Friday, November 4, 2011

On Eternal Vigilance

The price of liberty is eternal vigilance, as someone once said, quite correctly. But he had the time and the energy to be vigilant. Most of us, you know how it is, by the time you’ve done all the things you have to do, then some of the things you want to do, you don’t have much of anything left to be vigilant with. Just about enough energy to moan about how taxes have gone up again and the government wants to ban short-tailed lizard racing because they found someone enjoying it, or to froth a little about what Israel has done in Gaza, or what Hamas has done in Jerusalem, according to whichever newspaper we read last; laugh or frown at the latest nutty remark by a US Presidential candidate, again, according to taste/prejudice/political persuasion, the sort of thing we say in the pub when we’re pontificating on world affairs in the belief that we are experts and that someone cares what we think. But vigilance?

Vigilance is tough. And it’s not just the time and the inclination. We may cheer on the people of Libya as they finally chase their bloodstained despot out of town, but we also notice- or perhaps we don’t- that, although the people, collectively, might be destined for a better, freer, more prosperous and stable life (let us hope so) many individual Libyans have lost their lives, or their homes, their jobs, their families and the majority have probably seen their lives hugely disrupted. They may expect a better future, but the present is difficult and uncertain. People, real people, have lost a lot by standing up for themselves. Belling the cat takes courage, and can get you killed.

In Britain, and in Spain, you can still criticise the government without being visited at dawn by the secret police, so vigilance is a question, not so much of courage, as of energy, effort, study, will and time. And the fact that you can do it without risking your life means that now is the time to take it seriously, before it is too late. I don’t expect to see tyranny in either of my homelands in the near future, but the stranglehold which our rulers*, many of them completely unaccountable, have on every aspect of life is infuriating, and the grip is tightening. In Spain we have Citizenship on the school timetable (guess what that's all about), and historical truth is decreed by law. I read somewhere (I forget where, sorry) that in Argentina exactly the same interference exists in schools. The real danger starts when the protection of the state’s existence and ideology becomes the central goal, and there are signs that the EU is beginning to think in this way. A step on the way, and a warning sign, is when all new laws seem to be created for the convenience of the rulers and their minions, rather than for the protection and prosperity of the people (making it illegal not to fill in a form properly, not to cooperate with the authorities, to possess cash, to own things that can conceivably be used to do harm; responding to every problem not by looking for a solution but by criminalising any action which might require them to look for that solution).
*Not leaders, I tend to find them elsewhere. Offhand I can’t think of a single European ruler who I would follow anywhere, physically, intellectually, ideologically or morally. I can’t think of a single one who has ever displayed real, personal leadership or physical courage, which is a sine qua non for any leader. Some appear to have a certain capacity to attract followers, but then so do Meadowbank Thistle. They don’t inspire me. And the idea of anyone at all following Herman von Rompuy to the ramparts is utterly hilarious.


James Higham said...

To an extent - Václav Klaus was all right. Only up to a point.

Brett Hetherington said...

Yes, vigiliance takes energy. And the most common form of censorship we are likely to deal with is self-censorship. I find myself struggling with this in my own writting/blogging mainly because I have (strongly Catholic) employers who might take away my job from me if they come across something in my views that they find objectionable.

I tend to agree with you too about the lack of genuine leaders in Europe, present or past. People who become leaders of political parties are almost never worthy of admiration, to the extent of following them to the barracades. I used to do (full-time paid) research and speech-writing for a politician in Australia who I very much respected. She was a rare breed. Independent of mind and action, with a love of animals and a wish to help those people who needed it. Of course, she didn't last long in her seat because the party machines can't abide "dangerous" free-thinkers.

(Thanks for the link to my blog, by the way. I'm getting a bit of traffic to it from you, which is nice. I only just started looking at the Stats this week and was stunned to find that people from all over the world are regularly visiting it, except Africa and South America interestingly.) Have you ever checked your Stats? If so, were you also suprised at what you found?)

CIngram said...


Yes, as rulers go, Klaus was not so bad. I don't think I'd quite follow him to the barricades, but I wouldn't follow most of them into the pub.


Yes, we do balance our desire to be heard against our fear of the consequences. Most of us have to. Amongst the young there are groups who have the luxury of having very clear beliefs and nothing much to lose. Which is, I in¡magine, why much of the protesting in Western democracies is done by these groups (Occupy/Indignaos/Students against whatever). Whether they are right, and whether they achieve anything by it is a different question, but the fact is they pay a smaller price for articulating their beliefs than we do.

I'm glad if I've sent you a little traffic. I think we are some way apart politically, but I prefer to read interesting blogs than ones that merely confirm my own opinions. I do look at the stats from time to time, and it can be very surprising where people are reading you from and how they got here.

Brett Hetherington said...

Yes, I think we are somewhat different in our political outlook but it makes life a bit more interesting when someone disagrees with you, doesn't it?

A case in point is the one you mentioned about the occupy/indidgnants movements. Yes, there are plenty of young people in their ranks, probably a majority but there is also a sizeable number of older people: especially the recently unemployed,and those working in the public sector such as nurses teachers. They just don't have time to be out in Placa Catalunya or the main squares of towns and cities but they will often get out there to march.

I came from a country (Australia) where the level of political interest and involvement is as low as anywhere else in the world so I am greatly encouraged by the numbers of people who regard social and political issues as important to them, here in Europe. It's one of the reasons I like living here.

It gives me some hope.