How can we affect or stimulate positive change?

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Hearts and minds are a very challenging thing to influence! It is clear that, certainly in the West, we are dealing with decades of indoctrination that have resulted in a larger number of people believing in the ethos of the individual rather than the community. Of self interest rather than communal interest.

Ordinary people face an incredible challenge if they are to change the direction of travel. Our institutions, even in so called democratic countries, are often difficult to participate in without serious personal compromise, our political parties are more of a straight jacket than a platform for informed discussion and learning. Our electoral systems are heavily weighted toward those who already have power. The personal sacrifice involved in spear heading a particular single issue initiative is more often than not enough to dishearten even the most vehement campaigner. Those with resources, financial or in terms of existing networks, have a massive advantage.

The issues facing societies seem to growing by the year.

During my early years it was the threat of nuclear annihilation that preoccupied the thinking mind, now the stakes have got much higher with the threat of global climate change, depreciation and environmental corruption and pollution. Link that with a global population growth that is clearly unsustainable and it is clear that without radical and effective change and leadership, mass migration, shortage of fuel, food and water, we are going to see an escalation in war, increasing instability and a very great deal of suffering as a result.

History has shown that stress within societies often leads to fracturing, people resorting to fundamentalist religion and politics and the imagined threat from those who are different.

Frankly, I am mostly pessimistic. It seems to me that in many ways knowledge and understanding can either be debilitating (the challenge is so huge) or energising (doing what we can). I fluctuate if I'm honest. My involvement with local democracy in our local Community Council is very dispiriting, most of the time is spent in placating the imposed bureaucracy rather than getting anything done. Part of me is deeply sympathetic with those who feel we are suffocating under a controlling and constraining system that thinks that rules, regulations and tick boxes address the problems of society, not so much the woke brigade as the regulation regime!

There is the occasional encouragement though. I have been encouraged recently by a person leaving positive feedback on a conversation on Facebook regarding free will and how we deal with people who behave in ways incompatible with societal values. However I think the audience for rational debate leading to changing behaviours is very limited, especially in open public forums where received wisdom from tradition, populism or what feels good is often overwhelming..

I think most people try to be nice, but are very vulnerable to passivity, especially when action requires any personal sacrifice or risk. I too see this in myself.

So what to do? I feel like we're deflecting snowflakes in the face of an avalanche.

I hope that in the comments we can discuss this and find ways of being less overwhelmed and more encouraged.


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  • Hi Mark.

    Maybe I'm naive but I am not certain that in Europe most people would say they believe in the primacy of the individual rather than the community. At least they pay lip service to believing in the community, while in practice trying to find a balance between looking out for themselves while having some level of community awareness (even if that only means believing that looking after others is a good thing while not actually doing anything about it). I admit that is pretty much my own position. In America, individualism is something that they are less ashamed of. 

    But I realise that is not the main point of what you have written. It is great that you have at least tried to get involved and make a difference. But getting involved in politics has never been good for people's ideals. Many people involved in local and national politics remain good people but are stymied by the bureaucracy and the practicalities. Keir Starmer has compromised just about everything he believes in to try to get his party elected. Tony Blair did the same: but at that time the political climate was such that he succeeded; now I fear that you need to appear right-wing to get elected. 

    I really can't help with an answer to that. Here in London, we are faced with two groups of activists, one left-wing and one right-wing (or at least, good causes hijacked by those political wings). One is Just Stop Oil. No doubt their concerns are valid and they are sincere people, and are certainly do-ers rather than talkers. But in blocking roads and stopping ambulances getting through, they have only managed to piss off most of the population, and given the government an excuse to clamp down on demonstrations. Perhaps they should target the governement more directly rather than ordinary people, maybe glueing themselves to Downing Street.  And can we "just stop oil" at present? We need the stuff to make wind turbines, and need coal to make steel for them. And are Zero Emissions really possible, or would it break the Second Law of Thermodyamics? Mankind has been polluting the atmosphere ever since Prometheus gave us fire, and our civilisation would never have developed without it. So my point here is the difficulty of not only persuading people to change, but having a viable alternative to change to. 

    The other, largely opposing, group of activists are the anti-ULEZ protestors. For non-Londoners, the Ultra-Low Emissions Zone, which today (28th October) was widened from inner London to the whole of London, will force owners of non-compliant vehicles to pay to drive in London (this means petrol vehicles made before about 2004 and diesels made before about 2016 - the cut-off is the engine emissions rather than the precise date). This has been implemented by London (Labour) Mayor Sadiq Khan and is touted as being about clean air rather than climate change. On balance, I have tended to oppose the extension of ULEZ, because the science of how much cleaner the air would be in outer London is dubious; and because people with older vehicles are least able to afford newer ones (the scrappage scheme isn't enough to help), and because the scheme is chasing diminishing returns - the air in London has been getting cleaner ever since pollution peaked in 1888, so Khan isn't the first politician to think of it. Also I object to the government telling me what to do, and monitoring my life with even more cameras. I also admit that I have a Classic Car, but fortunately it is over 40 years old and so is exempt from ULEZ as well as road tax. But there is now absolute hysteria about the whole business on social media, especially the local "Next Door" app. The degree of Middle-Class outrage is unbelievable. A lot of the criticism accuses the Mayor of money-grabbing - though he has clearly said that he would rather people did not drive polluting cars rather than pay the charge. I can't believe that all of these people on social media have older cars so it must be partly a feeling of being pushed too far by the government, rather like the resentment that led to Brexit. There are now people vandalising the ULEZ cameras, with support from a lot of the social media. We had a flyer from the Anti-ULEZ activists through our door, which was thinly-disguised pulblicity for the Conservative candidate for the next Mayoral elections. So I am beginning to think that if I got involved with the anti-ULEZ movement, I would be keeping company with people whose opinions on all subjects would make Nigel Farage say "Hold on a moment....!". 

    So it would seem to be easy to motivate people to action - providing you tap into their personal losses and fears, not try to make them care about child labourers in some country that they have never heard of. 


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