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Healing Nations is arguably the most important book on politics and society in a generation. This is the new politics for the new millennium. Transferring the language and logic of alternative medicine and healing into the arena of politics reveals what is wrong with our modern western politics, our modern western way of life; and what we have to do to change things.
Richard Dell's analysis of what defines and distinguishes the two paradigms of orthodox and alternative medicine is alone worth the read. But when he uses that analysis to inform our understanding of politics and society, a sudden and unexpected clarity emerges. We are shown that we use our political practitioners in the same way that we use our medical practitioners: presenting to them with our symptoms, empowering them, expecting from them a diagnosis (manifesto) and prescription (legislation), and not wanting to know about medical or legislative side effects. Richard Dell then shows that by employing the language and philosophy of healing, a new and transformative way forward is revealed.
Bob Geldof wrote of ‘Healing Nations': ‘Richard Dell has written a thoughtful and thought-provoking book. In essence this is a political manifesto with a robustly spiritual core'.
In its review of ‘Healing Nations', Light wrote: ‘A deeply fascinating appraisal of the social and political ills of the western world and the ways in which they could be healed'.
EIGHT STEPS TO CHANGING ALL OUR LIVES
First published 2002
This book is about healing our western nations. It shows how politics can be transformed, but is about you and me. It shows how government can be made more efficient, more responsive and more effective, but is about how you and I lead our lives.
It shows us how to work with every symptom that makes our modern nations ‘sick': but it is not about eradicating those symptoms. It reveals for us the fundamental problem that lies at the heart of our social lives, and is about transforming that problem. This book is about healing : healing ourselves, healing our neighbourhoods and communities, healing the very nation states in which we live.
What is being offered here is nothing less than a journey. It is a personal journey and it is a social journey. For in this book the language, the logic, the wonderful and life-enhancing philosophy of healing is transferred into that greater arena of ourselves and our communities.
The effect is startling. All that is wrong with the way we lead our lives is revealed. We see that every time we do something to make things better, we nearly always make things worse. We see that we are always wanting to cure our problems but we never think of healing them. We see at last that socialism and conservatism, communism and fascism, liberalism and radicalism and every single ‘ism' that has been invented to take our problems away, are philosophies that will never solve our problems. Indeed, we see at last, with absolute certainty, that they are the root cause of our problems.
We also see what we have always suspected. That:
OUR POLITICIANS ARE LEGISLATION JUNKIES.
Most significantly, we will see and will have to accept, absorb, and live the fundamental truth of our times: that in letting our politicians try to cure us of our problems:
WE ARE SOCIAL AND POLITICAL HYPOCHONDRIACS.
But we will not just see what is wrong. The philosophy of healing will make clear to us what we must do to make our lives better. For example, we will see that unemployment can be reduced and vandalism eradicated. We will see that hospitals can be run better and more cheaply, that schools can become dynamic and successful, our streets made safer and cleaner, and crime reduced. We will especially see that our own lives can become easier, more fulfilled, more meaningful, more purposeful: and even less expensive. We will be put back at the centre of our own stories: where we always should have been.
So this is not just any old journey. This is the most amazing and transformational journey that any individual or culture can undertake. And because it is so important, because it will be so life changing and life enhancing, this is not a journey that anyone need make alone. We will provide a guide, and that guide will be us . Not only that: we will provide four companions to share the journey with us.
Let us go and meet the first two of those companions. Their names are Mike and Sandy, and we will find them in the Whitgift Shopping Centre in Croydon, south London . They are sat in a café, for they have been shopping and need a rest. Soon, though, they will be ready to talk to us. And then our adventure can begin.
Who are Mike and Sandy? They, and their friends Kate and John, are all of us of course.
As it is transformation we are interested in, we need to know that Mike and Sandy are in the transformation business.
Very much so.
In fact, they are unacknowledged masters of their craft. To follow them into the shops, to drive back with them in their car, and most especially to be invited into their home, is to be in the presence of transformational artistes. They have transformed their lives with gadgets and furnishings. They have transformed their years with holidays. They have even transformed the way they smell with cosmetics. But what will they say when we tell them they need to be involved in the transformation of the social and political rather than just the personal?
‘Don't make me laugh!' Mike immediately cries. ‘I've had it up to here with political parties. They're all the same. They all make promises they can't keep or don't want to keep. Half of them are in it for what they can get. And none of them really understand ordinary people like us.'
