Saturday, August 08, 2015

The Theory of Politics versus Politics

There are times I actually hope I do not make it through the 2016 political cycle.

As I have often stated, I do not do politics here (and not this time either, so perish the thought of partisan comments).  At one time perhaps I thought I would, but what I found is that trying to have any sort of discussion about anything remotely controversial on the Internet is like trying to stop a lava flow with an ice cube:  it will not work and you will get severely burned in the process.  People  who are true believers are passionate - and passion, like lava, can burn what it touches.

Social media has only made this phenomenon worse.  And we are only early into the season, through the first round of preliminary debates for one side.

We seem to have become a group of partisans, not thinkers, with large swaths of groups adhering to one side or another almost blindly.  We (for the most part) have become impervious to the consideration of opinions outside of own views.  Disagreement has become not reasoned discussion but downright stupidity at best or treason at worst.  Sadly, we have become sports fans who blindly root for their team despite the serious problems with that team against any and all comers.

It has made me sit and think about things.

What it made me realize is that I like Political Theory, not so much politics.

Once upon a time (slightly after the Earth cooled) I got a degree in Political Science.  It was not necessarily the greatest choice in employable degrees, but what I loved about it was that it brought together a number of different disciplines:  Political Geography, Economics, History, Philosophy, and even Political Theory.  It encouraged us to think of governance starting with a philosophical outlook and then mapping out the practical outcomes of that philosophy.  And by the use of history ("There is nothing new under the sun") it allowed us to go back and review the outcomes of what worked, what did not, and the ramifications of either event.

Since then, I have engaged in a series of additional readings and education - mostly of the Classical Authors that dealt with such things or biographies about key people or histories of periods of time.  What runs through the Classical Authors - Confucius, Sun Tzu, Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, Tacitus, even Machiavelli (who wrote a fine review of the Roman Republic called The Discourses)  - is the idea that underlying systems are the people that manage (rule, govern) those systems.  How you arrive at those people (and indeed, the general population) can be done in various ways; what is implied is that politics and governing is a conscious system, not merely a "popularity contest" decided upon not only by money and fame but by the people who we think are most like us, not necessarily the best for us.  People make policies; policies have outcomes; outcomes have ramifications.  The Medical Professions first rule is "Do Not Harm"; would that we applied the same rule to our governance.

Practically, what does this mean?  As you may intuit, my hopes that anything like a "National Acting Like Political Theorists" movement is pretty slim.  And I am not choosing sides:  everywhere I look around the landscape, both from any candidate as well as from the general population both close to me and social media-wise, I see very little hope that these sorts of questions are going to be asked.  Which is fine, of course - I am sure that every side would equally find me in some way unpalatable to their cause.

What I can do - what I must do - is continue to read and learn and think deeply about such things.  I cannot change the tide, but I can ready myself for the day that the tide recedes and staring at the beach, people ask "What shall we do now?"

My simple answer will be  "Let us think a bit before we make any rash decisions."

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