Sunday, 7 June 2015

Conviction: Political? Philosophical? Personal?

by Ethan Creamer

Don't follow the crowd, let the crowd follow you." - Margaret Thatcher
In his influential work of Stoic philosophy (written to himself I might add), Meditations, Marcus Aurelius, the Ancient Roman Emperor (161–180 AD) notes in Book IX: “Do what nature asks of you now. Make the effort if it is yours to make and do not fret whether or not any other knows what that may be (other than yourself). Dream not of Utopias, but be content even if the least thing goes forward, and count the outcome of the matter in hand as a small thing. For who can alter another’s conviction? Failing a change of conviction, we merely get men pretending to be persuaded and suffering like slaves under coercion.”

On innumerable occasions I have seen and heard opinions which I find to be just plain wrong, yet in many of those cases they have been put forward with strength and ability. I may despise the content, but the delivery and the passion with which it is expressed rarely fails to earn my respect, given that they are often (as opposed to many other things in life) genuine positions, and one can ask for no more than for a clear and genuine person, no matter their objective. Whatever their political position, their image or their personal life, there is one trait for which we must give respect to Politicians and any other person for that matter – that is conviction in one’s position. Political apathy in modern Britain is not scarce, with many people bluntly commenting: ‘they’re all the same’ or ‘I don’t trust any of them’. Neither of these statements can be applied to a politician who holds strong conviction. Accountability is a feature of conviction politics – those politicians who have conviction in a policy area can be held accountable by his or her electors – that is voters know what they are voting for, the beliefs of the politician, though this may be undermined if the politician in question does not act, yet in their defence they may be otherwise unable to do so.

The concept of having beliefs and convictions and holding true to them is something we could all aspire to achieve, and not to simply form your own ideas and opinions based upon what is the current consensus but rather solely from one’s own reason. After all; if one cannot firstly have their own opinion, then argue the case and hold to the line they had for themselves set then why even converse at all? As a society which is not abstracted from the individual men and women who work to achieve and make their own way in life, the best way to avoid the monotonous grind of mutual dissatisfaction rather than having some losers in an open competition is for us to swap convention for conviction and to seek progression through both competition and diversity in opinion. The world is a competition, a test of character – a lack of conviction has no rewards, the same scarcity of reward as taking no risk, the same as not adapting, and the same as not being pragmatic when it is required. If you have conviction only one of two things can result: you win backing what your mind says to you is right or you can lose but you still retain yourself and your integrity, in the knowledge you have done what is right. The former can be the only real option in such a dilemma, if of course you have the objective of success and contentment.  

Tony Benn
An article on conviction politics would of course be nothing without mentioning no other than Margaret Thatcher. A political radical she was, not only in terms of the political landscape of the Post-war consensus but also within her own party. Whilst the Poll tax, a deeply unpopular policy which was a factor in her downfall, was misguided, her determination to pass it was testament to her conviction – regardless of the nature of the legislation. She was, as we all are not perfect, although she undoubtedly is one of our greatest Prime Ministers, she had convictions in her ideals, and for this we must admire her, even if you don’t agree with me in saying she was a great PM. I would not be hesitant to express my, for want of a better word, dislike of left-wing ‘ideas’. However; there is difference between respect for policies or for a person. For example; the late Tony Benn who had proved to be a stalwart on labour’s left – whilst I can say I despise his Socialist ideology, I have great respect for such a man who is consistent.

Whilst this is a politically-focused article, I must not be hesitant to point out that no more important is conviction in our day-to-day lives – be that social, personal or financial (do not blame may if you turn out to be wrong though!). It does of course go hand-in-hand with self-confidence. The principle of conviction and self-belief is no more useful than in a school environment, where consensus for popularity’s sake is so often exhibited (they know who they are). Maybe some contemporary politicians do get swept along with the ideals of the ‘in-crowd’ and no doubt many of us do the same, yet it is fact that no man inhabits the mind of another, and doing right by your own conviction is the only action which is satisfactory in any long-term scenario given we live with ourselves all our lives – and I would doubt the real quality of any friendship or relationship that had not been initiated upon the basis of truth, or at least where the goal of truth is apparent.

Furthermore, in light of recent examinations, I have encountered a number of people who have suffered under the stress of these tests – and these tests are no more than those of insular testing. Exams might be described as tests of conviction and will as much as of knowledge – for these exams benefit no other than the examined, and so any exterior pressure – expectations of teachers, of friends, of parents should have no value whatsoever, and those with a ‘will of iron’, regardless of their own ability or their own knowledge, will doubtless find themselves in a position of strength as opposed to those who find it a judge of themselves by others – you are your own judge,  and thus knowledge of your own knowledge should satisfy any mind into stoically accepting any result and in moving forwards with such a result, regardless of its weight. Another Ancient Stoic Philosopher, Seneca, was quoted saying: “It is the power of the mind to be unconquerable.”

By no means is this an article attacking pragmatism or compromise – rather pragmatism and compromise are a means to the end of delivering ones convictions. Find your convictions, live by them, die by them if needs must but never go to extreme and keep respect for those who differ from your own, and of course few Zealots have succeeded. Nietzsche’s claim that “Convictions are more dangerous foes of truth than lies” can be countered – the implementation of due respect for others, of equal freedom of speech and expression facilitates the combination of conviction with open discussion, from which truth can be interpreted, if it is not already perceived to be objective, by those involved. Only in a nation where conviction can flourish, where rights and basic freedoms are upheld regardless, can we flourish as people, with truth emanating both from the use of reason alone and from the mutual tolerance exhibited, and any lack of tolerance can indicate either a lack of truth and thus false convictions, or otherwise suggestive of a discovery of the truth, both of which are only accomplishable through the use of right reason with the cornerstone of conviction.

Conviction brings a silent, indefinable beauty into faces made of the commonest human clay; the devout worshiper at any shrine reflects something of its golden glow, even as the glory of a noble love shines like a sort of light from a woman's face. – Honore De Balzac. 

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