President Bush was right. Not something you’ll often hear me say even in relation to Bush Sr rather than Shrubbery Jr. But when he spoke to the US military in Pearl Harbor in October 1990 he said “What we are looking at here is good and evil, right and wrong”. Now, in retrospect, it seems like the incident he was referring too wasn’t actually true, but it does illustrate the fundamental point of politics.
Politics isn’t just the intricacies of voting systems, constitutional arrangements and foreign policy. Nor is it just law and order and ‘elf n safety. It’s definitely not the brutal partisanship of my team versus your team; shoving our leaflets through your door and pocketing the stack of their leaflets left on the close stair. Not that that happens, obviously.
Politics is ultimately about morality, about who lives and who dies now and in the future. It’s about choices which materially affect the lives of people like the Rowleys in ways which the people legislating for them, like Dan Poulter, are often quite detached from.
That’s not to say that we should be dogmatic about politics – quite the reverse. As Mill argued, dead dogma leads to stagnation, ill considered positions and incorrect thought. Rather politics is so profoundly important, so visceral, so vital that it is only through healthy, open discourse that we can hope to improve the positions we hold.
Similarly ideology is something which shapes how we think and how we interpret the world but it’s not something which should be clung to in the face of empirical evidence. However we frame things there is an objective reality which remains regardless of interpretation, at least that’s ones of the things I take from Popper.
Recently weeks Glasgow’s hosted Aye Write and I’ve been lucky enough to make it to a few events, one of which was Paul “goggles and a cycling mask soaked in Maalox” Mason, Newsnight economics editor / riot correspondent which seem to be increasingly related roles. His current book, “Why it’s kicking off everywhere” is a good overview of the different British, American, Greek, Libyan and Egyptian revolutions that happened last year (and I’d also highly recommend Live Working or Die FightingÂ for people wondering how we got here). I also got to see Gabrielle Walker (“Antartica: An Intimate Portrait“) and Doug Allen talk about their varied experiences at the poles.
For all of Paul Mason’s energy and erudition, I thought it was the latter of those two talks that had the more important political messsage. By burning fossil fuels at a faster rate than they are being produced we’re warming the planet at a faster rate than it’s ever warmed before. The description of glaciers retreating visibly striking distances in short time periods was worrying enough but I was genuinely frightened by the description of what was happening to the relatively understudied, but most vulnerable, parts of the Antarctic ice shelf. If that ice shelf collapses there’s a real risk that, in the space of a short few years, sea levels might rise by a metre or so with utterly catastrophic consequences for the millions of people who live on the coast, let alone the rest of us.
Any answer to this has to be a political one. It’s the only way we can possibly hope to mitigate the most severe consequences of the climate changes that our species have committed ourselves to out of ignorance and prevent those turning from unspeakably awful for some to catastrophic for all. That’s the choice we’re face with. As part of that we need to build a fairer, more equitable, sustainable society however all of that will be for naught if we don’t address the existential crises facing us.
We live in an age where politics is not about class struggle, when it’s not about a clash of ideologies or utopian visions. As the pictured German said, we’re beyond good and evil. It’s about continued existence of our civilisation and possibly our species. The earth has been hot before all the carbon we’re releasing was in the atmosphere for millions of years before plant and animal life absorbed it, died, was buried and locked it up as coal and oil over millions of years. We don’t need to save our planet, we need to save ourselves.