Friday, January 6, 2012

The Political Process: Noble or Knave

It’s just politics.  Let’s get the politics out of it.  They’re playing politics.  How did politics  get such a bad name? 
I spent a lot of time in politics.  Some of it organizing at the local level; some of it lobbying; some of it teaching; some of it working on campaigns; some of it consulting about community and economic development; some of it helping groups better understand management, leadership and organizing effective work groups.  All of it was politics one way or another.  Along the way I met a few scoundrels, but I also met some of the most principled men and women of integrity that I have known.  Several of them served in Congress.
Whatever else it is, politics is the art of deciding how we are going to live together.  We are social animals.  We live in community.  We require community for survival.  Even the loners and hermits among us require the presence of community in order to be loners and hermits.  We live in families, cities and national states.  We participate in clubs, associations and churches.  Our employment puts us in the company of others for cooperative purposes.  Sellers and buyers depend on community to define their markets and assure some level of predictability.  Our lives are intertwined with friends, associates, places of assembly and spontaneous engagement with others.  Decisions have to be made in each case about how we are going to live with one another, and how those decisions get made and implemented is what politics is all about.

Not every one agrees that the politics of living in community is a good or necessary thing.  Some claim they go it alone.  They are self made, owing no one.  They do not now, nor have they ever, nor will they ever, have any need for government to help or tell them what they can and cannot do.  They live in a fool’s paradise of ignorance and delusion.  I’ve worked with a few who have come close to living in that paradise, mostly men living on the streets, whose lives were so chaotic that they could not abide any rules, not even their own, and yet their survival depended on the presence of the community around them, and the reasonable predictability of how to find basic needs in that community.  
I’ve only met two hard core survivalists who considered themselves modern day mountain men capable of going it on their own without any outside support.  Both seemed oblivious to the arsenal of food, weapons, clothing and other equipment produced and sold to them by the community, to say nothing of their suburban houses, pickup trucks, public roads into the mountains, and the public policy giving them the wilderness into which they imagined themselves disappearing.
Working out the decisions that govern our lives together, that provide a reasonable predictability, is always a function of negotiation with others, even in the most hierarchical organization.  In any gathering of those who will do the negotiating, there will be some who are genuinely interested in the welfare of the community while not being unaware of the power and position that might be theirs in the offing.  There will be those driven by the acquisition of power and position, with only marginal interest in the welfare of the community as a whole.  And, there will be those who are primarily interested in protecting and promoting particular interests in competition with other interests.  It’s a mess and prone to corruption, but we Christians know that we live in a fallen world, and understand that muddling through is what we do.  Politics lingers in an uneasy balance between nobility and knavery.  It’s never just one or the other, which means that vilifying the political process as such is not only senseless but prevents it from working as well as it can.
What, I think, has brought politics at the national level into such disrepute, especially the Congress (except, of course, for your own member of Congress) is a combination of factors.  The rules of the House and Senate have become so arcane that it’s impossible for the public to understand them, and relatively easy for those who are steeped in them to use them to avoid or shut down the decision making process.  The enormity of the lobbying industry, with its unlimited access to cash and skill in manipulating so called public opinion, makes it difficult to craft reasonably impartial legislation for the public good.  Rank and file citizens no longer believe their thoughts and opinions will be heard, and that their only “representatives” to their representatives in Congress have to be associations they pay to join and who will lobby for them on this or that.  The Citizens United case has resulted in such enormous amounts of corporate and secret money entering the campaign process that elections appear to be for sale to the highest bidder.
As an aside, and by way of closing, the idiocy of twenty-four hour cable news reporting and “analysis” has more than a little to do with the disrepute into which politics has fallen, but that’s for another time.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Man is a social animal" as you say. A quote, or paraphrase, from Aristotle's first line of his masterwork, the Politics: "Politikon gar zoon phusei ho anthropos". "For the human is, by nature, a political animal". He goes on to write, "For one who is by his nature, and not by some accident, alone, must be a beast or a god." The genial Libertarian Dr.Ron Paul has actually a social conscience, but an exaggerated idea of how much "liberty" a human can stand without sinking into a semi-human, (certainly not into a god, though some of the desert hermits of the Early Church, like St. Anthony, seemed to have tried!) And we are all interdependent,as you point out. Dr B

Country Parson said...

Dr. B.,
I'm embarrassed that whatever I read in Aristotle was so long ago that I cannot remember it while you can quote it.
CP