Nobody tells me how to think.
That’s important. A core value.
Influence me, by all means. Educate me as much as you can. Push me to see something from a different angle. Lend me your shoes and let me walk a few miles in them.
But don’t try and control me.
And that, in a nutshell, is a big problem I’ve had with organised politics. I wrote a smuggish piece last year about why I was oh-so-special–why I remained above and outside any formal political machinery–because…well, because of what, really? (I didn’t even post it on this blog, such was my trepidation about the subject.)
Maybe it has some parallels with religion. Having an (intermittent) sense of faith is one thing. Becoming a card-carrying, incense-swinging, habit-wearing adherent is quite another. Boundaries spring up. Positions are taken. There’s only so far you can go before those boundaries are hit.
In short, I wasn’t sure there was a church broad enough to fit me in. And I didn’t know how to react if I didn’t like parts of the sermon.
I had some interesting feedback from braver, political friends about that post. Was I really being honest about my reasons? Was I actually evading responsibility? Actively shunning ways in which I might make some difference? Thinking that politics was something that other people got involved in…what sort of stance was that?
And then I took a hard look at some of my own writing and thinking. How I would robustly challenge any cherry-picking of a particular bit of policy that wasn’t seen in its wider context… And I’m the one that’s been banging on about things being interconnected, and needing to be tackled as wholes, not parts.
And I looked around me. I realised that the party system, whether at local or national level, does a job. Not perfectly, of course (and I still don’t fully understand its relevance at local authority level, but that’s another post).
Nevertheless, it’s a huge part of how we make these things called society, and government, work. Whatever imperfections it may have, it’s there, and I wasn’t engaging with it.
So: a choice.
To stay on the sidelines hoping to shape things a little through acerbic blogposts and a few pointed questions in think-tank debates? Well, ok. But is that enough? I’m not sure.
Or, my other option: to give it a go, and pull my wagon up to the campfire.
And I looked a little harder at the current state of our democracy, and the way we’ve allowed politics to depart from the things I hold very dear: rationality, honesty, liberality, inclusion.
And putting all that together, I made my choice.
Some fears, of course: that I’ll lose friends, that I’ll lose respect, that I’ll lose work (I’ve traded on political neutrality to some extent, in my work on public information projects, and in the access that I get as a photographer). My decision may not be without some disadvantages.
And that dodgy sermon thing? What do you do when your friends are dicks? One of the perpetual dilemmas I’ve found in a networked world is the issue of tribalism. When a friend screws up, perhaps even conflicting with another friend, how do you react? How do you maintain your own integrity when the actions of others inevitably challenge it?
I may not accept, or even understand, a party line on everything. That’s a reality. The easy crutch that party membership presents–of having someone else’s opinion available, on a matter I haven’t properly researched for myself–is problematic.
However, I propose to put my energies into the things I really do know a bit about. The relationship between technology and society. What liberty will come to mean in a networked world. Access to democracy. Fairness. And a few more. There’s enough there to chew on without me feeling I have to take on the whole lot all at once.
So, what was my choice of party?
Easy, really. What all my experience and thinking leads to, time and time again, is the importance of the societal consequences of everything we do and permit.
Society? I mean people, really. Real people. Not the privileged, the articulate, the ones that some choose to populate the little fictional worlds they create in their heads.
No, the full, gritty reality of what it’s really like. And there’s only one party that has a hope of doing that, as far as I can see.
So I joined the Labour Party.
It’s not perfect. There are some, but not many, areas on which I find the accepted line challenging. But I propose to bring my energies to respond to that challenge: to debating and understanding from inside the tent. To helping in the areas in which I can, and learning in the areas that I can’t yet.
(By complete coincidence, as I was finishing this post, a friend tweeted me this link. It raised a wry smile.)
So, I’m absolutely thrilled to be heading to my first party conference tomorrow. As a member, not just an observer.
Bring. It. On.