Monday, November 06, 2006

Belshaw’s View of the World – a personal manifesto

I had not intended to post today. Too many other things to do. Then I saw Neil’s kind and flattering comment on my current writing on this blog. He wrote:

“Jim Belshaw’s personal reflections lately are a must read for anyone like me who is in many respects quite conservative but alienated from what that word seems to mean today. Unlike many bloggers, Jim is very careful about his facts and tends to confine himself to what he knows. There’s a lesson there for all of us. In Jim’s case, what (and who) he knows is very interesting.”

This created an itch to say something further about my own position.

I find the overall response to my writing interesting because my writing seems to be crystallising and perhaps explaining a sense of disconnect that many intelligent people in Australia and elsewhere seem to feel between their own positions and attitudes and the current world around them.

This group spans political parties, spans or perhaps more correctly does not fit with simple conventional categories of left and right, hold very varying views on individual issues, have a bias towards older people but still span age groups. Within these differences, the key unifying elements appear to be:
  • A sense of discomfort with the apparent harshness of modern society and with current social, political and economic trends, combined to a degree at least with a feeling of isolation and powerlessness so far as their individual views are concerned
  • A belief in the importance of people, combined with a desire to find new directions
  • A belief in the value of conversation and rational discussion, of civilisation.

I am not talking huge numbers here in terms of direct responses, I am not trying to be an A list blogger, but I suspect that the responses I am getting are indicative of a much larger group.

I did not start out to crystallise and explain the sense of disconnect, but as the feeling grew I started to target my writing towards this group. Given this, I think that I should say something on what I am now trying to achieve, something about my own views.

To begin with, I want to show that this sense of disconnect has a perfectly rational explanation, that to hold it does not make one a misfit. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that to have some feeling of disconnect at the present time is to be perfectly normal. We can see this around us at a personal level, as well as in the writings of the social commentators.

I am also trying to show that we do not have to accept current nostrums as a given, that there are, have been and will be again, alternative views of the world.

To achieve these two things I am trying to use my skills as a writer and analyst together with my experience to show how things have emerged and, importantly, how they fit together. Because we live in a sound bite, issues world in which so much is driven by highly sophisticated short term analysis, individual issues run and then get lost again. If we are going to understand what has happened to us we have to be able to stand back from the short term, from individual issues, to see and understand the overall pattern. Otherwise we end up just reacting on an issue by issue basis.

Neil commented on the care with which I write. While I do tell personal stories and express personal views, I am also trying to write on this blog as a professional analyst. To that end I generally avoid commenting on current issues unless I have something very specific that I want to say. I also try as best I can to make certain that the links in my arguments are clearly expressed and that supporting evidence is there.

I know that I will get some things wrong. Making my arguments as transparent as possible allows others to correct me and to express alternative views.

This brings me to my final point. Perceptions and views change, are far less locked in concrete than most people realise. You only have to look at the changes in my own views over time.

My personal view, just at present, is that without being prescriptive there is need for change in current cultural, social and political attitudes and in the way they manifest themselves in our political, business and institutional structures.

I also have a personal view that certain attitudes and approaches that I once supported as a means of achieving specific objectives for the betterment of the country have become so institutionalised, so built into language and ways of thinking, that they have become ends in themselves instead of simply tools.

Change cannot be achieved through a process of opposing streams of opinion. I believe x, you believe y, end of story.

Change can, however, be achieved through a process of analysis and dialogue. You believe x. What are the elements in that belief? How did you come to believe it? What does it mean in practice to believe x? Are you (others) comfortable with implications of believing x? Ditto for y.

I do not wish to overstate this. Individual views can be very difficult to shift. But collective community views can be shifted over time through analysis and dialogue. This blog is one small element in the process.


Travel Italy said...

Jim - you 'keep on' writing and I will 'keep on' reading!

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks, David. I will if you do, so to speak.