The key to enlightenment, or oneness with God, or Allah, or whomever you choose, appears to be unconditional love, absence of material desire, and ultimate benevolence. These are fantastic aims that both embody and transcend all religions, symbolising the core of human moral progress. The modern manifestation of religion however - in combination with the growth of consumerism and self-interest - seems to have inadvertently fostered the idea that it’s (near) impossible to reach this state, almost as if Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed are deities we should be worshiping, rather than humans we should strive to be like. This was also largely the case for most of human history, and the attributes and inspiration it facilitated were initially incredibly useful. In the absence of structural democracy and just lawmakers, citizens drew strength from their faith, gradually lifting global moral consciousness bit by bit. It was the opposite of an obstruction to scientific progress as well; the majority of pre-18th century scientists were religious, and it was largely due to the discipline, devotion and determination their faith gave them that they were able to make such incredible discoveries.
As the 21st century approached, and we delved deeper and deeper into the inner workings of the mind and its underlying mechanisms of influence, the role of religion in society was reinterpreted. Morality became seen as subjective, faith and belief could be scientifically explained, and there was a mass secularisation of governments, effectively putting legislative ethics in the hands of situational rationalism rather than objective principles. Up to a point this sparked further moral, political, and scientific development, as power was placed in the hands of the people rather than externalised to a transcendental arbiter.
But a greater knowledge of the power of the mind also resulted in methods to cloud and control it. Advertising strategies are designed to appeal to your desires and bypass your will, targeted to scientific common miscalibrations in our moral compasses. Politicians take advantage of the continued influence of misinformation, even after people recognise it as just that, to control the public’s perceptions (click for a great article on how to debunk misinformation). Take for example the 2011 referendum in which we were given the opportunity to switch the electoral system to the Alternative Vote - smear campaigns were run claiming the switch would cost £250m, a figure later admitted by David Blunkett to be completely fabricated (and one that is pittance compared to our £40 billion defence budget). As mechanisms of mental influence, consumerist culture, and economically driven political philosophy become more prominent, the populace becomes more distracted from what life could and should be about. Religion is shrinking as an influence in society, and until the intentions of the media and of government begin to become genuinely moral, considering every human equally important, no matter of class, race, orientation, popularity, or wealth, then society’s chances of collectively progressing shrink too.
I often hear people say that human nature is selfish, and this is the reason why knowledge is withheld and politics is flawed; that the problems I’ve described are inevitable and impossible to address. Yes, it’s true that evolution is at its heart concerned with self-interest and survival of the fittest. But empathy is an ancient evolutionary mechanism, and pro-sociality is what enabled the emergence of morality, culture and complex cognition in the first place - everything that makes us human. If human nature were truly selfish, we would not be having these discussions at all, so I’m not having anyone tell me that a vision for an equal and moral society is idealistic, utopian, or futile. Throughout our history, the primal evolutionary motivation for immediate personal power has been continually receding in influence. Hopefully, we will continue to make this next step in our cognitive evolution, towards long-term interpersonal power. If so, then religion would stop being misinterpreted, science will be directed towards long-term sustainable development, and politics would represent the people. If not, then religion, science, and culture will distance us from true connective progress.
So, we arrive at a key junction in our moral journey. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, you’ll know that there is an election coming up. What’s politics got to do with morality, I hear you cry? As we believe more in the power of our minds, we need those who understand it - and who are in the position to influence - to steer the moral compass in the right direction, and correct the evolutionary hiccoughs in its construction. If ulterior motives retract from the legislative processes that influence morality and equality, humanity is one step further in its development. Unfortunately however, we live in a political system where the only official impact the British public have over policy is by casting a vote in a general election once every 5 years - unless you voted for Gordon Brown last election. Or Caroline Lucas. Or Nick Clegg. Or David Cameron. We live in a world where most votes are wasted, the government we elect break most of their promises, corporate interest dominates policy decisions (e.g. companies with links to Tories have won £1.5bn of NHS contracts), and the mainstream media oligopoly (which is 78.4% Tory controlled) engages in continual misinformation warfare. How the hell is our moral compass going to be anything other than haywire?