‘That's right,' says Sandy . ‘Of course, most elections we vote. But it's all a nonsense really. Sometimes I can't believe the taxes we pay. And have you tried commuting into the centre of London ? We do it every working day. I'll tell you this: animals being exported to Europe are given better conditions than we are. And don't talk to me about the health service.'
‘Listen,' says Mike. ‘All we want is to be left alone. We're doing alright. We've got a nice home and a nice car. We even get to go on holiday every year. So just keep politicians and do-gooders off our backs. It's all we ask for. And now, if you will excuse us, we've been promising ourselves a wide-screen TV for some time. And today we're going to buy one.'
Of course, we are all into personal transformation. For example, Mike and Sandy 's neighbours, John and Kate, have quite a different agenda, because it is transformation of the soul that interests them. These two are very spiritual people. They visit holy sites, they insist on being vegetarian, and they meditate every day.
And what do they say about working towards social and political transformation?
‘It's a nice dream,' sighs Kate. ‘And we believe that if enough people try to transform themselves spiritually, then great changes will occur socially. But to try to do it directly, well…' She gets up from her yoga position and looks across at John.
‘Exactly,' says John. ‘You haven't a chance of changing things politically. The only thing we can change is ourselves. For goodness sake, we're living in a world despoiled of community. It's almost totally depleted of its spiritual resources.'
‘And it's in thrall to materialism,' exclaims Kate.
‘And the cold logic of the machine,' concludes John. ‘We haven't got a hope of changing that.'
‘John's right,' says Kate. ‘That's why we follow our own path. It's the only part of our world we have real control over.'
What John and Kate say is true. And, of course, we are all at it. We are all on our own journeys: whether they are journeys of spiritual transformation, or journeys that seek to transform our home furnishings. Because the world is beyond our ability to influence, we seek our own agendas. Either we have entered into communion with our inner selves, as have Kate and John; or we have entered into communion with the contents of our mail order catalogues. In fact, we have all been creating revolutions of our mind and spirit, or we have been creating revolutions of our leisure time and possessions. But for a long time now, we have not attempted to revolutionise our institutions, political practices and cultures.
CAN WE HOPE TO BE SUCCESSFUL
IN OUR PERSONAL JOURNEYS
WHEN WE PAY NO HEED
TO THE LANDSCAPE IN WHICH WE TRAVEL?
‘It doesn't make any difference,' says Mike the next day as he barbecues steaks on his patio. ‘As Sandy said, we do go out and vote…'
‘Most of the time,' chips in Sandy .
‘Sure. Most of the time. But we're not involved. None of it really affects us, so we ignore it. Not many politicians are really interested in what we think; though they pretend to be. So why should we bother?'
John and Kate have joined Mike and Sandy for lunch. Mike and Sandy do not understand their neighbours' vegetarianism, but they are happy to prepare meatless dishes for them.
Kate does not agree with Mike. She is actually concerned about social and political issues. Not that she believes there is much she, or anyone else, can do about them.
‘Well I definitely am interested,' Kate says. ‘It's just that none of us have a chance to really influence anything. All the important decisions are made in Whitehall : not by us. I desperately want there to be a different sort of government. But it isn't going to happen.'
John laughs. ‘It's not only not going to happen. We don't even know what it should be. In Britain we've already tried conservatism and socialism. Neither really do what we want. And besides, these days it's difficult to tell the difference between them.'
‘I even go to political meetings,' says Kate, to her neighbours' surprise. ‘But I just come away from them depressed.'
‘So you do your thing, and we do ours,' says John.
‘So what's wrong with that?' Sandy asks. ‘I don't even want to think about politics. Of course, I want the services, like hospitals and schools, and I don't want to be over taxed. The rest is just boring.'
‘No it's not!' Kate exclaims. ‘It's not only interesting. It's important! Things are wrong with our world. We shouldn't be hiding from that, though we do. Just look at all the litter and graffiti. And think of the crime, and the drugs problem. We can turn our backs on it all; and I know John and I do. We go off to Glastonbury , or we just meditate at home. But the world outside our windows isn't as nice as it ought to be.'
‘Then forget the world outside your window. That's what we do. It doesn't affect us.'
‘That's the problem,' Kate whispers. ‘I actually think that it does.'
