The invidious, insidious Controllers

Yes to AVRecently I went to a public meeting in support of the “YES to AV” campaign. For those of you who have no idea what this is, a brief summary: there is shortly to be a referendum in the UK to decide whether to end the “First past the post” voting system and replace it with “Alternative Vote” see here:

The vote isn’t mainstream WSFF stuff, but it is hoped that a change to AV might make our parliamentary representatives more accountable, harder working and more willing to work together with people who have different views to the party line.

This was one of many rallies, and probably the smallest, comprising of around thirty activists of all ages, across all political persuasions (except for the very far-right). Typical British apathy meant that most people we could see were going shopping, rather than thinking about the future political landscape. There was some tension in the group, and I was asked if I was a “kosher Yes voter”. I bit my tongue on my first answer, which was to reply: “Not kosher, actually, but definitely Bona Fide”, and simply nodded. But I was puzzled – did they think I was an undercover spy? Later, standing arm-in arm with the purple-shirted man next to me, we looked into the camera and smiled. “Good thing my wife isn’t here.” he said “Perhaps she’ll see the photograph” I suggested. “If it’s printed.” He said bitterly. “The media are against us.” Which was when I realized that the man taking pictures was not a journalist, but a local politician. And that was odd. There may only have been a few of us but this was still a major event for a small market town. Where were the press? A few questions led to the opinion that the local paper was owned by a prominent NO2AV supporter, and therefore the rally wouldn’t get a mention at all. Far from it – the Media, they said, was gently pushing people towards a No vote. I gently suggested that, by clubbing together, the protestors could raise enough money to publish something themselves, but enthusiasm had stalled at the prospect of opening wallets.

Which, in a roundabout way, does bring us to a primary WSFF concern – invidious and insidious Control vs Free Will.

Media partisanship and spin is nothing new of course, and if you ask anyone in the UK if they believe what they read in the papers, most would answer “No”, with a knowing, wry smile. Unfortunately, they are deceived. Although they may know rationally that what they hear, see and read is subjective, unconsciously the brain accepts most of the information it receives without question. And if that is so for overt messages, how much more so must it be for the subliminal?

Free Will and Self-Determination

Are you as free as a bird? Well, that depends. Are you ruled almost entirely by instinct? Or do you have a mind of your own? What, or who, tells you what to do?

One of the ways in which we differ from most animals is in our ability to rationalize – to over-ride instinct and training, to act objectively. To be individual. But most of us do not live as individuals. It is a hard choice to live entirely on your own. So we make a pact with Society and follow its rules rather than our own desires, in order to be part of a couple, a community, a nation. Our egos are subordinated to the common will of the group. If we don’t like it, and the community is small, we can try and change it or leave. In big communities, where most of us live, both changing from within and leaving for somewhere else have become rather difficult. It is easier to do nothing; to grumble but go along the path everyone else is taking – to where we are being herded. And if we are become sheep, who are the shepherds, and how do they control their flocks?

Maslow's Hierarchy of NeedsYou may be familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (see:'s_hierarchy_of_needs), which shows how a human’s needs can change and grow, from the basics (food, air etc;) to the highest (morality, lack of prejudice, creativity). One thing Maslow doesn’t cover is the state of “I’m ok, thank you very much” – the point at which a human, having got enough to be comfortable, stops looking any higher. Despite our natural acquisitiveness and desire to succeed, I believe that the vast majority of people are, like my Jack Russell, difficult to shift once comfortable. It follows, therefore, that if you can feed peoples’ comfort needs, they will be happy to accept the Status Quo. Our human sheep, once shown a nice green field with a warm shed to retreat into at night, don’t particularly care about the electric fence that stops them looking for pastures new. And if trouble strikes, in the form of a wolf or a lack of water, there’s always the fear that things could be (and probably will be) worse the other side of the fence. Our sheep might even demand the presence of more shepherds to watch over their every move, just in case, which is where the analogy breaks down a bit – a real shepherd isn’t going to get a posse together to protect his sheep unless there is a real threat; our governments have no such inhibitions.

Effecting Change

How, then, do you set about changing the Society in which you live? Particularly if the vast majority of your fellow citizens are occasionally grumbly, but mostly satisfied with their lot? Ranged against you are the Powers That Be of the Status Quo – government, business, schools, Police.

Change can sometimes be very quick following collapse of the “comfort blanket”, due to natural disaster, war, disease. Occasionally, rapid change comes as the result of an incident which fires the public conscience, such as the avoidable death of a child, or the mal-treatment of an animal, when anger overcomes apathy and fear to demand changes to Society.

More often, though, change is gradual, incremental, spread by word of mouth, by example; even by big business if they see a product need, or by the Media, if they smell a money-making or popular stance. Once the balance has tipped far enough even your electoral representative may begin to take note.

The way to effect change from within is many-fold, to quote Thoreau:

  • To do, rather than do nothing, for the bystander is as guilty as the perpetrator
  • Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine
  • Let every man make known what kind of government would command his respect and that will be one step towards obtaining it
  • It matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is well done is done forever
  • A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority…but it is irresistible when it clogs by its own weight

And I can’t resist adding this by Charles Wesley “Do as you would be done by”.

Don’t let people down by not telling them what’s really going on. After all, you would expect no less. Do, rather than do nothing. And maybe, just maybe, enough people will get fed up with being herded to make a difference.

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