Politics 101:

Summary:

Politics today is much like religion or football, whereby people commonly choose a team and barrack for them regardless of what they do, overlooking their flaws and likewise failing to see their opponents strengths.  I myself am only just beginning to dip my toes into the vast political ocean, but already I am inclined to suspect that different political and economical models in and of themselves do not hold the key, in the sense that one alone can be the best way to govern society.  Rather I am leaning towards believing that different political and economic models simply allow different aspects of human nature to express itself in different ways.  Ultimately we see the very same lower side of human nature (the ego) manifesting in all camps of political allegiance, particularly in the radical left and right, which seem to be locked in a cycle of reaction to each other.

Perhaps then, we could consider evolving these models in ways that allow the higher human values to express themselves but restrict the collective ego, rather than focusing upon the forces of the rich vs. the poor, government vs. business, rights vs. responsibility or freedom and human rights vs. national security.  It seems clear to me again that as with religion there seem to be irrational and unhealthy dogmas on both sides of the political spectrum.  As with religion however, there has never really been any doubt to me that I lean more to the left then to the right, though again I would not so much identify myself with the left as it stands, but rather seek to uphold some of its key ideals and evolve it into a purer vehicle for its core ethics.  There is real need for moderation on both sides of the political spectrum, and there are many issues where there are very legitimate arguments on opposite sides of the spectrum.  We have a real need for leaders with integrity to appear in the political world, who can put aside the dogmas of their party and weigh up arguments and evidence on their own merit.  In this respect we need leaders who are willing to risk their career by standing against their party (and its voters) when their own conscience calls them.

We have a need for progressives to be able to take a step back and consider that they can take their ideals too far, and that there are often complementary truths that need to be taken into consideration.  Likewise we have a real need for moderate conservatives who can give the other side of the coin to that given by progressives without falling victim to devils advocacy, as we are so commonly seeing from their ranks.  I dream of a future in which people are keen to talk about politics out of interest and concern with the world we live in, and whereby we can have passionate but polite discussions on real issues without the restrictions of social etiquette.

Main Article:

I will start by saying that I am really only quite new to politics, in the sense that I have only recently started to give it a fraction of my time.  Obviously politics has always affected my life and I have always had some awareness of it.  However I have chosen to put my time and attention elsewhere, for various reasons.  So, whilst I have always had opinions (or intuitions) on the topic, my thinking on the subject is quite primitive by comparison to my views on other topics, of which I have given myself considerable time to research and consider.  My point with this caveat is to simply state that these are introductory thoughts, and will preface any commentary that I give in the future.

Politics is one of those subjects that we are not supposed to discuss in polite conversation (along with religion), despite its great importance.  This is a real shame because essentially most of the things that really matter to society as a whole are at least somewhat political in nature, and we need to be able to talk about the things that are truly important.  The problem is that politics brings out the worst in people, much like going to football can turn otherwise civilized and rational people into foul-mouthed thugs, as their sense of critical thinking and caution disappears into a collective mob of rhetoric and polemics.  Politics divides people so severely, that those on the other side of the political spectrum are so commonly dehumanized and diminished as stupid, ignorant or just plain evil.  In this respect it perhaps goes even further then religion in polarizing humanity into ‘us and them’, and with equal potential for violence and war.

This is despite the fact that as with religion, most politically minded people consider that their side of the spectrum is actively seeking to make right all that is wrong in the world, stop the forces of evil and promote virtues which will lead to a free and abundant world.  It does seem to be true that different sides of politics have different priorities, as they consider different issues to be more urgent then others.  Likewise however, they often have different theories as to the best way to govern a nation, how to regulate business, whether to regulate the distribution of wealth (and if so, how to achieve this), and they differ in whether they place individual rights above national security, or support progressive, secular ethical ideals vs. traditional religious moral values etc.

However, it is not so much that very many politically minded people would be honest enough to say that they don’t care about others and they are only seeking to look out for themselves (and those on their team).  Rather, the vast majority believe that their party or ideology holds the key to shaping their nation into a successful and abundant country.  Therefore what we need is for people to be able to weigh up different arguments and theories to find out what works the best.  To do so properly we need to acknowledge that very few political issues are one-sided, and in probably most cases it seems that both sides have legitimate arguments for their case, even when the most appropriate action (when all is considered) may fall to one side.