Kate is right. Our own journeys will never be as successful as we would like them to be if the social and political landscape through which we travel is not also transformed. So, if we want the most out of life, we need to reconcile that landscape with its higher purpose. In other words:
OUR SOCIAL AND POLITICAL ARENAS
MUST ALSO DISCOVER THEIR HOLISTIC SELVES.
For example: Mike and Sandy cannot buy as many things as they would like when their insurance premiums are high, when they have to spend large sums on protecting their home and car, and when their taxes are seriously inflated. And their taxes most definitely are inflated in order to deal with all the problems of an increasingly complex society. Likewise, John and Kate will not achieve inner-peace when they know there are things ‘out there' that are wrong. How can they? They are not fools.
The truth of the matter is, we are all upon our own journeys, but we all journey together . So if we are to create a better world: the personal and social must be connected. How we achieve any sort of connectedness; how we convince the likes of John and Kate, let alone Mike and Sandy, that things can be changed, is what this book is about.
Some folk are already looking for that new way, though they do not know what it is. Professor Jonathan Clark wrote in March 2000:
All of them (Conservatives, Liberals and Socialists) claim to be radical, and to offer radical solutions. Meanwhile, the public senses that less and less of substance is actually being said. Books that claim to outline the essence of the great ideologies are triumphs of faith and hope over the flux of human affairs. Everywhere, the old political organisations are losing adherents. But the public is seldom wrong.
What this confusion should tell us is that those old Victorian ideologies really have been eroded to the point of becoming meaningless. Already they are crumbling. What will follow the fall of this linguistic Berlin Wall will not be some non-ideological end of history, but a new set of ideas, and a new set of terms. What will they be?
Let us answer that.
Mike and Sandy lead their own lives and enjoy what they buy. They do give to charities and usually they vote. But their lives are nuclear and self-absorbed.
John and Kate are the same. True, they would like to be connected. True, they believe that we should all be part of each other's stories. But they do not know how to achieve that, nor what form the connectedness should take. So they seek the solace of windswept hills and the peace of their meditation sessions. And what they do is true of their neighbours, and of everyone in every neighbourhood across London and beyond. We have all become private people, following our own agendas and transforming our own lives with every pay cheque and therapy session we receive.
WE ARE CHILDREN OF SPIRIT,
BUT FOUNDLINGS OF OUR POLITICAL STRUCTURES.
‘Is there anything wrong in all that?' Mike asks. ‘There's nothing we can do about ‘society'. And besides, that's what we pay our taxes for. We've got police forces and social services, and goodness knows what else, to deal with ‘society'. Why shouldn't we spend what we've got left on transforming ourselves ? There's nothing wrong in making our homes comfortable, for example.'
Nothing at all,' we agree.
‘But it isn't enough, is it?' Kate says.
We shake our head.
‘Well you tell us what we can do,' says Mike.
‘And how we can do it,' chips in Sandy . ‘Because I can tell you this straight off, there is no way I'm going to walk out of my house and become a do-gooder. I'd have doors slammed in my face.'
‘You probably would,' we agree.
‘Then..,' Mike splutters.
‘I think I know what you're going to say,' Kate whispers.
We nod. ‘It is a simple and fundamental point. But it is one that all of us in our modern nations need to take note of:'
WHICH IS THE SOCIAL AND POLITICAL LANDSCAPE
THROUGH WHICH WE MAKE OUR INDIVIDUAL JOURNEYS,
IS MORE IN NEED OF TRANSFORMATION
THAN WE HAVE EVER BEEN.
‘We need to embark on a different sort of journey?' Kate says.
‘Yes. But first we need to find our route. First we need the signpost. We are going to have to delve into the very workings of our modern nations.' We smile and look around at our four friends. ‘But be warned. We are going to have to face truths on this journey, just as we face them on our own individual quests.'
‘I understand that,' says Kate.
‘I don't,' says Mike.
‘And we are going to have to come out of social and political denial, just as we have to come out of personal denial when confronting the truths about ourselves.'
‘Yes,' says Kate. ‘I don't know why. But I understand that too.'
‘You won't entirely enjoy it, Kate. You will discover things on this journey that will make you feel uncomfortable. Perhaps very uncomfortable.'
‘I think you need to explain,' she says. Her eyes have brightened.
