Saturday, 28 March 2015

The Long and Short of It

On Tuesday, after watching the BBC's World News Today (exploring the day's events from a global perspective), I felt duped: the entire programme was devoted to the disastrous plane crash in the French Alps. Yes, it is tragic that all those people died, but how significant is it in the context of world news? Should there not have been mention of some other events like, for example, the deadly schism between Sunni and Shia which claims lives every day? And what about an update on climate change, the single biggest factor affecting the future of us all? I know there are committed journalists who dedicate their lives to investigating such issues, but perhaps it's naive of me to expect TV news editors to risk their ratings by airing 'stale' stories: theirs is a short-term view.

Thankfully, we no longer have to rely on organised media to tell us what's happening - the internet opens other channels of information. Still, the old saying "we are more likely to be concerned by a prick in our little finger than we are about the suffering of others" rings true. For all our knowledge of the world's conflicts and disasters we have difficulty in empathising, in seeing the big picture, the wider context, the link between cause and effect. Nor are we enlightened by our political system which, geared as it is to short-term ambition, encourages us to think selfishly.

Now that the government is coming up for re-election, news media are filling up with squabbling politicians hurling recriminations and seeking to score points. Any hope of hearing a serious debate on principles soon gets submerged in a tidal wave of arguments about minor changes to already over-complicated tax regimes; the validity, or otherwise, of statistics plucked from reports; and claims concerning who said what, when and where. Issues are torn from their context and presented specifically to target sectors of the electorate.

Take immigration, for example: controls are proposed so that those who feel overwhelmed by it will vote accordingly. But why is the population at large so uneducated in its history? Britain is and always has been a nation of immigrants. As for the preservation of British values, would those be the greed, rapaciousness and warmongering which helped us acquire an empire? Should we also include cheating, fraud and avarice, key factors in the financial collapse of 2008?

In order for voters to come to a decision they have two choices: the first, and easier of the two, is to calculate personal gain and vote accordingly; the second, and more challenging, is to take a view that social institutions such as education, health and welfare are crucial to nurturing the myriad individual talents upon which society thrives. A vote for self-interest may be tempting but its results are short-term gain for certain sections of society. The less selfish option promises the chance to lift the millions who are excluded so that they might become net contributors to society and help to produce more widespread long-term gain.

What we need from our political parties is forward-looking plans based on lessons learned from history, research and science. What we get instead is last-minute re-active legislation. TV debates between politicians standing for election could be interesting if they were structured around a motion such as "Should Britain's industrial assets and infrastructure be sold abroad, given that profits, tax-takes and expertise will go with them?"  - but it's probably too late for that particular debate. Perhaps we could try "Should we abandon our Trident independent nuclear deterrent in favour of a strengthened NATO and spend the money saved on education, infrastructure and the NHS?"  That's something plenty of us would vote for - courtesy of those whose long and selfless battles finally won us enfranchisement.

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