Leicester Secular Society


Secularism & Politics

by G. P. Jelliss

The Nature of Politics

As indicated in the discussion under ethics, politics comes into action when our knowledge is inadequate for definite agreement about the right decisions to be made. Where there is consensus about what is to be done, and how it should be done, there is no politics.

It is government, or administration, not politics, that is 'the art of the possible', that is about knowing how to get things done through the political system, or where to find the 'levers of power'.

There is something essentially irrational about politics. It requires the willingness to take a stance on a particular view being the right one, without adequate evidence. In this respect it has similarities with religion.

Since secularism is about living life according to rational principles it is understandable that secularists may shy away from politics, and involve themselves in administration. Secularists can therefore be found with a whole range of political views.

A quote from Ken Macleod

[Ken Macleod is a Science Fiction writer whose books, the earlier ones particularly, explore political ideas. (GPJ)]

Politics is one of the practical arts, of coalition and compromise, conflict and coercion, and it requires a different frame of mind and set of priorities to that of most SF readers and writers. Their our characteristic ways of thinking are economic, technical, and scientific.

If you want to learn about politics read Machiavelli and Gramsci, read Marx and Macaulay, read Burke and Paine, read biographies of Lincoln and Lenin. Don't read SF! The economist Adam Smith showed the advantages of the division of labour, and one of them is that we can each thank God there are people who want to be politicians, because that way it doesn't have to be me.

Despite that, much SF is political. It's political in the sense that it dramatises political philosophy, by thought experiments which take ideologies and help us imagine how they would feel if implemented in reality. Many books and pamphlets were written against the totalitarian socialist state, but it took George Orwell's 1984 to make millions of people imagine just how horrible it would be to actually live in.

Some Sources of Information

In order to make rational decisions on political subjects it is necessary to obtain the correct information. This can be difficult. Some of these sources of information may help (or not!).

History of 'academies' back to CTCs
Euston manifesto
Christians in politics
All about MPs
Amnesty International
Butterflies and Wheels
Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
Corporate Watch
Human Rights Watch
International Committee of the Red Cross
International Humanitarian Law - The Geneva Conventions
Index on Censorship
Israel compared with other countries
Ryder on animal rights
Independent working class association
Blue-eyes/Brown-eyes - Jane Elliott - on racism
Jack Straw unveils his views
Lyons Inquiry into Local Government
Media Watch Watch
World structure map
Network for Peace UK
No Sweat - against sweat-shops
No to Academies
One World
Open Democracy
Peace and Progress Org.
Public apointments, e.g. school governors
Climate Science
Scottish Executive
Scientists for Global Responsibility
Space for Peace - against Nukes in Space
State Watch
SUSTRANS - sustainable transport policy
How Britain is Run: Liberal debate
UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs
Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Some Political Issues

To make the above view clearer, it would be helpful to consider some of the current political issues. Unfortunately I've not yet got very far with this, so you will have to work it out for yourself for now! This is a beginning:

Energy: should we return to building more nuclear power stations or concentrate on developing wind power, solar power and other such systems? The main arguments against nuclear are the long-term waste problem and dangers of terrorist action, while wind turbines cover large areas of countryside with concrete and are far less efficient (or so it is claimed).

Education: there is very little agreement about the best methods of education and its organisation.

Transport: what is the right balance to be found between the proliferation of private cars and the associated road-building, and the provision of mass transport systems like buses and trains and planes. Transport policies also impinge on energy and environmental issues.

Wealth: how is the economic strength of a country generated, and how should it be fairly distributed throughout the Society, should market forces be allowed a free hand or controlled by taxation and other methods.

Health: in maintaining the health of the population how do we balance a finite budget with ever-increasing costs of more sophisticated medical treatments.

... to be continued!