Kate is ready. There has always been political idealism in her, though that idealism has been disappointed throughout her adult life. But she can now sense that the key is there. And it is not a key that comes from no-where. Indeed, it comes with a recognisable logic that is already followed by many of us; that is, in fact, already believed by many to be effective, to be useful and to be charged with transformational power.
Interestingly, John and Kate already employ this logic. But they do so in a different arena, and thus have missed its remarkable potential: as have all of us.
But we only have to make the shift. We only have to bring that logic into our social and political arenas, and we will have done something profound.
Kate and John are now interested. They cannot imagine what is being talked about here. The thought that they might have centred their lives on something, yet not realised it could transform politics, has them leaning forward in anticipation. Even Mike and Sandy are intrigued. Mike, who has been finishing his and Sandy 's steaks, has come to the table. He drinks some wine, and sits down.
‘Let me get this straight,' John says. ‘You are saying that Kate and I live an important part of our lives to a particular logic, a logic that we thoroughly approve of and even study?'
‘Yes,' we say.
‘And all the time it's the logic we have all been waiting for to transform our society and politics?'
‘Correct,' we say.
‘In your dreams!' says Mike.
‘Don't just dismiss it!' Kate cries. ‘I really want to hear this. I have to hear it!'
‘Hear it!' John laughs. ‘Yes sure, let's hear it. But I'm not convinced I'm going to understand it. I mean, talk about simplistic…'
‘It is simple,' we say. ‘But then, the best ideas often are.'
The two sets of neighbours enjoy their lunch in a globally-warmed English summer. They chomp through their steaks or their vegetarian sausages. And they hear that the way to transform our social and political arenas is through words: not through political engineering. They learn that:
TO SOCIAL AND POLITICAL TRANSFORMATION
IS A METAPHOR.
‘You wouldn't want to explain the word ‘metaphor' would you?' Kate asks.
Everyone laughs. They are then told that the key is a metaphor because we shall be transferring ideas from one arena to another. But there will be nothing artificial about this transfer. The route is already there. We may not have seen it. We may not even have suspected its existence. But it is definitely there, and it is waiting for us to use.
We are ignorant of the link because how we use language is complex. Every language has its sub-languages or lexicons. These are like undercurrents within the depths of the ocean. They may be hidden, but they are what give language its extraordinary complexity and colour. Whenever we speak we employ them. We only have to open our mouths and we weave a complex web of subtexts without even realising we are doing it.
Attend a business meeting in the afternoon and we use one sub-language. Say good night to our child that evening and we use another.
Language is far more than a compendium of individual words. All languages are unbelievably complex, are invariably changing, and above all belong to living individuals and communities. Via language, we operate within a network of metaphors. We may not always realise it, but with almost everything we say we rely upon a web of unspoken implications that are recognised by the fellow possessors of our language.
Within politics, for example, nothing is what it seems. So long as politicians will not call a spade a spade, then we must be prepared for complexity. So long as politicians yearn for votes and employ spin-doctors, we must expect to be bamboozled. But: the hidden currents are there.
‘We all know that,' says Sandy . ‘No one has believed politicians for at least a generation. They've all got hidden agendas.'
‘Not necessarily bad ones,' says John.
‘Sure. Though looking after their own political survival comes high on the list.'
‘But,' we say. ‘We have to go deeper than that. If we get beneath those hidden agendas we will find something interesting.'
‘And what is that?' asks Mike.
‘What no one realises,' we explain, ‘not even the politicians themselves, is that:'
UNDERLYING ALL POLITICAL ARGUMENT
IS ONE FUNDAMENTAL LEXICON OR SUB-LANGUAGE.
IT IS A LEXICON THAT IS VERY POWERFUL.
IT UNDERWRITES EVERY POLITICAL
SUB-LANGUAGE OF OUR TIME.
IN FACT, IT IS THE LEXICON
THAT DETERMINES EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS
WITHIN OUR POLITICAL LANDSCAPE.
‘Are you serious?' Mike asks.
‘Deadly serious,' we say.
‘So if we become aware of this lexicon we can start to use it properly and thus change the way our politics work?'
‘Actually,' we say. ‘There is some truth in that. All lexicons achieve their full power when properly recognised. And so, yes, we could improve the way we do things. But, much more interesting will be where that lexicon can take us, once we are aware of its existence.'
