Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Love is in the air!?

Yes it’s Valentine’s Day once more and love is in the air! Also in the air - right up in the air - is the price of flowers. Can you imagine how it feels for an accountancy teacher like me to see these romantic blooms reach eye-watering prices? How could I possibly teach management accounting and financial prudence without feeling some degree of pain? However, having been married to a wonderful woman for 32 years does make it all totally worthwhile, and my flowers are on their way as we speak.

So where else is there love in the air? A BBC headline reads ‘President Donald Trump has welcomed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the White House. The leaders are expected to discuss economic links and women in the workforce’. There is a cutesy picture of them in a smiling embrace, and a video to go with it… but the video doesn’t play. It just says ‘This content doesn’t seem to be working. Please try again later’. Well I hope that is not an omen for their sake’s.

Then of course there is the question of love across the EU, as Britain prepares to trigger Article 50. We hear how the negotiations are supposed to be civilised and mutually beneficial, executed with dignity in a sort of negotiating bonhomie. Based on the comments already being made - both within the UK and around Europe - I somehow think there will be tears before bed time. In 1957 the Mills Brothers had a chart hit with a song which went, “You always hurt the one you love, the one you should not hurt at all”. That should be played every morning in every negotiation venue.

For those of us living in a UK still divided bitterly by the ‘In/Out’ referendum, we are told we should now forget our differences and all pull together. I suppose we are meant to take direction from William Shakespeare when he wrote of England: ‘…This happy breed of men, this little world, this precious stone set in the silver sea…’ Can we be a happy breed of ‘men’ and women again? We need to remind ourselves that the referendum did not create this division, it merely served to bring it out in to the day light and we must now accept and face up to our de-harmonised state.

Come with me now back to the sanity of ECBM where I have just been teaching a group of students, and we debated the meaning of democracy. We agreed that democracy was highly prized; people have fought and died for it after all. I then asked if anyone would allow a democratic vote to override the expert opinion of, say, a doctor. This lead to a stimulating multi-faceted debate, and linked nicely in to the fact that in the referendum many economic experts were overridden by UK voters.

I believe there is an inverse relationship between perceived responsibility for the consequences of democratic rights and actions, and the numbers of people exercising them. If you are one of only five people seated around a hospital bed your actions can be clearly scrutinised and you will react with great respect for the consequences of any decision made, but as one of sixty million people you can disappear in to the crowd when things go wrong, and subsequently experts get ignored and consequences are left to chance.

Conveniently we are brought to the Oxford Dictionaries word of the year for 2016: ‘Post-truth’. This is the position where objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. Put more simply, ‘heart before brain’. We have a perfectly acceptable legal right to make our decision on this basis, but where do we stand morally? Have we really a right to democracy if we are not fully prepared to take the consequences of our actions?

I believe that we need a new concept indivisible from that of ‘democratic right’ and that is the concept of ‘democratic duty’, and that we should live and work accordingly for a more harmonious existence.

Graham Harman-Baker

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