Insights November 10th, 2019
Personal dictatorships. Not me, I hear you say, but the majority of people talk about democracy and freedom at a political level however ultimately they secretly want the opposite in their own lives. They want run in their own universes.
They want to interact with those people that agree with their political and moral stances, that want to support them, and fight against those that don’t align. Admit it to yourself. It’s true.
The truth is (and will always be) that we live in a world of different people – races, genders (and gender-politics), sexual and relationship preferences, political friends and foes, levels of education and expression, and tastes in art and food. Ultimately we are looking for like-minded people to be our colleagues, friends, lovers, partners, and our families.
That’s human nature. That’s tribalism and its been encoded to how we operate in the world from early beginnings where we were hunter-gatherers. This is survival. Defending our positions in this world vigorously and expecting everyone to align is DICTATORSHIP. That’s absolute authority in any sphere, and across all aspects of our lives.
The strongest form of which is personal dictatorships. Our immovable belief systems. Our mantras. Our self-placed positions in the world.
So why do we rely on our personal dictatorships? Because conflict is hard. Convincing people of all of the right options is hard. Discussion in the face of stupidity and opposite opinions is hard. Thinking about this challenge reminds me of my teenage years.
I grew up in a 5000-person town in the South West of England. It was a place that was white and working class. It was a victim of Thatcher’s Britain. Many of the 5000 people that lived there had right-wing leanings. It was the ‘80s. It was a hard time politically. Unions were being broken, employment was rife, the education system was broken, the wealthy became wealthier, and the majority of the kids that lived in my village lacked good parental influence and in solid moral compasses. They turned to each other, yet none of them had direction.
It was societal PTSD. I believe it stemmed from our parents being born at the end of the second world war and the subsequent hardship of life. It also came from the visceral experiences of our peers, experimentation with our lives, and our missteps.
School and social circles felt like a mental dictatorship. And, I tried to claw my way out of that mindset every single day.
At the pivotal age of 14 or 15 years old we saw political music. We also saw people come into our communities to provide influence, guidance. They were not always welcome.
At the age of 16 I saw a number of close friends turn to be radicalized by people grooming young men to be members of the neo-nazi group the National Front. This was achieved through music, through gangs, through meet-ups. But mostly through trauma, isolation and loneliness. It was shocking to see friends turn so quickly. The ideologies they adopted immediately gave them a new and powerful family. I could see why they’d fall into that but I just couldn’t get on board. My personal dictatorship was left-leaning, grounded in love for everyone, and acceptance.
Around same time I got into deeply political music and use references of liberal and open-minded thinking like the Dead Kennedys ‘Fuck Facts’, Fugazi’s hard liberal stance, and a I became determined to be a person that delivers change. I became a member of the Anti-Nazi League, helped at SHARP events, I wore defiant t-shirts (mostly Dead Kennedys), I diversified by reference points to global culture, world music, politicized hip hop and soul, poetry and art. I formed a band with friends and tried to put good vibes into the world.
I also remained friends – albeit a little more distant – with those radicalized kids I grew up with. I know they were good people from good families. I knew they were mis-guided and being led down a bad path. Note: If you want to get an idea of what it was like then watch ‘This is England’ by writer and director Shane Meadows.
I could’ve become utterly self-righteous. I could have taken a hard stance to ‘smash the fascists’. But, I learnt that facing all people with love and empathy helped to break down a personal dictatorship that had been formed within myself. That was a hard decision, a more difficult path.
For the next couple of years when I saw my friends I listened, I challenged, I rationalized, I called them REALLY STUPID mostly. More importantly, I was direct. I met the people trying to influence them. They were truly manipulative and very scary people. They were driving division and hatred of other humans. They were dictators that aimed to create other dictators to create a viral surge. It was a hard lesson. I was scared often in their company but I stayed and tried to represent a wider viewpoint to them. My ‘friends’ never complained about my challenges to them and went about their days in the new world they seemingly loved.
It would’ve been easy to walk away. To dismiss them entirely with my personal dictatorship of liberalism and acceptance as my guide. I must admit that I did walk away from some of the most radicalized for a while. But, to dismiss is to take away humanity from the ones that need it the most. Smashing the fascists meant loving the humans behind the trauma. The big thing I realised was that walking away and perpetuating our own belief systems entirely is personal dictatorship, and that is not a positive force in the world.
Over 2 or 3 years these same friends mellowed. They aged. Gained experience. Moved away from the hate they had aligned themselves with.
Around 1989/1990 a catalyst for change emerged. The ‘Second Summer of Love’ in the UK gained pace. Ecstasy, LSD, weed, dub sound systems, and illegal raves. Gatherings of different cultures of people mellowed everyone out. The funny thing is that I never really got into that scene. I was not mellow in the same pharmacological way but wide-minded through reading, reflection and expansion of my mind in different ways for sure. I still focused on punk rock and came to electronic music a few years later.
For a while people’s personal dictatorships – mine, theirs and others – were on the back burner and then they started all started to dissolve. It was a coming together. Everyone stopped and spoke about humans coming together. That time gave birth to new thinking, amazing designers, big thinkers, and new ways of looking at the world. Most importantly, it gave birth to troublemakers in the best possible way – culture makers.
From these years, and subsequent years at university, at work, in research and arranging events like this I worked hard to find a way out of my personal dictatorship and I found something powerful. An evolution of thought to be accepting of the person, to be challenging of views, to be persuasive. It’s a position that many don’t understand – “why are you talking to them?”.
Over the past 30+ years I realized that there were a number of guiding lights for an anti-dictatorial world where all people can be accepted and on the same page:
- Science and truth;
- Rationale discussion;
- Empathy through listening and deep ‘understanding’;
- Diversity in reference, at work and in our social circles;
- The belief in, and support of, basic human needs – certainty, variety, significance, connection/love, growth and contribution.
AND, the most important belief is a determination to stand up and drive discussion, argument, and persuasion through all of these in the face of people driven by unloving and unaccepting populism, money and their egos. Social media posts just don’t cut it. Clicktivism is too passive.
I still reach out and talk to people I disagree with. I start by listening. I then help them to open their minds to a wider world. And, I often learn things about the world from them. It strengthens my own personal view, yet makes me want to help these people look harder at themselves. That’s where the real progress lays.