‘You're losing us,' says John.
‘We shall reveal the lexicon,' we say. ‘But it is only the first key to something else. There is another lexicon that is linked to the hidden one. It belongs in that other arena we were talking about earlier.'
‘This is the one you are saying that John and I follow?' asks Kate.
‘Correct. But if we shift it into the political arena, where its brother lexicon already rules, we will be able to transform our nations.'
‘We're interested,' they chorus. ‘You've got our attention.'
‘So you are ready to delve into the depths of politics to discover this hidden lexicon?'
‘Sure!' they cry.
‘Excellent. But be warned. We shall go where no analyst has dared go before. We shall also go to meet ourselves. And you may not quite like that.'
UNDERLYING EVERYTHING WITHIN
THE POLITICAL ARENA
IS THE LEXICON OF ORTHODOX MEDICINE.
Our friends have collapsed over their drinks. Mike has crashed his glass onto the table and is doubled up in laughter. Sandy is trying to suppress her giggles. John looks embarrassed, whilst Kate is disappointed.
‘Orthodox medicine?' John repeats. ‘That's your thesis, is it? That what drives all our political programmes is the logic of medicine?
‘And you still want us to take you seriously?'
‘So you are saying that what underlies everything that goes on in politics, in fact that the subtext to modern politics, is the language of enemas, amputations and sutures?'
‘Then what are you saying?'
‘Yes!' Mike cries, having recovered his composure. ‘What are you saying for God's sake? I mean I've heard of some daft theories in my time. But this is the daftest I've heard from anyone who has ever managed to cadge a free lunch out of me. It either is the language of medicine, or it isn't.'
‘Two points,' we say. ‘Firstly, the emphasis has to be on orthodox medicine.'
Kate raises her eyes. There is an undoubted flicker of renewed interest.
‘Secondly,' we say. ‘You have to understand that there are different linguistic levels in medicine, just as there are in politics. So I am not talking of enemas or amputations, although governments who cut off aid to a dying industry could be accused of amputation. And a government that brings two fractured elements of society together might claim to have achieved a suture. But that is not the point.'
‘So the point is?'
‘We have to go deeper: to the underlying sub-language that actually drives orthodox medicine. It is that lexicon, which is not hidden in the way it is in politics, that motivates everything: in both arenas.'
‘You keep emphasising the word ‘orthodox',' Kate says. She is leaning forward, her eyes intent upon us. This is very important to her.
‘There is significance in that?'
‘Yes. Profound significance.'
First, though, our friends need to consider elections. They need to understand what is going on beneath all the hype. At one level, of course, it is clear. There are issues and personalities that the electorate is required to judge. At a deeper level, there is power and privilege to be decided.
But what if we go deeper still?
‘I know,' says Mike. ‘You're going to tell us there is a secret organisation of doctors who decide who we vote for by putting something in our water.'
‘No,' we reply. ‘But you must face a truth: that what we all expect from elections means that good government can never be achieved.'
‘Is that so?' Mike says.
‘It is so:'
WE ALL ACT SICK.
WE ARE MALINGERERS IN THE
END TIMES OF HISTORY.
AND OUR ACTING SICK HAS A PROFOUND EFFECT
UPON HOW OUR NATIONS OPERATE.
‘So, my friends, look no further than ourselves for the cause of all our pains. Look no further than our politicians too: for they conspire to keep us in our state of dis-ease. They grow fat on it; their egos wax large on it: and we decline on it.'
‘You had better explain,' says John.
‘Yes. But let us first hear a story:'
All is well with our world. It is Sunday morning, and for once there is good news in our paper. We are in bed with coffee and our Sunday treat of chocolate biscuits. Miraculously the children are quiet and our partner, in spite of the chocolate round his or her lips, looks good.
We are raising our coffee to our lips. We are thinking interesting Sunday morning thoughts that have a lot to do with eradicating that chocolate from our partner's mouth, when…
We feel a pain.
It is just a stab. Then it is gone, and Sunday morning proves perfect.
But later, the pain comes back: harder, sharper.
Now, it does not go away. Now our partner can see enough to be concerned.
We go to our doctor. Yes, it is certainly rare to find a surgery open on a Sunday, but after all: this is a perfect Sunday.
