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Politics Has Never Worked

  • Philosophy

Since the 1500s the printing and typesetting industry has used a set of standard dummy text to mock-up page layouts and demonstrate fonts. Lorem ipsum, as it is known, is not actually random text, but a scrambled version of several sections from a treatise on the theory of ethics written by Cicero in 45 BC.

In “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum” Cicero says that No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it?

As living organisms, we obviously (except in very rare circumstances) seek to preserve our own existence; but as Cicero wrote over 2000 years ago, given the choice between pain or pleasure, the vast majority of people will choose pleasure. For all but the simplest of organisms, mere survival is not enough. If we are given the option of living a life full of happiness and contentment, or strife and suffering we will invariably choose the former. To be successful, any society must work to secure us pleasure, while also shielding us from pain. This is not to promote mindless hedonism, but who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?

Our current society could be argued to be perfectly placed to meet these aims. After all, capitalism’s greatest promise is to secure a life of leisure and luxury for all a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage; one where we can enjoy all that consumerism has to offer.

This may have seemed true in the 1960s, but the events of recent decades have started to show that all is not well in paradise. It is rapidly becoming apparent that the more we consume, the greater an impact it is having on our environment. To deliver on its promises capitalism requires continuous growth and that is simply not sustainable.

Furthermore, as our population continues to increase it is becoming ever more difficult to make our voices heard above the roar of the multitude. Our needs and wants can simply not be met when the policies that govern our lives by necessity must treat individuals as generic abstractions that bear no resemblance to actual human beings.

Recognising this, many are beginning to say that ‘politics isn’t working’ and are calling for reforms of the democratic system. This statement, however, suggests that once upon a time politics did work, but is this actually the case? Can any system where the many are governed by the few hope to meet the needs of every individual?

While I was studying at college I began working on a short pamphlet to hopefully highlight to my colleagues that just because society is organised in a particular way at the moment, does not mean that it is the best way for it to continue to be organised in the future. While I never came anywhere near to completing it before I finished my studies, I have been working on it on and off ever since and am now pushing it up to the web in the hope that it may be of use to someone. I do firmly believe that if we want to survive the next century or so, we are going to have to radically rethink the way in which we make our decisions and relate to one another.

To download my ‘Enquiry Concerning Social Organisation’ please use the links here for pdf and epub versions of the book. Any feedback you have would be most welcome and can be given via the contact page.

This is intended to be a brief introduction on my own views, and I am in the early stages of writing a more in-depth sequel which will also be published on this website when it is completed.