Tuesday, 26 July 2016

The Shit Sandwich Conundrum

Perhaps a strange title to today's blog but all, I'm sure, will become clear soon. "The Shit Sandwich Conundrum" is the name I give to a scenario when you have two choices and both of them are unpalatably bad. Its like having the choice of a shit sandwich to eat or a shit sandwich to eat. Whichever you choose both are shit sandwiches. "Why is this relevant to anything?" I hear you cry. Well that's what I have to explain now.

My primary motivation for this blog is political and this is because it seems to me that there have been a number of scenarios recently where the shit sandwich conundrum applied. Our American friends have a choice between a moronic, self-aggrandizing fool and a corrupt, corporate liar which is all very "shit sandwich". Here in the UK recently we had the choice of the corrupt EU or the boorish "Little Englander" mentality. The latter won. But, of course, it doesn't matter who wins in the "shit sandwich" scenario because, either way, you're going to be chowing down on shit.

What are we to do in such a scenario? It seems that a lot of people think we should accept our fate and start munching. I notice that yesterday comedian Sarah Silverman, formerly a supporter of Bernie Sanders as the Democratic nominee for President of the USA, now thinks that those who cling to their beliefs that Bernie was the man for the job are, and I quote, "ridiculous" to argue that it should be "Bernie or bust". Their refusal, like her, to give up on Bernie and, instead, fall in behind Hillary Clinton, one of the afore-mentioned shit sandwiches, provokes ire and insults from Ms Silverman. It seems that she thinks that even though some Democrats may have been demonizing Mrs Clinton for a year and saying all the bad things they could think about her now, somehow, they should just forget about all that as if it had never happened. Ms Silverman prioritizes expediency over principle. No doubt, if asked, she would argue that the Clinton shit sandwich is slightly more palatable than the Donald shit sandwich. But its all shit Sarah!

Of course, for the shit sandwich conundrum to be a genuine and real problem, which I think it is, then the stakes have to be real. With my American example I think that's very much the case and I, an outsider to that spectacle and merely watching the depressing show, cannot see a single redeeming factor about either candidate. In a similar way, there wasn't much redeeming about either choice in the Brexit debate. Its not as if the EU is some repository of goodness or that British politicians are any better or worse than European ones. Either side, from my perspective, was equally as shit. And the idea of slightly less shitty shit is a thoroughly shit argument. If that's what you find yourself reduced to then you surely must realize that something greater is wrong. And that is that politics itself is shit from top to bottom. Even in the rather parochial confines of the debate surrounding the leadership of the British Labour Party, a party currently riven with splits and arguments, the choice is between a lifelong left wing oddball, Jeremy Corbyn, (who is the Bernie Sanders figure here) and a man who barely seems to be from the Labour Party at all, Owen Smith (the Hillary Clinton). The former has spent his life disobeying his party and espousing left wing causes whilst the latter has suddenly found lots of reasons why he supports Labour causes yet mysteriously never seemed to before. The first has popular support from the party's members but would probably never win a General Election, the latter is all spin and PR and enrages many party members because he is so obviously a fake. So that's a double dose of shit all round.

I find myself asking how things come to this and I think the answer is that politics has become disengaged from what it ideally is and from what it actually should be. "Politics" comes from Greek and is, in so many words, "the business of the city". The Polis was the Greek city and so politics is how you run such places. It is, ideally, something that each citizen, the people who live in cities, is involved with. Except in our modern societies it isn't. So many of us have abdicated responsibility for this to so-called professional politicians. These professionals, however, are widely open and exposed to corruption and so the people charged with the business of the city become people channelled into serving other interests. British members of parliament yearly claim all kinds of ridiculous expenses as a privilege of their supposed service which, in the past, has been channelled into providing comfortable horse stables for a member's horses, moats for expensive houses or payment for the employment of family members. Some British parliamentarians also feel the need to claim money for taxi journeys of 100 yards or a pair of socks. On the other hand, Government contracts are awarded by politicians to companies who then, mysteriously, become the employers of the same people when they leave office. I'm only scratching the surface here.

My fundamental point here, and it depresses me that it might come as a shock to some people, is that real politics is about me and you, adults with the right to vote. But its not just about voting. In fact, that's almost the least important thing here. Its mostly about taking an active role in society and recognizing that its actually your responsibility as a citizen that is important here. I always say to myself whenever any unpopular policy is passed that if 10 million people stood in front of the building concerned and refused to move until the policy was changed then it would change immediately. Because people DO count and they DO matter but when we get apathetic and just let it pass because we have life to live or things to do or its not worth the hassle well that just let's whoever is responsible off the hook. And that's mostly what happens in our societies. We let those responsible off the hook. We imagine that there are "other people" whose job it is to run the place. We let slide the notion that, as citizens, its our responsibility to hold every politician and political decision to account. Gandhi did not let this responsibility slide. His movement of peaceful protest, in effect just sitting in the street until the change came, freed India from the British Empire. 

Gandhi's example is quite startling. His example is that any change worth making will take an effort. Nothing comes easily. Gandhi's campaign did take years to achieve its end. But, of course, you can sit back and do nothing. Well I don't know about you but I'm finding it increasingly difficult to choose between this shit or that shit. I don't personally want to have to chow down on either. And in the current situation with the professionalized political class that we have this is all we will ever get offered for you can bet that the other interests in society will keep wanting to push their stooges forward. Of course, there are men and women of conviction and principle in politics. But they are few and far between. My point, however, is that real politics is not about people who call themselves politicians. Its about citizens and being an active one rather than a passive one. Because, it seems to me, if you're happy to zone out and let everyone else get on with it well then what motivation have those that do got to take any care or concern over your needs?

Now in the Star Trek universe there is a famous scenario called the Kobayashi Maru. It is a test designed to test all prospective Starfleet Academy cadets in that fictional world and the point of the test is that it is a no-win scenario. Whatever is done during the test destruction (for some) is sure to follow. I mention this scenario here because it seems to me to have some similarities with the shit sandwich conundrum. In my conundrum we all have to eat shit. In Star Trek someone is going to die. The Star Trek scenario tests character and I think that the shit sandwich conundrum does too. This is not necessarily because I think that in real world human politics everyone is going to die (or eat shit) anyway. To be honest, if we think that then why bother? No, to act politically at all is to believe that things can change, can be different and can be ordered better. That's what Gandhi thought, its what Nelson Mandela thought and its even what the original founders of the USA thought. The shit sandwich scenario tests character because it addresses each citizen individually and asks them if they are going to take responsibility for their habitat, their city, their world. If no, then oh well. You handed over your future. If yes, you still may fail but at least you have a stake and you make yourself heard and, thus, noticed.

My ultimate point here is that real politics bypasses politicians. Real politics isn't professional. Its people, just people. Its people coming together with a common mind about things beneficial to them all. Maybe its a bit hippy or sappy. Maybe you find it all just a bit emotional of me. But its true. Politics is just the expressed will of the people, of any people who deign to take part. There are many who will laugh and smile if you choose not too. It makes their agenda that much easier to bring into effect. So next time you blame a politician for something ask yourself what you did to effect change politically recently. Because it all really starts and stops with the person in the mirror.

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