Politics, Philosophy and Mashed Potatoes

On a philosophical point, I have issues with left-right spectrums because they are one-dimensional.  They can be seen to represent either a purely economic scale (state planning v free enterprise) or a measure of individual freedom. Of course the far left and the far right are equally totalitarian, with only Camp Anarchy (not to be mistaken with Camp GTMO) inbetween, as the spectrum bends into a rainbow shape and then a circle.  Moving to two-dimensions with an ‘x’ axis that measures economic intervention (central planning on the left, free market on the right) and a ‘y’ axis that measures personal liberty (totalitarianism at the top, naked policemen running around smoking pot at the bottom), I am slap bang in the middle, three quarters of the way down.  A position I share with Gandhi apparently. Perhaps not a surprise as my humour has been observed to be as dry as his flip flops (more on flip flops later).  All of the current mainstream parties presently sit in the upper right quadrant which does go some way to explaining my feelings of isolation.

I found studying political philosophy at university very unsettling. One week I would be studying Hegel and the dialectic of materialism and nodding my head in agreement.  The following week Hobbes’ Leviathan would get my vote.  Edmund Burke made sense, as did Rousseau, equally so.  Utilitarians and Levellers seemed appealing.  Curling up with a naked fresher, reading from Camus’ L’Etranger with a Gitanes on the go even more so.  I have at times prostituted myself to each of the three main parties and on a glorious weekend in May 1997 while the rest of the country celebrated a Blair victory, a Eurovision win and a Bank Holiday during which the sun shone I had new found wealth.  I had seconded the Referendum Party candidate in the Hertford and Stortford constituency, much to the horror of my employers, who on being met by my name in the polling booth, gave me a pay rise, making my post politically restricted and supposedly ending any illusions of greatness.

I like to think that my politics haven’t flip-flopped (call-back to Gandhi noted) but that the mainstream parties have taken various changing orbits around me.  “I haven’t changed, the parties have”, of course not Mr Hutchinson and your money is safe in the bank (yes as safe as Mr Papadopoulos’ of Cyprus is).  It was while dining in a Paris restaurant that I had my Eureka moment.  I am not sure about French cuisine, they play about with their food far  too much for my liking and if you ask for vegetables they treat you like one.  I like a shank of lamb, a rich gravy, mashed potatoes and peas.  I like chicken, roast potatoes, carrots and cabbage.  I like egg and chips (beans or peas optional).  I like shepherd’s pie.  “What do you want for your tea?” my mother used to ask.  I’d ponder, lamb, chicken, egg ‘n chips, shepherd’s pie.  All good, all different, all with something to offer.  And that is how it was with politics but you know what? I realised I like bloody potatoes, potatoes were the constant in every dish.  In fact give me a baked potato on its own and I’m happy.  Yes potatoes, baked, roasted, chipped or mashed.  A bit like people, I like them in all of their varieties too.  And that is when it struck me.  It is the part of each of those political philosophies which deals with the individual which appeals to me.  The parts that deal with the hopes, the dreams, the aspirations, the needs, the wants of the individual and the rights and responsibilities that they bear in return.  Yes the individual is at the heart of my thinking.  Not the state, not even the community.  In fact I would go so far as to say that what is good for the individual is not necessarily good for the state and that what is good for the state is rarely good for the individual.

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Each of us has our own unique journey.  Each of us faces our own unique challenges.  We cannot walk a step, let alone a mile in another’s shoes.  Striver or shirker, pacifist or militarist, libertarian or socialist, straight or gay, atheist or convert, commentator or psychiatrist, each story a different individual, a different journey.  Workers, soldiers, drones, queens, whether we’re talking about ants, bees or humans we each have a role to play. Mine as criticalfriend, as agent provocateur.  Yes politicians and economists may be the subject of my scrutiny and the butt of my jokes but if he or she is just a man or woman whose intentions are good, then as the song says, “Please Lord don’t let him be misunderstood”.  And continuing our musical references, “Hats off to Larry” whichever party he leads for I have never had the responsibility of power fall upon my shoulders and never had those difficult choices to make.

AAAAAThe problem for me is that both socialism and capitalism are forms of collectivism. I am an individualist who travels light (not to be confused with an internationalist who has a lot of the baggage of the left) and a member of the new precariat, though often mistaken for a member of the elite, who finds himself much happier in the presence of a punk rocker than a banker. Bohemian Anarchist?  Well maybe. I value friends, family and community but I am not a fan of the nation state. I tolerate it as it has the potential to protect against corporatism and globalisation with its steady march to neo-serfdom and a new world order but that’s about it.  I go along with the monarchy, I don’t loathe it, I don’t cheer it. I’m certainly not apathetic to it though, for I realise that I’d no longer be able to take the moral high ground and lampoon America, as the prospect of a President Blair, a President Boris or President Branson makes me blush.  It certainly wouldn’t be a beauty contest.  There is a reason why politics is 18 rated.

After a recent presentation on post-war American foreign policy I was asked if I was anti-America.  In short, no but let me shed more light by defining my own version of GAP analysis.  I always think of a country as a stool (no pun intended) with three legs: Its Government; Its Aesthetic; and Its People.

So when I am asked, “Do you not like America?” I am happy to point to the GAP:

  • Its aesthetic, its landscape and its contribution to culture, I admire;
  • Its people, I respect
  • Its Government, I suspect

The same holds true of my own country and any other. We come into the world alone and we leave it alone. It is the voyage of self-discovery that gives our lives meaning as we slay dragons and tilt at windmills.  I’m just not a fan of my slaying and tilting being caught on CCTV.  Left and right, will someone please tell our politicians that George Orwell’s 1984 is a novel, not a user manual.

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