Science

Is Prince Charles an Anarchist?

I've just finished watching this year's Richard Dimbleby Lecture, which was given by Prince Charles, our heir to the throne.

In general, I have very little time for the royal family, not on personal grounds, but because I fail to see how they have either any right or relevance in a modern democratic world. But this post is not about my own views on the monarchy.

Prince Charles has had a rather odd job for his entire life: that of basically waiting for his mother to die. But while waiting, he has certainly spent plenty of time reading and commenting on things on which he has a view. Given my earlier statement on the right of monarchy, why should this guy be listened to rather than anyone else? Well I guess that he shouldn't, though his lecture is up on YouTube, along with anyone else in the world who wants to be, so I suppose there is some equity in this.

Charles seemed to tentatively acknowledge the ongoing debate on his role as a commentator early on in the lecture, mentioning the words "duty and stewardship". It was clear that he saw a failure in the myopic nature of individual decision making and the
resulting politics we see today, and perhaps saw his role as that of a trustee of the people, there to provide balance to the myopia by ensuring a long term vision and strategy. I'm glad that he appears to have come to terms with his role. Many haven't and it seems to me that anyone born into a single career, from which it is almost impossible to escape, must look for reason and justification for the role, or else accept that their life is a waste.

I applaud his sentiments on the need for long term stewardship of humanity and the Earth, and think it is required. Though it does leave the gaping question of his right to assume the role, which one can only presume he believes he was given by God.

The prince asked a lot of questions about the apparent dichotomy between economic growth and sustainability, indeed making clear his belief that these things are only vehicles towards a world where there is more happiness and less unhappiness. But rather than rehash his thoughts, the primary reason for this post is my interest at the language he used throughout his lecture.

His argument that we should work "with the grain of nature, rather than against it" makes perfect sense to all but the most mechanistic of modern minds - or perhaps myopic ones. But he complemented this by expressing a desire for a "new form of economics", and later "participation in economics". I can only presume that someone as obviously well read as he is is aware of Participatory Economics, the economic system often advocated by the Anarchist Left.

I find it harder still to believe that he passed by obliviously to this, as he further talked about this new form of economics should be based in the grass roots and, as such, we "have an approach that acts locally by thinking globally". Did it escape him that the phrase "Think Global, Act Local" has not only been used heavily over the years by Friends of the Earth, but was more recently popularised as the slogan of the anti-capitalist protests in Seattle in 1999?

It's clear that he sees this as being just a common sense approach to interacting with the world around us, mimicing nature. In my research I am very much interested in nature-insprired approaches to things, particularly in computer science, but elsewhere also. It seems the Prince's apparent love for nature goes beyond just "green issues" but also into a nature-inspired approach to life.

As in nature-inspired computation, he quite rightly points out this approach is typically bottom-up rather than top-down. Indeed, his description of nature growing "from the roots up, not from the sky down" is absolutely true and invokes Richard Dawkins's "hooks in the sky" argument against creationism. But the Prince is a bright bloke, and it cannot possibly escape him that the very reason he is in the position to be able to give this lecture is due to a sky-downwards system of government in our country. The monarchy itself is predicated on the existence of a god (in the sky, traditionally) who gives his mother and him their divine right.

Given the near impossibility that this contradiction escapes him, how then does he reconcile this personally? Perhaps his words towards the end of his speech give us some insight, as he tells us that "the dominant world view is no longer relevant to the situation in which we find ourselves". He clearly means this regarding our current model of economics, he quite likely believes that individual decision making and politics should be less myopic and more based on the value of community (something which may well flow from the economic model), but where does that leave the idea of monarchy itself?

Could it be that Prince Charles is actually an anarchist of sorts?

A video and the transcript of the lecture are available here.

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