Social Analysis
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Shut Up and Listen

In what follows John Papworth condenses gems of insight and wisdom. He has published them as "A new handbook for revolutionaries". Indeed, this is what it is. With characteristic wit he points out what should be obvious yet what is strangely ignored in our society. We would do well to shut up and listen.

By John Papworth
Democracy is not just having the freedom to vote but having the freedom to decide how to live. The larger the political unit the smaller the significance of the individual member and the greater the controlling power at the centre.

The mass form of society, one in which its organic structure in the form of empowered local neighbourhoods has been negated by centralised forces, is the most dangerous, destructive, demeaning, dehumanising and unillumined ever to have surfaced in human history.

Any centralised governing body of a mass society, one which controls the army, the police, the monetary system and the judiciary, and which presumes to pronounce on matters concerning education, welfare and other essentially local matters, is contriving a frontal assault on freedom and should accordingly be denounced and its edicts ignored.

Centralised power in any mass organisation breeds its own interests, traditions and prerogatives which are inevitably in conflict with the citizen interest, except in the rare instances where they may coincide; in such cases the determinative factor is the interest of the centralised power. This is true not only of mass government but of any mass body, be it a political party, a church, a charity or a sports or other social organisation.

Neighbourhoods, parishes or villages constitute the vital bloodcells of civilisation. If their significance is diminished or their structure destroyed, as they are in any mass society, what follows is social, political and economic leukemia. The natural immune system of the social body collapses, allowing numerous forms of social decadence to flourish which are beyond the capacity of any regulatory mechanisms to control.

We must cherish locally controlled newspapers and TV stations as bulwarks of freedom.

Wherever power exists there inevitably arises a conflict between those who exercise it and those who don't, and the diminution of the power of individual members of a mass society to control its workings is always accompanied by an increase in the power of the forces at the centre who do.

An expert is a person who makes bigger mistakes.

Democracy does not mean government OF the people, nor government FOR the people, both are essentially totalitarian concepts; it means government BY the people.
And what others say ...

To the size of state there is a limit, as there is to plants, animals and implements, for none of these retain their natural facility when they are too large.

To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognised need of the human soul.
Simone Weil

To be small, or not to be at all. That is the question.
Leopold Kohr

A nation armed and prepared for war can no more help going to war than a chocken can help layinga an egg.
George Bernard Shaw

The most important balance of all the elements in space is that of human scale.
Constantine Doxiadis

There can be no politics without community.
Murray Bookchin

Without vision a people perish.

A community is a social unit in which the personal relationships of its members constitute the strongest force determining its pattern of life.

Ultimate authority can only stem from the judgements of people in their neighbourhood relationships. When all power is wielded by forces beyond the neighbourhood the pyramid of authority is inverted and democracy ceases to function.

A university is not a place for the accumulation of information but a high temple of civilisation for the dissemination of wisdom.

You cannot have morality without community. Without community morality becomes umbug.

Within community people are bonded by moral relationships. In mass societies people are scarcely bonded at all. They live like currants in a bun at the price of being related to, and of course subordinated to, centralised power structures rather than to each other.

Democracy is not just having the freedom to vote but having the freedom to decide how to live.

The relationship of an individual to power structures cannot to be a moral relationship; it can only be a relationship based on power.

Moral relationships in a community are based on equality, since each citizen is generally able to exercise moral judgment. In a mass society the relationship of the citizen to the power structure is unequal. Power is unavoidably at the centre.

Jesus said 'Love thy neighbour'. He did not say 'Love thy fellow citizen of the Roman Empire'; nor did he say 'Love thy supermarket'.

Those who profess to love everybody are really confessing that they are unable to love anybody.

That country is governed best which is governed least.

The price of denying local people responsibility for determining local citizen affairs is irresponsibility.

We may or may not be born free, but we are born to create. The denial of individual creativity in work, entertainment and civic life is one of the chief modern causes of the prevailing social morbidity.

Power without moral responsibility at the top inevitably breeds the moral irresponsibility
of powerlessness at the base.

Work is our chief contact with reality and its creative role should therefore be held sacred.

The manacles of a slave society are of iron; in a mass society they are bureaucratic edicts.

Money is a means of facilitating social objectives, not of determining them.

There can be no freedom without individual responsibility for the common weal.

'Labour' is not a 'factor of production', it is the object of it.

Neighbourhood control of its economic institutions and of its social administration is a basic requisite and guarantee of political freedom.

Our civilisation is evil because it is ugly; it is ugly because people no longer create and instead obey edicts of forces they do not control.

The dominant forces in any mass society are concerned not with progress or with questions of civic grandeur but with the quest for profit and power as ends in themselves.

Removing goods from giant supermarkets may be illegal, but it is not a sin.

Chain stores and giant supermarkets are one of the means by which the wealth of local communities is haemorrhaged. Branch banks and insurance offices represent a similar process of bloodletting and civic impoverishment.

The automobile is a major private convenience and an utterly horrendous public vice.

Television is almost godlike in its nature and power; its capacity to determine peoples' values and to educate is infinite; to permit it to be in the hands of people who wish to use it simply to make money is to abandon any concept of civic order.

We have created the first ugly civilisation, and also the first boring one.

The mass media is an absolute evil. In a competitive concern to capture the biggest share of a mass market it is impelled to pander to the lowest common denominator of taste. The pervasive corruption of values and morals which ensues constitutes its own assault on truth, beauty, sensitivity and civic decency.

The mass society does not create wealth; it destroys it.

All power not only corrupts, it creates nothing but contempt in those over whom it is exercised.

Decentralisation by central direction is an oxymoron.

When Lincoln declared you can't fool all the people all the time he did not foresee the emergence of television.

The development of modern architecture suggests it has taken us about four thousand years to progress from a pyramid to a box.

If politically ambitious people in a mass society fail to pursue power as an end in itself they will be replaced by others who do: boardroom buccaneers are in the grip of the same principle in the pursuit of profit.

Giantism, centralisation and excessive speed now represent a doomsday triumvirate that has become public enemy number one of the human race.

In a mass society any mass movement of reform acquires the same characteristics of centralised control and personal alienation and powerlessness of the members as afflicts the mass society itself.

In the governance of masses public policy is determined by private centralised leadership groups acting largely at the behest of giant boardroom buccaneers, seldom by public opinion.

On a mass basis the market is not controlled by morality; it is morality today which is dominated by the market, and its operative credo of greed and grab is destroying social morality in countless ways.

When the market is operated on moral principles for moral purposes it has every right to expect people to adhere to a code of moral conduct. But when its sole aim is greed and pursuing courses which assail and affront decent moral principles it becomes immoral to give its activities any kind of acknowledgement or encouragement.

  Shut Up and Listen is a pamphlet available from Fourth World Review, 24 Abercorn Place, London, San Francisco, California 94111, USA. Price £1 / $2. Permission was granted to republish this pamphlet here. With thanks to John Papworth - Ed.

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