To give a few obvious examples, the question of whether recreational drug use should be legal has strong arguments on both sides.  On the pro side of the coin, proponents argue (correctly) that making recreational drugs illegal creates a massive black market that is controlled by organized crime syndicates, and it pushes users to crime (and even prostitution) to pay massively inflated prices.  Furthermore, making these drugs illegal in many cases introduces toxic impurities into them (either through their production or being cut for the street), making their use far more dangerous.  What’s more, in many cases the drugs in question have previously been legal, and their abuse (and the consequences of abuse) have only gotten far worse since they were made illegal (case in point being amphetamines).  Likewise, proponents argue that governments should not attempt to regulate individuals states of consciousness, and that countries that put money into rehabilitating addicts rather then fighting a war against drugs have lower prison populations (and related costs), as well as far better success rates in rehabilitation.

On the other sides of the coin, those opposed to legal drug use point out that if recreational drugs are legal then this may create the impression that society approves of their use, and hence may encourage more young people (whose minds are fragile to the side-effects of drug usage) to experiment at younger ages, with tragic consequences for the users and society as a whole.  Likewise, they can argue that when drugs are legalized it can encourage drug tourism (such as Amsterdam is famous for), or result in addicts gravitating in large numbers in certain areas (such as around injecting houses, or clinics which give out methadone), which can stimulate crime and make the streets dangerous for non-users.  Furthermore, it can be argued that when drugs are legal users may quickly and easily graduate from entry-level drugs such as alcohol and marijuana to hard drugs like ecstasy (MDMA), LSD, heroin and ice (crystal-methamphetamine). It can certainly be argued that for some drugs from the latter category (such as ice) there is simply no safe usage, and simply trying the drug once can destroy someone’s life.  In this case both the users and society pay the price, as the users life is often ruined permanently from hard-drug usage, and such users will often struggle to hold down work (placing financial demands on their families and the states welfare system) and rarely pursue specialized education and training, and will often place demands on the nations medical and psychiatric resources, not to mention that they will often become violent and fall into crime.

In this example it is quite obvious that there are legitimate arguments from both side of the equation.  The question then is what is the most successful way to respond?  As far as choosing which path to take in response to the opposing arguments we need to be able to rely upon a systematic consideration of the relevant factors, along with analysis of relevant data to determine which method will have the most positive responses and the least negative ones.  There is probably no response to illicit drug use that can wholly stop the scourge of crime that relates to the industry, nor the personal tragedies and cost for society that comes from their usage.  Hence, when choosing a nations policy on such things one must put your own political leanings and ideology aside and consider what is the most appropriate course of action.  Of course data often requires interpretation, and different sides can often claim that the same data supports their contentions.  However, noting the difficulty of comparing apples with oranges, we need to take into consideration the statistical success and failures of different nations drug policies in deciding policy, and put this ahead of our own personal bias.

Another obvious example of a difficult scenario where there are legitimate arguments on both sides of the spectrum is the quagmire in Iraq, and the question of whether and to what degree western nations should intervene to fight against ISIL.  On the positive side of the equation, proponents point out that ISIL are committing human rights atrocities on a historical scale, raping, murdering and dispossessing entire populations, as well as targeting specific religious and cultural groups, hence designating their crimes into the category of genocide.  They point out that if we do not intervene then ISIL will probably succeed in capturing more territory and thus massacring larger and larger groups of people, making the complex and volatile nature of middle-eastern politics even more difficult, and raising the stakes of future actions in the area.

On the other side of the scale, those opposed to western intervention argue that western intervention was what created the power vacuum that led to ISIL’s rise to power in the first place, and argue that therefore we (western nations) have to bear much of the blame for the atrocities being committed by ISIL now.  They also go on to argue that if we intervene again (as with previous Iraqi wars) we may simply make matters worse and breed the next generation of Islamic militants, who may go further and further in their extremist ideology.  Furthermore, it has been pointed out how much money was spent on the original Iraqi war and occupation, and that in many ways Iraq was actually in a better situation before the invasion.  Whilst Saddam Hussein committed vast atrocities against his own people and posed a potential threat to other nations (as shown with his history in Kuwait), many have argued that the people of Iraq were still much better off before western intervention.  One could likewise argue that the threat posed to global peace and the level of atrocities committed against civilians is far worse with ISIL then it ever was with Hussein, and hence one could argue that western intervention does not bear positive results, but only makes everything worse on a grand scale.  Likewise, many people have quite legitimate suspicions about America’s interest in foreign affairs, suspecting that they have ulterior motives for getting involved in foreign conflicts.  Likewise, US military and businesses have been implicated in their fair share of scandals that blur the lines between who is on the right side of the conflict.

