lunes, mayo 16, 2016

Junk news

If we stopped reading mainstream news, would we be any more ignorant?

My hypothesis is that the opposite would happen. For proper democracies to work, we need to be informed well enough to be able to take decisions as individuals. Nevertheless, as one can see from the political debate in Spain, the campaign by Donald Trump in the US and the Brexit campaign in the UK, the mainstream news outlets peddle lies, half lies and manipulation. There food is their readers partial or total ignorance.

As citizens, we all have a role to play. However we are rarely well informed enough to make judgements on general issues. We read the news and mostly learn about terrorism, immigration, refugees, political corruption... Yet we only develop very superficial awareness and none of the deeper knowledge of the issues leading to these phenomena. We are thus ripe to manipulation from politicians who use sweeping statements and generalisation to carry voters with them.

That is not to say that we should not want to hear about these issues, but that we should approach them through sources that present them from an angle that is relevant to our expertise. If I were a doctor, I would want to learn about the reality of zika from a scientific perspective; a lawyer might want to know what judicial obstacles get in the way of Brexit, whereas a security expert might seek a serious and informed risk analysis of the terrorist threat, beyond the emotional hysteria that is the preserve of the mainstream titles.

Was this not the promise of Internet? Information tailored to the interests of each and every one of us. Instead we seem to live a culture of emotion, spread virally via memes and turning us into a society founded on rumour and reinforced, almost legitimised, ignorance.

Top quality, specialist journals have a high price on them, reflecting the work that goes into researching and producing their content. They can however be made available to a wider, specialist audience via the companies they work for, the associations they belong to and so on. Mainstream news is however, for the most part, free. Perhaps this is also a reflection of its true value. In the language of Standard and Poor's, "junk".

viernes, mayo 06, 2016

Englishness

The strange thing about being English and growing up in England was that sometimes you felt you had to apologise for it. Like when I was 6 or 7 years old and my Art teacher said, "Oh, Adrian, he's oh so very English!"

You could not get by without a sense of humour, so you developed that. And it worked. So you could manage the arrogance of those 'cool' guys who came from abroad and felt so exotic and sophisticated. They would tell you England was on the slide and they were the future. You would end up believing it, not really minding losing the football. It was all about 'being a good sport'.

Then you would go abroad and say you were from England and they would say, "Oh, the hooligans! The fish and chips". And you would reply, "Oh, but only the English are hooligans. Only the English eat fish and chips. I am from London, a whole different kettle of lobsters". The image everyone else had of your country was not one that you yourself recognised. Until your Welsh friend showed up and gave a class on the importance of tea at 5 O'Clock. "Oh, the proof! The real English are the Welsh!"

I can't remember who it was who said you only know what it means to be English when you have travelled the world. I must say I still don't exactly know what it means. The Chinese travel the world and eat in Chinese restaurants. The English would rather not be seen with their fellow countrymen (and women), unless of course they are retiring to the Costa Blanca. But that, after all, is a whole different story.

Now the English (and the Scots and Welsh) are debating whether or not they are European. A difficult question considering many of them are no doubt unsure enough of what it means to be English, Scottish or Welsh. The clearer minded are often those with the privilege of being British, ie. those who can identify with the flag and not with the blood. Because as one learns with experience, having English blood is not cause enough to be considered British for life, retaining the vote, or handing on your nationality on to your grandchildren. They call it 'ius solis'. Only the other day I was told that if I had spent more than 15 years outside the UK, it was 'quite clear my interests lay elsewhere'.

Yet however much you 'go native', as the standard bearers of Englishness like to refer to those of us who venture 'overseas', you are never quite 'French' or 'Spanish' or 'Greek', because they have a much clearer idea of what it means to form a part of their respective nations. Even when for football fans one of the greatest 'Spanish' surnames is Robinson.

