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“Yes, I am an Idealist”

Alex LodgeWith the recent rise of UKIP, the surge of the Green Party and now the shock of the outcome of the election, I have taken to being more outspoken about my political views than I normally am. This has led me to face more criticism for my beliefs than I normally get. So before I go in to what I really want to say, I would like to reference what the philosopher Alan Watts had to say about opposing views;

if you don’t argue with me, I don’t know what I think. So if we argue, I say ‘Thank you,’ because owing to the courtesy of your taking a different point of view, I understand what I mean

So thank you to the people who have disagreed with me. Keep it coming.

Recently I was branded, not for the first time, as being an ‘idealist’ for advocating voting Green and being a member of the Green Party. I was first subjected to this when I was in my teens by someone close to me. I had expressed the opinion that I was not necessarily opposed to tax rises. I explained that I felt that tax rises may be necessary and positive so long as the revenue generated was used for the betterment of all people and the environment. I was told at that time ‘you might think that all sounds good now but you wait until you’re paying taxes and bills and trying to raise a family of your own’.

I have been paying taxes for a long time now. My wife and I live in Dursley and our son was born in 2014. We have lots of bills and a mortgage to pay. Neither my wife nor I have particularly well paid jobs but we are comfortable, spend wisely and make cutbacks where we have to. My situation, like most people, has changed a lot since I was in my teens.

My views however have not changed. In fact for many reasons I am now surer of them than ever. One reason though is that until 2014 I had spent 6 years working with homeless and vulnerable people in Gloucester City. I powerlessly watched their situation decline as the ideological austerity cuts by the Coalition Government led to a disintegration of support services. In the name of ‘balancing the books’ the people I worked with were pushed into further hardship as the Night Shelter closed, 50% of bed spaces for homeless were cut, benefits sanctions toughened and services tendered to the cheapest provider instead of the best provider. These are the victims of the obsession with continuous ‘economic growth’ and they continue to be the victims as further cuts are made.

My work has shown me that my own situation is luxurious, enviable and easy.

Therefore I recently advocated that we should consider our environment and all people when taking decisions; that we should support those who have less because we are beneficiaries of a society that creates inequality. We need to make some ‘sacrifices’ economically and materially because we cannot sustain infinite growth. To create a better society those people who have more should contribute more. And we may need to see a shrinking economy in order to safeguard the poorest and most vulnerable and the environment. There are alternatives to the punitive austerity and cuts. I believe the Green Party is the only political party with policies that would create a fairer society.

It was for these views I was called-out as an ‘idealist’ again recently. My initial reaction, as it has been before, was to cry “no I am not!” I wanted to run around looking for evidence that meant my views could be proven ‘realist’ and not ‘idealist’. But then I thought about what this really meant to me; to have ideals and to strive to realise them. To have convictions that I am willing to defend.

The Cambridge Dictionary definition of the word ‘idealist’ is as follows;

Idealist noun

“someone who believes that very good things can be achieved, often when this does not seem likely to others”

The person who called me out as an idealist this time agreed with me that we need to do something about the misconception that there can be continuous growth in a world with finite resources. But they added that this would impede creativity and would be a boring way to live. In other words people would be unhappy because they would have less money and wouldn’t be able to buy as much stuff.

And, other than survival, our main aim in life is surely to be happy and satisfied?

But what actually makes you happy?

Research has shown that once our basic necessities are met that money has little to do with our happiness. But we do know that linking success to constantly striving for more money makes people unhappy. You could always get a bigger car, a nicer home, a newer phone, better clothes; if you measure success or happiness like this you won’t be successful or happy because your goal will always be just out of reach.

In 2010 a study of 4,500 Americans by Volunteer Match entitled “Do good. Live well” found out some interesting things about people who volunteer. They found that people that volunteered reported that it made them feel happy, satisfied and healthier. By doing something for others for no financial gain, and at a loss of their own (potentially money-making) time, they felt better than those people who only do things for their own profit.

I bet that you are not that surprised by this. We generally don’t want more money and more things to be happy. We want financial security for ourselves and for those we love. Yet we often readily accept the rhetoric that we need more and the only option we have is to expand. It has been very useful for a powerful minority to make us believe that financial and material gain is how we achieve security and happiness because it satisfies their short-term goals.

But it is as simple as this; I would like to imagine a world in which we accepted the truth that giving back makes us happy. If we take this truth and apply it to political and economic policy we can create a better society.

Yes I am an idealist. You should be too. You should believe that good things can happen even if they don’t seem likely to others.

What is the alternative?

Alex Lodge, May 2015