Friday, September 04, 2015

Limitations of Pillory

past tense: pilloried; past participle: pilloried

put (someone) in a pillory.
attack or ridicule publicly.
"he found himself pilloried by members of his own party"
synonyms: attack, criticize, censure, condemn, denigrate, find fault with, give a bad press to, lambaste, flay, savage, brand, stigmatize, cast a slur on, denounce; 

Bold political leadership has been in more or less persistent decline for some time now. Be this primarily a result of a seemingly more benign period in history (World War in general setting the bar extremely high for subsequent politicians), the advent of technology that enables the rapid measurement of public opinion, or the slavery of modern parties in democracies to use these technologies and associated methods to maintain power irrespective of whether prevailing opinion sits atop dubious (or erroneous) understanding, is unclear to me. Whatever the cause(s), it is increasingly rare for an elected leader to lead, undertaking unpopular policy, however "right", necessary or correct whether morally, economically, or both, such action might be, for fear of being pilloried, with attendant electoral consequence.

The lack of boldness can be viewed as a virtue, for it can cut both ways, leading to ignominious moments in history such as the cultural revolution, the second US invasion of Iraq, collectivization of Soviet agriculture, the Khmer Rouge genocide, and the privatization of Britain's Trains, (and other public utilities) without meaningful oversight.

Former President Carter, despite being pilloried, ceded the canal to Panama, undermined support for nasty, corrupt regimes around the world, danced on the Israeli's (and Egyptian's) head until they made peace (which uniquely has prevailed). It was hard, but he was inspired by personal belief and resolve. Pres. Obama, despite many disappointments, for all the hatred and invective, has succeeded in his fight for universal healthcare (still far from optimal), engaging Cuba (after fifty fricking years!!!!), amnesty for (mostly LatAm) immigrants - all deeply unpopular, but almost certainly on the right side of "right" in the time-line of history. Leaders are routinely shamed by bolts of Nordic or northern European humanitarianism, but it is increasingly rare for Leaders in the large nations or blocs to lead the world in doing the right thing when the occasion requires.

So, it was with great surprise and admiration that I listened to Angela Merkel's one-and-half hour speech, leading her peoples, (and hopefully her reluctant european neighbors) to do the right thing, while shaming critics, ostriches, opponents, and nationalists alike. It certainly is a shame people and nations feel little shame today (outside Japan), yet, at certain moments it remains an effective call to action, engulfing and then, like a contagion, able to overcome people's baser, visceral xenophobic fears and parochial self-interest. But it takes leadership. And an eloquence of common sense and humanity. Thank you Angela Merkel.

That Britain and both her people and government, have remained so stubbornly mean-spirited is shameful. That East-Europeans and the Irish - whose migrants and refugees have been accepted, and integrated in their times of need, have been obstinate is shameful. That America,  Australia, and Canada with their vast space and wealth have done next-to-nothing is shameful. That China and Russia have done nothing is, while shameful, sadly expected given their historical (and present) role as persecutors themselves.    
Few believe accepting and settling refugees is a solution to the root causes of the crisis. But that isn't an excuse to not act humanely and generously in the face of crisis. For it is worth remembering that events can turn things upside down quickly and you never know what side of the fence you may find yourself on. And should the North Atlantic conveyor shut down bringing a return of glaciers to Northern climes, Brits may, ironically, find themselves begging for resettlement in Libya or elsewhere in North Africa or the Middle East.


Mercury said...

"It certainly is a shame people and nations feel little shame today (outside Japan), yet, at certain moments it remains an effective call to action, engulfing and then, like a contagion, able to overcome people's baser, visceral xenophobic fears and parochial self-interest. But it takes leadership. And an eloquence of common sense and humanity. Thank you Angela Merkel."
I doubt (especially after Paris) that Japan is feeling ashamed for not having re-settled their "fair share" MENA emigrants. Merkel is either a dangerous fool or simply evil.

"Cassandra" said...

I completely understand the ancient archetypical tribal fears many people exhibit. They are, after all, human, and the suspicion felt comes from deep within our human past, when life was tenuous, and humans were more or less ignorant of much of our understanding in modernity (read Jared Diamond).
Combine this with a genetic predisposition towards conservativism, and you get UKIP/BNP/FN/True Finn/Tea Party similar most other nationalist movements across the globe, comprising a similar percentage throughout. Coincidence?

Can't wait to see what happens when the north atlantic conveyor stops, and glaciers return to Britain northern europe and Northeast & Central USA. But hey, I'm sure you;re be welcomed humanely, with open arms…. right?

Mercury said...

Some such fears are not merely ancient and tribal but based on quite recent events and currently observable realities within the larger context of (Western in this case) civilization. It’s pretty hard to dismiss Swedes freaking out that the peaceful, socialist and culturally uniform country that they grew up with is suddenly the #2 rape capital in the world behind S. Africa.

Jared Diamond is an engaging writer and his unique observations about (for instance) the role that geography plays in determining the outcomes of various human civilizations no doubt contain some real validity. However, he knows well where the lucrative sweet spot is for pop-science writing and his arguments and evidence are assembled in a top-down manner from pre-determined, PC theses. One problem with this is that when he shifts gears to another such thesis, the new batch of plausible-enough sounding evidence often contradicts a previous thesis.

Here he is in “Collapse” sounding fairly sympatico with my assessment:

“… the Dominican Republic, with its Spanish-speaking population of predominantly European ancestry, was both more receptive and more attractive to European immigrants and investors than was Haiti with its Creole-speaking population composed overwhelmingly of black former slaves.”

“While there are optimists who explain in the abstract why increased population will be good and how the world can accommodate it, I have never met an Angeleno … who personally expressed a desire for increased population in the area where he or she personally lived… California`s population growth is accelerating, due almost entirely to immigration and to the large average family sizes of the immigrants after their arrival.”

“The remaining solution to the tragedy of the commons is for the consumers to recognize their common interests and to design, obey, and enforce prudent harvesting quotas themselves. That is likely to happen only if a whole series of conditions is met: the consumers form a homogenous group; they have learned to trust and communicate with each other; they expect to share a common future and to pass on the resource to their heirs; they are capable of and permitted to organize and police themselves; and the boundaries of the resource and of its pool of consumers are well defined.”


I’ll leave the “But wait, if we’re overdue for another (natural) ice age…isn’t APG global warming a good thing?” argument for another day but in the current context I’ll just point out that traditionally some cultures have a better track record than others thriving in inhospitable conditions.


jbmoore said...

The Brits are already migrating to warmer climes such as Portugal, Spain, etc. At least in the winter. The inhospitable attitude towards refugees and immigrants is due to current foreign and economic policies, or the lack of them. The economic austerity policies do not help. It is difficult to be generous when you are treading in uncertain financial waters post-2008. While I think it is both disgraceful and shameful that we are not doing more to help people displaced by wars we caused in the first place, I can't help but remember that Bernanke et al., including Obama, threw the poor, the elderly, and the middle class off of the economic Titanic in 2008 in order to save the wealthy and other VIPs. So, why should our "leaders" help anyone else in need? They only seem to care about turning foreigners, American expats, and any innocents who disagree with them into pink mist with Hellfire missiles. (Sorry, I was reading about what the government was doing to the pilots who operated said drones who blew the whistle on the operations.)