Making your mind up…

Posted: 14 October 2011 in life, don't talk to me about life

Yes, I know… grammatically, it should be “making up your mind”, but sometimes, it just reads better when it’s ungrammatical. Besides, Bucks Fizz would never have been able to win the Eurovision Song Contest with a song entitled Making Up Your Mind. To be fair, I’m not sure how they managed it with Making Your Mind Up, but that’s a discussion for another time, far far into the future.

Or maybe not, because what’s on my mind is precisely that, discussion and debate. And more particularly, when to speak up and when to keep shtum.

Now, I’m more than aware of several old saws on the matter, some of which let’s deal with right now and get out of the way.

All that is required for evil to triumph is that good men stay silent. – Thing is, many of the political debates of the moment are not good vs evil. As Matthew Parris said some years ago in his fantastic column on why most classic “reasons for voting” are nonsense; most often, it’s a choice between different ideas for the betterment of society. He went on to say, “I know few men or women in politics whom I would call evil and it is silly to characterise our democratic process in these terms.”

And I agree with him. I might think many of the current government’s policies are flat wrong, or even economically illiterate, but I don’t think many of the men or women propounding those policies are evil, nor many of the policies themselves.

Further, it heads into the next one:

If you don’t speak up against [xxxxxx], that effectively means that you support [xxxxxx] – I cannot tell you how angry this makes me whenever I see it. Some years ago, an Internet meme, for want of a better and more accurate word, did the rounds. It went something like this:

If you’re against homophobic behaviour and legislation, repost this in your own blog. If you’re ok with homophobic behaviour and legislation, that’s ok, no need to repost.

A fair few otherwise intelligent people posted it and reposted it, ignoring the dangerous implication and precedent they were setting. Some people did realise, and quite deliberately posted it, accusing those who did not repost as being homophobic, or at least hav ing no sympathy with their cause.

I wondered then, as I do now, had I changed the wording so that it read

If you’re against anti-semitic behaviour and legislation, repost this in your own blog. If you’re ok with anti-semitic behaviour and legislation, that’s ok, no need to repost.

and then thought of those who didn’t repost, “well, obviously, they’re anti-semitic”, whether the reaction would have been greeted by them in the same way.

Utter bullshit – silence cannot, and never should, be taken as consent.

And, finally, the one with which I have most sympathy:

Better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you’re an idiot, than open it and leave them in no doubt. – better still, I’d have thought, to educate yourself and have an educated opinion. But if you know you don’t know enough about a situation, why make a fool of yourself (and possibly damage the cause you support) by speaking up, and having your argument trashed by someone who knows more about the situation or subject than you?

There are many things worthy of debate in the news at the moment; rarely do I honestly feel qualified (by knowing enough) to beneficially contribute to the discussion. And anyone who takes what’s fed to them by their news source of choice at face value, assuming there’s no important additional information they should know, without questioning it is – bluntly – a fool.

And I’ve been a fool too often to willingly wish to do it again.

So, I’m loathe to comment on every news story or major thing people are talking about, or even evergreen topics like breastfeeding, simply because often I don’t know enough about them, and to learn enough abou the subject to comment knowledgeably would, frankly, take too long.

Items covered by this include the evictions at Dale Farm, local council bin collections, free schools and, also, the NHS debate. (Although I’m genuinely astonished that anyone was even mildly surprised the House of Lords nodded through the government’s bill).

To speak up or to stay shtum; it’s not as easy a decision to make as some might think.

However, watching the news coverage of recent weeks, it has occurred to me that part ofnthe problem is that the ‘estates’ of the country, the executive, the legislature and – arguably – the press seem to be failing somewhat. (I exclude the judiciary, simply because I’ve long believed that the judiciary, while they have to follow ‘sentencing guidelines’, do not have the right to regard themselves as independent of parliament and the executive.)

I don’t mean they’re failing the country, although it’s certainly arguable that they are, but that they’re failing themselves.

I’m not about to argue that there was a golden age – I’m ancient enough to remember that politicians have always (at least for the past 35 years) been accused of only being in politics for what they can get out of it, or being incompetent, or venal, or being liars. But it seems that they’re now incompetent of doing what even they would say they’re there to actually do.

Roughly thirty years ago, Lord Carrington, and his ministerial team, resigned from the Foreign Office over a matter that they themselves were not at fault. Their department was – of that there’s little doubt- but they weren’t personally at fault. They were, however, responsible as ministers for the failing of their department.

That was – I believe – the last time a minister resigned under the convention of individual ministerial responsibility. And yet, there have been departmental failings since then, surely? Dr Liam Fox, when questioned as to what he was going to do over a potential personal scandal, said he was going to do the job he’s paid for. Then bloody do it – represent your department and behave like a minister. and if you can’t, or your department fucks up, resign.

With the exception of David Cameron who does act like a Prime Minister most of the time, the current front bench do not – at least it seems to me – act like ministers. They behave like school prefects. That’s not their bloody job. Their job is not to ‘rule over us’, but to act for the betterment of society, as Parris put it.

The opposition isn’t much better – they’re not holding the government to account, and Ed Miliband’s latest wheeze, of promoting MPs who have been in parliament for less than 18 months to shadow Secretaries of State is, inevitably going to end in tears. Unless you’ve got an incompetent minister, a genuine no-hoper, it’s incredibly unlikely that a newbie can take a front bench minister to the cleaners… but that’s the job, and I suspect the opposition is going to fail at it, and fail badly.

Sure, there will be the occasional success, much as the occasional successful investigative journalism In the media. But neither can be taken (on recent evidence) as typical of the success rate in doing their jobs.

(Of course, newspaper publishers would argue – with some justification – that selling newspapers is their job. But you know what, they’re failing at that as well, bar the occasional success or royal wedding.)

So, if they’re failing, does that mean the public, that vast body of knowledge and expertise, should speak up more? Yeah, it does, even more than they’re already doing – I just wish (in vain, I know) that there was more light than heat in current debate and discussion.

Not everyone who agrees with you is completely right. Not everyone who disagrees with you is completely wrong.

As I said above, to speak up or to stay shtum is not as easy a decision to make as some might think.

So speak or, or stay shtum, it’s your choice – but don’t you dare criticise others who choose differently.

  1. Jenni says:

    Excellent post, really thought provoking.

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