtrodden proletariat oppressed by the greedy, heartless bourgeoisie – but the whole class of society is certainly more important than the few. We should not sell our hard-won privileges for a feee.

NB: that’s not a typo.

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness

Nudge-cover

Published: 2008

Authors: Richard Sunstein & Cass Thaler

No feminist academic journey is complete without a sound understanding of economic theory.

Failing that, I read Nudge, a pop economics book about the role of libertarian paternalism and choice architecture in government.

Written by Richard Sunstein and Cass Thaler, two American economists, Nudge refers to the fallibility of being human in a capitalist economy and democratic society. They challenge traditional economic theory by treating people not as completely rational “econs” but irrational, imperfect creatures often ruled by inertia, confusion or impulsiveness.

Libertarian paternalism is a somewhat bipolar political ideology, espoused by theorists that believe you can “nudge” people to choose what’s good for them, while still maintaining freedom of choice.

Choice Architecture is the art of designing these choices so that people are encouraged to choose what’s best for them, as determined by experts in the field. Scenarios in which choice architecture may be applicable include choosing a pension plan, becoming an organ donor or voting in political elections.

If an individual is given too much choice and is lacking in expertise, they are typically overwhelmed by information and end up making a choice that is as bad as making one at random. On the other hand, if an individual is given no choice whatsoever, then they would be living in a totalitarian state (depending on context, of course).

It would seem that guided choices, subject to regulations and transparency measures, may be the way forward. And indeed, David Cameron reportedly included the book on his shadow frontbench team’s list of required reading. Thaler has been advisor to the Conservative “Behavioural Insight Team” or “Nudge Unit”, while Sunstein has been advising American president Barack Obama.

Nudge is, for the laywoman, accessible and entertaining. The authors never assume that the reader understands even simple economic concepts, such as ‘stocks’ (which I didn’t). Even better; for the first time, I now understand what stocks are. The postscript added to the book even makes me hopeful that I may finally be coming close to vaguely comprehending what the term “2008 economic crisis” means (apart from boarded-up shops and really expensive food).

Reading this book is like sitting down and having one of your parents explain an aspect of the world to you, with lots of hopeful theories about improving society thrown in. For the first time in a long time, I felt like governments might be able to achieve something good.

Watching Prime Minister’s Questions is enough to exterminate anyone’s faith in the efficacy of modern democracy, entertaining as it is. Overgrown Oxbridge graduates jeering and catcalling each other, overseen by a judge-like Speaker who constantly berates the rabble, is enough to make a would-be voter walk past the ballot box without a second thought.

Public opinion is generally equally unfavourable towards both British main parties: the Conservatives are greedy, out-of-touch toffs who don’t care about anything but protecting their own inherited wealth and privilege. Labour are envy-ridden, hand-wringing Northerners who are incapable of planning policy for the long-haul. Belief in political change is undermined by the four-year terms in which a party, once elected, is awarded power; any effective policies will almost certainly be scrapped by the next government in a bid to create attractive mirages that will please voters (rail fare caps, free school meals) but solve nothing, eager to prove the incompetence of the previous party.

My interest in politics is only nascent but so far the picture has not proved any brighter than this. I didn’t think it really worth mentioning the liberal democrats.

Nudge takes a giant leap over the politician-hating public to point out that those in power are probably trying to do a good job. The authors seem to offer a path through the maze of inter-party squabbles: no wonder they are so popular with current government, who are under ever-increasing pressure from the social media mob to do something about rising unemployment, skyrocketing house-prices and threats from religious extremism. Libertarian paternalism may not be the answer to all social ills but it at least provides an optimistic stab at a solution.