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On power and equality

March 10, 2012

I’ve had a couple of really interesting discussions over the last couple of days, and I wanted to get some initial thoughts down in writing before they fly out of my head.

Firstly, I had an interesting discussion with an older Quaker about the effect of internet connections on perceptions of equality among those who have never been adults in a world in without the internet. His theory was that this has a profound effect on the assumption of and desire for equality. That if you know and relate to people online, then distinctions of social class, style of dress, gender, bought infuence and so many other things cease to matter. 

The second was a discussion this evening at dinner with some fellow left wingers in Sheffield, on the current preoccupation with process over position. One of the other guests made the point that there is a lot of focus at the moment on the way decisions are made, and that this seems almost more important than the decisions made through that process.

So I got to thinking. And had a thought. It might be a good one. 

I want to record this thought, but would like to stress I’ve no idea yet if it’s any good. šŸ™‚

I think that the zeitgeist is obsessed with process because of a desire for equality. The current consensus of those in power is in many cases incomprehensible. For the social circles, online and off, that I move in, many of the views and actions that are followed seem incoherent. But no matter how hard people try to challenge those views and actions, nothing seems to change. 

And so people try to change what they can. Since changing majority opinion seems impossible, we try to change the way that decisions are made in the groups we are a part of. We try to come up with a perfect, more equal system. We try to convince ourselves that if we come up with a perfect system, everyone will suddenly see that this is the way to do it, and everything will change. 

We are a generation obsessed with power, because we have so little. 

I am lucky. I choose not to go to university, so I have no student debt. I was eventually lucky in the job market, so currently have a job I enjoy that pays me a living wage. Many of my university-educated friends are not so lucky, and scores of them are temping or on JSA, desperately trying to avoid sickness or sanctions and stay off the streets. 

So many of us have so little to lose, and so little to bargain with. So why not run thought experiments where you try to change the world and come up with a perfect system? It’s just as likely as getting a well-paid job that you enjoy and achieving personal stability.

Sub-thought: If this is how disenfranchised white middle class university educated young people in Sheffield are, is it any surprise that there were riots last summer?

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One Comment
  1. Anonymous permalink

    The problem with this is that we aren’t reaching the parts other systems have already reached.
    On a personal level, the actions of those of us engaged in activism is pretty satisfying; but unless we’re reaching out, it’s also pretty self-indulgent. A comfort blanket.
    If we’re really serious about changing things, we need to step out of our comfort zones in order to challenge the orthodoxy that has convinced huge swathes of the population. That means talking to strangers.
    We must be prepared for a nasty reception, even from people who would benefit most from our alternatives. Patience may or may not be in order – I’m never sure if it helps, or whether we ought to show some passion. But respect at all times, even in the face of verbal abuse.
    Your final point is very powerful; even relatively privileged people feel powerless, how much worse must it be for those who have been passed over by the system?

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