So yes, for the little it means, I guess I am still English. And now I live in another city and in another land, I have more freedom to express that in whatever way I feel like, or not at all, than I would in my own. So yes, now I have travelled, I suppose I now know what it means to be English. ie. not really knowing at all, but being increasingly sure that that, precisely, is what it really involves.

viernes, febrero 13, 2015

En un sistema de partidos, lo democrático es el sistema, no el partido

He participado en partidos políticos en España y el Reino Unido y la realidad es que como afiliado no pintas nada en las decisiones que se toman. Votas con la tasa de afiliación, que puedes retirar en cualquier momento, y puedes votar a veces al candidato o al Secretario General, que es algo absurdo cuando la doctrina generalizada es que para ganar elecciones es mejor no hacer caso a la militancia. Pero influir realmente en la política del partido, a menos que seas estudiante o jubilado y tengas tiempo para meterte en esas batallas, está fuera del alcance de las llamadas 'bases' del partido. Reconozcámoslo. Pertenecer al PP, al PSOE, etc. es algo similar a unirte al Club de Kellogg's. Te defines en función de los valores del partido, no esperas a que el partido se defina en ti.

En este contexto, ¿por qué alza los brazos tanta gente con gesto de estupefacción cuando el ejecutivo de un partido decide destituir de manera fulminante a la dirección de una agrupación local? Los partidos son máquinas de ganar elecciones, y cuando pierden esa capacidad su única misión es perder. Como medios de comunicación, si se alejan de los valores de su militancia, perderán apoyos, suscripciones, votos, todo lo que tu quieras. Pero si al menos ganan elecciones y hacen lo suficiente para mantener leales a sus simpatizantes, sobrevivirán.

Ante esta realidad, indignarse porque toman decisiones sin pedir previamente un voto es cuando menos ingenuo. Los militantes, guste o no, están allí para trabajar, para cumplir rigurosamente el guión, para difundir los 'mensajes' del partido y para convencer a los votantes para que te apoyen.

¿Y quién lo hace mejor? ¿Podemos, con sus asambleas que son mero maquillaje para que luego el eje Iglesias, Monedero, Errejón decida todo en petit comité? Los partidos son organismos jerarquizados con unos jefes que van rotando pero rara vez dan el brazo a torcer. La disciplina, para que tengan éxito, tiene que ser militar para evitar titulares sobre batallas, conspiraciones o 'luchas entre familias', que es algo que, por cierto, sólo he encontrado en España y que suena a algo de El Padrino.

En este contexto, ¿dónde queda la democracia? Pues, en que haya muchos partidos, en que cualquiera pueda crear el suyo, desarrollar su programa y buscar apoyos; en que haya elecciones democráticas cada cuatro o cinco años; en que haya instituciones que garanticen el equilibrio entre fuerzas y el respeto al ordenamiento jurídico; en que las leyes definan claramente los derechos y los deberes de los ciudadanos y eviten que se aplasten las libertades de los que están en minoría...

Para eso está la democracia. Para que sea el ciudadano el que tome la decisión final. Pero insisto, me refiero al ciudadano y no al militante o afiliado. Estos no deberían volverse demasiado sentimentales. Si están donde están es porque apoyan a la causa a la que se apuntado. Y si eso cambia, se pueden ir. Peor es estar en un país donde haya un sólo partido y no tengas a donde acudir. Aquí hay muchas vías para expresar el descontento que no pasan por obstinarse en cambiar la dirección de una máquina que ha tomado un rumbo contrario al tuyo. A pasar página, y a volver a empezar.

Es más, me dan miedo los partidos que intentan ser demasiado democráticos, 'escuchar' demasiado, o imitar los sistemas de decisión de los sistemas democráticos. Porque en ello reside el objetivo de perpetuarse en el poder, sustituir el Estado por el Partido y excluir el Ciudadano de las decisiones sobre lo público en beneficio del militante o el afiliado. Mejor que los partidos sean imperfectos, porque los que intentan ser perfectos fácilmente nos pueden conducir a algo mucho peor. Como el 'Socialismo Democrático', por ejemplo. ¿A qué suena eso? Los partidos representan intereses. Cuando te dejen de interesar, no llores. Vuelve a definirte, y sigue adelante.