This is why I have a lot of time for Russell Brand. He has re-engaged hundreds of thousands of people who had become disillusioned with politics, one of the few who is actually on the streets, cultivating political engagement. Politics and policy should be built on simple moral principles and positive power, and that is what he is preaching - he may not have all the solutions to the problems he raises, but he isn’t expected to. And for those who criticise him on his ‘don’t vote’ position, he’s changed his tune:
“What I’ve learned over this period of time where I’ve been getting involved in politics is that we are in a dangerous position in this country. The Conservative party is planning to further dismantle our community assets, trying to tear apart the very fabric of society. That’s not something we can allow to happen simply because people can’t be bothered or don’t want to vote. I know I’ve been Mr. Don’t Vote, but actually, what I mean is politics isn’t something we can just be involved in once every 5 years, democracy is for every day, not just for elections. Democracy has to be something you’re constantly involved in, whether you’re students occupying your university, whether you’re people running worker-run co-operatives; we have to confront big business, we have to confront the people that are tearing apart London and socially cleansing it. What i heard Ed Miliband say is that if we speak, he will listen, so on that basis I think we’ve got no choice but to take decisive action to end the danger of the Conservative party. [If you are from anywhere but Scotland or Brighton], you’ve gotta vote Labour, so that we can begin community led activism, so we can have a voice and build a society… There’s loads of things I could complain about with Ed Miliband, but whats important is, this bloke could be in Parliament and I think this bloke will listen to us. On May 7th, vote Labour - on May 8th, more democracy, more power, to more communities.”
I actually disagree with him about voting Labour, for reasons I will explain shortly, but I appreciate his pragmatic approach to change, and he makes a vital point - that we have the power, if we take it into our own hands. I also respect Ed Miliband for allowing himself to be interviewed by Brand; he understands the power of social media, and he also hopefully understands that if he goes back on what he has said, the younger generations will turn on him. I certainly have a hell of a lot more time for him than George Osborne, who used his knowledge of the human psyche to incorrectly blame Labour’s overspending for the economic crisis and misinform with his austerity narrative, which has actually harmed economic recovery. Likewise Nigel Farage, whose divisive actions have diverted anger towards hard-working immigrants instead of the rich and powerful. Just to put this into perspective, immigrants contribute £20 billion more in taxes than they receive; and in 2012/13, 3250 Department of Work and Pensions staff were employed to prevent £1.2bn in benefit fraud, while just 300 HMRC staff were investigating £4bn (£70bn) of tax evasion (and avoidance). How can people like this, with not a moral bone in their body, be in positions of such influence?
Thousands of people are planning to vote Labour even though they support a party like the Greens because they want their vote to count; but this is our one of two chances a decade to improve ourselves, and a vote for Labour, Conservative, and even Lib Dem is a vote for continuity, a vote for decisions to be made on a predominantly economic basis. The neoliberal block won’t change their ways until they become threatened by an alternative. It may seem pointless now, but 5% of voters becomes 10%, becomes 15%, until eventually, minor parties become a force - and the quickest way for that to happen is if everyone who thinks Green votes Green (and the same for other fringe parties).
I know many people will have seen the Natalie Bennett LBC interview and lost faith, but what leader hasn’t had their “brain fade” moment? At least she can probably remember what football team she supports. Consider also that the way the media is portraying the Green party has a big role in voter movement. LBC would not in a million years have bullied David Cameron into justifying his economic strategy by reciting the exact amount of money each policy would save. The same goes for Andrew Neil, who was practically licking Cameron’s balls in comparison to the way he treated Bennett. And to those that are reluctant to vote Green on the grounds that their policies are overly ambitious, I actually think that’s a good thing. First of all, it’s not like the Tories have stuck to their pre-election ‘contract’ in the slightest, so the Greens have the bar set nice and low for them. And even if they can’t do all of the things they say they want to do, at least they are on the whole trying to do the right thing (particularly Caroline Lucas, who has been a shining example of what MPs can be), within economic limits that have been set by self-interested arseholes who want to entrench the wealth they were (mostly) born into, and promote materialistic desire, insecurity, conflict, and a blame culture. It’s no coincidence that money is the commerce of stature; it’s the one thing that the people who have most influence on the system have much, much, much more of than you. Personally, I would much rather policy be constructed on an indiscriminately moral basis than a discriminately economic one.
I don’t know anyone who is happy with the way government or society is organised, and if you are one of those disillusioned people, please vote Green, or any fringe party that truly represents the public’s interests. You may not agree with everything they say, but there is no doubt that they are seriously trying to reform British politics, and British morality. It’s much easier to smear benevolent aims with simple lies than to expose simple lies with benevolent aims, because the latter requires understanding of how the human mind is influenced, whereas the former just uses that knowledge to one’s own advantage. Push past the misinformation, the media spin and the panic-inducing austerity rhetoric. Use your vote to voice your true opinion. A tactical vote legitimises the way the major parties are running the country, and distances political change. Every 5 years, every single adult in the country has a voice. I hate to be cliché, but shout.