I’ve been trying to put my finger on just exactly why I don’t agree with Stephen Helfer (and a whole bunch of other people, up to and including the illustrious Audrey Silk).
And the nearest I’ve managed to get to it is something like this:
I used to believe I was living in a (parliamentary) democracy here in the UK. I stopped believing that on 1 July 2007 – the start of the UK smoking ban -, when someone came up to me outside the River pub and said, “It’s not a free country any more.” He was right, and 10 years later I still think he’s as right today as he was back then.
I think that, here in the UK (and in the EU) we’re now living in a sort of Soviet Union. All the power has gone upstairs to the Politburo at the top. We’re living under a tyranny in which ordinary people have no voice. All the decisions are being taken at the top by “experts” of one sort or other, for our own good. The smoking ban is the prime example of this. Smoking bans, which are nearly always imposed top down, are the principal symptom of loss of democratic (bottom up) control, in much the same way as buboes are the principal symptom of bubonic plague.
The important point in this is that I have no voice. I have no influence whatsoever in government, or in the Politburo, or in the media, or anywhere else. Yes, I can still vote, and my vote will be counted. Yes, I can write letters to my MP, and to anyone else I care to. But, once I’ve had my say, I’ll just be ignored. For the people who govern us now don’t see themselves as being “public servants”: they see themselves as our masters. And furthermore they actually are our masters.
The response of Stephen Helfer and Audrey Silk and others like them to this circumstance (it’s pretty much the same in the USA as it is in the UK) has been to try to regain lost influence, by mounting campaigns, distributing leaflets, lobbying politicians, getting themselves on TV, and so on. They want to get heard in the corridors of power, 100 floors above them. They want to kick up a fuss.
But my response has been different. I’m not trying to get politicians or pundits to hear me. I’m not trying to get myself on TV. Because I know that none of them have any interest in what I have to say. They don’t want to know. I’m one of the “little people” who don’t count. So why even bother trying. I have no voice, and that is where I must begin: voiceless.
But we voiceless people, who don’t count, can talk to each other. We can build up links and ties between ourselves. We can exchange information and news. We can create a separate community of the voiceless and the powerless.
In this respect we can be much like the Polish Solidarity movement in the shipyards of Gdansk, Poland, back in the 1980s. Or the samizdat writers in the Soviet Union – like Alexander Solzhenitsyn -, laboriously writing and copying books for each other’s consumption. Or Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia. Nobody in government would listen to them, but they listened to each other.
For if we are now living in some sort of new Soviet Union, we should respond in the same way as dissidents in the Soviet Union responded. They didn’t make placards and demonstrate in Red Square against the Communist tyrants in the Politburo. Or if they did, they just got arrested, and shipped off to the gulags. No, they busied themselves writing and talking to each other. And in this manner, they gradually became influential. Vaclav Havel eventually became President of Czechoslovakia, and Lech Walesa became President of Poland.
If we are to learn lessons from anybody, it should be from the likes of Solzhenitsyn and Havel and Walesa, rather than from US radicals like Saul Alinsky and the like.
The powerless must recognise their powerlessness, and act in accordance with it, and not seek to immediately re-empower themselves. If the river has been dammed, and prevented from flowing in one direction, then it must just flow in some other direction.
As an aside, I can’t help but think that the situation of the Democrat Left in the USA is that they also have been dis-empowered. They’ve been Trumped. They have become powerless and voiceless. And that’s why they’re so angry, and want to impeach or assassinate Donald Trump. And have even formed “a resistance”. They’re just like us smokers, who used to be somebodies, but have all become nobodies, and want to be somebodies again. They’re almost beside themselves with rage and disbelief. But if they could accept what has happened to them, and recognise their objective situation, they may begin to be able to see what they can do, rather than rail against what they can’t do.
That is to say: If they are going to become somebodies again one day, they’re going to have to first learn to be nobodies.