Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Polly Ticking

This is not a piece about exploding parrots, but I thought if I called it “politicking”, you might not read it. And who could blame you? But don’t be alarmed, I do not intend to push any particular political barrow. Rather, I am concerned with the general notion of being political. In one sense, it is impossible not to be political: everything we say, everything we do, everything we don’t do, has political implications. We are all part of the body politic, “no man [or woman] is an island”, etc. However, the notion of being political also has a slightly stronger meaning: to become actively and deliberately involved in a particular political cause, aimed at changing, in some way, the political landscape.

In this latter sense, I used to be much more political than I am today. This issue comes up at the present time because I have friends, both on and off line, who are much more politically active than I am. At times this makes me feel a little guilty: Have I become too complacent? Too self-involved? The answer to both questions may be “yes”.  But that is not the whole story.

There is a constant interaction between the individual and society. Each can and does influence the other. It is probably fair to say that the interaction is not balanced. The individual is affected much more by changes in society, than society is affected by changes in the individual. That depends, of course, on the position of the individual within that society. In social networking theory, some people serve as important nodes, with more connections to more people than others. When they change in some way, the ripples may be much greater than when someone less well-connected changes. This is something we should all think about very carefully in this age of online social networking: we are all, to some extent, seeking to extend our sphere of influence.

Because of this interaction between the individual and society, it is possible to approach political action from one of two directions. We can try the top down approach. This is concerned with attempting to directly alter the structures, institutions and framework of society, perhaps by starting or joining mass political movements, by lobbying political parties, or by entering directly into the machinery by becoming politicians ourselves. The other is the bottom up approach. In this approach we seek to influence the individuals around us, by modelling behaviour, by education, by sharing our ideas and values. The ripples are small, but perhaps with enough of them, changes can occur in the political structures themselves. Over the years I have lost faith somewhat in the first approach, because social institutions and structures have a tremendous inertia. Social movements have a way of themselves becoming institutionalised and soon fall victim to the same inertia as the things they oppose. Those who try to enter the structures are more often shaped by them, rather than being able to mould them into a new shape. For that reason I favour the bottom up, slow ripple approach. It may take much longer, and I may never live to witness the changes, if they occur. But at least there is the satisfaction of knowing that I have been able to touch someone else’s life, as they have been able to touch mine. My hat is off, though, to those who really do succeed in bringing about change from the top. I envy their courage and stamina.

It is a very small thing, but I hope that by touching other people with my writing, I may be able to cause a few ripples. All I seek is to have people look a little deeper into themselves, to understand the forces at work in and around them. If I achieve that, even a little, then my work here is done.

The book burners are correct: writing can be a subversive activity.

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