Have you noticed how boring politics has become?
Journalists search for the reasons we’ve lost interest, but they don’t need to look very far. Journalists are writers, and every writer knows that the key to a compelling story is empathy. Not fancy language, correct information or sentence structure. It’s the ability to evoke a “that’s me” response. “This story expresses exactly how I feel.”
If you can create a lead character who’s had the same dark thoughts, wrestled with the same exasperations, ironies and injustices, then your reader will follow that character anywhere.
So what happened to our leaders? – something they weren’t quite ready for.
The transparency of the digital age.
The ability to see and be seen should be a GOOD thing because we get to really know people better. Transparency gives us an opportunity to be more REAL. Becoming real involves identifying with the dynamic energy of our inner spirit, rather than our outer personality – which after all, is just something we constructed in an attempt to be popular.
Without transparency, stuff lurks in the shadows and gathers weight. When this is brought out into the light, far from being shocked, everyone has an opportunity to say “THANK GOD IT’S NOT JUST ME… who eats the whole box of Maltesers; has those sexual fantasies; hates people with dogs/tattoos/Ferraris/clipped vowels.”
But instead of embracing this opportunity, leaders (both government and corporate) run the other way into POLITICAL CORRECTNESS and a strange hinterland in which they believe that if they sit on the fence saying meaningless, aspirational things, then everyone will like them.
In fact, the opposite is true. For the same reasons we cringe when people put edited highlights of their fabulous life on Facebook. We may not dislike them, but we’re more likely to say “Are you (for) real?”
Nowadays, leaders are just like the Powerpoint presentations that they love so much – they’re a list of bullet points that prove a bunch of POSITIVE STUFF they’ve achieved in the past and the fabulous things they’ll achieve in the future. But followers are smarter than that. We know there must be a dark side, and because it’s not there, we fill in the gaps ourselves. And we usually fill them in, WITH REALLY BAD STUFF.
We’re readers. We know things are never the way they appear on the surface. We know the hero will have a crazy wife in the attic, that the pious clergyman will be fiddling with altar boys, that the smiling lady will have a poison apple in her coat pocket.
We want leaders who are real, not leaders who buy their authenticity from a branding company.
So, after all the sensational news stories about rich people getting richer, self-interest running rampage and corporate greed reaching epidemic levels, you would think there would be a huge swing to the left in politics. But that hasn’t happened, either in the UK or in the US.
Because, there are no interesting stories to follow.
In the US the Yes We Can optimism has all but fizzled out as people are realizing that it takes more than a few slogans to change a fear-based population into a hopeful, creative one.
The elephant in the room is the Federal Reserve. The people with money run the country, and they own the president, so he has no real power to change anything. If a cool, popular, black president can’t change anything, who can? How will anyone get excited about an election ever again?
Over in the UK, the elephant in the room is Ed Milliband. A recent poll reveals that only 13% of the population think he can possibly be Leader of the Country. The party faithful refuse to look at the problem and keep repeating the same mantra, that Ed may be geeky, but he’s a good sort.
But this is a guy who went up against his elder brother for the top job. Most people in the party (and in the country) wanted his brother, but Ed secured a block vote from the unions and stole the prize. I mean you just don’t DO that. It’s like stealing your older sister’s boyfriend and expecting the family to have you over for thanksgiving dinner.
Meanwhile, Russell Brand is busy working both sides of the Atlantic with his philosophy of Revolution. He advocates not voting as a form of protest. Many people are angry with him and point out how hard our ancestors worked, fought and died for the right to vote. They say, rightly, that if working class people don’t vote the Republicans/Conservatives will get back in and things will go horribly wrong.
But all Russell is really saying is that it doesn’t make any difference who wins. The whole election thing has become a circus, a farce, a smokescreen of sound-bites and 60 second soft-focus films trying to engage us in an old story that’s past its sell by date. A bit like trying to sell re-runs of Dallas to a world watching Breaking Bad.
The world has changed, and we need a different story if we’re going to engage people.
In the old story there were clearly identifiable heroes and villains.
If you’re a republican/conservative, the hero is the person who uses his entrepreneurial skill to create wealth and the villains are the people who don’t work hard enough and require hand outs to make ends meet. They also get pregnant to avoid going to school, take drugs and steal stuff from rich white folk.
If you’re a democrat/labour, the hero is the salt of the earth hard working person (typically portrayed in an artistic way by Constable or Lowry) and the villains are the bankers and CEOs of corporations who spend their time drinking champagne in the 4 Seasons and shopping for luxury brands. They are all sociopaths with intimacy issues and get their kicks from tax avoidance and light bondage with high-class hookers.
But these boundaries are messed up now. The rich category does include the old, arrogant and uncaring, but (now we’ve gone digital), it also contains young, highly conscious, social entrepreneurs. The poor category is filled with hard workers desperate for an opportunity to advance and also (since the technological revolution) a growing under class of people for whom there are no jobs. Nor will there be jobs any time in the future.
This is an inconvenient truth.
Advances in technology mean less need for unskilled labour. Population growth keeps adding to the pool of unskilled labour (because people with skills have few or no children and people with no practical outlet for their creativity, knock them out like shelling peas). It’s politically incorrect to point this out, but it’s what many people are thinking. So while they TALK about the insanity and unfairness of right wing politics, in the darkness of the voting booth, their unconscious fears draw them to the BLUE box.
But the real dilemma isn’t about which box to choose, it’s about changing the boxes entirely! If we stick with old definitions, we miss the opportuntity to form new creative networks. The discussion we should be having isn’t about rich/poor, but about creative/not creative. Not about Republican/Democrat but about conscious/not conscious.
Because a conscious, creative republican is the same as a conscious, creative Democrat.
“Take from the rich and give to the poor” might have been a philosophy that worked for Robin Hood – but this was Sherwood Forest in the 15th century, not a Mumbai slum today. Things are more complex now because with money comes corruption, gang warfare and power imbalance.
On the other hand, something corrupt people can’t steal is CREATIVITY, particularly when it joins forces with the spirit of nature. Creativity can make electricity from potatoes, regenerate land with microbes – it can even discover mushrooms that actually eat plastic. Creativity can change the way we look at health, education, the environment and just about everything.
We need to somehow form coalitions of shared interest that go beyond country barriers. If ISIS can do it with one insane idea, why can’t we do it with a compelling, intelligent, compassionate one?
And as for that leadership issue, we do need change. Some women would be good, not ‘made in man’s image’ women but real women.
The times may feel apocalyptic, but if we can find one honest woman in time, we may just avoid Sodom and Gomorrah.