Journey to the Centre of Life

When I started university, I picked up Karl Marx and read everything. You name it, I read it – except Capital II, I never got around to that one. I soon styled myself as a solidly left-wing kind of person. I hated the current government, I did not respect my boss at all, I voted for standard left-wing politicians. I demonstrated in the streets, the US was evil, and Lenin was just misunderstood. I didn’t go so far as to sign up for the communist party and I would not consider myself a radical, but I certainly had some sympathies.

What attracted me to thinkers like Karl Marx was the answer he provides to the question of why injustice exists in the world. In an increasingly agnostic world, we can’t just use God to explain the way things are – which is a rather horrible place. Everywhere one looks there just seems to be endless suffering and injustice. Marx gives you the answer to this question.

So, I progressed through university, reading everything I could get my hands on including a lot of books from all across the political spectrum, but I remained fairly left-wing. I saw injustices in the world and thought this was inherent to a corrupt system of exploitation and I dreamt of a world where things were just easier for myself and everyone around me.

It broke my heart once to see a group of men sleeping in the street, not because they had no job, but because they had to start work at 4.30 in the morning and this was the only way the could be on time because they had no car and public transport doesn’t run at that time. This to me was unjust, and an example of exploitative system. Now I see this as just a bunch of guys trying their best to do what they think is right.

Something that really stuck in my mind though was that things on the left just never seemed to add up. If a socialist system was superior, why were we not at least edging towards it? Surely, even the average person would be able to understand that socialism is far more attractive than exploitative capitalism? Most important of all was the question – why is the other side winning?

To answer these questions, I committed myself to read a lot more of thinkers on the right, but without my left-wing lense. In other words, I wasn’t going to read these texts any less critically, but I was going to approach them differently from what I had previously. Before they were the thinkers that justified capitalist enslavement of mankind through a corrupt political system, now I wanted to assess them for what they had originally intended their texts to be.

My first port of call was Rousseau and his Du Contrat Sociale – and boy was it an eye opener.

Rousseau’s famous line:“man is born free, yet everywhere I see him in chains” resonates with me to this day. Rousseau’s answer for the existence of justice said to me that more fundamentally than exploitation, we are held back by convention.

Then I moved onto the other heavyweights: Hobbes, Locke, Mill and Burke. The collective achievement of these writers showed me the enormous progress western philosophy has taken to lift off the shackles of superstition, deference, and servitude.

I threw in other important writers, especially those who I would describe as confused socialists, Orwell and Camus. It was important for me to understand their relationship with socialism and why they turned their backs on international communism. For me, the story of Camus particularly is the most poignant

when your ideology justifies violence against others it is broken.

I recognise now that left-wing ideology fundamentally does not work. That is not to say right-wing ideology is any better. So, I sit now in the centre. That all changed when I read Schmidt, and now I don’t sit anywhere, I’ve just left the party altogether. Basically, I’m floundering on the floor in crushing cynicism.

So, what are the lessons I have learned so far?

  1. Marx was wrong: capitalism is not coming to roaring conclusion. It’s just not going to happen.
  2. Always be sceptical: no one has the right answer, they have only an answer.
  3. I am free: my life and destiny are entirely my responsibility.
  4. Power should remain within the individual: Governments cannot be trusted – delegating power will invariably lead to worse outcomes for people.
  5. Suffering is a part of the human condition: it is what we do with it that counts.

And what I recommend for people? Two words: Marcus Aurelius.

Ban Homeless People. Ah, Problem Fixed.

Can you believe that poor people actually exist. What’s more, we actually have to look at them! How dare they ask for money so they can eek out a bare existence sleeping on the streets of Auckland. Recently Larry Williams wrote an opinion piece in the New Zealand Herald, the right wing propaganda mouthpiece of middle class New Zealand. Apparently, homelessness has become a problem, nay, “scourge”, on the streets of Auckland and it’s high time the government do something about it.

I love how for people like Larry Williams and Bob Jones (whom Larry cites in his article), the solution to homelessness is to pass a law. Yeah, because laws just magically solve the problem. It’s not the system that puts these people on the street, no it’s simply their choice. To these people, being poor is a choice without actually thinking about the socio-economic reasons for poverty. If poverty was a choice then ostensibly no one would choose it, and we would all live in a utopia. Given the gross abundance of poverty in the world, I think it is safe to safe no one is choosing to be poor, the utopia doesn’t exist, and the right wing talking point of personal freedom is clearly shown to be baseless.

In regards to choice, however, people such as Williams will often point towards poor people’s bad spending habits. In this sense they claim people are poor because they are spending their disposable income on things they shouldn’t be. For this they rely on their own subjective anecdotal evidence, having seen ‘one of them’ in places such as McDonald’s. This leads to another common observation that they are also obese. Clearly they are eating well because is they were actually poor they wouldn’t be able to afford food and they would be skinny. Again, Larry and other right wing hacks fail to actually account for the psychological reasons underpinning people’s desire to eat unhealthily. Such phenomena are compounded by the low cost and mass production of this food.

Heaven forbid however the government actually attempts to tackle these underlying problems through means such as taxes on sugar and fat. So while its okay for Larry to patronise people he sees as beneath him, its not okay for the government to do so to him, even though theoretically the government is meant to be the manifestation of society’s will, which if anything is the only acceptable form of patronising. However I digress.

I think Larry Williams has a hard time thinking that other people actually exist. He mustn’t even think that other people might have the same, or similar, hopes, dreams, and desires as he does. He sees the poor, not as people he can relate to, but indeed, the Other. Someone to contrast and construct his own identity from. This process dehumanises and relegates the issue of homelessness and poverty to an issue that can be solved with positivist law.

The basic legality of any anti-homelessness law should also be brought into question. One fundemental human right recognised for hundreds, if not, thousands of years by humankind, is the right to free movement (slavery notwithstanding obviously). People should be able to move around as they please. It’s only with the invention of provate property have we made the distinction between acceptable and unacceptable freedom of movement. In New Zealand, we recognise this distinction legally between public and private land. When he forbid people from owning the foreshore around New Zealand we think it normal, right, and good that all Kiwis can access beaches and the ocean no matter where they are (there are exceptions to this of course but the point remain nonetheless).

Thus, how can Larry Williams claim that the poor shouldn’t be allowed to sit on the street. It is public property after all. No one owns that land, except perhaps the government. Even so, it is declared public land to be used by the public i.e. by everyone. Homeless people are using it, just not in the way that you like. If people are choosing to be poor, as Larry claims they are, then it follows also by his own reasoning that they are choosing to sit and sleep where they wish. It seems rather hypocritical for Larry to chastise these people for choosing to sit around doing nothing all day drinking and getting high, in other words, being poor, and in the same breathe say they shouldn’t be able to do.

Along this slippery slope Larry will continue to wander mindlessly. I bet that if pressed hard enough Larry would be in favour of forcing the homeless to work in exchange for food and shelter without considering for one second the ramifications of what he is actually advocating. But Larry does not care. And why would be? When he sits up there on his comfortable upper middle class high-horse wanting freedom and personal liberty, what he is really saying is freedom and liberty for me and the people I like, but sorry not for anyone else.

Larry Williams calls homeless people a scourge on our society. It is so ironic that in fact it is people like him, unsympathetic, ignorant, selfish, weaselly little men who see the world in black and white. For all their talk of freedom and personal liberty, these are the people are the most slavish of all. They are slaves ideologically, intellectually, and economically. Larry Williams is the face, or rather, the voice, of a system that oppresses  and exploits the poor and then turns around and blames them for being poor.

Source

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=11617973