Some thoughts about politics – trying to keep it simple

[I decided to post this after reading The Secret Gardener’s recent post and associated comments re climate change – thanks 🙂 .]

The arguments we are presented with from the right laud the freedom of the individual against the tyranny of government, and see this freedom as best expressed in a capitalist system, seen as a kind of natural result of free choice. Small government is better, they say, because it lets us all get on with our lives without government interference.

(Paradoxically, one of the things that the right don’t like is a government which legislates for tolerance of things like gay marriage – so freedom of the individual has its limits, or rather individuals want to be free to impose their views on other individuals. Weirdly, ‘liberty’ is a positive buzzword, but ‘liberalism’ is the opposite (and then there’s ‘neo-liberal’ – keeping it simple is not easy). Another paradoxical aspect of the most extreme right-wingers, in the US at least, is that ‘survival of the fittest’ seems to be fine as a social/economic system, but not as an account of nature.)

But this position equates freedom of the individual with freedom of money, the engine of capitalism. Small government means big power for big money, individual or corporate. People without much money have little or no freedom to choose how to live their lives, which are hemmed in by the constraints of the ‘free’ market.

So the choice is not freedom or government interference. Rather it is a question of whether we want the power in our society to rest with the moneyed, who have no necessary incentive to respect the needs and wants of the citizenry, or with a body of people we have chosen to do that very thing. Fear of ‘big government’ is fear of democracy. And the people who have most to fear from democracy are those in the minority who are big winners in the ‘free’ market.

Of course, the real failure of democracy is not when it ‘forces’ (or rather enables) us all to be tolerant of each other’s differences or to protect the environment, or supports us when we need healthcare and cannot pay for it. It fails when it is taken over by the powers it should be balanced against – when government acts to support those who already have the power (money) to protect their own interests at the expense of the rest.


Copyright ©2014 F. Watts

Evocation – a draft of memory

Springsteen sings of The Wall

In memory of a country’s losses

And of his young heroes

But for me an image returns

Of my father, walking there

Half a lifetime ago,

Beside the mirroring stone

With its fringe of offerings,


What was he thinking?

A foreigner who had seen a different war.

I was too much a (twenty-something) child to ask.

Last offspring of aging parents,

How much I failed to ask,

Failed to imagine soon enough

That they were more than that,

More than the walls and windows of my home.

(It is so long ago

I did not know there were still tears to shed.)

A dialectic for would-be artists

So you want to be an artist – i.e. to spend as much time as possible making stuff, learning how to do it better, making more stuff, … But how to live in the meantime?

Catch 22 #1: you can’t make a living as an artist until you are skilled at it, but it’s hard to get skilled at it while making a living any other way.

Catch22 #2: much of what makes the work worth doing is doing it for its own sake, but if you can make a living at it you’re now doing it for the money instead … and if you deliberately aim at saleable work it will probably lose what intrinsic value it had, if any, because you will have subordinated your own vision to that of an imagined, and necessarily generic, ‘market’.

Catch 22 #3: marketing is not the skill you have or want to develop but it seems to be at least as necessary for the ‘making a living’ thing, and even if you have it, doing it steals time/energy from making stuff.

(That’s what galleries and agents are for, isn’t it? – But you can’t get them to sell your stuff without selling yourself to them…)

Catch 22 #4: artists and would-be artists often lean to the left and identify with the unempowered, but to earn a living from your art you need buyers, and art buyers must have money to spare for unnecessary things like art.

Catch 22 #5: you secretly believe that the best thing about art is doing it, not having it, so how can you justify selling things? Clearly you should be helping other people be artists, making a living teaching or working in the community… But then you are back to Catch 22 #1.

[And yes I am in the middle of open studio weeks 😀 ]


Sweet Tooth and rememberings

I have just finished reading Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan (borrowed from my daughter’s well-selected bookshelves). For this child of the sixties and seventies, it brought back dim memories of the three-day week, of candle-lit evenings by the Rayburn (it would be harder to cope with all those power cuts now), of the parents’ hatred of Ted Heath (though in later years he was somewhat forgiven in light of his opposition to Thatcher). It seems a very long time ago – the pits were still open and belonged to the nation; the trees we played among were grimy with coal smoke and the yellow sandstone and red brick of the house I grew up in were black. We lived then under the shadow of the Cold War, as we now live under that of climate change. Do you think MI5, MI6 and the CIA are secretly working to save us from global warming, or are they still mired in the conflicts of ideology and power?

(Thanks to the BBC for this image.)