In the Laurel and Hardy movie “Way Out West”, circa 1937, in a vain attempt to make small talk with an attractive woman, Oliver Hardy uttered the following vacuous but funny words: ‘A lot of weather we have been having lately’.
In recent times, similar words keep floating in my mind: A lot of politics we’ve been having lately.
Nationalism, protectionism, separatism, build-a-wallism, Brexitism, the list goes on. What is being ignored in this outbreak of ‘isms’, is that there are equal and opposite forces kicking back and insisting on defeating their opposing forces; we are gradually being polarized by politics. And in all of this kicking and counter kicking, it is the masses that are politicking and not just the politicians. I am talking about the masses that previously treated politicians with healthy contempt and got on with making a living in the marketplace.
There was a time when we had two ways of running any country: stable dictatorships, and precarious democracies. Dictatorships attained stability through firm control and intolerance of opposition from within; while democracies prided themselves on being less stable by dint of the electorate having the periodical power to change its government, thus making the rulers accountable to the ruled; or so the theory went.
Precarious democracies generally tolerated stable dictatorships (they made them look good) until the dictators started to rock the international boat loudly and dangerously at which point, the democrats became altruistic and attempted to change the dictatorships to their model of precarious democracies; which of course failed every time.
The strange thing is that lately, in their smugness, precarious democracies found resistance from within their own house and their precariousness turned from being a system design feature to becoming a fault line. Similarly, stable dictatorships became less stable. This is because we, the masses, have gradually found out that irrespective of under which system we lived, we have become harder working but less rewarded for our hard work. We feel manipulated, used and abused by both systems. New political formations began to spring out that gave voice to this frustration and urged people to rally round. We agreed on one thing: We don’t like the way we are being governed by either system. However, we violently disagreed with one another on how to fix the problem. So, we have become more polarized and not prepared to give way to others’ viewpoints.
The middle ground, which used to be the most crowded part of the political opinion, has suddenly become a huge vacuum where no one wishes to tread. People used to divide themselves along lines of race, religion, gender, language, etc. Now divisions occur within single communities, all the way down to individual families. This is an unhealthy ideology that tolerates no alternative. In fact, it is “dogma”.
I am not a politician and do not wish to be involved in politics beyond exercising my periodical right to cast a single vote at general elections. However, I am interested in the chaos that is going on around the world because it directly affects my ability to make a living and potentially living at all. As I approach the twilights of my career, I am now concerned about my children’s ability to make a living in a suitable conducive environment of precarious democracy that gets the politicians to run the country in a responsible and honourable manner, while leaving the masses to get on with exercising their skills and trades. I no longer find it viable for me to have a neutral opinion on anything. I have to gravitate towards one extreme position or another; otherwise, my neutrality will be deemed to be an opposing stand against others. Yes, I know, ironic.
I yearn for the good old days of being indifferent to politics and inactive on the big issues while basking in the glorious state of mind of being able to exercise my right to vote, to express an opposing opinion or to indifferently stay at home. I miss the days when my biggest concern in the mornings is whether I needed to take an umbrella to work or not; if the coming weekend would turn out to be suitable for a barbecue; when small talk with strangers was mostly about how cold, sunny, wet, or humid it has been lately.
In other words, I long for the days of little politics and lots of weather.