The Jester and the Opposition

In our recent article, ‘What Can Be Said?’, we put out a call for suggestions on political topics. One of the interesting questions that came back was:

“What was the intended roll of the official opposition in a democratic government? What have they evolved into and how can we turn it back? Would such a change have a positive impact on how we view politicians?”

An interesting line of inquiry to be sure. The first thing to clarify here is that the focus is on the Opposition, not on any specific party or political-leaning. Still, it wasn’t until I heard another interesting quote that the motivation for this article really took hold. That second quote was this:

“The role of the Jester was to speak truth to power.”

That bit really got me thinking. Before modern democracy, in the ages of monarchs, was the Jester the original opposition party?

Well, they may have more in common than we would assume, and perhaps sadly, each have become increasingly wrapped up in the intended or surface-level role of the other.

Let’s start with the court Jester. On the surface, the role here is simple. Juggle, tell jokes, wear some bells on your head, and never pass up an opportunity to slip on an errant banana peel. In short, the role of the Jester was moreover to lighten the mood in the court, to provide a sense of levity.

In so doing however, a skilled Jester could surface some contentious truths—pointing out oversight or flaws in plans, checking assumptions, and with a pointed laugh, helping those in power consider alternative perspectives.

This was no easy job of course, and if ever the Jester tread too far off the path of entertainment and into the realm of politics, it was doubtless no rare occurrence that a jingle-belled head would be the starring role in a very aurally-pleasing beheading.

So, what about the Opposition party in a democracy? Here, we find things rather opposite. The surface level role is a bit more complicated—and overtly aimed at speaking harsh truths to power and keeping a balance on the perspectives of those making decisions. The opposition is meant as a constant check against groupthink, and to prevent one particular perspective from dominating political discourse to the detriment of open debate, consideration, and decision making.

Sadly, in this day and age the Opposition (on both sides of the spectrum, and in most every democratic nation) is taking what to the Jester might be considered the safer route. Rather than speaking truth, checking assumptions, or facilitating difficult dialogue, contemporary Opposition parties seem fixated only on their own survival.

Less interested in viable alternatives or reasonable debate, they have reduced themselves in most cases to a clownish side-show—calling names, sharing whacky photos of Majority party members, questioning sexual identify, faithfulness, or anything else to take away from the perceived legitimacy and humanity of those in power, hopefully veering the voters towards their own ill-defined cause in the next electoral cycle.

It is rarely, if ever, about improving the current cycle—only about ensuring that it is not their heads on the chopping block the next time the voters cast their ballots. Truth, reason, and virtue are tossed to the wayside in favour of insults and gripes, and nothing is ever accomplished short of an occasionally comedic soundbite.

It is a sad and telling reversal of fortunes. On both ends of the political spectrum, Opposition parties have acted to obstruct any progress—even progress they should be ideologically in support of—in order to later gloat that their opponents have accomplished nothing. Then, they bask in the wild glow of their own buffoonery—illuminated by the burning of the nation’s former high aspirations.

In the end, the clown role of the jester has won out, and we are treated to a shocking display of histrionic slapstick, while true (Read: Corporate) power rolls on unchecked.

Getting back to the original question then, what would it take to turn this trend around, and would it improve the way we view politicians? Well, the answer should be apparent enough. To serve their true role, politicians in Opposition parties would need first courage, then clarity. The courage to speak up even if it risks putting them in a vulnerable position—the courage to speak truth even at cost. Truth then, is the other matter, and for this they would need clarity. Truth is a relative thing to most, but to hold true to honest values and virtues is incumbent upon anyone who seeks to change a nation for the better. Do away with the name-calling and infighting, and remember the shared values that should make any nation great.

If this were to finally unfold, perhaps politicians would once again be viewed as defenders of society, as builders of nations and keepers of values.

Sadly, until this occurs, politicians on all sides will be viewed less as the tools to honest debate and growth, but continually as the hapless jesters they are; bumbling about mindlessly, and taking turns tripping over the awkward elephant in the room—that they have no true politics, only prices.

-Brad OH Inc.

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On Combating Jihad

purelyspeculationAmong the myriad fears and apprehensions inherent to life in these chaotic times, the threat of ‘Jihad’ reins omnipresent. It is beamed into our consciousness daily, reminding us that we may at any moment be wiped out by hateful and demented foreigners who seek only our blood.

It’s not an encouraging thought.

Defined according to my loose understanding (and if anyone has a greater skill for this, please share in the comments), ‘Jihad’ refers to the duty of Muslims to maintain their religion. This can be represented in many forms, and by the Islamic Extremists represented under the ISIS banners and others—this is seen in a Holy War against the ‘Western World’.

This notion of Jihad, and especially the extreme form it takes under ISIS is a new kind of war. It’s a war of ideas. And at present, they are winning it. Each day we hear of more citizens packing up and leaving to throw their lot in with these ‘dangerous radicals’—giving up life and liberty in order to risk life and limb.

What drives this madness?

Jihad is a story of reactive hatred—of fear for what is perceived as a threat to one’s lifestyle. But it’s a story, a metaphor like any other belief system a human can settle upon. As we’ve discussed (Link), people need stories to find meaning in life, and while this can be a wonderful thing under the right circumstances, we also showed in the article ‘The Popular Misappropriation of Blame’ (Link) that belief systems are a reflection of circumstances, and in dire straits can easily turn to this sort of vengeful bloodlust.

Forming upon such considerations amidst the harsh climate and unforgiving politics of the middle-east, it’s understandable how such an angry ideology would serve. But one story interacts with another, and what exactly do these individuals see when they look upon the so-called ‘Western World’? The world of ‘Freedom’, ‘Democracy’, and ‘Capitalism’?

We claim to be democratic and free in the political sense, but there is no doubt our economic system overrides our political one (Link) . We are driven by corporations—greed and dominance. Growth through desolation. We spread like locusts, sapping the world of its resources to live in luxury while we send those beyond us spiralling into chaos. Meanwhile, our ideals are hung up in the impotent stories of political parties with little true control over our nation’s direction.

Pantomimes and parodies.

In the waning days of religion in the West, we have no Gods to look to for guidance. Yet we continually claim we can act morally without such ‘frivolities’. This is true of the individual to a certainty, but we are yet to prove that a nation without a great idea to stand behind can ever act righteously on the global scale. The freedom we boast of is a lie. And so are we.

Jihad is an idea, and ideas are only fought with better ideas. As we continue to drop bombs and glorify our struggle against terror with arms alone, we succeed only in strengthening the resolve of our enemy—doing nothing to increase the power of our own ideals. Like the Lernaean Hydra (Link) we cut one head off, and two more grow back.

No, the only way to win a war of ideas is with the very same. Rather than contenting ourselves with the dissemination of false ideals, we must begin to truly model them as well, and show what the freedom we boast about really means.

Right now, the realities of our society are witnessed all the more astutely by those without, and what a dismal image it strikes. To win the war against global extremism—be that ISIS or any other expression of it—we must combat it with our own, superior idea. We need to talk it, walk it, and live it in every sense.

But before we do that, we’d damn well better settle on exactly what that idea is…

-Brad OH Inc.