It’s another gloomy day in Londres, one in a line of gloomy days. The only relief from the gloom is shooting around the streets of Londres on my new velocipede. Yesterday I was so busy I failed to notice the time of an event, arrived late, and did not get in. The Red Flash had to leave early to re-join me but she didn’t seem to hold my uncharacteristic lateness against me. It was good to hear she has found a job.
Today in the offices of the Tree Service I had a conversation about democracy. Consulting residents about their trees, said the manager, is a mistake. It is our job to be experts and make the tough decisions. Asking people’s opinions is what gave us Brexit. QED.
This isn’t an overt authoritarianism at play, but a couple of things conspire to produce this sort of attitude. One is institutions that were not, in truth, built for democracy. The other is a culture that is not built for democracy. In institutions not built for democracy, consultation appears as an add-on, bolted on to a system of decision-making that pre-dates widespread agreement that ordinary people must have a voice. As for the problems of culture: to believe in democracy is to understand the need for patience, it is to see that right and wrong may be a matter of perspective, it is to subordinate the ego to a wider process. None of these are strong points of our culture. They are certainly not taught in school. Londres is formed by a combination of the institutions and the culture, and so it evolves undemocratically, beyond our ability to control.
In the meantime my week has seen a little anxiety about projects I am involved in or initiating. Nothing terrible or unmanageable, just a low level feeling of too much work needing to be done, of having to achieve things within hierarchies that make me uncomfortable, of time tick-ticking and a world moving on. But achievement is a strange thing – what does it mean? Is it sometimes not achievement we aim for but a desire to impress? Who are we trying to impress? Who am I trying to impress?
Asking these questions feels awkward and the answers aren’t simple. For the moment it feels like it is worth simply continuing to ask.