Whilst there are some issues that receive bipartisan support, can we imagine a situation whereby say a conservative voter with strong moral objections to recreational drug use would support lax drug laws, after weighing up the arguments on both sides and concluding that it causes the least amount of harm?  Alternatively, can we imagine someone with a history of recreational drug use voting in favour of harsh illicit drug laws, if the evidence was to show that such laws were best for society as a whole?  Likewise, could we imagine a pacifistic, left voter supporting western intervention to stop ISIL after accepting that despite the complications, they must still be stopped?  We humans need to become less predictable and stop just merely voting for the same thing that everyone else on our team votes for.  We need to weigh up the arguments on both sides, and then make what are often hard decisions, and remain flexible to change again in the future if the results don’t meet expectations.

I suspect that we are disadvantaged somewhat by our training in high school and university, when we were taught to write argumentative essays and engage in amateur debating, as these taught us to simply make a case for one side, and let our opponents make the case for the other side.  Imagine if both sides referenced the arguments on both sides, but then went on to explain the way that they personally weighed them up and thought through their implications, which led them to their conclusion.  Could this bring on a new dimension of depth in public debate, and potentially lead to more rational decision-making by our leaders?

Certainly this ideal is a far cry from the scenario we have at the present, in which each side make their own case and resort to heated polemics with their opposition, almost as if to imply that those on the other side were completely stupid, or evil (though I must admit, I am tempted to believe the latter in some cases).  We really just see the human ego expressing it’s worst features in these public debates (from our politicians, the media and the general public), which is exactly what we do not want when dealing with matters of life and death.  When dealing with the things that really matter we need everybody to find the best within themselves, take a deep breath, centre themselves in their soul and approach these issues with caution, patience and reason.

As it currently stands, each side drives the other into more and more extreme responses, and they frequently define themselves not so much in terms of what they stand for, but what they stand against, and whom.  Then we have the behaviour that accompanies the ideology.  Politicians themselves behave like a bunch of primary school brats, smirking arrogantly whilst they deliberately taunt the opposition, interrupting and heckling whilst their opponents speak in house, and so forth.  Political commentators frequently misrepresent and quote mine those that they disagree with, and some commentators take the form of political satire as a license to simply be a jerk, whilst convincing themselves that they are insightful and witty.  Of course, I could expect people to respond to me by asking if I have considered how unrealistic what I am asking is?  Do I really expect human beings to act all enlightened?  Let us be serious here, I work in retail, I know what people are like…hehe.  The thing is that people can also be amazing, they can summon amazing strength of character and will, and we all have the power to bring out the best in ourselves when it really matters.

It seems likely that it is in truth quite difficult for politicians to retain their ideals when they actually come into office, in that there are so many forces advising them this or that way and pulling at their strings, that it is difficult for them to stick to their guns.  I would imagine that they might find themselves in a position whereby they have to choose between holding strong to their convictions or furthering their career.  I believe there have been many examples of people who have gone into politics with strong ideals, only to find them difficult (if not impossible) to realize once they stood on the stage.

The left side of politics is heavily focussed upon social justice, protecting the rights of the persecuted, helping the poor and underprivileged, protecting the environment and interests of animals, investing in education, fair distribution of wealth and resources, and so forth.  In its moderate forms the left side of the spectrum has always been more involved in human rights, freedom of religion and political association, equal rights for all and freedom from discrimination and subjugation for women, those of colour, the LGBT community and others.  I really shouldn’t need to give a list of sources for all the good things that those on the left side of politics have achieved over the years, nor should I really have to make a case for the necessity of people campaigning for progressive values, as it should really be common sense.

However, it is indeed true that the left has its dogmas, and radical far-left governments have been far from the socialist utopias that their philosophers have dreamt of, often becoming totalitarian nightmares in polar opposite to their ideals.  In the case of more mainstream left-wing governments, it seems to be a common thing that they have real trouble with keeping a budget balanced, and seem to think that they can just spend other peoples money to make everything better in the world.  Furthermore, left-wing activists often go too far in reaction to subjugation of various groups, and sometimes end up trying to persecute the persecutors.  An obvious example is radical feminism, which in some cases goes into the realm of batshit crazy, and in reaction to real misogyny ends up resorting to misandry.  Likewise, attempts to promote sensitivity towards minorities often results in political correctness, which can make it difficult to discuss the elephant in the room (as is the case with issues relating to Islam).  This obviously has serious consequences, and it gives fuel to the far-right side of the spectrum when they wish to diminish everything good that the left stands for.

