The Jumblies, and other stories – Election Diary

The detachment of electoral politics from what is actually going on in the world continues apace. I don’t wholly blame the politicians for this. We, the electorate, do it, too. We turn away, rather than face down the challenges around us. We put fingers in our ears, close our eyes, pretend it’s not happening.

Because there’s big stuff going on. The entire settlement of the 20th Century – lines on maps, the economic system, social relations, industrial production – it’s all unravelling. It is the world of The Jumblies.

Edward Lear’s nonsense poem, The Jumblies, tells quite a tale. “They went to sea in a sieve, they did/In a sieve they went to sea….\And when the sieve turned round and round,/ And everyone cried, ‘You’ll all be drowned!’/ They called aloud,’Our sieve ain’t big,/ But we don’t care a button, we don’t care a fig!/ In a sieve we’ll go to sea.”

in Lear’s world they sailed on the Western Sea, and so one might call the Mediterranean today, for it is the border between the West and the Rest. Carving up continents, spheres of influence, colonialism and imperialism, to WMDs, regime change, and liberal interventionism, it’s all falling apart. Children march, traumatised, across lands littered with the beheaded and the crucified, before boarding their sieves to drown within sight of beachfront apartments.  Peasants flee from fields without water, or from bandits, or kleptocrats, or from fools with a religious book in one hand and a machete in the other.  But we can trace the causes of all of these things, and we can learn lessons. That’s one of the basic responsibilities of democratic politics.

But even on home ground, we don’t seem capable of clear thinking. The election campaign bears so little resemblance to the realities in our country that we might as well vote on the basis of whether someone “looks prime ministerial”, or even whether we like their hairstyle, or their ability to prop up a bar in a pub.

So what do I want the politicians to do? If I were to be in the position to advise them, what would I say?

There’s the problem. “Philosophers have only interpreted the world; the point is to change it.”

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