Once inside the surgery, we begin to explain the pain. The doctor asks some questions. We answer. There is a bit of history given here, a bit of our life style there.
‘Mmm,' says the doctor.
There follows a brief examination.
A finger prods. ‘Ouch!' A palm of the hand pushes. ‘Ooh!'
‘And does it hurt here?'
‘What about there?'
We adjust our clothes. The examination is over.
There is a ‘hum' and a ‘ha'. There is a quick rub of the chin. Then the doctor pronounces. We have such and such a thing.
‘Is it something to worry about?'
The doctor thinks not. ‘We'll keep an eye on it. Come back in a fortnight. In the meantime…'
The doctor writes a prescription.
The doctor has pronounced. The diagnosis is made. We walk out with our cure. It had been frightening. But we are alright now. The doctor is the expert. The doctor has seen what is wrong with us by understanding the symptoms; has found the cure, and has administered the treatment. We head for the pharmacy. There we receive the medication, and soon we are swallowing it as happily as if it were chocolate biscuits.
Pity, a week later, about the side effects.
‘It is simple,' we say. ‘Accept this truth:'
WE TREAT OUR POLITICIANS
AS IF THEY ARE ORTHODOX DOCTORS.
AT THE SAME TIME,
OUR POLITICIANS TREAT US
AS IF WE ARE PATIENTS:
UNINTELLIGENT PATIENTS AT THAT.
‘When we visit an orthodox doctor,' we continue, ‘we present with our pains, or if you like, our symptoms. The doctor is in charge. The power is all his or hers. We are essentially in a monologue. What we expect is that the doctor makes a diagnosis and that we walk out with a prescription.'
‘It is the same in politics. We as the electorate present with our social and political pains.'
‘We then expect our orthodox political practitioners to come up with their diagnoses, via manifestos and television broadcasts. After that, we expect from them a legislative programme.'
‘Their prescriptions!' Kate cries.
‘Yes Kate. And I am afraid that:'
OUR POLITICIANS ARE LEGISLATION JUNKIES
IN THE SAME WAY THAT SO MANY OF OUR DOCTORS
ARE MEDICATION JUNKIES.
‘And like in the medical arena,' we continue, ‘the power is with the practitioner. We do not want to take responsibility for our ills, and we do not want to know about legislative side effects. It is a truth of our times.'
‘I understand. And I know where this is taking us.'
‘Yes. We have to learn from alternative medicine.'
‘Exactly right, Kate. For whilst the orthodox medical practitioner so often just diagnoses and throws us a prescription, what does the alternative practitioner do?'
‘You answer,' Kate whispers.
We smile. ‘He or she leans forward and asks us what we are going to do about it. And notice how this puts us into a dialogue, rather than the monologue of the orthodox. The process becomes a partnership.'
Kate nods. ‘It's obvious. I think anyone who knows about alternative medicine will understand that.'
‘But everyone needs to understand it, Kate. In particular, everyone needs to understand that we will never achieve good government under the orthodox paradigm, because we are hypochondriacs. We are invariably wracked by imaginary pains. Very often all we manage to do is generate political and social cultures that are nothing but symptom-driven fantasies. And then we have the audacity to pretend that we are politically mature. We even consider it our duty to export our symptom-driven process abroad.'
Of course, many political symptoms are real. There is no doubting that: although what factors actually constitute the root causes of those symptoms is something we shall have to look at later.
We can start to make a list of some typical ‘real' symptoms, and there can be little doubt that most industrialised nations would immediately recognise them:
Poverty amidst affluence
Run down cities
Uncertainties about public education
Crises within our Health Services
Lack of any sense of community
These are the sorts of issues we wake to every morning. They fill every TV and radio station, and also every newspaper, magazine and journal. Our social and political symptoms are the stuff of political debate.
AS POLITICAL HYPOCHONDRIACS,
WE GET POLITICIANS WHO ARE QUASI-DOCTORS:
PRACTITIONERS WHO RESPOND
TO OUR OBSESSION WITH POLITICAL SYMPTOMS.
Our politicians are nothing but doctors. We are nothing but patients. This is how we operate. And a high percentage of our social and political problems is a consequence of that fact.
What doctor does not listen to our complaints? And do not politicians also listen? What doctor does not prescribe? And do not politicians prescribe? Individual members of parliament hold regular surgeries (an interesting choice of word!). Every political party takes soundings, for they are hot on their examinations these days.