The conservative right certainly has many legitimate truths to express as well, such as that brilliant, hardworking people deserve success and should be able to reap the rewards of their endeavours without being brought down to the same level as those who did not put in the same effort.  It is often the case that successful individuals offer so much to their nation as a whole, in generating business they bring prosperity to their country, bringing employment to countless others and stimulating the economy.  It can be argued that capitalism has allowed and promoted the development of technology and raised the living standards of much of the world, helping to alleviate humanity from the suffering that previous generations took for granted.  At least here in Australia it seems that conservatives are the only ones that are in any way concerned about Australia’s rising debt and the weight that we carry in paying it back.  Likewise, conservative governments here have an excellent record in recent years of balancing a budget and even ending up in surplus, by comparison to the left side which spends and spends, often perhaps taking social justice ideals beyond what is sustainable (at least without improving other areas first).

However, conservatives have a bad history of trying to prevent progress in areas of human rights, as we have seen recently in the response of conservatives (particularly those with religious motivation) against marriage equality laws in the US.  Likewise, conservatives have a bad reputation for not caring about the environment (and our current Australian government is not helping this), raising suspicion that their strings are merely being pulled by immoral forces in the business world, that care not about the long term impact of their actions.  Far-right political commentators seem to take examples of those on the left taking things too far as justification for outright rejection of concern about fair distribution of wealth and resources, environmentalism, animal rights, rights advocacy for indigenous people, LGBT and women’s causes etc., almost appearing as if they are defining themselves by their opposition to everything that is good.

The question is how to find a healthy balance between the two extremes of the political spectrum.  Again, I would think that it is only common sense that one needs to balance complementary truths in this arena.  For example, it is true that the poor can often be mistreated by those with wealth, who often fall into corruption and greed, making it difficult for the underprivileged to rise up.  Likewise, it is also true that business can often put its private interests (greed) ahead of the good of a nation, its people, animals and the environment.  To a degree therefore it is absolutely necessary for a government to put into place laws and policies to protect the disadvantaged, and to prevent private enterprise from various abuses.

On the opposite side of the scale however, it is also equally true that human beings can be quite slothful, particularly if we are allowed to do so without any real consequences.  People can mismanage money, and if they get away with it they will generally continue to do so until it reaches crisis point.  Governments are just as prone to corruption and abuses as are private enterprises (or perhaps even more so), and taking freedom from business and citizens and giving it government just opens up other potential problems that can end in tyranny (and history is full of many examples of this).  The poor are just as prone to be unenlightened as are the rich, and in many cases they have simply tried to leech off those that are successful through their own initiative.  Snobbery occurs both ways, and the lower social classes are just as commonly snobbish towards educated and disciplined people as privileged classes can be towards the disadvantaged.

Hence, good policy should take these complimentary truths into account, in accepting the different ways in which the lower side of human nature (the ego) will manifest in different contexts, and attempt to encourage the best in everyone, regardless of their place in life.  Good policy will look at arguments on different sides and attempt to weigh them up and follow through on their implications, and seek out any available data to consider what results have been achieved from past experiences with different policies.  Likewise, good politicians will stay out of the taunting and bullying that is the norm in politics, and will approach their job with maturity and integrity, keeping their sights upon the ideals, which initially motivated them to pursue their career.  When this happens we can expect more and more politicians to “cross the floor” in voting against their parties line, and we can likewise expect to see more bipartisan support for policies, which are balanced and contain the necessary depth.

I propose that human beings strive to seek personal identity not in allegiance to a political party, economic model, religious organization, nation or football team, but rather through our continual progress towards a realization of the highest human ideals.  Politics should not be about competing parties and individual careers (and egos), but rather a think tank of ideas as to how best to allow humanity to realize its potential, balancing social justice with evolution and abundance.  We can all play a role in this process, by taking an interest in the issues that affect humanity both in our own nations and worldwide.  By paying attention we can start placing higher demands upon those that represent us, expecting them to uphold higher ethical standards (not least of which will be honesty), and holding the expectation that they will put truth and the common good ahead of their own careers.  When we the people invest ourselves in politics we will (hopefully) see a higher standard of candidates emerge, that rise to meet our lofty ideals.

Peace.

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