Thursday, July 15, 2010

Revenge of the Soapbox

It pains me to admit this, my postulant yeomen, but the last couple of weeks have convinced me that I am not capable of changing the world for the better.

While this is probably not the most earth shattering revelation known to mankind, the method and nature of its discovery has shaken me to the core, for it has challenged my philosophical belief in the inherent goodness of mankind (See Note 1).

I know I should be old enough and ugly enough to withstand such a challenge. That I should pick myself up, dust myself, wade back into life’s brawl and land a telling philosophical punch. Yet, somehow, it all seems pointless.  My mojo has been lost.

The idea behind this post is to see if I can vent enough to get my mojo working again. Be warned! This could get messy (See Note 2).

The catalyst that brought me to my current state is the UK Government’s websites designed to utilise crowd sourcing to highlight where the government can improve freedoms and save money (See Note 3).

The journey to these sites started innocently enough, a soapbox rant over the messages being given out by the US and UK Governments over their commitment to safety, particularly with regard to GM foods. This grew into a discussion over corporate ethics, during which, my soapbox mysteriously appeared – and like a fool, up I climbed.

With one of those cruel co-incidences contrived by Fate (See Note 4), at the very moment I climbed up, Nick Clegg launched his Your Freedom initiative. It caused me to rush headlong onto the site and post my thoughts on ethical corporate taxation.

The website was so poorly implemented and thought through that I ended up writing a blog entry that suggested that there could be some grand conspiracy behind it being so bad.

Yet, for reasons I cannot explain, when George Osborne (See Note 5) opened up his crowd sourcing site looking for options to save money (See Note 6), I jumped in on that one too. In order to publicise my involvement and drum up a bit of extra support, I wrote a couple of blogs about the idea, visited a couple of forums that might be interested and generally tried to whip up a bit of thought and discussion on the idea.

Unfortunately, this meant actually using the site. You would have thought that George would have looked at what was going on over in Nick’s corner of the interweb and learnt a few lessons. Well, he didn’t. George’s site performs even worse than Nick’s (See Note 7). A situation made all the more frustrating by the continual self-congratulation and shameless self-promotion contained in the blog of Delib, the developers of the product. If they actually tried to use their offering and see what is happening on the site, one of the first changes they would make would be to remove their name from it!

Yet what really divested me of all hope were the entries that appeared on the site. As I read them, I found all my confidence that this could make a difference slowly evaporated. The views that are posted are frightening. If these posters are genuine, then it would seem that the British people want to see an extreme right wing agenda. The lack of any moderator on the site has meant that some of the views expressed are not only abhorrent, but probably illegal (although consistent, a fair number of the posters want to see the repeal of all anti-discrimination laws). Not only did the views expressed depress me, it was the semi-literate way they were presented and the lack of any thought as to the consequences and repercussions should they be implemented.

The good ideas were swamped by repeat postings of people seemingly intent on isolationism, creation of an underclass without rights or hope and opening up divisions within society. Debate seems to consist of heaping insults and scorn upon anyone who disagrees or points out flaws in the argument. I would imagine that many like myself have withdrawn from the debacle leaving the site to slowly putrify in their bile.

Frighteningly, I became increasingly worried that our current Government might start using the views expressed as a mandate for carrying them out! Yet despite this, I couldn’t bring myself to continue on the site.

In short, I could feel my faith in my fellow man seeping away. As a result, any confidence that I could bring about positive change also vanished. All hope was crushed.

As Samuel Smiles (See Note 8) reportedly said “Hope is the companion of power, and mother of success; for whom so hopes strongly has within him the gift of miracles.”

So, Mr Cameron, Mr Clegg. Mr Osborne et al, you and your initiatives are slowly wringing out the last vestiges of hope from so many at the moment, where can we draw some confidence of future success?

Now, I am off to bury that soapbox of mine nice and deep in the garden. When I get back, I will give up trying to be a catalyst for positive change. It really does make me feel too ill.

As for my mojo? Well, let’s hope some honest soul hands it in.

Note 1: For those of you who are interested, I have covered this before in my blog. Sadly, I cannot seem to locate the blog entry that discusses the differing views on human nature put forward by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. In that entry, I stated that I believed that mankind was naturally a social animal and that human nature is characterized by reason and tolerance. The Hobbes view that mankind was naturally a solitary beast with lives that were destined to be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" just seemed too depressing to contemplate. For you Merkins out there, you might be interested to know that Locke’s belief that man had the right of “Life, health, Liberty, or Possessions", is believed to be the basis for the phrase in America "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".
Note 2: I am talking metaphorically about the likely writing style here - not literally as in the last line reading “Farewell cruel world...........” and some poor soul having to clean the soft furnishings. Besides, I’m not sure the world is cruel. It could just have an inappropriate sense of humour and no access to dried frog pills.
Note 3: Yes, seriously I have been to the very brink of hopelessness by a couple of websites! It sounds absolutely ridiculous, but sadly true.
Note 4: It seems that on this particular day, Fate had awoken with a hangover to discover in the most unfortunate manner that her cat had been sick in her slippers. The toaster went on the frizz the moment she decided on breakfast, the postman delivered a summons for a speeding offence and she discovered that a pigeon had pooped all over her washing. If all that wasn’t bad enough, she also discovered that the Prince of Darkness had somehow wangled a book deal and managed to sell the serial rights to the Evil Empire.
Note 5: Regular readers here will know that I am no fan of Mr Osborne. What makes me more uncomfortable about this man having such a position of power is the Locke theory that that the character of a man is shaped by circumstance, experience, sensation and reflections. If correct, then this would make this story regarding George Osborne’s brother an omen for things to come.
Note 6: I like to imagine that George Osborne stormed into David Cameron’s office in a fit of pique exclaiming that David is ‘Sooooo unfair’ and that David ‘likes Nick more than me’ because of Nick Clegg having the Your Freedom site. After much stamping of feet, tears and tantrums, David patted George on the head and caved in to grant him a website too. I wonder if George and Nick stick their tongues out at each other in Cabinet Meetings when David isn’t looking?
Note 7: Which does give rise to a whole new conspiracy theory that David Cameron is trying to discredit both his squabbling schoolboys. Perhaps he wants Boris Johnson, another of his Bullingdon drinking buddies, to move in next door.
Note 8: Yes, Samuel Smiles is a real person. Who apart from being an author and social reformer is also the great-great-grandfather of popular explorer Bear Grylls.

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