Yet, most of our pains are imaginary. We can all invent political symptoms, but our politicians are masters of that craft. They have to be: for what else is an opposition party to do? That is its job: to have us believe the governing party is useless; that such and such a phenomenon is life threatening, is serious and is beyond the government's ability to put right.
‘Let me get this straight,' says Mike, who is hoping that Sandy is going to fetch the home-made ice cream. ‘You are saying that everything is dominated by symptoms?'
‘That we treat our politicians as doctors and expect them to cure us?'
Mike shrugs. ‘So what's wrong with that? ‘If my body is working alright, then I don't need a doctor. But if I've got symptoms, then I do. And so I go to the doctor and get my treatment. He or she's the expert. I don't know anything about medicine, so I go to someone who's trained.'
‘And are you comfortable with the state of training of your politicians?'
‘Of course not! They're a bunch of idiots. I know ten blokes down the pub, and twenty taxi drivers who know more about running the country than any politician.'
‘So what are you saying?' asks Sandy as she goes to the freezer. ‘That we need to train politicians in the same way we train doctors?'
‘Not a good idea,' says John. ‘The point of democracy is that anyone can stand for election. And besides, one of the things we complain about is that too many of our politicians aren't ordinary people. Most of them are career politicians, who have hardly had a life outside Whitehall . And I don't suppose it's any different in Washington , Paris or Rome .'
‘Well there isn't any other way of doing it,' says Mike. ‘If we've got symptoms, then we've got to have people to cure us. That's what you do with symptoms.'
‘But it doesn't have to be!' Kate cries. ‘That's where that logic, that John and I centre our lives on, comes in.' She turns to us and we see real excitement. ‘You're going to suggest a different way, aren't you? That of alternative medicine and healing?'
‘Yes we are. But let's take this step by step. You already understand that new paradigm. But not everyone does. Most of our western world is still in thrall to orthodox practices. People need to understand those practices' limitations before they can be guided towards the new.'
‘Well I'm definitely in thrall to it,' says Mike. ‘I don't like pains. I don't like twinges. And I don't like the idea of heart disease or cancer. So you just give me a well-trained doctor any day of the week.'
‘And I'm definitely not in thrall to it,' says John. ‘I avoid doctors when I can, and I avoid medication unless it's necessary. But I haven't bought what's being suggested here. I can't see aromatherapy being any use in the political arena. And you could scatter homeopathic tablets all over the House of Commons. It wouldn't do any good.'
‘But,' we say. ‘That's just one level of the language. We have to go quite a bit deeper. Before we do that, though, let's eat that wonderful looking ice cream, and let's look at the orthodox paradigm. We need to do our homework. We need to understand what is wrong with it.'
Our friends need to accept that our modern political process does not start with the aspirations we imagine it should. It does not even start with debate. These days it starts, just as in the medical arena, with the consultation: which is the job of pollsters and focus groups.
And then comes the diagnosis. Our orthodox political practitioners, via television, newspapers and manifestos, tell us what is wrong. We then vote for those diagnoses. Though what we often do is vote for the best presenters, for the slickest practitioners: for the leaders with the best ‘bedside' manner.
THE ENTIRE POLITICAL PROCESS,
DRIVEN BY SYMPTOMS,
IS GEARED TO INVENT DIAGNOSES.
FOR THEN CAN BE MANUFACTURED
Every political party enters an election with its manifesto. This analyses what is wrong, and follows with a proposed legislative programme. In other words: diagnosis and prescription. And we yearn for political diagnosis and prescription, because we want our pains to go away. We want to be cured of our dis-ease. We want to be freed of our symptoms.
HAVE BEEN MISDIAGNOSING FOR SO LONG,
AND HAVE BEEN EMPLOYING
INAPPROPRIATE TREATMENTS FOR SO LONG,
WE HAVE LOST CONFIDENCE IN THEM.
This is central to our political unease. We have been too long at the surgery door. We have hurried too often to the polls clutching the latest prescription, excited by the newest quick-fix political ‘drug'. We have lost faith in our political practitioners, but we have not yet lost faith in the system. We still want to be cured. We still want our pains removed. We still want our politicians to do it for us, just as we expect our medical practitioners to treat our ailments, to patch up and rebuild our bodies.