Once every week, on Thirsty Thursday, Campbell, or Camp as everyone knows him, and I meet for a pint or two at ‘Grandmas’ the local pub, overlooking the picturesque harbour and Keats Island. We discuss sports, the weather and the future of mankind. Sometimes we veer off into dubious territory like politics or religion but since we both hold similar convictions and beliefs, we are each other’s most benevolent audience. Camp has a tendency to launch into diatribes and I have been known to be equally opinionated. Clare calls us the beer philosophers. She has a point. Here are our profound insights during yesterday’s discussion.
“Politics is the one domain where self-serving idiots outnumber common sensical, moral, smart, compassionate and humorous human beings,” Camp said, the moment he sat down, while taking a healthy swallow. He should know, being a politician himself. An Alderman, recently re-elected for another 4 year term. “It’s also the arena that attracts devious, power-hungry, egocentric aspirants, mostly ex-lawyers and real estate agents who use politics as a way to improve their self esteem, win new and important friends, line their pockets and secure themselves a future with a fat pension and possible seats at boardroom tables.”
“None of that applies to you of course,” I said, “definitely not the part of the fat pension. I don’t think aldermen in a small towns get any pension. Not even free drinks at the pub.”
Camp carried on. He was on a roll now, proselytizing. Something had got his goat, probably a difference of opinions, must have occurred at the council meeting that afternoon.
“Politics also carries the elusive promise of historical significance and the dangerous but tantalizing possibility of shaping and changing the world for good. In most cases this ambition metamorphoses into the exact opposite. Very seldom do people enter politics for the common good or because they want to improve the lives of other, ordinary people. Although everyone pays lip service to those noble causes, most enter the political arena to nurture and foster their own and their rich friends agenda. The socialist view of shared resources, decent labor laws and fair division of capital is not a popular platform these days when even liberalism is circumspect and cowers behind euphemisms. It remains a paradox that social democrats are generally regarded with suspicion and a certain degree of derision like they want to take away something when in fact they’re the only ones that have managed to add to the common person’s lot.”
I agreed with Camp and said so: “I totally agree with you. I also feel like an idiot when I voice my support for the ordinary people, who want nothing more then security at home, at school, at work and in their neighborhoods.”
“Yes, and security comes from benevolent policies that entrench rights and choices – not the kind that is enforced with uniforms, guns and barbed wire fences. Is it so hard to see the difference? Am I naive to believe in the security that springs from a well educated, fairly regulated and equally opportune society, which also includes the right to make money, earn profits, invest and get rich?”
“You’re preaching to the choir,” I said, “or to quote Clare, my no frills, down to earth better half and conscience: “A society that cannot look after its old, sick and poor in a dignified fashion is not a modern civilization.”
“Exactly, Camp agreed. “A society that does not tolerate diversion and division does not deserve to be supported by modern, thinking people. I’m not asking for utopia or nirvana, but simply for the only cause worth entering politics for. Maybe I’m just a day dreamer, an idealistic simpleton trying to make sense of Orwellian doublespeak, the preferred language of modern politics.”
“You should run for prime minister instead of the town counsel,” I said and Camp just laughed. I could tell he was a bit frustrated, having just been elected counselor. He really wanted to run for mayor, but was out muscled by Hank Marshall, Mr. Real-estate and most popular Shriner in town. Hank drives around in big silver Escalade with a sheriff’s star emblazoned on both front doors with the name Marshall in the center.
I consider myself reasonably well read, adequately educated and I do feel compassion and pity for the less lucky and less privileged then myself. I also have some fairly strong ideas about how a just and fair society should be structured and governed. Another pint later I launched into a diatribe of my own that only a likeminded fellow drinker like Camp could tolerate: “I’m not suggesting anarchy and armed uprising,” I pointed out, holding my hand up in mock surrender, “nothing too radical, but we need to get rid of the free enterprise think tanks that write the rules from Washington, London, Ottawa and Victoria. This includes the present gang of thugs in the White House who claim to get their modus operandi directly from the Almighty who directs them to subvert the will of the people with propaganda, lies and empty promises.”
“Hear, hear!” said Camp, accompanied by a generous burp.
“Ignorance, fear and greed makes up the three headed monster ruling the world from Washington D.C.” I doubled down, unstoppable now. “Of course, all with the help of the mainstream media, born again, fundamental religion, the industrial war machine and the privatized security and military industry. This kind of autocratic, paternalistic government makes idiots of us all.”
I was out of beer again and the hour was getting late. Clare would not be pleased by my absence and probably had ordered out by now. Camp, recently divorced did not have any such qualms and for him the matter was far from finished. “Democracy is the best political system, with all its faults and downfalls. It’s better then a monarchy or a parliamentary dictatorship, but like you, I feel we have been duped and bamboozled for the past 30 years. The fact is that we live under the yoke of a plutocracy, a rule of wealthy elitist who cleverly managed to buy themselves into positions of power. Only millionaires are able to buy the propaganda and management machinery that enables them to run for office. These are the days when movie stars and sports personalities have the best chance to get elected. It’s all about recognition. Superficiality over substance.”
“You don’t have to look far,” I said. “Just look at Hank Marshall, your own nemesis.”
Camp nodded his head and after a short pause said: “I fear a return to the dark ages, a sort of byzantine empire, ruled by electronic profiling and computerized governments run by immoral men in windowless rooms.” He morosely stared into his empty glass.
“Maybe I should step into politics myself,” I offered, “but I’d be in a brawl within the first five minutes. I think politicians should all be forced to study a crash course in Plato and Machiavelli, economics by John Adams and John Maynard Keynes and then write an exam before they are allowed to run for office. And no, Machiavelli is not one of the Sopranos.” I was coming to my closing argument with the help of my sober, moral compass in the back of my mind but also waiting for me at home. “Clare thinks the world would be better off if it was run by women: At least the wars would be fought with words rather then bombs and motherhood issues like social justice, fairness and equal opportunities would rise to the top of the agenda and would not remain utopian, socialist concepts.”
Camp agreed with Clare. “It’s true, we should let the presidents and prime ministers leave it to their wives and daughters to sort it all out and send their husbands on a yoga retreat, a place remote and private enough to exist naked on a diet of fruit, nuts and water.”
“Yes, my friend, enlightenment always starts in the dark. Where else could you see the flicker of a candle? Certainly not in the glare of klieg lights. And what does anything mean anymore?”
“Gobbledygook and blabbermush,” Camp offered, “We’re past Orwellian newspeak. Fake news are the new propaganda tools. Just look at what’s happening in the Philippines.”
“Yes, social media politics are here to stay. Rule by twitter, news by Facebook.”
Camp just shook his head. “And on todays menu you’ll find: positivism cloaked in possiblilism; pessimism disguised as realism; confusion as modern epitaph with a twist of subterfuge. And for desert: Fake news served up in real time. Maybe I’m the idiot who doesn’t get it. Check please.”
“See you next Thursday.”